Riverdale meets One of Us Is Lying in This Is Why We Lie by Gabriella Lepore, a standalone thriller following two teens who discover a body off the coast of their seaside town. As they search for the killer, they will learn the students of both the local prep school and the nearby reform school will do anything to protect their secrets.
Everyone in Gardiners Bay has a secret.
When Jenna Dallas and Adam Cole find Colleen O’Dell’s body floating off the shore of their coastal town, the community of Gardiners Bay is shaken. But even more shocking is the fact that her drowning was no accident.
Once Jenna’s best friend becomes a key suspect, Jenna starts to look for answers on her own. As she uncovers scandals inside Preston Prep School leading back to Rookwood reform school, she knows she needs Adam on her side.
As a student at Rookwood, Adam is used to getting judgmental looks, but now his friends are being investigated by the police. Adam will do whatever he can to keep them safe, even if that means trusting Jenna.
As lies unravel, the truth starts to blur. Only one thing is certain: somebody must take the fall.
This is an extremely fast paced thriller that I flew through in less than a day without even meaning to. I would pick it up and the next thing I knew I had sped through 30% of the book in a short amount of time. The short chapters helped as well as Lepore’s captivating writing style. The story itself was intriguing enough to keep me guessing on who killed Colleen although I didn’t necessarily care why. The synopsis makes it seem like the schools the characters go to are important but they really aren’t which was a little disappointing. I also found it odd that our two main characters, Jenna and Adam, act like they don’t really know each other but we quickly find out that they run in the same circle of people. The story is told through Adam and Jenna’s perspectives which I enjoyed. It helped give the story a well rounded feel since we see both the boys’ and girls’ sides. However, they both use a lot of flashbacks to tell their side of the story and some of the time it just felt very repetitive to what we just found out. On the other hand, I did enjoy the way Lepore interspersed the story with police interviews, news articles and texts. It helped keep the fast pace of the story and also added a bit of fun. While the ending was action packed and somewhat surprising I do think the fast pace makes it a little difficult to connect to the characters. I do think that you will get the most enjoyment out of this book if you are already a fan of YA thrillers like I am.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Gabriella Lepore is a YA author from South Wales in the United Kingdom. She lives in the countryside with her husband James and daughter Sophia. When she isn’t reading or writing, she can usually be found exploring the coastline. She enjoys cups of tea, bookstore coffee shops, stormy beaches, and autumn days.
Gardiners Bay at dawn is my secret. There’s a moment, right before the day starts, when the ocean is bathed in amber light. That first golden breath of morning. Everything is still, apart from the pelicans gathering near the water, their plump bodies shuffling along the shoreline. Sometimes I sit on the promenade for hours with my legs suspended over the pebble beach below, just watching the night turn to day. Watching the darkness turn to light.
It’s often like this, just me and the birds. The only other people I tend to cross paths with at this hour are fishermen wearing heavy-duty gear and hugging their thermoses. They sit on the benches and swig their hot drinks while skimming the daily newspaper. Then they leave. A little while later, their boats drift out onto the water.
Today, though, I’m the only one here.
I raise my camera and adjust the focus, capturing the new light as it spills over the ocean. In the muted daylight, the silver tide is a murky, dull gray and frothing as it slaps against the shore.
“Help! I need help!”
My eyes dart across the shoreline. There’s a boy on the stretch of beach at the foot of Rookwood Cliff. He’s kneedeep in the water, fully dressed.
He shouts again.
I spring to my feet and run along the promenade. Ducking beneath the boardwalk railings, I jump down to the pebbled cove.
The soles of my feet sting at the impact of the stones beneath my Converse. I scramble toward him, my footing slipping on the damp pebbles.
It’s then that I recognize him.
His jeans are soaked to the thigh. He’s wading through the shallows, his legs tangled in fishing net and seaweed. And a body lies limp in his arms. A girl. She’s swollen, her skin has turned purple, and one arm is swinging downward with the momentum of Adam’s labored movements.
I press my hand to my mouth.
“Call an ambulance,” he shouts.
But all I can do is stand there, paralyzed by the sight. He lowers the girl onto the sand and begins CPR, breathing into her mouth.
For the Love of April French by Penny Aimes is available in eBook and trade paperback on August 31st!
An Entertainment Weekly Best Romance of Summer 2021!
“This book gave me every last one of the Intense Romance Feelings I crave.” —New York Times bestselling author Talia Hibbert
April French doesn’t do relationships and she never asks for more.
A long-standing regular at kink club Frankie’s, she’s kind of seen it all. As a trans woman, she’s used to being the scenic rest stop for others on their way to a happily-ever-after. She knows how desire works, and she keeps hers carefully boxed up to take out on weekends only.
After all, you can’t be let down if you never ask.
Then Dennis Martin walks into Frankie’s, fresh from Seattle and looking a little lost. April just meant to be friendly, but one flirtatious drink turns into one hot night.
When Dennis asks for her number, she gives it to him.
When he asks for her trust, well…that’s a little harder.
And when the desire she thought she had such a firm grip on comes alive with Dennis, April finds herself wanting passion, purpose and commitment.
But when their relationship moves from complicated to impossible, April will have to decide how much she’s willing to want.
Penny Aimes is a trans woman writing contemporary romance about trans women and other people who don’t always find themselves in romance novels.
She was assigned Hoosier at birth but has lived on the east coast and in China before landing in Austin, Texas. She lives in the heart of the music district with her wife and a very small bird with a very loud voice.
Read on for an excerpt from For the Love of April French
April French was having what she considered to be a good night. She was lonely and she was horny, but the lovely thing about Frankie’s, even on a Wednesday, was that she was probably not the only one. And the welcome wagon gambit was working. New doms always responded well to a little attention. She wondered how many of the hookups in her limited sexual history it accounted for—post-transition, of course. Her sexual history pre-transition was not only limited but singular.
On second thought, that was a depressing thing to contemplate. She decided to steer her mind back to the present, because her present was damn good-looking. He was Black, looked to be about her age, dark-skinned and tall, with narrow hips and shoulders that were probably narrower than hers, too.
There were clear hints of lean muscle under his suit, and the suit looked expensive. She didn’t really care about the name brand, but she had to admit the cost was reflected in how well it draped his body. He had short-cropped, wiry hair and that sexy kind of two-day stubble thing happening. A reassuring bass voice and an unreadable calm that made his face a handsome mask. The tightly wound dominants were almost always the most fun to see come unraveled with desire.
“So. You can flirt,” she said, trying to keep her voice even despite the smile tugging the corners of her mouth. It wouldn’t do to tip her hand just yet about how attractive he was. “And you wear nice suits. What else should I know about you?”
“Well, I just moved here,” he said. “Which you also knew. My name is Dennis. I came here from Seattle.”
She nodded, as Aerith set down a new Painkiller in front of her. “I’m April. Grow up out there?”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Illinois, actually. Little tiny town.”
“Oh hey,” she said, her smile shifting to be a little less flirtatious and a lot more genuine. It was always a treat to meet someone from the same basic context; someone she could count on to get it. Not that she expected to spend much time talking about growing up in the Midwest, but it was still a nice bonus. “Ohio. I went to school out East, though, and worked there for a while.”
He laughed. “So a lot like me, but in the opposite direction. UC Santa Barbara.”
She bobbed her head. “Wesleyan.”
They exchanged graduation years; she guessed he was probably thirty-five or thirty-four to her thirty-two. “What took you out there?” he asked.
“It was as far away as I could get without driving into the
ocean,” she said with a laugh. “And they had good financial aid. You?”
“About the same, about the same. Lots of loans, in the end.” She nodded as he went on. “While I was getting my masters, a couple of my friends got a start-up going and brought me in, and we headed up the coast to Seattle.”
“Ooh,” she said. “A techie. I should’ve known.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“Well, most of the folks who come here from the West Coast are,” she said. Especially the ones who could afford that suit.
“You’re right, anyway. I was the support team, not the talent, though. My degree’s in technology management.” He sipped. “Start-up life isn’t for the long haul, so I came here to take a job as CTO for a small firm. What about you?” he asked.
She fidgeted with the little straw in her drink, then drew it out. Chomped a cherry deliberately. “Poli-sci major. I don’t use it, though.”
“Hm.” His eyes watched her mouth. Good. “So weird, isn’t Austin where they have that political particle accelerator?”
He was smirking at his pun, and she snorted. “Queeons and Kingons?” At his blank expression, she added, “You don’t read Terry Pratchett, do you?”
He shook his head. “No, I was just teasing.”
Her smile snatched at the corners of her mouth again. “Teasing’s okay.” She was fighting herself not to relax fully into the moment, to keep up her boundaries until they crossed the preliminary hurdles. This might not be anything, yet. But he was cute, and he was funny, and he was—so far—gentle. She thought she could really like this guy. She knew she liked the way his eyes settled on her, the weight his gaze seemed to have.
ONE ICONIC FAMILY. ONE SUMMER OF SECRETS. THE DAZZLING SPIRIT OF 1970S CALIFORNIA. For Jackie Pierce, everything changed the summer of 1979, when she spent three months of infinite freedom at her bohemian uncle’s sprawling estate on the California coast. As musicians, artists, and free spirits gathered at The Sandcastle for the season in pursuit of inspiration and communal living, Jackie and her cousin Willa fell into a fast friendship, testing their limits along the rocky beach and in the wild woods… until the summer abruptly ended in tragedy, and Willa silently slipped away into the night. Twenty years later, Jackie unexpectedly inherits The Sandcastle and returns to the iconic estate for a short visit to ready it for sale. But she reluctantly extends her stay when she learns that, before her death, her estranged aunt had promised an up-and-coming producer he could record a tribute album to her late uncle at the property’s studio. As her musical guests bring the place to life again with their sun-drenched beach days and late-night bonfires, Jackie begins to notice startling parallels to that summer long ago. And when a piece of the past resurfaces and sparks new questions about Willa’s disappearance, Jackie must discover if the dark secret she’s kept ever since is even the truth at all.
