The Honeymoon: An absolutely gripping psychological thriller, page 8
* * *
She woke with a shiver, the sun having disappeared, the sky a sheet of grey now, the sea ruffled by choppy waves. A cool breeze whispered through the trees. Her watch told her she’d been asleep for a couple of hours and she frowned. So, where’s Dan? Why had he left her on her own for so long, knowing full well that she couldn’t get into the house because he had the sodding key?
Is he with that woman?
Her teeth clamped tight as she visualised the two of them together. Then she stopped and rewound the image. Now she was feeling less woozy, what had she actually seen? They’d been standing very close, shoulders touching, faces just inches apart, so he definitely knew her, of that she was sure. They’d been having more than just a cosy chat, more than a casual conversation between people who’d just bumped into each other again. There was something strange going on, something that made her feel very alone and vulnerable.
She shivered as a fresh breeze brought goosebumps to her skin, and she looked around, thinking she might see him coming up the track, but there was no sign of him. Maybe he’d walked past and not seen her? Given how long she’d been asleep, that seemed the most likely scenario.
Oh God, she thought, looking in the direction of the house at the dark tunnel that disappeared into the trees. I’m going to have to go through the forest on my own. Her heart started to race. The wind rustled through the leaves, branches creaking, reminding her of her worst fears. She ran.
Chloe woke to find her wedding day was one of those still, drizzly affairs that September specialised in, but she wasn’t going to let the weather dampen her spirits. Today was the day when everything would change for her, when she would become part of a married couple instead of being an ageing singleton. Finally, her dream was coming true. She hardly dared articulate it to herself, worried that she’d jinx the whole thing and Dan would change his mind, stand her up at the altar.
He wouldn’t, she reassured herself. He’s not like that, and anyway, this is all his idea.
* * *
The ceremony was scheduled for two o’clock, and at twenty past two, when she was standing next to the minister on the porch of the church, still waiting for Dan to turn up, she was having serious doubts.
‘We’ll give him until half past,’ the minister said, with a forced smile. ‘Must be some hold-up. But I have to be somewhere else at three, so we might have to rearrange it if he doesn’t arrive soon.’
Chloe shivered. The dress she’d chosen was an off-the-shoulder ivory sheath which hugged her figure but provided very little in the way of warmth. She didn’t have her phone on her, so she had no way of contacting him. The minister didn’t have his number to hand either, so they just had to wait.
‘It’s a bit nippy, isn’t it?’ the minister said, obviously noticing the shivers that were trembling through Chloe’s body. ‘Tell you what, let’s go inside for a few minutes, get you a coat to put on until they get here, shall we?’ She put a comforting arm round Chloe’s shoulders and was about to lead her inside when Chloe heard her name being called.
She turned, gasping with relief. ‘Dan! It’s Dan.’ She watched him running up the path to the church while his mother paid the taxi driver.
‘Oh, Chloe, you look beautiful,’ he said with such love in his eyes that she couldn’t be cross with him. He was here, that was all that mattered; she was sure she’d get a full explanation for his lateness in good time, but now the minister was ushering them inside.
‘Timing’s going to be a bit tight,’ the minister said as she signalled to the organist to start playing. ‘But at least it’s just a short service, so we shouldn’t have a problem.’
Dan, his mum and the minister hurried down the aisle while Chloe waited for everyone to get themselves in place and the wedding march began.
It’s happening. It’s really happening! A flutter of nerves flapped inside her chest, setting her heart racing.
With everyone in place, Chloe took a deep breath, picked up her posy of red roses and started her walk to the front of the chapel. She’d considered who she could ask to walk her down the aisle, but in all honesty, there was nobody she could think of, so she’d decided that it didn’t matter. In this day and age, she didn’t need someone to give her away. She could do that herself, but it felt a bit lonely, that long walk on her own, even though Dan was waiting at the end. It brought home how much she missed her parents. Her mum had died when Chloe was twenty-one and every day, in little ways, she felt the pain of her loss. Today, her wedding day, the consequences of what she’d done were almost overwhelming.
