Read an extract from Amanda Reynolds’ THE HIDDEN WIFE
THE HIDDEN WIFE is the thrilling new book from eBook bestseller AMANDA REYNOLDS, author of twisty domestic dramas CLOSE TO ME and LYING TO YOU
Posted on February 28, 2019 in Extract
Tags: Amanda Reynolds, Extract, The Hidden Wide, psychological thriller
Thirty-Three Hours Missing
Max Blake is pacing his spacious kitchen, his movements clumsy, his demeanour unpredictable. He looks like he hasn’t slept. He looks like a man desperate to find his missing wife. He looks like he’s lying.
Detective Sergeant Katie Ingles, Katherine to her mother, Katie to everyone else, removes her coat and runs her hands through her unwashed hair as she stifles a yawn. The baby is keeping her up at night, and although she’s not the one breastfeeding and her parental leave is long over, she feels obliged to be there for her wife, making tea and watching Netflix at three a.m. Today was meant to be her day off, a chance to catch up on some much-needed rest, but despite her exhaustion she’s alert to Max’s every move. She catches DC Chris Green’s eye and they exchange a look, in agreement about the husband, it would seem. Max had waited too long to alert them to his wife’s absence and his story is inconsistent. He’s hiding something. Quite possibly a body. She walks to the patio doors and looks out. There are too many places to keep secrets at Brooke House. It’s huge, filled with long corridors lined with locked doors, not to mention the acres of grounds.
Twenty-four hours since the call came in, an hour since her DI rang her at home and said he wasn’t upgrading the risk assessment, not yet at least, but he’d decided to bring in CID. It’s a high-profile case, he can’t afford to take any chances. None of them can. The team has an energy to it, conversations passed liked batons, everyone eager to get on with the investigation, although the likelihood is they won’t find Julia Blake alive and well. It’s already been too long. At least the dog handlers are here. She has a good feeling about bringing them in – it will save time if nothing else – but it’s still a near-impossible task.
DC Chris Green is making tea and trying to keep the husband calm, but Max is agitated, demanding information and reassurance when they have neither. Katie’s colleague could easily flatten Max Blake if he wanted to. Chris is a big guy, a gym addict, he told her on the drive over, but he appears to favour a softer approach.
‘You need to sit down, Mr Blake,’ Katie reiterates, dragging herself from the view as the dogs head into the wooded area beyond the long sweep of lawn.
‘Do you have a husband, detective?’ Max demands, walking towards her. ‘Is he missing?’ His face is too close, his blue eyes fixed on her. Chris steps forward and Max backs off.
‘The search for your wife is ongoing,’ Chris tells him, his expression splitting into one of his famous grins, a flash of perfect white teeth beneath the sparkly hazel eyes. ‘OK if we call you Max?’
‘I really don’t care,’ Max replies, pacing again.
‘We’re doing all we can,’ Katie tells Max, and he makes a derisory sound in the back of his throat.
She resists the urge to do the same.
Max Blake, celebrity author and a bit of a wanker if first impressions are anything to go by. What husband goes to bed alone on the night of their tenth wedding anniversary? He didn’t even check on his wife’s whereabouts until the next morning. His account doesn’t stack up; not to her. She takes a mug of tea from Chris and sips the hot brew. The rain has gathered pace, bouncing off the patio furniture and filling the wine glass left on the table. She can still hear the dogs barking, although they’ve disappeared from view. ‘And you’ve no idea where Julia might be, none whatsoever?’ she asks, not bothering to turn round.
Max’s reflection walks towards her. ‘Don’t you think I’d have told you if I did?’
She asks him again to sit down and to her surprise he does, although he can’t keep still, his hands tapping on the scrubbed oak table, his right leg bouncing up and down. He’s wearing jeans, and a blue fitted shirt, leather brogues. Her lip curls at how put-together he is despite his puffy red eyes.
‘Can you talk me through the last forty-eight hours,’ she asks, taking the seat closest to the patio doors. ‘As much detail as possible.’
Katie watches the dogs emerge from the trees, their noses to the grass as they’re guided towards the front of the house. Their next stop should be the outbuildings: a pair of holiday lets and a converted barn located down a fork in the gravel drive. Then the garages at the side of the property. She checks her phone. Still no bloody signal.
