A brand new standalone novel in the By The Bay series is live this week from author J.L. Berg, and I have an excerpt for you.
She was rambling now as Lizzie skipped ahead of us as I tried to come to terms with what she’d just told me. She’d been lying to her family for three solid years. Maybe more.
That nurse I’d met in the hospital, the one I thought was happy and full of life. Was that all a lie?
“It was my mother’s birthday, and I’d planned every moment of the weekend. Cirque du Soleil was in town, and I’d gotten us front row tickets and reservations to the best restaurant in town, plus beach time with Lizzie and a trip to the Children’s Museum. I’d checked Blake’s schedule, I had, but I guess it changed, and we were suddenly hosting a dinner for twenty. I tried to convince him that my parents wouldn’t be an imposition, but he refused.”
“Did he hit you?” I asked. I wasn’t sure why I’d jumped to that conclusion. Maybe it was the way she’d jumped away from my touch that night at the inn or the vacant, haunted expression in her eyes every time she spoke of the past, but the moment I asked, I already knew the answer.
She swallowed hard and turned away. “I called my parents and said Lizzie had come down with the flu. That was my first lie. After that, they just kept coming, like excuses for his poor behavior, until I couldn’t tell what was real and what wasn’t.”
“So, why don’t you tell them the truth now? Now that you’re free from him?”
Her eyes settled on Lizzie. We’d reached the entrance of the inn. She’d gathered up all her findings on the porch, and she was now inspecting them one by one. She looked up at us, giving a big smile and wave in our direction. We both did the same back.
“I don’t know,” Cora responded. “I’ve thought about it, but I don’t know how to tell them. And, honestly, isn’t it better this way? For everyone?”
“You mean, for you?”
Her face heated in anger. “So what? Not all of us can be brave and perfect like you, Dean.”
Her gaze settled on my arm. The one I held close to my chest in hopes that people wouldn’t notice it.
“Like me? What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“I see the way people look at you around here. You’re a glorified hero. You can do no wrong. You’re Dean Sutherland, the survivor. You might as well get it tattooed on your forehead.”
My gaze dropped to the ground as a couple of choice curse words fell from my mouth. “Jesus Christ,” I said. “You want to know something about your glorified hero, Cora?”
Her eyes widened at my language. A Southern boy using the Lord’s name in vain was serious business.
“I haven’t worked a single damn day since I returned home. Not a fucking day,” I said, my voice lowering so that Lizzie couldn’t hear me. “I’ve been putzing around this island for nearly three years, feeling sorry for myself. My little brother does all the work, and I freeload. I like to call other people out on their baggage, including you, because I’m too scared to deal with my own. I wake up nearly every morning, reaching out for a part of my body that doesn’t exist anymore, only to relive that stupid fucking night all over again. People around here stare at me because they feel sorry for me. Sorry for the piece of shit I’ve become. So, how’s that for glorified hero?”
Silence settled between us as our eyes locked. She stared up at me as I stared down at her.
Finally, she took a deep breath, lifted her chin, and said, “Wow, you’re pretty messed up.”
A smirk tugged at the corner of my mouth. “Yeah, well, so are you I’ve gathered.”
She joined me in a laugh. “Want to come in for tea?”
“I thought you’d never ask.”