25 years ago he took a girl. Today he takes another.
One August afternoon, eight-year-old Grace Lennard skips into the garden of the childcare centre she attends and vanishes into thin air.
Hours before, Steven Harte walks into Halesowen police station and confesses to having information that will lead Detective Kim Stone to Melody Jones – the little girl who was taken from a playground exactly twenty-five years ago. But something about his confession is off and Kim dismisses his claims.
Arriving at the scene of Grace’s disappearance, Kim finds a chilling piece of evidence: the heart bracelet belonging to Melody. Now Kim must play Steven’s twisted game if she is to find Grace alive. But they’re going to play by Kim’s rules.
With only twenty-four hours to make every second of Steven’s interrogation count, and scan his behaviour for hidden clues, Kim and her team soon link Steven to the abduction of several vulnerable girls – two were kept for a year and then released, unharmed – but where are Melody and the others?
Then small bones are discovered in the grounds of a local park, and Kim fears the worst.
Kim may be close to convicting a killer, but there’s another who wants revenge against her – Dr Alex Thorne – the evil woman Kim did her best to keep behind bars. Alex is about to reveal a shocking secret to Kim that will hit her where it hurts the most. And if Kim lets Alex mess with her head, she might not be able to save Grace and find the other missing girls in time.
An edge-of-your-seat thriller that will leave your heart in your mouth. You will be totally hooked on the utterly addictive, number one, multi-million-copy bestselling Detective Kim Stone series.
Read what everyone is saying about the Detective Kim Stone series:
‘OMG!!! SHUT THE FRONT DOOR!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING TO US ANGELA!!!! JUST WOW!!!! Seriously love, love LOVED this book!!!!...I was on the edge of my seat, biting my nails whilst feeling my heart pounding into the silly hours of the morning...one of the best books I have ever read!!!! An absolute MUST READ!!!’ Bookworm86, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘The jack, queen, king and ace of crime fiction…you can't stop reading it until the fantastic ending…Another mesmerizing and riveting read! I find it insulting to even rate it giving between one to five stars, because how many stars should you give to the sun?’ The World Is Ours To Read, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘Chilling...stomach churning…I did find myself reading open mouthed as the plot begins to unfold..…
Release date: November 11, 2021
Print pages: 350
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
I grab brown bear and hold him close.
Is someone coming in? Are they coming to get me? Where am I being taken now?
I don’t know how I feel.
I’ve waited so long for the door to open, and now my stomach is rolling like when I had to do a sums test that I wasn’t ready for.
‘Oh no… oh no… oh no…’ I whisper as I back away from it. I don’t understand.
Brown bear’s ear hovers close to my mouth. I give in to temptation and allow it into my mouth. I spit it back out again. Only little girls chew on toys.
I reach for the hairbrush on the dressing table. It sits beside the small glass jewellery box that holds my most treasured possessions: a sparkly bangle and a silver chain. They’re new and I just love to take them out, touch them and put them back again.
Behind the jewellery box is my diary, covered with my favourite Barbie picture. I never had anything so lovely before in my whole life.
I turn away from the door completely and look at the other side of the dresser. The triangular sandwich packaging from lunch sits on the top. The apple core has fallen inside it. Hot meal for breakfast; sandwich, crisps and fruit for lunch; and biscuits and crackers for snacks.
Keeping my back to the door, I move to the desk in the corner. My schoolbooks are open. Double reading on Tuesday afternoon. Every Tuesday afternoon.
I remove the strawberry from the end of the pencil and replace it with a furry grape. It’s purple, my favourite. Another present. I love it.
I turn back to my books but can’t concentrate. Before I realise it, I am chewing on the purple grape, and strands of fur are resting on my tongue.
I scratch at my tongue to remove them and wipe my hands on my jeans.
I step into the bathroom and swill my hands under the mixer tap. Maybe when I return the door will be closed again.
After using the towel, I fold it. I’m not sure why. No one else uses this bathroom.
It’s mine. All mine.
It’s my toilet, my bath, my shower, my sink. My wardrobe filled with new clothes. My bed that’s bigger than a single but not as big as Mummy’s bed.
My very own television is fixed to the wall above my desk. I can see it from my bed or from the soft cushioned single chair beside the door.
I still don’t understand what’s going on.
I look to the single camera nestled in the far corner of the room. I stare at it waiting for an answer.
It doesn’t answer me.
Beyond the door is grass, bushes, trees. I strain my neck to get a better look, to see what else is beyond.
I take a step, making sure I take brown bear with me.
And then suddenly I am there. I am at the open door.
I have only one question.
