Read the first chapter of Prime Justice.
Nadine Walker-Scott hooked the leash on Shadow’s collar, ruffled her loyal black Labrador’s head, and pulled on her green Wellingtons. When she reached the bottom of the grand, sweeping oak staircase, she called out, “Rebecca, I won’t be long. Will you keep an eye on the casserole while I’m out, dear?”
“Yes, Mum. I’ll be down in a few minutes. Enjoy your walk. Don’t be too long—it’s already dusk.”
She smiled at her daughter’s concern and the fact their roles in life had recently begun to reverse. Her thirty-two-year-old daughter had become the one issuing safety warnings. “Come on, Shadow. We’ll just go for a quick stroll down to the end of the lane and back again tonight.”
Her faithful, chubby companion looked up at her and moaned. Quite often, she would engage in long conversations with her four-legged friend when Rebecca wasn’t around, which was all too often since her daughter had started dating Robert Gallagher. The day she’d met him, Nadine had known he would be the one to sweep Rebecca off her feet. It had taken six months for the young man, a barrister, to finally pop the question. They were all counting the days in the final month before the wedding.
In the past, Rebecca’s boyfriends had mostly been of the dubious variety, but over the past few years, Nadine’s carefree, almost wayward, daughter had begun to express the need to settle down and start a family.
Nadine closed the door to the boot room behind her and looked up at the sky. Once she saw how dark the clouds had become, she set off at a brisk pace. “Just a quick one, Shadow, then we’ll spend the evening sitting by the fire, reading a book, at least I will.”
They marched out through the wrought-iron gates and turned onto the country lane that wound its way down to the church where Rebecca and Robert would be married. Nadine beamed as she ran through all the preparations in her mind. She had organised everything her daughter had requested, and all that remained was to count down the days and pick out her own wedding outfit. She had her eye on a beautiful linen lilac suit in a little boutique in Sevenoaks. She had tried it on several times in the past few weeks, along with dozens of other suitable outfits, much to the angst of her daughter, who had chosen her wedding dress the instant she had laid eyes on it hanging on the rack.
“I’ve decided, Shadow. I’m going to make my final decision tomorrow. Although, I might need to go and try on the ensemble again, just to make sure it’s as perfect as I believe it to be.”
Shadow looked up at her then sniffed at the weeds in the hedgerow before he cocked his leg. Nadine chuckled. “Is that the effect my scintillating conversation has on you, boy?”
Nadine had been so caught up with the wedding plans and talking to Shadow that she didn’t hear the approaching car until the driver slammed the door. Her hand covered her chest. “Goodness, you nearly startled me to death. What are you doing here?”
The man walked towards her, his eyes narrowed, and his pace quickened the instant she recognised him.
“I repeat, what are you doing here? Didn’t you hear me?”
“I heard you. What am I doing here? Hmm… good question.”
Shadow began to growl. Uncertainty shrouded Nadine after she saw how black the man’s eyes had become, the closer he got to her. Having no idea how to avoid his advancement, she held up her free hand. “Stop. What on earth do you think you’re doing?”
“Don’t ask dumb questions. Give me the combination to the safe now!”
She gasped. “What? Are you crazy? Why would I do such a foolish thing?”
He withdrew the crowbar from his windbreaker jacket. “Because if you don’t, I’m gonna kill you.”
“Don’t be so absurd. Why? You wouldn’t have the guts to do such a thing.”
“Really? You really want to find out how much nerve I have right now?” He took a few steps closer.
She tried to back up, but a thorny branch stuck in her thigh. “Ouch. Look, I’m not going to give you the code, so why don’t you just run along and we’ll forget this incident ever happened?”
“It ain’t gonna happen.” He pulled out a notepad and pen and handed it to her. “Write it down, and I’ll let you go on your way.”
“I refuse to. You can’t speak to me like this. Have you forgotten what I’ve done for you over the years?”
He laughed. “You’re deluded if you think you’ve treated me well in the time I’ve known you. You snobs are all the fucking same. All so full of your own self-importance, walking around with your noses stuck up in the air. The world is going to be a much better place without you in it. This is your last chance, bitch. Either write down the code, or…”
Her hand hovered over a sudden tightness in her chest, and the excruciating pain was becoming unbearable. “Please, my heart. I need my tablets.”
“Fuck this, if you’re going to pull that old trick.”
The crowbar struck Nadine on the side of the head. She cried out then sank to her knees, one hand clutching at her heart and the other gingerly holding the side of her sticky head. “Please, not again. I’ll give you the number.”
“It’s too late now, bitch.”
Shadow’s growl turned into a lip-curling snarl. The man raised the crowbar again, intent on hitting the dog, but Nadine tumbled sideways as if protecting the dog, and the bar landed on the back of her head. “Run, Shadow, go get help.”
The dog took off before the man could grab him. The man swore under his breath as he watched the dog make its escape. He bent over her. “Think you’re clever, bitch? I’ll show you.”
Her head throbbed, but Nadine shouted for help, knowing deep down that her cries would remain unheard. She felt two more blows before the darkness descended.
~ ~ ~
Rebecca glanced out her bedroom window to see Shadow coming through the gates alone. She raced down the staircase, two stairs at a time and opened the front door. “Shadow, here, boy.” The dog panted heavily in her face and strained against Rebecca when she tried to pull him inside the house. “What’s wrong, boy? Where is she?”
The dog twisted his neck, working his way out of her grasp, and ran back up the drive towards the gates. Rebecca grabbed her phone off the hallway table and ran after the dog. She caught up with him just beyond the gates. His pace was slowing with every step. If he’d been lighter, she would have considered carrying Shadow, but then he would have been unable to lead her back to her mother. “Oh God, I hope Mum’s heart is okay. Maybe I should have hunted for her tablets before I set off. It’s too late now.”
Shadow was sniffing at the ground. He looked back at Rebecca, his tail wagging, then set off again, his nose close to the road.
When Rebecca reached the spot where the dog had halted, she stopped dead. “Oh my God, that’s blood. Crap! Mum, where are you?” she called out, her voice faltering.
Shadow barked. She’d lost sight of him and called out, “Shadow, where are you, sweetheart?”
He emerged from the hedgerow—where her mother’s Wellington poked out. Rebecca pulled back the undergrowth and stood over her mother’s body. Tears spilled from her eyes, and she swiped them away angrily. “Mum, can you hear me?” She realised it was a dumb question as she saw no rise and fall in her mother’s chest.
She patted Shadow’s head and punched in three digits in her phone. “Police please. My mother has had an accident, and I think she’s dead.”
The operator asked for the location, which Rebecca supplied automatically. Then the operator ordered her to stay where she was until the police and the ambulance arrived.
She collapsed to her knees and smoothed the bloody grey hair away from her mother’s face. “Oh, Mum, why did you have to go out for a walk at this time of night? Why?”