Today’s post is a little on the long side. This is because tomorrow is publication day for COLD HARD TRUTH, book 4 in the Detective Claudia Nunn series.
Below, I will share the first three chapters of COLD HARD TRUTH. I share the first three, because it is in these chapters you receive a broad strokes overview of the story.
You can pre-order your copy of the book HERE. It is currently only 0.99! There’s not much you can buy for that price nowadays, but you can lose yourself in another world for hours with a book. Grab your copy early and receive it as soon as it’s released. Pre-order HERE.
COLD HARD TRUTH
Meet pretty Ivy Henthorn. The daughter of a well-respected judge. A popular student at exclusive Wellington-Bell.
And now she’s dead.
Ivy’s body is found on a bench in Bingham Park, by a rough sleeper. Her head shows signs of blunt force trauma. Somebody positioned her arms peacefully over her chest.
Did she know who her killer was?
Detective Claudia Nunn soon discovers that Ivy was the secret force behind a savage revenge blog. She destroyed relationships and reputations without a second thought.
Perhaps the real question did the killer know who she was?
Claudia must break through a wall of secrets to uncover a deadly truth.
But Claudia’s got her own trauma to bear. And a startling revelation could bring her own house of cards tumbling down . . .
COLD HARD TRUTH
The streets had been Dean Bird’s home for the past three or so years. Time was a different concept when your days merged into one long struggle of trying to stay fed, hydrated and warm. Particularly on nights like this. A low wind chilled the air and brought the temperature down another notch or two, pushing and needling through the clothes he did his best to keep dry. Because, Jesus, wet clothes and cold weather, they sure didn’t mix. But today, the quiet, low wind was subtle. Most other people, they probably wouldn’t even notice. Wrapped in their nice full coats.
Not that he was bitter.
He was where he deserved to be.
The light wind found the holes and the gaps in what he’d managed to dress himself in, and it swirled beneath and wrapped Dean in a hug.
His bones rattled.
Days and weeks, even months, were impossible to keep track of . . . but the seasons, they helped. You could roughly work out a year by the seasons. Winter was always the hardest and summer the shortest.
How he loved the summer.
In the summer, he wouldn’t be traipsing across town like he was now, looking for a new place to sleep because some headcase had stolen his box. In summer, Dean could have slept on the ground and it would have been warm enough for him. Three years, see, you get used to it. There are so many things you can get used to.
Even in summer, he’d never have stood up to the younger guy pushing him around, telling him he was taking his bed. Better to walk away. Now he had to find somewhere off the ground and sheltered from the wind.
But summer . . . people were happier in summer. They smiled at him; they stopped to say hello.
They saw him.
At the time he needed it most, in winter, it was like he turned invisible. People hurried past him with hands in their pockets and their heads down.
He’d been one of those people. Dean couldn’t remember a time he’d ever stopped to speak to someone like he was now, on the street. He couldn’t remember because it had never happened.
Dean Bird had been a jumped-up wanker.
He’d walked as far as Bingham Park. He wasn’t sure how.
His shoulders ached, his legs hurt and his feet were sore. In fact, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d looked at his feet. It was probably something he should do.
Bingham Park would offer shelter. Somewhere to hide from the wind and a chance to rest from the pain of his own body.
For Dean Bird, there were days he wished he’d go to sleep and not wake up again. Not that he was suicidal. That primal urge to live kept him going, but how long would it continue? How long can someone wake up to a world where survival is the goal, rather than living?
The park dampened the sounds of the city and the sounds in his head. It was dark and it was peaceful.
Dean no longer cared his bed had been taken from him. He’d spend the night here and would return again every evening, until he was moved on. All he had to do was walk a little further in, so he wasn’t in sight of anyone who would report him.
Now that a resting spot was in his sights, the small bottle in his pocket provided a reassuring weight against his leg as he hobbled onwards.
