I am a Christian, a retired teacher, a mother and a grandmother. I love to read and I love the Lord Jesus Christ! Unless otherwise specified ,all visual illustrations are from the YOU VERSION APP of the Bible.
Publishing Date: January 24, 2023 Publisher: Mira ISBN-10: 0778333620 ISBN-13: 9780778333623
US Marshal Regan Merritt never bought the FBI’s theory that her ten-year-old son’s murder was tied to her job. Yet as leads went cold, she’d had to walk away from the marshals, the case and her now ex-husband, Grant, who blamed her for Chase’s death.
After Regan receives a chilling voice mail from her former boss, Tommy, claiming new information about Chase’s murder, she can no longer stay away from her pain-filled past. Especially when Tommy’s murdered before she can return his call.
Now more than ever, Regan’s determined to find the truth, but the more she digs, the more evidence points to Grant as the killer’s true target. But Grant isn’t talking. As she tries to pin down her ex, Regan discovers something much bigger and far more sinister is at play—and she’s running out of people she can trust.
I love Regan Merritt’s tenacity and boldness, but mostly I love how real she is. This is the second book in the series but can definitely be read as a standalone. Regan thought the worst pain she could ever endure was when her ten year old son Chase was murdered. But she finds out that there is pain that is equally hard to endure when a close friend and mentor is killed and she is determined to follow the clues no matter where they may lead. All of the characters are relatable and realistic although not all of them are likable. The villains are definitely not on my “I would like to meet this guy” list unless I have Regan backing me up with her Glock. The pace is fast and maintained my interest from beginning to end. There are some real unexpected twists here that I did not see coming and I really enjoyed them. I liked finding out more about Regan’s current situation and her quest to find peace with her past. The mystery is real, the red herrings are numerous and this is a well-written whodunit that had me on the edge of my seat. Loved it and look forward to the next book in the series! Disclaimer Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guidelines Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
This is very dark comedy with some romance mixed in, so it was quite a different genre for me. The premise is one that I had never read before about a woman named Laurel Applebaum who is very unhappy with her marriage and deals with it by constantly imagining that her husband Doug dies. Of course, he is not dying quickly enough to suit her purposes so she diabolically plots his death, scheming to cause him to die a natural death by what he feeds him or asks him to do. The first time her mind wandered to what life would be like without Doug, I was amused. Then, when it kept happening, I just wanted her to be honest with him and do what a normal person would do and either work it out or leave. The subterfuge and almost pathetic way that she went about plotting his demise lost its humor factor about halfway through the book. There are many characters who contribute to the story, none of them particularly relatable or likable except perhaps Laurel’s mother and her friend Eleanor who has a snarky macaw who inserts much needed laughter into some of Laurel’s antics. Doug was a weak man who was whiny and not at all relatable since he didn’t even try to help his marriage but he did constantly complain about how bad it was. His protestations that he truly loved and needed Laurel were too little, too late for me since he was more like a child than a forty-something year old unemployed man who was not seeking employment. Laurel was a somewhat sympathetic character because she did work hard to keep money coming in and she understandably wants to go to California to visit her son and daughter-in-law when their new baby comes. A burning desire to visit a first grandchild was a realistic detail as was the description of Trader Joe’s (where Laurel works) and the upscale customers who frequent that shop. I was not able to relate well to most of the characters and at some points I just wanted to find out what the final solution to the marriage was going to be and be done with it. The plot was moderately paced for the most part and at times slowed down. There were some very humorous parts, like the Thanksgiving dinner, but most of the humor was portrayed in the scenes of Laurel’s dark imagination of life without Doug and those fell short for me. I give the book a solid 3.5 stars, rounding it up to 4 for its originality. Some of the language is coarse, so that was not a plus for me. Although I liked reading about a woman with creative solutions to ending her marriage, I was not totally engaged in the read and was not sure where it was going to end up at times. Without spoilers, the ending was satisfactory if a bit over the top for me. Fans of contemporary fiction will enjoy Meister’s book with its wit and sharp, biting dialogue. Disclaimer Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guidelines Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
Laurel Applebaum heard a familiar ringtone as she shuffled toward the lockers at Trader Joe’s, tired and spent after a full day on her feet. Was that her phone? Her first instinct was to rush, but she stopped herself. It was probably her husband, Doug, with one of his inane emergencies, like running out of chocolate-covered almonds. God forbid he should go ten minutes without a snack.
The phone rang again, but still Laurel didn’t pick up her pace. She could have—there was always a little reserve left in the tank—but she decided to indulge in her end-of-the-day crankiness, even though she might pay for it later, when Doug started whining about his deprivations. For now, for this one moment she had to herself, it felt like a miniature vacation.
Sometimes, Laurel told herself she should get a job where she could sit all day, like her sister-in-law, who answered phones in a doctor’s office. Then Laurel would look at her co-worker Charlie Webb, who was more than twenty years her senior and the fastest cashier they had. Always smiling, he was beloved by staff and customers, and Laurel thought of him as a cross between Kris Kringle and the philosophical deathbed guy from Tuesdays With Morrie. He made her laugh. And want to be better.
By the time Laurel opened her locker, the ringing had stopped and started up again. She pulled her purse from its hook and fished out her phone. Sure enough, DOUG was on the caller ID.
“Hi,” she said wearily, hoping she conveyed enough pathos with the single syllable to elicit some sympathy.
“Laurel Applebaum?” said a woman’s voice.
A chill swept through her. Something was wrong.
“I’m so glad I finally reached you. I’m calling from Plainview Hospital. Are you Douglas Applebaum’s next of kin?”
“That’s my husband,” she said, her scalp prickling, her whole body suddenly alert. An instinctive chill had her in its grip. “Is he okay? What’s wrong?”
“He was brought in by ambulance after a motor vehicle accident. We’re still assessing his condition, but he’s unconscious. Right now the doctors—”
“I’m not far,” Laurel said. “I’ll be there in ten minutes. Less.” She dropped her phone into her purse and grabbed her jacket. Dear god, was this really happening? And why did it take a near tragedy for her to remember how much she loved him?
I have to do better, she thought, a lump taking shape in her throat. I have to.
“Is everything okay?” asked Charlie Webb. He had been standing close by, which wasn’t unusual. Sweet as he was, the old guy was just this side of stalkerish when it came to Laurel.
She chalked it up to a harmless crush. To Charlie, Laurel was still in the blush of youth. But she understood that his age filtered her through a softening gauze. To most men, she was all but invisible—a fifty-two-year-old woman who maintained only the last vestiges of attractiveness. It had been at least ten years and as many pounds since anyone told her she resembled Diane Lane. Granted, she didn’t make the effort she used to, but she simply couldn’t see the point.
