The Other Woman: New Excerpt
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The Other Woman by Sandie Jones is a debut novel and the most twisty, addictive, and unputdownable thriller you’ll read this year.
HE LOVES YOU: Adam adores Emily. Emily thinks Adam’s perfect, the man she thought she’d never meet.
BUT SHE LOVES YOU NOT: Lurking in the shadows is a rival, a woman who shares a deep bond with the man she loves.
AND SHE’LL STOP AT NOTHING: Emily chose Adam, but she didn’t choose his mother Pammie. There’s nothing a mother wouldn’t do for her son, and now Emily is about to find out just how far Pammie will go to get what she wants: Emily gone forever.
It had sounded like a great idea at the time but, in reality, once I was at Mum and Dad’s, I’d have been happy to stay there. It was warm and cozy and reminded me of Christmases past when, as an excited seven-year-old, I’d shake my little brother awake in the middle of the night. Twenty years on, and not much has changed.
We’re still sat around the same tree, sated and spent from the marathon of a feast that Mum had prepared.
“Take care of yourself, sweetheart,” she said, as she hugged me at the door.
If it wasn’t Adam I was going to, I’d have stayed right there in her warm embrace. She smelled of mulled wine and oranges.
“Thanks, Mum. I’ll call you when I get there.”
I kissed them all goodbye, and gave baby Sophie an extra squeeze, before dragging myself out into the cold air. Unsurprisingly, the roads were clear—I imagine because most sane people were settled in for the night, unwilling to leave the warmth of their fires and unable to resist the lure of one more sherry.
It was dark by the time I pulled up outside Pammie’s cottage, one of five in a row, their flintstones cheek by jowl. The white wooden door swung open before I’d even turned my lights off, and Adam’s bulk filled the porch, his cold breath billowing, at odds with the warmth of the light that spilled out from the hall behind him.
“Come on.” He beckoned like an excited little boy. “You’re late. Hurry up.”
I looked at my watch. 5:06 p.m. I was six minutes later than expected. We kissed on the porch. It felt like forever since I’d seen him. It had only been three days, but when Christmas is in between, it makes you feel like you’ve lost whole weeks sitting indoors, watching TV and eating until you’re sick.
“Hmm, I’ve missed you,” he whispered. “Come in. We’ve waited for you. Dinner’s about to be served.”
“Dinner?” I faltered. “But . . .” He kissed me again as I took off my coat. “We’re all starving, but Mum insisted we wait for you.”
“All? But—” I began again. Too late.
“There she is,” exclaimed Pammie, scurrying forward to hold my face in her hands. “Oh, you poor mite, you’re freezing. Come on, let’s get you fed. That’ll warm you up.”
I looked at her questioningly. “Don’t worry about me, I’ve just eaten . . .” I began, but she had already turned and was heading toward the kitchen.
“I hope you’re hungry,” she called out. “I could feed an army with this lot.”
Adam handed me a glass of fizz and, nerves frayed, I was grateful for the cold tingle on my tongue.
“What have we got for tea?” I asked, careful to keep the word “tea” light, as if I could actually will it to be.
I kept a fixed smile on my face as Adam said, “It’ll be easier if I tell you what we haven’t got.”
“Adam, I can’t . . .” I tried again, as we walked into the dining room, but when I saw the table, beautifully laid out for four, with sparkly place mats, crisp white napkins carefully rolled into silver rings, and a red-berry-and-pinecone centerpiece, I didn’t have the heart.
“Here you go,” said Pammie in a singsong voice, as she carried in two plates laden with a full Christmas dinner and all the trimmings. “This one’s for you. I’ve given you extra, as I knew you’d be hungry by the time you got here.” My heart sank. “I do hope you like it. I’ve been in the kitchen most of the day.”
I smiled through gritted teeth. “Looks lovely, Pammie.”
“You sit here,” she said. “And Adam, that’s you there. Sit, and I’ll go and get the other two.”
I looked at him as she left the room, and tilted my head toward the empty seat, its place setting laid out just as beautifully as the other three.
“Oh, that’s for James, my brother,” he replied, in answer to my silent question.
“He showed up unexpectedly on Christmas Eve and he’s been here ever since. Thought I told you that on the phone?”
I shook my head.
“James,” Pammie called out. “Dinner’s ready.”
I looked at the plate in front of me. Even if I hadn’t eaten for a week, I still wouldn’t be able to get through this mountain of vegetables. I could just about see the corners of the thick turkey slices poking out from beneath two Yorkshire puddings. The color of the plate was unknown.
My bloated stomach groaned and I discreetly undid the top two buttons of my skintight trousers as I sat down. Thank God for my long blouse, as I was straight back up again as James walked into the room.
