Eeeeeeek!! I am absolutely thrilled to have Steven Dunne…yes THE Steven Dunne…as my Partner In Crime today on CrimeBookJunkie! And you are in for an awesome treat #Bookjunkies! So sit back, relax with the beverage of your choice and enjoy the FULL Chapter 1 of Mr Dunne’s latest, kickass novel: Death Do Us Part ! You can read the full synopsis and my 5⭐️ review HERE.
Reardon Thorogood gripped the door handle and tried to turn it, but her palm slipped on the cold metal. She stared at the blood on her trembling fingers, unable to remember what it was, who it belonged to, how it had got there. Instinctively she went to wipe the sticky mess on her clothes, but remembered she wasn’t wearing any.
‘It’s okay. It’s okay,’ she panted, trying to accept the lie. ‘You’re alive. You’re alive.’ Her eyes flicked round the room, sliding past the bleeding carcass lying half on, half off the bed, knees on the floor, naked to the ankles, his jeans bunched and crumpled like a concertina. His face was to one side, eyes glazed and open.
She ran to pick up her mobile, lying broken apart on the floor, and tried to piece it together, but it wouldn’t respond after its violent collision with the wall.
Closing her eyes, she sucked in a deep, calming breath before stepping over JJ’s long legs and padding into the bathroom to run cold water over her hands. She dried herself on a damp bath towel, blood smears staining the pale yellow cotton. Her blood or JJ’s? She couldn’t be sure.
Catching sight of her battered face in the mirror, she recoiled in horror at the stranger staring back. Her mouth was bloodied and swollen, her nose leaking a mixture of snot and blood, her left eye bruised and beginning to close. Wet hair trailed across her shoulders, mopping up some of the arterial blood spatter from JJ’s neck. Using the bloodied towel, she wiped more splashes of red from the top of her breasts and shoulders before dropping it into the bath, the draught causing some of the tea lights burning around the porcelain ledge to gutter.
Unable to look at her disfigured face, she moved across to the wardrobe to find clothes. She yanked at the doors, but they wouldn’t budge with JJ’s massive feet blocking them. She stooped to move them but withdrew her hand, reluctant to touch his still-warm body, momentarily transfixed by the trickle of blood that had rolled down his muscular thigh to collect in the well at the back of his knee. His shocked face glared at her, the frozen expression still trying to make sense of the sharp pain in his neck as the knife was drawn across his throat.
‘What the fuck, JJ!’ she mumbled, feebly kicking his thigh, remembering the blows inflicted on her by the ex-boyfriend from her school years, long since discarded in her teens.
With a clench of fists to dispel the shaking in her hands, she composed herself. Luke Coulson was still out there roaming the house. Another old schoolmate, though him she barely knew. Luke had been the quiet one, awkward even – nobody invited him to parties or pubs as teenagers dipped toes into adulthood.
Her brother Ray knew him better, had kicked around with both Luke and JJ all through primary school and beyond.
How long ago? Seventeen years since that first day of primary school. She remembered it like yesterday.
Ray, a year older, had been ordered to walk his sister to her first day. He was annoyed at Mum and Dad for weeks after, and she remembered how he chivvied her along the country lanes, impatient to be there so he could cut the umbilical and play football with his mates.
JJ had been in her form, though, had marched in that first day like he owned the place, the only new kid not cowed with fear on that first step towards distant maturity. Even at five years old, JJ wasn’t scared of the teachers, with their big rooms and bigger voices.
Reardon stared at his lifeless corpse, baffled that she could ever have imagined herself in love with him. It hadn’t ended well.
JJ had started drinking in local pubs at fifteen, where he’d found his one true love. Alcohol. From that time onwards he was regularly drunk, and when JJ drank, he resorted to his fists. With his height and power, plenty of people had felt the weight of his destructive anger. And though he had never actually hit her during their courtship, there was the occasional push and shove. Towards the end his manner was rarely less than aggressive, and the one time he’d threatened to slap her was all the reason she’d needed to dump her ‘bit of rough’.
