Looking for a fast-paced thriller that will keep you on your toes? Joshua Winning’s may fit the bill… and you can read an excerpt right here, right now!
Rumer Cross is cursed. Scraping by working for a dingy London detective agency, she lives in the shadow of her mother, a violent criminal dubbed the ‘Witch Assassin’ whose bloodthirsty rampage terrorised London for over a decade.
Raised by foster families who never understood her and terrified she could one day turn into her mother, Rumer has become detached and self-reliant. But when she’s targeted by a vicious mobster who believes she’s hiding an occult relic, she’s drawn into the very world she’s been fighting to avoid.
Hunted by assassins and haunted by her mother’s dark legacy, Rumer must also confront a terrible truth: that she’s cursed, because no matter what she does, everybody she’s ever grown close to has died screaming.
is available now. Read an excerpt below!
When I’m fifteen my best friend is Troll Mason. I can’t remember why I call him that, and it’s only partly because if you call him by his real name, Tashaun, he looks like he’s stuck his hand in a bag full of broken glass. He’s the only person who doesn’t hiss behind his hand when I walk by at school. I’ve been living with my fifth foster family – the Trumans – for a year and it’s pretty obvious they only take kids in for the benefits. They couldn’t tell you my middle name if there was a cash prize. (I don’t have one, actually, but they’d probably guess something insulting like ‘Raven’ or ‘Inga’.) The one time they tried to discipline me for staying out late, I stared at the floor and nodded that I was sorry, then I snuck out the window to meet Troll in the park.
Their daughter, Pearl, is my age, and hated me on sight. I’m five months older and she’s a pro at ignoring me. At school, her coven snicker and shoot me acid stares whenever I get within a hundred yards.
They’re popular. I’m the weed crushed under their Converse. I wear black and purple and draw dark lines around my eyes. My ears are pierced in five places and my hair’s an unruly black mane.
The five of them are like clones. (Pearl’s the original; the others were grown in the lab. Probably from cells shaved off her arse.) They have blonde hair, jeans frayed at the knees, friendship bracelets from when they were kids. Lola’s the only one who looks different. Her hair’s copper-red and she files her nails into talons. She always has a shoulder ready for me. Or a foot.
I can handle snake bitches like her now. Life’s a bitch, now so am I. Deep down they just want their mummy. When I’m fifteen, though, I don’t know better. I’ve bounced between foster homes and each move stripped away a piece of me until I’m not a whole person any more.
At least there’s Troll. For a little while anyway. We’re in a cemetery the day it happens. We look like the kind of kids who hang out in cemeteries, but it’s the first time we’ve been here. I haven’t told him why I wanted to come and I was too much of a coward to come alone.
When I stop by a grave, he clamps his mouth shut for once.
The headstone holds my eye. Small, ragged like a chewed fingernail.
“Huh,” Troll says. He gets family shit. His mum’s an alcoholic and his brother’s a criminal, so his standards are pretty low when it comes to friends. Besides, I’ve always got on better with boys. They’re easier to read and their secrets are generally stupider than girls’ secrets, which can level cities if they detonate.
I stare at the grave, trying to imagine what’s going on six feet under. It’s been almost fifteen years since the Thames spat my mother out. Her remains have probably been digested already, picked clean by worms and insects and whatever else slithers around down there.
Everything I know about my mother floats to the surface of my mind like the scum on the Thames and I consider taking a piss on her grave. I ball the anger up in my fists, thinking about everybody who’s died, the patchwork of holes in my life, all because of her.
Troll lights a cigarette and goes to lean against a tree. He talks too much, but for the first time he seems to get that talking won’t achieve anything.
I retrieve a spray can from my jacket pocket and shake it, then I crouch down and carve long black letters beneath my mother’s name.
BURNS IN HELL
Straightening, I don’t look at Troll as we traipse out of the cemetery, not wanting to see the questioning eyebrows and, knowing that if I ignore him, he’ll pretend this never happened. He’s trustworthy like that.
We walk in silence but even Troll has his limits, finally launching into a sermon about how screwed we are, how it’s all the government’s fault; it’s basically stuff he’s heard old guys joke about on late-night TV, but he always adds a twist.
