The Next Girl
  • Digital List Price: INR 199.00
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  • ISBN/ASIN: B078S55Z34
  • Language: English
  • Publisher: Bookouture
  •   Read Sample

The Next Girl

A Gripping Crime Thriller With A Heart-Stopping Twist Detective Gina Harte Book 1
Carla Kovach

IF YOU ONLY READ ONE BOOK THIS YEAR, MAKE IT THE NEXT GIRL... You thought he’d come to save you. You were wrong. ‘Absolutely the best thriller I’ve read this year!’ Goodreads Reviewer, 5 stars ‘I absolutely, totally and utterly LOVED reading The Next Girl… has to be one of my top reads of 2018.' Ginger Book Geek, 5 stars ‘Oh my goodness! This was gripping and fast moving from page one.’ Southern and Sassy Wine Lady, 5 stars Deborah Jenkins pulls her coat around her for the short walk home in the pouring rain. But she never makes it home that night. And she is never seen again…
Four years later, an abandoned baby girl is found wrapped in dirty rags on a doorstep. An anonymous phone call urges the police to run a DNA test on the baby. But nobody is prepared for the results.
The newborn belongs to Deborah. She’s still alive... THE GRIPPING THRILLER EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT – if you like Lisa Gardner, Robert Bryndza or Clare Mackintosh, you will absolutely love this. A completely unputdownable page-

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About the Author

Carla Kovach is a crime and horror author from the UK. The Next Girl and Her Final Hour are the first two books in the DI Gina Harte series. Carla co-runs a video production company, writes stageplays and screenplays. She currently has a horror feature film in production which is due for release in 2019. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


 

Read Sample

Prologue : SATURDAY, 14 DECEMBER 2013


Same height, same hair colour. She could almost pass for Deborah from behind. But as the woman turned, he could tell she was no more than a cheap imitation. Her leggings were riding up between her butt cheeks, and she was wearing a short puffy jacket and spiky heels, further going to prove she was no Debbie. His Debbie wouldn't be seen out looking this trashy. She looked up and down the main hill through the town centre before walking over to his car. He pointed to the right and pulled over beside the chip shop, past the busy bar. Redditch was certainly alive with people, all partying the night away in the run-up to Christmas. She dutifully followed, as if in a money-induced tranceor was it drugs?


He'd only ever come looking for company once before, but it had been a disaster and long before Debbie had entered his life. He'd only wanted to talk, but that woman had been corruptive, trying to encourage him to do things his mother would never approve of. He'd been willing up to a point and that point was his release. She couldn't have it.


The woman tapped on the window and winked as she spoke in an Eastern European accent. Where was she from, he wondered -Romania, maybe, or Bulgaria? Now she was close, he could see her dark roots and the slight wonkiness of a nose that he guessed had once been broken. She wasn't his Debbie, but he could pretend.


The woman smiled. 'Looking for something special to end the evening?" she asked. He glanced in the wing mirror and noticed a group of drunken revellers jokingly pushing and shoving at the entrance to the bar, not one of them taking any notice of what was going on just down the road. As they shivered in their short-sleeved shirts and Santa hats, he turned his attention back to the woman. 'Well? I haven't got all night, mister. It's cold out here.' She exhaled a stream of white mist into the icy air and began shuffling on the spot to keep warm.


'Get in.'


'You know how to treat women. Is good job I know how to treat a man.' She licked her teeth and stared into his eyes. He looked away. 'First you show me the cash, and after, I get in.!' The woman stumbled alongside the car, banging into it as she made her way around. She opened the passenger door and leaned in. 'Cash first, mister.'


He took his wallet from the centre console and held up two ten-pound notes.


'Cheap, but I can work with. Don't expect brilliant.' She filled his airways with the smell of cheap perfume as she fell into the car, snatching the cash as she landed on the seat. 'Okay, not too far.'


I need to go somewhere quiet. Can we go for a walk like a date?' 'Quiet is good. You didn't expect me to see to you here, did you?'


'Of course not.' He placed the car into gear and began to drive. See to him, that's all she was going to do. He wanted so much more. He needed to talk, to think, to feel something anything.


His mind was a whirr with what his mother would say. 'Going with dirty girls makes you a dirty boy. My boy is better than that.'


