The Guest List
For the first time ever, Abby Mitchell feels that the world is her Oyster. Her first book has found a publisher, a daring new surgery promises to take away the birthmark that mars her lovely face; and there's a new man in her life, a man who sees beyond her flaw. . .into her heart.
Best of all, though, is that Abby has been reunited with her sister Mallory. Separated as girls after their parents died in a double tragedy, Abby always dreamed that, one day, they would be together again.
But while two loving sisters make up for lost time, danger hides in the shadows. Now, Abby and Mallory have planned a sumptuous party--unaware that their gathering will include and uninvited guest who will do anything to keep the past hidden. . .
|Sold by:||Penguin Random House Publisher Services|
|File size:||932 KB|
About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
The Guest List
By FERN MICHAELS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2009 First Draft, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Edison, New Jersey — 1981
John Evans sat at the kitchen table, a pile of bills in front of him, consumed with worry about how he was going to pay everything and still have enough money left to take Abby to the specialist in New York. He pushed the bills aside as Abby ran to him, tears rolling down her cheeks.
"I want to go, too, Daddy. Mama said no. Can you take me?"
John's stomach started to churn. It was like this every damn day of Abby's life. He had a strong urge to smash something or better yet to pummel his wife, but instead he reached for the curly-haired little girl, lifted her onto his lap, and dried her tears with the edge of a paper napkin.
"Daddy, Daddy, how do I look?" Mallory shouted as she danced into the kitchen.
John stared at the fairy costume that had cost him half a day's pay and winced. He struggled for a light tone. "You look just the way a fairy princess is supposed to look." Too bad you don't act like one, he thought.
"Do I look bee-yoot-e-full?" Mallory asked, turning left, then right, so he could see her from every angle.
"You look —"
Harriet's high-pitched, nasal voice stopped him from answering. "Come along, Mallory, or we'll be late. The star of the play has to be on time." Harriet stuck her head into the kitchen. "She looks magnificent, doesn't she, John?"
"I want to be a fairy princess," Abby said, sobbing anew.
Mallory twirled around on tiptoe. "You can't be a fairy princess. You're an ugly witch!" she said spitefully.
John jumped to his feet, Abby in his arms. "That's enough, Mallory. Tell your sister you're sorry."
Mallory flew into her mother's arms. "I'm not sorry. I'm not," she wailed loudly.
John ignored the whiny little girl. "I can't believe you're doing this, Harriet. Why can't Abby go to the play?"
"You know very well why she can't go. This is Mallory's night. There is no place for beautiful and ugly in this discussion."
John stared at his wife in utter disgust. "What kind of a mother are you that you can be so cruel to your own child?"
"If you remember, John, I didn't want to be her mother. I only took her home from the hospital because you insisted." In a double swirl of skirts, Harriet and Mallory turned and went down the hall.
John cradled Abby in his arms, crooning soft words of love that he hoped would replace Harriet's and Mallory's hateful ones. "I have an idea, honey," he said, turning the little girl around to face him. "Let's walk across the yard to Donovan's house and see what he's doing. I bet we can get him to make us ice-cream cones. With chocolate sprinkles."
"Okay, Daddy. But first I have to get Bailey." She never went anywhere without the cuddly stuffed dog, a gift from Donovan.
"Ah, my two favorite people in the whole world!" Donovan Mitchell shouted, as John and Abby walked across the lawn and up to the patio. "I bet you're here for ice-cream cones. Good thing I remembered to buy sprinkles." He held the screen door open, then knelt as Abby stepped inside onto the porch. "I got you something else today, too. Something you've really wanted."
"You bought me a present?" the little girl squealed.
Smiling, Donovan nodded, then pointed her in the right direction. "Go into the living room. It's in the big white box by the sofa."
As soon as she raced off, Donovan popped an iced beer for his friend and pulled out a chair. "I told you Harriet wouldn't take Abby with her."
John slumped into the chair Donovan offered. "I know." He sighed and turned his face toward the street. "It's just so damn hard for me to believe a mother can be so cruel to her own child. It's not natural. It's ... sick. Mothers are supposed to ... Ah, hell!"
"Yeah, that pretty well sums it up," Donovan agreed.
"And on top of everything else," John went on as if he'd never stopped, "she's teaching Mallory to be just like her." He set his beer down on the floor and rubbed his hands over his face. "I don't know what the hell to do anymore."
"Lookee, lookee, Daddy! It's a fairy-princess dress just like Mallory's!" Bubbling with excitement, Abby draped a filmy net creation over her father's leg. "Can I put it on? What do fairy princesses do, Uncle Donovan?"
A wide grin split Donovan's features. "They wave their magic wands and say abracadabra!"
