My Sexy Books Corner. Part 2.

THE TROUBLE WITH KATE

Here are the first 21 chapters of the 53 chapters in The Trouble With Kate, book 3 of The Trouble series of thrillers. I may publish all 53 chapters on Amazon one day. I’d be interested to hear your valuable feedback on these chapters. There’s a comment box at the bottom of my home page.

 Chapter 1. Past and Present

A dark cloud hovered over the Sheffield crematorium, only partly due to the biting November weather. Liam O’Sullivan’s funeral was always going to be an awkward affair. Wayne was five when his father disappeared behind a mysterious curtain to be cremated. Even though the child only had a vague idea what was going on, the tension and solemnity in the air made him cry. His ten-year-old brother, Conor, squeezed Wayne’s hand to comfort him, despite Conor holding back his own tears.

As a murderer who’d taken his own life as well as Tiyanna Powell’s, nobody in the congregation had the appetite to stand up and speak on Liam’s behalf. A month before, the Irishman had hung himself inside his cell where he’d been waiting to be sentenced for murdering the friendless Jamaican girl who he’d targetted for destruction. Liam had been hating and controlling women for years, mainly as a reaction to how atrociously his mother, Scarlett, had treated him throughout his childhood.

Nobody except Liam knew why he’d really hung himself. Only Liam knew why he’d felt he had no option. The secret truth was, he’d cut short his life out of fear the spirit of the girl he’d murdered under trees on a hot, summer evening in the Peak District of Sheffield would carry out her threat to kill him. Liam had always needed to be the one in control, so he’d beaten her to it. Taking a leaf out of his father’s book, he’d  hung himself in his prison cell, not in the family shed in Dublin like his father, Aidan O’Sullivan, had been driven to do.

Wayne and Conor’s grandfather, Aidan, had never been introduced to the boys because he’d hung himself when Liam was a troubled teenager. Liam had been traumatised by this tragedy, particularly as he’d been the unfortunate person to find his father’s lifeless body. Liam’s weak and ineffectual father had been unable to live with the knowledge his wife, Scarlett, had deserted him and Liam to live with a glorious redhead called Lorna Markham. Liam had never been able to forgive his mother for causing his father’s death. His hatred of his mother instilled a life-long hatred of women in Liam. If Aidan had lived, maybe Tiyanna might still be alive. The innocent Jamaican girl had suffered and died horribly for the perceived sins of the two main women in Liam’s life; his mother and his wife, Jessie.

At Liam’s funeral, Wayne’s brother, Conor, was ten, but he was as equally confused and upset as his younger brother. Jessie had been in two minds whether to attend her husband’s funeral at all. Their relationship had been in tatters for years, and she’d begun divorce proceedings to escape his controlling, abusive ways. On that winter’s day, she looked even more like a pale, blonde ghost as she stood, silent and dry-eyed while the coffin containing the body of the man who’d made her life a misery disappeared behind the curtains to be burnt.

Watching the bully’s coffin travel on its final journey, Jessie thought, Good riddance to bad rubbish. She had good reason. Ever since Conor’s birth, her handsome, errant Irish husband had physically, verbally, and emotionally abused his shy, quietly-spoken, easily manipulated wife. She’d been aware of Liam’s cheating throughout their disastrous marriage, but he’d been too violent for her to challenge his betrayal. 

Sitting next to Jessie on the hard pew was Russell Bell, the new love in her life. The tall, handsome Jamaican worked as an illustrator. To give her much-needed comfort and support, Russell clasped her delicate hand in his as they listened to the celebrant’s coldly impersonal eulogy drone on. Her pale hand looked even paler set against Russell’s almost blue-black skin.

Jessie struggled not to stand up and shout, ‘Bullshit!’ in the middle of the eulogy; the portrait of Liam which the stranger facing them was painting sounded laughably inaccurate. She told herself the celebrant was struggling to speak well of the dead. It was his duty to gloss over Liam’s true character.

Russell Bell had seamlessly become integrated into the lives of Jessie and her two boys. When Jessie had met Russell beside a hotel’s pool during a luxury Jamaican holiday with her children, Russell had acted in a more paternal, caring way to her sons than Liam had ever done.

Throughout the funeral, Jessie’s attractive new man tried to comfort both her boys equally as they sat wide-eyed with fear and anxiety during the grim proceedings. From their first meeting in Jamaica, Russell had always been more drawn to Conor because of the Jamaican blood flowing through their veins. It was a happy coincidence that Russell looked like he could have been Conor’s father, even though he had nothing to do with the boy’s conception. He looked more like Conor’s father than Liam ever could have done.

Dwight Reid was Conor’s biological father. The irresponsible Jamaican wastrel had vanished after his drunken dalliance with Jessie while she’d been married to Liam. Their brief liaison had taken place up a dark Sheffield alley while she’d been on a rare girls’ night out.

In his defence, Dwight had been clueless Jessie had given birth to his child; she’d never informed him he’d impregnated her. She’d hoped Liam had fathered the baby growing in her belly, but luck had worked against her. Misogynistic Liam had turned against Jessie completely when, to everyone’s surprise, his wife had given birth to a baby the colour of burnt toffee. As soon as Conor was born, Liam had made Jessie’s and Conor’s life a living hell.

Five years later, when Wayne followed Conor into the world, Liam had treated him better than his older brother, but that’s not saying much. When he’d not been ignoring Conor’s existence, Liam had frequently called him a “little black bastard”. Although Liam had never emotionally warmed to Wayne, at least he’d acknowledged Wayne as his son and treated him more humanely than he’d treated Conor.

A few years after Wayne’s birth, the impoverished O’Sullivan’s family’s luck had changed to the tune of over five million pounds, courtesy of the National Lottery. Six numbers had changed their lives forever, although Liam had selfishly been the main beneficiary of the win. He would probably have frittered away the entire fortune if he’d not hung himself in prison a couple of years after becoming a multi-millionaire.

Liam had bought a sprawling luxury mansion in Sheffield for over two million pounds without consulting his downtrodden wife. When Liam was arrested for Tiyanna’s murder, Jessie and her young boys had fled the luxury property in Sheffield to start a new life in Cornwall. Finding a courage she’d not felt before, Jessie had syphoned off half a million pounds while Liam was incarcerated. With the money, she’d bought a more modest family home in Cornwall, where she’d planned to live frugally, expecting Liam to claim the rest of the lottery fortune. She’d thought losing her hold on four and a half million pounds would be worth it just to be able to escape from living with such a controlling, abusive husband.

As it turned out, Liam committed suicide in jail, so she’d inherited the entire fortune. When the solicitors had sorted out the boring paperwork, Jessie’s humdrum life of penury had changed forever. The five million pound fortune had soon started causing tension in Jessie and Russell’s previously harmonious relationship. Despite having known each other for a only few months, they were living together in Jessie’s new Cornish property. Jessie felt giddy with love for him and couldn’t stand to be separated from him, so had spontaneously convinced Russell to up sticks from his small, rented flat in London and move into her new Liam-free home.

The couple could have managed perfectly well living on the half a million pounds, but a five-million-pound fortune was an entirely different matter; it was serious money. Although she never spoke the words out loud, Jessie began to suspect Russell might be more interested in her fortune than in loving her. There was no evidence for her suspicion. Russell never put a foot wrong, but Liam had whittled her self-esteem down to almost nothing over the years, so Jessie was struggling to believe anyone could love her just for who she was.

The more Russell told Jessie he loved her, the more her annoying inner voice chipped in with, Oh, yeah? You’re only saying that to get your hands on my money. Even though she never said it out loud, Russell read it in her eyes. Despite her concerns, she couldn’t bear to lose him. She believed being alone would have been a worse option. Let him stay in your home, whispered her inner voice, but never take your eyes off him. You owe it to your boys’ futures to be wary.

Chapter 2. Con Artist

Russell’s cynical plan to infiltrate Jessie’s life to con her out of her winnings had been formulated on holiday in Jamaica. He’d learned from his cousin, Shanice, that Jessie and Liam had recently won over five million pounds on the UK’s National Lottery. Shanice was the receptionist at the same five-star hotel in Jamaica where Jessie and Russell had stayed the previous year. Russell could never have afforded to stay there normally, but Shanice had managed to wangle a generous discount for him by pulling a few strings. Her regular clandestine sex with the hotel’s married manager had helped procure the discount.

When Russell had met Shanice one evening after her shift, she’d innocently told him about her day. It had involved a meeting with Jessie when Shanice had asked her to phone DCI Cosgrove who worked in a Sheffield police headquarters back in England. He’d needed to speak to Jessie about Liam’s arrest as chief suspect for the murders of his mother Scarlett, Lorna Markham and her daughter, Amy. In the midst of Jessie’s conversation with Shanice, she’d let slip about her life-changing lottery win.

When Shanice mentioned Jessie’s massive win, Russell’s ears had pricked up. The cogs in his brain immediately started whiring. Lottery win? I wonder how much she’s won, Russell thought as he sipped his mojito beside the pool and watched Jessie rubbing sun lotion onto her pale, English-rose skin. He’d already been drawn to Jessie’s lithe body and long, white-blonde hair when he’d spotted her and her children at the hotel’s breakfast buffet. His attraction to her subtle yet undeniable good looks made him sound convincing to Jessie when he began to court her.

Russell instinctively knew within seconds that Jessie would be his easiest path to a cushy life. She was the solution to his serious financial problems if he played his cards right. Over the past four years, Russell had found himself in a financial downward spiral. He’d been losing money hand over fist. If he’d stayed clear of lavishing money on several high-maintenance women, gambling in casinos, and taking recreational drugs, Russell might still have held onto his delightful house in Swiss Cottage. Two years before meeting Jessie, his financial situation had forced him to move into a depressing rental property in Brixton.

The morning after Shanice had unintentionally set Russell’s plans for his financial salvation into action, he’d ensured he’d be basking on a sun lounger next to Jessie and her two boys. As luck would have it, he’d not had to introduce himself in a cheesy, suspicious way. Conor innocently helped launch Russell’s charm offensive on Jessie by accidentally kicking his beachball into Russell’s lap. Russell had shrieked when the icy mojito tipped over his well-oiled dark skin. Jessie was mortified her unruly child had accidentally drenched the handsome stranger’s well-defined, ebony torso.

Russell let the slim blonde fuss around him mopping up the Mojito as best she could with her beach towel. In her awkwardness, she occasionally brushed his groin with her hand and towel. He lay still, grinning as he let her wipe him dry, hoping she noticed and appreciated the bulge in his damp swimming trunks. He thought, Her blushes aren’t only due to embarrassment over her son making me spill my drink. Yeah, she fancies me. It’s obvious from my hard-on that the feeling’s mutual. I can see her sizing up my package. She’s not to know the bulge happened while watching that hot brunette in the micro bikini over there oiling herself up. 

When her towel tellingly gravitated back to his impressive groin, he looked up, still grinning at her. He leant forward on his sun lounger and whispered in her ear so her sons couldn’t hear, ‘It’s not every day that area gets such attention from such an attractive woman.’

Jessie blushed an even deeper shade of red and snatched her hand away from his body as if she’d been scalded. Russell thought, It might not be every day my dick gets attention, but it’s pretty darned close. That double-jointed redhead, Lexie, who I picked up in a beach bar four days ago was exceptionally talented in the bedroom. Hope I don’t bump into that hottie again, or any of the other women I’ve been screwing this holiday. They could seriously mess up my plans for sweet, shy, mega-rich Jessie.

‘You must let me replace your mojito, at the very least.’ Jessie picked up her beach bag in readiness to dash off to the pool bar to buy him a replacement drink.

‘Accidents happen, so you really don’t have to bother. But, if it’ll stop you feeling so guilty, then be my guest,’ said Russell.

Jessie looked determined to have her way. ‘I insist.’

He laughed and shrugged. ‘Only if you allow me to take you and the boys to lunch. You’d be doing me a favour. I’m tired of eating alone.’

Jessie jumped at the chance of having some attractive male company. Russell inwardly rubbed his hands with glee at how well his plan was working. To fill the time before lunch, the couple chatted easily on their respective sun loungers as they watched her children play. When he offered to rub more sun lotion onto her back, he was delighted when Jessie took him up on his offer. After gently smoothing the lotion into her back, he rubbed plenty on the back of her legs, noticing how she didn’t object when he gently parted them so he could rub some of the milky lotion on them. He saw her buttocks tense with delicious anticipation as his powerful fingers worked their way up her white inner thighs.

Feeling her tremble, Russell smiled, remembering how he’d brought Lexie to a shuddering orgasm on her sun lounger by brazenly inserting two fingers deep inside her bikini bottoms while applying sun lotion. It had been late afternoon when he and the redhead had been flirting on the almost deserted beach. Nobody had noticed his bold act.

As he teased Jessie’s upper thighs, Russell knew he’d not get away with fingering the skinny blonde. Much as I’d love to, I’d better resist invading Jessie’s bikini bottoms like I did to Lexie’s, especially with Wayne and Conor playing nearby. Judging by her body language and the speed she’s breathing, I’m certain Jessie wants me to go much further. She never closed her legs when I parted them. Big giveaway.

Jessie wriggled onto her back, hot and flustered. Seeing she was unable to look him in the eye, Russell thought, Oh, yes, she wants it, and she knows I know she wants it. Job done. The sparks of attraction crackling between them were intense and undeniable. The buffet lunch couldn’t have gone better, although young Wayne was whingeing after feeling neglected by his mother. He resented her showing more interest in the dark-skinned stranger than in him.

After sharing a bottle of wine with the attentive Jamaican, Jessie’s tongue was loosened. Without her realising, he’d taken care to pour more wine into her glass than his. Jessie was glowing, her face wreathed in smiles, a rare sight for her sons to see, thanks to their miserable existence with Liam in Sheffield.

As lunch drew to a close, Russell ensured Jessie knew he’d be lounging by the pool the following day. He felt confident she’d want to join him. During lunch, he’d decided not to spend the rest of the day with them. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, he thought. Don’t want to appear too keen so early in the game.

Following an afternoon and night of scheming, Russell began taking every opportunity to show up wherever Jessie and the boys were. He took great care to subtly ingratiate himself with Conor and Wayne, aware his heartless plan would be doomed if they felt wary of him. Their mother was oblivious of Russell’s ultimate intentions. If she’d had any concerns about his character, she’d have brushed them under the carpet because her desire for him was too powerful. After the traumatic years she’d spent being controlled and bullied by Liam, Russell felt like a breath of fresh air. Little did Jessie suspect she was being controlled again.

The handsome Jamaican made his move on Jessie sooner than he’d expected. When he walked over to the trio by the pool the day after their first meeting, she looked up at him from her sun lounger and quietly said, so her children wouldn’t hear, ‘Don’t get settled, Russell. I was just about to take the boys to play at Kids’ Club for a few hours before lunch. I’d planned to hang around and watch them, but I’ve decided they’ll be fine to leave with the supervisors, so we can enjoy some peace and quiet.’

‘Sounds perfect to me,’ he said, shooting her one of his wide, winning smiles.

He helped her off the sun lounger and watched her slide a sarong around her slim hips, gather up the scattered belongings and stuff them into her over-sized beach bag.

Russell gently took the bag from her. ‘Here, let me take that. It looks heavy.’

Jessie didn’t resist, neither did she resist his suggestion to drop the bag off at her hotel room so they didn’t have to lug it about with them. They both knew it was a ruse to gain him access to her bedroom and body, but she agreed to go up in the lift with him anyway. An elderly couple were in the lift when Russell and Jessie stepped in, so Russell had to abort his plan to kiss and seduce Jessie in the lift. Jessie’s heart was beating so loud, she feared the old couple might hear and suspect what they were planning.

After Jessie clicked the hotel door behind them, Russell wasted no time. He pulled her close and kissed her, confident his embrace was exactly what she’d been yearning for since they’d met. ‘We only have limited time before the boys must be collected. Let’s make the most of it … only if you want to, of course,’ he said.

Russell was less forward than he’d been with any other woman. Jessie was valuable cargo, so he felt he needed to treat her with more respect than his usual conquests. Even so, they were rolling around naked on the bed only fifteen minutes after entering the luxury suite.

‘That was the best sex I’ve ever had,’ lied Russell. He watched her grin with pride and almost felt moved. His inner voice said, Looks like the daft mare believes me. Lexie could run rings around her. Now, that was what I call sex! But, Lexie isn’t a multimillionaire, so Jessie wins.

‘Ditto,’ said Jessie, still gasping for breath after Russell’s impressive performance. She picked up her mobile phone to check the time. ‘Oh, no! We’d better get dressed pronto. I must pick the boys up in ten minutes!’

‘Shame. I was ready for round three,’ said Russell.

Jessie looked wide-eyed with disbelief at his fully loaded manhood. ‘So I see.’

‘Let me give you the best five minutes of your life. You won’t regret it,’ he joked, flipping her over and taking her doggie-style before she could object, not that she would have.

True to his word, he finished five minutes later. Jessie was ecstatic she hadn’t stopped him. ‘I’m dripping with sweat but there’s no time for a shower. I’ll definitely be taking a dip in the pool after we collect the boys,’ she said.

Jessie pulled on her bikini and threw a scanty cover-up over her tousled head. Bending over the sink, she splashed cold water on her face to freshen up.

Russell still looked immaculate. He handed Jessie her hairbrush. ‘That’s spectacular bedhead hair you’ve got there.’

‘You’re lucky your hair’s in dreadlocks. It’s stayed in place, unlike mine,’ she said.

She tingled as she remembered how the beads attached to the ends of his hair had just tickled her bare skin. Russell was used to dressing at speed having made several rapid retreats from various married women’s bedrooms over the years.

On their race to collect Wayne and Conor from the hotel’s children’s club, Russell said, ‘Is there a Kids’ Club every day?’

‘There is, actually,’ said Jessie with a giggle. ‘Let’s hope my boys enjoyed today’s session and fancy returning. Ah, there they are, sitting on that wall.’

She scooped Wayne up in her arms as he raced towards them with a huge smile almost as big as his mother’s. Wanting to appear cooler than Wayne, Conor walked casually over to them.

Being five years older than Wayne, Conor could sense a change in the relationship between Jessie and Russell. The soppy way his mother was looking at Russell made it clear she was besotted with the black stranger. Something had occurred during the couple of hours her children had been having fun with the hotel’s entertainments staff.

‘Who’s for ice cream?’ said Russell. He knew the way to a child’s heart as easily as he’d found his way into Jessie’s.

‘Me! Me! Me!’ yelled Wayne. Conor politely nodded.

After her steamy session in the bedroom, Jessie would have preferred a swim in the pool rather than an ice cream but she didn’t want to be a killjoy. Admiring the colourful exotic plants, they strolled through the sun-drenched hotel grounds to buy four ice creams. Russell made sure he paid for them, despite Jessie’s wealth.

Anyone who saw them thought they were a family, albeit a blended one. Conor looked so much like russell, he could have been his son. I’m going to do my damndest to ensure Conor and Wayne are playing at Kids’ Club every day of this holiday. That soppy look in Jessie’s eyes tells me she wants me, thought Russell,

Confident his magic had worked on the boys and their mother, Russell inwardly rubbed his hands together as he pictured glittering mountains of pound coins.

Chapter 3. Settling In

Five days had passed since their first meeting by the pool. Sprawling naked with Jessie on the bed in her hotel bedroom, Russell was smug. I’ve played it just right with Jessie; not too keen, not too cool. She’s well and truly tangled up in my web. After what she’s told me about the identity of Conor’s biological father, she seems to have a thing for Jamaican men. Stroke of luck for me. With me being based in London, we’ve every chance of continuing this relationship beyond a mere holiday romance. She’s fallen so hard for me. Look at the doting fool gazing up at me like she’s completely besotted.

It was hard for Russell to hide his contempt for her. During the remainder of their self-indulgent holiday, Russell’s close attention to fulfilling Jessie’s every whim, especially her sexual desires, made her believe she was once again an attractive, worthwhile woman. No longer was she the inadequate drudge Liam had always painted her.

Russell also took pains to make Jessie’s boys believe the sun shone out of his backside. He bought them treats and played boisterously with them at every opportunity. He never came close to disciplining them despite secretly believing Jessie sometimes let them get away with murder. If he’d spoken his mind and commented on the tantrums and squabbles which cropped up between the siblings, Jessie might have taken umbrage and ended it with him, which would never do.

When Shanice was on duty behind the reception desk, she often saw Russell and the O’Sullivan family walk by. It was clear her cousin was enjoying his holiday with them. His seemingly close relationship with them puzzled the receptionist. Jessie was attractive, but not the overtly sexual, borderline trashy women Russell usually went for. Shanice couldn’t recall him ever being involved with a mother. She’d even heard him vow he’d never take on another man’s child.

Shanice’s curiosity eventually got the better of her. Shortly before Russell was due to fly home to London, she sent him a text asking him to meet her for a quick drink and catch-up in Roots Reggae Bar situated along the road from the hotel. He wasn’t thrilled to receive the text; it would cut into his bonding time with Jessie, Wayne, and Conor. He reluctantly agreed to meet up with Shanice when Jessie would be bathing the boys and putting them to bed.

When Russell breezed into the bar, Shanice was already sitting at a table sipping a Caribbean rum punch. The beads at the end of her cousin’s dreadlocks clanged as he sat opposite her. He removed his trendy sunglasses to acclimatise his eyes to the dimly lit bar.

‘Thanks for deigning to join me, cuz,’ said Shanice. ‘Good of you to spare me the time, considering how busy you are with your new lady friend and her kiddies. I thought if I didn’t ask you flat out to meet up, you’d fly home before we had a chance to chat.’

‘Hey, don’t get your knickers in a twist, Shanice,’ said Russell. ‘If you’re going to be sarcastic, I’ll fuck off back to the hotel.’

Shanice laughed. ‘I’ve just been missing the chats we usually have during your visits to Jamaica. Who knows when you’ll be back again, especially now you seem so loved up?’

Russell thought, Mustn’t piss Shanice off. It’ll go against me in future when I fancy another cheap Jamaican holiday. I’ve also missed my usual chats with Shanice, but I needed to devote all my time to wooing Jessie for my plans to work.

He said, ‘Thanks for doing as I asked in that text I sent you the other day. I appreciate you not chatting to me and Jessie whenever we’ve walked past your reception desk.’

‘No problem,’ said Shanice. ‘I still don’t understand why it was such a big deal for me to keep quiet about arranging a discount for your stay at the hotel, unless you’re trying to impress Mrs. O’Sullivan, of course.’

Infuriated by her smug expression, Russell thought, Damn her for hitting the nail on the head. He took a sip of his drink and said, ‘Actually, Shanice, I didn’t want Jessie to know about my discount. Didn’t fancy being embarrassed in front of her. I could scarcely afford the flights to and from Jamaica. I’ve fallen for Jessie and her children are great, too, so I don’t want her to know about my money problems. She might run a mile.’

‘So, Russell, what was it that first attracted you to multimillionaire Jessie O’Sullivan?’ Shanice quipped with a rye grin.

Russell scowled. ‘Oh, ha bloody ha. I was attracted to Jessie before I’d even heard about her lottery win. Is the poor woman destined never to have a man in her life just because she’s rich?’