I really enjoyed immersing myself in this book. I usually start my reviews out gushing over how quickly I sped through a book which I could have easily done with this story but something about it had me ingesting it at a much slower pace. The setting was dreamy and perfect. The characters all felt vivid and authentic. The story is told in dual timelines and I appreciated how well both sides of the story played off each other. I couldn’t help but love the steady unraveling of what happened in the summer of ’79 just a little bit more since there was an air of expectation over the whole thing. We know very early on that something devastating happened at the end of the summer which is reinforced by the present day storyline.
There are so many aspects of this story that I loved. The compound setting was a high point for me because I love the idea of people coming together and working together to build/make something. I was also a big fan with how much music plays into this story. Something about adding music to a story just makes it come alive to me and Doan did a fabulous job of integrating music into pretty much every aspect of this story. Jackie was a stunning main character and I fell in love with how flawed and broken yet strong and genuine she is. The way her character develops over each of the two storylines made my connection to her stronger as we navigate through her many ups and downs. I found Doan’s writing to be lyrical and enchanting which added to my love of this story.
I don’t know if it is because I grew up in the Bay Area and so a few of the places mentioned I was familiar with and evoked home for me but this story will undoubtedly stay with me for a long time. Two years ago Daisy Jones and the Six was my favorite book of the year and so it is no surprise how much I loved this one. If you love historical fiction stories involving music then this is one that demands you pick it up. Doan has created a slow and intimate story that is worthy of being on many best of lists.
About the Author:
AMY MASON DOAN is the author of The Summer List and Summer Hours. She earned a BA in English from UC Berkeley and an MA in journalism from Stanford University, and has written for The Oregonian, San Francisco Chronicle, and Forbes, among other publications. She grew up in Danville, California, and now lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband and daughter.
I rattle the padlock on the gate, strum my fingers along the cold chain-link fence.
I own this place.
Maybe if I repeat it often enough I’ll believe it.
All along the base of the fence are tributes: shells, notes, sketches, bunches of flowers. Some still fresh, some so old the petals are crisp as parchment. I follow the fence uphill, along the coast side, and stop at a wooden, waist-high sign marking the path up to the waterfall. It wasn’t here the summer I visited.
The sign is covered in words and drawings, so tattooed-over by fan messages that you can barely read the official one. I run my fingertips over the engravings: initials, peace symbols, Thank you’s, I Love You’s. Fragments of favorite lyrics. After coming so far to visit the legendary estate, people need to do something, leave their mark, if only with a rock on fog-softened wood.
Song titles from my uncle’s final album, Three, are carved everywhere. “Heart, Home, Hope.”
“Leaf, Shell, Raindrop.”
“Angel, Lion, Willow.” Someone has etched that last one in symbols instead of words. The angel refers to Angela, my aunt. The lion is my uncle Graham.
And the willow tree. Willa, my cousin.
I have a pointy metal travel nail file in my suitcase; I could add my message to the rest, my own tribute to this place, to the Kingstons. To try to explain what happened the summer I spent here. I could tell it like one of the campfire tales I used to spin for Willa.
This is the story of a girl, her cousin, and a waterfall…
But there’s no time for that, not with only seven days to clear the house for sale. Back at the gate, where Toby’s asleep in his cat carrier in the shade, I dig in my overnight bag for the keys. They came in a FedEx with a fat stack of documents I must’ve read on the plane from Boston a dozen times—thousands of words, all dressed up in legal jargon. When it’s so simple, really. Everything inside that fence is mine now, whether I want it or not.
I unlock the gate, lift the metal shackle, and walk uphill to the highest point, where the gravel widens into a parking lot, then fades away into grass. The field opens out below me just like I remember. We called it “the bowl,” because of the way the edges curve up all around it. A golden bowl scooped into the hills, rimmed on three sides by dark green woods. The house, a quarter mile ahead of me at the top of the far slope, is a pale smudge in the fir trees.
I stop to take it in, this piece of land I now own. The Sandcastle, everyone called it.
Without the neighbors’ goats and Graham’s guests to keep the grass down, the field has grown wild, many of the yellow weeds high as my belly button.
Willa stood here with me once and showed me how from this angle the estate resembled a sun. The kind a child would draw, with a happy face inside. Once I saw it, it was impossible to un-see:
The round, straw-colored field, trails squiggling off to the woods in every direction, like rays. The left eye—the campfire circle. The right eye—the blue aboveground pool. The nose was the vertical line of picnic benches in the middle of the circle that served as our communal outdoor dining table. The smile was the curving line of parked cars and motorcycles and campers.
All that’s gone now, save for the pool, which is squinting, collapsed, moldy green instead of its old bright blue.
I should go back for my bag and Toby but I can’t resist—I move on, down to the center of the field. Far to my right in the woods, the brown roofline of the biggest A-frame cabin, Kingfisher, pokes through the firs. But no other cabins are visible, the foliage is so thick now. Good. Each alteration from the place of my memories gives me confidence. I can handle this for a week. One peaceful, private week to box things up and send them away.
“Sure you don’t want me to come help?” Paul had asked when he dropped me at the airport this morning. “We could squeeze in a romantic weekend somewhere. I’ve always wanted to go to San Francisco.”
“You have summer school classes, remember? Anyway, it’ll be totally boring, believe me.”
I’d told him—earnest, sweet Paul, who all the sixth-graders at the elementary school where we work hope they get as their teacher and who wants to marry me—that the trip was no big deal. That I’d be away for a week because my aunt in California passed away. That I barely knew her and just had to help pack up her old place to get it ready for sale.
He believed me.
I didn’t tell him that the “old place” is a stunning, sprawling property perched over the Pacific, studded with cabins and outbuildings and a legendary basement recording studio. That the land bubbles with natural hot springs and creeks and waterfalls.
Or that I’ve inherited it. All of it. The fields, the woods, the house, the studio. And my uncle’s music catalog.
I didn’t tell him that I visited here once as a teenager, or that for a little while, a long time ago, I was sure I’d stay forever.
Excerpted from Lady Sunshine @ 2021 by Amy Mason Doan, used with permission by Graydon House.
Trouble in Big Timber by B.J. Daniels is available on May 25.
He’s back at Cardwell Ranch
to find a killer.
Ford Cardwell is shocked when his college crush calls him out of the blue—even more so when he hears a gunshot. But when he joins forces with medical examiner Henrietta “Hitch” Rogers, she makes him wonder if the random call was a setup—not a murder. Together, they’ll need to discover the truth, but looking into the case will put them in the sights of a killer.
I was surprised by how much this book focuses on the mystery of what happened between Ford’s friends, Rachel and Humphrey. I expected this to be pretty romance heavy but the romance was definitely secondary to the story. This is a quick and twisted tale about a seemingly straight forward self defense murder but as Hitch keeps investigating she finds that things are just not adding up. The whole premise of this book was well executed and had enough twists in it that I was so enthralled that I didn’t want to stop reading. The ending was wonderfully suspenseful and a great way to end such a strong story. The romance did feel a little rushed but since this is a Harlequin romance I’m not holding that against it too much. If you have been interested in maybe trying out a Harlequin romance but romance isn’t typically your thing than this would be a great one for you to pick up. The romance is clean so nothing happens on page and the plot is an intriguing one that I think a lot of people would enjoy.
Ford shifted into Park and, hands shaking, pulled out his still-ringing phone. As he did, he had a stray thought. How rare it used to be to get cell phone coverage here in the Gallatin Canyon, of all places. Only a few years ago the call wouldn’t have gone through.
Without checking to see who was calling, he answered it, his hand shaking as he did. He’d come so close to going over the cliff. Until the call had saved him.
“Hello?” He could hear noises in the background. “Hello?” He let out a bitter chuckle. A robocall had saved him at the last moment? he thought.
But his laughter died as he heard a bloodcurdling scream coming from his phone. “Hello?” he yelled. “Who is this?” The scream was followed by a woman’s desperate pleas.
“No, please, don’t hurt me anymore.” Another scream and the sound of breaking glass.
“Hello?” He was yelling, frantic, having no idea who was on the other end of the call—just that she was in trouble. Had the woman meant to call 9ll? Maybe it was a pocket dial and she hadn’t meant to call anyone—let alone a stranger.
“Tell me where you are!” he yelled into the phone, but his voice was drowned out by another scream, this one filled with pure terror—and pain. He knew both too well.
The sound of something hard hitting soft flesh was followed by a choking sound. Choking on blood? The woman was being attacked. By an intruder? Or someone she knew? He’d never felt more helpless as he listened to more breaking glass and the woman’s screams.
“No! Please, Humphrey, you’re going to kill me! Please. Stay back. Don’t make me…” The gunshot sounded deafening—even on the phone. Then there was no sound at all coming from his cell.
Ford stared down at the phone in his hand, shock shuddering through him. The woman on the other end of the line had called the man Humphrey. His already pounding heart thumped against his ribs, making his chest ache. It couldn’t be. He stared at the name that had come up on his phone. No. He tried to call the number back. It went straight to voice mail. Someone must have found the phone and shut it off. Or declined the call.
His heart was pounding. For a moment, he was too stunned to move, almost to breathe, at what he’d just heard, what he’d been unable to stop. Rachel. The call was from his former college roommate’s wife, Rachel Westlake—now Mrs. Humphrey Collinwood.
He’d only recently added her number to his contact list after she’d sent him a friend request on social media and they’d exchanged cell phone numbers.
His pulse pounded so loud that he couldn’t hear himself think. Fumbling in his fear and panic, he hit 911.
It couldn’t be true. He knew Humphrey. They’d been roommates most of their time in college. His former friend wouldn’t hurt anyone. Humphrey idolized Rachel. But from what he’d heard on the call…
Outside the pickup, the wind howled in the pines. A gust blew dirt over the cliff and into the abyss, reminding him how close he’d come to making that same descent. The only thing that had stopped him was the phone call. Or would he have hit the brakes on his own? He would never know.
The 911 operator came on the line. “What is the nature of your emergency?”
“I think I just heard someone being attacked and possibly killed on what I suspect was a pocket dial.” His voice broke. “Her name is Rachel Westlake. Sorry, it’s Collinwood now.” He listened as the dispatcher asked him a question. “No, I don’t know where she lives exactly. A ranch north of Big Timber. That’s all I know. We only recently reconnected. That’s how she had my number. Please, you have to find her. She might still be…alive.”
