Keep Your Friends Closeby Paula Daly
Friendship can be a real killer when your best friend sets out to steal your husband, your home, your livelihood—and even your life. Paula Daly returns with a white-knuckle domestic thriller of lethal betrayal.
Friendship can be a real killer when your best friend sets out to steal your husband, your home, your livelihood—and even your life. Paula Daly returns with a white-knuckle domestic thriller of lethal betrayal.
From breakout thriller writer Paula Daly, Keep Your Friends Close is a riveting and electrifying story of a husband and wife and the devious best friend who comes between them.
Natty and Sean Wainwright have a rock-solid marriage—with two teenage daughters, a successful hotel business, and a beautiful house, they are a model family. When their younger daughter falls gravely ill on a school trip to France, Natty rushes to her side. Luckily, Natty’s best friend from college, Eve Dalladay, is visiting and offers to stay with Sean to lend a hand in the Wainwright household. But Natty returns home to find that Eve has taken to family life a little too well: Sean has fallen in love with her. With no choice but to put on a brave face for the children, Natty attempts to start anew—yet no matter how hard she tries to set herself upright, Eve is there to knock her down again. Then Natty receives a mysterious note that says Eve has done this before—more than once—and the consequences were fatal. On a mission to reveal Eve as a vindictive serial mistress, Natty must navigate through a treacherous maze of secrets and lies that threatens her life and the safety of her loved ones.
“Daly’s affinity for psychological intrigue shines . . . [she] has penned a superbly sinister plot full of believable twists. It will have readers wondering just how well they know their friends, and how secure their lives are.” —Mystery Scene
“Keep Your Friends Close will cost you sleep. The “gotta know” suffuses every page; tension intensifies with each chapter. We follow Daly’s characters down terrifying, unanticipated, nerve-wracking roads to the last word.” —Randy Susan Meyers, bestselling author of Comfort of Lies and The Murderer’s Daughter
“The suspense, dread and paranoia intensify with each page. Paula Daly explores what happens when a serpent invades the family nest, twisting truth into lies and illuminating our deepest fears. A novel that explores the power of family, love and betrayal, and what lengths we will go to keep our loved ones safe.” —Denise Hamilton author of Damage Control and editor of the Edgar-winning anthology Los Angeles Noir
Shortlisted for the CWA Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel of the Year
Seven Months Earlier
So, what’s been on your mind this week?” she asks him. “Besides the usual?”
She tilts her head. Looks on with mild disapproval and waits for him to answer more appropriately.
“Death,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about death.”
“Not dying per se . . . but wouldn’t it be amazing if we got to choose the exact time of our deaths?”
Her expression is one of puzzlement. “Can’t we already do that?” she asks.
“I don’t mean suicide.”
“But surely you don’t actually want to die?”
He’s lying supine on the couch. There is the beginning of a small paunch forming, a concertina of trouser creases at his groin. He turns his head towards her, glances her way briefly.
“My youngest, Olivia, asked me what I’d do if I had three wishes,” he says, “and it got me thinking. The one thing we’re really scared of, the thing that unites all human beings, is the fear of death.
Wouldn’t it be great if you could just take death right out of the equation? If you could go through life knowing that everything’s okay . . . because you’re not scheduled to die for, say, another thirty years?”
“Would you live your life differently?”
“Maybe. Probably. Definitely. Wouldn’t you?”
“We’re not here to talk about me,” she says.
He smiles. Touché.
She uncrosses her legs.
Her skirt slides a little higher and she sees a flash of desire revealed in his face, though for now she pretends not to notice.
“How’s work, Cameron?” she asks casually.
“I don’t want to talk about work.”
“Any particular reason?”
“It’s not been a good month, and, hell, I don’t feel like talking about it today, not when I’ve got . . .” His voice trails off.
“Trouble with the workforce?” she offers.
