Does she want him back between the pages—or in between her sheets?
At forty-six, Sadie Fuller’s life isn’t exactly romantic. She’s an everyday mom in many ways—a little overweight, over-committed and struggling to raise an eleven-year-old girl as a single parent. But Sadie has a secret—while the rest of suburbia sleeps, she makes a living writing erotica under the pseudonym K. T. Briggs. Though her own sex life is nothing worth noting, she’s fabulous at creating steamy fantasies with perfectly waxed, incredibly fit, scantily clad characters.
But everything changes when she encounters a strangely familiar man during a routine visit to Target. Is Sadie losing her mind, or has her latest hunky character wandered out of her manuscript and into reality? As Sadie tries to negotiate this bizarre new world, her eyes begin to open to romantic possibilities in places she never dreamed of looking . . . places where “happily ever after” might not be so far-fetched after all.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Happily Ever After
At exactly 8:45, Lily Dell pushed through the rotating doors of New York’s Jensen & Richardson Communications and smiled at the security guard. She was running late, but that was no reason to be unfriendly.
“How are you today, Hank?” she asked.
The older man tipped his cap to her. “Fine, Miss Dell. Thanks for asking.”
“Have a good day, okay?”
“As long as the sun is shining and I have air to breathe,” he said with a wink.
Lily had the same exchange with Hank every morning, but that was okay. Lily found routines comforting. On some level, she knew it was because of her childhood, but there was no point in digging into that muck. She’ d escaped it. That was enough for her.
“Wait!” Lily called as she ran for the elevator banks. Her office was on the fifty-eighth floor, and it could take forever for an elevator to show up at ground level during the morning rush. A bleached-blond woman with long pink fingernails stuck an arm between the elevator doors, holding them while Lily squeezed in.
“Thank you,” Lily whispered to the woman.
The elevator moved in fits and starts, stopping repeatedly until it reached the thirtieth floor, when Lily finally found herself alone. Quickly, she dug into her handbag for a lipstick. At the rate she was moving, there was no way she was going to have time for a pit stop in the ladies’ room to fix her makeup before meeting Mr. Hathaway.
Fumbling to open the lipstick without dropping her suit jacket, laptop case, or black leather purse, Lily lost her grip on the sleek tube and sent it tumbling down her crisp white shirt, leaving a trail of blushing peach as it went.
“Shit!” she cried.
“Oh, it’s not so bad as all that,” came a voice, and from the shadows of the seemingly empty elevator stepped a man. He was tall and lean, with jet-black hair and unreadable eyes the color of moss. His skin was pale and stood out against the dark pinstripe of his expensive suit. She noticed the edge of a faint scar to the side of his right eyebrow. He smiled at her, showing off just a hint of his perfect teeth.
She tried to smile back, but suddenly the elevator was much too small.
“We’ve met,” he said quietly, taking a step toward her. “Do you remember?”
What a question! She’d spent every waking moment since the reception last week trying to figure out who the beautiful man was but to no avail. It was the Keller Champagne marketing launch party, and although Lily hated to admit it, she’d had a few too many samples of the product. She’d been making her way toward the restrooms when this man, who now stood in the elevator with her, appeared.
Over a few yards of empty space, their eyes met, and time slowed and stretched as Lily suddenly became aware of every molecule in her body being pulled toward this stranger. They didn’t stop walking. They glided by one another, their eyes locked.
“Good evening,” the man said.
“Yes,” Lily croaked.
“You look lovely,” he said.
Before she could say thank you or ask his name or beg him to explain what had just happened, he gave her a mock salute and disappeared around the corner. It took almost a full minute for Lily to regain her bearings and chase after him. But by the time she reached the reception hall, he was nowhere to be seen.
“I do remember,” Lily said now. Her voice sounded strange, as if it were coming from outside of her.
Slowly, the man bent down to retrieve her lipstick from the floor of the elevator. His motions were deliberate and smooth; she could see his broad shoulders straining against the fabric of his suit.
