“There you are,” Leo says, coming into the kitchen, a stack of dirty glasses in his hands. He puts them down next to the sink, pushes his hair from his forehead. “Are you coming out to the garden? You’re missing all the chat.” He raises an eyebrow. “I’m currently being warned about our bins being visible on the drive on collection day, not tucked away at the side of the house.”
“Wow,” I say, smiling. “I wouldn’t even know what to say to that.” I open a bag of crisps, tip the contents into a bowl, rescue a couple that spill over the edge. The scent of truffle, artificial, catches my nose. “I’ll join you as soon as everyone has arrived, I promise. Someone needs to be here to answer the door.”
He eyes the bowl doubtfully. “What flavor are those?” “Try one.”
He takes one, crunches it in his mouth and wrinkles his nose. “Dead bodies,” he says. “It tastes of dead bodies.”
I laugh, because I get what he means. They’re pungent, earthy. He takes another bite and grimaces exaggeratedly, and I’m glad he’s finally relaxed. He’d been annoyed when I told him I’d gone ahead and invited people for drinks. I’d sprung it on him on Thursday evening, when he came back from his three days in Birmingham. It had been another scorching day and he’d looked hot, and cross.
“I thought we’d agreed to wait,” he’d said, tugging at the neck of his shirt.
Guilt had me reaching for a bottle of wine, hoping to pacify him.
“It’s only for drinks,” I told him, knowing I needed to avoid the word “party.”
“Who have you invited?”
I handed him the bottle while I dug in the drawer for the corkscrew. “Just the people from here.”
“Yes. But the people from number 3 can’t come and only Maria or Tim from number 9 are coming, so that’s twenty-one at the most.”
“When is it?”
He’d been silent all evening and yesterday, he’d gone to see Eve’s partner, Will. I watched from the window as they talked on the doorstep, worried he was telling Will there’d been a mistake and that we had to cancel. But when he came back, he said he was going out to buy beer and champagne, and I’d breathed a sigh of relief.
“How’s the champagne going?” I ask now. “Will we have enough?” “Not at the rate I’m drinking it!”
Recognizing Eve’s voice, I look over Leo’s shoulder and see her standing in the doorway, an empty glass in her hand, a pink flush staining her cheeks, matching the pink tips she’s added to her white pixie cut. “It’s delicious! I’m not sure Prosecco is going to cut it for me in the future.”
I met Eve properly the day after I overheard her and Tamsin talking outside my window, and I instantly liked her. It wasn’t just that—unlike Tamsin—she seemed eager to get to know me and Leo, it was also that she was warm and caring, understanding that it wasn’t easy moving into a street where everyone already knew everyone else. She and Will only moved to The Circle eighteen months ago, so things are still relatively new for her too.
Leo turns. “Has everybody arrived, Eve, do you think? Alice is worried she won’t hear the bell from the garden.”
“Will’s just arrived, his rehearsal ran over, so I think everyone is here, except Maria and Tim,” she says. “But didn’t I see a message on the WhatsApp group saying they have babysitting issues?”
I take three bottles of champagne from the fridge and hand one to her, two to Leo. “Yes, Maria said that one of them would come along if they could.”
Eve laughs. “They have three boys, so that could explain their babysitting issues. Lovely but noisy.”
“Edward and Lorna aren’t here either,” I say, now knowing the name of my elderly neighbor, and his wife. “I went over to introduce myself, and to make sure they’d seen the invitation, and they said they weren’t sure they’d be able to come.”
“I’m not sure parties are their kind of thing,” Eve says doubtfully. “I honestly don’t think anyone else will come now but why don’t you leave the door ajar?” Eve hugs the bottle to her chest like she’s scared someone will steal it. “Then if Tim or Maria come along, they can let themselves in.”
I hesitate a moment. Back in Harlestone, I wouldn’t have a problem leaving the door open but living in a city is different. Sensing my unease, Leo kisses the top of my head.
“It’s fine,” he says. “We’re in a gated street, noone can get in unless they’re let in.”
I give him a smile. He’s right, and anyway, I need to shake off my preconceptions about living in London. I go through to the hall but before I can unlatch the door, there’s a ring on the bell. “I’ll be out in a minute!” I call over my shoulder to Leo. “I’ll just get this.”
I open the door to a tall, good-looking man dressed in smart chinos and a beautiful linen jacket. He’s standing a few steps back, looking down at me from slightly hooded deep-set gray eyes.
“You must be Tim,” I say, smiling. “I’m Alice—come in.” “Hi, Alice, lovely to meet you.”
He steps into the hall, ducking his head below the glass pendant lightshade. For a moment, neither of us speaks.
“Did you know the house before?” I ask, breaking the silence. “No, not really. I know you’ve had some work done, though.” “Only upstairs. We created a bigger bedroom by knocking down a wall.”
“Sounds fascinating. I’m trying to imagine it.” He looks toward the stairs. “At the front or the back?”
“The back. I can show you if you like,” I add with a smile, because it isn’t the first time I’ve traipsed up the stairs this evening. All twelve houses in The Circle were originally identical, although some have been extended since. People are interested to see how we’ve used the same space.
“Great, I’d love to see it,” he says, following me up.
“So, Maria drew the short straw,” I say, when we reach the landing.
“She got to stay home and look after the boys. She said you were having trouble finding a babysitter.”
He nods. “That’s right, we couldn’t. Beginning of the school year, so I guess they prefer to catch up with friends.”
