One for Sorrow

One for Sorrow, The Cunning Prophet Series, Book One

Enticed by telepathy. Enslaved by lust.
The Isle of Man lies in the Irish Sea between England, Ireland and Scotland. Five girls have been murdered on the island in the last eighteen months. When DI Harry Grimshaw is told he must work with a psychic investigator, he is hostile and sceptical, in spite of the fact that tattooed, foul-mouthed biker Dora Balniel is not a stereotypical clairvoyant.
In spite of their animosity, Dora and Harry work together to sift through Celtic legend and magpie folklore to probe the mind of an obsessive serial killer known as The Daaney One. It becomes clear that Dora has been deliberately lured to the Isle of Man by the killer and that he has the ability to probe her mind. With the murderer controlling what Dora sees, Harry struggles to maintain control over the situation and keep Dora safe. As the sizzling attraction between them builds, it will require all of Harry’s ingenuity as well as her own psychic ability to ensure Dora does not become another victim.

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Excerpt
Copyright © 2015 Jane Godman
All rights reserved

Isadora Electra Freedom Balniel. Freedom? Even if the rest of her name was real—and that was one hell of an improbable ‘if’—she must surely have made that part up.

The Dublin-Douglas ferry was full and Harry leaned on the harbour wall, scanning the faces of the disembarking crowd before studying the scrap of paper in his hand again. He already had a picture in his head of what she would look like. So, when a woman in her late forties with tiny, coloured beads threaded through the iron-grey corn-rows in her hair drifted in his direction, he tensed. Her tie-die dress had faded to an indeterminate hue and she fluttered scarves and jangled jewellery. It seemed his mental image had been depressingly accurate.

Stepping forward, he attempted to conjure up a welcoming expression. It was unsuccessful and, thankfully, unnecessary. With a slightly wary glance at Harry’s outstretched hand and forced smile, the woman skittered around him. She linked arms with a man who sported a yellowing goatee beard and, with a nervous glance over her shoulder, walked away.

Gradually, the crowds thinned to a trickle and then dried up. Harry glanced down at his watch. Again. Where the hell was she? Bloody flaky woman, did she think he had nothing better to do? A faint flicker of hope bloomed. Perhaps she’d changed her mind. But when had he ever been that lucky?

There was no-one else around now, just a young couple who seemed intent on gnawing the face off each other, and a skinny, hooded youth who had pushed a mean-looking motorbike off the ferry and was now hunkered down, tinkering with its decidedly flat tyres. He looked at the stubbornly blank screen of his phone as if it were a coiled snake. The right thing to do, of course, would be ring his boss and find out what had happened to her. His finger paused in mid-swipe however, as he recalled the previous day’s conversation.

“This is a joke, right? I’ve got a serial killer out there who’s just tortured and murdered a fifteen year old girl—his fifth such venture in the last eighteen months, let’s not forget—and you want me to drop everything to give this fortune-teller a guided tour of the island?”

Feeling that the snort he had just given did not adequately express his feelings, he had muttered, “Christ!” He managed to resist what he considered to be a very natural inclination to also kick the waste bin across the room. His boss, Detective Chief Inspector Dave Carter, might be laid back, but Harry suspected that would be going too far. “Seriously, guv, I can’t spare the time out from the investigation for this.”

Carter hadn’t answered. Instead, he’d reached into his desk drawer and withdrawn a sheaf of newspaper clippings held together with a bulldog clip. He tossed them across the desk. “Remember that?” The headlines that screamed at Harry were a year old, the case a gut-wrenching child murder. A little girl, with her hair in bunches and braces on her teeth, grinned up at him from the front page.

“Of course I do.” Who could forget the harrowing details that had come to light during that particular court case? It had nauseated an entire nation. “It was the mother’s boyfriend. Sick bastard.”

“The point is, Harry boy, Lincolnshire police had zilch. Nothing. Just a missing eight year old. Until Isadora Balniel rang their D.C.I. She got straight through as well after that case she helped out on in Northern Ireland. She told them where the kid’s body was hidden. She told them the mother knew all about it. The evil bitch watched as he raped and murdered her daughter. In fact, she encouraged him.” They were both silent for a minute. “This Balniel woman was spot on in every detail. When they went to the mother and repeated details of what her daughter had said as the child died, she admitted it. Isadora Balniel was the reason they got that conviction, Harry. The only reason. They’d both be free now if it wasn’t for her.”

Harry tapped a fingertip on the newspaper cuttings. “No mention of her in any of these.”

“No, and that’s because she insists on anonymity. The press ripped her to shreds after the Northern Ireland case. Now, if the papers get a whiff that she’s involved, she walks. She calls it her non-negotiable.”

