An extract from

Bury Your Secrets

The twin beams of car headlights glanced between the trunks of densely packed pine trees, their harsh glare causing the freshly fallen raindrops to glisten on the foliage. A fox, padding across a narrow dirt track running through the woods, stopped, turned in the direction of the approaching lights, started, then fled into the trees as a Land Rover pulled into view. It moved at a crawl, following the track as it wound its way between the trees, the driver exercising due caution to avoid colliding with the trees as they grew ever denser – or, perhaps, to avoid attracting unwanted attention.

Eventually, the track petered out into nothing, the trees ahead too tightly packed to proceed any further. The driver, a fair-haired woman in her early thirties, brought the Land Rover to a standstill.

‘This’ll do,’ she said.

She opened the door and stepped out, followed by two other women of similar age. The first to emerge, from the front passenger seat, was short and dark-haired, the thickly gelled spikes of her undercut glistening in the moonlight. She was followed from the back seat by a tall, willow-thin woman, her upturned hood all but obscuring her face. She lingered by the side of the car, picking at the skin around her fingernails, as her two companions headed round to the boot. They returned moments later, each armed with a shovel.

‘Come on,’ said the fair-haired woman.

set off, tramping through the woods, the fair-haired woman sweeping a torch in a wide arc in front of her to light their way. The tall woman trailed behind the others, dragging her feet in a way that suggested either exhaustion or deep, overpowering melancholy – or both.

After two hundred yards or so, they came to a small, secluded clearing. The fair-haired woman halted, tested the ground with her foot and turned to her short, dark-haired companion.

‘What d’you reckon?’

The dark-haired woman tested the ground herself. ‘Never thought I’d say this,’ she said, her accent a heavy Australian drawl, ‘but thank fuck for Scottish rain.’

They began to dig. They worked quietly and diligently, the only sounds escaping from their lips their grunts of exertion at each fresh thrust. The tall woman made no move to help them. She stood a little way off, seeming to pay less attention to them than to her surroundings. Every now and then, her head jerked sharply, recoiling at some night noise or other: the hoot of an owl, the scurrying of tiny woodland feet, the wind sighing in the branches overhead.

In the space of just over two hours, the two diggers succeeded in fashioning a pit, approximately six feet long and four feet deep. By then, both were stripped to their T-shirts, lashing with sweat and covered in dirt. However, they didn’t stop to either catch their breath or contemplate their handiwork. Around them, the woods were growing lighter, the grey hour before dawn fast approaching. Downing their shovels, they set off back the way they’d come, their tall companion again following them like a reluctant shadow. They reached the Land Rover and made their way round to the back, where the fair-haired woman thrust open the door to the boot.

Standing side by side, they gazed down at the body lying inside, wrapped from top to tail in a white sheet, Egyptian mummy-style.

The fair-haired woman turned to her two companions with a look that bordered on impatience.

‘Right, then,’ she said, ‘shall we get on with this?’


From: Hazel Knight (
To: Matthew Ellis (
Subject: Us


I like to think, after everything we’ve been through together, after everything we’ve shared, that we can at least be honest with one another. Honest about our feelings, about our wants and needs, honest about the areas where each of us might be lacking.

I’ve been trying, for several hours now, to put into words how I feel about what I walked in on. Hurt, obviously. That goes without saying. Betrayed too. Again, that should be self-evident. And embarrassed. No, embarrassed isn’t a strong enough word. I feel humiliated. Completely and utterly humiliated, more than I’ve ever felt in my life.

But mostly, I’m confused. Confused as to how things could have gone so wrong with us, how I could have been so blind to what was going on around me that I never once suspected you were


From: Hazel Knight (
To: Matthew Ellis (
Subject: Why?

Help me to make sense of this, Matthew. I don’t understand. In all the time we’ve been together I’ve never once so much as THOUGHT about anyone else, and I thought it was the same for you. How long has this been going on? Have you and her been


From: Hazel Knight (
To: Matthew Ellis (
Subject: Is it me?