Shanice’s laugh was laced with mockery. ‘Poor woman? Lousy choice of adjectives, Russell. She has a husband, anyway. Yes, he might have just been arrested for murder, but she’s still married to him.’

Russell stood up, eager to leave. ‘For your information, Jessie told me she’d already made up her mind to divorce him before meeting me. She’s happy with me, so stop pissing on my bonfire. I’m in no mood for any more chat with your cynical self. I’m walking back to the hotel to see Jessie now the kids are in bed.’

Shanice also wasn’t in any mood to argue. ‘Don’t let me stop you. You’ll be pleased to know I’m off work for the next few days, so this is goodbye until your next flight over here. You won’t have to worry about me dropping you in it with Mrs. Moneybags. Can’t promise I’ll be in the mood to wangle a discounted holiday for you when you return to Jamaica, though.’  

‘Bye, then,’ snapped Russell.

He stomped out of the bar with his dreadlock beads in his jangling to the sound of Bob Marley’s Jammin which was wafting through the hot evening air. He dived into another bar solely to snort a line of coke in the toilet to prepare himself for performing at his sexual peak with Jessie. As the bitter-tasting powder hit the back of his throat, Russell thought, I can’t afford to give a lacklustre performance in bed tonight, not with so much depending on me convincing Jess I’m the man for her. He made his way along the palm tree-lined, dusty road back to the hotel. It’s lucky Shanice won’t be back working at the hotel before the end of our holidays. I’m sure she’s on to my plan. My cousin knows me too well. She’s kidding herself if she thinks I’ve not noticed her knowing little smirks when she’s seen me in reception with Jessie and her brood. Shanice might not have said anything to her to give my game away, but her body language spoke volumes. Miss Smartarse could’ve dropped me right in it. She’ll regret it when I’m living in luxury courtesy of Jessie O’Sullivan.

While Russell had been meeting his sassy cousin, Jessie had been busy making an extra special effort to look less like the mother of two children and more like a seductive vamp. She was glad she’d packed her sexiest lingerie but annoyed not to have brought a racy dress with her. Holding up one disappointing dress after another, she thought, How was I to know I’d meet someone like Russell Bell on this holiday?

For that evening’s rendezvous, she eventually opted to wear her black satin bathrobe over her most seductive black lacy lingerie. That afternoon, she’d arranged with Russell that they’d risk him staying a few hours in her hotel room that night.

Jessie had said, ‘It’ll be risky. We’ll keep the door to the boys’ room firmly locked while you’re with me tonight. Wayne in particular might wake up and try to enter my room.’

Russell shrugged. ‘If that happens, I’ll leg it before you unlock the boys’ door. Luckily, my room’s on the same floor as yours. I’ll wear my bathrobe to protect my modesty in case I need to escape.’

‘You’ve really thought this out,’ she’d said.

He’d smiled and nodded, thinking, Oh yes, I’ve really been doing a lot of thinking where you’re concerned, Mrs. Moneybags.

That night, Jessie’s stomach lurched with anticipation on hearing the tentative knock on her hotel door. She rushed barefoot to let Russell in before he knocked again and awoken the boys. Jessie’s pale-blue eyes looked up adoringly into his almost black ones and she melted into his embrace. They were soon naked and moving in unison in their favourite sex position. After less than twenty minutes of clandestine coupling, the door handle to the adjoining room rattled, accompanied by the pitiful whineing of Jessie’s youngest child.

‘Quick! It’s Wayne. Probably had another nightmare. Execute escape plan!’ whispered Jessie.

She muffled a giggle at the sight of Russell’s powerful buttocks as he leapt from the bed. During their all too brief steamy session, she’d giggled like a schoolgirl with nerves fearing being discovered naked in bed with Russell. It had irritated him, but he’d hidden his annoyance. He knew he must act the epitome of  a caring, chivalrous man until he’d wormed his way into her life on a permanent basis and claimed his financial reward.

Such considerate behaviour was not how Russell usually treated his lovers. He’d left a trail of broken hearts and crushed dreams in his wake. Burying his natural selfish traits was challenging, but the chance of gaining a large share in a fortune made his struggle to appear loving worthwhile.

Swallowing his disappointment over Wayne’s interruption, Russell put on his bathrobe, kissed Jessie goodnight, and exited her room. He’d have much preferred to stay the night with her to continue working his magic. Lying alone in his bed in his hotel room, he thought, Damn Wayne for interrupting my limited time with his mother. There are only a few days of this holiday left for me to convince Jessie she can’t live without me. Don’t want her thinking this is a mere holiday romance. So, no pressure.

His secret cocaine habit had led to increased anxiety levels in Russell, smothering his previous laid-back attitude, one more typical among Jamaicans. He needn’t have worried about Jessie wanting Russell in her life. Four doors down the corridor, she was lying in bed drumming up the courage to invite him to stay with her and her sons in their newly purchased, luxurious Cornish home. Basking in the afterglow of her sexual liaison with Russell, she dreamed of a enjoying a wonderful life with him in Cornwall. Blinded by love and lust, she believed living with Russell Bell would be such a blessing following her nightmare existence with Liam O’Sullivan.

Chapter 4. The Harem

Russell had been entangled sexually with one female or another from the age of fifteen. He and his parents, Jakayla and Desmond Hill, had lived in a beautiful property in the most prosperous part of Swiss Cottage, an area of Hampstead in North West London.

He was only fifteen when he dated his first serious girlfriend, Paula Baines, a promiscuous eighteen-year-old beautician who lived two streets away from his parents. The curvacious blonde had been eager to show the precocious black schoolboy just how worldly and uninhibited she could be. Russell had been only too pleased to oblige, frequently bragging about their liaisons to his envious school friends.

He’d been on the verge of losing his virginity several times with girls in his class at school. Paula had pushed him over the brink and taught him well. She’d seduced him in grand style on her parents’ green velour sofa when they’d been out of the house attending a swanky do. Mr. and Mrs. Baines had often left their daughter home alone while they’d socialised, giving Paula and Russell plenty of opportunity to hone their sexual skills together.

With Russell only being fifteen, Paula had kept their relationship a total secret to avoid being accused of rape. The odd couple had several close shaves when her parents had shown up at the family home earlier than expected.

Russell’s sexual performance had impressed Paula so much, they’d met up for sex for almost a year before young Russell’s deep-brown eyes had wandered, much to Paula’s fury. She’d found it doubly galling that Russell had chosen to dump her and start a relationship with his mother’s friend’s eighteen-year-old daughter a week after his sixteenth birthday, when it was legal and would have been stress-free for Paula to enjoy Russell’s services. She’d felt robbed, but a week later, Paula was embroiled in an affair with Mr. Jones, one of her former Maths teachers. Mr. Jones was as black and almost as sexually gifted as Russell. He was also over twice her age and married. Over-sexed Paula continued to seek out unconventional relationships. She ended up living happily in Brighton with an albino transgender male.

Russell had always excelled at art at school. He’d discovered his natural ability to draw at an early age and had never struggled to produce impressive drawings and paintings. He’d found other school subjects more of a challenge, so had been grateful his artistic ability had raised him out of the doldrums of mediocrity.

Russell’s biggest problem when producing his paintings and charcoal drawings was having enough time to complete them; his pursuit of females and his frenetic social life were in danger of derailing his future success in the art world. His parents were fully supportive of him following an artistic career, especially his mother. Jakayla was a talented abstract artist who was convinced her son had gained his ability solely from her side of the family.

After gaining the highest grade possible for Art in his final year at school, attending art college was a natural transition for Russell. At first, he felt like a small fish in a large pond, but in a few months, he was producing highly praised artworks and had become a huge fish in a large pond. By the end of his second year at the Chelsea College of Art, he’d bedded most of the prettiest girls in his year plus a couple of hotties in the Final year. Russell’s tall stature and impressive physique, his beaded dreadlocks, and laid-back, witty character had made him magnetic to most females on campus, plus several males. Throughout his four years at art college, he’d overflowed with self-worth and used all his positive attributes to his advantage.

In his final year, he’d even had the audacity to set his sights on his year tutor. Stella Newman was an attractive Welsh brunette in her early forties who everyone knew was going through a problematic divorce. Her husband had destroyed her confidence and she’d been unable to resist flirting with her male students to seek affirmation of her sexuality.

When she’d taken all the final year art students on a visit to an art exhibition on a hot July evening, Russell had decided to pounce. After the exhibition, the art students and Stella had adjourned to a pub garden before setting off for home. Russell had licked his lips in anticipation as he’d watched Stella knocking back so many glasses of white wine that her speech was slurring. He’d ensured he’d been the only one to accompany the tipsy tutor from the pub. His smooth patter and her inebriation had convinced her to join him up a quiet back alley. As he’d kissed her in the shadows up against a wall, Russell’s right hand had slid up her bare thighs under her skirt and down the front of her thong.

When two strong fingers slid inside her, she’d murmured, ‘Stop, Russell. You’re my student,’ but Russell didn’t stop. Stella’s legs had moved wider apart and she was breathing harder.

‘You don’t mean that. You’re loving it,’ he’d whispered in her ear, his fingers working like pistons deep inside her.

She’d closed her eyes and leant against the wall, biting her bottom lip to stop herself crying out as she came on his fingers.

Russell had smiled, unzipping his jeans, gripped his impressive erection and had prepared to enter her. Even though Stella had been inebriated, she’d wisely decided it wasn’t worth the risk to her career to take it to the next level.

Embarrassed at what she’d allowed one of her students to do to her, the tutor turned cold and officious. ‘Put it away, Russell. I’m going home.’

He’d obeyed her command, never losing his smile as he’d watched her stagger down the road and climb into a taxi. There are plenty more willing females for me to chose from, he’d thought sucking his fingers.

Russell had quickly recovered from being snubbed by his tutor, a phenomenon he’d not been familiar with. To relieve his pent-up lust triggered by fingering his art tutor, he’d spent the night with a more than willing busty redhead on his course. On returning to college the next day, Russell had enjoyed watching Stella blush. To add to her misery, he’d given her a sly, knowing wink and run two fingers under his nostrils.

From his mid-teens, Russell had consumed a variety of drugs, mostly cannabis, cocaine, and ecstasy. His drug of choice was cocaine; it took his already high sex drive to an even loftier level. With comparatively wealthy, generous parents, there’d been ample money left over from living expenses and buying his art supplies, to spend on regular recreational drugs.

Russell’s financial problems began when the money from his parents dried up. Desmond Bell’s property business fell into financial difficulties and he and Jakayla were in danger of losing their beautiful Swiss Cottage home. They were clinging onto it by their fingernails, so had no spare money to supplement their son’s bad habits. Russell had suddenly found himself forced to become self-reliant, which was a problem for someone with a serious cocaine habit.

Russell had graduated from art college with flying colours and had started working as a self-employed illustrator in London. Without the security blanket of college, the realities of working in the real world hit Russell as hard as it hits most new graduates.

Incensed by his parents’ handouts drying up, Russell had sought out wealthy, gullible women to bed, ones he could manipulate and sponge off. This allowed his money to stretch to buying the white marching powder he craved. His drug habit became an alarming vicious circle. He needed to take cocaine to perform at his best in bed. Vanity dictated he never wanted to give a substandard performance. Having sex without taking cocaine didn’t cut it for Russell anymore. Despite his time-consuming profession where he had to complete a constant flow of illustrations for demanding clients, Russell’s sex life was so prolific, his expenditure on cocaine was rocketing through the roof.

Even though the price of cocaine had fallen from when he’d started to snort it in his late teens, the amount he needed to buy in his thirties had increased. He’d been forced to give up renting his modern, expensive flat near his parents’ home in Swiss Cottage and move into a far inferior, dated flat in Brixton.

Becca Smallwood was the last woman Russell had been seeing before he’d met Jessie in Jamaica. She was a statuesque, insatiable redhead in her early thirties with the largest breasts he’d ever had the pleasure of motorboating. Before he’d added Becca to his long list of lovers, she’d been one of his regular clients at a bustling Soho book publishing firm. When their affair had erupted, he was still living in London, so he’d frequently visit her office to be briefed on her illustration requirements for whichever book was scheduled for publication.

Much as he’d have liked to, he didn’t have sex with Becca on their first meeting in her office. However, it had been clear from their flirting and body language it wouldn’t be long before they did. After their third business meeting in her office, it hadn’t taken much of Russell’s persuasion for her to go for a drink in the Dog and Duck with him after she’d finished work.

In the pub, there’d been far more flirting than professional book illustration discussion between them. It was no surprise Becca had found herself enjoying a wild time in Russell’s bed in Brixton that night. She was far more impressed by his sexual prowess than his basic flat which was far inferior to her marital home in Battersea. 

Their passionate relationship hadn’t all been plain sailing. Becca had recently married a man called Josh, but thankfully they were childless. She’d strung Josh along with tales of having to work late at her office when she’d actually been having uninhibited, sweaty sex in Russell’s downmarket Brixton flat.

After a few weeks of clandestine liaisons with Becca, Russell could tell she’d fallen deeply in love with him. He’d looked at down at her as she’d laid naked in his bed before heading home to her husband. Stroking her flowing red hair, he thought, As gorgeous as she is, the last thing I want in my life is a clingy woman. Sadly, she’s infatuated with me. I’m only interested in a casual fling with Becca. Not looking for a life partner, just great sex. If I’m not careful, she’ll ditch Josh to be with me. Last thing I need is to be entangled in some messy divorce. I can’t just dump her because I desperately need the illustration work she gives me. My debts are spiralling out of control, like my crazy affair with Becca.

He’d never wanted a long-term relationship with any of the multitude of women he’d bedded, not until he’d met Jessie. She was special. The reason she was so different to the legions of other women was the money nestling seductively in Jessie O’Sullivan’s bank account.

Chapter 5. Bulldozer

Russell felt confident he’d primed Jessie to perfection. When the last day of the Jamaican holiday dawned, she was bubbling over with excitement. Jessie was about to ask him to move in with her and the boys. She’d been so desolate on arrival at the hotel after the destructive years of marriage to Liam. Russell had changed all that. He made her feel like an attractive woman again instead of a voiceless, worthless drudge.

With Liam in custody for the murder of three females, including his mother, Jessie had known he’d be too preoccupied to be able to dictate what she did with her life. She’d made up her mind to divorce the cheating Irish bully not long before she’d received the phone call at her Jamaican hotel from DCI Cosgrove informing her Liam had been arrested. She’d already had ample reasons for legally ending their car crash of a marriage. His presence at the death scene of three women had been the cherry on the cake.

Her dark-skinned, attentive lover made Jessie feel safe and supported. She needed all the emotional support she could get in her battle to free herself from Liam’s stifling control. She’d have felt less secure in Russell’s company if she’d been aware of his heartless intention to rob her of her fortune.

On the final day of their dream holiday, Conor and Wayne were splashing in the shallows on the beach opposite the hotel. Sipping rum and Coke on sun loungers at the water’s edge, Jessie and Russell kept an eye on their antics. The sound of steel drums being played in the distance made them drowsy, although spending three hours making love the previous night and the copious rum contributed to their sleepiness.

With only a few hours left of the holiday, Russell knew he must act fast. ‘Just think, Jess, this time tomorrow you’ll all be back in Cornwall and I’ll be stuck in London.’

Jessie sighed. ‘Oh, don’t say that. I can’t bear the thought.’ She paused, then tentatively spoke the words Russell had been yearning to hear. ‘Tell you what, you know how you told me your illustration job allows you to work anywhere.’

Russell nodded. ‘With modern technology it’s not important where I work. Why?’

He tried not to give the game away by sounding too eager. Inside, he was whooping and cheering.

Jessie looked like she was mustering up the courage to continue. ‘Well, this might sound crazy, but how do you fancy staying with me and the boys for a while, to see how we all get on?’

Trying to sound casual, Russell said, ‘That’d be great. So sweet of you to offer. If it goes as well as it’s been going this holiday between us, we’d be stupid not to give it a try.’

Her beaming smile showed him how relieved she was by his positive response. ‘To be honest, Russell, I can’t stand the thought of being separated from you. There’s plenty of room at my house and I know you’d love living in Cornwall as much as I do. Hope you don’t think I’m being too pushy.’

‘Of course I don’t, babe. It’s a brilliant idea. I need you near me, too. What we have is far more than a holiday fling. We both know that.’

He kissed her. Jessie was so giddy with excitement she could hardly contain her joy. ‘The children will be so thrilled to have you living with us. I promise I’ll keep them out of your way when you’re working on your illustrations. Can’t wait to show you the beach opposite our place. You’ll love it.’

Russell was more than excited. He wrestled with his facial muscles to prevent appearing too eager. This couldn’t be going any better, he thought. I mustn’t become complacent, though. The ultimate goal is to get my hands on her money. That day’s still a long way off, but it’s achievable if I play my cards close to my chest.

Sobbing loudly, Wayne ran from the sea and up the beach towards his mother with tears streaming down his face. ‘Conor pushed me over. Got sand in my eyes.’

Conor walked silently behind him, looking guilty. ‘I didn’t push him. He tripped. Don’t be such a baby, Wayne.’

Jessie grabbed a towel and wiped Wayne’s tear-streaked face. ‘I was watching and it didn’t look like he shoved you, Wayne. I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose.’

Wayne remained inconsolable. Jessie looked at Russell and said, ‘Are you sure you’re ready for all this squabbling nonsense?’

Russell’s brilliant-white teeth flashed as he laughed. ‘Boys will be boys. I’m an only child, so I love watching your kids’ interaction. It doesn’t bother me.’

To quieten Wayne’s high-pitched screaming tantrum which was gaining attention from several other sunbathers, Jessie blurted out, ‘Guess what, boys, Russell’s coming to stay with us in Cornwall.’

Wayne immediately stopped crying as he absorbed the exciting news. Conor smiled broadly, swiftly followed by Wayne.

Russell said, ‘I won’t be able to come today because my flight’s booked from Jamaica to Gatwick. I need to sort out my flat but I’ll come to stay with you all as soon as possible. Can’t wait.’

‘I can’t wait, too. It’ll be such fun,’ said Wayne, jumping up and down on the spot, all thoughts of his argument with Conor forgotten.

Jessie was disappointed Russell couldn’t come to Cornwall immediately. She’d forgotten they were booked to fly to different airports. Jessie was still shaken after the news of her husband’s arrest, and wasn’t looking forward to feeling alone and vulnerable in the house without Russell there for support. She’d be lost without her Jamaican lover’s arms around her to give her strength and take her mind off the unfolding drama surrounding Liam. She’d miss everything about Russell, from his broad, white smile, spectacular lovemaking, even the jangling of his beaded dreadlocks.

Jessie and the boys’ flight was due to leave a couple of hours earlier than Russell’s flight but he travelled in the taxi with them to Montego Bay airport. He thought, It’ll earn me extra brownie points with Jessie. Hanging around an airport before a long flight is a small price for me to pay for the soppy woman to think even better of me.

They had a touching goodbye at the airport. At the departure gate, Conor looked embarrassed when Jessie cried. Trying to dam her tears to stop people staring, he whispered, ‘Don’t cry, Mum. We’ll see Russell in a few days. He’s not going away forever, you know.’

Sure enough, a taxi pulled up at Jessie’s Cornish home four days after she’d bid Russell farewell at Montego Bay airport. Wayne ran around squealing with excitement as Russell unloaded three large suitcases from the taxi. Jessie would have run around squealing too when she saw the amount of luggage Russell had brought. It boded well for her, or so she thought. Looks like he’ll be here for quite some time with all those suitcases. Fantastic! 

Weeks flew by. Russell was impressed by the tastefully decorated, spacious property set in enchanting, colourful gardens. The beach was within spitting distance. On one of his early morning visits to the beach, Russell was wading through the white, foaming breakers for a swim before breakfast. His thought processes were at their best during his solo pre-breakfast swims, without Jessie and her children there to distract him.

 I’ll be happy here in Cornwall. I feel a sod for sleeping with Becca while I was in Brixton sorting out my flat after the holiday, but needs must. Becca’s so hot and willing. Couldn’t resist carrying on hooking up with her. Jessie must never find out about me cheating on her, but there’s no reason why she ever should. It’s just as important to keep Jessie a secret from Becca. If it wasn’t for Becca, I’d stop renting the Brixton flat to save money, but she’d be suspicious if I did, and I need somewhere to hook up with Becca. Sex with Becca is well worth carrying on paying to keep my Brixton flat.

Russell had managed to hide his financial problems from Jessie by telling her massive lies to gloss over his dire situation. Two months after moving in, he even resorted to bringing her to his parents’ house in Swiss Cottage while Jayla and Desmond had been visiting Russell’s grandmother in Jamaica. He’d had the audacity to pass it off to Jessie as his own residence. Mr. and Mrs. Bell’s impressive residence was around the corner from his old home. He’d felt confident enough in his knowledge of the Swiss Cottage area and the contents of his parents’ house to convince Jessie he owned it.

I could never take Jessie back to my grotty Brixton flat. She’d run a mile if she realised I’ve been lying to her about my financial circumstances.

He and Jessie had spent a wonderful, lust-fuelled weekend in Swiss Cottage. Even bringing her boys with them didn’t prevent the lovers from spending quality time together. Conor and Wayne were becoming accustomed to the idea of Russell snuggling up in bed with their mother each night. This was a massive step forward in the progress of Russell’s plan. All that’s left to do now on my checklist is to convince Jessie I should permanently move into the Cornish pad with them all. I’ve worked bloody hard to make her love me. Can’t see any problems standing in my way

Jessie remained clueless about all his parents’ problematic, incriminating personal objects. She was unaware Russell had hidden them all in the garage which would have given his devious game away. He’d travelled the hundreds of miles from Cornwall to Swiss Cottage in London during the previous week especially to banish items like his mother’s knitting, overly romantic books, and his parents’ toiletries. He’d brazenly lied to Jessie by telling her he needed to visit a London client to be briefed on an important series of illustrations.

Russell had other plans in mind. His thoughts were more on the lines of, Must ring Becca and arrange another hook-up with her sexy self while I’m in London. Could do with some more of her special lovin’. So glad I never officially ended it with her because she’s not into vanilla sex which is all Jessie is comfortable with. Becca’s up for anything. It’ll be sweet, so long as neither woman finds out about the other.

While he’d been preparing the property for Jessie’s visit, Russell had padlocked his mother’s wardrobe. Fortunately, he’d managed to remove the padlock just before driving Jessie and her children back to their Cornish home. There hadn’t been time to return all the items he’d stashed in the garage to the house before his parents’ return, much to their confusion and annoyance.

Russell’s mobile had rung when he and Jessie had been watching Love Island. When he’d seen his mother’s name pop up on the screen, Russell had guessed what her call might be about.

He’d jumped off the sofa as if he’d sat on a drawing pin. ‘I’ll take this call in the kitchen, babe. Don’t want to disturb your programme. It’s only Mum.’

Watching him heading off to the kitchen, Jessie had called out, ‘You don’t have to go in there. I can turn the telly down.’

‘No, it’s okay. I might be a while. Mum can go on a bit.’

He’d closed the kitchen door behind him and accepted the call. ‘Yow, Muma! Yuh gud? How was GramMa? How was your Jamaican visit?’

