Veil of Secretsby Shannon Ethridge
Can a woman face-and forgive-her own painful past before her house of cards crumbles . . . and before her own daughter makes the same mistakes? Melanie and Will Connors are the perfect power couple. Will is the chief campaign strategist for a rising presidential candidate; Melanie is a prominent advocate for protecting children in an over-sexualized… See more details below
Can a woman face-and forgive-her own painful past before her house of cards crumbles . . . and before her own daughter makes the same mistakes? Melanie and Will Connors are the perfect power couple. Will is the chief campaign strategist for a rising presidential candidate; Melanie is a prominent advocate for protecting children in an over-sexualized culture. Their devotion to one another is admired, even envied. But their marriage isn’t what it appears to be.
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Meet the Author
Shannon Ethridge is a best-selling author, speaker, and certified life coach with a master’s degree in counseling/human relations from Liberty University. She has spoken to college students and adults since 1989 and is the author of 21 books, including the million-copy best-selling Every Woman's Battle series. She is a frequent guest on TV and radio programs and mentors aspiring writers and speakers through her BLAST Program. Twitter: @ShannonEthridge Facebook: shannonethridgefan
Kathryn Mackel is a best-selling author and acclaimed screenwriter for Disney and Fox. She was on the screenwriting team for Left Behind: The Movie and Frank Peretti's Hangman's Curse. She is the acclaimed author of The Surrogate, The Departed, and The Hidden and resides in Boston, Massachusetts, with her husband.
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Veil of Secrets
By SHANNON ETHRIDGE, KATHRYN MACKEL
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2014 Shannon Ethridge
All rights reserved.
Melanie Connors knew all about pizza runs. She needed to make it clear to Sophie that there would be no more pizza runs.
She sat in stalled traffic on the Everett Turnpike, staring at a sea of brake lights. To her right, she could see the Merrimack River, laced with ice. The wind surged, rattling the windows of the rental car. Even with the heat blasting, frigid air snaked down Melanie's back.
November was New Hampshire's ugly secret. The brochures boasted about the state's sparkling lakes, flaming autumns, and serene snows. No one talked about trees ripped raw and skies tarnished to soot.
The flight from Nashville had been poorly heated with blankets nowhere to be found. The wait for the shuttle bus was endless. By the time Melanie took possession of the SUV in Boston, her icy fingers could barely wrestle the key into the ignition.
It never should have come to this. Why wouldn't Will listen to reason?
She scrolled through her phone, clicked on Will's private number.
Will answered on the first ring. "Hey, sweetheart. Can I call you back in a whi—"
"No? Are you all right?"
I'm here, she should say. I'm here and I can't wait to see you. "You told me she'd only be in New Hampshire for two weeks."
He sighed. "Not this again."
The traffic bucked forward. "A couple is two, Will. Weeks—not months."
"Honestly, Lanie. You're being irrational about this."
Melanie tugged at her scarf, trying to release the sudden heat under her collar. Talk about irrational. Flying all the way from Nashville to wrestle her daughter away from a loving father—who was deep in the weeds of a presidential primary. "Is she with you?"
"No, she's at the call center."
"Campaigning for the best candidate this country has seen in years. How old were you when you started for your father—fourteen? Our daughter is living her heritage."
"I cherish Dave Dawson as deeply as you do, Will."
"And if Sophie's not with me, she's with the Dawsons. Or with Caroline."
"Carrie? And that's supposed to make me feel better?"
At twenty-eight, Will's half sister was bright and politically savvy. But she was untamed, a live wire shooting sparks.
Melanie riffled her fingernails on the steering wheel. When was this traffic going to move? She was so close to the exit for downtown Manchester—twenty cars at the most—and yet the distance might as well put her back in Tennessee.
"Carrie is showing her the ropes," Will said, "like I did for her when she was Sophie's age. So whatever your problem is with this, we'll have to talk about it later."
