Too Close to Home: A Novel

Too Close to Home: A Novel

by Susan Lewis

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Overview

For readers of Jodi Picoult, Heather Gudenkauf, and Elizabeth Flock comes a riveting and timely novel that delves into a modern family’s harrowing encounter with the complex world of cyberbullying.
 
Jenna Moore finally feels that she and her family are exactly where they should be. Leaving busy London behind, they’ve moved to the beautiful, serene Welsh coast. There Jenna, her husband, Jack, and the couple’s four children have found a little slice of heaven. In the house of their dreams, Jenna and Jack are ramping up for the launch of their new publishing business, and the kids are happier than they’ve ever been, wandering the wild, grassy moors that meet white sand beaches and wide ocean.
 
But a fissure cracks open. The once open and honest Jack suddenly seems to be keeping secrets, spinning intricate lies. And fifteen-year-old Paige has become withdrawn, isolating herself from her family and her new friends. Frightened of the darkness enveloping her family, Jenna struggles to hold her loved ones together. But a cruel disturbance has insinuated itself into her home, threatening to take away everything she holds dear.
 
Praise for Susan Lewis
 
“This emotionally charged story keeps you at the edge of your seat.”—RT Book Reviews, on Behind Closed Doors
 
“Spellbinding . . . The atmosphere grows more intense with the turn of each page.”—The Free Lance–Star, on No Child of Mine

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345549549
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 12/15/2015
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 512
Sales rank: 540,462
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Susan Lewis is the internationally bestselling author of more than thirty novels, including No Child of Mine, Don’t Let Me Go, The Truth About You, Never Say Goodbye, Behind Closed Doors, and No Place to Hide. Having resided in France and the United States for many years, she now lives in the rural county of Gloucestershire, England.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

Nothing was happening.

Everything was completely still, motionless, not a single rustle in the atmosphere, no stirrings within.

The only sounds, muted by closed windows, were the cries of white-­bellied gulls as they soared around the neutral sky.

Jenna Moore, petite, dark-­haired, and emerald-­eyed, was sitting at the cluttered dining room table staring out at the winter-­bleak garden. Looking at her, no one would have guessed she was the mother of four, the eldest being fifteen. Her smooth, playfully freckled features and girlish frame made her appear far closer to thirty than the forty she actually was.

It was Sunday afternoon and she was supposed to be making the most of some rare hours alone. The younger children—­Josh, age eight, and the five-­year-­old twins, Flora and Wills—­were on playdates down in the village, while Paige, fifteen last birthday, was somewhere with her stepfather on this sprawling misty peninsula, though Jenna wasn’t for the moment entirely sure where. All she knew was that it never failed to warm her to think of how close Paige and Jack were. He was the only father Paige had ever known, since her own had abandoned them when Paige was barely a year old. They’d never heard from him again, though Jenna had felt genuinely sorry when she’d heard how he’d lost his life in a rock-­climbing accident at the age of thirty. By then Paige was seven years old and Jenna was married to Jack, who’d accompanied them to the funeral and had sat with Paige for a long time afterward explaining how losing her real father wasn’t going to make any difference to them.

“So you’re my real daddy, really?” Paige had insisted.

“That’s right. I’ll always be here for you, and no one will ever be prouder of you than me.”

“But why didn’t my other daddy live with us?”

“He did for a while, when you were a tiny baby, but he wasn’t really ready to be a daddy. He wanted to do other things.”

“You don’t want to do other things, do you?”

Jack had shaken his head gravely. “All I want to do is be your daddy, and Mummy’s husband—­and maybe a daddy to a brother or sister for you too. Would you like that?”

Paige had nodded eagerly, which had twisted Jenna’s heart with longing. After two miscarriages she was starting to worry that she’d never give Jack a child of his own.

