WOMEN’S FICTION

AfterWifeSticker

From bestselling author Melanie Summers, comes a heartfelt and uplifting tale of love, loss, and letting go…

After losing her husband, writer Abigail Carson has all but given up on life. Having spent the last year cocooned in her Manhattan apartment, Abigail is suddenly forced to find a new home where she can stretch her dwindling savings. Intent on isolation, she moves to a tiny village in Nova Scotia where she’ll have no one to interrupt her solitude.

Little does Abigail realize that small-town life offers far less privacy than the big city. With neighbors knocking on the door bearing homemade treats and invitations, Abby soon finds herself immersed in the lives of the people of South Haven. She forms an unlikely friendship with Liam Wright, the handyman renovating her dilapidated cottage, and his daughter, seven-year-old Olive.

As the dark cloud engulfing Abigail lifts, she starts to think she may have found love again. But just as Abigail is ready to leap, she discovers Liam carries with him a shocking secret that will ultimately cause everything to unravel. Abigail must decide if she will turn away from his pain or open her heart in the most hopeless of circumstances.

Insightful, enchanting, and filled with hope, The After Wife reminds us of the importance of human connection and the inseparable nature of love and survival.

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READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS HERE!

CHAPTER ONE

 “If love is the answer, could you please rephrase the question?” ~ Lily Tomlin

 

Every love story ends the same way—in misery. ‘They lived happily ever after’ is just code for ‘they eventually realized they weren’t compatible and got a divorce, they grew tired of each other but were too lazy to do anything about it, or, they truly loved each other for eighteen years until one of them died, leaving the other one gasping for air as endless swells of grief crashed over her for the next forty years.’

Fairy tales end with the aforementioned lie for two reasons: a) it’s much quicker and more poetic, or, b) no one wants anyone to think it through, in case we all come to the conclusion that loving anyone is utterly pointless (which it most certainly is). This would be a dangerous shift in the zeitgeist, because not only would it be the end of the human race, but without all those wedding registries being filled every year, it would also be the demise of Bed, Bath and Beyond.

Those are the cold, hard facts of love.

Here’s another fact: I’m ninety-nine percent certain I’ll never have a moment’s pleasure again. Well, maybe ninety-eight percent. I was mildly pleased when Starbucks brought back the peppermint mochaccino a few weeks back. But other than that, nothing interests me. It’s been over a year now, and I’m still asking myself how long this terrible pain will remain lodged in my chest.

Forever? I’m pretty sure it will be forever.

But life moves on. That’s what everyone tells you. Move on. Get out. See people. It’s the only way you’ll start to feel better. The truth is, they only want you to move on to absolve them of the guilt they feel about being happy. To them I say, go forth and enjoy your Saturday date nights. Just leave me the hell out of it, because I’m done.

CHAPTER TWO

 “All good things must come to an end.” ~ H.H. Riley (1857)

Isaac and I are at the beach. We’re spending the weekend in Maine to celebrate our anniversary. It’s a chilly fall day and we’re both wearing fleece jackets and jeans. The wind whips my hair around and smacks me in the eye. Tucking the errant pieces behind my ear, I shiver and try to convince myself that it isn’t actually cold outside, but refreshingly crisp. Soon I feel the warmth of the sun on my skin as the clouds move out of its way.

Isaac is telling me about a new student of his. She is particularly bright and is someone he refers to as a ‘sensual’ reader, devouring the likes of Dumas, Wharton, and du Maurier.

Irritation scratches my chest. I mentally resist his account of her brilliant reflection on Kincaid’s See Now Then, threatened by the look in his eyes as he talks. I hate it when he does this. How does he not know that this scares me, considering how we met?

I smile and nod and say things like ‘Really?’ and ‘Oh, I never would have looked at it that way,’ hoping to sound confident. Part of me marvels at the fact that I’ve managed to hide my insecurity from him for so many years. It’s an ugly side of my personality I’ve never admitted to out loud.

I convince myself that he feels safe to tell me these things because we are so secure in our relationship. Only a loyal husband who’s madly in love with his wife would talk about an especially bright young woman in this way. Besides, if he were considering leaving me for her, he wouldn’t tell me all about her, would he? He would keep her very existence a secret until the last possible second, when he would have to admit the awful truth because she was outside our building in a convertible wearing a push-up bra that matched the French-cut panties under her mini-skirt. She’d honk the horn so they could beat the weekend traffic up to the Poconos, and it would all come spilling out at once in a tumble of apologies and reassurances that the entire thing was neither planned nor my fault.

He takes my hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. “How’s your book coming along?”