People don’t just disappear without a trace… Shelby Tebow is the first to go missing. Not long after, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, vanish just blocks away from where Shelby was last seen, striking fear into their once-peaceful community. Are these incidents connected? After an elusive search that yields more questions than answers, the case eventually goes cold. Now, eleven years later, Delilah shockingly returns. Everyone wants to know what happened to her, but no one is prepared for what they’ll find… In this smart and chilling thriller, master of suspense and New York Times bestselling author Mary Kubica takes domestic secrets to a whole new level, showing that some people will stop at nothing to keep the truth buried.
I had no idea what kind of a ride Kubica was going to take me on but it was a wild one. I was not expecting all the twists and turns that this story took and it is a very clever thriller. As we crept closer to the ending I did figure a few things out but I still had no idea how it all happened. I was not disappointed by the conclusion and in a creepy way I can almost see this being a true story in a very twisted way.
The way this story is told is exceptionally smart because we see things from 11 years prior in both Meredith and her neighbor, Kate’s, perspective and everything in the present is being told to us through Delilah’s brother, Leo. This was the perfect way to tell this story and showcases Kubica’s brilliance as a writer. Meredith is a doula and for that reason I would caution anyone who is pregnant, has a newborn, or is triggered by infant loss or traumatic births to think twice about reading this book. Kubica does a great job of informing the reader of various things related to a woman’s right to consent when it comes to birth and labor which is incredibly important but the level of detail she goes into could be too much for some.
There were a few moments where I felt bogged down by the minutiae of Meredith and Kate’s lives and if I were to nitpick there are definitely things that could have been cut from the story to streamline things. I also didn’t find the characters all that likable which I’m not sure was intentional or not. I did really enjoy how there were a few subtle reveals in the story where Kubica let us know some information but didn’t feel the need to make a big deal about it.
This is a fantastic domestic thriller and another one that is perfect for summer reading. It would be so easy to get lost into this world that Kubica has created. Plus it is very atmospheric with a lot of rain storms and flooding which would be a great distraction from the hot sunny days. I highly recommend this one if you want an enthralling and chilling book about the secrets people will keep and what happens when they are about to be revealed.
About the Author:
Mary Kubica is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of six novels, including THE GOOD GIRL, PRETTY BABY, DON’T YOU CRY, EVERY LAST LIE, WHEN THE LIGHTS GO OUT, and THE OTHER MRS. A former high school history teacher, Mary holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in History and American Literature. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two children. Her last novel THE OTHER MRS. was an instant New York Times bestseller; is coming soon to Netflix; was a LibraryReads pick for February 2020; praised by the New York Times; and highly recommended by Entertainment Weekly, People, The Week,Marie Claire, Bustle, HelloGiggles,Goodreads, PopSugar, BookRiot, HuffingtonPost, First for Women, Woman’s World, and more.Mary’s novels have been translated into over thirty languages and have sold over two million copies worldwide. She’s been described as “a helluva storyteller,” (Kirkus Reviews) and “a writer of vice-like control,” (Chicago Tribune), and her novels have been praised as “hypnotic” (People) and “thrilling and illuminating” (Los Angeles Times). LOCAL WOMAN MISSING is her seventh novel.
The text comes from a number I don’t know. It’s a 630 area code. Local. I’m in the bathroom with Leo as he soaks in the tub. He has his bath toys lined up on the edge of it and they’re taking turns swan diving into the now-lukewarm water. It used to be hot, too hot for Leo to get into. But he’s been in there for thirty minutes now playing with his octopus, his whale, his fish. He’s having a ball.
Meanwhile I’ve lost track of time. I have a client in the early stages of labor. We’re texting. Her husband wants to take her to the hospital. She thinks it’s too soon. Her contractions are six and a half minutes apart. She’s absolutely correct. It’s too soon. The hospital would just send her home, which is frustrating, not to mention a huge inconvenience for women in labor. And anyway, why labor at the hospital when you can labor in the comfort of your own home? First-time fathers always get skittish. It does their wives no good. By the time I get to them, more times than not, the woman in labor is the more calm of the two. I have to focus my attention on pacifying a nervous husband. It’s not what they’re paying me for.
I tell Leo one more minute until I shampoo his hair, and then fire off a quick text, suggesting my client have a snack to keep her energy up, herself nourished. I recommend a nap, if her body will let her. The night ahead will be long for all of us. Childbirth, especially when it comes to first-time moms, is a marathon, not a sprint.
Josh is home. He’s in the kitchen cleaning up from dinner while Delilah plays. Delilah’s due up next in the tub. By the time I leave, the bedtime ritual will be done or nearly done. I feel good about that, hating the times I leave Josh alone with so much to do.
I draw up my text and then hit Send. The reply is immediate, that all too familiar ping that comes to me at all hours of the day or night.
I glance down at the phone in my hand, expecting it’s my client with some conditioned reply. Thx.
Instead: I know what you did. I hope you die.
Beside the text is a picture of a grayish skull with large, black eye sockets and teeth. The symbol of death.
My muscles tense. My heart quickens. I feel thrown off. The small bathroom feels suddenly, overwhelmingly, oppressive. It’s steamy, moist, hot. I drop down to the toilet and have a seat on the lid. My pulse is loud, audible in my own ears. I stare at the words before me, wondering if I’ve misread. Certainly I’ve misread. Leo is asking, “Is it a minute, Mommy?” I hear his little voice, muff led by the ringing in my ears. But I’m so thrown by the cutthroat text that I can’t speak.
I glance at the phone again. I haven’t misread.
The text is not from my client in labor. It’s not from any client of mine whose name and number is stored in my phone. As far as I can tell, it’s not from anyone I know.
A wrong number, then, I think. Someone sent this to me by accident. It has to be. My first thought is to delete it, to pretend this never happened. To make it disappear. Out of sight, out of mind.
But then I think of whoever sent it just sending it again or sending something worse. I can’t imagine anything worse.
I decide to reply. I’m careful to keep it to the point, to not sound too judgy or fault-finding because maybe the intended recipient really did do something awful—stole money from a children’s cancer charity—and the text isn’t as egregious as it looks at first glance.
I text: You have the wrong number.
The response is quick.
I hope you rot in hell, Meredith.
The phone slips from my hand. I yelp. The phone lands on the navy blue bath mat, which absorbs the sound of its fall.
Whoever is sending these texts knows my name. The texts are meant for me.
A second later Josh knocks on the bathroom door. I spring from the toilet seat, and stretch down for the phone. The phone has fallen facedown. I turn it over. The text is still there on the screen, staring back at me.
Josh doesn’t wait to be let in. He opens the door and steps right inside. I slide the phone into the back pocket of my jeans before Josh has a chance to see.
“Hey,” he says, “how about you save some water for the fish.”
Leo complains to Josh that he is cold. “Well, let’s get you out of the bath,” Josh says, stretching down to help him out of the water.
“I need to wash him still,” I admit. Before me, Leo’s teeth chatter. There are goose bumps on his arm that I hadn’t noticed before. He is cold, and I feel suddenly guilty, though it’s mired in confusion and fear. I hadn’t been paying any attention to Leo. There is bathwater spilled all over the floor, but his hair is still bone-dry.
“You haven’t washed him?” Josh asks, and I know what he’s thinking: that in the time it took him to clear the kitchen table, wash pots and pans and wipe down the sinks, I did nothing. He isn’t angry or accusatory about it. Josh isn’t the type to get angry.
“I have a client in labor,” I say by means of explanation. “She keeps texting,” I say, telling Josh that I was just about to wash Leo. I drop to my knees beside the tub. I reach for the shampoo. In the back pocket of my jeans, the phone again pings. This time, I ignore it. I don’t want Josh to know what’s happening, not until I get a handle on it for myself.
Josh asks, “Aren’t you going to get that?” I say that it can wait. I focus on Leo, on scrubbing the shampoo onto his hair, but I’m anxious. I move too fast so that the shampoo suds get in his eye. I see it happening, but all I can think to do is wipe it from his forehead with my own soapy hands. It doesn’t help. It makes it worse.
Leo complains. Leo isn’t much of a complainer. He’s an easygoing kid. “Ow,” is all that he says, his tiny wet hands going to his eyes, though shampoo in the eye burns like hell.
“Does that sting, baby?” I ask, feeling contrite. But I’m bursting with nervous energy. There’s only one thought racing through my mind. I hope you rot in hell, Meredith.
Who would have sent that, and why? Whoever it is knows me. They know my name. They’re mad at me for something I’ve done. Mad enough to wish me dead. I don’t know anyone like that. I can’t think of anything I’ve done to upset someone enough that they’d want me dead.
I grab the wet washcloth draped over the edge of the tub. I try handing it to Leo, so that he can press it to his own eyes. But my hands shake as I do. I wind up dropping the washcloth into the bath. The tepid water rises up and splashes him in the eyes. This time he cries.
“Oh, buddy,” I say, “I’m so sorry, it slipped.”
But as I try again to grab it from the water and hand it to him, I drop the washcloth for a second time. I leave it where it is, letting Leo fish it out of the water and wipe his eyes for himself. Meanwhile Josh stands two feet behind, watching.
My phone pings again. Josh says, “Someone is really dying to talk to you.”
Dying. It’s all that I hear.
My back is to Josh, thank God. He can’t see the look on my face when he says it.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“Your client,” Josh says. I turn to him. He motions to my phone jutting out of my back pocket. “She really needs you. You should take it, Mer,” he says softly, accommodatingly, and only then do I think about my client in labor and feel guilty. What if it is her? What if her contractions are coming more quickly now and she does need me?
Josh says, “I can finish up with Leo while you get ready to go,” and I acquiesce, because I need to get out of here. I need to know if the texts coming to my phone are from my client or if they’re coming from someone else.
I rise up from the floor. I scoot past Josh in the door, brushing against him. His hand closes around my upper arm as I do, and he draws me in for a hug. “Everything okay?” he asks, and I say yes, fine, sounding too chipper even to my own ears. Everything is not okay.
