My family gathers around the large oak table in our beautifully renovated home. I’ve put on a dress and lit candles, and there’s a wonderful aroma coming from the dinner you’ve so lovingly prepared. I feel your hand squeeze mine as you top up my glass and ask about my day as a doctor in our small town. It’s the perfect domestic scene, except for one tiny fact: I think my husband is dead, and you are just another patient of mine…
I had no choice but to let you in. If I laugh at your jokes and run my fingers through your hair, maybe I can delete the photos on your phone and find the truth about the night I can’t remember, just before my husband left on the trip he never returned from. Perhaps my son and I will have a chance at a normal life again.
But as I carefully piece together the shards of what really happened that fateful night, only one thing can possibly be true: everyone is lying, even me…
An absolutely addictive psychological thriller that is guaranteed to keep you up all night! Perfect for anyone totally gripped by The Wife Between Us, Gone Girl or The Girl on the Train.
Readers love Samantha Hayes:
‘Wow!… I stayed up all night to finish this book… My jaw ishanging on the floor... I could not put down this book… I’m blown away… I’m going to need a couple days to fully processit.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
‘Wow, wow, wow! An ending I did NOT see coming... PHENOMENAL… a fast moving read with an unforgettable ending. FANTASTIC!!’ Netgalley reviewer, 5 stars
‘Wow, what a jaw-dropping, can’t-put-down, wonderful book this was… such an amazing book… a rollercoaster of emotions. I just couldn’t put down this book… I wanted more and more. I just devoured this… I absolutely loved this book.’ Blue Moon Blogger, 5 stars
‘Omg, I honestly didn't see that ending coming, that was one hell of a totally unexpected, jaw-dropping twist… Very, very highly recommended.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
‘Believe me when I say thatthis really WASN’T A TWIST THAT I SAW COMING!... I didn’t have a clue until it slapped me in the face!… This book is AWESOME and I was addicted from the very first page!’ My Chestnut Reading Tree, 5 stars
‘One of the BEST thrillers I have read in YEARS!Exceptional and addicting…
Release date: September 8, 2021
Print pages: 350
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The Trapped Wife
He doesn’t need to let off steam. What a waste that would be. He likes to let it build up, to simmer inside until he feels his brain swell and his nerves jump. Nothing gives him more pleasure than feeling the twist in his guts, the pressure behind his eyes as his body builds and tenses. Why, he’s not sure, but he knows, as certain as those two insects scuttling between his feet, that he’s not going to play tag or football or swap trading cards like the others. That’s for babies. And he’s not a baby. No way.
He hates this school; wants to burn it down. The other kids have barely spoken to him since he started a few weeks ago. Things were fine when it was just him and his mum at their old place, their old life, without Griff or his new baby sister.
He wipes the back of his hand under one eye. Something is making it water, making his vision blurry as he stares at the iridescent beetle waddling one way then back the other. He puts out a grubby finger, stopping the bug in his tracks, wanting it to meet the ladybird. He doesn’t know if beetles eat ladybirds for lunch, but he hopes so.
A thud resonates through his head as a football hits the wall next to him. He hates that he flinches – he can’t help it – and also doesn’t like that the fat kid from two classes above him lumbers over to fetch the ball, panting, sweating through his pale-blue shirt. His tie is knotted short, his trousers hanging low on bulging hips.
‘Idiot,’ the older kid spits down at him, laughing. Picking up the ball, he draws back his foot as if he’s about to launch it at his thigh but thinks better of it at the sound of the teacher’s voice. Instead, the big kid flobs on the ground, narrowly missing him, before striding off with the ball tucked under his arm.
Fat fucker, the boy yells back in his head, imagining his foot sticking out to trip the other kid up, his nose bloody when he hits the ground, everyone laughing at him. But that’s not real life, not how it goes for him. He wipes his eye again as the feeling grows. Steam. More steam building as he turns his attention back to the insects.
Not real life. Not yet, he thinks, fighting the tears, clamping his teeth together.