Blinking as an unexpected breakthrough of sunlight bathed the garden in a rich golden glow, Jenna began picturing Jack’s and Paige’s faces as they probably were now: intent, laughing, curious, and excited as they went about their task. This was the fourth Sunday in a row they’d been out capturing this special place in the world on film, and so far there had been no fallings-­out that she knew of. In fact, between them they had gathered some impressive footage of surfers riding the waves over at Rhossili Bay; the flighty dance of marram grass as the wind gusted over the dunes; entrancing close-­ups of old and young faces singing their hearts out in chapel; wild ponies roaming the vast open moors; golden plover, sanderlings, and little stints pecking and flitting about the wetlands; starfish, cockleshells, and feathers littering the shores . . . There was so much material now that Jenna could hardly remember it all. Today’s mission was all about local folklore, Viking raiders, the Arthurian legend, smugglers, dragons, and damsels in distress. If there was fog clinging to the rocks of the Worm’s Head, Jenna knew, Paige intended to whisper lines from Herbert New’s sonnet to accompany the haunting scene. Patient, folded wings; with lifted head, / Watchful, outlooking seawards sits the Form / Which, dragon-­like, defies the approaching storm . . .

The project was for Paige’s ICT course—­Information and Communications Technology: Using your mobile phones, make a tourist video of the region to include everything you feel to be worthwhile.

Jack was a big one for projects, sometimes seizing them as if they were his own until Paige—­or whichever child he was supposed to be assisting—­patiently, or occasionally hotly, reminded him that she was in charge.

Jenna couldn’t help but smile at the way Jack tried to hide his hurt, or frustration, at being brought up short by his children, quickly covering it with pride that they were so gifted, or determined, or simply willing to learn from their own mistakes.

“Dad, I’m fifteen, for God’s sake,” Jenna had heard Paige grumbling as they’d returned last Sunday. “You’re treating me like a baby.”

“But you asked me to help,” he’d protested.

“Help, yes, not take over. I need someone who’ll do as they’re told and maybe make suggestions if they’re relevant. Not someone who thinks they know everything.”

“But I do.”

Paige hadn’t been able to stop herself smiling at that. “But I’m the student,” she’d reminded him. “I have to learn, and sometimes that means getting it wrong, or finding my own way to the solution.”

This kind of response invariably brought Jack’s eyes to Jenna’s—­such clarity and wisdom in one so young.

Paige had always loved to work things out for herself, whether a jigsaw puzzle as a toddler, new words in her storybooks as she started to read, or the complex challenges of the chemistry lab or maths class in school. These were the only two subjects at which she didn’t do quite so well. Even so, her eagerness to grasp what was eluding her made Jenna worry at times for how hard she drove herself.

Still, she seemed well balanced, and had continued to thrive in spite of the life-­changing move Jenna and Jack had decided on just over a year ago. It had been one of their biggest worries at the time, how it would affect their teenage daughter to be plucked from the heart of everything and everyone she knew to begin a completely new life in a country she’d only ever visited for a couple of weeks each summer.

Not such a very different country; after all, it was only Wales, where everyone, at least in their part, here on the Gower Peninsula, spoke English, and all the warnings of how insular and unwelcoming the Welsh could be to outsiders had proved total nonsense. Their neighbors could hardly be any friendlier, at least to them; the way they sometimes carried on with each other made Jenna wonder if she’d stumbled into the village of Llareggub, the infamous setting for Under Milk Wood.

This was a favorite book of hers, and recently of Paige’s since it had become a set piece for her subject achievement exams, the GCSEs. As it was Dylan Thomas’s centenary year, the whole region was celebrating his life and works in one way or another, and Paige had been chosen by her English teacher to take the part of First Voice in a school production to be staged at the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea. Such an honor had never been bestowed upon a female student before, but Miss Kendrick was of the opinion that Paige’s understanding and enjoyment of the play made her such an obvious choice that she’d added Second Voice to the part as well. Since the casting Jenna and Paige had spent many hours listening to Richard Burton’s famous performance, taking it line by line, nuance by nuance, getting to the heart of why he’d spoken, whispered, or growled in a certain way, and what he might have been thinking when observing the many oddities of the characters in the piece.