‘Yow, Russell! Mi aright. GramMa was feeling much better and Jamaica was fine, thanks. But, that’s not why I’m calling you. When your Pupa and I got home last night, some of our things were missing. Really odd. We’ve looked everywhere but can’t find them. There doesn’t seem to have been a break-in, but—’

‘They’re in the garage, Muma. I put—’

‘The garage? Why did you put my knitting in the garage, chile?’

Russell didn’t really have an adequate answer. Although he was in his thirties, her tone had made him feel like he’d reverted back to his childhood self waiting for a slap from his mother for misbehaving. She often had that effect on him. ‘Um … well, I took a lady friend back to your place as I was in the area. Hoped you wouldn’t mind.’

As he’d waited to suffer the full force of his mother’s anger, he’d thought, I can’t tell her about Jessie, not until I’m fully integrated into Jessie’s life on an official level, engaged at least. Mum knows too much about my previous women and would be bound to sniff out what I’m up to. She’s way too God-fearing and moralistic to let me get away with conning Jessie out of her money. The less she knows about my new relationship the better.

His mother had sighed deeply down the phone, and said, ‘Honestly, Russell, it’s bad enough you think you’re God’s gift to women, but relegating my knitting to the garage without telling me is a bit much.’

Chapter 6. Boys’ Toys

After Jessie’s controlling husband had conveniently hung himself in his prison cell, Jessie found herself in the enviable position of owner of the entire five million pound fortune. To add to her good fortune, Russell was turning out to be a veritable prince among men, compared to Liam. Or so she thought.

Russell was proving to be a much-needed source of comfort and strength to Jessie. They were living so happily in the Cornish home, Jessie had no wish to relive upsetting memories by moving back into the flashier Sheffield mansion.

Wayne had burst into their bedroom before dawn, crying and terrified out of his wits from a nightmare triggered by Liam’s funeral which had taken place the previous day. It had taken Jessie an hour to settle the distraught child and convince Wayne to return to his bedroom.

Lying naked in bed next to Russell listening to the mighty waves crashing on the rocks, Jessie said, ‘The Sheffield place never felt like home to me. Liam never gave me a say in anything, including the choice of house we lived in. It’s too ostentatious for my modest tastes.’

Russell leant on one elbow on the pillow and looked down at her. ‘I can understand you not wanting to move back into the Sheffield property. It’s best for you to escape all those terrible memories you’ve told me about. It’s your house, so what you do with the Sheffield residence has nothing to do with me, but I reckon you should sell it. Then you can make a clean break with your old life and start a new one with me. We’re all happy in this house, and Cornwall is a great place to live. It’s better than Sheffield, anyhow.’

Jessie nodded. ‘Living so close to the sea makes my decision not to move back to Sheffield a no-brainer. The boys adore Cornwall almost as much as I do. Sheffield’s a chapter I want to draw a line under. It’d be a blessing never to visit the bloody place again. I’m sure I’d hear Liam echoing through the rooms, bellowing, “Jaysus! Fecking do this and fecking do that,” or picking on Conor by calling him a black bastard and me a whore as he enjoyed doing.’

Russell suppressed a yawn and said, ‘What a charmer. Well, there’s no hurry for you to decide what to do with the Sheffield property. If you choose to sell, estate agents can handle the whole thing without you having to set foot inside.’

‘I’d be lost if you weren’t here,’ said Jessie.

Music to my ears, thought Russell. He kissed her forehead and said, ‘Put the Sheffield place on the market, but only when you feel strong enough. It’s been a draining few months for you with all the Liam drama. I’m happy to help you organise the sale, obviously, but you’ll still call all the shots. Talking of money, I’d better get out of bed and crack on with my Portland illustration commission. The deadline’s looming. We can’t all be multi-millionaires you know.’

Jessie thought she could detect a slight bitterness in his laugh. She dismissed it, wanting nothing to mar her happiness. ‘You don’t have to work, you know. We’re not exactly paupers,’ she said, stroking his mahogany-coloured arm.

She wished he’d stay in bed and make love to her again. Russell was increasingly making her feel like a complete woman again after Liam had destroyed most of her self-belief. Russell threw back the duvet and eased his powerful, naked body out of her massive bed. He didn’t yet feel he could call it their bed, although one day he hoped to be able to, maybe even his bed. ‘I need to earn my own money to keep my self-respect, Jessie. As an illustrator, it’s fortunate I can work from anywhere. I keep telling you, it’s your money, not mine. I’m not a gigolo.’

The sight of his dark skin’s sensual, glossy sheen which highlighted his muscles always took Jessie’s breath away. He was the perfect man for her; tall, muscled but not too much, with a penis that fitted her perfectly; not big enough to hurt her, but large enough to make her gasp with pleasure.

As Russell padded naked across the carpet towards the ensuite shower room, they heard sobbing, then their bedroom door flew open. ‘Mummy, I wet the bed again. I feel all cold,’ said Wayne.

Her youngest son wasn’t looking at Jessie as he spoke. He was too far intrigued and puzzled by the large black object swinging between Russell’s naked thighs.

Seeing her son’s shock and puzzlement, Jessie quickly flung a bathrobe at Russell, who grabbed it and wrapped himself in it. Turning to Wayne, Jessie said in gentle, concerned tones, ‘Never mind, love. I’ll change your sheets later. Come closer so I can put some fresh pyjama bottoms on you. That’s it, pop into bed and snuggle next to me. You’ll soon warm up.’

Jessie now regretted taking her children to Liam’s funeral. It was clearly having a bad effect on Wayne. Taking them had been a last minute decision. She’d considered it important for Wayne to attend because Liam was his biological father. It would’ve seemed odd not to also have taken Conor along, not that Liam had been any type of father to her older son.

Wayne loved it when his mother let him share her bed. It had happened nearly every night for the first two weeks they’d holidayed in Jamaica. His father, Liam, had remained in Sheffield, so he could secretly continue his sadomasochistic affair with Marta Kowalski, which couldn’t have gone worse for Liam. Marta had turned out to be more sadistic than Liam had imagined, to the point of her trying to kill him. Wayne and Conor had never seen Liam again after leaving him in Sheffield.

Wayne had enjoyed only two weeks of bed sharing on holiday before Jessie met Russell beside the hotel’s pool. The London-based Jamaican stole Wayne’s place in Jessie’s bed, much to the child’s displeasure. He missed the safety and comfort of cuddling her in bed, knowing she was near to protect him from the scary world. Liam had never allowed Wayne into the marital bed, and the boy was too shy and awkward to climb in when Russell was lying next to Jessie. Wayne’s young brain couldn’t compute why the tall, black man with skin and hair like Conor’s now lived with them.

Wayne made the most of snuggling up to Jessie as they listened to Russell singing Dancing Queen in the shower. He thought, I know Daddy’s dead, so does that mean Russell is my Daddy now? Or is he just Conor’s Daddy because they have the same colour skin and hair? My skin’s like Mummy’s, and I don’t look like Russell and Conor at all, so maybe I haven’t got a Daddy anymore. Conor and Russell are always giggling together and shutting me out. I’m so confused.’

Jessie would have been upset if she could have read Wayne’s jumbled, distressing thoughts. She’d had concerns about introducing a new man into her boys’ lives so soon after breaking away from Liam and him hanging himself. Her selfishness had taken over, conveniently helping to blank out those worries. In her desperation to cling onto Russell’s love, she risked jeopardising the happiness of her children.

Conor was more welcoming to Russell, but he was five years older than his brother and found it easier to accept their mother’s new relationship. Russell didn’t ignore Conor or belittle him like Liam used to. The tables had turned; it was Wayne who now felt ignored, which was a new and unsettling experience for him.

Being in the honeymoon phase of her relationship with Russell meant Jessie had less time for her offspring, although she’d have vehemently refuted this accusation. Her head buzzed with thoughts of her intense new love, squeezing out some of her usual preoccupation with them. Although she didn’t ignore them entirely, her children felt pangs of envy when they sensed her focus had shifted from them to a stranger.

The boys couldn’t fault Russell for his behaviour towards them and their mother, but Wayne even resented Russell’s existence, let alone him having the audacity to infiltrate their lives. Jessie salved her guilt by bombarding her children with material items, which she could never have afforded before the massive lottery win. An entire room was stuffed with the flashiest boys’ toys until it resembled a toy shop. Wayne’s favourite toy was his black Mercedes-Benz ride-on car. He loved riding it around the tarmac path which ran around the Cornish property. Jessie tried to keep an eye on him when he was driving it, worried in case the postman’s van or delivery vehicles might mow him down. But, Wayne sometimes managed to sneak outside unobserved and zoom around merrily until the car’s battery had run out.

One chilly December evening at six o’clock, Jessie was cooking the evening meal when she caught sight of two headlights in the darkness driving slowly past the kitchen window. Curious, she went outside but saw nothing until Wayne emerged out of the darkness riding his toy car. Sticking her arm out to halt him, she shouted, ‘What the devil are you doing out here in the dark, you naughty boy? It’s freezing but you’ve not even put on your coat.’

Wayne looked contrite. ‘I wanted to see my car’s lights shining in the dark, Mummy. I can’t see them as much in daytime.’ He flicked the lights on and off to demonstrate how amazing the headlights were.

Jessie couldn’t help smiling at his enthusiasm. ‘Yes, very nice, but what if Russell had driven into you? He could return at any time from his meeting with his client.’ She shivered imagining Russell crashing into her son.

‘I guess I’d be dead, like Daddy,’ said Wayne in a matter-of-fact way.

Jessie’s heart skipped a beat. There’s no answer to that, she thought, and decided to gloss over his remark. ‘Well, come inside this minute. It’s snowing.’

‘But, look. It’s so pretty.’ He switched on his car’s headlights again to watch the snow flutter in the twin beams of light.

Jessie thought, I can’t deny the snow looks magical. The poor kid’s struggling after his dad’s funeral, so I’ll wait here with him for a while. Sod the cold. Wayne needs a little magic in his life after what he’s been through. Me too, for that matter. Silently, mother and son watched the first snowflakes of winter fall.

After a few minutes, Jessie escorted her wayward son and his beloved toy vehicle back into the house. They were oblivious of the stranger lurking in the bushes at the far end of the property and the night vision binoculars scanning their every move.

Chapter 7. Two Black Range Rovers

Brushing the snow from his shoulder-length dreadlocks and unwrapping the chunky woollen scarf from his neck, Russell said, ‘An odd thing happened when I was driving up the lane outside here.’

Jessie was embarrassed Russell had caught her enjoying a spot of Mum dancing to Love Shack while she cooked. She turned down the volume of the music and stopped stirring the bolognese sauce bubbling on the stove. ‘Oh, hi, babe. Didn’t hear you come in. You now have my full attention. What happened?’

Looking pensive, Russell sat at the kitchen table. ‘It’s probably nothing, but there was a dark car parked opposite our place with its lights off. As soon as I drove towards it to turn into our drive, the car zoomed off, like it didn’t want me to see it.’

Conor, who was sitting at the table playing games on his iPad when he should have been doing his homework, looked up, his dark eyes wide with surprise. ‘It wasn’t a black Range Rover, was it?’

‘Yes … why?’ said Russell, ‘Have you also seen one of those before acting odd around here?’

Conor nodded. ‘It was last weekend while Kev’s Mum was driving me to Taekwondo when I was staying over at Kev’s place. We had to drive past our house to get there. That’s when I saw the car parked opposite here. I remember the car because it reminded me of Wayne’s toy car he’s always driving.’

Jessie said, ‘Well, Russell, I was going to say maybe the driver had stopped by the roadside to make a phone call or something, but being parked there twice seems a bit of a coincidence. Did either of you see the driver?’

Russell shook his head. ‘It was too dark to see much, but they were wearing a flat cap, the kind they wear in Peaky Blinders.’

‘It must be the same car because the person I saw was wearing the same sort of hat. Couldn’t see their face, though,’ said Conor, hoping he wouldn’t be quizzed about how he knew anything about the violent, adult television programme.

‘Jess, do you want me to organise getting some security cameras put up at the gate?’ said Russell, who was always eager, maybe too eager, to help Jessie whenever he could to lighten her load.

‘Would you? Thanks, love, I’d appreciate it.’ Jessie kissed the top of Russell’s head, despite never wanting to be too demonstrative in front of her children. ‘After the lottery win, I suppose I need to be more security conscious. My brain’s been frazzled by all the recent upset and upheaval, so I still haven’t asked for any quotes.’

‘Quotes? With five million quid in the bank? You must be joking,’ said Russell with a snort of laughter. When he saw her disgusted expression, he thought, Maybe I shouldn’t have said that.

‘Old habits die hard,’ said Jessie. ‘No point in me chucking money away.’ Not for the first time, she realised she was sounding increasingly like her long-dead, frugal mother.

Russell stood up from the table and grabbed his phone from where it was recharging on the countertop. ‘I doubt we can arrange for any security firms to visit and quote until after Christmas, babe, but I’ll Google some companies and give them a ring. We might be lucky.’

Grabbing a block of parmesan cheese from the fridge, Jessie said, ‘The food’s ready and I’m about to dish up, so you’d better wait until tomorrow to ring them. Where’s Wayne? He’d better not have sneaked outside again. That boy’s a law unto himself these days. Wish I’d never bought him that damned car. I swear he’d take it to bed if he could.’

‘I’ll go and find him,’ said Russell.

He strode out of the kitchen and into the hallway. He was tired and ravenous from his busy day. Although the spaghetti bolognese wasn’t jerk chicken, his favourite meal, his mouth was watering from the delicious aroma wafting around the kitchen. All he wanted to do was sit down and eat, not chase around the sprawling property in search of the wayward child.

She lets that cheeky little bugger get away with murder, he thought, stomping up the stairs to fetch Wayne from his bedroom. Russell could remember his mother’s strict disciplinary style all too well. Jessie’s strict, anti-corporal punishment policy with her boys would have been scorned by Jakayla Bell. His mother had whooped Russell’s backside on too many occasions to mention. Russell thought of his mother every time Conor or Wayne misbehaved and Jessie failed to discipline them. Russell had to bite his tongue and sit on his hands whenever he watched the children running rings around their mother.

He tried to make allowances for Jessie’s lax discipline. She’s probably being extra forgiving after the turmoil they’ve been through with Liam’s imprisonment and suicide. Moving house twice in two years must’ve been stressful for her kids as well as for Jessie. Even the transformation from poverty to wealth has its own challenges. I must try to give her some leeway.

Russell opened Wayne’s bedroom door, expecting to see him playing with his toys. To his annoyance, the room was empty. He checked in Conor’s room, then the other upstairs rooms. Damn it! I’m starving and the little devil’s nowhere to be seen. If he’s gone outside to piss about in his toy car again, I’ll be livid. He just ignores his Mum’s orders not to go outside on his own. A quick wallop on the back of his legs would soon do the trick. Jessie’s kids will grow up to be obnoxious, self-important hooligans if she doesn’t toughen up her approach.

Russell’s irritation levels began to climb. He must be outside.. Suppose I’d better get my coat and look for the little beggar. I’d love to give him a piece of my mind when I find him but it’s not my place to scold him. Jessie would hate me scolding her children, especially after their Dad’s just been cremated.

He marched downstairs and checked Wayne wasn’t hiding in the living room. Grabbing his jacket, he walked past the kitchen. ‘Wayne’s not upstairs, so I’ll check outside. Won’t be too long, Jess,’ Russell shouted out as he opened the back door, letting in an icy blast of air.

From the kitchen, Jessie shouted, ‘Oh, no. He’s such a naughty boy these days. I’m tired of telling him not to go outside on his own, especially when it’s cold and dark like this. He’d better have his coat on. Don’t worry, I won’t dish up until you return.’

The remote Cornish property backed onto fields. The dim lights from a distant bungalow were the only illumination, apart from the moon and Russell’s torch. He could see fresh tyre marks from Wayne’s toy car in the thin layer of snow which had fluttered down intermittently that day. Looks like I guessed right. Wayne’s totally disregarded Jessie’s order not to play out here on his own. If he was my child, I’d lock his car up in the garage until he does as he’s told. Fat chance of Jessie doing something her little angels wouldn’t like.

He crunched around the path wishing he’d not worn his trainers as they slid on the icy tarmac which circled the property and its impressive gardens.

Russell shouted, ‘Wayne! Come indoors, it’s teatime! Where are you, Wayne?’

He fully expected to hear the boy’s high-pitched voice shouting back at him out of the darkness, or the whirr of the toy car. Nothing. The ominous silence was deafening and caused Russell increasing concern.

Maybe he’s hiding from me, scared I’m going to tell him off, thought Russell. That’s all I need, a game of hide and seek when it’s bloody freezing out here, especially as I’m starving and knackered.

‘Wayne, come here right now! Not in the mood to play your silly games. Come out from wherever you are. There’ll be trouble if you don’t. I’ll count to three. If you don’t shout out where you are, you’ll be going to bed with no tea! One … two …’

He’d almost completed a circuit of the path. Only the part of the path leading to the quiet country lane hadn’t been checked. Then he saw it in his torchlight. Russell’s heart pounded in panic as he ran as fast as he could in his sliding trainers towards the abandoned toy car, flashing his torchlight in all directions in search of the boy.

‘Wayne! Wayne!’ he screamed into the dark over and over again in long, plaintive wails. The black, half-hidden toy car had been pushed into the hedgerow bordering the path. Russell instinctively knew not to touch it.

The police will want the car left just as I found it, thought Russell. He tried to prepare his mind to call them as soon as he returned to the house to report Wayne missing. He suddenly remembered the black Range Rover he’d seen earlier, the one Conor had also spotted. His brain ran wild, playing out horrific scenarios about what might have happened to the boy, or might be happening to him that very second.

Waves of terror flooded over him as he swayed with the awful realisation that Wayne might have been snatched. I have a really bad feeling about this. Wayne might’ve been grabbed by whoever was driving that black Range Rover. Oh, Christ! What on earth will I tell Jessie and Conor? I’m not even related to the boy. Jessie will go into meltdown when I tell her I can’t find her precious son.

Like a thing possessed, Russell fled back to the house on wobbling legs with a pit of icy fear freezing his empty stomach. As he approached the front door, he could see the lights from the Christmas tree shining incongruously through the living room window. Russell wanted to cry, knowing he’d soon be destroying Jessie and Conor’s Christmas and so much more.

Chapter 8. Kitchen Drama

Jessie’s anguished cry seemed to go on forever as her knees buckled. Russell only just managed to prevent her from crashing onto the kitchen floor. Conor’s eyes were like saucers, full of confusion over his mother’s distress. After sitting Jessie down on a kitchen stool and fetching her a glass of water to help her to recover, Russell led Conor into the living room and switched on the Cartoon channel.

Handing the boy his iPad for backup, Russell said as calmly as he could, ‘Stay in here, please, Conor. Your Mum isn’t feeling well.’

‘Okay,’ mumbled Conor.

The boy, who looked so much Russell at ten, suspected there was more to him being banished from the kitchen than his mother’s state of health. The banishment of Conor and Wayne to another room always happened when the adults of the house wanted to talk in private. Conor was sick of being excluded, although the terrified look on his mother’s pale face had been scary enough for him not to want to be in the kitchen.

Conor settled down on the sofa and tried to occupy his mind with cartoons, but his thoughts were elsewhere. All the fuss must be something to do with Wayne because I haven’t seen him for ages. Russell must think I’m stupid if he reckons I’d believe Mum’s ill. People don’t act like that when they’re ill, do they? He must’ve whispered something really terrible to Mum for her to fall apart like that.

Conor’s imagination was running wild. Intermittent sobbing and rapid talking was coming from the kitchen. He no longer could resist creeping out of the living room, so he stood outside the kitchen door to listen to the unfolding drama. He strained his ears to catch snippets of the couple’s conversation.

While Jessie wept, Conor could hear Russell phoning someone. ‘He’s six and a quarter … blue jacket, red and white stripey gloves and woolly hat, blue jeans, red wellies … His mother last saw him at four-thirty this afternoon … No, I didn’t see him. I was out when he returned from school, so I haven’t seen him at all today … yes, he’d been at school … his coat’s missing, so we’re assuming he must’ve gone outside to play with his toy car. He’s always sneaking out to ride the damned thing, even though he knows not to go outside alone … okay, we’ll see you soon.’

Conor managed to rush back into the living room with only seconds to spare before a serious-looking Russell strode out of the kitchen to continue his desperate search of the grounds. Conor wanted to barge into the kitchen and fire questions at his mother, but he was scared to, dreading her answers. The prospect of watching her raw emotion put him off the idea of confronting her, so he stayed rooted to the spot.

Twenty minutes later, Conor heard the doorbell ring and the sound of his mother rushing to open the front door.

A deep voice said, ‘Good evening, Mrs. O’Sullivan. I’m PC Rickard.’

Jessie merely nodded, unable to speak from crying. Conor was shocked by the unusual sight of a uniformed policeman entering his home. The boy risked staying in the hallway, feeling a frisson of excitement by the appearance of such an important-looking individual. The thrill was followed by a sinking feeling of foreboding over Wayne’s safety.

Seeing Conor standing wide-eyed in the hallway, Jessie grabbed PC Rickard’s arm and said, ‘Come into the kitchen. We can talk privately in there. Conor, please, be a good boy and go back into the living room and stay there until I come and get you.’ She turned to PC Rickard and whispered, ‘I don’t want him worried by all this.’

Her eldest son had perfect hearing and heard her perfectly. It’s too late for that, Mum, thought Conor. I’m already worried sick.

Yes, Conor and Wayne had had their tricky, argumentative moments as siblings often do, but he loved his younger sibling. Nobody seeing Wayne’s pale skin and Conor’s much darker skin would believe they were brothers. Biologically, they weren’t full brothers, just half-brothers. They shared the same mother.

When Conor was five, shortly after Wayne’s birth, a drunken, vengeful Liam had cruelly informed Conor that a Jamaican called Dwight Reid was his biological father. Liam had taken pleasure in telling Conor that Jessie had cheated on Liam during an intoxicated moment of madness up an alleyway.

After Liam had recently been jailed for the horrific murder of  Tiyanna, Conor felt relieved Liam wasn’t his real father. He now sympathised with Wayne for having Liam’s murderous genes swimming around in his blood. He’d not have felt so smug if he’d been aware his real father, Dwight, also possessed more than his fair share of imperfect genes, ones which could challenge Conor in later life.

With Liam dead and no longer able to cause pain and trouble, and with the family’s large lottery win, life had improved for the remaining O’Sullivans. The disappearance of Wayne and the appearance of the policeman threatened their almost perfect new lives.

Conor couldn’t resist more eavesdropping, but Russell soon caught him hovering outside the kitchen door. ‘What are you up to, Conor? Be a good boy and go and watch telly like we’ve told you to do.’ Seeing the worried expression on Conor’s face, Russell added, ‘I know it’s hard but please try not to worry. Everything’s going to be alright.’

If everything’s going to be okay, why is everyone hiding away from me? Why are they looking so upset? thought Conor.

Despite his desperation to know what was going on, Conor reluctantly decided to do as he was told. It was times like that evening when Conor hated being a child, destined to be silenced and ignored whenever an adult deemed fit. He sloped off back to the living room where he paced up and down like a caged panther, listening to his mother’s hysterical sobs.

