‘So you went off to war instead. Makes sense.’

‘Sometimes things don’t work out the way you think,’ Ben said. ‘It just happened that way. Now I’ve come full circle. The time is right for me. They let me back in to finish my course. One year to go, then I can start thinking about entering the Church, just like I’d planned years ago.’ He slapped his hands on his knees. ‘So that’s it.’

Charlie was staring at him in disbelief. ‘You’re kidding me. You’re winding me up.’

‘I’m serious.’

‘This just doesn’t seem like you. I still have this image of you – that time with the tank, in the desert? We were pinned under fire, you only had three rounds left. I’ve never seen anything like it. Guys in the regiment, guys who never met you, still talk about it -’

‘Well, I don’t want to talk about it,’ Ben said, cutting him off. ‘Whatever I did in the past, whatever I was or wanted to be, that’s finished. I’m tired, Charlie. I’m thirty-eight years old and all I’ve ever known is violence and killing. I want a life of peace.’

‘A dog collar and a little cottage, with a Bible in your hand.’

Ben nodded. ‘That’s it. About as far away from the past as I can get.’

‘I can’t see it.’

‘Maybe I’ll surprise you.’

‘I should have waited a while,’ Charlie said. He laughed. ‘You could have married us.’

They hadn’t noticed Rhonda striding across the lawn towards them. They stood up as she approached. She was tall and slender, with reddish hair that looked as though she’d coloured it with henna. She had a stud in her nose. A bohemian kind of look that contrasted with the high heels and the expensive dress she was wearing. She was pretty, but Ben thought he could see a hardened look behind the eyes. There was suspicion in them as Charlie introduced her to him.

‘Heard all about you,’ she said, looking him up and down. ‘Major Benedict Hope. The wild one. I know all the stories. Really impressed.’

‘I’m not Major Hope. I’m just Ben. Forget the stories.’

‘Well, Ben, I suppose you’re here to talk my husband into joining you on some -’

‘I invited him here,’ Charlie said. ‘Remember?’

She looked up hotly at Ben. ‘I don’t want him getting mixed up in anything dangerous.’

‘I’m the last person who would get him into any kind of danger,’ Ben said. ‘You can trust me on that.’

She snorted. ‘Yeah, right. Now, can I have my husband back, please? And someone over there wants to meet you.’

Ben followed the direction of her pointing finger and his gaze landed on a stunningly attractive woman standing over by the marquee. She was waving coyly, smiling in their direction.

‘That’s Mandy Latham,’ Rhonda said. ‘Her parents own half of Shropshire. Deliciously nouveau riche – even worse than my lot. Winters at Verbier, drives a Lambo. She’s been asking me who the gorgeous, tall, blond, blue- eyed guy with Charlie is.’

‘He’s going to be a priest,’ Charlie said.

‘Why don’t you go and ask her to dance?’ Rhonda snapped at Ben.

‘Rhonda -,’ Charlie started.

‘I don’t dance,’ Ben said. He smiled at Charlie. ‘Nice party. See you around.’ He walked away.

‘You’ll phone me, then?’ Charlie called after him.

Ben didn’t answer him. He made his way back across the lawn, placed his empty glass on the table at the marquee. He looked at his watch. Mandy Latham approached him, slinky in a shimmering blue silk dress that matched her shining eyes. ‘Hi,’ she said tentatively. ‘I’m Mandy. Were you really Charlie’s commanding officer in the SAS?’

‘You shouldn’t believe everything you hear,’ Ben said. ‘Great to meet you, Mandy. I have to go now.’

He left her staring after him as he walked away.

Chapter Five

Summertown, Oxford

That afternoon

Professor Tom Bradbury shut the front door behind him, put down his old briefcase and laid his car keys on the oak stand in the hall next to the vase of flowers.

The house was quiet. He hadn’t expected it to be. Zoe should be home today, and her presence was always made noticeable by the hard rock soundtrack that she insisted on blaring at full volume from the living-room hi- fi.

Bradbury wandered through to the airy kitchen. The patio windows were open, and the scents of the garden were wafting through the room. Remembering the half-finished bottle of Pinot Grigio from the night before, he opened the fridge. Inside was a freshly prepared dish of chocolate mousse, Zoe’s favourite pudding, which her mother always prepared for her visits home.

He tutted and poured himself a glass of the chilled wine. Sipping it, he stepped out into the garden and saw his wife Jane kneeling at the flower-beds, a tray of brightly coloured annuals beside her.

‘You’re back early,’ she said, looking up and smiling.

‘Where is she?’

‘Not here yet.’

‘I thought it was quiet. Expected she’d have got in by now.’

Jane Bradbury stabbed her trowel in the ground, stood up with a grunt and dusted the earth off her hands. ‘That looks good,’ she said, noticing his glass. He passed it to her and she took a sip and smacked her lips. ‘I wouldn’t worry about it,’ she said. ‘You know what she’s like. She probably stopped off to stay with some friend in London.’

‘Why couldn’t she just come straight here? She’s always with some friend or other. We hardly ever see her.’

‘She’s not a child any more, Tom. She’s twenty-six years old.’

‘Then why does she act like one?’

‘She’ll call. Probably turn up tomorrow like the bad penny.’

‘You indulge her too much,’ he said irritably. ‘You’ve even prepared her favourite pudding.’

His wife smiled. ‘You indulge her as much as I do.’

Bradbury turned towards the house. ‘The least she could do is bloody well let us know where she is.’

Chapter Six

The Island of Paxos, Greece

The third day

Zoe Bradbury woke up with a gasp. The first thing she was aware of was the strong sunlight in her face, making her blink. She tried to focus, but her vision was hazy. Where was she?

After a minute the cloudiness melted away and things were clearer. She was in a bedroom. Was it hers? She couldn’t remember, and that was the strangest realisation.

She was lying on a bare mattress, a rumpled sheet draped over her. She sat up in the bed and suddenly felt the sharp pain cutting through her side. She winced and clutched at her ribs. It felt as though one was cracked. Her head was on fire and her mouth was dry. She looked down at her palms. They were scuffed and tender, as though she’d landed heavily and put her hands out to protect herself.

Flashes. Bright lights. Sounds. Places and people. It was all there in her mind, but jumbled and obscure, all

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