To say Paige was excited about taking this part was an understatement indeed. Drama was her thing; she loved to act, and this role was her biggest challenge yet. And she was going to be playing it not only in Wales but in Dylan Thomas’s hometown.

As a family, they were loving being here, there was no doubt about that. In fact, in spite of not being Welsh—­apart from through Jenna’s father—­it felt as though they were exactly where they belonged. However, it hadn’t been their intention to move here after Jack had lost his job as the sales manager for a leading publisher. Their initial plan was for him to find another position in a similar field, but unfortunately it hadn’t worked out that way. The industry was suffering. Dozens if not hundreds of people had been laid off across the country, and competition for the few positions that did come up was fierce. After Jack had suffered through months of nothing but apologies and rejection, his notoriously volatile temper had collapsed into a horrible despair. He stopped attending interviews, found it hard to engage with the children, and even turned his back on the easy and passionate intimacy he and Jenna had always shared. Despite his tendency to overreact, it had unnerved her considerably to see how hard he was taking his failure to start again. When things were going his way he was ebullient, larger than life, ready to meet any challenge head on with a certainty that he’d win. Over that time she’d felt him slipping away, diminishing in spirit and hope, and it had scared her. The Jack she knew and loved was still in there, she’d remained convinced of that, but reaching him, bolstering him, and trying to make him believe in himself again had proved an almost impossible task.

Then one day, without warning, he’d suddenly announced that they should relocate to Wales.

Jenna remembered her jaw dropping.

“We need a completely fresh start,” he’d insisted, “with something of our own. We don’t want to be at any other bastard’s beck and call. We’ll be our own bosses, answer only to each other, and when we start to expand, which we will, we’ll do all the hiring and firing.”

Jenna hadn’t missed the way her highly successful, career-­driven sister and brother-­in-­law had exchanged glances at this unexpected development. She didn’t blame them, as she was skeptical too, but loyalty to Jack, combined with the overwhelming relief that he seemed so determined on this new start, made her say, “I think it’s a very interesting idea, but what kind of business do you have in mind?”

“Publishing, of course,” he’d replied, as if there could be no other. “Given my own employment history, and yours as a published writer and respected freelance editor, it’s all we know, so we need to capitalize. And now, with the Internet, it’s never been easier. We can base ourselves anywhere, have a website as big as we like, and sell whatever we choose. No, wait,” he ran on as Hanna made to interrupt, “I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I reckon Wales is definitely the place to be. It’s a land full of poets, playwrights, novelists, you name it, and almost none are getting the recognition they deserve.”

“Would there be a market for them?” his brother-­in-­law had asked dubiously.

“Of course, if we present them in the right way. We won’t be like all these other Web-­based cowboys who make you pay to be published, then do nothing to promote the work. We’ll have a totally different approach that deals with only high-­quality product—­that’s where you come in, Jen. You’ll be responsible for vetting the submissions and knocking the best ones into shape, and I’ll sort out the website and business plan. It shouldn’t be expensive to get off the ground, just the cost of designing the site and a few well-­placed ads . . . Local media interest is a given, and chances are we won’t even need to go to the bank for finance, which we probably wouldn’t get anyway given how tight they are these days. We can manage everything ourselves, provided we sell this house. OK, I know that sounds radical, but the market’s gone so crazy in London that it’s got to be worth at least three times what we paid for it by now, and it’s complete madness having it sitting there doing nothing when we could be making it work for us.”

“But what about Paige?” Hanna asked, glancing worriedly at her niece.

“I’m cool with it,” Paige assured her, apparently as carried away by the idea as her father was. “It’ll be an adventure.”

Jenna simply watched as Jack pressed a kiss to their elder daughter’s forehead. “That’s my girl,” he laughed. “Never afraid to take a risk, and the younger ones will be fine. They’ll settle in no time at all.”

“What about you, Jenna?” Hanna ventured.

Deciding this wasn’t the time to argue, Jenna had simply said, “I might need a while to get my head round it, but in principle . . .” She shrugged. “Why not?”