Conor suddenly heard Russell shout, ‘Come back here, Jessie! Forget searching outside. I’ve looked everywhere on the property. Trust me, he’s not here.’

Conor ran into the hall and almost collided with Russell as he ran after Jessie, who’d dashed from the kitchen in floods of tears. She cut a pathetic, desperate figure as she grabbed her coat and headed for the front door still wearing her fluffy pink slippers.

‘He’s right, Mrs. O’Sullivan,’ said PC Rickard as he trailed after the distraught couple. ‘Please, let my colleagues thoroughly search the area. They’re trained to find vulnerable missing people. Come back in the kitchen and let them do their job. I know you’re feeling powerless, but Mr. Bell’s correct when he says you should stay—’

Struggling to break free from Russell’s grasp, Jessie wailed, ‘But he’s my child. He’s just a baby. How do you expect me not to try to find him? I have to.’

Trying to calm the situation, PC Rickard said, ‘I’ve already sent a message to police HQ to organise a specialist police search team. There are some useful footprints in the snow which I’m asking forensics to come and work on. If your son’s been taken, the footprints might hold a clue as to who did it. This is a high-risk case due to today’s severe weather conditions and Wayne’s young age—’

Jessie let out another anguished sob as her strength evaporated. She flopped to the floor, where she sat staring into space, tears dripping off her chin. Her long, straight, blonde hair stuck to her wet face. She looked such a picture of misery that Russell felt a stab of guilt shoot through him. For a few seconds, he felt a heartless bastard for plotting to worm his way into her life, woo her and ingratiate himself with her boys so she’d fall deeply in love with him, then milk her for every penny he could con out of her. He swallowed his guilt, reminding himself that five million pounds was a life-changing sum of money. It was worth the guilt which threatened to sabotage his plans.

Chapter 9. The Silent Monster

Wayne woke up alone with the worst headache he’d ever had. He discovered he was in a single bed in a light-blue bedroom, a room he’d never seen before. He looked down and was surprised and alarmed to see he was wearing a pair of Thomas the Tank Engine pyjamas he’d also never set eyes on. They smelled new. His normal clothes had vanished, which worried him. At first, he was too scared to cry, but it wasn’t long before the tears fell.

A new toothbrush, toothpaste, a flannel, a bar of soap, a glass of orange juice, and a plate of chocolate biscuits were sitting on the bedside table. He was too frightened to eat, but his mouth was dry, so he sipped the orange. Tastes odd, he thought, not like the juice at home. The cold, slightly bitter liquid soon made him feel even drowsier.

A partly opened light-blue door was opposite his bed. Summoning up his courage, he clambered out of bed and walked on wobbly legs to investigate, terrified of what horrors might lurk beyond the door. He was relieved to discover there were no monsters, witches or ghouls waiting to pounce, only a white, clean bath, matching sink and pristine toilet with a pile of toilet rolls alongside.

Despite the lack of chains, Wayne realised he was a helpless prisoner, ripped away from his home. He was being held captive by a faceless, silent monster. The monster was hopefully human, but young Wayne couldn’t be sure. It always wore black from the top of its head to its feet. A knitted black mask covered its head and hair, if it had any hair. Its eyes were green and cold.

To Wayne’s overactive childish imagination, his captor resembled something from a nightmare, yet more terrifying than any nightmare he’d ever experienced. The room appeared normal, but the threatening black garb and his captor’s lack of words were distinctly bizarre.

Wayne lay under the blue duvet and tried to think, which was a challenge in his sedated, traumatised state. Whoever or whatever’s stolen me from Mummy, they don’t want me to know who … or what … they are or what they sound like. They must be really bad. Will they hurt me?

He started snivelling, imagining what his captor might do to him, although his innocent brain was incapable of imagining far worse horrors that could be in store for him. As a six-year-old more familiar with fairy stories than X-rated horror films, he was spared from imagining a catalogue of twisted, perverted acts his captor might do to him. Even so, Wayne had never felt more terrified and alone than he felt inside that blue room. A random worry struck him. Will Father Christmas still be able to visit me tonight if I’m stuck in here? There’s no chimney.

Wayne froze at the sound of a key being turned in the lock. He pulled the duvet higher and watched the black apparition walk into the room. The faceless monster placed a plate of fish fingers, chips, and mushy peas onto Wayne’s bedside table alongside a glass of orange squash. Without a word, the unknown terror turned and exited the room, locking the door behind it.

The six-year-old heard the door lock, just as it had locked every time the monster had left him. Wayne’s tears fell as he wondered what was going on. He fretted over why his mother had disappeared with no explanation. He’d cried and shouted out for her help so much, he was only able to lie exhausted on the bed, his pillow sodden with tears and slippery with snot. 

The bedroom was bright and clean, yet was still a hostile, threatening environment. Wayne ached for his mother to appear and rescue him from this alien world and the evil masked stranger who had nothing to say to him. Even when Wayne was snatched from his toy car and shoved into the large, black car, the kidnapper had never spoken. A rag had been held over the child’s mouth and button nose to stop him from screaming. Whatever had been soaked into the material had made Wayne woozy, quickly stealing his consciousness.

Despite his headache and wobbly legs, Wayne decided to try reaching the window high above him. There was only one small, unbarred window. He could see snowflakes falling. The room was warm, so he’d forgotten it was freezing outside. There were no chairs in the room, just a bed and bedside table. If I can reach the window, maybe I could crawl out and escape and find Mummy. He piled up the two pillows on the single bed and tentatively stood on them, but his short stature meant the window was still out of reach.

I know, he thought, I’ll fold this duvet over a few times to make the pile higher. He huffed and puffed with the exertion of manhandling the duvet, but managed to fold it into four and place it on top of the two pillows, listening out for any sounds of the monster’s return. It might kill me if it catches me trying to escape.

Standing on the pile of bedding brought Wayne’s eye level slightly higher than the window ledge. He could see outside, but was dismayed by the view; it gave him no clues about where he was being held prisoner. Teetering on tiptoe on top of the precarious bedding, he thought, There’s just snow and a few trees … Oh, and a little shed behind the trees. Can’t see any cars or people. Where am I?

Wayne stretched up his short right arm to see if he could reach any handle on the window, but his stumpy fingers touched only cold glass. He teetered precariously as he tried to reach higher, but his efforts were futile. He clambered down onto the mattress and sat on the edge of the bed to try to clear his foggy mind. He felt thirsty, so picked up the glass on his bedside table and took a swig. Yuk! This tastes bitter again. I want Mummy’s orange squash, not this muck. I feel all dopey when I drink this nasty stuff.

He walked over to the sink in the adjoining bathroom and tipped the orange juice down the drain, then filled the glass with tap water and gulped down most of it. Hearing footsteps coming from behind the door which led to who knew where, Wayne ran back to his bed, placed the glass back on the bedside table. He unfolded the duvet and slung the pillows into their correct position on the bed. There was a scraping sound as the door was unlocked. Oh, no! I can’t get back in bed in time, he thought in a panic.

His masked captor stood silently in the room, taking in the scene. Wayne could tell, even without the monster speaking, they were wondering what he was doing out of bed. ‘I went to the toilet. Okay?’ said Wayne defiantly, trying to sound braver than he felt.

There was no reply. The stranger merely looked at the dressing table, picked up the glass of water, carried it from the room and locked the door. A few minutes later, they returned carrying the glass, but this time it contained the foul-tasting orange juice. The masked stranger held the glass out for Wayne to drink its contents.

‘But it tastes horrid,’ whined Wayne, pulling a disgusted face.

The stranger didn’t speak, didn’t move. Wayne could tell they meant business, so did as he was told, scowling as he drank the tainted juice. Shortly after he’d drunk all he could manage, Wayne felt peculiar. The furniture turned fuzzy around the edges. Must lie flat, he thought, his eyelids fluttering as he struggled to keep them open. The glass was whisked away from him before the remnants of the foul drink ended up on the duvet. Wayne was unconscious in bed before the mystery monster had left the bedroom. The boy didn’t hear a car drive away from the house towards Southampton, its driver on a mission to post an important letter. Wayne was still comatose when the car returned from its long round trip.

Chapter 10. Jeremy’s Return

Jessie was surprised to see DCI Cosgrove standing on her doorstep with snowflakes falling around him. He looked as beige as when she’d last seen him when he’d been dealing with her husband’s arrest for murder. The tall, thin, sandy-haired detective wasn’t shocked by how stressed and dishevelled Jessie looked; it was hardly surprising considering her youngest child had suddenly disappeared into thin air. She looks ten years older than the last time I saw her, he thought.

‘Good morning, Mrs. O’Sullivan. Sorry to meet you again under such distressing circumstances. May I come inside, please? It’s freezing out here.’

Jessie swayed as though her strength had deserted her as she stood aside to let him enter the hallway. ‘Oh … sorry. Where are my manners? I was just shocked to see you again. Call me Jessie, not Mrs. O’Sullivan. I try to avoid reminders of my late husband, for obvious reasons. Please, come through to the lounge.’

Stamping the snow from his light brown brogues on the doormat, Jeremy removed his beige raincoat to reveal – surprise, surprise – a beige suit. He followed her into the spacious, expensive-looking lounge where he admired the view of the Cornish sea in the distance through the large, bay windows. He sat in a leather easy chair and said, ‘Thank you, Jessie. DCI Cosgrove is such a mouthful, so please call me Jeremy. In case you’re wondering, I’ve been seconded to work on Wayne’s case because of my background family knowledge and my experience in missing persons’ cases.’

Jessie said, ‘I’m comforted to see a familiar face after having so many police officers around this place. This is a waking nightmare. I’m utterly desperate to have my boy back.’

Seeing the fragile mother’s lips tremble and tears brimming her reddened eyes, Jeremy placed a comforting hand on Jessie’s forearm. ‘I won’t pretend to have an inkling of the pain you’re suffering. Just trust me when I say me and my officers will do everything in our power to bring your son home, along with supporting you and your family.’

‘Coffee, anyone?’ said Russell tentatively as he entered the living room.

Jessie said, ‘Yes, please, babe. Jeremy, this is Russell Bell. He’s been staying here since our Jamaican holiday when you phoned me from Sheffield about Liam’s arrest.’

The detective stood up from the sofa and shook Russell’s hand, thinking, Now I know why Jessie didn’t come home immediately after I told her about her husband’s capture. She’d found herself a new man after the old one turned out to be such a wrong’un. He said, ‘Yes, that’d be most welcome, Mr. Bell. Milk and two sugars, please.’

‘Call me Russell,’ said Russell with an uneasy smile. He exited the room, sensing he was trespassing on a private conversation. He’d felt awkward and in the way all day, also useless for being unable to help ease Jessie’s pain. Making three coffees as though in a dream, Russell thought, Wish I was back in my Brixton flat. This isn’t how I’d imagined my plan would turn out. I’d have thought twice about coming here if I’d known I’d end up slap bang in the middle of a missing child case and having to nurse a distraught female.

Jessie’s hands shook so badly when Russell tried to hand her the mug of coffee, he had to place it on the coffee table before it spilt everywhere.

‘Sorry for being so feeble,’ said Jessie. ‘Didn’t sleep a single wink last night. Just lay in bed sweating and torturing myself with a million thoughts over where Wayne could be and what might be happening to him.’

DCI Cosgrove gently squeezed her arm. ‘Any parent would feel the same way under the circumstances, Jessie. Try to take some comfort from all the hard work going on right now to find him. I’ve read your initial statement about the lead-up and day of Wayne’s disappearance. Is there anything else you want to add, even the slightest detail?’

Jessie and Russell looked at each other with pained expressions, searching their memories for any helpful clue.

‘You already know about the black car Russell saw near the end of our drive,’ said Jessie. ‘That car seems significant, but it might mean nothing. It’s all we have to cling onto. Wish we’d had CCTV cameras. They might’ve picked up images of the vehicle. Ironically, we were arranging to have CCTV installed after Russell spotted the car, just before Wayne disappeared. It’s too late now.’

She started to cry again, gut-wrenching sobs dredged up from her soul. Russell pushed the box of tissues closer to her. She pulled out three tissues and buried her face in them.

Feeling useless, Russell said, ‘I’d better check on Conor. He’s up in his bedroom. Do you need me right now, Detective?’

Jeremy shook his head. ‘Not right this minute, Russell. It’ll keep. Please, make sure Conor’s okay. The poor boy must be feeling terribly confused by all this.’

Jessie’s face emerged from the wad of tissues. ‘Conor’s only eleven. We’re trying to shield him from this nightmare, but he’s a bright kid. He knows something’s happened to Wayne. Let’s face it, he knows as much as we do. I wish it wasn’t the Christmas holidays because the schools are closed. We might’ve been able to spare Conor some distress if he’d been at school.’

‘Is there anyone Conor could stay with while investigations are ongoing?’ said Jeremy.

‘Sadly not. My parents are dead and I have no friends in Cornwall as we’re new to this area. Conor doesn’t know Russell’s parents in London any more than I do, so I wouldn’t put him into a strange environment. I need to keep my son close to me with Wayne gone.’

‘Totally understandable, Jessie. We’ve almost completed our search of this property and the immediate surrounding area, then you’ll be dealing with me and my liaison officer, Kate Pendleton. I’ll only visit you here when I have something to report. You’ll be able to concentrate on Conor while my team and I concentrate on returning Wayne to you.’

‘Please, God, make it soon,’ said Jessie. ‘I’m dying more each second he’s not here.’

While Jessie’d been talking, Jeremy heard the plop of several envelopes landing on the doormat. He walked into the hallway and pulled out a pair of blue plastic gloves from his jacket pocket. Russell was halfway down the stairs and watched the detective scoop up the letters and ferry them into the living room.

Jeremy said, ‘I need to check these letters, Jessie. Most of them look official but I’d like your permission to open this one, unless it’s from someone you’re familiar with. Do you know who it might be from? It has a Southampton postmark and a first-class stamp.’ He held up a white rectangular envelope with Jessie’s name and address printed on the front.

‘Southampton?’ said Jessie. ‘I don’t think I have any connections with Southampton. Could be another begging letter. I’ve received several of those since Liam and I won the lottery.’

‘I’m sure you have. May I open it?’ said Jeremy.

‘Go ahead. I’ve nothing to hide,’ said Jessie, eager to discover the contents if it meant bringing her closer to a reunion with her precious child.

Taking great care as he opened the white envelope, Jeremy said, ‘I’maware the postman and goodness knows who else has handled this envelope, butthese gloves will at least keep my prints and DNA from further contaminating it.It may be nothing, but best I check every letter arriving here.’

Chapter 11. The Letter

When he’d extracted the single sheet of folded white paper from the envelope, the detective’s expression became even more serious as he digested its contents.

‘What does it say? Tell me!’ shrieked Jessie, leaning forwards to snatch the letter from him.

Cosgrove only just managed to stop the desperate mother from grabbing it. ‘Please don’t touch the paper. I’m just about to tell you. There’s no easy way to say this. It’s a computer-generated ransom note demanding one million pounds for Wayne’s safe return. It says Jessie has five days to withdraw the money in non-consecutive unmarked fifty pound notes and take it to a location you’ll be told about closer to the time. According to this, the drop-off date for the cash is the 30th of December.’

There was a long, stunned silence as they absorbed the information. Russell said, ‘They might be giving us extra time because of Christmas. I guess it’s been typed on a computer and printed out to make it more anonymous. The police can’t compare typewriters or handwriting if it’s been bashed out on a laptop.’

Russell was trying to be helpful but the sound of his voice was obviously irritating Jessie. She wanted to listen to the detective, not Russell. She dug her lover in his ribs with her elbow to silence him.

Jeremy knew the handsome Jamaican was rambling due to surplus nervous energy. Unlike Russell, Jessie was open-mouthed with shock, unable to speak as the full horror of the ransom note slammed her in the guts. Jeremy hoped Jessie wouldn’t ask to read it because the kidnapper’s description of what they planned doing to her six-year-old child if the money wasn’t forthcoming had turned his stomach, filling him with fury. He refolded the letter and slid it back into its envelope before Jessie could read it. Opening his briefcase, he placed the envelope inside and clicked it shut.

Russell turned towards Jessie and murmured, ‘At least we know he’s still alive and have some way of getting him back, babe. It’s lucky you can pay the ransom with your lottery win—’

Jessie turned on him, her fists clenched. ‘I know you’re trying to be helpful, Russell, but please be quiet. If it wasn’t for the bloody money, this would never have happened. Whoever’s taken Wayne knows about the Lottery win. Wish I’d never won it.’

Jeremy sensed a row might break out between the couple due to their frayed nerves. With as much warmth as he could muster, he said, ‘Russell, it might be best you go upstairs and check on Conor again.’

Although preferring to stay and listen to the detective’s words, Russell nodded and left the room. I need to know what’s happening with the money. After all, it’s the main reason for me being here. If I’m about to lose a million pounds from the five million, I want to know about it. Damn Conor for being home! I really don’t want to babysit when I should be listening to what’s going on downstairs.

Russell was back in the living room within fifteen minutes. ‘Conor’s fine. I’ve left him playing on his iPad. That’ll hopefully keep him occupied.’

He could tell Jessie and the detective had barely heard him. They were engrossed in a deep discussion of their next move to secure Wayne’s safe release from his mystery abductor. As a mere boyfriend, Russell had become a spare part. He felt awkward, so was tempted to return to Conor’s bedroom, but Russell knew he should stay close to the action in the living room to keep track of the important conversation.

Cosgrove and Jessie were sitting in a conspiratorial huddle. ‘The kidnappers didn’t even bother telling you not to get the police involved. They must already know you’ve contacted us as soon as Wayne went missing. I’m sure they’ll demand no police involvement when it comes to dropping off the ransom money. We have various high-tech methods to help identify and locate the kidnapper once Wayne’s safe.’

‘All I want is for Wayne to come home, unharmed, as soon as possible,’ said Jessie. ‘Don’t care how much I pay. The bastards are welcome to all my bloody money, so long as I get my Wayne back alive.’

Russell hid his alarm at hearing Jessie would give away all the money. ‘Steady on, babe. Don’t do anything rash. A million pounds is plenty. Surely, that’ll be enough to satisfy them?’

Jessie’s disgusted expression told Russell he should have kept his mouth shut. ‘Of course, parents would pay anything for their child’s safe return. I was just—’

‘Quit while you’re ahead, Russell,’ said Jessie.

Sensing her irritation with him, Russell made for the hallway. ‘I’ll check on Conor.’

‘Good idea,’ said DCI Cosgrove. ‘I must return to the station now as there’s tons to do to bring this situation to a happy conclusion. I’m leaving one of my family liaison officers with you. Her name’s Kate Pendleton. I see she’s just parked her car on your drive. If it’s okay with you, I’ll brief her on what’s happened today, then bring her in and introduce her to you before I dash.’

Like an apparition standing at the snow-encrusted window, Jessie watched the detective in deep discussion with Kate in her car. Jeremy returned about ten minutes later in the company of a petite smartly dressed brunette in her mid-twenties. She smiled so warmly at Jessie as she approached her to shake her hand, the bereft mother dissolved into another flood of tears as Jeremy drove away.

‘Sorry for crying all over you,’ said Jessie as her sobs subsided.

Kate placed a comforting hand on Jessie’s forearm. ‘Please, there’s no need to apologise to me or anyone else. I’d expect you to be upset by all this. It would be weird for you not to break down from time to time, so feel free to cry whenever you want.’

Jessie found Kate’s Welsh accent magically soothing. She took several deep breaths to calm herself. ‘As a family liaison officer, I suppose you’re used to parents breaking down.’

Kate nodded. ‘It happens more often than not, Jessie. I’m here to act as a bridge between you and the other investigating officers, to offer you support and do all I can to help safely return your son to you. When I’m not here, you can reach me by phone any time, day or night, even if it’s only to chat.’

Although Jessie had stopped crying, her red-rimmed eyes looked haunted, stuffed with unbearable pain. Kate had encountered many eyes displaying the same tortured look, pleading so eloquently for her to end their nightmare.

Russell brought mugs of coffee through to the living room for them. A solemn-looking Conor suddenly appeared by his side, clutching an iPad. ‘The battery’s run out,’ said the boy, casting suspicious eyes at the beautiful lady comforting his mother.

Russell had also absorbed Kate’s stunning good looks. Trying to ignore the stirrings in his underpants, he turned to Conor and said, ‘Pass the iPad over, Conor. I’ll plug it in for you. Fancy helping me make some sandwiches for lunch?’

Conor, brightening up at the thought. ‘Okay. Can we have bacon ones with tomato sauce?’

Russell plugged the iPad into a wall socket in the kitchen, switched on the grill and started rummaging in the fridge. His mind was full of the delicious Welsh liaison officer in the next room. ‘If we have enough bacon for four people—’

Conor’s face lit up with excitement. ‘Four people? Is Wayne coming home again?’

‘Sorry, Conor. No, not yet. Kate is having lunch with us,’ said Russell.

He felt guilty for raising the boy’s hopes only to dash them again. Conor’s forlorn face showed his bitter disappointment. To cap it all, there was only enough bacon for three people, so Russell risked interrupting Jessie and Kate’s intense conversation, walked back into the living room and said, ‘Jessie, Conor wants bacon sarnies but there’s only enough for three. Do you want me to drive to the shops to buy bacon?’

Jessie looked blankly at him, unable to deal with something so mundane while her youngest son was being held captive somewhere, possibly suffering a fate worse than death.

Kate shot Russell a radiant smile, melting him. ‘I’ve brought my lunch in my bag, Russell. No need to make me any.’

‘Not hungry,’ murmured Jessie like a naughty child.

‘You must try to eat something, babe,’ said Russell. ‘You need to keep your strength up. Starving yourself won’t help anyone.’

Jessie turned on him, her slight frame trembling with rage. ‘Stop treating me like a child. How can I eat when Wayne is going through God knows what?’

Through her pain, Jessie noticed Conor standing in the doorway. Tears welled up in his dark eyes as he absorbed her words. The adults watched Conor run into the hallway and up the stairs to the sanctuary of his bedroom.

‘Shit, I didn’t know he was there,’ said Jessie. She dashed after her son to try to comfort him, wishing she could take back her words.

Chapter 12. Christmas Day

When Wayne regained consciousness, he rubbed his eyes, unable to believe what they saw. Instead of the well-decorated yet characterless bedroom, a small artificial Christmas tree was standing on a coffee table against the wall. Its twinkling multicoloured lights created a joyous atmosphere, lifting his spirits a tad.

His captor looked anything but festive. Dressed in a black jumper, trousers, and balaclava, the monster carried in a tray bearing a child-sized portion of roast turkey breast and all the traditional Christmas trimmings. Alongside was a small white dish containing a slice of Christmas pudding and custard which Wayne wasn’t so thrilled by. Yuk! I hate Christmas pudding. He placed it on the floor so he didn’t have to look at it. Wayne was relieved the glass of nasty orange juice had been replaced with fizzy lemonade. He picked up the glass and took a swig, half expecting to feel woozy again. This time, he stayed awake.

