Excerpt

Behind Every Lie

Christina McDonald

The following is an exclusive excerpt from Behind Every Lie, by Christina McDonald. When Eva Hansen wakes up in the hospital after being struck by lightning, she learns that her mother, Kat, has been murdered. Eva can't remember a thing but the police are very suspicious of her, so she decides to travel to Kat's hometown to investigate, herself. She can't trust anyone she meets, but she's not sure of anyone should trust her.

“The police think I was at Mom’s house?” I asked Andrew, stunned. I pressed my phone against my good ear, my palms slippery with sweat as I stared at the ferry dock looming closer. Fear and adrenaline made my fingers tingle. “What does that mean? They don’t think I . . . ?” I couldn’t even finish the sentence.

“Eva!” Liam called from the car as the ferry horn blared. I waved that I was coming.

“Don’t worry, they aren’t preparing an arrest warrant or anything yet,” Andrew said. “They have to finish collecting evidence, do lab tests, interview witnesses. But I think they’re suspicious of you. My buddy on the force said the fact you were near Mom’s—”

“I wasn’t there! I got the ferry home after we had dinner!”

“The paramedics picked you up right by Mom’s house.” My brother’s voice was flat.

I opened my mouth to deny it, to swear that I would never physically harm our mother.

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But it wasn’t the truth.

Because I had harmed her before.

Badly.

***

“Everything all right?” Liam asked when I slammed the car door.

“Apparently the paramedics found me right by Mom’s house around the time she was killed. My brother thinks the police are suspicious of me!”

Liam scowled, fingers flexing on the steering wheel. “That’s why the detective was trying to question you! I knew he was up to no good. Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it. I’ll call my lawyer when we get home.”

I chewed my thumbnail, ripping the nail to the quick. Blood oozed from it, tasting of salt and rusted metal.

“Won’t I look guilty if I call a lawyer?”

“You have to defend yourself. Trust me, we can’t just sit here and do nothing.”

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A thin sliver of my fingernail splintered into my mouth, making a sharp snapping sound.

“Gross.” Liam pulled my hand out of my mouth, reminding me, suddenly, of my mom.

The ferry docked with a low thud. Liam put the car in gear, maneuvering into the lane of disembarking traffic. Twenty minutes later we turned into our driveway, gravel crunching under the tires.

I looked up at the three-story Washington log and timber-frame house Liam had built before we met. The house was nestled in the belly of the island. Red Douglas fir timbers perfectly complemented the surrounding evergreen trees. The pitched roof, gabled dormers, wraparound porch, and leaded windows were illuminated by the last rays of light peeking through a smattering of clouds that chugged slowly across the sky.

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Liam opened my door and helped me out of the car. Mr. Ayyad, our nearest neighbor, was jogging along the lake’s edge with his Siberian husky. Mr. Ayyad couldn’t have been a day younger than ninety-five, yet he moved smoothly and gracefully, with none of the stiffness you’d attribute to the elderly. He slowed as he caught sight of us and raised a hand, his long gray beard dancing in the wind. I waved back as Liam cupped his arm gently over my shoulders and led me up the porch stairs.

Inside, Liam turned all the lights on. The polished hardwood floor and fir beams overhead gleamed in the light. On the far side of the living room, an aged stone fireplace bisected floor-to-ceiling walls of glass that overlooked our private slice of Hidden Lake, spread like a quilt at the bottom of the yard.

I kicked my tennis shoes off automatically, losing my balance and almost knocking over the red-and-yellow art nouveau lamp I’d put on the entry table. I’d bought it at a garage sale a few years ago and I adored it. It was the only decoration here that was mine.

I crossed the living room and went into the garage. The pavement was cold under my bare feet. I threw the side door open and my cat, Ginger, streaked inside. She stretched her claws up my jeans and meowed.

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I’d found Ginger in a box on the side of the road shortly after I moved here. She was badly malnourished and had a broken hind leg. Liam had told me to leave her at a vet’s, but I couldn’t abandon her when she was so obviously traumatized. I knew too well what that felt like.

