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True Colours:The You Don't Know Me Trilogy Book 2

By:Mandy Lee

Chapter One


Southwark is darkening. Clouds thicken. The waters of the Thames deepen  in colour: charcoal grey, indigo, raw umber, olive green, black.  Definition disappears from the cathedral, the Shard, the office blocks.  Consumed by the storm, the buildings are barely recognisable now, and  I'm spellbound by the colours, the shapes, the light and the shadows.  Caught in a trance, I'm not thinking, just painting.

For the first time in hours, I stand back from the canvas and take it  all in: the stormy skies, the snarling mass of water, and there, right  in the middle of it all, fifteen storeys of darkened glass reflecting  the seething weather: the headquarters of Fosters Construction.  Exhausted, I slump onto the end of the bed, sitting perfectly still,  clutching the paintbrush, and survey the end result. It's not my usual  style; no simple landscape. Instead, this is a landscape of pure  emotion. Perhaps I should send it to him as a gift, a message. This is  what you've done to me with your secrets and lies, Mr Foster. You see,  if there's one thing I don't put up with, it's deception. I don't  stomach it and I don't tolerate it. I simply defend myself against it.  Lowering my head, I tear my gaze away from the scene and I feel it  again: an ache deep in my chest. It's been with me all night and no  matter what I do, no matter how I distract myself, it just won't go  away.

'Hey.'

I turn and find Lucy in the doorway.

'How are you this morning?'

If she wants an honest answer to that, she doesn't have to look far. It's right in front of her, propped up on the easel.

'Fine.'

'Oh, come off it.'

Irritation snaps into life.

'What do you want to hear?' I demand, as if there's any need to ask. I  know exactly what Lucy wants to hear. She wants me to break down in  front of her, to sob, release the anger and admit that I've made the  wrong decision. Well, she's getting none of that, because I'm a  fortress. Unbreakable.

'You haven't said anything,' she forges on, apparently oblivious to my resolve. 'You haven't cried. It's not normal.'

'It's normal for me.'

'It's not healthy.'

Dropping the paintbrush onto the palette, I run my fingers through my  hair, remembering too late that my hands are smeared with oil paint.

'What time is it?' I ask.

'Just after seven. You've been at it all night.'

I flex my shoulders. My muscles seem to have stiffened. 'And what time did we get back here?'

'I don't know.' She shrugs, and then inches her way into the room,  carefully. 'Ten o'clock, maybe. You've been painting ever since.'

She inches further. Glancing uncertainly at me, and then at the picture,  she comes to a halt. Her eyes widen, her lips part company, and I'm  curious about what's going on inside that brain of hers. Perhaps it's  shock. After all, I've never painted anything like this before.

'I'm worried about you,' she remarks absently.

'Don't be.' I wipe my hands on my shorts. 'I just needed to finish it.'

'It's different. Not your usual style.'

'You don't like it?'

'I  … ' She falters. 'It's very  …  angry.'

'I wonder why.' I stand up. 'You don't like it then?'

She sidles round the bed, positions herself in front of the easel and examines the canvas.

'I do,' she murmurs at last. 'It's  …  brilliant.'

I glare at her, wondering if I should inform her that just because I've  been shat on by a man, there's really no need to mollycoddle me.         

     



 

'You don't mean that.'

'Actually, I do. We should exhibit this at Slaters.'

She waves a hand at the storm clouds and I shake my head. That's a  definite no-no. Seeing my work displayed in the gallery was certainly a  buzz, only to be topped by discovering my painting had been sold, even  when I found out that Dan was the buyer. I could get used to that kind  of thrill, but not with this picture. This one is far too personal.

'It's not for sale.'

I roll my head to one side and then the other, let out a huge yawn and  stare at my paint-smothered hands. I really should clean up now and  maybe try to get some sleep, but I already know that won't be easy.  Painting kept the thoughts at bay and now that I've finished, I know  exactly what I'm in for: an onslaught of emotions. For the past nine  hours, they've been lurking in the gloom, waiting to take their chance.  It's only a matter of time before they bring me to my knees.

'I'm making breakfast,' Lucy announces. 'Clean up and join me. That's an order.'

