Discover the pulse-pounding new novel from the inimitable queen of crime and number one bestseller, Val McDermid…

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If Kathryn McCormick had known she had less than three weeks to live, she might have made more of an effort to enjoy Suzanne’s wedding. But instead she had adopted her usual attitude of resigned disappointment, trying not to look too disconsolate as she stared at the other guests dancing as if nobody was watching.

It was just like every day at work. Kathryn was always the outsider there too. Even though the title of office manager wielded very little in the way of actual authority, it was enough to set her apart from everyone else. Kathryn always felt that when she walked into the kitchenette to make herself a coffee, whatever conversation had been going on either stopped altogether or swerved away from the confidential to the inconsequential.

Really, it had been stupid to think today would have been any different. She’d once seen a quote that had stuck with her – the definition of insanity was, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By that standard, she was definitely insane. Sitting on the fringes of a wedding reception on a Saturday night but expecting to be at the centre of conversation and laughter fell smack bang at the core of repetitive behaviour that never produced anything but entirely predictable failure.

Kathryn sneaked a look at her watch. The dancing had only been going for half an hour. But felt like a lot longer. Nikki from accounts, hips gyrating like a pole dancer, opposite Ginger Gerry, slack- jawed with delight. Anya, Lynne, Mags and Triona in a neat shamrock formation, elbows tucked in, bodies twitching and heads bobbing to the beat. Emily and Oli, feet shuffling in sync, eyes locked, grinning at each other like idiots. Idiots who would probably be going home together at the end of the night.

She could barely remember the last time she’d had sex. She’d split up with Niall over three years ago. But it still stung like a razor cut. He’d walked into the house one evening, the sharp sour smell of lager on his breath, a faint sheen of sweat on his skin. ‘I’ve been headhunted for a job in Cardiff. Running my own design team,’ he’d said, his excitement impossible to miss.

‘That’s great, babe.’ Kathryn had slid off the stool at the breakfast bar, throwing her arms around him, trying to stifle the voice in her head shouting, ‘Cardiff? What the fuck am I going to do in Cardiff?’

‘Big salary increase too,’ Niall said, his body curiously still, not responding to the hug.

‘Wow! When are we moving, then?’

He disentangled himself. Kathryn’s stomach clenched. ‘That’s the thing, Kath.’ He looked at his feet. ‘I want to go by myself.’

The words didn’t make any sense. ‘What do you mean, by yourself? You’re just going to come home at weekends? That’s mad, I can get a job down there, I’ve got transferrable skills.’

He took a step back. ‘No. Look, there’s no good way of saying this . . . I’m not happy and I haven’t been for a while and I think this is the best way for both of us. For me to move away, start again. We can both start again.’

And that had been that. Well, not quite. There had been tears and shouting and she’d cut the crotches out of all his Calvin Kleins, but he’d gone anyway. She’d lost her man and she’d lost her dignity and she’d lost her home because half the lovely terraced house in her favourite Bradfield suburb had been Niall’s and he’d insisted they sell it. So now she lived in a boxy little flat in a 1960s block too close to where they’d lived together. It had been a mistake to move somewhere so near the place she’d been happy, the house she had to walk past to get to the tram stop every morning. She’d tried making a ten- minute detour to avoid it, but that had been worse. An even sharper slap in the face, somehow. Every now and then, the couple who had bought the house emerged as she walked past and they’d give her a little wave and an embarrassed half- smile.

Since then, Kathryn had made a few tentative attempts at getting back to dating. She’d signed up for an online dating site and swiped her way through dozens of possibles. When she pictured herself standing next to them, none of them seemed remotely credible. One of Niall’s old workmates had texted her and invited her out for dinner. It hadn’t gone well. He’d clearly thought she’d be up for a pity fuck, and had been less than happy when she’d told him to sod off. At her cousin’s fortieth, she’d hooked up with a sweet lad from Northern Ireland. They’d ended up in bed together, but it hadn’t exactly been a raging success and he’d escaped back to Belfast with a broken promise to call her.

That had probably been the last time she’d had sex. Fifteen months ago. And this was supposed to be her sexual prime. Kathryn stifled a sigh and took another swig from her glass of Sauvignon Blanc. She had to stop feeling so sorry for herself. All the magazines she’d ever read were agreed on that point – nothing was a bigger turn- off for a man than self- pity.

‘Is someone sitting here?’ A man’s voice. Deep and warm.

Kathryn started and jerked round. Standing with his hand on the back of the chair next to her was a stranger. A not bad- looking stranger, she noted automatically even as she stammered, ‘No. I mean, they were but they’re not now.’ Kathryn was used to sizing up potential clients. Not quite six feet tall, she thought. Thirty- something. Mid- brown hair with a few silver strands at the temples. Full, well- shaped eyebrows over pale blue eyes that crinkled when he smiled. Like now. His nose looked a bit thick around the bridge, as if it had been broken at some point and poorly set. His smile revealed slightly crooked teeth, but it was an engaging smile nevertheless.

He sat down beside her. Suit trousers, brilliant white shirt with the top button undone, blue silk tie loosened. His fingernails were square and manicured, his shave close and his haircut crisp. She liked a man who took care of his grooming. Niall had always been meticulous that way. ‘I’m David,’ he said. ‘Are you with the bride or the groom?’

‘I work with Suzanne,’ she said. ‘I’m Kathryn. With a y.’ She had no idea why she’d said that.

‘Nice to meet you, Kathryn with a y.’ There was amusement there, but not in a piss- taking way, she thought.

‘Are you a friend of Ed, then?’

‘I know him from the five- a- side footie.’

Kathryn giggled. ‘The best man milked that in his speech.’

‘Didn’t he, though.’ He cleared his throat. ‘I noticed you sitting here by yourself. I thought you might like some company?’

‘I don’t mind my own company,’ she said, regretting the words as soon as they were spoken. ‘But don’t get me wrong,

it’s really lovely to meet you.’

‘I don’t mind my own company either, but sometimes it’s nice to talk to an attractive woman.’ That smile again. ‘I’m guessing you don’t much like dancing? So I’m not going to suggest we strut our stuff on the dance floor.’

‘No, I’m not much of a dancer.’

‘I’m a bit fed up with the music. I prefer conversation, myself. Do you fancy going through to the bar? It’s quieter there, we can talk without having to shout at each other.’

Kathryn couldn’t quite believe it. OK, he wasn’t exactly George Clooney, but he was clean and polite and attractive and, extraordinary though it seemed, he was acting like he was interested in her. ‘Good idea,’ she said, pushing back her chair and getting to her feet.

As they weaved through the tables to the ballroom door, the man who called himself David cupped her elbow in his hand in a solicitous gesture. Kathryn McCormick’s killer was nothing if not solicitous.

Insidious Intent is now available to pre-order.