As a mother and a famous author, Ward DeFleur has it all. She lives in a beautiful estate in picture-perfect Connecticut, along with her teenage daughter, Stevie, where nothing can go wrong. Until, one night, when Stevie is brutally murdered and Ward’s entire world is shattered. Consumed by panic and grief, Ward vows never to put pen to paper again.
Enter Bree Bennett.
Bree is a recently-divorced, former-journalist-cum-housewife, desperate to fill her days with something other than Pilates classes and grocery shopping. So she decides to start writing for the town newspaper. What begins as Bree’s effort to tell Ward’s tragic narrative turns into a fixation with finding her favorite author. Unfortunately, Ward doesn’t want to be found. Even worse, Stevie’s killer is still on the loose...
This harrowing tale of one woman’s infatuation and another woman’s fear is full of explosive surprises, perfect for fans of The Night Olivia Fell and Then She Was Gone.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: Ward 1 WARD
SIX MONTHS AGO
The smooth rhythm of jazz music drifted from the radio as I gazed out the window at the cookie-cutter McMansions with their rambling green lawns, glistening blue swimming pools, and soaring oak trees in a kaleidoscope of colors. This time of year, the air is crisp but not cold. Children frolick outside until just before bedtime. Doors are left unlocked.
It’s safe here in Connecticut.
Ten minutes passed, as we traveled out of the suburban cocoon and through town, until the car pulled to a stop. I checked my reflection in the makeup compact I’d slipped into my purse at the last minute and allowed myself one final swipe of red lipstick, to match the cover of my new novel, Mysterious Stranger. Then I took a deep breath, trapped the air in my lungs for a few seconds longer than usual, and exhaled before the driver came around to open my door.
“Ready, Ms. DeFleur?” He extended his hand, and I accepted it, grateful for the support.
“Yes,” I spoke softly and stepped onto the glossy pavement, as pellets of rain struck the umbrella he was holding. One foot in front of the other, I reminded myself. I’ve done this before. Twelve times. And I’ll do it again. I hope.
“Here we go.” He hoisted me to standing, and I noticed that a bead of water had tainted my red silk flats like an inkblot in the Rorschach test. I never wear heels. When you’re five foot ten, it’s hard enough to go unnoticed. “I’ll keep you dry.”
“Thank you.” I nodded and raked my fingers through my thick, tumbling waves of auburn hair.
The line was already wrapped around the side of the building, a buzzing procession of anticipation. Instinctively, I looked behind me. As expected, the parking lot was crowded with sedans and SUVs jockeying for an open spot. To see me. Even after so many years, it’s still hard to believe.
Once we were inside, fear rose in my chest. I scanned the troop of men and women, mostly women in dark elastic jeans, stiletto boots, and flowy blouses cut to expose just enough of their assets. The landscape was dizzying. I thought about a quick pivot. I could make it back to the town car before anyone reached me. But I didn’t move.
“Hello, everyone,” I said louder than I’d expected. I sounded confident. Unlike myself. I smiled appreciatively at the light applause.
“Fabulous, you’re here.” My publicist, Gwen, swooped in, placed one hand on the small of my back, and cupped my elbow with the other. “Let’s get you settled. The signing doesn’t officially start for another twenty minutes. We can go over some important items.”
“Okay, sure.” I allowed her to cart me off.
“In here.” She thrust me into a small room with a green tweed couch and a cluttered wooden desk. “Make yourself comfortable. How are you feeling?” She motioned to the couch, dragged the metal desk chair over, and sat down on the edge of it, facing me. Her dark brown eyes were dogged. She’d rimmed them with far too much black eyeliner. And her knee was trembling. Probably from that high-octane coffee-in-a-can she drinks all day.
“Good,” I lied.
“Great, I mean. Definitely great,” I qualified.
“That’s better. Because tonight has to go seamlessly.” She maintained eye contact. “This is the first appearance in your fifteen-city tour.”
“I know.” Between my agent, my publisher, my editor, my editor’s assistant, Gwen, Gwen’s assistant, and all the other people at Lyons & Wilder responsible for launching my books, I’ve heard fifteen-city tour more times than my brain can metabolize.
