S. A. Tameez

FOR BETTER FOR WORSE

Till death do us part

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FOR BETTER FOR WORSE - S A TAMEEZ

Prologue

Love and hate are deeply intertwined, connected by an invisible thread that weaves in and out of our hearts. Separated only by a razor’s edge that can cut both ways. The love that once burned bright can turn into a raging inferno of hatred, fuelled by the same passion that once consumed us.

The fiercest hatred is often born from the most potent love – a love so intense, it can be deadly. It is a love that can turn us into monsters, capable of unspeakable acts in the name of passion.

A wild and vicious beast. Unquantifiable. Unexplainable. Uncontainable.

Shakespeare depicted this notion in Romeo and Juliet—a story of love so powerful, so intense that it led the lovers to kill themselves—immortalising their love and giving birth to the most extraordinary tale of love and loss ever told. But had the couple lived long enough, had they allowed their love to ripen and eventually rot, their story would have inevitably evolved into a story of obsession, jealousy, and hate. A story of a couple who loved each other to death.

Love is a force that transcends all boundaries. A feeling of comfort and security that comes from being with someone who understands us completely – our strengths and defects. It is the glue that binds us but also the poison that destroys us. When love turns to hate, the flame of love becomes a smouldering ember, teeming with anger and resentment.

Your soul-mate is suddenly seen in a new light, and the flaws that you once overlooked are now the focus of your attention. Every word, every action is scrutinised, and every mistake is magnified. A veil is lifted, exposing a side of them you never knew existed.

The best of friends become the best of enemies. They know each other’s strengths and each other’s weaknesses. Their fears and their insecurities. They know how to heal each other and how to hurt each other.

 

Letter to my Love

I’ve always found it easier to write than to talk; my words flow better, and I have more time to edit fix change lie think about what I want to say. It is only through the written word that I can tell you the truth find my true voice. A way for me to reach out to you and share my deepest thoughts and emotions. A way for you to see me as I truly am.

 So I continue to write, pouring my heart and soul onto the page, knowing that one day you will never read these lettershold these letters in your hands and understand everything.

 That reoccurring dream still haunts me. You know, the one where time stands still and the outside world fades away. The warm sand soothes our heels as we walk towards the horizon, with no particular destination in mind. Our footsteps engraved in the sand marking our journey together. The salty tang of the ocean lingering in the air. The rhythmic sound of the waves crashing against the shore filling our ears, a symphony of sound that rises and falls with the ebb and flow of the tides. Our fingers perfectly entwined – locked together, making us inseparable. I look into your eyes and tell you I love you and that I can’t live without you, I can’t breathe without you. I am suffocated without you. I’ll die if you leave me! you give me meaning. You return my smile, exposing your dimples and tell me that you love me and will always love me—for better, for worse, until death do us part. Only death can ever sperate us. Only death! and forever. 

And then, in a moment, our dream transforms into a tempestuous nightmare as thunder rumbles overhead, and the once gentle waves now crash violently against the shore. A frigid gust of wind howls through the air, making me shiver and ache with cold. The hand that was once intertwined with mine, promising to be locked together forever, slips away, and I’m left with nothing but a cold, empty space beside me.

 I’m hurt furious angry alone. Every memory, every moment we shared, rushes through my mind like a film reel, reminding me of what we had. The ground beneath me crumbles, and I’m sucked in. I call out for you, but you don’t save me… because you’re not fucking there. The betrayal is like a knife plunged into the very core of my being – twisting and turning with a cold, merciless efficiency.

I wake up and look for you. I will always look for you. I will scour the world, scanning crowds and searching for any clue that might lead me closer to you. Because that is what you do when you love someone. When you truly love someone.

Until our hearts reunite my love…

 P.S. I still write down our favourite quotes – I sometimes wonder whether you still do too.

 Today’s one was perfect:

‘I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.’
—J. R. R. Tolkien

Yours forever

X

 

Chapter 1

Jenna cringed at the Hollywood adaptation of romance—the irrepressible urge to cling to someone to the point of feeling abandoned without them. The overwhelming desire to hold onto someone so tightly that their absence leaves a gaping void and all that stomach-wrenching jazz. Until Alfonzo Ricco strolled into her life, that was. He changed everything – shattered her preconceptions and shattered her heart wide open. She never thought she wanted or needed love until it happened.

Her life was a carefully crafted blueprint, sketched out with the blood, sweat and tears of her labour. From a waitress in a bustling London restaurant, she had clawed her way up to a position of a supervisor, earning a respectable income along the way. With an eye for business and a stash of hard-earned savings, she knew that her dream of opening her own restaurant was within reach. All she needed was a bit more experience and a strategic investment to turn her blueprint into a reality.

The business degree that had collected dust for so long would finally see the light of day, and she was determined to make it shine. And maybe, just maybe, if she succeeded in this venture, the weight of her mother’s expectations would lift from her shoulders, and she would no longer feel like a constant source of disappointment.

But then, Alfonzo Ricco strode in like a walking, talking cliché, turning heads and catching eyes with every step. Tall, dark and handsome. A snazzy suit without a tie, sleeked back hair and stubble long enough to be mistaken for a beard. He must have thought he looked so cool—he did. He stood out from the crowd. His broad shoulders and sculpted arms spoke of a life lived with discipline and dedication, while his easy smile revealed a warmth and kindness that belied his rugged exterior. A captivating contrast – a dichotomy that drew others to him like a magnet.

Although she had no intentions of getting into a relationship until she had become a successful businesswoman and proved everyone wrong, she was drawn to him like a moth to a flame. She couldn’t stop even if she wanted to. He possessed an aura that demanded attention. Jenna’s father warned her about men like Alfonzo – they will sweep you off your feet with their looks and charm only to drown you in an ocean of deceit. But he lost his right to impart life’s wisdom upon her the moment he walked away. Teaching her only about the harsh reality of abandonment.

Soon as Jenna and Alfonzo got talking, a spark ignited between them. Lost in his words and the way he carried himself, she was besotted, her heart racing with the possibility of what could be. Alfonzo was a surgeon in a top London hospital – he wasn’t just a pretty package; he was the whole package. Despite being a few years older, he had a boyish charm that made him look the same age. He had self-assurance that bordered on arrogance but never crossed the line. His smile was infectious, and his piercing green eyes were mesmerizing. He wasn’t a man of many words, but when he did speak, his voice had a power that commanded attention, leaving you hanging on every syllable.

Three months of pure bliss, and Jenna knew that Alfonzo was the one. He was the missing puzzle piece she had been unknowingly searching for all her life. Her friends may have thought she was crazy, but they didn’t know what it was like to be with someone who just fit. Every moment with him was like a scene from a movie, and she couldn’t imagine spending a single day without him. When he proposed, it wasn’t a surprise. It was like they had both known all along that they were meant to be together. The notion of soulmates took on a whole new meaning. The idea of spending a lifetime with someone who complements your every aspect, who feels like an extension of your very being, was now a tangible possibility.

Her so-called friends seethed with envy; their bitter hearts unable to fathom her happiness while they wallowed in their own misery. Their snide remarks and backhanded compliments were nothing more than a reflection of their own insecurities.

It wasn’t long before she ignored their messages and stopped returning their calls. It seemed like they had nothing better to do than to get involved and try to ruin everything. They could not bear the thought of her finding joy and contentment in her own skin, their jealousy festered like a wound that refused to heal.

love was crazy – like a violent storm that swept through your life, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. You couldn’t grasp it with your hands, see it with your eyes, or quantify it with your mind, but you could feel it with every fibre of your being.

Alfonzo was all she needed. He was everything to her. And if people couldn’t understand that, well, they could all do one! She was happy. Before he walked into her life, the world seemed to conspire against her, a constant reminder of her perceived inadequacies. She felt like an imposter, forever trying to measure up to other people’s expectations, especially her mother’s. But then, he appeared – the most handsome man on the planet who saw beyond her flaws and loved her for who she was. He filled the empty spaces inside her, stitching together the broken fragments of her heart with his gentle touch. He reminded her that she was enough, that she was worthy of love and happiness. In his eyes, she found a reflection of her own worth, and the world no longer seemed like an insurmountable challenge. With him by her side, she was whole, and nothing else mattered.

