Sucked into a race against time Lucy fights to save the man she loves.
Lucy Reed and Daniel Fleming seem to have it all: a new home they are in the process of restoring, and a loving relationship. Sure, mortgage payments and a few arguments are always around the corner, but no life can be perfect, right?
Lucy discovers exactly how tricky life can be when she wakes up one morning to find that Daniel seems to have vanished into thin air. He’d been worried and distracted since they bought the house. Had it all got too much? When the police refuse to do anything, Lucy is forced to take matters into her own hands.
Lucy’s frantic search brings her to the doorstep of her unsettling Italian neighbors, the Martone’s. Sebastian Martone, a wealthy, attractive businessman, has bought the television station where Lucy and Daniel work.
Lucy stumbled over the fallen pine cones that littered the pungent mat of rotting pine needles as she neared the fence. She took a deep breath and forced herself to slow down, be careful. It wouldn’t do to sprain an ankle. The fresh smell of pine mingled with the sharp, salty tang of the ocean.
The wind strengthened as she neared the cliff edge, so forceful it made her blink. She switched on her torch and groaned as light played over the fence exposing the recently added fortifications. Her heart sank. These changes must have been done after she talked to Martone. While she was out in the car looking for Daniel. If she’d been here, she would have heard the hammering, the sound would travel in the quiet air. The Martone’s were determined to keep her out. Why? Were they concerned about the danger? Or did they have something to hide? There was no way she’d go back to the house and sit there as the hours ticked by. She moved closer to examine the possibilities. The new wooden planking extended right over the cliff edge, the grass verge she’d used earlier now inaccessible.
There was no safe way around it, especially as a row of razor wire had been nailed to the top of the planks for good measure. It was reckless to attempt it, but the grounds beyond the fence waited, silent and compelling. She wouldn’t let this stop her.
The waves crashed endlessly against the cliff below like thunder in the still evening air. Lucy moved as close to the edge as she dared, praying years of yoga had kept her limber enough to defy gravity, and the new horizontal planks would hold her weight. The possibility of Daniel arriving home to find her body lying on the rocks below chilled her. The bottom plank jutted a foot farther than those above it. She placed her foot on it and hoisted herself up to test the strength of the wood. The timber shook and creaked and a splinter stung her thumb. High enough now to grab the top, she took a careful grip attempting not to be stabbed by razor wire. Then launched herself.
For a heart-stopping moment she hung suspended over the cliff edge. Her stomach muscles screamed with the sheer effort required to swing her feet around. She hit the ground. Dirt dislodged beneath her shoe with a burst of spray which scattered and dropped away to the sea. Lucy tried again, this time, stretching further. She gritted her teeth and gripped hard. This time, her foot found enough solid ground to give her purchase. Not daring to look down, even though there was little to see in the swirling darkness, she threw herself forward. Momentum carried her. She landed on her hands and knees on the other side of the fence, a mere foot or two from the cliff.
Gasping like a landed fish, she pushed away from the edge and lay back staring up at the inky sky bright with stars where a crescent moon hung suspended. She allowed herself a few minutes for her heart to resume its normal beat while she listened for the dogs or anyone moving about. Satisfied there was no one close, she climbed to her feet and crept through the trees.
The garden was illuminated by lamps. They lit up the swimming pool and its sandstone surrounds. The huge lights mounted on steel poles at each corner of the wire enclosure of the tennis court were off. Switched on they would light up the whole garden. She’d be caught like a deer in the hunter’s lights with nowhere to run. Best she stayed close to the house and followed the garden paths where the shrubs hid her from view. But to get there, she had to cross a wide area of lawn. The moon drifted behind a cloud.
Lucy sprinted across the grass. She skidded to a stop in the shadows, leaned over and dragged in deep breaths, listening. All quiet. No dogs or men chased after her. Sweat ran down her spine, the air still and hot. She straightened, took her bearings, and studied the house above her. Lights blazed from several windows. The long windows threw light onto the terrace. She’d been in that part of the house earlier today, where the reception rooms were located. She’d noticed a door opening onto a dining room and expected the kitchen to be beyond it. If Daniel was somewhere inside, it wouldn’t be in this wing. Where then? She shivered as her thoughts went dark. The bedrooms must be in that far wing.
She edged forward aware that if she was discovered she would be arrested for trespass. Daniel would be beyond angry. Well if he wasn’t here, and had gone off somewhere on his own, she’d be angry, and hurt, but right now, overjoyed. She pictured his sunglasses with the broken arm and shoved away her doubts. She had to do this. Had to be sure. Pulling Daniel’s hat down, she kept low, and darted from shadow to shadow, heading to the far wing where two rooms were lit.
Lucy reached the corner of the house and squatted in the garden beside a fragrant flowering shrub. The ground sloped at this end of the house. The windows were high off the ground. No way to see into the rooms from here. She would have to climb the dense creeper that covered the wall almost up to the eaves. The thick rope-like vine looked as if it would provide a decent foothold.
She slipped off her sneakers and removed the gloves shoving them into her waistband. Managed to hoist herself up onto the wall employing all her fingers and toes. Then she fell back as the creeper came away in her hands. With a murmur of disgust, she attacked it again, this time selecting the thicker cord-like stems. These held her weight, and she hauled herself up the web-like vine hand over hand pausing to search for purchase. It was slow and painful. When she was just beneath the window she stopped. Her hands and feet throbbed as she clung on below the ledge, fearing discovery. She had to take a chance. Freed one hand and reached up to grab the sill. Then, holding her breath, she eased herself up to look inside.
It appeared to be a study cum library, and it was empty. A leather-topped antique desk sat against the far wall below a massive oil painting. Shelves of leather bound books lined the walls. An exotic Eastern carpet covered the floorboards. A black marble statue of a naked woman was perched on a slim pedestal lit by a spot. It looked old and valuable.
Lucy ducked down and moved crab-like across to the next window. Before she reached it, the vine beneath one foot gave way. For a panic-stricken moment, she flattened herself against the wall, and scrabbled to find a new foot-hold with her toes. With her free hand, she dug into the creeper seeking a better grip and found one.
The window was right above her the curtains drawn back. Aware that someone might be in the room, she raised her head inch by inch until her chin came level with the sill. The room appeared to be an ‘L’ shape with more windows on the bay side. It was a bedroom. She had a side-on view of a bureau and an antique wardrobe against one wall. A lamp reflected in the mirror above the bureau sent a soft glow over the room. She made out the back of a wing chair, and on the other wall, an elaborately scrolled bed end. Taking shallow breaths, she held on. Waited for some movement to be reflected in the mirror. Nothing. Ridiculous to think Daniel would be there. Disheartened, she decided to climb down, but something caught her eye.
An arm had flopped over the edge of the bed.
Lucy strangled the cry in her throat and fought not to fall. She grabbed the sill, staring hard. It couldn’t be. But she recognized that broad long-fingered hand. And the watch. She had given Daniel the Fitbit for Christmas to use on a run.
Lucy caught herself before she called out to him. She trembled so badly, she was in danger of falling. You’re not about to fall now. Not now when he needs you. She pressed herself close to the wall, barely aware of the spiky leaves and twigs stabbing her neck and chest or the rough stone of the ledge scraping her cheek. Careful to retain her precarious balance, she freed her right hand and tapped twice on the glass. It might have been the wind rattling the window pane. No one came to investigate.
The hand didn’t move.