The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes

by Diane Chamberlain


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In 1977, pregnant Genevieve Russell disappeared. Twenty years later, her remains are discovered and Timothy Gleason is charged with murder. But there is no sign of the unborn child.

CeeCee Wilkes knows how Genevieve Russell died, because she was there. And she also knows what happened to the missing infant, because two decades ago she made the devastating choice to raise the baby as her own. Now Timothy Gleason is facing the death penalty, and she has another choice to make. Tell the truth, and destroy her family. Or let an innocent man die in order to protect a lifetime of lies…

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780778326229
Publisher: MIRA Books
Publication date: 05/17/2016
Series: Target Book Club Edition
Edition description: Original
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 78,958
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.80(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Diane Chamberlain is the bestselling author of twenty novels, including The Midwife's Confession and The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes. Diane lives in North Carolina and is currently at work on her next novel. Visit her Web site at and her blog at and her Facebook page at

Read an Excerpt

Raleigh, North Carolina

She couldn't concentrate on making love. No matter how tenderly or passionately or intimately Ken touched her, her mind was miles away. It was a little after five on Tuesday afternoon, the time they protected from meetings or dinner with friends or anything else that might interfere with their getting together, and usually Corinne relished the lovemaking with her fiance. Today, though, she wanted to fast-forward to the pillow talk. She had so much to say.

Ken rolled off her with a sigh, and she saw him smile in the late-afternoon light as he rested his hand on her stomach. Did that mean something? Smiling with his hand on her belly? She hoped so but didn't dare ask him. Not yet. Ken loved the afterglow—the slow untangling of their limbs and the gradual return to reality—so she would have to be patient. She stroked her fingers through his thick, ash-blond hair as she waited for his breathing to settle down. Their baby was going to beautiful, no doubt about it.

"Mmm," Ken purred as he nuzzled her shoulder. Thin bands of light slipped into the room through the blinds, leaving luminous stripes on the sheet over his legs. "I love you, Cor."

"I love you, too." She wrapped her arm around him, trying to sense if he was alert enough to listen to her. "I did some thing amazing today," she began. "Two somethings, actually."

"What did you do?" He sounded interested, if not quite awake.

"First, I took the 540 to work."

His head darted up from his pillow. "You did?"


"How was it?"

"Excellent." She'd had sweaty palms the whole time, but she'd managed. For the past few years, she'd taught fourth grade in a school eight miles from their house, and she'd never once had the courage to take the expressway to get there. She'd stuck to the tiny back roads, curling her way through residential neighborhoods, dodging cars as they backed out of driveways. "It took me about ten minutes to get to work," she said. "It usually takes me forty."

"I'm proud of you," he said. "I know how hard that must have been to do."

"And then I did another amazing thing," she said.

"I haven't forgotten. Two things, you said. What other amazing thing did you do?"

"I went on the field trip to the museum with my class, instead of staying at school like I'd planned."

"Now you're scaring me," he teased. "Are you on some new drug or something?"

"Am I remarkable or what?" she asked.

"You are definitely the most remarkable woman I know." He leaned over to kiss her. "You're my brave, beautiful, red-haired girl."

She'd walked inside the museum as though she did it every day of the week, and she bet no one knew that her heart was pounding and her throat felt as though it was tightening around her windpipe. She guarded her phobias carefully. She could never let any of her students' parents—or worse, her fellow teachers—know.

"Maybe you're trying to do too much too fast," Ken said.

She shook her head. "I'm on a roll," she said. "Tomorrow, I plan to step into the elevator at the doctor's office. Just step into it," she added hastily. "I'll take the stairs. But stepping into it will be a first step. So to speak. Then maybe next week, I'll take it up a floor." She shuddered at the thought of the elevator doors closing behind her, locking her in a cubicle not much bigger than a coffin.

"Pretty soon you won't need me anymore."

"I'm always going to need you." She wondered how serious he was with that statement. It was true that she needed Ken in ways most people didn't need a partner. He was the driver anytime they traveled more than a few miles from home. He was her rescuer when she'd have a panic attack in the supermarket, standing in the middle of an aisle with a full cart of groceries. He was the one holding on to her arm as he guided her through the mall or the Concert Hall or wherever they happened to be when her heart started pounding. "I would just like to not need you that way. And I have to do this, Ken. I want that job."

She'd been offered a position that would start the following September, training teachers in Wake County to use a reading curricutum in which she'd become expert. That meant driving. A lot of driving. There would be six-lane highways to travel and bridges to cross and elevators she would have no choice but to ride. September was nearly a year away, and she was determined to have her fears mastered by then.

