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"Brings to mind Jodi Picoult...thought-provoking domestic drama." - Booklist
“Will make you miss your bedtime, guaranteed.” – Bestselling author Kimberly Belle
Gripping, emotional, and wire-taut, Not Her Daughter raises the question of what it means to be a mother—and how far someone will go to keep a child safe.
Emma Townsend. Five years old. Gray eyes, brown hair. Missing since June.
Emma is lonely. Living with her cruel mother and clueless father, Emma retreats into her own world of quiet and solitude.
Sarah Walker. Successful entrepreneur. Broken-hearted. Kidnapper.
Sarah has never seen a girl so precious as the gray-eyed child in a crowded airport terminal. When a second-chance encounter with Emma presents itself, Sarah takes her—far away from home. But if it’s to rescue a little girl from her damaging mother, is kidnapping wrong?
Amy Townsend. Unhappy wife. Unfit mother. Unsure whether she wants her daughter back.
Amy’s life is a string of disappointments, but her biggest issue is her inability to connect with her daughter. And now Emma is gone without a trace.
As Sarah and Emma avoid the nationwide hunt, they form an unshakeable bond. But what about Emma’s real mother, back at home?
Praise for Not Her Daughter
“The plot twists here are brave, the themes are both poignant and unsettling, and the resolution is deeply resonant. A page-turner with heart!" - New York Times bestselling author Kate Moretti
"A cleverly constructed novel that will have you questioning everything you believe about right or wrong." - New York Times bestselling author Chevy Stevens
"Engrossing and suspenseful, Frey writes her characters with depth and compassion, challenging readers to question their own code of ethics.” - Zoje Stage, author of Baby Teeth
“An emotional ride where the line between right and wrong begins to fade…pulls you in from the very first page, and unlike most in its genre, you won't know how you want it to end until it does.” – Wendy Walker, author of Emma in the Night
|Publisher:||St. Martin''s Publishing Group|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
Rea Frey is an award-winning author of nonfiction books. She lives in Nashville with her husband and daughter. Not Her Daughter is her debut novel.
Read an Excerpt
I grip her hand. Dirt clings to her small palm and makes caked half-moons under her nails. I squeeze her against my side, a shield against the drizzle. Her red bow bobs as we move faster down the road. Even here, I can't escape the rain.
Don't stop moving.
My heart pirouettes and shoots a melodic thump to the center of my forehead — usually a precursor to a massive headache — but this, this is all nerves. My legs slice forward uncertainly, both of us moving toward our new destination.
She peers up at me, eyebrows pinched, her left cheek bloated and red. She opens her mouth, closes it. Without thinking, I adjust the umbrella and scoop her up, wrapping her spindly legs around my waist. Her shins dangle around my middle, which makes it difficult to walk.
A few more steps and we will be there. A few more steps and I can figure out what I'm doing, where I'm going, what I've just done.
We cross the threshold into the small, sparse, barren lobby. I lower the umbrella and tug her higher on my hip. I walk across the slick marble entryway, my shoes squeaking on the checked floor. My fingers hover over her red bow and her swollen cheek, concealing both in case anyone is bothering to look. I move to the bank of elevators, pressing a scratched, gold button. I tap my foot. I pull the girl higher. Her sour breath sweeps across my neck. With caution, I glance over my shoulder. My stomach roils — a warning.
The doors open. An elderly couple file out before we step in. I hit "4" — the top floor of this boutique hotel — and finally, carefully, ease the girl down.
It is only then that she looks at me — really looks at me — before shuffling back against the shiny, mirrored wall. I resist the urge to tell her to be careful against the glass.
"Where's my mommy?" She whispers, so that I have to lean in to hear.
"She's ..." I hear the question and consider my answers. Her mother is at home. Her mother is searching. Her mother had her chance. I straighten. "She's at your house, remember?" I can see the question on Emma's face — shouldn't I be with her, then? — but we reach the floor and exit. I fish my key card from my wallet, my eyes on Emma, who has the pace of a child who's in no rush.
I tap the key to the lock, see the green light, and hear the soft click as I push the heavy door back on its hinges. We slip into darkness. It is humid, the air thick with the stench of cleaning products. I flip on the light and assess the tidy room. She stands a few feet from me, her breath punching the silence.
