Eeeeek!!!!!!!!! Regular readers of my little blog will know that I love Angela Marsons Kim Stone books. They are all brilliant and the next instalment is always eagerly awaited by many, many readers. Marsons has deservedly sold millions of copies of her Kim Stone books which is pretty impressive!! So, without further ado….here is the cover to her latest book, Broken Bones. BUT that is not all that I am sharing with you lovely lot. Not at all, possibly just as exciting as the cover is the prologue to Broken Bones that you can read right here! How exciting is that?!!! Enjoy folks.
BROKEN BONES PROLOGUE
By Angela Marsons
Elaine Goddard sat on the roof of the thirteen storey block of flats. The winter sun
shone a grid on to her bare feet dangling over the edge.
The protective grate had been erected some years ago after a father of seven had
thrown himself over.
By the time she was eleven she had stolen a pair of wire cutters and fashioned
herself an access point to the narrow ledge that was her place of reflection.
From this vantage point she could look to the beauty of the Clent Hills in the
distance, block out the dank, grubby reality of below.
Hollytree was the place you were sent if Hell was having a spring clean.
Problem families from the entire West Midlands were evicted from other estates
and placed in Hollytree. It was displacement capital. Communities around the
borough breathed sighs of relief as families were evicted. No-one cared where they
went. It was enough that they were gone and one more ingredient was added to the
There was a clear perimeter around the estate over which the police rarely crossed.
It was a place where the rapists, child molesters, thieves and ASBO families were put together in one major arena. And then guarded by police from the outside.
But today a peace settled around the estate giving the illusion that the normal
activities of robbing, raping and molesting were on pause because it was Christmas
Day. That was bollocks. It was all still going on but to the backdrop of the Queens
Her mother was still slurring her way around the cheerless flat with a bottle of Gin
in her hand.
But at least Elaine had this. Her one piece of heaven. Always her safe place. Her
She had disappeared unnoticed up here when she was seven years old and her
mother had been falling all over the flat pissed as a fart.
How lucky was she to have been the only one of the four kids her mother had been
allowed to keep?
She had escaped up here when her mother’s drinking partner, Roddy, had started
pawing at her groin and slobbering into her hair. Her mother had pulled him off,
angrily, shouting something about ruining her retirement plan. She hadn’t understood it when she was nine years old but she had come to understand it now.
She had cried up here on her sixteenth birthday when her mother had introduced
her to the family business and to their pimp, Kai Lord.
She’d been up here two months earlier when he had finally found her.
And she’d been up here when she’d told him to fuck right off.
She didn’t want to be saved. It was too late.
Sixteen years of age and already it was too damn late.
Many times she had fantasised about how it would feel to lurch forward onto the
wind. She had envisioned herself floating to and fro gently making the journey like a stray pigeon feather all the way to the ground. Had imagined the feeling of
weightlessness of both her body and her mind.
Elaine took a deep breath and exhaled.
In just a few minutes it would be time to go to work. Heavy rain, sleet, snow,
Christmas – nothing kept the punters away. Trade might be slow but it would still be
there. It always was.
She didn’t hear the roof door open or the footsteps that slowly strode towards her.
She didn’t see the hand that pushed her forward.
She only saw the ground as it hurtled towards her.
They thought they were safe. They were wrong.
Themurderofayoungprostituteandababyfoundabandoned on the
To mark the publication day of the third book in Rober Bryndza’s Detective Erika Foster series, Dark Water, I am giving you a treat of the prologue for the book. Have a read and hopefully you will like what you read and want to read the rest of the book! Enjoy.
by Robert Bryndza
It was a cold night in late autumn when they dumped the body in the disused quarry. They knew it was an isolated spot, and the water was very deep. What they didn’t know was that they were being watched.
They arrived under the cover of darkness, just after three o’clock in the morning – driving from the houses at the edge of the village, over the empty patch of gravel where the walkers parked their cars, and onto the vast common. With the headlights off, the car bumped and lurched across the rough ground, joining a footpath, which was soon shrouded on either side by dense woodland. The darkness was thick and clammy, and the only light came over the tops of the trees.
Nothing about the journey felt stealthy. The car engine seemed to roar; the suspension groaned as it lurched from side to side. They slowed to a stop as the trees parted and the water-filled quarry came into view.
What they didn’t know was that a reclusive old man lived by the quarry, squatting in an old abandoned cottage which had almost been reclaimed by the undergrowth. He was outside, staring up at the sky and marvelling at its beauty, when the car appeared over the ridge and came to a halt. Wary, he moved behind a bank of shrubbery and watched. Local kids, junkies, and couples looking for thrills often appeared at night, and he had managed to scare them away.
The moon briefly broke through the clouds as the two figures emerged from the car, and they took something large from the back and carried it towards the rowing boat by the water. The first climbed in, and as the second passed the long package into the boat there was something about the way it bent and flopped that made him realise with horror that it was a body.
The soft splashes of the oars carried across the water. He put a hand to his mouth. He knew he should turn away, but he couldn’t. The splashing oars ceased when the boat reached the middle. A sliver of moon appeared again through a gap in the clouds, illuminating the ripples spreading out from the boat.
He held his breath as he watched the two figures deep in conversation, their voices a low rhythmic murmur. Then there was silence. The boat lurched as they stood, and one of them nearly fell over the edge. When they were steady, they lifted the package and, with a splash and a rattle of chains, they dropped it into the water. The moon sailed out from behind its cloud, shining a bright light on the boat and the spot where the package had been dumped, the ripples spreading violently outwards.
He could now see the two people in the boat, and had a clear view of their faces.
