by B C Austen
Copyright 2017 B C
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This is a work of
fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents
are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a
fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead,
or actual events is purely coincidental.
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I would love to
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Miranda Jones books has taken me on an interesting odyssey. I've
learned to believe in myself and that you are never to old to learn.
I set myself a challenge to publish a book after taking some writing
classes. One book became two, then three, and now a fourth.
It wouldn't have
been possible without all the following wonderful people at my side.
My beta readers
have been invaluable. A personal thanks to Val, Laurel, Jo, and Pam,
for providing new eyes to the manuscript and adding your queries and
suggestions and advice, too numerous to mention. You have been a
constant source of strength.
A special thanks
to my many family members for their contributions. I would not have
been able to get this far without your continued love. I encountered
many trials along the way and at times they felt like enormous
mountains, but were all nullified thanks to just being able to talk
to someone. You all made it possible in your own unobtrusive way to
getting the books published.
Miranda stood in
the kitchen of Joel's apartment enjoying the latte she'd bought from
the coffee truck outside in the street. Theo, the owner, had been
parking in the vicinity twice a week, after finding an enclave of
coffee loving customers, Miranda being amongst them. She'd got to
know him quite well. He was an Afghan refugee with a large family,
and had been in Australia for five years, doing really well with the
coffee selling business. Miranda admired his ingenuity and that he
was now a proud Aussie, and he made the best coffee by far.
Spread out before
her were all the boxes holding their belongings, packed and sealed in
readiness for the move back to her house. There wasn't that much left
to take, as all her old linen and kitchenware was being replaced to
match the new modern decor. Joel was intending to hire a small van to
take care of transporting it over, although she wanted to take her
most precious personal items in her own car. That was, if he got back
in time from his latest police assignment.
desperate to get back to normality, and that required the all
important renovation. Lavender French, who was contracted to do the
interior design when the Warthog was being rebuilt was the perfect
person to be in charge of it. Miranda's instructions were to
modernise, but not to lose the house's character.
She was meeting
Lavender in the late afternoon to receive the keys. She'd found
Lavender trustworthy and liked her style and was happy to let her get
on with it. Wanting to be surprised at the handover Miranda had
stayed away for the last few months and was now eager to see the end
But, before that
she was to meet two old friends in the city, Mabel and Fran. She
checked her watch and saw there was still ample time to get there.
Joel had been away
for the past three days, a longer amount of time than was intended.
Miranda was certain he wasn't being honest with her about his foray
back to the force. She tried to be patient and understanding, but for
how much longer, she wasn't sure.
on the passing year, she had to smile when she felt she could finally
put all the shattering events since Oliver's arrival behind her and
move on. Friedrich
saying that "What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger"
certainly attested to that. Oliver's presence had taken it's toll,
but his hold on Miranda was finally over. His life ended as brutally
as it had started, in an institution. He'd left his foot print on her
soul, but she had conquered him and now a new, fresh era awaited.
After her marriage to Joel fourteen months ago, her life was finally
confession letter from the prison left Miranda perplexed. She'd read
it a few more times since Peter had given it to her and she was left
in no doubt as to the depth of his dark psychotic soul. He could
never have been rehabilitated. He'd enjoyed his killing spree and
even admitted to ending Lucy's life, merely because it suited his new
purpose - moving to Australia and riding on Miranda's coat tails.
When Miranda learned the extent to which Lucy was involved in their
crimes she wondered if it was a case of kill or be killed. Did their
mother teach her son to solve his dilemmas by killing people?
She still had
trouble reconciling that Lucy was her natural mother, leaving her to
wonder if she herself shared any of Lucy's bad genes. Of particular
concern was whether there would ever come a time when a desperate
situation would cause her to carry out punishments in the same way.
Oliver's death was
investigated and it was concluded that he had instigated his own
demise. After the discovery of his hidden cache of evidence in
Clover's shed, he knew it was all over. He'd provoked inmates in the
prison to inflict a dreadful beating on him, which ultimately led to
his death. Adding to his misery was the realisation that Miranda had
turned her back on him and the fact that he'd failed to kill Joel,
left him with nothing to live for. He knew Peter didn't believe his
story, that his heart wasn't in defending him at the trial.
He left his estate
to Miranda and asked to be cremated and his ashes to be left in an
undisclosed location. Peter and Father Brian were the only mourners.
fortune, from the sale of the old orphanage and clever investments,
was growing, but she was reluctant to use any of it. Oliver was part
of that windfall, and to her it felt as though it was blood money.
Initially she'd asked Peter to give Oliver's bequest to a charity.
She felt she would inherit some of his guilt if she accepted it, but
as time went on she softened her stance. She knew of some deserving
non-profit organisations that would benefit from the money, and give
her a sense of cleansing her soul.
Peter was still a
huge problem for Miranda. From being in her thoughts constantly she
now despised him. She'd been infatuated and somewhat obsessed by him
since their first meeting, but she couldn't bring herself to let him
know. When he chose to defend Oliver at his trial, she felt betrayed.
That thin line between love and hate had been crossed. Her anger
towards him gnawed at her, but despite that she couldn't get him out
of her head.
The sight of
seeing him in a passionate embrace with another woman festered in her
brain. If not for that her entire future could have been completely
different. That kiss had turned everything sour. It was the catalyst
that sent her into the arms of Joel, which Peter was to forever
regret, because he was secretly in love with her too.
She often wondered
how their lives would have evolved if Joel hadn't come along.
