Charlie Fox book five
'If you stay involved with Sean Meyer you will end up killing again,' my father said. 'And next time, Charlotte, you might not get away with it.'
Still bearing the emotional scars from her traumatic first bodyguarding job in the States, Charlie Fox returns to her former home to try and work out both her personal and professional future.
Instead of the peace for which she's been hoping, Charlie is immediately caught up in the aftermath of a fatal bike crash involving one of her closest friends.
"a high-octane climax to this gripping story"
The Sunday Telegraph
The more she probes, the more she suspects that the accident was far from accidental − and the more she finds herself relying on the support of her troubled boss, Sean Meyer, despite her misgivings over the wisdom of resuming their relationship.
And Charlie's got enough on her plate trying to work out who suddenly wants her dead. The only way to find out is to infiltrate a group of illegal road racers who appear hell-bent on living fast and dying young.
Taking risks is something that ex-Special Forces soldier Charlie knows all about, but doing it just for kicks seems like asking for trouble. By the time she finds out what's really at stake, she might be too late to stop them all becoming road kill . . .
From the author's notebook
ROAD KILL was one of those ideas that came about because of a snippet in the local paper when I lived down near Lancaster, saying that during the summer months an extraordinary number of motorcyclists had been killed on the road between the motorway and the local bikers' weekend haunt at Devil's Bridge, near Kirkby Lonsdale. The police were dismissing the accidents as 'rider error' but it got me thinking, 'What if it wasn't accidental? What if it was deliberate?'
Charlie rides two motorbikes in this book. She graduates from her faithful Suzuki RGV250 to a real monster − a Honda CBR900RR FireBlade. She acquired the new bike at the end of HARD KNOCKS, in circumstances I won't spoil for anyone who hasn't yet read that book. It's been sitting in the back of her parents' garage, waiting for the opportunity to come into its own.
ROAD KILL is set partly in the English Lake District and partly in Ireland, both north and south of the border. I've spent a lot of time in Ireland and it's a fabulous place that is very different from the gloomy, violent image gleaned from the news reports.
My parents' house, on the outskirts of a little village near Alderley Edge, was a gracefully proportioned Georgian pile with a stiflingly manicured walled garden at the back and impressive circular gravel drive at the front.
They'd lived there since they were married, before the area went stratospheric and all the celebrity Manchester United footballers moved in. My mother pretended to sneer but I suspected that she was secretly as smitten by their glamour as everyone else.
Sean and I arrived a little before eleven o'clock. Early enough that my mother's beautiful manners didn't oblige her to invite Sean to stay to lunch. Her barely concealed relief, when he apologised that he didn't even have the time to come in for a cup of tea, might have been funny if it hadn't been so pathetic.
Sean deposited the rucksack containing my bike gear on the old church pew in the tiled hallway and laid a hand on my arm.
'Take care of yourself, Charlie,' he murmured.
'Yeah, you too.'
'I'll try and get back up again before the weekend.' Undoubtedly aware that my mother was hovering in the doorway at the end of the hall, he bent his head and kissed me, no more than a fleeting brush of his lips. 'And remember what I said.'
'Which bit?' I asked, suddenly a little breathless and stupid from the effects of even so ephemeral a contact.
He smiled, a full-blown knock-you-off-your-feet kind of smile. One that had my heart turning somersaults and made me want to beg him either to stay, or to take me with him. Hell, or just to take me.
'All of it,' he said.
Then he walked out of the front door and climbed into the Shogun without looking back. I watched him turn out of the gateway at the end of the drive and disappear from view before I closed the door. I turned to find my mother had moved up into the hall, as though it was safe to venture closer now he'd gone. She was wearing pearls and a summer dress with an apron over the top of it, and wiping flour from her hands on a tea towel.
'You'll stay for lunch, Charlotte, won't you?' she said and although her voice was coolly gracious there was something a little despairing in her eyes.
In a moment of pity, I nodded. 'I have to get back up to Lancaster this afternoon, though,' I said quickly, forestalling her next question.