‘I need to get out early today,’ Alfonzo said as he impatiently swigged his coffee. Jenna’s heart sunk to her ankles — the familiar feeling of abandonment overcame her like a sudden migraine. The morning chill clung to her skin. She pulled the laces of her bathrobe tighter. In her mind, they had a precious couple of hours together before he would leave.

She envisioned the two of them nestled on the couch, his strong arms wrapped around her as he read the news on his iPad. The sound of his steady heartbeat resonating through her body as she lost herself in the pages of her favourite book. It wasn’t the lavish dinners or the exciting nights out on the town; it was these small, intimate moments that she cherished the most. It was the comfort of not being alone, the warmth of his embrace that filled the hollow void within her, and the solace of knowing that in his arms, she was home.

‘Of course,’ she smiled and picked his cup from the kitchen and carried it to the sink. She fought the urge to turn back and catch his eye in case he caught a glimpse of her disappointment. No matter how much time they spent together, it was never enough. The moments they shared were like fleeting snapshots in time, each one more precious than the last.

She despised the twinge of jealousy that crept up inside her whenever his job took him away, envying the countless hours he spent in service of others, saving lives. The value of such noble work had lost its appeal. There was no way of enticing him to stay, no matter how much she pleaded. He was always composed – which only made him more alluring in her eyes. Even when she dressed up for dinning out and the waiters flirted with her, he remained unruffled, confident in his own worth. He never succumbed to jealousy or insecurity, secure in the knowledge that he was the catch, the one that she desired above all others.

‘But going in early means getting out early,’ he said as if he had intercepted her feelings. ‘I was thinking… perhaps we could catch a movie later this evening?’ he continued, his eyes sparkling with excitement. It was a simple suggestion, but one that held the promise of so much more. The prospect of spending time together, lost in the magic of cinema.

‘That sounds great,’ she said with a genuine smile. She couldn’t deny that there was something alluring about the type of movies he enjoyed – the ones that made you think and feel deeply. But, for her, the appeal was lost in the chaos of everyday life. She wanted movies that offered a temporary escape, that didn’t require much thought or reflection. She was drawn to the fast-paced action and thrillers that could transport her to another world and let her forget her troubles.

The same went for her taste in books – she had no interest in the deep and philosophical literary fiction that he so adored. She preferred airport thrillers, the kind that you could devour in a single sitting and forget about the next day. For her, the world was already fraught with enough drama and emotion. The last thing she wanted was to carry the weight of others’ burdens on her shoulders.

It wasn’t that she was shallow or lacked depth – or at least, she didn’t think so. But sometimes, in a world that was so overwhelming, she needed to take a step back and simply enjoy the moment, without the heavy baggage of sentimentality. It was her way of coping, of finding a small slice of peace in a world that was always demanding more from her.

She would, however, endure hours of monotonous movies for him at a heartbeat. If it meant spending time with him, then so be it. Bring on the emotion, bring on the tears.

She trailed behind him, her mind drifting between the mundane task of deciding what to prepare for dinner and her disdain for the very thought of chicken. He had always held a fondness for the poultry, while she begrudgingly loathed everything about it—handling it, cooking it, and even the taste of it. Yet, today, chicken it would be.

YouTube would be her guide, offering a virtual kitchen where she could learn the secrets of preparing chicken to perfection.

Though she had observed the restaurant chefs meticulously crafting chicken dishes during her shifts, her own attempts had always fallen short. But today, she vowed, would be different.

The thought of opening a restaurant without having any cooking expertise might have seemed ridiculous to some, but for her, it was never about the culinary skills or the ingredients. It was all about the ambiance and the experience. The diners coming together, chatting, laughing, and bonding over a meal was what she found most gratifying. The clattering of utensils, the anticipation on people’s faces when their dishes arrived, and the conversations that flowed seamlessly like the beverages were what she savoured the most. Though she never joined in on the revelry, never participated in the celebrations of families and couples, she still felt like an invisible yet vital part of it all, observing the joy and satisfaction of the diners with a sense of contentment.

‘Can you check to see what movies are on tonight?’ Alfonzo said, jolting her back to the present moment.

‘Of course,’ she smiled and handed him his coat. ‘What time will you be back?’ she asked, trying to sound causal.

‘Nine, hopefully,’ he raised his eyebrows and smiled reassuringly.

‘Great! That’s great!’ The words escaped her lips, tumbling out like marbles from a jar. That didn’t seem too late, especially as she knew he was on the late shift tomorrow, and she had already planned to text in sick today in the hope she could have spent the morning with him. It was no big deal. Money was no longer a problem since moving out of her flat and into Alfonzo’s apartment. He wouldn’t allow her to contribute to anything even if she wanted to. He insisted on paying for everything, the apartment, dinners in plush restaurants and weekends away. She could even quit her job entirely and it wouldn’t matter. He was a traditional and principled gentleman. Jenna knew her mother would approve of him, but the thought of introducing him to her made her shudder. Her mother’s judgmental nature and unpredictable behaviour were not something she wanted to deal with. Besides, Alfonzo was hers, and she wasn’t ready to share him with anyone, not even her own mother.

‘Dinner and then a movie. Sounds good to me.’ She took a deep breath and tried to appear more poised than she felt inside. She needed to tone it down. She had read enough books with needy characters who drove their partners to leave. So, despite feeling that he was a flawless 10 and she was a 7, at best, she needed to act like a 10. Fake it until you make it. Besides, the fact that he was with her was testament that he was happy with a 7.

‘Sounds good to me too,’ he replied and then leaned in for a hug. But their embrace was broken by a sudden and jarring knock on the door, loud and abrupt, like a gunshot in a quiet forest.

‘Are you expecting someone?’ Alfonzo asked. His eyes narrowed, fixing on the door with an intense and unwavering stare.

‘No,’ she murmured. She hadn’t even told anyone she was staying here.

‘It’s the police!’ a voice emerged from behind the door, ‘Open the door!’

Jenna’s heart pounded in her chest like a frantic drum. The word ‘police’ echoed through her mind like a warning bell, sending shivers down her spine. She couldn’t imagine what they would want with her, but the thought of being arrested made her feel queasy. Her eyes flickered to her purse, where she had stashed a small bag of marijuana for the occasional indulgence, but quickly dismissed the idea as ludicrous. Surely, they wouldn’t go to such lengths for a small amount of weed?

Her anxiety intensified as she turned to Alfonzo, hoping to find some comfort in his usually composed demeanour, only to be met with a look of dread. The colour had drained from his face, leaving him pale and ghostly.

For a moment, they were like statues, their bodies locked in a state of suspended animation.

‘What do they want?’ Jenna whispered, knowing it was a senseless question.

‘I don’t know,’ Alfonzo reluctantly opened the door. They were confronted by a man and woman who wore crisp suits that seemed tailored to perfection and had stern expressions etched onto their faces. They flashed their ID cards as if they were federal agents on a top-secret mission. Behind them stood a line of uniformed police officers, their presence resembling a battalion of soldiers ready for combat.

‘I’m DS Nick Bailey, and this is DC Zoe Hall,’ he pointed to his colleague.

‘What’s this about?’ Alfonzo asked in an authoritative tone that fooled no one.

‘Are you Alfonzo Ricco?’

‘Yes,’ he replied apprehensively, ‘What’s this about?’ he repeated.

‘Alfonzo Ricco, I am arresting you on the suspicion of the murder of Kimberly Hart.’ Jenna’s mind felt like it had been hit by a wrecking ball. The words were a jumbled mess, like a code she couldn’t crack.

‘You do not have to say anything, but it may harm your defence if you don’t mention something you later rely on in court. Do you understand?’

Alfonzo’s features contorted into a mask of shock and disbelief. Jenna could see the panic in his widening eyes, reflecting her own sense of disbelief. The room seemed to spin around her, blurring the shapes of the officers, the furniture, everything. It was as if her mind had disconnected from her body, leaving her unable to focus on anything but the fear and confusion coursing through her.

She shook her head in disbelief.

The words ‘under arrest’ echoed in her mind like a deafening siren, drowning out any rational thoughts. Murder? Kimberly Hart?

