Don't Tell Anyone by Eleanor Gray - Read Online
Don't Tell Anyone
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Summary

Nearly lost in a fog of grief over the fatal stabbing of her daughter, art historian Grace Neville feels only sorrow as Jordan Dukes is found guilty of murder. Days after the sentencing, Grace receives a visit from Jordan’s father, who claims that his son is innocent and a grave miscarriage of justice has taken place. Jordan’s history of gang-related violence and the fact that he doesn’t have an alibi make his father’s plea hard to believe. But then why does somebody break into Grace’s home and go through her daughter’s belongings?

In Don’t Tell Anyone, Eleanor Gray explores the relationship between a mother and a daughter, and the secrets that drive Grace to seek the truth no matter what the cost.

Praise:

"The disparate pieces of this intricately plotted mystery come together in a satisfying manner that will please readers of Ann Granger and Antonia Fraser."—Library Journal

"Eleanor Gray's Don't Tell Anyone is a book you'll be telling your friends about. The voice—and anguish—of Grace Neville compels us toward answering the question we may have all wondered: What if we don't really know the people closest to us?"—Lori Rader-Day, Mary Higgins Clark and Anthony Award winning author of The Black Hour and Little Pretty Things

Published: Llewellyn Worldwide on
ISBN: 9780738750996
List price: $9.99
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Don't Tell Anyone - Eleanor Gray

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you.

One

I HATE YOU. I HATE YOU. I HATE YOU.

Tara, sweetheart, I know it’s a shock and I realise you’re upset, but it really will be all right. Archie wore his best caring voice, the one he used at the hospital. Low and calm, it was ever so slightly patronising. Not a good tone to adopt with a thirteen-year-old, and certainly not in these circumstances.

How can it ever be all right? she hissed. You and Mum are getting divorced—

Separated, I interjected. It was the first word I’d spoken since Archie had delivered his spiel. He’d pitched it in such reasonable tones that I was almost deceived into thinking my life would stay exactly the same. Three words changed all that: People grow apart. I felt as if someone had excavated my internal organs.

Tara swivelled her ferocious brown-eyed gaze on me as if it were my fault. Deep down, I knew she was right. I’d been the mug who’d introduced Archie to the lovely Kristina Beaumont at one of the gallery’s exhibitions for an up-and-coming American painter. Still in shock, I couldn’t remember the damn guy’s name.

Whatever, Tara said, vermillion spotting her cheeks. Phoebe’s parents did exactly the same. You guys will split. I know it.

I stared at Archie, hoping that he would offer a denial and give me a glimmer of hope, but he stayed stubbornly mute. So Tara was right about that, too. Scared, I crossed the floor of our tiny kitchen and put an arm around her tight, pointy shoulders. There was no give and I had a fleeting memory of Tara as a toddler, rigid and resistant in her pushchair, tummy braced and facing the sky while I attempted to squeeze her middle and strap her in. My daughter, so like her father in looks, had always been feisty and spirited in a way I’d often envied and only sometimes regretted. Now I clung to her, more for my benefit than for any comfort I could give.

I don’t know for how long we huddled together in the intolerable silence. It was like standing in the tattered remains of a location after the film crew have packed up and gone. Archie had his back to the worktop, his head slightly turned away, shy and uncomfortable. The pale, washed-up light fell across the left side of his face, accentuating the planes of his cheekbones framed by precision-cut sideburns and thick dark hair. His mouth was very slightly open, his full lips pink beneath a soft moustache. I’m an art historian and, for a moment, he reminded me of Caravaggio’s portrait of Christ. After fifteen years of living together and thirteen years of marriage, Archie could still knock me out. Had he been a woman, he would have been deemed beautiful. Through fortune and genes, he’d passed this dormant beauty on to Tara. I idly wondered whether it might be more a burden than a blessing.

Will we stay here? Tara jutted her chin in the direction of a kitchen cupboard that I’d once lovingly painted. Now it looked chipped and tired, a bit like me. She’d said it like she wanted to. That it was important to her. In need of TLC, our house was still her home, which was, frankly, disturbing. On my wage from the gallery it was unlikely we could afford to stay unless I got a second job or took in a lodger, something for which I wasn’t queuing up. Archie didn’t earn a lot at the hospital and, although he’d assured me that he would see me right, financially, I wasn’t so certain. Not that Archie would ever have to worry about money. Kristina was loaded.

I cleared my throat, about to speak, but Archie spoke for both of us. It occurred to me that he did this often That’s the plan, he said, brightly avoiding my gaze.

And you. Tara glowered at him. "Where will you go?"

