Madeleine Frank knows all too well that it's impossible to recover from some losses. She herself has escaped devastating heartbreak, fleeing her native Key West to begin life anew in the ancient city of Bath. But Madeleine's demons have never left her and may, in fact, be closer than ever -- in the mad visions of her mother, formerly a priestess of Santeria, the mysterious Afro-Cuban religion.
Rachel Locklear appears in her office seeking therapy, but Madeleine becomes increasingly troubled by the history of this hostile, damaged young woman. As the relationship with her new patient deepens, Madeleine discovers that Rachel's childhood eerily echoes her own darkest secret. Reluctant to act unprofessionally and risk having Rachel walk out of her life forever, Madeleine keeps her suspicions to herself.
But Madeleine is unaware of sinister forces gathering strength in her patient's life. On the run from her ruthless partner -- a man who will stop at nothing to control her and her son -- Rachel is desperate to keep her child safe from his father's dangerous "associates." Finally she has no choice but to involve the only person she can trust in a murderous web of revenge and deception.
From the tropical lushness of Key West to the imposing Georgian streets of Bath two women and their painful pasts collide dangerously with Cuban sorcery, prostitution, and coldhearted murder -- culminating in a tale as terrifying as it is compelling.
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City of Bath
Madeleine Karleigh Frank, humanistic psychotherapist, artist of modest note, expert on rare species of south Florida leafcutter ants, was behind locked doors in a prison. Not as a convict but as an OPV, official prison visitor, that noble cause by which lonely prisoners get friendly visits from equally lonely do-gooders with a dodgy conscience.
That's me wrapped up, she thought with a wry smile. Her conscience had never been clear, and after eight years of widowhood, her friends had branded her a loner.
"What are you smiling at?" asked Edmund Furie, the subject of her do-gooding. "You're miles away, my beauty. You're not getting bored with me, are you?"
Her hand was resting on the edge of the hatch and he reached up to touch it.
"Bored? Never," she said, shaking her head. "All sorts of things, but never bored." She pulled her hand away. She cared about this prisoner but didn't really want to be touched by him, considering the deeds his hands had done, and anyway, it was against the rules.
"All sorts of things?"
She laughed. "Stupid of me, thinking I could get away with that comment. All right, then: I'm fascinated, disturbed, amused, surprised...what else?" She scratched her head theatrically.
"Fulfilling your need for a charitable cause?"
Her laugh froze. It seemed Edmund could read her all too well. His lips drew back. A smile did not sit naturally on his features; besides, one's attention was drawn inexorably toward his teeth. They were most unusual, so plentiful and crowded in his lower jaw they'd distributed themselves into two rows, rather like sharks' teeth. Surely, in this day and age, some dentist would have offered to pull some of them and line the rest up properly with the use of a brace. Many a time she'd been tempted to offer to investigate such treatment, but it was, after all, something he could do for himself should he be bothered.
"You don't have to answer that, my dear. Why don't you tell me about your day?" he said.
"Edmund, no. We always end up talking about me."
"Oh, go on. I love hearing about your work. What sort of human conundrums did you grapple with today?"
"I can't think of a single one that would interest you," she said. "And you know it's not ethical for me to blabber about my patients."
She rested her weight on the other foot. It was hard on her back having to stand for up to an hour, talking to the prisoner through the hatch of his cell door. In the beginning, over a year ago now, she'd asked, first the chaplain, then the governor himself, to let her see Edmund inside his cell, or even sit on a chair in the open doorway, or in the corridor. Mr. Thompson had looked at her in amazement; she obviously did not realize how dangerous and unpredictable Edmund was.
Edmund snapped his fingers in front of her face. "Hello...You can confide in me, Madeleine, you know that. I would never, ever compromise you in any way. Remember that now. I might be a murderer, but I would never let a friend down, and you are my friend, aren't you?"
They looked at each other for a moment in silence. They knew each other quite well by now. Or, it seemed, he knew her very well. Almost too well.
