Excerpt Once Upon a Lie: Chapter Two



“Amazing,” Dominique said as she tilted her head left, then right. “It’s um…a unique composition. Almost as if…well, he was such a handsome man in real life. And this…. It almost reminds me of a caricature. The way it exaggerates his most unflattering features. But they do that, don’t they? These grotesque pictures of very famous people. It’s so interesting because I feel like I’m looking at a different version of him. And yet, the work is so striking but also off-putting.” Dominique leaned in to examine the artist’s signature. “Who is the artist?” she asked as she turned back to face Mia. 

Mia stared up at the portrait. “We don’t know. I took this from my childhood home several years ago, and I didn’t even think to ask who the artist was. We were trying to include it under our insurance policy earlier this summer, but without any history or even knowing who the artist was….” Mia shrugged. “They told us it was impossible to estimate a value without more information.” 

“You should take it to some of the dealers in the city,” Dominique suggested. “I bet they could help you figure it out.” 

Mia nodded. “I’ve thought about it. It’s just one of those things you never actually get around to taking care of, I guess.” 

“I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for you. Growing up? I mean, the stories you must have.” Dominique smiled wide at this—an open invitation for Mia to tell her a story, any story about a childhood spent growing up as the daughter of arguably the most famous film director in the entire world, Raphael Renaud. 

Mia opened her mouth to respond but realized that even after all these years, she still didn’t have a straightforward and easy way to convey the inevitable information that must come next. Or if it was even something she wanted to share with this woman she barely knew.

Dominique watched her, her eyes wide with a hungry expectation, and waited for Mia’s reply.

Maybe this was why she avoided getting to know new people, this need to constantly explain her past. Because there wasn’t any way to have relationships with other people without them learning, almost immediately, about the singularly most tragic event of her life. 

It was all because of him. Raphael Renaud. If her father had been nobody special to anyone else, she would likely avoid these questions for as long as she pleased. 

No one would ever have to know unless she chose to tell them. 

But her father wasn’t a nobody; he was one of the biggest somebodies of his generation. And the public’s continuing love and admiration of him and his extensive body of work meant that Mia never got to avoid her past. 

Because her past was always the one topic everyone most wanted to hear her talk about. 

“The truth is,” Mia said. “I don’t remember a thing about him.” 

Dominique furrowed her brow and pulled her head back in surprise. “What do you mean?” 

Mia glanced over her shoulder and checked that the kids were still too occupied with their own chatter and snacks to pay attention to her and Dominique. When she turned back, she could see that Dominique looked confused. 

Mia inhaled once, then reached for the sheet of her jet-black hair on the right side of her head and swept it back and over her shoulder to keep it out of the way. With her slender index finger, Mia pointed to the place on her forehead where her scar began and traced its path down her face. “You already know how my father died?” Mia asked, knowing the answer was yes. The entire planet knew about Raphael Renaud’s tragic and untimely death. 

Dominique nodded. 

Mia drew in another breath and continued. “Well, what is less well known is that I was there when he was killed.”

“Oh god, Mia.” 

Mia held her palms up. “But like I said, I don’t remember a thing about him. Not anything from that night either. Everything I know is what I’ve been told or read, but there isn’t anything I know just from my own experience. Apparently, I walked in right after the intruder shot my father.” 

Dominique opened her mouth, decided against whatever she was going to say, then changed her mind again and asked. “I’m sorry, and I know this isn’t any of my business, and you can tell me to go to hell if you want, but—” 

“He pushed me,” Mia said. From our third-floor landing, over the banister, and headfirst onto the marble floor below.”

“Jesus Christ.” 

“I should have died, and I was very near death for months after. There were years of surgeries, painful rehabilitations…therapy.” Mia sighed. “And on many fronts, I’ve made tremendous progress.” 

“I think that’s an understatement.” 

“Thank you. But when it comes to my memory…there just isn’t anything before my early conscious days in the hospital after the accident. If it weren’t for my sister, photographs, articles about my father and our lives, well, the public part of our lives anyway…I wouldn’t have any sense of who I once was or where I came from.” 

