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Heaven

Olivia deTillier rolled over, trying to get comfortable in the huge bed. Glancing at the travel clock on her bedside table she saw that it was well after 2am, yet she was wide awake and restless. The sound of the storm outside was doing little to help her relax and her overactive mind refused to let her tired body rest. Finally giving up, Olivia rolled out of bed and headed for her wardrobe. Removing her fur lined slippers she put them on, whilst slipping her arms into the sleeves of her luxurious silk dressing gown. Tying it tightly around her waist, she slipped a torch into her pocket before stealing quietly out of the door. Wandering along the dimly lit corridors, listening to the storm still raging outside, Olivia started to wonder about the intelligence of wandering around an old house alone in the middle of the night. But she was here now, and it was not much worse than lying in bed awake in any case.

Noticing a stair case a little further along with a light shining from over head, she hurried along the corridor before making her way up to the second floor of the house. The décor was much the same as the rest of the house, but at least the light was brighter. Feeling slightly more at ease, Olivia remembered Charles’s offer of any book in his study and decided that a good book was exactly what she needed. Following the corridor round to the left, Olivia found the door to the study and twisting the handle, pushed open the door. The room was in complete darkness, but it was late and Charles had most probably gone to bed long ago. Running her hand along the wall, she found the light switch and turned it on. It was only then that she realised her error. Charles’s suite was to the right of the house, this was the left.

Intending to leave, Olivia was already reaching for the light switch when she finally noticed what room she was in. It was huge, furnished only with some large leather chairs and an impressive looking oak desk. But the furnishings were not what drew her to the room. It was a library, the kind you read about in fairy tales, with books covering every wall reaching up to the ceiling. Olivia stared, she couldn’t help it. She had never seen such a wonderful room in her life. Closing the door behind her with a quiet click she moved further into the room, before walking over to the shelves of books lining one side of the room. Running a finger along the spines she read the titles under her breath. Herodotus, Hesoid, Hippocrates, Homer… Fascinated she moved to another shelf, finding more classic works, though slightly more modern. Works by Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, Bronte… The list appeared endless. Before long she was running from shelf to shelf looking at every book she had ever heard of and more. There were books published in the last few years whilst others dated back centuries even millennia. Olivia was in heaven and even though she knew she shouldn’t be there, she could not tear herself away.

xxx


Olivia had spent most of her young life having every action dictated by her parents. It was not until she left for university that she had really lived for herself. Her parents were rich and as a result she had a trust fund that could provide for her for life. However, though she had had access to the money since her 21st birthday she had never touched a penny, instead choosing to live her own life, with her own hard earned money. After she had finished her university course, earning herself a first in English Literature, she had become a librarian, determined to spend her life surrounded by her second love, books. The first was something, or rather someone, whom she tried not to think of. Filling the emptiness of her life with her job, had worked well for her for a long time. But lately something had changed, and evidently she wasn’t the only one to have noticed. Her boss had insisted she take a two week break if she wanted to keep her job. Admitting he was right had taken some doing, but she had known deep down she could not continue the way she was forever. She was getting older, and her dreams of having a family seemed to be getting further away rather than nearer. It was that which had driven her to accept her great aunt’s invitation of a place to stay.

Her aunt owned a large country house which she used to rent out large suites to tenants. One of those tenants was a man named Charles Sharpe, a close friend of the family, and her parents had made no secret of the fact that they hoped to see her marry him. Charles was a lovely man, but Olivia’s feelings for him ran no deeper than friendly affection. But time was running out. All of her friends from university were happily married some with one, or even two children, and Olivia wanted a family so much it hurt. So, to her parents delight, Olivia had chosen to spend her two weeks holiday getting to know Charles a little better.

She had arrived at her aunt’s house on Tuesday that week, three days ago, and had spent most of her time either with Charles, her aunt or two of the other tenants. She got on well with everyone, though she was still waiting and hoping to feel any sort of attraction to Charles. There was only one tenant she had not yet met, a man who appeared to be completely elusive. All she had been able to discover was that he was young, around 30, and worked in London, only returning at weekends. Even his name was unknown as his accounts were all organised anonymously by his accountant. She was highly curious about the mystery man, but she had no way of knowing anymore about him until the following day. She knew he had arrived late that evening, but had retired straight to his room. She was disappointed to have missed him, but was sure she would find him the next day.

