No, I am not going to give you the full novel for free. The sneaky plan is to offer you a couple of chapters – to make sure this will be the Scandinavian mystery you must have in the autumn ;)
And don´t worry, my competent and highly esteemed beta-readers will help me get it in great shape before that. The prologue can be found here.
Chapter 1. May 2007
Anna scrubbed at the brown stains on the off-white carpet. She had to remove them before… Under the dining table there were more stains. She had no idea what they were. Tea, or perhaps red wine? She didn´t even want to know, she just had to get them off! She rubbed until her arms began to shake. She tried with cloths and brushes, and in the end she just poured soapy water all over the carpet. Bleach, chlorine. There must be something which could remove the stains. But the more she scrubbed, the more they grew. They spread across the carpet, colouring her raw, water-sodden fingers red.
She tried to dry her hands on her jeans while listening for the slightest warning that someone was approaching. She was wet all the way up her thighs, but perhaps it was just the tepid water. She had to have a shower too. But the carpet was the main thing. No matter what she did, she mustn´t forget the carpet. She should have used cold water from the beginning, she realized. Albumen dissolved in cold water. Science for toddlers. Why did she have to be so daft?
She patted the carpet around her. Perhaps the water had been cold enough after all? The scrubbing brush, where was that bloody brush? All her senses screamed at her that it was urgent. She could hear heavy steps coming up the stairs. Time was running out. But the brush had gone. A pair of scissors! She had to find her scissors or a Stanley knife so she could cut the stains off the delicate surface. She fought to get on her legs, the hair at the back of her neck bristling, but her legs would not obey her.
A bell rang. Once, twice, shrill and mean, and she knew it was too late. She lay down on the carpet, spreading her arms in a vain effort to conceal the spots with her own body. Now the bell rang insistently, and with a jerk she fell off the sofa and landed right on the white carpet.
– Okay, I´m coming! Hands trembling, she smoothed her hair before she removed the door chain and fumbled with the Yale lock. She reminded herself she would have to get a new doorbell.
Suspiciously, she stood on the empty landing, scowling at Karin´s door. Had sounds from in there interfered with her dream, or had that damn nightmare really been bred in her own mind? Right now all was quiet behind the door which was decorated with a couple of huge Swastikas.
– Are we going to marry on your birthday then, darling? Lars threw both arms around Anna from behind and tickled her persuasively between the ribs.
Spluttering, Anna folded up like a pocket knife with the aroma of his well-known aftershave hitting her nose. She just had time to put the huge bouquet of red roses safely down on the kitchen table. Lars had been away at a course all week, and it was good to have him back home.
– Mum called yesterday. She asked us if we came on Sunday.
– Mm. Is your dad ill again or…? Lars mumbled something she didn´t catch as he buried his face in her brown curls. He let go of her so she could turn around and look up at him. She was glad she had remembered to slip into her new jeans; they didn´t squeeze together that flapping roll of fat above the waistband.
– Mum has talked him into seeing his GP again. And will you stop your despicable behaviour before I pee in my pants. She deliberated how much to tell him because she didn´t want to make a fuss if it was nothing. It was just such a rare thing for her father to get as far as the doctor´s door.
– But all´s well then, isn´t it? Lars laughed, he had had two years to get used to their Jensen speak.
– I suppose so. There were some lab results the doctor wasn´t satisfied with, but I am not sure my mother knew what he meant.
– Perhaps he should stop smoking, athletic Lars suggested.
– Well, but it didn´t sound as if it had anything to do with his lungs.
– That´s the way it always is in your family, Anna. You will beat about the bush instead of facing the music. He slapped her bottom teasingly but promised to go with her home Sunday afternoon.
– I´d better find a vase for these ones, and could you open the red wine? She grabbed the roses on the table, spun around and slipped past him into the living room. She had felt a yes on the tip of her tongue the first time he asked her, but that proposal had come out of the blue. Marriage. And they lived happily ever after. She stroked the velvety petals and stuck her nose into the large bouquet. Roses smelled so intoxicating, almost seductive. Was that why men thought they could buy anything for a bunch of dark red roses?
– Mattias called me, by the way. Anna had just put her knife and fork down and sat swirling the last drops of red wine around in her glass.
– Mattias who… No, not that Mattias?
– Well, yes, but it was just to invite me to our reunion. Will you believe it; next week it´s ten years since we passed our A-levels. It was a bit belatedly they remembered, but they aim for something by the end of August.
– How cheeky of him. You don´t intend to go, do you? Lars threw the last peas into his mouth and wiped the plate with a bit of his baguette.
– I don´t know yet. There are a couple of the other classmates I´d like to meet.
– But I don´t want you to see him again. You bloody well know that he almost wrecked your exams for you!
– Now you are exaggerating a bit. And before or later you have to get on. She wriggled on her chair.
Lars pushed his plate away and put his arms around her. – Anna, I don´t mind you meeting your old class, you know that. Just not Mattias. If I had been there…
– I know, darling, but it happened ten years ago. And now I have you. Anna leant forward and wiped his mouth with her napkin before she kissed him.
– No buts. I don´t want to hear more about him. She tickled him with the napkin. – Your first night at home, and you think I want to discuss old school flings.
But his voice on the phone had shaken her badly.
To be continued.