Marissa lives alone in her tiny one-bed flat. It’s quiet and safe; all she’s ever wanted since the night her mother was killed in front of her. But when the police knock on her door with the news that her last remaining family member has been murdered, she comes face to face with the trauma she has spent a lifetime running from.
A witness saw her car outside his house that day, but Marissa knows she’s innocent. She hasn’t seen her uncle in years and remembers going to bed in her own home that night. But she’s had blackouts before and can’t always trust her memory.
Days later, Marissa’s neighbour is found dead in his flat with stab wounds all over his body, exactly like her uncle. It was no secret that Marissa didn’t get on with her neighbour, but she’d never want to see him hurt. How can she convince the police that she isn’t a killer? And, as the secrets from her past take hold of her present, is there anyone in her small world she can trust?
As you read, you’ll believe every word Marissa says. You’ll think you know where to draw the line between innocence and guilt. But blame is a dangerous thing, and nothing is ever what it seems…
Perfect for fans of C.L. Taylor, Teresa Driscoll and Lisa Jewell, What She Did is a dark and twisty crime thriller that will keep you up all night!What readers are saying about Carla Kovach:
‘Had me on the edge of my seat, my heart in my mouth and the sweat pouring out of my from nerves and apprehension.’ @Chloesreadingroom
‘My head was spinning… Finger licking good.’ B for Bookreview
‘Wow… A fabulous book… Brilliantly addictive. I loved every page.’ Goodreads reviewer
‘I am completely hooked… I read this in a single sitting, unable to put it down.’ NetGalley reviewer
‘Wow!… Absolutely amazing!… An incredibly clever and gripping story. I was hooked from the first page.’ Goodreads reviewer
‘Fantastic. Five stars from me.’ NetGalley reviewer
‘Wow! What a great read!! This was full of so many twists and turns… This book touched every possible emotion. Can’t recommend enough!’ NetGalley reviewer
‘What an amazing thriller!Absolutely loved the storyline.’ Goodreads reviewer
‘An easy five stars.’ Goodreads reviewer
‘I was gobsmacked!… A fast-paced, captivating read.’ @My_reading_Narnia
Release date: September 20, 2021
Print pages: 350
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What She Did
‘It’s okay, baby girl. Mummy will sharpen it for you.’ Her hands shake as she takes the red pencil from me. I don’t know why she’s staring at my picture so hard.
‘Mummy, don’t cry. I’m making it for you so that you can be happy.’
Her black hair drops forward as she kneels on the edge of the rug. She hands the sharpened pencil back to me then does my chunky cardigan buttons up before kissing me on the forehead. I lie there, mouth open in concentration as I try not to colour over the lines. Pressing harder and harder with the pencil, I try to make the apple redder but the green still won’t go. The pencil snaps and I’ve made a tiny hole in the page. This won’t make Mummy happy. Now I’ll have to start again and colour another picture.
As my bottom lip trembles I look away. Mummy will know I’m sad if she sees me and it will make her sad. There is a bang at the door and it makes me jump.
Mummy holds her finger to her lips and creeps towards the door. She stares through the spyhole so that she can see who is there. I shuffle out of the way as she takes a few steps back. ‘Mummy, you nearly trodded on me.’
‘Shush.’ She places her finger over my lips and stares at me for a second.
‘I know you’re in there.’ It’s a man’s voice.
It’s the bad man. Mummy grabs me up in her arms. I go to shout but her hand covers my mouth. I can’t breathe and I’m frightened so I try to wriggle out of her grip. She drags me into the bedroom, keeping her hand clasped over my mouth as she bends over. Another little cry escapes my mouth.
‘You can’t make a noise, baby girl. Promise me and I’ll take my hand away.’ She is crying too and red blotches spread across her light brown cheeks.
My heart flutters; it feels funny and I can’t stop shaking. ‘Mummy, I’m scared.’
‘Shush. What mustn’t you do?’
I reply in a whisper. ‘Make a noise. I mustn’t make a noise, Mummy.’ My knees almost knock as I grip the blunt pencil. I need to wee but I can’t tell Mummy now.
‘That’s right.’ I can only just hear what she says as her warm breath finds my ear. ‘It’s like a game. You’re going to hide under the bed and you can’t come out until I say. Okay? Promise?’
