BKMT READING GUIDES

More Than We Remember
by Christina Suzann Nelson

Published: 2020-02-18
Paperback : 352 pages
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When Addison Kilbourn's husband is involved in a car accident that leaves a woman dead, her perfectly constructed life crumbles apart and she ‘s forced to reevaluate all she thought she knew.

Emilia Cruz is a deputy bearing a heavy burden far beyond the weight of her job. When she's ...

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Introduction

When Addison Kilbourn's husband is involved in a car accident that leaves a woman dead, her perfectly constructed life crumbles apart and she ‘s forced to reevaluate all she thought she knew.

Emilia Cruz is a deputy bearing a heavy burden far beyond the weight of her job. When she's called to the scene of an accident pointing to everything she's fighting against, she's determined to see justice for those wronged.

Brianne Demanno is hiding from reality. She once thrived as a counselor, until tragedy struck a client. When her neighbors, the Kilbourns, are thrown into crisis, Brianne's solitary life is disrupted.

As the lives of these women intersect, can they rise from the wreck of the worst moments of their lives to become who they were meant to be?

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Excerpt

Chapter 1

The perp was a mama raccoon.

Deputy Emilia Cruz turned her sheriff’s department SUV onto the highway connecting her county to the rest of the world. Her foot pressed the gas pedal a little harder than usual. Thirty minutes of road twisted between her and West Crow, where she might actually do some good. Again, she’d been relegated to pest patrol. That was the problem with city people deciding to throw off their urban ways for the quiet life of the country: They tended to call in the police, taking time away from actual crimes to investigate any number of sounds or concerns that turned out to be wildlife.

Emilia opened her window. Cool summer night air drifted over her arm and woodsy scents floated in as the highway curved around the side of a towering hill. For a moment, she permitted her worries to blow away on the wind.

The last bit of turn gave way to a straight stretch, and in that fraction of a second, tranquility shattered as crumpled metal burst into view. Emilia slammed her foot on the brake, coming to a stop behind a blue Maxima. Dust still hung in the air, as if she had only just missed the moment of impact. She grabbed her radio. “This is Deputy Cruz.” Emilia thrust the door open.

“I’ve got you, Emilia. What do you have?”

“Looks like a two, maybe three-car collision on the Darlington-West Crow Highway, six miles from the northern county line.”

“I’ll get help to you as soon as possible.”

Emilia flipped on her flashing lights, then stepped out of her vehicle. She shook off the immediate shiver of dread crawling up her back, replacing it with her most professional demeanor.

She approached the Maxima. The dome light shone, but the doors were closed. Emilia knocked on the driver’s side window.

Two girls, both appearing to be teens, startled.

“You two all right?”

Their heads bobbed with tiny nods.

“Could you step out of the car, please?”

The driver’s door squeaked open, and a girl with long straight brown hair, approximately five foot five and slim, stepped out, eyes rounded. Her mouth hung open, but she didn’t say anything.

Emilia ran the flashlight up and down her. “Were you injured?”

The other girl, a much taller blonde, came around the front of the car. “No, ma’am. We witnessed the accident, but we weren’t part of it.”

“Don’t leave the site. I’ll need your names and information.” Emilia didn’t wait for them to respond, doubting the first girl would even be able to speak in her shocked state.

A red Jetta lay on its roof, steam billowing from the engine crushed into the remains of the car’s body, the back tires still spinning while the front seemed to have disappeared into the accordion of metal.

Emilia bent down and shone her flashlight through the broken glass on the driver’s side. Scarlet blood pooled along the pavement, the stench almost more than her stomach could bear. Popping open one of the compartments on her belt, Emilia yanked out a pair of latex gloves and snapped them onto her hands. She tugged loose glass until the victim was clearly visible.

The assessment was immediate: This woman had not survived. Emilia pressed the button on her radio as she rose to check the other car. “Claire, it’s Emilia again. We have a 12–16A. See if you can get the major traffic collision team from Benton County over here.”

