Current Read: The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

Even though it’s 90 degrees outside and we are in full swing summer mode here in the Northern Hemisphere, I’m in no mood for beach reads at the moment. All I want are dark, atmospheric books and as you can see, The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is what’s on my docket for this week.

From the publisher: A journalist uncovers the dark secrets of an abandoned boarding school in this chilling suspense novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Sun Down Motel.

Vermont, 1950. There’s a place for the girls whom no one wants—the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the ones too smart for their own good. It’s called Idlewild Hall, and local legend says the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their friendship blossoming—until one of them mysteriously disappears….

Vermont, 2014. Twenty years ago, journalist Fiona Sheridan’s elder sister’s body was found in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And although her sister’s boyfriend was tried and convicted of the murder, Fiona can’t stop revisiting the events, unable to shake the feeling that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during renovations links the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past—and a voice that won’t be silenced….

What is your current reading mood? Are you devouring all those beach reads? Something else? Give me your latest book recommendations below.

Writing Vlog #5: Once Upon a Lie is Published…the Mistakes I Made and Lessons Learned

Writing Vlog #5: Once Upon a Lie is Published…the Mistakes I Made and Lessons Learned. Today I’m sharing about my highs and lows with my return to self-publishing and the release of my new book, Once Upon a Lie. I’m giving you the dirt on my personal mistakes, the lessons I’ve learned, and what I’ll do differently next time. Thank you for watching and please don’t forget to subscribe.

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before Traveling to Tahiti

  • 1. The main island and its city, Papeete, is not really that great. There is a run down, dilapidated feel. Like most of the buildings were erected around the 1960’s and then left to elemental decay. Most depressingly, everywhere you turn you’re faced with the sight of stray dogs, and their litters of puppies, roaming feral. They’re not a nuisance to you, but it is heartbreaking to see.
  • 2. There aren’t long white sandy beaches with that famous turquoise water…at least not on the main island. I don’t know about you, but prior to our trip, when I thought about what Tahiti would be like, I envisioned crystal clear, vibrant blue waters lapping against sugar sand beaches. Imagine my surprise to learn that nearly all the beaches on the main island are black sand (from the volcanic activity) and the waters were what you might expect to see crashing onto the Pacific Northwest of the United States. That’s not to say that the beaches didn’t posses a beauty to be savored…it just wasn’t even in the parking lot of what I expected. The wet sand looks like mud; however, it is actually amazing to walk on and a spectacle to see. Hands down, it’s the softest sand I’ve ever felt and it’s jet black color was stunning. The waters may be dark, but they are still warm and great for swimming or jumping in the waves.
The black sand is both amazing to feel and see
  • 3. Outside of your fancy resort, there’s not really much to do. While there, we kept searching for excursions, activities, or even great shopping and dining but everything advertised was less than inspiring. Additionally, the few activities we were interested in required a trip to the nearby Moorea (more on this in a second).
Pool time at the Hilton
  • 4. Rent a car right away. Drive around the island, stop into amazing local restaurants like Le Plague De Maui, visit those beautiful black sand beaches like up at Pointe Venus, then drive your car onto one of the ferries and take it to…
My delicious meal at Le Plague De Maui
Pointe Venus Beach
The ferries that can take you, and your rental car, to Moorea
  • 5. The nearby island of Moorea. You’ll probably need to book one night on the main island for when your flight arrives (in the evening) but you’ll want to book the majority of your stay on Moorea. Verdant, lush, and surprisingly undeveloped, Moorea is what you imagine after seeing all the Tahitian marketing materials. Especially if you are heading out there for a special occasion, like a honeymoon, Moorea is the atmosphere and experience you are likely hoping for. Here you’ll find those bright, turquoise waters, white sand beaches (although not fine or soft like the black volcanic sands), and nature based excursions. But know, outside the resorts, there isn’t any shopping or fine dining. Tahiti is not Hawaii. For the most part, it’s sleepy and undeveloped–which may be exactly what you’re looking for.
Finally found those turquoise waters…on Moorea

Excerpt Once Upon a Lie: Chapter Three

Link to chapter two

Link to chapter one

Alexander untethered his MacBook from the projection cables and slid it into the padded sleeve of his computer bag. His class of Columbia University neuropsychology graduate students, were collecting their own things, talking, and filing past him on their way out the door. He kept his gaze focused on his hands, his bag, the work of leaving this room as quickly as possible before he was cornered by one of them and forced, out of politeness and professorial duty, to indulge their questions, comments, or otherwise banal blathering meant to accomplish nothing more than single themselves out from the herd of other students. They were special. They were engaged with their education. They were making sure to follow the brochure’s advice to get to know your professors. They believed the university marketing material that had ensured them that Columbia professors care about you, not only as a student but as a person.

