A week and a half until The Hocus Girl is published in the UK.
Yes, I do believe it’s a good book, one of my very best (if you want to know, I feel it’s up there with Cold Cruel Winter, At The Dying of the Year, The Tin God, The Leaden Heart, and The Year of the Gun). It brings real depth to the characters, which you can never do with the first book in a series; at that point, you’re still getting to know them yourself. But Jane in this book…I knew from The Hanging Psalm that she was someone special, but in this she blooms…well, you’ll have to read the book and see, won’t you?
And…BIG BIG NEWS…to put the icing on the week, the publisher has said they’ll be putting out the third book with Simon Westow and Jane at the end of September 2020 (hard to believe such a time exists!). It’s called To The Dark.
Meanwhile, have two more brief extracts from The Hocus Girl to push you to buy it/reserve from the library.
As he walked back towards Leeds, Simon sensed someone behind him. Trying to be quiet and doing a piss-poor job of it.
Close to Lady Bridge the path curved, the bushes at the side growing thick and wild. For a handful of seconds, he’d be out of sight. That was long enough. Simon slipped the knife from his sleeve.
By the time the man appeared, head moving from side to side in confusion, Simon was hidden from view. He loosened a second knife in his boot. Give it another few moments. Long enough for the follower to grow frustrated.
Screened behind the leaves, Simon held his breath. A broad, hulking man with a vicious expression was staring this way and that. A club dangled from his belt, next to his knife. Very likely another weapon or two hidden on his body.
The man turned, eyes searching, then stared at the road beyond the bridge. Lady Lodge stood alone, surrounded by a field and a hedge before the hill rose towards a row of half-built houses.
Simon eased himself out from the branches, tensed then dashed forward. Just five paces, but he was moving fast enough to send the man sprawling as he caught him behind his thighs.
The man tried to turn. Before he could struggle, Simon was on him, kneeling on his back, the edge of his blade against the side of his neck as he searched him. Two knives and the club. Simon tossed them into the beck. It had only taken three seconds, and the rush of it left his breathing ragged.
‘I don’t like people following me.’
‘Why are you doing it?’
‘Orders.’ The man’s voice was stifled in the dirt. Simon grabbed him by the hair.
Now he knew who this man was. The magistrate’s bodyguard. Whittaker, the former government man.
‘And why does Mr Curzon care what I do?’
‘You’ve been asking questions about his case.’
‘Is that a crime now?’
‘It is if you try to stop justice.’
‘No, Mr Whittaker.’ He felt the man stir at the mention of his name. ‘I’m trying to stop an injustice. You’re going to go back and tell your master that.’
Whittaker snorted. ‘Do you reckon that’ll be the end of it? He’ll give up and apologize because you’re not happy? He’s more powerful than you’ll ever be.’
‘That doesn’t mean he’ll always win. You might want to remind him of that.’ He felt the man tense under him, ready to try and move. ‘Don’t,’ Simon warned. He pressed the steel hard against Whittaker’s neck. ‘I’ll have you dead before you even reach your knees.’
‘We’ll be seeing each other again.’
‘I daresay we will.’
‘Next time things be different.’
‘We’ll find out about that, won’t we?’ He rose swiftly, standing back with his knife ready. ‘Your weapons are in the water. The current won’t have carried them far.’
Simon walked away, alert, ready for Whittaker to chase after him. But he didn’t come.
Curzon had set his dog to warn Simon off. If his case was so strong, why would he need to do that?
She needed him to follow her to the churchyard. She’d be waiting there, waiting for him.
The man was twenty paces behind her, she judged. Even in the crowd she could pick out the rhythm of his feet as he followed her. She’d have plenty of time to prepare.
Jem was over by the wall, sitting and watching. He stirred as he saw her. Jane gave him a small sign: stay there, don’t move. Then she stood, as if she was slightly lost, waiting for someone. The knife was concealed in her hand.
Whittaker came up behind her. He probably thought he was quiet, but to her ears, he might as well have been an army on the move. He was close when she turned, and for the smallest moment his step faltered. Then he was on her, leering, his eyes hungry.
‘So you’re Westow’s little slut. People tell me you’re dangerous. There’s nothing to you.’
His hand moved, cupping her breast, fingers squeezing so hard that the pain shot through her. It shocked, it hurt, but Jane didn’t let her face betray a thing. One second, two and then three. Just long enough for him to think her had her cowed. The hilt of the knife rubbed against her gold ring as she let it slide in her fingers. Her right hand shot up and the blade carved a line down his cheek.
He jumped back as if he’d been burned, raising his hand to his face and bringing it down to stare in disbelief at the blood.
‘You bitch!’ he shouted.
Jane didn’t move. She stood with the knife in her hand. Her voice was quiet and calm, hardly more than a whisper.
‘I’m going to kill you,’ she told him. ‘For Henry.’
She took a step forward and Whittaker retreated, still pressing a hand to his face. Blood seeped through his fingers, dripping down his neck to stain the white of his shirt.
He kept moving, watching her until there was enough distance for him to turn his back and walk off.
She’d bested him. Humiliated him. He wouldn’t let this rest. He couldn’t; he was a man. Jane knew that before she began, but she didn’t care. The next time, though, he’d be cautious. He’d be slow. That didn’t matter. She’d do exactly as she promised.
‘Did he hurt you?’ Jem had run across as soon as it was safe.
‘He tried.’ She could still feel Whittaker’s touch on her body. Her breast ached. The mark of his fingers would show in a few hours. The hurt went deeper in her, to her core. She wouldn’t forget and she’d never forgive. ‘But I hurt him more.’ She turned to the boy. For now she’d put it out of her mind; there would be time to think about everything tonight. ‘Have you found the man with the limp?’