"Yes, Edmund, I'm your friend." She meant it, despite the horror she felt about his crimes. She would think about this on the way home. The long drive always gave her space to question things like the sincerity, or at least the trade-off, of her friendship with a psychopathic assassin.
Edmund's face loomed closer, framed by the hatch, his eyes swiveling, trying to take more of her in. She reminded herself that psychopaths do not really fall in love with people, though of course they might think they do. He was fixated with her, but she had no particular worry on that score. That penetrating stare of his was not of a sexual nature. He told her once that he was through with that side of life, and she believed him. The ministrations of his mother had given him a loathing of his own penis, and anyhow, "It didn't work very well." He was a prematurely old fifty-two; had never been married, had no children, no siblings or relatives that he knew of.
"Look," he said, "talk of the devil...Another friend of yours." He bent down for a second, then brought his hand up to the hatch. A small yellow ant was running across his wrist. "I've seen quite a few of these buggers in my cell."
"Possibly the most hunted creature in the civilized world," said Madeleine with a smile. "It's a Monomorium pharaonis, or Pharaoh ant. They thrive in institutions, probably because it's nice and warm and there are big kitchens. These guys know what's good for them. Smart as could be."
"This little fellow wishes to say..." Edmund brought his hand to his mouth and mimicked a squeaky voice. "Happy Birthday, ant woman."
Madeleine was taken aback. "How did you know?"
"You must have told me."
"No, I never tell patients..." She stopped. "I didn't mean..."
Edmund looked fiercely at her. "So we are not really friends."
He slapped his wrist, making Madeleine jump back. The blatant aggression in his gesture made her remember that taking life meant nothing to him. They stood in silence for a while. Edmund shook his head, perhaps regretting squashing the ant. It was not in his interests to alienate her; she was the only person ever to visit him.
"What the hell. I'll settle for being your patient. It's better than being a charitable cause," he said.
"Oh, come on, Edmund. You're neither." She knew there was really no point in trying to deny or take back what she'd said, though it had been a genuine slipup.
He looked at the floor, pensively; the wicked twinkle in his eye was gone. The craggy lines in his face contrasted incongruously with the smooth, chalk white dome of his skull, which shone like a peeled egg under the harsh strip lighting. If he let his hair grow (if indeed he had any hair) it would undoubtedly be white, judging by the snow white eyebrows and lashes. He was as close to an albino as she'd ever seen, at least in Britain, where they were rare. She'd asked him once about his coloring, and he'd told her that as a punishment for wetting his bed, his mother had made him drink a bleach solution and it had made him all white. (Was that really possible?) He'd had a horrific upbringing and a rough life, so no wonder he looked so ruined.
Remembering that particular conversation about his mother, some eight months previously, softened her. Hidden inside that podgy, bleached man was a little boy who'd suffered terribly. There was no doubt his mother had applied some cruel and unusual punishments, and to cope with them he'd developed an early obsessive-compulsive disorder that was as crippling as it was necessary for his emotional survival. Madeleine's punctual visits had become his mainstay, and his ritualistic preparations for her arrival took all day.
Edmund broke into her train of thoughts. "OK, now we've broached the subject -- why the hell do you do it? Why are you wasting your precious time 'befriending' me, especially in view of the fact that you see dozens of screwed-up people every week? Why do you put yourself through this, the drive and all?"
Madeleine paused, knowing he was giving her an opening to put right her blunder. There was a long answer to this question, involving too much of her history, but there was a short one too.
"I'm not sure why I started," she said. "But now I do it because I genuinely look forward to our meetings. I only work part-time and get paid lots of money, so in comparison, this feels more real." She looked him in the eye. "Besides, I've got a nice life, rich in variety and choices. It does me good to see how the other half lives." She raised an eyebrow. "As you can see, my motives are purely selfish."
"Purely selfish. Yes, I like that. Modern culture is pervaded by a taboo on selfishness. I'd say it's the most powerful and legitimate drive in man, and by following this elemental drive he also does the most for the common good."
"My God. One of these days I'll ask you to explain that to me," Madeleine exclaimed, knowing she never would. It was too closely connected to his justification of his crimes: the common good -- ridding the world of scum.
