Chapter 2

Days before the incident...

Annie couldn't help but smile. It had been a lovely evening, one she hadn't expected. Her experience of dates, although limited, was dull and boring but this one had been different. Climbing into the taxi, she shouted, "Ninety-six Pembroke Place, please." She sank into the back seat and slipped into deep thought. In reality she had only ever had two men in her life and one fling but they had left her mentally and physically scarred. She wondered why this one felt different even after only two glorious evenings. Her instinct told her she could trust Mark but she'd been wrong before.

"That will be seventeen ninety-five, Miss." The taxi driver broke Annie's thoughts. She grappled around for her purse, paid and exited the car. The gate was bolted when she tried to push it open, almost dislocating her shoulder. Smiling to herself she unlatched the lock. Stepping inside she couldn#39;t help but turn and scour the street, she felt sure she was being watched. The paranoia continued inside the house. Annie quickly drew the curtains and lit the open fire. The house was a semi-detached and too big now the boys had grown up and moved on but it was her home. She spent most of her time in the bright airy kitchen. At one end was the range oven she had longed for and now only used once or twice a year for cooking and at the other a farmhouse kitchen table that held so many happy memories she felt loathed to part with it. Instead it had become her makeshift office. During the summer months sunlight beamed through the large double glazed windows and in winter the warmth from the range provided a homely feel the rest of the house sadly lacked. From time to time the house would be once again filled with laughter and childish behaviour but for now the boys were pursuing their own lives.

Nights out with colleagues and friends were great but coming home to an empty house didn't always suit Annie. At forty-seven it seemed to take her weeks to recover from one night out! After a drink of tea and flicking through the forty-plus channels, Annie retired.


Annie had barely reached over the threshold when she was bombarded with questions.

"So come on, how was last night? Did you see Mark again? What happened? Did he come home?" demanded Lucy as Annie walked into the cafe at the college. Simultaneously Annie's phone chimed twice in quick succession notifying her of two text messages.

Annie looked at Lucy, a twenty-five-year-old slight build girl, with long blonde hair and so full of life. She was a good companion when things were tough even though she was incredibly naive. Let me grab a coffee and we'll sit over there in the corner. I'll tell you the boring details..." Annie added. "It was only the second time I have seen him so don't expect too much." She smiled, walked over to the counter and ordered two skinny lattes. Once she had her fix within her grasp, she turned towards Lucy to find another colleague had joined them. John, a senior lecturer at the college, insisted on letting everyone know he was the longest serving member of staff. He was in his fifties, silver hair and well maintained. His wife had died eight months previous. Since her death, Annie and he had spent a number of hours talking about their lives. Annie was very fond of John and considered him a good friend yet her colleagues felt he had more than friendship on his agenda.

Annie joined her two colleagues, hidden in a corner near the window, both eager to hear of her escapades the night before. The September sun was beaming through the window, reflecting off the metal tables. Annie was particularly cagey, as she did not really know what to say. Yes, she had enjoyed Mark's company but she couldn't really admit to her friends, let alone herself that she was deeply attracted to him after just two evenings.

"So come on I can't wait any longer, I would have texted you last night but I didn't know whether he would have been there with you." Lucy was beyond excited! she was like a child waiting for Christmas. Although this childish anticipation was endearing to Annie it wound John up.

"Oh Lucy it's not that big a deal," he moaned.

Lucy cross with his tone, "Well it is to me. I'd love to see my best friend in a happy and loving relationship; God knows she deserves it after all she has been through."

John reacted angrily to the accusation that he did not share Lucy's desire for Annie to be happy and snapped, "And I suppose I don't want her to be happy."

Annie interjected, waving her hands in the air, "Guys, hi I'm here."

There was an awkward silence before Annie spoke again. "Last night was great. I really enjoyed being treated like a lady. He has this sophistication about him that I can't put into words but he is lovely, down to earth and nice." Annie paused to think of last night and how Mark had behaved. The perfect gentleman.