She looked into Charlie’s kind face. “I don’t think so,” she said, her eyes watering. “Doug’s been in an accident. They wouldn’t have called me unless…” She searched his expression, hoping she didn’t have to finish the sentence.
He nodded and took her by the shoulders. “You’re going to be okay,” he said slowly, “no matter what. You are here and you’re fine. You only have one job right now, and that’s to drive carefully. You understand?”
The cadence of his speech slowed her rocketing heart, but she was suddenly so overcome by his concern she couldn’t speak. So she gave him a quick hug, and dashed out.
Laurel slammed the door of her twelve-year-old Altima, considering Charlie’s advice as she pulled her seat belt across her torso. Drive Carefully, she thought, turning the words into initials. It was something she often did to settle herself, playing a game where she tried to think of famous people to match the letters. DC=Don Cheadle, Dana Carvey, Diahann Carroll.
Calmer, she realized Charlie was right—she didn’t need to tear out of the lot. Reaching the hospital two minutes faster was not going to make a difference. Because realistically, she thought as the bulge in her throat swelled and tightened, Doug was probably already dead. She could almost feel it in her bones. He was gone, the life snuffed from his body. That was why she had been summoned. The hospital probably had a policy against giving next of kin the news over the phone.
Once she got there, she would be pulled into a private room by a doctor and a social worker. They would tell her they did everything they could, and ask if there was anyone they could call for her. She thought about her mother, elderly and detached, who would be no help at all. Then, of course, there was Doug’s sister, Abby, who was just the opposite. She would want to push in and take over.
Laurel bristled at the thought as her salty tears began to dry on her face, contracting the skin on her cheeks. Abby. God, she was annoying. The woman had an answer for everything. And usually, it was wrong. Maybe Laurel wouldn’t call her right away.
But no, Abby could be helpful if she stayed in her damned lane. Laurel would just have to be strong, assertive. She would give Abby a list of people to call. That would make her feel useful and important. Keep her out of Laurel’s hair.
And then, well, Laurel would have to make the most difficult call of all—to her son, Evan, who lived on the West Coast and was expecting his first child. He’d want to fly to Long Island for the funeral, but what about his wife, Samara? She was having a difficult pregnancy and might not be allowed to fly. Maybe Evan wouldn’t even feel comfortable leaving her.
It was painful to consider, and Laurel shook her head. She was making this too complicated. Of course they would both come to the funeral.
The thought of seeing them lightened her heart. She’d been depressed about not being able to fly out there for the birth of their child. Money was just so tight, with Doug still out of work. And he had insisted it was foolish for them to get any further in the hole on their credit cards. But now…now she’d be free to buy a ticket without getting into a fight about it. At least there was that. She would finally get her wish of being there for the birth of her first grandchild, to hell with credit card debt.
And then Laurel had a thought that made her gasp. She hadn’t remembered it until this moment. Doug had a huge life insurance policy—$850,000. So much money! It would solve everything. She’d be able to pay off all the credit cards. She could sell the house, and move to a cute little apartment, all by herself, and live off the savings. My place, she would call it. The decor would be soft and cool, in shades of aquamarine and sand. She imagined getting up in the morning without thinking about making Doug breakfast, setting out his vitamins and medication, picking up his damp towels from the bathroom floor, washing the dishes he left in the sink, swiping his crumbs off the counter. There were always so many damned crumbs. But now, she might even get a little dog. Doug was allergic so she had never been able to, and the thought of it filled her.
Laurel stretched in the seat, thinking how lovely it would be to quit the long shifts at Trader Joe’s and give her aching back a rest. And with no job, she would be able to stay home with a new puppy to train it.
And then there was her mother, who desperately wanted Laurel to spend more time with her. This could be just what their relationship needed. Laurel imagined her mother being so grateful for the extra attention she might even summon the courage to take a break from her vintage doll collection and leave the house. Laurel warmed at the thought, the tension in her throat easing.
And of course, that would be nothing compared to holding her first grandchild. How she loved newborns! Their impossibly tiny noses, their kernel-sized toes, the smell of heat rising off their velvety little heads. She imagined a baby girl with Evan’s silky dark hair.
By the time she parked at the hospital, Laurel was trying to work out whether it made sense to get a dog right away, or if she should wait until after the birth of the baby, so she wouldn’t need to worry about finding someone to care for it while she was in California.
She stopped the thought in its tracks. This wasn’t about her, it was about Doug, and she needed to be sadder. He was her husband. They had been married for nearly thirty years. Laurel tried to picture the early days of their courtship, recalling when they first met. She had just landed her first real job, working in the marketing department of a trade magazine publisher, when one of the women in her office offered to fix her up with a friend of her husband’s. “A solid citizen,” the woman had said, and Laurel took it to mean he was someone she could trust.
The phrase stuck with her all these years because it had defined Doug from their very first meeting. He was an honest and decent man who had gone into his father’s business. Eight years older than Laurel, he had a boyish face, unruly hair that charmed her, and an irresistibly corny sense of humor. Even on that first date, she didn’t mind that he was overweight. It made her feel safe to be with someone who wasn’t all that attractive to other women. Here was a man who would always be faithful. And also, he thought he was the luckiest guy in the world to be dating someone so very pretty. She was even flattered by his jealousy. It made her feel like a princess.
When he proposed six months later, Laurel was dizzy with joy. She was young—barely twenty-two—but she had always dreamed of being a wife. And she was being offered a sparkling emerald cut diamond solitaire ring by a man who wanted her so desperately he couldn’t wait to make it official. She’d been so overcome she could barely choke out the word yes.
Laurel parked and pulled a tissue from her purse, well aware of what she was doing—digging into memories to feel appropriately sad. It worked. Her heart felt leaden as she slammed her car door and hurried to the emergency room entrance.
“I got a call about my husband, Douglas Applebaum,” she said to the woman at the desk. “He was…in an accident.” She arranged her face into a stoic expression so the receptionist would understand she was prepared for whatever bad news was about to unfold.
But the woman remained impassive as she tapped at her computer, asked for ID, and then printed out an adhesive name badge. “Observation unit 4B,” she said, handing it to Laurel.
“What?” Laurel asked, confused. She had expected someone to come out and greet her.
The woman pointed a long nail embedded with a diamond chip. “Straight down that hall, all the way to the end. Make a right, show your badge to the security guard.”
For a lingering moment, Laurel stood transfixed by the glamorous manicure, a covetous urge growing tight in her gut. She hid her raw, unmanicured hands behind her back as she recalled better days, when she would indulge in mani-pedis with her friend Monica, as they laughed and gossiped.
And then, just like that, the nostalgia was replaced with furious reproach. How could she possibly be so shallow? Especially now, when there was so much at stake.
