In one moment, Kat Cavanagh’s perfect world is shattered into tiny fragments. The flash of her daughter’s torn yellow dress, the beautiful blonde hair hanging across her precious face. Her own heart-broken sob…
Kat experiences every mother’s worst nightmare when her little girl is found dead. And then the police add the word ‘suicide’. But Kat refuses to believe them.
Even when they show her the familiar looping handwriting and smudged ink on the note Grace left behind. She knows her bubbly, bright daughter would never take her own life.
But as she searches Grace’s perfume-scented room, filled with smiling photos, she uncovers secrets her daughter had been hiding. Secrets that make her wonder how well she really knew the woman her only child was becoming.
Kat’s determined to find out what really happened to Grace on the night she died, even if it means confronting her own troubled past. But as she gets closer to the terrible truth, Kat is faced with an unthinkable question: there was no way she could have protected Grace – or was there?
This addictive and emotional psychological thriller will keep you gripped into the dark hours. Perfect for fans of Behind Closed Doors and The Girl on the Train.
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If you were here with me now, I’d say sorry for everything.
I know I’ve let you down, disappointed you, and it hurts. This is how it ends for me, isn’t it? Alone with my thoughts, with my pain, all the regrets about who I am and how I acted coming back to haunt me. I let you down more than anyone else. Maybe one day you’ll be able to forgive me, but I know I’ll never forgive myself.
It hurts so badly. I’m crying as I watch the blood seep through my dress. Red spreads across the yellow, like spilled paint. My body is cold all over and I’m starting to shake. I’m certain that my face is as pale as the thin sliver of moon above me.
Perhaps I can get out of this pit, if I can remember how. Wind whistles through the rocky depths of Stonecliffe Quarry. Otherwise known as the Suicide Spot. Aren’t there steps built into the cliff? A half-finished attempt at transforming the old quarry into a park; now a place for the dying to claw their way back to life. A rebirth.
My hands grope the cold, slippery surface around me. I landed here with a thud and broke my bones. I wish you were here to guide me, to tell me where to go. I wish I could tell you how you were the one I looked up to, who made me want to be a better person. Always.
What will you think when you find my dead body?
I remember the man who jumped from this cliff five months ago. He probably fell close to where I am now, landing with a crunch, breaking his neck. No one found him for a week. Will that be me?
A scream escapes from my throat, sharp like a dagger against my vocal chords. Help me! Desperate, rasping with all the air in my lungs, but what comes out is barely a whisper. My throat is raw. Fight harder. Scramble, pull yourself forward. Grasp the rock. My fingers dig into dirt and a sharp pain from my left wrist makes me dizzy. When I lift my head, the stars dance, and I know I’m beginning to lose consciousness. If I do, then this is over and I will die, and I’ll never be able to see you again and tell you I love you. And I’m sorry. My tights and dress are soaked through with blood, damp from hip to ankle.
My head is a heavy weight, swollen and foggy, interrupting my concentration, but I grit my teeth together so hard that my jaw starts up a dull throbbing. The smell here is of sweet blood mingled with the damp earth. It stinks of death, and I expect my life to begin flashing before my eyes like it does in the films. Your smile pops into my mind. Other people I love, too. That’s when I know I’m starting to give up, but I can’t, I have to keep going.
It’s here, the first ledge; I touch it with scratched fingertips. A cloud passes over the moon as I cry out in pain at my first attempt to pull myself up. Is my wrist broken? I can’t support my weight. Come on. A fingernail peels from my skin as I make a second attempt. My eyes roll back in my head as a wave of throbbing pain washes over me. My hands are slick and slippery, leaving my life’s blood all over the stones. When I grasp the first step, my fingers can’t find purchase, and before I know it I’m falling again, this time a mere few feet, and my head hits the cold surface of the quarry floor.
If you were here now, I’d apologise for everything.
But I wouldn’t just say sorry; I’d warn you, too.
Because they’re coming after you next…
My most overwhelming emotion is in fact a colour. Blue. Chipped blue nail polish on her fingers. Blue lips. The bluish tint to the hospital lights, and the way the white sheet appears blue under their glow.
There’s a strand of blonde hair over her face, which I brush away and tuck behind her ear, half expecting her to roll her eyes and say ‘Muuuuuum’ with a crooked smile. But that would require her eyes to be open, and they’re not.
It surprises me that there have been no tears yet. Perhaps it’s the smell of the hospital clogging my feelings, blocking them with the sour tang of disinfectant. Or perhaps it’s the coroner hovering politely in the doorway, waiting patiently for us to make an identification. Waiting to tick a box, to start the paperwork, to move on to the next step. But we can ‘take our time’ with her. As long as we need. That’s what grieving parents do, isn’t it? They take time. They become sponges for bereavement, soaking it all up and then washing everyone else with their grief. I can already tell that Charles will be that kind of mourner as he stands beside me whimpering softly.