At their last
meeting they had agreed to put their differences behind them. Peter
had extended the hand of friendship and if Joel was prepared to put
the past to rest then Miranda had to give it a chance. It was a new
beginning for all three.
For Devon and Gail
it was love at first sight and a bright future beckoned. Their
relationship delighted Miranda, although it was clear from the outset
that Gail was going to wear the pants. Devon needed someone
strong-willed to push him along, and while it suited him to be
elevated to the position of temporary manager at the Warthog, a
change was coming that he wouldn't be able to cope with. Miranda and
Joel are torn as to the future of the Warthog. They are planning to
sell it, but how to tell Devon.
to return to her old neighbourhood was a direct result of the
blossoming friendship with her neighbour, Clover, but Miranda will
soon discover that she isn't the sweet, demure, person she initially
thought. Her elegant appearance is hiding a dark secret, and she
wants to bring Miranda into her unconventional world. Both women have
reached out to the other for female support, especially Miranda, who
looks on Clover as a confidante. When Joel drops his bombshell,
Miranda has an ally to fall back on.
Joel is also
struggling since Oliver's presence had dominated their lives. The
mundane hairdressing life that had been his comfort zone for years no
longer stimulated him. His mind is made up to sell the Warthog and
without consulting Miranda he begins to investigate other options.
She will be the stumbling block and he will have to play his cards
carefully if his plans are to come to fruition, because they don't
Miranda found a
parking spot on the fourth level of the multi-storey car park. The
radio announcer declared that it was eleven minutes before the two
o'clock news. She noted the time on the car's dashboard clock was
eight minutes slower. She looked for the clock's adjust buttons and
pressed them a few times. Nothing happened. She tried a few different
sequences causing the hours and minutes to disappear from the panel
altogether. She cursed and turned the engine off, berating herself
for not asking Joel to fix it. It was annoying that she had to
mentally work out the proper time in a new car that was less than six
She'd made good
time getting into the city, enabling her to stroll leisurely to the
cafe, pausing to gaze at a few shop window displays along the way.
The main shopping precinct was quiet but a sharp cold wind swirling
around her ankles reminded her that the summer was still some weeks
away. Dried leaves and other debris blew around forming little wind
eddies on the footpaths. It had rained in the early hours of the
morning, which wasn't unusual weather for Sydney, but at the moment
the sun was high in the sky and the day promised good things.
She was a few
minutes early for her rendezvous at the Urban Coffee Bean with her
former work colleagues. The cafe was situated in the upper level of
the old City Library. After it had been relocated the building was
converted into an upmarket shopping mall.
inside she saw it was relatively empty. The lunch crowd had been and
gone, so there would be no issue with finding a table for the three
The cafe was
touted as being among the most popular in the city, and there was
something about the aromatic aroma of coffee beans being ground that
made her feel heady. The anticipation of an oversized slice of
cheesecake to go with a latte never failed to make her mouth water.
She hadn't seen
Mabel and Fran since she'd left her job, which felt as though it had
been a lifetime ago. She wondered what they were up to of late and if
there was a particular reason for wanting to meet up. As they hadn't
yet arrived Miranda browsed through the cakes on display and settled
on the one she fancied.
A gentle tap on
her shoulder interrupted her thoughts and on turning round she was
met by a beaming Mabel, waiting to give her a hug.
Good to see you, old girl. You're looking fantastic.' She stepped
back and looked Miranda up and down. 'How you've changed. You look so
posh. You've completely shed that, you know, that dowdy look you used
to have when you were working.'
knowing exactly what she meant.
'Hi, Mabel. It's
great to see you again too. You are looking pretty good yourself, and
you've got a new hairstyle. I like it.'
'She'll be here. I
was on the phone to her as I was coming and she's definitely on her
way. She hasn't been well, but I know she won't want to talk about
it. Just a heads up.'
wrong with her?'
sideways towards the entrance. When she saw no sign of Fran she
turned back to Miranda and quietly whispered, 'Cancer. Breast cancer.
She just found out last week.'
'Oh shit. That's
horrible. Poor Fran.'
changed when she noticed Fran coming off the escalator, which was not
far from the cafe. She gave Miranda a warning nudge and went off to
select a table.
'Hey, you guys,'
called Fran as she came in. Miranda smiled back and took a few steps
towards her. The two women exchanged greetings and then walked over
towards Mabel, who had found them a spot near the window.
'Hi, Fran,' said
'Hi, Mabes. Isn't
this like old times.'
The two women sat
so they were facing Miranda. 'We've missed you at the office,' said
Fran. 'So many new people have come and gone. We barely get to know
them and then off they go somewhere else. Any chance you might come
'None at all,
sorry,' said Miranda abruptly, causing them to spontaneously laugh.
'Bummer, but I
don't blame you,' said Fran. 'What's been going on with you, Miranda.
Apart from that horrible Oliver business, I mean.'
'Oh, goodness me,
where shall I start.'
The next two hours
flew by in a flash and would have gone on longer except that Miranda
had to leave.
I'll have to go shortly, but we must do this again. It's been lovely
catching up. I'm meeting a good friend over at my house later today.
She's been in charge of my renovations and it's all finished now.
Handover is supposed to be at five o'clock.' Miranda glanced at her
watch as she said it. 'And I'm pretty excited, to put it mildly.'
husband of yours?' asked Mabel. 'You've barely mentioned him the
'I know. I still
have lots to tell you, but when things settle down I'll invite you
both round for dinner. Will you come?'
