Happy Medium

Happy Medium

by Sarah Adler
Happy Medium

Happy Medium

by Sarah Adler


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Notes From Your Bookseller

Quirky, lovable and engaging characters mingle with a sexy, hilarious and feel-good plot that makes Happy Medium easy, if not impossible to fall in love with. With a dynamic narrative voice that is equally witty and heartfelt, this rom-com is a joy to read.

"The perfect alchemy of romance, humor and quirky originality."—Sophie Cousens, New York Times bestselling author of This Time Next Year and The Good Part

"A sincere and sincerely funny romance."—Alix E. Harrow, New York Times bestselling author of Starling House

A clever con woman must convince a skeptical, sexy farmer of his property's resident real-life ghost if she's to save them all from a fate worse than death, in this delightful new novel from the author of Mrs. Nash's Ashes.

Fake spirit medium Gretchen Acorn is happy to help when her best (read: wealthiest) client hires her to investigate the unexplained phenomena preventing the sale of her bridge partner’s struggling goat farm. Gretchen may be a fraud, but she'd like to think she’s a beneficent one. So if "cleansing" the property will help a nice old man finally retire and put some much-needed cash in her pockets at the same time, who's she to say no?

Of course, it turns out said bridge partner isn't the kindly AARP member Gretchen imagined—Charlie Waybill is young, hot as hell, and extremely unconvinced that Gretchen can communicate with the dead. (Which, fair.) Except, to her surprise, Gretchen finds herself face-to-face with Everett: the very real, very chatty ghost that’s been wreaking havoc during every open house. And he wants her to help ensure Charlie avoids the same family curse that's had Everett haunting Gilded Creek since the 1920s.

Now, Gretchen has one month to convince Charlie he can’t sell the property. Unfortunately, hard work and honesty seem to be the way to win over the stubborn farmer—not exactly Gretchen's strengths. But trust isn’t the only thing growing between them, and the risk of losing Charlie to the spirit realm looms over Gretchen almost as annoyingly as Everett himself. To save the goat farm, its friendly phantom, and the man she's beginning to love, Gretchen will need to pull off the greatest con of her life: being fully, genuinely herself.

“Sarah Adler nails the ultimate rom-com alchemy.”—Carley Fortune, New York Times bestselling author of Every Summer After and Meet Me at the Lake

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593547816
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/30/2024
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 20,132
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Sarah Adler writes romantic comedies about lovable weirdos finding their happily ever afters. She lives in Maryland with her husband and daughter and often travels absurd distances to acquire baked goods. Mrs. Nash’s Ashes was her debut novel. You can find her online at sarahadlerwrites.com.

Read an Excerpt


Gretchen Acorn is a bullshit artist.

The talent for it runs in her family-her daddy's a bullshit artist, as was his daddy before him, and his before him. And so on, all the way back to Fritz Eichorn, who scammed his way into first class on the ship that carried him to the US by posing as a recently heartbroken Austrian count. But while great-great-great-grandpa Fritz and most of his male descendants gravitated toward the hasty brushstrokes of shell games and selling landmarks to tourists, Gretchen has found her own, more sophisticated medium.

No pun intended.

"Ah." Gretchen presses two fingers to each of her temples. She winces as if her mental call to the spirit realm has conjured nothing except a headache. "I feel Ronald trying to be here with us, but the connection is fragile. Too fragile to make anything out, I'm afraid."

"It's my aura, isn't it?" The elderly woman across the table unclasps her hands and sits them atop the plum brocade tablecloth. She still wears her platinum and diamond wedding set, the swell of her arthritic knuckle the only thing keeping the too-large rings in place. "I've been told before that it's a problem, but no matter how many Reiki experts I've consulted-"

"No, no," Gretchen interrupts. "You have a beautiful aura, Mrs. Easterly. The most gorgeous"-Pick a color, any color-"vermillion I've ever seen. Don't let anyone do a thing to it."

The idea of some opportunistic asshole swindling a nice old lady like Janice Easterly makes Gretchen's jaw tense. Perhaps that seems hypocritical given that she herself relies upon dishonesty to make her living (and that she can't even remember if vermillion is a shade of green or red). But the difference is that Gretchen only takes people's money if she's certain she can leave them better off than she found them. That's the one Rule that governs everything she does. Her singular guiding principle. It transforms her work from a con into a business transaction, her morally gray impulses into something mutually beneficial. That's why she turns away potential clients if she knows she won't be able to provide what they need, and why she's building up to telling Mrs. Easterly that her telephone line to the spirit world is currently generating nothing but a busy signal.

Her code of ethics may not win her a Nobel Peace Prize, but it's been something of a compass since Gretchen struck out on her own almost seven years ago. She has the skills of her forefathers in her back pocket at all times-her father made sure she could lie, cheat, and steal with the best of them before she could even spell her own name-and it would be easy enough to fill the rest of Mrs. Easterly's half-hour session with the cheap tricks that make up the bread and butter of most supposed spirit mediums and psychics. No doubt Mrs. Easterly would confirm, tears cutting through her caked-on face powder like an icebreaker navigating the Baltic, that the two-story house with a chimney Gretchen describes (not too specifically, of course) must be her husband's childhood home. A woman with a name beginning with H? Well, her sister's name was Harriett, could that be it? And oh my word, she does indeed own a heart-shaped piece of jewelry! A long-ago gift from her late husband, in fact, from before he made his fortune buying and selling laws or whatever it is people in this town do to get so damned rich.

