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Authors: Lucy Gordon

Uncaged

BOOK: Uncaged
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Uncaged
Lucy Gordon

www.millsandboon.co.uk

Contents

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Prologue

“M
egan Elizabeth Anderson, you have been found guilty of the shocking crime of murder. Have you anything to say before sentence is passed?”

The woman in the dock lifted her head. After three months in prison she was still beautiful. If anything, the way her hair was pulled back accentuated her fine bone structure with its high cheekbones and the hollows beneath. Even without makeup, it was still a lovely face, although the dark shadows under her eyes hinted at sleepless nights.

Some of the public who’d crowded in on this last day of her trial had heard of her. Once she’d been a top model, but she’d given it up when she’d become a mother, and settled into a life of domesticity with her son and her businessman husband. She’d seemed the woman with everything—money, a delightful child and a perfect marriage. But the marriage had broken up a year ago, and now she was on trial for murder.

Some of them noticed that Brian Anderson wasn’t there now. Despite their separation, he’d sat through every day of the trial as the evidence piled up against his estranged wife, but he obviously hadn’t been able to face this last day with its inevitable verdict. The onlookers wondered what she felt about his desertion, but no one could tell. After the first glance at his empty place, she’d averted her gaze and never looked again. A cool customer, they said.

One man who’d made sure of being present was Detective Inspector Daniel Keller, the policeman who’d made the case against her. He’d given his evidence in a hard, expressionless voice, and taken his place in the body of the court. He was here now for the verdict. He was in his early thirties, with a face that might have been handsome, except that something had happened to it. It was as though he’d fitted a cage over his features, a cage made of harshness and grim determination that had subtly reshaped every line, crushing out human vulnerability. He didn’t look at Megan Anderson, but stared into the distance. He was deathly pale and seemed strung up with tension, as though only an almighty effort of nerves kept him going. Eerily, the prisoner wore exactly the same expression.

“Have you anything to say?” the judge repeated.

Megan Anderson took a step forward and gripped the edge of the dock. “I’ve only one thing to say,” she declared in a voice that rang around the courtroom. “And that’s what I’ve said from the start, and what I’ll say until my dying day. I am innocent of murder. As for those who falsely put me here,
may God forgive them, because I never will!

At last something seemed to reach Detective Inspector Keller. He looked at her sharply, as though his head had been wrenched around by force. No one doubted that her words were meant for him. She was looking at him with hate, and now the spectators had no doubt that she was a murderess, because if she could have struck him dead she would have done so. He returned her gaze with harsh stoicism. For a moment, the bitter, jagged atmosphere between them was stronger than anything else in the courtroom.

Even the judge was taken aback, but he recovered himself and addressed the prisoner again. “You will do yourself no good by these outbursts,” he told her severely. “You’ve made your allegations and the jury has rejected them and found you guilty of murder—rightly, in my opinion. I have no choice but to sentence you to imprisonment for the rest of your life.”

An hour later Megan Anderson was sitting in a van with black sides and high barred windows, on her way to start a life sentence in prison. At the same moment Detective Inspector Keller was locked in his bedroom with a bottle of whiskey, determinedly seeking oblivion.

One

“F
rankly, I think you’ve been very lucky,” the policewoman said.

Megan stared at her. “Lucky? I was imprisoned for a murder I didn’t commit, and after stealing three years of my life they finally admit they were wrong, and you say I’m
lucky?

The policewoman gave her a hard look. “If you listened carefully to what the appeal court judges said, they didn’t actually admit they were wrong. You got off on a technicality.”

“Oh, yes, a technicality.” Megan seethed. “They discovered that there was a witness to my alibi all the time, but a corrupt policeman had suppressed it. You call that a technicality?”

Before her tormentor could answer, the door opened and Janice Baines, Megan’s lawyer, came in. They were in an anteroom of the court, where three appeal judges had just ordered Megan’s release. She’d arrived in a prison van, but she would leave in Janice’s car a free woman—whatever that might mean.

“There’s a crowd outside,” Janice observed. “A lot of them are journalists.”

“I’m not talking to journalists,” Megan insisted. “I just want to be left alone.”

“That’s a good line,” the policewoman said cynically. “You can sell your story for twice the price if you play hard to get.”

“Get me out of here, Janice,” Megan said bitterly, “before I commit a real murder.”

“My car’s around the back,” Janice said, taking her arm and steering her out into the corridor.

There were a couple of journalists covering the rear entrance, and they made a dash when they saw Megan. She managed to get in the car and slam the door, but they hammered on the roof, shouting questions, and one of them pressed a checkbook against the window. Luckily Janice was a skilled driver, and in seconds they’d left the pack behind.

“She as good as said I was guilty,” Megan said furiously. “A technicality, my God!”

“Look, I don’t want to spoil your day of triumph,” Janice said after a moment, “but I’m your lawyer, and I have to give you the facts. I’d have been happier if they’d given you a ringing endorsement of innocence.”

“But there was a witness who said he saw me miles away at the moment Henry Grainger was killed,” Megan said wildly.

