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An “amazing” (NYT bestselling author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn) high-concept thriller in which a couple’s romantic weekend-getaway is not what is seems.
Named a Most Anticipated Book by Bookish
He’s not who he says he is.
Then again, neither is she.
Steven Harding is a handsome, well-respected professor. Ellie Masterson is a wide-eyed grad student.
Together, they are driving south from New York for their first vacation: three days in an isolated cabin, far from the city.
Ahead of them, the promise of long, dark nights—and the chance to get to know each other better, away from prying eyes.
It should be a perfect romantic getaway for two. But when a snowstorm strands them in the house, each realizes the other harbors a dangerous secret—and soon it becomes clear one of them won’t escape the weekend alive.
By turns tantalizing, surprising, and thrilling, Nobody But Us heralds the arrival of an incredibly talented author of literary suspense.
“I desire the things that will destroy me in the end.”
The house will tell them what happened. Everything here tells a story. The truth will set you free, they say.
It begins with the silent heartbeat of blue lights pulsing through the windows, before the outside world invades the space with thuds and footsteps. Through the open front door cold sneaks in and rushes up the stairs. The house shudders and comes to life.
It spreads with voices, which shatter the silence further. Gradually, a few words rise through the pandemonium of noises—victim, unresponsive, Jesus Christ. They belong to a police officer with a Burt Reynolds mustache. A shiny badge reads “Deputy Wilcox”—black letters etched on brass, the O almost scratched into another C. His eyes are full of questions as he tries to take in what happened here. He smells of coffee, the foam of it hemming the bristles of his mustache. Yellow teeth in need of cleaning peek from under his chapped lips. Palming his chin, he takes in a scene rarely witnessed in those quiet parts of the county. A car wreck, maybe, the odd wood-chopping accident. But this? This is what animals do to each other—and in the bowels of the forest, not in some fancy house. What’s happened here stains the carpet and the walls with red and reeks. He closes his eyes, but the images cling to him, trapped behind his lids. They follow him as he heads back downstairs. All around, the house unfolds like a scene in a pulp novel.
On the third step lies a discarded heart on a broken chain. A present to a girl who no longer exists. One of Wilcox’s colleagues collects it, dropping it inside a little plastic bag where the romantic token becomes another clue to the gruesome events that have unfolded here. Once sealed, the bag joins others, mostly pregnant with what looks like shredded clothing. One of them holds the broken pieces of a mug.
On the first floor, there are more officers dotted around, more eyes asking questions, more chaos. An explosion of camera flashes; the static fuzz from police radios; the smack of latex gloves; a persistent smell which gets worse down here and forces Deputy Wilcox to breathe through his mouth. The stench of death and body fluids seeping out. Blood streaks the door frames and walls; the kitchen counter is smeared with it—riddles staining plaster and wood, written in cast-offs and spatters left to be deciphered. In the living room a wheelchair lies on its side like some wounded animal, while the charred remains of a bag smolder in the fireplace.
Everything here tells a story.
Leaving the mayhem behind, Deputy Wilcox shuffles toward the gaping mouth of the front door.
Outside, the sharp bite of cold air stings. Sunlight stains the horizon with pale yellow and orange, leading the way for a new day. No more overbearing clouds stretching over; blue has reclaimed the sky, where seagulls scream at the intruders disturbing the peace and quiet of the coast.
The snow out front is peppered with a trail of blood; at the end of it a gloved hand excavates a knife from its icy tomb. In the distance, the double doors of the garage yawn open and another officer on his haunches inspects the deep gashes in the flat front tire. Nobody was getting out.
Amid the askew police cars, there’s an ambulance waiting. Behind its bulky shape and flashing lights, the woods have stopped being an ominous presence; trees have disentangled themselves from the darkness. Everything is different under the light of day. But even if the snow is shimmering now with beauty, beneath it the ground is still dead.
Two paramedics jump from the back of the ambulance. The air inside is flavored with the strong smell of ammonia. The mattress on the stretcher is thin and squeaks with every move.
“Where to, guys?” asks the deputy.
“Mercy General Hospital,” replies the medic with blond hair in a low ponytail. He looks too young to be responsible for someone’s life.
After the ambulance’s doors slam shut, one word hangs in the air, acrid like sulfur from a lit match, one word that doesn’t belong in this place.
One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
If I’m not careful I could get hurt. Badly. Breathing evenly, I advance on a sidewalk encased in a sheet of ice where every step challenges my relationship with gravity. The big weekender bag in my hand and the heavy tote sitting on my shoulder threaten to tip me off balance. Enough packed for three days. But first, we need to get out of the city.