That was all it had taken for Jack to spring into action. In no time at all the house was on the market, a new business management team—­recommended by Hanna—­had assessed the project and helped to obtain funding from the Welsh Arts Council, and ads had gone into the local papers announcing the creation of a new e-­publishing venture, Celticulture.

A little over a year later they were ensconced at the southern end of the Gower Peninsula in a ten-­year-­old detached house designed to resemble a barn conversion, which had to be at least twice the size of the Victorian end-­of-­terrace they’d owned in London. Instead of a street full of stamp-­sized gardens and tightly parked cars, they were at the top of a quaintly sprawled village, overlooking a wild grassy moor that stretched all the way out to Port Eynon Point, where the sea glittered and smudged into an ever-­changing horizon.

It was idyllic; “God’s own country” was how Jack described it.

“You mean the back end of beyond,” Paige sometimes grumbled, but if either Jack or Jenna called her on it, she’d quickly assure them she was only kidding.

“It’s really cool,” she’d insist. “Different, and a bit weird in some ways, but I can do surfing and stuff here that I could never do in London, and I’m making loads of new friends.”

This was true; she’d taken to her new surroundings far better than they’d dared hope, and clearly enjoyed her new school, The Landings. Her new best friend, Charlotte Griffiths, lived barely a mile away, while her other new best friend, Hayley, was in Reynoldston, which wasn’t far either. There were many others in their set, as they liked to call it: Lucy, Courtenay, Cullum, Ryan, Owen—­Jenna was losing track of them all now, but what mattered was how readily they had accepted Paige and how happy she seemed. She’d even started to develop a hint of a Welsh accent, which Jenna loved to hear. It was so musical and friendly, with playful little inflections that fluttered like tiny wings straight to the very core of her heart.

Her Welsh father had never lost his accent, even after four decades of living in England.

How badly she still missed him; she couldn’t imagine a time when she wouldn’t. If she concentrated hard enough, she was sure, she could hear him singing, telling stories, whispering comforting words when she needed them. She could see him working in the garden, dozing in his favorite armchair, delighting in his grandchildren, who absolutely adored him. One of the fondest, most moving memories she had of him was the way his face used to light up with surprise and joy when she’d drop in to visit without warning.

“Ah ha!” he’d cry, his arms going out to wrap her up in the warmest, most wonderful hug in the world.

Almost three years had passed since he’d been struck down with a heart attack. He hadn’t been ill, hadn’t even shown any signs of slowing up or mentioned he was feeling unwell. He’d simply collapsed one day at the office and had never come home. It was like a cruel magician’s trick: one minute he was there, the next he’d gone. She, Hanna, and their mother were still a long way from coming to terms with the loss.

Thinking of him now, as she often did in quiet moments, she hoped that wherever he was, he knew that she was living in Wales. She could see his twinkly eyes shining with delight to realize that she’d returned to his roots. It would give him so much pleasure, especially since her mother had moved into a cottage at the heart of the village. Knowing him, he’d have wholeheartedly approved of Jack’s plans for the new business, and would probably even have got involved in some way if he could.

Stirring as the next-­door neighbors’ cat jumped down onto the lawn, circling the children’s trampoline, slide, and two-­story playhouse before disappearing over the wall into the moorland, Jenna glanced at the blank screen of her laptop and gave a sigh of dismay.

“Take this time for yourself,” Jack had told her after depositing the younger children at their friends’ homes earlier, and before he and Paige had set off on their shoot. “We’ll be gone for a few hours, so sit with it, see what happens. I bet something will.”

He was wrong. Nothing was happening at all.

It never did these days, and she was annoyed with herself now for hoping that today might prove any different, when she knew very well that a creative flow couldn’t just be turned on and off like a tap.

She was experiencing—­suffering would be a better choice of word—­a prolonged spell of writer’s block, though she deliberately didn’t call it that. She preferred telling herself that the story wasn’t quite ready to be told yet, or the characters were still making up their minds which directions to take. It would help, a lot, if she actually knew what the story was about—­or, more significantly, whom it was about—­but she really didn’t. It was as though she’d been abandoned by her own imagination. Actually, there was no “as though” about it—­she had been abandoned by her imagination. It had run for cover following the awful reviews for her last book, taking the best part of her confidence with it.

