From the international bestselling author of "Land of the Living," and "Killing Me Softly," comes a chilling new novel about a broken affair that leads to a deadly obsession.
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By Nicci French
Warner BooksCopyright © 2004 Nicci French
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI've had a dream recently, the same dream, over and over again, and each time I think it's real. I'm back at the ice rink on the afternoon I first met Brendan. The cold stings my face, I can hear the scrape of the blades on the ice and then I see him. He's glancing over at me with that funny look of his, as if he's noticed me and he's got something else on his mind. I see all over again that he's good looking in a way that not everybody would notice. His hair is glossy black like a raven's wing. His face is oval and his cheekbones and chin are prominent. He has an amused expression on his face as if he has seen the joke before anybody else and I like that about him. He looks at me and then gives me a second look and he's coming over to say hello. And in my dream I think: Good. I've been given another chance. It doesn't have to happen. This time I can stop it now, here, before it's even begun.
But I don't. I smile at what he says to me and I say things back to him. I can't hear the words and I don't know what they are, but they must be funny because Brendan laughs and says something and then I laugh, and so it goes, back and forth. We're like actors in a long-running show. We can say our lines without thinking and I know what's going to happen to this boy and this girl. They have never metbefore but he is a friend of a friend of hers and so they are surprised that this is the first time they have come across each other. I'm trying to stop myself, in this dream that I both know and don't know is a dream. An ice rink is a good place for a boy and a girl to meet, especially when neither of them can skate. Because they have to lean against each other for support and it's almost compulsory for the boy to put his steadying arm around the girl and they help each other up and laugh at their joint predicament. Her laces are frozen together and he helps her to untie them, her foot in his lap for convenience. When the group starts to break up, it's only natural that the boy asks the girl for her phone number.
The girl is surprised by a moment of reluctance. It's been fun but does she need something like this at the moment? She looks at the boy. His eyes are shining from the cold. He is smiling at her expectantly. It seems easier just to give him the number and so she does, even though I am shouting for her not to. But the shouting is silent and in any case she is me and she doesn't know what is going to happen but I do.
I'm wondering: How is it that I know what is going to happen? I know they are going to meet twice-a drink, a movie-and then, on her sofa, she'll think, Well, why not? And so I'm thinking if I know what's going to happen, it must mean that I can't change it. Not a single detail. I know they'll sleep together twice more, or is it three times? Always in the girl's flat. After the second time she sees a strange toothbrush in the mug next to hers. A moment of confusion. She will have to think about that. She will barely have time. Because the next afternoon, her mind will be made up for her. It's at about that moment-the girl coming home from work, opening the door of her flat-that I wake up.
AFTER WEEKS OF GRAYNESS and drizzle, it was a beautiful autumn afternoon. A blue sky just beginning to lose its electric glare, a sharp wind that was shaking bright leaves from the trees. It had been a long day, and I'd spent most of it up a ladder painting a ceiling, so my neck and right arm ached and my whole body felt grimy and sore, and there were splashes of white emulsion over my knuckles and in my hair. I was thinking about an evening alone: a hot bath, supper in front of the TV in my dressing gown. Cheese on toast, I thought. Cold beer.
So I opened the door to my flat and walked in, letting my bag drop to the floor. And then I saw him. Brendan was sitting on the sofa, or rather, lying back with his feet up. There was a cup of tea on the floor beside him and he was reading something that he closed as I came in.
"Miranda." He swung his legs off the cushion and stood up. "I thought you'd be back later than this." And he took me by the shoulders and kissed me on the lips. "Shall I pour you some tea? There's some in the pot. You look all in."
I could hardly think which question to ask first. He hardly knew what job I did. What was he doing, thinking about when I finished work? But most of all, what was he doing in my flat? He looked as if he had moved in.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"I let myself in," he said. "I used the keys under the flowerpot. That's all right, isn't it? You've got paint in your hair, you know."
I bent down and picked up the book from the sofa. A worn hard-backed exercise book, faded red, the spine split. I stared at it. It was one of my old diaries.
"That's private," I said. "Private!"
"I couldn't resist," he said with his roguish smile. He saw my expression and held up his hands. "Point taken, I'm sorry, it was wrong. But I want to know all about you. I just wanted to see what you were like before I met you." He reached a hand out and gently touched my hair where the paint was, as if to scratch it away. I pulled away.
"You shouldn't have."
"I won't do it again then," he said in a playfully apologetic tone. "All right?"
I took a deep breath. No. I didn't think it was all right.
"It's from when you were seventeen," he said. "I like to think of you at seventeen."
I looked at Brendan and already he seemed to be receding into the distance. He was on the platform and I was on the train that was pulling away and leaving him behind forever. I was thinking how to say it, as cleanly and finally as possible. You can say, I don't think this is working anymore, as if the relationship was a machine that has stopped functioning, some vital bit having gone missing. Or, I don't think we should continue, as if you were both on a road together and you've looked ahead and seen that the road forks, or peters out in rocks and brambles. You can say, I don't want to keep on seeing you. Only of course you don't mean see, but touch, hold, feel, want. And if they ask why-why is it over? what have I done wrong?-then you don't tell them: You get on my nerves, your laugh suddenly irritates me, I fancy someone else. No, of course you say, You haven't done anything. It's not you, it's me. These are the things we all learn.