By the time the police got to know him, his life was already turning sour, leaving school at sixteen with no qualifications and few prospects. Reardon had stayed on for A levels followed by university, and as their paths diverged, they lost touch with each other.
Ray had kept tabs on him, though, and it was no surprise when he reported that JJ had slipped seamlessly into a life of petty crime, picking up a two-year sentence for burglary and assault when he was eighteen.
She closed her eyes to the gore but opened them immediately. Concentrate. Luke was still out there – and he had a knife.
You have to leave. Looking around, she discounted the clothes she’d been wearing when JJ had burst into her bedroom – the T-shirt and skimpy shorts lay in tatters on the floor, torn to shreds in his powerful hands.
Instead, she picked up JJ’s sweatshirt, discarded gleefully not ten minutes ago, and pulled it over her head. It reeked of his body odour and she had a flashback to him grinding his teeth as he struggled to pacify her, his breath reeking of cheap brandy and cigarettes, his underarms damp and pungent.
She found sensible cotton knickers in a drawer and stepped into them, being careful not to overbalance, then pulled them delicately over her thighs.
Padding barefoot to the door, she opened it and moved warily into the corridor, closing the bedroom door behind her. She crept along on the thick wool carpet towards the kitchen, placing her bare feet carefully to avoid the trail of bloody footprints coming in the opposite direction, trying to tamp down visions about their source. Everything felt so unreal, so incongruous in the deep quiet of a Monday lunchtime in the Derbyshire countryside.
As she moved, she barely noticed the sonorous tick of the grandfather clock in the entrance hall until it struck twelve thirty and she leapt out of her skin, pushing herself back against the wall to regain her breath.
Twelve thirty? Is that all? Hard to believe JJ had burst into her room only twenty minutes before – a lifetime seemed to have passed since then.
She glanced up at the security camera at the end of the hall. The ever-present red dot was gone, the camera switched off. At that same moment, she saw the door on her right and tried the handle. It opened, so she bolted inside, closing the door behind her then flicking on the light in the tiny, windowless cupboard of a space, an ideal location for the farm’s security control room.
It was Ray who’d insisted his parents put in cameras after several outhouses had been broken into. In fact he had personally overseen their installation. But now the bank of closed-circuit monitors was dark. Reardon sat at the console and examined the controls. The system’s master switch had been turned to ‘Off’, so she pushed it back up and pressed the reboot button. The drone of waking machinery was immediate.
‘Come on, come on.’ She looked anxiously behind her, waiting for the monitors to spring to life, expecting Luke to rush in at any moment and investigate what seemed to her a deafening noise. Finally the monitors flickered into life and she clicked urgently at the control button, maximising the camera feed throughout the one-storey house, room by room. Living room, sitting and dining rooms, corridors leading to the other bedrooms of the sprawling bungalow. There was no sign of life. ‘Where are you?’
Finally she loaded the kitchen camera and for a second was forced to turn her head away. She looked again at the grainy image of her father lying draped over her mother’s contorted body, dark stains covering his neck and back. Both appeared lifeless.
Panting, she scrolled through the other cameras again but found no sign of the prowling Luke. She checked the front and back doors, which seemed clear, the drive too. Ray’s silver Porsche wasn’t there. Only her father’s Range Rover stood on the gravel.
She turned off the security suite light before opening the door, putting her eye to the crack. The hall was still clear, so she skittered to the front entrance, looking all about her, senses supercharged.
She glanced up at the entrance camera, red light now winking at her. ‘Ray?’ she mimed softly towards the lens as though he might see her. ‘Where are you?’ Torn between flight and fright, she opened the heavy front door, allowing the sharp autumn air to sweep in from the grounds, damp and soothing. A couple of large leaves tumbled on to the welcome mat, sucked in by the draught.
With a deep breath, Reardon stepped barefoot across the threshold on to the chilled stone flags beyond. On the point of fleeing, her eye alighted on the closed kitchen doors. She hesitated.
What if Mum and Dad are alive? She couldn’t just leave. Not without knowing. She took a moment to gather her nerve and approached the ranch-style double doors. After pressing an ear to the lacquered wood, she turned the handle and stepped inside.