If there’s something I haven’t been giving you, something I haven’t been doing for you, something you could only get from elsewhere, then I


From: Hazel Knight (
To: Matthew Ellis (
Subject: Our bed??? Seriously?????

Could you not at least have gone to a bloody hotel like people normally do when they


From: Hazel Knight (
To: Matthew Ellis (
Subject: (no subject)




Two weeks later

‘Where is it?’

I spoke my question aloud, even though there was no one else within earshot and I was, in any event, the only person in a position to answer my own question. My camera – my trusty old Fujifilm Instax 500AF – was nowhere to be seen, and I was damned if I was going to leave without it. To make matters worse, it was almost twelve-thirty and I knew my ride would be here any minute.

As I stood in the bedroom doorway, eyes shut, attempting to visualise the last place I’d seen it, I heard the sound of a car pulling up outside, followed by the blast of a horn, strident and sustained enough to rouse the whole of Leith from its Saturday lunchtime torpor. I crossed over to the bedroom window in time to see Mickie – who I was confident was the one who’d sounded the horn – leaning her entire body out the passenger window of Claire’s Land Rover, hollering at the top of her lungs:


That’s what she said – though, in her South Queensland drawl, it came out sounding more like, MEWV YAH FACKIN AAAAHS! I couldn’t actually see Claire – who doesn’t allow swearing in her house, and presumably, by extension, her car – but I could picture her hunched over the wheel, grinding her teeth to dust.

I turned to find myself face to face with Matthew, standing just a few inches away from me, and all but jumped out of my skin.

‘Your friends are here,’ he said, seemingly unconcerned by the fact he’d almost given me a minor heart attack.

‘I know,’ I said, somehow managing to sound plausibly in control of myself. ‘I can’t find my camera.’

‘Have you tried around your neck?’

Even before he’d finished speaking, I was aware of the familiar sensation of the leather strap digging into the exposed skin above the collar of my top, accompanied by the equally familiar weight of the camera itself against my chest. I felt my cheeks reddening in shame at my foolishness. As if to complete my humiliation, Matthew raised a solitary eyebrow as if to say, Seriously?

‘Well,’ I said, trying my best to cover my embarrassment, ‘fancy that.’

‘That you got everything you need, then?’

I glanced at my holdall, parked at the foot of the bed and ready to go. ‘Seems so.’

‘You’ll call to let me know you’ve arrived safely?’

‘Why? It’s not as if we’re jetting off into the wide blue yonder.’

That had been the original plan: a long weekend in Marbella, just the two of us. What better way to mark my thirtieth birthday than four days at a luxury resort in the Costa del Sol with the man I’d shared my life with for the past decade? Until, that is, I came home early from work two Fridays ago to discover him in bed – our bed – with a pneumatic blonde who was doing more moaning and writhing than you’d ever expect to encounter outside of a cheap porno… which, at the time, was what I felt like I’d stepped into.

‘Still,’ Matthew said. ‘For peace of mind.’

Spoken in a tone that implied I was being utterly unreasonable – going out of my way to make things difficult out of pure stubbornness. As if peace of mind was something he was entitled to.

We continued to face one another, neither of us moving. I wondered if he was deliberately blocking my path or if it simply hadn’t occurred to him that, in order to reach the door, I would actually have to pass through the space he currently occupied. Both seemed equally plausible.

Another blast from the car horn sounded outside. At this rate, I figured I had about thirty seconds before one or both of them came looking for me.

‘Fine,’ I muttered, conceding defeat. ‘I’ll call you.’

That seemed to do the trick. He gave a strained – and, to my mind, somewhat condescending – smile and moved aside, leaving me just enough space to get by. Again, I wondered if he’d done it deliberately – a ploy to make sure there would be some form of physical contact between us as I passed him. Well, two could play at that game. I hoisted my holdall onto my shoulder – the one closest to him – and strode towards the door, forcing him to step out of the way at the last minute to avoid his face taking the full impact of the heavy travel bag.

I made it as far as the landing before he spoke again.


I stopped. Turned to look over my shoulder at him. ‘What?’

