THE NEW TWISTY, GRIPPING READ FROM B. A. PARIS, THE AUTHOR OF THE INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES AND USA TODAY BESTSELLING NOVELS BEHIND CLOSED DOORS AND THE BREAKDOWN
“We’re in a new Golden Age of suspense writing now, because of amazing books like Bring Me Back, and I for one am loving it.” —Lee Child
"[An] outstanding Hitchcockian thriller.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
She went missing. He moved on. A whole world of secrets remained—until now.
Finn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone—never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story.
Ten years later Finn is engaged to Layla’s sister, Ellen. Their shared grief over what happened to Layla drew them close and now they intend to remain together. Still, there’s something about Ellen that Finn has never fully understood. His heart wants to believe that she is the one for him...even though a sixth sense tells him not to trust her.
Then, not long before he and Ellen are to be married, Finn gets a phone call. Someone from his past has seen Layla—hiding in plain sight. There are other odd occurrences: Long-lost items from Layla’s past that keep turning up around Finn and Ellen’s house. Emails from strangers who seem to know too much. Secret messages, clues, warnings. If Layla is alive—and on Finn’s trail—what does she want? And how much does she know?
A tour de force of psychological suspense, Bring Me Back will have you questioning everything and everyone until its stunning climax.
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
B. A. PARIS is the internationally bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors, The Breakdown, and Bring Me Back. She grew up in England but has spent most of her adult life in France. She has worked both in finance and as a teacher and has five daughters. The Dilemma is her fourth novel.
Read an Excerpt
My phone rings as I'm walking through the glass-walled foyer of Harry's impressive offices on London Wall. I turn and check the time on the digital display above the receptionist's desk; it's only four thirty, but I'm impatient to get home. It's taken months of perseverance to get Grant James, the famous business magnate, to invest fifty million pounds in Harry's new fund and I'm ready for a celebration. As a thank-you, Harry has booked dinner for me and Ellen tonight at The Hideout, the best restaurant in Cheltenham, and I know she's going to love it.
I glance impatiently at my phone, hoping it's a call I don't have to take. The caller name comes up as Tony Heddon, a police detective based in Exeter. We first met twelve years ago when I was arrested on suspicion of Layla's murder, and we've become good friends since. There's a curved steel bench to the left of the reception area so I walk over and put my briefcase down on its metallic seat.
"Tony," I say, taking the call. "Good to hear from you."
"I'm not disturbing you, am I?"
"Not at all," I say, noting that he sounds serious, the way he always does when he calls to tell me that an unidentified woman's body has been found by the French authorities. Guessing how awkward he must feel, I decide to plow straight in. "Has another body been found?"
"No, nothing like that," he says reassuringly in his soft Devonshire accent.
"Thomas Winter — you know, your ex-neighbor from St. Mary's — came into the station yesterday."
"Thomas?" I say, surprised. "I didn't think he'd still be alive after all these years. How's he doing?"
"Physically he's pretty good, but he's quite elderly now. Which is why we don't want to give too much importance to what he said," he adds, pausing. I wait for him to carry on and while I wait, my mind analyzes what Thomas could have told them. But then I remember that before Layla and I left for our holiday in France, before she disappeared, Thomas only knew us as the happiest of couples.
"Why, what has he said?" I ask.
"That yesterday, he saw Layla."
My heart misses a beat. I lean my free hand on the cold metal back of the bench, trying to process what he's just told me. I know he's waiting for me to say something, but I can't, so I leave him to fill the silence.
"He said he saw her standing outside the cottage and that when he went to speak to her, she ran off," he goes on.
"Because it wasn't her," I say, my voice neutral.
"That's what I suggested. I reminded him that twelve years have passed since he last saw her but he said he'd know her after fifty. She was wearing a hood thing over her head but he was adamant it was Layla. Something about the way she was standing, apparently."
"But he didn't speak to her."
"No. He said, and I quote, "I called her name and she turned her head, but when she saw me, she ran off." He said she went toward the station but the ticket office was closed at that time and we can't find anyone who saw a woman waiting for a train. There's no CCTV so we're none the wiser."