“Copy that. Ambulance is eight minutes out. We have fire and rescue en route from Darlington and West Crow.”

Glass and plastic fragments crunched under Emilia’s boots as she jogged across the highway to the green pickup pressed into the side of the hill. Her stomach wobbled. The image of the woman from the first car was tattooed on her brain for life. Hardened against scenes like this? Never.

Emilia looked down the road, willing help to arrive before she reached what remained of the passenger door, but the accident was nearly the center point between Darlington and West Crow. Eight minutes would tick by slowly.

The deflated airbag blocked the remnants of the passenger window. Emilia swiped her light beam under the vehicle and found no trace of gas. Then she clambered into the pickup’s bed, retrieved her baton, and punched a hole in the back window. Once the glass was cleared away, she pushed close, the light illuminating a man with a long laceration to the scalp.

Blood flowed over his right eye and down his jawline. It didn’t look good for him, either.

A moan cracked through the silence.

“Sir? This is Deputy Cruz. Can you hear me?” She reached her arm into the opening she’d made earlier and touched his shoulder, careful not to move him.

Another moan, but no words.

Emilia spoke into her shoulder mic. “Claire, advise responders we have one alive. Looks to be a man in his midthirties to early forties. Severe laceration to the head.”

“Got it.”

Emilia cleared a larger hole, then pressed her arm and face into the cab. It smelled of perspiration and chemicals from exploded airbags. “Sir, we have help on the way.”

The man’s body lurched, and he retched onto his lap, his head collapsing on the steering wheel.

A familiar stench filled the air.

Emilia jerked back.

This man was no victim. He was drunk.

****

Emilia gave the side of the ambulance two firm smacks before it left the scene, carrying away the deceased body of Georgianna Lynn Bosch. No sirens. No need for speed.

Georgianna’s life had poured out of her purse like the synopsis of a book. She was a single mother of three boys who, from their pictures, looked to be high-school age. A work ID showed she was a nurse with the local hospice agency. There didn’t seem to be any other family, at least not close enough to warrant photos.

Emilia rubbed circles into the tight muscles along her neck. A hospice nurse. No doubt Georgianna had sat beside countless patients, easing them from this world with as much peace as she could manage. How gut-wrenching for those who loved her that she had died alone in a senseless and violent collision.

Once again, life wasn’t playing fair.

Tucking loose strands of hair behind her ear, Emilia made her way to the unaffected car, where the two girls remained as ordered. A line of vehicles waited on the Darlington side for the lanes to be cleared on the route to West Crow. They’d be better off taking the detour even with the additional half hour on gravel roads. This wasn’t going to be a quick investigation or cleanup.

Both girls sat so still, their heads resting together, that Emilia wondered if they had dozed off. She tapped the window with her knuckle. Two sets of eyes shot their gazes toward her as the girls startled to attention.

“I’m going to need your statements.” Emilia spoke loudly to be heard over the rumble of fire truck engines and rescue workers.

The teen behind the wheel opened the door.

“Could you both step out for a moment? I want to go over what you witnessed tonight.” Normally, she would have gotten to this questioning earlier, but they were short on deputies with Chadwick in Florida on vacation. That gave her little wiggle room and would keep her at the station late doing more than her share of paperwork.

The blonde was around the front of the car before the smaller girl even stood.

Emilia flipped open her notebook. She should really conduct these interviews separately, but it was well past midnight, and the brunette looked like she’d burst into tears if the other girl was taken away from her. In the distance, metal cried out as the hydraulic ram pushed the front of the pickup out of the rescuers’ way, allowing access to the trapped man.

A deep voice carried over the noise. “We’re thirty minutes into the golden hour, people. Let’s move.”

The girls leaned their backs against the side of the Maxima.

“Can I get your full names and identification, please?”

“I’m Harper Jane Hampton.” The blonde reached into the purse strapped over her shoulder and handed Emilia her driver’s license. She pressed her fingers into her collarbone. “And this is Ivy Lenaya Smith.”

