The emotional sequel to the million-copy bestseller SILENT CHILD.
Emma, Aiden and Gina stand on the brink of a new life. After the trauma of Aiden's abduction and return, they are slowly healing and returning to a fragile normality. Emma is desperate to protect her children, but the world is fascinated by Aiden, the silent child who is finally learning to speak for himself.
Against her better judgment, Emma allows her son to attend a talk show. Her worst nightmare comes true when her daughter, Gina, is snatched from the studio and a chilling game begins.
Emma is convinced the answers lie in the darkest corners of the family's past, and that Aiden must be able to work out the puzzle, if only he dare reach into the horrors of his memory.
But as the mystery deepens and Gina is still missing, the family must face a terrible question: is history repeating itself, or is there a new enemy to contend with?
Layered with emotion, and told from Aiden and Emma's perspectives, the sequel to Silent Child is a dark and thrilling read.
Praise for SILENT CHILD:
"Everyone, buy this book, it's brilliant. I just kept reading it, instead of cleaning. Now I'm sad it's ended."
"A tense, haunting story which I had to finish in one sitting."
"What a fantastic read. Kept me on the edge of my seat 'til the end."
"One of the best books I have read. I stayed up most of the night to read it."
"I read this book from cover to cover in one sitting. It's been a long time since a book has captivated me so much to do that. Gripping and full of twists and turns."
Release date: August 23, 2021
Print pages: 262
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Sarah A. Denzil
Even though September is here, the trees are still verdant green. We’re all dressed in light clothing for the unseasonably warm weather, bare arms caressed by a calm breeze filtering through the trees. I can’t deny that it’s a beautiful day today, but inside my ribcage my heart is tapping away, quick as fluttering moth wings. Anticipation makes my skin prickle. I glance at the man to my right, who still seems like a boy; who stares out beyond with an inscrutable expression. He doesn’t like to be touched but I slip my fingers into his and squeeze them, hoping those squeezes will convey my thoughts: You’re not alone. I’m here with you. I’ll keep you safe. This is almost over.
They built us a platform so that we wouldn’t miss a single moment, and I feel strangely tall standing here in the woods, as though I’m on stilts. Below us there’s a clearing surrounded by a metal fence, which seems out of place among the dark branches and lush foliage of the forest. But the fence marks out the location of the place we need to watch. I take it all in one final time as I breathe deeply to steady my heart.
On my left, there’s a soft, sticky little hand in mine.
‘Will it be loud?’ says a small voice.
I glance down at my daughter, the owner of the tiny hand. ‘It might be. Would you like some ear plugs?’
Gina grins. ‘No, I want it to be loud.’
She’s been looking forward to this for weeks. I, on the other hand, have been dreading it. And as for Aiden, well, I don’t know how he feels, I can’t even imagine, and when I ask, he gives me a shrug in return.
I turn my head to my son. ‘Would you like them?’
He shakes his head. His body is rigid, his hand sweaty in mine. ‘No, Mum.’ Some tension leaves my body at the sound of his gentle voice. It means he’s still here, still present in the world. When he disappears into himself, his voice goes away.
We’re not alone on our platform, but no one else matters apart from Aiden and Gina. Their hands in mine. Their safety against this world and the darkness within it. I stare down into the woodland area, through the trees and tangles of thorny bushes.
‘Get it over with,’ Rob grumbles under his breath. Aiden’s father. My ex.
I hear the cluck of Sonya’s tongue as she gently chastises her son.
‘Perhaps I should go and check everything’s all right,’ DCI Stevenson suggests.
‘No,’ I reply, worried that he’d miss it. He deserves to witness this moment as much as we all do. ‘I’m sure it’s just one of those things.’ I smile at Gina, trying to keep the worry out of my voice. ‘Like how the fireworks are always late on bonfire night.’ Gina nods solemnly, remembering her own impatience last November, waiting outside a cold pub in Manchester.
