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Chapter 1

There is a moment for women – no more cacophonous than a petal falling from a dying flower – when politeness has cost them their life, and they know it. That moment, so brief it would barely register on any clock, stretches long into the coming void.

Chloe Martin, stuck in her moment of eternal regret, stared at the foot separating her door from its frame as time stood still. You never knew when it was your turn, she thought. How could her day, her boring, run-of-the-mill day, have come to this? Where were the signs from the universe? Where was the sense of impending doom? It didn’t matter, now, that she always carried a rape alarm in her handbag, and it didn’t matter that she never walked home alone in the dark. It didn’t matter that she always put a lid over her drinks to prevent spiking, or that she never engaged in online dating. Because now she was in the thick of it, facing a shadowy figure at her door who had knocked and cried out for help, and she had rushed there so fast, so worried for the safety of a stranger, that she had failed to engage the chain.

‘Are you okay?’ she’d called out. ‘What’s happened? Do you need an ambulance?’

The foot, encased in a brown leather boot, was in her door before she’d seen the face beneath the hood. The darkness had shielded her assailant between a line of trees and her flat, the road beyond so near and yet so far. Too late, she realised that her exterior light wasn’t working. She didn’t need to look up to know that it had been smashed. Now that her adrenaline was flowing, she was able to put two and two together and come up with precisely four, no trouble at all. This was no random attack. Whoever the owner of the boot was, they surely knew that she lived alone. And they’d known to wait until after dark. 

Perhaps they even knew that she had been brought up to provide assistance when asked. To reply when someone spoke to her. To smile politely and walk away demurely when men cat-called her on the street. Not to reduce herself to the level of men who were crude in social situations. Not to slap the hands that touched her on the crowded tube, only to remove herself from the area. 

The burden was on her, as it always had been on women. Not to wear provocative clothes. Not to make bad choices. Not to encourage or put herself in danger. And she hadn’t. She hadn’t. She just fucking well hadn’t. And yet danger, mortal danger she suspected, had come looking for her just the same. Now she was opening her mouth to scream because it was only 9 p.m. and there should still be plenty of people awake to hear her, but there was a fist heading for her face and she couldn’t let the door go and run because then the owner of the fist would have free rein to enter and she wouldn’t stand a chance, and she couldn’t slam the door shut because they were already pushing on it and—

The fist smashed into Chloe’s mouth and seemed to stay there as her uninvited guest walked forwards into her apartment, pulling away only when he kicked the door shut. Chloe’s hand went to her mouth and came away grainy with spiky shards of teeth, and the pain from that hadn’t even begun to register when her attacker grabbed her arm and pulled her forward so she landed on her knees, and, Jesus, she was seeing flashing lights and hearing blood pulsing through her head, and—

Chloe vomited. The fight erupted out of her and washed the formerly immaculate hardwood floor with stinking, blood-streaked bile, splashing up the side of still-rolled birthday paper that she’d bought earlier that day. It was – had been, anyway – white with tiny gold stars and little pink hearts on it. The gift destined to be lovingly wrapped therein sat next to it, still in the bag. She had time to hope as the boots approached, that if the worst happened, her sister would find that bag and know that the giggling squirrel soft toy was destined for Chloe’s soon to be three-year-old-niece, Vivienne. Ridiculously, she was relieved that she had already bought the batteries for it, currently in the same bag, because it felt mean to give a gift to a child without ensuring the batteries were included. Her niece loved squirrels. Chloe tried to take her to the nearby park every weekend. They would run around, squirrel (her niece pronounced it ‘squirl’) hunting, until it was too dusky or gloomy or rainy to see into the trees any more, and time for hot chocolate and teacakes. 

The man who had violated her home, and her face, grabbed her by the hair. Chloe reached out to the plastic bag, as if touching it once more, holding onto it, could break her out of this nightmare realm and into the reality in which she was supposed to exist, where she got to meet the man of her dreams and play in the park day after day with her own giggling girl, showering her with plush squirrels and soft maternal kisses. As she was being dragged along her hallway to the back of the apartment, the bag slipped from her reach. The tears Chloe cried were for what she believed was about to happen, not just to her, but to the people who loved her.