He placed his hands on either side of the hatch and leaned into the hole between them, fixing her with his pale gray eyes. "You and I have an unusual human relationship where we can be more than honest with each other. We can't get involved except through this little hole in the door, so anything goes...Isn't that right?"
"Not really, Edmund." Where was this leading? "We've defined our boundaries. I've told you mine, at any rate."
"Will you take a piece of personal advice?"
She gave him a stern look. "I have a feeling you're about to offer it whether I want it or not."
"Get rid of that boyfriend of yours." He paused, searching her face with sharp eyes. "Whatever you say, you don't look happy."
She blinked. "I'm perfectly happy," she said coolly. "I don't need advice on my love life."
"I think you do," he countered, smiling a little. "You might have all those fancy qualifications and diplomas hanging on your wall, but as you know, I'm a bit of a psychologist myself. I understand quite a lot more about you than you think, and I can tell there is a problem. I see it in your face."
"He suits me just fine," Madeleine said edgily.
Edmund shook his head dismissively. "Listen now. If you can't get rid of him...that is, if he won't go...I can teach you a few things."
Madeleine looked away. Bet you can, she thought. Something to do with vats of quicklime, or big lumps of concrete.
"My sweet Madeleine." His voice became soft, hushed, like a caress. "Don't look so worried. I'm only trying to help. You and I must look out for each other. I know you feel as out of place in your own skin as I do."
"Oh, come on. You assume it because I'm American." She let slip a nervous laugh. "I don't feel at all out of place."
Yes I do.
Edmund leaned toward her menacingly. "Madeleine, get rid of him." He smacked the sides of the hatch hard with both hands, hard enough to make her glance down the corridor to see if the guard was at hand.
"I'm not hearing this, Edmund," she cautioned. "You're out of order. Read some interesting book and tell me about it next week, will you?"
"I bet Gordon is messing around."
"No, he isn't," she snapped. She couldn't remember having mentioned his name. Most unwise.
"How do you know he isn't?"
"A man is a man, my beauty. You should keep him on a tighter leash. If you keep him at all, which you should not."
Edmund often pulled some stunt like this just as it was time to go. It was the frustration of losing her every week, the only person who seemed to care about him. And as he had somehow found out it was her birthday (how had he?), he correctly surmised that she'd end the day in the arms of some man -- another man. She could understand his distress.
She heard a door clang, and out of the corner of her eye she saw Don Milligan making signs at her. It was six o'clock.
"Our time's up," she said, giving him a hurried wave. "You keep well now, buddy. I'll see you next week."
"Happy Birthday," he said quietly. His fist appeared in the hatch and instinctively she drew back. But no, there was something concealed in his hand. On a whim, she reached up and he passed a small object to her. Too late she remembered that accepting anything from a prisoner was a "terminal" offense. What the hell am I doing? she wondered as she moved away from his cell, and in that moment of bewilderment, she turned away from the closed-circuit TV camera and slipped the object into her jacket pocket.
It started raining heavily as she drove the hour and fifteen minutes from H.M. Prison Rookwood toward Bath. Though it was mid-March there were no signs of spring. The forecast for the weekend was more of the same, possibly combined with a frost. Even so, she had to fight for space with weekenders on the M4, then got stuck behind a horsebox on the A46.
The A46 ran along the side of the eastern slope of a steep, narrow valley. Down there, encircled by the river Avon and wooded hills, lay the ancient city of Bath. Underneath it, invisible, lay another city, built two thousand years earlier by interlopers from the Roman Empire.
The rain had let up, and in the falling dusk she caught sight of the city, the mighty Abbey at its center already illuminated by bluish floodlights that gave it the appearance of a vast fortress made of ice. A myriad of other church spires dotted the panorama, and honeycolored terraced houses followed the contours of the surrounding hills. The Roman army arrived here forty-three years after the birth of Christ, already inspired by the stories of this Druid stronghold. They might have stood atop this very valley, looking over the circular basin where trees grew exceptionally tall, and clouds of steam drifted up into the air, and where, at its center, bubbling up from the rust red rock, were the hot springs, guarded by Sulis, the mysterious goddess of the Druids.
