Hell to Pay: A Detective Kay Hunter novel - Rachel Amphlett - E-Book

Hell to Pay: A Detective Kay Hunter novel E-Book

Rachel Amphlett

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Beschreibung

When a road traffic accident on a dark autumn night uncovers a disturbing conspiracy, Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter’s investigation exposes a ruthless serial killer exploiting vulnerable young women.

With her enemies unmasked and her career spiralling out of control, Kay’s determination to seek vengeance for the victims brings her dangerously close to those who want to silence her.
    
Undeterred, she uncovers the real reason behind a plot to destroy her career and sets in motion a terrifying chain of events.

Could Kay’s need for revenge be her undoing, or will she survive to see justice served?

Hell to Pay is a gripping fast paced crime thriller, and the fourth in the Detective Kay Hunter series:

1. SCARED TO DEATH
2. WILL TO LIVE
3. ONE TO WATCH
4. HELL TO PAY 
5. CALL TO ARMS
6. GONE TO GROUND
7. BRIDGE TO BURN

A page-turning whodunit for fans of Peter Robinson, David Baldacci and James Patterson.

Praise for the Kay Hunter series:

“Thrilling start to a new series. SCARED TO DEATH is a stylish, smart and gripping crime thriller” ~ Robert Bryndza, USA Today bestselling author of THE GIRL IN THE ICE

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Hell to Pay

A Detective Kay Hunter novel

Rachel Amphlett

Copyright © 2017 by Rachel Amphlett

All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the author.

This is a work of fiction. While the locations in this book are a mixture of real and imagined, the characters are totally fictitious. Any resemblance to actual people living or dead is entirely coincidental.

Discover more of Rachel’s books – download the FREE Official Reading Guide with exclusive extracts here

Also available in audiobook. Listen to an extract here.

Chapter One

Detective Sergeant Kay Hunter leaned over the passenger seat of her car, plucked a pair of old leather ankle boots from the foot well, and cursed both the unfortunate motorist who’d lost control of his vehicle, and DI Devon Sharp for phoning her at one in the morning to attend the scene of the accident.

‘Meet me on site in thirty minutes,’ he’d said, before the line went dead.

She wiggled in her seat until she could slip off her flat shoes, exchanged them for the boots, and shoved the car door open before pulling her waxed jacket around her, gasping as rain lashed her face.

She squinted against the headlights from the emergency vehicles lined up along the hard shoulder of the motorway, an ambulance’s blue lights flashing through the steady downpour and strobing off the windows of the patrol cars that were being used to cordon off the accident scene. Further along, two firemen returned from their truck, their faces grim as they stepped over the remains of the steel barrier and disappeared from sight down the embankment.

Blinking the last remnants of sleep from her eyes, she shoved her hands into her pockets and began to search for her superior officer.

When Detective Inspector Devon Sharp had called her, the shrill tone of her mobile phone had roused her from her slumber and caused her other half, Adam, to curse loudly before he rolled over and tugged the duvet over his head.

His snores had reached her as she’d crept out the bedroom door.

Now, she wished she’d put on another layer of clothing as she stalked along the road.

A vicious wind whipped across the exposed raised section of the motorway, the bordering fields providing no shelter from the change in season.

As she neared the ambulance, she spotted a uniformed police officer standing next to the open back doors, his face attentive on the activities around him. Kay realised the crew were inside and peered in, curious.

The pair worked as a well-rehearsed team, an older woman and a younger man who bent over their patient, their voices clipped.

Beyond, at the front of the vehicle, a radio crackled; a man’s voice from their control centre at Ashford calm and efficient as he relayed information to the crew.

The scent of disinfectant reached Kay as she watched them work, her eyes running over the once immaculate equipment while she wondered how long it would take them to clean the vehicle when they finally returned to base at the end of a long shift.

‘He had to be cut out of the wreckage.’

Kay turned at Sharp’s voice. ‘What are his chances?’

‘Head trauma. Suffered a cardiac arrest while they were bringing him up the embankment on a stretcher. So, not good.’

Kay shielded her eyes against the rain and bright lights and peered along the motorway.

An intermittent stream of transcontinental trucks and an occasional car drove past the cordon, their speed slowed by the warning signs displayed on gantries several miles before the crash site.

Surface water sprayed out from under their wheels, pooling at the road’s edge where Kay stood. Despite knowing the cordon had been erected at a safe distance, she took a step back as a large truck swept by, the downdraught from it buffeting her slim frame.

