Читать онлайн «Her Last Breath: The new gripping summer page-turner from the No 1 bestseller»
Giles leaned back into his chair, resting his glass on his rotund belly, clearly pleased to be the centre of attention. ‘You must’ve heard about Krishna Sandhill?’
‘I remember reading something about her,’ Seb’s brother said. ‘Wasn’t she some meditation guru?’
Giles nodded. ‘The Queen of Calm, we called her. Advocating a new form of meditation that promised calmness and clarity after just five days of following her little regime. Just before we signed off the final copy of her book, we received news she’d spent several months in prison for aggravated bodily harm to an ex. So much for calm.’
‘No!’ everyone around the table exclaimed.
‘The book was cancelled at the last moment,’ Giles said with a sigh. ‘It was a complete fucking mess. You can’t publish a book claiming to calm people down when it’s been written by someone so angry they beat up their husband.’ He shook his head. ‘We lost tens of thousands of pounds thanks to her dark past.’
Estelle felt a tremor of fear inside at his words. Her dark past. But she trampled it down.
‘Ah,’ Kim, Estelle’s publicist, said.
‘What’s wrong?’ Estelle asked her.
‘I hate to tell you this, but the journalist who exposed Krishna is the one who’s interviewing you tomorrow.’
‘Which one?’ Dean asked. He presented a radio show called Outing Rogues, which investigated cowboy builders and dishonest businessmen, so knew lots of journalists.
‘Louis Patel?’ Kim said.
Dean raised an eyebrow. ‘Oh yes, he can be quite tough.’
‘Don’t, you’re making me nervous,’ Estelle said. This was her first proper profile with a national newspaper. All her other interviewers had focused more on either her book deal or cooking tips.
Silvia put on a mock-serious face. ‘I hope our Queen of Clean doesn’t have any skeletons in her closet?’
Estelle forced a smile.
‘Okay, I admit it,’ she said, putting her hands up. ‘I might have taken a bite of a Disney princess cake at my goddaughter’s birthday last week,’ she said, referring to Christina and Tom’s five-year-old.
‘Yep,’ Christina said with an exaggerated sigh. ‘I can confirm she did. But only because my daughter insisted.’
Everyone laughed and, to Estelle’s relief, they soon moved onto a lighter subject – Seb’s new radio documentary about aspiring rowers, which was airing the next day.
But Estelle felt herself retreating, thoughts of the previous conversation stirring around her mind. She’d deliberately glossed over her childhood when she’d written the introduction to her book. What if the journalist she was meeting tomorrow had done some digging?
She played with the stem of her wine glass. Outside, the stars twinkled mischievously, the sound of laughter from the streets below drifting towards her on the breeze. She peered towards her book again and tried to draw comfort from it. Look how far she’d come! She refused to let anything ruin that. She had so much to be proud of and so much to look forward to.
Christina leaned over, putting her hand on her arm. ‘You okay, Estelle?’ she asked quietly.
‘I’m perfect,’ Estelle said, taking a sip of wine and smiling at her friend. ‘Everything’s perfect.’
As she said that, the doorbell rang out.
‘Bit late for more visitors,’ Seb said. He stood up and walked down the hallway, unsteady on his feet now, the bottle of wine he’d consumed showing. Once a teetotaller, he’d been drinking a lot since the injury that had taken him out of competitive rowing. Estelle’s heart went out to him. It must be tough, not being able to do what he loved.
Christina topped up Estelle’s untouched glass. ‘Here, more wine for the superstar author. Let’s raise a toast,’ she said, raising her wine glass.
‘An organic toast,’ Silvia said.
‘Of the finest gluten-free variety,’ Kim added with a raised eyebrow.
‘All wines are gluten-free, silly,’ Estelle said.
They all laughed.
‘To Estelle!’ they all said, holding up their glasses. She looked at each of them. Her friendships with them might not be very old, but they were all she had and she was so grateful.
She thought then of one of her few friends from childhood, and saw an image of a girl with long red hair biting into a rotting apple against a stormy sea.
She forced the image away as Seb appeared in the hallway with a small bouquet of bright red flowers. ‘Flowers for the hotshot writer,’ he said, bringing them over to Estelle.
‘What a strange time for flowers to be delivered,’ Silvia declared, peering at the clock.
Estelle followed her gaze. Nearly ten at night.
‘It is a weird time,’ she said. ‘Maybe they got ten at night mixed up with ten in the morning.’
She took the flowers from Seb, breathing in their scent, then picked out the card that came with them.
To Stel. Congratulations on the birth of your book. x
Estelle felt a shiver run through her. She hadn’t been called Stel for many years. That was another lifetime, another world, long before she became the person everyone around this table now saw. The memory filled her with anxiety.
‘What flowers are these?’ Silvia asked, brushing her finger over one of the crimson petals.
‘Poppies,’ Christina said. ‘How unusual.’
Seb took them from Estelle. ‘I’ll put them in water,’ he said.
As he walked to the kitchen, one of the poppies tumbled to the floor, where it was trampled by Seb’s foot.
Chapter Two (#u89017e51-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)
Wednesday, 3 May
Estelle stared out at the Thames in the distance, watching as the bricks from the new development being built there crumbled onto the river’s banks.
The doorbell went. Estelle cursed, realising her fingers were gooey from the honey she’d been using for a recipe. How long had she been stood there in her kitchen, staring into space? She peered at the clock. Ten minutes wasted. She wiped her hands on a damp cloth and took a deep, nervous breath. She knew who would be at the door: the national newspaper journalist who’d once exposed the ‘Queen of Calm’.
Estelle took a deep breath then jogged to the door, opening it to see a young dark-haired man smiling at her. She smiled back, feeling a little relieved. He seemed nice enough.
‘Louis?’ she asked.
‘Come in!’ Estelle said, holding the door open wide.
‘Gorgeous place,’ he said, looking around him at the stark white hallway as he walked inside. It was actually Seb’s house, but she’d moved in the year before, renovating it from a run-down mews house near the South Bank to a contemporary home for them.
‘Yes, we adore it here,’ she said, leading him to the kitchen. ‘People always seem surprised; I think they expect me to live in a cottage in Wales or something!’
‘No, that’s what I love about you,’ Louis said. ‘Clean city living. It’s realistic. Not everyone is able to up sticks and move to the country.’
‘Nor indeed wants to,’ Estelle said, gesturing to a row of stools by an oak-topped kitchen island. ‘I love the city.’
‘Baking something?’ the journalist asked, looking around at the busy kitchen surfaces.
‘When am I not? I thought you’d like to take something away with you.’
He slung his bag onto the island’s surface, pulling his laptop out. ‘I’m in heaven. Looks like flapjack mix?’
Estelle nodded. ‘With a twist. But I’ll leave it up to you to guess what that twist is.’
Louis peered around the kitchen. ‘Hmmm, are those chia seeds?’ he asked, pointing to a mason jar of small seeds.
Estelle laughed. ‘I’ve hidden the evidence. Here, have a sniff.’
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