I open the only door on the right-hand side of the landing. As he follows me in, the sound of people chatting and laughing in the garden floats in through the open windows.
“Amazing,” Tim says, looking around. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a big bedroom.”
“It was Leo’s idea,” I say. “We didn’t need three bedrooms so he had two of them knocked into one.”
“I hope this doesn’t give Mary ideas.”
“Mary?” I can hear Eve’s infectious laugh and suddenly, I’m desperate to get out there and be part of it. “I’m sorry, I thought your wife was called Maria.”
He smiles. “She is, but I call her Mary. It started off as a joke because she went to a convent school, and it kind of stuck.” He looks at the wardrobe, which runs half the length of the wall opposite the windows. It’s extra deep and has beautiful wooden-slatted doors. “I wouldn’t mind a wardrobe that size.”
I laugh and he moves out of the room, letting me go past him down the stairs.
“Thank you,” he says gravely when we get to the hall. “For the grand tour.”
I point toward the garden. “Everyone is outside so grab a glass and help yourself to anything you like. I’m just going to close the door.”
I take a moment to breathe in the quiet air at the front of the house before going to the garden. As I pass the kitchen, I see Tim at the sink, filling a glass of water from the tap. I want to tell him that there’s chilled, bottled water in the ice-bin outside but I can see Leo waving at me, so I start to weave my way through the throng of people. He’s standing with Will, who is gesticulating theatrically with his hands as he explains something to Leo. Will is an actor, a rising star and, with his thick dark hair, roman nose and chiseled lips, on his way to becoming a rising heart-throb. Eve complains that they can’t go out without him being recognized but I can tell she’s secretly thrilled.
As I get nearer, they’re joined by Geoff from number 8, who’s divorced, and—no, I can’t remember the name of the other man with the tawny hair. He came with Tamsin, so I’m a bit wary. To be honest, after what I’d overheard, I was surprised when she eventually replied to my invitation on the WhatsApp group and said she and her husband—Cameron? Connor?—would see us on Saturday. Maybe Eve persuaded her to come.
I smooth my white sundress self-consciously, scanning the garden for someone standing on their own. But there are only groups of people who’ve known each other for years and are happy to catch up with each other after the holidays. I’m a stranger at my own party, I realize.
“Alice, over here!”
I see Eve standing on tiptoes, waving in my direction. Grabbing a bowl of crisps from the table, I make my way over.
“Nice dress.” Looking up, I see the man with tawny hair standing in front of me. Judging from the four glasses he’s holding in one giant hand, he’s going to get refills.
“Thanks.” I give him a smile. “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“Connor. I’m Tamsin’s better half.” His voice has the trace of a Scottish accent.
“Well, I haven’t met her properly yet but I’ll keep that in mind when I do,” I say.
He laughs and moves away.
Creep, I think, watching him go. Then I feel bad, because he was only having a joke.
I carry on to where Eve is standing with her friends and I could swear Tamsin’s eyes narrow a little when she sees me.
“We were just saying how brave you are, moving in here,” she says, and gets a nudge from Eve in return. With corkscrew curls framing her face and her pale green eyes, Tamsin really is stunning. I give her a smile. “I’m sure I’ll get used to it. Especially with lovely neighbors like you,” I add, in an attempt to get her on my side. She frowns and I sense it then, she doesn’t like me. My heart sinks. Maybe Tamsin is one of those women who guard their friends jealously and my remark has made me seem presumptuous in thinking I can join their group. I need to take things more slowly.
“Why don’t you get a drink?” Cara, a pretty brunette says. I know she came with Paul but I can’t remember what number they live at. Two, maybe? She dips her hand into the bowl I’m holding. “These crisps are delicious. Where did you find them?”
“From the delicatessen in Dean Street,” Tamsin says, beating me to it. She gives a tight smile. “I’ve bought them there before.”
The rest of the evening passes in a whirlwind. By the time the last guests have left, I feel more at home than I thought I would.
“Everyone is so friendly,” I say to Leo as we stack glasses into the dishwasher. “We should start having people around to dinner in small groups so that we can talk to them properly.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Let’s take the time to work out who everybody is first.”
“I already know who everybody is,” I tease. “Did you meet Cara and Paul from number 2? They seem really nice.”
He straightens up. “I’m sure they are. But don’t make snap judgments about people, Alice. And be careful what you share about yourself. I don’t want this to be like Harlestone.”
I stare at him, thrown. “Why not?”
He pulls me toward him, wanting to take the sting out of his words.
“Because I don’t want anyone knowing our business. We’re fine on our own, Alice.” He kisses my mouth. “We don’t need anyone else.”
From The Therapist, by B.A. Paris. Copyright ©2021 by the author, and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.
B. A. Paris
The multimillion-copy New York Times bestselling author B.A. Paris returns to her heartland of gripping psychological suspense in The Therapist—a powerful tale of a house that holds a shocking secret.
When Alice and Leo move into a newly renovated house in The Circle, a gated community of exclusive houses, it is everything they’ve dreamed of. But appearances can be deceptive…
As Alice is getting to know her neighbours, she discovers a devastating secret about her new home, and begins to feel a strong connection with Nina, the therapist who lived there before.
Alice becomes obsessed with trying to piece together what happened two years before. But no one wants to talk about it. Her neighbors are keeping secrets and things are not as perfect as they seem…