What am I supposed to do now?
‘So, where were you when Melody Jones was abducted?’ Kim asked, turning off Bryant’s car radio. She’d already heard the mother’s plea for new information on breakfast news earlier that day. It was the twenty-five-year anniversary of the seven-year-old’s abduction, and Kim had every sympathy for a family that was still waiting for closure.
‘Hmm… twenty-five years ago I was a young, good-looking police officer in my late-twenties. Had myself a gorgeous fiancée and was pretty happy with life.’
‘And I’d just left foster family number five,’ Kim said.
‘Bloody hell, guv, way to make me feel old,’ he grumbled, pulling into Halesowen police station car park.
He didn’t ask questions about any of her seven foster homes, knowing she was unlikely to share.
She got out of the car and didn’t rush into the building as she normally did.
Bryant eyed her questioningly.
‘You carry on up – I’ll be with you in a minute.’
He shrugged and headed into the building.
She leaned against the wall and took out her phone. She’d set it on silent first thing, not because of the statement they’d been to take for an assault, but because unwanted calls were blowing up her phone twice a day, every day. Although she hated keeping anything from her team, Bryant in particular would be most concerned about any contact from the sociopathic psychiatrist. It had been almost a week since Alexandra Thorne had first tried to call her from prison, and she had rejected every call. So far.
Her sensible brain wondered which part of her psyche had added those two words to the end of the thought. Without those two words the thought was decisive, definite, resolute. Those two words left a question in her mind.
She was sure there was nothing the woman had to say that she wanted to hear. And yet.
God damn those two-word hecklers that insisted on inserting themselves into her musings.
Anyone who knew her could testify that contact of any kind with the sociopathic psychiatrist was detrimental to her well-being. Doctor Alexandra Thorne was the most intelligent person Kim had ever known. She was also the most evil, ruthless, amoral, despicable excuse for a human being that she’d ever had the misfortune to meet.
Despite Kim’s enviable defences, Alex had the ability to see right inside her, as though looking at an X-ray. She had the skill, like a cadaver dog, to sniff out every weakness that Kim was able to hide from everyone else. And Alex had made it her mission in life to seek out those vulnerabilities and expose every one.
Yes, the fascination had run both ways between them, Kim admitted. She had been equally repulsed and intrigued by the cold detachment with which the woman had played with people’s lives and emotions for her own sick game.
So far, after both encounters with the woman, Kim had walked away intact.
She was willing to bet that a third time she would not be quite so lucky.
‘Okay, kiddies, what’s cooking?’ Kim asked, entering the squad room. She was pleased to see that a fresh pot of coffee was already brewing. Bryant had put his head start up the stairs to good use.
‘Got CPS approval for a charge on Lester Baggot,’ Stacey said, fist pumping the air.
‘Great news,’ Kim said, sitting on the edge of the spare desk.
Lester Baggot had been abusing his wife, to their knowledge, for the last five years. A routine had developed. They received the call of a disturbance at the address. They attended, separated the couple, begged Louise to press charges, she’d refuse and a few weeks later they’d be back again and the whole process would be repeated.
Four nights ago, Louise had been taken to hospital with two broken bones and a serious concussion. The decision to charge had been taken out of her hands. Kim just hoped the woman took the opportunity to make a fresh start away from her abusive husband.
‘Hard act to follow,’ he said, smiling at his colleague. ‘No such luck for me. Still can’t find anyone matching the description of Casper.’
The DS had been investigating a string of car thefts on the Blakemore Estate. As far as crooks went, this one was a bit of a gentleman. Broke in during the night, found the car keys, stole the car, left nothing disturbed, woke no one and then managed to disappear, avoiding camera detection. Penn had nicknamed him the friendly ghost.
‘Got one hit of the stolen Toyota passing by a front garden at 3.15 a.m., but then nothing.’
It was the fifth car to go missing from the same estate in a month.
‘I’ve put in a request for some mobile CCTV units to be positioned on the entry and exit points of the estate.’
Kim nodded her agreement and wondered, for the hundredth time, what kind of world they’d live in if the criminals used their intelligence and skills to do good.
‘Okay, make sure you get one placed at—’
Kim stopped speaking as Bryant’s phone rang.
He listened and then pushed the receiver towards her.
‘It’s Jack for you.’
Did no one ring her own phone anymore? Was all communication filtered through her colleague?
She reached across and hit the loudspeaker.
‘Go ahead, Jack,’ she said to the desk sergeant.
‘I’ve got another one, marm,’ he offered wearily.