‘Is it Christmas day today?’ said Wayne.

He was a bright child, so had learnt to only ask questions which the monster could answer with a nod or shake of its head. Anything involving words had always been rudely ignored. ‘Is my Mummy coming to fetch me today so I can have Christmas at home?’

His babyish voice was full of hope. The shake of the monster’s head made a lump of bitter disappointment appear in Wayne’s throat and his eyes stung with tears. He hated the idea of spending the best day of the year not with his family but with a scary mute. If he’d been at home, he’d have thrown a tantrum and refused to eat his meal, but he was already terrified of what his captor might be planning to do to him; he didn’t want to rile him by throwing a strop.

The monster exited the room, locking the door behind him, Wayne wriggled out of bed and walked on wobbly legs into the adjoining bathroom and emptied his bladder mostly into the toilet. He thought he heard his mother’s words, said so often to her sons for as long as he could remember. ‘Be good boys. Hurry up and brush your teeth.’

 He cried as he realised it wasn’t Jessie’s voice, only a memory. Grabbing the new toothbrush left out for him, he squeezed a worm of toothpaste onto it and mournfully brushed his teeth. On his way back to bed, Wayne noticed a bulging pillowcase leaning against the Christmas tree. His heart raced as he tentatively peered inside, eyes wide with wonder.

‘Presents!’ he said out loud to nobody.

He pulled out a rectangular box wrapped in shiny red and gold paper. Like so many children worldwide on that special day, he tore at the paper like a wild animal to claim the mystery gift. With a gasp of pleasure, he feasted his eyes on the picture of a fire engine on the lid. He struggled to open the box but eventually managed to work his way inside and released the magnificent red fire engine.

‘Vroom, vroom,’ said Wayne, pushing the engine along the carpet. It didn’t glide smoothly, so he took it into the bathroom and propelled the toy along the lino. ‘That’s better,’ he said.

He launched it from one end of the bathroom to the other, avoiding puddles where his aim at the toilet had been poor. His mother usually cleaned up his toilet mishaps, but it didn’t enter Wayne’s head to do the same.

After some intense play, the delicious smell of the Christmas dinner on his bedside table began making Wayne’s mouth water. With great reverence, he carried the fire engine back into the bedroom, ate a few bites of turkey and potatoes, then drank some reassuringly normal-tasting lemonade. Wayne smiled for the first time since being snatched from his family, excited there were more gifts in the pillowcase for him to open.

His young brain didn’t question too much why the frightening apparition who was cruelly keeping him from his mother had brought him Christmas presents, a twinkling tree, and a tasty festive dinner. A thought struck him. Maybe the monster will take the wrapped presents from the room before I open them. I must hurry up and open them. If Wayne had been safe at home, he’d have opened them all by now, but he felt uneasy about what might be lurking beneath the wrapping paper. After all, his jailer was an unknown quantity, their intentions unknown. Yes, the fire engine was fantastic, but Wayne’s vivid imagination and the strangeness of his situation made him wonder what horrors might be released from the wrapping paper.

He eyed the bulging pillowcase with growing suspicion. There might be a big snake or scary clown in one of the boxes. If Mummy was here with me, I wouldn’t be scared to open them. She’d keep me safe. Wish I’d stayed indoors like she’d told me to. I’d still be safe, not stuck in this place with a monster.

Wayne weighed up the pros and cons of opening more mystery packages. Curiosity won the day. Handling it like gelignite, he tugged out a large gift wrapped in paper decorated with jolly snowmen and holly. He teased up a corner of the wrapping paper until he could see enough of the box to know it was definitely a toy of some sort and safe to open. Relieved, he tore off the rest of the paper, breathing quickly, anticipating the delights within. There was a picture of a blue teddy bear on the box, but the best bit was the familiar face of Thomas the Tank Engine smiling up at him from beneath the bear’s foot.

‘Thomas!’ said Wayne, as though welcoming a long-lost friend. He ripped off the box’s cardboard lid and pulled out the cuddly blue bear to hug it close to his chest for comfort. Remembering there were still more gifts to be opened, he sat the bear by his side.

‘I can’t think of a good name for you yet, but let’s see what else is in the sack. Feels like there are two more presents,’ he said to the bear.

Twenty minutes later, Wayne was sitting on the floor surrounded by his fire engine, the blue bear, a large tub of Play-doh, and a box of chocolates. It was a struggle to pull off their wrappings but he persevered, determined not to ask the monster for help. He ate so many sweets, Wayne ruined his appetite for the rest of his Christmas dinner.

‘My food’s cold now anyway … Ted,’ he told his bear. ‘Your name’s Ted.’

The lemonade was finished, so Wayne toddled into the bathroom and filled his glass with tap water. He was experiencing the same anticlimax felt by so many children and adults when Christmas day draws to a close after all the presents have been opened. His anticlimax was even more profound because he was missing his family and familiar surroundings so much. His new toys were poor recompense for the misery of being held prisoner in comfortable but alien surroundings.

To comfort himself, Wayne laid out his new toys on the bed, climbed under the duvet and watched the lights on the tree twinkling. Thoughts of his mother made tears run down his face, so he pulled the blue bear under the covers and cuddled him. Hearing footsteps advancing towards his bedroom door, he pulled Ted closer.

Wayne’s heart sank even further when he saw the frightening, black balaclava-wearing beast was carrying another glass of the vile orange liquid. Knowing the drink would send him into a deep sleep, the frightened boy wriggled down under the duvet until only his wide eyes peeped over it. He hyperventilated with anger at the prospect of once more being forced to drink the foul liquid. He feared the beast would steal his presents while he was dead to the world.

The monster remained silent, motioning with their black-gloved hand for Wayne to sit up in bed. Wayne reluctantly obeyed, the corners of his mouth turned down. The menacing figure loomed over him, holding out the glass for Wayne to swallow the contents.

A volcanic rage erupted inside the boy. High on sugar from the chocolates, Wayne screamed, ‘No! No! No!’ like a troublesome two-year-old.

The monster’s free hand grabbed him around the back of the neck and pulled Wayne towards the glass. The child resisted, tensing his body in a supreme effort to keep his lips away from the rim of the glass.

In desperation, Wayne instinctively reached out and snatched the fork from his dinner plate lying on the bedside table. He flung his arm upwards, spilling the cold orange liquid over the bed. The fork’s prongs made contact with something soft. A piercing high-pitched scream filled the room as the evil monster crumpled onto the carpet holding their left eye.

Chapter 13. The Big Freeze

Seeing the monster writhing in agony on the bedroom floor, Wayne thought fast and grabbed his blue bear, slid from the bed, and made a dash for the open door. A gloved hand smeared in blood shot out to grab Wayne’s lower leg, narrowly missing its target.

The terrified six-year-old launched himself into the unknown, clueless about the layout of the house imprisoning him. For all he knew, there might be other masked monsters lurking around every corner, poised to capture and harm him. Racing down the carpeted staircase, he knew it was the only chance to save himself. Thuds and roars of pain were coming from the hallway outside the room where he’d been held captive.

Running for his life, Wayne thought, Monster’s coming … must escape … where’s the front door? Help me, mummy, help me … No monsters yet … help me, someone … help … help … ah, there’s the front door. Hope it’s not locked … Dark and snowy outside … please, don’t let there be monsters out here.

He looked briefly through the open door into the living room as he raced through the well-lit, empty hallway. There’s no furniture in the living room. Odd, eh, Ted?

His entire body screamed at him to escape, but Wayne was forced to stop to hitch up his pyjama bottoms to stop them falling to his bare feet. Raising a hand, he twisted the front door’s brass doorknob. When it stayed stubbornly closed, his heart sank. He rattled the doorknob with acute frustration. Adults had always dealt with front door keys in Wayne’s life, but he eventually worked out he needed to turn the key.

Wayne twisted the key in the lock but nothing happened. His heart pounded even harder when he heard footsteps descending the stairs. With his hand still wrestling with the key, he turned his head and was horrified to see the monster staggering towards him, constantly moaning in severe pain from the eye injury. Shifting nervously from foot to foot, Wayne turned the key in the opposite direction to his first failed attempt.

There was a satisfying click. Wayne turned the doorknob just as the monster reached the bottom of the stairs. Wayne pulled open the front door and launched himself into the icy darkness. Whatever lay outside was preferable to battling with the raging monster only six feet away, especially as Wayne’s fork had caused the eye injury.

An icy blast whistled through his pyjamas as he raced from the house. It took his breath away. In seconds, his temperature plummeted. His bare feet were so cold, Wayne feared his toes might drop off, but he ran as fast as he could through the crunchy snow. If the snow had been deeper, the monster would have caught him, but Wayne managed to run up the twenty-yard path and onto a country lane lit only by the light of a full moon. He blinked as snowflakes hit his eyelids as he ran. No houses were in view, nowhere obvious to head for.

He dashed for the darkest area, as far away from the lights of his former prison as he could run, hoping darkness would shield him from his pursuer’s only good eye. Fearing the monster’s gloved hand would suddenly reach out and grab him from behind, Wayne dared not spare a second to glance back to gauge how far the beast was behind him. The only sound in the night was Wayne’s breath and the crunch of his bare feet on the snow as he hurtled into the unknown.

Despite the gloom, he made out a crossroads ahead. Delirious with cold, random thoughts popped into his head as he ran. Thinking helped take his mind off the pain in his frozen feet and the fear of recapture. Hope it didn’t see which road I’m running down. Maybe it ran down the other road, or carried on straight ahead. Why hasn’t it caught me yet? Maybe its hurt eye’s making it run slower than me. Serves it right for keeping me away from Mummy at Christmas. Wish there were some houses so I could get help and phone home … Oh, no, I can’t phone home … Don’t know the number. I know, I’ll get them to phone the police … But, what if they’re monsters, too?

Delirious from the cold, Wayne imagined himself running in school sport’s day as he’d done the previous summer, wishing the sun was beating down on him now like it had done then. As one of the more athletic young pupils, he’d led the race, aware another runner could snatch the winning prize at any point. Losing the race now had far more serious consequences; Wayne feared his pursuer might steal his life away if he was caught.

Several patches of smooth ice on the deserted lane made him slip and slide, but he managed to stay upright for long enough to leave the monster’s house far behind him. Wayne’s lungs felt close to exploding from his rib cage, but he forced his legs to power through the pain. His bare feet were so cold they seemed to be on fire.

He tried not to think about the monster but couldn’t shake the sinister creature out of his head. A random memory from earlier that night surfaced. Just after my fork stuck in their eye, the monster screamed and swore some really naughty words. First time I heard it speak. They were just a load of yells and shrieks, but they sounded very high … like a lady’s voice.

Stepping onto an icy pothole by accident, Wayne’s right foot suddenly slipped away from him. He cried out as his body tumbled sideways. A snowdrift lying against the high hedgerow broke his fall. He lay on his side, frozen from head to toe and gasping with exhaustion.

Must keep running, but I can’t get up … too tired. It’s so quiet, so dark. No cars, no lights, no people, just fields. Is it the middle of the night? What’s the day after Christmas called? Can’t remember … Can’t hear the monster anymore … No sign of it … Must’ve taken the other road. The waves of panic gradually ebbed away as he lay motionless on his side in the snow. Panic was replaced by a tsunami of drowsiness as hyperthermia set in. As snowflakes gently coated his pyjamas, hair and feet like a white bedsheet, Wayne closed his eyes and drifted into a deep slumber.

Chapter 14. Into The Fire

Something warm and rough was moving over Wayne’s motionless face. The prone boy struggled to prise open his heavy eyelids as hot, foul-smelling breath wafted under his nostrils, source unknown. A furry muzzle impatiently nudged the side of his neck. Wayne couldn’t keep his eyes open, too close to death to summon up enough energy or interest in what was causing the panting noise and wet licks on the side of his snow-encrusted face. Even if it was the monster, Wayne could not have cared less; all he craved was to drift back to sleep.

The dying child was pulled back from the brink of death by a distant whistling sound, followed by an impatient male voice calling out, ‘Jakey … Jakey … come here, Jakey, boy!’

The shouting drew ever closer to where Wayne lay, but he was oblivious to the stranger’s approach. It was only when a loud bark sounded near his ear that Wayne edged closer to consciousness. His mind was drifting to the surface of a deep, dark lake of unconsciousness, swimming upwards until his head peeped above the water.

The early-morning winter sunlight was a welcome change from the inky blackness of night. Wayne managed to keep his eyes open long enough to take in the vision of a golden-haired dog standing above him, its tail wagging as it barked for attention.

Wayne heard footsteps crunching along the icy lane towards him, but he was too stiff with cold to move a muscle. A deep voice rang out through the crisp air. ‘What are you barking at, you bad dog? Come here, Jake. I want to get home for breakfast.’

The dog took three steps towards his master’s voice, thought better of it, and belligerently returned to snuffle around Wayne as though attempting to stir him into action. The golden retriever barked again, refusing to budge from Wayne’s side, determined to force him into playing with him. Wayne would normally have loved to lark about with a dog, but all he wanted was to carry on sleeping.

The voice belonged to a local pensioner called Malcolm Holmes and sounded like he was losing patience. ‘No treats for you if you don’t stop messing around, you bad boy. Come here right n—’

Wayne heard a loud gasp and a swear word, then chaos broke out as Jake bounded up and down, barking with over-excitement at his master.

‘Shut up, you stupid hound. Stop barking and sit. Sit, I said, you daft bugger,’ said the man.

Realising Jake was too excited and badly trained to obey him, Malcolm shoved his dog out of the way. Wincing with arthritic pain, the old man knelt in the snow beside Wayne and placed two fingers against the boy’s neck to check for signs of life. On finding a weak pulse, the stranger removed his winter coat and placed it over Wayne’s body so only his head was visible. Bitterly regretting not bringing his mobile phone with him on his Boxing Day dog walk, the elderly man struggled to lift the almost lifeless child into his arms. His boisterous dog wasn’t making the job any easier.

Huffing and puffing from such unfamiliar exertion, Malcolm gingerly made his way homeward. Jake bounded gleefully around his legs as though celebrating being the hero of the hour. If Wayne hadn’t slipped over in the snow in the dark, he might have eventually come across Martin’s isolated cottage.

The old man was encouraged to hear the boy softly moan when he almost dropped him after Jake walked across his path. Malcolm started to witter, hoping the boy’s condition would improve the more he spoke to him. ‘We’re nearly home, lad. Hang in there. I’ll soon have you warmed up. You were lucky I had heartburn from scoffing too much Christmas food and couldn’t sleep. I usually wait until seven each morning to walk Jake, not five o’clock like I did today.’

Martin’s kind words belied his true intentions. He thought, The kid would probably be dead by now if I’d waited any longer to take Jake for a walk, which would’ve been a tragic waste. His face is blue, so he’s not out of the woods yet … Such a sweet little face. Hope I can carry him up to my bedroom before Neil stops me from having my fun. Finders keepers, losers weepers. I saved your life, boy. You owe me.

Neil was Martin’s only son from his failed marriage. The single software engineer had reluctantly been staying at his father’s run-down cottage for Christmas, something neither man had been looking forward to. Neil would far rather be relaxing at home in London than keep his anger over his perverted father in check. Having a parent on the sex offenders’ register was nothing to be proud of. Neil had watched his parents’ marriage implode after fifty-five-year-old Malcolm was arrested in 1999 for molesting an eight-year-old boy who’d lived near Neil’s family home in Bromley.

After spending a sizeable chunk of well-deserved time in jail for his obscene offences, Malcolm wasn’t surprised to find his devastated wife, son, friends, and his employers at the bank all wanted nothing more to do with him. He moved from Bromley to Cornwall where he was living the solitary life of a pariah in an isolated, dilapidated rental cottage. His only companion was Jake, a daft, non-judgemental golden retriever that Malcolm had rescued from an animal shelter. Unable to earn a living because of his criminal record, Malcolm had lived on unemployment benefit until old enough to claim the state pension.

Malcolm had tried to keep on the straight and narrow by choosing to live in an isolated location, far from temptations like schools. Sadly, once a paedophile always a paedophile. He couldn’t help himself. With endless spare time on his hands, Malcolm was a frequent visitor to online child pornography sites. So far, he’d managed to keep away from any physical contact with young boys. Then, one in the shape of almost dead Wayne O’Sullivan ended up in his arms on that snowy Boxing Day.

That year was the first time since the child abuse scandal that Martin’s son had agreed, under sufferance, to spend Christmas Day and Boxing Day at his shamed father’s musty cottage. Neil had usually managed to avoid the ordeal of visiting his father, but Neil’s kind, gullible nature had fooled him into agreeing to visit Malcolm for three days over the festive period.

If the journey from Bromley down to Cornwall had been less arduous, Neil would have merely popped in to see his father on Christmas Day. He wasn’t made of money, so Neil had opted to make the long journey worthwhile by staying a couple of days longer than was ideal. He was also averse to driving back in such heavy snow, particularly after he’d been shaken up when his car skidded into the hedgerow bordering an icy lane leading to the cottage.

When Malcolm returned home with semi-conscious Wayne in his arms, Neil was still sleeping deeply in the spare bedroom. Instead of calling the emergency services for assistance on his mobile phone which was recharging on the kitchen counter, Malcolm tiptoed upstairs, past the spare room where his son was sleeping, and quietly entered his bedroom. He lay Wayne onto the bed and stood over him, licking his lips at now being able to do what he’d planned to do to the boy as he’d carried him home.

Masking his foul intentions, Malcolm whispered in Wayne’s ear, ‘Right, kid, let’s strip these wet pyjamas off you, so we can warm you up. Can’t have you catching pneumonia, can we?’

Saying ‘we’ not  ‘I’ helped Malcolm believe he was less guilty of committing the indecent acts he craved. He knew his primary motive for wanting to remove the child’s wet clothes had nothing to do with concerns for Wayne’s health. It had everything to do with Malcolm’s selfish pleasure.

Before retiring to the bedroom with Wayne, Malcolm had left Jake chewing a bone downstairs in the kitchen as he usually did after their morning walk. Knowing a stranger was in the house, attention-seaking Jake started to bark. Exasperated, Malcolm thought, Shut up, you bloody hound! You’ll spoil all my fun with your idiotic barking. I’ve waited years for a chance like this to come along. I’ll slaughter you if you mess this up for me.

The dog’s repeated barking was loud enough to disturb Wayne’s unconscious state. Malcolm had only undone two of Wayne’s pyjama top buttons before the boy’s eyelids fluttered, then opened wide in terror as he stared into the wrinkled face of an elderly stranger. Wayne’s fear mounted when he looked down and saw knobbly fingers fumbling feverishly with the button on his pyjama bottoms.

Chapter 15. Dealing With Dad

The golden retriever’s over-excited barking didn’t only wake Wayne. In the next room, slumbering Neil had also heard the din. Irritated by the disruption to his valuable sleep, he turned over in bed, hoping to fall back to sleep so he’d be spared from spending time in his father’s company.

A piercing scream coming from somewhere closeby forced Neil wide awake. He sat up in bed so fast his head swam, adding to his confusion and unease.

Neil tried to marshal his thoughts. What the hell? That scream was coming from Dad’s room. Didn’t sound like him, though. Sounded like someone was muffling the noise. Maybe Dad’s listening to telly in bed. No, he can’t be … he hasn’t got one.

Baffled and unsettled, Neil stepped from the bed wearing only his boxer shorts, shivering as the chill of the spare room hit his skin. He pulled on the jeans, T-shirt, and white Arran jumper he’d worn the previous day. He would normally have showered and worn fresh clothes, but investigating the source of the scream was paramount. He feared what he might find, considering his father’s humiliating criminal history of child sex abuse.

Neil, tense and stony-faced, walked onto the narrow landing and stood for a moment, his left ear close to his father’s bedroom door. The silence surrounding Neil was profound due to the heavy snow muffling sound. He picked up a faint whistling noise, as though someone was breathing quickly through their nose.

Flinging open the door, Neil reeled back in horror at the sight before him. His father was standing over the bed with his hand over the mouth of an unknown young boy who was clad in brightly coloured pyjamas. The fear in the boy’s wide eyes chilled Neil to his core, telling him all he needed to know.

He strode into the room and grabbed his father’s scrawny arm, yanking it backwards. ‘What the hell do you think you’re doing? Let the kid go right now, you sick bastard.’

Malcolm seemed to be in a trance. His wizened face was surprisingly expressionless, as though he was unable to comprehend the gravity of his situation. Wayne wrenched himself free of Malcolm’s hold and pulled up the duvet, staring up at the two men with wide, terrified eyes. He was clueless how he’d managed to end up in yet another stranger’s house. Although scared and desperate to see his mother’s familiar face, he felt marginally safer now the second man had entered the room, hopefully to save him.

‘I … I … didn’t mean to. Didn’t hurt him,’ said Malcolm.

‘But you would’ve done if I hadn’t heard the poor kid’s scream,’ snarled Neil through gritted teeth.

Malcolm sank to his knees like a deflating balloon. ‘But, I saved his life. I found him in the snow and brought him back to warm up.’

Neil made a scoffing noise. ‘If that’s true, why didn’t you phone an ambulance, and why were all his pyjama buttons undone? Most damning of all, why did he scream?’

Malcolm’s rheumy, pleading eyes searched for signs of mercy on his son’s face. ‘You won’t tell anyone about this, will you, Neil? Couldn’t face going back to prison.’

‘You must be kidding,’ said Neil, instantly regretting his unfortunate word choice. He pointed to the corner of the room. ‘Stand over there, Dad. Don’t want you anywhere near the boy.’

Neil fished his phone from the pocket of his jeans. Turning to the boy peeping up at him from under the duvet, Neil said, ‘Don’t worry, you’re safe now I’m here. Nobody’s going to hurt you. What’s your name, son?’

 Wayne’s intense fear had rendered him mute. Ignoring Neil’s question, he lay rigid under the duvet, his large brown eyes moving back and forth between the men’s faces. His young brain had reached overload and was about to blow a fuse.

Neil pressed the phone’s keypad three times, then said, ‘No problem, sonny. I’m ringing the police whether you tell me your name or not.’

Malcolm cried out in despair, dashed forward and grabbed his son’s arm. He was sure the three numbers had been nines which would summon the police and end life as he knew it. He started begging, desperate to convince his son not to inform the police what he’d planned to do to Wayne.

Deaf to his father’s pleas, Neil shrugged Malcolm’s hand off his arm, speaking at speed into his mobile phone. ‘Hello. My name’s Neil Holmes. I’m calling from Ferndown Cottage, Backlea Lane. I have a young boy here, about six. Don’t know his name, but my father found him in the snow, almost frozen to death. I need an ambulance. He’s conscious but probably suffering from hyperthermia … No, I don’t know how long he’s been in the snow. Um, I also need the police—’

Malcolm grabbed Neil’s arm again and wailed, ‘No! Please don’t do this to me, son.’

Ignoring his father, Neil continued, his face a picture of determination. ‘My father’s a convicted child molester and I fear he’s brought the child here to … to … Sorry, I can’t bring myself to say it in front of the boy, but you catch my drift.’

