One of them is missing… One of them did it… The Thanksgiving retreat was meant to be a time for them to get away from it all, miles from the secrets that threaten to tear their family apart. But they’re each hiding something: Rose hopes the pretty house overlooking the sea is just the break her family needs. But as she gazes at the water and remembers her own childhood, she is utterly terrified. Brandon knows his wife Rose has barely forgiven him for his affair. He’s started drinking again, a road that led him to disaster once before. Brianna, Rose’s sister-in-law, is recovering from her fifth miscarriage, and when she looks at her adorable niece, she can’t help but see the daughter she deserves. Then three-year-old Lily disappears from her bed in the villa. Isolated in what should have been paradise, it quickly becomes clear that one of them took her. As one by one their secrets are uncovered, who will be destroyed next? A completely addictive thriller about every parent’s worst nightmare that will keep you guessing into the early hours of the morning. Perfect for fans of The Guest List , One by One and The Sister-in-Law . What readers are saying about The Vacation : “ OMG… the story grips from the start. Nail-biting and heartbreaking. Eek— I’ll be thinking about the ending for a long time. It had everything that a brilliant mystery needs and I’d recommend it in a heartbeat! ” Bestselling author, Carla Kovach ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
“ I probably shouldn’t have read it after bedtime, but I had to find out what happened to Lily. This is a compulsive read with plenty of twists and a family full of suspects.” Goodreads reviewer “A tense and thrilling story… You are kept guessing until the end and the conclusion is absolutely shocking.” Goodreads reviewer “I finished almost in one sitting… The book was a real page-turner and I just had to find out who was responsible. Plenty of red herrings and the shocking truth wasn’t what I expected.” Goodreads reviewer
Release date: May 27, 2021
Print pages: 350
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Finally, finally, she’s managing to relax, despite how hard the last couple of days have been. Maybe Brandon was right, maybe the vacation was just what they needed—time with family and friends in paradise. She’s been ridiculous to stress so much about it, and she really does need to get better at dealing with her anxieties. She makes a mental note to make an appointment with her therapist as soon as they get back to the States.
“Gin,” Anabelle calls.
Rose reopens her eyes to watch Anabelle spread her cards out on the wooden table with a single, graceful, well-manicured gesture; the moonlight glints off the pool behind Anabelle, playing up the contrast between her pink French tips and her brown skin. Rose glances down at her own pale hand—a dash of red polish might be the perfect touch for their upcoming Thanksgiving dinner.
“Dammit,” Brandon says, and throws his cards down. “Five in a row. I give up.”
Anabelle’s uncharacteristically sharp laugh cracks across the tiled courtyard and echoes off the three mustard-yellow houses that enclose it. “That’s because I’m the only one not drunk.”
A chorus of half-hearted denials ring out, and Rose examines the nearly empty pitcher of rum punch as she sets her own cards down. It’s the second pitcher, but even so, is that really enough to get six adults drunk? She’s tipsy, without a doubt. Not a problem, the children are asleep, but she probably shouldn’t drink anymore regardless. Everyone has to be up early tomorrow morning, and her brother- and sister-in-law have already gone to bed.
The thought reminds her. “I should go check on the kids. Do you want me to look in on your boys, too?”
Anabelle starts to answer, but her husband Mateo interrupts. “Chill out, Rosie, Brandon just checked on them. You’re gonna turn into one of those—what’s it called—helicopter parents. Oh, wait—too late.”
Rose winces at the nickname he knows she hates, and stands. “I don’t like being out of earshot for too long when they aren’t feeling well. And believe it or not, it’s been well over an hour since he checked on them. Time flies when you’re having fun.”
Mateo throws up his hands, a wry grin on his face. “An hour, well, then! My bad.”
Rose refuses to rise to the bait—let him vent any way he needs to—choosing instead to shake her head gently and smile. “I’ll just be a minute.”