I took a breath. Archie and I had agreed not to drag Kristina into it even though she—the Bitch from Harp Hill, as I’d malevolently nicknamed her—was the reason Archie had ripped out my heart, but my daughter was no fool.

Around.

Around? Tara’s husky voice bristled with indignation.

Here in Cheltenham, not far away. I’ll pop back to see you often, you’ll see.

Pop back? I’m not one of your sick fucking patients.

Normally, I’d have asked Tara to mind her language, but I was with her. Fucking was an apt description in the circumstances.

Archie pursed his lips, pained. I hoped he was in hell. That’s the trouble with affairs when you act out a fantasy, I wanted to say. It has a nasty habit of crashing into the real world, leaving all kinds of devastation in its wake.

I didn’t mean it like that, he muttered.

What did you mean, that you’ll check in when you can bear to tear yourself away from Krissie? She said it in a ha, take that tone.

Krissie? I snagged inside. Is that what he called her? How did Tara know? Had she overheard? When? Where? My arms dropped to my sides. It was my turn to look venomously at Archie. Sorry this is such a royal pain for you, darling, but these are the consequences of shagging someone else when you are already attached.

I … he spluttered. I felt a hot thrill of triumph as I watched him squirm, but Tara wasn’t done.

You’ve chosen her over me, over us, she raged.

That’s my girl. He was on the ropes, nowhere to hide, and Tara was piling in. I should have let her finish him off with a knockout blow, but an annoying sense of fair play assailed me. If I were honest, I hoped that if I stayed calm and played nice, Archie would find me attractive again and realise that he’d be mad to leave me for someone as shallow as Krissie.

Look, I said, let’s all take a step back and calm down.

A grateful smile raced across Archie’s lips. Well worth me prostrating myself, I reckoned. We couldn’t sit in our cramped kitchen so I marched through to the sitting room, hoping the others would follow, which they did. I sat on the sofa and patted the seat next to mine. Tara threw herself down and tucked her long legs up underneath her. My girl. My daughter. It was Saturday and she wore a simple navy printed dress with a round neck, the curve of her collarbone exposed like shiny white seashells on a sandy beach. She wore a braided skinny belt and her toenails were painted dark blue. Archie sat in his favourite chair. I grimaced at the thought of him taking it with him. As long as it sat in front of the fire, it remained a solid presence. If it left, I could no longer pretend that Archie would come home.

I grabbed Tara’s hand and squeezed it. This is a horrible situation, I began.

Not for him, Tara growled, jaw flexing.

It’s tricky for all of us, I managed to say, playing Mrs. Magnanimous and wondering what my family would make of it all. My sister Tiff would threaten to punch Archie’s lights out. My mother was a different proposition altogether. Her live and let live philosophy resulted in three daughters with different fathers. I’d been born during my mother’s respectable period and brief marriage to a salesman who sold windows and doors. Tiffany was the result of a rebound marriage to a bloke called Bob who lived around the corner from my mum’s old house in Gloucester, and Calypso was the issue from a fling with Norman during her ganja and dreadlock era. Norm had returned to live in Trinidad and Cal had sensibly joined her dad. My mother, currently sunning herself with a new man called Ron in Margate, would not find it in her to condemn Archie, who she’d always loved for his looks but thought was a bit of a knob.

Grace is right, Archie said. That was the other thing about Archie. He never referred to me as Mum. From when Tara was small, he’d encouraged her to call us by our Christian names. To his dismay, it had never caught on, mainly because I’d done all in my power to subvert it. Tara needed parents, not best mates. It might even work out for the good of us all, he said.

My jaw fell slack. How could he possibly see an upside for us?

In what way? Tara said tentatively. I noted that some of the heat had died down. Her body was more relaxed, less like she’d been soaked in saltwater and left to dry out in the sun. Archie, damn him, had piqued her curiosity. Next he would beguile her as he’d once beguiled me.

For a start, you could spend part of the week with us.

I blinked. Us meant Archie and me, not Kristina and him. I opened my mouth to protest, but Tara sniffed at the bait.

Where exactly?

At Kristina’s home. You could have your own room.

Now, hold—

Tara cut me off. How big is it?

A double with its own bathroom.

I gaped. I’d always longed for an en suite. Our bathroom was downstairs and off the small utility. Tara shivered with delight next to me. Archie was shamelessly courting her and she was seduced.

Won’t Kristina have something to say? You can’t make that kind of decision. It’s not your house. I hated the tone of my voice, which was preachy and critical, not like me at all.

It’s already been discussed. I thought he was bluffing, but Archie spoke in such a dismissive, matter-of-fact way that I knew I was snookered. I wanted to pursue it, but Tara pitched in.

Would my friends be able to sleep over?