“I’m just thinking about my client,” I say. “She’s had a stillbirth before, at thirty-two weeks. She never thought she’d get this far. Can you imagine that? Losing a baby at thirty-two weeks?”
Josh says no. His eyes move to Leo and he looks saddened by it. I feel guilty for the lie. It’s not this client but another who lost a baby at thirty-two weeks. When she told me about it, I was completely torn up. It took everything in me not to cry as she described for me the moment the doctor told her her baby didn’t have a heartbeat. Labor was later induced, and she had to push her dead baby out with only her mother by her side. Her husband was deployed at the time. After, she was snowed under by guilt. Was it her fault the baby died? A thousand times I held her hand and told her no. I’m not sure she ever believed me.
My lie has the desired effect. Josh stands down, and asks if I need help with anything before I leave. I say no, that I’m just going to change my clothes and go.
I step out of the bathroom. In the bedroom, I close the door. I grab my scrub bottoms and a long-sleeved T-shirt from my drawer. I lay them on the bed, but before I get dressed, I pull my phone out of my pocket. I take a deep breath and hold it in, summoning the courage to look. I wonder what waits there. More nasty threats? My heart hammers inside me. My knees shake.
I take a look. There are two messages waiting for me.
The first: Water broke. Contractions 5 min apart.
And then: Heading to hospital.—M.
I release my pent-up breath. The texts are from my client’s husband, sent from her phone. My legs nearly give in relief, and I drop down to the edge of the bed, forcing myself to breathe. I inhale long and deep. I hold it in until my lungs become uncomfortable. When I breathe out, I try and force away the tension.
But I can’t sit long because my client is advancing quickly. I need to go.
Excerpted from Local Woman Missing @ 2021 by Mary Kyrychenko, used with permission by Park Row Books.
TALK BOOKISH TO ME (On-sale: May 25, 2021; Graydon House; Trade Paperback Original; $15.99) is a laugh-out-loud stunner of a story, perfect for fans of Beach Read and The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, that will delight book nerds everywhere!
Kara Sullivan is definitely not avoiding her deadline. After all, it’s the week of her best friend’s wedding and she’s the maid of honor, so she’s got lots of responsibilities. As a bestselling romance novelist with seven novels under her belt, she’s a pro and looming deadlines and writer’s block (which she definitely doesn’t have) don’t scare her. She’s just eager to support Cristina as she ties the knot with Jason.
But who should show up at Cristina and Jason’s rehearsal dinner but Kara’s college ex-boyfriend, (the gorgeous and infuriating) Ryan? Apparently, he’s one of Jason’s childhood friends, and he’s in the wedding party, too. Considering neither Kara nor Ryan were prepared to see each other again, it’s decidedly a meet-NOT-cute. There is nothing cute about this situation, and a bit of notice to mentally prepare would’ve been nice, Cristina! However, when Kara sits down to write again the next day, her writers’ block is suddenly gone. She has to wonder what’s changed. Are muses real…? And is Kara’s muse…Ryan?
This was an exceptionally fun and surprisingly emotional read from a debut author which makes it that much more impressive. There was an unexpected amount of drama and humor packed into this book and I was not prepared for the journey it took me on. While this story is still light hearted in most aspects there was also quite a lot of moments that had me tearing up. Kara is an easy character to fall in love with and since she is not only an author but a fellow romance lover and bookstagrammer she is someone that we can all easily connect with in some way. Ryan is a complicated hero that is so easy to root and yet even he and his and Kara’s situation is more complex than I was expecting. Which is probably why I love this book so much since it felt so realistic. This book also has the added bonus of giving us snippets of the historical romance that Kara is working on. I wasn’t as wowed with this extra story but I did think it was a fun addition. Overall, this is an incredible romance that perfectly balances humor and emotion and one where I will be thinking about these characters for a long time to come.
KATE BROMLEY lives in New York City with her husband, son, and her somewhat excessive collection of romance novels (It’s not hoarding if it’s books, right?). She was a preschool teacher for seven years and is now focusing full-time on combining her two great passions – writing swoon-worthy love stories and making people laugh. Talk Bookish to Me is her first novel.
I turn my gaze from the floor to the well-dressed man standing beside me. There are only two of us in the elevator, so he must be talking to me.
“I think it’s a matter of personal preference,” I answer. “I’m the maid of honor so I had to be excessive.”
His eyebrows bob up as I adjust my grip on the Great-Dane-sized gift basket I’m carrying. The cellophane wrapping paper crinkles each time I move, echoing through the confined space just loudly enough to keep things weird. Because if everyone isn’t uncomfortable for the entire ride, are you even really in an elevator?
I’m low-key ecstatic when the doors glide open ten seconds later. With my basket now on the cusp of breaking both my arms and my spirit, I beeline it out of there and stride into the rooftop lounge where my best friend is hosting her pre-wedding party, drinking in the scent of heat and champagne as I maneuver through the sea of guests.
Like most maids-of-honor, I flung myself down the Etsy rabbit hole headfirst and ordered an obscene amount of decorations for tonight’s event. Burlap “Mr. & Mrs.” banners dangle from floating shelves behind the bar as twinkle lights weave around the balcony railings like ivy. Lace-trimmed mason jars filled with pink roses sit on every candlelit cocktail table. Cristina and I worked with the tenacity of two matrimonial Spartans to get everything ready this morning, and it’s clear that our blood, sweat and tears were very much worth it.
It’s then that I spot Cristina mingling near the end of the bar. Beautiful, petite and come-hither curvy, I’d hate her if she weren’t one of my favorite people ever. Her caramel hair spills down her back and her white high-low dress sets her apart from the crowd in just the right way—she’s a princess in the forest and we’re her adoring woodland animals. I’m her feisty chipmunk sidekick to my core.
I place my gift on a nearby receiving table and give a little wave when I catch her eye. She’s waiting for me with a huge grin when I arrive at her side.
“Hey, lady!” she says, pulling me in for a hug. “Look at you, rolling in here looking all gorgeous.”
We step apart and I stand up a bit taller. “Why, thank you. I feel pretty good.”
It’s also very possible that Cristina is just so used to me dazzling the world with yoga pants and sweaters every day that my transformation seems more dramatic than it is.
“Were you able to get any writing done this afternoon?” she asks, handing me a glass of champagne from off the mahogany bar top.
I get a twisting knot in my gut at the mention of my writing, or lack thereof. Having been dying a slow literary death for almost a year, I’m never without some stomach-turning sensation for long. The final deadline for my next romance
novel is officially a month away and if I don’t deliver a bestseller by then—
“Okay, you’re making your freak-out face,” Cristina interjects. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”
I inhale a shallow breath and force a smile. “It’s fine. I’m good.”
“Let’s switch gears—are you sure it’s not weird that I’m having a pre-wedding party? Was booking the salsa band too much since I’m having one at the wedding, too?”
Beyond grateful for the booming trumpet and bongos that are drowning out my own thoughts, I turn to the corner and find the ten-piece group playing with addictive abandon. Cristina’s relatives, who are essentially non-trained professional salsa dancers, dominate the dance floor, and rightfully so. Cristina’s brother, Edgar, once tried to teach me the basics but I’m fairly confident I looked like a plank of wood that was given the gift of limbs. Cristina recommended dance lessons. Edgar suggested a bottle of aguardiente and prayer.
“The band is amazing,” I say as I swing back around, “and of course people have pre-wedding parties.” I’ve actually never heard of a pre-wedding party. An engagement party, yes. A bachelorette party, absolutely. But what’s going down tonight is basically a casual reception days before the mega-reception.
“Jason and I just have so many people coming in from out of town, plus we wanted the bridal party to get acquainted. We figured a little get-together would be fun.”
“I’m all for it. Who doesn’t want to pre-game for a wedding a week in advance?”
“I know I do,” Cristina says, lifting her own champagne and taking a sip. “Everyone is here except Jason and some groomsmen. Can you believe that creep is late to his own party?”
“Should you really be calling your fiancé a creep?”
“He’s my creep so it’s okay.”
“Picture please! Will you girls get together?”
I look to my right and find a teenage boy with wildly curly hair pointing a camera at us. He’s dressed in all black and looks so eager to take our photo that I can’t help but to find him endearing.
“Absolutely! Big smile, Kara.” Cristina throws her arm around my waist and after we withstand an intense flash, the young man is gone before my eyes can readjust. “That was Jason’s cousin, Rob. He wants to be a photographer, so I hired him for the night.”
“That was thoughtful of you,” I say, still recovering from my momentary blindness. “By the way, where is Jason?”
“He’s still at home. Two of his groomsmen are driving up and he wanted to wait for them since, apparently, grown men can’t find their way to a party by themselves.”
“Driving in Manhattan is intimidating. He probably didn’t want them to get lost.”
“Right, because neither of them has GPS? Jason should be here.”
I’m honestly shocked that Jason isn’t here. I love Cristina and Jason both to death but they’re one of those couples that rarely go out socially without each other. Even when I invite Cristina over to my apartment for a wine night, she asks to bring Jason. I’ve always thought it was a bit much, but I guess it works for them.
“Okay, forget everyone else, let’s toast.” I clear my throat and hold up my champagne. “When we were both waitressing at McMahon’s Pub in grad school, I had no idea it would lead to nine amazing years of friendship. Now I’d be lost without you. Here’s to you having a magical night. I’m so glad I’m here to celebrate with you.”
We smile and tap our glasses together, the ding of the crystal echoing my words.
I take a sip and the bubbly drink slips easily down my throat. Still savoring the sweetness, I ask, “So, who are these mystery groomsmen Jason’s waiting for?”
“One is named Beau and I can’t remember the other one. They’re two guys he grew up with when his family lived in North Carolina.”
“North Carolina? I thought Jason was from Texas?”
“He spent most of his life in Texas, but he lived in North Carolina until he was ten. He somehow kept in contact with these two through the years.”
“That’s nice, him staying friends with them for so long.”
“Yeah, it’s adorable, but they still should have gotten their asses here on their own.” Cristina is poised to elaborate when her gaze locks on something across the room. She tries and fails to look annoyed instead of excited.
