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CHAPTER ONE: Fleeing to freedom

Melia was livid.

No, worse than that: she was mad as hell. She was more than angry. She was furious.

It wasn't enough that every damn agent in the North of Englandoffice had been taken out of town on some mysterious assignment, and she had been left behind – ignored, with all the action going on - but then she was told to do the worst job that her Unit could give her: baby-sitting.

Of course, that isn't what they called it. The official term was 'Personal Protection', and sometimes it was fun. Or at least worthwhile, if the 'person' in question was an important politician, or maybe some member of the Royal Family.

But Melia had been assigned to watch over Beau Stule, the vilest man in the length and breadth of the U.K. He was despicable. His attitude to women - Well, it was beyond words. Melia couldn't begin to describe her loathing for the bastard.

And the worst thing about him - from a purely professional point of view - is that by giving him official 'Protection', the agency was more or less admitting that he was 'Important', but he wasn't - not yet. At that particular point in time, that cold February evening, he was nothing more or less than one of the dozen candidates standing in the coming election for Mayor of Greater Manchester. Just one. None of the others had such close attention. None of them were surrounded by police and had the benefit of British Security personnel.

No, but there were several other problems with Mr Stule.

The first was that he was the 'Business Candidate', as he styled himself. He was rich, a self-made man. An important cog in the wheel of business enterprise in the top half of England. Which meant he knew people and had powerful friends. They wanted to look after him, no doubt about that. And those kind of folks, well, they had the ear of the Chief Constable, didn't they? Melia was thinking viciously. They looked after their own. They protected each other. They were all 'Very Important Persons'.

But the second reason was even worse.

The real reason he needed protection, this nasty Mr Stule, was that he had so many enemies.

He brought that on himself. Campaigning had hardly begun in the GM Mayor race, and the actual voting day was three months off, and yet, after merely a few meetings, some speeches, a couple of Press Releases, this horrific idiot had managed to insult, malign and threaten just about every other interest group, culture and race in the county.

It made Melia savage. She'd seen him on TV, and the man was either a complete buffoon, she decided, or else he was playing a very clever game of casting himself in the role of 'People's Champion', the straight-talking, no-nonsense 'Man of the People' who was going to save the country, the economy, and all inhabitants of this 'once great country of ours' - as he described it.

Melia wanted to punch him. Instead, she had been summoned to the Director's office and been told - in no uncertain terms - that it was now her duty and responsibility to keep the guy from every possible harm or attack. But I want to do that myself, she was thinking to herself as the orders were being given. I understand how people feel. He stirs up hatred.

He also inspired great loyalty too, it seemed.

People wanted to see him and to hear him talk. Melia was now outside G-MEX, the huge conference and exhibition centre in the middle of Manchester city, and bodies had been flooding past her for more than an hour. It was an enormous venue, but it was filling up, with men, women, young and old, rich and poor. They all wanted to be told what to do by this rabble rouser.

They were all there. The only person who wasn't, yet, was the Guest of Honour - Mr Stule himself.

Melia looked at her watch. He was overdue.

It had been agreed - with police and the Security staff at the hall - that it would be safer if he arrived at the last minute, sweeping in while most other people had taken their seats. That way, he couldn't be barracked, jostled or accosted by the crowd before the event started. Also there was a plan to hustle him out the back at the end. Strange. This Man of the People was being protected from members of the populace itself, not from the ones who loved him, though. From the others.

That was the danger. The night's event, on this chilly winter evening, had only been announced a few weeks before, but all tickets were gone. People wanted to see him, to hear him. But some would cheer and some would boo. That was the problem.

Melia's task was to shelter the candidate from the negative opinions, cat calls, and abuse.