He spotted a bench. Somewhere to sleep off the ground, with more than a layer of cardboard and newspapers to stop the cold seeping into his bones. He was ageing and could barely take it anymore.
If he were younger, he’d have kicked the arse of the wanker who stole his bed, but he was too long in the tooth to go toe to toe with a young ’un. Fuck, his fingers couldn’t even work properly. In his heyday, the lad would have walked a mile around him, standing proud in his desert fatigues.
It had been a long, long fall from there, though.
Dean paused and rubbed his knee. Emotion brewing in his throat at the memory he’d allowed out, now threatening to overturn him. He shoved the image that had come unbidden to his mind’s eye back into its locked box, straightened with a wince and shuffled on.
He really did need to look at his feet at some point. Maybe just changing his socks would help.
A good sleep would help and that bench was perfect. With his trusty blanket in his backpack, he’d sleep better than he had for a while. But . . . Dean scrunched up his eyes. He couldn’t make out what he was seeing. At fifty-seven, he had the body of an old man. That was what living on the streets did to you. Add that to the trauma of . . . well, he’d closed that box for the evening. The point being, he couldn’t tell what he was seeing. He was too far away yet, and it was late, though the moon was high in the cloudless sky and broke the bleakness of the dark night. There was an indecipherable mound on the bench.
Maybe someone had dumped their rubbish. Or, worst case, someone had beat him to his bed, again.
The little hope Dean Bird had carried drained away. The backpack and bottle felt heavier, weighing him down. All he wanted to do was sit where he was and cry. If his past had taught him anything . . .
Dean ground his teeth.
. . . it was that it wasn’t over until it was over.
He put his hand in his pocket, touched the smooth coldness of the glass and trudged forward. The mound on the bench becoming clearer with every step. It was no rough sleeper like he’d ever seen before. She was young. That wasn’t the issue. There were plenty of youngsters on the street. Shame on the government for that one. It was the way she was dressed. Too clean-cut.
Maybe she’d been out partying and had stopped there on the way home and fallen asleep.
Dean had to find out if she was here for the night, because if she was, she’d need his coat. She’d freeze to death dressed like that, and a girl of her age wouldn’t die on the streets on his watch, even if it meant he might. He’d had his share of chances. Her life was only starting.
With dirt-encrusted fists, he rubbed tired eyes. All he’d wanted was a bed for the night. Somewhere to rest his head and leave behind the horror of life. It obviously wasn’t to be tonight. He was destined to wander, both in the world and in his mind, when all he wanted was the darkness.
The bottle shifted against his leg.
If a drunken snooze had brought her here, then the girl needed waking so she could return home. Outside — this kind of outside — was not a place she needed to be. It was not a place she wanted to experience, especially at her tender age.
He shuffled closer and blinked a few times to clear his vision. There was something odd about the way she was . . . sleeping?
Dean Bird’s old instincts flared. Red and hot around him. A live wire alert to danger.
No one slept with their arms crossed like that. Especially if in a drunken collapse.
He spun on the spot, or more specifically, staggered. His old-man eyes searching for the slightest movement, his ears listening for the threat of assault coming from the night, the treeline, the bushes.
His heart exploded in his chest and he gasped for breath. The fear of threat, of attack, jacking up every nerve in his body. If there was anyone out there, watching him, watching them, Dean couldn’t locate them as his body betrayed him, lighting up like a New Year’s firework.
Doubling over, with his eyes closed, Dean heaved air in as naturally as he could, until his heart beat steadily and his limbs stopped shaking. Rising, he looked again at the girl and then around them.
It was quiet.
Just him and her.
She hadn’t moved as he’d approached. As he’d panicked.
He had to help her.
Dean moved closer. It was impossible to tell if her chest was moving in this light, but no one stayed so still when being approached in the dark. Her face was so pale it glowed in the moonlight.
His breath came faster and he started to shake again.
He could do this. Dean wrapped his arms around his body and patted his arms the way a mother might pat a child on the back. ‘It’s okay. I’m home. It’s okay. I’m home. It’s okay. I’m home.’
