A Deadly Game - Joanne Griffiths


Prologue

Wiping the condensation off the bathroom mirror with the sleeve of her shirt, Kate Palmer stared at her reflection for a few seconds before letting out a deep sigh. She didn’t like what she saw – her eyes were puffy and bloodshot from where she had been crying and an angry-looking spot was about to erupt on her chin.
She attempted to apply a fresh coat of mascara but once again she felt the tears begin to well, spilling hot and warm down her cheeks. Taking a wad of used tissue from her pocket, she quickly dabbed at her eyes before blowing her nose on the rapidly disintegrating bundle.
‘How could I have been so stupid?’ she muttered to herself. It was a question that she had asked repeatedly over the last few days. In her wildest dreams, she had never expected her life to turn out like this.
Kate was a bright, talented artist, with a promising future ahead of her. She was popular amongst both her tutors and peers at the university she attended, due to her warm, friendly, easy-going nature. Despite this, Kate was often plagued by deep-seated insecurities, lacking self-confidence in both herself and her abilities. Not that anyone would have guessed, mind; she was very good at hiding her feelings from those around her.
Looking back, her insecurities had probably stemmed from a period of relentless teasing during her early teenage years – her acne, her braces, her flat chest – all considered fair game by the boys in her year. However, by the age of fifteen, she had started to blossom and her natural beauty began to shine through. Her insecurities still lingered though and Kate’s last year at school was a difficult one, not helped by the breakdown of her relationship with her father.
Her father.
She thought about him for a minute.
They had what could only be described as a strained relationship and hadn’t been close for some time now. Over the years they had had some pretty heated arguments as Kate tried to assert her independence whilst her father tried to assert his authority, laying down the rules he expected her to abide by. Her poor mum would often find herself stuck in the middle, trying to appease both sides, yet failing miserably.
It was not a happy time for any of them and so it was with some relief all round that Kate had chosen to move into the halls of residence at the start of her first year at university, rather than commute, as her father had originally wanted. Although he would never admit it, Kate knew it had been the right decision for all of them. Still, things change, and now all she longed for was the security of home, for the days where there was no pressure, no financial worries and no responsibilities.
Just thinking about home caused another fresh wave of tears and she let out a loud sob as the enormity of her situation played out before her. Kate knew she had messed things up this time, knew her father wouldn’t be happy when he found out. She could already imagine the look of disappointment in his eyes and it hurt that she had let him down. Trying to control her sobs, Kate placed the mascara she was holding on the edge of the sink and pulled off some fresh toilet tissue to mop up the tears.
Why had it all gone so wrong?
Kate had had so many hopes when she first arrived on campus at BCU and had enjoyed her first year – making new friends, going to parties, nightclubs and the student bar. Birmingham was so different to Alvechurch, the village where she had spent most of her childhood, and she loved it. That all changed though, once she had finished her first year of study. She could no longer stay in the halls of residence, and had to look for student accommodation away from the hustle and bustle of the campus.
It would probably have been easier if Kate had taken up the offer to house share with some of her fellow students, but she was determined to have her own space. She soon found herself a small, one-bedroom flat on a run-down housing estate in Newtown, a short bus journey away from the Perry Barr campus. The flat had come fully furnished, although the furniture had clearly seen better days, and whilst the decor was not to her taste, she knew that she would soon have it feeling like home.
It was a lot harder than she had imagined. Permanent work that fitted in with her studies was hard to come by and, even though she had access to student loans, paying the rent, the utilities, buying groceries, as well as paying her university fees and buying course materials, was a struggle. Before she knew it, Kate had found herself in a situation that was spiralling out of control.
She had finally made up her mind though. Tomorrow, Kate would call her mum, tell her that she had decided to drop out of uni and wanted to come back home – at least until after Christmas – then she could figure out what to do next. She just hoped her mum would understand, or at least support her decision. It would make facing her father that bit easier, knowing her mum was on her side.
Wiping her eyes one last time, Kate picked up the mascara again and carefully applied a final layer, hoping that no one would notice she had been crying. Another quick touch of powder to her cheeks, a coat of lipstick and a final brush of her hair, then Kate was ready to leave. She would sort it all out tomorrow and, while she would never be able to tell her parents everything, right now, more than ever, she just wanted to be back home with her family.

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