Archie beamed, glad no doubt to be out of isolation and back in the rehabilitation ward. Of course.

Someone had inserted chipped ice into my blood. Our house was tiny. It had never been conducive for more than three people. Kristina ran an interior design business from her home on the hill. I’d heard from others that it was vast, a showcase home, swags and Travertine flooring, underground heating, and a kitchen in which you could hold a cabinet meeting. Horribly, I realised that Tara and Archie were involved in high-level domestic negotiations.

And they didn’t involve me.

Tara glanced sideways, visibly perked up, and grinned. Her eyes shone with sudden excitement, as they had when she was little. Then the object of her enthusiasm would be a new bike or an invitation to a party, not a change of lifestyle and a new bloody bedroom. Wait till I tell Thea and Amy, she bubbled. A mean bit of me cursed my daughter for being so easily bought.

I think we need to slow this right down, I said, mainly because everything and everyone was sprinting away from me. I’d lost Archie. I could not, would not, lose Tara.

Sure, Archie said, impossibly laid-back, but I think we all agree that we can work it out.

I’m not very good at being nasty, but I hurled my best drop dead stare at Archie, who was oblivious, it seemed, to what he was demanding of me. Did he really believe that he could trade me in for another and keep the comforts and advantages of his previous existence? I blanched at the thought of Tara used as a pawn in a tug of love between us. Maybe I should do them all a favour and walk under one of the Goldline buses that regularly ran from Cheltenham to Gloucester. Tiff’s voice rang in my ear: Don’t be such a frigging drama queen.

Right, Archie said, slapping his thighs and standing up, job done. Fancy a Coke, Tara?

I frowned big-time. We never kept cola in the house. What had come over Archie? Even in small ways, he’d changed over the past twelve months. I could see it now. Six months ago I began to seriously suspect. A month on, I knew. Even then I thought we’d work it out, but every conversation took a circular route in which Archie insisted separation was the only option. Must be Kristina’s poisonous influence. I should have spotted the signs a long time ago. What really rankled, he was treating his declaration as though it was cause for celebration. Let’s crack open the champagne, why don’t we? And Tara had bought it.

Mum?

I looked up at her in confusion. To her credit, the shine had worn off a little. She looked less buoyant, more small sailing boat and less ocean-going liner. Pathetically grateful, my eyes filled with tears. She crouched down in front of me, her limbs so lithe and flexible, and took both my hands in hers. A dark curl fell across her face, a vision of blossoming beauty. My heart ached and tore.

It will be all right, she said, coaxing and trying to cheer me up. And then she broke into an enchanting smile, almost mischievous.

What? I said, forcing myself to reciprocate.

Life is random. Her favourite phrase, she’d often tease me with it.

It certainly seemed that way. Never in a million years had I ever thought I’d be a divorce statistic. Not severed from Archie, from us, from our lovely life together. I squeezed her hand and said the first thing that was in my heart and on my mind.

I love you.

I love you, too, Mum.

In that brief moment of time, I felt okay.

And besides, Tara said, still with the playful expression, it could be worse. Nobody died.

I didn’t know why, but cold sweat exploded over my body. Fear squatted deep within. It was as if someone had opened the door wide and summer had fled, bleak winter sweeping in.

Two

Four years later

D o you find the defendant, Jordan Dukes, guilty or not guilty of the murder of Tara Reeves Neville?

Guilty.

Is that the verdict of you all?

Yes.

Thank Christ for that. Tiff closed her pudgy hand over mine and squeezed. At last the little snail-brained shit will get what he deserves. It’s over, Grace.

How could it ever be over? The best part of a year ago I’d entered the death zone. There was no chance I’d ever find my way out.

I stared straight ahead at Tara’s boyfriend in the dock. Dressed in a suit with a white shirt and tie, he looked more grown up than his nineteen years. On the three occasions I’d seen him, he was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, usually with something offensive and challenging emblazoned across the front. Straightaway when Tara first brought him home, I understood her attraction to him. It wasn’t the tattoos or the smooth, pale coffee–

coloured skin or eyes that were more black than brown or the rather delicate features. It was his swagger and style, his quick wit—in spite of Tiff’s remark—and the way he had a cheeky answer for everything. I still found it incredible to think that he had plunged a knife into my daughter’s heart and left her for dead.

