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He woke in a cold sweat, the darkness in the room swallowing him like a giant black vortex. Dex Kennedy gasped for breath, sitting up and throwing aside the covers on the bed.
His bare chest was damp with perspiration, yet the room had a chill. Where was he? What time was it? He drew a deep breath, searching for a scent that might give him a clue. He wasn't in the desert; he wasn't in the jungle. The smell of lavender clung to the sheets, and he realized he was in Ireland, in his sister's flat in Killarney. There was no danger. He was safe.
Dex turned on the bedside lamp, then rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. When would the nightmares end? he wondered. It had been nearly a year now, and though his body had healed from the two gunshot wounds, his mind was still back on that landing strip cut out of the jungle in Colombia.
He and his filmmaking partner, writer and director, Matt Crenshaw, had gone there to get footage for a documentary about the drug wars that had plagued the country. With help from some locals, they had managed to film damning footage of one of the most powerful cartels. They were almost to the plane and to safety when the cartel's thugs had pinned them down with automatic weapons fire from the surrounding bush.
Matt had been hit in the leg before they were able to get on the plane and make their escape. Hit in the femoral artery, Matt had bled out in front of Dex, a couple thousand feet above the jungles of southern Colombia.
It had all happened so fast. Matt had been alive and cracking jokes one moment and gone the next.
Dex drew another ragged breath and ran his fingers through his hair. A bottle of sleeping pills sat unopened on the bedside table. Maybe he ought to give in and take a few. The prospect of sleeping an entire night was almost too much to resist. He wanted to lose himself in that feeling of utter exhaustion again, to finally let his mind rest.
Dex reached for the bottle. Twisting open the cap, he dumped the pills into his hand and stared down at them. He could understand why someone might just toss back the whole lot of them. Sleep deprivation could do queer things to the mind, make you take desperate measures for just a few moments of peace.
Cursing beneath his breath, he hurled the pills at the wall and they scattered around the room.
"Dex?" The muffled sound of his sister's voice came through the door. "Are you still awake?"
"Yeah," he called.
"Are are you all right, then?"
"Fine," Dex said. He swung his legs off the bed and stood up, searching for the battered trousers he'd discarded earlier. The bloodstains were still there, but they had faded over the past months. Dex pulled them on, leaving the top button undone.
He ought to have thrown the trousers out. They were a constant reminder of what had happened. But Dex wanted to be reminded. Matt had been his best friend and the only partner he ever wanted to work with. Running his palm over the stain, Dex felt emotion tighten his chest. He wasn't going to forget.
His twin sister, Claire, was standing outside the bedroom door, a worried expression on her face. Her cropped dark hair was standing up in unruly spikes and her face, usually made up with red lips and dark eyeliner, was freshly scrubbed.
"You look feckin' awful," she murmured as he walked past her. "Really, Dex. How long are you going to carry on like this before you get some help?"
"I went round to the chemist and picked up some sleeping pills," Dex muttered, heading for the kitchen.
"Didn't they work?" Claire asked.
"I didn't take them."
She threw up her hands. "Well, that's probably why they didn't work, then. You just have to get back into a routine and a few good nights' sleep."
Dex grabbed a bottle of beer from the refrigerator and returned to the living room, snatching up the remote for the telly and switching on the twenty-four-hour sports station.
Claire plopped down beside him on the sofa, her hands folded on her lap. She stared at him silently, and when he glanced over at her, he saw tears of frustration in her eyes and a tremble in her bottom lip. "Don't," he murmured. "I'll be all right. It's just going to take some time."
"Maybe you should find something to do with yourself," Claire suggested. "Hanging around my flat like some out-of-work bowsie isn't doing you any good."
"What do you propose I do? I've been a filmmaker since I was fourteen. It's all I've ever wanted to be. I'm not sure I'm suited to sell cars or work the bar in a pub."
"That's not what I meant. I've peeked at your mobile. Your agent has all sorts of projects he's been texting you about. I've been taking calls, too. Why don't you just talk to these people? See what they have for you? It couldn't hurt."
Dex took another swig of his beer. He shouldn't be surprised by her snooping. There had never been any secrets between them. "It wouldn't be the same. I was a decent cameraman, but Matt was the one who made the stories work. I can tell a story with pictures, but I can't do it with words. He had all the talent in the partnership."
