Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Close To You by Kerry Wilkinson. I have an extract to share with you all today but first, let’s see what Close To You is all about.
Author : Kerry Wilkinson
Title : Close To You
Pages : 284
Publisher : Bookouture
Publication date : October 17, 2019
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
I pinch the screen to zoom until I’m staring at the face of a ghost. A man with very short hair, staring directly at the camera with piercing brown eyes.
He is as he was when I last saw him: wrinkles around the corners of the eyes and a knowing smirk. That’s the expression I see when I can’t sleep.
My body tenses. It can’t be him. It’s not my ex-husband. It’s not David.
I know that better than anyone because he didn’t walk out on me.
He didn’t disappear two years ago and he’s not a missing person.
I know that for a fact because I’m the one who killed him.
| EXTRACT |
There’s nothing quite like a good hypocrite. The people surrounding me, not to mention myself, will spend our day-to-day lives telling people about the benefits of moderation. A small glass of wine contains around 120 calories, so moderation is the key. Let’s be moderate, people. Nothing wrong with a glass or two here or there, but let’s hold back on downing half-a-bottle a night, yeah? Let’s not even dream of putting away a full bottle of Asda’s own £4-a-bottle white on a Friday night. That’s probably 800 calories right there and all your good work will be for nothing. All true – but none of that stops our room of ‘fitness professionals’ putting away the booze like a meteor strike has been pencilled in for tomorrow afternoon.
The waiter ambles around to my side of the table and reaches for my glass. His bottle is angled ready to dump another couple of hundred calories, but I place one hand over the rim and wave him away with the other. ‘Not for me,’ I say. His lips twitch into something close to a smirk and then they instantly arch down again. Assuming he works at this hotel most Friday and Saturday nights through November and December, he’ll have seen this over and over. Grown adults who are one step away from teenagers in a park sharing a bottle of cider. It really is not for me, though – not tonight in any case. My relationship with alcohol is like my mother’s with back-to-back episodes of her favourite soaps. A brief taste and I’m slumped in a chair, drooling for the rest of the night.
The bloke two seats away from me has no such hang-ups. He manages a leisure centre but has that hipsterish, waxy beard-look about him, as if he’d rather be running his own craft brewery. He motions the waiter over and gleefully eyes the white nectar that’s emptied into his glass. When it’s nearly full, he raises it in my direction: ‘To us,’ he declares. I waft my almost empty glass of water towards him. ‘To beards,’ I reply. He either doesn’t hear me, or doesn’t care, as he downs half his glass in one go.
This is the problem with these sorts of awards dinners – the seating plans are thrown together like an expressionist’s painting of an orgy. It’s all a vague collection of limbs and there are dicks everywhere. Even though it’s a ceremony and not strictly a Christmas party, it is December – so the room is decorated with various wreathes and tinsel. There’s a giant Christmas tree in the corner and twinkly lights zigzagging across the ceiling. There was turkey for dinner, but, now that’s cleared away, the booze is flowing and it’s time for the main event. Well, almost time.
I am fighting back the yawns as the comedian compère is busy making himself laugh, which at least makes it one person who’s enjoying the act. Someone else on my table described him as ‘old-school’, which is essentially code for ‘a bit sexist’. A decade back and there would’ve been a few racist jokes thrown in for the old-timers. His act is drawing a mix of muted laughs, awkward silences and brainless cackling from a handful of people who’ve either been lobotomised or had too much to drink. When the comedian reaches for his water, he trips on the mic stand and gets the biggest laugh of the night. Life offers nothing quite as funny as a stranger falling over and then pretending it hasn’t happened.