“What I’m saying is that tonight sets the tone.” She leaned in closer and searched my face for mutual understanding. “There can’t be any...” She paused, careful to select the least offensive word. “Issues.”
“I get it.” It wasn’t hard to decipher what she meant by issues. I chose not to mention that it felt like the walls were closing in on us or that I was sweating through my blouse. “Don’t worry, it’s not my first rodeo.”
“Exactly. So here’s the plan.” Gwen lifted her chin and checked her watch. “I’m going to head out there now and make sure everything is under control and that everyone’s ready to roll. You’re going to stay here, have some water, have some fruit.” She signaled to a platter of neatly arranged slices of pineapple, mango, and cantaloupe, and a few bottles of Evian on the desk. “Then I’m going to come back and get you, and we’ll go in together. As always, there’s a table set up for you to sign at. There are plenty of Sharpies. We’re doing red for this book, as discussed. And clearly your fans are here in droves.”
“They never disappoint.” I smiled, pleased by my readers’ unwavering support.
Anxiety aside, I do realize what a gift that is. There are plenty of authors who write well-received novels, one-hit wonders that skyrocket to the top of the New York Times bestseller list and sell millions of copies. Unfortunately, their sophomore efforts frequently pale in comparison. There are other authors who write five, ten, fifteen books that all do adequately enough to turn a profit and keep their contracts coming. And then there are authors like me, whose audience has doubled, tripled, quadrupled with each new release. Thankfully, so have my advances. But above all that, I feel truly fortunate because my readers are the best readers. They communicate with me, and I communicate with them, from the very safe haven of my home office. Unseen. For that reason, among many others defined by my publishing house, I feel it’s my duty to show up for them. In this case, fifteen times over.
“And they never will disappoint,” Gwen assured me. “Just keep on being you. That’s all you have to do. They love you. Happy, authentic, engaged you.”
“Thank you.” I’ve worked with a lot of “Gwens” over the years, some grittier than others. This Gwen is a straight shooter, which I like. We both know that her little pep talk was a warning not to screw things up tonight. “I’ve got this.”
“Excellent.” I thought she was going to exhale, possibly reveal a hint of relief that her star thoroughbred was ready to race. But she’s still terrified I’ll break a leg.
She can’t be blamed for that. It has happened before, so to speak. It’s lore among the young girls who’ve passed through the halls of Lyons & Wilder. I’ve seen the way they size me up. They think I’m fragile.
Ward DeFleur sat on a wall.
Ward DeFleur had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men.
Couldn’t put Ward together again.
Not on Gwen’s watch, though. I guarantee she’s got an Ace bandage and a tube of Krazy Glue in her purse. She’ll repair me if it’s the last thing she ever does.
“Sit tight. I won’t be gone long.” She stood up and clipped her walkie-talkie to her belt.
“One question.” I raised my index finger.
“Shoot.” Gwen barely looked up from her cell phone. She was already sending a text, probably to my agent, Stephanie, who couldn’t be here tonight because her sister is getting married. Apparently, she asked her sister to switch the date and was horrified that she wouldn’t. In turn, I was horrified that Stephanie even asked in the first place.
“Is there security?”
“There are guards at all three doors. We’re in constant contact.”
“Just in case,” I added, so as not to seem dramatic.
“Ward,” Gwen said with intention. “You’re completely covered. Absolutely nothing will go wrong.” We locked eyes. “This is your night. Enjoy it.” She walked toward the door, turned the knob, and paused. Then she glanced over her shoulder and smiled. “Lucky number thirteen.”
“Lucky number thirteen.”
Reading Group Guide
This reader’s guide for Perfectly Famous includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. 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.
Ward DeFleur has it all—an incredibly successful writing career and a picture-perfect estate in Connecticut, which she shares with her beautiful teenage daughter, Stevie. Nothing can go wrong. Until, one night, Stevie is brutally murdered and Ward’s whole world comes crashing down. Grief-stricken and panicked, Ward withdraws from the public eye, vowing never to put pen to paper again.
