From the author of The Flower Seller
Have you ever told a white lie?
Sam Davenport is a woman who lives her life by the rules. When her husband Neil breaks those rules too many times, Sam is left wondering not only if he is still the man for her but also if it's time to break a few rules of her own.
Actions, however, have consequences as Sam soon discovers when what starts out as an innocent white lie threatens to send her world spiralling out of control.
White Lies is a warm, engaging read about love, deceit, betrayal and hope.
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Sam Davenport thought she'd imagined it: the driving rain, her husband Neil's shout of surprise, the sickening crunch of metal on metal, the explosion of inflating airbags.
A bad dream. That was all it was. Why, even now, they were on their way back to Meadowview Cottage with its thatched roof dipping low over leaded-glass windows and a welcoming fire burning in the TV room to keep the children and their sitter cosy in their absence.
Yes, it was a bad dream. Soon, they would be home and Neil would take off his clothes in the bedroom while she took off her make-up in the ensuite and together they would dissect the party and their friends.
Except, they wouldn't. Because she hadn't imagined it. The Range Rover was skewed at a crazy angle across one of the main roads of the Essex market town of Abbeyleigh and picked out in its headlights was the shape of a motorbike and, a few metres on, the body of its rider.
'Shit! I didn't see him! Did you see him?' Neil's voice was high-pitched.
'No. I was looking for my mobile,' Sam replied, flustered. Letting her bag fall to the floor, she threw open the door.
'What are you doing?' Neil grabbed her arm. 'We have to go.'
'We can't go!' She watched him looking at the large, executive-style houses that surrounded them. At midnight, they were all in darkness. For now.
'We sure as hell can't stay. What if he's dead? It'll ruin me.'
'For God's sake, Neil! Is that all you can think of?' Wrenching her arm free, she got out of the car. 'There's more to life than your bloody reputation.' The freezing January rain fell in torrents, soaking her Stella McCartney dress. 'I'm going to see if he's all right.'
The motorbike lay on its side and in the arc of its headlight Sam could see the body of a man in black riding leathers. Her cerise-coloured party shoes slapped on the wet tarmac as she ran towards him.
'All right?' Neil chased after her. 'I hit him at forty miles an hour. Of course he's not all right. Jesus!'
The man was on his back, rain streaming over the visor of his crash helmet. Sam stared at his chest. Was it moving? In her mind, she heard again the screech of brakes, the sickening bang.
Kneeling beside him, she unzipped his jacket and pressed her fingertips to his neck the way she'd seen them do on the television. His skin felt cold and clammy. Sam bit back a cry of relief when, at last, she found his pulse.
'Call an ambulance.'
'Can we say you were driving?'
'I'm probably over the limit.'
'Will you just ring for the ambulance?'
'Of course, if we'd stayed at the Northey Hotel like I wanted this would never have happened.'
'So can I say you were driving?'
'Say what you bloody well like, just ring!'
'Hello? Ambulance, please.'
It was true. He had wanted to stay at the Northey.
'They've got a spare room. Our sitter will be okay. I'll pay her double.'
'I have to go home, Neil. The children aren't well.'
'They've got colds not scarlet bloody fever.'
'And they need their mum. You can stay if you want.'
'A great way to celebrate my fortieth, spending the night alone,' he'd grumbled. 'No, we'll both go home.'
Sleet began to mingle with the rain. Sam shivered. 'Give me your jacket.'
Neil did as she asked and Sam placed it over the stricken man, pulling the collar up under his chin and tucking it in round his shoulders.
Sitting back on her haunches, she watched as Neil began to pace, talking urgently into his phone, his left hand thrusting continuously through his hair. His white silk shirt was plastered to his body, stretches of pink skin showing through, revealing the hint of a spare tyre.
He turned to Sam. 'They'll be here soon,' he said, yanking at his tie. His gaze moved to the injured man. 'They want to know if he's conscious.'
