The Honeymoon: An absolutely gripping psychological thriller, page 22
In the centre of town, she found a tourist information centre and they directed her to the nearest internet café, tucked in a square down by the harbour. With a cold drink and a snack at her elbow, she started her research.
She knew Dan’s real name from his birth certificate and she was shocked to see the volume of newspaper reports on the subject. Not just the original incident, but his sacking from the rugby team – it turned out he’d been a semi-professional player, something he’d not told her. His comment had been he used to play a bit of rugby, but according to the reports, he’d been a rising star in the game. Until the incident ruined all that.
There were comments from the dead man’s teammates about what a great guy Jason was, what a bright future he’d had in front of him, and she could imagine there would be a strong bond, a real sense of camaraderie, in a team like that. They’d all want to see justice done, even if it was done vigilante-style, and she could understand why Dan was having problems working out who was behind the threats. Then there were articles about him losing his job. As the morning wore on, she saw his whole life unravelling before her eyes. It had been front-page news in his local paper and it was understandable that they’d had to move away.
Suddenly, the computer switched itself off and she realised her time was up. But she’d got what she’d come for, and she sat back in her chair, hands covering her mouth as the tragedy of Dan’s life replayed itself in her head.
He’s been telling the truth.
Why was she so surprised? So shaken? She chewed at a fingernail. If he was telling the truth and his story was real, which appeared to be the case, it meant that the danger to her was real too. He hadn’t been making it up, wasn’t delusional or suffering some sort of breakdown. Someone wanted to cause her serious harm.
Without sight of the threats he’d received, without knowing their exact content, she couldn’t be sure. But if someone had actually threatened to kill her The thought sent a chill through her body, goosebumps standing up on her arms. She rubbed at her skin as if she could erase the thought, make it less frightening.
Why didn’t he go to the police? That was the puzzle. If the threat was that serious, then surely Then she remembered what he’d said: the police thought he was a murderer who had escaped justice and weren’t sympathetic to his problems.
He didn’t want me to know he’d killed a man in case it put me off marrying him. Ironic, given her own secrets, but if that was the case, he’d still chosen to put her in danger.
I love him.
The thought came from nowhere, squeezed her heart, and she knew it to be true, despite everything she now knew about him. It wasn’t a rational feeling, but love never was, was it? Love existed in its own reality, a truth that had to be acknowledged rather than explained. Could she let a perceived threat tear their marriage apart before it had even begun? Or could she trust him to sort it out, while they built a new life here?
She leant on the table, her head in her hands. Nothing about the situation was palatable.
If coming here made the threat disappear, why is he locking me in the house?
There was no way she was going to live her life in a prison, only allowed out when he accompanied her. How would that play out when he was working? It would be impossible. No, she couldn’t live like that. And it was obvious that Dan didn’t trust her to live by his rules. How would that impact their relationship? Not to mention his temper and his violent nightmares.
I can’t stay here.
Should I go back to Brighton?
Then she remembered she had nowhere to stay if she did go back, her gran having made it clear that she wanted Chloe to leave her alone for a while. She recalled the feeling that someone was watching her when she’d tried to get in her apartment. Maybe they followed me back here? Maybe they’re out there now, watching, waiting. She winced as she bit her lip, a bead of blood tasting metallic on her tongue. Her head buzzed, her muscles tensed and she felt afraid. Properly afraid.
With no money left, Chloe couldn’t afford a bus back to the villa, but that’s where she knew she had to go. Now she was clear about the truth, or most of it, she felt she could have a different conversation with Dan. One that considered their future rather than worrying about what might have happened in the past. She also wanted to go through all the options with him, including going to the police if he was so worried about her safety that he felt he had to lock her in the house. She had to make him see that it wasn’t a workable solution. In fact, said the little voice in her head, why does he think it’s an okay thing to do? You haven’t thought about that, have you? And what on earth is going to happen when the baby comes along?
