You can now read the first chapter of ‘Behind Her Smile’ by J.A. Andrews. A captivating and suspenseful story about obsession, that readers won’t be able to put down.
J.A. Andrews is the author behind the well-known psychological thrillers ‘Mummy’s Boy’ and ‘I Let Her Go’. With this upcoming release he again succeeds in keeping readers on their toes as they try to keep up with the twists and turns of the plot.
As part of her recovery from a devastating car accident, Grace Thomas embarks on a surprise cruise booked by her husband, Cameron. The accident still haunts her, and she is a little anxious to be leaving her family so soon. But she’s still excited to fulfil what has been a life-long dream of hers – cruising around the Mediterranean with some girlfriends – even if her husband’s secretary, Chantelle is tagging along for the trip. Maybe this is a chance to start a fresh with this woman. But Chantelle appears to be everywhere Grace turns, and her instincts can’t all be wrong.
Something is off. Not only does Chantelle resemble Grace, it soon becomes clear that she is desperate for Cameron’s attention, but what lengths would she go to get it? Were Cameron’s motives for sending Grace away on this cruise as admirable as she first thought and is her husband’s relationship with the ever-present Chantelle as platonic as he claims?
Grace’s journey of self-discovery suddenly begins to feel rather sinister. Her friends are distant, Chantelle is incessantly playing with her mind, and Grace feels more lost and alone than ever. Then, she discovers that her husband has told the children she’s died. Grace’s world is shattered. Everything she knows has been a lie and the truth has devastating consequences for everyone…
A definite must-read for fans of T.M. Logan, C.L. Taylor and K.L. Slater.
‘Behind Her Smile’ is available from Saga Egmont on the 16th of November in both Ebook and Audiobook.
Saturday, 13 November 2021
1.05 p.m. Now
It has been three months since the car accident that almost left me paralysed. I need this cruise holiday to clear my mind of all the anger and suppressed feelings I’ve been keeping. I’ve been telling people that I was lucky to survive and I maintain that it wasn’t my fault. I didn’t have any other choice than to swerve the car in the opposite direction. I didn’t think about the consequences nor the solid trees that I hit upon impact. In that split second, I thought I made the right choice. It felt like I didn’t even have any options because instinctively I knew what I had to do. Subconsciously I’d chosen my path.
I’m anxious, nervous, nauseous, but excited for this holiday all at the same time. For some a cruise is the holiday of a lifetime, but I need to find myself again. I want to come back home in the next two weeks with a clear direction. For the past three months all I’ve felt is anger, remorse, regret and revenge. I don’t want to be that person who carries around bad memories that torments them for life. This holiday for me, is going to be life changing. I’ve had the money sitting there in our savings for years, but now it’s definitely something useful to spend it on. Healing my soul all thanks to my loving husband.
‘That money is our rainy-day fund,’ my husband said. ‘What if something bad happens to the house, like the roof blows off? It’s good to have some money ready just in case.’
I laughed at him, but I had always wanted a cruise. This two-week cruise is going to be a real adventure for me. I’m going to blog about all the locations and my experiences on my website. I want to show all my social media followers how great cruising is. The only thing is, I need to believe it myself. This is my first time. Hopefully, not my last.
There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about what happened that night. The lives of my husband and children dependent upon my instant reaction. I swerved hard and that’s about as much as I remember. I know the radio was on and I heard the kids singing in the seats behind me. My husband shouted at the top of his voice, but the sheer panic in my eyes stopped me from blinking. I held my breath, then the next conscious memory I have is being carried out of the driver’s seat by a fireman. It was sudden, but none of it my fault. Regardless of what anyone might think, it was unavoidable.
It was getting dark, foggy and we’d set off later than planned. My husband was insistent that we stopped off at a quaint village pub on the way home for our evening dinner. It doesn’t matter where we are in the world, he always seems to want to eat. I’ve mentioned he should start up some food blog or review website of his own if he’s that obsessed, he might earn something from it.
