Perfect for readers of Jodi Picoult, Diane Chamberlain, and Heather Gudenkauf, No Place to Hide is an intimate and deeply moving story of one woman’s desperate attempt to escape a troubled past—and the haunting mystery she’s forced to confront.
Fleeing her native England with her three-year-old daughter, Justine Cantrell gives herself a new name and a new life in America. In a quiet midwestern town on the shores of glittering Lake Maxinkuckee, Justine hopes to recapture the fleeting days of happiness in the long-ago summers she spent with her grandmother. And though her memories of that time are scant, Justine knows they must have shared a special bond. After all, the power of her grandmother’s love has pulled her back to this haven in search of a new beginning.
But fate has other plans. The more Justine gets to know the small town and its people, the more she realizes that her grandmother had her own devastating secrets—secrets that will soon threaten Justine just as surely as her own dark memories.
Praise for Susan Lewis
“A master storyteller.”—Diane Chamberlain
“This emotionally charged story keeps you at the edge of your seat.”—RT Book Reviews, on Behind Closed Doors
“[A] moving and piquantly beautiful novel of friendship, family and the power of love.”—The Gazette (Blackpool, UK), on Never Say Goodbye
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Susan Lewis is the internationally bestselling author of more than thirty novels, including No Child of Mine, Don’t Let Me Go, The Truth About You, Never Say Goodbye, and Behind Closed Doors. Having resided in France and the United States for many years, she now lives in the rural county of Gloucestershire, England.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all
Present Day—Culver, Indiana
So this was what it was like beyond the corn-silk veil.
Others called it a curtain, but she preferred veil. This allowed for a more dreamlike connection between the blue skies and still waters of this hauntingly beautiful town, and the world out there, filled with cornfields, highways, cities, oceans—the world, the family, she’d left behind.
To get here she’d flown through storms and time zones, driven for mile after mile across vast swaths of farmland, forests, and yet more farmland, taking perfectly straight roads through the heart of it all. She’d passed poor and jumbled communities, stopped in flashy highway oases, spotted birds of prey swooping and soaring Icarus-like to the sun, and all the time she’d wondered what kind of a place she was heading toward.
It wasn’t anything like she’d expected. It was a town of many contrasts, hidden stories, troubled history, settled on a lake that glistened like a lost jewel in the middle of nowhere.
It was the second week of September now. Summer was officially over, though the sun continued to warm the immaculate streets, and flowers bloomed as eagerly as the birds sang. The tourists who’d swelled the population to many times its normal size throughout the season had vanished with Labor Day, leaving the place as tranquil, as perfect, as a photograph, and for long moments at a time as still.
Justine Cantrell was standing at the edge of Lake Maxinkuckee, her bare feet sinking into gritty sand, her fine, honey-colored curls bobbing on a wayward breeze. The sunlight was so bright on the water that she had to narrow her green eyes to peer across to the opposite shore, perhaps two miles distant. The magnificent multimillion-dollar mansions nestling among the greenery were barely visible from here.
“Are you crazy?” Matt, her husband, had protested when she’d told him where she was going. “You can’t.”
“Where else would you suggest?” she’d countered quietly.
“I don’t know, but so far . . . Justine, you’re not thinking straight.”
She could almost have smiled at that. “Are you?” she’d asked.
He didn’t answer, because they both knew he wasn’t.
Neither of them could, and probably never would again.
“It’s been so many years,” he’d stated, as if she didn’t know. “You have no family there now. You don’t know anyone to help you get started.”
“Isn’t that the point? To go to a place where no one knows me?”
She could hear their conversation as though the rippling water spread out before her was carrying it to her across the miles, sighing its meaning, its pain and hopelessness into the very depths of her heart.
Eighteen Years Earlier—London, UK
“They’re here!” Matt called out as the entryphone’s buzzer rang down the hall.
In the bedroom Justine smiled, not only because of how pleased Matt always was to see his brother—he was already opening the front door and shouting down the four flights of stairs to ask if Simon needed any help—but because of the way thirteen-month-old Abby began bouncing gleefully on the bed. It was debatable what Abby loved most in the world: visitors, since she was nothing if not Miss Sociable, or music. And it was music of just about any kind, they were rapidly discovering, for they could play her virtually anything from Dire Straits to Billie Holiday to Blur and she’d either dance in her awkward toddler way, or try to sing along, or simply sit with Matt and listen, appearing rapt.
In spite of being almost nine months pregnant, Justine managed to scoop up their adorable daughter, who instantly shrieked “Dada!” and shot out her chubby arms.
Matt was standing in the bedroom doorway, his deep-set smoky gray eyes shining with love as he took Abby into one arm and put the other around Justine.