Claire grabbed a scrap of paper from a nearby table and held it out to him. "Ian Stephens. I've taken three messages from him. A lovely man, by the way, with a very sexy English accent. He sounds like James frickin' Bond. His number is right there, along with the number of the woman he's working with, Marlena Jenner. She's the producer on the project."
He stared at the two numbers. "What is the project? Did you ask?"
"It's a film about Aileen Quinn."
Clare nodded. "My favorite writer. Ireland's favorite writer."
"That's not the kind of work I do."
"That might be a good thing. At least no one would be shooting at you."
"I'm not ready to go back to work," he said.
"But you just said it, Dex. It's who you are."
"Hell, I'm not sure who I am anymore," Dex whispered, his voice filling with emotion. "II just don't know what I want." He shook his head. "Wait, I do know. I know exactly what I wantto sleep through the night. That's my fondest wish."
Claire put her arm around his shoulders and they sat next to each other for a long while. This was the way it had always been between them. They had weathered tough times in the past, but they'd always had each other to lean on.
Their parents had lived a gypsy life, both of them actors who'd garnered a fair bit of success in Ireland's small film industry. As a family, they'd lived in London, New York City, Toronto and then Dublin again. But when his father had been cast in an American television series, they'd all moved to California, an Irish family living amongst the movie stars and palm trees and the constant sunny weather.
It had been a difficult transition for Dex and Claire, at that point already in junior high, and they hadn't made friends easily, preferring to spend time with each other. So when the series had been picked up for its fourth season and Claire and Dex were ready to enter high school, they decided to return to County Kerry and live with their father's mother, a woman they affectionately called Nana Dee.
Dierdre O'Meara Kennedy had seen them through their teenage years, then sent them off to university Dex to film school at UCLA and Claire to read history at Trinity in Dublin. Nana Dee had provided the only stable home they'd ever really had, and her little cottage on the Iveragh Peninsula was the place they'd always called home. Nana had passed away three years ago, and had left them her cottage filled with memories of her life.
"There is something you could do for me," Claire said.
"I'm not going to help you mark your history exams," he said. "Or untangle the mess you've made of your laptop. Or fix that banger of a car you drive."
"We still have to clean out Nana's house," she said. "I know you considered staying there while you were home, but you've spent every night here. So I thought we could lease the cottage out. But to do that we have to go through everything and decide what we want to keep and what we'd like to donate to the parish for their tag sale."
"She lived in that house for over fifty years," Dex said.
"I know. But I trust you to go through it. It will occupy your mind," she said. "And we could really use the extra money. My pittance as a history teacher won't support your taste for beer and whiskey much longer." Claire grabbed the bottle and took a long swig before handing it back to him. "Don't misunderstand, I'm glad you're here. But you're starting to look a little pale and paunchy. You need to go outside. Get some sun and exercise."
Dex chuckled. "All right. I suppose I can do that. What do we want to keep?"
"We'll leave the furniture so we can let it out as a furnished cottage. And the clothes, I'll go through. There's probably some vintage stuff that I could wear. Sort out the mementos, the old photos and things, and we'll go through those together."
The idea appealed to Dex. He needed to focus his mind on something other than his lack of a plan for the future. Maybe if he exhausted himself with cleaning out his nana's house, he'd finally get some sleepand some perspective.
"Actually, I have someone who wants to look at the place tomorrow," Claire said. "She's going to be an exchange teacher at our school next term. Just show her around the cottage and tell her it will be all tidied up before she moves in in January."
"I suppose I can do that, too," he said.
Claire rested her head on his shoulder. "Good. Would you like me to make some popcorn? I've got the next series of Dr. Who ready to go. We could stay up and watch it."
"It's half past two," Dex said.
"And it's a Friday night. I don't have to work tomorrow. We can stay up all night if you want to."
"All right," Dex said. "But I'll make the popcorn. You never put enough butter on it."
Claire laughed, then wrapped her arms around him and gave him a fierce hug. "Things will get better, baby brother. I promise they will."
He smiled. He'd been born only six minutes after her, but she'd always called him her baby brother. "Yeah. I know they will," Dex said.
Yet even as the words passed his lips, he didn't believe there was any truth to them. His life, as he once knew it, was over. And now he was adrift in a dark sea of indecision. Things would never be the same. How could they be?
