Chapter 1: Ghost of a Girl

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I know you’re out there somewhere….

She stared out across a crowded London square, unknowing, unseeing, the serenity of her face captured in the flat surface of the theatrical poster. The light noon rain ran down in small diagonal rivers across her, crinkling the smooth plain of her forehead and the gentle cut of her jaw. She wept, large, abandoned tears that warred with the lovely turn of her mouth.

The Great Cat, they called her.

Many of those who had come to Leicester Square, hunting for half-price theater tickets, gravitated to her, beckoned by her eyes, lured on by the legend of mist and mystery that surrounded her. A few balked at the price of “An Intimate Evening with Cat Courtney.” Others realized to their sorrow that they had conflicting tickets, meals planned with in-laws, flights to catch. Three nights only, announced the poster, and this, unfortunately, was the last night.

She smiled out at them all, oblivious to their concerns, uncaring of the rain wetting her face.

The American tourist who came walking into the square, his daughter by his side, did not notice her at first. The rain had stopped for a few minutes, and other matters engaged him: folding up a handy umbrella, glancing at his watch, reading a guide book over his daughter’s shoulder. For one minute longer, he remained merely a tourist on a much-needed vacation. For one minute longer, the Great Cat never crossed his mind.

But the Great Cat could wait, and for this man she would wait forever.

She had left him a decade before, both of them reeling from the blood of their folly, in a deserted cottage on a desolate shore on the other side of the world. Had she eyes to see, she would know him instantly.

Eventually, respite ended. Eventually, Richard Ashmore lifted his head, his eyes scanning across the theatrical posters, in search of an evening’s entertainment suitable for a young girl. The titles made little impression – Les Miserables, The Graduate, Noises Off – until he saw her and everything around her blurred into oblivion.

He knew her too, instantly.

Laura.

His worst mistake.

“Dad?” Julie touched her hand to his. “Do you think we can get tickets?”

“We can try.” Richard closed his fingers around hers, a talisman to ward memory off. “Don’t get your hopes up, Julie. Her concerts usually sell out.”

“Let’s ask over there,” suggested his daughter, pointing across the square to the ticket kiosk. “Maybe someone bought tickets and can’t go. Maybe someone dropped their tickets, and someone turned them in. Maybe—”

“Maybe, maybe, maybe,” he teased, but already he was allowing her to drag him across the stones towards the waiting queue.

They took their places in line. Julie was glowing with excitement, the happiest Richard had seen her since the morning before her grandparents had died. He was less optimistic. Others ahead of them had requested tickets, and the possibility of stray tickets lessened as they moved up the line. He sought to cushion her against disappointment by letting her plan the afternoon. They were only a couple of blocks from the National Gallery, or would she prefer to hop the tube for Harrods?

“Harrods,” said Julie immediately. “And tea, Dad.” She leaned in against him to look at his guidebook. “I have my birthday money from Lucy. I want to get something to wear to the concert.”

“Keep your money, kitten.” He wished that they had never seen the poster. Selfish, yes, but if meeting her eyes in a poster disturbed him, how would he feel to see her again, even in the black anonymity of an audience? Better not to know, better to go back to an occasional evening of listening to her songs in the dark and trying to make some sense of what had happened.

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