Authors: Emma Haughton
Brother dead. Best friend missing. House ransacked. Stalked by a stranger. Attacked in the streetâ¦
â¦ And Sarah has no idea why. She never knew her brother was hiding a dark secret when he died. But now his reckless actions have led the wolves to her door.
And the only way out is to run.
A tense, unnerving thriller that will set your heart racing, from the author of
Now You See Me.
To James, Hetty, Chip, Flan and Josh
When it happens, I'm so lost in my thoughts I barely notice. A yank on the steering wheel and we spin into a U-turn, heading back up the road the way we came. I peer into my side mirror. Right behind us a large black car does the same manoeuvre.
My blood goes cold. Oh godâ¦oh shitâ¦it's true. They're really after us.
We're racing down the carriageway. I watch the needle of the speedometer steadily climbingâ¦sixtyâ¦seventyâ¦eighty, before we veer off into a side road, accelerating along a narrow lane through the forest, pine trees whizzing by perilously close. A sharp left and we're bouncing over a mud track. Things tumble around the car, and I grab the handle above my door to keep my balance.
The man hauls on the steering wheel again and all at once we're in among the trees. The suspension groans as we hit a small rock and he swerves to avoid a stump. We come to a halt in a mass of moss and ferns.
“Stay here!” he barks, leaning over and sliding an arm under his seat. Fiddling with something, like it's stuck.
“Damn!” He twists himself round so he can reach even further.
A faint ripping sound, and his hand emerges holding a fat brown envelope with duct tape hanging from each side.
I don't even get to finish the thought before he rips it open and my breath freezes in my throat as I glimpse cold grey metal.
He's got a gun.
I yelp in shock. But before I can say anything, do anything, think anything, he's out the car and running through the trees.
I sit there, whimpering, my breathing jagged with fear and dread. I sit there and it's as if time is suspended. No time at all and all the time in the world passes before I hear the shot.
And the silence that follows.
I keep perfectly still, too frightened to move or scream or cry, and wait for whatever will happen to happen. Until it feels as if that's all I've ever been doing, just sitting here, waiting for it all to end.
“Not bad, Sarah.”
Mrs Perry inclines her head as I sing the closing bars of the Bach, then lifts her hands from the piano keys and turns to face me. “A little wobbly in parts, especially around the adagio.”
She pauses, waiting for my response.
“I'm sorry.” I shift the weight on my feet. “I'm a bit tired today.”
“Right.” Mrs Perry gives me one of her searching looks. “I can see that, Sarah. And this is a challenging piece. Well within your capabilities, yes, but if you're going to be ready, you'll have to work much harder on it.”
I nod, picking up my score from the music stand and putting it back in my bag. “I promise I'll practise more this week.”
She smiles as she stands. “Remember those breathing exercises I showed you. And your posture, Sarah. You still need to focus on your posture.” Mrs Perry places one hand on her belly and lifts her chin; instantly her whole body seems taller.
“Okay.” I bite the inside of my lip, trying not to show that I'm upset. Or how exhausted I really am.
It doesn't work. Mrs Perry walks over, taking both my hands in hers, and looks me full in the face. I get a faint tinge of perfume, something light and floral.
“Sarah, I hope you don't feel I'm being too hard on you.”
“I don't, Iâ”
“You're so talented, and I know you can do this. But even with a voice as lovely as yours, you need to be well prepared. In a top-level audition like this, they're looking for excellent technique as well as raw talent.”
She squeezes my hands gently, then takes a step back to get me in full view.
“Are you eating properly?”
I clear my throat. “Yes.”
“Seriously, Sarah, every week there seems to be less of you.” She frowns. “You're not on a diet, are you?”
“No,” I say quickly, withdrawing my hands from hers and grabbing my bag. “Really. Iâ¦” I can't think how to explain. That after everything that's happened, food is somehow the last thing on my mind.
Mrs Perry gives me another questioning look. “So how are things at home?”
“Fine,” I lie, taking a deep breath and forcing myself to appear brighter. “Better, I mean. Mum's doing better, I think.”
Mrs Perry sighs. Puts her hand on my arm. “I'm concerned, Sarah, that's all. Worried this is getting too much for youâ¦so soon afterâ¦”
She doesn't say it. Thank god.
