The Bones of You is the debut thriller by Debbie Howells where the seemingly perfect daughter of an even more seemingly perfect family is murdered (available June 30, 2015).
Read this exclusive excerpt from Chapters 6 and 7 of The Bones of You! And then comment for a chance to win a copy of Debbie Howells' debut thriller!
I have a gardener’s inherent belief in the natural order of things. Soft‑petalled flowers that go to seed. The resolute passage of the seasons. Swallows that fly thousands of miles to follow the eternal summer.
Children who don’t die before their parents.
When Kate receives a phone call with news that Rosie Anderson is missing, she’s stunned and disturbed. Rosie is eighteen, the same age as Kate’s daughter, and a beautiful, quiet, and kind young woman. Though the locals are optimistic—girls like Rosie don’t get into real trouble—Kate’s sense of foreboding is confirmed when Rosie is found fatally beaten and stabbed.
Who would kill the perfect daughter, from the perfect family? Yet the more Kate entwines herself with the Andersons—graceful mother Jo, renowned journalist father Neal, watchful younger sister Delphine—the more she is convinced that not everything is as it seems. Anonymous notes arrive, urging Kate to unravel the tangled threads of Rosie’s life and death, though she has no idea where they will lead.
I discover, too, that grief is different things to different people. Comes in many guises. In shocked silences and closed doors around our village, as people try to shut it out. That a blank face or fleeting smile can hide the worst, most private kind of agony.
I leave it several days longer than I planned before I call round to see Jo, expecting drawn curtains, locked doors and no one to answer. It would be easier, too, because I can leave the flowers I’ve picked from the garden in the shade of her porch. Post Grace’s card. Not have to look at her and see from the pain in her eyes how real this is.
As I pull up outside, there are several parked cars in a road that is usually empty. The press? But though I feel eyes watching, they don’t approach me, even as I raise my hand to knock and the door opens.
“Jo . . .” I look at her, then hold out my arms, suddenly unable to speak. For all the time I’ve spent thinking about this, prepared what I’d say if I actually saw her, there are no words.
She lets me hold her and I think, She’s still Rosie’s mother. She’ll always be Rosie’s mother. Nothing and no one can change that.
“I’m so sorry, Jo. I didn’t want to disturb you. I just wanted to leave these.”
“Oh. They’re lovely . . .” She barely looks at the flowers I hand her. Her eyes are glassy, her words thick with medically induced evenness. “Will you come in?”
“I won’t, Jo. I don’t want to intrude.” I step back.
“Please . . .” There’s a pleading note in her voice, as she glances up the road to see who’s watching her. “Please come and have a cup of tea.”
I follow her inside, awkward, because I don’t know her well enough to be here, dimly recalling how tea and grief are as synonymous as fish and chips. Then as we pass from the hallway into her sitting room, I stop to gaze in astonishment. There are flowers and cards covering every surface, so many and so beautiful it’s almost wrong.
She doesn’t pause, just walks down the steps into the huge live-in kitchen. I can’t help thinking that if we were closer, I’d gently bully her to sit down while I made the tea, perhaps sneak a drop of medicinal brandy into it. But we’re not close. And Jo’s private – if not about the shops she buys her designer clothes from, or the gala balls and charity events she and Neal go to, then about the real stuff. The nuts and bolts, the nitty-gritty of cherished hopes and dreams, and how her family, like anyone’s, is everything to her.
Today, even the kettle looks too heavy for Jo. She’s so thin, so brittle, ethereal in her grief with huge eyes and pale skin. I notice her hair, the same shade as Rosie’s, only fractionally shorter, so that from behind, you could almost – but not quite – mistake them.
“Is Neal here?”
“He’s with the police . . .” The mug in her hand shakes. “I should have gone . . . Couldn’t face it . . . They’re tracing calls to her phone . . .” Her voice wobbles.
“Can I do anything? Anything at all?” I ask quietly.
She shakes her head, then gathers herself and pours boiling water into the mugs, while I look around the spotless white and steel units, the massive range-style oven. Immaculately clean and tidy. And expensive, I can’t help thinking, hating that I even notice.
She brings the mugs over and pulls out a chair opposite me.
