Size: 6.00 x 9.00 in
An empathetic detective and his Swedish-born colleague hunt for the abductors of a teenage schoolgirl—a police procedural set in England and France.
When fourteen-year-old Hollie Jardine fails to return home from school, her terrified parents call the police.
It doesn’t take veteran detective, DCI David Jones, head of the Midlands Police Serious Crime Unit, long to discover a link between Hollie and convicted sex-offender, Ellis Flynn.
With Hollie's chances of survival fading, Jones and his colleague Alex Olganski risk their careers when they ignore protocol to follow Flynn’s trail across the Channel into France.
What they discover in an idyllic backwater will stretch Jones' detection skills to the limit, and Alex's loyalty to heartbreak.
Early afternoon, Birmingham.
Harsh light from an early summer sun bounced off the pavement and dirty shop fronts. Ellis Flynn leaned against the railings outside Joe’s Piercing Salon with a hand raised to shield his eyes and scanned the street for his latest target, Hollie Jardine. She had long, strawberry-blonde hair, blue eyes, and the innocent, open smile of a new teenager. She fitted the requirement to perfection.
The time on his Rolex knock-off showed her as fifteen minutes late.
He kept the pleasant smile—the one he practised in the bathroom mirror—pasted in position.
Two long weeks he’d spent working this one. It hadn’t been difficult. He’d been charming, attentive, drawing her to where she accepted the belly button piercing. It was yet another way to bind her to him. A couple more trinkets and she’d be ready, hooked.
Hollie, the one Flynn thought of only as ‘The Hottie’, had hesitated at first when he suggested a belly piercing would look wonderful on her softly rounded stomach.
“All the women are wearing them these days,” he told her.
“I can’t have a piercing,” she whispered, but he could tell by the glint in her eyes the idea excited her. “Dad would have a fit.”
“When’s your father gonna see your stomach?” he asked as they strolled hand-in-hand in the park on the other side of town, well away from her home. “You walk round the house half naked, do you?”
She blushed, eyes wide, hand covering her mouth. “I’d never be allowed to show my tummy like that … not in my house. Dad’s too … old, stuffy.”
“Well, that’s okay then. It’ll be our little secret. Meet me after school tomorrow and I’ll buy you a silver bar. Deal?”
She hesitated for a moment, daft bitch, but then smiled. “Deal.”
“Don’t be late. You know how I hate waiting.”
Sixteen minutes. She’d fucking pay, slowly.
There she was. Finally.
The Hottie tottered around the corner twenty-five metres away, on black four-inch heels, looking awkward—a newborn lamb taking its first steps toward the slaughterhouse.
She wore the top he’d bought her last week, yellow to match her hair, and short enough to expose a belly with enough puppy fat to raise the blood pressure. Another of his presents showed through the semi-transparent top, the silk bra—34C—barely holding the girl’s assets in place.
He widened the smile and strode towards her, soon drawing close enough to catch sight of the make-up—mascara, grey eye shadow, blusher, and plum lipstick. Subtle it wasn’t.
The Hottie drew the attention of a beggar camped in the doorway of a derelict off-licence. The tramp mumbled something as she passed and tried looking up her short skirt. She skittered sideways and rushed towards him, towards her man, her protector.
One of her heels caught in a broken paving slab. She stumbled. He raced forward, caught her, and pulled her close. Her breasts mashed against his chest. She looked up and smiled through the travesty of makeup applied with a ladle.
“Hi, babe,” he said. “You look fantastic.” He smoothed the wavy blonde hair. “Did that bloke say something to upset you?” He pointed at the derelict in the doorway.
The Hottie sniffed and buried her face in his chest. He prayed she didn’t fuck up his shirt with that god-awful paintjob. He placed an index finger under her chin and raised her head with the gentlest pressure.
“It was horrible, Eddie,” she sniffled, dabbing her eyes with his offered handkerchief. “Said he’d … he’d give me a fiver for a … blow job.” She mouthed the last two words.
“Did he now?”
Eddie gritted his teeth, dropped the smile, and affected an expression of quiet concern.
“That’s terrible, but we mustn’t blame him. Probably the drink talking. I’m sure he’s a good man under the grime. Let’s forget about him. Right … you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine now I’m with you, babe.” She smiled and grabbed his upper arm.
Eddie bunched his bicep. Girls loved ripped muscles and he worked the weights hard to keep in shape. He took the handkerchief back and dabbed her eyes some more, removing another three coats of lacquer.
“Ready for your present?”
“Are you sure they’ll do it? I … I mean don’t you have to be over sixteen for a piercing?”
“What? Are you kidding? Nobody’s going to ask your age. You look twenty if you’re a day.”
The Hottie lifted her chin higher and beamed. “Do I really?” Her eyes widened. “You’re not just saying that?”
“Hollie, babe,” he whispered, and kissed her smooth forehead—the only place clear of war paint. “Trust me. I’d never lie to you. Now, c’mon, you’ll miss your appointment. I’ve already chosen the perfect little silver barbell. You’re gonna love it.”