Confident the emergency services would soon be arriving, Neil ended the call. He wanted to leave the room to avoid having to witness his father’s meltdown but also needed to ensure the boy’s safety. ‘Dad, go onto the landing, but don’t even think of making a run for it. Keep the door open so I can keep my eye on you. You’re going nowhere near young thingamabob here.’

‘Wayne … my name’s Wayne,’ said a timid voice from beneath the duvet.

Neil smiled at him. ‘Don’t worry, Wayne. You’ll soon be back home, wherever home is.’

Wayne’s eyes welled up with tears as he lay shivering under the duvet. ‘I want to see my Mummy.’

‘Don’t fret. You’ll soon get to see her, mate. What’s your Mummy’s name? Where does she live?’ said Neil, hoping to do some of the work for the police before their arrival.

‘She’s called Jessie O’Sullivan. My real Daddy’s dead, but Russell is my pretend Daddy. He lives with us. My brother, Conor, lives with us too, although he doesn’t look like me at all. He’s the same brown colour as my pretend Daddy.’

Blimey, thought Neil, this poor kid’s family life is almost as complicated as mine. Making a note of the mother’s name on his phone, Neil smiled and said, ‘Thanks for telling me all that, Wayne. Do you remember your address so I can tell your Mummy where you are?’

Wayne’s face screwed up with concentration, then he burst into tears. ‘It’s called some funny name … I can’t remember. We haven’t lived there very long.’

Neil patted him awkwardly on top of his head. ‘Never mind, Wayne. I’m sure the police will be able to find her. They probably know the address already. Your Mum will have told them you’re missing. Oh, sounds like the police have arrived. Wait here in bed while I let them in.’ Seeing the look of fear in Wayne’s eyes, Neil added, ‘Don’t worry, you’re safe now. My father’s coming downstairs with me.’ Sensing his father’s desperate panic and fearing he was contemplating making a dash for it, Neil whispered with cold menace, ‘Don’t even think of running, Dad.’

Grabbing Martin’s shoulder, he manoeuvred him downstairs and into the narrow hallway. There was a loud knock on the door. Malcolm backed away from the sound, snivelling pathetically.

Fifteen minutes later, the thwarted child abuser was on his way to the main police station in the area. Wayne was on his way to hospital, accompanied by a friendly policewoman. Neil was keen to distance himself completely from his degenerate father, so insisted on remaining at the house to give his statement. PC Bletch, a burly middle-aged policeman stayed on to quiz Neil about the recent scandalous events surrounding his errant father.

After seeing PC Blench out of the house, Neil opened his father’s drinks cabinet and poured himself a large glass of neat whisky. Mentally exhausted, he sipped it as he lay on the sofa staring despondently into space. Why the devil did Dad bring the kid back here to abuse him when he knew full well I was staying here? He could never have got away with it. Maybe he subconsciously wanted to be caught as it would prevent him from giving in to his sick urges. Following the first scandal, he probably went insane living cut off from everyone for all those years.

Neil knew he should phone his mother in Bromley to tell her the shocking news, but he felt too weak and traumatised to tackle the task yet. He turned on the television to try to take his mind off the horrors of discovering his father in the process of abusing a minor. Boxing Day viewing appeared to be Mary Poppins. When the television sprang into life, the lady herself was saying, ‘Anything can happen.’

Neil sighed. Everything just did happen, thank you very much, Mary sodding Poppins. What a fine bloody Christmas this has turned out to be. I’m sure poor Wayne has seen better ones, too. The sooner I’m back home in Bromley with Mum the better.

Chapter 16. Good News Amidst The Bad

It was Russell who took the call on the landline in the kitchen. Jessie was too busy to answer it. She was trying without success to calm Conor who was on his bed, crying and trembling with fear, convinced his little brother was gone for ever. She couldn’t leave her eldest son in such a distressed state to answer the phone. Her broken heart broke even more as she felt Conor’s body shuddering with grief as she held him close.

Downstairs in the kitchen, Russell’s voice sounded more excited than she’d heard it in ages. His joyous whoops and hollers were a contrast to the cloud of gloomy tension which had swamped the house ever since Wayne’s disappearance. Jessie dared to hope there might have been a positive development.

Russell’s dreadlock beads clacked as his feet pounded up the stairs to Conor’s bedroom. ‘Jessie! That was Cosgrove on the phone. They’ve found Wayne. He’s okay. He’s safe.’

Jessie leapt up from Conor’s bed, desperate for more details. Grabbing Russell’s arms, she pulled him close as though intending to suck every drop of information out of him. ‘Oh, thank God! Where is he? Are you sure he’s unharmed? Did they catch his kidnappers? When can I see him?’

‘Whoa! Slow down! Stop digging your nails into me,’ said Russell, still smiling, despite Jessie having drawn blood with her well-manicured talons.

Conor’s tears dried up. He sat open-mouthed on the bed absorbing Russell’s wonderful news. ‘Come on. Let’s go to see Wayne right now, Mum.’

Rubbing his sore arms, Russell said, ‘Come down to the living room, please, so I can tell you what Cosgrove said. Kate’s on the phone to him now. Sod’s Law that she was in the loo when the phone rang but I’m sure she’ll have all the details once her boss has filled her in.’

With its king-sized twinkling tree and log fire, the living room looked heartwarmingly festive for the first time in what seemed an eternity, yet had only been a couple of days. The decorations which had mocked them all in their misery now spoke of optimism. The spirit of Christmas had returned now Wayne had escaped the grip of his unknown kidnapper. The joyous prospect of Wayne returning in the near future made the whole property and its inhabitants take a long, deep gasp of relief. It felt wonderful after continuously holding their breath in terror of what might have happened to Wayne.

With her eyes shining with eagerness, Jessie flung herself onto the sofa and leant forward. ‘So, what did Cosgrove tell you? Quick, tell me everything.’

Russell sat on the armchair opposite her, not next to her. Don’t fancy her scratching me again. Glad I managed to tell Jessie the wonderful news before Kate could do it. Bestowing such a gift on Jessie will give me a greater hold over her, he thought, listening to Kate’s musical Welsh accent coming from the kitchen as she talked with Cosgrove.

Kate’s voice is as big a turn-on as her body, but I’d better hurry with the story before she comes in here, he thought. Smiling broadly, he said, ‘Wayne’s been taken to hospital—’

‘What? Thought you said he was unhurt,’ said Jessie, an anguished expression on her thin, pale face.

Russell said, ‘He was taken to hospital so doctors could check him over,’ said Russell. Wayne had spent several hours in the snow before a pensioner walking his dog found him. Cosgrove didn’t tell me which hospital Wayne’s in. Probably doesn’t want you jumping in the car and zooming over there.’

In the kitchen, Kate was being told distressing details about how the elderly man who’d found Wayne had been a twisted pervert who’d taken the boy home, intending to molest him. Cosgrove had withheld that information from Russell; it would have been too distressing for Jessie to hear such horrors while on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

 ‘But, where were the kidnappers while my poor son was lying in the snow? Did those bastards lose their nerve and dump Wayne outside like a bag of rubbish to freeze to death?’ said Jessie, quivering with rage.

‘Wayne was alone when the old man found him. I asked Cosgrove if the police had any clue who the kidnappers were. He said they’re working on it, but no clues yet, although forensics have found an eyelash inside the ransom note’s envelope. It had mascara on it, so belongs to a woman—’

‘Or a transgender person, a drag artist, or maybe a cross-dresser,’ said Jessie.

‘Are you okay, Mum?’ said Conor, confused and alarmed by Jessie’s remark. He looked at Russell for reassurance.

Seeing the odd expression on Jessie’s face, Russell said, ‘Don’t worry, Conor. Your Mum’s not quite herself after not sleeping for days. She’ll be fine now Wayne’s safe.’

‘I am here you know, Russell. You don’t have to patronise me,’ snapped Jessie.

Russell thought, Christ! Jessie sounds loopy from all the stress she’s been under. It’s so hard being around her. Supporting her through all this has been a thankless task. Wish I was anywhere but here. Mind you, maybe she’ll be easier to manipulate if she loses her marbles. Now Wayne’s been found without Jessie giving up the million quid ransom money to the kidnappers, I must grit my teeth and stick it out to carry out my original plan. Shame to waste all the hard work I’ve put into my scheme so far.

Russell’s thoughts were interrupted by the kitchen door opening. Kate Pendleton, her attractive face wreathed in smiles, sashayed across the hallway and into the living room. She looked as excited as the others when she said, ‘DCI Cosgrove said he’s just told Russell the good news, so I’m sure you’re all keen to see Wayne as soon as possible. The doctors want to keep him under observation in hospital overnight—’

‘Oh, no!’ wailed Jessie like a petulant child. ‘I want to see him right now.’

‘And you will, Jessie,’ said Kate. ‘I was about to say that you’ll be able to visit him in hospital in an hour or so.’

‘Great! Can I come too?’ said Conor.

‘Of course, Conor. He is your brother, after all,’ said Jessie, daring Kate to contradict her.

‘My colleagues are debriefing Wayne on what happened to him since he went missing, so we can progress with our investigations. I’ll take you all to the hospital in an hour. DCI Cosgrove wants me to stay with you when you’re reunited in case Wayne tells you any details about his kidnappers he’s neglected to mention.’

‘I hope they’re being gentle with him. He must’ve been through so much,’ said Jessie. ‘Can we drive over to the hospital now? Can’t wait an hour. I’d rather wait at the hospital. At least we’ll be close to him. I can’t hang about here twiddling my thumbs.’

Kate nodded. ‘I’ll take you there now, so long as you’re happy to wait until he’s been debriefed. Hospital waiting rooms aren’t the most comfortable places.’

Russell groaned inwardly. The prospect of spending ages hanging around in a hospital filled him with gloom. ‘Do you want me to wait here with Conor while you visit Wayne?’ he said hopefully.

Conor’s face fell. ‘Not fair. I want to see him just as much as you do, Mum.’

Jessie gave her indignant son a gentle squeeze then turned to Russell. ‘Thanks for the offer, Russell, but it’s important for Conor to see his brother soon. You know how much he’s been suffering.’

Shit! thought Russell. Well, at least I tried.

Chapter 17. A Woman Scorned

Kate’s car weaved through the snowy country lanes towards the hospital with Russell in the passenger seat, Conor and Jessie in the back. Russell was shocked how swiftly he’d been aroused by a glimpse of Kate’s suspenders when she’d climbed into the driver’s seat beside him. Did she flash me on purpose? he thought. That glint in her eyes and knowing little smile tells me she did. Kate’s pretending she’s unaware her skirt’s ridden up as she drives. She knows it has. Lucky the two in the back can’t see what I’m oggling. He was acutely aware of Kate’s shapely legs in their sheer black stockings as she concentrated on navigating the icy roads. To avoid Jessie noticing her lover was staring lustfully at Kate, Russell turned his face away. Although he was gazing at the scenery, he was wondering what Kate’s naked body looked like under her underwear, hoping she wasn’t wearing any.

Sex with Jessie had been off the menu for over two weeks; the honeymoon period was well and truly over for the couple, even before Wayne’s kidnapping had completely cooled their ardour. Russell was normally a twice a day man, thrice a day or more if he could get it. His high sex drive was a curse and a blessing to Russell.

Ending his clandestine affair with Becca Smallwood seven months before now seemed like a foolish move. Not wanting to cause an ugly scene, he’d taken the coward’s way out and sent Becca a text from behind a locked bathroom door in the Cornish house. The text had simply said, ‘Sorry, I can’t see you anymore, great as it’s been. It’s too risky.’

He’d thought about adding a kiss emoji or two at the end, but feared it might give her hope he might reignite their wild affair. He’d succeeded in enraging Becca even more by omitting the kisses.

Had Russell realised the full extent of Becca’s intense feelings about him, and what she was capable of, he would have ended their affair with far more sensitivity. He might even have thought twice about finishing their involvement at all. It would have been safer for him not to have dumped the fiery redhead.

To Russell, his passionate liaisons with Becca at his Brixton flat had been solely about spicing up his sex life, particularly as Jessie was far less adventurous in the bedroom than Becca and Russell’s usual sexual partners. Unfortunately for the dreadlocked lothario, Becca considered Russell Bell to be the love of her life, even her soulmate.

Becca was divorcing her husband, Charlie, to start a life with her chocolate-skinned, exotic lover. If she’d been aware Russell had been living in Cornwall with Jessie and her two boys when he was away from Becca, she’d never have had that gut-wrenching talk with Charlie after supper one evening nine months before. Charlie had been clueless his marriage was about to implode and was still heartbroken and livid his wife had found love elsewhere.

Becca had been driving her soon to be ex-husband’s Range Rover away from her solicitor’s just off the Finchley Road when Russell’s text pinged into her phone’s inbox. Expecting it to be another sexy text from her lover, she’d almost crashed the car on reading his heartless words. Her heart raced, her cheeks burned as red as her hair, and her vision blurred as though her eyes couldn’t cope with such shocking news.

To avoid crashing, Becca pulled the car over and parked. She gasped for air like a beached mackerel. Incapable of driving, she sat with her hands grasping the steering wheel so hard her knuckles shone white. She was stunned to her core because Russell had never even hinted about ending their relationship.

When passers-by started gawping into the car at her obvious distress, Becca released her grip on the steering wheel and picked up her mobile phone. Maybe I misunderstood him. Texts can sometimes be misleading. Perhaps there’s another text from Russell explaining what he really meant, she thought. On re-reading his words, she had to admit his meaning was unequivocal. She’d been clutching at straws.

‘Right, I’ll show you, you bastard,’ she muttered through clenched jaws. Furiously tapping out a venomous reply to his text, she told him in no uncertain terms exactly what she thought of him. Her retort was liberally littered with the strongest swear words she could dream up, rattling them off as though firing cannonballs at Russell’s ramparts.

At the time of Becca’s text onslaught, Russell had been busy delivering a completed illustration to one of his other important clients, an author living in Devon. He’d been sitting in the man’s office when over thirty vile texts flooded onto his phone, but he was oblivious of their arrival. Aware that Becca was a fiery woman with a vicious tongue, Russell had expected abusive texts giving her opinion of him for ending their relationship. This was why he’d set his phone to Airplane mode so the constant beeping of her texts couldn’t distract him or annoy his client. Russell’s lack of response to her barrage of texts only served to infuriate Becca even more. She set off at full tilt on her drive to Russell’s Brixton flat, hoping he’d be in so she could berate him face to face.

Russell was unaware that Becca had obtained a key to his flat by devious means three months into their torrid relationship. Back then, she’d left Charlie alone at the publishing house in Soho where they both worked and had driven to a prearranged meeting with Russell at his flat. Russell had been in two minds whether to cancel their rendezvous because he’d been feverish. His coughs had sounded like something dredged up from Hell. Having not seen him for a couple of weeks, highly sexed Becca had insisted they meet despite his illness. Her badgering paid off and he’d relented.

On the pretext of fetching him some cough medicine from a chemist up the road to calm his hacking cough, she’d said, ‘Stay here and rest on the sofa. It’s freezing outside and I don’t want you to catch pneumonia. You’ll need all your strength for what I have in mind for you.’ She’d run her hand up his thigh and rubbed his penis over his jeans with the flat of her hand, so he’d be in no doubt about what she wanted. ‘Toss me your keys, Russ, so you won’t have to let me back in.’

Confident he was in for a real treat on her return, Russell had gladly thrown her the keys to his flat. The exertion and his arousal had provoked another outburst of hacking coughs. Scheming Becca had taken his keys and set off to the key cutter’s shop at the end of Russell’s road. Her feverish lover had been all too willing to stay resting at the flat while Becca ran the errand. Russell would have been less keen if he’d known crazy Becca now secretly owned a duplicate set of keys to his flat. She’d had the keys cut to give her more control over him. Becca loved knowing she could snoop around his flat whenever she liked without Russell knowing his privacy was being invaded.

They might come in handy someday, who knows? she’d thought, slipping the keys into her zebra-skinned handbag.

After receiving Russell’s cruel text, Becca had good reason to make use of the set of keys. She would have preferred to be driving around to Russell’s flat for another session of no-holds-barred sex. He’d thwarted her desires by sending her the abrupt text dismissing her from his life. Bad move, you heartless sod, one I’m about to make you deeply regret, thought Becca, parking outside the rundown Brixton building containing Russell’s flat.

Becca expected him to be at home working on one of his illustration projects. She was prepared to rip him to shreds verbally and possibly physically. But, when she unlocked the door to his flat and walked into the small room he always worked in, it was vacant.

‘Russell, are you hiding like a bloody coward in the loo? Come out and face the music, you scumbag,’ she yelled outside the closed bathroom door.

Hearing no reply, she checked the bathroom and bedroom were empty. Robbed of the chance to argue with her ex-lover, Becca sat on the sofa where they’d performed some of their more adventurous sexual positions so she could calm down and plan what to do next. It didn’t take her long to decide to take advantage of his absence and satisfy her curiosity by rooting around through his possessions.

Becca carefully replaced each object exactly as she’d found them, so hersnooping would hopefully remain a secret from him. She searched through everycupboard and drawer, unaware Russell was down in Cornwall with Jessie and herboys at the time. She didn’t know the O’Sullivan family even existed. However,by the end of her meticulous search through his belongings, Becca had unearthedmore shocking truths about Russell Bell than before entering his flat.

Chapter 18. The Sexy Sleuth

Becca pulled out a wodge of birthday and Christmas cards from the drawer of a cabinet at the back of Russell’s cramped workroom. Among the cards was a large Valentine’s card inside a pale pink envelope. What the hell’s this? thought Becca.

Unfortunately for Russell, Jessie had chosen to post a mawkish Valentine’s Day card to him at the Cornish home they shared. She’d wanted him to be surprised by the card arriving in the morning’s post, rather than merely hand it to him over breakfast. It was personalised, the sort sold online by companies who specialise in personalised cards to suit every occasion.

On the front were six photographs depicting Jessie and Russell in romantic settings. She’d been delighted with the result. Russell had said he’d loved the card, although the sugary pink hearts and flowers had made him feel a tad queasy. Conforming to tradition, she hadn’t signed the bottom of the card, but it was blatantly obvious who’d sent it because of the photographs.

What shocked and angered Becca the most was the date displayed within the postmark on the front of the envelope. It’s dated only two months ago. That’s well after Russell and I started seeing each other. The bastard never even gave me a Valentine’s Day card. Probably too busy banging whoever this skinny blonde bitch is behind my back.

Becca was so hurt and livid, she picked up the nearest object to hand and threw it full-force against the white wall. Unfortunately yet appropriately, the object was one of Russell’s red ink bottles he used for his illustrations. The glowering redhead watched the gory streaks slither across the wood-effect floor, spreading out almost to the tip of her high heels.

Well, there goes my plan not to disturb anything in here, she thought, staring down at the red pool spreading across the floor. Hopefully, the wanker will think it somehow tipped off the table onto the floor. Damned if I’m going to mop it up. Wish it was that blonde cow’s blood, not ink. Kind of symbolic … I like it.

Becca’s inner-detective cranked up a notch. She scoured the photographs on the card for any clues. Well, at least I now know his whore’s address. It’s on the envelope. No … hang on a minute, silly me. I’m wrong. If the bitch was sending the card to Russell at this Cornish address, that means he was in Cornwall around Valentine’s Day. That’s weird. He never mentioned anything to me about staying in Cornwall at that time or any other time. I clearly remember the bastard telling me he was busy working in Brixton on his illustrations over Valentine’s Day. That’s the reason he gave me why we couldn’t meet for ages. Oh, God, no!. Does that mean all those times Russell told me he had urgent illustration work to finish and couldn’t see me, he’s actually been shagging the scrawny bint in the photos?

She squinted at the necklace dangling around the smiling blonde’s neck in two of the photographs. Becca glowered as she stared at the loving couple, their arms wrapped around each other as they posed for selfies, as though gloating at Becca’s distress. Russell had given the personalised gold necklace to Jessie for her birthday the previous November, but Becca didn’t know that. All she desperately wanted to do was work out the tiny golden name suspended in the middle of the fine gold chain belonging to the woman who’d stolen Russell away from her.

The redhead pulled out her trendy turquoise reading glasses from the depths of her handbag and slid them on. J … her name starts with a J, thought Becca. Not sure what the next letter is but the next two letters are definitely S. Looks like six letters … um … the last letter is the same as the second … probably an E. Jessie … the bitch is called Jessie. What a bloody soppy name.

Another of the photos on the card depicted Jessie, Russell, and a couple of smiling young boys. The older child was black, the other white, which puzzled Becca. The quartet were sitting at a patio table in what appeared to be a private garden. In the distance was a familiar Cornish landmark, St Michael’s Mount. The tide was out and the causeway leading to the popular tourist attraction was visible. Becca recognised the scene. She’d visited St Michael’s Mount as a child during a week’s holiday in Cornwall with her parents. Seeing Russell pictured near the landmark with his arms around the waist of another woman sullied Becca’s happy childhood memory. ‘The treacherous bastard,’ she muttered.

Removing her mobile phone from its special compartment in her handbag, she snapped several photographs of the Valentine’s card plus the address on its envelope. Fearing Russell could return at any moment, she quickly placed them where she’d found them inside the cabinet’s middle drawer. Taking care not to step in the red ink, Becca exited the flat and locked the door behind her with her duplicate set of keys.

Spurred on by her discoveries and with the acid of revenge careering through her veins, Becca craved to discover more. She couldn’t wait to reach her home to search her laptop for more information about the witch who’d had the audacity to destroy her wonderful relationship with Russell. Becca refused to abandon the notion he was her soulmate and the most sexually compatible partner she’d ever had. It infuriated her to admit, even for a second, that Russell might feel differently about Becca than she felt about him.

Driving up her snowy driveway, Becca noted her house was in darkness. The property had been a husband-free zone ever since the evening she’d ended their marriage. Unable to stomach having her anywhere near him, Charlie had decided to stay with his elderly wealthy parents in Chelsea, vowing to stay with them until his marriage had been formally dissolved. It irked Charlie to breathe the same air as his treacherous, soon-to-be-ex-wife while they toiled at the publishing house in Soho, but it couldn’t be avoided. It was a challenge, but they did their utmost to steer well clear of each other whenever possible during their working day.

Feeling chilly and pathetically alone, Becca turned on all the lights and boosted the heating before firing up her laptop. She sat on the grandiose cream leather sofa with a large glass of Merlot within easy reach to raise her spirits. She hoped the wine would help melt the block of ice forming in her chest, the place her heart used to be before Russell sent her the text.

To help her think, Becca twiddled a long strand of her thick, flame-red hair around her index finger, a habit she’d held on to since childhood. Facebook is always a great source of information, she thought. I’ll start there. Bet there are millions of Jessies on there, but I might strike lucky. At least I know what the bitch looks like now I have her photo on my phone.

Becca was accustomed to using Facebook and other social media platforms to carry out all kinds of surreptitious, underhand dealings. She’d often scoured Facebook to get her own back in some way against several errant boyfriends. She enjoyed creating false profiles, stalking them, and even talking to them in the guise of another woman.

The redhead was extremely creative in her methods. She’d often been told snippets of interesting and useful information by the subject himself or by his friends, even other women he’d moved on to. Conversing with men who’d cast her aside while disguised as another woman was an all-consuming game. It helped re-establish her power after the man who’d emotionally scarred her had robbed Becca of her control over him. She loved toying with them and gloated over how clever she’d been.