He said no words as Chloe’s legs free-wheeled in the air trying to gain traction on the terracotta tiles, slapping and scratching the hand that gripped her messy bun, ripping tufts of hair from her head as they went. Much as she wanted to scream, breathing was her priority. The pain in her bile-coated mouth and sheer bloody panic combined to make the world’s most toxic gobstopper.

He kicked her bedroom door fully open, and Chloe wished, desperately, that he would say something – anything – and it occurred to her that she had never before in her stupid life wanted to hear the words, ‘If you do what I tell you, if you let me do what I want, I promise I won’t kill you.’ Two minutes ago, she’d have thought the idea of being grateful for such a threat was insanity. Now, nothing else mattered.

‘Pl—’ Her lips managed to form the right shape to emit the single syllable before the monster grabbed her by the throat and hauled her up onto the bed. ‘Pl . . . nu . . . nu . . .’

From the lounge, Chloe’s landline began to ring. It was a life raft, just tantalisingly beyond her grasp, and she was never going to be able to reach it, no matter how hard she swam. Her attacker stopped moving and listened as her answerphone message kicked in.

‘Hi, this is Chloe Martin. I’m not available right now, but leave your name and number and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.’ Her voice sounded impossibly cheery. Death had not even occurred to her as an option as she’d recorded the brief message. It was a mirage. Something in the distance she didn’t really believe in.

‘Don’t hurt me,’ she sobbed, the words finally forming, delivered with an accompanying bloody froth and broken teeth. Her attacker, no more than a huge presence, mask concealing his lower face, simply grunted and pulled cable ties from a coat pocket.

‘Hey, Chlo-Bo.’ Her sister’s sing-song tones echoed her message as they beamed through the phone line into the living room. Chloe cried louder. Big braying sobs of terror and loss. ‘Whatcha doin’? My baby girl is waiting for her auntie to come over tomorrow night for cake and candles! We’re counting down the hours so I said I’d phone you to make sure you don’t forget that it’s someone’s birthday tomorrow.’ Giggling in the distance. ‘Whose birthday could that be?’

‘Please . . .’ Chloe begged. She held out a desperate hand only to find it grabbed, gripped and tied to a pole of her metal headboard.

‘Is it Daddy’s birthday?’ her sister asked.

‘No!’ her niece shouted. 

Chloe turned her head and stared at the cable tie. Why wasn’t she fighting? If all she had were minutes to live, why wouldn’t she give as good as she got?

He reached for her left hand. Chloe tensed her stomach muscles, shot her legs up, and smashed a knee into his face. As he staggered back, Chloe scrambled up the bed, pulling desperately on the one cable tie connecting her to the headboard.

‘Is it Mummy’s birthday?’ her sister teased.

The cable tie wasn’t budging. She got up on her knees ready to fight some more, grabbing the lamp from the bedside table and ripping it from its socket, brandishing it in front of her.

‘No, it’s not. It’s not your birthday, Mummy!’ Her niece could barely get the words out through her laughter.

Chloe took the deepest intake of breath she could manage.

‘Help!’ she screamed, hoping against hope that the people in the apartment above hers were home from work, or that the elderly lady next door had her hearing aid switched on, or that someone was walking in the alleyway behind her building.

Her attacker put his head down and charged across the bed, arm up, ready to take whatever blow Chloe could muster with the lamp. Head butted head. She smashed the lamp into his side, falling off the edge of the bed as she swung, and above the rasping breath and groans of exertion, the popping sound of her arm leaving its socket trumped all.

‘Then whose birthday can it be?’ her sister shrieked joyously as Chloe screamed and begged.

‘Mine!’ her niece replied. ‘Mummy, it’s my birthday tomorrow. You know it is! Silly Mummy.’ And they laughed and laughed and laughed.

Her attacker hauled Chloe back up onto the bed as she screamed. He tied her previously free arm to the headboard as she thrashed her legs. He fitted a gag over her mouth as the pain and panic left her flitting in and out of consciousness.