Her thoughts matched the rhythm of her strides. The baby, my baby, our baby. I’m going to have a baby.
An unexpected burst of emotion flushed through her, making her eyes prick with tears, and a lump filled her throat. She strode on, knowing that whatever else happened, she was going to do what was best for their child.
Determination lengthened her strides, and when her thoughts started to clear, and she began to notice her surroundings, she realised she’d left the town behind. To her left and below the road, trees stretched out in a shady pine forest, and to her right lay olive groves and fields, with hardly a house to be seen. The air hummed with the sound of insects, busy with the last of the year’s wild flowers, which speckled the grass at the edge of the road. Birdsong echoed around the trees and she started to feel calmer about her situation. It’s all solvable, she told herself as her fear started to fade. Everything can be sorted. We just need to sit down and have a good heart-to-heart.
The day was being fickle, the weather turning from grey and misty when she’d set out, to bright blue skies and blazing sun. She hadn’t dressed for the heat and sweat inched down her back, trickled off her forehead, beaded on her upper lip. Her waterproof jacket was tied round her waist, creating an uncomfortable, sweaty band. Her mouth was so dry her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, but she hadn’t thought to get a bottle of water for the journey back.
She frowned, hands on her hips as she stopped and looked up and down the road. Did I pass a water trough? She had a vague recollection of something at the side of the road when she’d been walking to town earlier in the day, a freshwater spring siphoned through a metal tap and into a stone bowl beneath. It might not be too far away. She studied her surroundings, the quietness folding around her, the sun burning the back of her neck. Further along, nearer the village, she decided and knew there was no alternative but to press on.
The road was quiet, with little traffic going in either direction. The heat shimmered off the tarmac and her feet throbbed in her trainers. They were new, bought for the holiday, and were slightly too small. Now they rubbed at the back of her heel and she knew there would be a blister. She stopped and wriggled her foot, trying to get it more comfortable before carrying on. That’s when she heard the roar of an engine behind her. She wondered for a moment about hitching a lift, then decided that would be foolish – a woman on her own, it could be asking for trouble. She walked on.
The vehicle was getting closer, travelling fast by the sounds of it. Chloe had noticed that most cars pottered along this road at conservative speeds due to the potholes and lumps and bumps that covered the surface, the remains of slapdash repairs over the years. She frowned and turned, a scream catching in her throat as she realised the car was veering off the road and heading straight towards her. She flung herself backwards and tumbled down the embankment towards the forest, twigs and stones scratching and bruising her flesh, before she came to a halt where the land flattened out, maybe thirty feet below the road.
Her head was spinning, her body so sore she wondered if she was going to be able to get up. And who would find her down here? My baby! A protective hand went to her stomach as she lay still, letting the shock of the fall dissipate before she tried to move. She cursed the idiot driver for not looking where he was going. Then her br
Maybe he knew exactly what he was doing.
Perhaps he was trying to kill me?
She held her breath, eyes wide as she replayed the scene in her mind. There was no doubt that the car had headed straight for her. What other explanation could there be? Oh my God, it’s him! Fear paralysed her, adrenaline pumping round her body, making her heart pound so hard she couldn’t think.
A shout made her look up, and a man came skidding down the embankment towards her, bringing rocks and leaves and a landslide of dead vegetation with him. Instinctively, she wrapped her hands over her head and screwed her eyes shut as debris peppered her body. I’m going to die. She could hear herself whimpering.
‘God, I’m so sorry,’ he called, and after a moment, she heard the avalanche quieten.
A potential murderer wouldn’t apologise. She’d got it all wrong, she realised, had allowed Dan’s paranoia to colour her thoughts. Her fear turned to anger.
She opened her eyes, squinting at him as he picked his way more carefully down the final section of the slope.