But Gretchen Acorn didn't become the most sought-after spirit medium among Northwest DC's high-society set by throwing generic guesses at the wall, assuming something would be bound to stick. It takes extra effort-extra artistry-to win over the rich old ladies who reside in this part of the city. Gretchen's clients know that when they come to her, they aren't going to get the preschool crayon drawing version of a séance, where you have to squint and tilt your head to make out what the medium is telling you they see. No, they can rely on her to paint them a vivid picture, full of detail and symbolism that gives them permission to fully buy into the belief that they aren't as alone as they feel. She's the bullshit artist equivalent of a Renaissance master, and as long as what she produces is pretty and reassuring, her clients never think too deeply about the process that went into creating it.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Easterly barged in without an appointment, which Gretchen allowed only because the woman introduced herself using the magic words: "I'm a good friend of Deborah Van Alst." So she went into this séance without the usual mental dossier of information that acts as her canvas.

She drops her chin as if the weight of summoning Mrs. Easterly's dead husband has become too heavy for her mind to bear. Her head lulls for effect, which also has the added bonus of stretching out a little twinge in her neck. "I'm almost certain the problem is me," she says wearily. "I'm feeling . . . weakened this afternoon." Also hungry, according to the growl of her stomach. Mrs. Easterly's unscheduled appearance at her little basement-level shop on MacArthur Boulevard interrupted Gretchen's lunch plans. She thinks longingly of the Cup Noodles still sitting inside the microwave in the back room.

"I hope you're not ill?" Suspicion sneaks into Mrs. Easterly's voice, as if she's now concerned that Gretchen may secretly be several infectious diseases masquerading as a spirit medium.

"No, nothing so mundane. There seems to be a disturbance in the veil." Gretchen glances up as she speaks, but doesn't meet Mrs. Easterly's rheumy eyes. Instead, she stares slightly off into the distance, finding a cobweb in the corner that makes an excellent focal point for moments like this (the reason, she tells herself, she hasn't cleaned it despite first noticing it weeks ago).

True Believers-of which Mrs. Easterly is clearly one-love this kind of drama, so Gretchen is unsurprised to see her lean forward and nod as if she's all too familiar with the fickle whims of the veil between the living and spirit worlds.

"As a highly intuitive soul, I'm particularly sensitive to such fluctuations. Especially on Thursdays." Thursdays don't have any particular occult significance that Gretchen is aware of, but it sounds good.

"Oh. I see. Yes, now that you mention it, I also feel that something is quite out of alignment."

"Out of alignment, exactly! Of course you sense it, given that lovely vermillion aura of yours." The large emerald and diamond brooch at Mrs. Easterly's throat twinkles in the candlelight, and the mink stole draped over the woman's bony shoulders prompts Gretchen to add, "But it always falls right back into place in time. Perhaps we can try again next week?"

By then, Gretchen can gather enough information on Ronald Easterly to make this worth his widow's two hundred bucks. Maybe she'll even cultivate her as a long-term client. Because while her initial instinct might've been to turn Mrs. Easterly away (and only partially because she's currently hangry), the old woman's penchant for real fur and gaudy-but-fine jewelry acts like a siren song, calling to all of Gretchen's . . . ahem, artistic instincts. Surely, she can find a way to make herself useful.

"Of course," Mrs. Easterly says. "That sounds- Yes, next week. I'll call to make an appointment."

Calling ahead, Gretchen thinks. What a novel concept.

When the woman reaches for her vintage Chanel purse to pull out her wallet, Gretchen takes her hand to still the action. Mrs. Easterly's skin is fragile and clammy, as if it's made of half-dried papier-mâché.

"No charge for today, ma'am. I cannot accept payment when I was unable to provide you with the requested service," Gretchen says, flashing a rueful smile.

An answering expression stretches across Mrs. Easterly's thin lips, emphasizing the tiny estuaries of red lipstick traveling outward in every direction. "No wonder Deborah speaks so highly of you." Gretchen allows her hand to be patted affectionately before she draws it away.

"I appreciate how many of Mrs. Van Alst's friends trust me to assist them." Considering Deborah Van Alst's referrals make up almost a third of Gretchen's business these days (and Mrs. Van Alst herself another third), this is not only sincere, but somewhat of an understatement. Gretchen allows her earnestness to show in her expression; it's smart to lean into the truth whenever she can.

"Oh. Oh no, it is Thursday." Mrs. Easterly's smile falls, then transforms into a concerned purse of the lips. "Deborah is supposed to see you today, isn't she? I hope the disturbance"-her voice drops to a whisper on the word as if trying not to offend the spirit realm-"doesn't prevent her from speaking with Rachel."