She turned to Alfonzo, hoping for some kind of explanation or reassurance, but his face was stony and unreadable. For a moment, she wondered if she really knew him at all. Maybe he was leading a secret life that she was unaware of. Maybe he was involved in something terrible, and she had been unknowingly dragged into it.

The uniformed officers behind the man and woman began to move forward, and Jenna felt like she was suffocating. She tried to speak, to protest, but her voice caught in her throat. It was like she was frozen in time, trapped in a nightmare that was all too real.

‘What is this?’ Jenna asked. She could hear the tremble in her own voice, ‘And who is Kimberly Hart?’

‘Kimberly Hart is Alfonzo Ricco’s wife,’ DC Zoe Hall said, stepping forward, ‘Late wife. She was murdered in their home last night.’

Wife! His wife! For a moment, she pretended she hadn’t heard the detective correctly.

‘His what?’ she said, almost choking on her breath. She felt her entire body tremble, as if she were caught in the middle of an earthquake. She placed her palms on her chest as if to stop her heart from bursting out and beating the detective to death.

‘His wife,’ the detective affirmed.

‘What?! No, this must be a mistake,’ Jenna protested, ‘You’ve got this all wrong.’ She was desperate for them to believe her. It couldn’t be true. He wasn’t married. He would have told her. It is definitely something you tell the person you have promised to spend the rest of your life with.

I love you. I want to spend the rest of my life with you… oh, and by the way, I’m married.

The ground beneath her feet had suddenly vanished.

‘Sorry, but Alfonzo Ricco and Kimberly Hart were married for seven years. They own a property together on Casson Square.’ DC Zoe Hall’s eyes were sympathetic as if she had detected the flames of betrayal burning Jenna’s insides.

Jenna searched Alfonzo’s face for any hint of denial, any sign that this was all a terrible mistake. But instead, he stood there in silence, with an unreadable expression on his face. His eyes darted from the officers to Jenna and back again, as if searching for an escape route. Jenna felt a surge of anger rising inside her, threatening to spill over. How could he keep something like this from her? How could he lie to her, betray her trust like this?

‘Jenna,’ Alfonzo called as the uniformed police officers handcuffed him. She detected the desperation in his voice, ‘I can explain everything.’ He looked almost unrecognisable.

‘It’s not true,’ Jenna said, her voice trembling with emotion. ‘It can’t be true. You would have told me if you were married.’

But as she spoke the words, she realized how foolish they sounded.

Jenna’s fists clenched at her sides, and she took a step back, as if distancing herself from the reality of the situation. The man she loved was married, and she had been living in a blissful ignorance. She felt a tear roll down her cheek.

‘I’m sorry I didn’t tell you about Kimberly.’

‘So, it’s true?’ A lump formed in her throat, and she fought back the onslaught of tears that were brewing.

‘Yes. We were married, but I didn’t kill her. You have to believe me.’

The walls of the apartment, which were once her sanctuary, now appeared to close in on her, suffocating her as her heart had shattered into a million pieces.

 

Chapter 2

‘Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?’ DC Zoe Hall said. Jenna struggled to form coherent words as her heart pounded within her chest, drowning any other sounds in the room. Despite her attempts to regain composure, her eyes darted around the apartment, catching glimpses of police officers rifling through drawers and cabinets.

‘Are you okay?’ The detective held Jenna’s arm to stop her from falling.

‘No!’ How could she be? She had awakened this morning to a world that seemed perfect in every way, and now it was snatched away from her. Her world was now flipped on its head, leaving her feeling lost and alone.

‘I don’t understand what’s going on.’ The tears she had suppressed streamed down her cheeks.

‘I think you should take a seat,’ the detective gestured at the sofa as if this were her home. Jenna had sat on the comfortable dark grey sofa in Alfonzo’s apartment every day for the last three months. Its soft cushions had cradled her through countless hours of conversation and laughter. But now the very fabric of the cushions felt different beneath her fingertips, as though they had been replaced with a counterfeit version of the real thing. She couldn’t shake the feeling that everything she had grown to know and love in this apartment was slipping through her fingers, leaving her alone in an unfamiliar place.

‘Can I get you some water?’ the detective asked.

Jenna’s nod was merely a reflexive action. Her mind was too consumed with the events that had just unfolded. She wasn’t thirsty. All she wanted was a moment of solitude to process what had just happened.

She wanted to bolt out of the door and stop the police from taking Alfonzo away. But then the reality hit her – he was arrested for the murder of his wife, Kimberly Hart! The very idea was preposterous. Alfonzo and Jenna were meant to be together forever, to start a life that would lead to a happily ever after. How could this happen?

‘Here you go,’ the detective said as she handed her a glass of cold water. Jenna eagerly accepted it, grasping it with shaky hands. As the water coursed down her dry throat, Jenna couldn’t help but hope that it would also wash away the nightmare she was living.

The detective removed a notebook from her pocket and scribbled something down.

‘Can I get your name?’ she asked, staring at the notebook.

‘What?’ Jenna’s voice trembled as she spoke, the haunting image of Alfonzo’s pallid face seared into her mind like a scar.

‘Name?’ the detective looked up at her and repeated, ‘Can I get your name?’

‘Yes,’ Jenna responded, ‘Jenna Harper.’

‘Thank you,’ the detective scribbled her name, her contact details and then asked her about how long she had known Alfonzo and how long they had been in a relationship.

‘Three months,’ Her gaze darted from the detective’s eyes to her lips, trying to decipher any subtle signs of disapproval. But to her surprise, the detective’s expression remained neutral, devoid of any obvious judgment. Jenna breathed a sigh of relief, silently commending the detective’s poker face.

‘I don’t suppose you have any ID I can see?’ the detective asked.

‘ID?’

‘Yes, a driving license or passport… We just need to verify your details, that’s all. It’s standard procedure.’

‘Of course,’ Jenna’s fingers fumbled in her bag, shuffling through its contents with a sense of urgency. As she retrieved her purse, she subtly pushed the small, translucent bag of weed deeper into the depths of her bag. She handed her driving license to the detective with a practiced coolness, masking her nerves as she tried to remain composed. She quickly zipped up her bag, hoping to conceal any incriminating evidence. A sense of relief washed over her as the detective accepted her license without a second glance, unaware of the little secret stashed away in Jenna’s bag.

‘What were you doing yesterday? Were you with Alfonzo?’ the detective asked as she carefully examined the details on the driving license.

‘We spent the day here, at his apartment,’ Jenna gently slid her bag into the narrow space between the armrest of the sofa and her thigh.

‘All day?’ She flipped the page in her notebook.

Jenna’s mind drifted to the lazy, relaxing day they had spent together, wrapped up in blankets and engrossed in the world of Netflix. They had indulged in an entire season of Breaking Bad.

‘Yes,’

‘Did Alfonzo leave the property at any point?’

Jenna’s thoughts turned to the takeaway they had ordered, the aroma of the food still lingering in her mind. They stayed in for the night, relishing in the comfort of each other’s company. But Alfonzo went for his regular evening run, a routine he followed religiously. As Jenna mulled over whether or not to reveal this detail, a nagging doubt crept into her mind. Would mentioning Alfonzo’s routine run make him appear guilty, even though it was something he did every night?

The detective’s eyebrows arched expectantly; her gaze fixed on Jenna. The silence between them felt oppressive, and she could sense the detective’s growing impatience. The pressure mounted on her to say something, anything to fill the void. But the words caught in her throat. Within moments, the detective’s piercing gaze bore down on her, urging her to speak.

Should she declare that Alfonzo went for his usual evening run, and risk implicating him in a crime he didn’t commit? The weight of the decision felt heavy on her shoulders as she grappled with what to do next.

‘Jenna?’

‘No,’ Jenna’s words escaped her lips before she could think better of them. She lied, her voice wavering with a tinge of guilt. Instantly, she regretted what she had said, wishing she could take it back. Her stomach churned with unease, and she could feel the detective’s eyes drilling into her, assessing her every move. She wanted to retract her words, to go back and correct the mistake she had made, but the damage had been done.

The detective scribbled in her notebook. It was too late to take it back. She had written it down—the lie!

Jenna silently scolded herself for lying to the police. She had read enough crime novels to know that lying to the police was a serious offense, perverting the course of justice or something like that. What was she getting herself into? She could feel the panic setting in. She could still amend her words, tell the detective the truth that Alfonzo had gone out for his usual evening run. But as her inner voice pleaded with her to come clean, Jenna found herself paralyzed, unable to speak.

