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**BLOG TOUR** Strangers by C L Taylor

Three people who have never met before suddenly find themselves linked in such a way that should they not stick together, one of them will die. Ursula, a woman with the compulsion to steal, believes that she has killed the love of her life, Gareth, a security guard, has been receiving strange postcards and Alice, out on a date for the first time in years, is being stalked. What bring them together and why do their lives now depend on each other?

After thoroughly enjoying the author’s previous book, Sleep, I jumped at the chance to be one of the blogs on the tour for her latest book, Strangers. From the clever prologue where we have three apparent strangers standing around a dead body, I was immediately hooked and knew that this was going to be one of those books that I would be reluctant to put down.

The rest of the book is about the events leading up to that prologue, and gives us the back stories of the three main characters – Ursula, Gareth and Alice. Each of these characters have very different stories and, although it soon becomes apparent where they all converge, I loved how the author kept us waiting to discover who the victim is and their reason for being there. This slow build up led to a gripping finale where there were several heart-in-mouth moments, and I was definitely right about not being able to put the book down!

Throughout the book, the author takes us on an emotional journey as we get to know each of these characters. My favourite character was Ursula, a woman with her faults but whose tenacity and sense of justice shone through, even putting her own safety at risk to protect others. Although Ursula finds herself in a very frightening situation, it was, perhaps, Alice who I felt the most fear for. It was easy to see that all was not well with her new relationship, and I willed her to get out while she still could!

It was, however, Gareth’s story that I found the saddest and the one that had the most effect on me. I defy anybody reading the conclusion of his part of the plot not to have a lump in their throat.

Strangers has a clever plot that is action-packed and full of surprises; parts of it will remain with me for a long time. Highly recommended.

With thanks to Sanjana Cunniah, Avon and Net Galley for my ARC and for my spot on the tour.

**BLOG TOUR** The Beach House by P R Black

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to be one of the blogs featuring on the tour for P R Back’s previous book, The Family, a twisty, disturbing read that kept me gripped until the very end. It is my pleasure to, now, be able to share with you an extract from his latest novel, The Beach House, the story of a dream holiday that goes drastically wrong.

The Blurb

This vacation is about to turn deadly…

Cora’s on the island vacation of her dreams: a private beach in paradise, a romantic proposal, and an eight-figure cheque following the sale of her new fiancé’s business.

When their island turns out to be not so private after all, Cora tries to make the best of a bad situation by inviting their strangely friendly neighbours to celebrate with them.

But it doesn’t take long for her once-in-a-lifetime holiday to take a very sinister turn…

The Extract

Cora got to her feet, hastily brushing the fine grains off her legs.

‘I’m so sorry,’ the man said, raising a hand. ‘I didn’t mean to startle you.’

By shading her eyes from the sun, she could make out the fine details. He was about as tall as Jonathan, equally rangy but perhaps a little broader at the shoulders. He was more heavily built, with thick wrist muscles squeezing out of the rolled-up sleeves of a particularly offensive Hawaiian shirt. He wore shades and a sun hat, tilted at an angle. A wispy rusted-blond beard clung to a longish chin, and his shades had surely been stolen from his girlfriend, or even his mother-in-law.

‘That’s OK, I guess,’ Cora said, still a little flustered. She fought an urge to fold her arms across her chest. ‘Something we can do for you?’

‘I just want to introduce myself – I’m Dylan. We’re just on the other side of the bay, in the other house. Me and Hazel.’

Jonathan joined them. ‘Pleased to meet you. I’m Jonathan, and this is Cora.’

‘Hey,’ Dylan said, as they shook hands. ‘I like your style, man.’

Jonathan stared down at himself; he was clad only in a pair of khaki shorts, which hung precariously off his bony hips.

‘The beard,’ Dylan said, pointing to his own chin. ‘Strong look, man.’

‘Oh. Got you. Yeah, it’s the perfect disguise, I reckon.’

Cora shook hands, slightly repelled by the other man’s clammy palms. But she remembered her manners. ‘Nice to meet you. British, yes?’