Sauntering toward the south-most house in the villa, she tries to refocus on the caress of the warm breeze. She steps under the gorgeous Moroccan-scrolled overhang to the door and then into the bohemian living room, all wicker furniture and bright, happy prints that make her smile. The room is stuffy—only the ceiling fans propel the warm air inside—and already she misses the intoxicating breeze. She cracks open the door to the children’s room, and peeks into Jackson’s crib. He’s sound asleep, and she smiles at the sight of his face, cherubic in the soft glow of the night light. Thank goodness he’s sleeping soundly—it’s hard enough to get him to sleep through the night even without the sniffles that have made him fussy all day.
The door swings open the rest of the way, and the hair on Rose’s neck stands up in the breeze. Because it’s organic again, natural and flowing, not the artificial swirl of the fans. The window shouldn’t be open, but it is, curtains billowing out into the room, obscuring Lily’s bed just underneath.
She rushes over and bats aside the curtains—the bed is flat, empty. Heart pounding in her throat, she pulls at the covers and sheets and pillows as though her daughter could be hiding underneath them, playing an impossible game of hide and seek.
“Lily?” She frantically dives to check under the bed, kicks away the wicker chairs, pushes aside the clothes in the tiny closet. “Lily, this isn’t funny. Come out right now!”
But she knows this isn’t a three-year-old’s prank. Lily’s not the sort of child who hides from her mother. And she’s timid, anxious even—she’d never climb out a window on her own.
Rose clambers onto the bed and sticks her head out, glancing left and right, seeing nothing except the empty street that leads past the house through John’s Hall and toward Montego Bay.
No Lily. No anybody.
Fueled by a last scrap of hope, she dashes back through the small house—master bedroom, kitchen, living room—calling Lily’s name, louder now, any concern for waking Jackson gone.
She hurries back to the children’s room and searches again, the bed, the closet, Jackson’s crib, behind the chairs, refusing to admit what she won’t find.
Then, she sinks to her knees, screaming.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, I talked to Leo today.” Brandon froze at the entrance to the living room and smiled down at her. “You always look so beautiful when you’re in your happy place.”
Rose glanced up from her fabric swatches, legs tucked up under her as she cuddled into the couch, and laughed. “I never thought of it that way, but I guess strolling through a new set of fabrics is my happy place, like my brain’s version of running free through Disneyland. But I also got some really excellent news today. That boutique in Boston called and said my collection is selling so well they want everything from my spring/summer collection. I’ve been riding the adrenaline rush all evening, waiting for the kids to go to sleep so I can dive into these and start planning for next fall.”
“Congratulations, hon. Next step: New York Fashion Week.” Brandon gestured an imaginary marquee above his head.
She rolled her eyes. “Maybe a few more steps in between. But you were saying you talked to Leo today?”
“Right.” He set his glass of wine on a coaster, grabbed the television remote, and dropped onto the sleek black sofa. “He called and invited us for Thanksgiving.”
Rose turned cold. “In Jamaica?”
Brandon took a sip of the wine. “Where else?”
“I thought they might be coming back to the States for the holidays,” she said, her design process forgotten. “He called you at work?”
Brandon cleared his throat. “He left a message while I was in surgery. For a really jacked-up facelift, by the way—the woman’s third, because the guy who did the second one butchered her. Anyway. I called Leo back on my way home.”
Of course Leo would try to convince Brandon first. He’d been trying to get them to visit for the last six months, and knew full well that Rose wouldn’t want to go. “That’s nice of them to invite us, but—”
“He’s inviting Mateo and Anabelle, too, so we’ll have the gang back together. And you were just saying how you weren’t ready for another New England winter.”
“But we were talking about Los Angeles or even Napa Valley. And sometime in January, not over Thanksgiving. My parents will have a fit.”
“We’ll see your parents over Christmas. But this is the only way we’ll get to see my sister over the holidays.”
Rose’s chest tightened. “But they’ll be moving back in the spring. That’s not so long, and we’ll see them then.”
He clicked on the TV, but muted it as he surfed the channels. “That’s just it. AmericAid needs him there for at least another year. I guess the hurricanes last year slowed things down, so his part of the project won’t finish on time. And Bree has never met Jackson. They need to bond.”
