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Before the Light-Chapter 1

Prologue

June 2018

 

Kathleen Bowden-Scott sat in Dmitry’s wine bar, nursing her second glass of champagne. Rebecca sat across from her. They’d met a few days ago. Kathleen had ignored Rebecca’s text message, late Friday night, asking to meet up again for drinks, but Saturday morning she decided she needed the distraction. She lied to Meredith. Kathleen racked her brain trying to figure out if this was the first time she had ever lied to Meredith. It was. She told Meredith she would be working away. Instead, she was here having drinks with another woman.

 

“Somebody finally decided to meet with me,” Rebecca teased. She tilted her glass back and took a sip. Kathleen couldn’t help but admire her long exquisite neck. An image of them naked in bed flashed through her mind, and she couldn’t stop the burn of arousal that hit squarely in her groin. She should stop this, but she didn’t want to.

 

“I need to be honest with you, Rebecca. I’m sort of in a relationship, but I find myself attracted to you.”

 

“Define ‘sort of in a relationship’.”

 

“I have been with my partner for a number of years, but we were separated for eight months.” Separated, although a true statement, wasn’t exactly how she should define her partner of four years being abducted and held captive, raped, and tortured by a sadistic killer. Kathleen didn’t really want to talk about Meredith’s disappearance. She could only elude to their separation in vague terms. It didn’t feel right. She hated lying, but she couldn’t think of any other words to explain Meredith’s absence from her life.

 

“We recently reunited, but things haven’t been the same. She’s different. I’m different. I think she knows, as much as I do, that our relationship is heading toward its end.”

 

Rebecca reached out her hand and grasped Kathleen’s. Her eyes practically smouldered in Kathleen’s direction, which made Kathleen’s pulse beat faster.

 

“We’re just having fun, right? We don’t need to swap life stories. Let’s just enjoy the evening and see where it goes.”

 

This was wrong, so very wrong, but Kathleen couldn’t stop herself. She squeezed Rebecca’s hand and took a gulp of her drink.

 

“I can do that.”

 

The following morning, Kathleen put her key into Meredith’s front door and walked in. Her gaze darted about the room, then settled on Meredith sitting on the couch. Kathleen shoved her hands into her pockets, knowing she looked rough and unkempt. She refused to meet Meredith’s questioning gaze.

 

“Meredith, we need to talk,” she said at length.

 

“Come into the lounge and sit down. Can I get you a drink?”

 

“No thank you, I’m fine.” Kathleen walked fully into the room. She sat in the armchair, as far away from Meredith as she could get, and hesitantly looked at her partner. “I’m not sure how to tell you this, but you need to know what I have done.”

 

Meredith didn’t say anything. She crossed one leg over the other and folded her hands in her lap, apparently waiting for Kathleen to continue.

 

“I didn’t go to London this weekend. I lied. I met a woman in a bar, and we slept together last night.”

 

“Oh.” Meredith blinked a few times, clearly in shock. “Tell me what’s going on. Kath? I know you’re struggling with everything that happened to me. Why didn’t you talk to me?”

 

Meredith appeared calm in her questions and it threw Kathleen. How was she not up and yelling? “You’ve been through absolute hell, and I felt like a coward for not being able to help you. Just the thought of the things he did to you drives me crazy. I’m not emotionally equipped to deal with this, Meredith, and we are not the same people anymore. It’s a callous thing to say, but you’ve changed, and I’m not the same person I was eight months ago either.”

 

The quiet room made Kathleen squirm in her chair, looking everywhere but at the woman she was supposed to love.

 

“I know things have been a bit difficult for you,” Meredith finally said. “But it hasn’t exactly been a picnic for me either. I’m sorry that I didn’t come home and just magically fall back into the person I was. You have to understand. The things I went through aren’t something you just get over.”

 

“Don’t you think I know that? That’s why I didn’t say anything. I know you’re facing a lot of demons. My feelings don’t even compare to yours.”

 

“So, you thought you would just go fuck someone else?”

