Exclusive Excerpt* from Our Little Secret by Claudia Carroll.
I am extremely honoured to be the first to share an excerpt from Claudia Carroll's latest novel, Our Little Secret, which is published on 23rd March. I also have three copies of the novel to giveaway. Just enter via rafflecopter link at the end of the page. The giveaway is open INT. I hope you enjoy this sneak-peek and best of luck to all who enter the giveaway.
*please note that any change of formatting is due to Bleach House Library and is not reflective of the final product.
A sparkling story about what happens when you let someone into your life… but they turn out to want more than you’d bargained for!
Sarah has the perfect life. A high-flying job in a law firm, a beautiful daughter and a house to die for. So how does she find herself looking in through the kitchen window while another woman enjoys it all?When Sarah takes pity on a struggling young graduate who can’t get a job, she thinks she’s doing the right thing. She’s being kind, generous and helpful to others, as she always is. But as Sarah allows the younger woman into her home, her law firm and even her family, is there more to this pretty youngster than meets the eye? And could this be a good deed that goes further than expected?
Claudia Carroll does it again with a sparkling new novel about what happens when your life becomes up for grabs…
With a slow, sickening sense of horror, Sarah found herself
peering through the darkness of night, right into her own
living room window. And there it was for all to see – the
happy family tableau that was playing out inside, picture
perfect in every way.
The roaring log fire? Tick.
The glasses of wine served out of the good crystal? Her
good crystal goblets that had been a wedding present, thanks
very much. Tick.
The whole scene looked like something out of an Ikea
catalogue, right down to the daintily laid out plates of
bruschetta and picky dippy things artfully dotted around
the coffee table.
To Sarah’s astonishment, both her ex-husband and her
daughter had completely abandoned TV, iPhones and iPads
and were actually playing Monopoly. (Christ, Monopoly
. . . seriously?) All while she looked on, smiling happily and
carefully noting down the score while the three of them
laughed and joked, everyone in high spirits.
Just look at you, Sarah thought, as she stood in her own
front garden, her eyes burning into the back of the woman
she still thought of as her friend.
I’ve just been warned about you. I’ve been told you won’t
stop till you’re actually living my life.
But by the looks of it, you already are.
Did it all start such a very short time ago? Has it really
only been a year since I could call my life my own?
Here, for what it’s worth, is how it all began. With a
simple manicure on my lunch break, in the middle of a
day, when I was stressed out of my mind. All I wanted was
a snatched half-hour of time out, before heading back into
the manic whirl of the Sloan Curtis offices. Nothing more.
But if I’d known then what I know now, then trust me,
I’d have been a very distant speck on the horizon.
‘You have very good cuticles. Badly neglected though, I’m
afraid. They just need a little bit of work,’ my beauty
therapist said, her head of thick, glossy dark hair bend low
over the nail station, uttered focused on her work.
‘I’m afraid I don’t get a huge amount of time to take
care of myself.’ I smiled politely, flicking though that
month’s Vanity Fair with my other hand. There was an
article about Kate Middleton’s mother that I remember
particularly wanting to read, for no other reason than to
valet park my brain for the next half-hour. Exactly what I
needed after that morning’s conversation/screaming match
with Darcy, my teenage daughter. Not to mention the snippy
tone my boss had taken with me in a meeting earlier that
day to discuss a legal brief I wasn’t quite up to speed on.
At least not yet, I wasn’t.
A little half-hour of pampering on a Friday lunchtime
before the weekend, that’s all I was after. Something I hadn’t
indulged in for years. In fact I think the last time I spent
a bit of non-essential cash on myself was long before Darcy
hit secondary school.
‘But it’s so important to make time for personal grooming,’
Lauren, my therapist, gently insisted with a sweet smile.
‘These little things matter. My mother always used to say
you can tell anything you want about a person just by looking
at the state of their nail bed.’
‘Yes, yes, of course,’ I chimed automatically, completely
absorbed by the article in front of me. Jesus, had Carole
Middleton really made £30 million by the time she’d turned
forty? And all from flogging little party bags? What was
wrong with me anyway? Why couldn’t I come up with a
home-based cottage industry like that, which would go on
to dominate the Forbes index and put an end to all of my
‘Will you be taking any holidays soon?’ my therapist
asked, interrupting my thoughts yet again. Oh God, I
groaned inwardly. Do we really have to have the holiday
chat? Couldn’t this one sense I just wanted to pull a Greta
Garbo and be left alone to my thoughts?
‘I wish. I can’t remember the last time I took a proper
holiday,’ I replied, flashing her a quick smile.
‘Going out tonight, maybe?’
‘No, just back to the office shortly to catch up with a
few things I need to sign off on, I’m afraid.’
‘And any plans for the weekend?’