Dominique looked shocked. She shook her head twice, then looked back at the portrait. “I’m so sorry, Mia. What a horrifying thing for your family to endure…and it was never solved? Is it still a cold case?” 

“Yes. My mother and sister were able to give a description of the man. But he was never found.” 

“He’s still out there,” Dominique blurted. It was the same thought that ran through Mia’s head every day.


“Doesn’t that scare you?” Dominique asked, but then seemed to realize how invasive she was being. “I’m sorry. I guess I don’t know what to say,” she confessed. 

“If it’s any consolation, I’m not sure anyone else ever does either.” 

“You don’t know me, I get that, but please know I would never repeat—” 

“No,” Mia shook her head. “I know you wouldn’t,” she lied. She expected Dominique would share the details with her friends as soon as she left. But Mia couldn’t worry about that now; she needed to get through the rest of this visit. If Dominique felt overwhelmingly sorry for Mia, that may be for the best. “Of course, you wouldn’t. Can I get you something to drink? More wine?” 

Dominique checked her phone. “It’s nearly five,” she said. “And I do need to get home and get dinner started…but I could probably stay for one more glass.” 

“Perfect.” Mia forced a smile. “I’ll go grab another bottle from the cellar.” 

A quarter after six, Mia finally said goodbye to Dominique and Caleb and closed the front door. The relief of having them out of her house was immediate. It wasn’t that she didn’t like them, not at all. She felt the same way about having anyone over to the house—Mia found socializing exhausting. It didn’t matter if it was one of Alexander’s, far too many, New York dinner parties or this fellow mother from Sasha and Everly’s class. 

If she should ever be allowed to do what she pleased when she pleased, Mia might not ever speak to anyone beyond her own immediate family ever again. 

She realized this put her twin girls at an incredible social disadvantage. 

Both were curled next to each other on the family room couch, ten minutes into their hundredth viewing of Beauty and the Beast, with a bowl of popcorn between them. Despite the girls’ ability to quote the movie from beginning to end, Mia knew neither one would move more than an inch for the next hour and a half. 

Mia slid her last and final pill from her pocket and into her mouth as she turned to collect her and Dominique’s dirty wine glasses from the portrait room. But when she stood over the coffee table, she realized that, even though the 2012 Silver Oak cabernet bottle was empty, Dominique’s glass was still full.

Mia lifted the glass to eye level and could plainly see there was not a single mark on the glass. Not a smudged fingerprint, not even a hint of Dominique’s plum lip balm. Dominique had sat here, talking to Mia for over an hour, without taking a single sip of wine. 

Mia placed the glass back on the table and lowered herself onto the pale blue couch. She had drunk the entire bottle herself? How had she not noticed that Dominique was completely ignoring her own glass? 

Her mind spun, trying to recapture the events, the conversation, from the last hour. But it was a blurry film, overlaid and distorted by the drinking and her meds. What had they talked about? 

Her eyes drifted to the portrait of her father hanging above her, and that’s when she knew—they had talked about him. She didn’t remember exactly, but Mia had a broad stroke of Dominique’s questioning and then her own acquiescence. 

Mia leaned forward, plucked Dominique’s glass from the table, and raised it to her lips. What had she said? What had she revealed about herself and her family? She took a large swallow, stood up, and walked several unsteady steps toward the fireplace beneath the portrait. 

With her free hand, Mia steadied herself by grasping the ornately carved white oak mantle. Then, she reached for one of the silver-framed pictures among the many on display. 

Most of the photos were of the girls, she and Alexander, and their family vacations. There was also Mia, and Alexander posed on their wedding day in the Hamptons. But this photo, this photo was grainy and old. Mia tried to make her eyes focus on the subjects, the four people standing in their early 90s summer clothes at the center of the lush, green lawns of their gold coast home, Beaumar Manor. 

The combination of wine and medication made it impossible to focus, and time had drained all the life and color from this photo but this was her family. Not the one she’d created with Alexander, the one she’d been born into. Her father, Raphael, her mother, Pixlie, and her older sister Holly. Years before a man broke into their home and changed their lives forever. A man who was never found and never held accountable. A man who could be anywhere. 

