BATTERED (Full Novel)

Neil Davies 2016

ONE

He's going to kill me.

This idea exploded across Tammy's pain-dulled mind as she looked up from the floor where the blow had sent her, the fist smacking her against the fridge door to leave a woman-shaped dent before she slid slowly down it to the lino dazed and gulping for air.

She did not plead to say anything would be to provoke him even more, she'd learned this lesson the hard way; Liam liked to be in total control when he was violent no dialogue or back chat.

Not that she could speak coherently anyway in her current state; she could barely breathe and just lay there gazing up at him mortified.

Liam's ugly face was swollen with blood making it not just crimson but livid purple his eyes bulging and frog-like with a rage even she hadn't seen before, he seemed to be vibrating possessed by some inhuman force. This was the first time he'd attacked her in almost two weeks; long by his standards.

She knew this time it was going to be much worse than usual that she wasn't just going to get a beating few slaps maybe a blow to the midriff because Liam had lost it big time he was completely manic. The moment he'd come home he'd gone for her with no build up or accusations, lashing out furiously the moment he laid eyes on her.

Normally he simmered for a bit making acid comments or criticizing what she was wearing, demanding what men she'd seen that day, prowling up and down firing off insults or asking questions she couldn't answer as if daring her to defy him.

Trying to gulp in air she began crawl away from him hoping his seizure would pass and he'd realise what he was doing but no such luck. Her hair was seized and yanked hard almost torn out by the roots as he hoisted her to her feet, his breathing laboured like some wild beast closing in for the kill.

She steeled herself for another blow hoping it would be the last but instead his hands opened, fanned her neck and closed in tightly cutting off air, blood and hope. He was strangling her, choking her, she couldn't believe it and she couldn't breathe the pressure was intense his thumbs digging in hard.

Pushing her back against something hard he leaned in so she could see the veins in his eyes whilst his fingers and thumbs continued to squeeze strangling her, killing her, oh dear god she was going to die right now right this instant her life was over and it had barely begun.

Brain filled with a loud rushing, roaring buzz and vision turning pink she felt her knees begin to give out, her whole body turning liquid and useless as it began to close down for business she had seconds left and not many of them before she died as his grip had a grim finality about it, he was going to finish her for good this time.

Maybe it was pure survival instinct, maybe it was panic or long forgotten self-defence classes during her carefree college years but she struck out using her knee at the only targets available, whacking them hard with all the vigour she had.

Air whooshed back into her lungs and blood exploded up through her neck into starved brain tissue as she was released and reprieved, Liam doubling over and clutching himself, gasping and groaning with pain, his big hands now occupied elsewhere and feral eyes squeezed shut.

Free to escape Tammy knew the front door was impossible as she'd seen him lock it and toss the key so she took the only other route available, staggering to the stairs and forcing her pained body up them with ragged breaths willing herself to move faster. She just had to get away from Liam until his seizure passed or maybe call for help.

Her flight was that of a desperate woman near the end of her tether she was acting on pure animal instinct the survival impulse, she just wanted to get away from him and that squeezing grip; maybe lock herself in the bedroom.

Okay he could kick down the door but she wasn't thinking that far ahead, she was gripped by primal white hot terror, the kind of a terror that only a woman being attacked by a man understands.

Liam had flipped out he'd gone completely postal, normally his rages flared and subsided in moments and she endured no more than one or two blows but this time it was different her life was on the line as the throbbing bruises around her throat testified. His rage was murderous, homicidal like some kind of brain frenzy.

She couldn't let him grab her like that again, she wouldn't be so lucky twice and he'd throttle her, finishing what he'd started by crushing her windpipe.

Up she went on leaden legs stumbling as fast as she could go after three hard slaps across the face, a stomach punch and the attempted strangulation. She felt awful, not just sick and battered but weak and useless a failure as a woman and a wife was this all her fault had she somehow brought it on?

Loud thuds told her Liam was coming clumping up behind her despite that knee in the balls he was on his way with his longer legs and bigger muscles, how the hell could she outrun him?

He snarled something that might have been her name or a curse; she couldn't be sure in her confused state, fear made every sound echo it distorted perception. For instance the staircase which she navigated easily now felt like a mountain a steep cliff face.

She was suddenly at the top before she realised it swaying precariously, dizzy and lost which way did she go?

Then there was Liam storming up two steps at a time his eyes still crazed and teeth bared, hands reaching for her all tense and clawed. His eyes were still bulging, spittle foaming around his teeth like a rabid dog; he shouted her name snarling it and she knew worse was to come.

Tammy wasn't sure what she did next it all happened so fast, she felt sure she cried out but couldn't recall what oath she used, her arms lashed out defensively waving in the air to try and keep him back one of them must have made contact although she couldn't swear to it.

Liam was suddenly off balance he swayed, listed and tumbled and then he flew away from her his own arms wind milling and eyes now radiating terror, back he went and down falling out of control gripped by gravity he tumbled and crashed right down the stairs helplessly spinning over and over like a stunt man in a movie until reaching the bottom whereupon he stretched out across the hall carpet.

Tammy couldn't believe it or the fact she had done this, he was a good four stones heavier than her and she'd never hurt him in the past she wasn't strong enough.

"Liam," she said his name softly almost a whisper then louder, "Liam," her legs were carrying her back down before she knew what they were doing, but down was dangerous surely Liam was there her husband, her lover, her gaoler.

But Liam wasn't moving or making a sound he just lay there totally inert, arms thrown out, mouth slightly open, eyes shut and one leg bent sideways.

Gasping and grunting with emotion Tammy didn't know what to do she had no medical or first-aid training, she wasn't a nurse and couldn't bring herself to touch him.

What did they do on TV, oh yes felt for a pulse, listened to the heart and checked the air ways?

She couldn't bring herself to do any of that to even touch him, because what if he woke up and grabbed her like in those horror movies her brother used to make her sit through?

"Liam," she said it louder now but he still didn't respond he was out cold or worse. She studied his chest to see if it was moving and it wasn't, his torso was totally still and his face kind of ashen and washed out it looked waxy and stiff.

Dead; she allowed the word access to her brain, was he dead had she killed him had he fallen and broken his neck?

Liam couldn't be dead he just couldn't, he was a very fit 35 year old who went to the gym 4 times a week and ran in 10k events often winning them. A simple fall wouldn't kill him not down some stupid stairs he was too tough for that, too important.

Not like me she thought, part-time PA in a small local firm whereas Liam was...

"Liam get up please," she admonished like he was a child, the child they'd never had or would have, "Liam I'm sorry," he'd half choked her and she was apologising how insane was that how feeble?

She reached out to touch him sure now she should, that they would ask her if she had, "Did you try to resuscitate your husband, to check his airway you are after all his wife of 6 years?"

The bleep of her mobile made Tammy cry out as though it were a gunshot, the damn thing was on the floor where she'd dropped it when he punched her she'd been about to call...someone, anyone.

Sue's name flashed up, Sue calling, Sue was her best friend someone she liked and trusted who was reliable and calm in a crisis.

"Tammy," she began in her slightly husky voice (too many cigarettes) but Tammy cut in sharply.

"I think he's dead," she gulped hot moisture running down both cheeks.

"What," Sue was thrown.

"Liam I think he's dead I think I've killed him," there she'd admitted it gone on the record; there was no taking it back now.

Sue took a calming breath, "You've killed Liam," the words were slightly disbelieving?

"He attacked me on the stairs and," and what, "He fell and now he's dead at least I think he is, he isn't moving or breathing?"

Call 999 it was the logical thing to do, it was what the police would expect and the court, why didn't you ring 999 right away Mrs Burns?

"Get out," Sue's words cut across her thoughts, "Get out of the house and come here," she instructed taking charge.

"I can't," Tammy spluttered like a child.

"Just do it Tam get out now, come over to me; don't ring anyone don't do anything."

"But the police the ambulance," that was her duty what would be expected.

"No don't ring them, come to my place at once I can help you; if Liam's dead then he's dead there's nothing you can do for him you have to think of yourself now and your future."

Mind spinning Tammy couldn't think of any reasons why not to do this, she desperately needed reassurance and guidance at a time like this, not being grilled by some pimple faced constable or locked in a dreary piss smelling cell for hours on end.

She knew how suspects were treated, hadn't Liam explained it all in pain staking detail?

He still wasn't moving or making a sound, his stillness eerie after the explosive rage. Even when not angry he was hyper active and rarely relaxed for long, channel hopping, surfing his phone or eager to be out somewhere a restless predator prowling his cage.

"Okay," she told Sue, "I'm on my way."

"Are you badly hurt did he hit you," Sue's tone had softened with concern?

"Yes he did hit me," she couldn't hide her bitterness.

"The bastard, are you all right to drive?"

Tammy ached all over, gut, back and especially her neck but she'd be able to manage a 12 mile drive, "See you soon," she sighed hoping she didn't break down into an emotional tsunami until she reached Sue's place.

She had to step over Liam's body and it wasn't pleasant, had she really done this knocked him out or killed him, it seemed impossible for such a timid person as her?

I should ring an ambulance she thought, but maybe I'll do from the car.

TWO

They met at a boring staff party, her acting the wallflower as usual ignored by everyone even those who knew her. Everyone was fluttering around Penny the boss, recipient of a minor industry award that you'd think was a BAFTA the way she was milking it. Loving to be the centre of attention Penny swanned about showing off her new designer dress, what little of it there was whilst her latest toy boy hovered in the background all cute, brainless and out of his depth.

Then by far the most handsome and confident man in the room walked over to Tammy munching a small cracker, which seemed absurd in such a large hand.

"Fish out of water," he asked scarcely needing a verbal confirmation, "Me to?"

She found that hard to believe as he so belonged here in a way she never would, "Liam," he offered his free hand which seemed to drown hers.

"Tammy," she replied named after some country and western singer or so mum had always joked.

"I bet I can guess what you do for a living," he said confidently, "PA to Penny, right" he nodded in the direction of a spiky blond in a too-short leather skirt and leopard print top laughing uproariously.

"My god how did you guess," she was amazed?

"You have my sympathies," he had replied and they shared a secret chuckle.

"Are you a client," Tammy had pressed?

"Nah friend of the director, I'm actually a cop a detective," even back then he'd said it with pride.

Wow she'd thought that's impressive, Tammy watched a lot of police shows on TV and liked murder mysteries, cop sounded glamorous and much more exciting than what she did.

Penny used her as a gofer to block unwanted callers, field sales reps, chase overdue invoices and general fetch and carry around the office. The title PA was flattering but it made the agency sound upmarket and helped to boost Pen's ego.

"Want to get out of here," he didn't have to ask twice, Tammy hated cocktail parties almost as much as root canal surgery. Liam was the only person to speak to her in 30 minutes since Penny let her in with a curt, "Don't eat all the fresh salmon."

Liam took her to a coffee place open 24 hours, the owner Dev was another friend and he brewed them both huge lattes, apparently it was used often by the local CID when out on ops (operations.)

Easy to listen to (as he did all the talking) and handsome with delicious laugh lines around his eyes Liam talked about himself and his achievements, he already had a commendation for bravery, "I grabbed this 15 year old who'd stabbed a shop keeper, he was more scared than me so I just put him in an armlock and called the cavalry. For that they gave me a shiny new medal oh and a promotion."

Flattered by the attention and fancying him like mad Tammy soaked it all up like an attentive puppy soon he knew all about his family (violent Dad who drank), his time in the army (Helmand Province two tours), his time at the police college (top of his year) and what food he liked to eat (Italian and Chinese.)

"Fancy a meal at Mario's," he named a posh place way beyond her budget, new and fashionable down near the river? Did she ever want to dine at Mario's; Penny went there often with the in-crowd, the up-and-coming, the trendy and the brashly confident with Tammy never invited.

"It's a bit pricey," she remembered saying her cheeks aflame.

"My treat, I can afford it," she wondered how on a DC's salary but didn't dare ask why look a gift horse right?

They became lovers that night, Liam took her to his flat and she didn't resist too hard. He was charming, attentive, witty and someone beyond her league. Tammy hadn't dated for 2 years before Liam, brutally dumped by some guy who was seeing someone else at the time.

A fabulous lover Liam had made her climax several times in a variety of positions and not just in bed. Creative and daring he took her in his hall, the kitchen and even over his work desk making her orgasm before a portrait of Sir Robert Peel; Bob deaf to her passionate screaming.

Soon after this Liam moved in with her, Tammy's place being much bigger and cosier and again she was flattered, she had a boyfriend and a real hunk. It made Penny jealous and this was a real bonus, "How did you net him," her boss had once asked?

"He couldn't resist me," Tammy had enjoyed reposting.

"You lucky thing he's a total dish, ambitious to on the way up and not just you darling."

Liam made DS within a month, he proposed that very night, "Marry me," it didn't sound like a request and Tammy was too dizzy to refuse, "We're perfect together," he went on fitting the ring around her trembling finger, "You're the only woman for me Tammy."

She did have her doubts even then; tiny niggles at the back of her mind. For instance the way he dominated their conversations together, he seemed to do most of the talking and only his opinions counted strongly held ones to.

He didn't like it if she looked at or spoke to other men in public, even assistants in stores. He'd grill on her on who the guy was and what was said and did she fancy him?

Tammy was sure that Liam followed her when they weren't together, often she saw a grey Toyota shadowing her and later Liam would always know where she'd been and for how long like she was under surveillance.

One by one Tammy's old friends dropped away making excuses why they couldn't call around, she didn't understand this until one day one of them remarked, "Liam's very territorial isn't he."

"What do you mean by that," she'd asked?

"Never mind Tam so long as you're happy, although he wouldn't be my choice."

It was the second night of their honeymoon in Majorca that Liam hit her for the first time.

THREE

Tammy was five minutes from the house when she broke down and wept, she was alive she had escaped; she had left her husband for the first time in 7 years. Never before had she walked out on Liam or done anything without his permission.

Normally she had to tell him where she went, why and for how long, who she met and if she spent any money and if she did she had to produce a receipt. His control over her life had been total and if she dared challenge this he would fly off the handle.

Their marriage had always been like this he was the boss the breadwinner, her duty was to please him, to feed him and to do as she was told. After so long she'd forgotten what it was like to be free to have her own ideas or direction. The old Tammy had disappeared the smart independent young woman who had gone to university had become submerged in Liam's wants, Liam's needs and Liam's rules.

Once the tears passed she made the 999 call, there was no way she could just leave her husband lying there in the hall unattended, if he was dead then he was dead but if there was a chance his life could be spared then he had to have that chance.

"Which service please," the cool efficient voice was female and sounded like she knew what she was doing, not like me Tammy mused I rarely have that assurance.

"Ambulance to 76 Ranskill Gardens," she said with a huge lump in her throat, "A man is unconscious in the hallway following a fall downstairs."

The 999 operator typed away keying the information rapidly, "Is there head trauma," she asked and Tammy had to pause to think about this.

"I don't think so at least I couldn't see any," had she looked really checked, she hadn't had she, she hadn't even touched Liam.

"Broken limbs," the operator went on calmly?

"No his limbs looked fine," none jutted out at odd angles.

"Any bleeding," the professional voice was clearly going through a check list?

"No bleeding no blood of any kind," that had been a major relief Tammy wasn't good around blood it had always freaked her out she couldn't handle injuries so she'd never have made a good nurse like her mother.

"Can I take your name please madam," there it was the key question 'who are you' Tammy had been expecting it sooner to be honest. I'm his wife she thought, his battered wife, the woman he beats up when he's angry or frustrated knocking me from pillar to post.

She repeated her home address and killed the line her duty done, there was no more to be said and they didn't need to know who she was. They'd learn she'd abandoned Liam soon enough and the police would get involved; an investigation would begin.

Calls were recorded so they'd know it her who rang 999, would this go in her favour or did it make her look a coward? Maybe she should have stayed with Liam and faced the music, but Sue was right what was the point in getting herself arrested?

She couldn't help Liam; maybe she'd never been able to help him or herself for that matter. She just wasn't a strong person a confident person; maybe that was why her marriage had gone so sour, her whole life for that matter but why was she so timid where had it started; she wasn't always like that surely nobody was born afraid there had to be a key event a place where her self-belief withered and died maybe it was when she was seven years old.

FOUR

Tammy had been playing with her best friend Emma who lived next door, they were not only the same age and looked similar with their blond curls and pinafores but they both had dads who were absent a lot, working dads as they were called back then as if only dads could work.

Tammy had told Emma her dad had a study a special room where he spent many hours isolated even when at home, "We can't go in his study or disturb him or he gets very cross," she told her friend.

Emma was curious, "What does he do in there?"

To be honest Tammy had no idea, she wasn't encouraged to ask daddy too many questions, what he did was important, private and kept a room over their heads (whatever that meant) so she'd never been in the study.

"Why don't we take a look," Emma had suggested, "He isn't there now is he?"

No daddy was working out so the study was locked, however the key was kept in a dish over the mantle and Tammy knew she could reach it if she tried, "He'll be ever so mad," she said having seen her father in a temper it wasn't a pretty sight.

"But how will he know," Emma had asked, "If he's out?"

Mummy wasn't out she might find them, then again she was lying down upstairs with one of her headaches, "I'm not sure," Tammy had said.

"Oh come on what harm can it do," caught up by the idea now Emma was excited and Tammy had to admit she was to, she didn't often defy her parents as she was a 'good girl' but this would be an adventure and Em was right what harm could it do?

"Okay watch out for me," she said as they snuck into the lounge to get the key, Tammy having to get a stool then rise up on tip toes to reach the key a big brass thing.

"Have you got it," Emma was impatient?

Jumping down Tammy revealed her trophy it burned in her fingers and she felt guilty but there was no going back now, "Let's go," she said.

The door lock was a bit stiff, the girls had to combine their strength to turn the key and then they were. The cold mustiness of the room was the first thing that struck Tammy along with an odd sweet odour she couldn't identify, a bit like cooking but what would daddy cook in here?

The room was dark and the blinds were kept drawn but there was enough light to make things out, a big oak desk longer than wider, a hard backed chair of green leather, a low bureau of darker would and shelves full of vases. Daddy collected vases he had dozens of them, these were different being larger with high necks and covered with delicately painted scenes.

"Weird," Emma remarked and Tammy felt afraid, this was forbidden territory, "Wonder what he does in here?"

"I don't know but it's really dreary isn't it, sort of creepy," said Tammy thinking that daddy could be odd and secretive at times a remote man who hadn't much time for his wife or kids.

"Let's have a look in this," Emma had reached the bureau, this was locked but the key was in the roll-up top.

"No we mustn't," Tammy had objected for her it was enough just to penetrate the study, she didn't really want to nose around.

"Oh come on Tam now that we're here," Emma urged always the more daring of the two and turning the key she lifted the roll up top to expose some very strange objects that neither girl could understand at first.

Small bottles of pills and powder like medicine but with no labels, was daddy ill he didn't look ill and never went to the doctor? There were small cut squares of tin foil about a dozen of them, two cigarette lighters and the needles.

Tammy blinked these were big medical needles, she'd seen them on Casualty, doctors used them to inject people with stuff but why would daddy have them, did he inject himself?

"Awesome," Emma breathed reaching out to touch one, as she did a shadow fell across both girls large and monstrous and Tammy's heart froze in her chest her whole body turning icy and feet rooting to the floor.

Daddy's voice boomed across the room thunderous and accusing, rippling with anger, "What the hell's going on," he roared and Emma jumped back, also jumping Tammy swept her arm out and one of the big vases was knocked from its perch.

It seemed to hover in the air for a moment before dropping to the hard wooden floor, when it shattered she felt as though her heart had also shattered, oh god this was a disaster.

Daddy gazed in horrified disbelief as the broken pieces his head shaking and eyes out on stalks, all blood draining from his cheeks, "Get out," he screamed at Emma and she fled happy to escape but Tammy was unable to move to do anything.

"Daddy I'm so," she began but his furious gaze made the words choke off so she never got to say the word sorry.

"You useless child," he fell to his knees to gather up the fragments of Ming vase, "You useless, worthless thing," he was close to tears and so was she, "That vase is worth ten of you," he sobbed his hands trembling, "Get out of my sight," he bellowed, "You are a stupid waste of skin," the words cut her deeper than any knife.

It was at this moment that she fled in tears to her room, the words more painful than any slap or shake, poisonous barbs that cut into her soul to lodge and fester to erode her confidence like toxic waste, to echo over and over again across her mind.

Useless, worthless, stupid; they became her mantras her words of personal definition and she was never the same again.

FIVE

Sue's ramshackle farmhouse conversion blurred into view through a sheet of rain, a conglomeration of three buildings that included the main house plus a barn and a small stable now home to a couple of cars. Sue's ex husband had been the horse rider and the two mares went with him, three if you counted his illicit lover.

The divorce liberated Sue from a brute, left her somewhere to live and provided a degree of financial security Tammy had always envied.

The two women had both been married to bullies but unlike her Sue hadn't put up with it, at least not until Ray broke her jaw and perforated a kidney after she had confronted him with his philandering, the name of his girlfriend and the motels they used.

Ray's reward was instant, physical and almost fatal but it was to be his last mistake, she wasn't forgiving him this time he'd gone too far. Sue had him arrested, charged and got herself a good lawyer who catalogued her injuries on camera for the later court case.

Ray avoided prison (god knows how) but Sue got rid of him and now ran her own business, something she'd always wanted to do when married but Ray had undermined her confidence at every turn, "You run a business don't make me laugh you can't even run a home."

Waiting in the doorway she parted her arms to Tammy, tears streaming down both their cheeks and they hugged gently as Tam was led into reassuring warmth and safety. Since Ray's time the place had been repainted, renovated, refurnished and had a warmer, more feminine and more welcoming feel to it. Sue's house was now a home in the true sense of the word.

"Come in love," she said, "You did the right thing and I hope he is dead."

The same age as Tammy Sue was plump and matronly after years of failed diets and futile attempts to be the svelte, supermodel, leggy beauty Ray had idolized. She wore longer skirts, had let her hair return to its mid brown colouration and had dispensed with the garish make-up, preferring glasses to contact lenses and flats to heels.

They'd met at a keep fit class one Thursday, it was energetic if brainless and past an hour. Tammy found it trimmed her figure perfectly, a serial dieter Sue's weigh yo yo'd constantly but they'd hit it off from the start. Two women united by a secret suffering, one nobody else could really understand.

Soon Tammy was confessing that Liam beat her and Sue answered by saying that her ex army husband was more violent in the home than he'd been on the battlefield.

"Oh my god," she said seeing Tammy's neck and in a mirror the vivid purple and red raw finger blotches were quite visible. Fresh tears spilled from Tammy's eyes, "How did he do that?"

"He tried to strangle me," Tammy blabbed, "He put his hands around my neck, I think he was insane and didn't know what he was doing."

Sue wasn't buying that, "Oh trust me love they always do whatever excuses they make afterwards."

"I thought I was going to die Sue, I was sure of it."

"Why did he let go," asked the other woman?

"I gave him a knee in the balls," Tammy actually smiled with pride as she said this amazed that she'd been able to do it.

"Oh good for you, I wish I'd been there to give him the same the evil sod."

A mobile phone clicked making Tammy jump she saw it was held by Sue who was pointing it at her.

"What are you doing," She demanded shocked?

"Getting photographic evidence," was the reply, "Of what he did how he attacked you."

Tammy was appalled at the idea, "But I'm the one in the wrong I killed him it was all my fault."

"No Tam you mustn't think like that, you did nothing wrong at all," Sue insisted and the phone clicked again taking in her jaw line and cheekbone also heavily bruised.

"Stop it Sue please," feeling even more vulnerable and humiliated Tammy covered her face and drew up her collar; hadn't she been humiliated enough?

"I'm sorry love I didn't mean to upset you, this can wait," put aside the phone glowed soft gold, "I just can't bear to see you like this."

Tammy understood, for Sue this must bring back all her worst memories, they'd both been through absolute hell because of men, the wrong men; assuming there were any right ones.

"No it's okay maybe later," when I've stopped shaking like a leaf, when I don't want to throw up, when I can't feel his fingers squeezing the life out of me.

"Sure how about some coffee, maybe some scotch broth," both sounded like heaven to Tammy who was wet and cold; she couldn't stop shivering.

"Can I use your loo," she asked humbly knowing there were three in this place as she'd been before?

Once in the loo she vomited into the toilet not able to stop herself emptying her stomach completely and then as the spasms passed she had another cry weeping softly as she squatted there on her knees, a broken battered victim, yes victim, that's what Liam had made her into. She'd become his slave and his punching bag, the thing he vented all his frustrations and paranoia on.

Things had gone downhill so quickly as the loving man she'd been seduced by turned into a ravening monster, a screaming lunatic, obsessively jealous and suffocating he had all but broken her spirit taking away her confidence and self-identity.

It was some minutes before she dared examine herself in the mirror, the blotches, bruises and swellings that deformed her face and neck, the swollen lips, black eyes, dried blood encrusting her nostrils and the horrible finger marks around her throat.

Dear god was this ghastly vision really her, was it really Tammy Burns an intelligent young woman who held down a job, who'd been to college, who had friends and a life and had once dreamt of better things of travel and adventure and love.

She blew her nose very carefully (god it hurt) then wiped her eyes and cheeks with toilet paper, opening her blouse she gazed in horror at the raw bruising under her bra and around her ribs.

She was like a car crash victim or a woman who'd been mugged in the street, subjected to brutal violence. Liam had done this, Detective Inspector Liam Burns decorated hero, winner of commendations a man venerated by colleagues and press alike. He had beaten her, terrified her and almost strangled her in their home – his wife the woman he was supposed to love and protect.

"Tam," it was Sue hovering just outside the door, "You okay in there," the question full of concern and Tammy thought good point am I okay because I don't look it and I don't feel it, I look like a wreck I'm covered in bruises, welts and cuts?

"I'll be fine," she said without any conviction.

"Coffee's percolated," said Sue, "And the broth's on," Tammy could smell it now despite her crusted nostrils a lovely rich, mouth watering scent all vegetables, meat and rich stock one of Sue's specialties.

"Give me a minute," she begged wondering if the injuries would ever fade, if she'd ever be her normal self again.

"Okay love when you're ready," Sue paused, "You're safe now Tam please believe that, no harm will come to you I'll see to that."

How true could that be Liam was dead and she'd killed him the police weren't going to just ignore that they would hunt for her, begin an investigation leaving no stone unturned. Liam was one of their own a cop a hero he would have to be avenged?

She found Sue sat in the lounge mobile phone before her along with two steaming mugs, not sure if her sore mouth could cope with hot coffee Tammy smiled as Sue placed a green straw in one of the mugs, good old Sue always thoughtful and considerate.

"Better," her friend asked and Tammy thought a little, not much but a bit.

"Why can't I call the police," she asked carefully fitting the straw between puffy tender lips?

"Listen Tam we both know how the cops treat women like us, they never believed me when I ratted on Ray until at the end when the proof was undeniable and even then in court they made every excuse under the sun. They'll arrest and charge you; you'll end up some shitty cell for hours then be grilled by two hard faced types trying to trip you up at every turn. The system sees you as guilty until a smart lawyer proves otherwise, always assuming you get a smart lawyer and not some bloody jobs worth."

Tammy couldn't argue with this and she didn't fancy spending months in prison waiting for a trial she might lose meaning a life sentence surrounded by junkies, hookers and worse. She couldn't face that she wasn't strong enough.

"So what's the alternative to go on the run for years always looking over my shoulder; the cops won't give up Liam was one of their own?"

Pensive for a moment Sue held her cup tightly before saying, "There is another option," she said and began to explain about something called WOMANKIND; Sue listened with growing incredulity.

SIX

Tammy would never forget the first time Liam hit her because it had been such a good day until then.

She had sunned herself on the Spanish beach for hours getting a great tan for the first time ever then enjoyed cocktails in the hotel bar served by some charming waiter called Pedro who was no more than a kid really. Good looking and flirty with good English he'd tried to chat her up even though he looked no more than sixteen.

Relaxed and happy she'd responded in kind flattered by the attention. Liam was busy making calls (there was a big murder case back in the UK) and she felt a little neglected; this was their honeymoon after all.

But when she got back to the hotel room he was waiting for her features tight and lips compressed, something was clearly wrong and at first she wondered if the case was going badly then he snapped,

"So are you fucking him," the question burned jealous fury and caught off guard she hadn't known how to respond, what was he talking about. Liam soon put her straight,

"That boy downstairs the waiter you were making eyes at, flashing your tits like some common whore."

She couldn't believe it did he mean Pedro, "I wasn't doing anything of the sort; he flirted with me so I made a couple of funny remarks it was all very harmless. For god sake he's only a kid it's probably his first job, anyway Pedro flirts with all the English women."

"Oh its Pedro is it you know his name his bloody name," actually shaking with rage Liam had to grip the balcony railing, she couldn't believe how worked up he was.

"It's on his jacket they all wear name tags," Tammy felt sick inside like she was guilty of something terrible, Liam was blowing this all out of proportion. It was hard to believe he was the same smiling, wise-cracking totally relaxed guy she'd married.

Dr Jekyll had turned into a very ugly Mr Hyde and as he looked at her she saw this wildness enter his eyes, a sort of feral glow.

