On Friday we announced that Derick Parsons’ Hidden is our Thriller of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the thriller, mystery, and suspense categories: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Thriller excerpt:
HIDDEN is a thriller, set in Dublin, but it is also a voyage of self-discovery for Kate, as she uncovers not just the truth about her patient but some truths about herself.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
Kate Bennett quickly crossed the inner quadrangle of Trinity College Dublin, her high heels clicking sharply on the grimy old cobblestones. The expression on her face was grim and her eyes were blank, her thoughts far away. After yet another uninspired lecture –during which few of her students had bothered to hide their boredom- it was becoming painfully clear to her that teaching was not her forte. She bit her lower lip as she walked and frowned down at the cobbles; she was not used to failure and it rankled. Failure in professional matters, that is; spectacular failures in her personal life were her forte, and always had been. Which was why she had returned to Dublin from England in the first place, some months before. But she was used to relationship breakdowns and could handle them, more or less; failing in her work was a new and unpleasant experience. On paper it had seemed the ideal solution to her troubles; being a part-time lecturer would give her time to work on her latest book, as well as giving her generally chaotic life a little much-needed structure.
In practice things had not run so smoothly. In spite of her deep knowledge of psychology, both the theoretical side and the practical experience she had picked up working in the field, her career as a teacher was in danger of foundering after just a few short weeks. She just couldn’t understand why it was all going so badly wrong; even aside from her expertise she loved psychology, loved the unending search into how the human psyche worked. And yet she was unable to convey any of her enthusiasm to her students. Information, yes; passion, no. Her lectures were so dry she wondered how much of them her students actually absorbed; certainly none of them ever seemed to be listening. Yet the harder she tried to make her discourses interesting the more she floundered on a sea of verbosity.
She shook her head dismissively, putting the problem to one side; she would worry about it later. Pushing problems aside for later resolution could also be considered her forte.
Kate was slightly above medium height, but her weakness for ultra-high heels made her appear taller, as did her slender build. Her appetite naturally inclined her towards plumpness but an unrelenting program of diet and exercise, both of which she loathed, kept her slim and even elegant in the slightly severe, tailored suits she favored. Her hair was dark brown with a hint of natural red in its depths and, with her pale, narrow face set off by big hazel eyes and full lips, she made a striking figure, and one which turned heads everywhere she went.
She attracted attention now in the form of the head of the History Department, Dr. Julian Symons, who hurried across the quad to catch up with her before she reached the door that led up to her second floor office. Symons was an aging, would-be rake who delighted in his dubious reputation as a ladies’ man and who gave Kate the creeps, not least because she suspected that he started the rumors about his amorous adventures himself. He was a short man and rather stout, given to wearing pink bow ties and silk shirts with his tweed suits, and just looking at him generally made Kate want to laugh aloud. Not that she ever would; the funny little man really seemed to believe that he was a born lady-killer, and although she could never like him she hadn’t the heart to disabuse him of his delusions.
‘Katherine, my dear,’ he began in his high, nasal voice, offering her a wide, patronising smile, ‘How delightful to see you! For a change. You’re becoming something of a recluse around here. Why, I go days sometimes without spotting your pretty face. Not the way to win friends and influence people, my dear. To say nothing of winning tenure.’
Kate’s lips tightened and she pulled her jacket closed; he did appear delighted to see her, but she didn’t much care for the parts he was so pleased to see. She nodded and, wishing that he would raise his gaze to eye-level just once in their conversations, said in a neutral tone, ‘Julian.’
He did eventually look up from her breasts, which were in fact quite small and hardly demanded such close attention, and smiled at her slyly before saying, ‘I’m having a little soiree tonight and I was hoping you might grace it with your presence. Badinage aside, we really don’t see enough of you, you know.’ His gaze dropped again and he said suggestively, ‘And I really would like to see more of you, my dear.’
‘The feeling is far from mutual,’ replied Kate dryly, partly irritated and partly amused by his elephantine attempt at flirtation; he was like a reject from an old Carry-on movie, and impossible to take seriously. In fact, so labored was his act that she occasionally wondered if he were secretly gay. ‘College social life leaves me cold, I’m afraid, and although I’m new to teaching I’ve been here long enough for the idea of tenure to fill me with horror.’
