Saturday Excerpt: The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda
Fans of psychological thrillers will want to start off their weekend with this preview of The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda, author of Best Day Ever. Featuring twists, turns, and edge-of-your-seat suspense, you won’t be able to put this book down!
About The Favorite Daughter:
The perfect home. The perfect family. The perfect lie.
Jane Harris lives in a sparkling home in an oceanfront gated community in Orange County. It’s a place that seems too beautiful to be touched by sadness. But exactly one year ago, Jane’s oldest daughter, Mary, died in a tragic accident and Jane has been grief-stricken ever since. Lost in a haze of anti-depressants, she’s barely even left the house. Now that’s all about to change.
It’s time for Jane to reclaim her life and her family. Jane’s husband, David, has planned a memorial service for Mary and three days later, their youngest daughter, Betsy, graduates high school. Yet as Jane reemerges into the world, it’s clear her family has changed without her. Her husband has been working long days—and nights—at the office. Her daughter seems distant, even secretive. And her beloved Mary was always such a good girl—dutiful and loving. But does someone know more about Mary, and about her last day, than they’ve revealed?
The bonds between mothers and daughters, and husbands and wives should never be broken. But you never know how far someone will go to keep a family together…
I glance at my creation and smile: behold the dining room table. It is critical to create the proper atmosphere when entertaining, the illusion of perfection. As one of the most important hostesses in The Cove, I can assure you I pull together elegant dinners without a second thought. I know all the key ingredients: arrangements from the best florist in town, tonight white hydrangeas nestled in between succulents, and linens from the exclusive small boutique where everyone must shop to purchase ridiculously expensive tablecloths and napkins, in this case, brushed silk, off-white.
I’ve outdone myself with this table. This will go down in the record books as a crowning achievement in my life.
I’m kidding, of course. I don’t care a smidgen about entertaining. And typically, if I’m going to spend time adorning something, it’s going to be myself. Truth be told, the crystal and china pieces on the table were wed- ding gifts from long-forgotten friends, rarely used. I dug them out from the back of the cupboard. Perhaps I am trying a bit too hard, but tonight is special. It’s my coming-out party, so to speak.
After a year of grieving, it’s time to step back into my family, or what remains of it, and that’s precisely my plan. I’m reclaiming the throne, like a queen who has been in exile but returns with pomp and circumstance. I shake my head as I look around my castle. I used to be so proud of this home, something so expensive and so uppity that my mother would never be comfortable stepping foot inside. Good old Mom. She taught me everything she knew about how to put yourself first in life. She was ruthless, delighting in bringing others down, including her own daughter. But look around: I’m winning, Mom. I touch the diamond-encrusted heart pendant hanging between my surgically enhanced, perfect breasts. All gifts from my husband in happier times.
My husband, David, will be so surprised when he arrives home tonight, and he deserves it. He’s been full of surprises this year. In fact, I discovered another little secret when a piece of mail arrived at our house last week. Typically, he has his mail sent to his office, says it’s easier to pay bills that way. This particular notice from the bank must have just slipped through the cracks. I’m playing along. For now.
The letter congratulated David on the purchase of a new home. I must admit, the thought of a fresh start made my heart flutter. I know it will be even bigger, more expensive than this home. I mean, this home was fine when the kids were growing up, but now we need something grander. More fitting of our station in life. We deserve it after all we’ve been through.
Maybe he’ll tell me all about it tonight? That would be wonderful. I’m planning our reconnection dinner and he will announce his surprise. I glance at my platinum watch, enjoying the sparkles of the diamond-en- crusted face, until my heart thumps at the time. It’s getting late and I have so much more to do. I can’t believe I’ve lost a year in my haze of grief. Sure, some of the haze can be blamed on all of the antidepressants the doctors made me take. They were both a relief and a distraction. While I was stuck in bed, at home, my family members have made the most of their time, both so busy, in fact, I’ve had trouble keeping up.
But not any longer. I’m back, drug-free, and better than ever. I grab the final crystal wineglass from the kitchen counter and walk to the table, glancing out the window as the bright orange sun drops into the deep blue Pacific Ocean. In an instant, the glass topples from my hand and seems to tumble in slow motion as it falls and shatters on the stone floor, sending sound waves echoing through our lifeless house like an earthquake. Shards of glass sprinkle the tops of my bare feet and dot the floor around me while a large chunk of the stem rests under the dining room table, glistening like the blade of a knife.
I fold my arms across my chest for comfort and can’t help but admire my ribs poking into my hands, a re- minder of how much weight I’ve lost the last year. Grief is good for the figure. You and I already know thin women get attention, respect in our society. On the few excursions I’ve made out of the house lately, when I’ve taken care to dress and apply makeup, I’ve noticed an uptick in appreciative glances from men. That’s nothing new. My whole life I’ve enjoyed the admiration of the opposite sex.
For months, I’ve been secretly working out in the garage when David is at work and Betsy at school. Just me and the handsome P90X instructors. My mom would be impressed by my fitness commitment. She never missed a chance to remind me being skinny was the key to our future. And then she’d take my dinner away. She’s long gone, died when I was fourteen in a tragic car accident, but she still haunts me. That’s the power of the bond between mothers and daughters. It can never be broken, even in death.
But glass can. I stare at my almost-perfect table setting—I even nestled votive candles in crystal holders around the centerpiece and in front of each place setting. Just call me Martha Stewart.
I wonder what I should wear tonight? Here, in the land of expensive designer purses and shoes, most women blend in, their monochromatic coolness anchored by jeans, topped by their perfectly smooth, porcelain faces. I remember my first dinner party at The Cove: me from the South, them from Southern California. I’d worn a yellow silk cocktail dress, my biggest pearls and wrapped a white cashmere pashmina around my shoulders. I was as out of place as a Twinkie at a Weight Watchers meeting. But you know what? All the husbands approved, tired of the sameness they endured in their wives. Back then, David was proud to have me on his arm, proud I stood out like a beautiful flower in a meadow of boring grass. It’s ironic, really: I gave up my dreams to move here, to become the perfect Orange County housewife. I could have been so much more.
This ocean view is why we bought this home all those years ago, scraping together every last dime and tapping into David’s trust fund to move into The Cove, the best community in Southern California. We were young parents, and so madly in love. The ocean was romantic, beautiful then. Not deadly and dark and cold. I feel the rush of heat as my hands clench into fists.
Anger and loss, did you ever notice how those emotions mix together? It’s a toxic combination. I swallow. I need to focus on the table, the first step of my coming-out party. All that’s missing from this perfect setting is the fourth wineglass. I have another one, of course. It’s almost symbolic. It was Mary’s spot at the table, Mary’s wineglass that fell to the floor.