The New York Times bestselling author is back with another page-turning beach read about a woman whose life is turned upside down when she discovers her husband cheating on her.
Rising media star and lifestyle blogger Grace Stanton’s own life gets torpedoed after she drives her cheating husband’s pricey sports car straight into the family swimming pool in a fit of anger. Soon she’s locked out of her own palatial home, checking account, and blog, forced to move in with her widowed mother who lives above, and owns, The Sandbar, a rundown beach bar. Attending court-mandated weekly “divorce recovery” therapy sessions with a group of three other women—marital misfits whose only common denominator is betrayal—Grace and the women soon ditch their therapist and move their Wednesday “Ladies’ Night” sessions to The Sandbar. They begin to help each other, walking a fine line between revenge and justice, as each one finds closure in ways previously unimagined. Can Grace figure out a new way home and how strong she needs to be to get there? Told with Mary Kay Andrews’s unique blend of humor, heart, and unpredictable plot twists, Ladies’ Night will have you raising a glass and cheering these characters on.
If Grace Stanton had known the world as she knew it was going to end that uneventful evening in May, she might have been better prepared. She certainly would have packed more underwear and a decent bra, not to mention moisturizer and her iPhone charger.
But as far as Grace knew, she was just doing her job, writing and photographing Gracenotes, a blog designed to make her own lifestyle look so glamorous, enticing, and delicious it made perfectly normal women (and gay men) want to rip up the script for their own lives and rebuild one exactly like hers.
* * *
She peered through the lens finder of her Nikon D7000 and frowned, but only for a moment, because, as Ben had told her countless times, a frown was forever. She made a conscious effort to smooth the burgeoning wrinkles in her forehead, then concentrated anew on her composition.
She’d polished the old pine table to a dull sheen, and the available light streaming in from the dining room window glinted off the worn boards. With her right hand, she made a minute adjustment to one of the two deliberately mismatched white ironstone platters she’d placed on a rumpled—but not wrinkled—antique French grain-sack table runner. She replaced the oversized sterling forks, tines pointed down, at the edge of the platters. Should she add knives? Maybe spoons? She thought not. Spare. The look she was going for was spare.
Edit, edit, edit, she thought, nodding almost imperceptibly. Less was more. Or that’s what Ben always claimed.
Now. About that centerpiece. She’d cut three small palmetto fronds from the newly landscaped driveway … No, she corrected herself. The builder’s Web site referred to it as a motor court. The palmettos were giving her fits. She’d arranged them in a mottled, barnacle-crusted pale aqua bottle she’d plucked from a pile of random junk at the flea market the weekend before. They should have looked great. But no. They were too stiff. Too awkward. Too vertical.
Grace replaced the palmettos with a cardboard carton of lush red heirloom tomatoes. Hmm. The vibrant color was a good contrast against the nubby linen of the runner, and she loved the lumpy forms and brilliant green and yellow stripes on some of the irregularly shaped fruits. Maybe, if she placed the container on its side, with the tomatoes spilling out? Yes. Much better.
She grabbed a knife from the sideboard and sawed one of the tomatoes in half, squeezing it slightly, until seeds and juices dribbled out onto the tabletop.
Perfect. She inhaled and clicked the trigger on her motor-driven shutter. Click. Click. Click. She adjusted the focus so the pale gel-covered seeds were in the foreground. Now, she zoomed out, leaving the tomatoes as red blurs, so that the old ironstone platters were in focus, their age-crazed crackles and brown spots coming into sharp relief.
“Very pretty,” a voice breathed in her ear.
Ben rested a hand lightly on her shoulder and studied the vignette.
“Is that for tomorrow’s ‘Friday Favorites’ post?” he asked.
“Mm-hmm,” Grace said. “I tried the palmetto fronds and, before that, a basket of seashells, and then some green mangoes, but I think the tomatoes work best, don’t you?”
He shrugged. “I guess.”
“What?” Grace studied his face, as always, craving his approval. “The tomatoes don’t work for you?”
“They’re nice. In an artsy-fartsy kind of way,” he said.
She pushed a strand of light brown hair off her forehead and took a step back from the table. She’d spent an hour putting the table together, and she’d been fairly pleased with the effect she’d achieved. But Ben didn’t like it.
