Cassandra by Starlight
by SUSAN MAC NICOL
A London woman is swept off her feet into the glamorous yet surprisingly dangerous world of an up-and-coming star of stage and screen.
TO CATCH A RISING STAR
Unconventional though she may be, Cassandra Wallace leads the life of an average Londoner, from blind dates to rush hour traffic. Then, along comes Bennett Saville. Charming, erudite, the up-and-coming actor is like the hero of a romantic movie. He sets Cassie afire like he has the stage and screen, and defies the tragedy that brought them together. From the tips of his Armani loafers to their scorching hot first kiss, he’s perfect. Only, he’s ten years younger and from the upper class, and those emerald eyes invite dangerous secrets. The world is full of hungry leading ladies, and every show must have its villain. Yet a true romance will always find its happy ending.
The day the sky fell changed Cassie Wallace’s world forever. She woke up that morning with the expectation that this day would be like any other. She also had a slight hangover from the abundance of wine she’d drunk the night before to try and get through a blind date organized by her work colleague, Sarah.
The evening had been a total disaster. Not only had the man been an absolute misogynist, one of the cardinal male sins on Cassie’s unwritten list, he’d also had a habit of leering at her chest every time he spoke as if he thought it might talk back to him.
She’d smiled politely whilst thinking she’d like to take his smarmy public school tie and shove it down his throat. When she’d finally left at around eleven, she hadn’t been able to get away fast enough.
She stood in her bedroom, checking her outfit in the mirror and sighed.
Was it too much to ask to find a decent man just to share things with and have a good time? They all seemed to be absolute idiots and in the old but true cliché, only interested in one thing.
Cassie had been out on a few dates in the past few months but somehow she never made it past the first one. A previous date gone wrong had told her she was too independent and perhaps a little bit ‘emotionally challenged, not affectionate enough’ for him.
She’d shrugged this off but it had hurt her deep down especially as she knew it to be true.
My bloody expectations aren’t even that high, she thought in exasperation as she
fastened her necklace. It’s not as if I’m such a great bloody catch myself! Middle-aged and not really all that exciting. I’ll take what I can get within reason.
Cassie smoothed her skirt down over her hips and picked up her handbag.
When she left the house at six thirty, it was a typical dark English winter morning. Fortyfive minutes later she was sitting in the traffic on the motorway, listening to the news bulletin.
“Bloody idiot,” she mumbled in between bites of a banana that she had hastily grabbed on her way out. “He wouldn’t know a bloody budget if his life depended on it. Silly sod has got no idea how to run a bloody country.”
She crept forward in her Honda Jazz at about two miles an hour, watching the traffic in front which seemed to have ground to a halt for no reason at all.
I really need to try and find something closer to home, she thought, not for the first time. This travelling lark is really starting to piss me off. Four hours a day in traffic is not my idea of time well spent.
Cassie wasn’t sure what other quality pastimes she’d be engaging in if she did have more free time, given her current ‘lack of male’ situation but she supposed she’d find something. Join a book club perhaps, or find more time to get to the gym. She might even start writing that novel she’d always planned on doing.
Her fingers impatiently drummed on the steering wheel in time to a melody on the radio. In response to another bulletin by the newscaster regarding the level of binge drinking in the county, she burst into a further diatribe. “For God’s sake, let the bloody idiots lay where they fall. If they had any brains they wouldn’t let it get that far so they needed an ambulance to take them to A and E. It’s my taxpaying money that’s looking after these morons!”
She glanced at the clock on the display. Seven thirty a.m. She’d be lucky to make it in on time today.
The story of my life, she thought resignedly. Slow death by traffic jam.
The traffic still seemed to show no signs of moving any time soon. She switched off the engine and took out her Kindle. She may as well catch up on her reading whilst she had nothing better to do.
Her concentration span was low as she tried to read. Last night’s ‘date’ kept replaying itself in random snippets of conversation. Cassie could still hear Ron’s supercilious comment about women needing to have a man in their lives to keep them focused on what was important—the man and the provision of all his needs.
