Lisa Mason was a petite brunette with sparkling blue eyes and a smile that illuminated the world. Always bullied by the girls at school, jealous of the attention she received, attracting the boys like moths to a flame with her easy manner, pretty face and long, thick, naturally corkscrewed locks, Lisa was blissfully oblivious of this fact, her head being filled with all things equine. She could never understand why her own sex saw her as such a threat, a theme that would sadly follow her throughout her life. In order to escape a mother who saw her as less than her brothers, always leaving her until last in her consideration in all things, Lisa met and hastily married John Metcalf, a kind youth, if a little odd, and at the age of 18 their first child was born, a baby girl called Lynette. Lisa was the driving force in the relationship, wanting to buy their first home. Her love of horses had become an obsession and she quickly realised that to do both she would have to work hard to fund her dreams. She worked at many jobs, her favourite being at the livery stables, where she learned her trade. She quickly gained the reputation of being an accomplished horsewoman, breaking and schooling young horses, gaining her Horse Master’s degree in double-time. A friend for whom she had schooled a pony had told her that there would be a cleaning job coming up for grabs, as the woman who had it was leaving because of family difficulties, and that she would put her name forward to take over her duties.
As Lisa walked down the path of the neat little cottage, the middle of a trio nestled at the end of a wooded lane, she was taken by the heady perfume of honeysuckle. It climbed over the garden walls and surrounded the picture-perfect cottage, giving it an almost fairytale quality that made her feel instantly at ease. She had been given the key to the property by Jenny, the woman who had kept it in tip top order up until her husband’s illness. Lisa entered the cottage and stood looking round at the neat, well-appointed rooms.
‘Where to start …’ she mused. Just as she was scanning the invitingly comfortable rooms, the door opened and was filled by a broad pair of shoulders draped in an expensive three-piece suit. At six feet one inch tall, Gareth Edwards had short-cropped blond hair, strikingly vivid blue eyes and a clear tanned complexion, his chiselled features and jaw set in a business-like manner. The Armani suit he wore accentuated his muscular body and formidable arms. Lisa caught her breath at his appearance; he had taken her by surprise. ‘Dear God, he is gorgeous,’ she thought as he unfolded through the door into the room. Lisa had been told that he was a solicitor and that he had recently qualified. He introduced himself; his voice was deep, rich, strong, and impeccably spoken. He appeared a little aloof, very matter of fact and concise – a typical legal eagle.
He quickly explained to her what her duties were to be and that he would pay her the sum of five pounds per hour, a king’s ransom to her. ‘What a Godsend,’ Lisa thought, elated. He left just as abruptly as he had arrived, leaving Lisa a little bewildered. ‘He was very proper,’ she thought, almost stuck up in the way he spoke, a far reach from her broad Lancashire twang.
As he climbed into his BMW outside the cottage his mind was in turmoil, heart pumping so fast against his ribcage it took his breath away. ‘What the hell is wrong with you, man?’ he spoke the words out loud, looking at his face in the vanity mirror, seeing the beads of sweat forming on his forehead. He had never had this reaction to a woman before; in fact, his total lack of interest in the opposite sex had many of his colleagues and friends assuming that he was gay, but none dared voice their opinion due to his volcanic temper. Those strangers who mistakenly chose to voice their opinions usually ended up in hospital.
He started the car and pulled away from the cottage, trying to concentrate on the road, although he could not shake the image of the slender brunette from his mind; her tight jeans with the T-shirt tucked in at her neat waist. She had a rear that he wanted to sink his teeth into, her corkscrew locks cascaded over her shoulders, now sporting blond highlights, and her chunky ankle boots gave her slim form an almost tomboyish appearance. He was taken by her beautiful, makeup-free, flawless skin and the fact that her eyes sparkled when she laughed, lighting the world. He had noticed that her eyes were gun metal blue with fine threads of green and hazel. Gareth thought her the most naturally attractive woman he had come across, yet he could not understand his reaction. He had never trusted women, a legacy from his past, yet he could find no excuse to ignore her. She was simply lovely and scary at the same time, making him uncomfortable with her easy chatty manner.
As time passed, Gareth found himself drawn to the house and made excuses at the office to go home. He would try to rush in and out, but she would ambush him and engage him in conversation, which made him feel like a rabbit caught in headlights; yet still he was drawn to her in a way that had him worried, almost running scared. He could not understand why or how he felt as he did about this woman, yet he craved her attention and for the first time in his life, at the age of 23, he felt stirrings of a sexual nature that were totally alien to him.
She started to care for him during his fleeting visits and would prepare a sandwich and drink for him, going beyond the brief of her duties. He found her easy manner endearing and soon warmed to her chatty, silly ways and the way she made him talk and laugh.
He was travelling home to see her for the first time this week, almost giddy with anticipation. He breathed in the warm honeysuckle scented air as he breezed down the path in the heat of the summer sun. He floated through the door to find her busy making lunch for him and humming some tune to herself.
‘Hiya,’ she beamed as he sauntered in, ‘I’ve made you a sandwich and a drink.’ He smiled at the view of her delectable rump and tiny waist and thanked her. As she turned to face him, he stopped mid stride.