He sits up. Swinging his feet to the floor, he puts his elbows on his knees and rests his chin on top of his now clenched fists. In the space of about a second he’s become edgy. Latent energy brought to the surface in a heartbeat. She’s touched one of his tender areas so now he begins reconstructing the armour. The defensive armour he supposedly comes in here to break down so he can feel. So he can love.
At least that’s the general idea.
But that’s not what actually happens.
She plays him, the poor bastard. She asks the questions he can’t face. She toys with his problems for as long as he can stand it. Then she soothes him. Soothes him as only she can. Later she’ll fan away his gratitude, telling him it is what she’s here for. Showing him why it is only she that can help him on the long journey towards becoming himself.
“Tell me about Serena,” she says now. Her timing is exemplary, as always.
“Much the same.”
“Did you utilize the techniques we discussed? Did you stop trying to fix her problems? Did you really listen to what she had to say?”
“It can take time,” she agrees.
“Serena’s so wrapped up in the kids she doesn’t see me. I touch her and she flinches.”
“Do you think she finds you unappealing?”
“No,” he says firmly, as though that’s not an option. ‘she just can’t find room for me in her day any more. I’m another thing on the list. She can’t stop running around after the kids. She puts everything she has into them.” He pauses, rubbing his face. “Well, everything into them and the house.” Sighing wearily, he adds, “I don’t know how to make her happy.”
“You did suggest some help around the house?”
“She won’t have it. Says they won’t do the job as well as her.” He smiles briefly at his predicament. “Anyway, she wants to do it herself, so there’s not a lot more I can do.”
She puts her pen down and leans forward. “But that means she has nothing left for you.”
He shrugs sadly.
“How does that make you feel?” she asks.
“Redundant,” he replies. “Useless.”
She makes her voice soft. Lowers it and gives it a gravelly quality she uses on occasion. “You know that you’re neither of those things . . . logically, you do know that? A man doesn’t get to your level of success by being redundant and useless. It’s simply not possible.”
He looks away, unable to accept the compliment today. “I’ve tried to love her,” he says, the words catching in his throat.
“I really have tried,” he repeats, his eyes filling.
“I know, Cameron. But she just won’t let you.”
She rises from her seat and walks towards him, fingering the top button of her blouse. He closes his eyes and exhales. Exhales and tries to release the tension from his face, his shoulders, his fists. When he reopens his eyes she’s standing right before him. He looks into her face. “Is it time to let her go?” he asks. “You’ve done everything you can.” Gently, she takes his hand and guides it beneath her skirt.
Guides it up high along the inside of her thigh.
Are you living in the moment? Me neither.
I’m trying to. Really, I am. Periodically, throughout the day, I stop what I’m doing and say to myself, This is it. This moment is all you have. Enjoy it. Feel it. Embrace The Now.
So, right now, in this moment, I’m embracing cleaning fake tan from the walls of an en suite. It’s a recently upgraded bathroom – solid marble wall tiles, twin Corian sinks – which one of the hotel guests decided would double up nicely as a St Tropez tanning booth.
I’m ignoring the fact that she’s used the cream Ralph Lauren bath towels to home-dye her hair a deep magenta, and instead my attention flits between wondering what colour this woman would be in her natural state, and, if I were to nip home in the next hour, take a chicken out of the freezer, would it be defrosted in time for tonight’s dinner?
I pile the ruined towels together in a heap in the centre of the bathroom and pour some bleach on to a toothbrush. I’m having real trouble removing the fake tan from the grout in between the tiles. This trick usually works so I set to, taking care not to splash any bleach on my suit trousers, all the while thinking: What am I doing in here? We have an army of staff for this.
But they won’t attend to such details. You can train them till you’re blue in the face and they’ll still skim over the fine points, won’t do the necessary extras to keep this place looking truly exceptional.
And that’s why our guests come back. Because Lakeshore Lodge is exceptional.
If you’ve ever spent a night here, on your return, you’ll get a personal greeting from either Sean, myself or the general manager – and we will remember to ask about your family, your journey to Windermere. Waiting in your room will be a miniature bottle of pink Mo’t, a box of six handmade chocolates and an individually wrapped Cartmel sticky toffee pudding. As well as a handwritten card saying, ‘so pleased to see you again!”