'Of course,' she said, more brightly. 'I'll just go and check how those rhubarb pies are doing. We've had so much of it this year I've been baking for the WI market but I'm sure I can spare one for dessert.' She waited until her back was towards me and she was halfway to the kitchen door before she delivered her killer punch. 'Your father will be so pleased to have caught you.'
I froze in the middle of picking up my rucksack and it bumped against my hip. 'Excuse me?'
She paused then, turned to give me an anxious smile. 'Oh, didn't I say?' she said, artfully casual. 'He rang earlier to let me know he's on his way home. If the traffic isn't too bad we should all be able to sit down together at one o'clock. Now, why don't you go and wash your face and get changed, darling?' She gave my jeans and rumpled shirt a slightly pained glance. 'I'm sure there are still some lovely dresses in your wardrobe.'
My father rolled up on the dot of twelve-thirty, as though he'd been waiting in some lay-by down the road in order to arrive at such a neat and precise time.
I heard the crunch of tyres on gravel and crossed to my bedroom window. When I looked down, I could see the roof of his dark green Jaguar XK-8 just disappearing into the garage. After a few moments, the car door thunked shut and he walked out carrying a small overnight bag and a briefcase. The garage door motorised down behind him.
He looked tired, I realised. From this angle I could see the slight drag to his shoulders. As I watched, he paused and seemed to take a deep breath before climbing the two low steps to the front door more briskly.
It was interesting, I thought, to learn that even my father had to brace himself before he could face my mother's company.
Not to put off the inevitable, I came downstairs straight away to greet him. I reached the half landing just as he was setting his luggage down on the pew in the hall. He heard my footsteps and looked up.
'Charlotte,' he greeted me distantly and his gaze skimmed over my clothing.
I had, as my mother suggested, washed my face and changed − into my bike leathers, ready to beat a hasty retreat as soon as lunch was over. Rather childishly, I'd been skulking upstairs until my father arrived, knowing she wouldn't make a big production about it in front of him.
Now, I thought I saw a fractional smile tug at the corner of his mouth, as though he knew exactly what my motives had been.
My mother appeared out of the kitchen at the end of the hallway and came forwards to welcome him. He put his hand on her arm, almost exactly the way Sean had done with me but, when he bent to kiss her, it was a sterile little peck on the cheek.
She stepped back and caught sight of me descending. Her face registered her disappointment but I didn't have time to feel ashamed of my petty behaviour.
'I'd like a word with you before lunch, Charlotte,' my father said. He inclined his head politely. 'If we have time?'
'Of course,' my mother said. But she would have said that even if she'd been keeping the food warm for an hour.
My father smiled at her and led the way into his study. I followed. He closed the door behind us. I expected him to cross to the antique rosewood desk and take a position of authority behind it, but instead he moved to the silver tray of drink bottles on the sideboard.
I took one of the wingback leather armchairs standing at right angles to the desk.
'How's Clare?' I asked, before he had chance to get a shot in.
'Doing as well as can be expected,' he said, professionally neutral. 'The last procedure went well. I have one or two things to attend to here, then I'll be going back up on Thursday.' He caught my expression. 'It's all going to take time, Charlotte,' he went on, gently. 'The human body is a remarkable machine when it comes to repairing itself, but it isn't quick.'
'I know,' I said, 'and I'm very grateful for everything you've done for her. Without you . . . well, they were talking about amputation.'
He nodded, a regal acceptance of his own brilliance. 'Sherry?' he offered.
I calculated the time until I was due to hit the road, and the fact that the mighty lunch my mother would undoubtedly serve would sop up the worst of the alcohol.
'I'd rather have a whisky,' I said, stretching my legs out in front of me, 'if you still have any of that rather good single malt?'
He raised an eyebrow but poured a finger of rich golden liquid into a pair of crystal tumblers without comment. As he handed one across he clinked his with mine before perching on the edge of the desk beside me.
'So,' I said, inhaling the smoky earth tones in my glass, 'what have I done now?'
'Why should you think you've done anything?' he asked, his voice deceptively mild.
