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  • Published: 9 January 2024
  • ISBN: 9781761048012
  • Imprint: Michael Joseph
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 400
  • RRP: $34.99

Foul Play


Jack hadn't wanted to go but Kate had pleaded with him over the phone. 'I haven't had a birthday party since I was a child. Besides, I haven’t seen you for months,’ she grumbled. ‘And don’t say you’ve been busy. I know you’ve been in a quiet job since Australia.’

‘Neither have I,’ he countered, ignoring the jab.

‘Neither have you what?’

‘Had a birthday party since I was a child,’ he said, remembering the last one before the car crash that had killed his parents. He banished that memory quickly. ‘I don’t like parties, Kate, you know that.’

‘But this is mine!’

He laughed that hers should be the special one. ‘You’ve never invited me to a birthday gathering before.’

‘I’ve never been this close to forty before.’ She groaned.

‘You’ve still got a few years up your sleeve,’ he said to soothe her. ‘Kate, don’t ask me to—’

‘But I am. I haven’t seen you for months because you’ve been hiding away in Cold Cases and I’ve been at Anti-Corruption. Did you even know I’d moved to CIB?’

‘Yes,’ he answered, knowing full well she was in the Complaints Investigation Bureau 3, the proactive branch of that division, gathering intelligence on suspected or detected serious misconduct.

‘You brute. And you didn’t ring to congratulate me?’

‘I should have, but I’d also heard about the teacher, and I didn’t want to put my foot in it.’ He didn’t say: And I didn’t want you to get the wrong idea while you were vulnerable. There was a soft silence. The break-up obviously still hurt. ‘Sorry, I should’ve—’

Now she gave a moan of frustration. ‘Jack, yes, you’re the one person who should, because you’re the one person I don’t mind talking about it with.’

He didn’t ask why. ‘I thought he was a keeper.’

‘He is, for someone. He should have been for me, but I have a habit, as you may have noticed, of pushing nice people away. He deserved more than I was giving. My workload at the time was crushing.’

‘No chance of getting back together?’

‘Doubtful. I’m a bit of a mess, as usual, in that regard. I don’t know if it’s wise either – I couldn’t bear to hurt him again. Deep down I think I’d feel grateful if he told me he’d met someone. But in the meantime, this party will be a good distraction, I’m assuring you, though it wasn’t my idea. It was Gabriella’s. Have you met her?’

‘Not that I recall.’

‘You wouldn’t forget her if you had. I thought you might have come to her thirtieth as my plus one, but you have a marvellous way of wheedling your way out of stuff like that. And yet I know you’re not antisocial.’ She gave him a pointed moment of silence.

He didn’t want to tell her that going anywhere as her plus one was dangerous . . . for both of them, but especially her. ‘Kate,’ he began.

She sighed loudly. ‘Don’t take that tone.’

‘We’re colleagues. We can’t . . .’ He didn’t finish.

‘Jack, colleagues can be more than just fellow workers. You know, some are even lovers, but I’m talking about something innocent . . . just a birthday party my friends are throwing for me. And you are one of my best friends, even though I could be forgiven for thinking otherwise. I’m asking you to be a guest – not a partner, not a date, not a plus one. Just be my friend.’

He sighed. ‘Okay, okay. Send me the when and where.’ He smiled at her soft squeal of pleasure that sounded through the phone.

So now he found himself in a swanky basement bar in Soho that prided itself on serving the best gin cocktails ‘in the world’ according to those in the know.

‘You look amazing.’ He had to yell in her ear over the noise of the music and not just her gang of partygoers but the bar’s general clientele, who seemed to be in high spirits this Friday night. And it was true, Kate had never looked more attractive than she did this evening, in a black metallic party frock that was all fun, showing off toned arms and tanned, shapely legs. A teardrop black pearl hung on a long gold chain contrasting with her dress, which was the colour of mercury and flowed effortlessly around her trim figure. Her hair, normally tied up neatly for work, now flowed in soft golden waves, only adding to her beauty.

‘Thank you,’ she said, kissing him a fraction too close to his mouth but just far enough away for him to accept it might be a clumsy hello. ‘I’m so glad you came.’

‘Happy birthday,’ Jack said, holding out a small wrapped gift.

‘You really didn’t have—’

‘I wanted to,’ he said, cutting off her protest.

She held up the black pearl around her neck and waved it in front of him. ‘This will always be my favourite.’

‘From one of my Australian trips. Do you remember what I told you?’

‘Yes.’ She smiled, leaning in close. ‘That the only naturally black pearls are Tahitian. I only wear it on special occasions. You couldn’t top it.’

