Saturday Excerpt: How to Keep a Secret by Sarah Morgan
Combining romance and friendship, How to Keep a Secret is definitely the perfect summer must-read. Sarah Morgan takes you through the lives of three generations of women as they deal with family, love and secrets. Keep reading to discover more about the book and how you can pick up a copy of your own!
About How to Keep a Secret:
Lauren has the perfect life…if she ignores the fact it’s a fragile house of cards, and that her daughter Mack has just had a teenage personality transplant.
Jenna is desperate to start a family with her husband, but it’s… Just. Not. Happening. Her heart is breaking, but she’s determined to keep her trademark smile on her face.
Nancy knows she hasn’t been the best mother, but how can she ever tell Lauren and Jenna the reason why?
Then life changes in an instant, and Lauren, Mack, Jenna and Nancy are thrown together for a summer on Martha’s Vineyard. Somehow, these very different women must relearn how to be a family. And while unraveling their secrets might be their biggest challenge, the rewards could be infinite…
Heartwarming and fresh, Sarah Morgan’s brilliant new novel is a witty and deeply uplifting look at the power of a family of women.
YOU COULDN’T REALLY blame the party for what happened, although later Lauren wished she hadn’t organized such an elaborate affair. If she hadn’t been so wrapped up in the small details, she might have noticed something was wrong. Or would she? To notice something was wrong you had to be looking, and she hadn’t been looking. She’d been focused on the moment and the excitement of the big day.
And the day started early.
Waking before the alarm, she rolled over in the bed and kissed Ed. “Happy birthday.”
Should she say the word forty? How did he feel about it?
How did she feel about it?
She still had five years to go before she hit that number which seemed far enough away not to be worth worrying about. And forty wasn’t old, was it?
Maybe not, but when she’d taken delivery of the birthday cake the day before and looked at the forty candles waiting to be added, she’d thought, We’re going to need a bigger cake.
Ed was still dozing so Lauren lay for a moment, cocooned by the peaceful calm of their bedroom. This had been the first room she’d decorated when they’d moved in. She’d designed it as a sanctuary, a peaceful haven of white with accents of gray and silver. In summer the room was flooded with sunlight and she slept with the window open so she could hear the birds. Now, in January and with London in the grip of a cold snap, the windows were firmly closed. Their house, in an exclusive and sought-after crescent in fashionable Notting Hill, backed on to private gardens. Every morning for the past week the trees had been coated with frost. The cold air slapped you in the face the moment you opened the door, as if daring people to leave the comfort of their homes.
Lauren, who had been raised on Martha’s Vineyard, a small island off the coast of Massachusetts, wasn’t afraid of bad weather.
She peeled back the covers and ran her fingers through his hair. “Not a single gray hair. If it’s any consolation, you don’t look a day over sixty.” There was no reaction and she leaned forward and kissed him again. “I’m kidding. You don’t even look forty.” Except lately, at certain times of the day and when the sun was bright and harsh. Then he looked every day of forty. Working too hard? Ed had always worked long hours, but recently he’d been coming home later and later and seemed unusually tired. She’d subtly planted the idea that he might visit the doctor, but he’d ignored all hints. It was easier to persuade a toddler to eat broccoli than to get Ed to the doctor.
Her phone told her it was past six o’clock, and he showed no sign of moving.
Lauren gave him a gentle nudge. Her day was planned to the minute, and it all kicked off at precisely six fifteen.
She heard the sound of clomping on the stairs. “Mack’s awake. How can one teenager sound like a herd of elephants?” She wondered if Mack was coming upstairs to the bedroom, but then the sound of footsteps faded and she heard the kitchen door slam.
Why wasn’t Mack at least putting her head round the door to wish her father happy birthday?
Anxiety gnawed at the edges of her happiness. It wasn’t that long ago that Mack would have come charging into the bedroom proudly carrying the birthday card she’d made herself. She would have leaped into the middle of the bed and the three of them would have snuggled together. Even when she’d hit the teenage years, Mack had been easygoing.
All that had changed a month before. Overnight she’d transformed into a sullen, moody caricature of a teenager and Lauren couldn’t put her finger on why.
The Christmas holidays had been stressful. Ed, who rarely took time off, had reacted badly to the tension and Lauren had taken on the role of peacekeeper. As a result, she’d spent most of the festive period with tight knots in her stomach.
“Do you think it’s a phase, or is this it?” Ed stirred. “Is this what?”
The way she’s going to be for the rest of her life.
She didn’t voice her thoughts.
Today was Ed’s birthday, and she had a party to run.
Thinking of everything she had to do to make it perfect made her fidget.
This being Friday, she was meeting her friends Ruth and Helen at ten o’clock in their favorite coffee shop, which happened to be exactly thirty‑five steps from the hairdresser where Lauren had an appointment exactly forty‑five minutes later. By eleven thirty she’d be at the florist and after a fifteen‑minute walk home—ticking the boxes for both steps and sunshine— the rest of the day was devoted to making final preparations for the party.
