Ever loved someone so much, that you would die for them? You would? Okay! Great! Superb! Fantas … hey, how about murder – would you … would you kill for them?
What? You’ve gone all quiet on me?
Cat got your tongue?
When Arena escapes Tom, her abusive and vengeful husband, he vows to make her pay. Luckily, she finds love in the arms of a wonderful cop called Bear Shaw. Loving, generous Bear adore her kids, they in turn adore him, and soon they are a family. Life is perfect, Arena is a success story and they have the HEA.
When Arena’s SUV is stolen with her sleeping toddler in it, Arena immediately points at vengeful Tom. He did it. she is convinced of it, because he had vowed to make her pay. To her surprise, the police point at Bear, because Bear cannot be found. Worse, according to them, Bear Shaw does not exist!
GRIPPING CRIME & SUSPENSE with unexpected romance!
EXCERPT FROM PAYBACK
SYDNEY AUSTRALIA – 2012
Operator: “Police helpline, what is your emergency?”
Caller: “Eh, a woman, like, she’s screaming her head off. Can you send
the police? Please, please, please!”
Operator: “What seems to be the problem?”
Caller: “She says…she says that someone stole her car and stuff…”
Operator: “State and town please?”
Caller: “Eh, Sydney…St Ives…”
Operator: “Yeah, where about in St Ives?”
Caller: “Warrimoo Avenue, outside the eh, shops and stuff.”
Operator: “Would that be…corner Dalton road and Warrimoo?”
Caller: “Eh, let me see…yeah, that’s it.”
Operator: “Is anybody hurt?”
Caller: “No. Just the baby.”
Operator: “Baby? Did you say a baby was hurt?”
Caller: “No, no, she was in the car. The baby. Sorry, I’m just fifteen so…”
Operator: “She was in the…are you saying that the car was stolen with
a baby in it?”
Caller: “Yeah. Can you hear her? The mother? She’s screaming her head
off like a ban—”
Operator: “Yes, I can. What’s she saying?”
Caller: “She’s saying…hold on…eh, she says she knows that it’s her ex, like,
he’s behind it, and she’s screaming and running up and down the street,
Operator: “O…kay. I need you to stay on the line. What’s your name?”
Caller: “Carly. But my cell battery is dy—”
Operator: “Hello? Hello? Carly, can you hear me? Hello?”
The first time Tom hit me, I was highly pregnant. Slapped me across the face so hard, I saw tiny white stars even though I was indoors. I was twenty-two, he was thirty-five.
I was eight months pregnant and waddling around like a duck; he was approximately one hundred and eighty pounds of solid muscle. He took part in triathlons, ran five kilometers every day, had wheatgrass and quinoa for breakfast, a green salad with no dressing for lunch, and usually ate lean chicken breast with three different colored vegetables for dinner.
Fit, disciplined, and focused – that was my husband.
Throughout my two years of marriage, I’d seen bursts of his rage – towards me and others, and his road-rage, now that was the worst – it terrified me. Especially since he liked to take on truck drivers. The bigger the truck, the greater his rage. Usually, people steered away from trucks, but not Tom; he took them on, provoked them until I was shaking with fear.
Deep down, I guess I did fear being hit by him one day, but I didn’t expect it that day – the day of my second wedding anniversary.
I was so stunned by the slap, I didn’t move away or try to defend myself. I just stood and gaped at him, one hand on my cheek, the other on my swollen belly.
“I take care of everything!” he hissed. “All you had to do was chill the Cristal, and you forget to do that. A small thing like that. Chill. The. Cristal – how hard is that, huh? HUH?”
To celebrate our wedding anniversary, Tom had invited eight couples to a four-course sit-down dinner at our house, located in the upscale suburbs of St Ives, Sydney.
He had hired caterers, waitstaff, and a barman for the occasion. Like all of Tom’s parties, it promised to be interesting, excessive, and showy.
It was true – all I had to do was chill the Cristal, as he had taken care of everything else, without consulting me once about anything. Not even asking me who I’d like to invite. Solo – that’s how Tom operated.
