He helped you move on… Until you discovered what he did. Louisa Adams has done her best to hold herself together in the years since she lost her husband in a car accident. But each morning she wakes up alone is more painful than the last. She hopes moving into the crumbling seaside guest house her daughter just bought in Devon will help put what’s left of her broken family back together… There, Louisa is offered a final chance to save her career by writing an article on a local sand artist, Isaac. Except, when he turns to greet her – tall, handsome and weather-worn – something about him feels disturbingly familiar. Why, when he looks into her eyes, does she feel like he knows exactly who she is and everything she’s been through? As they explore the rugged coastline’s hidden coves together – living and laughing like she never thought she would again – Louisa is fascinated by this man who creates beautiful sculptures on the shoreline, but deep down she knows he’s keeping a secret from her. The discovery of a charcoal scribble in one of his sketchbooks linking him to the death of her husband, confirms her deepest fear. Is she ready for what he will tell her, and will letting him in rip her family and her heart apart all over again? A heartbreaking, page-turning and completely unforgettable family drama you will read in one sitting. Perfect for anyone who loves Amanda Prowse, Kerry Fisher and Jodi Picoult. Everyone is talking about After the Crash : ‘ Wow, this was such an amazing, gripping, emotional and heartbreaking read… I absolutely loved this story.’ Page Turners – Book Reviews by Caroline, 5 stars ‘ Absolutely fantastic… a beautiful, addictive and heartwarming book that will stay with you for a long time.’ Book Worm 86, 5 stars ‘So emotionally intense that at times you are gripping the sides of your comfy chair… will also pull at your heartstrings… one powerful book that needs to be put on your must-read list… filled with emotional rollercoasters… My heart was pounding fast! ’ Heidi Lynn’s Book Reviews, 5 stars ‘ Absolutely fantastic… a beautiful, addictive and heartwarming book that will stay with you for a long time.’ Book Worm 86, 5 stars ‘ Will stay in your mind long after you’ve read the last page.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars ‘ Puts tears in your eyes and hope in your heart... I absolutely loved the story.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars ‘A brilliantly addictive read… a very worthy five+ stars from me.’ NetGalley reviewer, 5 stars ‘I lost myself in the story… I could almost smell the sea air… powerful… thought provoking and emotional.’ Goodreads reviewer ‘ What. A. Book… perfect… kept me glued from beginning to end. Even when I had to do my chores… filled to the brim with suspense and emotions… I had to know how the book ended. Addictive and captivating.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
Release date: March 16, 2021
Print pages: 350
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
After the Crash
I push the thought to one side. Whatever the beautiful countryside around Marwood Holt had been in the past, it certainly isn’t home now – but I promised myself there’d be no comparisons, no longing for what my life had been before. This is different, that’s all.
I’m perched at the top of a whitewashed building among a jumble of crooked, narrow streets, where everything and everyone jostles for space. There isn’t a spare inch to be found, at least not in the town anyway. Atop the cliffs the land is beautiful, wild and free, although sadly barren of my beloved trees, but down here, beside the bay, the place will be teeming with life again in a matter of moments once the rain blows away. It never seems to stop moving, as continual as the tide itself.
I’ve never lived by the sea before. Or with my daughter and son-in-law. But then the last eighteen months have seen a series of firsts. Being widowed for one. I lift my chin a little, fighting back the tears that threaten; no more, there’s been enough already. It’s just the change that’s bringing them back, I know that. Once things are a bit more settled, I’ll be fine.
I return my attention to the room, to the bed where I’ve been sitting and my suitcase that stands beside it. It holds the last of my things to be unpacked and, once they are, I will be fully installed as a guest of the Lobster Pot, its first incidentally. I have a bed-sitting room that doubles as my study and, just through the connecting door, a tiny bathroom, which is all I need for now. I’ve even managed to bring one or two pieces of furniture with me from my old home, things I couldn’t bear to be parted from. What was left, those things that didn’t need to be sold, have gone into storage until such time as I can retrieve them.
A soft knock sounds at the door. I know it’s Robin. Leah had to dash out earlier to pick up some materials she’d ordered for the hotel. She looks tired, as if she’s been doing too much, or hasn’t been sleeping. It worries me, but she’ll only think I’m fussing if I mention it.
‘I thought you could do with a bit of something to keep you going,’ says Robin as I open the door. He’s balancing a cup of tea and a plate of sandwiches in his hands. ‘Breakfast was hours ago.’