But I can’t find the tears. Instead I concentrate on Grace’s fingers, on the chipped blue polish and the scratches on her skin. The dirt under her nails. When Grace fell into the quarry, she was still alive, and she clawed against the ground, trying to climb up the stone steps. She’d suffered a compound fracture of the tibia and bled out as she pointlessly scraped her fingers against the dirt. There is no nail left on the little finger of her left hand, and I can’t stop staring at that finger. It’s making me angry. It’s making me so furious that not even the disinfectant smell, or the well-meaning coroner, or the strand of blonde hair, or the puckered, dead lips of my daughter can block it out. A simmering rage is stirring because my daughter, my seventeen-year-old, beautiful daughter, should not be lying lifeless on a gurney in an understaffed hospital. She should be awake, rolling her eyes, flipping her hair, ignoring me in favour of the phone she can never be parted from. That’s what my daughter should be doing.
‘It’s her.’ Charles’s voice cracks and a strangled noise escapes from his throat. Almost instinctively, I place a hand on his arm, without moving my transfixed gaze from that missing fingernail.
‘Your daughter? Grace?’ the coroner asks.
‘Yes,’ I reply, as Charles begins to crumple in on himself.
He becomes greedy, pawing at me, grasping the collar of my shirt and burying his face into my neck. Soon hot tears wet my skin and his body pulsates against mine. I cling to him, too, stroking his hair, comforting him. Why am I not the one breaking apart? Shouldn’t it be the mother to break down crying? To scream and rip her hair out at the roots? To beat her breast and wail? The truth is I’m too angry for pain. The pain hasn’t begun yet, but it will.
I hold my husband as the lights above us flicker twice. His fingers dig into my shoulders, but that’s good, because it gives me some real physical pain on which to concentrate, to help control the rage stirring within. The coroner is trying not to watch, but I can tell she is, and I worry whether I appear stiff, unemotional or strange. I don’t always react to situations the way other people do, but I know that. I know who I am.
‘I’m sorry.’ Charles straightens himself, smoothing his hair back. He removes his glasses and wipes his eyes with a handkerchief. A few seconds later there are fresh dewdrops on his mousy-grey eyelashes. He steps back and stares down at our daughter, which redirects my focus back to her.
She’s still; lifeless. I try to imagine what life will be like, not making her breakfast, not being woken from a nap by the sounds of her violin practice, not picking her up from school, not hearing her snap at me when I tell her to put her phone away or ask if she has a boyfriend. For seventeen years this person has been the centre of my universe. Every waking hour has been in some way linked to this person, who I made, who was pulled from my body. And now, within a few short hours, that link has been severed, permanently.
There. There’s the pain. And I welcome it.
We were given as much time as we needed to identify Grace’s body, but I couldn’t tell you how long we stayed in that room. Charles held her hand for a while. Towards the end I began to pace back and forth, thinking about her death, the violent and unexpected nature of it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the nail torn from her finger. For some reason the broken leg ended up pushed to the back of my mind. Perhaps it was because of the sheet covering the injury. Grace was a girly girl – she once cried when she broke a carefully manicured nail. The idea of one tearing from her flesh… She must have been in so much pain.
And that’s what makes this tragedy even more unfair, what makes me furious instead of sad. She suffered, right to the end. She suffered more than a good person like Grace ought to. A seventeen-year-old girl with talent and beauty and kindness should not be torn away from the world in this manner. Where is the justice? It isn’t right.
But then I remember that justice doesn’t exist in the way we want it to. The universe isn’t at our beck and call to right our wrongs. The universe is indifferent to us; we’re just too arrogant to see it.
‘What happens now?’ I ask.
Charles and I are sitting in a waiting room, speaking to the police officers dealing with Grace’s sudden death. PC Mullen strikes me as too young and inexperienced to be dealing with a case like this. In order to find out why my little girl died, I want to make sure that every possibility is explored – by someone with the wherewithal to turn every stone. He has the kind of baby face that should be downing snakebite at a university club night. The other one, DS Slater, is older and hopefully wiser. He has a sharp chin and a neutral expression. I imagine he gets straight down to business. DS Slater first liaised with us when Grace didn’t come home from school yesterday. He coordinated the search that ended when Grace was found in the quarry. I’m sure I’ll always remember his calm voice as he informed us over the phone that a body had been found.
As he speaks to us now, he uses some of that same composure. ‘There will be a post-mortem to uncover the cause, but we aren’t treating your daughter’s death as suspicious.’
I find myself sitting up straighter. ‘Not suspicious? She was missing for hours. Someone could have taken her and…’ My hands, resting on my knees, grip both legs, fingernails digging in.
‘I know,’ he says gently. ‘But I’m very sorry to inform you that a note was found in Grace’s pocket. We believe that Grace may have committed suicide.’
As Charles says, ‘Suicide?’ my arm stretches out towards the detective, palm open.
‘I’d like to read it.’ I leave my hand out, waiting.
Charles begins to cry again, and DS Slater glances at my husband’s tears before directing his attention back to me. He nods once. ‘That’s fine. We have a copy here.’
I make a mental note to ask for the original back once the post-mortem is over. I’ll need to see it, to touch it, to know it’s real.