"Are you okay? Are you hungry?"
She turns. Her red bow quivers on top of her brown hair. She shakes her head no. Her eyes fill with tears. I need to shut this down, but I'm not sure what to say or how to handle this. We are practically strangers.
"Is Mommy looking for me?" She speaks louder than before, with more conviction.
I want to tell her to forget about her mother — that wherever that wretched woman looks, she won't find us. "I'm not sure, sweetheart."
I move past her and shove my clothes back into my bag, fighting the urge to run out of here as fast as I can. I probably have an hour, maybe more, before this town is turned upside down.
I walk over to her, unclip the red bow from her hair, and drop it into my bag.
The first piece of evidence.
"We have to go now," I say. "Will you come with me?"
She nods and swipes the edge of her palm up and across her nostrils, wincing as her fingertips flick against her tender cheek. I already paid for the night — in cash — but we are leaving. The room will sit here, empty, hot, and scrubbed clean by housekeeping.
I grab her hand as we head for the door again. Emma walks a few steps behind and kicks at the carpet, dragging the fingers of her left hand across the floral wallpaper, as though she is combing through water. I press the elevator button and scan the hallway. A few doors open and close, but no one joins us. The elevator opens. Empty. A sign? A small gift? I call to her — easy now — and she steps on again.
"Do you want to push the button?" I motion to the "1," but she shakes her head and shies away from me. I stab the button and wait for the doors to close. We lower, floor by floor, one step closer to freedom.
I drown the panic, tamp it down as best as I can. I don't know what I'm doing or what I've done, but I have to keep moving. I have to get home. And I have to take Emma — sweet, unsuspecting Emma — with me. She is my responsibility now, and I will do everything I can to protect her. I am rewriting her story, altering her memories, shifting her shitty childhood into clean chunks: before, during, after. Then, now, someday.
I take a quaking breath and wait. The elevator bumps to the first floor. A beat. The doors slide open. We step through.
We move on.
I opened my eyes.
It was a full minute before I registered Ethan was not beside me, his arms scooped under my ribs, as if preparing to roll me onto the floor. He never had morning breath — a lucky trait that left him brazen with a.m. kisses. Every morning, I would self-consciously extricate myself from his tangle of limbs to brush my teeth and slap on deodorant.
I had to get out of this condo before the daily reminders started: the lack of coffee, the stillness of the bedroom, the quiet, solo dressing, the crisp sheets on the right side of the bed. He was in our favorite café. He was on the muddy, green trails. He was on the TriMet, the MAX Light Rail, waiting outside the NW patisserie with a scone and a smile. The memory of him was everywhere.
People broke up every day. People lost people. People went through actual tragedies beyond the sad girl-meets-boy-boy-breaks-girl's-heart tale. I had to get on with it already.
Despite the millions of things I missed about him, what I missed the most, at the moment, was his coffee. He'd bought me a Chemex for my birthday, and despite never drinking coffee himself, he'd researched, bloomed, and whittled the brewing time to a swift science.
"Would you look at this?"
I'd scoot beside him, our elbows bumping, as I inhaled the rich dark chocolate and woodsy smells of whatever local brew he'd bought. "What?"
"There are like three bubbles in this. This coffee is shit." He'd palm the bag, poring over every detail, as if he'd missed something the $17.99 price tag had disguised. When he got a good bag and the bubbles exploded like soapsuds, he'd slap the countertop as if he'd won some sort of coffee competition. I loved this about him, loved that he had a personal investment in perfecting something that mattered to me, not him. I felt so lucky then, wrapped firmly in what I believed to be It. The One. Forever. There wasn't a world in which we didn't exist together.
Now that there was, I didn't know if I wanted to be a part of it.
* * *
I pulled up to the loft at 9:00 A.M. and rode the elevator to the seventh floor, running my eyes over the company logo: TACK, Teach. Activate. Create. Know. Ethan had carved the sign from walnut and helped bolt it to the wall almost three years ago.
"Morning, boss lady." Madison greeted me at the front desk.
"Morning. Busy yet?"
