I would do anything to protect my family. It’s my fault they’re in danger…
A year ago, someone broke into our home. He stood outside our bedroom, with our children asleep down the corridor, and knocked on the door.
But the worst moment came later, when I found out who had nearly destroyed my family, and why.
Now my husband has booked us a surprise vacation. In a beautiful cabin on the shore we will rest, talk, recover.
But I can’t relax. When I drive to the store, or stroll down the beach, I am always looking over my shoulder, my heart racing.
Because no matter how hard my husband tries to pretend, we both know it’s not over.
And I know he still doesn’t trust me…
An absolutely compelling psychological thriller that will make you question how well you know those around you—and how safe you ever are. Fans of The Girl on the Train, >Behind Closed Doors and Gillian Flynn will be completely hooked by His Loving Wife.
What readers are saying about Miranda Smith:
“I STAYED UP UNTIL 1AM FINISHING THIS BOOK. I tried going to sleep, I really did. But every time I closed my eyes, I just kept thinking about this book, and I neeeedddddeddddd to know how it finished.” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“I was hooked… I devoured this book in one sitting. Got my heart racing, atmospheric, chilling and utterly gripping… Fantastic read, nail biting and one of the best books I have read this year. A MUST READ!!!!!” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ YES!… Entirely captivating, the plot twists at the end had me on the edge of my seat… Mind blown. Do yourselves a favour, READ IT!” Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Absolutely addictive and gripping… Filled with twists and turns which will knock you sideways… It had me on the edge of my seat, biting my nails and staying awake late at night to find out what happened next… I LOVED it.” Bookworm 86, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Will have you hooked… Had me up until all hours, furiously flicking the pages… Takes you on one heck of a suspenseful and twisty ride!” Once Upon a Time Book Blog, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Loved it!… Chilling, unputdownable, and fast paced!… Will make you flip like a madman, needing it to finish… Thrills, chills, twisty turns, and shocks!” NetGalley reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“Boy did I enjoy it!! My heart was racing throughout… I didn't relax until the end.
Release date: October 4, 2021
Print pages: 350
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His Loving Wife
A sound. Was that what had woken her? She opened her eyes, but couldn’t see anything, the blackout curtains performing exactly as designed. Behind them was nothing more than wisps of moonlight. It was the middle of the night. The alarm clock to her left confirmed it.
Kate raised herself onto her elbows, squinting to make sense of her surroundings. She saw the outline of the dresser across from their bed, easing her into familiarity.
A chill started in her gut, clenching her insides, snaking its way up through her chest to her throat.
“Andrew?” she whispered.
Her husband was still wholly asleep, perhaps lost in his own dream. He didn’t stir.
Two more noises. They sounded closer, clearer. Or maybe that was just because Kate was now awake, fully cognizant. She gave Andrew a hard shove, the kind that was impossible to ignore.
“Andrew. I think there’s someone in the house.”
He turned his head in her direction, no better capable of seeing anything. “It’s probably Willow.” He fell back on the pillow like a toy whose battery had run out.
Willow. Their daughter. Fifteen. Sleeping in her bed. The lavender walls of her room plastered with black and white posters of moody rock bands who reigned supreme well before her time. Kate could imagine it with absolute clarity, but it didn’t make sense. If Willow were wandering about the house, she’d do her best to be quiet.
That sound wasn’t her.
And it wasn’t Noah. Their son was only nine. He slept in the bottom tier of a bunk bed they’d found online a year before. He filled the top mattress with his favorite stuffed animals. Noah was much more comfortable with the idea of remaining a child than Willow was. He was still too cautious to roam through the house on his own in the middle of the night. He was more likely to dart down the hall, climb into their bed when he’d had a nightmare.
That sound wasn’t him.
“Andrew, something’s happening.”
Kate knew it now. The feeling inside her had blossomed from paranoia into fact. Someone was inside their home, someone that didn’t belong. And they were making careless sounds, almost like they wanted to cause this type of tension before the big reveal.
She threw the comforter from over her legs and scrambled to the wall. “Andrew,” she said, her voice an urgent whisper. He ignored her, until she flicked the light switch, drowning the room in sharp colors and light.
“Damn it, Kate.”
She wasn’t listening to him. She was crouched in front of the bedroom door, waiting for another sound, waiting for confirmation that the fear inside her body was founded. She couldn’t be sure, but it sounded like someone was coming up the stairs.
“Did you hear that?” She turned, gave Andrew a spiteful stare.
Andrew didn’t say anything, but the look on his face confirmed he’d heard it, too. He wasn’t as alert as Kate, wasn’t as on edge, but that last sound had proved he wasn’t dreaming.
Footsteps. Right outside their door. Instinctively, she flicked the lock. The one they’d installed a few years ago, when they realized it was their only hope of intimacy away from their two curious kids. The doorknob jangled. Once, twice. Two gentle turns letting them know someone wanted in.