“So why us, why now?” Harry asked. “It’s a big, old world and there are a lot of murderers out there. You’re not going to tell me the money and the glamour is here on the Isle of Man.”

“You won’t like this, Harry.” Carter removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Eamon Archer asked for her.”
That did it. The waste bin got it that time, and Carter hadn’t even flinched.

With a sigh, Harry scanned the ferry and the terminal area again. Unless she’d gone overboard and was, even now, floundering around in the cold embrace of the Irish Sea, it didn’t look like any middle-aged fortune-tellers had boarded this particular ferry. Time to break the news. Carter answered on the second ring.

“Guv? No, she didn’t show. How the hell am I supposed to know why not? Maybe the tea leaves told her today was a bad day to cross water. Or her spirit guide revealed what a shit Eamon Archer really is.” He laughed. The youth with the bike paused and, from the slight tilt of the hooded head, was obviously listening in on this interesting conversation. Harry lowered his voice. “Okay, I’ll do one last check here in case the silly cow’s wandered off in the wrong direction and fallen off the end of the jetty, and then make my way back.”

The young couple finally managed to unlock their lips and drift away on a cloud of hormones. Harry’s attention was drawn briefly to the youth. Or, to be more precise, to the bike. Motorbikes were commonplace on the island that proudly hosted the annual T.T. motorcycle races. Even so, this was a serious piece of kit. Its aggressive styling proclaimed it was a Streetfighter. Intrigued, Harry instinctively moved closer, admiring the skilful customisation.

As he approached, the kid muttered a curse before unzipping the hooded jacket, shrugging out of it and flinging it down onto the concrete, crouching lower to get a closer look at the ruined tyre. Harry froze in something approaching shock. It was an emotion to which he believed he had developed immunity. Until this precise moment.

Short, spiked hair in a retina-burning shade of blonde met his eyes. This, and the way the tight leather trousers clung to a heartbreakingly perfect pair of feminine buttocks, led him to the startling conclusion that the ‘youth’ might not be a youth after all. They don’t call me Detective Grimshaw for nothing.

As the slight figure bent forward even further, the gap between the aforementioned trousers and a tight, white vest revealed a glimpse of lacy scarlet thong and an intricate butterfly tattoo. The butterfly’s hind wing dipped into the shadowy cleft of her buttocks and, for a wild nanosecond, Harry imagined himself leaning over and tracing its path with his finger. His mouth went dry. How long had it been since he’d thought about a woman in that way? He corrected himself dourly. How long had it been since he’d thought about a woman at all unless she happened to be lying on a slab in the morgue? No, that image was so much worse. Scrap that thought fast, Harry.

Another thought, blinding in its novelty, occurred to him. It couldn’t be her? Could it?

“Ms Balniel?”

She looked up. Wide-apart eyes, so dark the pupils were indistinguishable from the irises, regarded him warily. All thoughts of middle-aged gypsy fortune-tellers with head-scarves and crystal balls receded.

“Who are you?” The accent had a faint Irish lilt. The tone was belligerent.

“Detective Inspector Harry Grimshaw of the Manx police. I’ve been assigned to work with you—”

“If you’re really a police officer, why the fuck have you been standing there watching me for the last ten minutes? Surely it must be obvious, even to a complete moron like you, that someone has tampered with my bike?”

She stood up then. If he’d still been in a mood to admire her, Harry might have supposed she was quite something. The top of her peroxided head didn’t quite reach his shoulder, so she was forced to tilt her neck back to glare up at him. The vest clung, equally enticingly, to her small, high breasts. Another tattoo, a detailed interwoven Celtic band, encircled her upper right arm. Sharp, elfin features emphasised the fact that her mouth was sensual, but too full and wide for beauty. It wasn’t a face that you could call ‘pretty’, but it certainly wasn’t one you’d forget in a hurry.

All the pent up frustration of the past two weeks fizzed to the surface in spectacular style and he snapped back without thinking. “You’re supposed to be the mind reader. You tell me.”

Those incredible eyes narrowed before she swung on her heel and went back to the bike. He didn’t quite catch what she muttered, but the end part sounded a lot like, “…the fuck out of here.”

Shit. Getting rid of his personally-invited guest just minutes after she’d set foot on the island was not the way to get Eamon Archer, Member of the House of Keys and scourge of The Daaney One murder enquiry team, off his back. And pissing Archer off—again—was really not in Harry’s best interests. Running a hand through hair that always seemed to stand up in all the wrong places anyway, he took a step closer to her.

