I’m thrilled to be part of the launch celebrations for The Breakdown by B A Paris as this book is on my must read pile. The Breakdown was published by Story HQ, an imprint of Harper Collins on 9th February 2017 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback through the publisher links here.
Today I have an extract from The Breakdown for you to read as well as the chance to win one of three paperback copies of the book.
It all started that night in the woods.
Cass Anderson didn’t stop to help the woman in the car, and now she’s dead.
Ever since, silent calls have been plaguing Cass and she’s sure someone is watching her.
Consumed by guilt, she’s also starting to forget things. Whether she took her pills, what her house alarm code is – and if the knife in the kitchen really had blood on it.
An Extract from The Breakdown
FRIDAY, JULY 17th
The thunder starts as we’re saying goodbye, leaving each other for the summer holidays ahead. A loud crack echoes off the ground, making Connie jump. John laughs, the hot air dense around us.
‘You need to hurry!’ he shouts.
With a quick wave I run to my car. As I reach it, my mobile starts ringing, its sound muffled by my bag. From the ringtone I know that it’s Matthew.
‘I’m on my way,’ I tell him, fumbling for the door handle in the dark. ‘I’m just getting in the car.’
‘Already?’ His voice comes down the line. ‘I thought you were going back to Connie’s.’
‘I was, but the thought of you waiting for me was too tempting,’ I tease. The flat tone to his voice registers. ‘Is everything all right?’ I ask.
‘Yes, it’s just that I’ve got an awful migraine. It started about an hour ago and it’s getting steadily worse. That’s why I’m phoning. Do you mind if I go up to bed?’
I feel the air heavy on my skin and think of the storm looming; no rain has arrived yet but instinct tells me it won’t be far behind. ‘Of course not. Have you taken anything for it?’
‘Yes, but it doesn’t seem to be shifting. I thought I’d go and lie down in the spare room; that way, if I do fall asleep, you won’t disturb me when you come in.’
‘I don’t really like going to bed without knowing you’re back safely.’
I smile at this. ‘I’ll be fine, it’ll only take me forty minutes. Unless I come back through the woods, by Blackwater Lane.’
‘Don’t you dare!’ I can almost sense a shaft of pain rocketing through his head at his raised tone. ‘Ouch, that hurt,’ he says, and I wince in sympathy. He lowers his voice to a more bearable level. ‘Cass, promise you won’t come back that way. First of all, I don’t want you driving through the woods on your own at night and, second, there’s a storm coming.’
‘OK, I won’t,’ I say hastily, folding myself onto the driver’s seat and dropping my bag onto the seat next to me.
‘Promise.’ I turn the key in the ignition and shift the car into gear, the phone now hot between my shoulder and ear.
‘Drive carefully,’ he cautions. ‘I will. Love you.’
‘Love you more.’
I put my phone in my bag, smiling at his insistence. As I manoeuvre out of the parking space, fat drops of rain splatter onto my windscreen. Here it comes, I think.
By the time I get to the dual carriageway, the rain is coming down hard. Stuck behind a huge lorry, my wipers are no match for the spray thrown up by its wheels. As I move out to pass it, lightning streaks across the sky and, falling back into a childhood habit, I begin a slow count in my head. The answering rumble of thunder comes when I get to four. Maybe I should have gone back to Connie’s with the others, after all. I could have waited out the storm there, while John amused us with his jokes and stories. I feel a sudden stab of guilt at the look in his eyes when I’d said I wouldn’t be joining them. It had been clumsy of me to mention Matthew. What I should have said was that I was tired, like Mary, our Head, had.
The rain becomes a torrent and the cars in the fast lane drop their speed accordingly. They converge around my little Mini and the sudden oppression makes me pull back into the slow lane. I lean forward in my seat, peering through the windscreen, wishing my wipers would work a little faster. A lorry thunders past, then another and when it cuts back into my lane without warning, causing me to brake sharply, it suddenly feels too dangerous to stay on this road. More lightning forks the sky and in its wake the sign for Nook’s Corner, the little hamlet where I live, looms into view. The black letters on the white background, caught in the headlights and glowing like a beacon in the dark, seem so inviting that, suddenly, at the very last minute, when it’s almost too late, I veer off to the left, taking the short cut that Matthew didn’t want me to take. A horn blares angrily behind me and as the sound chases me down the pitch- black lane into the woods, it feels like an omen.