The man exhaled. He’d been holding his breath. His hands shook. He didn’t want trouble; he’d spent his whole life trying to avoid trouble, but it always seemed to find him. A chill breeze stirred up some dry leaves at his feet, and he felt a sharp itching in his nostrils. Before he could stop it a sneeze erupted from his nose; it echoed across the water. In the boat, the heads snapped up, and began to twist and search the banks. And then they saw him. He turned to run, tripped on the root of a tree and fell to the ground, knocking the wind out of his chest.
Beneath the water in the disused quarry it was still, cold, and very dark. The body sank rapidly, pulled by the weights, down, down, down, finally coming to rest with a nudge in the soft freezing mud.
She would lie still and undisturbed for many years, almost at peace. But above her, on dry land, the nightmare was only just beginning.
Beneath the water the body sank rapidly. Above her on dry land, the nightmare was just beginning.
When Detective Erika Foster receives a tip-off that key evidence for a major narcotics case was stashed in a disused quarry on the outskirts of London, she orders for it to be searched. From the thick sludge the drugs are recovered, but so is the skeleton of a young child.
The remains are quickly identified as seven-year-old Jessica Collins. The missing girl who made headline news twenty-six years ago.
As Erika tries to piece together new evidence with the old, she must dig deeper and find out more about the fractured Collins family and the original detective, Amanda Baker. A woman plagued by her failure to find Jessica. Erika soon realises this is going to be one of the most complex and demanding cases she has ever taken on.
Is the suspect someone close to home? Someone is keeping secrets. Someone who doesn’t want this case solved. And they’ll do anything to stop Erika from finding the truth.
From the million-copy bestselling author of The Girl in the Ice and The Night Stalker, comes the third heart-stopping book in the Detective Erika Foster series.
Watch out for more from DCI Erika Foster.
She’s fearless. Respected. Unstoppable. Detective Erika Foster will catch a killer, whatever it takes.
1. THE GIRL IN THE ICE
2. THE NIGHT STALKER
3. DARK WATER
Ava Devlin swiped the email hard to the left and watched it disappear from the screen of her iPhone. That’s what you did with messages from liars and fakes who had whispered one thing into your ear, as they wrapped their arms around you, and did the complete opposite when your back was turned. She swallowed back a bitter feeling. She had always worried that Leo – successful, rich, good-looking in a Joey Essex kind of way – was maybe a little bit out of her league.
‘Boss or boyfriend?’
The question came from Sissy, the hairdresser who was currently coating Ava’s head in foils and a paste that felt as if it was doing nuclear things to Ava’s scalp.
‘Neither,’ she answered, putting the phone on the counter under the mirror in front of her. A sigh left her. ‘Not any more.’ She needed to shake this off like Taylor Swift.
Giving her reflection a defiant look, she enlarged her green eyes, flared the nostrils of her button nose and set her lips into a deliberate pout she felt she had never quite been able to pull off. With her face positioned like she was a Z-list celeb doing a provocative selfie on Twitter, she knew she was done. With men. With love. With everything. Her ears picked up the dulcet tones of Cliff Richard suggesting mistletoe and wine, floating from the salon sound system. Her eyes then moved from her reflection to the string of tinsel and fir cones that surrounded the mirror. This rinky-dink Christmas crap could do one as well. Coming right up was a nation getting obsessed with food they never ate in the other eleven months – dates, walnuts, an entire board of European cheeses – and a whole two weeks of alterations to the television schedule – less The Wright Stuff and more World’s Strongest Man. And now she was on her own with it.
‘Well,’ Sissy said, dabbing more goo on Ava’s head, ‘I always think Christmas is a good time to be young, free and single.’ She giggled, drawing Ava’s attention back to the effort Sissy was putting into her hair. ‘All those parties… people loosening up with goodwill and…’
‘Stella Artois?’ Ava offered.
‘You don’t drink that, do you?’ Sissy exclaimed as if Ava had announced she was partial to Polonium 210. ‘I had a boyfriend once who was allergic to that. If he had more than four it made him really ill.’
‘Sissy, that isn’t an allergy, that’s just getting drunk.’
‘On lager?’ Sissy quizzed. ‘Doesn’t it mix well with shots?’
Ava was caught between a laugh and a cry. She swallowed it down and focussed again on the mirror. Why was she here having these highlights put in? She’d booked the appointment when she’d had the work do to go to. Now, having caught Leo out with Cassandra, she wouldn’t need perfect roots to go with the perfect dress he’d bought her. She didn’t even like the dress. It was all red crushed velvet like something a magician’s assistant might wear. Like something her mother might wear. But Leo had said she looked beautiful and she remembered how that had made her feel at the time. All lies.
‘Stop,’ Ava stated abruptly, sitting forward in her seat.
‘Stop?’ Sissy clarified. ‘Stop what? Talking? Putting the colour on?’
‘All of it,’ Ava said. She put her fingers to the silver strips on her head and tugged.
‘What are you doing? Don’t touch them!’ Sissy said, as if one wrong move was going to detonate an explosive device.
‘I want them off… out…not in my hair!’ Ava gripped one foil between her fingers, pulling.
‘OK, OK, but not like that, you’ll pull your hair out.’
‘I want a new look.’ Ava scooped up her hair in her palms, pulling it away from her face and angling her head to check out the look. Nothing would make her jawline less angular or her lips thinner. She sighed. ‘Cut it off.’ She wanted it to come out strong, decisive, but her voice broke a little at the end and when she looked back at Sissy, she saw pity growing in her hairdresser’s eyes.
‘Well… I have to finish the tinting first.’ Sissy bit her lip.
