The Final Echoes


Chapter One

He’d dreamed of this moment countless times. Dreamed of her, at least. She’d haunted his every thought. The look of her, the smell, the sound of her voice, the warmth of her skin beneath his hands—

Now, he was here, back where it all started. This wasn’t what he’d imagined, though. He’d expected, naively as it turned out, that she’d be in her cottage with only her cats for company. Instead, there were three cars on the newly gravelled drive that curled its way around the front of her home. A copy of the Racing Post lay on the passenger seat of a nearly new Honda CR-V so that was probably hers. Everyone knew she liked a flutter on the horses. Given that she was a forensic psychologist with an ego the size of a small country, a profiler who believed she could lead police straight to a killer, one would be forgiven for thinking the stupid bitch had more sense.

He had no idea who the other cars belonged to.

It was the For Sale sign, currently doing battle with a howling wind, that shocked him more than anything. If he’d come here and she’d moved away—well, he would have found her eventually, he supposed, but he couldn’t imagine her living anywhere else. She belonged in Kelton Bridge now. Unlike a lot of newcomers, she’d settled well and had soon become a part of the village community.

The cottage sat at the end of a narrow lane that went nowhere. People had thought she was crazy when she first bought it. They’d thought that, coming from the town and ending up on the very edge of a small village with only the bleak, brooding Pennine hills for company, she’d find life too lonely. She’d proved everyone wrong.

He remembered her telling him how she loved her view, and how it changed so dramatically with the seasons. The hills were rich and green in summer months, covered with snow in winter and often hidden by mist on an autumn morning.

Light spilled out from the kitchen window but he was safely hidden behind the lilac bush after which her cottage had been named. He couldn’t see her, damn it. After all the longing for her, the waiting, he couldn’t damn well see her.

She’d had a huge new Victorian-style conservatory put up at the back of the cottage and that was lit up like a landing strip at Heathrow. It was empty. There wasn’t so much as a chair or a coffee table in it. She must be moving out soon.

Inside the kitchen, filling a kettle as she spoke and laughed, was a young woman who looked to be of a similar age, possibly a little younger. Half an hour ago, he’d seen a big, broad man squeeze the woman. There was also a man who looked to be in his late sixties.

It was impossible to see into the sitting room because curtains had been pulled across to shut out the dark, cold evening. Above the moaning wind, he thought he could hear children. Silly, giggling girls. Christ, he hated kids. That was probably the only thing he’d inherited from his mother. She’d hated them too. Shove them in a cupboard out of the way had been her way of dealing with them. Keep them in the dark—lonely and scared.

The dark no longer scared him. In fact, he liked it now. He had ever since those orange-yellow flames had consumed his mother in their determined quest to reach the sky.

He’d always been good at hiding in shadows, watching without being seen, but not when there was a bloody party in full swing. This hadn’t been part of his plan at all. The wind was pissing him off too. He had no chance of hearing much above that.

The chief wouldn’t be happy about this detour. There were orders to be carried out and there was no room for a visit to Lilac Cottage in the schedule. He hadn’t been able to stay away though. The need to return and be close to her had been overwhelming.

The door opened and a security light flooded the front of the house in white light. He leaned back into the shadows of the lilac tree and held his breath.

If her cats came and sniffed him, he’d be done for. Cats hated him. The feeling was mutual.

“Stone me, it’s bloody cold out here.” An old voice. Wheezy.

“You suffer for your art, Mum.”

That was her. He’d know her voice anywhere. She was less than ten yards from him and it was as much as he could do not to take her now. Last time, she’d been lucky, but she wouldn’t get away from him again.

He peered round the bush and there she was, standing beneath the light, putting a large leather bag on the ground as she shrugged on a jacket. Blond hair was still short. As slim as ever, which was a miracle given the crap she ate, she was wearing dark jeans, either black or blue, and her long pink sweater was now covered with a black jacket.

A click. A small brief flare of yellow as a cigarette was lit.

“Ah, that’s better.”

“I’m sure your lungs are bursting with gratitude.”

“Don’t you start nagging.” The older woman inhaled deeply. “Bloody hell, that For Sale sign will end up in the next county if this wind keeps up.”

“Not my problem. When I first let them know it was sold, they promised to take it down. I’ve phoned them three times since to remind them.”

“They won’t be in a hurry, will they? It’s free advertising for them. Not that anyone in their right mind would come sightseeing along this lane. Talk about being stuck in the middle of nowhere.” She exhaled. “So how are you feeling, love? Nervous?”

“I haven’t had time to feel nervous. There’s too much going on.”

“It’s just as well I can be nervous enough for both of us then.” The old woman laughed, a wheezy sound. “I was beginning to think I’d never see you married.”

Married? She was getting married? To that bloody detective?

“You should have seen me the day I married your dad,” the woman rambled on. “I was a nervous wreck. I couldn’t breathe because my dress was too tight, and there was your dad trying to hold up a pair of trousers that were two sizes too big. What a bloody sight we must have looked. As for my shoes, I can see them now. Gorgeous, they were, but two sizes too small. The blisters were so painful that I could hardly walk never mind dance. Much to your dad’s disgust, I spent most of our wedding night with my feet in a bowl of hot water.”

“At least Dad didn’t turn up with a black eye.”

“He’s really sorry about that, love. It’s fading fast. By the morning, you’ll hardly be able to notice it.”

“But really—a grown man getting into a fight with a bunch of kids. Whatever was he thinking?”

“That’s your dad’s trouble, always has been. He never thinks. You know what he’s like, he won’t take cheek from anyone. And that Darren, he’s an evil bugger. He’s a bloody show-off too when he gets with his mates. I had words with your dad, though, I can tell you. If it hadn’t been for your wedding coming up, he’d have had matching black eyes. Daft bugger. But don’t you fret, love. His eye won’t look too bad tomorrow. I bet it won’t even be noticeable on the photos.”

“Well, that’s reassuring.” She chuckled and began to say something but broke off as another car, a large black one, pulled up at the end of the drive. “Right, I’m off.” She patted her bag. “I shouldn’t be more than an hour or so.”

“Don’t be late,” the older woman said. “You need an early night, my girl.”

Fury boiled up inside him. He’d come all this way, and there she was, jumping into a car without a care in the world. The interior light was on, but he couldn’t see the driver. He’d bet it was that jumped-up, arrogant detective, Max fucking Trentham.

No, it wasn’t. A brief glimpse as the man stretched to reach for something from the back seat showed him someone blond and Trentham was tall, dark and conceited looking. This chap looked younger than the detective too.

Fuck. What did he do now?

An hour or so, she’d said. He didn’t have an hour. There was too much to be done.

Okay, keep calm. An hour would only make it eight o’clock. He could wait that long. The chief wouldn’t like it, but the chief wouldn’t know.

What’s that, boy?

Nothing, Chief. Everything is in order. I have everything under control. Your time’s up, Miss Jill Smart-bitch Kennedy…

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Shirley Wells 2016