She’d almost choked on her wine when she’d heard this and only just stopped herself retorting sarcastically that as a man’s needs were so simple, the only ‘provision’ they really needed was a soft toy shaped like a pair of boobs to play with and talk at. As she had very little money in her purse other than her taxi fare home, she’d stopped herself.
After the hell she’d been through sitting and listening to Ron’s drivel, the least she’d make him do was pay for dinner. Cassie had made a decision after last night. She’d stay home with her own company for the near future, with a bottle of wine and a couple of decent movies. She’d rather drool over a virtual Mark Harmon in NCIS than a real life douche bag like the Ronalds of his world. As for sex—well, that was what vibrators were made for.
It was nearly ten minutes later before the car in front of her re-started its engine and she followed suit and sped up to about twenty miles an hour as the queue took flight. She settled in as it got back up to the more respectable speed of fifty miles an hour.
As she drove she glanced idly up at the foot bridges to see the people strolling with dogs, on bicycles and footing it on their way to work.
At the bridge just ahead she saw a solitary figure leaning over looking down at the motorway below. She slowed down a little. Ever since those incidents a few weeks ago when someone had thrown a concrete bucket off the bridge at a passing car, she tended to be wary of people standing watching the traffic.
The figure didn’t appear to have anything in its hands but then she had only caught a glimpse of it before turning her eyes back to the road. She increased her speed as the traffic flowed easier.
There was no warning, just a sudden deafening bang of metal as the windscreen of her car collapsed inwards. Cassie screamed in terror as glass flew towards her like wafer thin slivers from a frozen icicle. Her hands left the steering wheel in panic, her foot pressing down on the accelerator.
The Honda Jazz went out of control, spinning around like a dirt dervish. Debris from the windscreen flew like lethal missiles around the interior of the car. Cassie cried out in pain as she was subject to a vicious assault by anything lying loose in her vehicle. She tried to cover her face in an instinctive reflex but her left arm seemed unresponsive. The pain horrifying. She whimpered as she glanced down and saw the bone shard sticking out.
In her pain and terror she didn’t notice that the car had stopped spinning. Everything went quiet. Cassie lay slumped in the driver seat, dazed and unresponsive as the shock set in She could hear the sounds of people shouting and heard someone asking her if she was all right.
She vaguely registered the sound of screeching metal as someone tried to pull the driver door open. It was as if everything was being done underwater. The sounds were muted and her brain was sluggish.
The older man looking in at her from the road was speaking but she couldn’t hear what he was saying. Cassie looked at him blankly. She couldn’t see clearly, as if a can of fine red spray-paint had been aimed at her and the nozzle depressed, coating her eyes. She tried to move her body but the pain in her right leg was excruciating.
She watched dully as the man outside starting pulling away metal struts and twisted the door to get inside to her. She could hear his voice vaguely now, a rough London Cockney accent as he spoke reassuringly whilst trying to free her.
“All right, darling? Just stay calm and I’ll try and get to you. The ambulance is on its way. They’ve told me not to move you so I just want to try get in and keep you company till they arrive. You look as if you could do with a bit of company. Just stay with me now. Don’t go anywhere.”
He smiled at her, trying to keep her reassured. With a final tug at the door, he made enough of a space to squeeze in slightly and he took her right hand, avoiding the bad condition of her left arm with its broken bone. Her hand was freezing and he rubbed it gently.
“There we go. That should feel better. You just stay calm now and we’ll have you back to your old man in no time.” He continued holding her hand, talking to her as she slipped in and out of consciousness.
In one of her lucid periods she raised an unsteady hand to her face to wipe her eyes. The fog cleared a little and she was able to focus, then desperately wished she hadn’t. Lying in front of her, across the bonnet, was a face, pulped and looking as if dark sticky jam had been smeared all over it.
She could see the eyes open, looking at her and she could see the mouth forming words before she screamed and screamed and eventually the fog of blackness claimed her and the face could be seen no more.