'Love to. Bring it
Giving each of
them a hug Miranda hurried off. She was glad Mabel had forewarned her
about Fran. Her washed out appearance and that she seemed thinner
would have been a concern. Not that much thinner as to be gaunt, but
it was noticeable. Her whole look seemed different from how she
Miranda drove into
her street and slowed as she approached her house. Lavender's
distinctive pale blue metallic, four wheel drive car, was parked out
the front. She put her foot on the brakes and gently pulled in. At
first glance she wondered if she'd come to the right place. The house
she was looking at through the windscreen was nothing like the old
Lavender, who was
standing on the front verandah, had left the double garage door open
for her to drive straight in. After she'd parked Miranda grabbed her
handbag and hurried out to greet her.
'My god. What have
you done with the place? It's so beautiful. You've made such a huge
change, but you haven't taken away it's originality. How did you
manage that? Everyone in the street will be envious.'
It was music to her ears.
'I didn't need to
do all that much, really. Your house was so well built and laid out
that it wasn't hard to make it shine, plus I enjoyed the work. Thanks
for giving me the opportunity to do it.'
Miranda took a few
steps backwards to take it all in. The old 1940's style home that had
lost it's spark was new again. The bullnose verandah, the battered
corrugated iron roof, the rustic red bricks were all revamped and
totally transformed. Before her was a stunning modern home, covered
in an off-white rendered exterior which made it look so much grander
than before. The timber boards on the veranda had been sanded
back and been given a matt finish, while still retaining it's
existing colour. The wrought iron and wood balustrade surrounding it
looked so much better than the old one and it all blended in nicely
with the smoked glass side panels on the wooden front door.
'Watch this,' said
Lavender holding out a remote control clicker. 'This isn't just for
the garage door. All the outside lighting has been programmed to come
on with the click of a button.' As if by magic the house took on a
new vista with the brightness of the downlights including the garden
bollards. Miranda was amazed at the prettiness of it.
'This is why I
wanted you to see it in the early evening. Come inside, there's
more.' Lavender inserted the keys in the front door and they went in.
'Gosh, it's simply
gorgeous.' Miranda did a slow three sixty degree turn to look around.
'I love how you've
matched and blended everything together. The colours we chose look
even better in the flesh, so to speak. Where on earth did you find
all these amazing pieces of artwork, and furniture, and… and
everything. I'm just speechless.'
'Thank you, but
you've only seen a tiny bit yet,' said Lavender as she pointed out
some of the features to Miranda.
'How come you're
here by yourself? I thought Joel would have been here too.'
'He will be. I
told him not to be late. I'm getting fed up with all this out of
hours work he's been doing lately. He's been away for nearly three
days now. Not happy.' Miranda feigned an annoyed look.
Lavender up the stairs to inspect the finished work up there, and as
with the lower floor, it was just as nice. The bedrooms were all in
similar subtle colours and again she'd somehow emphasised the hues
with contrasting shades in the curtains, vases and the cushions. Each
item was positioned as if in a display house. Miranda secretly hoped
she could keep the appearance up, as housekeeping wasn't amongst her
'You are a
treasure, Lavender. You've brought it together so cleverly. I can't
praise you enough.'
'Thank you. I'm
glad you like it.'
disappoint us when you fitted out the Warthog and you certainly
haven't disappointed me here. I hope I can keep it looking the same
once day to day living happens. Will I need a housekeeper?'
'I don't think
it'll be too hard, Miranda. You have so much more storage now.
Everything can just get shoved away if you have to deal with
'You've done an
excellent job of getting rid of all the bad karma. I know I can
confidently move back in now, without thinking about Oliver walking
around everywhere. I think we should christen the place with a glass
of champers. Can you stay for a bit?'
the time on her phone, and agreed to have a quick one.
'Yes, I think I
can spare about fifteen minutes. I told Frankie I was handing over
today. She wouldn't be very happy with me if I just gave you the keys
and ran off.'
As they came down
the stairs, the lights of Joel's Merc swung into the driveway and he
pulled up sharply behind Miranda's car. Hearing the familiar sound of
his squeaking brakes Miranda took out three glasses from the drinks
fridge and lined them up on the bar.
'He should take
that car to the mechanic. One day those brakes will fail and he'll be
sorry. New house, old car, and he refuses to trade it for a newer
The front door
opened and Joel entered wide eyed, scanning the new living area. He
smiled as he took it all in.
It's first class,' he said, shaking her hand.
'Just in time,
Joel. We're having a quick toast to celebrate Lavender's work.'
'The outside is
unbelievable, and this room looks fabulous,' said Joel. He went from
room to room for a quick look throughout. He came back to Miranda and
gave her a quick hug and a meaningful grin.
She handed each of
them a glass of bubbly and declared a toast to their new home. 'To
us, and this brilliant renovation. And a big thanks, Lavender.
looking around, they sipped their drinks and talked about the project
until Lavender insisted she'd better leave. She'd noticed that in the
entire time he'd been home Joel hadn't taken his arm away from
'G'night, you two.
Let me know if you have any teething problems with anything and we'll
get it sorted.' She put the keys on the table, and collected her bag
and scarf before she made for the front door.
'By the way, I've
left you one of my little signature good luck charms, or rather it's
more of a little protection charm. I won't say where I put it, but
you'll find it when you least expect to.'
Miranda looked at
her curiously as she walked her to the door.
'It's one of my
'I'll keep my eye
out for it. G'nite, Lavender and thanks again.'
It was a strange
moment for Miranda to finally realise she was free of all the
encumbrances the house held over her. Gone was the old fashioned way
her parents had it and gone was the shadow of Oliver. It was
comfortable, but different, and it still retained her history. She
felt good about that, as though she was truly back home.
