Meeting him was easy. It was knowing him that burned bone.
Paul Shepherd is dangerous. He crashes into Jenna’s life like an
asteroid into an ocean. Willful and exhausting, he stirs feelings that
make her confront all that has kept her safe – and bored.
Relentless and determined, he needs Jenna with a desperation she
does not understand. Jenna discovers that, although she can try to
hide from Paul, there is nowhere to hide from herself.
But he is married…
What do you do when you discover you are not the person you
thought you were?
Meeting him was easy. It was knowing him that burned bone.
There are twists in fate; chances and turns; long straights in the flat lands and winding roads in mountains. In later years, Jenna Warwick traced the beginning of the rest of her life back to this conversation. Here, now, in her own house, in her own living room. If she had known and could have changed her direction, turned this way instead of that way, would she?
No. A hundred times No.
Adam stretched lazily and pushed himself out of her comfortable chair to give her a quick hug. “So you’re going to meet my famous photographer brother at last. I’ll pick you up about five tomorrow.”
She lifted his coat from the sofa and handed it to him. “OK. That should give me time to finish my assignment.” She chuckled. “Can’t wait to meet his wife. I’ve never met a real London ‘society gal’ before.”
He wriggled his shoulders into the coat. “I can’t imagine why she married him. And she certainly didn’t guess that Paul would drag her back to Belfast to live after only a few months of marriage.” He pulled up the zip and went into the hall. “But then ‘predictable’ isn’t Paul’s middle name.”
“I can’t stand unpredictable people. They’re dangerous.” She yawned and pushed a chestnut wave from his forehead. “Now be a good boy and go home.”
Adam kissed her. A boyfriend’s kiss. Not a lover’s kiss. He put a hand on her shoulder. “I’ll have to stop being a good boy soon.”
”Not till I stop being a good girl!”
She watched him walk down the dark row of terraced houses to his car, pulled half onto the pavement of the narrow city street. Solid, dependable Adam, sales rep for a printing company, the young man with the secure future, a man to bring home to meet your parents without a moment’s worry that they wouldn’t like him. A man who satisfied the exacting standards of a clergyman who was fiercely protective of his student daughter.
She brushed her teeth, slipped into her warm pyjamas, sat up in her narrow bed and read a chapter of a novel, lay down and listened to the midnight news. Then she went to sleep.
She remembered everything she had done that ordinary night; the night she had gone to bed untroubled, like a good girl.
There should have been thunder.
Paul Shepherd took his foot off the edge of the sofa and propped his guitar against the wall. He turned back to the window.
“Here they are,” he called.
Dianne came up beside him and put her hand round his waist. They watched Adam and Jenna getting out of the car pulled up behind Paul’s in the short driveway, looking up at the house, looking round at the overgrown patch of garden. They saw Adam button his jacket and reach for Jenna’s hand. Jenna smoothed her hair and they came towards the front door.
“Not as handsome as me, is he?”
Dianne’s lip gloss sparkled. “I’d better be careful how I answer that!”
Paul put his fingers playfully round the back of her neck. “Very careful!”
Adam and Jenna had nearly reached the door. Dianne creased her lower lip with one varnished pink nail.
“God, what awful hair!” she said.
“You have exacting standards.”
“You wouldn’t have to be exacting to improve on that. She’s just let it grow and done nothing with it.”
Paul was quiet for a moment as Adam reached for the doorbell. Dianne went to answer it. Paul looked again at Jenna. She was only a short distance from him, on the other side of the window, but her attention was on the door. If you were being nice, you could describe her as ‘fresh’. If you weren’t, Paul thought, you could describe her as … He watched her adjust the strap of her low slung canvas bag in a nervous gesture. She looked up as the door opened and Paul heard Dianne’s words. “Adam, how lovely to see you again! And how lovely to meet you, Jenna. You look wonderful!”
He came into the hall and saw Jenna’s smile as his willowy, sophisticated wife bent to kiss the air above her ear. He stopped. ‘Plain’, he decided.
Dianne’s accent was cut as fine as crystal ringing beneath the tap of a spoon. When Jenna could see past the swaying blond hair which temporarily blocked her view, a man was standing in the hall behind her.
She had an impression of subtlety and power, of wariness and curiosity. He was dressed casually in a red sweatshirt and blue jeans, but his manner was anything but casual. His fingers were thrust stiffly into his pockets and, unlike his wife’s greeting, Jenna merely received a brief nod before he turned his attention to his brother.
