Exciting news. My crime novel, Casey's Luck, which reached semi-finalist in the Amazon/Penguin Breakthrough Novel Contest is to be published with Wild Child Publishing under the name Maggi Coleman.
Excerpt of Chapter One
January 2001 DEVON, ENGLAND
Why was the house so cold? Casey leaned back on her elbows onto the narrow bed, as the memory of the past few weeks ran through her mind, tightening her stomach. She’d hoped to escape the trauma of a broken relationship by returning to England, but the break-up seemed to have taken a piece of her she wasn’t sure she’d get back.
Since she was last here, the roughly plastered walls had been painted crisp white. The acrid smell of turpentine lingered in the air. Glad of a distraction, she tucked her hands under her head and studied the changes to the room. The Tudor ceiling-beams were newly stained and curtains patterned with birds and flowers covered the lead-light windows. She smiled at the thought of Don perched on a ladder with a paintbrush, and pulled the duvet up around her shoulders. It was almost nine. The others would be downstairs preparing breakfast. Don loved cooking the great English breakfast, bacon, sausage and eggs, for Tessa and her, his cure-all for a heavy night.
Knowing she had to get up, she lifted her head. It began to throb from the toxic mix of jet-lag and red wine. She quickly pulled on her gown and some oversize sheepskin slippers, an impulse buy at Miami airport, and shuffled over the slippery timber floors to pull back the curtains.
The six acres of private woodland Don and Tessa prized so highly, stretched out before her. The wind had died down in the night and the lawn bristled white with frost, the pond frozen over. Behind the stone wall, the still, dripping woods began, like the edges of a ragged blanket covering the hills. She shivered. English countryside in winter failed to charm her. It seemed lonely and dank. Some miles beyond those woods lay the Devon coastline and the cold, oily waters of the English Channel.
Someone had closed her door during the night. She opened it and walked out onto the landing. The house was deathly quiet. Descending the sixteenth Century staircase, each step creaking louder than the last, she halted on the bottom step, which cracked like a pistol shot into the silence. She paused there, disconcerted by the echo it left and the lack of response, feeling her skin prickle when a noise came from the kitchen, a kind of thumping.
“What’s the matter, Soc?” she asked the despondent, tabby cat standing on the kitchen table, rocking it against the uneven, stone-flagged floor. He arched his back as she stroked him, and he replied with a deep, throaty meow.
“Where do they keep your food?”
She searched the cupboards and found a tin, blanching at the fishy smell as she filled his bowl, then replenished the water in his other dish.
Soc leapt to the floor, purring and eating quickly as she plugged in the electric kettle, wondering if she should take up some coffee to Don and Tessa. It was late for them.
The kettle switched off. She reached for it, then hesitated, listening, aware of the range of strange noises thatched cottages could make.
Caffeine would help, she decided, and poured a cup, carrying it into the hall. She paused at the hall table to study a photograph in a gold frame. It was one of herself and Tessa in their caps and gowns, like bookends, standing each side of Don, drinking champagne in the crowded Quad at Oxford. In the misty air, her rebellious brown curls tipped her Mortar Board to a drunken angle, creating an untidy counterbalance to petite Tessa, her red hair a neat plait over her shoulder.
As she replaced the photograph, she became aware of a smell, deathly sweet, and unpleasant. She moved on to the sitting room doorway and faltered.
The doors to the terrace stood open. Leaves had blown in and nestled at the foot of Don’s chair. He sat just as she had left him the night before.
The cup and saucer slipped from her fingers, crashing onto the floor and spilling coffee over the rug. She stumbled over them.
“Don?” His eyes were open and a stream of blood ran from the corner of his mouth mixing with the hairs of his neatly clipped beard. The front of his shirt saturated in blood, it had pooled into his lap.
She placed her hands on his shoulders as if to shake him awake. “Don?” As she touched him his stiff body slid sideways, and her legs buckled. She fell into a crouch at his feet. His glasses lay beside her on the floor. Her bloodied hand hovered over them. Don’t touch them.
She became aware of labored breathing, a bubbling breath from the far corner of the room.
Jumping to her feet, she scrambled across the floor. Brownish blood splashed across the green linen sofa. Tessa lay behind it on her stomach. The the back of her ivory nightgown stained bright red, fanning out to a reddish-pink. Casey touched her gently.
“Tessa, Tessa?” she sobbed. Tessa didn’t stir. She looked just like a waxy, porcelain doll some child had thrown down in a corner, arms and legs akimbo.
She grabbed the phone from the table near the door, dialling the emergency number. It rang in her ear for a long time.
“What service do you require?”
“Ambulance. Someone’s been hurt. I think she’s dying.”
“What’s the address?”
Her mind went blank. What was the damned street number? She took a huge breath to steady herself and the number emerged. Through the open door, she heard rustling in the trees across the lawn. She hung up and backed against the wall. Her heart hammered, she ran to slam the terrace doors shut. As her clumsy, trembling fingers shoved the bolt home, she saw it. The deer stood stock still watching her. Suddenly spooked, it bounded away into the woods. She scoured the bare, wintry branches for further signs of life, afraid of what she might find. Could those ghostly trunks shield a murderer? Or was he still somewhere in the house?