Maggie James is a British author who lives in Bristol. She writes psychological suspense novels.
The first draft of her first novel, entitled His Kidnapper’s Shoes, was written whilst travelling in Bolivia. Maggie was inspired by an impending milestone birthday along with a healthy dose of annoyance at having procrastinated for so long in writing a novel. His Kidnapper’s Shoes was published in both paperback and e-book format in 2013, followed by her second novel, entitled Sister, Psychopath. Her third novel, Guilty Innocence, like her first two, features her home city of Bristol. She has recently published her fourth novel, The Second Captive.
Before turning her hand to writing, Maggie worked mainly as an accountant, with a diversion into practicing as a nutritional therapist. Diet and health remain high on her list of interests, along with travel. Accountancy does not, but then it never did. The urge to pack a bag and go off travelling is always lurking in the background! When not writing, going to the gym, practicing yoga or travelling, Maggie can be found seeking new four-legged friends to pet; animals are a lifelong love!Copyright is held by the author. Used by Permission.
Two years ago
CHAPTER 1 - Beth
I visit The Busy Bean most lunchtimes, eager for an hour away from the charity shop where I do voluntary work. Handling cast-off clothes and grubby kitchenware doesn’t do it for me. There’s another reason I go, though. A man. Hard to miss him, with those dark curls cut close to his head. Soft whorls my hand itches to touch. Every time he comes in, my eyes swivel his way. After a few weeks of covert glances, we get to talk at last.
It’s a Monday, and I’m peeved because he’s not here yet. As I extract a bottle of mineral water from the chiller cabinet, my elbow collides with someone’s belly. An automatic apology slips from my mouth.
‘Sorry -’ The word hangs in mid-air as recognition hits me. Him. He smiles, revealing one front tooth slightly out of line, but every bit as white as the rest. My stare, coupled with my inability to form words, is embarrassing. A subtle waft of aftershave floats into my nostrils, a clean scent that doesn’t surprise me, given the sugar-white of his T-shirt, the just-bought crispness of his jeans. What render me incapable of speech, though, are his eyes. The left one blue as a bruise, the right mocha-hued. I’ve heard of such a thing, but I never realised it would be so unusual, so striking.
I guess he’s used to people reacting the way I have. He doesn’t reply, just smiles, and I notice the chicken sandwich he’s taken from the chiller. ‘My favourite,’ I say, even though it’s not, and it’s a relief to find my mouth does work after all.
‘Here.’ He thrusts the sandwich at me. ‘Have it.’ The first time he tells me what to do. In hindsight, it’s a landmark moment. ‘Looks like I grabbed the last one.’ His right hand pulls open the chiller again, extracting an egg mayo on white. His left shoves the chicken sandwich my way again as he closes the door. I take it, lost in the blueberry and chocolate of his eyes.
He gestures towards his usual table. ‘Want to join me?’
I do, very much. His fingers twist off the top of his bottle of water, bubbles hissing as they swarm to the surface. He fills his glass. My hands echo his, except my fingers shake and I spill a few drops. ‘I’m Beth,’ I say, keen to cover my awkwardness.
He smiles again, the skin around his eyes creasing. I’m guessing he’s early twenties. No more than twenty-five. Seven years isn’t so much of a gap. Besides, he’s a man, not a boy. Not someone who’ll fumble his way through sex, like my one and only previous boyfriend. Steady on, I tell myself. You met this guy all of two minutes ago. Sex isn’t on the agenda. Yet.
‘Good to meet you, Beth. My name’s Dominic.’ With the sound of his voice, so velvety in my ear, I’m hooked. I turn his name over in my head, liking it. Do. Min. Ic. The three syllables are firm, decisive, like shots from a gun.
‘I’ve seen you in here before,’ he says.
‘I do shifts in the charity shop.’ My hand gestures towards Homeless Concern across the road. ‘Four days a week.’
‘That’s good.’ He doesn’t ask me why I don’t have a proper job. I’m grateful; such a question is too reminiscent of my father.
