The Girl You Lost: A gripping psychological thriller

BOOK: The Girl You Lost: A gripping psychological thriller
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The Girl You Lost
A gripping psychological thriller
Kathryn Croft

F
or Oliver
, our rainbow.

Prologue

I
t had been
easy to get him alone. He’d played right into her hands and all she’d had to do was flash a smile at him. Laugh at his jokes. Pretend to be interested in his words.

But now they were in his flat, in a part of town she barely knew, and if she wasn’t careful, her control would slip away.

‘This is your home?’ she asked, glancing around, taking in the sparse furnishings and bare white walls. This place was a show home, with no sign that anybody lived here.

He nodded, pulling her towards him, his hand sliding down the back of her skirt. His skin was cold and she smelt whisky on his breath as he leaned towards her, his mouth fumbling for hers.

For a moment she let him kiss her; it was a small sacrifice to make in return for finding out the truth. And the truth was what she would get tonight, no matter what it took. She had vowed to herself that before this day was over she would have an answer.

‘Tell me what you meant the other day,’ she said, pressing her body against his, feeling how hard he was under his jeans.

‘Huh? What?’ He was distracted. And drunk. Not a good combination.

‘You started to tell me something. Remember?’

He took his hand from her skirt and placed it under her shirt, rubbing her breast. She tried not to flinch. She had deliberately worn a low cut denim shirt, too many buttons undone, flashing just a small section of her bra. But her effort had been unnecessary; he wouldn’t have cared if she was dressed in a bin liner.

‘Forget that,’ he slurred. ‘Come in the bedroom.’

She would have to do as he asked. Following him, she prayed things would not have to go too far. She couldn’t bear the thought of his naked body on top of her. No, she couldn’t let that happen.

The curtains were drawn in the bedroom, only a sliver of soft street lighting shining through a tiny slit in the middle. He was digging in his pocket for something, finally pulling out his mobile and tapping on it.

‘Damn it. Battery’s dead. Fuck. Can you give me your phone?’

‘Why?’ she said. ‘Who are you calling?’

‘Nobody. Just let me check something.’

Reluctantly she handed her mobile to him, waiting to see what he’d do.

‘I want to film you,’ he said, pointing her phone at her.

She stepped back towards the door. ‘What? No. Why? Stop it. Give my phone back.’ She lunged forward, trying to make a grab for it, but he whipped his arm back.

His smile dropped. ‘Take off your clothes.’

Sitting on the bed now, he kept the phone pointed at her. ‘It won’t be the same as using my camera, but you look so good I need to capture you. I can send it to my phone after.’

The thought of him having any piece of her, even just on film, filled her with horror. ‘Wait. Tell me first. Tell me what you meant. And stop filming.’ At least it was her phone; she would just make sure she deleted the video the second she got it back in her possession.

He let out a heavy sigh, proving he knew exactly what she was asking. ‘Anyone would think you’re using me. That’s not nice, is it? I want something in return. Come on, play fair.’

His words were jovial but there was something in his expression, the deep lines etched on his forehead. He would not take rejection well. Perhaps she could play along for a few moments longer, let him think he was having his way.

Slowly, she undid the last few buttons on her shirt, trying to ignore the fact that he was still filming, rubbing his crotch. His eyes remained fixed on the phone screen; he was clearly more interested in watching her that way than in the flesh.

‘That’s it,’ she said, removing her shirt and placing her hands on her hips, trying to show she was still in control. ‘That’s all you get until you talk.’

Ignoring her, he lowered his arm. ‘Take everything off. And stay there. Come on, you’re wasting time. I’m losing my patience.’ He shook his head and his stare became cold, hard and unfamiliar.

That was when she realised she had made a terrible mistake. She had underestimated him. There was no way he was letting her leave until he’d done what he wanted to do.

‘That’s it, I’m out of here,’ she said. There had to be a better way to get the truth from him. Clearly this was not going to work. She began to pull her shirt back on but within seconds he had sprung up and was forcing her onto the bed, tugging at her skirt.

‘I’ve wanted you for ages,’ he said, his body weighing down on her, stopping her moving.

She struggled underneath him, but it was futile. Turning away, she wanted to scream but it died in her mouth. And then she noticed the heavy glass lamp on the bedside table. She couldn’t give up now she had come this far. ‘Just tell me what you meant the other day.’

A smug grin spread across his face, but he didn’t answer.

Trying to produce a flirtatious smile, she was unsure she was pulling it off. ‘It doesn’t have to be like this. Wouldn’t you prefer it if I enjoyed myself too? Let you do whatever you want to me? Isn’t that better?’ It was a risk. He clearly got off on the idea of using force.

But he barely moved. ‘Come on then, what are you waiting for?’

She swallowed the lump in her throat and reached for his penis, stroking it, fighting nausea. ‘You like this, don’t you?’

His eyes glazed over and he raised his head, staring at the ceiling. ‘Yeah, that’s good.’

‘Will you tell me now?’

He looked down and laughed, and she realised she probably wasn’t going to get anything out of him after all. She would have to think of a new strategy, one that started closer to home.

But then he opened his mouth and spoke, an unfamiliar name falling from his lips, seconds before he yanked up her skirt and lunged towards her.

And that was when she reached for the lamp and smashed it into his skull, repeating the action until his grip finally loosened.

One

Eighteen Years Ago

I
stare
at my baby as I hold her in my arms and can’t believe we’ve produced something so beautiful. She may have arrived years too early but I wouldn’t change a thing. I only hope Matt feels the same. He seems out of his comfort zone, but then so am I. Sometimes I watch him holding her nervously, as if she is china that will break in his hand, but the smile on his face speaks louder than any of his doubts. They have all gone now, vanquished by our beautiful Helena.