"Take a left, just down there. There's quiet car park, by the chemist. Pull in there.'


He began to tremble as he passed the illuminated fountain and took a left as instructed. The road was still too public. Three women wearing reindeer antlers staggered past. It wasn't right. He needed to be somewhere else, somewhere peaceful where they wouldn't be disturbed. Maybe where he walked their dog, Rosie, along the river, up by the locks of Marcliff, just past Bidford. His heart quickened as he passed the chemist and put his foot down to reach the ring road.


'Stop. Pull over,' the woman said. 'Where the hell you taking me? Stop.'


He did an emergency stop at the side of the road, trembling as the car jerked. 'Have I done wrong?'


'You drive too far. I say the chemist and you do this.' The woman opened the door.


'Wait. I just want some company, that's all. I've had a bad day. You see, my mother died today and I don't want to be alone. I have no one else.' In his mind at least, his mother was dead. Since her diagnosis, she'd been walking around like a carbon copy of her former self. He shivered. He'd just told this woman that his mother had died today. What kind of person did that make him? 'Sorry, Ma,' he whispered.


I'm sorry. Must be hard for you.'


He stared into the lamplight ahead without blinking just a little longer and there might be a tear. As predicted, his eyes watered. He sniffed and wiped his eye on his sleeve. 'I miss her. Please don't leave me alone.' He was too good, tears were now falling, one after another. Even his nose began to fill up as he inhaled the frosty air.


'Look. I will come for drive but you must pay me now and I want to be back here in a couple of hours. I know you're upset but I am not head doctor. Two hundred and I am yours. I give you distraction or you can talk. I listen, whatever you want.' 'Thank you.' He took her cold, bony hand and kissed it. "Thank you for being so kind.'


'Money?' She held her shaky hand out as he opened his wallet.


'Half now, half after.' She nodded as he passed one hundred pounds to her. She folded the notes up and zipped them into her pocket.


'Deal. Two hours.' She reached into her other pocket and pulled out a pill. 'Do you want one? Ten pounds and we both have good time?'


'No, but you go ahead.' The woman tossed the pill to the back of her throat, head twitching as she leaned her neck back and swallowed it whole. Closing the passenger door, she rested back into the seat and closed her eyes as he drove out of the town, heading along the Alcester Highway towards Warwickshire. A few miles past the small industrial town of Cleevesford was his destination Marcliff, to be exact. It was one in the morning; he had until three. They would walk, he could talk, and then he would drop her back.


You could drop her back now. Do the right thing, he thought.


His heart fluttered as he glanced over at her. There was only him and the sleeping whore in the car. 'Are we there yet?' The woman stirred as she wiped a trail of saliva from the corner of her mouth. 'Nearly,' he said as he put his foot down, weaving through the country lanes.


As he pulled up alongside the river, he watched her sleeping. Maybe it was the warmth of the car, the hum of the engine or whatever was in the pill she had taken. The fields stretched ahead for miles, and except for the light of the moon, there was nothing but darkness. He opened the door and the woman stirred. She smiled and leaned closer to him, massaging his groin over his corduroys. He leaned back, allowing her to unzip and stroke him. He felt himself harden as she released him from his clothing and expertly placed a condom over his penis. She leaned down to take him in her mouth. He wrenched her hair.


'Ouch, tosser.'


'Not that. Don't do that.' He paused, listening to the blood coursing through his temples. 'Bitch.'


"Take me back now. Call me bitch, grab me like that. Weirdo, that's what you are, you bloody weirdo.'


He gasped for breath, wanting to shout, to scream, to smash the dashboard up into hundreds of tiny pieces. He wasn't a weirdo, he was just confused. Why couldn't he be here with Debbie instead of this cheap whore?


"Take me back. What are you? Deaf?'


'Sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you, you just caught me wrong and made me jump. You hurt me.' He forced a smile. 'Please, can we start again?' She looked at him and sighed. 'Could you just touch me with your hands?' He removed the condom and dropped it by his feet.


'Whatever, but don't grab me again.'


'Sorry. I'm truly sorry!'


As she continued to caress him with her warm hands, he closed his eyes and thought of Debbie. In his fantasy, the candles always glistened in the background.


