With the release of my latest book, Time To Turn Back, I want to offer you all the opportunity to have a read of the first TWO chapters for nowt!!
So here it is the free excerpt, let me know it you like it in a comment.
“I’m telling you, Kat, he’s the real deal, darling,” Leah said as she sipped a skinny latte.
Sitting at one of the pavement tables outside Mugs Of Hugs coffee shop, Leah looked over the rim of her own cup, eyeing her friend’s suspicious gaze. Crowds of pedestrians marched past on their way to the next bargain the high street had to offer or dashing back to their jobs after a quick lunch. Older couples waddled along, hand in hand, wrapped up like Inuit reindeer herders in spite of the seasonal warmth. Three younger men, dressed in worn jeans and faded t-shirts prowled through the array of delights on offer, predators on the hunt for an unattended bag or mobile phone.
“You know I don’t believe all that stuff, Leah,” Kat said.
She glanced at her watch, wincing slightly at the time when she realised she had to be back in the office soon. She nibbled timidly at the tuna sandwich she’d bought, glancing about as nervously as a gazelle in the middle of a pride of lions.
“Yeah, but he’s the real deal,” Leah carried on, heedless of her friend’s reluctance. “I heard about him from Lucinda who went to see if he could tell her if her husband was cheating on her,” Leah glanced about and leaned over the table, conspiratorially. “Lucinda said he only had to walk in their house and he knew,” Leah’s eyebrows shot up. “He knew things about them he couldn’t have. Secrets she had, even from her husband,” Leah sat back and looked at Kat with an expression that said she was a complete believer.
Kat looked at her friend and wondered, not for the first time, how they had remained friends for so long. Leah was the polar opposite to Kat in almost every way. Slender and willowy with golden hair that floated around her head in a magical halo with the slightest hint of a breeze, confidence flowed from her every pose. Every gesture commanded attention and Leah revelled in that attention like a feline in catnip heaven.
“Still,” Kat said. “I don’t see how this man can help me in any way.”
A portly, middle aged man in a crumpled suit walked past, sniffing and coughing openly. Leah made a moue of disgust and followed his passage with daggers exploding from her gaze.
“Disgusting,” she muttered. “Look, darling, I’m not saying Xander can help you but it certainly can’t hurt,” she smiled, revealing ice white teeth framed by her pink lipstick. “He doesn’t charge that much and he’s hot too,” she added with a cheeky little grin.
Kat groaned internally. Leah was always trying to set her up with some man or another, unwilling or unable to accept that Kat was happy alone.
Why can’t you leave me alone? Why do you always have to meddle in my life?
“Oh, is he?”
Way to go Kat. That’s telling her. Don’t pull any punches.
Leah nodded, sending shock waves through her perfect hair. Kat watched as a group of business men walked past their table, gazes fixed on Leah as if Kat herself was invisible.
I thought you were happy alone?
It’d be nice if someone noticed me though.
“I had a little problem I needed his help with, you know darling,” Leah said as the suited men faded into the rest of the crowd. “I couldn’t find my wedding ring,”
Kat rolled her eyes, anticipating what was to come. Leah’s stories almost always revolved around cheating on her husband, Jake. She sipped her cappuccino and waited.
“Well after Lucinda told me about Xander I gave him a call and explained things. I met him in the last place I remembered having it, at the gym,” Leah sipped her own coffee as Kat waited for the inevitable admission. “I’d taken it off as I was working with Fabio that day,” she added with a faraway look and coy little smirk.
Here it comes.
“Any way, darling, you know how incredible Fabio is, I just couldn’t resist his advances.”
There we are. I knew it!
What I don’t get is if she’s so keen to set me up with a man, why is she never satisfied with the one she’s got?
“Really?” Kat asked with just the right amount of scandalous surprise in her voice. “Fabio?”
Leah flashed her eyes at Kat, a satisfied smile on her face.
“Oh yes,” she said. “All that rippling, bulging muscle,” she actually licked her lips. “Any way,” Leah carried on. “Xander got me to open one of the lockers and there it was!” She held her hands palm up in a shrug of incredulity. “Nestled right at the back where someone had dented the shelf!” Leah let her hands drop. “Unbelievable,” she added. “So will you think about it?”
“I’ll think about it,” Kat said.
Leah beamed and grabbed Kat’s phone, adding Xander Michaels to her contacts.
“Look Katriona,” Logan Minter said when Kat got back to work. “I understand, I really do. The loss of someone close to you is always hard,” his tone was carefully measured to show his concern at the same time his eyes crawled over the curves of Kat’s body. “Maybe you should take some personal time, see your family, friends?” He asked.
