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Chapter One

 

The high-pitched wail of the school bell rang out and resonated through Lily’s classroom, signalling the end of the school day and interrupting her valiant attempts to explain to the class of nearly forty high school students how the story line and themes in Shakespeare’s Macbeth might still be relevant today, in inner city London. She sighed as the children – well, teenagers, they were hardly children any more – leapt out of their seats at the first peel of the bell and immediately began to jostle and shoulder their way out of the room, not even pretending to wait for her to bring the lesson to a close.

“Homework, everyone,” she called out, raising her voice above the relentless din of scraping chairs and shuffling feet, “Re-read Act V scene I. I want us to discuss Lady Macbeth in the next class; what has happened to her and why? Come to class with your ideas ready to discuss.”

“Sure, Miss.”

“Yes, Miss.”

She supposed she should be happy that at least a handful of her pupils had acknowledged her request that they prepare for the next class, even if that didn’t necessarily mean they would actually do anything in practice.

As the last pupil drifted out of the room, Lily lowered herself down into her chair and slowly exhaled the long breathe she hadn’t even realised she had been holding in. She looped her arms behind her head and gently stretched her aching limbs. It had, once again, been a long day. She had known that it would be a challenge, moving from St Catherine’s High School, a fee-paying school in south west London that was full of children whose parents spent thousands of pounds on their offspring in a bid to provoke an intellectual curiosity that, as a teacher, Lily could not help but admire, even if she didn’t agree that money was the answer to the myriad of problems facing schools in London. However, after over five years there, she had felt that it was time to move on from the cloistered environment of St Catherine’s and spread her wings in a school where she was needed more, and where she hoped that she could make a genuine difference to the lives of the pupils she taught.

She smiled to herself. Her three sisters had all thought she was mad to accept the position as head of English Literature at Clayston Academy. Of course, on the one hand it was an impressive step for her career; to be appointed as a head of department at age twenty seven was practically unheard of in London. However, Lily wasn’t under any illusions; although she prided herself in being a good teacher with a genuine vocation for her work, Clayston Academy was what was known in London to be a “failing school” and it was unlikely there had been many, or even any, other applications for the job.

As she looked round the shabby classroom, with its graffiti-adorned desks and chairs, and aged paint peeling from the walls, she felt slightly sad. There wasn’t even a proper bookcase in the room, and the books were piled up in stacks on the floor. How was she supposed to encourage these children to learn, to want to read, to see the relevance of books above video games and television, if she couldn’t even get a simple bookcase placed in her class room? She really believed that these children could have a good future ahead of them, if only they were provided with the right opportunities now. 

Slowly, she rolled her shoulders in an attempt to dispel the tension that had worked its way into her muscles. Six months into her new role at Clayston Academy, and she was still surprised at how exhausted she was at the end of each day.

From her classroom, Lily had a bird’s eye view of the school’s playground and the staff car park just beyond. Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of a Cherokee Jeep™ pulling into the parking area. Immediately, the tension that she had been trying to rub away from her shoulders increased ten-fold. She recognised the car, and the tall dark haired man who jumped out of it confidently and began to stride towards the school’s main reception. Most of the children had already gone home, but she could see that those who were still around had clearly registered his presence as he made his way across the playground.

She walked over to her window and, through the grubby glass, gazed out, wrapping her arms round herself in an instinctive gesture of self-protection. Not that she worried about her physical safely around this man, she thought wryly. No, it was her emotional well being and, dare she admit it, her heart that concerned her more. Tom Sinclair was over six foot of unapologetic, dominant masculinity. Officially, he was a detective with London’s metropolitan police force, but a few months ago – around the same time she had started at Clayston – the Met had launched a new initiative, working with a handful of the “problematic” schools in the inner-city, aiming to improve relations between the children and the police in an attempt to try and combat the ever growing gang violence that was sweeping more and more teenagers into its clutches. Tom was the liaison contact between the Met and the school and had introduced himself to her the day he first came into the school, and made a point of stopping by to see her and chat to her whenever he visited, which these days tended to be at least a couple of times a week.

She’d tried to tell herself that he was just being friendly and courteous and that he wasn’t actually interested in her romantically. She’d even convinced herself for a while that her Year 10 class was the reason he was so attentive to her. Her Year 10 group included a few particularly difficult boys, who she knew were suspected of being members of one of the local gangs and maybe that was the reason for his interest. However, although she might not be the most experienced of women sexually, she had had a couple of boyfriends and she knew she hadn’t imagined the way his eyes raked over her, or the tingle of sensation that danced up and down her spine when his arm brushed against her.