After another couple of deep breaths, he reached out and tenderly rubbed the girl’s shoulder. ‘Hey. Wake up. You don’t want to sleep here all night.’
She wouldn’t respond, but he had to try. He shook her a little harder in an attempt to rouse her, but still she didn’t move. ‘Shit,’ he whispered under his breath. ‘Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.’
This was a whole world of shit, because Dean Bird’s life of hiding was officially over. There was no choice here but to do the right thing.
Underneath the clothes in disrepair, the months of ground-in dirt, the disgusting stink of the unwashed, the bottle in his pocket and the old man’s declining body, stood the man Dean Bird had always been.
Gabby — six hours earlier
Gabby lounged on the bed. One elbow bent, her hand propping up her head, which felt as heavy as a boulder. She closed her eyes and blew air out through her lips.
‘Stop. That tickles.’ Ivy, sitting on the floor, flapped her hand around her ear.
Gabby stretched her long legs further down the bed, trainer-clad feet ruffling the thick pink knitted blanket slung across the end. ‘I’m so tired. Why do they even make us do PE at our age anyway? Isn’t it supposed to be for little kids?’
‘You know, if my mum came in and saw your trainers up there, she’d lose a few brain cells.’
Gabby grinned. ‘Would we even notice?’
Ivy laughed. ‘It’s a good job she’s not in.’
‘What you even doing anyway? I thought we were digging into your mum’s gin. You know, to fend off the total and utter boredom that is life.’
‘Yeah, yeah, course. I have half a bottle hidden under some clothes in my drawer after last time. Let me finish this.’ Ivy’s fingers flew over the screen of her top-of-the-range iPhone.
Gabby dropped dramatically on to her back. ‘Oh God, Ivy. Not that again.’
‘You know it is.’ Ivy’s voice was quiet.
Gabby rolled on to her side and pressed her chin on to Ivy’s shoulder so she could see what her best friend was doing. As usual, Ivy had her TikTok account open. It wasn’t the profile that everyone at school thought belonged to Ivy Henthorn. Regardless, everyone at school was friends with this profile, plus thousands of other people outside school, too. They just didn’t know Ivy was behind it. ‘Seriously? Isn’t it time you closed that down?’
Ivy tapped furiously, ignoring her. Sliding between the video website she used and the account. Typing in the story she wanted to tell over the appropriate visual.
Gabby leaned further forward to see what Ivy was typing. ‘What is it this time?’ She narrowed her eyes and focused on the script.
Mr Gillingham is popular with his students, but do they and their parents know the full story behind their favourite teacher? For I have news that will upset many of you.
We all know what it takes to succeed at the prestigious Wellington-Bell school. We’ve seen both students and teachers alike wash out, unable to weather both the strict personal and professional guidelines designed for the success the school wants to foster. But at what cost?
Because on Saturday, Mr Miles Gillingham, the blue-eyed boy, was slumped and out of it, after partaking in the very illegal drug marijuana.
‘You can’t write that without proof, Ivy!’ Gabby sat up and swung her legs over Ivy’s head until she was sitting upright at the side of her.
Ivy turned, a frown puckering her chin. ‘You know me better than that. Of course I have proof. I don’t just take the word of whoever emailed me. There’s photographic evidence. I’m attaching it. It’ll appear at the end of the video of the outside view of the school with the story over it. Then, bingo! You can’t rush genius.’
Gabby shook her head. ‘Ivy, you can’t keep doing this. You’re destroying lives.’ She rose and stalked to the drawers Ivy had indicated earlier. Pulled open the bottom one, shoved a hand in and triumphantly yanked out a half-drunk bottle of gin.
There were a couple of tall glasses they’d brought water upstairs in. With a clank, Gabby settled the bottle on top of the drawers and picked up the tumblers, opened the window and threw the water out. There was a high-pitched screech from below.