Coming from the New World, Madeleine loved this aspect of Bath, its dark and ancient history. (Was it a coincidence that she was sleeping with an archaeologist, a man obsessed with its past?) As far back as seven thousand years, when Stone Age hunters discovered the valley, water, boiling up from the bowels of the earth, had drawn men to it. But not me, she reminded herself with unease; it was not the waters that drew me back.
She drove on, dismissing from her thoughts of the painful reason for her return to Bath, and turning her eyes away from the rolling Somerset landscape, she focused on the bumper of the horsebox in front of her.
Sometime later she was startled out of a reverie by her phone ringing inside her handbag. She had already reached the city and turned off on London Road, now practically at a standstill in a traffic jam. She didn't answer the call, having broken too many laws for one afternoon. The thought made her slip her fingers into her pocket to feel the object Edmund had given her. It was small and egg-shaped, but weighed heavily in her hand.
She crossed the river between the Doric tollhouses on Cleveland Bridge, passed under the railway arches, and was soon at her house, on the south curve of the city. It was part of a row of squat eighteenth-century cottages built for the stonemasons who had worked and dragged the Bath stone down from its quarries up on the hill.
She parked in the lane behind the row and sat for a moment in the car. Her phone beeped a message. Hopefully not Gordon, canceling their date. He did this a bit too often for her liking. She fished the phone out and put it to her ear.
"Sylvia here. Ten minutes to five. Howard Barnes canceled his appointment on Monday morning. Again! But if you're imagining a lie-in with your sexy archaeologist, I'm sorry to disappoint. A Miss Rachel Locklear walked in just a few minutes ago, wanting to see a woman therapist. So I exercised my initiative and gave her the slot. I know, I know, there are people on your waiting list, but it was too late to start phoning around. I just hope she shows up...she wasn't your regular posh professional type, if you know what I mean. Well, Happy Birthday again, and have a good weekend."
Madeleine smiled to herself. Where would she be without her receptionist's famous initiative? Hardly having a lie-in with the elusive Gordon!
Gordon Reddon was, at thirty-six, almost seven years younger than Madeleine. Worse, or better -- Madeleine couldn't quite decide which -- he seemed several years younger than his age, both in appearance and in attitude. She tried not to feel flattered or, God forbid, grateful, but she was just a little bit pleased with herself.
An hour after she'd come home, and had showered off the cloying prison smell and changed into a simple black dress, coupled with sensible woolly tights and knee-high boots, he rang the doorbell. She let her eyes slide over him as he stood, framed by the yellow glow of he streetlight. He was one inch shorter than she was, but she didn't mind that. For a man of his "down-to-earth" profession he was conspicuously vain about his appearance. His gym-honed physique was encased in black jeans and a fitted shirt in the palest possible dusky pink, with expensive-looking belt and shoes. Over it all was draped a black capelike rain garment.
"Happy Birthday," he said, smiling, and whipped a small bouquet of yellow roses from behind his back. "You did tell me."
"Yes, well...I'm not one of those older women who hates birthdays. Every year is a triumph of endurance and survival. Why not celebrate?" She planted a peck on his designer-stubbled cheek, and let him into the house.
"You look delectable." Gordon laughed and put his arm around her waist. "I can't believe you're getting older and older than me."
It was just a little more than she'd bargained for. She moved away from his arm and led the way into the living room. "Where are you taking me?"
He grinned. "Anywhere you want to go. Give us a beer, love."
With a slight frown she made her way to the kitchen, while Gordon approached the large painting leaning against the living room wall. It was the last in her Cave Series. Madeleine had brought it down from her attic studio in order to sit on the sofa and mull over its strengths and weaknesses. With fair quantities of alcohol she could unleash that part of her brain responsible for evaluating these self-indulgent works of art.
"What's my favorite myrmecologist painting now?" Gordon called to her.