Emilia looked to Ivy for confirmation.

The girl nodded as she handed over her identification, but her eyes kept flicking to the scene where the fire department continued their attempt to free the man from his crumpled truck.

“Don’t worry about what’s going on over there. These people know exactly what they’re doing. It’s your job to tell me what you saw so we can handle the part that comes next.”

Ivy’s eyes pooled with tears. Flashes of red and blue from the emergency vehicles colored her face. “I . . .” A tear cascaded down her cheek. “Is . . . is the other driver . . . dead?”

Emilia cringed. This could be her own little girl in just a few years, scared and away from her mother when tragedy crashed in. “Have you contacted your parents?”

They nodded.

“It happened so fast.” Harper put her arm around Ivy, pulling the other girl into her side. “The truck crossed the center line and ran smack into the car.”

“What happened next?”

Harper shook her head. “It was loud . . . I may have closed my eyes. I’m not sure.”

“Did you notice anything about the way he drove? Anything unusual prior to the collision?”

“No. It was very sudden. Maybe he fell asleep or something.”

Ivy started sobbing into Harper’s shoulder. She would be little help tonight.

“You’re from Darlington, but you were heading away from there. Where were you two going?”

Harper pulled Ivy closer. “Ivy forgot her sweater at our friend’s house in West Crow. We were heading back to get it.”

“You were going all the way back for a sweater? Ivy, is that right?”

The girl’s eyes were swollen and red, yet tears flooded her cheeks like there was an endless supply. She turned toward Harper, resting her forehead on the taller girl’s shoulder, and gave a slight nod over her shaking.

“Do you have someone who can pick you up?” Emilia closed her notebook. “Ivy is in no condition to drive tonight.”

“It’s fine, ma’am.” Harper ushered Ivy around to the other side of the car. “I can drive us home. Our parents said I should. They’re waiting. We promised to come back as soon as we’d spoken to you. And no cell phones or anything. You know.”

“Please let them know I’ll be contacting them tomorrow. We’ll set up a time for a formal interview.”

Harper paused with her hand on the door handle. “Is that necessary? There isn’t anything to add.”

“It’s procedure in a case like this. Drive safe.” Emilia held a hand up to the line of waiting cars.

Harper took three tries to get the car turned around, then drove off along the empty lane and around the wide corner decorated with flares.

Three victims and counting. Those two would never be the same after what they’d seen. And neither would Emilia Cruz. This guy was going to pay a heavy price for his night of indulgence, and she would make sure he produced every single cent.

Emilia hollered to one of the volunteer deputies, whatever the guy’s name was. “Hey, get these cars out of here.” She motioned to the line growing around the corner. Why were so many people out on the highway in the middle of the night? West Crow and every town within a hundred miles closed down when the sun set.

The back of the second ambulance was open, a stretcher waiting for the moment they moved the man from the truck. A minute later, they eased him out, strapped securely to a board, then set him on the stretcher.

“We have a wallet here.” A fireman climbed from the open truck cab.

“I’ll take that.” Emilia stretched out her hand, then pulled it back when she recognized the face below the yellow helmet. A new wave of disgust washed through her.

“Em. I didn’t realize you were out here.” David took a step closer, opening the wallet and retrieving the driver’s identification. “Whoa. That’s Coach Kilbourn.”

Coach Kilbourn? A town like West Crow wouldn’t take kindly to having their hero prosecuted as a drunken murderer. And a final blow, the man delivering the message was her husband’s former best friend. Emilia couldn’t fault him for abandoning Roger. She’d been tempted to do the same.

“I’ve meant to come by.” David had the good conscience to avoid eye contact. “It’s been busy, you know, with Barbara and the kids. Maybe this weekend.”

The back of the ambulance slammed shut. “We’re good to go,” the driver interrupted.

Emilia took the wallet from David and tossed it to the driver. “Make sure I get toxicology screens. I’ll be at the hospital after I finish up some other details.”