Nervously, Sam lifted the man's visor. To her relief, his face looked normal, peaceful even.
As Neil relayed this information, Sam studied the man in front of her. He was white. Early thirties, Sam guessed. With brown eyebrows and a long, thin nose.
'On his back,' Neil said. 'His left leg doesn't look good. There's ... it looks like blood. A lot of it. Shit! I think that might be a bone.'
Sam was amazed that she hadn't noticed the injury to the man's leg. Now, as she looked, she could see the blood pooling on the ground, mixing with the rain, washing away along the road. Suddenly the smell of it hit her and she felt nauseous.
'My God, Neil! What have you done?'
Neil gave her a horrified look before turning and throwing up in the gutter.
'I'm sorry,' Sam whispered. She stroked the motorcyclist's cheek.
Her hand froze as she suddenly found herself staring into the man's dark eyes. Instinctively, she reached for his gloved hand and gave it a squeeze. To her joy, he returned the pressure.
'The ambulance will be here soon. You're going to be okay.' As she stroked his cheek once more, his eyes flickered and closed. Alarmed, Sam checked his pulse. It was thin and weak, worryingly so.
'Shouldn't we be doing something about his leg?' she asked as Neil returned wiping spittle from his chin onto the sleeve of his shirt.
'She said the ambulance will be here soon and not to move him. We'd only make matters worse.'
Worse? Could they be any worse? Another fifteen minutes and they would have been home. Safe, inside Meadowview Cottage. Sam pictured its squat wooden front door and, within, thick, beamed walls painted in a variety of pastel colours, the open fireplaces so lovingly restored downstairs, the pretty patchwork quilts upstairs. Her beautiful home. Yet she'd move out tomorrow if only this man, this stranger, would live. If only his blood would stop running along the road.
She closed her eyes, willing him better. In the distance, she could hear sirens wailing and, when she opened her eyes again, the area was bathed in flashing lights.
'Remember, you were driving because I'd been drinking. The rain was heavy. You didn't see him until it was too late. Okay? Sam! Okay?'
They'd been in the foyer of the hotel. 'Give me the keys,' Sam had said.
'No. I'm fine.'
'But we agreed, I'd drive tonight.' She'd tried to take the keys from him.
Grinning, he'd put his hand to her cheek. 'I love you so much.'
And she had thought: But do I still love you?
His kiss had tasted of scotch.
'Give me the keys,' she'd said again.
'There's no need. I'm okay.' He'd wrapped his arm round her waist and leaned against her. 'You want to go home. I'm going to take you home and, once we're there, I'm going to show you how much I love you.'
Sam looked down at the man in front of her. I should have tried harder to stop Neil driving.
Hands gripped her shoulders.
'We'll take over now, love.' The voice was gentle. 'I'm Mark. This is Terry.'
Sam managed a thin smile at the paramedics. 'I'm Sam. This is my husband, Neil.'
'Do you know who this is?'
Sam shook her head.
Mark draped a blanket round her shoulders. 'Who was driving?'
Sam glanced at Neil. 'I was,' Sam said.
'No. My husband and I are fine.'
Terry, the other paramedic, was kneeling beside the motorcyclist on the opposite side from Sam. 'Has he regained consciousness at all?'
'Briefly. He opened his eyes and I spoke to him and he squeezed my hand.'
'Which hand were you holding?'
'His right hand. Is he going to be okay?'
'Why don't you go and sit in the back of the ambulance? The police will be along shortly to take statements.'
Neil helped her to her feet.
'Left leg looks nasty.'
'Fractured femur, open by the look of it.'
'Yeah. He's lost a lot of blood. Better get on to Abbeyleigh General; warn them we're coming in.'
Sam heard the radio crackle as the paramedic made contact with the hospital. Neil was trying to pull her along but her feet seemed frozen to the ground. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw what looked like a gym bag. Walking over, she picked it up. Sure enough, it was a drawstring bag, with Reebok written on it. Sam peered inside. There was clothing and a pair of trainers. She walked back to the paramedics.