I smile, feeling instantly a little guilty. He’s been so kind, bringing me regular cups of tea that he really hasn’t got time to make, and trying to ensure that I eat something. I haven’t the heart to tell him that I don’t have much of an appetite. It’s a reminder to ask Leah what she’d like me to do about food while I’m here. After all, it’s not like I’m a guest. She hasn’t got time to be waiting on her mum hand and foot.
‘Thanks, Robin. I probably should have come down, it’s just that this is…’ I trail off to look around the room. ‘I’m finding it all a little strange. I’m very grateful but—’
‘It’s not home, is it?’ He smiles in understanding. ‘But things will settle down, Louisa, I’m sure of it. It’s early days, after all.’
I nod, taking the plate from his hands. That’s just what people said when William died. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Louisa, it’s still early days… I wouldn’t worry about that just now if I were you, it’s early days… Except that, very soon, the harsh reality of my life without William made it clear that those early days of grace were well and truly over. The time had soon come to stop crying at the slightest little thing, and start planning for my future. It’s been eighteen months now since he was killed, his life cut short by a drunk driver; moving here is simply another addition to the growing list of things I’ve had to get used to. And get used to them I must.
Robin is hovering, clearly at a loss for something to say. I smile again, taking the mug from him this time, a signal that he’s free to return to whatever he was doing.
He backs away and is almost at the door when he pauses. ‘I’m going running later tonight,’ he says. ‘When it’s cooler, and a bit quieter, but I don’t mind walking instead if you’d like to come with me. I can show you around the town and the best paths to take up onto the hills. There are some spectacular views.’ His long ginger hair hangs over one shoulder, tied in its customary band to keep it out of his face. One that has more freckles than the night sky has stars. You can tell he’s a runner and likes to keep fit; he’s tall and rangy, with not an ounce of fat on him so that his baggy shorts hang low on his hips and his tee shirt hugs his flat stomach.
‘Thanks, Robin,’ I reply, touched by his gesture. ‘But perhaps on another day. I’m planning nothing more strenuous later than a long bath followed by an early night. Besides, I’m sure you’d much rather go by yourself. You can have a proper run then, instead of dawdling while you wait for me.’
Robin looks as if he’s about to say something else, but instead simply nods and, raising a hand in farewell, slips from the room.
I look at the plate of sandwiches in my hand. Great thick doorsteps cut from fresh bread and overflowing with filling. They look beautiful but I’m very afraid they’ll feel like dust in my mouth. I put down the plate on the little table beside my bed and take my mug back to the window, lifting it to my lips. Despite the heat of the day, the tea’s warmth is still comforting.
The clouds are already beginning to break, and I know the pavements will start to steam as soon as the full force of the sun shines on them once more. But the hot, humid air won’t last. Within minutes the ever-present breeze off the sea will sweep it away. I wonder what wintertime will feel like here, and shiver at the thought of the biting cold I imagine.
I should go out and explore, because the longer I leave it, the harder it will feel, but right now my desire to crawl under the bedcovers and stay there is proving hard to resist. Which has perhaps been the strangest thing of all about this period of time. I’m not normally like this. Before William died, I was independent and spent much of my day alone too, happy in my own company. But my days had also been filled with industry. My job kept me busy, as did my hobbies, and I couldn’t bear to see time wasted. I tut and stop my train of thought from going any further – that isn’t what I’d been running through my head at all. Rather that, given my previous abilities, I now can’t understand why the sudden absence of William in the world should change me into someone who wouldn’t mind if she never sees another soul again.
And there I am, thinking about William, once more. The celebrations for our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary only a few months before his death. And people had said it wouldn’t last. I purse my lips, remembering all too well the comments my mother had made. The pair of you with disastrous marriages behind you and yet you’re willing to do it all over again. You hardly know him, Louisa, and you’re no age at all. For heaven’s sake, take your time with this one… But I hadn’t wanted to and neither had he, so our whirlwind romance turned into a spur-of-the-moment wedding, but it had worked. For all these years it had worked beautifully.
It had been hard in the beginning perhaps, when we’d had no money. William had a child, Simon, and his ex-wife had certainly not been backward in coming forward anytime she’d wanted anything. It hadn’t been his fault that the relationship fell apart, but he’d done the right thing, supporting his son right up until his eighteenth birthday. For a long time, it had meant that we couldn’t buy a home of our own, or go on holidays, or buy nice things, but neither of us had cared. Leah had come along by then and we were happy; our family was complete and nothing else mattered. A few more years went by and then William’s career had suddenly taken off, everything he did turning to gold, and we were finally able to buy our own home and become accustomed to some of the finer things in life.
