The first page of the first chapter… Lucky Portbraddon, which will be available in September!

There was a severed dog’s head stuck on the gatepost.

There’d been a few seconds pause in the driving snow and in those few seconds, lit by their headlights, Ismène glimpsed the wolf-like creature, maw gaping, tongue lolling, teeth bared in one final gory snarl. Then the blizzard obliterated the stone beast and everything else in a seething maelstrom.

“Oh my god, James, I thought for a moment it was a real dog’s head -”

But he was saying something else about the road, about nearly being there and then they were sliding sideways down a steep incline. He was fighting to keep control and Ismène was shouting ‘jesusohjesusohjesus,’ bracing herself against the seat.

The car stalled and stopped and there was only the sound of the CD playing.

“There’s a pond,” and James pointed down the slope into a dizzying maze of swirling clumps of snow dancing in the headlights.

 Ismène tried to be calm. She was tired and a little nervous about meeting James’s family at their grandmother’s house, Slake Hall; she was not at all sure that Christmas was the best time to be introduced to all her lover’s relations… And she was seriously spooked by the grotesque sight she’d seen as they turned into the drive.

“Well, be careful, James, it’s too cold for a swim.”

“Obviously I’ll be bloody careful!” James snapped.

Don’t get stroppy with me, it’s not my bloody fault, but she said nothing. He tried to start the car and it lurched a couple of feet further down the slope

Trying not to panic, she asked how big the pond was but he didn’t reply. He started the car, slamming it roughly into reverse and hit the accelerator. The wheels spun, the engine raced and they slithered towards the invisible pond and Ismène shrieked.

“Oh for God’s sake!” James shouted, as frightened as she was. “Instead of screaming get out and push the fucking car.”

Why don’t you, you’re bigger and stronger than me? Her two hundred quid boots weren’t designed to wade through snowdrifts but she looked for her coat then realised… it was in the boot. This was a nightmare.

“Let’s get our coats and walk.”

“Are you mad?” He was afraid, but bloody hell, so was she!

It struck her that six weeks was not a long time to really know someone; she and James might seem like soul mates but actually…

“James, I can’t push the car. I’m not strong enough and it’s treacherous out there… the car could go right over me.”

“So we’ll just fucking sit here, will we?”

“Don’t get angry with me, darling, this is really dangerous…”

He apologised and gave a tight, scared smile and tried to restart the car more gently. The engine turned over and caught but as he released the brake, trying to hold it on the clutch, the back end slewed and they slid sideways.

The car tipped, righted itself with a bump and stalled.

“We’ll walk, leave the car and walk,” James said, his voice thick with fear. “I’ll get the coats. Stay here.”

Beyond the windows, misted with condensation the snow seemed solid, a physical, malevolent entity driven by the wind and a freezing Siberian blast, howled in as he opened the door bringing snow streaming in.

If only Ismène had dressed in something warmer, something other than silky black trousers and a thin cashmere sweater. She’d dressed to meet James’s family; she knew nothing about them and had imagined stepping from the car straight into the house.

James wrenched her door open; he shouted that the boot was stuck, he was going to… The car moved, the wind shrieked and James disappeared.

 Ismène tumbled out into the biting wind; flecks of ice stung like sand and she was almost blind. James was on the ground, struggling in the deep snow and, holding onto the door, she grabbed his hand. The car shifted again and they both fell.

James was shouting something but the wind swallowed his words. On hands and feet they slipped and scrambled up the bank. Creeping along the main roads, Ismène had described it as a white-out, now it was a grey-out, the light leaving what had been the day.

James pulled her upright and for a moment they clung together. He started to say something, but there was a sudden tremendous buffeting gust and they tumbled into a drift. She floundered in the snow, blinded and lost, screaming his name. Her mouth was full of snow but she knew he must have slid down towards the pond! The pond!

My other novels are available here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

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