She smiled, visualizing him tilting his head this way and that in an attempt to make sense of the ants' feverish entrance into, and exit from, an apparently vast black cave. Knowing he wasn't really interested in contemporary art, she couldn't fault him. He always showed willing, ready to listen with genuine interest to her drawn-out explanations should she care to offer them. The one and only subject of her paintings, ants, had intrigued him from the start.
"As you can see," she called from the kitchen, "it's simply workers on their way to and from work. An ant rush hour."
"Are these giant monster ants, or is their pad just a tiny crack in a pavement made to look cavernous?"
"Which would you feel more comfortable with?"
"For God's sake," he groaned, laughing. "Am I having my head examined? I bet this has something to do with some complex about the size of my penis."
Madeleine finally located a liter bottle of lager in the vegetable crisper. She'd drunk half of it the other day, but hell, it had the cap screwed on tight. With a slight Schadenfreude, the kind of "will-I-get-away-with-this" trepidation you get from having an unsuspecting guest sleeping in some previous guest's sheets, she poured the flat liquid into a tall glass and brought it to him.
"I didn't hear you," she said and placed the glass on the table before him. "What about the size of your penis?"
"You bitch," he growled and tried to grab her arm. "Come here and you can examine it."
She slithered from his grasp and sat in the chair opposite him. Gordon's eyes twinkled seductively. She laughed, wondering if she was laughing with him or at him. Even after sleeping with this man for almost eighteen months, she couldn't quite, not one hundred percent, take him seriously. The term "boy toy" came to her mind more frequently than seemed healthy. Was that really fair to him?
She watched as his hand went to the glass. He picked it up and looked appreciatively at the rich golden fluid, brought it to his lips and pursed them for a second as he drew it into his mouth. Another second passed, then he roared in disgust. Gordon fancied himself a purist among beer drinkers and she'd deliberately outraged him. Always willing for a little self-analysis, she asked herself: Now where was the satisfaction in that?
Despite the freezing rain, they left the house on foot and walked along the canal, following the black, still water toward its source. On the bank where it joined the river, a majestic weeping willow dangled its branches into the water. Gordon stopped her under its canopy, as he'd done so many times before, and kissed her passionately.
"Creature of habit," she whispered against his cheek, but regretted teasing him when she saw his mouth turn down. Gordon was impulsive enough and had a wry sense of humor, though not when he himself was the butt of a joke.
"So much for romance," he retorted, grabbing her by the arm and marching her across the iron footbridge that straddled the river and through the stone arches beyond which the city unfolded.
She chose the new fish restaurant next to Poultney Bridge. The old building leaned perilously toward the river and appeared even more top-heavy because of the throng in the restaurant upstairs. They got the last table. It was far from intimate; they were placed on the crossroads between the gents' toilet and the kitchen. Once they were seated it seemed too late to change their minds. Gordon was assertive about food and settings but the evening had already taken on a slapdash feel. It wasn't helped by the fact that he glanced at his watch more than once.
"You in a hurry?" she asked, trying to sound lighthearted.
His eyes narrowed. "Of course not."
They looked away from each other.
"What have you been up to?" she asked after a pause.
He turned, a little too abruptly. "What do you mean?"
She shrugged. "The question hardly needs explaining, Gordon. I haven't seen you for nine days."
His face relaxed into a rueful smile. "I'm mainly in the lab at the moment," he said. "Looking at the stuff we got out of the Southgate dig. You know me, I prefer being out there on my hands and knees in a pit. Like this time last year."
She nodded, remembering his excitement at finding a cobbler's shop, a large selection of two-thousand-year-old Roman shoes, together with the tools of shoemaking and other leather clothing, preserved in a waterlogged pit, dug into the impermeable blue Lias clay right in the middle of the city. He'd written a brilliant paper on Roman footwear and been invited to the States for a series of lectures.