There had been Death Threats. Well, it certainly enlivened the campaign. Up to the point at which Mr Stule came forward, it had been a lacklustre affair. Even though it was unique, never having happened before, the prospect of electing a Mayor for the county of Greater Manchester hadn't brought forth universal excitement. Most people seemed distinctly underwhelmed at the opportunity to cast their vote for this new post, but it was a government initiative, from the highest level. It was part of the plan to devolve power from London to the regions, and it was hoped that the Greater Manchester Mayor - and the other new Mayors in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Merseyside - would help to launch and to form the new 'Northern Powerhouse'. The die had been cast.

So why am I shivering? Melia was wondering. Why is he keeping us waiting?

In her fragile state, it was very easy for Melia's mind to conjure up a hundred and one things that might have gone wrong. His car might have crashed. Someone might have beaten him up. He might have withdrawn from the contest.

Usually, such fears could have been easily quelled. She could have phoned Regional Office in Salford, spoken to someone on the Now Desk, and got reports. But there was no one there. All the back-up staff had been taken away for the 'major operation', whatever that was, and Melia was adrift, on her own. There was not a single person she could call.

Not even Mickey.

Melia stamped her feet, not just to keep warm, but to figuratively stamp on her on-off boyfriend, that most unreliable of men, Mickey. She cursed him under her breath. Sure, management brought him in some times to help the Unit, but he wasn't an official employee. He was ex-Army, an operative now officially retired from duty, who just happened to be living in the area, so he had become someone who could be called upon to bring his many talents to bear when they had a problem. There was a saying in the Service, that 'once you were Special Forces, they never let you go', but, in this case, Melia had no idea whether it was true that day or not. Maybe Mickey had been summoned and sent off across the Pennines with the rest of her team. She didn't know. They hadn't told her, and nor had he. But that was normal. Mickey never told her anything about his orders. Why, they had even been working on the same project, quite recently, and she hadn't known about it until she saw him in action!

What an idiot I am, she was thinking. Why do I put up with it?

She was a fool to herself, she knew. But she missed him, loved him, in her way. If only he was there now -

Melia knew she deserved better. She also knew she could get it. She was only just thirty. She had good looks and a rounded body. She was an independent, strong-minded woman, trained and honed. She could look after herself.

So why couldn't she control her heart? She needed to give it to someone who would appreciate her, she knew.

Not a magnificent loner like Mickey.

Her phone buzzed.

Melia pulled it out of her pocket. This can't be right, she was thinking. Nobody but Control has my number -

"Five minutes out," a voice snapped, and rang off.

Melia stared at the blank screen. She hadn't recognised the voice. This was terrible! She was part of an operation but didn't know the rest of the team. She didn't know her contact, her up-line, her Commander.

What a shambles! And now they were telling her to be ready, the car was on its way. Well, what did they want her to do?

She was at the front of the massive building, by the main door. There were police there, uniformed officers on either side of the entrance. She could call on them for back-up maybe. She didn't know. Melia had her I.D. in her pocket, and if she flashed that, they should respond. Perhaps. They wouldn't have been briefed, probably. They wouldn't recognise her.

Also, she didn't know if they were armed. This was a serious task, she knew. Her own gun nestled tidily in her waist band. She was ready for trouble. She wouldn't hesitate to apply deadly force. There might be terrorists -

Five minutes passed. It came and went. Nothing happened.

Great, Melia was thinking sarcastically. Just perfect. Nobody knows what's going on.

No, just her.

At that moment, music started up from inside the hall. There was cheering, whistling. A great commotion.

The police personnel turned to look inside. They turned back smiling.

"It's starting," one of them observed, talking to no one in particular.

Melia was outraged.

How could they! They knew she was at the front, but if Mr Stule was taking to the stage - Well, then, they must have sneaked him in at the back door. That wasn't the plan! Damn. What else could go wrong? she wondered, feeling ready to explode.

 

Mr Stule knew how to work a crowd. He was a natural performer.

He came in from one side, walked across the stage, waving at people, recognising some faces at the front, blowing kisses. He stood, he posed, he preened. Camera flashes went off. Everyone was smiling, pleased to finally see him.

