Welcome to my stop of the Blog Tour for The Escape by C L Taylor!
I am very much looking forward to reading this book as I have devoured all of Cally's others! It is up next on my TBR pile and I will review soon. So for now, enjoy this exclusive extract and go buy the book!
"Chester? CHESTER? Max stalks from room to room, his hands balled into fists and tucked under his armpits. Jo’s been planning a move to Chester and she didn’t think to mention it to him? He’d logged on to her laptop while his was updating and discovered that she’d left three tabs open in Firefox – one for a student-support job at the University of Chester, one for Rightmove and one for a primary school in Malpas. Was that the real reason she’d gone up to Chester? To go to an interview or attend a viewing before she visited her parents? He nearly called her yesterday, when he found the laptop, then changed his mind. This is a conversation they need to have face-to-face. He’s been quietly seething for nearly 48 hours.
He glances at his watch as he moves from the master bedroom to Elise’s room. 5.17 p.m. Jo texted him earlier to say they’d be home around fiveish.
He squats down to pick up some building blocks and a fluffy bear that have been abandoned in the middle of the room and transfers them to a pink plastic toy bucket beside his daughter’s cot. He pulls the curtains closed and straightens Elise’s duvet. Then, with nothing else to occupy himself, he sits on the floor beside her cot. He runs a hand over the multi-coloured Peppa Pig duvet cover then reaches for a book from the shelves set into the alcove: Snug as a Bug, his daughter’s favourite book. He’s read it hundreds of times, Jo has too. It’s part of Elise’s bedtime routine: teeth, pyjamas, milk, book. He’s surprised Jo didn’t take it with her.
Anxiety twists at his stomach as he gazes around his daughter’s bedroom, at the white clouds floating on grey wallpaper on the opposite wall, at the framed picture of a penguin gripping a bouquet of balloons, at the tent-shaped den Elise fills with teddies and rarely enters. It’s so quiet without his daughter bouncing around the room, singing gobbledegook songs in her breathy high-pitched voice. So empty. This is what it would be like if Jo took her away. He closes his eyes to block out the thought, but it’s not fear he’s feeling any more. It’s anger. Here he is, tearing himself apart at the thought of losing his daughter when his own father didn’t give two shits about him and his brother. You wouldn’t have caught Jeff Blackmore moping about in the bedroom, cooing and sighing over a duvet cover and a favourite book. He didn’t even know who his kids were half the time.
Max holds it together when his family returns just after 6 p.m. He welcomes Jo back into the house with a kiss on the cheek and then scoops Elise up and into his arms and hugs her tightly before setting her back on her feet. She speeds off into the living room, demanding that he play bricks with her. It takes him a couple of seconds to realise that Jo hasn’t followed them. She’s still standing in the hallway, one hand pressed to her lower back, the other to the wall. She tells him that she put her back out when she helped her mother turn Andy and she’s been in the most terrible pain ever since. The three-hour car journey was unbearable, she says, and now she can barely move. He helps her into the living room and takes some of the weight as she lowers herself to the floor so she can lie on her back, then he retrieves the suitcases from the car and carries them up to the bedroom.
Two hours flash by as he feeds Elise, doles out ibuprofen and a glass of water to Jo, and then does the bedtime routine single-handedly as his wife lies on the living-room rug barking out orders. ‘Don’t forget to brush her teeth.’ ‘Make sure you plug the Gro-Clock back in’. ‘Have you got her milk?’ His irritation increases each time he hears her voice.
When he finally returns to the living room, with Elise safely tucked up in her cot, Jo has managed to drag herself into a sitting position, her back pressed up against the base of the sofa. For five minutes they have been sitting in silence, staring at the ‘Night, night. See you tomorrow morning at 6 a.m.’ image on the television screen. Jo’s semi-crippled condition has unnerved him. He knows that now is not the time to have a conversation about what he discovered on the laptop but he can’t push it out
of his mind. There’s no way he can go to work tomorrow with the matter left unresolved. It will eat away at him all day.