They were in the barn and they'd just had dinner. She walked towards him and slipped off her dress to reveal her naked body. Her nipples glistened in the candlelight as she bent over on the sofa with her legs apart, begging him to take her. He kissed the small of her back as he slapped her buttocks. He couldn't wait any longer, he needed to be in her. As he thrusted back and forth, his desire heightened. Almost there.


'Come on, you do it, just do it, mister,' the woman said as she stroked him vigorously.


'What? What the-Stop! Stupid whore get off me!' He shouted as he pulled away and gasped for air. 'I'm so sorry, Debbie, so sorry.' He stumbled out of the car and zipped his trousers up, taking the keys with him.


'Prick!' she shouted.


He'd betrayed Debbie, the only woman he'd ever loved. 'Stupid, stupid, stupid,' he said as he paced the riverbank and slapped himself across the head. What if Debbie were to ever find out what a dirty man he'd been?


The sound of the River Avon gushing through the weir brought him back to the situation in hand. He realised he was shivering to the point his muscles were in pain. Cold, it was so cold.


The woman staggered over to him and lit a cigarette. 'You want puff to calm the hell down? Then you take me back and don't forget my other hundred. I think I bloody well earned it with you.'


He shook his head. Was she mocking him and his inability to respond to her charms? He detected a grin on her face. Was the grin aimed at him? They walked until they reached the lock. He stared into the calmness of the water, then his gaze darted across to the violent gushing of the weir next to it.


He shook his head again. 'What have I done? What the hell have I done?' He continued pacing. A curl of the woman's cigarette smoke filled his nostrils. Along with his churning stomach, it made him want to spew. He watched as she walked over the lock's bridge, staring at the water below. He couldn't let her tell anyone. If Debbie ever found out... He shuddered. It wasn't going to happen. She turned as he reached her.


'By time you take me back, will be two hours.' She dropped her cigarette into the water and started walking back down, almost tripping over the stones on the pathway. As she turned, he gripped her arms. 'Please let go of me,' she said, her eyes glassy. When he didn't, she began to struggle. 'Let me go!' she yelled as she tried to grab his face and poke at his eyes.


He forced her back towards the bridge, and then with what seemed like no effort at all, he pushed her slight frame into the icecold water below. He listened as her body cracked the thin layer of ice coating the top of the water. With a head first, fifteen-foot drop into freezing cold water, she wouldn't stand a chance. He watched as she gasped for air, her voice echoing in the lock, 'I can't swim! Help!' She gagged on a mouth full of water. He stared down and caught her distorted features as the moonlight lit up one side of her pained face. His heart was beating so fast he was sure he'd have a heart attack then the splashing finally stopped. Ten minutes he waited. There had been no noise, no more thrashing and no shouting.


'I'm so sorry, Debbie. I love you and I'm so, so, sorry I betrayed you.' He frantically searched around, making sure he was alone, and hurried back to the car. The passenger door was still open. He leaned in to tidy the seat belt, which had snagged around the chair, and noticed a driver's licence in the footwell. She was Romanian. Nicoleta Iliescu was only twenty-four years old. He stroked the outline of her photo on the small card. He was right: she wasn't Debbie. What had he been thinking? He took a duster from the glovebox and began wiping down the passenger seat. Her perfume still hung in the air, making him gag. Although he could barely feel his fingers, he knew he'd have to leave the window open while driving home to get rid of the stench.


He walked down to the riverbank and went to throw the card, then hesitated. He'd touched it. Would his fingerprints stay on it if it were immersed in water? He rubbed it against his trousers and held it with the tip of his fingers. Placing it in his pocket, he decided that disposing of it now was too risky. If the body were found, they might also find the card, then they'd know who she was. Maybe she'd remain in the river until she was unidentifiable, but he wasn't going to leave any further evidence behind. Maybe if they knew who she was, they'd know her whereabouts, where she lived. Maybe they'd have him picking her up on CCTV in Redditch. He couldn't take the risk. He'd take it with him, away from the scene.