Be anyone. 

What if he was watching her? 

Mia managed to avoid answering Dominque’s question. Did it scare her?

The answer was yes. It scared her. Every minute of every day. 

Mia closed her eyes to stop the room from spinning. 

She needed to call her sister.

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Excerpt Once Upon a Lie: Chapter One

Mia scanned the ten-foot hedge surrounding her yard. It was overgrown, with errant shoots of new branches breaking free from the trimmed straight edges on every side. It was thick, impenetrable—or so she’d been told. It would be impossible for someone to hide on the other side, watching her, staring at her. Alexander, her husband, had assured her and even led her by the hand to the other side to show her and prove it to her. She had looked for herself, and she believed him.

And still, she felt eyes all over her body. 

Mia pushed the distressing thoughts from her mind and watched her twin girls, a month away from their sixth birthday, clasp hands and leap in unison into the deep end of their backyard pool. Their short brown hair was wet and plastered flat against their heads.

Their classmate and guest, Caleb, watched from his perch at the pool’s edge. His thin arms threaded through the flotation pillows his mother had blown up and attached to him earlier. For the last half-hour, Caleb had teetered on the brink of having fun. But no matter how much the girls harangued him, he continued to sit with only his feet dangling below the surface.

“Caleb!” His mother called from the rattan lounger beside Mia’s. “Just jump in! The floaties!” She pointed to her own arms. “They’ll keep you up!” 

Caleb said nothing and gave his mother a skeptical look before ignoring her advice and settling for watching Sasha and Everly have all the fun. 

With a sigh, his mother gave up. “He did the same thing at every single one of his swim lessons all summer. I swear, the minute I tell him it’s time to leave, he’ll decide he’s ready to play.”

Mia gave Dominique a sympathetic smile, picked up the half-empty bottle of chardonnay between them, and offered to refill Dominique’s glass.

“I shouldn’t,” Dominique said as she held out her glass and smiled. “But I will anyway.”

Mia poured, smiled, and hoped her hostess act was a good camouflage for the interior storm gathering inside her. The last thing she wanted was for Dominique Richards, PTA president and most influential parent at Beacon Hill Private Academy, to suspect something was wrong with Mia Strauss. She should say something, she realized. Something off-the-cuff, relaxed, witty—anything other than this incessant nodding and smiling. Instead, Mia reached for a lock of her waist-length, jet-black hair and drew it like a curtain over the eight-inch scar that ran down the right side of her face.

Her nervous, unshakable habit.

Dominique had obviously seen this broadcast of insecurity. But like most people, she was polite enough to pretend she never noticed Mia’s facial disfigurement. Dominique turned away and centered her line of sight on their children laughing in the pool. 

“Do you mind watching my girls for a minute?” Mia asked. “I’m just going to use the restroom.”

Dominique faced Mia again with her very white, perfectly straight smile. “Of course.” She swiped her hand through the air. It’s nothing. “Maybe I’ll slide into the pool myself and see if I can lure my son in.” 

“Thank you,” Mia said, sounding too grateful. God, she was terrible at socializing, speaking, and acting like a human. Without another word—that could only make this situation even more awkward—Mia slipped her legs over the edge of her lounger, stood up, and forced herself to walk normally, not flee, to the backdoor of her house. 

Once inside, with the door closed and protecting her from further scrutiny, Mia fell back against it and covered her face with her hands. Her original plan had been to get to know Dominique and establish some sort of normal, school-based relationships for Sasha and Everly. Then pull off a real birthday party, with friends from school, next month. And even though she dreaded doing any of this, Mia cared enough about her girls to make an effort and pull her shit together. But they were only an hour into the playdate, and Mia felt that she was already rattling apart from the effort. Inviting Dominique and her son here for the afternoon was a terrible idea. Mia now wished she’d never even considered it. 

She dropped her hands, took a breath, and stood up straight. “Well, it’s too late for that now,” she whispered. It’s not like she could hide in the house for the rest of the day while Dominique watched the kids alone. 

Could she?

