Exclusive first look at KILLING KATE by Alex Lake, bestselling author of After Anna

Category: Extract

Killing Kate by Alex LakePrologue: The Fab Four

They had once been four.

Kate, May, Gemma, and Beth. The Fab Four, their parents called them, with an affectionate nod to the original Fab Four from Liverpool and a wry nod to the fact that their teenage daughters happened to agree that they really were, after all, pretty damn fab.

Four best friends, from their first days at infant school, through the wide-eyed years of junior school and the drama of high school and then on to university and their fledgling careers. Along the way there were fashion fads and music crazes, first kisses and last kisses, tears (lots) and laughter (even more). All of it added layer upon layer to their deepening and – it seemed – eternal friendship.

And then, without warning, it all changed.

Looking back, Kate could pinpoint the night she noticed – they all noticed – that it was going wrong. She had no idea at the time quite how wrong it was going, or how quickly, but she had known that something was not as it should have been.

When she fully understood what it was, however, it was too late.

Beth was already lost.

 

1

She had to get out of there.

There were many thoughts going round in her head – confusion, regret, shame – but that was the overriding one.

She needed to leave. That instant. Kate Armstrong wanted to be anywhere other than where she found herself.

Leaving, though, was complicated by the fact that the man whose bed she was in – what was his name? Rick? Mike? Mack? Shit, she couldn’t even remember that – was not there. His side of the bed was empty. Which meant that the option of sneaking out quietly was not available. He was up and about, somewhere in his Turkish holiday apartment, and she would have to face him before she could flee.

Unless there was a window. She knew that leaving that way was unorthodox, maybe even desperate, but she was desperate. He might think it was odd when he came in and she was gone, the window wide open, but she didn’t really care.

She sat up in the bed, making sure that the sheets were pulled up over her naked torso – God, she was naked, naked in a stranger’s bed – and looked around. Her vision was milky – the result of leaving in her contact lenses overnight – and her eyes itched, but she could see through a window that the apartment was not on the ground floor. There were branches of a tree of some kind she did not recognize right outside the window.

So that was that. She would have to face him. Rick or Mike or Mack.

It was Mike, she thought, details of the evening coming back to her. He was called Mike, and she’d met him in a nightclub. She was buying drinks for her friends, May and Gemma, at the bar when some perma-tanned Italian had sidled up behind her and put his arms around her waist, pressing the crotch of his white linen trousers into her bum. He’d muttered something unintelligible – or Italian, at any rate – into her ear and then she’d tried to wriggle free.

She’d managed to turn to face him and he grinned in what she assumed he thought was a charming way, then put his hand on her hip.

Which was when the guy – Mike – showed up.

Hi, he said. He put a hand on her shoulder and smiled. Sorry I’m late.

She had no idea who he was, but she knew what he was doing. He’d seen her struggling and had come over to help.

No problem, she said, as though she knew him well. I was getting some drinks. What are you having?

A beer. He looked at the Italian. Who’s your friend?

No one. We just met. She raised an eyebrow and gave her assailant a little wave. Arrivederci.

The Italian looked Mike over, took in his taut, muscular frame, then shrugged and walked away.

Thanks, she said. He was about to become a pain.

That’s OK. I was coming to get a beer and I noticed that you seemed uncomfortable. Anyway, I’ll let you get on with your evening.

Let me get you that beer, she said. By way of a thank you.

And then, somehow, she’d ended up here. Naked, drymouthed, head pounding.

She stared at the tree branches and tried to remember what had happened after that. The memories started to come back, memories of staggering into the apartment and kissing Mike by the door. Memories of him taking her hands and leading her into the bedroom. Memories of him undressing her.

She closed her eyes and groaned. This was not what she did. She did not go home with men she’d just met and have sex with them, however drunk she got.

But had they had sex? The seed of a memory formed, then coalesced into something firmer. Into her asking him if he had a condom.

Are you sure? he said. Sure you want to do this? We don’t have to.

She was sure. Then, at least, she was sure. Not now, though. Now she was sure only that she wished she’d said No, let’s wait or Maybe I should go. My friends will be missing me.

But he’d shaken his head, kissed her, and said I think you’ve had a bit too much to drink. Let’s see if you still feel the same way in the morning.

She’d bridled and mumbled that she was fine, thank you very much, but the truth was she wasn’t fine, she was hammered, and thank God he hadn’t taken advantage of that.

And how had she got so drunk? She didn’t remember having that much. Wine at dinner, then gin and tonics in the nightclub, after which her memory got hazy. They were pretty liberal with the measures here. She’d watched them sloshing the gin into the glass; that must be what had happened. Well, she was going to have to be careful for the rest of the holiday. This could not happen again.

The rest of the holiday. Right then she didn’t want it, didn’t want to stay here for another two nights. They’d arrived five days ago, her and May and Gemma, on a week away to take her mind off the break-up with Phil, the man she’d been sure she was destined to marry until she’d realized that maybe she wasn’t destined to marry him after all, so she’d decided to end it. A decision which she hadn’t been sure about when she took it and which seemed even less like a good idea now, as she lay here, mouth dry and head throbbing, having nearly ended up on the wrong end of a one-night stand, a one-night stand that would have been her first ever, had the man she’d thrown herself at not been, thankfully, enough of a gentleman to turn her down.