Guilt brought her back to the present, where she tried to focus on the instructions she had just been given. Dazed, Laurel did as she was asked, going through door after door until she found herself in a room full of patients in reclining chairs, separated by curtains. Some were alone, others had a loved one sitting close by in a plastic seat, crowded into the tiny space. Medical professionals buzzed around the middle of the room, going from patient to patient. The air was too hot, and smelled like disinfectant.
Laurel followed the signs. 1B, 2B, 3B, and then she stood before 4B, where two nurses in lavender scrubs hovered over a patient, blocking her view. One was leaning across him, pulling off a Velcro blood pressure cuff, and the other adjusted a bag of clear liquid hanging on an IV pole. The patient said something to make both nurses laugh, and then they took a step back, as if sensing Laurel’s presence.
And there he was, lounging in the reclining chair, a purple bruise across his forehead.
Laurel stopped and blinked, taking it in. The IV bag was connected to his arm by a thin tube. He wore the faded plaid shirt she’d been trying to get him to throw out, his belly hanging over his belt.
“Doug?” she asked, trying to make sense of the tableau before her. There was, she knew a term for what she was experiencing. Cognitive dissonance. Still, she couldn’t understand what she was looking at. That is, until he spoke.
Told with the signature wit of the author as well as her understanding of and sympathy for her characters, this book delved deeply into the broken family relationships that seem unable to be repaired. Daisy is a trust fund baby with a big home, the undying love of her father and a job that she enjoys. Sage is beautiful, well traveled and has already looked for love in all the wrong places so she has returned home. And Cassidy, the adventurer, returns home unexpectedly and reluctantly when she has an accident on one of her adventures. All three stepsisters are thrown together into a book that reads like a movie. With plenty of romance and family drama, this book captured my imagination and my heart. I think that anyone who reads it will have a character with whom they can identify. For me, it was Daisy, the one who is misunderstood and who just wants love and acceptance in a world where judgment seems to come first. I liked all of the main characters, actually, even Cassidy who is the youngest but who also spouts gems of wisdom at the most unlikely moments. These siblings didn’t get along growing up, but they seem to bond together when another is threatened by anything and that just touched my heart. When Daisy’s husband Jordan leaves her, her world is upended and she seeks solace in a bottle but finds it in her sisters and their advice. Sage is stuck with her self-centered mother who has no love for Daisy and little love for Sage. She just wants to find a rich man and ride off into the sunset with him. Cassidy, meanwhile, is terrified of committing to any kind of relationship and needs to see for herself how families really work. She forms a bond with Daisy’s two children and helps Daisy in surprising ways. I loved the well-written story, with all of its many little side trips to explain the relationships. But mostly, I loved the humor in the story that was just what I needed. Yes, there was plenty of drama, too, but the humor made the story so much fun to read. The book was engaging and totally entertaining and I look forward someday to seeing a movie featuring this title and these characters. Fans of family, romance and a theme of forgiveness will definitely want to pick up this book and will enjoy its journey to restoration. Disclaimer Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
“Mom, I think I’m going to throw up.”
Daisy Bosarge felt the fear that was universal in the parenting world when Krissa uttered those eight little words. Even more concerning was the fact that her son was already home with stomach flu.
She’d known better than to let her daughter go to school this morning, she thought ruefully, but Krissa had begged and Daisy had been late for work and it had just seemed easier to say yes. A decision that was getting ready to bite her in the butt as she drove as fast as she could, given the traffic on the road.
“Ten more minutes,” she said, glancing at her eight-year-old in the back seat. “We’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“I don’t feel good.”
“I know, sweetie. I’m going to get you home.”
At least cajoling her daughter was better than trying to avoid looking at the ominous Check Engine light that had popped on right before Daisy had arrived at the school to pick up her daughter. Yet another problem she didn’t have time to deal with.
Priorities, she told herself. Get Krissa home and in bed, look in on Ben, then make an appointment to take her Mercedes to the dealership. After that, she would—
“Mommy, I’m going to throw up now!”
Daisy held in a moan. She carefully checked her mirrors before pulling to the side of the road.
“Just a second,” she murmured, knowing at this point there weren’t any words in the world that would keep the inevitable from happening.
Seconds later her day took yet another unfair turn as her daughter threw up all over herself, the back seat and the carpet. The smell and the sound of Krissa bursting into tears hit her at the same time.
She put on her flashers and raced around to the passenger side, where she helped her daughter out onto the sidewalk. Cars drove by so close, Daisy felt the whoosh of air as they passed. She kept hold of her daughter as she circled to the trunk, where she kept her emergency tote filled with paper towels, wipes and a shirt for each of her kids.
She cleaned off her daughter’s face, then reached for the hem of her T-shirt.
“Let me get this off you,” she said. “I have a fresh one right here.”
But Krissa stopped her, tugging the shirt back in place.
“No!” she shrieked, looking around frantically. “I’m outside. Someone will see.”
Someone who? Krissa was eight and the car was between them and the traffic, with Daisy blocking their view.
“Can you change in the front seat?” she asked, trying to sound reasonable, instead of close to losing it.
“No.” Tears spilled down her daughter’s flushed cheeks. “Mommy, no!”
The headache that had started a little before noon clicked up a level or two, with a steady pressure building right between her eyes. She ignored the pain and put her hand on her daughter’s forehead, feeling the heat there. Before she could figure out what to do, Krissa threw up again, this time down the front of Daisy’s scrubs and on her shoes.
Krissa’s tears increased and at that moment, Daisy really wanted to join in. She’d had a bad day at work, both her kids were sick, she was never getting the vomit smell out of her car and just because there wasn’t already enough crap in her life, her husband had moved out two days ago. To “give them both space to think,” as he’d phrased it.
In a text.
Jerk, she thought, feeling the familiar fury tinged with a hint of panic. Although the real word was closer to asshole than jerk. How could he have done that to—
One step at a time, she told herself. First, she had to get Krissa home, then the car, then—
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a dark blue BMW slow as it drove past. She wanted to yell out something vulgar to the voyeur, but knew that would set a bad example, so she instead forced a smile.
“Sweetie, let me clean the back seat so you can get in. You can change your shirt in there, and no one will see. All right?”
Krissa nodded reluctantly.
Daisy planted her where she could see her, then cleaned up the mess as best she could. In the eighty-plus-degree weather that was spring in Los Angeles, the interior of the car was already heating up. The smell nearly made her gag. Blood she could handle just fine. Open up a body and she was okay with that, but this? A nightmare.
She finished her work and coaxed Krissa closer to the car only to notice the BMW driving by again, but with the sun hitting the side window, she couldn’t see who was driving.
Better to ignore them, she told herself, slipping off her daughter’s school uniform polo shirt and putting on a T-shirt with Elsa from Frozen on the front. Sadly she had nothing for herself to change into. She wiped up her pants and shoes and was about to try to buckle Krissa in when the BMW pulled up to the curb behind her car.
