Tragedy sends troubled film star Vivien Lockhart into the arms of Giovanni Moretti—and it seems her fortunes have finally changed. Until she meets his sister and learns that her new husband’s past holds dark secrets…
Lucy Whittaker needs to disappear. But her new home, the crumbling Castillo Barbarossa, is far from the secluded paradise it seemed. Strange sounds come from the attic. The owner of the house will never meet her in person.
The fountain in the courtyard is silent—but has never run dry.
Italy, Summer 2016
IT WAS ALWAYS THE SAME DREAM, AND EVERY time she saw it coming. She knew where it began. A bright light, gathering pace from a sheet of dark. A lucid thought, a picture more real than any she could fathom in waking hours. Afraid to look but more afraid to resist, she stepped towards the light, arms open, weak, and she knew it was a trick, but suddenly there she was, blissful, forgetting, her lips on his forehead, his soft skin and his smell; she could capture it now, so many years later and on the other side of consciousness. His hair, the warmth of his body, they were locked away in the deepest parts inside her, still intact despite the storms that place had weathered.
She knew where it ended. He shouldn’t have spoken; he shouldn’t have asked.
Don’t leave me. Come with me. I’m waiting.
I’ll catch you. We’ll be together again.
The water, still and cool and silver and quiet. Inviting. Come with me…
The woman wakes with a jolt. Her bedclothes are bunched and damp with sweat. It takes a moment to surface, the weight of water all around, pressing down. The air is tight in her lungs.
Adalina, the maid, comes in, opens the shutters and wel¬comes the day.
“There, signora, that’s better. How did you sleep?”
Quick, efficient, the maid sets down the breakfast tray, pil¬lows plumped, sheets pulled tight. And then the rainbow of pills, a box of medicines laid out like sweets, as if the colours make it better, make her want to take them, willingly.
The woman coughs; it is like bringing something solid up, a ball of wire.
There is blood on her handkerchief: a spray of bright dots, the worst omen. It won’t be long now. She folds it into her clenched palm. Adalina pretends not to see.
“I…” The woman’s mind is empty. Her tongue is swollen, a stranger to her mouth, as if she is the one who has swal¬lowed the swamp.
“Open the window,” she says.
A f lick of the wrist; the sun spills in. She can see the tips of the cypress trees, twelve fingers pointing towards the sky. She had used to think he was up there, believe in useless comforts, but she doesn’t any more. He isn’t in the sky. He isn’t in the clouds. He isn’t even in the ground. He is inside her. Calling her, needing her.
Air. Warmth. Birdsong. She receives the scent of her bud¬ding gardens, can picture the roses on the arches beginning to bloom, pink and sweet, and the lavender and chives clustered against their high chalk walls, bursting white and lilac. How easily the outside creeps in. How easily it bridges that line, as fast and fluid as rain. How easily she ought to be able to do the same, one step, one foot in front of the other, that was all it took, that was what the doctors said. The same as trespass¬ing into those rooms, those wings, that have been locked in dust for decades: unbearable now.
“Such a beautiful house,” they whispered, in the village, in the city, across the oceans for all she knew. “How tragic that she’s the way she is… Still, I suppose one can understand it, after… you know…”
“The girl is due at midday,” says Adalina, rattling the pills into a plastic receptacle at the same time as pouring the tea, as if one were no more unusual a feast than the other. “I’ve checked the airport and there are no delays. Will you be able to greet her? She’d like to meet you, I’m sure.”
The woman glances away. She watches her pale hands rest¬ing like a corpse’s on the sheet, the bloodstained handkerchief hidden there: a terrible key to a terrible secret. Her wrists are brittle, her nails short, and she thinks how old they look.
When did I grow old?
She shakes her head. “I shall stay in bed,” she says. Just like every other day. This house has too many corners, too many secrets, crooked with shadows and silence. “And I shouldn’t like any disturbances. You can settle her in, I’ve no doubt.”
“Very well, signora.”
She swallows the pills; Adalina retreats, her face a mask of discretion. The maid has no need to voice her feelings, but it is no matter. Let them be disappointed. Let them say, “She should make the effort. The girl’s come a long way.” Let them think what they wish. Only she understands the impossibility of it.
Besides, she doesn’t want the girl here. She has never wanted her. The help knows too much, asks too many questions; they make it their business to pry.
What choice does she have? Adalina cannot manage. The castillo is enormous. They cannot do it alone.
This time, the truth is hers to keep. No one is getting to it.
She closes her eyes, drowsy, her pills beginning to take ef¬fect. On the cusp of sleep, she hears his voice again. Calling her from the water, the orange sun setting.
Come with me. I’ll catch you. I’m waiting.
She falls, her arms open wide.London
One month earlier
THEY SAY YOU CAN NEVER LOVE AGAIN LIKE YOU love the first time. Maybe it’s the heart changing shape, unable to resume its original form. Maybe it’s the highs made more acute for their novelty and strangeness. Or maybe it’s the soul that grows wise. It learns that the risks aren’t worth taking. It learns to hurt, and in doing so protect itself.
There is consolation in this, I think as I thread through the crowds on the Underground—commuters in rush hour, plugged into their phones; tourists checking maps and getting stuck by the ticket machines; couples kissing on the escalators—the certainty that whatever happens, wherever I end up, I will never again go through what I have been through before. We are shepherded from the Northern Line up into fresh air, where the blare and hum of the city bleeds past in myriad lights and colour. I pass a group of girls heading out for the night; they must be my age, I suppose, late twenties, but the gulf between us is yawning. I look at them as if through a window, remem¬bering when I was like them, frivolous, carefree, naïve—how it feels to stand on the brink of the world, no mistakes made, at least none so irrevocable as mine.
One thing I love about London is the anonymity. So many people and so many lives, and it’s an irony that I came here to be noticed, to be someone, yet it was at the centre of every¬thing that I achieved invisibility. I will miss the anonymity when they find out. I will look back on it as a cherished prize, never to be regained once lost.
I catch the bus, staring out of the window at rapidly darken¬ing streets. Across the aisle a guy in glasses reads the Metro, its front page belting the headline: MURDERER HELD: COPS CATCH CAR BOOT KILLER. I shiver. Will I earn my own headline one day soon? What will they say about me? I see my name, plain old Lucy Whittaker, in the round, friendly hand¬writing that as a child adorned my homework, my thank-you letters, the birthday cards I wrote to my friends, then latterly the typed headers on my job applications, become all at once horrid and threatening, a name to be appalled by. People I once knew will say, “Not that Lucy Whittaker? But she’s far too quiet, far too shy, she wouldn’t do anything like that…”
But I did, I think. I did do something like that.
We come to my stop and I step out into the evening, wrap¬ping my coat tight as the wind picks up. I keep my head down, a plastic box clamped under my arm.
My phone beeps. For a stupid moment I think it’s him, and I despise myself for how swiftly I dive into my pocket, hand trembling and hope sinking as I realise it’s not. It’s Bill, my flatmate. Belinda’s her name, but she never liked it.
When are you home? I have wine Xxx
I’m almost there, so it isn’t worth replying. My walk slows. As ever when I open my messages, I find my eyes drawn to his, our chains of all-night conversations, f lirty, thrilling, the way my heart danced every time that screen lit up at two in the morning. I should delete them, but I can’t. It’s as if wiping them will erase any proof that it happened in the first place. That before the bad, there was good. There was, before. It was good. What happened, there was a reason for it… Don’t be an idiot. There is no reason. Nothing justifies what you did.
And of course he wouldn’t be in touch. He’d never be in touch. It was over.