“I’m guessing the groom has arrived,” I say, glancing over my shoulder. My suspicions are confirmed as I see Jason making his way toward us, smiling at Cristina like a fifth grader saying “cheese” on picture day. He’s tilting his head and everything.
“There she is! There’s my incredibly forgiving future wife.” Jason leans down and kisses Cristina before she can verbally obliterate him. He gives me a quick kiss on the cheek next and then shifts back to his fiancée’s side, sneaking an arm around her waist and pulling her to his hip.
“So, I’m going to go ahead and disregard all the semi-violent text messages you’ve sent me over the past hour. Bearing that in mind, how’s everything going?”
Cristina looks up at him, feigning disinterest. “It’s going great. Since you weren’t here, I talked to several nice men. Turns out, pre-wedding parties are a great place to meet guys.”
“I’m so happy for you.”
“I appreciate that. Four contenders, specifically, really piqued my interest.”
“Are they taller than me?” Jason asks. “Do they make a lot of money?”
“Obviously. They’re way taller and all of them are independently wealthy.”
“Nice. Kara, did you meet these freakishly tall and rich men?”
“I did and spoiler alert, I’m engaged now, too! Double wedding here we come!”
Jason smiles and pulls Cristina in even closer, his gaze holding hers. “I guess this is where being late gets you. I’m sorry I wasn’t here. Do you forgive me?”
“Don’t I always?”
He leans down and gives her another picture-perfect kiss.
It’s official. I’m dying alone. Just putting that out there.
“Now, where are these friends of yours? Oh! Let’s set one of them up with Kara!” Cristina looks at me with a dangerous matchmaker gleam in her eyes.
“Actually, I already mentioned Kara, and one of my buddies said he went to college with her.”
Went to college with me?
Jason looks towards the entrance and waves. “Hey, Ryan! Come over here!”
And then I go catatonic. I can’t move. I stand stock still, looking at Cristina like she sprouted a third arm out of her forehead and it’s giving me the middle finger.
Someone walks past me and a soft breeze ghosts across my overheating skin. I stare in a state of utter disbelief as Ryan Thompson steps into view beside Jason.
“It’s been a while, Sullivan,” he says, his voice as steady and tempting as ever.
My champagne glass falls from my fingers and shatters against the floor.
“Kara?” Cristina’s voice rings with concern as she nudges us away from the broken glass that’s now littered around our feet. She grasps my elbow, but I don’t feel it. She could backhand me across the face with a polo mallet and I wouldn’t feel it. My mind is spiraling, plummeting inwards as I come to grips with the realization that Ryan is standing two feet away from me.
Dressed in a navy suit, a crisp white button-down and brown dress shoes, he’s come a long way from the sweatshirts and jeans that were his unofficial uniform in college. His dirty-blond hair is on the shorter side, but a few wayward strands still fall across his forehead. Ten years ago, I would have reached up and brushed them aside without a thought. Now, my hand curls into a tight, unforgiving fist at my side.
If we were another former couple, seeing each other for the first time in a decade might be a dreamy, serendipitous meet-cute—a Nancy Meyers movie in pre-production. We’d have a few drinks and spend hours reminiscing about old times before picking up right where we left off. It would be comfortable and familiar as anything, like a sip of hot chocolate at Christmas with Nat King Cole crooning on vinyl in the background.
But we are not that kind of former couple, and I’m convinced that if Nat King Cole were here and knew my side of the story, he would grab Ryan by the scruff of his shirt and hold him steady as I roundhouse-kicked him in the throat.
It’s a tough pill to swallow but Ryan looks good. Like, really good. His face is harder than it was when he was twenty-one and the stubble on his chin tells me he hasn’t shaved in a few days, making him seem like he just rolled out of bed. And not rolled out of bed in a dirty way, but in a “I just rolled out of bed and yet I still look ruggedly handsome and you fully want to make out with me” kind of way.
“Ryan,” Cristina says, always the first to jump in, “Jason mentioned that you and Kara went to college together.”
“We did.” His eyes don’t move from mine for even a second. “It’s got to be what, ten years now?”
“Yeah, it’s been a long, long time,” I say quickly, turning to face Cristina. “I think I may have mentioned him before. Remember my friend from North Carolina?”
If someone were to look up “my friend from North Carolina” in the Dictionary of Kara, they would find the following:
My friend from North Carolina (noun): 1. Ryan Thompson. 2. My college boyfriend. 3. My first real boyfriend ever. 4. My first love. 5. Taker of my virginity. 6. Guy who massacred my heart with a rusty sledgehammer and fed the remains to rabid, ravenous dogs.
Cristina is well versed in the dictionary of Kara and recognition washes over her. “No way,” she says, her voice dropping.
“Yes way,” I answer happily, overcompensating.
Now’s it’s Cristina’s turn to panic. “Wow. Okay, wow, what a small world, huh?” She grabs Jason’s hand in an iron grip, making him wince as she blasts an over-the-top smile. “Well, we should give you guys a chance to catch up. My abuelita just got here so Jason and I are going to say hello.”
“Your abuelita died two years ago,” I hiss.
“I know, it’s a miracle. See you two later!” She drags her soon-to-be husband away before he can get a word out.
I watch them go, sailing away like the last lifeboat as I stand on deck with the string quartet, the cheerful Bach melody only further confirming that this ship is going down.
Hard Sell by Hudson Lin is available in eBook, trade paperback and audiobook formats on May 25th!
One night wasn’t enough.
Danny Ip walks into every boardroom with a plan. His plan for struggling tech company WesTec is to acquire it, shut it down, and squeeze the last remaining revenue out of it for his Jade Harbour Capital portfolio. But he didn’t expect his best friend’s younger brother—the hottest one-night stand he ever had—to be there.
Tobin Lok has always thought the world of Danny. He’s funny, warm, attractive—and totally out of Tobin’s league. Now, pitted against Danny at work, Tobin might finally get a chance to prove he’s more than just Wei’s little brother.
It takes a lot to get under Danny’s skin, but Tobin is all grown up in a way Danny can’t ignore. Now, with a promising patent on the line and the stakes higher than ever, all he can think about is getting Tobin back into his bed—and into his life for good.
If only explaining their relationship to Wei could be so easy…
Carina Adores is home to highly romantic contemporary love stories featuring beloved romance tropes, where LGBTQ+ characters find their happily-ever-afters.
A new Carina Adores title is available each month in trade paperback, ebook and audiobook formats.
The Hideaway Inn by Philip William Stover (available now!)
The Girl Next Door by Chelsea M. Cameron (available now!)
Just Like That by Cole McCade (available now!)
Hairpin Curves by Elia Winters (available now!)
The Love Study by Kris Ripper (available now!)
The Secret Ingredient by KD Fisher (available now!)
Just Like This by Cole McCade (available now!)
Teddy Spenser Isn’t Looking for Love by Kim Fielding (available now!)
Best Laid Plans by Roan Parrish (available now!)
The Hate Project by Kris Ripper (available now!)
For the Love of April French by Penny Aimes (coming August 31)
Sailor Proof by Annabeth Albert (coming September 28)
Meet Me in Madrid by Verity Lowell (coming October 26)
The Life Revamp by Kris Ripper (coming November 30)
Hard Sell is an emotional, spicy, heartwarming, fun romance that is exceptionally written. I fell hard for our main characters, Danny and Tobin, and as much as I loved their romance, I also loved the personal journey they both go through. Lin seamlessly weaves all the intricacies of this story together in such a balanced way that every time I put this book down I couldn’t wait to pick it back up again. Danny and Tobin are both at different places in their lives due to their age difference which makes this story feel incredibly realistic. Their personal issues brought a lot of conflict but also understanding between the two of them and I enjoyed seeing it all play out. Also, the food mentioned in this book had my mouth watering and had me wishing I was eating at the same places as Tobin and Danny. The side characters all felt fleshed out enough to add to the credibility of the story and I am eagerly waiting for the second book in this series.
About the Author
Hudson Lin was raised by conservative immigrant parents and grew up straddling two cultures with often times conflicting perspectives on life. Instead of conforming to either, she has sought to find a third way that brings together the positive elements of both.
Having spent much of her life on the outside looking in, Lin likes to write stories about outsiders who fight to carve out their place in society, and overcome everyday challenges to find love and happily ever afters. Her books are diverse romances featuring queer and disabled people of color.
Danny adjusted the watch on his wrist as he headed out. If only he didn’t need a win so god damn badly. He would love to march back into the meeting room and rip up the offer right in front of Cyrus West’s face. What smarmy remark would Cyrus have then?
Unfortunately, Danny did need a win and, even more unfortunately, WesTec was his best shot. Maybe his last shot. Jade Harbour’s financial backers were starting to notice that his once stellar track record wasn’t looking so stellar lately. His ass was on the line, which left Danny with very few options.
Outside, he stopped, still vibrating with adrenaline from the confrontation.
“That was pretty badass.” Tobin looked back through the doors they’d exited, as if Cyrus was going to come bursting through them at any minute.
Perhaps it was, but Danny saw no reason to take pride in it. His job was to close deals and sometimes the sellers needed a little encouragement.
Tobin turned to him, and suddenly WesTec and Cyrus West didn’t matter anymore.
Was he dreaming? Was Tobin really standing in front of him? Chubby cheeks had given way to sculpted cheekbones. A bit of acne scarring on his skin made Tobin look even more adult. He held himself with such self-assurance; like he’d grown into too-big clothes that now fit him just right. He was striking. He would turn heads when walking down the street. Danny’s body certainly made its interest known.
Danny took a step backward, needing the extra foot of distance between them. Seven years ago, he had succumbed to Tobin’s appeal. There may be years and geography between them, but one thing hadn’t changed. Tobin was undoubtedly special.
Did he remember that night as vividly as Danny did?
A shy smile tugged at Tobin’s lips, as if he’d read Danny’s mind, and Danny couldn’t help but return it. It didn’t matter what Tobin did or did not remember. They were…childhood friends, practically family, connected in a way Danny didn’t have words for. It’d been too long since they were in touch. No matter their reasons for drifting apart.
“Are you free for dinner tonight?”
