A Testament to Murder by Vivian Conroy
Today is my stop on the blog tour for A Testament to Murder and I am here today with an extract from the book!
Author: Vivian Conroy
Published: 18th February 2019
Add It: Amazon UK Goodreads.
Summary: Suspenseful from the first page to the last, A Testament to Murder is perfect for fans of And Then There Were None, Murder on the Orient Express, and Crooked House.
A dying billionaire. Nine would-be heirs. But only one will take the prize…
At the lush Villa Calypso on the French Riviera, a dying billionaire launches a devious plan: at midnight each day he appoints a new heir to his vast fortune. If he dies within 24 hours, that person takes it all. If not, their chance is gone forever.
Yet these are no ordinary beneficiaries, these men who crossed him, women who deceived him, and distant relations intent on reclaiming the family fortune. All are determined to lend death a hand and outwit their rivals in pursuit of the prize.
As tensions mount with every passing second, retired Scotland Yard investigator Jasper must stay two steps ahead of every player if he hopes to prevent the billionaire’s devious game from becoming a testament to murder…
For a moment Patty wondered if he enjoyed the idea that he was now a target, hunted. If he enjoyed the idea that he might die, soon, unexpectedly, instead of having to wait for his illness to kill him bit by bit, hour by hour, hollowing him out until he was but a shadow of a man. Maybe this whole inheritance game was Malcolm’s way of controlling even his own death?
Whatever it was, now it was time for her to retreat. She backed away silently. Earlier that evening as she and Hugh had come up from the eventful dinner and Hugh’s drinking spree afterwards, he had been unstable on his legs, teetering through the corridor. His shoulder had hit the curtain which hung there, and as it had swung inwards, Patty had realized it wasn’t covering a wall like she had expected, but hiding a niche. A perfect place for her to sneak into now.
She slipped behind the curtain and stood, her back pressed against the stone of the niche. Glancing down, she saw that her slippered feet barely fitted. The toes stuck out from underneath the curtain. Would one of the leaving men see that?
She held her breath, even closing her eyes, as if that would make her invisible. She heard voices, a door being shut. Then footfalls. They came closer to her hideout.
Sweat beaded her forehead.
The footfalls passed. The stairs creaked. That had to be the chauffeur going down again. The butler would probably assist Koning in taking Malcolm back to his bedroom.
She listened with all her strength, desperate to catch what was going on and to determine how much longer she would have to stand here with the cold of the stone seeping through her dressing gown into her very spine and her knees locked until they hurt.
Voices again, very soft. Then doors closing. That had to be Koning and the butler retiring. Now it was quiet. And the study was empty. The study with the painting behind which the safe lured her with a silent voice. Come and have a look at me. Can you strike it lucky and guess my combination in a single try?
Some combination that had meaning to Malcolm. A year? A date?
Her knees were so stiff now she could barely stay upright. She reached out a trembling hand to push the curtain aside and look down the corridor. Empty.
She stepped out just as a crack of thunder split the air overhead. Patty yelped and clapped both hands to her mouth as if she could take back the cry. It seemed to linger in the air that was now still again.
She rushed to the study door and opened it, ducked inside the room. She stood, pressing a hand to her throat and trying to ease her strained breathing. She was safe now. People could open their bedroom doors and look down the corridor, but wouldn’t see a thing. She was safe in here.
Patty went quickly to the wall with the painting, swung it aside and studied the safe. She tried to remember if Malcolm had spun the dial far or just a few clicks. He was an old man, and his memory had to be getting worse. What combination would he choose? Something he could easily remember because it had special meaning to him. He’d never commit the safe’s combination to paper, afraid someone would find it.
Patty tapped her fingers together staring at the safe which seemed to challenge her with its solid steel front. Behind that door was the most important information of her life. But how to get at it?
She reached out and touched the dial. It felt cold under her fingertips.
“You do realize you are leaving fingerprints?” a voice asked behind her.
Patty yelped again and drew back her hand as if she had burned herself. Spinning round, she saw Koning standing in the middle of the room. He was still fully dressed. Had he been watching her? Had he known she had looked in on the signing of the will? Had he realized she was hiding in the corridor, biding her time until she could enter and search for the will?
Patty tried to look innocent. “I’ve just never seen a safe behind a painting. How clever.” She smiled at him. “You must feel so lucky having this interesting assignment here.”
