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September 2, 2011
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Excerpt from The Return of the Stranger


HE was back.

Heath stood on the moorland rise that was positioned almost exactly halfway between the two houses that had shaped his life in the past. Up above him, high on the steep hill, was the big old-fashioned stone building known as High Farm. Neglected now, and desperately in need of repair, the window frames crumbling, the garden overgrown, it looked bleak and unwelcoming as the winds that lashed the trees behind it. Further down in the valley was the Grange, elegant, well cared for, with sweeping lawns, a flourishing rose garden and there, at the side of the big golden-stoned house, the glint of blue where the swimming pool gleamed in the sunlight.

One of these houses had been the place he had grown up in but had never truly been able to call home. He had spent most of his childhood and adolescence there but he had never belonged. Always been on the outside. And once the man who had brought him there had died, any trace of warmth or ‘family’ had vanished with him.

The other house he’d been totally excluded from. Not even allowed through the door, never mind into any of the elegant, expensively decorated rooms. Just once he’d crossed the threshold, getting as far as the hall and that was as far as he’d managed. That time he had been ejected with a hand on the collar of his shirt, a knee in his back, thrown out on to the rain-soaked gravel driveway, landing on his face with such force that he had been picking bits of stone out of the grazes for days to come.

He was back but there was no way that he was home.

‘Home! Hah!’

He kicked a pebble out of his way, watched it bounce along the path then fall into a rough patch of grass. This had never been his home even when he had thought, had hoped that it was. Ten years before, a penniless adolescent, he had turned his back on it without a second thought, driven out by one last betrayal, one last rejection, that had been more than he could take. Heading out into a night so vile it had seemed as if all the devils in hell were howling in the wind that whirled across the moor, and the icy rain had almost blinded him as it swept into his eyes, plastered his hair to his skull.

With only the clothes he stood up in and his paltry savings in his pocket, the amount so small that he would now think more than twice about even tossing it into a beggar’s collection pot, he had vowed that one day he would be back. That one day he would return. But not until he had the status, the wealth, the power, that meant that neither the Nicholls family nor the Charltons would ever be able to make a move against him ever again.

It had taken him ten years, but now he was ready. They said that revenge was a dish best served cold and in those years he had had time to become as cold as ice, and more than ready to make a meal of his vengeance. Already things were set in place, he had played the first card, moved the first domino that would soon have his enemies’ every last defence crashing down to the ground.

Once again the blustering wind fretted at his hair, blasting it across his frowning forehead and into his narrowed eyes. As he pushed it back he felt the ridge of the scar that ran along his cheekbone, smiling grimly as he recalled just who had put it there and why.

Before the week was out, Joseph Nicholls would regret that blow – and many more.

And Joseph’s sister? What about Kat?

‘Katherine . . .’

Thinking of her had been a mistake. He found that he was shaking his head roughly in an attempt to drive away the memories that simply thinking of her had dragged up from the dark chambers of his mind. Chambers where he had thought that he had buried them for good.

He had things to do; plans to put into action. And he was not about to let the memory of the girl – the woman now – who had once taken what little was left of his heart and trampled it under her feet distract him from his purpose now that his aim was almost achieved. He would see her later of course. How could he come back to Hawden and not come face to face with her? He could never leave without exorcising the bitter legacy she had left him with, the scars that went deeper than the ones on his body, on his face that her brother and her husband had put there.

He would have to see her one last time before her left Hawden Valley for good. But he had other things to do first. Other memories to erase, cruelties and injustices to avenge. He was ready to show the families who had treated him as an animal, as less than the dirt beneath their feet, that they no longer had any power over him. Instead, he was now the one with all the control in his hands.

Excerpt from The Return of the Stranger © Kate Walker


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