Tobin’s smile exploded at Danny’s invitation. “Yes! Yeah,
definitely, totally. Uh…” He patted his pockets. “Shit. I think I left my phone upstairs.”
Danny reached into the inner pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a business card. Always be prepared. “Here. Give me a call when you’re done, and I’ll send a car around.”
Tobin took the card and ran a thumb over the embossed letters, as if committing them to memory. He clutched the card in his hand. “Oh, I, uh… I can meet you wherever.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ll send a car for you.”
Tobin looked a little taken aback, almost as if he was going to put up a fuss. But then he chuckled and nodded. “Okay, sure. I guess I’ll give you a call when I’m done.” He held up the card in a wave as he walked backward toward the doors. “See you later.”
Danny nodded and watched Tobin go. At the building’s main entrance, Tobin stopped and glanced back at Danny as if checking to make sure he was real.
A gripping page turner about two young mothers, one grisly murder, and the lengths both women will go in the name of their children.
When young decorated combat veteran Travis Hollis is found stabbed through the heart at a U.S. Army base in Germany, there is no doubt that his wife, Luz, is to blame. But was it an act of self defense? A frenzied attempt to save her infant daughter from domestic abuse? Or the cold blood murder of an innocent man?
As the case heads to trial in Los Angeles, hard-charging attorney Abby Rosenberg is eager to return from maternity leave—and her quickly fracturing home life—to take the case and defend Luz. Abby, a new mother herself, is committed to ensuring Luz avoids prison and retains custody of her daughter. But as the evidence stacks up against Luz, Abby realizes the task proves far more difficult than she suspected – especially when she has to battle for control over the case with her co-counsel, whose dark absorption with Luz only complicates matters further.
As the trial careens toward an outcome no one expects, readers will find themselves in the seat of the jurors, forced to answer the question – what does it mean to be a good mother? A good lawyer? And who is the real monster?
This book has an interesting premise but unfortunately it was a little too heavy handed with the “bad mother” message/trope and it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. This book could have been a lot stronger if it had focused more on the courtroom and less on the personal lives of the characters. The characters in this book have very outdated ways of looking at women (mothers in particular) and make very questionable choices and infuriatingly, there was no real consequences for them. However, I really enjoyed the courtroom scenes and Bazelon did an incredible job of making the trial come to life. I loved the back and forth nature of the lawyers and how the witnesses helped to form our opinion of what really happened between Luz and her husband. If you are a fan of legal mysteries then this might be one that you will be interested in if you can get past all the other stuff happening outside the courtroom.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lara Bazelon is an attorney, journalist, MacDowell Fellow, former public defender, and professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, where she holds the Phillip and Muriel C. Barnett Chair in Trial Advocacy. She is also the author of Rectify: The Power of Restorative Justice After Wrongful Conviction, as well as the upcoming nonfiction book, Ambitious Like a Mother: Women, Ambition, and Motherhood, and her writing has been published widely in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, The Washington Post, and many others.
The Ashwood women don’t have much in common…except their ability to keep secrets.
When Lark Ashwood’s beloved grandmother dies, she and her sisters discover an unfinished quilt. Finishing it could be the reason Lark’s been looking for to stop running from the past, but is she ever going to be brave enough to share her biggest secret with the people she ought to be closest to?
Hannah can’t believe she’s back in Bear Creek, the tiny town she sacrificed everything to escape from. The plan? Help her sisters renovate her grandmother’s house and leave as fast as humanly possible. Until she comes face-to-face with a man from her past. But getting close to him again might mean confessing what really drove her away…
Stay-at-home mom Avery has built a perfect life, but at a cost. She’ll need all her family around her, and all her strength, to decide if the price of perfection is one she can afford to keep paying.
This summer, the Ashwood women must lean on each other like never before, if they are to stitch their family back together, one truth at a time…
I got 36% of the way through this book before I DNF’d it. I knew from the synopsis that this book deals with the death of the characters’ Grandma but I did’t realize just how big of a part it was going to play and while it is getting easier for me to read books that deal with death it was bringing up a lot of emotions in me so I decided to just put this book down. Losing my Grandma four years ago was devastating to me and my Grandma was also a crafter so this book hit a little too close to home. I do have a couple of thoughts from what I read even though this won’t be a full review. This book is very heavy into the characters heads so their thoughts overtake the story and the plot felt a little rushed. I appreciate knowing what the characters are thinking and feeling but not when it starts to get repetitive. This is an adult contemporary (what some people refer to as women’s fiction but I think that’s offensive since anything could qualify as women’s fiction) so it is for a very specific audience and I wouldn’t recommend this one if you don’t enjoy them. I obviously don’t know if the crafting aspect ends up playing a bigger part in the story but this is truly a story about three sisters, their respective romances, and their mom bonding for maybe the first time ever.
Author Bio:New York Times Bestselling author Maisey Yates lives in rural Oregon with her three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit.
The dress is perfect. Candlelight satin and antique lace. I can’t wait for you to see it. I can’t wait to walk down the aisle toward you. If only we could set a date. If only we had some idea of when the war will be over.
The word whispered through the room like a ghost. Over the faded, floral wallpaper, down to the scarred wooden floor. And to the precariously stacked boxes and bins of fabrics, yarn skeins, canvases and other artistic miscellany.
Lark Ashwood had to wonder if her grandmother had left them this way on purpose. Unfinished business here on earth, in the form of quilts, sweaters and paintings, to keep her spirit hanging around after she was gone.
It would be like her. Adeline Dowell did everything with just a little extra.
From her glossy red hair—which stayed that color till the day she died—to her matching cherry glasses and lipstick. She always had an armful of bangles, a beer in her hand and an ashtray full of cigarettes. She never smelled like smoke. She smelled like spearmint gum, Aqua Net and Avon perfume.
She had taught Lark that it was okay to be a little bit of extra.
A smile curved Lark’s lips as she looked around the attic space again. “Oh, Gram…this is really a mess.”
She had the sense that was intentional too. In death, as in life, her grandmother wouldn’t simply fade away.
Neat attics, well-ordered affairs and pre-death estate sales designed to decrease the clutter a family would have to go through later were for other women. Quieter women who didn’t want to be a bother.
Adeline Dowell lived to be a bother. To expand to fill a space, not shrinking down to accommodate anyone.
Lark might not consistently achieve the level of excess Gram had, but she considered it a goal.
“Lark? Are you up there?”
She heard her mom’s voice carrying up the staircase. “Yes!” She shouted back down. “I’m…trying to make sense of this.”
She heard footsteps behind her and saw her mom standing there, gray hair neat, arms folded in. “You don’t have to. We can get someone to come in and sort it out.”
“And what? Take it all to a thrift store?” Lark asked.
Her mom’s expression shifted slightly, just enough to convey about six emotions with no wasted effort. Emotional economy was Mary Ashwood’s forte. As contained and practical as Addie had been excessive. “Honey, I think most of this would be bound for the dump.”
“Mom, this is great stuff.”
“I don’t have room in my house for sentiment.”
“It’s not about sentiment. It’s usable stuff.”
“I’m not artsy, you know that. I don’t really…get all this.” The unspoken words in the air settled over Lark like a cloud.
Mary wasn’t artsy because her mother hadn’t been around to teach her to sew. To knit. To paint. To quilt.
Addie had taught her granddaughters. Not her own daughter.
She’d breezed on back into town in a candy apple Corvette when Lark’s oldest sister, Avery, was born, after spending Mary’s entire childhood off on some adventure or another, while Lark’s grandfather had done the raising of the kids.
Grandkids had settled her. And Mary had never withheld her children from Adeline. Whatever Mary thought about her mom was difficult to say. But then, Lark could never really read her mom’s emotions. When she’d been a kid, she hadn’t noticed that. Lark had gone around feeling whatever she did and assuming everyone was tracking right along with her because she’d been an innately self focused kid. Or maybe that was just kids.
Either way, back then badgering her mom into tea parties and talking her ear off without noticing Mary didn’t do much of her own talking had been easy.
It was only when she’d had big things to share with her mom that she’d realized…she couldn’t.
“It’s easy, Mom,” Lark said. “I’ll teach you. No one is asking you to make a living with art, art can be about enjoying the process.”
“I don’t enjoy doing things I’m bad at.”
“Well I don’t want Gram’s stuff going to a thrift store, okay?”
Another shift in Mary’s expression. A single crease on one side of her mouth conveying irritation, reluctance and exhaustion. But when she spoke she was measured. “If that’s what you want. This is as much yours as mine.”
It was a four-way split. The Dowell House and all its contents, and The Miner’s House, formerly her grandmother’s candy shop, to Mary Ashwood, and her three daughters. They’d discovered that at the will reading two months earlier.
It hadn’t caused any issues in the family. They just weren’t like that.
Lark’s uncle Bill had just shaken his head. “She feels guilty.”
And that had been the end of any discussion, before any had really started. They were all like their father that way. Quiet. Reserved. Opinionated and expert at conveying it without saying much.
Big loud shouting matches didn’t have a place in the Dowell family.
But Addie had been there for her boys. They were quite a bit older than Lark’s mother. She’d left when the oldest had been eighteen. The youngest boy sixteen.
Mary had been four.
Lark knew her mom felt more at home in the middle of a group of men than she did with women. She’d been raised in a house of men. With burned dinners and repressed emotions.
Lark had always felt like her mother had never really known what to make of the overwhelmingly female household she’d ended up with.
“It’s what I want. When is Hannah getting in tonight?”
Hannah, the middle child, had moved to Boston right after college, getting a position in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She had the summer off of concerts and had decided to come to Bear Creek to finalize the plans for their inherited properties before going back home.
Once Hannah had found out when she could get time away from the symphony, Lark had set her own plans for moving into motion. She wanted to be here the whole time Hannah was here, since for Hannah, this wouldn’t be permanent.
But Lark wasn’t going back home. If her family agreed to her plan, she was staying here.
Which was not something she’d ever imagined she’d do.
Lark had gone to college across the country, in New York, at eighteen and had spent years living everywhere but here. Finding new versions of herself in new towns, new cities, whenever the urge took her.