‘What on earth have you done?’ he asked with a worried tone, wanting to take a closer look but still not confident enough to touch her.
‘A stable door caught me when the wind blew it shut yesterday,’ she replied, placing the cup and plate on the table.
He nodded and walked past her feeling uneasy. He washed his hands, and on his return, he said, ‘Let’s try that one again shall we? Are you going to tell me what happened to your face?’
She peered at him with the look of someone caught out in a lie. ‘I told you, the wind –’
He interrupted her mid-sentence. ‘There was no wind yesterday, it was a still summer’s day, try again.’
She looked totally crestfallen. Her breath caught in her throat as she told him that John had been drunk and punched her during an argument. He felt the bile rise in this throat and his lips were white with the rage he was barley containing. Why did he feel so protective of this woman? How had she managed to get under his skin at all, let alone in such a short space of time? He was finding it increasingly more difficult to concentrate at work, images and thoughts of her flooding his every waking moment; hell, he was even dreaming about her now. He ate his sandwich and chatted to Lisa, well, mainly listened to her lilting happy chatter, transfixed by her laugh and her joy in life even though she bore the marks of violence on her lovely face. She was a pleasure to be around; she seemed to lift the weight from his world.
In the past he had found the need to install a camera in his home as some of his previous cleaning ladies, prior to Jenny, had proven to be less than trustworthy, going through his possessions and on one occasion actually stealing money from a dresser drawer in his bedroom. He had left it in place merely as a precaution, assuring himself that all was as it should be. He would check it fortnightly, as a rule, but since the advent of Lisa in his life he found that he was checking it more often, and not for the reasons the camera was intended, his need to see her becoming paramount. After a stressful day at the office, he would rush home, make a brew of green tea and settle down in front of the camera, rewinding the tape to where Lisa’s form appeared. He smiled as he watched her singing along at the top of her voice to the music playing on the radio, dancing with the vacuum cleaner, and using the feather duster as a microphone. God, how he wanted her, yet past events haunted him, barring his way forward. He played the tape over and over watching avidly her every move. He was actually feeling guilty for having the camera in place and had the urge to tell her of its existence, but then he would have to forego the pleasure of watching Lisa dance her way round his home. Perhaps he would wait a little longer to tell her. Was he becoming a voyeur? Gareth quickly shook his head, dismissing the thought out of hand.
Lisa always believed that she had been put on this earth to help those in need. It didn’t matter if they had two legs or four, she had a natural empathic ability that drew her to any being that was damaged by life, knowing instinctively when she needed to intervene.
She was working at the cottage, singing at the top of her voice when the door opened. She had prepared lunch for Gareth, as it had become part of her routine. In addition, she had also ironed shirts that she found in the washing basket. As she turned toward the door her heart sank; she immediately felt that all was not well with the man that faced her. His whole demeanour was one of defeat, not something that ever sat well or for long on his broad shoulders.
‘Aw, what’s wrong?’ she said, startling him from his thoughts and taking a step forward, arms outstretched, to administer a healing hug. He immediately blocked her advance with the long reach of his arms. Looking at her lovely face he heard her say apologetically, ‘Sorry, I’ve overstepped the mark,’ holding her hands up and taking a step backwards. She could feel the heat in her cheeks.
It was at that moment, as he watched the blush spread over her cheeks, that Gareth took a leap of faith. Pulling her towards his chest, he kissed her forehead, his chin brushing the top of her head as he stooped to meet her, burying his head in the nape of her neck, and holding her tightly against his torso for what seemed like an age to Lisa. At that very moment he felt the exquisite pain of cupid’s arrow pierce his heart as it thawed and melted. He had never felt a rush of emotion like this in his entire life; she had to be his one and only. They sat drinking the brew that Lisa prepared while he ate his lunch. He was becoming acutely aware of the discomfort from his growing erection that pressed solidly against his suit pants. She questioned the reason for his troubled expression. He found the whole experience exhausting; never before had he let another human being see his pain, yet here he sat having every word coaxed from him. He recounted having found out that his stepfather had sold the family legal practice for a pound on the day had he qualified to prevent Gareth from inheriting the firm. The man had hated him from the moment he discovered that he wasn’t his child but the result of an affair that his wife had with a handsome local farmer. The loathsome man had made it his mission in life to punish the beautiful little blonde-haired boy for his wife’s infidelity, subjecting him to a catalogue of abuse that spanned his early years and beyond. God only knew he dared not speak of the torture that he had suffered at the hands of his mother, which made his stepfather’s pale in comparison, for fear of appearing less of a man. Perhaps one day, but until then he would bury that dark secret deep.
Lisa listened after pulling every last piece of confessional from his lips. She could see that he was drained by the effort of releasing the burden he felt and made a mental note to revisit the subject at the first available opportunity, knowing instinctively that there were depths and layers that needed peeling away but having no idea of the horror that she would eventually discover. Gareth climbed back in his car feeling as if he had just had a full work out. He was drained, yet felt lighter, easier in himself. He shook his head and thought, ‘Dear God, what has that woman done to me?’