If you actually knew anything about me, Logan, you’d know I haven’t got any family now.
Barely any friends either.
Grief slammed into her chest and stomach again, heavy and painful as the memory of her grandfather smashed into her consciousness again. Kat leaned forward, grabbing the edge of Minton’s desk to stop her falling against it.
Minton was on her in a second, his chubby fingers on her shoulder, rubbing and patting.
“There, there,” he whispered, trying to get a look down her blouse. “There, there.”
Kat wrapped her arms around herself and tried to breathe, embarrassed at breaking down in front of her boss.
“I think I might, Logan,” Kat managed. “Have some time off,”
“That’s fine, Katriona,” he said.
No one who knew her called Kat by her full name with the exception of Minton.
His hand slid down her back a little and she cringed at the sweaty heat his flesh gave off. It saved her, however, as she almost leaped from the chair and turned to face him.
Minton stared back at her in wide-eyed surprise at her abrupt movement. Sweat pearled on his balding head, plastering the few Homer Simpson strands of hair that clung on to his scalp in spite of his faulty DNA. Pink jowls with a smattering of grey where he hadn’t managed to shave completely, wobbled and his several chins made an appearance as he jumped back a little.
“Okay Katriona,” he said, surprised. “If there’s anything I can do for you, anything at all…” he let the sentence hang awkwardly as he scribbled something on a business card. “This is my home number,” he said, holding the card out to Kat. “If you want me for any reason, you just call, all right?”
Kat nodded dumbly and took the card, holding it at arms length as if she’d just watched him wipe his backside with it.
“Atta girl,” Minton said, he watched Kat walk back towards her desk, his eyes glued to her ass as she went.
“Filthy pig!” Janny said to Kat as she sat behind her desk and moved documents round aimlessly. “You should report him for sexual harassment.”
I should kick him in the nuts, is what I should do.
“He means well,” Kat said absently.
She clicked a few options on her screen, beginning another assessment to determine if this school child was eligible for a free bus or train pass.
“He means to get in your pants,” Janny said. “And he’s trying it when you’re most vulnerable. Oh, love,” she added when she saw the tears brimming in Kat’s eyes. “Do you want a cuppa and a biscuit?”
Yeah, that’s going to make everything better. A cup of tea and choccy digestive will make me forget all about gramps being dead.
Kat nodded and let herself be guided out of the office. Women at other desks turned as she and Janny passed, some looked with compassion, others with curiosity.
In the cupboard-sized break room Kat lowered herself onto a plastic chair and gazed into space as Janny fussed about, making tea. The kettle hissed loudly as it boiled. Ancient and overworked, this was its own death song, a combination of thick limescale and age that made the device nearly lethal in spite of the electrical safety sticker attached.
Janny grabbed a pair of mismatched mugs from a beige cupboard and dropped a tea bag in each, letting the door slam shut as loud as a shotgun blast. Kat jumped.
“Shit, sorry,” Janny said. “I forget how violent these doors are.
Kat grinned, Janny’s words washing her misery away for a few seconds. In the corner the kettle reached boiling point and clicked as loudly as a rat trap snapping shut. Janny threw some sugar at the cups and sploshed milk randomly towards them before stirring and passing one to Kat.
“Better?” Janny asked before Kat had even had a sip.
Kat nodded and sat there feeling claustrophobic, trapped by the hot tea she now felt obliged to drink and Janny herself who blocked the doorway like a nightclub bouncer.
“If you want me to be a witness against leering Logan, I’ll be more than happy,” Janny offered, breaking Kat out of her hypnotic trance. “I hate his staring, his constant pervy remarks and the sweat stains under his armpits.”
Kat shook her head and sighed, sipping her tea.
“No, I’m just going home,” Kat said.
Janny nodded. Her mouth opened as if she was about to say something else but closed again when Kat hung her head.
A mixture of emotions wobbled through Kat as she stood outside her grandfather’s house. Fear tightened cold bands around her chest for some reason she couldn’t understand. Her lower belly ached, a visceral response to the memory of last time she’d been here.
She’d approached the familiar door, dark green gloss, fan shaped window, and halted, knowing something was wrong. Something had been out of place but it took a few seconds to realise it was the folded end of the paper that was sticking out of the letterbox. At nine in the morning Gramps should have been up for ages and been grumbling about the state of the world and how different it had been in his day by now.
