Taster: Pact of Silence

It’s two more days until Pact of Silence hits the stores. We’ve had some lovely reviews from ARC readers and bloggers; huge thanks to you all. I know not everyone likes every book – I don’t either, but it’s always such a relief when those early reviews are good.

So what’s it about, Pact of Silence? Emma and her husband Luke move from their flat in York to the countryside. Emma’s astounded when Luke springs the move on her, but country life will be best for the baby she’s expecting, won’t it? All that fresh air – and she can grow veggies.
Little does Emma know that the family she married into has a deep, dark secret. Two secrets, in fact. The first inkling she gets comes on the day she decides to start a veggie plot and digs up – what?

The book begins with a prologue, but I’ll share the first couple of pages of chapter one here: (Excuse WordPress formatting.)

Chapter One
Sunday, 14th March

The best thing about living bang in the centre of York was that you could walk home after a meal out with an old friend. Emma Carter crossed the road and waved to Jasmin as the other woman’s car passed by. They’d be able to do this more often now that Jas was living in Leeds and not London.

The floodlit towers of York Minster provided a breathtaking backdrop as Emma hurried on. She would usually stop and admire it – but not tonight. Luke would be home now, and wow, oh wow, at long last she could share the news she’d been keeping from the world since Friday. Telling your guy he was going to be a dad was definitely something you wanted to do face to face, but Luke had spent the past five days in Ralton Bridge, helping his parents after last week’s storm demolished half their roof. Emma thrust her hands into her jacket pockets. It was still blustery even in town, and of course it had been a whole lot worse out in the wilds of Yorkshire where Marie and Euan lived. But Luke had coped. He was lovely like that, her Luke. A kind person, and oh, this was going to be so good. Their baby – they’d be a family.

Emma laid a hand on her middle, fingers spreading protectively. It would be okay this time. She…

Her footsteps faltered as she rounded the corner into Aaron Street, then stopped. Glassy black windows were clearly visible in their mid-terrace home, a ground floor flat with a lovely view of the Minster from the living area. That was – odd. Luke had left Ralton Bridge over an hour ago; he’d texted her before driving off. Even in the rush hour it didn’t take all this time to get here, and Sunday evening traffic was usually light. Hopefully they hadn’t had a power cut or something equally disastrous. Imagine trying to get hold of an electrician at ten o’clock on Sunday evening.

Five paces on, the mystery deepened, because there was the car, parked on the street instead of in their private space behind the building. Had Luke brought his parents back for some reason? The private space was narrow and tended to be muddy underfoot, and Euan’s hip made walking on slippery surfaces hard for him. Emma hurried the twenty metres to the flat, fumbling in her handbag for her keys.

Inside, she clicked the hallway light switch, and the hall table and coatstand were illuminated in the usual way. She headed straight into the main room. ‘Luke – are you okay? I saw the car.’

He was standing in the kitchen area, an almost empty glass of red wine in one hand. Emma stopped dead. Here in the dimness, with the Minster floodlights throwing eerie shadows across the room, Luke looked like all the ghosts in medieval England had been chasing him down the A19. In the course of four days, he seemed to have lost his upright posture, and dark, staring eyes in a pale face completed the panda look.

He put his glass down on the kitchen island and came to meet her, enveloping her in a tight, silent hug, a pulse in his neck throbbing against Emma’s cheek as if he’d been running.

It was a moment before he spoke. ‘I’m fine. I just wanted to get inside quickly.’

Emma pressed her face against him, breathing in his familiar aftershave, then leaned back to see him properly. Luke might be fine, but something wasn’t. She’d never seen him like this, eyes shifting all over the place and hands trembling against her back. After a few days away her husband was usually more of a ‘whirl you round the room and into bed’ kind of guy.

‘Luke? Is something the matter with your parents?’

He kissed her forehead. ‘Let’s sit down. Glass of Merlot?’

Emma shook her head. By the look of things, the wine would have helped, but even the odd glass was off the menu now that a baby was on the way. She poured orange juice into a tall glass while Luke topped his up with wine.

He took a big swallow. ‘It’s Dad, Em. He needs another hip replacement.’

Frowning, Emma took her juice across the room to the sitting area. A second hip replacement didn’t sound like a terribly big deal. Euan’s first hip had been done about ten years ago, and she’d heard the story of the wound infection and subsequent long stay in hospital, but surely that wouldn’t happen again?

‘He’ll be worried after last time, I suppose.’ She let her voice trail away. Was this really about a hip replacement?

Luke joined her on the sofa, then knocked back half his wine in two gulps. Emma removed the glass from his grasp and put it on the coffee table, then took both his hands in her own.

‘Luke. I can see something’s up. Just tell me.’

Silence for two beats. Then: ‘We’re going to swap houses with Mum and Dad.’

He stared at her, then at the floor. Emma froze, shock fizzling through her. The flat belonged to Luke; he’d bought it before they met with money he’d inherited from his grandmother, but for heaven’s sake, they were married. Wasn’t this something that merited a discussion, not a blunt, ‘we’re moving’? Ralton Bridge was a charming little place in the stretch between the North York Moors and the Yorkshire Dales and Luke had grown up there, but he’d never spoken of any wish to go back. And they’d only just finished doing up the flat.

She jerked her hands free. ‘I don’t… Luke, why?’ And where had the macho announcement come from, for heaven’s sake? He wasn’t usually like that.

He pulled her close again. ‘I’m sorry to spring it on you like this, but Mum and Dad are desperate. They can’t cope with a big house any longer, and now Dad’s hip’s playing up and Mum’s terrified he’ll fall downstairs. You know how nervy she is, and with Dad being a bit older and another operation, they need a much smaller place. And preferably one without that big garden.’

His voice fell to a whisper on the last few words. Emma took a sip of juice, struggling to find the right questions.

‘Okay, I can see that. But wouldn’t it be better if they just sold the house and found a little bungalow? I thought you loved living here, and I certainly do.’

 ‘I do too, but, um, Mum and Dad made a really generous offer. Financially, I mean. It’s a good-sized place, Emmy, and we could make it fabulous. It’s a house that could give us a future, don’t you think?’

This would be the time for her news, but the joyful announcement she’d dreamed of making stuck in Emma’s throat. Look at his eyes, roaming around the room, not meeting hers for more than a mini-second at a time. There was something he wasn’t telling her…

And of course, they move to the country. You can read the rest from Tuesday, but as family secrets go, this one was a biggie.

Pact of Silence is available to pre-order in paperback and kindle on Amazon here, and the paperback can be ordered from bookshops everywhere too.

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