"Kenny." She pulled closer to him, nervous about the topic she was about to broach. "There's something else we really need to talk about."

His muscles tightened ever so slightly beneath her hands.

"The pregnancy," he said.

She hated when he called it the pregnancy. She guessed she'd misread his smile earlier. "About the baby," she said. "Right."

He let out a sigh. "Cor, I've thought about it and I just don't think it's the right time. Especially with you starting a new job next year. How much stress do you need?"

"It would work out," she said. "The baby's due in late May. I'd take the end of the year off and have the summer to get used to being a mom and find day care and everything." She smoothed her hand over her stomach. Was it her imagination or was there already a slight slope to her belly? "We've been together so long," she continued. "It just doesn't make sense for me to have an abortion when I'm almost twenty-seven and you're thirty-eight and we can afford to have a child." She didn't say what else she was thinking: Of course, we'd have to get married. Finally. They'd been engaged and living together for four years, and if her pregnancy forced them to set a date, that was fine with her.

He gave her shoulders a squeeze, then sat up. "Let's talk about it later, okay?" he said.

"When?" she asked. "We can't keep putting this off."

"Later tonight," he promised.

She followed his gaze to the phone on the night table. The message light was blinking. He picked up the receiver and punched in their voice-mail code, then listened. "Three messages," he said, hitting another button on the phone. The light in the room had grown dim, but she was still able to see him roll his eyes as he listened to the first message.

"Your mother," he said. "She says it's urgent."

"I'm sure." Corinne managed a laugh. Now that Dru had spilled the news of her pregnancy to their parents, she'd probably be getting urgent calls every day. Her mother had already e-mailed her to tell her that redheads were more prone to hemorrhaging after delivery. Thanks a heap, Mom. She hadn't bothered to reply. She hadn't spoken with her mother more than a few times in the past three years.

"There's one from Dru, too," Ken said. "She says to call her the minute you get the message."

That was more worrisome. An urgent message from her mother was easy to ignore. From her sister, less so. "I hope there's not anything wrong," she said, sitting up.

"They would have called you on your cell if it was so important," he said, still holding the phone to his ear.

"True." She got out of bed and pulled on her short green robe, then picked up her phone from the dresser and turned it on. "Except, I didn't have my cell on today because of the field trip, so—"

"What the—" Ken frowned as he listened to another message. "What the hell are you talking about?" He shouted into the phone. Glancing at his watch, he walked across the room to turn on the television.

"What's going on?" Corinne watched him click through the channels until he reached WIGH, the Raleigh station for which he was a reporter.

"That was a message from Darren," he said, as he punched another phone number into the receiver. "He's kicking me off the Gleason story."

"What?" She was incredutous. "Why?"

"He said it was for obvious reasons, like I should know what the hell he's talking about." He looked at his watch again and she knew he was waiting for the six-o'clock news. "Come on, come on," he said to the television or the phone—or maybe both. "Give me Darren!" he yelled into the receiver. "Well, where is he?" He hung up and started dialing again.

"They can't pull you off that story," she said. "That would be so unfair after all the work you've done on it." The Gleason story was his baby. He'd even attracted national attention for it. People were talking about him being a candidate for the Rosedale Award.

"Darren said, 'Did you know about this?' like I've been keeping something from him." Ken ran his fingers through his hair. "Oh, don't give me your damn voice mail," he said into the phone. "Dammit." She felt his impatience as he waited to leave a message. "What the hell do you mean, I'm off the Gleason story?" he shouted. "Call me!"

He tossed the receiver onto the bed, then pounded the top of the television with his fist as though he could make the news come on sooner through force. "I don't believe this," he said. "When I left the courthouse today, the jury hadn't sentenced him yet and they were supposed to reconvene tomorrow. Maybe I heard it wrong. Maybe I missed the sentencing. Damn!"

Corinne looked down at the cell phone in her hand as she cycled through the list of callers. "I have five messages, all from my parents' house," she said. Something was wrong. "I'd better call—"

"Shh," Ken said, turning up the volume as the brassy theme music introduced the news, and anchorman Paul Provost appeared on the screen.

"Good evening, Triangle," Paul said, referring to the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area. "Just hours before Timothy Gleason was to be sentenced for the 1977 murder of Genevieve Russell and her unborn child, a shocking revelation shed doubt on his guilt."

"What?" Ken stared at the TV.

