A Night of No Return

By: Sarah Morgan


IT WAS the one night of the year he dreaded more than any other.

In the beginning he’d tried everything in a bid to escape it—wild parties, women, work—but he’d discovered that it didn’t matter what he was doing or who he was doing it with, the pain remained the same. He chose to live his life in the present, but the past was part of him and he carried it everywhere. It was a memory that wouldn’t fade. A scar that wouldn’t heal. A pain that went bone-deep. There was no escape, which was why his favoured way of spending this particular night was to find somewhere he could be alone and get very, very drunk.

He’d driven the two hours from his office in London to the property he was restoring in rural Oxfordshire simply for the privilege of being alone. For once his phone was switched off, and it was staying that way.

Snow swirled in a crazy dance in front of the windscreen and visibility was down to almost zero. Huge white drifts were piled high at the side of the road, a trap for the nervous, inexperienced driver.

Lucas Jackson was neither nervous nor inexperienced and his mood was blacker than the weather.

The howl of the wind sounded like a child screaming and he clenched his jaw and tried to blot out the noise.

Never had the first glimpse of stone lions guarding the entrance to his estate been so welcome. Despite the conditions he barely slowed his pace, accelerating along the long drive that wound through acres of parkland towards the main house.

He drove past the lake, now frozen into a skating rink for the ducks, over the bridge that crossed the river and heralded the final approach to Chigworth Castle.

He waited to feel the rush of satisfaction that should have come from owning this, but as always there was nothing. It shouldn’t have surprised him, he’d long since accepted that he wasn’t able to feel in the way that other people did. He’d switched that part of himself off and he hadn’t been able to switch it on again.

What he did experience as he looked at the magnificent building was a detached appreciation for something that satisfied both the mathematician in him and the architect. The dimensions and structure were perfect. A gatehouse presided over the entrance, its carved stonework creating a first impression that was both imposing and aesthetically pleasing. And then there was the castle itself, with its buff stonework and battlements that attracted the interest of historians from around the world. The knowledge that he was preserving history gave him a degree of professional pride, but as for the rest of it—the personal, emotional side—he felt nothing.

Whoever said that revenge was a dish best eaten cold had been wrong.

He’d sampled it and found it tasteless.

And tonight Lucas wasn’t even interested in the historical significance of the house, just its isolation. It was miles from the nearest hint of civilisation and that suited him just fine. The last thing he wanted tonight was human contact.

Lights burned in a few of the upstairs windows and he frowned because he’d specifically instructed the staff to take the night off. He was in no mood for company of any description.

He drove over the bridge that spanned the moat, under the arch that guarded the entrance and skidded the last few metres into the courtyard, his tyres sending snow spinning into the air.

It occurred to him that if he hadn’t left the office when he had, he might not have made it. He had staff capable of clearing the roads in the estate, but the approach to the house consisted of a network of winding country lanes that were a low priority for the authorities responsible for their upkeep. Briefly he thought of Emma, his loyal PA, who had stayed late at the office yet again in order to help him prepare for his coming trip to Zubran, an oil-rich state on the Persian Gulf. It was a good job she lived in London and wouldn’t have far to travel home.

Abandoning the car to the weather, he strode across the snowy carpet and let himself in to the darkness of the entrance hall.

No housekeeper to greet him tonight. No staff. No one. Just him.

‘Surprise!!’ A chorus of voices erupted from around him and lights blazed.

Temporarily blinded, Lucas froze, shock holding him immobile on his own doorstep.

‘Happy birthday to me!’ Tara walked forward, a sway in her hips and a sly smile on her beautiful face as she hooked a finger inside his coat and lifted her scarlet painted mouth to his. ‘I know you promised to give me my present next week, but I can’t wait that long. I want it now.’