“We’re the McGeneration!” he whoops as we head into a weird little park that’s reserved for drunks, tramps and kids with nowhere else to go. “We’re getting rammed through a meat grinder until we all come out the same.”
“Sounds delicious.” My standard response.
The park’s our private haven. We talk about what we’re going to do when we fail our exams and end up taking jobs we hate. Troll’s brother got banned from driving, so we take his Corsa out and Troll teaches me how to drive. I still don’t have a licence, but I know how to get around without causing a pile-up. Hell, I’m positively restrained compared to most Londoners.
Troll introduced me to comics. Tank Girl, Catwoman, Preacher, Umbrella Academy. All the twisted stuff that, weirdly, I feel I’ve almost lived. He has cash to burn – something about his mum’s conscience, though I’m pretty sure he steals from her when she’s drunk – and he lets me read them when he’s done.
“The best thing about Preacher is it just doesn’t give a shit!” Troll’s hopped up on energy drinks and nicotine. He leaps onto a low wall in the park, scattering pigeons. “Religion? Fuck it. Firearms? Screw ‘em. Old ladies in wheelchairs? They’re worse than anybody! It’s the most important piece of literature ever written.”
He does this sometimes. It’s the day of the accident, but neither of us know that. If I’d known, I’d have made sure Troll was nowhere near the park. Or me.
He’s giving one of his comic-book sermons while I sit rolling us cigarettes.
Neither of us notices Pearl and Lola and the others come into the park. It’s only when Rufus, Pearl’s scruffy, half-blind Jack Russell, shoves a wet nose in my face that I spot them.
They line up by the gate, the saddest girl group you’ve ever seen. They never come in here and they eye the park with the same disgust they usually reserve for me. They must’ve seen us as they walked back home from the less interesting park down the road.
“Christ,” Troll says. “What are they doing here?”
“Don’t stop on our account.” Lola’s got that dangerous look she gets when no adults are around.
“Rufus, get back here”’ Pearl eyes me nervously, like I might do something to her precious pooch, but I never had anything against animals.
Rufus ignores her, snuffling around my pocket. I remember I have a peperami in there.
“He doesn’t know better.” Lola rakes her gaze up and down my body. “Probably thinks she’s another dog.”
“Nah, Rufus knows a lost cause when he sees one,” Pearl mutters.
That’s actually a good one for her.
Troll jumps off the wall, his boots loud on the pavement. He’s wearing a T-shirt with cut-off sleeves and his hair’s spiked up like all the best rock stars. Before he can say anything, I’m on my feet and grabbing his arm.
“Come on, Troll.”
“Yeah, Troll, come on.” Lola’s mouth twists.
Troll shoves my hand off. “What’s your problem, L-L-L-Lola?”
“Daddy probably said she couldn’t have another pony,” I say under my breath. The dog’s still trying to get into my pocket and I shove him away with my knee.Lola crosses her arms, flanked by the others, who snare me with their sneers.
“Look at those boots,” Lola says. “Steal them off a tramp?”
“Yeah, ’cos you spent all that time on the street, right?” one of the others says. I think her name’s Leah but they’re so interchangeable I honestly don’t know.
I don’t say anything. It’s true I spent a few weeks on the street. That was after foster home number four. I ran away, but social services found me and stuck me with the Trumans. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime.
“It’s rude not to answer when somebody asks you a question,” Lola says. She’s the best at this. Probably had plenty of years picking on other kids before I turned up.
“Come on, she’s not worth it,” Pearl says, finally grabbing Rufus’ collar and dragging him away.
Lola turns her back. “She’ll end up just like her mum.”
Red explodes in my vision and I’m not thinking as I throw myself on her. Lola makes a strangled sound as we crash to the ground. She tries to shake me off but I grab a fistful of her red hair and pull hard, the knuckles of my other hand blazing white.
I barely hear the others yelling. Rufus yapping.
“She’s lost it!”
“Get her, Gee!”
Something cracks me in the ribs. Lola’s fist, maybe. I release her and stagger back, unable to breathe. Troll gets between us, his hands raised.
“This is all really arousing but do you really think it’s the best–”
Lola’s fist cuffs his jaw. Troll staggers sideways and Lola goes for me, but Pearl seizes her arm.