He shrugged. ‘You don’t have to open that now,’ he said, looking around with disguised horror at the already busy dancers and flowing alcohol.

‘We’re not on duty,’ Kate said, reading his mind as she undid the wrapping.

‘Are we ever off?’

‘Oh, Jack!’ she breathed in awe, lifting out black pearl earrings that matched the pendant.

He couldn’t help smiling. ‘I’m glad you wore that tonight.’

She was already pulling the hoops from her ears. ‘I have to put them on right now,’ she said, excitedly. ‘My gosh, this is too much. There, what do you think?’ She glanced around, and a couple of her friends leaned in and made the right noises of approval.

Jack was still holding the hoops she’d flung into his hands. ‘They’re up to the job of matching how insanely gorgeous you look this evening.’ He kept his tone just right for a friend offering a compliment.

‘Right answer, Jack!’ She laughed and gave him a huge hug, saying, ‘I love them, thank you,’ and then, without warning, she did kiss him on the mouth, very briefly, before turning away hurriedly to order a drink. She looked over her shoulder. ‘What are you having?’

‘Er . . .’

‘Don’t bother, let me choose.’

A few moments later she returned with an intriguing amber-coloured cocktail with a twist of burnt orange in it. Jack had watched the bartender light the spritz from the zest as he peeled off the skin from the fruit.

‘You’re going to love this, Jack. It’s called a—’

Before she could finish speaking, a raven-haired woman eased up to them. Over her skin-tight black dress, cut away in places to reveal smooth olive skin, she wore a scarlet jacket. No one could miss her in any crowd. ‘Oh my, Kate, who is this handsome fellow?’ she asked in a smoky voice.

‘I’m Jack,’ he answered for Kate.

‘The policeman?’

‘Detective Superintendent Jack Hawksworth,’ Kate said, point­edly.

Jack cast her a look of soft despair.

‘Aha,’ the newcomer drawled knowingly. ‘I know who you are now.’ She gave him a wink.

‘Jack, this is one of my school pals from a hundred years ago, Gabriella Ferrari. It was her idea to have this party, and at this venue.’

He could detect disapproval in Kate’s tone that perhaps her friend could not, but then she wasn’t looking at Kate but at Jack, with a sort of open hunger. ‘Ferrari?’ It was all he could think of to say under her hot gaze.

Gabriella made a growling sound, like a car engine revving. Jack obliged with a chuckle, although her overt seduction was unnerv­ing. ‘I prefer my pet name of Bella among friends,’ she said, only a trace of her heritage perceptible in her southern English accent. ‘Kate, I had no idea the mysterious Jack you’ve spoken of was so alarmingly attractive,’ she said, leaning in to kiss him slowly on both cheeks. She smelled of alcohol and Chanel No.5 Eau Première, which was all the rage in the department stores, being sprayed on every available female wrist that passed by. ‘You should know that Kate makes you sound awfully stuffy and conservative.’

He grinned. ‘Regularly guilty of both, actually.’

‘Not with a wicked smile like that, you can’t be,’ she said with authority and took the glass he was yet to sip from. She helped herself to a swig. ‘Mmm, scrumptious, just like you,’ she said, smiling with that famished look again.

Kate clearly thought it was time to intervene. ‘As I was saying, I ordered you a—’

‘Hanky panky,’ Gabriella finished, shutting down Kate. ‘So appropriate, you tease.’

‘I’ve never indulged before,’ Jack said, instantly regretting the opening he’d given Kate’s friend.

‘Never indulged in hanky-panky?’ she replied in an arch tone. ‘We must fix that.’ Then she turned to Kate. ‘Don’t you love this bar?’

‘It’s great,’ Kate agreed but Jack knew that tight cadence in her voice meant she was telling a fib. ‘Listen, I think Annabelle was looking for you.’


Kate gave her an airy look and a slight shrug. ‘Not sure. Cake stuff probably, so I’m not meant to know.’

‘I’ll find her and then I’ll come back and find you, Jack Hawksworth.’ Gabriella sashayed away, no doubt presuming they were both watching her shapely behind disappear into the crowd.

Jack blinked and Kate turned to stare at him.

‘What?’ he asked, sounding defensive.

‘Beware of Bella. She’s a man-eater.’

‘Odd that I didn’t pick that up,’ he said, lifting an eyebrow.

‘I mean it, Jack. She’ll have you twisted around her finger in a heartbeat.’ At his sigh, she continued. ‘No, really, it’s a badge of honour for her. She’s always been like this. Any new guy around and she needs to leave her mark on him. I don’t know if it’s simply because she can, or perhaps she has a missing chromosome or something.’

Jack gave a tsk. ‘That’s catty.’