‘By way of Los Angeles, but yeah. Born and brought up in Bermondsey, believe it or not.’ He allowed some south London to creep into his voice – a little exaggerated, perhaps.

‘Small world!’ Jonathan said. ‘It’s funny, I was sure they said the other house was empty when they brought us over on the boat.’

‘Hey, us too! Hazel was just saying that. The guy on the boat told us the same thing – that we had the island to ourselves. We figured they must have hired out your house last-minute. Hazel sent me over to say hello – nice to be nice, hey? Seeing as we’re technically neighbours.’

Dylan jabbed a thumb over towards the furthest point, where a rocky outcrop marked the outermost curve of the bay. Beyond this was the second house – but closer than this, almost blotted out of any discernible shape by the heat haze, another silhouette paddled in the water. As she drew closer, Cora could see it was a woman. She was absurdly startled to note the woman was topless. Yep, she thought. I’m British, all right. She smiled at Dylan. ‘The more, the merrier.’

‘Absolutely! Hey, I’ll let you get on with your morning; sorry to disturb you. I see you started early.’ He nodded towards the champagne bottle, embedded head first into the damp sand.

‘It’s a celebration,’ Cora said, a little too quickly.

The newcomer grinned. ‘Ah it’s all good – we’re about to do the same! Hey, maybe catch you both on Big Island later? Perhaps we can turn it into party town.’

‘That’d be nice,’ Jonathan said. ‘We’re heading over later, in fact. Maybe see you there?’

 

With thanks to Aria Fiction and to Vicky Joss for organising the blog tour.

You can purchase The Beach House here:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Rf58CK

Kobo: https://bit.ly/2DLkJ4V

Google Play: https://bit.ly/360Psa9

iBooks: https://apple.co/34LkbIa

**BLOG TOUR** Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

In a Somerset school, the unimaginable has happened: gunmen are on the loose, stalking the grounds and corridors. The school is on lockdown, some more secure than others, each person focused on one thing: survival. With one person already seriously injured, the police have a race against time to identify the gunmen before a massacre occurs.

Ever since reading Sister in 2010, Rosamund Lupton has been one of those authors whose books I always look forward to. I was absolutely thrilled, therefore, to be given the opportunity to share my review of her latest book Three Hours as part of the blog tour. I knew that this was going to be a book that I would enjoy, buy I was not prepared for the emotions that I would go through whilst reading.

Told in real time, the siege has a very true to life feel about it as we see it from the perspective of all those involved. As someone who works in a similar environment and has had experience of a staged lock down situation, I was able to immediately put myself in the pages of the book and wonder how I would react if I were placed in the same terrifying circumstances. The bravery and resilience shown by the staff and pupils was immense and I was in awe at how some of the characters responded to this inconceivable horror. From the teenage girl who tries everything in her power to save her headteacher, to the deputy head who is fighting depression yet showing tremendous courage to protect others, we witness the best of people in the worst of situations.

I was impressed by the stoicism of the children and staff in the theatre as they continued with their Macbeth rehearsal. The parallels between what the children were rehearsing and what was going on outside were evident, with power and manipulation being common themes. Macbeth is my favourite Shakespeare play and I was delighted to see it playing such a huge part in the culmination of the plot.

My favourite character in the book was Rafi, the teenage boy who has escaped untold terror in Syria with his young brother, Basi. My heart really went out to both boys as they found themselves involved in yet another terrifying incident, Rafi’s love for his sibling shining through. It was heartbreaking reading what they had been through and Rosamund Lupton’s writing really highlighted the dangers faced by child refugees.

With such an emotive, hard-hitting plot, it may sound strange to say that I found Three Hours a very heart-warming story. At a time when true horrors were being experienced, we saw the very best of human nature and it is a huge lesson in how important it is to stand together against acts of terror. It may only be January, but I think it is safe to say that this will be one of my favourite reads of the year – the plot will stay with me for a long time to come.

With thanks to Viking Books UK, Ellie Hudson and Rosamund Lupton.

