From New York Times bestselling author Megan Hart comes a haunting and insightful novel about a woman trying to find her place in the world
Brought up in the savage captivity of her unstable grandmother's rural Pennsylvania home, Mari Calder once yearned for rescue. Now she struggles every day to function as an adult in the confines of normal society. Left with only a foggy recollection of her childhood, she's consumed with being a dutiful wife to her husband, Ryan, and mother to their two children.
But an unexpected twist of events returns her to that long-forgotten house in the woods. Soon, Mari is greeted with reminders of a past life, the clarified memories only inviting a new level of strangeness into her fragile world. To protect her family, she must find the beautiful, powerful strength hidden in her inner chaos. Because someone is bent on exploiting Mari's trauma, and as normal and wild begin to blend, a string of devastating truths force Mari to question all she thought she knew.
"Haunting, devastating, heart-wrenching."
RT Book Reviews on Precious and Fragile Things
|Product dimensions:||8.20(w) x 5.30(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Megan Hart is the award-winning and multi-published author of more than thirty novels, novellas and short stories. Her work has been published in almost every genre, including contemporary women’s fiction, historical romance, romantic suspense and erotica. Megan lives in the deep, dark woods of Pennsylvania with her husband and children, and is currently working on her next novel for MIRA Books. You can contact Megan through her website at www.MeganHart.com.
Read an Excerpt
In her dreams, she is still wild.
But she's not dreaming now. At the moment, Mari Calder stands at her kitchen sink rinsing out a pot in which macaroni and cheese is still stubbornly clinging. She takes the sponge, rough on one side but not so much that it will scratch the expensive, shiny pot, and she scrubs. Macaroni softens under the stream of hot water that turns her fingers red. White suds cover her hands, and noodles stripped of their cheesy orange coating swirl into the drain where they catch and swell.
They look like maggots.
Tenderly, Mari scoops them into her palm. She leaves the water running, the rush and roar of it nothing like the sound of a waterfall. She dumps the sodden, bloated macaroni into a trash pail overflowing with the similar dregs of meals left unfinished. She stands over the trash for some long moments, staring at the waste.
She's never hungry anymore, at least not the way she used to be. Here in this house she has a pantry full of cans, jars, bottles and boxes. Waxy containers of chicken broth snuggle next to bags of exotic rice in multiple colors and boxes of instant mashed potatoes. Cookies, crackers and potato chips in crumpled bags shut tight against the air with plastic clips, or sometimes dumped without ceremony into tight-lidded plastic containers. Clear, so she can see what's inside. So she can run her fingertips over the contents without actually touching them.
And always, always, snack cakes. They come wrapped in plastic, two to a package, in flimsy cardboard boxes. She likes the chocolate kind best, though she'll eat any flavor, really. Her very favorites are the special ones that come out for holidays. Spongy cakes shaped like Christmas trees or hearts or pumpkins, covered in stiff icing she can peel away with her teeth. Mari buys them a box at a time, casually, like they don't matter to her at all, but she never puts them in the pantry or in the special drawer where all the other snacks go. She hides them. She hoards them.
She doesn't have to. Her fridge is always full. The freezers, too, both of them, the small one in the refrigerator here in the kitchen and the full-sized chest freezer in the garage. Sometimes, mostly at night when everyone else is asleep, Mari likes to stand in front of the freezer and peer inside at all the wealth she has collected.
Ryan never seems to notice or care how much food there is in the house. He comes home from work and expectsand findsdinner waiting for him. No matter what kind of effort Mari has to make to provide it, she makes sure there's always a full meal. Takeout or homemade, there's always a meat, a vegetable, salad, a grain, a bread. Fresh bread. She can't get enough. Mari usually makes it herself. She uses a bread machine to help her, but she's still the one who fills the pan with carefully measured amounts of water, flour, sugar, salt, yeast. Every morning she bakes a fresh loaf, and every night they eat it.
Sometimes, Ethan helps her with the preparation. Kendra used to, but now she's too busy with her cell phone or iPad, texting and tweeting and whatever it is teenage girls do. But Ethan is still young enough to like cracking the eggs and measuring the flour.
At eight, Ethan is still young enough for Mari to relate to. Oh, she loves Kendra, her firstborn, her daughter. They do girly things like shop for shoes, paint their nails, hit the chick flicks in the theater while Ryan and Ethan stay home. Mari loves her daughter, sometimes with a fierceness that takes her breath away but she doesn't really understand her.
It's not that Kendra is unknowable. Even at fifteen, she still talks to her mom. Unlike her friends, whom Kendra has revealed barely speak to their parents unless it's to complain. Sure, there have been some bumps along the way. Temper tantrums, pouty faces, arguments about curfews or grades. Mari supposes this is normal and is grateful it's never been worse.
