Secrets ruin lives, and lies protect those secrets…
Wanting to escape her life in New York City before starting medical school in the fall, Anna Dillon convinces her best friend Dante to travel with her to Thailand on a medical mission. While volunteering in a coastal village recently ravaged by a tsunami, Anna meets Jude Grayson. They share an instant attraction that leads to a brief, passionate affair. When she has to rush home for a family emergency, he promises to stay in touch.
But Jude never calls, and Anna tries desperately to forget him.
Five years pass, and Anna finally moves on with Dante after giving up hope that Jude will ever return—until they come face to face again in a chance encounter. Reeling, Anna discovers the life-altering secret of why Jude never contacted her—and why they can’t be together. But the passion that ignited between them on an exotic beach years ago never died, making it impossible to stay away from each other.
And Dante? Anna discovers that the friend she grew to love—and trust—has a secret of his own.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)|
About the Author
Christine Brae was born in the city of Makati, Philippines and educated abroad. She met and married her best friend who whisked her away to Chicago over twenty years ago. Christine (a pen name) is Chief Financial Officer of Leo Burnett, a global advertising company founded in 1935 in Chicago.
The author of five novels, Christine has an established fan base and a dedicated following. Her titles historically rank in the Top 100 months following release. Her 2017 recent novel, IN THIS LIFE (Vesuvian Books), has been optioned for film.
Read an Excerpt
"One for me, please, Miss."
The smiling boy reached out his bony arms before me. I resisted the urge to squeeze liquid sanitizer into his hands before dipping the ladle into the steaming cauldron to fill his filthy cup. It had been a long day, doling out watered down chicken noodle soup in the makeshift shelter supported by flimsy poles set into the sand. One of three white tents for food, medicine, and emergency medical care.
"They need their daily dose of grace," I muttered, convinced of my purpose for being there.
It was a typical day in Thailand, five days since I arrived on this medical mission. It was a choice I made rather impulsively, traveling here from New York with a group of idealistic twenty-somethings. There were seven of us, mostly med students from different parts of the globe, ready to take on the world and help the less fortunate.
Ban Nam Khem, a serene fishing village located on the coast of the Andaman Sea, featured beautiful sandy beaches, crystal clear water, and a host of natural rock formations. We were there to serve at the orphanage for children affected by the tidal wave last year. Mud and remnant debris were still evident in some places, but if I walked down the stretch of sand far enough, I was greeted by unexpected bursts of paradise. The sweaty bodies, some close to death, pressed together in the hot, humid air and their stench filled my nostrils despite the endless backdrop of sea and shore. This paradise, this place of beauty, was also filled with sadness and need. Everyone here was desperate for something — food, shelter, hope.
For me, hope was a cold drink and a long bath, although I would have settled for a cool breeze — something to dry the sweat trickling down the sides of my face and to unglue my hair from the back of my neck. Or anything to drown out the taste of salt from the soppy surgical mask stuck to my skin. My movements were restricted by a thick layer of sunblock, greased fingertips, and mud-caked sneakers.
As if in a fog with no chance of ever lifting, I watched people move around sluggishly. No one seemed to be in any hurry, and I was sure the weather had much to do with the slow pace of life. Maybe it was the fear of expending too much energy. Or maybe it was the acceptance of a situation so dire people did what they did in the course of a day knowing full well change was unlikely.
The smiling faces that greeted me each day were nothing short of amazing. The fact they could live in squalor and still consider themselves blessed was a gift and an inspiration. It made the days go quicker and my tasks easier to carry out.
It was early evening by the time I made my way along the winding gravel path that led to our dwelling. The house was one of the few made of stone, a sprawling white bungalow with arched windows and a raised terracotta roof. It stood out a bit like an eyesore, a solid concrete structure surrounded by bamboo huts. Our host for the mission was a businessman, who had built this home in the middle of nowhere. It must have been a good investment then — who would have imagined this happy, little corner of the world would one day become swallowed up by the sea? The aftermath of the disaster captured global attention and exposed this small town to an outpouring of goodness from the Western world.
I entered the house before the others got back. The smell of bacon wafted through the hall as I made my way past the sparsely decorated living room. The afternoon sun shone dimly through the tall windows, reflecting rust-colored tiles against the yellow walls. The kitchen was the most updated area of the house. With grey and white stone structures contrasted by wooden cabinets and solid oak barstools, it felt contemporary.