I inhale the sharp, salty air, then exhale the imaginary drama out of my lungs. No need to harbor such ridiculous thoughts, not while I’m walking along hand-in-hand in the sunshine with my husband of twelve years. He’s not some rogue from one of my books. He’s the gentlemanly duke who would lay his overcoat on a puddle for a lady to cross.

A buzzing sound interrupts me as I am just about to explain I’ve had to stop writing for the last year and a half to research seventeenth-century lace patterns. Pausing, I look out to the sea to locate the source of that incessant buzzing sound. “Isaac, do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

My eyes open. I’m on the couch, not on the beach. Isaac is dead. It’s the middle of the afternoon, and whoever is at the front entrance of the building seems determined not to leave without invading our romantic walk.

I stumble to the front door while rubbing the sleep out of my eyes. “Who is it?”

“It’s me.” Lauren’s voice is all business.

“Oh, hi. Are you here as best friend Lauren or literary agent Lauren Duncan?”

“Which one will you let up?”

“Neither,” I say, putting on a British accent so as to sound very well-to-do. “I’m afraid I’m not taking visitors today.”

“Then why’d you ask?”

Good point. She’s tricky. “You know writers, we’re a curious bunch.”

“And you know where all that curiosity got the cat, don’t you?” Lauren asks, sounding annoyed.

“But do I care?”

“Jesus. Just buzz me in already. It’s freezing out here and I’ve been sent to check on you.”

Shit. “My mother?”

“Yes.” There’s a strain in her voice that makes my entire body feel fatigued.

“Fine, you can come up, but only because you had to talk to Helen.” I push the button to open the front door, unleashing a sense of panic in my chest.

Glancing around the room, I try to discern what to clean up first. The layer of grime I’ve accumulated on my body will take at least ten minutes to scrub off in the shower, so that’s out. The empty takeout cartons on the coffee table are closest, so I collect and deposit them in the garbage. I pray that the elevator is stuck on the top floor as I plug the kitchen sink and squirt in some soap, then open the hot water tap to full force, hoping the bubbles will hide the pile of dishes. Scurrying around, I gather cups and forks and plates covered with dried-on food, drop them in the sink and shut off the water. Walt is watching me from atop the back of the couch, looking thoroughly confused. He hasn’t seen me move this fast since … well … maybe ever.

The knock at the door makes my stomach drop. Lauren is about to become privy to my current reality, which means I’m in for a lecture and some very disapproving and pitiful looks—my least favorite kind.

Tightening the sash on my bathrobe, I pull open the door. “Ma’am, Private Sloth ready for inspection.” I salute and clap my heels together, but they don’t make a satisfying clicking sound because I’m wearing fuzzy slippers.

Lauren chuckles and I step aside to let her in. She’s dressed in a black suit and the timeless camel-hair coat I’ve admired on many occasions. She can pull it off because her complexion is warm brown instead of recluse white like mine. Also, she’s tall, so she doesn’t look like she’s playing dress-up in her father’s clothes when she puts on a long coat. Lucky bitch. I could also hate her for being wonderfully fit—like I used to be—but since she’s not responsible for the year-long binge I’ve been on, I’m going to give her a pass on that.

“When did you have to suffer through a call from my mother?” I make my way to the kitchen, keeping my distance in hopes she won’t notice how long it’s been since I bathed.

“Last night.”

“Sorry. I’ll ask her to stop doing that,” I say, rolling my eyes. “Tea?”

“Please.” Lauren puts her briefcase on the floor and shrugs off her coat, hanging it neatly on the rack. “She’s not that bad, Abby. She’s just worried about you. And by the looks of things, her concern isn’t exactly unfounded.”

“What?” I ask, looking around the room. “Oh, I know it’s a bit messy today, but I had a rough night last night, so I was feeling a little lazy.”

She is standing on the other side of the island now. “Bullshit.”

“Seriously, I’m fine.”

She tilts her head to the side and raises one eyebrow. I know that look. She gives it to her husband, Drew, and it never fails to break him. Well, it won’t work on me because I’m not hoping to have sex with her later.

I turn and open the cupboard where we keep the tea.

  1. Where I keep the tea.

“Your mom is concerned that you might try to … maybe … take your own life.”

That gets my attention. I whirl around with my mouth hanging open. “What?”

“She’s worried that you’re deeply depressed, and if you don’t get help, you might do something drastic.”

Instantly, my cheeks burn and my eyes prick with humiliation, but I draw on my considerable store of anger to bring my emotions in check. I force an icy smile. “Well, that is not going to happen. That’s ridiculous.”

“Prove it.”

“What?”