‘Go on, don’t be afraid,’ he whispers to the ladybird as she spreads her wings, showing a petticoat of wonder beneath her black and red coat. He had no idea. Didn’t realise she had so many delicate layers – each one vulnerable and fragile. Not like the beetle, he thinks, marvelling at the shiny green and blue of his armour plating, making him appear metallic. Invincible – just how he wants to be.
He uses a twig to coax his new pets closer together. They’re a good distraction from his thoughts – the thoughts that pound the inside of his head from the moment he wakes up until the moment he struggles for sleep, trying to block out the noises coming from his mum and Griff’s room.
‘Maybe you’ll be my friends,’ he says under his breath, rummaging in his pocket in case that old Tic Tac container is still there to put them in. ‘’Cos I haven’t got no others,’ he whispers, his shoulders slumping forward.
Something in his eye again.
And that’s when he’s aware of a shadow – a presence looming over him, blocking out the sun from his private corner of the playground. He sees two tatty trainers on the ground in front of him, the grimy laces thickly knotted with no hope of ever being undone, and the once-white plastic a muddy brown. Hanging down over the trainers are grey school trousers, their hems frayed and crusted with mud.
Before he knows what’s happening, one of the feet lifts up and stamps down hard on the tarmac where the insects have just met. He feels the involuntary gasp in his throat, shuddering as his nerves fire jolts through his body. He’s never felt pressure like it.
Then the foot lifts up again and he can hardly believe that the flattened ladybird and beetle had so much stuff inside them. So much ugly stuff. It feels as if his brain is letting off fireworks.
Slowly, his eyes track up the skinny legs – a hole in one of the knees exposing grazed and scabby skin beneath. One side of the boy’s pale-blue school shirt hangs untucked from the waistband, a button missing, and two arms dangle within a navy-blue padded anorak with the stuffing coming out of one elbow.
The face belonging to the bug-squasher is smaller and paler than he’d imagined and, when their eyes meet, the feeling inside him is unlike anything he’s ever experienced before. It’s like a thousand happy playtimes all rolled into one. He feels like he might explode. A release.
And then, as he stares up in awe, the boy above him smiles. Slowly at first but his own mouth soon follows suit, returning the grin as his cracked lips stretch wide – each of them unaware of what is yet to come.
I stare at the pregnancy test strip, waiting for the results. My cheeks still smart from the dank February air outside, even though it’s warm in my office. Too warm, I think, making a mental note to ask Peggy to turn the heating down. I glance at my watch. Fifteen minutes until clinic starts – my first day back at work since… since the accident six weeks ago. Since I lost Jeremy, my husband. And only three minutes to find out what the rest of my life holds.
My hands are shaking, so I close my eyes and take a few deep breaths. It does little to ease the ache in my heart, the fear flowing through my veins. I miss him so much.
Somehow, I have to pull myself together, get a grip, focus and block out everything churning inside me – at least while I’m at the surgery. Half a dozen patients were already queuing up outside when I arrived, some of them greeting me, offering their condolences, though I didn’t stop to talk – just nodding a small smile as I rushed past. Peggy will unlock the doors on the dot of eight thirty, allowing them all to file in, wait their turn for their allotted ten minutes with me or one of the other GPs here at Waverly Medical Practice.
A precisely planned day lies ahead, filled with patients, meetings, reviewing test results, phone calls and occasionally a home visit, because I refuse to give them up entirely. Waverly is a community practice and our patients rely on us – on me – and our personal service, the relationships we’ve built through generations of families. Though, try as we might to run a tight ship, nothing ever goes to plan. Life gets in the way. Besides, I couldn’t stay off work any longer. I was drowning in the whirlpool of my own thoughts, bubbling under my grief just sitting at home alone. Kieran has already gone back to school, only missing the first week of term after the Christmas holidays – needing his friends, routine, some kind of normality. And now it’s time for me to do the same. Get back into some kind of life again. A life that will now always have a hole carved in it.