Kat had fumbled her keys out of her bag but rung the doorbell any way even though this was the house she’d grown up in. It was as if using her key would make all her suspicions come true. With shaking fingers she’d finally opened the door and been hit by a wall of sound from the TV.
A smile of relief had crossed her face then. Gramps was just watching TV, that was all. Sat in his chair, watching TV with the volume as high as normal and cartoons playing. Cartoons? Gramps didn’t watch cartoons and he didn’t sit like that either, his head tilted to one side, or his neck would hurt.
“You all right, love?” A voice dragged Kat back to reality.
She turned, forcing the memory of that day into one deep, dark corner of her mind and clamping a lid down on it.
“I say, are you all right, Kat love?”
Is there a more obtuse, mindless question, Mrs. Dillman? Of course I’m not all right you silly old bitch.
“Hello, Mrs. Dillman,” Kat said pleasantly. “I’m fine, how are you?”
With arthritic knuckles bulging, she twisted and wrung a piece of dirty rag in her hands as if she was strangling a rabbit. She had a pleated green skirt that hung down below her knees and thick wrinkled tights that led from there down to a pair of antique slippers, the fur of which looked like roadkill. The sweater she wore was a dull, faded grey and might have even had some kind of slogan on it at one point but that was long lost to time and harsh washing cycles. Her face was a mask of worried concern, utterly different to the expression she’d had on that day, when the ambulances and police turned up, soon followed by the funeral home van.
“Well I still can’t believe it, you know, it’s such a tragedy. I lived next to Grace and Donald for years, you know…”
Of course I know, I lived here most of my life.
Kat switched off as her former neighbour droned on, ranging from how hard it had been for her to cope with Donald’s death to the state of his roses. Kat fumbled for the keys and approached the front door. Hammering the key home on the first attempt she turned the lock and opened the door, stepping inside and closing it with a slam.
Mrs. Dillman watched her go, ignoring the important news she had to tell.
“Well I never!” The old woman muttered as she went back inside her own house.
Kat leaned on the inside of her grandfather’s front door, head down and eyes closed. She took several deep breaths, the familiar mild scents evoking deep memories inside her and bringing a kind of serene peace floating down through her mind.
Pipe tobacco. I bet he thought I didn’t know he was still having the occasional pipe.
If you can’t have a bit of a smoke after ninety-six years what’s the point of anything?
Other scents came to her as she breathed the air in her childhood home. Lavender floated down as it had been her grandmother’s favourite smell. A leathery aroma from the ancient aftershave he’d used. Lemon wafted from the small kitchen, the ghost of some cleaning agent he used. All of it combined to soothe and ease her mind as she opened her eyes and looked at the house for the first time since that day.
It was unchanged. Somehow everything was in it’s normal place. From the tall telephone table that stood just inside the hall to the slightly crooked photo of her and her grandmother paddling in some ice cold sea on a windswept shoreline.
Of course it’s the same! No one’s been in here since you left.
Worn carpeted stairs led up to the second floor but Kat made her way through to the living room.
Living room. Why’s it called that? Especially when this is where I found him…
Sunlight poured in through the bay window, lending a summery cheer to everything. It brightened the terracotta paint covering the wood-chip paper he’d stuck to the walls half a century ago and disguised the yellowing of the polystyrene tiles her grandparents had covered the ceiling with. It felt warm and inviting, like home, like this was where she belonged.
His chair sat squarely opposite the vast expanse of the TV he’d invested a large amount of his pension on but Kat wouldn’t sit there. The dark brown leather, worn and cracked from years of daily use was his and his alone. Instead she leaned down and opened the door of an ancient sideboard. The plastic coated chipboard might have been pristine once but looked aged now. She smiled as the door dropped on it’s hinges, sagging a little and showing just how well loved and used it was.
Never did fix that, did you gramps?
Inside, amongst the faded Monopoly and Scrabble boxes sat an antique biscuit tin, faded and chipped with a massive dent in the side. Kat pulled it out and took it to the sofa. This was where her grandfather had kept all his paperwork and documentation and where she thought she should begin.
After an hour, she was just as confused as she had been before she started. She found a few bits of paper detailing insurance policies and pension entitlements, his paid utility bills and an old passport. Nestled at the bottom, yellowed with age and spotted with rust from the tin was a letter to his solicitor.
