One Less Problem Without You: A Novel

One Less Problem Without You: A Novel

by Beth Harbison


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Meet Prinny, Chelsea and Diana. Prinny is the owner of Cosmos, a shop that sells crystals, potions, candles, and hope. It’s also a place where no one turns down a little extra-special cocktail that can work as a romance potion or heal a broken heart. But Prinny is in love with her married lawyer and she’ll need nothing short of magic to forget about him.

Chelsea works as a living statue at tourist sites around Washington, DC. It's a thankless job, but it helps pay the rent. That, and her part-time job at Cosmos. As her dream of becoming a successful actress starts to seem more remote and the possibility of being a permanently struggling one seems more realistic, Chelsea begins to wonder: at one point do you give up on your dreams? And will love ever be in the cards for her?

Diana Tiesman is married to Leif, a charismatic man who isn’t faithful. But no matter how many times he lets her down, Diana just can't let him go. She knows the only way she can truly breakaway is if she leaves and goes where he will never think to follow. So she ends up at Cosmos with Leif’s stepsister, where she makes her homemade teas and tinctures as she figures out whether she'd rather be lonely alone than lonely in love.

In Beth Harbison's One Less Problem Without You, three women suddenly find themselves together at their own very different crossroads. It will take hope, love, strength and a little bit of magic for them to find their way together.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250043825
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 07/26/2016
Pages: 336
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

BETH HARBISON is The New York Times bestselling author of If I Could Turn Back Time, Driving with the Top Down, Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger; When In Doubt, Add Butter; Always Something There To Remind Me; Thin, Rich, Pretty; Hope In A Jar; Secrets of a Shoe Addict; and Shoe Addicts Anonymous. She grew up in Potomac, Maryland, outside Washington, D.C., and now shares her time between that suburb, New York City, and a quiet home on the eastern shore.

Read an Excerpt

One Less Problem Without You

By Beth Harbison

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Beth Harbison
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-04382-5



I want to say that he knew how to work me masterfully, but that wouldn't quite be accurate.

The truth is, I made it easy for him.

He is my husband, Leif Tiesman. There's a pun in the last name somewhere, something to do with keeping me tied up, but I can't figure it out so it's anything other than sad. I'm Diana. Diana Tiesman.

People always said I looked like Diane Lane in that movie, Under the Tuscan Sun, and I always thought that was ironic since, in that movie, Diane Lane's character left her cheating husband and took off for an Italy that looks absolutely ideal to me — the sun glinting on her copper-penny hair, making her look fiery where my copper-penny hair felt more like it reflected my worth — and she starts her life anew, alone, strong.

I did not do that.

Though fantasies like that had flittered through my brain many times, my one true goal in life had always been to be the perfect wife and mother.

And like the perfect wife that I set out to be, and the bound being I became, I have been agreeable for seven years of marriage. So agreeable. I have made favorite dinners, made a point of Not Questioning Him, created a beautiful home and let him have the TV remote, and I've blown him till my cheeks ached.

Why? you must be asking. Anyone with any sense would ask that. Hell, if I were talking to my friend and she was the one saying all this subservient stuff, I would sure as hell be asking her why she thought he was worth so much more than she was.

But the truth is, when you're in it, that's not how you're looking at it. You can't even see the logic about your own situation, even while you might be wildly protective of a friend who isn't going through half as much as you are. When you're in it, you want the high. The win. The kiss. The body. The dizzying glee of having just had fantastic sex. Okay, maybe that's not the case for everyone, but it was certainly the case for me. Some part of me will always fight that impulse. I always resist when people liken it to an addiction — loving a person seems like it should be different from being addicted to them — but the reality is, that's exactly what it is.

With Leif, I always felt like if I had just a little bit more, I'd be strong enough to get away. A little more sex so I'm not longing for him, a little more time so maybe I can get stronger in my anger with him. Staying in the hot water just that little bit longer, so that the frigid cold doesn't feel so bad. Something — anything — to make the leaving easier.

But then he gave me that gift.

Or, rather, I took it.

It was an ordinary night. I lay in the dark on my side of the queen-sized bed, listening to my husband's deep, even breathing in the dark. As if he hadn't a care in the world.

