The front door of the well-appointed town house in London's trendy Docklands flew open, sucking huge gouts of frigid air into
the hallway as a woman emerged, bundled in thick outdoor clothing and carrying a large and heavy-looking holdall. Despite her obvious haste, she navigated the half-dozen steps to ground level with practiced caution, walking round to the back of a glossy black
Land Rover Sport parked at the kerbside. Opening up the back of the car, she awkwardly manhandled the big bag into the rear compartment and then went quickly back inside the house. Mere moments later, she returned with a larger suitcase and a smaller but still
sizeable holdall, all of which she packed into the back of the vehicle. One more trip indoors and she emerged for the final time, carrying what appeared to be a document storage box, an artist's portfolio case, a laptop bag looped across her body and a voluminous
shoulder bag dangling from her wrist.
Leaning the portfolio against the balustrade, she pulled the door quietly closed,
and hitched her leg up to balance the obviously heavy box on her thigh, her foot braced against the door. Her breath crystallised in the icy November night as she slung the strap of her bag over her head so that it was secured comfortably across her body,
cross-wise to her computer case. Once she was satisfied neither would impede her, she hefted the box up, picked up the portfolio and turned to go down the steps for the last time.
She stowed the rest of her possessions in the back of the car, before unlooping her shoulder bag and laptop bag. She dumped the latter on the back seat and opened the driver's door. Throwing her
handbag haphazardly onto the passenger seat, she climbed in, closed the door and positioned herself behind the wheel. She shivered as her body adjusted to the relative warmth inside the car and undid the fur-lined parka she was wearing, dipping her shoulders
to remove the coat and then slinging it behind her onto the back seat.
Knowing her car keys were somewhere inside her
bag, she merely reached over to press the start button, listening as the powerful engine roared to life, grateful for the warm air which almost immediately started to circulate around the interior.
The woman pulled her seatbelt across her body and secured it; then, without so much as a backward glance at the house she had so recently vacated, peeled away from the kerb, speeding off
down the narrow road. As she glanced in the rear-view mirror, she couldn’t help but notice the purple bruise which had spread across her cheek, or the swelling around her eye, which she could only pray wouldn’t worsen to such an extent as
to impair her vision.
The hour was late, the roads were, for London, relatively empty, and she made good progress across
town towards the M4 motorway.
Back at the million pound residence she had left behind, her boyfriend lay on one of
the living room couches, snoring loudly in his near comatose state.
Powering up the slip road at Chiswick, Isabella Swan merged the big car quickly into the almost empty inside lane of the
westbound dual-carriageway of the motorway. Despite her need to put as much distance between herself and her now ex-boyfriend as quickly as possible, she was mindful of the forty mile per hour speed limit on the flyover, knowing that she would soon enough
hit the three-lane clearway and be able to accelerate to eighty. The last thing she wanted right now was to be stopped by the traffic police, who regularly cruised this urban section of the main east-west artery which dissected the country.
She frowned as a light but constant freezing sleet coated the windscreen, and was thankful that, at this time of night, there would be few heavy lorries
to throw up a blinding spray. She could feel a throbbing ache in her cheek and knew that it would get worse if she didn’t take some pain killers, sooner rather than later. Glancing at the dashboard display, she also realised she would need
to fill up the tank in order to get her clear across country. Deciding to kill two birds with one stone, she indicated left and pulled into the first motorway services at Heston.
Fortunately, the car park was almost empty and she was able to drive into a parking spot right outside the main building, slipping quickly inside and heading straight towards the shop to buy headache
pills and a bottle of water.
On exiting the shop, she decided that, rather than going straight back out to refuel her
car, it might be a good idea to refuel herself, so she went to get a cup of coffee and something sugary to eat. Craving a respite to calm and focus herself, she opted to sit in the café, which she figured would also give the pain medication
time to start working, and allow her to get her head together before the long night-drive.
At the counter, she ordered
a large skinny latte and a blueberry muffin, and went to sit down at the far side of the café. She broke out a couple of tablets and swallowed them with some of the water, then sat back and sipped her coffee, picking at her muffin as she stared
blankly out across the sparsely-populated seating area.