“Too country-cutesy?” she asked, glancing at her husband. Ben’s trained eyes missed nothing. He’d been in the ad business forever, and no detail was too small or too insignificant. It was why they made such a great team.
“It’s your blog,” he reminded her. “And your name is on it. I don’t want business stuff to impinge on your editorial freedom. But…”
“But what? Come on. I’m a big girl. I can take it.”
“The Aviento folks sent us a big crateful of pieces of their new fall line,” Ben said, hesitating. “Treasures of Tuscany, the new pattern is called. It’s for the giveaway you’re doing on Monday. I was thinking maybe you could put the tomatoes in one of those bowls they sent.”
Grace wrinkled her nose. “That is seriously the ugliest pottery I have ever seen, and it looks about as Italian as a can of Chef Boyardee.”
“You don’t have to set the whole table with it. Just maybe put some of the tomatoes in one of the bowls. They are spending a lot of money advertising with us now, and it would be good if they could see their product … you know.”
“Stinkin’ up my ‘Friday Favorites’ tablescapes,” Grace said, finishing the sentence for him. “Did you promise them I would use it editorially? Tell me the truth, Ben.”
“No!” he said sharply. “I would never try to influence you that way. But would it hurt to maybe try a couple shots with one of the bowls. Or a plate?”
“I’ll try it out. But if it looks as crappy as I think it will, I’m not going to run it. Right? I mean, you promised when we monetized the blog, we wouldn’t be whoring me out by using the advertisers’ product in a way that would compromise my aesthetic.”
“It’s your call,” Ben said, picking up one of the tomatoes and examining it. “These are weird looking. What kind are they?”
“Don’t know,” Grace said, gently taking the tomato from him and replacing it on the table. “J’Aimee picked them up at the farmer’s market.”
“Kid’s got a good eye,” Ben said. He glanced back at the table. “How long before you’re done here?”
“Maybe an hour? I guess I’ll try some shots with the Aviento stuff. Then I need to edit, and I’ve still got to actually write the piece.” She glanced down at her watch. “Good Lord! It’s after six. I’ve been piddling around with this tabletop for hours now. Why didn’t you say something?”
“Didn’t want to interrupt the genius while she was at work,” he said. “But since you brought it up, is there any actual food to go on these pretty plates?”
“Nada,” she said apologetically. “I’m sorry. I completely lost track of the time. Look, I’ll just take a couple more shots with the Tuscan Turds, then I’ll run down to Publix and pick up some sushi. Or maybe a nice piece of fish to grill. I can have supper on the table by seven. Right?”
“Finish your shots,” Ben said easily. “J’Aimee can pick up supper.”
“No, I’ll go. I’ve had J’Aimee out running errands all afternoon.”
Ben dropped a kiss on her forehead. “That’s what assistants are for, Grace.”
“But I hate to bother her,” she protested. “She just went back over to the apartment an hour ago.”
Grace gestured in the general direction of the garage, which was at the back of the “motor court.” J’Aimee, her twenty-six-year-old assistant, had been living in the apartment above the garage since she was hired three months earlier. Her battered white Honda Accord was parked in the third bay, beside Ben’s black Audi convertible.
Their builder had referred to the apartment as a mother-in-law suite, or even a nanny suite. But Grace’s mom lived only a few miles away on Cortez and she wouldn’t have moved to this “faux chateau,” as she called it, at gunpoint. Ben’s mother lived quite happily down in Coconut Grove. And since the fertility specialist still couldn’t figure out just exactly why Grace couldn’t get pregnant, the apartment, for now, was the perfect place to stash an assistant.
“Finish your shoot,” Ben said, settling the matter. “I’ll walk over there and roust J’Aimee. In fact, I’ll ride to Publix with her.”
“Thanks,” Grace said, going back to her camera. “You’re the best.”
Ben gave her a gentle pat on the butt. “That’s my girl,” he said.
Grace went into the kitchen and found the heavy wooden crate with the Aviento shipping label sitting on the polished black granite countertop, pausing, as she always did, to flick a crumb into the sink. She hated the black granite. Even the tiniest fleck of sea salt showed up on it, and she seemed to go through a gallon of Windex every week, keeping it shiny.
But Ben and the builder had ganged up on her to agree to use it, after the granite company offered the countertops at cost in exchange for a small ad on Gracenotes.
