All they want is a baby—and they’ll do anything to have one.
Banking heiress Trish and her husband, James, seem to have it all, from a lavish lifestyle to a historic mansion in the nation’s capital. All that’s missing from their privileged life is a baby.
So when Trish sees Anne Elise for the first time, it’s no surprise that she falls deeply in love. There’s just one problem: Trish isn’t the mother. The baby belongs to Laurel, James’s young mistress. And James and Laurel want the wife out of the picture.
When Trish becomes perversely obsessed with making Laurel’s baby her own, the lovers come up with a wicked plan to end James’s marriage that quickly goes awry. As the love triangle becomes more and more dangerous, how far is each of them willing to go to get what they want?
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.40(d)|
About the Author
S. M. Thayer is a pseudonym for an award-winning fiction writer and McDowell Fellow whose work has appeared in numerous publications and received several Pushcart Prize nominations. A native of New York, Thayer lived for decades in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region before moving to rural Virginia and earning an MFA from Virginia Tech. I Will Never Leave You is Thayer’s debut novel.
Read an Excerpt
A newborn generates its own heat. Sleeping, wrapped in a pink candy-stripe receiving blanket and a matching knit hat, the baby's a hot coal threatening to burst into flames, and yet my husband, beaming, assures me — as nurses have assured him — that she's not feverish, that she's perfectly healthy, but the baby's heat worries me. It's impossible not to feel as if she's burning up, not to feel as if, holding her, I'm a twig, a tuft of dried grass, a crumpled sheet of newsprint, tinder that will be consumed by her fire. She's a forest fire, a conflagration waiting to happen, and there's nothing my money can do to tamp the destruction this baby's going to cause in my life.
"Relax, Trish," James says, easing his hand onto my shoulder. His voice is calm, soothing, and bursting with confidence, a loving voice tailor-made for uttering the "breathe in, breathe out" reassurances expectant fathers must coo to their partners during childbirth. Workmanlike and responsible, he has read the essential baby manuals, streamed the important YouTube videos, subscribed to the necessary magazines, and can mansplain away the natural anxieties of ushering a new life into this world. "Babies can sense tension, and it does them no good, psychologically and emotionally, if their first hours are filled with distress."
The baby makes the faintest snoozing sounds, and yet the sound seems impossibly loud coming from such a small body. I concentrate on the inhalations and the slight wheeze when she exhales, and though it takes time to feel comfortable holding her, the soothing sounds lull me into a hopeful reverie, and suddenly I'm filled with a generosity of spirit I haven't felt in ages. It's like what I'd hoped would come during all the years we tried to conceive.
It's true what they say: nothing is softer than a newborn baby. Ninety minutes earlier, just after the birth, nurses washed her, but there's a newborn scent attached to her, something amniotic and yet endearing. I've never held anything so soft and delicate, and I can see this baby is no ugly Cabbage Patch doll but already beautiful, with a strong chin and fine eyelashes. Her eyelids are pinched tight in sleep; I can't wait for her to awaken so I can look into her eyes and determine their color. Her face is still red, her head slightly conical from her passage through the birth canal, but these imperfections will pass with time, and I can see now why women joke of wanting to eat their newborns, envisioning the buttery chins, nougat-like chewiness of their fleshy thighs, the cheeks' velvety warmth.
Anne Elise weighed seven pounds, nine ounces at birth, already a notch above average.
Because of how she was positioned in the womb, sonogram technicians were unable to get an accurate glimpse as to her sex, and for months James allowed himself the assumption he'd fathered a boy. He'd wanted a boy, spoke often of it. I caught him peeking at sporting-goods catalogues and ducking into toy stores with visions of the Nerf balls, miniature plastic basketball hoops, and glistening yellow Tonka trucks he'd lavish on a son, and yet, looking at his considerate face, how filled with happiness he is, I know he'll be satisfied with a girl. He'll nurture her and nourish her self-esteem, tell her she's beautiful and smart, and give her the courage to fight for herself in whatever arena she chooses to enter in life. He'll cherish her, invite her to explore and discover lifelong passions. He'll keep up with her interests, send her links to interesting internet articles relating to them. He'll commit to being part of her life for the long haul. In short, I know he'll do with her everything he has failed to do with me.
We've been unable to conceive, James and I, during our twelve years of married life, and in recent years we've done outlandish things, things that go far beyond the pale of the exorbitantly expensive in vitro fertility treatments that have become standard fare for couples within our social circle. Despite our perseverance and the medical, spiritual, and hormonal specialists we consulted, "unexplained infertility" was the closest we came to an explanation of our difficulties. Like friends and acquaintances in similar circumstances, we wondered why people like us — well educated and drug-free, economically viable with good teeth and stylish wardrobes — had trouble doing what came naturally to everyone else: have children. We clung to each other in our silk pajamas, prey to every foul speculation as to the reason for our barrenness, blaming everything from climate change to the polyethylene in the bottles of our drinking water, the unseemly zeitgeist of our modern times, and the hollowness of our souls. We prodded ourselves on counselors' couches and on the examination tables of well-meaning doctors who spoke in terms of sperm counts and ovulation cycles. Some nights, we prayed as only a man and woman can pray, playing with positional experimentation that led to foot cramps and bruises but nary a disruption in my monthly cycle.
