The queen of twists, Sarah Pinborough is back with a gripping new twisty thriller that is sure to keep you up all night!
Read an exclusive extract here…
Twelve days until birthday
There’s someone in the house.
It’s not a complete thought, but something feral, more instinctive, and I sit up, suddenly awake, my heart racing. The clock clicks to 1.13a.m. and I stay very still, listening hard, sure I’m going to hear a creak from the hallway or see a threatening shadow emerge from a dark corner of the room. But there’s nothing. Just the patter of rain on the windows and the hum of night quiet.
My skin has prickled. Something woke me. Not a dream. Something else. Something in the house. I can’t shake the feeling, like when I was small and the nightmares would grip me so hard I would be sure I was back in that night and my foster mother would run in to calm me down before I woke the whole family.
Robert is fast asleep, on his side facing away from me. I don’t wake him. It’s probably nothing, but still, I’m alert with worry. The children.
I won’t be able to get back to sleep until I’ve checked on them and so I get up, shivers trembling up my body from my bare feet on the carpet, and I creep out onto the landing.
I feel very small as I look along the central corridor, the gloom making it appear endless, a monster’s yawning mouth ahead of me. I walk forward – I am a mother and a wife. A career woman. This is my house. My safe place – and wish I’d brought my phone with me to use as a torch. I peer over the landing banisters. Nothing moves in the dark shadows below. No thump of burglars shifting possessions in the night. No menace.
A flurry of wind drives the rain hard into our cathedral feature window, startling me. I go to the end of the corridor where it cuts into the wall, a perfect arch of black. I cup my hands around my eyes and press my face against the cold glass but all I can make out is the vague shape of trees. No light. No activity. Still, I shiver again as I turn back and head down the L bend ahead to the kids’ rooms. Footsteps dancing on my grave.
I feel better once I’ve pushed open Will’s door. My little boy, five years old and at big school now, is asleep on his back, the dinosaur duvet kicked away, and his dark hair, so like mine, is mussed up from sweat. Maybe he’s been having a bad night too. I carefully cover him up, but gentle as I’m trying to be, he stirs and his eyes open.
‘Mummy?’ He’s blurry, confused, but when I smile, he does too, and wriggles onto his side. His drawing book is under his pillow and I slide it out.
‘No wonder you woke up,’ I whisper. ‘Sleeping on this.’ It’s open on his most recent enthusiastic crayon drawing and I turn it this way and that in the gloom, trying to make out what it is. If I’m honest it looks like a dog that’s been run over. Twice.
It’s a dinosaur,’ Will says, and laughs and then yawns, as if even he knows drawing may not be his finest skill and he’s cool with that.
‘Of course it is.’ I put the notebook on the table by his bed and kiss him goodnight. He’s almost asleep again already and probably won’t even remember this in the morning.
I go to Chloe’s room next and she too is lost to the world, blonde hair fanned out on the pillow, a sleeping princess straight from a fairy tale, even though, at seventeen and a staunch modern feminist, she’d be quick to tell me that fairy tales are misogynistic rubbish. I go back to my own room, ridiculing myself for having been so afraid.
I get back into bed and curl up, Robert barely stirring. It’s only one thirty. If I fall asleep now, I can get another four hours in before I have to get up. Sleep should come easily – it always has done in this busy, exhausting, exhilarating life I lead, so I snuggle down and wait to drift. It doesn’t happen.
At three a.m. I check my emails – a midnight congratulations from Buckley for my result in court yesterday with the Stockwell divorce custody hearing – and then scan the news on my phone and go to the loo. Robert almost wakes then, but only enough to mutter something unintelligible and fling one heavy arm over me as I get back into bed. After that I lie there, my head whirring with my schedule for the fast-approaching day, becoming more and more frustrated that I’m going to be facing it tired. I’ve got to be at the office for seven thirty and it’s rare for me to get home before twelve hours later, and that’s only if I can get away without going for the obligatory drinks. There’s no room for slacking. Especially not now. I’m in line to be the youngest partner in the firm. But I love my work, I really do.
I practise some yoga breathing, trying to relax every muscle in my body and empty my mind, which sounds so easy but normally results in me pondering stupid things like whether there’s enough milk in the fridge or if we should change our gas supplier, and although my heart rate slows I still don’t sleep.
It’s going to be a long day.