‘Okay,’ the detective offered a sympathetic smile, making her appear more human, ‘Is there anyone I can call?’ She put her notebook back into her pocket. ‘You look like you could do with having someone around.’

She considered who she could call for help. She hadn’t spoken to her friends in a while, and their last meeting ended on a sour note. She thought briefly of her mother but quickly dismissed the idea. Her mother would drop everything at a moment’s notice, taking charge and fixing everything, as she always did. The thought of her overbearing presence made Jenna feel small and powerless, like a helpless child incapable of taking care of herself. She could hear her mother’s voice in her head, chiding her for her poor decisions and lack of responsibility. No, she couldn’t turn to her for help. She had to figure this out on her own.

‘No,’ Jenna said, clearing her throat, and trying to desperately swallow her guilt, ‘I’m fine.’

‘Okay,’ the detective removed a card from her pocket and handed it to her, ‘If you think of anything else that might help, then please call me.’

‘What happens now?’ Jenna asked as the detective stood to leave. She was struck by how quickly her desires had shifted. Just moments ago, all she wanted was to be left alone, to retreat into the sanctuary of her thoughts and emotions. But now, the mere thought of being alone made her feel uneasy.

‘We need to question Alfonzo and carry out our investigation,’ The detective’s words landed with a heavy thud, reminding Jenna that she was not dealing with a friend but an officer of the law, probing for answers, trying to piece together the puzzle of Alfonzo’s wife’s murder. The warmth and empathy that the detective had shown her earlier was replaced by a cold and clinical detachment.

She could have done with talking to Maggie or Becks, but the thought of their potential judgement made her hesitate. Maggie and Becks had always been there for her, through thick and thin. But they could also be harsh and critical when it came to her love life. Jenna couldn’t bear the thought of hearing their ‘I told you so’ comments, especially when she knew that they were right. She had rushed into things with Alfonzo, ignoring the red flags. And now, she was paying the price. She felt a sense of shame and embarrassment, knowing that her friends would not let her forget her mistakes. The thought of facing their disapproving looks and condescending remarks was too much to bear.

She had known them both since college and selfishly dropped them in a heartbeat and all for a man she clearly didn’t know as well as she thought. Her father’s words crept into her mind, ‘If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is!’ How could she have been so foolish.

‘Jenna?’ the detective called.

‘Yes?’ Jenna said snapping out of the trail of thoughts that would inevitably send her down the path of self-loathing. Was this the part the detective would tell Jenna that she knew she had lied about Alfonzo not leaving the house last night? Was this the part the detective’s politeness would disappear and she would take her out in handcuffs the way they did Alfonzo? Arrested. Sent to jail for being an accomplice to something. Murder. The weight of her lie was suffocating her, and her mind played out worst-case scenarios.

‘Are you sure you don’t want me to call someone?’ the detective asked, ‘A friend? Relative?’ Her tone empathetic again. The detective must be feeling sorry for her. It wasn’t like Jenna was married to Alfonzo and he had cheated on her with someone on the side. Jenna was the bit on the side. A sour taste formed in her mouth. The shame. The betrayal. It was crushing. And now she was lying for him—even after he had deceived her. Pathetic. Her mother’s voice echoed in her mind, reminding her of her weaknesses, of her vulnerability. She needed to be looked after.

‘No,’ she eyed the half empty glass on the table, her throat drying again. She wanted to grab it and gulp it down; again, wishing it would somehow dissolve the lie she just told. ‘I’m fine,’ she wiped the tears from her face, ‘Thank you.’

‘Okay. Well, you know how to get hold of me,’ The detective pointed at the contact card Jenna was desperately clutching in her hand.

‘Yes, of course,’ Jenna forced a smile, ‘DC Zoe Hall,’ she read the name on the contact card.

She waited until the detective closed the door behind her to run to the window and watch the cars drive off. She gasped for air like she had been holding her breath the entire time. The urge to scream and bang on the window overcame her. How could she stand here and do nothing? She needed to do something. But what? She glared at her phone, tempted to call someone. She needed to speak to someone.

She fought the pang that had gripped her heart. Come on Jenna, stop being so pathetic, her mother’s voice emerged in her head again. She reached for her bag. Stop it! Getting high was the not the answer. She needed a clear mind. But as she put her bag back, she caught a glimpse of Alfonzo’s MacBook wedged in between the cushion and armrest of the of the sofa. She had unintentionally concealed it with her bag. She should hand this into the police station. They would have probably taken it if they found it.

She sat at Alfonzo’s desk and opened the lid of his MacBook. He gave her the password the day she moved in as if he had nothing to hide or was confident in how well he hid his secrets. The wife! Or perhaps he knew how desperate and weak she was. She wouldn’t question him and be the obedient little mistress he knew she would be.

Layers of unsettling emotions overcame her as she started imagining his wife. Picturing them together. The seven years they spent married.

She could see her own reflection in the gleaming retina screen of the MacBook. Her face was contorted as if battling to stop more tears from bursting out. She didn’t recognise the sad faced woman staring back at her. She had never been in a serious relationship nor felt the condition people referred to as love and now it felt like she had it all just before it slipped through her fingers. But this was all down to her – she had fallen madly in love with a stranger – a handsome stranger with secrets.

‘Oh my God! I’m living in one of my thriller books!’ she muttered to herself. Everyone was the protagonist of their own story, but why did she have to be saddled with the worst character in hers?

She inhaled deeply, trying to drag herself out of the river of self-pity she was seconds from drowning in. She couldn’t do that. She couldn’t be the martyr. Not yet anyway. There would be plenty of time to feel sorry for herself later. Right now, she needed answers. Alfonzo was married. He lied about that. What else was he lying about? Did he kill his wife? Had she been living with a murderer?

The detective said his wife was murdered last night. Alfonzo was home last night. He couldn’t have killed her. Then she remembered his run and the lie she told. She glanced at the hallway and tried to recreate the events from last night in her head. Alfonzo left the house to go for a run at his usual time, 9 pm, last night. He returned at around 10 pm.

She googled Casson Square. According to Google Maps, it was only twenty minutes away from their apartment. He could have run to his wife’s place, killed her and then ran back. Twenty-minutes there, twenty back—which left an additional twenty-minutes. A lot could happen in twenty minutes. He could have gone to speak to her, and things got out of hand. Perhaps it was an accident.

Yeah! Accidently killed her!

She thought back to last night again. She was in the kitchen, making herself a coffee, no, it was tea. She didn’t drink coffee at that time of night. She heard him return.

‘That tea smells great!’ he yelled from the hallway and then escaped to the shower. She didn’t remember sensing anything out of the ordinary in his voice or behaviour. If he did kill his wife, he certainly wasn’t fazed by it. He was far too normal to have just come back from murdering someone. ‘Or… he’s a psychopath!’ She heard Maggie’s voice in her head.

No! He was not a murderer! A liar, yes, but not a murderer. Surely, she would be able to tell if he was a killer. Something would have given it away. Or had she got this all wrong? Was there a murderous fire hiding deep inside those beautiful eyes? Was she so blinded by what she desperately desired that she subconsciously ignored the signs of a killer.

Her hands trembled as she hovered over the keyboard. She typed Kimberly Hart into Google and scanned the results and found numerous Facebook profiles with the same name. How would she know which one was the right Kimberly Hart? It then dawned on her that she had never looked for Alfonzo Ricco on social media. This was usually the first thing people did to find out about people, wasn’t it? An unofficial yet accurate background check.

Jenna regarded social media with disdain, feeling like it was a bottomless pit of oversharing and overexposure. She couldn’t understand why people were so eager to give away their most personal and sensitive information to complete strangers, or why they seemed so willing to let advertisers and tech giants profit off their every move. To Jenna, it all seemed like a twisted game of give and take, with users unknowingly giving away their privacy and receiving little in return except for a flood of targeted ads.