She was soon immersed again in her work, barely registering the familiar roar of Ben’s car as it backed out of the garage. Grace looked up in time to see that he’d put the Audi’s top down. He did a neat three-point turn and gave her a carefree wave before he sped down the driveway, his forearm casually thrown across the back of the passenger seat, and J’Aimee’s long red hair flowing gracefully in the wind.
Ben reminded her of Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, a golden boy, elegant, aloof, mysterious, maybe even a little dangerous? She reflected briefly on how unfair life really was. At forty-four, Ben was six years older, but you’d never know it from looking at him. He never gained weight and never seemed to age. He kept his tennis tan year-round. His gloriously glossy dark brown hair still didn’t show a speck of gray, and the faint crow’s-feet around his eyes lent him the look of wisdom, not imminent geezerdom.
Grace, on the other hand, was beginning to spend what she thought of as an alarming amount of time on maintenance. At five-four, even five extra pounds seemed to go right to her butt or her belly, and she’d begun coloring her sandy-brown hair two years earlier, at the suggestion of Ruthanne, her hairdresser. Her face was heart-shaped, and only thirty minutes in the Florida sun left her round cheeks beet-colored, giving her even more of the look of a little Dutch girl when Ruthanne got carried away with the blond highlights. Ben insisted she was still as pretty as the day they’d met six years earlier, but they both knew that with Grace’s blogging career about to take off, she would have to be that much more vigilant about her appearance.
Blogging? A career?
If anybody had told her two years ago that she’d make a living out of journaling her quest for a more beautiful life, she would have laughed in their face. And if anybody told her that she would become enough of a success that Ben would quit his career to run hers? Well, she would have politely written that person off as a nutcase.
But it was all true. She and Ben were on the very verge of the big time. This house, a 6,500-square-foot Spanish colonial located in a gated golf-course community had been one of the subdivision’s model homes, and the builder, whose wife was an avid Gracenotes reader, had given them an incredible deal on it in exchange for a banner ad across the top of the blog. Most of the expensive upgrades on the property—the landscaping, the pool and spa, their amazing master bath—had also been trade-offs for advertising.
She’d always loved writing, and had tinkered with photography for years, but once the blog took off, it had somehow caught the eye of magazine editors and television producers. In addition to having their own house featured in half a dozen magazines, writing, photography, and decorating assignments had begun coming her way. She’d become a contributing regional editor for Country Living and Bay Life magazines, and next month, they were going to start working with a production company out of California to shoot a pilot television show of Gracenotes for HGTV.
All because of her silly little blog.
* * *
She couldn’t say why she awoke so suddenly. Normally, Grace fell asleep the moment her head hit the pillow, and she slept so soundly Ben often reminded her of the time she’d slept through Hurricane Elise, not even stirring when the wind tore the roof totally off the screened porch of their old house in a slightly run-down Bradenton neighborhood.
That night was no exception. She’d retreated to her office after dinner, writing and rewriting her Gracenotes post and fussing over the photographs before, finally, shortly before eleven, pushing the SEND button and crawling into bed beside her already-slumbering husband.
For whatever reason, she sat straight up in bed now. It was after 1:00 A.M. Her heart was racing, and her mouth was dry. A bad dream? She couldn’t say. She glanced over at Ben’s side of the bed. Empty.
She rubbed her eyes. Ben was probably downstairs, in the media room, watching a tournament on Golf TV, or maybe he was in the kitchen, looking for a late-night snack. Grace yawned and padded downstairs, already planning her own snack.
But the downstairs was dark, the media room deserted. She went out to the kitchen. No sign of him there, either. The kitchen was as spotless as she’d left it three hours earlier, after finishing up the last of the dinner dishes and packing up the faux-Tuscan pottery. Not even a cup or a spoon in the sink.
Grace frowned, and this time she didn’t bother to worry about wrinkles. She checked the downstairs powder room, but the door was open and there was no sign of her husband. She ran back upstairs and peeked inside the two guest suites, but they were empty and undisturbed. She walked slowly back to the bedroom, thinking to call Ben’s cell phone. But when she saw his cell phone on his dresser, along with his billfold, she relaxed a little. And then she noticed the keys to the Audi were missing, and her heart seemed to miss a beat. She went to the window and peered out, but saw nothing. There was only a quarter moon that night, but it was obscured by a heavy bank of clouds. The backyard was wreathed in darkness. She couldn’t even see the garage.
