The Killer's Girl
"Brilliant… keeps you on the edge of your seat right until the last chapter… loving this series and the characters in it." 5 starsGoodreads Reviewer
‘Mama, wake up.’ The little girl reached for her mother’s face with one pudgy hand. But the eyes stayed closed, and the blood continued to trickle across the floor.
When the body of a young woman is found, tied to her bed and the victim of a brutal attack in her own home, Detective Morgan Brookes is sickened by what she finds as she searches the house. And unprepared for the nightmares it inspires about her childhood.
When the DNA collected gives a positive ID, Morgan can’t wait to put the attacker behind bars. But the person it matches to is already in prison. How could the DNA of someone who has been locked up for over twenty years have shown up in Morgan’s crime scene? And then they make another close match. To Morgan herself.
Faced with the impossible proof that she is somehow connected to this case, Morgan delves deep into the crimes of a killer who stalked the Lake District two decades ago. But distracted by the old case, she misses the signs that he has found a new victim. And when he strikes close to home, Morgan finally realises that she has been living on borrowed time. To find this killer, it’s clear she must confront the nightmares in her past…
A heart-racing, nerve-wracking crime thriller. Fans of Angela Marsons, Rachel Abbott and Patricia Gibney will be completely gripped.
Release date: December 10, 2020
Print pages: 350
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The Killer's Girl
Riverside Rapist Strikes Again
Despite the warmth from the late afternoon sun as it blazed through the kitchen window, a chill settled over her shoulders. She glanced at the clock: Gary would be home soon. A lump formed in her throat and cold beads of perspiration formed on her forehead. She knew without a doubt that he was cheating on her and this was a good enough reason to tell him to leave. The babies were asleep upstairs; she clasped her hands together and prayed. Prayed that her children would stay asleep, that he would leave without a fight, or even better that she was clutching at straws. Putting two and two together to come up with five. She couldn’t be right about this. She didn’t want to be right about any of it, but that cold fear snaked along her spine whenever she thought about it and she knew with a bone-deep feeling of certainty it was him: he was the Riverside Rapist. The date of this latest attack was two nights ago. When Gary had gone fishing. He said he liked fishing at night because it was peaceful. The river was too busy through the day with families, tourists and other fishermen. He’d been out fishing the night of the other two attacks as well; she’d checked the calendar on the kitchen wall where she wrote down all her appointments. He didn’t know it, but she also kept a track of the days he went fishing, working and running: a tiny asterisk next to the time he left the house. She didn’t trust him, not since she’d caught him with her friend the day she went into labour with their second baby. He said it was a misunderstanding, that Claire had come onto him and it was only a kiss. Bent over double in agonising labour pains, she’d been too shocked to say or do anything about it. Hard to believe that was three years ago.
She heard a murmur from upstairs and jumped up, scrabbling to grab the bottle of milk she had ready. Her little boy, Taylor, was almost five now and too old to be still having afternoon naps, but Janet needed the rest, so when she put Skye down she told him to nap as well. Upstairs she crept into the small room both her kids shared. Taylor was fast asleep but Skye was stirring. Shushing her, Janet bent over and placed the rubber teat in her mouth. She started suckling and closed her eyes once more. The front door slammed, and she stood up straight. Kissing two of her fingers, she held them against Skye’s forehead and whispered: ‘Stay asleep, baby girl. Mummy loves you more than anything.’
She left the room, pushing the door to but not shutting it tight. Acid was burning the back of her throat, and any moment now he would see the battered, brown suitcase by the front door that he’d brought with him the day he’d moved himself into her home without asking.
She stood still at the top of the stairs and wondered if she should have been the one to leave him, but she had nowhere to go. This was her house; the council had made her wait a long time for a three bedroom. She’d be homeless if she was the one to leave.
‘Janet.’ His voice bellowed up the stairs and she forced herself to run down them before he woke the babies.
He was glaring at her. Two perfect circles of red on his cheeks, the size of ten pence pieces. He pointed to the case.
‘Going somewhere, are we?’
She shook her head.
‘Why is that there then? Because you felt like it? Did you finally decide to get rid of those clothes that are too small since you gained all that baby weight?’
She wouldn’t let him see how scared she was: it was time to make a stand. She had to do this for herself and her children.
‘It’s full of your clothes. I want you to leave.’
He laughed, bent over double and slapped his hands on his thighs.
‘You’re a funny one. Are you telling me to get out of my house? The house I pay for with my hard-earned wages.’
