Thorn in the Flesh

Thorn in the Flesh

Anne Brooke

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 Thorn in the Flesh by Anne Brooke tells the story of Kate Harris, a lecturer in her late thirties, who is attacked in her Surrey home and left for dead. Continuing threats hinder her recovery, and these life changing events force her to journey into her past to search for the child she gave away. Can she overcome the demons of her own personal history before time runs out?

Originally published in the UK by Goldenford Publisher Ltd., Bristlecone Pine Press is pleased to bring this book to the eBook platform. This is a psychological thriller that will have you compulsively turning the page. As one reviewer said, "I read the last one hundred pages in one sitting!"

 
PUBLISHED BY: Bristlecone Pine Press
ISBN: 978-0-9817464-3-2
PUBLICATION DATE: 2008
WORD COUNT: 81340
SEXUAL CONTENT RATING: 3 3 3
EBOOK READER RATING:
CATEGORIES: Romantic Suspense, Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense, WomanLove
KEYWORDS:
 

EBOOKS BY Bristlecone Pine Press

EBOOKS BY Anne Brooke

 
EXCERPT
COPYRIGHT Anne Brooke/2008

 For the next three days, she saw him everywhere, even when it was only in her thoughts or dreams. Though sometimes, she knew it for reality and, in the street, in the market place, across the cobbles, near the church, she followed him as if drawn by a call stronger than her own sense. Not once in those times did he acknowledge her though if anyone had asked her, she could have described every inch of his long, haunting face, how his eyes pierced hers, the way one curl of blond hair was not quite in place. She wondered how that would feel if she brushed it back and touched the warmth of his skin with her fingers. She dreamt also of the throatiness of his laugh, the first time she’d dreamt in sounds.

During that time, she missed two dates with Penny, and felt her explanations float away, guilt being something acknowledged but not truly felt. Then on a Saturday morning bright with frost, as she ambled, not without purpose, through the narrow lane up past the castle, she saw him again.

He was leaning against one of the walls of the college, head resting on stonework, a cigarette in his right hand. As she watched and shivered, he brought it to his lips in one fluid movement, drew on its muskiness, shut his eyes and exhaled before letting the cigarette drop and crushing it underneath his sneakers. No-one else was around.

Almost without realising it, she’d moved closer, but not close enough to touch. For a moment he said nothing and then he opened his eyes and looked at her.

He smiled.

‘Kate,’ he said.

Two minutes later, they were in the narrow corridor outside his room and he was fumbling with his key. At last, he opened the door and stumbled inside. She watched as he gathered up papers on his desk into one corner and then flung the dark blue bedspread over the tumble of sheets and blankets beneath.

‘You should come in,’ he said, his voice not quite steady. ‘Please? Seeing as you’ve come this far.’

She hesitated at the doorway, breathing in the smell of smoke and sweat hanging heavy in his room. Gazing around at the Hitchcock posters, the tennis racquet and the uneaten chips on a plate on the floor, she shrugged.

‘Have you got anything to drink?’ she asked him.

‘Sure. What do you like? Beer? Wine? It’s white, but it won’t be cold.’

She hadn’t meant alcohol, especially not so early in the day, and anyway all this week she’d been building friendships on the fragility of coffee. But the fact he’d given her a different choice didn’t surprise her. It was right to feel different, now.

‘Beer,’ she said.

Without looking round, Peter reached out and grabbed a bottle from the shelf. He opened it against the edge of the desk and handed it to her silently. Then he did the same for himself. She couldn’t tell what brand it was. In her mouth, it tasted bitter, stale and too warm, but Kate swallowed it as if it were nectar. She could feel the heat of it searing her throat and setting her stomach on fire. Her companion placed his unfinished bottle onto the shelf and sat down on the edge of the bed, facing her.

She finished her drink. All of it, not one drop wasted, although when she stretched out and let the empty bottle fall into the bin, there was no hint of intoxication in her.

Dragging the one chair from the desk nearer the bed, Kate sat down. When Peter reached forward and pulled her tee-shirt loose from her jeans, she trembled but didn’t say anything. His hand felt rough and warm against her skin and she gave a small moan.

‘That okay?’ he asked.

‘Yes.’

She should be with Penny right now, she thought, getting to know her a little better, comparing notes on what the tutors had said, thinking about what they could do together next, but she knew she wouldn’t be. It didn’t matter. Here, her new friend seemed to be a thousand miles away from the fierce beating of her heart. Was she about to be unfaithful? Promiscuous? She couldn’t grasp the answer and besides no promises had been made. By anyone. Had they?

Peter ran his hands around her waist and eased her tee-shirt over her head. She pushed her chest out to try to make her breasts bigger, more pleasing to him, and he smiled. As if he understood. With an uncertain movement, he scrambled to unhook her bra and dropped it on the floor next to her. She was naked, from the waist up, in the room of a man she’d only met twice.

She didn’t care.

Leaning forward to kiss him was as if he’d given her permission to be free. His tongue tasted of beer and smoke, and the shiver of his fingers on her stomach, her breasts, her nipples made her moan again.

‘Kate?’

‘Yes?’

‘Have you done this before?’ he murmured between kisses.

‘Yes,’ she said, shuddering.

‘No, I mean, with a bloke. Properly. Because you do it with that dyke from your department, don’t you?’

‘No, I...’ she broke away, still tasting him in her mouth. ‘It’s not like that, I...’

‘Really? That’s not what I’ve heard. Don’t you do it with Penny Saunders, Kate? That’s the rumour.’

She looked at him. His eyes were a clear blue, so much like the sky.

‘Yes,’ she said, and in the air between them the truth tasted bitter. ‘I’ve done it with Penny. But I’m not a virgin either. Not in your sense. Does it matter? Now?’

