Extract from : Me Before You

Prologue

2007


When he emerges from the bathroom she is awake, propped up against the pillows and flicking through the travel brochures that were beside his bed. She is wearing one of his T-shirts, and her long hair is tousled in a way that prompts reflexive thoughts of the previous night. He stands there, enjoying the brief flashback, rubbing the water from his hair with a towel.

She looks up from a brochure and pouts. She is probably slightly too old to pout, but they’ve been going out a short enough time for it still to be cute.

‘Do we really have to do something that involves trekking up mountains, or hanging over ravines? It’s our first proper holiday together, and there is literally not one single trip in these that doesn’t involve either throwing yourself off something or –’ she pretends to shudder ‘– wearing fleece.’

She throws them down on the bed, stretches her caramel-coloured arms above her head. Her voice is husky, testament to their missed hours of sleep. ‘How about a luxury spa in Bali? We could lie around on the sand . . . spend hours being pampered . . . long relaxing nights . . .’

‘I can’t do those sorts of holidays. I need to be doing something.’

‘Like throwing yourself out of aeroplanes.’

‘Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.’

She pulls a face. ‘If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll stick with knocking it.’

His shirt is faintly damp against his skin. He runs a comb through his hair and switches on his mobile phone, wincing at the list of messages that immediately pushes its way through on to the little screen.

‘Right,’ he says. ‘Got to go. Help yourself to breakfast.’ He leans over the bed to kiss her. She smells warm and perfumed and deeply sexy. He inhales the scent from the back of her hair, and briefly loses his train of thought as she wraps her arms around his neck, pulling him down towards the bed.

‘Are we still going away this weekend?’

He extricates himself reluctantly. ‘Depends what happens on this deal. It’s all a bit up in the air at the moment. There’s still a possibility I might have to be in New York. Nice dinner somewhere Thursday, either way? Your choice of restaurant.’ His motorbike leathers are on the back of the door, and he reaches for them.

She narrows her eyes. ‘Dinner. With or without Mr BlackBerry?’

‘What?’

‘Mr BlackBerry makes me feel like Miss Gooseberry.’ The pout again. ‘I feel like there’s always a third person vying for your attention.’

‘I’ll turn it on to silent.’

‘Will Traynor!’ she scolds. ‘You must have some time when you can switch off.’

‘I turned it off last night, didn’t I?’

‘Only under extreme duress.’

He grins. ‘Is that what we’re calling it now?’ He pulls on his leathers. And Lissa’s hold on his imagination is finally broken. He throws his motorbike jacket over his arm, and blows her a kiss as he leaves.

There are twenty-two messages on his BlackBerry, the first of which came in from New York at 3.42am. Some legal problem. He takes the lift down to the underground car park, trying to update himself with the night’s events.

‘Morning, Mr Traynor.’

The security guard steps out of his cubicle. It’s weatherproof, even though down here there is no weather to be protected from. Will sometimes wonders what he does down here in the small hours, staring at the closed-circuit television and the glossy bumpers of £60,000 cars that never get dirty.

He shoulders his way into his leather jacket. ‘What’s it like out there, Mick?’

‘Terrible. Raining cats and dogs.’

Will stops. ‘Really? Not weather for the bike?’

Mick shakes his head. ‘No, sir. Not unless you’ve got an inflatable attachment. Or a death wish.’

Will stares at his bike, then peels himself out of his leathers. No matter what Lissa thinks, he is not a man who believes in taking unnecessary risks. He unlocks the top box of his bike and places the leathers inside, locking it and throwing the keys at Mick, who catches them neatly with one hand. ‘Stick those through my door, will you?’

‘No problem. You want me to call a taxi for you?’

‘No. No point both of us getting wet.’

Mick presses the button to open the automatic grille and Will steps out, lifting a hand in thanks. The early morning is dark and thunderous around him, the Central London traffic already dense and slow despite the fact that it is barely half past seven. He pulls his collar up around his neck and strides down the street towards the junction, from where he is most likely to hail a taxi. The roads are slick with water, the grey light shining on the mirrored pavement.

He curses inwardly as he spies the other suited people standing on the edge of the kerb. Since when did the whole of London begin getting up so early? Everyone has had the same idea.

He is wondering where best to position himself when his phone rings. It is Rupert.

‘I’m on my way in. Just trying to get a cab.’ He catches sight of a taxi with an orange light approaching on the other side of the road, and begins to stride towards it, hoping nobody else has seen. A bus roars past, followed by a lorry whose brakes squeal, deafening him to Rupert’s words. ‘Can’t hear you, Rupe,’ he yells against the noise of the traffic. ‘You’ll have to say that again.’ Briefly marooned on the island, the traffic flowing past him like a current, he can see the orange light glowing, holds up his free hand, hoping that the driver can see him through the heavy rain.

‘You need to call Jeff in New York. He’s still up, waiting for you. We were trying to get you last night.’

‘What’s the problem?’

‘Legal hitch. Two clauses they’re stalling on under section . . . signature . . . papers . . .’ His voice is drowned out by a passing car, its tyres hissing in the wet.

‘I didn’t catch that.’

The taxi has seen him. It is slowing, sending a fine spray of water as it slows on the opposite side of the road. He spies the man further along whose brief sprint slows in disappointment as he sees Will must get there before him. He feels a sneaking sense of triumph. ‘Look, get Cally to have the paperwork on my desk,’ he yells. ‘I’ll be there in ten minutes.’

He glances both ways then ducks his head as he runs the last few steps across the road towards the cab, the word ‘Blackfriars’ already on his lips. The rain is seeping down the gap between his collar and his shirt. He will be soaked by the time he reaches the office, even walking this short distance. He may have to send his secretary out for another shirt.

‘And we need to get this due diligence thing worked out before Martin gets in –’

He glances up at the screeching sound, the rude blare of a horn. He sees the side of the glossy black taxi in front of him, the driver already winding down his window, and at the edge of his field of vision something he can’t quite make out, something coming towards him at an impossible speed.

He turns towards it, and in that split second he realizes that he is in its path, that there is no way he is going to be able to get out of its way. His hand opens in surprise, letting the BlackBerry fall to the ground. He hears a shout, which may be his own. The last thing he sees is a leather glove, a face under a helmet, the shock in the man’s eyes mirroring his own. There is an explosion as everything fragments.

And then there is nothing.