Bright and Deadly Things

Lexie Elliott

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Bright and Deadly Things, the latest suspenseful thriller from Lexie Elliott. In the following passage, a woman has a harrowing encounter with a home intruder.

There’s someone in the house.

I know it as soon as I’m inside, though I couldn’t say how. Some indescribable change in the air, perhaps, or a sound I hadn’t consciously registered. A wave of adrenaline sweeps over my skin, prickling all hair follicles on end. I stand frozen, just inside the still- open front door, a layer of warm air and sunshine pressing at my back and the shadowy cool of the terraced house silently waiting for me. But it’s the wrong type of silence. I stand motionless, staring, my ears straining to catch any sound above my own racing heartbeat, which is thumping in my ears, thumping in my throat; waiting for a moving shadow or the thud of a footfall or even just the tiniest of creaks—but nothing comes. The house, the intruder, me: we are all holding our breath.

I squint down the corridor that leads to the open-plan kitchen/ living area at the back. Beyond the rectangle of the doorframe, I can see the bright saturated green of the back garden’s lawn through the floor-to-ceiling windows at the rear of the house, verdant in the sun- shine after the rain we’ve been having. Call the police, I think. Call the police, call the neighbors and scream until somebody—anybody— comes . . . But even if I scream, no one will come: the residential street outside is quiet, drowsy with the heat; and anyway, most of my neighbors will be either at work or away for their summer vacation.

And what can I tell the police? Come quickly because I have an ab­ solute conviction that there’s an intruder in my house, even though I haven’t actually looked?

But I know it’s true: there’s someone in the house. I can sense it with a pressing urgency, as if there’s music playing at a pitch that’s below my range of hearing, but nonetheless felt.

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Do something. Find something, some kind of weapon. Wait—I know . . .

I check that my phone is easily accessible in my pocket, then slide my rucksack off my shoulder, easing it to the floor as quietly as possible—though surely whoever is here must have heard me come  in—before reaching out slowly, silently, to the coat cupboard that is just beside me. My heartbeat is a hammering thud that must be audible streets away. I know the cupboard door will squeak, regardless of whether I open it slowly or fast. Fast, I decide. Fast, and use the noise.

I take a deep breath. Go. “Get out of my house; I’m calling the police right now!” I yell, and keep yelling as I yank the screeching cupboard door open with one hand and reach in with the other to grab a club—any club—from the golf bag that languishes beneath the coats. Words keep tumbling out of my mouth, though I have no real idea of what I’m shouting as I yank the club out, briefly entangling it with a navy rain jacket that slips off its hanger and falls to the floor as I charge with my improvised weapon toward the back of the house. Surely the intruder will head straight for the open front door? I don’t want to be in the way when they do. I reach the living room, with the afternoon sun streaming in through the French doors, and whirl around so my back is to the sunlight, holding the club diagonally in front of me with both hands on the shaft, no longer yelling and poised to spring. Where is the intruder? Upstairs? I strain to listen. The house is silent, but I’m not fooled. Something is coming, something is coming, something is . . .

A dark shape explodes out of the small study to my left, running straight for me. For a moment I’m frozen, staring blankly at the man—for it seems to be a man, though his head is covered by a black balaclava—who is heading directly toward me. Why is he not heading for the open front door? Belatedly, in blind panic, I swing the club viciously, but too late; he’s almost upon me. Only at the last minute, he veers, planting a foot on the seat of one of the armchairs and leaping over the back, and my clumsy swing connects only in a glancing blow on his lower back, the club continuing in an arcing path. I hear, rather than see, it smash through the crystal vase that was on the sideboard, because I’m whirling round to keep the intruder in my vision; he’s at the sliding doors, yanking one open to run out into the garden, where, without any hesitation whatsoever, he sprints across the small lawn to scale the cedar-planked back fence and disappear into the lane behind.

I’m left staring at the red-brown horizontal planks of the cedar fence, the club still gripped tightly in my hands. A small breeze slips in through the now open sliding door, carrying with it the shouts of children playing, a car starting somewhere, a bee buzzing round the lavender in the garden—the lazy sounds and smells of summer. I’m alone now; the insistent press of danger has receded. I am very much alone.

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Excerpted from BRIGHT AND DEADLY THINGS by Lexie Elliott, published by Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2023 Lexie Elliott.

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