Читать онлайн «Her Last Breath: The new gripping summer page-turner from the No 1 bestseller»
She handed the bowl of gooey mixture to him and he took in a deep inhalation. ‘Dates, banana, honey.’ Estelle smiled. He seemed to know his stuff. Louis frowned, then added, ‘Is that a spice in there?’
She snatched the bowl away, laughing. ‘You’ll have to wait. I have another batch on the go that will be ready in five minutes, so you can do a taste test then.’
He smiled to himself, flipping open his laptop. ‘Woman of mystery,’ he said, raising an eyebrow.
Estelle shot him a nervous smile before slathering the mixture into a ceramic dish and placing it in the oven. She loved the baking and the writing. But the publicity, not so much. She hated talking about herself. It had to be done though; that’s what her editor and publicist had told her.
‘Would you like a drink?’ she asked Louis. ‘Water? Green tea? Organic beer?’ She leaned forward, lowering her voice. ‘Or we do have normal drinks that Seb keeps stowed away in a cupboard somewhere.’
He laughed. ‘Water would be perfect, thank you.’
She poured them both some water from the jug she kept in her fridge, then sat down across from him, brushing her blonde fringe from her eyes.
Louis peered towards the oven. ‘Don’t you use a timer?’
‘No. I’ve been baking so long I have an instinct for time.’
He laughed. ‘Why doesn’t that surprise me? So, just a month until your book launch. How are you feeling?’
Estelle felt a tremor of nerves. She’d been waiting so long for this moment and thought she was ready for it, but the closer she got, the more she felt like a fraud. Did she really deserve this? A friend of hers who’d had a novel published said she’d felt the same. Despite the fact she knew how hard she’d worked, it still felt alien, unearned. She called it ‘imposter syndrome’ and Estelle had it bad.
‘Nervous,’ she admitted. ‘Excited too though.’
‘No need to be nervous. So, let’s start at the very beginning. Where do you think your interest in food first came from?’
Estelle hesitated a moment. She could tell the journalist it had all started with how scarce good food was when she was a child, pale meals shoved in a microwave, cheap takeaways bought by her parents. She could tell him how, when she went into care and foster homes, it wasn’t always much better so she’d had to learn from an early age how to prepare food, the simple things like making scrambled eggs. She could tell him about how she paid attention in cooking classes at school because of this, unlike her peers, because she had no choice if she wanted to feed herself. She could then go on to tell him about Lillysands and the Garlands. Finally a place where food was something to be treasured and enjoyed, making dishes with her foster mother Autumn, helping to serve up business lunches for her foster father Max.
But she didn’t.
‘I really don’t know,’ she said instead. ‘It’s just always held a fascination for me.’
‘And that’s why you chose to study food science?’
It was almost tempting to tell him the truth here too – that it was one of her last foster parents who’d suggested this subject to her, a gentle chemistry professor called Justin. He’d noticed her interest in food, and the way she’d take notice when he talked about the chemicals in food. But she didn’t even want to tell the journalist about Carol and Justin Hall, the lovely couple she’d gone to live with just before she turned sixteen, because that might lead to more questions, to more delving into her past, and that was something she needed to avoid.
‘My teachers at school,’ she said instead. ‘They helped steer me towards food science as a degree subject.’
‘And after your university course,’ Louis asked, looking at his notes, ‘you decided to do a short accredited nutrition course?’
‘That’s right. But I was very naïve back then.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I’d been so full of hope. I presumed the more I learnt, the more success I’d have. But the truth was, it was a tough time.’ She didn’t mind talking about this. Each writer needed their rags to riches story and this was hers. And it was less complicated than the real story, the one where she was a neglected little girl dragged through the care system. She wanted to keep that to herself.
‘Tell me more,’ Louis said, leaning forward.
She sighed. ‘I moved out of uni digs into a small flat of my own. I’d saved up money for rent while working at a patisserie nearby during uni. I knew my savings wouldn’t cover me for more than three months if I didn’t get a job, but I was hopeful it wouldn’t be long before I’d have a steady stream of income as a nutritionist.’
‘And that didn’t happen?’
‘Nope. I quickly learnt you can’t just create a reputation based on qualifications. Weeks then months went by with no income. I ended up having to move out of the flat into a room share in a rough part of town.’
Estelle shuddered as she thought of that time. She’d ended up sharing a filthy room with a skinny strung-out girl who reminded Estelle too much of her birth mother. There were dark times then, very dark times, all too familiar to Estelle.
‘I was just about to give up,’ Estelle continued, ‘when the blog stuff started paying off.’
‘You set the blog up eight years ago to help a friend, right?’
