From the Amazon Charts and Wall Street Journal bestselling author comes the first book in a trilogy about love, betrayal, and the secrets families keep.
Forced to choose between abortion or adoption, Olivia Carson's younger sister, Lily, runs away from home. Sixteen and pregnant, she never returns. But she writes. Once a year, Lily mails a picture of her son, Josh, to Olivia until his thirteenth year. Then it's Josh himself who arrives at Olivia's house, alone, terrified, and in possession of a notarized declaration from Lily. It begins, “In the event I go missing...”
Josh has difficulty talking. He can't read or write, but he's a prolific artist, exhibiting skill beyond his age. His drawings are as detailed as they are horrific. Olivia soon realizes Josh's artwork tells a story. There's more to his arrival and to Lily's untimely disappearance than it seems. Using the drawings as a road map, Olivia traces Josh's path back to his mom. Each drawing sheds light on Lily's past and reveals a darkness that forces Olivia to question everything she thought she knew about her family.
Release date: July 6, 2021
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Print pages: 327
Reader says this book is...: emotionally riveting (1) suspenseful (1) unputdownable (1)
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No More Words: A Novel
Summer of ’95
Charlotte and Dwight Carson unloaded their three children at the Whitmans’ lakeside cabin like a courier with a cardboard package. Dwight shook hands with Harold Whitman, and Charlotte helped three-year-old Lily from her booster seat, depositing the little girl with the rosebud lips wrapped around her thumb onto the gravel driveway. She dragged reluctant six-year-old Lucas from his seat, prying his fingers one by one off the door latch while he hollered in her ear that he wanted to go home. Eight-year-old Olivia was the only one who willingly exited the car, inching the plastic thong on her flip-flops between her toes and shouldering her olive-green JanSport backpack. She was also the only one of her siblings smart enough to know that a summer at the lake with a family she barely knew would be a vast improvement over summers spent in day care and evenings with their parents, who, even to Olivia’s inexperienced eyes, didn’t love each other.
She was nervous, though. She’d never been away from home for six weeks. The longest she’d been without her parents were the four days Charlotte had her and Lucas stay with their neighbor Nancy Merriweather after Lily was born.
Gravel crunched under her flip-flops as she backed away from the car, looking up at the two-story A-frame cabin with the rustic wood siding that would be home for the next one and a half months. It looked tiny under the towering Jeffrey pines. But Rhonda Whitman assured Olivia the loft had enough room to comfortably sleep Olivia and her two younger siblings.
“Between you and me,” Mrs. Whitman conspiratorially whispered last weekend at Olivia’s parents’ annual summer luncheon, a catered affair with servers in black pants and starched white shirts, “there’s enough room to sleep ten kids. We’ll swim and play games. It’ll be your best summer ever,” she reassured when Olivia expressed her reluctance about being away from home for so long.
Olivia had smiled meekly, sipping the one glass of punch Charlotte allowed her before she’d be relegated to her room until the party ended. Dwight Carson was raising money for his congressional campaign, and the important people at the party, including the Whitmans, couldn’t be bothered with children underfoot. She wanted to believe Mrs. Whitman, but every summer Olivia experienced so far had been boring. Dwight always seemed to be running for an elected office. Summers were spent going door-to-door, distributing pamphlets, or attending rallies to raise funding for red, white, and blue lawn signs.
Lily sidled up to Olivia, her thumb lodged in her mouth. Olivia felt her little sister’s hand inside hers. She threaded their fingers, and Lily leaned into her like Mrs. Merriweather’s poodle when she scratched the dog in his favorite spot behind his ear.
Lily was nervous, too. So was Lucas. He wore his brave face but kept blowing out his cheeks and popping his lips. Olivia reached for Lucas’s sticky hand, and he surprisingly didn’t let go or shove her away. He had complained most of the drive from Seaside Cove, a planned, gated community on the coast just west of San Luis Obispo where they lived. He’d wanted his friend Tanner to come.
“Stop whining. You’ll make new friends,” Dwight had insisted before going back to his call on his brand-new wireless, scheduling client appointments for the upcoming week. Olivia didn’t know exactly what her dad did when he wasn’t campaigning, but she once overheard Charlotte explain to a neighbor that Dwight showed wineries how to operate. His job sounded distinguished to her.
Dwight kissed Olivia’s forehead. “I’m going to miss you.”
“I’m going to miss you, too.”
“I’ll call you every day.”
A little smile peeked out like sunshine through a cloud as she wondered what she’d tell him tomorrow. They could talk about her new sketches. She’d been drawing The Lion King characters from scratch and they looked good to her. She was devouring the Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley High series. Maybe he’d want to hear about the book she’d been reading because she couldn’t picture what they’d be doing all day here other than sitting around.
“Be good, Princess.”
“I will, Daddy.”
He turned to Lucas. “Listen to the Whitmans. Do what they tell you.”
Lucas threw himself against Dwight. “Don’t leave.”
“Summer will be over before you know it. You won’t even notice I’m gone.” He hugged Lucas, then wrested his arms from around his waist.
Sniffling, Lucas grasped Olivia’s hand. She could tell he didn’t believe Dwight. From the moment their parents told them they were sending them away, he’d been sure it would be forever.
Dwight turned to leave.
“Aren’t you going to say goodbye to Lily?”
Lily pressed closer to Olivia as if trying to disappear behind her.
Dwight scratched his clean-shaven chin and cleared his throat. His gaze shifted between Olivia and Lily. He stepped closer and patted Lily on the head like Olivia had seen him do with Mrs. Merriweather’s dog.