“We’ve talked about this.” Her mind raced. She slid the swatches onto the glass coffee table and grabbed her computer. She typed and clicked, then swiveled the machine to show the screen to Brandon. “Look. Travel advisory. Avoid unnecessary travel to Jamaica.”
He flicked his wrist toward her and reached for his wine. “They always say that.”
“That’s because it’s always true. Look here.” She pointed at the screen. “And I quote: ‘Violent crimes such as home invasions, armed robberies, sexual assaults and homicides are common. Local police lack the resources to respond effectively to serious criminal incidents.’ The kids are too young for us to take those risks.”
“The crime isn’t against tourists, it’s outside those areas. You’re buying into alarmist stereotypes.” He settled on a twenty-four-hour news channel.
“It says incidents happen frequently even at all-inclusive resorts, and it lists Montego Bay specifically. And it goes on to say that even government personnel are prohibited from traveling outside prescribed areas and shouldn’t use public transportation. And that you shouldn’t drive or walk at night.” She moved her pointed finger across the lines as she read the page.
“Rose. There are plenty of places in Boston that aren’t safe to go to after dark. You find that everywhere.”
“But we know Boston. We know where to go and where not to go.”
He reached over and gently swatted the laptop closed. “And Leo and Bree know Jamaica. They’ve lived there for two and a half years, and other people in the organization have been there even longer. They know where it’s safe and where it isn’t. And Anabelle’s father was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. She’s spent time on every island in the Caribbean.”
Her voice wavered as she struggled to stay calm. “I told you about that piece I saw on The Global Daily Gazette site, about the little girls getting kidnapped in Jamaica.”
“And I told you to stop reading that gossip rag.” He gestured toward the TV with the remote. “Stick with real news. Hundreds of kids are kidnapped all over the world every day. You only clicked on that particular article because Leo and Bree are in Jamaica.”
Rose shifted in her seat and shot a glance upward, in the direction of the children’s rooms. “Can’t they just come back here instead? We can even host Thanksgiving dinner. You’ve always wanted to barbecue a turkey.”
Brandon followed her glance. He clicked off the TV and turned to fully face her. “Did you talk to the doctor about a new prescription?”
“My body’s still readjusting from Jackson’s birth, and I don’t want to mess with that balance.”
He tilted his head at her. “It’s been over a year.”
The truth was she wanted to prove, mostly to herself, that she no longer needed the medication. She cleared her throat. “I’ve been fine day to day, and the doctor gave me some emergency Xanax if I have a panic attack or anything.”
Brandon’s expression was skeptical. “Good, bring it with you. But talk to your doctor about starting a new prescription before we go, because you shouldn’t be this distressed by a possible trip to paradise. I know why you worry so much about them, but we can’t let it rule our lives. You have to get past it, your therapist even said so. You know I’d never let anything happen to you or the kids, right?”
She nodded. She also knew that her own father never would have willingly let anything happen to her or her sister. And yet, Lillian Marie had drowned in Lake Merritt just the same.
“Okay, then. Talk to your therapist too, she’ll help you feel better about it. But we need this trip. You’ve been working so hard between the kids and your design work, and after everything I’ve had to deal with to take over the new practice, I need a break.” He gestured toward the swatches. “Think how amazing a little island inspiration will be. We’ll come back refreshed and happy. You’ll see. Trust me.”
Trust. She trusted him just fine. He made her feel protected and secure—his confidence and strength were the main reasons she’d fallen in love with him. But the downside of the alpha-male energy, the flip side of the confidence-and-strength coin, was he could be stubborn. He had strong opinions about the world, and when he committed to some sort of action, there wasn’t any changing his mind.
And her therapist would say he was right about this. It was far too easy for her to slip into her safe cocoon, and that wasn’t good for her or the kids. The last thing she wanted was to pass her anxieties off on them; she knew too well how the neuroses of a parent could bleed into every aspect of a child’s life.