‘Any other vehicles involved?’

‘No. Uniform are taking the statement of a truck driver over there – he was parked on the hard shoulder when the accident happened.’

They both turned at a call from the ambulance, and the younger of the paramedics stooped so he could talk to them.

‘We’ve got him stabilised. We’ll be off now.’

‘Thanks,’ said Sharp. ‘Where’s he going – Maidstone?’

‘Yeah, that’s where we’ve been told to take him.’ The paramedic lowered himself to the ground and prepared to close the rear doors. ‘I wouldn’t hold your breath about him making it though.’

Sharp turned his attention to the young uniformed officer. ‘Go with them. If he talks, I want to know about it.’

‘Guv.’

The paramedic waited until the police officer had clambered in, then made his way along to the driver’s door.

Kay and Sharp stepped out of the way as the vehicle manoeuvred away from the cordon before setting off along the motorway, its sirens blaring to clear a path between the trucks.

Kay watched it disappear into the distance, then stamped her feet and turned to Sharp.

Ex-military, he was impeccably dressed despite the time. Only his bleary eyes gave any indication of the fact he had also been woken in the middle of the night.

Kay narrowed her eyes as she realised he was even wearing a tie.

She felt scruffy by comparison.

‘Come and take a look,’ he said, failing to notice her discomfort, and led the way towards the edge of the embankment.

The other emergency services had set up two floodlights at the top of the hill to enable the fire crew to work to free the driver of the vehicle. Saving his life had taken precedence over preserving the scene for the crime scene investigation unit, and Kay could well imagine what the lead investigator would say when he saw the state of the undergrowth.

Large footprints led down from the roadside, and as Kay reached into her pocket and switched on her torch, the beam highlighted the total devastation left by the vehicle’s path, followed within an hour by a team of first responders.

‘What’s their initial thoughts about what happened?’

‘According to the truck driver parked back there, he saw the car veering to the left in his mirrors – thought it was going to hit him. Seems as though the car driver tried to correct it at the last minute, but lost control and sent himself spinning through the barrier. Traffic have already taken a look at the point of impact and traced it back – there’s oil on the road, plus the grease from the past two weeks.’

Kay nodded. After a particularly dry end to the autumn, a sudden deluge had lifted all the grime from the roads and created hazardous conditions for unsuspecting motorists.

Avoiding the broken edges of the barrier, they moved to a spot that wouldn’t block the team’s egress from the broken vehicle to the motorway and stood for a moment, watching the activities below.

‘What made Traffic call it in as a murder scene?’ Kay called over the howling wind.

In reply, Sharp held his hand out for her torch before walking a few more paces until he was at a different angle to the car and swept the beam over the back of the vehicle.

A pale arm snaked out from the boot and over the rear licence plate at an impossible angle.

‘Her,’ he said.

Chapter Two

Sharp stepped closer to the barrier and whistled to the crime scene team below.

One of the white suit-clad figures straightened at the sound, then pointed to its right and up the bank.

‘Good. Harriet’s got a demarcated path set up at last.’

They pulled on overalls and booties from a box of supplies left next to the barrier, the thin material flapping in the wind against their own clothes, and then Kay tied her hair back and followed Sharp down the slope, mindful of the fact that if she wasn’t careful, she’d slide on the wet undergrowth and scoot down the rest of the way on her backside.

The floodlights provided enough light to move safely along the path, so Kay shone her torch to her right, tracking the path the vehicle had carved through the vegetation as it had plummeted to where it now lay.

She’d seen some bad road accidents in her time with the police service, and gave a low gasp as she cast her eyes over the destruction.

‘It’s a wonder he lived, isn’t it?’ said Sharp over his shoulder.

‘Yeah. He must’ve been thrown around like a rag doll.’

As they drew closer to the foot of the embankment, Kay noticed that a wire fence separated the Highway Agency land from that of a farmer’s field.

The landscape beyond the outer reaches of the floodlights appeared as though it had been abandoned since harvest time, the earth laid fallow and bare.

Kay shivered as a cold gust of wind buffeted her and rocked the gantries from side to side, then turned her attention to the crash site.

She could only imagine the mammoth task that faced Harriet’s team – it was only now the driver of the car was on his way to hospital that the investigators could do their job. Their task would be exacerbated by the fact that at least twelve other people had traipsed through the now-cordoned-off area since the crash.

