Film star Amelie Hart is the darling of the silver screen, appearing on the front pages of every newspaper. But at the peak of her fame she throws it all away for a regular guy with an ordinary job. The gossip columns are aghast: what happened to the woman who turned heads wherever she went?
Any hope the furore will die down are crushed when Amelie’s boyfriend Dave is arrested on charges of child sexual abuse. Dave strongly asserts his innocence, and when Amelie refuses to denounce him, the press furore quickly turns into physical violence, and she has to flee the country.
While Dave is locked up with the most depraved men in the
country and Amelie is hiding on the continent, Damaris, the victim
at the centre of the story, is also isolated – a child trying to make sense of an adult world…
PUBLICATION DATE: 17 SEPTEMBER 2020 | PAPERBACK ORIGINAL | £8.99| ORENDA BOOKS
She sat in the back of the parked taxi, hand tight on the handle of the door, and looked around, scanning the street for strangers.
‘You okay, Miss Hart,’ the driver asked.
It always took her by surprise when people recognised her. She’d only been in three movies so far, two as a background character and one as the main character’s best friend. ‘…Fine. I’m fine, thanks.’ She met his gaze in the rear-view mirror. His expression was open, growing concern in the strip of face she could see as he read her lack of movement.
She felt her pulse thrum in her throat and forced a long, slow breath, hearing the quiver of it in the shell of the car. It’s fine. Everything will be fine. Leaning forward in her seat, she looked around herself again, cursing the poor light.
Then she thought of that morning, just a week ago, waking up and finding a small photo beside her on the pillow. A photograph of her own sleeping face, with just enough of her shoulders showing above the bedclothes to see the blue pyjama top she was wearing at that very moment.
She’d screamed, jumped out of bed and checked every window, every door, every cupboard. Looked under her bed, checked the shower, looked behind every door again. Then she called the police.
‘We’ll send someone round as soon as we can,’ the person said.
‘Just like you did the other nine times I called.’
She couldn’t keep the sarcasm from her voice, and had hung up. There had been other strange happenings: letters in the post every day for a month, each one saying if she didn’t return his love he’d kill himself; panties missing from her washing line; small love hearts drawn in the corners of her windows with spray paint.
This was the first time she’d been back here since the photo mysteriously settled on her pillow.
‘Anything I can do?’ the driver asked. He hadn’t talked too much during the journey from the studios. Only to ask about the movie she was working on. And to say he’d read in a movie magazine that they thought this new one was going to be her breakout role. ‘Fancy being in a movie with Tom Hardy,’ he added. ‘My missus proper fancies him.’
He’d taken her low-key response as a cue not to ask anything more.
‘Can I book you in for noon tomorrow, please?’ she asked. She was due on set with Tom at 2.00 pm. That would give her time to get through make-up and wardrobe, and have a quick read through the scene.
‘Noon tomorrow.’ The driver took his phone from its holder on the dashboard and scrolled onto another page. ‘That’s fine, I’m available.’
‘And … can you wait until I’m inside before driving off ?’ She almost asked him to go into the house and check it for her, but she hated appearing so weak.
‘Course, mate,’ the driver replied, his eyes crinkling in a manner he probably thought reassuring, but it just looked creepy when all she could see was the back of his head and his eyes in a strip of mirror. ‘I always do for my ladies.’
‘Thanks,’ Amelie said. Then she read the price on the meter, found a note in her handbag and handed it to him. ‘Keep the change.’
She braced herself, and opened the door. Staying at Lisa’s had been a welcome retreat, but she couldn’t continue to impose on her friend, and she couldn’t let this freak, whoever he was, run her life.
On the pavement, she scanned the house. The creep of the ivy over the large sandstone blocks, handsome bay windows either side of the oak door, the lion-head brass knocker. It looked exactly the same as when she’d left. Just as it was the first time she’d seen it and fell in love and couldn’t not take over the rental. But that simple image had tarnished what had once been her haven.
Like most of the homes in this part of London the house was set back from the street by a small front garden. Six paces and she was up her garden path and at the door. As she walked she rummaged in her bag for her keys.