Kendra is knowable, she hasn't grown away from them, hasn't taken to painting her nails and lips and eyelids black or disappearing into her room to burn incense and listen to music with bad lyrics. It's Mari who cannot quite seem to bridge the distance between the toddler with curly white-blond hair who liked to serve tea in plastic cups while wearing only a half-shredded pink tutu, and this tall, lanky and gangly teenager with iron-straightened hair the color of sand. Kendra might still sleep with an array of stuffed animals at the foot of her bed, but she's already talking about college and moving to California to live on her own, about getting her driver's license and access to a credit card. About growing up and growing away.
But Ethan, the boy who favors her. Him, Mari still understands. Because he's only eight, not yet nine, though that birthday will sneak up on her before she knows it, and then he, too, will start to grow away from her. But for now she understands him because Ethan, like all children under the age of ten, is still mostly wild.
At the sink, Mari uses the sprayer to rinse the stainless steel clean. She turns off the water. Dries her hands. She looks out the window, over the tips of basil, rosemary and thyme she's growing in her container garden on the sill. Out into the grass, which for the first time in as long as she can remember is getting too long. Ryan usually trims the grass so tight to the ground nothing living could ever possibly hide in it. In the spring, summer and fall he rides his mower every weekend, beer in hand. He might not be able to find the laundry basket, but the yard is somehow tied up in his manly pride. It's not like him to leave the yard untended, but over the past few months he's been working long hours. Coming home late. The weather has been rainy for the past three weekends, leaving him to sit inside on the couch watching a series of whatever random programs he finds when he taps the keys of the remote.
Now the grass would tickle her shins if she were to walk outside into it. So she does. Barefooted, step-stepping carefully from the wide wooden deck onto the slate patio and finally, at last, into spring-soft grass that bends beneath her toes and does, indeed, tickle her shins. Mari sighs. She closes her eyes. She tips her face to the late-afternoon light and breathes in deep.
A bird chirps softly. A dog barks, far off. She hears the murmur of voices, a television or radio, from the neighbor's house on the other side of the yard. A passing car. The squeak of bicycle wheels. There is sometimes the rustle of squirrels in the trees or rabbits hopping into the brush, but most of the wildlife in this neighborhood has been eradicated by family pets, loud children or exterminators.
These are the sounds of her life. She misses the sound of running water that had been the constant backdrop of her childhood. Two houses down, the Smithsons have a plastic waterfall set up in their backyard, but it's too far away for her to hear. Mari used to have a container fountain on her deck, just big enough to grow a single water lily, but last winter she forgot to bring it in before the first freeze and the pump burned out. Ryan tossed the entire thing in the trash, and she hasn't yet replaced it.
Her feet swish in the grass as she steps forward again. A twig crackles and snaps. Mari pauses. She breathes in deeply again, lashes fluttering on her cheeks, but none of this is the same as what she's missing. This is not what she's hoping to feel.
That she only gets in dreams.
She opens her eyes and looks at her yard. Ryan mows the lawn but won't bother with weeding. They have a service for that. Mari hates to pull up what the Home Owner's Association calls weeds and she calls wildflowers. She despises pulling up plants only to put down the chopped-up bits of dead trees. Mulching seems like the utmost waste to her. Ridiculous and expensive. She and Ryan fought about it when they moved into this neighborhood, but the HOA had rules about "curb appeal." She notes the carefully pruned beds that should be beautiful and yet leave her cold, still wanting. Still suddenly desperate for something lovely. Something wild.
The only beauty Mari sees is in the far back corner of the yard, the one that butts up to the tree line and beyond that, the last farmer's field that will be another subdivision by the end of the year. Tall oaks, weather-worn, defend her emerald-green and perfectly manicured lawn from the tangled, reckless patches of clover that edge the soybean field. Here's where the gardening crew tosses the cuttings, the scrap, the leftovers. It's where Ryan dumps the grass from his mower bag. It's a shady place, a haven for small, running creatures. It's hardly overgrown, but it's the closest she can get to the forest. There's a word to describe it that she once read in a book. Verdant. That's what this place is.
There's a fairy ring of mushrooms here, too, in the small, chilly bit of shade. They're edible, though Mari knows better than to pluck them, rinse them and sauté them in butter. Her children won't eat mushrooms no matter how they're prepared, and Ryan will only eat the kind that comes in a can if they're on top of pizza. Besides, nobody she knows eats mushrooms they find in their yard. As with many of her long-standing habits, it would be considered strange. Mari touches the velvety cap of one and leaves it to survive in its small patch of soil.
