A fast-paced mystery set in the cut-throat world of horse-racing: the first in the brand-new Harry Radcliffe series.
Recuperating after a serious accident, not knowing if he’ll ever ride again, champion jump jockey and racing columnist Harry Radcliffe accepts a commission to ghost-write the autobiography of retiring racehorse trainer Elspeth Maudsley. But as he begins to research her family history, it becomes increasingly clear to Harry that there are things Elspeth isn’t telling him about her past. What’s more, a series of threatening incidents, escalating in menace and intensity, begins to convince Harry that someone is determined to stop him writing this book – whatever it takes.
And Harry is about to uncover secrets in his own family’s past too. Secrets that will shake him to his core and ensure that he can never feel certain about anything again.
About the Author
Glenis Wilson was born in Radcliffe-on-Trent, Nottinghamshire, where she lives to this day. She has been a member of the Nottingham Writers’ Club for thirty-five years, and is the author of seven previous novels, published in large print.
Read an Excerpt
By Glenis Wilson
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2015 Glenis Wilson
All rights reserved.
I can remember the brushwood jump rising, wickedly high, in front of us.
I can remember my uprush of exhilaration as Gold Sovereign soared sweetly up and over.
I can remember seeing, briefly, a horse lying on the grass on the far side of the jump, legs thrashing wildly as he sought to regain his feet.
I can remember Gold Sovereign twisting in mid-air as she tried, unsuccessfully, to avoid landing on top of him.
I can't remember any more.
There must be more because now here I am in this hard, high bed facing a blank wall. No long sweep of green turf bathed in golden sunshine stretching away out in front, just a cold, insipid, white wall.
'And that's all you remember?' The white-coated doctor by the side of the bed peered at me over his rimless glasses and scribbled something indecipherable on to his clipboard.
I nodded. And regretted it. Any movement sent out screams of protest around my body. I breathed shallowly and waited for the pain to subside. Deep breaths were out. On its own, that told me I'd got cracked ribs at the very least. But looking down the length of bedcovers, there was a highly suspicious hump of unpleasantness which no doubt concealed a cage. It would be taking the weight off my left leg. A break, possibly, but a tentative wriggle of my toes produced no effect. What then?
I began to sweat.CHAPTER 2
Three days later I had a visitor. He was one of thousands who would have actually witnessed my accident.
'Harry, how're you doing?' It was my best friend from childhood, and, incredibly, still my best friend in adult life. He was also my boss. His concern for my welfare was truly genuine and would also, I know, be tempered by concern for my career prospects and ultimately for his own business. Mike Grantley was a much respected and successful racehorse trainer. As his retained jockey, our partnership had prospered and together we had picked some of racing's beautiful plums. Like the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
'You were totally out of it when I came before – twice, actually.'
'Eh?' I didn't recall any visits.
He grinned, more of a grimace really. 'Morphined-up, you were. In a totally better place.'
'Yeah, guess I should have stayed there.'
'What's this then, Harry? Iron man succumbing to self-pity?'
'Three days ago, Mike, I didn't know the verdict.'
His expression turned grave. 'And now you do.' A flat statement.
'Now I do.'
'Too soon, Harry, far too soon. Oh, I don't doubt the doc's a top man but he's used to patching up your average Joe Soap. And that's something you're not.' He wagged a finger at me. Abruptly he changed the subject. 'Anything I can do in the outside world?'
'Pay my telephone bill. That came before I set off for Huntingdon. Can't risk being cut off.'
He nodded. Neither of us needed to mention the reason why.
'May not be allowed in here.'
'Could you just check any telephone messages that might have come through?'
'Consider it done. If there's anything urgent ... I'll act as proxy, shall I?'
Our eyes met. The message bypassed words but was very clearly transmitted.
'Thanks.' My voice sounded husky but with a suddenly choked-up throat it was the best I could do. A man needed a good friend at times, and never more so than when he was on the canvas. 'And could you check Leo's OK? His cat flap's permanently open and he's frequently away ... on hunting forages for days ...'
'Food or females?'
I grinned faintly. 'Both.'
'That cat's got ninety-nine, he'll survive.'