"That's what magicians do," John said, grinning in spite of himself. Donovan always made things better. He was a hell of a friend and a one-man support group. John picked up the frothy little dress and helped Abby into it. "Fairy princesses do nice things for people and make them feel better when they're sad," he told her, then patted her bottom and sent her away to play.
Once she was out of sight, he sighed and looked at Donovan. "Thanks. How did you know?"
Donovan shrugged. "I have eyes and ears. Yesterday when I was mowing, the girls were playing in the yard. I heard Mallory bragging to Abby about her dress. You don't need to be a rocket scientist, John, to figure out which way the wind is blowing. Mallory is turning into a spiteful, miniature Harriet, but then you already know that. Anyway, I called Carol and asked her to pick up the costume on her lunch hour today."
John thanked God for a friend like Donovan. What would he do without him? "I'll have to remember to thank her. You need to snap that woman up, if you ask me. Women like Carol don't come along very often. She's perfect for you."
"Maybe a little too perfect," Donovan said, chuckling. "Nope. Marriage isn't for me. I tried it once, and that was enough. Things are fine the way they are. It works for Carol, too. You know what they say — if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Abby came running back. "Look, Daddy, Bailey has a costume, too. I love this. I love this," the little girl squealed as she dipped and swayed the way she'd seen Mallory do. "Am I still ugly, Daddy?"
Donovan reared his six-foot-four, 180-pound bulk out of his chair so fast, John was left breathless. "You are the prettiest fairy princess I ever saw!" he boomed. "And I've seen a lot of fairy princesses in my day. Ask your daddy."
John hauled Abby into his arms. "Uncle Donovan is telling you the truth, honey. You are the prettiest of them all."
"As pretty as Mallory?"
"Prettier," both men said in unison, then laughed.
Abby tucked her chin into her chest. "Then why wouldn't Mama take me to see the play? I promised to be good." "You aren't old enough," John lied. What else could he say? He couldn't tell her the truth. He pressed his lips to her temple. Who am I kidding? She isn't deaf. She heard the truth from her mother's own lips.
"It's a silly play," Donovan added, feeling out of his depth. "You wouldn't have liked it." He reached down and touched the tip of her nose. "I have an idea. Why don't you and Bailey go into the living room and practice a play for your daddy and me. When you're ready, come out here and perform it for us. You can sing us one of the songs you learned in nursery school. Afterward, we'll have ice-cream cones smothered in chocolate sprinkles. What do you say, Princess?"
Abby's eyes brightened. "My name isn't Princess. It's Abby." She giggled.
"Oh, I forgot. I guess I must have called you that because you look like a princess." She giggled again, then skipped off.
As soon as she was out of earshot, John swigged from his beer bottle, gulping down half the contents without taking a breath. He sat back, leaning the chair on its hind legs. "I can't take it anymore, Donovan. I think this play thing was the last straw. I know what you're going to say, but how can I leave? I can't afford to maintain two residences, pay alimony and child support, and pay for whatever treatment Abby needs." He rotated his neck, trying to relieve the tension. "Just before I came over here, I was trying to figure out where I was going to get the extra money to take Abby to New York to a specialist the pediatrician recommended."
"There is no 'and.' We only worked ten days this month. Who knows if the rain is going to let up anytime soon. June, July, and August could be just as bad."
"You could tell that wife of yours to get off her skinny, regal ass and get a job," Donovan drawled.
John gave a humorless laugh. "I tried that once. It didn't work."
"She's so much like Emma, it's scary," Donovan said, shaking his head. "Their mother did one hell of a job on those two girls. Emma thought just the way Harriet does, that the world owes her a living and man was born to be her slave. I knew I'd made a mistake the first year of our marriage. Like you, I hung on thinking it would get better. If Emma hadn't gotten pregnant, I was going to get a divorce. I still have trouble believing she really had a heart attack on the delivery table and that the baby was stillborn. I wanted that kid. I really did, but everything happens for a reason. She would have been the same kind of mother Harriet is."
"It is what it is," John said. He thumped his empty beer bottle on the wrought-iron patio table.
Donovan sat down across from John. "There's something I want to talk to you about. I've been kind of waiting for the right time. I think this is it. I've been offered a partnership in a construction company in South Carolina. Building is booming there, and the weather is pretty good all year round. I've got enough capital to buy in and enough set aside if things don't work out. I paid off this house right after Emma's death, and with property values being what they are now, I should get a pretty penny for it."