“You dropped this,” he said, holding the tube out to Lily. His hands were big and graceful, not two qualities that normally went together in her limited experience. As she reached for the lipstick, their eyes met and the temperature in the elevator soared. A hot flush rose on Lily’s cheeks, far brighter than the lipstick that now stained the front of her shirt.
“Thank . . . thank you,” she stammered. When she took the lipstick, her fingers brushed the man’s cool skin and the cuff of his suit jacket. The signal from her fingertips raced immediately up her arm and down through her stomach, coming firmly to rest between her thighs. She shuddered despite the rising heat. A wave of unfamiliar lust washed over her, rendering her momentarily dizzy. Lily never reacted to men this way. She was measured, careful, logical. She’d learned her lesson about what happened when you weren’t. But her body did not seem to care.
“Oh,” Lily murmured, squeezing her thighs together. It felt good. The man took a step closer. He gave off a warm, citrusy scent that did not help her dizziness. His smile was gone. He eyed her as if she were prey, a great eagle about to dive on a helpless field mouse. Her legs threatened to buckle in high heels that no longer felt even remotely stable.
“Your shirt,” he whispered. Lily was sure he could see her heart pounding through the thin fabric of her clothing. Did he feel this too?
“I think it’s ruined,” he said. He was so close now she could see the flawless surface of his skin. She could think of nothing but how badly she wanted him to touch her. Anywhere.
With agonizing slowness, he ran a finger down her cheek and into the hollow of her throat. There, he applied the slightest bit of pressure, making her gasp. Her body, as if detached from her brain, arched toward him.
Please, she thought. I can’t do this.
His finger continued to travel down over her collarbone, easily pushing aside her shirt and slipping between the lacy edge of her bra and her skin. She forced herself to hold his eyes, which showed only focus. Lifting the fabric of her bra, he made room for the rest of his hand to slide around the outside of her breast.
Scream, she told herself. Call for help. But the only sound she seemed capable of making was another desperate “oh.”
With a sudden forceful motion, the man pulled her shirt and her bra strap off her shoulder to reveal her full breast. It looked white and strange in the dim lights of the elevator, at odds with the rest of her skin. He cupped her gently in one hand, bent down and ran his tongue over her hard exposed nipple, taking it between his teeth and gently tugging. Bolts of electricity shot through Lily, and she wanted to howl, to beg for more. Instead, she bit her lip and grabbed the wall for support, sure she was about to faint. The very lonely place between her legs throbbed in anticipation. How long had it been? Forever.
“You taste so . . . sweet,” the man whispered.
How much time did they have? Was it enough? She could not believe she was having these thoughts! Who was this man making her body quiver like jelly? As if reading her mind, he brought his lips to her ear.
“Fast,” he said, sliding one of those big hands between her knees and moving it up along the freshly shaved, smooth skin of her inner thighs. Pants would have saved her here, whereas a skirt spelled certain doom. His hand reached her ordinary cotton panties, already soaked, and for a flash she wished she’d worn something more special, something with lace. As he pressed his fingers against her, she sucked in a breath of air.
Leaning in close so she was forced to look into his eyes, he ripped back her panties and ran his smooth fingers across . . .
Huh? Oh, Allison. Damn.
“What is it, honey?” I call. A trickle of sweat runs down my back. Is my office hot?
“Okay, Ali. I’m coming.”
It’s 11:15 on a Thursday night, and I know two things. The first is that Lily Dell was about to have sex in an elevator where time has no meaning, cotton rips like wet paper towels, and moaning is sexy rather than a sign of mental illness. The second is that my own chances of having sex tonight in an elevator, or anywhere for that matter, are exactly zero. And sadly, those are odds you can bet your life on.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Happily Ever After includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Elizabeth Maxwell. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Sadie Fuller is a fairly typical forty-six-year-old divorced mom—a little overweight, unlucky in love, and stuck in the suburbs with no shortage of responsibilities. But Sadie is not like the other soccer moms on her block: while her daughter is at school, Sadie writes erotic fiction, creating steamy fantasies starring beautiful, scantily clad characters who have exactly nothing to do with her real life. Then, an unexpected plot twist causes a break with reality, and Sadie finds herself face-to-face with what appears to be her latest romantic hero in the baby products aisle at the local Target. She has no idea how he got there—or how to get him safely back into the pages of her book. But she’s deter- mined to give him a “happily ever after,” and perhaps create one for herself this time, too.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Happily Ever After opens with the definition of the term “midlife crisis.” How does this set the tone for the story? How well do you think this definition applies to what Sadie goes through?