It was nearly a
year since the day Oliver was arrested and taken away. His death in
the prison was shocking, and his nasty parting letter was a distant
memory for Miranda. She felt no sympathy for him and she tried not to
dwell too much on that period of her life that he'd occupied. She was
thankful she'd come out of it relatively unscathed. She still had
Joel and he had very little remaining side effects from the stroke.
He'd never mentioned it again once Oliver's case had been closed. A
recent follow-up visit to his doctor had given him the all clear of
any medical or mental impediments.
Joel took her hand
and together they went through the house, checking Lavender's work in
The newer, fresher
smells of the renovation materials hung thick in the air, especially
in the top level. Miranda went to the full length sliding doors of
their bedroom, which led out onto a small balcony. She pulled them
ajar to allow some fresh air to blow through. Immediately the
curtains billowed out exposing the exterior views of the grounds.
Miranda looked at
Joel for a reaction. 'Fabulous, isn't it,' she said. He nodded his
'I didn't think it
was possible to get it looking so good. I'm so glad to be rid of all
those old sheds. It'll be even better when all those new plants get
Turning round to
face him Miranda drew herself up close to kiss him. She wrapped her
arms around his neck. 'I've missed you so much, even though it was
only a few days. Don't do this to me again. I hate it when you go off
on these secret police jobs.'
He kissed her
back. He knew it wouldn't take long for her to start complaining so
he pulled her closer, holding her tight enough that he could feel her
entire body against his.
enjoy all this. You can tell me off tomorrow.'
'Don't think for a
moment that I won't.'
He'd been anxious
for Lavender to go as he hadn't enjoyed the latest undercover case.
He needed some small measure of reassurance from Miranda that all was
well in their world.
Jakob was calling
on him more often, needing some of his insight when they were
investigating the bikies. He knew he was getting too involved and was
questioning himself on whether he should keep doing it or pull out.
Despite trying to fight it, his subconscious was leading him towards
it, even without Miranda's approval.
He missed her
nearness, her smell and especially her eagerness for him. They'd
rarely spent time apart since their marriage, and this separation had
been a testing time.
Jakob had promised
that after the Oliver business he wouldn't call on him anymore, but
they always seemed shorthanded, and it was unfortunate that this
latest case had stretched out to three days. Jakob considered Joel a
natural on jobs like the one he'd just been on and although he had
promised it would be the last one, it was becoming clear to Joel that
the likelihood was that there would be more.
He wondered if he
should discuss it with Miranda tonight, but decided not to, as the
handing over of the house was a special occasion. She was on cloud
nine, and this new job revelation called for her undivided attention.
'Well, husband. I
suppose we should start unpacking.'
'Why? I don't
think we need to spoil this night with such mundane things. I have
another cunning plan, and nothing about unpacking comes into it.'
He kissed her
again, more ardently, and Miranda responded enthusiastically, but
then she put her index finger to his mouth.
'Can you give me a
minute? A quick minute, I promise. I want to go back down and recheck
the exits again, doors and windows, especially seeing as we've just
been handed the keys. I'd hate for an unexpected intruder to
interrupt us, and besides, I want to see where Anastasia is.'
'Shall I come with
'No, I just want
to put some food in her bowl while I'm there.'
'Don't be long
then. I'll have a quick shower in the meantime.'
downstairs and double checked that all the locks were in place. She
left the laundry for last and opened the store cupboard, looking for
the cat's food bowl. She placed a couple of handfuls of cat biscuits
in it and put it on the floor.
outside the front entry door to see if Anastasia was there. There was
no sign of her. As she was scanning the garden shrubs Miranda
instinctively looked across the street to Clover's house. The lights
of a passing car momentarily illuminated Clover as she stood near her
front door. When she turned to go back inside Miranda thought she saw
a worried expression on her face. It had been some time since they'd
been in touch. She made a mental note to pop in and visit her as soon
as she could.
renovations had been going on she had seen little of her. Tomorrow
would be soon enough to renew their acquaintance. For now, she didn't
want to dwell on it, having matters of her own to deal with. Matters
of a serious romantic nature that involved her man upstairs.
from under one of the small hedge plants. She ran along the path and
darted between Miranda's legs in her haste to get inside. She made a
beeline for her food platter in the laundry. Miranda watched her for
a few minutes and then went back upstairs.
Joel had just
stepped out of the shower and was reaching for the towel when she
'Hmm, look at you.
Nice,' she whispered. Miranda ran her eyes over his wet, naked body,
which he didn't mind flaunting. She took the towel from him and was
about to start drying him down, but he took it back and wrapped it
round his lower half.
'Come here,' he
said huskily. He started kissing her, walking her gently backwards
into the bedroom. She enjoyed the stirrings of passion spreading
through her body. As they approached Joel's side of the bed, he
stopped and made her wait as he turned aside and pulled the covers
'What are you
doing?' asked Miranda.
He pushed the
pillows up against the headboard and propped himself up against them,
still wearing the towel.
'What for?' She
felt her eyebrows furrow slightly.
'You'll see. Take
your shoes off.'
She didn't answer,
just sat on the end of the bed and kicked them off.
'And your shirt,
and started undoing the buttons.'
'Not too quickly,'
he added, with just a hint of a grin on his face.
allowing an exaggerated ten seconds between each of the four buttons.
'Is this slow enough for you?'
'Maybe.' She could
tell he was doing his best to keep his reactions under control, but
his broadening smile was giving it away.