 

**BLOG TOUR** A Stranger on the Beach by Michele Campbell

After finally building the beach house of her dreams, Caroline Stark feels like she has it all. Little does she know what is around the corner… Finding out that her husband, Jason, has been lying to her, she finds comfort with a man who works in the local bar, but is he who she thinks he is? As her life begins to crumble around her, her lover’s infatuation with her begins to grow and soon she begins to fear for her life. What is the truth and who will make it out alive?

Well, Michele Campbell has definitely written a page-turner in A Stranger on the Beach! Starting off from the perspective of Caroline, alarm bells were ringing straight away as she first encountered Aiden. It was understandable how, after being humiliated by her husband, she would find herself attracted to the younger man. As we found out more about Aiden, those alarm bells were ringing louder as I willed her to put an end to their dalliance before something serious happened.

Now this is where my head nearly exploded! After spending the first part of the book reading about and fearing for Caroline, we started to get the story from Aiden’s perspective, and what a perspective it was! All of a sudden, we were reading two accounts of the same event, each telling a completely different story. So, who was telling the truth? Was Caroline in fear for her safety or was Aiden hopelessly in love with the older woman? I loved this twist in the plot and I started to desperately search for holes in their stories to try to determine what exactly was happening.

As the story progressed, I did have an inkling as to what was going to happen, but the events were even more twisted than I could imagine. This book definitely shows how we should not always take people at face value and that people are not always who they say they are.

A Stranger on the Beach was one of those books that I could not put down, even taking it with me to read whilst queuing up in the Boxing Day sales! A thrilling, roller-coaster ride of a book with some very unsettling moments, A Stranger on the Beach is a superb read.

With thanks to HQ for my copy and to Jessica Lee for organising the blog tour.

 

**BLOG TOUR** The Perfect Lie by Karen Osman

Claire Carmichael has the sort of life many would dream of: a successful husband, two lovely sons and a great reputation. At school, her brains and likability led her to becoming a member of The Queen Bees, a clique of popular girls. Something happened to Claire back then, though, and The Queen Bees closed rank to protect one of their own. Now, years later, there is someone who hasn’t forgotten what happened, someone who is keen to exact their revenge…

Although from the blurb, we know that something horrendous happened in Claire’s past, it is not until about a fifth of the way in that we finally get a glimpse of what it may be. I liked this very much as it gave me the chance to be introduced to the characters whilst also allowing me to speculate as to what was going to happen. During this time, I came up with several theories, all of them incorrect!

For me, the book really took off when we went back to 1989, just prior to the event that would, eventually, change Claire’s life. In Claire, we see a teenager, desperate to fit in with her peers by being accepted into The Queen Bees, a clique of all the ‘popular’ girls. It was obvious that this was never going to end well, and my heart went out to Paul who, unbeknownst to him, was a pawn in the hands of these girls. Similarly, though, I also had a lot of sympathy for Claire, whose feelings towards Paul were at conflict with her need to appease The Queen Bees.

The Perfect Lie is a lesson in how one event can completely alter the course of your life, whether it be for the better or for the worse. We also discover how past sin will eventually find you out as the events of 1989 start to impact on Claire’s present life, threatening to bring it all crashing to the ground. I do not want to say too much about the plot, but I did deduce what had actually happened in 1989 and made the connection to what was happening in the present. The shock, however, came towards the end, when you see the lengths people will go to exact their revenge.

This is a great thriller and one that became difficult to put down as the plot progressed. It is also one of those books that is so well written, it will leave a bit of a nasty taste in the mouth.

With thanks to Aria and Net Galley for my copy and to Vicky Joss for organising the blog tour.

 

Order links:

Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Y2fIkh

Kobo: http://bit.ly/2NRI9NN

Google Play: http://bit.ly/2LT6KPS

**BLOG TOUR** Forget My Name by J S Monroe

Arriving at the airport to discover that her bag has been stolen, her passport, purse and key all gone, she tries to report it to the authorities but there is one huge problem – she can’t remember her name. The only thing that seems familiar is her home so that is where she heads, hoping that will help to trigger some more memories. Arriving at the door, however, she discovers a couple, Tony and Laura, living there and they have no recollection of her ever being there. Someone is lying, but who?