"Don't lie to me Tam," he said in a low voice.

"I'm not lying, why would I bother with some kid when I have you?"

At first he didn't react then he moved so quickly she couldn't get out of the way and didn't realise what had happened until it was over. She found herself lying on the bed gripping her own face, blood moistening her palm from a split lip.

My god he'd struck her actually hit her with the back of his hand, she couldn't believe it this was her husband the man who'd said he loved her and wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

Shock, disbelief and horror mingled with humiliation nobody had hit Tammy since school and that had been some dreadful bully another girl, no boy or man had ever hit her.

Still shaking Liam nursed his bruised hand, "Now look what you made me do," he snapped like it was all her fault.

Unable to move or speak or even think properly she felt numb, it was all so unreal so impossible. Liam had hit her and cut her lip for nothing, made jealous by some sixteen year old trainee waiter.

Then he grabbed her case and began stuffing her things into it, "We're leaving," he snarled, "This is a terrible hotel."

Actually for the price she thought it was pretty good with friendly staff and a great slice of beach, they'd been lucky to get it. If they moved now they'd have to fork out for a new place which probably wouldn't be as good.

"Well come on help me," he said without any sympathy, shouldn't he be apologizing and begging her forgiveness, saying it wouldn't happen again and that he'd been stupid?

But Liam didn't say any of those things; instead he grabbed her roughly by the wrists and lifted her off the bed like she was some mouthy crack dealing punk.

"I said we're leaving," his tone brooked no argument, "Pack your bag," he shoved her towards it, "I'll have a word with your boyfriend later."

But he isn't my boyfriend she wanted to say nothing happened, this is all so insane and you're over reacting. But she didn't say that she didn't dare, instead she complied meekly whilst her lip bled and face began to swell something she would become very familiar with in the years to come.

Tammy didn't see Pedro again but she learned his fate from a fellow tourist a woman called Mary whom she sunbathed with. Pedro had been attacked one evening on his way home and beaten so badly the Spanish police considered it an attempted murder.

Nobody was arrested for the crime but deep down Tammy knew who the culprit must be and a cold sickly dread consumed her effectively ending her honeymoon long before she landed back in the UK.

She hadn't really known Liam at all but she did now, she knew him and feared him and she was right to do so for whilst she never saw Pedro again there would be many more similar incidents of jealous rage always accompanied by a blow and not just the one.

SEVEN

Tammy blinked as she listened to what Sue was telling her not able to believe it at first, she'd known Sue was a feminist who volunteered at some shelter for battered wives and even donated to a rape crisis charity. After her dreadful marriage she was always going on about how badly men treated women; something Tammy could relate to.

But this was something else it was extraordinary a support group unlike any she'd heard of.

"WOMANKIND," she repeated it all one word like mankind or humankind, she'd never heard of it as Sue hadn't mentioned it before.

"There are more than thirty of us in the network," Sue explained, "All professional women, well educated with lots of cash. It was started 5 years ago to help other women in trouble, women like you Tam by offering sanctuary and resources you wouldn't get anywhere else."

Frowning Tammy felt her neck and stomach throb painfully it was difficult to swallow even with the ibuprofen, "How can you help me without getting in trouble with the police?"

"The police know nothing about us nobody does; it's like a secret society only for women not men there's no connection to any public body everything we do is private and exclusive."

"But wherever I hide the law will find me they always do."

Sue took a deep breath, "If you just went on the run as usual then yes they probably would but what WOMANKIND does is different more complex, more thorough. We've given it a lot of thought over the years and concluded that to truly disappear, to safely go off the grid you have to become a different person to reinvent yourself."

It was bonkers like some cheesy spy thriller in which the hero assumed a new identity to fool the bad guys, Tammy was no secret agent she wasn't anything special she wasn't even all that brave, how could she reinvent herself in a way that would defeat a police investigation.

They were experts, professionals they had forensics and teams and used the media they'd easily track down a runaway wife – no not wife widow, strike that she was a murderer.

Tammy felt her despair deepen, "It wouldn't work Sue they always find you."

Patiently her friend sat back to consider this response, "We've helped more than 12 women so far and none of them have been tracked down, we're not flakes or dreamers Tam our process is practical and methodical."

Interest pique Tammy studied her friend hard, "12 women," she repeated?

"All abuse victims with psychotic spouses."

Tammy blinked, "They all got away and survived?"

"More than survived they live happy new lives now under different names."

"But I've killed Liam I'm a murderer."

"Stop saying that or thinking it, you're not a murderer you were defending yourself and who could blame you for that," Sue snapped.

"I am a killer in the eyes of the law, I pushed him downstairs shoved him hard," Tammy felt the tears returning hot and sour.

"What would he have done to you if you hadn't," Sue cut in and Tammy touched her sore neck reflexively still able to feel that iron grip, those pressing fingers and the way her brain had begun to die.

Liam would have killed her, strangled her of that she had no doubt he'd been manic with rage worse than ever before, so bad that a simple beating wouldn't have been enough.

As if reading her mind Sue went on, "Exactly it would be your body on the floor and do you think Liam would be agonizing about it, shedding any tears or setting up an alibi with his police buddies? You have to think of yourself now Tam and your future, how you're going to live and where."

The future loomed like a great black void empty and oppressive. She thought about 30 years in gaol and knew she couldn't stand it that she wouldn't survive such an ordeal.

"What do you mean by reinvent myself" she asked as this seemed totally impossible?

"New appearance, new clothes, new name, new documents, a new home with a new job," Sue tabulated.

"You can't arrange all that it's too complicated and expensive," Tammy derided.

"I couldn't do it on my own but WOMANKIND can, Celeste can."

Tammy frowned having never heard that name, "who?"

"Celeste Constantino is the founder of the group and still runs it she's an American living in the UK not far from here; when you meet her you'll understand she's remarkable and inspiring. I joined because of her I think we all did."

What Sue was outlining was incredible but it would take a lot of cash more than Tammy had even with savings and it would take time, weeks or months; the law would find her long before then.

"It's a fantasy Sue it can't be done."

Sue was adamant, "Oh yes it can because I've seen it done myself, I've actually been involved in helping 4 women personally and the cops didn't find any of them."

But new identities were the stuff of fiction, and as for a new home and job that didn't seem remotely credible, what other job could she do and who'd employ her without a CV and National Insurance number?

"I can't see how it would work," she cast her gaze down, "And what do I do in the meantime anyway I can't stay here?"

Sue's answer was firm, "We go and see Celeste, set the ball in motion I've already called her and had a chat so she knows the score."

When would Liam be found in the morning, later, he was due on duty tomorrow so CID would begin calling him on his mobile fairly quickly then send someone around to the house?

"Where does this woman Celeste live is it close by?"

"Out in the country some huge place; nobody will look for you there," Sue enthused.

"Why would she help me, what's in it for her," Tammy felt a nudge of cynicism in her experience people didn't do anything for nothing?

"Womankind exists to help women like you Tam like us, Celeste is rich very rich she won't be sending you a bill."

"Maybe not but this reinvention you described will cost a packet," Tammy thought of a new home, clothes and ID none of that would be cheap or easy to acquire not overnight.

Sue stood up, "You leave that to us," she said, "Tam you have no other alternative except prison and I'm sure you don't want that, I don't want to see you rotting away in some cell either you deserve better you deserve another chance at life, especially after how Liam mistreated you he was a bastard and we both know it."

EIGHT

She'd suspected it for a while if she was honest but stealing and hacking Liam's phone confirmed it beyond doubt; the woman's name was Lynn. She was the 'other woman', his girlfriend his lover, he was basically cheating on her and she doubted Lynn was the first.

Two years into marriage and Tammy already felt like she was stale news, yesterday's woman, she and Liam hardly slept together anymore the passion of before a distant memory. Often he didn't even come back at night due to work or meetings or...pick an excuse.

Well now she knew he was with Lynn or whoever the others were called and when Liam walked in she tossed his phone on the sofa with a snide glare, "You forgot this; your slut is on it."

The look in his eyes was all the confirmation she needed a mix of shock, guilt and outrage. Slowly picking up the phone he studied its display. Yes she thought I hacked into it got past your codes, maybe I'm not just a dumb PA after all.

"So who is Lynn," she demanded as despair squeezed the air from her lungs and dropped a huge cannon ball into her stomach?

Liam sat down on the sofa and gazed into the middle distance for a while, maybe he was composing a lie some fairy story to tell her about a sick sister or some new client. Well he needn't bother because he didn't have a sister and Lynn's messages went back 3 months she wasn't new at all she was an old fuck.

"Come on Liam," Tammy snapped, "Surely you have a ready-made excuse some cover story to tell me, I mean you've been screwing her since March."

At last his eyes met hers and she saw something in them she hadn't seen before, it was anguish it was pain it was something very close to what she felt desperation.

She'd never seen him desperate before he was the strong one, always in control; he was the DI the boss whom everyone else looked up to for decisiveness and direction.

"She's a trainee solicitor at the CPS," the words came reluctantly and Tammy was appalled.

"A trainee; how old is she?"

He could barely look at her, "Nineteen."

Nineteen; the word exploded across her brain. Nineteen was a child a kid, how could Liam be screwing someone that young?

"That's disgusting," the accusation spurted out of her, "What the hell are you thinking of, you can't have a relationship with a teenager."

"I love her," those three words blew Tammy out of the water because she totally hadn't expected them. Liam's women were diversions, pleasure, something to keep life interesting like a hobby. For him to use the word 'love' was unthinkable, how could he love some tart?

"I'm your wife, you're supposed to love me," her voice broke as she said this it shattered and so did something inside of her, maybe the last vestiges of self-respect.

"I love Lynn," he went on as if struggling to find the words, "We're going to live together it's what we both want."

Robbed of words of thoughts even of oxygen Tammy sat there melting into the chair, finally she gripped her own wrists and squeezed hard her whole body trembling.

"She's the one for me," he stood up, "I'm sorry you found out lie this but that's how it is, I need a change."

A change Christ she could have screamed, what did that make her a ready meal from Tesco?

Maybe that was when she began to hate him to really hate his guts; he couldn't just throw her aside like trash like she didn't matter.

On her own feet she approached him, "No," she screamed, "No you don't," tears splashed down her reddened face, "You don't destroy our marriage that easily and you're not treating me like this you shit."

She woke up an hour later on the carpet, the left side of her face swollen up like a balloon from the punch. She couldn't move her jaw or speak and sitting up made the room spin, at some point she'd been sick and it lay all around her and on her blouse.

Somehow she got to A&E but an X-ray revealed no break or fracture, in that sense she'd been lucky or maybe Liam had because it would have been medical proof.

She didn't shop him even when the caring Asian doctor asked a few probing questions about 'domestic problems', Tammy said nothing she'd had a fall in the garden and hit her face on the wall, she lied and did it convincingly because she'd had a lot of practice.

Liam came home 3 nights later and stayed, Lynn wasn't mentioned again and there were no more calls from her at least on his mobile. Of course he could have bought another phone but Tammy didn't see it.

The next weekend Liam was given a medal by the Chief Constable at a big police shindig attended by the great and good, he'd tackled an armed robber solo and was a hero.

Tammy wondered if the robber's face was half as swollen as hers had been, but nobody mentioned that.

NINE

The sheer size and scope of the country house was breathtaking, Tammy hadn't seen anything like since her childhood when she'd gone on school trips to mansions owned by the landed gentry.

A mix of Georgian and Tudor it had two stone lions guarding the main gate and marble griffin hovering over the vast front doors; wide cream steps led up to these she counted a dozen.

The place made Sue's farm look like a doll's house it was vast and splendid with huge bay windows, two tumescent conservatories and long diamonds of bright green lawn interspersed with elegant flower beds.

If Celeste lived here she was seriously rich and Tammy began to understand how such a woman could remould lives, she had the kind of money that made a big difference that rewrote destinies.

They'd been driving for just under an hour but all the grey squalor of the city, the drab sameness of suburbia was gone wiped away by vast tracts of greenery, trees, rivers and gullies. It was like another planet a totally different world and Tammy felt intimidated as an early morning sun made its first shimmering appearance with weak orange tendrils.

This was the day after she became a murderer, the first day of her criminal existence her life on the run as a wanted person a guilty felon.

"Okay," Sue asked as they pulled up on the gravel quad in front of the steps? A tall, thin woman with a main of flowing blond curls was descending towards them in an elegant frock of lilac and paisley. She had a look of Lauren Bacall Tammy thought an older Bacall, stately, imposing and self-contained.

Still good looking in her sixties she wore dark glasses and around her throat was spotted silken scarf. Tammy noticed a lot of gold jewellery on fingers and ears a mix of rings, bracelets, necklace and Star of David pendant.

She let Sue get out first watching carefully as her friend approached the tall American, hugging her carefully as though Celeste were somehow fragile she didn't look fragile she looked as though she could outrun the pair of them and there was a sense of inner steel and tough resolve.

"Celeste this is Tammy," Sue introduced but the owner of the big house had clearly worked that out for herself. When she spoke it was with a slow mid-Atlantic drawl of the type American's who've lived in the UK seem to acquire.

The keenly intelligent gaze looked Tammy in at once measuring her up and making several decisions,

"Welcome to my home," no hug was offered then to both of them, "Let's get inside it's freezing out here."

It was quite cool the bone biting chill of early morning made Tammy shiver and she was glad to get into central heating, her eyes boggling at the expensive carpets that were everywhere and the sheer size of the hall it was massive more like a house interior.

Several doors led off the hall and they were led through one into a long stately lounge furnished with bureaus, bookcases and soft welcoming chairs it would be easy to snuggle into.

Tammy heard soft music it was Tchaikovsky she realised just before she saw the vast collection of classical music CDs well over three dozen at a guess, it was clearly something this woman liked, "Coffee or tea," Celeste enquired.

"Tea would be nice," said Sue and Tammy nodded in mute agreement expecting Celeste to get it herself, instead a cord was pulled and a distant bell rang moments later a maid entered dressed in a proper maid's uniform, she was Asian maybe oriental and in her mid twenties with a trim athletic build. The page-boy haircut, smooth skin and rapid movements reinforced this effect; she looked pretty but had smart eyes that missed nothing.

"Nguyen a pot of tea please," said the lady of the house and Nguyen nodded obediently, she had the smooth skin, clear eyes and great legs of a girl who kept in shape and Tammy was instantly jealous.

Fancy being able to afford servants it was like something from a Bond movie and she was acutely conscious of her own social standing and lower middle-class upbringing.

Sue said, "Celeste likes playing lady bountiful, you'll get used to it Tam," and without being asked Sue flopped onto one of the very comfy looking chairs, she seemed quite at home here. Tammy stood there as if waiting for permission but Sue just said, "Relax this isn't Buck Palace."

"This place looks bigger than Buck Palace," Tammy replied nervously.

Giving a secret smile Celeste fitted a cigarette to a holder and lit it, again the impression of an old movie star was given, "Tell me about yourself Tammy," Celeste purred and instantly on guard Tammy felt she was being interviewed or tried out? What should she say about herself 'I'm a married woman in my thirties who works part-time despite a good degree because my husband likes to be the breadwinner?'

Stuck for words she finally settled for, "My husband tried to kill me and it wasn't the first time, not that anybody will believe that including the police," something stuck in her throat but she didn't want to start howling or become bitter, "I should have left him years ago but I had nowhere to go, most of our money was in his name."

"Most," Celeste drew on her cigarette with this question imbuing it with significance?

Over the years Tammy had been able to salt a bit away in a post office account Liam knew nothing about, her 'escape fund' as she'd thought of it in moments of wild fantasy not that she ever had.

"A couple of grand some of my salary plus tips, the odd birthday present."

"You wouldn't get far on that," said Sue, "But well done for having the guts; Liam didn't totally control you then."

Inside tightening Tammy looked away from Celeste's enquiring gaze, no not totally she thought, escape had been a wild dream an impossible yearning.

"How often did he beat you," the American barely whispered these words but they cut her to the quick?

Voice almost breaking Tammy didn't have to think too hard about that one or how dreadful her 7 year marriage had been, "Once a week sometimes more if he'd had a bad day at work."

"What was a bad day at work," Celeste exhaled?

Liam could fly of the handle at the least little thing but there were triggers she'd come to recognise over the years, "A villain he nicked got off with a light sentence, a subordinate defied him the court threw out a case or anything really trivial stuff."

"You mean," said Sue sourly, "Whenever he bloody well felt like it."

Throwing her a look Celeste silenced Sue then turned back to Tammy with her long neck, "Describe the violence."

What was this why did she need such detail she was sounding like a lawyer?

It was almost as painful to recall a sit had been to experience, "Slaps, shoves, grabbing and twisting my arms, tripping me up, standing on my toes, hitting me to the body sometimes to the face;" Tammy burned with shame she curled up inside.

"Fist or open hand," more smoke was blown into the air?

"Both in the early days he slapped me but more recently," tears ran down her face and down the back of her throat.

Then Sue cut in, "He tried to choke her today, look at her neck."

"I can see the marks," Celeste's words were sharp like a rebuke like she didn't miss anything, "Did he strangle you often?"

Tammy closed her eyes able to remember each time, sometimes he did it before sex to induce compliance sometimes after when he'd climaxed but never as hard or for as long as recently.

She nodded not able to summon words not willing to discuss it.

"Why was the violence worse last night what triggered it," Celeste continued to probe peeling back the layers?

Tammy wasn't sure, Liam had been in a foul mood the moment he got home throwing things, kicking chairs and building up a head of steam, "I don't know it was nothing I did he was just so wired, maybe someone had rubbed him the wrong way or said the wrong thing; he was very volatile."

"Violent domestic abusers always are," purred the older woman then she asked,

"Did he ever threaten to kill you did he wave a weapon in your face," the American was cool, precise searching for facts for atmosphere?

"No Liam wasn't into weapons he didn't need them," his speed and strength had been enough he knew where to hit to hurt the most.

"Bastard," Sue glared at her own knuckles not able to contain her anger but Celeste was different very restrained and contained.

"You're sure he's dead," she asked, "Did you check for a pulse?"

Tammy had been unable to touch her husband even unconscious he terrified her, "He wasn't breathing I'm sure of that."

"People in a coma have very slow breathing they can appear lifeless," Celeste sounded like an expert did she have medical training?

"He looked dead," Tammy said quickly, "I'm sure he was he fell all the way downstairs," but people survived such falls, "I rang 999 anonymously," she admitted, "In the car on the way to Sue's place."

"So paramedics reached him quickly," Celeste drew on her smoke, "They might have revived him."

Yes it was possible Tammy had to admit that much to herself, Liam might have been saved she hadn't been callous or ruthless that much was in her favour 'the mad wife rang 999' so she wasn't a monster.

"I hope they didn't" said Sue with feeling, "For her sake he was evil."

This was considered through a haze of spicy vapour then the American sat back in her chair as the tea arrived on a trolley pushed by Nguyen, had the maid been eavesdropping had she heard anything was her English that good?

Carefully Nguyen poured three cups from a long spouted pot adding milk to two and a slice of lemon to one, the one she gave to her mistress serving Celeste first. Sugar was added to Sue's cup three cubes that were stirred, Tammy took her tea unsweetened just like her marriage.

For a moment she locked eyes with the oriental maid and in the girl's gaze saw something that startled her, a hard edge, even a frisson of resentment as Nguyen didn't like her for some reason, or maybe it wasn't just her it was western women in general.

Tammy wondered who Nguyen was and what kind of life she'd had before she came into Celeste's employ, did she have family back home a husband was she a mother or had she been on the game?

Then the eye-contact was broken and the girl straightened to ask, "Anything else madam," the 'madam' sounded a little forced.

Celeste took her time considering the question making the girl stand there waiting then said, "Is anyone hungry?"

Tammy wasn't she couldn't face food and shook her head but Sue said, "I could murder a bacon butty."

To which Celeste responded, "Make some breakfast will you Nguyen I think we could all do with something and you Tammy need to keep your strength up."

At the mention of the name Nguyen threw Tammy a glance and again there was that understated dislike, that narrowing of eyes and tensing of lips; what was this girl's problem?

Waiting until she'd gone before speaking Tammy made herself ask, "Has she been with you long," it was the most tentative of enquiries even outwardly bland but Celeste gave it the consideration she gave all questions long and measured.

"A year she's from Vietnam I believe and was referred to me by an agency, a good girl if a little frosty but excellent references."

Ah yes references Tammy remembered them well.

TEN

"Do you have references," asked Penny the owner of the employment boutique a smartly dressed redhead with a toned figure and long legs she kept on permanent display.

About the same age as Tammy she exuded a natural confidence that comes from a posh school where she no doubt excelled, she had that 'head girl' polish about her, smart and confident no doubt popular with her tutors and envied by her peers.

Feeling intimidated Tammy had struggled throughout the interview finding it an ordeal (weren't they all), but she needed this job. The pay was good, the location convenient and it matched her skills (sort of).

She had been aiming for management jobs but her competitors all had first-class degrees and she didn't, even though she'd supervised staff before and taken loads of night courses. PA to Penny wasn't a step down but Tammy felt she could do better, and she would.

It was a case of getting your foot in the door then working your way up; this was what she told herself during the patronising interrogation. Penny's smugness and air of superiority was in no way masked; she clearly fancied herself and was used to bossing people around.

During the short time Tammy had been in the boutique Penny's management style was obvious in the clipped orders she gave to her minions and the odd frosty stare; she was every inch the lady-boss of legend.

IN FOR A PENNY (pun no doubt intended) found work for professional women such as secretaries, HR specialists, typists, receptionists and the like. Its boss and owner needed a PA, the last one having departed rather hastily and in mysterious circumstances.

The firm employed a staff of 15 mostly part-timers and the job Tammy was going for was also part-time, but this was all Liam would tolerate, "You don't need a full time job I earn enough to cover everything."

Maybe but she needed to work to have a job and her own money, to hang on to a shred of her old identity. Before getting married she'd always worked and enjoyed it she wasn't someone who could sit around all day idle she had skills and brains it would be a waste to let them atrophy.

"Yes I do," she said handing over her three references which Penny took and made a production out of studying like they were rare historical document son ancient papyrus.

Silently she used her free hand to tick some boxes then note down phone numbers, "I will of course ring these people," she said rather pompously as though Tammy were applying for a job in covert security.

"Of course," she made herself sound nonchalant like she didn't mind. Sue was one of her referees and they had indeed worked together in a betting shop, a rather seedy place Tam had been glad to escape especially the groping hands of the owner Mr Gifford or Giff the grope as they called him.

No way would Tam ask him for a reference so Sue had stepped in promoting herself in the letter to shop manager, okay it was a deception but no more than a white lie and who didn't lie on job applications?

"Do you know what the job of a PA entails," Penny enquired without lifting her eyes. No I don't thought Tam but Google does and they were most informative as were those books from the library plus a nice chat with Nora, one of Sue's book club friends.

Nora worked as a PA and was able to fill in any gaps, what to say and how to say it, "Your job is to make the boss look good and field any difficult callers it's about kissing arse 90% of the time."

Not saying this to Penny Tam smiled and launched into a well prepared speech covering points 1 to 5 before the owner waved her quiet to pick up a telephone which she handed over to Tammy saying, "Potential new client let's see how you handle him, I'm busy all day."

Taking the phone with a shaking hand Tammy took a deep breath, this was an obvious test and might be a set up to try her out, the caller could be a client or just a mate of Penny drafted in to act the part, either way a good performance was called for.

He said his name was Tony and that he had to speak to Penny at once even though he didn't have an appointment, he was polite but pushy. Face to face Tammy would have struggled but over the phone she was a samurai a ninja a black belt.

Sorry sir Penny is not free today she has urgent business meetings would you care to reschedule blah blah blah. It was a decent and slick performance even if she said so herself very PA very diplomatic but tough and unyielding.

When it was over Penny took the phone back with a cute little smile and crossed her long sexy legs in a satisfied way, "You'll do," she said and Tammy was amazed was that it?

"I've got the job," she could hardly believe it?

"After a mouthful like that I'd be a fool not to snap you up, you handled him like a pro I'm most impressed, when can you start?"

Before any answer was possible Penny was distracted by another of her minions all flustered and dropping files, "Oh for god sake Alisha," she began but rising to her feet and going over to pick up the fallen files Tammy floated easily into PA-mode by taking Alisha by the arm in a soothing, supportive way.

"I'll handle this," she told Penny deferentially, "You've got a busy day after all," and she took the trembling girl out of the boss's office. That was how it started that was her first day as a PA for Penny by just stepping into the roll bolstered by 3 dodgy slightly dishonest but not entirely fake references.

ELEVEN

Celeste held up a file it was smooth, laminated and gold coloured and it had a name on it Tammy didn't recognise although it was one she was going to become intimately familiar with.

"This," said the American, "Is you or rather the person you're going to become your new identity a different woman with a different history backed up very realistic looking documentation."

Removing a sheet of paper she held it up, "Welcome to Samantha Singleton," there were several paragraphs of text presumably explaining who Samantha was and a space for a passport photograph.

Tammy didn't like the name she didn't feel like a Samantha, Celeste went on, "She's blond so we're going to have to fix your hair and she's an estate agent."

"But I don't know anything about estate agency work I've never done it."

"You will," said Sue, "When we're finished with you, one of our members Amanda owns an agency so she can brief you thoroughly."

Tammy asked, "Where is this agency?"

"Mayberry," Celeste placed her cigarette holder on a long boat shaped ashtray where it balanced precariously.

"That's miles away in another county," Tammy tried to place the town and was sure she hadn't been there.

"Exactly," said Sue like it was obvious, "Just far enough away so that the cops won't think of looking for you there nobody will. There's little point getting a job around here because even with a new appearance you be rumbled sooner or later, it only takes one nosy parker."

The American nodded, "A totally new location makes complete sense, Samantha can't be associated with Tammy in any way or the whole process is a waste of time. We aren't just going to change your appearance and hair but the way you move, speak, stand even smile."

Sue piped in, "Think of an actor assuming a new role, you need to become this new woman."

Supposing I can't Tammy worried after all I've been me for 33 years walking, talking and behaving in a certain way, you didn't change your whole personality overnight.

Celeste said, "Samantha is confident, speaks clearly and doesn't crouch or squint like you do Tammy nor is her tone of voice apologetic."

Is that what I'm like Tammy was appalled, did she crouch was she mousey had her self-belief been eroded that much, had Liam turned her into a frightened woman a victim? As for squinting she'd had no idea she did it, there was nothing wrong with her eyesight.

"What if I can't hack it in my new job," she voiced her chief fear?

"Amanda's a wonderful person," said Celeste, "Patient, considerate, a good communicator she's been running Selby-Taft for ten years and it's a friendly little agency dealing with mostly high-end properties."

Yes Mayberry was a classy area you needed money to live there, even the apartments there cost more than a house in Tammy's town.

"So where will I live, do I rent somewhere; I can't stay here forever," Tammy said with regret as living in this huge palace would be no hardship?

"There's a loft apartment just ten minutes from where you'll be working, the rent there has been paid for three months to give you a chance to get on your feet," Celeste seemed to think of everything and a loft apartment sounded really nice, snug and cosy not like her old home where she'd often felt like a prisoner.

"You see," Sue beamed, "We think of everything."

"Just one thing," Celeste cut in, "The clothes you're wearing will have to be destroyed I have a furnace here in the basement that's perfect for the job."

Quite liking her skirt and shoes, the shoes were new, Tammy ran a thumb down the front of her jacket she was loathe to lose these good quality items but understood the logic of what was being suggested.

"I'd like to keep this pin and these earrings," she pleaded but Celeste's glaze was cutting.

"Sorry but everything has to go, nothing must remain that links you to the past to your old identity, the police will have a detailed inventory of what your old self wore and owned. We all like to hang onto favourite things but in this case they are incriminating so in a short while I'm going to ask you to strip off totally and put on new clothes, Samantha's clothes."

Tammy panicked she had credit cards, store cards and cash on her all her worldly possessions.

Sue said, "You'll be getting new plastic, new ID a new passport plus we can provide you with cash."

Celeste picked up her cigarette between elegant fingers, "Tammy Burns will cease to exist from today no part of her must remain, nothing the cops can use to trace you a complete break from the past."

Much as she had hated her old life and felt trapped by it the idea of just jettisoning it completely unsettled Tammy, she'd be losing everything she knew or was familiar with her entire life would go all her friends even her old job, in return she'd be stepping into the unknown literally walking off a cliff.

On her feet she paced the big lounge, "I'm not sure it's such a big step a radical change," her stomach was a knot, "What if I can't hack it or if it doesn't work out, what if I'm no good as an estate agent or make a slip and use my real name?"

Neither woman said a thing they knew what was happening, that she was having a crisis of confidence, no doubt they'd seen it before with others and Tammy appreciated the lack of pressure the space they were giving her.

She turned to face them, "I'm scared, I don't know if this is the right thing to do maybe I should just go back and face the music, admit it was an accident and see if they'll accept that it was self-defence."

Cool and detached Celeste drew on her cigarette but Sue was more agitated, "Even if they did you'd still face a court case, public humiliation, you'd be labelled a battered wife and the cops would do everything they could to smear your name just to protect one of their own."