A tent had been erected over the back of the vehicle while she and Sharp had been talking at the top of the embankment, and as Kay drew closer she could see Harriet standing off to one side, calling out instructions to her team while they propped up a second tent over the driver’s door of the car. A photographer moved from one side of the car to the other, the flash from his camera illuminating the scene in bursts of light that bounced off the trunks of nearby trees and cast silhouettes amongst his colleagues.

Harriet glanced over her shoulder when they approached the cordon, and then made her way towards them, her progress hampered by tree branches and thick vines that covered the mud-strewn ground.

‘Evening, detectives.’

‘Harriet.’ Sharp jerked his chin towards the vehicle. ‘What’ve you got so far?’

The crime scene investigator pulled her paper mask down. ‘Female, mid-twenties by the look of it. Wrapped in a black plastic sheet that was taped together. Bruising to the face, which obviously wasn’t caused by the accident – not enough time has elapsed. I can’t see any bindings around her wrists. I’ll let Patrick finish the preliminary photographs, and then we’ll take a closer look.’

‘Thanks.’

Sharp fell silent as Harriet replaced her mask and returned to the small tent, her white suit covered in splatters of mud from the knees down.

Kay sniffed the air, a heady mix of spilt fuel and the earthy tones of the nearby field. She glanced back up the embankment at the sound of air brakes, and spotted a large tow truck pull up to the barrier, its hazard lights flashing. She checked her watch, and wondered if they would be finished in time before sunrise.

The last thing they would need was for the crime scene to slow down the morning commute and end up on the news before they could work with the media team to coordinate a structured response.

On the other hand, to rush the forensic examination of the vehicle while it was still in situ would be a disaster. The next few hours were crucial for capturing as much evidence as possible.

The photographer moved closer to where Kay and Sharp stood, then lowered his camera.

‘Okay, Harriet, I’ve got all the preliminary photographs,’ he called over to the car. ‘Anything else you need from the perimeter?’

‘No, that’s fine. Let’s get a move on and find out what we’ve got. Charlie, can you move one of those floodlights closer?’

A technician moved away from the group, slapped a colleague on the arm as he passed and pointed away from the car, before the two figures grabbed hold of the nearest floodlight and shuffled their way towards the rear of the vehicle.

Once satisfied the lighting rig had been secured so the wind wouldn’t blow it over on top of someone, Harriet set to work once more.

Kay held her breath, the temptation to lift the tape between her and the vehicle tempered by the knowledge that she couldn’t simply impose upon Harriet’s work.

From their position at the cordon, Kay had to crane her neck to try and see what Harriet was doing.

The woman spoke to her team as she worked, her low voice carrying on the wind as she pointed to different parts of the vehicle and set her colleagues to work taking samples and placing everything in evidence bags to begin their arduous task of recording every minute detail.

After half an hour, Harriet lifted her head from the back of the car and beckoned them over.

‘All right, come and take a look.’

Sharp lifted the tape so he and Kay could pass underneath it, and led the way to the car.

Her eyes roamed the vehicle as she drew closer, the dents and scrapes caused by the velocity of the crash even more evident under the harsh bulbs of the gantry lights.

She left Sharp to speak with Harriet while she circled the car, surveying the damage to the panel work.

The passenger door had been ripped off its hinges and lay further up the embankment from where the vehicle had finally stopped, a steady stream of debris tumbling amongst the undergrowth as three of Harriet’s colleagues hurried to collect as much of it as possible before the wind seized it.

Rounding the back end of the car, she joined Sharp beside Harriet.

He stepped to one side and gestured to the woman’s body. ‘She didn’t stand a chance.’

Kay lowered her gaze.

The woman appeared to be in her twenties, her naked form wrapped in the black plastic before being dumped in the back of the car.

Harriet had snipped away at the tape that held the plastic together, exposing the woman’s bruised and battered body. Cuts and welts covered her left cheekbone and eye socket, her face twisted away from them.

‘We’ll finish here and get her to Lucas as soon as possible,’ said Harriet. ‘Though bear in mind we have to take samples from the whole car and gather everything from its path of travel. We’ll be here a while yet.’

‘Understood,’ said Sharp.

Kay shifted from foot to foot and ignored the damp starting to seep through the protective bootees and into the leather uppers of her boots. ‘I can’t recall any similar cases to this one, can you, guv?’

‘No. That’s what worries me.’