Even with my headlights full on, I can barely see where I’m going and I instantly regret the brightly lit road I left behind. Although this road is beautiful by day – it cuts through bluebell woods – its hidden dips and bends will make it treacherous on a night like this. A knot of anxiety balls in my stomach at the thought of the journey ahead. But the house is only fifteen minutes away. If I keep my nerve, and not do anything rash, I’ll soon be home. Still, I put my foot down a little.
A sudden rush of wind rips through the trees, buffeting my little car and, as I fight to keep it steady on the road, I hit a sudden dip. For a few scary seconds, the wheels leave the ground and my stomach lurches into my mouth, giving me that awful roller-coaster feeling. As it smacks back down onto the road, water whooshes up the side of the car and cascades onto the windscreen, momentarily blinding me.
‘No!’ I cry as the car judders to a halt in the pooling water. Fear of becoming stranded in the woods drives adrenalin through my veins, spurring me into action.
Shifting the car into gear with a crunch, I jam my foot down. The engine groans in protest but the car moves forward, ploughing through the water and up the other side of the dip. My heart, which has been keeping time with the wipers as they thud crazily back and forth across the windscreen, is pounding so hard that I need a few seconds to catch my breath. But I don’t dare pull over in case the car refuses to start again. So I drive on, more carefully now.
A couple of minutes later, a sudden crack of thunder makes me jump so violently that my hands fly off the wheel. The car slews dangerously to the left and as I yank it back into position, my hands shaking now, I feel a rush of fear that I might not make it home in one piece. I try to calm myself but I feel under siege, not only from the elements but also from the trees as they writhe back and forth in a macabre dance, ready to pluck my little car from the road and toss it into the storm at any moment. With the rain drumming on the roof, the wind rattling the windows and the wipers thumping away, it’s difficult to concentrate.
There are bends coming up ahead so I shift forward in my seat and grip the wheel tightly. The road is deserted and, as I negotiate one bend, and then the next, I pray I’ll see some tail lights in front of me so that I can follow them the rest of the way through the woods. I want to phone Matthew, just to hear his voice, just to know I’m not the only one left in the world, because that’s how it feels. But I don’t want to wake him, not when he has a migraine. Besides, he would be furious if he knew where I was.
Just when I think my journey is never going to end, I clear a bend and see the rear lights of a car a hundred yards or so in front of me. Giving a shaky sigh of relief, I speed up a little. Intent on catching it up, it’s only when I’m almost on top of it that I realise it isn’t moving at all, but parked awkwardly in a small lay-by. Caught unaware, I swerve out around it, missing the right-hand side of its bumper by inches and as I draw level, I turn and glare angrily at the driver, ready to yell at him for not putting on his warning lights. A woman looks back at me, her features blurred by the teeming rain.
Thinking that she’s broken down, I pull in a little way in front of her and come to a stop, leaving the engine running. I feel sorry for her having to get out of her car in such awful conditions and, as I keep watch in my rear-view mirror – perversely glad that someone else has been foolish enough to cut through the woods in a storm – I imagine her scrambling around for an umbrella. It’s a good ten seconds before I realise that she’s not going to get out of her car and I can’t help feeling irritated, because surely she’s not expecting me to run back to her in the pouring rain? Unless there’s a reason why she can’t leave her car – in which case, wouldn’t she flash her lights or sound her horn to tell me she needs help? But nothing happens so I start unbuckling my seat belt, my eyes still fixed on the rear-view mirror. Although I can’t see her clearly, there’s something off about the way she’s just sitting there with her headlights on, and the stories that Rachel used to tell me when we were young flood my mind: about people who stop for someone who’s broken down, only to find there’s an accomplice waiting to steal their car, of drivers who leave their cars to help an injured deer lying in the road only to be brutally attacked and find that the whole thing was staged. I do my seat belt back up quickly. I hadn’t seen anyone else in the car as I’d driven past but that doesn’t mean they’re not there, hiding in the back seat, ready to leap out.
For your chance to win one of three paperback copies of The Breakdown click here. Giveaway closes at UK midnight on Wednesday 22nd February 2017.
About B A Paris
B A Paris is the internationally bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors, her debut novel. She was brought up in England and moved to France where she spent some years working in Finance before re-training as a teacher and setting up a language school with her husband. They still live in France and have five daughters