 

“It wasn’t like that, Meredith. I met her earlier in the week. We got along really well. It was nice to feel normal again, and not have to worry about kidnappers and rapists.”

 

“Well, I’m glad you had a chance to escape for a while. I only wish I could afford myself the same luxury.” Meredith rose from the sofa and headed toward the front door. “I can’t believe, after all this time together, you could do this to me. Get out.”

 

Kathleen stood and met her at the threshold. She wanted to reach out and touch her, offer her comfort, but she had no right, not now. She had thrown away everything for one night of passion with a stranger. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for this to happen. I do love you, but maybe it’s best if we just had a break for a while.”

 

“I’m not sure I can forgive you for this. I need some time. I need to deal with Jaimeson West first,” she said, referring to the man who had taken her against her will.

 

“I understand. Would it be okay if we keep in touch?”

 

“We’ll see.”

 

The slamming of the door made Kathleen jump. With her head hanging low, she made her way down the stairs and to her car. She sat for a full five minutes before driving away. She had screwed up, big time. There was no going back for them. Kathleen had hurt the one person who had loved her. Self-loathing and a hard ball of guilt took up residence in her gut. She feared they would never leave her.

 

Chapter One

August 2019

 

Kathleen stood in front of her full-length mirror, discouraged by what she saw. Her normally bright, shiny, blonde hair had lost its glory, looking flat and dull. Her once flawless skin was blotchy, with dark circles ringing her listless blue eyes. Endless nights of screwing strangers had replaced the restorative sleep she so needed and left her unable to focus properly at work. She had no one to blame but herself. Her betrayal of Meredith haunted her every waking moment, only fading when she was in the arms of a nameless woman. That’s what got me into this mess in the first place. She shook her head. That wasn’t completely true. She had begun to distance herself the minute Meredith arrived home from the abduction that had nearly killed her.

 

Her mobile phone rang from its place on her night stand. “Hello?”

 

“Ms Scott, where are you?” David sounded harried.

 

“I’m at home. Why?” She ran her hand through matted hair, the after-effects of last night’s alcohol making her fingers tremble.

 

“You’re supposed to be in a meeting with the Mclean Group in ten minutes.”

 

“That meeting isn’t until the sixteenth.” Kathleen blinked rapidly, trying to clear her foggy brain.

 

“That’s today.”

 

“What?” Her gaze darted around her bedroom, as if she expected to find herself in her office in London, not in her four-bedroom house on the outskirts of Bristol. “Oh shit. I’ll have to do a conference call from my home office.” Her thoughts raced as she tried to remember what the Mclean Group meeting was about.

 

Kathleen was a broker on the London Exchange and spent her time wooing clients to invest with the company that employed her. Mclean was a big fish in the corporate world. The manufacture of microprocessors gave them a lot of money to float on the market. If she didn’t land this client, her job would be no more. Her boss had already given her a warning for tardiness, just one month ago, and he was looking for any excuse to fire her. Her job was all she had. She was damn good at it, well up until the last year. Her performance in the last twelve months was worse than when she’d started working for the company eight years ago.

 

Getting her mind back onto the problem at hand, she said, “Get them into the meeting room and set up the network link to my house. I’ll need twenty minutes to get ready.”

 

“Gerard isn’t going to be happy about this, Kath,” her assistant warned, as if she didn’t already know.

 

“I know, but there isn’t anything I can do about it now.” A conference call was better than no meeting at all. She disconnected and threw her phone onto the unmade bed, where just two hours ago she’d been fucking some red head whose name she couldn’t even begin to remember. Did we even exchange names before I brought her back from the bar?

 

There was no time to shower. She quickly scrubbed her face and applied some make-up. She tied her hair into a loose bun, hoping for the messy-on-purpose look and not the just-rolled-out-of-bed look, then slung on the cleanest trouser suit she could find from the washing hamper. I thought today was Saturday already. She’d planned on doing her laundry. Kathleen gave herself another beating over her recent life choices. An early morning meeting was the last thing she wanted to be doing.