For us it’s about the extras. It’s all about making the guests feel as though they really matter. And it’s why we operate at 90 per cent occupancy, even when it’s the low season. Even during November, when it can rain for thirty days and thirty nights consecutively and the filthy grey cloud is so low in the sky you can almost touch it with your fingertips.
There’s a knock on the bathroom door. I stop scrubbing with the toothbrush and turn.
“Mrs Wainwright, I’m so sorry to bother you but there’s a problem in the junior suite.”
Libby is one of the housekeepers. She’s been here for three years and is one of my best cleaners.
“What is it?”
“That Indian family we had in last night? They heated up curry in the bedroom.”
I roll my eyes. Though this is not a major disaster, it happens from time to time. “Just get the windows open, Libby, give it an airing. The next guests aren’t due in until after eight tonight, so you’ve got plenty of time to give everything a good wash down.”
Libby squints and knits her brows together at the same time. Something she does when she knows I’m about to shout at what she has to say.
“What is it?” I ask sharply. ‘did they bring in extra bodies?” I hate to typecast here, but it’s not unusual for additional children, babies . . . Grandma, to be smuggled in, unpaid for.
Libby shifts her weight from one foot to the other. “They heated it up inside the kettle.”
“The curry?” I ask. “Inside the electric kettle?”
She nods. “I think the element might be kind of screwed.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.”
I place the toothbrush by the side of the sink and begin kneading the back of my neck, swallowing the bark of abuse which was on its way out, as I have the beginnings of a migraine. It’s at the base of my skull and if I were to lose my temper fully right now, it would jump straight behind my eyes, meaning the rest of the day would be a write-off.
“Well, that’s a first,” I say softly, but Libby knows to keep her eyes low.
Because I can be unpredictable at times like this.
Often Libby will tell me the worst news: laundry room flooded, two housemaids called in sick . . . a rat . . . and I’ll take it on the chin. I’ll deal with it quietly and get on with the day. But other times I can go apoplectic over a dusty skirting board, a lone fingerprint on a mirror.
I’m not easy. I can be kind of prickly and I’ve been meditating to try to keep myself more balanced. Sean says he can see a clear difference, but I’m not so sure I’m getting anywhere with it.
“What should I do?” Libby asks.
“Go give the kettle to Sean. Tell him you need a new one from the spares store and tell him to check how many are left. He might need to order another batch. Tell him to look online and see if he can get a better price. Those glass kettles were stupidly expensive. Tell him to look at stainless steel instead.”
When she’s left the room I call her back.
“Libby? Second thoughts, tell him to stick with the glass. They’re classier.”
Libby keeps her face impassive. Waits for me to change my mind another time.
“You’re sure?” she asks tentatively.
It’s only when I’m rinsing the toothbrush and applying more bleach that I remember Sean’s otherwise engaged this morning. His mother is here.
Penny, Sean’s mother, visits Thursday afternoons. She spends a couple of hours with Sean; he takes her out. They might have a jaunt over to Sharrow Bay at Ullswater, or perhaps take afternoon tea down the road at Storrs Hall. Anywhere, really. Anywhere that’s not Lakeshore Lodge – as Sean would face a constant stream of interruptions. And his mother generally demands his full attention. They normally return from their outing around 4 p.m., in time for the girls arriving in from school. Now, during the lighter evenings of British Summertime, Penny will stay for dinner. In the winter months she’s back on the road, heading for the village of Crook, before darkness sets in.
Today is the first Wednesday in May. Not Penny’s usual day to visit, but she’s off to Nice for a few days with her photography club tomorrow.
I crash through the front door just before five, carrying chicken breasts, a small bag of morels (which I had to swipe from the head chef), a bottle of Marsala, and two books of carpet samples I need to look at before six – when the fitter is calling to get my selection. The hotel’s conservatory carpet is showing heavy tread by the doorway and I should have made my choice by the end of last week, but the days have got away from me.