Yes she knew the truth of it the way cops stuck together like glue, the tribal mentality, Liam had been one of them a decorated hero a crime fighter, who the hell was she just some pathetic nagging woman besmirching his memory?

Then the American spoke her voice measured and logical, "Was it self-defence," she asked in a brittle tone, "Or did you want him dead?"

Startled by the accusation Tammy held herself, heart racing, Celeste was forcing her to study her true motives and dissect her actions. Had she pushed Liam on purpose, had she finally snapped and lashed out sick of his violence and just wanting to be free?

Celeste nodded, "That's what a barrister will ask the impression he'll put into a jury's mind, Tammy meant to do it she wanted rid of her husband why else would she salt money away and dial 999 anonymously from a car."

Yes that was right she did look guilty, her actions hadn't been those of a concerned loving wife but of a fugitive on the run already escaping the consequences of her actions.

So had she wanted Liam dead had she intended to kill him all along? "He tried to kill me," she said in a low almost childish voice.

"Yes but you killed him instead," Celeste pointed an accusing finger, "That's all the court will care about what the prosecution will focus on; your actions and your motives."

Sue was on her feet to now flustered and defensive, "He smothered her, abused her made her life a living hell."

"Did he," Celeste was still icy cold, "Can you prove that is there any real evidence that would hold up to scrutiny?"

Eyes squeezed shut Tammy felt weak and useless, "He even tried to take my job away from me my one freedom," she sobbed.

TWELVE

She'd been amazed even breathless when Liam walked into the office one day when he invaded what she saw as her private world, she just turned and saw him stood there gazing at her in that fixed way of his, his public mask in place with only his eyes as points of heat. She could tell at once he didn't approve, that he didn't want her to work.

The other women in the office threw him admiring glances seeing only a tall, elegant, confident guy in good clothes not knowing what lay beneath. Even Penny was beguiled, "Hello can I help," she asked in her 'cute' voice the voice she no doubt used on dates?

"I'm Tammy's husband," Liam even flashed his ID playing the cop-card as he called it, people were usually impressed and it worked again, "I've come to take her for lunch."

Tammy could tell this went down well with her colleagues that it sounded romantic and loving and even though it was half an hour to her official lunch time Penny melted.

"I think that's wonderful if only my husband had made such a gesture now and again, I'm Penny by the way I run this boutique."

Penny never missed an opportunity to play her boss-card and her handshake lingered just a bit too long.

"Nice to finally meet you Penny," Liam charmed he could be very personable when the mood took him, "This is some place you run a tight ship."

It was the right thing to say, somehow he always found the right words and Penny positively glowed under the praise if she'd been a cat there would have been purring.

"I like to think so," she was actually blushing and playing with her hair like a schoolgirl.

"I'll get her back on time I promise," Liam smiled.

"That's okay she's pretty much done for today," this wasn't what Penny had said earlier when she was in a foul mood and the day was a 'mare'. Inwardly groaning as she'd rather stay in the office Tammy went to get her coat, there seemed little choice but to go along with the charade.

"Lucky you," said Belinda a colleague and her only friend in the boutique, "He's gorgeous."

If only you knew thought Tammy half tempted to spill the beans, Liam hadn't taken her out for a meal of any kind in months not even on her birthday.

He ditched the charm long before they reached the car, making sure they were unseen before he grabbed her elbow painfully and yanked her towards him features rippling with anger and cheeks white, "What are you playing at I told you to turn down that bloody job," he hissed his spittle wetting her cheeks and making her blink?

"Penny hired me on the spot she didn't give me a chance to turn it down," aware she was pleading and making excuses Tammy shook with fear her insides like water. Liam rarely showed his true self in public but now he was incandescent with rage.

"You can still resign," he snarled dragging her to the car.

But I'm good at my job she thought I like it and they like me, Penny said I was the best PA she'd ever had. Not saying these things Tammy tamely got into the passenger seat trembling and sick.

"You defied me," Liam hissed once he was behind the wheel.

"No," it was a meek cry for mercy.

"Yes you did you deliberately made me look a fool."

"Liam please," she begged with mounting panic.

"I told you Tammy you don't need a job, my job pays the bills."

"But I like to work and it's only part-time."

"You're my wife you do as I say."

She tried to find words, reasons, excuses anything to appease him but she couldn't because he wasn't listening and nothing would stop what was going to happen next.

The broken ribs took two months to mend fully and she had to be very careful about turning or bending; she told nobody at work.

THIRTEEN

The clothes fit perfectly a matching lemon jacket and mid length skirt, the blouse was a bit tight but the shoes hugged her feet delightfully. She wasn't sure about the earrings as she didn't normally wear danglers and the blond wig made her scalp itch.

I'm already a different woman she thought I don't look like Tammy Burns at all not with darker lippy and those nail extensions.

"So what do you think," asked Sue as they stood in the upstairs bedroom to begin stage one of the transformation?

"I like the outfit," Tammy admitted thinking the colours suited her, "Not sure about the wig though it's driving me crazy."

"It's just for effect we're going to bleach you blond," said Sue quickly.

"These earrings feel odd; I normally have studs or small hearts."

"Exactly Tam that's the point you're a different woman now with different tastes and a different style."

Samantha Singleton; she wasn't sure about the name either it just that didn't feel right more like a character in a TV soap, "I appreciate everything you and Celeste are doing for me I really do."

"But you still don't believe it'll work is that it," Sue judged correctly always able to read between the lines maybe one reason why she was such a good friend.

"It seems so far-fetched, I mean becoming a totally different person it's like the plot of a movie."

"Tammy listen everything we do in life is role-playing if you think about it from our jobs and relationships to the mundane everyday stuff, we wear masks and speak in clichés we mould ourselves to fit the various roles like wife, mum, secretary and so on."

Yes she knew the theory how often had they discussed it, the way women adopted various identities or models as psychologists called them.

Sue went on, "Liam made you play a role you became his submissive wife Mrs Burns, but that wasn't who you really were not underneath, you acted a part for him lived out his fantasy and took your punishment."

It was true she had become this creature this thing a tame frightened little mouse whose only function was to please her husband; only she never had she was never quite good enough because Liam went on losing his temper and hitting her he was impossible to please.

"All of life is a stage, is that what you're saying that we're all actors," Tammy enquired?

"Yes if you want to put it like that then fair enough, you played the battered wife but that doesn't mean you can't play another role a better one; why not Samantha the career girl?"

Yes Tammy mused why not indeed but how long could she keep it up, keep pretending and faking what if somebody saw through this new mask and asked difficult questions, "What if the cops check me out look into my past my fake CV?"

"Why should they, why would they even be interested in Samantha she has no connection to Tammy Burns they never met they live 70 miles apart?"

It was a good argument even logical but Tam knew how relentless the police could be, how determined and how wide they cast the net this was after all a murder case.

Soon they'd realise she was in hiding maybe even that she'd changed her appearance and identity, after all they hunted for professional criminals who did it all the time and if they tracked her down as Samantha she'd look guiltier than ever.

Sue said, "Isn't it better to try this than rot away in some goal cell?"

Yes Tammy had to concede that point at least this route gave her hope, the ghost of a chance, a way to a better happier life free from fear.

"Okay," she sighed in agreement, "I'll give it a go after all I've nothing to lose and I realise how lucky I am to have friends like you and Celeste, I mean what would I do without your help your network?"

She practised walking across the room as Sue had directed a couple of poses that a confident woman would adopt, it felt good to pretend to be someone else she had to admit to have a straight back and raised chin instead of the usual submissive slouch.

Nobody had ever intimidated Samantha or mocked her in any way she was cool, sophisticated and in control, a powerful and successful professional. The more she playacted the part the more she felt her own confidence growing.

"You're a natural," Sue praised, "This is definitely going to work you're already in character."

Tammy affected what she hoped was a typical estate agent voice, "This is an upmarket des res you simply have to view slick, chic, modern and very exclusive for sir and madam."

Sue beamed with pleasure and Tammy sashayed over to the full-length mirror to study herself again, "Hi I'm Samantha, call me Sam," she said to her reflection then again with more feeling, "Hi I'm Sam how can I home you today?"

Bit cheesy but she could work on the details and delivery, she just had to think like this new person, Sam was growing on her she had potential, "This new job when do I start," she asked?

"My god you're keen," said Sue with a gulp, "Amanda's coming over this afternoon so she'll brief you, you'll have to land running I'm afraid no probationary period you're supposed to be hot stuff."

Tammy cringed at the term 'hot stuff' because it brought a bad memory to the surface of her mind one she been trying hard to keep buried.

FOURTEEN

She'd had to go back to the office to collect her stuff, just a few personal items that Liam said he'd pick up but he never did. She'd called Penny and asked her to set them aside and her boss had reluctantly agreed.

So late that afternoon Tammy turned up letting herself in, sure everyone would have gone home and indeed the outer office was deserted. Her things would be in her locker near the washroom but as she approached this a sound made her freeze in shock, a woman's laughter high and shrill, throaty and carnal it came from Penny's office but surely Penny would have gone home ages ago she couldn't be working late could she?

Just about to open the locker Tammy heard another voice (male) muttering something she couldn't make out, Penny laughed in response louder this time; good god did she have a guy in there some bloke?

Penny liked men and often boasted of her many conquests but she never brought any of them into the office, work was work and fun was fun that was her motto had she broken that role.

Driven by an odd curiosity and a chilly premonition Tammy left the locker and crept towards her boss's office, the door was ajar and light on as it went dark early in October. Laughing again Penny then gave a sharp gasp as if touching something cold or hot, the man groaned with obvious pleasure and said her name and the moment he did Tammy knew who he was.

Chest pounding she reached the doorway and shot a look inside; horrified by the scene before her.

It was Liam alright; even with his back to her she recognised the mole half way up his naked back and those broad muscular shoulders, those small buttocks now thrusting eagerly.

Lying across her own desk also naked, her legs parted wide and head thrown back, her nails scoring Liam's flesh was Penny moaning and gasping with pleasure as he penetrated her pumping away slowly at first then with great momentum.

She said his name over and over sighing it, crying it, urging him on saying she needed him that it was what she wanted.

Liam clearly wanted it to as he kept going driving himself into Penny's eager wetness, taking her right in front of Tammy in the office on the main desk. "You're hot stuff," he grunted with delight, "Real hot stuff," as he increased his tempo.

Liam and Penny; she couldn't believe it. She'd been forced to give up her job and her career for this, so Liam could fuck her ex boss? Then there was Penny all prim and superior at work lying there like a cheap whore with her legs wide apart crying and gasping with delight as another woman's husband gave her an orgasm.

Knowing better than to betray herself or be seen Tammy slowly withdrew, not going to the locker she tip toed outside with hot tears running down her cheeks, her whole body shaking and stomach sick with betrayal. Liam she could understand but not Penny, why would Penny do such a thing?

Reaching the car she almost threw up so instead she fell inside weeping and gulping, disgusted and repelled by yet more proof of Liam's infidelity with a woman she had believed she could trust.

Yes Penny was hot stuff all right, very hot stuff just the way Liam liked them horny and available with the morals of an alley cat.

FIFTEEN

Naomi had never met the DAC before not in person; she'd seen him from a distance at functions and press gatherings but never had a face to face, so to be summoned to the great man's office was a bit of a shock. She was after all a newly minted DI with no real track record at that level.

She'd been a good DC and a keen pushy DS but she'd yet to get her DI legs to build a rep so the briefing had been a shock.

"We need a fresh face, someone smart, articulate, ambitious and discreet."

He didn't say black but they both knew he meant it, black and female and media friendly.

"This is a sensitive case and must be handled with tact, at the same time we need a rapid result and your CV suggests you can pull it off. You're hunting a woman," oh so that was it girl on girl nice strategy, would a man be deemed oppressive and sexist?

Naomi knew how things worked how they had to be perceived, these days everything was a media event so it had PR value, she would be good PR and an arrest even better PR something the DAC could milk.

"Find her Naomi, track her down and do it swiftly, she's done a runner so she doesn't want to be found she won't make it easy. Evidence suggests she's intelligent but not brilliant she isn't a pro not like you."

Naomi had given an ironic smile at this blatant flattery, a little pat on the head for the new girl a bit of carrot before the stick.

"You've got 21 days we want this resolved by then and Tammy Burns in custody facing charges, she mustn't elude us nor must the trail go stale the press will want regular updates."

21 days wasn't long a mere 3 weeks, could she find Tammy in 3 weeks well she had to didn't she, she had been tasked given the brief she was under the hammer. This was her case and if she didn't crack it the failure would be held against her, it would hang over her career like an albatross.

"I'm Detective Inspector Naomi Finch," she didn't know any of the faces on her team in the long musty shadowy room a bunch of strangers some still stale with a weekend hangover.

Normally as SIO she'd pick her own people but this time the DAC had done it for her, selecting those he thought would be of best use. She could tell what they were thinking how they were judging her, well let them she was the boss and they'd have to get used to it.

Yes she ticked all the boxes – young, black, female, smart – but that didn't make her a bad copper she'd paid her dues and cracked cases, helping others to crack them to her record would stand against anyone's including DI Burns.

It was vital to get everyone's attention and respect to assert herself on the case; she was after all the boss so it was time she acted like it.

Going to a touch screen she brought up a face not lacking in prettiness but hardly stunning a thirties blond with tired eyes, "This is our suspect Tammy Burns wife of the DI, it looks like she vanished on purpose at least there was no hint of coercion at the scene. It seems like she and Liam were alone together when he fell or rather was pushed. Since then she hasn't used any of her plastic so she isn't stupid, if she's booked in anywhere she paid by cash unless she's with friends or family."

Touching the screen Naomi brought up other faces Tammy's employer Penny, a work colleague Belinda, three friends, her mum, her sister, "I want all these people interviewed and detailed statements made, when did they last see Tammy what they talk about, did she seem nervous or on edge did she speak about Liam. I want to know the state of their marriage."

No questions were asked, some of the cops looked bored others were taking copious notes, Naomi had been a note taker herself on the way up greedy for information and tips on what to do and how to do it. Her job was her life and she was unapologetic, there was nothing wrong with ambition and she had bags of it.

"After knocking her husband down those stairs Tammy went somewhere, spoke to someone a person who may have given her comfort and advice an accomplice in other words. I want that person found."

At last a question it came from Janice Renard a DC, "Why did she knock him down the stairs do we know, was she scared of him?"

The men sighed or smirked as if irritated by this but it was a valid point and Janice had been right to raise it; somebody needed to motive was important.

"Again something we need to find out," Naomi concurred, "By talking to people Tammy would confide in like friends or her GP she may have been depressed; why don't you find out Janice."

With a nod the DC wrote this down and Naomi continued, "We can't treat this like any normal domestic, one of our own was involved a good friend to some of you and my boss so let's pull out all the stops. Tammy called 999 but she did so once she'd left the scene which to me suggests culpability. I don't know yet if she planned to attack Liam but I'm certainly going to find out."

"Do we have any leads," Tony Proctor coughed as he asked this a grizzled looking DS who needed a haircut and known as one of the boys he was only polite towards Naomi because he had to be and they knew it, he'd gone for DI at the same time as her and been knocked back so it was a source of tension?

"Not so far Tammy wasn't seen leaving the home nor did anyone report raised voices, but I want the neighbours fully canvassed to see if there had been disturbances before if there was a pattern."

Proctor looked unhappy about this, "Liam wasn't a wife beater, we'd have known otherwise."

"Would we," Janice challenged this, "Some of these guys are good at hiding it; they wear a difference face for work."

"Wish you would," somebody said a male voice and it caused a ripple of laughter; Janice flushed scarlet at the insult.

The DI wasn't having that, "No more stupid remarks," She warned silencing the laughter at once sexism was out from now on or else, "We have to at least consider the possibility of marital discord, Tammy did this for a reason let's find out what it is."

Harry Plummer was a chunky older cop 2 years off retirement, grey featured and mostly bald but still shrewd, "What private money does she have? If she's gone on the run she'll have to eat and pay for rooms?"

Naomi consulted some notes, "Tammy has some cash salted away but not much and she hasn't touched it, we don't know how much cash was in the house or what she took with her but I doubt it'll last long. My instinct is that someone is hiding her to me this seems most likely and we'll proceed on that assumption."

She began to assign tasks dividing the job up into neat packages, some groaned some smiled but nobody refused they were motivated because of who Liam was and how highly he was valued.

She half expected Janice to come to find her to speak privately and the kid didn't disappoint, "Do you think it was self-defence," she asked, "Could she have been protecting herself?"

This had occurred to the DI a woman lashing out in panic, "Maybe," she conceded knowing why Janice hadn't asked this in front of the boys, "That's why I need the inside track on the marriage and how he treated her, Liam was no saint we all know that but was he abusive at home?"

"Tammy Burns has no criminal record I checked," Janice admitted.

"I know that," Naomi confirmed it was the first thing she'd looked into, no criminal past, no fines, no history of violence and no hint of a nervous breakdown unless the GP could shed any light.

"So why did she do it what was on her mind," Janice seemed to be thinking out loud chewing over ideas; she was a brainy thoughtful person bookish and a bit aloof?

"Hopefully her doctor can tell us or one of her friends, she doesn't fit any criminal profile I know so something must have happened last night something extreme that pushed her over the edge. This is an intelligent woman who works so she understands consequences."

Nodding Janice made to leave then paused, "What did the DAC say?"

"21 days," Naomi replied she didn't need to add anymore as they both understood the deadline and its implications.

SIXTEEN

Amanda Selby was a neat efficient looking woman without a stray hair out of place her make-up applied with almost military precision; dressed in smart designer clothes and expensive shoes she exuded the same air of confidence as Celeste perhaps toned down a degree or two.

She shook Tammy by the hand and placed her executive briefcase on a table top, popping it open with a flourish to take out some documents in a file.

"I understand you've no experience in selling property," she said as though this were a cardinal offence Amanda looked like she could sell anything from a mansion to a garden shed, "So I've brought you some job descriptions and briefing documents I usually share with university graduates."

"Is it hard to learn," Tammy asked.

"The legal stuff is a bit of a pain but mostly it's just about knowing the market and reading the client, weeding out the serious buyers from the time wasters," Amanda offered her first smile it was a trifle wintery but she added the rider, "Most of it is plain old common sense mixed with experience."

Sue was still present and eager to jump to her friend's defence, "Tammy is a PA, and she's worked for years."

If this impressed the tall brunette it wasn't obvious on her thin face, "Do you have a degree," the question was pointed, "You don't need one to pick up the essentials I'm just being nosy?"

"Yes I do," Tammy threw back, "And I've an eye for a good bargain," she added in case there was any doubt, "Is yours a large agency?"

This was considered, "Medium sized and we focus on the higher end of the market so we're a bit exclusive, most of our sales are for cash but that said clients are choosey, they ask lots of questions and want to be flattered and pampered."

"Will there be on-the-job training or am I meant to learn everything from these," Tammy hoisted the documents?

"I'll help you as much as I can," Amanda said without enthusiasm, "But we'll need you to land running, it's our busiest time of the year."

It would be Tammy thought ruefully as she skimmed the information on the duties of a good estate agent, ideally she would have liked more time to study it and someone to supervise her but this didn't seem very likely so it was in at the deep end.

"Tam is quick learner," Sue butted in, "You won't find her lacking in enthusiasm."

Not looking convinced Amanda had an agency brochure with her, properties currently on the books; the prices were eye-wateringly high, "Get up to speed with these to," she said, "Demand is huge and people often out-bid each other."

There were many properties over 2 million even a few over 3, "Who are your client sin the main," she asked, "I mean apart from being rich obviously?"

Here Amanda warmed to her topic a bit, "A diverse bunch of executives, top end professionals, bankers, even a few celebrities and they can all afford those prices."

Could you Tammy wondered looking her new boss over and deciding she wasn't short of a few bob, "Is Selby-Taft yours," she enquired?

"I'm joint owner yes," Amanda said primly?

"Why employ a complete novice then," Tammy challenged as this woman didn't come across as overly keen?

"I'm helping Celeste and the group it's something I want to do," not a bad answer but somehow Tammy found it unconvincing, Amanda didn't strike her as the charitable kind, "I was told you were intelligent and a quick learner, the ideal fit for my agency and that it was an emergency placement."

"Do you know anything of my history my circumstances, why I'm here and what I escaped from?"

The briefcase clipped shut, "Celeste didn't go into details; she only tells people what they need to know."

Which in my case wasn't very much Tammy concluded wondering if she could work for Amanda and her high end agency, if she'd fit in if she could cope with rich, picky egos who bought for cash?

"Aren't you curious," she challenged, "Don't you want to know more about someone you're hiring," I would thought Tammy a hell of a lot more?

"Celeste and Sue have vouched for you; that's good enough for me, they think you can cope and adapt."

"What do you think," Tammy pressed irritated by the indifference on display?

"I think we'll see how it goes," the documents were indicated, "Any questions about the job?"

"Just one, when do I start," Tammy gushed excitedly?

At last a smile a thin smile it was true but a hint of emotion, a card was offered, "This is my personal mobile when you're ready just call me and I'll set the ball rolling."

"So what did you think of Amanda," Celeste was placing some salad on Tammy's plate as she asked this, no eye contact she made it sound casual like she didn't even care, they might have been discussing the weather?

Not fooled for a moment Tam swapped a look with Sue, who had forsaken salad for potatoes and sod the diet, "She doesn't give much away emotionally I mean she's very contained."

Sitting down to pour the freshly squeezed orange juice the American considered this, "Amanda's husband left her for dead with over 35 serious injuries including cuts, stabs and burns, he broke almost every bone in her face and blinded her in one eye, if she's self-contained there's a very good reason it's how she copes how she functions."

Stunned Tammy blinked at the chicken sat within her salad it was cooked Cajun style and very spicy, Nguyen had served it in silence wearing green gloves, again the pointed looks but she'd been polite enough.

"I had no idea that's appalling," she responded.

"Yes it is isn't it the things men do to women and have done throughout history, the violence and cruelty, the barbarity of it all never ceases to sicken me," Celeste's tone never varied from neutral her own control amazing.

"Do you hate them," Tammy had to ask she had to know?

"Men, not all of them not most of them if I'm honest they aren't all guilty of brutal violence or attempted murder."

"No but they're good at covering it up and making excuses," Sue's bitterness was rank she wasn't so good at masking her feelings.

"Yes they can close ranks," Celeste conceded, "All boys together."

Tammy felt emboldened now she wore fresh clothing and had a new persona to draw on, "May I ask what happened to you Celeste?"

A pause, a slight twitch under the left eye just the barest hint of a crack in the perfect facade, "My husband shot me and left me for dead, it was our 12th wedding anniversary and I was pregnant so he shot me in the stomach and killed our baby almost killing me," it was recited like a litany an ancient prayer learned in childhood but no less horrific for all that.

"Oh god," Tammy lowered her fork, "I'm so sorry."

"He wasn't," Celeste cut up a tomato slowly, "He took all the money and the car and my jewellery and ran off with his 22 year old masseuse, when the FBI finally caught up with him he tried to claim I was the one unfaithful that I'd made his life hell."

"How long did he get in prison," Tammy knew US prison sentences were notoriously long?

"After the plea bargaining he did 3 years," it was not the answer she was expecting, 3 bloody years that was nothing.

"I don't understand he killed your baby how could he get off so lightly?"

"Men sticking together," Sue snorted.

"What do you mean," Tammy was appalled?

"My husband was well connected he belonged to the right club, the right lodge, he knew people he knew the judge, if you know how the system can be played like a roulette wheel."

"But it was attempted murder how did he wrangle 3 years?"

"The law's a joke Tam," Sue cut up her shepherd's pie, "It's just a game and it's loaded against people like us forget justice it's all about whom you know and friends in high places."

Disgusted Tammy sat back feeling quite sick now, like most people she'd been brought up to respect the law and believe in the 'system' it was there to protect everyone wasn't it to guard the innocent and punish the guilty wasn't that the basis of civilisation and democracy?

"Men have all the power," Sue argued, "They always did and still do at the top it's all men protecting their vested interests."

"But women have made progress," Tammy began to argue then stopped herself thinking of her marriage and Liam, how much power had she had how much had people believed her against him?

SEVENTEEN

Tammy wasn't sure who'd called the police only that it wasn't her, Liam had smashed her mobile and wrenched the land line out of the wall. The young PCs who turned up said a neighbour had complained about the noise, they were almost apologetic about it.

The boy was called Tim and the girl was Jan neither looked more than 22; both were awed at the sight of Liam.

He was CID after all a DI who outranked them by quite a bit, a confident, self-assured man who was good at putting on a front.

"Bit of a wasted call," he told them with forced joviality, "Nothing happened it was an accident wasn't it love?"

Nose and lip still bleeding, cheek swelling up and left eye almost closed Tammy was sat in front of a window holding a cold compress to her face to ease the pain. Sick and weak she felt dizzy and helpless.

The female PC came over to squat beside her, a bottle blond with a cleanly scrubbed face who smelled of talc and Boots number 7, "Is that true Mrs Burns was it an accident," her tone suggested disbelief?

Liam bristled, "I said so didn't I, are you calling me a liar constable do you know who I am?"

His bullying tactics usually worked but this time the lad Tim intervened, "Sir could I speak to you in private," he asked waving at the kitchen to give Jenny some privacy?

Liam didn't look too keen but what could he say he knew the score, "Back in a minute love," he told Tammy more of a warning to keep her mouth shut than an expression of concern?

Once he was gone Jan gave Tammy a fresh hanky, "That looks painful," she was all concern, "So what happened exactly did you have a fall or," she hesitated?

Tammy swallowed wanting to blurt it out, no I didn't fall he head butted me, punched me to the floor then gave me a good kicking with the shoes he removed before you arrived.

Jan sighed, "It doesn't matter that he's a DI we don't care, if he hit you then report him make it official," she urged and Tammy liked her she was a kind girl but shrewd to with a real backbone. Normally uniform wouldn't stand up to Liam; the decorated hero.

"I'll be fine," she said in a hoarse voice but Jenny wasn't buying it.

"I don't think you will love those injuries need looking at, we can drive you to A&E if you like get a doctor's opinion."

"No," Tammy said quickly it had been made plain to her that no doctors were to be involved Liam didn't want official reports or questions.

"We could get a duty GP to come here if you'd prefer," Jan persisted.

"I don't need a doctor my husband said so."

"Medical expert is he," the young PC's contempt was showing, "It's not his face that's been marked is it?"

Unable to meet the probing green eyes Tammy studied the carpet now flecked with blood spots, "Nobody will believe me anyway," she muttered feeling utterly crushed.

"I will and Tim will if you make a statement."

Tammy knew she couldn't do that it would only make Liam angrier and he was at boiling point already.

Then Tim returned and his manner was cool and officious, "Come on Jan time to leave nothing for us here, the DI has cleared it all up."

"I bet he has," Jan rose slowly.

"There's no crime here," Tim almost sounded convincing but Tammy could read his eyes his body language.

"I'm sure," Jan said sourly giving Liam a withering look he couldn't meet, "People who fall scream and beg for mercy all the time don't they?"

"The neighbour was obviously mistaken it was the TV," Liam muttered red cheeked.

"Really which channel what programme?"

"Jan come on we've had another shout," Tim's voice wavered. The two women swapped a helpless look then with a shrug Jenny made to leave, pausing once parallel with Liam to face him chin up.

"This is going in my book DI Burns, I'm not happy with the explanation at all." The young WPC handed Tammy her personal card saying, "Call me any time," before throwing Liam another filthy look of defiance.

Eyes blazing Liam looked ready to lash out again but controlled himself just barely as he escorted the two plods out.

Tammy peered down at the card impressed by the WPC even though she had no intention of calling her, the card said PC Janice Renard; unusual name she thought.

EIGHTEEN

Something soon became clear to DI Naomi Finch crystal clear in fact; none of Tammy's family or friends like Liam Burns very much in fact some of them detested him.

Words like bully, thug, overbearing, arrogant, intimidated and superior were used often especially by the women, none of whom could understand what Tammy saw in the man.

"She was never the same after they got married she was cowed, on edge, clearly scared of him it was like he broke her spirit." This was from the mother Hannah who looked a lot like Tammy, but then she would just plumper and with greyish white hair now.

"I never liked Liam he was creepy and possessive, it was like he owned Tam or thought he did," this from the younger sister Virginia or Ginny as she preferred a teaching assistant unmarried, "No bugger's putting a ring on me," she'd said with conviction.

But none of them knew where Tammy was now or at least that's what they said to Naomi's face so next she went to see Sue Perkins a close friend who described herself as a "shit marriage survivor", she was Tammy's closest friend by all accounts a divorcee who lived in a converted farmhouse that had to be worth a packet. Naomi found Sue to the most outspoken of the lot, blunt to the point of rudeness.

"He beat her up every week sometimes more than once a week used his fists and boots like she was sub-human."

"Did you witness any of these assaults personally," Naomi kept cool and professional her job was about provable facts and eye witness testimony.

"Well no not personally," Sue had to admit backtracking.

"So you're just guessing, assuming he hit her."

"No I'm bloody not Tammy told me herself and I saw the injuries the cuts, bruises, fat lips and bloody noses; I dealt with the aftermath I was the only one she dared tell."