“It’s nothing,” she told herself, surprised to realize that she was talking out loud. She shrugged out of her nightgown, pulling on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, slipping her feet into a pair of rubber flip-flops. “He’s fine. Maybe he’s out by the pool, sneaking a midnight cigar.”
The sandals slapped noisily on the marble stairs, the sound echoing in the high-ceilinged stairway. She ditched them by the back door, carefully switching off the burglar alarm before stepping out onto the back patio. She paused, put her hand to her chest, and could have sworn it was about to jump out of her body.
“Ben?” She kept her voice low. It was pitch black, except for the pale turquoise surface of the pool and the eerie green uplights on the date-palm clusters at the back of the garden. Cicadas thrummed, and in the far distance, she heard a truck rumbling down the street. She crept forward, her hands extended, edging past the pair of chaise lounges perched at the edge of the patio, feeling the rough-textured coral rock beneath her feet.
Gradually, her eyes adjusted to the dark. There was no glowing cigar tip anywhere on the patio or the garden. She glanced toward the garage. No lights were on in J’Aimee’s upstairs apartment, and the garage doors were closed. Was Ben’s car there?
For a moment, a train of scenarios unspooled through her imagination. Ben, passed out, or even dead, at the wheel of his car, an unknown assailant lurking nearby. Should she retreat to the house, find some kind of weapon, even call the police?
“Don’t be an idiot,” she murmured to herself. “You’re a big girl. Just go look in the garage. You live in a gated community, for God’s sake. The only crime here is dogs pooping on the grass.”
She tiptoed toward the garage, skirting the electronically controlled metal doors, heading toward the side door, trying to remember whether or not it would be unlocked.
Luckily, it was. The knob turned easily in her hand, and she stepped inside the darkened space, her hand groping the wall for the light switch.
And then she heard … heavy breathing. She froze. A man’s voice. The words were unintelligible, but the voice was Ben’s. Her hand scrabbled the wall for the switch. She found it, and the garage was flooded with light.
A woman squealed.
Grace blinked in the bright lights. She saw Ben, sitting in the driver’s seat of the Audi. He was bare-chested, his right hand shielding his eyes from the light. His hair was mussed, and his cheeks were flushed bright red.
“Grace?” He looked wild-eyed.
And that’s when she realized he wasn’t alone in the car. Her first instinct was to turn and run away, but she was drawn, like a bug to a lightbulb, to the side of that gleaming black sports car. The top was retracted. She looked down and saw that distinctive mane of flame-red hair.
J’Aimee, her loyal, invaluable assistant, was cowering, naked, making a valiant effort to disappear into the floorboards of the car.
“What the hell?” Grace screeched as she yanked open the passenger-side door.
“I’m sorry, Grace, I’m so sorry,” J’Aimee blurted, her eyes the size of saucers.
J’Aimee’s clothes were scattered on the floor of the garage, and, come to think of it, that was Ben’s shirt—his expensive, pale-blue, custom-tailored, monogrammed, Egyptian cotton shirt that Grace had given him as a birthday gift—that was flung over the Audi’s windshield.
With the passenger-side door open, Grace saw, at a glance, that her husband was nearly naked, too—if you counted having your jeans puddled down around your ankles as naked.
For a moment, Grace wondered if this was some bad dream she was having. Hadn’t she just been asleep a moment earlier? This couldn’t be happening. Not Ben. Ben loved her. He would never cheat. She shook her head violently, closed her eyes, and reopened them.
But this was no nightmare. And there was no mistaking what she’d just interrupted. Suddenly, she felt a surge of boiling hot rage.
“Bitch!” Grace cried. She clamped a hand around J’Aimee’s upper arm and yanked her out of the car in one fluid, frenzied motion.
“Ow,” J’Aimee whimpered.
Grace flung her against the side of the car.
“Stop it,” J’Aimee cried. Her face was pale, with every freckle standing out in contrast to the milky whiteness of her skin. For some reason, Grace, in an insane corner of her mind, noted with satisfaction that J’Aimee’s breasts were oddly pendulous for such a young woman. Also? Not a real redhead.
