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1940941946 (ISBN13: 9781940941943)
Four years ago, I lied. I stood in front of the police, my friends and family, and made up a story, my best one yet. And all of them believed me.
I wasn’t surprised. Telling stories is what made me famous. Fifteen bestsellers. Millions of fans. Fame and fortune.
Now, I have one last story to write. It’ll be my best one yet, with a jaw-dropping twist that will leave them stunned and gasping for breath.
They say that sticks and stones will break your bones, but this story? It will be the one that kills me.
This book is not a romance. It is contemporary fiction, but very suspenseful in nature. It is about a famous romance author and a dark secret she keeps.
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A gentle pull on my hand. I resist, turning away, and smile when I feel the tiny fingers pushing aside my bangs, the soft weight of a body against mine.
“Mommy.” A huff of breath against my cheek. “Mommmmmy.”
“Mommy’s asleep,” Simon whispers. “If we don’t wake her up, we can eat all of the delicious chocolate chip pancakes ourselves.”
I growl, and clamp a hand over his, which is sneaking under the edge of my sleepshirt. I open my eyes and look up into his face, those handsome features dusted by flour and a smear of chocolate. “Easy,” I warn him, pulling on his wrist and dragging him onto the mattress, my movements quick as I wiggle out of the covers and atop his waist. “You know the monster is grouchy when she is awoken.”
“Let me, let me!” Bethany scrambles before me, straddling his chest and gripping the front of his shirt, looking back at me with a smile.
“Ah…” I crow. “My monster keeper and I have got you captured, Mr. Pancake Man!” I shift atop him and he gives me a look, the sort of look that—years ago—led to naked events that create babies. I smile at him and wrap my arms around my child. “What should we make Mr. Pancake Man do, Princess Bethany?”
“He should feed the monster!” She announces, and raises both hands in the air to exclamation point the phrase.
“AND… do the dishes!” I raise my own hands in the air and Simon groans in protest. Bucking up his hips, he deposits us both onto the mattress, giving Bethany a quick tickle, and me a deep kiss.
“Come, Monster,” he commands. “Come and let me fill that big belly.”
I come, I eat, and afterward, while Bethany draws and I settle into the recliner to write, he does the dishes.
A perfect morning. A perfect husband. A perfect daughter. A perfect lie.
I’m dying. It’s a grim start to any story, but I think the news should be delivered in the same manner as a ripped band-aid. Short and blunt, a stab that burns for a moment, then is gone, the moment over. My doctor tip-toed around the news, showing me test results and citing blood cell counts, CEA numbers, and an MRI that showed a tumor the size of a small lemon. He drew out what could have been accomplished in two short sentences. You’re terminal. You have three months left.
I should be sad. I should be emotional, my fingers shaking as they press cell phone buttons and make depressingly bleak phone calls to all of my friends and family. Only, I don’t have friends. And my family… I have no family. I have only this countdown, a dark ominous chant of days, sunrises and sunsets before my body gives up and my mind shuts down.
It’s not really a terrible diagnosis—not for me. I’ve been waiting four years for something like this to happen, a guillotine to fall, an escape door to appear. I’d be almost cheerful about it, if it weren’t for the book. The story. The truth, which I’ve avoided for the last four years.
I step into my office and flip on the light. Moving forward, I reach out, my hand trailing over the corkboard wall, hovering over the tacked up photos, the pages of abandoned ideas, jotted notes of a hundred sleepless nights, sparks of inspiration—some that led nowhere, some that now sit on bookshelves all over the world.
My husband made me this board. His hands held the wood frame in place, cut the cork, and nailed the pieces into place. He kept me out of the office all day to do it, my insistence at entering thwarted by the lock, my knocks on the door ignored. I remember sitting back in this same chair, my hands on my belly, and seeing the final product. I had stared up at the blank board and thought of all the stories I would build on it, the words already itching for their place. It had become everything I thought it would.
I stop at the page I’ve read countless times, its paper worn more than the others, the edges not obscured with clippings or neighboring photos. It’s the synopsis for a novel. Right now, it’s just one paragraph in length, the type of copy that might one day be embossed on the back cover of the book. I’ve written fifteen novels, but this one terrifies me. I fear that I won’t have the right words, the right arc, that I will aim too high, hit too hard, and still not properly affect the reader. I fear that I’ll tell everything, and still no one will understand.
It’s a book I had planned to write decades from now, once my skills had grown, my writing sharpened, talents perfected. It is a book I planned to spend years on, everything else pushed aside, my world closing in on the one thing that mattered, nothing else moving until it was finished, until it was perfect.