Authors: Laura Salters
To Mum and Dad, for being great parents—
and even better friends
ERHAPS THE MOST
surreal moment of this whole book-writing thing is sitting down to write these acknowledgments. And if I can get to the end without tearing up or having an emotional breakdown, I’ll be downright amazed. So here goes!
First and foremost, I have to say thank you to my mum, dad, and brother. You may all tease me relentlessly about my bookish habits and strange imagination, but I know deep down you’re all buzzing about the whole book deal thing. And thank you to my gran, for not really understanding what an e-book is but cheering me on anyway, and to the rest of my crazy family, for always being on hand with champagne to toast every success.
Thank you to my best friend on the planet, Victoria Chandler, and my beautiful goddaughter, Amelia. You two never fail to put a smile on my face, and I’m so grateful to have you in my life (even though every time I told you I had good news, you wished I was bearing a best friend for Millie, not signing with a superstar literary agent. But I forgive you). You’re my favorites.
To the loveliest girls I could ever wish for: Nic, Hannah, and Lauren. You’ve been my rocks since we could talk, and there aren’t enough words for how great you are! And to Geoff, for not breaking up with me no matter how deep in my writing cave I go. You’re a trooper.
To Ajita, for always supporting me, even from the other side of the world, and to Amy Leigh, for encouraging me to follow my dreams (and stop slamming my door). To Roz, for kitchen dances, Tumblr hysteria, and thinking I’m cool when I’m really, really not, and to Spike, for not laughing in my face (much) when I told you I was writing a book.
Speaking of writing a book, I’ve had some amazing writing support over the last couple of years, from Chloe and Nancy, the poor souls who read my first draft, to my awesome NAC friends—Sribindu, Meredith, Amanda, Ara, Kate, Jessica, Marie, and Sophia—who are there for every victory and defeat, both of which usually result in alcoholic behavior (and Nutella). I’m so excited for all of our books to be out in the world. And going back even further, a big fat thank you to Paul Brooke, for making me fall in love with English literature, even in my teen years (when it really wasn’t cool to do so), and to Barbara Henderson, for making me believe that writing a book was actually something I could do.
A very special mention has to go to Kelly, for digging me out of too many plot holes to count, and to Karen, for digging me out of just as many life holes. You’re both wonderful, and neither I nor
would be where we are without you.
Then there’s the incredible team of professionals I’ve had behind me at HarperCollins— they’ve helped
become what it is today. My wonderful editor, Emily Krump, has made me more enthusiastic about my own story than I ever thought I could be, and her amazing eye has transformed it beyond my wildest expectations. Emily Homonoff, my brilliant publicist, believes my relentless enthusiasm makes me a “firecracker” (which I love!), and the fantastic design team at HarperCollins created a cover I couldn’t possibly love any more.
And now we have the amazing team at New Leaf Literary & Media Inc. There’s Joanna Volpe, who’s been so kind in welcoming me to the New Leaf family; Dave Caccavo, who helped me navigate the minefield that is the IRS and HMRC (and managed not to tear his hair out at my incessant questions, so kudos); Kathleen Ortiz, who handled UK submissions beautifully; and the super-talented assistants—Danielle, Jaida, and Jackie—who are incredibly helpful and so lovely to work with. A special shout-out goes to Jess Dallow, who’s become a great friend over the last few months. You’re all wonderful.
I’ve saved the best for the last. Suzie Townsend. Where would I be without you? You took a chance on a manuscript that was so far from perfect, because you saw something in my writing that even I didn’t see. You stuck with me through deep, dark revisions and brought the very best out of a story we both loved but knew needed a lot of work. You’re the ultimate cheerleader, an insanely talented agent and a wonderful friend, and I’m grateful every day to have you on my side. Thank you.
I hope to have you all on my side for many years to come. But for now, it’s time to hand this baby over to the readers. Enjoy!
June 17, Thailand
HERE WAS ONLY
one other time in my life I’d seen this much blood
Or, at least, this breed of blood—not the poppy red hue of a shaving cut swirling into bathwater, or the stale maroon of a drying scab begging to be scratched
This was angry
A deep crimson syrup whose quantity betrayed its origins
This blood was a consequence of pain
My mind whirled, stuck on a waltzer of panic
The worst part was knowing who the blood belonged to
It belonged to the man I cared about most in the world
Why is it always the ones I loved the most?
Like my brother
My late brother, whose own blood I’d found seeping into his bedroom carpet only four months earlier
It had squelched beneath my feet like a soggy sponge
The sound still haunts my dreams
My stomach lurched
This couldn’t be happening
Someone had to be playing some sort of practical joke, albeit a sensationally cruel one
He was gone
How could he be gone? How could there possibly be this much blood? I’d only seen him thirty minutes earlier, when I told him exactly how I felt
When he gazed at me through his sad brown eyes and uttered the last words I’d ever hear him say: “I’m sorry
I stepped back from the crimson pools
The bedroom started spinning
My thoughts were bleeding into each other
Splotches of red seeped into my vision
This cannot really be happening
There was no body and no indicators of foul play
No smashed windows, no screaming, no sirens wailing in the distance to tend to the crime scene
Lots and lots of blood
But somewhere deep within my gut I knew the truth
My body knew
My knees buckled
I fell to the floor, causing a ripple in the red lagoon rapidly forming on the tiled floor
The sticky air was difficult to inhale, and I could feel myself losing consciousness
Maybe I’d wake up and realize none of this had ever happened
But it had happened
Sam was gone
And somehow, it was all my fault
handed Kayla a damp cloth.
