Her Sister's Lie

Her Sister's Lie

by Debbie Howells


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Remember the script. Sisters look out for each other.
It’s been ten years since Hannah Roscoe saw her older sister, but that distance fades to nothing when she receives a call from the police saying Nina is dead. As a teenager, desperate to leave home and make her career in music, Hannah moved into Nina’s cottage in the English countryside. In that secluded setting, Nina was trying to give her children the freedom she and Hannah never knew growing up.
Now Nina is gone, and Hannah is left to care for her young nephew, Abe, who’s remote and moody in the wake of his loss. But worse is to come, as Nina’s death, first ruled an accident, becomes a murder investigation. Hannah is forced to confront their unhappy childhood and the reasons she and Nina drifted apart. As for Abe, Hannah suspects he’s hiding something, but whom is he trying to protect?
Through it all, Hannah can't shake the feeling that someone else knows all about the secrets she and Nina shared—and the ones they kept hidden, even from each other. Perhaps Nina’s death is not a tragic ending after all, but the beginning of a new and twisted nightmare . . .
Praise for Debbie Howells and Her Novels
“A combination of lyrical writing and smart mystery. It's a winner.”
—Sandra Block on The Beauty of the End
“An intriguing dark psychological thriller—truly brilliant!” —Lisa Jackson on The Bones of You
“Has been compared to Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones. Unusual and haunting.”
Library Journal on The Bones of You

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496706935
Publisher: Kensington
Publication date: 07/31/2018
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 806,094
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

International bestselling novelist Debbie Howells is the author of The Bones of You, her debut thriller, The Beauty of the End, and Part of the Silence. While in the past she has been a flying instructor, the owner of a flower shop, and a student of psychology, she currently writes full-time. Debbie lives in West Sussex with her family, please visit her online at DebbieHowells.com.

Read an Excerpt


The rain, which had started as drizzle as I left home, grew heavier the closer I got to London, while the voice in my head was growing louder.

Why are you doing this, Hannah?

It wasn't because I wanted to. I hadn't felt I had a choice. An hour ago, I was drawing a line under another long day, about to pour myself a glass of wine, trying not to think about Matt. But he was in my mind, constantly, his beautiful face, the sadness in his voice. I'm sorry, Hannah. I can't do this anymore. It isn't working ... Words I hadn't expected, the audible sound of my life changing, foreshadowing the shock that was about to hit me. Shock that was followed by agony. You can't mean this, Matt ... Our relationship is everything to me ... His response, which still haunted me: If we were that close, you should have been honest with me ... My apology, desperate; my attempts to explain; the sinking realization that it was too late. Time wasn't making it any easier. I couldn't think about Matt without pain sweeping through me, but nor was I ready to block him out.

Evenings were the worst time. It was March, still dark too early, leaving me alone in the empty house with only my memories and the ragged emotions that tore through me. I'd been torturing myself, remembering the day six months ago Matt had moved in, when my mobile buzzed. The call was from a detective inspector someone. A woman. I hadn't registered her name, just sheer disbelief as she told me that my sister had had an accident.

As she spoke, I felt the ten years Nina and I hadn't seen each other shrink to nothing, as for a few seconds my mind ran haywire. "What do you mean? What's happened? Is she all right?" My imagination was picturing Nina involved in a car crash or hit and run. "Which hospital is she in?"

But I knew from the hesitation in the policewoman's voice before she spoke. A silence that didn't need words.

"I'm sorry, but by the time we got to her, it was too late."

Words that hid the details of what had happened to her, but not the truth, that my sister was dead. I was numb all of a sudden, as an image of her came to me: slender, vibrant, tormented. Nina belonged in the land of the living, not a morgue. Her son Abe was at the house alone, the detective inspector went on, breaking into my thoughts. Abe's school had me listed as next of kin.

"How soon can you get here?"

I was next of kin? For a moment, I was stunned. "I can leave in a minute." Suddenly I remembered. "I need her address."