This is definitely one of those books where you cannot predict what is going to happen! Our lead character ‘Jemma’ is the ultimate unreliable narrator, her stress-related amnesia causing her to forget most of what has happened in her life with the exception of some rather important events. From the start, I didn’t know how I felt about her, unsure as to whether she was genuine or whether this was part of some elaborate scam. At the same time, I had great concern for her and hoped that she wasn’t allowing herself to become manipulated by another of the characters. My conflicting opinions of ‘Jemma’ continued throughout the book until we finally realise exactly what is happening. This kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, making it a very interesting reading journey.

From the outset, I had my concerns about Tony and Laura. If someone came to my house, claiming to live there, the last thing I would do would be to invite them to stay! It was obvious that there was something much bigger happening here, but what? Like ‘Jemma’, my opinions of Tony fluctuated throughout the book: was he genuine in his attempts to help her or was there something darker at play?

As I wrote earlier, it is impossible to predict what is going to happen in Forget My Name, although there were a few smaller points I did pick up on. There are a few red herrings thrown in along the way to help muddy the waters, meaning that I constantly found myself changing theories. I was shocked by what was revealed and immediately saw how clever one of the characters had been throughout the whole book.

Forget My Name is a clever book with a very novel plot, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

With thanks to Vicky Joss at Head of Zeus and Netgalley for my copy.

 

 

 

**BLOG TOUR** She Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell

51xSXTTs1CLRose and Bel Enright haven’t had the best start in life. After the death of their parents, they are sent to live with their grandmother who wastes no time in packing them off to boarding school, albeit the exclusive Odell. Heath and Sarah Donovan are also at Odell, but as teachers, starting a new life after a scandal threatened to tear them apart. All is not as it seems at the school, however, and one night there is a murder on campus. Who has been killed and who is the perpetrator? The lives of all involved will never be the same again…

The idea of a boarding school is quite an alien concept to those of us who have never experienced anything of the sort and Odell is definitely not the sort of school I am used to! From the outset, we see the rift beginning between the sisters when Bel, already beginning to go off the rails, ingratiates herself with the ‘cool’ crowd. Rose, on the other hand, is keen to experience all that Odell has to offer, working hard and befriending her tutor, Sarah Donovan. This is a stark contrast to Bel, who is more than keen to develop a friendship with Sarah’s husband, Heath…

From quite early on in the book, we learn that the murdered person is one of the sisters, but we do not know which one. This was very clever as, due to the way the story progresses, both had a motive to kill the other one, and, indeed, there may be more people who would want to see one, or both, of the sisters dead. As both of the sisters find themselves deeper into situations beyond their control, the tension mounts and there is a definite sense of foreboding. One part of the book, in particular, left a nasty taste in the mouth – the incident leading up to the major rift between the sisters. I do not want to go into detail as I do not want to spoil the plot, but I will say that I was incensed by the attitude of some of the adults in the book who did not seem to think that there was anything wrong with what happened.

Throughout the book, I had the most sympathy for Sarah Donovan, a woman trying to bring up her family and work in a particularly demanding job, not knowing if there is any truth to the whispers that are spreading round the school. I willed her to investigate further and found myself fearful that something untoward was going to happen to her.

She Was the Quiet One was a fantastic fast-paced read that shows how quickly life as we know it can change as a result of the decisions we make. Highly recommended.

With thanks to Joe Thomas at HQ / Harper Collins for allowing me to review this fantastic book.

 

 

**BLOG TOUR** Forget My Name by J. S. Monroe

Today, I am pleased to be the latest blog on the Forget My Name tour, the latest book by J. S. Monroe, whose previous book, Find Me, was definitely one of the most shocking reads of last year! It is my pleasure to be able to share an extract with you.

How do you know who to trust…

…when you don’t even know who you are?

You are outside your front door.

There are strangers in your house.

Then you realise. You can’t remember your name.

She arrived at the train station after a difficult week at work. Her bag had been stolen, and with it, her identity. Her whole life was in there – passport, wallet, house key. When she tried to report the theft, she couldn’t remember her own name. All she knew was her own address.

