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Echoes of the Heart
Author: L.A. Casey

 


PROLOGUE

FRANKIE

Nine years ago . . .

I awoke to the heart-stopping sound of thunderous banging.

I shot upright and stared around my darkened bedroom. I reached over to my left, expecting to find the warm body of my boyfriend, but his side of the bed was empty and cold. I didn’t have a spare moment to think of where he was because the banging quickly resumed. I kicked my duvet off my body and hopped down from my bed. The harshness of the hallway light almost blinded me the second I opened the door. I rubbed my eyes with my fingers as I scurried down the narrow passageway and came to a stop at my front door.

“W-Who is it?”

“It’s Michael, Frankie. Open up.”

I felt relieved when I recognised the voice. I undid the lock, pulled the door open and stared up at the tall, stocky, brown-haired man who I was not expecting to be banging down my door in the middle of the night.

“Dr O’Rourke?” I blinked tiredly. “What’s wrong?”

“Frankie.” His hands were on his hips, his bushy eyebrows drawn in tight. “I’ve been callin’ ye for the last hour.”

Dr Michael O’Rourke was a Dubliner, from Ireland, but had lived in Southwold for a long time. He was my GP and had been for as long as I could remember. A mentionable fact was that he was also my mother’s boyfriend. My mum having a boyfriend wasn’t a problem for me, it was actually welcomed. I had just turned eighteen and she was a forty-six-year-old widower who deserved to find a good man who loved her. It was just a little bizarre that that man was my GP. They had been dating for a little over three months and I still didn’t know how to act around Dr O’Rourke so I always remained polite, but a little standoffish.

“It’s on silent.” I shivered as the crippling cold of the winter’s night slithered around me. “I was out until late with Risk.”

Upon saying my boyfriend’s name, I remembered where he was. He was a musician who lived and breathed music. When he and his band, Blood Oath, weren’t travelling around the UK playing as many gigs as they could get, anywhere they could get them, they were in a tiny studio writing and recording. Risk Keller spent as much time in that studio as he did with me; if he wasn’t by my side, he was there.

Dr O’Rourke coughed into his elbow. “Can I come inside?”

“Of course.”

I backed into my home as Dr O’Rourke stepped inside and closed the door behind him. For a few moments, neither of us spoke and all that could be heard was the low whistle of the wind outside. It was awkward.

“Uh, would you like a cuppa tea?”

“Please.”

On autopilot, I turned and entered my small kitchen, flipping on the light as I went. I grabbed my kettle, filled it up with water, set it on its stand, plugged it in and switched it on. I grabbed two cups, popped a tea-bag into each one then turned and leaned my lower back against the counter-top. Dr O’Rourke was seated at my two-person table. His eyes were on his hands, which were resting on the table’s surface. They were clasped tightly together.

“Dr O’Rourke—”

“Michael.” He looked up with a tired smile that didn’t reach his brown, hooded eyes. “I’ve been datin’ your ma for a few months now, Frankie. I think ye can call me by me name. Don’t you?”

“I’m sorry,” I said, flushing. “It’s a force of habit, I’ve only ever called you Dr O’Rourke.”

He nodded and we fell back into an awkward silence.

I looked from him to the clock on the wall and stared at the two hands. Twenty-five past five in the morning. Dr O’Rourke was in my home at twenty-five past five in the morning. He had never been inside my cottage before, let alone this early and unannounced. I felt my body began to shake as an overwhelming sensation of dread filled the pit of my stomach. It was an odd experience, to feel my body fall into a hole of panic so rapidly. I could already hear the familiar tell-tale musical sound from my lungs that told me an asthma attack was fast approaching.

“Something’s happened to my mum,” I rasped. “Hasn’t it?”

When Dr O’Rourke looked my way, his clouded eyes were filled with untamed despair and I suddenly felt like I couldn’t breathe. My chest tightened and drawing in air became increasingly difficult, like someone had poured concrete down my throat. I felt the blood rush inside of my head. My feet tingled, my hands shook and my vision distorted, like I was looking through a shattered piece of glass.

I was on my knees without realising I had fallen to them.

I felt calloused hands on either side of my face and a voice that sounded like it was a long distance away. I couldn’t understand what was being said, but when I felt an object being pushed inside of my mouth, my instant reaction was to inhale. The instant I breathed in, a familiar puff of air that tasted like chemicals assaulted my taste-buds on its way down to my lungs. Robotically, I held onto the puff of air for a few seconds before I exhaled it. This process was repeated a few more times and just as quickly as the pain began, it faded.

I opened my eyes, not realising they had closed, and stared into Dr O’Rourke’s worried ones.

“You’re okay,” he said, his hands on my shoulders. “Don’t talk, just breathe in and out.”

I followed his instructions and remained on the cold, tiled floor of my kitchen until the threat of my attack passed. When I felt better, I made a move to get back to my feet and Dr O’Rourke helped me. I was a tiny bit unsteady, but my senses had returned to normal. Dr O’Rourke didn’t take any chances as he aided me in walking over to my table. I eased down onto the chair, leaned my elbows on hard wood, turned my head and watched in silence as Dr O’Rourke re-boiled the kettle and after a couple of minutes, brought over two steaming cups of tea and placed one on a coaster in front of me and the other in front of him. He got milk from the fridge as well as the sugar-pot and two spoons and placed them on the table too.

I said nothing, I only watched him.

“Much milk?”

I bobbed my head to his question. He poured milk into my cup and followed it up with two spoonfuls of sugar. He mimicked his actions with his own cup of tea then sat across from me. We both stared at one another until I broke the contact and picked up my cup. I blew across the top of the steaming hot liquid for a dozen or so seconds, then took a sip, then another. I felt my body loosen as the sweet, familiar taste slid down my throat and did its job of calming me.

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