The ambulance driver nodded, then switched on his sirens, speeding off toward Darlington.

The night promised to be a long one, and Emilia didn’t have energy to make nice with one of Roger’s many friends who’d found it too difficult to be around her husband since his injury. Emilia and her daughter didn’t have that option.

“Don’t worry about it, David. Roger has a full weekend.” Emilia checked in with another officer before returning to her car for the first time in nearly an hour. Now came the hard part. She’d have to deliver the news to Georgianna Bosch’s family. She’d send another officer to notify the Kilbourns.

?

Chapter 2

A twin bed was a tight squeeze for Brianne Demanno and her puppy, Chester. At twelve weeks, the dog was at least twenty pounds heavier than Brianne had anticipated. The Humane Society guessed him to be a quarter heeler and half border collie, with at least a quarter unknown. The math didn’t add up to the beast of fluff currently pushing her over the edge of the mattress with the lazy brown eyes of a Saint Bernard.

Brianne sat up and reached for the jar of water, twisting off the lid and taking a couple gulps of room-temperature liquid. She’d learned the hard way about open containers near the bed. Chester got thirsty at night. The dog’s first choice was her cup, then the toilet. If both of those were covered, he’d resort to his bowl.

When she’d moved back into the house where she’d grown up, Brianne had brought her queen-sized bed. But once she’d assembled it in her room, she could barely walk between the walls and the edges of the bed frame. After a couple of banged knees, she’d pulled the queen into the master bedroom and gone back to the lumpy twin from her childhood.

She could have settled in the room that had been her parents’ until they had relocated to Arizona, the land of heat and grandchildren. But something about taking over the place where her mom and dad had slept for thirty years felt . . . wrong.

After nine months of home ownership, Brianne was still a visitor.

Refreshing coolness touched her feet as she made her way along the hardwood floor toward the bathroom. The rumble of an engine stopped her. No one came this far down the lane, especially in the middle of the night. The only neighbor beyond her parents’ house—her house—was a cranky old woman who rarely had visitors.

Brianne eased back to her room and retrieved her robe. She shook Chester, but the dog she’d adopted for her protection was apparently only on duty during the daylight hours. Even then, he refrained from barking at anything or anyone other than the gray squirrels who lived in abundance throughout Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

She reached under the bed, her fingers locating clumps of dust and dog hair, then finally the item she needed—her older brother’s trusty baseball bat. Living alone wasn’t something Brianne had aspired to. Five years as a clinical social worker had destroyed her fairy-tale thinking. Bad things happened. And some people were meant be alone.

Brianne wrapped her fingers around the wood, squeezing until her knuckles ached with the tension.

Another knock, more like savage pounding, sent her heart rate toward numbers she didn’t reach during all-out sprints. Maybe fear was a superior source of aerobic exercise. But running was what she did to get away from the memories that truly scared her.

The light from a vehicle lit the living room, stealing the advantage of darkness. Brianne crept to the front door, questioning why her father had never installed a peephole. She knew the answer. He was a man ruled by trust. He trusted his neighbors, his community, his God. Brianne’s trust had died with one of her favorite clients, Amanda Tanger.

Rising on her tiptoes, Brianne peered through the three small windows along the top of the door. She could just catch a glimpse of a police-blue baseball cap. Her breath caught. Police at the door. Middle of the night. Never a good thing. Her parents? Her brother? His family?

Or could it be another client she’d failed?

Brianne leaned the bat against the wall and unlatched the deadbolt, the click echoing in the space that felt too cold. She turned the knob and pulled, hinges crying out, until she stood face-to-face with Deputy Seth Wallace, the man who’d been there the last time tragedy hit her like a brakeless train.

“Brianne?” His eyebrows rose.

They’d spent four years in the same high school, but she felt a twinge of surprise when he remembered her name. She’d been invisible back then, a book nerd hidden in the pages of a novel while Seth was the pride of West Crow, a town that took its sports as seriously as its public health. Probably more so.