It’ll take a measly few seconds to demolish the bunker. After ripping out the internal fittings of it, the place has been fitted with explosives and the nearby trees have been cleared. A digger waits patiently for the clear-up. Another jarring contrast to the natural environment.
We were asked if we wanted to watch the demolition some months back. At first, I found it difficult to broach the subject with Aiden. He didn’t answer right away, instead he went to his room and sat on his bed in silence. A few hours later, he came back down and nodded his head. He told me who he wanted to be here, and I began to hope that this could be a positive experience for us as a family. Closure for the trauma. For Aiden’s trauma, and mine and everyone else’s, but mainly for him. And here we are. Aiden, little Gina, Rob, Sonya, Peter, Josie and Stevenson, all shuffling our feet, sighing and sweating on a hot Tuesday in September, waiting and waiting.
They asked me if I would like to push the button, or whether Aiden would want to do it. He said no. I look at him now, the profile of his face, and try to imagine what he’s thinking. I can’t. There’s no possibility of reaching into that mind and uncovering all the pain and suffering. It’s the place he keeps locked away. It’s a place I can never go to or feel for myself. And as a mother, that is horrifying.
There’s a shout from one of the men, then a crack followed by a boom. A cloud of dust bursts upwards and it’s over almost as soon as it begins. The ground sinks in on itself and soil falls away. Aiden’s underground prison has been destroyed. It’s done. I wait for it, the moment, the release, the acknowledgement that the worst part of my life is over. There’s nothing.
On our way out of the woods, Aiden’s hand leaves mine and he slips through the trees, fading from sight. A moment of panic constricts my chest until I remember that he’s safe now. The bunker is gone. Hugh is dead. But even so, I find myself walking a little faster to keep him in sight.
‘Too fast, Mummy,’ Gina protests, yanking on my arm.
‘Sorry, darling.’ There’s a glimpse of Aiden’s red T-shirt between the branches of the trees. I wish he wouldn’t wear red.
‘Mummy, was that place where I was born?’
I scoop her up into my arms, remembering too late that at four she’s becoming quite heavy for me to carry. ‘Almost.’
‘You blew it,’ she says, referring to the bunker. There’s a note of disappointment in her voice that catches me off guard.
There was a limit to what I could explain to Gina about the bunker and what it means to Aiden. We told her that Aiden had some unhappy times there but that it wasn’t all bad, because it was the place where my water broke, and she came into the world. The rest, we can’t tell her. Not yet.
I stop and turn around, realising that I’ve separated from the rest of the group. Everyone else is gathered around Rob, helping him along the path. My face warms with guilt. Since his head injury, Rob has had to learn to walk again, still relying on his cane. Much of his frame has withered away, but he’s still tall and imposing as he struggles along the uneven path.
‘We’re going to the pub,’ Rob says. ‘Are you coming?’
‘I don’t know. What if we’re being followed again?’ All these years on and photographers still target my family. Still print our pictures.
Rob taps Gina on the nose with his finger and she giggles. ‘Who cares? Let’s celebrate.’
The word makes my skin crawl and I think I visibly cringe because Rob backtracks.
‘Well, not celebrate, but you know what I mean. We’re alive, the bunker is destroyed, Aiden is safe and those that deserve to be are dead.’
My eyes seek out Josie’s face when he says that. But she’s lost in her thoughts, gazing out into the woods.
‘I don’t know about Aiden. He’s a little shaken up.’
‘I want to.’
The sound of my son’s voice makes my heart leap in surprise. I spin around so fast Gina has to grab hold of my shoulder.
‘Sorry,’ he says. ‘I didn’t mean to sneak up on you.’
I open my mouth to ask him how he managed to walk in one direction and then turn back without me noticing, but in truth, I’m beginning to get used to Aiden’s cat-like prowling. Instead, I just laugh.
‘It wouldn’t hurt to spend a bit of time together,’ Sonya says. ‘As long as you’re OK, Aiden?’
‘I’m fine, Grandma.’
And with that, I’m swept away by the others as we head back to the car park. This time, Aiden stays by my side.