Not unless you count frantically playing catch-up with work,
bickering with Darcy and trying my level best to be civil to
Tom when he comes over to collect her later on, then no, I
thought. As it happens, I was plan-free right through till the
following Monday morning. If I was very lucky I might get
to see an episode of House of Cards that I hadn’t seen before
on Netflix and maybe, just maybe, I might even chance a
sneaky glass of Pinot Grigio when I had the house to myself.
As you could see, it was set be another wild weekend in
the life of Sarah Keyes.
‘No, just a quiet one for me.’
‘Say no more,’ Lauren smiled very sweetly. ‘I get it. A
romantic Friday night in with your husband, am I right?’
‘A romantic night in with who?’ I asked, looking up at
‘Your husband,’ she said, two chocolate-brown eyes
blinking innocently back at me.
‘I’m not married,’ I replied, just a bit too quickly. ‘At
least, not any more I’m not.’
‘Oh, I’m so sorry, me and my big mouth,’ Lauren said,
blushing very prettily as she rubbed a dollop of cuticle
cream in. ‘It’s just that you’re wearing a wedding ring, so I
‘Ahh,’ she said, nodding. ‘I see. Do you have children?’
‘Just one. Darcy. She’s sixteen.’
‘I’m sure she’s a wonderful girl,’ Lauren said diplomatically.
Oh yes, a wonderful girl all right, I thought. If you overlooked
the sudden downturn in her school results ever since Tom and
I broke up, the mitching off school, the sulkiness, the violent
mood swings and don’t even get me started on the amounts of
cash that seem to disappear out of my purse on a daily basis.
Back then my brain melted with the guilt of how badly
Darcy had been dealing with the whole separation. And,
of course, every time I tried gently to broach the subject
with her, I’d either get the sulky silent treatment or else
her bedroom door slammed square in my face.
‘Absolutely,’ I agreed, with as bright a smile as I could
muster. ‘Darcy’s a terrific kid, thanks.
A pause while I went back to my Vanity Fair, hoping
that was us done with the chit-chat. No such luck though.
‘So, whereabouts do you work?’
Oh please, if I tip you extra, can we just edit out the small
‘I work over at Sloan Curtis,’ I said, taking a sip of the
latte in front of me, resigning myself to the fact that I’d
have to make conversation. ‘That’s a legal firm,’ I added, a
little patronisingly, now that I come to think about it.
‘Yes,’ Lauren nodded thoughtfully. ‘Sloan Curtis, I’ve
heard of you. You mostly concentrate on company and
taxation law cases, don’t you?’
At that, I looked up, my attention caught. But then you
don’t really expect your nail technician to be au fait with
local legal practices and their individual specialties, now
‘You’ve heard of us?’ I remember saying.
‘Yes,’ Lauren nodded, with a knowing smile. ‘I certainly
‘I hope you don’t mind my asking, but how?’ Clients
from the firm must come to her for treatments, I guessed.
‘It’s just that, well, let’s say I’m very interested, that’s all.’
‘You mean you’re interested in studying law?’ I fished
about a bit, wondering if that’s how this one stumbled
across the company name.
‘Oh no, nothing like that,’ she said. ‘You see, I’m already
a fully qualified lawyer. I’m a solicitor, in fact.’
At that, I put the Vanity Fair aside and really had a good
look at Lauren, taking her in properly this time. The girl
was twenty-five tops and stunningly pretty, with brown
eyes like twin Cadbury’s Buttons and a figure that Miss
Universe might have wept for. She smiled a lot, and had a
soft, gentle accent that was hard to place. From the West
of Ireland, I wondered. Galway, maybe?
First impression? That this was a sweet, bright girl, albeit
a little bit on the talkative side.
‘So is the salon a part-time job for you?’ I asked.
There was a pause while Lauren fumbled around with a
selection of SHELLAC nail varnishes in different shades of
‘Blush or bashful?’ was all I got by way of an answer
‘Which colour would you like on your nails? Blush or
bashful? You did specify nude colours and these are the
ones I think would probably work best with your pale skin
‘Lauren,’ I persisted gently. ‘You didn’t answer my question.
Sorry if I sound nosey, but I’m just curious to know
why you don’t actually practice law.’
I remember hoping I hadn’t caused the girl any offence,
though it was clear what I was really asking. Why was a
fully qualified lawyer working in a cut-price nail bar in a
dingy salon, above an Indian takeaway in the middle of
‘Money is a little bit tight just now,’ she said, pushing
her hair behind her ears self-consciously.
‘But wouldn’t you earn much more if you worked for a
‘Absolutely, yes,’ she replied, focusing on my nail bed and
not making eye contact. ‘Of course I would. But it’s so hard
for someone like me to get started in that field. Almost
impossible, in fact.’
‘What do you mean, for “someone like you”?’
‘It’s . . . a little bit complicated,’ she said, blushing.