During the preceding hour, after she had fought Jake off and
he had passed out on the sofa, she hadn’t let herself think much beyond packing up as much of her stuff as she could and formulating her plan to escape the pointless, abusive relationship she’d allowed herself to slip into. It wasn’t
the first time he’d hit her, but she was determined that it would be the last. She knew from experience that once he passed out, nothing short of a bomb going off would wake him for at least two or three hours, and she wanted to be a long way from
Canary Wharf when that happened.
She thought about the house in the Cotswolds which her maternal grandmother
had left her almost a year ago, and the fact that she had never told Jake about it. At the time, she had rationalised her decision by telling herself there was no need for him to know, as she would probably just sell it without ever even going to see
it. In her heart of hearts, however, she had known that she was already thinking in terms of a bolt-hole, some kind of escape plan which would at least give her a roof over her head when she left him. Keeping it a secret was just insurance against…
well, suffice it to say, she was pretty sure she didn’t want him to find her once she’d left him.
in those early days, she was still able to convince herself that he loved her and that he was genuinely sorry when he hit her. She told herself that his possessive and irrational jealousy was his way of showing her how much he cared for her. And
she forced herself to believe that his need to control her every move was just him wanting to keep her safe.
long since disabused herself of those foolish and naïve notions.
When she first met Jake, he was this charismatic,
sophisticated and sexy older man and she had been an impoverished art school graduate working her arse off as a waitress at a busy Italian restaurant franchise in the City, London’s financial hub, where Jake was a regular. He had charmed his way
into her heart and her bed and, after a lifelong struggle against penury, she had let herself be wooed by his good looks and his bank balance. For the first time in her life, Bella found herself being taken to swanky restaurants and meeting people from
a completely different social strata.
She had been raised by loving parents who worked hard, but who had little
spare money for luxuries. Brought up on a rural council estate*, she had attended her local primary school*, followed by the equally local comprehensive school*. But she was bright and artistic, and her teachers had encouraged her throughout her
At the age of seven, her postman father had been knocked off his bike whilst delivering mail on
a dark, winter’s morning, and eighteen months later, her mother, who never really recovered from the loss of her beloved husband, succumbed to ovarian cancer, leaving Bella to be taken in by her father’s sister and her husband. Her Aunt Charlotte
and Uncle Peter were good, caring people, but they had their own problems, with Peter having been out of work for many years because of rheumatoid arthritis, so money remained tight.
University seemed like a pipedream to Bella as she entered her final year at school, but her art teacher, Mr Banner, pushed her to apply to art school. He had worked a minor miracle to get
her a partial scholarship, which went a long way to covering a lot of her costs, although she’d had to remain living at home, still having to work two jobs to make ends meet.
Nevertheless, for all her hard work, there was no job at the end of it, despite what seemed like hundreds of application letters posted to every kind of graphic design, media and PR company.
So, life continued to be a struggle, living at home with her aging relatives, having little social life, because she seemed to work all the hours God sent, with seemingly little money to show for it, and no job in her chosen field anywhere on the horizon.
As she hurtled towards thirty, she felt like her life was already over.
And then she met Jacob Black, who had ooh’d
and ahh’d over her portfolio, introducing her to a literary agent with a client who wrote children’s books and was looking for someone to produce drawings for her stories. A meeting was arranged and Bella immediately hit it off with the author—indeed,
it seemed to be a match made in heaven. Angela Weber had already had some success with her first book, but was not altogether happy with the visualisations of her fantasy world and characters produced by another artist. However, with her initial
success came a new autonomy, which allowed her to find an alternative, and, as she discussed her ideas with Bella, she was amazed and delighted when Bella sketched out in a few minutes what she’d been unable to communicate in two months to her current
Needless to say, she hired Bella on the spot and the illustrations she produced were widely credited with
quadrupling the readership of Angela’s second book.
That had been two years ago, and it had been shortly after
that book’s publication that Jake had persuaded Bella to move in with him. Flushed with success and endlessly grateful to him for facilitating her first break, she agreed, and, at first, it had been really good.
From that first commission from Angela, others had materialised, and Bella Swan artwork had become much in demand. The new financial independence
she experienced had then kick-started a second string to her talented bow. Freed from working long hours, not only did she have time for her various illustrating commissions, she was also able to pursue her other love—writing. Angela’s
agent had put her in touch with another agent who specialised in Bella’s chosen genre, and a year later her first book hit the shelves of all the major retailers, to considerable critical acclaim.