He over-analyses everything in restaurants because he’s such a nuisance. From the way he’s addressed to the way the food is presented, he likes everything to be perfect, but he dare not mention my cooking. He knows better than that.
We’d left one small quaint little Devonshire village, the last thing I wanted to find was another one at night. I hate driving at the best of times, he should have eaten earlier in the day.
‘One last treat, on me. I’m starving,’ he suggested as he searched on his mobile phone for somewhere halfway between North Devon and Bristol. ‘You’d like that too, kids, wouldn’t you?’
Both Jack and Emma nodded from the back seats. Jack had been glued to his handheld gaming console since he’d been the last three days without it. Emma was messaging her friends on Facebook because she’d only had her phone back for an hour or so, and it seemed an urgent priority to catch up with her friend Gemma. You’d have thought they’d not spoken in months, even though it was a couple of days ago.
We had all agreed to stay away from technology for this break away, but I admit I had to take a sneaky few glances at my Instagram. It’s my job. I had to check if I had any more sponsored posts. You don’t realise until you stop using your phone how much time you’re glued to it. I felt like I’d lost an arm, and every second where I was tempted to post pictures, catch up on the news, I distracted myself by thinking about conversations we could all have with each other. After a day, I’d grown a vast list in my head of trigger points, discussion pieces, but it made me realise that we don’t talk to each other enough. We all live under the same roof, but at times it’s like we’re all flatmates, not family.
I’m not overkeen on my thirteen-year-old daughter being on social media, because I know better than most the dangers you can face online. As a social media influencer with followers into the six figures, I make a living from it, but my daughter says that she’s excluded from her friends if she doesn’t get involved. I’d hate for her to miss out, but I’m always monitoring who she adds, you hear so many horror stories on the news. She’s growing up so fast. Too fast and faster than I’d like.
‘I suppose it’s better than grabbing something quickly from McDonald’s at a service station,’ I replied, hesitantly because I didn’t want any delays in the journey. ‘We’ll be on the road to Taunton soon. Can you check if anywhere is still serving hot food after nine? I definitely fancy something hot.’
I glanced at the rear-view mirror to see the kids doing a fist bump. Watching their smiling faces warmed my heart. That moment of dread for breaking up the journey turned into a minor niggle; if they were happy, I was happy. I’d told myself that it would only add an extra hour or two at most before we would get back to Bristol. I could live with that.
‘Go easy on the dessert,’ I joked with the kids, seeing their happy faces. ‘Don’t overdo it on the ice cream, it’ll make you sick before bedtime. With all this driving, I don’t want to clean up the mess.’
My husband rolled his eyes at me. I could read his mind. He knew I really was annoyed that he had a few beers so couldn’t drive, which was often the case – it was always up to me to transport us around on breaks like these.
‘Don’t you start too,’ I said. ‘It’s okay for you. You always get off lightly with not driving. I’m the one who can only have the one glass of wine. And I shouldn’t really have that with all that I drank yesterday, to be honest.’
We’d just spent the August bank holiday weekend at a remote cottage in a rural Devon village overlooking the Noss Mayo estuary. I wanted one with a thatched roof and a private driveway for the car. My only other request was that it had to look old fashioned and ideally facing the river. If we were finding somewhere modern and fancy, we might just as well have booked an Airbnb in London. The cottage was perfect, so good that I could have moved in and never left. Noss Mayo is such a beautiful little area, it was like the world stood still for a few days. I’d go back in a heartbeat.
It had been a weekend without our laptops, mobile phones, and constant diversions from spending time with each other. We’d all had the time of our lives. We needed that weekend together as a time-out from our hectic lifestyles. Cameron had paid me lots of compliments about my red dress that I had taken especially for him. I knew what turned him on. It was the dress that he couldn’t take his eyes off, similar to the one I’d worn when we first met.
I try to remember little things after the accident, but there are blank spots. Moments of the incident that my brain is refusing to see and acknowledge. I know I hit the tree; I know I was trying to avoid the car that was driving towards me at full speed. Some drunk driver on the wrong side of the road. That intense panic and fear gripped hold of me and at the same time rushing around in my mind was the realisation that I had had a glass of wine in the pub before getting back in the car.