She turned to face Sharp. She was almost the same height as him, but he stood a little further up the slope to her and so she had to lift her chin. His face was troubled.

‘You think he’s done this before?’

‘Maybe.’

‘Perhaps it’s a one-off, a domestic case.’

He shrugged.

Kay sighed and faced the car once more.

No matter what Sharp thought, their first priority would be identifying the driver and his victim before working out where they had travelled from.

And where he had been taking her.

The thought that they might have missed a practiced killer with several burial sites spread around the county town sent a shiver down her spine.

What if he hadn’t crashed?

When would he have been caught, and how many other victims would there have been?

‘He’d better survive surgery,’ she muttered.

Chapter Three

The next morning, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, Kay glanced up from her computer at Sharp’s low whistle, and then wheeled her chair over to where the rest of the investigating team were beginning to gather.

She nodded to Detective Constable Carys Miles, whose dark hair hung to her shoulders – a new style for her, and one she’d confessed to Kay she was only trying for the coming winter months.

‘It’s too damn hot in summer for long hair,’ she’d grumbled. ‘But at least I can keep my neck warm now.’

Kay had laughed at the comment – she felt the cold chill of winter as early as late September, and would never contemplate having her blonde hair cut shorter than its current length. Her only compromise was to keep her fringe short so she could at least see what she was doing on a day-to-day basis without it getting in the way.

Gavin Piper and Ian Barnes, two more detective constables, joined them, the younger of the two – Gavin – choosing to perch on a nearby desk, his notebook and pen poised ready.

He’d passed his exams the previous month with flying colours and was now a firm part of the investigative team at the county town’s police station. Naively, Piper had thought his colleague’s teasing would stop the moment he was no longer a probationer, however Barnes had other ideas, especially as the tall handsome man was the gossip of the female members of the administrative pool of staff and was known to spend most of his free time surfing off the Cornish coastline. He kept his blonde hair regulatory length, but it still had a habit of sticking out in tufts due to the amount of salt water it had been exposed to over the summer months, accentuated by the deep tan that still clung to his skin.

Kay viewed the older man, Barnes, as the glue within the team.

Barnes could be relied upon to lighten the mood when required, but also commanded an enormous amount of respect amongst the assembled detectives and administrative staff. In his mid-fifties, he’d been a police officer since he was in his twenties and his knowledge of the local area and its history had been relied upon time and again when Kay had worked alongside him. He’d confided in Kay that he’d started dating someone before the summer, a conveyancing solicitor he’d met through friends, and it seemed the romance had blossomed.

Kay picked up her notebook and pen, flicked to a clean page and settled into her seat as Sharp began.

‘Right, for those of you who weren’t on scene last night, I’ll give you a quick update,’ he said. He pinned a series of colour photographs of the crash scene to the whiteboard beside him. ‘At ten past eleven last night, Traffic were called to a car accident on the M20 about quarter of a mile past the Harrietsham exit. When they got there, the driver was unconscious, but still alive, and fire and ambulance crews worked to free him from the wreckage and get him to hospital. He’s currently at Maidstone Hospital in an induced coma after six hours of surgery.’

He paused to let the team catch up with their notetaking, and then pinned a further three photographs to the board.

‘In the back of the car, the body of this woman was found.’

A silence filled the incident room as the team stared at the photographs.

‘The hospital has confirmed they’ve had to remove the driver’s spleen, and I’m told he also has a broken leg and will require further surgery to pin that in due course. They’re keeping him in the induced coma to try and reduce the swelling to his head wound – looks like he banged his skull against the window of the car when it rolled down the embankment.’

‘What are his chances?’ said Kay.

‘Grim, but as soon as we get confirmation from the hospital he’s conscious, we’ll be making arrangements to formally interview him.’

A murmur swept through the incident room. It would make their jobs harder if they couldn’t question the driver, and although none of them wished him ill health, they also wanted to see justice served for the man’s victim.

The DI waited until their voices had quietened. ‘Carys – has anything come up on the Police National Computer about the car registration?’

She shook her head. ‘There’s nothing that looks like a connection, guv, but some of the records on the database from the Driver Vehicle and Licencing Agency are a mess, so I’ve put in a request to them. It doesn’t appear to be a hire car, though. Hopefully I’ll get some clarifying information from them soon.’

