I Let Him In
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‘I did something terrible. Something unforgivable. And I carry it with me every single day.’
At thirty-six, Louise is happy enough with her cramped apartment, a job that has her travelling twenty-five weeks a year and a string of not-too-serious relationships. When her latest boyfriend proposes and she breaks it off, older sister Jo worries Lou will never settle down. Lou stays silent – she wants desperately to be loved, but with the secret she’s carrying, letting someone go is safer than letting them in.
Then a shocking accident leaves Lou unexpectedly housebound for months, and flashbacks from the traumatic childhood memory she’s kept buried begin to resurface, threatening her hard-won self-control. Desperate for some company, she hires Edward – a friend of a friend – to repaint her shabby living room and, hopefully, keep the ghosts at bay.
But when Edward arrives – quiet, considerate and handsome – Lou feels inexplicably and powerfully drawn to him, almost like they’ve met before. Her sister Jo doesn’t trust him, but, following her instincts, Lou decides that at last she’s not going to carry her burden alone anymore.
So Lou tells Edward her secret, and he doesn’t pull away. He doesn’t gasp, or grimace or preach about what she did. And Lou is so relieved… until she learns that Edward has his own secret, one he’s been waiting a very, very long time to tell…
A gripping domestic drama full of twists, turns and unexpected endings from a USA Today bestselling author. Fans of Amanda Prowse, Kerry Fisher and Jodi Picoult won’t be able to stop turning the pages.
What readers are saying about Jill Childs:
‘I loved this book! From the moment I started, I couldn't stop reading it… The author did an amazing job… Kept me guessing until the very end… I loved it!’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
‘A stunning page-turner I did not want to put down… The ending is so twisted and fascinating... Just WOW!Unbelievably fantastic read. This is the best book I’ve read so far... worth more than 5 stars to me.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
‘This story had me hooked from the first chapter and I read it practically in one sitting!... I never saw the twist at the end coming! I cannot wait to recommend this book to all!’ NetGalley reviewer
‘The story draws you in from page one … The writing is both descriptive and atmospheric and just as you think you have the whole thing worked out, there's a totally unexpected twist which I didn't see coming…
Release date: August 17, 2021
Print pages: 350
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I Let Him In
I’m under attack from the wind, the steadily growing rain. I lower my head for the grinding climb, sinking into myself, slowly pulling up through Blackheath village, away from the glistening pavements, the lights spilling from bars and restaurants, the knots of people intruding here and there on the road as they step off the kerb to skirt the crowd.
I leave them behind and enter the emptiness of the open heath, heading higher, over the top towards Greenwich.
As the landscape opens, the wind blows up in a moment, snatching my breath and almost knocking me sideways off the road. I steady myself and battle on, piston knees, hands knuckle-white on the handlebars.
A car appears from nowhere, driving too fast in the wet darkness. Its headlights surge and ebb as it rises and falls with the dips in the road. Suddenly, it’s on me, passing me on the other side of the road in a flash of light.
For a moment, it illuminates the falling sheets of rain, thicker than I’d realised. I stay steady and focus on the road, fighting the dazzle, and blink away the spangled darkness in its wake.
The night folds in again. Still and silent. All I hear is the lashing rain and my own breathing, blood pumping hard in my ears, beating time with my legs. I press myself forward from one solitary pool of streetlight to the next, cutting across the heath. I’m exposed now, at the mercy of the wind and rain. Sharp pellets pepper my nose, strike my cheeks. My skin is almost numb.
I still see Toby’s face, tight with hurt. You don’t mean it.
Water streams from the curves of my helmet, flying into droplets as the wind whips it away. My legs ache. I want to crest the heath and start my descent towards the docks, down into Greenwich.
I want to be home, packing, getting ready to fly away from all this. From him.
You’ll regret it.
The noise explodes from behind me. From nowhere. One moment, I’m alone on the open expanse of heath, inside the wind and driving rain and the rhythm of my own hard breathing; the next moment, an engine roars in my ears. It’s right there in the darkness, at my shoulder, too fast, too close. I try to swerve away, into the ditch. Too late.
I’m flying, soaring through open air, tossed, arms flailing. I fall through emptiness, blinded. Time stops. Everything hangs. Silent. Suspended.
Then the bubble bursts and I crash. My body, limp, pounds into cold metal, skids sideways, hits the ground with such force I can’t breathe. I imagine my body smashed into a thousand fragments.