The thought of people using her data for marketing, however, didn’t bother her as much as a stranger having access into her personal life. She had read enough stalker books to know that online stalking was the easiest and most anonymous way to stalk someone. It was harder to see someone lurking in the shadows of the digital world than it was in the real world. She had read articles about how people use VPNs to disguise their identities. How even teenagers had the technical ability to hack into your accounts and do as they please. Social media was a double-edged sword; a space where people could express themselves freely, yet also a breeding ground for cyber predators.

However, she was the stalker today. She felt lost in a chaotic digital universe as she scrolled through social media. A non-existent place where people showcased their lives to the world, exposing every detail and indulging in their own vanity. It was a world of curated perfection, where the only thing that mattered was how many likes and followers you had.

She clicked through countless profiles of strangers, seeing snapshots of their lives that she would never be a part of. There were pictures of exotic foods, glamorous vacation spots, and lavish parties. But there were also crude jokes, racism, tasteless memes, and an endless stream of shameless selfies. Pouting lips, bulging muscles and fake abs.

Eventually, she found a brunette living in Casson Square. Aged thirty with no work history. Long walks and binge-watching Netflix as her only interests. Could this be her? Jenna’s eyes scanned Kimberly’s profile picture, feeling a mixture of awe and envy. Kimberly’s hair cascaded down her back in perfect waves, as if each strand had been meticulously placed by the hands of a master stylist. Her hazel eyes twinkled with an enigmatic sparkle, revealing depths of mystery that Jenna could only dream of possessing. And her skin, oh her skin! It was smooth and unblemished, as if it had been painted by Picasso. Jenna couldn’t help but feel self-conscious, her own insecurities gnawing at her confidence like a hungry beast.

She scrolled through the images of the beautiful woman walking on sandy beaches. Images of her in cafes, reading. She zoomed into the image and read the cover of the book. I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh—one of Jenna’s favourite thrillers. She couldn’t believe that this woman, who seemed to have it all, shared her taste in books. For a moment, she felt a flicker of admiration for Kimberly, a sense that they might have something in common. But then she remembered why she was here. Kimberly Hart was Alfonzo’s wife, and Jenna needed to know everything she could about her.

Although the woman was alone in all her pictures, they weren’t all selfies. Someone had to have taken some of the images. Who? Alfonzo?

The next picture was of her a sitting on a park bench. She was wearing shades that caught Jenna’s eye. She zoomed into the image and could see the reflection of a man taking the photo. Zooming in on the Jpeg caused pixilation and the phone he held out in front of him to take the shot covered the lower part of his face, but Jenna knew it was Alfonzo. The way his eyes sparkled like diamonds in the sunlight was something that Jenna had memorised. They were as unique as fingerprints.

This was her. Kimberly Hart. Alfonzo’s wife. Dead wife.

 

Chapter 3

‘And look at this handsome little fella?’ Zoe said, smiling at Jack as Nick carried him in his arms into the office. ‘What is he, like, six months now?’

‘Five,’ Nick exhaled loudly, looking flustered. He gingerly passed Jack over to Zoe. With a flick of his wrist, the baby bag tumbled to the ground, and he stretched his arms high, cracking his knuckles and untying the knots.

‘Erm…’ she held him out in front of her.

‘Just hold him for a few minutes please,’ Nick said tucking his shirt in, ‘He won’t bite… although I can’t make any promises there!’

‘Nice!’

‘Stacey had to go for an appointment, and I couldn’t get childcare in short notice.’

‘I am definitely not childcare material,’ Zoe’s grip tightened on her outstretched arms, holding Jack as if he were a fragile treasure. She had seen him before, glimpses of his tiny face, but this was the first time she had mustered the courage to actually hold him. Even during the hospital visit when Nick’s mother had offered to pass the baby to her, Zoe had politely declined – scared her clumsy nature would lead to disaster.

‘You’ll be fine,’ he said and ran his hands through his hair, trying to push it into directions it didn’t want to go, ‘I have a meeting with Harold. It won’t take long.’

‘You look…’

‘Exhausted!’ Nick said.

‘I was going to say, like shit… but exhausted is fine.’

‘That’s what no sleep or proper food does to you!’ His swollen eyes told her all about his sleep deprivation and the way his clothes fitted was a testimony for his lack of nutrition.

‘This little man is no trouble, right? He looks like a saint.’ As soon as she lifted Jack onto her lap, his tiny body wriggled and squirmed as if he had more important things to do. She tried to hold him steady, but he kept tugging at her shirt as if it were a toy.

‘He’s no saint! That’s for sure. But it isn’t him.’

‘Okay, so…’

It’s nothing,’ he peered at his wristwatch, ‘I got to go. Just a few minutes.’ He glanced at Jack, ‘Try not to give her too much of a hard time, buddy.’ He said before scooting out of the office.

‘I guess it’s just you and me now,’ Zoe said as he tried to stop Jack from clawing at the paperwork scattered on her desk. He had Stacey’s eyes, but the rest of his features were all Nick’s. The cheeky smile and curious expressions.

The thought of being responsible for another human being, of having to cater to their every whim and need made her feel uneasy. She knew deep down that she was not cut out for motherhood.

‘I mean, I heard you lot were looking for younger recruits,’ Harvey said as he poked his head into the office, ‘But this might be taking it a bit too far!’

‘You know what they say,’ Zoe replied, staring at Jack, ‘Get them while their young and innocent.’

‘Fair play.’

‘Is there anything I can help you with, DC Morrison?’ she said in an exaggeratedly authoritative tone.

‘I was hoping we could grab a coffee later,’ he said, ‘You know after you finished your interview with your new and promising recruit,’ he smiled and waved at Jack and mouthed, Hello there, little guy.

‘I got a ton load of paperwork to get through today and—’

The phone on her desk rang as if the universe had conspired to verify the truth of her words.

‘DC Hall,’ she answered and gestured for Harvey to leave. Harvey raised his hands, showing her his palms and mouthed, see you later… before leaving.

After a few minutes, she slammed the phone down and bolted out of the office and down the corridor, almost forgetting that she was still clutching a toddler in her arms.

‘Sorry to disturb you…’ she said after barging into DCI Harold’s office.

‘Jesus!’ Harold said, ‘Does no one knock around here!’ His frustration quickly subsided as his gaze shifted to the toddler nestled in her arms. A warm smile spread across his face. ‘Ah, hello Jack.’

‘Sorry, sir, it’s just, we’ve had a 999 call. Two teenagers broke into a property on Casson Square.’

‘Okay,’ Nick said, peering back at her, ‘Well get—’

‘They found a body in the house.’ Zoe interrupted.

The room fell silent, the weight of Zoe’s words settling like a dense fog. Nick and Harold exchanged a knowing glance, their eyes speaking volumes.

‘Okay,’ Harold said, ‘We can do this later. Get down there and—’

‘Sir,’ Nick leapt up from his chair and seemed like he barely registered Harold’s unfinished sentence.

‘Details?’ Nick said as they walked across to their office, his footsteps echoing across the hallway. ‘Female, aged between thirty to thirty-five. Found in her bedroom.’

‘Cause of death?’ Nick asked as he took Jack from her and lifted the baby bag from the floor.

‘Unknown… but she was in bad shape when they found her. Possibly beaten to death.’

‘Christ!’

‘I’ll grab my coat.’ Zoe said.

‘Okay, Stacey should be done by now. We’ll drop little man off on the way.’

‘I can handle this,’ Zoe said, ‘You know if you need to…’

‘It’s fine. Let’s move.’

The bright yellow tape fluttered in the wind, marking the boundaries of a place that was no longer safe. The once peaceful neighbourhood had now transformed into a chilling crime scene, shrouded in an eerie silence. The tape acted as a barrier between the outside world and the horrors that lay within. The words ‘CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS’ were written in bold black letters, serving as a warning to all who came near.

A few uniforms surrounded the entrance.

Zoe felt the Autumn leaves crushing under her feet as they walked up the pathway to the door. The house, which she imagined was a symbol of affluence in this prestigious this area, displayed no such grandeur on such a bleak morning. Today it was house that held within it a dead body and a sinister secret that it could never share.

A gnawing sensation churned in the depths of Zoe’s gut. She had skipped breakfast and had decided that she would grab something from the canteen, mid-morning – but the universe clearly had other plans for her.

The officers, smartly dressed in their crisp uniforms, moved aside with a respectful nod. As expected, forensics were already scouring the premises.