Ivy suddenly looked up. ‘What the hell?’
‘Oops?’ Gabby giggled.
Gabby gingerly edged towards the window again and peered over the ledge, then waved a hand. ‘Oh, don’t worry, it’s only Jasmine.’
Ivy rolled her eyes and dropped her phone on to the bed.
Gabby splashed gin into both glasses and handed one to Ivy. ‘Here’s to little sisters.’
Ivy laughed. ‘I’ll get it in the neck later, you know.’
Gabby slugged the gin back in one. ‘Ivy, you need to stop.’
‘You threw it, and besides, it was only water. I’m sure she’s not scarred for life.’
Gabby shook her head. ‘Ivy, the TikTok account. You need to close it. You’re hurting people.’
Ivy gulped her shot back and blinked furiously. ‘How can you say that? You know why I do this.’
Gabby grabbed the bottle by the neck and dropped on to the floor beside Ivy, pouring another measure into each glass. ‘He paid for what he did to you. That post went viral like nothing I’ve ever seen.’ She leaned into her friend. Shoulder to shoulder. ‘And all the other girls that came forward after, it was . . .’
The boulder in her throat squeezed the words down, but she fought on. Eased the pathway with another slug of clear liquid. ‘It was brutal and brilliant at the same time. Those boys didn’t know what was coming or what the hell had happened. To see them so defenceless, to watch them as their power was stripped away . . . It was so cool, and I was there for it.’ Hot tears pricked at the back of her eyes. Gabby didn’t dare look at Ivy now.
‘You did that, Ivy. You took your power back, and you took back the power for all those girls and gave it to them.’ The words were a whisper now.
The bottle clinked as she poured another shot. Ivy shook her head.
‘But it changed. You changed, and you never noticed.’
‘Is this about—’
‘It’s about you!’ Gabby shouted.
Ivy’s eyes widened.
‘You can’t see what you’re doing. How you’re hurting people. You’re doing this for fun now. Please, you have to stop.’
Ivy brought the phone up to her chest like a shield and wrapped her arms around herself as though it could protect her. Her face was pale; tears were running down her cheeks. ‘You have no idea what it’s like to be hurt that way by a boy. You’re strong. You’d never hide behind a keyboard, because you’d never let it to get to that point, and if it did, you’d kick their arse. I’m not like unbreakable you, Gabby.’
Gabby’s phone vibrated in the pocket of her shorts. She fished it out and read the text. ‘My mum. I have to go.’
She finished what was left in her glass, actually feeling a little unbreakable as the alcohol buzzed lightly through her system. She’d drunk more when one of their group had a house party at the weekend. She leaned down and hugged her friend, nose pressing into the top of Ivy’s head, which smelled of coconut and holidays. ‘You’re as powerful as you want to be. You get to choose.’
Gabby’s phone vibrated again. The name mummy flashed on the screen. ‘Someone’s having a hissy. I have to go.’ She walked to the bedroom door.
‘Is Toby okay?’
Gabby shrugged. ‘Fine, the last time I saw him. He’s just being a baby.’
‘He had an operation.’
‘His tonsils out, Ivy. It’s nothing. Snip, snip.’ Gabby laughed as she made scissors with her fingers before opening the door.
A deep bass thundered down the landing from Theo’s bedroom, Ivy’s older brother. ‘It’s time to shut that account down, Ivy. Come on, bestie, end that profile. Live your best life with me. Catch up with you up later. Love you, see you soon.’ She blew Ivy a kiss and skipped down the wide curving stairway, oblivious to the events that would follow.
It was over. Or that was how everyone not personally involved, perceived a moment like this.
How was she supposed to feel, though? As Claudia put one foot in front of the other, towards the heavy oak double doors of court three, she couldn’t pin down a single emotion. She’d expected to be overrun with them at this point, overwhelmed by the final judgement. Sobbing in a heap, elated, furious. But as she neared the doors and escape, Claudia couldn’t tap into herself at all.