Bright lights pulse in my head. Pain explodes everywhere, a firework burst, shooting white sparks through black. Then nothing.
Burly men with deep voices pin my limbs and lift me, swinging my weight. I smell stale cigarette smoke.
I try to move, to struggle, to scream for help but the sound sticks in my throat.
A face looms. A distorted mask of grotesque features and devilish eyes.
Then, those accusations from long ago, inside my head. Always with me, even now.
You killed her! You wicked, wicked girl.
I toss from side to side, trying to shake myself free but it’s impossible.
The skin on my arm feels a sudden chill, then, my arm tightly held, the sharpness of a needle.
I sink back and again disappear.
Something wet and cold on my lips. Parched tongue. It’s a supreme effort to prise open my eyes.
The light is hard and bright and hurts. I blink.
The feathery pressure lifts from my lips.
‘Lou?’ A rustle of clothes. Josephine, my sister, looms and fills my vision. ‘Lou? It’s me. Jo. Can you hear me?’
I try to nod. My head is the weight of a cannonball. The slightest movement sends shoots of white pain through my neck and shoulders. I sink back and blink up at her. Her eyes are full of worry.
‘You had an accident. Can you remember? Someone knocked you off your bike.’
I frown. Darkness on the heath and rain. I look past her at the dappled cream panels of the ceiling. I don’t know where I am. Not at home.
A pink foam square appears and she runs it along my lips. Ice cold and wet, trickling water into my mouth. That’s good. I breathe deeply and pain sears across my chest.
Jo looks panicked and twists away from me, looking round. ‘Don’t move,’ she says. ‘I’ll get a nurse.’
I let my eyes fall closed and keep very still. I’m frightened of moving and stirring pain. There are noises. An occasional rhythmic whirr and click, the low, steady hum of a machine. I smell disinfectant and another, kinder scent. A distant whiff of coffee. Hospital?
Am I dying? Paralysed? Panic flares and my breathing quickens. I concentrate on trying to check my body. My hands lie heavy at my sides, palms upward, fingers lightly curled. I twitch my fingertips, stealthily. They seem to respond. I steady myself. I’ll try my toes next, far away down the bed.
The mouse squeak of hurrying soft shoes on a polished floor.
A loud, clear voice. ‘How are you feeling, Louise?’
I open my eyes. A nurse leans over me, her hair pinned back severely. She peers for a moment into my face.
I want to ask what happened, what state my body is in, but I barely croak. Already, she’s turned away, fiddling, checking something with busy fingers.
Elsewhere, down my body, slim, warm fingers stroke my hand. Jo’s touch. ‘It’s all right.’ Jo’s voice. Softer now. ‘Try to get some rest.’
Tears spill from the corners of my eyes, surprising me. They slide down my temples and pool in my hair. Am I OK?
The nurse says something but softly and not to me. I can’t keep hold of the words; they shimmer and slip through my senses.
I fall backwards again into nothingness. The only sound is the boom, boom, boom of blood banging around my skull.
‘Louise? Can you hear me? If you can hear me, can you open your eyes?’
A man’s voice. It’s artificially loud and blasts at me. It’s the tone some men use to speak to children or the elderly.
I want to tell him not to be condescending. I’m not a fool. I’m strong. I’m a professional. I’m a… I have to concentrate hard and chase the words around my head before I winkle them out: I’m a travel writer. A journalist. Yes.
‘That’s it, Louise. Now, can you open your eyes for me?’
I prise open my eyelashes and light floods in, blinding me. Slowly, as I blink, shapes form. Blurred at first, then gradually sharpening.
A man stands over me. My age, maybe, late thirties. His chin is dark with stubble and his skin is furrowed with tiredness. But his eyes are very clear. Blue-green.
‘I’m Doctor Kennedy. How are you feeling?’
I manage to croak through dry lips: ‘Not great.’
He smiles. ‘You’ve had an accident. Do you remember?’
I frown. My mind is still clouded by the memory of the strange, misshapen face looming over me. By the accusations. Where were you? How could you?
Not him. Not his voice. As I focus, frowning, the dream face recedes.
‘You’ve fractured your tibia.’
Jo, further away, puts in: ‘You’ve broken your leg, lovely.’
‘And you had quite a bang on the head.’