'And? What does
sir want removed next?'
'Mmm, let's have
your jeans off this time.'
Miranda stood up,
drew down the zip slowly and then undid the stud. Rolling her hips
around she wiggled them to the floor and threw them aside. Now just
clothed in her bra and panties, she strutted a few steps towards him
with her hands on her hips.
'What now? What
does sir wish for now? If he's going to torment me, he may not get
anything at all.' She challenged him with her arrogance.
He started to
laugh and was on his feet in a flash. His arms encircled her, kissing
'Sir will remove
the rest himself, my lady.'
He pulled her down
on the bed beside him, his towel falling off.
'You crazy lady.
I've missed you so much,' he whispered, brushing her hair aside, then
ran his lips lightly along her neck. As he pulled her bra straps down
he paused to see her reaction. He needn't have bothered. She looked
at him with a half smile and slightly raised eyebrows, puzzled as to
why he had stopped.
matter?' she asked.
'Nothing really. I
suppose there was a moment where I just wanted to watch your face as
you're getting aroused.'
said.They both started laughing. 'We've been apart for three long
days, anything extra is mere time wasting if you ask me. So stop
'I know, but I
don't want to rush this. I want to enjoy you and enjoy our first
'Well, I just want
to get on with it. We've got the rest of our lives to do all the
'enjoy' stuff, so stop teasing me.'
'That's the best
He ran his finger
around her neck and lips causing her skin to become ticklish and
oversensitive, all the while planting soft kisses on her upper body.
She threw a playful punch at him. 'You're so mean, Joel.'
Miranda held her
breath as long as she could until the sensation was too much, and she
cursed at him. 'Joel, stop it. You're driving me craz….' More
kisses stopped her protests.
'Don't you start
making a habit of going away. Tell that so and so Jakob to shove his
job and organise his department better so that he doesn't need to
call you out.'
momentarily interrupted when the phone started ringing. 'Who on earth
is that? The phone's been disconnected since the renovations
already connected up again. Let it ring,' said Joel. 'We're not
Some time later,
Miranda looked at Joel, lying on his back, his eyes closed and his
body, bathed in sweat. She lay on her side with her head on his
outstretched arm, waiting for his breathing to settle. As her own
body started cooling, she reached for her shirt and began buttoning
it up again.
'Leave it open,'
he said hoarsely, pulling her onto his chest. He started kissing her
again, on her lips, her shoulders, chest.
'I've missed you
something terrible, Miranda. And you are right, I can't let that
blasted Jakob talk me into anymore overnight jobs. He needs to give
those to the single guys. It's been damn torture not having you
beside me at night. At any time for that matter. Catching sleep in
the back of a van isn't my cup of tea. I think I'm too old for that.'
She blew softly
around his lips. He raised his head to kiss her, but she pulled away.
She traced her finger around his lips, causing them to twitch and
forcing a smile.
Later, the night
air started to get colder. Miranda pulled the crumpled sheet over
them. The moonlight streamed through the french doors, then gradually
it started to fade away as the cloud cover spread across the sky. She
nestled close to Joel's body to warm herself as more cold air
'Joel, are you
asleep already? You're making some odd snoring noises.'
'No, I'm not.
'I feel like
talking. Do you really like the refit that Lavender did?'
'I do,' he said.
'I'll have a better look tomorrow though, when I'm rested up.'
sideways, closed his eyes and appeared to doze off. Miranda rolled
over to her own side, sat up and started to remove her crumpled
shirt. The negligee she usually kept under her pillow had fallen on
the floor, as had her jeans.
anything on, I'll keep you warm,' said Joel, drowsily.
'I thought you'd
gone to sleep. I can't put anything past you, can I, old eagle eyes.'
It was around four
o'clock in the morning when Miranda woke with a start.
sitting on her naked chest, kneading her, while uttering some throaty
Miranda rubbed her
itching nose as she stirred, the fine hair from the moulting cat had
irritated her. She moved Anastasia to the middle of the bed so she
could get up to go to the toilet, but the cat jumped onto the floor
when she realised Miranda was on the move and ran ahead towards the
door to wait.
Miranda pulled the
bed covers aside and put her feet on the mat. Her hand automatically
searched for the night light, but with the first rays of the sun
already finding their way into the upper floor area, her eyes soon
became accustomed to the minor room changes resulting from the
renovation. Her movements disturbed Joel, causing him to quiver, but
he rolled over and groaned. He muttered something undistinguishable
and went back to sleep. She slipped her feet into the scuffs beside
the bed where she'd discarded them.
and brushed against her ankles, letting Miranda know where she was.
'C'mon, puss. I'm glad you got me up, but I need the toilet before I
do anything else. I could use a drink too.'
relieved herself, she followed the cat downstairs. Anastasia headed
towards the sliding doors and waited, obviously wanting to get
outside. Miranda unlocked them, noting how dark it still was under
the patio. The fresh crisp morning air was colder than normal and
Anastasia was now in no hurry to go out and leave the warmth of the
house. She sat beside Miranda's feet for a few seconds longer and
then put one paw out, but her next move startled Miranda as she
hissed and arched her back. The fur on her neck stood up and she
jumped as she went past one of the patio chairs, finally slinking
away into the garden.
sake, you silly cat. What's the matter with you?' said Miranda as she
A groan startled
Miranda, drawing her attention to the patio chair. Someone was lying
on it, shivering.