Kim groaned. She didn’t need any explanation. Anniversaries brought out the weirdos. The more the media coverage, the more confessions they received, and in the last two days, three men and one woman had come in to confess to the abduction of Melody Jones. The last one hadn’t done his sums right and had no answer when Penn had asked how he’d managed to pull it off when he’d only been two and a half years old himself.
Kim looked around the room. ‘Okay, by my count it’s Stacey’s turn to…’
‘Only wants you, marm. He really insists you’re going to want to hear him out.’
Kim felt herself stiffen. If there was one thing she hated more than weirdos wasting their time, it was the ones who insisted on wasting hers.
‘Okay, Jack, put him in interview room one. I’ll be down shortly.’
Bryant filled her mug with strong black coffee. ‘Keeps her calm,’ he said to the others.
‘You wish,’ Kim said, taking the drink from him.
She had a mind to make their visitor wait, but she couldn’t get on with her day until she’d listened and discredited confessor number five.
As she headed down the stairs, coffee in hand, she considered just how many pieces of her mind she was going to give him for wasting their time.
She opened the door and stepped in, immediately hiding her surprise.
It wasn’t news to her that you couldn’t deduce anything by appearance. There was no photofit for a criminal, a murderer, a paedophile or someone suffering from mental illness. She knew that, but the man standing before her appeared to be none of the above.
She guessed him to be mid-fifties. He had salt-and-pepper hair cut tidily around an attractive, tanned face.
His light-blue shirt was a quality brand that fitted him perfectly and was tucked into belted black trousers. He stood a couple of inches higher than her own five foot nine, and he appeared to have an athletic build.
‘Steven Harte,’ he said, thrusting out his hand as though they were meeting at some kind of conference.
She ignored the hand and sat down.
‘Please take a seat, Mr Harte, and tell me what you profess to know about the abduction of Melody Jones.’
‘Profess?’ he asked, frowning, as he took a seat.
‘You’re our fifth this week, so please forgive my suspicion.’
The frown remained.
‘But why would someone confess to something they didn’t do?’
‘Yes quite, Mr Harte, why would they?’
‘I’m not here with any kind of false confession, DI Stone. I have information that will lead you straight to her.’
His voice was calm and measured if a little surprised that he was being doubted.
Kim liked to understand the motivation of people’s actions. Common sense told her the man before her was a liar, just like the four previous confessors, although he wasn’t claiming to have actually abducted her.
So far, they’d had a sixty-five-year-old male who came in and confessed to every major crime. The next one had been a confirmed delusional; the third one, a female, had been a reporter from Berkshire trying to learn more about the case for a feature she was writing; and the fourth had been Penn’s maths genius who had pissed off someone from a rival gang and thought the police station was the safest place for him until it died down.
Their confessions had all been debunked, and they’d been asked to leave once she’d understood their motives for lying.
And that was all she wanted from this guy before she showed him the door.
‘So, what date was Melody Jones taken?’
‘Sixteenth of August in 1996.’
‘From where?’ Kim asked.
She didn’t need any paperwork to check his answers. She now knew them by heart.
‘The playground at the edge of Hollytree Estate.’
‘And what was she wearing?’
The man closed his eyes. A little smile tugged at his lips as though recalling a fond memory. Kim felt nausea swirl in her stomach.
‘Little pink leggings. I think they were called pedal pushers. They had blue spots on. Her vest top was rainbow stripes. It was a hot day.’ He frowned. ‘She didn’t have any lotion on.’
Kim ignored the disapproval in his voice and focused on his answers. Everything he’d answered so far was correct. It was also public record. There was no mention of the silver chain with a heart that had been on her wrist. A present from her grandmother with her initials engraved on the heart. That detail had never been released.
‘Tell me something that you couldn’t have found out by reading the thousands of news reports available.’
He smiled and traced imaginary circles on the table.
‘And where would be the fun in that?’
Kim’s heart rate began to slow as his motivations became clear. For a minute, he’d had her going with his easy and accurate recall of the details, but his failure to offer anything extra demonstrated he was just another crackpot. A well-dressed, presentable crackpot but not all crackpots came from Hollytree. She had spent the first six years of her life in that place.
‘You will find out everything eventually, Inspector, but it’ll be on my terms.’
‘There are no terms, Mr Harte, unless you want to take me to the body. You drive, I’ll dig.’
He smiled. ‘All in good time, but you’re about to be faced with a more urgent problem and—’
‘I think you’ve taken enough of my time already, Mr Harte,’ she said, pushing back her chair. ‘I now understand your motivation for this confession. You want to play games with the police. You want some kind of fame off the back of a family’s misery, and you expect us to play along with the false hope that we’ll recover Melody’s body.’