“My car’s over there,” he said, pointing. That’s it, Harry, win her back with a sample of your dazzling repartee.

She faced him once more, wiping the dirt and oil from her hands onto the pristine whiteness of her vest. There was something about the deliberately insolent gesture that sent a sharp shiver of pure lust straight to his stomach. The sensation shimmied a little further south. Where the hell did that come from?

“Where shall we put the bike, Sherlock? Back seat?” She looked at him and then over at his battered six-year-old Astra—all alone now in the vast car park—with disdain. To be honest, he couldn’t really blame her. About either of them.

“I know the harbour master. You can leave the bike here. I’ll get them to lock it up somewhere safe,” he added, correctly interpreting her look of horror. “I can organise for someone to come and get it and do the repairs in the morning.”

Grudgingly, she agreed. Retrieving her hooded jacket, backpack, and cycle helmet from the quayside, she made her way to the car park.

“Looks like you’ve got your hands full there, Harry.” One of the dock workers came to move the bike and nodded to where she was now leaning on his car, talking animatedly into her phone. He just hoped she wasn’t already giving Archer a blow-by-blow account of the hostile welcome she’d received. “Lucky bastard.”

“Have you been to the island before? For the T.T?” He asked when he had assured her that the Streetfighter would be safe from the elements and further vandalism. A bit of small talk about bikes might repair relations. Looking at her face, he judged it to be a long shot.

“I always meant to, but never got round to it,” she said, returning her phone to her pocket.

“Too busy?”

“Nah. But I heard it gets crowded here during the T.T.” Her eyes were solemn on his as she elaborated. “I love bikes. I just don’t like other people very much.”

He stowed her backpack in the car boot. “Is this all you’ve got?”

“I’m not planning on sticking around.”

“So you’re going to solve this murder enquiry for us in a couple of days?” If it was possible, her face froze even further. Nice one, Harry. Maybe you should just try and keep the antagonistic comments to yourself?

“Sooner, if I can.” The look she gave him was one of pure, undistilled dislike. Pointedly, she chucked a pile of papers and a couple of empty cans into the back of the car before sliding into the passenger seat.

Harry pulled out of the car park. “So, since this is your first time on the Isle of Man, do you want me to give you the guided tour? Believe me, on an island thirty-three miles by thirteen, it doesn’t take long. But it’s a beautiful place, with an interesting history.”

“I live in Ireland. I’m used to country lanes, quaint villages and ancient legends. So that’s a ‘no.’” The last words were deliberately patronising.

“Okay.” In return, Harry elongated the word, hoping he’d managed to inject it with an indication of how relieved he was not to have to spend time mollycoddling her when he was so chronically busy. He had a feeling, however, that he was an amateur embarking on a ‘who can be the most pissed off’ competition with a grand master of the art. “Mr Archer has booked a room for you at The Grand Hotel here in Douglas.”

“I’ve made my own accommodation arrangements.”

“Ms Balniel…”

“Please.” She held up a hand. “I’d prefer it if you called me Electra. ‘The Incredible Electra’, that’s my stage name. Palms read and fortunes told.” He blinked at her, unsure how to respond. He could have sworn Carter had said she shunned the limelight. What was the exact phrase the guvnor had used? Non-negotiable? How did that fit in with a stage name?

“I think Mr Archer would prefer it if you stayed at The Grand.” He wasn’t used to being in Eamon Archer’s corner. He wasn’t sure he liked it. “And, since he’s calling the shots…”

“I don’t give a toss what Mr Archer would prefer. I’m staying at The Magpie Inn—” she drew a crumpled piece of paper from a pocket in her leathers and studied it, “—in a place called Ballasalla.”

Harry had been slowing as he approached a roundabout, but those words startled him so much that he hit the accelerator instead of the brake. Slamming his foot on the brake fast to avoid shooting out into the oncoming traffic, he threw a quick glance her way. She was slumped in her seat, gazing straight ahead, with her arms folded across her chest. She didn’t seem to notice the near miss. But then, he reasoned, if you were in possession of second sight you probably knew in advance the dickhead cop wasn’t going to kill you this time.

“What made you choose The Magpie Inn?”

She turned her head back to him, a frown in the depths of those unfathomable eyes. “I liked their website. Why?”

Should he tell her? Give her what she needs. Carter had definitely said that. He didn’t allow his mind to dwell too closely on what it was she might need. He didn’t believe all this psychic crap but, if there was the remotest chance she could read his thoughts, he really didn’t want the ones relating to her to be X-rated. That would not look good on a record that could hardly be described as unblemished.

