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Little Secrets - Anna Snoekstra

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Published: 23rd October 2017
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Published: 23rd October 2017
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What happens when ambition trumps the truth?

A town reeling in the wake of tragedy…

An arsonist is on the loose in Colmstock, Australia, most recently burning down the town’s courthouse and killing a young boy who was trapped inside.

An aspiring journalist desperate for a story…

The clock is ticking for Rose Blakey. With nothing but rejections from newspapers piling up, her job pulling beers for cops at the local tavern isn’t enough to even cover rent. Rose needs a story - a big one.

A bizarre mystery…

In the weeks after the courthouse fire, porcelain replicas of Colmstock’s daughters begin turning up on doorsteps, terrifying parents and testing the limits of the town’s already fractured police force.

Rose may have finally found her story. But as her articles gain traction and the boundaries of her investigation blur, Colmstock is seized by a seething paranoia. Soon, no one is safe from suspicion. And when Rose’s attention turns to the mysterious stranger living in the rooms behind the tavern, neighbour turns on neighbour and the darkest side of self-preservation is revealed.

Anna Snoekstra's debut novel Only Daughter is shortlisted for Best First Fiction for the Australian Crime Writers’ Association Ned Kelly Awards.

About the Author

Anna Snoekstra was born in Canberra, Australia in 1988. She studied Creative Writing and Cinema at Melbourne University, followed by Screenwriting at RMIT University. Anna's short films and music videos have screened around the world. She has written an array of published and award winning short fiction. Her debut novel Only Daughter was published in September 2016 (Mira). Her second novel Little Secrets will be published November 2017 (Mira).

Prologue

By the time the first wisps of gray smoke rose into the night, the streets were empty. A dull orange glow emanated from the courthouse, not yet bright enough to challenge the moon or the neon beer signs of the tavern across the street.

The smoke around the courthouse, cheaply built on the corner of Rowe and Union Streets, thickened quickly. Angry, dense clouds were rising in rolls, and yet, when a car drove past its only response was to speed up.

Soon, orange flames rose from the roof, replacing the smoke. The fire was so dazzling now, that a shrunken pupil could no longer distinguish between the dark gray and the black of the sky. They were there in time to witness the windows exploding, one after another in a series of dry pops. The fire extended its arms out of each window, waving crazily at the gathering crowd.

The sirens began, but no one could hear them. The sound of the fire overtook everything, its low, light roar like the warning sound made at the back of a cat’s throat. Two girls appeared from the tavern, late to the party. One ran toward the flames, asking if anyone was inside, if anyone had seen anything. The other stood still, shoulders fixed, her hand over her mouth.

When the firemen pulled up, the bright street looked like daytime. The crowd had stepped back, the ones who had been closest damp with sweat. Everyone’s eyes were wet. Perhaps from the ashes in the air, or perhaps because by now the news had circulated.

Yes, there was someone inside.

Chapter One

Laura hurried to keep up with Scott and Sophie, her schoolbag thumping against her back.

“Wait for me!” she yelled, but they never did.

She had hesitated at the memorial outside the burned-out courthouse. A big picture of Ben was surrounded by lots of flowers and toys. The flowers were all brown and dried up, but there was a little plush cat that would have fit perfectly in the palm of her hand. Ben didn’t need it; he was dead. But when she’d gone to take it, she’d looked up at the photo of him. His accusing brown eyes looked straight into hers. So she’d left the toy there, and the twins hadn’t waited and she’d had to run as fast as she could to make sure they didn’t leave her behind.

The sun bounced off the twins’ blond hair, making Laura squint. They were sword fighting with sticks now. Galloping and fencing up the street, screaming “En garde!” at regular intervals. They wore the same white-and-green school uniform as Laura, except her shirt was no longer quite white. It was a pale alabaster from being washed a few hundred times at least. It had belonged to Sophie once, and to their older sister Rose before her, as had her shorts.

Despite her every possession being a hand-me-down, Laura was unique. She knew that she was the cutest child in her kindergarten class. Her fringe was cut blunt, accentuating her large dark-lashed eyes. Her nose was a button, her mouth a little pink tulip. She lived for coos and pats on the head.

“Hurry up, Laura!” Scott yelled.

“My legs aren’t as big as yours!” she yelled back, her little black school shoes clip-clopping on the pavement as she hurried.

Then she saw it.

A bee.

She slid to a halt. It was the shape of a jelly bean, with mean-looking yellow-and-black stripes. The bee buzzed in front of her, blocking her path as it hovered near a bush of pungent purple flowers. Laura was overwhelmed by the urge to see what it felt like. Squishy, she was fairly sure. She wanted to pinch it between her thumb and forefinger to see if it would pop. Laura had never been stung by a bee but Casey at school had once and he had cried in front of everyone. It must hurt a lot.