The last ten years had been nigh on perfect and, despite being in my late forties, I hadn’t viewed my age as any barrier to happiness, in fact, quite the reverse. I’d assumed that if my fifties were going to be anything like my forties then I would really enjoy them. But now I’m forty-nine and the thought of the next big birthday simply fills me with despair.
It wasn’t as if William had let the payments on his life insurance policy drift deliberately. He’d just been busy, preoccupied by the new project he’d taken on at work. Grateful that he’d still been given the opportunity and not been passed over for a younger colleague. He’d been determined to make it the massive success I knew he could and, although I’d wanted him to slow down, I’d had to support his decision – that was William all over; he could never say no to anyone. He was generous to a fault, one of the reasons why I loved him so much. And why he’d lent Simon all that money, of course, only I hadn’t found out about that until after he’d died. It was a huge chunk of our savings that William had obviously assumed he would get back with dividends. Except that Simon’s business had gone bust four months ago so now there was no hope of my ever being repaid. Simon felt bad about it, he’d told me often enough, but that didn’t really help me from a practical point of view. The money was gone, and no amount of wishing would bring it back.
I swallow another mouthful of tea. So here I am, my worldly goods in storage and, for the time being at least, lodging in a seaside hotel with my daughter and son-in-law. It isn’t how I had imagined my life at all. But I am, finally, and most importantly, debt-free. And I must remind myself of that. Without William’s huge salary coming in, I’d been in trouble within three months. The fact that I’d managed to keep everything going for a few more was a miracle or, rather, foolish, as I now know. My bank account had been haemorrhaging money, but it hadn’t seemed right to move away from the home we had shared together, and my blinkered grief had only made things worse.
I put down my mug and cross to the bed, heaving my suitcase up onto it. Sinking down on the mattress, I lift the plate of sandwiches, closing my eyes briefly before taking a large bite of one half. It takes an age to eat, chewing and chewing, trying to find enough moisture to swallow the mouthful of food, despite the tea I’ve just drunk. I’m very much looking forward to the time when my body no longer views food as something I have to take in to survive. Then I might be able to enjoy Robin’s excellent culinary skills.
I’m halfway through my unpacking, hanging up my clothes in the single wardrobe, when I lift a pale-pink linen shirt from my case. I put out a hand to steady myself as the room begins to spin and I sink back down on the bed. How could I have forgotten this was in here? William’s shirt. The last one of his I have, soft, and still unwashed. I bring it to my face, the scent and feel, so, so familiar. And the near constant ache of longing deep inside of me rises once more.
My phone rings and, glancing at the display, I snatch it up, glad of the interruption.
‘Barbara!’ I exclaim. ‘Oh, it’s so good to hear from you. Please tell me you’ve got something nice and juicy for me. Something I can really sink my teeth into.’
There’s a slight pause from the other end of the line. ‘Well, it’s lovely to hear you sounding so keen, darling, but how are you, Louisa?’ she says. ‘Are you moved in yet?’
‘I am, it’s…’ I look around the rather faded room as I speak. ‘It’s lovely here. Different, but lovely all the same. And I’m sure I’ll get used to it. I’m just unpacking the last of my things, but my laptop is already charged and raring to go. Barbara, what have you got for me?’
My editor gives a nervous laugh. ‘Hold your horses a moment, I want to know how you are, Louisa. You. Not your furniture, or your cardigans, but you. It’s still early days, you know, and I’d hate for you to rush back into things before you’re ready. You’ve had the most enormous upheaval…’ She breaks off. ‘It’s lovely that you’re trying to sound so keen, but this is me you’re talking to, Louisa, and we go far enough back that you don’t have to kid me you’re feeling okay.’
Her words bring a sudden sting of tears. Barbara and I do indeed go way back. She’d been the first person to give me a chance, back when I was a young and ambitious journalist with no credits to my name, and I’ve worked for her ever since. Not continuously; I had some time off when Leah was born and Barbara has moved magazines on more than one occasion, but our paths had continued to cross and for the last five years I’ve been a features writer, albeit freelance, for Your Life, an upmarket glossy publication that caters for the needs of intelligent successful women – people like me, I’d thought.