Behind him was a table, right across the stage, and behind it were chairs for about a dozen people. Men. They were all men. As the candidate whipped the audience into a fervour, the men started to file on. Not yet sitting down, they clapped politely and looked admiringly at their candidate. Men in suits. They were his supporters, his backers, his funders. Maybe they were pulling his strings. Who knew? Whatever the relationship, he was at the front and they were lined up behind.

They were behind him. In every way.

Mr Stule finished his parade, then, strangely, walked to an empty chair on one side of the platform and sat down. Everyone else sat, all the people on stage and on the floor. The noise died. There was a respectful silence.

A man in the middle of the platform party struggled awkwardly to his feet, coughed a little, tapped the microphone and said a few innocuous words of welcome. Then he called on the honoured guest to 'say a few words'.

There was wild and uncontrollable applause.

The warm-up man had called him 'St-yule', Melia was thinking, at the back of the hall. She had never heard it said that way before.

Mr Stule bounded to his feet. There was pandemonium, louder and louder. He strode forward. There was a lectern at the front, centre stage. He took his place there. It looked so natural. He could have been born to it. He waved his hands, acknowledging the adulation, nudging it away modestly. He's so pleased with himself, Melia noted.

"My friends, my friends," he started, in a nasal, mid-Atlantic twang. "You know why we're here."

'Kick the Con!' they shouted. 'Kick the Con!'

Melia had wormed her way in at the back of the enormous hall, and was now trying to move up one side, closing on the stage. She was listening, slightly. She heard the words, but she had no idea what they meant.

She cast a professional eye around the area.

There were rows and rows of seats, then the hastily constructed stage at the front. It wasn't a theatre arrangement. It wasn't a theatre. In fact, this middle area had once been a railway station, Central Station, on Peter Street in Manchester. It still had the massive iron vaulting overhead and glass panelled roof. It was very impressive.

Ironically, it had been converted into event space in the 1980s by a body called the Greater Manchester Council, but that body had been abolished by Mrs Thatcher in the mid-80s. Coincidental, then, that this was the setting for cajoling people into voting for a new Mayor of Greater Manchester - even though the county had been dispensed with for thirty years, mainly because the then lady Prime Minister had told everyone, 'It has no purpose'. Well, it created this space, Melia was thinking. Isn't that impressive enough?

Melia looked at the backs of people's heads. They were all directed resolutely forward. No one seemed to be looking around, looking for trouble in that way trouble-makers and terrorists had, assessing weak points to attack.

There were no weak points. In front of the stage, arranged like a thuggish chorus line, there were big men in black sweaters. Mr Stule's most fervent supporters, recruited to defend him. More of this gang had disposed themselves along each wall, on the left and the right. If any single member of that public throng on chairs decided to shout or get abusive, the muscular defenders could leap on them and drag them out, without let or hindrance. There was no one else. No police. There should have been G-MEX Security people, men and women in red jackets and ties, but there wasn't one to be seen. Bouncers. The usual door staff. Absent. Sent away.

Melia was worried.

She was conscious that she stuck out like a sore thumb. In her usual garb of leather jacket, tight jeans, sweater and boots, she looked like an Amazon at a Women's Institute Tea Party. She had better keep in the background, she decided.

She might inadvertently make herself a target.

"Who the hell are you?" a thug demanded, blocking her path.

He was big, wide. He was angry. Angry about something. Was it Melia, or the state of the nation?

She wearily pulled out her Warrant Card and let him have a look at her picture. He seized it from her fingers and brought it up close to his nose. He didn't seem to think that the pretty girl in the photo was the same pretty girl in front of him.

"Where are you going?" he blathered, maybe trying to make himself important.

"Look, man, we're on the same side," she said, trying to mollify him. She had to shout to make herself heard over the screams and clapping from the crowd. Good Lord, she was thinking, the speeches haven't even started yet.

What would this rabble start doing when their divine leader really started to let rip with the sermon?

Still, Melia wasn't looking for trouble. She was willing to discuss the situation with this guy, despite the confrontation and the challenge. She was right of course: they all had the speaker's best interests at heart. Didn't they?

