Grace Dearden is a woman so beautiful and virtuous that no one would dare question her excellence or standing in the community. When Grace disappears—seemingly evaporating into the eerie Norfolk marshes—and police investigations fail to find her, her husband, Will, enlists the help of longtime friend and criminal lawyer Alexandra O’Neill—who will stop at nothing to uncover the secret of Grace Dearden’s disappearance.
A tale of politics and scandal, adultery and betrayal, this thriller—perfect for fans of Gone Girl—delights in unlocking a deep family secret that has plagued the Deardens for years.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
A Dark Devotion
By Clare Francis
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1997 Clare Francis
All rights reserved.
A familiar three-rap knock and the smooth untroubled face of Sturgess appeared around the door, bringing the drift of raucous voices in his wake. 'Champagne's flowing, Alex.'
I looked at my watch, though I knew what time it was. 'I'll be along in a moment, Gary.'
'Fantastic result, eh!'
I said, 'Fantastic is one word.'
Sturgess hovered in the doorway, unable to contain his jubilation. 'You should have seen the faces of the other side.' Sturgess was newly qualified and still young enough to be elated by the drama and ruthlessness of a court victory.
Giving up thoughts of more work, I capped my pen and sat back in my chair. 'Very lucky with the jury, from what I hear.'
'Lucky? Ah, but doesn't a good defence create its own luck?' he beamed, quoting one of my own maxims back at me.
'That's one view.'
'In the sense of forcing the best result.'
'The hacks had us at two to one against.'
This was probably what I would have offered too, from what I had heard of the case. 'Yes, they usually get it wrong.'
'Two to one,' Sturgess laughed jauntily. 'Just goes to show how out of touch they are, the press. No allowances for the jury's sense of fair play.'
'No allowances, perhaps, for how little the jury knew of our client or his history.'
Sturgess hesitated, uncertain of the spirit in which I had offered this remark. 'Well, that's only right and proper, isn't it?'
'It's the only system that protects the maximum number of people on the greatest number of occasions. There's a difference somewhere.' I gave a sudden grin. 'One day you must remind me what it is.'
Taking this as a joke, Sturgess laughed again before heading back towards the party. We had hired Sturgess not so much for his qualifications, which were distinctly average, but for his keen ambition and South London background, which had taught him lessons impossible to glean from any textbook. He understood instinctively that in criminal practice victory counts for everything and justice for little. Whatever reservations I might try to plant in his mind, he would never lose sight of his main function as a solicitor, which was to promote and defend his client's interests with single-minded determination.
I reviewed my notes for Monday and, gathering the files I would need for the weekend, squeezed them into my briefcase. Rising stiffly, I went to the mirror that hung inside the tall document-cabinet by the door. On the shelf below the mirror were laid out, in precise arrangement, my comb, clothes brush, powder and lipstick. I couldn't remember when the order of these objects had taken on such permanence, it must have been a year or two ago, but the sight dismayed me suddenly and, finishing my hair, I jumbled everything up.
The lipstick seemed garish on my lips, or maybe my skin was particularly pale. The result appeared too harsh, at any rate. I looked tired, and the lines at the corners of my eyes seemed more conspicuous. For no apparent reason I thought: In just over five years I'll be forty. Following fast on this came other more unwelcome thoughts to do with biological clocks and babies and the family it seemed Paul and I would never have.
At that moment I would have given a great deal to go home to a hot bath and some reading unconnected with the law. It had been a very long week, full of small frustrations and nagging anxieties. But my absence would be noticed, not least by Paul, who would want to know if I were ill, or what else was troubling me, and who would find tiredness an odd excuse.
Our office manager Corinthia was still at her desk in the next room, leafing through a thick wedge of documents while she relayed details into a phone jammed against her shoulder. As I looked in she picked up a message slip and waved it at me.
Please call your brother, it said, and gave Edward's number in Norfolk. I mimed a query. Corinthia shook her head: no more information. We exchanged a look that contained both history and understanding. Corinthia had two brothers who were also quite a bit younger than she was, who'd also had a shaky youth. In the past both of us had known what it was like to receive phone calls asking for money or help, and, though Edward had been settled, not to mention prosperous, for three years now, I couldn't quite shake off the suspicion that he must be calling because he needed something.
