doubt. A hitman. Fucking wet work. And Jake was the bloody target.

It wasn’t entirely a surprise. She knew what Jake had done. She knew the kinds of enemies he must have made. And she knew that, in part, she was responsible.

Her first instinct was to try to intervene. But even as she was considering her options, the scene changed. The man pushed himself away from the doorframe and stood back. Two more figures appeared, dragging Jake, still naked, between them. Jake was half-resisting, half-falling. He’d been hit already, blood pouring from a cut in his temple, streaming down his pale face.

She moved back slowly, pressing herself against the balcony railing, keeping out of their line of sight as they manhandled Jake into the living room. Three of them. All pros. She could tell. She’d met people in that line of work. They were a type. Cold, calm, methodical to the point of compulsion. Psychopaths who’d found their vocation.

Her handbag, with her mobile inside, was on the floor by the patio chair. She eased herself forwards, moving as silently as possible. Inside the room, the men had thrown Jake on to the couch. He lay, crumpled, his hands clutched to his groin, blood now smeared across his chest. He looked semi-conscious.

She reached the handbag, pulled it to her, and began to fumble inside for her phone.

At that moment, the balcony was flooded with light.

She looked up, startled, momentarily dazzled. The balcony floodlights were operated from a panel of switches alongside the interior lights. One of the men had hit the lights for the living room and inadvertently turned on the external lamps at the same time.

She stood, caught in the high beam, conscious that at any moment one of the men might look in her direction. There was no time.

She backed to the balcony railing. It was only the second floor. She paused, trying to envisage the layout of the apartment block. There was another identical balcony immediately below. If she could reach that, it ought to be feasible to lower herself further and drop to the ground below. It was possible, she thought. She hoped.

Throwing the handbag around her neck, she hoisted herself up on to the railing. As she did so, one of the men looked up, his attention caught by her movement in his peripheral vision. She heard him shout something, but didn’t wait to find out what.

She hung for a moment on the outside of the railing, then began to slide down, her feet desperately flailing for the top of the railing below. A drainpipe running down between the two floors gave another half-handhold, but she could barely cling on. Above, she could hear the window being dragged back.

She found her footing on the lower railing, paused for a breath, and then, clinging helplessly to the drainpipe, half-dropped, half-slid down again, her hands clutching for the top of the railing where her feet had been resting a moment before. She grasped it, and her fingers sliding agonizingly down the metal rails, lowered herself to the bottom of the lower balcony. From above, she could hear whispering voices, but could make out no words.

Hanging from the lower balcony, she twisted her neck to look down. Her feet were perhaps four or five feet above the ground. She realized with relief that she was hanging above one of the decorative flower beds that surrounded the building; a softer landing than the concrete that stretched away elsewhere.

She released her grip and dropped, landing and slipping awkwardly on the soft earth. She was momentarily winded, but was up and running almost immediately. Her car was parked on the street at the rear of the building. Even if the men had set off immediately, she should reach it before they could.

She pounded hard along the pathway, thanking Christ that she was wearing her low winter boots. Even so, she almost lost her footing on the slick paved surface as she turned the corner.

Her little Toyota was a hundred yards or so ahead, tucked into a row of other parked cars. She had her handbag open as she ran, struggling to find her keys. She glanced over her shoulder. The main doors of the apartment block were open. One of the men was peering out, maybe three or four hundred yards behind her.

She reached the car and pulled out the keys at more or less the same moment, thumbing open the central locking. Then she was in and starting the engine.

She looked in the rear-view mirror as the engine roared into life. As she pulled out into the road, she could see the man, still a long way behind. He’d halted in the doorway, aware that there was no point now in trying to pursue her.

She kept her foot down as she headed along the quays, the roads empty at this time of the night, passing between the lines of silent shops, restaurants, hotels, offices. The lights out on to Trafford Road were on red, but she didn’t slow, hoping to Christ that no late-night patrol car was lurking nearby. Moments later, still with no other traffic around, she reached the roundabout and took a sharp left, her foot hard to the floor.

Once she was on the motorway, she finally relaxed enough to look in the mirror. There were no cars behind her. Breathing more slowly now, she pulled off at the next junction, taking a right and following the road round until she saw the massive complex of Salford Royal Hospital on her right. A good place to stop, she thought. In a hospital, people would be coming and going at all hours of the night. Her car wouldn’t be conspicuous.

She took another right and entered the hospital grounds, following the signs to one of the visitors’ car parks, pulling in among a small scattering of other cars. She paused for a moment to gather her wits, the panic finally subsiding, then dug out her mobile. She couldn’t use the formal channels, couldn’t reveal that she’d been in Jake’s flat. She dialled 999 and gave a false name, reporting a break-in and serious assault at Jake’s address. Her number was withheld, so there’d be no clue to her identity showing up on the operator’s caller ID. She answered the questions as briefly as she could, trying to give nothing away. No, she didn’t know what was happening, she was just a passer-by, didn’t want to get involved. Then, feeling guilty at her own impotence, she ended the call.

It was all she could have done, but she felt no confidence that her call had been taken seriously. Then somewhere behind, in the heart of the city, she heard the rising wail of a police siren. Maybe they were already answering the call. Maybe.

She could feel her training kicking in, leading her through the ramifications of all this. Someone had taken out a contract on Jake. She could easily guess why and probably even who. But the real question was how. How had they known? And where did that leave her?

She tracked back through her movements of the previous evening, working out whether she’d left any sign of her presence, anything that would allow her to be identified. She’d taken her clothes, her bag, her mobile. There was nothing else, other than her DNA. No one was likely to make the link, unless she’d already been compromised.

The other question was whether the man had seen her car registration. She thought not. It was dark, she was pulling out from between parked cars, he was a long way away. But she couldn’t be sure. If he had, she was a dead woman already.

Shit. The professional part of her mind was grinding through its dispassionate gears. But the other part of her brain was silently screaming. Jake. Jake lying naked, crouched at the feet of three professional fucking assassins. Jake with blood already pouring from him. Jake, her lover only hours before. Jake.

It was possible she’d frightened them off. They might have left the job unfinished. The police might have turned up in time. Any fucking thing might have happened.

But it wouldn’t have. She knew that. They were pros. They always finished the job. They didn’t leave witnesses. They got what they wanted.

And they’d got Jake.

Part One

Summer: Preparation

Chapter 1

She was looking for her car when she noticed the moving van on the far side of the car park. Going too fast,

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