I place the test strip down on my desk next to the sample I took on my way in, having dashed into the toilets without any of our three receptionists noticing me as I arrived. After I’d finished throwing up, I’d filled the little container and gone straight to my office with my head down. Apart from a vase of fresh flowers on the windowsill and a ‘thinking of you’ card from my colleagues (and the room having been cleaned), everything is just as I’d left it the day before New Year’s Eve – a time capsule from when my life was normal. When I’d forced it to be normal, even though I’d had my suspicions it wasn’t.
‘Please, please, please,’ I whisper, biting my lip and watching the liquid seep slowly up the strip, creeping ever closer to the control line, and then onwards to the second marker. ‘Human chorionic gonadotrophin,’ I say, unwinding the pale-blue scarf from around my neck, not taking my eyes off the strip. Three words with the power to turn a night of… of… I shake my head, shuddering and daring to take my eyes off the strip as I slip off my overcoat, hanging it and my scarf on the back of the door. Into a terrible mistake, I think, staring down at the test strip again.
Another minute to go.
None of this seems real.
The phone on my desk rings.
‘Welcome back, Dr Miller,’ Peggy says through a swallow. She always brings breakfast in to work. The staff have been kind and understanding since it happened – not least Tim Blake, my fellow partner at Waverly. ‘Dr Blake wants to know if you can change the partners’ meeting to three o’clock instead of two.’
‘Change the meeting…?’ I say, distracted, not taking my eyes off the strip. If I could change anything right now, it would be that one stupid, reckless night a couple of months ago – a night I can barely even remember. Barely remember except when I wake from the terror-filled dreams, sweat pouring off me, fragments of it still stuck behind my eyelids – a bar, alcohol, a man. A warm hand on my shoulder – breaking through a psychological barrier that I’d convinced myself needed breaking. Payback. How could I have been so stupid, so reckless?
Except I’m neither of those things; they’re so very far from who I am. And I didn’t want revenge, either. I would never have done anything to hurt Jeremy on purpose, to betray him – not even taking into account what I’d suspected about him for some time. But then how is this even possible, I think, still staring at the test strip?
My head is filled with missing time, a feeling that something’s not right, a deep sense of fear about what happened that night. And whatever it is, I know I can’t tell a soul.
‘You’re not thinking ahead,’ I hear Jeremy say, the memory of his voice soothing as I picture him leaning over the chequerboard, a cut-glass tumbler of whisky in one hand, the fire crackling beside us as he waits patiently for me to make my move. ‘See the game as if you were me, as if you were in my shoes…’
Then I’d be dead, I think, only realising I’ve whispered it out loud when Peggy says, ‘Sorry? You OK, Jen?’
‘Yes, yes, I’m fine,’ I reply, touching my head. I blink several times, trying to refocus on the strip. It’s as though a camera flash has gone off in my face, and the residual image is in stark negative. My mouth hangs open.
‘The meeting?’ Peggy repeats.
Bodies squashed close, rounds of shots, more wine, laughter, bright lights, loud music – the thud of the bass hammering my skull. A face close… a man’s face, his hand in the small of my back…
I suck in a breath, closing my eyes. ‘Yes, yes, that’s fine, Peggy. Move the meeting,’ I say before quickly hanging up.
When I open my eyes again, I look at the strip.
Two blue lines.
I blink hard. Still two lines.
Slowly, I pick it up, struggling to convince myself it’s even real as I hold it.
‘Christ,’ I whisper, my hand shaking as I stare at the result. I can’t deny that things had been tense between Jeremy and me in the months before he died, with him either sleeping in the spare room or us lying with our backs to each other. It breaks my heart that I can’t remember when we last made love, when my husband held me, the shape of our spent bodies curled into each other. But I know I’ve had a period since we last slept together.
If the test is accurate and I am pregnant, it can only have been that one night at the medical conference in Oxford, early last December. But I don’t understand it; I simply don’t remember what happened. The only things I know for certain are the sense of dread I’ve been left with ever since, and that I woke up in my hotel room alone.
Though you hadn’t been alone, had you, Jen? I think, dropping down into my chair, my inner voice both ferocious and fearful. What the hell had happened that night?