He gazed up and down, trying to spot her body nothing, except for a rustling in the bushes. He flinched, following the sound. Was it the breeze catching the bare branches? Was it just an animal? Foxes and badgers were common around these parts. The bushes opposite him rustled once more. His heart hammered against his ribcage. Had someone seen him?


'Who's there?' he asked in a quivery voice as tears streamed down his face. He gasped until he almost passed out. Who'd seen him?


A fox darted from the trees and ran off into the distance. An owl hooted, making him flinch. He ran as fast as he could, back to the car, almost slipping on an icy puddle. Mother would be awake soon. She'd need her breakfast and the bread was in the car. He was going home, then he was going to watch Debbie just another normal day.


Chapter 1 : FRIDAY, 1 DECEMBER 2017


Albert belched as he supped the last of his ale and placed his cap on his head. Another would've been grand but he knew his pension wouldn't stretch that far. His mouth watered as he thought of the homemade steak and kidney pudding his neighbours Mark and Jean had promised to make him for supper. He gripped the table and hauled himself up, flinching as he straightened out. It wasn't easy being old. Once the ageing bones had set in the same position for more than a few minutes, they rebelled at being moved.


Partygoers drank, yelled, and played darts and pool. They danced as another pop anthem started on the jukebox. It was the run up to Christmas and he loved every minute of it. As he straightened his tie and buttoned his overcoat, he gazed through the leaded window, into the darkness. In a moment, he'd be out there getting drenched, leaving the warmth of the roaring fire behind. Grabbing his stick off the back of the chair, he shuffled through the crowd, thanking anyone who moved as he neared the door. 'Bye, old Albert,' shouted Jeff, one of the bar staff, as he pulled a pint for a man in a light-up Christmas jumper.


'Less of the "old", Albert replied with a smile, winking. He watched as Jeff wiped his forehead on his sleeve before continuing to serve the revellers. He pushed the door open and gasped for breath as a gust of wind hit him face on. Water soaked his shoes as he waded through the puddle that had gathered at the doorstep. He knew his shoes were cheap, but they were all he could afford and they looked smart. A real man needed a collar and a shiny pair of shoes. He was amazed at how many youngsters would go out in tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts. That attire was for exercising in, not for making an impression. He smiled as he remembered the night he first cast his eyes on his Lillian.


Cleevesford Village Hall on the seventeenth of December 1954. It was the first Christmas without rationing for as long as he could remember. Wearing his only suit, he entered the hall and paid his fee. The room was filled with bodies dancing to 'Shake, Rattle and Roll'. His heart fluttered as he searched for a place to stand. Every man seemed to have a girl on his arm or be on the dance floor. He watched as they rock-and-rolled and lindy-hopped.


At eighteen, he'd had a couple of dates but he hadn't been lucky enough to find someone to see again or go further with. He was the skinny, spotty boy that most girls avoided. He grinned, remembering his mother's warning when he'd left earlier that evening: 'Don't you go getting some poor girl into trouble.'


The dancers moved closer as a woman stepped forward to sing 'Secret Love' by Doris Day. Albert bit his bottom lip and began nervously twiddling his fingers. He placed his empty glass on the table and turned. As he looked up, his gaze locked onto the most beautiful girl he'd ever seen in his life. She looked like an auburn-haired Marilyn Monroe. Well, the rest was history. He'd married his Lillian a year later, and they had two beautiful girls soon after.


He inhaled and all he could smell was pie as he squelched across the road, passing the chip shop. Steak and kidney pudding, he thought as he smiled. His socks were waterlogged and it began to bucket down once again. Raindrops bounced off the gurgling gutters and pummelled the windows of the terraced houses opposite. Water dripped off his cap and drizzled onto his nose before dripping off his chin. He shivered and scooted past the car park, towards Cleevesford Library or Cleevesford Village Hall, as he'd always refer to it. Once again, his mind was filled with the music of that night.


Back then, he'd had his first real dance with Lillian to 'I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus'. How his Lillian had loved The Beverley Sisters. The night ended with him having his first proper kiss. He'd brushed lips with a girl before, but hadn't felt anything special. Kissing Lillian had been real. He remembered the moment her soft lips first touched his.