Daisy told herself not to panic, even as she wished for lethal training in some kind of karate. Or a can of pepper spray. Was that legal in Los Angeles? Before she could decide, the driver’s door opened and a tall, beautiful blonde woman stepped out.
Daisy silently ran through all the swear words she knew, created a few unique combinations, then wanted to know why God currently hated her because there was no other explanation for Sage Vitale to be walking toward her, looking as fabulous as only Sage could in skinny jeans and a flowy top that made her appear sexy and ethereal at the same time. Four-inch-heel boots completed the look. Daisy, on the other hand, had been up since four, hadn’t showered since yesterday and hey, the vomit.
Last she’d heard, Sage was in Italy, married to a count. Because that was Sage’s life. Race car drivers and counts and being tall and skinny and beautiful. Daisy was smart and had a sparkling personality. It just wasn’t fair.
Sage looked from her to her daughter. “Daisy? I thought that was you when I drove by. Are you okay?”
No. No, she wasn’t. Any idiot could see that. Her kid was obviously sick, Daisy had puke on her pants and shoes, so no. Not okay.
“We’re fine,” Daisy said, trying not to clench her teeth. Her dentist had told her that if she didn’t learn to relax, she was going to have to wear a mouth guard at night to stop herself from grinding her teeth. She felt her bedtime routine already lacked a certain sex appeal and she sure didn’t need a mouth guard adding to the problem.
“You don’t seem fine,” Sage said, her nose wrinkling, no doubt from the smell.
“Who are you?” Krissa asked.
“I’m, um, I’m…”
“This is Sage. She’s my stepsister.” Or at least she had been, once.
Krissa rubbed her suddenly running nose. “So you’re my aunt?”
“No,” Daisy said firmly. “Please buckle up so we can get home.”
For once, Krissa didn’t complain or talk back. Instead she buckled her seat belt, twisting her head to keep looking at Sage. Daisy thought about warning her of the danger of that. Sage was like the sun and if you stared at her too long, there was permanent damage.
Later she would think about what quirk of fate had her former stepsister driving by at the exact moment she was at her lowest. LA had a population of what, eight million people? What were the odds? Although she supposed they did live close. Sort of. But still!
She forced a tight smile. “Thank you for stopping. It was very kind.”
“I couldn’t believe it was you, standing there on the side of the road,” Sage admitted. “I knew you had kids, but seeing you with your daughter… It’s just strange.”
“We haven’t really kept in touch,” Daisy said, inching toward her door.
“Right. We haven’t seen each other since your wedding.”
Daisy stared at her stepsister. Really? Sage had gone there? “Yes, my wedding twelve years ago, where you announced to everyone in the room that you were still in love with the man I was marrying. It was great.”
Sage flushed. “It wasn’t exactly like that.”
Oh, yes it was, but Daisy didn’t want to stay and chitchat. “Thanks again.” She waved and ducked into her car.
“She’s really pretty,” Krissa said admiringly. “I like what she’s wearing.”
“It’s jeans and a shirt,” Daisy snapped before she could stop herself. “Sorry. I’m tired. Let’s get you home.”
In the rearview mirror she saw Sage get back in her car. Their eyes met briefly in the mirror, then Daisy focused her attention on starting her car. She pushed the button to engage the engine…and nothing happened. The dashboard lights came on, along with the red Check Engine light, but the engine stayed silent.
Daisy grabbed the steering wheel with both hands and tried not to scream. She didn’t want to scare her daughter and possibly herself by giving in to the crazy building up inside of her but why did this have to happen?
Someone knocked on her window. She rolled it down.
“You okay?” Sage asked.
“Not really. My car won’t start.”
“Want me to take you home?”
Daisy thought about saying she would call an Uber or Lyft or something, but figured that fate was messing with her and she might as well simply surrender. The sooner she got through whatever hell this was, the sooner it would be over. Later, when the kids were in bed and she had showered, she would review her life and try to decide where she’d messed up so much that she had to be punished. But for now, she had a sick kid and someone willing to give her a ride.
“Thank you,” she said through clenched teeth, looking into the beautiful green eyes of the one woman on the planet she hated more than anyone. “That would be great.”
Excerpted from The Stepsisters @ 2021 by Susan Mallery, Inc., used with permission by MIRA Books.
This is a five plus stars book that had my mind percolating on the ending long after I had completed it. With the themes of amnesia, persevering love, evil that lurks and promises to destroy, this book was one that had me rooting for the underdog and gasping at some of the events in the plot. Well written does not begin to describe the plot. It was written in such a way that I became more than a reader or a spectator. I was waiting with bated breath until the villain was revealed and then I could not wait for the ending when the happy part came. When Jack disappeared from a beach in Maryland, Lily was determined to find him because she saw him as the love of her life, her second chance. Through happenstance, she finds him in Maine and follows him there, only to discover that he does not remember her at all. Lily befriends Jack’s sister Maya and is introduced to the real Jack, whose actual name is Ash. Unfortunately, Ash does not remember why he went to Maryland or anything really about his past. He does know that one of his former girlfriends disappeared and another died tragically, but he does not remember any details about either Celine or Kate. Lily accepts Ash as he is and wants to help him to remember. Maya is helpful, too, giving Ash a job to do while he recovers from his head injury. There are three points of view in the story and I found myself racing through each one, trying to find out what the truth was about Ash’s past and who Lily was and any secrets that Maya had. The action was fast-paced and non-stop, giving me time to take a deep breath before I plunged into the next heart-racing scene. With characters that were perfect for the parts they played, this book was like a play that I was watching unfold and I was sad when it ended. I cannot say more without giving away the shocking conclusion, but I will highly recommend this thriller to anyone looking for a book to entertain, enthrall and mystify. Wow! Just wow! Disclaimer Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
Cold. Cold was the first word that came to mind. The first thing I noticed when I woke up. Not a slight, uncomfortable chill to give me the shivers, but a cramp-inducing, iced-to-the-bone kind of frozen. I lay flat on my stomach, my left ear and cheek pressed into the rough, grainy wet ground beneath me, my entire body shaking. As my thoughts attempted to assemble themselves into some form of understandable order, a wave of icy water nipped at my bare toes and ankles, my instincts pulling my feet out of reach.
I had a sudden urge to get up, a primal need to take in my surroundings and assess the danger—was I in danger?—but the throbbing pain deep in my head made the slightest effort to shift anything seem impossible. Lifting a finger would be too much effort, and I acquiesced, allowing myself to lie still for another few freezing seconds as the frigid water crept over the balls of my feet again. When I blinked my eyes open, I was met by a thick, fuzzy darkness enveloping me like a cloak. Where the hell was I? And wherever it was, what was I doing here?