“I'm okay,” I say, more firmly than I intend. “I just want to get onâ¦you know, keep going.”
I can't bear the sympathy in her eyes any longer, so pull the money out of my purse and leave it on top of the piano.
“I'll see you next week,” I say and dash out of the room, almost tripping over the cat in the hallway.
I know there's nothing in the fridge at home, so I call in at the corner shop on the way back. Pick up four packs of sliced bread, three tins of baked beans, a few apples and some mild Cheddar. And more butter. The one thing Mum will always eat is buttered toast â she must be just about made of the stuff by now.
But she might have a cheese sandwich. Maybe an apple if I cut one up.
I'm queuing at the till when I spot a girl with long blonde hair over by the fruit and veg, laughing into her mobile phone. Abigail Turner.
“Oh god,” I mutter under my breath. I haven't seen her since summer term ended three weeks ago â and I don't want to see her now.
But it's too late. She's already spotted me.
“Hey, Sarah!” Abigail raises her hand and smiles. She says something into her phone, then pops it into her bag and heads in my direction.
good to bump into you.” Her voice too bright for it possibly to be true. “How are you?”
“Hi, Abby. I'm fine, thanks. And you?”
“Oh, you know. Great.
,” she drawls, stretching out the word like elastic. “I'm going up to Edinburgh with Jonas next week, then we're off to Ibiza. You know, do all the clubs and beaches and stuff.” She beams at me and does a funny little shiver. “I'm
I can tell she's nervous. One of those people who smothers embarrassment by being extra bubbly. I try not to hold it against her.
“Wow! That's an awful lot of bread.” She nods at the loaves crammed into the basket.
I muster a smile, trying to think of a polite exit. I'm sure Abigail is finding this as awkward as I am, and I need to get home and check Mum hasn't actually fallen into a coma or something.
“Just stocking up the freezer.” I keep the smile fixed on my face in a way I'm hoping she'll start to find off-putting.
“Right.” Abigail tucks a loose strand of hair back behind her ear with a nervous giggle. She's clearly struggling to think what else to say, and I almost feel sorry for her. She's making an effort, I remind myself; she could simply have pretended not to notice me and run away.
After all, Abigail wouldn't be the first. Since my brother died six weeks ago â barely a month after his twenty-first birthday â everyone at college seems to divide into two camps: those who go out of their way to avoid me, and those who go out of their way to show me how much they care.
Abigail falls in the latter. Six months ago she and I would hardly have exchanged a word if we'd bumped into each other like this. It's not as if we're actually friends or anything. Not like me and Lizzie.
But ever since it happened, since Max died, she's one of those people who seizes every opportunity to be nice.
I guess I should be grateful. Instead, it makes me want to scream.
“Hey,” Abigail says suddenly, “I'm having a party when I get back. You know, to celebrate getting our exam results. Tanya and ZoÃ« are coming â they're mates of yours, aren't they?”
I nod, though in truth I've barely seen them for weeks. I've hardly seen anyone except Lizzie since it all happened. I haven't exactly been feeling sociable.
“I'll try to make it.” I shuffle forwards as the person in front of me pays and moves away. “Better go.” I give Abigail what I hope is an appreciative look. “Have a nice summer.”
“And you!” she says, beaming, as I turn to face the cashier.
It's hot, even for August. I'm sweating by the time I get to Foxton Road, and my arms feel like they might fall off. I stop for a minute, put down the shopping. Shake some life into my fingers, then slip off my rucksack and open it up, stuffing the apples and cheese and one of the loaves inside. I struggle to zip it up again and heave the bag back onto my shoulders.
As I straighten, I see this guy heading towards me, walking quickly, one hand thrust into the pocket of his jeans, the other punching on his mobile with his thumb.
We're both near the point where the pavement narrows between the postbox and one of those tall silvery trees, the kind with peeling bark and a fat, knobbly base. There's barely enough room for two people, let alone one hampered with shopping bags, so I pause to allow him past. He doesn't notice me waiting. He's too busy reading something on his phone.
He looks sort of familiar, though I'm pretty sure we've never met. I shudder. Oh god, please don't let it be one of my brother's friends â it's more than I can bear right now.