So she might as well find a silver lining. “You always see those stunning resorts on the commercials. Beautiful spas and gorgeous restaurants, and I’m sure they’re all very secure.”
He waved the thought away. “You can spend your entire trip in one of those resorts and never even know what island you’re on. Leo said he knows a little villa close to where he lives that we’ll love. Three houses built around a shared courtyard, tall protective wall enclosing it all, with a view of the ocean. It even has a nice big pool. Sounds amazing.”
The fear stabbed back through her. “Doesn’t he live up in the mountains? They’re doing something with windmills up there, right, or solar panels? The travel warning says you should keep to the tourist areas.”
“Rose. Do you really think my sister would let her husband bring us someplace that wasn’t safe? Me and you, maybe. But with the kids? She loves Lily like she’s her own, and she’ll love Jackson just the same.”
The thought came unbidden, and she chastised herself for having it. She pushed it down and nodded. “I’m sure you’re right. I’m being silly.”
He smiled and squeezed her hand, then clicked the TV back on and took a long sip of his wine.
She pulled the swatches back into her lap and stared down, not seeing them.
Anabelle turned at the door to her sons’ bedroom and gazed back at the boys. She shook her head—they always looked so sweet and harmless when they slept, nothing like the rowdy Energizer bunnies that tore through the house all day. She was barely thirty, she should be able to keep up with a five-year-old and a three-year-old, but by the end of the day she felt like she’d been training for a triathlon.
Was the triathlon the one with swimming, or was it the one with the shooting? She couldn’t remember. Whichever one had the swimming.
Careful to be as quiet as possible, she clicked the door closed and padded down the stairs. Mateo was hiding out in his office, surrounded by paperwork and poking fiercely at the touchpad on his laptop. She crossed to the armchair next to his desk and plopped down, running her eyes greedily over his screen and the papers in front of him.
“They didn’t like any of the properties you showed them?” she asked.
“No, and they’re driving me nuts. Every house I show them, their criteria change. First they don’t want to spend too much, so I figure I’ll take them to some fixer-uppers. They’re young, whatever they buy now is going to be a starter home regardless. But then, no, she’ll have to entertain for her job and she’ll need to hit the ground running, so the house has to be move-in ready yesterday. Then I take them to some top-notch stuff, and it’s too far out of their price range. I don’t know what they think they’re going to get.”
Anabelle scrunched up her face. “So late in the year, they must be betting someone’s desperate to sell ’cause they couldn’t move their house during summer.”
“Normally I’d say you’re right, but she has to start the job first of December. So I think it’s circumstance rather than calculation.”
“Mmm.” As he scoured the listings for the elusive black pearl they wanted him to pluck from thin air, her fingers itched to do her own search. She pointed at the screen. “What about that one? It’s been on the market since April. I bet they’d consider even a low-ball.”
He clicked it and scrolled, and the details flew past. “You’re right. Good catch.”
The compliment gave her courage. “You know, I took a look at our budget today. If we want both boys to go to Catholic schools through high school then to even a state university, we need to save more. I really don’t want the boys to have to take out student loans.”
He frowned, finished what he was writing, and finally looked up at her. “Once you start working, we’ll be able to double up and plug that hole. Even part-time, I’ll be able to take on a lot more clients with your help. And clients love you. Especially the men.” He winked at her.
“Well, that’s kinda what I was thinking. Now that Michael’s in kindergarten, maybe I could put Marcus in preschool a couple of days a week and start helping out. If we did even just three days a week, I could do a lot. And when we get the rhythm of Casillas & Casillas Realty back in full swing again, we can turn things around.”
The frown returned. “That’s not what we planned. And we don’t have your girl yet.” He set the pen down, then reached to stroke his hand up her inner thigh. “Speaking of…”
She shifted out of his reach so he’d stay focused. “I want another baby more than anything. But we’re falling way more behind than I thought we were. And, on top of that, I’m going nuts without any adult conversation day after day. Even just a couple of mornings a week would make a huge difference, and we could kill two birds with one stone.”
He drew his hand back. “You were the one who wanted kids, not me. I’ve made sacrifices, too.”