He’s a miracle. The boy who returned. At one time I thought he’d died; I closed off a part of myself; sunk into the grief. Even after he returned there were those who thought he would’ve been better off dying than suffering through what he suffered. Even I thought it, fleetingly, guiltily. But he came through it, growing stronger than I could ever have imagined. More resilient than I could ever be. A miracle, and part of me. The best part.
I wonder whether I’ll ever grow accustomed to him being above the legal age to drive and vote. He could live on his own or have an important job. There are other twenty-year-olds out there with children, careers, or studying for their university degree. But none of that has happened for Aiden yet. The scars are still there, of course, both physical and psychological. And for now, he lives with me, until he reaches the point where he can make his way out into the world. I hope that point isn’t too soon. I’m not sure my heart could take it.
‘She’s lovely, Emma,’ Josie says, as I let Gina down onto the tarmac. ‘Hi, Gina!’
My little one hides behind my legs, her face poking out around the side with a big grin between her delicate ears. She isn’t shy, but she knows that pretending to be shy gets her more attention. She waggles her fingers in hello.
‘How old are you, Gina?’ Josie asks.
She holds up four fingers before gripping my legs. I can feel her sticky skin against mine.
‘Wow, that many?’ Josie turns to me. ‘Time flies.’
‘You should visit more, Em,’ she says. ‘I miss you.’
‘I miss you too,’ I say, thinking about Josie and what she’s been through. Hugh fooled her, his wife, as much as he fooled us all. I know she still feels responsible for his actions, but she isn’t, and she will always be my best friend, as well as one of the few people in the world who understands what Aiden and I have been through.
When Josie bends down to ruffle Gina’s hair, instinct tells me to pull my daughter away, even though I trust Josie. It takes willpower to quell the urge. The sight of people touching my children does not get any easier.
‘See you there,’ she says, smiling sadly as she takes a couple of steps back. She felt my uncertainty, which means I’m not hiding my discomfort well.
Perhaps I never will. It might be a part of me that I’ll need to accept going forward. They’re safe now, I tell myself, lowering Gina into her car seat. No one will hurt them ever again. At least now I know what I’m capable of doing to keep them safe. That’s some comfort to me, knowing that I will kill anyone who tries to hurt my children. After all, I’ve done it before.
Aiden obediently slips into the passenger seat, like he used to do during his period of silence. I can’t stop myself dwelling on that time. It’s this village, these woods. This air. I’m breathing in the past, exhaling the future, my mind obsessing over both but stripping me away from the present.
One by one the cars filter out of the small car park. I find myself checking the rear-view mirror as soon as I’m on the road. There’s no one around, we’re not being followed by photographers. The destruction of the bunker will be reported in the media, but we were firm that we wanted it to be a private occasion for those directly affected by what Hugh did to my son. We know the story is a public one, but the pain is private, and that’s how it should remain.
The Blue Stoops is not as empty as the roads. It’s Tuesday lunchtime and there’s sun in the sky, which means locals are here to drink a few pints in the beer garden and eat a burger before they have to go back to work. I dab my sweaty forehead with a tissue before climbing out of the car.
‘Are you both hungry? We can eat here, too, if you like,’ I suggest, trying to brighten up a little. I hate them seeing their mother so serious all the time.
‘Nuggies,’ Gina cries.
Aiden smiles. ‘It’s nuggets, Ginny.’
She dramatically puts her finger to her lips. ‘Nuff, Denny.’
While shaking my head at my two kids, I unclip the seatbelt and make my way around to the car seat to get Gina, but Aiden beats me to it.
‘She can pronounce it just fine,’ I say. As Aiden brings her out of the car, I tickle her, and she squeals. ‘She’s just doing it to wind you up.’ I place a hand on Aiden’s shoulder and his body freezes. I quickly retract it and he lets out a quiet breath.
On a good day, he doesn’t flinch at physical contact. But this isn’t a good day for him.
‘Sorry.’ I take Gina’s hand in mine and try to brush over the awkwardness.