She bent her knee so her dressing gown fell open, revealing a shapely leg. She noticed Koning’s gaze flitted down at once. Dry lawyer, never near enticing females.
“You must have such an interesting life,” she cooed, moving to the desk and leaning on it, so her curves were shown to their best advantage. “Working for people who have all these eccentric ideas.”
“I can assure you that most clients are far less eccentric than Mr Bryce-Rutherford,” Koning said.
“Yes, Uncle Malcolm is really something special.” Patty reached up and ran her fingers through her hair which hung loose around her shoulders. Men seemed to like her hair. Hugh would often bury his face in it; he said it was just like a cloud upon his skin. Of course, he enjoyed such poetic nonsense.
Koning said, “What are you doing up in the middle of the night, Mrs Bryce-Rutherford?”
“It’s the storm,” Patty said. “I hate storms.” She put a childlike fear into her voice and wrapped her arms around her shoulders.
Koning came two steps closer. “There is nothing to be afraid of.”
A-ha. Some men wanted to conquer, others wanted to protect. Koning seemed to be of the latter kind.
Patty widened her eyes. “I had a very bad experience in a thunderstorm.”
Koning held her gaze. “Hiding under the duvet in your bed?” he asked in a cynical voice.
Patty lowered her arms in indignation. “No, when someone I loved had an accident.” She turned away from him, leaning her hands on the desk. The beating of the rain against the window conjured up the memory of raindrops washing across Leo’s face, running like tears down his cheeks. Moments before her arms had been wrapped safely around his waist as his motorcycle’s engine had growled louder than the thunder in the distance. Then a flash had illuminated the world, and the motorcycle had slipped away from under her. She had let go of Leo, trying to break her fall as she was thrown into the brush. Holding on to his prized possession, Leo hadn’t been so lucky. Hitting a stone wall, the motorcycle had bucked like a mustang, propelling Leo against a tree. There had been no damage to his handsome face. Nothing to indicate he had been hurt. She had waited for him to regain consciousness and scramble to his feet. But Leo had never walked again.
Her gaze wandered across the desk, absentmindedly registering what was on it. A pen knife, a paper weight, ink pot, pens and blotting paper. Books in leather binds.
A hand touched her shoulder. “I’m sorry,” Koning said softly. “That was tactless of me. Did the accident happen because of the storm?”
“Yes.” Patty moved her head so that her hair brushed Koning’s hand on her shoulder. “Storms make me angry. I want to get back at them, take back what I lost. But I can’t. They are forever more powerful than I will ever be.”
Patty reached out a hand and ran her finger over the sharp blade of the pen knife. “It will never stop hurting, will it?”
“Probably not,” Koning acknowledged. His fingers increased their pressure on her shoulder. For a moment there was something in the air between them that she found oddly solacing, as if he completely understood the concept of loss. She had never discussed Leo’s accident before. There had been no one to discuss it with. Now she needn’t tell the circumstances, not even mention a name. This man just understood.
“Why did you want to see the will?” Koning asked.
Patty stood very still. She could deny she had wanted to see the will, but that would sound silly. “I don’t really know,” she said in a breathless tone that was easy to fake as she really felt very insecure what to do next. “I guess I was just curious if Uncle Malcolm would really go through with it. I mean… If he does do what he told us over dinner, he will make himself a target for a murderer. What sane man would do that?”
She turned around, quickly, grabbing Koning’s gaze with her own. Widening her eyes, she asked in a whisper, “Do you think Uncle Malcolm is even sane, Mr Koning?”
They stood but a few inches away from each other. Patty could smell his aftershave and see the stubble on his chin which he’d have to shave off in the morning. His eyes which she had taken to be dark brown earlier now seemed lighter, almost amber, liquid honey.
“I think Mr Bryce-Rutherford is one of the sanest, shrewdest people I have ever met. He isn’t doing this on a whim. He is doing this because he has to.”
Patty stared into the eyes of the lawyer who seemed to know so much about this whole inheritance thing. It gave him an air of power that was magnetic. She opened her mouth a little, breathing out in a sigh, hoping his gaze would drop to her lips, betraying he was aware of her nearness. But his eyes never released their hold on hers, as if he was trying to search deep inside of her for some core of truth Patty wasn’t even sure she owned.
She backed away from him, but the desk was right behind her. She was trapped.
Koning said, “He has to do this to find out what his own family members are worth. Do you understand that?”