Symons raised his brows and cocked his head to one side, reminding her irresistibly of a sparrow looking for breadcrumbs, and looked at her in a pitying fashion. College life –and particularly tenure- loomed so large in his own mind, in his own life, that he clearly didn’t believe her. Couldn’t believe her; the college was the center of his universe. His artificial and rather yellow smile never wavered as he said, ‘Well, come or not, just as you please. Don’t let my importance on the faculty board influence you at all.’
‘I won’t,’ said Kate even more dryly, and with complete honesty; she wouldn’t, though many would. She flashed him a brief, perfunctory farewell smile and turned to go, whereupon he said archly, ‘Well, play hard to get if you must. But remember; the faster the quarry runs, the harder the pursuers chase.’
In fairness Symons had meant it in a purely social sense but Kate’s past had left her highly sensitive to any hint of women being viewed as prey, or aggression toward them, and her smile vanished as she said in a tight, angry voice, ‘If you try pursuing me you’ll regret it, I promise you. Stick to chasing the girls you teach who are desperate for grades. And I do mean desperate.’
Symons’ smile vanished and this time he did not stop Kate as she entered the old building but stood staring after her, a savage look on his face. He was not used to such treatment, was indeed used to being courted by very new, very junior staff like Kate, and he had come to view his invitations as tantamount to royal commands. Although she did not realize it, Kate’s utter lack of interest in the college social scene gave her a certain cache among the other lecturers, resulting in her receiving invitations that similarly junior members of staff would have killed for but never received; Symons had not been kidding when he said that the more she ran, the harder she was pursued.
Kate marched angrily up to her office, not relaxing until she was seated behind her ancient, leather-topped desk, as much annoyed at herself for losing her temper as she was at the silly little man for provoking her. Then she thought; Well, I guess I’m no longer invited to his party. Sorry, SOIREE. She slammed down her briefcase, her lips a tight white line, but then she giggled, unable to help herself, at the thought of Symons’ expression if she now actually turned up at his party. Somehow she doubted he’d be quite so effusive, or that future invitations would be forthcoming. Oh well, it was no loss; to her Trinity was simply the place where she happened to be working just then, and she had no wish to involve herself in its hidden depths. Nor had she any interest in tenure; her lack of the teaching gift was becoming so painfully obvious that she was in fact sorry that her one-year contract would hold her there until the following summer.
Besides, even apart from lacking the teaching bug she didn’t much like the place; Trinity, like all Universities, contained two very separate personas. One was the crowded and hectic but still beautiful old center of education which everyone in the outside world perceived. The other, murkier facets of college life that only insiders saw were the rigid cliques, the petty jealousies, the bitter feuds and hatreds that lasted for years on end, and the tight, even claustrophobic social life. If one did not mix with the right people one simply did not exist. An elitist and somewhat childish view, but one which most of the faculty did not just subscribe to but regulated their lives by.
She was packing her notes into her case when she saw the Post-it stuck to her lamp, no doubt left there by Sally, the secretary she shared with another junior lecturer, before she had left for her lunch. It read; The Director of Deacon House rang, would like to see you out there at 3pm if you can make it.
Kate raised her thin, shaped eyebrows; why would the head of Deacon House want to talk to her? She had heard of the place, of course, as had everyone even peripherally involved in the mental health field in Ireland; it had long been famous for its progressive approach to treating the mentally ill. And for being the most luxurious and expensive private asylum in Europe. It was the kind of place where she and her fellow students had dreamed of working, back when they were permanently broke and generally hungry, still struggling towards their degrees. But as she had only been back in Dublin a couple of months, after an eight-year absence, she had no idea who the current director was, or what he could want with her. Her books, of course, had brought her a modest amount of fame in her own little circle, as well as less modest royalties; perhaps the current director had heard she was back in Ireland and wished to offer her a job?
