#Extract - Beneath the Skin by Caroline England

Three women. Three secrets 

Antonia is beautiful and happily married. Her life is perfect. So why does she hurt herself when nobody’s watching?

Sophie is witty, smart and married to the best-looking man in town. She likes a drink, but who doesn’t?

Olivia is pretending to be a happy wife and mother. But her secret could tear her family apart.

Their lies start small, they always do. But if they don’t watch out, the consequences will be deadly.

I'm delighted to welcome Caroline England to Hair Past A Freckle today. Caroline has very kindly sent me not just one, not two but THREE extracts for you to enjoy! Beneath the Skin's tagline is 'Three Women. Three secrets.' But what of the men? They have secrets too…


It’s late. Antonia is in bed, asleep, her long hair spread away from her face like a fan on the pillow. David studies her features for a while, taking in her glossy skin, the definition of her jaw and the graceful length of her neck. He longs to trace his fingers from the small lobe of her ear to the hollow of her throat, but he doesn’t want to wake her and spoil the moment. He slips in beside her, the clean sheets feeling crisp and cold, much like his sleeping wife.
In those few moments when the terror of his worries relaxed their grip, he thought of Antonia again today. He had a clear image of her in his mind; that of a honey marble statue, perfectly chiselled, incredibly beautiful, but cool and impenetrable.
Sleep doesn’t come and when Antonia sighs, he rests his head on one arm, stroking a finger along her naked spine, counting the tiny moles on her back. He always wants her, even when he’s too drunk to do anything about it and she’s never denied him. She’s soft, willing and compliant. But the reality is that even when he hungrily invades her, even when he comes with a thunderous rush of pleasure, even as she whispers, ‘Please, David, please,’ he doesn’t really penetrate her. It’s this insatiable desire, this urgent need to connect that makes him want her so badly.
‘I’ve tried to give you everything,’ he murmurs. ‘I’m sorry.’ He wants to add, ‘I know you don’t love me, but promise you won’t leave me. Stay with me forever. I’m nothing without you.’ But he’s afraid that saying the words out loud will validate them. And if Antonia hears, she’ll despise him for his weakness, of that much he’s certain.
As the whisky slowly drags David into sleep, his mind replays the last two days: insurance, his bank manager; Charlie, Charlie ill; angry clients; too much alcohol, too many lies. And finally Antonia. She laughed at one of his jokes over dinner and just for a moment he glimpsed a different person, but the moment passed as quickly as it came.
As a small boy on a boating holiday abroad he’d seen the same look on his mother’s face. ‘Look, the sea’s turquoise. Jump in, Mummy! I dare you!’ He’d said those words knowing that Mummy would laugh and shake her head. But despite her carefully made-up face and her jewellery, she jumped into the sea without a moment’s hesitation. He clapped his hands with delight as he watched from the side of the boat. Then he anxiously waited for his mother’s copper hair to reappear from the salty depths of the ocean, caught with a sudden fear that she might drown, that he might never see her again. But when she emerged from the sparkling sea, just for a second as the sun caught her face, he thought she was someone else. Someone young, happy and free. But the moment was lost when his father pulled the pipe from his mouth and cleared his throat noisily. He stared at his wife and shook his head before replacing the pipe and pointedly consulting the map.


Mike’s head feels leaden on the pillow, crammed with listless negatives as he considers the day. Rachel, lovely Rachel, her face white with reproach. Little Hannah’s tears. And Olivia, his wife Olivia, unrecognisable Olivia. And his associate’s baby, a healthy son.
He closes his eyes, reviewing a scene at St Mary’s maternity hospital from over a year ago. ‘Just a routine scan,’ the consultant obstetrician had said with easy charm. ‘Nothing to worry about, the bump just seems a little small – probably a small baby.’
They’d strolled in for the scan, like many times before. But the face of the sonographer was blank as she looked at the screen. A face that told them everything.
‘What’s happened? What’s wrong?’ A look of panic on Olivia’s face.
But Mike knew. Mike understood. There was no need to wait until Olivia had wiped the gel from her stomach and covered her naked bump. No need to wait in a room with a door, not a curtain.
No need to hear the words, ‘I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat, the baby has died.’
He sighs and turns in the dark. There’s no point in rewinding the film. There’s nothing he can do to change the past. Just like with his little sister, he can’t bring them back. And it’s late. With or without the dog, he must sleep. A voice echoes in his ears as he drifts off. ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven.’ The words repeat in his mind every night, like a mantra. But the words aren’t his and they’re hollow.


Sami’s eye catches the heading ‘Size Has Clout’ and he smiles for a moment before a mild but nagging anxiety sets in. ‘Oh, piss off,’ he says out loud. It’s an unwelcome emotion, one which hasn’t really bothered him since the day he discovered he was attractive. An overheard conversation between his eldest sister and her new friend from university when he was fourteen. ‘Ramona, your little brother. His face – he’s stunning!’ he’d heard. He’d rushed to the bathroom and locked himself in, dared his eyes to the mirror expecting to see a fat boy, but had been astounded to find that the girl was right. His chubby cheeks had grown thin, his face was bony and chiselled. It was a turning point for Samuel Richards. Samuel became Sami. He stood tall and put anxiety behind him. But now it prods at him from a distance and he isn’t entirely sure what it means.
He takes his feet off the desk and leans on the table, careful not to crease his tie. ‘Why am I anxious?’ he scribbles on the writing pad with the fibre-tip pen he bought to match his watch.
Reclining again, he swings in his chair, the pen to his mouth. Perhaps it’s the huge project at Trafford and the commission he’ll lose if it doesn’t go through. Or maybe it’s Sophie, his mother and the IVF. Or even the suit he forgot to collect from the cleaners. But he knows it’s Friday, last Friday, when he should’ve been in the pub. The memory catches his breath and makes his skin tingle. It just isn’t like him to care so much.
He crumples the paper into a ball and lobs it into the waste-paper bin, expecting to score as usual. It hits the edge and lands softly on the carpet. He stands, bends to pick it up and looks at it thoughtfully in his palm before dropping it directly into the bin. Then he stoops to look at himself in the mirror hung next to his surveying qualification certificates. Replacing one of the certificates, it’s really too low for Sami’s height. Everyone in the office laughs at this token of vanity, but he doesn’t care. ‘Have to keep up the standards,’ he always says to anyone who comments. ‘You should try it.’ But the reality is that standards don’t come into it, he’s one handsome bastard and the mirror is there for him to strut and to preen, to confirm what he already knows. But today his reflection doesn’t look quite right. It’s as though his slight emotional imbalance is reflected in his striking face.
‘No, really, piss off,’ he says again before collecting his jacket and keys, then checking one last time that the words ‘site meeting’ are clearly legible in his diary for anyone who might look.

Thank you so much Caroline, I'm really looking forward to reading Beneath the Skin.

 Beneath the Skin was published on 5th October 2017 by Avon and is available from Amazon.

About the Author

Born a Yorkshire lass, Caroline studied Law at Manchester University and stayed over the border. Caroline practised family and professional indemnity law. She became a partner in a firm of Solicitors and instigated her jottings when she deserted the law to bring up her three lovely daughters.

In addition to the publication of her short story collection, Watching Horsepats Feed the Roses, by ACHUKAbooks in 2012, Caroline has had short stories and poems published in a wide variety of literary magazines and anthologies.

Her novel Lie With Me Under the Toothbrush Tree was shortlisted for the Impress Prize 2015 and her novel Time is of the Essence was in the Pulp Idol 2016 finals and long listed for the UK Novel Writing Competition 2017.

Twitter: @CazEngland

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CazEngland1/