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Say Your Prayers: Chapter 1

Chapter 1

“Please, no. Oh God. No more. Please.”

Excited by her pleading, he pounded his fists into her face. He craved release, but couldn’t give in. Not yet. Not while she could defile him. Only when her swollen lids meant she could no longer see did he allow himself to take her throat between his hands and free her soul.

He waited for her death throes to pass, then relaxed his grip and moved down the bed to suck and caress her breasts. His heart pounded. Now. He had to move now before it was too late. Shifting position, he straddled her body. Arching his back, he emptied his hatred onto her breasts.

Shuddering, he slid from the bed and fell to the floor.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “So sorry, so sorry, so…”

His throat constricted. As tears flowed, he screamed. Thrashing wildly, he knocked against the chair holding the woman’s clothes. Her tights fell across his neck and he panicked, clawing himself free.

Fucking whore!

“God forgive me,” he sobbed. “She made me. Forgive me, God. Forgive me.”

Crawling to the corner cupboard, he opened the door and reached for the scourge. He braced himself, then flicked the nine-tailed lash, the tiny spiked ends digging into his flesh.

Each strike lifted him closer to purity, until he collapsed. Exhausted, he slept.

He woke at first light, ready for the next stage. Filling a bowl with water, he brought it to the bed, then scraped under each of the woman’s nails before washing most of her body in the warm water. He swabbed above and below her breasts, careful not to disturb his gift, the sign of her salvation. From under the bed he brought out a small black leather casket. He removed a fine-toothed comb and ran it through her pubic hair, placing the loose hairs in the envelope he’d already marked with a number four.

***

Detective Inspector Paolo Sterling hunched deeper into his sheepskin. The cold suited his mood. A biting wind, typical for the dying days of February, gusted across the front of the criminal courts and played havoc with the press microphones. One of the reporters dropped his dictaphone. It bounced once before landing in the gutter. A spasm of disgust crossed his face as he reached down and brought it up, dripping with sludge. For the first time that day, Paolo felt like smiling. He didn’t like reporters, and that one in particular enjoyed knocking the police.

He couldn’t understand why the press considered it was okay to have a go at the people trying to put criminals away. Lowlife cons had more rights than their victims. He tried to contain his anger but he was too mad at the world in general, and justice in particular.

Paolo and his Detective Sergeant, Dave Johnson, stepped back to allow the solicitor and Frank Azzopardi to pass. The reporters began yelling questions, each determined to be heard. Matthew Roberts stood beside his client, waiting for the noise to abate.

“Seems the bastard’s got away with it, sir,” Dave whispered.

Paolo turned his head slightly to answer; the icy wind was making his eyes water. “Yeah, that tends to happen when the only witness disappears, particularly when she’s also the victim. Ssh, let’s hear what Roberts has to say.”

“My client, Frank Azzopardi, a well-respected businessman, has been the victim of yet another effort by the police to improve their conviction rates. He has been unfairly targeted, accused of attempted murder and grievous bodily harm, yet not one witness to the alleged attack has come forward. Even the supposed victim hasn’t felt it worth her while to follow up on her original statement. We have been told today that the Crown Prosecution Service cannot find sufficient evidence to bring the case to trial and that all charges against Mr Azzopardi have been dropped. We shall be making a complaint about the harassment he has suffered at the hands of an overzealous police force. Depending on the outcome of that complaint, we will consider our legal options. That is all, we have no further comment.”

Paolo knew they were most probably too far away for Roberts and the reporters to hear him, but he lowered his voice just in case.

“I could’ve written that speech for him,” he said. “He’s like Pavlov’s bloody dog. See a camera – badmouth the police.”

They made an incongruous pair, the Maltese pimp and his legal representative. Matthew Roberts dressed with a quiet elegance at complete odds with his client’s flamboyant attire. It was easy to see why Roberts made female heads turn: tall and good-looking, he exuded confidence and charm.  Azzopardi was only a few inches shorter, but a swarthy complexion, shiny black hair and flashy designer clothes made him look almost a caricature of his companion.