It seemed the only possible scenario, and the prospect of being back in private practice immediately excited as well as frightened her. She hadn’t had a patient since… well, since the Incident. That was the way she always thought of it; as The Incident. And generally in capital letters. She closed her eyes to help shut the sudden crowd of hurtful memories out of her mind; perhaps a new patient was exactly what she needed. After the Incident she had gone into retreat, living on her then meager savings and Peter’s far from meager earnings whilst she wrote her first book on psychology. Not a textbook; she had wanted to de-mystify the workings of the human mind and make the whole subject more accessible to the average person, while at the same time avoiding the kind of trite psycho-babble filling the self-help shelves in every book shop. She had wanted to show why people become the way they are, how a human personality develops, and how and why people react to different situations. And she had succeeded. How she had succeeded. Her book had been a hit, particularly in the USA, and had led to her being offered her present post in Trinity. It had also filled her coffers; she was not rich but in these recessionary times she was also well clear of the poverty line.
Her second book, showing how childhood events shape the adult, had not scaled the same heights as the first, receiving fair critical acclaim but only modest sales. And her third book, on criminal psychology, had pleased no one, it seemed; as well as being ignored by the critics it had not sold well, in the end barely covering the publishing costs. Her planned fourth book, on the development of aberrant sexuality and how sex offenders are formed, had stalled some time ago on only the third chapter and showed no signs of moving again in spite of the wealth of potential subject matter at her disposal. Perhaps the topic struck her a little too close to the bone for comfort.
So where was she? Washed up at thirty-four? Unmarried, childless, and with her writing career dead in the water? Was she destined to become a frustrated old spinster teacher? She sat back in her old-fashioned wooden swivel chair and laughed aloud at the thought, her gloom dispelling as suddenly as it had arisen; a spinster she was not. She had never considered herself anything special in the looks department but she had never had any trouble attracting men either, and had no fears of being left on the shelf. And time was not her enemy as she had never been particularly broody. She had never had more than fleeting urges to have children, urges she had not encouraged and which had just as quickly disappeared. And if she was honest she had quite enough personal problems of her own to deal with without trying to raise kids as well. The thought of children brought one of these problems, Peter, crowding back into her mind but she pushed it firmly away; she would not think about him now. He was back in England with all the rest of her old life and there he would remain.
That’s the past! she reminded herself firmly, think of the present, and the future, but never look back. A future which might well include having patients again, if she really were about to be offered a job in Deacon House. Dealing with the mentally ill, with life’s casualties, had been her first love, and her later, varying careers as a police consultant, an author, and now as a lecturer had perhaps obscured but never quite destroyed that love. Maybe it was time to get back in harness. After all, what was the alternative, to sit here desultorily reading barely literate essays churned out by lazy slobs with no interests in life beyond sex and partying? She relaxed back in her seat, laughing at herself; no doubt all lecturers –including her own, back in the day- had been saying the same thing about their students since education began. God only knows what Aristotle had made of the young Alexander. But it said much about what her life had become that she would gladly leap into the unknown rather than go home to face an empty flat and yet another night in alone.
Kate got to her feet suddenly and made for the door; Deacon House was a good ten miles away and if she was to be there by three she would have to get moving. And as she went she pushed any thoughts of how empty her life must have become for her to be so desperate to seek change. Any change. She also repressed the thought that running away from problems was becoming a way of life for her; she could worry about that later.
The sleek red TVR crawled down the winding country road, annoying those held up behind while Kate searched for a sign that would reveal her destination. There were many driveways and rutted lanes leading off the main road, and the thick, encroaching greenery and overhanging trees meant that at anything above twenty miles an hour she would miss the turn.
At last Kate spotted a sign proclaiming Deacon House to the world in large black letters and quickly swung her powerful but twitchy sports car into the entrance. Waving an apologetic hand to acknowledge the beeps from the irate motorists streaming past behind her she stopped in front of the massive, wrought iron gates that separated the mental hospital from the outside world. She paused, a frisson of excitement running through her; all her professional life she had heard stories about this place and now, about to see it in person at last, her curiosity knew no bounds. However, between the huge black gates and the massive granite walls Kate could see little beyond a glimpse of white gravel driveway and overhanging tree branches. Her initial impression was of isolation and unfriendliness, even secrecy, and overall was not encouraging. She had been invited there, however, and now rolled down her window and pressed the intercom button mounted on a low post set at a distance from the old gates.
A crackling, metallic but unmistakably female voice immediately responded, ‘Deacon House, how can I help you?’