'Oh, habit,' I said, not to be deflected. 'Why else the cosy chat?'
He took a sip of his whisky, savoured the taste and sidestepped the question. 'Your mother said you've come to collect your other motorbike − the new one,' he said then. 'Can I ask why?'
I shrugged. 'The Suzuki got trashed last night,' I said shortly. 'I need transport.'
If I'd been hoping to shock him into a reaction, I was to be disappointed. Instead, his eyes tracked over my leathers and I realised, belatedly, that they still bore the scuffs and scars of my encounter.
'I would ask if you are all right, but clearly you are,' he said. 'This was in addition to you banging your knee yesterday, I assume?' he added dryly. 'You were never so clumsy as a child, Charlotte.'
'Sometimes,' I said with a smile. 'But back then it was usually ponies I was falling off.'
'Hm. Strange that you should suddenly become so accident prone just as Sean Meyer makes a reappearance, don't you think?'
Ah, so that's what this was all about. I sat up straighter in my chair, the smile fading.
'No,' I said baldly. 'Sean came because I called him after Clare's accident, because I asked him to. Don't go blaming him for any of this.'
'Any of what?'
Damn. I glared at him, as though he'd set out to deliberately trick me. Silence was the best card I'd got and I played it with a flourish, taking another mouthful of whisky.
He set his own glass down carefully on the leather blotter, folding his hands together in front of him. 'I understand you've stopped seeing Dr Yates.'
'Oh, and what happened to patient confidentiality?' I threw back at him. 'Or doesn't that apply when it's one of your golfing cronies?'
His moment of stillness signified his irritation. 'That was unworthy of you, Charlotte,' he said. 'Dr Yates agreed to see you as a personal favour to me but he would no more discuss one of his patients with a third party than would I. Since I've been footing the bill for his services, he thought I ought to be aware that your last session was six weeks ago and you have failed to make any further appointments. Would you care to tell me why?'
'I'm sorry,' I said quickly, flashed with genuine contrition for my lack of gratitude. 'Maybe I'm just not the type who responds well to psychotherapy. I didn't feel it was doing me much good.'
'Perhaps that is precisely why you should have continued.'
'Perhaps I will,' I said, noncommittal. 'But if you were hoping he'd talk me out of working in close protection − or working with Sean − you'll be sadly disappointed.'
He regarded me for a moment longer, then sighed and got to his feet. He went over to the tall sash window and seemed lost in contemplation of the garden. 'This wasn't quite the future we envisaged for you, you know,' he said, without turning round.
'It wasn't quite the future I had mapped out myself,' I agreed. 'But I'm here now and it would appear to be something I'm quite good at. It's not everyone who finds their niche.'
My flippancy was a mistake. He turned and the expression on his face held surprising bitterness. 'Good at?' he repeated, his voice slipping uncharacteristically into harshness. 'At what? Killing people?'
My hands gave a quick convulsive clench. I set the glass down before I was tempted to throw it at him.
'No − at keeping them alive,' I said with quiet vehemence. 'By whatever means necessary.'
He moved back to the other side of the desk, leaning forwards and resting his fists on the polished surface, staring at my face. 'Necessary in whose opinion? Yours? Meyer's?'
'Leave Sean out of this.'
He made a gesture of impatience with one hand. 'How can I, when you persist in connecting yourself to the man? He's dangerous and he's leading you down a very dark path. What happens when your judgement fails you and you take a life when it isn't necessary, hm? What happens then?'
Into the silence that followed his outburst, there came a quiet tapping at the door and my mother stuck her head into the room.
'I'm sorry to disturb your discussion,' she said, with enough emphasis on the last word to make me wonder how long she'd been eavesdropping, 'but lunch is ready.'
'Thank you, we'll be through directly.' My father nodded briefly in dismissal. He waited until she'd gone out and closed the door behind her before he launched his final warning.
'If you stay involved with Sean Meyer you will end up killing again,' he said, calm now but certain as stone. 'And next time, Charlotte, you might not get away with it.'