Vengeance, page 1
About the Book
About the Author
Also by Susan Lewis
About the Book
Kirsten Meredith is a successful, rich and beautiful woman who seems to have it all. But she is also a woman haunted by her past which threatens to ruin her life – a lingering past of loneliness and rejection. And most dangerous of all, of burning vengeance.
Laurence McAllister is the man who walked out on her and broke her heart. Yet he is the only man who can help her fight her worst enemy – Dyllis Fisher, a woman who has vowed to destroy Kirsten’s life at all costs. And in a world where bitter vengeance will know no limit, Kirsten needs all the help she can get . . .
About the Author
Susan Lewis is the bestselling author of twenty-three novels. She is also the author of Just One More Day, a moving memoir of her childhood in Bristol. She lives in Gloucestershire. Her website address is www.susanlewis.com
Also by Susan Lewis
A Class Apart
Dance While You Can
The Hornbeam Tree
The Mill House
A French Affair
Out of the Shadows
Just One More Day, A Memoir
For an absent friend
I should like to express my thanks to all those who helped me in New Orleans, especially Carrie Jo Martina at the Richelieu Hotel, Little Joe Catalanotto of Independent Studios, Danny, whose guidance and friendship was greatly appreciated, Sergeant Wayne H. Cooper of the New Orleans Police Department and Dr Paul Wagner of Honey Island.
On a personal as well as professional level I thank my editor, Helen Fraser, for her invaluable support.
My love and thanks go also to my cousin Karen Shields and to my friends Lesley Morgan, Bridget Anderson, Barbara Thorn, Pat Cockram and, of course, Denise Hastie, who were with me throughout the writing of this book and so much more. Most especially of all though, I should like to thank Carl and Brenda Clump – they know why.
Vengeance is mine, said the Lord; but why wait for the Almighty when He had given her the power to seek it for herself. So vengeance would be hers. She would use the mightiest of her weapons, she would expose the temptress and watch her squirm in the spotlight of degradation and contempt until she was spurned by those she loved, ridiculed and scorned by those she knew, and damned by all. She would pay for taking that which was not hers, she would learn, slowly and painfully, that she would never have that which she wanted: love, friendship, trust. For her there would be nothing, not even death. There would be only a living hell, an interminable journey of suffering and a timeless reaping of her own iniquity.
Dermott Campbell lifted his head and looked into the expressionless eyes observing him. For a brief moment a mean relish flickered in his own, revealing the pleasure he took in having the power to carry out the destruction he had just outlined. Then his lips, strangely effeminate in a face that was otherwise so masculine, curved tremulously at the corners, showing the discomfort he felt under her scrutiny.
‘Kirsten’s on her way back,’ he said, squinting, as though creasing his eyes could disguise the nervous tic in his temple. ‘She’ll be arriving tomorrow.’
The woman seated opposite him casually crossed one leg over the other and nodded, barely perceptibly.
It was hard for Campbell not to squirm. His hand moved to the slim file he’d placed on the table between them. As he opened it his heart was thudding with revulsion at what he was about to do. For a moment he almost panicked and only by sheer effort of will did he manage to calm himself. But maybe he could hold off, maybe he could get the co-operation he needed without ever revealing the contents of the file. To destroy one life was enough, was, in these circumstances, about all he could stomach.
‘You know her,’ he said, pressing the file closed. ‘You can help me. You know her secrets, you know her past. You’ve studied her . . .’ He stopped at the look of confusion that came into her eyes. ‘OK, perhaps studied isn’t quite the right word,’ he said. ‘It’s my employer who has studied her, diligently, for the past five years. That’s how your name has come up. You know as much about her as anyone is ever likely to know. You knew her back then, can you help me.’
‘And why in the world would I do that?’
‘Because if you don’t, I’m finished.’
Campbell flinched at the look of astonishment and amusement. ‘But you’ve been washed-up for a long time, Dermott,’ she said smoothly. ‘No one dances to your tune any more. Least of all me.’ She laughed. ‘Oh, sure, the column still goes under your name, but everyone knows you no longer write it. Your glory days are long gone, Dermott.’
‘I’m making a come-back,’ he said, feeling as foolish as he sounded.
She nodded as though interested, but the smile of derision remained on her lips. ‘And Kirsten Meredith is your target?’ she said. ‘Tell me, what’s she ever done to you?’