They always thought this especially true of Alexander because he was a doctor of neuropsychology and assumed this made him more approachable than their other professors—therapeutic even. But for Alexander Strauss, nothing could be further from the truth. Sit down. Listen to what I’m teaching you. Do the work. Now leave my class as quickly as you can. He was a doctor of neuropsychology, a practitioner, a scientist, not a therapist. 

And this day, in particular, the additional post-class conversation was neither desired nor encouraged. He was looking forward to having an hour to spend sipping one, probably two, Macallan on the rocks at Marley’s polished mahogany bar before he boarded the train that would carry him home and out of the city. He had rambunctious five-year-old twin girls and a wife who seemed to be spiraling into personal chaos. He was going to need some liquid fortitude before walking in his door.

“Doctor Strauss?” a woman’s high and tenuous voice interrupted his packing. Even before he turned to face her, he knew she was nervous about approaching him from the insecure pitch of her question. 

He cleared his throat to hide his annoyance, but his response was clipped, “Yes.” He closed his bag and slipped the wide crossbody strap over his head. When he turned, he saw that she was young, early twenties, with long brown hair tied in a low ponytail. Her brown eyes held a question for him, but he could also see that he’d been right—she was nervous, maybe even a little afraid. 

Her expression made him feel like an ass, so he dropped his shoulders a few inches and remedied his tone. “How can I help you?” 

For a moment, she only stood there, staring at him with those huge, beautiful eyes. Alexander forced a smile, hoping it would help reset the interaction. Yes, he felt the stress with his teaching workload, research, and everything that seemed to be happening with Mia. But the last thing he needed was for one of his students to feel like he was not supportive. Or, much worse, discriminatory.

She opened her mouth and was about to speak, but then a look of concern stalled her attempt. 

Alexander looked over her head, there were still a few other students left in the room, but they were heading for the door. He didn’t want to be alone in the room with one of his young female students. 

Jesus, even the suspicion of impropriety was the last thing he needed right now. 

“Is there anything…” he tilted his head, trying to be approachable. Caring. Concerned for her wellbeing while not counting the minutes he was losing with his planned scotch.

“Doctor Strauss,” she announced. Suddenly finding her voice, she appeared determined to state her purpose. “I’m Tasha Adams.” She thrust out her small hand. 

Alexander noticed how delicate her fingers were as he took her hand in his own for two shakes before dropping it promptly. Tasha Adams was young and beautiful. And he wished she would hurry and get to her point because the last of the other students were now walking out the door. 

“What can I do for you, Tasha?” he said in his best dad’s voice while inclining his head toward the door. “How about we walk and talk?” Yes, let’s walk right out of this deserted classroom into the open spaces for everyone to witness their conversation. 

Alexander felt he couldn’t ever be too careful when it came to appearances. As he headed toward the door, Tasha fell into step beside him.

“I’m in your class,” she stated. 

“Yes,” he forced a smile. “I gathered.” 

A look of relief softened her expression. “Well, I was wondering—” She stopped short as she turned and reached into her own bag. “If you would consider signing this for me?” 

When she handed him a book, he stopped walking. It was a copy of his book, Somebody She Used to Know: Amnesia and the Journey Forward. He couldn’t help the genuine and delighted smile that spread across his face. “Well, this is a surprise.” 

“Really?” she asked, turning again to her bag. She pulled out a pen and handed it to him. “It was so good. I figured you must get asked all the time.” 

With the hardcover cradled against his forearm, he flipped open to the title page and clicked the pen. “Yes…five years ago during the book tour? Thousands of requests to sign it.” He scribbled his name across the page and closed the book. “But these days? And by a student who’s already loaded up with all my other assigned readings? No.” He handed the book back to her and gave her a genuine smile. The unexpected encounter with a young fan had buoyed his spirits. 

“Thank you,” she said and held the book in her hands for several seconds before returning it to her bag. 

“You are more than welcome,” he said as he pushed open and held the door that led outside. 