I remember the two half-finished glasses of wine on the dressing table that morning – a crescent of lipstick on one. My underwear discarded on the floor, my new dress flung across the room, one shoe in the bathroom, the other under the bed (how did I even dance in those heels?). No other evidence – apart from the gentle thrum low down in my body, the embers of a fire reignited. Warm blood finally flowing through my veins. It had been a long time since I’d felt it. Yet it could easily have been a fantasy, a dream. An escape.
I chuck the test strip down onto my desk and cover my face, my shoulders jumping in time with my silent sobs as I try to think back. All I know for sure is that something must have happened – something that my mind is intent on hiding from me. And after the couple of days away at the conference, I’d returned home to my husband without an inkling that in less than a month, he’d be dead.
‘I wasn’t thinking ahead,’ I say out loud, mainly for Jeremy’s benefit. If anyone is able to hear or communicate beyond the grave, it’ll be him. I reach across my desk for the photo frame – a picture of him and Kieran, shoulder to shoulder in the fishing boat we hired a couple of years ago on Loch Lomond. I find myself smiling. An unfamiliar act these last few weeks. They didn’t catch anything on the loch, of course. My boys. But we ate fresh fish at a local restaurant that night by way of compensation, Jeremy chatting to anyone and everyone, as he always did, that trademark smile of his with his dark eyes sitting beneath a mop of messy curls, winning over even the most closed-off locals. He always had a tale to tell, an adventure to share, which was why he’d started writing the book in the first place. The book that never got finished.
I run my finger gently over his face before opening my desk drawer and slipping the photo inside. News will have travelled fast in the village, and I don’t want patients asking questions that I can’t answer or offering sympathy I don’t want. They come here for me to help them, not the other way around. Getting back to work is meant to help me move on, to resume as normal a life as possible – for Kieran’s sake, too – and I don’t want to be reminded of what’s happened every day. Jeremy would have insisted on it. ‘Don’t bloody well sit around pining for me, you silly woman,’ he’d say in that gruff but amiable way of his. ‘Just get on with your life.’ I loved him for his straight talking, his no-nonsense honesty.
I open my desk diary to today’s date, drawing a line through the partners’ meeting and rewriting it in the 3 p.m. slot. Then I turn a few pages, stopping when I get to Friday. My half day. Well, my three-quarter day in reality, but it meant I’d always be home by 4 p.m., maybe stopping at the butcher on the way back to pick up some steaks. That, plus a bottle of something red from Jeremy’s prized collection, some art-house movie he’d been hankering to see, and our night would be made. Kieran would usually be in his room or out with a friend. At sixteen, he rarely sat with us in the evenings now.
I turn the page to Saturday – that was all about chores and errands in the Miller household, with Jeremy trundling about the paddock on the quad bike at this time of year, checking the fences were secure, the hedges clipped, the ditches clear and the pond dredged of weed.
‘Man’s work,’ he’d say, knowing how much that annoyed me, that I’d happily tackle the tasks myself if I had the time. I’d always been happier in wellies, jeans and a baggy sweater, and getting covered in mud and scratches never bothered me. Afterwards, Jeremy would come inside and grab me, his cheeks glowing and his skin flavoured with the outdoors as I kissed him.
Sundays were quiet days – filled with lazy brunches, the newspapers, coffee and sometimes chess. It was a ritual for Jeremy to beat me at the game. But I didn’t mind. It somehow kept my mind fresh and allowed me a couple of hours to unwind with my husband before the craziness of the week began again, or he took off on another of his so-called research trips.
But that was before things went sour. Before I suspected there was someone else.
‘I don’t think I’ve ever beaten you, have I?’ I remember saying to him during one of the last games of chess we ever played. It was a particularly foul Sunday – the rain sheeting sideways, hammering the big expanse of glass in the side of our old barn. He’d stoked the wood burner with a fresh supply of logs, and I’d put a joint of beef in the Aga. Kieran was meant to be studying in his room, though I could hear him strumming a tune on his guitar. He was never going to be any good but he loved practising. It was the most clichéd Sunday afternoon ever. And, despite everything that had been brewing, my suspicions, it was the most perfect one, too. I didn’t want it to end, didn’t want anything to end – apart from my paranoia.