Now she’s outside Tony and Laura’s front door. She says she lives in their home. They say they have never met her before.

One of them is lying.

Tony positions himself in front of the door as I walk past him and up the stairs, my legs heavy with adrenaline. I try to picture the bedroom where I slept, remembering the layout of the house outside, which is single storey at the rear. There’s a sloping roof below the window, above the kitchen. Tiles and a central skylight.

I rush into the bedroom and look at my suitcase. There’s nothing I need in there and I have no intention of taking it with me. Instead, I grab my handwritten notes from the bedside table, skim read them again and fold them into the back pocket of my jeans. My hands are shaking. Tony is still at the bottom of the stairs. I walk across the landing and stand by the bathroom door.

‘Won’t be a minute,’ I call out.

I pull on the light cord and let it ping. Its handle is a carved wooden seahorse. I watch it whirl around for a second, feeling dizzy, and then I shut the bathroom door with its noisy farmhouse latch and tiptoe back to my room, closing the door behind me. The sash window opens more noisily than I expect and I slip one leg out onto the roof, desperate to get away.

‘What the hell are you doing?’

I spin round to see Tony standing in the bedroom doorway, arms folded. I stare at him and then turn back to the window. A robin on a tree in their back garden looks at me as if I’m the most stupid human on earth.

‘Running away isn’t going to help anyone,’ he says.

I don’t move. He’s right. I’ve made a mistake, thrown by the Jemma Huish development and the fact that she lived in this house. I just need to relax, trust the system.

‘I’m worried they’ll think I’m her,’ I say.

‘Listen, I dislike the cops more than most, but if you run now, you’re guilty. Period.’

I pull my leg in from the window and drop back into the bedroom, leaning against the window ledge. I’m embarrassed by my attempt to escape. It was the wrong move. Even the robin has flown off in disgust.

‘I’m sorry,’ I say. ‘I don’t know what I was thinking.’

‘It’s OK. We’ve all run away. It never helps.’

The room suddenly feels airless, intimate. As I pass him at the top of the stairs, he steps into my way and wraps his arms around me.

‘Here, let me give you a hug.’

I suppress my gut response to push him away and allow him to hold me. One, two, three seconds. And then I remove myself from his embrace. My breath shallowing, I follow him downstairs in silence and tell him I need the loo. After locking the door, I rest my forehead on the cold wall in front of me, close my eyes and try to think of the bodhi tree.

Forget My Name can be purchased here for only £2.48.

With thanks to Jade Gwilliam at Head of Zeus for organising the blog tour.

 

Picking Up The Pieces by Jo Worgan **Urbane Extravaganza**

I am really pleased to be the latest blog to feature on the Urbane Extravaganza, celebrating the books published by Urbane this year. I have the pleasure of being able to share the opening chapter of Picking Up The Pieces by Jo Worgan which was published on November 8th. The book is about Kate, the mother of a six-year-old autistic son who has fled her abusive partner. Having created a bond with her neighbour, Matt, a man who seems to have his own secrets, Kate soon realises that her ex is determined to get her back at all costs…

 

Chapter One

Monday, September 9th, 2013

The alarm had long been silenced. Kate Sullivan lay still and listened; she listened for the sound of soft footsteps that would softly pad across the laminate boards of the bedroom floor next to hers. She listened for the inevitable creak that would sound from the opening of the bedroom door. Poking his head around the doorframe would be the sleepy image of her beautiful six-year-old son, a tangled mess of sleep encrusted eyes and messy blonde curls,
as he bounced onto her bed. As usual, he would snuggle up under the covers with his thin arms wrapped around her body. Morning Sam, she would say, her voice thick with sleep. But all was quiet now; he had not yet stirred. She had another fifteen minutes of peace and quiet. She closed her eyes and surrendered to the silence.