The car is only a yard away, but one step is all it takes—my right foot escapes my control, sliding sideways. Grabbing me by the arm, Steven breaks my fall before I end up an embarrassment on the sidewalk. My hip still aches from my previous fall a couple of days ago. Luckily, he wasn’t there to witness that. My body sprawled on the snow after running out of the subway and slipping on the last step, the innards from my bag skidding across the ice. Me on all fours corralling my belongings, an additional obstacle for busy commuters with much better balance than me.
“Careful there, you don’t want the trip to be over before it starts,” he jokes, offering me one of his most charming smiles.
I need him for stability. Only once my balance is fully restored does he relieve me of the bag in my hand and drop it in the open trunk of the Lexus. Despite wearing dress shoes, he doesn’t slip once.
The apology burns my cheek a deep crimson, and I hastily stuff my body inside the car before I can humiliate myself further. I drop onto the passenger seat in a bundle of wool—layers of sweater, coat, gloves, a long navy scarf coiled around my neck and a sloppy beanie on my head. With a sharp shrug of his shoulders, Steven’s coat slides down his arms. He folds it before laying it on the back seat, then he slips into the driver’s seat in one swift, controlled move. On the other side of the gearbox, I wiggle in my seat, fighting to untangle myself from my clothes.
I’m in a deadlock with my coat when the air is stirred with the low humming of the phone vibrating on the dashboard. Before I can glance at the screen, the phone is in his hand. He smiles at whatever he reads before frowning.
“Is everything OK?” I ask, but he doesn’t hear me, his attention firmly on his phone. “Is everything all right?” I repeat.
“Yes, sorry, it’s fine, just work.”
His expression worries me. “Do you have to go in?” One word from him and it could all be ruined. It’s happened before. Just a couple of weeks ago, his text canceling our dinner at Nessia’s came only a couple of hours before we were supposed to meet. The idea that our anniversary trip could be called off at such short notice finds its way under my skin and draws a shudder out of me. I fight the helpless panic, and the seat belt, which doesn’t want to budge. The harder I tug, the less it moves. This can’t be happening right now. His face doesn’t give me any clue as to what his decision will be.
“Whatever they need, they can do without me. I’m all yours for the next three days,” he says, his eyes locked with mine. And I believe him.
I sink into my seat and finally click my seat belt into place, ready for our first weekend away. Leaving work behind, he slips his phone in the slot next to the handbrake. The dying light of the screen winks, and it dawns on me: I haven’t called Connor back. His name flashed up on my phone while I packed, and my silent promise to call as soon as I’d finished was forgotten somewhere in the numerous back-and-forth trips between the bathroom and bedroom.
It’s too late now.
The car silently drags away from the curb, tires biting on to the grit littering the road. As we trundle into the afternoon traffic, Steven’s eyes flick to his rearview mirror, but they don’t flick straight back to the road ahead. His gaze has snagged on something that doesn’t want to let go and deepens the line between his brow. I squirm in my seat, but—as we round the corner—all I catch through the misted rear window is the smudge of a fuchsia coat and a shock of blonde curls.
“First trip of 2015, then,” Steven says before I can ask the question shaping at the back of my throat.
“First trip together.”
“First six-month anniversary.”
Bumper to bumper, we crawl out of Manhattan under a cloudy sky painted orange, an unmistakable sign that it’s about to snow again. Flakes have been piling up for days now, cluttering sidewalks and driveways and accounting for an increase in broken limbs and mild concussions. The conditions are unavoidable: the forecast is similar down Chesapeake Bay.
The traffic improves after we leave Newark in the rear-view mirror. Steven knows where we’re going, but the GPS feeds him hints on how to get there. Relaxing in the passenger seat, I imagine us at our destination, the weekend unfolding in my mind perfectly.
With still over an hour left before we get there, the fuel needle indicates we have roughly a quarter tank left, and Steven steers the car into the next exit, leading to a gas station.
“Can you get me a bag of Hershey’s Kisses?” I ask as I leave him to fill up the car.
In the meantime, I get the bathroom key from the station attendant—a young girl with bright cobalt hair, wearing a polyester uniform and a look of boredom on her face. The ground is slippery with slushy snow; I allow the wall to guide me around to the back of the building.
The crisp January air bites the skin exposed above my scarf wrapped around my neck. I bury my nose deeper in, breathing through the soft cashmere. A gift from Steven. I don’t even want to think how much it costs, but he knows I hate the cold. I am not built for it. Still, I would take cold over damp. Cold only gets beneath the layers of your clothes; damp will insinuate itself beneath your skin and not let go. I shiver.
