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A Abduction
At what point do you abandon hope?
An idyllic summer’s day, a children’s birthday party and a simple, innocent game
of Hide and Seek.
What should be the happiest of occasions for
the Bryson family turns into their worst nightmare as three year old Grace disappears
from their own garden, devastating the family and changing their lives forever.
But fourteen years later when her sister Elise sees a young woman in a
department store she becomes convinced that it is Grace. How can Elise, heavily
pregnant with her first child, convince her family and the police that she is
not mistaken? Could Grace still be alive and if so, where has she been since
disappearing, and what really happened on that summer afternoon fourteen years


Chapter 1
Elise McDonald, April 2014

I always believed that I would recognise her when I saw her again. To me it was a
certainty; simply a matter of time and today was the day. Grace was not ten
yards away from me and the family likeness was unmistakable; high cheekbones, a
rather too long aquiline nose, wide-set blue eyes and full lips, features which
left absolutely no doubt in my mind that this was my sister. Her proximity
caused my heart to beat faster, and my palms were clammy in spite of the air
conditioning in the department store. Grace was oblivious to my scrutiny, idly
examining a rack of overpriced jeans which seemed to have caught her attention.
Moving to a better vantage point beside a full length mirror, I could continue
to stare at her reflection without being seen. She had the same hairstyle I had
favoured at that age, long honey blonde hair, poker straight with a thick
fringe almost touching her eyes, quite uncanny really. Suddenly Grace began to
move, setting off with a purpose which brought panic to my already nervous
mind. I could not let her disappear again yet I had no plan, no idea of how, or
even if I should approach her. Following in a pathetic zig zag pattern I
touched the racks of clothes as I passed, feigning an interest. Grace left the
clothing department heading for the escalator, which forced me to quicken my
step to keep her within sight. She was leaving the store; if I let her get out
into the busy mall I might lose track of her altogether but I was still
undecided about whether to make an approach or not. My legs were trembling and
my breathing erratic as I almost ran to catch up before she reached the door.
Still without a clue what to say I intercepted her as she paused to examine a
new brand of perfume, spraying the fragrance liberally on her wrist.
‘Hi.’ I forced myself to smile trying to sound casual. ‘It’s Grace,
isn’t it?’
‘No, sorry you’ve got the wrong person.’ The girl returned my smile with
a youthful, innocent face which almost undid my resolve. It was like looking at
a pleasing blend of my mother and me but Grace obviously could not see it. I
wanted to blurt out that she was my long lost sister even if she didn’t know
it. But I would be accused of being a mad woman targeting a teenager, for what
would she be now, almost seventeen? And I had not seen her since she was
three… but I knew it was Grace.
‘Excuse me.’ She smiled again, a soft gentle expression, patiently
waiting for me to move. Still blocking the exit, I searched frantically for
some way to delay this young woman, to find out more about her but I could
think of nothing that didn’t smack of desperation. Mercifully fate decided to
solve the dilemma and the baby within me suddenly kicked, causing a sharp pain
beneath my ribs. An audible gasp escaped my lips as my hand went to my swollen
‘Are you all right? Can I do anything?’ The polite smile was replaced by
genuine concern and the moment passed but I seized the opportunity.
‘Perhaps if I could sit down for a while?’
‘Of course, there’s a bench just outside the door, can I help you
Allowing Grace to take my bag, light
though it was, we left the store together. When we were seated on the bench she
anxiously asked,
‘Any better?’ Her voice was soft and gentle, almost melodic.
‘Yes, much better thank you. It’s a boy and I’m sure he’s wearing
football boots already.’
lit up Grace’s whole face and it was all I could do to stop myself from
flinging my arms around her in a futile attempt to make up for those lost
years. Politely she asked how much longer it was until the baby was due and I
replied that it was only six weeks.
‘Well, if there’s nothing more I
can do I’d better go.’
An icy panic gripped me, having hoped
for more time, time to quiz this girl about her life, her memories, her
address. But why should she want to spend time with a stranger?
‘Oh but you’ve been so kind, can I give you a lift home perhaps?’
‘Thanks but I live out of town in Carlton Wells.’ Grace stood to leave.
‘I’ll happily take you, it’s not far.’ Please don’t let me sound too desperate.
‘Actually I’m going to meet my dad first. He’s a doctor at the Central
Health Centre but thanks for the offer.’
My brain was working overtime, and trying
to sound casual I asked,
‘It’s not Doctor Carter, is it?’ I had no idea of any of the doctors who
worked there and had plucked the name from thin air.
‘No, it’s Doctor Solomon and I’m Jane by the way.’
‘And I’m Elise. It’s been lovely to meet you, Jane, and thank you so
much for your help.’ With a name and a vague location I could relax and let
Jane Solomon leave before her suspicions were aroused. I watched the slender,
lithe body moving fluidly at a fast pace, bag flung casually over her left
shoulder. Resisting the urge to call her back, I blew my nose and blinked back
the tears from my eyes. She was alive! I had always known it in my heart and
never given up hope, even when the rest of my family had. And now there was no
doubt in my mind that this beautiful teenager was my lost sister, Grace.
Closing the front door behind me, I dropped my bag on the hall table and
shrugged out of my coat. Getting home safely was nothing short of a miracle; I
couldn’t actually remember the journey and must have driven automatically, from
memory. With legs still weak and trembling hands I filled the kettle to make
coffee. Simon would be home soon and I couldn’t wait to tell him the news. The
kitchen was cold so I headed to the lounge, turning the thermostat up in the
hall as I passed through. The lounge was one of the few rooms we had
refurbished since moving into this lovely old Victorian terraced house. Its
most attractive feature was the pretty French windows at the end of the room
which gave a view of the garden, allowing light to flood in and fill the room
with warmth. Hours of work had been rewarded when we uncovered the original
cast iron fireplace, hidden beneath a hideous wooden structure, cobbled roughly
together and badly painted in a treacly olive green. We replaced the cornice
and picture rails too, the originals having been ripped out, and Simon spent
several weekends burning thick layers of paint off the window frames and doors.