Her rose-scented perfume filled his nostrils. He wanted to hold her tight and caress her smooth skin, but he'd been brought up properly. He held his arms out behind her, not daring to touch her back. She broke away from their kiss, reached behind and pressed his hands onto the small of her back before letting a little chuckle slip as she continued kissing him. Fifty-eight years later, any mention of Lillian still made his heart flutter. There would never be another.


He crossed the road, heading towards the library. One quick look, for old time's sake. He placed his stick on the kerb and stepped up. The street lamp above flickered before finally staying off. He stared at the door as he adjusted his focus. Back in 1954 he'd seen a sign on that very door advertising the local dance, the only local dance that year.


'Love you always, Lillian,' he whispered as he smiled. He squinted at the small white bag of rubbish that lay on the doorstep, sheltered by the canopy above. 'Damn litterbugs. Why use the floor when you have a bloomin' bin right there?' He placed his stick against the door and held his back as he bent down. His knees creaked and crunched as he reached for the rubbish. Why was there a red sash tying up the bag? He leaned further down until his fingers reached the mass. It was a towel. He reached again and tugged at the material. Whatever it was, it was going in the bin. He was sick of his streets and community being disrespected by the youth that congregated on the streets.


He grabbed the mass and the material fell open to reveal a doll. He squinted again and reached down. His trembling hand trailed across the head of the doll. It didn't feel like plastic. It felt like skin-cold skin. His tremble turned into a full-on shake as he stepped back and tumbled into a puddle, wetting his backside. He tried to yell for help but his heart felt as though it was beating out of his mouth. Tears fell as he thought of the little bundle that lay before him. If only it was a doll. It should've been a doll. He rubbed his damp backside and crawled open-mouthed towards the bundle as he reached out once again. It was the tiniest and coldest baby he'd ever seen. The streetlight above hissed and flickered back on, revealing the baby's delicate facial features. He had to get help. It might be too late to save the poor mite but he'd damn well try his best. As he steadied his frail body against the doorway, he managed to stand and grab his stick.


'Help,' he whispered. He tried again and again to call out. 'Help!' he finally yelled, hitting the doors of the terraced houses with his stick. The light behind the third door came on and a woman answered. 'Call an ambulance and the police,' he said as he panted in her doorway.


'What's happened? Here, come in. You'll catch your death,' said the woman as she assisted the soaking-wet man through the front door.


'There's a baby. You have to check on it. Get something warm. Please,' he replied, grabbing her arm for support as he caught his breath.


'A baby? Look, are you okay?'


'Yes. I've just found an abandoned baby in the library doorway. Please go and help it,' he said as he collapsed on the sofa, wetting all the cushions. The woman grabbed her mobile phone and ordered her teenage daughter to sit with Albert. The girl placed a blanket over his shoulders before heading over to the window and watching her mother from the comfort of their lounge. Albert shuddered at the thought of the stone-cold baby. It reminded him of the same stony coldness he'd felt after finding Lillian's body in bed, back in 1985, after she'd passed away in the night from pneumonia. His heart missed a beat as he gasped for breath again and wept.


Chapter 2


Gina combed her damp brown hair with her fingers. As she stepped out of the car, she pulled an elastic band from her pocket and scooped the tangled mop into a ponytail. Another bath disturbed by the job, another emergency that would more than likely be followed by another sleepless night. She spotted Detective Sergeant Jacob Driscoll's slim, tall figure. He was talking to a woman under the canopy outside Cleevesford Library. Curtains twitched, hallways cast light onto the street and people began to migrate towards the scene. A paramedic held the tiny parcel, wrapped in a towel. He stepped into the ambulance and closed the doors. Gina shivered. That towel might be all the little one would have when they grew up. A scrap of material, holding secrets that might never leave the closely knitted fibres.


Jacob turned to face her as she approached. His thin, fair hair stuck to his wet forehead, making him resemble an Action Man figure. 'Mrs Craneford, this is DI Harte. Mrs Craneford looked after the baby until the emergency services arrived. The paramedic stated that the baby is suffering from hypothermia and a low pulse rate.'


'Oh, that poor baby was freezing. What an awful state of affairs. There's an old guy in our house. He found the baby and knocked at our door. He was frantic. He's not in a fit state for much though, seems in shock. My daughter's making him a cuppa, Mrs Craneford said.


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