The group waits for me before heading in, and this time I remember to slow down and walk beside Rob. He’s a little out of breath heading up the steps to the door and it tugs on my heart. We owe him everything for saving our lives.
Stevenson hesitates at the bottom of the steps. I’d almost forgotten about him until he clears his throat. ‘You know, you can say if you’d rather it be family only.’ He pushes his hands into his trouser pockets and shrugs his shoulders.
Quietly, every face turns to him at the back of the group. I break the silence by leaning over and placing a hand on his upper arm.
‘No. You need a drink as much as the rest of us do.’ Even though it was Aiden who showed us the way to Hugh’s bunker, it was DCI Stevenson who found me there and saved mine and Gina’s life. Without him, she might never have been born.
‘You’ve got that right,’ he says, and his downturned expression breaks into a more natural smile. ‘What a day.’
Peter, Rob’s dad, holds the door open for everyone as we walk into the pub, appreciating the cool air away from the hot sun outside, and then offers to buy a round when we get to the bar. I order Gina some chicken nuggets, and sandwiches for me and Aiden, even though I’m not hungry. Peter, Stevenson and Rob all order a pint and Rob makes a joke about being drunk and in charge of a walking stick that we tentatively laugh at.
By the time we find a table in the corner of the pub, I’m beginning to unclench. When our food arrives, I’m almost relaxed, though I don’t drink because I’m driving. As the tension leaves my body, I find myself ravenous, and tuck straight into my lunch.
‘Why don’t you leave your car here,’ Peter says to Stevenson. ‘Sonya’s driving and can give you a lift.’
‘Thank you, but no. I’ll just have the one,’ he replies. ‘I live closer to York and it’ll put you out.’
While the conversation goes on, I notice that Aiden isn’t eating much. He sees me watching him and smiles.
‘I’m fine, Mum. Just not hungry.’
‘You tell me if you want to go,’ I say, a little too firmly.
‘I will.’ He pats me lightly on the hand.
We all look up from our table to a young woman, around twenty years old, standing next to us with her hands pulled behind her back, red-faced and nervous.
‘Sorry, I didn’t want to interrupt, but are you Aiden Price?’
I’m immediately on high alert. There’s a slight shuffle next to me, Rob also focuses on the mystery girl.
‘Yes,’ Aiden says, managing a smile.
‘I . . . I’m a fan of yours,’ the girl says, blushing a darker shade of red. She quickly swipes the back of her hand over her forehead. She’s pretty, with freckles and naturally golden hair. ‘Could I take a selfie with you?’
There’s tension running along Aiden’s jaw as he grits his teeth. But nevertheless, he stands up and smiles.
‘You don’t have to,’ I say, wanting to shove this girl away from my child. The memory of him in the hospital room flashes through my mind. The first meeting with the doctor, and the wretched, slopping sound as I vomited in response to what he told me about Aiden’s injuries. The first time I saw Aiden’s brown eyes staring up at me when he came home, so small for his age. My heart quickens again.
‘It’s OK,’ Aiden says, before swallowing nervously.
‘Thank you so much!’ The girl takes her mobile phone and gets uncomfortably close to my boy. Thankfully, she doesn’t put an arm around him. I watch the pained expression on my son’s face with a sense of hopelessness. This is his life and there’s nothing I can do to change that.
It’s over in a moment and the girl retreats back to wherever she came from, but the incident only draws attention to us, because a second person approaches. A woman around my age this time, perhaps a little older, asking for an autograph on a beer mat. Aiden smiles politely as he signs it. I watch them both, my body still clenched. When will this stop?
‘Could I have a quick photo, too?’ she asks.
‘OK.’ He glances at me, lost, overwhelmed.
‘We’re actually trying to –’ I start.
‘Mum, it’s OK,’ he says, taking the picture using her phone.
This happens more than I’d like. It’s the new normal, and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can’t imagine ever getting used to his celebrity status, and all I can think is how dangerous it might become unless I can control it.
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