Ava didn’t want pity. ‘Well, finish the tinting and then cut it off,’ she repeated.
‘Trim it, you mean,’ Sissy said, her eyes in the mirror, looking back at Ava.
Ava shook her remaining silver-wrapped hair, making it rustle. ‘No, Sissy, I don’t want it trimmed. I want it cut off.’ She pulled in a long, steady breath. ‘I’m thinking short… but definitely more Bowie in his heyday than Jedward.’
‘That short.’ Sissy was almost choking on the words.
‘You did say a change was good,’ Ava answered. ‘Change me.’ She sat back until she could feel the pleather at her back. ‘Make me completely unrecognisable even to my mother.’ She closed her eyes. ‘In fact, especially to my mother.’
With her eyes shut, she blocked out everything – Cliff Richard, the tinsel and fir cones, Leo. A different style was just what she needed. Something that was going to go with her new outlook on life. A haircut that was going to say, You can look, but if you set one eyelash into my personal space, suggesting joy to the world, you will be taken down. Nothing or nobody was going to touch her.
Ava’s phone let out a bleep and she opened one eye, squinting at the screen. Why didn’t Leo just give up? Why wasn’t he suctioned to Cassandra like he had been for God knows how long? She was betting Cassandra had never had to use Clearasil.
Sissy leant forward, regarding the phone screen. ‘It says it’s from Debs.’
Cheered considerably, Ava reached for the phone, picking it up and reading the message.
[TEXT STARTS]I know I said not to bring anything, but I totes forgot to get something Christmassy. Can you get something Christmassy? To eat… like those crisps that are meant to taste like turkey and stuffing or roasted nuts and cranberry. And bring red wine, not white, because I got three bottles of white today. And if you’ve completely forgotten all about coming to mine tonight for neighbourly nibbles before I leave for Paris then this is your reminder. Debs xx[TEXT ENDS]
Debs texted like she was writing a dissertation. There was no OMG, FFS or TMI with Ava’s best friend. And Ava had forgotten about the ‘neighbourly nibbles’. That was what having a break-up on your plate did to you – addled your brain and fried the important relationship circuits. Well, she was taking control now – elusive and aloof to anyone but her best friend – and the only frazzled motherboard was going to be the one with wires connected to men.
Ava looked into the mirror at Sissy. ‘After you’ve cut it, Sissy, I want you to make me blonder,’ she stated. ‘And not the honey kind.’ She smiled. ‘The Miley Cyrus meltdown kind.’
They say Paris is the City of Love, so bring your je ne sais quoi and don’t forget the mistletoe! Ava and her best friend Debs arrive in Paris just as the snow starts to fall. The Eiffel Tower glitters gold and the scent of spiced wine is all around, but all Ava can think about is Leo, her no-good, cheating ex.
Debs is on a mission to make Ava smile again, and as they tour the Christmas markets, watch lamplight glittering on the river Seine, and eat their body weight inpain-au-chocolat, Ava remembers there’s more to life than men … Until they cross paths with handsome, mysterious photographer Julien with his French accent and hazelnut eyes that seem to see right inside her.
Ava can’t ignore the intense chemistry between them, but her fingers have been burned before and she can’t forget it, especially when her ex, Leo, starts texting again. Can Ava really trust Julien – and what exactly is his secret?
Will Ava go home with a broken heart, or will she find true love amongst the cobbled streets of Paris?
Join Ava and Julien in the most romantic city in the world this Christmas, as they discover the importance of being true to themselves, and learn how to follow their hearts.
One Christmas in Paris is a gorgeous, laugh-out-loud romantic comedy – perfect for fans of Jane Costello, Miranda Dickinson and Lucy Diamond.
About the author:
Mandy Baggot is an award-winning author of romantic women’s fiction and a member of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. In Feb 2016, her Bookouture novel, One Wish in Manhattan was shortlisted for the Romantic Novelists’ Association Romantic Comedy Novel of the Year award. A contributor to writing blogs and short story anthologies, she is also a regular speaker at literary festivals, events and women’s networking groups.
Mandy loves mashed potato, white wine, country music, Corfu and handbags. She has appeared on ITV1’s Who Dares Sings and auditioned for The X-Factor and lives in Wiltshire, UK with her husband, two children and cats Kravitz and Springsteen.
Leah used the scissors from her Christmas wreath-making project to open the package from Nan, her hands trembling. She missed her grandmother so much that she held her breath from the moment her fingers touched the envelope. She set the scissors next to the pile of spruce needles that were still on the kitchen table and ran her fingers through her thick, blonde hair. She’d straightened it that morning, but after all day in the rain and sleet, it had started to curl back up.
Tipping the package upside down, Leah caught a lone key in the palm of her hand, recognizing it immediately. She pulled out a stack of documents with a note in Nan’s scratchy handwriting clipped to the top. The notepaper was pink and lacy, the edges rounded delicately with little holes punched out. She laid the documents on top of a few Christmas cards that had come in the mail and focused on the letter, aching to hear Nan’s soft, reassuring voice again.
“Mama,” Leah’s daughter, Sadie said, pulling her out of her thoughts. She was still wearing the red-and-blue leotard Leah had gotten her as a surprise for her birthday. Sadie had seen it in her gymnastics magazine and she’d kept the page open to it all the time. When Leah had asked her about it, she’d said that one day she’d like to have one of her own. Together, they’d made the matching bow clip in her white blonde hair. Every day after school she put it all on to practice her gymnastics. And she was quite the natural.
