A peaceful village torn apart by murder.
When Oakhurst’s daughters begin to turn up, brutally murdered and with accusatory words carved into their skin, the residents of the small, close-knit community are unwilling to believe that one of their own might be a killer.
Suspicion falls on the village’s newest resident, Zack Wild, attractive, charming, author of violent crime novels, and possessor of a dark history; he seems like the perfect suspect.
As the investigation continues, the evidence against Wild mounts, but is prejudice against the newcomer affecting the judgment of Sergeant Mitchell, Constable Turner thinks so, and is prepared to do whatever she must to find the killer, whoever it might be.
Who will be proved right, the sergeant or the constable? And will they catch the killer before he can strike again?
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Written In Blood
“I said stop!” Georgina was as surprised as He when she slapped him, it was completely out of character.
She sat there for several long moments, too stunned by what she had done to move, while He pulled back, the hand he had been sliding up her leg now at his cheek. It was only when he reached for her again, this time with something other than lust in his eyes, that Georgina found the impetus to move.
She fumbled with the door next to her, and tumbled from the Land Rover when she got it open, hitting the ground with a wet splat.
Under other circumstances she would have been concerned about getting her dress muddy, and what her mother would have to say; just then, though, she had other things to worry about, most important of which was the groping and grasping fingers of the person she had thought she knew.
Scrambling to her feet she looked around wildly for a means of escape. To her right was the farmhouse the yard they were in belonged to – there was no help to be had there, the house was a burned-out ruin that had been unoccupied for years. To her left was the drive, at the end of it was the road to the centre of Oakhurst – going that way would mean going past the Land Rover, and Him, which she was too afraid to do. The third option open to her was the overgrown field in front of her, on the far side of which was some woods – there was no help to be had in that direction, if anything it led further away from help rather than towards it, but it led away from the person she now feared, and that was more important.
All of that flashed through her mind in a fraction of a second, too quickly for her to be aware of it, and then she was off. She wasn’t the fastest runner she knew, but she was faster than her pursuer; she reached the fence, climbed it, and was ten yards into the field before he was even halfway to the fence.
“Get back here, you bitch!”
The shout – harsh, cruel and loud – was so unexpected that Georgina couldn’t help slowing to look back over her shoulder. The look of insane rage on His face was a shock, she had never seen anything like it. She had thought she was scared when she scrambled from the Land Rover, now she knew what it was to be terrified.
His footsteps pounded and echoed in her ears, the sound made her heart beat so fiercely she thought it was going to burst from her chest, while beneath the mud that coated her hands she could feel her palms sweating.
She was so intent on what was behind her that she wasn’t aware of what was in front and she stumbled on the uneven ground. Terror and shock made her want to scream, but before she could she hit the ground, burying her face in the mud and grass, which left her unable to utter so much as a syllable.
Georgina was almost on her feet when He caught up to her, crashing into her like a rugby player desperate to keep the opposition from scoring. He knocked the air from her lungs and crushed her to the ground with his body. The weight disappeared after a moment as He lifted himself so he could roll her onto her back, but before she could refill her lungs he had a hand at her throat, choking her.
“You fucking bitch! Look what you’ve made me do,” He snarled, screaming the words even though his face was barely a foot from hers. “I was just copping a feel; why’d you have to overreact?”
Georgina was a passive person usually, but when He began pawing at her, as he had back in the Land Rover, she found the courage and the strength to fight.
She clawed at the hand that groped at her breasts and tore at her dress, and then at the hand that was squeezing her throat. When she failed to stop him that way, she reached up to his face, searching for either his throat or his eyes, the two areas she knew instinctively were his most vulnerable.
He continued to tear at her dress and grope at her with one hand, while he took the other from her throat to keep her hands from his own. Once, twice, three times he pushed her groping hands away, until finally he got angry – angrier – balled his hand into a fist and punched her.
“Lie still, you little bitch,” He ordered. His blow rocked her head to the side, so that she was no longer staring up at him. “If you don’t fight, this won’t hurt.” He immediately gave the lie to his words by hitting her a second time, splitting her lip and drawing blood.
Georgina was afraid of what he was now capable of doing, and that fear, and the adrenaline it flooded her system with, gave her the strength to throw him off her with a sudden heave. It came as such a surprise when his weight disappeared that she almost didn’t react in time to free herself.
It was a second or so before she realised she could move, and once she did she scrambled out from under him, hitting him in the groin in the process. His face twisted into a grimace of agony, while his mouth hung open, though no sound escaped him, and his hands clasped at his balls.
Her chest heaving, Georgina rolled onto her front and, with an enormous effort, pushed herself to her feet. She glanced quickly in the direction of her attacker but saw no sign of movement, which was a small comfort to her, and then set off across the field towards the trees.
Her face hurt from the blows she had been struck, her throat felt as though his fingers were still around it, squeezing, and her lungs ached from the effort of trying to get air into them while he was strangling her; she couldn’t move quickly so she half walked, half jogged, her eyes fixed on the trees at the far edge of the field.