“You stop it!” Grace said, drawing back her hand.
“Jesus!” J’Aimee screamed. She raised her arms to cover her face, and for a moment Grace faltered. She had never hit anybody in her life. She dropped her hand and glared at the girl.
“Now, Grace,” Ben started. He was wriggling around in his seat, trying in vain to surreptitiously pull up his pants. “Don’t get the wrong idea. Don’t…”
“Shut up, just shut up!” Grace shouted, her eyes blazing. For a moment, she forgot about J’Aimee. She flew around to his side of the car, but before she could get there, Ben had managed to slide out from under the steering wheel, zipping up his pants as he stood.
“How could you?” she cried, raining ineffective punches around his head and shoulders. She was aware that her high-pitched shrieks sounded like the howls of a lunatic, but she was helpless to stop herself. “You? And J’Aimee? My assistant? You were screwing her? Under my own roof?”
He easily caught her fists and held them tight in his own. “No!” Ben lied. “It’s not what you think. Look, if you would just calm down, let’s talk about this. Okay? I know this looks bad, but there’s a logical explanation.”
“Like what? The two of you snuck out here to the garage while I was asleep and you decided to have a business meeting in your car? A clothing-optional meeting? And suddenly, J’Aimee decided to give you mouth-to-penis resuscitation? Is that the logical explanation for this?”
“Calm down,” Ben repeated. “You’re getting yourself all worked up…”
Grace saw a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye and looked over just in time to see J’Aimee scoop up her clothing and make a run for it.
“Oh, no,” Grace said. “You’re not getting away from this.” J’Aimee darted out the door, and Grace went right after her.
“Stay away from me,” J’Aimee cried, running in the direction of the house. “I’ll call the police if you come near me … It’s aggravated assault.”
“You don’t know the meaning of aggravated,” Grace shouted. She flinched when her bare feet hit the lawn, damp from the automatic sprinklers, but ran after J’Aimee, who was surprisingly slow for a young woman unencumbered by clothing. She picked up her speed until she was only a few yards behind her former assistant. She reached out to try to snatch a handful of J’Aimee’s hair, but her prey danced out of reach.
“Don’t you touch me,” J’Aimee cried, backing away. “I mean it.”
But Grace was quicker than even she expected. She managed to grab J’Aimee’s arm, and the girl screamed like a stuck pig.
Lights snapped on at the house next door. A dog began barking from the back of the property.
“Get away,” the young woman screeched, dropping her clothing onto the grass and windmilling her arms in Grace’s general vicinity. “Get away.”
Now they heard the low hum and metallic clang of the garage door opening. Grace glanced over her shoulder to see Ben come sprinting out of the garage. “Are you insane?” he called. “For God’s sake, Grace, let her go.”
In her fury, Grace turned toward her husband, and in that moment J’Aimee slipped out of her grasp. While Grace watched, speechless, J’Aimee scampered, naked, around the patio. A moment later, she’d disappeared behind the thick hedge of hibiscus that separated the Stantons’ property from their nearest neighbor.
“Go ahead and run, bitch!” Grace screamed. “You’re fired. You hear me? Your ass is fired!”
Ben was walking slowly across the grass, his hands raised in a cautious peace gesture. “Okay, Grace,” he said, making low, soothing sounds at the back of his throat, the kind you’d make to coax a cat out of a treetop. “Oh-kay, I know. You’re upset. I get that. Can we take this inside now? You’re making a spectacle of yourself. Let’s take it inside, all right? I’ll make us some coffee and we can sort this out…”
“We are not going inside,” Grace snapped. “Coffee? Are you kidding me? You think a dose of Starbucks Extra Bold is going to fix this? We are going to stay right here. Do you hear me?”
“The whole neighborhood can hear you. Could you lower your voice, please? Just dial it down a little?”
“I will not!” His calmness made her even crazier than she already felt. Grace megaphoned her hands. “Hey, people. Neighbors—wake up! This is Grace Stanton. I just caught my husband, Ben Stanton, screwing my assistant!”
“Stop it,” Ben hissed. “I was not screwing her.”
“Correction,” Grace hollered, lifting her voice to the sky. “She was blowing him. My mistake, neighbors.”
“You’re insane,” he snapped. “I’m not staying around listening to this.” He turned and stomped off toward the house. “We’ll talk when you’ve calmed down.”