Naomi made a note thinking Sue sounded a little hysterical that she had an axe to grind, hadn't her ex thumped her?

"Why would she confide in you and not the police, why didn't she make any official reports?"

"Come off it love Liam is a DI he's one of your lot who'd take it seriously, what plod would arrest someone of his rank?"

"When an assault has occurred we do our job, a crime is a crime," aware she sounded a bit pompous and text bookish Naomi shrugged the tension from her shoulders.

"Yeah sure you do," Sue snorted, "You lot stick together, Liam was a hero and a CID officer so he couldn't possibly have been a vicious thug; well he was a violent animal that woman was terrified of him."

"Terrified enough to push him down some stairs to attempt to murder him," Naomi threw back and instantly regretted her rash words.

"Attempt," Sue jumped on this, "You mean he isn't dead?"

Under strict orders to give nothing away Naomi could have bitten her own tongue, "I'm not at liberty to say at this point."

"But 'attempted' means Liam survived surely, I'm not a fool DI Finch even if you are."

"What does that mean," Naomi felt her blood heat?

"You're a woman defending a man who beats other women, how can you possibly do that?"

"There's no proof Liam assaulted his wife but she assaulted him."

Sue's eyes were wide, "No proof Christ what about all the black eyes, cut lips and broken ribs?"

"Are there any medical records to support this allegation, which hospital treated her?"

"Liam was too clever for that; she healed at home kept well out of public scrutiny."

Naomi nodded, "So you've no proof to back up your claims."

"Oh haven't I," mobile phone out the other woman trawled through its memory until she came to some images of the missing woman – her face, eyes, wrists, ribs and lower back.

Naomi felt sick as she studied the bruises, abrasions, gouges and shoe prints; the bloody nostrils, split lips and swellings clearly the result of violence.

Sue was triumphant, "I took these as many as I could every time he hit her, sometimes he knocked her out cold other times he tied her up and gave her a thrashing; she was nothing more than a punch bag for that bastard. Go on take a look and tell me Tammy wasn't a victim because she was."

Swallowing Naomi made a point of looking at each image committing them to memory with sickly distaste it was a grim catalogue to be sure, "So where is she now Sue where did she run to, you're her best friend so she must have told you called you."

She studied the reaction as she'd been trained to looking for little 'tells' that always betray liars like a closing of the posture, rapid blinking, licking the lips and others CID training had instilled into her.

Sue didn't do any of these things she was good, she'd been briefed or studied body language a smart woman, "I've no idea."

It was lie and they both knew it, "Are you sure," Naomi pressed?

"Completely."

"She didn't ring you; her best friend?"

"I've not heard from Tam in days," Sue maintained a perfect poker face, a bluffer's mask.

"Do you expect me to believe that," Naomi tried to crack the facade?

"You can believe what you like; if she'd called me I would have told her to ring you guys."

"The police," Naomi snorted, "Whom you don't trust at all come off it Sue."

Sue just shrugged giving nothing away but Naomi was more convinced than ever that she was lying, "It's a crime to cover up a crime," she tried.

"I know that inspector I'm not covering anything up."

Oh yes you damn well are lady Naomi wanted to scream, "So where is she, where would she go, if not you then who?"

Sue looked away, "Maybe she has friends I don't know about; people she trusts more."

It was very thin, "More than you her best friend?"

"I'm just one of her friends."

"The one she shared her injuries with and told all her domestic secrets to," Naomi's scepticism was full on.

"Not this time she's blanked me."

"Sue I'm not buying it not for one second, I think you do know where she is and what she's doing to avoid us."

Going on the attack usually worked it broke people down but this woman was tough she was resolute, "Well I don't."

"I could get a search warrant," Naomi threatened.

"You don't need one search all you like," Sue threw back.

Bitch Naomi clenched a fist in frustration, she wasn't getting anywhere like this but she would have a look around the house, if the offer had been made she wasn't turning it down.

NINETEEN

Not quite her colours, not the curtains she would have chosen and the furniture was all modern all chrome and curves but it was in a good area, a quiet area, people didn't ask any questions and she knew she wouldn't have been able to afford it on her salary.

She would change it, adapt it bit by bit, buy some old wooden chairs and a sofa, hang some silks, buy some water colours and personalise. She couldn't use any of her old photos, anything that linked her to her old life so she would create a new one her Samantha-life.

The view was of the river but closer to her was a small park in which some pensioners were doing Tai Chi, she might join them one day it seemed a very Samantha thing to do or would her alter ego prefer kick boxing?

My god she thought I'm actually doing it living a new life with a new name, Panic and naked terror mixed with a dizzying euphoria she was free of Liam, free from fear and free of his violence.

For years it was all she had known and in a way she'd grown used to it, even began expecting it and hoping it would be over quickly.

Liam had destroyed her confidence taking away what little remained of her self-esteem, which hadn't been all that strong to begin with.

Always a timid insecure child she'd grown into a quiet, self-contained woman who didn't make a fuss, a nondescript person you'd meet in the street and never remember.

She wanted to talk to her mum to tell her she was okay and maybe text Ginny but had been warned the cops would be monitoring all phone traffic. The ache of separation was almost unbearable and she knew she was going to miss them both very badly.

Her new mobile trilled which meant it was either Celeste or Sue; nobody else had the number.

"Hi Sue," she said warmly but the reply was terse and guarded.

"I've had the cops some female DI poking around," Sue sounded rattled and it wasn't like her.

"We expected that, they'll be visiting everyone who knows me," Tammy mentally apologized to them all.

"This woman is persistent a real cow, I think she's out to make a name for herself all young, pretty and intense."

Well they wouldn't put some old plodder on the case not for Liam he'd get only the best, "Does she know anything?"

"Not really it was a fishing expedition and I didn't give anything away but," Sue paused, "I don't think she believed me."

A fist of dread formed inside Tammy a terror of being tracked down, "That's their job to trip you up to appear smarter than they are; Liam told me all about it."

"Liam's not dead Tam," the news was an atomic explosion of shock, it ripped through her nervous system and before she knew it she was slumping down a wall landing hard on her arse, knees drawn up. What had Sue said; she had to be wrong?

"Tam are you still there, I'm sorry but Finch said it was an attempted murder not an actual murder?"

No words would come just sounds – low animal sobs, gasps and moans – Liam was alive he had survived the fall but he couldn't have he wasn't breathing or moving he had been dead.

"Tammy," Sue's voice was insistent, "Speak to me say something."

Face wet and throat tight Tammy glared at her phone like it was a poisonous snake, if Liam was alive then she wasn't safe not at all wherever she went.

"Okay Tam you're in shock I get that it's unbelievable I know it shocked me; I think you need to be with someone to talk it through. It can't be me that female cop maybe watching the farmhouse, why don't you call Celeste?"

Tammy switched the phone off and let it fall from her fingers; she was shaking uncontrollably like before or after a beating, her body vibrating with shock and horror. Liam alive, all she could see was his rage swollen face, his blazing eyes, his curling fingers and his booming voice.

She flinched as if expecting a kick or punch but of course none came, so she rolled onto her side in a foetal position moaning softly, eyes leaking tears of dread and mouth full of some vile taste. Oh Christ what was she going to do now, what if he tracked her down?

Sue rang again but Tammy turned her phone off she didn't want to talk to Sue or anyone else; she was incapable of speech or conversation her brain having gone into pure animal survival mode, shutting down and switching off.

She wasn't sure how long she stayed there paralysed and inert reliving every horror Liam had inflicted upon her but it was a knock at the door which snapped her out of.

Liam it had to be, he'd found her oh god he was here.

Dashing to a window she began to wrestle with the clasp she had to get out; to escape from him or he'd kill her, sweaty fingers struggled with the clasp a nail broke then another but she didn't care, nothing mattered to escaping him.

"Tammy," the voice seemed a long way off, "Tammy it's me," she pulled and heaved grunting with effort, "Tammy let me in its Celeste."

Celeste who was she, Tammy sank to her knees beaten by a mere clasp she couldn't shift it and Liam would soon be in. No not Liam Celeste someone she knew.

"Unlock the door Tammy you're not in any danger I'm alone."

Tammy almost didn't she almost told the woman to go away, but in the end she made her way over on her knees to shoot the bolt.

Looking down at her Celeste made no comment about the state she was in like she expected to see it and had seen it before, Tammy knew she looked a mess a wreck her eyes and nose streaming and her knees red raw.

"Sue called me," the American took out some tissues, "She said you'd had a bad shock...understatement of the century right," Tammy was wiped carefully, "Sue said she couldn't make it so I thought I'd come."

Helping Tammy into a chair and sitting opposite the older woman held her hands, "You're okay baby you're going to be fine he can't find you and he won't, he doesn't know where to look and nor do the cops."

That was true, Tammy hung onto this fact like a life raft in a storm; nobody knew where she was from her old life only Sue and she wouldn't crack.

"So Liam's alive so what," Celeste sighed theatrically, "It's actually good news it means you didn't kill him you're off that particular hook."

Also true, why did this woman always know what to say?

"I feel sick," Tammy gulped.

"It'll pass honey believe me, it did for me it does for us all the fear, the dread, the paralysing shock - they lose their grip on us."

Hard to believe that she'd never be afraid of Liam he still loomed so large in her mind; she still ached from his last assault his hands around her throat.

"We'll get you cleaned up in a minute and turn you back into Super Girl then I'm going to take you to lunch after which we'll visit this real estate office where your new career begins."

A new career a new life it still seemed amazingly impossible and impractical, how could she be an estate agent to the rich, how the hell would she pull it off?

"I don't think I'm ready Celeste, that I can hack it."

"I'm going to ask Amanda to give you some client and property details to study, think of it as homework or research."

Tammy's mind felt shattered, a broken heap of random thoughts and fears how could she memorise anything?

"I'm not sure," she said.

"Well I am young lady; the best cure for what you have is to throw yourself into a new challenge to fill your life with something fresh and exciting; it's how I pulled myself back from the brink. We women tend to dwell on things to run them through our minds in an endless loop and it doesn't help, you need to begin a new loop a new set of memories and ideas."

It sounded like sage advice but Tammy was still shaking and weeping still a broken thing.

"Promise me you'll try," the American urged, "Give it your best shot."

This made her smile it was so Hollywood so self-help, "All right," she conceded.

"Good girl I've every faith in your Tammy you're strong."

No I'm not thought Tammy I let Liam beat me every week and said nothing, I forgave him every time, "Me strong," she doubted?

"Yes you are all women are, they just don't give themselves enough credit. You got through the ordeal Tammy you survived and then you got out that takes spirit, you're stronger than Liam."

"No I'm not," the words were out before she could stop them but Celeste wasn't buying it.

"Yes you are honey a lot stronger, you took the worse he could give and walked away he didn't break you he couldn't because he doesn't have what it takes."

TWENTY

The registry office was dull and dingy smelling of old paint, dying flowers and musty carpet not exactly every girl's romantic dream of her wedding day, no big church do no organ music and not many guests.

Hardly anyone had turned out because Liam wanted something quiet and dignified. Well it was certainly quiet but Tammy wasn't so sure about the dignity.

None of his family had shown up just some police mates mostly CID guys she didn't know. Liam said he was estranged from his family but didn't add why just that his father was a violent drunk whom he hadn't spoken to for years.

On her side was her mum looking uncomfortable despite a great outfit of lime and cream plus new hat, her sister Ginny in a short black dress, her cousin Tom whom she hardly knew and wasn't fond of and 3 work mates.

"Are you sure about this love," Mum had kept asking in the taxi on the way over, "It's not too late to change your mind?"

Ginny was more direct as usual, "He's an arsehole really full of himself you can tell," she hadn't taken to Liam at all and sat there with a sulky pout no fan of marriage and having no intention of indulging herself.

"You hardly know him," Mum had cut in before Ginny went off on one of her rants. I know enough Tammy had told herself, I know I love him and that he loves me but even then doubts had begun to creep in niggling uncertainties, did Liam love her was he committed to this?

Marriage had been his idea, "I want to be married and for you to be my wife," wasn't that love didn't it underscore his seriousness?

Stood next to her in the dingy room smart in a grey suit and blue tie he looked so very handsome, a white rose in his lapel and hair combed back. He was quite a catch; everyone said so, a good looking successful man who had already received a commendation for bravery.

As the female registrar droned on Tammy tried to imagine married life as Mrs Burns a copper's wife but not just any copper a rising detective who said he was going to make DCI at least maybe more.

They'd have financial security, prestige, a nice new house maybe kids. Liam said he wanted kids, "one day love not just yet."

Tammy fancied being a mother she was sure she'd be good at it and that Liam would make an excellent dad. She'd seen him coach a boy's football team at weekends, the way he inspired and encouraged those lads was very impressive he got the best out of them and they clearly liked him.

She pictured him with their son teaching him football or how to ride a bike, a patient caring father loving and supportive.

Mum wept and Ginny kept scowling but they got through it and soon she was married she was Mrs Liam Burns and he kissed her. Then the call came in a 'shout' they called it, there's been an armed robbery and it was all hands to the pumps.

"Sorry love," Liam had looked genuinely crushed although excited to even relieved, "I have to go, see you at the hotel later," he promised and then he was off with his CID mates.

"That it then," Ginny had sneered, "Lost interest already has he?"

Mum gave her a frosty look then hugged Tammy, "It's his job love you'll just have to learn to share him," her sigh was one of long suffering acceptance.

"Yeah and wave him goodbye," Ginny stood with arms tightly folded, the men had been admiring her legs all through the service long and nicely sculpted sexy in black stockings.

"Don't be unkind Virginia," Mum had rebuked, "This is our Tammy's special day the best day of her life," and Tammy stood there alone and forlorn, married yet without her husband and wondered if this were actually true?

TWENTY ONE

She didn't have to be there but if anyone asked she could say she was interviewing the victim, as SIO on the case it seemed perfectly logical.

Okay other officers had spoken to Liam but they wouldn't be asking him the sorts of questions she would, nor did they have any emotional involvement with him.

Heart hammering and mouth dry Naomi felt a rush of desire the moment she cast eyes on the man in the bed, her whole body had this hot tingle and it tingled most in private intimate places, places he had touched with his hands, tongue and...

Liam smiled when he saw her and she smiled back, the chemistry between them immediate and intense. Glad she was alone and that there were no nurses around Naomi went over and kissed him on the cheek.

Grabbing her with a surprising strength he pulled her onto a more passionate kiss, his tongue entering her mouth firm and probing. She had to tug herself free although in truth she'd have liked to take it a lot further.

"Liam please not here," she panted knowing he'd have an erection he always did, "I supposed to be working."

"You look damn sexy in that suit Naomi, black stockings to."

Yes she'd made more of an effort a shorter skirt, tighter top, higher heels and the stockings his favourite, not to mention a stronger French perfume, "How are you," she forced her voice to remain calm?

"I feel as stiff as hell my back aches like mad but I was lucky, nothing broken."

"Are you okay to talk?"

"I can always make time for you Naomi," he said with a saucy grin patting the side of the bed, tempted though she was she stayed on her feet, the kiss had been arousing enough and her body screamed at her for more, an impulse she had to ignore for now.

"Liam I need to ask you some questions about your marriage about Tammy."

He tensed, "You've found her where is she?"

"No not yet but we will, I need to know the state of your relationship with her."

"What do you mean she was and is my wife, just like when we made love in your car and my car and..."

"Did you ever hit her," Naomi studied him closely for his reaction for any hit of guilt or deceit.

"No," he said forcefully then softer, "No of course I didn't."

"I've seen photos Liam images of Tammy with cuts and bruises taken by a friend of hers."

"I can guess which one that nosy cow Sue she always hated me."

"What about the injuries, did you do them?"

"Of course I didn't I never touched Tammy in that way I've never assaulted a woman, I hate men who are violent to women you know that."

"So how did she get the marks, the cut lips and black eyes," Naomi insisted because she had to know just as others would want to know?

"Tammy had this condition I don't know what it's called she self-harmed, hurt herself."

Naomi's eyes widened, "Are you saying she beat herself up?"

"She had self-esteem issues, deep seated problems."

"I find that hard to believe Liam and so will my colleagues."

"Talk to her GP, Tammy was referred to a shrink."

Making a mental note to check this Naomi found herself conflicted, she wanted badly to believe Liam to trust him but his story was pretty amazing, would any woman inflict such damage on herself willingly?

"Okay I will speak to her doctor but you know what they're like about confidentiality."

Liam's smile was all charm, "I'm sure you'll get the truth out of her DI Finch."

Yes thought Naomi I will, "Liam are you sure you never touched Tammy?"

"Not in that way I tried to help her, she was seeing a counsellor you know."

"I didn't know that, do you have the counsellor's name?"

"Yeah Derek something or other he's a local guy works for the New Truth Centre on Compton Street."

Naomi had heard of this and she wrote the name 'Derek' down he shouldn't be too hard to trace, "Is there anything else you can tell me about Tammy's state of mind?"

"I'm worried about her I'm scared about what she might do," Liam looked away, "I love her you know despite everything."

A knife turned in Naomi's guts to learn Liam still loved his wife, where did that leave her?

"We will find her Liam and get to the truth," whatever it is Naomi didn't add wanting to believe Liam's account of things with a desperation that survived her, "When do you get out of here," she asked?

"The doc will tell me later today hopefully soon, look Naomi thanks for coming to see me I really appreciate it, keep me up to speed won't you."

Her phone bleeped she had a text and it was work related, "Of course, look I have to go."

"I understand you're the SIO and it's a big career opportunity, you have to make the best of it."

She knew he'd get it he was after all a DI himself, "I fully intend to," she declared and kissed him again, she knew she didn't have to but she wanted to she wanted him, to feel his hands caressing her body his lips crushing hers and his firmness inside of her; she ached with need.

When he squeezed her butt she squirmed with pleasure and in that moment hated Tammy Burns with all the passion of a jealous woman.

TWENTY TWO

Laying the folders out on her bed Tammy studied them, she'd been given a dozen documents by Amanda a mix of upmarket properties up for sale with exterior and interior shots, notes on special features, the age of the building, its view its previous owner and how much it would command in the current economy.

"Memorise these," she'd been told, "Then come back tomorrow and sell the best of them to me, if you can impress a hardened pro like me you're ready to be let loose on my clients."

Always blessed with a good memory and a sharp commercial awareness Tammy picked up a property that appealed to her and began to absorb all she could about it then she asked herself some questions like what kind of person would it appeal to, could it be improved in any way, how close was it to local amenities, what were the neighbours was like and was there good off-road parking?

She began to make notes about each dwelling giving them a score out of ten; eventually she had picked the handful she wanted to pitch to Amanda all had scored 7 or above.

Once she had her shortlist she began to write out a short sales pitch for each, Amanda would want detailed reasoning, good logical arguments and a sense Tammy knew what she was talking about.

Preparation was the key to success in everything; attention to detail you had to cover all the bases. She was almost done when Sue rang,

"How's it going," she asked then almost immediately, "I'm under surveillance an unmarked car some Mondeo with a guy inside who smokes too much."

"So you can't get away," Tammy reasoned.

"I could try and slip him but if I do that pushy DI will want to know why so it's not worth the hassle, how did you get on with Amanda?"

"She's set me a test to see how good an estate agent I am."

"Typical, is it hard?"

"Nothing I can't cope with, Celeste popped over earlier and took me to lunch, I feel a lot more confident now."

"Good old Celeste she's inspirational isn't she?"

Yes thought Tammy the American was an amazingly positive and focused person, she seemed to be doing all of this was free it was amazing and Tammy wished she could pay her back in some way.

"So you think you'll be able to cope with the property game then do you," Sue enquired.

"Ask me after tomorrow, Amanda expects me to give her a sales pitch and she's the expert, I feel like I'm on THE APPRENTICE or something."

"You'll be fine Tam I've every faith in you, you've a good brain and can learn things quickly; far quicker than me."

Appreciating the support Tammy wiped a tear from her eye; she had to make this work because she had no choice there was no going back now no returning to her old life.

"Have you seen him," she said, "Liam I mean?"

"No not yet he might be in hospital, you're not missing him are you?"

"No of course not," Tammy said quickly.

"I should hope not, the last thing you need is to get sucked back into his world."

Part of her agreed but another part of her wasn't so sure, it wondered if she'd done the right thing and if she'd get away with it.

"He won't stop looking for me Sue you do realise that, he'll never give up he isn't the type."

"He can't find you Tam stop panicking he doesn't know where to begin."

Maybe not but Liam was relentless, ruthless, the secret of his success was his total self-belief that he could do anything and that nobody walked away from him.

"I hope you're right Sue," she sighed.

"Of course I'm right we've covered your tracks completely, Liam will never figure out what's happened."

Confidence returning Tammy wished she could treat Sue to a meal but if Sue was being watched by the police it wasn't possible, they might not see each other for some time.

"I hope he doesn't bother you," she said to Sue, "He knows we were close so he might think he can get some information out of you."

Sue's tone became snide, "Let him try, if he comes here I'll give him the sharp edge of my tongue, oh I've got a shotgun don't forget a good quality one. Liam doesn't scare me, his type never will again."

Good for you thought Tammy wishing she had that bold self-assurance, maybe as Samantha it would come in time.

"Have you been bothered by that woman DI again," she asked?

"Naomi Finch, no she hasn't shown her face why?"

The name was familiar to Tammy for some reason, she was sure she'd heard it before, "I think she knows Liam, they've probably worked together on a case or attended a training course together."

Sue sniffed, "If she bothers me again I'll ask her, snooty cow."

TWENTY THREE

Janice Renard was waiting for Naomi when she got back to her office, sipping from a can of sprite; nobody in their right mind drank anything from the vending machine.

Holding a file in her other hand Janice squinted myopically at her boss, "You look very smart," she said with a woman's eye for detail, "Bit sexy to."

Feeling her cheeks warm Naomi bustled around the desk, "Yeah well now I've been promoted it's time to dress the part."

"Smell it to that's a nice scent," Janice had a curious smirk on her lips, did she suspect anything.

"Have you got something for me," Naomi kept her tone clipped and business like this wasn't a girlie chat they were working and she was a senior rank?

"Tammy's doctor has agreed to see you and she sounds cooperative, is 3.30 today all right?"

Nodding that it was Naomi handed over a sheet of paper, "This is a counsellor Tammy was seeing, find out when I can see him and stress its important."

Scanning the name with surprise Janice nodded, "Okay, where did you get this boss?"

From my lover thought the DI but she didn't say that, "I have my sources," was her only comment, "It's becoming clear Tammy had her demons maybe they got the better of her."

Renard lingered, "You see her as a suspect and not a victim; you don't think she was an abused wife defending herself?"

"I'm keeping an open mind," Naomi sat down and crossed her legs, "We can't assume Liam turned on her she might have turned on him."

Disbelief wrote itself large on the smaller woman's face, "Liam's over six feet tall, muscular and fit is that likely?"

The question needled Naomi more than it should have, pricking at the doubts she herself entertained, "That's what we're trying to find out," she said tartly.

"Have you spoken to DI Burns about this," Renard asked?

"Yes and he denies attacking her."

"Well he would wouldn't he, with his wife missing he can say what he likes."

Naomi smouldered not sure what to say to this and not liking the way Janice was studying her, it felt like an assessment.

"Anything else DC Renard," she demanded?

Looking rebuffed Janice edged back towards the door then said, "The surveillance on Tammy's friend Sue hasn't reported anything unusual."

Naomi waved her hand in an okay gesture but didn't look up, she didn't want to meet the other woman's gaze then her phone went and snatching it up she listened intently, the wire tap on Sue had just been approved it meant they could bug her phone and listen to every call she made. About time she thought sure the woman had lied to her and knew more than she was disclosing.

Returning to her desk Janice sat there with a brooding expression, her mind churning over what she seen and smelled. Naomi was tarted up, short skirt, tight top, French perfume like she was going out on the pull. Job be damned she'd made herself looking alluring for a bloke but which bloke, she was single and not dating as far as anyone knew a career woman focused on her job.

"Swallowed something bitter," Tony Proctor was rifling through a draw and sucking on a paper cut, he look a bit jaded?

"Have seen the DI today," Janice threw back?

"Can't say I have," Proctor confessed, "Why?"

"I have," said Neal Swaney a rookie DC barely out of uniform or high school, "Blimey little skirt, real stockings and high heels."

"Okay roll your tongue in," Janice rebuked secretly glad she wasn't the only one to pick up on the wardrobe change.

"She got a fella," Swaney asked with a cheeky leer, he was so young thought Janice a boy trying to be a man?

"I was thinking that," Janice muttered, "She isn't dressed like that for our benefit, in fact I've never seen her look so…."

"Horny," the boy DC sniggered.

"Oh grow up," Janice snapped.

"Well it's a bit much isn't it she looks like a fashion model."

"Like you'd know," Janice retorted thinking that he was so young almost painfully so.

Proctor sighed and slammed his drawer, "Sweet on Burns isn't she, the DI," he said sheepishly and Janice swung around in shock.

"What do you mean," she demanded?

"Common knowledge for those of us here longer than five minutes, Liam and Naomi are an item or they were."

On her feet Renard went over to the older officer, "Is this just gossip or are you sure?"

"Training courses, conferences, briefings haven't you noticed how she's always by his side like a puppy dog?"

"She's ambitious," Janice defended, "Keen to learn."

"Yes of course she is but Liam's a good looking bloke, fit and successful and he's had his fair share of the ladies, he likes the ambitious ones especially if they look like Naomi."

Was it just talk, men's locker room chat, a bit of jealousy even or was Tony onto something? There was no denying the sexiness of Naomi's outfit or that perfume, and she had been to see Liam so was it for his benefit? With Tammy out of the way she now had a clear shot at him.

Mind full of this Janice returned to her seat to ponder what she'd learned and what it meant to the case and their so called objectivity.

TWENTY FOUR

Amanda wasn't alone as Tammy had expected there was a man with her, a very dishy looking man as it turned out and Tammy was surprised by her reaction to him the charge of electricity that passed through her.

He was her age maybe slightly younger and dressed less formally in a pullover and slacks, his thick hair combed back giving him a boyish charm which was accentuated by the sparkling eyes and even white teeth.

Somewhat breathless she dropped her notes and quick as a flash Mr Handsome was by her side, "Let me." He said with a heart jolting smile and Tammy felt flustered, all at sea, my god she was shaking and her mouth was dry.

"There you go," he said showing off his dimple and powder blue eyes, "I'm Rob by the way and I work here to."

Pulses hammering and breath coming in short spurts Tammy straightened on very dodgy knees, "I'm sorry," she said in a squeak.

"Are you all right today," Amanda wasn't smiling she seemed preoccupied and slightly irritable?

No thought Tammy I'm not, not with a good looking guy like this in the room, he even pulled out a chair for her to sit on and asked if she'd like a glass of water?

"Can we get on," Amanda droned consulting her watch, "I've got a big client in thirty minutes."

Oh charming thought Tammy I'm here at your request but again Rob came to the rescue,

"If you need to shoot off Mandy I can finish the assessment, I know all the properties extremely well."

Oh yes please do shoot off Mandy as soon as you like and leave us alone, Tammy wanted to cry.

"No it's fine I've got some leeway," Amanda huffed and Tammy was pleased to see a look of disappointment on Rob's face, "Okay let's get on with it what are your top picks and why?"

Clearing her throat Tammy launched into a well prepared spiel, outlining her thoughts on each house and flat how good they were and why. As she spoke Rob kept nodding and smiling his encouragement but Amanda just sat and scowled giving nothing away apart from the odd sniff or grunt; it was like she was bored rigid by the whole thing.

While Rob said, "Oh good point," and "Yes that makes sense," their boss was taciturn and withdrawn and finally Tammy ran out of steam wondering why she'd bothered if she was so poor?

"Well I'm impressed," said Rob with another glorious grin that made her stomach flutter.

Tammy waited for Amanda's reaction but instead of giving it her boss stood up, eyed her watch and grabbed a briefcase, "I've got to go now or I'll be late, can you finish up here Rob you know my thoughts."

"Yes of course you can rely on me Mandy, have a good meeting."

With a baleful look Amanda left without a single remark as if this whole thing was beneath her and Tammy felt crushed, she was sure she'd blown it and her job, "God was I that bad," she said, "I thought I did pretty well."

"Oh you did," Rob seemed to relax, "Extremely well that's why Mandy was so pissed, she expected you to make a hash of it due to inexperience and she doesn't like being proved wrong."

Spirits soaring Tammy gave a gasp, "I did okay?"

"Better than okay, 10 out of 10 I'd say," and Rob handed something over it was a sheet of agency notepaper, "These were Mandy's picks," he gave a wink and her heart skipped a beat.

Mandy's picks and hers were exactly the same house for house, even the reasoning was the same it was like they were of the same mind and Tammy sat back wanting to weep with relief.

"I thought I'd blown it, she was so brusque and dismissive."

Coming over Rob took her by the arm his tough electric, "Don't let Mandy put you off it's just her way, you're a natural at this I can tell a born estate agent with a sharp eye for detail."

Wow what a thing to say Tammy was breathless with excitement, this guy Rob was so friendly and supportive it was unbelievable he really seemed to think she could do this job.

"Are you sure," she stammered?