“Sometime around five-ish? She said she’d get a car out here from the airport. I reminded her that isn’t the easiest thing to do in this part of the world. She said something about it being in apps now. I didn’t laugh at her.”
Lark laughed, though. “She can rent a car.”
Lark hadn’t lived in Bear Creek since she was eighteen, but she hadn’t been under the impression there was a surplus of ride services around the small, rural community. If you were flying to get to Bear Creek, you had to fly into Medford, which was about eighteen miles from the smaller town. Even if you could find a car, she doubted the driver would want to haul anyone out of town.
But her sister wouldn’t be told anything. Hannah made her own way, something Lark could relate to. But while she imagined herself drifting along like a tumbleweed, she imagined Hannah slicing through the water like a shark. With intent, purpose, and no small amount of sharpness.
“Maybe I should arrange something.”
“Mom. She’s a professional symphony musician who’s been living on her own for fourteen years. I’m pretty sure she can cope.”
“Isn’t the point of coming home not having to cope for a while? Shouldn’t your mom handle things?” Mary was a doer. She had never been the one to sit and chat. She’d loved for Lark to come out to the garden with her and work alongside her in the flower beds, or bake together. “You’re not in New Mexico anymore. I can make you cookies without worrying they’ll get eaten by rats in the mail.”
Lark snorted. “I don’t think there are rats in the mail.”
“It doesn’t have to be real for me to worry about it.”
And there was something Lark had inherited directly from her mother. “That’s true.”
That and her love of chocolate chip cookies, which her mom made the very best. She could remember long afternoons at home with her mom when she’d been little, and her sisters had been in school. They’d made cookies and had iced tea, just the two of them.
Cooking had been a self-taught skill her mother had always been proud of. Her recipes were hers. And after growing up eating “chicken with blood” and beanie weenies cooked by her dad, she’d been pretty determined her kids would eat better than that.
Something Lark had been grateful for.
And Mom hadn’t minded if she’d turned the music up loud and danced in some “dress up clothes”—an oversized prom dress from the ’80s and a pair of high heels that were far too big, purchased from a thrift store. Which Hannah and Avery both declared “annoying” when they were home.
Her mom hadn’t understood her, Lark knew that. But Lark had felt close to her back then in spite of it.
The sound of the door opening and closing came from downstairs. “Homework is done, dinner is in the Crock-Pot. I think even David can manage that.”
The sound of her oldest sister Avery’s voice was clear, even from a distance. Lark owed that to Avery’s years of motherhood, coupled with the fact that she—by choice—fulfilled the role of parent liaison at her kids’ exclusive private school, and often wrangled children in large groups. Again, by choice.
Lark looked around the room one last time and walked over to the stack of crafts. There was an old journal on top of several boxes that look like they might be overflowing with fabric, along with some old Christmas tree ornaments, and a sewing kit. She grabbed hold of them all before walking to the stairs, turning the ornaments over and letting the silver stars catch the light that filtered in through the stained glass window.
Her mother was already ahead of her, halfway down the stairs by the time Lark got to the top of them. She hadn’t seen Avery yet since she’d arrived. She loved her older sister. She loved her niece and nephew. She liked her brother-in-law, who did his best not to be dismissive of the fact that she made a living drawing pictures. Okay, he kind of annoyed her. But still, he was fine. Just… A doctor. A surgeon, in fact, and bearing all of the arrogance that stereotypically implied.
One of the saddest things about living away for as long as she had was that she’d missed her niece’s and nephew’s childhoods. She saw them at least once a year, but it never felt like enough. And now they were teenagers, and a lot less cute.
And then there was Avery, who had always been somewhat untouchable. Four years older than Lark, Avery was a classic oldest child. A people pleasing perfectionist. She was organized and she was always neat and orderly. And even though the gap between thirty-four and thirty-eight was a lot narrower than twelve and sixteen, sometimes Lark still felt like the gawky adolescent to Avery’s sweet sixteen.
New York Times bestselling author Allison Brennan’s newest thriller again features an edgy young female LAPD detective and an ambitious special agent, both part of a mobile FBI unit that is brought in to investigate the unsolved murder of a college activist and its alleged ties to high stakes crime in the desert Southwest.
Something mysterious is killing the wildlife in the desert hills just south of Tucson, Arizona. When Emma Perez, a college-intern-turned activist, sets out to collect her own evidence, she too ends up dead. Local law enforcement seems slow to get involved. That’s when the mobile FBI unit goes undercover to infiltrate the town and the copper refinery located there in search of possible leads. Costa and Quinn find themselves scouring the desolate landscape that keeps on giving up clues to something much darker—greed, child trafficking, other killings. As the body count continues to add up, it’s clear they have stumbled on more than they bargained for. Now they must figure out who is at the heart of this mayhem and stop them before more innocent lives are lost.
Brennan’s latest novel brims with complex characters and an ever-twisting plotline, a compelling thriller that delivers.
About the author:
ALLISON BRENNAN is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of over thirty novels. She has been nominated for Best Paperback Original Thriller by International Thriller Writers and the Daphne du Maurier Award. A former consultant in the California State Legislature, Allison lives in Arizona with her husband, five kids and assorted pets.
Billy Nixon had been waiting his whole life to have sex with Emma Perez. Okay, not all his life. Two and a half years. It just felt that way since he’d fallen in love with her the day they met in Microeconomics, on his first day of classes at the University of Arizona. Love at first sight is a cliché, and until that moment in time Billy didn’t believe in any of that bullshit. His parents were divorced, his older sister had been in and out of bad relationships since she was fifteen, and his friends slept around as if the apocalypse was upon them.
But in the back of his mind, he remembered the story about how his grandparents met the day before his grandfather shipped off to the Korean War, how they wrote letters every week, and how three years later his grandfather came home and they married. They were married for fifty-six years before his grandfather died; his grandmother died three months later.
That’s what Billy wanted. Without having to go to war.
It took Emma two years before the same feeling clicked inside her. They’d been friends. They both dated other people (well, Billy pretended to date because he couldn’t in good conscience lead another girl on when he knew that he didn’t care about her like he cared about Emma). But it was three months ago, when Emma lost her ride home to Denver for the Christmas holidays and he found her crying in her dorm room, that he said, “I’ll drive you there,” even though he was a Tucson native and lived with his dad to save money.
From then on, she looked at him differently. Like her eyes had been opened and she saw in him what he saw in her. From that point on, they were inseparable.
The morning after they first made love, Billy knew there was no other girl, no other woman, with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life. Call him a romantic, but Emma was it. He had started saving money for a ring. They were finishing up their third year of college, so had a year left, but that was okay. He did well in school and had a part-time job. He already had a job lined up for the summer in Phoenix that paid well, and he could live there cheaply with his sister—though the thought of spending two months with his emotional, self-absorbed sibling was a big negative. And the idea of leaving Emma for two months made him miserable. But if he did this, he’d have enough money, not only for a ring, but to get an apartment when they graduated. And—maybe—his job this summer would be a permanent thing when he was done with college next spring, which meant he’d have stability. Something he desperately wanted to provide for Emma.
Emma rolled over in bed and sighed. He loved when his dad was out of town and he had the house to himself, since they had no privacy in Emma’s dorm. Billy kissed the top of her head. He thought she was still sleeping, or in that dreamy state right before you wake up. It wasn’t even dawn, but how could he go back to sleep with Emma Perez naked in his bed?
“Billy?” she said.
“Can I ask you a favor?”
“Anything.” “I need to go to Mount Wrightson today. The Patagonia side of the mountain.”
An odd request, but Emma spent a lot of time these days in the Santa Rita Mountains and surrounding areas. She was a business and environmental sciences double major who worked part-time at the Arizona Resources and Environmental Agency—AREA, as they called it—the state environmental protection agency.
“For work, school or fun?” he said.
“Last week my Geology class went out to Mount Wrightson and we hiked partway down the Arizona Trail. I noticed several dead birds off the trail. My professor didn’t think it was anything, but it bothered me. So I talked to my boss, Frank, at work, and he said if my professor didn’t think it was unusual, then it wasn’t. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so went back a couple days ago on my own. One of the closed trails has been used recently. And I found more dead birds, more than a dozen.”
“Which means what?”
“I don’t know yet, but birds are especially vulnerable to contaminated water because of their small size and metabolism. Remember when I told you my boss got an anonymous letter two years ago? Signed A Concerned Citizen and postmarked from Patagonia? The letter writer claimed that several local people were being made sick and that the water supply was tainted. Frank tested the water supply himself after that, but he didn’t find anything abnormal. So he dismissed it. But no one has been able to explain why those people were sick.”
“And remember—there was no evidence that anyone was sick,” Billy said. “The letter was anonymous. It could have just been a disgruntled prankster. Didn’t Frank talk to the health center about the complaint? Didn’t he investigate the local copper refinery?”
“Yes,” she said and sighed in a way that made him feel like he was missing something. “Maybe two years ago it wasn’t real,” she said in a way that made Billy think she really didn’t believe that. “But now my gut tells me something’s going on, and I want to know what.”
“You told your boss about the dead birds. You said he was a good guy, right?”
“Yeah, but I think he still thinks I’m a tree hugger.”
“You certainly gave that impression when you first started there and questioned their entire record-keeping process and the way Frank had conducted that original investigation.”
“I’ve apologized a hundred times. I realize now how much goes into keeping accurate records, and that AREA uses one of the best systems in the country. I’ve learned so much from Frank. I really believe I can make a difference now, and be smart about it too. All I want is to give him facts, Billy. And the only way I can do that is if I go back up there.”
Billy didn’t have the same passion for the environment that Emma had, but he loved her commitment to nature and how she continued to learn and adapt to new and changing technologies and ideas.
“Whatever you want to do, I’m with you,” he said. He’d follow her through the Amazon jungle if she asked him to.
“It’s going to be a beautiful day,” she said, as if he needed encouragement to do anything for her. “I just want to check out the trails near where I found the second flock of birds. We can have a picnic, make a day out of it.”
“Good call, bribing me with food.”
She smiled. “I can bribe you with something else too.” Then she kissed him.
* * *
An hour later the sun was up and they stopped for breakfast in the tiny town of Sonoita, southeast of Tucson where Highways 82 and 83 intersected. Emma had been quiet the entire drive, taking notes while analyzing a topo map.