This time, Kate was too afraid to say anything. She turned, staring at Andrew with wide eyes. Do something, they said. Tell me what to do. But she didn’t say it, only her expression did.
“We’ll call the police,” Andrew said. It came out like a guess. Should we? Is that what people do in these types of situations?
They didn’t own a gun. And they didn’t have neighbors who could hear their screams. The family next door, the Robertsons, had left for vacation that very day. The world, which only yesterday had seemed so big and colorful and vibrant, shrank to the size of a rice grain in those short, intense moments of panic.
The doorknob moved again. This time the whole door shook. The attempt to enter the room was angry, impatient.
“Get away from the door,” Andrew said, fumbling with the chargers beside their bed. He was trying to find his phone—the one he always turned off at night because his colleague said the radiation was slowly killing him over time. Kate tried to calculate how long it would take for him to find the phone, unplug it, hold down the power button for it to turn on, dial the number… Each task seemed to take off another year or so of her life.
“What about the kids?” she asked. Now her mind was filled, again, with those familiar images. With whoever was on the other side of this door walking down the hallway, watching Willow sleep in her bed surrounded by posters. Seeing Noah dozing beneath his balcony of stuffed animals.
“The kids,” Andrew stammered, as though in just this moment he’d remembered them. His fingers were pecking at the phone, pressing too many buttons to do anything productive.
She didn’t have a choice, she realized. Whoever was standing there, jangling the lock, in the dark, in the middle of the night, was not a figment of her imagination. This was not a dream. Whatever it was, was too big a threat to keep out there even a second longer. What if one of the children had heard the same commotion, had stumbled out of their beds to see…
She slung open the bedroom door.
The man was tall, his shoulders disproportionately wide in comparison to the rest of his narrow frame. It was hard to tell really, as he was wearing all black. His face was covered by a mask, slits at his eyes and mouth. His mouth was open beneath the fabric, she could tell. He seemed shocked she had opened the door so abruptly.
We need a break. From the world. From the children. From the dark thoughts rumbling around in our minds.
I look admiringly at how the pink skies swirl above the cerulean waters. I think, I never want to leave this place. I close my eyes, inhale deeply. The salt from the sea and the passing wind refreshes me. My hair blows back, off my shoulders, dancing in the air. And it’s quiet here. Secluded. Like we’re the only ones in the world. It never feels that way back home. It never feels peaceful or complete. Ever since that night, we’ve been struggling to feel whole again. But not here. This vacation has brought us closer to the family we were before our lives were ripped apart.
I’m afraid once we return, we’ll lose everything we’ve worked so hard to repair.
I open my eyes and look behind me.
Andrew is cruising the planked walkway leading from our rental house to the beach where I sit. He is wearing khaki pants and a button-down shirt. In his hands are a bottle of tequila and two shot glasses.
“Want a drink?”
“Yes.” I turn back to the sea, watching as another wave crashes onto the shore. “But it’s the last night. I’ve not even started packing.”
“It’s still your vacation. One drink won’t hurt,” he says, with an almost forced cheeriness.
Out of habit, my eyes scan the beach first. I have to make sure both my children are safe. Noah is standing at the water’s edge, his pants rolled up to his knees. He’s trying to catch sand crabs before they burrow away into the earth. Willow is sprawled out on her beach towel, where she has spent most of the day. She holds her phone above her body, two white cords snaking down to her ears.
I look back at Andrew. He’s smiling, holding out the bottle for me to take.
“Fine. You win,” I say, an attempt to keep him happy.
He sits beside me, setting the glasses in the sand before he pours two shots. He hands one over, making his own cursory check of the kids before he speaks.
“To vacation,” he says, clinking his glass against mine.
Andrew sips his drink, but I swallow mine whole. The taste is bitter, and I quickly lick the salt lining the rim to help mellow my palate. I’m still grimacing when I look back at Andrew and laugh.
“Look at us,” he says, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. “It’s like we’re two college kids all over again.”
“Almost,” I say, clearing my throat, trying to dislodge the stinging aftertaste. We’re at least pretending there aren’t any problems between us. “Except we have two children in tow. One of whom is a teenager now.”
“Don’t say that. It makes me feel old.”
“We are old,” I say, leaning my head on his shoulder. The sudden burst of tequila has left me dizzy.
Really, we’re not. In fact, we’re young to have a sixteen-year-old. We were both only twenty-two when she was born, which puts us just shy of forty. But I feel older, and I’m sure Andrew does, too. Parenting generates an ache you can feel in your bones, a tiredness that never seems to cease. This is the closest I’ve felt to relaxed in… I don’t know when.
“Mom?” Noah comes running up to meet us. “What’s for dinner?”