“Hey, Seth.” She ran her hand over sleep-crazed hair. “What’s wrong?”

His head tipped to one side as he took her in like he was seeing something completely new. “Does”—he tried to look around her—“Coach Kilbourn live here?”

She crossed an arm in front of her chest. “You came by at this hour to ask if I’m having an affair with a married man? Of course he doesn’t live here. What’s this about?”

A blush spread over Seth’s neck. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to imply anything. I was surprised to see you, is all. I thought maybe the coach had bought your parents’ place.” He flipped open his notebook. “There must be a mistake. Maybe I wrote it down wrong.”

“The coach and his wife—I can’t remember her name—just moved in with his mom, Caroline.” Brianne stepped into the chill and pointed up the lane to the next house. In the distance, a faint light glowed from the front window. What were they doing up in the middle of the night? They had kids, but Brianne didn’t remember any of them being babies who would need to be fed and changed at this hour.

“I’m sorry I woke you.” Seth turned to walk away.

“Wait. What do you want with Caleb?” It wasn’t any of her business, but this was a small town. If the gossip was juicy, she’d have no way of not hearing it three times before dinner tomorrow night. A five-minute run through the grocery store is all it would take. She might as well know now.

Seth stopped with one foot on the top step of Brianne’s porch. He looked back at her over his shoulder. “You might want to get some clothes on and head down there. The family will need some support.”

The words ripped through Brianne’s heart. She’d heard them before from this deputy. “The girl didn’t make it. The mom will need you for support.”

Her mind raced over every interaction she’d had with Caleb Kilbourn or his family since their move into Caroline’s house. There’d been little more than occasional nods or waves, nothing that should give Brianne a wash of guilt like the last time. So why did she feel as if she’d done something wrong? “I’ll get down there as soon as I can.”

Seth seemed to hesitate; then a small but sincere smile grew. “You’re just the right person for this. Thank you.”

Brianne leaned on her back foot, a strange shiver prickling her skin. She watched him all the way to his patrol car before closing her door as he drove away toward the Kilbourns’.

Heat warmed her cheeks. The Kilbourns were in the middle of some crisis, and Brianne had the gall to linger over the words of a man like Seth, who, though attractive, clearly had issues. No good-looking man in West Crow remained single into his thirties unless there was something seriously wrong with him.

Brianne flipped on the light, illuminating the long, narrow living room. Even now, something felt eerie, like she’d snuck out of bed and was wandering the house while her parents slept. She took two steps closer to the tiny hall with a bathroom and her parents’ bedroom. After all this time, she still expected to hear the rattle of her father’s snore through their door. There was nothing now but silence and memories. The same things woke her every night.

She entered her own room to find Chester awake but still claiming most of the mattress, his tongue hanging from his mouth as he yawned. The moment she threw her robe on the floor and grabbed jeans from a pile in the corner, Chester knew it was time to eat and walk. There was no stopping the day now. Three in the morning. Eight in dog hours. She sighed.

Chester bit into the hem of Brianne’s pants, tugging her toward the kitchen.

She managed to throw on a long-sleeved T-shirt while hobbling down the hall. “Chester, we don’t have time for this.”

He released her and positioned himself in a perfect sit, eyes directed toward his source of food.

Brianne opened the door, but Chester didn’t move. She tugged at his collar, but his heart and body were set on breakfast. His bladder wasn’t a priority. Brianne wrapped her arms around the dog’s middle and hefted him up, carrying the whining dog outside to the chilly front yard.

Chester looked around, then back at the door. He made a move for the house, lunging past Brianne and taking up his position in the kitchen.

Brianne rubbed her hands over her face before scooping food from the bin into his bowl. “Don’t make me regret this.” While he ate, she slipped her feet into tennis shoes and tied the laces. “Okay, buddy, I’m going to need you to hold it while I’m gone. It shouldn’t be long. Just checking on the neighbors.”