“The landlady’s son is one of our suspects.” She didn’t reply, but he thought she hunkered a little further down in the seat. “The Magpie Inn is miles from anywhere. You’d be a lot more central here in Douglas.”

A corner of her mouth lifted in a wry half-smile. “It may have escaped your attention, detective, but until some bollocks took a penknife to my tyres, I’d thought of that.”

Harry’s radio was set to the local station, which offered up a relentless diet of advertising, local news and bland, uncontroversial music. After glaring at the dashboard display in disgust for a moment, his passenger withdrew her phone from her pocket, bent her head over the screen and very deliberately ignored him for the remainder of the drive.

Anti-social little bitch. Okay, so it was a relief that he didn’t have to cosset the card-carrying, menopausal clairvoyant of his imagination. Instead, it seemed, he would be required to babysit a moody teenager. Or, to be precise, someone who, while she might no longer fit the age requirements, seemed intent upon acting like one. At least if she was ignoring him he could concentrate on the road and not on the way that annoying, now grubby—why should that make it so hot?—vest seemed to have been designed with the sole aim of highlighting the fact that she wasn’t wearing a bra. Or the honeyed, peach-like quality of her skin where her slender, tattooed arm rested uncomfortably close to his.

All work and no play makes Harry a horny boy. He had no idea why the issue should have surfaced, or perhaps re-surfaced, so suddenly and insistently today of all days, but it was probably about time to do something about the situation. He was aware of his wallet in his jacket pocket. Inside it was the all-important number he needed. Resolutely he turned his thoughts toward that and away from his sulky, prickly, but undeniably sexy, companion.

The day was bright and the island was at its scenic best. Gaps in the trees lining the narrow roads afforded glimpses of pretty woodland streams, occasional tumbling waterfalls and fishermen hunched hopefully over ponds. The fifteen-minute drive was accomplished in complete silence, a fact which irked Harry. Since he was being treated like a taxi driver, perhaps he should put her on the clock. He doubted he’d get a tip.

Ballasalla was the sort of place you could blink once and miss. It was a tiny, picturesque village with a single street running through the middle and low, sandstone cottages with slate roofs on either side. Harry drove straight through the village and on toward the medieval ruin of Rushen Abbey. The Magpie Inn lay about half a mile further along the road.
The woman waiting on the doorstep was big in every sense of the word. Tall, broad shouldered and heavy-set with wildly curling hair, she had hands like shovels and feet thrust into a pair of men’s slippers. She lumbered forward as the car halted. Giving Harry a look that spoke volumes about their history and her views on the local police force, she did not deign to speak to him. Instead, she went straight to the passenger side of the car.

“You must be Dora. I’m Cass Lawson. We emailed about the cottage.”

Harry’s passenger uncoiled herself from the seat and clambered out, crunching greasy gravel under her biker boots. She stretched her arms above her head in an unselfconscious movement while studying the pub and the outlying cottages. The Magpie Inn was a low, white-painted building with a thatched roof and lots of tiny, diamond-paned windows that caught the sun and threw multi-coloured patterns back at them. There were two picture-postcard cottages in the grounds, both set on a slight rise overlooking a bustling stream. Beyond them, a jumble of outbuildings and stables led the eye upward to rolling hills.

Cass, jangling keys from a heavy bunch, hoisted the backpack from the boot Harry had just opened. “Bloody hell, what’ve you got in here, Dora, love? It weighs a ton.”

“Oh, just my crystal ball and a few other fortune-telling accoutrements.” She opened her eyes very wide at Harry. “That’s not a problem is it, detective? I didn’t think the Manx Police Department would mind me earning a bit on the side while I’m here. I can set my tent up in a corner of the car-park…you won’t even know I’m there.”

Harry let Cass go on ahead to the cottage. “You can stop giving me all this Incredible Electra bullshit now, Dora Balniel. You heard me talking on my phone about the tea leaves on the quayside, didn’t you?”

“Of course I did.” Dora regarded him with a look of contempt that was already becoming far too familiar. “You were standing a foot away from me and chortling like a schoolboy at your own wit. If you crossed my palm with silver every time some knob made that sort of comment about me, detective, I’d be a wealthy fortune-telling fraud by now. So, can I take it you don’t want your palm read?”

In spite of himself, Harry felt a smile tug at his lips. “Piss off…Dora.” That was it. That was all he had. He’d dredged as deep as he could and ‘piss off’ was the most witty come back he could find.

“Are police officers allowed to say that to members of the public? What happened to customer care and all that shite?” Unexpectedly, she returned the smile. And it hit Harry like a punch in the gut. His first impression had been right. And wrong. She wasn’t pretty. Dora Balniel was gorgeous.

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