He took her hand and escorted her into the shop.
The piercer and tattooist, Joe, a fifty-something biker and former ‘associate’ of Ellis’s late unlamented father, winked at him before turning to the girl. “Hello, Ms Jardine. Please take a seat. This won’t take but a minute. Lift your blouse a little please … and lower the skirt … yep, that’s perfect. Now, I’m going to clean the area with an alcohol wipe, it might feel a little cold at first.”
The Hottie gave Ellis a nervous smile and gripped the arms of the chair. She looked like a child at the dentist’s, preparing for a filling. He nodded encouragement and stepped forward to hold her hand.
Evening, Hollie’s House.
Hollie Jardine peeled back the dressing protecting the livid puncture wound at her navel—her adult badge of honour. Five days, and it still hadn’t healed properly. She didn’t expect it to take so long, but she could put up with the irritation. It was no worse than the curse. She’d put up with anything for her Eddie. Wonderful man. So big, strong, and handsome—and that six-pack made her go weak. Caring too, the way he looked after her and never asked for anything in return. And as for those smouldering eyes with the power to stop her heart?
The clothes he bought were revealing, like the magazines she hid in the closet, grown-up. They were lovely, soft against her skin. So much nicer than the cheap cotton rubbish mum made her wear.
She remembered the fight the day they went to buy new underwear. The old-maid things Mum wanted to buy were hideous. Hollie had to make a stand. Growing up with ancient parents was such a cross. They didn’t understand what it was like growing up in the twenty-first century.
“I can’t change for games wearing those, Mum. I don’t go to a convent school,” she whispered, to keep the discussion from the snooty shop assistant. “The girls will call me, ‘Sister Hollie’. I won’t be able to concentrate during lessons. And you know how hard I work to keep my grades up.” She picked up a modest matching set in pink lace.
“But, those are too … old for you, baby.”
“Oh, please, Mum. You wouldn’t want the girls to bully me, would you?”
Mum had wrinkled her nose and held the garments up to the light between finger and thumb as though she’d catch something from them “You don’t want to look like Amy, do you?” she’d said. “She’s become a little tart with her make-up, short skirts, and the smoking. Yes, your father and I have seen her light up the moment she’s out of sight of her house. That girl’s a bad influence.”
“Amy’s my best friend. Don’t talk about her like that.”
“And I don’t like the way her older brother looks at you, either. Like you’re a piece of meat. Evil, that one. All boys that age are the same.”
“Was Dad the same?”
That stopped her dead. “You father is a good man, darling.”
“I know, Mum. Can I have them? Please?”
Her mother relented eventually, and after the first time, the rest was easy. Over the following few months, Hollie built a nice little wardrobe of underwear and short skirts. Dad didn’t approve, but he never argued with Mum, not ever. He was a good man. Ha!
Not long after that, she met her Eddie, with his long hair, and his muscles, and his car. He treated her with respect, and as though she was a grown-up. Walking home from school one day, there he was. So different from all those boys in school who stared at her, and tried to brush against her in the halls. Even the Deputy Head, kept looking at her with the same expression Mum warned her about. Grey eyes, they were. Looked right into her. Made her feel naked and exposed. He suggested things too when no one else could hear. Animal. Hideous man.
She couldn’t say anything though—no one would believe her. After all, he was the Deputy Head. Above reproach.
“Hollie, dear. Breakfast is ready,” Mum called from the kitchen. “Hurry, or you’ll be late for school.”
School, school, bloody school. What’s the point in school when she’d already found her man?
Mum and Dad had nagged her forever:
“Work hard, baby. Keep your grades high.”
“We’ve never had a doctor in the family, Hollie love. Now wouldn’t that be a fine thing.”
“Yes, Dad. I’ll work hard, make you proud.”
“That’s my girl.”
But she wasn’t Daddy’s little girl any more. She was Eddie’s woman.
Hollie closed the bedroom door behind her, and padded down the stairs, schoolbag slung over her shoulder. “Coming, Mum.”
Afternoon, Birmingham City Centre.
A light shower drove a giggling Ellis Flynn and the Hottie into the cover of a glitzy shopping arcade. Her eyes shone as she stared through the window of a cut-price jeweller’s. She cooed at the shiny baubles. Ellis, patience itself, indulged her whims.
“See those?” He pointed to a tray of silver bracelets on the bottom shelf. “Choose one and it’s yours.”
“Oh no, I couldn’t—they’re far too expensive,” she said, eyes big as hubcaps and just as intelligent.
“Hollie. You’ll upset me if you refuse.”
“They’re all so beautiful. I can’t choose.”
The cool of the arcade made the Hottie’s breath fog the glass.
“See that one? The one with the teardrops?” Eddie pointed at a mid-priced bracelet, silver with glass beads inserted between the links. “Matches the colour of your eyes. What d’you reckon?”
“It’s gorgeous, but the price …”
“Not a problem. You’re worth it.”
