Two more days until publication for Ruth Ware’s new book, ‘One By One‘. Today I’m offering you a sneak peek. First, let’s see what ‘One By One‘ is all about, shall we.
| ABOUT THE BOOK |
Getting snowed in at a beautiful, rustic mountain chalet doesn’t sound like the worst problem in the world, especially when there’s a breathtaking vista, a cozy fire, and company to keep you warm. But what happens when that company is eight of your coworkers…and you can’t trust any of them?
When an off-site company retreat meant to promote mindfulness and collaboration goes utterly wrong when an avalanche hits, the corporate food chain becomes irrelevant and survival trumps togetherness. Come Monday morning, how many members short will the team be?
| EXTRACT |
Snoop ID: LITTLEMY
‘Littlemy?’ Danny says, looking over my shoulder as I type in my brand-new username.
He pronounces it like two words – litt lemy. ‘What the fuck does that mean?’
‘Not Lit Lemmy. Little My. It’s a character from the Moomins.’ ‘The moo you what?’
‘The Moomins! It’s a series of children’s – look, never mind,’ I say, seeing his baffled expression. ‘What’s yours?’
‘I’m not telling you,’ he says, affronted. ‘You might snoop on me.’
‘Oh, so you’re allowed to know mine, but I’m not allowed to know yours?’
‘Too bloody right. What are you going to listen to?’
I click a profile at random. NEVERMINDTHEHORLIX. It’s someone the app suggested from my contact list, and although I don’t know who it is for sure, I think it might be a girl I went to school with. ‘Come and Get Your Love’ by Redbone fills the room. I’ve never heard of the band but I know the song.
‘Someone’s been watching Guardians of the Galaxy,’ Danny mutters with a touch of derision, but his hips are twitching in time to the beat as he walks across the room to peer out into the snow. He’s only there for a second before he swings back round, grabbing a bottle of champagne from the cooler on the coffee table and popping the cork with a sound like gunshot.
‘They’re here, I can see the funicular coming up.’ I nod and shove my phone into my pocket. No time for chat now. This is action stations.
Ten minutes later I am standing in the open doorway of Chalet Perce-Neige, tray of glasses in one hand, watching a little group staggering and sliding down the path from the funicular to the porch. None of them are wearing suitable shoes, and they’ve not mastered how to walk in snow, with short steps, and your weight thrown forward, not back. One of them, a very good-looking black guy, is carrying what looks like – yes, it is. It’s an empty bottle of Krug. Great. They’re already drunk.
A tall blond man reaches me first, in his early thirties, handsome in a ‘don’t I know it’ kind of way.
‘Hi. Topher. Snoop founder,’ he says grinning in a way that is clearly meant to charm the socks off me. His breath smells of alcohol, and his voice is every boarding school boy I’ve ever met. He looks faintly familiar although I can’t place the connection – but maybe it’s just the fact that if you were casting for the CEO of a hip Internet start-up, he’s exactly what you’d choose.
‘Good to meet you,’ I say. ‘I’m Erin, your chalet host for the week. Champagne?’
‘Well, since you insist … ’ He takes a glass of champagne off the tray and knocks it back in one. I make a mental note that next time I pre-pour drinks for this party, I’ll use prosecco. There is no way they’ll be able to taste the difference, throwing them back like that.
‘Thanks.’ He replaces the empty glass on the tray and stares around him. ‘Great location, by the way.’
‘Thanks, we like it,’ I say. The others are coming up behind him now. A stunningly beautiful woman with caramel-tanned skin and white-blonde hair is picking her way through the snow.
‘Eva van den Berg,’ Topher says as she comes level with us, ‘my partner in crime.’
‘Hi, Eva,’ I say. ‘We’re delighted to welcome your group to Chalet Perce-Neige. Do you want to leave your bags here and head inside to warm up?’