"Sophie told me that she does pizza runs."
He laughed. "Bless her heart, on occasion she does."
"I don't like you letting her drive in a place she's not familiar with."
"She knows all the roads, Lanie. She's got an innate sense of direction."
"She's barely sixteen years old. She doesn't have an innate sense of anything."
Melanie shivered at the thought of Sophie caught in this cold mass of steel and insane drivers.
"Lanie, please. I really need to go."
Will clicked off before she could tell him she was less than a mile away.
Inching now. Close enough to see the roof of the Radisson in the city center. Close enough to wrap her arms around Will and feel his heart beat and remind him about how tricky pizza runs can be.
You make four or five campaign stops in one day. You can't eat because everyone wants to talk to you when they can't get to the candidate. You need to make them think you've promised them the world when you've made no commitment whatsoever.
Even though your hunger makes you cranky and light-headed, you don't dare shovel something down fast. Everyone has seen the YouTube video of the governor who choked on a buffalo wing and coughed it out with a chaser of vomit.
You can save the economy and soothe the soul of a nation, but throwing up on camera can dump a candidate faster than a boatload of mistresses.
So you get back to the hotel around midnight, ready to chew the wallpaper. If you're on a grassroots candidacy, some lower-level functionary grabs you to get the pizza because in Manchester they only deliver on weekends, and don't forget the gum, breath mints, and NoDoz.
The run itself is a shared experience; exhausted laughter as you and a stray pal unravel the day and poke gentle fun at the chanting crowds or narrow-eyed reporters. You arrive back as a conquering hero. The feast becomes a grand communal experience, cheese and crust the great equalizer of candidate, staffers, and you—the kid who literally brought home the bacon. There's no big world pressing down, no victories to be won, only the four walls of a hotel suite that smells like pizza and beer and microwave popcorn.
And sometimes, when you're the one left cleaning up the mess, someone senior will stay and help. Quick glances and spilled secrets fill the late-night vacuum until the sun rises and caffeine bubbles and you're climbing in the thick of the action all over again.
"Stop it," Melanie told herself. She scrolled through her phone, found Will's itinerary. An interview with a local ABC affiliate. The spin: Dave Dawson, shoe-leather candidate.
Dave and Will were due in Concord in less than an hour for the next event. Before Melanie even got to the downtown exit, they would be heading north. They'd know to use the back roads because that's what grassroots was all about—shaking hands, driving the dirt roads, making people believe things could be better.
When Melanie worked for her father, she knew every back road in New Hampshire, Iowa, and South Carolina. And she knew every twenty-four-hour pizza joint.
Traffic stopped again.
Melanie gave the driver next to her a pleading look. He shook his head and crept forward into the gap. Behind him, the UPS truck waved her into the breakdown lane. She nosed onto the shoulder, chiding herself because the ticket she was about to earn would cost a fortune, and the rental car company would not be amused at their SUV getting towed.
Some things just had to take priority.
She grabbed the keys and her suitcase, locked the car, and started walking.
An angry wind roared off the river. So much for global warming. She wheeled her suitcase up the exit ramp, breathing in exhaust fumes. Stoplights cycled through three times and still no cars moved.
On River Street, the traffic continued its chaos. Everyone was stuck in a red-tailed, honking morass that seemed to have its origin on Manchester's main thoroughfare. Even small cities could have big traffic issues.
Dragging her suitcase, Melanie headed for the Radisson. Her feet were numb with the cold, her face flushed with worry. Will would be upset that she didn't tell him about this trip. Dave Dawson and his wife, Miranda, would beg her to stay, join the campaign because she had the experience and the passion.
Melanie turned the corner. A mob of people crowded the little park across from the Radisson.
She ran, because all she could think was, Dear God, don't let this be something bad. She pushed into the crowd, asking, "What's wrong?" until she heard the thwap-thwap of heavy tarps flapping in the wind.
She caught her breath and let her heart settle. So they were here now.