When I lifted my head a fraction of an inch, I could barely make out anything in front of me. There was hardly a noise either, nothing but a gentle, steady rumble in the background, and the cry of a bird somewhere in the distance. I made my brain work its way backward—bird, rumble, sand, water—and the quartet formed the vaguely cohesive image of a beach.
Searching for confirmation, I inhaled the salty, humid air deep into my lungs as another slosh of water took aim at my calves. This time the discomfort was enough to push me to my feet, and I wrapped my arms around my naked torso, my sopping board shorts clinging to my goose-bump-covered thighs. An explosion of pain in my head threatened to send me back to my knees, and I swayed gently, wishing I had something to steady myself with, willing my body to stay upright. As I pressed a hand to the side of my skull, I let out a quiet yelp, and felt along a two-inch gash in my scalp. My eyes had adjusted somewhat to the lack of light, and my fingertips were covered in something dark that smelled of rust. Blood. How had I…?
Another low rumble made me turn around, shuffling slowly in a semicircle. The behemoth effort was rewarded by the sight of a thousand glistening waves dancing under the moonlight like diamonds, the water stretching out and disappearing into the darkness beyond. As my ears tuned in to the rhythmic whoosh of the waves, my mind worked hard to process each scrap of information it took in.
I’m definitely on a beach. It’s nighttime. I’m alone. What am I doing here?
Before I could answer the single question, a thousand others crowded my brain, an incessant string of chatter I couldn’t stop or get away from.
Where is everyone? Never mind them, where am I? Have I been here long? How did I get here? Where was I before? Where are my clothes? What day is it?
My legs buckled. Not because of the unfamiliar surroundings, the cold burrowing its way deeper into my core, or the pain in my head, which had increased tenfold. No. My knees hit the sand with a dull crunch when I realized I couldn’t answer any of the questions because I couldn’t recall anything. Nothing. Not the tiniest of details.
Including my name.
A frown settled over my face as I put my phone on the table, pushed the bowl of unfinished berry oatmeal away and stretched out my legs. It was Saturday morning, and I’d been up for ages, too eager—too hopeful—to spend a day at the beach with Jack, but those plans had been a literal wash-out. The start to the summer felt capricious, with this second storm in the last week of June poised to be much worse than the first. I’d convinced myself the weatherwoman had exaggerated or got her forecast completely wrong, but clouds had rolled in overnight anyway. As a result, I’d been unceremoniously woken up at two thirty by a trio of bright lightning, deafening thunderclaps and heavy raindrops pelting against my bedroom window.
At first, I’d pulled my pillow over my head to deafen the noise, and when that didn’t work, I rolled over and stretched out an arm. The spot next to me was empty and cold, and I groaned. Jack hadn’t come over to my place as I’d hoped he would, slipping into bed and pressing his naked body against mine. I’d buried my face back into my pillow and tried to ignore the tinge of disappointment. We hadn’t seen much of each other this past week, both of us too busy with our jobs to spend more than a night together, and I missed him. Jack had called the day before to tell me he’d be working late, finishing the stain on the cabinets he’d labored on for weeks before his boss had to let him go. Apparently expensive custom kitchens weren’t in as high demand in Brookmount, Maryland as originally thought.
“But you got laid off,” I’d said. “It’s your last day. Why do you care?”
“Because I made a commitment. Besides, it’ll help when I need a reference.”
Typical Jack, always keeping his word. He’d bought a lottery ticket once, and the clerk had jokingly asked if he’d give him half of any winnings. Jack had laughed and shaken the man’s hand, and when he won ten bucks on the ticket, had promptly returned to the store, and paid over the share as promised. His loyalty was one of the many things I loved about Jack, although part of me wished he weren’t quite as dedicated to his soon-to-be ex-boss.
“You could come over to my place when you’re done,” I said, smiling slowly. “I’ll leave the key under the umbrella stand. I don’t mind you waking me up gently in the middle of the night…or not so gently.”
Jack laughed softly. The sound was something I’d fallen in love with eighteen months ago after our eyes had met across a crowded bar, the mother of all uninspired first-encounter clichés, except in this case I’d been forced to admit clichés weren’t always a bad thing.
“It’ll be really late, Lily,” he said, his voice deep. His English accent was something of a rarity in our small coastal town, and still capable of making my legs wobble in anticipation of his next words. “I’ll go for a quick swim now, then finish up work. How about I come over in the morning? Around nine? I’ll bring you breakfast in bed.”
“Blueberry pancakes from Patti’s? With extra maple syrup?”
“This time I’ll order three stacks to make sure I get some.”
“Pancakes or sex?” I said, before telling him how much I loved him, and whispering exactly how I’d thank him for waking me with sweet weekend treats. I’d hoped it might change his mind and he’d come over earlier, except it was ten now, and he still hadn’t showed. It was odd. Jack detested being late as much as he loved being early. He often joked they set Greenwich Mean Time by his father’s old watch, which Jack had worn since his dad passed a little over a decade before we’d met, when Jack was only twenty.
I checked my phone again. Jack hadn’t answered either of my calls, another anomaly, but I tried to talk myself into believing he’d worked late into the night to make the final good impression he wanted, and overslept. Maybe there was a line at Patti’s—the restaurant was slammed every weekend—and perhaps his phone was set to silent.
I picked up my bowl and wandered to the kitchen. My place was the smallest of six apartments, a tiny but well-maintained one-bedroom in a building a few miles from the beach, farther than I’d planned, but the closest I could afford. I’d lived there for almost five years, had furnished it with an eclectic assortment of third-hand furniture, my favorite piece a royal blue microfiber sofa I’d bought for fifty bucks, and which Jack swore was the most comfortable thing he’d ever sat on. Whenever he sank down into it and pulled me on top of him with a contented sigh, I’d tease him about what made him happier; the squishy, well-worn cushions, or me.
This is the story of a young boy named Norman whose dream is to appear on the stage and do a comedy routine with his best friend. When tragedy interrupts his plans, Norman gets the help of his mom and an elderly friend named Leonard to fulfill his dream. An important part of the plot is the fact that Norman does not know who his father is (thanks to his mom’s promiscuity), so with the help of Leonard’s research, he sets out to find his bio dad, a man who doesn’t know he exists. The character studies were the most outstanding part of this book. By the time I completed the book, I felt like I knew all three main characters, especially Norman and his mom Sadie. Their strengths and weaknesses were portrayed honestly and in a humorous way. Norman is learning how to be a solo comedian as they travel together and Sadie is learning to accept herself and all of the mistakes she has made in the past. She is also still dealing with the death of her father, so she is conflicted about finding Norman’s father. There are relationships forming and growing between the three as well as with those they meet along the way. I think my favorite part was Norman’s adventures on a moped and his becoming more independent as the book progressed. This is a coming of age novel as well as a novel that touched my heart and led me to reflect on my own life’s choices. Disclaimer Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
About the Author:
Julietta Henderson is a full-time writer and comedy fan who splits her time between her home country of Australia and the UK. The Funny Thing about Norman Foreman is Julietta’s first novel.