"Hey, Spark. A bunch of us are hanging out by the beach tonight. Are you coming?"
Spark was a nickname my friend and partner-in-crime, Dante Leola, concocted years ago, an aspersion to my headstrong personality. Dante said I did everything with fearless passion. I remember him asking, "Would you rather I call you Ants in Your Pants Anna or Spark?" Somehow I managed to convince him to travel here with me on a whim. I packed up and left, and he came running right behind. "We need this break before we turn into adults," I had told him. "When else will we get to take three weeks off once you're in business school and I'm in med school?"
Dante walked towards the sink with a frying pan in his hand. There were neatly arranged strips of bacon on a square plate by the stove. He picked up a few pieces and shoved them hungrily into his mouth.
"You could've eaten straight from the pan," I said with a laugh.
"Yeah, I could have."
Typical answer from someone who took no shortcuts. I grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge. "Who's going?" I asked. I had yet to interact fully with the rest of the group, having only spoken briefly to them when we arrived at the airport.
"The usual. That French dude, the English guy, and those two Russian chicks."
The rush of the water drowned out the sound of his voice. I watched while he rinsed the pan and laid it face down on a kitchen towel spread out across the marble counter.
"Ah. The ones you hooked up with the other night," I teased.
He winked at me while drying his hands before strutting to his bedroom.
With dark brown hair cut close to his head and deep-set green eyes that smiled wider than his mouth, he was a beautiful man. Dense eyelashes and lighter brows, which wiggled when he stressed a point, framed those mesmerizing eyes. His nose was perfect for his face, a little crooked but angled just right, and his thin, pouty lips were in harmony with that sexy five o'clock shadow. He carried himself with so much confidence: pushy, organized, and methodical. But he had such a joie de vivre and did everything with vigor. Dante loved to work out, and it showed. His arms, his chest, his abs — everything about him was sculpted to perfection. Just like the way he lived his life.
In the middle of the house was a patio filled with colorful orchids and tropical plants. I cut across the indoor garden, winding my way through the U-shaped corridor towards my room. "How much time do I have? I was hoping to at least wash up and catch a quick nap."
He stuck his head out of the door as I walked past it. "Few minutes, Spark. Get on it."
I pushed his finger away from my face. "Chill! I'll be right there."
He huffed impatiently as he followed right behind, gently directing me towards my bedroom with both hands firm on my shoulders. "This from the girl who showed up an hour late to her own graduation party?"
I dug my heels in to protest his attempts to push me along. "You'll never let me live that down, will you?" I turned towards the dresser and struggled to pull open the top drawer, which had been jammed to the hilt with clothing.
And then it hit me. My life was perfect then. Those were the easy days, before my life spiraled out of control. Dante noticed the sudden twitch of my head and quietly reached for my hand as I began nervously ruffling through my things.
"Spark, are you okay? Did I say something?"
"Of course not," I responded shakily. I'm here to forget. Don't lose sight of that.
"Have you spoken to her since we arrived?" he asked quietly.
"Nope." I answered, my voice breaking.
"You know you're going to have to do it eventually, right?"
"I texted. That's enough for now." I yanked out a t-shirt and a pair of shorts and threw them on the bed. "Give me fifteen minutes, and I promise I won't be late."CHAPTER 2
We sat on the powdery sand as the sun was setting, lulled by the sound of crackling wood from a bonfire by the shore. I reached out to take a joint from Delmar Davignon, the guy from France. His weed was strong. I felt lightheaded and frisky. Sexy. Ready to forget.
"Do you like it, Anna?" he asked. His accent alone was an aphrodisiac. Long and drawn out, with a focus on his vowels and an exaggerated take on consonants.
"Good stuff." I put it to my lips for a third time.
"Zut alors, sexy girl, I am wishing my dick was that joint right now."
"I bet you say that to all the girls." I laughed, unfazed. I had never been one to shy away from overt advances.
Out of the blue, Dante muttered under his breath, "Oh, I'm sure he doesn't."
I scooted my body over, away from Delmar and closer to Dante in an attempt to conduct this upcoming argument in private. "What?" I asked, without masking my irritation. "He doesn't what?"
"Say that to all the girls," he answered through pressed lips. "Come on, Spark. Don't be naïve."
