A fortnight's retreat to a five-star resort in the Maldives - it should be paradise, but it's turned into a nightmare. Read the first chapter of The Honeymoon below
I gaze at the sea, and it is a wondrous, ever-shifting patchwork of paint-box blues, the likes of which I’ve never seen before, and I wonder if he’s out there. I strain my eyes to look for a snorkel, a flash of yellow, but the glow of the indigo further out is so deep and dominant I’m not sure I would even notice. I wait forever, but still there is nothing. A bat flaps lazily above my head, and then it turns and heads back into the trees.
My feet can feel the silken scratch of the sand, and it grates against my fractured nerves. My head throbs, almost to the point of nausea. Nothing feels right. He will come back, I am sure of it. Everyone has rows, even in paradise. I just have to wait for him.
I sink down onto the beach and sit cross-legged. I let the sand sift through my fingers, soft like dust. It makes me think of ashes, the urn on the mantelpiece at home, and I wonder if he is dead. The thought drifts into my mind so calmly it borders on trauma.
Time passes. The sun continues its inexorable rise into the whisper-thin sky as the heat settles on my skull, and my arms and legs begin to burn, even at this hour. My bones feel soft and useless. But I cannot leave. I have to wait for him. The moment I turn away will be when he comes back. After all, it’s happened before. Watching for him becomes all-encompassing, like a mantra. My eyes strain with the effort, and my brain aches, and then, minutes or hours later, finally it is too much. I bow my head, and I can’t look any more. I can’t look out at nothing forever – it will be the undoing of me.
I stand up. The beach is empty. I walk across the soft white sand towards our bungalow, which is set back in the palm trees, nearly invisible from the beach. The sunlight freckles through the lush green canopy, and the heat is sultry. The brightness can’t burn off the foreboding, though. It seems to permeate the island now, insidious and subtle. I stall, at the slightest noise from the bush, and I wonder who is there. I call his name, and I can hear the fear in my voice.
Perhaps it was just a lizard, or a bird. My mind is piled high with crazy theories and demonic premonitions, and the longer I wait the more the absence of my husband grows, like a monster puppet shadow over this most utopian of places.
I return to the bungalow and search, just in case, but he’s not in the bedroom, nor in the lounge. I check in the bathroom, and even in these circumstances I acknowledge that there will never be another bathroom like this. It is outdoors, enclosed by large-leaved exotic plants shielding tall white walls, and it has its own infinity plunge pool, a free-standing bath, an outside jungle shower, matching his-and-hers sinks. At night, the lamps light up the fronds of the palms and make the geckos glow, and it’s almost as beautiful as on the beach itself. But he’s not to be found here either, which of course I knew, and it’s at this point I decide that I can’t wait any longer. I have to report that he’s gone.
He was a little taller than she’d imagined, but still instantly recognizable, and if anything, better-looking than his photo
Seven-and-a-half years earlier
The evening Jemma met Dan was bitter and stormy, and the weather had only added to her reluctance to go. She’d even tried to compose a text politely cancelling, but she’d prevaricated over its precise wording for so long that in the end she’d decided it was too late, and far too rude, to send it. Yet sometimes being a woman of her word did Jemma no favours, and her subsequent journey to meet Dan took her through London at its worst. The rush-hour Tube had been halted in a tunnel, without explanation, for just a minute or two too long for the passengers’ potential-terrorism-frazzled nerves, and unease had crept through the carriage from human to human, spreading and growing like a malevolent virus, infecting everyone. And then, when the lights had finally come back on and the train had lurched into the station, a tall well-dressed man had physically barged past her on the platform, as casually as if she’d been a swing door, without even looking back. She was still fuming when she reached the top of the escalator, where the warm atmosphere of below ground was replaced by a fierce, freezing rush of air that came at her so viciously it nearly knocked her backwards. The final insult was that it was raining, hard and horizontal, and completely appearance-ruining.
The only saving grace was that the pub her date had proposed was right opposite the Tube station, as he had promised. Its fascia was newly painted, and even through the deluge Jemma could see a dim, upmarket glow coming from the hanging industrial-style lamps inside. It looked inviting, and safe, a welcome respite from the foulness of the evening. She checked her watch. Despite her journey, she was seven minutes early, and the thought of having to hang around only made her feel more irritated somehow. But at least it gave her plenty of time to dry off, compose herself, make herself look presentable. And, who knew, the evening might even be fun – and even if it wasn’t, she had nothing to lose. She never had to see him again.
Jemma put her leather handbag over her head as ineffectual protection from the rain and sprinted diagonally across the road, dodging cars and buses and puddles with the expertise of a true Londoner. As she burst into the pub, someone familiar turned from the bar and looked over quizzically. Oh shit. Was he early too? It was a strange feeling – as if they already knew each other, which she supposed they sort of did, seeing as they’d read each other’s online dating profiles and had emailed each other a couple of times. He was a little taller than she’d imagined, but still instantly recognizable, and if anything, better-looking than his photo. Jemma realized she had no choice but to brazen it out. She marched across the dull wooden boards, her head held high, despite being completely drenched.
“Hi – Dan?” she said, trying to keep the question in her voice as discreet as she could manage, but still making the cute barman immediately look over.
“Hi, yes. Jemma?”
“Hello,” she said, and she wondered just how bad she looked, although she supposed it didn’t matter. It wasn’t like she was ever going to marry the guy.
“Good to meet you.” He said it quietly, and shuffled awkwardly, making no attempt to kiss her or even shake her hand. He looked dubiously at the rain dripping off her.
“Er, would you like a drink?”
“In a minute,” she said. “I think I’d better go and stick my head under the hairdryer first.” She flashed him a smile that she hoped was full of bravado. “And then I’ll have a glass of red, thanks.”
“I won’t be long.” As Jemma sashayed across the half-empty room, she could hear the tap-tapping of her ankle boots, and she could feel eyes watching her. When she reached the toilets she went straight to the mirror and was relieved to see that she didn’t look quite as bad as she’d imagined. Just soaked through, and a bit flushed, perhaps. She could feel the rhythm of her heart, though: quick and insistent, definitely edgy somehow. Or maybe it was simply that she was still out of breath. She took a couple of deep gulps of air as she grabbed some paper towels and rubbed her hair with them, wiped the water off her coat sleeves. She rummaged in her handbag, found her one item of make- up and smudged it onto her lips, rendering them pink and pale. In the absence of a comb she ruffled her pixie hair with her fingers, and decided she quite liked the wet look. Her eyes glowed, feisty yet startled, like a rambunctious tiger cub’s. She’d looked worse.
More about the author
**Perfect for fans of Behind Closed Doors and Before I Go to Sleep, the author of One Step Too Far brings us another addictive psychological thriller - with a shock twist you won't see coming**
There's trouble in paradise . . .
For as long as she can remember, Jemma has been planning the perfect honeymoon. A fortnight's retreat to a five-star resort in the Maldives, complete with luxury villas, personal butlers and absolute privacy.
It should be paradise. But it's turned into a nightmare.
Because the man Jemma married a week ago has just disappeared from the island without a trace. And now her perfect new life is vanishing just as quickly before her eyes.
After everything they've been through together, how can this be happening? Is there anyone on the island who Jemma can trust? And above all - where has her husband gone?
Praise for Tina Seskis:
'One of the world's leading experts at pulling the wool over readers' eyes until the very end' - Sophie Hannah
'Clever, intriguing, chilling - and utterly impossible to put down. Tina Seskis is proving herself to be the master of the twist' - Grazia
'Astute and witty' - Sunday Mirror
'Genius' - Stylist
'Haunting' - Sun
'Smartly written' - Time Out