Jo again, her mothering tone: ‘Thank god you were wearing your helmet, Lou. You might’ve been killed.’
The doctor holds up his fingers and tells me to focus. He’s looks pleased when I count them and whisper the number three. I hope I’ve got it right. He moves them this way and that and peers at me as I make my eyes follow them. Strong fingers. A sensible gold wedding ring.
More questions. I strain to do my best but the sheer effort of listening, of trying to do as he asks, is exhausting. I don’t know what day it is. I can’t hang around here. I’ve got a flight to catch.
I think about Jo, spending all this time here, with me. Mike won’t like it. There’ll be an argument. He’ll moan about looking after Mia. Mia. I don’t want her to see me like this; she’ll be frightened.
Pain washes over me in a hot, violent wave: leg, chest, head. I grimace. Moments later, I dip under again, my mind a mess of swirling shapes and colours, starbursts and whirlpools, drawing me in.
‘I can’t remember.’
The nurse has elevated the head section of the bed. I don’t like it, but she insists. I need to get used to sitting up again, apparently. So far, even like this, flat on the pillows, against the mattress but with my head and shoulders inclined so I can see around the small bay, I feel dizzy and that makes me feel sick.
There are two police officers. The young woman has drawn up a chair by my bedside. She’s the one asking the questions. Her colleague, an even younger man, stands at the end of my bed, keeping watch. He’s removed his cap and tucked it under his arm and his hair sticks out in clumps around his temples. He takes notes as we talk.
The area proscribed by the curtains, drawn now around the bed in a nod towards privacy, is so small that there’s barely room for all three of us, as well as the bed, the bedside locker and all the medical apparatus. My arm lies limply on the sheet, palm up, a clear liquid surging into the vein through a tube. My bedding is distorted by the cage protecting my leg, reset now and encased in plaster.
The young policewoman tries again. ‘So, you left your boyfriend’s house—’
I say: ‘Ex-boyfriend.’
She continues, unruffled: ‘You left your ex-boyfriend’s house at about ten past ten at night.’
I nod. ‘We’d had an argument.’
She considers. ‘How would you describe your state of mind at the time of the accident?’
I remember my gritted teeth, the rain and buffeting wind. ‘Determined. I wanted to get home.’
‘You say you and your ex-boyfriend had just had an argument. Is it fair to say you were upset?’
‘A bit.’ I shrug, wondering how much to tell her. ‘I broke up with him a week ago. He was the one who was upset. He wanted to talk. That’s why I went over. I thought I was being…’ I hesitate, trying to find the right word. Why had I gone over? Because I felt guilty. Because he refused to believe it. Because he wouldn’t let go. ‘I was trying to be kind. I’m going away soon, for work. I didn’t want to leave it like that.’ I remember his face, tight with anger. ‘I think I made it worse.’
‘Had you consumed any substances? Anything which might have impaired your senses?’
‘Substances?’ I blink. ‘Pizza. A glass of wine.’ I hesitate. ‘Is that what you mean?’
The other police officer’s pen pauses and I sense him look up.
She says: ‘How much wine, would you say?’
I frown. ‘One glass. I’m not a big drinker.’
‘Were you taking any medication?’
She keeps her gaze on the edge of the bed as we talk but if I look away, I sense her eyes jumping to my face. I don’t like that. I sense that she doesn’t trust me; she doesn’t believe me.
She tells the bed: ‘So you remember cycling through Blackheath village and up onto the heath. It was windy and it started to rain. You didn’t see the vehicle until shortly before the collision.’ She leans a fraction further forward. ‘Can you tell me anything about the vehicle? Anything you saw before the impact? A colour, perhaps, or outline? Whether it was a car or a van, small or large?’
I strain. All I can remember is the terrifying sensation of being hit, flying through the air, then crashing into the ground. ‘I don’t know. I’m sorry. It was dark.’
She seems disappointed. She and the other officer exchange a glance. It’s a signal but I can’t read it. He closes his notebook and stows away his pen, settles his cap back on his head. She gets to her feet and nods down at me. ‘I can assure you, we’ll do everything we can to identify the person who hit you,’ she says. ‘It’s a serious offence. Not just the accident, but fleeing the scene and failing to report. That’s a crime.’
I watch her eyes. Her words suggest she’s on my side, but I’m not sure I trust her.