“Prove. It.” She’s playing hardball literary agent Lauren Duncan.

“Fine.” I huff and fold my arms across my chest. “For starters, I’m too lazy to kill myself. Do you know how much work that would be?”

Oh, that was appalling. My gut clenches at my words, but since she’s now the one gaping, I continue, even though I wish I could stop. “I’d have to figure out what to wear, what to do with Walt, and then there’s the whole letter thing. I can’t even begin to imagine how many drafts I’d need. I’m a writer, so the last thing I write had better be spot-on perfect.” I shake my head and give a careless little shrug. “That all sounds like way too much work. Plus, I wouldn’t find out how A Handmaid’s Tale ends.” I give her a ‘see, I told you’ look.

Lauren snorts then laughs. “Oh my God, you’re terrible.”

“You probably shouldn’t say things like that. I’m in a very delicate state,” I say, fighting a smile.

“Abby, stop it,” she says, covering her smile with both hands. “It’s not funny. This is very serious.”

I sigh. “Tell her my sense of humor is intact, so you take that as a solid indicator that there’s no need to worry.”

She narrows her eyes at me. “How can I be sure you aren’t just trying to throw me off?”

Giving myself a moment to think, I stare at the ceiling before answering. “Because I haven’t done it yet. If I were going to do it, it would have been months ago, when I couldn’t stop crying for more than a five-minute stretch. Not now, when I’m comfortably numb.”

“See, when you say it that way, it doesn’t exactly sound reassuring.”

My shoulders drop. “I can’t believe we’re even talking about this.”

The kettle whistles and I turn to the stove. When I finish filling the pot, I take it over to the island and set it down. “Look, I’m just taking a little time out from life right now. It’s all good, though, I promise. I’ll be venturing out into the world soon enough.”

“Starting when?”

“I don’t know. Soon.” I cross the room and take two mugs out of the cupboard. “Next Wednesday at three fifteen P.M. Eastern Standard Time.” I turn back to her with an impish grin that I hope will work.

She doesn’t return my smile. “I’m holding you to that. You’re on notice, Abigail Carson.”

“Okay, boss lady.” My tone suggests that she really doesn’t have control over me, even though deep down I’m a little scared of her and she knows it.

Her face softens as her eyes pass over my fleece frog-print robe. “Not today, but when you’re ready, I need to talk to you about your contract with Titan.”

My stomach tightens. Even though I knew this was coming, I was hoping it would be longer in getting here. “I’m pretty sure I already know what you’re going to say. When do they want the advance back?”

She sighs and says, “This can wait.”

“I can tell by the look on your face that it can’t. How long do I have?”

“Thirty days to start making installments unless you can come up with the entire forty-five thousand at once. Or maybe …” She pauses and gives me a hopeful yet terrified look. “You managed to write an entire novel without mentioning it?”

Thirty days. My entire body goes numb and I want to sink into the couch and pull a blanket over my head. Instead, I give her a confident nod. “No problem. I can write them a check.” I think.

“They’ve been at me for almost six months now, and I’ve held them off as long as I could,” Lauren says. “I’m sorry.”

“No, I’m sorry. I just can’t seem to …” My voice is barely audible, even in my own ears.

“Erica said that when you start writing again, she’ll look at anything you do. Of course, they want you to finish the Duchess series, but if that’s too hard right now and you want to write something else, they’ll read it. She said to tell you she’s sorry, but accounting is on her ass about it.”

I stare out the window for a moment as I let this information sink in. “The thing is, Lauren, it’s kind of hard to write lighthearted historical romance when nothing is remotely funny anymore, and after you figure out there is no such thing as happily ever after.”

Nodding, she says, “So maybe try something new. Just keep the historical part and write, I don’t know … horribly depressing drama.”

I manage to curve my lips upward for a second, then let them drop. “There’s just no part of me that wants to create anything. I honestly don’t know if I’m a writer anymore.”

“Oh, Abby, don’t say that. Maybe you’re not ready to go back to it at the moment, but you can’t give up. It’s who you are.” She rests her hand on mine. Her palm is warm and soft and the feeling of another human touching me brings an unwelcome swell of emotion.

“Maybe you could try something else—just for a little while—until you feel inspired again. Work in a flower shop or a bookstore or something. Anything so you’ll have—” She stops herself when she sees the glare on my face.

“A reason to get up in the morning?” I quip, pulling my hand away. “He’s gone.”

Lauren sighs, and the look on her face says she’s as defeated as I intended her to be. Her cell phone buzzes and she glances at it. “Shit. I need a new assistant. The one thing I needed her to do was reschedule my three o’clock, but it looks like she hasn’t managed it.”