I went back to my room and dialled Wickham Lodge. I still thought of the house as Aunt Nella's, I still pictured it as it had been during her long and idiosyncratic occupation, with its dark cluttered spaces, its worn mahogany floors and musty guest rooms that saw no guests, its ancient kitchen with cracked quarry tiles, large stone sink and baskets of wet spaniels.
Edward answered at last. 'Wickham.'
'The way you say that, it sounds like your name.'
'Well, why would I give my name? Either they're calling here or they're not. And if they are calling here, they'll get me, won't they?'
I didn't suggest that they might also get Edward's long-standing girlfriend Jilly, since their relationship followed a mysterious cycle of abrupt estrangements and unannounced reconciliations, so that no one ever knew whether Jilly was in a state of grace or banishment, or being tolerated in small doses.
'How are you?' I enquired, knowing the sort of reply I was likely to get.
'Oh, bloody roof's leaking. The next job, I suppose. This place sucks up money like a sponge.'
Since inheriting Aunt Nella's estate, Edward had been well-off, by some standards rich. A new roof was hardly going to break him. 'But otherwise?'
'Oh, okay, I suppose,' he growled. 'Listen, umm ...' His tone was grudging, as though he blamed me for forcing the subject on him. 'I finally got those papers from that dozy solicitor in Falmouth. The statements from Pa's bank. It's just as I thought. Well, no, worse, actually. Far worse.'
I perched on the edge of the desk, reconciled to a trying conversation. 'In what way?'
'In the amount missing, of course. It's thousands more than I thought. In fact, the total is over a hundred thousand. Over a hundred, Lex.'
'Look, Ed, if Pa wanted to spend that money then he must have had his reasons. I really don't think it's any business of ours.'
'But it was our inheritance!' he declared stiffly, and his anger was directed as much at me for failing to grasp the magnitude of the offence as at our father for failing to deliver everything he felt he was entitled to.
I said, 'If he'd wanted us to have it then he would have left it to us in his will.'
'But supposing he meant to. Supposing that money's just lying around in an account somewhere. It could lie there for ever.'
'I doubt that very much. People come forward. There are always records somewhere.'
But Edward was too firmly determined on his course to take notice of rational argument. 'I need your signature,' he announced uncompromisingly.
'A request for full disclosure from the Falmouth solicitors. They have to give it to us under some law of probate. I checked.'
I thought: Yes, I'm sure you did. 'But they don't have to disclose anything that doesn't directly relate to Pa's estate,' I pointed out, drawing on my limited memory of probate.
'Well, if this doesn't relate, then what the hell does?' His impatience was petulant and fiery, like a clever child despairing of dim adults. For Edward, this wasn't about cash, this was about reparation, about the unyielding sense of aggrievement he felt against Father, with whom he'd had a brittle and uneasy relationship, and I backed down, as I usually did, partly through a lingering guilt at having failed Edward in some obscure way, partly because it was simply much easier to give in to him. 'Okay, send it on to me.'
He rang off with a grunt, and I reflected that my brother managed to work on my emotions more surely than anyone I knew.
A bellicose guffaw greeted me as I slipped into the party. Our victorious client, Mr Ronnie Buck, was standing beside Paul, laughing expansively. He was an ox of a man, broad-boned and squat, with a plump face, pasty skin and small yellowing teeth. Laughter made his cheeks bulge and his eyes crease up, though not so completely that he didn't register my arrival as I walked in.
Accepting a glass of champagne that I didn't really want, I looked up to see Paul waving me over. 'You've met my wife, haven't you, Ronnie?'
'I have indeed had that pleasure.' Buck inclined his head and thrust out a hand which was thick and square yet smooth as a woman's. 'Mrs O'Neill. Your husband has done me proud today. And the rest of the team, of course.'
'It was a good win.'
'It was a great win,' Buck corrected me, so firmly that it was almost a rebuke. 'Though it has to be said that we had the occasional moment, didn't we?' He raised a lazy eyebrow at Paul.