When his act is done, there’s an excited hum to the room. This is the reason we’ve paid £80-a-head for bad food and unfunny comedy. On the stage at the front, some bloke in a suit is messing around with the PowerPoint display that’s being beamed onto the screen. He’s obviously making a hash of it because that’s what blokes in suits do. He jabs at a laptop, looks gormlessly to his mate off to the side, holds up both hands, and then has a hushed argument with someone else who ends up plugging in a cable. A slide finally appears, displaying ‘Eighth Annual UK Fitness Professional Awards’. It’s not exactly the BAFTAs and, as I sit through a series of prizes being awarded, I start to question a few of my life choices. I’ve done some bad things in my time, one in particular, but I’ve never stumbled onto a stage and thanked ‘God, the Queen and my Mum’ for allowing my branch of Total Fitness to win gym chain of the year. Most people here are of the eye-rolling variety. We know this is a farce, but it’s also the game we play. For personal trainers like me, winning these sorts of awards means more offers of work, more appearances, better contracts, perhaps even a book deal.
I’ve more or less switched off when my best friend, Jane, leans over to me. She’s more excited than I am: ‘Is this your award?’ It takes me a second to catch what she’s said but, when I look up, I realise that she’s right. Jane hasn’t said much all evening, although she doesn’t really know anyone. I would have come with Andy, but he’s busy with his scout troop. That sounds like a euphemism, but isn’t – there really is a scout troop. I was happy to come by myself, but Jane said she’d be my plus-one and that was that. I could have mentioned a midwinter trip to the Antarctic with Piers Morgan and she’d have still volunteered to come. I think that’s what happens when there’s a 16-month-old at home. Any excuse for a night away. She won’t say it out loud, but she’s definitely missed work since giving up her job to have Norah.
The slide on the screen has changed to read ‘Personal Trainer of the Year’ and then ‘Seven Nation Army’ pulses in the background as Steven, the organiser, runs through a list of the nominees. Before today, I’d only met him via emails. He has that comic-book airline-pilot-look going on. All neat hair, stiff upper lip and moustachy. There are five of us nominated for the award, with our photos flashing across the screen as our names are announced. ‘Jason McMahon’, whose head is like a cork atop a barrel, gets a big cheer from his table. The next three names get polite applause and I tense as my own face appears on the screen. It’s one of the shots from my portfolio, the one that I convinced myself was a good idea after reading a New Year, New You article and, presumably, temporarily losing my mind.
‘ And finally,’ Steven says, his moustache practically audible, ‘after all she’s been through, Morgan Persephone.’There’s a gentle wave of applause that gets louder as people realise who I am. He’s pronounced my name wrong, making it rhyme with ‘telephone’, instead of ‘per-sef-oh-knee’. A shiver creases along my back, but not because of the mispronunciation. After all she’s been through. Maybe they are; maybe they’re not – but I can feel everyone watching as I give the watery, closed-lip smile that I’ve become so good at over the past couple of years. I can sense the whispers, if not hear them. People telling those next to them that my husband disappeared two years ago.
There is mercifully little time to dwell as Steven rips open the envelope like a kid with a Christmas present. And the winner is…’ He pauses, thinking he’s Simon Cowell waiting to tell some Mariah wannabe that she’s one step closer to being a little-known answer to a pub quiz question.
’Steven gets my name wrong again and there’s a second or two in which I can’t quite take in what he’s said. It’s like we’re in different time zones with a slight delay. Jane leans in and gleefully hisses, ‘You won!’ – and then I find myself clambering to my feet. Jane adds a quick ‘Smile!’, which is when I realise I’m stumbling blankly to the front, like a drunk at closing time. I wave to a pair of women I don’t know on one of the front tables, largely because they’re clapping and cheering. I’ve seen those award shows, where winners guff a load of nonsense about not expecting their victories. This isn’t that. I had an inkling ever since the nominations went out in a barely noticed press release a couple of months back. I suspected I’d probably win, if for no other reason than everyone loves a good redemption story. That doesn’t prepare me for the wall of noise, all from strangers. The eruption is disorientating and hard to prepare for.
I head onto the stage and Steven passes me a golden trophy that’s in the shape of a treadmill. I expect it to be heavy, but the metal is plasticky and cheap. No matter – it’s the title that counts. A weird thought creeps into my mind that I’m going to need new business cards. ‘Personal Trainer of the Year’ sounds a lot better than ‘Personal Trainer’.