‘What about you?’ From his appearance, I can’t place what he does for a living. He’s not a manual worker, that’s for sure. His hands, raised as he takes a sip of water, don’t dig, mix concrete or slap paint on walls; the nails are too neat, too square. Something to do with computers, I guess, or the music business.
‘Day trader,’ he replies, a small grin tugging at his mouth when he notes my blank expression. ‘I work from home. Buying and selling stocks, futures, currencies.’
I’m none the wiser, but I don’t let on. ‘You enjoy what you do?’
The grin disappears. ‘It’s hard at times. Doesn’t always pan out.’ He doesn’t elaborate, so I don’t press the issue.
We chat some more. I find out he’s an only child, both parents dead. ‘You live alone?’ I enquire. My mind is spiralling forward. The prospect of dating someone with his own place, without a family, where I can escape the pressures of mine, holds vast appeal. Too late, I realise that the question reveals my interest in him, makes it sound as if I’m sniffing out a girlfriend, or a wife. He doesn’t wear a wedding ring, but not all married men do.
He grins again. ‘Ever since Dad died. What is it now, six years ago?’ Something I can’t decipher edges into his eyes as his gaze burns into me. ‘Maybe I’ve become a bit set in my ways. Need a woman to sort me out.’
He’s straight, then. Not that I ever thought otherwise.
‘How old are you?’ I can be direct at times.
Older than he looks. Not that it deters me. Ten years between us isn’t a huge gap, not really, and he’ll be a refreshing change from the boys from school.
‘I’m eighteen.’ Best to find out now if I’m too young for him.
‘Thought so.’ Dominic doesn’t say it as though it’s an issue.
He finishes his sandwich. Mine lies uneaten on its plate, despite the rumblings in my stomach. Impossible to talk to this man with food in my mouth. His eyes, that weird yet wonderful juxtaposition of blue and brown, hold mine and I sense there’s something he’s itching to say, but isn’t sure how to. Up to now, he’s been so self-assured, and his sudden reticence charms me.
‘Would you like to go out with me sometime?’ he asks.
Oh, God. He’s interested in me, despite my lack of job, the fact I’m fresh out of school, all the things I’ve been imagining would deter him. Later, after I’m shut in the basement, with time to reflect, I realise they’re what render me vulnerable to Dominic, turning me into a fly, him a spider.
Dad won’t approve, of course; I’m supposed to be sorting out university courses, not dating older men. The thought of my father’s disapproval adds fuel to the attraction this man holds for me. I still hesitate, though.
‘Might be a bit difficult,’ I say. ‘What with still living at home.’
The eyebrow over the brown eye quirks upwards. ‘You’re not allowed out?’ Again, later on, when I’m in the basement, I grasp how manipulative he is. How the nuances in his voice goad me into proving I’m an independent female, capable of making her own decisions.
‘Of course I am.’ My tone betrays my irritation. ‘How about tonight?’
A satisfied grin appears on his face. ‘Fine,’ he says. ‘I’ll decide where’s best for us to go.’
I approve of the way he determines the course of our date. A precursor to how he decides everything when we’re at the cottage. So much for my professed independence.
‘Can you give me a lift? I don’t drive.’ Another factor rendering me more vulnerable. Right now, though, I want and need to trust Dominic Perdue, and so I do.
We make arrangements. He’ll pick me up at seven at the end of my road, promising to have me home by eleven.
‘Don’t be late,’ he tells me.
I’m standing on the corner of my road five minutes before seven. The evening is chilly, and I shiver as I wait. My jeans, fresh from the laundry basket, are too tight, the material compressing my stomach. Always quick to react to nervous tension, it’s swollen. For that reason, I’ve not eaten, unwilling to risk a full-on bloat party in my guts. Besides, Dominic might be taking me for a meal, and I pray the pressure against my waistband will ease soon. Atop the jeans, I’m wearing a mulberry silk shirt, a bargain from the Homeless Concern shop, its softness caressing my skin under my linen jacket. Smart casual is the way to go, especially as I don’t even know where we’re heading. My eyes are ringed with kohl, a soft brown that matches both them and the small mole underneath the right one. My mouth is slick with mulberry lip-gloss, my cheeks are brushed with colour and my dark hair is loose around my shoulders. For those few moments whilst I wait, I’m the spider, not the fly.
