Authors: Samantha Hayes
The gripping new short story, from the author of
Until You’re Mine
Before You Die
. Perfect for fans of S J Watson and Sophie Hannah.
Your wife and daughter have been kidnapped and are being held hostage. Only you can save them.
But how far will you go…?
Includes an extract from
Before You Die
– Samantha Hayes’ compelling second psychological suspense featuring DI Lorraine Fisher, out in paperback 15 January.
grew up in the West Midlands, left school at sixteen, avoided university and took jobs ranging from being a private detective to barmaid to fruit picker and factory worker. She lived on a kibbutz, and spent time in Australia and the USA, before finally becoming a crime-writer.
Her writing career began when she won a short story competition in 2003. Her novels are family-based psychological thrillers, with the emphasis being on ‘real life fiction’. She focuses on current issues, and when she writes, she sets out to make her reader ask, ‘What if this happened to me or my family?’ With three children of her own, Samantha is well-versed to talk about how the aftershocks of crime impact upon families and communities.
To find out more, visit her website
Until You’re Mine
Before You Die
Someone Else’s Son
‘Are you going to kill us?’ My voice judders from the bumps in the road, and my throat is tight from fear. I can’t help thinking about you, if you’re home yet, if you know we’ve been kidnapped.
Your daughter and your wife.
The stranger doesn’t reply. Instead, he stares straight ahead, focusing on where he’s taking us, concentrating so he doesn’t draw unwanted attention to the beaten-up car. I can’t see his face from where I am – squashed on the floor behind the front seat – but I can feel the heat of the drive shaft beneath me, the rough fur of the car’s old carpet. It’s nothing like your plush Mercedes. Nowhere near as smooth.
Our daughter is hunched and shaking, also on the floor, her eyes fixed on mine as if letting go will be the end of both of us. Her teeth are clamped together, her lips stretched wide around them. When he forced us to get in, I saw her hesitation, her hopeful glance that we would disobey, stage a revolt. Kick him and run for it. We didn’t.
‘Just do as he says, Ellie,’ I’d told her, my voice stiff from fear. Yet she’d still hesitated, her defiant streak winning through. She’d inherited that from you, of course – all mouth and pained expressions when things didn’t go her way. Even as a toddler, with her blonde, vanilla-scented curls, Ellie had a way of getting what she wanted without having to throw a tantrum like most kids her age. Had us around her little finger, you’d said proudly, bouncing her on your knee.
We’d been loading shopping into my car when he approached us. I heard the echoing footsteps across the empty multi-storey first, noticed the casual flick of Ellie’s gaze as she was arranging her carrier bags in the boot. Then, suddenly, a cold knife curved around my throat, making me gasp. Ellie screamed, but I remained silent. We did as he said.
‘If it’s about money,’ I’d said, terrified, as he’d marched us to his car, mumbling things about ransoms and revenge. ‘I … I’m not sure my husband will pay up.’
He doesn’t know you; how your mind works.
‘It’s not about the money,’ he’d said, telling us to call him Tom even though I knew it wouldn’t be his real name.
As we’d followed him – the knife held at my back beneath my coat, looking as if he had his arm around me – Ellie surreptitiously signalled to the car park’s CCTV cameras, making a few covert gestures, cleverly hoping an astute operator would pick up her distress. I reckoned they’d think she was just a bored teen, Tom and I her parents even though he was a good deal younger than me. Closer to Ellie’s age, in fact. Until they knew we were missing, no one would take any notice of the footage.
When he barked at us to get into his car for a second time, I ushered Ellie in first, my hand on the ridge of her taut spine. It felt cowardly, but I knew the consequences if we didn’t.
‘Don’t worry,’ Tom had said, before driving off. ‘I’ll make sure he fucking pays.’ He turned round, giving me a sinister look.
It would depend on when you called the police, of course.
you called the police. But I didn’t say that to Tom.
It’s raining now, a proper downpour with a mix of hailstones and thunder. It pelts off the car roof, making a din so that Ellie’s fearful whimpers can’t be heard. I’m grateful for that.
After an hour, we slow down, bump across what feels like a rough track or a field. It’s odd. I didn’t feel scared at first, almost relishing the sudden change in my life as if I’d been winded by excitement, whisked away from everything I knew – as well as from you. But now I feel scared. Terrified of what’s going to happen. Missing everything I didn’t want any more; even missing
As he brings the car to a stop, unbuckling his seatbelt, I press my finger against my lips, imploring Ellie to keep quiet. I give her a look that tells her everything will be all right, that I will, for once, make things OK. I have no idea if it will be.
The back door opens. The weather comes in, whiplashing my back with wind and rain. I’ve been hunched up for so long my legs are stiff, cracking open as he pulls me out. He isn’t rough with me, not like you are when you’re impatient. I shield my face from the wind, pull up my collar as Ellie emerges after me like a crumpled moth, stretching, quivering, her brown coat flapping.
‘What about all the food we left in your car, Mum?’ she says against the wind. ‘It’ll go bad.’ Her white cheeks pink up as if she’s ashamed at remembering such a trivial thing.
We’d been to the deli in town, bought our favourites for dinner. It was just going to be Ellie and me tonight – a rare treat – because you were working late again, you’d said, even though I didn’t believe you. We’d bought crab pâté, hummus, stuffed vine leaves, and crusty bread to eat in front of the new film we’d picked up. A Saturday night treat. But now we were gone, with just the groceries and my unlocked, abandoned car leaving the trail of our day.
‘We’ll get more, love,’ I say quietly. I don’t want to anger Tom, hearing us talk like that, but I don’t want my daughter distraught either. Tom holds the knife in one hand, and fiddles with the lock on his old car with the other, barely giving us any attention. Ellie makes a throaty gasping sound, and I know what she’s thinking as she stares around the grassy, grey moor.