‘All right. In the meantime, fingerprints were taken from the driver, but we’ve drawn a blank,’ said Sharp. ‘He doesn’t appear in our system. He had no wallet or identification on him, and none were found in the car. Two mobile phones were located in the car, however, and those have been passed to Andy Grey’s digital forensics team at headquarters. We would’ve brought them into evidence here, but they were crushed in the accident, and we needed Grey’s expertise to extract what information we could from them. Harriet’s team found another phone amongst the undergrowth that had the female victim’s fingerprints on it. Grey confirmed fifteen minutes ago that the last call made on one of the phones in the car was made to the victim’s phone.’

‘But why would he be calling her?’ said Barnes. ‘He knows where she is – in the boot of his car.’

‘Maybe she’s known to him and he called her before killing her?’ said Kay.

‘Or it was a hit and run?’ said Gavin. He shook his head. ‘No, that doesn’t make sense.’

‘What about the woman? Any information about her?’ asked a female police constable on the fringe of the small group, her pen poised.

‘None. Again, her fingerprints have been taken, but she doesn’t show up in the system, Debbie,’ said Sharp. ‘So, can you circulate the prints to our colleagues in Sussex, Essex and the Met to start off with to see if they have anything for us? Widen the search if they don’t. Lucas Anderson is planning to do the post mortem tomorrow morning, so we’ll have to wait to see if that turns up anything to help us by way of dental records and the like.’

‘Will do, guv.’

Debbie West regularly supported the major crimes unit, and Sharp always sought her presence from the uniform staff at the station if she was available.

Diligent and one of the most talented users of the HOLMES2 database the team relied upon to manage any investigation, Debbie exuded a degree of calm amongst the often fraught team dynamics.

Sharp’s attention returned to the detectives. ‘While Debbie’s following up the fingerprints angle, Carys – you and Gavin start working with Missing Persons to see if our victim turns up on those databases. Harriet emailed some photographs from last night’s scene, so you can use those. Again, widen your search if she doesn’t show up in Kent.’

‘Will do.’

‘While Carys is dealing with the DVLA, we need to trace where that car’s been,’ said Sharp. ‘Gavin – get on to the ANPR. Have them trace the car from its last known point on the M20 to its starting point. Tie it in with local CCTV and see if we can pinpoint the driver’s movements.’

‘Guv.’

‘Carys – speak to uniform. As soon as Gavin has a starting point, we’re going to need their help. Could be industrial, could be residential but it’s going to take manpower. I’ll speak to DCI Larch about the budget.’

‘Kay, Barnes – the minute we have an identification for the driver, check the database to see if we have a note of him in the system and any known acquaintances. No doubt we’ll be paying some of them a visit over the coming days, so I’d like to have an update on where we can find them. In the meantime, you can help Gavin by going through the local CCTV footage when we get it.’

‘Got it.’

‘Right.’ Sharp checked his watch. ‘We’ll have another briefing at five o’clock. Let’s see what we’ve managed to pull together by then.’

Chapter Four

Kay wandered over to the water cooler and filled up two white plastic cups before joining the small group around the whiteboard at the far end of the incident room.

The winter sun had dipped below the horizon over an hour ago, the sky turning from pale grey to black within minutes.

Kay checked her watch. She’d forgotten to eat, and hoped the final briefing of the day would be short.

‘Here you go,’ she said, and handed one of the cups to Barnes.

‘Thanks.’

Supervisors for the team responsible for reviewing the ANPR and CCTV images were present, as well as a number of administrative staff from headquarters who were tasked with liaising with the uniformed officers.

Kay yawned, the packed incident room quickly becoming stuffy due to a combination of temperamental central heating and lack of ventilation. She and the rest of the team had been running on coffee and adrenalin all day, and despite her best efforts, exhaustion was beginning to seep in.

Sharp blew a loud single-note whistle to bring the numerous muted conversations to a halt, and everyone turned their attention to the front of the room where he stood.

‘Thank you. Debbie – can you dim the lights, and I’ll take you through the images we’ve got from the cameras.’ He hit a remote switch, and an aerial view of Maidstone appeared on the wall beside him, the projector’s light catching the shoulder of his jacket as he moved to one side. ‘My thanks to our uniformed colleagues who have worked all day to pull this together for us. We’ll start with the crash site and work backwards. As you can see from the image here, we’ve got a lot of area to cover.’

Kay fought down the tiredness, knowing she had to stay focused. Whoever the driver was, she wouldn’t relax until he was convicted and put away for a very long time.