I came to as the judge thanked the jury for their speedy two-hour delivery, then dismissed and adjourned the court. Without an appeal, he warned that sentencing would be carried out that afternoon. It would go badly for Jordan. Having put in a plea of innocence at the outset, he’d shown no remorse and stayed improbably silent throughout the entire nine-day trial. Even his own defence team had labelled him a pathological liar. I noted this with detachment, in the same way I noticed the wood panelling, the dark robes and wigs, the fusty smell of dust and old books and dry courtly air. I wasn’t sorry for Jordan. I was sorry for me, for the way grief had doubled me up and bent me out of shape. I was sorry for Tara, for smashed dreams and hopes and a life extinguished, and for Archie, grey and drawn, seated less than a metre from me. I hoped I’d done justice to our agony in the victim impact statement set before the court. I must have written it a dozen times. The final version still didn’t express or convey the magnitude of our loss. A helpless part of me wondered whether it would even make a difference.

Tiff tugged at my sleeve. Come on, let’s get a drink.

I nodded absently. Drinking too much, I promised myself that I’d get it under control. Soon. After the funeral, I’d said, but that milestone had already passed. Next I vowed to pack it in when I returned full-time to work, but the stress of functioning and talking to others had made me seek solace in the bottle all the more. Lately I’d told myself that I’d stop when I could prevent myself from bursting into furious tears and crying and crying and crying. I’d stop when I could bear to feel the heat of the sun on my face and smile without feeling guilty.

No chance.

I got up and shuffled sideways and felt a set of eyes fasten onto mine. I looked and saw a man who’d sat through every day of the trial. Pitched forward, intent, lean with misery, he had short, close-cropped blond hair flecked with grey, astonishingly brown eyes and skin burnished permanently by the sun. Not because he spent time in foreign climates, but because he worked outside in England’s green and pleasant air. Nobody told me who he was, but I’d worked it out. My dad’s a builder, Jordan had mentioned once when life was good and uncontaminated by murder and grief and interminable pain.

Come on, Grace, Tiff nagged. Four years younger than me, the same age as Kristina, Tiff was more like an elder sister. Born bossy, she had challenging hooded eyes, like her dad; a light-olive, slightly weathered, porous complexion; a wide nose; and, as I often reminded her, a big mouth. Not that she gave a damn. By the time we get out of here, she complained, it will be time to come back.

Right, sorry.

By now we were at the back of the court. I didn’t remember getting there. The family liaison officer, a stolid woman with curly rust-coloured hair and protruding front teeth, exchanged a few words with me, but I couldn’t tell you what she said or what I said back. It was as if I were entirely absent from what was going on around me.

Through the fog of my own private grief, Detective Inspector Dunne, the senior investigating officer, emerged. Deep in conversation with a court official, he looked across at me and mouthed Good result. I winched a smile onto my lips, turned away, and sought out my mother, who was milling about with her latest squeeze, a big bloke called Doug who had dodgy dealings in scrap metal and, I suspected, stuff that fell off the back of a lorry. He hailed from West Bromwich in the Midlands but had a holiday home in Spain from which they’d flown for the trial.

Graham, Tiff’s on/off boyfriend was already slipping out a packet of cigarettes, desperate to get out into the open. Taken the day off from the fish stall at the market especially, he muttered as I stumbled past. Of Archie, there was no sign. Probably lurking round a corner with Kristina. According to Archie, she’d taken Tara’s death and the ensuing police investigation badly. Was there any other way she could take it? I’d asked testily. He’d opened his mouth to elaborate a defence and, uncharacteristically, I’d cut him off before a word formed itself in his voice box let alone passed through his lips.

Welcome to the new me: mean, can’t be bothered, what’s the point?

We tramped outside into a bright cold day. To be honest, every day had been cold and hard since Tara’s death. I couldn’t see that ever changing, for when your child dies, hope and reason for living die, too. My life had become an unbearable mess in the last eight months, punctuated by random and unpredictable bouts of weeping.

I felt a hand grab mine. It was my mother, big hair stiff with hairspray so dense it made you sneeze if you got up close, pastel eye-shadow on her lids, red lips, and pencilled eyebrows that always made her look surprised. At least her hair was coloured professionally nowadays. As a child, when we were hard up, she’d been known to resort to shoe polish to cover the grey. She had a thing for make-up and what she called serviceable clothes. Today she wore a dark navy suit teamed with a frothy, fuchsia-coloured blouse that had weird ruffles at the neck. In what I could only describe as a pincer movement, Doug slipped into step on the other side of me. His big camel overcoat with velvet collar gave him an odd air of respectability that didn’t sit particularly well on his thickset shoulders. He had a penchant for gold bracelets, necklaces and chunky rings. Underneath the bling he sported a number of tattoos. A rough diamond was how my mother regarded him. I privately thought him heavier on the rough than sparkly gem. Nevertheless, it was nice to have a big bloke batting for me. Doug had a unique aura that made other men think twice before approaching him. At sixty-eight years of age, he’d still be pretty good in a fistfight, I reckoned. I never used to think like this, but sudden, violent death had changed me and every belief I’d ever held. I could no longer tell what exactly life might strike me with next.