Then Melia made the mistake of looking over the shoulder of the testosterone fuelled youngster and directing her gaze at the stage. Her gaze drifted along the line of important men, and her blood ran suddenly cold. Abruptly, all at once, she knew she had no time to debate.

She grabbed her card back and elbowed the man out of the way. She hadn't got time for niceties.

"Where do you think - " he began again, gasping for breath.

"I need to report to my boss," she snapped testily, moving on, moving forward. Towards the stage.

Because that's where her boss was. Deputy Director Caulfield. He was sitting on a chair at the end of the line, her right.

She hadn't noticed him, first time. He was old, greying, slightly overweight. Pleased with himself in his expensive but slightly worn, more or less shiny suit. He didn't stand out. In fact, he looked completely at home, one of the team. Mr Stule's gang.

He damn well shouldn't be!

He was Richard Caulfield, and for the last few years he had been only a heartbeat away from being the commander of WSB, Britain's best and most efficient Security unit. He was an essential cog in the wheel of activity that kept ordinary citizens safe in their beds. Part of that deal was that he didn't get involved in politics. He was above all that.

But now, here he was, nailing his colours firmly to the mast of Beau Stule, the Business candidate.

How dare he? How could he? He knew the rules! Melia was thinking furiously.

Mr Stule was a controversial character. He had expressed views on immigration and race that would probably win endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan. Mr Stule had lived in the U.S.A. for a time, maybe he had picked up strands of their philosophy there. But back in this country, the newspapers were calling him 'the Ghengis Khan of Greater Manchester'. That wasn't a very flattering comparison. Mr Khan's family were probably furious.

And Caulfield? His position was even more delicate than it would usually be, due to the recent changes at the top of the Unit. The nominal head, Captain Gibson, had announced last month that he was about to go on Trial Retirement. Melia was baffled. She had never heard of such a thing, and though everyone else seemed to simply accept it, she secretly thought that the concept had been invented just for this occasion. The men in Whitehall, the civil servants at the heart of British government, knew that Gibson would never go willingly. He had said many times to his team that 'they would have to carry me out in a box'. So, since that was more of a last resort to the mandarins, maybe they had conceived this 'Trial' business as something that the old man might be persuaded to agree to, even if it made no logical sense.

For Melia and the other agents, it was a disaster. Not just that they had recently lost a guiding hand, the steadying hold of the Captain, a man who knew exactly what he was doing. But also they had gained the new controller, a fool who 'couldn't be relied upon to tie his shoe laces separately', as they used to say in the canteen.

Melia didn't know for sure, but she got the feeling that many of her colleagues were re-considering their positions. She wouldn't be surprised if some of them started putting in for transfer to other units. She had even entertained the thought herself.

Still, Caulfield was nominally the boss. Now. Right there, right then. Okay, she would ask him for orders, she decided. He was in charge? She would go to him, ask him what did he want her to do? What was his plan? His strategy, if he had one.

A hand touched her shoulder.

That was a mistake. She had whirled and flattened the guy before she had time to think. It was an automatic move. She was acting defensively. She had been trained to react. She did so. The man went down. He wouldn't be challenging her again.

She was still moving forward. The action had taken the rest of the Stule Defence Force by surprise. They hadn't seen what had happened, but the ones nearest the stage now saw this tall, impressive woman stalking along their line and they started to get nervous. They looked at each other. There was no one to organise them, give orders. They hesitated, then piled in.

Mr Stule wasn't completely oblivious. He saw some kind of fracas breaking out on his right, and he hit the microphone, calling for quiet. He knew that kind of thing played badly in the Press. He didn't want the journalists using it against him.

"Now, now," he boomed. "What's all the fuss, eh? What's the trouble? Surely we can talk about this."

Melia wasn't talking: she was punching. She'd cracked three or four noses, and there were bodies on the floor.

Still, they kept coming. There seemed an endless supply of reinforcements. She wasn't certain she could take them all.