Gordon tried to catch the waiter's eye, while complaining about the general boredom of archaeological "homework" and specifically about some bits of a Roman floor mosaic he believed had disappeared into a janitor's pocket, while Madeleine's attention was drawn to the image of a forty-three-year-old woman in the large mirror behind him. Forty-three! Like most women, she was more than familiar with her own appearance, but this was different. Furtively observing herself in action, she saw how much of a foreigner she really was. It showed in the way she talked, laughed, gesticulated, and, quite disconcertingly, in that constant languid movement of her shoulders (did she do this with patients?). Though half of her was British, her other half was astonishingly Hispanic. She noted how much more golden her skin color was than that of the pale diners around her. Brought up in the unrelenting sun of Key West, Madeleine was blessed with a natural year-round tan; but in addition, her mother was Cuban, and though no one would ever guess it, her great-great-great-grandmother had been a Yoruba slave, brought from blackest Africa to Cuba by the Spaniards to work the sugar plantations. Yet Madeleine was her father's child too: she was tall and slim and unadorned, having nothing of her mother's petite stature, sexy Latin curves, and sizzling temperament.
Giving her appearance a last glance, she decided that it had "impostor" written all over it: her easy smile, the way she moved, the occasional flick of the head to toss a black curl away from her face, seemingly quite at ease with herself, while actually, Edmund Furie had been right, she felt out of place.
She turned back to Gordon just as his mobile phone rang shrilly in his jacket pocket. He could have ignored it but instead he turned away, speaking in hushed tones to the intruder. Madeleine tried to overlook the interruption but when the phone call ended could not resist commenting on his rudeness and constant availability on the phone.
"This is the point where a drink would be really good," she added quietly.
"Yes, but not here."
Gordon stood up and started for the door, and Madeleine had to scramble for her bag, jacket, and umbrella to catch up. A haughty waiter looked on.
"Sorry," Madeleine said to him. "We're going to miss our tram."
"Madam," said the man with a frown, "Bath has no trams."
"And this place, sir, has no service," she grumbled as she brushed past him.
Under Poultney Bridge the waters of the Avon River murmured quietly. Gordon was slightly ahead of her, advancing on the restaurants on Argyle Street, his hands shoved deep into his pockets, his cape slung carelessly over his shoulders. She was already familiar with his habit of keeping her behind him when he was annoyed. The faster she walked to catch up, the faster he would go too. It was one of those things Gordon did that she could never properly confront.
Lengthening her stride, she reached out for his hand and said, "Hey, come on. Let's not spoil the evening. You're grumpy because you're hungry, that's all. Why don't we just go back to my house? Best bar in town, and there is food. I stocked up at Safeway for the weekend."
He slowed a little, squeezing her hand forgivingly. "Safeway is rubbish. I shop at Marks."
"OK, your place then," she said, forcing him to stop and face her.
For an instant a look passed over his face.
"Marks is off." He shrugged disarmingly. "I guess it's your place."
She peered at him...She always trusted her instincts; they were sharp, fine-tuned to the most subtle messages. "Oh hell, forget food. Let's go to your place for a change."
He glanced at his watch again. "My sheets need changing and..."
She looked at him for a long moment. "Why am I suddenly thinking that there's someone else between those sheets?"
Another shifty look flashed over his face, but a second later his shoulders relaxed. "Come on, Madeleine, we never did make any promises. That's not what our relationship is about, right?"
She stared at him, speechless.
"I never gave it a thought," she said finally. Not until this afternoon. Thank you, Edmund. She couldn't believe she was so naïve. With all the gritty observations about the dynamics of their partnership, she had never really raised the question of fidelity. He was a stickler for protection even though she kept reassuring him that they could dispense with the inconvenience. According to Emma Williams, her gynecologist, the risk of pregnancy was now practically nonexistent. She'd desperately hoped to get pregnant during the fourteen years of her marriage, but it had not happened. Still, Gordon meticulously rolled on his condoms. Of course he did. He wasn't worried about an unwanted pregnancy, it was all those sexually transmitted diseases he was in danger of catching from other women. How very responsible of him to protect her. And how very stupid of her not to put that simple two and two together.