Again, that tolerant smile but no words.
‘I don’t know why you need this kind of attention, Mr Harte, but you’re not going to get it here.’
She headed to the door, opened it and turned back.
‘The desk sergeant will show you out.’
She stormed back up the stairs, even more annoyed with this waster than the others. This one had wanted nothing more than to get the attention of the police and engage them in some sort of twisted game.
‘I swear, Bryant, you’re taking the next one,’ she growled, entering the squad room.
‘Sshh…’ Bryant said, turning up his police radio.
All three heads were turned towards it.
‘Another one gone, boss,’ Penn said.
‘Little girl, guv,’ Bryant answered. ‘Taken from a kiddie’s day centre in Netherton. Eight years old.’
Kim stopped dead. Every cell in her body turned to ice.
You’re about to be faced with a more urgent problem.
‘Oh, shit,’ she said, running out of the office.
Was that what Steven Harte had been talking about? And how the hell had he known?
‘Fuck,’ she cursed as she ran down the stairs as quickly as she could.
She key coded herself out of the corridor and fled past a surprised-looking Jack as she almost ran into the automatic doors instead of waiting for them to open.
He couldn’t have gone far. She’d left him only minutes ago.
She scanned the car park. There was no one getting into a car and no car waiting to exit.
Damn. She didn’t even know if he’d come on foot.
Right now, Kim didn’t know if she’d just been speaking with a killer or not, but she wanted to know how he’d foreseen the disappearance of another little girl, or what he’d meant by his prophetic comment.
She ran back inside.
‘Jack, did you see which way he went?’
‘The guy you showed into the interview room earlier. Which way did he go?’
‘Didn’t what?’ she snapped.
‘Jack, you’re testing my…’
He nodded towards the corridor. ‘He’s still in there. He said you’d be back in a minute.’
Kim’s relief quickly turned to annoyance. What game was this guy playing? How the hell had he known?
She steadied her breathing before re-entering the interview room. Right now, her instinct was telling her to barge in there and pin him up against the wall. She took a moment to calm down. Before she set any wheels in motion, she had to get her thinking head on. Up to this point he had admitted nothing. His carefully worded statements were nowhere near a confession to any crime.
She couldn’t even call him a suspect or a witness. At best he was a member of the public who wanted to assist them with their enquiries.
She kept that thought in her head as she re-entered the room.
‘So, you appear to be psychic, Mr Harte. Either that or you had some involvement in the abduction of a little girl earlier today.’
He shrugged and offered that half-smile she wanted to smack from his face.
‘Would you like to share where she is?’ Kim asked, fixing him with a hard stare.
‘I’m more than happy to tell you everything I know. On my terms.’
‘And what are they?’ Kim asked, trying to keep her tone in check. She still had no clue as to what she was dealing with. A lucky prankster or a kidnapper and murderer.
‘I’ll let you know later, once you get back.’
‘From where?’ Kim asked.
‘Well, I’d imagine you need to be present at the scene of the crime. Take some statements, question the witnesses, do police things. You can go,’ he said dismissively.
Kim kept the rage inside her mouth at his superior attitude. Damn it. That was exactly where she needed to be.
‘Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere,’ he said, leaning back in his seat. ‘I’m sure you can keep an eye on me,’ he added, nodding towards the CCTV camera nestled in the corner.
‘What the hell are you playing at, Mr Harte?’ she asked, already feeling the pull towards the site of the disappearance.
He linked his hands behind his head. ‘I’ll be perfectly fine while you’re gone. If Jack could just get me a strong cup of tea, one sugar.’
Kim rarely, if ever, felt at a complete loss with how to handle someone but right now she had to err on the side of caution. If he did have information on the disappearance of either Melody Jones or the girl she’d just heard about, she had to tread carefully.
She pushed the chair back.
‘Mr Harte, I’m leaving now. If you know something about this abduction and you leave, I will find you and charge you with withholding evidence. If you have no wish to help the investigation or if you hinder it, I will ensure that you are punished to the full extent of the law.’
‘Dramatic words, Inspector, but totally unnecessary. I’ll be here when you get back. I’m looking forward to it.’
Kim offered him one last look before leaving with her fists buried deeply in her pockets.
He hadn’t said enough of anything to warrant an arrest. If the PACE regulations listed being a superior, annoying knob as an offence, he’d already be in a cell but, unfortunately, she didn’t have that power.
‘Fire up that computer,’ Kim said, pointing to the PC that occupied the spare desk in the squad room.
Three pairs of eyes questioned her. She guessed they were all wondering why she wasn’t already on her way to Netherton.