Enter Bree Bennett, a recently divorced former-journalist-turned-housewife. Bree is desperate to bring some excitement back into her life after years of Pilates classes and grocery shopping. So she decides to start writing for the town newspaper. What begins as Bree’s effort to tell Ward’s tragic narrative turns into a fixation with finding her favorite author. Unfortunately, Ward doesn’t want to be found, and Stevie’s killer is still on the loose.
Perfectly Famous is a harrowing tale of one woman’s infatuation and another woman’s fear, full of explosive surprises.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
“‘There can’t be any . . .’ She paused, careful to select the least offensive word. ‘Issues’” (page 5). Ward’s publicist, Gwen, hints that there have been problems with previous book signings. How does this set the stage for the chapter and the book as a whole? After the big plot twist reveal, go back and reread the first chapter. How has your perception of it changed now that you know how it ends?
Bree’s best friend, Maggie, is a psychologist. How do you think that affects their friendship dynamic? Do you think overall it is a positive thing? How do Bree’s conversations with Maggie help drive the plot?
Analyze the two main female characters, Bree and Ward. How are they different, and how are they similar? Do they complement each other in any way? Why is Bree so drawn to Ward’s disappearance in the beginning? Does Bree see herself in Ward on some level?
Discuss the male characters. Many of them who appeared caring, helpful, and harmless at first turn out to be just the opposite. Why do you think Liebert decided to develop her male characters this way? Do you think it was a purposeful decision? Which character ends up being a surprise hero?
Examine the mother-daughter relationships in the book. How is Bree’s relationship with her mother similar to the relationship she has with Chloe and how is it different? Do you think incorporating many scenes with Chloe—who is the same age as Stevie—is meant to highlight Ward’s loss? How is Ward’s relationship with Patricia different from Bree’s relationship with her mother? Do you think Bree and Ward’s relationships with their mothers mirror their interactions with their daughters in any way?
Bree becomes entangled with two very different men: Scott, who is reliable and kind, and Evan, who is mysterious and passionate. What is it about Evan that makes Bree so smitten with him? Do you think her attraction is rooted in the fact that he’s helping her find Ward or does she actually like his personality? Do you think she is really attracted to the danger after her life of being a stay-at-home mom?
“Remarkable how one tragic incident can change your entire outlook” (page 169). Ward is describing how Patricia never used to be suspicious of others until the Stevie incident. Do you think it’s true that one moment can impact everything? Has there ever been a moment—either good or bad—that completely changed the way you look at the world and those around you?
What were some of the clues that foreshadowed the twist about what really happened to Stevie? Were you completely taken by surprise or were there moments when you were able to piece it together? If so, what were those moments?
Discuss Ward’s decision regarding Stevie’s safety. Do you think it was the right choice for the time or do you think it ended up causing more damage, stress, and complications? What do you think you would have done in Ward’s situation? Would you have gone in a similar direction?
What are some of the tools that Emily Liebert uses toward the end to increase the pacing of the book?
When did you begin to suspect that Christopher and Evan were the same person? How does Liebert hint at it beforehand? Go back and analyze the parts where Bree brings up Christopher’s name in Evan’s presence. Are the clues easier to spot now that you know the truth?
In the flash-forward at the end, Bree and Ward have almost reversed roles. Bree is now the star author signing the book she and Ward cowrote. Discuss how—in some ways—everything has come full circle by the end.
Talk about the very last scene. How does it change the way you interpret every interaction that Ward had with Alex? Does it make you question Evan’s involvement at all? Do you think Ward should have been more cautious of Alex when she found out that he was at the same bar as Stevie on the night she was attacked?
Enhance Your Book Club
Ward DeFleur is one of Bree’s favorite writers and she desperately wants to help Ward tell her personal story. It’s this infatuation that drives Bree throughout the whole book. Pick a writer you would want to collaborate with on a project. Why would you choose them? What would your project be called?
Bree’s whole investigation begins when she starts working at the Fairfield Chronicle. Bring a few different local newspapers and flip through them to see some of the stories that they highlight. Do any of them overlap? Are there any that seem similar to the ones that Bree had to cover? Did you learn anything new about your town?
Visit Emily Liebert’s website, www.emilyliebert.com, to learn more about Emily and connect with her on social media.