Yes, I remember. You've told me countless times. The dangerous red hair and blue-green eyes contrasted with pale, angelic skin was beguiling to some. This was just a routine exchange between two old friends. Everything about this was normal, even the way his eyes lingered on my face long enough for me to feel his tacit affection.
"Don't worry. Once he finds out how crazy I am, he'll be running in the other direction." I laughed.
"You're a walking contradiction. For some reason, dudes are into that kind of thing."
He was just looking out for me, so I decided to let it go. I tapped my hand over his before pulling away and moving back towards Delmar. I was lost in the sound of the crashing waves. Every time they rolled in towards the shore, I felt the ground shift underneath my feet.
Nothing about this place was recognizable — the warm air, the tall palm trees, and the discarded coconut husks. The pearly crabs slithering in and out with the tide reminded me I was far away from home. I began to imagine the different scenarios that would have brought these people to the mission — who they were and what they had left behind. Paulina, one of the Russian twins, was tracing the outline of the King Kong tattoo on Dante's arm. He chuckled as she whispered something funny in his ear. Kingston Preston, the guy from England, was in deep conversation with the other Russian girl, Milena. I tried to listen as they rattled on about nothing. Shallow conversation — I was bored to tears.
"American girl. Would you like a beer?" Kingston said as he stood up to walk towards the cooler.
He was tall and lanky, his dishwater blond hair swept neatly over his sunburned face. His teeth weren't bad. Next to the cooler was a bag filled sports equipment — a volleyball, badminton rackets, Frisbees, and a soccer ball. It didn't seem like anyone wanted to get physically active that night. At least not in that sense.
I grinned at Dante just as he caught my eye, and he flashed me a smile.
"The lady doesn't drink beer," he said with authority. "It's a good thing I brought her my stash for the trip." He pulled out a bottle of red wine from his backpack and offered it to me.
The wine was full-bodied and dry just the way I liked it. With an empty stomach and some strong pot, I was feeling quite content.
Delmar leaned in, brushed his lips behind my ear, and continued to tell me what he thought we should be doing instead of sitting around the fire.
I let out a whoop of laugher. This guy was pretty cute though not my type with the blond hair, blue eyes, fitted jeans, and a pretty Hermés belt.
Dante moved away from Paulina to listen in on our conversation. His eyes darted back and forth while observing our ongoing flirtation. "Anna!" he finally interrupted.
"What?" I asked, offering him a swig of the wine, which he completely ignored.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?" He stood up and tipped his head towards the shore, signaling for me to follow him.
I struggled to gain my balance, leaving the group by the bonfire. The farther we walked, the darker it got. Teeny, tiny sparks of light shot up from the burning wood to the open sky. The birth of the stars.
"What's up?" I asked, swaying and trying desperately to focus on his face. We stood in the hazy darkness, the rumble of the waves more distinct as they washed up along the shore.
"I think you've had enough," he scolded, both hands on his waist.
"Enough what? Jesus, Tey, it's a weekend. I'm just trying to relax a little bit. You know how difficult the past month has been."
He smiled in resignation. "Spark, you've come all the way here to take a break from that shitstorm we left back home. Don't complicate it by doing things out of spite that you might regret. Remember, we're leaving in a couple of weeks and going back to life at home."
"Okay, boss," I said with a tinge of sarcasm.
"You also survived four years of college without a single hangover. Don't start now," he cautioned, eyes still tight and squinted.
"Dude! Relax. I'm just having fun. I wo —" I slipped the phone out of my jeans pocket and glanced at the screen, its buzzing sound rudely interrupting my oncoming tirade. "I have to take this. It's my dad," I said, walking away from him in the opposite direction.
"Spark." He took a step towards me, hesitated, and then slowly turned around.
I took a deep breath. "Hi, Dad."
"Annie, I tried to call you earlier."
I could hardly hear him over the waves. "Oh, I must have still been outside with the kids. Dad, why is your voice so muffled? Are you all right?"
"Anna. Your mom collapsed at work yesterday from a severe headache. Aneurysms, they said. Close to bursting. She's going in to surgery and has been calling, asking for you, frantically trying to reach you. You need to call her, please. Come home and make it right with her."
I felt ill all of a sudden, my heart plummeting down to my feet. I managed to maintain my composure, closing my eyes and willing my mouth to stay shut while a barrage of thoughts flooded my mind. Think, Anna, think. There haven't been any previous diagnoses. She's been healthy until now. If found early, they could relieve the pressure and prevent any kind of rupture. Right. Yes, they can certainly nip it in the bud.