Unlike the black-and-white world of the security monitor, the tableau that greeted her literally dripped with colour. The floor was awash with blood, some pooling beneath her parents’ heads, some smeared into a slithering pattern where her father had crawled across the terracotta tiles to reach his dying wife. His arms enfolded her and his head sagged next to hers, their cheeks touching.
Reardon closed her eyes, forcing out a tear, which rolled down her cheek. She wiped it away and inched closer. To her bare feet, the floor seemed hot to the touch, and the bloody footprints of killer and victims were already drying to a stain.
Reardon spied her mother’s orange Crocs at the edge of the scarlet pool, so she slipped them on to her feet and crept towards her parents through the coagulating blood. She knelt in the warm, sticky liquid, holding the back of her hand to her mouth, the smell of death, feisty and invasive, assaulting her nostrils.
She pressed fingers against her father’s wrist then her mother’s. Neither had a pulse. She held her hand to her mum’s mouth and nose but could feel no breath, then withdrew it when she noticed it trembling.
Finally she knelt by her father, leaning in to listen for sounds of breathing. Her long hair trailed in the blood. No sign of life. Her parents were dead.
She leaned back on her haunches, kissed her fingers and pressed them to both her parents’ lips in turn. Her eye was caught by the phone on the wall, and she rose to her feet to hold the receiver against her ear, leaning an arm against the wall to support her bruised forehead, seemingly on the point of collapse. The landline was as dead as her parents.
Blindly she pushed the bloodied handset in the vague direction of the cradle. She missed and tried again. Again she missed and the receiver fell to earth, the cord dangling in space, twisting and jerking like a bungee jumper. Now she covered her face with both hands, her shoulders shuddering with emotion, slumping against the wall in an effort to hold herself upright.
Turning, she spotted her mother’s handbag on the kitchen table and hurried over to it, emptying the contents on to the pitted wooden surface. She scoured the debris and plucked the elderly mobile from among the junk her mum habitually kept in her bag – mints, empty lipsticks, cheap mascara and eyeliner. Her thumb trembled as she pushed at the buttons.
‘Come on, come on.’ A warning noise from the phone. The battery was flat. Reardon hurled the device at a wall, screaming then immediately putting a hand over her mouth when she realised she might be heard.
Trying to think, she remembered the Range Rover sitting on the drive and sifted through the detritus on the table for the keys. They weren’t there. Looking round, she moved across to the French windows, peering out over the rear of the farm, at the mature lawn, the brick outhouses and beyond, the rolling fields across to Findern and safety. She tried the handle but the doors were locked and the keys weren’t there. Worse, Sargent wasn’t stomping around on the lawn or pawing at the glass for a walk or a ball to chase. She closed her eyes. Please God, let Sargent be okay.
Turning back, her eye alighted on the unblinking scrutiny of the wall-mounted camera. ‘Where are you, Ray?’ she pleaded at the lens as though it could answer. ‘Help me!’ She retraced her steps to the hall, gaze averted from the savagery, and dashing out towards the front door ran straight into the burly figure of Luke Coulson.
She screamed and pushed herself away, raising her arms in a defensive stance, eyes widening in fear.
Luke was short and a little dumpy, but powerful through the shoulders. His nose was studded with blackheads and his hair was greasy and pushed back from his pockmarked face. Reardon tried not to stare at the bloodied butcher’s knife in his reddened hand.
His clothes, strangely, were free of blood, and she realised he was wearing some of her father’s – corduroys and a checked shirt – which were a little baggy on him. Simultaneously she registered the plastic bag in his other hand, bulging with the bloody clothing he’d been wearing as he’d pulled the knife across JJ’s throat. The bag handles were tied in a tight knot but blood had accumulated in one corner and was dripping on to the floor through the plastic.
‘Hello, Reardon,’ Luke said shyly, his eyes running up and down her long, slim legs, smiling at first before a look of dismay distorted his features when he saw her swollen face. He held out a hand, but she shrank back. ‘You’re hurt,’ he said, the speech impediment that had limited his verbal contributions at school pronounced in the deathly quiet of the farm.
