A taster from Boot Camp Bride by Lizzie Lamb
Look Out for the Vultures
Charlee woke in the middle of the night as hailstones hurled themselves at her window aided and abetted by a cutting wind off the marshes. She checked the time on her mobile phone - three a.m. Unable to sleep, she lay in the darkness expecting a hangover to manifest itself. However, apart from a raging thirst she seemed fine. She’d always had the constitution of a particularly energetic ox and it was standing her in good stead. However, deciding it was best not to take any risks, she swung her legs out of bed and headed for the loo for more painkillers and to rehydrate her liver.
It was then that she heard the other sound above the noise of the wind - a low moaning like someone in distress. It appeared to be coming from Ffinch’s bedroom. What on earth was he doing in there? Conducting a black mass complete with animal sacrifice? Or maybe those Brancaster mussels were exacting their revenge. Wrinkling her nose at the thought, she put her ear to the interconnecting door. She couldn’t just barge in, not after accusing him of engineering a have-it-away-weekend.
The moaning grew louder and became a muttering - and then she heard a name being called over and over. Taking her courage in both hands, she slipped her mobile into her dressing gown pocket, unlocked the door and peered into the darkness.
‘No. No. Elena. Elen-ah. Virgen santísima, ayúdanos. Cristo ayúdanos. No dejes que Elena muera. Jesús, ten piedad. Por el amor de Dios, no dejes que se ahogue. Allesandro, ayuda!’
Charlee stood listening as Ffinch relived the moment when he’d pleaded in Spanish with their captors to save Elena - and then turned to God, and someone called Allesandro when his pleas were ignored. She was overwhelmed by the need to go to him, to wake him from this nightmare and bring him comfort. Using the light from her mobile phone as a torch she negotiated her way across the room, allowing herself time to adjust to the darkness. His cries rang out afresh and she moved swiftly but silently to his side.
Charlee recalled reading somewhere that it was dangerous to wake people in the middle of a nightmare - or was that sleepwalking? She couldn’t remember which. Glancing down at Ffinch, she saw that he was calmer now but she was reluctant to wake him and reveal that she’d seen him at his lowest ebb. He was a proud man, guarded, too - if he knew she’d been brought to his room by his cries for help, the fragile rapport developing between them would fracture.
He turned over and flung himself on his back, hands raised above his head and with his wrists facing outwards. Charlee let the eerie light from her mobile range over him, checking that he was okay but taking care not to wake him.
‘Oh my God.’ In the faint light she could just make out livid marks scarring the flesh on the undersides of his lower arms and wrists. She’d read that drug user’s arms were marked with tramlines, but she’d never seen them for real. Her blood ran cold and she felt physically sick. Vanessa had been right when she’d accused him of gun running, drug smuggling, money laundering … and more, besides.
Charlee took a step back from his bed, appalled.
How could she have got him so wrong?
Had she been so taken up by the idea of working with Ffinch the award-winning journalist that she hadn’t thought it through properly? Or dug deeply enough to discover the truth? She swept the greenish beam of light over his bedside table - bottles of pills, prescription drugs with his name on the label. Maybe he was hooked on those, too? Frowning, she returned her phone to the pocket of her pyjamas and looked down at him, her eyes having adjusted to the darkness
Whatever had disturbed his dreams, his thrashing around and calling out seemed to have exorcised it. He was descending into the deeper reaches of sleep and his bare chest rose and fell rhythmically. For a moment the woman in Charlee took precedence over the journalist. She looked down at his bare chest, the delicate line of hair that led downwards, downwards - and wondered what lay beneath the duvet he’d almost thrown off the bed.
Did he sleep in the nude?
The thought sent lust scudding through her veins and her breath snagged in her throat. She placed her hand over her breastbone in an attempt to bring her breathing and her wicked thoughts under control. When she realised that her breathing had fallen into step with his - although her heart was still hammering away like a mad thing - she knew this man was getting to her. Overwhelmed by the need to peel back the duvet, climb inside that warm bed with him and … she checked her wild thoughts and backed away from his bed.
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