He was standing straight again now. He took a step nearer. He was taller than she was, but she stood firm, despite the fact that her knees were trembling so much she thought they might buckle underneath her at any moment.
‘Yes, Gary, that’s right. I want you to leave, now.’
He folded his arms, and he was standing so close, she could feel the heat radiating from him.
‘Can I ask you why you want me to leave? What the hell is wrong with you?’
She could see by his posture and the way his eyes had narrowed into two slits that he was furious, but there was no going back.
‘You and Claire, you’re still screwing her. She told me, but that’s not all.’
‘She’s a lying slut, don’t listen to a word she says. She won’t leave me alone. What do you mean that’s not all?’
‘I know what you did, what you’ve been doing.’
She began to back towards the kitchen, trying to put some space between them. He followed her, his entire face now a burning mask of hatred. She knew that look and she knew what would come next. The hard punches that would leave huge bruises where no one could see because he was that sneaky. She ran into the kitchen, grabbing a large knife out of the sink. Its handle was slippery in her grasp, but she felt better knowing she had some protection. He followed her in, never taking his eyes off the knife, and she knew he would be even more furious that she’d picked it up and was now pointing it in his direction.
‘What have I been doing, Janet?’
Her head was spinning; she didn’t want to say it out loud, was petrified of speaking it. But she’d found his clothes in the washing machine when she’d got up in the middle of the night to make a bottle for Skye: his jeans had grass stains on the knees. Never, in the years they’d been together, had he ever come home with grass stains on his knees when he’d been fishing, because he always wore waterproof trousers. She could see the newspaper headlines inside her head: big, bold, black printed headlines telling of the horrors he’d put his victims through. He stepped towards her and she held up the knife.
‘Get out, Gary, take your things and leave me alone. I’m through with this and I don’t want you anywhere near the children.’
She screamed the words at him, but when he shook his head in disbelief she was no longer scared and gave him a look of defiance.
‘No, I don’t know what crazy shit you’re talking about and I’m not leaving, so what are you going to do about it?’
‘It was you, those women. You weren’t fishing; you’re a monster. Get out before I phone the police and tell them where to come find you.’
He lunged for the knife, punching her on the wrist so hard a burning pain shot along her arm up to her elbow and she thought he’d broken it. The knife fell from her grasp; he was fast, much faster than her. He scooped down and picked it up. This time he pointed it at her.
‘You could get me in a lot of trouble talking crap like that. What’s the matter with you, Janet?’
He took a step closer, so close she could feel the sharp tip of the blade poking into the soft flesh at the base of her throat. She opened her mouth to scream for help. The walls were thin. Surely someone would hear her and come to see what was going on or at least phone the police. Without warning, Gary swung his arm back and thrust the knife into her stomach. The scream died on her lips. He pulled the knife out, and she looked at the redness of the blood dripping from the blade. A maroon mess was spreading over the white dress she was wearing.
‘You should have kept your mouth shut and your nose out of my business. Now look what you made me do.’
He thrust the knife at her again. As she fell forwards into his arms, she looked up and saw her beautiful baby girl standing on the bottom step, watching it all. She tried to tell her how much she loved her, but the only thing that came from her lips was a blood-filled air bubble. As she fell to her knees, dying, the only sound she could hear was Skye screaming for her mummy.
Gabrielle Stevens decided to walk home from The Golden Ball where she had spent the last three hours laughing and chatting with her friends after her shift behind the bar had ended. It was a short walk; one she had made countless times. She wasn’t drunk exactly, but she was struggling to walk in a straight line. The light from the last supermoon of the year illuminated the whole of the Lakeland fells and mountains that surrounded Rydal Falls; she stopped for a second to take in the view. It was magical; pulling out her iPhone she tried to snap a photo of it. When she looked at the screen she sighed: it always took a rubbish photo. A loud snap came from somewhere not too far behind and she let out a screech. She spun around, surveying the area to see if she was being followed. The narrow road behind her was deserted. She couldn’t see any movement in the play park opposite. Her heart was racing and she let out a small laugh, probably some animal. All the same though, she crossed the road to the row of houses where she felt a little safer and not as exposed.
Forgetting about the moon, she hurried towards her parents’ house where she lived at the end of the street. She didn’t realise how shaken she was until she tried to get the key in the lock. After a couple of attempts she managed it, breathing a sigh of relief when it twisted and the door pushed inwards. Stepping inside she slammed it shut behind her, locking it and turning the hall light on. She was being stupid, for God’s sake, Gabby, stop it. You live in Rydal Falls, not The Bronx. Still, she turned all the downstairs lights on just to make her feel better. Her phone began to vibrate in her pocket. She didn’t recognise the number and opened the message.