He hesitated. For a moment, I wondered if this was going to be the big moment where he dropped to his knees and threw himself at my mercy, begging me to overlook his inadequacies and forgive him for giving into temptation, swearing that it would never, ever happen again. I’m not sure how I’d have reacted if he had. Not sure I could have trusted myself to remain resolute.

But, in the end, there was no great outpouring of contrition – just a small, rather strained smile and shrug of his shoulders.

‘Happy birthday tomorrow.’

I couldn’t muster even a smile in response. Instead, I turned my back on him and clomped down the stairs, grabbed my coat from the rack by the door and stepped out into the early May afternoon sun, just in time for the Land Rover’s horn to sound yet again.

As I jogged down the garden path, I felt the eyes of Mrs Marchbanks glowering at me through the parting in the lace curtains of her next-door living room window, no doubt holding me personally responsible for this appalling breach of the peace. I slung my holdall into the Land Rover’s back seat, then turned to face Mickie, still leaning halfway out the passenger window, preening at me like an annoyingly short, spiky-haired peacock.

‘Don’t know what you’re looking so pleased with yourself about,’ I said.

Mickie merely pouted even more shamelessly in response, her upper lip curved into the distinctive W-shape it always assumes when she makes that particular expression.

‘Right.’ Claire jerked her head. ‘You know the drill. Into the back.’

Mickie turned to Claire with a pout. ‘Aw, why?’

‘You know why. Because you need less leg room, that’s why.’

‘So? S’not my fault she’s built like a bloody heron.’ She glanced briefly in my direction. ‘Nae offence, wee hen.’

‘Oh, none taken,’ I said, totally unfazed by the all-too-familiar drama currently playing out in front of me.

‘’Sides, finders keepers, losers weepers.’

‘Just give her the seat, Mickie,’ Claire sighed.

For a couple of seconds, Mickie just sat there, eyeballing her insolently. Then, in a move so sudden I had to jump back to avoid being hit, she swung the door open and stepped out. Nose in the air, she strode past me and clambered into the back seat, shoving my holdall out of the way as if it had personally impugned her.

I slid into the passenger seat, copping an exasperated kill me now look from Claire as I shut the door. Mickie, meanwhile, squirmed behind me as she tried to get comfortable, kicking the back of my seat – and the small of my back – with a Doc Marten-clad foot.

‘It’s cramped as buggery back here,’ she grumbled. ‘And it smells of wet dog.’

‘She’s been like this all the way here,’ Claire told me, her Home Counties accent lending her words an appropriately haughty primness. ‘Honestly, my nine-year-old shows more maturity.’

‘What can I say?’ said Mickie. ‘You bring out my inner child.’ She leaned forward, resting her elbows on the backs of our seats and poking her head between us. ‘So,’ she said, addressing me, ‘what’s the shitbag gonna be getting up to while you’re away?’

Mickie…’ began Claire, a warning edge to her voice.

? He is a shitbag. Did the dirty on my big cousin, so he did. Am I not allowed to be outraged on behalf of my own flesh and blood?’

‘I’m just saying, there are more diplomatic ways of putting it.’

‘More anal-retentive, more like. Says a lot about a person’s morals when she’s more upset by a spot of the old sailor talk than the actual deed being discussed.’

Claire laughed in contemptuous disbelief. ‘Oh, I hardly think you’re in a position to lecture me on morality.’

‘Ladies, please!’ I raised my voice above the fray before Mickie could hit back with another jibe. ‘Can we not do this right now? Let’s all just try and get along for the next few days, shall we? I mean, hello – injured party sitting right here.’

Neither Mickie nor Claire spoke. They just sat there, eyes downcast, both looking so utterly chastened I had to fight the urge to burst out laughing at the sight of them. Mickie’s always known exactly how to push Claire’s buttons, and Claire – well, she’s more than capable of giving as good as she gets, and her tendency, when provoked, to accentuate the very aspects of her personality Mickie considers worthy of ridicule only serves to egg Mickie on to ever more incendiary heights. I just knew they’d have been winding one another up all the way here, chip-chip-chipping away at each other passive-aggressively till they were both coiled springs waiting to snap.

