Happy Ever After by C C Macdonald is an exciting debut thriller from a brand new voice in psychological suspense. With an opening that feels terrifyingly close to home and an ending that will get under your skin, this is a must-read thriller.
Naomi seems to have everything. A beautiful daughter, a gorgeous house, a perfect life. Behind the scenes, though, she and her husband are drifting from one another and struggling to conceive their second child.
Then Naomi meets a parent at her daughter’s nursery. Sean understands her, or so she thinks. Looking for a connection, for a friend, she joins him at a swimming lesson with their children. That day, Naomi makes a terrible mistake.
Weeks later, when Naomi attempts to contact Sean, he has disappeared without a trace. But as she begins to piece her life back together, it becomes clear that someone else knows her secret. Someone who wants to make sure she never forgets what she did at the pool.
Read on for an extract from Happy Ever After by C C Macdonald!
Happy Ever After
C C Macdonald
A small pigeon stands on the front step of Naomi’s house staring at her as Prue struggles in her arms.
The bird has made two attempts to fly away but there’s something wrong with it. Its head bobs as if it might fall off its neck at any moment. Naomi hates birds. In corporate seminars and team-building exercises in her past life, whenever she had to reveal a ‘fun fact’ about herself, she would always tell everyone about a poem she wrote when she was a teenager about the pigeons on the seafront in Bournemouth and how much she hated them. It talked about their eyes being the colour of fire but without warmth. ‘Cold, soulless and dripping with desperation.’ The poem wasn’t very good. She’d found the original in a school textbook a year ago and posted it on Instagram, it got a lot of likes.
In addition to Prue, Naomi’s carrying her little girl’s nursery rucksack and a full canvas shopping bag. They’re half an hour late for Prue’s afternoon nap because Naomi thought her baby bag had been stolen at Ladybird’s Landing. It hadn’t; Lara found it on the changing tables in the ladies’ toilets. She wants to scream out for Charlie but he’s at the top of the house and wouldn’t hear her. This is his fault. He’s been shooting them during the day when she’s not there, this is probably one that he only managed to maim. Prue’s gone quiet. She loves animals but she can sense this one’s wounded and has the potential for malignancy. She squirms higher on to her mum’s shoulder and a wellington-booted foot kicks into Naomi’s ribs making her grunt in pain and drop the shopping bag on to the front path.
Naomi is exhausted. The biennial’s six months away so she’s having to work in the evenings after Prue’s bedtime and, due to the builders layering endless barrels of cement on to the walls in the basement, she’s wiping away cement dust from the whole of the ground floor three or four times a day.
Tiredness has slowed her, as if her mind and muscles are steeped in molasses. When she’s looking after Prue she can’t find the energy to engage with her properly, the best she can manage is sitting in a circle with her cuddly toys and being the least enthusiastic guest at her tea party. In the evenings she can’t face talking about logistics with Charlie so the builders are doing things they haven’t been asked to, cutting corners most likely. In the last few weeks the fridge somehow never has more than some browning green beans, a bag of radishes and a jar of mango chutney that she’s been giving far more attention than she should. It’s just spicy jam, she’s been telling herself as she spoons it on to partially thawed crumpets.
She’s been thinking about Sean. Waking up between four and five every day and as the mist of sleep clears he is the first figure that slinks into her head. She gets the chemical kick she got every time she used to see him at The Bank of Friendship and then there is no hope for her sleeping. So she spends the next hour and a half, before Charlie’s alarm bleats into life at six thirty, trying not to think about the man she had sex with in a swimming-pool changing room. Sean’s absence has intensified her memory of him and distilled their moments together into absolute clarity. Yet her recollections of him feel distinct from other parts of her past, like they didn’t really happen to her, scenes from a film she saw many years ago that have stayed with her. She has managed to both forget him and put him on a pedestal. The mind’s capacity to lie to itself is extraordinary. She and Charlie visited Auschwitz together as part of a city break to Krakow. They barely talked while they walked round the museum and the gas chambers, but in their hire car on the way back to their hotel, they laughed and joked and sang along to a David Guetta song on the radio. Being there amongst that horror, didn’t feel real, like they had woken up from a horrible nightmare. Their subconscious did that little clean-up job without their permission and it’s clear that it can do the same thing for our own behaviour, however appalling.
In those endless black-night mornings, she replays her and Sean’s friendship. The thought of sex turns her stomach at the moment, so it’s less an erotic reverie and more a long-form exercise in esprit de l’escalier. She forensically picks apart the times when she should have said something different, behaved better. She doesn’t always castigate herself for encouraging his attraction to her. There are moments when she thinks that her biggest error was telling him she’d made a mistake. Naomi shouldn’t be thinking like this. She’s been given a get-out-of-jail-free card and she’s not going to do anything stupid, but perhaps if she’d left him a sliver of doubt, a thin basement window of opportunity for The Lumberjack to climb in through… In her marital bed she’s safe to luxuriate in thoughts like these and, some of the time, she doesn’t even feel guilty for it because the whole episode is exactly that, an episode, finished.
The wind picks up some rain and Prue scrunches her face, lower lip trembling, readying to cry. Naomi looks up at the top-floor window and sees the glow of Charlie’s lamp but there’s no sign of him rescuing her from the pigeon. Every time it flaps its wings it gets inches off the ground and, on returning to earth, its body stutters frantically. Naomi edges towards it with no idea of what her plan is. A few steps away and there’s another frenetic flap, the spiny rattling of feathers on their newly painted door. Naomi puts Prue down behind her, hands her her backpack to hold and picks up the shopping bag. The icy rain turns to sleet. Naomi strides forward, subconsciously swinging the bag whose bottom layer is built from cans of chickpeas, chopped tomatoes and tuna. The bird can sense the movement and begins to hop up, flapping its useless wings, straining to get off the steps. Naomi puts one foot on the bottom step and swings the bag at the bird gently, intending to steer it around her and back out into the open. She guides it past her legs and out of the porch and then it stops, exhausted by the effort, right in front of Prue. Naomi opens the front door, intending to grab Prue, lift her over the bird and into the house. Then the bird starts flapping hard and rises up towards the level of Prue’s face, the little girl banshee-howls and throws her rucksack on the floor. Naomi piles her shopping bag into the side of the bird, the full force of eight tin cans smashing it into the wall of their front garden. Prue screams and runs towards the road where she’s stopped by the metal gate that Naomi had Charlie install.
Charlie’s there in the doorframe now. He strides out in socks, leaving footprints on the wet paving stones, and goes to get Prue from the gate. Her screams abate as he holds her into his chest. As he passes Naomi his expression asks her, What the hell’s going on? She purses her lips tight together and gives him a murderous look.
The pigeon looks dead.
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