She was numb.
Families shuffling out of the courtroom behind her were quietly in tears. There was nothing done with any volume in the court building. Work was carried out in a revered hush. Relatives hugged one another, offering mutual support. It had been an emotionally, hard-won verdict.
There was still sentencing to get through, but finally, after putting them through the pain of a lengthy three-week trial, it had taken a jury of his peers only a single day to find Samuel Tyler guilty.
At the end, he’d screamed and shouted at those who’d judged him. Then looked directly at Claudia as the court officers led him away, protesting his innocence at the brutal murder of her stepmother, Ruth Harrison.
It was over. She could forget it all. Everything she’d been through. This was the poison that had been hanging over all their heads. Time to move on, move forward.
Her dad, pushed on one of the doors and, with a quiet swoosh, it glided open. Claudia walked into the wide carpeted corridor, leaned back on the wall with a sigh and watched.
Her father waited with his hand on the door to allow everyone through. He was thanked with a discreet nod, a pat on the shoulder and even something as small as a blink from the most exhausted of the victim’s family members. Finally he released the door and walked over to where she waited for him, arms wrapped protectively around her body.
The families of Samuel Tyler’s victims huddled in the corridor. Claudia understood why they were here and hadn’t immediately rushed out. To leave would be to say it was all over and they had to move on with their lives. Staying meant they were still immersed in their lost loved one’s life. Plus, the press was waiting outside the courthouse doors. No one wanted to face that, Claudia included — and she was somewhat used to them.
Samuel Tyler was shrouded by infamy. He’d killed several women, before finally kidnapping, and killing undercover police officer Ruth Harrison. Spurred on, apparently, by a childhood trauma he believed he was putting right. He was a dangerous man and Claudia hoped the guilty verdict brought these families some peace. The sentencing, in a few weeks, would put an end to everything.
She looked to her father, who was also watching the families. His hands were in his pockets and his shoulders loose.
‘You okay?’ she asked.
He turned to face her. ‘It’s over, Claudia. He’s finally going to pay for what he’s done. I’m more than okay.’
So why was she so out of kilter? It was as though she were watching everyone else here from a distance.
Her dad touched her arm. ‘How are you?’
Claudia shrugged. ‘It’s been a long time coming.’ Murder investigations and the trials that followed were a legal process that dragged on. The system was not built for speed. It was archaic and had never moved with the times. It was one set of actions after another, with weeks and months between each, once it hit the court circuit. These families, of which she and her dad were one, had waited a long time for this verdict. Maybe that was why she felt so detached.
She was used to being here as the Senior Investigating Officer, supporting families going through this and providing information and understanding. Yet what real understanding had she really known, up until this point? Being here now, she realised she’d blundered through these very same situations in different cases, offering what she thought were words of comfort and support, but really were cold, hard sentences filled with nothing but protocol.
Now she was intimate with this side of the judicial system in a way she wouldn’t wish on anyone.
‘But it’s over; we can move on.’ Her father’s gaze fixed on her. There was something intense in his stare, as though he were trying to convey some hidden meaning.
Claudia returned her attention to the other families. They were moving away. Returning to their lives, away from the courthouse. Away from the terror of facing a murderer every day. She should probably do the same.
Her father was still watching her.
‘Dad?’ They had a strained relationship at times. Regardless of their relationship status, they had to be there for each other through this. Ruth was family. They both hurt with her loss.
Her dad blinked. Rubbed his face. ‘I’m sorry. Tired, is all. I think I need a walk. Clear my head.’ He looked around the corridor. It was empty now, other than a familiar face striding towards them. ‘Do you mind?’
She didn’t mind at all. In fact, she could do with the space herself. If he’d needed her after this, she’d have been there for him in a heartbeat. But in all honesty, she was glad he wanted to walk it off alone.
‘No, it’s fine. Go. Call me if you need anything, yes?’