Footage of a small arts-and-crafts-style bungalow filled the screen. The roof looked wet from a recent rain, and the trees were lush, the leaves just starting to turn.

"Is that...?" Corinne pressed her hand to her mouth. She knew exactly how the air smelled in the small front yard of the house. It would be thick and sweet with the damp arrival of autumn. "Oh, my God."

Through the front door, a middle-aged woman limped onto the porch. She looked small and tired. And she looked scared.

"What the hell is going on?" Ken said.

Corinne stood next to him, clutching his arm, as her mother cleared her throat.

"Timothy Gleason is not guilty of murdering Genevieve Russell," she said. "And I can prove it because I was there."


Dear CeeCee,

You're sixteen now, the age I was when I got pregnant with you. Whatever you do, don't do that! Seriously, I hope you're much smarter and more careful than I was. No regrets, though. My life would have been so empty without you. You're my everything, darl ing girl. Don't ever forget that.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina 1977

Good morning, Tim." CeeCee poured coffee into his cup. He liked it black and very strong, and she'd added an extra scoop to the pot that morning that had other customers complaining.

"The morning was pretty good to begin with," he said, "but seeing you puts the icing on the cake." He leaned back in the corner booth, where he always sat, and smiled at her. He had one of those smiles that turned her brain to mush. She'd met him on her first day of work a little more than a month ago, and she'd promptly spilled hot coffee on him. She'd been mortified, but he'd laughed it off and tipped her more than the value of his breakfast. She fell for him right then.

All she knew about him could fit inside a coffee cup. To begin with, he was beautiful. The sunlight poured into the corner booth in the mornings, settling in the curls of his blond hair and turning his green eyes to stained glass. He dressed in jeans and T-shirts, like most Carolina students, but his clothing lacked any University of North Carolina logos even though he was a student there. He smoked Marlboros, and his table was always littered with books and papers. She liked that he was studious. Best of all, he made her feel pretty and smart and desirable, which was something she'd not experienced before. She wanted to bottle the feeling and carry it around with her.

She pulled her order pad and pencil from her jeans pocket. "Do you want your usual?" she asked, but she was thinking, I love you.

"Of course." He took a sip of coffee, then pointed toward the front of the coffee shop. "Do you know that every time I walk through that door, I'm afraid you won't be here?" he asked. "As soon as I come in, I look for your hair." He'd told her that he loved her hair. She'd never cut it, and it fell in dark waves to the small of her back.

"I'm always here," she said. "It's like I live here."

"You're off on Saturdays, though," he said. "You weren't here last Saturday."

"And you missed me?" Was she flirting? That would be a first.

He nodded. "Yes, but I was happy to see that you had some time off."

"Well, not time off, really. I tutor on Saturdays."

"You're always working, CeeCee," he said. She loved when he used her name.

"I need the money." She looked down at her order pad as though she'd forgotten why she was holding it. "I'd better put in your order or you won't get out of here in time for your class. Be back soon." She excused herself and walked toward the swinging door to the kitchen.

Inside, the aroma of bacon and burned toast enveloped her, and she found her fellow waitress and roommate, Ronnie, arranging plates of pancakes on a tray.

"You do have other tables to wait on, you know," Ronnie teased.

CeeCee clipped Tim's order to the carousel where the cook would see it, then twirled around happily to face her friend. "I'm useless when he's here," she said.

Ronnie hoisted her loaded tray to her shoulder. "He does look particul arly hot today, I have to admit." She backed up against the swinging door to push it open. "You should say you had a date last night or something," she said as she left the room.

Ronnie, who was far more experienced in dating than CeeCee, was full of bad advice when it came to Tim. "Pretend you have a boyfriend," she'd say. Or "Act indifferent sometimes." Or "Let me wait on him so he misses you."

