Death In The Family
Book 1 of The Heritage is Deadly Series
The Heritage is Deadly Series, Book 1
This publication is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organisations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
Copyright © 2011 by Sophie Duncan
Cover art by Natasha Duncan-Drake
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each reader. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favourite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
Thanks to Tasha, Rob and Mama for all your help, support and the proverbial kick up the arse when I needed it.
Tom charged up the stairs. The slam of the door echoing up behind him was just that little too loud for the headache that was developing behind his eyes. He dumped his dark glasses and keys in the basket on the landing and then reconsidered, because even the few stray beams of summer light that made it onto the windowless landing felt like hot pins digging into his retinas. What he wanted to do was dash up the other two flights of stairs to his bedroom, close the curtains and blast the hell out of some aliens online. However, his pause was his undoing.
"How did it go, Love?" his mum called from the kitchen.
Tom was tempted to growl his answer and still make a run for it, but his mother then appeared in the doorway, wiping her hands on her apron and giving him a concerned little frown. He didn't like worrying his mum: she had been through enough when she'd lost his sister, and so he stopped short of letting out the temper that was threatening. Instead, he just stood there, impotent.
"Didn't get the job?" his mother drew her own conclusions and smiled in the sad, supportive way only mothers could as she offered, "Never mind, there'll be other jobs."
"That's three rejections in five days, Mum," Tom objected. "You'd think I was going for editor of the papers, not some crummy summer work experience. I'm never going to get a job at this rate."
"Cup of tea?" his mum offered, apparently unaware Tom was about to burst with frustration.
Aliens were still calling to Tom, but it had been a rough couple of weeks, what with Denise dumping him at The Leavers' Ball of all places and Macky jetting off to the States to begin his year out before uni. Tea wasn't much of a substitute for either his girlfriend or his best mate, but it spoke to his aching head and the way the heat of the tube had left his throat feeling like ancient parchment, so, after a moment, Tom managed a curt nod. His mother turned immediately and headed towards the Aga and the kettle sitting on it.
Tom plodded into the kitchen and sunk down in his normal chair.
"I know it's not much consolation for you, but if you want to earn some money, there is always space for you at one of the restaurants," his mum continued to offer solace as she filled the kettle.
Tom did not fancy serving drinks or food all Summer at one of his family's eateries, but it was beginning to look more and more likely as his dream of journalism went up in the smoke of 'lack of experience'.
"You could always go freelance," his mother kept trying. "Do a review for one of the restaurants."
"They wouldn't be interested unless we had rats," Tom grumbled and then complained, "How can I get experience if no-one will give me a break?"
With a huff, Tom rested his chin onto his hands and he came nose to cherry with a large gateau on the table. He had been too caught up in his own problems to take much notice of the table, but a small shift of his head and he realised wherever he looked, his eye line was full of cream, cake and chocolate. Brooding wasn't going to help, so, trying to distract himself, Tom slipped easily into a bad American drawl and asked, "What yer bin bakin', Ma?"
Tom glanced over at his mother, who smiled at his effort and, putting the kettle onto the Aga, walked over to the table. Tom sat up and paid a bit more attention to her as she indicated to the one in front of him.
"Cousin Gordon needs a few desserts for the 70's theme nights at Café Bistro," his mum explained and Tom vaguely remembered mention of the new theme for Gordon's part of the Franklin restaurant chain, "and who better than your aging mother to provide?"
His mum was trying to be funny, Tom knew it, but his mood had other ideas.
"You're not old, Mum," he defended.
"Oh my chivalrous knight in shining armour," his mother gushed and hugged him to her hip, landing a kiss on his crown, "always ready to defend my honour. Thank you, Darling, but nowadays I'm more old hag than damsel in distress."
"Don't say that," Tom continued to object, despite his mum's levity: he had been a late child, a replacement for Emma after her death, and he was prickly about those who mistook his mother for his grandmother.
"Alright, alright," his mother patted him on the shoulder and turned back to the array of cakes. "Well, anyway, I've been trying out a few gateaux for the menu."