As soon as I put her back in her cot she resumes crying, but I have to leave her, that’s what the midwife said. I can’t keep rushing to her with every shriek. So I leave the room and close the door, carrying the baby monitor with me, Helena’s cries following me out.

Matt is on the sofa, surrounded by a pile of textbooks, his brow creased in concentration. I watch him for a moment and my heart swells with pride. He will be a doctor one day and we will live somewhere with more than three rooms. Helena will have her own bedroom and he will have somewhere to work in peace.

He looks up and smiles. ‘Hey.’ His eyes flick towards the screeching monitor.

I look around but there’s nowhere to put it. The kitchen and living room are one open plan area and Helena is in our bedroom, the only other room apart from our cramped bathroom.

‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘I’m sure she’ll stop soon.’

He must sense my panic because he puts his books aside and stands up, crossing over to me and pulling me close. ‘Hey, it’s okay, she’s just settling in. Getting used to us. This must be strange for her. I mean, one minute she’s comfortable in here,’ he rubs my stomach, still swollen from pregnancy, ‘and the next she has all this to deal with. Us. Two parents who don’t know what the hell they’re doing!’ He looks around the flat. ‘And look at our surroundings. I mean, this place is bad enough for us, let alone a baby.’

‘It’s not that bad,’ I say, gazing at the tiny room. The yellowing wallpaper is peeling from the walls and the carpet is threadbare, but at least it’s our home. Most of our friends still live with their parents, so we’re lucky to have our own space. And South Ealing’s not a bad place to live.

Matt sighs. ‘I just wish I could afford something better for us. I will, soon, I promise. Once I’ve finished medical school and got a job, we’ll be fine. We’ll laugh about this.’

‘Well, it’s better than living separately with our parents,’ I remind him. ‘At least we’re together. A family.’

Matt chews his bottom lip. It’s a habit I’ve noticed him doing a lot lately. ‘How weird does that sound, eh? A family! At our ages.’

He doesn’t need to tell me how strange this is. I am nineteen and he is twenty-two, much too young to be calling ourselves a family. But Helena has changed everything.

I pull back. ‘You don’t regret it, do you?’

He takes both my hands and gently squeezes them. ‘No, never. I mean, I know I freaked out at first, but … I was just … I don’t know. Scared? But now she’s here, I wouldn’t have it any other way.’

‘Even if she makes it difficult to study?’ I say, holding up the baby monitor. Helena is still crying but somehow I have become used to it, it is only harmless and reassuring background noise, nothing to worry about.

Matt puts his book aside and leans forward. ‘Tell you what, why don’t I call Mum? Ask her to take Helena to the park for a bit? Some fresh air might help settle her.’

‘Do you think she’d mind?’ Even as I ask this, I know the answer. As much as she had reservations about us having Helena, Miriam dotes on her granddaughter and we’d be lost without her support.

Matt gives me a look that says,
What do you think?
then reaches for the phone.

Less than an hour later, Helena is in her pram, cuddled up to her toy rabbit, ready for her visit to the park. She is already calmer, as if she knows she has a treat in store.

‘I’m so glad you called,’ Miriam says, her eyes fixed on the baby. ‘You know, I might be busy with work but I could help more often. Don’t be afraid to ask. You’re both young, you’ll need time on your own. And a baby shouldn’t come between a couple, it should only make you stronger.’

‘Actually, Mum, I just need to study,’ Matt says, but his mother ignores him, disappearing through the door with a sing-song goodbye.

‘Did you mean it about studying?’ I say, as soon as the door clicks shut.

‘Why, what did you have in mind?’ Matt flashes that smile, the sexy one I haven’t seen for a while now, and I feel myself melt. For the first time since our baby was born I need him, right now, there is no time to get to the bedroom.

W
e lie together
, naked on the sofa, our clothes scattered over the floor. I listen to the sound of Matt breathing and realise I don’t want to move. Ever. I want to draw out this moment, stretch it as far as it can go like a rubber band, even though I know eventually it will ping back.

I kiss his chest. ‘That didn’t feel different, did it?’ I have to ask, I have heard stories about things changing down there after childbirth.

‘No, no. ‘Course not. Everything’s great. Everything’s fine.’

And it is.

Until the phone rings and our world is shattered forever.


W
hat
? Slow down. Tell me again. I can’t understand you.’

I grip Matt’s arm as he speaks into the phone. I don’t need to ask who the caller is, I already know. And I also know something is very wrong.

‘Oh, shit, oh fuck. Have you looked everywhere? Are you sure? Call the police. Now. I’m coming down there.’

He slams down the phone and grabs his jeans. ‘Don’t panic, Simone, but that was Mum. She’s saying she can’t find Helena. I’m going to the park now but stay here in case the police come. She’s calling them now but they might need someone here, I don’t know. Fuck! Shit!’

‘What … what do you mean she can’t find her? What’s happened?’ I am still naked, and freezing cold now, but can’t seem to move.

Matt’s words blend into each other and sound like a foreign language. The only thing I catch is that Helena is missing. Something about the toilets in the park. And Miriam getting sick. None of it makes sense. It is all wrong. She can’t be missing. It’s impossible.

But slowly it starts to sink in and I fall to the floor, my knees cracking against the carpet. I can’t feel any physical pain; it is masked too deeply by my inability to breathe. Clutching at my chest, all I can focus on is how I’ve let Helena down. I’m supposed to be her mother, to protect her, even when she’s out of my sight.

I scream these thoughts to Matt and he pulls me up, cupping my face in his hands.

‘We’ll find her,” he says. ‘You’ve got to stay calm.’

I’m too numb to respond and all I can do is listen as he yells instructions at me and rushes from the flat.

And that’s when I know this is real.

BOOK: The Girl You Lost: A gripping psychological thriller
11.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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