Whenever a man had dumped her, an urge to reassert her control through subterfuge would well up inside her. She’d never managed to reignite any of her relationships through donning fake online identities. This didn’t bother her as she no longer wanted the men in question anyway; her sole aim was to make them suffer in some way for the emotional pain they’d inflicted on her. She enjoyed catching them out in lies they told her, and nothing could beat the thrill of eventually revealing her true identity to them in an online message. Once she’d told a man who she really was, she’d rejoice in how stupid and humiliated the duped man must have felt.

In Russell’s case, Becca was more interested in trying to discover all she could about the new woman in his life so she could make her suffer for stealing him. She’d been busy scrolling through scores of Facebook Jessies without any luck, when Becca had a lightbulb moment. St Michael’s Mount. Maybe Jessie has posted something about the photograph of her and Russell when they took that photograph, she thought. Okay … so, it looks like St Michael’s Mount has its own Facebook page. Maybe this Jessie cow has tagged St Michael’s Mount in her post. Bit of an outside chance, but stranger things have happened.

Becca typed in, ‘St Michael’s Mount,’ into Facebook’s search engine, selected ‘posts’ and crossed her fingers as the results appeared. She scrolled through three posts from strangers posing in front of the iconic coastal landmark. Next second, her stomach lurched and her mouth fell open. ‘Oh, my God … There it is … The same photo,’ she said under her breath. Her grin was pure evil as she thought, What a find. It even shows the thief’s surname. So, you’re called Jessie O’Sullivan, are you, you skinny bitch? That’s all the info I need to know about you. Let the fun begin.

Chapter 19. A Hospital Visit

Russell was more subdued than the other three car passengers who were all excited to be driving to see Wayne after his ordeal. Kate steered them confidently along precarious icy roads as snowflakes fell around them. Conor was jabbering to Jessie about soon hugging the brother he feared he might never see again. His mother had her arm around him as she smiled serenely for the first time in days.

Slumped in the front passenger seat, Russell was deep in thought, blankly gazing through the frosty window. Jessie’s lover wasn’t looking forward to setting foot inside St. Michael’s hospital where Wayne was being treated. Russell usually avoided hospitals at all costs. They’d forever remind him of the painful months he and his parents had watched the life leak out of his younger brother, Ben. The tragedy had struck over ten years before, but the gruelling experience had left an indelible wound deep inside Russell.

His parents still struggled to recover from watching Ben slowly die from bone cancer, not that any parent can be said to ever recover from losing a child under any circumstances. Jakayla, had taken it particularly badly and had slumped into a profound clinical depression. Russell still felt guilty over how he’d avoided his mother during her depressed years; he’d been too preoccupied suppressing his own grief over losing Ben with prolific casual fornication and gambling.

Russell knew neither occupation would permanently salve his grief. Those pastimes eventually made matters much worse, yet gambling and sex were Russell’s go-to remedies to take his mind off his internal pain. His career as a talented illustrator suffered badly as he roamed from woman to woman while throwing money down the drain with his gambling addiction. His gambling debts were horrendous.

To distract his brain from thoughts of the imminent dreaded hospital visit, Russell dished himself up a slice of delicious memories. He still felt stirrings in his jeans from oggling Kate’s suspenders, which were still on show though he dared not look too often. The second memory centred around his last sexual encounter, not with Jessie, but with Becca. Sex had always been memorable with the imaginative, married redhead, who had no sexual boundaries; with Jessie, not so much.

The last time they’d met, Becca had eagerly agreed to let him tie her naked body over the barstool in the kitchen. He’d shackled her slender ankles to two of the stool’s legs, then tied her wrists to the stool’s other two legs. With MTV on his television for background noise to drown out Becca’s loud moans and groans, he’d amused himself for over an hour with every part of her exposed, vulnerable, beautiful body. Becca had loved it as much as Russell had done.

Sliding a cold courgette from the fridge into Becca’s anus while thrusting deep inside her vagina with the penis he was so proud of, Russell thought, Jessie would never agree to such treatment. I have to be all hearts and flowers with her. We never have the hard, kinky sex Becca and I love.

After he’d eventually untied the well-satisfied redhead from the barstool and she’d sat naked and glowing next to him on his sofa fixing her makeup, Russell thought,  The trouble is, I’m falling deeper and deeper for Becca, and who can blame me? Just look at her. He’d leant forward and grabbed a generous handful of white, pink-tipped breast. She’d grinned salaciously at him, proud of the effect she was having on him. What’s worse, I can tell she’s fallen even more heavily for me. It breaks my heart to admit it, but we can’t continue hooking up. To carry on screwing her would seriously jeopardise my plans to con millions out of Jessie. You may be awesome, Becca, but you’re not worth five million pounds to me.

As Kate drove into the hospital car park, Russell remembered how he’d finally decided the evening he’d tied Becca to the stool had to be the last time he’d meet her. Fearing he couldn’t trust himself not to weaken if he’d opted to end it with her face to face, he’d chosen to send her the text. When he’d pressed send, he’d thought, I don’t care if she considers me a coward. I won’t be seeing her again, so what does it matter if she ends up hating my guts?

‘We’re here,’ said Kate.

Russell gritted his teeth, preparing to enter the dreaded hospital. Despite trying to distract himself with thoughts of Becca’s final performance, as soon as the hospital’s main doors slid open, his head filled with less pleasant memories; Ben’s gaunt face lying on the pillow and the sound of his final breath as their mother wailed in despair.

‘We mightn’t be able to stay long, Conor, but at least they’re letting us see him,’ said Jessie.

Conor looked up at her with his large, dark eyes. ‘I wish we could take him home with us, Mum.’

‘So do I, sweetheart. Hopefully he can return soon, when the doctors say he’s well enough.’

Jessie strode out in front of the small group, eager to see the son she’d feared might be lost to her forever. Russell dragged behind them all, staring at the back of Kate’s skirt swishing to and fro as they all walked through the corridors to Wayne’s ward. His mouth was dry with anxiety at being in his least favourite place. If he could have stayed in the car without seeming weird, he would have done.

‘I usually get horribly lost in hospitals. I think Wayne’s ward’s somewhere along here. God help anyone trying to find their way around these places when they’re ill,’ said Kate to Jessie’s back as the eager mother powered along a corridor which looked identical to all the others within the confusing maze.

As soon as Jessie pushed the door to the elusive ward, Conor let out an excited yell and raced towards a bed at the end of the room.

‘Shh, Conor. People are trying to rest,’ said Jessie, although she also felt like exploding with glee after the nightmarish previous days.

As soon as Wayne saw Jessie’s smiling face, he called out, ‘Mummy!’ and jigged up and down in bed with overexcitement. They each held out their arms in readiness for the best hug ever. Conor managed to beat his mother to the hug, so they opted for a group one. The scene was very different to the last time Russell had visited a hospital bedside. He stood in the background with Kate, smiling politely, relieved the child had been returned to the fold, but keen to leave the hospital as soon as possible. At least their tears are ones of happiness, not the kind they’ve shed over the last few days, or those my parents and I cried over Ben, thought Russell.

‘I was so scared, Mummy,’ said Wayne once all the happy tears had subsided.

‘So was I,’ said Conor.

Wayne looked shocked. ‘Why? Did a monster steal you away from Mummy, too?’

Jessie interjected to ease Wayne’s confusion. ‘No, sweetie. Conor means he was scared we might not see you again. But, we’re all safe now, so there’s no need for anyone to be scared anymore.’

‘I don’t want to stay in here. Want to come home right now,’ said Wayne, pulling the bedding off him, ready to launch himself from the bed.

Seeing her son’s distress at being kept in hospital overnight, Jessie turned towards Kate with desperation in her eyes. Taking her to one side, Jessie whispered, ‘I really don’t want to be separated any longer from him. It’s been a hellish few days for everyone, mostly Wayne. We need to try to heal together. If I can clear it with the doctors, is there any way he could be questioned at home about what happened to him? He should be at home, with me. He’s so young.’

Kate said, ‘I’ll try to clear it with DCI Cosgrove. Hopefully he’ll allow me to stay at your place tonight to debrief Wayne. I fully understand your concerns about the emotional harm that could potentially occur if you were all kept apart overnight.’

Jessie had the look of a lioness defending her cub from a pack of snarling hyenas. ‘Either that, or I insist on staying by his side here in hospital until the doctors discharge him. I’m not leaving here without my son.’

‘Hey, I’m on your side, Jessie,’ said Kate defensively. ‘Have a word with the doctors and I’ll phone my boss.’

‘Sorry, Kate. I didn’t mean to come over all aggressive, but I don’t know how much more I can take. My nerves are in tatters from all the stress. I’ll come back here once I get permission from the medical staff to take my boy home.’

Half an hour later, Jessie and Conor were cuddling Wayne in the back seat of Kate’s car as she drove them all home. Russell was sitting next to her, much relieved to have left the hospital and his distressing memories of his young brother’s final days. Christ, Kate’s skirt’s even higher, he thought. I can even see the edge of her red thong. She’s killing me, and she knows it.

Chapter 20. Stolen Moments

‘Of course I don’t mind swapping beds with Wayne tonight,’ said Russell as he perched on a kitchen stool watching Jessie cook supper for everyone. ‘The poor kid needs to feel safe and secure. Sleeping with you will do wonders for his recovery,’ To be honest, he thought, it’ll also do wonders for my stress levels to sleep alone in Wayne’s room instead of pretending I’m thrilled to be sleeping with Jessie. Hardly slept a wink these past few nights with all her endless crying.

Jessie said, ‘I know you’re not keen on macaroni cheese, but we’re eating it this evening as it’s Wayne’s favourite food.’

Trying to sound enthusiastic, Russell said, ‘Fine by me,’ although it wasn’t.

That day, they’d decided to give Wayne all the presents Jessie’d bought him before his kidnap to help compensate for all the Christmas fun he’d missed. The tree and decorations were still up and there were plenty Christmas goodies to make the day special for him.

As Russell watched Jessie grating cheese, he thought, I can’t stand that macaroni slop. Steak and chips will have to wait until another time. It’s bound to be all about Wayne for at least a few more days. Those two kids are spoilt enough already, so I dread to think what Jessie will do for Wayne to ease his trauma. My plans to marry Jessie to get my hands on all that lovely money must be put on ice until all this fuss over her snotty kid has died down.

Russell knew he was being cold-hearted by putting his own plans for financial gain above the wellbeing of a child, but he was suffering from the strain of acting as though he felt a deep emotional connection to Jessie. Pretending to love her as much as she loved him was more exhausting than he’d imagined. To relieve the pressure, he’d often retire to the room allocated for him to work on his art commissions. Jessie believed he was busy fulfilling his clients’ briefs while he was inside his sanctuary, but rather than pick up his paintbrushes, coloured pencils and inks, he’d be logged onto his laptop indulging in secret online gambling or surfing porn sites.

He’d occasionally win enough money to keep him hooked on gambling, but nowhere near enough money to dig Russell out of his worsening financial morass. Knowing he was crazy to gamble didn’t prevent him from throwing good money after bad, so strong was the grip his gambling addiction had on him. He’d been struggling with his addictive personality since childhood when adrenaline would race around his body as he placed bets on snail races, arm wrestling contests, and even crazier bets with his school friends.

Russell’s sex addiction emerged soon after leaving school when he’d earned a place at a London art college. Surrounded by so many eager, adoring female art students, he’d fornicated his way through his four-year course. Sex was a habit he happily ran alongside his gambling addiction for several years. As his birthdays raced by, the problems building up from both his addictions worsened, encroaching on his happiness. To call a halt to either habit wasn’t an option. His gambling cronies and the women he was bedding made it nigh impossible for Russell to resist temptation.

Juggling time-consuming work as an illustrator, which earned Russell his living, with his gambling and sexual pursuits was a daily challenge. Now, he was embroiled in an unsatisfying sexual relationship with Jessie, and had recently unceremoniously dumped Becca, so he’d been forced to shelve his sexual urges. He comforted himself with the promise he’d be resuming his sexual exploits the minute he’d pocketed Jessie’s millions and cast her adrift. To his immense irritation, Wayne’s kidnap had unfortunately delayed his plans to solve his financial problems, but his resolve to become fabulously rich was as strong as ever. Having Kate around had kick-started his libido with a vengeance.

The five of them sat around the dining room table self-consciously wearing silly paper hats, eating macaroni cheese, pulling Christmas crackers and groaning at the jokes inside them. Russell pretended to enjoy the meal, but his heart wasn’t in it. The only high point for him was Kate. He was struggling to keep his eyes off her. She looked stunning in her festive red dress which showed more creamy cleavage than usual. He was sitting opposite her with Jessie by his side, so had ample opportunity to gaze at her without Jessie realising she was looking. Kate felt his eyes on her though, and she liked it.

Jessie had done her best to look alluring, but Kate won the beauty war hands down. There was something wild and animalistic in Kate, a trait Russell also possessed. Their houseguest couldn’t help oozing sexuality. Russell was relieved Jessie had invited Kate to stay at their house rather than stay at a hotel so she could help DCI Cosgrove to investigate the kidnap. Jeremy was ensconced in a Travel Lodge each night after spending most of the day working on the case at the area’s police headquarters.

Jessie and Kate hit it off from the start. Having just moved from Sheffield in the north of England to Cornwall in the south-west, Jessie didn’t have any friends, male or female. She welcomed the opportunity to act as host. Kate was working wonders with Wayne, slowly bringing him out of his shell so he could give Kate good information. The more Kate was around Jessie’s traumatised son, the more he was returning to the carefree, outgoing child he once was. Jessie wanted to convince her new ally to stay at her house for as long as possible. Russell concurred, but for different, less honourable reasons.

Jessie thought, Wayne’s having fun, but he’s still more subdued than usual. Hardly surprising with a dead father and undergoing his kidnap ordeal. His eyes look haunted. Dread to think what he endured at the hands of whoever grabbed him. So relieved Kate’s found a way of drawing him out of his shell.

The next day, rays of sun glinted on the snowy landscape, inviting them all to escape the house and work up an appetite with a walk on the beach.

‘Can I bring my car?’ said Wayne.

The adults all looked at each other, surprised he’d want to go anywhere near the luxury toy car after being snatched from it less than a week before. Jessie was intending to sell it, worried her youngest son would be tempted again into straying outside unsupervised to drive it.

‘It would sink into the sand, Wayne. Best it stays at home,’ said Jessie. Wayne looked so disappointed, she added, ‘Later on, maybe Russell will come with you while you drive around the path. You know you must never go outside alone with it again, don’t you?’

Wayne looked serious. ‘Yes, Mummy. I won’t go outside on my own ever again. The monster’s still out there.’

Kate said, ‘Good boy. Maybe before we go for a walk on the beach, we can all watch you zoom around the drive in your car.’

‘Yay!’ said Wayne, rushing into the hallway with Conor to put on their coats and wellies.

‘Let’s all change into warmer clothes. It might be sunny but it’s still bloody freezing outside,’ said Jessie.

‘Good call. Wait for us downstairs, boys. We won’t be long,’ said Russell, following Jessie and Kate upstairs.

It didn’t take him long to pull on a thick jumper and donkey jacket. He watched Jessie struggling out of her dress and select a pair of jeans and a jumper attractive enough to compete with Kate’s sexy wardrobe. Russell thought, Jessie always takes ages getting ready. Drives me potty. I’d better see what the boys are up to as she could be a while.

He was about to leave the bedroom when Jessie’s phone rang. It was Fern, Jessie’s best friend phoning from Sheffield. Russell thought, Jessie’ll be on there for ages. She can never get off the bloody phone with that gasbag.

Russell made his way along the long landing towards the staircase. Drawing closer to Kate’s room, he noticed the door was ajar and Kate was standing with her back to him. He halted and watched her reflection in a floor-length mirror in her room. To his delight, Kate was stripping down to her scanty, semi-transparent black bra and thong. She still wore her stockings and suspenders and high heels. He marvelled at her slim waist and pert buttocks. His pulse quickened as she unhooked her bra and threw it on the bed, then stepped out of her thong. The thong caught on her shoe’s heel and she bent to release it, treating Russell to a perfect view between her parted buttocks. When she stood up again, the sight of her ample, creamy breasts tipped with large, puffy nipples and her plump, hairless labia reflected in the mirror instantly aroused Russell.

Kate knows I’m watching her. She’s performing for me, thought Russell. Why would she be naked, knowing I’m only a few yards away? My heart’s pounding. If Jessie wasn’t only up the corridor, I’d walk in and fuck Kate right here, right now.

The brunette began rummaging through her wardrobe, treating her Jamaican voyeur to a perfect view of both the front and back of her naked body. She pulled out a pair of tight black jeans, black scoop-necked t-shirt, and jade jumper, but didn’t seem quite ready to put them on.

What’s she up to? thought Russell, watching her pull out a black PVC peephole bra and tiny matching thong from a drawer. She wouldn’t be putting on that PVC underwear for Jessie’s sake. Must be for me. Look at her tugging her nipples through the holes and admiring how hard they are in the mirror. Wonder how her nips got to be that big? Wish I could’ve helped her tug them through her bra’s holes with my teeth. Never seen anything so sexy in my life.

Russell held his breath as Kate continued to ignore him, sat on the bed facing the mirror and parted her legs. Her thong was crotchless to match the bra and he took in the sight of her hairless labia and exposed, wet vulva. The largest clitoral hood he’d ever seen was on display as she masturbated. He took a step forward so he was sure she could see him.

Their eyes met in the mirror and he smiled and whispered, ‘You can’t pretend I’m not here now.’

Kate smiled and whispered, ‘Come closer.’

Russell walked forward until he was just inside the open doorway, only a couple of feet away from her.

‘No, closer … That’s it. Now, put your head closer so you can hear how wet you’ve made me,’ she whispered.

Russell’s face was less than a foot away from the action as he listened intently while she rapidly fingered deep inside her vagina.

‘Rub my clit. Help me to come,’ she said, panting as her climax built.

Russell didn’t need asking twice. All thoughts about getting caught vanished. He rubbed her clitoris frantically with two fingers. The sound of Kate’s fingers inside her was so loud, Russell thought Jessie might hear. He stared into her eyes as Kate tensed and climaxed, spurting an arc of ejaculate onto his arm and the carpet. Kate slid her two slippery fingers between his lips.

Russell whispered, ‘Delicious. You’ve given me such a boner. Let me feel how wet you are inside. Quick, before Jessie appears.’ He looked down between Kate’s parted thighs and said, ‘Must suck that beauty or I’ll die,’

Russell lowered his head and began feverishly jabbing his long tongue inside her, then sucked hard on her clitoris, all the while squeezing and tugging her nipples with both hands.

He lifted his face from between Kate’s legs and wiped his wet chin. ‘Want you to come in my mouth, but Jessie must be ready by now. You’d better get dressed and come downstairs. I have to fuck you, Kate. I’m sure you know that.’

‘The sooner the better,’ said Kate, kissing him on the forehead before walking over to her clothes and pulling them on.

Russell limped downstairs, desperate to come. Unable to bear the pressure, he contemplated masturbating in the downstairs bathroom but knew there wouldn’t be time. His erection dwindled to a semi after he was thrown back into the real world by having to separate Conor and Wayne who were squabbling over a toy plane. Once the two women had emerged resplendent from their bedrooms, they all exited the house to watch Wayne complete circuits of the drive. Russell and Kate exchanged frequent knowing looks and grins behind Jessie’s back. Although the sun was shining, a brisk, icy breeze stung their faces. To ease Jessie’s anxiety, Russell and Conor offered to escort the excited child around the path. Even though the chances of Wayne being kidnapped a second time while driving his car were slim, they were all on high alert, especially Jessie. The women stood stamping their feet in the snow to keep their blood circulation flowing.

Confident her children were out of earshot, Jessie said to Kate, ‘Hope the police soon find the bastard who did this to Wayne. I can’t take much more strain. I’m snapping at poor Russell for no reason. It’s supposed to be the honeymoon phase of our relationship, yet I’m being such a bitch to him.’

Hearing all was not well in paradise was music to Kate’s ears. Like Judas, she put an arm around Jessie’s shoulders and said, ‘Don’t beat yourself up. Any mother would be short-tempered after the pressure you’re under. Russell will understand. You’ve hardly begun to recover from the upset and strain over Liam. Now this. We’re doing everything we can to catch Wayne’s kidnapper. You’ll feel on edge until the perpetrators have been slammed behind bars.’

‘Do you think it was a gang?’ said Jessie.

Kate nodded. ‘More than likely, but Wayne has only mentioned one person. The way the kidnapper was disguised with their head in a balaklava could mean there were several people all dressed the same. We’ll soon know more, hopefully. I’m expecting my boss to phone soon to update me.’

‘Has Wayne told you much about what happened to him, Kate? He’s been pretty button-lipped with me. Don’t want to push him too much after his traumatic experience.’

‘He’s told me bits and pieces. I’m going gently with him, too. Mind you, he’s looking happier now,’ said Kate as Wayne’s car whizzed into sight around a bend in the drive.

‘Slow down, Wayne. You’re wearing us both out,’ said Russell in hot pursuit with Conor bringing up the rear.

As the toy Mercedes headed into the distance, Jessie cupped her hands to her mouth and called out, ‘One more circuit, then we’re all going for a walk, Wayne.’

‘I need a lie-down, never mind a walk,’ said Russell over his shoulder, jogging behind the giggling boy who was pretending not to hear his mother.

Wish you’d lie down with me for an hour or two, thought Kate lustfully watching his athletic rear view.

Like a portent of trouble ahead, snow clouds moved over the sun. Stinging sleet began to fall, so the walk on the beach idea was abandoned and the group walked back to the house.

‘Hot chocolate for everyone, then I’ll make lunch,’ said Jessie.

‘Will you be my hot chocolate, Russell?’ whispered Kate in his ear.

They were partway through their lunch of Christmas leftovers when Kate’s mobile phone trilled. ‘I’d better take this. It’s DCI Cosgrove.’

She walked briskly into the hallway and closed the door behind her. After a ten-minute conference with her boss, Kate returned to the dining table. Jessie was naturally desperate for the kidnappers to be apprehended and terrified the culprits might return for another attempt. Another kidnap was unlikely, but Jessie couldn’t dismiss the fear someone might still be planning to snatch either of her precious children. ‘Any developments in the case yet, Kate?’ said Jessie.

Kate leant closer to Jessie and whispered, ‘Probably be wiser if I talk to you and Russell when the children are in bed.’

Jessie nodded. ‘You’re right,’ she whispered. ‘The less Wayne hears about the kidnap the better. He needs a chance to recover from the whole nightmare.’

The afternoon drifted by with the adults playing  Monopoly while the children watched children’s television. They ordered a Chinese food delivery for supper, The sexual tension between Kate and Russell crackled as they ate. Jessie took her children upstairs after supper to bathe them and to read Wayne a bedtime story. Praying that Wayne doesn’t ask Kate to read to him, thought Russell. I have other plans for her. Luckily, Wayne made no such demands. From experience, Russell knew the children’s bedtime rituals would be a long, drawn out affair, something he also hoped he’d soon be enjoying with Kate.