'A few' was putting it mildly, there were a dozen or more cakes on the table and Tom raised his eyebrows. His mum and Dad and Uncle Peter were mostly retired now, having let his four cousins take over the running of the restaurants, but his mum always liked to get involved from time to time with the culinary side where she could.
"Yes, well," his mum laughed, "I did get a bit carried away, but nostalgia will do that to a gal."
Tom had to smile at his mother trying to sound all jolly-hockey-sticks: he was the only one who normally got away with the bad impressions. The kettle started to whistle then, so Tom was left surveying the creations while his mum made tea. Normally, his stomach would have been rumbling at the sight of so many sweet things, but, as with everything else in the last two weeks, his appetite was also suffering from the stress of his bad luck. However, he was very happy to see a steaming mug of tea placed in front of him and he picked it up with a grateful, "Thanks, Mum."
As he sipped the just-too-hot liquid, he watched his mother as she started with the large creation immediately in front of him.
"Black Forest Gateau," she disclosed what Tom had guessed from the decoration: "a classic, but a favourite."
Tom smiled over his mug and nodded when he was given a glance for his approval. He was far more interested in the tea that was, if not exactly what the doctor ordered in their house, at least a very good substitute, and so he was only half concentrating when his mother continued.
"Then I thought, how about a straight forward chocolate fudge cake; that is timeless and would fit right in."
Tom hummed his agreement and then sipped his tea, it was getting cooler, so he risked a bigger mouthful, savouring the way it lubricated his throat.
"Brandy-soaked satsuma segments and dark chocolate was an old favourite at the pub your dad and I used to run," his mother carried on, oblivious to the fact that Tom was losing interest.
It had been a long few days, Tom hadn't been sleeping well and with the comforting tea, his weariness began to catch up. He listened to the lilt in his mum's voice, the slight West Country twang that she had brought to London with her, and drifted a little. More cakes came and went, but he used more the pauses and intonations to tell when he was meant to offer a vague affirmative than any real knowledge of what was being said. However, the conversation drifted back into his attention when he heard, 'Raspberries and cream. Good flavour, but the pips may get stuck in people's teeth. Still, a good one for your dad's tea.'
"Yeah, he'll like those raspberries for supper," Tom agreed.
His mother's question drew Tom out of his musings and his mother was looking at him slightly strangely. However, when he glanced up at her, she smiled and teased, "Back in the land of the living, are we? Great minds must think alike."
Tom wasn't exactly sure where the quip had come from, but he took it with a confused little shrug and had another sip of tea. The liquid's temperature had dropped to just the other side of right surprisingly quickly, so he gulped the rest of it and put his mug down on the table.
"Well, I have a date with twenty thousand aliens," he finally gave in to the frustration that was still sitting at the back of his mind and went to stand.
"Want to take a piece with you," his mother indicated to the gateau they had just been discussing.
Tom's spirits fell just a little at that and, putting a hand to his stomach, admitted, "Sorry, Mum, I couldn't face it."
"How bad is it?" his mum immediately looked worried.
"It's okay," he hedged a little and fiddled with the S.O.S. bracelet on his wrist that warned of the protein deficiency that neither of them were naming.
"Have you eaten anything today?" his mother checked.
Tom couldn't lie directly to his mum, so he tried to make light of it with, "Not since 3am, but the steak I ate was enough to feed an army."
"Oh, Darling, that's four nights in a row, we should call Dr Cheringham," his mother sounded perturbed.
If he was honest with himself, Tom was also concerned by the close repetition of the nighttime stomach cramps that were symptomatic of his condition. However, he had three more interviews lined up in two days and he did not want a visit to his doctor's Harley Street clinic to get in the way of the outside chances at his dream, so he shook his head.
"It's just stress," he placated, backing towards the door, "I'll be fine by the weekend."
"Have you been sleeping at all?" his mum was not going to give up that easily and her increasing worry was beginning to make him feel uncomfortable.
"Just the odd dream," Tom played down the night-terrors that always accompanied the cramps as his skin crawled with his mother's concern. "It's fine."
His mother said no more, just watched as he slunk out of the room. Taking the stairs to his room two at a time, Tom couldn't help feeling guilty.
