Bring Me Back: New Excerpt
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Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris is a tour de force of psychological suspense that will have you questioning everything and everyone until its stunning climax.
Finn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone―never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story.
Ten years later Finn is engaged to Layla’s sister, Ellen. Their shared grief over what happened to Layla drew them close and now they intend to remain together. Still, there’s something about Ellen that Finn has never fully understood. His heart wants to believe that she is the one for him…even though a sixth sense tells him not to trust her.
Then, not long before he and Ellen are to be married, Finn gets a phone call. Someone from his past has seen Layla―hiding in plain sight. There are other odd occurrences: Long-lost items from Layla’s past that keep turning up around Finn and Ellen’s house. Emails from strangers who seem to know too much. Secret messages, clues, warnings. If Layla is alive―and on Finn’s trail―what does she want? And how much does she know?
I look at Ellen across the table, her head bent over her bowl of muesli, Greek yogurt and blueberries, and find myself comparing it to Layla’s breakfasts of toast and chocolate spread. I frown, annoyed with myself. I’ve been doing that a lot lately, not just thinking about Layla, but comparing Ellen to her.
Sensing my eyes on her, Ellen looks up. Although I’m staring at her, I don’t see her, I see Layla, which is strange because physically, she’s nothing like Layla. Maybe it’s her hazel eyes. Are they what attracted me to her in the first place, because they reminded me of Layla’s?
“So,” she says, “any plans for today?”
I force myself away from the past and back to the present. But it leaves behind a trace of anxiety, spawned from the two Russian dolls we found, and I look over at Ellen’s set suspiciously, because she still hasn’t put them away.
“I’ll probably go for a run. Maybe water the garden first. It’s as dry as a bone.” She smiles approvingly and I can’t help remembering how Layla had laughed when I told her that one day, I wanted a beautiful garden in the country so that I could grow my own vegetables.
“Gardening is for old men!” she’d mocked. I’d never mentioned it again.
“Have you remembered that I’m going into Cheltenham this morning, to the beauty salon?” Ellen asks.
I hadn’t, but I should have, because every three weeks Ellen subjects herself to an intense beauty regime: waxing, tweezing, a manicure and God knows what else, followed by a session with her hairdresser, who operates from the same salon. Ellen takes care of herself in a way that Layla never did. Layla never cared much how she looked.
“Maybe I’ll come and meet you for lunch,” I say.
“That’ll be lovely,” she smiles.
I stand up, take my plate and reach for hers.
“Leave it,” she says, putting a hand on my arm. “I’ll clear away, I’ve got time before I go.”
Suddenly, the thought of being on my own while she’s in town, with memories of Layla within easy reach, makes me claustrophobic. I run a hand over my chin, wondering if I could get my beard trimmed, or thinned, while Ellen is at the salon. But I keep it so short it doesn’t really need it.
“I may as well come with you now,” I say. “No point taking two cars. I’ll take my laptop and have a coffee while you’re at the salon.”
It’s not in her nature to ask why I’ve changed my mind, nor to question why the garden that needs water so urgently can wait.
“I’ll be quite a while,” she warns.
“I’ll have two coffees then,” I grin.
* * *
I park in the High Street and walk her to the salon, telling her to call me when she’s finished. The Bookshop Café, my favorite place in Cheltenham, is further along the same street, so I head there and set up a makeshift office. I order coffee and become engrossed in my work until Ellen calls.
I go to meet her and watch as she comes out of the salon. She looks good, her angular face striking.
“Beautiful,” I tell her. Unbidden, an image of Layla’s long red hair, which reached almost to the small of her back, comes into my mind. “Where would you like to go for lunch?” I ask, chasing it away.
“Marco’s?” she suggests, so we cross over the road to the Italian Bistro.
An hour or so later, full of truffle-stuffed pasta, we make our way back to the car, Ellen’s hand on my arm. As we approach I see something lodged under the wiper. It’s not flat enough to be a parking ticket, and, anyway, we haven’t overstayed the four hours I paid for, so I guess someone has scrunched an advert they found on their car into a ball and stuck it on mine. But as we get nearer I find my steps slowing, until I’m not walking anymore, I’m just standing there staring. My first thought is to protect Ellen but the strangled cry that comes from her throat tells me I’m too late.
“It’s all right, Ellen,” I say, reaching for her hand. But she snatches it back and starts running down the street, pushing her way through a family with children. And as I run after her, I take a little Russian doll from under the wiper, shoving it deep into my pocket.
I catch up with her twenty yards or so further along. She’s stopped running and is leaning pale-faced against a shop window. People pass by, looking at her with concern.
“It’s all right, Ellen,” I say again, my mind all over the place at finding another Russian doll. She shakes her head, unable to speak, not because running has made her breathless but because she’s near to tears. So I put my arms around her and wait for her to ask me about the doll on our car.
“I know it’s stupid but I’m sure it was her,” she says, her voice muffled by my shirt. “Maybe it was my imagination, or someone else with red hair, but Finn—I’m certain I just saw Layla!”
Shock jolts through me. “Is that why you ran?” I ask, needing to know whether or not she saw the Russian doll, wondering if she can feel my heart hammering under my shirt.
“Yes. You saw her too, didn’t you?” I shake my head, my eyes searching around us for someone who could look like Layla. “You stopped so suddenly, it’s how I noticed her,” she goes on.
“I only stopped because I remembered that I wanted to buy some wine for tonight and we’d just gone past the wine shop,” I invent, my eyes still searching the crowd.
“Oh.” She gives a self-conscious laugh. “You must have thought I’d gone mad, running off down the street like that. I was so sure it was Layla. But it couldn’t have been, of course.” She looks up at me, seeking reassurance.
“It was probably someone with the same color hair,” I say.
“It’s just that since I found that little Russian doll outside the house, I can’t stop thinking about her.”
“It’s normal,” I soothe, guiding her back down the road to where the car is parked.
“What about the wine you wanted to get?”
“It can wait. Come on, let’s go home.”
“Could we walk around a bit first?” she asks. “I know it probably wasn’t Layla but…” Her voice trails off.
“You don’t mind?”
“No,” I say.
Because I know we’re not going to find her.
Copyright © 2018 B. A. Paris.
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