The lock on the door slipped into place, shutting out the world and securing his privacy. A few steps took him across the room to his desk. One flip of his finger turned on the desk lamp. Finally, some peace and quiet, he thought. He settled back into his leather chair, retrieved a key from its hiding place and unlocked the bottom drawer. A thick blue folder sat on top. He picked it up and ran his hand over the front cover, then dropped it onto the desk top. A cloud of dust blew up into his face.
"Damn ..." he sputtered, wiping his face with the sleeve of his terry cloth robe. A glance around his study confirmed the room needed a good dusting and sorting out. Books from the bookcases were scattered around the room on any available surface; a small table in the corner by the couch, on chairs, and piled in the corners of the room. Newspapers and magazines cluttered the desk top. A direct result of the fact that he now locked his study door to keep out intruders. Perhaps I should take the time to tidy up.
His eyes hardened and a sneer played at the corners of his mouth. "So ...did I ever say I was a good housekeeper?" he said aloud, with a shrug of his shoulders. He didn't mind the disarray. A room that housed his secrets and a sanctuary to express his inner thoughts gave him control and a power without criticism or disapproval. The sneer grew into a sinister grin and he pushed the chaos from his mind.
His attention returned to the blue folder. The routine was always the same. He'd stare at it with great anticipation and feel the quickening of his pulse in sharp contrast to the slow methodical opening of the folder. His hands shook as he spread the pictures over his desk and savoured the face that met his admiring gaze.
The eyes that stared back at him held a mystique, innocence, yet a sensuality that drew him in: a rich, dark brown pool of warmth and an invitation that spoke to him in volumes. The fullness of her lips and her devastating smile were not lost on him. The initial stirrings of lust warmed his body.
Sweaty hands shuffled through the pictures until he found the one that took his breath away. A full-length photo taken at a movie premier. He'd cut out the part of the companion standing beside her, dismissing his insignificance and annoyed that this man believed himself to be worthy of her company.
She wore a mauve evening dress; a scalloped beaded bodice that accentuated her ample breasts. Fitted beneath her bodice in an empire style, the slim-fitting fabric flowed in a soft silk over her curves to her mid-calf; a side slit opened the material exposing her left leg all the way up to her mid-thigh. Her hair fell in a cluster of auburn curls spreading over her bare shoulders. Always amazed at the effect she had on him, a shudder coursed through his body. His right fore-finger traced her cheekbone all the way down the side of her face and he imagined the softness of her skin. He placed his hand over her breasts and closed his eyes, imagining he was stroking her, hearing her purrs of enjoyment as his hand moved down her body and slipped inside the open dress slit, moving up her leg onto her silky thigh. His body responded to the fantasy and he placed his other hand inside his robe to touch his nakedness, releasing a deep sigh.
A sudden knock on the door broke through his flight of erotic imagery. "Dammit ..."
The moment was gone.
Georgia Charles opened her eyes and stared into the darkness of the room. Tilting her head, the red LED lights on the alarm clock showed 4:00 a.m.
Apprehension filled her to the core. She threw the covers aside and sat up.
Shaking off the memory of a bad dream, she left the bedroom and settled into her father's favourite armchair in her parents' living room. Dawn broke through the last remnants of night with the promise of a bright, spring day. Georgia smiled, remembering the rainstorm she'd travelled through the day before on the ferry from Gibsons to her parents' home in North Vancouver.
Five years previous, a cheating husband, who’d left her for his pregnant mistress led her to the Yukon to spend time with her best friend, Marion. Her own pregnancy had come as a shock a few days before she was to return home. She thought back to her last day in Whitehorse when she’d been kidnapped by bank robbers. Georgia had escaped her abductors and spent the winter lost in a cabin in the remote wilderness of northwestern British Columbia, where her daughter was born. Colin, her ex-husband, became the father of two baby girls born a mere two weeks apart. In the spring, Sean Dixon, an author and owner of the cabin she’d sought refuge in, rescued her. Books, and movies touting her a heroine, brought an unwanted notoriety to her life. The past few years, she'd travelled extensively with her co-writer and boyfriend, Sean Dixon, promoting their book and movies. Her daughter, Kaela, travelled with her and Sean when it was feasible or stayed with her parents while she was away. When at home, she shared a house with her grandmother in Gibsons on the Sunshine Coast peninsula, accessible only by ferry.
And now her ex-husband was dead. A sudden heart attack.
A voice broke into her muse. "Can't sleep?"
She turned to see her mother standing behind her. "Not much. Too many dreams. You wake up knowing you were dreaming but can't remember them." She frowned. "Except the last one."
Sandra Carr sat on the couch facing her daughter. "Want to tell me about it?"
"It's hard to explain." Georgia hesitated. "You know those dreams where there are bits and pieces and it doesn't make much sense? There were woods all around and I saw Kaela's face. Her eyes were huge and full of fear. The scene changed to fast, swirling water. She was bobbing around in it. It was so noisy—the water I mean. Then there were two of her. One in the water and one on the shore. They were both really scared. I woke up after that. Weird."