'Yeah, I know, but ...'
'Stop sweating, of course I'll see him right, might even let him lie on my lap. Supposed to be excellent for stress reduction, aren't they, cats?'
'You, stressed? Give over.'
Mike was the most flow-with-it-all man I'd ever met. I let my gaze travel upwards from my just-above-mattress eye level. Dressed in casual brown slacks, his shirt loosely tucked in at the waist, open-necked, no tie. His face honest, tanned and kind. He had a thick thatch of light sandy hair cut short and blue eyes that twinkled ninety per cent of his waking life. A man you would instinctively trust. He ran a mixed racing yard on the Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border. Right now, it was in-form and doing very nicely. Up to now I'd been an active part of it and happy to be so.
Mike was a good man to have on your side. The only irritating thing about him was the fact he was almost always right. Throw him a challenge and he enjoyed overcoming it immensely. It was one of his main strengths as a trainer. No amount of setbacks riled him. And in horseracing, setbacks were par for the course. He was renowned for saying, 'Whatever the problem, there's always a solution. For a really difficult problem you just have to dig down a lot harder for a lot longer – or go sideways.'
And how I wished he could be right.
Normally, any crisis, his or mine, was bulldozed with vigour.
Like the time his mother sank financially – she was too proud to tell him – and the bailiffs turned up. On Mike's part, a massive overdraft, result instant relief for Mamma.
In my case when Annabel decided she'd had enough of being my wife and gofer (I didn't blame her one bit), and took off with another chap, one with a title to boot, Mike was immediately in there, arm around my shoulders. 'All part of life, Harry. Go hide in your den till the blood stops flowing then come on out to play again.' He'd been dead right then, and I'd endorsed it absolutely.
Now, once again, when I got out of this hospital I'd be taking his advice and heading straight for my own home, or as he described it, my den.
The cottage was a crumbling pile in Nottinghamshire, south of the River Trent. It was truly a peaceful place of safety, my sanctuary in a crazy world. And now Annabel had departed – at least she'd left the cat – one of solitude.
I'd been born there thirty-four years ago, the son of a bricklayer and a cook. I was an only child. My father was killed in a freak gunshot accident whilst out acting as a beater for Sir Percy Minehold, the local landowner. My mother had been distraught. As a couple, theirs had been a wonderfully loving relationship, the kind most people want out of life and don't get.
In her distress, she'd turned to my Uncle George, Dad's only brother. It was a natural reaction. Uncle George and Aunt Rachel only lived a few miles away. George offered solace and sympathy – he was suffering too – and they'd propped each other up.
At sixteen, my head and eyes full of a vision of being the next Willie Carson, my emotional input had been the best I could give, but the state Mother was in, it wasn't nearly enough. I buried my own misery away deep inside. And got on with life. Life at that point was, otherwise, full of hope.
My mother needed someone close at hand, a mature male shoulder upon which to weep it all out. Uncle George comforted himself and her very well, a little too well. My half-sister, Silvie, was born less than a year later.
I dragged my thoughts back to the present and concentrated on what Mike was saying.
'I'm not allowed to be stressed then?' His eyes twinkled kindly at me.
'No, I reckon not. You don't stress, you just bulldoze yourself out of trouble.'
'They've just hiked up the price of fuel. Costs a fortune to fill a bulldozer now. Cheaper if I stress like the rest of humanity.'
I smiled, not widely, but it was expected. He was doing his best to raise my spirits although it would take a forklift right now. I wasn't going to ride again – a gut-wrenching prognosis. But I didn't tell him. Not yet. No sense in both of us lying on the canvas together.
Mike's bulldozer wasn't going to alter anything for me this time.
I hadn't bounced when I hit the turf three days ago and it was for damn sure I wasn't going to bounce back up into the saddle. The doctor's unsentimental, brutally frank diagnosis had been straight facts: cracked clavicle and cracked ribs – I could have told him that myself – severe external bruising, almost certain nerve damage and a shattered patella. I wasn't going to be riding again.
As I'd watched the doctor walk away, it flitted briefly across my mind that my timing in life was seriously out of synchronicity. Had this accident happened two years ago, Annabel would still be with me. But it hadn't and she wasn't. Right now she was a long way away across the ocean on holiday with my lucky successor enjoying the sun and the sights of Malta.