"Of course I am I've been in this game long enough to spot a pro and you'd really fit in here, how long have you been an agent Sam?"

What, who, oh of course her name here wasn't Tammy she was Samantha Singleton only Mandy knew her real identity Rob clearly wasn't in the loop?

"3 years," she fibbed making it up on the spot.

"You've got your ESTA of course," he said and she wondered what the hell this was?

"Naturally," she said falling into her Sam persona confident and cool.

"Well then I see no reason why you can't jump in straight away, we've got a viewing here in an hour," he selected one of the houses a lush 4 bed on the south side the best area it was retailing for 3.5 million.

"You want me to show the buyers around," she gulped losing some of her Sam savvy as her Tammy trepidation reasserted itself?

"Of course you'll be fine," Rob enthused like he totally trusted her, "You're smart, confident, well prepared and very attractive."

Had he really called her attractive did he mean it or was it empty flattery?

"Well thank you," she gulped thinking he wasn't too bad either.

"It's a cash deal he's a top film exec and she runs her own fashion line so they're loaded."

Good god how could she sell a house to people like that the uber rich and successful, "Right I see," she said utterly terrified.

Rob picked up on this, "Are you okay you've got a bit pale, can I get you something?"

Yes something for a panic attack, "I'm fine, in an hour you said?"

"Yes take a company car the Mercedes I think as it flashy and with these people first impressions are everything."

Rob wanted her to drive a Mercedes he trusted her that much, "What are their names?"

"Oh sorry stupid of me," he produced a hard copy of a smart middle-aged couple sleek and well groomed they were Nate and Tori and they oozed money in their designer clothes.

"Americans," she asked?

"She is California I think he's a London boy, she's an ex TV actress and he came up from nothing a typical pushy self-made type but don't be intimidated."

Too late she was ready to faint on the spot, they were both in a totally different league from her.

Rob looked into her eyes in that lovely sensitive way he had, "You can do this," he said softly.

"If you say so," Tammy was quaking in her heels.

"Just act like you own the town it works for me," he patted her arm and once again she felt that tingle of electric attraction.

"Do you want me to close the deal today," she asked?

"If you can that would be perfect, Nate's a bit hard-nosed but I think it's his wife that will say yes or no."

"How far can I budge on the price?"

"No lower than 3.2, Nate will try to push you down to 3 but don't let him."

"What if he says no; that he can't afford it?"

"He can trust me, we've checked him out and he's loaded plus he wants to live in this area."

There didn't seem anything else to say this was it then her maiden voyage it was sink or swim, she had to cut this deal if she was to be taken seriously at the agency is Samantha Singleton was to make a go of it.

TWENTY FIVE

There were five other women apart from Tammy in the small but smart gym; all in exercise gear of various kinds mostly track suits or leotards. Attending this class had been Celeste's idea; she'd arranged in advance and then told Tammy by text.

To one side stood the class instructor or coach as she preferred to be called, her name was Vicky and she wore a blue judo outfit with a black belt. But it was the fearsome, bulky figure to the far end of the gym that held everyone's attention a man wearing a helmet, breast plate, groin box and a flotilla of pads protecting his joints and vital areas.

He looked like an American line backer or some kind of armoured alien, he was in fact their opponent their target their slam-man a she liked to be termed.

"Sam you're on first," said Vicky in her confident voice and giving a blow of anxiety Tammy gazed at her fellow trainees, all women her age all refugees from bad relationships who'd come here to take part in the 6 week course.

"Face the slam man," Vicki instructed and the hulking monster towered over Tammy, "Now turn your back to him," this was even scarier being near the guy but not being able to see him.

Vicki said, "In a moment Slam will grab you don't panic or freeze just do what we rehearsed okay," heart in her mouth Tammy nodded sick with terror and sure this wasn't a good idea, what the hell was she doing taking karate lessons who was she kidding?

No wait this was what Sam would do she'd learn to fight back to defend herself and now that she called herself Sam she had to act the part.

Vicki watched her closely, "You ready," she asked? No thought Tammy I'm not this is just too real, too close to my old life but she nodded.

Slam's thick padded arms went around her his gauntlets were monstrous and stank of leather, "Bitch," he said, "Stupid fucking bitch I'm going to kill you."

Terror knifed into Tammy a choking paralysis, memories of every beating Liam had ever given her rushed back, how strong he was, how weak she was, how inevitable the beating was going to be.

"Now," Vicki cut into these thoughts as the arms squeezed tight, "Do it now," the tall brunette toned and tanned moved closely, "Defend yourself."

I can't thought Tammy I can't move I'm helpless, a weak woman but Vicki wasn't one to back down, "Fight," she screamed her voice making Tammy jump, "Fight back or he'll kill you."

The brute chuckled, "Stupid cunt there's no escape for you."

Not sure how or why or where it came from Tammy gave a primal scream a snarl of rage and she moved, she stamped on the guy's foot loosening his grip, her elbow piston into his solar plexus and the hold was gone, turning she palm smacked his chin so hard his big head flew then she let him have it a front snap kick to the balls, a higher kick to the collar bone.

As he went down she drove her knee into his mask where his teeth would be and gave an almighty scream. He fell on his back and she kicked him, booting him hard in the side then the head.

He rolled into a ball into the submission posture 'I've had enough please stop'. With a roar Tammy kicked the helmet one more time she was shaking and sweating, radiant with fury amazed by her own skill and power. This was a big guy bigger than Liam a real giant and she'd demolished him.

"Enough," Vicki held onto her, "That's enough you've won and he's had it."

The class cheered, Tammy cheered, helmet off the big guy cheered it was some performance and Tammy was proud of herself.

TWENTY SIX

Naomi sat back in her sports car to relax and think, the GP had confirmed that Tammy had been depressed borderline bipolar in fact which tended to support Liam's story. The counsellor had been more cautious, he wouldn't say Tammy was suicidal but did think her capable of self-harm.

"She had extremely low self-esteem and was lacking in confidence, I understand this was a long standing problem from her school days where she was bullied a lot."

However he did add that she was scared of Liam intimidated by him even overwhelmed, "He was the dominant force in the marriage beyond doubt more confident, good job he set the tone I find it hard to believe Tammy would ever attack him verbally let alone physically."

So had Liam blackened her eyes and cut her lips, was he a thug? Naomi didn't want to believe that even the idea made her feel sick, Liam was her lover and she loved him. He'd never been violent with her in fact he'd never so much as lost his temper.

Then again she was a senior detective and very assertive she didn't take crap off anyone, nobody hit her and got away with it she had the power to arrest men for assault and she had plus she could fight back she was no wimp – boxing, karate, weight training – she kept herself in shape and knew how to hurt a man.

Her phone pinged she had a text and it was from Liam, he was out of hospital had discharged himself and wanted to see her. Did she want to see him that was the question followed by should she see him because professionally it wasn't a good idea, she was a cop and he might become a suspect?

That was what the logical side of her brain said, the emotional side was saying something else it was craving his touch, his lips and his love making ability. Naomi tried to shrug it off but her body was in turns hot then cold, she tingled all over and before she knew it she had texted him back.

Responding almost at once he said he wanted sex with her right now, and a surge of lust passed right through Naomi because she wanted the same thing, the chemistry between her and Liam always intense and compelling.

Within fifteen minutes she was outside the Burns family home and there he was stood on the threshold looking gorgeous, she was amazed by his quick recovery but more impressed by the smile on his lips carnal and needy.

"You look amazing you did before," he said his eyes sweeping over her from high heels to hairdo, all of which was for his benefit. Naomi glowed under the praise, Liam always knew the right thing to say and she sashayed towards him not caring if the neighbours were watching at that moment.

"You look pretty good yourself Liam bruises suit you," soon she was in his arms and they were kissing right there on the step his hands on her butt pressing it hard into his own groin where a growing hardness excited her more.

"I couldn't stop thinking about you," he panted as their lips parted.

"Same here," Naomi gasped squirming in his arms eager to be out of her clothes nobody had ever turned her on like this man he was magnetic.

"I could fuck you right here and now on the step," he nibbled an ear and Naomi's excitement grew at the thought of outdoor sex.

"Let's go fuck inside," she made herself say and he all but carried her through the doorway as their kisses grew in intensity and he began to peel off her suit layer by layer.

Later as they lay side by side a gleam of perspiration on them both Naomi licked her lips as the delicious details of the encounter swam through her mind followed by an eye popping, screaming, back arching orgasm of incredible force.

She always came with Liam no need to fake; the orgasms were fast and ferocious like every cell in her body was exploding at the same time she'd never known such amazing sex in her life.

This is a bad idea, her conscience screamed at her you shouldn't be doing this but as Liam's hand snaked her to her belly and caressed it softly she felt another rush of desire and lust needing him inside her and rolling over she strode him until his massive hardness was once more piercing her eager cleft. He was a drug and she was addicted she just couldn't get enough of this man or what he could do to her.

"You're so beautiful," his words spurred her on, "So perfect," God she was coming again and it had only been seconds. The curtains were open and there were other properties parallel to this one, if anyone looked out now they see her riding Liam her body surging back and forth, up and down.

But all concern left her as another explosive climax drew a piercing scream from her throat and her entire frame shuddered with delicious ecstasy.

Naomi wasn't sure how long they made love or how many times they came but it was the buzz of her phone which drew her back to sanity she had a call from Janice Renard the pushy nosey DC.

"Yes," she almost gasped the word as her pussy throbbed with contentment?

"Boss where are you;" was the first thing Janice asked then, "We've had a breakthrough with CCTV footage of Tammy Burns in her car leaving the scene?"

Wiping sweat from her eyes Naomi tried to re-engage her work-brain, "What are you sure," she found the transition from sex to work difficult because she wanted to fuck Liam again?

"Yes it's definitely her car the registration checks out, you need to see this."

Yes Naomi realised I do, "Okay give me half an hour."

"Where are you now," Janice repeated?

"In my car I've just had some lunch," the lie came easily.

"Okay boss see you later, are you okay you sound a bit breathless?"

Killing the connection Naomi smoothed hair out of her eyes, "Got to go its work," she said but Liam was sat up and alert.

"Tammy," he said, "You've found her?"

"No CCTV of her in her car leaving here."

"Which direction," he asked?

"I've no idea yet I need to see the footage," she began to pull on her heels.

"Call me," he urged.

"We shouldn't be discussing this Liam."

"Please Naomi," the tone of his voice was pitched just right.

"I'll see," she fudged knowing she would and tell him everything.

"This was great we must do it again, you're amazing in the sack."

Dear god he was hard again and she wanted him again but no work was calling and she couldn't ignore it any longer.

TWENTY SEVEN

There were a scary couple, he was very arrogant and full of himself liking to brag about his achievements and how much money he made. She was brittle and insecure talking about the shows she'd been in and the directors she knew.

They made for an odd couple, beauty and the beast thought Tammy, he was rugged, rough and brusque whilst she was slender, toned, tanned and leggy a typical showbiz babe slightly passed the first flush of youth.

Tammy felt out of her league with them as they occupied a realm she could only imagine one of amazing wealth and privilege where you could buy anything instantly; all they had ever known was success.

She recognised her envy as a toothache of disappointment in her own life, after all what had she achieved; she didn't even have a real identity anymore?

The only thing to do was pitch the house so she did listing its desirability its best features, its location and what an easy commute it was from London where they both worked non-stop it seemed, him making deals and her going to auditions.

The words flowed out of Tammy and she was surprised by her confidence her easy delivery, she began to unconscious copy their speech patterns aping his blunt self-belief and her rather dramatic delivery and poses.

Oddly they seemed to relate to this and she felt them relax and smile more as some of the barriers came down. I'm actually good at this Tammy thought I can do it and sound convincing, I'm really turning into Samantha.

Finally they came to the thorny issue of the price and as expected Nate played hard ball, he offered 2.9 which was ridiculous for a house retailed at 3.5.

Tammy smiled at him charmingly, "I already have an offer of 3.3," she lied smoothly and heard Tori gasp in shock.

"Somebody else has viewed," the American gasped in horror?

"Yesterday," Tammy returned quickly, "So you see why I can't accept such a low offer from you," she beamed warmly at Nate and felt every inch a hustling estate agent fighting for her commission. No way was this guy beating her down to 2.9 he was trying it on the cheeky sod.

"I can't go higher than 3," Nate shot back a man who'd already admitted he was a multi-billionaire.

It was his wife who objected, "Oh come on honey don't be so tight we can't lose this lovely place, it's just perfect."

"Tori let me deal with the business okay," he snapped.

"But this is house is ideal it's just what we're looking for."

"Maybe you should wait outside in the car," Nate offered every inch the alpha male.

"No I'm staying right here until you come to your senses, offer 3.4."

He looked like he wanted to punch her and for a terrible moment Tammy wondered if he was violent just like Liam a man who won arguments with his knuckles?

The way Tori faced up to him drove this idea from her mind, the American was just too sure of herself too poised.

"I deal with the cash side of things," Nate tried to bluff but Tori turned away from him to say.

"3.4, we'll go to 3.4," she said.

"Are you sure," heart hammering Tammy couldn't believe it this was higher than she'd ever expected than even Rob had expected?

"Yes we're sure," Tori declared, "Aren't we darling," she jabbed Nate with an elbow and he stood there all stiff and defensive, "Nate."

Finally he gave a deep sigh of resignation and nodded his head once in defeat, Tammy almost let out a shriek of amazement. She'd done it she'd made her first sale and almost acquired the full asking price it was unbelievable, oh my god wait until she told Rob his face and smile filled her brain as did that electric touch.

"If you'd like to sign here," she produced a sales document with a shaking hand.

"Here let me take that honey," said Tori with a knowing wink, "Before you flake out on us."

"We have to celebrate," was the first thing Rob said after a very nice hug, a peck on the cheek and an enthusiastic, "well done I knew you were brilliant the moment I set eyes on you."

Amanda Selby was more reserved but did offer a handshake and the words. "Impressive performance," Like Tammy were a zoo animal jumping through hoops.

"How about a meal," Rob suggested, "That new Italian place on North Way?"

Not looking so keen Amanda said she had a previous engagement and Tammy wasn't all that disappointed it meant she had Rob all to herself, plus she loved Italian food.

"Well you can count me in," she said flushed and high after her triumph.

"Well said Sam," Rob began to clear his desk and Tammy experienced a stab of dismay, Sam was the name he knew her by not her real name he didn't know the real her and he never could.

"Go enjoy yourself," Amanda thawed a little, "You deserve it after pulling off a coup like this, it's a real result for the agency."

"I'll say, "Rob enthused and his excitement was infectious, he had an almost boyish energy and optimism that appealed to Tammy, "We'll be boasting about it on the website for months, how about giving Sam employee of the month?"

This was considered, "Early days Rob the month isn't over yet," Amanda cautioned.

"Oh come on Mandy don't be a wet blanket, who's going to top this?"

"Let's wait and see shall we, the others are slogging away to and might resent a new girl stealing all the glory."

"She isn't stealing it she's earning it, hell nobody else cracked Nate and Tori not even you."

Something flashed across the eyes of the older woman that could have been resentment even envy and her lip curled in an unpleasant way, easy boy thought Tammy don't make my boss into my enemy.

"It doesn't matter really I got lucky that's all maybe they were in a good mood," Tammy tried to play it down but the sour look didn't leave her employer's face and Amanda stomped off without another word back straight as a pole.

"Don't worry about her sour grapes," said Rob pulling his jacket on. Yes thought Tammy but I can't afford them not with the secret she and I are hiding, then Rob was on his phone reserving a table.

TWENTY EIGHT

Naomi wasn't stupid she had a shower first to get rid of the scent of sex then she changed her clothes, Janice Renard was too observant by half and comments had already been made about her attire so when she reached the station it was in a grey jacket and matching pants with ankle boots, French perfume gone and manner brisk.

She found her team in the video suite with Janice sat next to the IT boffin whilst Tony, Harry and Neal were stood around impatiently. Rising and coming over Janice looked Naomi over, before she could say anything the DI snapped, "So let's see the footage."

Grainy night time CCTV began to spool across a large screen and Naomi saw a compact green car moving left to right, she noted the make and model and yes it could be Tammy's car; the reg plate wasn't very clear nor could you make out the driver.

"Is this the best we have," Naomi sighed.

"No," said Harry Plummer, "It gets better; this is Tammy heading north along Marslake road at 9.19pm."

The next shot was of the same car moving upwards and passing two other cars the reg was still blurred and Naomi moved from foot to foot, "Any chance of cleaning up that plate?"

The third shot was of the green car at a roundabout, it took a westerly road heading out of town and the reg was a bit clearer you could make out a J and a 5, Janice said, "There's a J and a 5 in Tammy reg number."

"Yes I know and in thousands of others; is this the best we have?"

Tony Proctor looked up, "The car is heading west along Ilford Road."

"What about it," Naomi demanded and Janice said.

"The road that leads to Sue Perkins' farm boss," and the penny dropped Tammy had gone to see her friend Sue, bolshie Sue who clearly didn't like or trust cops.

"Any footage nearer the farm," she snapped?

With a flourish the boffin brought up film taken by a speed camera just half a mile from the farm, same green car and this time a blurred outline of the driver was visible, female possibly and it might have been Tammy.

"Can you clean up the face shot," Naomi demanded and the boffin did his best bringing the hair, eyes and nose into better definition. Naomi lifted a photo of Tammy to compare the two images, the eyes were right and the cheekbones but the hair was different.

"That woman looks fatter and older," she said, "What does software recognition say?"

"A 67% likelihood of this woman being our suspect," said Neal Swaney with all the enthusiasm of youth, why was he looking at her legs with disappointment?

"That's not brilliant," Naomi sighed.

"It's her boss it must be," Janice was like a little terrier, "Sue Perkins is her best friend, who else would she turn to?"

"Worth a warrant surely," Plummer added his voice adding, "We've no other leads."

No they hadn't and Naomi was painfully aware of the DAC's deadline approaching, "Okay pull in Perkins and do a full forensic strip of her place levels 1, 2 and 3," it was time to be decisive to have some good news to report.

The men hurried away only Swaney lingering, was he sniffing the air? A sharp look sent him careering away the cheeky young pup; only Janice remained.

"Problem," Naomi enquired circling the video screen like a predator?

"I hope not," said the other woman with emphasis.

"Leave us," Naomi snapped at the boffin, "And close the door," once this was done she squared up to her DC with a scowl, "I think you'd better explain yourself."

Janice didn't pull any punches, "Are you fucking Liam Burns," it was an unambiguous question and said without any contrition?

"I'm your senior officer Janice a DI; you can't talk to me like that."

"Which doesn't answer the question."

"I don't have to answer your questions I'm not accountable to a DC; who do you think you are," Naomi was furious and felt every inch of her skin heat up with both rage and guilt?

"You're playing a very dangerous game Naomi, if the DAC finds out..."

"My name is DI Finch and I don't play games, who I chose to sleep with is my business it has nothing to do with you."

"I think he beat his wife more than once and she was defending herself, Liam Burns could be a very dangerous man," Renard continued like a dog with a bone she was no quitter that was for sure.

"Do you have any proof of that," Naomi cut in, "Any evidence at all?"

"We've all spoken to their friends and family, she was scared of him and a young PC who went to see them both says he hit her."

"Did Tammy make a statement did she once register a complaint," Naomi already knew the answer to this, "No she didn't so there is no evidence."

"Neighbours heard things; her workmates saw bruises maybe this Sue Perkins knows stuff."

Yes she did it was on her phone and Naomi had seen the damning images the cuts and welts, "Let's not jump to conclusions until we know the facts Janice."

"Because he's your lover," the other woman was contemptuous but she'd crossed the line this was insubordination.

"One more word just one and you're off this case, I will not tolerate disrespect is that clear," Naomi's heart was racing and her palms were sticky if anyone had seen her kissing or making love to Liam she could say goodbye to her career.

"You're turning a blind eye Naomi being swayed by your feelings for Burns."

"I could have you suspended for saying that," the threat seemed to work Naomi saw fear in the other girl's eyes, "Any other DI would have thrown you out of the building by now but I'm giving you a chance to prove yourself to stand up to the boy's club; don't blow it and don't make an enemy of me. We are not having this conversation again is that clear, now get back to work."

Janice stood there for a moment heels dug in then she broke off eye contact first by lowering her head, Naomi had won bluffed it out at least this time and Renard slumped away chastised by the threat of suspension but she was a rival now an enemy and she was the only other woman on the squad.

Naomi consoled herself with the thought of Sue Perkins in custody being grilled, this time she wouldn't get off the hook and if they found any trace of Tammy at the farm the screw would be turned at full force.

Her phone bleeped it was a text of Liam just one word as a question Tammy?

Naomi almost didn't answer she knew to do so was foolish in the extreme but she couldn't resist him her loins burned with excitement so she texted back maybe and hurried off to supervise the search of the Perkins place.

TWENTY NINE

Rob was as good as his word he got them a discreet corner table at Fandango and the place was everything he'd promised chic, smart, ethnic and with subdued lighting, Pavarotti on the speakers and reproduction DaVinci on the walls.

The food was good to in fact it was brilliant and so was the red wine he'd chosen to go with it, a cheeky little number.

Rob was a good conversationalist to with a big stock of funny stories that soon had her gushing with laughter, especially the way he made fun of Amanda as a cold fish with no life outside of work.

"She needs to lighten up," he said over his third glass of wine, "I think she's over compensating myself, you know a woman in a man's world and all that."

"Well she is," Tammy defended, "No doubt she's had to work three times as hard just to prove herself."

"I'm sure she has but she could be a bit more generous with her praise and she could have come out for a meal."

"I'm glad it's just us," the words were out before she could stop them and once said they couldn't be retracted, god how much wine had she put away?

"Are you," he teased, "Seriously?"

She was gazing into his lovely eyes so soft and sensitive, a lover's eyes. Oh boy hang on where had that come from, what was she thinking?

"You're easier to talk to friendlier," she attempted to backtrack to cover her gaff and wondered if he were convinced?

"I like you Sam you're a lively bubbly personality and I find you easy to be with as well."

Sam not Tammy she ached inside, "Thank you I do my best."

"You're a people-person I can see you engage," was he reverting to management-speak hiding behind the job?

"It's called caring," a good old fashioned word that preferred to corporate jargon, "I want the best for people and I think those clients today could sense that."

"All I know is that I'm very impressed, I don't think any of us could have pulled off that deal today."

"Have you been in the business long," she wanted to move the conversation away from work to a more personal domain, after all who was this guy outside the office?

"Most of my adult life I enjoy it, dad was an estate agent so I guess I'm following in his footsteps what about you?"

Oh god what was on her CV what had Celeste written she tried to think to see the text the legend the lies, "No my career's been more varied," details details details come on Tammy shape up.

"Oh yeah you were a PA for a time and worked in HR so what attracted you to property?"

Good question Mr Interrogator now just give me a minute to think of a good answer, "Amanda talked me into it," make Mandy a scapegoat why not?

"Seriously," Rob seemed amazed, "I can't imagine her giving you a sales pitch."

"Well she did making it sound very exciting and a bit of a challenge; which I was looking for at the time."

So you like variety is that it," he probed with a wry smile, "Something to get your teeth into," and at that moment he licked his own teeth his lovely very even teeth with a soft, moist tongue she could imagine licking her.

Whoa steady on girl you need to get a grip of yourself, this is no place for wild sexual fantasies, "Yes I suppose I do," she threw back brazenly, "Life is for living," it was a very Sam thing to say and she could feel herself drawing on her inner Sam to match his candour even licking her own teeth; see I have lovely pearly whites to.

"You're not from around here are you Sam I mean you don't have a local accent?"

"Further north but I've moved around I like travel," didn't her CV mention Spain and Jersey Sam was a bit of a jet setter.

"Me to," Rob said wistfully, "I wish I had more time for it."

Boldly she said, "You have to make time for the important stuff; why put it off?"

"You're right of course, seize the day and all that you obviously know where you're going in life you seem to have a handle on it."

Tammy almost choked on her wine, if only you knew Robbie my lad if only then she was blinded by a sharp flash, a sudden burst of light and a click that made her retinas smart.

Turning she saw a pretty girl in a green dress holding a smart phone, which she'd just used to take a snap of them long blond curls, lots of cleavage on display, smooth very tanned skin and a haughty almost mocking face.

"Selina," Rob rose to his feet clearly just as alarmed as her and Tammy wondered how he knew this beauty?

Lowering her phone Selina gave a triumphant smile, "Having fun Rob," she said in a withering tone, "What's this one called," the question was derisory?

"Sam is a colleague from work," he answered.

"Oh Sam is it nice and short a tart's name, "Selina tossed her hair for dramatic effect and Tammy felt her cheeks burn at the insult.

"That's enough," Rob snapped, "This isn't what it seems Selina so don't make a scene."

"I'll do and say what I like Rob I don't take orders from you even if you we married, or had you forgotten I am still legally your wife?"

THIRTY

Naomi could see the fear on the other woman's face the dread and the guilt, Sue Perkins seemed to wither before her eyes. Of course arriving team handed might have something to do with it the two big cars and the large black CSI van full of experts.

Sue gazed from her door step hugging herself and shivering slightly, she blinked at the search warrant which Naomi flourished like a magic parchment, "This is to search your property and car," she declared, "And my people are very thorough," she added for effect, "Please come with me Ms Perkins," one of the cars was indicated.

Once sat snugly inside it Naomi permitted herself a smug grin of satisfaction, not so cocky now are you Sue she thought, "I know Tammy came here after attacking Liam and that you helped her so no more denials."

"How do you know," there was still enough spirit left in Sue for this rejoinder?

"CCTV allowed us to track her car to your door," not exactly true but why split hairs, "We know she came straight here to her best friend."

"Do you," the words were flat and emotionless?

"Yes we do so drop the act Sue, you talked to Tammy you helped her maybe you gave her some cash because she hasn't used any of her cards."

"Fishing inspector nothing more," Sue retorted, "You can't prove a thing."

Waving at the forensic experts now invading the farmhouse like aliens Naomi tossed her head back, "We'll find proof Sue no matter how well you've scrubbed and polished it only takes a fragment."

"Tammy isn't here nor is her car."

"Not now maybe but both were here on the night Liam was assaulted."

Cheeks flushing and hands closing Sue leaned forwards, "Liam did all the assaulting Naomi he beat Tammy up sometimes daily; you've seen the photos."

"Tammy was depressed, bipolar, she self-harmed."

"Oh come off it you can't be that naive," Sue exploded, "Or are you protecting Liam, covering his back is that what this is a good old fashioned white wash?"

"I'm doing my job Sue so don't take that line, you lied to me you lied in your official statement and I can do you for that as well as aiding and abetting; you're in big trouble lady and it's time you realised it."

"It's more than the job isn't it Naomi," Sue probed, "You and Liam are in a relationship aren't you, you're fucking him, Tammy said he had girlfriends were you one of them or are you still?"

Blazing with anger and embarrassment it took all of Naomi's self-control not to slap this woman, she felt furious and insulted, "You're the one facing charges Sue and a long term in prison."

"Still banging you is he, do your colleagues know does your boss? My god he must really be something in bed, I bet you are to Liam likes them enthusiastic."

That was it Naomi snapped the red mist filled her eyes and she lunged at Sue, as the door wasn't locked they spilled out of the car onto some grass, locked together in a fierce embrace tumbling over and over clawing at each other, grunting and spitting like two feral cats.

Naomi tore at Sue's hair tugging and twisting savagely, for her part Sue grabbed the other woman's wrist to try and break the hold. Landing on top Naomi released one hand to deliver a mighty slap to Sue's cheek, stunned by the blow Sue quickly countered with a palm heel to the inspector's chin unseating her at once.

Scrambling to their knees the women tore at each other grabbing hair, skin and clothing their fight rapidly descending into a free for all, soon they were both cut, bloody, dirty and possessed hair that was untamed.

Naomi landed another slap, Sue retaliated with a back hand swipe and the inspector landed on her back legs kicking the air in an undignified cycling motion.

Pushing herself upright she timed a punch at the older woman but luckily Harry Plummer had made his way over to block the blow, "No guv no," he cried out in horror as the other detectives looked on stunned, "Inspector," Harry had to grab hold of Naomi.

"Get-off-me," the black woman wriggled to free herself she wasn't finished pummelling Sue Perkins but Harry held on.

"Stop it guv please you can't do this," he looked to his colleagues imploringly and they jogged over to get between the two combatants.

"Boss get a grip," said Tony Proctor whilst young Slaney grinned from ear to ear, he'd quite enjoyed the cat fight and wanted to see more but it was Janice who knelt in front of her superior to take her by the shoulders.

"Liam's not worth it," she said softly and this seemed to permeate Naomi's addled brain; she began to come to her senses. Oh god what was she doing brawling with a suspect like some schoolgirl; she was completely sabotaging her career and reputation two things she'd fought so hard to establish.

Breathing heavily and bleeding slightly from one nostril she swallowed her rage, letting big genial Harry pick her up, "That's it guv that's the way," he said softly then to Janice, "Get her in the van out of the way," and Renard hurried to comply taking Naomi by an elbow to steer her away from Sue.

Also gulping for air and bleeding from a cut lip Sue picked herself up she didn't need any help, Tony Proctor came over with an anxious, "Are you alright Mrs Perkins?"

