Prologue

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"You might not be flawed but you'll always be tainted," he spat as he looked at the photograph lying in the palm of his hand. The image showed a girl shopping in the busy market, taken using a long-range lens. How comfortable she appeared surrounded by 'them'- the dirty, the disfigured those with more subtly concealed defects. The latter were more dangerous ones. They could deceive even the most expert eye.

His fingers stroked over her long auburn hair. He couldn't believe the expression on her face - happiness. Her mouth, wide-in-a-smile, wasn't what told him; it was the look in those deep brown eyes. They blazed with a joy of life he'd never seen anywhere before, even here.

As he continued to study the image of the girl, his mind wandered into unwanted territory resulting in an unwelcome physical response. The treacherous reaction of his body broke him out of the trance and he threw the picture on to the floor, stamping on it like a toddler having a tantrum.

He walked to the sink, ran the tap and splashed his face. Not feeling quite clean enough he scrubbed vigorously, till his cheeks stung. As the icy water helped him regain his focus, he concentrated on the reflection in the mirror staring back at him. No longer did he see the perfection of his own image that he once saw. Was his nose now too long, his chin weaker, less defined? The rational part of his brain tried to point out that he hadn't changed, but that she had now set a higher standard. But the better she was, the less he felt he became.

Anger simmered within him as he wondered what to do about the situation he was now presented with. The logical thing was to do nothing, but that didn't have quite the same appeal. No, there were only two options- death or disfigurement. Both had their appeal and either one would diminish her, but one more permanently than the other. Seeing movement in his reflection, he recognised a smile; something he hadn't done for a while. Slowly, his breathing eased and he let go of the tension in his body. He didn't need to decide today. For now, he'd be content with planning and scheming. After tomorrow he'd have both time and opportunity. As he ran his fingers through his shaggy blonde hair, he smiled again. The smile didn't reach his eyes.


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