Playing the game, Paul blew out his cheeks in a theatrical display of relief. 'We did indeed, Ronnie. I won't pretend we didn't. There's no such thing as certainty in this business.'
'Well, if you were worried you put a good face on it, Paul. A bloody good face.'
Paul gave a delighted chuckle. His glass was empty, I noticed, and, though the champagne couldn't have been open for more than fifteen minutes, I found myself wondering how many glasses he'd managed to consume in that time.
Buck turned back to me with a smile that was both facile and guarded. 'I was just saying to Paul, the two of you must come and join us in Spain. We're near Marbella. Guest suite, pool, girl who cooks proper nosh – the lot. You'll love it.' I imagined that this was Buck at his most personable, the man of property and largesse.
For form's sake I glanced towards Paul, although there was never any question of what our answer would be. 'Thanks,' I said, 'but we're overwhelmed with work at the moment.'
'Just a weekend!' he urged. 'Out on the Friday, back on the Sunday. My office will organize it all. Tickets, cars – you won't have to worry about a thing.'
Seeing that Buck was someone who liked to get his way, I left Paul to answer this.
'Bit tricky at the moment, Ronnie. A lot of work. But we'll keep it in mind.' He signalled across the room to Sturgess to refill our glasses, though his was the only one empty. 'If things ease up ...'
'Make time! That's the secret of life, believe me!' And now there was an edge of insistence to Buck's good humour. 'Come on. You deserve a break.'
Paul hesitated and caught my eye. Following his gaze, Buck looked at me to see if I was creating difficulties.
'Maybe at Easter,' I heard Paul say, and it was all I could do to keep the astonishment out of my face.
'Easter, then! Excellent.' Congenial again, Buck said to me, 'I'll be taking the family straight out there tomorrow morning. We can't wait – you can imagine. It'll be the first time in a year that we'll have been able to sleep soundly in our beds.'
'Oh?' I queried with a show of innocence. 'Why is that?'
'The police harassment,' Paul interjected quickly, with a small admonishing smile which told me I was at risk of sounding gravely ill-informed.
'Ah,' I murmured. 'I had no idea they'd given you such a hard time. I thought —'
Catching the dangerous note in my voice, Paul interrupted brightly, 'Somehow I don't imagine they'll be in a hurry to bother you again, Ronnie.'
'They'd better bloody not, eh?' Ronnie Buck lifted his glass in an ironic toast, and I thought of the young policeman who'd been attacked so mercilessly and left brain-damaged, and the bitterness and betrayal his colleagues must be feeling after what, for them, must have been an incomprehensible verdict.
Sturgess arrived with a fresh bottle and began to refill our glasses.
'You weren't in court to see our great moment?' Buck asked me.
'No. Paul and I work separately. We don't get involved in each other's cases.'
'Really? Not even when it's a big one?'
Taking a long gulp from his recharged glass, Paul turned away to speak to someone else, but not before casting me a look that contained a glint of warning.
'Not even then,' I replied. 'It's a matter of time and efficiency as much as anything else.'
Buck's steady eyes regarded me unblinkingly. 'You do the same sort of work, though?' I wasn't sure if he was trying to get my measure or to establish my status in the firm's hierarchy or both.
'I take on quite a bit of family work,' I explained. 'Child custody cases and so on. But I do pure crime, too.'
'Pure crime. I like that.' He creased his face to show he could appreciate even the subtlest humour. 'But family work? Won't be bothering you on that score, glad to say.' More relaxed now, confident of my relative insignificance, he glanced across the room to a tall tightly dressed blonde dragging on a cigarette, and joked heavily, 'Tracy and I have been married twenty years and every time I try to trade her in for a younger model she gets herself all tarted up and sees them off.'
I didn't smile, although I knew it would count against me. 'Goodbye, Mr Buck. Congratulations again.'
His face took on a surly look as though I had just confirmed his most uncharitable suspicions of me. "Bye then, Mrs O'Neill.'
I would have turned away then but he put out his hand once more. Shaking it, I wondered if it was the hand that had held the baseball bat used to bludgeon the young officer, or whether Buck had delegated the task to the man described as his driver.