It’s PC Mullen who offers me the sheet of paper. With every ounce of willpower, I refrain from snatching it greedily from his hand. If my daughter killed herself, I need to see the proof.
Charles leans over my shoulder as I smooth out the note. Even in the photocopied version, I recognise Grace’s handwriting. The way she loops the tail on her y is ingrained in my memory. The dots on her i’s are always slightly to the left. Her letters never fail to hit the line as she writes, keeping her prose perfectly straight. I helped her with that when she first learned how to join her letters.
‘Do you recognise the handwriting?’ DS Slater asks.
‘It’s Grace’s handwriting,’ I confirm.
I know that Grace wrote this letter, and yet I see nothing of my daughter within the carefully drawn loops and dots. It’s a short note, devoid of emotion, with a hint of desperation that sickens me.
Mum and Dad,
I’m so sorry. Everything is becoming too much. I don’t think I can go on.
There’s no goodbye, no declaration of love, no explanation of what might have caused this sudden need to exit life. There’s nothing of who I thought my daughter was. It’s almost boilerplate. I don’t know what I expected from a suicide note, but this isn’t it. It doesn’t feel real.
I’m in shock, which means my judgement may be slightly off. I’ve lost my centre. There’s a gaping black hole where the purpose of my life should be, and perhaps I can’t trust the emotions running through my body. But this note does not ring true to me. For one thing, an entire line has been scribbled out, completely obstructing the letters underneath. What did it say? What does it mean?
Because the note has been photocopied in colour, I can see that the line has been blocked out in a different colour to the ink of the original note. That strikes me as odd. Why would Grace do that? Why would she use a different pen?
‘Oh God,’ Charles moans. ‘I didn’t know she wanted to die. She was seventeen. This isn’t right. Kat?’ He looks to me as though he wants me to make everything better.
‘Did you notice any change in Grace’s behaviour over the last few days?’ PC Mullen asks.
I shake my head. ‘No. Grace wouldn’t kill herself.’
‘I know this is difficult—’ DS Slater begins.
‘This doesn’t even sound like Grace,’ I insist, tapping the photocopied note with the back of my hand. ‘Grace wouldn’t kill herself. She had everything to live for.’
‘It may seem like that, but unfortunately teenage suicide isn’t uncommon. Teenagers are under a lot of stress with exams and personal relationships.’
‘I know that,’ I snap. ‘But I knew my daughter. Look at this. Why would she strike through an entire line in a different pen?’
‘There are many possible reasons.’ DS Slater speaks slowly, as though to someone whose grasp of English is inferior. ‘Her original pen may have run out. She may have written words she later regretted and thought would hurt your feelings.’
‘Then why didn’t she rewrite it?’ I ask. ‘What time did she die?’
‘We won’t know for certain until her post-mortem,’ DS Slater replies with a frown. ‘But we believe that she died sometime around midnight.’
‘Then what was she doing all that time?’ I demand. ‘Where did she go? Who was she with?’
‘The short answer is we just don’t know,’ DS Slater says. ‘But given the evidence – the note, the location… We know the quarry attracts suicidal people. I’m inclined to believe that there was no foul play here.’ He pauses and raises his hands slowly, as though placating a crazy person. ‘I’m so sorry for your loss, and I know this is difficult to accept, Mrs Cavanaugh, but you identified the suicide note yourself.’
‘It doesn’t matter if she wrote it,’ I say, refusing to back down. ‘What I’m saying is that maybe someone forced her to write those words. The Grace I know wouldn’t commit suicide. She was happy.’
‘Kat.’ Charles places his hand on my knee.
‘No, Charles, listen to me. You don’t believe this, do you? You don’t believe these lies?’ I snatch up the note and hold it aloft with trembling fingers.
His hand squeezes. ‘I don’t want to believe it. But that’s Grace’s handwriting. She was stressed with school, and you know that sometimes she suffered with mood swings.’
I shake my head in disbelief, unable to understand why my husband is so quick to believe this, and then turn back to DS Slater. ‘Have you checked CCTV? Witnesses? Who was she with all that time?’
DS Slater clears his throat and talks in that same soothing tone. ‘When Grace first went missing, we asked around at the school, and no one had seen her leave. I’m afraid there isn’t much CCTV in a small village like Ash Dale, but we will certainly be checking.’
I’m well aware that they’re all talking to me like I’m a child, and I can’t bear it. I can’t be with anyone in this room anymore. Forcing Charles’s hand from my knee, I get to my feet and pace from wall to wall. DS Slater’s promise is lip service, designed to pacify me, but it’s a start. No one is going to listen to me now, not this soon after identifying the body. They think I’m emotional, that I’m hurting, that I’m a grieving mother to be coddled. I loved my daughter more than anyone. She was my one true connection to this world, the one part of me that tethered me to everyone else. The truth is, I don’t care about anyone but Grace and I never have. DS Slater, PC Mullen, the ever-so-patient coroner, even my husband, are little more than people orbiting my life. Grace was the one person I truly cared about and now she’s gone.
If DS Slater can’t or won’t find out what happened to her, then I will.
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