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The Stranger Within
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Be careful what you wish for…
On the surface, Callie Harwell has it all. Newly married to James, she finally gets the family she has longed for and becomes a mother to his two sons.
So why is she arrested for murder?
Things are not as Callie hoped they would be and she struggles to be accepted as part of James’ family, and to keep hidden the secrets that could destroy her future.
As her life spirals out of control, setting in motion a chain of events with devastating consequences, Callie is forced to question how well we ever really know ourselves.
A gripping psychological thriller for fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and authors Lucie Whitehouse, Sabine Durrant, S.J. Watson and Elizabeth Haynes.
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I am a wife. A mother. A friend. But now I am also a murderer.
Sitting across from me, his arms folded as he leans forward, DS Connolly shakes his head. He is a handsome man, but when I look at him, all I see is his label. Police officer. He is here to make sure I pay for what I’ve done.
Is there sadness in his eyes? He certainly isn’t gloating. Does he pity me because I don’t look like a murderer? Or talk or act like one? What does a killer look like anyway? Before now I would have been able to produce a description. Someone with a wild or blank expression, something not quite right. But now I know differently.
“Do you understand what’s happening?” DS Connolly says. “That you’re being charged with murder?”
Murder. It’s a strange word. It’s probably been used a thousand times in this cold, sterile room, but somehow it feels out of place. As incongruous as I am. I nod, but he doesn’t look convinced. Perhaps he thinks I’m not all there, that I’ll plead temporary insanity. But he’s wrong. My thoughts have never felt more lucid.
From beside him, his female colleague, whose name I have already forgotten, stares at me, but says nothing. I turn away from the judgement on her face – it will scar me if I hold her gaze – and back to DS Connolly.
“Are you sure you don’t want a solicitor here with you?” he asks.
This time I nod, but it does nothing to erase his frown. He’s being nice to me because I have been cooperative. I haven’t fussed or complained. I’ve seen enough television programmes to know I should ask for legal representation, but what’s the point? I must be their ideal suspect. Is that the right word? Well, whatever the case, I will wear the label as I do the others.
He shrugs and pushes my polystyrene cup further towards me. The tea is bound to be cold by now, but I force myself to drink the tepid liquid. It is flavourless, as if my taste buds have numbed, every part of me frozen by what I’ve done.
I stare into my drink, avoiding DS Connolly’s searching eyes. If I look at him, I will lose my defences. It would probably be good to cry, to release the remorse in which I’m drowning, but I refuse. Not until I am alone. There is blood on my hands and I need to suffer the consequences.
The female officer flicks through the papers she is holding and then nods to DS Connolly.
“Okay,” he says. “Are you ready to talk? To tell us everything? We’ll be recording this.” He indicates the tape recorder on the table. It contains three tapes and looks as if it belongs to a past decade, but I try to ignore it, keeping my eyes on him.
Nodding, I push aside my cup. “I’m ready.”
Three Months Earlier
I stand at the front door, holding it open, a clownish smile on my face as I take a deep breath in preparation. How many times have I done this now? Surely it should be getting easier? But the pounding in my chest begins, and the palms of my hands are clammy.
“Where’s Dad? He said he’d be home early today.” Dillon shoves past me and throws down his school bag. It slides across the floor, reaching my foot.
“Pick that up, Dillon. You know where it goes.” And so today’s argument starts: me asserting my authority, Dillon ignoring it, the usual shouts of you can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my mum! But still I persist, hoping that if I’m consistent and determined, things will begin to get easier.
Dillon is taller than me, and with no shoes on I feel like a mouse, but I won’t be intimidated. I’m not afraid of disciplining him, even if I am on shaky ground here, in this house that is more his than mine. In his eyes I am a usurper, but in my eyes I am his mother.
At least he is speaking to me. Most days, unless James is around, all I’m offered is a grunt, or more often than not, cold silence. I wouldn’t mind if I could put his surliness down to normal teenage hormones. But with everyone else, Dillon is the epitome of affability. Even his younger brother – most fifteen-year-old boys’ idea of a pain in the arse – gets the real Dillon.
Eventually he picks up his bag, hanging it on the coat hook with a huff and snarl. Ignoring him, I answer his question. “Your dad got called to do a shoot. In Surrey, I think.” Somehow I keep the smile on my face, reminding myself my persistence will pay off.
But Dillon is already breezing into the kitchen, where he knows Luke will be, slamming the door behind him. I close the front door and, with a deep breath, follow him, preparing myself to enter a war zone.