Lily knew she had been a bit wary around Tom at first, and knew that she had failed miserably to conceal that wariness. Despite being the youngest of four siblings, Lily had always maintained an honest self-awareness about who she was and what she wanted from life that had at times astounded her otherwise more worldly sisters. Right from being a teenager, Lily had known that she wanted what would these days be called an “old-fashioned” relationship. She didn’t want someone who she could walk all over, or who would give in to whatever her whim was that day. Her years spent teaching had only confirmed those beliefs. She saw too many children, even those from privileged backgrounds at her old school, where the family was fragmented. Sometimes it was obvious, if the parents had divorced. Other times, more frequently, the family was still a unit on paper, but she could tell when she met the parents for review evenings that the husband and wife operated effectively independently, and there was no harmony either within the relationship or at home for their children. On more than one occasion parents, unable to contain their animosity towards each other, had screaming arguments in front of her, when they were supposed to have come into the school to talk about their child’s progress over the year.

Lily shivered. She definitely did not want that life for herself or any children she might one day have. However, she knew that in the kind of relationship she wanted, with the kind of man to whom she was instinctively attracted, she had to be wary. Any man could pretend to want the responsibility and duty that came with such a relationship in order to attract a woman initially and gain her confidence, but she suspected that there were far fewer to whom such leadership came naturally.  Everything about Tom Sinclair screamed natural confidence, authority and self-control, and she couldn’t imagine him permitting any wife or girlfriend of his to run riot or let their internal conflicts jeopardise their marriage or family. The certainty of that knowledge was, however, unnerving to Lily as she had never before been faced with the prospect of her girlish imaginings and fairy tale longings becoming real.

With a gasp, Lily hurriedly stepped back from the window as she realised that, in her daydreams, Tom had spotted her staring at him through the glass, and had raised his hand up to wave to her in a friendly greeting. Embarrassed at having been caught spying on him so obviously, Lily purposefully began to busy herself tidying up the classroom, stacking up papers and putting together the pile of marking she planned to take home with her to get through that evening. Although it was clear that Tom had been heading to see Sam Rawlins, the headmaster of Clayston Academy and a genuine supporter of the new school liaison scheme that Tom was pioneering, Lily still sighed to herself as she couldn’t help but wonder if he would drop in to see her afterwards if she was still in her classroom when he had finished.

*****

Reluctantly, Lily was forced to pick up her bags and papers and make her way outside to her car to go home for the day. She knew she had been fabricating tasks in her classroom, hoping that she could “accidentally” bump into the good looking detective before she left. It annoyed her that she had been so blatant in her tidying up, but she couldn’t lie to herself and she knew that she was acting like a teenager; so much for being a role model for her students...

She swung her bag over her shoulder, wrapped her scarf round her neck and briskly walked out into the school’s grounds. She was surprised at how dark it had suddenly become, although she supposed it was now early November and the days were increasingly short and bleak, not that she had helped herself by spending a good hour or so more than she needed to in her classroom! Most of the students had gone home, although she saw that there was a small group gathered in one of the corners of the grounds, in the shadow of one of the few trees that the school had retained between reception and the gates. Dimly, in the poor light, she thought that she saw Ricky and Mike Collins, twins from her Year 10 class, lounging within the group.

“Strange,” she thought to herself, as the twins didn’t usually hang out at the school after hours. They weren’t bad students, in fact, they were bright and - when they could be bothered – they could debate and argue detailed points on the novels and plays she had been teaching with the best of them. However, she’d heard on the grapevine that they spent most of their time in the company of the kids from one of the other nearby estates and she knew they had a reputation for skipping school at much as possible, having already had half a dozen warnings for truanting.

She heard the crack of thunder overhead, warning of the oncoming storm. “Urgh,” she thought, huddling deeper into her coat and picking up her pace as she made her way across the grounds and towards the car park. She wished she didn’t have to drive back and forth to work each day; life had been much easier when she used to take the Underground into town to reach her old school, but in this part of London Underground access was limited and it would have added another hour or so to her journey each way if she was reliant on the sporadic bus network. She hurried along, anxious to get to her car before the heavens opened.