‘You work at Sloan Curtis,’ Lauren answered politely, ‘so
you of all people must know how it is. The legal field is a
pretty rarified one and it’s tough to crack into. Particularly
when you don’t have a single friend or contact in that world.
And I’ve been working hard to try and get some kind of a
break, believe me. I’ve been trying so hard, you wouldn’t
believe it. But sometimes it really feels like I’m banging my
head against a brick wall.’
Looking back, it was that one single sentence that caught
I thought for a moment, then nodded in agreement,
absolutely chiming with what Lauren had said. Because it
had been a huge struggle for me too, back in the day. I
didn’t come from a legal background, unlike so many in
my class at college who had parents and relations practising
as barristers and, in one case, even a High Court judge.
I remembered all too vividly how tough I’d found it to
get a paralegal job – any kind of job, really – after I first
graduated, all those years ago. How I’d had to graft away
as a postgraduate, doing any kind of legal temping work
that came my way. I had to shatter every glass ceiling I
came in contact with all by myself, with absolutely no one
to help me. Then eventually after years of that, an opportunity
finally opened up for me at Sloan Curtis. It felt
utterly miraculous to me that I’d managed to land an actual
bona fide job there. I really couldn’t – then or now – believe
‘All down to my magic novena to St Joseph,’ my mother
had preached at the time, wagging a triumphant finger in
my face. Yeah, right. More to do with the fact that I invested
years practically battering down the door of Sloan Curtis
before I could even get an interview in the place.
Because Lauren was absolutely right. The legal world was
then and is now a virtual closed shop, and it takes grit and
iron determination to get a foot in the door. And that’s
only if you happen to be one of the incredibly fortunate
‘So where did you qualify?’ I asked, turning my attention
back to Lauren, feeling guilty for not having engaged with
her a bit more beforehand.
It struck me as strange that she didn’t even attempt to
answer my question. Instead she flushed red with a coy,
embarrassed little shake of her head.
‘Or did you study abroad?’ I persisted, confused by the
‘It’s a long story,’ she said quietly.
I looked expectantly across at her, waiting on her to
elaborate a bit but, no, there was nothing. Instead, she just
kept her head bowed and her mouth firmly shut as she
continued filing away at my nails.
So I let it drop. Was the girl exaggerating her qualifications?
Possibly. Maybe she was doing some kind of night
course in law and had decided to ‘big’ herself up a bit.
Which happened all the time, by the way. We’d just been
interviewing for an intern over at Sloan Curtis and some
of the exaggerated fiction that prospective candidates
adored their CVs with would almost be worthy of a book
A companionable silence fell and I went back to my
Vanity Fair, while Lauren concentrated on applying a
perfect layer of topcoat.
It was only as I was leaving that it happened. I remember
going to the till and paying what I owed to a surly looking
receptionist who barely glanced up from the Hello! magazine
she’d been reading as she took my money; instead she
just growled at me to ‘come back again – whenever’.
Then I made a point of going back to the nail station to
find Lauren, so I could give her the fiver tip I had clutched
in my hand for her.
‘Thank you so much,’ I said, shaking her hand and
pressing the cash right into her palm.
But Lauren didn’t respond with an automatic ‘thank you’,
the way any other therapist would. Instead she locked eyes
with me and stared at me for just a beat longer that you’d
expect, almost like she was trying to communicate something
unspoken. Then to my surprise, she handed the tip
‘Please don’t,’ she said. ‘There’s really no need.’
‘Come on, Lauren, take it,’ I persisted, gripping her hand
and forcing it on her gently. ‘Cash is cash.’
It wasn’t much but still, I wanted the girl to have it.
‘No, really,’ she insisted, her voice wobbling a bit.
‘Come on, you’ve earned it. It’s just my tiny way of saying
thank you, that’s all.’
‘Oh no,’ Lauren said, ‘I’m the one who should be thanking
you. It meant so much to me that I got to talk to you. As
one lawyer to another, that is. It’s been a long time for me
and it’s so hard. You really have no idea just how hard—’
Then her voice cracked and I could have sworn the girl
was getting a bit teary. But she’d turned away before I could
‘Lauren?’ I asked. ‘Are you alright?’
‘I’m OK,’ she said quietly, head bowed as she cleaned up
her nail station, almost as though she didn’t want me to
see how upset she was. ‘But you know, if it’s not too cheeky
of me, I’d love to just chat to you properly over a coffee
sometime, that’s all. Just a coffee. That’s all. I know you’re
busy and everything, but if you ever had the time – well
. . . you know where to find me.’
I walked back to my car, went back to the office and
gradually fell into my normal work routine.
But I thought about Lauren for the whole afternoon.
Thought about her, and wondered.
Thanks to Harper Collins in Ireland for letting me share this excerpt, and for the giveaway. I hope you all enjoyed the teaser. Our Little Secret is published in TPB on 23rd March 2017.
|via twitter @carrollclaudia|