I didn’t mind. Tom was extremely capable, highly efficient, and most of all, he had flair. I didn’t, so if I did make a suggestion for just about anything, he’d usually scoff at it and shred it to bits, making me feel like the hillbilly I was. So over time, I stopped suggesting or contributing, and left everything in Tom’s highly capable hands. That suited him just fine.
With pregnancy hormones, my brain sometimes became a pile of mush, and I would walk into a room and forget why I was there. I often forgot which level I had parked my car on at the mall.
It annoyed the hell out of Tom as he called it foolish, and God knows, being as astute and intelligent as he was, he didn’t suffer fools gladly.
As my pregnancy progressed, everything I did was foolish and stupid to him, and he became increasingly irritable with me, and finally, he hit me.
“See what you do to me!” he snarled, his nostrils flaring, his lips a thin white line. “You make me act like this.”
After throwing me a look of disgust, he stood in front of the mirror, carefully adjusted his tie, straightened his five-foot-eight frame, and walked towards the door of our bedroom.
At the door, he paused and turned to look at me. “Put on a darker shade of lipstick, wear the necklace I bought you for Christmas, and be downstairs in five,” he said before he walked downstairs.
With my hand on my cheek, I sat on the bed, shrouded in disappointment and disbelief.
How could he hit me? I asked myself. How could he hit a pregnant woman? His pregnant wife – who does that?
There was no way I was going to go to his party after that. I would leave quietly through the back door before our guests arrived. I wouldn’t even tell him that I was leaving him. To hell with him and his party.
Just then the doorbell rang. Too late. Our guests had arrived.
“The place looks wonderful, Tom.”
“Yes, it’s just fabulous, Tom. Marvelous. Where’s Arena?”
“She’ll be down in a sec,” I heard Tom say. “Honey, our guests have arrived,” he called in a sweet voice from the foot of the steps. “Arena, sweetheart?”
I panicked. What do I do? How could I possibly not show up when guests had already arrived? In all honesty, I’m ashamed to say, I chickened out. Feeling pressured, I decided I would go downstairs and be civil and courteous to Tom’s friends, but I would leave immediately after the party. If he tried to stop me, I would have it out with him and call the cops if I needed to. I may have been twenty-two years old, but I realized that Tom had crossed a line and I wasn’t going to accept it.
I scrambled up from my king-size bed and walked over to a mirror where I eyed my cheek, red from his slap.
I picked up some concealer and dotted it over the redness. Didn’t work. His imprint on my cheek and the welt showed through the concealer.
I tried green concealer. That did the trick and that was the first time I learned that green concealer worked better on bruises better than yellow or beige concealer.
Over the years I used a lot of green concealer, and I became an expert at concealing “flaws.”
Luckily, my deep mahogany hair was in a bob and fell in a sharp point two centimeters below my ears. (Styled as per Tom’s strict instructions. He ordered me to wear my hair exactly that way, because he was in awe of Victoria Beckham.) That night, with the help of a little wax, I pulled the edges forward so that it covered my cheek. Just in case the green concealer let me down.
Then I went one step further and decided that if the concealer faded and someone enquired about the marks on my face, I would simply say that I had an allergy – a new facial that didn’t quite agree with me. (Over the years, my friends were surprised at how many facials didn’t agree with me.)
Still dazed, I adjusted my clothing, darkened my lipstick, put on the chunky gold necklace that Tom ordered me to wear, and waddled downstairs. As instructed.
When I reached the last stair of the spiral staircase of our 2.6-million-dollar home in Sydney, which had a spa, sauna, tennis court, and an Olympic-size pool, I plastered a smile on my disappointed lips and murmured greetings to our guests.
From the corner of my eye, I noticed Tom watching me with elevated eyebrows, probably waiting to see if I would tell on him, or indicate marital discord in our supposedly perfect marriage.
I ignored him and focused on our guests. I would deal with the bastard later.