Then, from the edge of the grounds, where she thought she had seen the twins, she heard raised voices and she pricked up her ears. It wasn’t the usual sounds of over excited teenagers, but rather the sound of a fight beginning to break out. Quickly, she swung around in their direction and, as she did so, saw pandemonium set in amongst the group as one of the twins  - was it Ricky or Mike? She couldn’t be sure – launched himself at one of the other boys, upon which the others piled in.

Instinctively, she threw her bag and papers down onto the ground and raced over to them as fast as she could, her thought only to break up whatever it was that was going on before any of them got hurt. She wasn’t stupid, she knew that – legal or not – some of the students carried knives on them. No way could she let that kind of an incident start up when she was close enough to stop it.

“Stop that!” she yelled, as she waded into the group of youths, trying in vain to pull them apart physically. Too late, she realised that without exception they were all decidedly bigger than she was and intervening was like pulling and tugging at a series of unyielding iron posts.

“I’m telling you all,” she continued, “this is no way to solve an argument. You will stop this right now and go home.”

“Miss, get out the way,” one of the boys yelled back at her, “it’s none of your business. Don’t stick your nose in.”

“What you do on school grounds is definitely my business,” she retorted, still trying to shove the boys off each other.

Suddenly, her stomach plunged as she saw the unmistakable glimmer of a knife and she froze on the spot, her mind lurching between the alternatives as to what to do. Then, within a split second, she was falling, as someone, she had no idea who, had violently pushed her away, out of the range of the blade, and she cried out as her shoulder took the force of her fall and she hit the concrete ground with a thud.

The whole thing had probably been over in seconds, but to Lily’s mind it felt like it had been hours. She heard a shout from the entrance to the school and managed to raise her head enough to see Tom Sinclair and Sam Rawlins running over and, at the same time, heard one of the boys say loudly, “Shit, it’s the police, get out of here. Kid – you’ve got it coming...” followed by the sound of thudding trainers on concrete as the boys ran off into the now properly dark road outside the school gate.

Lily felt strong hands gently touch her shoulders, neck and arms, probing to check if anything seemed broken, and she knew without opening her eyes that it was Tom Sinclair who was now slowly moving her to take the weight off her sore shoulder.

“Lily,” his voice resounded clearly in her ear, “I want you to open your eyes slowly, and then I want you to try and sit up. I don’t think anything’s broken, but you’ve taken a bad fall and a hell of a shock.”

“I’m okay...”she mumbled as she gradually opened her eyes again to see Tom Sinclair bending over her, his face set in a grim mask of barely concealed anger, but around his eyes there was tenderness and his tone remained gentle. Behind him, she could see Sam hovering, concern etched over his features.

 “Let me be the judge of that,” he responded firmly and with one hand placed gently under her shoulder blades, steadying her as she moved, she slowly sat up, wincing a little, but otherwise reassured to find that her limbs all seemed to be working as usual.

“See?” she said lightly, “all in one piece and fine!”

Incredulity briefly washed over Tom’s face, and his gaze drifted from her shaky smile to her shoulder, and he commented quietly, “You mean aside from your torn clothes and injured shoulder?”

Surprised, she jerked her eyes down to her shoulder. “Oh!” she exclaimed, wobbly, as she saw the rip to her coat and the badly grazed skin obvious underneath.

“Oh, indeed”, Tom replied and she flinched under his stern gaze.

“Really, I’m okay”, she repeated.

“From where we’re standing, you are most definitely not okay. You waded into a fight and were knocked to the ground within seconds. You could have broken any number of limbs, or worse! Who knows what could have happened if we hadn’t heard the shouting from Sam’s office and looked out to see you running to break things up. As it was, we weren’t quick enough to prevent this happening”, he told her grimly, before turning to Sam.

“Sam, did you recognise any of the students?”

“I think the Collins twins were there, and a couple of others from Year 10, but from the angle I couldn’t make out the rest of their faces”, he answered apologetically. “Lily, you really shouldn’t have tried to break up that fight. There were at least a dozen of them; you could have been really hurt!”

Lily could see the worry set over Sam’s usually calm features and sought to reassure him, “Really, Sam, I’m fine. Just a bit shaken, that’s all. I just heard the yells from across the grounds, and thought I could break it up before it got out of hand.” She deliberately avoided Tom’s gaze, “I guess I misjudged it a bit...”

