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Authors: A. L. Bird

The Good Mother

BOOK: The Good Mother
7.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

The greatest bond. The darkest betrayal.

Susan wakes up alone in a room she doesn’t recognise, with no memory of how she got there. She only knows that she is trapped, and her daughter is missing.

The relief that engulfs her when she hears her daughter’s voice through the wall is quickly replaced by fear.

Because the person who has imprisoned her has her daughter, too.

Devising a plan to keep her daughter safe, Susan begins to get closer to her unknown captor. And suddenly, she realises that she has met him before.

The Good Mother

A.L. Bird


lives in London, where she divides her time between writing and working as a lawyer.
The Good Mother
is her major psychological thriller for Carina UK, the fourth novel she’s written for the imprint. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London, and is also an alumna of the Faber Academy ‘Writing a Novel’ course, which she studied under Richard Skinner. Amy is a member of the Crime Writers’Association. For updates on her writing follow her on Twitter, @ALBirdWriter




Title Page

Author Bio




Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69



I am grateful to everyone who has given me the time, support and encouragement to write this novel. My wonderful editor Clio Cornish, who knows what I’m trying to write even before I’ve written it; my super-savvy agent Amanda Preston of LBA for her off-the-cuff creative brilliance and industry insight; my loyal family for the hours of childcare that enabled me to be closeted away in this new world; to Dr Abigail Crutchlow for her advice on characters (any straying from psychological truth is due to my artistic licence, not your input) and of course my readers, for coming back for more. Thank you.

And to my little one – welcome. May I be the best mother to you, always.


The girl gets into the car that’s waiting for her. She looks over her shoulder first, like he’s told her to, to check Mummy isn’t watching. Would Mummy really mind? She can’t be sure. But he seems to think so. And he knows best, right? So she does the covert glance then slings her school bag into the back seat, like all the other times. He holds his cheek towards her for a kiss, which she dutifully bestows. Then he starts the engine with a vroom. Familiar buildings pass by. Buses on their way to places she recognises: Muswell Hill Broadway; Barnet (The Spires); North Finchley. There are a couple of kids from school. She raises her hand to wave but the man, seeing her, says, ‘Best not.’ So she lowers her hand and plays with the hem of her skirt, gazing absently out of the window.

Gradually, the territory becomes less familiar. The other man, the man they are going to meet, always insists on meeting outside of her home area. Says it’s safer that way. She hopes he’ll buy her a hot chocolate again. That was nice. Lots of whipped cream. Mummy always says whipped cream is bad: ‘You’ll end up big-boned. No one wants to be big-boned.’ The girl commented that the women at Mummy’s cupcake studio don’t seem big-boned. And they have lots of cream. ‘That’s because they spend a lot of time in the bathroom after each session,’ Mummy explained. That didn’t make much sense. But still, after the last visit, she hung round in the bathroom for a good ten minutes, so that the cream didn’t invade her bones and make them puff up.

And if there is hot chocolate, the girl thinks, it will be something to keep me busy. Because there’s not a lot of talking on these trips, so far. The other man doesn’t seem to know what to say. He looks at her a lot. Taking her in, from top to toe. She can feel his gaze travel down then up, up then down. Sometimes he gives a little smile. Other times a frown. She wants to please him, of course. She wants to please everyone. But when she tells him about the usual stuff – school, Mummy, music, boys even – he doesn’t say much back. And the two men glare at each other whenever they’re not looking at her. She can’t figure out why they keep hanging around together. Or what they want her to do on these occasions. So perhaps better just to concentrate on pushing the little wooden stirrer stick up and down in the hot chocolate to make holes, revealing the hot chocolate below. You have to get it to just the right meltiness to drink it. Then it’s delicious. She licks her lips in anticipation. Last time, the other man, the man they’re going to visit, looked like he was anticipating hot chocolate the whole time. Kept licking his lips. If he wanted some of her drink, he should just have said.

This might be the last time at this place, though. Because the previous time the other man, the man they’re going to see, had suggested they meet at his home. More relaxing. They could learn more about each other. He’d even given directions.

‘I just want us to be close, Cara,’ he’d said. ‘You’ll be quite safe. You’ll have your chaperone there throughout.’ He said ‘chaperone’ in a funny way. Like he was making a joke. Perhaps he only used that word because he didn’t know what to call the man who brought her. She didn’t, either, not really. Not once they’d had the little chat that evening in the car, his hand on her knee. Everything changed after that. She couldn’t be herself around him, couldn’t think of anything to say to him at all, never mind his name. She’d settled into the pattern after a while. But it was still odd. Of course it was odd. She would have asked Mummy. If Mummy were allowed to know.

