The Honeymoon: An absolutely gripping psychological thriller, page 1
An absolutely gripping psychological thriller
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Books by Rona Halsall
A Letter from Rona
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For my daughter, Amy – a tiger dressed as a kitten.
Dan’s hand clasped Chloe’s a little harder as they hurried through the departure terminal at Gatwick Airport. It had been a mad rush after their wedding reception: saying goodbye to their guests, getting changed, making sure all the arrangements were in place for the care of Chloe’s gran while she was away. Even now, as she trotted to keep up with Dan’s enormous strides, she was scanning her to-do list in her mind, making sure she would be able to close the door on her responsibilities in Brighton and relax while they were away. Thank goodness she didn’t need to concentrate on where they were going, which signs they were following, whether they had their passports and boarding passes – Dan had taken charge of travel arrangements, and how nice was that? He’d even sent her off to buy a new book and some magazines for the flight while he checked in their suitcase.
Someone looking after me for a change.
Those two words had a magic effect, expanding her smile so wide it made her cheeks ache. She looked across at him, at the set of his jaw, his serious frown, perspiration beading on his brow. He’d shaved off his bushy black beard for the wedding and he looked so different, it was like being married to a new man. A particularly handsome man at that, with his hair now neatly trimmed at the sides and combed back from his face, in a style favoured by South American footballers. Stylish and suave. She wondered how long it would stay like that, thought she would enjoy messing it up later when they were finally alone in their romantic little beach hut. Just the idea of it sent a thrill sparking through her.
He caught her staring at him and his caramel-brown eyes crinkled at the corners, his lopsided smile more visible now without his beard and cuter than ever. She could feel her insides melting, couldn’t wait for their honeymoon to start. She squeezed his hand and grinned at him, giddy with excitement.
‘I really didn’t think about this too well,’ he said. His face settled back into an anxious frown as he checked his watch while they hurried onwards down interminable corridors. ‘Should have factored in the traffic getting away from the restaurant. My God, it was mad, wasn’t it?’
‘Well, you can’t anticipate accidents, can you? At least the taxi driver knew a different way round all the mayhem. And we’re here, aren’t we?’
Chloe’s heart swelled with love for him, and she wondered how long it would take to get used to being looked after, having someone else to share the stress and pressures of life. After all those years dedicated to caring for other people, this was the start of something new. Something better.
He’d insisted that he sort out the honeymoon, wouldn’t let her get involved – and given that he was paying for it, she had no choice but to give him full control. She’d been insistent on the destination, though, as it had been a dream of hers for a very long time: the Maldives.
The hotel he’d booked was the most perfect place: small but exclusive, right next to a white sandy beach lined with palm trees, a turquoise sea lapping at the shore, hammocks strung between the palm trees. Each guest had their own little bungalow, discreetly positioned to give them privacy. All-inclusive and nothing to do all day but enjoy the scenery. And each other. Yes, she was looking forward to that bit. At last her life had started to go in the right direction. And about time too. At the age of thirty, she’d worried that she was stuck in a rut so deep that she’d be unable to claw her way out of it.
He was getting ahead of her now, pulling at her hand, and she had to jog to keep up. Dan had the longest legs she’d ever seen on a man, and she’d seen quite a few in her job as a physiotherapist. He was also one of the biggest men she’d ever encountered, at six feet six, towering above her not-insignificant five feet nine inches. She caught sight of their reflection in the wall of glass that edged the concourse and started to giggle.
‘What?’ He turned and grinned.
‘I feel like a little girl being dragged along by my dad. Do we have to go quite this fast? I’m getting a stitch.’
‘Yes, we do, if we’re going to get to the gate in time. And less of the “dad” if you don’t mind.’ His voice was mock stern, hiding a laugh. ‘That’s no way to talk to your husband, is it?’
Husband. There it was again. That word. She’d acquired a husband. Her stomach fizzed and not just with the glass of bubbly she’d consumed. If only she could bottle this feeling and keep it forever. She caught her reflection in the glass again, her face flushed and glowing. Yes, she was positively radiating happiness, visible in her posture, her expression, the spring in her step. Her hair shone like a new coin, the bronze-to-gold colouring working so much better than she’d thought it might. It had been her wedding present to herself – a spa day and full makeover, including hair and nails – so that she was buffed, plucked and preened to perfection for her man. She would have to admit, after years of settling for a nondescript ponytail and little in the way of make-up, this gorgeous woman in her reflection still came as a surprise to her. Yes, getting married had a lot to recommend it.