Are you home?
No, who is this?
There was no reply; she waited, watching the screen for an answer. None came and she pushed it back in her pocket, must be a wrong number. Kicking off her shoes, she double-checked the front door was locked and went upstairs. The house was quiet without her parents; they were currently living it up in Madrid. It was saying something when your fifty-year-old parents lived a more exciting life than you did. She had to do something about it, get out of Rydal Falls for a start. As much as she loved living here there wasn’t anything to do. If she wanted a life of excitement, she was going to have to move to a city and get a proper job. It was why she’d gone back to college despite how much she’d hated her school years.
She spat toothpaste into the sink and rinsed her mouth. Scraping her long hair into a topknot, she put her pyjamas on and went into her bedroom. She stared at the neatly made bed and felt the tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickle. She hadn’t made it: she never did. One of the perks of living with her parents was her mum made her bed and took all the dirty pots downstairs. Gabby looked around to see if her breakfast bowl had been moved: it hadn’t. It was still there, a few crusty Cornflakes stuck to the sides. Had she made the bed this morning? Her mind was a bit blurry after consuming a bottle of house rosé and a couple of vodkas. Had her parents come back early? They weren’t due home for a couple of days. She looked out of the window down onto the drive. Their car wasn’t outside. Had she made the bed herself and forgotten about it? An overwhelming feeling of tiredness filled her mind. She was losing it, another reason to move out of here into the big, wide world.
Pulling back the duvet she screamed. There was a folded piece of paper on the sheet. Her hands shaking, she plucked it between two fingers, opening it.
You look much better naked
A floorboard by the door creaked and she knew without a doubt that someone was standing in her room, right behind her. She felt the soft whisper of breath against the back of her neck and her body tensed, afraid to turn around. There was no escape; she could jump out of the window but would probably break her neck in the fall. It was a long way down. Her phone was in the bathroom. She’d left it on the corner of the bath when she’d undressed. Her feet were frozen to the ground and she prayed she was already in bed asleep and having some terrible vodka-induced nightmare. Whoever it was standing behind her wasn’t in a hurry. She could hear his shallow breathing; he was waiting for her to make a move.
‘Who are you?’
He didn’t answer. The only noises in the room were the ticking clock on the wall and the heavy breathing behind her. Gabby forced herself to turn around and wished she hadn’t. The man standing there was dressed all in black, wearing a ski mask. She could see his eyes and nothing else. He was leaning casually against the door frame with his arms crossed. Her legs were quivering and her breath was coming out in short bursts.
‘My parents are on their way home. You’d better get out.’
Her voice cracked and despite trying her best to sound calm, the almost high-pitched scream at the end betrayed her.
He pointed to the bed. She shook her head and he uncrossed his arms. One hand gripped the handle of a large kitchen knife: the one from the butcher’s block on the granite kitchen counter she never used because it was so sharp, every single time she picked it up she ended up slicing her fingers. Her mind was screaming at her to fight, but her body was doing exactly what he was telling her to do, and she was disgusted with herself. She sat on the bed, numb. What did he want with her? Realising she had little choice, she opened her mouth to scream. But he was there in front of her, wrapping one arm around her and pressing a gloved hand against her mouth. He drew back his fist and punched her hard in the side of her temple, stunning her. Then he pulled a length of material from his pocket and gagged her so tight she felt as if she was going to suffocate. He hit her again and she fell back onto the bed, the light in the bedroom dimming. Despite the dizziness she reached out and pulled the ski mask from his head. Horror engulfed her, taking her to a new level of fear. She knew this man. Then her arms were being stretched towards the bed posts and she felt the sting as rope bit into her flesh.
Detective Constable Morgan Brookes had taken up running. At least that’s what she called it if anyone asked. What she was actually doing with the ‘Couch to 5K Programme’ was a mixture of walking, then walking slightly faster, because she couldn’t run to save her life. She had woken up at 04.25 again, the same time she did every morning without fail, and decided to put the extra time in her day to good use by trying to get fit. The weather was getting cooler as they headed towards the end of September. She liked Rydal Falls this early in the morning. The streets were deserted and the tourists weren’t wandering around en masse. When she was almost back to tree-lined Singleton Park Road, where her ground-floor apartment was, she heard the ear-splitting peal of sirens. She paused, pulling an earbud out to judge how close they were. Another set of sirens joined the first and she felt her heart sink. Hopefully, it wasn’t too serious, a drunken scuffle or a shed burglary in progress. She’d had her fill of murders to last a lifetime. She carried on home, checking her watch. She still had time to shower, grab some breakfast and get to the station before everyone else even thought about waking up.
