Extract: Keep Him Close by Emily Koch
When Alice’s son is found dead, Indigo’s son, Kane, is accused of murder. Indigo is determined to prove he is innocent. Searching for evidence, she is helped by a kind stranger who takes an interest in her situation. Little does she know that her new friend has her own agenda.
Alice can’t tell Indigo who she really is. She wants to understand why her son was killed – and she needs to make sure that Indigo’s efforts to free Kane don’t put her remaining family at risk. But how long will it take for Indigo to discover her identity? And what other secrets will come out as she digs deeper? No one knows a son like his mother. But neither Alice nor Indigo know the whole truth about their boys, and what happened between them on that fateful night.
Read on for an exclusive extract from Keep Him Close by Emily Koch!
Keep Him Close
Was there a more irritating sound than the laughter of other people’s children? In the impossible heat of the loft, Alice had considered, for a moment, opening the skylight. But that would make the din louder. They were probably on their scooters – thank God those hadn’t been around when her boys were small – flying down the alleyway that linked Alice’s road to the allotments butting up against the bottom of her neighbours’ gardens. She hadn’t yet lifted the lids on more than three boxes, but already sweat pricked at the skin across her back; it pooled in the creases behind her knees as she crouched; it made her eyebrows itch. She carefully untied her hair and plaited it again, sweeping the stray strands from her face, splitting its bulk into three precise sections, and lifting the weight of it off the back of her neck. This room was an oven. But she would not open that window and intensify all those whoops and shrieks and giggles. Or, God forbid, the parents’ laughter. That was always somehow worse, though she couldn’t decide whether it was a mother’s glee or a father’s that repelled her more.
She looked up at the neat rows of boxes stacked on the shelves, scanning the typed labels: ‘Plugs and electrical items’, ‘Bulbs and fuses’, ‘Vinyl records (A– H)’, ‘Vinyl records (I– Z)’. One box on the top shelf contained the old turntable she and Étienne once put to use every evening. Next to it were two more whose labels had faded but she could just about make out what they said: ‘Board games and Christmas decorations’ (neither had been touched in years). She pulled one marked ‘B & L (March 2006–September 2010)’ on to the floor and lifted its lid, before leafing through exercise books and school reports – this wasn’t what she was looking for.
‘What you doing?’ Lou’s deep voice behind her made her jump, and she slammed the lid down, creating a cloud of dust.
‘Where did you spring from?’ She coughed, turning to face her younger son. He sat on the edge of the loft hatch, legs dangling over the ladder. How long had he been watching her? She caught a glimpse of something in his eyes, something she could not quite identify.
It was quickly replaced with a grin and the mocking arch of his eyebrows. ‘Got something to hide?’
She stood, reaching a hand out to the slanting beam above her head. ‘The answer’s no, Lou.’
The grin disappeared. She had correctly deduced why he had sought her out; it wasn’t to see what she was doing.
‘As in, no, you haven’t got anything to hide?’
She pressed her fingers harder against the warm wood of the beam.
Lou pushed himself up from the hatch and shifted his attention to the light cord, plucking at it repeatedly to switch the bare bulb on and off, on and off. Keeping her eyes on him, Alice listened to more children racing through the alleyway. Surely it was past their bedtime? Those parents would be the same ones complaining after the school holidays that their little darlings wouldn’t settle back into a reasonable night-time routine. Every September, they’d come in and moan to each other in the kids’ section of the library. She’d make an excuse to take herself off to the health and well-being section upstairs, or sort through the disparate collection of leaflets (covering everything from fostering information to rambling groups, choral societies to a local chess club) by the entrance. What did they expect? Children needed discipline. Consistency.
She’d given that to both her boys, so what had gone wrong? How could one of them become Benny and the other turn into this scruffy, disrespectful drop-out in front of her? Lou had not long turned eighteen, and she didn’t like the man he was becoming.
He kept toying with the light cord. On. Off. On. Off.
She ran a hand across her face, shielding her eyes. ‘Stop that.’
He didn’t. ‘Looking for the birthday cards we used to make you?’
So he had remembered, after all. She didn’t care about these things; she wasn’t bothered about presents and flowers. But the lack of respect from her boys got to her. She’d seen forty-five years come and go, and she’d dedicated almost half of that to them. And today, even Benny had failed to say anything.
‘No,’ she lied, pressing so hard against the beam now that her wrist ached. ‘I didn’t keep much. Hoarding is for people who can’t let go of the past.’ She meant it. She hadn’t kept many things from the boys’ childhood, and whenever the time felt right she streamlined her collection even more. Today, she was angry – both with them and with herself for caring. Today she would get rid of the few old cards she had held on to.
Lou let go of the light cord, flicking it at the wall, and gestured at a pile of boxes in the far corner. ‘Over there. You saved some of the ones Benny made.’
She didn’t move. It drove her mad that he knew her so well.
‘You’ve done an inventory up here, have you?’ She laughed. ‘Watch it, you’ll make me proud if you’re not careful.’
He snorted. ‘Kill me before I become as anal as you.’
She had kept some cards made by Benny at school, he was right. None from Lou, though. But that was only because his had upset her so much. Even at the age of four or five, he’d known how to hit a nerve, signing them ‘from Louis and Daddy’, or including his father in a crayon family portrait of the four of them, where her face would invariably be drawn into a frown.
If he knew that she hadn’t kept many of his childhood drawings, then presumably he also knew she did have a box with Benny’s hospital bracelet, his baby blanket, a curl of his hair, one of his tiny white vests. And that there was no box with similar mementos of Lou, born less than two years later into a home full of noisy discord and hurt silences. Alice looked at him. She couldn’t imagine him caring. If pushed, she could explain it. The lack of a baby box for him had seemed appropriate, she would say. He’d never been very babyish – not with those knowing eyes he had. To this day he remained a strange mix: a wise old soul and a petulant child woven into one.
As if on cue, the childish side of him emerged. He began jumping from one side of the open hatch to the other, landing only a few inches away from the edge.
‘Lou, don’t. It’s not safe.’ She knew she was talking to herself and turned her back on him, resuming her examination of the boxes on the shelves. The boys’ extensive collections of books, CDs and DVDs filled most of them. She always thought of the loft as hers, but it was their space, too, she supposed, if a room was claimed by the amount of a person’s belongings contained within it. There was little of hers in here.
Lou’s feet thudded behind her, followed by the creak of the floorboards under his shifting weight as he lined up his next jump across the hatch. ‘Safe’s boring, Maman,’ he said.
She closed her eyes and tilted her head to one side, biting her lip. Maman. He did it on purpose.
‘Who wants to be safe?’ he continued. Thud. Creak. Thud. ‘It’s all about the thrill.’ Thud. Creak. Thud. ‘That’s what makes it exciting.’
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