All clues lead to local crime family the Steeles, but that’s where things get complicated. Because the Steeles aren’t just any family, they’re Grace’s family. Two brothers and two sisters, connected by the violent father only Grace and her mother escaped.
To catch the killer, Grace will have to choose between her team and her blood. But who do you trust, when both sides are out to get you?
An unforgettable thriller that fans of MARTINA COLE and CARA HUNTER won’t be able to put down.
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Grace Allendale climbed the restaurant stairs to the first floor and slipped back to her seat at the table.
‘We’ve just placed our order,’ DC Sam Markham said, beaming at her. ‘Won’t be long now.’
Grace smiled back. It was Friday evening and everyone in Spice World was in high spirits. The clientele were letting off steam, catching up with friends and family. Grace would rather have ordered a takeaway and eaten alone at home, but needs must.
The restaurant was situated in the lower part of Hanley, around the corner from Bethesda Police Station, Grace’s new headquarters. From the outside the Victorian building looked weather-worn and, as they’d walked inside the curry house, she’d wondered what she was letting herself in for.
But it had been a pleasant surprise to find a warm and modern atmosphere. There were tables full of diners spread out over the ground floor, and a grand staircase leading upstairs to many more. The music playing in the background was modern rock, not too intrusive, yet loud enough to be heard over the friendly banter of people out enjoying themselves.
This was the first time Grace had met her work colleagues since she’d got her new job as detective sergeant, a promotion from her former role in Salford. Grace had lived there for the past twenty-three years. She’d joined the police force after leaving university and had worked as a police constable before transferring to Major Crimes as a detective. She’d been quite settled in that role for several years, but when things took a tumble in her private life, she’d decided that she needed a new goal to aim for.
Having taken her detective sergeant’s exam last year, when a post had come up in her birthplace of Stoke-on-Trent, she decided to put in for it. She needed a change, somewhere she could start afresh, even though she wasn’t quite sure it was a good decision to come back to the town from which she and her mum had fled all those years ago. But circumstances were different now. The man who had caused them so much pain was no longer around.
After she’d been offered the job, Grace had got an invite to join the team for a night out before her start date on Monday. There was only one officer who hadn’t been able to make it, someone called Alex Challinor, who had a previous engagement he couldn’t get out of, although no one had enlightened her as to what it was.
Around her, her new colleagues were sharing some in-joke. Then suddenly Nick Carter, their DI, stopped laughing and turned to her.
‘Sorry, we’re ignoring you. You say you lived in Stoke when you were younger, Grace?’ he asked.
All eyes fell on her. ‘Yes, until I was twelve,’ she replied. ‘Then my parents divorced and I moved to Salford with my mum.’
‘So, you don’t have many memories?’ DC Perry Wright asked.
‘I have a few,’ Grace nodded. She could remember far more than she would ever share with them. The nights she’d heard her mum screaming as her father laid into her. The times there was no money for food because he’d spent it all in the pub. The days when he would go missing and be brought home by the police after being locked up in a cell. The weeks he spent with other women before fighting his way back into their house again. The double life he led that she knew nothing of until she was old enough to understand … ‘But I expect so much has changed since then, anyway,’ she added.
‘Not much to write home about,’ Sam giggled. ‘But we still love it. And you’ll soon know the place, and its people. Even the undesirables.’
Nick raised his glass in the air. ‘Welcome to the Major Crimes Team.’
Everyone joined Nick in a toast. Only Perry, sitting opposite her, didn’t lift his eyes to hers as well. He hadn’t joined in the conversation much either, she’d noticed.
The door to the restaurant opened and several men came in at once. From her first-floor position, Grace looked down at the newcomers as their laughter filled the room, booming, loud and boisterous. She counted four of them, all casually dressed in shirts and jeans; lean, with biceps and quads looking fit to burst through their clothes. A waiter rushed across to them and they were quickly seated, despite the busyness of the room.
As she turned back to her group, Grace noticed the atmosphere at their table had changed.
‘Seriously?’ Perry sighed. ‘Can’t we have one night out without it being a busman’s holiday?’
‘They might not see us up here,’ Nick said.
‘What’s wrong?’ Grace asked, realising she had a bird’s-eye view from her seat at the end of the table. Nick had his back to the group.