Once she’d been through the tin, Kat decided the next best thing would be to make sure there was nothing going rotten in the kitchen. The little, red Formica-topped table and twin chairs sat off to one side as usual, a few letters sat in a wooden rack in the middle next to a bowl of sugar. The sink was clean and clear of dishes as Kat had busied herself washing up and tidying while the paramedic had made sure she hadn’t murdered her grandfather the last time she’d been here.
Inside the fridge Kat found a bottle of milk that was on the turn and dumped it down the sink, rinsing the lumps away. Apart from that her grandfather hadn’t had much in the way of food in his fridge. A small block of cheese, few tomatoes, some ham and a wilted spring onion was the sum total of all he’d had left.
“Oh, Gramps,” Kat said sadly.
Grief and loss hit her again and she fell backwards into one of the chairs, collapsing in tears.
I can’t take it! It hurts so much.
Well wishers called Kat as she began the task of sorting through her grandfather’s possessions. Every time she started to look through something, her phone started ringing with some friend or relative telling her how sorry they were, how much he’d be missed.
So where were you when he was alive then?
In his bedroom Kat had dragged an ancient box out from the back of he wardrobe and was frowning at it, having never seen it before, when her phone trilled again.
“Kat, darling,” Leah drawled. “Have you been to see Xander yet?”
“No,” Kat said, “I told you I don’t believe in that kind of thing.”
“I’m telling you, sweetie, he really is the best hope of you finding this heirloom your Gramps told you about,”
“I’m not sure about that,” Kat said, running her hand over the age-smoothed wood. “I’ve just found a box I’ve never seen before.” She fiddled with the catch holding it shut.
“Well if you don’t find anything in there, I shall have to take you to see Xander and I won’t take no for an answer,” Leah said firmly.
“If you say so,” Kat said absently, ever so slightly nervous over what she might find inside. “I’ll call you later, Leah.”
Kat took a deep breath and stared at the box, it was built from wood but wasn’t like a carved chest, more like a large suitcase built from strips of different wood. Its surface glowed from the sunlight streaming in through the window, creating an almost three dimensional effect that made it look as if Kat could reach inside the very wood.
She lifted the lid of the box, feeling it lever back on its hinges and stared at the faded cloth that lined it. Patterned with golden images that looked like coats of arms, it was dark green and looked even older than the external wood. It was cool and silky to the touch and Kat trailed her fingers over the material as she reached in to rummage through the contents.
Numerous items had been lovingly placed inside by her grandfather over the years. From a bundle of letters that turned out to have been from her grandmother when they were young, to several newspaper clippings pressed between the pages of one of the three diaries inside. There was also another box, small and hand carved, that had a string of pearls and pair of earrings nestled in the silk folds of the lining.
The first diary itself was plain and covered in faded, blue cardboard that had obviously been left in the sun for a long time as a section was bleached almost white. Kat read a few of the entries her grandfather had made in his youth, his almost calligraphic handwriting easily legible. There was nothing of particular interest there but the newspaper reports held a different story.
Kat took the feather-edged, yellowing sheet out and saw the date was from 8th September 1939. The headline caught her eye immediately and drew her attention to the words underneath.
LOCAL WOMAN DEPORTED
A Russian defector, living near the town of Bambridge, was arrested and detained by local Police on Wednesday following the outbreak of war. Miss. Marya Volustova, formerly resident of Krutyne, had been missing from her home in London for at least seven months, sources say. Miss. Volustova was discovered living with a family on the outskirts of Bambridge who had been renting a room to her. Miss. Volustova (19) was held for questioning before being transported to London to appear before magistrates. According to one source Miss. Volustova was likely to be held in one of the interment camps on the Isle Of Man until such time as she can be relocated.
Kat scanned the short report several times, utterly confused as to why her grandfather would have kept it. Looking at the other clippings just brought more questions. One was a sepia toned, black and white photograph cut from another newspaper. It showed a young woman being escorted by two men in old style military uniforms. She had on a dark skirt-suit and a small round hat that looked like a miniature Bowler. It was the expression on her face that caught Kat’s attention most, however.
She looked utterly terrified. Her wide eyes stared straight at the camera, scared beyond all belief. Her face was a mask of betrayal and heartbreak. Pale skin, rendered even more starkly by the monochrome printing, lent a sense of horror to her face and Kat felt a stab of concern for the woman.
Is that you Marya? And if it is, who the Hell are you?
The final newspaper clipping looked as if it had been torn from a different newspaper and was a simple report concerning a ship filled with men and women that were being transported from the mainland at Liverpool. There was a minute, thumbnail sized photo of a small ferry leaving the port.