"Oh, you know." She walked around the desk to take my things. "Always. Do you want coffee first?"
I nodded, entered my office, and walked straight to the windows — my favorite feature — and pressed my fingers against the cool glass. It was raining, something I hardly ever noticed anymore, mostly because it was always raining.
When I moved to Portland, I used to think it was just something people said — it rains all the time! — but it did rain as much as they said. Misty, ropy rain that saturated your hair and clothes just enough to be annoying. My hair was perpetually in a state of frizz, which meant I kept it knotted high on my head, in a bun, rammed with endless bobby pins. Ethan used to find the pins everywhere: in the couch cushions, on the floor, in the sheets. He'd open them up and create little uses for them, like scraping earwax from his ear — much to my horror — and pitting a whole bowlful of cherries, thanks to a video he saw on YouTube.
I fingered my skeleton-key necklace and flicked the metal around and around, thinking of all I had on the docket over the next few weeks. I was rolling out to Ethiopia and Senegal — two places I hadn't yet been for TACK. We had new products to implement in each country, and who better than the CEO to bring the children their educational kits?
TACK had started small, like most things: digital activity books personalized to children's interests. Kids or parents filled out questionnaires of their ages, favorite toys, subjects, and activities, and I crafted personalized stories to help them learn. Their parents would send photos of their children's beloved toys, pets, and a headshot, so they could become the stars in their own adventures. The activity books had gone viral in a matter of months; I'd been urged to make actual kits, though I wanted to stay in the digital space to keep costs down. Eventually, I'd tinkered with the idea of personalized kits specified to cultural interests, instead of age group. It had caught on so strongly internationally that I had three buyers desperate to purchase my business. They called once a week with offers that made my mind twitch with the possibility of complete financial freedom, but I wasn't there yet. I was still obsessed with my business and wanted to stay focused on both global and domestic growth.
Madison interrupted my train of thought with a giant mug of coffee. "Got the last of Travis's homemade almond milk."
"Perfect. Thank you." I gripped the hot mug and took a long sip.
Madison brought up her iPad and divulged all the recent orders, my travel itinerary, and what products had a few issues we were tweaking. "Brad and team have already started working out the kinks, so don't panic. Seriously. They're handling it." Madison gnawed at her bottom lip. She knew me well; if there were issues, I liked to take care of them myself. I'd been called a control freak, even panic-prone when problems flared, but I was learning to delegate.
"Fine." I gave her a reassuring smile. "I trust them. Next on the agenda?" I straightened in my chair and spun around to face the floor-to-ceiling windows. The wheels squealed in protest, and I flinched. The drizzle had already ceased and a slice of sun was threatening to spill through the clouds.
"That's really all in terms of the next forty-eight hours or so." Madison pulled a can of WD-40 out of my bottom desk drawer and sprayed the wheels. She wiped her hands and glanced at her watch, a nervous tic, because I was so obsessed with being punctual. "You have a meeting with Travis at eleven, which gives you almost two hours." Her Prada heels clacked toward the door. "Open or closed?"
The next two hours evaporated over a sea of unanswered emails and preparations for my trip. On my third coffee refill, I took a break and pulled up a new browser. I had removed Facebook from my phone, but it still taunted me on my computer. What was he doing? Was he seeing someone? What new pieces was he selling in the shop? The not knowing ran its sharp fingernail underneath my skin.
"Don't do it, Walker. Don't." My stomach clenched. Who was I kidding? Every time I went online, I thought of him first. Every scroll through my news feed, I hoped to see him. Every time my phone dinged, I secretly prayed he was texting, calling, or sending me an email.
I perused my own page first and then my friends' news feeds, noticing one of the latest quizzes: "What Celebrity Do You Look Most Like?" I clicked it, let Facebook pull my personal photos and details, and then, voilà! There it was: Congratulations! You are a classic, timeless beauty. Your celebrity lookalike is Anne Hathaway! I scrutinized the photo of Anne and the one of me. There was a strong resemblance. We were both tall, pale with dark hair, and had large doe eyes. Ethan used to tell me I had bedroom eyes. That I looked the most beautiful just in from a run or when I had scrubbed my face free of makeup. Anne and I also had the same pouty, full lips. But where she was thin, I was athletic, more of a runner's body to her natural willowy frame. I closed the window, opting not to post it for all my digital audience to see.