I search for the right response. "You don't really think it was Layla, do you? Not after all these years."
Tony sighs heavily. "I'm inclined to put it down to Mr. Winter's overactive imagination. I thought you should know, that's all."
"Well, thanks, Tony." I want to hang up but it seems too soon. "When are you retiring? September, isn't it?"
"Yes, just another couple of months to go. Not too sure what I'll do with myself, though."
I grab onto this. "You can start by coming down to see us. I know Ellen would love to see you."
"I will, definitely."
Maybe he understands that I'm not up to speaking because he tells me that he has another call to make. I stand for a moment, trying to get things in perspective, wondering why Thomas thought he saw Layla. I make a quick calculation; we had celebrated his eightieth birthday just before leaving for that fateful holiday in France in 2006, which means Thomas is ninety-two now, an age at which people get easily confused, an age where it's easy to dismiss what they say, or what they think they saw. It can only be the ramblings of an old man. Confident, I take my keys from my pocket and carry on to the car park.
* * *
The journey home is unbelievably slow, which isn't unusual for a Friday afternoon. As I drive past the "Welcome to Simonsbridge. Please drive slowly" sign at the entrance to the village, my earlier excitement over the new deal starts to come back. It was good of Harry to book The Hideout; he said I should go for the venison steak, and I probably will.
A minute later I'm pulling up in front of the house, nothing much to look at from the outside maybe, but once inside it's my haven, and the garden, my sanctuary. In a normal world Ellen would be standing on the doorstep, as impatient to see me as I am to see her. More often than not, roused from whatever illustration she's working on by the sound of the tires scrunching on the gravel, she opens the door before I'm out of the car. But not now. And today, it seems ominous.
I tell myself not to be stupid, that she doesn't always open the door, that if I'd phoned ahead to tell her the good news, of course she'd be waiting. But I'd wanted to tell her face to face, I want to see her telling me how clever I am rather than just hearing it. I know how it sounds but it isn't that I have a huge ego, more that pulling off this deal is a career highlight. A result like Grant James is such an adrenalin rush. It even beats the high I get from outsmarting the markets.
The sound of my key in the lock doesn't bring her to the door. It doesn't bring Peggy, our red setter, either, which is even more unusual. Instead of calling out, I go in search of Ellen, a flicker of worry making itself felt. As I push open the door to the sitting room, I see her curled up in one of the armchairs, wearing my blue denim shirt, which she continually pinches from my wardrobe. I don't mind, I love to see her in it. She has her knees pulled up to her chest and the shirt pulled down over them, like a tent.
My silent sigh of relief at finding her there is checked by the way she's staring unseeingly out of the window, her eyes on a distant past. It's a look I haven't seen for a while but a look I know only too well. It explains why Peggy — always sensitive to Ellen's mood — is lying silently at her feet.
"Ellen?" I say softly.
She turns her head toward me and as her eyes come into focus, she scrambles to her feet.
"Sorry," she says ruefully, hurrying over to me, Peggy following more sedately behind her, her age showing. "I was miles away."
"I can see that."
She reaches up and kisses me. "How was your day?"
"Good," I say, putting my news about the contract on hold for a moment. "What about yours?"
"Good too." But her smile is just a little too bright.
"So what were you thinking about when I came in?"
She shakes her head. "Nothing."
I put my finger under her chin and tilt her head upward so that she can't avoid my eyes. "You know that doesn't work with me."
"It really is nothing," she insists.
She gives a small shrug. "It's just that when I came back from taking Peggy for a walk this afternoon, I found this" — she puts her hand into the front pocket of the shirt and takes something out — "lying on the pavement outside the house."
I look down at the painted wooden doll sitting in her palm and a jolt of shock runs through me, quickly followed by a flash of anger, because for one mad moment I think she's been rummaging around in my office. But then I remember that Ellen would never do such a thing, and concentrate on chasing the red mist away. Anyway, hadn't she said that she found it on the pavement outside the house?
"Someone must have dropped it," I say, as casually as I'm able. "A child, on her way back from school or something."