When I was born my insides lay outside my body for twenty-one days. Which is unexpected but not nearly as unusual as you might think. For every 3,999 other babies that come out with everything tucked in neatly and sealed away exactly where it should be, there’s one like me. Nobody really knows why. Luck of the draw, my father used to say.
For those three weeks while I lay spread-eagled in an incubator like a Nando’s special, a crowd of doctors gathered every morning to discuss their cleverness and, as my organs shrank to their correct size, bit by bit they gently posted a little more of the me-parts that had made a break for it back inside.
Well that’s the way my mother told it anyway. The way my father told it, the doctors gathered around the incubator every morning to discuss whether they’d be having my large intestine or my liver for their lunch, and whether it’d be with chips or salad. And that right there might tell you almost everything you need to know about my parents.
On my insides’ final day of freedom the head surgeon pushed the last bit through the slit in my stomach and stitched it closed, presumably with everything in its rightful place. I was declared whole and sent home to begin life like almost nothing had ever happened.
Except that even when the regular hospital check-ups stopped, and the scar on my stomach that I’d never lived without faded to a thin silver seam, I can always remember still feeling the tugging behind it. Something I could never quite name, nudging at the fleshy edges whenever things were going badly, or too well. Or just for fun. To remind me how easily those parts of me that never really fit could come sliding out. Any time we like Sadie. Any time we like.
It wasn’t until I held my own son for the first time that the constant, dull pressure of keeping the scar together receded. When a nurse placed that slippery, crumpled up bundle of boy on my chest, I tightened my grip on a handful of hospital sheet as my world creaked on its axis, bumped into a comfy spot and was finally facing the right way.
I didn’t feel the tug on the scar again until a different boy died, and to say I wasn’t ready for it isn’t even the most important thing. Because by then there was a lot more at stake than just my own stupid insides spilling out into the world. I was as scared as hell and I had no idea how to fix any of it. And that right there might tell you almost everything you need to know about me.
First rule of comedy: Timing is everything
Timing is everything. First rule of comedy, Jax says. Because when push comes to shove, if you can get the timing right you can get a laugh. He says. Well I don’t really know how to tell when push is coming to shove but I’ll tell you something I do know. That rule works the other way too. Because when the you-know-what starts to hit the fan, if your timing’s wrong there’s pretty much zilcho you can do to stop it from splattering all over the place.
Stare straight ahead and think about nothing. That’s a world famous Jax Fenton tactic for what to do when you get yourself into a bit of a mess. Works every time he reckons and he should know. Only maybe it doesn’t. Because when I stare straight ahead all I can see is that big shiny wooden box and instead of nothing I’m thinking about everything. And loads of it. Like does any light get in through the joins and did they let Jax wear his Frankie Boyle Tramadol Nights tour t-shirt. And does whoever put him in there know he only likes to sleep on his side.
The massive scab on my chest feels so tight that I’m scared to breathe too deep in case it splits down the middle and bleeds all over my new shirt. Stare straight ahead. I move just a bit so I almost can’t see the box behind a couple of heads and my arm touches Mum’s. When I feel her, straight away the mess on my chest relaxes and lets me take half an almost good in-breath. Nearly a whole one. Right before it stabs me all the way through to my back and kazams like a rocket down to my toes. I’m pretty sure I can hear it laughing. Timing is everything, sucker.
And by the way, that’s another thing I know. That you can’t trust your timing no matter how good it’s been in the past. Not even for people as excellently funny as Ronnie Barker or Dave Allen or Bob Mortimer. Or Jax.
Because even if you nick a little bit of money for sweets every week-day morning from your mum’s purse, even if you accidentally-on-purpose leave your stepfather’s car door open so the cats get in and wee on the seats, and even if you’re the naughtiest kid in the whole school by a long shot, when you’re eleven years, 297 days and from what the paramedics can tell anything between twelve and sixteen hours old, it’s definitely not a good time to die.
Stare straight ahead and think about nothing.
Squashed into the end of the pew with my body leaning into the shape of the space that Norman’s made, I could feel the tense and release of his arms as his small boy hands curled in and out of fists. The buttoned down cuffs of his sleeves rode up ever so slightly with every movement to reveal the trail of psoriasis that spread triumphantly down to the second knuckles. His face was blank as a brick. Dry eyes staring straight ahead.
‘Just hold on. Hold on son. You’ll get through this.’ I murmured reassuringly. Telepathically. But Norman’s hands kept on curling and flexing and then I noticed his chest was keeping time, rising and collapsing with the movement of his hands. I knew what was lying in wait underneath the thin fabric of his shirt, so then I had another thing to worry about.
I had to admit it looked like he wasn’t getting my message, possibly because my best telepathic motherly voice was being all but drowned out by the other, very much louder one that lived in luxury inside my head. Fuck you Sadie. You can’t even get this right. As usual it wasn’t pulling any punches.
The priest who had never met him declared the end to Jax’s life and people began shuffling out of the pews as fast as they could, as if death might still be hanging around looking for company. They knocked our knees, murmured apologies and spilled their overflow of sadness all over us. Like we needed it. The moving huddle in the aisle parted from the back as Jax’s parents set off on their million mile walk, and without turning my head I felt more than saw Josie Fenton hesitate ever so slightly as they passed us. But then they were gone. And my son’s eyes remained fixed on some invisible point that I could only hope lay somewhere far, far beyond the awfulness of the moment.
A good forty minutes after the last person had left, I reached for Norman’s nearest hand and closed it gently between mine. The chill of the empty church had sidled deep into my bones and I was shocked at the heat of his raw knuckles on my palms. The voice in my head began stage whispering nonsense louder and louder and Norman’s hand stayed rigid in its fist. But I didn’t need that voice to tell me what I’d already figured out about thirty-eight minutes before. I wasn’t going to be nearly enough for this.
Excerpted from The Funny Thing About Norman Foreman @ 2021 by Julietta Henderson, used with permission by MIRA Books.