Everything is a bit of a blur – but it’s been like that since it all happened with David. After all she’s been through. Sometimes it feels as if someone else is steering the ship and I’m watching myself go through life. Not now. In this moment, I’m completely aware that nobody wants to look like the bitch who prepared a speech in advance. I run through the mental list of things to say while attempting to make it seem as off-the-cuff as possible. I remember to thank the organiser Steven; the gyms where I work and a few other industry types. To an untrained eye, it probably seems as if I know what I’m doing. That’s the game, really. That’s life. Nobody cares if a person actually knows what they’re doing, as long as they look like it.
When I’m done, Steven re-takes the mic and I hustle back to my table while shaking hands like a low-level Royal opening a community centre. When I get to my seat, more people come over to offer congratulations and pass across business cards, like I’m a hooker heading to a London phone box. I know very few faces, only a handful of people from the speaking circuit. Jane gives me a hug, but it’s awkward because we’re both sitting. The drunken leisure centre manager downs the rest of his wine and winks. There are more nods and waves and then, finally, Steven hushes everyone and continues onto the next category.
It’s late and, despite the rush of the past few minutes, I have to stifle a yawn. I’ve never really got these people that can do all-nighters. I’m a drowsy mess after about 11 and, with my trophy in hand, the hotel bed is calling. Steven runs through the nominees for Fitness Brand of the Year and, after another blast of ‘Seven Nation Army’, he names the winner. There’s a big cheer from the table at the front and then, after a chaotic speech with half a dozen people trying to talk over one another, the ceremony is finally put out of its misery. Jane uses the table to push herself up and is clear-eyed as she rubs my upper arm. ‘You deserve this,’ she says. ‘It’s only an industry award.’ ‘Your industry, though. It’s amazing… especially after everything you’ve been through.’ There’s that line again…
She smiles and then adds: ‘Are there photos?’ ‘I hope not.’ Jane nods over my shoulder, to where Steven is beckoning together the winners. ‘I’ll keep an eye on your bag,’ she says. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I’m back to my wedding day. Back with David. I have to blink away the moment. I think of him every day – but it’s never the Saturday we married; it’s always what happened at the end. Someone says, ‘Where is everyone?’ and then it’s all, ‘Stand here’, ‘Look there’, ‘Smile’, ‘Don’t smile’, ‘Point there’, ‘Laugh’, ‘Roll over’ – and so on. Possibly without the rolling over. There are around thirty winners in all and we’re divided into various groups for the picture-taking on the stage. At the rear of the room, the staff bustle back and forth clearing the tables. Steven continues to take photos, but Jane and others are there, too, with their phones. Nothing can happen nowadays without it being captured and sent to the cloud. Steven asks all the winners to smoosh closer together. I make sure I’m angling with my left side away from him, hiding the purple-brown scar at the base of my neck from the camera’s unrelenting gaze. He takes a few more photos and then puts his camera down.
We’re all ready to stop tensing our muscles when Jane calls, ‘One more’ and then she clicks a final photo or three. After that, we are finally done. Everyone offers weary smiles and drifts back to their colleagues. One of the other winners asks if I want a drink to celebrate, but I’m already batting away yawns. Sex and chocolate are good – but there’s nothing quite like a good sleep. Before I can get back to the table in order to collect my bag, Steven corners me at the edge of the stage. He is wearing the looks of a man who’s relieved it’s all over. ‘Congratulations,’ he says, rubbing my arm while he does so. I’d tell him to stop, but it already feels awkward. ‘Thank you.’ ‘I know it’s been hard after everything you’ve been through.’ ‘Yes…’ I almost reach for the mark on my neck. I used to rub the scar all the time – but I’ve been working at stopping myself for months now. Stephen’s stare flickers across it without lingering. He leaves my arm alone long enough to smooth his moustache, even though it doesn’t look like a hurricane would put a hair out of place. There is a moment in which he angles forward and I wonder if he might try to kiss me. Perhaps it’s ego on my part. I brace myself to flinch to the side, but he slants away at the last moment to whisper in my ear. ‘I voted for you,’ he says. ‘Thank you.’ ‘You’ve been very brave about everything. ’He speaks as if I’ve done a lengthy stint in Afghanistan and am finally back in Blighty. I don’t know what to say, so give him a slim smile and a half-hearted ‘thanks’. He pats my shoulder and then disappears off to talk to someone else.