“One question, Ben,” Grace called, running after him. She grabbed him by the shoulder to stop his progress. “You owe me that.”
“What?” He spun around, rigid with anger. She noticed three small love bites on his collarbone. Hickies? Her forty-four-year-old husband had hickies? A wave of nausea swelled up from her belly. She swallowed hard.
“How long? How long have you been fucking her?”
“I’m not…” He shrugged. “Come inside. All right?”
“How long?” Grace felt hot tears springing to her eyes. “Tell me, damn it. This wasn’t the first time, was it? So tell me the truth. How long?”
“No matter what I say, you won’t believe me,” Ben said quietly.
“Tell me the truth and I’ll believe you,” Grace said.
“No,” he said softly. “Not the first time. But we can fix this, Grace.”
“Fix it?” Grace exploded with pure, white-hot rage.
“Fix it,” she said, lifting her voice to the heavens. “He’s been screwing her for a while now, and he thinks we can fix it.”
“That’s it,” Ben said. “I won’t stand here and let you humiliate me like this.”
“Don’t you dare walk away from me,” Grace called.
“I’m gone,” Ben said. True to his word, he stalked away toward the house.
She raced to the back door, to discover that he’d locked her out.
“Let me in, damn it,” she screamed, pounding on the kitchen door.
Nothing. She kicked the door. Still nothing.
She looked around for something, anything, to break the glass in the door. Just then she spied the heap of clothing J’Aimee had discarded in her hasty escape.
Grace scooped up the clothes and returned to the back patio. She craned her neck in the direction of the hibiscus hedge, hoping she might spot J’Aimee’s bony white ass back there, hiding in the foliage or, better yet, being gnawed on by the neighbor’s dog, a vicious-tempered chow mix named Peaches. But nothing moved in the shrubbery.
She had an idea. She stepped onto the patio and found the light switch for the outdoor kitchen, with its granite counters and six-burner gas-fired barbecue.
Earlier in May, her Gracenotes blog had dealt with barbecues.
Mr. Grace and I are fortunate to live in Florida, where grilling season never ends. But just because we’re dining outdoors doesn’t mean I serve burnt hot dogs on spindly white paper plates. I love to spread a white matelassé bedspread diagonally across our glass-topped patio table and anchor it with a pair of heavy black wrought-iron candelabras, or, if it’s a windy day, I’ll place votive candles in old Mason jars anchored with a layer of bleached-out seashells. Especially for casual occasions like this, you do not have to have a set of matched plastic dishes. I’ll let you in on a secret: I hate matchy-matchy! Instead, I have an assortment of mismatched Fiestaware plates picked up at junk shops and yard sales over the years, in bold shades of turquoise, green, pink, yellow, and orange. Paired with silverware with ivory-colored Bakelite handles, and oversized plain white flour-sack dish towels bought cheap from Ikea, and a bouquet of brilliant zinnias cut from the garden, they telegraph the message to guests: the fun is about to begin!
Speaking of fun, Grace chortled as she tossed J’Aimee’s clothes—a T-shirt, pair of shorts, bra, and pink thong panties—onto the counter and then reached into the stainless steel bar fridge and found herself a perfectly chilled bottle of Corona. She didn’t really like beer all that much, and there were no lime slices handy, but she’d just have to make do. She uncapped the bottle and took a long, deep swig, and then another. She pushed the IGNITE button on the front burner and the blue flame came on with a satisfying whoosh.
The beer wasn’t bad at all. She took another sip and tossed the panties onto the burner. The tiny scrap of synthetic silk went up in flames and was gone in a second or two, which was a disappointment. The shorts made a nicer display, and she watched the blaze for two or three minutes, reluctantly adding the T-shirt and then, after another five minutes, the bra. The bra, which had heavy padding, smoldered for several minutes, sending up a stinky black fog of smoke.
She looked around for something else to add to the fire, and remembered Ben’s shirt, still draped over the windshield of his Audi.
Ben loved expensive things. But Grace, raised above her parent’s working-class bar in the nearby fishing hamlet of Cortez, could never quite get comfortable with the luxury goods that her husband had grown up with as the pampered only son of a Miami bank executive. The day she’d bought the shirt at Neiman-Marcus, for $350, she’d walked away from it twice, finally forcing herself to pull the trigger and buy the damned thing.