She leaned back in the hard plastic chair, laying the washcloth across her forehead and closing her eyes. One of the worst things about being a murder suspect, it seemed, was being made to remain in a sundress soaked in your best friend’s blood. The fabric was beginning to stiffen as the blood dried rapidly in the heat. But judging by the look on the detective’s face, the damp cloth had already pushed the limits of his patience. A cold shower and a change of clothes were out of the question.
Not that it would make a difference anyway. Not that it would bring him back.
So much blood
Sitting in the stuffy interview room of the Phuket police station, Kayla struggled to remember the exact events of the previous three hours, let alone the past three months. She couldn’t focus—everything was foggy, like her memories were shrouded in a haze of fear. Her brain performed a maypole dance around each strand of thought, not truly making contact with any in particular.
It was hot. Too hot. Kayla’s mouth was dry and her throat scratchy with intense thirst. The two men staring intensely at her from the other side of the table seemed agitated—after over an hour of questioning, she still hadn’t spoken. She wasn’t trying to be difficult, but debilitating terror had her body in a viselike grip, paralyzing her voice box and freezing her blood.
Why is this happening again?
Despite the muggy temperature, the hairs on the nape of her neck stood on end. Goose bumps covered her tanned forearms. Everything seemed amplified. The heat, the strip lighting, the sounds of the city in the distance. Like all her senses were on high alert, anticipating danger.
She licked a bead of sweat off her upper lip. She wasn’t worried about appearing suspicious through her silence. She had an alibi. Instead, she focused all of her attention on one thing: not vomiting.
So much blood
“Fuck!” Seni, the ferret-faced interpreter, cursed. He swiveled on his heel and started pacing.
The detective didn’t seem to mirror his colleague’s urgency. He leaned back in his chair and dabbed at his moist forehead with a handkerchief he produced from deep within his khaki trouser pocket. He glanced at the wall clock behind him, ticking aggressively at what seemed like eight hundred decibels: it was 10:22
His stomach growled loudly, reminding Kayla that she hadn’t eaten for well over twelve hours. The memory of sitting around the table eating breakfast seemed completely alien, like it didn’t belong to her. She eaten overflowing bowls of chocolatey cereal and weird foreign milk with her friends, cackling hysterically at something one of them said, with absolutely no sense of premonition or dread. Weren’t you meant to know instinctively when tragedy was about to strike? For the second time this year she’d been caught completely and utterly off guard. Now it felt like she’d never experience hunger again.
The lethargic ceiling fan ground clumsily to a halt, quashing any hope of cool relief once and for all. Kayla’s skin prickled from the heat and the stares. Niran muttered something inaudible in Thai before rolling his eyes and rearranging his gargantuan frame in his too-small chair.
He spoke again, more clearly this time, in a staccato burst of aggressive Thai. Seni translated. “So you saw no one coming or going from your residence? No one at all?”
Kayla swallowed. “No.”
“And you didn’t hear anything? No sign of a struggle?”
She shook her head.
“There were droplets of blood dripped along the corridor leading to Mr. Kingfisher’s bedroom. Did you not notice as you walked through the house?”
Kayla thought hard. “N-No . . . I don’t think—” She trailed off as Niran cocked his eyebrow at Seni, who frowned. “I mustn’t have been paying attention.” She wished her cheeks would stop blushing so furiously. Her body was determined to make her look guilty.
Niran muttered something else that Seni didn’t translate. Then he said, “Okay. Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that you are innocent. Can you think of any other explanation for Mr. Kingfisher’s . . . disappearance?”
Kayla sat up, allowing the soggy cloth to slap to the floor. Her sweaty thighs squelched against the plastic. “N-No. I can’t think at all. None of this makes any sense.”
What if I never get to see his dopey smile again?
She swallowed hard.
What if nobody does?
She gripped the arms of the chair, trying to steady herself. The room was swirling. Her mouth was claggy, like she’d just eaten a spoonful of peanut butter.
Seni relayed Kayla’s message to Niran. It only served to anger him. His bottom lip quivered and his bulbous face reddened with rage. He thumped the table with his balled-up fist. Seni flinched. “You’ll have to at least
to think. If you aren’t guilty, and your friend is still alive, you could be wasting precious time. Time that could be spent finding him.”
His sharp tone jolted the proactive part of Kayla’s brain that, until now, had been overridden by dread.
This is really happening
Sam is really gone
. A fresh wave of nausea struck. The room smelled of grease and day-old bleach.
There was so much blood
. . . “Okay. Okay. I’m sorry. I’m really trying. What do you want to know?” She wrung her clammy hands together.
“Had Mr. Kingfisher been acting strangely?” Niran’s voice was getting louder, more urgent.
Kayla didn’t know whether to look him or Seni. She settled for the ceiling.
. “In what way?”
“In any way that could be relevant to the case.”
“I—I guess so,” Kayla mumbled. “He hasn’t been himself, really.”
Seni didn’t even wait for Niran to react. He used his own initiative to ask, “Why?”
Kayla closed her eyes. A fat tear slid out, despite her best efforts to hold it in. “That’s the problem. I don’t know.”
Ignorance is bliss until there’s blood involved.
After another hour of questioning, Niran granted Kayla ten minutes of fresh air. Despite his initial hostility toward her, she sensed him beginning to soften. Beginning to believe the genuine pain in her eyes belonged to a heartbroken friend, not a coldhearted killer. Who could believe a normal young woman could do this to her best friend?
Plus she had an alibi.
Once outside, Kayla gazed up into the dark sky, the pulsating sounds of Phuket Town serving as a painful reminder of the millions of people blissfully continuing with their lives. Their mundane, boring, delightfully average lives that would never know the kind of tragedy that had struck her not once, but twice.
Why was this happening again?
And why was she not more surprised?
There was a pit forming in her stomach—a tight knot of anxiety and fear that felt all too familiar.
In fact, she wasn’t sure it had ever really left.