Mia shook her head at the stupidity of the thought. “Of course not,” she muttered. Jesus, consider how much worse it would look—and what Dominique might tell the other parents—if Mia just didn’t reappear. 

She gave her arms a violent shake, squared her shoulders, and headed for the stairs. She could do this. She would do this. She just needed a little more help.

Mia realized one of the biggest problems was the shirt she had forced herself to wear. Which now, in hindsight, seemed obvious—the short sleeves exposed her arms. Earlier, before Dominique and Caleb had arrived, Mia had stood at the center of the walk-in closet she and Alexander shared and decided to forgo the safety of one of her typical long-sleeves—she feared Dominique would find it strange to see her covered from head to toe while they lounged by the pool in eighty-degree heat. She had paired her most drapey black linen pants with one of the few short sleeve blouses still remaining in her wardrobe. 

But from the moment she had slipped it over her head, it had felt like a mistake. The loose sleeves stopped short right above her elbow, exposing her forearm and hands. Once she reached the safety of her bedroom, Mia pulled the shirt up over her head and dropped it into the trash can beside her dresser. She pulled one of her Anthony Thomas Melillo mock turtlenecks from her middle drawer. She threaded her arms into the extra-long sleeves before lifting it over her head and smoothing the familiar fabric into place along her long torso. 

Mia held her neck between her two cupped hands, closed her eyes, and waited for relief. She could feel every pulse of her rapid heartbeat course through the jugulars beneath her palms. But with every second that passed, and deep breath Mia took, the pressure and intensity thrumming through her body ebbed, and she was able to drop her hands.

Crisis averted. 

She pulled the extra-long sleeves over each of her hands to the base of her long, delicate fingers, then turned and headed for the drawer in her bathroom where she kept her meds. When she pressed and twisted the safety cap off and into her palm, she saw only three pills at the bottom of the brown plastic bottle. 

She checked the date on the label—it had only been a week since she’d had it refilled. This worried her for several reasons. For starters, if her husband, Alexander, found out how quickly she’d run through these, she would have a problem. Secondly, she dreaded having to try and convince her doctor to refill it again—because what if she refused? But by far, her biggest concern was that she’d need to ration these last pills while also knowing she would need all three of them before this day had finished. 

Mia placed one pill on her tongue and swallowed it dry as she slipped the other two into the front pocket of her linen pants. 

She’d left Dominique alone for too long, beyond what might be considered normal or polite for a guest she hardly knew. But before she headed back downstairs, she needed to ensure she looked okay. Mia hurried back into their walk-in closet and opened the bottom drawer of the center island, where she kept several of her essential accessories. She grabbed her selfie stick, mounted her cell phone into the holder, and extended the arm before snapping several full-length photos of herself from various angles. 

After checking each photo and feeling satisfied her appearance was appropriate, she returned the stick to the drawer, tucked the hair on the left side of her face behind her ear, and deleted each photo from her phone as she headed for the stairs. Undoubtedly, Dominique would think Mia’s behavior today was a little weird. Still, Mia felt sure she could turn the rest of the visit around and leave the PTA president with a more favorable overall impression before she and Caleb left for the day. 

When she was halfway down the staircase, Mia heard Sasha and Everly’s voices. She stopped, realized that everyone must now be inside, and hoped she would still have the opportunity to show Dominique that she was a good and normal mother. That her girls were good and normal girls. And that coming here along with their entire kindergarten class of kids and parents for Sasha and Everly’s sixth birthday party was something Dominique would definitely want to do. 

Mia picked up her pace and descended the stairs. 

As she passed through the foyer at the bottom of the stairs, she remembered to smile as she passed under the archway and into the portrait room. “I’m so sorry about that, and I hope you don’t think I’m incredibly rude for leaving you all alone with the kids while I changed,” she kept her tone breezy and light. She could see all three kids sitting at the large kitchen island down the hall, each wrapped in a plush bath sheet and snacking on the bowl of cut fruit Mia had taken outside for them earlier. 

Dominique stood in the portrait room, her back to Mia, her gaze fixed upward on the oil painting of Mia’s father that hung above the fireplace. When Mia first spoke, Dominique glanced back to acknowledge her, but she didn’t appear to register what had been said. 