2. On page 41, Sadie is worried her relationship with Jason may be doomed if he’s not a reader. She declares, “A man who reads is profoundly sexy. A man who does not is just some guy.” Do you agree? What qualities or characteristics would you consider deal breakers?
3. Throughout the story, the dichotomy between city and country life often comes up. Sadie seems to have love/hate relationships with both settings, though she chose suburban life for her daughter’s sake. What is your preference? How does your experience of either the city or the country compare to Sadie’s?
4. Even though Lily and Aidan were products of Sadie’s imagination, they end up taking on lives of their own—in more ways than one! How do they turn out to be different than Sadie had intended? What do you think they end up teaching Sadie about herself by not following her plans?
5. At separate points in the story, Sadie and Jason both seem to readily accept the magical truth of what is actually happening as it’s presented to them. Were you surprised that they weren’t more incredulous? Would you have been so easily convinced?
6. Sadie takes on many different roles in life—roles that she’s often trying to keep distinctly separate from one another. Discuss the many titles she adopts and how successfully she juggles them.
7. For a while, both before she got pregnant and after her divorce, Sadie was tempted to give up on her happy ending. Have you ever felt ready to throw in the towel? Do you think Sadie ever really gave up?
8. Compare Sadie’s relationship with Jason to the types of relationships she writes about in her books. Does their story follow the rules of a good book—according to Ellen or according to you?
9. So many of the characters in this book are faced with heart- ache at one point or another. Discuss how they each seem to deal with it and what you think that says about them. How does heartache help bring any of them together or move the story along?
10. Happily Ever After features a witch, spells, and alternate realities. What effect does it have on your belief—or suspension of disbelief—in the story?
11. Sadie shows a lot of care for her characters when trying to break Clarissa’s spells. Why do you think she is willing to go through so much trouble and even endanger herself to try to save them? Would you have done the same?
12. On page 303, Sadie says, “sometimes I wonder if any of it really happened . . . But then I see Lily, and that line between reality and fantasy blurs.” What do you make of Lily’s decision to stay with Sadie? How would it have changed the story if she hadn’t stayed? Would you have believed it had all really happened? 13. Discuss the endings for each of the main characters. Do they all get a “happily ever after”? Do you wish it had ended differently for any of them?
A Conversation with Elizabeth Maxwell Congratulations on your first novel! Have you always wanted to be an author? What led you down this path?
Yes! But it always felt like a bit of a fantasy, the sort of thing you say when someone asks you what you want to be when you grow up. To make it real, I had to break it down into small chunks, sentence by sentence, page by page. I tried never to think about the endgame, as in, “What am I going to do with this story when I’m done?” because that’s paralyzing. “Focus on the writing” became my daily mantra.
What inspired the unique story of Happily Ever After? How did the plot and the characters evolve?
The story evolved a few different ways. First, I read about an erotic fiction author who lives in the southern United States and doesn’t tell anyone what she does for a living. I love the idea that things are seldom what they seem so this was right up my alley. I could not stop imagining the consequences of such a secret on a person’s day-to-day life.
Second, I was with my literary agent and we were talking about the movie Enchanted and how fun it is to mash genres together. That got me thinking of a framework for a story about a closet erotic fiction author who’s coming a little un-glued.
How do you compare with Sadie as a writer? Do you have similar habits, work ethics, rules?
Sadie is a genre writer and therefore has a greater appreciation of genre rules than I do. She knows if she’s writing erotica it better go a certain way or she’s going to hear about it from her fans. I think a lot less about the container my story needs to fit into and much more about what I want to tell. But we both take incredibly sloppy notes!