After a while, his eyebrows returned to normal and he moved towards me. As if nothing had happened, he slipped his arm around my waist. I stiffened, then casually tried to shrug it off, but he held on, his fingers digging into my side, tacitly warning me to behave, or else.
After our last guest had arrived, Tom rattled a knife on a Royal Doulton goblet. “Ladies and gentlemen, it is now time for me to give my beautiful wife her anniversary gift.”
With a fake smile plastered on my darkened lips, I allowed him to take my hand.
He led us all outside, where a silver BMW X60i E75 was parked in our driveway, a huge red bow on it. I knew that it cost more than a hundred and fifty thousand dollars, as I had gone car shopping with him weeks ago.
“For you, my love,” he said.
All eyes were on me, most of them filled with envy.
Overwhelmed by the slap and by the present, I remained mute.
He pinched my waist. Hard.
“It’s beautiful,” I murmured quickly, feeling pressured to say something. It truly was a lovely vehicle, although the one I was driving, a Mercedes four-wheel drive, was just as beautiful.
I looked at him. “But, I didn’t get you anything, Tom.” My voice felt strained and high-pitched.
He hugged me. “You are my gift alone, Arena. You bring me so much joy, my love.”
“Aaaawwww!” I heard a guest mutter. “How sweet!”
My guests had no idea that less than an hour ago, this man had slapped his pregnant wife.
“And that’s not all,” he said and produced a pretty red-and-gold box. Tom opened it, revealing a chunky diamond bracelet. He slipped it onto my wrist, then kissed my hand and bowed obsequiously.
Back inside, gasps of delight and more unbridled envy abounded, which Tom seemed to visibly revel in.
Envy was Tom’s currency – his elixir of life. Without it, I do believe that he would have shriveled up and simply died.
Then he took me into his arms and once again, lovingly embraced me. When he kissed me, he threaded his fingers into my hair and slipped his tongue into my mouth. His kiss felt horrible – like sucking on raw steak. I felt awkward and uncomfortable, and I wanted him to stop the Broadway show. I was a lousy actress and a terrible leading lady for sure.
When I jerked slightly away, his fingers gripped my hair and pulled hard, a silent warning – Play along or else.
Having no choice, I became a supporting act in his show and felt like the phony I was.
Then the doorbell rang.
He released me and said, “Will you get that, darling?”
I was surprised, because Tom always answered the door. After a moment’s hesitation, I opened the door and caught my breath at the sight of the biggest bouquet of roses I had ever seen.
“For Mrs. Arena Botha,” the delivery guy said, struggling to carry the bouquet.
Again, the room echoed with oohs and ahhs!
Of course, I was not one bit impressed with any of his gifts. It was not that I was ungrateful. Sure, his gifts were lovely, but I would have preferred if he had given me the gifts that morning, when it was just the two of us, or if he had sent me the roses during the day.
These gifts were all about him and his ego – Look at me. Look how successful I am. See what I can give my woman. Don’t you wish you were married to me instead of your husband? When you leave here tonight, you’re gonna wish you were Arena. You’re gonna wish you were Tom Botha’s wife.
I did leave the house that night, but it wasn’t because of Tom’s slap. I went into early labor and had to be rushed to the hospital that very night. Three hours after our last guest had left, I held in my arms a beautiful blue-eyed boy called Warren, who became the silver lining in my life.
All thoughts of leaving Tom and ending our marriage went out the door after that. I continued living with Tom, starring in his Broadway shows and buying copious amounts of green concealer.
One word to describe living with Tom – suffocating.
Every time he was around, I felt like I had a pillow over my face. I dreaded the hour when he would walk through that door, and when he left the house, I felt like the pillow had been lifted from my face.
Weekends were the worst – the pillow seldom lifted, and unlike most people, Monday was my best friend. I looked forward to it.
The moment Tom left the house for work, I would let out a long sigh, make myself a cup of hot chocolate, and as the morning progressed, my shoulders would slowly drop from around my ears and I would smile.
My Sunday morning psalm: Monday my love, where are you?