“This is really him?” Dominique asked. 

Mia stopped short at the unexpected question. “Yes,” she whispered and raised her eyes to meet those of her long-dead father, Raphael Renaud. “It’s really him.”

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What the Hell!

We’ve reached the time of year in Colorado when I wake up, look out the window, and say, “What the hell!”

We got more snow while we slept–and all I want are clear skies and sixty degrees. It’s only an inch or two, but I’m feeling petulant. This is the time of year, every year, where I survey the US map and try to imagine a state in the warmer regions in which I could be happy all year.

I have yet to find one that doesn’t get crossed off for one reason or the other and so I continue to “What the hell!” my way through spring until we reach the end of May and I can be reasonably assured to be greeted with the weather I want. Which isn’t to say I don’t love winter when it rolls around…I’m just tired of it by the end of March.

Release Day, Once Upon a Lie

It’s finally here, release day for Once Upon a Lie. This book is a big deal for me. So much of my life has changed since I started writing this one in 2021. I will forever remember this book as my transformation novel. This is the one I created as I made significant changes, both personally and professionally, and was with me as I set out onto my current and future path. Its release is the cornerstone of the future I’m building from here. Change can be scary, but no adventure ever happened without taking that first step outside your comfort zone. Thank you for being here with me. I hope you love the new book!

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I Finished Once Upon a Lie

About a week ago, I typed THE END for Once Upon a Lie. This was my book that for weeks and weeks felt like it simply didn’t want to end. I would think, I’m so close, but then realize that there were several story lines that were going to take longer to wrap up in a way that satisfied.

And so, I kept writing.

In the end, my planned 85,000 word book wound up being 103,000 words. I’ve started working on the edits…so we’ll just have to see how much gets cut before we reach the final draft.

Anyway, finishing this book is the best Christmas gift I could think to give myself.

ONCE UPON A LIE publishes on February 21st 2023. If you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, it will be free to download. It will also be available in hardback and paperback to purchase. Additionally, I thrilled to share that the talented Libby McKnight will be voicing the audiobook version! More on this development soon.

I hope you are enjoying the season. Personally, I just got my tree and Christmas decorations up about four days ago (a bit later than usual for me.) But I love waking up to get my coffee in the morning and seeing the tree and garland all lit up.

Tonight I’m heading to my first holiday party of the season (I’m getting my nails done at I write this post!) I’m so looking forward to connecting with friends and former colleagues I don’t get to see that often.

Wishing you all the best 🎄❤️

Writing Vlog: November 18th, 2022, Jacksonville Florida

Hello and welcome back. I’m on a layover in Jacksonville, Florida. I’m feeling lucky that my son was able to come on the trip with me. I try to get out to see the ocean whenever I’m near it, so we spent some time in and around the resort and then also walked along the beach for a while. And yes…writing also happened!

Giveaway! Enter to Win a $25 B&N Gift Card and a Signed Copy of The Secret Next Door

Don’t you just love a great book anniversary giveaway? Me too! Which is why I’m running one to celebrate the one-year publishing anniversary of my book The Secret Next Door!

To enter, head over to Instagram and follow the super easy entry rules.

  1. Follow my IG account
  2. Comment on my giveaway post and tag one of your book-loving friends
  3. Receive an extra entry when you share the giveaway with your IG followers

Two winners will be announced in my IG stories on Monday, November 21st, 2022. Good luck, and thank you for helping me celebrate!

Rebecca’s Writing Vlog: November 3rd, 2022

It’s Day 2 of my No NaNoWriMo writing vlogs. If you haven’t watched the first video in this series, please know–I LOVE NaNoWriMo and think it’s an amazing opportunity for writers to come together and focus and support each other. It’s just NEVER worked out for me. Still…I love when it happens every year and I always watch other writers’ progress and vlogs. These No NaNoWriMo vlogs are a way for me to participate while also letting writers know, this event doesn’t always work out for everyone–and that’s okay!

To buy my book on the darknet use the archetyp market.