She says: ‘We’ll leave you to get some rest. I’ll keep you informed.’ She draws a batch of brightly coloured leaflets from her case and sets them on the locker. ‘Are you happy for me to pass your details to Victim Support?’ She pauses. ‘Have you heard of them? They might be able to give you practical advice. You may be eligible for compensation, for example. It’s a confidential service.’
I manage to nod. I don’t want to look suspicious by telling her that of course I know Victim Support, I’ve had dealings with them before.
Finally, she withdraws a card – Detective Sara Blakely – and indicates the case number written neatly in pen across the back. ‘If anything comes back to you in the meantime, anything about the vehicle or what happened, just give me a call.’
The male officer holds open the curtain for her as if they’re both leaving a stage. She’s about to pass through when she hesitates and turns back. ‘One other thing. The paramedics said you were very distressed at the scene.’
I swallow. ‘Was I?’
‘You kept struggling. Saying something about going to jail.’ For the first time, she looks me straight in the eye. ‘Any idea why?’
I fix my eyes on the heaped sheet over the bed-cage. I feel suddenly very hot.
She waits, but I don’t answer. Finally, she says: ‘Anyway, thanks for your time. We’ll be in touch.’
The curtain swishes shut behind them and their boots thump away down the ward.
‘Told you not to leave. See? You should’ve listened.’
Toby looks pleased with himself. He tips the bouquet of flowers towards me so I can see the flash of red roses inside the cone of paper, then sets them down on the locker by the plastic jug of water and box of tissues.
He pulls up a chair and plonks himself down. ‘Does it hurt?’
‘The leg?’ I sigh. ‘Yes. I can’t sleep at night.’ I hesitate. ‘My head aches.’
He pulls a packet of mints out of his pocket and half-heartedly offers me one, then takes one himself and sucks noisily. ‘Just what you needed, a good bang on the head.’ He laughs. ‘Don’t look so shocked. I’m only joking.’
I manage to say: ‘Thanks for the flowers.’
‘That’s all right.’ He reaches for my hand and holds it firmly. It’s the arm with the drip and I can’t easily pull it away from him. ‘I told my mate at the Gazette. They might do a story on it. Apparently, there’ve been a few accidents around there. None as bad as yours, though.’
I sigh. ‘You might have asked me first. I don’t want to talk to the Gazette.’
‘You don’t have to. I did. Anyway, it might help them find out who did it. Someone must have seen something.’
I turn away my head, trying to hint that I’m tired, that I want him to go.
‘What?’ He laughs and starts to crack the half-sucked mint between his teeth. ‘Just looking out for you, that’s all.’
‘I don’t need you to do that, Toby. I’m looking out for myself now. Remember?’
He snorts. ‘Yeah, clearly that’s going well.’
We sit in silence for a few moments.
‘Anyway, sorry about your trip.’ He manages to sound sheepish. It must be an effort. ‘I didn’t want you to go, you know that. But even so.’
‘I’m still going.’ I try to sound more determined than I feel right now. ‘I just might have to delay a bit, that’s all.’
‘Right.’ He shakes his head, disbelieving. ‘Sure you are.’
I can’t bring myself to look at him. A stout, middle-aged man is crouching by the neighbouring bed, unloading cartons of drinks and packets of biscuits from a carrier bag and stocking his wife’s locker.
Toby reaches closer. ‘Don’t let’s fight, Lou.’ He lowers his voice. ‘You don’t mean it, not really. Look, I know I said some… you know, some unpleasant things the other night. I’m sorry. I really am. I was upset.’
I turn back to him and open my mouth, but he lifts his hand and carries on.
‘No, hear me out. I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Maybe I am rushing you. It’s a big deal, having a kid. I get that. I know you love your freedom. Jumping on and off planes all the time and all that.’ He hesitates, looking everywhere but at my face. ‘It’s just, I don’t know, going to see Dave and Claire’s baby the other day, it just got me thinking – why not us? Why won’t you ever even talk about it? You’d be such a great mum, Lou, you—’
‘Maybe this isn’t—’ I say, weakly.
He ploughs on, regardless. ‘But then I thought: you’ve got to feel ready too. I know that. And if you need more time, well, maybe I just have to live with that. I’ll try. I really will. But if you could at least think about it.’
