Julia fixed her gaze on the red silk of the counterpane, not the greying eyes above it.
Every cruelty he’d dealt jabbed into her, searing thorns on a dead rose. The viscious words, the ‘cutting your allowance’ threats. The time he had punched her on the mouth.
The eyelids closed, the face contracting in agony. She breathed it in with the smell of his rotting flesh, the brisk salinity of the air. Ah, so good. Like an elixir.
“I left it all to you…,” said Nate, fading.
What should she say to that? Thanks, you bastard.
“Phil’s Chief of Ops. He knows what to do with the business. He’ll—” His back arched in pain. He turned his head. One last look at the seafront, perhaps? Then…sayonara, sweet husband.
The thought gave her the courage to take his hand briefly. The fucker would be dead soon. Her life could begin.
“Okay,” she managed, quashing the impulse to bludgeon him with the golf clubs—placed by the bed so he could see them in his last moments. She clamped her mouth shut, her teeth on her lip.
The sun was going down over the ocean.
‘Rage against the dying of the light’, darling.
She wanted to see him fight—face his helplessness. A man who’d grown rich rebuilding departed loved ones for strangers. A man who believed he could conquer death itself.
Apparently not. Julia smiled. Even now, she pitched a furtive look at him, fearful he had seen it. Her happiness was chief among the many things he hated.
She crossed the room and slid open the French window, letting in more sea-spiked air with the rattle and hiss of the surf.
You’re going to die today, Nate.
While she was watching a fine claret sunset, he conceded the point.
The rain was perfect. It streamed off her dark raincoat like a poured martini, puddling on the marble floor. His favourite hotel for the wake. She could stretch to that. A disingenuous act of forgiveness worthy of the man himself. Everyone knew he was an arsehole, but this way she came out the heroine. He owed her that.
Julia took off her mac, a low-cut yet respectful black dress underneath. Phil’s hand cupped her elbow.
“You look lovely,” he whispered.
She risked a smile. Phil made up for the kids refusing to come. Even Emily, whose heart was the most enduring of the three, could not pretend the years of bitterness didn't matter. The perfect hostess, Julia led her handful of guests to the function room, where they would dine on lobster and Kobe beef trying to reminisce about the man they’d all despised.
Later, at the house, Phil made her a sharp gin sling and stroked her cheek. She leaned back into the leather of the sofa and sighed. It was all over.
She learned how wrong she was when the glass of the back door shattered. A moment later Nate was standing in the living room, glowering.
Phil understood before Julia, because it was his job. “You downloaded yourself.”
“There we have it. Proof that betrayers are smarter than whores.” He looked at each of them in turn.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” snapped Julia.
“Saved myself to a file, princess.” Nate tipped his head, blinking like an ingénue. “Because I knew you’d miss me. You were so sad at the funeral. But I’m back. Isn’t that great news?”
Nate reached for Julia. Phil darted into the kitchen, returning with the cordless carving knife the kids had bought her last Christmas. It gave a sharp, fierce roar, like a miniature lion.
The sound it made against Nate’s synthetic flesh was duller, but no less harrowing in Julia’s dreams.
The abiding heat of the sand dunes soothed the aching flesh of her calves.“Who knew honeymoons were so strenuous?” Julia chewed her lip and blushed as he sniggered. “I didn’t mean it like that, you perv.
”Phil took her leg in his graceful hands and massaged it gently. “Sorry, it was a bit of a trek in the end. I’ll run you a bath when we get back to the villa.”
“I liked getting lost. It was just you and me.” She lifted her face to the sky and breathed in the salt, savouring the warm weight of his hand sliding up her thigh, inside her bikini.
“It doesn’t hurt there,” she said, falling back on the sand anyway.
“It might later.” His voice was almost a growl. Julia giggled. She caught the hand, felt its tendons tense, then rubbed it harder against her. Within a few strokes, she let out a reflexive cry, her limbs tightening. A dog barked nearby, and a male voice shouted “Scout!”.
Julia’s head snapped up to see a bronze-coloured man with silver hair at the shore line. She pushed Phil away. “Did he see?” But Phil just laughed.
When she looked out over the darkening horizon, she remembered it was a different ocean. No sunset to melt over the water—a zesty lemon sunrise to wake them in the morning.
They would sell the beach house, she decided. There might be a buyer who wanted it thrown in with the business. She’d let it go for a song—Nate would have hated that. It would probably pay all three kids through college at half its value. Still smelled of Nate in that bedroom, anyway—his death and venom.
Phil’s hands were back on her, making her gasp. Everything else could wait.
“What shall I do with this?” Phil holds out the bundle of red silk for inspection.
Julia lifts a hand to point at the ‘trash’ box behind him. But her tongue freezes around her words.
Nate is peering in through the French window, framed by the faultless sapphire of the ocean. His face is a sculpture of caged fury. He punches through the double-glazing, tiny fractures branching out into a full shattering. As they fall, the shards reflect the waning pink light.
Julia screams. Phil swears. Nate steps in through the frame, his loafers crunching on the glass.
“Are we moving house, darling?” asks Nate, waving a pristine hand at the boxes. No cuts. Not even a graze.
“How…?” Julia’s legs collapse. Nate’s contemptuous eyes follow her down as though pushing her.
“Back-up copies, honey.” He gives a wet, bubbling laugh. “Just good housekeeping.”
“You scheduled downloads...?” Phil tracks Nate’s advance towards him.
He doesn’t reply, just smirks and flicks out a fist, hitting Phil hard in the face. Phil is driven into the wall and then to the floor next to Julia, stunned.
Nate’s next move is towards her. “Whore.” Like a lover’s sigh.
Even as Julia shrieks, it’s clear there’s no time for despair. She springs up, pivots, grabs his heavy iron from the golf bag.
As she strikes Nate again…and again, she finally discovers something to thank him for. That once, when he was still trying to woo her, he taught her to deliver an almighty whack with a golf club.
The counterpane burns like dream. Afterwards, there’s no trace of the red silk that has shrouded dead Nate more than once.
Julia and Phil watch the flames die away into darkness. Made silent by fear, both wonder how many nights will pass before they must build Nate’s pyre again.