‘What are they doing?’ Max asks, gesturing towards two uniformed officers pacing on the grass.
‘Every possibility is being looked into, Mr Blake,’ she tells him. ‘For now, you are our best bet. You need to help us to find Julia.’
‘I just feel so bloody useless.’ Max wipes his face with his hands. ‘I can’t think straight.’
‘Tell me about Saturday,’ Katie prompts, looking up at Chris. He extracts a notepad from his jacket, then hunches over the kitchen counter, pen in hand.
‘How did you and your wife spend your day?’ Katie asks, exchanging a look of exasperation with Chris as Max leans his head into his hands. The author’s slim wedding band glints back at her. ‘It was your anniversary, I believe.’
Max lifts his head, his eyes bloodshot. ‘As I’ve already said, more than once, Julia was on the phone whenever I saw her, arranging things for our celebration: caterers, wine, flowers.’
Mobile phone records would usually be their great hope. They haven’t found her handset in the house as yet, so if Julia’s used it since midnight on Saturday it will be their first breakthrough, but as the location of Brooke House is so remote, at least a mile from any signal and the only reliable WiFi disappearing as soon as you step away from the house, the landline records might be their best bet anyway. ‘And your day, Mr Blake? Tell me what you did on Saturday before the party.’
‘Apart from picking up a present for my wife in town first thing, I was in my study, writing. I have a set routine. I get up early, work until lunchtime, every day of the week, every week of the year.’ He glances up, as if she should react to this. ‘Julia and I usually have a light lunch together, then I do a few more hours before dinner.’
Katie’s tempted to confess that she’s a big fan of his books. It might create a better rapport, massaging Max’s not inconsiderable ego, but her DI told her to play it safe, the world will be watching and it’s not her style to ingratiate herself, that’s Chris’s domain. ‘Your wife took care of all the arrangements for the anniversary party?’
‘Yes, Julia is very good at entertaining. Her forte, creative things. Photography in particular.’
Katie had noticed the black and white prints on the walls as she’d toured Brooke House, mostly arty shots of the rooms and grounds, but there was one of Julia on Max’s desk that particularly
caught her eye. ‘Your wife is a professional photographer?’
‘She was studying photography in London when we met, but she left part-way through her course. It was something she wanted to go back to in a more serious way.’
Talking about happier times is settling Max, and it’s all useful background information, but the large clock on the kitchen wall is ticking vital seconds away. Katie’s limited patience is tested with each lost moment. ‘Your wife is twenty-eight now so she must have been what, seventeen, eighteen, when you first met?’
‘I’m not aware that’s a crime,’ Max replies, meeting her smile with a cold stare across the table.
Not a crime to be almost twenty years older than your spouse, Katie concedes, although she does not say so to Max, but notable. ‘Tell me about the rest of your Saturday.’
‘Our dinner guests were due at seven, so I changed then met Julia outside.’ He gestures towards the patio. ‘She looked stunning, as always.’
What was she wearing?’ Katie asks.
‘I’d bought her a new dress, long and floaty, low-cut. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. I remember thinking that after ten years of marriage our lives couldn’t be more perfect. And she was wearing the necklace, of course.’
‘Necklace?’ Katie glances at Chris and he flourishes his pen as if he’s about to knock up a sketch. ‘That’s the gift you’d picked up in town?’
‘Yes, it was a commission, spelling out her name. The dot above the letter I is a one-carat diamond.’
Katie makes a mental note of the design, imagining it around the missing woman’s throat. It’s unique, could be crucial.
‘Who was invited for this special anniversary dinner?’ Katie asks.
Max looks outside at the patio furniture. Katie too. She counts eight chairs, but they could have brought out more.
‘There was Jonny, from my publishing company, and his partner, Matthew. Theo Smythe, he’s in charge of the Herald.’
Katie nods, the editor of the local newspaper well known to her. ‘And Theo’s wife Nicky. And Fiona and Lawrence Townsend. I’ve known the Smythes and Townsends since I bought this
place back in 2001, Jonny even longer. I can write down their contact details for you, but I fail to see what relevance this has to—’
‘Three couples besides you and your wife?’ Katie asks and Max nods. ‘Anyone else?’
‘Two of Julia’s friends arrived from London as we were finishing dinner.’
‘And their names?’ Katie asks.