"Stand down!" Beau Stule yelled. He meant it. "Stop!" he shouted, and his automatons hesitated.

Then a man got up from the table, hurried over and whispered in his ear. Stule looked at him. His name was Caulfield, he knew.

"Your operative, your problem," the candidate hissed at Caulfield, and turned back to the crowd. His strategy was clear: he would start talking, the audience would attend to him. Meanwhile, Caulfield could get down on the floor and rescue his agent.

"I am not going to apologise," Mr Stule started, and the crowd cheered. "We want out of Europe and into the future!" he told them. "We want our borders back and the visitors to leave. I'm not saying they are all rapists - "

"Out!" the audience yelled, waving arms, torches, phones, banners. They approved of every ill formed word and phrase.

"Out! Out!" they called, and their mood was vicious and virtuous at the same time. Their blood was up.

Melia, frozen in mid-fight, was surrounded by tough men, but they'd stopped attacking. There were following orders. They contained her now, wouldn't let her move but had given up approaching her. They were waiting for someone to arrive.

It was Mickey.

Melia didn't know whether to laugh or cry. But there he was, large as life and twice as handsome, pushing his way between the men in black. He stood in front of her and grinned at her. She wanted to kiss him, but didn't want to shock Mr Stule's troops more than she had done already. He was wearing a black sweater, she saw. Was he one of them now?

"You've been told," Mickey said loudly to the men. "The order is 'Stand Down'. I'll take care of this intruder."

The foot soldiers reluctantly returned to their former positions, grumbling, as if they hadn't done enough damage to be satisfied. They were looking at each other, but guiltily, out of the corners of their eyes. They weren't going to confront Mickey.

Mickey took Melia's elbow, in a non-committal way, partly forcefully and partly supportively. He nodded his head towards the stage. We'll go that way, he was indicating. Just play along. Do what I'm asking. Don't make trouble.

 

He found them a Dressing Room.

Melia could tell that was what it was being used for, as it had some chairs in front of make-up tables, the sort that had lights all the way round, like they had in theatres. But the room was on the side of the building, and had a window that looked out to the Bridgewater Hall, the concert venue across the road. Maybe it was simply storage space ordinarily.

"You believe in that maniac?" Melia snapped, as Mickey shut the door behind them.

He looked at her, appreciatively. She was a fine-looking woman. He admired her, her spirit, as well as her good looks.

Melia saw him looking at her, as if he was weighing her up. What right did he have to do that? He was the one who should be apologising! She hadn't heard from him - Damn, the list of her complaints could fill a private diary.

"I'm not here for him," Mickey said slowly, as if starting to explain. "I'm here for Caulfield."

"So am I!" Melia blurted, as if by that Mickey was meaning he was following orders. She was. She had been told to protect Stule, but it was an official command, from the agency, and Caulfield was in charge of the agency. For now.

"I'm shadowing Caulfield," Mickey went on, contradicting her thoughts. "He seems to have gone completely crazy."

Melia took a breath. She was stunned. She sat down in one of the chairs, back to the bright lights and the mirror.

What did that mean? Mickey wasn't working for WSB? Well, he could do that. Technically, being 'retired', he was free and able to takeany other job on offer. He was a Freelance, working for himself. He'd done plenty like it in the past, all sorts of employers.

"I'm working for Gibson," Mickey said, laying out the parameters.

It was a favour, he said. The Old Man was worried that Caulfield was going 'off message', and was taking this new populist movement seriously. It may have been some of the things he said; the former Deputy Director had talked admiringly of Stule and all that he stood for. Caulfield had shocked Directors' meetings in London, Gibson said. They were all worried.

"What have you found out?" Melia asked her ex-boyfriend carefully, feeling her way.

"He supports this guy," Mickey said. He was reluctant to talk ill of the feeble-minded, but it was his opinion.

That's when the door burst open.