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Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 233 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Oh my God.....This was such a great book. This was my bookclubs BOTM and I'm so glad it was. I had never read anything from this author but I can say I will continue to explore her work.....To all who haven't read this book...please won't regret it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Couldnt put this down. Couldnt wait to see what happened next.
JBSWI More than 1 year ago
Quick Read because you can't put it down and you stay up way past your bedtime reading it! This book portrays that every decision you make has a lasting impact on your life and others. The ending wasn't really plausible to me as the rest of the book but that doesn't detract from this being a treat to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book completely held my interest from cover to cover. I usually don't take books to work with me, but I did this one. When I finished it, a co-worker borrowed it and read it in two days!
iluvbooksMA More than 1 year ago
This book is definitely in my top 3 favorite books ever! I read about a book a week and when I read something this good, everything after it is a disappointment. This was fabulous. It was the first time I had read a book by the author and have since read some of her others - none of them unfortunately come close to being this great!
Brittany Leissner More than 1 year ago
lived this book!!! i love all of her books!! i highly reccommend it'
GinaPelz More than 1 year ago
This was one of the best books Ive read, and Im a very avid reader! Makes my very limited and difficult to get on top ten list. Highly recommend!
MomsSmallVictories More than 1 year ago
Fantastic suspenseful novel, another Chamberlain masterpiece. I am not a fast reader but I go through Diane's books in record time. I typically finish her books in the wee hours of the night and in two sittings. This book was no exception, I simply could not put it down. The story chronicles the life of CeeCee. When we meet her, CeeCee is an orphaned and insecure teenager trying to make it on her own. She gets mixed up with the wrong guy and the story is filled with kidnapping, death, birth, crime, mystery and a complex web of love and lies emerges the way only Diane can tell it. I can relate to CeeCee in so many ways, her undying love for her family, her desire to overly protect her children and how her rheumatoid arthritis impacts her body, how she tries to hide the pain and stay strong for her loved ones even when the disease flares due to stress.  The story is also set in North Carolina, my home state, and I can just picture the story unfold in a setting that's familiar to me. What does CeeCee get herself into? How will she ever get out of it? Will her family forgive her for her past? I wish I could tell you but I don't want to spoil the journey, I do highly recommend this captivating book.  If you like suspenseful reads or books by Nicholas Sparks or Jodi Picoult, you'll like this book. I think it would make an interesting discussion for a book club, just check out the first question on LitLover's list of book club questions. Nicholas Sparks  and Diane Chamberlain are both NC authors and  I have been enjoying reading stories by NC authors or set in NC.  Diane Chamberlain is often noted as being similar in style to Jodi Picoult. While both Diane and Jodi have a way of capturing my attention, Diane's skill rests in her ability to emotionally connect me to her characters.  I form a bond with them, I agonize with them as they face their most complicated predicaments.  When the book is done, I miss them and wonder what happens next.  That's what makes Diane Chamberlain one of my favorite authors, each book leaves a lasting impression with relatable characters in unforgettable situations.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You will not want to put this book down! It made me cry and smile at the same time! Truly a good read and something you will think about for days after finishing the book!
Anonymous 9 months ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a storyline! Unique, absurd, and magnificently BRILLIANT! I don't know how this author comes up with such intriguing plots for her books, but I'm never disappointed.
MsGemini on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was a real page turner. I enjoyed the story from beginning to end. I really sympathized with the main character, CeeCee. I plan to read more of Diane Chamberlain.
momei on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A very interesting book with a good plot. I enjoyed the beginning and the end. The middle was a bit slow. I found myself angry with Cory because of way she turned on Eve/CeCe (besides a few other reasons). I really felt for Eve as a mother and how much she loved her daughter. Eve committed a crime but I felt sorry for her and I did not want her to go to jail. I think the author did a really good job with all the characters. I can not wait to read other books by this author.
bookweaver on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is absolutely horrible. Clunky plot, poorly characterized...and I didn't give two hoots about any of the characters by the end. I was happy to at least see that the book is set in Charlottesville, VA and at UVA...from which I have received 2 degrees...and she didn't even manage to catch any of the beauty of the area. She didn't try. I'm not sure she's every been to Charlottesville as the has the main character working at a student diner on "Main Street." "Main Street" Charlottesville is nowhere near UVA....I kept thinking something interesting was going to happy at the end, but nothing...she tied up all the loose threads in the most boring way imaginable. It's as though she worked at it! Don't waste your time.