And that’s when the shit really started to hit the fan. Oh, it had been building for a while, with Jake gradually changing from being somewhat patronisingly
supportive of her initial success as an illustrator, to being overtly antagonistic, as she worked on her book in between art projects. As the money rolled in and she started getting really complimentary and positive feedback from her editor, Jake became
more and more paranoid and jealous. One night, after an extended meeting with her agent and her editor, she had come home to a furious Jake, who had accused her of having an affair with one or both of them, his anger only feeding off her incredulous
denials. The fact that her agent was a woman and her editor was an overweight, balding man in his fifties seemed to be irrelevant.
That had been the first time he hit her, knocking her to the floor in the kitchen, where she banged her head on the oven, denting the enamel with the force of the impact. She had been rendered semi-unconscious by the blow to her face
and to her head, and had, at first, been confused as to what had happened.
Then Jake was on his knees, pulling her
into his arms and begging her forgiveness, whilst at the same time, seeming to blame her for driving him to violence.
night, he had taken her to bed and, despite her injury and her pleas that she really wasn’t up to it, had fucked her hard, like a man determined to leave his mark, even as he begged her over and over not to leave him.
Following that night, things had got a little better for a while, although Bella found herself walking on eggshells with Jake, constantly worrying that
something might set him off. But, for the most part, he seemed to have gained control over his temper and his jealousy.
Everything changed when Bella’s book was published.
All of a sudden, she was in demand for interviews,
book signings, meetings with rival publishers and agents looking to secure TV or film rights. On top of that, the spotlight had now also fallen on her art, which was being hailed as more than just book illustrations, and galleries were requesting original
works for an exhibition.
Bella was caught up in a whirl, and Jake grew exponentially more and more hostile as her star
Tonight, they had reached their nadir.
Earlier in the evening, they had both attended a literary cocktail party, hosted by Bella’s publishers. She had been on tenterhooks all day, worrying that Jake would do or
say something at the party to humiliate her—or worse. But he seemed in good spirits, chatting amiably with those who came to pay homage, and smiling affably at her agent and editor. He seemed to keep his drinking under control and Bella felt
herself relaxing, starting to enjoy the evening. Unfortunately, Jake’s bonhomie was merely a façade, and his apparent temperance just an act, as he was sneaking many more additional drinks to those he consumed in her presence.
By the time they got home, Bella was feeling good, and was taken completely by surprise when Jake turned on her without provocation.
He cornered her in the bedroom, ripping her beautiful dress from her body and hurling her across the room. When she tried to get up, he grabbed her by the hair and threw her, face down, onto the bed.
What followed was, without doubt, the worst thing that had ever happened to her, and it was only when he loosened his hold on her in order to flip her over, that she managed to lurch across
the bed and grab a lamp from the bedside table. Swinging it round, she hit him on the temple, causing him to fall back against the headboard.
Quickly, she took advantage and ran from the room. But Jake, who had only been momentarily stunned, was hot on her heels, cornering her in the living room and punching her in the face. When she fell, he kicked her in
the stomach, the action making him wobble on his unsteady legs and drop unceremoniously down onto the sofa, where he simply passed out—Bella assumed that the blow to his head, combined with all the alcohol he’d had, hastened the process.
She didn’t know if he was concussed, and thus in danger of actually dying if he remained unconscious, but right at that moment, she really didn’t care.
Every part of her seemed to hurt and it was as much as she could do to haul herself back upstairs to the bedroom, at which point she knew she couldn’t do anything until she’d had a hot shower and washed
the stench of Jake from her body. Before leaving the bathroom, she grabbed a clean, soft facecloth from the towel cabinet, held it under the cold tap until it was wet through, and then fashioned it into a pad, with which she covered her eye and cheek
for a few minutes.
Her ribs hurt like the devil, as did her face, but she didn’t think anything was broken.
Using a surgical, self-adhesive bandage that she had bought for a previous such occasion, she taped herself up and dressed in warm clothes. She then set about gathering everything of any importance to her, filling a suitcase and a couple of holdalls,
which she manhandled, with some difficulty, downstairs and into the lobby. She then collected up all her artwork and stashed it in her portfolio, adding that to the pile of bags.