xxx


It was clear the library was part of “his” rooms. It was in the only part of the house she had not visited. And she knew she should leave immediately. But her curiosity got the better of her. Moving over to the desk in the centre of the room, Olivia fingered the edge of the old fashioned blotter, disappointed there was nothing of interest on the table, and not rude enough to start digging through drawers. Drawn to a beautiful cut glass bottle, Olivia was about to reach for it when something caught her eye out of the window. Moving across the room, Olivia rested her hand on one of the drapes as she peered out into the inky blackness, wondering what had caught her attention. Suddenly a lightening bolt hit a tree and she heard a crack as a large branch broke off it. Shivering she pulled her gown tighter around her. She had almost forgotten about the storm, the library had fascinated her so deeply, but now she was suddenly aware of how close the storm was. Her heart thudded in her chest and another bolt of lightning split the sky, accompanied almost instantly by an almost deafening roll of thunder. The silence after the thunder was almost eerie, and spooked, she backed away from the window. Suddenly the lights went out and when something brushed her back she spun around, covering her mouth to stifle a scream, trying desperately to see through the darkness. When the lights went on again a second later, she almost laughed, though slightly hysterically, as she looked at the arm chair she had backed into. Taking a deep breath, Olivia waited a moment before returning to the desk, her heartbeat slowly returning to normal. Once more she admired the crystal bottle and reaching over, picked it up, lifting it to admire the way the light shone through it making rainbow patterns on the table. It was filled with a clear liquid she assumed was alcohol, but before she could open it to check, the lights flickered again, making her start.

The crystal bottle slipped through her fingers and hit the hard floor with a loud crack. Dropping to her knees she hastily began clearing the shattered fragments of glass. Wiping the spilt liquid from the smooth surface, Olivia prayed the noise hadn’t been loud enough to wake the man sleeping in the next room, but as she finished her tidying, the familiar scent which had been pushing at her memory for the last few minutes finally broke through all her mental barriers. She felt her knees go weak as remembered emotions pounded through her. Gripping the edge of the large oak desk, Olivia tried to clear her thoughts, but the harder she tried, the harder they seemed to press on her. The fragrance of the liquid she now recognised as aftershave floated thickly in the air around her in almost translucent waves and the images and memories assailing her made her feel faint. It had been so long, but it felt as though it were yesterday. The feel of his arms around her, the whisper of his breath against her cheek as he leaned closer, the softness of his lips as he pressed them against hers… She felt a sob bubbling up from within her and she pressed her hand to her mouth as the sob became a scream. But then the scent was even stronger, clinging to her fingers from her attempt at clearing up the mess, and finally she couldn’t take it anymore. Her knees crumpled beneath her as the world twisted on its axis. Just before she hit the floor, Olivia felt strong arms around her, and then everything went black.

Olivia awoke to find herself alone in one of the many bedrooms of her aunts manor house. Though the heavy drapes around the bed were closed, a slight gap let in the early morning light. Pushing aside the grogginess that always accompanied the first moments after she awoke, Olivia half sat up to push the drape back further. It didn’t take her long to realise this was not the bedroom she had been using. The heavy velvet curtains were tied back to reveal a breathtaking view of the countryside, green fields, rolling hills, thick forest and a narrow river completed the picture, which was so different from the view she had grown accustomed to. Her room was on the first floor at the front of the house and looked out onto a gravel driveway and a garden which had been left untamed for countless years. Pushing back the covers, Olivia stepped out of bed, slipping on her dressing gown and putting on her slippers before walking to the window, mesmerised by the breathtaking panorama. The rain from the night before had cleared the heavy air, leaving everything looking fresh and new, the colours seeming brighter than usual. She yawned and automatically lifted her hand to cover her mouth, though she was alone in the room. Suddenly the events of the night before came rushing back to her. The shattered fragrance bottle and the powerful memories the scent had evoked. It was only then that the rest of her situation sunk in. Looking around the room she knew it was one belonging to a tenant. Though the décor resembled the classic style of the rest of the house, there were unique, more modern touches that gave the room a lived-in feel. The dresser in the corner was piled high with books and newspapers, a signed picture of a well known football club and a selection of three artistic photographs adorned the walls, and a picture of a young woman was tucked carefully into the guilt frame of the mirror. Moving closer, her heart skipped a beat. The photograph was of her.

xxx


The picture had been taken almost ten years earlier at the brook near her parents house. She was sat on the bank, her fingers trailing in the water, her face radiant with happiness, head thrown back in laughter. Staring into her young face Olivia’s heart pounded painfully in her chest. She could still remember that day. It was the summer before she left home for university and she’d gone to the brook with Tom. It had been their favourite place, away from everything, where they could be together, simply enjoying one and others company. It had been the last time she had seen him. The following day, she had arrived at the spot to find no-one there. Thinking he had just been delayed she sat down to wait for him, but he had never appeared. She had waited all afternoon, until the approaching darkness had forced her to return to the house. It was only then that she found out he had left. All she had been left with was a broken heart and a note left for her with his mother, their housekeeper. A note, which so many years later, she could still recite off by heart.

