They knocked again, louder this time. The lights were on, the fire was crackling and smoking – there was no pretending she wasn’t home. It was like her worst nightmare, someone getting inside, appearing next to her bed, being unable to move or speak.
But she was wide awake.
Move. This time – you have to act. Rachel reached for the poker, forced herself to her feet and across the room, socks silent on the floorboards. She waited by the door, back flat against the wall, poker by her side. Breathe, Ray. In through your nose, and out through your mouth.
They hadn’t come through the gate, up the road. And no one could descend the cliffs behind – well, almost no one. Not without rope and kit. They could only have come from the river – that wooden sound: oars, a boat. In all the years, no one had ever found their way out to her property, turned up. Which was exactly as she wanted it.
They knocked again – and kept knocking. Rachel tried to breathe, to think through the noise. She wiggled her toes, clenched her hand tighter around the poker handle. The doors were locked, the windows locked, the perimeter secure. It had taken some doing, fortifying the old cottage against the world.
Whoever it was would probably go away if she stayed quiet, if she could stay calm. Most of the things she worried about never came to pass.
‘I know you’re in there. Please – help!’ It was a woman’s voice. A young woman…