Campbell’s head jerked to one side in annoyance. ‘Look,’ he said, failing to conceal his impatience, ‘in this life it’s dog eat dog. And if destroying Kirsten Meredith is the only means by which I can get back on top, then so be it.’
‘And you want me to help you?’ The pedantic reply came with such contemptuous incredulity that Campbell actually blushed.
‘You’ve got to help me,’ he said, his voice barely audible.
Campbell nodded. ‘Dyllis had given me this,’ he said, pushing the file across the desk.
He was slightly appeased to see a slight crack opening in the implacable composure at the mention of Dyllis Fisher. As the undisputed baroness of Fleet Street and empirical ruler of banks, underwriters, heavy industry, big businesses and political campaigns, the power Dyllis Fisher wielded was awesome. ‘I have been instructed,’ he continued as his companion scanned the contents of the file, ‘to make this public if you refuse.’
He waited, his hands clenched together so tightly it hurt. Once, and only once before she had finished did she raise her eyes to his. Those strang
At last she replaced the file on the table. ‘You’d do this to me, you’d do it to Kirsten, and all to save yourself?’ she said, her tone so scathing that Campbell felt as nauseated by the wave of self-disgust as she’d intended.
‘I don’t intend to do anything to you,’ he answered. ‘That,’ he said, prodding the file, ‘will never be made public . . .’
‘Just so long as I dish the dirt on Kirsten Meredith?’
He stared at her. ‘There’s big money in this,’ he said. ‘Dyllis is a generous woman when she wants to be.’
‘And my fee is thirty pieces of silver? What’s yours? Oh, I’m forgetting, your come-back.’
Once again Campbell coloured. He lifted his glasses from the table and put them on, as if by doing so he could shield himself from the panic rising in her eyes – a panic her manner so far belied.
A sudden brittle laugh erupted from her throat and though it surprised him he knew it was an indication that she was as afraid to say no as he had been. So she should be, for neither of them had what it would take to stand up against Dyllis Fisher, particularly not her.
Agitation brought her sharply to her feet. Campbell watched her as she paced the room. Should he tell her that he despised himself far more than she ever could for what he was prepared to do? Would it make a difference? Such a fatuous question. ‘All I’m asking,’ he said, ‘is that you tell me whatever you know about her. The facts can always be embellished and I will take sole responsibility for that.’
‘You do realize,’ she said, ‘that any scandal you fabricate about Kirsten will almost inevitably involve other innocent parties?’
Campbell had been waiting for that, but the cruel truth of her words stung him nevertheless.
‘Are you going to feel good about putting your best friend’s life under the microscope?’ she challenged. ‘Do you want the whole world to know what he did to Kirsten?’
‘There are ways and ways of telling a story,’ he defended himself lamely.
‘I can’t help you,’ she said with sudden bravado. ‘I’m just not going to be a part of it. She’s suffered enough . . .’
‘And you care more about that than you do your own mother?’ he said, looking at the file.
Shit, he groaned inwardly. She means it.
She was eyeing him now with all the distaste he felt at himself. But to hell with it. This was no time to entangle himself in a web of spineless chivalry – and what did it matter if a few reputations were damaged, a few raw nerves exposed. God knew, he’d trampled over enough lives in his heyday and had never thought twice about it.
He forced himself to meet the burning, yet still uneasy, gaze of the woman he loved. It was time now, he knew, to play his trump card. Did he have the courage for it? Could he really take the envelope containing the most damning evidence of all which he had secreted in his pocket and confront her with it? Dear God in heaven, was he really capable of this kind of blackmail?
A few minutes later, still trembling with the effect of watching her break the seal, Campbell pressed his fingers to his tired eyes as he heard her say, in a voice so strained that he too could feel the tightness choking him:
‘Until now I had always believed that everyone, you included, had at least one shred of decency in them.’ She threw the envelope back across the table as though anything that had been touched by him was foully contaminated.
‘We’re not talking decency,’ he replied dully, unable to meet her eyes, ‘we’re talking survival.’
‘And you seriously think that any of us are going to survive this?’
‘Then I hope to God it’s not you.’
‘Honestly, I’m not interested,’ Jane said.
‘What do you mean, you’re not interested! He’s got heaps of money, oodles of charm, a flashy car . . . What is it he drives, Laurence?’ Pippa asked, turning to her husband.
‘God knows,’ Laurence murmured, not taking his eyes from the morning paper as he sipped his coffee.