Throwing himself into his desk-chair, Tom flicked the mouse with his finger and his two computer screens flashed into life. He would have gone straight for the shortcut to the online game where he wanted to let out his frustrations, but an email notification flicked up in the corner of the screen and he saw the sender: it was Macky, at last something to be happy about. He and Macky had been friends since the first year of prep school, the jokers in the pack. Macky had only been gone a week, but Tom was missing his confidant already and regretting his decision not to go with him.
Quickly, Tom opened the message and clicked the link that was all that was being displayed. Tom grinned as his screen then filled with a frozen image of his best friend, loud shirt and goofy expression in front of what looked like a New York skyline. Another few seconds to download, and then Macky burst into life. The sound of a strong wind whipped across the video microphone and Tom heard a girl’s laugh as Macky looked behind the camera: that didn’t surprise him, Macky was good with the girls.
"Tom, Old Fruit!" Macky began in an atrocious corruption of their public school accent and there were more giggles from behind the camera. "Like the view? Top of the Empire State with my new friends, Emily and Maria!"
The camera swung round, giving a whirlwind view of the Big Apple and then Tom saw two pretty girls waving at him.
"Jammy Bugger," was his succinct opinion, tinged with no little jealousy.
"We're doing some sight-seeing," Macky began again, and the camera swung back to him grinning widely, "before we get going on the Kids In Need programme tomorrow. Missing you already, Mate, there's still time to join us, y'know, Maria is dying to meet you!"
"Mac!" the screech and then a giggle came from behind the camera again.
"How's that journalism thing going, anyway? Got a job yet, or are you waiting tables for your Dad already?"
Tom grimaced: Macky always could hit the nail on the head.
"Call the bloody university and do something different for a year!" Macky yelled at the camera, waggling his head and hands crazily, but the suggestion wasn't so crazy to Tom with his eyes opened to the tough side of London journalism.
Tom watched his friend ape about, jealous and regretful about staying home and wishing that it was more than just a face on a computer screen. He wanted to talk, and Macky would have listened. Macky was the keeper of secrets: he knew the reasons why he had had to stay home from school sometimes, he knew about the dreams the like of which had been keeping Tom awake all week, practically the only person besides his parents and his doctor who shared that knowledge.
"Well, gotta dash, Old Fruit," Macky announced the end of the video with more play acting, and Tom had to laugh, "and, Drac, if the lovely Maria can’t persuade you, nothing can!"
Macky laughed, bowed to the camera and then froze in another wacky pose as the movie stopped playing. Tom stared at the image for a while, musing over the offer. Macky had tried to persuade him all through their exams, but Tom had had his sights set on journalism. He had his place almost guaranteed for Journalism and French, given the predictions his teachers had given him for his A-levels, and he had not wanted to step off the path he had set for himself. Now that path was turning rocky and disappearing under him, Tom's commitment was wavering. Leaving behind the broken relationship, the stress of job hunting and the disturbed nights was more than appealing, it was a necessity, and Tom pulled out his mobile from his pocket and started typing his acceptance text.
'Mac, u wn,' he began, relieved in defeat, but as his thumbs moved to continue, a sharp stab of pain from his gut made Tom start and he drew in a hasty breath.
Tom put down his phone and rubbed his stomach, suddenly not so enthusiastic: there had been other reasons he had said no to the trip, and the S.O.S. bracelet was one. Macky, knew about the red meat at midnight, but living cheek to jowl with a dozen other strangers in the charity's hostel would have forced that information out onto a new playing field, and that made Tom nervous. Feeling cowardly and frustrated, Tom stood up and walked away from the half-finished message. He flopped down on his bed, grabbed a pillow and, with a growl, buried his face into it.
...The light went out suddenly and Tommy froze in the darkness, his senses prickling as they struggled to adjust. His breath rasped quickly in and out through his teeth and his heart hammered in his chest, but all around him was still. Blind and alone, it felt like the shadows went on forever and he didn't dare move in case he lost himself in them.
[Papa?] he tested, but the silence just ate up his small, frightened voice, so he bit his lip and stifled the mew that would have gone the same way.
Closing his eyes and wrapping his arms around his chest, Tommy could do nothing but wait.