‘Yes, I’m fucking hurt,’ she spat, finding some useful anger. She was shocked at her thick voice, as though she’d had gas at the dentist, and blood and saliva sprayed from her damaged mouth. ‘Where’s Sargent?’
‘Your dog? JJ gave him some meat. I don’t know what was in it. I think he’s all right.’ Reardon inched to her left for a clear sight of the door, but Luke was alert. ‘Where are you going?’
‘I have to leave,’ she said warily, not taking her eyes from him. Freedom was just yards away.
Luke dropped his gaze to the bloodied Crocs on her feet. ‘You’ve seen them.’ Reardon gulped and dipped her head, unable to speak. ‘I’m sorry,’ he mumbled, smiling to reassure her. ‘They were nice.’ He glanced up at the security camera then back at Reardon. ‘But your dad shouldn’t have shouted. He shouldn’t have chased me.’
‘What?’ said Reardon, dumbfounded.
‘He didn’t give me much choice,’ said Luke. Dismayed at her shocked expression, he smiled again, trying to affect levity. ‘I had to borrow some of his clothes. I hope you don’t mind.’
Baffled, she shook her head. ‘What have you done with Ray?’ she said, sounding out the words as though teaching a language.
‘Your brother? Nuffin’.’
‘He was here,’ said Reardon. ‘But now his car’s gone.’
Luke grinned. ‘Then it’s just you and me.’
‘What have you done with him?’ she said more forcefully.
Luke’s face contorted in anger. ‘I just told you.’
Reardon swallowed, glancing gimlet-eyed at the knife. She held out her hands to pacify. ‘Please put the knife down.’
‘Knife?’ Luke looked enquiringly at her then in surprise at the weapon in his bloodstained hand. His expression darkened. ‘I didn’t want to. I had no choice. You shouldn’t have let JJ do that. He doesn’t love you.’
Reardon trembled at Luke’s sudden animation, realising she wouldn’t have the strength to outrun him. Thinking weakness might rile him further, she tried to rustle up some aggression. ‘Look at my face, Luke. I didn’t let him. He made me.’
Luke stared, and a smile of understanding slowly creased his features. ‘He made you. He hit you.’
‘Yes, he hit me.’
‘Then you don’t love him.’
‘Of course I don’t fucking love him,’ she snapped, holding back the tears.
‘But he was your boyfriend,’ insisted Luke.
‘A lifetime ago. But I don’t love him now. Why do you think he hit me?’
‘I didn’t realise …’
‘Tell me where my brother is.’
‘I haven’t seen him,’ insisted Luke, irritation catching in his voice. ‘Why do you keep asking?’
‘Because I’m worried about him.’ She glanced at the front door, but her path was still blocked, then back towards the kitchen, where her parents lay butchered. She was trapped. She had to get past Luke and on to the drive. ‘His car’s gone.’
‘The silver Porsche.’
‘Sweet ride,’ nodded Luke. He pulled a cotton bag from his belt and rummaged around. She saw her father and mother’s watches and rings and a wad of cash. A second later, he held out the Range Rover’s key fob. ‘These were in your mum’s handbag.’
‘They’re for the Ranger Rover,’ said Reardon softly.
‘I would’ve preferred the Porsche,’ said Luke sulkily.
‘Can I have those then?’ asked Reardon, nodding at the key fob.
Luke shook his head. ‘Think I’m gonna need ’em.’ His lip wobbled and he seemed suddenly close to tears. ‘I’m in trouble, ain’t I?’
Reardon tried to think of an answer that wouldn’t end up with Luke stabbing her.
‘Ain’t I?’ he screamed.
She jumped out of her skin and nodded, her speech ragged and breathless. ‘Yes, Luke. You’re in trouble.’
She braced herself for the consequences of her admission, but suddenly Luke’s anger dissipated and his eyes sparkled. ‘You remember my name.’
‘You remember me,’ grinned Luke. ‘From school.’
Reardon hesitated. ‘Of course I remember you. You’re JJ’s friend. You were in Ray’s year.’
‘I was in your year,’ he snarled, tightening his grip on the knife.
‘Yes. I remember now,’ panted Reardon, holding out her hands in self-defence. She scrambled to get her wits back. ‘It’s just you seemed so much older.’