"Madeleine, you can't be angry," he said, taking her by the shoulders and looking into her eyes. "Listen, we're good together. There is no reason that can't continue. Quite apart from being exotic and lovely, you're the most sane, grown-up, and independent woman I know. That's what turns me on about you. Come on. Be sensible."
"I've got to think about this one."
Gordon's grip on her shoulders tightened. He shook her slightly. "Don't think so bloody much. Just go with what feels good."
"Is she at your place right now?"
"Who cares? This is about you and me."
"I'm with you, aren't I?"
"Just say yes or no."
"Well, yes. But she's not expecting me anytime soon."
"I think I've got a problem with the idea of some other woman waiting for you in your bed as we speak," she said. "Quite a big problem, in fact."
"Oh, come on. What do you care about some little piece of fluff? Right now I'm exactly where I want to be. With you."
Well-dressed people under large umbrellas pushed past them as they stood apart, facing each other on the pavement. Madeleine refused to move even though rain was dripping from her hair. Her feminist hackles had risen. Fluff! At the same time she felt a small grain of smugness. Fluff she was not. But how many others? And why? Because what she had to offer was not enough, or because he was an incurable womanizer? Either way, he should have made it clear that he was not into exclusivity. As the shock began to subside, indignation set in. Some girl was in his bed right now, waiting her turn. If that was so, the reverse was bound to be true. He'd no doubt come to her bed straight after making love to someone else. The image of it made her sick with anger.
A taxi drove past, too close to the curb, splashing them both.
"Shit," Gordon exclaimed angrily, leaping away. "Well, where are we going to eat? I'm wet and starving."
Madeleine opened her umbrella. "I'm not prudish, nor am I that proud, but I don't want to be party to this, if you pardon the pun."
Gordon's handsome face looked more somber than she could ever remember. He grabbed her by the arm and pulled her into a doorway. "I wish you wouldn't feel like that. Listen, Madeleine, I'm very careful...they don't mean anything to me, but you do."
She shook off the grasp he had on her arm and laughed sarcastically. "I mean something, do I?"
He moved to bar her exit. "Hear me out..."
"I've never asked for commitment," she exclaimed, pushing him away. "I've made no demands on you, but couldn't you just do us one at a time?"
They stared at each other. Gordon shook his head.
"You can't change who I am. The fact that you've never tried has been so refreshing. Don't start now. Please."
"All right," she said with an angry shrug. "I won't try." She waited a few seconds, but as he had nothing more to add, she said, "Bye, Gordon," and darted out into the downpour, making her way back toward the bridge.
"Madeleine, come back," he called after her. Part of her hoped he'd come after her, grab her, tell her he couldn't live without her. She heard his footsteps recede and looked over her shoulder. The dark cape flapped wildly behind him as he marched off in the opposite direction.
An hour later, Madeleine sat on her living room sofa with a large glass of rum in her hands. This is a great birthday, she thought, absolutely wonderful. The phone remained silent. Rosaria, her mother, suffered from a chronic psychosis and could not be expected to remember. Her father, Neville, was too famous and important and selfish. Her few friends were not privy to her birth date -- but that was her own fault. Her colleague, John, and receptionist, Sylvia, had known, and had taken her for an extended lunch in a fabulous restaurant. She reached over the coffee table and picked up the card they'd given her.
"How many psychotherapists does it take to change a lightbulb?" she read out loud. She knew the answer, of course, but chuckling ruefully, she opened the card and read it again. "Only one -- but the lightbulb has got to really want to change. All love, John and Sylvia."
All love! Madeleine gritted her teeth against a swell of grief. She'd not cried for over seven years, not since Forrest died, and she wasn't going to now. All the tears of a lifetime had been used up, as if the hurricane had washed any capacity for feeling out of her, leaving her empty and dry. After years of self-punishing celibacy, Gordon had come into her life. She didn't think she loved Gordon, but she liked him very much. Or perhaps she liked herself very much around him. Now she felt he'd used her somehow; he'd broken some unspoken rule of hers. That was the problem: they hailed from different planets and played by different rules, having so much fun in the process that they'd never stopped to compare notes. He'd rescued her and made her feel like a woman again, so perhaps she'd used him too.