Grace stood in the open doorway of the garage, scowling at the Audi. If the shirt was Ben’s favorite, the Audi, a 2013 Spyder R8 convertible, was beyond his favorite. It was his obsession. He’d bought the Audi without consulting Grace, right after they signed the pilot deal with HGTV. Ben wouldn’t disclose what he’d paid for the car, saying only that he’d “worked a deal” on it, but when she checked the prices online, she’d discovered that the thing retailed for $175,000! She’d somehow managed to swallow her resentment over not being included in the decision to buy the new car, telling herself that if Ben, who handled all the family finances, thought they could afford the car, then she shouldn’t worry.
She walked around to the driver’s side, snatching the shirt off the windshield. Looking down, she noticed the keys were still in the ignition.
The next thing she knew, she was using the shirt to wipe down the bucket seat’s leather upholstery—just in case. She slid beneath the wheel and turned the key in the ignition, smiling as the powerful engine roared to life.
Ben didn’t exactly prohibit her from driving the Audi, but he didn’t encourage it either, telling her it was “a lot of car” for a woman and pointing out that her experience driving a stick shift was limited, although she’d learned to drive on her father’s beat-up manual-transmission Chevy pickup.
Maybe, Grace thought, she’d just take the Audi for a spin around the neighborhood. Wouldn’t that just fire Ben’s rockets? She hoped he was watching from one of the upstairs windows. He’d have a stroke when he saw her behind the wheel. She eased the car into reverse, carefully backing it out of the garage.
Maneuvering an expert three-point turn, she was about to head down the driveway when the kitchen door flew open.
“Grace!” Ben yelled. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Going for a drive,” she said cheerfully, raising the Corona in a jaunty salute.
“The hell you are,” he barked, walking toward her. “You’ve been drinking and you’re in no shape to be driving. Get out of my car.”
“Your car?” she raised an eyebrow.
“You know what I mean,” he said. “You’ve had your fun. This is taking things too far.”
Too far? Grace revved the Audi’s engine and slammed the car in first, screeching past Ben, who was a shouting, raving blur. Now she was at the edge of the patio, knocking over chaise lounges and the wrought-iron table with its jaunty green umbrella. The limpid turquoise surface of the pool was straight ahead. She closed her eyes, held her nose, and stomped the accelerator. The shock of the water was a final reminder. This was no nightmare. She was awake.
1. Some of the main themes of the novel are betrayal, revenge, redemption, rebuilding. How would you say that each of these plays a role in the novel?
2. In the opening chapter, Grace explodes into anger. Do you feel she had a disproportionate response? Why do we enjoy reading about such spectacular acts of revenge? How would you have acted under the same circumstances?
3. Why do you think Ben acted so unfairly towards Grace? What do you think is the most unfair thing he did?
4. What are all the things you dislike about J’Aimee?
5. How are Wyatt’s and Grace’s marriages the same? How are they different? What do you think played a role in their attraction to one another?
6. What do you think were some of Callie’s more reprehensible actions? Is she a redeemable character?
7. Why do you think it was so important for Grace to renovate the little beach house? How did it parallel the renovation of Grace’s life?
8. Is Jungle Jerry’s a metaphor in the book? If so, for what and why?
9. At what moment did you dislike Paula the most? Did this ever change?
10. Out of Camryn, Suzanne, or Ashleigh, which character did you relate to the most? The least? And why?
11. Which character in the book is the most wronged?
12. Why do you think the Stackpoles of the world can get away with so much?
13. Which is more heinous: the theft of intellectual property (like Grace’s blog) or the destruction of physical property?
14. In what ways is Nelson an unsung hero in the story? What about Rochelle?
15. If you could have five people (living or dead) at your own weekly “Ladies’ Night” who would they be? What would you serve and what would you talk about?
16. How do you think a group of friends can help in tough times? How does a group sometimes offer support in a way that one close friend cannot?
17. Have you ever had an instance where someone you instantly disliked turned out to be a true friend?
– Publishers Weekly (starred review)“A delightful novel…A wonderful blend of action, repartee and offbeat characters in a just-plain-fun story. Humorous and witty, and as entertaining as a good night out.” – Kirkus Reviews