The sonofabitch.

How could it be so easy for him to lie down and sleep, like one of those old baby dolls whose eyes closed when you tipped them backward? Meanwhile, I had to lie there in anguish, pounding heart, racing mind, skin prickling as if I were entering a nuclear fallout zone?

I knew something was wrong. I mean, I always knew something was wrong. But moreover, I knew exactly what it was. I wasn't born yesterday. The pain of my marriage wasn't even born yesterday. Leif had a long, cruel history of sneaking dalliances with other women, and I had a long, unfortunate history of trying to pretend it wasn't true. Or that his apology and acknowledgment meant something and it wouldn't happen again. Or that I was overreacting.

Or that it was "normal."

Man, I had a whole lot of counterproductive stances on my own husband's cheating, and I had paid the price again and again, and let him coast.

But tonight he'd come in from work after ten, swearing he was having postwork drinks with "colleagues" (I was never sure whether it was damning or honest to list them as "colleagues" versus names so specific they were obviously meant to fool me). And at least this time he had not smelled like a delicate, floral perfume I would have liked so much that, under any other circumstances, I would have asked the wearer what the name of it was. That was a particularly specific humiliation.

However, he did have the telltale smear of lipstick on his cheek, and across the plane behind his ear and down his neck. Cheek could be innocent, but the roadmap from his cheek down his neck was obviously intimate. You might kiss your grandmother's cheek, but you weren't going to trail your lips across her ear and down her neck. Suddenly I had a brand-new measuring stick for suspicion.

This was suspicious. I mean, undeniably so. Even for me, who had lived in denial for so long there was a hackneyed Egypt joke in it.

Leif sighed — didn't start, didn't react to a dream, just became so additionally relaxed in his sleep next to my agitation, like a man with no secrets or guilt, that he actually sighed.

In a movie he probably would have sighed some girl's name. Reached for a dream head in front of his crotch.

I didn't realize I was holding my breath until the suffocation took over and I let it out in one too-short burst, having trouble drawing back more into my lungs.

I wanted to ignore this. Damn it, I wanted to ignore this and not have a problem. I could just wake up in the morning, make his breakfast, clean the house, meet a friend for lunch, read, go to my community college jewelry-smithing class, and then come home and watch TV (with or without Leif, depending on when he got home — by day he was an ordinary-seeming businessman, but he was also attractive enough to be a talking head on TV news if there was a particularly weird criminal case) until it was time to get up and do it again in the morning.

I turned my head and looked at his beautiful profile in the half-light of the blue moon, shining in through the window and casting his skin in an ethereal (one might also say "angelic") glow.

Damn it!

He was beautiful. Not in a ridiculous way, not a soap actor you just knew was gay; he was just striking. He had liquid brown eyes that changed color with the sun, and an incredible smile that transformed his face into super-hot no matter what you might think of it in repose. His smile was broad and happy, not feminine at all, but possessing all the qualities held by the best of the 1940s movie heroes.

His voice, too — whoa. That was another thing I had a distinct weakness for. Husky, low, soft-spoken. He was persuasive just by virtue of his tone, though God knew he had learned to cultivate it. He made himself a genius salesman without sounding like one.

He was an expert manipulator, as so many fucked-up psychologists and psychiatrists were. At least as far as I could tell, and I'd met a lot of them ... as well as their often-unfortunate spouses. At any rate, he had my number anytime he needed it. We'd have disagreements that started with me on fire and ended with me apologizing. Often I couldn't even remember later what the argument had been about, although the feeling of anger tended to linger, a rudderless boat without an anchor or a shore.

I glanced at the familiar ceiling of our bedroom. A few glow-in-the-dark adhesive stars still strained to beam against the dark ceiling but all but failed with the passage of time and, I guess, the absence of faith. They were just something fanciful I'd put up to delight him with when we'd first moved in; the "light" from them had annoyed him, and I took them down. Still, every once in awhile I'd still see one in the dark that I'd missed, and it would remind me of what now felt like my foolish optimism.

The light ding of a phone pierced the darkness.

