Tell Me No Lies
by Lisa Hall
Carina, PB £7.99, ebook £2.99
From the best-selling author of Between You And Me comes Tell Me No Lies, a tense psychological thriller in which mysterious happenings around one young woman make her question her very sanity. Whet your appetite with this exclusive extract from the book, then click through for our review.
Leaning against the doorframe I take huge, deep, gulping breaths, hoping to slow my racing heart and calm myself a bit before I take another look. I can hear Henry moving around upstairs, pulling open drawers and slamming cupboard doors as he searches for his favourite pyjamas. It’s no good; I have to get rid of it. I open the door again and reach out and pick it up – another posy, left again on my doorstep for me to find. Only this time, it’s not a pretty little hand-tied bunch of winter flowers, colourful and designed to cheer me up. No, this time, it’s a handtied posy of wilted, dead winter flowers, interspersed with sharp, black, prickly holly leaves and the stringy brown tentacles of blackberry brambles in winter, all tied together with a slim, black ribbon. There is a note, but as I turn it over to read it, my heart still thumping away madly in my chest, I realise it is not a nice, comforting note like last time. This one simply reads, ‘Have yourself a merry little Christmas,’ a line that means something shockingly significant to me.
On shaking legs, I peer out from the warmth of the porch light, out into the inky darkness that has fallen while I was seeing to Henry in the bathroom. Casting my eyes quickly about, I can see nobody around, no footprints in the light scattering of snow that has fallen, dusting the walkways and pavements with a glittery sheen. There is nothing out there, nothing to fear, I am safe in my own house, but as I look down at the dirty, decaying posy a bump of fear flutters in my belly. Why would someone leave this on my porch, knowing I would be the one to find it? Who is it and, more importantly, what do they know about me?
A face in the darkness
Stepping back into the warmth of the well-lit hallway, I am reaching to pull the door closed tight behind me, when a face appears out of the darkness, making me jump and utter a little shriek.
‘Shit, Steph, I’m sorry.’ I realise now that it is Lila looming out of the gloom, rubbing her hands together to keep warm, a rosy glow from the cold making her cheeks shine. ‘Did I scare you?‘No, well, a little. But it’s not surprising. Look.’ I hold out the withered and dying posy towards her, gripping it at the very ends between my finger and thumb. ‘Oh yuck, what is that?’ Lila wrinkles her nose in distaste, pulling her scarf up over her nose partially, in order to block the musty, dirty scent being emitted from the flowers.
‘A little gift some kind soul left on my porch for me to find.’ Tears unexpectedly spurt to my eyes and I blink rapidly to try to chase them away before they cascade down my cheeks.
This is weird
‘Oh, darling. Hang on,’ Lila pulls her gloves on again and takes the posy from me. ‘Come on, let’s get you inside and talk about this properly.’ She bustles her way in, stripping off hat, coat and scarf before laying the posy on the kitchen draining board and turning back to me.
‘OK, so when did you find it?’
‘Just now. We went to Laurence’s for afternoon tea – thank you so much for that, by the way, it really was appreciated. Henry had a wonderful time.’
‘Nonsense, it was all Laurence’s idea. I just helped make the sandwiches. You know what men are like – they have all these grand ideas and gestures but they never quite manage to carry them through on their own.’ She grins at me, before remembering about the posy and allowing a frown to cross her brow. ‘This is weird, though. Any note with it? Do you think it came from the same person as last time?’
‘There’s a note with it that just says “Have yourself a merry little Christmas”. Am I going mad? Who would leave something like this on my doorstep?’ I know though, deep down, that it must be someone who knows what happened all those years ago. I run my hands through my hair, not caring about it sticking up all over the place.
‘No, you’re not going mad. But I do think that maybe this is not as sinister as you probably think.’ Lila grabs my hand as I go to run it through my curls yet another time in frustration.
‘What do you mean, not as sinister? Someone has left a bunch of dead flowers on my doorstep, stinking of death and decay, with a note, and I shouldn’t worry about it? Surely, if someone is going to leave flowers they should be nice ones, like the last time? That was bad enough, the idea that someone was creeping around the house while I was asleep; but this is worse, Lila. I know it might not seem like a big deal to you, but to me it’s a threat.’ With that, a fat tear rolls down my cheek and plops onto the kitchen table. I tuck my shaking hands under my thighs.
“Maybe the same person as before did leave them,’ Lila says, laying her hand on my arm. ‘Maybe …’
Mummy, are you crying?
She breaks off as Henry bumbles into the room, wearing his favourite onesie.
‘Mummy, are you crying?’ He peers at my face and strokes my cheek.