'Oh my god. What
do you want?' she asked, inching backwards, just in case she needed
to run inside. Seconds later Miranda realised it was her neighbour,
Clover, curled up in the foetal position as though she was trying to
get warm. Her hair was dishevelled and in the dull light her face and
hands looked a terrible grey colour.
felt her face with the back of her hand, wondering if she was
conscious. As she did, the overhead light automatically came on and
she could see better. Clover's skin was cold, but a quick check of
her pulse revealed a strong heartbeat. She patted her on the cheek,
hoping for some reaction. Her eyelids fluttered.
response was a jerk of her arms.
'Clover, are you
ok? Can you hear me? It's Miranda.'
Clover blinked and
tried to focus. She slowly sat up and tried to clear her throat with
a few coughs.
'You're not going
to be sick are you?'
'No, I'm ok,' said
Clover, in a quiet raspy voice. 'Where am I?'
A sudden rush of
cold air reminded Miranda she was only partially dressed. Coming
outside with only her g-string undies on and a small shawl around her
shoulders wasn't going to keep her warm. She hurried into the laundry
and found the old dressing gown she'd thrown on the floor the
previous evening. It smelled stale and was destined for the next load
of washing, but she was more concerned with the state Clover was in.
She hurried back
out, in time to find the older woman trying to stand up. She looked
poorly and unsteady.
where you are. Wait, and I'll help you inside. What are you doing
here? You look terrible.' Miranda offered her hand to her. The last
thing she wanted was for her to have a nasty fall.
Miranda's outstretched hand.
'Your hand is
freezing cold, Clover. I imagine the rest of you isn't much better.'
'I don't know how
I got here, Miranda. I remember having a bad dream and walking on the
road outside. That's all.'
'Come inside and
get yourself on the sofa, and I'll make us a cup of tea. Do you feel
you could keep it down?'
'Yes, I think so.'
Clover's breathing was uneven and her steps unsteady as Miranda
helped her inside.
'Shall I call your
doctor to come and check you over? You don't seem quite right?'
'Good heavens, no.
I've probably just had one of my silly turns. I'll be ok in a couple
'Well, let's make
you comfortable inside the house and I'll get this tea made, ok?'
Clover's grip of
her arm relaxed somewhat as Miranda led her into the sitting room and
sat her down on the sofa. She found a cushion and arranged it behind
her back and neck, then spread herself out along the full length of
the sofa. A decorative rug draped over the armrest drew Miranda's
attention and she handed it to her.
help to warm you up.'
After she was
satisfied that Clover had settled, Miranda filled the kettle and
pressed the button to start the water boiling. Then she hurried
upstairs to the bedroom.
'Who are you
talking to?' Joel asked, as Miranda opened her closet door to look
for some clothes.
'It's Clover, from
across the road. I've just found her curled up on one of the patio
chairs outside, freezing cold. She looks as though something terrible
has happened. I just came up to tell you not to come down without
your clothes on. Poor love doesn't need another shock. She might just
go and have a serious conniption on me.'
'I'm not that bad
without clothes am I?' he asked, with a pained expression.
'Not to me you aren't, but I can't speak for her.'
That's not nice,' she said, sitting on the bed beside him. As he
started closing his eyes again, Miranda put her cold hand under the
blankets, sliding it down his midriff.
'Oww, that's not
fair,' he uttered out loud. 'That's cruel.'
Miranda leapt out
of his reach as he tried to grab her. 'Too slow, husband.'
'Are you coming
back to bed?'
'Not yet. I'm
putting some clothes on, we have a guest downstairs if your recall.
One doesn't welcome people undressed. Anyway, don't get up yet. I'm
making a cuppa for her and me, and then I'll try and get her sorted.
Do you want one?'
Joel laughed. 'If
you're asking if I want a cuppa, then no thanks. I'm going back to
sleep if I can. Those last three days have caught up with me.'
'Not to mention
last night, you greedy sod,' said Miranda with a wry smile, kicking
her scuffs off.
As she knelt down
to get her sheepskin boots from under the bed, she just missed being
hit with the pillow Joel threw at her.
Miranda put some
pyjama's on and put the dressing gown back on over them. She hurried
back down just as the kettle started whistling.
A quick peep into
the sitting room revealed that Clover had fallen asleep. Her
breathing was now regular and even, which eased Miranda's mind. She
found one of the new blankets in the linen cupboard and gently
covered Clover with it, replacing the decorative throw. She stirred
momentarily, but then she settled down. It was a relief for Miranda
to see some colour back in her face.
happened, Clover? Why did you come here at such a crazy hour of the
night? Or were you hiding from something? I'll have to get to the
bottom of this, and maybe I should watch out for you a bit more.
She'd had some
irregular contact with Clover during the period of the renovations,
but nothing had alerted her to any sign of trouble that might have
been brewing. Clover always seemed to have everything under control,
but perhaps it was all a front.
Miranda turned the
light out and went outside to check the patio to see if Clover had
bought anything with her. Apart from a cardigan and a scarf that were
lying on the floor the only other thing was a pair of black, well
worn house shoes.
She gathered up
the clothing and found a necklace underneath. Miranda picked it up
and examined it due to its unusual configuration. It was a small
pentagram shaped pendant threaded with woven twine which had several
knots down each side. Miranda figured it must be a family keepsake.
She put it into
the pocket of the cardigan and then draped it over the back of a
kitchen chair. She placed the shoes on the seat of the same chair.
