Drowning Rapunzel by Annette Gisby
contemporary romantic suspense novel
Release Date: 02/28/2013
Cover art by Valerie Tibbs
Recently released from a mental institution, Beth Gregory accepts a job as a live-in secretary/PA to the reclusive painter Josh Warrington. From the first moment he sees her, Beth’s long red hair fascinates him, and Josh wants her to be his Rapunzel for a series of fairy tale paintings on which he’s working.
Beth has two major fears: that she will be sent back to the mental hospital and that the visions which landed her there in the first place will return. They do; this time giving her glimpses of murders before they happen. Beth becomes the main suspect in the murder investigation and then she has the most disturbing vision of all: she will become the next victim…
Note: This is a romantic suspense book with a child abduction and includes off-screen mentions of rape.
She rang the bell gingerly, as though by pressing it softly no one would hear. If no one heard, no one would answer the door and she wouldn’t have to go in. It was a futile wish, but one she clung to as steadfastly as a shipwreck survivor would cling to a floating log.
But her wish was not to be granted. The door opened to reveal a dour-faced woman in her fifties, with steely grey hair and hard cold grey eyes. Beth felt her breath catch in her throat at the woman’s close scrutiny. Was she presentable enough? Her aunt had helped her choose her outfit: a smart navy skirt suit and a plain white blouse, finished off with a pair of flat shoes.
They were her newest pair and already the toes were starting to pinch. She shifted from foot to foot trying to ease the pressure on her feet a little. Her hair was piled on top of her head and pinned in place by a collection of hair grips and finished off with a diamanté clasp. Already wisps of it were trying to escape their bonds and she curled a stray hair behind her ear. Her hands were beginning to sweat and she had to wipe them on her skirt.
“What do you want?” snapped the woman, folding her arms across her ample chest. She was wearing a grey dress and a white frilly apron over it. Beth gulped at the formidable form in front of her.
“Hello, I’m here to see Mr. Warrington about the position.”
“What position?” The woman opened the door a fraction, a frown on her forehead, as though she was curious. Beth fumbled about in her bag, feeling her face redden, as she tried to find the advert. Her hand emerged with a hairbrush, a half-eaten packet of mints, keys, purse, but no newspaper. It was exactly where she had left it. Sitting in the middle of the kitchen table, where she’d been reading it while she had breakfast.
“The secretarial position,” said Beth. “This is Holly Lodge, isn’t it?” Beth had no need to ask, she knew exactly where she was. She’d know the house anywhere. It was the biggest one on the road and there was lots of gossip about who owned it. No one had ever seen the young man who was supposed to be living there.
“Oh. You must be looking for young Josh. He says he needs a secretary. Can’t think why, he hardly ever does anything.” She smiled like an indulgent parent. Was she his mother? Beth had a mind to ask, but thought it would sound too rude, so she stayed silent.
“My ears are burning, Flora. Have you been talking about me again?” A deep baritone voice rang out from behind them. The man hugged Flora and then turned his attention to Beth. His forest green jumper was full of small holes, as if a moth had kept going in and out of the fabric and he hadn’t noticed.
“You must be Miss Gregory.” He smiled as he took her hand, but it didn’t negate the sadness behind his eyes. “Do come in. Flora, would you be as kind as to arrange for some tea for us? We’ll be in the study.”
“Of course, Mr. Warrington.”
“How many times do I have to tell you? Call me Josh. Every time you call me Mr. Warrington, I keep expecting to see my father!” He laughed then, a loud hearty sound, as though it was something he did often. Beth couldn’t remember the last time she had laughed.
Beth was amazed at the transformation that Josh Warrington had wrought with Flora, and also with herself. Her heart began to beat erratically in her chest and she wondered if he could hear it. He was a very handsome man. Tall, with dark wavy hair and the most beautiful hazel eyes she had ever seen. They changed colour depending what light he was in. His eyes were framed by gold-rimmed glasses, making him seem even more handsome. Beth wondered if he knew what effect he had on women, on herself in particular. There was an air of tragedy about him that she was drawn to, in the same way that she was drawn to broken toys and wounded animals. She wanted to fix things, and he was no different.
He was charming, holding the door to the study open for her and pulling out a chair for her to sit on. Before sitting down, he waited to hold the door open when Flora arrived with the tray of tea things. On her trolley sat a china teapot, two cups and saucers, and enough food to see them through a small siege. Flora waited by the door, hoping to eavesdrop, if the look on her face was anything to go by.
“That will be all, Flora,” said Josh. “I’ll call if I need you.”
“Very well,” she said with a sigh of disappointment, but closed the door behind her. Beth wondered if she’d be listening at the keyhole.
“Now, Miss Gregory,” he began as he poured out two cups of tea.
“Please, call me Beth.”
“Beth? Short for Elizabeth?”
“What a beautiful name.”
“It was my grandmother’s. And my mother’s. I was named after her.”
“Yes. It’s quite an old-fashioned name, isn’t it?”
Beth didn’t reply, she couldn’t. She was afraid that she would give something away. And she had to have this job. She had to. Living with her aunt was okay, but she needed somewhere of her own. The position with Josh Warrington was live-in, but it paid very well. If she stayed for a year or two, she would have enough to put a deposit on a place of her own. And that was what she needed. She needed to get away. Away from all the memories.
“Well, Beth. Have you had any experience in secretarial work before?” As he handed her a cup of tea, the sleeve of his jumper rose up and she could see a bandage around his wrist. Beth glanced away, wondering if this was the source of the tragedy she’d sensed about him, for there was only one reason Beth could think of why the man’s wrists would be bandaged. The cup was overfull so that some of the tea dripped onto the saucer and the cup rattled against the saucer in her trembling hands.
“Err, no, actually, but I do have exams in typing and computing…” she trailed off, unsure of how to go on. He was looking at her in the most intense way, his hands cupped beneath his chin, steeple like. It was like he’d never seen a woman before and with his charm and looks she didn’t think that could have been the case.
“Splendid. Splendid. Your hair, where did you ever get such beautiful hair?” He seemed lost in a world of his own. “It’s such an unusual colour. I’ve never seen hair that colour before. How long is it?”