In the fast-paced psychological thriller traditions of Gillian Flynn, Jessica Knoll, and Liane Moriarty, Edgar Award nominated-author Kathryn Haines Miller (The Girl Is Murder) spins an engrossing tale of what might be the worst birthday ever.
Helen’s life is simple. She has a job. She has a boyfriend. She has her weekly NA meetings. No drugs, no drinking, no sex, not even any caffeine—not anymore. Because Helen knows this: once you’re an addict, you’re always an addict. There is no such thing as recovered.
And on her thirtieth birthday, the stability she’s cobbled together for herself will vanish. A call from the police, a body found, a dead woman with Helen’s name in her back pocket—it’s all so hard to believe. But then when Helen finds out the victim was her childhood best friend, a girl who went missing in high school, it’s too much.
Helen knows she has to stick to the routine that keeps her in control, and with the way the police are eyeing her for this, she’s worried about looking suspicious. But the unfortunate reemergence of her old friend—and the mysteries that always surrounded her—means Helen can trust no one, not even herself.
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As I closed out the app, I realized I had a voicemail.
I clicked over to missed calls and saw a number I didn’t recognize. It was a 210 area code. San Antonio.
Dad, I thought. He’s finally decided to leave the past in the past and call to wish me a happy birthday. Too little too late, asshole. I almost deleted the message, but then I wondered why I didn’t recognize the rest of the number. Had Dad moved? Unlikely. Had he decided to join the twenty-first century and ponied up for a cell phone? It seemed . . . impossible that he’d spend money on such a thing.
Maybe it wasn’t him. Maybe it was her.
My breath caught in my throat. After all these years, could Mom finally be reaching out? It made sense, didn’t it, that she’d think about me on the one day that linked us forever. And when I talked to her, what would she say? I’m sorry I left. I shouldn’t have abandoned you. My new family means nothing to me.
Would that be enough?
I pushed play and put the phone to my ear as Brian and Bodie snored softly beside me.
“This is Detective Reggie Simmons of the San Antonio Police Department. Could you please call me back at your earliest convenience?”
Disappointment pushed me into the sofa cushion.
I replayed the message multiple times. Could it be a wrong number? My outgoing message had my name on it, so that was unlikely.
I swallowed against the rising tide of onion and garlic as my dinner threatened to come up.
What was it Willis was always telling us at NA? Don’t let uncertainty eat you up. The minute you do, you’ll be trying to plug up those holes with a quick hit to quell the anxiety.
I carefully untangled myself from Brian and exited through the
living room and out onto my balcony. I was hit by a wall of south Texas heat and the scent of burning asphalt mixed with exhaust. Before I lost my nerve, I dialed the detective’s number and waited.
“This is Simmons,” he said.
I paused and felt my throat hitch at the thought of speech. It relaxed, and I squeaked out, “This is Helen Darden. You left a message for me?”
“Thanks for calling me back, Miss Darden.” Papers shuffled in the background. “I was wondering if you might be able to come down to San Antonio and take a look at something.”
“What?” I asked. It was a body, wasn’t it? It wouldn’t be Mom— she had a family who would be contacted before anyone reached out to me. But Dad didn’t. I was being asked to come identify his body. He finally drank himself to death, and on my birthday, no less.
“I’d rather not say over the phone. Want your impression fresh.” He had a pleasant Texas drawl that I was willing to bet disappeared the minute he needed to play hardball. “How’s tomorrow for you?”
“I have to work,” I said.
“I could come to you if it’s easier.”
Would he offer to do that if there was a body to identify? “Look, can you just tell me what’s happened to my father?”
“Your father? He’s fine. He’s the one who gave me this number.” My worry turned to rage. Of course he did. I wasn’t easily findable. Both my phone and my apartment were in Aunt Karen’s name, since she was the one who’d initially set them up for me. Dad was probably thrilled the police were looking for me, elated to tell them
how to track me down. After all, I was his no-good daughter, destined to break his heart again and again. “So should I come to you?” he asked.
I thought about the police showing up at the bakery or— worse—my apartment, and shivered despite the heat. “No, I’ll come to you. In the afternoon, okay? That’s the earliest I can get there.”
“Fine, fine,” he said, like he wasn’t a cop following a lead, but a dental hygienist confirming an appointment. “How ’bout we say three o’clock? That work for you?”
He gave me the address of his downtown station and then closed with a casual remark about looking forward to seeing me. I hit the end call button and stared at the phone.
I had no reason to worry. I’d been good for three years, attending my meetings, checking in with my parole officer, holding down a steady job. So why did I have a sneaking suspicion that my next call should’ve been to a lawyer?
About the Author:
Kathryn Miller Haines is an actor, mystery writer, and award-winning playwright. She grew up in San Antonio, Texas, and received her BA in English and Theatre from Trinity University in San Antonio and her MFA in English from the University of Pittsburgh. She's a member of the Mary Roberts Rinehart Chapter of Sisters in Crime and has been a board member of the New York chapter of Mystery Writers of America. In addition to writing the Rosie Winter mystery series for HarperCollins, she's also written a young adult mystery series for Roaring Brook Press, a division of MacMillan, the first of which, The Girl is Murder, was nominated for 2012 Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Novel. In April 2017 she will publish her first standalone contemporary thriller, The Girl From Yesterday (Simon and Schuster). Kathryn is an adjunct faculty member for Seton Hill's MFA in writing popular fiction.
She lives in Western Pennsylvania with her husband, son, daughter and their two dogs.
Find out more at KathrynMillerHaines.com.