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Sycamore Gap: A DCI Ryan Mystery

By:LJ Ross

PROLOGUE


Tuesday, June 21st 2005 – The Summer Solstice

A large sycamore tree grew in the dip of the valley. It stood proudly silhouetted against the last light of day, which burned fiery amber red in the sky beyond. The landscape around it was dramatic and old; the Roman wall cut through the hillside, over the peaks and troughs, over sharp crags and soft peat. The dimming light cast long, hazy rays over the fields and, transfixed by its beauty, Amy did not hear the quiet tread of footsteps approaching until he was almost upon her.

“Worth the visit?”

She jumped like a startled rabbit.

“Y – yes, it’s lovely,” she admitted, trying to slow her racing heart. “It’ll be dark soon, though, won’t it?”

“I know the way back,” he murmured.

“I’m a little tired,” she said. “I’d rather head back now.”

“Why such a rush?” He reached out to tuck a strand of dark hair behind her ear. “I remember when you wanted to spend all your time with me.”

She knew that what he said was true. Once, she had been so enamoured with him, so blinded by a foolish emotion she had mistaken for love that she would have done anything to be with him. Looking with fresh eyes, she struggled to recall what she had ever seen in him.

Mistaking her regard, he leaned forward suddenly as if to kiss her. Automatically, she stepped away, holding both hands outwards to prevent him from coming any closer.

His features contorted, turning his bright white smile into a snarl, eyes glinting in a shadowed face.

“Bitch,” he growled.

Strong hands reached for her, yanking her against him. Frantically, she struggled, finally seeing the real man she had begun to suspect lay beneath the affable social exterior.

“Please,” she said brokenly. “You’re hurting me!”

She shook her head and began to struggle again, but he pinned her like a butterfly. Her cheek hit a solid wall of muscle beneath his all-weather coat and his arms banded around her so that she could hardly move.

“I’m sorry,” she began to sob, hating herself for the weakness. “Please. Let’s try to be friends.”

His arms tightened painfully against her ribcage and the breath shuddered through his body as her words penetrated.

“You’re all the same,” he rasped, the air blowing hotly against her temple. “I gave you everything. My time. My energy. Everything.”

“You – you’ll find someone better,” she said desperately.

He began to laugh, the sound of it unbearably loud in the surrounding silence.

“You’re mad,” she whispered, and he let go of her so suddenly that she almost fell, her legs as flimsy as jelly through a combination of exhaustion and fear.

“What did you say?”

“Nothing. I didn’t say anything.”

There was a short, tense silence. Recognising the danger, she turned to run, but he was faster. His arm shot out to grab her wrist and pull her back. The force of the motion was so strong that her body twisted and the delicate bone in her wrist broke with an almost audible ‘snap’.

She cried out in pain but instinct set in. She fought him with a strength borne from terror, scratching and kicking until she caught him full force in the stomach. He doubled over and she took her chance. She made for the tree, her mind working quickly. Her broken wrist dangled uselessly beside her as she flew across the uneven ground and her eyes strained to find a pathway in the darkness. She heard his harsh breathing somewhere not far behind and knew that she would not be able to escape him without a fight.

Reaching the wall, she flung herself over it and crawled one-armed under the fold of the tree. Crouched beneath it, she tugged at the stones of the wall, tearing the skin along her fingers until one came free. She held it tightly in her good hand, ready to use it as a weapon.

He was close, now.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” he called out, chuckling softly. She shivered at the sound of it, her body trembling badly.

She rose to her feet and plastered herself against the trunk of the tree while she watched him creep over the wall to her left, nothing more than a silent, inky shadow.

“There you are,” he crooned, lunging towards her.

With everything she had left, she swung the rock towards him and heard it connect. He faltered, but her aim had been off. He was much taller and she had missed his head by a good few inches.

She tried again, but he had her now and the stone thudded hopelessly to the floor.

They wrestled, but he was so strong. After a brief, hard tussle, her body fell back against the ground and winded her, giving him the opportunity he needed.

“Little … bitch …” he enunciated the words in time to the sound of her head cracking against the rocky floor and finally he felt her body jitter, then go limp beneath him. The rush of warm blood from the gash on her skull ran over his fingers and he enjoyed the novelty of it, holding out his hand in wonder. There was a momentary feeling of panic and he pressed two shaking fingers to the side of her neck. The skin there was still warm, but there was no fluttering pulse.

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