We started the process with so much hope, imagining our life filled with baby this and baby that, cradles and baby monitors and the beautiful mobile of dancing lambs we'd hang above the crib to lull our child to sleep each night. At our most vulnerable, succumbing to rumors of a Chinese practice with an astronomical success rate, we jetted off to Beijing, where, in a modern siheyuan constructed of concrete blocks and faux bricks, we nodded enthusiastically when a Buddhist monk told us that Western practitioners had only the barest glimmer of the spiritual aura surrounding fertility. We were so hopeful, so naive. Shorn of his hair and cloaked only in a thin saffron robe and a pair of bamboo sandals, our monk spoke in a dry, unaccented English that reminded me of how a Nebraskan might speak. We repeated his incantations in somber tones. So much did we believe him that we swallowed the acrid tea he poured from a terra-cotta pot and became violently ill, both of us falling to our knees and vomiting beneath a flowering jacaranda tree. If I hadn't been able to arrange for an emergency airlift through my father's embassy connections, we would've died under that same jacaranda, the purple blossoms settling down upon us in the siheyuan courtyard, victims of dehydration, intestinal duress, and our own naive desperation.
We cried. I took refuge in my inheritance, flexing my birthright privilege to buy designer evening gowns from the latest Dolce & Gabbana and Naeem Khan collections. At a certain point, James stopped crying. Unlike me, he had no wealth of his own to fall back on. One night, he groveled for the sleek silver Tesla Model S with ludicrous options that could be his for only $125,000. I congratulated him for his taste. No gaudy vroom-vroom Porsche or Ferrari, a Tesla was a machine of solid engineering with an environmental conscience. "You mean you'd buy me one?" James said.
I laughed. I wasn't going to do any such thing with my money. "But you've got your Volvo," I said of the midnight-blue station wagon we'd bought two years earlier in a fit of procreative optimism when we still imagined children would one day fill its back seats.
But now, bringing the sleeping baby to my shoulder and nuzzling my cheek against hers, it astounds me anew like a tidal wave: the innocence, the miraculous nature of life that eluded me for so long. Tears stream down my cheeks. Anne Elise is the sweetest, most precious being on the planet. How could I have doubted this? So firm is this knowledge, this shock and awe, that I kiss her slender lips, and just like that, her eyes pop open. Her inquisitive eyes are exactly like mine, a rich cobalt blue with fine flecks of copper and gold. Am I staring at a miracle?
I'm crying great tears of joy, thinking of the wretched years James and I experienced, the love that had vanished from our lives and how we flailed our bodies into each other night after blessèd night, all the sex and raw exasperation. And fruitless. I shall never forget our fruitless years.
"Honey, are you okay?" James asks. He's still in the crinkly green birthing room hospital scrubs. Sentimentalist that he is, I wouldn't put it past him to sneak the scrubs home and whip them out as a conversation starter between courses at some future dinner party of ours.
The baby starts crying, which James warned me might happen when she awoke, and I'm helpless, for although I rub her swaddled back and rock her gently, Anne Elise wails. No one has told me how to soothe a crying child. Surely, there are techniques to learn, words or incantations that might do the trick, but I stand there, patting her, nuzzling her, praying calm upon poor Anne Elise, who balls her tiny fists up as though she's about to smack me. She kicks her legs, whipping her feet free of the pink blanket that had wrapped around them. Her toes are small, each no bigger than a fingernail. A strip of elasticized fabric bands her ankle like a bracelet. A white plastic disc about the width and thickness of a half dollar is affixed to the elasticized fabric. Upon entering the maternity ward, I saw the same medallions on other babies. A pair of red lips (not unlike the familiar Rolling Stones logo) appears on each medallion, and as I run my fingers over the disc, the image of Mick Jagger puckering his lips and kissing me pops to mind, filling me with revulsion.
The baby's cries awaken her mother, James's mistress, who's been curled up asleep in the hospital bed. Laurel Bloom. That's her name. Exhausted from an arduous ten-hour delivery, she fell asleep soon after nurses cut the baby's umbilical cord. This is the first time James has invited me to meet her face-to-face. She looks at me sharply, her face still splotchy from the strain of labor, her long blonde hair tied back in an unkempt ponytail that fans out on her bed pillow. I don't begrudge James the baby. But it goes without saying that I begrudge him the mistress.