I stiffened. It wasn't my phone. I didn't have that ding set up; he was Android, I was iPhone. But I knew his text sound as well as I knew his voice.

And it didn't normally come from his phone at this hour, deep in the dark.

An emergency, I thought at first, a habitual thought I would later be embarrassed about.

But while I was still in emergency mode, I glanced over at his phone, just long enough to see that "Eastern Shore Plumbing and Air" was writing "I want you now" to him.

I want you now.

The phone had gone black again, protected by its password shroud of privacy. There was no way to see what else had been said between Leif and Eastern Shore Plumbing and Air.

I leaned back against my pillow, my heart pounding so hard I thought it was probably shifting the fabric of the old Mickey Mouse T-shirt I slept in.

What now?

And, seriously, what now? I couldn't question this and get an honest answer. Obviously he had entered some girl in his phone under a false and seemingly uninteresting contact name. Clever. If only because he could count on me never questioning it. Even if I could, or would, have searched his phone, that contact would never have raised my interest.

What an idiot I was.

I put a hand on my chest and tried to calm my breathing in the dark. Meanwhile Leif was sleeping as peacefully as a puppy, his breath slow and even. In fact, those slow, even breaths increased my anxiety by the moment. Every relaxed sound he made ramped up my heartbeat and the heat coursing through my veins.

But I don't know anything, I told myself. Maybe it was a wrong number.

That wasn't impossible. I'd gotten nonsense texts in my life. Well, once. And it had been my friend trying to text a work colleague. But still, I hadn't understood it, as it had clearly gone to the wrong person; it didn't make sense within the context. Who was to say that wasn't what was happening now?

Slightly reassured, I turned on my side, facing away from Leif, and tried to close my eyes and go to sleep, vowing to think about it in the morning but to allow myself the grace to just go ahead and sleep tonight. Nothing good ever came from a lot of exhausted late-night emotion. Ever. Did it make a difference if I sweated this now or later?

My heart pounded about twenty-five times in the darkness.

Screw this.

Yes, it made a difference. I'd been here before with him. A hundred times. I knew what was going on, and this business of trying to fool myself into believing the unbelievable was ridiculous. How many times was I going to do that to myself? Or allow him to do it to me?

And at what cost?

This was damn close to gaslighting.

That's when I got the idea. Yes, it was risky; I could get caught, and a huge fight would ensue. And there was no doubt who was stronger in an argument: Leif was relentless, seemingly capable of believing his own lies to the death. I could never win. I could only give up. And I had — many, many times.

Not this time.

It was hard to say what made the difference. A different alignment of stars? That single straw that, added to the rest, could crack bone? Or maybe it was just a long-overdue desire to know and deal with the whole truth and its effect on me.

Whatever it was, it propelled me stealthily out of bed and around to Leif's bedside table, where I took his phone in hand, cold and hard as a stolen gun. He shifted, and I froze, ready to drop it back on the table and make a mad and dangerous dash to the bathroom, as if I hadn't been next to him at all.

But his breathing resumed, and I carefully made my way back to my side of the queen-sized bed. There were squeaky floorboards, but I'd never memorized which, so every time I stepped on one I froze and listened for the telltale evenness of his breath.

It seemed like forever, but when I finally got back to my side of the bed, I hesitated and decided to get in without an abundance of care. Had I gotten up in the middle of the night to pee, I wouldn't have come back like a thief, and maybe on some subconscious level my stealth would register with him as "something amiss," not just me simply returning to the bed.

I took the chance and got back in, rolling over on my side to face him. As predicted, he didn't stir. I moved my foot to his and twined my lower leg between his, as I had done so many times before, and he reached out and put a hand on me.


Holding my breath, I hit the ON button, and the screen flared to life so brightly it was as if someone had shouted. I took the blanket and covered the screen, exposing only the START button, then reached for his hand, put the button under his index finger, and held my breath.

The phone dinged to life.

Leif did not.

Thank God, thank God, thank God.

I rolled over, keeping the screen down, and stayed still, occasionally tapping the touch pad to keep it alive, until I was sure he wasn't waking up and catching me red-handed.