The finished result was a warm, welcoming room, light and airy, decorated sympathetically
and furnished with a huge sofa and two matching armchairs. It was the sofa into
which I nestled, seeking warmth and comfort and tucking my cold feet underneath
the over-stuffed cushions. Absentmindedly stirring the milky drink, my brain
began to process the afternoon’s events and form some kind of plan for the next
move; for there was no doubt in my mind that there must be a plan. Grace
appeared to be a happy, well-adjusted young woman but she was still my sister
whom I wanted back more than anything else in the world. Memories of past hurt
replayed in my brain, dancing with hopeful thoughts of a future which could now
include Grace. Sitting motionless, lost in a jumble of thoughts and
possibilities, I gazed onto the garden. It was the end of March and the
daffodils stood like sentinels in the cold black earth. Buds were tentatively
showing themselves on the trees with signs of blossom coaxed out by the weak
sunshine. Spring, the season of new birth, of hope and my hope knew no bounds
now that I had found Grace.
The sound of a key turning in the front door brought me back to reality.
The mug of coffee stood on the table, cold with a milky skin floating on the
surface. Simon entered the room, kissing me and then patting my bump as always.
‘How are my lovely wife and son
‘I found her, Simon, I found Grace!’
Simon held my gaze for only a moment
but long enough for me to see the pity in his eyes before he looked away,
‘That’s impossible, Elise, what you saw was someone who resembled Grace,
or perhaps in some way reminded you of her. But she’s dead, we both know that.’
‘That’s exactly my point, we don’t know that! They never found her,
alive or dead. But she’s very much alive, Simon, and such a beautiful young woman
and she lives just outside the city, at Carlton Wells.’
‘Did you approach her?’ Simon’s tone was slightly accusatory.
‘Of course I did! I wasn’t going to let her walk out of my life for a
second time was I? Oh, don’t look at me like that. I was very guarded with what
I said.’ As I began to describe every detail of the afternoon, Simon listened,
expressionless and only spoke when I had exhausted every last detail.
‘Elise.’ An almost patronising tone gave an edge to his voice, igniting
anger somewhere deep within me. ‘This girl may have reminded you of your sister
or even yourself at that age. Realistically though, the chances of this
actually being Grace are virtually nil. You’re vulnerable at the moment,
hormonal with the baby coming and everything. Please, try not to get your hopes
up, it won’t do any good.’
‘How can I not get my hopes up when I know it was Grace, I was there and
spoke with her!’
‘Darling, it’s nearly fourteen years since she disappeared, how can you
possibly know for certain when the last time you saw her was on her third
birthday? Look, I’m going up to get changed now and if you’ve no plans for
dinner perhaps we could go out?’ Simon dropped another kiss on the top of my
head and left the lounge. Subject closed. He might just as well have patted my
head and said, ‘there, there!’ I was left thoroughly frustrated. Back in the
kitchen I tipped the coffee down the sink and rinsed the mug. Simon’s concern
was genuine, I knew, but I’d hoped for some measure of support, not a lecture,
kindly though it may have been. I had pictured an evening of planning, working
out some kind of strategy together but it was not to be and I reluctantly
followed my husband upstairs to change for dinner.
We had been eating out a couple of evenings each week of late, taking
advantage of our freedom before our son was born. After the birth we wouldn’t
have many people to turn to for babysitters. My parents had moved to France a
couple of years ago and Simon’s family lived on the south coast which was great
for holidays but totally impractical for babysitting duties as we lived in
Leeds. Our first port of call for help with the baby would be Aunt Bea, my
mother’s sister, to whom I had always been close. She and Uncle Peter had no
children of their own and Grace and I had been their only nieces which made for
a strong bond between us, particularly since Mum and Dad had moved away.
Managing to avoid the subject of Grace during our meal was difficult as
my mind was constantly active, debating what to do next. It was clear that
Simon was not going to help so perhaps a visit to Aunt Bea would be in order
the following morning.
‘You’re anywhere but here with me, Elise. I don’t need to ask what’s on
your mind, do I?’ Simon was right, I was in a strange mood, somewhere between
reflective and pensive, a mood underpinned by a seed of hope rising within me.
‘Sorry, love, you’re right. I simply can’t get Grace out of my mind.’
‘I understand, but promise me that you won’t do anything without talking
it over with me first?’
‘Okay, I promise. Perhaps I’ll visit Bea tomorrow to talk it over with
her.’ I wanted to be transparent with my husband even though he was convinced
Grace was dead. He raised an eyebrow and a look of concern spread across his
‘If you’re looking for an ally, again that’s understandable. By all
means talk it over with Bea and perhaps she can assure you that this girl can’t
possibly be Grace.’
It would be a lie if I said that Simon’s reaction didn’t disappoint me.
Was it too much to expect some support, or encouragement? In all the
conversations we ever had about Grace over the years, I had assumed that he
shared my opinion that she was still alive, out there somewhere, waiting to be
found. With hindsight I could see now that he had never actually believed me, I
had made an assumption, a leap which seemed credible since he always listened
and comforted me. Simon was right, however, in that I was seeking an ally,
desperately wanting someone to believe that Jane Solomon was in fact Grace
Bryson, my sister.
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Gillian Jackson