“You’re late, little brother. I suppose you accidentally drove into the car park at Shaw’s Bridge. Sat there with your girl and couldn’t think of a thing to do, so you decided to get on the road again.”
Jenna felt herself blushing. She was twenty-three. Time to stop the red face syndrome. Adam’s arm tightened round her shoulders.
“England hasn’t civilised you, I see,” he said.
Dianne showed them into the sitting room. “Come and sit down. Dinner won’t be long.”
“It smells wonderful,” Jenna said.
“Sorry the room’s so small,” Dianne lifted Paul’s guitar and looked around. “Paul, couldn’t you put this thing somewhere else? There isn’t room to turn round in here!” She tossed her hair and smiled brightly at Jenna. “We’ll get a proper house soon, once we’ve looked round. Not that we’ll be staying, of course.” She laughed. “Paul’s much too much in demand in London.”
The room was bigger than Jenna’s sitting room, but she decided not to say so. Paul took the guitar from his wife and set it against the wall again.
“It’s fine where it is.” He turned away from her. “As are we,” he added.
“Don’t be silly, Paul.” Dianne sighed, petulant. “Why, nothing goes on here. Well, not any more anyway.”
Ignoring her, Paul settled himself into the chair near the door into the kitchen. The smell of herbs and roasting meat was strong in Jenna’s nostrils. “So how’s work, Adam?” said Paul.
Paul raised an eyebrow and leaned back. “Say something different this time.” He waved a hand impatiently. “‘I’ve six projects on the go.’ ‘I visited four clients in the last two days.’ ‘Have you heard Karen photocopied her bum?’ Or do you really just lead a busy, boring life?”
“Don’t be so mischievous, Paul!” Dianne turned to Jenna. “Brothers. Who’d have one?”
“I have,” said Jenna.
“Older or younger?”
“Younger. Luke. He’s doing his A levels soon.”
“Waste of time,” said Paul. “He’s more likely to become a millionaire with GCSEs and a brain.”
“He has those as well,” said Jenna.
Paul’s eyes swivelled to her. “And so have you, I believe. A brain, I mean. First class honours, I hear, and going back for more. Are you with Adam to counteract the dizzy excitement of the university library?”
It was so ridiculous Jenna couldn’t help a grin starting to tug. Before she could reply, Adam said, “Jenna’s a bright girl. Stop embarrassing her.”
Dianne broke in. “Dinner won’t be long. Why don’t you take a walk round the back before it gets too dark, while I check the oven? It’s a frightfully tiny patch. Just about big enough for rhubarb.”
“I hate rhubarb,” said Paul.
At the door, Jenna turned.
“I don’t think Luke wants to be a millionaire. There are better things to have than money.”
Paul had stood up and wandered to the fireplace. His eyebrows rose. “How conventional! I’m sure there are. But money helps you get them.”
Jenna put her hand on the door frame. “Or lose them.” She looked up at Adam. “What was the Beatles song? ‘Money can’t buy me love.’”
Paul’s eyes flicked to the door into the kitchen and back to Jenna. “Oh, I never have to buy that.”
I bet you don’t, Jenna thought as she followed Adam out to the patch of lawn. Behind the garage, across a mat of buttercup and dandelion, Adam took her hand.
“Sorry about Paul. He’s in a mood.”
She put her head on his shoulder.
“Seems to be. I’m so used to you. You’re so steady and …” She was going to say ‘predictable’ but the word stuck, as if it wasn’t quite a compliment.
“Paul and I are very different. Always were. He’s four years older than me and he hasn’t liked me since I was born.”
She smiled up at him. “Maybe because you’re so much cleverer than him!”
He grinned. “Yes, I am. After all, I’ve got you.”
“And that’s very clever!” She kissed him lightly. “Maybe I should try laying on the lipstick like Dianne.” She paused. “I must say, her make-up’s nicely done.”
“Please don’t go all lipstick and eye-liner on me.”
“Because I like what I see …”
“… and what you see is what you get.”
The garden was a neglected riot of overgrown shrubs choked in tussocks of clover and buttercup. The neighbours on one side had kept the top of the hedge within limits, but this side of it was overhanging what must once have been a lawn.
Adam glanced around. “Putting this straight’ll keep him busy.” They turned back to the house. “But he’s more likely to photograph it than dig it.”