Roberts and Azzopardi had a close friendship that went all the way back to their shared schooldays. As a teenager in the same school, Paolo had once wanted to be part of Matthew Roberts’ inner circle, but even back then he’d loathed Azzopardi. Now the less he had to do with his former classmates the better, but with Roberts representing Azzopardi it was impossible not to run up against both of them.

The two walked away, the reporters at their heels still calling out questions.

Paolo sighed as they passed. “I’ll get that bastard one day. We’d best try and track down our missing witness.”

They walked towards Dave’s car, Paolo silently running through the possibilities of what might have happened to Lisa Boxer, until Dave interrupted his thoughts.

“Do you reckon Roberts believes all that guff he spouts?” he asked, patting his pockets until he located his car keys. “I mean he can’t really be stupid enough to think you’d try to frame Azzopardi just to get a conviction, can he?”

Paolo wondered if Dave was questioning his integrity. They hadn’t been partners long enough to establish any kind of rapport yet, so he wasn’t sure what the younger man thought, especially as the case predated Dave joining the team.

“I don’t know what goes through his head. Maybe he just likes being on the box. I feel as though I can’t switch the set on without Mr Smooth spouting police corruption.” Paolo changed his voice to imitate the cultured tones of Matthew Roberts. “It is my belief the police couldn’t find their own stations without a map. They are incompetent.”

He waited until Dave stopped laughing. “All I know is, I had Azzopardi this time and I let him slip away. I should’ve insisted on protection for Lisa Boxer, but I didn’t. On the other hand, she might have done a runner. Prostitutes don’t like dealing with the police, not even when we’re on the same side.”

They got in the car and Dave manoeuvred it away from the kerb, edging smoothly into the Bradchester traffic.

“How come you never clean this garbage heap?” Paolo asked, kicking around to move empty Coke cans, burger wrappings and newspapers so that he had somewhere to put his feet.

“I never have time, sir. Maybe I should get myself a girlfriend.”

Paolo grunted. “Fat chance of that. You know what they call you back at the station?”

“Of course. Tomcat. I love ’em and I leave ’em. But I bet I could still get one of them to clean the car if I put my mind to it.”

“Sorry to ruin your daydreams, but we’re living in the twenty-first century, not the dark ages, or haven’t you noticed?”

“No! Are we really?” Dave asked, laughing in a way that irritated Paolo even more than his crass comments.

Paolo allowed his mind to wander until Dave’s next question caught his attention.

“So you believe Azzopardi did it, sir? I mean he says he didn’t, and his alibi seems pretty good. The girlfriend’s not budging, and we don’t have anything on him other than the prostitute’s story.” He paused. “What made you believe her, anyway?

Paolo fumbled in his pocket, bringing out his cigarettes. He shook one out and held it halfway to his lips. “I saw her in hospital after she’d been beaten,” he said, his voice hardened as he remembered. “There wasn’t a part of her that wasn’t bruised.”

Paolo fell silent, remembering the way Lisa had barely been able to move without crying out.

“You really think the girlfriend was ready to perjure herself?”

Paolo sighed. “Maria Vassallo has been Azzopardi’s girlfriend since she was fifteen. She’d say the sky was black at midday if he wanted her to, then hotfoot it to confession straight afterwards to wash her soul clean.”

“So why did he do it? I mean, why would he get his own hands dirty?”

“I think it was meant as a warning to the Albanians to stay off his turf.” He raised his lighter and lit the cigarette, then dragged the smoke deep into his lungs. “Azzopardi only took over his uncle’s empire a few years back; he’s got no intention of letting anyone else in. As for why he did it himself, I know for a fact he likes to slap the girls around. His Maria has carried the odd bruise.”

“Then why has Lisa Boxer disappeared just when we needed her to convince the CPS? D’you have to smoke? The car stinks for days afterwards,” Dave said, opening the car window.