She winced. He’d wanted to enjoy each other’s company, working just enough to pay for travel and adventures and enjoy being in love, like an extended honeymoon. And they had, for two years, and she’d loved every minute of it. But then she got pregnant and the kids put the romance on hold. He hadn’t been happy about that.
He leaned back in his chair. “I’m sorry, but I’m confused. You were the one who wanted to be a stay-at-home mom until they got to school.”
She scrambled for a response. She didn’t believe in strangers raising her kids at daycare and hated the idea of them being latchkey kids, coming home to a cold, dark house the way she’d had to. But that was before she found out how zombifying it was to be home all day with two little kids. She loved them more than life, but she needed to talk to adults now and then, and she really needed to get back to work. She’d been just as surprised as Mateo when she fell in love with real estate—she’d never been passionate about anything before, but real estate was fun and she was good at it. And she missed feeling like she could do something other than change diapers and spit out lyrics to children’s songs.
Mateo’s scowl made it clear she’d ticked him off. She had to fix it.
She shifted over and sat on his lap. “I think I just need some balance.”
One of his hands slid under her shirt. “Ah, well, then, no problem. Leo and Bree invited us down to Jamaica for Thanksgiving. That should be a nice break for you.”
That’s not what she meant, and he knew it. “Is that a good idea? We spent so much on the trip to Italy this summer, we can’t really afford—”
It was a mistake—he bristled. “Leo and Bree are getting a villa so they can stay with Rose and Brandon anyway, and they refused to take any money. But it pisses me off that you’d say that, like I’m gonna end us all up on the street. You have to enjoy life, Anabelle, otherwise what’s the damned point?”
If she pushed now, he’d just get more upset. So she leaned in and kissed his cheek, and he answered by kissing a path up her neck. Not having to pay for the type of crazy digs the Martins and the Palsers liked to book on vacations would be a help. And it had been a year since she visited her father’s family in the Dominican Republic; she could use a little island time, and Jamaica would be almost as good. The sound of the beach, the feel of the air, tropical drinks and romance in the evenings—it would give her time to work on Mateo, really bring home how important it was they got a little more money coming in, and convince him that a morning or two here and there in a daycare wouldn’t be a problem for little Marcus.
He ran his fingers over the long box braids that reached down to the middle of her back. “And you just had your hair done. It’s like fate, the perfect time for a trip to the Caribbean with your low-maintenance ‘do already in place.” He slipped her shirt over her head. “Have I mentioned how sexy you look in braids?”
“I need the right hair to be sexy?” She put on a pout and looked up at him through her thick lashes, well aware her Pilates sessions had kicked her lean, curvy figure back up quickly after both births.
He pulled her legs around his waist as he stood. “Baby, even if you shaved your head, you’d still be the finest thing in any room.”
She leaned in as he lowered her to the floor. Funny how the very thing you loved best about someone could turn into the thing that drove you the craziest. He acted first and thought later, once it was too late. But maybe she could use that to help her cause, tell him how it was even more important that she help him bring in more business after two expensive trips.
Either way she didn’t have much choice. So she tried to put the cost of college educations out of her mind and focused her attention on what Mateo’s hands were doing to her hips.
Brianna Martin Palser curled up into her too-warm bed, sheet pulled up and cradled into her arms, face buried into her pillow. It was Sunday, which meant Future Heroes, the school where she taught children to read, was closed, and thus the only thing that motivated her up and out of bed was missing. Suspended in a miserable catch-22, she couldn’t bear to drag herself out of bed without their sweet faces, but if she stayed in bed, all she’d be able to do was obsess about the miscarriage until her brain buried her completely in a deluge of futility and pain.
The miscarriage. Her miscarriage. Her last miscarriage, because she wasn’t likely to get pregnant again at forty-two. Not when she’d struggled for the last fifteen years, first on her own when her body was younger and it should have been easy, then with the help of invasive, painful fertility treatments and attempted in vitro that only resulted in far more expensive, and devastating, disap. . .
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