"I know. It's just that it reminded me —" She stops.
"Yes?" I prompt, preparing myself mentally, because I know what she's going to say.
"Of Layla." As always, her name hangs suspended in the air between us. And today, because of Tony's phone call, it feels heavier than usual.
Ellen laughs suddenly, lightening the moment. "At least I have a full set now." And of course, I know what she's referring to.
It was Layla who first told me the story, of how she and Ellen both had a set of Russian dolls, the sort that stack one inside the other and how one day the smallest one from Ellen's set had gone missing. Ellen had accused Layla of taking it but Layla denied that she had, and it had never been found. Now, thirteen years after I first heard that story, the irony strikes me because, like Ellen's little Russian doll, Layla went missing and has never been found.
"Maybe you should put it on the wall outside, like people do with dropped gloves," I say. "Someone might come looking for it."
Her face falls and I feel bad, because it's only a Russian doll. But coming on the back of Tony's phone call, it feels a bit too much.
"I hadn't thought of that," she says.
"Anyway, I'll be able to buy you as many Russian dolls as you like now," I say, although we both know that isn't what this is about.
Her eyes grow wide. "Do you mean ...?"
"Yes," I say, lifting her into my arms and spinning her around, noting — not for the first time — how much lighter she is than Layla was. Tendrils of chestnut hair escape her short ponytail and fall around her face. Her hands grip my shoulders.
"Grant James invested?" she squeals.
"He did!" I say, pushing thoughts of Layla away. I stop spinning and lower her to the ground. Dizzy, she stumbles a little against me and I enclose her in my arms.
"That's wonderful! Harry must be over the moon!" She wriggles out of my embrace. "Stay there, I'll be back in a minute."
She disappears into the kitchen and I sit down on the sofa to wait. Peggy pushes herself between my legs and I take her head between my hands, noting with a heavy heart how gray she's getting. I pull her ears gently, as she loves me to do, and tell her how beautiful she is. It's something I often tell her, too often maybe. But the truth is, Peggy has always represented more than just Peggy to me. And now, because of the Russian doll, it seems wrong.
I feel restless, too full of kinetic energy to sit. I want to go to my office — a bespoke outhouse in the garden — and make sure that my Russian doll, the one Ellen doesn't know about, is there, in its hiding place. But I force myself to be patient, reminding myself that everything is good in my world. Still, it's difficult, and I'm about to go and find Ellen when she comes back, a bottle of champagne in one hand, two glasses in the other.
"Perfect," I say, smiling at her.
"I hid it at the back of the fridge a couple of weeks ago," she says, putting the glasses down on the table and holding the bottle out to me.
"No," I say, grasping the bottle and using it to pull her toward me. "I mean you." I hold her tight for a moment, the champagne trapped between our bodies. "Do you know how beautiful you are?" Uncomfortable with compliments, she drops her head and plants a kiss on my shoulder. "How did you know that Grant would come through?" I go on.
"I didn't. But if he hadn't, the champagne would have been to commiserate."
"See what I mean about you being perfect?" Releasing her with a kiss, I untwist the wire and ease the cork from the bottle. Champagne bubbles out and Ellen quickly grabs the glasses from the table. "Guess where I'm taking you tonight?" I say as I fill them.
"McDonald's?" she teases.
She looks at me in delight. "Really?"
"Yes. Harry booked it as a thank-you."
* * *
Later, while she's upstairs getting ready, I go out to my office in the garden, sit down at my desk and slide open the top right-hand drawer. It's a large antique walnut desk and the drawer is so deep I have to reach a long way in to find the wooden pencil box, hidden at the back. I take out the little painted doll nestling there. It looks identical to the one that Ellen found outside the house and as my fingers close around its smooth, varnished body I feel the same uncomfortable tug I always do, a mixture of longing and regret, of desolation and infinite sadness. And gratitude, because without this little wooden doll, I might have been tried for Layla's murder.
