Not even fame will protect him from her violent past.
Reclusive music producer, Lexi Deningham, has worked hard to escape a violent past, building her reputation so world famous rock stars come to her at her isolated recording studio in the Victorian High Country. That includes the wildly talented Daemon Flagherty who has just arrived to discuss his band’s next album. After a messy divorce, all Daemon wants is to focus on his music, even if that means going to the end of the world to work with the best, albeit mysterious, music producer there is.
When Lexi gets a call from her twin sister’s secure mental health hospital telling her Cat has been attacked, Lexi has no choice but to bring her twin home. Lexi isn’t ready to deal with both Cat and Daemon at the same time but if she wants to work with Daemon – and she does, desperately – she has no choice.
Romance should be the last thing on their minds, but it seems that neither Lexi nor Daemon can ignore the passion between them. Until the threat from Lexi’s past comes crashing into the present, determined to make her pay and with no care for who might get in the way. Lexi is used to going it alone, but will she realise she needs help before it’s too late?
He pulled his cap down, tipping his head so his long mousy hair fell across his face, shielding it from the camera in the hallway as he stopped at the door. He breathed in deeply, calming himself.
He had only a few minutes to pull this off before the other cleaners would miss him. They never cleaned the patient rooms in the middle of the night, so it would look strange if he was caught here. Even worse if he was caught leaving his message for Lexi.
He closed the door behind him with a quiet click and turned to face the woman in the bed. The light in the room was dim, but it was enough to see her. She was lying so peacefully as if waiting just for him, just as she had done every night he’d come to see her. He’d really thought finding her would be his path to Lexi, but of course, nothing to do with her was ever so simple. So he’d had to make another plan to get them all together. A plan that would work to bring this to the end they all deserved.
He breathed in sharply.
A flush of excitement raced through him and he padded across the floor to look down on the woman in the bed, the pretender, the one who looked so much like his Lexi, and yet not.
He noted the ugly scar that ran from her brow, remembered what had put that scar there. What had been done that had shattered her cheekbones, jaw and nose.
This pretender had once been an identical twin to his Lexi.
Not so identical anymore, is she?
He snorted in response but couldn’t stop himself from stroking the scar. So beautiful. Proof that their time together had been … transformative.
A noise from outside pulled him from his reverie. Heart a fast boom in his chest, he ducked into the bathroom, slipping behind the door just as a nurse entered.
Rage surged through him. The lazy cow of a nurse should have completed her checks half an hour ago. Visions of reaching for his knife, pulling her head back and opening her throat had his flesh pushing against the fabric of his uniform. He flexed his hands. He wanted to kill her. Wanted to show her what happened to someone when they interrupted him.
You are not here for her. You can’t ruin the game just yet.
‘Yes, yes, you are right. Of course.’
The nurse looked over her shoulder, as if she’d heard his whisper. He stilled, not even breathing. She shrugged and went back to doing her checks.
The pretender didn’t wake. She was truly catatonic. Pity. Her screams had been music.
Finally, the nurse picked up the chart, made a notation, then headed for the bathroom. Hand on his knife, he readied himself to do what he must to stay hidden, but she simply pulled the bathroom door closed, shutting him in absolute darkness.
A moment later the outer door closed.
He waited long, endless seconds before breathing out. Waited a few more minutes before he moved—the lazy cow had already surprised him; he didn’t want to be surprised again.
Finally, he slipped out of the bathroom and went to the door, pulling it ajar slightly. Faint sounds of laughter from the nurse’s station drifted to him. Good. She was settled in now watching the show that would keep her busy for the next few hours, just as she did every night she was on. Even so, he had to be quick. He didn’t want the other cleaners to wonder where he’d gone.
He padded over to the wall and removed the horrid fruit-print that was in his way. Apples. He hated apples. He’d taken a bite from his brother’s apple one day because he’d been hungry. He’d been whipped then made to eat apples until he choked and vomited.
If you’d been stronger than Eve, you never would have been punished.
Of course, his brother was right. He was always right.
Time to begin the lesson.
He took the spray can out of his pocket, shook it and painted the message to Lexi.
Finished, he put the can back in his pocket and, satisfied with the red words dripping down the wall, walked back to the pretender. He had only a few more minutes, but that was all he needed.
He bent over and touched his lips to hers, then straightened and pulled the knife out of his boot. He jerked the sheet back that had been covering her and held it in one hand, knife raised in the other.