They had met at 7.30 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Lucy had warned Annie the previous day not to meet at a hotel, it might give off the wrong signals - Annie smiled wryly thinking it wasn't such a bad idea!! Mark was waiting outside the hotel and they had walked to the local pub just around the corner. Annie remembered being really nervous but her fears were dispelled when they had sat down in the corner with their drinks. Mark had ordered a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and two glasses. At first, there was an awkward silence between each sip of wine but as the wine flowed, the conversation loosened. During the silent moments, Annie had the opportunity to study her companion. Mark, a former rugby player, was tall and well built. He had thick brown hair, greying around his ears and the most striking blue eyes. It was obvious he had still maintained his fitness after retirement. Apart from the battle scars of a broken nose he had a fresh clean look. Annie suspected he was in his early forties but it was hard to gauge from his looks.

"ANNIE!" shouted Lucy. Annie jumped and so did the other occupants of the cafe. "Jeez you're not telling us it was a 'good' night and he was 'nice' when you sit there in a deep trance with a smile on your face. SPILL the beans now!!" she demanded, leaning over the table towards Annie.

Annie, startled out of her daydream, looked at her watch. "Guys it's ten a.m. I should be in class now." Getting up, Annie turned to Lucy. "I'll catch up with you at lunchtime." With that she glided out of the cafe.

The morning's lessons were torture for Annie - two first year lessons full of Fresher's, keen to start their new ICT courses. Annie was glad she had spent hours preparing work and lessons. Students were given their tasks. She pretended to be busy but her mind wandered. Lunchtime took an eternity to arrive. Annie dismissed her final morning class and suddenly remembered the unread text messages from the morning. Fumbling around in her handbag, she finally located her phone - there were three unread messages. Eager to find out the details, Annie closed the lecture room door and sat down on the first available seat. The first message was from Matthew, her eldest son, checking up to see if his mum had survived the night out. Matt wasn't yet aware it had been a date, there was no point raising suspicions until Annie was sure something was to come of it. The second message was from Mark, oh my God from Mark she thought. Suddenly she remembered exchanging mobile numbers with him as they left the pub to say goodnight. With trepidation she opened the text and read it out loud. 'Hi, really enjoyed last night. Would love to see you again as soon as possible, tonight if you're free? Let me know, I have a meeting in Manchester at 3pm but can be back for 5. M x.' Annie read the message over and over again. Finally she closed the message and read the third message which was a reminder from her mum that they were having lunch on Monday, Annie's half day.

"Shit!" Annie exclaimed. She had completely forgotten her promise of lunch with Lucy. Annie gathered her belongings and ran to the cafe where she found Lucy sitting at the same table as this morning, this time alone.

"I am so so sorry," Annie said whilst throwing her coat and bag onto the chair. "I was catching up on a few things when..."

Lucy shaking her head said, "It's okay Annie, I don't mind being stood up," and they both laughed.

"I am glad we are alone this time Lucy. I wanted to tell you everything this morning but I don't think John approves of me dating or looking for my soul mate at my time of life."

Lucy mocking, "At your time of life, oh Annie, don't you know he fancies the pants off you and he's jealous!"

"Nonsense," interrupted Annie. "Anyway about last night... Mark was a perfect gentleman. He met me at the door of the hotel and we went to the West Riding Pub around the corner. Nothing flashy, just nice wine in a quiet quaint pub. It was lovely... he is lovely."

Lucy stared straight into Annie's face. "Oh Annie you really do like him don't you? I have not seen you this distracted before. Just be careful Annie but if he is the one go for it!!"

Annie smiled but didn't really have anything to say. "Oh God, what is wrong with me?" she said as she grappled around in her bag. "He sent me a text message and I've forgotten to reply." Annie read the message out to Lucy who beamed with pleasure.

"Meet him tonight," she said hastily. "Don't mess him around Annie, give him a chance."

Lucy knew Annie had a tendency to dither when it came to decent men and that the longer she logically thought about things, the more likely it was for Annie to talk herself out of it or worse she would start to doubt who he was.

"There," Annie declared, "done it.I am meeting him tonight." Before the sentence had been completed, a reply had been received confirming the rendezvous time and place.

The girls chatted over lunch and Annie departed to her afternoon lessons with a very light heart. At 4.30 p.m. she left the college and returned home, once again feeling sure she was being watched as she entered the garden gate.