Saturday Excerpt: Under My Skin by Lisa Unger
Now available in paperback, Under My Skin by New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger is an award-winning suspenseful read that will keep you on the edge of your seat all weekend long. If you love books with thrills and chills, you definitely won’t want to miss this.
About Under My Skin:
It’s been a year since Poppy’s husband, Jack, was brutally murdered during his morning run through Manhattan’s Riverside Park. In the immediate aftermath, Poppy spiraled into an oblivion of grief, disappearing for several days only to turn up ragged and confused wearing a tight red dress she didn’t recognize. What happened to Poppy during those lost days? And more importantly, what happened to Jack?
The case was never solved, and Poppy has finally begun to move on. But those lost days have never stopped haunting her. Poppy starts having nightmares and blackouts—there are periods of time she can’t remember, and she’s unable to tell the difference between what is real and what she’s imagining. When she begins to sense that someone is following her, Poppy is plunged into a game of cat and mouse, determined to unravel the mystery around her husband’s death. But can she handle the truth about what really happened?
I like him. I do.
There’s always a but, isn’t there?
He’s talking and I should be listening. I’m not. Does he see it, that I’m scattered, distracted? Doubtful. He doesn’t seem especially observant, has that way about him that people do now. As if they are putting on a show of themselves, as if the moment is being watched rather than lived. He glances about as he talks. Up at the television screens over the bar, all on mute, all tuned in to different sporting events. Down at the phone that sits dark beside him. Back to me, off again to the rowdy table across from us—a post-work gathering I’m guessing from the rumpled suits and tired eyes. I soak in the details of him: his shock of ink black hair, thick—any girl would kill for it; dark stubble on his jaw, just enough—sexy, not unkempt, style, not neglect; his gym-toned body. Beneath the folds of his lavender oxford, the dip of cut abs, the round of a well-worked shoulder.
If I had a camera in my hand—not a smart- phone but a real camera—say a mirrorless Hasselblad X1D, ergonomic, light—old-school style with high-tech innards—I’d watch him through the lens and try to find the moment when he revealed him- self, when the muscles in his face relaxed and the mask dropped, even for just a millisecond. Then I’d see him. The man he really is when he steps off the stage he imagines himself on.
I already knew he was handsome, stylish, in shape, before we agreed to meet. His profile told me as much. He works in finance. (Of course he does.) His favorite book is the Steve Jobs autobiography. (What else?) But what’s under his skin, that carefully manicured outer layer? Beneath the mask he puts on in the morning—what’s there? The camera always sees it.
He runs his fingertips along the varnished edge of the table between us, then steeples them. I read somewhere that this is the gesture of someone very sure of himself and his opinions. It tracks. He seems very sure of himself, as people who know very little often are.
He laughs, faux self-deprecating, at something he’s just said about himself. His words still hang in the air, something about his being a workaholic.
What a relief that it’s just drinks, not dinner. No point in wasting time, if it’s not there, he wrote. Who could disagree? So adult. So reasonable.
I never thought it would be. It can’t be. Because it has nothing to do with the way he looks. It isn’t about his eyes, black, heavily lashed and half- lidded. Or the bow of his mouth, full, kissable. (Though I might kiss him anyway. Maybe more. Depends.) Attraction, desire is nothing to do with the physical; it’s chemical, a head trip. And my head—well, let’s just say it’s not on straight.
A woman laughs too loud—a cackle really, harsh and jarring. It startles me, sends a pulse of adrenaline through me. I scan the crowd. I really shouldn’t be here.
“Time for another?” he asks. His teeth. They’re so white. Perfectly aligned. Nothing in nature is so flawless. Braces. Whitening.
The rim of the glass is ice-cold beneath my fingertip. The drink went down fast, too fast. I promised myself I wouldn’t drink, not with every- thing that’s been going on. It’s been a long day, a long week. A long year. The weight of it all is tugging at me, pulling me under.
I take too long to answer and he frowns, just slightly, looks at his phone. I should just leave. This is crazy.
“Sure,” I say instead. “One more.”
He smiles again, thinks it’s a good sign. Really, I just want to go home, pull up my hair, put on my sweats, get into bed. Even that’s not an option. Once we walk out of here, it’s back to the jigsaw puzzle of my life.
“Grey Goose and soda,” he tells the waitress when he’s flagged her down. He remembers what I’m drinking. A small thing, but so few people pay attention to the details these days. “And Blanton’s on the rocks.”
Straight bourbon, very manly.
“Am I talking too much?” he says. He looks sweetly sheepish. Is it put on? “I’ve heard that before. My last girlfriend, Kim—she said I ramble when I get nervous.”
It’s the second time he’s mentioned her, his “last girlfriend, Kim.” Why, I wonder? Carrying a torch? Or just trying to market himself as someone who’s been in a relationship? Also, “last girlfriend.” It begs the question: How many others? Maybe I’m reading too much into it. I do that.
“Not at all.”
I am a seeker. I want to explore the world. Don’t you? I love to learn, to cook, to travel. I get lost in a good book.
That’s what his profile said. In his picture, he smiled, nearly laughing, hair wind-tossed. It was a good photo, could have come from a magazine— which is always suspicious. Photographers know all the tricks to capturing beauty, the right angles, the proper lighting, the magic of filters. The truth is that most people aren’t that hot in person. Even beautiful people, real ones, are flawed in some way—not airbrushed, or prettily windblown, eyes glittering. Lines around the eyes and mouth, an almost imperceptibly crooked nose, a faint scar—chicken pox or a childhood fall from a bike. People, real people, have a little stain from lunch on their tie, maybe something hanging from their nose or in their teeth, patches of dry skin, shoes that need replacing. These imperfections make us who we are, tell the truth of our lives.
But to his credit, he is close to as good-looking as his profile picture. But something’s off. What is it?
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