‘Hey, are you okay?’ he said as he got closer. ‘I’m so sorry. I was’ He looked at the ground and grimaced. ‘I was checking my phone, hit a bump and it sent me flying towards the edge of the road.’ He shook his head. ‘Phew! I can’t tell you how glad I am that you’re okay.’
She glared at him, so livid her eyes felt like burning coals.
He frowned. ‘You are okay, aren’t you?’ He walked the last few feet and crouched beside her. ‘Can I do anything? Is something broken?’ He grabbed his phone out of his pocket. ‘Do I need to ring an ambulance? Or is there somebody?’
‘I’m fine,’ she snapped. Her voice rasped up her throat, which was coated with dust and dirt. She spat pine needles out of her mouth before looking up at him. ‘No thanks to you.’
‘God, I’m so very sorry.’ His eyes pleaded for forgiveness. ‘I was in a rush, you see. Supposed to be meeting my sister and I was late, and she gets really narky if she’s kept waiting and I’ He grimaced again, clearly mortified. ‘You don’t need to know all that. It’s not an excuse.’
Being a physiotherapist, it was second nature for Chloe to run through her musculoskeletal system in her mind, assessing for damage. She tried to move, carefully stretching arms and legs, testing to see if everything was working properly. Just bumps and bruises, she thought, relieved.
She took a few deep breaths before rolling onto her side and getting onto all fours, before sitting back on her heels. The world span and she swayed for a few moments before everything came to a halt and her eyes were able to focus again.
The realisation that she could have died sent a tremor through her body and she rocked on her heels as another wave of dizziness passed over her. Not only was she shaken, she was also dehydrated, and she wondered how she was going to get back to the house in this state. She held her stomach. Please be okay. Tears threatened, and she pressed her lips together, pinched the bridge of her nose to try and keep them at bay. No way was she going to break down in front of this tosser.
‘I’ve got some water in the car if you want to wash the dirt out of your mouth.’ He pointed to their left, up the slope. ‘I think if we go this way, the embankment is a little easier to climb.’
She nodded, spitting more pine needles on to the ground, her mouth gritty and dry. Water would be a godsend. Something clicked in her mind then, and she realised there was something familiar about him. Yes, she’d definitely seen his face before. Perhaps in one of the cafés in the village? He was obviously a holidaymaker, given his English accent.
She tried to get to her feet, but pain jabbed at the base of her spine, making her cry out and her legs buckled.
He grabbed her arm to stop her falling and she clung onto him while the pain eased off, but her legs were still shaky. She looked up the embankment. That was quite a tumble she’d taken, and it was amazing that she wasn’t injured.
‘You sure you’re okay? Do you want me to call anyone to come and get you?’
She shook her head and straightened her spine, easing out her shoulders, moving her arms and legs to get the blood flowing. She knew she had to keep moving because if she stopped, she would seize up in no time. She gritted her teeth and let go of the man’s arm.
‘No bones broken, just a bit of bruising. I think I’ll be fine.’ She puffed out a breath as a twinge of pain stabbed at her hip. ‘But if you could help me back to the road, and if I could have a drink of water’
‘No problem, that’s the least I can do.’ They started making their way up the slope, Chloe having to stop and take a breather every few steps as she fought against the pain of her bruises.
‘Tell you what,’ he said while he was waiting for her to be ready for the final push, ‘can I give you a lift? We’re obviously going the same way.’
She looked at him, unsure for a moment, Dan’s words about safety and danger echoing in her mind. If he’d wanted to kill me, he’s had his chance, she thought, deciding that she was sounding as paranoid as Dan now. She chewed her lip. In all honesty, she was in no state to walk anywhere, and with no money or phone, getting a lift was the only way for her to get back to the house. ‘That would be great, thank you.’ She gave him a proper smile. ‘It’s not far, is it?’
‘No, not far at all. Only take a few minutes. Honestly, I’m so sorry.’ He put a hand to his forehead. ‘Phew, I think I’m a bit shaken up myself after that.’