“No,” Patty said, not really knowing what she was saying. She just felt the edge of the desk press into her while the lawyer, seeming taller and broader than before, blocked her way out of the room.
She swallowed before whispering, “I never knew Uncle Malcolm cared about family.”
Koning smiled, a slow, almost sad smile that spread across his features like an oil stain on water. “This is more about family than anyone will ever understand.” He seemed to want to say more, then changed his mind. Turning away from her, he said, “You’d better go back to bed. You must be getting cold.”
Suddenly released from that amber stare, Patty felt almost bereaved. She stood in place, blinking her eyes, not certain what she should do next. “Can’t you tell me a little about Uncle Malcolm’s motives? If he did discuss them with you…”
“He didn’t explain himself to me, if that is what you mean. He isn’t a man who discusses things with people who are only needed to fulfil a task. Whether it’s the butler, the chauffeur or myself, we’re all just pawns in his little game. But I understand him. You might think his action eccentric; I think it makes more sense than most wills people make.”
Koning paced the room, moving his hands animatedly as he continued, “After all, what are wills usually based on? Duty? Splitting it all equally between your three children, because you feel you have to? Even though you never liked one of them, or that child only gave you grief?”
“You can disinherit that child,” Patty objected.
“Yes, but disinheriting someone is often regarded as an act of spite. What Mr Bryce-Rutherford is doing here is asking people how much they are willing to do to get it all. The inheritance as reward.”
“A reward for murder?” Patty asked, her voice thin. She still stood against the desk as contact with a solid object made her feel better. This whole exchange was like some bizarre dream.
Koning said, “A reward for getting away with murder.”
He halted and looked at her. “You see, if the person who eventually inherits it all, plays it in a smart way, he or she will not have to kill at all. The trick is to make sure another does the killing and you get the prize.”
“That sounds sick.”
“I rather think it sounds ingenious.” Koning rubbed his hands together. “And who knows, maybe no one will try to kill my client at all. They may all love him so much that his life is worth more to them than the fortune.”
“You don’t sound like you believe that yourself.”
Koning walked away from her and put the painting back in place in front of the safe. He turned to her and said with a scoff, “Mr Bryce-Rutherford is not exactly a likeable man.”
“Still you’re helping him, protecting him.” Patty straightened up. Moving away from the desk’s solid edge made her afraid, and fear made her daring. She held the lawyer’s gaze as she pulled the belt of her dressing gown tighter round her waist. “You are loyal to him. You would never ever tell me… what is in that will. Whose name he just wrote down. Would you?”
Koning drew breath. It sounded loud in the silent room. Outside rain pelted against the window, intensifying the intimacy of this dry, semi dark space. Patty didn’t dare make a move, lest it be the wrong one.
Koning said, “I cannot give you the name.”
The finality in his words struck her across the face, but at the same time she sensed there was some kind of deeper layer to it. She said softly, “You need not give me the name. You could just… give me a hint when it is the day when my name is in it. You could pass me in the morning and say something about the bougainvillea looking so lovely with its purple blooms. Then I’d know.”
“And you would kill him?” Koning asked, in a strange toneless voice.
Patty shook her head. “I would make sure somebody else believed it was their turn and they would do it for me. Like you just said, you need not kill to get it all.”
Koning held her gaze as if he was considering her offer. Then he laughed shortly. “Thank you, Mrs Bryce-Rutherford, for handing me the answer to a question I was asking myself. Has she really married that useless artist with his forever absent Muse for money? I tried to think better of you, but your present statements leave me no room for doubt. Yes, you married for money and you would do much more for money.”
“I did not marry for money,” Patty said. “You don’t understand at all.”
Koning raised both hands. “Spare me.” He brushed past her, his contempt as tangible as the cold draft on her face. “Good night. Don’t let the storm keep you awake.”
The door fell to a close behind his back.
“Brute!” Patty spat at the door and turned to the painting again. She felt like going through a hundred combinations, a thousand if she had to, just to get her hands on the will and show that arrogant lawyer she didn’t need him. But she realized it would be pointless. Uncle Malcolm was smart enough to know someone would try to get at the will. He would have chosen a clever combination, not something she could detect.
And even though she had never had a mind for figures, she did understand that trying random combinations wasn’t going to get her anywhere. Not this night, not even if she had an endless amount of nights to try.
She took a deep breath and admitted defeat. For now.
There had to be another way to find out who was mentioned in the will that day.
And she would find it.