He slowed a little so she could speed-walk rather than jog.
‘Are we really in that much of a hurry?’ She glanced up at one of the electronic boards displaying flight times and tried to pull him to a halt. ‘Why don’t we just check? It may be delayed anyway.’
He shook his head, pulled her forwards. ‘I’ve already checked and we’re cutting it fine.’ He started to speed up again. ‘Come on, Mrs Marsden, better get a move on.’
Mrs Marsden. Didn’t that sound properly grown-up? She belonged to somebody. She was someone’s wife. This man loved her so much he’d wanted to marry her and be with her for the rest of his life. Isn’t that the most amazing thing?
Until this point in her life, relationships had never worked out how Chloe had imagined they would. But she wasn’
When she was younger, she’d loved being part of a family, and now that hers was all but gone, she missed that sense of belonging, the noisy messiness of family life. She wanted it back more than anything in the world, but the only way that was going to happen now was if she made her own family. Obviously, I’ll still work, she thought as she jogged beside her husband, her mind busy planning her future, not taking any notice of her surroundings. Maybe just keep up the voluntary work at the hospice while the children are little.
Yes, that had been her dream, but finding a man who wanted the same thing had proved near impossible. After a few disasters, she had finally settled with her long-term boyfriend, Spencer… until he lost his job and seemed reluctant to get another. While she was looking after the flat, the housework and the finances, he was off enjoying other things – including, she found out later, dubious substances, lots of alcohol and betting machines. When he started stealing from her purse, she had to accept the relationship was over and threw him out. He wasn’t well pleased, and she’d had to move to a new apartment and change all her social media accounts and her phone number before she finally got rid of him. It had been an exhausting and humiliating process that she hadn’t wanted to repeat in a hurry.
Chloe had realised she was doing something wrong and decided to have a time out from relationships for a while to work out exactly what it was. Two years later, she still had no appetite for dating. Then Dan had walked into her life.
Now he stopped and joined the end of a queue of people who were filing through a boarding gate, pulling her alongside him and circling her with a protective arm while he kissed the top of her head. ‘This is us. Phew, just in time.’
Chloe wrapped her arms around his waist, enjoying the heat of him, the musky smell, as she pressed her cheek against his chest. His heart was thudding, a slow but solid beat, which was probably quite quick for him, given that he had played rugby for years and was as fit a specimen as Chloe had ever met. She would have to admit to being slightly in awe of him: his bigness, the bulk of his muscles. He was foreign and familiar at the same time, so different from her, but similar in many ways.
Dan pulled their carry-on bag next to him as they inched forwards.
The people ahead of them moved through the gate, and that’s when she saw the sign giving details of the flight number and destination.
She read it again and frowned, her heart giving a little skip of panic. Wait a minute! That’s a Spanish island. Nowhere close to the Maldives.
She tugged at Dan’s shirt. ‘Dan, we’re in the wrong place. This is for Menorca.’
Ignoring her, he grasped her hand and pulled her forwards, smiling at the hostess on the gate while he handed over the passports and paperwork.
Chloe tried to pull away, but he held her tight, his arm clamped round her, and the hostess waved them through. For the first time, she understood the strength of him, and a new emotion stirred in her belly, one that made her feel queasy.
‘Menorca?’ She turned to him, her voice a harsh whisper. ‘We’re going to the Maldives. That’s where we’ve booked. What are you doing?’ People were turning to look, and she lowered her voice, her cheeks burning. ‘What’s going on?’
He smiled at her, but his eyes held a determined glint. ‘I’ll tell you on the plane. A little change of plan.’ He squeezed her hand, his voice laced with forced excitement. ‘Wait till you see where we’re going. You’ll love it. Honestly, you’ll have to trust me.’
Rather than calming her, his words had the opposite effect, and her mind started working faster, wondering what was going on, what was really happening. Why on earth would he change their holiday destination when he knew what this honeymoon meant to her? They’d had long conversations about it when she’d opened up about past relationships, the disappointments, the longing to be special to somebody. And the fact that Dan had been keen to organise the perfect honeymoon for her had demonstrated that he’d understood. But did this last-minute change of plans, without any discussion with her whatsoever, mean she’d got him all wrong?
The thought made her shudder and she refused to consider the question further.