As soon as Jessie and the boys had left the room, Russell and Kate smiled lasciviously at each other, leapt from their seats and grabbed each other. After kissing her, Russell took Kate’s hand and pulled her into the dark kitchen. He closed the door and wedged a chair under the handle so nobody could enter.

‘Have to see everything in detail,’ he whispered, turning on the light. ‘That’s better. Now, show me your juicy clit.’

Kate grinned, turned on even more by his masterful command, ‘Your wish is my command,’ she whispered.

He knelt, panting with anticipation, his nose inches from her groin as she undid the button on her jeans and unzipped her them. Unable to wait, Russell pulled Kate’s jeans and thong below her knees. Fearing she might fall over, she tugged off everything below the waist and pulled her top and bra under her chin. Leaning back against the wall, Kate planted her feet wide apart, bent her knees, thrust her hips forward and parted her labia. Russell grunted like a wart hog as he sucked her juices and licked her clitoris, his hands raised up so he could massage her perfect breasts.

He slid two fingers deep inside her, intent on making her climax, but Kate whispered, ‘Stand up and drop your jeans and boxers while I dress. Haven’t sucked you yet. Let me suck you, before Jessie spoils our fun.’

Doing as she said, Russell whispered, ‘Pull your top up high again. Can’t get enough of your amazing nipples.’

Once Kate looked more respectable, except for her nipples poking through her kinky bra, she knelt on the kitchen floor. Ten seconds later, Russell’s hard penis was down Kate’s throat. ‘Had a semi all day from tasting you. Won’t take long,’ whispered Russell.

Kate proceeded to give him the most skilful, satisfying blow job he’d ever had. His powerful thighs were shuddering as his taut buttocks clenched. Trying not to groan too loudly, Russell came down Kate’s throat.

‘Awesome. Quick. Pull up your jeans. Mustn’t get caught,’ whispered Kate, wiping her mouth.

Russell did as he was told. ‘But, I want to make you gush again. Wish I’d been bold enough and fucked you, but it’d be too risky, and want to take my time doing that. You deserve it.’

‘We must try to be patient, but I need to feel you inside me … soon,’ she whispered.

Looking guilty, they scuttled back to the living room. Sitting on the sofa waiting for Jessie to reappear, Russell played with Kate’s breasts until her nipples could have cut glass. She only just managed to conceal them before Jessie walked back into the living room.

 With the boys now asleep, the grown-ups settled down to relax with glasses of wine in the living room. Russell and Kate looked the picture of innocence. Kate said, ‘Getting back to your earlier question, Jessie, the boss has told me there are a few leads. Forensics discovered a long auburn hair in the kidnap letter’s envelope. Looks tonged into a curl rather than being a natural curl, so probably belonged to a female. It might’ve found its way into the envelope before the kidnapper laid hands on it, so we mustn’t get too excited. The hair’s being analysed by forensics in case it belongs to the kidnapper, or someone they know.’

An unsettling thought crept into Russell’s mind. Long, auburn hair? Becca has plenty of those. After she’d left my flat, I’d often find her stragglers in my washbasin. I used to tease her about her stray hairs in my bed, on the floor, pretty much anywhere she’d been. Becca’d hated it when I kidded her she’d go bald if she didn’t stop shedding it everywhere.

Despite telling himself he was being stupid to think for a second Becca had anything to do with the mystery hair, the disconcerting thought wouldn’t stop bugging Russell. He thought, Wayne told Kate the kidnapper was dressed in black and wore a black balaclava helmet and never spoke. Maybe they didn’t speak because they didn’t want anyone to know they were female. Christ, did Becca want revenge so badly on me for dumping her that she’d kidnap Wayne? Did she want to extort money out of the woman who’d replaced her? But, Becca doesn’t know where I live or who I’m with, so it can’t be her, can it?

Kate’s sexy voice broke through Russell’s troubling thoughts. ‘According to Wayne’s statement about how he escaped from them with the aid of a fork, his kidnapper received a serious eye injury. He told me blood came from the eyehole in the balaclava, so it must’ve needed medical attention. My colleagues have been scouring hospitals for any recent eye injuries. So far, drawn a blank. Whoever it is might’ve been too wary to seek immediate medical treatment. Eventually, they may have to. The wound will turn septic if neglected. Don’t worry, we’ll continue to monitor any suspicious eye injury patients in the area, alongside all our other investigations.’

‘That old pervert who had the gall to take Wayne home to molest him certainly made matters worse. Hope your lot throw the book at him, Kate,’ growled Jessie.

‘Agreed,’ said Russell. ‘But, Wayne mightn’t be here today if that creep hadn’t discovered him unconscious in the snow.’

Jessie’s blue eyes flashed at him with anger. ‘How could you say such an insensitive remark, considering what that pedo intended to do to my son? It seems like whenever a child is unprotected for five minutes, some deviant crawls out from under a stone to abuse them. Makes me want to vomit.’

Russell sensed he’d yet again overstepped the mark with Jessie. Despite wanting to argue his case, he looked at the floor, embarrassed at being scolded in front of Kate. He wandered into the kitchen to wash the dishes to escape the sudden awkward tension in the living room. With his arms deep in the hot, soapy water, he listened to the burble of the women’s voices as they discussed the case.

Left to his own thoughts, Becca’s face popped up in his mind again like a demonic jack-in-the-box. He recalled the string of vitriolic texts she’d sent him after he’d ended their affair. I must dream up an excuse to leave Cornwall and visit Becca in London to put my mind at rest that she’s not behind Wayne’s kidnap, thought Russell. I’ll wait a day to go down as don’t want to raise suspicion. It’ll give me a chance to fuck Kate sometime tomorrow. I mustn’t tell anyone where I’m going or why, especially Jessie. Can’t allow her to ever discover I had anything to do with that demented cow. If Jessie finds out I’ve been banging Becca behind her back, I can kiss goodbye all my plans to marry her for her cash. … I know, I’ll pretend Dad’s fallen ill and tell Jessie I need to visit him. Kate mustn’t find out either. Don’t want her to get jealous and stop being filthy with me.

Composing himself, he slowly picked up the landline and dialled his mobile phone’s number. He wanted Jessie and Kate to hear his phone ring and listen in on his fake call. Trying to sound as natural and convincing as possible, Russell said, ‘Hi, Mum. Hope you’re both enjoying your Christmas festivities. As you can well imagine, it’s been bedlam here under these terrible circumstances. Did you make Dad his goat curry, rice, and peas as usual? … Great. Bet he loved it.’ He paused then said, ‘Really? What’s wrong with him? Is it his heart again?  Oh, no, the poor old bugger. Is he well enough to see visitors? … Yes, I’m sure Jessie won’t mind me driving over to see you day after tomorrow. Kate, our police liaison officer, is staying here, so Jessie won’t be alone. Yeh? … Good. It’s a long drive, so I’ll probably get to yours before teatime on Thursday. Bye.’

After the phoney phone call, Russell walked back into the living room. There was no need for him to fake his anxiety over his father’s imaginary health problem. His anxiety was real, but the cause was not what the two women thought it was. The real reason for his wrinkled brow was his worry about seeing Becca again, frightened of what he might discover. He was also concerned his mother might call Jessie to ask how Wayne and the rest of the family were faring after the kidnap. I must phone Mum tonight and tell her how it’s been here so she doesn’t have to ring Jessie. It’d drop me right in it if she did.

‘What’s up?’ said Jessie, all thoughts of her recent brief flare-up at her lover banished. ‘Is your father ill? I heard the gist of what you were saying, although it was a bit muffled.’

Russell looked solemn and faked a deep sigh. ‘Yeah, sadly so. Mum says he’s in hospital after suffering acute chest pains yesterday lunchtime. She didn’t call me immediately because of all we’re going through here. She weakened today and decided to call me. Sounds like she could really do with some support from me. Dad’s extremely poorly, so I really should drive over to see him. You don’t mind me driving to London to visit them on Thursday, do you?’

Jessie placed a reassuring hand on his arm. ‘Of course not. I’ll be fine here with Kate’s support. You should see your parents over the festive period, anyhow. I’d offer to come too with the boys, but it’s too soon after the kidnap. I think they need to recover from their ordeal. It won’t be a quick fix. Wayne’s still hardly sleeping and needs the comfort of familiar surroundings.’

‘Don’t fret, Russell. I’ll take good care of them all in your absence,’ said Kate.

‘Thanks, ladies. I appreciate it. I’ll go upstairs and pack a bag. I’d have preferred to drive there tonight because the sooner I leave the sooner I can return. Don’t fancy driving in this sleet, though. The forecast’s better for Thursday, so I’ll leave first thing that morning. I’ll get a fresh bottle of wine. We could do with a top up.’

The sight of Russell’s sexy rear view disappearing from the living room into the kitchen made Jessie’s heart ache. The thought of spending nights in bed alone devoid of his attractive physical presence was unbearable. Then she remembered Wayne would likely want to share her bed in his current anxious state. She cursed her luck over Russell’s father’s illness, then scolded herself for her selfishness.

The situation would be far more upsetting without Kate’s supportive presence, thought Jessie. Thank God for Kate. Don’t know where I’d be without her.

Chapter 21. Kate Strikes Again

Jessie would have felt less appreciative of the sassy Welsh brunette if she’d spotted Russell and Kate sharing conspiratorial, lustful looks. Jessie wasn’t the only one to look at Russell’s rear view as he left the room. Kate was also appreciating the sight of his firm buttocks in their tight jeans, confident she’d soon be digging her nails into them as he plunged inside her.

Russell succumbed to Kate’s charms again that evening. It happened while they were washing up the dishes from supper. Jessie was upstairs putting Wayne and Conor to bed. When Kate didn’t pull away when he slid his hand up her skirt, Russell thought, I’m in.

As a self-confessed sex addict, Kate was thrilled to go along with whatever the attractive Jamaican desired. Her addiction to orgasms was more powerful than her feelings of guilt over tempting Russell into cheating on Jessie. Game on, she thought.

Russell let out a soft whistle when Kate’s skirt rode up as she bent low to place a frying pan onto the bottom shelf of the cupboard. He was delighted to glimpse her suspenders and sheer black stockings again after wrestling to get inside her through her jeans.

‘They’re a little weakness of mine. Always wear them at work. I am working, you know. Suspenders make me feel sexy,’ she whispered, so Jessie couldn’t hear her from the bathroom upstairs.

Russell grinned and whispered in her ear, ‘Stockings and suspenders are a huge weakness of mine, too.’

Kate giggled. ‘Looking at them, not wearing them, I hope.’

Russell chuckled louder than was wise. ‘Oh, very droll.’

Kate placed a perfectly manicured fingertip on his lips. ‘Shh! She might hear us.’

‘Sorry. I was overexcited.’

You ain’t seen nothing yet, thought Kate.

She was surprised to find herself thrust into her natural element; sex was something she excelled at. She brazenly lifted her skirt, giving Russell a tantalising view of her almost transparent black thong. ‘I treated myself to this lingerie set for Christmas. What do you think?’

When she slowly bent her knees to make sure he could see her smooth labia part through the flimsy material. Russell could scarcely breathe with lust. He managed to whisper, ‘Quick. Show me your clit again … Jessie’ll be busy for a while. Come closer … let me rub it.’

She lowered the front of her thong and he moved closer, looked inside and slid two upturned fingers between her labia. As he rubbed, Kate gasped for breath. It’s clear he’s panting to have sex with me. Feeling’s mutual. If he keeps rubbing my clit like this, his hand will get another drenching.

Growling with desire, he lifted her onto the countertop and she laid flat on her back. Pulling her skirt above her waist, he roughly yanked her thong to one side and slid three fingers inside her. His tongue began lapping her swollen clitoris as his fingers worked like pistons inside her. She swore under her breath as her climax built.

Russell was in direct line of fire when the impressive jet of clear liquid shot out from between her thighs. His chin, t-shirt, and the floor were drenched, his face a picture of delight.

‘Quick, jump down from there,’ he whispered, wiping his chin and trying to pat his t-shirt dry with kitchen roll. ‘Damn, it still shows.’

Grinning impishly, Kate straightened her skirt in readiness for Jessie’s imminent return. ‘Being fingered hard by an expert is another weakness of mine. I always gush.’

Mopping up the puddle on the floor with kitchen roll, he whispered, ‘My pleasure, Kate. I’m up for more of the same any time you like. Gushers like you are such a turn-on to me.’

Kate poured him a glass of water. ‘If she asks why your top’s wet, just tell her you spilt your drink.’

He took a swig and said, ‘Good idea. Do you want me to fuck you later tonight? I’m up for it.’

She stretched out a hand and cupped the bulge in his jeans. ‘I think you know I do, but how can we get away with it?’

Russell pulled her hand away. ‘Don’t … I’ll explode if you’re not careful. You’re driving me crazy.’ He thought for a few seconds, then whispered, ‘Tell you what, set your alarm and meet me at … um … two a.m. in the bathroom in the basement. Jessie’ll be sleeping in Wayne’s room again tonight, so she won’t miss me or hear us down there. Don’t let me down. I really need to fuck you.’

‘I’ll be there. Can’t wait,’ she said breathlessly. ‘There’s still no sound from upstairs. Jessie must still be busy.’

Russell’s dark, hungry eyes staring at her blouse. His hand moved to unbutton it. ‘Quick, show me your gorgeous breasts. I know it’s only been a day but I miss them.’

Kate beat him to it, keen to show off the breasts she was so proud of before Jessie returned. The devil inside Kate made her swiftly unbutton it and pull the material back, exposing most of her ample white breasts. Although they were already scarcely enclosed in her lacy bra, Russell’s shaking hands released her full breasts. He sucked each in turn, biting and licking the prominent nipples he’d grown addicted to.

‘Want to come again?’ he murmured.

Kate’s answer was to slide off her thong and poke it into the pocket of his jeans. She placed one foot on the seat of a kitchen chair and raised her skirt. ‘Come on then,’ she said.

They both knew they were taking a huge risk, but couldn’t stop. As his fingers urgently went back to work deep inside her, she orgasmed so noisily they both feared Jessie must surely have heard Kate.

Russell looked in awe at the second impressive puddle on the floor between Kate’s open legs. ‘Well, young lady, it looks like you’re not only a gusher, but a prodigious one at that.’

‘It happens when I’m horny. You’re having an extraordinary effect on me,’ she murmured.

‘Can I tongue your arse? I’ve been dreaming about doing that ever since I saw your rear view in the bedroom.’

She smiled and silently hopped off the counter. He expected her to say no. Instead, she whispered, ‘Go ahead,’ and lay face down over the kitchen table. Russell pulled her skirt above her waist. He absorbed the sight of her bare buttocks for a few seconds before wrenching them apart and sinking his tongue into her rectum, stabbing at it as she tried to stifle her moans. He was just about to replace his tongue with his penis when he froze.

‘Quick, cover yourself. Jessie’s left the bathroom. She’ll be down here any second.’

When Jessie entered the kitchen, she found Russell crouched down and mopping up the evidence of Kate’s second productive orgasm from the floor tiles with a wad of kitchen roll. Fortunately, Kate had managed to button her blouse correctly and straighten her skirt, but her face was flushed and her green eyes sparkled more than usual.

Unfortunately, there’d not been enough time for Kate to push her breasts back under her blouse. She was conscious her hard nipples were thrusting against the thin material. She prayed Jessie wouldn’t notice, but Russell obviously had. Seeing the dark, erect protuberances, he desperately signalled Kate with his eyes. She managed to translate what he was trying to tell her. While Jessie was filling the kettle to make everyone tea, Kate turned away from her and managed to manoeuvre her bra so it concealed her rock-hard nipples.

‘I spilt my drink,’ said Russell, his face the picture of innocence as he looked up at Jessie from where he was bending.

‘I was wondering why your t-shirt was wet. Clumsy boy,’ said Jessie.

Russell’s toes curled when Jessie treated him like a child. He saw Kate struggling to keep a straight face and prayed she’d act as coolly as him. He chucked the wet kitchen roll into the bin, then washed his fingers with scented liquid soap and hot water to kill the odour of Kate’s vagina on them. He felt safer once his fingers smelled of lime and patchouli.

 Aware she looked dishevelled and smelled of sex, Kate was desperate to remove herself from the scene of her moral crime. ‘We’re running low on milk, Jessie. I’ll drive to the village to buy some more if you want. Do we need anything else? Bread? Tea, perhaps?’

‘That’d be really helpful, Kate, but Russell can drive down to the shop. Kind of you to offer, though,’ said Jessie. ‘I hope you don’t mind me saying, but you’re looking awfully flushed, Kate. Do you feel okay?’

Kate thought fast. ‘Reckon I’m coming down with something, Jessie. I am rather hot and bothered, to be honest.’

Knowing the real reason behind Kate’s flushed face, it was Russell’s turn to suppress a giggle as well as hide his formidable erection. To ensure his incriminating bulge was well hidden from Jessie’s eyes, he turned away from her and pretended to be looking for his car keys in a bowl on the countertop. He prayed for his erection to deflate, but the memory of having his tongue between her buttocks was too strong.

Kate was eager to tag along with him on his journey to the shop. She planned for them to find a secluded area to fuck like rabbits, but her head was still woozy from her powerful orgasms. Try as she might, she couldn’t dream up a feasible excuse to accompany him. Her pulse was racing from what had just occurred and the anticipation of her illicit bathroom rendezvous with Russell scheduled for later that night.

What had started as a flirtation had quickly escalated into unbearable frustration. He even had her thong in his pocket. Russell and Kate were now desperate to complete their pressing unfinished business. She sulked as Russell headed down the driveway to his car. She had to resign herself to drinking tea, naked and vulnerable beneath her skirt, with Jessie, the woman she’d just betrayed. It was hard not to look irritated by Jessie’s inane chatter when all Kate could think about was her tryst with Russell in the basement’s bathroom, scheduled only a few hours from then.

When Russell returned with several litres of milk and a copy of The Cornish Times newspaper, Jessie said, ‘Thanks, babes. By the way, Wayne was so tired, I’ve put him in his own bed tonight, so you’re not relegated to the spare bedroom.’

‘Oh, that’s good,’ said Russell, trying his best not to sound devastated.

He caught Kate’s eye. She looked as disappointed to be unable to fulfil their planned 2 a.m. meeting as him. It wasn’t long before Kate said, ‘I’m not feeling too well. If it’s okay with you, I’m off to bed.’

‘Oh, dear. I hope you feel better in the morning,’ said Jessie. ‘We won’t be far behind you. I’m bushed. Must be all the tension and stress from when Wayne disappeared catching up with me. I could sleep for England.’

‘Me, too,’ said Russell, raging inside after his plans to have sex with Kate had been dashed.

He hoped if he feigned extreme tiredness, he might avoid having to have vanilla sex with Jessie when all he wanted to do was have riotous sex with Kate. He was relieved to find Jessie already asleep by the time he emerged from their ensuite bathroom. With his mind brimming over with lustful imaginings of Kate, he found it harder to drift off to sleep than he’d hoped. He slid from the bed, intent on making himself a drink of hot in the kitchen to see if it would help him to drift off. Russell also wanted to hide Kate’s thong in the shed until he could return it to her. He crept over to where his jeans were lying over the back of a chair, pulled the thong from his pocket and scrunched it up in his hand.

Hearing him open the bedroom door to leave, Jessie stirred. Half asleep, she mumbled, ‘You okay, babes?’

Russell whispered, ‘Yes. Just off to fix myself a drink. Want one?’

‘No, I’m fine thanks,’ she said, turning over and closing her eyes.

Russell closed the door behind him and walked as quietly as he could along the corridor. Before reaching the landing, he paused. What’s that noise coming from Kate’s room? he thought.

He stood outside Kate’s bedroom door and listened to the sounds of faint buzzing and a bed creaking. He slowly turned the door handle and opened the door just enough to see inside. The bedside light was on and Kate’s duvet had been thrown back. His heart raced when he saw Kate lying naked on her back with a silver vibrator firmly clamped between her spread thighs. Her eyes were closed, so she was unaware Russell was sniffing her thong as he gazed in awe at her as orgasms rippled through her extraordinary naked body.

Despite the danger, Russell couldn’t resist. He walked into her room and quietly shut the door, locking it behind him. Kate gasped when she saw him standing only a few feet away from her.

‘Christ, you scared me,’ she whispered, holding the vibrator so firmly in place that Russell could a noise like someone whisking egg whites with a hand-held blender.

‘We’ve only got a few minutes. I’m supposed to be in the kitchen fixing a drink.’ said Russell.

 Sitting on the bed, he grabbed the purple rubber vibrator and slid it inside her. ‘Shall I fuck you hard with your vibrator?’ he said, grabbing a handful of Kate’s bare right breast.

‘Hell, yeah,’ whispered Kate.

‘Let me slide this towel under you for when you squirt,’ said Russell, having learnt his lesson.

He watched Kate’s eyes and mouth widen as the vibrator slid in and out of her at frightening speed. When she came, her ejaculate overshot the towel and landed on the carpet.

‘Wow! Didn’t expect that,’ said Russell with a stifled giggle. ‘Can you do me a favour?’

‘Name it,’ she whispered.

He opened his bathrobe to reveal his naked body, complete with impressive erection. ‘Not enough time for full sex, but any chance of another BJ? You’re so good at it. I’ve locked the door.’

She pulled him closer and gently held his penis. ‘What a fabulous black cock you have, Mr. Bell. You made me come earlier, so now it’s your turn,’ she whispered.

Taking his hard, dark penis deep into her mouth, Kate proceeded to work her magic. Her hard nipples brushed the front of his bare thighs as her head bobbed up and down. Only a couple of minutes passed before Russell exploded down her throat for the second time.

‘Man, that felt as wonderful as it did yesterday,’ he whispered. ‘I’d love to make you come again, but I really should go. Jessie might wonder where I am.’

‘Yes, go. Go,’ she whispered with a broad grin at his reluctance to leave her side. Don’t give me those puppy dog eyes. Get out of here, sexy.’

As naked as she was born, she leapt off the bed and led him towards the door. Gingerly unlocking it, Russell gave her a deep kiss, hung her thong on the doorknob and exited her bedroom.

Throughout the following day, Kate and Russell smiled recalling their dangerous liaisons in the kitchen and her bedroom. Jessie would be beside herself with rage if she could read my mind. Wish Kate was in here with me now, thought Russell who was up in one of the bathrooms enjoying his third wank of the day, such was the profound effect the flashbacks of Kate were having on his body and mind.

It wasn’t only Jessie who was peeved at the thought of her lover leaving the house to visit his parents’ home. Kate was gutted. There were so many rooms in the Cornish house, Kate had been sure she and Russell would have found a way by now to enjoy a full-blown secret sexual liaison. Even though their interest in each other had only recently been ignited, the powerful sexual chemistry between them was undeniable. It demanded to be fully satisfied at the earliest opportunity. A safe opportunity hadn’t yet presented itself to the Russell and Kate’s annoyance. Russell thought, I’ve too much at stake to chance anything too risky with Kate, yet I know myself well enough to be sure I’ll risk it anyway. I’m sick of stealing a few minutes here and there with her. We need much longer in private for me to do all I want with Kate.