I nod as a tear trickles down my cheek. I know I’ll upset Mummy more now that she’s seen me cry but I can’t help it. She kisses me on the head, pulls me onto my belly and slides me along the shiny wood until I’m under our big bed. She pulls the blanket over the end but it doesn’t quite reach the floor. I peer through the gap as she almost slips in her thick black tights. She picks up the colouring book but my apple picture slips out. I ripped it out of the book so that she could keep it. She snatches that up too and throws it into a drawer. The bad man shouts from outside the door and the next bang makes me flinch.
‘Just go away. I’ve called the police.’ I know Mummy hasn’t called anyone. She has no money and her phone doesn’t make calls at the moment, that’s what she keeps saying. I lift up the blanket and watch as she reaches for the sideboard and grabs the shiny blue and yellow glass globe that she told me is called a paperweight.
‘You thought I’d never find you, but I did. You know what I’ve come for.’ As he finishes talking, the door bursts open and I wet myself a little.
My mouth dries, then my throat. I wonder, if I called her, would I make a frog noise? I want to cough or swallow but I can’t. Mummy said not to make any noise and I promised. My nose fills up and I’m shivery cold. The floor is like ice and I can barely feel my fingertips. My teeth begin to chatter and I can’t wiggle my toes. Mummy told me to keep my socks on but I was playing with them. I wanted to see how long they could stretch. I wish I’d left them on then my toes would be warm.
I peer through the gap. Mummy’s eyes look so wide. She lifts the paperweight with her shaky hand. ‘Please just leave me alone.’
His laughter fills the air followed by a loud footstep. He’s coming for me. I drop the blanket and lay my head on the floor but all I can see is feet and a long shadow. Now there are two shadows and a pair of black boots, not like Mummy’s – they’re flat. I flinch at the loud thud. Has Mummy hit the bad man?
I hold my hand over my mouth to stop myself crying out as Mummy falls to the floor. The paperweight rolls to a stop at the blanket’s fringe. I hold in my tears. The bad man will get me if I cry.
I won’t make a noise, I promised. I mouth the word Mummy then everything is silent, except for the ticking of the wall clock.
The booted man is silent for a few moments, then he laughs. Stepping away from Mummy, he starts to empty the sideboard drawers before taking a few items, then he stomps to our kitchen.
I hear the neighbours below, shouting. They always shout. Everyone around here shouts. Mummy gets upset living here and she tells me of a house we’ll have one day, one surrounded by pretty flowers with a garden gate, just like the one we used to live in. I want to go back to the cottage where we lived before so I hope that’s where she means.
I slide along the floor, peering under the blanket. ‘Mummy,’ I whisper as another tear runs down my cheek. She doesn’t move. I slide a bit further, just like a snake, until I’ve cleared the blanket. The man in boots still opens and closes drawers in the kitchen. I have to get out and get help for Mummy while she sleeps. As I stand, my trembling knees almost buckle.
I see Scarecrow, the knitted toy that used to be Mummy’s when she was little. He always sits on the chest of drawers until bedtime, then he sleeps next to me. I grip Scarecrow and hold him to my chest. The stomping halts and my bottom lip trembles.
‘What have you done with her? I will find her, you mark my words.’ As he hurries back into the lounge, I fall to the floor and slide back under the bed, squeezing my eyes together. This is hide and seek, that’s all it is. I’m hiding and he can’t find me. My heart bangs hard so I grip Scarecrow closer.
As I open an eye, just a little, the man steps into the bedroom, standing at the end of the bed that Mummy and I share. He smells funny, like chips.
One of Scarecrow’s button eyes must have fallen off as it’s at the bad man’s feet. As he bends down and reaches for the button, I hold my breath. My chest hurts; I need to breathe. As he scoops up the button and leaves the room, I gasp. The front door bounces back and forth, banging away until it finally stops. Has he gone or is it a trick? It’s hide and seek, I must stay under the bed and not make a sound. I promised Mummy.
I look at her. A single tear had run from her closed eye.
I want to come out from under the bed. I want to shake her, to wake her up but I can’t. I can’t move. My legs are numb and I can’t look any more. I scrunch my eyes closed and cling to Scarecrow as I lie in a wet puddle and silently weep. Mummy will tell me when to come out and I promised her I wouldn’t make a noise, so I won’t.