Chloe had been brought up to never make a scene in public. It was something her mother and gran were both very keen on. Theirs was a family of things unsaid and silence being a virtue. An ‘if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything’ sort of philosophy. So ingrained was this behaviour that she clamped her mouth shut for fear that her anger would come bursting out and she’d create a shameful scene in front of a planeload of people. This is not the time to discuss changed travel arrangements or shattered dreams, she told herself while her jaw worked backwards and forwards, her teeth grinding.
Later, she would realise that she should have refused to board the plane until she’d had an explanation.
Much later, she would dream of going back to that point in time and making a different decision. One that would have saved her from what was to come.
Two months ago
Chloe eased out her back and did some stretches against the wall of the office, giving herself a few moments before she called in her next patient. It was four o’clock in the afternoon and she’d been on her feet all day, kneading and pulling and pushing and lifting and demonstrating a whole myriad of different exercises for her patients. They fell into two camps in general: there were those with chronic problems, mostly elderly, who were basically wearing out and needed help to keep going; and then there were the acute patients, who’d had accidents or were recovering from operations. She had her regulars, but the acute patients were usually only with her for a few weeks until they were well on the way to recovery. Some were sent down from A & E, some from orthopaedics and some from the wards before they were discharged. A constant stream of battered and creaking humanity, which made every day interesting, the workload unpredictable and not without its challenges.
She took a sip of her lukewarm tea and went out into the waiting room, which should have been almost empty by now but was still half-full. That’s when she saw him, leaning against the wall, wearing long shorts and a T-shirt that stretched tight across his chest. Shaggy black hair fell over his forehead and ears. She did a double-take. Their eyes met and something weird happened that she couldn’t explain. Heat flashed up her neck and into her cheeks, making her break away from his gaze and look instead at the piece of paper in her hand: a referral from orthopaedics. Is he my patient? The idea was exhilarating and horrifying in equal measure, but when she read the name of her next client, she felt a little disappointed. It wasn’t him.
‘Alma Watson, please!’
She looked around, unable to see a female patient anywhere, but the man responded to her call, pushed himself off the wall and grinned at her, his teeth very white against the black of his beard.
Once he’d moved, Chloe noticed the wheelchair that had been hidden by the bulk of his body, saw the sliver of a woman sitting in it, her long black hair striped with grey, and large, deep-set eyes. Exotic and beautiful, she gave Chloe a warm smile that lit up her face. Mother and son, Chloe thought, judging by the eyes and the shape of the face. How on earth did this tiny woman produce such a great big chunk of a man?
Chloe was endlessly curious about her patients and how the human body could reproduce in such an infinite array of variations. Nobody was the same as anybody else and that was a challenge she enjoyed. Each case was a new puzzle to solve, a new solution required to help a person get better, or ease their pain, or give them a wider range of movement. She could honestly say she loved her job, and after the wrongs of her past, it gave her comfort to be able to ease people’s suffering and improve their live
The man wheeled Alma into Chloe’s office for an initial consultation, to establish the exact nature of her problems and her treatment needs before they went into the exercise room to sort out a programme of activities. Chloe smiled at them both and cleared her throat, focusing her gaze on Alma. She felt unpleasantly hot in the presence of this man who, she knew without looking at him, was still staring at her. ‘So, I’m Chloe and I’ll be looking after you while we get you sorted out.’
The man stepped forwards and held out his shovel of a hand. ‘I’m Dan. Alma’s son.’ Chloe looked up and smiled at him while she shook his hand, which was the size of both of hers put together. His clasp was warm and gentle, not overtly alpha male or sweaty. Just perfect. She couldn’t look at him, didn’t dare catch his gaze again. She gave herself a mental shake, told herself there was work to be done and she needed to concentrate on her patient.
‘Okay, Alma, how can I help you?’
Alma laughed and leant forwards, flapping a hand. ‘Well, I did a really stupid thing. I was cleaning the windows in my bedroom, stood on the windowsill I was, so I could reach the top. The doorbell rang and I’d just caught a glimpse of the postman walking up the drive. So, I went to go and answer the door.’ Her eyes widened. ‘Stepped backwards, didn’t I? Completely forgot I was three feet off the ground.’ She shook her head, her mouth twisted in a rueful smile. ‘Anyway, I managed to land all funny and hit the dressing table on my way down. Broke my right ankle and tore all the ligaments in my shoulder.’
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