At John's look of confusion, Donovan explained. "I used Emma's insurance money. A hundred thousand dollars. I guess Harriet didn't mention it. Probably because it's sticking in her throat. She told me I should give it to her — or at least half of it." He leaned forward. "Listen, I'd like you to come with me. We make a good team. I know Harriet wouldn't object to your taking Abby. In fact, she'd probably be relieved never to have to see her again. She'll fight you for Mallory, though, but that's a choice you'll have to make. Abby will be better off with the two of us since we both love her. It's not that I don't love Mallory, I do, but in a different way. She's not a kid that lets you get close to her. She's like her mother — prissy, arrogant, and cold."
When John nodded, Donovan went on. "I've given this a lot of thought. At first we could rent a house with a yard. Later, when we're settled, we could buy." He paused. "If you need an incentive, think about this. This company does work overseas. If things get dicey with Harriet, we could both do a stint in Asia." John's look of interest spurred him on. "I'm going to be leaving in a few days to check things out. I'll probably be gone a week. If you want to get away from Harriet or you just want some peace and quiet, feel free to stay here. There's plenty of food and beer."
John rubbed his hand across his chin. "I don't know what to say, Donovan. It sounds great, but if I tell Harriet I'm leaving her, she'll ... Christ, I don't know what Harriet will do."
"I'll tell you what she'll do. First she'll act shocked. Then she'll act sweet, nicey-nice, and try to get you to make love to her. If that doesn't work, she'll start making all your favorite foods, and when you've eaten your fill, and you're at your most vulnerable point, she'll try again to entice you into her bed. And you'll go. She'll play her little game for about two weeks, at which point the devil in her will sprout wings. She'll get you where it hurts, with Abby." He stopped to take a breath and regroup. "Emma did the same thing. I'm not a seer or clairvoyant or anything like that. I lived it. Think about it, John. You know I'm right. This is your chance, my friend, to make a clean break."
John let his breath out in a loud swoosh and shook his head. "It's too much, Donovan. You've always been generous, but this is going too far. I'll be like an albatross around your neck."
"You're my friend. There isn't anything I wouldn't do for you, just like I know there isn't anything you wouldn't do for me. I was taught never to take friendship lightly. My old man used to say you could be dollar-poor but emotionally rich if you had one good friend. I'm not looking for a payback, John. I just want to help, to see you and Abby happy." Donovan's voice turned gruff. "Besides, I don't want to lose you two. You're family."
"Christ, Donovan, I don't know ..."
Donovan raised his hand to stop him. "Take some time to think about it. I'll call every other day or so to check in, but as soon as I get back I'm going to put this house on the market. School will be out in another week. We could be out of here in ten days ..."
"Ten days," John echoed. "That doesn't give me much time."
Donovan ignored John's worried look. "The only reason not to consider going is if, in spite of everything, you really love Harriet."
John pulled another beer out of the cooler. "Love her? No, I don't love her. At least, not anymore. I can't even remember the last time Harriet and I had sex. Certainly not since before Abby was born."
"Do you think you could leave Mallory behind?"
"I don't know. I — I suppose I could. ... It's not that I don't love her," he insisted. "I do. It's just that I've never been able to get close to her. God knows I've tried but ... She's so like her mother; she doesn't seem to have much use for me."
"Daddy, I'm ready," the golden-haired little girl called as she came out onto the porch.
"So are we, baby," John answered in return.
John stared at his beautiful wife, trying to find one thing he liked about her. Dressed now in a frilly robe with matching mules, her makeup model-perfect, she glided toward the refrig-erator to pour orange juice into a crystal wineglass. John watched her with clinical interest. Two little quick sips, then a longer sip, and then she drained the glass. She set it in the sink, knowing he would rinse it later. He waited. If he took Donovan up on his offer, then his cleaning-up-after-Harriet days were just about over.
"Mallory was enchanting this evening. She took two bows. She was really quite mature about the whole thing. Her costume looked so professional, not tacky like the others."
John said nothing, Donovan's offer ringing in his ears. In ten days, he and Abby could be out of there and on their way to a new life. His shoulders stiffened when his thoughts shifted to Abby and the last words she'd mumbled as she drifted off to sleep. "Will I be pretty someday like Mallory, Daddy?" He'd wanted to cry. Shit, he wanted to cry right now, but couldn't risk Harriet seeing how upset he was. Be cool like Donovan, he told himself. Be a goddamn man for a change. Stand up to this bitch the way Abby's father should.
Harriet really was beautiful, with a model's thin body that wore clothes to perfection. He was homely by comparison, with his thinning sandy hair and wire-rimmed glasses. Unlike Donovan, who was thirty-five — eight years his senior — and an in-your-face person. John had always been laid-back, easy-going, never confrontational. How often he'd wished he was more like Donovan. Then again, if he was like Donovan, they probably wouldn't be friends.
"I suppose you're going to be in a snit for the next week or so over me not taking Abby to the play," Harriet said. "Get over it, John. I hate taking that child anywhere. People stare. They talk behind your back. It isn't good for Abby, and it certainly isn't good for Mallory. Mallory is normal in case you hadn't noticed."