'I think this belongs to him. It was over there.' Sam pointed.
'Thanks.' Terry drew out the man's wallet. 'His name's David McAllister.'
Sam watched as they removed the crash helmet. The motorcyclist hadn't shaved that morning. To Sam, the sight of his stubble made him seem even more vulnerable. She studied his face. His lower lip, fuller than the top lip, protruded slightly as if he were pouting. And you've every right to be, Sam thought. There you were minding your own business and we come barrelling into you.
'David? Can you hear me, mate? David, my name's Terry and this is Mark. We're going to get you to the hospital as soon as we can.'
'Is he awake?' Sam asked eagerly.
'No, but it helps to talk to him. We're never sure how much people can hear in a situation like this. David, we're just checking for other injuries and then we'll be on our way. Okay, mate? Just hold on, David. We won't be long.'
More sirens screamed out of the darkness. Sam stepped back and bumped into Neil. 'Remember, I'd been drinking. You were driving,' he hissed. 'You didn't see him. The rain must have obscured your view.'
David McAllister. On his motorbike with his gym bag on his back. On his way home? To a wife or a girlfriend? Now, on his back, his blood (his life?) seeping away.
'His name's David.'
'I heard. Did you hear what I said?'
A mass of policemen arrived, shouting and pointing. Sam strained to hear what Mark was saying above the din.
'Classic T-bone ... Abbeyleigh General ... they're expecting us.'
She watched with trepidation as three officers approached.
'Hello, I'm Sergeant Morris from the Traffic Investigation Unit. PC Trent and PC Wareham are going to take statements from you both. Has anything been moved?'
'Only the man's gym bag. I found it over there.' Sam pointed. 'Is it okay if I ring my daughter, Cassie?'
Sergeant Morris nodded.
Neil handed Sam his phone and she made the call, giving her daughter the briefest of details and telling her they would be home as soon as they could. 'My bag's in the car,' she said to no one in particular as she passed the phone back to Neil.
'Shall we get out of the rain?' PC Trent ushered Sam towards one of the police cars. She looked nervously over her shoulder as Neil was led in the opposite direction.
'Nothing to worry about Mrs ...'
'Davenport. Sam Davenport.' They sat in the front of the police car.
'The paramedics tell me you're not injured. Might be in shock, though? How do you feel?'
'Perfectly understandable. Stu,' PC Trent yelled out of the window. 'Go and scare up a cup of hot, sweet tea from the petrol station on the corner. Tea always helps,' he said, turning back to Sam.
'I don't take sugar.'
'Little bit of sugar will help settle you down. I'm going to take a few details from you now and then we'll let you get home. I'll carry out a formal interview with you tomorrow. Okay?'
Sam nodded, barely processing what the officer was saying. Surely, this was all happening to someone else. It couldn't possibly be her car over there, could it? They'd moved David onto a stretcher, Sam noted. She watched the paramedics lift him from the ground.
'I understand you were driving. What happened?' PC Trent looked over his shoulder, following Sam's gaze. 'They're taking him to hospital.'
'Can I go with him?'
Sam watched the ambulance pull away. Its flashing blue lights blurred as tears clouded her eyes.
'Good! Tea.' PC Trent took the cup from his colleague. 'Drink this, Mrs Davenport. You'll feel better.'
Sam took the cup. Shocked, she stared down at herself as tea slopped over the blanket and into her lap. 'I'm sorry,' she gasped, embarrassed.
'It's okay. Here.' PC Trent rescued the cup. 'I'll hold it. Take a sip.'
Sam drank. The tea was indeed very hot and very sweet. She grimaced but continued to drink. When she got halfway, PC Trent trusted her to hold the cup for herself. She laced her fingers round it, hugging it. He was right. The tea did make her feel better.
'Take your time. Tell me what happened.'