She’d made Phil wait a month before she slept with him. That was more her speed. And it had been well worth the wait. More than worth it. He was the first and – still – only man she had ever had sex with. Her high-school boyfriend. They’d stayed together all through the university years, him at the University of the West of England in Bristol, her at Durham, which were two places about as far apart as you could get in England. A true long-distance relationship, a true test of their devotion, then they’d moved back to their hometown, back to the village of Stockton Heath, where they’d rented a house together, and set off on the final leg of their journey to marriage and kids.

Until she decided that she wasn’t ready, that she needed to live a little before settling down. She comforted herself that she could always go back to him, if she needed to. That made the decision a bit easier, although not for him. He hadn’t taken the break-up all that well. Truth be told, he’d taken it very, very badly. He called her early in the morning before work and late at night, drunk in his friend Andy’s flat, where he was living until he sorted out something permanent, or from outside some nightclub or, once, from the bathroom in the house of a girl he’d gone home with. He’d told her he’d moved on, found someone else.

Why are you calling me from her bathroom at two a.m., then? she’d said, aware that it was mean to mock him, but it was the middle of the night and she was tired and frustrated.

Fuck you, he’d replied, his voice wavering as though he was on the verge of tears. Just fuck you, Kate.

So yes, it was fair to say he hadn’t taken it very well, which was part of the reason she’d come away. At home he was a constant presence, so she struggled to get any perspective. She needed some space, some distance between them, some time with her girlfriends, doing nothing but relaxing on the beach in the day and going out at night.

Her friends. They’d be freaking out. She leaned over and looked at the pile of her clothes on the floor. A knee-length red summer dress, black lace underwear, strappy high-heels. All bought with this holiday in mind. All bought with the thought that she needed to look good in the pubs and clubs of her holiday destination.

And to look good for what? So she could wake up in a stranger’s bed? No, not for that, but, damn it, that was what had happened, and she was not happy about it, not happy at all.

Her bag was next to the clothes. She reached down and grabbed it, then took out her phone. There were a bunch of missed calls from Phil, but then she’d been getting those all week. She’d not answered any of them. She’d come here to get away; the last thing she needed was a long, emotional conversation with her ex. There were also missed calls from May and Gemma, and a bunch of text messages. She scrolled through them.

2:02 a.m., from May:
Where are you?

2:21 a.m., again from May:
For fuck’s sake, Kate, pick up your phone! Where are you? We’re worried!

2.25 a.m., this time from Gemma’s phone. She imagined the conversation, pictured May speaking: Perhaps my phone’s not working, maybe the messages aren’t getting through, let’s try yours and then the message:
Did you leave with that guy? You need to message us, now.

And then, her reply, at 2.43 a.m.:
Hi! I’m fine. I’m with the guy from the nightclub, Mike. He’s really nice! Don’t worry, I’ll see you in the morning.

God, she’d been drunk. She didn’t remember sending it, couldn’t place it in the timeline of the night. Was it before they arrived at his place? After? She had no idea.

She typed another message.

On my way back. See you soon. I feel like a dirty stop-out.

She put her feet on the cold tiled floor and reached for her clothes. Now for the hard part. Now she had to face Mike and then get the hell out of there.

She pulled her clothes on, pushing the thought from her mind that she was going to have to do the walk of shame through the morning streets of this Turkish resort, everyone who saw her dressed in her evening clothes fully aware that she had gone home with someone and was now making her way back to her own accommodation.

She didn’t care. She’d never see those people again, and she’d never do this again. All she wanted was to get back, shower, sleep, and forget this had ever happened.

The bedroom door was ajar. She pushed it open and walked into the apartment. It was a typical holiday apartment: an open-plan kitchen and living room, with two bedrooms: the one she had woken up in, and one which still had the door closed. Presumably one of Mike’s friend’s was still asleep in it.

All the more reason to get out of there.

He was sitting on the couch, a mug of coffee in his hand, one bare foot on the tiled floor, the other tucked under his thigh. He looked up from his iPad and smiled at her.

‘Morning, Kate,’ he said. ‘Sleep well?’

Hooked? Keep reading…

Alex Lake on the idea that sparked AFTER ANNA

Category: Author Post

After Anna paperback coverI’m a big fan of psychological thrillers, in particular when they have a domestic feel – the ‘this could happen to me’ element – and I wanted to write a novel in that vein. Something gripping, but which felt real. For a while I’d had a few different ideas, but no central plot line to bring them all together.

That changed after a conversation I had with an American friend. She was contemplating a trip to Europe with her husband and young daughter, but decided against it because she had heard that there were gangs who kidnapped kids and sold them into slavery.

That stuck with me, and, sometime later I was noodling on another idea I had about a marriage that had broken down to the point at which both parties had made up their minds to get divorced and move on, but then something happened which made that impossible – perhaps a child of theirs fell very ill, or something like that.