Sam looked slightly mollified at her words, but still took the opportunity to chide her lightly, “Tom’s right, Lily. You could have been seriously hurt. This isn’t St Catherine’s. The kids here don’t just meekly go on their way when a teacher comes over.” He sighed. “Sometimes, at best you can get ignored, and at worst you can get caught in the cross fire.”

He reached down and put his hand on her arm, unaware of Tom’s steely look, “Please, Lily. Promise me you’ll be more careful in the future?”

“Of course, I will Sam”, she said immediately. “After all, I’m not going to be able to keep myself in new coats at this rate!” she joked.

Sam grinned, relieved that she was definitely okay.

“We need to get you some medical attention, young lady,” Tom interrupted.

“Oh!” Lily exclaimed. “I’m sure I’ll be fine, it just looks like a scrape and I can patch it up when I get home...”

“Don’t even think about,” Tom interrupted before she could get any further. “I’m taking you to A&E right now to let them take a look. Sam, I assume you’re happy for us to catch up about this tomorrow?”

Nodding, Sam said, “Of course. I’m going to give the parents of a couple of the kids who I thought I saw tonight a call. Although,” he added with an undercurrent of resignation in his voice, “I doubt the parents will be that interested.”

“Sounds like a good idea,” Tom agreed approvingly. “I can be in late morning tomorrow to catch up and maybe have an informal word with some of the likely suspects.”

“They’re not suspects!” Lily exclaimed, horrified that it sounded like the two of them were turning this into some kind of an investigation. “You can’t bring in the police!”

“Lily, in case it’s escaped your notice over the last few months, I am the police. Whilst I’m not proposing to launch a full investigation, I do intend to follow up on this and do everything I can to ensure this doesn’t happen again.” He held her gaze without flinching.

“But tonight, young lady, we’re off to get that shoulder looked at properly.”

Without another word he looped one arm under her knees and kept the other securely wrapped around her back, and lifted her effortlessly up into his arms, careful to prevent her shoulder getting jarred in the process.

“Sam.” He nodded at the other man before striding off to the car park to deposit a still speechless Lily in the passenger seat of his car, settling her in so she was as comfortable as possible in the circumstances and buckling the safety belt around her and gently closing the door.

He was gone for a few moments, before she heard the back door of the car open and twisted around to see him place her bag and papers, which she had discarded in her rush to intervene, on the floor. She flushed, as she hadn’t even realised that she was missing her possessions when he had put her in the car.

She looked over at him as he swung himself into the seat behind the wheel. “Tom...” she started...

He raised one eyebrow at her, but said nothing, waiting for her to finish.

“I... it’s just... well...”

Still, he said nothing.

She sighed. “You seem... well... cross. I really don’t want to put you out. I can drive myself to get checked out or one of my sisters can come with me. Really, you don’t have to... that is....” she drifted off.

“Is that it?” he asked curtly.

She gulped, “Um. I guess. Well, er... yes...”

“This isn’t the place for the conversation we need to have Lily. It can wait until we know for sure that your shoulder is fine. But don’t even think that I’m not coming with you to the hospital. End of story,” he finished, his voice steely.

*****

The remainder of the journey to the hospital had been conducted pretty much in silence and Lily could feel her tension rising, and she couldn’t blame her shoulder at all!

When finally Tom pulled into the hospital, he insisted on carrying her into the reception area but then marched straight past the reception desk and down a maze of corridors on the left and knocked on one of the doors. The door opened and a striking looking young man who looked to be in his early thirties stood there and beckoned them in.

“Tom,” he said, with a grin on his face, “about time you put in an appearance!”

A frown appeared on his brow as he caught sight of Lily’s shoulder.

“Uh ho,” he said, “looks like someone’s taken a tumble,” as Tom placed Lily on the ubiquitous examination table that was in the corner of the room.

“Lily,” Tom said, “this is my brother Jamie. He’s a doctor here at the hospital and can take a look at your shoulder.”

“Your brother?” she asked, clearly astonished, “But I didn’t know you had a brother!”

Both men grinned at her, and Tom chuckled for the first time in the last miserable hour.

“There’s probably quite a lot you don’t know about me, little one,” he said wryly.

Lily’s eyes widened at the unexpected endearment and the grin on Jamie’s face got even broader as he too clearly heard his brother’s words and he raised his eyebrow quizzically at Tom.