I couldn't give in to worry. Giving in would defeat the purpose of being here. I'd be home in two weeks, and then we could get this all sorted out.
"Annie? Are you there?"
I opened my eyes and looked far out into the water. "I'm here. I'm sorry to hear that, Dad."
"I think you have to cut your trip short and fly back. We need to figure things out as a family. Whatever your feelings are about her, about what happened — let's work it out together."
"No." I choked out that one lousy syllable. Yes, to my studies. Yes, to my future. Yes, to my priorities. Today was a good day to say no.
"No? Annie, she's your mother. She doesn't deserve such hatred."
"I don't believe her, Dad. She's a liar and a drama queen. She's done this to us — to you — numerous times. Played on our emotions to justify her actions. How do you know she's not just doing this to get you back?"
"She's sick. I've spoken to the doctors. She's in the hospital, and I don't know when she'll be getting out."
"People with aneurysms live a long time. She should get better. She was heartless and cold when she left us. I am her daughter after all."
"Annie. Listen to me."
I paced back and forth, stepping in and out of the water, preoccupied by the way my feet sank into the ground like it was quicksand.
"No, Dad! You listen to me!" I shouted. "She walked out on us two months ago! She has no right to expect anything from me, from us! Why does she think she can pull this crap and have us running back to her with forgiveness?" I was irate about having to repeat myself again.
"She spent twenty-four years of her life taking care of us! She's your mother." He raised his voice and spoke with authority. "You need to come home."
"She should have thought about that before she screwed around and fucked up our home. I'm here because of her. I'm not coming back. Tell her I'll pray for her, and maybe, if I'm not as angry as I am now, I'll visit her when I get there. And if I were you, I wouldn't give in to her guilt trips. Have some respect for yourself." I shook uncontrollably, reminded of the betrayal by the one I loved the most. She was my hero, the kind of woman I wanted to become. We did everything together, shared every moment of our lives until two months ago. I never imagined that she had another life. Secrets ruin lives. And lies are born simply to protect them.
"She has her boy toy to take care of her now. Goodbye, Dad. I'll see you in two weeks."
I slammed my phone shut and flung it far out into the darkness into the ocean. Let it drown beneath the waves. A symbol of an old life gone forever. Do you know what else needs to be shredded by the force of that water? This heartache.
With my face in my hands, I leaned back until I was lying flat on the sand, ocean water lapping around my ears, my shoulders, my body. I tried to convince myself I was filled with hatred for her when, in fact, I was hit with a longing that made me cry out.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "In this Life"
Copyright © 2016 Christine Brae.
Excerpted by permission of Vesuvian Books.
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.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 - The Mission,
Chapter 2 - The Dude,
Chapter 3 - Wolf Whistle,
Chapter 4 - Noodles,
Chapter 5 - The Hut,
Chapter 6 - Blue,
Chapter 7 - Going Mid-Life,
Chapter 8 - Twenty-Six Going On Forty,
Chapter 9 - Magic,
Chapter 10 - For Life,
Chapter 11 - I'll Call,
Chapter 12 - How Time Flies,
Chapter 13 - What Can You See?,
Chapter 14 - It Ends Where It Begins,
Chapter 15 - Every Single Day,
Chapter 16 - Departure,
Chapter 17 - Figure It Out,
Chapter 18 - Everyone Knew,
Chapter 19 - Germany,
Chapter 20 - Temporary Insanity,
Chapter 21 - Nothing,
Chapter 22 - Blind Faith,
Chapter 23 - The Deal,
Chapter 24 - Research,
Chapter 25 - Together,
Chapter 26 - Elephants,
Chapter 27 - Where Was Lola?,
Chapter 28 - Out of the Fog,
Chapter 29 - Paradise,
Chapter 30 - The Infinity,
Chapter 31 - Familiar,
Chapter 32 - Your Memory,
Chapter 33 - It's Time,
Chapter 34 - Not In This Life,
Chapter 35 - Shake Rattle & Roll,
Chapter 36 - My Best Friend,
Chapter 37 - Thirty Seconds to Mars,
Chapter 38 - Hole in My Heart,
Chapter 39 - Letter From Outer Space,
Chapter 40 - There Is A Plan,
Chapter 41 - Our Lanterns,