Chapter 1 - The Child Within
Sunshine rainbows and innocence danced in the mirror. Hand-in-hand, a little boy and girl laughed as they raced along a cliff by the sea, pale blond hair flagging behind them.
As if the looking glass were magic, the images of the past shimmered and dissolved.
The woman the little girl had become ran a silver brush through her hair. If eyes were windows to the soul, surely she’d glimpse a shadow of the secret. She had wandered the inner landscape, mapping the geography of her soul. The journey had left no visible scars.
Childish laughter floated through arched doors open to an ocean-fresh breeze. The lilting sound seemed as distant as those summers of yesterday. With a farewell glance at the reflection of Alina Alastair Cooper-wife, mother, daughter and sister-she rose from the gilded dressing table and strolled to the window. Today, they celebrated her husband’s twenty-fifth birthday. The Lions of Alastair Keep-Alain, Alina and Rory-were born under the astrological sign of Leo. They were sleek, graceful and powerful by chance of birth-or fate.
The house and grounds of Alastair Keep were festively dressed for the occasion. At fifteen to eight, the orchestra tuned up on a raised dais. A breeze wafted party smells, flowers, food and the salty perfume of the sea that had provided ever-present percussion to her life. The clatter of a helicopter announced the arrival of the London caterer. The Keep was a two-hour ferry ride from the mainland. Mother had arranged for the Great Giovanni-grandiose name!-and his staff to be air-lifted. Cases of French champagne, wines, fine Scottish whiskey for Father and any beverage wanted were on offer at the three bars on the lawn. Two of their college friends would be on hand to surprise Rory and Alain. At Cambridge, her brother and his flat mate, now Alina’s husband, had called their elite band of intellectual misfits Hedonists to the Twenty-First, a tribute to the new millennium.
Excitement shivered over Alina. She rubbed the gooseflesh leaping up her arms. Her brother was thinking of her. Somewhere in that wide azure sky, a plane winged Alain home. She felt the miles of separation melting. He’d mirror the sweet anticipation of reunion. As children, often they’d behave synchronously. They’d speak the same words in identical voice patterns. Mother believed they were telepathic. She was right, more or less. Feelings blazed between them clearer than thought. An invisible chord bound them. It was that way with twins.
And the tie between them would never fray. Separated yet never apart.
She closed her eyes and a vision of her brother, as clear as if she sat in the seat beside him, played through her mind. He’d bound his thick mane of pale hair into a severe ponytail. His serious topaz gaze devoured a magazine article, but Alain’s mind wandered to thoughts of home.
A dog’s frantic yapping, childish giggles and Rory’s melodious laughter called her back to the sunny balcony. She opened her eyes. The twins tumbled into a writhing heap with Spud, an incongruous half-Chihuahua, half-pug mongrel. Her heart gave a happy skip as it always did when she saw her husband.
"Morning all." She waved as Rory scooped a blonde cherub under each arm. "Oh, Rory, they’re filthy. Look at that grass stain on Beau’s khakis."
Her husband shook back wind-tossed hair and laughed. "Look at poor Spud! Anyway, hun, a little dirt sweetens the pot before scrubbing and imprisonment in Sunday clothes."
The twins wriggled and shrilled, "Mummy! Mummy!"
Alina didn’t care if her children ran bare-arsed through the party as she and Alain had once done. It had been a day such as this-dreamy, idyllic, sea-blue, a happy day until Father almost spanked her brother for an escapade that had been her idea.
"I’ll be up in a jiffy." Rory bowed.
With a squirming boy under one arm and a squealing girl under the other, in tan shorts and a stained white shirt, he still managed to look quite elegant. Her husband was a Charleston, South Carolina blueblood. His soft, slow accent tugged at her heartstrings.
He straightened, holding tight to his bundles and aimed a sultry smile at her. "Maybe we can find something to do before we dress for the party."
"Like bake cookies?" Alina smoothed the robe over her distended belly. "We’ve already got a bun in the oven."
"Do you want to see a grown man cry?" His face screwed into a grimace.
He draped a child over each shoulder. Tiny grimy hands immediately tangled in his hair. Yes, Rory belonged to Alastair Keep. The wind whipped streaky blond hair over a face chiseled by a master. Alina folded her hands to her lips. Her husband was six-feet of slender grace. His eyes were sea green. Love ached in her heart when she looked at him.
A shadow wafted over her, a plane passing above. A shiver rippled down her spine. Her gaze drifted across the lawn spotted with white tables, dotted by yellow canopies. Once, she and her twin had dreamed of escaping the loneliness of the island. When they had escaped, she’d longed for the restless sea, the castle perched atop a sheer, wind-carved cliff. In this day of instant, global communications, isolated by a two-hour sail, The Keep remained a world unto itself. Finally, after they’d returned from university, Father had allowed computers and the spotty internet connection. In the beginning as in the end, isolation had proved their salvation, even if Alain did occasionally rebel and run away.
Memories buzzed like bees in the August air. Once she’d believed everyone capable of tapping into the great wealth of memory. She’d been shocked to learn most people recalled little of childhood. To Alina, the past was a river of sensation, not yellowed photographs crinkled by age. She could relive the warmth and safety of the womb shared with Alain and birth tearing them asunder. Eyes closed, she journeyed to meet him. A moment more and she’d revive the way they were.
When the two of them were sequestered in utopia.