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EMBERS OF TEMPTATION (Excerpt One)
Pumping with adrenaline, I look out of the window, my ears cocked for the sound of the chopper. Where are you? Liars, cheats – where the hell are you? Better hurry, I don’t have all day.
Nearby, three technicians quietly comb my home for bugs. “It’s an emergency, the Church of Light is in grave danger!” I declared when I called them. “Pastor Colin needs your help.” The suckers dropped everything and rushed to protect their church and their pastor.
I figured, first things first – before I deliver any kind of retribution, I need to rid the place of all surveillance equipment installed by that psychopath called Clover. Or Love. Or Whatever the fuck she’s calling herself these days. Before more damage is done.
Joy Sterling indeed – I can hardly believe how dumb Sister Grace was for not checking this so-called volunteer out thoroughly. By not doing her job, she has allowed Clover to believe that she can take me on. Me, Scarlett Smyth-Murdoch-Callan, manipulator and criminal extraordinaire, probably one of the finest Svengalis to tread the Earth. She has no idea who she’s dealing with. How dangerous I am. That she is tangling with someone with an IQ higher than that of Einstein.
Such a fraud, pretending to be so helpful and supportive and reliable – coming up with the sparkling pacifier, the convenient playground – God, I feel like screaming right now!
Before you call me dumb (someone like me could be duped by an unremarkable, unimpressionable, thrift-shopper in long skirts, vintage cardigans and sensible shoes), just remember that I have an empire to run, so I was distracted. It happens, okay? Distraction is an occupational hazard for moguls like me, so don’t even think of berating me. And … just keep in mind how quickly I derailed her locomotive of deceit.
Clover’s biggest mistake was thinking she could take me on. Her second biggest mistake is that she forgot about that greedy hillbilly named Liz. That beanpole who also, God knows why, thought that she could take on someone like me. “Give me ten thousand dollars today and two hundred thousand dollars in three days.” Yeah?
“Fetch me cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.”
Really? Bitch, I am the director of the Church of Light, not a volunteer. And FYI, never in my whole life had I ever fetched anything for anyone.
Well, I hope she enjoyed that steak sandwich and that cup of hot chocolate, her last feast before she was deposited where she belongs – three feet under (six is not necessary). May the maggots enjoy feasting on her wiry body.
Bristling with fury, I look at the three wise men, roaming the place with their selfie sticks. Or detectors – they look like selfie sticks to me. My ears are cocked and ready for that, Found one! For that, beep! beep! beep! followed by ‘gotcha!’
More than an hour passes, and not a squeak from the men. Absentmindedly, I inspect my nails – I’ve ruined a good manicure by constantly tapping of my fingernails on the table.
As I wait, I think about Townsend, the sleaze bag. Thanks to Shane, he will soon be accompanying Liz. No one will come calling for Townsend – he’s a mere unemployed British actor working illegally in Australia, and doesn’t have any family around who will miss the creep in ridiculous red briefs. The nerve of him thinking I’d fall into bed with him. The nerve of him demanding a Maserati. The nerve of him thinking he could blackmail me. That’s always been the problem in my life – everyone around wants a piece of me. Love, Liz, Townsend, Shane – yes, even Shane the cokehead is expecting a piece of the pie I so lovingly and so painstakingly baked. Why? I’ll tell you why they demand a piece of me – it’s because I’m a woman. A powerful woman at that. If were a man, not even an authoritative one, even if I were a Weasel like Woody Allen, everyone would laud me, not blackmail me. They would expect nothing from me and be too scared to even think of asking. You think people can go up to Donald Trump and shake him down? Picture it – Trump, can you fetch me a steak sandwich? Trump, go fetch me a hot chocolate with marshmallows. Trump, buy me a Maserati.
Can you picture the look on Donald’s face? He’d stare at them with puckered lips, before he makes a call – not to 911, not to the Secret Service, not to the FBI, not even to Ivanka – no, he’d place a call to the Russians. That’s right – they’d be there in fifteen seconds to douse the person in mob-strength, flammable Vodka, light a match and throw it on them – Nostrovia! (now you know why mobsters light their cigarettes with matches. You can’t throw a lit cigarette lighter at a body, can you?).