“Don’t get up on my account.” He smiled, holding out his hand. “Nice to meet you, finally.”
I smiled back, but my mind was consumed by how best to tackle what was in front of me, while under the watchful eye of three others.
I managed a small bite of everything, bar the Brussels sprouts, eight of which were lolling about in a swath of gravy.
“Oh, goodness,” Pammie cried, as she caught me putting my cutlery down. “Do you not like it? Have I done something wrong?”
“Not at all,” I replied, embarrassed by the boys’ concerned looks. “I’m just—”
“You said you’d be hungry, though, didn’t you?” she went on. “You said you’d be wanting tea when you got here?”
I nodded mutely. This wasn’t tea from where I came from.
“You feeling okay, Em?” Adam asked.
“Ah, young love,” chirped Pammie. “I remember when my Jim used to fuss over me.”
“Mum’s gone to a lot of trouble,” said Adam quietly.
“I’m fine, and it’s lovely, honestly—I’m just taking a break,” I said, head down.
“But Em, you’ve hardly touched it,” she went on. The “Em” seemed to sound sarcastic, like a taunting child in a playground.
I looked at her then, square in the eyes, careful to keep my features soft. She returned my stare, but I could have sworn there was almost a glint of smug satisfaction.
“Excuse me for a second,” I said, rising from the table and pushing my chair back.
I’d eaten all I could manage, and my body was beginning to fight back, my intestines gripping and twisting.
Once we’d cleared the table and tidied away in the kitchen, I waited until Pammie and James were out of earshot before leaning into Adam.
“Do you fancy a walk?” I asked him quietly.
“Sure,” he said. “I’ll get my coat.”
“Where are you off to?” Pammie asked Adam in the hall. “You’re not heading off, are you?” There was panic in her voice. “I thought you were staying.”
“We are, Mum. We’re just going for a stroll, to work off that delicious dinner.”
“We?” she asked. “What, you mean Emily’s staying as well?”
“Of course. We’ll stay for the night and go home tomorrow after breakfast.”
“Well, where is she going to sleep?” her voice was quieter now.
“With me,” he declared. “Oh, I don’t think so, son. Young James is here as well. There’s not enough room.”
“Well, then, James can sleep on the sofa, and Emily and I will take the spare bedroom.”
“You can’t be sleeping together in this house,” she said, her voice wobbling. “That’s not right. It’s disrespectful.”
Adam laughed nervously. “Mum, I’m twenty-nine years old. It’s not like we’re teenagers.”
“I don’t care how old you are. You’re not sleeping together under my roof. It wouldn’t be right. Anyways, Emily said she was staying in a hotel tonight.”
What? It was a good job I was still in the kitchen, as it took all my resolve not to shove the tea towel in my mouth and bite down on it. At what point did I say I was staying in a hotel?
“Emily was never going to go to a hotel, Mum,” Adam said. “That wouldn’t make sense.”
“Well, that’s what she told me on the phone,” she said indignantly. “If she’s going to stay here, she can sleep on the sofa. You and James can sleep in the spare room.”
“But Mum . . .” began Adam. I walked into the hall to see her hand in the air, her palm just a few centimeters away from his face.
“There are no buts. That’s the way it’s going to be, whether you like it or not. If you loved me and respected me, you wouldn’t have even asked.” The tears began to flow then, slowly and quietly at first, but when Adam didn’t go to her, the sobs became louder. I stood there dumbfounded, silently willing him to stand strong. When her shoulders started to heave, Adam took hold of her and held her to him. “Ssh, it’s okay, Mum. Sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. That’s fine. Of course it is.”
“I never said—” I began, before Adam’s eyes told me to stop.
“Whatever you’d like us to do,” he said soothingly, rocking her back and forth like a baby.
He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders apologetically, as if to say, What more can I do? I turned away from him as he went up the stairs.
There was the tiniest frisson of anger bubbling up inside me and, if I hadn’t had too much to drink, I most probably would have left and driven home. Had I known that James would be here, and that I’d be expected to sleep on an old sofa, I would have stayed with my parents. I wanted to be with Adam, and I thought he wanted to be with me, but here I was, having to pander to his mum’s needy behavior and defend myself.
“You don’t mind, do you?” Pammie asked, a little brighter now, as she fetched a duvet and pillow down from upstairs.
I fixed a smile on my face and shook my head nonchalantly.
“It’s just that there have to be boundaries. In our day, we wouldn’t think about getting into bed with anyone before getting married. I know it’s different now, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. I don’t know how you young people do it, just sleeping with anyone that takes your fancy. It’s such a worry for me and my boys. Next thing we know, we’ll have some tart turning up claiming to be pregnant with their child.”