Kat looked at the diary page the clipping had come from and saw a single entry in her grandfather’s cursive hand. ‘I’ve lost you.’
Kat sat back on the bed her grandfather had shared with his wife for more than fifty years and wondered what had happened back then. Who had this Marya woman been? Why had she been taken to the Isle of Man and how long for? What had happened to her and where was she now?
You’re never gonna know, Kat. Not now.
Kat had prepared herself a simple dinner and fed her cat, Humboldt, who now sat contentedly on her lap as she read her grandfather’s diary. It was a simple account of his thoughts and feelings during his late teenage years. Although revealing and sometimes sad – Kat had cried over what he had written about his fear and bravery when the second world war had been announced – she couldn’t find any references to Marya Volustova although the entries took a darker turn before ending a few months after the date on the clipping.
With her thoughts whirling like a tornado in her head, Kat finally managed to get a little sleep. Her dreams revolved around her being dragged from her house and locked up in a prisoner of war camp. She woke early, shaking and sweaty and decided to get up rather than face those dreams again.
Her feet pounded along the pavement as she ran along the quiet streets. With virtually no one else around at this hour, it felt as if the world had been emptied of people and Kat relished the solitude. She entered Victoria Park and started her long circuit through the trees. Cool air whistled in and out of her lungs as she pushed herself along. A lone dog walker offered her a smile and nod as she passed Kat nodded back to him as she dodged past his ageing Retriever wh0 tried to sniff her leg as she passed.
Her thoughts revolved around the odd diary and newspaper clippings she’d found.
Gramps never said anything about a Russian woman he knew when he was young. Why would he have hidden that? Was she his girlfriend? If she was it would explain why he stopped writing his diary and why he’d written ‘I’ve lost you.’
Kat ran into an area where the trees grew closer together cutting out the light and making it dim. Her eyes adjusted to the lower light and she saw the evidence of other park users littered across the ground. Teenagers left their junk in piles or scattered across the floor. Beer and spirit bottles had been dropped randomly and some had even been smashed against the trees. Cans and plastic bottles tried to hide under bushes but the contrast of their gaudy labels showed where they were.
Kat paused, leaning against a majestic oak that had been there since before Queen Victoria had taken the throne and took several deep breaths with her eyes closed.
When she opened them again, Kat saw something that sparked anger in her chest. A two litre plastic bottle had been adapted with a couple of hollowed out Biros one of which sat in a pool of discoloured water that was still in the bottle. Kat looked at the bong and felt the cold squeeze of hatred for the kids who’d made it.
This is what he died for? This is what my Gramps fought for? For people to come here and get high, waste all their money on drugs and burden society with having to clear up all this trash? Bastards!
Kat swung her foot at the improvised device and watched in satisfaction as it flew off into the distance, the pens exploding out of the bottle and the water spraying up to make a rainbow in the early morning light.
Kat sprinted the last hundred or so metres towards the gate and jogged her way home to grab a shower before she had to head over to her grandfather’s solicitor who he had appointed executor of his will.
Shoreman, Shoreman and Liddle had their offices in the middle of the main high street, sandwiched between a community church hall and stationary shop that had a deal on large sheets of Day-Glo cardboard. It had originally been a Victorian house and still retained many of the period features. Terracotta chimney pots graced the roof line and the iron guttering had been preserved.
Kat looked at the gold lettering as she approached the door, feeling a tremble of trepidation as her hand hit the cold handle and she pushed the door open.
Inside she found an almost cosy atmosphere provided by the wood panelling and comfortable seating. Even though the ceilings were high, they still had some of the original mouldings in place, taking Kat back over a hundred years. Brass wall sconces held opaque globes that mimicked the original gaslights and cast a warm glow over the room.
At an angle across one corner sat a large, oak table with green leather top behind which sat a stern-faced woman who looked to be in her fifties but could have been anywhere from there to eighty. She looked up as Kat entered, examining the younger woman over the rim of her wire-framed glasses.
“Might I help you, miss?” She asked, remaining seated.
Cruella DeVil as I live and breathe!
Kat looked at her smooth skinned face and constructed expression of permanent distaste with a little fright.
“Yes, I’m Kat, Katriona Fitsimmons I mean,” she said. “I’m here about my grandfather’s will.”
Cruella’s expression changed to one of grandmotherly concern and she stood, walking round her desk to reveal the light grey, woollen skirt suit she wore with black leather boots and a ruffled blouse, in full detail.
“Ah Miss. Fitsimmons,” she purred in a much kinder tone, “Mr. Shoreman senior will be performing the reading as soon as all interested parties have arrived.”
