Ann Cleeves

Hidden Depths

The third book in the Vera Stanhope series, 2007

For the boys

Chapter One

Julie stumbled from the taxi and watched it drive away. At the front gate she paused to compose herself. Best not to go in looking pissed after all those lectures she’d given the kids. The stars wheeled and dipped in the sky and she almost threw up. But she didn’t care. It had been a good night, the first with the girls for ages. Though it wasn’t the girls that had made it so special, she thought, and realized there was a great soppy beam on her face. Just as well it was dark and there was no one to see.

At the door she stopped again and scrabbled through the eyeliner pencils and lippy-stained tissues and loose change in her bag for her key. Her fingers found the scrap of paper which had been torn from a corner of a menu in the bar. A phone number and a name. Ring me soon. Then a little heart. The first man she’d touched since Geoff had left. She could still feel the bones of his spine against her fingers when they’d danced. It was a shame he’d had to leave early.

She snapped the bag shut and listened. Nothing. It was so quiet that she could hear the buzz of the evening’s music as a pressure on her ears. Was it possible that Luke was asleep? Laura could sleep for England, but her son had never seemed to get the hang of it. Even now he’d left school and there was nothing to get up for, he was usually awake before her. She pushed open the door and listened again, slipping her feet out of the shoes that had been killing her since she’d got out of the metro hours before. God, she hadn’t danced like that since she was twenty-five. There was silence. No music, no television, no beeping computer. Thank the Lord, she thought. Thank the fucking Lord. She wanted sleep and sexy dreams. Somewhere on the street outside an engine was started.

She switched on the light. The glare hurt her head and turned her stomach again. She let go of her bag and ran up the stairs to the bathroom, tripping halfway up. No way was she going to be sick on the new hall carpet. The bathroom door was shut and she saw a crack of light showing underneath it. From the airing cupboard there came the faint gurgle of water which meant the tank was refilling. And wasn’t that typical? It took hours of persuasion to get Luke into the shower in the morning, then he decided to have a bath in the middle of the night. She knocked on the bathroom door but there was no urgency about it. The queasiness had passed again.

Luke didn’t answer. He must be in one of his moods. Julie knew it wasn’t his fault and she should be patient, but sometimes she wanted to strangle him when he went all weird on her. She crossed the landing to Laura’s room. Looking down at her daughter, she came over suddenly sentimental, thought she should make the effort to spend more time with her. Fourteen was a difficult age for a girl and Julie had been so caught up with Luke lately that Laura almost seemed like a stranger. She’d grown up without Julie noticing. She lay on her back, her spiky hair very black against the pillow, snoring slightly, her mouth open. It was a bad time for hay fever. Julie saw that the window was open and, although it was so hot, she shut it to keep out the pollen. The moonlight splashed onto the field behind the house where they’d been cutting grass.

She returned to the bathroom and banged on the door with the flat of her palm. ‘Hey, are you going to be in there all night?’ With the third bang, the door opened. It hadn’t been locked. There was a smell of bath oil, heavy and sweet, which Julie didn’t recognize as hers. Luke’s clothes were neatly folded on the toilet seat.

He had always been beautiful, even as a baby. Much lovelier than Laura, which had never seemed fair. It was the blond hair and the dark eyes, the long, dark eyelashes. Julie stared at him, submerged beneath the bath water, his hair rising, like fronds of seaweed, towards the surface. She couldn’t see his body because of the flowers. They floated on the perfumed water. Only the flower heads, not the stems or the leaves. There were the big ox-eye daisies which had grown in the cornfields when she was a kid. Overblown poppies, the red petals translucent now. And enormous blue blossoms, which she had seen before in gardens in the village, but which she couldn’t name.

Julie must have screamed. She heard the sound as if someone else had made it. But still Laura slept and Julie had to shake her to wake her. The girl’s eyes opened suddenly, very wide. She looked terrified and Julie found herself muttering, knowing that she was lying, ‘It’s all right, pet. Everything’s all right. But you have to get up.’

Laura swung her legs out of bed. She was trembling, but not really awake. Julie put her arm around her and supported her as they stumbled together down the stairs.

They stood like that, wrapped up in each other’s arms, on the doorstep of the neighbour’s house and the silhouette thrown on the wall by the street light made Julie think of people in a crazy three-legged race. One of those pub crawls that students went in for. She leaned against the bell until the lights upstairs went on and footsteps came and she had someone to share the nightmare with.

Chapter Two

It disturbed Felicity Calvert that she’d become so preoccupied with sex. Once, in the doctor’s waiting room, she’d read a magazine which claimed that adolescent boys thought about sex every six minutes. Then she’d found it hard to believe. How could these young men lead a normal life – go to college, watch a film, play football – when they were so frequently distracted? And what of her own son? Watching James playing on the floor with his Lego, it had been impossible to imagine that in a few years he would be similarly obsessed. But now she thought that an interval of six minutes between sexual daydreams could be a conservative estimate. In her case at least. For a while now an awareness of her body and its responses had been with her whatever she was doing, an uneasy, occasionally pleasurable background to the stuff of everyday life. For someone of her age this seemed inappropriate. It was as if she’d attended a funeral wearing pink.

She was in the garden picking the first of the strawberries. She lifted the net carefully, sliding her hand underneath between the mesh and the straw bedding. They were still small but there should be enough for James’s tea. She tasted one. It was warm from the sun and very sweet. Glancing at her watch she saw it was almost time for the school bus. Ten more minutes and she’d have to wash her hands and walk down the lane to meet him. She didn’t always go. He claimed he was old enough to make his own way to the house and of course that was true. But today he’d have his violin and he’d be glad to see her because she could help him carry his stuff. She wondered briefly whether it would be the old bus driver or the young one with the muscular arms and the sleeveless T-shirt, then looked at her watch again. Only two minutes since she’d last considered sex. The thought returned that at her age it was quite ridiculous.

Felicity was forty-seven. She had a husband and four children. She had, for goodness’ sake, a grandchild. In a few days Peter, her husband, would be sixty. The bubbles of lust surfaced at random, when she was least expecting them. She hadn’t talked about this to Peter. Of course not. He certainly wasn’t the object of her desire. These days they seldom made love.

She got up and walked across the grass to the kitchen. Fox Mill stood on the site of an old water mill. It was a

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