‘Thanks, that would be great,’ Eva says. When she speaks there’s a tinge of something not quite English in her inflection. Behind her one of the men slips in the snow and launches into a grumbling rant under his breath and she says, quite carelessly over her shoulder, ‘Do shut the fuck up, Carl.’
I blink, but Carl doesn’t seem to notice anything out of the ordinary, and simply rolls his eyes, picks himself up, and follows his colleagues into the warmth.
Inside the lobby, a fire is roaring in the big enamelled wood burner. The guests shake the snow off their coats and rub their hands in front of the fire. I set down the tray of glasses within easy reach and unfurl the list of guests and room numbers. I glance around the room, mentally trying to match people to names. Eva and Topher I’ve got already. Carl Foster, the guy who slipped in the snow, is a stocky white man in his forties with a buzz cut and a pugnacious expression, but he’s cheerfully downing champagne in a way that suggests he’s not brooding on the moment outside the door. Judging by her surname, Miranda Khan is probably the very elegant Asian woman over by the stairs. She’s wearing six-inch heels and she’s talking to the guy with the Krug, who’s swapped the empty bottle for a full glass along the way.
‘Oh, Rik,’ I hear her say, a touch of flirtation in her voice. ‘You would say that.’
Rik Adeyemi. I put another mental tick on my list of names. OK, so that’s five of them. The four remaining guests are more of a puzzle. There’s a slim woman in her mid-twenties with ombré tips to her short hair, holding, for some reason, a rolled-up yoga mat under her arm. There’s a boy in his early twenties with a strong resemblance to a young Jude Law. He seems to be American from what I heard of his accent when he took a glass of champagne. Behind him is a girl with fluffy yellow hair that cannot possibly be her real shade. It’s the colour of buttercups and the texture of dandelion fluff. She is wearing huge round spectacles and looking wonderingly around the lobby, and combined with her hair, the impression is of a particularly adorable baby chick. She must be either Ani or Tiger. She’s about the furthest thing from a tiger I could possibly imagine, so I put her down as a probable Ani.
The ninth and last guest is a tall awkward-looking man, staring out of the window with his hands in his pockets. His stand-offishness compares strangely with the other guests, who are all chatting companionably with the easy back and forth that you only get from people who’ve worked or socialised together for a long time.
No, wait. There is one other guest who’s standing alone. A woman, in her late twenties, standing hunched in an inconspicuous corner by the fire, as if hoping no one will speak to her. She’s wearing dark clothes and she blended into the shadows so well that I didn’t notice her at first. She’s almost . . . the word that comes to mind is cowering, and although it feels too strong, it’s the only one that really fits. Her uneasiness is in sharp contrast to the rest of the group, who are already laughing and refilling their glasses, in defiance of the advice about acclimatising to altitude. But it’s not just her body language that sets her apart – it’s everything. She’s the only one wearing clothes that look more H&M than D&G, and though she’s not the only one wearing glasses, the others look like they’re wearing props provided by a Hollywood studio. Hers look like NHS cast-offs. She reminds me of a bird too, but not a fluffy little chick. There is nothing cute about her. This woman looks more like an owl – a hunted, panicked owl caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.
I’m about to go over to her, offer her a glass of champagne, when I realise there are none left on the tray. Did I put out the wrong number?
I look around again, counting. There are ten people in the lobby, not nine.
‘Um … excuse me,’ I say quietly to Topher, ‘is one of your party staying elsewhere?’
He looks uncomprehendingly at me.
‘I’ve only got nine guests on the list,’ I explain. ‘You seem to be ten? It’s not a problem exactly – we can sleep up to eighteen – but there are only nine rooms so I’m just wondering . . . ’ I trail off.
Topher claps a hand to his forehead and turns to Eva.
‘Fuck.’ His voice is very low, almost mouthing the words rather than saying them. ‘We forgot Liz.’
‘What?’ she says, rather irritably, shaking her curtain of silky hair back. She’s unwinding a long linen scarf from round her neck. ‘I didn’t catch what you said.’