jjmachshev on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What makes a mother? Genes? Childbirth? Love? And once a mother bonds with her child, is there anything that can break that bond? Diane Chamberlain¿s novel ¿The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes¿ gives us the story of a teenage mother and her child. But there¿s a lot more to it than just that and one small review can¿t possibly describe the incredible and fascinating twists and turns the story takes.CeeCee¿s mother died when she was just twelve. But she left her daughter a legacy of letters. Each letter intended for different days, some special some not, in CeeCee¿s future life. And each chapter in this book that¿s about CeeCee opens with quotes or paragraphs from one of those letters. An intelligent and gifted child, CeeCee completes her schooling early and is currently working towards getting into college and waiting tables when the book opens. But CeeCee is starving for love and naïve as only a 16 year old can be. Even when the reader sees the train wreck coming, you still wince and want to rail at CeeCee for her actions. Her love and longing for love results in her involvement in an unspeakable crime¿at 16. Now, she¿s on the run with a newborn and before she can figure a way out of this mess, she¿s in love again¿with the newborn she names Cory. Thus begins the live of Eve, formerly CeeCee.Eve lives as a single mother and eventually loves and marries. But she can never stop looking over her shoulder. And 26 years later, the dead mother¿s body is discovered. Now a man stands accused of murder and CeeCee/Eve is the only one who can prevent his death. To admit her involvement will destroy her family and their careers. To do nothing will destroy her.As I read this story, I found myself trying to think of what I would have done if I were CeeCee. Lured into something she would never have considered¿except for love. Forced into circumstances she could never have imagined¿except for love. Then trying to build a life and find some happiness. And finally having to make decisions I couldn¿t imagine in my worst nightmare. Does this make her strong? Or weak? Ms. Chamberlain¿s ability to blur the absolute lines of right and wrong is incredible. Her portrayal of life in a southern college town is scarily bang on. Her characters become people you know or people you would like to know, to talk to, to ask questions of. But you¿re still aware it¿s fiction. And you quietly thank whatever deity you prefer that it is. ¿the Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes¿ is about motherhood and mothers. It¿s about family and what makes a family. It¿s about love and forgiveness and repentance. This is a book I¿m glad I read. It made me think and made me reconsider absolutes. This is one I can¿t recommend highly enough for those who are looking for more than a quick escape read¿because this is surely not that. But it is a book that will draw out your emotions from one end of the scale to the other. And sometimes¿that¿s just what we need.
busyreadin on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting story of a young, naive, 16 year old who becomes involved in a kidnapping, and it's aftermath.
jamaicanmecrazy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can relate to Cee-Cee's insecurities and I can understand what drove her to make the disastrous choices that she made. However, I just felt the story was a bit too contrived to consider it great fiction. Not a bad read for a rainy day, especially if you don't want to hurt your brain.
countrylife on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An imaginative, though it seems to me, implausible, story, yet written in a way to keep me turning the pages just to see what would happen next. A pretty boy with pretty words. Give a lonely girl love to get something from her; in this case, her help with a crime. Then a newborn, a dead mother, an instantaneous decision, and a new life. The years roll on. Mothers and daughters, smothering love and insecurities. Secrets long-held, now revealed. A quick and satisfying winter read. Yet, I find that it hasn't stuck with me.
punxsygal on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A thorough engrossing story of a decision made and the lifelong consequences that result. A governor's young pregnant wife was kidnapped. Twenty-eight years later her remains are found and a man is charged with her murder. Only one person - CeeCee Wilkes - can refute the charges against him. But CeeCee Wilkes disappeared long ago.
ritakhavich on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What an emotional book! This was such an incredible story and I was totally immersed the whole time. This book was randomly suggested and I had no idea what to expect, but I'm so glad I read this. The story was different than any others I've read, it seemed realistic, and sad, even heart-wrenching at times but it was also heart-warming. Following complicated lives touched by crimes, love, lies and choices whose consequences spiraled out through family and other relationships. Families destroyed, families re-united, identities discovered, fears conquered but most of all, my heart touched. I actually cried and I would recommend this book to anyone in a heartbeat!
bookalover89 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Astounding and heart renching novel! Diane Chamberlain has the talent and heart in her stories.
CandyH on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a tremendous book! There are so many issues and values at work in this book--kidnapping, death, relationships, families, truth, honesty. But the greatest issue of this story is LOVE and the many ways it is displayed amongst the characters. A quote from one of the main characters, "You can never have peace if you are living a lie" portrays one of the most important themes of this story. This is well worth reading and keeps the reader interested right to the end.
Luv2Read76 More than 1 year ago
Such a great read. Makes you think about life's choices and how we are not the same people we were and what might happen to our lives changes based on who we are lucky (or unlucky) enough to meet along the way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You just want to scream "No! Don't do it!" Knowing the aweful direction the decision will lead• Captivating! TS
GranbyLibraryBookClub More than 1 year ago
In 1977, 16 year old CeeCee Wilkes made an incredibly bad decision that would change her life and the lives of others forever. She took part in a crime that went horribly wrong. CeeCee changed her identity for nearly 30 years and kept her past a secret. In the end the secret is exposed. This was a good story, although far fetched at times. Our group gave it 3 1/2 stars.