Thursday, 17 June 2010

Excerpt Day - As Darkness Falls © Bronwyn Parry


No, not this.
Detective Sergeant Isabelle O’Connell dragged up every
ounce of self-discipline to halt the cry of denial, and it lodged,
unsounded, in her throat. She closed her eyes against the
sight as tears that couldn’t be shed scalded her eyelids.
Nearby, her colleagues cleared their throats, muttered curses,
avoided looking at each other.
The heavy mantle of failure kept them all quiet. Seven
days, the child had been missing. Seven long, hellish days
and nights of searching and hoping and feverishly following
any prospect of a lead, no matter how weak, desperately
trying to find some trace of her.
And now this.
The fact of the girl’s small body, dumped in a hollow in
front of them, was horrific enough. But the single gunshot

to the head that had killed her was clearly less than twentyfour
hours old. She’d been alive for at least six of those days,
and they’d failed to find her. They’d failed her.
Superintendent Barrington pulled himself together first.
‘I’d better go and inform the parents,’ he said, his voice gruff
and constrained. ‘Detective Fraser, get Forensics up here,
now. You two,’ he indicated two of the uniformed police,
‘secure the scene. Nobody, but nobody, is to touch a thing
until they get here. O’Connell, you’ll come with me.’
Isabelle stifled the instinct to run and nodded mutely. As
senior female officer on the case, of course she had to
accompany him for the nightmare task. Ten years on the
job, and each time it became worse, not easier. This time,
she knew the parents, had grown up beside them in this
small town. Somehow she had to find the courage to face
them and deliver this news. Somehow tell Sara, whom she’d
sat beside in fifth grade, that her only child was dead.
Cope with it. You have to do this.
Despite the orders, no one moved.
Steve Fraser, his face flushed, burst out angrily, ‘Sir, shouldn’t
we haul in that bastard Chalmers again? This is just like that
other kid. There’s got to be something we can hold him on.’
Barrington fixed the sergeant with a cold stare. ‘Evidence,
Fraser. If you find me one shred of evidence that connects
him with this murder, we’ll arrest and charge him. But to
date all you’ve given me is innuendo, gossip, and the fact
that he was tried and acquitted on a similar case two years
ago. That is not evidence. And I have so far seen absolutely

no reason why Chalmers should be under any more suspicion
than anyone else in this town.’
‘But he’s so weird, sir,’ Fraser persisted, reckless in his
challenge. ‘Everyone thinks he did it.’
Isabelle braced for Barrington’s explosion, but the super -
intendent just sighed wearily. ‘Being weird is not a crime,
Fraser, and the prejudices of a town are not the basis for
thorough police investigation.’
Barrington sat, tense and silent, in the passenger seat as
Isabelle drove the short distance back into town. Only as
she pulled up in front of the modest home where the girl’s
parents lived did he speak.
‘When we’ve finished here, O’Connell, you should go and
warn Chalmers. Fraser’s partly right – half the town does
think he did it, and they’ll be baying for his blood.’
‘Protection arrangements, sir?’ she asked, dragging her mind
to practical needs to keep away the dread of the task to come.
‘If he wants it. Use your judgment.’
She switched off the engine, and her fingers fumbled as
she unbuckled her seat belt. Barrington made no move, his
face white.
‘I’m a week from retirement, O’Connell,’ he muttered.
‘This isn’t the way I wanted to finish.’
She saw a curtain flick in the window, knew she had to
move frozen limbs out of the car and do the unthinkable.
Mitch and Sara had to come first. Later – much later, when

duty had been done and whoever had committed this crime
arrested – she’d maybe have the luxury of time to give in,
to weep and grieve. Not now.
‘No, sir. We have to go, sir.’
The door jerked open as they mounted the steps, and
there could be no escaping the terrible, inevitable moment
when all hope and light drained from Sara’s eyes, in that
instant when she knew, before the words were spoken, before
Mitch howled like no man should have to, before Sara folded
in on herself and crumpled to the floor.
Because she’d failed them.
Isabelle barely managed to hold herself together, focusing
on their needs, doing her job. If she allowed herself to feel,
the fragile shell of self-control would crack into a million
useless pieces.
Cope with it.
After they finally left the house, she drove the superintendent
back to the tiny police station and forced herself to
continue to her next duty. An eerie, uncomfortable quiet
hung over the town. In the main street, people stood in
groups, shaking heads, dabbing at tears, sniffing in hand -
They stared at her as she drove past, their eyes critical,
accusing, and neither heart nor intellect could begrudge them
that judgment. A child lay dead, and she and her colleagues
had not been able to prevent it.
Once, long ago, Isabelle had been a part of this small,
isolated community. They’d welcomed her back a week ago,

trusting her as one of their own amongst the strangers in
the rest of the police team – the very reason the superintendent
had brought her in on this case. Yet after this terrible
failure, any friendliness, any welcome they might have had
for her, would be gone.
Just do your job, O’Connell, she ordered herself, crushing
back the emotion that choked her throat. There’s a killer out
there to find.
During the twenty-minute drive to Dan Chalmers’ secluded
shack, she kept a bare grip on her sanity by methodically
reviewing the facts of the case in her mind, seeking a clue,
a lead, anything they might have missed. Like the superintendent,
she believed in Chalmers’ innocence. The man was
certainly strange, a true eccentric, but he had consistently
and quietly denied any knowledge of the child’s disappearance,
and she sensed his honesty. This was the second time
that human nature’s distrust of difference had singled him
out, yet he’d been resigned to the questions, cooperating
with their enquiries fully.
As the car rounded a bend in the rough track and the
shack came into view amongst the trees, a groan escaped her
lips and her pulse skittered unevenly. There were vehicles
there already, and a small crowd had gathered. Their angry
yells disturbed the bush landscape, and in a glance she
recognised that the emotional temperature was rising, fast.
Someone picked up a rock and hurled it through the window,
to the cheers of the others.
© Bronwyn Parry
Read the first chapter HERE

As Darkness Falls

Bronwyn Parry

A Piatkus title

Genre: Romantic Suspense

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An abducted child. A ruthless killer. A race against time.

Haunted by her failures, police detective Isabelle O'Connell is recalled to duty by detective Alec Goddard to investigate the abduction of yet another child from her old home town. With the killer playing a game of cat and mouse they have only days in which to find the girl alive, but they have very few clues, a whole town of suspects and a vast wilderness to search.

For Isabelle, this case is already personal; for Alec his best intentions to keep it purely professional soon dissolve. He starts to think of the missing child as if she were his own, and his anguish over Bella's safety moves beyond just his concern for a colleague. Their mutual attraction leaves them both vulnerable to their private nightmares - nightmares that the killer ruthlessly exploits . . .

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