Bang on seven o’clock, a car approaches. It’s sleek and silver, its windows darkened, the BMW insignia cresting its bonnet. A whiff of money accompanies the car, the scent of its owner’s financial deals wafting my way. The driver eases the BMW alongside me. A window lowers, revealing Dominic.
God, he looks good, all dark curls and entrancing eyes. A tiny frown creases his forehead, just for a second, as his gaze sweeps over me. It’s disapproval, although what’s initiated it baffles me. His censure wrong-foots me, rendering me nervous.
When he speaks, though, his tone is warm, the frown gone. ‘Get in,’ he tells me.
We drive for a while, heading towards Hanham. Cradled in the leathery comfort of the BMW, I allow its smooth motion to steer me wherever Dominic has decided we’re going. He doesn’t say much, the occasional snippet of small talk. I respond in kind, thankful to be where I am, beside this man with the mismatched eyes and enticing hair. Maybe tonight I’ll get to experience those curls under my fingers. My crotch twitches at the thought.
We turn down a side road, where Dominic parks up. ‘We’re here,’ he says, getting out and opening the boot. I stay in the car, staring across the grassy area ahead. In the distance, a tower lurches against the evening sky as though it’s drunk, its angle several degrees off-kilter.
Dominic strides round to my side of the car, pulling open the door for me, an old-fashioned gesture that’s touching. In his other hand, he holds a blue chill-bag, and my empty stomach, its bloat now eased, anticipates food. A blanket is tucked under his arm.
I swing my legs from the car. ‘What is this place?’
‘Troopers Hill,’ Dominic replies. We walk across the grass, heading towards the tower, the heels of my sandals sinking into the soft ground, still tacky from yesterday’s rain. The grass is cold and ticklish against my bare toes. We’re nearing the top of a hill; the tower is in front of us, and I can’t see anything beyond it, not now, anyway.
He swings round to smile at me. ‘Thought we’d have ourselves a bit of a picnic. The view’s great from up here.’
And it is, once we get closer to the tower. We’re high up, and my home city of Bristol stretches before me, its roads elongating into the distance. Two hot-air balloons, riding the evening air, float towards us, the faint hiss of their gas jets reaching my ears. I’m entranced. Why have I never been here before? The shame of my insularity, the narrowness of my fresh-out-of-school focus, overwhelms me, and I promise myself things will be different from now on. I’ll explore, learn, and travel. With Dominic, of course.
Oh, the irony.
‘Old copper smelting works,’ he says, gesturing towards the tower. ‘Good place to sit, check out the city.’ The balloons drift closer, their jets hissing louder, and I picture myself one day, floating through the air, Dominic beside me, the Pyramids below us reduced to children’s play shapes. Or perhaps it’s the Australian outback, hot, red and fiery, underneath us. The details don’t matter.
Dominic spreads the blanket on the ground and sets down the chill-bag. He unzips it, extracting a bottle of white wine and two glasses, thick and heavy with gold rims. He’s clearly a man who values quality. I’m unused to alcohol but there’s no way I’ll admit it.
‘Here.’ He hands me a glass of wine, misted from the cold of the liquid. I take a sip, and suppress a cough; the taste is acidic yet sweet, a promise of things to come. A smear of my mulberry lip-gloss stains the glass.
Dominic unpacks French sticks, Camembert, knives, plates. I break open my bread, slice off a chunk of the gooey cheese and slather it inside. We eat in silence. The dusty rind of the cheese, its sour creaminess, tastes good against the crustiness of the French stick. I’m conscious that my bites are too large, that crumbs are sticking to the corners of my mouth. When I drink the wine, it’s in gulps now, Dominic providing regular refills. To me, the evening is perfect, as we sit on the blanket, the tower listing to one side behind us. The balloons are long past; the light is fading from the sky, the cool of dusk spreading across the city. My head, unused to the alcohol, is heavy, fuzzy. I’m aware I’m drinking faster than Dominic is, but I remind myself he has to drive. Besides, my first experience of being tipsy is pleasant. I prepare to float away on the evening air, in the wake of the balloons.