Her eyes flashed, and he could see her lips moving, but the only thing he could hear were the words he'd been practicing in his head. "I'm leaving you, Harriet, and I'm taking Abby with me," he blurted, startling himself. For Abby's sake and his, he forced himself to make a quick recovery. "I'll be out of here in less than two weeks. After that, you can do whatever you want."
Harriet looked incredulous. "What did you say?"
"What part of I'm leaving you didn't you hear?" he asked in a tone he'd never had the courage to use with her before. "I'm leaving, moving out. I no longer want to be married to you. I'm divorcing you." There, he'd said it, and it felt good. Damn good.
Harriet threw her head back and laughed. "We'll just see about that. There will be no divorce in this family." Her voice was so cold it could have frozen ice cream.
Excerpted from The Guest List by FERN MICHAELS. Copyright © 2009 First Draft, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is an easy to read,engaging story. The story-within-a-story is interesting. The mystery is not very hard to solve. However, the plot twists are very well orchestrated, causing the reader to occasionally second-guess who the villain is. It was really hard to put the book down. I would definitely recommend it to others.
I thought it was going to be another mushy novel. WRONG! This book was kind of like a mystery- exactly my type of novel! I loved the plot and couldnt put the book down, not even when I was at work. I would recommend this bok to anyone and I cant wait to start another one by Fern Michaels!
I found this book so interesting I couldn't put it down. I purchased it on Tuesday and finished, to my regret, on Thursday. I am now looking forward to reading more books by Fern Michaels.
When Abby Evans Mitchell and Mallory Evans were little children, her father informed their mother that he was leaving her. Before he could leave, his wife apparently died from a heart attack. Feeling distraught, he killed himself from the guilt of ¿killing¿ his wife. His best friend ¿Uncle¿ Donovan marries his girl friend Carol and they adopt the two-orphaned stepsisters. They move from New Jersey to Charleston. However, Mallory fails to adapt, behaving very poorly. Based on Carol's insistence, Donovan exiles Mallory to a cold institution. Years later Abby falls in love in college to a young man who ignores the port wine colored facial birthmark that mars her visage and returns her feelings. Carol rejects Abby¿s boy friend, who suddenly dies from a heart attack. Abby graduates and begins a career as a mystery writer. She and Mallory reconcile and share her home. However, other people die and Mallory tells Abby that she thinks Donovan killed their parents. As they work together on Abby¿s new book based on their parents¿ deaths, someone tries to kill both of them. THE GUEST LIST is an exciting relationship drama with a deadly mystery at its core. The story line is fast-paced and the characters are fully developed so that the identity of the killer remains in plain sight yet difficult to see past the mask that hides the psychopathic behavior. Fern Michaels, author of bestsellers such as FINDERS KEEPERS and YESTERDAY, has written another triumphant tale that will exhilarate fans of romantic suspense. Harriet Klausner
I love her style of writing. I learned some interesting things regarding the Vietnam War and never really thought much about the nurses who were there to help the wounded and what they really had to go through. This was an eye opener, particularly with what is happening in the world today.
Suspenseful, funny lines, sisterly love.
Very good book...Defifnately recommended :)
This is a very good book and if ou like Fen Michaels ou will love this one
This book was soooo good. I couldn't put it down. It will keep you guessing who the murderer is til the very end.
It was a good book. It kept me trying to guess between the characters as to who the murderer was.
This is a good book, with a lot of twists and turns . It is sad that the little girls are left alone and adopted, and sadder still when they are separated, but wonderful when they are reunited. The plot moves right along and keeps your interest for sure.
Right from the beginning the story gets you caught up in the mystery of the girl's parent's death and it moves along throughout. The characters are wonderful with very interesting relationships. You don't want to put it down until you find out who the murderer is. Very enjoyable!
Another great read by Fern Michaels. A man unfortunately doesn't know the true character of his wife until after the baby is born. It makes him gun shy for any relationship after this one. It just takes that special person to unwind you:)
Fern you outdid yourself - great reader = keep up the work.
Fern Michaels hit another homerun with this book. I enjoyed it so much, I finished reading it in two days. I find all her books to be great reads. Get this one and you will be glad you did.
I really enjoyed reading this book.
Awesome. One of her best. Keeps you guessing.
I could not put this book down. It was one of her best. I have become an avid fan and I am looking forward to reading more books by her. It is a must read.pr
Sorry folks. I found this book to be incredibly boring and predictable. The plot moved along at a snails pace. I figured out who-dun-it within the first section of the book. Dont waste your time or money.
This is the first book that I have read from this author. From the very first page, this book held my attention. Very enjoyable!