Marlena Jenner stared down at the road map and then looked at the signpost in front of her. Maybe she ought to just give up and ask for directions. It was nearly dark and she'd never find her way once she couldn't see the road signs. There was no shame in admitting that she couldn't navigate her way out of a paper bag. And it seemed as if she'd been driving around in circles for hours.
Crumpling the map up and tossing it aside, Marlie shook her head. "Just let it go," she said. "Ireland is an island. And I'm on a peninsula. Sooner or later, I'll find the place or I'll run into water.
"Knockaunnaglashy," she muttered, reading the road sign. "Where do they find the names for these towns?" She put the Fiat into gear and started down the narrow road. After leaving numerous messages with Dex Kennedy's agent and receiving an equal number of promises that he'd get back to her, she'd almost given up and moved to the next guy on her list. But then, to her surprise, she'd received a call from Dex Kennedy's sister, Claire, who had told her exactly where to find Dex.
When it came to Irish documentary filmmakers, Dex Kennedy was the best. Word was that he was between jobs, recovering from the loss of his friend and partner, Matt Crenshaw, and looking for just the right project. And Marlie had the perfect project for him.
Sure, it wasn't the kind of high-stakes, action-packed story that he usually did, but that didn't mean it wasn't important. And she'd found a wonderful angle to the story that she hoped might intrigue him.
"What's the worst he can say?" she murmured to herself. "No?" She'd heard that word plenty of times. And she'd learned that when someone said no, you simply had to find a good enough reason for them to say yes. This reason was definitely good enough.
Thanks to her grandmother, she'd finally put together the funding to do a documentary on her all-time favorite author, Aileen Quinn. And Aileen had agreed to participate. They were scheduled to start filming in five days. A filmmaker of Dex Kennedy's caliber and reputation would legitimize the project to the industry.
With the help of Quinn's researcher, Ian Stephens, and with Dex Kennedy as her coproducer, they'd create something that celebrated Miss Quinn's long and colorful career and make a film that would be shown all over the worldmaybe even at Cannes or Sundance. She would have proved herself as a producer. No one would be able to doubt her then.
But first she had to find Dex Kennedy. The road wound down a long hill and suddenly the directions made sense. "Turn right at the blue cottage with the thatched roof," she repeated, "and drive until the bushes come over the car." She bumped along on a rutted road for what seemed like forever, and just as she was ready to turn back, she saw a long line of bushes arched over the lane. "Make another right at the stone wall next to the old abbey." And again, the wall and a ruined abbey appeared.
Marlie smiled. Maybe she'd been a little harsh on herself. Claire Kennedy's directions had been spot-on, once she'd actually figured out where she was.
The landscape offered a beautiful view of rolling hills crisscrossed by dry stone walls and the sea beyond. Like every spot in Ireland, the green of the hills here was so vivid that it nearly hurt her eyes to look at it. Perhaps it was the sun, which seemed to hang lower in the sky, always shining from behind fluffy white clouds. Marlie wondered if the landscape would look as beautiful onscreen as it did to her eyes.
She saw the sign for the village before she saw the small gathering of cottages and outbuildings. Though she was only a half hour outside Killarney, this seemed like a place out of another time.
There were no numbers on the cottages, but Claire's description of the place was enough to locate it. She pulled up in front of an overgrown privet hedge and got out of the Fiat. The front garden was unkempt, the summer perennials now faded in the early-November chill.
Marlie drew a deep breath and started up the stone walk, running over her sales pitch in her head. She hoped to appeal to his sense of national pride. Who better to film this documentary about a great Irish writer than a great Irish filmmaker? He was the best person to tell this story. And it would be a nice change of pace for him, give him a chance to sleep in his own bed.
Marlie bit back a groan. Was that even a factor for a guy like Dex Kennedy? He'd been to Sierra Leone and Chechnya, Libya and Afghanistan, living in primitive conditions to get the best stories. He probably didn't worry about creature comforts .
Marlie rapped sharply on the front door. A few seconds later, it swung open. Her breath caught in her throat as a tall man stared at her in curiosity. His shirt was unbuttoned down the front, revealing a smooth expanse of skin and muscle. And his raven hair, shaggy and thick, was tousled around his face, as if he'd just crawled out of bed.