What interested parties? I’m the only family either of us had left.
“If you would care to follow me, I can guide you to the upstairs waiting room and provide refreshments,” Cruella added gesturing to Kat as she walked off.
Kat followed the older woman into the bowels of the house, up a flight of narrow stairs covered with dark green carpet and to a second floor room that featured two leather sofas facing each other over the top of a squat coffee table.
“Please, have a seat,” Cruella said. “Would you like a drink? Tea, coffee?”
“No, thank you,” Kat said as she gazed around the room.
The panelling had been carried on up here and the green carpet was mirrored in the dark-hued wallpaper above it. One wall featured a pair of immense windows, multi-paned with rippled glass that made it look like Kat was peering through water. Framed prints hung on the walls, equally spaced and spirit-level straight, featuring ancient legal documents and photographs of the partners, their faces filled with reserved pride at being able to start a legal practice.
Kat lowered herself into one of the sofas and felt the chill of the leather seep through her clothes. She shivered and leaned forward to look through the magazines on offer. Standard fare for many waiting rooms, there were a few random copies of National Geographic, a few called Solicitors Journal and oddly a couple of copies of Heat. She grabbed a magazine, flicked through it without seeing anything and put it back almost automatically.
I want to know what’s going on. Why did they even call me all the way down here? Couldn’t we do this on the phone?
Kat’s mind whirled over and over when she was interrupted by footsteps coming up the stairs. She turned to see Cruella leading a man into the room.
He was just short of six feet tall with a stocky, muscular build and grey hair that had been trimmed with graders. He had on dark blue jeans and a black jumper that pulled tight over his chest muscles with a tweed jacket over the top. A square jawed face regarded the world with a cold expression of indifference that made Cruella look like Holly Willoughby.
Yet it was his eyes that caught Kat’s attention. Twin orbs of icy, electric blue with tiny pupils that darted around, cataloguing every detail around him. Kat shuddered. He looked as if he could be needlessly cruel and either enjoy it or not be affected in any way at all. As if torture and death were a normal part of his life and one he dealt with indifferently.
He looked at her last and his thin lipped mouth tightened ever so slightly, the only sign he had any kind of feelings at all. Two steps brought him over to her and Kat almost flinched when he offered his hand to her. She shook it, feeling the softness of his skin at the same time as she felt the power in his grip.
“Dimitri Volustova,” he said in a deep voice.
He had an Eastern European accent, from one of the Baltic states, possibly Russia.
Wait, Volustova! That was the name of the woman in the newspaper clippings Gramps had! What the fuck is going on here?
“Kat Fitsimmons,” Kat said. Dimitri frowned.
“Cat?” He asked. “Like small furry pet?”
“No it’s short for Katriona,” she explained.
Dimitri’s cold eyes grazed across her own and away to stare at a large plant in one corner.
“I can see you not know who I am,” he said in an almost sad voice. “So you will be surprised to know we are related by blood.”
What the Hell are you on about? How can that even be possible?
“Really? How?” Kat asked weakly.
Dimitri turned and sat in the sofa, opposite Kat. He leaned forward, elbows on knees and pinned Kat with his glare.
“Your grandfather knew my grandmother,” he said darkly. “He left her with child in belly to be treated like animal. At the hands of English she suffered many bad things and was forced back to Russia,” Dimitri balled one fist and covered it with his other hand as he spoke. “She was political outlaw so live in country where she have very little. When my mother born, she have nothing to feed her so have to sell the only thing she having. Herself.”
Kat swallowed as the spite poured from Dimitri like molten lava, his words shredding her like a desert sandstorm scouring her with grit.
“Grandmother die of syphilis,” Dimitri carried on relentlessly. “Crazy and screaming. My mother managed to get job in laundry, washing shit from sheets in hotel where she could never afford to stay. Her boss call her in his office one day and force himself on her.” Dimitri looked back at Kat with his dead eyes. “After that she could not go back there and tried to be begging but ended up losing fingers in cold weather. Desperate to feed me, she steal bread from local baker who catch her. Police take her away and she die in prison,” Dimitri sniffed as if this information was nothing. Kat felt tears run down her cheeks. “I get on train to Moscow, eleven year old and make own life.”
“I-I don’t know what to say,” Kat sobbed. “I’m sorry,”
“Not here for apology,” Dimitri said. “My grandmother give something to your grandfather. She ask him to keep it safe but never get it back. Now I am here to take back what is mine.”