“The Girls are here,” Sadie said. She bent down, placing her hands on the tile floor, between the table and the kitchen counter, keeping her feet in place until she lifted a leg into the air. Slowly, from a perfect standing split, she put her other leg up, straightening out into a handstand. Sadie had learned to do this move slowly, as swift movements used to send Leah leaping across the kitchen, throwing her arms around Sadie’s legs while simultaneously grabbing dishes and knick-knacks to keep them safe. But when Sadie did it slowly, Leah was able to see the precision in her movements, her skill evident, and she didn’t worry at all. Leah grinned.
Sadie righted herself and opened the side door that led to the driveway, sending a wave of wintery air in past the new wreath Leah had made from evergreens she’d found in the woods. She’d just hung it today. Leah slid the contents and the letter back into the envelope and put the key in her pocket. Another gust sent a chill through her as The Girls came in chattering together, Roz short and Louise tall, both swaddled in their winter gear.
“The Girls” was the name Leah had given to herself and her two best friends when they’d first met. They’d started out as a single mothers’ group of around seven women, which Leah had joined after meeting Roz, her coworker at the florist’s. But over the years, The Girls had dwindled to three—Leah, Roz and Louise—and they’d become more than a support group. They’d become best friends. Tonight, Leah was having them over for a late dinner.
“You’re early,” Leah said with a grin as Roz, all bundled up in a dark burgundy, double-breasted peacoat and striped fingerless gloves, set a bottle of wine on the counter dramatically. It was some sort of cutesy specialty wine with a gold, swirling Christmas tree on the label.
“Louise was insistent that the snow was going to fall all at once and if we waited any longer we wouldn’t be able to drive here,” Roz said, pulling off her gloves and dumping them on the counter. She ran her hand around Sadie’s ponytail affectionately and gave her a wink. Then she shrugged off her coat. Roz walked over to the cupboards and started rummaging around for wine glasses. Leah smiled—she liked how Roz felt as comfortable as if she were in her own house. She was like family.
“At least I can say we’re safe,” Louise said, giving Leah a side hug as she was holding a bowl of salad and a tin of cookies in her other arm. She was covered from head to toe, with a hunter-green, wooly scarf wrapped tightly around her neck, covering her long, red hair. “And you’re sure we can camp out here if the snow does start to fall?”
“We hardly ever have that kind of snow this early in the season,” Roz said, busying herself at the sink. “But I brought my toothbrush just in case!”
Leah’s house was small—a brick rancher tucked away behind a thick strip of woods that separated it from the main street, a four-lane expanse of pavement which was teeming at this time of year with holiday shoppers as they crawled along in traffic to get from one shop to another. But the woods allowed some privacy, and at night, in the dark, it seemed almost secluded. She had rented the house for its proximity to work and the cozy feel of the living room. Although quite crowded when everyone got together, it had offered a comfortable space to make memories with Sadie.
Louise looked at Leah thoughtfully for a second, as if just noticing her. “How are you?” she asked, studying her face until the pop of the wine cork behind them pulled her attention away.
Her friend could always read her. Leah was dying to see what Nan’s letter said, but she didn’t want to bring everyone down tonight by bursting into tears. It was supposed to be a fun night with The Girls.
“I’m fine, thanks.” Leah smiled. “I was just going through the mail…”
“Well, ignore it!” Roz said, swinging a glass full of red wine her way. The purple color of it nearly matched Roz’s dark hair. It was bottle-black, her latest beauty experiment, and in the light, it had almost a reddish-purple tint to it. “We’re going to have an amazing night of…” As she pressed her bright red lips together in thought, she handed the other glass to Louise. “What are we doing tonight besides drinking wine and having dinner? Did anyone get a movie or anything?”
“I thought we could play cards,” Louise piped up, taking a dainty sip from her glass and looking back and forth between Roz and Leah. “I brought some. They’re Toy Story though.”
Roz snorted as Louise pulled her five-year-old’s cards from her handbag.
“I couldn’t find mine so I took some from Ethan’s room,” she said.
Sadie climbed up into a kitchen chair and reached for one of the silver, foil-wrapped chocolates that Leah had put out for tonight. The two of them had started their Christmas decorating today, and they’d been nibbling on those chocolates since early afternoon. Leah gave her daughter her best not-too-many face.
Roz poured one more glass of wine for herself and then filled a glass full of fruit punch for Sadie. Both Roz and Louise had the weekend free since their children were with their fathers, but Leah didn’t have anyone to help with Sadie, so Sadie always joined them. She was like an honorary member of The Girls.
ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS by Jenny Hale – out 6th October
All I Want for Christmas is a big, cozy Christmas story about the importance of family, the strength of childhood friendships, and learning to trust your heart.
Fans of Carole Matthews, Susan Wiggs and Susan Mallery – and anyone who likes the glow of Christmas lights and the rustle of wrapping paper – will fall in love with this feel-good Christmas treat.
Christmas comes once a year . . . But true love comes once in a lifetime.
Snowflakes are falling, there’s carol singing on every corner, and Leah Evans is preparing for a family Christmas at her grandmother’s majestic plantation house in Virginia. It won’t be the same now that her beloved Nan is gone, but when Leah discovers she has inherited the mansion, she knows she can give her daughter Sadie the childhood of her dreams.
But there’s a catch. Leah must split the house with a man called David Forester. Leah hasn’t heard that name in a long time. Not since they were kids, when Davey was always there to catch her.
Now David is all grown up. He’s gorgeous, successful, and certain of one thing: Leah should sell him her half of the house.
They can’t agree, but as they share memories over wine by the log fire, Leah notices a fluttering in her stomach. And by the look in his eyes, he’s starting to feel it too.
Will it be Leah or David who must give up their dreams? Or, with a little bit of Christmas magic, will they finally understand Nan’s advice to them both about living life without regrets … and take a chance on true love?