“Not quite,” Janice interrupted. “In his statement he said he saw a woman who answered your general description, but it was too dark for him to make out details. If he’d appeared at your original trial, the jury might easily have decided that it didn’t prove anything. The appeal court released you today because Detective Inspector Keller concealed the statement instead of giving it to the defense, as he should have done. I hate to be brutal, Megan, but it
was
a technicality, and that’s going to affect what happens now.”

There was a silence before Megan said, “I saw Brian’s lawyer in court.”

“Yes, I talked to him before I collected you. I’m afraid he said that nothing’s changed. Brian still thinks you’re guilty, and he’s not going to give Tommy back to you. He won’t even let you see him.”

“Oh, God.”
Megan’s words were almost a scream as she buried her head in her hands and sat shaking.

Janice gave her a sympathetic glance before returning her attention to the road. “We’ll fight it,” she said. “Don’t despair yet.”

Megan raised her head abruptly. She was calm again. “I’m not despairing,” she said. “If I didn’t give way to despair during three years in that place, I’m not going to do it now.”

“That’s the spirit.”

* * *

“Frankly, I think you’ve been very lucky,” Detective Chief Inspector Masters said.

Daniel Keller stared at him. “Lucky? I’m being kicked off the force and you say I’m
lucky?

“You’re lucky to have only been suspended on paid leave. You
haven’t
been kicked off the force, although if I had my way you would have been.”

“Oh, yes,” Daniel said. “It’s no secret that you’ve been looking for ways to get rid of me ever since you came here two years ago.”

“I don’t like mavericks, Keller. I don’t like loners. I don’t like officers who undermine my authority by tossing the book aside whenever it suits them, or officers who suppress evidence
and then get caught.
I don’t like seeing a murderess go free because one of my men fouled up. It’s a black mark against this station.”

It’s a black mark against
your
possible promotion,
Daniel thought.
That’s what’s really worrying you.
But all he said was, “Who says she’s a murderess? The appeal court cleared her.”

“Oh, no, they didn’t. They very carefully stopped short of declaring her innocent, but because you cut corners they had to let her go. That makes me angry.”

Masters was a red-faced, choleric man who seemed to be angered by everything in sight. But in particular he was infuriated by the tall, rangily built man in the battered leather jacket and old jeans standing on the other side of his desk. Daniel Keller was in deep trouble, yet instead of looking chastened, he regarded his superior coolly, his lips twisted in an arrogant half smile that only just escaped being a jeer.

“It makes me angry,” Masters repeated. “So do these headlines.”

He waved an impatient hand at the newspapers on his desk. One headline read Suppression Of Evidence Leads To Release. Another, Why Did He Conceal Evidence? Witness Asks, Why Wasn’t I Called To Testify?

“It’s either incompetence or corruption, and I won’t tolerate either,” Masters snapped. “By rights you should be out of here for good, but I’ve had to listen to a lot of bleeding hearts stuff from your colleagues about how you were under strain from ‘personal problems’ at the time—although how that justifies fouling up, I don’t know.”

Daniel went rigid with distaste as his most painful wounds were casually flicked by this gross creature. “My problems were—and remain—my own affair,” he said stiffly. “I never asked for allowances to be made for me on that account.”

“So I should think. Clear your desk and go. And don’t come back until you’re sent for.”

“Which will be never if you have your way,” Daniel said ironically.

“As you say.”

When Daniel had gone, a genial, lazy-looking, middle-aged man pushed open a glass door to enter Masters’s office. “That was a bit rough, wasn’t it, Chief?” he asked. “They weren’t just any old personal problems. His wife and son—”

“We all have things to bear, Canvey,” Masters said without looking up. “Get back to your work.”

Canvey retreated, but instead of returning to work he slipped downstairs and waylaid Daniel as he was leaving. “You’ll be back,” he said reassuringly. “Probably do you good to have a rest. It’s a pity you didn’t have one back then.”

“Do you think she did it, Canvey?” Daniel asked slowly.

“‘Course she did. This was just a technicality.”

“I should hate to think I sent an innocent woman away. If only I could remember exactly what happened...but it’s all so blurred in my head.”

“You weren’t yourself in those days. You should have taken some time off. I told you so at the time.”

Daniel made his way out to his car, trying not to be conscious of the looks that followed him, some of them sympathetic, some full of barely concealed pleasure. His brusque manner, short fuse and unorthodox methods had made him many enemies, and not only among the criminal fraternity. Some of his so-called colleagues were glad to see him brought low. The thought made him lift his head still higher.

He groaned as he saw two men, one with a television camera, waiting for him. “I’ve got nothing to say,” he told them firmly.

They followed him to his car, the reporter constantly trying to shove a microphone in front of him. “How do you feel about Megan Anderson’s release?”

“I have no feelings about it one way or the other,” he snapped. It was partly true. His feelings were in such turmoil that he couldn’t sort them out.

“Is it true that the police are refusing to reopen the case?”

“Ask them.”

“Does that mean you’ve been dismissed?”