Very slowly, she inched around it, walking like a crab on the very edge of the pavement until there were a good two meters between the bee and her.

When she turned, the street was empty. Sophie and Scott had turned one of the corners, out of Laura’s sight. If she really thought about it, she would probably know which one but she couldn’t think. The suburban street seemed to be growing bigger and bigger and Laura felt like she was shrinking smaller and smaller. A sob rose slowly and heavily in her throat. She wanted to cry out for her mum.

“En garde!”

Laura heard it loud and clear from her left. She ran, as fast as she could toward the sound.

*** Sophie and Scott changed into T-shirts then continued their sword fight in the backyard. Laura wasn’t invited. They didn’t like to play “baby games,” even though Laura told them that now she was at school she was officially not a baby. She sat up at the bench, listening to the screams and laughter from outside and staring down at the three plates of crackers that Rose had left for their afternoon tea.

Laura could hear Scott yell so loud it came through the glass, “You’re dead!”

She watched as Sophie feigned a dramatic and violent death. It was a stupid game; she wouldn’t have wanted to play anyway. While they were distracted, Laura quickly reached over, took two crackers from each of their plates and stuffed them in her mouth.

She chewed happily, swinging her legs and kicking the bench. The house filled with the banging sound. She knew she was being naughty. If her mum was at home she’d be in big trouble. But she kept kicking, trying to leave some little brown scuffs to blame on either Sophie or Scott. She hadn’t decided yet.

Rose’s bedroom door opened and Laura stopped kicking. Her older sister stamped down the corridor. Some days Rose would want to braid Laura’s hair, or put makeup on her and tell her how pretty she was. Just like a little doll, she would say. Laura hoped it was one of those days but the angry stomps of Rose’s feet told her it wasn’t.

“How was school?” Rose pulled open the fridge door and put her head inside, as if she was trying to absorb all the cold.

“It was good. Nina said she could climb the big tree but she couldn’t and she fell out and broke her bum.”

Rose stuck her head out and looked at Laura, a can of Coke in her hand. Her lips were tugging up as if she was going to laugh.

“Really?”

“Yep!” Laura began to giggle, and then Rose laughed too. Laura liked it when she made Rose laugh. Rose was the prettiest girl Laura knew, even when she frowned, which was most of the time. When she laughed she looked like a princess.

“Poor kid,” Rose said. She stopped laughing and rested the Coke against her forehead.

Laura didn’t say anything. Nina hadn’t really fallen out of the tree. Actually, she had made it the whole way to the top and then bragged about it all afternoon.

“What was that banging noise before?”

“Dunno. Can we braid my hair, Posey?”

“You know I don’t like it when you call me that.”

“Sowwy,” she said. Sometimes when she pretended to still be a baby, Rose would like her more, but this time Rose didn’t even look at her. Instead, Rose cracked open the can and took a swig. She looked up at the clock and groaned.

“I’m going to be late. Fuck.” Rose slammed the can on the bench, and little specks of brown liquid came out.

Laura gasped. She didn’t know what that word meant exactly, but she knew it was one of the worst ones.

“I’m telling!”

Rose didn’t even care; she just walked right out of the kitchen and back to her room to get ready. She was definitely not going to braid Laura’s hair.

Laura jumped down from her stool. “I’m running away. You can’t stop me!”

She ran to the front door and opened it and slammed it shut. Then she very quietly tiptoed away, so Rose would think she had left.

Laura decided to hide under her bed. She wriggled down on the floor and pulled the box of her winter clothes in front of her. If she stayed there for long enough, someone would notice she was gone. They would look for her but they wouldn’t find her. Hiding was the one good thing about being small.

After a while, she started to get bored. It smelt funny under there, like the sports socks she wore all week long for her PE classes. She pulled herself back out. She was sick of this game now. As she sat cross-legged in the middle of her room, deciding whether it was the stuffed turtle's or the fluffy dog’s turn to be played with, she noticed a shadow pass her window. Someone was coming to the front door of the house. Maybe her mum was home early!

She scampered to the entrance hall and opened the door but there was no one there at all. A wave of disappointment washed over her. Then she looked down. Someone had left her a present! She knelt down to look at it, wondering if it was a gift from Ben’s ghost. To say thank you for not taking his little cat.

ISBN: 9781489242266
ISBN-10: 1489242260
Audience: General
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 336
Published: 23rd October 2017
Publisher: Harlequin
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 23.6 x 15.6  x 2.5
Weight (kg): 0.42