What a delightful and light-hearted Christmas romance! WIth the holidays approaching, Catherine’s friend Denise convinces her to go on a European cruise with her. After all, Catherine’s two children are busy leading their own lives, Catherine has a serious health issue to deal with after the holidays, and Denise really is a god friend. Also on the cruise are sisters Sophie and Sierra. Sierra is married but her husband reneged on the cruise at the last minute, so hypochondriac Sophie decides to travel with her sister. The cruise is all that they dreamed of, and all that I could dream of, too, if I had been along. Sumptuous meals, beautiful port cities with Christmas shopping all along the way. Plus, Trevor is on the cruise, the chocolate king of Cupid’s Chocolates. Of course, there is lots of matching up in couples, lots of drama, lots of romance and plenty of Christmas. My favorite part was the slide show presented by Sophie and Sierra’s brother at their family celebration. Seriously, this was like watching a Hallmark movie or living right in the scenes with the characters. The whole book was that realistically portrayed! The characters were three-dimensional and the plot was extremely well-written with no loose strings left at the end. (Or should I say missing Christmas tree bulbs?). Anyway, this was one of the best Christmas books that I have read and I highly recommend it for those who love the holiday and the romance that it brings. And if you don’t love the holiday, you will enjoy this book because it’s that good, even for Scrooges! Disclaimer Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
This was a superb addition to the Brenda Novak Silver Springs series! With many of my favorite characters poised to take part in the story of Dallas and Emery, I was mesmerized by the way the story was intricately woven around the town and people of Silver Springs. Emery is a wounded young woman who is invited to stay at the ranch with Aiyana while she finds her bearings again. There, she meets Aiyana’s sons, most importantly Dallas. Emery has some healing to do, but so does Dallas and it takes the whole novel before the two of them figure out how to go about it. I particularly enjoyed the details about Aiyana’s wedding to Cal and how helpful her sons were determined to be. Family working together and supporting each other was a main theme of the book. Another theme was forgiveness and just letting things go so you can move on with your life. I was outraged at how Emery had lost her job through no fault of her own, but I also liked how she ended up handling the whole situation. I also enjoyed seeing Susan and her bakery in the story this time as she was one of my favorite characters previously. For her to play a role in Emery’s decision to forgive was like icing on the cake. This book can be read as a stand alone, but I highly recommend that you read the series so that you are familiar with all of the characters and the many positive vibes from living in a small town like Silver Springs. Disclaimer Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Mira via Netgalley. I also purchased my own autographed copy via the Brenda Novak Reader Boxes. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
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I was absolutely “wowed” by this debut thriller by Amber Garza! I couldn’t read it long enough or fast enough, right from the beginning. The plot is an original one about a lonely empty nester who really needs someone or something new in her life. One morning, she gets a phone call reminding her of a well-baby appointment at the office of her former pediatrician and she is amazed to find out that there is another Kelly Medina in town. Her objective becomes to find this young woman who shares her name. Well, she finds her and befriends her and then the total compulsive obsession begins. This is a real page-turner that I thought was very well-written, with gripping revelations of truth in the lives of women. The author demonstrates an authentic understanding of women’s issues and has written an exceptionally good mystery with a phenomenally shocking conclusion. I sincerely enjoyed how the story unraveled itself slowly and methodically, with so many twists and so much that I could identify with as I fell into the pages and was captivated by the drama of the lives of these two women. Fans of mystery/suspense/ and psychological thriller will enjoy this book that is definitely women’s contemporary fiction, too. It’s hard to classify the genre because this book fits into so many places! Disclaimer Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Testimonials and Endorsements in Advertising.”
It was a Monday morning in early October when I first heard about you. I was getting out of the shower when my phone rang. After throwing on a robe and cinching it, I ran into my bedroom, snatching my cell off the nightstand. Unknown number. Normally, I let those go. But I’d already run all the way in here, and I thought maybe it was a call from Dr. Hillerman’s office. “Hello?” I answered, breathless. Goosebumps rose on my pale flesh, so I pulled the robe tighter around me. My sopping wet hair dripped down my back. “Is this Kelly Medina?” Great. A salesperson. “Yes,” I answered, wishing I hadn’t picked up. “Hi, Kelly, this is Nancy from Dr. Cramer’s office. I’m calling to remind you of your well-baby appointment this Friday at ten am.” “Well-baby?” I let out a surprised laugh. “You’re about nineteen years too late.” “Excuse me?” Nancy asked, clearly confused. “My son isn’t a baby,” I explained. “He’s nineteen.” “Oh, I’m so sorry,” Nancy immediately replied. I could hear the clicking of a keyboard. “I apologize. I called the wrong Kelly Medina.” “There’s another Kelly Medina in Folsom?” My maiden name had been Smith. There are a million other Kelly Smiths in the world. In California, even. But since I’d married Rafael, I’d never met another Kelly Medina. Until now. Until you. “Yes. Her child is a new patient.” It felt like yesterday when my child was a new patient. I remembered sitting in the waiting room of Dr. Cramer’s office, holding my tiny newborn, waiting for the nurse to call my name. “I have no idea how this happened. It’s like your numbers got switched in the system or something,” Nancy muttered, and I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or herself. “Again, I’m so sorry.” I assured her it was fine, and hung up. My hair was still wet from the shower, but instead of blow-drying it I headed downstairs to make some tea first. On my way, I passed Aaron’s room. The door was closed, so I pressed it open with my palm. The wood was cold against my skin. Shivering, I took in his neatly made bed, the movie posters tacked to the wall, the darkened desktop computer in the corner. Leaning against the doorframe of Aaron’s room, my mind flew back to the day he left for college. I remembered his broad smile, his sparkling eyes. He’d been so anxious to leave here. To leave me. I should’ve been happy for him. He was doing what I’d raised him to do. Boys were supposed to grow up and leave. In my head I knew that. But in my heart it was hard to let him go. After closing Aaron’s door, I headed down to the kitchen. The house was silent. It used to be filled with noise – Aaron’s little feet stomping down the hallway, his sound effects as he played with toys, his chattering as he got older. Now it was always quiet. Especially during the week when Rafael stayed in the Bay Area for work. Aaron had been gone over a year. You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But, actually, it seemed to get worse over time. The constant silence. The phone call had thrown me. For a second it felt like I’d gone back in time, something I longed for most days. When Aaron was born everyone told me to savor all the moments because it went by too quickly. It was hard for me to imagine. I hadn’t had the easiest life growing up, and it certainly hadn’t flown by. And the nine months I was pregnant with Aaron had gone on forever, every day longer than the one before. But they were right. Aaron’s childhood was fleeting. The moments were elusive like a butterfly, practically impossible to catch. And now it was gone. He was a man. And I was alone. Rafael kept encouraging me to find a job to fill my time, but I’d already tried