Paul seemed to have changed into the perfect host by the time Dianne served dinner. There was the clatter of cutlery, requests to pass this and that up and down the table, polite offers of more; courteous refusals. Jenna relaxed, talking about herself and her family a little, but mostly listening to Dianne’s chatter about her home, her father and how much she missed it
all, and how dreadfully bored she was here. Jenna watched her, fascinated to see the formation of the immaculate vowels. There was certainly no way she would blend in here. Paul listened and watched.
They moved back to the comfortable chairs for coffee. As Jenna sat on the sofa beside Adam she looked through the door to the kitchen. Dianne had hooked her arms round her husband’s neck and was laughing up at him, her eyes sparkling, her white teeth parted, her blonde hair in thick waves round her face. She was lovely.
That wasn’t the word Jenna thought of as she watched Paul. He was built a little lighter than Adam; at about six feet, perhaps an inch taller than his brother. He tilted his dark head towards his wife and his hand rested lightly on her shoulder. The gleam of new gold on his finger caught the light.
Jenna looked away. No, Paul wasn’t lovely at all. Paul was perfect.
She slid back in the sofa to touch her body to Adam’s and reach for his hand.
“Nice house, isn’t it?” he said.
“Great,” she said.
Without knowing why, she wanted him to put his arm round her. She moved closer.
“Hey,” he said. “you’re sitting on my jacket.”
“Sorry,” she said, and moved away a little.
Paul was back. He was in a mood again.
“So. You grew up in a manse then? Daddy’s a preacher man?”
Jenna returned his gaze evenly. “My father’s a minister, yes.”
Paul’s eyes lingered on her shoes, went up to her knees covered in maroon trousers. Back up to her face. Hands clasped loosely on his lap, he said “I can tell.”
“It shows, does it?”
Paul spoke in a childish, rhyming voice. “You can’t run away from your DNA.”
Jenna laughed. “Going into the ministry isn’t in the genes.”
“Oh, genes are funny things. Precocious. It’s amazing what’s in genes.”
Adam shifted impatiently. “Come on, Paul. Give her a break. She’s not used to your obscure babble.”
Dianne arrived with the coffee.
Jenna wandered out of the bathroom and looked around the tiny landing. She heard the bass sounds of the two brothers. They’re catching up on news, she thought, talking about normal things. Occasionally Dianne’s lighter tones interjected smoothly, once causing a burst of laughter in the room below.
The door of a box room was ajar. The light from the landing slanted across a picture which
hung above a desk. Jenna was enjoying this quiet break from intermittent tensions which she didn’t understand. She pushed the door. The picture was in fact a photograph. It was behind glass in a frameless holder, stark in its black and white simplicity. It was a close-up of a carpet of leaves in winter, frosted and crisp. Jenna stood in front of it, fascinated by the lines of the leaves, sycamore and oak tumbled together. At the top right, a tree root lifted the leaves into a small ridge. The wind had blown a leaf onto its edge and below it was the hint of dark soil. There was an informal artistry about the composition.
Every line was sharp as if cut by a scalpel. Whoever took the picture must have been frozen also.
“So when are you going to see Mum?” Adam challenged.
Paul set his cup on the small table beside him. “I’ve been to see her,” he said calmly.
“When? She didn’t tell me.”
“At least she’s pleased your back. Specially so soon after Dad died.”
“Yes, now she’ll have a son who calls on her more than once a month.”
“Goodness, Paul. Filial feelings? That’ll be a first.”
“Stop it, you two. More coffee?” said Dianne, bending over Adam’s cup.
Paul stood abruptly and swung round to the door. As he left, he looked back at Adam, his brows dark. “What would you know?”
Dianne sat in the chair he had left.
“That was jolly sharp. Are you two like this all the time?”
Adam took a deep breath. “Sorry. Paul and I always sparred. It’s a habit.”
“There’s a bit of a child in Paul still.” She put her head on one side. “But then, he’s a man. You’re all just big children, aren’t you?”
Adam threw back his head and laughed. “You’re so right, sister-in-law.”
“Do you see the beetle?”
Jenna jumped. Paul was at the top of the stairs. She felt like a skewered thief.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be in here. I saw the photo and … it’s beautiful.” She pulled herself together. “Did you take it?”
He came towards her, into the shadowed room. “Yes.”
“Where is it?”