She would have been better off circling around and returning to the yard, from there she could reach the village in about five minutes. Even if He used his car, there was little chance of him catching her, let alone stopping her, before she reached safety. None of that occurred to her, however, her thoughts were fixed on reaching safety, and she had already decided that safety lay within the trees she was heading for.
“Get back here, you bitch!”
Her fear, which had been beginning to subside, returned at that, and Georgina felt a fresh burst of adrenaline flood her system. She spared a brief glance over her shoulder and saw that He was on his feet again. The sight of him pursuing her spurred her on and she covered the final twenty or so yards in under five seconds, slipping between the trunks and into the darkness of the woods when she got there.
Despite having reached what her mind thought of as safety, she didn’t stop, not until she had gone another thirty or so yards into the trees and felt certain he couldn’t find her.
Georgina rested with her back against the trunk of a large oak and took deep breaths to calm herself. It was hard for her to achieve any measure of calm, for every slight rustling noise she heard made her heart thump a little more rapidly in her chest as she imagined Him creeping up on her.
“Where are you, Georgie? Come on, where are you? I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. Come on, I’ll take you home. I promise I won’t hurt you again.”
Georgina heard Him crashing through the woods as he searched for her and remained frozen where she was, determined not to give herself away. It was only when the sounds of his approach grew nearer, and she felt certain He must find her at any moment, that she moved. Frightened, she slipped away through the trees as quietly and as quickly as she could, heading, she hoped, towards the far side of the woods, and the river that would lead her back to the village.
Leaves, twigs, and branches all slapped and caught at her as she fled, but she made no effort to defend herself from them. Instead of fending off the foliage she clutched the torn fabric of her dress to her chest in a vain effort to protect her modesty, and searched the belt at her waist for her mobile phone; dismay joined with her fear as she realised she had lost it.
How long it took her to make it through the woods to the far side, she didn’t know, but the relief she felt when she did was incredible. That relief disappeared as quickly as it had appeared when she realised she could see no sign of the village.
Her eyes darted rapidly left and right as she tried to figure out where she was, and, more importantly, where the village was; she should have been able to see the steeple of the church, but not even that was visible. The only evidence of human habitation she could see were the ruins of an ancient stone building atop a hill a short distance to her right.
Georgina turned to her left so she could follow the river, which was bound to lead her to the village, eventually, but had only taken half a dozen steps when He came crashing out of the woods. His chest was heaving, and his hair and clothes were a mess of leaves and twigs, which gave him the appearance of a crazed woodsman from a horror movie – the sight magnified her fear to even greater heights.
“There you are, Georgie, I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Georgina felt like a rabbit in the headlights of an oncoming car; her brain screamed at her to run, the direction didn’t matter so long as it was away from Him, but her body wouldn’t cooperate. She was glued to the spot, and could only watch as he approached, one slow step at a time.
The nervousness that had afflicted Lucy Goulding since she left her parents’ house seemed to grow with every step. She had set out with just a single butterfly fluttering about her stomach, but now she was almost at her destination her stomach roiled and churned with what seemed like thousands.
Her nervousness was made all the worse by her lack of familiarity with the feeling. She was the only daughter of the richest family in Oakhurst, was worth more than anyone she went to school with, and was one of the most attractive people she knew; because of that she had never encountered a situation where she couldn’t do or have what she wanted, so she had been given little cause to experience nerves during her young life.
A loud tut made Lucy forget, momentarily, about her butterflies. She looked around without slowing and saw Constance Hawkins in her front garden; the elderly woman was shaking her head disapprovingly, and when she saw where Constance’s gaze was fixed, on the point where her micro mini-skirt stopped, Lucy grinned. It amused her to think that she was probably showing more leg publicly than Constance had ever shown in private, the thought buoyed her and made some of her nervousness disappear; if her outfit was disapproved of by Constance Hawkins then she had chosen the right one.
“Afternoon, Mrs Hawkins,” Lucy called out cheerfully, before the overgrown hedge that surrounded the house next door cut off her view of the old woman.
Zack Wild’s attention was diverted from his laptop by a sudden flash of colour, which he saw out the corner of his eye, but when he lifted his head to look out the window he saw nothing. He had just decided that it must have been a bird when the doorbell rang.
He cursed the interruption, and was tempted to ignore it, he was on a roll with his writing and didn’t want to lose his momentum. The courtesy his parents had drilled into him wouldn’t let him do so, however. It might have been easier for him to ignore the doorbell if he was still living in Southampton, where the person at the door was as likely to be someone from a charity, pestering for a donation, or a political canvasser, as a genuine visitor. Here in Oakhurst, though, the odds of the person at his door being a genuine visitor were much higher, and he didn’t have enough visitors that he could afford to ignore any.
With an unhappy sigh, Zack pushed his chair back from the desk and got to his feet.