Anyway, whatever he was called, the chaperon didn’t seem to like the idea of going to the other man’s home. So here they were, driving fast to the usual café. A bit faster than usual, maybe? Were they late? She looks at her watch, then realises she doesn’t know what time they’re meant to be there. And she doesn’t really know where ‘there’ is.

So there is nothing to do but sink into the seat. It’s out of her hands. But she’s perfectly safe. Of course she is. It would be like all the other times. See the men. Then go home to Mummy. She looks across at the chaperone to smile, to show him she still trusts him after everything. But he doesn’t smile back. He looks ahead and he frowns.

Chapter 1

My eyes flash open.

There’s a bed, a room and a blankness.

I leap off the bed, a strange bed, a single bed, and collapse straight onto the floor.

Where am I? What’s going on? Why am I so weak?

I put my hands over my eyes. Remove my hands again. But nothing becomes right. I’ve still no idea where I am. Why am I in this alien room? In pyjamas? Is it day, is it night, how long have I been here?

And, oh God.

Where’s Cara? Where’s my daughter?

Look round the room again. It looms and distorts weirdly before me. I don’t trust my eyes.

I try to pull myself to my feet but black spots and nausea get in the way.

OK, Susan. Stop trembling. Try to remember.

A hallway. At home. The doorbell ringing. Delivery expected. Chain not on.

Going to answer the door.

Yes, that’s it. A door. I see a door now, in this room. Maybe Cara is on the other side?

Crawl over the floor. One hand in front of the other. Grunt with the effort. Feel like I’m Cara when she was learning. Past a tray of partially eaten food. White fish. The smell makes me want to vomit.

Approach the door, in this room. Lean my hands against it, inch them higher and higher, climbing with my hands. Finally at the handle. Pull and pull. Handle up, handle down. Please! Open!

Nothing. It stays firmly shut.

In my mind, in my memories, the front door of my house opens. I’ve answered the door. Then blackness, blankness. Nothing but: Cara, my Cara, I must see Cara!

I’m shouting it now, out loud. Screaming it. Black dots back again before my eyes.

Come on. Comprehend. Don’t panic.

Slide down from the door. Look around the room. It’s clean, too clean, apart from the half-eaten fish. White walls. A pine chest of drawers. Potpourri on a dresser. Beige carpets. All normal. My hands ball in and out of fists. It is not normal to me.

And you are not here.

But why, Susan, why would she be here? Was she even at home when that doorbell rang? She’s fifteen, why would she be there, at home, with Mum? She might be safe, somewhere else, happy, even now.

I shake my head. Wrong. It feels wrong. I need to know where you are. Something is telling me, the deep-rooted maternal instinct, that you’re not safe. I need to see you.

Footsteps! From the other side of the door.

A key in the lock. I watch the handle turn. Slowly, the door pushes open.


How could I have forgotten about him?

We face each other, him standing, me on the floor. Bile rises in my throat.


This is the now-known stranger who has locked me in here. Wherever ‘here’ is. It’s been what – two … three days? He must have drugged the fish. That’s why it took me a while, for any recollection to return.

He’s holding a beaker of water.

‘Thought you might like something to drink, Susan.’

He knows my name. A researched, not random, snatching then. Watching, from afar? For how long?

I stare at him.

‘Where is she?’ I manage. Not my usual voice. My throat is dry. The words are cracked, splitting each syllable in two.

‘You mustn’t hate me, Susan,’ he says.

I wait for more. Some explanation. Nothing.

Could I jump him? Could I run past him, out of the door? I must try, mustn’t I? Even if there is no ‘past him’. He fills the whole doorway.

Stop thinking. Act! Forget the shaking legs. Go, go, go! Storm him, surprise him!

But he is too quick. He slips out. The door closes. The lock turns.

‘They’ll come looking!’ I shout, slamming my hands against the door.

Because they will, won’t they? Paul, even now, must be working with the police, following up trails, looking at traffic cameras, talking to witnesses. Find my wife, he’ll be shouting to anyone who’ll listen. Neighbours, dog-walkers, Mrs Smith from number thirty-nine with that blessed curtain twitching. My afternoon clients, they must have raised the alarm, when I wasn’t there. Right? I must be a missing person by now. Please, whoever has lost me, come and find me.

BOOK: The Good Mother
7.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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