No mention of its full title, thought Kate with a touch of amusement, nor its present function. The sign outside was the same; just the name, no description. ‘My name is Kate Bennett. I have a three o’clock appointment with…er, the director.’
She was hoping for a clue as to who her mysterious host was but was destined to be disappointed as, after a moment’s hesitation, the voice replied, ‘Yes, you’re expected, Dr. Bennett. Please wait until the gates are fully open, then follow the driveway up to the house.’
It was on the tip of Kate’s tongue to say, it’s Ms. Bennett, not Doctor, but before she could speak the heavy gates shuddered and began to swing open, making a suitably eerie creaking noise as they did so. Wondering what effect this would have on the more nervous night-time visitors, Kate put her car in gear and rolled forward, crunching slowly onto the spotless gravel drive. Behind the high stone wall the grounds were extensive and well tended, though the immense chestnut trees lining the driveway created a slightly gloomy atmosphere in the dull autumnal light. The driveway itself was almost long enough to be considered a private road, causing her to wonder just how large the place was; these were not just grounds, this was a park. Large as it was, however, as she rounded the very next bend she was afforded her first glimpse of the old house through a gap in the trees. She slowed almost to a halt as she drank it in, suitably impressed.
Deacon House Rest Home –far better than Insane Asylum!– had in the past been the country seat of a famous Irish nobleman, and although now reduced from its former glory it still retained something of its old air of grandeur. It was solidly built of large gray granite blocks but in the current watery sunshine the old stone looked warm and inviting rather than forbidding. And the broad flight of stone steps that led up to the immense double-doors, flanked on either side by high, fluted pillars, lent the mansion a graceful air in spite of its massive dimensions. The house was at pleasant variance with the rather forbidding outer wall and gate, and all in all was a far cry from the grim Bedlam of public fancy. Some of the many glittering windows were encased by iron bars, it was true, but nonetheless Kate could almost see the graceful carriages rolling up in front of those broad steps, and the pink of society alighting in their finery for yet another grand ball. Almost see it. In another century. Beautiful though it was, and imposing, Deacon House was now an insane asylum, and no coy phrases like Rest Home could alter that cold fact.
As she rounded the final curve of the long driveway her heart was pounding with excitement at the possibility of entering private practice again. That bastard Straub had soured her joy in connecting with other damaged souls, but before him she had always had a gift for therapy, had been able to establish an instant rapport with most of her patients. Her own past suffering and emotional frailty had given her an empathy and insight that helped her to win their trust and get them talking openly and freely, which in turn helped them to eventually reach the source of their problems. In fact, thinking about it now she wondered why she had ever given it up for the fascinating but darker, more sordid world of forensic psychology, which in turn had led to a career as a police profiler. Which she had also given up, post Straub. She bit her lip, not wanting to think about him at all, much less all he had cost her.
Of course, in recent years treatment of the mentally ill had come full circle again, had switched back from seeking the cause of problems to simply treating the symptoms with drugs, wherewith the patient could be returned to at least a semi-functional state but never actually cured. Kate was not a psychiatrist and this approach was anathema to her, and she preferred to concentrate on trauma-related problems that generally could be cured. Searching for the often hidden causes of emotional problems was what she had always done best, and she believed that for trauma afflicted patients at least the only way to real recovery was through self-exploration, which would eventually lead first to understanding, and then to acceptance. Which in turn would lead to healing.
She parked in front of the sweeping entrance and slid out of the low-slung car before trotting up the worn granite steps; a trim, slender figure in her black woolen suit and white blouse, with the red scarf around her neck adding a spark of life to her otherwise dark, even drab outfit. This touch of color, allied to the shortness of the skirt, which revealed quite a lot of leg, saved her outfit from being too severe by imparting to it a touch of femininity. And although she only wore the faintest traces of make-up two orderlies exiting the building looked at her appreciatively as she passed, and followed her with their eyes into the building.
Kate noticed their gazes but only on a superficial level; her mind was focused on the meeting ahead, and on trying to ignore the butterflies clamoring in her stomach. She went in through the wide-flung oaken doors and paused on the marble-flagged floor of the vestibule, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the dim light inside. There was a long wooden counter to her left which ran the length of the high-ceilinged entrance hall, and behind this counter sat the neat figure of a young woman dressed in crisp nurse’s whites.