I spin around to look at the men. “Yes?”
“All done,” the head of the bug-finding team says. “Nothing to report.”
“What? That can’t be right!”
The man shakes his head, his comb-over causing a breeze in the process. “Not a single one.” He waves the selfie stick like a flag.
“Are you sure? There must be surveillance devices.”
“Nah. We’ve combed the place for them. Nothing. Checked, doubled checked – nothing. Not even one of those cheap nanny cams.”
“And you’re certain of that?”
“Positive. We would have caught them by now. The place is clean.”
“Luckily for everyone, right?”
No, not luckily. If there aren’t any camera’s around, just how did the bitch gain access to my computer files and my money? She’s gained access to just about everything and everywhere in the house, except the basement. It’s startling to think of the damage she’s done without the use of old fashion surveillance cameras.
“Ah, well, okay then.”
The men stare at me.
What? Surely, they’re not expecting to get paid? It’s the friggin’ church, for crying out loud! Have some goddamn respect!
“The Church of Light thanks you,” I say in a dismissive voice, before I turn away from them.
The men look at each other, shrug, before they slowly shuffle out of the house.
The moment they leave, I log onto my laptop, and holding my breath, I double-check my off-shore bank account. Maybe, just maybe, the money is still there. Please, please, please, let my money be there!
As I look at the screen, a feeling of utter devastation follows – the money, the one I’ve worked so hard for, has definitely vanished. My heart shatters and the pain is physical. Clover … I’m going to slice her up if I don’t get my money back. She has it. There’s no way someone can spend sixteen million dollars in such a short space of time. My guess is that she’s stashed it somewhere. In another bank account in Switzerland. (When did she get to Switzerland? How did I not notice her absence?) If she does not want to die a painful, prolonged death, she will return my money.
With my ear cocked and listening out for the sound of the chopper, I walk over to the bar, fetch a bottle of vodka (which is the only fetching I do, by the way), and take a couple of swigs from it.
What? Like you don’t drink from the bottle?
In the chopper, Clover shifts about in her seat. Hurry up! Hurry up! Hurry up! Questions zip through her mind:
What’s happening to Angel?
What will happen to her and Colin?
Will the evil witch shoot them on sight? Has she already shot Angel? Buried her …
At the thought of her baby being hurt, at the recollection of the drawing of the child on the fridge, the cold hand of dread squeezes her heart. Please God …
Colin reaches over and slowly removes her hands from her head. She looks at him, unaware that she was holding her head. He nods – Relax, it’s going to be okay.
Clover squeezes her eyes shut, before she opens it again and looks out the window. She whiles away the time tallying her deceptions: among others … the secret DNA test of Colin and Angel, the hidden suitcases, Colin’s secret recovery, stealing Joy’s identity to worm her way into the church and hiding her real identity, stealing back Colin’s love and affections, and the grand prize – stealing millions of dollars from the wicked witch of darkness. People who steal that kind of money usually goes to prison or ends up having their throats slit. There are more crimes that she committed, too many to name, that make her believe she should run, that she should never have boarded the chopper. If it wasn’t for her baby in the clutches of that psychopath, she would never return to the Church of Light. No, she’d run and hide, leave Colin and bolt for her life.
At the sight of the church, her anxiety soars.
Release date: Coming soon!
More excerpts to follow soon! Follow this blog to avoid missing out. You want to keep up with Scarlett’s underhandedness, believe me!
This is one of the books in the Girl on Fire Series. Read The Other Woman (an epic and jaw-dropping collision between a betrayed wife and a cunning seductress), which is available on #KindleUnlimited, Please read before you read this book.
Fans of Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, The Affair, will love Eve Rabi’s tale of love, lust and revenge.
#RomanticCrime #RomanticSuspense #StoriesofRevenge #VigilanteJustice #FreeonKindleUnlimited #LoveTriangles#TheOtherWoman
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