The nature of cruelty, p.1
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       The Nature of Cruelty, p.1

           L.H. Cosway
 
The Nature of Cruelty


  Copyright © 2013 Lorraine McInerney

  All rights reserved.

  Cover images by Matusciac Alexandru and Vladimir Nikulin. Taken from Shutterstock.com and Dreamstime.com.

  Cover design by RBA Designs.

  Edited by Indie Author Services.

  This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.

  Books by L.H. Cosway

  YA Paranormal Romance

  A Strange Fire (Florence Vaine #1)

  A Vision of Green (Florence Vaine #2)

  Urban Fantasy

  Tegan's Blood (The Ultimate Power Series #1)

  Tegan's Return (The Ultimate Power Series #2)

  Tegan's Magic (The Ultimate Power Series #3)

  Crimson (An Ultimate Power Series Novella)

  Contemporary Romance

  Painted Faces

  The Nature of Cruelty

  For my very best friend.

  Because you’ve known such darkness yet still shine so bright.

  Contents

  One

  Two

  Three

  Four

  Interlude I

  Five

  Six

  Seven

  Eight

  Interlude II

  Nine

  Ten

  Eleven

  Twelve

  Interlude III

  Thirteen

  Fourteen

  Fifteen

  Sixteen

  Seventeen

  Interlude IV

  Eighteen

  Nineteen

  Twenty

  Twenty-One

  Part One

  Cruelty is Seldom Forgotten

  One

  June, 2012.

  Sometimes love and hate can emerge from the very same womb.

  Sasha and Robert Phillips became my next door neighbours when I was twelve years old. They were twins, two years older than I, both tall and beautiful with dark eyes and dark hair. I think I fell in love with the two of them at first sight. Well, I quickly fell out of love with Robert.

  Sasha, though, she'll always have my love. She's one of those girls who has a knack for making you feel cooler just for the fact that you're being seen with her. She's the best friend I've ever had.

  The twins were the result of a broken marriage; their mother was Irish and their father English. So when the divorce came about, their mother Liz moved back to Ireland to the house right across from mine, and their father Alan continued to live and work in London. That's how I got my neighbours: a new best friend and her brother, who alternated between ignoring my existence and actively torturing me.

  They'd spend September to June living with their mother and then go to London during the school holidays to live with their dad. Alan Phillips was and continues to be the owner of one of the most successful celebrity PR agencies in Britain. In other words, he's filthy rich.

  I always wondered how Alan and Liz ever managed to get along, never mind like each other enough to get married and have babies. They are polar opposites. Alan is coldly charming and violently ambitious, while Liz is warm and loving, with a great dry sense of humour. You could say that Sasha took after her mother and Robert after his father.

  So why am I detailing all of this? Well, it seems that my whole world has revolved around Sasha and Robert ever since they walked into it with their refined beauty and strange English accents. Sasha could be considered responsible for the happiest times in my life – and Robert for the most miserable.

  I'm not even sure if Robert realises how horribly he treated me when we were younger. I think he might be a few steps away from a full-on sociopath, like Patrick Bateman without the killing. Even hearing his name whenever Sasha mentions him makes my stomach drop and my pores tingle.

  That's the exact feeling I'm having right now. Sasha's on the phone from London, telling me about Robert's latest exploits seducing a married woman, whose husband beat him to a pulp when he discovered what had been going on. This story is nothing new. Ever since he was fifteen, Robert's been getting himself into all sorts of deplorable situations with women.

  Sasha's just completed her first year working as a celebrity gossip columnist for The Daily Mail, putting her journalism degree to good use – sort of. It's been awful not having her around these past twelve months. But we'll be reunited very soon, because I'm going to stay with her for the summer in a week's time. I'll be starting my Ph.D. in ancient Greek mythology when I come home, so this is going to be my “Summer of Leisure in London.” I like to think it has a nice ring to it.

  Other than working part-time in an Italian wine and cheese restaurant, I'll be as free as a bird to enjoy myself. (And yes, there is such a thing as a wine and cheese restaurant – this is the kind of job an arts graduate can expect to get nowadays, by the way, and the higher end of the spectrum at that.)

  Anyway, I'm what you would call a perennial student. I love to study and research a topic that excites me until I can't keep my eyes open and fall asleep, more often than not at my study desk. Basically, I'm a bit of a nerd. I also have a secret desire to sing on stage, but I’ve never told anyone about it. I don’t want to be a super-famous pop star like Beyoncé, mind. It’s just something that I want to do, if only once. A bucket-list item, if you will.

  “So anyway,” says Sasha. “Robert came to my place last night to lick his wounds. Oh, God, Lana, you should have seen the pathetic state he made, two great big black eyes on him.”

  I snicker down the line. “Damn, I'm so annoyed I missed it. He would have hated to have me witness him all beaten up.”

  “I know!” she laughs.

  Sasha understands that Robert and I have always been at loggerheads. She also knows that her brother's an arsehole, but since he's family she has to love him anyway. The weird thing is, I haven't laid eyes on the guy more than a handful of times in the six years since he moved to London to work for his dad's agency, and yet my hostility still remains. I suppose that just goes to show how intensely we hated one another. Not to mention the fact that Sasha always seems to have some new scandal to tell me about him, so it's almost like he's continually present in my life even though he isn't. It's a strange sort of torture.