“You came all the way from Russia?” Kat asked in astonishment. “When did you hear Gramps had died?”
“No, I am living here now. Live in London for five years now, run business. Solicitor call me last week to come here so I think grandfather finally doing the right thing,” Dimitri’s tone left no doubt as to his feelings towards their grandfather.
Oh Gramps what did you do? Why didn’t you tell me anything about all this? We could have helped them somehow. Done something.
Dimitri watched as the realisation hit Kat hard and her eyes widened.
“He knew,” she said. “Gramps knew about you and never did anything.”
Dimitri nodded with an expression that said ‘obviously’.
How could he have done that? It can’t be the same man who raised me after mum and dad died.
Kat’s thoughts were interrupted when a door opened and a small old man emerged. With a black suit that had a red carnation buttonhole in one pocket and a pair of glasses that made his eyes look twice as big as they were, Mr. Shoreman emerged like a butterfly from its chrysalis, wrinkled and a bit damp.
“Miss. Fitsimmons, Mr. Volustova? Please come in,” he said in a deep, commanding voice that didn’t fit his outer appearance at all.
Kat rose, wiping her eyes and followed the old man inside his office. Decorated in almost exactly the same way as the rest of the house, Shoreman’s office was light and airy. A massive collection of leather-bound books sat behind glass fronted shelves and it smelled remarkably like a library to Kat. Shoreman rounded his table and gestured to the chairs opposite his before seating himself slowly.
Spread on his desk sat two sheets of paper and little else, Shoreman changed his glasses and lifted the paper. He looked at Kat and Dimitri over the rim of his glasses.
“I realise this is a little unorthodox,” he said, “but your grandfather wanted the two of you to meet so I suggested you both be invited here, to meet on neutral ground as it were.”
Kat frowned, wondering again what her grandfather had been up to and why he had hidden an entire family from her.
Did grandma know? Did he tell her?
“As appointed executor, it is my duty to carry out Donald Fitsimmons’ wishes and make sure his estate is divided up in accordance with said wishes,” he glanced at them through his thick glasses and carried on almost immediately. “Katriona has been bequeathed the house, located at seventeen Winthorpe Grove, along with all furnishings and fixtures that pertain with the exception of those items listed below,” Shoreman glanced up at them again before continuing. “Dimitri has been bequeathed a keepsake box, maple inlaid with beech, containing three journals and their contents, along with all other effects contained within the box. Any monies remaining after the settlement of Donald Fitsimmons’ estate, including the premium from any life insurance policies, shall be divided equally between both parties.”
Kat glanced nervously sideways at Dimitri who looked to have gone pale and was shaking a little.
Shoreman looked at them both as the silence stretched out.
“Well, I’m sure you two have a lot to talk about, feel free to use my office, I shall make myself scarce for a while.”
“Let me see that,” Dimitri demanded, pointing at the will.
Shoreman slid it over his desk, staring at the Russian as if he was about to get bitten. Dimitri scoured the paper for anything else, as if there was a hidden clause or section only he could see. After what seemed like forever he let the will glide back to the surface of the table and stood.
“Where is it?” He demanded of Kat. “Where is heirloom, my birthright? What did old bastard do with it after he abandon my grandmother to die poor and crazy?”
Kat flinched back from his barely controlled rage, sliding her chair across the floor to get away from him, eyes wide and hands shaking.
“Mr. Volustova! Please, this is no way to behave,” Shoreman begged.
“Shut up, old man!” Dimitri snapped, pointing a finger at Shoreman. He swung back to Kat with danger in his expression.
“It might be in the box!” She squeaked. “If you tell me what it is, I can help you find it!” Her face was a mask of frightened pleading and Dimitri seemed to calm down a little.
“My mother tell me her mother say she have a necklace worth much money that was given to her by prince.”
“Yes!” Kat blurted. “There is a necklace in there, I saw it the other day!”
Dimitri looked at her with a mixture of disbelief, gratitude and a trace of rage on his face.
“You will show me?” It wasn’t a question.
Kat nodded even though she was more frightened of this man than she’d ever been of anyone in her life.
“Yes, I’ll bring it to you, wherever you want,” she said.
Dimitri shook his head slowly.
“I come and collect what my grandfather leave me now,” he said darkly.
“Miss. Fitsimmons?” Shoreman asked in concern. “Should I call the authorities?”
Dimitri glared at him while Kat shook her head.
“N-no, I’ll be fine,” she said.
Er, what you doing? He’s gonna kill you and eat your lungs.