Clack, clack, clack went her heels on the stone floor, her footsteps echoing round the empty space, the chapel feeling huge with just a handful of people on the front two benches. There was something wrong about the whole thing, something that jarred and stopped her feeling the joy she should surely be feeling on her wedding day.
This isn’t what it’s supposed to be like.
If she’d had more time, if they’d been able to organise it on a Saturday, then they could have had more guests, made it feel like more of a celebration. But this this felt sad rather than joyous. She almost turned and ran, but then she caught sight of Dan’s face. The expression in his eyes pulled her towards him and she remembered his words from the day before, when she’d voiced her reservations about the wedding arrangements.
‘This isn’t about having crowds of people there that we hardly know, just so we can put pictures up on social media to prove what a fantastic couple we are. This is about you and me making vows to love and cherish each other for the rest of our lives.’ He’d kissed her tenderly on the lips then pulled away, his hand stroking her cheek. ‘Even if there were no guests, it would still be perfect for me. I just want to marry you, Chloe. The rest doesn’t matter.’
She gave herself a mental shake as she finished her walk down the aisle. That’s all that matters, she told herself. Me and Dan, saying our vows, becoming man and wife. That’s all that matters.
She caught her gran’s eye and smiled, but her gran didn’t smile back. She was wearing her best black outfit, the only smart clothes she had which fitted, and she was crying. It looked like she was at a funeral.
Chloe swallowed and blinked before turning to Dan, gratefully taking his hand. She glanced at his mum, who was dressed in lilac with a matching fascinator and was beaming from ear to ear. That’s more like it, she decided, looking at the rest of their guests who were also brightly dressed, also smiling. It was just her gran who was dampening the tone. Forget her, she told herself, before the minister cleared her throat and the service began.
It didn’t take long. They’d decided against hymns – with such a small group, the minister had suggested it might be awkward. They’d gone for a couple of musical pieces instead, Chloe’s two friends from work had done readings and Dan’s mum had written a poem, but that was about it, and the service was all over and done with in just twenty-five minutes.
The wedding photographer hadn’t made an appearance, and because they’d been running late, there was little time to take photos of them signing their marriage certificate. Dan’s mum took a few, but her photography skills, from what Chloe had seen, were suspect to say the least.
‘Never mind,’ Dan said, completely unconcerned that there would be no official wedding photos. ‘He was going to cost a fortune, and anyway, sometimes more casual shots have more meaning, don’t they?’
Did he even book a photographer? Chloe wondered as they posed in the entrance of the chapel for some quick shots, not wanting to stand out in the rain, which had turned from a light drizzle to a proper downpour. Photos finished, they were about to dash round the corner to the restaurant that Dan had booked, when Chloe’s gran grabbed her arm. Her face was pale, her eyes red-rimmed from crying.
‘I’m not feeling up to the reception,’ she said, her voice a bit wobbly. ‘I’m just going to go home.’
‘Oh, Gran, are you su
‘No, I want to go home.’ Her meaning was very clear and there was no point arguing, so a taxi was organised and off she went.
Dan grabbed Chloe’s hand as they ran through the rain, her friend’s coat draped round her shoulders, and she couldn’t stop herself from asking the question that had been playing on her mind. ‘You were so late, Dan. I thought you weren’t coming. You weren’t having second thoughts, were you?’
He laughed. ‘God no. I couldn’t wait to get here, but we had There was’ She glanced at him and saw a flash of anger cross his face. ‘Well, it doesn’t matter. We got here. That’s all that counts.’
By that time, they had reached the venue and the rest of the wedding party were standing waiting for them, so nothing more was said until they’d finished eating and had done a quick round of speeches. It had been a fun gathering, with lots of jokes and laughter and Chloe decided it wasn’t a bad thing to have a cosy little wedding after all; even if she had no family there, at least her friends had made an effort, and Dan’s family was very enthusiastic and welcoming. That was all that mattered.