The slow creak of his bedroom door alerted her to his presence. A shaft of light appeared on the landing, seen through the slit of her bedroom door that was not quite closed. She never closed the bedroom door; she slept with one eye open, ever alert. The door wobbled slightly on its hinges as it was flung open. Sam jumped onto the bed and over Kate, burrowing himself under the embroidered flowery quilt, bought as a bargain charity shop find, and then pressed himself into the small of her back. He relaxed. Kate inhaled his little boy smell; the shampoo from last night’s shower clung to his skin. She ruffled his soft hair. His leg flung
carelessly over hers. Her chest tightened, filled with the mixture of emotions that were love, fear, guilt and joy for this little boy. This little boy that was hers. She squeezed her eyes shut, savouring the precious moment, fearing it could be taken from her at any moment.

‘Morning Sam,’ she mumbled into the pillow.

Their day had just begun.

The stairs creaked one by one as they descended them, not quite warmed up by the morning sun that streaked through the crack in the hallway curtains. The carpet was blue, faded, marked with muddy patches and years of wear and tear, the edges frayed. Kate led Sam into the living room, and quickly found his iPad. He firmly plonked himself down onto the worn brown leather couch, right at the end, where he could squish himself into the armrest. An
indent showed that this was his favourite seat. The screen flickered to life, fully charged. Kate sat down next to him and wondered what app he would open. The theme tune from his ABC app rang out loudly from the speaker, filling the room with life. Sam stared at the screen, the light illuminating his face, completely immersed.

 

‘I’ll go and get you your milk, Sam,’ Kate softly told him. Without waiting for a response, she headed into the adjoining kitchen. Coffee, she needed coffee; she could not function without it. She ran the tap to fill the kettle and flicked the switch. Sleepily, she spooned
coffee haphazardly into a chipped red mug, then opened the fridge to find milk and Sam’s soya milk, which she poured into his cow cup. She set the timer for thirty seconds and watched as the cup slowly rotated, the microwave buzzing, the light filling the room. The kettle beeped noisily, steam escaping from the spout, while the microwave pinged. Kate had the timing down to perfection. She took the cup out of the microwave, allowing it to cool while she poured the hot water over her instant coffee. Reaching up to the shelf above the toaster, she grabbed a straw, a blue one, always a blue one, and plonked it in Sam’s cup. She carried both cups into the living room. She looked at Sam; he had not moved.

‘Sit next to me,’ Sam told her, patting the leather seat, his eyes not moving from the screen.

Kate smiled. ‘Move over then, Sam.’

She squeezed in right next to him, replacing his position at the end of the couch and placed her mug onto the lowest wooden shelf at the side of the couch. She passed Sam his milk. There were piles of books on the makeshift bookcase, all crammed together, fighting for survival. Most were crime novels, waiting to be read. Kate made yet another mental note to start reading one tonight, that was if she could keep awake long enough.

Sam drained the milk and passed the empty cup back to Kate, placing both his legs over hers and resting his head on her shoulder. She gently ruffled his hair, once again inhaling the little boy smell that she knew would soon fade.

Sam loved close contact, to be squeezed, the greater the pressure the better. He liked to feel and touch things; he craved touch, he craved textures. He liked to sit incredibly close to Kate, to feel that human contact. But she did not complain; he wouldn’t always be so little. Soon she would miss those tight cuddles.

Kate glanced up at the clock; it was not quite seven and his taxi was not due until eight. They had plenty of time. They would have a leisurely breakfast and then slowly get ready for school. All they needed to do was to shovel down their toast and cereal and get dressed. But of course, all in the same order; they always had to do things in the same order – it’s just the way it was.

The house was so quiet; all Kate could hear were the birds chirping in the trees outside and of course the cartoons that were now playing on repeat on the iPad. Sam was watching the same
clip over and over again, but strangely it didn’t annoy her. As long as Sam was happy, she was happy. She was prepared to do anything for a quiet life. She grabbed her phone and opened up her emails to see if there were any from her editor, who had the habit of sending
emails late at night with regards to the stories that Kate needed to cover the following day. Sadly, he hadn’t sent any. She would pop into the newspaper office once Sam had left for school.