“See ya, kids.” He abruptly left and joined Charlotte at the car. Charlotte tossed her head back, laughing at something Mr. Whitman said. They worked at the same real estate firm, which was how the Carsons knew the Whitmans. Mr. Whitman touched Charlotte’s arm. He leaned close and whispered in her ear. Charlotte smiled, then folded into the driver’s seat, waving goodbye. Dwight got into the car and loudly shut his door. Charlotte drove off, kicking up pebbles and dust onto three pieces of luggage left in the gravel.
Olivia’s mouth turned down. Their parents left them in the driveway. UPS had the courtesy to leave packages on the porch and ring the doorbell.
Lily whimpered. Thinking she was sad because their dad didn’t kiss her goodbye, Olivia kissed her little sister’s forehead, just like Dwight did with her. “He didn’t mean to forget,” she said.
She spun around, tugging her siblings along like spinning passenger cars attached to the center pillar of an amusement park ride.
Mrs. Whitman smiled warmly and Olivia felt better already.
“Are you kids hungry? I made sandwiches. After, we can take the canoe out on the lake.”
In unison, three pairs of eyes looked at the lake. Beached on the shore was a colorful assortment of kayaks and canoes. A tire swing hung above the water. A paddleboarder glided across the surface. Mrs. Whitman waved.
Lucas’s hand slipped from Olivia’s. He scooted away, lured by the water.
“Wait until after lunch,” Mrs. Whitman said, and Lucas stopped, heeding the warning tone in her voice. The Carsons lived on oceanfront property. They had a dock with a small motorboat and kayaks, which Dwight took out every weekend. Olivia and Lucas learned to swim while still in diapers. Lily already knew the basics of swimming, enough to keep herself afloat if she fell into the water. But their parents forbade them to go near the shore. Dwight never took them kayaking or on his boat. He thought them too young, the water too choppy. They could fall out.
But this lake was flat and shimmery like the stained glass windows at church.
“Would you like to play in the water this afternoon?” Mrs. Whitman asked.
Lucas nodded, eyes wide, his brave face radiating with excitement.
“Yes,” Olivia agreed. Even Lily looked longingly at the lake, the murky water gently lapping the shore. Between two trees hung a hammock. Olivia wanted to sketch there and read her books.
“Wonderful.” Mrs. Whitman’s smile broadened. She looked over her shoulder. “Theo. Ty. Come help.”
Olivia looked up at the Whitmans’ kids, who’d been watching their arrival from the front deck slouched over the rail, chins propped on forearms. Both wore swim trunks, their torsos tanned from the high-altitude sunlight.
“Mom,” Theo complained, hiding his face.
Mrs. Whitman rolled her eyes. “He can’t stand it when I use his first name.” She grinned at Olivia.
Olivia smiled shyly. She knew Theo from school. He sat two rows over from her in Mrs. Foster’s class. She also knew he hated his first name and insisted everyone call him Blaze. What she didn’t know was why. Where did he come up with that nickname?
She liked Blaze. He’d always been nice to her.
“Ty, get Lily’s bag,” Mr. Whitman instructed. He’d already picked up Olivia’s and Lucas’s duffels, dusting them off. Tyler, tall for a five-year-old, dragged Lily’s My Little Pony roller up the deck steps. The little suitcase bumped along behind him. Lucas followed them inside, eager to eat and change into his swim shorts.
Mrs. Whitman held out her hand for Lily’s. “Do you like ice cream?”
Lily’s thumb popped from her mouth. “I love ice cream.”
“Will you show me your favorite flavor?”
Lily nodded and took Mrs. Whitman’s hand, leaving Olivia alone with Blaze. She wiped her palm, damp from Lily’s hand, on her light-blue jersey shorts.
“Hi,” Blaze said, his hair mussed and feet dirty.
“Hi,” she said quietly. She twisted her shirt hem.
He squeezed the back of his neck and nudged gravel with his toe. “Ty and I built a fort in the loft. Want to see?”
She followed him into the cabin with brown shag carpeting and faux wood paneling, and up a wide set of stairs to the loft. What Olivia saw could only be described as magical. Multicolored sheets were draped over ropes that crisscrossed the A-shape room that opened to the house below, creating five small tents. Each tent slept one person. Sleeping bags and pillows had already been laid out so that the head of each tent faced the center of the room. If she’d looked down at the tents from the ceiling, they’d form a five-pointed star. Crescent moon twinkle lights framed the openings of the boys’ tents and stars glittered on hers and Lily’s. She knew whose tent was whose because someone had taped hand-drawn name cards to each tent.
“You did this?” she asked, dazzled.
Blaze’s cheeks pinkened. “Ty helped.”
She delicately touched her card. The letters, L-I-V-Y, had curlicues on the ends. Flowers bordered her nickname.
“I made yours,” he said. “Ty did Lily’s and Lucas’s.”
Her gaze lifted to the card on the tent beside hers. Blaze’s name was written in bold, block letters, the handwriting impatient, not nearly as crisp and lovely as hers.
She looked at their pillows, practically touching in the center. Hers was plain white. His was Mario Bros. She bit her lower lip, her stomach twitching. It felt like hummingbirds flying about, their delicate wings fluttering inside her. She had imagined it would be just her, Lucas, and Lily up there. But this was better, their tent star. Thinking about Blaze sleeping beside her, his head close to hers, made her nervous and shy. But she’d rather be near him than Lucas. Her brother tooted in his sleep. He’d pull her hair and plug her nose just to annoy her. But with Blaze, they could whisper about their favorite movies and books, giggle late into the night about the funny faces their teacher made when she wrote on the whiteboard.
“Kids, come eat,” Mrs. Whitman called from the bottom of the stairs.
Olivia smiled. “I like this,” she admitted, gliding her fingers across her name card. Mrs. Whitman was right. This would be the best summer ever.
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