‘Ben Fortune is an old friend of my wife, from her college days, and there was a woman with him. I don’t recall her name.’
‘Ten years of marriage and you don’t know the name of one of your wife’s closest friends?’ Katie asks, injecting deliberate reproach into her tone.
Chris shoots her a warning look and she frowns back at him. She can be a bit direct at times, she knows that, but it needs asking.
‘She wasn’t a close friend as far as I know,’ Max snaps back, deep lines creasing his smooth and slightly tanned face. ‘I’d certainly never met her before.’
‘What time did they arrive?’ Katie asks.
‘Must have been around eleven. They’d caught the last train from London, then a taxi from the station. I wasn’t expecting them, Julia hadn’t said.’
Chris looks up from his notes, listening as Katie asks, ‘Why didn’t your wife tell you they were coming?’
‘She knew I wouldn’t want Ben here, making our dinner guests feel uncomfortable, which is exactly what happened.’
‘You don’t like him?’ Chris asks.
Max shakes his head. ‘I’ve only met him once, maybe twice before, but no, I don’t like him. He’s normally off his face on something, which hardly helps.’
‘Drugs?’ Chris asks.
‘Wouldn’t be surprised. He was definitely drunk. As soon as Julia took them down to the swimming pool everyone else made their excuses and left. It was humiliating.’
Katie gets up from the table and returns to the patio doors. She can’t see the pool, roughly fifty metres away down a steep slope in the grass, but she imagines loud voices would travel up from there, especially if you were seated outside on a pleasant summer’s evening as Saturday night had been. The storm hadn’t broken until the early hours of Sunday morning, the rain still falling over twenty-four hours later.
‘Ben has remained a good friend of your wife?’ she asks, turning back. ‘Even though you and he didn’t get on.’
There’s a pause before Max tells Katie, ‘It’s up to my wife who she sees, don’t you think?’
Chris leans across the table, placing a mug in front of Max and exchanging a knowing look with Katie as he withdraws.
‘What did you do after your dinner guests had left?’ she asks.
Max explains how he finished his wine on the patio and then, maybe half an hour later, he went down to the pool.
‘How much had you had to drink?’ Katie asks.
‘A glass, two at most,’ Max replies. ‘To be honest I’d usually drink more but I had a headache, concentrating too much on my new book.’ He smiles for the first time, and Katie is inclined to believe him.
‘So you weren’t drunk? Katie asks, pressing the point.
‘No, not at all,’ Max insists and again he seems genuine.
‘What happened when you reached the pool?’ she asks.
‘I told Julia I was going to bed,’ Max explains. ‘But she wanted to stay up a bit longer. Her friends had only just arrived and I suppose it was reasonable to spend some time with them.’
Katie nods, distracted as the extra officers she’d requested, four of them in total, follow the same path across the lawns the dog handlers took, one of them spotting her and gesturing towards the front of the house. She checks her phone and frowns, then looks over at Chris who nods, passing her his notebook and the chewed pen before he leaves the room.
‘Where’s he going?’ Max asks. ‘Have they found something?’
Something? Katie closes the notebook on Chris’s sketch and sits down beside Max. ‘So you went to bed alone on your tenth wedding anniversary because your wife chose her friends over you? Friends you hadn’t invited. One you’d never met and the other you didn’t like.’
‘Yes, I suppose in essence that’s right, but—’ Max looks at the kitchen door as it clicks shut, voices the other side. ‘Can you tell me what’s happening, please?’ He’s polite but his irritation is clear, his jaw set.
‘Did you argue with your wife?’ Katie asks, ignoring his question.
‘We had words, but that doesn’t mean—’
‘And you didn’t think it was strange when she didn’t come to bed all night?’
Max opens his mouth to speak but then Chris rushes back in, his face full of barely contained anticipation as he skids to a halt just inside the door and beckons Katie towards him. She grabs her coat from the back of the chair, still damp, and exchanges a few whispered words with Chris, the detective’s large frame then barring Max’s exit as she slips out.
She can hear Max calling to her as she walks down the long, dimly lit corridor, but by the time she’s across the rug that covers the wide entrance hall he’s been silenced. The front door is opened for her by a uniformed officer, the stone steps wet and slippy as she quickly descends. Then she’s running, towards the fork in the drive that leads to the outbuildings.
Publishes in ebook 31st March
Publishes in paperback 25th July