Look around us, Mum. You’re fast, I’m fast. Let’s make a dash for it! One of us might get away, can raise the alarm
But the ground is rough and I don’t know where we are. The weather is setting in, clamping down, the mist as thick as the fog in my mind. Slowly, imperceptibly, I shake my head, hoping she’ll notice. If she runs, I’ll have to follow her. We’d both get lost and die.
‘Follow me,’ Tom orders, twitching the knife. The light is failing fast, the mist hugging the dripping trees that sweep around the field. We walk along a barely visible track, cutting round a thick spinney. On the other side, there’s a house. A small, low, once-white cottage with three of its four front windows broken. Derelict and abandoned, it looks like a rotten tooth in the fuzzy-edged nowhere moorland.
‘Oh God, he’s going to kill us, Mum,’ Ellie wails, covering her face. Why am I so calm? Why aren’t I more scared? My heart bangs erratically, and my mouth is dry and salty, but you’ve conditioned me not to react. To take it on the chin. All those years haven’t been in vain, I think.
I put my arm around her. ‘It’s OK,’ I whisper, even though I can’t be certain it is.
Tom kicks open the door of the cottage. He’s not holding on to either of us, knowing escaping would be futile, especially with night coming. He knows we won’t make a break.
‘Go inside,’ he says, glancing around the moor before going in himself.
There are two rooms downstairs, one each side of the low front door. He takes us to the right, to the room with the window intact. It’s beamy and the ceiling is low. There’s an old sofa without legs, grimy and grey, and a wooden table piled with tins and packets of food. We’re going to be here a while then. Until he extracts as much as he can out of you, I think.
‘Sit down,’ he says quietly. He’s not violent, and immediately I’m reminded of the last time you touched me. Swift and bitter. The pain in my cheek burnt for days; the taste of blood returning every time I ate. The sex was good though, so you said. I wasn’t conscious to know.
‘I’ll get the fire lit.’ Tom’s voice is sombre, as if he’s already ashamed of what he’s done and wants to take care of us.
Ellie huddles close to me as we cautiously lower ourselves down onto the sofa. Dust and stink waft up around us. She whimpers, burying her head against my shoulder. I zip up her coat. Even at sixteen, I still want to take care of her, mother her. Make up for lost time.
Soon, Tom has the fire lit in the grate. He’s well prepared; has obviously planned this. A neat stack of logs to one side of the chimney breast reaches up to the ceiling, and boxes of firelighters and matches sit on a low stool away from the fire. Smoke billows from beneath the brick arch, but as soon as Tom forces the small window pane open an inch, it begins to draw.
‘How long will we be staying?’ I ask, as if we’ve just checked into a hotel. He glances at Ellie, then at me, but only briefly. I can’t tell what he’s thinking.
‘Depends,’ Tom says, deadpan. There’s a cupboard set into the wall and he opens it, bringing out a camping stove and a couple of old saucepans. ‘Hungry?’ he asks. The sleeves on his sweater are fraying, the waist of his jeans slung low on his slim hips. He wouldn’t look out of place on a building site, but then the way his blond hair curls from beneath the edge of his beanie, washed and delicate, tells me he could equally be an artist or an actor.
Ellie begins to cry. I know what she’s thinking. Our movie. A tray of delicious snacks. Bertie our Lab lolloped in front of the living-flame gas fire. A warm throw to snuggle beneath as we curl into the hilarity of the film, stuffing our faces. In bed by eleven. You still not back. Me lying awake until three, maybe four when I hear your Mercedes crunch across the gravel. A silent prayer that Ellie won’t hear or be a part of what comes next.
‘Thank you,’ I say to Tom. I don’t want him to think we’re ungrateful. ‘Try to eat something,’ I tell Ellie, when she protests. ‘We need to keep our strength up.’ I flash her a look, and she manages a tiny smile. She hasn’t let go of me since we sat down.
Tom sets up the stove on the table and opens three cans of tomato soup and a packet of flavoured noodles. Ellie and I would never eat things like this. Ten minutes later, when he hands us an enamel mug and plate of hot food, I feel more grateful for this than any prime cut of beef, any specially-imported ingredients you insist I cook for your oh-so-important friends.
‘When you’ve eaten,’ Tom says, ‘you can tell me what I should do.’ He flicks his eyebrows up in a cocky way. Under different circumstances, I’d think he was handsome. Too young for me, but a looker nonetheless. A bit like the gardener you sacked because he chatted with me when I took him out some water. It was a scorching day, but you said you’d seen the way he’d looked at me in my shorts, lingered too long over our conversation.
‘What does he mean, Mum?’ Ellie says. The plate rests on her knee precariously, the mug beside her. ‘Why do we have to tell him what to do?’
me!’ She glances between us.
We will get through this, I want to tell her, but I can’t. Not yet.
‘He wants money, love.’
Tom makes a growling sound in his throat. He stands, then paces about, becoming jittery. The knife is on the table, but he is blocking my path to it. Ellie is also looking at it, and again I shake my head at her, hoping she’ll notice me telling her not to do anything stupid.
‘I don’t want money.’ Tom slugs water from a bottle into a camping kettle and puts it on the flame. ‘What will hurt him the most? After that, maybe then it’s about the money.’
I take time to think about this. It’s something I’ve considered many times before. What
hurt you, Marcus?
‘Daddy will pay anything,’ Ellie suddenly says in a calm and measured voice that makes me wonder where she’s mustered the bravery from. She stands up, soup sloshing on her jeans. ‘Just phone him. Tell him to leave a pile of cash somewhere and not to call the police. He’ll do anything you say. You’ll be rich, and we can go.’