Publisher: Bloodhound Books
Release Date: July 29, 2019
Genre: Adult Fiction / Thriller / Mystery
Who can you really trust?
Beth couldn’t be happier. She is eight weeks pregnant and married to the man of her dreams. But after returning home from a celebratory meal, she finds a wreath from her sister’s grave hanging above the bed and a kitchen knife embedded in her pillow. There are no signs of a forced entry. Nothing is stolen. And no one other than the cleaner has a key to the house.
Then a campaign of terror begins. Beth becomes increasingly paranoid as it becomes clear that someone close to the family is behind these disturbing events.
But who would want Beth dead?
Does the past hold the clue?
And can Beth find the answer before it’s too late?
Torment is a story of misplaced loyalty, revenge and sacrifice.
Beth Cruikshank knew something was wrong as soon as she stepped inside the house. Call it intuition. Call it a sixth sense. Call it being eight weeks pregnant and at the mercy of psychopathic hormones, but she was certain she could smell smoke. It was reminiscent of a freshly extinguished candle. But that was stupid, right? Like smelling rotten eggs in the bath, or her coffee tasting like orange squash. God, did this baby know the sensory carnage it had caused?
‘What’s wrong?’ David asked, as she stopped inside the threshold and closed the front door.
Beth turned to her husband and put a finger to her lips. Listened. Nothing.
‘I think someone’s been in the house.’
‘I can smell smoke. ’
David walked along the hallway sniffing the air. ‘I can’t smell anything. Maybe it’s coming up from the drains.’
Beth wanted to believe that. Anything was better than thinking that someone had violated her space. But a nagging doubt still persisted. The drains did sometimes kick up a foul odour, especially when there’d be a lot of rain. But this was nothing like that.
As if sensing her scepticism, David said, ‘I’ll go and check the back door.’
She watched him walk into the kitchen. At six foot three, with a body shaped by countless workouts, she should have felt safe with David. Reassured. Protected. But health and fitness played no part if an intruder had a weapon. No one was safe in these violent times. People carried guns and knives as if they were mere fashion accessories.
Her imagination treated her to an image of David crawling back along the hallway, leaving a trail of blood behind him on the laminate flooring. The dark silhouette of the intruder moving in behind him for the kill.
Beth tried to tell herself that she was just being silly. Overprotective of the tiny life growing inside her. Understandable after suffering three miscarriages in the past six years. At thirty-three, she felt as if time was running short. She knew it was ridiculous; women had babies right into their forties these days. But logic wasn’t the weapon of choice when you were as desperate as she was.
David walked back into the hall and grinned. ‘All good.’
‘What about the gym?’
David tried the door leading to the basement. Locked.
Beth stalled and chewed her bottom lip.
‘Come on, let’s get to bed. You’re probably just tired.’
‘Maybe,’ Beth agreed. ‘Though Christ knows what I’ll be like after the baby’s born.’
‘You’ll be wonderful.’
‘I’ll be an unrecognisable old hag.’
‘Would you like a coffee?’
She shook her head. The last thing she wanted was to give her body another excuse to process a gallon of pee.
He held out his hands and invited her close. He folded his arms around her and kissed the top of her head. ‘I love you, Beth Cruickshank.’
‘You won’t if I wet myself.’
He laughed. ‘You go on up. I’ll take a look round the rest of the house and check everything’s locked.’
Beth walked upstairs to the first floor. Three bedrooms. Beth walked into the one with the en suite to use the loo. This was going to be the nursery. It was painted a neutral shade of pastel green because Beth didn’t want to know the sex of the child; it somehow seemed to spoil the excitement of giving birth. There was a cot sitting against the far wall which her mother had given to her the first time Beth had fallen pregnant. Sitting on a shelf adjacent to the cot, several large stuffed toys, one of which, a penguin, had been hers as a child. Pengwyneth was worn and sewn up in several places. She’d escorted Beth through her childhood, two failed relationships and eight years of marriage to David.
By the time Beth had relived herself and walked back onto the landing, David was coming up the stairs.
‘All secure,’ he said.
Beth still had an uneasy feeling crawling around in her stomach, but at least she felt reassured that no one was in the house.
What if they’ve got a key?
Beth shook her head. The only person who had a key was Wendy, the cleaner who came in once a week on Fridays to lick the place into shape for the weekend. Wendy had been with them for over three years, and Beth trusted her implicitly. It was laughable to think Wendy might creep around the house late at night. There was more chance of being visited by a ghost.
Margo had a key.
Beth didn’t like Wendy’s predecessor. She’d been glad to see the back of her. Margo didn’t seem to understand the concept of moving things before dusting, or that the corners of the rooms and underneath the tables needed hoovering every bit as much as the rest of the floors. Lazy and unresponsive, Margo had thankfully gone back to Germany after completing her studies at Oxford Brookes University.
They walked up a second flight of stairs to the main bedroom. Dominating the whole of the top floor, the room boasted a wonderful view of Feelham River. Beth thought of it as her sanctuary. Somewhere she could escape from the world and feel at peace. Set up her easel and paint. Draw inspiration from the rich pallet of colours surrounding the landscape.
Beth walked into the room. At first, her mind refused to comprehend what she saw. This couldn’t be real. It had to be an hallucination born of the fact that she needed to pee every time she got comfortable in bed.
Somewhere, in another land, David said, ‘Jesus Christ. What the fuck is this?’
There was a holly wreath hanging above the king-sized bed where a dreamcatcher used to be. Beth didn’t need to move any closer to know that it was the one she’d laid on her sister’s grave only the day before, the twentieth anniversary of her death. It had a purple ribbon tied around it – Heidi’s favourite colour. There was a knife from the kitchen block plunged into Beth’s pillow.
Beth’s legs lost all their strength. She clamped a hand over her mouth. Oh, sweet Jesus, this couldn’t be happening. She forced herself to look away from the bed, and watched David walk to the dressing table. RIP was written on the mirror in red lipstick. A large white mixing bowl sat in the centre of the dresser.
David peered inside the bowl. ‘What the fuck?’
‘What is it?’
‘It’s the dreamcatcher. What’s left of it. It’s been burned.’
‘I told you I could smell burning.’ A friend had given Beth the dreamcatcher several years earlier. A foot long and made of willow, beads and feathers, it was supposed to protect people from bad dreams and nightmares. Not attract lunatics.
David poked at the ashes. ‘But that’s impossible. The doors and windows are all locked.’
Beth sat on the edge of the bed. ‘So what are you saying, David? We’ve got a ghost who likes setting fire to dreamcatchers and putting wreaths above the bed?’
About the author
Mark lives in a small village in the lovely county of Cumbria, although his books are set in Oxfordshire where he was born and raised.
After being widowed and raising his two daughters, Mark finally took the plunge and self-published two books on Amazon, The Revelation Room and The Eyes of the Accused.
He’s always had a keen interest in writing, and is extremely proud to have had seven novels published by Bloodhound Books, including his most recent release, Torment.
When he’s not writing, Mark can be found playing guitar, reading and walking
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