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Behind the Lie
By Amanda James
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2017 Amanda James
All rights reserved.
Five weeks earlier ...
The kiss of an ocean breeze wakes me from sleep. I watch the white gauze curtain's gentle rise and fall at the open bedroom window, listen to the shush of the waves hurrying in their ceaseless journey back and forth along the sand, and take a deep breath of morning air – ozone and lilies. Wonderful.
Waking to nature's alarm clock in my beloved Cornwall on a sunny spring morning is infinitely preferable to the shriek of a digital one in our twelfth-floor London apartment. I reach out and caress the stems of white lilies by my bed and remind myself that I am very lucky to have both homes. In fact, I think that my life is just about perfect right now. Okay, so there are one or two shadows, I suppose that's what you'd call them, darkening my positive thoughts some days, but nothing I can't handle.
A lazy smile on my lips, I stretch my limbs and run my fingers over the distended mound of my belly. My hands pause. Was that a response?
One kick and ... another.
It hardly seems possible that just two years ago my belly was as flat as an African veldt and my whole career depended on my face and body. My five-feet-nine fashion-model body. I'd have been horrified to find myself pregnant back then, but now I am overjoyed. Overjoyed times two, because I am carrying twins. My laughter escapes as I stroke my tummy again.
In the kitchen now and halfway through a bowl of cornflakes, my mobile rings from somewhere in the hall. I pull my dressing gown across my bump and hurry over – probably left it in my coat pocket again. Yes, I did ...
'Hi, Holly! Didn't wake you, did I?'
The sound of my oldest and best friend's voice on the line warms my heart. 'Demi! No, of course you didn't wake me. It is,' I glance at the kitchen clock, 'nearly nine o'clock. Been up for hours! '
'Of course not. More like ten minutes.' We laugh. I never was good at getting up early. Demi used to call for me on the way to school and always had to wait while I rushed around like a maniac.
'Typical. Look, I know we said we'd meet up tomorrow, but can I pop over this morning instead? I've doubled booked myself.'
'Yeah, of course. The sooner the better. I have bacon, but bring eggs and I'll make us breakfast.'
'Bacon and eggs? I remember a time that you'd rather die than eat that. How you survived on just coffee and ... um ... fags I will never know.' Her chuckle sounds like it's embarrassed, not amused.
The little pause before she said fags wasn't lost on either of us and a bit of sunshine went out of the day. We both know that her runaway tongue had been going to say drugs. All that is over now. A hundred years ago. At least that's how it feels – my life has changed irrevocably.
'Ah, yes. Dark days, Demelza. Dark days indeed. But now everything is different, thank goodness. Oh, and can you bring some fresh white bread?'
'Are you sure you are Holly, the "to die for" former fashion model, or am I speaking to a charlatan?'
'I am the former fashion model, but I think you'll find my figure is no longer to die for ... well, it could be. Depends how you look at it.'
'What do you mean?'
'Let's just say that I've changed in the two years since we last met. You're going to be in for a big surprise.'
From behind the slats at the window, I watch a battered blue VW Camper trundle along the unmade beach road and pull up outside. Bloody hell, Demi must have had that for nearly ten years. It was old when her dad gave it to her for her sixteenth birthday, but that was Demi all over. Why change it if it still worked? Besides, it fitted with her laid-back, adventurous nature and surf-dude style. I watch her get out of the van and the breeze tug at her tangle of copper curls as she turns her expectant green eyes to my beach house. Oh, it is so good to see her again. A little piece of my past right there and ready to reunite with my present. A little piece of the past that I missed more than I realised until this moment.
Demi runs up the sandy incline, a carrier bag of groceries in her hand, and I dodge away before she sees me at the window. I don't want to give away my secret until I open the door. I want to see the expression on her face. With a giggle in my throat I fling open the door, just as she's raising her finger to press the bell. The wide-as-the-sky smile on her face falters, her mouth drops open, becoming just as round as her eyes.
'Oh my WORD!' Demi points at my bump in disbelief. 'You're ... you're ... oh, my word!'
'Pregnant? Is that the word your brain is scrambling for?' I laugh and throw my arms around her. Not easy with a mountain between us.
She hugs me as best she can and then says, 'But why the hell didn't you tell me?'
'Because I wanted to see your face! I couldn't tell you before, could I, because you've been travelling around the world for the last hundred years, finding yourself, or whatever you young folk do.'
Demi narrows her eyes. 'I went to work with Save the Children in India, for six months, and that was ages ago – before your wedding. And then to Greece working in a bar. Listen to you with the young folk? There's three months between us.'
I do love winding her up, it's so easy. I hold the door open and usher her in. 'Well, I am soon to be a mother, so therefore much more mature than you, don't you know?'
She takes a few steps inside and shakes her head, her eyes fixed on my belly. 'I just can't bloody believe it. You're the last person I thought would get pregnant. And you are SO ... massive!'
I ignore the first bit and say, 'That's because
I'm having twins, a boy and a girl.'
'Shut up! You're not!'
'Wow! Are you happy about it all, then?'
I grin at the little furrow in her brow. 'Do I look happy?'