Still, the reason why he’d been late bothered her. Something had happened; she could tell by the way he’d brushed off her questions. And it reminded her of the incident with his car a few weeks earlier. The vandalism that could have been a warning, or a threat. She’d never got to the bottom of that, Dan always managing to evade her questions, waving it away as ‘water under the bridge, doesn’t matter’.
She seized her opportunity to have a quiet word with Dan’s mum while he was chatting to his aunt and uncle. They were all getting ready to leave, in more of a rush than she’d anticipated because the flight times had changed, apparently.
Alma held both her hands and beamed at her. ‘That dress was a good choice, wasn’t it? You look stunning. And it’s been such a lovely wedding, so happy. I can’t tell you how delighted I am to welcome you to the family.’
Chloe smiled. ‘Thank you! I did wonder whether you were going to make it at one point, though.’
The smile dropped off Alma’s face. ‘Yes, well, we had a bit of’ She stopped herself and flapped a hand. ‘Oh, you don’t need to know the ins and outs of it. All sorted now anyway. You have a wonderful honeymoon!’ Alma checked her watch. ‘Probably time to get changed, isn’t it? The taxi will be here in ten minutes.’
And that was the end of that conversation. Chloe was shooed into the restaurant toilets with her going-away clothes while Alma packed her wedding dress into a cover to take home with her. When Chloe emerged to thank the remaining guests for coming, she saw Alma and Dan having a whispered conversation, their frowns telling her that something wasn’t right. Alma was nodding as Dan talked, a worried look in her eyes.
What is going on? What aren’t they telling me?
* * *
She tried to ask Dan on the way to the airport, but he batted her question away.
‘Doesn’t matter, babe. Let’s look forward to our honeymoon. It was just a little hiccup. Nothing for you to worry about.’
‘But your mum—’
‘Mum’s so happy about us getting married. I can’t tell you how excited she is.’ He gazed at her. ‘I love you so much, Chloe, so very much.’
He kissed her, long and deep, and soon she was thoroughly distracted, her concerns drifting to the back of her mind. Her head filled with the laughter and joy of her reception, the excitement of being part of a new family with a mother-in-law that she adored. Most of all, though, she knew that she loved her husband with all her heart.
Emotions are such fickle things, aren’t they? One minute you can be the happiest you’ve ever been, then a moment later, all that joy has gone, evaporated. Doesn’t take much to ruin a moment.
I can see it in her face, that she’s uncertain, can see that she’s not as happy as she should be on her wedding day. One minute she is radiating happiness and the next that pretty face of hers is scrunched up in a frown. Such an expressive set of features, she couldn’t hide her feelings if she wanted to.
I do feel a bit sorry for her.
She doesn’t like it when she’s not in control. That much is clear. Doesn’t like not knowing.
Oh dear, I think she’s in for a few nasty surprises.
Chloe ran up the track through the forest as if the devil himself was snapping at her heels. A couple of times, she thought she heard footsteps behind her and turned, thinking it would be Dan, running to catch up. But the track behind her was empty, stretching back into an impenetrable gloom that could hide anything or anyone.
When she reached the house, her breathing was ragged, her legs aching after her sprint up the hill. She looked around, as if Dan would appear from somewhere, but she knew there was nobody home: the lights were off, and the place had that deserted feel about it. Shoulders sagging, she wandered round the back of the house, looking for an open window, trying all the doors, but everything was firmly locked, and she had no way of getting in.
She stood on the patio, arms wrapped around her shivering body, as she looked out to sea. She could see rain in the distance, sheets of it heading in her direction, and the wind was getting stronger. Christ, I’m going to get soaked. She glanced around, looking for shelter, and realised the only covered space was a little roofed area in the corner, over a barbecue pit – the rest of the shade on the patio was created by a large vine that crept over wooden beams, providing a useful canopy but no real protection from the imminent downpour.
