The latest Kate Morton novel is sure to please her many fans, but as readers may notice from this excerpt, The Secret Keeper contains an element that makes this book a little different: a murder. But let’s allow the author to set up the story herself:
Kate Morton’s latest is available on October 16th, and will be on in-store bestseller lists at 30% off for a limited time. Kate’s publisher, Simon and Schuster Canada, has been kind enough to share an excerpt of the novel’s first chapter, which we’re sharing here today.
The man, when he first appeared, was little more than a hazy smudge on the horizon, right down at the farthest reach of the driveway. Laurel was never sure, later, what it was that made her look up then. For one awful second when she first noticed him walking towards the back of the farmhouse, Laurel thought it was Billy, arrived early and coming to fetch her. Only as his outline clarified and she realized he was dressed all wrong—dark trousers, shirtsleeves, and a black hat with an old-fashioned brim—did she let herself exhale.
Curiosity arrived hot on the heels of relief. Visitors were rare at the farmhouse, those on foot rarer still, though there was a vague memory at the back of Laurel’s mind as she watched the man come closer, an odd sense of déjà vu that she couldn’t place no matter how hard she tried. Laurel forgot that she was sulking and, with the luxury of concealment, surrendered herself to staring.
She leaned her elbows on the windowsill, her chin on her hands. He wasn’t bad-looking for an older man, and something in his posture suggested a confidence of purpose. Here was a man who didn’t need to rush. Certainly, he was not someone she recognized, not one of her father’s friends from the village or any of the farmhands. There was always the possibility he was a lost traveler seeking directions, but the farmhouse was an unlikely choice, tucked away as it was so far from the road. Perhaps he was a gypsy or a drifter? One of those men who chanced by occasionally, down on their luck and grateful for whatever work Daddy had to give them. Or—Laurel thrilled at the terrible idea—he might be the man she’d read about in the local newspaper, the one the adults spoke of in nervous strains, who’d been disturbing picnickers and frightening women who walked alone along the hidden bend downriver.
Laurel shivered, scaring herself briefly, and then she yawned. The man was no fiend; she could see his leather satchel now. He was a salesman come to tell her mother about the newest encyclopedia set they couldn’t live without.
And so she looked away.
Minutes passed, not many, and the next thing she heard was Barnaby’s low growl at the base of the tree. Laurel scrambled to the window, peering over the sill to see the spaniel standing to attention in the middle of the brick path. He was facing the driveway, watching as the man—much closer now—fiddled with the iron gate that led into the garden.
“Hush, Barnaby,” her mother called from inside. “We won’t be long now.” She emerged from the dark hall, pausing at the open door to whisper something in the baby’s ear, to kiss his plump cheek and make him giggle.
Behind the house, the gate near the hen yard creaked—the hinge that always needed oiling—and the dog growled again. His hair ridged along his spine.
“That’s enough, Barnaby,” Ma said. “What’s got into you?”
The man came round the corner and she glanced sideways. The smile slipped from her face.
“Hello there,” said the stranger, pausing to press his handkerchief to each temple. “Fine weather we’re having.”
The baby’s face broadened in delight at the newcomer, and he reached out his chubby hands, opening and closing them in excited greeting. It was an invitation no one could refuse, and the man tucked the handkerchief back into his pocket and stepped closer, raising his hand slightly, as if to anoint the little fellow.
Her mother moved then with startling haste. She wrested the baby away, depositing him roughly on the ground behind her. There was gravel beneath his bare legs, and for a child who knew only tenderness and love the shock proved too much. Crestfallen, he began to cry.
Laurel’s heart tugged, but she was frozen, unable to move. Hairs prickled on the back of her neck. She was watching her mother’s face, an expression on it that she’d never seen before. Fear, she realized: Ma was frightened.
The effect on Laurel was instant. Certainties of a lifetime turned to smoke and blew away. Cold alarm moved in to take their place.
“Hello, Dorothy,” the man said. “It’s been a long time.”
He knew Ma’s name. The man was no stranger.
He spoke again, too low for Laurel to hear, and her mother nodded slightly. She continued to listen, tilting her head to the side. Her face lifted to the sun, and her eyes closed just for one second.
The next thing happened quickly.
It was the liquid silver flash Laurel would always remember. The way sunlight caught the metal blade, and the moment was very briefly beautiful.
Then the knife came down, the special knife, plunging deep into the man’s chest. Time slowed; it raced. The man cried out, and his face twisted with surprise and pain and horror, and Laurel stared as his hands went to the knife’s bone handle, to where the blood was staining his shirt, as he fell to the ground, as the warm breeze dragged his hat over and over through the dust.
The dog was barking hard, the baby wailing in the gravel, his face red and glistening, his little heart breaking, but for Laurel these sounds were fading. She heard them through the watery gallop of her own blood pumping, the rasping of her own ragged breath.
The knife’s bow had come undone, the ribbon’s end trailed onto the rocks that bordered the garden bed. It was the last thing Laurel saw before her vision filled with tiny flickering stars and then everything went black.
Kate Morton fans in Toronto will have the chance to meet Kate in person on October 18, 2012 at Indigo Yonge and Eglinton. Read more about it on our Store Events page, or follow @indigogreenroom on Twitter.