About the author:
When she graduated college, one of Jenny’s friends said “Look out for this one; she’s going to be an author one day”. Despite being an avid reader and a natural storyteller, it wasn’t until that very moment that the idea of writing novels occurred to her.
Sometimes our friends can see the things that we can’t. Whilst she didn’t start straight away, that comment sowed a seed and several years, two children and hundreds of thousands of words later, Jenny finished her first novel – Coming Home for Christmas – which became an instant bestseller.
Whimpering, Lena Cona looked down at the ground to where her brother lay.
The two men were shouting now, their voices angry, intimidating.
She tried to comprehend what they were saying, but their jumbled words were muted, merging into background noise as her ears began to ring loudly, a high-pitched screech filling her head.
She was in shock.
Unable to think straight, Lena tried to move, but she couldn’t.
Her legs were shaking, but her feet felt weighed down, as if her shoes were filled with lead.
She was afraid. Paralysed to the spot, all she could do was stare; her eyes fixated on the thick stream of blood that oozed out from the gash at the back of Tariq’s head.
He’d been hit.
The taller of the men had whacked him around the head with the butt of his gun.
They had a gun!
Panic ripped through her at the sudden realisation.
Lena tried to shout out; opening her mouth, a strained squeak barely louder than a whisper was the only noise that crept out.
‘Get in the car.’
The man pointed his gun at her now. Aiming it straight at her. His words were devoid of emotion, reflecting the same vacant hollowness that she could see in his eyes.
Stepping closer, he shoved the barrel against Lena’s chest.
‘Now!’ This time he bellowed, his face twisting in anger as he pushed the gun harder against her skin.
Lena could see his finger hovering threateningly over the trigger. This wasn’t an empty threat. She knew he was dangerous, but still she couldn’t move.
A few minutes ago she and her brother had been laughing and joking together.
Tariq had been walking her home from school.
That was her parents’ order: that her brother would walk her to and from school every day.
Lena had thought her parents were overreacting. Of course there were risks, but they didn’t apply to her, surely. Now she’d realised she’d been stupid, naïve. She remembered, with increasing terror, Néné’s harrowing tales of girls from Shkodër being snatched. Abducted and taken to the city’s main port, Vlorë, before being shipped off on speedboats across the Adriatic Sea, never to be seen again.
Her parents had pleaded with her to stay at home, to accept the traditional life of a normal Albanian girl just as many of her peers had done, but Lena was anything but normal.
Strong-willed. Defiant. Unlike most of the other girls in her class who had left school at the age of twelve or thirteen due to the pressures that their families had bestowed on them, Lena had refused to follow suit, insisting on completing her education. Why should she be penalised just for being born female? Why should she submit to a life doing what was expected of her? Instead, adamant to remain, schooled in a classroom of eleven boys, Lena had strived to be top of her class.
Not only had Lena excelled in mathematics, but she was also fluent in English. Her teacher had been impressed. He had told Lena that she had mastered the language so well that, eventually, she’d be able to teach it herself.
Lena had loved that idea. Travelling the world, working as a teacher or a translator. Practising daily, she’d even started to educate her parents and her brother. Just the basic words of salutation, or naming the food they ate.
She wanted to learn as much as she possibly could, so that, one day, she could have more than just what her parents had chosen for her. She didn’t want to be stuck here in Albania as just somebody’s wife, or somebody’s mother.
It may have been enough for Néné, but it would never be enough for her. Lena wanted so much more: to be treated as an equal; to experience the same opportunities and freedom that her brother had.
Unwilling to back down, she’d argued so intently that her parents had finally given in; insisting, in the end, that if Lena must continue with her schooling until she was nineteen then she could, on the condition that Tariq chaperone her.
Only now it seemed that fate had played out a cruel hand. Staring down at him she could see that Tariq was hurt, maybe dead.
And it’s all my fault, a voice screamed in Lena’s head.
‘Help me! Please, somebody?’ Shouting hysterically, Lena finally found her voice as she prayed that someone would come to her aid.
‘Help me, please… ’
Lena caught the gaze of a woman across the road, her eyes pleading with her to help her, but all that stared back at her was the woman’s fear. With an apologetic look, the woman put her head down and kept walking, pretending that she hadn’t seen.
Crying now, desperate, Lena scoured the street, looking for anyone that might help her, but the dusty road was almost deserted. School had finished; people were already indoors, evading the mid-afternoon scorching heat.
A single car passed by. Slowing down, the people inside stared out from behind the glass windows, but they didn’t stop to help her. They didn’t dare.
‘Pick her up,’ the taller man shouted now, directing the shorter man.
He did as he was told: grabbing her roughly from behind, clamping his hand over her mouth to mute her cries.
Lena saw their car. It was a battered-looking bright blue Mercedes, covered in flaky patches of orange rust. The back door was wide open; the engine running.
They are going to take me?
Gripped with fear, Lena dug her heels into the dry mud, trying her hardest to resist as one of the two men tried to grab at her feet, but it was no use. The men were much stronger than her.
Overpowering her, they lifted her off the ground, hauling her over to their car.
A hand came from behind her, clamping tightly across her mouth, making her gag for breath. Silencing her. Lena struggled to break free but her attempts only caused the men to hold on to her tighter.
‘Stay still, you stupid bitch!’
The man’s voice was commanding. He was losing patience. The sternness of his tone indicated that he’d had enough of her not complying. ‘Do as you are told, or you will be punished.’
Lena twisted her head back to where her brother lay sprawled out on the ground, motionless.
Hadn’t they punished her enough already?
