Excerpt 1

The air, thick as treacle, stuck in Annette’s lungs, threatened
to explode in her chest.
Trevor. An old school friend. An ex-boyfriend. The only
man who knew her the way she really was, because he himself
awakened the very worst inside her.
His presence should have made the situation better. It made
it infinitely worse. She’d never been able to keep a secret from
him. Now she had to.
Adrenalin propelled her forward, one gluey step after
She cleared the rasp from her throat. “Trevor Watson.” She
made herself walk faster, her bare feet registering the coolness of
the terracotta. “I’m so glad it’s you.” One more lie for the
evening—what did it matter?
“Annette,” he repeated. His voice was fuller now, his face all
grown up. “You haven’t changed a bit.”
You have no idea.
On perfect-hostess autopilot, she took his hand in both of
hers and led him into the lounge. Her knees were jelly, and she
still couldn’t remember how to breathe.
“I’m sorry we meet under these sad circumstances,” Trevor
said. “Your husband…”
The remainder of the sentence slid off her earlobes without
reaching the eardrum. She couldn’t concentrate. They stood in
the middle of the room, his hand still in hers, until her upbringing
took over. “I’m sorry. I can’t seem to concentrate.”
Trevor started talking again. She watched his lips, and again
couldn’t distinguish the sounds, as though he spoke in a foreign
language. Shell-shocked.
Is that what soldiers meant, this inability to use your senses?
If only her brain worked properly!
She wasn’t stupid, contrary to what Gordon sometimes
said—shouted—during his lapses of temper.
She let go of Trevor’s hand, rubbed her forehead.
“I feel so—” she broke off. What did she feel? Wrapped in
cellophane? Guilty? Lost? All her life, she had trained hard to
suppress her emotions, to please first her parents, later her
husband. Tonight was an exception. “Please,” the words escaped
before she could bite down on them. “I don’t know what to do.”
“What do you mean?”
Should she show Trevor the message?
Somehow, she didn’t think so. She forced her face into a mask of a
helpless female. “What’s the protocol, Trevor? Do I call the
funeral home? Do the police do it? How do I tell people?” The
mask immobilised her face. Oh, dear Lord, she had to tell the
Trevor’s gaze became more focussed. “And your worry, at
this point in time,” he accentuated the last word, “is protocol?”
No, her mind screamed, my worry is the children’s reaction,
their tears, their future without a father. My worry is money for
Monday’s dinner, and for the Monday after next. My world has
screeched to a halt and derailed, my ears are ringing and all I want
right now is to wake up from this nightmare.
Her mouth hurt to form words that suddenly grew a hard edge.
“Nobody taught me how to be a widow.” True enough.
Somehow, her voice came out cool, calm and collected. Thank
the Lord for small mercies.
The pause stretched forever before Trevor broke the silence.
“Did your husband have life insurance?”
Annette tried to remember whether Gordon had ever
mentioned the subject. She forced her lips to form words again. “I
don’t know.”
Exhausted by the effort of speaking when she wanted to
scream, she sank onto the sofa, allowed herself the luxury of
leaning into the creamy upholstery. She gestured Trevor to sit,
too. “I just don’t know anything anymore.”
“Did your husband have any enemies?”
Her vision tunnelled, then broadened with alarming speed.
“What am I going to do?” She stared down at her lap where her
trembling fingers kneaded the material of her skirt. They refused
to settle.
The sofa hissed under Trevor’s muscled body. “You loved
your husband that much?”
Annette flinched. The question, in all its absurdity,
penetrated through the fog in her head. “I beg your pardon?”
Trevor must have misunderstood her reply. “I’m sorry,” he
said. “My comment was inappropriate.”
Was it?
Annette couldn’t tell. He was the investigating officer.
Surely he had the right to ask personal questions. Still, nobody had
the right to hear the truthful answer to this one. “Of course I—
loved…” she trailed off.
Even to her ears, it sounded weak and false. She tightened
her lips against her teeth, blockading the emotion she kept deep
inside. “Without Gordon, I don’t know how I’m going to live
from day to day. He took care of the finances. Tomorrow is payday
for the staff and the children need bus money on Monday…”
The arrangement of the husband looking after finances was
commonplace, yet Annette felt sick with shame. Why had she
allowed herself to become ignorant about her family’s money
“Did your husband keep any cash in the safe?”
Annette tried to concentrate, though it was growing harder
to do so. Her spine burrowed further into the couch.
“Documents, I think. And some gold collector coins. Not money,
“Do you have your own bank account? Your own
chequebook? Credit card?”
The questions came fast. Annette couldn’t keep up. The
adrenalin rush died away, leaving her spent. Due to her punishing
diet, she never had much energy these days. “I—I …”
The room swooped into a spin. Sounds grew muffled. She would
not faint. She would not allow herself that pitiful way out.
“Perhaps we could talk—tomorrow? Please. I’m not feeling
myself…” She grasped for control. “The children—are with
Mother. Safe—Yes. Quite—safe now.”
The last three words had come out slurred and soft. Watson had
to strain to catch them. Annette’s head fell back, and for a
moment he thought she was asleep.
Her normally milky skin, though, looked even paler than
usual; felt clammy when he touched her wrist to count the beats.
Pulse under fifty. Not asleep or faking—she had fainted.
He lifted her legs onto the sofa and lowered her head onto
the armrest. He noticed how skinny her limbs were. Must have
lost weight since high school, not that she’d had any puppy fat to
begin with. Small, more like a child in size. This was not how he
usually conducted a suicide investigation, but then, he did not
usually meet Annette LeRoy on the job. Should he hand over the
case? Absolutely the proper and correct thing to do, and what he
liked best in life was to do things properly and correctly. Not
because he was saintly—because life was simpler that way.
He needed this case, though. And Annette meant nothing to

(This novel is set in South Africa: the country Nelson Mandela loved, fought against and fought for. Watch it here:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ecfbdY6YPE&feature=c4-overview&list=UUnsm4Q8lWqWyHikvPpy6kxQ.)

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