  When I was a teenager, I was skinny as can be. Top that off with braces and a head of starkly red hair, and there were endless ways in which Robert could make me feel like shit. I've since filled out and lost the braces. I've also come to learn that although red hair can turn you into a pariah as a child, it's actually something that people envy you for when you get older.

  “Anyway, enough about my prick of a brother. Are you all set for the big trip next week?” Sasha asks.

  I plonk down onto my bed and let out a long sigh. “Yeah, Mum and Gran are making a fuss over me going, which is annoying, but all the arrangements have been made.”

  I live in a house of women: me, my sister Alison, my mum Fiona, and my grandmother Penny. Both my mother and my grandmother are extremely protective of me. I think they imagine me to be far more fragile than I actually am. That's what happens when you're the short one in a family of especially tall people. You get labelled as the baby. Alison is only sixteen, and already she towers over me.

  Sasha laughs down the phone line. “Yeah, Liz said Fiona's been talking about how worried she is for you to be going over to the ‘big smoke.’ Just an FYI, she's planning on giving you a rape alarm before you leave.”

  “She is not!” God, my mum can be such a nutter at times. You'd think I was twelve instead of twenty-two by the way she carries on. She's a policewoman, so you could say she's more aware of the d
angers that are out there than most. Not very many little girls have mothers who teach them self-defence from the age of five, but I did.

  “She so is. Liz told me all about it when she phoned the other day.”

  Sasha likes to call her mum by her first name. I've always found it kind of odd, but hey, each to their own. My and Sasha's mothers are best friends. It's something that gives us an extra-strong bond. Our two bungalows sit side by side along the coast, in a little village called Gormanston, where you will find approximately two pub/restaurants, one boarding school, a train station, a tiny grocery shop, and an army barracks. The latter makes it an eclectic mix. I’m not a stranger to seeing men in uniform hanging around – winkety wink.

  Okay, so I’m also not a stranger to scurrying by like a jittery little lamb when I see them, either.

  Liz and my mum get along like a house on fire, since they are both whole-heartedly disillusioned with men. Liz had Alan to disillusion her and my mum had my dad, who left us when I was five and my mother had just become pregnant with Alison, never to be seen again. I can't count the number of times I've heard the phrase “who needs a man” bandied about over the years.

  Perhaps this is why I've never had much experience with men. My mother is so negative about them in general that it makes me fear them. Not to mention that ever since I turned sixteen she’s told me horror stories about the crime scenes she's been on – the rapes in particular.

  She hasn't really got a filter that tells her what you should and shouldn’t tell your teenage daughter. And when it comes to what will and will not scar said daughter for life. It’s no wonder that thoughts of being with a guy make me break out in a cold sweat. Well, that and the fact that Robert was the first boy I ever found appealing. Unfortunately, he took my blossoming crush and stomped it into the ground.

  I'm what you would call a defiantly shy person. In other words, I try my hardest to fight past the shyness and be confident. To speak my mind even when it's almost torturous to do so. I don't want to let the bitch rule me, but most of the time it's like I live inside a tortoise shell, physically incapable of being free. Sometimes I think it was Robert's antagonism that made me this way. He bullied me constantly, and I was constantly trying my hardest to show him I was immune to it, when really I was dying inside.

  Well…I suppose some of the shyness is just naturally a part of my personality, but I’m sure he contributed a little bit.

  Just thinking about him brings on a bad memory. I was thirteen years old, and Robert was fifteen. He knew I liked him, and he decided he'd have a little bit of fun with me. The three of us had been hanging out in Sasha's bedroom, because Sasha was sick with an ear infection. When she went into the bathroom so that her mum could give her some medicine, I was left alone in the room with Robert.

  I wasn't as wise back then as I am now. Even though Robert would call me names every chance he got, I was still (secretly) madly enamoured with him. When you're a young girl, you tend to like a boy even more so when he's mean to you. It's one of those unexplainable sicknesses of the mind.

  Robert patted the place beside him on Sasha's bed, and told me to come and sit down. I did as he requested. He placed his hand on my thigh and asked me if I was nervous. I shook my head, my heart beating wildly in my chest. He continued moving his hand up my thigh and leaned his lips in close to my ear. I let out a tiny gasp just before he whispered to me, “You, Lana, are the ugliest girl I have ever laid my eyes on.” Then he pulled away and began laughing uproariously.

  I know what most people would be thinking: the little fucking shithead. That's not what I thought at the time, though. At the time I told him to piss off, held in my tears, ran from the house, and locked myself up in my bedroom, where I cried for days. I was so easily upset as a kid, hyper sensitive to the tiniest little thing.

  This is just one example of hundreds of others. It's strange how the people who end up in your life can shape you for the worst.

  I've managed to grow up and gain confidence without him in my life these past six years. I'm actually unsure as to whether I should be going to London for the summer to live with his sister at all, because I'm inevitably going to run into him at some point. The problem is, Robert is and always will be my “look how great my life is now” person. You know, that one individual from your past who you really want to run into when you're looking drop-dead gorgeous, just to show them how much better than them you really are.