Doctor Ian Spencer frowned as he read the patient chart in his hand. He glanced at the patient, an old man in his seventies, matted grey hair curling around his face like tendrils of an octopus, framing a bucolic face of cherry red, his bulbous nose caked with fresh snot.
“Up to your old tricks again, Terry?” the ER doctor asked resignedly. “I thought perhaps last time we had reached an understanding of sorts?”
The old man chuckled hoarsely.
“The drink beckoned again, Doctor, I’ve told you before, cider waits for no man.” He coughed, his body wracked with spasms. The doctor motioned with a hand to the waiting nurse who offered Terry a glass of water. He drank it greedily and lay back in the hospital bed.
Ian Spencer made a notation in his patient’s chart.
“You realise this time, Terry, you’ve really outdone yourself? You had what we call a minor varicose bleed which basically means your insides leaked with blood because they couldn’t do what they were supposed to do. I managed to stabilise you and you’ve been in intensive care for two days. Given the state of your liver you were very lucky not to have it worse. As it is, you’ll need to be here a few more days before I can release you.”
“I’m very grateful to you, Doctor.” Terry leered at the nurse who moved out of the way of his groping left hand. “I can always count on you to put me right.”
“Not always, Terry, not always.” Ian passed the chart to the nurse and continued on his way.
He’d just completed his surgical rounds and was walking down the hospital corridor when he heard an ambulance arrive and saw the frenetic activity bursting through the double doors. He heard the ambulance staff calling out their incoming triage procedures to the attending doctor and watched as a trolley with a woman covered in blood was wheeled into the waiting operating theatre.
One of the staff nurses, Judy, a good friend, hurried past him.
“I don’t believe this one,” she muttered to him. “Some poor woman minding her own business on the motorway and somebody falls on top of her car. We were lucky no one else was hurt as well when she spun around or we’d be running out of space this morning.”
“What about the man who fell?”
“He’s dead, poor bugger.” Judy’s voice was terse as she hurried off.
It was some hours later in passing Ian saw his colleague, fellow trauma surgeon Phil Moodley, come out of the operating theatre where the woman had been wheeled.
“Phil!” Ian hurried to catch up with him. “Wait up.”
Phil turned and proffered a tired smile when he saw Ian.
“Ian, how are things? I’m just on my way to catch a few minutes doze. It’s been a long day.”
“How did things go in there?” Ian motioned to the OR. “I heard she was hit by a man falling on her car.”
“Yes, it was very bad. The poor woman has a ruptured spleen, a hairline skull fracture, a broken femur and radius, and a wealth of lacerations and internal bruising.” He frowned.
“She also has a small foreign body embedded in her left temple. It’s in an awkward place and fairly deep. I’ve recommended not removing it at this time. I’m not sure it would be prudent. It doesn’t appear itself to be life threatening. She’ll be in intensive care for some time. I need to keep an eye on her for any possible embolism. She’ll probably need some physical therapy afterwards if there are no complications.”
He squinted at Ian with tired eyes. “You seem interested in this one, Ian? Did you know anyone involved?”
Ian shook his head. “I was involved in a similar situation some years ago when I was at Lakeview Hospital and that one—that one I did know. The person that fell though, not the victim.”
Phil nodded his head.
“This woman was very lucky, the young man was not. He was dead at the scene. His relatives are on their way.”
Ian nodded. “Thanks, Phil. You’d best get off and get that sleep, you look all out of it.”
Phil patted Ian’s arm and wandered down towards the staff room. Ian wouldn’t tell Phil the real reason for his interest. It was too personal and no one in the hospital knew anything about his reason for leaving Lakeview three years ago and joining Tilhurst Hospital on the outskirts of Essex.
In 2009, his wife Sandra had jumped off a foot bridge straight into the path of a passing mini-van. To this day he had no idea why. The mini-van driver, a young man called Freddy Clifford, who had just become a father, had died in the incident with Sandy. The feelings of guilt for both Sandy’s and the man’s death (he should’ve known what was going on in his own marriage for God’s sake!) had never left him.