I scooped Ginger up and pressed my face to her neck. Her motor instantly turned on, comforting against my cheek. Putting her down, I filled a bowl with cat food and set it on the floor. When I returned to the living room, Liam had moved my shoes off the carpet to the shoe rack, a gentle reminder to clean up after myself.

“Sorry! I don’t know where my head is.”

Liam smiled. “It’s all right. You were just struck by lightning, after all.”

Our eyes met, and we both burst out laughing. It felt good, like I’d found an island of normalcy in this chaotic world I’d woken up in.

“Sit down. I’ll make you a sandwich.” Liam stroked his knuckles down my cheek. I winced as the raw skin scraped my face. Liam’s eczema had flared up again. “I’ll get you a glass of water.”

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“A cup of tea, maybe?”

“Won’t it just keep you awake?”

“You’re probably right. Just water then.”

I went upstairs to change into a clean shirt and yoga pants. When I returned, Liam was in the kitchen, barking orders into his phone. “I don’t care what it takes, get that building permit approved.” He paused, then sighed. “Fine. Up our budget. I’m not losing this project just because some new building inspector doesn’t know how this works.”

A second later, he came out of the kitchen with a glass of water and a cheese sandwich.

“Everything okay?” I asked.

He looked irritated. “There’s a new building inspector in town and he’s making noises about denying our building permit.”

“But you already have the building up, right?”

Liam frowned. “It’ll be fine. Just a little more negotiating than I thought, is all.”

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“I think I’ll go outside,” I said.

“Are you sure? Maybe you should just go to bed. The doctor said you need to rest. Heal. Your head got pretty banged up.”

He reached out to touch the bandage on my temple but I ducked away from his fingers. “I don’t know. I just feel too trapped inside right now.”

“You know you need to—”

“Honestly, I’m fine.” I cut him off before he went into overprotective mode.

“Okay, well, are you all right if I do a few things for work then?”

“Sure, of course.”

Liam was a workaholic. Any project, any job, he persisted at until he saw it through. I knew his drive was an unspoken fuck you to the father who’d rejected him when he was a teenager. But at least he’d turned a negative into a positive.

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“The best success stories begin with failure,” he’d told me once when we first met. He’d smiled then, and I knew. This was a man who wouldn’t give up on me. And I was right. Liam never gave up on anything.

I went outside to the sheltered wraparound porch and curled up on one of the wicker chairs, draping a blanket over my lap. The grand old trees swayed and creaked as the wind raked over them, shaking pine needles over the ground.

After a few minutes the automatic porch light clicked off, plunging the countryside into darkness. Finally, hidden by the velvety dark, I bowed my head, tears scorching my cheeks. The grief I’d been burying all day cracked and poured out of me.

***

Flashes of an alley slick with rain.

The outline of a man’s profile.

Someone calling my name.

“Eva. Eva!”

I lurched awake, my body covered in a cold, sticky sweat. Liam was sitting next to me on our bed. He stroked a finger gently down my cheek, his forehead etched with concern.

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“Morning, sleepyhead. How you feeling?” He was freshly showered, his hair still damp, his boy-next-door face smooth from his morning shave.

I touched my temple and winced. “A little sore,” I admitted. “What time is it?”

“A little after ten. I went and got croissants from that bakery you like in town.”

I bolted upright. Pain skewered my head and my heart simultaneously as I remembered.

Mom was dead.

I tried to stand. I needed to call Melissa.

“Relax.” Liam gently pushed me back down.

His voice, I realized, was clear again. My hearing was better.

“I took care of it. I told Melissa you weren’t feeling well. I moved a few meetings around so I could take care of you this morning. You know . . .” He ran a fingertip down my nose so gently I shivered. “You could set up your studio here at home. We could clear out more space in the garage next to your kiln. You could start selling your work online.”

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I blinked. My brain was too muddled to even process that idea.

“Just something to think about.” Liam stood and held up a small, butter-stained paper bag. “Have a shower and come downstairs.”