As they ate, Emma showed him the map and her notes. “The dead birds I found last week with the class were Mexican jays. The ones I found after that on my own were trogons. I’ve been studying both of their migration patterns. The jays have a wider range. The trogons are much more localized. It seems unlikely that they just dropped dead out of the sky for no reason. I’m thinking, logically, they might have been poisoned. I don’t see any large body of water near where I found them, but there’s a pond here that forms during the rainy season.” She pointed.
While Billy couldn’t read a topo map to save his life, he trusted her thinking.
“That pond, or this stream—” she pointed again “—are right under one of their migration routes. I’ve also highlighted some other seasonal streams, here and here.”
“That seems like a huge area. North and south of Eighty-Two? How can we cover all of that in one day? Where are the roads?”
“We can hike.”
He frowned. Hike, sure. But this looked like a three-day deal.
“Emma, maybe you should talk to your boss again, show him the map and tell him what you suspect.”
“But I haven’t found anything yet—just on the map!”
Tears sprouted to her eyes, and Billy panicked. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. “Okay, what are we doing, then?”
“If you don’t want to help me, Billy, just say so.”
“I do, Emma. I just need to know the full plan, and I don’t understand your notes. I don’t even know where exactly I’m going.”
“This is the town of Patagonia, see?” She trailed her finger along one of the paths that went from Patagonia up the mountain. “And this is Mount Wrightson, to the north.”
Billy had hiked to the peak of Mount Wrightson once. He wasn’t into nature and hiking like Emma, but he liked being outdoors, so he took a conservation class that doubled as a science requirement. His idea of being outdoors was playing baseball or volleyball or riding his bike.
“We need to hike halfway up Wrightson. I found a service road that I think we can use to get most of the way to the trailhead. Okay?”
“If you’re sure about this,” he said.
She frowned and looked back down at her map. He hated that he’d made her sad.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It’s fine.”
“You don’t want to go.”
“I do. I just don’t want us to get lost.”
She smiled sweetly at him. “Stick with me and you won’t.”
That was the smile he needed. He took her hand, interlocked their fingers. “I trust you.”
“Good.” She gave him a quick kiss, and they left the café and got back on the road.
Several hours later, Billy wasn’t as accommodating. They’d parked at the end of a dirt road near the trailhead halfway up the southeastern side of the mountain and been hiking through rough terrain ever since. The landscape was dotted with some trees and pines, but not as dense or pretty or green as on the top of the mountain. The land wasn’t dry—the wet winter and snow runoff had ensured that—so the area was hard to navigate, and the paths they were on weren’t maintained. Billy doubted they were trails at all.
The hiking had been fine up until lunch. At noon, they ate their picnic, which was a nice break, because then they had sex and relaxed in the middle of nature. It wasn’t quiet—they heard birds and a light breeze and the rustling of critters. A family of jackrabbits crossed only feet from them as they lay on the blanket Billy had brought. Afterward, Billy suggested they head back to the truck. He was tired, and they had already walked miles, which meant as many miles back to the truck.
But Emma didn’t want to leave. He was pretty sure she didn’t know exactly what she was looking for, but that she had this idea that if she walked long and far enough, she’d find evidence to support her theory that something nefarious had been happening out here to kill all those birds.
So Billy kept his mouth shut and followed her.
By four that afternoon, Billy was pretty sure Emma had gotten them lost. They had seemed to zigzag across the southern face of Mount Wrightson. He was tired, and even the birds had gone quiet, as if they were getting ready to settle in and nest for the night, even though sunset was still a few hours away.
He stopped next to a tree that was taller than most and that provided much-needed shade. It was only seventy-six degrees, but the sky was clear and the sun had been beating down on them all afternoon. He was glad he’d thought to bring sunscreen, otherwise they’d both be fried by now.
He dropped the large backpack he’d been carrying that contained their picnic stuff, blanket, water, first aid kit and emergency supplies. He knew enough about the desert not to go hiking without food and water to last at least twenty-four hours. Like if his truck didn’t start when they got back, they needed to be okay. So he had extra water—but he didn’t tell Emma that. It was for emergencies only.
“We’re down to our last water bottles,” he said. He’d paced himself so he had two left, whereas Emma had gone through all six of hers.
He handed her one of the two. “Drink.”
She sipped, handed it back to him. “Thirty more minutes, honey. See this?” She pointed to the damn map that he wanted to tear into pieces now, except without it he was positive they would be lost here forever. “That’s the large seasonal pond I was talking about. It’ll dry up before summer, according to the topo charts.”
How she could stay so cheerful when he was hot and tired and, frankly, bored, he didn’t know.
“Down this path, not more than two hundred yards. Three hundred, maybe.”
He looked at her. Implored her to let them start heading back.
“Why don’t you stay here and wait,” she said.
“You don’t mind?”
She smiled, walked over and kissed him. “Promise.”
Twenty minutes later she was back where Billy waited. She looked so sad and defeated. “I’m ready to go,” she said.
“We’ll come back next weekend, okay? We’ll bring a tent and food and camp overnight.”
She looked surprised at his suggestion, a smile on her face. “You mean that?”
She threw her arms around him. “I love you, Billy Nixon.”
His heart nearly stopped. “I love you, too,” he said and held her. He wanted to freeze this moment, relive it every day of his life.
“We’re actually closer to your truck than you think—we made a circle. First we went north, then west, then south, now we’re going east again. When we get back to the main trail at the fork back there, we go left rather than right, and the truck is about half a mile up.”
He was impressed; he had underestimated her. Maybe they weren’t as lost as he thought; maybe he was the only one with a shitty sense of direction. But that was okay, because Emma loved him, and they were going to be together forever. He knew it in his heart and his head, and she’d always be there to navigate.
They drove down the mountain, the road rough at first, then it smoothed out as they got near town. They headed west on 82, deciding to drive the scenic route back to Tucson. Emma marked her map to highlight where they’d already walked, when suddenly she looked up. “Hey, can you get off here?”
“Have to pee again?”
“Ha ha. No. There’s several old roads that go south. Sonoita Creek, when it floods, cuts fast-flowing streams into the valley. We had a couple late storms this winter. I just want to check the area quickly—we’ll come back next weekend. But if I see anything that tells me the streams were running a few weeks ago, I want to come back here first. Okay? Please?”
Billy was tired, but Emma loved him, so he happily turned off the highway and followed her directions. They drove about a mile along a very rough unpaved road until they reached a narrow path. His truck couldn’t go down there—there were small cacti sprouting up all over the place, and the chances of him getting a flat increased exponentially.
Emma got out, and Billy reluctantly followed. She was excited. “See that grove of trees down there?”
He did. It looked more like overgrown brush, but it was greener than anything else around them.
“I’ll bet there’s still water. This is on the outer circle of where the birds could have flown from. I just want to check.”
“The path looks kinda steep and rocky. You sure about this?”
She kissed him. “I’m sure. Stay here, okay? I won’t be long.”
“Ten minutes.” “Fifteen.” She kissed him again, put her backpack on and headed down the path.
He sat in the back of his truck and watched Emma navigate the downward slope. He doubted this “path” had been used anytime in the last few years. From his vantage point, he saw several darker areas, plants dense and green, and suspected that Emma was right—this valley would get water after big storms.
Emma was beautiful and smart. What wasn’t to love?
He watched until she disappeared from view into the brush.
He frowned. He should have gone with her. Was he just sulking because he was tired and hungry?
Predators were out here—coyotes, bobcats, javelinas. Javelinas could be downright mean even if you did nothing to provoke them. Not to mention that these mountains bordered the corridor for trafficking illegal immigrants. Billy had taken a criminal justice class his freshman year and they touched upon that topic. He didn’t want to encounter a two-legged predator any more than one on four legs.
What kind of man was he if he couldn’t suck it up and help the woman he loved?
So he grabbed his backpack and headed down the path Emma had taken. He was in pretty good shape, but this hike had wasted him. Emma must have been fitter than he was, because she’d barely slowed down all day. After this, they’d go to his place, shower—maybe he could convince Emma to take a shower with him—and then he’d take her out to dinner. After all, they had something to celebrate: the first time they said “I love you.” They’d go to El Charro, maybe. It was Billy’s favorite Mexican food in Tucson, not too expensive, great food. Take an Uber so they could have a couple of drinks.
He wished he were there right now. His stomach growled as he stumbled and then caught himself before he fell on his ass.
He was halfway down the hill when a scream pierced the mountainside. Billy ran the rest of the way down the narrow, rocky trail. “Emma!”
He yelled louder for her. “Emma! Emma!”
He slipped when the trail made a sudden drop as it went steeply down to a small pond—the seasonal one that Emma must have been looking for. The beauty of the spot with its trees and boulders all around was striking in the desert, and for a split second he thought it was a mirage. Then all he could think about was that Emma had been bitten by a rattlesnake, or had fallen into the water, or had slipped and broken her leg.
But she didn’t respond to his repeated calls.
He stood on the edge of the pond, frantically searching for her. Looking for wild animals, a bobcat that she may have surprised. A herd of javelinas that might have attacked her. Anything.
Movement to his right startled him, and he turned around quickly.
In the shade, he saw someone. He shouted, wondering if Emma was disorientated or had gone the wrong way. But whatever he thought he saw was now gone.
Then he saw her.
Emma’s body was half in, half out of the pond, a good hundred feet beyond him, obscured in part by an outcrop of large rocks on the water’s edge. He ran to her and dropped to his knees. His first thought was that she had slipped and hit her head. Some blood glistened on her scalp.
“Emma, where are you hurt? Emma?”
She didn’t respond. Then he saw the blood on a hand-sized rock on the edge of the pond. And he felt more blood on the back of her skull.
“No, no, no!”
He saw her chest rise and fall. She was alive, but unconscious. He pulled out his phone, but there was no signal. He had to get help, but he couldn’t leave her here.
Billy picked Emma up and, as quickly as he could, carried her up the steep hillside to his truck.
As he drove back to the main road, he called 911. An ambulance met him in the closest town, Patagonia.