It has been twenty years since Justine Fraser last saw Nicky Bennet, twenty years since he abruptly disappeared and took off for Hollywood. Though she has gone on with her life, the memory of the tall, thin, sandy-haired boy continues to haunt her. She cannot forget his offbeat charisma, his sly half-smile, his irresistibly sexy southern drawl. She cannot stop reliving in her mind the time he surprised her by flying across the Atlantic to propose to her on a beach. But she also cannot forget the way he disappeared without a trace, never contacting her or giving her a reason for leaving.
Justine has tried to put the heartbreak of her relationship with Nicky behind her, but when reports surface that Nicky has disappeared from the set of his next film, she is forced to confront her memories of their past intimacy. The only thing that he has left behind is a mysterious and cryptic note, which Justine is sure is a message to her.
Against the advice of her friends, Justine sets off on a quest to find answers a journey to America, to the past, and to Nicky. What she finds will cause her to discover the real reasons behind Nicky's disappearance and come to terms with the disturbing fact that her relationship with Nicky was not exactly as she remembers it.
An unconventional love story that spans two decades, Grievous Angel is an exhilarating new novel of psychological suspense that probes the dark side of romance and memory. Mixed with tales of Hollywood glamour and paparazzi flashbulbs, Jane Hill brilliantly crafts a story of one woman's quest to put the ghosts of her past to rest through a search where nothing is as it seems, not even her own recollections.
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About the Author
Jane Hill is the director of programming for an award-winning group of commercial radio stations in the United Kingdom, and she previously worked as a radio journalist. She lives in Lincoln, England.
Read an Excerpt
Grievous AngelA Novel
By Jane Hill
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Jane Hill
All right reserved.
Nicky Bennet Disappears, it says, the newspaper story that Anna has helpfully ringed in fluorescent yellow marker pen and handed to me. It's tucked away in the middle of yesterday's Guardian: just a small paragraph, a minor but entertaining diversion from the day's real news. I'm sitting on top of the washing machine in Anna's kitchen watching her cook. I'm enjoying the motion of the spin cycle and a bottle of very good Rioja, so for a moment I don't fully understand the words I'm reading. Nicky Bennet Disappears. The headline dances and swims in front of me; I have to close one eye to keep the words still. What can it mean?
And then suddenly in my mind's eye I can see it. He's standing tall, smiling his inscrutable half smile, his hands pressed together in a gesture of prayer, his long elegant fingers touching. He clicks his heels (in tooled, spurred, expensive cowboy boots), bows his head and disappears in a giant puff of smoke, vanishing by sheer willpower. "Nicky Bennet disappears?" I read out loud, doing a theatrical double take. "God, probably up his own backside."
Note my inability to moderate my language when it comes to Nicky Bennet. We have unfinished business, Nicky and I. Your classic love-hate relationship. Talking about him seems to make me blaspheme or use childishly rude words like prat, arsehole and bastard. I read on: "Hollywood film star Nicky Bennet has disappeared from the set of his latest project, a romantic thriller being shot in Canada, according to newspaper reports in the United States. The thirty-six-year-old actor was last seen on set a week ago, and was presumed to have gone to visit his fiancee, model Clio Callahan, in Los Angeles. However, Ms. Callahan (twenty-two) is reported as saying she has not seen Bennet for at least a month. Sources described as close to the maverick star claim he had been 'depressed and unsettled' recently."
I get goose pimples on the backs of my hands and I shiver. Anna looks at me, worried, and asks, "Where do you think he's gone?"
I stare into space for a moment, then laugh: a hollow, humorless "huh." "Fuck knows," I say (thinking, What's the matter with me? I haven't said fuck out loud since I was a teenager). "Nicky's very good at disappearing. He's had a lot of practice. Trust me, I know."
I look at the story again. "Maverick star?" I spit out the words. "Pretentious git, more like. And if he's thirty-six, then I'm, I'm . . ." and I search limply for a comparison. "Then, well, so am I."
As we eat our regular Friday evening meal we talk about what might have happened to Nicky. I suggest alien abduction, preferably entailing a painful anal probe. Anna, who has never met him, speculates that maybe he's gone to find himself in the Canadian wilderness, worn out by the demands of the twenty-two-year-old model, and is now living in a log cabin with only a tame grizzly bear for company. I catch her eye and we both laugh: this is what we love about our evenings together, the ebb and flow of our conversation as we try to outdo each other with ridiculous suggestions.
We're still discussing the domestic arrangements in the log cabin when Anna's husband, Gray, wanders in from his studio in the backyard in search of dinner, looking as always like a cuddly garden gnome. His hands are covered in clay and he absently tousles my hair, then leans into the fridge to get a beer. Anna reaches her arm round his waist and pulls him towards her. "We're talking about Nicky Bennet, you know, the actor Justine used to know? He's gone missing."
Gray looks at Anna, then me, deeply puzzled. He's famously bad on actors. He's heard of Clint Eastwood, I think, but hasn't yet realized there's a difference between Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise. "Nicky Bennet," he says, turning the name over in his mind. After a few seconds his face lights up. "Oh, is that the fellow who used to play the policeman in Yorkshire in that series that was on Sunday nights? I didn't know you knew him, Justine."
Anna stares at him with her characteristic mix of love, exasperation and wonder. I snort loudly and nearly choke on my wine. It occurs to me that my life might have been a great deal simpler if only I'd fallen in love with Nick Berry out of Heartbeat instead of an enigmatic American with a penchant for letting me down.
Nicky Bennet comes from Savannah, Georgia, and has the world's most seductive accent. His voice is soft and husky, with slow twisted vowels like a courteous elderly gentleman. When I first met him he was twenty, like me, and so obsessed with the country rock singer Gram Parsons that he regularly wore what he described as a genuine Nudie jacket he'd bought in Nashville. At the time I wasn't at all sure who Gram Parsons was, only that he'd died in a motel room somewhere in the desert back in the drug-addled sixties or seventies. I didn't know what Nicky meant by Nudie. I recognized it as one of those jackets old-fashioned country and western singers wear, covered with appliqued embroidered shapes of cowboy boots and flowers. But as for the word Nudie, I could only guess that to Nicky it felt like a second skin, like being in the nude. He told me about his hometown, how Sherman presented Savannah to Abraham Lincoln as a Christmas present at the end of the Civil War, and how it was full of shady squares, trees covered in Spanish moss and beautiful antebellum houses. To be honest, I barely understood a word. I didn't know who Sherman was and I certainly didn't know what antebellum meant. It sounded like Latin for "against beauty" but I wasn't sure. I played truant during . . .
Excerpted from Grievous Angel by Jane Hill Copyright © 2005 by Jane Hill.
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