Books

THE COLOURS OF THE DEAD

London, 1886.

For Olivia Stone, seeing things no one else can see, and knowing things no one ought to, has always been an unbearable curse. But after years spent blocking the visions and auras that plague her, Olivia has turned her powers to her advantage, escaping her overbearing father and a corseted society’s stifling expectations by becoming a private – and psychic – detective.

Olivia begins operating a harmless “lost & found” service behind the necessary camouflage of a fake detective “uncle”. But when a black death-aura leads her to the savagely beaten body of a young governess, her business suddenly becomes deadly serious. It seems Olivia’s sleuthing provoked this dreadful crime; and when another young woman is similarly murdered, a chilling fact becomes undeniable: the dead women bear an uncanny resemblance to one another … and to Olivia.

Shocked, and consumed by her sense of guilt, Olivia vows to catch the killer. But she must tread a perilous line. Scotland Yard is suspicious of her preternatural knowledge of the murders. And her only allies are two intriguing yet unsettling men: a dissolute, risk-taking viscount who is the only person Olivia has ever been unable to “read”, and an enigmatic psychiatrist with an understanding of the killer’s mind that is as shrewd as it is unnerving.

Worse, the veil separating the living from the dead is ripping. The killer’s victims are haunting Olivia from beyond the grave. And while opening her mind to commune with these tortured, vengeful souls could help catch their killer, Olivia is horribly aware allowing in the dead might just send her sliding into madness.

Olivia’s desperate race to unmask the killer pushes her abilities to dangerous limits, leading her from glittering Mayfair mansions into a gaslit London’s menacing underbelly of vice and crime … all the while bringing Olivia ever closer to an explosive collision with a malign force of darkness, and to the sadistic killer waiting expectantly for her to arrive.

 

Excerpt from The Colours of the Dead

Chapter One

            London, England

            1st January, 1886, at midnight

In an attic high above a dark London street, Brigid Brennan was taking off her clothes. Quickly, quietly, squeezed behind a carved Chinese screen in the attic’s corner. Just like the man had told her to.

But her bloody hands were shaking, making her fumble her laces and hooks and buttons.

It’s just the feckin’ cold, she told herself firmly, petticoats and skirts piling up on the dusty floorboards.

Still. Insisting they could only meet at midnight, and to keep her gob shut about it … it made her leery. But then, his sort were always odd. Shut up in their garrets, burning out their brains with paint fumes … everyone knew his kind were touched in the head.

She tugged off her drawers, her shift. Besides, she’d done this work before. Much worse, truth be told, and didn’t it curdle her stomach to be doing it again. But the past she thought she’d left far behind had come back to grip her by the throat, and this was the only way she’d escape it.

Naked now, Brigid shivered in the sallow light of the candle left burning behind the screen. Her body’s only point of heat was her silver saint’s medallion nestled between her breasts, still holding the warmth of her skin. Mam had pressed it into her hand the day she left Dublin; Saint Raphael the Archangel, patron saint of safe journeys. Supposed to protect her. So far, it mostly had.

Everything off, the man had said.

Bugger that. Leaving her medallion right where it was, Brigid snatched up the bell he’d left with the candle and rang it, hard.

The darkness beyond the screen lightened with a match strike and a candle’s flare. Footsteps approached. Brigid arranged herself as he’d demanded: Stand straight, chin up, shoulders back. And be still. She clenched her teeth to stop them chattering. God, she was cold. If only the bugger had had the wit to light the attic stove.

The footfall stopped. And when a narrow slot set head-high in the screen snapped open, her pulse jumped with an ugly little thump.

Behind the slot was a thin strip of grille-work. Through it, watching her, was the man, eyes glinting shards of black. His steady breathing filled the room’s silence. A faint aroma, piney, like the frankincense burned in church, reached her. A cracked thought:

Jesus. I’m back in Father O’Reilly’s confessional.

If you overlooked the lack of clothes.

She choked down a nervous giggle as his gaze dropped, eyes narrowing as they slowly, deliberately, roamed over her body. And her mirth faded. Something was off. His gaze wasn’t the hot, hooded gaze of a lusting customer. His eyes were cool. Calculating. Like a glassman inspecting a wine goblet for the tiniest flaw.

Unease churned in Brigid’s gut like a bad eel pie. Quickly, she cut her eyes from his. He’d been sitting in darkness when she arrived; now, he hid behind the screen; clearly he didn’t mean to show his face, so she wouldn’t look. No point winding up a punter, especially one as queer as this. Fastest way to a black eye, that was.

Although … he wasn’t quite a punter, was he? And when he spoke, he had the cut-glass vowels of a toff. Perhaps that was the reason for all the cloakin’ and daggerin’: he had a fancy wife at home who didn’t know his painting involved eyein’ off naked girls, or a rich da who’d cut him off if he discovered what went on up in this attic.

Maybe he was a priest.

Brigid tilted her chin. Let the bugger look. Hot hands pawing her, sweaty flesh grunting on top of her, that was how she’d once earned her living; being gawped at by a nervous toff was a walk in the feckin’ park.

His voice came through the screen.

“Turn. Show your back.”

Brigid’s stomach lurched. Ah, Christ. No.

“Now.”

Slowly, reluctantly, she faced the wall.

A heartbeat of silence.

“You will not do.”

The slot snapped shut. Brigid spun round.

“Please!” she begged, scrabbling for her clothes.

She knew what he’d seen, why she was no good to him. And it wasn’t bloody fair. She needed this job, badly.

But he’d snuffed out his candle, and his footsteps were fading. Dropping her clothes, Brigid stepped from behind the screen naked as the day she was born.

“Look at me!”

He was just a shadow by the attic door. But he stopped. Slowly turned.

“That price we agreed?” Brigid placed her hands on her hips. Arched her back with a practiced, sensuous roll. “For that much, you can do anything you like.”

Her heart pounded as he held still for an agonising moment. Then he started to walk back.

Relief swept through Brigid, although she was careful not to show it, and pinned her gaze to the floor. She didn’t care if he insisted on blindfolding her. She didn’t care what he did at all. Just so long as she walked out with the fat fee he’d promised in her pocket.

He stopped before her. Suddenly, his fingertips were on her cheek.

“Oh.” She heard him draw a long, trembling breath. “You’re so beautifully fucking cold.”

Brigid’s head snapped up, but her bemused question died on her lips.

The eyes she looked into were a predator’s. Black. Dead.

The hand that had touched her was now a hard fist.

And far too late, Brigid Brennan realised she’d made a fatal mistake.

 

One response to “Books

  1. Oh! Love the way you wrote this. I’m intrigued already. Funny, I had an idea for someone able to see colours, but it was in things not people, and was going to be some environmental dystopian tale. Your idea is brilliant! So much atmosphere 🙂

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