“Dear Olivia,
          I love you more than words can describe, but we both know it can never last between us. I’m sorry to end it like this, but I have no choice. I received a scholarship to art school and I have to leave. I will never forget you. I’ll be forever yours.
                               All my love,
                                               Tom x”


Even now the words still brought a sharp pain to her heart. She had loved him with everything she had, would have given him anything he desired, and still he had left her, without even a real goodbye. For years she had held on to the hope that he would come back to her. Her parents still lived in the house they had lived in then, he could easily have come back. But he never had. His dreams had come true at least. He had always longed to be an art photographer, and he had always had a camera in his hand, snapping away at her. He’d had a gift. And his scholarship had come as no surprise to her. Nor had his first exhibition, or his second, or third. She had followed his work with a passion, going to every exhibition he put on, yet she had never seen the man himself. At his first exhibition, there had been a photograph she remembered well. He’d taken it with nothing more than a disposable camera, but he had captured the scene so beautifully that it was breathtaking. It was “their” place. He’d taken an entire roll of film that day, then developed them himself that night to show her. He had let her choose her favourite to keep and it had been that one. She still had it, though slightly torn and scuffed around the edges, locked in a jewellery box in her room.

Seeing the photograph in the gallery had rocked her world. Of course, it was not quite the same as her own copy. For one, it had been blown up to around 10 times its original size. And something else was different though she couldn’t put her finger on it. She had stood for a very long time in front of that picture, before wandering around the room to look at everything else. But before she left she returned once more to that painting. It was then that she had noticed its title, “Heaven”, and the small sticker beneath claiming it as the only picture which was not for sale. She took one last look at the painting before she left and it was then that she realised what was different. One of the pebbles beneath the rippling water of the brook was different in colour to all the rest. It was almost imperceptible, especially to a person looking at the photograph for the first time. But Olivia had spent hours pouring over the picture, and the image was forever burned into her mind. Its colour had been changed, and she instantly knew why. The pebble was slightly larger than all the others and flatter in shape, with a white mark running across its diameter. She had spotted it once when they had been together and lifted it from the brook to look at it more closely. She had been enchanted by it all afternoon, despite his teasing, for a reason she had never quite understood. Something had simply drawn her to it. The following day when she met Tom, he had apologized for teasing her and removed a thick black marker from his pocket. Once more removing the stone from the brook and drying it on his shirt, he had written on it “Tom loves Olivia” before placing it back under the water face down, so no one would know but them of its secret message. “Now our love is set in stone…” He had whispered before kissing her softly. The softness hadn’t lasted, though his tenderness had, and she had made love to him for the first time on the grass by their brook. He had been her first and only lover. Though she had had relationships since then, she had never loved any man but Tom. And had never been willing to share that kind of intimacy with any of the men she had known since. Maybe that’s why she was almost 30 and still alone, she mused sullenly. She had bought a photograph that night, and at every other exhibition she had been to, though none were of places she had ever visited. She supposed that her reasoning was that it was her only way to share part of his life if he would not let her in.

xxx


Forcing her mind back to the present, Olivia’s eyes once more scanned the room, though this time more closely. It was then that she realised the significance of the photographs on the walls. They were all by Tom, every one. And as she looked at each one in turn her heart began to beat faster in her chest. Each was of a different city, one Paris, one Rome, and another of London. All three were similar in subtle ways to the photographs she had bought at his exhibitions. Though she knew that Tom only ever created one photograph from each negative, some of his pictures linked together, composed of similar elements simply from a different perspective. All three were of exactly the same things as her own photographs, yet from an opposite perspective. As if he was looking at one side whilst she looked on from the other, hidden from each other by whatever was the focal point of the picture. She knew without doubt that these photographs had not been part of the displays. She had purposely chosen photos which were as unique as possible. So where had these photographs come from? A copy-cat? She instantly dismissed the idea. She knew Tom’s work, and this was it. So how? Her head rejected the idea, even as her heart clung to it. This couldn’t be Tom’s room. There was no way. Yet… Tom Hills was famed for being a recluse, never even turning up to his own exhibitions; no-one even knew where he lived. And this room belonged to the only tenant of her Aunt’s she had never seen nor heard. But, Tom…? She forced the idea from her head. It couldn’t be. Her imagination was running away with her. She still longed for him so much after all this time that her heart was clinging to anything it could. But this was not his room, he did not live in this house, and she would never, NEVER, see him again. A solitary tear rolled down her cheek and she lifted a hand to brush it away. The scent still clinging to her hands overwhelmed her once more and again she could almost feel him in the room. She almost turned around before she stopped herself. She was being stupid. Tom was gone, and he was not coming back to her. Taking a deep breath, she composed herself, mentally pushing Tom back to the special section of her mind reserved only for him.
“Olivia…”
Her heart skipped a beat before resuming at a much faster pace, pounding against her ribs so hard she feared they’d break. For a moment she stood frozen, a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car, a car that was hurtling towards her, certain to change her life forever. And then, ever so slowly, she turned to face the owner of the voice she knew so well.