He was a little over six feet tall, had a loose, rangy physique, and thick, dark hair that curled willfully around his high cheekbones and slender neck. Though he was undeniably good-looking, at least to her mind, it was his remarkable eyes with their flecks of violet and lazy glimmer of intrigue that had drawn her to him when they’d first met as students. There was also his smile, so captivatingly radiant it had actually made her blink.
She loved everything about him, and knew what he loved about her: the silky honey tones of her hair, the riot of freckles that darkened her creamy skin, the throaty laugh that encouraged his jokes, the way she embraced his impulsiveness, and often matched it with a spontaneity of her own.
Almost since they’d become a couple everyone had wanted to be around them. Their enthusiasm, recklessness, sheer joie de vivre was as infectious as their generosity. By the time they married, at the age of twenty-two, it already felt as though they’d known each other all their lives.
With his degrees in politics and Arabic, Matt’s internship with the BBC news channel had soon resulted in a permanent position, while Justine started her working life as a teaching assistant at a nearby primary school, mainly to fill time until their first child—conceived around the time of the wedding—came into the world. Her qualifications in drama and business studies would always come in handy further down the line; what mattered for now was giving their unexpected little treasure the very best start in life.
Abby was certainly thriving in the love that surrounded her. However, her speedy growth, and a new baby on its way in a couple of weeks, meant there was simply no way this cramped attic flat at the top of a four-story town house in south London was going to be able to contain them all. It didn’t even have a lift, nor could it boast a second bedroom, nor enough space for anything more than was already crowding the open-plan kitchen–cum–sitting room.
“Where is everyone?” Simon shouted, coming in through the front door.
Laughing, Matt planted a kiss on Justine’s forehead and carried Abby out to the sitting room where her aunt Gina was starting to unload her sixteenth-month-old son, Wesley, from the carrier on his daddy’s back.
With no preamble Simon declared, “We’ve got just the place for you guys. OK, I know you don’t want to look right now with the baby being so close, but it’s not going to stay on the market for long.” He shrugged the carrier off and smiled at Justine as she came into the room. “You know where I’m talking about. Have you got the details?” he asked Gina.
“Give me a chance,” she replied, setting Wesley on his feet and watching him make his way straight to Abby’s playhouse. “It’s in the envelope at the top of my bag.” To Justine she said,
“How are you? The baby’s going to pop out any minute, by the look of you.”
“Please,” Justine implored, rubbing her massively swollen belly.
“And here’s my little angel.” Gina smiled, taking Abby from Matt.
“Mum, mum,” Abby murmured in response, and gave a whoop of delight as her aunt swung her up in the air.
“You’re such a pretty girl,” Gina said gently, smoothing her wispy blond curls.
Abby drew back to look at her, showed every one of her new white teeth in a beguiling grin, and promptly waved her fists in the air.
“So where is this place?” Matt was asking as he took the estate agent’s details from Simon.
Simon grinned. Unlike his brother, he was almost as fair-haired and blue-eyed as his wife, though his and Matt’s features and height were similar, as was their zest for life. “You tell me.” He chuckled, clearly enjoying the moment.
As he looked at the property details Matt frowned in confusion, before raising his eyebrows in amazement. “You’re not serious,” he said to his brother.
“Absolutely,” Simon confirmed.
Gina gave a laugh of excitement.
Intrigued, Justine took the details from Matt and experienced a bolt of astonishment as she recognized the house for sale.
“You’re kidding,” she said to Gina.
“Honest to God, hand on my heart, this isn’t a joke,” Gina assured her. “OK, I know you weren’t thinking of moving out of London, but you’d get so much more for your money if you did, and it’s not an impossible commute for Matt. Plus, you’d be our neighbors. That surely has to seal it.”
It was definitely a bonus.
Justine’s eyes went to Matt, who was clearly finding it as hard as she was to take this in.
“You said yourself, when we sneaked a look round it last month,” Gina continued, “that it was your dream place, or would be when the renovation was complete. Well, it’s kind of done now, and I can tell you, you’re going to more than love it. It’s straight out of Grand Designs, but homier, more livable. The way you thought it should be.”
“But what happened?” Justine wanted to know, glancing at Matt again and wondering if he was starting to feel the same flutters of excitement that she was. But it was hopeless; this place was so way out of their league that she had to wonder what sort of income Simon and Gina thought they were on to imagine they could afford it. “I thought the owners were fixing it up for themselves,” she said to Gina.
“That was the plan, but apparently the wife’s mother is sick, so they’ve decided to move close to her, which is somewhere up north—Carlyle, I think.”
Justine could hardly believe that a couple would put so much effort into creating a dream home, only to abandon it the minute it was ready.