He kicks the sand and rolls his eyes. Suffice to say, it’s not his favorite meal.
“It’s the last night. We need something fast and easy,” I say, sitting upright. “Have you started packing yet?”
Instead of answering, Noah stomps back to the ocean. He passes his sister, who barely stirs on her blanket. The blaring music in her ears means she can’t hear us, but I’m sure she’ll have her own insult about tonight’s menu.
“Maybe we should just order a pizza?” I say to Andrew. “That would give us more time to pack.”
“Burgers sound delicious,” he says, pouring two more shots.
“I thought you said one drink wouldn’t hurt?” There’s an irritation in my voice that’s difficult to hide.
“To vacation,” he repeats, pushing the glass into my fingers.
I hold eye contact as I down the second drink. He’s rarely been this optimistic in the past year, and I’m reluctant to ruin it.
I close my eyes again, savoring the refreshing feel of the breeze against my warm skin. “I need to start packing.”
“Do me a favor,” he says, standing, his balance stable. “Let’s eat, and then we’ll start packing. Okay? I’d like one more family meal before this all comes to an end.”
I nod and smile. Andrew is right. This is the most we’ve been like us since… I’m reluctant to even think it. Since the invasion. It’s like our lives have been in marathon mode ever since that night, trying desperately to keep up, not run out of breath. Here, we’ve been present for the first time in a long while. Hunting for sand crabs. Listening to music. Drinking tequila by the sea.
“I’m going to start the grill.” Andrew wipes sand off his shorts. He starts to take the bottle with him.
“Leave it,” I say.
He chuckles. “That’s what I like to hear.”
He walks away, leaving me alone on the shore.
We’ve been together over seventeen years now, an amount of time that seems to have blinked past. I think back to when we first met. Our senior year of college. We’d somehow managed to live in the same thirty-mile radius, attend the same parties, frequent the same library, and still never cross paths. That first time I saw him, it was an immediate connection. Not love at first sight, exactly. That is too abstract for either of us to ever believe. But there was a definite something, a stillness in the air, a quiet voice within telling me this was right. The two of us were meant to meet. Meant to be.
The attraction was instant. Not that Andrew was particularly good-looking, but something about him dared me to look closer. When he smiled, his eyes crinkled into two thin slants. There was something mysterious behind those eyes. Something quizzical worth exploring. I wanted to know more.
A member of his college fraternity, he was used to having girls around, even if they were after more alpha types in the pack. When Andrew looked at me, I don’t think he saw what he’d seen in girls past. I barely spoke at parties in those days, let alone flirted, until I found myself staring at those alluring blue eyes. In a trance.
For months, I remained locked in that stupor. It didn’t matter that I was dating someone else at the time. Everything else in my life seemed washed away the moment we met. Andrew and I never discussed exclusivity or labels. Our relationship with one another was understood. We wanted every spare moment to be spent with each other. Exploring different dive bars around campus and local hiking trails. Every minute, every second seemed like it wouldn’t be enough. Our need for each other was ravenous, insatiable. Both of us in a fever dream that we didn’t want to end.
Like all dreams, of course, it did.
Graduation was on the horizon, but that very adult step was preceded by the revelation I was pregnant. Due six months after we would receive our diplomas. Our relationship, so beautifully undefined, now felt bound within a certain set of parameters. Decisions had to be made. Choices that would affect our careers and education and relationship, not to mention our own wavering identities.
The night we found out, Andrew settled his hand on my lower back, rubbing in soft circles. “We don’t have to decide now, you know.”
“If you…” He waited, gripped his chin with his hand. “I’m saying, I support you no matter what you want to do.”
“I don’t know what I want to do,” I said, defeated. I didn’t appreciate the burden being placed on my shoulders. Andrew was trying to alleviate that stress, but I could still feel its weight.
“I’m not used to this,” I said.
“Being pregnant? I’d hope not.”
“No.” I laughed. “Things not going according to plan. I’m used to being in control.”
“You are in control. That’s what I’m trying to tell you. Whatever you decide, I’ll be here for you. I love you.”
We’d said it before, usually in the heat of lovemaking or as a joke. This time when he said it, I felt the words’ impact. Those three syllables branched out through my body, filling me with warmth and confidence.
“What about our plans?”
“I’ve already been accepted to the graduate program for the fall. I’ll be here another two years at least. I feel confident I can complete my degree and parent at the same time.” He waited. “I understand it’s different for you.”
Briefly, my life seemed to flash before my eyes, the way they say it does when you die. I’d been offered a writing grant by the university. I thought I’d stay on campus another year, use the opportunity to hone my skills. It would be a first step toward what I believed would be an illustrious writing career.
“I’ve still not accepted the grant. There’s no way I’d be able to enter a program pregnant, let alone complete it with a newborn.” I bit my lip. “But I love you too and even though there’s barely anything inside me, I love it. Him or her.”