A few minutes later, they were back on the road beside his car. Chloe leant over with her hands on her thighs, stretching out her back, glad that she wasn’t going to have to walk any further. What she needed was a hot bath and a good, long rest.
He opened the passenger door and she sank into the seat, leant back and closed her eyes. Bloody hell, that’s sore, she thought, adjusting her position to see if she could ease the throbbing pain in her lower back. She could hear him rooting about in the boot of the car, humming a tuneless song.
‘Here you go,’ he said a few moments later, handing her a bottle of water, the top already unscrewed for her. He watched as she drank, a little smile on his lips. She took a sip and wiped her mouth, then drank deeper, relishing the coolness of the liquid in the stifling heat of the car.
He shut her door and got in the driver’s seat, started the engine. But instead of setting off, he just sat there looking at her while the air con blew a welcome blast of cold air onto her legs. She drank the rest of the bottle and he held out a hand. ‘I’ll take that.’
Her tongue started to feel peculiar, like it was swelling, getting too big for her mouth, her eyelids so heavy she was struggling to keep them open. She frowned, her heart pounding as she tried to tell him she wasn’t feeling well, but her mouth wouldn’t form the words and blackness invaded her vision.
Chloe could feel a breeze on her skin and she shivered, her teeth chattering. She felt damp, and realised she was lying in a puddle. Her mind was fuzzy, unable to make sense of anything; she wondered, with a curious detachment, if this was a dream. There was a sound she couldn’t place, a gentle chugging, vibrations thrumming through the hard floor that she was lying on. Her mind swung and swayed, her world lurching about, moving up and down and from side to side, like a crazy fairground ride. She could hear other noises now. Splashing and slapping. A spray of water landed on her cheek.
I’m on a boat? Why? How?
She forced her eyes to open, but everything was still black. Completely black. It took her a minute to realise she was blindfolded. What the hell?
She frowned, confused. Am I dreaming? She tried to swallow but her saliva didn’t seem to be working properly and there was something in her mouth. A gag! She could taste salt. Her mind was having problems working out what was happening, but it was a long way from normal, a long way from being right. Her heart raced faster.
Last thing she remembered, she was sitting in
Her senses flickered back to life, ignited by adrenaline. She could smell the sea. It was a small boat by the sounds of it, the slap of the waves clear to her ears now, the throb of the engine shaking through her body.
And then the final piece of knowledge fell into place. The man. She’d thought he’d looked familiar and now she knew why. She’d seen him at the hospital, waiting in the corridor. She had a good memory for faces and she was sure she was right. She’d run out of time to treat him and he’d limped off and she’d felt guilty. Was that the day she’d met Dan? She took herself back and decided that it was, remembered that he’d acted a bit weird at the time. He’d dashed off when she’d offered to organise an appointment, said he had a bus to catch and she’d felt guilty because she’d spent far too much time with Dan and his mum.
Oh my God, he was following Dan, he must have been!
There was no doubt in her mind now that the man in the car was connected to the death of the rugby guy. What was his name? Jason, that was it. The man who’d died was Jason McCarthy. Her body trembled, her mind numb now she understood her predicament. Pins and needles fizzed through her hands, which were tied together with a cable tie, her ankles as well. Her heart was pounding so fast, she thought it might explode in her chest, its beating filling her throat, shaking her whole body.
Oh my God! Dan was right all along. There’d been nothing delusional about his thinking. If only I’d believed him. Because, thinking about it now, the only way this man could have found them, given all the precautions that Dan had taken, was if he’d followed her when she was in Brighton.
It’s all my fault. I led him here!
She cast her mind back and a memory made her groan. She’d seen him, hadn’t she? When she’d been outside her apartment, locked out. There really had been someone next door behind the hedge, watching her. She’d been sure of it at the time, but when she’d looked there was nobody there. Was that him? It seemed likely. Then he must have been outside her gran’s house, waiting to see what she would do.