Читать онлайн «Her Last Breath: The new gripping summer page-turner from the No 1 bestseller»
After William left, Estelle started placing the meat in her large American-style fridge.
‘So do you do all the cooking in the household?’ Louis asked.
‘Yes, of course.’ She caught Louis raising an eyebrow. ‘This isn’t about being an obedient housewife,’ she quickly added. ‘It’s pure selfishness on my part. I love cooking.’ And she really did. The whole sensory experience of it, the feel of food on her fingertips, a thousand different textures. The smells and the colours, the sound of sizzling meat and whisking flour. The taste too, of course. It was a form of therapy for her: kneading, mixing, slicing everything away, all thoughts, all memories gone until it was just her at her simplest in that kitchen, focused on making the best dishes she could.
She pulled away the white paper from a large slab of beef ready to put it in the fridge. Then she frowned. There was something on top of the meat, square and white.
She looked over at Louis who was busy tapping away at his laptop at the other end of the large island, then she grabbed a fork and lifted the item off the meat. It was an envelope, a name scrawled on the front.
She peered at the windowsill, where the poppies she’d received the evening before had been placed in a vase. The note that had come with them had been addressed to Stel too.
She quickly opened the envelope and pulled out a Polaroid photo. It was a close-up photo of a teenage girl. Sad brown eyes. Freckled button nose. Dyed red hair … red hair that made her think of another girl, another time.
But it wasn’t Alice. In fact, Estelle had no idea who the girl in the photo was. But as she looked into her eyes, she still felt a flare of recognition.
She looked at the bottom of the photo, where a message had been scrawled, droplets of blood from the beef blossoming around the words.
They say you’re as pure as the driven snow. But I know you’re not.
I’m watching you. I know everything about you.
Estelle dropped the photo with trembling fingers, watching as it floated to the floor, the blood from the beef congealing in her nails.
Who the hell had sent this to her?
Chapter Three (#u89017e51-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)
You’ve changed. You’re barely recognisable from the girl I first met.
All fake though. An attempt to cover the real you. The dirty you.
Did the people you were with last night see it, the charade?
I wanted to storm in, smash all those glasses, rub all that food in your face.
But I didn’t. I kept my anger in check and watched as everyone’s eyes poured all over you: especially the men.
I know the truth. I know you’re spoilt goods and soon they will know too.
That terrifies you, doesn’t it? People seeing the real you.
I can see the fear in your face as you look at the photo – at my message.
Time you were taken down a peg or two. Time you learnt this new life you’ve created for yourself is a sham.
A sham that will soon be smashed to smithereens.
Chapter Four (#u89017e51-5FFF-11e9-9e03-0cc47a520474)
‘You okay?’ Louis asked.
Estelle looked at him. She’d almost forgotten where she was. Should she say something? No. Kim and Silvia would tell her not to. Louis was a journalist. He’d ask too many questions. She’d deal with it when he left.
‘I’m fine,’ Estelle lied, carefully pushing the photo beneath the fridge with her toe before putting the rest of the meat away.
‘So, where were we?’ she asked as she sat down again, heart thumping uncontrollably against her chest. Why had that Polaroid been sent to her?
‘I want to talk about your childhood now,’ Louis said. ‘You grew up in the care system, didn’t you? I found a photo of you; you look very different now.’
So he had done some digging. She tried to compose herself, stifling the anxiety building inside. ‘That was a long time ago.’
‘But interesting, nonetheless. Can you tell me more about your birth parents?’
Estelle folded her legs, her cheeks flushing. ‘I don’t think it’s really relevant.’
‘I’m writing a profile piece, Estelle,’ Louis said, voice suddenly hard. ‘I think it’s very relevant.’
Now she saw the man who’d exposed the ‘Queen of Calm’.
‘They just couldn’t cope with a child, they were very young themselves,’ she said, glossing over the truth. ‘Then I was in care and lived with some foster families. It wasn’t ideal. I don’t know what else there is to say really.’ She added a smile, just to make it light.
‘You lived in Devon for a bit, didn’t you?’ He looked down at his notes. ‘Lillysands?’
She tried to keep her face neutral. She’d worked so hard to leave her time in Lillysands behind, but now here it was again, bringing all those memories to the surface. ‘You really have been doing your research,’ she said with a nervous laugh as she peered towards the fridge where the photo lay.
‘I spoke to an old geography teacher of yours, Mr Tate. He said you left the town abruptly when you were fifteen.’
Estelle swallowed. He’d been talking to her old teacher? Had he talked to anyone else in Lillysands …? What else had he discovered?
‘That’s the way it is with foster parents,’ she said, trying to remain calm. ‘I never knew how long I’d be with them.’
‘But you chose to leave?’ Louis said. ‘He told me your foster parents were devastated.’
Estelle closed her eyes. She’d left a note for them, a nice note, thanking them. But how could she have stayed in Lillysands? It was impossible.
‘It was time to leave,’ Estelle said. ‘My foster parents understood.’
‘Yes, your foster parents. Autumn and Max Garland,’ Louis said, looking at his notes. The mention of their names made Estelle tense up. ‘They’re quite well known in Lillysands, so I’m told,’ he continued. ‘He’s a local property developer, right? She’s a food taster. Was she the reason you got into nutrition and food?’
Estelle put hers finger to her temples, massaging them as she closed her eyes.
Calm down. Calm down. Calm down.
She quickly opened her eyes. ‘I—’
A loud noise suddenly pierced the air. The smoke alarm! Estelle peered towards the oven to see smoke drifting out of it. In the tension of the moment, she hadn’t even noticed the scent of burning in the air.
‘Fuck,’ she hissed.
Louis raised an eyebrow as she darted to the oven, pulling the flapjacks out.
They were burnt.
She took a deep breath. ‘Well,’ she said, looking at Louis with a shaky smile. ‘Maybe I need a timer after all.’
He looked into her eyes, frown deepening. ‘Is everything okay, Estelle?’
‘Fine, fine! I’ll do a new batch and get them over to you.’ She peered towards the front door. She needed him gone. The photo, combined with his questions, were making her lose her grip. She needed to be in control when talking to someone like him, especially when it came to her past. ‘So you have everything you need?’ she asked, picking his jacket up for him.
Louis peered at his watch. ‘I’ve only been here twenty minutes. I was hoping—’
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