I’ll be quiet, Mummy. I’m being a good girl.
I grab the blouse with the broderie anglaise strip along the cuff then I run my fingers over the smooth pearlescent buttons. It’s perfect for my meeting; professional but stylish. My phone alarm rings, its shrill racket piercing my thoughts as it buzzes along the chest of drawers. Mr Ben Forge, my nine o’clock appointment, will be here in fifteen minutes and my heart flutters away. Since first meeting him at his office, I’ve been thinking about him – a lot. He’s charming and good looking. I shake those thoughts away. He’s a potential client, which means I need to forget how he makes me feel and concentrate on getting more business. The extra money would definitely come in handy.
It’s rare that I invite clients to my home but he was keen to see where I work. I glance around at my spare bedroom that has been kitted out into an office. All is in place and I’m ready to receive my visitor.
The office is ready for his arrival, and so am I. One last mirror check confirms that I don’t have a hair out of place. My light brown skin is clear of blemishes and I look alert; yes, I’m as ready as I can be. I bite my lip and smile, reminding myself that I can do this.
I’ve just got time to run downstairs to collect my post, so I grab my keys and head out the apartment door. As I reach the bottom of the stairs, I grab the three letters from my post box. One from the council, a water bill, and a white envelope with no name on the front; simply addressed to the resident at apartment number twenty-seven.
Mr Forge makes me jump as he presses his nose against the glass of the main door and waves through the wet glass. I push the door open for him, letting in the freezing cold December air. The stray cat that always loiters pushes through, trying to escape the rain. His scraggy black fur is drenched and he starts brushing his head against my trouser leg, depositing hairs everywhere. I stroke him before popping him back outside and brushing my leg down. Swallowing, I feel a little guilty. I’ll put some food out for the cat later.
My client smiles. ‘Morning, Marissa. What a day. Sorry I’m early.’
‘Ah, Mr Forge, please come in. It’s really lovely to see you again.’
‘Please, call me Ben. No one calls me Mr Forge except the bank manager.’
I feel my heart rate picking up a little. He’s taken me by surprise by being early and I realise I haven’t even got the coffee pot on, and I really wanted to impress him. ‘I’m not quite ready but follow me up. I’ll get a hot drink on the go. It’s so cold today. I bet you’re freezing.’ I glance back as I lead the way up.
‘It’s lovely and warm in here though.’ He smiles as our gazes meet for a second, then he brushes his hand through his head of blond hair which is slightly greying around the sides.
I hope that he can’t tell I’m nervous. Right, I don’t want to look like I haven’t done my research. What do I need to remember? He has twelve offices around the Midlands. His main office is in the centre of Birmingham. He bases himself at his Stratford-upon-Avon office, employs around seventy people and he’s won numerous awards. I also know that he’s divorced and I swallow, wondering if he’s single at the moment. My cheeks start to burn and I hope he doesn’t notice. I shouldn’t think like this but I can’t help that I find him attractive.
I know he’s being polite as they look a bit shabby. Number twenty-four’s dogs begin to yap as we pass their apartment and continue up the stairs. ‘Sorry about the noise.’
‘That’s okay, I love dogs. Are they yours?’
‘No, I’d like a dog one day though but not in the apartment.’ I feel a sense of shame as we reach my floor. The communal area looks scuffed and the carpet gives off a musty smell. A cleaner hasn’t attended for months and a couple of the bulbs flicker. This is when I wonder if my home office set-up is enough to get me the more lucrative business I need to move forward.
He smiles as I unlock my door. ‘Please come through and make yourself at home. My office is in the first room on the right. Coffee or tea?’
‘Coffee would be great. I take it black, no sugar and make it strong, I need to perk up a bit.’
‘You’re in luck, I make great coffee.’ I hurry through to the kitchen and pop a filter into the cafetière and hurry to make the drinks.
He looks up with a smile as I pass him the coffee. ‘Two coffees.’ I take a sip, enjoying the richness. We both like our coffee black; that’s one thing we have in common. ‘I forgot to ask the other day, how did you come across my details?’ It’s a question I need answering as I have no idea.