She had no idea who they were or what they wanted. All she knew was that she couldn’t let them take her.
Her brother needed her. Despite feeling helpless, Lena couldn’t just leave him like this.
Kicking and clawing at the men like a wildcat as they tried to force her onto the back seat, her body convulsing, Lena fought to break free from her abductors.
If she got inside this car, maybe she’d suffer the same fate as all the girls before her.
She had to fight.
Kicking out her heel, her foot connected with the shorter man’s face. She startled him, just enough for him to lose his footing and his grip. Stumbling, he dropped her legs. But her small victory was short-lived.
A massive thud exploded at the back of her skull. The almighty blow from the man behind her immobilised her in an instant.
‘I warned you.’
Lena flopped forward like a rag doll.
She felt the man grab at her roughly, breaking her fall just before she hit the ground.
She felt herself being lifted up, thrown into the back of the car. She was dizzy, her head pounding.
A sharp burn of her scalp as the man seized a fistful of her long auburn hair. Wrapping it around his fist, he twisted her around to face him.
He was just inches away from her now; his face almost touching hers. He was so close that she could smell his stale rancid breath, see the glistening beads of sweat forming on his forehead. His face was puce from the heat and the struggle to get her into the car.
Still woozy from the blow she’d received to the back of her head, she tried to focus. Her vision blurred; she was surprised at how young her abductor looked. She had expected someone older. This man looked only a few years older than Tariq. No more than twenty, she guessed.
‘So, you think you’re a wild one huh?’
The man’s steely grey eyes flickered then, and Lena thought that she saw the tiniest hint of amusement behind them as he yanked at her hair even harder, ripping a clump from her scalp as he did so. The pain so acute, it forced Lena alert once more.
‘Well, it won’t take me long to tame you.’
Lena kept eye contact. Refused to let him see her pain; she stared back at him with nothing but pure contempt.
‘Stupid little girl.’
He punched her again, this time his fist locking hard with her cheek, her neck snapping back, her head smacking against the window behind her.
Slumped in the car now, Lena had nothing left. She was exhausted; her body weak and broken.
‘Tie her up,’ the man commanded, as the shorter of the men slid in beside her.
The man did as he was told. He bound her legs together tightly with coarse brown rope before wrapping thick black strips of tape firmly around her wrists. He was obviously taking no more chances with her.
The car began to move.
Petrified, Lena sat slumped in silence as she stared out of the window. Her gaze fixed on Tariq’s body, motionless, on the ground.
Move! Please, let me know that you’re okay?
Only Tariq didn’t. He remained completely still, lifeless, as the car continued off into the distance.
Lena watched until her brother was completely out of sight. All hope from her now gone.
She could feel the stream of blood pouring from her nose; the metallic taste mixed with the saltiness of her tears, filling her mouth.
Silent tears ran down her face as she wondered what fate was ahead of her.
She thought of Néné’s words once more.
About those girls. About what happened to them after they were taken.
How they were trafficked around Europe like cattle.
Her mother hadn’t been able to bring herself to tell her young daughter why the girls had been taken, but Lena knew. Rumours in Shkodër were rife. People in the village had spoken of how the girls that were taken were used for sex. Forced to earn money for men in ways so disgusting it was almost unimaginable to Lena.
Except maybe now she didn’t have to imagine it.
Maybe she was destined to experience the horror of it all herself, first hand.
Lena sobbed as she thought how she should have listened to her parents.
They only wanted the best for her, to keep her safe, but she’d been so foolish, so pig-headed. She’d put Tariq in danger.
These men were savages, animals.
Capable of anything.
Resting her head on the window as the car made its way out of Shkodër, out towards the rural mountains of the countryside, Lena closed her eyes and said a silent prayer.
She had no idea what fate lay ahead of her, but one thing she knew for certain, her nightmare was only just beginning.
When you’ve lost everything, you’ll do anything to survive.
Saskia Frost’s world is blown apart when her dad dies. Without any family, she’s on her own now and up to her eyeballs in her father’s debts. He owed a lot of money to some very dangerous men – Joshua and Vincent Harper. Before long, aspiring ballerina Saskia finds herself lap-dancing in a London club to survive. A club run by the infamous Harper brothers. Saskia is now their property and they’re going to make her pay every penny back.
Teenager Lena Cona has fled a cruel and controlling marriage. She arrives in England with her newborn daughter, desperately relying on strangers for help. But she soon learns that not everyone can be trusted as she finds herself caught in the clutches of Colin Jefferies, a twisted individual obsessed by his own sinister secrets. As the sickening truth is revealed, Lena is forced to fight for her life – and her baby’s.
When their worlds collide, Lena and Saskia form an unlikely friendship. But with the terrifying Harper brothers on their tail, as well as Lena’s vengeful and violent husband, can they escape with their lives?
About the author:
Born in Cuckfield, West Sussex, Casey Kelleher grew up as an avid reader and a huge fan of author Martina Cole.
Whilst working as a beauty therapist and bringing up her three children together with her Husband, Casey penned her debut novel Rotten to the Core. Its success meant that she could give up her day job and concentrate on writing full time.
Part of me, a small irrational part, needed it to stay exactly where it was, atop the faded Persian rug, bowing beneath the visceral pulse of her letters and the remembered whisper from the scratch of her pen. The rosewood chair, with its slim turned-out legs, suspended forevermore in hopeful expectation of her return. Like me, I wondered if it couldn’t help but wish that somehow she still could.
I hadn’t had the strength to clear it, nor the will. Neither had Dad and so it remained standing sentry, as it had throughout the years with Mum at the wheel, the heart, the hub of the living room.