Backing out of the room, she closes the door, leaving me alone with the  shadows  …  and they're already beginning to stir. Keep busy, I tell  myself. Just keep busy and they won't bother you. Stripping out of my  shorts and T-shirt, I throw them into a corner, take myself off to the  bathroom and fill the tub.

As soon as I slip into the water, my muscles relax. Listening to the  sound of raindrops against the window pane, I close my eyes. And then it  begins. The shadows move and I'm ambushed by memories, sensations  rather than images: the softness of his lips, the feel of his hands on  my skin, his taste, his smell. Trying to drown it all out, I dunk my  head under the water.

'Shit,' I grumble, coming back to the surface and reaching the  conclusion that I've been an idiot. I've lowered my defences just long  enough to let a man get to me, and I should never have done that because  right from the word 'go', I always suspected he'd break my heart. I  just never thought it would happen like this. Staring at the soap, I do  my best to empty my brain, but now it seems intent on reminding me of  yesterday: the time spent curled up in a ball on my parents' bed, Lucy  sitting by my side while the storm passed overhead; my refusal to move,  even when the thunder had receded; the concerned voices finally coaxing  me downstairs, out into Clive's car; the silent journey home to Camden.

'Shit, shit, shit.'

This is no good. No good at all. Time for more action. Once I'm out of  the bath, I put on a fresh T-shirt, a pair of combats and examine myself  in the mirror. God, I look awful, what with the bags under my eyes and  the pallid skin and the hair that's sticking out in all directions like a  pile of straw. Tugging a brush through it, I curse my locks, deciding  that a visit to the hairdressers is well overdue. And then I remember  that I'm practically broke. Okay, so there'll be a payout for my stint  at Fosters, but three weeks as a sort-of-secretary doesn't amount to  much. And then there's the money for the painting of the woods: three  thousand pounds which I'll never accept. As soon as I get the cheque,  I'll rip it up  …  and he can keep the bloody picture.

I'm about to put my hair into a pony tail when I falter. Quite  inevitably, one thought has slammed into another. And now his words are  nudging into my brain. It's too important. One day you'll understand:  his explanation for why he couldn't let the painting go to anyone else.  So, was he always planning to tell me in his own time? Did events simply  overtake him? I'm wavering now, and that's not good. Fortress Scotton  must stay intact. Keep those memories at bay, woman, because if you  don't, they'll be breaking down the walls, brick by brick, and then  you'll be showing up on his doorstep filled to the brim with forgiveness  and desperate for a good seeing to.

Still gazing into the mirror, I catch sight of the necklace, a Tiffany  one-off owned by his mother. I touch it, sensing that ache again. My  brain's saying one thing, my body another, but I need to listen to my  brain. Logic tells me to cut and run because the man I fell in love with  was nothing but an illusion. He's deceived me once, and he'll do it  again. Reaching up, I unclasp the necklace and pull it away, slowly,  carefully, reminding myself that it's a priceless work of art. Holding  it in my palm, I set about searching for something to hide it away in. I  open a drawer in the dressing table, choose an old earring box, empty  out the earrings and store the necklace safely inside. I'll hand it over  to Clive. And he can deliver it back to Dan.         

     



 

With a renewed sense of resolve and a building headache, I make my way  to the kitchen and find Lucy sitting at the rickety table, gazing at a  huge plateful of toast.

'I've made this for both of us. You need to eat.'

'I'm not hungry. I'll just have tea.'

She picks up a slice of toast, takes a bite and chews thoughtfully.

'Clivey's coming over later.'

Wonderful. That's all I need.

'I don't want to talk to him.'

'You don't have to. He wants to take me out, and he's bringing your handbag back.'

I gaze around the kitchen, stunned that I haven't noticed before, but  strangely enough, my handbag and all its contents have been the last  thing on my mind.

'You left it in Dan's car yesterday.'

At the mention of his name, my mouth dries up and my heartbeat doubles in pace.

'Oh.'

'It's got your mobile in it. Your mum's been trying to contact you all  morning. I texted her, told her not to worry. Do you want to call her  from my phone?'

'Not right now. She'll only tell me to get back on my bike.'

'Good advice.'

'Did Clive stay the night?' I ask, opening a random cupboard for no apparent reason. I'm not exactly sure what I'm looking for.

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