C.L. Taylor is a bestselling author of psychological thrillers that have sold over a million copies in the UK alone, been translated into over twenty languages, and optioned for television. Her previous book, Sleep, was a Sunday Times bestseller and was selected as a Richard & Judy Book Club pick.
Fans of Taylor's writing will be happy to know she has a new novel coming soon - Her Last Holiday is about a woman named Fran who's determined to get to the bottom of her sister's disappearance, whatever it takes.
Here, Good Housekeeping readers can enjoy an exclusive sneak preview extract of the book.
Warning: Contains description of sexual assault.
Fran’s rage has reached boiling point. The stifling heat of the tube carriage, the scrum of warm, sweaty bodies and the woman continually smacking her knees with her oversized shopping bag have pushed her too far. She’s one tut away from combusting.
Her day started with an ominous burning sensation when she went to the toilet. Irritating. A UTI was something she simply didn’t have time for, especially when her Year Elevens were weeks away from taking their ICT GCSE.
Now all Fran wants to do is escape from the hell that is the London Underground, get home, use the toilet, change into her pyjamas and crawl into bed, but the carriage is packed and every time they stop at a station it takes at least three attempts to close the doors.
Someone stands on Fran’s foot, making her wince. She looks up sharply but if the grey-haired man in a suit registers her annoyance, he doesn’t acknowledge it. Instead, he continues to gaze over the heads of the other passengers, wearing the weary, blank expression of a London commuter. Fran sucks in the warm, fusty carriage air, an objection forming on her lips. There’s no excuse for a lack of manners and—
The thought evaporates.
One second ago, the grey-haired man had his right hand wrapped around a pole for balance and his left hand hanging loosely at his side. Now, that same left hand is gently stroking the bottom of the woman in front of him.
The young woman shifts her weight, a little wiggle of irritation at the waist to show her dislike at being touched, but she doesn’t turn around. Did she assume a bag or a coat was brushing against her? It is a packed carriage after all. Or maybe she was too scared to glance over her shoulder and look into the eyes of a pervert. She’s got nowhere to run, no means of escape.
Fran glares at the man as he casually drops his hand back to his side. He hasn’t spoken to the woman the whole journey, nor she to him. They’re no couple.
Nothing happens for a few seconds, and then the man inches forward, his face expressionless as he closes the gap between him and his victim. His hand slides away from his side, his fingers inches from the cleft of her bottom. Fran’s spine straightens.
Don’t you dare, she thinks as the train slows, approaching the next station. Don’t you bloody dare.
The man dares.
The young woman gasps in shock and tries to escape the probing fingers, but there’s nowhere to go. She is pinned on all sides by armpits, knees and hips. A smirk settles on the man’s lips and Fran’s rage erupts. She reaches out, thumb and forefinger extended, and grabs as much of his backside as she can. Then she twists. Hard.
The man jolts, rising up on the toes of his shiny black shoes, then he snaps round and glares accusingly down at her.
"I believe this is your stop," Fran says as the doors open.
The man grimaces. He’s torn between leaving the carriage and responding to Fran. The young woman he groped is no longer in the aisle; she’s moved into the belly of the train. Her eyes meet Fran’s. Other than a woman in a hijab and a couple of teenage boys they are now alone in the carriage with the grey-haired pervert. An urgent beeping fills the space. The doors are about to close.
"Ugly Bull Dyke!" the man shouts at Fran. Seconds later, he’s gone.
There’s confusion as Fran moves down the carriage towards the young woman, and the young woman heads towards her.
"Did you see—"
"Are you okay?"
"What did you say to him to—"
"I’m so sorry—"
There’s an awkward pause as they wait for each other to finish.
"Stella." The younger woman holds out her hand. "Whatever you just said or did, thank you."
There’s a Northern tinge to her accent that Fran can’t quite place. Leeds or Sheffield, maybe.
"Fran Fitzgerald." She returns the handshake. Now the adrenaline’s worn off she is desperate for the toilet again.
"It’s a hate crime you know," Stella says, "what he called you."
Fran tuts. "To men like that we’re either sluts or lesbians. Limited vocabulary. Tiny brains that match their tiny penises. And as he didn’t want to ram his hand between my legs that makes me a..." She pauses as she registers the expression on the other woman’s face. "I’m not saying you’re the slut. Not in any way, shape or form. You’re no more a slut than I am a lesbian and" – she takes a deep breath – "I’m sorry. I’m not expressing myself very well. It’s been a long day and—"
"No, no. I get what you’re saying. He’s the dick."
‘Good. Because . . .’ Fran shrugs off the rest of her sentence. Stella doesn’t need to know that she’s been reprimanded several times at work for saying something tactless to another member of staff. She doesn’t mean the words to come out the way they do but she can’t always stop herself. She does try though.
"Because..." Fran repeats, distracted by her reflection in the mirrored doors. She looks small, and round, and old. How did that happen? "Because what happened wasn’t your fault. As I said, the man’s a deviant and I would be more than happy to get off at your stop and report what happened to a member of the TfL staff. Or the police."
As she looks back at Stella she is surprised to discover she’s grinning.
"What?" Fran asks. "What did I say?"
"Nothing. I just... it’s refreshing. You’re refreshing."
Fran’s not entirely sure she wants to know what that means so she doesn’t question her further. Instead, she asks Stella where she’s getting off and offers to accompany her to the nearest police station.
"West Hampstead." Stella glances at the huge bag of books that Fran has left on her seat. "And that’s really kind of you but I think you can report this sort of thing online. Can I take your number anyway, just in case the police need to speak to you?"
"Of course." Fran rummages in her bag for a piece of paper and a pen and scribbles down her mobile number and full name. "Do you have family? At home. Can you get there safely?" Her throat tightens as she imagines Stella stepping out of the tube station and vanishing, never to be seen again. It happens; she knows that well enough.
"I’ll be fine," Stella says. "I’ve got flatmates. I’m angry more than anything. If the tube hadn’t been so packed, I’d—" She breaks off as the train crawls out of the tunnel and pulls to a stop at West Hampstead station. "Shit, this is me. Thanks for this." She plucks the piece of paper from Fran’s fingers. "And for doing what you did."
Fran shrugs. "Not a problem."
As the train doors open Stella moves to get off then turns back. "Hug?"
Fran stares at her in horror. What’s the polite way of saying no? Is there one when the girl’s just been sexually assaulted and is in need of physical reassurance? Should she just say yes and grin and bear it? A dozen different responses run through her head but the one that comes out of her mouth is, "I’d rather we didn’t."
Stella laughs. "Bye Fran, thanks again."
Her Last Holiday by C.L. Taylor publishes in hardback, digital and audio on 29 April 2021.
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