Was she talking about me? I took a couple of deep breaths and exhaled just a little too loudly. It wasn’t quite a sigh, but there was enough for her to pick up on.
“Oh, goodness,” she went on. “I’m not saying you’d do something like that, but we can’t take our chances, can we? And if it’s not pregnancy we have to worry about it, it’s catching a disease.”
Why was she using the term “we” instead of “he”?
“Here, let me get that,” said James, coming in and taking the two corners of the duvet cover that I was reluctantly holding up for his mother. He shook the cover down.
“I’m sorry, and it’s lovely to have you here, but had I known you were staying . . .” Pammie was still going on.
“Mum, why don’t you go and get a sheet from the airing cupboard?” said James. “We can lay it on the sofa.”
I watched her as she left the room, and then turned to look at James. It was taking all my willpower not to blow my cheeks out in exasperation.
“Sorry,” he said. I obviously wasn’t hiding my feelings very well. “She’s just old-fashioned.” I smiled, grateful for his acknowledgment.
“Right, here you go,” said Pammie, as she bustled back in and handed me a sheet. “There’s a lovely pub about a mile or so down the road, you’d likely be more comfortable there. If I remember rightly, they’ve got a few rooms there. They’ll probably be all booked up, what with it being Boxing night and all, but it might be worth asking, seeing as you said—”
“You ready?” called out Adam as he came down the stairs, hat and gloves in his hand.
I was too dumbfounded to respond immediately, so Pammie did it on my behalf. It seemed she was good at that.
“Yes, she’s here. You two go and have a lovely walk. I’ll make a fresh brew for when you’re back.”
I wrapped my scarf tightly around me, covering my mouth just in case the words I was thinking came tumbling out.
“Sorry about that,” Adam said, grabbing my hand as we made our way down the dimly lit lane.
Relief flooded through me. So I wasn’t going mad. He’d noticed it too.
“I know it’s not ideal, but it is her house,” he went on.
I stopped stock-still in the middle of the road and turned to face him. “That’s all you’re apologizing for?” I asked.
“What? I know it’s a pain, but it’s only for one night, and we’ll get up and go early tomorrow. I want to get you back to my place.” He came toward me, and his lips brushed mine, but I stiffened and turned my head away.
“What’s wrong with you?” he said, his tone changing.
“You don’t get it, do you?” I said, louder than I’d intended. “You’re completely blind to it.”
“What are you talking about? Blind to what?” I tutted and almost laughed.
“You go around in your cozy little world, not letting anything bother you, but guess what? Life’s not like that. And all the time you’ve got your head stuck in a little hole, shutting all the sound out, I’m out here taking all the shit.”
“Is this for real?” he asked, about to turn back to the house.
“Can you not see what’s going on here?” I cried. “What she’s trying to do?”
“I told your mother that I’d have a little tea and she’s forced a full Christmas dinner on me, and I also told her that I’d be staying over, and she assured me that was all right. I would never have come had I known. . . .”
“Had you known what?” he asked, his nostrils flaring ever so slightly. “In our house, tea means dinner. And are you absolutely sure she agreed to letting you stay with me? Because she’s only allowed one girl to do that, and we’d been together for two years. We’ve only been together, what? Two months?”
His words felt like a physical blow to my chest. “It’s three, actually,” I snapped.
He flung his arms in the air and, exasperated, turned around to walk back up the lane.
Had she asked me if I was staying? Had I told her I was? I know I definitely didn’t tell her I would be staying in a hotel, but could she have assumed that was what I had meant? I couldn’t think straight anymore.
Adam was still walking away, and I rolled fast-forward in my mind to see him crashing back into Pammie’s house with little me trailing behind him twenty seconds later. I couldn’t let that happen.
I cried then, real tears of frustration. God, listen to me. What was I doing? Making a defenseless old woman out to be some kind of maternal monster. It was crazy. I was crazy.
“I’m sorry,” I said, and he stopped, turned around, and walked back toward where I stood, a sniveling mess in the middle of the road.
“What’s wrong, Em?” He put his arms around me, pulling me toward him. I could feel the warmth of his breath on the top of my head as my chest heaved up and down.
“It’s fine. I’m fine,” I said half-heartedly. “I don’t know where that came from.”
“You worried about going back to work?” he asked gently.
I nodded. “Yeah, I think the stress must be getting to me,” I lied.
I wanted to tell him what had really upset me. I didn’t want there to be any secrets between us, but what was I supposed to say? I think there’s a chance your mother could be a vindictive witch? It sounded ridiculous, and what proof did I have to back up the theory? Her selective memory and a penchant for overfeeding people? No, any opinion I had of his mother, that she was deranged or otherwise, would have to remain unsaid for the time being.
Copyright © 2018 Sandie Jones.
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