Almost before I knew what I was about to do, I said the words. "I don't think we should go on with this."
For a moment, his expression didn't alter. Then he stepped forward and laid his hand on my shoulder. "Miranda," he said.
"I'm sorry, Brendan." I thought of saying something else, but I stopped myself.
His hand was still on my shoulder. "You're probably exhausted," he said. "Why don't you have a bath and put on some clean clothes."
I stepped away from his hand. "I mean it."
"I don't think so."
"Are you about to get your period?"
"You're due about now, aren't you?"
"I'm not playing games."
"Miranda." He had a coaxing tone to his voice, as if I were a frightened horse and he was approaching me with sugar on his outstretched palm. "We've been too happy for you to just end it like this. All those wonderful days and nights."
"Eight," I said.
"Times we met. Is it even that many?"
"Each time special."
I didn't say, Not for me, although it was the truth. You can't say, It really didn't mean much after all. It was just one of those things that happened. I shrugged. I didn't want to make a point. I didn't want to discuss things. I wanted him to leave.
"I've arranged for us to meet some mates of mine for a drink this evening. I told them you were coming."
"What?" I said.
"In half an hour."
I stared at him.
"Just a quick drink."
"You really want us to go out and pretend we're still together?"
"We need to give this time," he said.
It sounded so ridiculous, so like a marriage guidance counselor giving glib advice to a couple who had been together for years and years and had children and a mortgage that I couldn't help myself. I started to laugh and then stopped and felt cruel. He managed a smile that wasn't really a smile at all, but lips stretched tight over teeth, a grimace or a snarl.
"You can laugh," he said at last. "You can do this and still laugh."
"Sorry," I said. My voice was still shaky. "It's a nervous kind of laugh."
"Is that how you behaved with your sister?"
"My sister?" The air seemed to cool around me.
"Yes. Kerry." He said the name softly, musing over it. "I read about it in your diary. I know. Mmm?"
I walked over to the door and yanked it open. The sky was still blue and the breeze cooled my burning face.
"Get out," I said.
So he left. I pushed the door shut gently, so he wouldn't think I was slamming it behind him, and then I suddenly felt nauseous. I didn't have the meal in front of the TV I'd been looking forward to so much. I just had a glass of water and went to bed and didn't sleep.
My relationship with Brendan had been so brief that my closest friend, Laura, had been on holiday while it was going on and missed it completely. And it was so entirely over and in the past that when she got back and rang me and told me about what a great time she and Tony had-well, after all that, I didn't bother to tell her about Brendan. I just listened as she talked about the holiday and the weather and the food. Then she asked me if I was seeing someone and I said no. She said that was funny because she'd heard something and I said, well, nothing much and anyway it was over. And she giggled and said she wanted to hear all about it and I said there was nothing to tell. Nothing at all.
Excerpted from Secret Smile by Nicci French Copyright © 2004 by Nicci French. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It was a slow read and although i didnt love the protagonist i still felt compelled to keep reading it. I am glad i finished it and will likely read more from this author even though i can really only say the book was O.K. at best.
Miranda was spineless and weak. I was unable to relate to her. Also, her family/friends' outright refusal to believe her instead of a virtual stranger (Brendan) made no sense. Killing Me Softly was better.
Miranda is the pretty self-confident one that most people envy because she has her life together dating whom she wants and working at a job she loves. At a party she meets Brendan Brock and they go out together eight times before she decides to end it because there is something about him that makes her uneasy. One night she comes home to find him in her room reading her diary; she ends their relationship right then............................................... A few weeks, Miranda¿s sister Kerry asks her to meet her for lunch. At the restaurant Kerry tells Miranda that she is in love. Brendan enters and tells her they are a couple and not to be angry with him because he broke up with Miranda. She lets the conversation slide and the next thing she knows the two of them are moving into her apartment until they could find one of their own. Miranda realizes that Brendan is obsessed with hurting her because she dumped him but even she doesn¿t know that he will turn her whole family into believing she is crazy person. Or that he will kill those she loves and nobody will believe her............................ SECRET SMILE is the story of a sociopath who insinuates himself into the life of a fairly happy family and destroys them because one of the members rejected him. Readers will find him scary and at times so convincing they will question their own sanity. Nicci French is brilliant at creating characters one loves to hate and pity but she also excels at telling a story that is frightening in its normalcy, a key theme for a fantastic work of psychological suspense....................... Harriet Klausner
Ok. I havent read the book yet it in my watchlist but if its better than the movie i cant wait!!! The movie stars David Tennant and Shauns gf from shaun of the dead. David Tennant plays Brendon Block tht sexy beast and the gf from shaun of the dead plays as Miranda. Omg i cantwait toread the book!!!!