Kate sipped her coffee; it was still far too hot. She blew on it in the hope of cooling it down; it never worked. Stretching her legs  out in front of her onto the blue and white patterned rug that had seen better days, she tried to empty her mind of all the crap that she needed to sort through today. The house needed cleaning, but she just didn’t have the energy. The housework could wait another day, or two. She needed to go food shopping and she needed to
write something, anything, so that she could pay the rent at the end of the month. She also needed to call the landlord about the boiler, as it was playing up again, only heating up the water when it decided to do so. Mr. Jenkins should have bought a new boiler years ago, but he was too tight-fisted. So, it would be repaired, yet again. Kate sighed.

The living room was small but cosy. It was sparsely furnished, but that was the way Kate liked it. It was a safe space for her and Sam. The room was crammed full of books, a battered two-seater sofa that was a hand-me-down from the previous tenant, a small recliner shoved into a corner that was barely used and a small table where Kate sat and did her work; this was also where her laptop was permanently plugged in. The walls had been painted a bland magnolia, but they gave a feeling of calm, of space. Bold colours were too draining, too claustrophobic, and besides, they reminded Kate of him.

Kate and Sam usually ate in the kitchen; there was just enough room for a tiny wooden square table and four chairs, two of which were never used. The set had been a charity shop bargain that she had found one rainy Saturday when Sam was a toddler. It was pure
luck that the heavens had opened, meaning that they had taken shelter from the unforgiving rain that had drenched them both. Mr. Jenkins had installed a rather nasty looking plastic table in the kitchen and she couldn’t wait to get rid of it. It wobbled whenever she touched it. Kate did not own a television; she didn’t see the point. She mainly read or streamed movies. It was either that or write. Kate stretched once more and yawned. Sam had been unsettled last night; he kept waking up and had crept into Kate’s room at least three times. She very nearly gave up and let him sleep in her bed, but she found the strength to walk him back into his
room each time he had stumbled in. Kate was pretty sure that his being unsettled was because the new school term had started. This always happened after the holidays. He became anxious and his sleeping pattern erratic. Kate had painstakingly made him a visual timetable, that she had stuck to the fridge with colourful alphabet magnets. It showed Sam pictures of his taxi and school, as well as the children in his class and his new teachers, all smiling into the camera. But Sam showed no interest in it whatsoever over the summer holidays. He just kept ripping the pictures off the fridge; the one that showed the school was scrunched up into a tight ball. So, in the end Kate had hidden the pictures. What was the point? There was no use in upsetting him. Visuals usually helped Sam, those small clues that told him what would be happening next, what would be happening in his life. But for some reason the visual prompts of school did not help him, they just created more anxiety. This was the reason why Kate had not yet mentioned the word school. It would just upset him. What she wanted more than
anything in the world was for him to be happy.

Sam attended a small autism-specific specialist school a few miles away from the sleepy village of Muddletown; he’d been there for over a year. He enjoyed it there; it was just that when there had been a long break away from school, it could take him a little bit more time to adjust back into his old routine, to become settled again. Kate knew that the morning would be a difficult one, for him, and for her. There was nothing that she could do about it.

Sam looked up at her with his big blue eyes. Kate knew what he was going to ask, even before the words had left his mouth.

‘Cornflakes Mum.’

Kate ruffled his hair. ‘Okay Sam, I’ll get your cornflakes.’

Five minutes to eight. Kate stood in the living room, waiting for the taxi, trying desperately to swallow down her mounting nerves. Sam was finally dressed in his school uniform, plus dressing gown. She was not too sure where this need to wear his dressing gown had come from, but he refused to take it off. Getting him dressed was a struggle, but she resigned herself to the fact that it was not his fault. None of this was his fault. Kate was well aware that she should remove his Bob the Builder dressing gown that was two sizes too small. She could barely fasten it and the sleeves ended at his elbows, but it was only for one day; it really wouldn’t matter. If it meant that she could lure him into the taxi, and that he was
settled on his journey to school, then there was no harm done.