Inside the windowless room, the air is soured by the acrid smell of urine and cheap bleach. Breathing through my mouth, I hover above the bowl, trying to pee as quickly as possible, ignoring the free literature of profound one-liners and questionable art scribbled on the wall.
Only a hundred miles separate us from our final destination, and then: nobody else but us, for three days. Three days. Seventy-two hours, 4,320 minutes of us with nowhere to hide from each other. I hope I don’t mess this up. Apparently, you don’t really know someone until you’ve gone away with them. Where did I read that? What will I learn about Steven this weekend that I don’t already know? I shrug and finish, before deciding against washing my hands in a basin that seems to be growing new forms of life.
Deep breath in. Outside, the air is heavy with gas fumes. I walk back to the main store just in time to see the attendant blushing at whatever Steven has said to her. She fiddles with the army of bracelets snaked around her wrist, looking down as she smiles and replies. Their exchange grounds me to my spot by the door, the steam of my breath making my face wet beneath the layers of my scarf. Frozen, I watch his lips move, imagining what words might be crossing their threshold. The artificial light catches in the silver threading the hair at his temple, adding a glow to his regal profile.
The word jolts me out of my trance, and I sidestep to let a middle-aged woman with oversized glasses and a kind face open the door. As I follow her in, the bathroom key weighs heavy in my hand.
Inside, the scene has changed; Steven swipes his black AMEX and receipt from the counter as cashier girl offers me a professional smile. Once they’re finished, I hand her the key. Steven wraps his arm around my waist, and I nestle into his embrace.
“They didn’t have any Hershey’s Kisses, but I got you a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups,” Steven says as we walk away, leaving the blue-haired girl behind.
“Thank you.” Reese’s are his favorites, not mine; the over-abundance of peanut butter always makes me feel sick. Before I can add anything, he hands me his credit card receipt.
The car beeps open in an invitation for us to get out of the cold. Flakes have just started falling again, finding their way in the gap between the scarf and my skin—little pinpricks of cold which send a shiver across my shoulders. On the other side of the car, Steven cracks his neck.
“I can drive the rest of the way if you want,” I offer, making small folds in the receipt from the girl with blue hair.
“No, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure? It’s a long drive, I don’t mind.”
“It’s OK. I don’t want you to have to worry with all that snow on the road.”
“You know I’m a good driver.”
“Of course you are. But you just relax and we’ll be there soon,” he says as he slips into the driver’s seat.
Back on the freeway, the air inside the car is thick with the growing reality of this weekend. As the heat spills out of the air vents, I glance at Steven’s profile illuminated intermittently by the artificial glow of highway lights and passing cars. Light and shadows travel across his face like fleeting thoughts.
My eyes keep flitting between the constellation of brake lights ahead and his face, but they settle on him—the lines of his straight nose, high forehead, the curve of his bottom lip. A swarm of feelings swells up inside my chest, so strong they threaten to spill out into the car. My nails dig into the fleshy part between my thumb and index finger until the pain overshadows everything else. I can’t believe we’ve made it to six months—so much has stood in the way lately—but we’ve left all that in the city, and all that remains is us. Nobody but us.
As we cross state lines, the droning rhythm of the highway settles heavy on my lids. Tilting the back of the seat a little further, I unfurl, settling in for the rest of the drive down to Chesapeake Bay. My feet fight with my tote bag on the floor for the space I need.
“Why don’t you drop it on the back seat?”
“No, it’s OK.” Leaning over, I push the bag against the bottom of my seat so I can finally stretch my legs into the footwell.
“That thing always looks like it’s about to explode.” His laugh billows inside the confined space of the car. Unzipping the bag, I stuff the unopened packet of Reese’s Cups in.
“What have you got in there?” he asks, throwing a side glance only to see me lean further and close it back. “Hiding a present for me?”
“No.” I definitely don’t want him to see what I’ve got for him, at least not now. “Just the usual. Wallet, toiletries, books, stuff. You know.”
“Books? You brought homework on our weekend?”
“Yes. No. Just research, not homework. I’ve got this essay on Dostoevsky coming up. Maybe I can do some reading.”
His eyes leave the ribbon of asphalt unearthed by headlights to glance at me before they return to the road.
“Still working on that? Which one is it? The Idiot?”
“No, The Devils.”
He laughs again. “That’s great. You’re telling me that you’ve brought along a bunch of Russian philanderers and murderers on our weekend away.”
“Well, professor, I thought you could do with some competition for my attention. Plus, you can always help me discuss ‘pride and guilt in The Devils’ if we run out of things to say.”