Kate smiled and moved forward through the gloom, her heels echoing loudly on the old flagstones, ‘Good afternoon, I’m Kate Bennett.’
The receptionist, a young and pretty blonde, smiled back, revealing annoyingly perfect white teeth, ‘Of course, Dr. Bennett; Dr. Jordan is expecting you. If you take a seat in the waiting room I’ll let him know you’re here.’
Dr. Jordan? The name rang no immediate bells, was not on her mental list of the dignitaries of the psychiatric world, but she simply said, ‘Fine. But in fact it’s not Doctor, it’s just plain Ms. Bennett. Or better yet, Kate.’
The receptionist hesitated, though her professional smile never faltered, and Kate said, with a smile, ‘I have a Ph.D., not a medical degree, and I hate Ph.D.’s who call themselves doctor. I despise that petty pretentiousness, don’t you?’
The receptionist smiled back, with less professionalism and more warmth and replied, ‘Of course, Ms. Bennett. Please take a seat while I ring Dr. Jordan’s office.’ Her smile broadened, ‘Or perhaps I should say Mr. Jordan’s office?’
‘You bloody well better not if you want to keep your job!’ boomed a deep voice from behind Kate’s back, ‘I’m a psychiatrist, not one of these damned quack psychologists, and I earned my medical degree.’
That voice was almost as familiar to her as her own, and with a warm glow of joy suddenly suffusing her Kate turned and smiled at her old friend and college mate before saying sweetly, ‘No, you didn’t, Trevor; you cheated on your finals, remember?’
Trevor Jordan strode across the great, vaulted hallway with his long, gangly arms outstretched in welcome and a broad grin splitting his face. He was a tall, thin, red-haired man, slightly balding on top, with a lust for life and an unquenchable optimism that few could resist. In college he had been about as unlike the rest of his classmates as it was possible to be; loud, open and warmly human where most of his fellow students had been pallid, intense introverts. He was interested in people rather than subjects, and his humor and bright outlook on life had cheered and encouraged Kate through some difficult times even after their brief affair had ended. Or rather, after she had ended it and left him for another man, a minor betrayal for which he had never reproached her and which he had quickly forgiven. Indeed, in hindsight it had soon become clear to him that they worked better as friends than as lovers.
Now, looking at the genuine pleasure in his sparkling blue eyes and on his contentedly ugly, freckled face, Kate was glad she had come, though still astonished that the penniless student she had once dated now held perhaps the most coveted position in Irish psychiatric circles. But then so many of her contemporaries now held positions of authority; a sign of approaching middle age, no doubt, like the fact that most of her old girlfriends now had children.
It was obvious from the expression on Trevor’s face that he was delighted to see her, and obvious too that if they had not been in full view of some of his staff -and if he had not been the Director of the Institute with a position to consider- he would have hugged her. Kate just had time to think this and extend a hand in greeting before she was scooped into his vast embrace and had all her breath emphatically hugged out of her body.
I should have known! she thought, fighting to breathe, a little dazed but also amused. Trevor practically made a career out of doing the unexpected, and cared little for the opinion of anyone save his closest friends. Having thoroughly hugged her, he kissed her cheek and said softly in her ear, ‘Welcome home, Kitty-cat!’
Kitty-cat! She had all but forgotten his private name for her, and it conjured up a host of happy memories, along with just a tinge of guilt. Although she had been home for some time now she had not yet hooked up with any of her old friends and seeing him now, and so unexpectedly, made her feel pleasantly nostalgic. And emotional. She felt the prickle of tears in her eyes at the warmth of his greeting and hugged him back fiercely, surprised by the depth of her emotions at this unwonted human contact. And with a start she realized again just how lonely she had become, and how starved of any real human contact since returning to her native city. She blinked away the nascent tears gathering in her eyes and covered her raw feelings by gasping, ‘Welcome home, my arse! I’ve been home for months! Now let me go before I suffocate, you big oaf!’
He released her, still grinning, and over his shoulder Kate saw the beam on the receptionist’s face and the shine in her eyes as she looked at Jordan. It was always the same; ugly or not, women liked Trevor, and more often than not were attracted to him too. As indeed she had been, once upon a time. Until he got too close, became too demanding. Or, more accurately, until her own fears had made her flee in panic at the prospect of someone getting inside her carefully constructed defenses.
