Amazon.co.uk. Amazon.com. Kindle ebook. Waterstones in Newcastle
‘There is lots of action, drama and dark tragedy, and some excellent villains.’ The Historical Novel Society Review. July 2012.
‘A good rattling read. I love historical mysteries.’
‘This is a really compelling book. I found myself drawn in to the strange and disturbing lot that belongs to Hilary Belsingham.’
Here’s a sample from the first chapter
She was just nine years old, her blonde hair falling about her face in ringlets. Everyone said she was pretty, had a pretty smile; back home that’s what they said and it had made her smile even more, but she wasn’t smiling now, and she was sure she never would again.
Pressing herself into the shadows of the narrow street, she felt her chest heaving and burning. Cold from the stone terraced wall seeped through her shaking body, which she tried with all her might to still, but it wasn’t just the freezing temperature that was the cause of such trembling. In between the gasps for air, she could hear the relentless thud of running feet coming ever nearer.
She could run no further; it hurt to draw the cold air past her scorched throat, and her legs were beginning to buckle, even though her weight was only slight. She must have been running for over an hour. Her breath drifted into the night. They would see her, hear her; the heavy pounding of her pursuers seemed to say as much, and so with a resolve drawn from desperation, she broke cover just as the men rounded the corner.
Above, the sickly haze of moonlight that fringed the night clouds momentarily broke through, and the men shouted as they saw her caught in its meagre beam. She disappeared down another side street, driven by the awful knowledge that she was running for her life. She had taken them by surprise; had it all planned, but had become lost in the dark chares that ran up from the river to Butcher’s lane. Across from the exchange at Sand Hill lay the courthouse and beyond that the bridge, if only she could get there.
She ran on. The streets were deserted at this time of night and she could hear the slap of her feet on the cobbles. Glancing behind, as she ran, she lost her balance and fell in the slime, her dress smeared with the human dirt of ash-pits that had been dumped in the street. Picking herself up, her lungs on fire, she let out a scream as the men bore down on her. She plunged onwards past the closed doors, the occasional dimly lit window; she thought about calling for help – a month ago she would have stopped and banged on a door expecting it to open, but not now.
Finally, she made it into the open space above Sand Hill. Without looking back, she tore down the steep incline of the Side and towards the Exchange. She was nearly there; she could see the tall masts of ships tied to the quayside, hear the rigging creaking and the lonely tinkle of a bell echoing in the night.
But she didn’t see the man step out from the doorway, and she cried out as he grabbed her.
‘Noo lass! Why would ye be in such a hurry at this time of night, eh?’ It was the watchman.
‘Please mister let me gan, they’re after me,’ she pleaded, barely able to get the words out for want of breath.
The watchman looked at her disbelievingly. ‘Whey lass, ye gonna have ti dee better than that. What ye been up ti? Ye been thieving I’ll warrant.’
Becky looked behind her, across the street to the chare, which appeared as black as the mouth of a tunnel. Had she lost them?
‘Aye, I’m a thief. I’m a thief,’ she screamed hysterically. ‘Please take me ti prison. Ye must.’
The watchman’s face, all pitted with tiny craters, scrunched into an expression of bafflement, showing the few remaining black stumps in his mouth. He laughed, splattering the girl with his malodorous breath. But before he had time to ask another question his head was jerked backwards stretching his skin tightly over his Adam’s apple. Becky caught sight of the man’s eyes, terrified and mad- staring like a cow’s at slaughter, then the glint of a knife as it slit his throat. In the instant it took for the momentary thin red line to stretch from ear to ear and for the gush of blood to pour, Becky was again running, terrified, just narrowly escaping the clutches of the man with the knife, he was one of her pursuers. She heard him cursing her as he made chase. ‘Damn it, you little bitch!’ he said in a seething whisper, which seemed to echo through the silent streets.
Tired and weak, she ran, sobbing, but with a determination that would have made her father proud. She was sure of that and it kept her going. There was no one alive to whom Jack Cottrell would submit. And liberty was her weapon now, and she was certain she would use it. They were gaining on her; she could hear their desperate breath despite the pounding in her own ears. Intuitively, she weaved to the left just in time as one of them made a lunge for her, but then struck right again around the Exchange and finally onto the bridge. There were buildings: shops, dwellings teetering on either side, but she knew where she was going and shot down a dark alley. She reached the wall, climbed up and sat on the edge wrapping her arms around her body. She shook uncontrollably and thought of Jesus, hoping he would forgive her. But now she was here, she wasn’t sure she could do it, wondered why it was so hard to do something that was wrong; most things she wasn’t allowed to do were easy – stealing apples from old Tom’s orchard or sneaking into Hodburn Wood.
Below her were the icy waters of the Tyne.
The two men followed down the narrow passage one behind the other. As they approached the back of the buildings and the river, the alley opened up. The girl they had been chasing, the filthy, besmirched face that was worth so much stared back at them defiantly, eyes narrowed like a cornered cat, her chest rising and falling rapidly. The two men looked at one another. They had never been allowed to touch her, had been told to bring her back at all costs, but now they had her, they knew what they were going to do. One of them stepped forward pulling at his britches. He was still panting like a dog.
He took another step towards her and turned to the other grinning as if to say, ‘watch this’, then rounded on the girl again. He saw her laying backwards, her legs parting and rising up in surrender. His eyes widened stupidly in anticipation, before realising what she was actually doing, but it was too late and she disappeared over the side of the wall.
Both men stood dumbfounded.
‘Ah cannit believe she’d rather kill hersell,’ said the one holding on to his britches.