“It’s nice of you to come, Kate. I appreciate it. People send things . . . They don’t come here. It’s like it’s contagious.”
I’m not sure where the wish comes from, but when I’m eight, more than anything in the world I want a puppy. I can’t know it’s because my heart bursts just to love, that it craves to be loved in return, only that Lucy Mayes has a small spaniel that’s old and doesn’t play. She says he’s boring and he smells bad, but his fur is soft and his eyes melt when he looks at me. When I ask my father, he says I have to wait until I’m older. So I do what he says. I use the time to learn about puppies. How to train them, about walking them and feeding them, about how tail-wagging can mean all these different things. Then before my next birthday, I wait until Mummy’s there too and Delphine is sleeping upstairs.
My father’s sitting next to her, on the new white sofa that Delphine and I aren’t allowed on. I wait until he’s finished telling Mummy about the assignment he’s just come back from, where there was shooting and their hotel got blown up. How frightened everyone was, but how lucky we are he got out alive.
It’s the perfect moment. He’s survived. It should make him the happiest man there is. Mummy looks at him, then kisses his cheek. But even before anything happens, I’m nervous. Snakes-in-my-insides nervous – which is what Lucy always says, because it feels like snakes curling and wriggling inside you. Or when I’m less nervous, maybe worms.
When I ask, my father looks at me crossly and says, ‘If you really want a puppy, you’ll have to wait, Rosanna, until you’re twelve,’ even though Mummy places her hand on his arm, says, ‘Please, Neal. A puppy would be really lovely for the girls . . .’
But he pulls his arm away, gets up, stands there, his back to us, while Mummy catches my eye and shakes her head, looking worried, because his anger is like a storm cloud. We both know it’s decided. And the room turns into a horrible, cold place that I don’t want to be in, full of people I don’t want to be with. But there’s nothing I can do.
When. I’m. Twelve. Seems too far away to be real.
Soon after that, I remember my skin erupting into dry, scaly patches that itch. The doctor saying I have eczema. My mother saying it’s in the family. How can they not see?
I know what it is. Not eczema, but disappointment, a parasite in my blood, circulating round my body, eating me away, gnawing at my skin first until it flakes off, then deeper inside, at my belief in people.
The next year before my birthday, I know I shouldn’t ask, but there’s a picture in my head about how it would be, having a puppy. Cuddling it, feeding it, watching it grow. And I find an ember of hope. Ask again. Even though I know.
‘How dare you,’ says my father. ‘Don’t you remember? I said twelve, Rosanna. Twelve.’
Then he takes the ember, snuffs it out, tramples it under his boots and buries it in ice until it’s dead.
When it gets to my twelfth birthday, I don’t ask. But the week before, even though I don’t want to, my father makes me go to look at some puppies, a whole litter of them, squirming and wagging and whimpering. My wish comes back, stronger than before, and I know if I can have one of these, I will never ask for anything again.
They are all beautiful and it’s hard, but I choose one – a little black and white girl puppy, with a springy tail like a piece of rubber, who nibbles my chin, then washes my face with kisses.
All the way home, I think, The best things really are worth waiting for. Even four years – that’s how long it’s been. But my father’s kept his word. In my head, I have lists of names, then decide there really is just one name that’s perfect for her.
The night before my birthday, I can’t sleep. I’m wondering where my parents are hiding Hope, straining my ears for little whiny puppy sounds, imagining that small, wriggly body in my arms again, knowing it’s my last night without her.
The next morning, when I open my presents, I ask where Hope is.
‘Oh,’ says my father, ‘we changed our minds. We’ve bought you a guitar instead.’
Then he laughs.
And the love that was waiting inside me, the huge, bubbling, bottomless well of it, leaks away until it’s gone.
Excerpted from The Bones of You by Debbie Howells. Reprinted by arrangement with Kensington Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2015 Debbie Howells.
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Debbie Howells is the author of The Bones of You, her debut thriller which sold internationally for six-figures in several countries. While in the past she has been a flying instructor, the owner of a flower shop, and a student of psychology, she currently writes full-time. Debbie lives in West Sussex with her family, please visit her online at DebbieHowells.com.