It had belonged to her. It was the smallest one from her set of Russian dolls, the one she'd had as a child, and when Ellen's had gone missing, Layla had carried this one around with her for fear that Ellen would take it and claim it as hers. She called it her talisman, and in times of stress she would hold it between her thumb and index finger and gently rub the smooth surface. She had been doing exactly that on our journey from Megève, huddled against the car door, and the next morning, when the police returned to the picnic area, they'd found it lying on the ground next to where I'd parked the car, by the rubbish bin. They also found scuff marks, which — as my lawyer pointed out — suggested she'd been dragged from the car and had dropped the doll on purpose, as some kind of clue. As there was insufficient evidence to prove this either way, I was finally allowed to leave France, and to keep the Russian doll.
I put it back in its hiding place and go and find Ellen. But later, when we're lying in bed, our hunger sated by the exquisite dinner we had at The Hideout, our bodies knotted together, I silently curse the little Russian doll she found earlier. It's another reminder that no matter how many years go by, we will never be completely free of Layla.
Barely a month goes by that we don't hear her name — someone called out to in the street, a character in a film or book, a newly opened restaurant, a cocktail, a hotel. At least we don't have to contend with supposed sightings of Layla anymore — Thomas's yesterday was the first in years. There'd been hundreds after she first disappeared; it seemed that anyone who had red hair was put forward as a possible candidate.
I look down at Ellen, snuggled in the crook of my arm, and wonder if she's thinking of Layla too. But the steady rise and fall of her chest against me tells me she's already asleep and I'm glad I didn't tell her about Tony's phone call. Everything — all this — would be much easier if Ellen and I had fallen in love with other people instead of each other. It shouldn't matter that Ellen is Layla's sister, not when twelve years have passed since Layla disappeared.
But, of course, it does.CHAPTER 2
It feels a lifetime ago that I first saw you, Layla. I'm not sure if you even know this but at the time I had a girlfriend, someone so unlike you, someone who was as high-flying in the world of advertising as I was in my city job. Time is an oddity when it comes to memories; I always think of you when I remember Harry and the flat in St. Katharine Docks, yet you spent much less time in that world than my ex did. You instigated the end of the life I had. Everything became "Before Layla" and "After Layla."
It must have been just after 7 p.m. on New Year's Eve 2004. You probably don't remember that but I know, because Harry had insisted we leave too much time to get to the theater. I'd felt indifferent to it being a big night but then I was indifferent to so many things back then. Until I met you.
As Harry and I went down into the underground station at Liverpool Street, I never thought I was about to fall in love. He needed to top up his Oyster card so while he queued at the machine, I watched everybody rushing to get wherever they were going to celebrate the New Year.
After a few minutes my attention was caught by a flash of color among the gray and blacks of the Londoners, the most beautiful red I'd ever seen. And of course it was you — or rather, your hair. Do you remember how you stood with your back against the opposite wall, your eyes watching in alarm at everyone surging around you? You looked scared, but back then the simplest things seemed to scare you; crowds, dogs, the dark. You were so terrified of dogs that if you saw one coming toward you, you would cross over to the other side of the street to avoid it, even if you were with me, even if it was on a lead. And that day in the underground station, as you pushed yourself further into the wall to avoid the crowds, your hair caught under the artificial lighting and it seemed to be on fire. With your tiny purple skirt, lace-up ankle boots and curvy figure, you looked so different to the stick-thin women in their smart suits and dark winter coats. Then you raised your head, and our eyes met. I felt embarrassed to be caught staring at you so intensely and tried to look away. But your eyes pulled me toward you and before I knew it, I was striding across the concourse.
"Do you need help?" I asked, looking down into your green-brown eyes. Hazel, I learned later. "You seem a little lost."
"It's just that I didn't expect London to be quite so busy," you replied, your voice lilting with a Scottish accent. "All these people!"
"It's New Year's Eve," I explained. "They're on their way out to celebrate."
"So it's not always like this?"
"Early morning and late afternoon, usually. Did you want to buy a ticket?"
"Where are you going?"
Do you remember your reply?
"To a youth hostel," you said.
"Where is it?" I asked.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bring Me Back"
Copyright © 2018 Bernadette MacDougall.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Twelve Years Before,
Also by B. A. Paris,
About the Author,