“Does it matter? It’s just a load of leaves – and a beetle.”
“I saw the beetle.” She pointed. The small black body shone even in the dim light from the landing, peeping out from beneath the tree root. “What accent would he have, if he could
“Tyrone. It’s a tiny piece of Gortin Glen.”
She was surprised. “Really? It’s not recent then?”
“No. It was one of the first pictures I took, long before I went to England.” He looked at it. “I always liked it.”
She looked up at him. His back was to the light and the planes of his face were softened. “Adam told me you were a photographer. I didn’t realise you were …” She stopped.
“You didn’t realise I was what?”
She decided to say it. “That good. I didn’t realise you were that good.”
He shifted slightly and brushed his fingers across the picture. “You’re good too.”
“What do you mean?”
“Knowing not to turn the light on above it. Knowing that some photographs are best seen in dim light.”
They stood for a minute in silence, looking. Then Jenna said, “It’s like watching a forest floor in winter twilight. When your breath is coming in clouds and you have gloves on and every step is crisp and crackly.”
His head turned towards her slowly. “Yes,” he said. “It was exactly like that.”
Jenna turned away, self-conscious. “Well, I’d better get back downstairs before Adam sends out a search party.”
Paul moved aside. Jenna was half way down the stairs when she heard his voice above her: “He’s called Fred.”
She paused, looking up over her shoulder. “Who’s called Fred?”
The rhythmic strokes of the hairbrush finally slowed to a stop. Dianne looked at Paul in the mirror of her dressing table. He had become quieter as the evening had worn on, and now he seemed tired and drawn. She touched his hand as he set down the brush.
“What is it, darling? Tired?”
He kissed the back of her neck, but his lips neither lingered nor wandered. He turned away and pulled back the bed covers.
“Just a bit.”
She was disappointed. She could never imagine having enough of Paul Shepherd. He slid between the sheets and turned on his side. She slipped into bed beside him and leaned over his shoulder.
“Sure your tired?” she asked. She waited. She kissed his bare shoulder.
“I’ve a headache,” he said, his eyes staying closed.
Surprised, she said: “Isn’t that my line?’
He didn’t reply. She rolled onto her back. Hell! How would Paul react if she was as moody as he was; if she threw tantrums, or sulked when he had annoyed her? She looked at the back of his head on the pillow beside her, at his fine, almost black hair curling into the nape of his neck. He was very still.
She answered her own question. He wouldn’t care. He would just wait until she got over it and came back to him. So far, she always did, and he knew it very well.
She nestled up to his back, feeling his warmth, his rigid stillness. She sighed. What a tiny room this was. What were they all doing at home now? And what was Luther doing? Did he still miss her? Since Paul had moved over here, Luther hadn’t contacted her once. Probably still nursing his broken heart. Absently, she ran her fingers down the ridge of Paul’s spine. He didn’t move. Creative types were always moody. She closed her eyes, working out how long she would stay here before she insisted on going back to London. Paul would get this notion out of his system and then he’d begin to miss the life, the rich clients. And they would want him back. Already the phone calls were coming. Where are you? We need you for this wedding and that cover shoot. Amanda absolutely has to have you for the christening, darling. She sighed again. Good God! Was there anything you could even call ‘society’ over here?
In the early hours of the morning, just as the very edge of light was nudging past the blinds, sleep left her slowly as she became aware that she was being kissed. Paul was on his elbow behind her, leaning over her, kissing her ear, her cheek, turning her over to kiss her mouth, burrowing down along the line of her throat. His hands began to move across her body. She slipped beneath him, gripped him fiercely.
Afterwards, he held her very close and she lay warm and snug, knowing that if she were a cat she would be purring. She felt his slight intake of breath, the little rise of his ribs, as he spoke again.
“I want a child. I really want a child.”
Thank you, and Random Things Tours.
About the author
Sheila Turner Johnston was born in west Cork, Ireland and spent her
childhood in different counties the length and breadth of the country,
as the family moved wherever her father’s job took him. She attended
Queen’s University, Belfast, and apart from managing to graduate
against all her expectations, one of her best experiences was reading
her poetry to an audience that included Seamus Heaney.
Sheila has won prizes for both fiction and non-fiction, and has written
many articles for both local and national publications. She and her
husband Norman founded the publishing house Colourpoint Creative
Ltd, which is now owned and managed by their two sons.