The greeting that rose to his lips died there when he caught sight of the person on his doorstep. The first thing he saw was a pair of tanned legs, followed by a red micro mini-skirt that was only a little bigger than a belt, then a red top, cut low to show off the cleavage and so skin-tight he couldn’t help thinking that it must be at least one size too small. From the skirt and top his eyes took in the rest of the figure, which he liked very much – he could not remember the last time he saw someone in such a revealing outfit, at least not in person – before moving up to the face.
He quickly cut off his thoughts when he saw how young his visitor was. She had the body of a woman, but it was clear from her face that she was a teen, no older than sixteen. He couldn’t think why such a provocatively-dressed teen would be on his doorstep at any time, let alone at a quarter past two on a Friday afternoon, when he was sure she should be at school, and for a few moments he just stood there, staring.
“Hello,” he finally managed to say.
“You’re Zack Wild,” Lucy said excitedly, the last of her nerves gone now that she was there and she saw how he looked at her – the same way almost every other male did, regardless of their age.
“That’s right,” Zack agreed. He was still getting used to people reacting to him in that fashion, though he didn’t think he would ever become truly comfortable with the semi-fame that came with being a best-selling author. “And you are?”
“Lucy, Lucy Goulding, I’m a huge fan,” she declared breathlessly. Her nervousness might be gone, chased away by her usual confidence, but she wasn’t yet in complete control of herself – she was as attracted to Zack Wild as she suspected he was to her, and his looks were having an effect on her.
“Hello, Lucy,” Zack shook her hand briefly. “I wouldn’t have thought my books were the sort of thing a girl like you would read,” he said. He was not interested in such things, but his agent had provided him with a breakdown of his reading audience, which told him that it was mostly twenty to forty-five year olds that read his books.
“Oh I absolutely love them,” Lucy enthused. “I love them all. I’ve read everything you’ve written. I borrowed the first one from my dad, and just had to get the rest. Your true crime books are great, but I prefer your Inspector Deakins books. Would you sign them; I’ve brought them all with me.”
Zack watched in amusement as Lucy took the rucksack from her shoulder and knelt to open it. He saw that she wasn’t lying, she had brought copies of all seven of his books, in hardback no less.
“Will you sign them?” Lucy asked, looking up at Zack from her kneeling position, her most winsome expression on her face.
The question drew Zack’s attention away from the books in the bag, though before it reached her face it came to rest on her cleavage. Her cleavage was not as large as his ex-wife’s, but it was generously displayed by her revealing top, and he felt distinctly uncomfortable when he remembered that she was a teen and he shouldn’t be looking. Despite that, he couldn’t seem to drag his eyes away.
Zack flushed and wrenched his gaze from the view he knew he shouldn’t be enjoying. When he found her face, he was surprised to see that she didn’t appear to be bothered by his ogling, to the contrary, there was a hint of a smile playing about her lips; that suggested to him that she was amused rather than annoyed or upset.
“Sure, I’d be happy to sign them,” he said once he recovered his composure. “Let me get a pen.”
“Can’t I come in?” Lucy asked. “I didn’t just come for your autograph, though I do really want that.”
“What is it you want?” Zack asked, his hand on the door as he prepared to close it at the first sign of the trouble he now sensed was in the air.
“I want to be an author, like you,” Lucy said. “I’m writing a book. I was hoping you could give me some tips, and maybe some advice on getting it published. Please, it’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do; when I heard you’d moved to the village, I thought it must be a sign.”
If there was one thing Zack had learned over the years, it was how to tell when someone was lying, and he didn’t get the feeling Lucy was. “You’d better come in then,” he said, opening the door wide.
He was closing the door when he glimpsed movement through one of the bare patches in his hedge. He frowned. He liked Constance Hawkins, she was generally a pleasant and friendly person, but she was curious about the limited comings and goings of her neighbours, and not all that discreet in her curiosity. He couldn’t make up his mind whether to be concerned, or amused, by what Constance Hawkins was likely to make of him inviting a barely-dressed teen into his house; one thing he was certain of, was that news of his visitor was likely to be all around the village in next to no time, whether he cared or not.
He put his overly inquisitive neighbour from his mind as he closed the door and followed his visitor into the living room. He arrived in time to have his eye caught by something bright orange on the sofa – it was a moment before he realised that it was his guest’s underwear, being revealed by her too short skirt.
A half-smile, a duplicate of the one he had seen when Lucy knelt on his doorstep, made Zack realise the flash was deliberate, that she wanted him to look. She had said she wanted his help, and from what he had seen so far, she was prepared to offer herself in order to get it, or at least to suggest that that was what she was willing to do. If it wasn’t for all that he had seen during his former career, he would have had a hard time believing anyone capable of acting in such a way.
“Would you like a drink?” he asked from the doorway, doing his best to ignore the orange that peeked out again as Lucy shifted position. He hoped she did, he wanted a chance to recover his equilibrium, and to do something about his parched throat.