'Why yes ... yes, you do,' she says with a laugh.
'Then that's your answer. Now come through and I'll get that bacon on.'
Soon the kitchen is full of breakfast smells and laughter. Demi is still as crazy as she ever was, and it's a wonder I can cook at all, I'm giggling so much. Suddenly serious, she pulls herself up onto the countertop, looks round the room and spreads her arms wide.
'My God, Holly, you have done incredibly well for a Cornish maid. This house is like, humongous; in fact, this kitchen is bigger than my entire flat! And the view from the living room over the ocean ...' She gives a wistful little sigh. 'What I wouldn't give.'
I nod. 'It is very lovely and I am so lucky to have such a generous husband. Simon bought this place for me when I started to get homesick last year.'
Demi's eyes grow round. 'He must be a bloody millionaire then. Most guys buy their wives a bunch of flowers from the local garage.'
I laugh and crack an egg into the pan. 'Perhaps not quite a millionaire,' I say, though he probably is. I don't know for definite as he keeps his finances close to his chest. 'But, as you know, a London private consultant's salary isn't peanuts.'
She takes a sip of her tea and rolls her eyes. I think I catch a look of disdain in that eye-roll and crack another egg more forcefully. Demi and Simon have met just the once, at our wedding two years ago, and though my best friend had been polite and pleasant, I knew she didn't like him. When I'd asked her what she thought of my new husband, she had been non-committal, just said she was glad I was happy and then gone off to get a drink. Afterwards, despite numerous invites to spend time with us in London, Demi had always come up with an excuse as to why she couldn't make it. Then she'd gone off to Greece.
'Why don't you like Simon, Demi?' I say as I tip the eggs onto a plate with the bacon.
She pulls her neck in and gives me a frown.
'Eh? Who says I don't like him? I've only met the guy the once. '
'Exactly.' I put the plates on the table and Demi jumps down from the countertop. 'You never visited us and I know you inside out – I should, shouldn't I? We have been friends since we were nine.'
Demi cuts the fresh white loaf and slathers thick butter across it. 'Oh, this is still warm, Holly.' She gives a groan of pleasure and stuffs more bread in her mouth. 'I swear to God that Kendra's bake the best bread in Cornwall. I bet if Terry Kendra went on Bake Off he'd win hands ...' Demi looks at my set face, swallows the bread and sighs. 'Look, do we have to do this now, just as we're about to enjoy this wonderful breakfast?'
My heart sinks. How bad can it be? 'No ... not if you ...'
'It's just that he's a bit, you know, controlling ...?' Demi's words burst out around forkfuls of breakfast shoved rapidly into her mouth and I have to concentrate really hard to hear them. 'It's as if you were some kind of trophy for him. He saw you, decided he wanted you, but then what man wouldn't? A stunning, tall, blonde, blue-eyed model?' She pauses and points an eggy fork at me. 'And, I might add, one of the nicest people in the known universe. So he got you clean of drugs and then took you.' Demi shakes her head in bewilderment. 'All within three bloody months. I knew within ten minutes of talking to him that it was a case of whatever Simon wants, Simon gets.'
I watch her push her plate away and pour more tea. A mouthful of my breakfast refuses to be swallowed, just sits in my cheek like a lump of cardboard. I hadn't expected that ... even though I might have thought along those lines myself. More than I'd like to admit.
'Hey, I'm sorry, but you did ask.' Demi touches my hand briefly but her eyes dance away from the hurt in mine. 'And we promised early on that we would be honest with each other, didn't we? If you're happy with him, that's all that matters.'
I nod briefly, swallow my food with a swig of tea, and push my barely touched plate away. 'You don't really know him, so I suppose he could have come across as a bit controlling. But I was out of my depth when I met him ... had been for nearly a year. The modelling scene in London is mad ... a never-ending round of parties, drugs, photo shoots ... it all went to my head. I wasn't eating properly, sleeping ...' I hear my voice catch and Demi takes my hand across the table.
'Let's stop now. I'm sorry I upset you. Let's talk about the babies ...'
'No. I want you to understand.' I take my hand back and tuck my hair behind my ears. I was on antidepressants, booze, as well as the cocaine ... I wanted to come home, leave it all, but I couldn't come home a junky, could I? Imagine what it would have done to Mum only the year after Dad died? I wanted her to be proud of me, make something of myself, but the way things were going I'd have been dead before I was twenty-five.'
Demi puts her hand to her mouth. 'I didn't realise it had got that bad. Why didn't you tell me? I would have helped you.'
I look at her shocked little face, soft green eyes as big as saucers, and want to laugh. How the hell could she have helped me? What did she know about my life at the time? Me, a girl from a Cornish village, drunk on the glamour and bright lights of London. Swayed by promises of making the big time, becoming a supermodel even ... And I had done very well, very quickly. Perhaps could have gone higher in my career, but the scene began to beat me back as if I were driftwood against the returning tide. Swept me away, down and under ...
'You wouldn't have been able to help me, Dem. I needed specialist help and Simon got that for me. He rescued me from drowning, saved my life ...'