Eleven days until birthday
Work is busy. By ten forty-five I’ve had two conferences, dealt with some billing, and returned calls to three more clients to calmly explain that I can’t make the courts work any quicker, and nor can I speed up responses from their partners’ solicitors, however infuriating the delays might be, and that each time I have to call to reassure them, it’s costing them money. People always seem to be hastier to exit a marriage than they ever were to get into one.
I check my mobile. There are three missed calls from a number I don’t know but whoever it is will have to wait. I’ve got something else to deal with first. Alison.
There’s a knock at my door and I take a deep breath. Alison is never easy.
Alison Canwick is in her mid-fifties and of the mindset that age in and of itself brings authority, and the fact that she’s been a solicitor for a lot longer than me should supersede the fact that she’s my Junior Associate. If I make partner, she might actually kill me.
‘Well done with the ex-Mrs McGregor.’ I smile as I wave her to a seat she doesn’t take. ‘She must be happy with the result.’
‘As happy as someone can be when their husband of thirty years has run off into his sunset with a woman the same age as their eldest daughter.’
Just take the praise, I want to say. Alison’s forte is angry wives who want vengeance. I’m not even sure they all do want vengeance but Alison fires them up to go for broke, as she did herself when her own husband left her for another woman ten years ago. Maybe if she stopped fuelling rage in others, her own might fade. As it is, the McGregor result was all right, but it wasn’t entirely in her client’s favour. I only complimented her to try to smooth what I’m about to say.
Well, yes, there is that.’ I sit even though she’s still standing. ‘It’s about your billable hours,’ I say, and her face tightens. Here we go. ‘You’ve been below 80 per cent for two weeks now, and I thought I’d check that you weren’t under any pressures that we don’t—’
‘I’m sure that stupid computer programme doesn’t always log everything right.’
Please, Alison, let me finish.’ That’s the other thing. Alison is never wrong. Nor can she ever admit weakness. ‘I’m not pulling you up on it,’ I lie, ‘I just want to make sure you’re okay. You’re normally so good at hitting the targets.’ To be fair to her, that last is true. She’s quite competitive and she might not always be on top of things, but she definitely knows we need to be at 80 per cent minimum of our working hours being ones we can charge for.
‘I’m fine,’ she says, disgruntled. ‘I’ll make sure it’s better from now on.’
‘Any problems, I’m here to help.’ The moment the words come out I can see it was the wrong thing to say. Her jaw tightens and her eyes flash with indignation.
‘I’ll bear that in mind.’ She squeezes the words out through gritted teeth.
A second knock at the door saves us both. Rosemary, my secretary, also in her fifties but someone who oozes warmth and joy at the world, comes in carrying a large vase of roses.
‘Look at these!’ She takes them straight to the decorative table by the window. They are beautiful, at least twenty blooms.
‘For me?’ I’m confused. It’s not a special occasion and Robert would never buy me roses. He knows I’d rather have a plant that carries on living instead of something that’s condemned to rot even when it looks so beautiful.
Alison is lingering, curious, and I can’t be bothered telling her to leave.
‘This was in with the bouquet,’ Rosemary hands me a card. Oh God, Parker Stockwell.
‘Once again, thank you. And if you ever feel like that dinner, just call. Parker x‘
I groan. While Rosemary looks at me quizzically, Alison is all knowingly snide. ‘Let me guess – Mr Stockwell?’ She turns and leaves, somehow managing an air of victory, which irritates me more.
‘I wouldn’t mind if he wasn’t such a creep,’ I say as I look at the flowers. ‘Asking me out for dinner. I don’t think he was expecting a no, even though I’m married.’
‘I should imagine he doesn’t get many nos.’
‘True. But he’s definitely not my type.’ I take a deep breath and cross Alison off my diary schedule for the day. ‘Perhaps I should set him up with Alison.’ I laugh a little at the thought.
‘Why does she have to be such hard work?’
‘She’s jealous, that’s all it is,’ Rosemary says. ‘You’re younger, more successful, got a lovely family and – ah, that reminds me – your sister called. She said she’s tried your mobile a few times. She wants you to call her back. As soon as possible, she said.’
The flowers, and Alison, and my busy day and my lack of sleep are suddenly all forgotten. Phoebe’s called. I bring up the missed calls on my phone from the unknown number. A UK number. Phoebe. My sister. She’s back. And the only thing I can think is . . . Why now? Why so close to my birthday?
Soon everyone will be asking WHY CAN’T SHE SLEEP?
INSOMNIA is available to pre-order now