Coming back to Bath had not worked, after all. She was alone all over again. Beyond lighting up her mother's life, what did she have to show for it? Precious few friendships, four years of psychotherapy training and three years of practice, a pile of sinister ant paintings. And Edmund.
Edmund! She jumped up and went into the hall. The jacket hung over a chair and she reached into the pocket for his birthday present. In her hand it had felt like a small egg and looked like one too. It was made of some kind of stone, green with gray flecks, smooth, polished to a high shine. An egg -- how nice! She shook her head in consternation, wondering about the symbolic content of the gift.
About to drop it into a bowl for useless objects, she felt a movement. She held the egg to her ear and shook it. It was hollow; there was definitely something inside. She peered closely at the oval stone, turning it slowly in her hand, scrutinizing its surface. There it was: a seam, fine as the sharp edge of a razor blade. Determined to get to the object inside, she took the paper knife from the hall table, and returning to the living room sofa, worked at the seam until she managed to prise the egg apart.
Inside was a brooch. It was a twisted rope or cord made out of a dull gray metal, pewter perhaps, shaped into a teardrop...or was it a noose? She drew back in shock. Most of his victims he'd strangled with his bare hands, but on those who had been large or muscular he'd used a rope. Perhaps she was jumping to conclusions. Yes, of course she was. She was his only friend and he wouldn't want to frighten her. Didn't a rope also symbolize togetherness, commitment? In art, it symbolized passion, whereas in some cultures it referred to submission and enslavement.
She turned the brooch around in her hands. It was far from beautiful, but then Madeleine was not into bling or glitter. The more she looked at it, the more its austerity appealed to her. Commitment, she decided, warily choosing the least sinister explanation. He was in jail for several lifetimes. He was asking her to be his friend forever (till he died or she died). At least she hoped that's what he meant.
Love is not to be scoffed at, she thought drunkenly as she pinned Edmund's gift onto her dress. There is not that much love around.
Madeleine drained her glass and went to kneel in front of her myrmecarium. Her ants ran relentlessly from box to box, through the passages and cylinder, disciplined and methodical in their work, never lazy, never stopping, always searching, but the difference was they knew exactly where they were running to...and what they were searching for.
Copyright © 2009 by Kitty Sewell
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Dealing with her own heartbreak, psychotherapist Madeleine Frank becomes too involved in the personal life of a young woman client who reminds her of a daughter she gave up for adoption. Very intricately plotted and psychologically suspenseful. Recommended.
Although Key West was not considered in a direct path of tropical storm Angelina, the island takes a nasty hit. A resident all her life, Madeleine Frank can never look at the place the same way since her spouse Forrest died in the storm. Needing to escape her loss, Madeleine flees Florida for Bath, England, where she opens up a psychotherapy practice. Her latest patient Rachel Locklear seems at first like a classic domestic violence victim as her former lover and father of her child has pimped her and wants both back under his brutal thumb. However, as the sessions continue, Madeleine is stunned to find Rachel's past somewhat mirrors her own dark childhood growing up in a household where her Cuban mother was a powerful Santera priestess; her mom currently lives in a nearby mental institution as she suffers from acute paranoid schizophrenia. Soon the pasts of both women will collide with their present leaving each with no hope for the future. Although there are some subplots especially the ants that feel pointless as they fail to enhance the psychological suspense or insight into the beleaguered heroine, BLOODPRINT is an engaging thriller. Madeleine is an interesting character as Key West can no longer be home for her and Bath is becoming questionable. Rachel purposely is a bit underdeveloped as the woman in trouble so that the audience will wonder whether she is manipulating her therapist; her actions and Madeleine's reactions lead to the heroine's peril just like her demented mom warned her. Even though this story is not on the level of ICE TRAP, Kitty Sewell provides a fine contemporary thriller that combines a violent significant other with Santera beliefs converging on two frightened but brave women. Harriet Klausner