‘No, silly boy, Mummy is just fine – come here and give Aunty Lila a hug. I haven’t seen you for days, no … weeks … no … years!’ Lila swoops down and gathers Henry up in her arms, making him chuckle. I smile before a thought flits across my mind. Aunty Lila? I shrug it away, the posy making me feel on edge and uneasy about everything. Lila offers to make both Henry and myself a hot chocolate, while I busy myself making Henry’s sandwiches for tomorrow’s packed lunch. We can’t carry on our conversation while Henry is around, so with unspoken mutual agreement we leave it for a while and enjoy making Henry laugh by making moustaches out of squirty cream. Eventually, I get Henry to bed, and ignore the tiny ping of hurt that stabs my chest when he tells me he doesn’t want me to read him a story; he wants Lila.
‘Sorry, Mummy, but Lila just does the voices better than you.’
I kiss him goodnight, brushing his baby-fine hair back from his forehead, and hand his storybook to Lila, who is waiting for me to leave, leaning against the doorframe with a small smile on her face. I tread lightly down the stairs and into the kitchen, flicking the kettle on and resisting the huge temptation to pour myself a glass of cold, crisp Chardonnay to take the edge off the day. The posy sits, almost malevolently, on the draining board and my stomach turns over again.
Decayed and dying
Half an hour later, Lila reappears, a flush surrounding her cheeks and a smile on her face as she bounces into the kitchen. The tea that I made sits heavily in my stomach and the smell of the posy is making me feel nauseous. She raises an eyebrow at me and I shake my head as she refills the kettle and puts it on to boil to make a cup for herself. It strikes me she seems more at home in my kitchen than I do.
‘So,’ she says, once she has poured her tea and is settled at the kitchen table, ‘what I was trying to say earlier is that maybe it was the same person who left the posy. Maybe they left it a couple of days ago and you just didn’t realise. That would explain why it was all decayed and dying when you found it.’ She blows on her tea and takes a cautious sip.
‘That’s not possible, though. The porch is open. There’s no way I wouldn’t have seen it, and certainly no way Henry wouldn’t have noticed. He doesn’t miss a trick.’
‘Did you find out who sent the last one? You could ask them if they know anything about it?’
‘No, I don’t have a clue. It all just feels really weird, Lila. Maybe if Mark was home it wouldn’t feel so sinister, but the fact that I’m here alone with Henry and there’s someone creeping around outside the house makes me feel a bit freaked out.’
‘What about Laurence?’ Lila eyes me carefully as she takes another sip of her steaming hot tea.
‘What about him?’
‘Well, did you not consider that maybe the posy was from him? It was obviously from someone who wanted to cheer you up, and if it wasn’t from me, then who else could it be? Maybe he sent this one as well.’
‘Maybe. Maybe the first one was from Laurence, but why not just knock on the door? I really don’t understand why anyone would leave a dead posy on my doorstep, unless it was to freak me out. And the note … well, it means something to me, that’s all. It doesn’t feel like a coincidence.’
Maybe you’re paranoid
‘You know what, Steph?’ Lila puts her cup down, the remains of her tea sloshing out onto the table. ‘I think maybe you’re just reading way too much into this whole thing. So what if someone left some dying flowers on your doorstep? How is that going to hurt you? Unless there’s something in your life that you’re keeping secret, or you’ve done something that you’re frightened someone is going to tell people about, then I don’t see any reason why anyone would do anything that could be classed as sinister or threatening towards you. Maybe you’re just … a bit paranoid.’
I blink, shocked at the turn in her outlook. I thought she would be supportive of me, maybe reassure me that the posy was nothing to worry about, not accuse me of being paranoid. Remembering she doesn’t know my history, the full extent of quite how ill I was, I sit there and say nothing.
‘Look, Steph, I didn’t mean it like that. It came out all wrong – it’s just … I think maybe your hormones are a little bit up in the air and you’re reading too much into it, stuff that isn’t there, OK?’ Lila leans over and grasps my hand between hers, clutching me tightly.
‘Yes … OK. It’s OK. Maybe you’re right. Maybe somebody did leave them on the step a few days ago. I’ve been so busy; I probably just didn’t notice them. Sorry – for making a big deal of it all.’ I look down at the table where her hands are still tightly gripping mine, the secret knowledge of the significance of that one line written in the note lodged like a stone in my chest.
‘You’re sure you’re OK?’
‘Yes, yes, of course.’ I give her a watery smile and gently tug my hand away. ‘It’s been a long day; I think I’m going to go to bed. Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow.’ I get to my feet, and Lila stands and begins to shrug her way into her coat. I see her to the door, and after she leaves I walk up the path to the recycling bin and throw the horrid posy into it. Turning to head back indoors, the security light in Laurence’s front garden comes on, illuminating the path and the borders to his garden. The borders that I can’t help but notice contain a neglected, brown, winter-decayed blackberry bramble bush and a large holly bush, the leaves at the bottom blackened with decay.