that. When Aaron first left, I applied for a bunch of jobs. Since I’d been out of work for so long, no one wanted to hire me. That’s when Christine suggested I volunteer somewhere. So I started helping out at a local food bank, handing out food once a week and occasionally doing a little administrative stuff. I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t enough. It barely filled any of my time. Besides, I was one of many volunteers. I wasn’t needed. Not the way Aaron had needed me when he was a child. When he left, the Kelly I’d always known ceased to exist. Vanished into thin air. I was merely a ghost now, haunting my house, the streets, the town. As the water boiled, I thought about you. Thought about how lucky you were to have a baby and your whole life ahead of you. I wondered what you were doing right now. Not sitting alone in your big, silent house, I bet. No, you were probably chasing your cute little baby around your sunny living room, the floor littered with toys, as he crawled on all fours and laughed. Was your child a boy? The lady on the phone didn’t say, but that’s what I pictured. A chubby, smiling little boy like my Aaron. The kettle squealed, and I flinched. I poured the boiling water in a mug and steam rose from it, circling the air in front of my face. Tossing in the tea bag, I breathed it in, leaning my back against the cool tile counter. The picture window in front of me revealed our perfectly manicured front yard – bright green grass lined with rose bushes. I’d always been particular about the roses. When Aaron was a kid he always wanted to help with the pruning, but I never let him. Afraid he’d mess them up, I guess. Seemed silly now. Heart pinching, I blew out a breath. I wondered about your yard. What did it look like? Did you have roses? I wondered if you’d let your son help you prune them. I wondered if you’d make the same mistakes I had. Bringing the mug to my lips, I took a tiny sip of the hot tea. It was mint, my favorite. I allowed the flavors to sit on my tongue a minute before swallowing it down. The refrigerator hummed. The ice shifted in the ice maker. My shoulders tensed slightly. I rolled them out, taking another sip. Shoving off the counter, I was headed toward the stairs when my cell buzzed inside my pocket. My pulse spiked. It couldn’t be Rafael. He was a professor and his first class had already started. Aaron? Nope. It was a text from Christine. Going to yoga this morning? I’d already showered. I was about to tackle my latest organization project. Today was the kitchen pantry. Last week I’d bought a bunch of new containers and bins. Friday I’d spent the day labeling all of them. After taking the weekend off since Rafael was home, I was anxious to continue with it. I’d already organized several closets downstairs, but my plan was to work my way through all the closets and cabinets in the house. Usually I loved yoga, but I had way too much to do today. No, I typed. Then bit my lip. Backspaced. Stared at the phone. My own reflection emerged on the slick screen – disheveled hair, pale face, dark circles under the eyes. You need to get out more. Exercise. It’s not healthy to sit in the house all day. Rafael’s voice echoed in my head. The organizing would still be here tomorrow. Besides, who was I kidding? I’d probably only spend a couple of hours organizing before abandoning my project to read online blogs and articles, or dive into the latest murder mystery I was reading. I typed, yes, then sent it and hurried to my room to get ready. Thirty minutes later, I was parking in front of the gym. When I stepped out, a cool breeze whisked over my arms. After three scorching hot summer months, I welcomed it. Fall had always been my favorite season. I relished the festiveness of it. Pumpkins, apples, rustic colors. But mostly it was the leaves falling and being raked away. The bareness of the trees. The shedding of the old to make room for the new. An end, but also a beginning. Although, we weren’t quite there yet. The leaves were still green, and by afternoon the air would be warm. But in the mornings and evenings we got a tiny sip of a fall, enough to make me thirsty for more. Securing the gym bag on my shoulder, I walked briskly through the lot. Once inside, it was even colder. The AC blasted as if it was a hundred-degree day. That’s okay. It gave me more of an incentive to break a sweat. Smiling at the receptionist, I pulled out my keys for her to scan my card. Only my card wasn’t hanging from my key ring. I fished around in my bag, but it wasn’t there either. Flushing, I offered the bored receptionist an apologetic smile. “I seem to have misplaced my tag. Can you look me up? Kelly Medina?’ Her eyes widened. “Funny. There was another lady in here earlier today with the same name.” My heart pounded. I’d been attending this gym for years and never had anyone mentioned you before. I wondered how long you’d worked out here. “Is she still here?” My gaze scoured the lobby as if I might recognize you. “No. She was here super early.” Of course you were. I used to be, too, when Aaron was an infant. “Okay. You’re all checked in, Kelly,” the receptionist said, buzzing me in. Clutching my gym bag, I made my way up the stairs toward the yoga room, thoughts of you flooding my mind. A few young women walked next to me, wearing tight tank tops and pants, gym bags hanging off their shoulders. They were laughing and chatting loudly, their long ponytails bouncing behind their heads. I tried to say excuse me, to move past them, but they couldn’t hear me. Impatient, I bit my lip and walked slowly behind them. Finally, I made it to the top. They headed toward the cardio machines, and I pressed open the door to the yoga room. I spotted Christine already sitting on her mat. Her blond hair was pulled back into a perfectly coifed ponytail. Her eyes were bright and her lips were shiny. I smoothed down my unruly brown hair and licked my dry lips. She waved me over with a large smile. “You made it.” “Yep.” I dropped my mat and bag next to hers. “I wasn’t sure. It’s been awhile.” Shrugging, I sat down on my mat. “Been busy.” “Oh, I totally get that.” She waved away my words with a flick of her slender wrist. “Maddie and Mason have had a bazillion activities lately. I’ve been running around town like a crazy person. I honestly feel like I’m going insane.” “Sounds rough,” I muttered, slipping off my flip-flops. This was the problem with getting married and having a kid so young. Most of my friends were still raising families. “I know, right? I can’t wait until they’re adults and I can do whatever I want.” “Yeah, it’s the best,” I said sarcastically. Her mouth dropped. “Oh, I’m sorry. I wasn’t talking about you…” Her pale cheeks turned pink. “I know how much you miss Aaron. It’s just…” I shook my head and offered her a smile “Relax. I get it.” Christine and I met years ago in a yoga class. She’s one of those women with almost no self-awareness. It’s what first drew to me to her. I loved how raw and real she was. Other people shied away from her, unable to handle her filter-less statements. But I found her refreshing and, honestly, pretty entertaining. “I remember how insane it was when Aaron was younger,” I said. “One year he signed up for baseball and basketball. They overlapped for a bit, and I swear I was taking him to a game or practice like every day.” “Yes!” Christine said excitedly, relief evident in her expression. “Sometimes it’s all just too much.” “Yeah, sometimes it is,” I agreed. The class was about to start and the room was filling up. It was mainly women, but there were some men. Most of them were with their wives or girlfriends. I’d tried getting Rafael to come with me before, but he laughed as if the idea was preposterous. “Remember when there were only a few of us in this class?” Christine asked, her gaze sweeping the room. I nodded, glancing around. There were so many new people I didn’t know. Not that I was surprised. Folsom had grown a lot in the ten years I’d lived here. New people moved here every day. Staring at all the strangers crowding around us, I shivered, my thoughts drifting back to you. We hadn’t even met, and yet I felt like I knew you. We had the same name, the same gym, the same pediatrician for our child. It felt like kismet. Fate had brought you here to me. I was certain of it. But why?