“Hopefully, I can keep you busy enough so we don’t have to talk about Dostoevsky,” he says, his hand leaving the grooves of the steering wheel to stroke my cheek.
“Well, we’ll see,” I reply.
His hand on the back of my neck, he pulls me toward him for a quick kiss.
Steven cuts off the engine. His phone has been vibrating on and off for the last forty-five minutes, and the buzzing seems unusually loud in the confined space of the car. Next to him, Ellie is still asleep in the passenger seat. Twisting the ring on his little finger, he reads the string of messages which have been demanding his attention, threatening to wake up Ellie.
Miss U xxx.
Need 2 talk xxx.
Why R U not answering?
I know about her. Know U R with her.
The last one pulls his brow together, not at the explicit assertion of knowledge but at what is implied, the power derived from knowing, of how it could be used.
He hasn’t seen J. since he made the decision to focus on Ellie, though it’s fair to say the relationship had run its course anyway. Despite her constant messages, he hasn’t called J. back, and the few times he’s seen her loitering outside Richmond Prep, he’s been deep in conversation with a colleague and slipped away before she could approach him. Her clinginess has left a sour taste in the back of his throat; such childish behavior. She really doesn’t compare to Ellie. The timing of this trip couldn’t have been better.
He stares at the pallid glow of the screen, formulating an answer. He types the starts of sentences that convey too much or too little, deleting them until his steadfast fingers produce a simple answer, one that will buy him time.
Bad reception here. Will call as soon as I can.
He slides his phone back into his breast pocket, determined not to let what might be unfolding in New York spoil his weekend. Not with what he has planned. On the dashboard, the receipt Ellie’s fingers have folded into a tiny crane stares back at him.
He shifts in his seat for a better view of Ellie. She sleeps, still restrained by the zigzag of her seat belt, curled into a ball under a caramel rainbow of hair: strands of butterscotch entwined with fudge and deeper burnt toffee. Fingers curled, the end loop of her infinity tattoo—with its top part that doesn’t fully touch—peers from under her sleeve. He grimaces at the sight. Others he’s sure wouldn’t. He imagines boys kissing the inked symbol as they worked their way up her arm. But she’s his. Casting them out of his mind, he brushes the hair from her face, revealing lips swollen with sleep, puckering as if sucking on an invisible thumb.
Before she fell asleep, civilization disappeared around them in layers. They had joked about it, waving it goodbye as they traded the bright lights of the freeway for the darkness of countryside roads. First to go, the bright built-up areas, the sprawling suburbs, then the odd retail parks hemming the edges of towns, the isolated motels. Finally, the other cars on the asphalt of the freeway, leaving just his car against the black canvas of the forest except for a pair of headlights that gleamed faintly in his rearview mirror until they turned off the main road, the lonesome lights behind them an almost fateful distraction. He’d nearly missed the dirt track that served as private entrance from the main road—a small dark mouth amid the tree line.
“Ellie, wake up. We’re here.”
Ellie stirs, blinking at him, and the urge to kiss her is back. She rises, looking ahead, and they both stare at the outline of the house caught in the car’s headlights. Even though it’s only two stories high, it towers over them; he has to crane over the steering wheel to take in the whole structure, which seems made of contradictions: wood and glass, shapes that blend into the landscape as much as they stand out from its background. The lights of the SUV reflecting in the oversized windows give the building a glaring look. He feels oddly observed and judged, as if the house is silently deciding whether he’s good enough to spend three days within its walls. At ground level, beyond the beams of the car headlights, the world disappears under an opaque darkness from which escapes the whisper of waves lapping the shore—a hint of the ocean that exists somewhere inside the void.
“We’re here,” Ellie repeats, as if she’s addressing the house on the other side of the windshield, and her words break the spell it has on him. “It’s so dark.”
“Well, let’s go in and change that, shall we?”
Sliding out of the driver’s seat and into the freezing air, he rushes to the trunk and picks up their luggage while Ellie retrieves the keys from a lock box by the front steps. Bags in hand, he fights against a sudden gust of wind that lifts fresh snow off the ground and swirls it about before he climbs up the porch’s steps. Above his head a jagged line of icicles hems the porch roof, their tapered edges glinting under some unseen light. He stops behind her as she struggles to work the keys into the lock with—for her only light—the pallid glow from her phone screen.
“Hurry up, I’m freezing here,” he tells her, stomping his feet, head retracted into his shoulders.
“Sorry. I’m trying.”
She drops the keys, and the cursing that comes under her steamy breath draws a smile to his face. Finally, one of the keys slots into place.
“It just needs a little jiggle,” she says, followed by the welcomed clicks of the moving lock.