‘I’ve tried so hard to keep everything the same, Barbara,’ I reply, gently laying William’s shirt on my pillow. ‘I knew I couldn’t, not really, but it was important to me, and William. You know how he felt about that house, it was all he ever dreamed of and he worked so hard for it. We had everything planned for our future, we…’ I trail off. There’s no need to tell Barbara, she’s heard it all before, more than once. ‘I feel like I’ve let him down.’
There’s sympathy in my friend’s voice, but just beyond it I can hear the same whispers I hear in everyone’s voice. It isn’t you that’s let William down… but the other way around.
‘But,’ I add firmly, ‘I’m here now, and getting myself settled. And the one thing that’s going to make me feel better is work.’
‘I know that’s how it seems, Louisa, but don’t underestimate how you’re going to feel; this is another massive change in your life. Why don’t you take a little more time for yourself? I know you haven’t written for a few months, but you could have a bit of a break and enjoy the seaside. Besides, you’ll be fit for nothing if you don’t start looking after yourself.’
I can feel the thought of all that inactivity wrapping its cold tentacles around me. I mustn’t let myself be pulled in.
‘Thanks, Barbara, but, honestly, I’m much better when I’m working. And if you think about it, that’s going to make me feel far more settled than lazing around all day, doing nothing. I couldn’t bear it. No, I need to work. I want to work.’ I think for a second. ‘I could do an exposé on… oh, I don’t know… but something local. It’s lovely here, but there must be miscarriages of justice and dodgy dealers the same as anywhere. I’m sure I can come up with something. Just give me a couple of weeks to have a snoop around and I’ll have a list of potential articles lined up for you.’
‘I’ve no doubt that you would but, actually, Louisa, if you’re absolutely set on starting straight away, you could do me the biggest favour.’ She clears her throat slightly. ‘As you know, Erin is just about to go on maternity leave and I need someone experienced to hold the reins while she’s gone. Now, I know her cross-section of the magazine might not seem like a good fit for you, but it’s a hugely successful area for us. It would make me feel a lot better knowing that I’ve got you to look after it in Erin’s absence.’
I have to put my hand over my mouth to stop from swearing out loud. ‘Homes and Gardens? Me…? Barbara, are you mad?’
‘Listen, it’s not as daft as it sounds. I know you think that kind of thing is beneath your skill set, and in a way you’re right, but it takes a really good eye to spot the potential in something. You have such a great sense of style. You only need to look at… Well, anyway, I think you could bring something amazing to it, Louisa. You’re certainly not lacking in imagination, and I know we’ve done a few coastal features before, but not for a long while, and very few during the winter months. It could be a real breath of fresh air.’
You only need to look at your old house, that’s what Barbara had been about to say. And yes, I did have a beautiful home, and a gorgeous garden, but that’s because it was so important to William. And to me, of course, but I don’t have a practical bone in my body, not really.
‘Think about it,’ adds Barbara. ‘Please, that’s all I ask.’ She pauses. ‘Look, something came across my desk the other day, and I think it could be a really great story. Why don’t I ping you over the details and you could take a look. Have a think about it for a couple of days and get back to me.’
My stomach sinks in disappointment. I understand exactly what Barbara is saying. ‘Sure,’ I say. ‘Yes, do that. No harm in looking, is there? Oh, hang on a sec…’ I lower the phone and press the mute button, deliberately waiting a few seconds before reconnecting the call. ‘Sorry, Barbara, that was Leah at the door. She needs my help for a minute. So, yes, send over whatever it is and I’ll have a think. Anyway, everything is all right with you, is it? The boys okay? Jack?’
‘They’re fine. Keeping me on my toes as usual. Listen, you take care, okay, and I’ll speak to you soon. And thank you, Louisa, I know you’ll do a fabulous job. Love to the family…’
She hangs up before I do and I’m left looking at the phone, wondering if what just happened is what I think just happened. And a little frisson of nervous energy flickers through me. I’m a champion of the underdog; I right wrongs and fight against injustice. I’m not sure I know how to write about anything else.
I sit down at the small desk Leah has set up in one corner of the room for me. It’s positioned directly under one of the skylights, so the overhead lighting isn’t ideal, but I’ll manage. My laptop lies there, primed and ready to go, just like I told Barbara, and I open the lid and wait for the screen to spring to life. The email lands in my inbox before I’ve even finished typing in my password. Barbara never wastes any time, she’ll already be on to the next item on her list and, rather ironically, her ability to juggle so many things at once is one of the qualities that I admire in her. But today, I can’t help feeling as if her efficiency isn’t that at all, but rather something else.