Sam struggled to focus. 'We threw a party at the Northey Hotel to celebrate my husband's fortieth. We were heading home and we came down Market Street. We ... I was getting ready to turn onto the Stebbingsford Road. I thought it was clear. The next thing I knew, he was right on top of us. He just seemed to come out of nowhere.' Sam bit her lip.
'Were you having any mechanical difficulties prior to the accident?'
'No.' Just sniping at one another. Gearing up for another row. Sam hadn't been able to stop herself, pushing in the way a person might tease a mouth ulcer with their tongue, knowing it would hurt but doing it nevertheless.
'I saw the way she looked at you,' she'd said softly.
'For God's sake, Sam! Not this again!' Neil had taken his left hand off the wheel and thrust it through his hair. 'I thought we'd agreed: New year, new start. I'm sorry she was at the party but I'd invited everyone else from work; how would it have looked if I'd left her off the list? I did warn you.' He'd said it as if that made all the difference. 'And I didn't speak to her. Christ, I barely even looked at her. Can't you let it go? Please?' he'd pleaded before adding, 'Why don't you ring our sitter, tell her we're on our way?'
Sam had reached into her bag and then bam! Had she made him lose concentration? Had she caused the crash?
'Is it your car?'
Two years old. An unusually extravagant present from Neil. Now the car she'd so proudly polished had a man's blood on it. They'd only used her car because Neil's BMW was off the road. Would the man have been less badly injured if they'd been in the BMW and not the Range Rover? Sam massaged her eyes.
'Do you keep the car well maintained and serviced?'
'Did you come to a complete standstill at the junction?'
I hit him at forty miles an hour. 'I think so.'
'You're not sure?'
Sam hesitated. How much would they be able to tell from the skid marks? 'I can't remember,' she hedged.
'What speed were you doing at the time of impact?'
The word impact made her feel nauseous again. 'I don't know.'
'How fast would you say?'
'Five, possibly ten, miles an hour.' Was that an acceptable answer? She had no idea.
'Was it raining?'
'Do you normally wear glasses, Mrs Davenport?'
'When did you last have a sight test?'
'What is it you do?'
'I run an interior design company with my business partner, Connor. Meadowview Designs. And I'm on the fundraising committee for the Abbeyleigh Hospice.' Why had she told him that? To prove she was a good person? Was she? David McAllister probably didn't think so.
'And your husband?'
'He's a lawyer with Brookes Davenport, the solicitors on the High Street.'
'I'm going to have to ask you to take a breath test. Do you consent to taking the test?'
'Yes. I had a glass of champagne at the toast.'
PC Trent smiled kindly. 'If you'd just like to blow into the tube and keep blowing until I tell you to stop.'
Sam started to blow. If I lose my licence, how am I going to work or run the children about? She derailed her train of thought. Good God, woman! There's a man on his way to hospital, his leg mangled and you're worried about the bloody inconvenience.
'You can stop blowing now.' PC Trent fiddled with the apparatus. 'You're not over the limit.'
Sam struggled not to feel guilty as relief surged through her.
'Have you got your driving licence and insurance details with you?'
'Don't worry. You can give them to me tomorrow.' PC Trent laid down his pen. 'How old is your daughter? Cassie, wasn't it?'
'She's fifteen, and I have a son, Josh, who's twelve. They've got bad colds. That's why they stayed home tonight. Neil wanted to book us a room at the Northey.' Sam pulled the blanket tighter round her shoulders. 'I didn't want to leave Cassie and Josh all night with the sitter, knowing they weren't well. I wouldn't have gone out at all but for the fact it was Neil's fortieth and we had the party arranged.'
PC Trent nodded sympathetically. 'I just need to take some personal details from you and then we're done.'
A few moments later, Sergeant Morris tapped on the window. Sam lowered it. 'Your bag, Mrs Davenport.' He handed it to her.
Excerpted from "White Lies"
Copyright © 2017 Ellie Holmes.
Excerpted by permission of Ellie Holmes.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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