Nick and Zoe put on the disposable gloves and shoe coverings before stepping inside.

From the top of the stairs, DC Marcus Rainer gazed down at them, his eyes sombre and inscrutable. He made a single, almost imperceptible gesture, signalling them forward without a word. There was no warmth in his expression, no hint of greeting or welcome.

As Zoe drew closer to the scene, she was overcome with a deep-seated unease. She felt unprepared. How do you prepare to see the body of a murdered person? You don’t. It was a moment that no one could ever truly brace themselves for, no matter how much they tried.

The odour of death always caught her off guard, like an unexpected blow to the senses. Her hand instinctively covered her nose and mouth. Remain professional. This was what she signed up for. Investigate the ugly parts of life. Major crime. Murder. Dead bodies.

She took a deep breath, silently commanding herself to keep her composure. The stakes were high, and the last thing she needed was to let her emotions get the best of her. Losing control and throwing up her non-existent breakfast over a crime scene was not a good look.

Judging by Nick’s drained complexion, he was suffering similar sentiments.

The wall of the staircase was decorated with picture frames – each one holding a unique moment frozen in time. Professionally taken photos of a good-looking couple. Both the man and the woman had dark hair and olive skin.

They followed Marcus to the bedroom. The floorboards creaked and Zoe could hear the shutter of a camera. The spacious room had walls painted in a serene shade of light grey and a creamy white carpet thick enough to sink your toes into a luxurious embrace. A white dressing table with a cracked mirror was wedged in the corner of the room – its stool laying on its side. Shards of glass lay strewn across the floor. An iPhone with a cracked screen next to a king size bed. White sheets sprayed with drops of blood like a painting that told a murderous tale.

Zoe’s stomach churned as she saw the woman lying on the bed. Battered. Bruised. Lifeless.

She waited for the Soco, a woman wearing a white scene suit, to finish taking close-up shots of her face before leaning in for a better look. It was her. The woman from the photos on the staircase. Despite her face being inked with bruises and dried blood – it was her.

She lay on her back with her arms by her side. Both her eyes were blackened. She had a laceration on her forehead and her bottom lip was swollen and cut.

‘Looks like she was beaten to death,’ Marcus said, peering over Zoe’s shoulder.

‘Forced entry?’ Nick asked dismissing his premature assumption of the cause of death.

‘The back door was broken into. But by the teenagers who tried to rob the place. They said that that the doors and windows were intact before they got in.’

‘I’m assuming they’re at the station?’

‘In custody. Two local, young lads, fifteen-year-olds. They’re both pretty shook after what they found.’

Zoe fought the urge to say: serves them right. Thieving little shits!

‘CCTV?’ Nick said.

‘No CCTV in the property but we got some officers going door to door to see if anyone’s got any security cameras or if anyone heard or saw anything.’

‘Good. How long before we can get her to the lab for an examination?’

‘A few hours.’

‘It’s going to be a fair few hours!’ the Soco, taking the photos, said after hearing their conversation, ‘This is a big house. We need to get around it before you guys start tampering with everything.’

‘Fair enough,’ Nick’s hands rose in a peaceful surrender, an unspoken message that he had no intention of treading on anyone’s toes, ‘Mind if we have a look around?’

‘Go ahead,’ the Soco shrugged, ‘We’ll be scrubbing the rest of the house, but I kindly request that you don’t touch anything until we’ve finished our sweep.’

‘Understood.’

‘Can we have a look at the phone?’ Zoe pointed at the beaten-up iPhone.

‘Yes,’ the lady said as she left the room, ‘There’s a laptop in the corner as well. We’ve already dusted it off, but please handle it with care. All of this must be sent off for further analysis.’

With delicate fingers, Zoe lifted the device and cradled it in her palms. It was the iPhone eight model. She knew this because she had the same one. Despite its battle wounds, the device still flickered to life as she powered it on.

Passcode.

She delicately lifted the dead woman’s hand.

‘I don’t think we should be–’ Marcus started to protest, but Zoe continued, delicately placing the deceased woman’s finger on the fingerprint sensor. ‘Tampering with the crime scene,’ he finished with a heavy sigh.

Nick and Marcus exchanged a knowing glance, a silent communication passing between them as they both rolled their eyes in unison. It was a familiar gesture, one that spoke volumes about their shared exasperation with how Zoe worked.

‘Come on,’ Nick said to Marcus, ‘let’s have a look around the rest of the room.

The phone unlocked. With a meticulous touch, Zoe scrolled through the list of recent calls on the phone, her eyes darting back and forth across the screen as she searched for a clue.

The most recent calls were from a contact named Alfonzo. She removed her notebook and noted all the numbers on the recent call list.

The photo gallery, like everyone’s photo gallery, was a window into their lives. Brimming with images you would expect to find on a gorgeous woman’s phone. Mostly selfies of her in different locations and some with her and the man she saw in the photos on the staircase.

With a cursory glance, she scanned the contents of the phone’s display. Her focus shifted to the text messages. Each message was a glimpse into the past, a breadcrumb of information that could potentially unlock the mystery behind her murder. They were mainly conversations with her, and a contact named Alfonzo.

Alfonzo? The name sounded Spanish.

The most recent message was from last night. She scrolled through the conversation.

20:03

Kim: I need to speak to you. It’s important.

20:07

Alfonzo: What about?

20:08

Kim: I know everything. I’m at home. We need to talk.

‘Nick,’ Zoe held out the phone as if it held within it the answers to all their questions, ‘Have a look at this.’

Nick’s eyes flicked over the message, absorbing the words before he rubbed the back of his neck.

‘Okay, I think we need to find this Alfonzo.’

 

Chapter 4

Jenna had immersed herself so deeply in the online world of Kimberly that she lost track of time, scrolling through page after page of posts and pictures until she had drifted off. After her eyes fluttered open, she lay there in a daze, trying to shake off the feeling of disorientation that clung to her like a heavy blanket. As her mind slowly cleared, she remembered the recent events, and a wave of grief washed over her.

Her phone buzzed.

Mum Calling…

‘Shit!’ she said as she rubbed her eyes. It was as if her mother’s spider senses had intercepted something was wrong. She silenced the call, unable to deal with her right now. She hadn’t even told her she had moved out of her flat. Trying to explain this would be impossible.

Perhaps her mother was right about her. In her naivete, she had let a stranger into her life and allowed him to turn it upside down without a second thought. She had blindly believed every word Alfonzo had said. He had lied about his wife. Or not told her he was married, which was the same thing. She couldn’t help but wonder what else he had kept from her, what other lies he had spun to keep her under his spell.

What about when he told her that he loved her? That he wanted to marry her? Was it all a lie? It couldn’t be.

A surge of frustration and anger rose within her. She couldn’t just sit around waiting for answers to magically appear – she had to do something. The thought of calling the detective and demanding answers was both tempting and daunting. It would require a level of courage and assertiveness that she wasn’t sure she had.

Should she call a lawyer? Alfonzo would need a lawyer. Was that what she should be doing? Wasn’t that what you did for someone you loved?

Her head throbbed with a dull ache that seemed to match the uncertainty and confusion swirling inside her. She needed to get out of here. Get out of this apartment. But where would she go? She had handed the keys of her flat back to the landlord. Becky’s couch was no longer an option – she had burned those bridges. Her mother’s house was entirely out of the question. It would be better to sleep rough on the streets.

She stared at the mirror in the bathroom. Her eyes were puffy from crying and her skin felt hot and sticky with sweat. The ice-cold water she slapped on her face jolted her back to life. The metallic tang of blood filled her mouth as she attacked her gums and teeth.

In a rush, she snatched the MacBook off the desk, slammed the lid shut and stuffed it into her bag. She ran out of the building as if she was being chased.

She had spent countless hours stalking Kimberly online, memorising every detail of her public life. Jenna knew where she lived, her interests, and even what she liked to eat for breakfast. But all of that seemed irrelevant now. She was dead.

She needed to know more about the man who had captured her heart and then shattered it. She needed to know more about Alfonzo. She walked to a nearby coffee shop. One that she and Alfonzo often visited. They made the best hot chocolates. Her eyes lingered on the door of the shop, her mind already imagining the sights and sounds that awaited her inside. No, she had to find somewhere else—somewhere that her mind hadn’t associated with Alfonzo. She moved through the streets with a sense of urgency, her eyes darting around nervously as she avoided places and any signs of their time together. She felt like an addict on the edge, teetering precariously between relapse and recovery.