“Natty!” Penny exclaims, rising from the armchair as I enter the lounge. “You look dead beat! Sean, go and make your poor wife some tea before she topples over from exhaustion.”
I place a kiss on Penny’s cheek. “You look really well from your trip,” I say to her, and tell Sean not to bother with the tea.
Penny is just back from visiting Sean’s sister in Fremantle and her skin is leathery. It’s a deep mahogany-brown. Penny has taken a lot of sun over the years, she’s rail thin, and, you know when they put wigs on skeletons on the TV and it looks kind of funny? That is Sean’s mother.
“Lucy’s little ones all right?” I ask, kicking my heels off as the phone rings out in the hallway. Sean goes to answer it.
“Wonderful,” she answers. “It’s a joy to watch her with them. She has the time, you see, Natty? It makes all the difference. All the difference in the world. She’s talking of having a third, now that Robert’s finally got the promotion.”
“Another baby would be lovely,” I say brightly. “Is she hoping for a girl this time?”
Penny dismissively waves away my words with her hand. “Oh, she’s not bothered in the slightest. She simply loves mothering. I do worry if she’s getting a little too old for another child, though. But she assures me forty is not considered old these days.”
“More and more women are having babies at forty,” I say.
“She wouldn’t let me do a thing while I was there, Natty. I don’t know where she gets her energy from, I really don’t. She’s still up with Alfie half the night.”
“Nice for you to have a rest and enjoy the children.”
“Well, of course, she’s still breastfeeding Alfie, so there’s not a lot to be done there, and Will is such a kind boy. I can hardly believe he’s five already. Where do the years go to? I just don’t know.”
There is a subtext to this conversation. In fact, there’s a subtext to every conversation with Penny, which is probably worth pointing out here.
I fell unexpectedly pregnant, aged nineteen and during my first year at university. Or perhaps, more importantly, during Sean’s first year at university. We both left our respective courses and returned home to Windermere, Sean giving up a degree in law, me a degree in radiography.
It was a tricky time with Penny because in her eyes I’d ruined her son’s future. “Nineteen is far too young to be parents. What sort of life can either of you offer a child when you’re still children yourselves?”
That’s how she put it, but again, there was a subtext, this one being that she’d spent goodness knows how much on Sean’s education at Sedbergh School, only to have him blow it on some silly local girl he should have got rid of ages ago.
To her credit, Penny softened when Alice arrived. She became the doting grandmother and I was able to tolerate the constant digs about our recklessness because, simply, without my own mother, I needed her.
“Lucy’s starting to wean Alfie,” she says now. “You should see the lengths she goes to, Natty. She has the most wonderful piece of kit – an electric steamer. It keeps all the nutrients inside the vegetables. Then she pur”es them or pushes them through a sieve and freezes the lot in ice-cube trays . . . The work that’s involved, it absolutely amazes me. Like I said, though, she has the time. She can afford to do it properly.”
I smile weakly because, the thing is, I went through all the same palaver when Alice was born. I was so set on proving everyone wrong, so set on demonstrating that it was not a mistake for us to have a baby, that I tried my damnedest to be the perfect mother. I, too, steamed and pur”ed. I, too, breastfed longer than anyone was really comfortable with. I, too, carried
My babies everywhere to give them the full Continuum Concept experience.
Penny just can’t recall any of this because it was sixteen years ago. And I don’t go reminding her about it now because I gave up playing the Who’s-the-best-mother? game when my sister-in-law’s first son got out of nappies. No matter what I said, in Penny’s brain Lucy had got her life in order – emotionally and financially – before deciding to become a parent. The responsible way to do it.
Sometimes, over the past few years, it’s been hard to remember that Lucy is actually a nice person. A person who Sean and I get along with very well. What is it with parents that they end up making you almost detest family members because of their proclivity for comparison? Their quick reminders of how their other child is doing a better job?