This is where Ryan finds her, sitting on an old lawn chair he's tried three or four times to toss into the trash. The plastic woven strips are frayed and sagging, molded to her butt, and the metal legs have rusted. Mari keeps it because it doesn't seem like such a sin to sit on a chair like this one in this forgotten bit of backyard, while taking one of the newer, fancier deck chairs would. Ryan says nothing about the chair now. In fact, he says nothing at all.
Mari stands. "What's wrong?"
She's alarmed when Ryan's mouth works but no words come out. Ryan is never without words. It's one of the better reasons she fell so hard in love with him, his ability to always find a way to communicate with speech what she could only say with silence. She's more alarmed when he gets on his knees to bury his face in her lap. Her hands come down to stroke the short, clipped ends of his pale hair. When she ruffles it, glints of silver shine in the gold. Ryan sighs, shoulders rising and falling, and his face is hot against her bare thigh.
"What's wrong?" she asks again, neither of them moving until Ryan lifts his head to look at her.
"I have bad news," her husband tells her, and not for the first time, her entire life changes.
* * *
Besoide him, Mari slept. The peaceful in-out of her breathing normally soothed Ryan into sleep himself, but tonight he lay wide-eyed and wakeful. Unable to relax enough for dreams.
He could wake her. A kiss or two would do it. He turned his head to look at her. She lay facing away from him, the smooth slope of her shoulders and hips clearly outlined because she slept, as she almost always did, with only a sheet to cover her. She went to bed naked even in the winter. Hell, Mari would be naked all the time if she could get away with it.
He could push up behind her. Inside her. They'd move together the way they always did, and it would be good for both of them with hardly any effort on his part. It was one of the things he loved so much about her, her easy and effortless response. He knew it had nothing to do with his skill or his prowess, but that it was something innately sensual inside her. He was the only man she'd ever been withRyan knew this. But would she respond that way to any man? Or was he somehow special? Thinking of this depressed him so that he couldn't even feel the twitch of an erection, couldn't even lose himself in that small and simple distraction.
Too bad his dick hadn't felt that way a year ago, when Annette Somers had strutted her way into his office with half the DSM-IV listed in her file as diagnoses. All the classic symptoms, traits and characteristics of at least three different mental illnesses, along with hints of half a dozen others. Knowing she knew how to play the game hadn't kept him from being played.
It was too much of a cliché, but here he found himself in the awkward, not to mention financially disruptive situation of having been placed on probation at reduced salary by his practice. Worse was the very real possibility that not only could he lose his license, but Annette's husband, Gerry, had been making noise about malpractice.
Even if eventually it all worked out and he didn't lose his job, money was going to be tight for a while, no question. They'd have to cut back. Way back. The kids wouldn't be happy, especially Kendra, but they'd just have to understand that this summer there couldn't be a pool membership or that expensive sleepaway camp. No horseback riding lessons. They could cancel their cable TV if they had to, he thought. Cut back on dinners out. It could work. It would have to work.
In the dark, Ryan swallowed against a surge of sourness. For a moment he thought about shaking Mari awake to see if she'd bring him an antacid, but he stopped himself with the barest brush of his fingers along her shoulder. She would get up, if he asked her to, but it wasn't going to make him feel better.
Maybe he could get a teaching position. Maybe he could go back to school for a new career, something like software engineering or website design. Maybe he could run away to Europe and become a heroin addict.
Maybe he could finally write that book he'd been thinking of writing for years.
The idea wiggled, a worm on a hook, in his brain. He had his dad's notes. All the files, the hours of film and video. Just because the old man had never taken advantage of the gold mine didn't mean Ryan couldn't. Or shouldn't. In fact, wouldn't it be something his dad would want Ryan to do? And who better to put it all together, to make something out of his dad's life's work, than Ryan? After all, the only man who knew Mari's story better than his father was, of course, Ryan himself.
Eased a little, he sat back in the dark, scarcely realizing he'd sat up in the first place. Yeah. The book. Even if all the rest of this turned out okay, if he got reinstated, kept his license, dodged the malpractice suit even if all of that worked itself out, now still might be the time to write the book. What had his father always said about a door closing while a window opened?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Another great read by Megan Hart. Her stories are like a roller coaster. You hang on, not sure where you're going, but knowing it's going to be worth the ride. There are so many layers to her characters and there's always a little heart break. Mari is a mother and wife with a mysterious past. This is the story of a summer when her past can no longer be kept secret.
A lovely tale about a woman with a tragic childhood.. Bloody hell Megan Hart you never fail to pull the rug from underneath the readers feet. Astonishing, I'm stunned speechless. So many dark enthralling twist in this story. Through it all we have and make the choices in life. An extensively well written novel. Characters are perfectly written throughout the story. With Megan Hart's novels you never know where she is going to take you. She knows how to slowly reel you in and hook you. A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.