The library. The thought of the library stirred a forgotten desire within her, reminding her of the person she used to be before Alfonzo entered her life. Before the lies and the deceit. The memory of her dream of opening a restaurant, of becoming a successful entrepreneur, flickered in her mind like a distant flame. It was a lifetime ago, or at least it felt like it. Yet the library was still there, waiting for her, a reminder of a time when anything was possible. Find a place, hire a chef and some waiters, brand it and then market the hell out it. A lifetime of dreaming and longing – gone in a heartbeat. How could she have been so stupid?

She caught the underground to Green Park. There was something comforting about being surrounded by the bustle of a crowd – the hum of conversation, the rustle of coats and bags, the sound of footsteps on the floor. It made her feel like she was just one of many, blending in with the masses and disappearing into the anonymity of the crowd.

She walked the busy streets to the old building. The wooden double doors creaked as they opened, revealing a vast space filled with row upon row of towering bookshelves, each one crammed with volumes of every size and colour. The musty smell of old books lingered in the air, evoking a sense of nostalgia and history. The quiet whispers of people reading and studying added to the peaceful ambiance of the library. A place she could escape the noise of her disordered life.

She found herself standing near the same dusty shelf where she would often sit for hours lost in thought. The familiar scent of aged books and polished wood enveloped her, transporting her back to a simpler time. Her fingers trailed over the rows of spines, searching for the one book that had captivated her all those years ago. But she wasn’t here to indulge in her old pleasures. She was on a mission to uncover the enigma surrounding the man she had recklessly given her heart to.

Unlike Kimberlys, according to the best stalking platform, Facebook, there were far less Alfonzos living in London. She navigated through the tide of profiles on her screen, her eyes scanning each name in search of Alfonzo Ricco. There was no sign of him. It seemed that Alfonzo was not one for social media. She scrolled through page after page of results, her heart sinking with every click. But just as she was about to give up hope, a LinkedIn profile caught her eye on the sixth page. The profile picture was a standard placeholder, but the details matched. She read through every word on the page, scrutinising each detail, hoping for a clue that would help her verify it was him. Male, 32 and a surgeon at the Royal London Hospital. This had to be him. He hadn’t posted anything since he had activated the account. He was a ghost online. She browsed through his connections.

Dr A. Oliver was at the top of his connections list. A distinguished-looking man in his forties. She Googled his name and found him on numerous websites. A senior consultant working at the Royal London Hospital. One of Alfonzo’s colleagues? A friend? Someone who might be able to help.

Should she be talking to anyone about this, especially with someone from his professional life? How would this affect him if he is innocent? Could he lose his job? Could she get into trouble for interfering in a serious police investigation – she had already lied to the detective – was she just digging a deeper hole for herself?

‘Jenna?’ a voice sliced through the air, making her jump in her seat. She quickly slammed the laptop shut, heart racing as she recognized the voice as one she knew all too well. Jenna’s heart leapt in her chest as she caught sight of Becky approaching her. She hadn’t seen her since they had a serious bust-up. She had hoped to avoid any awkward encounters. But now, here she was, standing in front her with a mix of concern and confusion etched on her face. Jenna searched her mind to come up with an excuse for why she was at the library during the day, but Becky beat her to the punch.

‘Hey, Jenna, what are you doing here?’ Becky asked, her eyes flickering over the closed laptop in Jenna’s hands.

She forgot that Becky was doing her PHD in philosophy. This library was always their first choice when they were together in university. How did she not think of that when she chose to come here?

‘Becky… Hi.’

Jenna hesitated, her mind still whirring. She knew she couldn’t tell Becky the truth. Instead, she plastered a T.V. smile on her face and tried to play it cool.

‘Oh, you know, just doing some research for a project,’ Jenna said, holding up the laptop for emphasis.

‘It’s been ages since I saw you!’ Becky moved closer, arms outstretched, and enveloped Jenna in a hug. Jenna hesitated for a moment before awkwardly returning the gesture. The embrace felt forced, like two magnets repelling each other. The last time they had seen each other, they were like two raging bulls locking horns.

‘Becks, listen…I’m sorry about everything… you know the—’

‘Water under the bridge!’ Becky smiled, ‘I missed you!’

‘I missed you too,’ Jenna felt her lower lip quiver.

‘Are you okay?’ Becky’s voice was soft as she spoke, her hand gently resting on Jenna’s shoulder.

‘I’m fine,’ Jenna lied. She forced a smile that she knew wouldn’t fool anyone. The weight of her emotions threatened to smash her composure.

‘Hey,’ Becky wrapped her arms around Jenna again when she noticed tears trickling down her face, ‘What’s going on?’

‘Nothing. I’m sorry,’ Jenna pulled away from their embrace and brushed away the tears with her sleeve. She wanted to tell her everything, of course she did. Tell her about Alfonzo. The Police. The murder. But how could she? She couldn’t. She couldn’t tell anyone. Not until she knew the truth. Don’t be the martyr just yet, she reminded herself.

She clutched the MacBook close to her chest, determined to keep up the facade despite the overwhelming emotions she had just displayed. ‘It was so good to see you,’ Jenna said, ‘But I have to go.’

‘Wait!’ Becky lifted her arms, gesturing for her to stop, ‘At least give me your number. Your old one isn’t working. And you’re not on socials for me to contact you. I mean, come on. We’re best friends!’

Jenna walked past her without making eye contact in case she was tempted to cave and tell her everything, ‘I’m sorry. I’ll call you.’

‘Will you?’ Jenna felt Becky’s head turn as she walked past. ‘I mean, Maggie is worried about you as well.’

‘Tell her I’m sorry,’ Jenna dared not look back, ‘I have to go. I promise I’ll call you. I just need a little time.’

‘Time for what?’

Jenna walked away, leaving the question lingering in the air. She couldn’t answer it even if she wanted to. She had no idea what she was going to do. All she knew was that she needed to speak to Dr Oliver. It could ruin Alfonzo’s professional reputation; it could even be considered as interfering with a police investigation, but it was all she had right now. A name.

****

The moment Jenna stepped into the sterile hospital, the acrid scent of disinfectant and the palpable sense of illness hit her senses, triggering a torrent of memories. Her last visit to the hospital. The image of her once-strong uncle reduced to a helpless state, tubes protruding from his nose and limbs bound to the bed with a cannula. The memories came rushing back, each detail scratched into her mind like an permanent mark, the car accident that had turned their lives upside down, the life support that couldn’t save him, the suddenness of his passing, the lack of goodbyes.

‘Hi, I am looking for Dr A. Oliver,’ Jenna asked the lady at reception.

The young woman manning the reception desk tore her eyes away from the computer screen and flickered an unwelcoming smile ‘Are you a patient?’

‘No, I’m… I’m a friend. I need to speak to him, if that’s okay.’ A pang of discomfort gripped Jenna as yet another lie escaped her lips, prompting a moment of self-reflection. She was alarmed by how easily lies were flowing from her tongue.

‘Okay, let me see,’ she typed on the keyboard and then pressed a few digits on the phone on the desk.

‘Dr Oliver, hi, I have…’ she looked at Jenna with her brows raised.

‘Jenna Harper,’ Jenna replied.

‘Jenna Harper here to see you.’

There was a weighty silence that seemed to stretch on and on.

‘He says he doesn’t know a Jenna Harper.’

Of course he doesn’t. Because Jenna is not his friend.

‘Can you please just tell him that I am a friend of Alfonzo Ricco’s and I really need to talk to him. It’s important!’

The receptionist sighed and repeated what Jenna said.

Another pause and then she hung up the phone.

‘He said he’ll be down in a minute,’ the receptionist said and then looked back at her screen.

Jenna exhaled. Okay, this is good. This means he knows Alfonzo, or else he wouldn’t have agreed to see her. This is good.

‘You can sit over there and wait,’ the receptionist pointed at some chairs close by.