Moving off rapidly, I decided that Buck was probably the type to keep his distance, that he would regard punishment and retribution as an administrative matter, to be enforced by the most proficient person who, with his soft beer belly and smooth hands, was unlikely to be Buck himself. A Herod rather than a Genghis.
Ronnie Buck had begun his career as a security-van robber, for which he had served five years, and quickly progressed to drug wholesaling with a sideline in pornography, for which he had served no time at all to date. This career move had earned him what the press described as a 'spacious home set amid fortified grounds' in a green suburb of south-east London. It was into these grounds, according to the evidence Paul had submitted in Buck's defence, that the young officer, DC Tony James, had climbed uninvited one dark night the previous October, thereby committing trespass and opening the way to Buck's plea of self-defence. Mrs Tracy Buck had given evidence for her husband, describing her terror at the sight of this prowler, and how as a result of her screams Buck and his 'driver' had grabbed a baseball bat and rushed out to investigate. On entering a dark shrubbery the two men had been alarmed by a menacing figure who appeared to be on the point of attacking them, and felt they had no choice but to defend themselves. Both had stated in evidence that they were 'absolutely horrified' to discover they had struck a police officer. Buck himself had called the ambulance and, according to Mrs Buck, had been reduced to tears by the incident. The thought of Ronnie Buck producing tears stretched everyone's imagination to breaking point, certainly mine.
Draining the champagne, I picked up another glass and joined a circle of younger staff. The banter was witty and elaborate: at any other time I would have entered the fray, but in my preoccupied mood their jokes were too quick for me and I soon lost track. The champagne tasted metallic and sour in my mouth, several of the juniors were smoking heavily, and without warning my nerves tautened, it became an effort to breathe and I made for the door. Corinthia touched my elbow. 'You all right, Alex?'
'I'm just slipping away.' I remembered that I had come in to work with Paul that day and had no car. 'Tell Paul I've made my own way home, would you?'
'Shall I get you a cab?'
'No, I'll walk. I need the air.'
'Walk?' She gave a giggle of disbelief. 'Are you sure?'
'Absolutely.' I was longing for the sharpness of the night air.
'Shall I tell Paul which way you're going?'
'No. I haven't decided.'
'You certain you're all right? You've been looking a bit tired.'
I managed a smile. 'Nothing the weekend won't cure.'
I was almost out of the building when Sturgess's voice called from the top of the stairs. 'Your briefcase, Alex. Did you want it?'
I was tempted to leave it behind. 'Give it to Paul, would you, Gary? Ask him to bring it home in the car.'
'Anything I can do for you? Find a cab?' He was halfway down the stairs.
Excerpted from A Dark Devotion by Clare Francis. Copyright © 1997 Clare Francis. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
London attorney Alexandra O¿Neil is upset with her husband Paul, also a lawyer, because he has a propensity for defending those who are guilty. For instance, his latest client, Mr. Ronnie ¿lifelong felon¿ Buck nearly killed a cop, but Paul got him acquitted based on a stategey of self-defense. Even worse to Alex is the post-game gala gloat. From her hometown in Norfolk, Will Deardon calls Alex to help him. His wife Grace vanished and the police are looking closely at him as a suspect in the disappearance of his wife. Alex has mixed feelings about taking the case because Will was her first love before he married Grace. However, she also wants him safe and the real perpetrator caught. She travels home to give him legal council only to begin to believe that the man she represents is guilty of a heinous crime. A DARK DEVOTION is a cerebral legal thriller that readers will appreciate, as the tale never loses sight of its prime theme. The audience will ponder the issues of whether everyone, even the guilty, should have proper legal representation and how far should an attorney go to defend their client. Alex is a great lead player and the support cast especially her spouse and client, enable readers to see deeper into moral dilemma. Fans will quickly develop a deep devotion to Clare Francis with works like this one. Harriet Klausner
An interesting whodunnit, based in England. The narrator is Alex O'Neill who works as a lawyer in the city. She has been called by an old friend to help him deal with the disappearance of his wife. To add complications he is the main suspect in the entire affair.Enough twist and turns and divided loyalties to make it very interesting but I really didn't connect with any of the characters much.