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Authors: Fanny Blake

The Secrets Women Keep

BOOK: The Secrets Women Keep
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Praise for Fanny Blake

‘Absorbing drama about coping with marital meltdown’

Mail on Sunday

‘From the villa with loungers by the pool to the dynastic alfresco suppers under the olive trees, Blake paints it all so vividly she had me rushing to rent for next summer the moment I put the book down’

Daily Mail

‘I love that she writes about women our age, and the painful and wise truths we know’

Marian Keyes,
Woman & Home

‘Get your teeth into this powerful page-turner. Rose is waiting for her family to arrive at their villa in Tuscany when a casual glance at her husband’s phone reveals a message that tips her world upside down’

Prima

‘A great holiday read, especially for someone looking for something with a bit more substance than the usual summer reads’

Novelicious

‘Women take heart. Here is a novelist who understands exactly the comedy, absurdities and frustrations of your lives’

Elizabeth Buchan

 

 

 

 

 

Dedication

 

For my mother and sister, with love

 

 

 

 

Contents

 

 

 

 

Cover

Praise for Fanny Blake

Dedication

Title Page

 

Epigraph

September

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

January

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

May

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

July

28

29

30

31

July - One Year Later

32

33

34

35

36

 

Acknowledgments

By Fanny Blake

About the Author

Teaser Chapter:
With a Friend Like You

Copyright

 

 

 

 

We never knows wot’s hidden in each other’s hearts; and if we had glass winders up there, we’d need to keep the shutters up, some on us, I do assure you!

Martin Chuzzlewit
by Charles Dickens

 

 

 

 

September

 

 

 

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

T
he dark outline of the doorway framed a section of the sun-drenched garden beyond, the brilliance of the outdoor colours such a contrast to the
house’s shady interior. From where she was standing, Rose could see the vivid splashes of roses, geraniums and bougainvillea, the silver green of the olive trees in the distance, the
startling blue of the sky. But she was enjoying being indoors. Even here she could feel the heat, despite having pulled the shutters to against the sun, aware of how much the temperature outside
had risen since breakfast time.

Eve and Terry had announced they’d be arriving at Pisa around midday, then driving down, so a simple late lunch would be perfect. Rose pulled the strings of her apron around her so that
they tied in front of her stomach, not quite the washboard of years ago, but could be worse given two children and a healthy appetite. Choosing a couple of onions and some garlic from the hanging
mesh basket and the plumpest tomatoes from the dish, she laid them by the small bunches of oregano and thyme that she’d snipped from the garden. As she began to chop, she hummed an
indecipherable tune under her breath. Just another day in paradise.

‘What’s for lunch?’ Daniel had snuck up behind her, putting his arms around her and planting a kiss on the back of her neck.

Smiling, Rose turned to him, her face lifted to his. ‘Wait and see.’

‘Spoilsport!’ But he put a hand to her cheek then kissed her again, this time on the lips. Slow and caring. She leaned into him, her eyes closing.

When they finally separated, Rose glanced at the station clock over the oven. ‘Look at the time! I’ve got to get on.’ She removed his hands from the curve of her back.
‘I’ll never be ready otherwise.’

Turning down the corners of his mouth in exaggerated disappointment, Daniel picked up the beach towel from the back of the chair where he’d left it. ‘If there’s really nothing
I can do, I’m off for a swim.’

She stretched up to kiss his cheek. ‘Don’t worry. It’s all under control. Just be ready for when they get here.’

He strolled out of the house and down the slope, eventually disappearing through the gate to the pool. Only then did Rose return her attention to lunch.

Pottering about the kitchen was one of her great pleasures, especially here in Casa Rosa, the renovated farmhouse that they had bought so many years ago. Back then it was a dilapidated shell,
but they’d been seduced by its hillside position. They tracked down the local farmer, then endured the time-consuming process of unearthing the family members who owned the house, securing
agreements one by one until finally it was theirs. She smiled. Daniel had been a more patient man then. These days, he would never tolerate the wait. Slowly, together, they had brought the place
back to life, bringing the family here every summer for more years than she could remember; all good memories.

Rose thought of her daughters with a fond sigh. Anna, the elder, should be arriving later that afternoon, no doubt in a typical whirlwind of plans and problems. As for Jess . . . there was a
question mark hanging over her visit after the recent clash with her father. Out of sheer pique, she had announced that she wouldn’t come this year after all. She would be staying at home
with Adam and their toddler, Dylan.

