The night of the party
‘For God’s sake!’ He lunged for her as she grappled with the passenger door, causing the car to swerve violently across the narrow road. ‘What the hell are you doing?’
‘Let go of me!’ She fought him, squirming away from him. ‘Let me go!’
Fear constricting his throat, he tightened his grip on her arm and squinted past the windscreen wipers sloshing ineffectually against the lashing rain. Frantic, he searched for somewhere to pull over. The night was dark and moon-free, affording him little visibility. Relief flooded through him as he spotted a passing place on the single-track road. He slowed the car. And then hesitated. The entrance to Apple Tree Farm was only thirty or so yards ahead. The field beyond it would give them some privacy. There was no way he was having a full-on argument out in the open, no matter how remote an area it was.
‘Stop the car! Let me out, now!’ she cried, trying to prise his fingers from her arm.
‘Christ almighty!’ Cursing as the front wheels hit a pothole, he hurriedly loosened his grip on her to wrestle with the steering wheel.
Her scream was loud and piercing, jarring his already shattered nerves, as the car veered towards the woodland at the side of the road. He pushed his foot hard on the brake, realising his mistake too late as the vehicle careered into a tailspin before grinding to a nauseating stop. His heart pumping with shock, he wiped a trembling hand over his face and twisted to face her. ‘What in God’s name are you trying to do?’
‘Get away from you!’ she shrieked, lashing out at him, her balled fist pounding heavily into his shoulder.
‘While the car was moving?’ Disbelief and anger unfurled inside him. ‘You could have bloody well killed yourself!’
‘What do you care?’ she retorted tearfully. ‘You lying bastard, pretending you give a stuff about me when all you ever really wanted was to use me.’
‘I do care. You know I do. I would do anything for you.’ Softening his tone, he tried again to reach for her, but she recoiled.
‘Of course you would. That’s why you wanted to keep me as your dirty little secret. You’re despicable, do you know that?’ she spat. ‘It’s about bloody time everyone found out what you’re really like. I’m going.’
‘Don’t,’ he said, growing desperate. ‘It’s not safe walking around here on your own.’
‘Ha!’ She laughed derisively and reached again for the door. ‘Save it for the next gullible fool you win over with your twinkly-eyed smile and bleeding-heart crap. It was nice knowing you. Not.’
‘Come back!’ he begged as she scrambled out of the car. ‘It’s pouring with rain. You’ll get soaked.’
‘No chance!’ she yelled.
Panic knotting his stomach, he tried to start the engine as she fled, only for it to splutter and die. Shit. He slammed his hand against the steering wheel. What should he do now? He couldn’t let her broadcast his business all over the village, ruin everything he’d worked for.
Go after her, whispered the woman whose death had changed the course of his life. You have to stop her.
Bitter wind biting into her bones, Emily stood across the street from her house, outside her life looking in. A fox cried in the distance, shrill and soul-piercing, like the cry of a terrified child. There was no other sound, no movement, apart from withered leaves scurrying across the pavement like frightened mice in the night. Loneliness seeping through her, she watched and waited. There were no lights on in the upstairs windows, suggesting the children weren’t home. The only light visible was the mellow amber glow from the lamp in the large bay window, and beyond that, the flickering shadows from the television dancing across the walls of the lounge. What was her husband watching? Emily’s heart constricted. Who was he watching with, if not her?
Drawn like a moth to a flame, she stepped down from the kerb and crossed the deserted road. She was on the drive, directly in front of the window, when her husband rose from the sofa. Tall and dark, wearing his almost perpetual five o’clock shadow, he was what some would call classically handsome. Attractive, undeniably. He was going to fetch refreshments, making drink signs with his hands. Doctor’s hands. Steady, capable hands. She knew his every gesture. Knew every inch of him. From the scar on his knee from a fall as a child to the flecks of green and brown that made his blue eyes a myriad of ocean colours, she knew him. Didn’t she? Mesmerised, she continued to watch as he smiled languidly at his companion and then crossed the room towards the kitchen. Her man: he would never hurt her in the worst possible way a husband could hurt his wife. But he had once been tempted, the wind whispered.
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