Shock compounded on shock as I wrote it down. When we'd been absent from each other's lives for so long, it made no sense that Nina had named me next of kin.

But, then, we were sisters. Blood is thicker than water.

The DI's voice broke into my thoughts. "How long will it take you to get here?"

"I'm not sure. I live in the New Forest. An hour and a half maybe? It depends on the traffic."

As I switched off my phone, a fleeting picture of Abe came to me, of the last time I saw him — a small, lost figure, standing in front of a sash window. There were no curtains, just the peeling paint framing the expanse of darkness outside. Abe had been wearing his pajamas, his feet bare, Nina standing beside him, as though they were watching something together. I remembered seeing him reach for her hand; noticing Nina's lack of response; after a few seconds, Abe's hand falling away.

Unless his older brother, Jude, was around, which somehow I doubted, as far as I knew Abe had no one. So I was driving. Then out of nowhere, I was thinking of the Cry Babies, the band in which I'd been the lead singer — in my late teens, early twenties, when life had been simple. Why was I thinking about the Cry Babies, with everything else that was going on? But I knew what had reminded me. It was the many times we'd driven up this same stretch of the M3 toward London for some gig or other, music blaring, Danny's van filled with smoke from the Gauloises he chain-smoked, the scent of youth and hedonism.

The car in front slowed down suddenly, jolting me back to the present. Slamming my foot on the brakes, I felt my car skid slightly on the wet road. My heart lurched. I needed to focus.

Dropping back into the slow lane, I peered ahead through the windshield, at the car lights multiplied in the rain, thinking about Nina. Desperate to leave home, at seventeen I'd moved in to her cottage in a remote part of Hampshire. Nina was nine years older than I was and, like me, had left as soon as she could get away. It was the early days of the Cry Babies — gigs had been few and far between and money tight. Nina had taken me under her wing. She always had, back then. My big sister, who had seemed to have her life so figured out, was used to rescuing people. At the start, they'd been happy, carefree days. But so much time had passed. So much had changed.

For a while, I came and went from Nina's place, as the band worked hard and played hard, pushing ourselves in pursuit of the dream. Then after three years together, it paid off. The Cry Babies had looked set for the stars, with a nationwide tour supporting another band and a record deal being talked about. The band had taken over my life by then, and I was often away, traveling around the country, spending less and less time at Nina's. Now, it felt like another lifetime.

I wasn't the same person I'd been then, but things happened; life changed people. That thought brought me back to Matt again, to our first meeting, two years ago, at a New Year's Eve party. It had been a meeting of eyes across a crowded room, which sparked an instant attraction. We met again, by chance, a few days later. Over cups of coffee on a park bench bathed in autumn sunshine, he told me he wanted to see me again. I remembered elation punctured by shock, as in his next breath, he told me he was married.

When I got up and walked away, I remembered him sitting there, staring into his coffee cup. I'd reached the edge of the park before I heard his voice behind me, saying he wasn't sure what was happening to him, but please ... he had no right to ask, but couldn't I give him time to work things out?

Difficult months followed, months during which Matt wrestled with himself, while I was almost forced to give up on him. But six months ago, he'd moved in with me. It was a new beginning, the start of the rest of our lives together. It hadn't been easy. Matt's ex-wife had refused to let go, trying to persuade him to come back to her, never seeming to understand that you can't force love. That it's a gift.

I'd believed in Matt, trusted him implicitly. With the rest of my life ... What a mistake. I'd been so wrong.

Now, confronted with the latest twist fate had thrown at me, I was finding my way toward the address the police had given me, thinking about the last time I saw Nina, hardly able to believe it was as long as ten years ago, when our interwoven lives had been irrevocably wrenched apart. It had been a brief visit that ended as it usually did by then, in an argument, but our relationship had been fraying for some time. After the band broke up, Nina had wanted me to salvage what was left of my career, to keep trying and not give up. But, devastated, I'd done the opposite, isolating myself — from ridicule, from the world, from everyone. After one hit record, fate had intervened, marking a fork in the road for the band, veering us sharply away from success toward oblivion. But life did that, I'd discovered. Presented the unexpected, tantalized with a glimpse of amazing possibility, holding it just out of reach, before taking it away forever. The roads were still slick with the oily wash of the earlier rain. As I turned into Nina's street, I followed my GPS to a break in the terraced houses where two police cars were parked in a turnout. One of them had a flashing light on top. Pulling in beside it, I paused for a moment, taking a breath, steeling myself.