He placed his hand on her shoulder. ‘Of course. Thank you for being there through all this, Claudia. You know I couldn’t have got through it without you.’
She nodded, words failing her.
Maddison Sharpe, her DCI, walked up to them. ‘How are you both?’
‘You’ll have to excuse me. I’m just leaving,’ said her father. He turned and, without another word, left Claudia and Sharpe alone in the corridor.
‘Is he okay?’ Sharpe asked.
‘It’s been a lot to process.’
‘I’m sure.’ Sharpe shoved a hand in her bag, and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
There was no point telling her boss she couldn’t smoke in here. She was well aware.
‘Fancy a stroll outside?’
Claudia allowed herself to be propelled towards the exit, the way the families of the other victims had already gone. To run the gauntlet through the melee of press. It had to be done at some point. If not now, then when?
Sharpe pulled a single cigarette out and returned the pack to her bag. Claudia hated the smell of cigarette smoke, but always seemed to find herself in the vicinity of Sharpe when she had one lit. It was surprising how often her own clothes smelled of smoke, for a non-smoker.
As they approached the glass doors in a companionable silence, Claudia saw the huddle of reporters. Her dad had forced his way through, as had all the other families. They were packing up, believing everyone had gone. Cameras were being loaded into safety bags. The reporters had their backs to the doors, chatting to one another as they gradually moved away.
Sharpe held her arm out across Claudia like a barrier. ‘Give them a minute.’
They waited until eventually the pavement was empty. One minute, it had been filled and raucous, and the next, as if it had never happened.
They opened the doors into the cold fresh air of early March. Spring was in sight, but winter wasn’t yet giving up its fight for dominance. The day was clear and blue, but the temperature low and frosty.
Claudia pulled her coat tighter around herself and wrapped her scarf around her neck.
Sharpe lit the cigarette in her hand. Smoke drifted into the air. ‘Albie’s for a coffee?’
Claudia couldn’t think of anything better than a hot drink right now. Though one with a nip of something stronger in it wouldn’t go amiss. ‘Are you back at work after this?’
‘Yes, but don’t worry about that. Connelly’s in, and they have my number if the wheel comes off.’
Claudia’s team was fairly new, created to investigate more complex cases than usually came through the door, thereby freeing up time for the Major Crime teams. But they’d run a few cases together now, and in that time, they’d all grown close. Her people would not allow the wheel to come off, no matter how depleted they were today, with her and her father here at court and Russ still off sick.
Traffic rumbled past as they walked quietly, each in their own world, towards Albie’s coffee shop. Claudia shoved her hands in her pockets and hunched her shoulders up to her ears in an attempt to keep warm. She’d be glad when spring did actually show its face. She’d had more than enough of the winter now.
The independent coffee house was close to the court. It had a friendly ambience, and was well-liked by police and solicitors alike. After ordering drinks and a croissant each, they settled themselves in the corner. Claudia noticed Sharpe also instinctively sat facing the door. It was the cop in them. Being aware of their surroundings.
‘So, how are you?’ asked Sharpe, as she broke the end off her croissant and popped it into her mouth, her brightly polished nails glinting from the strip lighting overhead.
How honest should she be, to the woman who had some control over her work life? Show too much of her inner feelings, and Sharpe could think her incompetent. Be too stone-like, and Sharpe would know she was glossing over everything, and would just push more. Bloody woman.
‘Glad it’s over,’ she said.
Sharpe took a sip of her coffee. ‘I imagine. But that doesn’t tell me how you’re feeling, does it?’ Her focus was laser-like now, and Claudia’s skin heated up under the pressure.
She stared at her own untouched croissant. ‘A little detached. Like I should have all sorts of emotions, but they’re just not there and I’m not sure why.’