He grinned. ‘No, I don’t think it does. Not in either case.’

Then, with no more words, he removed her sneakers, jeans and knickers, and unzipped himself. His penis sprang upwards, already hard. When Kate stretched forward to touch him, he shook his head and then lifted her gently, as if she might break, onto his lap. As he eased her down, she felt him enter her, filling her up, and arched her back, shaking her hair free.

‘Peter,’ she said as great waves of joy shuddered through her body, an uncontrollable tide sweeping through every part of her. She cried out, clinging to his shoulders, while he moaned and rocked beneath her.

Afterwards he laid her down, slick with sweat and semen, onto the bed and, still clothed though she remained naked and shameless, kissed and stroked every part of her body, making her come again.

She saw Penny only once after that, and the meeting between them was inconclusive. Penny talked in words which seemed to fly over Kate’s understanding: loyalty; commitment; even love. She was crying as she spoke, tears making her eyes small and reddened, and Kate tried to comfort her, but she flinched away.

‘No! Don’t touch me. How can you be with him when you’re already with me?’

‘I don’t know. I’m sorry, Penny, but...’

‘You cow, you’re not sorry. I can see you’re not. Look at you, I mean look at you!’

Without warning, Penny grabbed her and swung her round to face the small curved mirror above the washbasin.

‘What...?’ Kate gasped.

‘Shut up,’ Penny snapped, giving her imprisoned arms a quick shake. ‘Just look at yourself, won’t you?’

Kate looked. She could see her own face gazing back at her, skin glowing and clear, her green eyes dancing and auburn hair shining in the morning light from the window.

‘See,’ Penny said. ‘You’re not sorry.’

She shook Kate once and then released her, taking a step back.

‘I know you’re not sorry,’ she said, ‘and I don’t want to see you again. Bitch.’

‘Penny, please...’ Kate began, though she had no idea what she might have been about to say, but already her friend, or ex-friend, had gone, slamming the door so hard behind her that the bed shook.

‘I’m sorry,’ she said to no-one, but even the air no longer believed her.

All she could think about was Peter.

He filled her every sense. When she was with him, she couldn’t stop touching him, looking at him, listening to him. He didn’t seem to mind. Not that they did much talking. In between lectures, seminars, getting to know people and exploring the town, Kate spent a lot of time lying with him in his bed. After the first time of making love, Peter had produced condoms and used them. Not that, for Kate, it had seemed to matter. The practical implications of what they were doing were surely a thousand miles apart from this secret world of lips and tongues and teeth. A world where Kate felt as if she were lying on soft grass, gazing up at a gentle sun. Or floating down a sparkling river to a welcoming sea. The skies she lived under during those few magical weeks with Peter were all the colours of blue, and sometimes could be streaked with the pink and apricot of morning, or the denser silvers and blacks of the night. The scents around her were salt-warm, honeyed, fresh: the scents of his body and how it blended with hers. There was no future and certainly no past. Only the present mattered.

This, she thought, this is how it is to be in love. This is how it is, and how it will always be.

Being in love taught her many things. She learnt how to respond to the rhythms of somebody else’s customs and how best to align her own. She learnt very soon that Peter began his day later than she did, often not being up before gone 9 am. Even then he didn’t rouse himself fully until his first mug of strong coffee, black, one sugar, accompanied by a cigarette, and was never in any mood for conversation. She loved the smell of him when he woke. A strong, earthy smell, something she’d never been used to in her brief time with Penny, whose body had always smelt of citrus soaps and herbs. Peter, on the other hand, smelt of smoke and heat. His hair would be tousled and she would take delight in smoothing it down, even though he grumbled or pretended to nibble and bite at her hand.

He preferred making love in the mornings and sometimes would, she was sure, only be half-awake when he drew her close, easing himself inside her and pulling her body further against his. At his first touch, Kate would always be fully alert, her skin trembling with the need for him, as if she’d been branded by fire. During those times, his lovemaking would be quick, urgent, as if only fulfilling a physical need rather than knowing who it was he was with, but she didn’t mind. Any chance of being with him was a chance she would never choose to miss.

It was evenings though when she felt most relaxed with him, and most responsive. She learnt how to take him with her mouth, drawing her tongue up and down the length of him, something she’d never done before, and she learnt how to read the slight quiver of his hardness with her lips and fingers. She learnt too how to bring him to the brink of release and then hold him there until he could no longer contain himself. The burst of salt warmth into her mouth reminded her each time of the sea and all its richness. Her body discovered its own rhythms, and every part of her rejoiced in Peter and what he did to her. She loved the way he would stroke her arms and shoulders for a long and slow time before moving to kiss and touch her breasts. With every touch of his lips and hands, the boundaries between her skin and the world, between her skin and himself, would grow more fluid, as if she were taking into herself a joy that existed outside them both, and which only he, Peter, could release for her.

She never stopped wanting him. Even when she was shaken to stillness and fulfilment, and was lying simply watching him, she could have found it in herself to want him inside her again. It was as if she were living in a world which contained only the two of them, and no life or meaning existed outside the times when they could be together. The newness of university life, the challenges of her chosen subject matter, the unfamiliarity of the town and countryside around her faded into nothing but a simple background to the clarity of this man and her new relationship. Kate began and continued to write essays and projects, attend lectures, participate in seminars and tutorials, but the demands all these different activities brought to bear seemed to take place behind a silken gauze. Nothing could impinge on the world of kisses and skin she wrapped around herself.

That was how it was for Kate. How Peter felt was something she hadn’t yet broached. She didn’t know how.

So October drifted by. She thought it would last forever. She was wrong.

 
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