Then I got up again and took it into the bathroom, closing the door quietly behind me.

Now I was committed. If I was caught, I was screwed, so there was no reason for me not to see as much as the good Lord was willing to show me.

I sat down on the edge of the tub and went to messaging. Eastern Shore Plumbing and Air was at the top of the list, and when I opened it up, I could have cried. There were so many texts. So very many. I scrolled through, and they rolled on and on.

I'd like to meet you, he said. I'll be going to visit my mom in Connecticut in a couple of months, maybe I could stop by your place in Jersey along the way.

My stomach rolled. Gross. This was someone he'd "met" online, and he was willing, and ready, to turn a family visit into an adulterous tryst? That easily? What if I had said I wanted to join him on that trip? What if I'd insisted I wanted to see my mother-in-law? Would he have discouraged me, or snuck onto his phone when I wasn't looking and told the Plumber they'd have to hook up another time?

Your dad lives in Michigan? the Plumber asked. Did I tell you my dad is from Michigan too? It's like this is meant to be!

I paused over that. It's like this is meant to be! Such a bold statement to make to a man who was married. Though the poor girl probably didn't know he was married. There certainly weren't any references — loving or otherwise — to his devoted wife.

Instead there was I loved hearing from you last night, but next time dial *67 if you remember. This is a work phone and I don't want my boss getting any concerns about how I'm using my professional tools ... Speaking of which, I'd like to put my tool right in that tight little snatch of yours. You made me so hot, I was dying!

I didn't remember Leif being hot and bothered at any recent point. Was he lying, or did he take care of it in the shower and then manage to join me for dinner and compliment my pan-seared lemon shrimp and the good job I'd done on painting the foyer, as if he didn't have another interest in the world beyond day-to-day domesticity?

I continued to scroll through the messages and didn't find anything remarkable beyond the fact that now and then he called the girl "Red" and she referred to him as "Buck," which ... was that some sort of joke they'd agreed upon, or was that a name he'd actually given himself?

I tapped the screen and went to the e-mail app. There appeared to be two names: his own, at Gmail, which was the one she used if she ever had to forward something or give it out; and another one, Buckthesistem at a weird domain I'd never heard of.

Sistem? Was that some sort of gender-specific play on the word "system"?

The phone trembled in my hand as I clicked his in-box. I was in it now; there was no turning back. Whatever I wanted to know was at the touch of my fingertips. And I needed to know it, no matter what. That I was clear on. I'd been living in nervous apprehension for too long, never quite trusting anything he said, whether it was that he loved me or that we were running low on toilet paper. I'd heard lies that mattered and that didn't, and that sent me into a tailspin of doubt.

I certainly never believed him when he said he was working late.

For perhaps ten minutes I scrolled through his e-mail, and apart from a few seemingly innocuous messages to his friends, there was nothing. I actually began to feel a little bit better. Not okay, by any means — the texts with "Red" remained inexcusable — but something inside of me just hoped to God I hadn't been duped time and again.


Excerpted from One Less Problem Without You by Beth Harbison. Copyright © 2016 Beth Harbison. 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.
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One Less Problem Without You 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
LC112648LC More than 1 year ago
One Less Problem without You .... Normally I love books by Beth Harbison. I couldn't get interested in this one - got to page 51 and said forget it! So for me, this book was not up to Beth's usual standards of keeping you interested - and I have read all her books!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book! There are great drink recipes in the back of the book too!
Deb-Krenzer More than 1 year ago
Never have I wanted so badly to take a character out. I mean stop his breathing, exclude him from Planet Earth, just take him out to be heard from no more. This was one sinister "little" guy. That being said, anytime an author can make me feel strong emotions like that - that is a winner, winner, chicken dinner for me (translation: great book). HA! This was a great book and my feelings for Leif started building early. As the book progressed, they just grew. The story does go back and forth to try and explain a few things. Although there's no explanation for that behavior. Anyway, I found the book very entertaining with some lovable characters who you just wanted to put under your wing and just hide. Hide them from the mean people. They were just too sweet. You couldn't help but want to be their friends. A fun and recommendable book! Thanks St. Martin's Press and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review.