He stepped back and looked her up and down before saying appreciatively, ‘You look incredible, Kate. A scruffy schoolgirl wearing too much eye make-up went to England; a beautiful woman returned. Their loss, our gain.’
She couldn’t help smiling even as she protested, ‘I was not a scruffy schoolgirl! I was twenty-six when I left! And I’m hardly beautiful now. But thank you anyway.’
His smile faded and a faint frown knitted his heavy, reddish eyebrows, ‘I hate to spring this on you but there’s someone here you have to meet. I didn’t plan it; he just turned up out of the blue. But since he’s here I think I have to introduce you to him. Reluctantly.’
He turned away and Kate stood still in confusion, ruefully thinking that life was always like that when Trevor was around; nothing was ever straightforward, and surprises lurked around every corner. Maybe it was this unpredictability that had made her leave him all those years ago; because of her disrupted childhood she had always prized peace and stability. But even as she thought this she knew that she was lying to herself; it was her fear of commitment that had made her run. In the end it always triumphed over her need to be loved.
A man almost as tall as Trevor but heavier in build had just left the conference room and was walking slowly towards them, his features obscured by the dim light and many shadows of that vast, dark hallway.
‘Ms. Kate Bennett,’ said Trevor formally, his face and tone expressionless, as the stranger approached, his footsteps echoing on the stone flags, ‘This is…’
‘Michael Riordan,’ she finished for him as the man drew close enough to be recognised, ‘The Minister for Trade and Industry.’ She smiled and held out her hand, ‘A pleasure to meet you, Minister.’ Then she added, in a slightly mocking tone, ‘Or should I say, messiah? It’s not often one meets a miracle worker, the hope of an entire nation.’
‘Delighted to meet you, Ms. Bennett. Call me Michael, please,’ replied the Minister in a well-modulated voice, ‘And I’m hardly a messiah, or a miracle worker. You have to allow for election exaggeration, as well as media hype. But I’m confident, now that the world-wide recession is ending, that Ireland’s economy will rise again too. I’d like to think that any recovery will be at least partly due to my efforts, but so long as the recovery occurs I don’t much care who gets the credit.’
He took her hand and she felt a light thrill run up her arm at his touch, even as she was dismissing his words as being too pat to be genuine, as being too much like a media sound bite. Although in his late forties Riordan was still an attractive man; tall and well built with light brown hair and very pale blue eyes. Apart from his even-featured good looks -which his graying hair if anything intensified, lending him an air of distinction- he had an instantly appealing magnetism that she could feel as an almost physical pull drawing her towards him. He smiled warmly into her eyes and the light thrill spread until her whole body seemed to be covered with tiny goose bumps. And he said lightly, ‘Though I must admit I’m happy to have a beautiful woman consider me a miracle worker. Or to consider me at all.’
He’s flirting with me, Kate thought in surprise, amused but a little flattered too, and aware of a certain attraction of her own towards him. In fact, she was more attracted to him than to any man since she first met Peter.
Riordan finally let go of her hand but did not step back as he continued, ‘But in your case I’m doubly glad I have your approval, since I understand that Dr. Jordan has just hired you as a consultant in my daughter’s case.’
‘You understood wrong,’ interrupted Trevor shortly, before Kate could reply, ‘I told you I invited Kate today here in the hope of persuading her to conduct therapy sessions with Grainne, but I have not yet discussed the case with her, or made any formal offer.’
He spoke coldly, for him, and with a start Kate realized that he did not like his patient’s father. Or perhaps he simply did not like being pre-empted like that. After all, he hadn’t yet had time to work his magic on her and convince her to work for him. Convince! If only he knew how desperate I am for a change in my life! ANY change.
Riordan blinked and then smiled apologetically, ‘Pardon me, Kate…may I call you Kate? I misunderstood, but I hope that won’t cause you to refuse to treat Grainne. She desperately needs your help.’
Before she could reply Trevor again interrupted, saying irritably, ‘I am Grainne’s psychiatrist, Mr. Riordan, and if you don’t mind I’d rather acquaint Kate with your daughter’s case history myself. And not in a hallway but in my office, where we have at least a modicum of privacy.’