A string of drool slipped from his mouth and dripped on the edge of the chrome bowl.

“Sometimes I really wonder if you’re listening.” Brianne eased out the door, hoping he wouldn’t realize she was going on a walk without him.

Oregon summers could be boiling hot during the day, but the night often cooled enough to cause shivers. Brianne hugged herself and increased her pace toward the Kilbourn farm.

Moonlight guided her down the gravel lane. Trees that colored the roadside in bright shades of green during the day seemed to reach dark arms toward her now. She quickened until she was at that awkward gait, too fast to walk, too slow to run.

Reaching the Kilbourn driveway, Brianne began to jog. As she approached the familiar farmhouse, Seth raised his hand to knock.

?

Chapter 3

If the absence of her husband next to her hadn’t woken Addison Kilbourn, the mattress spring digging at her left kidney would have. She reached across the space his body usually inhabited and plucked her iPhone from the nightstand. Holding it out as far as her arm would stretch, she strained to focus the numbers without her reading glasses. A little after three in the morning. Where was Caleb?

Addison climbed to the outer edge of the full-sized torture device and settled her bare feet on the cool wood floor. Caleb had met an old high-school friend for burgers. She’d expected him to wander in about the time she got the kids to bed, but he hadn’t shown. They’d exchanged texts, Caleb saying he and Jeff were enjoying the opportunity to reminisce. But until this hour? That seemed excessive. And off. Something was off. She couldn’t put her finger on the very thing, but Caleb had seemed tense before leaving, as if this reunion wasn’t something he’d wanted.

A shiver ran through her body. Something wasn’t right. She clicked on the bedside lamp, illuminating Caleb’s childhood bedroom, complete with cowboy wallpaper. They’d been guests in her mother-in-law’s home for only two weeks, but it felt like years.

Addison found her glasses and sent a text to Caleb. Where are you?

The pounding of her heartbeat accentuated each second as she begged God for Caleb’s reply.

Nothing.

Wrapping a robe around her, she started for the stairs. Maybe he’d fallen asleep on the couch while watching ESPN. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d had to rouse him and usher him to their room. But their room didn’t exist here. This wasn’t their home, no matter how many times Caleb claimed it was.

The lamp beside the threadbare couch still glowed, waiting for Caleb’s return. Above the sofa, an old family picture hung. An image of Caleb with his brother, Wyatt, and their parents. Only half of that family remained. Addison shook her head. If she’d had loving parents like Caroline and Charles, she never would have left. Wyatt didn’t know what he had.

She ran her hand over the rough sofa, vacant of any sleeping form. She’d seen this very piece of furniture in other pictures from Caleb’s youth. Vintage, in her mind. She checked the front door. No one had locked it. She stepped outside and found the place between the house and shed where Caleb parked his truck. Empty. In the distance, a vehicle’s headlights shone down the gravel lane, drawing closer. But that wouldn’t be her husband. The lights came from the wrong direction.

The vehicle turned onto the driveway. The beams bounced as the car bumped along the ruts.

A line of lights topped the car.

She inched back into the house, closing the door.

Addison shook her head. No. This isn’t happening. One of her worst fears had crept into her subconscious when Caleb hadn’t been home at bedtime. She’d told herself she was imagining things.

She stepped backward until she bumped the wall, her head displacing a framed photograph that slid to the floor, its breaking glass shattering the silence. Blood pulsed in her ears. Wake up!

Outside the window, she watched a silhouette come up the front walk. Suddenly, the most important thing in her world was keeping her children asleep, adding precious time to their lives before whatever tragedy took over. She raced to the door, throwing it open before the deputy could knock.

His hand covered his weapon as if she were going to attack. “Ma’am? Are you all right?”

Tears pooled in her eyes. He was the one who had the answer to that question.

“Are you Mrs. Kilbourn?”

Her mind flew to her mother-in-law, the woman she’d always associated with that name. She nodded.