‘Lexi, my beloved, so endeth the lesson.’
He brought the knife down.
Lexi Deningham fought the urge to delete the email her manager had just sent and moved it into the folder to the left. She didn’t need to read the attachment to know the gist of what was in it. Her manager had marked the email as AOFTSB—Another One From That Stalking Bastard.
Detective Fox said she should stop reading them for her peace of mind and just get her manager to send them straight to him. But she couldn’t do that. Somehow, it was worse not knowing what someone out there thought about her. She’d had peace of mind eleven years ago, completely unaware that Lyndon, like a shark in the depths of the ocean, was lurking.
She never wanted to be that vulnerable again. Better to know about every bad piece of mail or press or review than let someone ruin her life like Lyndon Carruthers had.
Shaking off the thought of him, she sat back in her chair and stared around her, trying to find comfort in the familiar. The study was a warm and cosy room lined with bookshelves and full of old, comfortable furniture including the big antique country-style desk she sat behind that had once belonged to her dad, which now had her laptop, a phone and some stationery scattered over it. Shafts of early morning light shone across its corner from the window behind her back, creating a pattern of stripes on the floor.
Her gaze landed on the family photos that were arranged on the filing cabinet in the corner; photos of Christmases, birthdays and holidays with Mum and Dad before everything went to hell.
We look so happy.
Shrugging off the weighted-sadness that would pull her down if she let it, Lexi stood. She’d read the contents of the email later. Now, she needed a distraction.
The house was quiet. Despite the early hour, Bev must have already left with Karl to go into town to buy what they needed for the afternoon tea she was preparing for Lexi’s guests. So, chatting to Bev wouldn’t be a distraction.
Despite having no specific work right now, she’d head to her studio.
As the kitchen door slapped shut behind her, Lexi breathed in deeply, the cold crispness of the morning air pushing some of the ick away, allowing her to smile over the thought of her guests. She was equal parts excited and nervous. Excited to see Craig again after too many years of only communicating via emails and texts, but nervous to meet his band mate, Daemon Flagherty, lead singer of The Sidhe.
He knew now. Knew that some of the songs that had become their greatest hits were songs Craig had co-written with her. That she was the childhood friend Craig had told them about who wanted to remain anonymous. He’d been the one who had encouraged her love of music as a child; had taken time to help her write the songs in her heart even though he’d been years older, the brother of her best friend. And after Lyndon … well, it had been Craig’s insistence that she keep writing music with him that had saved her sanity.
He’d helped her shape those songs with his beautiful, clever lyrics. It had been a thrill when he’d asked to use them for the new band he’d joined—The Sidhe—and a terror. Craig had wanted to give her her due along with her share of the royalties, but she’d made him promise to keep her anonymous. Had been hysterically insistent about it. He’d eventually given in, writing ‘music by Anonymous, lyrics by Craig Morse’ on them. But it didn’t stop him from asking if he could use her name the other few times he sent lyrics to her that he felt required her particular touch to bring to life with the perfect tune. And despite loving the fact he asked, she’d told him every time she just needed the money, not the acclaim.
It had been true back then when the thought of being in the public eye brought terror and nightmares. Craig had reluctantly given in and had never told anyone who ‘anonymous’ was all these years. She had no idea why he’d finally spilled the beans now. But, despite her initial panic—and anger—when he’d called to tell her he had in fact spilled the beans, going on to say the band were desperate to work with her on their next album due to said bean-spilling, she was glad. Working with The Sidhe right now … It gave her more time.
More time to get ready for Cat.
Billy had been so disappointed with this latest delay. But she’d promised him she would bring her sister home after she’d worked with The Sidhe. And she would this time. No more excuses. She couldn’t put it off any longer, especially as bringing her sister home to the safety of Storm Haven Manor had always been her goal. But how could she have said no to working with Deliverance and Escape Philosophy on their last albums? And nobody could fault her for wanting to work with The Sidhe.
So, after. Definitely.
But first, Daemon and Craig had to agree to work with her here and do things her way. Just because all the others had, didn’t mean they would put up with her paranoia. But at least Craig would understand and would help her to sell it.
She stopped on the path to stare out at the hills in the distance, gnawing on her lip. It was ridiculous to get this worked up. Sure, she was tired from lack of sleep and nervous about this afternoon, but she was good at her pitch about getting away from it all, having the space and freedom to let creativity flow. It was a good pitch and had worked on all the bands she’d worked with so far since building out here. The only difference now was that she’d never worked with a band already as established and big as The Sidhe. They were really big.