Back at the table, the leisure centre manager has disappeared, along with the remnants of the table wine. Jane hands me my bag and we step to the side as the staff continue to clear the tables to make way for a dance floor. ‘You look tired,’ she says. ‘This isn’t really my thing,’ I reply. Jane finishes her water and passes the empty glass to one of the staff. I’ve only had a single glass of wine and she’s not had any alcohol at all. We’re a right pair of lightweights. I’m only thirty-three but can sense my teenage-self disapproving. ‘I’ve got to head back,’ Jane says, ‘I don’t like being away from Norah for a night… not a whole one, anyway.’ We’d spoken about this beforehand and brought two cars. I’m staying at the hotel where the awards are taking place, while Jane is driving home.
She starts to fish into her bag: ‘Do you want to see the photos?’ ‘How do I look in them?’ ‘Fit.’ ‘Let’s see then.’ She retrieves her phone from her bag and flicks through the images before passing it across. The device is one of those plus-sized ones that’s closer to a TV than a phone. Give it a few years and mobiles will be the same size as the bricks that used to pass for phones in the 80s. I suppose fashion really is cyclical. I refuse to use the word ‘phablet’. I’d bring back capital punishment for inventing words like that.
The thing about a photograph full of fitness professionals is that we are, by definition, fit. Almost everyone in the picture will have to stay in shape as part of the job. That brings a natural competition. Almost all the women are wearing tight, low-cut tops or dresses, while the men are in custom-cut slimming suits. Everyone is flexing their arms, either subtly or not. At one time, everyone desired the biggest muscles; now it is all about getting lean. I glance at Jane’s photo and clock myself at the side. I’ve got my back straight, chest puffed up, chin solid, smile fixed. Give it the old tits and teeth. Half of us are turned towards Steven’s camera while the others are looking towards Jane. It’s all quite the mess. I’m about to hand the phone back when I spot a face at the very back. It doesn’t belong to the group, it’s not one of the winners, it’s simply there.
A man with very short hair, facing sideways but staring directly at the camera with piercing brown eyes. My body tenses and I can’t quite take in what I’m seeing. I pinch the screen to zoom until I’m staring at the face of a ghost. He is as he was when I last saw him: wrinkles around the corners of the eyes and a knowing smirk. That’s the expression I see when I can’t sleep. ‘Are you OK?’ I glance up to see Jane frowning in my direction. She has released her hair from its bun and the curly waves have dropped to her shoulders. She seems ready to leave. ‘Yes, um…’ My gaze flicks to the screen once more. ‘Could you send this photo to me?’ ‘Sure. ’Jane takes back her phone and swipes around the screen until she says ‘Done’.
The thing is, I recognise the man in the background of the photo. How could I not? It’s just that it can’t be him. It’s not my ex-husband. It’s not David. I know that better than anyone because he didn’t walk out on me. He didn’t disappear two years ago and he’s not a missing person. I know that for a fact because I’m the one who killed him.
I don’t know about you but that certainly got my attention! I’m sure you’d like to find out more so why not go ahead and grab yourself a copy of Close To You today!
| ABOUT THE AUTHOR |
Kerry Wilkinson has had No.1 crime bestsellers in the UK, Australia, Canada, South Africa and Singapore. He has also written two top-20 thrillers in the United States. His book, Ten Birthdays, won the RNA award for Young Adult Novel of the Year in 2018.
As well as his million-selling Jessica Daniel series, Kerry has written the Silver Blackthorn trilogy – a fantasy-adventure serial for young adults – a second crime series featuring private investigator Andrew Hunter, plus numerous standalone novels. He has been published around the world in more than a dozen languages.
Originally from the county of Somerset, Kerry has spent far too long living in the north of England, picking up words like ‘barm’ and ‘ginnel’.
When he’s short of ideas, he rides his bike or bakes cakes. When he’s not, he writes it all down.