Sean comes back into the room. “That was Eve on the phone,” he says. There’s a mischievous glint in his eye which means that he, too, has been subject to his mother’s stories of Lucy’s marvellous pur”eing. I probably got the edited version, actually. “Eve’s wondering if it’s all right if she calls in tomorrow evening. She’s finishing a series of lectures in Scotland and will be passing through.”
“Is that your friend from America?” Penny interrupts, chin raised. “The clever girl with the good job?”
“Yes, God, I’ve not seen her in over two years. Did she say how long she was in the country?”
Sean shakes his head.
“Did you tell her it was okay to come?”
“I said if it wasn’t, you’d call her straight back.”
Q: Just like the heroine in your first book, Just What Kind of Mother Are You?, Natty, the main character in Keep Your Friends Close, is another working mom struggling to be “perfect”—Why do you think women feel this pressure so intently and why did you choose to focus on this in your writing?
A: Working full-time and raising children is astonishingly hard, but I don’t know why we feel we must do it all perfectly. I’m pretty sure the pressure doesn’t come from men, which means we must do it to ourselves. Perhaps we’re more impressionable than we think, and the images we receive from the media do more damage than we’re aware of.
I focus on this lack of balance in my writing because it’s an issue for most modern women.
Q: What made you want to explore female friendships in this book? What do you find interesting about those dynamics?
A: I don’t think I started this book wanting to explore female friendships. Rather, I wanted a female villain. There are a lot of psychological thrillers around at the moment with unhinged male villains, and I felt I could bring something different to the genre by creating my baddie—Eve Dalladay.
Q: Eve Dalladay, the vindictive serial mistress, is such a villain with a capital V. Was she a lot of fun to write?
A: She was incredibly fun to write. She is sexy and nasty and feels very little guilt or empathy. The raunchy scenes were especially fun–writing from Eve’s point of view meant I didn’t feel at all self-conscious. That is, it didn’t feel like the reader would think it was me in those scenes.
Q: Keep Your Friends Close is packed with plot twists that will keep us guessing until the very end. How much of the story do you know before you start out writing the book? Do you ever surprise yourself along the way?
A: I know all the major plot points before I start writing. I spend a good three months thinking about the book to make sure the story works and everyone’s motivation is intact. Perhaps this sounds formulaic, but I find it very freeing. Because when I’m not fretting about the story, I can totally focus on the characters, and yes, they do still surprise me.
Q: This is your second novel set in the English Lake District, where you also live. What inspires you about this setting, and why did you choose to set another book in the small town of Windermere?
A: I write about the Lake District basically because I love it. Also, there are very few novels set in the Lakes (particularly psychological thrillers, which are mostly set in London), so this brings something new to the genre. The area is perfect for the thriller plot, as it’s enclosed; there is no escape. And there is the added advantage of the very rich living right next to the very poor. This gives the story its own tensions and layers.
Q: In Keep Your Friends Close, you revisit a few characters from your first book, including Detective Joanne Aspinall and Mad Jackie. Did you enjoy having the chance to spend time with them again and add to their stories?
A: Mad Jackie in particular is a joy to write. She turns up on the page, and I don’t even pause to think–she just sets off speaking, and I try to keep up.
Q: On the surface, Natty and Sean seem to have an ideal marriage, and yet it quickly deteriorates when Eve comes onto the scene. What do you think left their relationship vulnerable to Eve’s manipulation?
A: Natty’s perfectionism. She is trying so hard to do everything right that she is in a prison of her own making. It is exactly this which makes her vulnerable to attack. She’s so focused on all the wrong things that she fails to see her husband feels lonely and rejected without her, and that he is also vulnerable from a lack of love and attention.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from Keep Your Friends Close?
A: Primarily, I hope to have entertained for a couple of days. If there’s anything to take away, it’s just to go easy on yourself, and know that your best will always be good enough.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about what you are working on next?
A: The working title is A Multitude of Sins. It’s another thriller with the same basic premise as the film Indecent Proposal, but with life-and-death stakes.