One Thing I Know
- 1 -
Rachel Somers wasn’t sure what bothered her more: conning most of America, or the fact that they’d been doing it for almost a decade and no one even suspected.
She glanced around her tiny living area crammed with her three coconspirators. Afternoon sun through the smudged side window cast a shimmering halo through the room, dancing across surfaces covered with either people or papers.
“So, Dr. Donna, tell us how you came up with the topic of your latest book, He Wasn’t the One that Got Away.” Lacey O’Connor, their publicist, leaned forward in her chair, role-playing a talk show host.
Her question was directed at Rachel’s aunt Donna, who slouched back on the brown leather couch, face coated in an oatmeal-and-cinnamon-scented beauty mask. “Well, Suzanne, one night I was facilitating a speed-dating event—”
Rachel winced. Oh brother, this was not a good beginning. “It was a call-in radio show.” Lost in Translation, their third book, was the one inspired by speed dating.
Donna looked Rachel’s way. “What was?”
“You were guesting on a call-in radio show,” Rachel reminded her.
“I was?” Donna’s brow crinkled, or tried to, anyway. “Really? Max, can you check?”
Rachel pressed her lips together. Throttled the indignant response rising within. It was fine that Donna wanted to check. Really.
Their agent’s stubby finger slid across a line on the spreadsheet in front of him. “Rachel’s right. Lost was speed dating.”
Of course she was right. She’d written them both. With each book, the juggle got harder, the stakes higher. She liked to think that if they’d had any idea how big the deception would get, they never would’ve suggested it. They were worse than those manufactured tweenage pop bands. At least nobody took twelve-year-old boys crooning about true love seriously.
Now here they were, a week from release, and Donna couldn’t even remember this book’s inspiration. This was it. Finally. The book that was going to doom them all. Deep breath, Rachel. “You were on—”
“Drive Time with Debbie, and we got all these phone calls from women who were living in the past, wondering if they’d missed their chance at love back in 1993.” Donna’s gray eyes sparkled with mirth underneath the goop. “I know. I was just teasin’ y’all.”
“Don’t do that!” Rachel reached out for a pillow to throw at her aunt, but Lacey got there first, taking off her stiletto and swiping at Donna’s heel.
Donna pivoted sideways, moving her feet out of
striking distance and pulling herself upright. “C’mon, how long have we been doing this now? And when have I ever let you down?”
Rachel blew a breath out between the gap in her front teeth. Nine years. Nine long years. And her aunt was right: the one time they’d almost gotten busted, it had been Lacey’s fault, not hers.
“All right, enough, ladies.” Max’s hand rose midair, stopping as though frozen halfway through a hallelujah moment. “Since you’re so cocky, Donna, I think it’s time for rapid fire.” He tossed one rubber-band-bound stack of cue cards to Rachel, then a second to Lacey, keeping the third for himself. “Rach, you start.”
Rachel took a swig of her ice-cold Diet Coke, then pulled a crisp cue card at random. “Do you really believe that revisiting the past is always a mistake?”
Donna’s shoulders went back, eyes narrowed, and in an instant, Rachel’s oatmeal-faced, tracksuit-wearing aunt disappeared, and Dr. Donna Somerville, relationship guru and bestselling author, showed up. “Of course not. In fact, revisiting the past is very important, because it’s our past that defines who we are today. What I’m saying is that living in the past, that’s the mistake. You’ll see in Chapter Three I talk about the difference . . .”
Two and a half hours later, the last cue card hit the floor. Where it joined six cans of Diet Coke, two bags of Hershey’s Kisses, and both of Lacey’s stilettos.
Rachel locked her hands together, stretching out her aching shoulders. It looked like they were going to live to fight another round after all. She shook her arms out, trying to
shake off the strange sense of disappointment that had grown as her aunt nailed question after question, never stumbling.
“Good work, everyone.” Max snapped his last spreadsheet back into the black binder on his lap. “Lacey, you need anything more or are we done?”