Sue dusted herself down, "She's fucking Liam Burns you do know that don't you?"

"No Madam I don't and neither do you," Tony said quickly.

"I want to register a formal complaint against DI Finch for assault," Sue snapped wiping herself with a hanky.

"What assault Mrs Perkins we didn't see anything," Proctor said blandly and Sue gave a knowing cynical sneer.

"No of course you didn't, I hit myself in the mouth; bloody coppers."

Settling her boss in the van's passenger seat Janice sat next to her and put the central heating on, it was bitter outside. Still breathing heavily Naomi dabbed at her sore nose with a Kleenex, she'd lost two buttons from her jacket and her sleeve was slightly torn.

"Don't say anything Janice just don't say a word I know I've been stupid," she eventually said as the implications of attacking a member of the public sank in.

"Do you mean hitting Sue Perkins or sleeping with Liam," Janice kept her gaze fixed directly ahead knowing the squad would close ranks around the DI because it was what cops did?

Giving a bitter little smile Naomi continued to dab her nose, "I let Perkins wind me up; she's a mouthy little cow."

"She'll try and make this official you know that don't you," Janice wished she could give the boss a hot drink or something all she had was a packet of spearmint gum.

"I've never lost my temper like that on the job before, not in ten years," Naomi's eyes grew slightly more hot and moist.

"We all flip out some time;" Renard offered generously, "There are times when I'd like to tell the men where to get off believe me."

Giving a terse little laugh Naomi studied the scratches on her hands, "Unprofessional conduct that's what it was I just blew my stack."

"What did she say boss?"

Naomi head shook in a forget it kind of way she wasn't getting into that or giving this kid any more ammo, "Doesn't matter."

"It will if the DAC ever hears about this."

"Yes well he isn't going to is he, unless you tell him," the look was pure challenge, "Are you?"

Glancing away Janice tried to contract into herself, the idea of stitching up a fellow woman officer was anathema to her; it was hard enough for girls to succeed on the force without them knifing each other in the back.

"Nope," she said in a tiny voice just audible.

"It was a mistake and it won't happen again," Naomi insisted, "Perkins lied to us she knows where Tammy is and is the best lead we have, the only lead so far. I can't interview her not after this so I'd like you to do it."

Glancing up in amazement the DC could hardly believe her ears, "Me," she said, "Wouldn't Tony or Harry be better they have the rank?"

"No I think a woman should do it, Sue's ready to crack I'm sure of it all we have to do is apply a bit more pressure and find some evidence in that farm of hers. You're ready for this Janice I know you are."

Bribery thought Renard in a rush of realisation Naomi was offering her a treat to keep her quiet. On the other hand it was a terrific chance to prove herself one few DC's ever got and she'd be mad to turn it down.

"Okay I'll do it," she said with renewed confidence.

THIRTY ONE

They stood there glaring at each other with a weird kind of tableau Rob his wife and Tammy and of the three she felt the most uncomfortable, she hadn't known Rob was married because he didn't wear a ring and hadn't mentioned it.

Selina threw her head back boldly playing the wronged woman for all she was worth, but Tam could tell it was all fake.

"We're almost divorced," said Rob regaining the use of his voice, "Next month we will be and you know it."

"Licence to fool around is that it," Selina remained snide and on the offensive, "Remind me again why we're getting divorced Rob for blondie's benefit," she eyed Tammy with disdain, "Come on husband say something explain how I discovered you cheating on me," voice raised now so everyone in the place could hear Selina stood with hands on hips.

Face salmon coloured Rob lowered his eyes for a moment, "You're making a scene Selina as usual just leave it."

Playing with her long curls the tall woman moved closer to Tammy with languorous strides and it occurred to Tammy that Rob's wife might have been a model at some stage or a beauty queen she certainly had the looks and deportment.

"I caught him," Selina enjoyed revealing this juicy morsel, "With that cow Amanda his boss, yours to they were at it in my house rutting like a pair of rabbits, you should have seen them."

Face also hot Tammy felt sick to her stomach, how could such a nice evening turn into a total nightmare, "Why did you take my picture," was all she could think to ask?

"Proof," Selina blew hair from her mouth, "More proof of his infidelity."

"Nothing's going on here," Rob snapped, "Sam and I are just having a meal."

"Of course you are darling just like you and Mandy used to wine and dine each other."

Having heard enough Tammy collected her bag and coat, "I'll see you outside," she told Rob as he had agreed to pay.

"Back to her place is it Rob for a little post-meal fun," Selina barred her way, "Whatever he's told you love it's all lies, he's good at lying is Robby Romeo very good at it."

Shoving the tall woman aside with ease Tammy strode past her keeping her head high and back straight, she was Sam, tough Sam resourceful Sam and nobody rained on her parade.

There was another tirade from Selina but she ignored it having heard quite enough of that poison. Outside a chill wind blew into her face drying the tears and cooling red cheeks, she almost called a cab but Rob deserved a chance to explain.

Out he came a couple of minutes later full of apologies saying how sorry he was and how drunk Selina had been, how she always acted like a bitch when they met in public.

"What she said in there about you and Amanda was it true," time to cut to the chase in typical Sam fashion?

"Yes we had an affair but my marriage was already over by then, and for the record it was Selina who killed it she'd been cheating on me for years."

"So why blow up like that why make a scene," Tammy didn't understand wasn't Selina humiliating herself by such an outburst?

"She's a drama queen always has been, she likes to be the centre of attention and play the victim."

Did she believe him was it remotely credible or was he feeding her a line to cover his own cheating?

She took my photo thought Tammy a photo that could be downloaded onto You Tube within seconds, okay she looked quite a bit different from her old self but even so the police weren't stupid they had facial recognition software Liam had told her about it. Even disguised villains could be traced despite wigs, make up even surgery.

"I'm going home," she said having totally lost her appetite.

"I'm so sorry about this Sam let me make it up to you."

"Not tonight I need time to think."

He looked about to object to raise an argument but a taxi pulled up at just the right moment and the passenger got out freeing up the vehicle, Tammy climbed in without thinking. When Rob made to follow she raised a denying hand, she wasn't sharing it with him.

"See you tomorrow," she said and his look became resigned.

"Okay fair enough I suppose it makes sense; have a good night Sam and once again I'm…"

She slammed the door on his apology and gave her address to the cabbie, damn Selina and that bloody phone what was she going to do with the photo stick it on her Facebook page, if only I'd snatched the phone Tammy mused and crushed it under my heel but it was too late for that now.

Had Rob cheated on his wife or was it the other way around, he didn't come across as a lothario but how could you really tell men were such good actors such accomplished liars.

She wanted to trust him to believe him, to accept that Selina was a bitch but for now she needed to be on her own to relax and regroup, to recover from the ugly episode.

Phone out she scanned You Tube to see if the photo had turned up but there was no sign of it that was something she supposed. She tried to find Selina on social media but there were millions of them and eventually she gave up. Maybe taking the snap had just been a gesture Selina being a drama queen as Rob had said but deep down in her heart of hearts Tammy knew that damned photo was going to be the undoing of her.

THIRTY TWO

It was a crazy thing to do utterly insane was she out of her mind did she have a death wish or something?

Climbing into Liam's car Naomi felt his luscious lips on hers his scent invade her nostrils and his hand sink between her legs, "I want you," he purred and her body responded immediately she wanted him to needed him.

They went to her flat and the sex was amazing it was mind-blowing and god didn't she need it after the day from hell.

Later satisfied they lay in each other's arms Naomi damp with his seed her secret places delicious sore from his ardour.

"We've nicked Sue Perkins," she finally said after a lengthy silence in which his fingers caressed a line from her nipple to her thigh, the hand froze.

"What," said Liam suddenly alert?

"We found DNA at her place, recent I mean Tammy had been there."

He sat up suddenly, "What did Sue say?"

"She denied it of course tried to make excuses, but our CSI people are very good as you know."

"Where is Tam now then did you get it out of her?"

Janice had done her best she'd been dogged and persistent even charming when called for probing, prying using every trick in the book but in the end Sue had clammed up.

"She knows I'm sure of it so we're checking every contact she has, all her movements and phone traffic, internet the lot."

Liam looked animated there was an odd look in his eyes a hunger a determination that was predatory, "So Tam went to the farm first then Sue sent her someplace else but where," he said, "How could Tam elude you for so long and survive without accessing her bank account, people must be helping her."

Naomi nodded, "Yes but what people and why would they help her we've hit a dead end?"

Sitting back on his elbows Liam contemplated the mystery, "Have we got a file on Sue Perkins a detailed dossier," he asked?

"Yes," Naomi agreed, "But you can't see it Liam you know the rules you're not on the case."

"But you are," his fingers found and caressed her chin his thumb on her lips enticingly.

"I can't give you access Liam it's my job."

He kissed her left nipple then her right licking them deliciously before his fingers found her clitoris circling it first one way then the other driving her wild with need, "Let's talk later," he whispered and Naomi knew no more.

Later as his lover slept Liam stole from the bed of passion and took Naomi's jacket into the loo, rifling the pockets until he found her phone. It wasn't hard to figure out her password and soon he had access to private texts and emails, police stuff all highly confidential.

The cheeky minx hadn't told him everything, there were several juicy updates and he copied them all to his own phone via email.

Then he made a call to Clarke, a useful man he'd met in the army who was now a private investigator, Clarke was shrewd, savvy and relentless; someone he knew he could trust to be discreet.

Liam had to find Tammy before the cops especially with what he had in mind for her so Clarke was perfect. The man picked up swiftly and Liam arranged a meeting for the next day so he could pass on all the data he had.

Then silently Liam returned to bed replacing Naomi's jacket where it had lain on the floor. It wasn't that he didn't trust her but at heart she was a cop she played by the rules because she had to that was the job. True she'd already crossed the line by feeding him case material but that didn't mean she'd approve of what he had in store for his wife; no that was something best kept under wraps for now.

Naomi might be a horny little raver but she was at heart a team player, she respected the system and was ambitious to rise higher than her current rank. That meant kissing arse and being seen to do the right thing; playing politics in other words.

She stirred when her phone went off, rolled over, swore and reached for her jacket. Thank god he'd had the sense to drop it where she'd dropped it, Naomi had a good memory.

"Yeah," she slurred into the device then was instantly awake, "Okay I'm on my way in," sleepiness gone she rose naked from the sheets to find the rest of her attire.

"Development," Liam faked weary disinterest like the phone had just roused him to?

"Maybe I've got to fly," she sounded excited so it must be something big, he was wise enough not to pry.

"See you later," he asked rubbing his eyes?

"Maybe we'll see," she'd gone all coy on him it was cute really was she having second thoughts? Liam rolled over with a smile he'd made his own plans and it was time to kick start them into motion.

"Are you sure about this," Naomi was outside approaching her car when she asked this question her system lighting up with adrenaline, "Footage of Sue and Tammy together leaving the farm?"

Tony Proctor confirmed it the two women were heaving east and keeping to smaller roads but they'd been picked up by roadside and bridge cams and the date was right.

So Perkins had been taking Tammy somewhere for safe keeping but where and who else was involved? The chain was expanding and Naomi felt a frisson of excitement, progress at last maybe she was going to get a result after all.

Proctor was waiting at reception he looked tired and rumbled as ever and made a sharp contrast to his smartly attired and wide awake DI.

"We've got decent footage from 6 cams," said the DS who had a lot of experience with missing people, "Sue's heading out of town so it must be another private residence the last shot is of her and Tammy on North Burbidge."

This was rural and exclusive big private houses which meant folk with money, rich people who did Perkins know who was rich?

"Find me someone who lives in that area Sue would know, I don't care how tenuous the link is."

"On it boss," Proctor drifted away and Naomi was tempted to confront Sue with this development then she thought better of it, not quite yet she'd get a name first.

In the video suite Janice and Slaney were hovering but she ignored them, ordering the film to be run.

Yes that was Tammy all right and in Sue's big 4x4, Tammy looked more composed and cleaner, it was no random ride in the country either they were going somewhere they had an appointment.

"Get me a list of all the properties within an hour's drive of that last footage," Naomi ordered.

Having already done this Janice handed it over; the list wasn't as big as the DI had feared and she studied the names but they meant nothing to her beyond the famous TV star and his latest bimbo. She didn't think Sue would be troubling them so who was left?

So we have a merchant banker, a top QC, 2 stock brokers, a best-selling novelist, an American philanthropist, Arab businessman and a lottery winner.

"Interesting bunch," she said, "Banker, stock broker, writer, Yank, Arab and lucky bastard but which of them would Sue Perkins know," could it be the lotto winner?

"I want profiles of them all names, interests and movements."

Slaney scooted off to do this he liked a bit of research leaving the women alone and Naomi felt Janice scanning her looking for tell-tale signs but there weren't any the DI was sure of this she didn't have a trace of Liam on her.

"We're closing in," Renard finally said and Naomi had to agree.

"Tammy has had some high-powered help, we're talking money and connections way beyond anything Perkins has; somebody's taken her off the grid."

"But why I mean who'd go out on a limb like that for a part-time PA," Janice complained?

"I don't know not yet at least but Tammy has a powerful friend, somebody who can make things happen."

So was it the banker, broker, Yank, Arab or writer? They were all moneyed but were they motivated, who had a god enough reason to disappear Tammy Burns who'd take that risk?

"Do we confront Sue Perkins with this and ask her," Janice said?

"No I think we can find the rich friend without her help, the trail has moved on."

THIRTY THREE

Rob could have been telling the truth she had to give him the benefit of the doubt, so he'd been married so what? He was thirty which meant he had a history, why shouldn't he be married and divorced?

The affair with Amanda was strange, they made such an odd couple but if Selina was cheating why wouldn't Rob seek solace in the arms of another? He and Mandy worked together after all they saw each other daily and no doubt shared confidences so maybe a tryst wasn't so unlikely.

Why was Selina stalking Rob, it was such an odd thing to do a bit OCD could she be unbalanced and jealous a possessive woman who thought it was okay for her to stray but not him?

Tammy hadn't liked the woman finding her brash, loud, uncouth and arrogant whereas she did like Rob in fact she liked him a lot, there was a definite chemistry between them she'd felt it the moment they meant a connection. He was someone she felt she could be happy with but could she trust him?

Since Liam she'd grown harder and more cynical, she didn't trust easily because she didn't want to be hurt again or taken for a ride.

On impulse she picked up her phone, okay it was 2am but she couldn't wait until the office. Rob answered almost immediately like he'd been waiting for her call.

"You and Amanda," she said breathily her heart in her mouth?

"Long over it was a mistake and we both knew it, she's okay but there was nothing beyond the physical thing, we haven't slept together in ages."

Truth or lie, "Are you sure Rob?"

"Completely I swear it, Mandy isn't really my type we just sort of fell into it on the rebound; she had just ended a long relationship and was needy I guess I was to."

"But Selina found out, how did she do that?"

"She's a stalker she sees me as her property, she just can't let go even though our marriage is long dead."

"Are you saying she's following you and photographing all your dates?"

"You're my first date since Mandy but yes she does turn up a lot."

"Why not get a restraining order," Tammy asked?

"I did but she ignores it, if we just happen to be in the same restaurant she can claim it's a coincidence. Look I'm so sorry about what happened."

"Forget it," Tammy said quickly although she wouldn't, "Will she stalk me?"

"I don't think so she didn't stalk Mandy and it's not like we're lovers."

If only Tammy thought then caught herself out, why was she thinking that she didn't want or need a lover not so soon after her escape anyway she had to establish herself as Sam?

"I can't have Selina popping up everywhere we go Rob."

"She won't."

"Did she ever come to the office," Tammy dreaded the thought of a showdown at the agency?

"No she knows that's off-limits anyway we have good security."

"I wasn't happy when she snapped us in the restaurant," Tammy confessed.

"I could tell that upset you but don't worry it's just mind games."

Maybe but this particular mind game could come back to haunt her, "I want my photo deleted Rob."

"Selina won't do anything with it she's just being dramatic."

Maybe so but Tammy couldn't take that risk, "I want the photo erased."

Quiet for a moment he finally said, "I'll call her and relay the message."

Would Selina pay any attention or would this only aggravate the situation, was she foolish to even make an issue of it?

Her life as Sam couldn't be compromised she was only just getting used to it and beginning to enjoy it things couldn't fall apart now then she had an incoming call and when she saw Sue's user ID she knew she had to take it, Sue wouldn't call at this hour unless it was an emergency.

"Rob I've got another call I have to take, we'll talk in the morning," she thumbed the 'accept' key and said, "Sue what is it?"

"Don't talk just listen I'm in police custody and things are going a bit pear-shaped they've got CCTV footage a young DC has just told me, I'm not sure if he was meant to but I got it out of him. They can prove you came to my farm and that we drove off together, they don't know where yet but it's only a matter of time."

Heart in her mouth Tammy leapt to her feet shaking all over, oh god no this was a disaster, what if the cops made Sue talk or tracked down Celeste; would they be able to break her?

"Call Celeste," she blurted out forgetting she was supposed to keep quiet.

"Be ready to move at a moment's notice, pack and get some cash together," Sue advised, "I'm not saying the police will be able to track you straight away but you never know."

Tammy mumbled an affirmative and Sue cut the connection rapidly as though it was being traced, what if it was and the police were already on the way?

Quickly she packed a bag then studied the street outside which was dark and silent this was a quiet area so if any car did pull onto it she'd know immediately.

Should she risk going to work tomorrow or start running now: she decided to call Celeste herself?

THIRTY FOUR

Clarke's meeting place of choice was a greasy spoon where nobody knew anybody and that suited Liam just fine, buying a frothy coffee he made his way over to the small linoleum topped table where his friend was munching on a bacon sandwich.

Wordlessly he produced the photos of Tammy he had and slid them over, he'd picked out the most recent showing Tam with different hair styles.

Balding and craggy Jim Clarke was a solid chunk of a man, the sort you wouldn't mess with if you met in the street. The ugly scar than ran the length of his jaw line wasn't really obscured by 3 day's growth of beard and only added to the effect of someone who'd lived a dangerous life.

Looking down his old army buddy nodded with a smile then with a palm device he snapped each photo, scanning them onto his computer to do facial recognition.

Liam said, "My wife hasn't the brains or balls to reinvent herself like some kind of cold war spy."

This did not impress the other man, "Then somebody's helping her."

"But who would," Liam objected?

"I don't know mate but it's clear to me she's had some serious help, going off the grid takes planning and money if you're going to do it properly and I should know I've been off the grid for years."

Clarke lived a semi-legitimate existence and had several names; he didn't pay any tax and couldn't be traced unless like Liam you had his emergency call-out number. Not exactly a villain but not exactly straight either Clarke moved in the shadows using his military intelligence training to elude all those he didn't want to meet.

"Can you find her before the law because I think Naomi's team are closing the net," Liam demanded?

"You know me Sarge I'll do my best," Clarke used Liam's old army rank.

Liam grinned nobody had called him that in years these days he was DI Burns or boss, "I have to track Tammy down first so I can do to her what must be done."

Clarke shrugged like this wasn't any of his concern but it was clear from his eyes that he was unsettled, so Liam said,

"Talk to her sort this out, get her to come back and stop this silly nonsense."

Clarke's shrug was noncommittal, "You think she will after she's gone to all this trouble to escape?"

"I'm sure I can make her see sense," Liam's voice had an odd undertone and his old pal smiled.

"I'm sure you can you were always good at restoring order in the ranks."

They both knew what he meant and Liam sat back aware of his fearsome reputation in the army as a brutal disciplinarian where he'd administered more than a few beatings when required (unofficially of course), "I'm not going to hurt her Jim I'm not a lunatic."

"Of course not," said Clarke, "But she isn't exactly going to be pleased to see you, what if she says no she isn't coming back?"

Liam shrugged like he didn't care like Tammy had the choice, "Fine we'll get divorced."

"You won't use force?"

"Why should I try to force her back," Liam thought of Naomi and making a new life with her, the prospect excited him but deep down he knew Naomi was just fun a diversionary fuck a secret, guilty pleasure she wasn't wife material too ambitious.

"Nobody ever defied you in the army and got away with it," said Clarke with a slight wince like he'd seen a few things guys with an attitude that Liam had slapped back into line.

"We're not in the army now Jim things are different; I've mellowed with age."

Chewing on his bacon the other man mulled that over, "If you say so."

"I do say so, I need you to cut along with this and give it top priority," a package was passed under the table an envelope thick with bundles of notes, "Your day rate plus an extra bonus."

Taking this Clarke dipped his eyes to scan the cash with obvious excitement, "Tasty," he breathed, "Okay I'll find Tammy you can rely on me."

"Good man," Liam didn't drink his coffee it looked vile so he pushed it across the table, "When you contact me only use this phone," he handed over a cheap pay-as-you-go, "I've got a similar phone and it's untraceable."

"You think of everything," Clarke sounded impressed, "The police CCTV do you have access?"

"Not directly but it isn't hard to hack their system," a piece of paper was handed over with Naomi's access PIN.

Eyes bulging Jim said, "How did you get this?"

"The SIO is a close personal friend of mine," Liam's smile was full of meaning and Clarke returned it.

THIRTY FIVE

Celeste was calm and unflappable it was like she never panicked about anything, the woman was so cool it was unnatural and Tammy wondered what horrors she'd experienced in her life?

When Celeste had suggested a face to face meeting Tammy had jumped at the chance, even in the dead of night she found the American reassuring.

"Not my house dear a neutral location," Celeste had named somewhere and given directions on how to reach it.

"What if you're tailed," Tammy had seen her fair share of cop dramas and thrillers on DVD?

"Don't worry if I am I can lose them," Celeste sounded very sure of herself like she shook off tails all the time.

They met in a small motel called the Skylark which Celeste said she owned under another name. The place was deserted when she arrived but the front entrance was unlocked so she let herself in and sat near reception.

A huge limo pulled up outside twenty minutes later and Nguyen the maid got out of the driver's door now attired in the uniform of a chauffeur, amazed to see her Tammy tensed not sure she liked the hard-eyed Vietnamese. Nguyen opened a back door and helped another figure out wearing a large woolly hat and thick scarf that hid her face.

Driver and passenger approached the Skylark at a slow, measured pace with Nguyen scanning the area like an eagle alert to every sight and sound, was she also a bodyguard? Celeste walked unaided her back ramrod straight and steps short and unhurried, as ever she was dignified and poised.

Tammy opened the door for them and threw a smile that Nguyen did not return, her scowl openly hostile.

As soon as they were inside Celeste removed her head gear and Nguyen took up a position near the door watchfully, throwing Tammy another distrustful look.

By contrast Celeste threw her a warm if reserved smile and moved over to a brown sofa, indicating she should follow. Feeling less nervous in the older woman's presence she felt herself start to unwind.

"Sue rang you at the flat," the American enquired, "On her cell phone?"

Tammy nodded, "She wasn't on long in case they traced the call."

"Honey it's easier to track telephone conversations these days; Sue shouldn't have made any calls," sounding angry Celeste looked away for a moment.

"What if the cops come to your house and question you," Tammy worried.

This didn't seem to bother the American, "I can handle myself don't worry, so you came to my house so what you're a friend of Sue why shouldn't you meet me? I'm not implicated in any way they can't know about WOMANKIND."

"What if they find out, they might get it out of Sue you know how they apply pressure."

Unable to deny this Celeste took her by the right hand, "Easy kid things aren't falling apart just yet, as far as we know your new identity is still a secret there's nothing leading the cops to your door."

"Listen Celeste there's something I have to tell you and I think it's important, last night this woman took a photo of me on her phone; she's the ex wife of a work colleague."

Frowning deeply the older woman sighed, "Why did she take your photo?"

"I'm not entirely sure; she's the jealous possessive type I suppose."

"This work colleague are you getting involved with him," the probing question flamed Tammy's cheeks as it was too close to the truth?

"I like him but nothing more he's one of my bosses actually."

This was considered, "Rob Taft," Celeste enquired.

"Yes you know him?"

"Amanda's business partner I know of him a very charming guy or so I hear, Mandy was sweet on him at one time; good lucking, nice line in chat."

Cheeks burning even more Tammy felt a bit stupid a bit gullible, had she been taken in by a Don Juan was Rob only interested in the chase? "I think he fancies me," she said?

"Do you fancy him," Celeste looked right into her eyes, "You do don't you," the American tutted, "Not a smart move."

"I had a successful day and he took me out for a meal nothing happened."

"Except," said Celeste, "His ex turned up and snapped you on her phone, has she put you on the net?"

"I don't know I don't think so, I checked social media."

Turning to Nguyen Celeste gave an instruction in a language Tammy didn't know, taking out her own smart phone the driver began to surf the net.

"If you're on anywhere Nguyen will find you," Celeste assured.

"And if I am what then?"

"We'll deal with that problem when it arises, it's Rob's ex wife that bothers me she might decide to stalk you and cause problems."

"Rob said Selina was a bit flaky but no real threat."

"Rob isn't exactly trustworthy Tammy my advice to you is to avoid him in future," it was a grim instruction and not one Tammy felt she could obey, could she just cut Rob out of her life totally if he was her boss? Then there were her growing feelings for him, feelings she couldn't ignore.

"Do you want me to leave the agency," she asked?

"Not yet, it'll take time to arrange another job and I don't want to offend Amanda; just stick it out for now and play it cool with Rob."

"What about Selina?"

"You let me worry about her," Celeste said with an edge to her voice Tammy wasn't sure she liked.

She chose to change the subject, "Can you get Sue out of jail?"

"I've hired a good lawyer to make waves, she hasn't been charged with anything yet."

Tammy felt so sorry for her friend, Sue was only in this jam because she'd helped her out it didn't seem fair, "I didn't think they'd get onto Sue so quickly."

"I suppose it was inevitable," said Celeste, "You were probably caught on camera driving away from your home and the cops traced you to Sue."

She hadn't even thought about CCTV after that awful night when Liam had appeared dead, thinking of Liam what would he be doing now; it wasn't like him to take a back seat and rely on others to track her down?

"I've been nothing but trouble," she said despairingly but received a reassuring squeeze.

"Nonsense helping you was the right thing to do, it's the reason the group was set up in the first place."

Tammy made herself ask the next question "Is there any news on Liam?"

Quiet for a moment Celeste said, "Out of hospital and back home as far as I can tell, he's had a visit from that woman DI Naomi Finch, it seems they're more than just colleagues."

Did Celeste have Liam under surveillance, she was a rich woman so it was possible, Naomi Finch wasn't a total surprise she was sure Liam had been seeing her for a while. Tammy recalled the thin ambitious, tough eyed female detective and had never liked her.

"Liam had lovers all the time we were together," she said bitterly, "He was never faithful to me," tears stung the back of her eyes.

"His type never are," Celeste offered a hug she could be very motherly and protective, "Naomi's welcome to that scumbag, she doesn't know what she's taking on."

How true thought Tammy after all I didn't.

THIRTY SIX

When Sue was released by the cops Clarke trailed her first to the office of some swish lawyer then home, parking out of sight he prepared himself for a long wait. However Sue made an almost immediate phone call,

"Celeste I'm back home the police raised no objection and I've not been charged at least not yet."

Celeste who the hell was she, Clarke activated his tracker-software because Sue's landline was bugged it should be easier. He'd broken in to plant the bug a couple of hours ago getting the address off Liam; a good move as it turned out.

Sue was Tammy's best friend and had to be a lynchpin in her disappearance, a first port of call at least. This Celeste was the next lynchpin and when she spoke the Boston accent came over loud and clear, having spent time in the US Clarke recognised it.

"I've spoken to Sam and she's fine but you shouldn't have called her Sue, you know better than to panic."

Sue replied, "Yeah I was bloody stupid sorry, I think the cops are on to you Celeste."

"I've been expecting them to turn up but there's nothing they can do, they don't know about Sam or where she is and I'm certainly not going to tell them."

Sam who was this Sam, Clarke was confused Liam hadn't mentioned any Sam then it occurred to him maybe Sam was Tammy's new name her new identity. Cute he thought and smart, to disappear totally you had to become a different person. It took money, connections and effort but it could be done and this Celeste broad sounded like someone who could arrange it. She was certainly worth closer inspection.

He wrote the names 'Sam' and 'Celeste' in his note book as he listened to the rest of the telephone conversation, Sue did most of the talking and was clearly anxious, Celeste was cooler and calmer not someone who cracked under pressure.

At last he got her address his software doing its job, she was his next port of call as it seemed unlikely Sue could furnish anymore information. He wasn't yet ready to show his hand not until he had a useful lead, anyway Sue had police surveillance he could see them a couple of noddies. Clarke drew away unseen and unheard not a man to take unnecessary risks.

It took him a while to find the American's mansion it was neatly tucked away in a leafy wilderness a long way from main roads; huge place must be worth 4 or 5 million so the dame wasn't short of cash.

Clarke thought of calling Liam but what did he have to report at this stage, Liam required hard Intel and it behoved him to get some and there was only one way to do this.

The place would doubtless be wired with the best alarm system money could buy but he'd broken into military installations full of armed soldiers and dogs. Taking out a large of bulky goggles he peered at the mansion, the goggles weren't infra-red detectors they were more complex than that, a piece of classified field kit. They had an x-ray capability in that they could seek out internal wiring and alarm systems even CCTV, they told Clarke were and how an intruder could be detected and by what such as lasers, pressure pads, motion sensors and video.

