For this months ‘first-day fiction’ here’s an extract from my forthcoming (in three days, to be exact!) first crime thriller/suspense novel ‘When I Wasn’t Watching’ published by Harlequin 4th August 2014.
They told her over the phone. As if she, of all people, wasn’t important enough to warrant a face to face visit. For the next few minutes Lucy sat very, very still, staring at nothing in particular. Then she got up with exact movements, determined to be calm. She even made herself a cup of tea. Which she managed to drink half of before the rage came, hot and bubbling.
The cup smashed against the far wall, the liquid leaving stains that looked like mud across her delicately patterned wallpaper.
Then she burst into tears.
When the phone rang Lucy had expected it to be Susan from work. They had arranged a movie night on Saturday and she had been looking forward to it; even treating herself to a new pair of jeans. So she answered cheerfully enough, then frowned as a throat cleared on the other end of the line before asking, after a slight hesitation, for Mrs Randall. She paused before realising the voice was asking for her.
‘It’s Ms Wyatt now,’ she said firmly. There was after all a new Mrs Randall. ‘I got divorced five years ago.’
‘I do apologise.’ It was a male voice, quite official sounding and also, Lucy thought, nervous. As soon as she thought it a sense of dread twisted low in her belly.
‘But you were Mrs Lucy Randall? Jack Randall’s mother?’
Lucy felt as though her throat was full of sand as she spoke.
‘Yes, who is this?’
She hoped to God it wasn’t the press. They had hung around enough in the days after Jack’s death and the weeks leading up to the trial, and then again when Ethan had left her. They had been sympathetic but still intrusive and she had always refused to comment, an instinctive need for privacy taking precedence over the urge to talk, to share and to rail against the injustices Fate had dealt her. But why on earth would it all be dragged up now?
Lucy realised she was gripping the phone so hard her knuckles were white, and she couldn’t process the words coming through.
Until she heard ‘Parole Board’ and her guts twisted further.
Ethan and herself had been asked to attend a meeting with them a few months before, but she had let Ethan deal with it. Afterwards, he had seemed pretty certain that the general consensus was that Terry Prince wasn’t getting out any time soon. But then Ethan always had the knack of hearing exactly what he wanted to hear and no more.
‘I’m sorry, can you repeat that please?’ Lucy said, her voice sounding far away. Inside she was screaming no no no, because she didn’t want to hear what she suddenly already knew.
‘Terry Prince is to be released on parole tomorrow. You and Mr Randall are of course being made privy to this information before it goes public.’
‘How considerate,’ she said with just a trace of sarcasm, her throat still feeling as if it had been sandpapered. ‘But why were we not made aware when the decision was made?’
She wondered if they had told Ethan yet, or if she was the first to know. The first to be told when it was too late to do anything about it.‘It was decided it was in the public interest…to avoid a media furore…’
Lucy gave a hollow laugh and sat down on the leather arm of the chair, the words floating over her and forming into sentences that made no sense. Public interest. Exactly who was this public? Not her, or her family. Not all the mothers who had read about Jack’s murder and clutched their own children that bit tighter, kept them that bit closer for a few weeks until the news stories had been replaced with something else and Jack’s murder had become yesterday’s drama.
‘I’m sorry, but I don’t understand,’ Lucy had said, her voice sharp and cutting into the speaker’s less than confident explanation, ‘how can he be released? He killed my son.’
She said the last dispassionately, a wave of calm settling over her. The body’s way of shielding itself from trauma. As a child, whenever she had felt threatened or scared, that same calmness would settle over her, just for long enough to get her through. Lucy’s mother always said she was strong, especially in the aftermath of Jack’s death when she hadn’t tried to kill herself or stay in bed for a year. When Ethan had left her for another woman and she had barely reacted. When her oldest son Ricky had his…problems.
Lucy however knew that it wasn’t strength, more the ability to hide, but the day would come when there would be no more hiding and she would have to face it all head-on.
And then, she thought, she might finally break.
The voice continued. Talking about good behaviour, rehabilitation, how every care had been taken to ensure Terry Prince was fit for release. How he would have a new name; a new address away from Coventry. How he would be monitored and on licence for life; how the smallest misdemeanour would see him back inside. Lucy didn’t care about any of that. There was only one question, would only ever be one question now, instead of the ‘why?’ that had echoed in her mind all these years.
‘Where is he?’
Another throat clear.
‘That’s classified information I’m afraid, Mrs Ran…Wyatt. Ms Wyatt.’
Lucy put the phone down on him while he was offering her an appointment with a Family Liaison Officer ‘to discuss any concerns’. She held her breath for as long as she could, fully aware that the moment she inhaled, life would come rushing in, and everything would be once again irrevocably changed.
Every parent’s worst nightmare…
Eight years ago, Lucy and Ethan Randall’s little boy, Jack, was abducted and murdered by teenager Terry Prince. A moment’s distraction had ripped a family apart – and with the loss of their son came the collapse of the Randalls’ marriage. Tortured by memories, Lucy was left to battle her grief while raising her remaining son alone.
Now, Jack’s killer has walked free, giving him the second chance at life that little Jack never had. Lucy’s wounds newly opened, her world is turned upside down a second time when another child goes missing – and she can’t shake the suspicion that Prince has struck again.
When DI Matt Winston, the same officer who found Jack’s body, is assigned to the case, the echoes of Lucy’s past grow ever more insistent. Bound by their tragic shared experiences, Matt and Lucy grow closer – and become fixated on bringing the culprit to justice. But now history has repeated itself, answers seem even further out of reach. And for Lucy, it’s time to face her ghosts, and ask the most terrible question of all: can she ever really forgive herself?