Read an Extract from The Black Sheep by Sophie McKenzie

Read an Extract from The Black Sheep by Sophie McKenzie

“The end of the first chapter of The Black Sheep brings together many of the main characters and sets up the central theme of the book. At this point – the very start of the book – Fran is at her husband’s memorial service. It’s immediately clear she’s struggling to cope with the fall out from his death, both on herself and her two young children. Her conflicting emotions – grief, resentment and a guilty desire to be free from the strictures of widowhood are explored and her reliance on her close knit and religious family established. She rebuffs a potential suitor, shocked at his timing, and is eager to get back to her children and relax with her cousin Dex, to whom she is as close as a sister and who shares her antipathy to the Catholic faith in which they were both brought up.

But before Fran can leave the memorial service a stranger arrives, dropping a bombshell into her ordered life and threatening the few elements of her existence which have not already been turned upside down by her husband’s murder…” – Sophie McKenzie

Heart sinking, thinking it was Simon again, I turned.

‘Francesca?’ Dad materialized in front of me. ‘They’ve laid out some food in the memorial hall. Shall we go back inside?’

Eating was the last thing I felt like doing, but I let Dad take my arm, bracing myself as we returned to the hall. Two large tables had been set up at the end of the room, each one covered with a white cloth and a selection of silver platters containing meats and salads. A waiter offered me a glass of white wine. I took a sip. It was warm.

A moment later I was hugging Caspian’s parents who were keen for me to meet various guests. I spent the next fifteen minutes shaking hands and accepting condolences from people who clearly had only known Caspian as a child or very briefly and superficially as an adult.

It was exhausting and I was grateful when Lucy whispered in Dad’s ear that I was tired and he, in turn, drew Caspian’s mother to one side and said in his usual forceful manner that he was going to take me home in a few minutes. Such protective actions were typical of them both – indeed Dad’s overprotectiveness had driven me mad when I was younger and rebelling against his Catholic strictures – and though there had been many times over the past year when I’d felt overwhelmed, even suffocated, by their attempts to look after me, right now I was grateful.

I caught sight of Simon Pinner again, edging towards me past a table laden with bread rolls, and I hurried off to the ladies. I took my time, emerging a few minutes later with a fresh layer of make-up. Simon, thankfully, was nowhere to be seen. I headed over to the long coat rail to the right of the exit, intending to get my coat and make my goodbyes. As I ran my hand over the rough wool jackets hanging from the rail a male voice said my name.

Heart sinking, thinking it was Simon again, I turned.

The tall man with the narrow face I’d noticed earlier was standing in front of me.

‘Hello,’ I said, bracing myself. Was this another colleague of Caspian’s?

My heart lurched into my mouth. ‘What are you saying?’

‘Harry Dunbar,’ the man said, holding out his hand. He had a flat-vowelled Manchester accent. ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’

I smiled as I shook. There was an endearing intensity about the man. He was better looking than I’d realized too: not in Dex’s league, but his eyes were a deep chocolate brown and there was a masculine elegance to the slope of his nose and the curve of his cheekbones.

‘Did you know Caspian?’ I asked.

‘No, not really.’ Harry hesitated. ‘Well…we met at a conference a year ago, just before he…that conference in Paris.’

I nodded, remembering. ‘It was the last trip Caspian did,’ I said.

‘I know.’ Harry hesitated again. ‘Look, I’m sorry turning up like this but I’ve been abroad for work and I didn’t know Caspian had died until I read about the memorial service in the hospital newsletter a couple of weeks ago.’

‘Oh.’ I gazed at him. ‘Are you another gynaecologist?’

‘No.’ Harry smiled and the effect transformed his face, making him seem almost mischievous. ‘I’m a sales rep for a small company…Devora Pharmaceuticals. Look, that doesn’t matter.’ His face grew solemn again. ‘Truth is that I hardly knew your husband, but I had to come here today to let you know what he told me.’

‘Sorry?’ Most of the room was hidden from view by the coat rail. I could see Dad out of the corner of my eye. He was looking around, presumably for me. ‘Sorry, I’m not sure what—’

The chatter in the room whirled around us. I kept my gaze on Harry’s soft brown eyes. ‘Why…why would you say that?’

‘Caspian and I met in the bar of the conference hotel,’ Harry interrupted. He looked awkward now, his forehead creased with a frown. ‘We were in a group, drinking, then the two of us got talking, then…then Caspian said something. He was tired, a bit drunk. His guard was down. I guessed from what everyone said that you had – have – no idea…’

My heart lurched into my mouth. ‘What are you saying?’

‘I’m saying that my understanding is that everyone including the police think your husband got caught up in a random knife attack, a mugging gone wrong or something.’

‘Yes, but—’

‘It wasn’t random. At least, I don’t think it was.’

The chatter in the room whirled around us. I kept my gaze on Harry’s soft brown eyes. ‘Why…why would you say that?’

‘No one was ever caught, were they?’

‘No.’ The police’s investigation had stalled early on thanks to the lack of witnesses and DNA evidence. A hooded man had been seen on CCTV getting into a stolen Vauxhall Astra on the next street shortly after the stabbing but he’d never been identified and the car had never been found, though a burnt-out Astra – number plates removed – was discovered in an Essex wood two weeks later. ‘Why are you saying it wasn’t a random attack? Whoever it was stole all the cash from Caspian’s wallet.’

‘Yeah, I read that. Murdered for £150. That was the headline, wasn’t it?’

I nodded, wincing at the memory. ‘Why do you think different?’

‘Because your husband told me in that bar he was being threatened.’

Threatened?’

‘He hadn’t said anything to you because he didn’t want to worry you, but sometimes we tell strangers things and he told me he thought his life was in danger.’ Harry paused.

‘What else?’ I asked, sensing he was holding something back.

‘He said that the threats were coming from someone specific.’ Harry held my gaze. ‘From someone close to you both.’