As I sat there, I shivered, thinking again of my sofa and glass of wine at the home I thought of as my sanctuary. A random thought flashed through my head, lodging long enough that I considered quietly driving away, unseen, my arrival unnoticed. Concocting a story about how my car broke down, how sorry I was. Abe would be OK, wouldn't he? There had to be someone else.

I got as far as reaching for my seat belt, then stopped myself, pulled by the invisible thread that runs through all of us, that however much we might want to, none of us can ever truly disown. Family.

* * *

As I walked past the front doors toward Nina's house, I looked around, struck by how dismal the street looked, the sense of despondency that hung in the air alongside the smell of fried food. Outside her house, I paused, then knocked.

The door opened straightaway. "Ms. Roscoe? I'm Detective Inspector Collins. Please come in." The DI closed the door behind me.

"Thank you." I stood inside the small hallway, wondering if she'd been watching from the window, taking in her brown hair and creased navy jacket, cold all of a sudden, not sure if it was the house making me shiver or the knowledge that Nina had died.

"Shall we go through to the kitchen?" She turned and walked along the narrow passageway and through a door into Nina's kitchen.

I followed her, shocked by what I saw. The house was dingy, unloved, reeking of neglect, with dirty carpets and chipped paintwork. In the kitchen itself, the countertops were dirty and the floor filthy. It was a world apart from the cottage I'd shared with her all those years ago, which had been colorfully if shabbily furnished but had felt like a home. When I lived with her, Nina had never had either money or the inclination to spend it on material possessions, but she'd always kept her surroundings clean and bright. Nothing like this.

"What happened to her?"

DI Collins turned to face me. "It looks as though she fell and hit her head — in her bedroom. She may have been drinking."

"Oh my God ..." Leaning against the door frame, I felt the blood drain from my face.

"Before I go and get Abe, I need to take some details." DI Collins picked up the clipboard from one of the worktops. "We have your name as Hannah Roscoe, and obviously I have your phone number ... Could you give me your address?"

I gave it to her, waiting for her to finish writing.

"You're married?"

I shook my head. "No. I live alone." Realizing, as I said the words, that it was a first, like other firsts: the first night after Matt had left, when I'd tossed and turned, unable to sleep; the first morning that I woke up alone.

She frowned. "You and your sister don't share the same name. Was she married?"

"No. I was, briefly, quite a few years ago." It was just before the band split up. Nathan and I had known each other only a few months when we got married. After a small registry office wedding, we'd thrown a big, extravagant party. Nathan had been in another band, which had gone on to become a household name. The music world had been the glue that held us together. Without the Cry Babies, we'd rapidly drifted apart.

"So, no one else lives with you."

Thinking of Matt again, I shook my head, swallowing the lump in my throat.

DI Collins paused for a moment. "When did you last see Ms. Tyrell?"

"A long time ago. About ten years." As I said it, I felt guilty, for not making more of an effort. "We fell out." The truth was too complicated, too open to being misinterpreted, to explain to a total stranger. "I'd always intended to track her down. You always think there's time, don't you?" I shrugged helplessly. But it was true. Everyone thinks they have so much time, but they don't know. Not really.

You were on my mind, Nina. Always. You were my sister.

But weeks had passed, becoming months. Before I knew it, they'd become years. It happened all the time; people become estranged for all kinds of reasons. Even sisters.

"And that was before she moved here?"

I nodded.

DI Collins frowned. "You haven't been in touch since?"

My reply was deliberately evasive. "I suppose you could say our lives took us in different directions."