"It's upsetting when we have bad dreams about our kids. But it's only a dream,” her mother said, “Colin’s passing at such a young age is a shock to us all. You have a big day tomorrow with his funeral and more than likely your worry over Kaela is praying on your mind."
"You're probably right. I was thinking about all that’s happened since the kidnapping. I can’t believe five years have passed.”
“I can’t either. The years just flew.”
“And now Colin’s dead,” Georgia said. “He missed so much of Kaela’s first years. It’s brought home the fact that time is precious, and I’ve missed some things in my daughter’s life too with all this notoriety.”
“You’ve always been there when it counted. You’re a great mother to Kaela. Don’t ever doubt that.”
Georgia stared into her mother’s face. “Now that Kaela is starting school in the fall, it’s time for me to think about staying home more. She needs stability.”
Her mother smiled. “Things should settle down now. You’ll have more time to think about your personal life. You’re becoming yesterday’s news.”
A giggle turned into a laugh, and ended with Georgia’s infamous snort. “Thank God for that.”
She stood and gave her mom a hug. “Thanks you. I feel better now. Let's go back to bed."
The next day, Georgia walked across the parking lot to the concrete sidewalk that led to the funeral home. A shudder passed through her body, but it wasn’t from the cool June breeze. She glanced down at her five-year-old daughter and held her hand a little tighter. The narrow walkway led them to a white single-story building, half-hidden by flowering shrubs and rose bushes in full bloom. The California-style dwelling with its beckoning façade of warmth and comfort reminded her more of a yacht club or golf course clubhouse.
Passing through the open doorway, Georgia took a deep breath and let out a long sigh. She and her daughter stood on a green marble floor in a foyer lined with tall white pedestals housing pots of trailing multi-coloured flowers. The warm air hung heavy with their fragrance. She breathed in the moist pungent odor and that coupled with her nervousness, left her feeling nauseous. Her hand went to her stomach. Be strong.
The mirrored walls projected the appearance of a much larger room. The half dozen doors leading to other areas of the home were closed. An archway with white ornate iron gates centered the back wall and standing by the open gates was her ex-brother-in-law.
“Hello, Steve,” Georgia said, as she lead Kaela across the room. Her high-heeled shoes echoed in her ears. She concentrated on their clicking-clacking across the floor to calm her nerves.
The man in the black suit ignored her. His eyes, wide-open with amazement, were focused on Kaela.
“My God, Georgia…it’s been a long time.”
He took a hold of Georgia’s free hand, letting his gaze slide back to Kaela.
“This is my daughter, Kaela…Colin’s daughter.”
“She certainly is,” he said.
“Did you know my daddy?” Kaela asked, shyly.
“Yes I did. I’m married to your father’s sister and that makes me your Uncle Steve. It’s nice to meet you, Kaela.” His large palm swallowed up her little hand as he shook it in greeting. “Come with me, ladies. I’ll take you to your seats.”
They followed Steve through the archway into a room set-up with jade green velvet chairs. As they moved up the centre aisle, the low hush of voices rose to a higher pitch. They passed rows of people from Georgia’s past. Work colleagues, distant relatives and mutual friends of Colin’s strained their heads sideways to catch a glimpse of them. The group of people standing by the altar, adorned with more floral displays, turned to stare blankly at them.
Kaela tugged at her mother’s sleeve. “Mommy, why's everyone looking at us?”
Georgia was angry at their blatant curiosity. She hadn’t expected to attract so much attention. In truth, they were looking at Kaela more than her. She placed a protective arm around her daughter’s shoulders and drew her closer to her side.
“They’re curious, sweetheart. They haven’t seen me for years and they’ve never met you. It’s okay.”
Steve led them towards the seats reserved for Colin’s family, but as his ex-wife and given the fact that they had treated her badly in the past, she wasn’t comfortable with that. She stopped him and pointed to the second row on the left. He seemed to understand and nodded. Georgia looked at the group standing up front. She recognized Colin’s parents, Alice and Frank Charles. Alice turned her back to her, but Frank gave a nod and a weak smile. Mary, Colin’s sister, pretended to ignore her, but Georgia caught the furtive glances from beneath her hooded eyelids. She took in the erect pose of her body, chin thrust out and her haughty stare. The same snotty bitch she's always been.
She glanced away from them to take in the long thin table set up beside the pulpit. Floral vases lined the floor in front of its white clothed drapery. An urn containing Colin’s ashes sat in the center, framed with pictures of Colin—his first birthday, school pictures from primary grades to law school. The tug of Kaela’s hand, vying for her attention, brought her back to the present.
“What is it, sweetheart?” she asked, looking down at her daughter.
Kaela was staring at the first row to the right of the aisle, her expression frozen, and her face pale.
“Who is that, Mommy?” she whispered.
Georgia followed her stare, only to gasp. Oh my God. She found herself staring into the face of a five-year-old girl—a girl with Kaela’s face.