He looks up as if trying to remember. ‘My financial adviser is retiring and Justine Delaney gave me your number. She said that you arrange mortgages and insurances for her clients which is exactly the type of person I desperately need right now.’
He reminds me that I need to call or message Justine, we’re definitely due a night of wine very soon. ‘Yes, Justine. I’ve been working with her for years. Are you looking for a similar arrangement to the one I have with her?’
He nodded as his shoulders relaxed. For a moment, he looks like he’s thinking about something other than our conversation and our gazes meet again. I know that my thoughts are totally unprofessional but I felt this chemistry between us the moment I saw him. I clear my throat and break the silence, knowing that he wouldn’t be interested in a wallflower like me. He’s here to do business and I’m being an idiot.
He’s poised with his pen, ready to take notes. ‘Tell me a bit more about your set-up.’
‘Of course. I work from home and I visit the clients as and when needed. What you see here is me; well, I mean this is it and I love working from home, for myself.’ My nerves are really showing now as I waffle on. I look like a silly schoolgirl who has a crush on the popular boy, the way I’m biting my bottom lip and looking up at him. I open my tablet case hoping that he can’t see the redness creeping up my neck and I wait for the gadget to light up. ‘Can I have your card, please? I didn’t take one the other day.’
He passes one to me, then I click onto my email and forward some documents to him.
‘I’ve just forwarded my terms and conditions and contract, which is what we spoke about before. I’d really love to work with you and if you’d like to work with me, I’ll need you to sign the paperwork before we get started.’
‘Whoa, fast mover.’ I think I saw him wink. Is he flirting with me? No, he can’t be. I’m Marissa; the woman that goes unnoticed. I dress to blend in. If people don’t see you, they sure as hell won’t want to hurt you.
‘I didn’t mean it to feel like that.’ A pathetic little titter slips through my lips and I relax, feeling my anxiety subside. ‘Sorry. Would you like more coffee?’ Idiot. He hasn’t drunk the one he has in his hand.
‘I’m good, thank you. If I line another one of these up, I’ll be wired and I have more meetings this morning. Let’s hope this is the start of something great, I mean I hope it is. I’ll get the paperwork emailed back to you this afternoon. It’s lovely to see where you work, Marissa. It’s just as I pictured it in my head when you told me you worked at home. Everything is so neat, like you.’ He checks out the rows of filing cabinets that are stacked up behind my desk, all locked and shiny. There’s not a piece of paper out of order in this room and my collar and cuffs are neatly starched. They are as precise as my office, my cupboards, and my life. That’s the image I like to give off. Behind the façade, everything is in disarray; but I’m working on that at the moment. One day my interior will be as tidy as my exterior, I think, as my stomach does a little dance.
‘Is there anything else you’d like to ask or need to know?’ I’m a little confused as to why he wanted to visit me at my home office. No one else has ever wanted to. I can only think that he likes me; and I like him. He must be in his mid-forties, about twenty years older than me but that doesn’t matter, not to me anyway.
He shakes his head, swigs the rest of the coffee down in one and stands. ‘No, that was it really. I wanted to see where you worked and now I have. All looks fine so everything is great.’
As I go to stand, he reaches for my wrist, hurting me with his grip. I open and close my mouth, not quite able to get my words out. His fingers press so hard into my skin I feel my hand start to tingle so I begin to pull away. I know he can feel me trembling. After a few seconds, he lets go.
He grabs his coat and puts it back on. ‘I’m sorry.’ He smiles warmly. ‘I was just trying to find the words to ask you out for dinner and…’ He cups my chin. ‘I know you want to go out with me. I can see what’s happening between us and I know under that innocent pretence you can too. I didn’t come here today to check out your home office. I came here to check you out and I like what I see. Come on, say yes as I don’t take rejection well.’ His smile reverses into an over-exaggerated frown. ‘I’m a man who’s used to getting what he wants.’
‘Erm…’ I step back and he releases my chin.
I don’t like the way he grabbed me. It was as if he owned me. He steps in front of the door and my heart starts to pound. I feel trapped in my apartment and he’s still making that face as he waits for my answer.
I feel a prickle of sweat forming at the nape of my neck.
‘Right, I best get on.’ He pauses and his smile is back as if nothing happened as he moves away from the door. ‘Are you okay? You don’t look so well.’