Kate grinned unhappily. ‘Look, she’s an old friend, and she has a big heart, but she’s also scary when she’s in the mood she’s in tonight. She believes she can have any bloke she chooses.’

‘That’s because she probably can,’ he replied, as though that fact was obvious. Then he added, ‘Anyway, I didn’t come to meet Bella. I didn’t want to be here at all, other than for you and to wish you the happiest of birthdays.’ He picked up his drink, rotating the glass away from the lipstick half kiss that Bella had left for him. ‘Here’s to you. I hope this is a special year for you.’

‘Cheers, Jack.’

They clinked glasses. As he sipped, he gave Kate a look of awe. ‘Wow. Delicious!’

‘It’s my new favourite cocktail.’

‘Why aren’t you drinking one, then?’

‘Because champagne is slipping down easier tonight.’

‘Right, well, I think you should go off and mingle with your friends. Let them spoil you.’

‘What are you going to do?’

‘Nurse my hanky panky and—’

‘Look for your moment of escape?’ she asked.

He grinned. ‘Something like that.’

‘Don’t you dare leave without saying goodbye.’

‘I won’t.’

Kate didn’t want to leave Jack leaning against the bar, where he watched her friends erupt into song and dance, her in the middle, having to do a solo. She could see him on the fringe, laughing at the celebrations, and couldn’t help but think he’d never looked more distant or desirable at once. Tonight he was in black, like her, but something about a man in a black suit and an open-necked white shirt did funny things to her. All he needed was the undone black bow tie and he’d look like he’d walked straight off the set of Mad Men.

She knew she shouldn’t be thinking about Jack like this. He’d made that clear. But what had happened between her and Dan had been desperately sad. For just a moment their relationship had felt so grown-up and real; she had even allowed herself to imagine being his wife, coming home to his smile, their children, nagging each other about who was doing the ballet run or the football pick-up. Just a heartbeat of supreme comfort in their future, and then her career had begun to get in the way. He knew her work was demanding, with far from friendly hours, but for nearly a year she’d kept her time at the office as lean as she dared, so that had probably lulled them both into a false sense of how life might be together.

Was any job really worth losing an important relationship?

He had not been the unreasonable one. If anything, Dan had tried harder than her to find ways around the demands on her time, even getting special permission to arrange a rooftop picnic on a building she was working at when they’d barely seen one another for a month. His attempt at a romantic solution had only made it worse, though, with Kate resenting what she’d viewed as an interruption of her work.

‘Childish and embarrassing,’ she remembered hurling at him. She winced now at how viciously it must have come across when she’d suggested they were not lovelorn teens who needed to hold hands every moment that they could. So unfair. Dan had simply been trying to keep them connected around her exhausting work hours. He’d never once complained about the meals he’d cooked for her and had to throw away, the countless times he’d gone to bed alone, or the many dinners or meet-ups with friends he’d found himself stood up for. If she was being honest, his complete reasonableness, his affability in all situations and his constant forgiveness had begun to wear away at her and build a mountain of guilt.

In the end it was sweet Dan, once again being generous, who’d suggested she needed space and some time alone to work things out. She’d agreed, not even putting up a fight for him. And now there was Jack, looking highly desirable as he leaned against the bar. Perhaps he was the true source of her angst, the real reason she couldn’t settle down: the man that could change everything if only he’d permit it.

He wouldn’t, though. They’d had this conversation time and time again. So she would take friendship as a consolation prize, because at least it meant they could remain close.

Kate’s gaze narrowed as she watched Bella make a new advance, and she gasped as Bella draped herself over Jack, who, gracious as always, tried to disentangle himself gently instead of rebuffing her straight out.

Kate should rescue him. But she moved too late, hesitating just a fraction too long. Bella had heard a favourite song belting out and by the time Kate got to them her friend was beep-beeping and toot-tooting seductively to Donna Summers’ famous disco track.

‘Come on and join the bad girls, Jack,’ Bella suggested, tugging on his hand.

He politely declined; no doubt Jack could see that Bella was already well on her way to being drunk.

‘Oh, here’s the sad girl,’ Bella said to Kate, playing on the song’s lyrics.

‘Hey, Bel, I didn’t invite Jack to my party so you could hog him.’

Oink-oink!’ Bella said in perfect time over the beep-beeps in the lyrics and gave a hog snort. ‘Green isn’t your colour, Kate . . . or is it? I was simply asking him to dance. And I must say, I think it would be rude if he rejected me,’ she said, eyeing Jack, daring him to turn her down.

He sighed. ‘Right, ladies. I don’t want to be the party pooper. One quick turn and then I’ll leave you to it.’