However, blaming a handful of critics for a book that she’d known, even when she’d delivered it, wasn’t as good as her best-­selling first was hardly going to help get her past this crisis. Nor was the fact that her agent had recently reminded her that the publisher would be asking for a return of the advance if she didn’t send something in soon.

So here she was, facing the happy prospect of having to repay something in the region of twenty thousand pounds in the next couple of months unless she could come up with a synopsis at the very least. Since this wasn’t a sum she could possibly raise, and the only words she’d been able to conjure so far were “Chapter One,” things weren’t looking good.

In truth, the situation might not have felt quite so desperate if they hadn’t spent virtually everything they had on setting up here. Jack’s severance pay, her advance, the small inheritance she’d received from her father, and most of the proceeds from their London house had all gone into creating their new life. She couldn’t deny they’d been extravagant, paying for the house outright, buying themselves a new car each—­a flashy coupe for her and Jack, a sturdy dog-­and-­people-­carrier for the family—­and getting the children basically anything they wanted, including computers, iPads, iPhones, PlayStations, smart TVs, scooters, bicycles, and tree houses. There was even a jukebox in the sitting room, along with a pinball machine and a giant rocking horse Jack had won in a raffle. Jenna wasn’t sure how low their funds were running these days, but she suspected it was lower than Jack was ready to admit.

“The business is due to launch in a month,” he’d reminded her only this morning, “at which point cash will start rolling in and we’ll be sitting pretty again. Better than that, we’ll be able to send a check to your publisher, leaving you free to write and deliver just when you want to. It’ll probably turn out to be exactly what you need to get the juices flowing. No more deadlines, no nasty phone calls—­just you, your characters, and all the time you could wish for to go on all the journeys you’re dreaming about.”

Time—­a commodity virtually unknown to busy mothers, particularly those with three children under eight, each of whom had a character, set of needs, and schedule all their own, and a teenage live wire who’d lately started showing signs of a maturity that Jenna knew she should have been prepared for but wasn’t.

Picking up her mobile as it bleeped with a text, she smiled to see the photo Jack had sent of Paige peering into a rock pool with her latest admirer, Owen Masters. Should I be jealous? Jack was asking.

I don’t think so, Jenna texted back. Will tell you more when you get back. How’s it going?

Shot enough for another feature film. Heading up to Arthur’s Stone now. How about you?

How she longed to say she was on a roll, but even if she did, he’d know as soon as he looked into her eyes when he came back that it wasn’t true. Wondering if senna pods might help, she replied, and smiled as she imagined him laughing.

A few minutes later the landline rang; glad of the excuse to leave her computer, she went through to the kitchen to answer.

“Hi, it’s me,” her sister declared. “Hang on, sorry, I’ll be right with you.”

Tucking the phone under her chin as she waited, Jenna reached for the kettle to fill it. How she loved this kitchen! What luxury it was to have so much space to cook and socialize and watch the kids come and go. The house was just perfect; she couldn’t love it more if she’d designed it herself, with its floor-­to-­ceiling windows all across the back to take in the garden and the view beyond, its characterful reclaimed beams through most of the rooms, and the highly polished sandstone floors.

The dining room was more like a conservatory off the kitchen, with French doors leading onto the garden, while the sitting room was her dream of how a sitting room should be, with an open stone fireplace at the far end, deep-­cushioned sofas, tatty rugs, and endless clutter. The mess never bothered her; on the contrary, she rejoiced in it, which she knew was a reaction to all the years of having to live with her mother’s obsession with order. Trails of toys, shoes, books, crayons—­everything and anything—­led off the sitting room into the playroom, and very often up the stairs to the bedrooms, where another sort of chaos reigned. Jenna and Jack’s master suite was to the left of the three-­sided gantry landing and was almost never off-­limits. Josh’s room was next to theirs and was poised to become sleepover central just as soon as the painfully shy Josh plucked up the courage to invite more than one friend at a time. Paige’s own small suite was opposite and very definitely off-­limits. The twins’ room was next to Paige’s, with a pink half for Flora and a blue one for Wills. From the landing that ran across the tall back windows it was possible to look down into the sitting room or to stand gazing out at the mesmerizing view—­if anyone had the time, which they rarely did.