Apart from a few strange whimpers from Clover, the house was silent,
although some settling noises coming from the ceiling were to be
expected following the renovations. Extensive work had taken place in
that area when the attic had been relined and made into a designated
As she was about
to go back upstairs Miranda noticed that Anastasia was waiting
outside the sliding doors, hoping to be let back inside. As soon as
she opened the door the cat ran inside and went straight to the sofa
and jumped on a clear spot where Clover was lying. It was obvious the
two still had a connection of sorts. Anastasia made herself at home,
licking her paws as she got ready to settle down.
It was still dark
and cold outside and, as Clover looked to be sleeping soundly,
Miranda went back up to her bedroom and climbed into bed beside Joel.
She slipped her arm around his waist and pulled herself up against
him. He didn't stir this time, despite her cold hands.
The sound of a
toilet flushing downstairs woke Miranda and she instantly remembered
Clover's visit during the night. She'd slept lightly since going back
to bed and had been dreaming, but the details were sketchy, except
for seeing a shadowy figure standing by Clover's front door.
She checked the
time on her mobile phone and saw it was seven twenty. She cursed,
realising she should have been out of bed already. She had a busy
morning coming up. First of all the unpacking, then food shopping
As she attempted
to remove her arm from under his body he grabbed hold of her hand.
'Where are you going?'
Clover is down there sleeping on the sofa. I want to see if she's
neighbour from over the road? What's going on?'
remember? I found her outside…'
'Oh, is she still
'Yes, so don't
come down unless you get dressed.'
He reluctantly let
go of her, and rolled over. He wasn't ready to get up yet.
when he would tell her what he'd been doing for the past three days.
She'd reluctantly come to terms with the fact that he seemed to have
gone back into undercover police work. The fact he was unable to tell
her what these activities were she could accept, but she was afraid
that the day would come when he would find himself in serious
trouble, and she couldn't bear for anything bad to happen to him.
She didn't want to
get out of the bed, but she had to get Clover sorted. Sweet adorable
Clover, who seemed to be involved in some kind of weird conflict that
had caused her to go wandering around the neighbourhood during the
night. At least that was something she should be able to get to the
She hurried down
the staircase, sliding her hand down the beautiful oak banister
Lavender had imported from Scotland, purely as a reminder of a
pivotal part of her life's journey. Despite the disastrous ending of
her relationship with Oliver, she was still connected to that part of
the world. It was part of her history now.
Clover was already
up and standing at the front window, looking across the street to her
own house. She looked stooped and old, not the spirited, invigorated
woman Miranda remembered.
'Hey, Clover. Good
morning,' said Miranda. She hoped her upbeat tone would dispel
Clover's melancholy mood.
She turned at the
sound of Miranda's voice and retreated from the window. She looked
much better than you did a few hours ago. I should have put you in
the spare bedroom, but you fell asleep on the couch almost straight
away. Did you manage to get a decent sleep?'
'Yes, I did, and
thanks for last night. I'm sorry for the bother I caused.'
yourself up about it. Why didn't you ring the doorbell?'
'I was hoping not
to disturb you. I meant to just stay there for a short while. I don't
know what came over me, but I think I'm going to have to sell my
home. For a few weeks now disturbing things have been happening to
me, which makes me think I've been invaded by some sort of bad
spirit. I don't know how I'm going to find my sanity again.'
'Let's have a
coffee to start the day and I insist you tell me about this bad
spirit that's troubling you. I won't hear of you selling your home.
We're your friends and we'll look after you. Are you ok with that?'
language made it quite clear she didn't want to be a burden to
will you go. Do you have any other family?'
clouded over and she looked uncomfortable. Miranda waited for her to
reply. Pausing for a few moments Clover came to the chair and moved
her shoes off the seat, slipping her feet into them. With her hand on
her cardigan she looked at Miranda with heavily lidded, lack lustre
'No, there isn't
anyone else. I should go. I've invaded your beautiful new home, for
which I apologise, but I should be getting back over to my place. My
cats will be hungry.'
'Well, let me walk
you there and make sure everything is ok. Will you do that, Clover?'
'Give me two
minutes to put some proper clothes on and I'll be back. C'mon, you
may as well have that coffee while you wait. Have a seat. The water
has boiled and it won't take long to be ready.'
Not waiting for a
reply Miranda pulled out one of her dainty peach coloured cup and
saucer sets, and made the coffee. She placed it on the table. 'Drink
it up, Clover. I've put it in one of my special posh cups just for
Clover sat on the
chair and said "thanks" in a barely detectable whisper. She
rubbed her eyes while Miranda hurried up the stairs. Joel was sitting
on the edge of the bed half dressed.
'What's the rush?'
'I'm going over to
Clover's house with her, just to make sure everything is alright.
I'll try not to stay there too long. Something weird is going on with
'Are we still
going shopping later?'
'Yes, unless you
want to go hungry.'
She threw on a
pair of three quarter length jeans and the short sleeve top she'd
worn the day before. She ran her fingers through her hair and secured
it with a butterfly clip.
started ringing just as she was about to leave the room.
Jakob,' he said as he checked it on the bedside table. He picked it
up and put it to his ear. 'Yea, mate…?' He waived for Miranda to
go. She put her sandals on and went.
Clover was waiting
outside on the front verandah when she came down. She seemed eager to
The morning sun
glistened through the suburban street trees. The neighbourhood was
still quiet at this early hour, except for a couple of bored, lonely
crows that were calling to each other in the treetops. It seemed as
if they knew something had happened and were gossiping. Miranda
picked up a few stray pieces of someone's discarded fast food
wrappers that had blown towards her. They waited for a car to pass
and then crossed the street.