Depositing everything by the front door, she went to the double garage below the house, and drove her pride and joy onto the road, parking out front. It was the first big thing she’d
bought with the money she’d earned from her illustrations and the book advance, and she was doubly pleased with it because she had defied Jake to buy it—he had insisted she didn’t need a car, that he could drive her where she needed to go
or she could get cabs. But she had stuck to her guns and bought the behemoth of a vehicle. Not for her, the cachet of expensive and impractical sports cars—no, she had set her heart on the Land Rover Sport, and she loved its size and how
safe it made her feel.
And now, she loved how it had got her away from that house. She had no doubt that Jake
was capable of putting her in hospital—if not worse—and she had every intention of getting as far from him as possible.
So, here she was, sitting in a motorway service station at one o’clock in the morning, with a sore body, a nicely developing black eye and what felt like all her worldly possessions packed into the back of her car, heading for a house which she
wasn’t even sure she’d be able to heat.
She sighed and rubbed her forehead, wincing when her fingers drifted
over the swelling under her eye and across her cheek. Taking another mouthful of the rapidly cooling coffee, she glanced up for a moment as a young man entered her peripheral vision. He seemed to be going from occupied table to occupied table,
speaking briefly to whoever was sitting there.
Despite her pain and underlying tiredness, Bella’s interest was
immediately piqued, as she watched the boy speak softly to each person, then meekly accept their obvious rejection with a polite nod and a ‘thank you’ before moving on to the next one. There were slim pickings at this time of night, and he
was quickly running out of options. She found herself fascinated by the mini soap opera playing out before her, knowing she needed to move before he got to her, but seemingly incapable of doing anything but wait for the inevitable.
From where she sat, Bella couldn’t see his face, but she noted that he was tall and slim—perhaps a little too thin—but
with broad shoulders and long, dark hair, streaked with fading blue and magenta, falling to his shoulder blades. He wore tight, rather grubby Levis which adhered to him, emphasising his long, long legs. Paired with the jeans, he wore a black, long-sleeved
thermal shirt, and gripped in his left hand was what looked like a short, biker-style, black leather jacket. He had a large duffel bag slung over one shoulder, but, despite the plummeting temperature outside, appeared to possess no cold weather clothing
or a proper coat. Finishing off his outfit, he wore a pair of very shabby-looking black Nikes, which looked like they would be as effective at keeping his feet warm and dry as a pair of flip-flops. She hoped he had a car parked outside, but suspected
he was actually trawling for a lift.
Bella took in all this just before he finally turned to survey the opportunities
on her side of the café. As he did so, her pupils dilated and her nostrils flared in a primal response over which she had absolutely no control.
Despite the slightly greasy, multi-coloured hair, the multiple silver rings piercing one ear from top to bottom, the small, dark-stoned stud in his nose and the oddly contrasting, dark copper stubble which blurred
the line of what she instinctively knew was a sharply chiselled jaw, the only thought which sprang immediately to mind was, so beautiful, but so very sad.
She knew that, no matter how long she lived, the face of this striking young man would haunt her dreams, both waking and sleeping. Too thin as he was, there was something positively Byronic about him…
a kind of consumptive feverishness in his glittering jade eyes and pale, pale skin which, nevertheless, held two spots of livid colour across his high, sculpted cheekbones.
His wide, limpid eyes swept across her own face, focussing, in stages, on her full, slightly parted lips, on the purple and red swelling across her cheek and nose, and then, finally, on her striking
brown eyes. His gaze was intense, and Bella found herself incapable of looking away. As he zeroed in on her injury, his expression morphed into a frown and then, rather shockingly, turned into a look of such complete and utter defeat, that she
had to tear her eyes from his face or weep for him. Even as she dropped her gaze, she saw him move, and when she looked back up, he had turned and was walking away towards the exit.
Bella watched as he pulled on his jacket and fastened it, before hitching his duffel bag higher on his shoulder and pushing through the double doors into the freezing night air.
Before he disappeared from her view, she saw him light a cigarette, cupping long fingers around the flame of his lighter, and exhale a cloud of smoke into the crystalline air… and then he was gone.
Council estate – local government public housing
Primary school – elementary school
Comprehensive school – high school