The ambient light in the room dipped and wavered as Sharp switched to the next image.

‘This was taken as the vehicle passed below the bridge under the railway,’ he said, and continued to change the images as he commentated, using a laser pointer to trace the details. ‘The driver left Maidstone via the A229 to join the motorway. Prior to that, we have CCTV placing him here.’

His audience leaned forward as one.

On the screen was a grainy image of the vehicle passing along an empty street, but only the front grille of the car showed.

‘Where’s that, guv?’ said Gavin.

‘Wheeler Street. Runs off Holland Road. Unfortunately, the contractors responsible for maintaining the CCTV cameras along there haven’t been keeping to their schedule, and we’re missing at least twenty minutes.’ He flicked to the next image. ‘At present, we have no idea where the vehicle was between this prior known position here on the A26 to where we’ve spotted it in Wheeler Street.’

‘That’s enough time to kill and hide a body in the car,’ mused Kay.

‘If that’s where he killed her, yes. Part of uniform’s remit tomorrow morning will be to speak to business owners along Wheeler Street and Holland Road to see if anyone’s got some camera footage to help us. If they have, we’ll try to fill in the gaps using the information to hand.’

Despite Sharp’s optimism, Kay could hear the underlying frustration. It was a long and laborious task and in the meantime, they’d be treading water waiting for the results.

‘Moving backwards,’ said Sharp, ‘we have the car pinpointed at a roundabout at Mereworth. He disappears then, again due to lack of camera coverage, and we pick him up here, on the outskirts of Tonbridge – his starting point.’

A darkened street appeared, its kerbs lined with a variety of cars outside tightly packed terraced houses.

‘We’ll have teams of uniformed officers mobilised in the morning to assist with door to door enquiries in Tonbridge,’ said Sharp. ‘The first team will be out early to try to catch as many people as possible before work or school commitments. A second team will set out at six o’clock to go to those houses we get no response from during the morning session. All statements will be entered onto the system by the administrative staff at headquarters as they come in from the teams in the field. Kay, Carys – as soon as we have confirmation from the door to door enquiries which house that vehicle belongs to, I want you to do the formal search at the property. I’ll get the necessary warrants authorised, but it means you’re going to have to join the team in Tonbridge tomorrow morning so you can act immediately. We’ll get Barnes or Gavin to get the search warrant to you. Might be a good idea for you to tag along with uniform, speak to the neighbours to give yourselves a head start.’

‘Guv.’

‘I’ll have Harriet and her team on standby to conduct a forensic search.’

Kay nodded, but didn’t respond. If it transpired the woman had been murdered at the property, the whole place would be locked down immediately while the crime scene investigation unit worked their way through the building.

Sharp switched off the projector, and tossed the laser pointer onto the desk next to him as the lights were switched back on.

‘Right. See you tomorrow, everyone. Don’t be late.’

Chapter Five

Kay emitted a sigh as she extracted herself from the car, the late night and subsequent early morning start finally catching up with her.

Adam, her partner, had parked his four-wheel-drive on the gravel driveway rather than in the garage outside the house he’d inherited from a grateful elderly client, and she had to squeeze between the two vehicles to get to the front door.

She noticed the back of the four-wheel-drive was open, so she changed her mind and sidled down the side of the vehicle until she reached the garage, and then made her way through to the kitchen via an internal door.

Adam was crouched on the floor with his back to her, a boxlike wooden structure on the floor beside him. He glanced over his shoulder as she shut the door behind her.

‘Hi,’ he said. ‘I thought I heard your car on the driveway.’

He straightened, and Kay tilted her face up to his before he kissed her.

She lowered her gaze to the balsa wood structure. ‘What is it this time?’

He grinned. ‘Something you’ll really like. Cute and fluffy.’

He ran a hand through his unruly black hair, his eyes sparkling.

Kay peered around him, and realised the box was in fact a small hutch with an enclosed area at one end, and a wire mesh covering the other half. Adam had spread newspaper out under the open end.

Adam moved to the kitchen bench and rummaged in a plastic carrier bag, before turning back with two ceramic bowls in his hands. He handed one to Kay.

‘Do you want to fill that one up with water? It’s too cold to leave them outside, but they should be okay in here.’

Kay dumped her handbag on the draining board, and ran the cold tap until the bowl was three quarters full, wondering what he’d brought home.