With a start she realised they weren’t in the little zipped compartment in the side wall of the bag. Nor in the middle section. She pushed aside her purse, her diary, her phone, fingers scrabbling for the tell-tale solid metal. Where were they?
She became aware of movement in her peripheral vision. To her right. Coming up from behind the still-waiting taxi.
Jesus. Where were her keys? She remembered checking on them when she’d left Lisa’s that afternoon.
A cough. Her head whipped round. A man. Head bowed, wearing a flat cap, walking slowly. Mouth dry, she dug furiously through her bag. Where were they? How many times had she told herself to get a smaller bag?
She tried the zipped compartment again. There they were. She exhaled in relief. How had she missed them?
Key now in hand, she thrust it into the lock, but before she opened the door she turned. The man was at the top of her path. The streetlight just above cast him in a jaundiced glow.
He grunted. ‘Evening, sweetheart.’
‘Oh, hi, Mr Denby.’ She almost sagged with relief against the door. It was only the old man from three doors down.
‘Told ya,’ he chuckled, ‘it’s Larry.’
‘Course it is. Larry,’ she said and worked a smile into her expression.
‘Lovely evening.’ And with a tip of his hat he continued on his way.
Waiting for a moment till her heart slowed, Amelie turned the key in the lock, opened the door and stepped inside. Before she shut it, she waved at the driver. He returned the gesture and drove off.
Inside, back against the door, she listened as the car moved away, then she strained to hear if there was any other noise in the house.
The familiar sounds of the area registered. A dog barked from somewhere behind her. A door slammed next door. A car, then another, drove past. Someone, a child, called out to a friend as they ran past. Life, moving on, completely unmindful of her troubles.
She put the chain on and clutched the keys in her fist, one pointing out from between two fingers like a makeshift knuckleduster. A stunt guy on her last movie had shown her this little trick when weird things first started to happen in her life. She suspected it wouldn’t cause much damage, but she felt reassured by it. If anyone came at her she’d aim for the eyes. Make as much of a mess as she could before running to safety.
Keeping her footfall as light as she could she made her way down the long hall, past the dining-room door and through into the kitchen. The back door was locked, just as she left it, and all of the windows were closed.
Retracing her steps, she went back down the hall and edged into the living room. All the seats were vacant, the windows shut.
But the curtains were open. Meaning if he was out there he could see everything.
On her hands and knees, she crawled over the carpet to the large bay windows, and eventually, with a lot of tugging and some heavy breathing she managed to close them. Then she made her way onto the sofa, where she collapsed.
What are you doing, she asked herself ?
Who crawls along their living-room floor to shut their curtains?
She looked down at her hands, they were shaking. Wine would help; she could almost hear Lisa’s voice. And smiled. And felt that smile loosen the muscles in her neck, in her back, all the way down to her feet.
She was safe. There was no need to worry.
A noise. A creak as someone moved above her head.
In her bedroom.
Without thought, barely breathing, she made her way towards the door as silently as she could. From the creak of the old floorboards she could tell whoever was up there was also on the move.
At the living-room door she paused. Thought about her phone. Would she have time to call? No, her best plan was to get the hell out of this house.
Folding herself into a crouch she stuck her head beyond the doorway and looked up. There, as if inhabiting the shadows at the top of the stairs, stood a man.
Cursing her decision to put the chain on she charged at the door. The man thundered down the stairs. Fumbling with the chain, she managed to release it. Hand on the snib lock, she turned.
The door was open. Just.
He was right behind her.
He slammed her into the door and it closed.
She tried to scream, but a hand clasped over her mouth. There was some sort of cloth in his hand. With a sweet, chemical scent. She felt the weight of him crush her against the door. His hardness at her hip. Hot breath, and beard bristles scratching her ear as he whispered:
‘Do as I say and you’ll get out of this alive.
ABOUT MICHAEL J. MALONE
International bestseller Michael J. Malone, the critically acclaimed author of A Suitable Lie and House of Spines, returns with a powerful standalone thriller about secrets, celebrity, and greed.
Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize from the Scottish Association of Writers. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number-one bestseller, and the
critically acclaimed House of Spines, After He Died and In the Absence of
Miracles soon followed suit. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber &
Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. Michael lives in Ayr.