He took a large sketch pad and began to draw what he could see, noting the strengths and weaknesses of the fortress before him. The doors and windows were all wired of course but the system used had a number of flaws and could be overcome if you had the right technology and he did.

Picking his point of ingress on the ground floor he made for it on foot, avoiding all the pressure pads on the way, it took him ten minutes of careful navigation to reach his chosen window then another ten to set up his small slim line looking equipment. It was all about breaking the flow of current without triggering the alarm or its back-up systems, fiddly and time consuming but it could be done if you had the skill.

Once he was ready he jemmied the window using a strong but slender tool and climbed inside with all the silent precision of Raffles, only he was no gentleman thief and he wasn't after my lady's jewels.

The house had no internal cameras he'd made sure of this so all he had to worry about was where he trod and what he touched. A pencil torch illuminated chairs, sofa, a low teak bureau and a cocktail cabinet.

The room's door was not locked but he was careful to avoid the low level laser light, stepping over it gingerly. A narrow hallway led to some ascending stairs on the left and a junction on the right. He made for the junction conscious of every sound none of which were made by him in his highly cushioned trainers.

Opening another door he entered a library at least it looked like one to him with its tall book shelves replete with thick volumes; he was drawn to another bureau bigger and sturdier than the previous one but with a basic lock.

His narrow brass pick had this open in seconds and within lay a treasure trove of documents, letters and CDs. Good he thought there should be some useful data here more than enough to answer his questions.

The light blinded him as suddenly the room was illuminated with a piercing glare, he spun around in a crouch fists raised unable to believe he'd been found so quickly or so easily surely the old bag was in bed.

But the woman who faced him was neither old nor a bag but quite sexy a slim attractive Chinese girl in tight black pants and a loose fitting black top hair held in a ponytail and face free of make-up.

She was a good foot shorter than Clarke and considerably lighter plus she was unarmed, yet the bold way she approached him was disconcerting why wasn't she screaming with fear and running away; most people did when faced with a burly intruder and Jim knew he was no oil painting?

Get it over with quickly he told himself no fuss no noise, knock her out then tie her up before continuing the search. He swung his torch at the pretty head sure she was an easy target, after all what could this kid against a trained soldier?

Clarke threw a short right-hand punch but dodging the blow with graceful ease and coiling around it like serpent the girl balanced on one leg and…

Clarke felt a shoe explode into his liver with sickening force, my god he'd been kicked and kicked hard by an expert the wind driven out of him.

The same leg cocked and….he was kicked again this time on the side of the neck and his vision swam he tottered drunkenly almost pitching onto his hands. His outstretched wrist was grabbed and he felt it twisted painfully so painfully that he dropped the torch and gave a low cry as the girl applied an agonizing martial arts hold unlike anything he'd been taught by the army combat coach.

Clarke found himself on his knees, head down and arm cranked straight up the wrist, elbow and shoulder completely locked. Then the girl kicked him again ending any residual resistance and rendering him helpless.

He had never been beaten so quickly or easily by anyone and couldn't believe me, my god who had trained this bitch and in what?

But she didn't finish him off or call for help, lowering her voice the girl hissed in his ear, "I know why you're here and who you're looking for," something landed on the carpet before him a slip of paper on which something was written, he couldn't understand what was happening.

"Take it and go," the girl snarled maintaining her paralysing hold, "You will find her there," with Clarke close to tears the girl let go and stood back body poised and eyes blazing.

Picking up the paper he blinked at it, "What's this," he croaked?

"You know what it is Tammy's new name and address."

"Why are you giving it to me," trap he thought it had to be a deception why would this girl defeat him easily then tamely hand over what he'd been looking for?

"No questions just go," the girl gestured.

"How do I know this is genuine?"

"I have 3 black belts and could have killed you easily claiming self-defence but there is no need to play games."

Logical he supposed, "You're just giving her to me I don't get it."

The girl said, "My reasons are my own and don't concern you now get out of here before I change my mind."

"Why betray Celeste," he grunted as feeling slowly returned to his arm?

"My true loyalty is to another," said the girl and an image of Liam flashed into Clarke's mind, could this kid know the DI could they be lovers? Why would Liam employ him if he had Madam Black belt?

"I think we're working for the same guy," he gasped feeling totally beaten up but Nguyen just regarded him like pond life.

"You know nothing," the words had an edge of bitterness and for a moment she looked away, maybe not he thought but I know infatuation when I see it.

"Fallen in love have we," his question drew the sharp eyes back piercing and obsidian.

"You are a fool a hired lackey."

"Maybe love but if I found this place the cops will to," he made for the door limping badly my god I must be getting too old for this he ruminated, "You fight well."

Chin up she regarded him with disdain, "Go now or I'll show you just how good I really am."

Having little choice he picked himself up studying what he'd been given it seemed too good to be true and Liam would be well chuffed. The big question then was what would he really do to his wife when he found her because Clarke didn't believe the line he'd be given by Liam Burns one little bit?

Nguyen waited until the grubby old man had gone before relaxing fully, glad not for the first time of her training.

Master Gung had taught all new recruits at Hanoi PD district 5, most did the basic 3 month course with him and that was it but Nguyen had trained with the Sifu for 3 years mastering both armed and unarmed combat to a high degree and gaining a black belt just before her 21st birthday.

Nobody would ever push her around again; it was a vow she'd made to herself after years of being bullied because she was the smallest kid in class with the grubbiest clothes.

THIRTY SEVEN

It was rare for the precinct captain to come along on a drugs raid, then again with his bald head and chunky frame he did look a bit like the actor Vin Diesel and that's what his officers called him behind his back.

Surprised and flattered to be included in the raid Nguyen felt odd in her bullet proof vest and helmet, but also exhilarated. This was what she'd joined Hanoi PD for action, being involved and making a difference.

She was the only women in a team of 8 men and Vin said he'd keep an eye on her, not that she felt she needed it with her police training and her workouts with Sifu which were intense. I can look after myself she told herself.

The raid was on a small warehouse in the downtown area, a crack factory according to the information they had and the people there would most likely be armed.

"I want them alive if possible," said Vin pumped up and fit for a forty year old man, "But don't take any chances," he warned eyeing Nguyen who was the youngest member of the team, "We go in on my signal."

It was scary, sickening, exciting and dangerous all at the same time but she felt ready plus she was part of a crack team who knew what they were doing, then there was the powerful automatic in her right fist it was a real man-stopper.

Four would go in through the front, the rest through a back door, Vin would lead the first team and Nguyen was in this too. Counting down from five Vin punched the air and Nguyen applied her boot to the door kicking it off its hinges with a cry.

They plunged into darkness, a deep all pervading murk through which it was possible to see nothing, stick close Nguyen had been told so she did. If they nailed these punks there might be a citation in it even a promotion and that meant a pay rise something she badly needed.

Up ahead was a flickering yellow light and some male voice raised in alarm, she heard the first shot almost immediately a loud echoing boom but couldn't tell who had fired.

Vin's gun flashed several times and someone cried out in pain, then the air was filled with gunfire a deafening crescendo of bangs and pops that soon made her head spin.

Keeping low she followed the captain her body in a crouch gun held in both fists, eyes streaming from the acrid smoke rapidly filling the air.

A figure moved ahead of her a thin man in a dirty grey vest with washed out eyes, lips full of blisters and a small revolver in his left fist. As he took aim she plugged him a double tap body and head and he fell at once.

"Well done," this was Vin's voice to her left just before a loud boom that sounded like a cannon in the confined space and Vin was down, punched back to land a couple of yards away gripping himself with bloody hands.

Nguyen couldn't believe it the captain had been shot and it looked bad, what did she do did she go back and help him? Then she saw the shooter in a green I love NY t-shirt, torn jeans and yellow bandana up around his mouth.

She plugged him turning the bandana bright red with a single shot, "Keep going," she told the other cops, "Let's end this."

There were no more shots and the crack lab when they found it was full of child, kids no older than 9 or 10 packing plastic bags with spoonfuls of white powder. All the men guarding them were either dead or had gone.

"What do we do," asked Officer Lee only a year older than Nguyen but not having a clue.

"Secure the scene, round up these damn kids and photograph everything," Nguyen tried to remember protocol, "Also call an ambulance Vin has been shot he's in a bad way."

The team were in a state of shock they looked as lost as schoolboys and she grew angry, "Just do it," she barked taking command as someone had to, "We're responsible for this situation now and all this junk, it needs to be put into evidence bags."

Fancy a young girl telling grown men what to do the irony was not lost on her, "I'm going to check on Vin, call for back up as well as a forensics team."

Vin was dead, the wound to his abdomen was catastrophic and she'd never seen so much blood the poor guy didn't have a chance. She felt a deep sense of loss; he'd been a good man who'd respected her, a father figure really.

Later she did get a citation for bravery she was even in the local paper. As for promotion they gave it to Lee well he was a guy wasn't he and nobody wanted a girl in a position of power. She made up her mind then to get out of Hanoi and follow her lover to England where there might be more opportunities.

THIRTY EIGHT

It didn't take Liam long to find Selby-Taft it was the biggest estate agents in the area a colourful swish place on a hill you could see for miles, from the properties in the windows it dealt with high-end stuff million plus flats and two million plus houses all way beyond his pay scale.

To be honest he was amazed Tammy had landed a job here it seemed beyond her and she knew nothing about property. That rich Yank Celeste must have pulled a few strings. As to why she'd do that he had no idea but women did tend to stick together and Tammy had clearly been given a lot of assistance in her flight from him.

Well that was all over now her escape had failed, he was going to get her somewhere quiet and make her a simple offer come back or else.

He was surprised to find that he wanted her back after the way she'd defied him, or maybe it was because she'd defied him. Maybe Tammy had a spine after all, who would have thought it. Liam find the prospect exciting, it meant he could break her in all over again.

Fancy his old girlfriend Nguyen working for Celeste even if housekeeping was well beneath her, she'd been a good cop in Hanoi and should have stayed there perhaps instead of following her round-eye lover to England.

Did she think he'd set up home with her that they'd be a couple even married? If so she was deluding herself, she was bed material entertainment a distraction but he wasn't tying himself down to some Vietnamese ex cop. To Liam such people were way below his expectations in life, he was on the way up he wanted class.

As he waited for Tammy to emerge he heard a kid crying somewhere, a quick glance picked out some boy of about 6 nursing a red face especially the left eye where he'd obviously been hit by the man with him. Some shaven headed punk in cheap grey tracksuit pants smoking a fag and aged about 21, jobless most likely and sick at being lumbered with a kid even if it was most likely his.

"Shut the fuck up," he bellowed at the kid like it was the child's fault for existing, "You're a fucking waste of space you prick."

Charming fancy being the spawn of such a scumbag, what future did the crying boy have what hope?

Anger burned low in Liam's belly as the scene evoked a memory from his own childhood; he'd been about 6 as well and had come home to find his dad setting about his mum knocking her from one side of the kitchen to the other with his fists.

Pissed as per usual the old man was in one of his many tempers shouting and swearing, angry at life in general for the bad deal it had given him or so he believed.

As he cocked his fist again young Liam had cried out a no to protect his bleeding, bruised, cowering mother and the old man had turned towards him full of bile and hatred.

"No Bill leave him alone," mum had pleaded, "He's just a child." Unable to move a muscle Liam had watched his dad take two strides towards him and then….darkness, nothing.

He woke up in bed unable to see out of his left eye, not only was it swollen shut and blue-black in colour his cheekbone was broken. Dad was gone and mum was gazing down at him, her own face a mass of contusions.

"You'll be all right son, everything will be fine," she kept saying but even at that age Liam knew it wasn't true and more beatings were on the cards for him and her.

So he watched the punk in the tracksuit yelling and cursing at the crying boy and his own hands tightened into fists, he almost got out of the car and… But no he couldn't get involved or blow his cover he couldn't be seen. This would blow over it was none of his business he wasn't a copper now he was a hunter.

Then he saw her, she had just emerged from the agency slim and blond he hardly recognised her my god she looked sexy, new shoes, new make up even her posture and stride were different more confident like she was a completely different woman.

Bewildered for a moment he thought he'd made a mistake this woman couldn't be his wife surely, but up close he could see it was it was the eyes, the eyes never changed it was Tammy all right no mistake.

THIRTY NINE

Tammy didn't see Rob when she got to work he out on a viewing, having 3 viewings herself that morning she was too busy to return to the office much before midday then she had reports to make up, she had two potential buyers, two out of three was good going and all wanted a survey of what they were going to buy.

Rob drew into the staff car park as she was finishing up, but before she could go and speak to him Amanda appeared, "Sam can I have a word," she held her office door open and there seemed little choice.

"Sure," said Tammy with a smile and joined her boss.

"How's it going," Amanda asked genially returning to her seat, she ate her lunch in the office a chunky sandwich on rye with a smoothie?

"Pretty good thanks, I've got two new potential buyers so it's been a successful morning."

"Good," sounding distracted Amanda had a slight frown marring her features, "I won't keep you long Sam but we need to talk about Rob."

Stomach lurching Tammy felt slightly nauseous wondering if this woman still held a torch for Rob despite what he'd said?

"What about him," keeping her tone light she gave nothing away?

"I can't help noticing an attraction between you and he a degree of closeness and I want to tell you it's not a good idea to get romantically involved with a work colleague."

That was a bit rich wasn't it hadn't Amanda done exactly the same thing herself, "Rob and I are not involved we're just friends he's easy company and very funny."

"Oh yes he can be very charming," these words were so weighted and poignant that Tammy sensed more behind them.

"What do you mean," she asked bluntly?

Sitting down and toying with her drink the other woman seemed to be marshalling her thoughts, "Rob is complicated there's more to him than a cute smile or lots of funny anecdotes."

"If you mean the crazy ex wife Selina I've met her she turned up at the restaurant making a scene."

This didn't seem to surprise Amanda at all if anything she loosened up a bit, "They're not divorced yet Sam."

"Rob told me it's going through at any time."

"Yes he told me the same thing," Amanda dropped her bombshell and as explosives went it was highly effective.

Tammy reeled for a moment, "Are you saying he led you on that he lied to you."

"Rob and Selina have a tempestuous relationship because they're two of a kind, but as far as I know they aren't getting divorced."

This was so surprising that Tammy was rendered speechless unsure what to believe, whether Amanda was lying or if Rob had.

"Are you sure about this because it isn't what Rob told me last night, he was pretty adamant the marriage was over."

"As I said Rob is complicated he can be flexible with the truth when it suits him."

Tears sprang to her eyes but she blinked them away, she wasn't going to break down in front of her boss, "I see," she said, "Well you've given me something to think about."

"Just be careful Sam and avoid guys like Rob, I think you've been through enough as it is," Amanda warned and Tammy could only agree. The last thing she needed was another lying, abusive partner stringing her along.

As Rob entered the outer office he threw her one of his winning smiles but not returning it she brushed past him needing some room and some air. "Sam," he called sounding injured, "Care to go for some…."

But she was outside before he finished and heading to her car so upset and preoccupied was she that she didn't see the red Mondeo parked only a few yards away with a single occupant.

The man watched her very closely his eyes scanning for details noting hair, clothing and movement. As she drove away he put his car into gear and began to follow at a discreet distance, if nothing else police training had shown Liam Burns how to trail a suspect.

FORTY

Naomi was on her way to interview Celeste Constantino when her personal mobile rang, she had two phones one for work and a smaller pink one that hardly anyone ever used CALLER UNKNOWN flashed up and she almost refused the call but some instinct told her not to copper's nose maybe.

"Hello DI Finch you don't me but we both know Liam Burns, in fact I've just done a little job for him I think you need to know what it was and that he's well ahead of you looking for his missing wife."

Naomi listened with growing shock and outrage until the man had finished then asked, "Who are you?"

"That doesn't matter I met Liam in the army, we were in the same regiment."

"So why betray him if you're that close," Naomi demanded?

Clarke paused before answering as if considering this, "I think he's going to kill her and I don't want that to happen; I'm no saint don't get me wrong but I want no truck with murdering a woman."

"You took Liam's money," she pointed out.

"Yeah well cash is a bit tight at the moment, not much call for guys my age."

"I'd still like a name we need to meet."

"No Naomi I don't do that just follow the leads I've given you."

"How do I know you're not stringing me along?"

"Where do you think I got your mobile number from, Liam's using you love he uses everyone in the end it's just how he is."

Naomi felt a knot tighten in her stomach at this news; Liam had used her lied to her and played her like a fool? If this was true she was going to make him pay for it, he'd learn that nobody messed with Naomi Finch and got away with it.

"If you know where Tammy is why not warn her yourself," Naomi demanded?

"You're the cop it's your job I don't want to be involved any further," and Clarke ended his call his number could not be traced he was too shrewd for that.

Moments later Naomi was pulling up in front of the huge country mansion so big it almost took her breath away its front door was opened by an oriental girl in a smart suit who looked lean and fit if not poised for action.

Getting out of her car and producing her warrant card Naomi let the girl study it before being led indoors, the opulence impressed her everything was classy and expensive but showed exquisite taste.

The same could be said for Constantino the rich broad from Boston, smartly decked out in furs and silk the American studied Naomi over a cigarette in a long white holder that seemed to belong to the thirties. She'd married money according to the file then started a business and made a pile of her own, her home was worth 5.5 million on its own and it was hard not to feel envious.

"I know Tammy Burns has been here," Naomi began deciding to cut to the chase she'd never been one for small talk, "She was brought by her friend Sue Perkins on the 23rd the day after Liam Burns was assaulted."

Calm and unruffled the tall Bostonian didn't bat an eyelid and Naomi recognised another tough cookie, "You can prove this can you," the question was replete with doubt and exhaling smoke Celeste sat back not looking remotely concerned, no doubt she could summon the best lawyer money could buy with one phone call.

Naomi decided to be even more direct, "You may not know this but last night you had a break in, a man working for Liam got here and had a good nose around he didn't find anything but your employee found him."

The thin wrinkled face stiffened the posture hardening with undeniable surprise; she doesn't know Naomi realised this is a total surprise that said milady didn't panic or gabble she retained her distant poise.

The Di went on, "She overcame him but she didn't call us and I'm guessing she didn't tell you about it either, she gave him Tammy's new name and address then let him go."

Lowering her cigarette slowly Celeste let out a long sigh then pressed a button on the table before her no doubt a buzzer that would summon the oriental girl – only it didn't.

"How do you know all of this inspector, have you spoken to the girl?"

"An anonymous source reliable," Naomi hoped this was correct.

Celeste's eyes were twin diamonds, "I trust Nguyen completely she's never withheld anything from me before."

"Well she has this time," said Naomi, "Why don't we have a chat with her?"

Not someone who took orders Celeste made no move to summon her employee, "I find all this hard to believe young lady," the 'young lady' felt like a rebuke but it bounced off Naomi.

"How long have you employed this girl," she asked?

"Nguyen she's been with me for a year."

"Does she know Liam Burns?"

The American frowned, "I can't see how he's never been here and I've had no contact with him."

"So why would she help him track his wife?"

Hand trembling slightly as she extinguished her smoke Celeste stood up, "I can't imagine it all seems a bit far-fetched to me."

"It's easy enough to clear up let me have a word with her," Naomi watched the old bird press a hidden button my god she like Lady Penelope out of Thunderbirds.

"I'm sure you're mistaken DI Finch, I'm good at reading people."

I bet you are thought the DI; "Is she Chinese?"

"From Hanoi in Vietnam."

"What did she do in Hanoi?"

"I believe she was a police officer," Celeste replied.

"She was a cop," Naomi was amazed, "So why is she now working as a maid in England," it was a hell of a career change not to mention a come down?

"You'll have to ask her yourself," the button was pressed again.

"She doesn't seem to be responding to your summons," Naomi said wryly.

Now Celeste did look flustered, "It's most unlike her to be tardy."

Unless she doesn't want to face the music Naomi was thinking and out loud she declared, "I was told by my source that Tammy Burns is now Samantha, do you have a number for her?"

Finally losing patience the American stood up, "I can do better than that," she was suddenly very animated and full of energy, "We can take your car," she said, "I think you need to see the lady in question."

I need to arrest her thought Naomi but didn't say this, "On the way you can explain to me why you helped her and what this is all about Mrs Constantino."

The smile was thin and humourless, "I'm surprised you need to ask being a woman; Liam Burns is a monster a brutal thug."

Hiding her feelings well Naomi led the way outside there was still no sign of the oriental girl could she be hiding on the estate or did she have her own transport?

"I'm going to need Nguyen's full name and contact details," she said knowing her team could handle the pick-up aided by uniform.

"Naturally," like a visiting royal Celeste waited for the car's passenger door to be opened for her and Naomi dully obliged, lady muck was going to be busted to as soon as Tammy was safe and Liam in custody.

"I'm not a criminal whatever you might think," Celeste spoke softly as they pulled away from his huge home, "I do what I do to help women who are helpless; women the law has let down."

"Tammy should have come to us," Naomi said sharply.

"Isn't Liam one of you, what kind of reception would she have received what kind of justice; cops stick together in every country."

Naomi knew the truth of this and how many friends Liam had in the job including the DAC and others; he was a legend and a hero.

"Any allegation she made would have been investigated thoroughly."

But Celeste wasn't buying that line, "He beat her up for years and you guys did nothing, you've seen Sue's photos I take it, I can see from your reaction that you have, guys like Liam get away with it time and again because nobody believes he can treat his wife like a punching bag."

My lover Naomi thought with a growing sickness in her belly the man I slept with, it was hard to take to accept, "Well he's crossed the line this time," she said.

"He has a head start, if he knew where Tammy was last night he might already be there he may already have her."

Naomi nodded, "Call her do it now Celeste," she said with some urgency and slowly the American took out a slick smart phone the latest model of course she'd have the best.

FORTY ONE

Turning her phone off because she didn't want to listen to any of Rob's excuses or justifications Tammy drove past her apartment and kept going, she needed some time and some space to think about her next move.

She liked her job with the agency and was good at it she even liked Amanda to a degree but her distrust of Rob had become immense, he was beginning to feel like another user another lying bloke out for one thing and she'd had enough of that.

Deciding to get out of town she took a road that led to a quiet rural area, a place with a lake, some trees and land to walk on, walking cleared her thoughts and made her feel better. She had some decisions to make and not just about Rob but her new life in general.

Turning only a B road she dropped her speed, there wasn't much traffic just sales reps, a few mums with toddlers, the odd truck and a red Mondeo she hadn't seen before.

Tammy took a swig of water from a litre bottle she always kept in her car and drove up alongside the lake; it was called Lake Bliss a lovely name that appealed to her. Getting out she stretched her back and undid her hair so it could blow in the slight breeze, it was turning into a nice day warm and relaxing perfect for a solitary walk with nothing to worry about and nobody to hassle her.

She hadn't felt so relaxed in ages and was beginning to accept her Samantha life even prefer it she had a job, her own money and the freedom to finally be who she wanted to be with no bullying man gazing over her shoulder or pushing her around.

She'd confront Rob in her own time and thrash things out forcing him to be honest about him and his wife, if they were getting divorced fine if they weren't then he had to back off. No way was he enjoying a wife and a mistress she was nobody's bit on the side that kind of life was over.

Tammy might have been a push over and a wimp but Sam was a tough independent woman and nobody took her for granted.

She had just reached from bushes laden with berries (she had no idea what they were) when the red Mondeo pulled up behind her car; she didn't pay it much heed maybe it was a couple come for an illicit snog or some stressed out sales rep near the end of his tether.

Moving beyond the bush she came to a line of saplings that looked freshly planted, pausing to run her fingers over them she marvelled at nature's amazing ability to renew itself and thought that this was just what she'd done renewed herself recreated Tammy Burns into a woman she could be comfortable with.

Then a sudden coldness made her stiffen an icy chill down the back of her neck and fists clenched she began to turn, long before she had a familiar voice cackled, "Hello Tammy," and there he was in the flesh stood just feet away as big as life and twice as nasty the man she'd married who'd turned into a violent monster almost immediately she felt a sickly dread rise up inside her.

The last time she'd seen Liam had been in their hallway where he lay stiff and not breathing an inert effigy like a wax copy, there wasn't a mark on him now.

"Nice to see you again," he was smiling but it was one of those smiles she'd come to know and fear a cruel grin the prelude to terrible violence and punishment a beating or a burning, maybe his hands would go around her throat again to cling and squeeze.

This just wasn't possible Celeste and Sue had promised her that she was invisible totally safe, no way could he track her down so how had he what was doing here how could this be happening?

"The blond hair suits you, you should have done it years ago you've lost weight to I like it," he said like they were on a date the best of friends.

As he moved closer she shrank back terrified of him her stomach rising into her mouth and flesh crawling, oh my god this couldn't be real she had to dreaming it.

"Get away from me," she cried in her old voice her battered-wife voice she was once more poor timid Tammy it was like her reinvention hadn't even happened like the last few weeks had been erased, "you just keep away.

"Don't be like that," oozing genial charm Liam kept coming advancing like he owned the terrain they stood on but then he'd always been like that confident to the point of arrogance.

"Leave me alone Liam," Tammy shrieked, "I'm not going anywhere with you."

"You're my wife," his tone hardened becoming dominant and possessive like 'my wife' meant 'my property' and maybe this was how he saw her as something he owned an asset.

Tammy swallowed her entire body shaking from head to toe, "Not anymore Liam I don't want to be with you our sham of a marriage is over, you're never going to hurt me again." What had Vicki taught her in karate breathe, relax and focus she tried to do these things.

"You can't escape from me Tammy from what we have," he said making it sound special even exclusive.

"What we have," she repeated incredulously, "Me living in fear every day and you beating me up whenever you felt like it?"

Shaking his head as if in denial Liam made a snorting sound, "We're still married Tam you're still mine, come on we'll drive back together and I'll drop all the charges."

Disgust turning to outrage she felt some of her new Sam persona come to the fore stronger, spikier and less willing to be pushed around, "I'm not dropping the charges against you Liam not this time you violent, abusive bastard."

The spoken defiance fired her courage and made her feel stronger as if by calling him names she was diminishing him robbing him of power over her.

Smile slipping now he reached into his green parka to pull something out and she couldn't see what it was at first something slightly bulky and firm, it was a tool something machined and slick but it was only when he pointed it at her that she realised it was a gun.

FORTY TWO

"No signal her phone must be off," Celeste sounded rattled as the car picked up speed.

Not liking the sound of that Naomi called her team using her police ID code and rank then she added, "Detain on sight Samantha Singleton blond, early thirties, smartly dressed she drives," a glance at Celeste solicited the reply.

"A maroon Impala estate," informed the old lady softly.

Repeating this Naomi added the licence number and year, "This is a priority request Ms Singleton is wanted in connection with a serious crime, also detain DI Liam Burns for questioning on my authority charges to follow."

Hand shaking a bit the DI wondered how she was going to explain her relationship with Liam or supplying him with information that was confidential, at the very least she'd end up in the mitts of Professional Standards possibly suspended and she might even lose her rank.

Could she face being a DS again, could she face her old mates and colleagues especially Janice and Tony what would they say, what would her reputation be then there was the DAC who'd be more than disappointed?

"Are you armed inspector, I know British cops rarely are," said Celeste?

"No I'm not carrying a gun if you must know although I am firearms trained," Naomi had done well on the range impressing her coach by how quickly she picked it up.

"Then you'd better take this," from her snake skin bag the American produced a 38 automatic with a long barrel and sleek black in colour the words Colt Python visible on the stock.

Astonished to see it and even more astonished an elderly lady would possess such a thing Naomi felt her eyes bug, "Oh my god," she cried, "Do you have a...?"

"Yes it's fully licensed with the UK authorities I'm not a gangster's moll," Celeste chuckled, "Only I think you'll be more effective with this than me, my eyesight isn't 100% these days."

Taking the colt Naomi felt its power its sleek compact strength it was a lovely weapon and could do a lot of damage, "Chances are Liam will be picked by uniform," she said although she couldn't be sure of this.

"Maybe," not sounding convinced the old lady turned to study her younger counterpart, "But what if he isn't what if you have to arrest a violent man who doesn't want to be arrested; what if he has a gun?"

No Liam had no gun at least she'd never seen him with one not an official police gun then again it wouldn't be hard for him to acquire an illegal gun, "It won't come to a shootout this isn't like America."

"Honey guys like Liam are the same the world over, they take what they want and to hell with the consequences. If you get in his way he'll hurt you maybe even kill you because he's out to kill his wife."

Cold inside Naomi tried to focus on the road; could she take aim at Liam could she shoot him? She'd never shot anyone in her life certainly not a colleague and a lover it all seemed so insane.

"Why would Liam kill Tammy, he'd have to know he'd be prime suspect?"

"He thinks he can get away with anything just like my husband," there was a ring in Celeste's voice that touched Naomi deeply it spoke of severe pain and regret of deep loss.

"Why what did your husband do," she asked and eyes closed Celeste related the story giving the bare details of her tragedy.