Even on gloomy days their house felt full of light, while on clear days it was possible to see all the way across the Channel to Exmoor. There was no sign of a distant land today, and hadn’t been since long before Christmas.

“Are you there?” Hanna said breathlessly. “Sorry about that. The cat was on the windowsill. I thought she was about to jump. So how are you?”

“Great. How about you?”

“Frazzled, as usual. Got a deadline we have to meet by tomorrow. How’s the weather down there? It’s miserable here in London.”

“It’s just started raining again.”

Sighing, Hanna said, “That’s all it’s done for months. I pity those poor people who’ve been flooded. This must be a never-­ending nightmare for them.”

“A couple of houses at the beach have lost their gardens,” Jenna told her. “Jack reckons their foundations too, but no one’s been in yet to check.”

“That’s terrible. Are they holiday homes?”

“Yes, I think so. Huge chunks of the seawall were smashed apart, so they didn’t stand a chance, and you should see the muck the tide’s washed up. The beach is like a rubbish dump at the moment. Anyway, I’m sure you didn’t ring to discuss that.”

“You’re right, I didn’t. I’ve just spoken to Mum. Have you seen her today?”

“No, but Jack dropped in on his way back from the shop this morning. She was all right then. Why do you ask?”

“She’s just told me that she’s going to start taking in washing and ironing.”

Jenna’s eyes twinkled.

“I’ve no idea where this ridiculous idea has come from,” Hanna went on, “but I’m guessing she read it somewhere or maybe saw it on TV.”

“She’s just started The Book Thief,” Jenna told her. “The foster mother’s a laundress who also has a foul mouth, so let’s hope no one round here speaks German.”

“Oh, please no,” Hanna groaned. “Do you think she means it? She’s not really going to take in other people’s washing, is she?”

Knowing how unlikely it was, Jenna grinned as she said, “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

Hanna sighed. “Do you think we ought to get her to see someone?”

“You won’t have forgotten what happened the last time we tried. . . .”

“You mean the hunger strike?”

“And it’s not as though there’s anything actually wrong with her.”

“She’s just her own person,” Hanna said, quoting their father, “and maybe a little bit on the autism spectrum. If you ask me, she’s that, all right. Is she keeping to her diet?”

“Religiously. Everything organic, gluten-­free, no refined sugars or artificial colorings . . . It takes forever going round the supermarket with her, and she’s always online ordering some supplement or other. God knows how much good it’s all doing.”

“What matters to her is that Daddy put the diet together. She’ll be on it now till the day she dies—­or loses her marbles completely. Anyway, tell me about you. What’s new in your world?”

As they chattered on, catching up on each other’s lives, as they often did on a Sunday, Jenna watched the rain growing heavier, pulling a thick gray veil between the moor and the sea. Fortunately, the wind was nowhere near as violent as it had been over the past few weeks; if it had been, there was no way Jack and Paige could have been out in it. During the worst of the storms they’d been forced to bring all the computers and company paperwork over to the house just in case their garden office got carried off by a particularly lively gust. Luckily, it had remained anchored to its spot, though a window had been smashed by a flying branch (already repaired by one of Jack’s mates from the pub), and the stone path leading across the grass to its door had been washed away twice (both times reinstated by Jack himself).

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Too Close to Home 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was my first book win from the Library Thing and what a win it was. Cannot believe I've never read any Susan Lewis and am thrilled that she has written so many books that I can add to my list of "want to read it". From the beginning I was pulled in by how relatable all the characters were. I could actually feel the frenzy and stress that Jenna felt as she struggled to hold her family together while the life she knew and loved was falling apart. For sure a 5 star and I'm anxious to read more of her books.