Now he knew how a fox felt when the hounds were after it. It was a horrible experience. He managed to keep hold of his temper until he got in the car, but when the reporter banged on the window, he wound the glass down and said “Get...out...of...my way” with such slow, emphatic menace that the man blanched and backed off.

He reached his house without further incident, and noted with relief that the crowds of press who’d made it a nightmare the day before had disappeared. But as he got out of his car, a man, who seemed to be mending the road, suddenly straightened and blocked his path. “Have you got any statement to make, Inspector?”

Daniel took hold of the reporter’s ear. “Yes, I have a statement,” he said with deceptive mildness. “It’s this. You have one second to get out before you feel my foot in your rear.” He let go, and the man scuttled away.

* * *

When Janice had asked where she’d wanted to go, Megan’s answer had been simple. “Somewhere I can hide.”

The result was an obscure boarding house in a shabby part of London. She had one room that doubled as a bedroom and living room, a tiny kitchen, and a bathroom the size of a postage stamp. The apartment wasn’t much bigger than her prison cell, which accorded with Megan’s mood. She was free only in the most limited sense. Everything that had once formed her life had been stripped from her, including her good name, but most of all, her son. For the moment she could see no way of getting them back.

She called her ex-husband repeatedly that afternoon, but he wouldn’t speak to her. His mother answered the phone at home, and at work his secretary had orders not to put her through. Between calls she sat and brooded in terrible bitterness.

Her thoughts were chaotic, but one thing stayed constant. The face of Daniel Keller was there all the time—hard, unyielding, judging her—so convinced that he was right that he’d twisted the case and destroyed her. His face was burned into her consciousness by her hatred of him. She watched the television news reports and caught the moment when the reporter asked how he felt about her release, and his reply. “I have no feelings about it one way or another.”

“Of course you haven’t,” she flung at his face on-screen. “What’s it to you?”

It was some slight comfort to learn that he’d been suspended, although she felt, cynically, that he would be allowed back when the dust had settled. It was her own future that had been blasted.

Her first night alone was tormented by nightmares and she awoke crying out. One of the other residents knocked on her door to ask if she was all right. After that she tried to catnap for short periods, fearful of rousing the house. So far no one seemed to have recognized her, and this was her only hope of peace.

It was early spring, not a green, enchanted spring promising hope and rebirth, but a sodden fag end of winter, where it rained and rained and rained. The endless cascades of water beat against her ill-fitting windows and seeped in through the cracks, making the room damp. And the noise sometimes made it hard to hear anything else.

On the evening of her fourth day, just as she’d finished dressing for bed, she thought she heard a knock outside. Yawning she made her way to the door, then hesitated. A sudden letup in the rain gave her the chance to hear the knock again. “Who is it?” she called cautiously.

“Mrs. Anderson?” A man’s voice reached her from the other side of the door.

“If you’re a journalist, go away.”

“I’m not a journalist....” The man hesitated. “I’m Daniel Keller.”

Sheer outrage made her pull open the door to confront him. “Get out of here!” she said fiercely. “How
dare
you come pestering me?” Her voice rose to a cry.
“Haven’t you done enough?”

He was already halfway in. “I have to talk to you,” he said urgently.

“And I
don’t
have to talk to you,” she said bitterly. “This isn’t like those times you had me in the police station and I had to talk to you whether I wanted to or not. I’m free now, free of that damned prison where you put me with your lies and your frame-up, and free of
you.
I can tell you to get out, and that’s what I’m doing.”

He hesitated, driven by desperation but unwilling to use force. Megan’s sharp voice had attracted attention in the shabby little boarding house. Doors were opening, curious heads appearing. “Please let me in,” he said urgently.

“I told you to get out of here.” She tried pushing against the door but he pushed harder and managed to get right into the room. Megan backed away swiftly, as though afraid he might touch her. “What’s the matter with you?” she snapped. “Don’t you understand the word no? Oh, but of course you don’t. How often did I say ‘no’ to you three years ago? No, I didn’t murder Henry Grainger. No, I don’t know who did. No, I’m not lying. No, no,
no.
And how much notice did you ever take? Not a bit because you were so sure you were right and it was just a question of wearing me down until I confessed. And when I refused to oblige, you framed me.”

“I didn’t—”

“Don’t lie to me,” she cried. “You lied before and your lies cost me three years of my life.
They cost me my son.

Without warning, her fury drained away. She seemed to have little physical strength left, only what her taut nerves could give her. She’d lived on nervous energy through the agonizing days of her appeal; now that she was free, the energy came and went, so that she roller-coasted between being high on adrenaline and being too weak to stand. Only a moment ago she’d been possessed by the strength of anger. Now she felt like a rag doll. “Why on earth did you come here?” she asked, sitting down tiredly.

Daniel hesitated. If she’d looked up at his face she would have seen that it was as tortured as her own. He’d been little more than thirty when they’d first clashed, but the years since then had scored themselves twice over on his features. He’d been to hell, just as she had. But she saw none of this.

“I came because I had to,” he said. “I can’t just leave things like this.”

“Why? Because you’ve been suspended? I’d say that you’d come by your just deserts and things should be left
exactly
like that.”

BOOK: Uncaged
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