Predictably, outside my ward window, it was stair-rodding down.
Today, what a surprise, it was still pouring with rain.
Mike reached down beyond the dreaded humped bedcovers and retrieved some newspapers from where he'd dropped them on arrival. 'Thought you'd like to keep up with the competition.' They were copies of the Racing Post. 'I mean,' he glanced down at my right hand, 'nothing wrong with your fingers and thumb, right? No excuse for not working then.' And he slid a reporter's notepad and a couple of biros alongside the newspapers.
I wrote, with hair-tugging, lip-biting agony, a weekly column about the vagaries of horseracing for one of the big newspapers. Not my favourite pastime, but one which brought in useful additional coffers to add to my tax returns. At the rate my financial commitments flowed out, a corresponding incoming flow was vital.
'I know I'm not your boss when it comes to your wordsmith activities, but since I'm acting as proxy for everything else at the minute, I thought I'd do my job and keep you doing yours. Well, the one you can do with your feet up as opposed to your boots down in the stirrup irons.'
'You're too kind.'
'Aren't I just.' He grinned. 'So don't get too ecstatic and decide you'll write for a living instead of riding. I've a string of horses back at the stable that need exercise, you know.'
'I know.' Maybe I wouldn't tell him there'd be no more riding. Kinder, perhaps, to let the horrible realization creep up on him gently.
'And,' I hardly dared form the question, 'how's Gold Sovereign?'
'Eating up,' Mike said gently, '... and going out on the gallops.'
I nodded, relief flooding me that she'd got away without serious injury.
'So,' he slid back his chair, 'stop tying up a bed. Somebody really ill needs it.' He stood up. 'I'd better go – let you get back to ogling the pretty nurses. If you remember anything else that needs doing on the outside, just email or text me.'
'Eh? Oh, sorry, out of line ...' He looked chastened. 'Surprising how you get to rely on this modern world's technology.'
'If I need anything important, I'll ring on a prehistoric landline.'
His face lightened. 'That's it. When you've decided, let me know what colour grapes you fancy – red, black ... green ...'
I grabbed for one of the pens and aimed a throw at him.
He made it to the door, went through, closed it. Then opened it again and stuck his head round. He had an odd, uncertain look of concern on his face. He stared at me for a long moment. 'Don't drop your hands.'
I grabbed for the pen and he disappeared quickly. I could hear his footsteps going smartly away down the corridor.
Don't drop your hands – a trainer's instructions to a jockey about to ride a race. Basically, translated, it meant don't stop trying before you reach the finishing post – ride it out, give it all you've got.
I certainly intended to.CHAPTER 3
I'd had a hard morning. As a jockey, I was well used to early starts – they were hard-wired in a way of life. But at least I'd usually had a previous night of total crash-out, deep restorative sleep. This engendered by a day spent in the open air filled with unremitting, relentless physical activity. I did nothing physical in here.
Why is simply lying in bed so tiring? And it isn't the sort of tiredness that begets sleep. The ceaseless twenty-four hours activity of the hospital ensures you're on to a loser in the sweet-dreams stakes. If you do manage to snaffle some shut-eye through total exhaustion in the pre-dawn hours, the ridiculously early start to their day completely does for it.
I'd succumbed to all the indignities inflicted upon me by the diligent nurses, from blood pressure and temperature checks, blood sample taking, needles filled with painkiller inserted into my battered rump through to the dreaded bedpan and catheter bag changes ... you have to be strong to withstand being hospitalized.
Right now I'd lay money on Leo being stronger than me.
Dutifully, because Mike meant so well, I'd scanned the racing pages and attempted a few scribbled lines in the pristine notepad, but superlative script it wasn't.
Finally, frustrated and fed-up – not with food, I couldn't face the sustenance as served up under the guise of meals – I'd flung down the newspapers and notepad and closed my eyes.
I think I must have drifted off, far from harsh reality and my hospital bed, into welcome oblivion because I was dreaming. A beautiful dream that floated me away to happier times.