A concrete seat had been created next to the back wall of the house and she plonked herself down, just as the first drops speckled the paving stones. Almost immediately, a torrent of water hissed against the ground, splattered on the windows and gurgled down the drainpipes, spraying her bare legs and arms with a fine mist. Her teeth started to chatter, and she brought her feet up onto the bench, arms hugging her legs and her chin resting on her knees in an effort to keep herself as dry and warm as possible.
How long is he going to make me wait?
It was completely out of order. He knew she couldn’t get in the house. What on earth is he doing? Is he punishing me for running off? For drinking? It seemed fanciful, but the man she’d come on honeymoon with appeared to be a different person to the one she thought she knew. Yes, there were flashes of loving tenderness, but she’d caught his expression a few times when he thought she wasn’t watching, and he’d looked angry. Yes, that was it. Something was making him angry and it seemed to be her. Her body shuddered at the thought. She was rubbish at conflict of any kind, the sort of person who always went with a compromise rather than sticking up for herself. Growing up with her sister had taught her to be like that, and it was a mindset she’d never shaken.
She closed her eyes, listened to the sound of the rain, feeling exhausted and empty; completely alone. This is what you wanted, isn’t it? The voice in her head mocked her. Just you and Dan. Didn’t want to bother with anyone else, did you? Well, look how that’s turned out. Not even twenty-four hours married, and you already want to go home.
Now she’d lost her phone she couldn’t even ring anyone. In fact She frowned, concentrating on that conundrum for a moment, trying to take her mind off the chill that was seeping down her neck, covering her arms and legs in goosebumps. How did my phone go missing? She hadn’t used it after they’d boarded the plane, and it had stayed zipped in her bag in the overhead compartment.
Which could only mean one thing.
Dan took it.
The sound of a car engine stopped her train of thought and she unfurled herself, listening. She heard a voice, then the sound of a car door slamming. Dan! Oh, thank God! She stood up, her body stiff and aching, teeth chattering as she dashed round to the front of the house, the rain soaking through her clothes. She burst through the front door, slamming it behind her as if the
Dan’s back was turned to her as he unloaded a couple of carrier bags in the kitchen area and he swung round, frowning. But his expression turned to concern when he saw her.
‘Christ, Chloe, you’re soaked. What have you been doing?’
For a moment, she couldn’t speak.
‘Me?’ she said, pointing to her chest, a sarcastic tinge to her voice. ‘Oh, I’ve just been hanging around for bloody hours waiting for you to turn up. That’s what I’ve been doing. What about you?’ She cocked her head to one side, waiting for his answer, pretty sure that she wasn’t likely to believe a word he said.
He frowned and looked confused, then carried on unpacking the bags while he spoke. ‘I came back to the house, but you weren’t here. I thought you’d marched off in a strop somewhere and needed a bit of time to cool off. So, I thought I’d do something useful. I walked back to the village, the bus was there that goes into town, so I went and did a bit of shopping. Lots of tasty bits and pieces they don’t have in the village. Stuff for picnics and easy meals. Then we don’t have to worry about going out to get food.’
He wouldn’t look at her. He’s lying. Her hands bunched into fists, anger burning her cheeks.
‘You didn’t come back. I would have seen you.’
‘But I did. Look, I left you a note on the front door.’ He walked past her into the hall, opened the door and pulled something out of the letterbox. It was a damp, floppy scrap of paper and the ink was blurred round the edges, but the message was clear.
Sorry I’ve upset you. I didn’t mean to. I’ve gone to get some shopping.
Love you so much, Dan xoxoxoxoxo
She stared at the note then glanced at Dan. She hadn’t even checked the front door when she’d got to the house; knowing it would be locked, she’d gone straight round the back. He must have walked past me. That was possible, wasn’t it? She’d been in the shade and he could have missed her if he’d been looking at the ground or out to sea. And she’d been asleep, so she wouldn’t have heard him walk past. But twice? He walked past twice? She stared at the note again, not sure what to think. He could have just put that there, to cover himself.