Once more addressing himself solely to Kate -and it might have been just a politician’s trick but when he looked at her with those pale eyes she suddenly felt as if she were the only person in the entire world- Riordan said gravely, ‘Of course. I apologize again. Please don’t let my precipitance offend you into refusing to treat my daughter. She means the world to me and it would break my heart to think that I had spoiled her best chance of becoming well again.’
Kate warmed to him in spite of herself, in spite of an inward voice warning her that it was his job to appear sincere and caring, and she replied, ‘You can be sure you haven’t alienated me. But I’m afraid I’m no miracle worker either, and even if I agree to treat -er, Grainne?- there’s no guarantee of success.’
He smiled again, ‘I understand.’ He might have spoken further but Trevor made an impatient noise and looked at his watch, whereupon Riordan stepped back, ‘I won’t intrude any longer, but I do hope to meet you again, Kate.’
Before she could reply Trevor took her by the arm and ushered her across the hall to his book-lined, wood paneled office. Once inside she detached herself from his grip and said angrily, ‘For God’s sake, Trevor, let me go. I’m not a sheep and you’re not a bloody sheepdog!’
He looked startled for a moment before smiling sheepishly and releasing her. Putting his hands in his trouser pockets he said, ‘Sorry about that, Kitty, but that man just rubs me up the wrong way. He’s constantly in my ear, looking for progress reports and details of each phase of Grainne’s treatment. He was grilling me again today about her progress, or lack of it, which is the only reason I mentioned that I was trying to hire you as a therapist. Besides, he shouldn’t have butted in like that before I’d made my pitch and convinced you to work with me.’
Kate’s fleeting irritation had passed and now she smiled and said, ‘Well, you didn’t have to be so rude to him. Or are you so secure here that you can afford to insult government Ministers?’
He grinned imperturbably, ‘Well, yes, I am, actually! And I don’t like or trust politicians, you know that. I never did. Especially handsome, would-be miracle workers. Remember old Archie’s lecture on the “Pursuit of Power”?’
Kate smiled at the recollection and said, ‘Of course I remember! How could I forget?’ Her voice deepened to a pompous bass, ‘The desire for power should disqualify from power.’ She laughed and continued in her normal; voice, ‘Poor old Professor Archibald, mad as a hatter and twice as paranoid! And he was supposed to be a psychiatrist! Talk about the blind leading the blind.’
Trevor smiled back and said, ‘Sure the reason he gave up private practice in the first place was that he was more disturbed than most of his patients, and never cured any of them! So what did they do? Made him a lecturer, of course!’ He seated himself behind his huge, leather topped desk and waved her toward a chair, shaking his head in amusement as he said, ‘Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.’
He recollected Kate’s current position and coughed to cover his embarrassment before saying hurriedly, ‘Er, I wasn’t including you in that…’
Dimples appeared on Kate’s face, taking years off her age, as she smiled to herself in secret amusement; in spite of the passage of years he was still the same awkward, often annoying, yet strangely endearing Trevor. She made a dismissive gesture and said, ‘Obviously you weren’t including me in that bracket, or you wouldn’t have invited me out here today, would you?’
‘Er, no, I suppose not. Sit down, please. Would you like some coffee?’
Kate shook her head as she sat down, ‘Not right now, thanks.’ She smiled again, with growing warmth, ‘You’re still the bossiest, most irritating man in the world, Trev, and I’m so glad to see you again.’
He smiled, ‘The same words could be applied to you, my dear. Well, not the man part, obviously but definitely the irr…’ Before he could continue a faint sound caught both their attention and he froze. Muffled and distant though it was, the sound was undoubtedly that of a woman screaming.
‘Excuse me a minute,’ said Trevor expressionlessly, picking up his phone. He spoke briefly into the receiver before getting to his feet and heading for the door, his face inscrutable, ‘I won’t be long, I just have to attend to something.’ He opened the door but then paused to say, ‘It’s your new, or should I say, prospective patient. She seems to be having an…episode.’
And with that he was gone, but through the open door Kate could more clearly than ever the desperate, terror-filled screams of Grainne Riordan.