Bryant stood. ‘Guv, do you not think we should be on our way to—’
‘I’m aware of where we need to be,’ she snapped, nodding towards Stacey to do what she’d asked.
Stacey rose from her own desk and logged in to the computer.
‘Interview room one,’ she said.
A few keystrokes later she was looking at the man himself.
‘Meet Steven Harte,’ Kim said to the rest of her team, who all moved forward to take a closer look. ‘Our latest weirdo who might not be so weird after all.’
‘You think he knows something about Melody Jones?’ Penn asked.
‘Says he does and also alluded to knowing about our missing girl today.’
‘And he’s here voluntarily?’ Stacey asked doubtfully.
‘Not only is he here but he’s in no great hurry to leave,’ she said as Jack entered the room and placed a cup of tea on the table.
‘But why?’ Bryant asked.
‘Exactly what I want to know,’ Kim said, turning to her team.
‘Stace, I want to know everything about Steven Harte, and Penn, I want you to record him and watch him until your eyes bleed. If he makes one move to leave, you delay him or stick with him. Got it?’
‘Got it, boss,’ he said, taking a seat.
‘Bryant, we’re now off to Netherton,’ she said, reaching for her jacket.
She took one last look at the figure on the computer screen.
As if sensing her attention, he raised his hand to the camera and gave her a little wave.
Alexandra Thorne replaced the receiver for the second time that day and tried not to show her annoyance. Any kind of strong emotion would not serve her well this week.
To get what she wanted she had no choice but to maintain the charade that had been exhausting her for the last four and a half years.
But why wouldn’t the damn woman take her call? she seethed, heading back to her cell.
No matter how diligently she planned her next move, DI Stone always managed to be the fly in the ointment.
She’d timed her approach to the detective perfectly, to coincide with her plan. She’d also bargained on the woman’s curiosity getting the better of her and taking the call, but it appeared that this time DI Stone was playing hard to get.
The police officer had no idea what information Alexandra was now holding. The thought put a smile back on her face. She had knowledge that could change the woman’s whole life. And she would share it. For a price.
The time that she’d invested in the scheme had yielded better results than she could ever have imagined. She had learned more than she’d ever hoped for, and the time had come for her to use the leverage. All she needed now was to get Stone on the phone and the rest would fall into place.
‘Damn you for making this harder than it need be,’ she whispered to herself as she entered her cell.
Her loyal and obliging cellmate lay on the bed reading a battered Jackie Collins novel.
Emma Mitchell had been an invaluable source of information to her for the last eighteen months.
Emma was what Alex liked to call one of life’s ‘likeables’. Slim and attractive, her physical appearance was non-threatening and non-confrontational. She had a ready smile and a pleasant demeanour that allowed her to fade. Whether intentional or not, it afforded her the luxury of being ignored most of the time, which kept her out of trouble and enabled her to float around listening to conversations and gaining intelligence. Most of which Alex had stored for future use.
‘Out,’ Alex instructed, sitting on her own bed. For her next move, she wanted privacy.
‘Aww… come on – this is just getting juicy,’ she said, waving the book about.
‘Save it for bedtime then,’ Alex said, offering her non-negotiable look.
Emma rolled her eyes, closed the book and sloped off the bed.
Alex waited until she was out of the room before she retrieved the A4 exercise book and pen from beneath her pillow.
For the hundredth time, Alex marvelled at the irony of the life she’d had on the outside: a flourishing career as a respected psychiatrist, a full appointment book, a nice house, a flashy car and more money than she knew what to do with. She had been able to buy anything she wanted, whenever she wanted. And now she had to beg for the most basic of necessities like a notebook and pen.
The book was allegedly her journal, her reflection of events that had led to her incarceration. A necessary part of her rehabilitation. It was nothing of the sort. It was a record of every detail she’d learned over the years about inmates and officers alike. It was her power. It held names, dates, events and most likely her ticket to freedom. It was like currency she’d been saving for a rainy day, and that storm was due to hit later this week.
She shouldn’t be surprised that Stone was getting in her way again. It was all she’d done since the minute they’d met. And for that she deserved every minute of the torture she’d inflicted and intended to continue inflicting. The fact that the woman’s psyche was battered and covered with scar tissue only added to her enjoyment. She knew she had the power to break the detective apart; it was just knowing which particular vulnerability would seal the deal. She looked forward to that day, but for now she just needed to get her to take her call.
And this book was going to help her do just that. Now, which of her assets was she willing to sacrifice to execute the next part of her plan?
She flicked the pages until she was five sheets in and found what she was looki. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...