Kate was staggered. No, deep down she was feeling venomous, watching Bella lead Jack to the small dance floor suggestively, holding his hand dangerously close to her half-exposed and beautifully pert breast. Once she’d reached the centre of the dance floor and thus the centre of attention, Bella twisted around and began gyrating her body in that ‘come to bed’ way of hers. It didn’t matter that the song had a disco beat – she’d managed to slow her movements to half its pace. Kate wanted to scream.

Meanwhile, Jack surprised her by showing rhythm she’d never thought he possessed. She couldn’t tell if he was enjoying himself or not; she couldn’t see past her own despair. Kate needed the song to end.

‘What’s with the long face on your birthday?’ It was another schoolmate.

She shook her head. ‘Nothing.’

‘It’s Bella, right?’ They were both watching her dance. ‘Is he your date?’

‘No,’ she fired back a bit too smartly. ‘Er, I mean, he’s a really good friend.’


‘Yes.’ Kate nodded.

‘Then what are you worried about? So’s she. Two consenting adults and all that. Come on, we’re going to do the cake and shots soon.’


Jack didn’t stay for the cake. His phone began to vibrate inside his jacket pocket just as Bella decided to link her long, olive-skinned arms around his neck and curl herself closer than he’d prefer. He pulled out the phone, glanced at the screen and killed the call because, as he expected, Bella had all but passed out in his arms.

He helped her off the dance floor. ‘You’ve had enough for one night.’

‘Take me home, handsome Jack,’ she slurred and in a split second he decided to do just that, walking her from the club and helping her up the stairs into the cool of the evening.

Some passing merrymakers whistled and cheered. ‘You’re on tonight, matey,’ one encouraged him.

‘Take in some big breaths,’ Jack urged Bella.

‘Did you say you like my big breasts, Jack?’ she teased with glazed eyes.

He sighed, looked around and walked her unsteadily to a taxi rank.

The guy behind the wheel looked dubious. ‘She going to vomit in my cab, mate?’

Jack wasn’t in the habit of flashing his warrant card under anything but formal circumstances, but the situation was becoming urgent. ‘Listen, I need to get her home safely. I have to be somewhere.’

‘Hop in,’ the cabbie said wearily. Jack bundled a mercifully cooperative and very flexible Bella into the back seat, where she collapsed like a fold-up toy. She suddenly looked small and fragile.

‘She all right?’ the taxi driver asked.

‘Too much champagne,’ Jack said as a throwaway line.

‘Where to then, boss?’

‘Oh,’ Jack said, crestfallen. ‘Good question. Er . . .’ He found Bella’s handbag on the floor of the car and rummaged around in it, finding only a single credit card, phone, lipstick and other para­phernalia that a woman can’t leave the house without. ‘Hold on,’ he said, with a smile and a finger in the air. He called Kate; as she answered, he could hear the music had gone up a notch and was thumping away in the background.

‘Where are you?’ she asked flatly.

‘I had to go. Can you give me Bella’s address, please?’


‘Kate, just tell me.’

Something in his tone persuaded her to not hedge any longer. She reeled it off. ‘It’s an art deco block just south of Clapham Common.’ Her own tone was blunt and humourless, and he could tell she was angry with him. ‘Have fun, you two,’ she snapped. ‘She’s wearing a bodycon dress, Jack. It takes two to get it off!’ The line went dead.

Jack stared at the screen with astonishment, murmuring ‘bodycon’ to himself in puzzlement before giving the cabbie the address in Balham. ‘It’s flat four.’

‘Well, I’m not carrying her up the stairs, mate. That’s your problem.’

‘Yes, of course,’ he said, feeling stupid for saying it. ‘Can you wait while I take her up?’

‘How long?’

‘I’m just going to get her inside her flat with a bucket nearby and make sure she’s safe. Ten minutes tops.’

‘It’s your money,’ the cabbie said, not unfriendly but firm.

They travelled south of Charing Cross for approximately four miles, entering the borough of Wandsworth. At her flats in Balham, a low 1930s deco block, Jack again asked the cabbie to be patient. He took Bella to the main door and saw a panel of bells that included Ferrari and Barclay on one. He rang it and waited with his cargo, who was slumped over, kissing his neck.

‘You smell so nice,’ she slurred.

‘You smell of liquor,’ he countered. ‘Who is Barclay?’

‘Hmm?’ she said from his collar. He repeated his question. ‘Loulou.’

‘Hello?’ came a dislocated voice.

‘Er, is that, um, Ms Barclay?’

‘It is, who is this?’

‘Loulou, darling, it’s me,’ Bella cooed.