‘Hang on, I’m not done yet.’ He squeezes my hand harder. ‘This accident. It feels like a wake-up call. I worry about all these daredevil trips you do. I don’t want to lose you. I love you, Lou. I do. I know you don’t want me getting all soppy but I just want to be with you, see? So, here’s what we do: we put all this behind us for now and take it one day at a time and see how we go. Right?’ He looks down at the bulge of the bed-cage over my broken leg.
I take a deep breath. My head throbs. I haven’t got the energy for this, not right now. ‘Toby, I’m sorry. But—’
He cuts in and talks over me, as he so often does. ‘Another thing. I’ve been looking on Dr Google and it might be a long haul. Have they said that? You’ll have that cast on for weeks. I know you don’t want to hear it but you’re grounded for a bit. That’s just the way it is.’
‘People can still—’
He ignores me. ‘So, here’s what I think. Makes more sense for you to be at my place, just till you’re back on your feet. Or foot.’ He grins, affable. ‘I’ll look after you. And I’ve got more room, that’s another thing.’
I twist sideways and finally manage to extricate my hand from his. ‘No, Toby. No!’
‘Keep your voice down!’ He nods across to the middle-aged man who’s turned to have a look. Toby gives him a ‘you know what they’re like’ roll of the eyes and grins.
I take a deep breath. ‘Toby. I meant what I said. We’re through. The accident doesn’t change anything.’
Something shifts in his face. The bravado is gone and he looks suddenly tight-jawed and wounded.
He says: ‘I just thought—’
‘No. I’m sorry.’ My tone is more brutal than I meant. I swallow. I need to be firm. Otherwise, he won’t understand.
Toby leans over me. For a moment, I think he’s going to kiss me but he doesn’t. He says, too loudly: ‘You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said, have you? Rachel warned me about you. And you know what? I always stuck up for you. More fool me.’
I blink. ‘Rachel?’ He knows exactly what I think of his colleague – always hanging around him, batting her eyelashes. Finding a reason to ask him over every time I’m away. And that’s not all. Toby makes light of the rumours about her, the gossip about her bullying junior staff and the whispers about her stabbing rivals in the back. Toby has always seemed oblivious when we’re out with his work crowd, but I’ve seen the way the younger ones look at Rachel when her back is turned, their lips pursed.
I take a deep breath. ‘What does she know, anyway? She has no right—’
Toby carries on, regardless. ‘I give up, I really do. Two years I’ve put up with this. Kicking my heels while you go on endless holidays. Yes, they are holidays, Lou! It’s not real work, writing about crossing the Rockies or swimming with bloody dolphins or whatever it is. All this time I’ve been waiting. And you know why?’ He prods a finger in my face. ‘I’ve been waiting for you to want to be with me, to love me back. Frightened of telling you every time another mate gets married or has a kid, worried how you’ll take it.’ His face contorts. His body’s shaking. ‘I’m forty-two, Lou. I love you. And I also want to be a dad. Is that so terrible?’
He grabs back his bunch of roses from the locker, picks up his jacket and sweeps off without another word.
Beside me, the middle-aged man’s shoulders stiffen and he sits very still, embarrassed for me, trying to pretend he hasn’t heard.
On Saturday, Jo and Mia come to take me home.
I sit, waiting for them, in the chair beside my hospital bed. My holdall sits at my feet, packed to bursting with the overnight things Jo brought in for me, and my new medication.
My broken leg sticks out in front of me, rigid with plaster. The doctors are pleased with the X-rays. It should heal well. But Toby’s right: it will take weeks before they get the cast off. I sigh. Just getting dressed, hobbling to and from the toilet and packing my stuff has left me feeling exhausted. I’m not a patient person. I hate being dependent on anyone. Most of all, I hate sitting still.
First thing on Monday, I’ll get on the phone to the travel company. Maybe I could fly out late and find a way of catching up with the rest of the journalists going on the trip? If I still make the main days, I might convince my editor.
Mia’s voice drifts down the ward before she comes into sight. ‘This one, Mummy? This one?’ She skips around the corner, screams when she catches sight of me and dashes towards me for a hug.
Behind her, Jo, worried, calls: ‘Careful, Mia!’
‘Are these yours?’ Already, Mia has seized the crutches and is trying them out, hopping up and down at the end of my bed like Long John Silver. Her stubby plaits bounce on her back.
I smile. ‘You figure out how to do it, would you? Then you can teach me.’
‘Easy peasy.’ Mia shines with all the confidence of a seven-year-old. She. . .
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