As we count down the days until the next Sharon Bolton novel (Dead Woman Walking is available in the US on September 5th!), we're thrilled to offer you a sneak peak at Sharon Bolton's most recent short story, “Lacey's Wedding,” which answers the very important question asked at the end of the last Lacey Flint story.
Comment below for the chance to win one of three Dead Woman Walking ARCs, plus the full PDF of “Lacey's Wedding”! If you don't happen to be chosen as a winner, you can visit Sharon Bolton's website, upload proof of purchase of Dead Woman Walking, and you'll receive the full PDF.
Just before dawn in the hills near the Scottish border, a man murders a young woman. At the same time, a hot-air balloon crashes out of the sky. There’s just one survivor. She’s seen the killer’s face—but he’s also seen hers. And he won’t rest until he’s eliminated the only witness to his crime. Alone, scared, trusting no one, she’s running to where she feels safe—but it could be the most dangerous place of all…
Chapter One: The Bride
Mark Joesbury was sweating again. He ran a finger around the inside of his collar and stepped to one side of the pub doorway to get out of the way of the constant flow of people. The car park was almost as crowded as the pub, but at least the air was fresher. He put his untouched pint down and pulled out his cigarettes. It took him a couple of attempts to light up, because his hand was shaking, but then he sucked in like a drowning man, blowing the smoke into the air, watching it disperse over the mass of pleated nylon, feathers and netting. He took another drag.
Mark Joesbury did not smoke.
‘All right, mate?’ Someone Joesbury didn’t know, dressed like he was in a tailcoat and apricot cravat, patted him on the shoulder.
‘Sound,’ Joesbury replied, although the bloke had long since disappeared into the pub. ‘Just needed a fag.’
He dropped the cigarette, lifted his pint to his mouth and misjudged. Swearing to himself, he tried to pull the handkerchief from his breast pocket, only to discover it was fake. A tiny triangle of nylon. Not even real silk. The beer stain on his cravat would stay.
Apricot cravats? How had this happened?
He closed his eyes and summoned up the vision he’d been comforting himself with lately: a Caribbean beach at sunset, a woman with fair hair and the simplest of dresses, because her beauty was the kind that needed no ornamentation. Just the two of them, strangers bearing witness, and the sound of the ocean as they promised to love each other for the rest of their lives.
Not that way. Not today.
He opened his eyes again to see that a plump woman packed into a glistening pink dress at least two sizes too small was practically standing on his toes. Not three feet away, a blonde with orange skin wore a dress the like of which he’d last seen on a cut-price Flamenco doll in Magaluf. Another girl, no more than fourteen, wore a similar creation, which flowed like a blue nylon waterfall down her back. All the women tottered in high, white sandals. All had masses of curly hair held up with diamonds, pearls, feathers.
He looked at his watch. Almost time.
Three miles away, Garry Shaughnessy was standing outside a terraced house, watching a white stretch limousine being packed with apricot froth as the bridesmaids – six of them at the last count – squeezed their way inside. Apricot frills spilled out of an open window and pressed forward into the front seats to surround the grim-faced driver.
Immediately in front of the limousine, the Cinderella carriage, pulled by two white horses, stood waiting. One horse pawed the ground. The other took a dump.
The bride might not be Garry’s blood daughter, but no one could say he hadn’t done right by her. Even if the bridesmaid dresses were secondhand, even if her own dress had been worn before. Two hundred people were expected to pitch up in the small Cumbrian town for the wedding and he was footing the bill. There was a lot riding on this marriage, and no one could say he hadn’t done his bit.
A boy of ten, dressed like Garry in tail-coat and striped trousers, came running up. ‘Gazza, the priest says we’re already half an hour late, so we are, and he can’t hang around for ever because he’s got hospital visiting later.’
The priest would wait as long as he was fucking well told to, but he had a point. Garry said, ‘Go inside, tell her to get a move on.’
The boy, who was known as Skippy, because nobody could remember his real name, collided with Garry’s youngest daughter, Gemma, as he raced inside the house. Gemma was the last of the bridesmaids.
‘Dad, you should go now,’ she said. ‘Then you’ll be at church when we arrive.’
Garry glanced over at the Cinderella carriage. ‘I’m going with the bride,’ he said.
She gave him a pitying look. ‘You won’t fit. Remember, with Ariana there was only room for her and the dress? You had to follow behind?’
He’d forgotten. His older daughter, Ariana, had insisted on the biggest, heaviest dress for her own wedding ten years earlier. It hadn’t been possible to squeeze the two of them into the carriage. He’d walked behind. As had the groom after the service. Today’s bride was wearing the same dress.
‘Where is Ariana?’ he asked, as he walked Gemma to the white limousine.
Lord’s sake, the ruddy car would explode if one more were squeezed inside it.
‘Still upstairs, I think.’ Gemma looked up and down the road. ‘No, her car’s gone. She must have gone ahead to help Mum.’
Skippy had reappeared. ‘She’s on her way down,’ he said. ‘Do I have to go to church, Gazza? Can’t I just wait outside?’
Garry aimed a blow that they both knew was designed to miss. ‘I’m not telling you again,’ he said. ‘Now get yourself down there, and don’t get oil on that suit.’
Skippy sauntered down the path and picked up his bike.
Copyright © 2017 Sharon Bolton.
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Sharon Bolton is a Mary Higgins Clark Award winner and an ITW Thriller Award, CWA Gold Dagger and Barry Award nominee. She lives near London, England. Sharon Bolton was previously published as S.J. Bolton.