'Well, that's good then.' Demi shoots me an unconvincing smile, stands and turns to the kettle. 'Shall I make more tea?'
What the hell is wrong with her? Doesn't she believe me? 'No tea for me. And Simon honestly did save me, you know?' I stand and take the plates over to the sink.
Demi gives me a searching look. 'Simon might have saved you, but don't you think he did it for himself, not for you? I had it from the horse's mouth at the wedding. He told me he came to that fashion show with his then girlfriend, saw you on the catwalk and decided he must have you. So he gets your agent to set up a meeting, tells you he's in love with you, sweeps you off your feet, and arranges for you to see a top drug therapist. Then you're in rehab for a few weeks and, meanwhile, he arranges the wedding of the year. Job done.'
I'm puzzled. 'This isn't news, Demi; I told you the same story myself. He was in love with me; that's why he had to have me, help me. It was love at first sight on his part and I fell for him pretty quickly afterwards.'
'It might have been the same story, but you didn't see his face when he told me his version. It was as if you were some acquisition, something he'd bought, just like he buys his houses, cars ...' Demi stops and holds her hands up. 'Right, that's it. No more now. I want to hear all about these precious babies, and as long as you're happy, that's all that matters.'
I return her smile and we link arms and walk across the living room and out onto the balcony. The tide is on its way in, the sun is playing chase with the clouds, and the wide expanse of Crantock beach is occupied by dog walkers, kite surfers and a few brave paddlers in the cold spring breakers. A thought pushes itself to the front of my mind. Perhaps there's a little bit of Demi that's jealous? Hasn't she just said she would love a place like mine what she wouldn't give? Maybe she'd like to settle down, have the life I have, a husband that's successful?
'This is just an amazing view; I bet you never want to go back to London,' Demi says quietly.
I push those thoughts to the back of my mind again. If she's a bit jealous, then that's only natural, isn't it? I'd probably be the same if our roles were reversed. I smile. 'To be honest, no I don't. Especially since I've been pregnant. I want my babies to breathe in fresh sea air instead of pollution and listen to seagulls, not car horns.'
I look at Demi and the smile dies on my face. She has tears standing and she swallows hard. 'You know you always say that everything is all okay as long as you're happy?'
'I've asked you if you're happy three times since I've been here and you haven't said anything back. You are happy, aren't you? I'd hate to think that you ...'
I slip my arm around her shoulder and give her a squeeze. 'Hey, of course I am, silly,' I say to the beach. I don't want to look into her searching eyes; she always could read me far too well. 'Why wouldn't I be? I have everything I've ever wanted.'CHAPTER 2
Simon ended the call to his wife and poured a whisky. After the day he'd had, he needed one, and he needed Holly too, but she'd just told him she wasn't coming home until the end of the week and he missed her. She'd originally said she'd be back tomorrow and now it would be three more days. Yes, the beach house was his gift to her to make sure she still felt connected to Cornwall and all that romantic stuff about the wild ocean she talked about. But she needed to realise that London was her home now. He'd make her realise it. He had to. The babies were due in five weeks and if she postponed again he'd be worried she might go into labour out in the sticks instead of at his clinic where she'd be safe. If anything happened to her or the babies, he'd never forgive himself.
The light of the reading lamp behind him in the otherwise dark apartment made a mirror of the floor-to-ceiling windows. In them, a tall, dark-haired man wearing a black pinstriped suit glowered at himself and then lifted a heavy crystal tumbler to his lips. Except that it was empty. Simon strode over to the drinks cabinet and refilled the glass. The apartment always felt so empty when Holly was away. He wished he didn't miss her so much ... love her so much. Simon put the glass to his lips and took a big mouthful, his breath taken by the whisky burning a path to his stomach.
In the bedroom he threw off his clothes and ran the shower in the en suite. He'd planned to stay in tonight, but it wouldn't hurt to go out for a bit, would it? Simon needed a distraction, a bit of fun. He thought about the determined tone that had crept into his wife's voice on the telephone earlier when he'd said he'd like her to come home tomorrow like she'd agreed. Simon was sure that little witch Demelza had changed Holly's mind. He knew she'd be trouble when he first laid eyes on her. All thick as thieves and hugs with Holly, yet as cold as ice with him. That was unusual. He had the opposite effect on women mostly.
Half an hour later, Simon shrugged into his jacket and, with some trepidation, examined his appearance in the dressing-table mirror. These long days and late nights were taking their toll. He leaned closer and ruffled the hair around his temples. No, he wasn't mistaken when he'd looked at himself in the window earlier; there were a few grey hairs amongst the dark. And yes, the fine lines around his eyes were becoming more pronounced. Fuck, he was only thirty-four. Perhaps he should stay in after all, have a warm drink, go to bed ... the gaming tables hadn't been kind to him lately either. Then he thought about the empty flat and the bed that was too big.
Excerpted from Behind the Lie by Amanda James. Copyright © 2017 Amanda James. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I would like to know what the book is about before l buy it!
I really enjoyed this book. First one I've read that didn' t have any reviews and also did not explain anything about the story. Was worth the chance. Kept my interest throughout,