‘Meet part of the Steele family and some of their cronies.’ Sam nodded her head in the direction of the men. ‘They like to think they’re untouchable.’
‘They own Steele’s Gym in Baddeley Green,’ Nick informed her. ‘It’s got a boxing club attached to it as well.’
‘So, it’s a legit establishment?’ Grace questioned, trying to keep her voice calm and professional.
‘Let’s say it isn’t just a place where you can go for a workout,’ Nick explained. ‘The Steeles are one of our local crime families. Their father, George, was murdered last year; his killer’s still at large.’
Grace dropped her eyes momentarily, feeling her cheeks burn at the mention of that name, but none of the others seemed to notice. She’d read that George Steele had last been seen leaving his local pub just before midnight on March fifteenth the previous year. His family had reported him missing the next day, and he’d been found a few hours later on a shortcut through to his home. He’d been beaten to death. A thorough investigation had given the police no leads. Now it had been assigned to Alex Challinor, her absent colleague, to work on if anything new came to light.
‘There are two sons and a daughter.’ Nick looked at Grace. ‘Eddie is the one on the right. He’s the eldest brother.’
Grace looked down through the glass balustrade to see a man of about thirty-seven reading a menu before slapping it on the table and glancing around the room. She dropped her eyes for a moment.
‘The one sitting opposite him is Leon. He’s a couple of years younger.’
Grace focused on Eddie’s brother, an almost identical version of him. If she hadn’t known better, she might have thought they were twins. Both had dark brown hair and were well groomed – attractive in their own rough-around-the-edges way.
‘There’s a sister, too. Jade. She runs a nail bar in the gym with their mother, Kathleen,’ Perry added.
‘Testosterone aplenty.’ Sam let out a long sigh. ‘Maybe they’ll be fine once they get some food.’
Nick sat up straight as three waiters walked towards their table. ‘Speaking of which, here comes our order.’
Grace placed her napkin on her lap. As she dished rice on to her plate, she heard a squeal and looked downstairs. Leon Steele had seized a waitress who was walking past, pulling her onto his knee.
‘Hey,’ the woman protested, trying to get back to her feet, but he held on to her. She squirmed as he whispered something in her ear. As the group burst into loud jeers again, all heads in the restaurant turned towards them. Grace groaned inwardly. She was hoping to have more time to get to know her work colleagues before this happened.
Perry removed his napkin from his lap and made to stand up. But Nick held him back.
‘Let’s just see if it calms down,’ Nick said as restaurant staff rushed over. ‘It’s going to get a lot more troublesome and ruin many people’s nights if we wade in.’
Grace watched as Leon released the woman and held up his arms in surrender. ‘Only having a bit of fun,’ he shouted to the room as the waitress scuttled off.
‘I hate how they think they own the place.’ Perry scowled as he looked down at his food. ‘Meanwhile we sit back and let it happen.’
‘This is a night out, not a team briefing,’ Nick chided. ‘And for now they haven’t seen us, so let’s just leave it like that.’
Eddie Steele’s gaze rose up and Grace dropped her eyes immediately. When she looked again seconds later, he was staring her way. Their eyes locked for a moment, as if they were the only two people in the room, before Grace lowered hers once more.
She couldn’t hold her tongue. It wasn’t what she’d intended but she might as well come clean now. Really, was there any other way than to tell her work colleagues the truth?
Grace turned to the group and put her glass down heavily on the table, enough to get everyone’s attention but not to cause too much of a fuss so that everyone else looked their way.
‘You wanted to know all about me?’ She looked at each one of them in turn, knowing that, once she’d said the next few words, everything was going to become a whole lot harder.
‘They already know!’ Nick intervened.
Grace tried to stop a frown forming on her face.
‘I told them about Matt.’ Nick shook his head. ‘I’m sorry; I thought it would make things easier for you. I know how much you need a fresh start.’
‘Yeah, we’re all here for you,’ Sam said. ‘It must be really hard to deal with.’
Grace gave a faint smile. Nick stared at her. She could almost sense his thoughts, telling her to stay silent.
She didn’t want him to lie for her. She wanted to be honest upfront. But it was clear from the look in Nick’s eye that she needed to keep quiet.
She couldn’t tell anyone that Eddie and Leon Steele were her half-brothers. And George Steele, criminal, racketeer and murder victim, had been her father.