It began small: a flicker in his heartbeat that was not fear and Tommy shivered as he recognised it. Before his thoughts could catch up, his instincts had embraced the influence and his stomach flipped. He fell forward onto all fours, trembling and disoriented. He knew these feelings, he knew what was coming and he could not resist. The shadows soaked in through his skin, waking his senses, and Tommy whined, fear and fascination mixing into a heady mess.
[Tommy,] the night called to him and he opened to her like a flower to the sun.
As it should have been closing down around him, his world began to grow, his senses spreading out into the unknown, and Tommy knelt up to meet it. He took in a deep breath in time with the new pulse in his body and, as his nostrils flared at the smell of life on the air, he opened his eyes. The rock wall a few feet away shifted in front of him, his vision settling into blue-greys and he was no longer afraid. He grimaced a smile at his new world and ran the sharp point of one fang over his lip.
He stood up then and would have moved off to explore the silvery darkness, but he felt a body press close behind him and an arm came round him, pulling him backwards. He objected with a growl and struggled, but the limb holding him was as firm as iron and he was held fast. His fear returned all too quickly, he knew what this hold meant and the power running through his senses would not save him. A breath on his neck was the only warning and then two sharp pinpoints of pain daggered into his brain. Tom gasped and tensed, but the pain was familiar and not what frightened him; that came a heartbeat later when his mind opened and his holders' thoughts hit him. Tommy screamed....
Tom groaned and woke as he curled over himself and his stomach cramped. The sharp pain became an ache, spreading out through his chest and he gasped in air as his muscles tightened reactively. The pain had been steadily growing over the last week and it was worse again than it had been the night before. He'd had enough attacks to ride out the creeping cramps, but the intensity of the dream left him shivering and scrabbling for saner thoughts. Normally his nightmares left him with a racing heart, but only a vague idea of their imagery, but this time the fear stayed with him, chased by an overwhelming need for violence that he knew was not his own.
Light-headed and nauseous by the time the pain and images eased enough that he dared to uncurl, Tom slowly pushed the covers back off his clammy skin and sat up. He brought his knees up and, resting his elbows on them and supporting his head with his hands, took in some deeper, more controlled breaths. Darkness had fallen since he'd admitted defeat, stripped and crawled wearily into bed to catch up on the sleep he had not been managing at night. Still, curtains open and sitting on a London street, Tom's room was lit by the orange glow of a lamp below his attic window and he scanned the room to try and re-establish reality. The ferocity in his thoughts would not dissipate easily, though.
In the end, rather than achieving any sort of mental equilibrium, it was knowing that he did not have long before he'd be given another painful reminder of his deficiency that made Tom move. He climbed out of bed, grabbed his dressing gown and padded out of his room towards the stairs. He'd made the journey so many times that he did not need to turn on the light, nor really watch where he walked, so Tom was still focusing on the images and feelings inside his head as he made his way down the stairs to the kitchen level. The dream had left him feeling young and vulnerable, two things he was not used to, and he couldn't shake the fear that was keeping him alert and nervous.
Still, the routine took over as he entered the kitchen and, yawning, he headed to the fridge. Automatically, he closed his eyes as he opened the door and felt the harsh electric light prickle the back of his night-adjusted vision even through his lids. After a few seconds, he risked a squint, working more by shapes than actual recognition and knowing the steak would be on the second shelf up. It was a relief to close the fridge and Tom then worked by the dim light from across the back garden, placing the plastic-wrapped meat onto the counter.
He worked quickly, lifting the Aga cover for one of the plates and putting a griddle onto it. He'd done this many times before, ever since he'd staked his independence at twelve and asked his parents not to get up. Normally he liked the solitude, it was a time to think and sort the day through, but this week his dreams were getting the better of him. The almost childish fear refused to be relegated to the back of his mind and, although he could not remember what horrors his nightmare had flooded into him, they felt troublingly real.
Tom's senses were still scratchy with that realism as he finally turned back to the steak. His stomach lurched and the dull orange kitchen skittered into silver. Grabbing the counter, Tom blinked rapidly a couple of times, his head light enough to threaten a faint, and was relieved when everything settled again. However, after that, he set about unwrapping his dinner as quickly as possible.
