The Aura (The Kate Benedict Series Book 1)

By: Carrie Bedford
CHAPTER ONE


Waking up didn’t end the nightmare. It just kept going. At first light, I bolted from sleep with a headache unlike anything I’d ever felt before. It pinned my head to the pillow and poked daggers into my eyes when I opened them. Easing myself out of bed, I hobbled to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. I’d have to work out how to shower when I had more time. My legs were bandaged from mid-calf to mid-thigh; pain stabbed at my knees when I moved them.

Back in my room, I pulled some loose-fitting black pants from a hanger. They would hide the bandages better than a skirt and tights. I found a silk shirt to dress them up, pulled my hair up into a ponytail, and smoothed concealer under my eyes to hide the dark circles that had gathered overnight. While I drank a cup of tea, I weighed the many advantages of going back to bed, but I knew I couldn’t take any more time off work. I’d already missed the first two days of the week. I imagined my desk sinking under the mass of paper that must have accumulated by now.

Dumping my cup in the sink, I made my way down three flights of stairs by clinging to the banisters, and limped through rain-slicked streets to the nearest Tube station. Every painful step reminded me of what had happened in Tuscany over the weekend. I joined the other commuters in a crowded carriage that smelled of damp wool. When a man pushed his way past me and swung his briefcase into my leg, I realized this would have been a good day to treat myself to a taxi.

Needlepoints of rain stung my face when I came out the Tube station. I walked as quickly as I could to reach the shelter of the office. Bradley Cohen, the architectural firm where I worked, resided in what must be one of the ugliest buildings in the city. Undoubtedly considered the height of contemporary style when it was built in the 1960s, the four-story office block now cowered in the shadow of newer construction, as though ashamed of its metal window frames and weather-darkened aluminum siding. Still, the interior was elegant and comfortable, the lobby and offices filled with sleek blonde furniture from Sweden, while creamy plaster walls served as a backdrop for large and colorful paintings by several London artists.

Unable to face the stairs, I opted for the elevator, which was empty this early in the morning, but, just as the doors started to close, a beefy hand appeared between them and they slid open to reveal my boss, Alan Bradley. His perma-tan glowed orange in the florescent light, clashing with a pink Polo shirt that stretched tightly over his paunch and was tucked and belted into beige chinos. He wore his usual frown.

“You look frightful, Kate. Been out partying?”

He didn’t wait for me to answer. “You young things have all the fun with your concerts and bar-hopping. I, on the other hand, have a house and garden to slave over, as if I don’t have enough to do at the office.”

I doubted that Alan did his own housework or gardening. He was co-owner of Bradley Cohen, and his Tudor-style mansion in Surrey was more than large enough to accommodate a nanny, a housekeeper, and probably a gardener too.

“Poor you,” I said, summoning up a smile. Staying on Alan’s good side would make the rest of the week less stressful. “I’m going to get some coffee. Do you want one?”

“You were out yesterday, weren’t you? And Monday too, come to think of it.” He followed me into the kitchen, where I poured two cups of coffee and gave him one. I edged my way past him to rummage in the fridge for milk or cream, hoping he would tire of asking about my absence.

“No milk,” I said, handing him a packet of nondairy creamer.

“This bloody stuff tastes like petrol,” he said. “Now can you explain to me why you missed two days of work?”

“She had an accident,” came a voice from the door. It was Josh. “Hit and run,” he said. “Who’d think something like that could happen in idyllic Tuscany?”

A quick jolt of guilt made my cheeks feel warm. There was, I realized, a big difference between telling the truth and being honest. I had, in fact, been in Tuscany and there had been a car. That part was true. But I couldn’t tell anyone what had really happened; no one would believe me. Josh came into the kitchen, took the small sachet of powder from my hands and finished opening it for me.

“Well, I hope you find the driver,” said Alan, tipping more creamer into his mug. “So that you can sue him for lost wages.”

I leaned against the counter and tried to slow my breathing. Everything hurt, my hair needed washing, and I couldn’t remember if I’d put on any mascara. I was sure I looked hideous. Of course Josh wouldn’t say anything; he was far too considerate for that.

He grinned, undaunted by Alan’s sardonic humor. When he smiled, his eyes, which were the color of sea glass, crinkled at the corners. I envied his ability to make light of our boss’s acerbic manner; Alan often made me feel off balance, as though I’d done something wrong or was about to commit some terrible blunder. Which, of course, I had, by taking days off at a time when the team was working frantically for our prestigious new client.

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