“I’ll wait to hear from you, then,” Shoreman said as Dimitri escorted Kat from his office.
Kat nodded over her shoulder while Dimitri guided her with a firm hand in the small of her back.
I’ll be okay. I’ll be fine. He can’t do anything to me now Shoreman knows I’m with him. Right?
Kat swallowed as she was gently forced past Cruella De Vil and out through the glazed door. Dimitri led her towards a dark blue BMW X5 illegally parked by the kerb. Irate drivers waited behind the car, gesturing and pointing, for the smallest gap in the oncoming traffic.
Six and a half feet of bulky, suited man climbed out of the X5 and opened the rear door into which Kat was bundled before Dimitri climbed in beside her. The other man slid in behind the wheel and the engine grumbled into life.
“Ivan drive us to your house,” Dimitri said shortly. “What is address?”
“It’s uh,” Kat mumbled, temporarily forgetting the address of her childhood home. “S-seventeen Winthorpe Grove.”
Silently, Ivan tapped the information into the car’s sat-nav as other road users pounded their horns. As soon as he’d finished typing, Ivan floored the accelerator making the car jump forward and pressing Kat back into the leather seat.
She sat, clutching her bag like a shield as the world flashed past in a blur. Heart pounding and breath coming in little gasps, she glanced sideways at Dimitri.
He’s my half-cousin! I’ve got family.
“I not blame you,” Dimitri rumbled when Ivan stopped at a set of traffic lights.
Men and women crossed in front of the car as if the world hadn’t just tilted and thrown Kat sideways. As if everything was normal and life carried on the same as it had for years.
“Our grandfather,” he spat the word as if it actually tasted poisonous, “is the one I am hating.” He turned and fixed Kat with his piercing blue-eyed stare. “When he leave my grandmother to have his bastard child he prove he is not man of any honour.”
Gramps wasn’t like that. He was kind, caring, loving, gentle and just about the most generous man I ever knew. You’re wrong.
Kat fumbled in her bag for the keys while Dimitri hovered over her shoulder like a cloud of depression. Kat found the key and opened the door, glancing to her right as Dimitri pushed her inside and slammed the door shut.
Where’s that nosey old cow when I actually need her?
“Where is it?” The Russian demanded.
“U-upstairs,” Kat stammered.
Dimitri grunted and shoved her towards the flight that led up there. In her grandfather’s room Kat dragged the box out and Dimitri grabbed it, tipping the contents out on the bed. The journals and jewellery box flopped out on the duvet, Dimitri dropped the box and rummaged through the contents like a starving man at a smorgasbord. He grabbed the smaller box and opened it, grabbing the pearls out and looking at Kat. She nodded hopefully.
Kat felt more than heard the squeak of fright leave her when Dimitri grabbed her by the throat and smashed her against the wardrobe behind her. His eyes blazed with barely contained rage and his fingers cut off almost all her air.
“You are thinking I am joke?” He snarled.
Kat flinched as his hot, spittle-laden breath washed over her face. She tried to shake her head but couldn’t, couldn’t speak either. Dimitri held the pearls up right in front of Kat’s eyes.
“This shit is not what I promised. Does it look like this is gift from Russian prince?”
Kat had no idea and her world was beginning to go grey at the edges, lack of air bringing strange thoughts to her.
People like this during sex?
Dimitri let her go and Kat doubled over, gasping massive breaths in as she scrabbled to get to the farthest corner of the small room and away from the angry Russian. Flames crawled across the skin of her throat and fright threatened to make her freeze completely, paralyse her utterly.
Dimitri rifled through the items again, opening the journals and shaking them to see if they had been hollowed out to hide something inside. He moved on to the box and hefted it, smashing it against the wall and making Kat flinch again. She curled up in a corner, hugging her knees as Dimitri ripped the cloth sections of the box open, still looking for the treasure he thought was there.
He turned to Kat and fresh terror squeezed her chest. He threw the pearls at her, the little spheres stinging as they hit her face. She squeaked and flinched again.
“You are take the piss?”
“I think you are,” Dimitri grunted. “You think I am nothing, like precious grandfather thinking about grandmother.” He levelled a finger at Kat and pinned her in place with his piercing eyes. “If I am finding you have necklace, I come for it,” he said. “And you.”
Kat listened to the footsteps as Dimitri left, flinching again when he slammed the front door. Tears of fright and relief rolled down her face as she sat there for what seemed like hours.
So there you go. If you want to read the rest, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to part with a quid – blimey, the expense!
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