The sudden rush of cold air hit Paolo like a physical blow. “Christ, you trying to give us both pneumonia? Close the window, for God’s sake. This car stinks whether I smoke or not.” He took another drag on his cigarette, then opened his window just enough to let the smoke out. “I agree with you, it doesn’t add up, which is why we’re going to pay a visit to Miss Boxer.”

The car moved steadily through the Bradchester streets. Paolo closed his eyes, uninterested in the change of scenery as they travelled away from the affluent detached properties that ringed the centre of town and headed towards the council estates on the outskirts. The thought of a man like Frank Azzopardi getting away with anything stuck in his gullet, but his real contempt he kept for Matthew Roberts. How Roberts could bring himself to represent someone like Azzopardi was beyond him. Even though he’d known both men for more than twenty-five years, he still didn’t get it. Strange how just recently he’d been running into people he’d gone to school with…

Paolo’s phone rang, bringing him back to the present.

“Sterling. Okay, where? Right, about fifteen minutes. Yep, we’re on our way.”

He put the phone back in his pocket. “Seems like our chat with Lisa Boxer will have to wait. Turn around when you can; we’re heading to Gallows Heath. Remember just after you’d joined the team, they found a woman’s body that looked like a lump of butcher’s meat?” At Dave’s nod, Paolo continued. “They’ve found another one.”

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Reviews of D. I. Sterling series

Chilling but amazing

Oh my goodness, what an opening!! Lorraine certainly knows how to write a gripping thriller. This book was chilling but amazing.

Reviewer

Consistent and gripping

Fast paced, twists and turns, did not want to put it down. Same characters that we know. Cannot wait for the 6th … the series is consistent and gripping

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Vivid and realistic storytelling

Reading ‘Love Me Tender’ felt like being on a very unpredictable rollercoaster ride with more twists and turns to it than you could possibly count. I felt as though I was part of the story and that’s all thanks to Lorraine’s very vivid and realistic storytelling. For me, ‘Love Me Tender’ is a tightly plotted and gripping read that held my attention throughout and which kept me on the edge of my seat.

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Twists and turns by the dozen

Great addition to the series. Twists and turns by the dozen. Fast paced, all plots unravelled and tidied up by the last page. I cannot wait for the next instalment.

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Everything I want

From start to finish this book kept me fully engrossed. It had everything that I want in a crime thriller to keep me hooked. Mystery, murder, torture, intrigue and a well thought out plotline.

Reviewer

I really, really enjoyed this novel

This is my first foray into the DI Sterling series and I must admit that I am going to hunt down and consume the rest because I really, really enjoyed this novel. Not reading any of the other books in the series had little impact, rather the relationships between characters are so well constructed that I am eager to read the earlier novels to see how they have developed and grown.

Reviewer

Kept me guessing

I was warned that reading the first few pages would make me squirm and I did! Another Great story and characters. Kept me guessing to the end, I really had no idea who would turn out to be the villain. I like the way the characters are developing and look forward to the next book. Recommended.

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Edge of your seat

This is the fourth book in the D.I. Paolo Sterling series. Yet again Lorraine Mace keeps you on the edge of your seat, trying to guess the perpetrator. This is another fast, well plotted read.

Reviewer

Intense

Whilst this story was not as dark as the previous two in this series, it felt more intense. As DI Sterling investigated the case, he kept hitting brick wall after brick wall and you could sense he was up against the clock the catch the killer. The use of insulin was a unique weapon of choice and I learnt that something that would save lives would kill others horrifically.

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Already a huge fan

I’m already a huge fan of DI Paolo Sterling mysteries but I think this is my favourite book in the series so far!

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Beautifully written page-turner

This was a fascinating and beautifully written page-turner, with believable, interesting and sympathetic characters. The author has avoided the character cliches, and created an exciting and frighteningly credible plot. I couldn’t put this down until I’d finished it. Also very impressed with the excellent pace and the tight ending.