‘Come on.’ I looked imploringly at each of them in turn. ‘Let’s just put some miles between ourselves and the city. We’ll all feel a whole lot less stressed out once we’re on our way.’

Mickie replaced her look of contrition with a grin. ‘Yeah, no kidding. Dunno about yous two, but work’s been a complete ball-ache this week. Boss man’s been riding me like a used bike for this, that and the other. Plus I’ve got the landlord from hell who for some reason thinks it’s totes hilare to whack up the rent at a moment’s notice.’ She blew out a noisy breath. ‘Man, I need this holiday… even if we are gonna spend it tramping through bog and briar, wringing swamp-water out of our scuffs.’

I glanced at Claire, who gave a rueful smile. ‘I guess I have been feeling a bit highly strung lately,’ she admitted.

‘Well,’ I said primly, ‘for the next three days, no one inside this car is permitted to so much as think about work or rent or any of all that real-world unpleasantness. I forbid it!’

Mickie shot Claire a wolfish grin. ‘Hear that? She still thinks she gets to set the agenda this weekend. Boy, is she in for a rude awakening!’

Claire’s smile broadened, though she tried to hide it by affecting to scratch the side of her face.

Sensing victory, Mickie leaned forward, grinning at each of us in turn. ‘So, ladies, are we ready?’

Claire and I both made noises to the affirmative.

we set?’

More expressions of approval. This time, even Claire sounded halfway enthusiastic.

drummed her hands on the backs of our headrests and gave a loud, celebratory whoop. ‘Whoo-ee! Then let’s get this show on the road!’

Claire turned the key in the ignition and pulled away from the kerb. I watched in the rearview mirror as the house I’d shared with Matthew for the last four and a half years receded into the distance before finally disappearing from view as we swung out of Hermitage Place and onto Duke Street, heading towards Newhaven, Granton and the road north. Four and a half years, plus, before that, another five doing what my late grandmother would have quaintly referred to as ‘courting’ – all turned to ash and dust in the blink of an eye. Like Mickie, I wondered what Matthew would find to do with himself in my absence. With the liquidation firm he worked for having gone into a rare company-wide shutdown for the bank holiday weekend, it wasn’t hard to imagine him at a seriously loose end, deprived of his steady diet of meetings, phone calls and emails. As someone who ate, slept and breathed his work, he wasn’t the sort of person who could readily lose himself in a good book or a film. It seemed only too likely that, stuck at home with only the television and the four walls for company, he’d give into temptation and pay a visit to the bit on the side he’d sworn to me had been a one-off.

In an effort to banish these thoughts from my mind, I switched on the car radio, channel-cycling till I came to one of those stations that played nineties rock hits all day long. I cranked up the volume and, by the time we’d left Leith behind us and were cruising along the Queensferry Road, all three of us had caught the bug and were singing along to the classic power ballads of our younger days, belting out half-remembered lyrics in a mixture of clashing rhythms, tempos and pitches. We cleared the Queensferry Crossing and hurtled up the M90, the country opening up before us like a children’s pop-up book: wide, flat fields on either side, high mountains on the horizon ahead.

To hell with Matthew and his indiscretions. This was going to be A GREAT WEEKEND. In less than twenty-four hours, I would be turning thirty – an event that couldn’t help but feel significant. The rational part of me knew there was no earthly reason why turning thirty should feel any more noteworthy than turning twenty-nine or thirty-one, or indeed any other age. And yet, for some reason, a ten-year milestone is always regarded as a moment of great importance: a staging post marking the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.

Either way, I was on my holidays with my favourite people, and come hell or high water, I was bloody well going to enjoy myself. I wound down the window, leaned my head out into the sharp, stinging wind, inhaled a deep breath and screamed as loud as I could, distilling all my pent-up frustrations into a single, sustained expulsion that went on and on until I ran out of air.

To be continued...

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Bury Your Secrets, a gripping standalone psychological thriller from the McIlvanney Prize-nominated author of the Anna Scavolini mysteries, is available now on Amazon Kindle and in paperback.

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