‘So.’ He coughs lightly. ‘When were you planning on telling me that you want to move to Chester?’
Jo tenses but she doesn’t turn to look at him. ‘Sorry?’
‘I saw the sites you’d been looking at on your laptop. The house, the job, the school.’
‘Can we talk about it tomorrow, please?’ Her voice is as stiff as her body.
‘No, I want to talk about it now.’
Jo continues to stare at the green glow of the television. ‘Please, Max. I’m in pain.’
Max takes a steadying breath in through his nose. If there was nothing to it she’d tell him as much, but her silence is scaring him. What’s she playing at? Why won’t she just talk to him? ‘And you think I’m not?’
‘Don’t do this, please.’ She turns her head slowly to look at him. ‘I’ve had an awful day. Dad’s got so much worse and I really don’t want to fight with you tonight.’
How can he argue with that? He can’t and he shouldn’t. But there’s always something with Jo. Something that means he has to bite his tongue rather than talk to her about the things that are worrying him. First it was the panic attacks, then the agoraphobia. Now her dad’s dying. Andy’s been touch-and-go for the last couple of years. They’ve lived their lives on a knife edge since before Elise was born, exchanging worried glances each time Brigid rings in case it’s bad news. And now, on top of everything, Jo has put her back out. Another reason to block him out.
‘Is this to do with what happened before you left?’ he asks. ‘Are you pissed off with me because I didn’t call the police?’
Anger flashes on her face. ‘Elise was in danger but, instead of supporting me, you patronised me. Poor old Jo, reacting to every tiny little thing. This is our daughter we’re talking about. I don’t care if we’re being overcautious, so long as she’s safe.’
‘Elise was in no more danger than if she’d been crossing the road or playing in the park. Not that she ever gets to do that, when she’s so wrapped up in cotton wool that she’s suffocating in her own home.’
‘DON’T!’ Jo snaps. ‘Don’t you dare go there, Max.’
‘I think we should talk about it. I think we should discuss the fact that you’re too ill to take our daughter anywhere other than to and from nursery but you’re well enough to plan a move up to Chester, are you? To start a new job? To take her to a new nursery? To build a new life for yourself?’
‘I’m trying to get well, Max.’ Jo’s gaze is still steely but her voice sounds choked, as though she’s trying not to cry. ‘I’m trying to do what’s best for everyone: for Elise, for Mum, for Dad, for me.’
‘But not for me?’ It takes every last bit of control to hide the pain that’s tearing at his chest. He’s always known that he’s last on Jo’s list of priorities, but hearing her say it hurts like hell.
‘Yes, for you!’ Jo says. ‘I’ve done nothing but support you for the last twelve years but you never listen when I try and tell you what I want.’
‘I listen!’ Max jumps up from his seat. ‘I do nothing but listen.’
‘No, you don’t. You don’t listen to a word I say. I told you not to get into investigative journalism because you were putting us at risk, and you patted me on the head and told me not to worry my silly little self.’
‘That’s not true.’
‘It is. You put yourself first, Max. You’ve always put yourself first. It’s always been about you and your career. I put up with that when it was just you and me but we’re a family now.’
‘You think I don’t know that?’
‘Well, you obviously don’t care. If you did you would have given a shit when I told you that a stranger had threatened our daughter and—’
‘I LOVE ELISE!’ Max roars with pain and anger and frustration. His right hand unclenches and he swipes at the framed photos on the mantelpiece, sending them clattering to the ground. Why is she being like this? Why is she attacking him when he’s just trying to do the right thing? He’s only ever tried to do the right thing. He’s vaguely aware of Jo screaming at him to stop as he tornadoes through the room, grabbing, smashing and destroying all the things he paid for, everything he worked so hard for, and then he hears it, he registers the threat that makes his blood go cold. "
I hope this has got you excited for The Escape! I know I can't wait! Thanks to Helena Sheffield at Avon Books for including me on this tour and sending me a copy of the book for review. Keep your eyes peeled for my review!