  I know, it's irrational and foolish, but I want Robert to see me now with my clear alabaster complexion and my hourglass figure. I want him to know that despite him always telling me I was stupid and ugly, I'm now an attractive grown woman, about to start my doctorate after receiving first class honours in my degree and my masters.

  Unlike me, Robert dropped out of school at eighteen just before completing his Leaving Certificate. He was lucky, though (or spoiled, depending on how you want to look at it), because he walked straight into a job in PR provided by his precious daddy. Robert has the perfect personality for public relations, because, like his father, he can make you believe he's the most trustworthy, honest guy around, yet underneath it there's selfishness and little else.

  “It's late,” I say to Sasha, who's still chatting down the line. “I'm going to go get some sleep.”

  “Okay, then, talk to you tomorrow, kid.”

  I roll my eyes at her pet name for me. She seems to think that just because she's two years older that she's so much more grown up.

  I click the “end” button and rest my head against my pillow, while memories of Robert's cruelty drift through my mind, causing my heart to stutter.

  As I walk through the arrivals gate at Heathrow one week later (rape alarm safely secured in my carry-on bag), my eyes immediately pinpoint Sasha, who's galloping towards me with a massive smile on her face. She scoops me up into her arms and gives me a long, squeezy hug.

  Sasha is around 5 foot 11, which makes me feel like a short arse, since I'm only 5 foot 3. The long, dark brown hair she had as a teenager is now cut short and dyed a honey shade of blonde. Both she and her brother have what I like to term the “wow” factor in looks; when you walk into a room, they're the ones who are most pleasing to stare at. Of course, Sasha is the only one who's pretty on the inside.

  Not only are we polar opposites looks-wise, we're also polar opposites when it comes to fashion. Sasha is quite tomboyish with her jeans, boots, and leather jackets, whereas I like to describe my own personal style as “granny chic.” I enjoy finding old stuff in secondhand shops that your granny would have worn back in the day and pairing them with something modern. Pretentious, yes. I'm not doing it to be hip and different; these are just the sorts of clothes I find appealing. For instance, right now I have on a cream knitted cardigan with fake pearl buttons, a calf-length, flower-print skirt, and green Converse.

  “I can't believe you're finally here,” Sasha enthuses. “Come on, let me take some of your bags.”

  I'm currently laden down with a wheelie suitcase, a massive handbag, a laptop case, and a backpack. Sasha and I make our way to her car, where she stuffs all of my luggage in the boot and then drops down into the driver's seat.

  “Whew, I need a cigarette after all that,” she says with a grin, making a show of wiping her sweaty brow.

  “If you didn't smoke so much, then you'd probably be better able for the heavy lifting.” I laugh and secure my seatbelt.

  “WOT-EVA,” Sasha replies loudly, whipping out her packet of Marlboro Lights. I watch her as she savours the first drag before resting her arm on the back of my seat and pulling out of the parking spot.

  “So,” I say to her on the drive, “whatever happened with Tim? Or was it Jim?”

  Sasha goes on a lot of dates with a lot of men. Tim/Jim was her latest.

  She purses her lips. “Tim. He was okay, I suppose. He's a photographer where I work. Nice bloke and all, but he didn't exactly blow me away.”

  “Another one bites the dust, eh?” I smile, an
d she grins at me out of the corner of her eye, then turns up the volume on the radio when “Changes” by David Bowie comes on. We both laugh as we sing at the top of our lungs, sailing down the motorway.

  When we pull into the driveway at Sasha's house in Finchley, I have to do a double take. The place is fancy with a capital “F.” It might not seem so fancy to people who are used to it, but I'm not used to it.

  It's a fully refurbished, four-bedroom, red brick Edwardian house with bay windows. I have a soft spot for bay windows. Oh, and those little round ones you sometimes see on older buildings. This place doesn't have a round window; however, that doesn't take anything away from its appeal. Sasha's been living here by herself for the past year. The place belongs to her dad.

  “I can't believe your dad's owned this house for years and has never even lived in it,” I exclaim.

  Sasha shrugs. “He sees property as an investment, or some shit like that. Sometimes he buys houses and keeps them until the time is right to sell so that he can make a profit. Don't ask — that stuff goes right over my head.”

  “I can imagine. You're not exactly Mensa material,” I reply jokingly, as Sasha slots her key in the front door and we make our way inside.

  She grins at me. “Shut up, cheeky.”

  We leave my bags in the hallway and go into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. That's when my heart practically stops beating, because standing by the counter, taking a bite out of a sandwich, is Robert.

  The last time I saw him was two years ago, and that was only from far away when I'd looked out the window and seen him visiting with his mum. I've built him up in my head so much over the years that he almost doesn't seem real. The bruises beneath his eyes from the “husband bashing” he took are almost healed, and his dark brown hair looks a mess. He's wearing a rumpled black dress shirt, a loosened silver tie, and grey pants. He is dishevelled but beautiful, looking like he just got home after a night out.

 
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