They were called MoveIn, a protest group made up of former Occupiers, hippies, and do-gooders. Activists scurrying out of their tents right before rush hour so they could cause a ruckus and make the evening news cycle.
Will should have told her that they'd set up a camp across from headquarters. Instead, he had gone on and on about the documentary Sophie was developing for her college portfolio. Standing witness as history is being made, he had said. So many things Will claimed their daughter was experiencing. Things Sophie would never forget.
Yet he missed the danger of pizza runs.
And the allure of powerful men who could turn the head of an impressionable young girl even faster than a vomit video gone viral could sway a public-opinion poll.
* * *
Melanie checked into the Radisson and left a keycard for Will at the front desk. She unpacked, then climbed into a hot bath. Sophie wouldn't be back until late this evening. So close and still so out of reach.
That Sophie and Hannah Dawson were like sisters was no reason for Sophie to be this close to a presidential campaign. Waters got murky when the prize was so precious.
Melanie watched the local news as she soaked in the hot water. A television in the bathroom—when would the public's obsession with media ever end?
The local news had a promo clip from Dave's upcoming interview. Hopefully this would stir some attention to Dave's candidacy. He was the perfect man for a hurting nation.
"They call you 'the General' in the war on families," the interviewer said.
Dave smiled, showing jowls that hadn't been there three months ago. Hurried meals and junk food on the bus did not make for a healthy lifestyle. The added bulk actually suited him, though. With his salt-and-pepper hair and calm demeanor, he projected confidence and accessibility.
"I wear that title proudly," Dave said.
"Really?" The interviewer raised his left eyebrow while simultaneously leaning forward on his right elbow. This guy must have been practicing that quizzical gesture for the last four years, waiting for primary season to roll around again.
"The truth is," Dave said, "I want to tear back the veil and show the true war on families. The schools, pushing birth control on our children from elementary school. The culture, telling our daughters that anything you want to do is fine as long as you do it safely. Preaching to our sons that they can't be men unless they have a chip on their shoulder and a gun in their hand. We never measure emotional or spiritual safety, do we? The barrage is constant. The music. The clothing. The video games. Movies and television. When was the last time you or your station took a critical look at your own programming?"
"Are you"—the interviewer sat back, as if stunned—"talking censorship?"
Dave leaned into the space that the interviewer had vacated. "I'm talking responsibility. Turn a mirror on yourself and see if you are proud of what's there."
The local anchor cut in with the promo. "The interview airs Sunday night at 6 p.m. The senator's comments will raise some eyebrows," the anchor said. "And some hackles," his female counterpart responded.
Melanie gasped, instinctively covering her breasts with crossed arms.
Will came into the bathroom. "Hey, hey. I didn't mean to scare you."
"Just startled, that's all. Let me get a towel," she said. She reached past him for the towel and wrapped herself tight.
Will touched her cheek. "Let's move your stuff up to my suite."
"I'm already settled in here."
"Okay," he said. "I'll stay here." He unbuttoned the top button on his dress shirt and pulled it over his head.
"She's in Concord overnight, with the Dawsons. They're doing an early-morning diner stop." Will unfastened his belt buckle. "Miranda is so grateful that Hannah has her for companionship."
"Stop selling that to me." Melanie grabbed her suitcase, found her flannel pajamas.
"Selling what?" Will said.
"Our daughter as campaigner in chief."
"You had the book tour, Lanie. And then that conference in Dallas, and that other deadline. So it was either have Sophie come here or ship her off to Destiny. And we know how that would've turned out. In a week, she'd have a ring through her nose and a butterfly tattoo on her bicep."
"I didn't expect her to get so involved up here."
"She's sixteen," Will said, all pretense of humor gone. "Lanie, please. It's late. Let's just go to bed."
The crease next to Will's right eyebrow was new, and the gray in his sideburns had advanced into his hairline. He needed a haircut. His sandy-brown curls were rowdy, showing track marks where he had worried his fingers. His blue eyes were shadowed.