Memories of my kids screaming haunt me. Their high-pitched cries as the car crashed and the airbags burst open before the windows smashed at the front and the back. When I try to remember everything, it’s though I’m watching it back in my head in the third person. A movie scene plays out in my mind, but every time I remember it, it’s different.
Today I’ve given up thinking about everything and I’m waiting to embark on the ship. I’ve never been on a luxury cruise liner before. I scoured the internet for videos of ships at sea. The larger ships have stabilisers to minimise any seasickness. A lot of replies on the cruise company forums explained that by day it goes so slow and follows the coast anyway, so you barely notice any movement. This voyage being the last cruise of the year down the Mediterranean and back was a bargain. I had to do it.
‘You certainly wouldn’t find me on a cruise ship,’ my husband had said when I’d discussed it with him before. ‘I’d feel too trapped. I don’t like the idea that I can’t get off when I want.’
‘It’ll be fun for all of us,’ I explained, hoping he’d warm to the idea. ‘You, me and the kids visiting all those countries without needing to fly, or drive.’
He shrugged his shoulders and wasn’t impressed.
‘Why don’t you go with your social media friends,’ he continued. ‘You social media influencer folk could tweet, post, share, like and blog about your journey. I’ll just watch it all unfold online. Message me on Facebook, or something.’
‘I might one day,’ I replied. ‘I’ve never been on a cruise, nor a holiday without you before. It would seem to strange. I’d have no one to moan to or cuddle up with at night.’
‘You’ll survive. Don’t be so bloody daft.’ He laughed. ‘It’s only a week or two, isn’t it? The kids and I will manage. It’s not forever. It’s something you’ve always wanted to do, so don’t let me hold you back. I insist that you go and have fun.’
I can’t remember what he said to me after that, my head scrambles things. The concussion I suffered, the minor fracture on my skull, has healed, but some lasting effects still live on. I get nightmares, but I’m hoping this cruise will be a relaxing experience. I want to forget about the past, the nightmares, the memories, and stop thinking about the accident. I want to sit drinking cocktails while dolphin watching out to sea. I want to take a stroll along the promenade deck, thinking about shopping, or watching a show in the theatre. I want to create memories. Memories that I can share with my followers.
I’ve travelled light by packing everything I need to hand in my handbag, and everything else into my suitcase. I handed it to the awaiting steward as soon as I got off the coach. One of the advantages of cruise holidays over flying abroad is that when you drop off your case at the cruise terminal, it then gets delivered to your cabin by the end of the evening. Whoever thought about that was genius. I don’t have to carry anything around with me and I can relax at the terminal without worrying about my case or struggling with my arms because it’s so heavy.
The whole booking process was simple. I came here by coach rather than drive. I’ve given up driving after the accident. I’m okay as a passenger, but I feel physically sick the minute I put both hands on a steering wheel. I can’t bring myself to drive anywhere now. I might try again after the holiday. If I keep thinking about moving forward with my life I might take small steps. If I can sit in a car for more than a minute, then maybe I’ll drive around the street. Who knows, after a few months I might venture out of the area. I’ll worry about that when the time comes.
I’m really nervous but glad I came. I’m seated in the terminal and there are hundreds of people around me. I watch their faces, but my friends haven’t arrived yet. I thought about having a drink to calm my nerves. I keep picturing the Titanic sinking but remind myself that these ships have enough lifeboats for everyone now.
I can see the ship’s bow from the window. It’s huge, much bigger than I had anticipated. The name Venturus is emblazoned along the side. No matter how hard I try, I can’t seem to picture myself on it. All the planning I’ve done, but until I’m walking on the decks, it doesn’t seem real. Even though I’m sat here, staring at the ship, a monstrous giant compared to the smaller boats I’ve seen sailing along the River Severn, when I’ve had to cross over from Bristol to Wales. I wonder how on earth something so big stays afloat.
Surely nothing terrible is going to happen.