At the peak of her career as lead singer of a legendary 1980s indie band, Meredith Vincent was driven off the international stage by a horrific incident. Now living a quiet existence in a cottage on the grounds of an old stately home, she has put her past behind her and come to terms with her new life.
When a body is found in the manicured gardens of her home, and a series of inexplicable and unsettling events begins to occur, it becomes clear that someone is watching, someone who knows who she is … Someone who wants vengeance.
And this is only the beginning…
It was after the third mug of Jack Daniels that it all went weird. A moment of sheer madness, the sort when you’re thinking, Oh no, what am I doing? I need to stop right now, but are unable to stop, driven by an almost ghoulish compulsion to see it through to the bitter end, despite the background awareness of the potential consequences.
Ralph was just there, kneeling in front of her in his office. Pissed as a fart, but still a very sexy man – tall and broad and reassuring. More than that, he was sympathetic and – unexpectedly – so flattering and comforting that, in that moment, her body completely disobeyed her brain and conscience, and she was overcome with a great wave of pheromones and whisky-fuelled lust and emotion.
For the first hour everything had been on solid ground. She would have laughed derisively if someone had told her what was about to happen. At work, she was just Meredith From the Shop – solid, reliable Meredith.
At first they had discussed work stuff, albeit in slightly slurred voices. Ralph was rambling on about a newly hired gardener who had apparently lied at interview and therefore got the job under false pretences. Meredith wasn’t really paying attention. She still felt horribly disturbed by the break-in at the shop the day before, and by having to talk to the police.
If only Ralph hadn’t changed the subject and asked what was bothering her. If they hadn’t veered into personal problems territory, it would never have happened.
It wasn’t unusual for Ralph to take an interest in her private life, although they had previously only discussed it when Paula was there too. Meredith’s hapless love life was a well-worn topic that, both Ralph and Paula laughed, they enjoyed vicariously. So she pretended this was what was bothering her now. She couldn’t risk articulating her fears; it would have made her sound paranoid.
‘That bloke Gary dumped me at the weekend, after three weeks. I just have no luck with men at all,’ she pronounced weakly.
She’d gone on a few dates with Gary off Tinder, and yes, as dates went, she thought he had potentially been someone she could possibly stand to look at in the morning, maybe even more than once; but Gary had clearly thought otherwise. Perhaps her ambivalence about the whole mating business had slowly leached through her carefully cultivated persona, like armpit sweat through silk.
‘Gary’s an idiot, then. You’re a huge catch,’ Ralph had said staunchly, propelling himself across the room on his office chair and grabbing the bottle of Jack from the top of the filing cabinet. He scooted back with it and replenished his mug. It smelled so good as he poured.
‘Yeah, right.’ She drained her own mug – her second, at that point; she remembered wondering how many he’d had – and Ralph immediately topped her up.
‘Do you know what he said to me? He said, “I’m just not attracted to you enough.”’ She gave a hollow laugh. When she thought about it, though, she had already forgotten what Gary’s face looked like.
‘Then he tried to make it better by saying “It’s not that I don’t fancy you at all, because I kind of do. Just not enough. I’m sorry.”’
‘What a bastard.’ Ralph’s words were slurring a lot more than Meredith’s.
It had stung a bit, if she was honest, that particular rejection. Perhaps it was because she had felt that Gary and she actually did have the chance at a connection. Once or twice, in more optimistic moments, she had let herself think that he might even be ‘the one’. He’d seemed OK – kind, funny, solvent, age-appropriate, sensible, liberal. Nice house, cute dog, matching socks. Four dates, lots of laughs and kisses that started off enthusiastically but – and she hadn’t noticed it at the time – lost commitment as time went on, like a hurricane that gradually blows itself out. Then, finally, his sad words of realisation.
‘He’s not a bastard. That was the problem,’ she said. ’I’m obviously a terrible kisser. Or I’m just too old and ugly.’
Ralph had laughed, thinking she was joking. ‘Obviously!’ he chuckled drunkenly. ‘I mean, look at you!’
‘I’m serious, Ralph.’ Unexpectedly, she got the tingling in her nostrils that preceded tears and inwardly berated herself. It was almost certainly Jack Daniels-induced. She really didn’t give a shit about Gary, only what he had briefly represented: the chance of a partner, someone to cuddle up on the sofa with, plan holidays with.
Always look at what you have, she reminded herself, not what you’re missing. Although that was more difficult after three mugs of whisky.I don't know about you but I definitely want to know what happens next so need to try and free up some reading time. If The Last Stage sounds like a book you'd like to add to your TBR this Summer, it's out now in both eBook and paperback formats. The eBook is currently on offer for 99p on all eBook platforms but you'll have to be quick as not sure when it will end.
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