‘We forgot Liz,’ he says, more emphatically this time. Her jaw drops, and she looks over her shoulder at the girl by the fireplace before mouthing a silent echoed fuck at her business partner.
Topher draws us both into a corner away from the other guests, and beckons across the young Jude-Law-alike. As he comes closer the likeness fades, but the impression of startling good looks only intensifies. He has olive skin, sharp, Slavic cheekbones, and the most extraordinary topaz-blue eyes I’ve ever seen.
‘Inigo,’ Topher hisses, as the boy approaches, ‘Inigo, we forgot Liz.’
Inigo looks at Topher blankly for a moment and then the words sink in, and the colour drains out of his cheeks.
‘Oh my God.’ His accent is American, Californian at a guess, though I’m not very good at placing Americans. He puts his hand over his mouth in horror. ‘Topher, I’m – I’m such a dick.’
‘It’s not your fault,’ Eva says acidly. ‘Topher’s the one who forgot her when he drew up the original list of names. But of all the people –’
‘If you’re so damn efficient,’ Topher growls between gritted teeth, ‘maybe you should have got Ani to do some of the legwork instead of leaving Inigo to do all the heavy lifting?’
‘It’s fine –’ I break in, hurriedly. This isn’t going the way it was supposed to. The first day is supposed to be rest and relaxation – unwinding in the hot tub, drinking vin chaud, and appreciating Danny’s cooking. Mundane reality isn’t supposed to surface until later, when the PowerPoint presentations come out. ‘Honestly, we can cater for more. The only issue is how we rearrange the bedrooms. We’ve only got nine guest rooms, which means two people will have to share.’
‘Let me see the list,’ Topher says, frowning.
‘No, let me see the list,’ Eva snaps. ‘You’ve already screwed this up once, Topher.’
‘Fine,’ Topher says irritably, and Eva takes the piece of paper, running her finger down it. As she does, I notice there are what seem to be like burn holes in her sweater – it looks like she’s been doing welding in it, but something tells me it came off the peg like this, and probably with a hefty price tag.
‘Liz could share with Ani,’ Inigo says helpfully, but Eva shakes her head.
‘No, absolutely not. Liz can’t be the one to share or it’ll be obvious what happened.’
‘What about Carl?’ Topher mutters. ‘No one gives a fuck about him. He could share with someone.’
‘Who?’ Eva says. ‘Rik’s never going to agree to share a room, is he? And as for Elliot –’ She jerks her head at the awkward-looking guy standing with his back to the others.
‘Yes, OK,’ Topher says hastily. ‘I can see that’s not going to work.’
Both their gazes travel thoughtfully to Inigo who is staring worriedly down at the list. Feeling their eyes upon him he looks up.
‘Did I miss something?’
‘Yes,’ Eva says, briskly. ‘You’re sharing with Carl. Now run along and break the news to him.’
Inigo’s face falls.
‘I’ll have to switch the rooms around,’ I say, mentally running through the list of which rooms can fit a second bed. ‘Liz will have to go into Inigo’s old room, that’s the smallest, is that OK? And then Miranda can have Carl’s, and then Carl and Inigo can share Miranda’s old room, that’s one of the few that can take an extra bed.’
‘Where is Miranda?’ Topher says, looking around. I glance over at the stairs. Rik is now talking to the fluffy chick – definitely Ani, I have deduced – and tall, elegant Miranda has disappeared. Eva sighs.
‘Damn, she’s probably already gone up to her room. Well, she won’t be impressed at being downgraded, but she’ll have to put up with it. Let’s go and find her before she unpacks.’
‘I’ll come with you,’ I say. ‘Someone will have to move the cases.’
From somewhere, I feel a headache begin behind my eyes. Suddenly, this feels like the start of a very long week.
Who’s excited?! ‘One By One‘ is out on Thursday! Support your local bookshops or pre-order from Bookshop.org UK