Tom ripped open the plastic holding the meat to its tray. Immediately the smell of blood hit him and his nostrils flared, filling with the sweet scent. His heart skipped a beat. His stomach knotted. Tom tensed and, in shock, he recognised the darkness from his dream pour in. The sensations locked Tom in place, his reactions spinning with the strangeness of it. Yet, he knew what was happening, recognised the feel of it. Terrified, he closed his eyes and tried to stop the avalanche of power. It was too late: Tom whined as the influence broke out of his mind and into his body. His gums ached, his skin prickled and Tom curled over the counter as his legs went weak.
The near collapse only brought him closer to the scent that had been his undoing and Tom’s whine became a growl, echoing in his ears, as he embraced the call of life. He opened his eyes to the world edged in silver, no longer blinded by shadows, and his heart beat in excitement beyond the fear. He knew the nighttime; nighttime knew him, and Tom straightened as he felt her power sliding into every cell.
Shaking as old and new mixed, Tom stepped back and took everything in: the tick of the clock in the hallway was like a metronome next to his ear; the grain of the old kitchen table stood out as if a flood light was shining through the window; even the old smell of cocoa from the day’s baking lingered on Tom’s nose. Tom hadn't felt so awake since...Tom's mind stalled at that thought, he had no idea since when, only the dream knowledge that this was not the first time he had felt the power running through him.
It felt so good that Tom almost laughed, but instead he grimaced a smile, as he had in his memory, the points of his teeth catching on his bottom lip. He was strong, he was wild and, without a doubt, Tom knew he was dangerous.
His senses were still opening up, the drip, drip of the tap, the crackle of the fire at the base of the Aga, milk just turning in the fridge and the inviting smell of the flesh waiting for him on the sideboard. Yet, the more he took in, the less it mattered, because there was something else that his senses found in the house: life. Tom turned from the counter to the hallway as his ear picked up two heartbeats and he smelt clean bodies.
Tom hadn’t known he had been followed to the kitchen, nor that he had been watched, but he looked up into the worried faces of his parents.
Reality reinstated itself and the knot in Tom’s stomach became a sudden stab of pain. He groaned and bent over as nausea welled up to join the pain and then things became a whole lot worse, because his father flipped on the light. Agony lanced into Tom’s eyes and, one arm going to his face, the other to his stomach, Tom’s legs gave out and he descended gracelessly to the floor.
Almost instantly, his mother was on one side of him, his father the other, reaching to help. However, as their hands took hold of his arms, Tom’s world erupted in even more sensation. His mind exploded with thought, words, images, sounds. Tom had no hope of processing the input. He screamed, and, unable to escape the overload, Tom surrendered to it. His scream dying in his throat, Tom passed out.
Thank you very much for reading this sample. If you enjoyed it, you can find the full book at many of the major eBook retailers. Please click the link for more information:
About Wittegen Press:
Wittegen Press is a small independent publisher of eBooks based in the UK. We publish on many eBook sites. To see our whole catalogue please visit our website.
Sophie was born with the writing bug in her blood, boring her primary school teachers with pages of creative writing and killing her first typewriter from over use when she was thirteen. She began publishing her work on line while at university where she discovered the internet and fanfiction. It took another decade for Sophie to realise her long-time dream of releasing her own original fiction.
Sacrifice of An Angel
"Harry Potter (with grownups) meets Midsommer Murders with a magical version of C.S.I. thrown in for good measure." - Rob Drake
The body of a beautiful girl dressed in a ceremonial robe is found on a playground roundabout. Her throat has been ripped out and the roundabout has a bad case of perpetual motion. Is it a ritualistic, magical murder or a setup to distract from the real killer?
That is the question that faces twins, Theo and Remy Haward, detectives in the Sorcerous Crimes Task Force (SeCT), when they are called to the scene in the middle of the night. That and who could commit such an act. They must find the answers to these and other questions, all the while ensuring the general public finds out nothing about the magical world that co-exists with their own.
Armed with their experience, their natural magical abilities and their complimentary instincts, Remy and Theo must identify the victim, follow the evidence and find the killer before anyone else dies.
Also from Wittegen Press