Clover slowed down
once they arrived at her gate. She stared at her house, almost as
though she expected someone to be there.
Miranda placed the
rubbish in Clover's bin as they went past it. Then she saw that the
front door was wide open.
'Clover, did you
leave your front door open like that?'
'It looks as
though I must have. I was terrified when I left.'
'You should have
called the police.'
'They would have
told me not to waste their time if I'd said it was an evil spirit.
Will you go inside first?' Clover had her arms crossed over her
'Do you think
there is someone inside?' Miranda wished now she'd made Joel come
'No. I, er…,'
Clover started to speak, but was struggling to utter any words.
Instead she nervously cleared her throat.
'Are you sure it
wasn't just a nightmare?'
'No, it wasn't.'
Once they were on
the verandah a familiar buzzing sound greeted them. Miranda peered
inside and then gingerly entered the house. As she made her way to
the kitchen, she had a quick look in the rooms, noting that it was
the television set making the sound. No other noises or movement was
She called out.
'It's all clear. Are you coming in?'
then followed, her eyes nervously darting left and right. She stopped
and looked in the lounge room. Spying the remote on the floor by the
settee, she picked it up and turned the television off. What appeared
to be a bread board laying on the floor beside the couch drew her
attention and she hurriedly stuffed it under a cushion.
go and check your other rooms for anything suspicious before we do
much else,' said Miranda. 'Do you want to come with me? Or better
still, why don't you put your kettle
to boil and make us both another coffee. It'll give you something to
do and I could certainly polish off a fresh one.'
looking through the rest of the house. The upstairs area was all neat
and tidy, with everything in it's place. Clover's bedroom window was
open causing the curtains to gently billow in and out. She closed it
and went back down.
Clover was leaning
with her back against the bench frowning, her mind seemed elsewhere.
Beside her, the
sink still contained dishes soaking in cold greasy water. On the
stove, a frypan containing burnt meat played host to a lonely fly
buzzing over it. It looked to have already dined on it.
A quick glance
through the kitchen suggested to Miranda that whatever had scared
Clover came early in the night. But she was curious as to what else
had occurred that made her leave the safety of her house and make her
way to Miranda's in the early hours of the morning.
Miranda did a
quick tidy up while she waited for Clover to say something. She
emptied the frying pan into the bin and cleared a cup containing
dried coffee dregs off the table. She started up the kettle as Clover
was still in a state.
'Clover, are you
alright? This lower section of the house seems quite messy. That's
not like you. What the hell happened here last night.'
The front door
suddenly slammed shut and Clover gave a startled cry. Soon after the
sound of crashing glass came from the lounge room. Both women looked
at each other in shock. Was it the wind whipping up outside or was it
'I tell you,
Miranda. Something crazy is going on here.'
Miranda looked to
see what had crashed in the lounge. Her skin prickled around her
shoulders after what Clover had said. It was difficult to ignore the
tension but she concentrated on hiding her qualms. From the corner of
her eye she saw that Clover was covering her face and cowering.
Seconds later the electricity blacked out. The partially boiled
kettle promptly stopped.
The two women
exchanged glances again. 'Best we don't start to panic, Clover. I'm
sure it's just an electrical short. The wind outside is to blame for
this. Where is your meter box? I'll go out and check it.'
'Outside, on the
Miranda opened the
small electrical compartment and flicked all the switches, not sure
which was the offending one. Once she'd put them all back to the "On"
position, the power came back.
house is old and I think you should get an electrician to come and
check it over.'
into the lounge room to see what had crashed.
'A photo frame has
fallen from your mantlepiece, nothing serious.' she called out to
something bad in this house, Miranda and I don't care what you say,
As she went back
into the kitchen to join Clover a feeling of calmness seemed to come
back into the house, but it was short lived. For whatever reason, the
television had started up again and then seconds later, several loud
popping noises rang out and it went dead. A strong caustic smell
'See what I mean,
Clover? Now your television seems to have shorted. Have you got
insurance for it?'
disastrous night was still affecting her. Miranda's explanation
hadn't convinced her and they had to get to the bottom of whatever
had happened the previous night. It had spooked her badly and Miranda
knew Clover would be in strife if it wasn't dealt with.
'I'm worried about
you, Clover, and I want you to sit down. I'll take another look
around and check everything thoroughly.'
This time Miranda
inspected each room in detail. She made sure all the switches on
appliances worked and that all the overhead lights were working. She
checked all the windows and doors in case someone may have broken in.
After satisfying herself there was nothing amiss she returned to the
kitchen and restarted the kettle.
everything is fine now except for the television in the lounge. It
seems to have blown a fuse. I think it's carked it.'
'But I turned it
off when we first got here. Don't you remember?'
'I do, but it must
have been the power surge from when I flicked the mains switch. How
about we go shopping later in the week and get you a new one. It'll
cheer you up, I'm sure.'
'Yes. Thanks, Miranda.'
When the boiling
kettle turned itself off Clover snapped out of her reverie. She got
two coffee mugs out of the cupboard, but she seemed to have
difficulty concentrating on the task.
'I'm glad you are
back now, Miranda. While you've been away I've been living with this
crazy stuff and I'm so sick of it. Lately it's happening more often.
I'm convinced I have a bad spirit or a poltergeist living in the
house. I don't know what to do anymore.'
'How can that be,
Clover? You're just a sweet old girl who minds her own business.
Things like that don't happen to people like you.'
shook her head. 'I'm not what you think, Miranda. Let me finish
making these drinks
I'll tell you the whole sordid story.'