Estelle nodded. ‘Yes. My friend Genevieve was diagnosed with type two diabetes. It was a shock to her but not anyone else. Her diet was terrible. I basically took over her kitchen. The improvement in her health was amazing, so she convinced me to start blogging. With each post, I gained more followers and some advertising too.’
The income generated from those ads had been minimal but enough for Estelle to move from that grotty bedsit. She remembered crying in relief. It wasn’t just about the filthy surroundings, the noise and the anxious flatmate. It was about extracting herself from her past, moving herself as far away as possible from the destiny her childhood could have moulded for her.
‘And eventually, you set up on other channels such as YouTube and your social media platforms?’ Louis said. ‘Is that when it all really took off?’
Estelle nodded. ‘Yes, that’s when the clients really started to come in – so many I couldn’t keep up!’
Louis tapped away on his laptop. She watched him, trying to control her nerves. Was she coming across okay?
He looked up. ‘So why the pure-eating ethos?’
‘Studying food sciences at university gave me an insight into the chemicals you can find in everyday foods. I guess it became a bit of an obsession.’
‘And thus your crusade against toxics in foods, as you describe it in Pure, began?’
‘Oh, you’ve read the book?’ Estelle’s heart started to hammer. Was he leading up to telling her he hated it?
‘I got a review copy on Friday and devoured it in a few hours. I loved it.’
Estelle smiled, full of relief.
‘Have you managed to try out some of the recipes?’ she asked.
‘Absolutely! I loved the Rower’s Delight cocoa mousse. I presume your other half Seb inspired you with that one?’ he said, peering towards a photo of the couple on the fridge: Seb in his Team GB uniform, arm around Estelle, who was smiling into the camera.
Estelle nodded. ‘It’s his favourite.’
‘You met in 2015 after being brought in to assist a nutritionist advising Team GB in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics, right?’
Estelle nodded. She still remembered the day she got the call from the nutritionist she’d met a few months back during a friend’s party. She’d been having a down day, wondering when her career would go up a gear. It felt stagnant. Sure, she was getting clients, her social media channels were doing well. But something inside her – the desire to put her childhood well and truly behind her – yearned for more. That was the problem. When you knew how bad it could be – how vast and black having nothing was – you always lived with the fear you’d return to it again. So the scramble for more wasn’t about greed, it was about fear, pure and simple.
‘Was it love at first sight?’ the journalist asked.
Estelle thought back to that time two years ago when she’d arrived at the Olympic rowing team’s UK training camp where they were gearing up for Brazil the following year. She’d been overwhelmed. It was the accumulation of all she’d worked hard for, so she’d been so overtaken by emotion, she’d felt tears spring to her eyes.
‘You okay there?’ she’d heard a voice ask. And there was Seb, water dripping from his wet dark hair, shoulders broad and strong in contrast to his narrow waist. He looked so clean and so pure, the perfect specimen of health. Just being around him made her feel the same way too. So she’d taken a deep breath, forced the tears away and smiled. ‘Perfect,’ she’d said.
Estelle’s doorbell went, shattering the memory.
‘Do you mind just waiting a moment while I answer the door?’ she said, wondering who it might be.
Louis nodded. ‘Of course.’
She skipped down the hallway, adrenaline buzzing from her interview. It made it all feel even more real, having a national newspaper journalist in her kitchen, talking about her life. Maybe she wasn’t such a fraud after all.
She opened the front door, surprised to see the son of her local butcher on the doorstep. Then she remembered she had a delivery due that day. ‘Of course! Come in, William,’ she said, leading the young red-cheeked teenager to her vast kitchen. He smiled shyly as he carried in the large wooden crate, various meats wrapped in white crinkly paper inside it. ‘Just here will be great,’ she said, gesturing to the kitchen top closest to the fridge. He placed it down and Estelle pulled out a five-pound note, handing it to him as a tip.
Louis smiled. ‘You get your meat delivered?’
‘They don’t usually do deliveries, but it’s impossible to lug around all the meat on the back of my pedal bike,’ she said. ‘So I sweet-talked the owner of the local butcher to do a weekly delivery. I think it’s important to support independent businesses whenever possible, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do so. Plus, it’s mega cheap,’ she added with a wink.
Louis turned to the butcher’s son. ‘How does it feel delivering meat to a soon-to-be published chef?’
‘Cool,’ William replied as he took the money. ‘Dad’s going to the book launch too, he’s really looking forward to it. Even got a new suit and everything.’
Estelle smiled, hiding the slight note of worry she felt. Her publicist Kim had been the one to come up with the idea of inviting her local suppliers to the launch. What better way to highlight just how clean and local Estelle was by having her butcher and greengrocer at her launch party to mingle with journalists? But now she was wondering if it would seem a bit contrived. Would people see through it?
Would they see through her?
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