He’d left Lakeview and started again where no one knew his history and no one could feel sympathy for him. He felt he didn’t deserve it. He was sure a psychiatrist would have some insight to offer on his reaction but he had never engaged with one, preferring as he did to manage it himself.
Ian made his way over to the nurses’ station outside intensive care. He saw Nurse Angie, a bubbly young woman with bleached blonde hair and a Carry On set of breasts, sitting behind the desk. She smiled as she saw him approach.
There were more than a couple of nurses who’d tried to form a relationship with him but none of them had been successful so far.
“Doctor. What can I do for you?”
“The woman that Dr. Patel has just operated on—can you tell me a little bit about her?
How’s she doing?”
Angie consulted her notes.
“Let me see. Hmm, she’s in a private ICU room, so she must have great insurance. Room 310. Cassie Wallace, forty-seven years old, divorced. Her sister is coming in to see her. She’s on her way from Kent.”
She looked at Ian enquiringly. “Has Dr. Patel asked you to keep an eye on her?”
Ian shook his head. “No, just curious about how she’s doing. It just seems so tragic, minding your own business then POW! You find yourself in this situation. Thanks for the info, Angie.”
Ian made his way towards Room 310. He couldn’t say why he was so interested in this woman, only that he felt he had to find out more about her.
He clothed himself up with a mask and gloves and nodded at the ICU nurses as he walked through the main ward to the private ones at the back. The hum of machines and the absolute quiet in the ward was strangely restful. Ian reached Room 310, opened the door and slipped in.
Cassie Wallace lay on her back, surrounded by soft light from the equipment. The constant beep of the life support machines and monitoring equipment comforted Ian. This unit was dedicated to keeping people alive with the best care the hospital could provide. Cassie Wallace was in good hands.
Cassie had her left arm in a splint, her fingers cold and pale like soft, limp white gloves. Her right leg with its broken femur rested on the bed covers. Ian guessed she had pins and rods inside keeping it together.
Her face was battered and bruised from the accident. He could see the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. Her pale strawberry blonde hair was spread across the pillow like soft gold straw, with a large bald patch on the left side where Dr Patel had shaved her skull.
Even through the cuts and bruises, Ian could see she was a very attractive woman. Not just pretty or beautiful, but with a look of her own that even under current circumstances made her look younger than her forty-seven years. She reminded him very much of a curvier Michelle Pfeiffer. A noise at the door made him turn. Judy stood there, looking surprised to see him.
“Ian? What are you doing in here?” she whispered.
“I was just checking up on her. I know I’m not her doctor but I really wanted to see how she was doing.”
“It’s all right, Ian.” Judy patted him on the arm. “She can do with all the help she can get. I need to check her vital signs now. Do you want to stick around?”
“No Judes, I’ll let you get on with your job. Thanks.” Ian left the nurse with her patient and made his way back towards the main reception.
Sue Mac Nicol was born in Headingley, Leeds, in the United Kingdom. When she was eight years old her family emigrated to Johannesburg, South Africa. One day, after yet another horrific story of violence to friends, they decided it was time to leave. In December 2000 they found themselves in the Arrivals area at Heathrow and have stayed in the UK ever since, loving every minute of it.
In between her day job as a regulatory compliance officer for a financial services company in Cambridge and normal daily life, the inspiration for the Starlight series was born; Sue’s characters, Cassie and Bennett, finally made their debut onto the flickering screen of a laptop and gave her the opportunity to become a published author—a dream she’s had since being a young girl old enough to hold a pencil.
Sue is a member of the Romance Writers of America and the Romantic Novelists Association in the UK. She lives in a town house in the rural village of Bocking, Essex, with her husband of twenty eight years, Gary (who believes he deserves a long service award for putting up with her for so long), two children, Jason, 24, and Ashley, 19, and a mixed collie mongrel called Blu.
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