About the Book
Following an attempt to kill her, librarian Cassie Lewis leaves the only life she’s ever known and flees west into the mist-shrouded borderlands that lie between England and Wales. There, the sleepy, hillside village of Bourn’s Edge provides a safe haven for her to regroup and decide what to do next, and reclusive local artist Tarian Brangwen provides an intriguing and welcome distraction.
But Cassie soon makes a startling discovery that turns her world upside down. For deep in the heart of the adjacent Bourn Forest lies an entrance to Faerie, and the enigmatic Tarian is much more than she appears . . .
The headlights were dazzling in Cassie’s rear-view mirror.
“Full beam? What does he think he’s—?”
Crump. The collision clapped her jaws together and hurled her forward against her seat belt.
Swearing and gripping the steering wheel, she glanced over her shoulder. Whoever had rear-ended her should be slowing, preparing to get out and exchange insurance details. But a white van loomed large in her rear window—at least she thought it was a van. It was hard to make out in the glare.
Anger gave way to self-preservation. She changed up a gear and stamped her foot on the accelerator. Her car surged forward. So did the van.
This can’t be happening!
At this hour of the evening, most Brummies were eating dinner and telling their spouses about their day. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Cassie would have been home too, though only a greedy tomcat awaited her there. But today was a Wednesday and the library stayed open until seven. And, since the Armitage trial had meant taking a lot of time off lately, when Cassie’s boss asked if she would stay behind and lock up, she had agreed.
She screeched left at the next crossroads, leaving tyre marks on the road, then took a right, keeping to well-lit streets, hoping to lose her pursuer. But a glance in her rear-view mirror showed that the white van was still on her tail. Her tyres scraped along the kerb, and she corrected her steering before looking in her mirror again.
It was hard to make out the man’s face against the dazzle, and she had to squint. He wore his hat, an unflattering knitted affair, pulled low, but she could make out some of his features. Although it was a mirror image, there was something about that broken nose and snaggle-toothed grin. She tried to recall where she had seen him before.
The screech of tortured metal set her teeth on edge, and it was several terrifying seconds before her tyres regained traction. Her heart was racing, and she felt sick. The little Toyota wasn’t built to take this kind of punishment. Lord knows what the boot must look like.
“He’s trying to kill me!”
The idea had seemed fantastic until she gave voice to it. Now it became concrete, and as it did so, her memory’s floodgates opened. She saw a business-suited Nick Armitage standing in the dock, hands clasped around his ample belly, smiling as, at his counsel’s prompting, he recast events in a more flattering light. It wasn’t his fault his men had gone further than instructed, was it? As soon as he had found out, he had reined them in. But he was a businessman, and when people fell behind with their rent . . . He gave a baffled shrug and an it’s-all-been-a-terrible-misunderstanding smile. And sitting in the Crown Court’s public gallery throughout his testimony was the white van’s driver, nodding encouragement and grinning.
He works for Armitage.
The police had told Cassie that the landlord’s threats as he was taken down to the cells were mere posturing, nothing to worry about. She had had her doubts. There was a reason most of Armitage’s tenants had been too scared to testify. His bullyboys had left many with black eyes, broken arms, and smashed furniture.
She had never had any problems in her own dealings with Armitage, but she’d sensed his jovial exterior was a mask, noticed how that perfect smile never quite reached his eyes. As soon as she could find alternative accommodation, she moved out of the dump he claimed was a luxury flat. Then had come the court case, and the police had come looking for her and asked her to testify.
It looked like her instincts about his threats had been right. Her nausea increased, and she clenched her jaws and tried not to panic.
Night was falling, and the lights were coming on in many of the houses on either side of the road. Should she bang on one of those front doors and beg for sanctuary? Ahead of her, the traffic lights turned red. She hunched her shoulders and sailed through. A car coming from her right screeched to a halt, skidding several yards. Its horn blared.
“Sorry.” The van ignored the lights too. “Damn!”
Cassie groped in her jacket pocket for her phone. She would ring 999 and report the number plate. But the brief flare of hope faded as she saw that the numbers were covered with mud. I’ll ring the police anyway.
Her phone sailed into the foot well.
Changing up yet another gear, she felt the beginnings of despair. At this speed she was barely in control, her careering progress punctuated by shouts from pedestrians and honks from other drivers. If the van didn’t get her, an accident soon would. She glanced in her mirror, though she knew it was pointless, and blinked in surprise. Smoke was pouring from the white van’s bonnet, which had acquired a dent, and it was slowing.
As she watched, the smoke became flames, and the door opened and the driver spilled out. “Serves you right, you bastard!”
Light-headed with relief, Cassie drove away.
Once the van had receded into the distance she eased down to a more manageable speed, took a right, then a left, then another right, and pulled over to the kerb. She left the engine idling while she got her bearings—this part of Birmingham was unfamiliar.
Reaction set in. Her head throbbed, and she felt clammy. Her hands wouldn’t stop shaking and her thoughts were in a perpetual loop. If he tried to kill me once, he’ll try again. What am I going to do? they kept repeating. Until at last the answer came. Ask for protection.
Cassie fumbled in the foot well for the phone then paused. Ringing 999 no longer seemed appropriate, but she didn’t have the number of the police officer in charge of the Armitage case with her. Slipping the phone into her pocket, she resolved to ring him when she got home.
But what if he doesn’t believe me? At least this time the damage to her car would be some kind of evidence. Which reminded her . . .
She got out and walked round to the rear of her car. The sight that greeted her made her suck in her breath. The bumper was missing, and without its protection the boot had taken a terrible battering. The depth of the gouges and the extent of the dents shocked her. She tried to open the boot, but it was jammed shut. The shaking in her hands worsened, and she stuffed them in her pockets and returned to the driver’s seat.
There must be a witness protection scheme. But will they put me on it? Do I want to be on it? She could imagine the upheaval: changing her name, leaving behind all that was near and dear. And what do I do until then? Go somewhere Armitage can’t find me? Where? And what about my job, and Louise’s birthday party? And going to the pictures with Justin and Danny and to Mum and Dad’s for Sunday lunch? And then there’s Murphy . . .
Cassie’s head ached. She took several deep breaths of car-freshener-scented air and tried to regain control.
What’s more important: letting people down or staying alive?
She could see a street name a little further down the road. She found it on the satnav and plotted the shortest route back to her flat, then set off. Armitage’s men might be lying in wait but she must risk it. Odds are the driver of the white van won’t have told him he failed yet.
Cassie turned left at the next T-junction then right at a crossroads, then drove past a cinema showing the film she was due to see with her friends tomorrow. The queuing cinemagoers drew a wistful glance. Only that morning, she had been like them: ordinary, carefree, with a future stretching out ahead of her that promised to be routine, verging on the humdrum. Now she had no idea what lay in store.