Luke’s grin reappeared. ‘Older?’
‘Much older,’ said Reardon, breathless at the deceit. ‘I’m surprised.’
‘You noticed me at school, then.’
Luke’s expression hardened. ‘That’s funny, because whenever I was near you, you acted like I weren’t there.’
‘I … it wasn’t deliberate, Luke.’ She cast around for a palliative. ‘But you were very quiet. You never spoke to me either.’
Luke looked at the floor, nodding. ‘I couldn’t. I daren’t.’ He gestured at his mouth. ‘Not with this.’ He looked sheepishly at his feet. ‘I love you, Reardon. From the first minute I saw you. You were beautiful.’ He looked her up and down. ‘You still are!’
‘I didn’t know,’ said Reardon, trying to load sympathy into her voice.
‘You must of.’
‘I didn’t, I swear. You … you should have told me.’
‘Yeah?’ scoffed Luke. ‘And have people laughing their arses off at me like JJ done. He wet himself. Said you was popular. Reardon’s clever and fit, he said. A girl like her wouldn’t never look at a freak like you, he said. Not without pissing herself.’
‘I wouldn’t have laughed.’
‘You did laugh,’ said Luke, his eyes burning into her. ‘JJ told Ray I loved you. He said Ray laughed. And next day Ray told JJ he told you and that you laughed so hard you were almost sick …’
‘It’s not true.’
‘He told JJ to tell me you said I was a fucking loser.’ Luke raised the knife and Reardon took a sidestep that moved her closer to the front door, her hands held in front, palms open.
‘Ray never said anything, Luke. You have to believe me. Is that why you’re here now? To pay me back for something that didn’t happen?’
‘I … it was JJ’s idea. You did the same to him.’
‘It’s not true.’
‘Said you treated him like shit and he wanted to talk to you, tell you how he felt.’
‘He was lying, Luke. He didn’t want to tell me anything. He wanted to hurt me. Look!’ she exclaimed, gesturing at her face.
Luke looked shamefaced at the floor. ‘When he was hurting you, I felt bad.’
‘I couldn’t just stand there,’ he continued, encouraged. ‘I had to stop him.’
‘You did a good thing, Luke,’ she said, slow and clear. With a sudden inspiration, she added, ‘You saved me.’
A shy smile invaded Luke’s features. ‘I did, didn’t I? That’s because I love you.’
‘I know that. Now.’ She paused, trying to smile. ‘But if you really love me, Luke, you’ll let me go.’
‘You didn’t laugh at me?’
‘Never. You and Ray were just kids. He never said a word about you. He was taking the piss. That’s what teenage boys do. Now please put the knife down.’
Luke dropped the knife and the tension in Reardon’s shoulders eased a notch. ‘I wouldn’t have hurt you, Reardon. Promise.’
‘I know.’ Breathing easier, Reardon moved slowly to the door. ‘I’m leaving now.’
Luke’s eyes filled with tears. ‘You’re afraid of me.’
‘No. It’s just …’
‘You are! And that’s not what I wanted. Is it because of what I done to JJ?’
‘I had to. I’m not like him. You have to believe that.’
Reardon swallowed hard as he opened his arms and advanced on her. She couldn’t bring herself to move closer, but it didn’t matter as he stepped in to her and pushed his face into her neck, sighing like a well-fed puppy. He stank of fear and sweat and blood. She felt his hot breath on her neck as his hands pressed on her shoulder blades, pulling her body to him. She eyed the knife, but it was out of reach. Instead she laid a hand on his broad back, tilting her head away. He moved his mouth over her ear to speak.
She pulled away and stared at him, her eyes fixed on his beseeching expression. Finally, she nodded. ‘Of course I will.’
OMFG if that has not made you want to go out and buy this book….what is wrong with you!? 😜 A HUGE thanks to Mr Dunne for being my #PartnerInCrime this month. I gave Death Do Us Part an easy 5⭐️’s and have purchased some of the previous in the series. This can be read as a stand-alone, so don’t worry if you are just popping your #DunneCherry!
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