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Authors: M.J. Hearle

Winter's Shadow

BOOK: Winter's Shadow
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Contents

M.J. Hearle became addicted to stories at an early age. After failing to kick the habit he eventually turned to dealing them himself.
Winter’s Shadow
is his first novel, and he’s currently working on the sequel.

First published 2011 in Pan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
1 Market Street, Sydney

Copyright © M.J. Hearle 2011

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.

National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication data:

Hearle, M. J.

Winter’s shadow / M. J. Hearle.

ISBN: 9780330404471 (pbk.)

A823.4

Typeset in 11.5/16 pt Golden Cockerel by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed in Australia by McPherson’s Printing Group

Papers used by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd are natural, recyclable products made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The manufacturing processes conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin.

These electronic editions published in 2011 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
1 Market Street, Sydney 2000

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced or transmitted, copied, stored, distributed or otherwise made available by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical) or by any means (photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise) without prior written permission from the publisher.

Winter’s Shadow

M. J. Hearle

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For Greta

Paris
August, 1878

Madeleine Bonnaire fled beneath the flickering street lamps of Rue Descartes. Victor was coming. She could no longer hear him but ran on, afraid of what she might see if she turned around – Victor lumbering through the darkness, breath fogging in the cold night air. Her husband was nothing if not persistent. It was how he’d first won her heart, and now Madeleine feared this persistence would drive him on until he caught her, and stopped its beat forever.

Ahead, the passage opened into a small market square. Squashed fruit and other refuse lay scattered across the cobblestones, left by the vendors who had long since closed up shop. A single street lamp glowed dully in the middle of the square. Madeleine stumbled into the weak circle of lamplight and placed one trembling hand
against the iron base for support. Gasping for breath, she tugged at her bodice, trying to relieve some of the pressure on her chest.

She spared a panicked glance back the way she’d just come. Mercifully, there was no sign of Victor, no heavy echoing footfalls. Still, she didn’t dare rest for long – especially with sanctuary so close. Madeleine could see the church spires of Saint Étienne looming over the Panthéon in the middle distance. Soon she would be hidden among the rest of the city’s unfortunates, safe from Victor. In the morning she would return home to find him sleeping off his rage. When he awoke there would be no mention of the ordeal he’d put her through tonight. Victor didn’t believe in apologies.

There was a demon inside him, a seething hatred that he barely managed to restrain at the best of times, and it took over completely once enough alcohol passed his lips. He’d kept it hidden from her in the beginning, but not long into their marriage it had started to manifest itself through the unnecessarily cruel words he’d use whenever she displeased him. He’d call her a ‘dull-eyed sow’ if she burnt his dinner or forgot to sweep the hearth, quick to remind her in sneering tones that were it not for him, she’d still be ‘whoring herself out’ on the stage. Bristling at having her theatrical past referred to this way, Madeleine tried to defend herself at first but this had made him angrier still. Seeing the black rage in her husband’s eyes scared her so badly she learned
to hold her tongue, instead praying that the demon lurking inside him would find another host.

Her prayers went unanswered and soon Victor’s cruelty bled into his fists. He would turn on her with the slightest provocation, face contorted into an animalistic snarl while he rained the blows down. When his lust for violence was not satisfied with a mere beating he removed his belt, the silver buckle gouging bloody tracks down her back.

She hadn’t let it progress to that stage tonight. Smelling the whisky on his breath and recognising the black look in his eye she’d fled to the street, but not before he’d managed to mark her.

Her hand stole absently to her cheek, still throbbing from Victor’s blow. Were it not for their infant son, Antoine, Victor would find himself waking up to a cold bed indefinitely. The child was her reward for enduring this torment. She returned for him, and him alone.

Madeleine started to move away from the lamp, pausing when something drew her eye to the rooftops opposite the square. A strange shadow or . . .

No, it wasn’t a shadow at all. What she first took to be a trick of the light, Madeleine now saw with astonishment was a man, dressed in a fine suit and hat. Though this in itself gave her reason to pause, what had drawn her attention wasn’t the man’s silhouette, but his eyes, which glowed a malevolent emerald in the darkness. She’d never seen such a colour before. Surely this unnerving effect was caused by some reflection from the moon,
or the city lamps? And what was he doing up there on the rooftop? Crouched like some bizarre stone gargoyle, the man continued to watch her.

Madeleine was so mystified by the dark watcher that she didn’t notice Victor’s shadow lurching across the cobblestones behind her.


Madeleine!

The apparition forgotten in her panic, Madeleine whirled around to see Victor charging towards her. His bloated face was red with the chase, his eyes bloodshot – the violent demon within made flesh.

With a startled cry, Madeleine managed to scramble away before he reached her, and ran through the square towards the mouth of the nearest alley. Her only thought was of putting as much distance as possible between herself and Victor, but in her haste she took a route that led her away from the safety of the church, and into an unfamiliar street. Realising her mistake, she tried to weave towards where she believed Saint Étienne’s to lie, but only succeeded in getting more lost.

Desperate now, she cried out for help to anyone who might listen, but there was no reply. Her frantic gaze searched the terraces on either side for a light or a sign that someone had heard her, but found only dark doorways and shuttered windows. She was completely alone.

Guided by the pale moonlight, Madeleine saw a narrow opening in the street ahead – a passageway that Victor might conceivably miss in his drunken pursuit. Throwing one last frightened glance behind her, she
turned into the passageway and ran headlong into a stranger’s startled embrace. The man caught her, laughing with surprise as Madeleine, still panicked, tore her wrists from his grasp.

‘Let go of me!’

He obeyed, allowing her to retreat from him. Once she realised it was not Victor, Madeleine sighed in relief.

‘Sir . . . please, my husband —’ She paused, frowning slightly. There was something about the man’s aspect, backlit by a distant street lamp, that looked familiar.

‘Yes?’ the stranger prompted, smiling slightly as though Madeleine’s confusion amused him. Madeleine took another step backwards as it dawned on her where she’d seen him before.

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