‘Dylan! Ridiculous name! We’re not Welsh!’ Rose remembered Daniel’s immediate verdict when their grandson was named after Bob Dylan, a musical giant in Adam’s eyes.
Whatever Adam liked, guaranteed Daniel wouldn’t.

She comforted herself with the knowledge that Jess and Daniel always made up in the end. She couldn’t bear to think that their younger daughter would miss the traditional fortnight-long
family holiday; a sacrosanct annual event still, even now the girls were grown up and had their own lives. Apart from Christmas, this was the one time when they all got together and relaxed. Rose
refused to contemplate any alternative to her usual family gathering. She’d made up Jess and Adam’s bed anyway, with a small mattress on the floor for Dylan beside it. The child’s
stool that Daniel had made for Jess’s fourth birthday and that Rose had painted with characters from
Alice in Wonderland
was waiting there too. She eased the problem from her mind. She
would tackle Daniel about it later, when the moment was right. For now, she pictured her young grandson, anticipating the intense pleasure of seeing him again.

Reaching for the tin can that sat on the chipped tile at the back of the worktop, she poured a ribbon of olive oil into the frying pan, and turned up the gas. A moment later she tipped in the
onions and garlic, stirring them as they sizzled, the smell taking over the kitchen. She was tossing in the chopped tomatoes when her iPhone buzzed, announcing a text. That would probably be Eve to
say they’d been delayed. Her hands wet with tomato juice, Rose wiped them on the skirt of her apron, then reached for the phone, which was hidden between the bowls of fruit and vegetables on
the table. Sticky with heat, she pushed her fringe off her face with the back of her arm and read the message displayed on the screen.

She frowned, and read it again. This certainly wasn’t Eve.

Miss you. Love you. Come back soon. S

In fact, nobody she knew would write to her like this.

A misdial, no doubt. She replaced the phone on the long oak kitchen table, nudging it until it lay between the two earthenware bowls, one with its cargo of beef tomatoes, aubergines and
courgettes, the other crowded with the figs she’d picked from the tree that morning and a few misshapen pears and apples from yesterday’s market. She turned down the heat under the
tomato sauce, leaving it to simmer while she tidied and wiped the work surface, putting what she could into the dishwasher, washing up the rest. She removed her apron and hung it on the back of the
door, all the while imagining the person the message was for and wondering what the repercussions might be when they didn’t receive it. She pushed her rolled sleeves above her elbows. Perhaps
she should change this shirt for something cooler before the others arrived. But the message nagged at her, drawing her back to the table. She picked up the mobile again and turned it over in her
hand.

On its shiny black back were the familiar scratch and the gold star sticker that distinguished it from hers. This was Daniel’s phone. With a thudding heart, she realised the message was
for him.

Shaking her head in disbelief, she looked again. The words ricocheted round her brain as she struggled to catch her breath. She turned the fruit bowl slightly, replaced the phone. If it
weren’t for the regular tick of the clock, she would have believed time had stopped dead.

She rushed to the sink, retching over the coffee mugs that she’d left there after they’d sat together just half an hour earlier, discussing what the following week would bring. She
reran their conversation. Had there been any awkwardness, anything unusual, any clue at all that something was wrong between them? Nothing that she remembered. Not then, not during the last few
weeks. She ran the cold tap and splashed her burning face and neck.

Drying her face with the dish towel, she realised the absurdity of her reaction. Daniel have an affair? He couldn’t. He wouldn’t. The message must be from a colleague. Of course.
There must be a problem at one of the hotels that only he could solve. How quick she’d been to leap to conclusions. They trusted one another implicitly. Didn’t they? She hesitated. But
Love you
. Who would say that to him?

She reached for the phone again.

The words were still there:
Miss. Love. Come back
. Whoever had written them must have realised that someone other than Daniel might see them. So there had to be an innocent explanation.
But if not a colleague, then who? She rubbed her thumb along the length of her middle finger, studying her square, capable hands, her neatly rounded fingernails. Perhaps the message was a joke of
some kind. The initial S: sign-off and single clue to the sender’s identity that simultaneously preserved their anonymity. She must have misinterpreted the desire she first read into the
text. Every bit of her refused to accept that her husband would betray her. And yet . . . Wasn’t this the sort of thing that happened in marriages? Wronged wife finds giveaway receipt, note,
text. Frantic, she ran through the possible explanations again. A colleague? A joker? A wrong number? Another woman? Her breath caught as the last one hooked itself into her mind . . .

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