Jenna smiled and then sat on the closest empty chair she could see. The chair was instrument of torture with its hard, unyielding surface and unforgiving angles. The hospital was a hive of frenzied activity, with people rushing back and forth in a blur of motion. The air was thick with the sound of beeping machines and urgent voices, but amidst the chaos, the hands on the clock seemed to mock her, taunting her with their stubborn refusal to move. A silent reminder that in moments of crisis, even time itself could feel like an adversary.

She had the urge to ask the receptionist where Dr Oliver was. Ask her to call him again—this was an emergency.

Jenna marched impatiently towards the reception desk, her irritation mounting by the second. But just as she reached it, a tall man with greying hair barrelled through the internal doors, his flustered appearance and irritable expression making it clear that he was in no mood for delays. His voice was sharp and clipped as he spoke, and his words laced with impatience and frustration.

‘I’m Dr Oliver,’ he said without offering a smile. He bashed the handle of the hand sanitiser wedged on the wall, ‘How can I help you?’

‘I’m Jenna, a friend of Alfonzo’s. I needed to talk to you.’

‘Is he okay. He didn’t turn up for surgery today and I’m having to cover.’ She could sense the ascending frustration in his voice.

‘He’s… he’s been arrested.’

‘What?!’ Dr. Oliver’s voice seemed like it caught in his throat.

‘Is there anywhere we can talk?’ Jenna noticed the receptionist paying close attention to their conversation.

‘Follow me,’ he instructed as he walked in through the doors he had emerged from. Jenna struggled to keep up with the man’s long, swift strides as he led her through the corridors of the hospital. She found herself hurrying to keep pace, breathless and disoriented. When they finally reached a small room, he barged in, taking a seat behind a small desk, and gestured for her to sit opposite. Jenna felt a sudden surge of apprehension, as though she were a patient awaiting a grim diagnosis.

‘What is going on?’ he asked immediately. ‘I knew something was wrong. He never misses surgery.’

‘The police came to his apartment today and arrested him.’

‘For what?’

‘For murder.’

‘Murder?’ he leaned back in his chair and a look of disbelief washed over him, ‘Alfonzo? No, this can’t be right. This has to be some sort of mistake.’

‘That’s what I thought.’

‘I mean, who the hell is he supposed to have murdered?’

‘His wife!’ she said, her eyes fixed on some distant point beyond the walls.

Dr. Oliver’s face froze in a mask of shock, his features contorted into an expression that was impossible to describe. His eyes widened and a heavy silence settled over the room like fog.

‘Kimberly!’ his face turned pale and ghostly. ‘Kimberly is dead?’ his mouth hung open.

‘Yes.’

‘I can’t believe this!’ He shook his head, ‘How do you know this actually happened? I haven’t read about this in the papers.’

‘I was there when the police arrested him.’

He leaned forward, his eyes scanning her face with an intensity that made Jenna feel uncomfortable. It was a searching, probing look, as if he was trying to read her thoughts, to uncover the secrets buried deep within her.

‘Sorry, who are you, again?’

‘I…’ her mouth felt dry. She tried to find to find the right words but they escaped her like smoke fleeing into the atmosphere, ‘I’ve been living with Alfonzo for the past three months… in his apartment.’

Dr. Oliver rubbed the back of his neck, as if trying to work out the kinks in his muscles. He let out a long, drawn-out sigh, the kind that spoke of a deep weariness that went far beyond just physical tiredness.

‘You’re her,’ he said, his creased forehead smoothed out as he relaxed his face.

Her? What did he mean, her? What did he know? Had Alfonzo told him about her?

‘Look,’ he clasped his hands, ‘Alfonzo and I are friends, good friends. I’ve known him and Kimberly for many years.’ He paused mid-sentence, his lips parting as if he was about to say something more, but then stopped. A look of pain shot across his face. His eyes narrowed to slits. ‘I can’t believe that Alfonzo would do this. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. He and Kimberly were having problems, I knew that, but murder! No. This is crazy.’

‘I… I don’t know what to say. I want to help him, but I don’t know what to do. I didn’t know about his wife. He never told me he was married.’ She searched his face for any sign of judgment or accusation, expecting him to look at her with cold eyes and a disapproving frown.

‘Well, it wasn’t really a marriage anymore,’ He rose from his seat and walked towards the window. His tall frame was silhouetted against the bright light streaming through the glass. She watched as he took a deep breath, as if trying to compose himself, and then turned to face her. His expression was inscrutable, and he spoke in a voice low and measured voice, ‘…Kimberly wasn’t well.’

His words had knocked the wind right out of her. Was Alfonzo cheating on his sick wife? Cancer? Who does that? She had heard stories of people who struggled to cope with terminally ill partners and started affairs. She hated them for it. Their partners were fading away, slipping through their fingers like sand, and yet they only cared about their own struggles, their own emotions. As if their pain was somehow greater than that of the person they loved, who was fighting a losing battle against time. Selfish bastards!

There for the good times but when things got tough, they abandoned ship, leaving behind a trail of heartache and betrayal.

‘She wasn’t well, mentally,’ he continued, ‘I mean, she was fine for many years, and they were really happy together, but last year, she had a breakdown. Sectioned and diagnosed with severe schizophrenia,’ He loosened his tie, ‘After being discharged, she wasn’t the same. She became impossible to live with. Overly paranoid. She would fight with him every time he had to leave for work. She couldn’t be alone even for a few hours. She wouldn’t take her meds and was always questioning Alfonzo’s fidelity.’ He sat back down in the chair, shoulders slumped. ‘They agreed to separate. It was better for the both of them, so Alfonzo found somewhere else to live. He told me he was seeing someone, which I am assuming was you…’ he paused for a moment, ‘Look, he told me that he felt bad for Kimberly, but he wanted, needed to move on. He is an incredible surgeon – an asset to the medical profession. He was going to file for a divorce, you know. And he wasn’t looking for love, but her found you… and he fell for you.’

‘I didn’t know any of this… he never told me anything!’ Jenna’s words left her mouth with a bitter taste, as if she had swallowed a handful of nails.

Her heart sank with a mix of relief and bitterness as she absorbed the details. The confirmation of their marriage was like a sharp stab, but the knowledge they were separated and had intended to leave her gave her a strange sense of comfort.

‘Do you think he might have done it?’ she asked, ‘Is there any part of you that believes that he could do something like this? I need to know!’ The notion of him leaving his wife for her and professing his love for her was alluring, but the idea of him committing murder was a whole different ballgame. Jenna couldn’t let herself get carried away with the romance of it all and overlook the truth about the man she was infatuated with.

‘Alfonzo might be a lot of things. A lousy husband, a liar… but he is not a murderer. He would never hurt Kimberly. Never.’

As he spoke, his voice carried the weight of his profession, as if each syllable was carefully selected to deliver the utmost confidence and credibility. Jenna couldn’t help but imagine him addressing his patients in the same manner, with a strong yet soothing tone and a reassuring smile. But today, she wasn’t looking for comfort or reassurance. She didn’t need the smooth delivery of a practiced physician. She needed the raw, unfiltered truth. It didn’t matter how difficult it might be to swallow. She needed the whole story, every detail and nothing less.

What did his words mean, anyway? Friends always support each other; that’s what friends do. Alfonzo confided in Dr Oliver, so much so that he told Dr Oliver more than he told her – the woman he claimed to love more than anyone else in the world – the naïve woman he promised to spend the rest of his life with, with the caveat that this agreement was only valid if she remained healthy and could give him everything he needed, of course.

Dr Oliver could be blinded by their friendship the way she was blinded by her love for him. Alfonzo could have killed Kimberly. Jenna had read articles about ordinary people acting in uncontrollable rage. Temporary insanity, or something like that. She had also read about people who seemed completely normal to the outside world, loving fathers, devoted husbands, pillars of the community, even officers of the law, but there was something evil brewing deep down inside them, itching to surface.

Did Kimberly say or do something to provoke him to act? She was suffering from schizophrenia, after all. Not in the right state of mind. Was it an accident? Did she attack him, was it self-defence? The possibilities seemed endless.

None of it made sense. If Jenna was living inside a thriller book, the chapters were not in chronological order, each one revealing a new piece of information that contradicted what she thought she knew.

Alfonzo might have killed Kimberly – it’s possible. Horrible, heart-breaking, but possible. But if he didn’t kill her, who did? And why?