Lisa’s home life was deteriorating, becoming increasingly more violent. John Metcalf proved to be an inadequate, jealous partner, turning to drink to drown the sickening feeling in the pit of his gut. He took to verbal abuse at first to make himself feel better, pulling Lisa down at every available opportunity, telling her no one would want her or ever look at her, that she was worth nothing. This became a weekly routine. He would go out, getting increasingly more wasted. The more he drank the more belligerent and violent he became; this often led to him taking a beating from the men at the places he frequented as he made clumsy drunken advances toward their women.
John was small in stature and a little sickly-looking, which only served to fuel his feelings of inadequacy. The rage that brewed inside him came from watching a long line of admirers that found Lisa ‘A friendly, easy lass to talk to,’ as they would say. One of her jobs of an evening was at the Withy Tree public house – the landlord Bob thought highly of Lisa as she drew in the male punters, filling his bar and his pockets. John’s toxic putdowns caused Lisa to cover her form with baggy off-the-shoulder tops that draped loosely over her body, having the opposite effect to the one desired. The tops proved to be far more alluring to the male punters, which boosted Bob’s profits, of course, serving also to bring wives and partners to the bar in order to see what the pull was to their increasingly absent menfolk. This usually culminated in the ejection of all parties concerned, in particular John, who invariably waded into the fray, escalating any problems that existed. Lisa was naïve enough to believe that the attention she received from the many male admirers that frequented the bar, engaging her in chit chat, was merely ‘folks being friendly.’ After all, John had told her how fat and ugly she was so many times she began to believe it to be true.
Arriving home from the night shift at the bar, John followed Lisa in, staggering drunkenly through the door. ‘Give me the fucking car keys,’ he barked, spitting the slurred words at her as he slumped against the wall.
‘No way, look at the state of you, you are not fit to drive,’ she replied. The rage exploded inside him and he lunged forward, grabbing her wrist as she closed her fist quickly around the keys to stop him taking them, which earned her a sickening blow to her face, cracking her eye socket. The keys bit hard into the soft flesh of her palm as he repeatedly smashed her clenched fist against the wall, busting her knuckles. All Lisa could think was ‘Thank God that Lynette’s at her grandparents,’ as the pain tore through her hand. The exertion eventually proved too much for him, the effects of the alcohol he had consumed finally overwhelming him as he collapsed in a heap on the floor. Lisa strode over his prone body as it lay across the narrow entrance hall and climbed the stairs, dazed and bleeding, steadying herself on the handrail. She cleaned and treated her face and hand the best she could with what she had in house.
The following morning no amount of concealer could mask the damage to her eye socket, which had swollen to the extent that the eye had closed completely. It throbbed, her head ached, and her lip had been split during the struggle. ‘God, I look like a train wreck,’ she thought. As she came down the stairs John’s crumpled heap lay where it had fallen the night before. She checked to see if he was breathing, then strode over him, leaving to turn the horses out and head for Honeysuckle Cottage. She was not prepared to answer any questions about her injuries that morning; most seemed satisfied that she had been injured whilst breaking a horse that proved a little awkward. She knew one person who would not be satisfied with her explanation, so did her best to avoid him.
As Gareth entered the kitchen, he called, ‘Lisa, where are you?’
She was cleaning the bathroom. ‘Won’t be a moment,’ she called, ‘your early lunch isn’t ready yet.’
He had rushed home early on the pretence that he needed papers for a case he was working on, needing to have a fix of his drug of choice. As she entered the kitchen, she saw him flinch, his beautiful perfect smile changing to an angry, troubled grimace. ‘Another stable door, I presume,’ he said, barely concealing the venom in his tone. She looked crestfallen and nodded sheepishly. ‘This is not right, you know.’ He was trying to soften his voice so as not to upset her with his reactions, but found it difficult to choke back the bile in the back of his throat. ‘You shouldn’t have to hide away from me or anyone else because you have taken a beating from that lowlife.’
Her embarrassment at his statement welled up and she snapped back, ‘Well, it really is no one else’s business, is it?’ She knew that he was concerned and instantly regretted her barbed response. He turned to go back through the door, and she returned to her chores.
Moments later she heard a loud crack and the sound of splintering wood but did not witness the single punch that hit the door, splitting it in two and knocking it from its hinges. She ran as quickly as her aching legs would carry her only to see Gareth leaning with his hands on the garden wall, head down, breathing laboured as his anger took hold. He looked up to see Lisa astonished face peering at him through the space where the door used to be.
‘Please forgive my outburst,’ he said as he walked past her, back into the house, pausing to stroke her arm in reassurance. Picking up the phone he dialled the joiner. The man recognised Gareth’s voice instantly, having worked for him previously, and listened as the tale unfolded of an incident that had occurred at Honeysuckle Cottage involving the property no longer being secure; Gareth said that he had been the incident and to attend as soon as possible to secure the premises.
Replacing the handset, he returned to Lisa, who had made them a piping hot brew of green tea, both in need of a break to regain their composure. The more he looked at the damage to her face and hand, the more he resolved to sort Metcalf out.