Aside from having the same occupation, do you relate to Sadie in any other ways?
It was incredibly satisfying to write about a fortysomething woman, which I am. It’s amazing how little play characters of this age get in fiction today. It’s almost as if women in fiction reach age thirty-five and simply vanish. It was also fun to juxtapose the very real trials of Sadie’s life and age with the fantasy elements of the novel. I wanted it to be fun but also look at how complicated love and relationships can be.
Although you currently live in California, you chose to set this novel in and around the New York City area. Have you ever lived in New York or spent significant time there? Why did you choose it for your setting?
I love New York! I grew up there and even though I’ve lived out west for almost fifteen years now, I will always be a New Yorker at heart. I knew immediately when I began to work on Happily that the suburbs surrounding New York City set the perfect tone for Sadie’s conflict.
Happily Ever After has elements of women’s fiction, erotica, and fantasy all wrapped up together. What was the most fun to write? What was the most challenging?
My hat is off to erotica writers and paranormal writers! It’s incredibly hard to do this well—you have to be mindful of not crossing the line that makes a reader abandon your book because it feels too ridiculous. I fell over that line many times, but thankfully there are editors and drafts (many, many of them)!
What are your favorite kinds of books to read for fun? Is there a particular author or book that inspired your writing style? Are there any other genres you’d still like to tackle?
I’ll read anything as long as it grabs me. Authors I love include Susan Isaacs, Stephen King, Janet Evanovich, Alexandra Fuller, Alice Hoffman, Kate Atkinson, Hilary Mantel, Curtis Sittenfeld, Diane Setterfield, Katherine Neville, and early Harlan Coben.
I’d love to write a murder mystery—I have a really great ending; it’s just the other three hundred pages I’m struggling with.
Do you have a favorite character? Did they always be- have as you intended or were you ever thrown for a loop by your own creations, just as Sadie was?
I’m a terrible outliner, so sometimes my characters take off in directions I never saw coming. On a good day, it works out and by the time I hit Save I understand why they did what they did. On a bad day, I end up deleting a full day’s work because none of it makes any sense. The hope is that there are ultimately more good days than bad.
You wrote on page 130, “Backstory is a funny thing. It can make its way to paper or stay tucked away in a writer’s head.” Did you have any other backstory developed for these characters that never made its way to paper?
Tons! There are so many bits and pieces that ultimately do not make it to the page because of story or space constraints or just a lack of relevancy. For instance, I know what Sadie likes for lunch, but there are more important details the reader needs to know about her when it comes to moving the story forward. And every detail has to count.
But I keep it all because I never know when I might revisit these characters or use some of their backstory details for another character in another novel. What message do you hope readers will take away from Happily Ever After?
The world is a strange and mysterious place. Magic is all around us in our everyday lives, it just depends on how you look at things.
Are you working on a new novel? Would you ever con- sider writing a sequel?
Yes and yes. Right now, I’m working on a novel; I’m again concerned with how things are not always as they appear. This work is a little bit darker, however, and there are no witches. As for sequels, every author wants to do a sequel because it means the original stirred something in readers, and that’s all I really want—for readers to walk away having enjoyed the ride.
Enhance Your Book Club
1. Sadie has created a whole biography for K.T. Briggs. If you had to come up with a pen name, what would it be? What kind of bio would you write for your alter ego’s book cover? Take a stab at it!
2. Sadie’s fan Ellen certainly had her ideas about what made for a good romance novel. Do you have any rules for what you think is a good book? Maybe you’re a sucker for happy endings, or you love an unexpected plot twist. Try coming up with a few rules of your own and share them when you discuss Happily Ever After. Do they apply to this book?
3. According to Sadie, Roger’s yoga studio is always suffering for one reason or another. Find a local yoga studio to sup- port with your book club and make it a group trip!
4. Learn more about Elizabeth Maxwell, read her blog, and find out how to follow her on Twitter by visiting ElizabethMaxwell Author.com.