Dominic reaches out a hand, and his fingers against my skin are electrifying. Something inside me flares into life, a firecracker of desire sending a storm of twitches through my crotch. He touches the corner of my right eye, his thumb caressing the mole underneath. ‘You’re too pretty to need make-up,’ he tells me. The reason for his disapproval when he saw me earlier clicks into place.
A smear of kohl is on his thumb as he retracts his hand. He rubs it away with a finger. ‘Come on,’ he says. ‘We’ll walk through the trees.’ He takes my plate, knife and glass, packing them along with his own in the chill-bag. The wine bottle is now empty, at least two-thirds of its contents in my stomach. My legs don’t work well when I stand up.
We walk along a narrow path and down a flight of steps into the woods. The light has almost gone; pale moonlight filtering through the trees is our guide. The wine has lulled me into a sensation of safety, despite the fact that I’m half-drunk, alone in a dark place with a man who’s an unknown quantity. None of that concerns me. So far, the evening has been perfect, a sublime mix of food and balloons and oh my God, the brush of his fingers against my face. Tonight I’m invincible, inviolate, the world at my feet. Our feet.
The path twists round, up more steps, before emerging near the grassy area I saw before. Dominic eases me through the wooden gate. ‘Car’s back that way,’ he says, gesturing towards the thick hedge skirting the grass. I’m both relieved and disappointed he didn’t try anything on whilst we were alone amongst the trees.
He doesn’t when we’re back in the car, either. I’m expecting him to reach over from the driver’s seat, pull me towards him, his mouth seeking mine, but he doesn’t. Instead, he drives me back to the corner of my road.
‘Can we do this again?’ he asks. I nod, and he smiles.
Later, in the basement, I realise how well Dominic played me that night. Establishing trust with the wine, the walk through the woods. So I’ll have faith in him, be reassured he’s a man who’ll treat me right. No getting me drunk for a quick fumble on the ground beneath the trees. In my naiveté, I’m ripe for Dominic Perdue, a spider whose web, sticky as flypaper, consists of wine, cheese and charm.
We go out again at the weekend, a Sunday afternoon stroll through Castle Park, ending at the Harbourside. Dominic buys fat falafels that we eat, tahini running down our fingers, as we walk across the cobbles. Boats bob on the water to our right, the yellow and blue of a harbour ferry purring past us. The sun is hot on my arms; the noise of people around us buzzes in my ears. Outside the Arnolfini, Dominic stops.
‘I’ll get us some drinks,’ he says. ‘A cold cider will do nicely, what with it being so warm.’ He doesn’t ask whether I like cider, not that I know. He disappears inside.
I discover that I do like it. The sharp apple tang hits the back of my throat as we sit, side by side, on the cobbles. Again, with hindsight I realise Dominic’s working to a precise plan. We’re in public, on a hot Sunday afternoon; nothing about our date can possibly spook me. All part of his design, of course, taking me to places where either nobody is around or else blending us into a crowd. I have no doubts, no prods from my gut alerting me to what lies behind the blue and brown of his eyes. Instead I fall, a plum ripe from the tree, into Dominic’s grasp. I want this man, and by now, I’m desperate to experience passion, abandonment, everything missing from my previous sexual experiences. I’m convinced this man holds the key to erotic nirvana.
‘Want to come to my place for dinner sometime this week?’ he asks.
I don’t hesitate. ‘I’d love to,’ I reply.
Thank you for being part of The Scribbler and sharing the beginning of your new novel Maggie. I'm anxious to know what Dominic is up to.
Maggie James – author of psychological suspense novels
Website and blog: www.maggiejamesfiction.com
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Next week, please join us here on the Scribbler to read from Guest Author Katrina Cope's novel, Jayden and the Mysterious Mountain. Katrina lives in Australia.