What seemed like a dozen people crowded into the tiny room. At their head was a tall but overweight would-be politician. It was Beau Stule himself. He had come in for a brush-up and make-up repair. He sat down in front of a mirror.

Who's holding the stage? Melia wondered. She couldn't help herself: she said it out loud.

"It's a musical break," Stule snapped irritably. "Mandingo and The Darktown Strutters."

Apparently, he was describing two groups, each taking it in turns to play. Melia listened. Yes, the door was open and she could hear loud thumping, tinny sounds coming from the main hall. It was 'music', but not any that she would like.

Still, the names of the bands shocked her. They sounded like Rap artists, or maybe Soul musicians. Beau Stule hated black people, didn't he? That's what they said about him. Why would he - or his supporters - enjoy such garage sounds?

Close up, Mr Stule looked less healthy than from a distance. His skin was sallow. On stage, he seemed to glow with energy, but Melia could now see - as the make-up woman worked her magic - that it was mainly fake tan.

"Anyway," the big man said to Melia, "what are you doing here? Shouldn't you be out on the Women's March, or something?"

Melia baulked. Firstly, it was downright rude. Secondly, it was denigrating to women.

Thirdly, she hadn't realised such a thing was happening. She walked over to the window and looked out. Yes, there were banners down there, on the road, being held aloft by chanting, angry females.

Mr Stule did that: he inspired opposition.

"She works for me," a voice said, across the room.

Melia stared over. It was Caulfield, looking like he was trying to apologise, maybe explain and excuse.

"Get the hell out!" Stule barked. "I've told you before about interrupting. Stan, slam the door."

A man in a black sweater obediently hustled Caulfield out of the room. He slammed the door behind him, as ordered.

Melia gaped. She had never seen such bad behaviour. And so disrespectful. Say what you liked about Caulfield, he was Acting Director of WSB. Their little unit punched above its weight. It deserved a smidgeon of admiration

Stule was having none of it. He kept his face pointing at the mirror and his head up, but he couldn't stop giving orders.

"Madam," he said belligerently, "get that speech over here. I need to refresh my memory."

A small woman with tight blonde curls came bustling up to the great man's elbow. She had a clipboard in her hand. Evidently it had typed paper on the front, maybe the elements of the speech Stule was about to make, after the musicians finished.

He grunted, and she turned the page over. He grunted again.

"Nothing new," he purred. "I like it. Keep it coming, Madam."

Apparently 'Madam' was her first name. It was an unusual arrangement, but then, there was nothing 'usual' about any of this.

Mr Stule nodded his head and the clipboard was withdrawn. He had something else on his mind.

"Where's my opposition tonight?" he said belligerently.

"Nobody returned your invitation," the woman told him.

He looked even more annoyed. He had sent out a challenge to the other candidates to meet him on the platform and 'debate' the issues in front of the masses. Maybe some of them had realised that it would be Stule's home crowd, and the Business candidate would start with too much of an advantage. They would cheer every word he said, boo every statement of theirs. It wouldn't be worth the aggravation.

"Not even the Green candidate?" Stule said. "That pastey worm. I knew he was a total coward."

"He's passed," she informed her boss.

Mr Stule didn't pause for breath, launching into an impromptu diatribe against all Green policies and beliefs. That seemed a little unfair to Melia. She'd read about the Green candidate: he had dropped dead unexpectedly over Christmas.

Surely that was worth a little consideration? No. The Businessman's candidate had no time for the Green guy, dead or alive.

"Listen," Stule said, turning in his chair and disrupting the make-up artist's work, "You're in charge of Press Relations. You're my PR guru. What am I paying you for? You don't just write the speeches, girl. That's not it, at all. I want you to get out there and line up the Press. Every reporter, every journalist. I want them hanging on my every word. You got that?"

"Sure, Boss," she said, tried to grin, failed, turned and rushed out of the door without looking back.

Melia was suddenly aware of a silence in the room. It was packed, but not one man dared speak without their Leader's approval, it seemed. She scanned their faces. They were waiting for instructions, unable to move under their own volition.