A year ago, long before Laurel entered James's life, my father flew back to DC to greet James and me when we returned from our disastrous Chinese fertility treatments. Having recently retired to the Cayman Islands following a mostly distinguished banking career, my father was at his usual effervescently cynical self. Although the color of his hair ebbed from jet black to what he preferred to call "the Paul Revere Pewter section of the palette," his wrinkle-free face up until recently gave the appearance of a man thirty years younger. His jowls had begun to sag in the year since we last saw each other. We were still close, but though we talked on the phone several times a week, I wasn't prepared to see the extent of his physical decline. His gout had flared up, impeding his mobility. Liver spots splotched the back of his hands, and the scaly skin brought on by geriatric xerosis covered his arms. He was seventy-five years old. He had called in a few favors to arrange our medical evacuation from Beijing. People who hadn't spoken to him in years had begrudgingly stepped to the plate to help us, and yet now that we were safe, those same people refused to take his calls thanking them for their assistance. Owing to the well-publicized scandals that beset his bank — a bank that bore our family name — official Washington had distanced itself from him. Though he rarely let on how much being persona non grata hurt him, the humiliation had contributed to his decision to leave the city for the balmy Caribbean.
"Grandchildren. It's the only thing that'll keep me coming back to this city much longer," my father said, limping across a crowded restaurant to a corner table where he invited us to dine with him. Though no longer a power player in town, he still preferred power restaurants — steakhouses that boasted of grain-fed offerings and the K Street eateries where the food was bland and flagrantly overpriced. Had James or I chosen the place, we'd have picked Obelisk or Nora, a pair of Dupont Circle restaurants that had been around for decades but still offered surprisingly innovative cuisine. This particular restaurant, the Coterie, dated back to the years when three-martini lunches were the norm and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson would drag colleagues to his table and challenge them to eat Rocky Mountain oysters with him. Glossy signed photographs of the restaurant's illustrious patrons lined the oak-paneled walls. My father would be mortified if he knew that, this early into his retirement, the restaurant had already removed one of his three photographs.
"I love you two dearly, but I need to be a grandfather," my father said, laying his walking stick on the unused seat at our table.
"We're still trying," James said. He placed his hand on mine. "Lord knows, we try several times a week."
This talk, especially in public, where anyone might listen in on our intimate woes, irked me. I pretended to distract myself with the intricately folded swan-shaped cloth napkin atop my dinner plate. James, too, was uncomfortable discussing our sex life with my father. He tried to steer the discussion to the cache of Johnny Mercer 78s he had acquired a few months earlier. It was their shared passion — the music of the 1930s and 40s — but right after we placed our cocktail orders, my father was back on us about children.
"Listen, may I ... ah-umm ... throw out a radical solution?" my father asked.
James and I glanced at each other. My father, a straitlaced banker with conservative tendencies, was not a radical man.
"Sure. Let's hear it, sport," James said.
"Surrogacy," my father said.
We'd never discussed it before, James and I.
"It's the best idea for your particular plight," my father said. Over the years, I'd kept him abreast of the fertility doctors and outrageous therapies we tried, but now my father told us in the same reasoned voice he used when delivering congressional testimony that he understood how painful our trials must be. My father isn't a touchy-feely man, but his eyes became glassy. "I want what's best for you. You both want a baby. You've seen ... ah-umm ... what? A dozen or so doctors over the last ten years? You're angry it's not happening for you. So I thought I'd throw surrogacy out there for you. As a suggestion. In case you haven't considered it yet."
The idea repulsed me. No one but me was going to carry and give birth to my child. I wanted to experience the morning sickness firsthand. I wanted the full breasts and the healthy glow of pregnancy, the minor irritations and weepiness, and the flights of fancy I heard were common in pregnant women. I wanted to wake James at three in the morning and sweetly ask him to drive to the market and buy me a jar of pickled herring to satisfy a sudden craving. More importantly, I wanted the intimate bond that would form in utero between mother and child. Adoption, which we'd discussed once, wasn't an option for this reason.
For years James had talked about the things he'd pack for me in the event I'd need to be rushed to a delivery room in the middle of the night. These endearments filled our pillow talk after we made love. He pledged to pack Gillian Flynn and Mary Kubica novels, flannel bathrobes, calfskin moccasins, and Debauve et Gallais chocolates for me. "Debauve et Gallais chocolates? You'd give me Debauve et Gallais?" I'd ask, genuinely touched. Produced by a Parisian chocolatier, Debauve et Gallais chocolates were the creamiest, most luxurious chocolates in the world. Just thinking about them made my toes curl. Every time he said the word, I pictured the blue ribbon tucked around the corner of their trademark blue, gold, and gray embossed boxes and the pure chocolate aroma that would escape from the box when I'd break its seal and eat the first piece.
"Sure, Trish. Nothing's too good for you," he'd answer, kissing my nose.
The waiter returned and set a manhattan on the table for my father. Condensation beaded on the bowl of the stemmed cocktail glass. My father speared the cherry that bobbed in the drink with a swizzle stick, and then, after my father voiced approval of his cocktail, the waiter deposited drinks on the table for James and me — Scotch for James, a brandy alexander for me. While my father sat across from us sipping his manhattan, James reached over and held my hand. He squeezed it. "So what do you think, Trish? About surrogacy?"
"I don't want to discuss this."
"These days, surrogacy's not outlandish anymore," my father said. "No one looks down at the practice anymore. Or the people who are doing it. These days, everyone's doing it."
"Dad. Please. I don't want to discuss this."
"Be reasonable," James said.
Excerpted from "I Will Never Leave You"
Copyright © 2018 Nick Kocz.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas & Mercer.
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.