As one of the town’s more prominent veterinary surgeons, Adam had a habit of bringing his work home with him – literally. She’d had a few months’ respite since they’d last played host to one of his patients – a Great Dane who whelped a healthy litter of puppies in the same space the hutch now took up. The worst guest had been a snake that had escaped, and which had achieved legendary status amongst Adam’s colleagues.

It hadn’t been offered a repeat visit.

She crouched down next to Adam as he lifted a hatch built into the wire mesh section of the hutch and took the bowl from her before placing it in the far corner away from them.

He added the second bowl, into which he had tipped a mixture of seeds and grain.

Kay rested on her haunches, and waited.

‘I think they’re still getting used to the new surroundings,’ said Adam. ‘They’re quite friendly, once they get used to you. ‘

Kay opened her mouth to ask him who “they” were, but fell silent when a nose appeared from the enclosed section of the hutch and sniffed the air.

A sandy coloured guinea pig then bustled from the gloom and made its way across the newspaper towards the water bowl, quickly followed by a black and white smaller guinea pig that hovered around its companion before sniffing at the food.

‘What are they called?’

‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ said Adam and walked over to the refrigerator before pulling out a half full bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

Kay snorted, then stood up as Adam wandered back to her and handed her a wineglass. ‘How come they’re here?’

Adam used his wineglass to point at the bigger of the two cavies, the sandy coloured one. ‘Clyde’s got a skin infection, and it can be contagious so the family didn’t want their other guinea pigs to catch it. They’ve got eight in total. Bonnie’s always shared a hutch with him, so we’re keeping her in for observation for a few days, just in case. Clyde’s got some ointment that’ll need applying twice a day, but I figured as they fit the remit of “cute and fluffy”, you wouldn’t mind looking after them while I’m away? The clinic’s packed – no room at the inn for them, I’m afraid.’

‘That’s fine – it’ll be nice to have some company while you’re gone. At least they won’t steal the television remote when I’m not looking.’

He rolled his eyes. ‘I have no doubt that, by the time I’m out that front door, you’ll have them both on the sofa with you every night. Don’t spoil them, all right? They’re on a special diet.’

She stuck her tongue out at him then ducked out of the way as he tried to grab her arm, laughing. ‘I’m going to get changed. I’ll be back down in a minute.’

‘I was going to do something simple like pasta tonight – suit you?’

‘Fantastic, thanks.’

She put down her wineglass before picking up her handbag and making her way out of the kitchen and up the stairs to the master bedroom at the back of the house.

Below, she could hear the deep tones of Adam’s voice as he tried to coax the guinea pigs to eat some food, and smiled as she changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and sorted out a load of laundry.

He was right – she’d enjoy looking after the furry creatures while he was away.

He’d been looking forward to the conference in Aberdeen since booking his ticket nearly five months ago; the event would give him the chance to mingle with his peers, something he rarely had the chance to do outside of his usual circle of contacts and she knew he was keen to soak up the knowledge he’d be surrounded by. The fact that the event included a weekend as well meant there would be plenty of opportunities to network over informal meetings rather than amongst the throng of the scheduled seminars.

Gathering up the pile of dark clothing she’d sorted, she went back down to the kitchen and loaded the washing machine before picking up her wineglass once more, the aroma of garlic and onion heating in a pan filling the air.

While Adam busied himself preparing their dinner, she crouched down to the hutch once more and wiggled her finger through the mesh.

The smaller of the two guinea pigs, Bonnie, pattered across the newspaper and touched her nose to Kay’s finger, before turning back to the food.

‘They’re cute.’

‘I knew you’d like them.’ Adam took a sip of pasta sauce from a wooden spoon, then added more salt and began to stir once more. ‘If you give them a handful of that special food before you go to work in the mornings, they’ll be fine all day as long as they’ve got plenty of water. They can have any vegetable scraps as well. I grabbed a stack of newspapers from the clinic, so you shouldn’t run out.’ He pointed at the pile of papers he’d left on the worktop nearest the back door, then winked. ‘Just remember we have to give them back.’

Kay laughed. ‘I know. Don’t worry – I’ve got my hands full at work at the moment. I don’t have time for a full-time pet.’

Adam raised an eyebrow, and she proceeded to tell him what she could about her late-night excursion to the M20 and her early start that morning.

‘And no-one knows who she is?’

Kay shook her head as she watched him serve their dinner. ‘No. I’ll find out though. I’ll find out why he did this to her.’

‘You usually do.’