“Ed—” She nudged him again. “Wake up, honey. I need to give you your gift before I head downstairs. I have the whole day planned out to the minute.”
Ed finally opened his eyes. “When have you ever not had the whole day planned out to the minute? If I ever invent an organization app, I’m calling it The Lauren.”
Was that a criticism?
“It’s important to take control, otherwise time drifts.”
Lauren had other reasons for keeping control on life, but she and Ed never talked about that. Sometimes she wondered if he remembered. Time had a way of fading events until they were distant and indistinct. It was like hanging a painting in sunlight. Lines blurred and colors lost some of their sharpness.
Occasionally her mind drifted there, but mostly she managed to keep herself in the present.
Hoping to stir him into action, she threw back the covers and stood up. Usually she started with a few yoga stretches, but today she was distracted by the thought of Mack downstairs in the kitchen.
Why was she up so early?
Perhaps she was making a surprise birthday breakfast for Ed. Or maybe that was wishful thinking.
Lauren walked to the window and glanced into the street. With luck today would be one of those perfect sunny winter days, but this being London it was unlikely. As long as their guests didn’t have to battle snow, she wasn’t going to complain. England, she’d discovered years before, didn’t cope well with snow. Ten large flakes were all that was required to send the country into a screaming panic.
Ed finally heaved himself out of bed, too.
Lauren turned and studied his hunched form. “Are you okay?” He turned his head to look at her, distracted. “What?”
“You look tired.”
“I am tired. I could lie in bed for a month and not move.”
She decided the time for subtlety had passed. “You should see a doctor.” Why was it men needed to be told that?
“For being tired? The advice will be ‘Go to bed earlier.’ I can’t afford the time to hear him state the obvious.”
“Our doctor is a woman,” Lauren said. “Eleanor Baxter. If you won’t see her, at least slow down a little. Leave the office earlier.”
“Slow down? Lauren, do you have any fucking idea what my job is like?” He closed his eyes and ran his hand across his jaw. “I’m sorry, sweetheart. I didn’t mean—forgive me. I’m not feeling great.”
“It’s fine.” But it wasn’t fine, was it? Ed never swore, at least not in her presence. He was always polite and courteous—to friends, to the teachers at their daughter’s school, even to the mailman if they happened to bump into each other. It was his even temper and unshakable calm that had drawn her to him. He was dependable. With Ed she’d never felt swept away or out of control. She’d never had to worry that her heart might fracture or her breathing might stop altogether. If there had ever been a part of her that craved something different, it was now a mere speck in her past, barely visible to the naked eye. “I know you’re busy, but it’s not like you to be this tense.”
Ed was a whiz kid financier who had made a fortune with a big hedge fund in the city before leaving to manage his own portfolio. James, an old college friend who rented office space with him, said Ed was a financial genius. Lauren had no reason to doubt it.
This house, Mackenzie’s school, their perfect life—all of it was paid for by Ed’s brutally long hours in the office.
Once, she’d had ambitions, too, but that had been before she’d had sex on a beach and found herself pregnant. Not that she undervalued her contribution to the family. Being a stay‑at‑home mom had been her choice and from the moment Mack was born, Lauren had loved being a mother. She considered herself Ed’s equal in every way and knew her role was every bit as important as Ed’s. She was the Yorkshire pudding to his roast beef, to use a British analogy, which she always tried to do in order to ingratiate herself with her fearsome mother‑in‑law, who, even after sixteen years, remained appalled that her precious only son had married an American. Ed was still sitting on the bed, staring at the floor, and Lauren reached into the drawer by the bed and pulled out the box she’d wrapped carefully.
“Happy birthday.” She handed him the gift and felt a thrill of anticipation. “I wanted to give it to you now because later on it’s going to be crazy here with a houseful of people all wanting a piece of you.”
Ed opened the package and stared at the contents. “You bought me a rain forest?”
“Not a whole rain forest. A patch of rain forest. I know how committed you are to environmental issues. You cycle everywhere, you’re always talking about saving the planet. I thought—”
“It’s a scam, Lauren.” He sounded tired. “I can’t believe you spent money on that. You do realize you’ve probably financed the cocaine industry?”
“It’s not a scam. I’m not stupid.” And he knew it. He knew she’d graduated top of her year at school and had a place at an Ivy League college before her world had crashed down. Ed had been the one to encourage her to pick up the threads of her dream once Mack had started senior school. She’d been studying for an interior design qualification and was finally poised to embark on her own career. When she’d passed her exams, they’d celebrated with champagne. “I researched it carefully. We can visit whenever we like.”
“Right. Because flying to Brazil is great for the planet.” He tossed the box on the bed and she felt her throat thicken. “I was trying to give you something original and thoughtful.”
“It was thoughtful.” He rubbed his fingers across his chest. “It’s not you, it’s me. Ignore me. I need to start the day again.”
He heaved himself off the bed, walked into the bathroom and closed the door.
Moments later she heard the hiss of water. She stood there, flummoxed.