Once Sam was quietly playing with his cars, Kate quickly got dressed. Luckily, she was very low maintenance. She usually wore comfortable, practical clothes, so in other words, boring. This usually meant she ended up wearing jeans and a t-shirt, or a dress and cardigan. Kate never wore heels. It was difficult to chase after a small boy who was sprinting down the road in killer heels. This was the reason why Kate stuck to either her tatty and much-loved Converse or lace up boots. Her long curly brown hair had been combed, and a lick of lipstick applied. She was now ready to face the world. Or rather, the taxi driver, Sam’s taxi escort and her boss. Kate checked her watch; it had just gone eight. She looked out of the living room window and noticed a large removal van pulling into the driveway next door. The house had been empty for around three months and she wondered who her new neighbours would be. Would they be a young couple who hosted loud parties? Or would they be a nice quiet retired couple? Kate secretly hoped that they liked children. It would make a pleasant change from the previous owners. She stood back from the window, aware that if seen she would appear like a prying neighbour. She adjusted the net curtain and turned to Sam. He still looked like the condemned man as he sat on the floor, wheeling his red toy car backwards and forwards on his car mat. He had not spoken to Kate since the whole getting dressed incident. She had not been forgiven for making him go to school. She took another quick peek through the net curtains and saw the familiar blue taxi at the top of the street; the honking horn soon followed. Why did they do that? They knew it upset Sam. She turned towards Sam, his hands
covering his ears. and took a deep breath. ‘Sam, the taxi is here.’

He looked up at her, clutching the red shiny car. ‘Oh, no Mum,’ he muttered.

‘I know Sam, but we need to get shoes on now,’ Kate told him patiently, her heart hammering in her chest, praying silently for no meltdown.

She reached out her hand and he took it. Together they walked into the hallway, so that Kate could put his shoes on for him. Having grabbed his bag, coat, lunchbox and car seat, that was now tucked under her arm, she unlocked and then opened the front door, before heading down the short path towards the awaiting taxi. Sam tightly gripped her hand. Kate looked over at him, seeing what expression he was wearing. But he gave nothing away. Kate was met with silence. She greeted the taxi driver, the same lady who picked him up every single day and asked how she was, while positioning the car seat for him. The words drifted over Kate’s head in a melodic hum. She smiled at his passenger escort who greeted Sam with a beaming smile. ‘Morning Sam.’ But she too was met with silence. Kate handed over all his belongings, kissed him on the top of his head, and slowly closed the car door. She stood on the pavement as they drove away. A huge lump formed in her throat. She looked up at the sky and blinked several times to clear her vision. He’d gone, handed over to others to look after
him, and she suddenly felt redundant. Kate was fiercely protective of her little boy, maybe too protective, but she couldn’t help it. At times, he just seemed so vulnerable. She turned and walked back into the now still and quiet house.

The kitchen was an absolute mess; there was no way that the housework could wait until tomorrow, but it would have to wait until she got back from the office this afternoon. She fleetingly thought about getting a cleaner, but then laughed, as one, she should be able to clean her own home and two, she couldn’t afford one. Kate attempted to lift a stubborn stack of papers from the kitchen table, now all covered in sticky jam, and shoved them into her oversized satchel that was covered in bright blue flowers. Grabbing her pencil case, she shoved that in too, and made sure that her phone was in its designated pocket. She knew though that by the time she arrived at work, it would be buried underneath all the toy cars, pens, bits of paper and other accumulated junk. Draining the dregs from her now cold cup of coffee, she dropped the mug into the overflowing sink, slung her satchel across her shoulder and headed out the front door. She inhaled the fresh air; it was good to get out of the house. She just hoped that her editor had some stories for her to chase up. The Muddletown Muse was hardly a hub of activity, but she enjoyed writing stories about the local area. In truth, she enjoyed chatting to people, even if it was only the local mad cat lady.

As she pulled away from the house in her ancient Mini, she glanced in the rear-view mirror to check that nobody was following her. She did this automatically, subconsciously; it was now part of her morning ritual. The shadow was always there; it had never gone away. It was just a matter of time before it caught up with her.

With thanks to Urbane Publications, Jo Worgan and to Kelly from Love Books Group Tours for organising the tour.

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