‘Well, it’s a smart one,’ Pippa said forcefully. ‘And he dresses rather snazzily, you’ve got to admit that.’
‘I’ve only seen him once,’ Jane giggled, the colour in her normally pallid cheeks deepening, ‘and he didn’t notice me at all. So please, Pippa, don’t say anything to him,’ and in an attempt to end this embarrassing conversation Jane too picked up a newspaper.
‘Mm,’ Pippa grunted, ‘I suppose he is a bit full of himself, men like that often take some time to notice anyone else. But we could work on it.’
Jane reached across the breakfast table to Tom, Pippa and Laurence’s three-year-old son, trying to extract a soggy piece of toast from his hand. For a moment or two Pippa watched her, a vague and unpalatable feeling of irritation injecting itself into the otherwise genuine fondness she felt for the girl. Pippa wasn’t too sure why, but for some reason she felt almost as responsible for Jane and her welfare as she did for Tom’s. And feeling responsible wasn’t something Pippa particularly enjoyed. Laurence was much better at it.
Still, there wasn’t a bad bone to be found in Jane’s scrawny little body, which, to Pippa’s mind, made her about as dull as it made her irritating. But as Tom quite simply adored her, almost as much as Jane did Tom, Pippa considered herself extremely fortunate in having such a perfect nanny.
Catching Pippa watching her, Jane gave one of her annoyingly self-conscious giggles. Pippa bit down hard on her irritation. Jane had been with them for over three years now and still Pippa hadn’t managed to break her of that infuriating habit. Still, Pippa reminded herself, she mustn’t concentrate on Jane’s shortcomings – in fact, why should she concentrate on Jane at all when she had so much else to think about.
Realizing she was temporarily off the hook Jane picked up her tea and turned another page of the newspaper. She loved breakfast time when the whole family, and she counted herself as one of the family now, sat down together in the basement kitchen of their Kensington home, idling away the first half hour of the day where the mouthwatering smells of toast and freshly ground coffee filled the cluttered room. As usual the radio was playing, though this morning it could barely be heard above the frantic chattering of the birds coming through the open french windows and Tom’s cheerful little conversation with his imaginary friend. Despite having spent all his short life in England, Tom had almost as pronounced an American accent as his father’s and at times as colourful a vocabulary, which only a few moments ago he had been reprimanded for.
‘Laurence! You must know someone we could invite along for Jane,’ Pippa suddenly declared, coming out of her reverie. ‘What about that researcher of yours? He’s single, isn’t he?’
‘Oh, Pippa, stop it, please!’ Jane groaned. ‘I don’t want to meet anyone, honestly.’
‘But a girl’s got to have some fun,’ Pippa protested. ‘It’s not normal to shut yourself away like you do with only Tom for company.’
Jane smiled as Tom’s huge blue eyes gazed up at her, waiting to see what she would say. ‘What are we going to do with Mummy?’ she said to him. ‘How do we get her to take no for an answer?’
‘If I were you, Jane,’ Laurence said, leaning back in his chair and reaching out to stroke the back of Pippa’s neck, ‘I’d just tell her to mind her own business.’
Jane watched as Pippa turned to Laurence. She could no longer see Pippa’s face, but she could see Laurence’s as he gazed into Pippa’s eyes, and for just a second or two Jane felt like an intruder. She turned to Tom, who was now wheeling his toy train around his breakfast dish while mashing an eggshell with a spoon.
She started to clean him up, half-listening to Pippa and Laurence as Pippa cleared the table then weaved her way through Tom’s toys to the sink while discussing her schedule for that week. Laurence stood up, waited for Jane to finish with Tom then swung him up into his arms. Jane smi
Fortunately for Jane she was over her crush on him now, but it had taken some time – almost two years in fact. Now, at last, she could look at him and no longer suffer those stomach-wrenching surges of adoration and, of course, disloyalty. But even worse had been the horribly deep-rooted humiliation. She’d known throughout that miserable time that a man like Laurence McAllister would never be interested in someone like her, would probably not even notice her existence were it not for the fact that she was his son’s nanny, but sadly that knowledge had done nothing to quell her feelings. Neither had the fact that he was so much older than her, almost the same age as her father.
Other author's books:
- One Minute LaterThe Secret KeeperHome TruthsForgottenThe Moment She LeftIntimate StrangersDarkest LongingsWicked Beauty
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