“It’s a fabulous place,” Matt declared, responding to Abby’s outstretched arms and settling her on his hip, “but we have to get real here. We’d never be able to afford it.”
Justine only wished she could disagree.
“I know, let’s jump in the cars and go take another look,” Gina suggested rashly. “We can stay at our place tonight instead of camping out here, and if you end up deciding to go for it . . . Well, I’m sure something can be worked out.”
So that was what they did, and a little more than two hours later they were driving in separate cars through the quaintly crooked village of Chippingly Moor, passing its two old-fashioned pubs either side of the high street, the post office–cum–mini mart, Susie the hairdresser’s, and three different types of gift shops. Farther on were a couple of fashion boutiques, a florist, two charity shops, a butcher, a baker, and even an actual candlestick maker, who supplied many of the nation’s major department stores.
Turning off right between an insurance agency and Ruby’s flower shop, they descended sharply around a bend. Passing a kitchen showroom and a dozen or more old stone cottages either side of the street, they wound on round another bend and arrived at the humpback bridge that unofficially marked the start of Chippingly Vale. To the left of the bridge, after Brook Cottage, was the entrance to the walled-in park; to the right was a narrow road that snaked randomly around more cottages before branching off up the hill to where Simon and Gina’s small Victorian villa enjoyed views of the vale.
Straight ahead, at the top of a steep, grassy bank, was the magnificent farmhouse—the dream home—that Justine would kill to own . . .
Present Day—Culver, Indiana
In spite of the sun, Justine shivered as her mind drew a veil over the past and gently reconnected her with her surroundings. The lake was quiet, so quiet she might have been the only person around. The roaring speedboats and Jet Skis that had chopped up the waters all summer were under awnings now; no fishermen were throwing lines, at least not today; there was barely even the sound of a passing car behind her making its way along Lakeshore Drive.
In the next bay of the lake, hidden from where she was standing, were the imposing Culver Academies, which formed what was arguably one of the nation’s most exclusive boarding schools for boys and girls. She’d learned the other day that the Equestrian Center often provided the sleek black horses and straight--backed riders for presidential inaugurations. It was hard not to be impressed by that, and by the dazzling number of billionaire alumni the place could boast.
There was nothing like this in the world she’d left behind.
Though the Academies wouldn’t, or shouldn’t, affect her life in any way, she often saw the students, smart in their uniforms, easy in their freedoms, milling about downtown, lunching at Café Max, shopping in one of the Main Street boutiques, or heading over to the elementary school to help run the after-hours boys and girls club.
Thinking of children brought her heart to an abrupt halt.
Where was Tallulah?
She glanced around in panic until she remembered that her almost four-year-old daughter wasn’t with her today. Leaving her at day care for the first time since arriving in Culver had been a terrible wrench, so bad that Justine had felt the trauma of separation like a physical tearing inside. Only she had felt it. Lula was sunny and brave, chatty, bursting with the excitement of meeting new friends.
“She’s going to settle in very well,” Felicity Rodnam, director of the Child Care Ministry, had assured her, taking Lula’s hand and smiling playfully into her eager eyes. Justine had melted at the look Lula had given in response. How could anyone not adore her beautiful, impish, enthusiastic little angel of a child, with her fluffy tangle of strawberry-blond curls and pixie face?
Every mother thought her child was irresistible, she understood that, but not every mother had so many complex and conflicting emotions threatening to undermine the love of that child.
Tallulah wasn’t to blame.
Justine knew that in her heart and in her head, but still the thought, the horror, rose up like a demon in unguarded moments to wreck the inner peace she was trying so hard for—the peace that she must attain or she would surely lose her mind.
How could she wish the most precious little person in her life had never been born? Even if she hadn’t, would it really have made a difference?
Inhaling the clear, fresh air, she allowed her gaze to drift to the buoys farther out in the bay, there to warn swimmers to go no farther. She and Lula had swum a lot this past month, not only here at the beach, but at the south shore of the lake, closer to their home.
Enjoying the spectacle of a heron coming to land on the jetty nearby, she waited for it to fly on, deciding she would leave when it did. It seemed to be in no hurry, but neither was she. She was telling herself, gently, that she had no need to feel fear, apprehension, longing, or shame. She could lose herself in the tranquility of this vast, shimmering lake, in the promise of escape, the chance of shedding her old self like a second skin and becoming somebody else.
It was starting to happen.
A new name. A new beginning.
All the same, memories of her previous life kept rolling across the miles, as though to gather her up and return her to that fateful day when she and Matt had made the impulsive drive to
Eighteen Years Earlier—Chippingly Vale
“I’m almost afraid to go in,” Justine whisper...
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