Ellis bent forward and tapped a finger to his cheek. When she moved in for the kiss, he turned his head and their lips met. The Hottie giggled and pressed hard—too hard. He darted out an exploratory tongue and met little resistance. She responded and their spit mingled.
He broke the embrace. “Oh my gosh, I … I’m so sorry, Hollie,” he whispered. “Don’t know what came over me. I’m never that pushy. It’s … just that you’re so … sweet.”
The Hottie’s face creased into a pout. “Please don’t be upset. That was lovely. I don’t mind, really I don’t. In fact”—she lowered her eyes to his chest—“we could go to the next level. If you like.”
“Are you sure? You’re so young.”
The Hottie’s chin dimpled, and her eyes watered. “The other day you told me I looked like a twenty year-old.”
“Well, yes … but you’re only thirteen.”
“No. I’m fourteen,” she shouted, loud enough for a passing elderly couple to hear. The wrinklies shook their heads before scurrying deeper into the mall.
Fuck’s sake Ellis. Way to keep a low profile, dumbass.
“Kidding, babe. I know exactly how old you are. Counting the days ‘til your sixteenth birthday, when we can be together, forever.”
He dragged out the winning smile once more. His cheeks were starting to tire.
The Hottie sniffled. “Why do we have to wait so long? I’m ready now.”
“No, it wouldn’t be right. I couldn’t. Now c’mon. Let’s go get that bracelet.”
Hottie kept playing with the shiny trinket. Couldn’t stop thanking him. Ninety fucking quid it cost, but the shop offered a cash-back arrangement. They held hands again and Hollie skipped.
The stupid kid was actually skipping for fuck’s sake.
“Look,” she said, and yanked on his hand. “A photo booth. Can we, please?”
Shit. Not a good idea.
“Sorry, Angel. I’m all out of change and we don’t have the time.”
“Oh please, I’ll pay.” She fumbled in her handbag and yanked out a little pink purse. “Please, it won’t take long.”
“So long as I get to keep the film so I’ll have something to look at when we’re apart.”
“Oh, Eddie. You’re so sweet.”
Late afternoon, Edgbaston.
Arthur always made Ellis nervous, deliciously nervous. Older and wiser than Ellis, Arthur expected obedience and reverence. In return, he gave Ellis a sense of belonging and hope—and safety. And of course, love. Ellis would do anything for Arthur, anything.
He messed the gear change and crunched when dropping into second as he pulled the old camper van to a halt at a T-junction. The big old diesel idled at high revs.
“Why the disguise?” Ellis asked.
“Why not? And the name’s Jenkins this trip, right?”
“Right. Don’t forget.”
“I won’t, but the blond wig and those green contacts. Scary. The real Jenkins must be one ugly mother.”
“Was? He’s dead now?”
“Yes. Kept askin’ too many questions.”
“Sorry, Art… er, Jenkins.” Ellis swallowed hard, and pointed out the window on his side. “There she is. Told you she wouldn’t let me down. On time too, for once.”
In the front passenger seat, Jenkins scrunched lower and followed the line of Ellis’s finger. Hollie Jardine, still wearing her school uniform, walked along the path and came to a halt at an empty bus stop. A small white suitcase, gripped tight in both hands, rested against her thighs.
“Damn it, boy. You didn’t tell me we’re picking her up outside a school. This camper’s too bloody conspicuous.”
“Please don’t be angry with me,” Ellis said, rushing his words. “I had to. She thinks we’re going on holiday. Could hardly make her walk too far, could I.”
The older man rested a hand on Ellis’ thigh, his skin tingled under the touch. “Easy, pet, I’m no’ mad. I could never be mad at you. You should have given her the money for a cab, but we’re here now, and the ferry’s waiting. Let’s go. Mustn’t keep the wee tart waiting.”
The traffic cleared, Ellis engaged first gear, and made a right. Hollie started waving the moment the van completed the turn.
“Don’t forget, she calls me Eddie.”
“Eddie? That’s a bit Freudian.”
“Huh?” Ellis frowned as he pulled the vehicle to a stop alongside their prey. “Oh, see what you mean. You think it’s about my dad, right?”
“Ne’ mind, boy, just get on wi’ it.”
Ellis unbuckled his seatbelt, scrambled into the back, and slid open the side door. “Hi, darling. Toss me the case and c’mon inside.”
The Hottie took half a step forward but hesitated when she caught sight of Jenkins.
Ellis saw doubt in her eyes for the first time since he’d raised the subject of their trip. She hugged the case to her chest and twisted her head toward the school entrance.
“Don’t worry, babe,” Ellis said, using his soothing voice. It usually worked. “He’s a friend of mine. Needs a lift to the station is all. It’s only a couple of miles out of our way. Won’t take long. We’ll drop him off, and have the van to ourselves.”
He offered his hand but she refused it.
“I … I don’t know. Maybe we should wait … like you said?” She made a half turn.
“Grab her,” Jenkins barked.