‘Checkmate, mate,’ Jeremy had said with a laugh, his grey eyes sparkling as he leant back in the battered leather armchair. His armchair, the one he always sat in, giving anyone who dared settle in it one of his looks. He’d swept back his almost-black curls that were beginning to be flecked with silver, the firelight reflecting in his eyes as though it was the fire inside him bursting out.
‘Say, whaat?’ I’d said, wide-eyed and incredulous at yet another defeat. ‘It’s only been about eight moves.’
‘Six,’ Jeremy corrected.
I laughed, shaking my head. It was hopeless. I was hopeless. He’d been trying to teach me the game for years, and it wasn’t my lack of knowledge of where the pieces could move or, indeed, the aim of the game. It was my complete inability to see ahead. To plan ahead. To me, it was like trying to read a book with one page out of every three missing. None of it made sense. None of it was logical and relied solely upon the other person’s thoughts and moves. And as it turned out, I certainly wasn’t a mind reader.
‘My record was four moves, remember?’ he’d said in a deep voice, winking at me.
I shook my head, smiling as I got up to check on the beef.
‘Fool’s mate,’ he’d called out after me as I went through to the kitchen.
‘Fool’s mate,’ I whisper now, wrapping the test strip in a tissue and pushing it into my bag. Was that me, the fool? I cover my face again, screwing up my eyes as another fragmented memory from that night in Oxford flashes through my mind.
‘Come in,’ I trill as my first patient knocks on the door. I check the intercom is switched off after having summoned her through from the waiting room, putting on my ‘welcoming doctor’ smile as the young woman enters backwards, her elbow propping open the door as she struggles in with a pram and a toddler in tow. I leap up, holding the door wider for her.
‘Hello, Sally,’ I say. ‘You’ve got your hands full there.’ Three bags of shopping, the toddler and a nappy bag hang off her wrists as she manoeuvres the pram, getting the front wheel caught against the door frame as she reverses in. ‘Have a seat,’ I say as she finally gets inside and I close the door. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘Mum-my…’ the toddler whines, pulling at his mother’s sleeve. Sally is only twenty-four but looks tired, drained, as if she’s having the life sucked out of her. Literally, it transpires, when she reveals why she’s come to see me.
‘OK, well, let’s take a look at you, then,’ I say. ‘Danny, why don’t you see what toys I’ve got in my special box?’ I point to the tub of brightly coloured plastic things in the corner. The toddler releases his mother and coyly walks over to the toys, his thumb shoved in his mouth, his eyes big and round.
I draw the curtain around the examination couch, asking Sally to take off her top and bra, having a peek into her pram while she undresses. The baby is asleep, her bottom lip quivering as she sucks through her dreams, her fists clenched either side of her head. A baby girl, I think, knowing the sex of the embryo growing inside me will already have been determined.
A wave of nausea surges through me. Adrenaline and shame rather than antenatal sickness this time. It was the early-morning vomiting during the last week or so, plus the realisation that I’d missed at least one, if not two, periods that convinced me to do the test. With everything that had happened, I was hoping my symptoms could be put down to stress.
‘I’m ready,’ Sally says from behind the curtain.
I duck into the cubicle, leaving the fabric slightly apart so she can keep an eye on her toddler. Sally is lying on her back, her engorged breasts splayed out either side and the top of her leggings cutting into her post-pregnancy belly. She only had the baby three weeks ago.
‘It’s this one,’ she says, pointing to her left breast. ‘It started in this area but it’s all hot and swollen now. It’s agony, especially when she feeds.’
‘Sorry if my hands are a bit cold,’ I say, gently examining her. It only takes a moment for me to diagnose mastitis. I take her temperature.
‘Is it up?’ she says, a concerned look on her face. ‘Danny, stop it!’ she calls out as her little boy chucks a wooden brick across the room. It skids under the couch.
‘A little,’ I tell her. ‘I’ll give you some antibiotics. They won’t hurt baby. Feed her from your sore breast first, express between feeds if you can, and a warm flannel will ease the pain. Paracetamol is fine too. If it isn’t any better in three or four days, come back and see me,’ I add. ‘I’ll leave you to get dressed,’ I say, forcing a smile that would normally come naturally.