 

She stubbed her toe as she ran into her office, cursing loudly, and switched on her computer. She connected to the office network and frantically pulled up the Mclean file. The clock in the corner of the monitor said she had seven minutes to scan the client’s file. If she was lucky, she could bluff her way through the meeting.

 

 

Just after ten Monday morning, Kathleen stared out at the London’s skyline from the window of her eleventh-floor office. She had yet to start any work. She could hear others rushing around and conversing with clients over the telephone and knew she should be doing the same. Instead, she sat with one leg crossed over the other, gently swivelling side to side in her chair. She hadn’t even worn proper work attire. Her black jeans were just above casual and would be okay if she had no face to face meetings, but the baggy T-shirt shouldn’t even be seen out of the home. Normally, she took great pride in her appearance. Her hair was always styled perfectly, and she would never be seen in anything but designer. Over the last twelve months, her worry about always looking put together had fled along with her drive and ambition. She just didn’t see the point anymore. The world she’d so fiercely loved had become a sham. She hated her clients. She hated her boss. She hated sucking up to men in suits. More importantly, she hated herself. One mistake had smashed apart her world, and now the woman she loved was with someone else. I wasn’t there when she needed me the most. Kathleen felt disgusted with herself.

 

A cough from the doorway caught her attention. She knew who it was before she even spun the chair around. “Good morning, Gerard.” Her voice exposed her defeat. She had fucked up the meeting with the Mclean Group. She found she didn’t actually care. She looked at her boss.

 

“Kathleen.” His eyes were hard with disappointment. “I guess you know why I’m here.”

 

She nodded.

 

He took a seat in the leather guest chair and loosened his tie, as if what he needed to say would be hard to get out with the noose tight around his thick neck. They stared at each other for a few moments, then Gerard’s eyes softened.

 

“I don’t really know what to say. When your partner was taken for eight months, you seemed to cope fine with work. In fact, you performed better than you ever had.”

 

He was right. Those eight months were the most profitable in her career. Out-performing even the most senior staff had earned her a huge bonus. She had assumed Meredith was dead. What else could she do but work? No sense in wallowing, she had told herself. They had hardly ever seen each other anyway. Sure, they had keys to each other’s houses and spent most weekends together, but they had both known it wouldn’t have lasted. She did love Meredith, but she was never really in love with her. I’m such an ass!

 

“This last year, you have become worse. You’re constantly late, rude to clients, and now you’re not even dressed appropriately.” He motioned to her T-shirt with a wave of his hand. “I can’t allow what happened Friday to happen again, and I’m afraid it would.” He took a deep breath. “I’m going to suspend you without pay, indefinitely, until you sort yourself out. I’ve arranged for David to work with Sandra and help transition your client list to her. I’m sorry, Kath, but you need to figure out what’s going on in your head before I have to let you go permanently.”

 

Well, there it was. She’d known it would come to this. If she was honest, she’d expected this months ago. She surmised her loyalty to the company had delayed the suspension. She stood from her chair, as did Gerard, and shook his hand over the desk. “I’m sorry, sir. I’ll try not to take too long in figuring things out.”

 

“Take as long as you need. You’ve earned this company a lot of money. I haven’t forgotten that. Your job will be here when you get back.” He nodded his head, then left.

 

Kathleen slumped back into her chair and faced the window again. What the hell do I do now? She couldn’t muster any sadness over the suspension. Her heart hadn’t been in work mode for a long time. It didn’t matter they weren’t going to pay her; she had made enough money over the last eight years to be comfortable for years to come. You didn’t work that long in the stock market without learning a few things about investing your own money. No, she would be fine for cash, but what would she do to fill her time? Soul search? She laughed humourlessly. She wasn’t even sure she had a soul anymore.

 

She gathered her things and headed to the parking garage under the office block. She would be back home by lunchtime, plenty of time to shower and change. She’d hit the town centre in the hopes of finding some company for the evening.

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