It was difficult not to be moved and Naomi had to blink back the tears, no wonder this old woman used her wealth to help others it made total sense now. She wanted to save them from what she'd been through, to spare them her pain it was noble in a way flawed but understandable.

"Liam isn't like that," she said in a hollow voice no longer entirely convinced?

"How can you be sure," the American's gaze was laser-like, "Oh I see," she finally said, "You're not just colleagues."

Face pink Naomi avoided those rattlesnake eyes because she felt guilty enough, "I don't want to talk about it," she said.

"I'm sure you don't my dear but we all make that mistake you know let them into our hearts – the wrong men."

Deeply uncomfortable the DI felt her skin burn from scalp to chest; this old biddy was no fool and had seen right through her, "I feel bad enough as it is without you rubbing it in Celeste."

"I'm not judging you inspector you're a woman and a cop not the other way around and Liam can be quite charming, or so I've been told the best predators always are."

Naomi thought back to when she'd first met Liam as a raw 22 year old eager to get ahead and make an impression; he was a charismatic experienced detective even back then with a commendation off the ACC for bravery.

She'd needed a mentor someone to guide her through the land mines and pitfalls of police politics and Liam had been only too willing to offer himself for the role. The fact he was drop dead gorgeous didn't hurt and Naomi soon found herself bamboozled, flattered and bedded in that order.

Fair play to Liam he'd kept up his end of the bargain, "Go on all the courses, and attend all the seminars no matter how boring it's about having a high profile the visibility factor."

He was right the more events she attended the more she started meeting the same senior faces the top brass the players in other words, one of whom was the newly appointed DAC and it was thanks to knowing him that promotion came her way first to DS then DI.

"I was young and pushy I wanted to get ahead in my career but I also fell for Liam he was witty, charming and good in bed. I knew he was married but I didn't care; something I regret now it was wrong of me."

Celeste made no comment and offered no judgement, it was hard to tell what she thought with that stern poker face of hers did she approve or was she disgusted? Naomi had never told any of this to her parents; they were church goers and wouldn't understand, to them adultery was a sin.

"I'll be lucky to come out of this with any kind of job in CID," Naomi said bitterly wondering if it was her just desserts.

"Save Tammy and bust Liam and all will be forgiven," said the older woman.

"Do you really think so," could it be that easy?

"Don't let some patrol cop find him or one of your team; you need to make the arrest it has to go down on your record."

Yes she could see the logic of that the official record was all that counted getting a result and Liam did need bringing down then she had an idea she rang Liam's mobile if she couldn't trace Tammy maybe she could pin him down.

FORTY THREE

Shocked as she was at the sight of the gun Tammy didn't move a muscle he wouldn't just shoot her here surely it was cold-blooded murder how would he explain it or get away with it? With Liam reputation was everything he lived for appearances.

"Get in my car," he nodded at the Mondeo, "Right now Tammy."

The old her would have obeyed instantly and taken whatever punishment he dished out but the new her - the 'Sam persona' - wasn't so easily cowed.

"I don't take orders from you anymore Liam I am not getting in your car."

Moving right up to her he placed his gun right under her chin like some gangster in a cheap DVD, "You are my wife," he snarled, "You do as I say all of the time."

"I'm not your wife or your property any longer Liam," the courage surprised her, "I won't let you push me around."

"Is that right," he was grinning but there was no amusement behind it?

"Just get off me and disappear," she spat, "I stopped loving you a long time ago now I feel nothing."

Even though she'd been expecting the blow it still shocked her and looking up from the ground, half her face numb she tasted hot copper on her tongue. My god he'd hit her again something she'd vowed would never happen a slap not a punch but she was still stunned and bloody.

Grabbing a fistful of hair he began to yank her upright but as he did her fist closed around something, there were small stones littered everywhere on the rough ground and grabbing as many as she could in her small hand she got to her feet and threw them hard in his face.

Rearing away swearing and blinded he tore at his eyes and cheeks in pain and seeing her chance she kicked him or rather Sam did, hoofing him hard where it hurts the most; doubling him over with a yelp of pure agony.

My god it felt good to hear him in pain for once to see him cringe from a blow, to feel empowered for once and strong.

Not lingering to gloat she ran back to her car got in and gunned the engine; she had to do a U-turn to get around his Mondeo and back on the road not easy in the confined space.

Winded and face bleeding Liam looked up with an expression of pure hatred then he took aim with his gun and shouted something she couldn't make out. Tammy kept going turning her car yanking on the steering wheel and then she heard the first crack loud and sharp.

Jolting with fear she kept going her car almost completely turned around and facing the right away, the second crack wasn't as loud but something happened, her car lost traction and listed to the left alarmingly it didn't seem to have any power or manoeuvrability.

When she put her foot down there was no surge forward just more listing and an awful sound, Liam had blown a tyre she had a flat and flight now seemed impossible.

"Get out of the car Tammy," she could hear this clearly enough, "You can't get away from me."

Eyes stinging with frustrated tears she changed gears, Sam wasn't the sort to just quit she was too much of a fighter.

The car went into reverse still lurching and twisting but the change of direction actually helped Eyes wide with shock Liam snarled another oath, she was bearing down on him at high speed trying to reverse ram him.

He flung himself aside and the rear bumper only just missed its target, dropping to his knees the DI swung his arms wide to gain balance.

Parallel with him Tammy swung her door open sharply hitting Liam with its edge slamming the metal into her husband to send him pitching into the water of the lake.

She thought of going for the gun which he'd dropped but couldn't see it and didn't want to waste time, evacuating her car she ran to his praying the keys were in. The Mondeo didn't have keys it had a push button engine start and when she pushed that button the big red car roared to life.

"You bitch," she saw Liam staggering out of the water soaked and now bleeding from a nasty gash to the side of his jaw here the door had caught him; good now he knew how it felt.

He ran at the Mondeo but it was already pulling away and without his gun he couldn't stop it, there's be no tyre blasting this time. Tammy put her foot down and gave a whoop of delighted triumph the score was Sam 1 and Liam the wife beater 0.

He shouted something else probably insults but she couldn't hear them and didn't care it was time to make full use of her escape. She knew Liam wouldn't just give up after one set back he wasn't the type he'd keep coming, keeping chasing after her and of course he'd regain his gun.

But in her rear view mirror she saw him take out something else a mobile phone, who was he calling now did he have an accomplice someone to help him or was he calling the cops to report the theft of his car?

How ironic it would be if she got picked up for grand theft auto, Liam would like that then he could lord it over her calling her a common criminal. He despised criminals to him they were all sub-human and Tammy had once thought so herself until the line between right and wrong became a bit blurred.

The green van came out of nowhere it just shot out of an opening she hadn't even seen and to avoid it she twisted her wheel so sharply that the Mondeo screeched a protest before ending up with its front right tyre in a ditch.

The van skidded to a stop and it driver's door flew open to admit a lithe figure that jumped out onto the road full of purpose, Tammy was sure it was a woman and when the figure drew closer she saw that it was a young Asian girl with cold black hate filled eyes she'd last seen guarding a motel door when she met Celeste.

Yanking her door open Nguyen gazed at Tammy with ill-disguised loathing this time, "Get out," she ordered coldly, "Or I'll kill you myself."

FORTY FOUR

Naomi got no answer from Liam's phone which wasn't a total surprise if he was up what she suspected but she had some incoming calls from her team.

Tammy or Samantha as she known wasn't at work or her apartment, she'd driven off at lunchtime but nobody knew where however a guy called Rob claimed she was being followed by a red Mondeo.

Liam drove a red Mondeo.

There was no sign of the girl Nguyen but phone records showed more than 26 calls to him on a landline at Celeste's mansion; so the two knew each other may have even colluded just how they'd hitched up Naomi couldn't guess but she'd always suspected Liam of seeing other women.

"We're not far now from where Tammy worked," Celeste cut into her thoughts and Naomi gazed around the small unfamiliar town where she'd never have thought to look for the missing woman.

"I need to know Tammy's car make and registration so we can trace her using CCTV."

The American supplied these details, "I feel like I'm undoing all the good work we did to hide her."

"Her covers been blown anyway Celeste, the best we can hope for now is to save her life."

The old head nodded, "I can't believe Nguyen would betray me, I gave that girl a home, a job everything she has."

It's the Liam-factor Naomi thought bitterly the same thing that had been her undoing somehow that man poisoned everything he touched.

She gave out the details of Tammy's car and Liam's Mondeo and very soon information drifted back about a possible route Tammy had taken heading out of town where the hell was she going surely she wasn't going on the run again?

When Naomi asked for more directions they were given; it soon became clear the Mondeo was following her as it had taken an identical route Liam closing in for the kill.

"I can't see any of your people," Celeste observed, "Won't you need back up."

"Let's find them first," said Naomi, "Keep your eyes peeled for either or both cars while I try to figure out if she turned off anywhere."

There wasn't much traffic at this time of day just a few stragglers then she saw a sign for a local beauty spot with a lake, "Let's try down here maybe Tammy wanted some peace and quiet."

"What if she's already dead," Celeste asked softly voicing a fear at the back of her own mind, "What if we're too late and he's killed her?"

Not an outcome Naomi wanted but if Liam had committed murder he'd go down for it she'd see to that if it was the last thing she did as a detective which it probably would be.

"We have to believe we're in time I can't function as a police officer any other way," Naomi couldn't believe Liam was that far ahead of them and the girl Nguyen certainly wasn't then she saw a red Mondeo up ahead one of its tyres in a ditch.

Stomach clenching with fear she slowed down, there was a scrape on the left wing like it had been side swiped by something larger and skid marks burned into the tarmac.

"Stay here," she told Celeste, "I'll check this out."

The road was quiet if another vehicle had been involved it was gone and so was the Mondeo driver to, the red car being empty its drivers door wide open. It had been forced off the road at a guess by another car or van but whoever had been inside wasn't dead or their body would just have been left here.

Yes the licence plate was right this was Liam's car but where was Liam, who would attempt to side swipe him? I need to call this in she thought radio for help, get uniforms here.

Then she heard the gunshot, a single blast and she was running towards it.

FORTY FIVE

The shot made Tammy jump but there was no burning pain of impact, Nguyen had fired into the air and then brought the pistol back down to aim at her.

The shot was a warning it said don't try anything especially not running. Parked nearby the van's engine was still ticking over, Tammy had been hauled inside a few minutes ago brought here then shoved out.

The lake was visible some yards away but this was dry dusty ground and a lone figure was approaching, the clothing and movement identified him as Liam long before she could make out facial features.

This girl Nguyen was working with Liam there could be no doubt of it, stood in a wide legged stance her body tense and expectant the Vietnamese maid uttered a sigh of relief at seeing Liam then she tensed.

"He's bleeding you hurt him," she accused Tammy with clear loathing, "I should kill you for that."

Liam will save you the job she thought sourly, "I can't believe you betrayed Celeste, me and the whole group for him," she said bitterly, "Celeste gave you a job, a home."

"White people," Nguyen spat back, "You think I want your charity, I was a cop in Hanoi I had a career and a respect but in the west it counted for nothing I made tea and folded blankets for some rich old woman."

"So why come to the west why not stay in Hanoi," but Tammy could work it out for herself, this girl had met and fallen for Liam following him in desperation. She recalled some big police conference in Taiwan 2 years ago, Liam and Nguyen must have met there; or rather he seduced her.

"You're in love with him aren't you," she said bitterly, "My husband?"

"You know nothing," Nguyen snorted.

"I know you're making a big mistake, how could you be a cop and flout the law like this? If Liam kills me you'll be an accessory, you'll be a murderer to."

Eyes darting away for a moment as she considered this the former maid did not lower her weapon and it was clear the words had failed to have much effect.

Tammy tried again, "You can't do this you'll never get away with it."

To which the oriental girl replied, "I know exactly what I'm doing don't patronise me."

"No you don't Nguyen you don't understand, Liam isn't worth it."

"Shut up," the command was sharp and the gun came back threateningly, "I love him and he loves me."

It saddened Tammy to hear these words and she wondered how many deluded women had spoken them before including herself, "Liam only loves himself," she said sadly.

"Ha that just shows how little you know him," Nguyen derided mocking he now.

"I had 7 long years to get to know Liam; I think I've figured him out pretty well."

But this cut no ice, "You're not worthy of him some spoiled stuck-up white girl who's lived her whole life in comfort. You should try being one of eight children and growing up in a home not much bigger than a garden shed. I was working by the time I was 12 to support my family, you've no idea what I had to do to bring home money some nights."

Blood running cold Tammy tried to imagine going out to work at 12, she had just started high school and knew nothing of life, "I'm sorry," she said, "It must have been hard."

Nguyen was dismissive, "You've no idea."

Tammy was sure, "Fair enough but this isn't the way you're making a big mistake, Liam isn't going to help you or make your life better believe me I know I found out the hard way he beat me senseless night after night."

"Be quiet," clearly not interested the other girl peered at the approaching figure with painful earnestness.

Then Liam was within earshot limping somewhat, his jaw still bloody, "Well done Nguyen I knew I could rely on you, you're a good girl," he said smoothly, "Not like this one," the look he gave Tammy was withering whose morale plummeted even further.

It was sickening to see the girl's smile of delight and appreciation she was like an obedient pet.

Tammy said, "Yes well done for destroying my life for this psychopath," she was back to Sam mode spiky and sarcastic, "I think you'll find he isn't worth it."

Liam actually smiled but it seemed to hurt his jaw too much, "You've been nothing but trouble to me Tammy, and after all I've given you over the years like security, comfort, money, status."

Tam cut in, "Broken jaw, busted ribs, black eyes, sprained ankle, burns, cuts, sickening terror day and night," she glared at him her abuser her bully her gaoler, "God I'm so inconsiderate aren't I Liam, will you be sharing these gifts with Nguyen as well?"

The maid now looked a trifle unsure and anxious, well good she needed to be she needed to wake up from her Liam-induced trance and smell the danger.

"Such lies," said Liam, "Such ingratitude I had no idea you were such a spiteful and bitter woman."

I thought Tammy used to be a weak woman a doormat but no longer, how could I have ever loved this man or put up with his violence for so long.

"I'm a woman who's moved on Liam away from you and your distorted view of marriage and love when were hubby comes home and batters the crap out of his devoted wife whenever it suits him."

Eyes flicking away from her (had she touched a nerve) Liam asked Nguyen, "How much petrol is there in that van?"

To which the girl answered, "Enough Liam."

Enough for that where did they plan to go, not back to the conjugal home she was guessing so that meant an escape route.

"Running away," she added some extra derision to her voice a sharp new layer, "Like the coward you are?"

"Nguyen and I are starting a new life together one you won't be part of," he said coldly.

"Oh so you're dumping DI Finch are you, has she outlived her bedworthiness," facing Nguyen Tammy took a deep breath, "He has women all over, he cheated on me all the time we were married and he'll cheat on you to."

Doubt she saw it, surprise, disgust, uncertainty the girl was wavering.

"Give me your gun and get in the van Nguyen," Liam ordered.

"Don't do it, don't let him push you around," Tammy pleaded, "When he kills me you're guilty to."

"That's enough Tammy I think I've heard all I want to from you," Liam barked his face swelling where the car door had caught him and his jaw slightly stiff.

"The woman you married, the woman you said you loved and the woman you're about to kill," she threw back at him.

"Nguyen in the van," Liam ordered but his willing accomplice didn't move indeed she stood her ground.

"No," she said and Liam faltered.

"Excuse me," his smile seemed a trifle forced; he didn't like disobedience.

"We could tie her up and leave her here, nobody will find her for ages there's no need for murder."

Tammy was heartened to hear this but knew Liam would never agree, "I know too much I've seen too much, I can identify the van and you, he has to kill me to close the loophole; Liam is nothing if not thorough."

He held out his hand, "The gun," his voice was low but dangerous.

"Don't give it to him Nguyen he'll shoot us both," Tammy cried.

"He wouldn't shoot me," the girl cried.

"Why not what does he need you for, he may have another lover waiting some fresh meat?"

"That's a dirty lie," Nguyen yelled but didn't sound so sure.

"Of course it's a lie," Liam nodded, "She's desperate and grasping at straws."

"Okay so why doesn't Liam get in the van and you can tie me up?"

Liam made a grab for the gun but quick as a flash Nguyen jerked away and aimed at him surprising everyone, Liam froze his eyes flint hard.

"What the bloody hell are you playing at, we're wasting time," but that wasn't why he was scared, he was rattled because for once he'd lost control of events he was no longer in charge.

"You can't trust him," said Tammy, "He's lied to you the new life he spoke of is only for him."

"That's rubbish Nguyen surely you can see what she's trying to do, she's demented, unbalanced."

Blinking back tears the Vietnamese girl shook her head she seemed totally lost and bewildered an emotional wreck.

It was then that Liam made his second grab for the gun and this time he succeeded just as Naomi Finch appeared carrying her own weapon.

FORTY SIX

Boston USA thirty years ago

Ankles swollen, head spinning, back aching and three months pregnant Celeste knew her marriage to Jack was over, that she didn't love him anymore if she ever had. He certainly didn't love her, not if all the women he'd fooled around with were any guide.

He was out with one now some actress or model maybe just an office girl in a short skirt with great legs. Jack didn't seem to care he'd chase anything in a skirt, as far as he was concerned they were fair game.

The only one he didn't chase anymore was his wife; how ironic then she should be in the club, up the duff, with child his child. They'd been trying for years but long ago Jack lad lost interest, seeing Celeste as a dead loss.

She'd never given up though trying this treatment and that, pills, potions, yoga, different positions, indoors and out. Desperate for a child she had begged Jack to see a doctor but his response was always the same, "It's a woman's thing stop bothering me."

Jack's ego wouldn't allow him to admit that he had a problem a low sperm count or whatever, his macho pride baulked on the very idea. He was a man's man, one of the guys he could have any chick he wanted as he set about proving leaving Celeste alone night after lonely night unwanted and humiliated.

Then a miracle she got pregnant, she had thought he'd be delighted that it would reignite their marriage and end his wandering ways. Not a bit of it, he swore, gave her a fat lip and went out to get drunk and laid.

Never had she felt more worthless more of a failure as a woman, so she contacted a good divorce attorney and set the ball in motion, setting aside some cash to rent her own apartment and car before making her move.

Tonight was the night she was almost packed when in he staggered her ever loving husband father of her child, big Jack McCluskey man about town, everybody's friend but hers.

"What the hell are you doing," she could tell he was wired straight away he had that mean glint in his eye that boded trouble then he saw the suitcases, "You're packed," he said, "Where the hell are you going?"

She stood her ground it was time for some home truths, "I'm leaving you Jack, I'm walking out and getting a divorce," the words took all the strength she had, knees trembling she was almost physically sick. Standing up to Jack wasn't a good idea not with his evil temper and sharp fists; he didn't like to be crossed.

At first he looked stupefied but he soon cottoned on and reached into his jacket for the… Celeste gave a short cry the last thing she'd been expecting was for him to have a gun she'd never seen him with one before, not a revolver.

"Jack for crying out loud," even to her she sounded hysterical her voice high-pitched with terror he couldn't be serious?

"You're not leaving me Cel," he snarled using one of his nicknames for her and waving the gun.

"I've had enough our marriage is a sham."

His voice exploded across the room, "You're my wife."

Funny how he forgot this when he went out drinking and whoring, he didn't have a wife then oh no Celeste didn't even exist.

"Where have you been tonight Jack, who have you been with what was her name Julie, Doris, Carla; how many have there been over the years how many times have you cheated on me?"

The man shook and the gun shook even more, "You're not leaving me Cel nobody leaves me."

"Jack you left our marriage a long time ago," sure she could talk him down she moved closer, "There's no point to this anymore me waiting around for you to come back smelling of some other woman's perfume, we don't have a marriage just a habit."

He seemed amazed she could talk to him like this astounded then his brow knitted again, "You're not divorcing me I won't let you," and pain exploded through her belly ripping through her organs her womb her baby.

Thirty years later she could still feel it still feel that pain, still feel the death of her unborn child and tears fell freely down the now wrinkled cheeks, tears of regret, loss and anger.

Anger at Jack and all the other Jacks in the world who thought they could get away with anything, that there were no consequences. Only there were, there had to be; someone had to make them pay.

FORTY SEVEN

"Drop the weapon now," Naomi's command sharp and precise made everyone look up startled, the black DI was aiming right at Liam and from her elevated position on a small mound she could hardly miss.

"That's DI Burns actually," recovering with amazing speed Liam added both authority and humour into his voice he even dredged up a smile.

"Put the gun down Liam right now," Unimpressed Naomi was frowning.

"I will I was only defending myself, Tammy attacked me again look at my face," oh god not the victim card Tammy couldn't believe it suddenly she was the bad guy.

She said, "He and his girlfriend were going to murder me inspector."

"You," Naomi's hot eyes fixed on Tammy, "Are under arrest for assault and fleeing a crime scene Mrs Burns."

Okay thought Tammy as arrest seemed better than death and would get her out of Liam's clutches.

"So long as you arrest these two as well," Tammy replied.

"Don't tell me my job," Naomi skittered down the small hill of mud and shale, "Liam the gun."

Carefully he placed it on the earth, "Of course I'm glad to see you."

"This," Tammy sold Nguyen, "Is another of his lady loves; he'd been bedding her for months maybe years."

Producing some cuffs Naomi tossed these to Tammy with a 'put-them-on' expression, "Celeste is with me," she said in a softer tone, "This whole escape thing is over."

Celeste was here Tammy was astounded and suddenly wanted to see the American, "By all means take me into custody but you don't know the whole story."

"I intend to find out lady," turning to Liam and keeping her gun at the ready Naomi said, "You've got questions to answer as well DI Burns."

But she'd taken her eye off Nguyen and this was a mistake as a shoe flashed upwards knocking the gun from her grip, it was all the distraction Liam needed; pushing the fighting women out of the way he grabbed Tammy by the wrist having somehow regained his own weapon.

Shoving Nguyen off Naomi wheeled around to find husband and wife locked in an embrace, he aiming a gun at her head as they retreated towards the green van.

"We're leaving," Liam panted, "Don't try to stop us."

"Liam it's over you can't escape," Naomi implored rubbing her bruised arm but Tammy knew Liam would make a good try of it he wasn't the type to just quit plus he had a hostage and as before it was her.

"Get in the van," he hissed in her ear and she couldn't think of anything else to do. Naomi was unarmed now and Nguyen lay on the ground looking forlorn and abandoned tossed aside without a second's thought.

"My team are looking for you, uniform have your description there's no way out," Naomi's argument echoed around the van interior.

"I've done nothing wrong Naomi, Tammy is in my custody I'm a cop doing my job," Liam answered with a fake reasonableness that made him seem almost sane.

Still clutching the cuffs she hadn't put on Tammy sat there in the musty van wondering what she was going to do now; Naomi had completely blown it she'd had the drop on this madman and let him go.

Behind the wheel Liam turned the key, "Don't get in my way," was his parting shot to Naomi as Nguyen stood up to cry.

"Don't leave me Liam I need you," tears streaming down her cheeks.

Feeling very sorry for her Tammy watched the two women shrink away and felt a wave of bitter anger rise in her throat, "Dumping them now as well are you Liam," she asked?

"I don't need them anymore but I seem to need you, hew ironic that I've gone back to my wife the old model you might say."

He'd added kidnap to assault and attempted murder despite what he'd said to Naomi, "The only problem with that is that I'm not the old model anymore the timid victim."

He looked at her questioningly, "No you aren't and I quite like this new spirit of resistance this feisty defiance, I could get used to it."

They were back on the main road and she saw a yellow Corsa which must be Naomi's car, in it a lone figure thin and brittle, elegant and old world a touch of Lauren Bacall about her. Celeste blinked at the van and Tammy threw her a wave, hi it's me I'm still alive but maybe not for much longer.

Squirming across the seat the old lady took the driver's seat and fumbled with the steering wheel just as the van screeched past heading in the opposite direction and Tammy began to lose all hope.

"Where are you taking me Liam, you aren't going to get away with this or elude the police."

"I'm a senior detective the police are my friends my family, Naomi was my protégé as well as my lover but she clearly still has a lot to learn."

Did he really think things could go back to normal for him that he and Tammy would somehow resume their former life and that she would be charged but not him?

"She'll be radioing this in now and Nguyen will make a statement, it's over Liam you're exposed, busted."

"Shut up," he barked reverting to type to the old Liam she knew and feared the bully, "Spirit has its place but yours is becoming tiresome."

No she thought it was refreshing invigorating, she'd enjoyed her small episode of freedom and wanted more much more. She did not want to see Liam walk away from this triumphant and smug Mr Untouchable the force's hero.

Click she put one cuff around his left wrist and clicked the other to the steering column.

"What the hell are you doing, take these off now," he bellowed just as the yellow Corsa drew up alongside the van with Celeste in control of it an odd gleam in the old eyes a look of hatred, revenge and something else that stretched back across time.

"You and me are finished Liam," Tammy was surprised by the resolve in her voice, "You're never going to terrorise me again," she said just before he hit her an awkward blow because he didn't have the room or the angle so it lacked a lot of power.

What it did do was cut her lip and knock her back against the door, a door which then flew open, momentum carried her through it and because she wasn't wearing a seat belt she kept going falling and tumbling, spilling backwards into thin air.

The impact scrambled her senses knocking all the wind out of her as she slammed into the road and the van kept going.

Before Liam could stop the Corsa rammed him it turned and crashed into the van at high speed catching it just right, car and Van veered across the road in a screech of rubber and metal.

Badly dazed Tammy didn't understand what she was seeing at first, she didn't notice the deep gully on the left side of the road a ravine really a steep drop but Celeste must have seen it and was pushing Liam towards it.

Oh my god she thought what the hell is Celeste doing she can't be serious, but the old lady was very serious and very determined.

Liam fought for control yanking at his wheel and kicking brakes, when this didn't work he tried to get out of the van but of course he couldn't – he was cuffed to it she had trapped him imprisoned him.

So when the two vehicles pitched off the road and yawned over into the ravine Liam's fate was sealed, Celeste's to for that matter because she didn't slow down one little bit.

The van screeched to the edge of the road then began to tilt alarmingly, within Liam fought like a maniac to pull free he was shouting, swearing maybe even pleading. Just like I used to do she thought begging for a mercy that was never to be shown.

Not wavering Celeste rammed and shoved the van onto over the edge, with almost a cry of pain it fell into a devastating plummet and the Corsa went with it, at no time did the old lady behind the wheel hesitate maybe seeing in Liam something of her old ex husband the one who'd gotten away with it but Liam wasn't getting away not this time.

He actually looked back at Tammy before he went over his eyes white and wide with the terror she had so often known, good bye she thought and felt only relief.

Then he was gone the van tipping over and the Corsa followed it, the two vehicles locked together in a crazy aerial dance as they flew downwards spinning out of control sucked by gravity.

Unable to move Tammy ached all over bruised and abused by the road and soon came running feet Naomi and Nguyen, in the far distance were sirens cops summoned by Naomi but she was too late.

"Where is he," she cried, "Where's Liam?"

Unable to answer Tammy lay back down as metal crashed and crunched noisily against hard rock being pulped and torn, god only knew what was happening to the human bodies inside it.

Goodbye Liam she thought as consciousness drifted away.

FORTY EIGHT

"Fish out of water," he was the most handsome guy at the party and he'd singled her out despite all the other prettier girls, "Me to," his smile was delicious and so natural she was won over, "Liam," he sang his name.

"Tammy," she apologised for hers having never really liked it maybe she should try a new name.

"It's delightful," he told her and she was surprised having never thought so.

"You think so," she fished?

"Oh yes it suits you very practical, now let me see if I can guess what you do for a living."

He never would her role was very unglamorous but he amazed her again, "PA to the boss."

Dead right that's exactly what she was, Rhonda's pet slave and Rhonda never let her forget it, "Want to get out of here," she did and accepted willingly.

"You haven't told me your job," she insisted aware of envious eyes upon her and sharp feminine dislike, where her and not us said those looks he's the hunk of the night what does he see in plain dull Tammy?

"I'm a cop," he muttered it was almost a giveaway line.

"You are, for real?"

"Detective," he flashed her a cool smile, "So you're in safe hands."

Tammy wouldn't be safe again for 7 years although she would often feel those hands on her.

"Why did you just run away why didn't you call the police," this question was asked again and again by different people and to them all Tammy offered the same answer, she did not trust the police Liam was a cop and cops stuck together; how often had he told her this?

"They won't believe you they'll believe me because I'm a DI a hero and heroes don't beat their wives."

Oh well that's okay then it had to be someone else blacking her eyes and busting her ribs.

"You shouldn't have just run," this was said often to in a disapproving tone of voice.

"What else do frightened people do but run and hide especially if there's a savage beating at the end of it," Tammy had responded.

She faced a number of charges but in the end all of them were dropped and 2 weeks later she pulled up outside Sue's farmhouse to find Sue waiting for her on the doorstep with a smile and a hug.

Having made it plain she was always welcome Sue led her inside to the smell of fresh baking and percolating coffee, to friendship and trust and just one more question, "What are you going to do now Tammy?"

Not needing to think about it Tammy accepted a warm mug and a seasoned bun, "Not Tammy my name is Sam from now on that's who I'm going to be Samantha Singleton."