To celebrate publication on 22 June, I’m sharing a preview of the opening chapters here on my website. Take a read and, if you like it, why not pre-order now?
The wind whipped in from the North Sea, rippling across the mud-coloured hills and whining into the car as Rosemary opened the door. Peter had parked at the entrance to the farm, in front of the wooden gate that was held in place by a chain and padlock. As Rosemary unhooked the lock with one of the keys the estate agent had given her, the chain fell to the ground and the gate swung open. Behind her, she could hear the others getting out of the car and she willed them to stay quiet, not to ruin this special moment by saying something stupid.
She walked through the open gate towards the house. It was an ugly building, but she hadn’t bought it for its kerb appeal. For what she had planned, this squat grey farmhouse situated on the side of a hill overlooking a remote valley in the Lincolnshire countryside, was perfect. It would need work, of course, but that wasn’t going to be a problem. Thanks to her parents, she was a wealthy woman. All those years being a dutiful daughter, never once stepping out of line, had been worth it in the end.
It was nine years ago today since Mummy and Daddy died. A tragic accident, the inquest concluded at the time. Although in truth, her parents’ deaths had been neither tragic nor an accident.
‘It’s going to cost you to get this place the way you want it.’
Peter’s voice was an assault on the silent beauty all around her. She hated him then, more than any other time since she’d known him. If she could have found another way to do this, one that didn’t involve him or any other man, she would have done it. But for now, unfortunately, he was necessary.
Ignoring him, Rosemary walked closer to the house until she was able to read the wooden sign over the door: Black Valley Farm. This was it, finally. All these years of planning and here she was, standing outside her new home. The place where she would finally be able to have the children she so desperately craved. Here, in this remote farmhouse, she was going to fix what her father had broken.
Already, she could picture it a year from now. Transformed from this desolate, deserted farmhouse to something utterly different. The thriving heart of her new family, a self-sufficient community of women and children living their lives untouched and untarnished by the conflicting demands of modern society. With Rosemary as their adored leader, the matriarch of this special place.
‘Open the door, would you?’ Peter said. ‘This wind is freezing my nuts off.’
She swung around to face him, pleased when she saw the flash of fear behind his eyes.
‘Go back to the car.’ She looked at the women standing behind him, each one with blonde hair, blue eyes and fair skin. They were good-looking, she wouldn’t have chosen them otherwise, although not one of them could have held a candle to her own startling beauty. ‘You three come with me.’
The women looked relieved and Rosemary was glad she’d allowed them this moment. These broken women were vital to her plans. It was important to keep them happy, even if most of the time she’d rather kick them than pretend she cared about them.
Inside, it was exactly as she’d remembered. A wide hallway, far bigger than the outside of the house would have led you to believe, with three doors leading off it. The air smelled musty and when Rosemary breathed in, she imagined she could taste the motes of dust dancing around her in the dim light.
Beside her, one of the women started to speak. Rosemary held her index finger up to silence her. This wasn’t a time for mindless chit-chat or endless questions about how they were going to get everything ready in time, or how many people could live here comfortably or blah, blah, blah. The effort it took to deal with people was exhausting. If Rosemary could have done this any other way – without involving tiresome people who utterly lacked her vision – she would have done.
But she couldn’t think about that now. If she did, she would start to remember the reason she needed them. And now was not the time to think about Daddy and those nights when he came into her bedroom, or all the things that happened after that.
Today was about the future. Her future. Rosemary Fry, the woman on the brink of her very own Utopia. Her eyes filled with tears and her chest felt as if it might burst from the rush of joy bubbling up inside her.
‘Come on.’ She gestured for them to follow her back outside. ‘Here’s where we’ll build the church. We’ll extend the house, of course, and build a separate annex at the side for me and Peter. See that shed? That will be a classroom because the children will need an education.’
She kept talking, faster and faster, her vision for the future pouring out of her. And when she’d finished, and she was out of breath from speaking, she threw her hands in the air and looked at each woman in turn, taking a moment to gaze into every pair of blue eyes before moving onto the next.
‘It’s going to be perfect,’ she said.
There was a pause, where she thought for one terrible moment one of them was going to disagree with her. Then, suddenly, they were all smiling and telling Rosemary how wonderful it was and how they couldn’t wait to move in. As they continued speaking, their voices got higher until they sounded more like birds than people. They were saying and doing all the right things but there was something about that pause that worried Rosemary. These women had been carefully chosen. She had put time and effort into her relationship with each of them, ensuring they perfectly understood what she wanted to achieve here in this special place. In every single conversation, she had felt that the women understood her vision and shared it. She realised now this might not be true for all of them. And she wondered, for the first time, what they talked about when she wasn’t with them.
She would have to be more careful in future, do everything she could to ensure total obedience. There would be rules, lots of them, and she’d make it crystal clear what happened to anyone who broke those rules.
She had told the women – these second-rate imitations – that the farm was going to be a place they could be safe. It wasn’t a lie, because they would be safe. As long as they did exactly what they were told.
Out on 22 June, but available to pre-order today!