“My mum’ll flip if she comes home with a black eye.” Lola grinds her teeth and I imagine steam snorting from her nostrils.
“Yeah, Lola,” I hear myself saying. ‘Some parents don’t like it when their kids come home with black eyes.’
So that was a mistake.Lola lunges for me, then trips. Troll’s stuck his leg out and Lola lands on all fours.
“Let’s get out of here,” I say, but the other girls are blocking the park exit. I tug Troll in the opposite direction and I’m pretty sure he knows what I’m thinking. We hurry for a knotted old tree by the wall. There’s a dump on the other side; we just have to climb the tree and hop over. We’ve done it a hundred times. There’s loads of cool stuff in the dump.
“You’re dead, Tumour!”
I shove Troll up before me – it’s not the time to be a gentleman, not that Troll ever was one. Rufus yaps hysterically behind us and I hear the girls all yelling at Lola to leave us freaks alone, but I can hear her panting close by and I clamber up after Troll. I always knew she had it in for me, but I had no idea she hates me this much. It’s like she’s been waiting for me to hand her a permission slip to beat the crap out of me and, now she has it, she’s going to damn well use it. I sort of respect that kind of dedication.
Troll’s made it onto the wall. He puts his hands out and drags me up just as Lola seizes my ankle and yanks. I manage to kick her away and scrabble up next to Troll, gasping for breath. My heart sinks as I peer down into the junkyard. They changed things around. Below us are thirty-foot containers filled with twisted metal, old bits of farming machinery. Spikes that used to be bed frames and warped pipes that used to be I-don’t-know-what.
Lola’s on the wall now.
“Run!” Troll yells.
“Wait!” I cry, but Troll’s already taken off, running the length of the wall.
He barely has time to cry out before he’s gone over the edge.
A horrible, dull thunk rings out and his cry’s broken off.
Lola’s right beside me, but she’s standing stock still, her face pale, her hands clenching and unclenching.
I hurry along the wall to where he fell. My insides are shuddering and, as the adrenaline washes away, I realise I’m going to cry. I can’t stop it. I know this feeling. The shuddering’s building towards an eruption and I collapse onto all fours, clinging to the wall.
I peer over the edge.
His breath rattles.
He’s bent at an angle. The way he landed in the container has broken him. He’s been impaled and he’s looking at me, but he doesn’t see me any more.
A screeching sound echoes across the park. I tear my eyes away from Troll’s twisted body.
For a second I don’t know what’s going on, then I see Pearl dashing out the park exit, running into the road.
I think I hear a high-pitched whine. I feel the wall tipping beneath me and I dig my nails into the bricks. Straining, I make out a shape in the road, squashed under the car’s wheel. There’s blood and fur and Pearl throwing herself onto the tarmac, shrieking and clawing at her hair.
When I get home later, it’s dark. I stand shivering in the hall. The ambulance came and took Troll’s body away. At least, I assume it did. They hadn’t managed to get him out of the container before the police turned up and asked questions and we were all taken to the station. Lola didn’t look at me. Pearl sobbed into her shoulder. Rufus must’ve got away from the girls while Lola was chasing after me. Idiot dog.
When the police were done with their questions, I left. The Trumans didn’t try to stop me. Pearl was hysterical and I don’t think they even noticed me slipping away from the station.
I hid in my secret place for a few hours.
From the hall, I hear Pearl crying in the lounge with her parents. They’re cooing and pawing her on either side of the sofa. I watch from the lounge door.
Pearl sees me before they do and bolts to her feet. Her eyes are red raw and I’ve never seen her so ugly. It shocks me.
“Are you happy now?!” she yells. She’s holding something in her hand. A dog collar. ‘”Now everybody’s as miserable as you?!”
“Pearl,” her dad begins, getting to his feet.
‘You always defend her,” Pearl shouts, her gaze fixed on me. “But she’s a psycho. She killed them! She pushed him off the wall! And if it hadn’t been for her getting into that stupid fight, Rufus wouldn’t have run off–”
“Pearl,’” her dad says again. She shoves off his hand.
“Why don’t you just leave? Everything you touch turns to shit!”
For once, she’s right.