It wasn't a lie, more a limited version of the truth. The last conversation between us had been after a few drinks. I remembered Nina shouting at me. For Christ's sake, Hannah ... You can't let what's happened destroy your future. You have to move on. You still have a chance to do something with your life ... After I left, we hadn't spoken for a couple of weeks. I'd called her several times, but on each occasion, the call had gone to voice mail. I'd assumed she hadn't paid her bill; then when I eventually went to see her, I found the cottage empty. She'd moved away.

DI Collins didn't look convinced. "Don't you think it's odd, that when you hadn't seen each other for so long, Nina would give your name to Abe's school as next of kin? I'm guessing you wouldn't have known she'd done that?"

I shrugged. "No ... I was surprised, but then I'm her sister ... People used to come and go in Nina's life. Maybe there was no one else. She had a history of sabotaged relationships." It had begun with our parents. As far as I knew, like me, she'd never made her peace with them.

If I'd wanted to, I might have found you, but you know I couldn't."

I asked Abe about his father, but he said he doesn't have one. Do you know who his father is?"

Oh Nina ... So many men came and went, never staying for more than a few months. "There was no one permanent in her life when he was born." It wasn't a lie.

"What about your parents?" DI Collins paused.

It was the question I'd been dreading, that I'd hoped she wouldn't ask. There were no happy childhood memories, no place in either my or Nina's life for the father who'd abused us, for the mother who'd known but had done nothing to protect her own children. I tried to keep my voice steady. "She didn't speak to them. There was a falling out. It was a long time ago."

She frowned. "Do you think it's possible that things had changed between them? I did ask Abe earlier, about his grandparents, but all he said was he doesn't really know them, which fits with what you just told me. But it's been a considerable time since you spoke to her. Maybe Ms. Tyrell had been in touch. They may well want to be part of Abe's life. We need to talk to them, and of course they need to be told, though it might be better if it came from you."

I wanted to shout at her. No ... Things wouldn't have changed. Nina would never have contacted them, any more than I would. Sometimes, for your own sanity, you leave the past behind and don't look back. But if I said that to DI Collins, there would be more questions, dredging up painful memories, questions to which there were no answers. It was easier not to go there. I nodded, numbly. "I'll let them know."

She nodded briefly, then glanced at the notes in front of her. "I understand Abe has a brother."

"Half brother." I corrected. "Jude." A difficult child came to mind, one who was always getting into fights and who swore like a trooper, except he wasn't a child now. He must be nearly twenty.

"You're not in contact with him, either?"

I shook my head. "No."

"Is there anyone else you remember from the time you lived together?"

I stared at her. Ten years had passed — it was hardly relevant. I'd been twenty-two when I last saw Nina. After all this time, the people I remembered were nameless faces, passing through. "There wasn't really anyone who stayed around."

Then for a moment, I thought about Summer. Beautiful, strong, free-spirited. But like everyone else, she too had been transient.

The DI looked up. "One last thing. I'm sorry to have to ask you this, but it would really help us if you could identify your sister's body."

It hadn't entered my head that I'd have to do that. I stared at her, shocked.


An air of surrealism had swept over me. It wasn't just the thought of coming face to face with my sister's body, inches in front of me. What affected me more was the reality that it was someone whose blood I shared, whom I remembered as being so full of life.

"Her body has been taken to a chapel of rest." DI Collins paused, as she wrote something on a piece of paper, then handed it to me. "This is the address. If you call them in the morning, they'll arrange a time with you."

I took it reluctantly, my eyes scanning the address without taking it in. "Could I see her room?"

* * *

Back downstairs, I felt shaky. Nina didn't belong in that dingy bedroom, where the drab furnishings and unmade bed seemed so uncharacteristic of my sister. I hadn't been prepared for the dark stain, where her blood had soaked into the carpet. The empty vodka bottle and tipped-over glass had sent another ripple of shock through me.


Excerpted from "Her Sister's Lie"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Debbie Howells.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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