He had lost weight. While Dave endured pancake breakfasts and chicken dinners, Will kept an eye on everything in the campaign—except his own well-being. She should stay and watch out for him.
If she stayed, Sophie would have to stay.
Will undid the button she had just fastened. "The years pass and yet ..." He pressed his mouth to her throat. "You are as beautiful as the day we met."
"Will, please." She buttoned her shirt.
"Don't. Don't hide from me."
"I'm not hiding. I'm just cold."
"Then come to bed with me."
"I told you, not until we discuss Sophie being here. It's time to come home."
Will stepped back, frowned. "You. Me. That's what we need to talk about."
"Don't avoid the topic, Will."
"And don't you reframe the argument, Lanie. This isn't about Sophie." Will grabbed the duvet from the bed and in a quick swoop draped it over Melanie's shoulders. "Happy now? You're all wrapped up—and I can't get to you."
"I flew all the way up here, Will, so we can talk about Sophie."
"No. We are the primary topic here, Melanie. You and me."
"This me is exhausted. Can't we sort this out tomorrow?" He grasped the edge of the duvet and pulled it around his shoulders so they were both covered by it. He smelled like coffee and sweat.
"Do you love me, Lanie?"
"I do. Of course I do."
"Kiss me. Kiss me so I know."
Melanie leaned into him, aiming for his lips, but at the last split second the heat of his breath made her turn—ever so slightly—and she kissed the corner of his mouth.
Will gently tipped her head back. "Let's not lie anymore."
"I'm not lying."
His gaze traveled slowly from her head to her feet. She felt naked even with her pajamas on and the duvet wrapped around her.
"I've been seeing a therapist," he said. "Sorting things out. The truth is I can't live like a monk anymore. When the campaign runs its course—or God willing, Dave becomes president—we need to talk about a divorce."
Melanie willed her knees to keep her upright. None of what Will said was unexpected, and yet she had persuaded herself that things would go on as they always had.
"I don't want that," she said.
"Something needs to change. I'd like you to meet my therapist," Will said. "Can you do that for me? For Sophie?"
She touched his cheek. "I don't know."
"Think about it. I'll see you at breakfast." Will left the room, pulling the door shut with a bang.CHAPTER 2
Tuesday early morning
Four o'clock in the morning. Each minute had passed like drips of hot wax as Melanie waited for Will to come back and tell her that he had overreacted. That he hadn't meant to use the word divorce.
If he wouldn't come to her, she would go to him. Melanie put on her jacket and flip-flops, found the keycard he had left for her, and went to the elevator.
Campaigns were tough, and a presidential campaign was relentless. Will would make himself a cup of black coffee, stretch out on the sofa, and sift through priorities. Identifying key people they'd meet later that morning. Reading the revised draft of Dave's stump speech to ensure the narrative had been honed to fit the occasion. Checking any overnight polls for New Hampshire and Iowa. Worrying about Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina and Florida and praying they'd chosen the best strategy they could afford.
Melanie slipped the keycard in the slot for Will's suite. The lock flashed green. She opened the door. The sitting room had been converted into the campaign's "situation room." Papers, soda cans, and coffee cups littered the tables. Sofas and chairs were pushed against the wall. Power cords and chargers snaked haphazardly to surge protectors on the floor.
Her father would have loved the instant news and social media. Bobby Joe Fallon would have wielded the new technology like a conductor's baton. What trick of nature had condemned one of the greatest political minds in history to a haze of Alzheimer's?
Melanie worked her way around the tables, avoiding extension cords and take-out boxes. The bedroom to her right—Sophie's room—was empty. How did she study or sleep next to the situation room with activity going deep into the night?
Excerpted from Veil of Secrets by SHANNON ETHRIDGE, KATHRYN MACKEL. Copyright © 2014 Shannon Ethridge. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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