Tasha nodded her head in thanks for the courtesy and slipped past him. This close to her, it was impossible to ignore the intoxicating waft of her scent. And whether it was simply her or an elixir of the shampoo, soap, and perfume she used, the result was a lush, fresh aroma. A walk in the woods while holding hands. 

Alexander swallowed the feeling down and followed her out the door. “Well, Ms. Tasha Adams,” he said, sounding excruciating and lame even to himself. “It was a pleasure to meet you. I’ll see you in class.”

She nodded and dropped her eyes to the ground. 

He waited for several seconds. Was she going to say goodbye? Should he walk away now? It seemed weird to leave without her saying anything but equally odd, more so, to stand here staring at her, saying nothing. 

“Okay then,” he said as he adjusted his shoulder strap. “Bye.” He raised his hand and started to leave.

“Doctor Strauss?” She raised her eyes to meet his.


She bit her bottom lip, hesitating, then mustered her courage. “I was wondering. Well, your book. It would be an understatement to say it’s been influential for me. I might go so far as to say it’s actually changed my life.” 

With a wide-eyed surprise, Alexander rocked back on his heels. “That’s quite a compliment.” Her admission took him by surprise. It had happened a few times while touring with this book. Readers would lean in awkwardly while he signed their book and gush about how his work had impacted them profoundly. He never knew quite how to respond. Thank you? I’m so happy you enjoyed it? Reserved platitudes that never matched the reader’s fervent declarations—and then they would take their book and be gone. His words had changed their life, and yet he would never see or hear from them again. 

But Tasha Adams was in his class. She was beautiful and smelled like youth. 

“Thank you,” he said. 

Tasha took a breath. “I was wondering.” She shrugged one shoulder. “I know you are very busy, but…would it be possible for me to buy you a cup of coffee sometime? I…well, I have so many questions about your book and your work. Getting to study with you is one of the biggest reasons I came to Columbia.”

Alexander took a beat to digest her question, and this other adulation directed his way. “I’m flattered,” he blurted. “And yes.” It was his turn to lower his eyes to the ground. “Coffee would be great…good.” He shook his head, looked into her eyes again, and tried to smile casually. “But I insist, my treat.” 

Her expression lit up. “Wonderful. Is tomorrow too soon?”

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As the Dust Settles

It’s been a few weeks since Once Upon a Lie released and I can feel my head clearing and making space for other thoughts beyond the monumental efforts to get the book produced and uploaded to all the places. It takes an insane amount of work to get your book polished, formatted, and connected to all the channels for distribution around the globe. This is the hidden work that most traditionally published authors and readers alike never really know about. Weirdly, I mostly enjoy doing it. It’s only when I have to chase down problems and depend on sometimes less then helpful customer service operations that I feel the frustrations rise.

Why can’t things JUST WORK, I often wonder. But generally I’ve been able to work out the bugs with venders and I’ve learned a lot of lessons for my next book. I’m really happy with how Once Upon a Lie has turned out and I feel proud of the book I’ve created for you. Which brings me to my next thought…

With my new headspace, I’ve been wondering more and more about goals and next steps for this indie author career. If you’re already a part of this world, you know there is nothing but an avalanche of How-To advice from every conceivable corner of the internet. When I head down these rabbit holes, I see that the advice is both helpful and overwhelming but my greatest take away thus far has been the realization that I’ll need to align my path with goals that truly resonate with my values as a writer.

So much of the marketing advice is centered on writing more books faster in order to sell more books and make more money. There is advice on creating ads, tracking data, sell through, market reach, etc, etc. It’s amazing, truly, how much other authors share about exactly how they have found success. And as much as I realize they are correct, selling books is a business after all, I’ve yet to find myself even remotely capable of implementing any of their very sound selling tactics.

Why? I have no idea. Obstinance? Stupidity? Unwillingness to deep dive and learn how to really market a book? All of the above?


It could be that all the climbing and learning I did to produce a book I could feel proud to have my name on has left me a little tired. Perhaps you’ll see a Mad Men level marketing surge from me after I’ve had a month or two to recuperate. I don’t really know how I’ll end up trying to sell this book, but I do know I’ve landed on my number one goal for this career moving forward, and I actually think it’s foundational to any selling I do or don’t attempt in the future.

And that goal is to create great books that I feel proud of and that readers will love.

From the concept and writing to the packaging and design, I want to make books I, as a reader, would want to read and own. If I can that right, I am hoping the rest will more easily fall into place with time.

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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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