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Fast-paced gripping read

I couldn’t put this book down. A fast-paced gripping read with a credible plot and authentic characters. It had me hooked until the end and I can’t wait to read more of Lorraine’s books.

Reviewer

Highly recommended

Great read from this author. Gripping tale, good characters. Highly recommended.

Reviewer

Right down to the nitty gritty

This is the second in the D.I. Sterling series, written by the brilliant Lorraine Mace. Her books lure you in from the first page and get right down to the nitty gritty from the start. They are not for the faint hearted, certainly not cosy reading, but well written for anyone who enjoys a good crime novel.

Reviewer

Brilliantly written

Brilliantly written and fast paced, loved this book. I’m hooked on this fantastic author!

Reviewer

Compelling crime novel

This is a well conceived and compelling crime novel that deals sympathetically with an unsympathetic investigation. I liked the honesty and authenticity at the heart of this book, helped greatly by a new kind of lead detective who carries with him an air of being a true gentleman.

Reviewer

Gripped me

This is an edge-of-the-seat crime thriller, starring Di Paolo Stirling, which gripped me right to the end. Lorraine Mace certainly knows how to keep you hooked!

Reviewer

I was hooked

From page 1 I was hooked! Mace certainly knows how to employ a shock tactic or two… This was one of those un-put-downable, gripping, read-in-one-sitting crime novels from an author who is evidently Queen of the red herrings.

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Loved this book so much!

I loved this book so much! My first with Paolo Sterling but definitely not my last.

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Well thought out plot

Well thought out plot, lots of red herrings to keep you guessing pretty much to the end and a lead character that, although he has his flaws, you are rooting for.

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great British crime drama

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, and I can’t wait to start the next book in the series!

The Northern Witch’s Book Blog

excellent police procedural

This book kept me hooked and at one point I was convinced up to 4 different people could be the killer!

Books and Emma

could not put my kindle down while reading this!

It isn’t very often that I just know I’m gonna fall in love with a series halfway through the first book!

Feed the Crime

Wonderfully dark crime procedural

it’s a hidden gem of a perfect crime novel

Radzy Writes and Reviews

kept me guessing right until the end

Every time I thought I had it figured out, another spanner was thrown in the works and all my amateur detective work was thrown out the window!

K T Robson Reviews

Retriever of Souls is a wonderfully crafted novel

It’s filled with all sorts of twists and turns that not only kept me hooked till the last page but also made me excited for the next installment in the series.

Off the Record

A first class crime novel

Retriever of Souls is sinister, menacing and jam-packed with jaw dropping twists and turns …

Bookish Jottings

Instantly engaging

D.I. Paolo Sterling is instantly engaging – Children in Chains is a dark, gripping and unflinching read.

Louise Phillips, winner of the Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year, longlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library Award for her entire body of work.

Unflinching plots

Delve into the dark side. Well-constructed with unflinching plots.  Satisfying enough for the most discerning crime reader.

Ruth Dugdall, winner of the CWA Debut Dagger Award and author of best-selling psychological crime.

Compelling

Gripping, fast-paced crime fiction with a compelling central character. Fans of Karin Slaughter and Tess Gerritsen will love Lorraine Mace.

Sheila Bugler, author of the DI Ellen Kelly series.

Compulsive reading

Fast-paced and compulsive reading with tension ratcheted to the max. D.I. Paolo Sterling’s humanity is tested by gut-wrenching crimes and damaged killers. Fans of Mo Hayder should love this series.

Chris Curran, author of psychological thrillers

Gritty and gripping

A gritty and positively compelling crime novel

Colette McCormick, author of Ribbons in Her Hair.

Gut-wrenching thriller

‘A visceral, no-punches-pulled, gut-wrenching thriller. A disturbing and gripping tale of child prostitution, and the tragic detective Paolo Sterling dealing with the heartache of his own daughter’s sexual assault. Crime Noir at its darkest’ 

Caroline Dunford, A Death in the Family 

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