“You’re Caleb Kilbourn’s wife.” His chin dipped.

He hadn’t said was.

Addison pulled the robe tight around her middle, her face prickling, hands shaky. “Yes.”

“Ma’am, your husband was in a serious accident tonight.” He looked over his shoulder as if expecting backup. “An ambulance took him to the hospital in Darlington.”

A tear slipped down her cheek. “Is he dead?”

“No, ma’am.” He reached toward her but didn’t make contact. “Do you have someone who can drive you to the hospital?”

“What happened?”

His face stiffened. “He was involved in a head-on collision traveling toward West Crow from Darlington. If you’d like, I can take you to the hospital.”

Head-on. Did people come back from head-on highway collisions? There was urgency in the air between Addison and the deputy. Maybe he wanted her to say good-bye, to let her husband slip out of her life.

Her legs buckled, sending her to the floor, the rough doormat etching into her knees. So much pain. The fear arced across her chest, a monster ready to strip her of the man who’d given her all she’d longed for—a true family.

Someone knelt next to her, a gentle arm covering her shoulder with warmth. A woman cupped Addison’s head in her hand and rocked her back and forth, the way a mother should.

“I’m so sorry.” The voice was familiar but distant. “What can I do to help?”

Addison looked up into teary blue eyes. It was the neighbor. The one who jogged by with the fluffy dog. Brittany. No . . . Brianne? “I need to tell Caroline; then I’ll go.” She bit her bottom lip. Even in tragedy, asking a favor from a near stranger jarred her conscience. “Could you stay with my kids?” She couldn’t leave them with their grandmother. Caroline had drifted from quirky to unstable.

“Of course.” The woman stood and helped Addison to her feet. “You should probably change your clothes too.”

Addison looked down at the short robe that covered her summer pajamas. “Thank you . . .”

“Brianne.” The neighbor picked at the skin along the edge of her finger. “I’m the next house down.” She pointed.

Determination came like a swelling wave. Addison had to make a plan. She needed focus right now, for the sake of her husband and her children. She looked to the deputy. “Give me two minutes. That’s all I’ll need.”

As if she’d downed a pot of coffee, Addison’s veins hummed with purpose. She knocked on Caroline’s door, the only bedroom on the first floor of the hundred-year-old house. When the knock wasn’t answered, Addison opened it and stepped in. Light from the hall illuminated her mother-in-law, her arms laid wide across the mattress, her jaw slack. If not for the rumble of intermittent snores, Addison would worry Caroline was more than asleep.

“Caroline. Wake up. There’s been an accident.”

Nothing.

“Caroline?” She didn’t have time for this. Addison nudged her shoulder, shook her arm.

The woman continued to snore as if she were sedated for major surgery. Addison had never seen anyone sleep this soundly.

After another try—hard enough to bounce Caroline on the bed yet with no sign of waking her—Addison crossed her arms. “Fine then. I’m not waiting on you. The neighbor can tell you about your son.”

Addison rushed from the room and up the stairs. She threw on a light sweater and jeans, then grabbed her purse from the top of the chipped dresser, dropping a brush in it as she moved to leave.

“Mama, can I sleep in your bed?”

Addison froze, staring at her six-year-old daughter, her blond ringlets framing her face.

Lilly padded to the bed and climbed under the covers as if the question had been answered. Within seconds, her breathing slowed.

Addison tucked the blankets around her daughter’s shoulders. She couldn’t bear to tell the kids what had happened. Not now, when she didn’t have the answers to the questions they’d ask. view abbreviated excerpt only...

Discussion Questions

Did you feel Tally and Emilia's clashing was realistic? If you were her friend what motherly advice would you have given Emilia?

What did you think of Ivy's decision to tell the truth? Do you think you would have lied initially in a similar situation?

What you think of Caleb's quickness to forgive in the final scene, his declaration that they're just "two parents on a soccer field"?

Should Alison have had such doubts about her husband faithfulness?

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