Olivia stared across the room, her eyes locking with his for the first time in almost ten years. And even now the pain began welling up inside her, tearing at her heart, pulling her down. She wanted to hate him for what he’d done to her. Wanted to, but couldn’t. Even after all this time she loved him just as fiercely as she had then. All that had changed was her passion for him, which had developed into that of a woman’s, rather than that of an innocent girl’s. As he walked towards her, her body trembled, her skin tingling in anticipation of his touch, and her soul reached out for his. And then suddenly he was in front of her, mere inches away, close enough to touch, to taste, to smell. His scent surrounded her in a way the bottled fragrance never had. And she swayed on her suddenly unsteady legs. His hand reached out to steady her and her heart went into overdrive. The feel of his hand on her bare skin after all this time… The sensation was too much, and she closed her eyes only to find that it increased, almost overwhelming her. It had been too long, far too long. And then she was in his embrace, and somehow her arms were around his neck and then, finally, she felt his lips on hers.

She moaned against his mouth as he parted her lips with his tongue, plunging inside, kissing her hungrily. Raking her fingers through his hair, she pressed herself against him, feeling his hard body against hers as he kissed her on and on. Finally, he broke away, breathing heavily as he looked down into her flushed face.
“Olivia…” He whispered once more. “I never thought I’d see you again…”
The wonder in his voice and the play of his fingers in her hair distracted her for a moment, but then his words sunk in.
“And whose fault is that?” She asked quietly, unable to completely hide the bitterness in her voice.
For a long moment he was silent, and Olivia couldn’t help the thought that maybe he really had no argument, maybe her parents had been right, maybe he had never really loved her, maybe he’d left having got what he wanted, maybe… But he had loved her, she knew it. And if she hadn’t, his kiss had proved it beyond any doubt. Tom loved her and he always had. So why…?
“I’m sorry.” He whispered his eyes downcast. “I…”
He trailed off.
“Tom. Why?” She asked, her voice full of the pain of not knowing for all this time.
He looked up then, the raw agony in her voice tearing at his heart. How could he have caused so much pain to the only woman he had ever loved?
“I’m so, so sorry, Olivia. I love you so much, I always have, and I NEVER wanted to leave you, you have to believe that. But your parents… they wanted so much better for you. It could never have lasted between us. You deserve someone so much better than me…”
“No!” The word was torn from her mouth, “There’s no one better, there…”
“Shhh…” He whispered, pressing a finger to her lips, still slightly swollen from his kiss. “Just hear me out.”
For a moment she hesitated, before slowly nodding her head.
“You were heiress to a fortune; I was the gardener’s help, son of the housekeeper. Your father wanted me out of your life, he didn’t trust me, thought I was just after your money or… or something else… but he knew I could never give you the life you deserve, the life you knew. He arranged my art scholarship. Gave me a choice, that, or you. I loved you, more than life itself, but I had no choice, not really. If I hadn’t taken the scholarship, I would have lost my job, my home… and not just me, my mother too. And… and you, your father would have cut you off without a penny. Olivia, you’re the best thing that ever happened to me, and the only woman I’ve ever loved; I couldn’t be so selfish, I couldn’t destroy your life, I couldn’t…”
This time it was her turn to press a finger to his lips. She had heard enough. She’d known her father was manipulative, but if she’d known this… her heart ached for the years her father had taken from them, but he couldn’t touch her now. She had her own life, her own money, she didn’t need him anymore, all she needed was Tom.
“I love you…” She said softly, “More than I can describe. My father had no right...”
“Olivia…” Tom said slowly, tilting her face to his, “Marry me?”
“Yes…” She whispered, as the tears of emotion finally overflowed, “Oh, yes…”
And then once more, he kissed her.


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