I loved this book, it has a nice way of pulling you into the book and giving you reasons to never put it down
This book was very good. It made my skin crawl every time Brendan made an appearance. I felt very sorry for Miranda, in that no one in her family or social circle believed her. The ending was a shocker, yet a bit of a let-down because I wanted more of a 'shoot-out'. But it was good! Would recommend this.
What can one do when something evil is happening yet you cannot speak of it because when you do your family and friends begin to doubt your mental stability? You're left alone to try to fight for your life and defeat the unthinkable that masquerades as kindness and charm. That's the situation Miranda finds herself in as Nicci French (a husband/wife writing duo) roll out another spellbinder. An ideal pairing of voice and story are found in British native Anne Flossnik who gives an over the top performance as Miranda, a London based artist. Life was humming along quite well for Miranda until the day she met a handsome fellow calling himself Brendan Block. At first she's taken in by his charm, his attentiveness and they embark on a brief affair - which comes to an abrupt end when she finds him reading her diary. Imagine her surprise when sister Kerri pops up with a new boyfriend and it's the handsome, congenial Brendan. It's easy to see why Kerri, a rather shy miss, will believe every word he says, but the sisters' parents are also taken in. When he claims to have broken off with Miranda rather than the other way around, all believe him. It's not too long before Kerri and Brendan are engaged. Although she knows better, Miranda agrees to let Kerri and Brendan live in her apartment until their home is ready. Bad move. Very much like an alien being Brendan is suddenly everywhere in Miranda's life, poking into her very private affairs, and turning those closest against her. She's repelled by the things he murmurs in her ear, and frightened of his debilitating contrivances. As always, Nicci French delivers prime suspense laced with surprises. - Gail Cooke
All I can say is WOW! I eagerly awaited the release of the book after reading a review about it in a magazine. I could not wait to finish it. Keeps you turning at every page. This book was definitely worth losing a couple of hours of sleep. Can't wait for the next one.
((A short snip-it of this first chapter won Sparrow's writing contest. So, you all might have read the very beginning of it so far. xP A lot of the characters are based off of people here on role-play. I am still totally open to character add-ons, because I am changing up a bit of the story here.)) <br> Lucinda Zero laced her muddy combat boots up, her eyes cold and blank. It was another day of begging, or so her mother believed. She would really be competing in a strange competition. If her mother knew, she would be absolutely furious. A silly game? Lucinda could imagine her screeching, We need money, not happiness and fame! <br> Being one of eight children, Lucinda was used to being yelled at and beat. It was how things were in their family. She was fully aware that she couldn't do a thing to change it. <br> Standing up off the bed she shared with two sisters, she looked around the miserable shack called home. The walls were simple wooden planks that were slowly but surely rotting away; the floor was dirt with one shabby rug in the middle; three creaky beds were spread around the room, full of sleeping forms, the very people she wished she could get away from. They wanted money and only money; she wanted everything decent the world had to offer. The king and his family, friends, and even workers got that. So why couldn't she? <br> Lucinda made her way out the front door, a cold, crisp wind meeting her. She welcomed it as you would an old friend. The sky was a smog-filled grey. She blamed it on the idiots that had lived a thousand years before her. <br> People glared at her as she walked by, smirking her typically arrogant smirk. They whispered amongst one another as all annoying towns' people do. Lucinda Zero was generally despised. A rebel, they hissed, she should be punished for her heinous ways! <br> "Zero," a voice called from behind her. <br> She twisted around, ready to yell something sarcastic if need be. But it was Marceline Smalt, her only friend around. "Hey, Marceline." she replied lightly. <br> With tumbling auburn hair, icy blue eyes, and a perfectly pale face, Marceline was easily the prettiest girl around. Whereas the boys thought of Lucinda as a hunting partner, they wanted to wed Marceline. Fate was cruel that way. <br> "Where ya goin'?" Marceline asked, now nonchalantly walking along with Lucinda. <br> Lucinda shrugged. "Work," she said. <br> With a pout, Marceline stopped. "Why do you have to work? I don't have to." <br> Lucinda was starting to get highly annoyed with her oldest and dearest friend. She knew how poor Lucinda was, how tough her family was on her. Marceline was the richest girl in town since her father was head hunter. Yet she never shared her wealth. <br> "Because I feel like it, Marc," she said, sticking her tongue out. "Isn't it obvious?" <br> "You're crazy!" <br> With a wicked laugh, Lucinda turned away and began on her path again. "Didn't you already know that?" she called over her shoulder. <br> The town was darker down here. With burned-out houses, human remains strewn everywhere, and beggars all about, it was quite depressing. Lucinda kept her mouth shut whilst walking through there. She might be crazy, but she wasn't stupid. <br> Looking down into a puddle, a slight reflection of her slate-gray eyes stared back. She sighed and quickened her pace. She hated how sickly she looked; thin face, lean and hungry. <br> The place she was heading was on the outskirts of town... to be continued. xP