If I closed my eyes, I could still hear her hum along to Tchaikovsky – her pre-Christmas music – as she wrapped up presents with strings, ribbons and clear cellophane, into which she’d scatter stardust and moonbeams, or at least so it seemed to my young eyes. Each gift, a gift within a gift.
One of my earliest memories is of me sitting before the fire, rolling a length of thick red yarn for Fat Arnold, our squashed-face Persian, who languished by the warmth, his fur pearly white in the glow. His one eye open while his paw twitched, as if to say he’d play, if only he could find the will. In the soft light Mum sat and laughed, the firelight casting lowlights in her long blonde hair. I shut my eyes and took a deep breath, away from the memory of her smile.
Dad wanted me to have it: her old writing desk. I couldn’t bear to think of the living room without it, but he insisted. He’d looked at me, above his round horn-rimmed glasses, perpetual tufts of coarse grey hair poking out mad-hatter style on either side of his head, and said with his faraway philosopher’s smile, ‘Ivy, it would have made her happy, knowing that you had it. . .’ And I knew I’d lost.
Still it had taken me two weeks to get up the nerve. Two weeks and Stuart’s gentle yet insistent prodding. He’d offered to help, to at least clear it for me, and bring it through to our new home so that I wouldn’t have to face it. Wouldn’t have to reopen a scar that was trying its best to heal. He’d meant well. I knew that he would’ve treated her things reverently; he would’ve stacked all her letters, tied them up with string, his long fingers slowly rolling up the lengths of old ribbon and carefully putting them away into a someday box that I could open when I was ready. It was his way, his sweet, considerate Stuart way. But I knew I had to be the one who did it. Like a bittersweet rite of passage, some sad things only you can do yourself. So I gathered up my will, along with the box at my feet and began.
It was both harder and easier than I expected. Seeing her things as she left them should have made the lump in my throat unbearable, it should have been intolerable, but it wasn’t somehow.
I began with the drawer, emptying it of its collection of creamy, loose-leafed paper; fine ribbons; and assorted string, working my way to the heart of the Victorian desk, with its warren of pigeon holes, packed with old letters, patterned envelopes, stamps, watercolour brushes, and tubes of half-finished paint.
But it was the half-finished tasks that made the breath catch in my throat. A hand-painted Christmas card, with Santa’s sleigh and reindeer flying over the chimney tops, poor Rudolph eternally in wait for his little watercolour nose. Mum had always made her own, more magical and whimsical than any you could buy. My fingers shook as I held the card in my hand, my throat tight. Seeing this, it’s little wonder I became a children’s book illustrator. I put it on top of the pile, so that later I could paint in Santa’s missing guiding light.
It was only when I made to close the desk that I saw it: a paper triangle peeking out from the metal hinge. It was tightly wedged but, after some wiggling, I pried it loose, only – in a way – to wish I hadn’t.
It was a beautiful, vintage French postcard, like the ones we’d bought when we holidayed there, when I was fifteen and fell in love with everything en français. It had a faded sepia print of the Jardin des Tuileries on the cover, and in elegant Century print it read ‘[Century font writing] Carte Postale’ on the back.
It was blank. Except for two words, two wretchedly perfect little words that caused the tears that had threatened all morning to finally erupt.
It was addressed to me. I didn’t know which was worse: the unexpected blow of being called ‘Darling Ivy’ one last time, finding out she’d had this last unexpected gift waiting for me all along, or that she’d never finish it. I suppose it was a combination of all three.
Three velvet-tipped daggers that impaled my heart.
I placed it in the box together with the unfinished Christmas card and sobbed, as I hadn’t allowed myself to for years.
Five years ago, when she passed, I believed that I’d never stop. A friend had told me that ‘time heals all wounds’ and it had taken every ounce of strength not to give her a wound that time would never heal, even though I knew she’d meant well. Time, I knew, couldn’t heal this type of wound. Death is not something you get over. It’s the rip that exposes life in a before and after chasm and all you can do is try to exist as best you can in the after. Time could only really offer a moment when the urge to scream would become a little less.
Another friend of mine, who’d lost his leg and his father in the same day, explained it better. He’d said that it was a loss that every day you manage and some days are better than others. That seemed fair. He’d said that death for him was like the loss of the limb, as even on those good days you were living in the shadow of what you had lost. It wasn’t something you recovered from completely, no matter how many people, yourself included, pretended otherwise. Somehow that helped, and I’d gotten used to living with it, which I suppose was what he meant.
The desk wasn’t heavy. Such a substantial part of my childhood, it felt like it should weigh more than it did, but it didn’t and I managed it easily alone. I picked it up and crossed the living room, through the blue-carpeted passage, pausing only to shift it slightly as I exited the back door towards my car, a mint green Mini Cooper.
Setting the desk down on the cobbled path, I opened up my boot, releasing the back seats so they folded over before setting the desk on top, with a little bit of careful manoeuvring. It felt strange to see it there, smaller than I remembered. I shut the boot and went back inside for the chair and the box where I’d placed all her things; there was never any question of leaving it behind. On my way back, I locked up Dad’s house, a small smile unfurling as I noticed the little wreath he’d placed on the door, like a green shoot through the snow after the longest winter. It hadn’t been Christmas here for many years.
Back to my car, I squeezed the chair in next to the desk and placed the box on the passenger seat before I climbed in and started the engine. As the car warmed, I looked at my reflection in the side mirror and laughed, a sad groaning laugh.
My eyeliner had made tracks all down my face, leaving a thick trail into my ears, and black blobs on either side of my lobes so that I looked like I’d participated in some African ritual, or had survived the mosh pit at some death metal goth fest. With my long dark blonde curls, coral knitted cap and blue eyes, it made me look a little zombiefied.