Then it came to me: their child could be abducted, and they could be thrust into the media spotlight. It was later that I conceived of the twist: what if the child was returned, because abduction was not the end, but only the beginning…

From there it was long walks and plot outlines and drafts and then, eventually, I had something I was happy with. I shared it with the people who I rely on to give me advice on early drafts (thank you – you know who you are) and then rewrote and rewrote until After Anna was ready.

A note on the title: titles are strange beasts, because (for me, at least) they either come right at the beginning, or right at the end. After Anna came right at the end. The book was called ‘Somewhere Out There’ for a long time – and I was reasonably happy with that – but then one day After Anna just came to me, and it stuck.

I hope you enjoy reading it!

Get your copy of the No. 1 eBook and Top 10 Sunday Times bestseller After Anna online or in-store at select Tesco, Sainsbury’s and ASDA. 

Q&A with Alex Lake, author of AFTER ANNA

Category: Interview

Meet Alex Lake, the author of AFTER ANNA…

After Anna EBWhat drew you to the world of crime?

I think I just like good stories, and the world of crime is full of them. It’s also a world that we know exists right next to us, but which we hope we never have to experience. Perhaps crime fiction is a way of exploring that world without having to enter it.

Plus, I love reading about and creating a good villain, and there are loads of them in the world of crime.

What author (besides yourself) do you think that everyone should read?

Wow. What a question. Do I get to sit on a fence here and not really answer it? I’m not sure there is a ‘should’ when it comes to choosing what your read – I think you just read what you enjoy (unless you’re training for something – like being a doctor – then you should probably read some anatomy books or something like that) so all I can offer up is who I like to read, and that has changed over the years. I loved Stephen King as a teenager (and still do), Jonathan Coe is a big favourite, Joyce Carol Oates, Margaret Atwood, Kate Atkinson. Like many people who love reading, the list of authors I like and admire and wish I was as good as goes on and on…

Perhaps the books that made the greatest impression on me, though, were the Borribles Trilogy. I adored them as a child. Without giving anything way, there is a character called Napoleon Boot, who starts out as a villain and ends as a hero, and who, finally, dies so that the rest may live. As a ten-year old I was sobbing in bed when I got to that point – my dad heard me and came in to find out what was wrong. Through the sobs I managed to tell him that Napoleon was dead. I think he was a bit surprised that I was so upset over the demise of a figure from French history. But that’s the power of books, I guess.

Tell us about your new book

The plot is simple (at first, anyway):  a five-year-old girl is abducted. It’s every parent’s nightmare – or one of them, at least – and her mum and dad, Julia and Brian, go through the most horrendous week, wondering whether she is alive, dead, enslaved.

And then she is returned, unharmed, which is when Julia’s problems really start…

Is there a lot of research that goes in to your books?

Yes, but my books are mainly about character and story.  I like to know that the setting or details or whatever are correct – for example, if a character takes a train and you call it an Intercity 125 you need to be sure that Intercity 125s were still running then on that route, because somebody will notice – but once I have satisfied myself that the details are right then I leave it at that.

What are you working on now?

A few things. I tend to work on more than one novel at a time, so I have a few in progress.

I also write for my own kids. We have a character called The Very Wicked Witch, who is a mixture of extreme wickedness, ridiculously grandiose plan and tragic incompetence. She’s very funny – her plans are always thwarted by the village kids, but she never gives up.

Do you think you could pull off the ‘perfect murder’?

No! I don’t think I could pull off any murder, at least not in cold blood or for money or revenge. I think the perfect murder would have to be motiveless, so that no one would ever suspect you did it, and I cannot imagine the circumstances in which I would be planning a motiveless murder.

What’s your top tip for aspiring authors?

Read as much as you can, and write every day. Enjoy what you write – if you don’t, no one else well. Write the book you wish was in the bookshops. Find your voice – what makes your writing yours?

Oh – and don’t read tips about writing!

What’s your poison?

Hmm. Tea and coffee, for sure. Crisps – chips in the US – which are just an explosion of taste. I think I read somewhere that our taste buds spent millennia evolving in such a way that they seek out a certain blend of salt and sugar and fat and that food scientists designed crisps to match that. So basically, we have no way of resisting their appeal; it is hardwired into our biology, which is kind of worrying.

I also love, when I can get it, soft French cheese like Camembert or Coutances or Coulommiers. I lived in Normandy for a year when I was a student, and I more or less survived on cheese and baguettes. And red wine.

What’s your method – regular writing schedule, late at night, listening to music – what inspires the magic for you?

Whenever I can. Early in the morning before work, late at night when the kids are in bed. Weekends. Holidays. I tend to write quite quickly, but when I sit down to start, I normally know what I’m going to write. If I am swimming or jogging or out for a walk I will think about the next few chapters, so that when I get a chance I’m ready.

What’s your favourite pastime (aside from reading/writing)?

I just started learning the guitar, and I’m enjoying that, even if my family members aren’t. I also like swimming, ideally outside in a lake or pond somewhere, and of course, I love spending time with the kids.

The thing I enjoy most of all, though, is hiking. If I can, I like to get out for long, remote hikes that take all day – there’s something totally immersive about them. Whatever else you have going on just melts away. I spent a lot of time in the Lake District as a kid, and I guess it stuck with me.

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