Annabel was beside me, stroking my face, honeyed words murmuring something low and soothing. Her perfume played seductive games with my olfactory nerves, replaying memories of our exquisite lovemaking, teasing, tempting.
For the first time since coming off Gold Sovereign I felt drowsily happy and content. Annabel was leaning close to me, kissing me tenderly ... But my name was being gently called ... and I stirred, reluctant to awaken and leave the dream behind. My eyelids flickered but the dream was still ongoing. I drifted lightly between sleep and wakefulness.
It was Annabel who whispered my name and I half-opened my eyes and looked up into her lovely face. Maybe they'd given me a hefty dose of painkiller and I was having a great trip.
'Harry ...?' Her lips brushed my own.
Tentatively, I passed the tip of my tongue over my bottom lip. I could taste the slightly oily sweetness of lipstick. Slowly, very slowly, I risked it and fully opened both eyes. This was no trip, no unsubstantial, ephemeral dream. For a moment I found it difficult to breathe, my heart pounding like a farrier's hammer.
'It's not you, is it? I'm hallucinating, yes? Annabel's in Malta.'
'How did you know that?' The voice was Annabel's, undoubtedly.
I lay and stared at her, the woman who held my heart and always would. It was almost worth the fall, the injuries, the grotesque level of pain just to have her sitting beside me – holding my hand because, incredibly, she was.
'But you're in Malta ...' I repeated stupidly, '... with Sir Jeffrey.'
'Aeroplanes make a nonsense of distance.' She smiled at me.
'You've come back especially to see me?' I could barely believe it.
'Just because we're no longer living together as husband and wife doesn't mean I don't care about you.'
'No.' She shook her head gently. 'Of course I still care about you, about what happens to you.'
'Doesn't he object ... to you coming, I mean?'
'He would prefer me to be there with him, but he cares about my emotional state. He knows I'd be as edgy as a cat stroked the wrong way if I didn't satisfy myself you're out of any possible danger. If you can cope ...' Her voice tailed away and I knew she'd been talking to the doctor.
I wasn't ready to talk about the outcome of my fall. I changed the subject. 'Mike's got the cottage keys – he'll let you have them. Take a taxi, charge it to me. Can't guarantee Leo will be there to keep you company, though.'
'Dear Leo. I miss him, too.'
A tiny word, too, but it carried enormous impact.
I swallowed hard trying to hold in the emotion and the betraying hot prickle behind my eyelids. I must be in a pretty lowered state. For goodness sake, what was it Mike had called me – iron man? What a laugh. I suddenly felt very vulnerable.
Annabel, intuitively reading my reaction, bent over her shoulder bag resting on her knee and produced a bag of grapes. 'Green, seedless, they OK?' She knew they would be; she'd remembered my fondness for green grapes.
'Don't tell Mike you've brought me some.'
She frowned. 'Why ever not?'
I smiled. 'His idea of a joke.'
She placed the paper bag on the narrow table across the bed. Then collected up the scattered pages of the racing newspapers, folded them tidily and put them beside the fruit. She picked up the notepad, noted the pathetic few lines of script I'd dredged up.
'Stop beating yourself up,' she said firmly. 'How on earth do you expect to do any worthwhile work in your present state?'
'How do you know I was beating myself up?'
'Because I know you.'
Our eyes met.
'Time enough to think about work when you're well again.'
I inclined my head in acquiescence.
'What about Silvie? Does she know about your accident?'
I shook my head. 'And that's the way it's going to stay.'
She stared at me. 'Do you think that's fair?'
'Fair or not, it's the way I want to play it.'
Annabel sighed. 'She's not a child. I mean, how long is it now before her eighteenth? Three months? Less?'
I nodded. 'About that.'
'She's a lot stronger than you give her credit for, you know.'
'I'm here to be strong for her.'
'I know you are, Harry.' Annabel reached for my hand and squeezed it. 'And you do know you can always count on me where Silvie's concerned, don't you? It hasn't altered my involvement because you and I aren't together. Any help Silvie needs, I'm only too willing to give it.'
Excerpted from Dead Certainty by Glenis Wilson. Copyright © 2015 Glenis Wilson. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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