They enter, before he closes the door with his foot. As they step further in, the slight echo of his shoes on the tiles hints at the size of the space. His eyes haven’t adjusted, and Ellie has disappeared inside the darkness of the entrance hall. As Steven drops their suitcases, she shrieks at the unexpected thud, and he moves deeper inside toward her voice.
“Shit, what was that?” he asks as something catches his feet.
“That’s my bag. I think some light would be a good idea, professor.”
Following her instructions, he backtracks to the front door, feeling his way up and down the wall until he recognizes the smooth plastic curve of a light switch.
With a flick, light floods the room to reveal Ellie in its center, squinting and disoriented. She’s lost in the middle of the space, and he smiles to think of them in this big house, in the middle of nowhere. In front of him, she stands, a lonely piece on the checkered floor of the spacious lobby—a white queen alone on the chessboard. She smiles at him. The opposing king, ready to conquer her.
Every time she blinks those big doe eyes at him, a tightness spreads in his groin. Now that they are finally here, the time ahead takes on a more defined shape. Three days of cozy dinners, exploring the coast, enjoying each other’s company, each other’s bodies. And no distractions, no lectures, no assignment deadlines. No being reasonable; no one else around to share her with. Out here, he will have her undivided attention. The things they could do out here, nobody to see them, not having to worry about what the neighbors might hear. This place offers no restraints.
He had his doubts at first, as it was all so last-minute. But going away together might turn out to be a fantastic idea.
After kissing him, Ellie volunteers to head back out to pick up the groceries they left in the car. Steven watches her as she opens the front door and is swallowed by a swirl of snowflakes.
“The master is right at the top of the stairs,” she calls over her shoulder and smiles, blinking away the flakes caught in the comma of her lashes before disappearing completely into the night.
He grabs their bags, and his strides swallow the steps of the impressive glass, metal, and wood staircase two at a time in search of the bedroom—a place where Ellie’s eagerness to please can always be put to good use. At the top of the stairs, a series of doors litters the walls on either side. He heads right, leaving the exploration for later.
The master bedroom, like the rest of the house so far, commands his attention. He hesitates, lingering in the doorway, taking in the dramatic almost floor-to-ceiling windows sprawling in front of him and the wall of trees hemming the other side. A slight unease spreads inside him at the tall, dark shadows swaying in the wind.
Dropping the bags on the emperor-size bed, he carefully takes out his folded clothes one at a time. Sliding a shirt over a hanger, he smooths out the creases from the fabric before hanging it in the walk-in closet. Next to his lies Ellie’s bag, bulging with whatever clothes she has jammed in there. Her mess and scattiness have always driven him crazy—from her inability to hang her coat, instead opting to fling it on the back of chair or the arm of his sofa, to whatever junk she stuffs in and lugs around in that big shoulder bag of hers. He had to draw the line at her dog-earing books. The first time she folded the corner of a page in front of him, he jumped off the sofa and snatched the book right out of her hands before she could inflict any further damage. He had laughed to soothe the startled expression on her face before giving her a bookmark. She had teased him, called him old-fashioned. But she never folded a corner again.
- "Read Laure's novels, which are amazing."—Gillian Flynn, author of GONE GIRL
- “Van Rensburg deftly manipulates the narrative, leading readers to root for Ellie’s ruthless and unnervingly clever machinations as Steven’s dangerous nature is slowly unveiled. This story of dueling mind-games and duplicity is a must-read for psychological-thriller fans, especially those with a taste for revenge.”—Booklist (Starred Review)
- “Exceptional debut, a highly entertaining psychological thriller…This deliciously creepy haunted house tale skillfully explores the psyches of two people who carry their own ghosts with them.”—Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
- “Filled with tension and twists and turns, you will not want to put it down.”—Red Carpet Crash
"Fierce, frightening, bold and beautiful. Clear your schedule for this one, Nobody But Us is savagely gripping."—Chris Whitaker, New York Times bestselling author of WE BEGIN AT THE END
“An isolated house in the snowy woods, a cat-and-mouse chase, a story packed with secrets where nobody is what they seem ... I loved the flashbacks expertly woven into the tale to reveal the dark secrets of a relationship.”—Allie Reynolds, author of SHIVER
"Brutal, tense, and utterly compelling, Laure Van Rensburg is an electrifying new voice."—Louise O’Neill, author of ASKING FOR IT
"Miserymeets MalcolmandMarie... An intoxicating, head-spinning and heavy-hitting revenge thriller."—Holly Seddon, author of TRY NOT TO BREATHE
- On Sale
- Apr 12, 2022
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Grand Central Publishing