Across from her, Mickey too stood mute. He had a small smile on his face, but whether that was for her, she didn't know.

"Okay, people," Stule boomed, "pick up your loins and let's get back out there. We got giants to slay!"

He stood, brushed himself down and stalked out, through a moil of hangers-on who did a good job of making way for him. They closed ranks in behind him, like an Honour Guard, and escorted him back to the stage. There was music. A fanfare.

Somebody came in the door. A young lady. That made three people in the room, counting Mickey and Melia. Everyone else had gone. Melia looked at Mickey. He seemed to know this new arrival. He greeted her with a friendly hug.

The girl looked to be a teenager. She was painfully thin, and straight up and down: she had no curves whatever. Her hair was long and coloured unnaturally white. He skin was pale too. She could have been a ghost.

"This is Titch," Mickey said, smiling happily. "She's working with me on this."

Melia looked questioningly. This girl was too young, surely. She would be completely inexperienced.

"She has specialist information," Mickey said. "She knows about Stule's new wife."

Ah, that spoke volumes, Melia was thinking.

Firstly, Mr Stule had been through a wife or two, and the latest was Number Three.

Secondly, she wasn't from round here. She was from Eastern Europe, by all accounts.

Thirdly, she had a chequered and unseemly past. Some gossips said she had been a lingerie model.

"She isn't Romanian," the girl said. "That's what they all say about her. It isn't accurate."

Melia nodded. The youngster had an Eastern accent. She could have been Romanian herself. Was she?

"I'm from Russia," the kid explained. "I've lived there all my life. I know the place. His new wife is Russian."

Melia gasped. That was a problem! Good Grief, a Russian wife in local politics? The woman could be a security threat!

"You seem very well informed," Melia said, trying to sound supportive. She wanted to be kind.

Mickey seemed to trust the youngster. He looked happy in her company. How long had they worked together?

"Titch is my daughter," Mickey said quietly, proudly, as if that explained everything.

Melia staggered back.

She felt as though she had been kicked in the stomach. How many years - How many days, months, years, had Mickey and Melia been together? How long - even when not 'together', they'd clearly been lovers, a couple, a relationship.

He couldn't think to mention this thing, something so big!

To Melia, the ground seemed to fall away from beneath her feet. She felt herself come back to the make-up table and she leaned on it for support. She found herself gasping for breath, as though the wind had been knocked out of her.

"We've only just found each other," Mickey said, smiling hugely. "After all these years - Well, I'd never known her, growing up. We've got a lot of years to make up, a lot of ground to cover. There's so much to learn about each other."

Melia bounced up and slid along the chairs, coming up against the wall. She knew she could burst into tears at any moment, and it was making her unsteady. Her confidence had deserted her. Mickey - whatever was he thinking?


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Mike Scantlebury comes from the South West England, he says, down in the Delta, but he moved at an early age to the industrial North West, where he started studying, examining the residents through a powerful microscope. Luckily, he knows how to take a joke, otherwise he would be the butt of local humour, not its champion. Now he's 'Mr Manchester', relaying stories of crime, mayhem and the triumph of the everyday. (His books don't have swearing. Yes, really.)

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Nearly a year ago now the USA had an election. Well, I'm not American and I know nothing about voting for a President. But we do have our own elections here in England, and it got me thinking: what if we were offered a Business candidate with no experience of politics?
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
I live and work in England. It's not my job to tell the rest of the world how to live. But, I've found, thinking about how we people here would tackle problems that happen in the rest of the world - like earthquakes, hurricanes and elections - makes us all realise how we are all human, deep down.
Q. Where can readers find out more about you?
A.
I would be happy to welcome readers to my website Salford.com or on my Amazon Author page. I could chat to you on Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. I'm also on YouTube if you want to see my face. I've got songs on iTunes too.

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Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
Resonance
When there is more music than meets the eye
Marta Cleans Up
Urban women’s fiction meets detective novel
Mirror Sacrifice
The lines between present and past will blur.