A small bell over the door tinkled, and both Claudia and Sharpe turned their attention to the man who’d come in. In his twenties, he had a large shoulder bag slung across his body. His hair looked like he’d jumped straight out of bed. There were some lads who spent hours creating the style, but this lad had the dishevelled appearance of a student, which made her think it was genuine. He made his way to the counter. Ordered a coffee and sat at the long high bench that ran along the front window, where he pulled out his laptop and started work. Definitely a student. Sheffield was a university city. It was difficult to walk five minutes within the city centre and not bump into a student.
Sharpe turned her attention back to Claudia, pulled away another piece of croissant and held it above her plate. ‘And Dominic?’ Straight back to topic, without missing a beat. This time the subject was her father.
Claudia stifled a sigh. The woman was relentless. ‘He seemed okay. Like this was the end of it. Which it is. But yes, he’s okay. Like I said, glad it’s over.’
‘Keep up the work with your therapist.’
Claudia didn’t respond.
‘Are you still staying with friends?’
Claudia thought of her blackened house. Her home. ‘No. I’ve moved into a rental because of the size of the job. The fire caused so much damage that once I had someone come in to assess it, it became clear I’d be living elsewhere for a long time. The structural stuff needed dealing with first: trusses, floors, load-bearing walls. Then the whole building needs rewiring from scratch.’ Claudia sighed again and ran a hand through her hair, sure it resembled a crow’s nest after the day she was having. Maybe even as bad as the lad in the window. She hoped not. ‘Basically, they’re building a new house. It’s a good job it’s a detached property and no one else’s home was damaged.’
Sharpe’s croissant was close to finished. Claudia had no idea how the woman stayed so slim. Mind you, Sharpe was known to leave work late in the day in her gym gear. Exercise probably counted for a lot. Claudia was a runner. It helped with the stress of the job. She’d been doing a lot of running of late.
‘I’m just glad you came out of it in one piece. Even if you needed a little recovery time.’
Was she really in one piece? The last year had been hard on all of them. It was a miracle any of them were still functioning.
She’d drifted off. ‘Sorry. In my own head.’
Sharpe shoved the last piece of croissant into her mouth. Waited until she’d chewed and swallowed it before she spoke again. ‘You don’t have to be afraid anymore, Claudia.’
She snapped to attention then. ‘I’m not afraid. What do I have to be afraid of? I’m a serving police officer. A detective inspector.’
How true was this? What did she have to be afraid of? Who was she convincing? Herself or Sharpe?
In response, Sharpe eyed up the croissant that lay untouched on Claudia’s plate. ‘Are you eating that?’
Claudia shook her head. Sharpe lifted the pastry and, again, broke the narrow end off and pushed it into her mouth. Claudia picked up her coffee, put the mug to her lips. It was hot to the touch, and the familiar scent under her nose was soothing.
‘Look,’ said Sharpe, finally, ‘You’ve been waiting for this verdict for a long time. Tyler has denied killing Ruth this whole time. You must have feared a not-guilty verdict on her murder, if not the others, no matter the level of evidence against him. The tension you and Dominic have carried must have been enormous. That’s all I’m saying.’
Sharpe paused there, glancing away, then back. ‘You can let it go. Tyler is gone. You don’t have to attend his sentencing if you don’t want to. He’s going down for a very long time. You and Dom can live your lives. You don’t need to be afraid he’ll get away with it anymore.’
Claudia rubbed her head, emotions a tangle in her entire body. Sharpe talked sense. It was all true. She should feel a sense of calm and freedom, and yet she didn’t. Nothing was making sense, and she couldn’t put her finger on it. ‘You’re right. Though I might attend his sentencing. The final nail and all that.’
The croissant was disappearing fast. ‘I get that. Do what you need to. You always have my support.’
Claudia leaned back in her chair, coffee in hand, and considered Samuel Tyler, the man who had been convicted of killing her stepmum and best friend. Her unease was confusing her more. Why wasn’t she elated with the guilty verdict?
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Let me know in the comments. I can promise things are going to get difficult for everyone concerned in COLD HARD TRUTH. The tension is rising…
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