Gretchen guides Mrs. Easterly toward the doorway with a hand hovering over her back. "The veil to the spirit realm is notoriously capricious. But I'm certain if Rachel has anything to say to her mother this afternoon, she'll find a way to come through. Those who pass young tend to be stronger spirits, and Rachel is even stronger than most. I barely need to exert any energy to get her chatting away most of the time."

Rachel Van Alst died at age thirty-three in a skiing accident. She left behind Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter accounts, and never deleted the LiveJournal she kept from ages twelve to fifteen-a veritable buffet of personal information that's made convincing her mother that her deceased daughter is communicating with her from the afterlife one of the easiest jobs Gretchen has ever pulled off.

"Yes, Rachel always was a big presence, you know." Mrs. Easterly glances back over her shoulder as she shuffles forward. "Still had so much life ahead of her. Such a shame."

Gretchen hums her agreement and at last wishes the old woman farewell. She retreats to the back room that serves as her office. It's actually a closet with a beaded curtain for a door, but the size doesn't matter as much as the fact that it's somewhere she can be Gretchen Eichorn, twenty-nine-year-old (mostly) ethical bullshit artist, for brief moments in between being Gretchen Acorn, purported ghost microphone. Also somewhere she can finally reheat her Cup Noodles and shovel them into her mouth in peace before her next appointment.

While the container circles in the ancient microwave and Gretchen curses Mrs. Easterly's interruption for making her pathetic lunch even more pathetic, she thumbs through the stack of mail that was piled under the front door's slot when she showed the woman out. Bill, bill, bill. Swiss Colony catalog addressed to the accountant's office on the house's main floor. Envelope with a handwritten address . . .

The microwave beeps, but Gretchen's stomach no longer growls so much as lurches.

Well. Her father was bound to track her down eventually. She just didn't expect him to take so long. Then again, knowing Ned Eichorn, it's all part of the plan. She originally braced herself for this moment fourteen months ago when she learned he was out on parole. But when no unknown numbers called and no letters like this one arrived, she slowly, slowly let her guard down until she forgot why she should have it up at all.

It's the way she would have done it too, were she him. Which she's spent several years trying to prove to herself she isn't. And she's not. Her Rule makes sure of that. But there's certainly a part of her that suspects that, without it, she wouldn't be inclined to be much better.

Ned Eichorn is extremely skilled at spotting a person's weaknesses, and hers are no exception. So she can predict with some accuracy what this letter says. Its arrival sends much more of a message than whatever words are inside. It's pointing out her sloppiness, her complacency. It's not a threat, exactly, but the suggestion of one. Yet instead of throwing it straight into the small trash can in the corner, Gretchen tucks it away under the bottom of the pile of bills before placing the whole stack of mail on the nearest horizontal surface.

As Gretchen twirls noodles around her fork, she forces her thoughts to turn from her father to her upcoming afternoon meeting with Deborah Van Alst-only a marginally less stressful topic. "Talking" to her daughter has been a crucial part of Mrs. Van Alst's grieving process; Gretchen wouldn't allow her to come in twice a week for the last nine months if she wasn't convinced she was doing the woman some good in exchange for her money. But based on Yolanda's reports, Mrs. Van Alst has turned a corner in her grief. The neighborhood chatter is that she's come out of hiding, no longer only leaving her bijou mansion on Glenbrook Road to visit Gretchen's shop. She's been spotted at restaurants, charity events, the University Club. Then, this past weekend, according to the gossip Yolanda gathered for Gretchen at Salon Apolline, she participated in a bridge tournament in Potomac and was later seen getting drinks with a handsome (and much younger) man.

Getting the woman back out into the world was always the goal, but it's a bittersweet development. It's becoming more difficult to justify Mrs. Van Alst's twice-weekly séances. Still, Gretchen keeps procrastinating doing anything about it. Not because she's learned to like the absurd woman or anything. It's just that her landlord is unlikely to accept good deeds in lieu of rent on the basement space and the only slightly larger apartment on the converted house's top floor, and without Mrs. Van Alst's biweekly appointments, Gretchen's monthly income will be reduced by several hundred dollars. Not exactly a drop in the bucket, especially in an expensive city like Washington.

Gretchen side-eyes the letter from her father hidden beneath the stack of bills. She can only see the corner of the envelope, the empty one where there should be a return address. Her father would advise her to keep up her current schedule with Mrs. Van Alst. Shit, he'd suggest she try to get her to come in more often. The woman has the money, and if she's stupid enough to want to waste it like this . . .

Gretchen shakes her head. It's certainly tempting, but that's why she created her Rule in the first place. And said Rule dictates that it's time to gently nudge Mrs. Van Alst into relying on her less.

Just maybe not so much less that Gretchen won't be able to pay her bills.

The last time they spoke, her dad called her out for being on a high horse. But Gretchen's always pictured it as more of a stubby-legged pony, elevated off the ground just enough to keep the worst of the dirt off. She's above some things . . . but not all things . . . and even then, not by a significant margin.

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