“We’re young. We still have our whole lives to figure it out. And we’ll both have our degrees within the month. Some things might have to be put on pause, but we can do this. Together.”
He kissed my hands. A single tear trailed down my cheek, and I was smiling. The fear, the love, the indecision… it was overwhelming. But in those moments with Andrew, it all felt right.
“We should get married,” he said.
My mouth fell open. “Married?”
“I know, right? Truth is, I can’t imagine a future without you. And I hate to break it to you, but a baby is a much bigger commitment than a couple of rings.”
“Married,” I repeated the word like a hex.
“One thing at a time.” He wrapped his arms around me, pulling me closer. “We’ll think about it. We don’t have to decide our entire future in one conversation.”
That’s how it started. Not I want to marry you. We should. It was a practical decision, even if the hormones in our brains made us believe otherwise. Sometimes I think every decision I’ve made since then has been the same—practical, logical, methodical. Except for that night in August.
Willow is walking away from the sea, her phone in her hand. The ends of her hair are damp, clumped together in narrow strands. Her skin is ivory. Even after a week, she doesn’t have the tan the rest of us do. She looks angelic. So, so beautiful. It’s hard to imagine the topic of our conversation all those years ago has developed into this full person before me. At sixteen, she’s only six years younger than I was when I made the decision to be her mother.
“What’s for dinner?” she asks when she gets closer.
I’m staring at her, smiling, lost in thought. I clear my throat, raise my book as though she interrupted my reading.
“My gosh. Could you guys get more boring?”
She returns to her towel and plops down, her legs and arms sprawled out like she’s about to be outlined in chalk. Her ears are plugged again with the headphones, and she’s retreated to a world where I no longer exist.
I stare at her a while longer, my smile dropping ever so slightly.
The meal came together easily, and eventually Willow got over the “basic-ness” of burgers. Andrew’s burgers aren’t basic at all, really. He has this special marinade he uses on the meat, which makes them taste savory with just a hint of sweet. Of course, they would have been better if we were back home and Andrew was using his familiar grill, but the one at the rental is in good condition, and by the time I take a bite, I can barely tell the difference.
“Good?” Andrew asks, waiting for approval.
“Mine’s great, Dad,” Noah says, even though his burger is nothing more than bread, meat and cheese. No toppings or condiments.
“What about you, Willow?” asks Andrew, equal parts joking and testing.
“Not bad,” she says, fighting against herself to smile. “You know I always like your burgers, but it’s the last night. I guess I was thinking we might do something special for dinner.”
“I’m happy you mentioned that,” Andrew says. “I actually have a surprise for all of you.”
“What is it?” Noah asks.
“Yes, what is it?” I ask, my voice noticeably more serious. Andrew isn’t the type to spring surprises, but I did notice something off about his behavior earlier. I settled on the fact he was probably anxious about returning home, as we both are, but I suppose I was wrong.
Andrew smiles. “This isn’t actually our last night.”
“What do you mean?” Willow asks.
“When I booked this place, there was a two-week minimum. It turned me off at first, but there were already so few places available, considering we booked last minute. I checked over my schedule at work and my vacation days were stacked high. I thought, why not? Let’s really go all out this year.”
Noah, with his dramatic flair, stands, pushing his seat away from the table. His eyes are glistening. “You’re saying we have a whole other week at the beach?”
“Yes, that’s what I’m saying.” Andrew looks over to me, fidgeting a fry between his fingers. “And that’s why I’ve been trying to stall your mom from packing all day.”
“This is awesome,” Noah says, jumping before getting back in his seat.
“You’ve known this since you booked the place?” I ask. I’m smiling, but I fear it looks strained. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Well, I wanted to surprise all of you. We’ve never taken a family vacation this long before, and I thought it would catch you off guard.”
“It worked,” Willow says, beaming. “All day I’ve been bummed about going back. This is, like, the best surprise ever.”
“That’s the reaction I was hoping for,” Andrew says. He turns to me. “Two-week vacation. Pretty cool, huh?”
He asks the question like it’s no big deal, but I know he wants my approval. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any reason why it would interfere with our schedules. I’m still on summer break at the community college. The kids won’t start school for another three weeks. The only person who would be impacted is Andrew. Financially, he’s the penny-pincher more than I am. If he’s okay with paying for another week’s rent, I should be celebrating. Who wouldn’t want another week of relaxation? And yet, part of me wonders if he’s done this intentionally. Because there is one reason why neither of us want to return to Hidden Oaks just yet.
“I think it’s a great idea,” I say, because I know he needs to hear it more than I actually believe it. “And that means I can have another cocktail. No packing tonight!”
“Atta girl,” Andrew says, raising his drink in a mock toast.
“Wait a minute,” Willow says, her pitch high and urgent like something awful has. . .
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