In the bathroom, I peeled the bandage off my temple. I touched the tender lump and froze, my left hand suspended in midair. I wiggled my fingers. My engagement ring was gone. A million worries about losing it collided inside my head, finally exterminated by one rational thought: the hospital must’ve taken it off for my CAT scan. I made a mental note to call them later.

The lightning marks on my left forearm were still wrapped, so I hunted in the first aid kit for a small pair of scissors. The bandage frayed and slipped as I awkwardly hacked at it with my right hand.

“Damnit!” Why didn’t they make tiny scissors for left-handed people?

Finally free of the bandages, I studied the marks feathering up my arm. The blisters had started crusting over, but the fernlike discolorations were still angry and red. In a way, I was glad for the marks, for the physical reminder of what had happened. It was more than I’d gotten last time, when all the wounds were hidden.

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I synced my phone to my Moxie showerhead speaker—a birthday present from Liam—and turned the music up full blast, tapping out a dance beat on my leg as I closed my eyes and let the hot water slide over my body. Fragments of memories flashed like a lightbulb with a loose connection. I shook my head. I wanted the cold blackand- white facts of what had happened the other night, but I couldn’t seem to gather the threads into any logical order.

Downstairs, the kitchen was warm and bright, the dishwasher humming quietly, the air smelling of antibacterial wipes. Liam had laid the dining table with a crisp white tablecloth, a carafe of orange juice, and ramekins of butter and jam. Everything was perfectly aligned. A vase of the black roses Liam grew in his greenhouse sat in the center, the velvet petals releasing a spicy clove scent.

Liam shook the flaky croissants from the bag onto two plates.

“Tea?” he asked.

“Yes, please.”

He flicked the electric kettle on and bustled about getting plates and napkins on the table. When the kettle boiled, he poured hot water over my tea bag and set a timer to let it steep for exactly three-and-a-half minutes.

My eyes fell on the table, the newspaper Liam had been reading.

The body of a woman was found in her house in Queen

Anne last night, just a few streets behind popular Kerry

Park. Police say the woman had been brutally murdered

and are asking—

“Let me take that.” Liam scooped up the newspaper and deposited it on the counter. The stark words paraded across my mind anyway.

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“I called a defense attorney,” he said. “The only evidence the police have is circumstantial. But he advised us to go in for an interview with the detective sooner rather than later. You can give them your fingerprints and DNA; obviously they’ll already be at the house from other times you’ve visited. You have no outstanding warrants, so they’ll have no reason to hold you. And it could take weeks to get the initial crime scene tests back.”

My throat went dry and gritty. Would they pull my file? Would they find out about my past? Liam might learn everything I’d worked so hard to hide.

I stared out the kitchen windows at the lake. The water was the color of clay, the wind rippling across its surface. Drizzle painted the landscape a dull gray. A movement just beyond the porch caught my eye. I jumped, a tremor dusting my arms, but then my eyes adjusted to the murky light. The lake was empty. It was just the shadows of the trees whipping in the wind.

Liam was watching me; I could feel his eyes even though he was trying to hide it. He thought I was being paranoid and irrational. Was he right? Or was I just grieving?

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I shivered, feeling raw and exposed. Liam set my tea in front of me, and I sipped it, not caring that it was too hot.

“I made an appointment with the lawyer in Langley first thing tomorrow morning,” he said. “We’ll talk to him together, then he’ll come with us to speak to Detective Jackson in Seattle.”

I should’ve felt grateful, but instead the grit of irritation slid beneath my teeth. What was wrong with me? Why was I being such an ungrateful bitch?

I picked up the butter knife and jabbed it into my croissant, slopped strawberry jam in the slit. Suddenly a strange mist oozed around my eyes. Electric pulses oscillated along the damaged skin on my left arm.

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I stare at the blood cooling on my hands. It is everywhere. The harsh iron scent clings to the back of my throat, making me feel like I will vomit.

And clutched in my left hand is a knife.

__________________________________

Copyright © 2020 by Christina McDonald. From the forthcoming book BEHIND EVERY LIE to be published by Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.




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