Her steps slowed.
Should she have agreed to meet with them? Perhaps it was a bad idea.
No. She shoved her hands under her armpits, hugging her determination to herself. She wasn’t going to let her fears and doubts talk her into cancelling the meeting now. Working with someone of Daemon Flagherty’s calibre—not to mention the joy of working directly with Craig—was something she couldn’t allow herself to sidestep because of worries that people might find out who renowned music producer AJ Denholm truly was.
A low rumble of thunder sounded in the air above her, making her jump then scurry down the path to the studio door. Dark grey snow-clouds crowded around the tops of Mt Buller and Mt Stirling. Ice-cold wind whipped through her curls, making her wrap the thick cardy she wore more firmly around herself and wish she’d put gloves and a thicker coat on. But she hadn’t been thinking when she left her office to get away from the email and her dark thoughts. All she’d wanted to do was find a distraction to keep her occupied until the guys arrived.
She was in the process of punching in the code to the studio door when her phone rang.
Her finger hovered for a moment over the screen as the familiar guilt swamped her upon seeing her best friend’s name. But she was being stupid. He wasn’t calling today to ask when she was bringing Cat home; asking because he’d put his life on hold to help her achieve this goal and wanted, quite rightly, to know when he would start his new job as Cat’s carer and physical therapist. In fact, he never called to ask that—that was just her guilt talking.
She realised she’d been staring at the phone so long the call had gone to voicemail. Cursing herself for an idiot, she called up Billy’s number as she let herself inside the studio. ‘Billy, hey. Sorry I didn’t pick up—I was right in the middle of something. Everything good?’
‘Hey, beautiful. No probs. I just wanted to let you know we’re on plan. Nobody knows the boys left the house yesterday. The chopper picked them up from the rendezvous point and should have got them to the property Nigel rented outside Mansfield late last night. Nigel, Phil and Melissa are doing a good job of making the press think they’re all still holed up in Mum and Dad’s house at Mornington.’
‘Great.’ She’d been a little worried the press would catch on. They’d been buzzing around the Morse’s house for the last week. Something about Daemon’s ex whipping up hysteria over their relationship to get media attention and the press baying for a response, or so Billy had told her when he called a few days ago to confirm the plans to get Craig and Daemon safely here.
She shuddered again. She remembered all too well how remorseless journalists and paparazzi could be to get a story. She cleared her throat as she walked into the studio’s kitchen to put the kettle on. ‘So, did Craig listen to those songs I sent yet?’
‘Yeah. He loved them. So did Dae and Phil. They’re still a bit shocked AJ Denholm is their “anonymous” but it’s made them even more keen to work with you now.’
‘Great. That’s good. So, when are you leaving?’
‘I’m going to have a late brunch with some friends in Melbourne then drive around aimlessly for an hour to throw off anyone who might think to follow me and then I’ll drive up. I should be picking the boys up mid-afternoon as planned.’
‘And they know it should just be them?’
‘Yes, Lexi, they know.’ She smiled at his ‘long-suffering-best-friend’ act. ‘Just Dae and Craig. Nobody else for now.’
‘Phil didn’t mind?’
‘No. He trusts Dae and Craig to make the right decision for the band. Besides, he didn’t want to leave Melissa—he’s been super protective since she got pregnant. I think it would drive her insane if she didn’t love him so hard.’
‘Umm, good.’ She took a deep, shuddering breath. It was all going to work out. ‘Well, I’ll see you then.’
‘Looking forward to it. And while I’m up there this time, I’ll just check all the equipment I ordered for the rehab room is set up and ready for Cat when you bring her home.’
She swallowed hard. ‘Yes. That would be great. See you later.’ She hung up before he could say more. She didn’t need a trip down Guilt Lane to You Should Have Brought Her Home Already, Beach.
She bit her lip, a tremor racing over her: prickling, uncomfortable. She shook it off—she was still cold, the weather and all—and went to turn the heater up a few degrees.
The kettle sounded as forlorn as she felt when it started to whistle. She made her tea and was about to head to the little studio when her phone rang again. Professor Carlton’s number appeared on the screen. He wasn’t due to call to update her on Cat until tomorrow. The metallic taste of fear flooded her mouth as she remembered the nightmares that had woken her early this morning. The room seemed to shrink around her as she lifted the phone to her ear. ‘Hello?’
Read more from the 5th of April 2023