The message is brief:
See what you can do with this, Louisa. There are so many angles you could come at this one from, and to start with you’re going to need all your old investigative skills. I don’t know who the artist is, but he must be local – and it could be a brilliant feature. A great excuse for a walk on the beach!
Attached are two photos, each of brilliant blue sky, with a wide curving arc of sand beneath. The pictures have been taken from a clifftop, the whole sweep of a bay in focus, right down to the sparkling silver of the sea. And there below, in the middle of the huge expanse, is an intricate mandala design, somehow drawn onto the sand. And, judging by the distance from which the photo has been taken, its dimensions must be enormous.
I move my thumb and forefinger apart on the touchpad, the gesture enlarging the image. It’s extraordinary. And beautiful. Every line that makes up the circular pattern seems perfectly placed, the execution flawless. It’s hard to comprehend how it could even have been drawn but, after another second or two, I close the photos and stare at Barbara’s message. Everything she put in her email is true; I can see that there’s a wonderful feature here, just waiting to be written. Except not by me. This isn’t what I do. I’m an investigative journalist, but this… this feels horribly like I’m being put out to pasture.
I tut, shaking my head. I’m sure that’s not true. I heard what Barbara had said. Erin’s going to be away for a few months and Barbara needs someone to step into her shoes for a while, that’s all. It’s not permanent; I’m just being touchy, seeing shadows that aren’t there. But the thought is in my head now, that it’s take this assignment or nothing, and I can’t remove it.
I get to my feet, closing the lid of my laptop and moving back to the window to stare at the street below. I’d asked Barbara for something I could sink my teeth into and that’s exactly what she’s given me. The fact that it’s different from what I expected isn’t a bad thing. It’s a challenge, I tell myself, that’s all. A new challenge.
And it’s probably exactly what I need.
I wake the next morning bathed in sweat, my hair hanging in limp strands and stuck to the side of my face. It’s my own fault. I’m simply not used to noise at night and had got up around four in the morning to close the window and since then the heat has built steadily. It feels like a heavy cloak I have to fight to be free from. At home… before, I correct myself, the night was a place of deep, quiet dark that soothed and slowed the mind and senses. But the gulls here, so stereotypically the right thing to hear at the seaside by day, at night never seem to cease their raucous shrieking.
I rub absently at my skin. It feels slightly gritty and, sighing, I swing my legs over the bed, padding across the floor to the window, throwing it open once more. A dull sunless day stares back at me, but there’s a breeze blowing at least, and I breathe it in, feeling the fresh air flood my face. The street below is just coming to life, the beginning of a new day, and the first of my new future.
But it isn’t excitement that awakens. Instead, it’s grief that rears up at me, and I swallow, putting out a hand to steady myself. It takes a moment before I’m able to move; the mornings are always the worst, the waking up alone. I had a routine before, even on my own. I knew what to do and when to do it. Now, I feel adrift, and the raw pain I’d first felt when William died has somehow renewed itself. Perhaps it’s just the shock of moving, the sheer newness of everything that’s bringing it to life again. I turn away from the window. Time to get myself going.
Half an hour later, I’m almost ready to face the day. My room, like all the others in the hotel, hasn’t yet been renovated, but I shower and wash my hair in surprisingly hot and copious water. I dress carefully, picking out a soft blue shirt to go with my pale-yellow cotton jeans, and, once I’ve dried my hair and styled it, I stand for a moment, observing my reflection with the attention to detail that one only ever reserves for oneself.
I’m lucky that my clear skin requires relatively little attention, and the small amount of make-up I wear is enough to bring a slight pink blush to my cheeks and lips, which complements my hair. Golden-blonde, it falls to just below my collarbone, its soft waves bouncing gently around my shoulders. I peer closer, grey roots just beginning to show on top of my head while around my ears, where my hair is naturally lighter, it shines white instead. I’d always kept it perfectly coloured when William was alive, and since his death for that matter, but I wonder if now might be the time to finally let nature take its course. Or is that just giving up? I slip on the rings William gave me and, satisfied that what I’m feeling on the inside doesn’t show too much on the outside, prepare to go downstairs.
It’s much later than I’d realised, but when I open my bedroom door the hotel beneath me seems quiet, even though Leah and Robin will already be up and busy somewhere. They have an enormous task ahead of them, much bigger than I had originally thought before coming here. Buying this place fulfilled all their dreams, but renov. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...