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Two sisters raised in fear are about to find out why in a chilling novel of psychological suspense from the author of The Thinnest Air.
Ignorant of civilization and cautioned against its evils, nineteen-year-old Wren and her two sisters, Sage and Evie, were raised in off-the-grid isolation in a primitive cabin in upstate New York. When the youngest grows gravely ill, their mother leaves with the child to get help from a nearby town. And they never return.
As months pass, hope vanishes. Supplies are low. Livestock are dying. A brutal winter is bearing down. Then comes the stranger. He claims to be looking for the girls’ mother, and he’s not leaving without them.
To escape, Wren and her sister must break the rule they’ve grown up with: never go beyond the forest.
Past the thicket of dread, they come upon a house on the other side of the pines. This is where Wren and Sage must confront something more chilling than the unknowable. They’ll discover what’s been hidden from them, what they’re running from, and the secrets that have left them in the dark their entire lives.
“You’re not just my muse,” he says. “You’re my everything. None of this would’ve been possible without you.”
A year ago, I’d have believed him—as I always have.
But after finding the photograph of a towheaded little girl with Brant’s sea-green eyes hiding beneath the leather organizer tray of his sock drawer last month, I don’t know that I can.
Brant kisses me once more before dragging the tips of his fingers down my arm and stopping to give my hand a squeeze. “Moffatt just walked in, and his pockets are looking a little heavy. Should probably say hello . . .”
He smiles at me, expecting a knowing chuckle, which I force myself to give him, and my chest tightens.
Extending his bent arm, he nods. “Come with me. I’ll introduce you.”
I’ve spent the majority of my adult life following this man through Moroccan souks and over Grecian cliffs, through ancient Mayan ruins and lush Amazonian paradises. I left Manhattan—the only home I’d ever known—because he asked me to. And then I made us our own little domestic nirvana in his depressing, hole-in-the-wall hometown of Stillwater Hills, New York, ignoring the gnawing homesickness that never quite passed. I cooked his favorite gourmet meals each night and learned to like his beloved jazz standards. I made love to him when I sensed he needed a release, even if I wasn’t exactly in the mood myself. I brought him coffee when he pulled all-nighters, and I massaged his shoulders when he’d spent too many hours hunched over his computer, knee-deep in edits.
But the one and only thing I could never give him was a family.
It kills me that someone else may have.
Slinking my arm into his and burying my unease, I feel like a fraud as he introduces me to real estate mogul Robert Moffatt and his stunning young wife, pedigreed and pregnant socialite Temple Rothschild-Moffatt, who clearly hasn’t let her third trimester keep her from dressing in head-to-toe Versace and six-inch stilettos.
Brant and Robert’s conversation fades to the background, and Temple excuses herself as I scan the gallery once more, my gaze landing on every pretty face in the room.
The cigarette-thin blonde with the faux fur stole.
The bookish brunette with the red-painted lips and clear-frame glasses.
The lavender-haired socialite who steals glances at my husband when she thinks no one’s watching.
It could be any of them.
And it could be none of them at all.
The only thing I know for sure is that needing to know exactly who she is is beginning to consume my every thought.
Brant’s hand slips to the small of my back, and he pulls me closer. The room spins, my breath shortens, and a prickle of sweat collects across my brow.
“Excuse me,” I say, interrupting their conversation and showing myself outside. I’ve never had a panic attack before, but I’m quite certain I’m standing at the water’s edge of my first one.
It’s mid-December, and the sidewalks are dusted with powdery snow. A few nearby shops are closed for the evening, but their holiday lights flicker in the windows, and holly wreaths hang on their glass doors. These things used to send a blanket of warmth cascading through me when I’d see them.
Now I feel nothing.
Gasping for air, I close my eyes and try to focus on the sensation of the chilled air in my lungs, and then I count backward from ten, telling myself that when I get to one, I’m going to be fine . . . at least for now.
Ten . . .
Nine . . .
Eight . . .
Seven . . .
I open my eyes to find my husband standing outside the door to the museum, his hands shoved in the pockets of his Prada suit. The casualness in his pose is an insult.
“Talk to me,” he says before he strides toward me, head cocked ever so slightly. He looks at me like I’m an impossible riddle he can’t quite solve. “You’re not you, and you haven’t been all night.”
My lips part in response, but I don’t know what to tell him.
I’m still trying to figure out where to go from here—when to confront him, how to confront him, not to mention how I’m supposed to feel given the fact that I’ve conjured up some worst-case scenario over a single photograph.
Brant wraps his arms around me, the warmth of his body and heaviness of his hold equally comforting and suffocating.
“If you don’t mind,” I say, my voice muffled against his pristine suit jacket, “I’m going to catch a cab back to the hotel. I think I’m coming down with something.”
He pulls away, and his eyes rest on mine. Again, he doesn’t believe me, but at this point I don’t care. All I can think about is peeling myself out of this dress, yanking the bobby pins from my hair, and washing the makeup from my face before tears have a chance to ruin it.
Everything else I can deal with another time, when I haven’t had three glasses of champagne and unraveled myself all because a beautiful woman was staring at my photo for too long and then my husband greeted her with his signature dimpled smile and sparkling-green gaze.
Brant peers over my shoulder toward a set of oncoming headlights and lifts his arm to hail the taxi.
“Get some rest,” he says, gathering the train of my dress and helping me in. Closing the door, he motions for me to lower the window. “I’ll have my phone on if you need anything.”
I appreciate his concern, but I can’t deny the tiniest voice in the back of my head telling me how strange it is for him to send me off without a second thought.
Taking my hand from his, I give him a small wave, catching the glint of his eyes as they reflect in the full moon above. Once upon a time, those eyes felt like home every time I looked into them.
Now all I see is that little girl.
In her non-writing life, Minka is a thirty-something wife and mother who equally enjoys sunny and rainy days, loves freshly cut hydrangeas, hides behind oversized sunglasses, travels to warmer climates every chance she gets, and bakes sweet treats when the mood strikes (spoiler alert: it’s often).
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