‘Auntie Chloe?’ her niece called from the lounge down the line. ‘Are you okay? Mummy, is Auntie Chloe okay? Why isn’t she coming to the phone?’

‘I don’t know baby, but we’ll see her tomorrow, I promise,’ her sister said.

You won’t, Chloe thought. God help us, you won’t see me tomorrow. And I won’t see Vivienne grow up. I won’t take her to New York for her eighteenth birthday. I won’t become her legal guardian if anything happens to you, and you’ll never know that the moment you asked me was the proudest of my life. I won’t get to buy her wedding veil. You won’t come to me in tears when teenage Vivienne is mean to her mum. And she won’t know how much I loved her. A year from now, she’ll barely remember me at all.

‘Okay. I love you, Auntie Chloe. See you tomorrow. Don’t forget my present!’

I didn’t forget, Chloe thought. I hope you love the squirrel. I don’t want to die. I don’t want you to have to find out that someone killed me. I don’t want to be scared like this.

‘Sorry we missed you, Chlo-Bo. Love you, girl. See you tomorrow.’ Kisses into the phone. More giggles. A dead line.

Chloe lay still. The pain in her mouth, her head, her shoulder were at fever pitch, and yet they couldn’t touch the overwhelming tsunami of sadness that was dragging her under.

Rape me then. Hurt me if you have to. But let me live. Let me live. Let me live.

She could see the words of her thoughts hanging in the air between them, written in clouds of tiny black, buzzing insects.

He drew scissors from a voluminous pocket and cut her clothes open down the middle, then down each sleeve and leg, pulling the sections of cloth away slowly and letting them drift to the floor.

For a moment or a minute or an eternity, Chloe passed out.

She was at a party but she couldn’t remember who it was for. It felt strange because she was sure they should have been celebrating, but there was her sister in a corner being comforted by her brother-in-law, and as Chloe walked past another room, door locked, she was certain she could hear her father sobbing, and something had to be very wrong for that to be real because she had never, ever seen her father cry. Even at her mother’s funeral, her father had held it in, dignified (or was it repressed?) to the last.

And then Vivienne ran past, something fluffy in her arms. Delighted, Chloe ran after her, chasing happily through the house as they had done so many times, calling to one another as they slowed down and sped up, nearly catching, nearly being caught. What was in her arms? Chloe couldn’t quite see. Its face looked like any other sweet, stuffed toy but its tail end was painting a ragged dash of red on the wall as Vivienne ran, and now Chloe felt the early rumblings of nausea. The low boil of something not quite right. She was catching up to Vivienne now, close enough to see into her arms, close enough to see her niece’s face, but she wasn’t laughing; she was crying. And she was holding a squirrel which was strange because Chloe was sure she’d only just bought Viv a squirrel and hadn’t given it to her yet. In fact, she really had to get on and wrap it, because it was dark and she had a whole day of work ahead of her before her niece’s birthday party tomorrow. And if that was tomorrow then where was she now, and why was everyone – absolutely everyone – crying?

Chloe woke up, choking, trying to scream, only to waste the noise as it filtered through a soggy, stinking rag around her mouth, and the pain. The pain. The fucking pain. The enormity of the terrible, mind-twisting, devastating, fucking pain.

She wanted to die.

And now she knew why everyone was crying in her dream.

Chloe lay still for she had no choice, and cried with them until the end – her end – came far too slowly and painted red.

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Best read of 2024! There I’ve said it, I’ve set the standard.

This book was incredibly good. Fast paced, thrilling action and so tense. Helen S Foelds really is at the top of her game. And to make matters even better… Connie Woolwine makes an appearance! *cue fan girl fainting*



What a start to a book! Thrown in from the off, to an action packed fast paced thriller. This book is so good. The fact that what is not written about the crimes scenes makes it all so much more gruesome, less is definitely more! Fields gives you the scene and lets your imagination run riot!


Once again Helen Fields has done it again another edge of your seat murder mystery.. I have no idea how she keeps coming up with new and fresh ideas but she has.


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