Thanks to everyone who contacted me to say how much they loved the opening paragraphs of my current work in progress, Spirit. Here for your delectation and delight is Episode 2. You'll remember from Spirit Part 1 that Ruth returned home to find her house in chaos and her partner missing. Here's what happens next. Don't have nightmares...
There was no trace of the new TV, or its box. The whole home-entertainment system was missing. The only big feature now showing in their living room was a two-metre-wide space where Alan’s impressive collection of electronic equipment and discs should have been.
‘Where’s he put it all this time, Mum?’ Grace blinked through her thick spectacles.
Ruth ran a finger along the mantelpiece, automatically checking for dust as she looked around the room. ‘I have absolutely no idea! Unless...’ An awful thought struck her and she groaned. ‘Oh, no! Please don’t say he’s taken it up to the bedroom with him!’
There wouldn’t be any space left to move. Alan’s stuff took up so much room, synchronised breathing was the most energetic thing that went on in there these days. Ruth puffed upstairs. Grace followed half a step behind her, as usual. They made it to the master bedroom in tandem - and then stopped dead.
For once, there was plenty of space inside. All the wardrobe doors stood wide open, and that hadn’t been possible since they first moved into the house. The dressing table had a gap-toothed smile where its drawers had been removed and dropped onto the bed. Receipts and odd bits of jewellery spilled out over the duvet and onto the floor.
Thoughts spun through Ruth’s head, centred on a single word. Burglars. There must have been a break-in.
‘Granny kept telling you thieves would come looking for that necklace, once we’d been on TV.’
Ruth didn’t need Grace to remind her of that. Heart pounding, she spun around to confront the girl.
‘Don’t be stupid! I made sure the interviewer knew the museum took it away from us.’
The necklace. That’s what all this must be about. If only Jack hadn’t come across the damned thing, Ruth thought.
At the time, his discovery felt like a godsend. When Ruth was interviewed about the stunning Roman treasure on local TV, it silenced Melanie O’Keefe’s constant bragging for a few hours. That was all Ruth cared about. Now it had come back to haunt her.
This can’t possibly have been burglars, she told herself. Things like that only happened in the city, not out here in the wilds of Brackenridge. Summerleaze Close was such a nice place. Even Ruth’s mother didn’t actively hate it, and Anita Parrish loathed everyone everywhere and everything. That - and the fact Alan’s boss lived only a mile away - was why they had moved here in the first place.
Glancing round the room again, Ruth spotted her spare purse lying on the bedside table. It would have been in full view of any intruder. Holding her breath, she flipped it open.
All the money and extra cards were still there. Her breath streamed out in relief.
‘Mum! Mum! Have you found the telly yet?’
Jack was coming upstairs to look for her. Ruth pushed past him on her way down. She wanted to make a quick circuit of the ground floor.
The back door was locked, and so were all the windows. She couldn’t understand it. Nothing that remained had been damaged or disturbed, yet quite a lot was missing. If this was the work of burglars, they’d been very selective.
‘Mum! Where’s the television?’
‘For God’s sake, Jack! How do you think I know? Your dad probably found something wrong with it, so he’s taken it back to the shop. It was his pride and joy, so they won’t be parted for long. He must have taken some stuff to the dry cleaners, too. The lawnmower needed repairing. I hope there was room in his car for that as well.’
Ruth pulled open the thick lace curtains and peered out toward the tiny garden shed. Alan had been promising to get that blasted machine mended for weeks. The problem was, anything less than a ride-on mower was beneath his dignity, and there wasn’t the space to store one of those on the Summerleaze development. These were new houses, with only serviette-sized plots. The garage was crammed with Alan’s abandoned projects, so there was only room for a small electric lawnmower. As Alan hated being seen hoovering the grass, it was a job Ruth usually took on after another overdose of Melanie O’Keefe’s snide remarks.
She tried Alan’s mobile number. It was switched off. He kept his business BlackBerry on all the time - Christmas and funerals included - so she tried that next. The worst she expected was the “out of office” message he put on whenever he worked from home. What she hadn’t anticipated was Alan’s recorded voice saying he would be away for two weeks.
The winner of the last extract's comment-draw was TashNZ - please email me via my website, Tash, and I'll get your prize into the post for you asap.
I'd love to know what you think of this latest extract: once again there's a signed book from my backlist for a comment picked at random.