Did it really matter, I wondered? What could be worse than this?

You all right, chick? Mum said as we walked, or rather hobbled, side by side. I’d had to slow down because Mum was wearing impossibly high heels that caught on the uneven pavement.

’Course she is, Doll. Doll was not Doug’s pet name for my mum. She’d been christened Dolly Saunders. Rumour had it that she was a beautiful baby, like a doll, hence the name. Wasn’t neuroscience.

I thought it best to say nothing. I was not all right. I would never be all right. Since the day I received twelve missed calls on my mobile, how could I ever attain that unassuming, go-along to get-along, almost karmic state that most people take for granted? My daughter’s death date would be forever imprinted on my heart as surely as her date of birth.

Again my habit of tuning out ensured I remembered nothing of the journey to the pub in Westgate. Graham held the door as we all trooped in. As I passed him I caught a heady whiff of haddock and nicotine.

So what will you all be having? Doug said expansively, a thick chain bracelet jangling on his wrist as we pitched up at the bar. Gracie, love?

Tonic water, I said.

Tonic water, Doug repeated to the barman. With a gin in it.

I don’t like gin, I protested.

Make that vodka, Doug corrected. I didn’t have the strength to argue and drifted away to find a seat in an area that looked as if it were set to serve school dinners. Graham pulled up a chair next to mine. Sharp-featured, his thin sandy hair clung to his skull for dear life. It sounds like someone trying to be funny, but his best features were his ears, which were small and pixie-like. Graham clearly concurred, because each lobe had several piercings to better display a selection of hoops and studs. Now I came to think of it, I was the odd one out in my choice of men. Archie wouldn’t have been seen dead with an earring or a bracelet. He’d never even worn a wedding ring. Maybe he should have done.

All right? Graham said.

I wished I could have had a quid for every time someone asked me that. I nodded, feeling a familiar tug in my chest that told me my body begged to differ.

Nearly over now, he said, twirling an unlit cigarette between his fingers. I nodded again. He looked relieved that I’d agreed with him, probably because I made a nice change from Tiff, whose purpose in life was to argue. Graham turned his attention to my mother, who’d scraped back a chair to join us. You all right, Doll? Nice holiday?

Lovely, Gray, she said, using Graham’s annoying nickname. Gray could just as easily refer to Grace. I started every time I heard it.

Bostin,’’ Doug said, a term meaning brilliant" in both Birmingham and the Black Country. I was fluent in the lingo because our family had spent my formative years in Oldbury in the West Midlands before we’d moved with Bob, Tiff’s dad, to Gloucester when I was ten. We always knew when my mum had had too much to drink because she’d revert.

Used to crack me up.

Would I ever experience spontaneous laughter ever again?

The barman staggered over with our order: pints for Doug and Graham, G&Ts for Tiff and my mum, and vodka and tonic, whether I liked it or not, for me.

Graham struck up a hesitant conversation with Doug, who fell in although I could tell he had his mind on other matters, plotting his next bit of business, probably.

Room for one more? Tiff said, squashing her stocky frame in between Mum and me.

Ouch! I let out.

Jeez, Gracie, I barely touched you.

You dug into me with your elbow. My sister worked at a riding school and spent her entire day mucking out and exercising other people’s hacks. People who had too much money for their own good, according to her. Consequently, she had muscles like pile drivers.

Need more meat on those bones, Gracie, Mum said. She sounded disapproving, but I knew that this was only because she worried about me. I’d lost a staggering amount of weight since Tara’s death.

Yeah, Tiff said. We’ll need to walk around with magnifying glasses if you get any thinner.

I didn’t comment and sipped my drink. Unable to eat breakfast that morning, I felt the lovely warm fizz and glow that only hard spirits on an empty stomach can produce. I’d pay for it later.

So what do you reckon? Life sentence? Tiff said.

Graham took a decent swig of his beer and wiped the foam away with the back of his hand. Bound to be.

"No bound to be about it. Depends on whether the judge is one of those soft liberal bastards," Tiff said.

Are you out of your tree? Doug said. Judges are not put on this earth to be soft, only to be arseholes. The way he said it gave me the impression that Doug knew, from personal experience, what he was talking about.

Whatever happens, it won’t bring back Tara, I murmured. Hot tears pricked my eyes. Oh God, here I go, I thought, all kinds of vile feelings swelling inside me.

Mum reached behind Tiff and rested her small hand on my shoulder. You’re right there, lovey, she said softly. We all know that.