I'd eaten up Ethan's compliments, hanging my entire life on them. What did that say about me, even now, crunching numbers, pushing objects into factories to be made for children, when I knew so little about my own life without a man in it? Ethan had filled a void for me, obviously, and so did my career. Now, it was as though all my hopes of a normal life — marriage, babies, a traditional home, family vacations — had been extinguished.
"Sarah?" Madison stuffed her head into the sliver of space from the cracked door. "Travis is ready."
"Be right there." I hovered over the small x to close the window. I wished he'd blocked me the moment we broke up, but Ethan wasn't that type of guy. He also wouldn't want to flaunt anything in my face if he were in a new relationship, but it wouldn't even dawn on him that I would be looking at his page. I'd gotten better — checking just once a week at most — but still. We were approaching the six-month mark post-breakup without even a casual runin at any of our favorite places.
I took a breath and typed in Ethan's name. A photo of him popped up on his timeline — posted three days ago — his face pink from sun, his smile genuine, his arms wrapped around the shoulders of a woman.
I leaned closer, ripping her features apart. The way her bottom lip sagged slightly to the left. The curve of her petite nostrils. Her insanely arched eyebrows, which looked overly plucked. Her beautiful blond hair, piled in a topknot that caught the light of the sun. Her smile, and his, which revealed a relationship I didn't want to know about.
I closed my laptop and brought it to my meeting with Travis, slipping back into work mode. I finished the rest of the day in a blaze of tasks, meetings, and preparations, as though not thinking of Ethan would somehow ease the knot in my stomach and bring him back to me.
* * *
When I looked up again, it was dark. I blinked from my computer haze, stared at the twinkling lights, and soaked in the city sounds that gathered outside the glass in a blast of horns, sirens, and the occasional screech of tires on wet pavement. I gathered my things and locked up, taking the elevator back to the ground floor.
I knew why I couldn't shake the thought of Ethan today — it was our anniversary. It pained me to think what we might have planned; how we would spend the night trying to outdo each other with gestures and gifts. Even when we weren't celebrating, Ethan and I would meet near his furniture shop after work, pick a brewery at random, and talk about our successes and failures for the day. Sometimes, we'd slip into Powell's, making out in random book stalls, before picking one book to purchase for each other. No matter how long we'd been together, it was still a thrill to see him after a long day at the office. It felt like dating. It always felt like dating. Now, the city gave me comfort as I walked toward home and smiled at the people just beginning their night.
In my condo, after I changed into pajamas, ordered takeout, and drank too many glasses of wine, my cell rang.
"Hi, Dad. Right on time."
"Am I that predictable?"
"Yes. You're like the news. Except less depressing."
He chuckled, which reminded me of sandpaper against gritty wood. All the years of crying had left his voice weaker than it should have been.
"So, what's up?"
"Just want to see what my favorite daughter is doing."
"That joke never gets old." I stretched and stifled a yawn. "Just traveling the world, working myself toward an early retirement. You?"
"Oh, you know ..." A shuffle of papers filled the silence, perhaps the collection of bills he kept neatly stacked by the telephone, or the daily newspaper, folded into thirds. "Busy too."
We both knew that busy meant spending nights on the couch or occasionally taking a walk around his neighborhood. My father no longer worked long hours, or very much. His zest for sales had waned with his zest for life. He lived the simplest way one could, his mortgage wiped clean from a Christmas present after my second year in business. The only real expenses in his life were utilities, the upkeep for his beloved Mustang, and whiskey. I checked the time, knowing he was probably a third of a handle in.
"I want to come see you soon, okay? I've just got a big trip coming up, but then I can come visit for a few days. How does that sound? Or you can always come here ..." It was the same suggestion I made every time he called. Come to Portland. Get out of your comfort zone.
"I can't get away anytime soon, but I'd love it if you could make it here." His tone shifted. "I thought since you and Ethan broke up, you'd visit a bit more."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Not Her Daughter"
Copyright © 2018 Rea Frey.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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
About the Author,