Bent over double, Morgan was blasting her hair with the hairdryer when she caught the ringing of her phone. Picking it up, she saw she had two missed calls. The deep, gravelly voice of her sergeant, Ben Matthews, on the other end sounded rough, as if he’d been roused from a deep sleep.
‘Thought you’d have been awake. Were you asleep?’ There was a hint of surprise in his voice; he knew about her insomnia.
‘No, I was drying my hair. Why?’
‘We’re needed; there’s been a sudden death on Park Avenue. Do you need picking up or can you meet me there?’
‘I’ll meet you there.’
He hung up, and she realised the sirens must have been going to Park Avenue. Despite being relatively new in her role as a detective, Morgan knew that this must be more serious than a run-of-the-mill sudden death. Ben had been called out to drug overdoses and suicides without the need to call her and request she joined him. She couldn’t stop feeling overwhelmed. You can do this; you know you can, she whispered to her reflection in the mirror as she tied her shoulder-length, copper-coloured hair up and straightened the edges of her ponytail. With steady hands she applied two tiny black wings of eyeliner to her eyelids; her green eyes stared back at her. Already feeling better now she looked like a conservative version of her off-duty self – her freckles disguised under the Lock-It foundation she favoured; her tattoos covered – she dressed quickly in black trousers and a black shirt and felt ready to face whatever the day threw at her.
Turning into Park Avenue, Morgan was stopped by a response officer in the process of stringing blue-and-white tape across the width of the street. Ben’s car was at the opposite end, behind the cordon. Parking, she got out and showed her ID card to the officer, with a greeting, before ducking under the tape. The officer smiled back. She walked briskly down the middle of the road towards where Ben was talking to one of the dog handlers. He waved at her and they watched as the officer unlatched the cage at the back of the police van and let out a gorgeous Fox Red Labrador. It jumped down, tail wagging, waiting for its instructions.
Ben turned to Morgan.
‘The victim is twenty-three-year-old Gabriella Stevens. Her parents arrived home approx sixty minutes ago from holiday. They found the front door locked and all the lights off. When they went inside, the whole house was in disarray. Upstairs they found their daughter dead. Then phoned the police and here we are. As soon as the dog has searched the area, we’ll go in and take a look at the scene.’
‘I thought this was a sudden death?’
‘It’s a suspected murder. The first officer on the scene said it was pretty hard to get the full story from the victim’s parents. He went upstairs and saw her tied to the bed with a rope around her neck. They are understandably hysterical at finding their daughter like this.’
Morgan let out a gasp, the horror bringing back her own situation: only a few short weeks ago, a killer broke into her apartment and attacked her. Ben’s gaze softened and he reached out his hand to pat her arm.
‘Is this okay, are you okay? I didn’t think.’
‘I’m fine, sorry. The poor woman.’
‘Whoever the sick bastard was spent some time in the room with her whilst they rifled through her drawers and personal belongings.’
‘That’s awful. Were they looking for something?’
‘The parents were focused on their daughter, so we won’t know until they are able to come back home and go through her things after we’ve finished processing the scene.’
Morgan and Ben watched in silence as the dog and its handler came back out of the garden. It was straining at its long leash as it ran towards the parkland on the opposite side of the road. Whilst they waited for the all clear, they began to dress in the protective clothing that Ben kept in supply in the boot of his car. By the time they were suited and booted, the dog handler came back into view and gave them the thumbs up. The house was on the corner of a dead-end street; it had a front garden which was overlooked by the parkland opposite.
She knew Ben was concentrating so she didn’t speak again, letting him lead the way through the garden gate and along the path towards the open front door. The heady smell of late-blooming roses filled the air. Morgan paused for a moment to admire the array of brightly coloured flowers which filled the front garden. It was compact, but every space was filled with containers of overflowing flowers and it was beautiful. There was even a trellis framework around the front door with a climbing rose growing around it. She paused, gently taking hold of a pale pink bud and whispered: ‘It’s like a cottage out of a fairy tale, it’s so pretty.’
Ben nodded. ‘Not much of a fairy tale once you step inside though.’
She followed him inside the house which was cooler than outside. The air was tinged with invisible particles of decomposition, and Morgan looked around in dismay at the mess. The house was homely and decorated with lots of flowery Cath Kidston wal. . .
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