At my desk, I type up the prescription and print it out for her, eyeing her toddler as he empties the entire contents of the toy box onto the floor. I close my eyes briefly, imagining myself on my hands and knees clearing up… night feeds, changing nappies a dozen times a day, childcare, tiredness, the expense, coping alone… not to mention what everyone will say. Obviously a mistake… her husband’s dead and she’s forty-two!
‘Having a second baby isn’t just twice the work,’ Sally says with a sigh, coming out from behind the curtains and straightening her baggy top. ‘It’s like ten times as much work.’ She tries to laugh, but I see through the exhaustion. ‘And Steve is on nights, so it’s hard to keep them both quiet in the day when he’s sleeping.’
‘Two under two is hard work,’ I say, handing her the prescription. ‘Look after Mummy,’ I tell the toddler as he trots over to take his mother’s hand, clutching a small plastic fire engine in the other, holding it against his chest as he stares up at me. He has dribble on his chin, his skin sore and cracked. ‘It’s fine, he can keep it,’ I tell Sally, holding the door open as she leaves.
She stops, the pram half in, half out. ‘Do you have children, Doctor?’ she asks.
Her question catches me unawares. ‘Yes… yes, I do,’ I tell her, gripping the door handle hard. ‘A son. He’s sixteen.’
She smiles at me, pausing, giving a little nod.
‘Don’t worry,’ I say as she heads off. ‘It gets easier,’ I add, knowing full well that it doesn’t.
Sweat pours out of me – rivulets running down my face, seeping into my sports top, the breath burning in and out of my lungs as I pump harder. Pink and electric-blue lights flash in time with the music – a fast beat that my legs are supposed to follow. They don’t.
‘Ramp it up a notch now!’ the instructor yells into the tiny wireless mic by his mouth. How can he even speak, let alone shout? I wonder, pedalling harder, feeling an unbearable burn in my quads. ‘C’mon now, go for the final hit!’
He’s been yelling encouragement for forty-five minutes so far. Like work, it’s my first day back in the gym for a while. I was hoping exercise would take my mind off my pregnancy test results, but it hasn’t. If anything, it’s making me think about the little life growing inside me even more, conscious that I don’t overexert myself. It might feel like the end of my life as I know it, but it’s the start of this little baby’s.
I glance across at Rhonda, who’s on the spin bike next to me. She’s standing up, her legs cycling hard and fast, her knuckles white as she grips the handlebars. She leans forward, her chin jutting and her eyes filled with determination and grit. Her wavy blonde hair is high in a ponytail with strands of it stuck to her sweaty face; her teeth are clenched and bared as she draws upon deep reserves of energy. A far cry from my weak performance.
While the others reach down with one hand to increase the resistance of their bikes, I tweak my knob to an even lighter setting, gradually feeling the ache in my muscles ease. Throughout the session, I’ve not been working out at my usual level.
‘Final hill!’ the instructor calls out, his pumped and toned body making light work of the class. There’s a bright grin slashed across his face as if… as if he’s enjoying this, I think, remembering that I once did too. Just not any more.
The music speeds up, the lights flashing faster, making me screw up my eyes. If we were actually cycling up a hill, I’d be way behind the others, probably getting off my bike and pushing it up the incline by now, breathless and fed up.
There’s a baby growing inside me.
And then I’m back there – that night – for just a few seconds, my heart thundering at the recollection. Recalling the early part of the evening is easy, but as the night wore on, all I’m left with are fleeting memories, random snapshots that I can’t control.
I was in some kind of bar or club… crowded and filled with groups from the conference letting their hair down after an intense few days, all of us standing squashed shoulder to shoulder: sweaty bodies, strobe lights, not dissimilar to the spin class studio now. Some of the faces I recognised from the medical talks, and I remember thinking that it was strange to see them out of their business clothes, knocking back shots or swigging from a bottle, laughing, relieved that the intensity of the three-day conference was done for another year.
Someone had knocked into m. . .
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