‘I’m fine, honestly.’ I swallow, forcing a smile.
‘You’re shaking. Probably best not to have any more of that coffee. It’s really strong and it’ll keep you awake at night. So, what about dinner?’
‘Err, yes, you’re right about the coffee. Can I let you know later, about dinner?’ The best thing I can do is think this through properly. I also can’t work out if something weird just happened or if it was just me making something out of nothing? Maybe I’m blowing it all up into something huge when all he did was ask me out. So he grabbed my wrist but he probably didn’t mean to pinch so hard, but I still feel trapped.
‘Of course, you have my number. It’s just dinner. We can get to know each other a little better, that’s all. Have a think about it and get back to me.’
I open the front door, my heart now pounding. ‘Of course, I’ll call you.’ I hope he doesn’t hear the crackle in my voice.
‘You know, I only live a few streets away which is why I suggested dropping by for this meeting.’ He buttons up his coat. ‘I’m a nice guy, I promise, and I know how to treat a lady.’ He steps towards the door and I feel my heart slowing down a little. He throws his bag over his shoulder and stops for a second too long. What he doesn’t know is that I have a paring knife behind the sunset picture that I’m leaning against. The main reason for it being there is I’m scared; in fact I’m petrified of someone bursting into my home and hurting me, just like when that man killed my mother. It’s there to grab should I need to defend myself from a murderous intruder.
‘It was lovely to see you again. I’ll message you, I promise,’ I say with a little squeak.
‘And I’ll read and sign the contract. Speak later.’ He smiles one last time before leaving.
Idiot. Idiot. Idiot. I handled all that ridiculously. He asked me out, held my wrist and romantically cupped my chin. I read too much into everything. Hurrying to the kitchen with the dirty cups, I place them in the sink before picking up the post again. I open the mystery letter. It’s an invite to a residents’ meeting to discuss the demise of the estate and I’m invited to attend, along with everyone else. I throw it onto the worktop.
My phone flashes and rings but I ignore Ben. I’ll have to call him later or tomorrow when I’m feeling less confused about what just happened. When he stood in front of my door trapping me in, that sense of powerlessness freaked me out as if it was yesterday. My mother’s murder is something I’ll never forget.
I grab my phone and press Justine’s number. She answers immediately. ‘Hiya, it’s Marissa.’
‘I know who it is, silly. Your name comes up. ’Bout time you got back to me, I’ve missed you and I have vino in the fridge. We badly need that catch up.’ She laughs. ‘Everything okay?’
‘Yes, just realised we haven’t spoken for ages and I wondered if you wanted to do something later today or this evening.’ Maybe I need to let my hair down and all will seem clear when I’ve had the chance to unwind with a friend. A few glasses of wine will help.
Packing my work away, I realise it’s getting on a bit and I don’t want to be late for Justine. I dash around my bedroom, doing my hair and make-up, ready to head out into the frosty winter’s evening. Tonight I will put Ben and his dinner invite to the back of my mind and have a good time with my friend. Grabbing the bottle of red that I keep for times like this, I secrete it in my large shoulder bag.
I don’t change from my shirt and grey trousers even though I know Justine will have made an effort. My face flushes as I check my phone again. I never did get back to Ben on whether I would go to dinner with him. I might do it later, maybe when I’ve sunk a couple of glasses of wine and gained some perspective. Dating a potential client probably isn’t a good idea but I’m making an effort to get out and meet new people. My therapy is over but I need to continue doing the work if I’m to develop trusting relationships in life. Not everyone is out to hurt me or let me down. The past is the past and only I can make positive steps to build the future I deserve. I do one last mirror check and smile. That’s better. Keep positive and happy and everything else will fall into place.
As I grab my handbag and the bag of scraps for the cat, the fire door outside my apartment barges open, making my door creak in turn. I look through the spyhole. Hello new neighbour in a denim jacket. I close one eye to get a better look. He turns and I see his mottled face, the look finished with a grey goatee. There’s something about him, he’s taking in his surroundings and checking over his shoulder. Who exactly is he expecting to be close behind him? His dark beady eyes remind me of an eagle preparing to swoop. Oh well, the apartment couldn’t stay va. . .
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