I wiped my face and ears and grinned despite myself. ‘God, Mum, thanks for that!’ I put the car in gear and backed out of the winding drive, towards the coastal road.
It was hard to believe I was back, after all these years.
London had been exciting, tiring, and trying. And grey, so very grey. Down here, it seemed, was where they keep the light; my senses felt as if they’d been turned up.
For a while, London had been good though, especially after Mum. For what it lacked in hued lustre, it made up for by being alive with people, ideas, and the hustling bustle. It was a different kind of pace. A constant rush. Yet, lately I’d craved the stillness and the quiet. So when The Fudge Files, a children’s fiction series that I co-wrote and illustrated with my best friend Catherine Talty, about a talking English bulldog from Cornwall who solves crimes, became a bestseller, we were finally able to escape to the country.
In his own way, Stuart had wanted the move more than I did; he was one of those strange creatures who’d actually grown up in London, and said that this meant it was high time that he tried something else.
In typical Stuart fashion, he had these rather grand ideas about becoming a self-sustaining farmer – something akin to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – and setting up a smallholding similar to Hugh’s River Cottage. The simple fact of it being Cornwall, not Dorset, was considered inconsequential. Which perhaps it was. I had to smile. Our River Cottage was called Sea Cottage (very original that), yet was every bit as exquisite as its namesake, with a rambling half acre of countryside, alongside rugged cliffs that overlooked the aquamarine waters of the Atlantic Ocean in the gorgeous village of Cloudsea with its mile-long meandering ribbon of whitewashed cottages with window frames and doors in every shade of blue imaginable, perched amid the wild, untamed landscape, seemingly amongst the clouds, tumbling down to the sea. It was the place I always dreamt about when someone asked me where I would choose to live if I could magically supplant myself with a snap of my fingers or be granted a single genie’s wish. Cloudsea. And now. . . now we lived here. It was still hard to believe.
So far our ‘livestock’ consisted of four laying hens, two grey cats named Pepper and Pots, and an English bulldog named Muppet – the living, slobbering and singular inspiration behind Detective Sergeant Fudge (Terrier Division) of The Fudge Files, as created by Catherine, Muppet’s official godmother.
Despite Stuart’s noble intentions, he was finding it difficult to come to terms with the idea of keeping animals as anything besides pets. Personally, I was a little grateful for that. We assuaged our consciences though by ensuring that we supported local organic farms, where we were sure that all the animals were humanely treated.
But what we lacked in livestock, Stuart made up for in vegetation. His potager was his pride and joy and even now, in the heart of winter, he kept a polytunnel greenhouse that kept us in fresh vegetables throughout the year. Or at least that was the plan; we’d only been here since late summer. I couldn’t imagine his excitement come spring.
For me Cornwall was both a fresh start and a homecoming. For the first time ever I had my own art studio up in the attic, with dove grey walls, white wooden floors, and a wall full of shelves brimming with all my art supplies; from fine watercolour paper to piles of brushes and paint in every texture and medium that my art-shop-loving heart could afford. The studio, dominated by the mammoth table, with its slim Queen Anne legs, alongside the twin windows, made it a haven, with its view of the rugged countryside and sea. One where I planned to finish writing and illustrating my first solo children’s book.
Now, with our new home and the news that we’d been waiting seven years to hear, it would all be a new start for us.
I was finally, finally pregnant.
Seven rounds of in vitro fertilisation, which had included 2,553 days, 152 pointless fights, five serious, two mortgages, countless stolen tears in the dead of the night in the downstairs bathroom in our old London flat, my fist wedged in my mouth to stem the sound, and infinite days spent wavering between hope and despair, wondering if we should just give up and stop trying. That day, thankfully, hadn’t come.
And now I was twelve weeks pregnant. I still couldn’t believe it. We hadn’t told Dad yet; I didn’t want to get his hopes up, or tempt fate; we’d played that black card before.
It was why I so desperately wished Mum were here now. It would have made all of this more bearable. She had a way of making sense of the insensible, of offering hope at the darkest times, when all I wanted to do was run away. I missed how we used to sit up late at night by the fire in the living room, a pot of tea on the floor, while Fat Arnold dozed at our feet and she soothed my troubled fears and worries – the most patient of listeners, the staunchest of friends. Now, with so many failed pregnancies, including two miscarriages, the memory of which was like shrapnel embedded in our hearts, so that our lives had been laced with an expectant tinge of despair, primed for the nightmare to unfold, never daring to hope for the alternative; we were encouraged to hope. It was different, everyone said so, and I needed to trust that this time it would finally happen, that we’d finally have a baby, like the doctors seemed to think we would. Stuart had been wonderful, as had Catherine, but I needed Mum really, and her unshakeable, unbreakable faith.
There are a few times in a woman’s life when she needs her mother. For me, my wedding was one and I was lucky to have her there, if luck was what it was, because it seemed to be sheer and utter determination on her part. It had been so important to her to be there, even though all her doctors had told us to say our goodbyes. I will never know what it cost her to hold on the way she did, but she did and she stayed a further two years after that. In the end, it was perhaps the cruellest part, because when she did go, I’d convinced myself that somehow she’d be able to stay.
But this, this was different. I needed her now, more than ever. As I drove, the unstoppable flow of tears pooling in the hollow of my throat, I wished that we could have banked those two years, those two precious years that she had fought so hard and hung on for, so that she could be here with me now when I needed her the most.
A CORNISH CHRISTMAS by Lily Graham out on 30th September 2016