“You were going to take the afternoon off for me?”

Lauren nods.

Don’t I feel like a total bag? “That’s really not necessary. I’m doing fine.”

“This isn’t healthy, Abby,” she says, standing and picking up her briefcase. “You need to get out and be around people.”

“I have Walt. He’s people.”

“The other kind of people—human beings with opposable thumbs who can hold up their end of a conversation,” she says as she starts for the door. “I don’t know. Maybe you should try getting a little wild and having some fun for once.”

“I have fun all the time.” Spying my plate from breakfast, I pick it up off the coffee table and lick Pop-Tart crumbs off it. “See? That was wildly wonderful.”

She slides on her coat. “I’m serious, Abby. You can’t go on like this.”

“Oh, I’m pretty sure I can.”

“You’re going for a late lunch with me this Friday. I’ll be here at one-thirty to get you.”

“I won’t go with you, but I promise I’ll be alive.”

She laughs reluctantly. “You’re such a shit.”

“You love that about me.”

“I do, and you are leaving this apartment on Friday, even if I have to drag you out by your ankles.”

“I’d like to see you try.”

“Oh, I can do it, lady. Just make sure you shower and put some clothes on.”

“Nah, I’d rather make you take me out like this,” I say, opening the door for her. “But I insist we go to the Russian Tea Room.”

She walks out into the hall and turns to me, her face full of the pity I’ve grown to hate. “If you need help with paying back the advance—”

“That’s very kind of you, but I could never allow that.” I shake my head at the notion. “I can manage it.”

The elevator bell dings and the door slides open, allowing Mr. Puente to catch sight of me. Son of a bitch. All that excellent phone-call avoiding I’ve been doing gone to waste.

“Abby, finally,” he says with a loud sigh. “I’ve been trying to reach you for weeks.”

“Let me guess, someone wants to re-open the great welcome mat debate of 2016,” I say, giving a discreet eye roll in Lauren’s direction. She gives me an ‘oh brother’ face and winks before she hurries to catch the elevator.

“Those mats were a tripping hazard.” He rushes toward me with his perfectly straight posture, dressed in tan slacks, a starched white button-up, and a pea soup green sweater vest. “Have you been away? I’ve tried emailing, calling, and stopping by repeatedly.”

“I’ve been very busy.”

His eyes travel to my slipper-clad feet, and when he looks back up at my face, it’s with sympathy. “I see. Can we step inside for a minute? I’m afraid I have bad news.”

“Perfect, because it’s bad news day at Casa de Carson.” I gesture for him to come in, then start toward the kitchen. “Tea?”

“No, thank you. I’m wondering if you’ve read any of the letters the co-op board has sent.” When I turn back to him, he’s staring at the toppled pile of envelopes on the counter.

“I’ve gotten behind on my paperwork lately.”

Mr. Puente takes a deep breath and closes his eyes for a second. “As you may or may not know, we’re up for another major rent increase later this year. The board has been pulling together the funds to purchase the land from Killborn. All the co-op owners either need to pay their share or sell.”

Shock vibrates through my bones, followed by a sick, panicky feeling. I should not have been ignoring things for so long. “How much?”

“For your unit, it would be a four-hundred-and-eighty-thousand-dollar buy-in.”

My knees grow weak and I suddenly wish I were sitting down. “Who has that kind of money?”

“Some have it. Some have managed to get financing. It’s a great investment if you can swing it.” He glances at my slippers, then continues. “If not, we found a realtor who offered to drop his commission for anyone who needs out.”

“But the market is …”

He nods. “Yes, you’ll be lucky to get three-hundred-thousand out of it.”

“How long do I have to figure this out?”

“That’s the thing. You need the money by next Friday.” The way his face twists shows that he’s torn between pity and irritation. I’ve put him in this incredibly awkward position by ignoring what surely must have been the only thing my neighbors have thought of for months now. “I’m very sorry, Abby. I really did try to reach you.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s not your fault.” I shake my head, and, much to my horror, tears spring to my eyes without my permission. Oh, perfect.

He stiffly makes his way over to the coffee table, returning with a tissue box. “Here.”

I take two and hold them up to my face, trying to cover the evidence of having actual feelings. “Thanks.”

“I can only imagine how hard this past year has been for you, and I know this won’t make it easier.”

I nod and blow my nose, which is now running at record speed. Not very dignified, Abby.

Mr. Puente digs in his pocket and hands me a business card. “This is the realtor I mentioned. He’s quite good. He’ll take care of everything for you.”

And just like that, a ball has begun rolling down a steep hill, and there will be no catching it. No ignoring it. Only chasing.

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