‘Bella, oh dear, you sound untidy.’ She buzzed the door open and Jack hauled his load over the threshold. Above him a woman’s voice called down. ‘Need help?’


The flatmate arrived in stripy pyjama bottoms and a T-shirt, skipping down the centre carpet barefoot. Her hair was casually clipped up and she had a pencil stuck behind one ear. Jack had to look away from the nicely rounded breasts beneath her T-shirt. ‘Hi, I’m Louise . . . Lou,’ she said with a smile.

‘Loulou.’ Bella suddenly stirred, more alert now. ‘This is handsome Jack.’

‘Hello, Jack.’ Lou grinned. ‘Um . . .?’

Jack cleared his throat. ‘Just bringing her home safely from Kate Carter’s party.’

‘Ah, the birthday bash. Is it over already?’

‘Just warming up, but I had to leave – I have something to attend to. Bella here was looking a little frayed, so I thought it best to get her home.’ He looked over his shoulder. ‘I’ve got a cab waiting.’

‘I can take her from here.’

‘Are you sure?’ he asked, looking up the flights of stairs.

‘Oh, we’ve done this a few times.’ Lou laughed. ‘Leave her with me.’

‘She’s, um, well, a lot of champagne and no food, to my know­ledge, so a bucket is probably in order.’

Lou gave him a salute. ‘Got it.’

He paused a moment, meeting her eye. ‘Why didn’t you come to the party?’

She grinned. ‘I’m not part of that set. I know Bella and a couple of the others, but not the birthday girl very well.’

‘Well, it’s nice to meet you,’ Jack said.

‘I’ll be better dressed next time,’ she promised.

He grinned. ‘I think you look perfect. Sleep it off, Bella,’ he said close to the other woman’s ear. She tried to grab him, but he gently shifted his balance to avoid being wrestled into a smooch of any kind. ‘Sorry to leave her like this.’

‘Go,’ Lou said. ‘He’ll charge you heaps otherwise.’

‘Night.’ He nodded.

She smiled again and he turned, reaching for the heavy front door.


He twisted back, raising his brows in query.

‘Thanks for doing the right thing by her.’

‘You’re welcome.’

‘Come for coffee, or drinks, or even a meal sometime. We should thank you properly.’

He raised a hand in a friendly wave. ‘Sounds nice.’

And then he was gone, ducking back into the cab.

‘Where to, sir?’

‘Scotland Yard.’

‘Might’ve guessed. Here we go . . .’ the guy said, swinging the black cab around effortlessly and heading back towards Westminster.

Jack rang his boss on her after-hours number.



‘Tell me you didn’t cut me off an hour or so ago.’

‘I was in a nightclub and couldn’t hear a thing. I thought it best to get to a quieter spot.’

‘You were in a nightclub?’

He couldn’t tell if she might be smiling. Likely not. ‘Er, a night out for a friend’s birthday. I didn’t have anything to do with choosing the venue. I managed to steal away early, anyway. Just arriving home now,’ he lied. ‘Has something come up?’

‘It has. I realise you’re off duty, so forgive me calling you.’

‘No problem. Do you want me to come in now?’

‘No, it can wait, but I’ll see you at the office in the morning. Just before nine, all right? I’ve got someone else coming in, but I want to talk to you first. I’m sending you some stuff you can look over.’

‘Right.’ The line went dead. Women were ringing off on him too often tonight. ‘Change of plan,’ Jack said to the cabbie. ‘Can you take me to Kew?’

‘Station or street?’

‘Head for Burlington Riverside,’ Jack said, giving the neigh­bourhood where he’d bought his townhouse six months prior. ‘Do you know that area?’

‘Course,’ the fellow said, only just hiding his disdain. ‘Very nice it is too. Pricey.’

Jack didn’t comment.

Just over half an hour later, he was glad to close the door on an altogether unsatisfactory evening, although he felt glad that he’d shown his face at the party and not let Kate down. Still, he had apparently let her down in another way by taking her exceedingly drunk friend home to the safety of her flatmate and pillow. He was reminded of the cheerful disposition of Lou Barclay and how entirely at ease she seemed, confident in herself. He found that deeply attractive and tried not to think of her cute PJs and T-shirt. It had words on it that said: Don’t even think about it.

That made him smile. He was thinking about it.

The pencil behind her ear. What did that mean?

Distantly he heard the familiar ping of his email and sighed. He’d better get to it. Carol Rowland would expect him to be up to speed by the time he walked in tomorrow morning.

Foul Play Fiona McIntosh

The heart-stopping new crime thriller in the Detective Jack Hawksworth series by blockbuster author Fiona McIntosh.

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