“Okay then, Lily,” Jamie got down to business, “it’s a pleasure to meet you but we need to take a look at that shoulder of yours so why don’t we start by getting you out of what used to be your coat?”

As Jamie and Tom helped her out of her layers, she decided that Jamie definitely had a better sense of humour than his brother, although as she began to recount what had happened, the grin on his face disappeared and was replaced by a frown disturbingly similar to his older brother’s.

“You let her run into a gang fight?” he turned quizzically to Tom, just as Lily responded hotly, “It was not a gang fight! They’re good kids!”

Both men ignored her pointedly, and Tom frostily told Jamie, “I did not let her do anything. She was supposed to be in her classroom at the end of the day and the next thing I see from the window is her running headlong into a brawl. You can rest assured she won’t be doing anything like that again!”

“Hang on just one minute, what do you mean, I was supposed to be in my classroom? It was the end of the day!” Lily found herself getting irritated by his presumptuous attitude even as she was lying on a hospital bed.

Both men glared at her, as Tom said, “There’s no need for that tone. We can discuss it later, but you clearly saw me arrive and it wasn’t unrealistic for me to expect that you would either have gone home while it was still daylight or waited around for me and we could have chatted and then I would have made sure you got to your car safely. I certainly didn’t expect you to stay until it was dark and then leave of your own accord, just as the real trouble makers were gathering!”

Lily knew that the tension in the air was palpable and Jamie at least made an effort to ease the atmosphere by turning his attention back to her shoulder, which was now more easily accessible to his ministrations.

After a good ten minutes of prodding and probing, he announced that she was lucky and her shoulder was fine other than for a bad graze and he turned to get antiseptic to clean it properly.

“Are you sure?” Tom asked, worry still clouding his face.

“Remember those years of medical school?” Jamie pointed mockingly to the certificates framed on the wall of the room. “Yep, I’m sure.” He turned to Lily, “although it’s still going to be a bit sore for a couple of days, and you need to take care to make sure it stays clean. Okay?”

“Sure,” she answered, “I’ll take real care, I promise.”

“Good”, he said as he meticulously began to clean the wound, being as gentle as he could when he used tweezers to remove small flecks of grit that could have caused her an infection. When at last he was done and he was cleaning up, he turned back to her casually, “Are all your shots up to date, Lily?”

“Shots?” she asked blankly, not quite understanding what he meant.

“Vaccinations. The one I’m thinking of is tetanus. Do you get your boosters regularly?”

She squirmed as she was forced to admit that she couldn’t even remember getting a single shot since she was a teenager, and she saw Tom’s eyes narrow fractionally and the two men exchanged a pointed look with each other.

“Okay then,” Jamie said, “that’s easily fixed,” and he gave her the tetanus booster there and then, “all done. How do you feel?”

“All things considered, pretty good,” she responded honestly, “my shoulder barely hurts at all. Thank you so much, I really appreciate it, and I’m sorry I was grouchy earlier.”

Jamie chuckled, “Not a problem. I’m sure my brother is more than relieved that you’re feeling fine too. Now, be a good girl and look after the graze and Tom will bring you back in a couple of days for me to have a quick check.”

“Oh, but....” she started.

“No problem at all,” he interrupted her protests, “I want to make absolutely sure that it heals properly and, in any event,” he added enigmatically, “if I know my brother, I have every suspicion that we’ll meet again soon anyway! Now, I have to fill out some paperwork for you.” He glanced over at his brother questioningly, “Shall I do that here,” he paused slightly and the brothers exchanged a knowing look, “or would you like a few minutes to yourselves and I can leave it for you to pick up in reception?”

Tom replied before Lily had even had a chance to process the question, “We’ll pick it up in reception, thanks Jamie.”

Jamie grinned, “Thought so. Well, Lily, it was a pleasure to meet you and I’ll see you in a couple of days, if you’re still speaking to my brother by then that is!” and with that, he strolled out the door, shutting it quietly behind him.

Alone in the small room with Tom, Lily was confused as to why Jamie had disappeared and she began to ease herself up from where she was seated, only to see Tom move towards the closed door and turn the lock on the inside.

“What?” she questioned, “I don’t understand?”

“Now, Lily,” Tom turned to her, his face implacable but his eyes still gentle, “it’s time for us to have that chat about your behaviour today.”