Their publicist tapped a glossy red nail across her iPad, the screen showing Donna and Rachel’s calendars side-by-side. “One final thing. Got a last-minute request for a two-hour call-in slot with Lucas Grant next Tuesday. Donna’s in Atlanta and has an early start. Rach, can you sub?” She kept her gaze focused on her iPad as she asked the question.
“Doesn’t he do a sports show now?” At least he had the last time she’d heard anything about him. Which admittedly was a couple of years ago.
The edge of Lacey’s mouth tipped up. “Lucas would like to do sports. Unfortunately for him he’s single, very eligible, and can’t seem to escape all the women calling in to get his advice on their love lives.”
“And he wants Donna on his sports show for two hours?”
Lacey shrugged. “No idea. I only deal with his producer, but as your publicist I am telling you that two hours on Lucas’s show is like filling a stadium with fifty thousand Wisconsin women. We’d be nuts not to do it if we can make it work.”
“Okay, fine.” Rachel could use a break from staring blankly at her computer screen, grasping for inspiration.
“Great.” Lacey put her phone to her ear, stepping back into her shoes. “Ethan. Lacey. Tuesday sorted. Donna will call at ten your time. Ciao.” She slung her navy leather purse over her shoulder and grabbed the matching suitcase from where
she’d parked it in the corner. “Mwah, mwah.” Air kisses all around, and she was heading for the door.
Twenty-one-year-old Lacey, with her crazy curly hair, wouldn’t have recognized her perfectly groomed decade-older self. Or understood the well-worn tension that undergirded their every interaction.
Max, meanwhile, piled folders into a battered Wal-Mart tote. Between that and his rumpled thrift-shop suit, you’d never know he was one of the biggest literary agents in the country. He paused and turned as he opened her front door. “Rach . . .” Green eyes loomed large over his bulbous nose and gray-spiked mustache.
“I know. I know.” Rachel didn’t meet Donna’s eyes, sure of what she would see there. “Soon, I promise.”
“I’m just saying, next Thursday . . .”
“Max, as soon as I know, I’ll tell you.” She crossed her toes. Childish, yes. But she wasn’t quite up to telling their agent their decision just yet.
Max picked up his tote, then draped his coat over his arm. “Okay, then. I’ll see you both at the lunch.” They both watched as the door clicked shut behind him.
“Raaaachel.” Donna was using the voice.
She knew. “I will.” Rachel pulled the trash can out from under the sink and started picking up the detritus littering the floor.
“You have to tell him. He fought hard to get us such a great offer. It’s not fair.”
“Tell me about it.” Fairness. Now that was something her life knew nothing about. “It’s not like there’s not time. We’ve still got one book to go.”
“Speaking of which . . .”
“Nada.” Not a bean, not a blip.
“Nothing?” Donna flipped open a silver compact.
“Sorry.” And she was. There was nothing more she would like to give her aunt to take to their publisher than the premise of her next book. But given that in three months she’d come up with three possible book ideas and abandoned them all less than five thousand words in, she didn’t put much hope in the next few days being any different.
Her aunt shrugged. “It’ll happen. You didn’t think you could write one book and yet here we are.”
Yes, here they were, still in the same dingy one-bedroom condo the whole charade had started in. “Indeed.”
“You okay?” Her aunt snapped her mirror shut and peered Rachel’s way.
“I just . . .” Rachel struggled to put her thoughts into words. “Do you ever . . .”
“Of course.” A sigh escaped Donna’s lips as she slipped the compact back into her oversized purse. “Rach, you’re a brilliant writer. And what you write is good, and true, and it helps people live better lives. Do I feel bad that people believe those words come from me? Of course I do. But we made the best decision we could at the time. No one could have ever guessed it would have turned into this.”
“I guess.” They were the ones who’d suggested the charade. Yet the most noble of reasons in the world didn’t make it right.
“Oh, I almost forgot.” Her aunt dug around in her purse until a white envelope appeared.
Rachel slipped the crisp monogrammed sheet out of its
pocket. The certification from their accountants was standard. It was the check appended on the top that mattered. A twitch of a smile. $88,657.23. The Christmas season had been good to them. Only half a million to go before she would be free. Finally.
All that stood between the two of them was one more book. Well, one more book and another year of living a lie.