Read an Excerpt
Sean was already pulling his shirt off over his head as he came into the bedroom.
I held up a corner of the comforter as an invitation. But not too far. The damp of a drizzly week had seeped into the house.
He stepped out of his jeans and then slid in beside me.
I nestled against him. Felt him cringe as my cold feet brushed up against him.
He pulled me into his embrace. "One of these days, they're going to fall off." He nuzzled my neck.
I wrapped my arms around him. "They already did. These are the replacements."
I felt his lips curl into a smile as he kissed me again. Sean was doing that thing he does — the one that made my toes curl — when my phone twanged out the beginning notes of "Sweet Home Alabama."
I gripped his shoulder and tried my best to ignore the phone because married sex was my personal holy grail. Always elusively tantalizing, just out of reach. I'd even put it on Sean's weekend to-do list, just after "sharpen the knives'" and right before "fix the sink." It was okay because our son, Sam, was still in preschool; he didn't know how to read. That afternoon, however, our window of opportunity was about to come sliding down right on top of our fingers. Sam was down for the count due to a cold, though I expected him to wake up soon.
But the phone kept ringing.
The drums started thumping and the cymbals clashed.
I must have wavered because Sean folded me within his arms. "Georgie. Don't." He nibbled at my neck. "If you want me to, I'll throw the phone across the room for you."
"No! Shh. You'll wake up Sam —"
He rolled over me, switching our positions, leaving me on top.
"— and he needs the sleep to get over that cold he's been fighting."
When I put a hand to his chest and stretched for the phone, he captured my reaching arm and planted a kiss on the inside of my wrist. "She doesn't know we hear her. We could be at the mall. We could be having drinks with friends. We could be at the movies." He kissed me on the lips. "We could be doing this."
His hypnotic brown eyes began to sway me, and then mercifully, the phone stopped twanging.
He relaxed; I relaxed. Things were just getting interesting again when the phone erupted with a drum cadence that quickly segued into a marching version of "You're a Grand Old Flag."
Both of them were calling me? That wasn't a good sign. I shifted beneath Sean. "Just give me a minute, then —"
"We're in the middle of something here."
"I know." I sat up, trying to pull the sheet with me. "I know. I'm sorry." I stretched for the phone.
Sean gave up and rolled toward his side of the bed.
I swept my hair from my face with one hand as I answered. "Dad. Hi."
"Peach? Your mother wants to talk to you."
"I know. I heard. But I couldn't —"
"Do me a favor. You know how she is. Call her." He hung up before I could say anything else.
Couldn't he have just passed her his phone? Or told me what she wanted?
Sean was right. I shouldn't have answered.
But in the interest of forestalling another interruption, I returned my mother's call.
"Georgia Ann?" Her Southern accent hadn't mellowed with age. Come to think of it, nothing about her had mellowed with age.
"Hi. Sorry, I just —"
"Did you get that picture I texted you from the magazine? The one of that hairstyle? That model has the same long nose you do, and I've been telling you for practically forever that —"
I sent a glance over my shoulder in Sean's direction as she continued to speak.
He lifted one of his black brows and then settled on his back, folding his arms behind his head.
"Well? Did you?" "Sorry.
"The hairstyle. The one I sent you."
"It kind of looked more like a wig."
Sean sighed and closed his eyes.
"Extensions, I think. But that wouldn't be so bad, would it? You're so busy with Sam. A few extensions would give it some body. And you wouldn't have to mess with it. Besides, if you find someone who can match colors, how could anyone ever guess?"
I cupped my hand around my mouth when I answered, trying to keep Sean from hearing what I'd given up sex for. "I am not getting extensions." And my nose wasn't that big. "And I'm kind of in a hurry. Can I call you back later?"
"I just wanted you to be the first to hear the good news. Your father heard it straight from Scott Edwards."
"From Scottie. The secretary of defense?"
"Right." That Scottie Edwards.
"He's resigning. Might not even hold out to the end of the year and ..." She chattered on.
I'd given up sex for military gossip? I hated myself. I really did. And I wouldn't have blamed Sean for hating me too.
"And guess what?"
"Mom, I really don't have time right now."
"I'll just tell you: The president has taken Scottie's suggestion of nominating your father as his replacement—"
"Great! That's great. Dad must be really—"
"— so we'll be moving to DC."
"DC? Wow!" DC? No! I was a big girl, all grown up with a family of my own until my parents appeared. And then? I might as well be ten years old again. At least in my mother's view.
Sean's brows had collapsed.
I answered his unasked question with a look of horror even as I replied to my mother. "I don't know what to say."
"I know! It's all so exciting. I knew you'd be happy for your father. Speaking of, he'd like to talk to Sean sometime."
"I'll let Sean know, okay? But really, I need to go."
"Say no more." Punctuality was one of the virtues my mother held sacred. Right up there with Respect for Your Elders, Patriotism, and Really Good Hair Dye. "We can talk tomorrow."
I was just about to sign off when her words registered. "Tomorrow?"
"When we get there."
"To DC. We fly in around three."
"You're coming here? Tomorrow?"
"We'll let you know when we land. Can't wait to see you!"
I switched my phone to silent then burrowed back under the covers and scooted over to Sean's side of the bed. I told myself not to worry about their visit. I would deal with them when they showed up.
"They're not going to call again, are they?" Sean shifted to face me and ran his hands up my arms.
"They ... uh ... they might."
"Hmm?" He was nuzzling my ear again.
"They might call back. Mom said Dad wanted to talk to you." I nipped at his neck. Pressed closer.
"I don't know." I pulled his face toward mine and kissed him. "They'll be here tomorrow though; he'll probably tell you then. Sounds like he's going to be the next secretary of defense."
Sean kissed me back. "Sorry. What?"
I traced the tattoo that ran around his bicep. "Secretary of defense. Scott Edwards is going to resign. The president's going to nominate my father to take his place."
"Mommy?" Sam's plaintive cry filtered through the door.
We froze and then sprang apart as if we were teenagers about to be caught by our parents.
* * *
By the time Sam emerged from the cozy burrow he'd made in his bed, Sean was already at the front door, sliding his feet into his old hiking boots.
Sam ran over to him. Somewhere between his room and the front hall, one of his socks had come off. His honey-colored hair stuck up in back where it had been pressed against the pillow. "Where are you going? Can I go?"
Sean held something up, then shoved it into his pocket. "Have to fix the sink." He glanced up as I approached. "Isn't that what comes next?"
I'd put it on the list to jog his memory. He'd told me back when we first moved in that he would fix it. I was trying my best not to nag.
"If I'm going to do it, I need to find the right parts."
Sam was hopping up and down. "Can I go?"
"Not today. Too cold out. Stay with Mom and keep warm."
Sam gave me the side-eye. The look said, in no uncertain terms, that staying home with Mom was not a very good consolation prize.
I cleared my throat. "Um ..."
Sean turned toward me as he zipped up his coat.
"Can we circle back to the things on the list that we didn't quite get to finish?" I felt so sneaky, talking in code.
The corner of his mouth quirked. "We could just push them back to next weekend. Make a new list."
"No. We can't."
He wanted to laugh. I could tell. But he laid a hand on Sam's head. "Let's play Legos when I get back, Super Sam." He sent me a glance. "And maybe we can check a few more things off your mom's list too."
He leaned over Sam to kiss me and then walked out the door.
* * *
Two hours later, Sean still hadn't returned.
I tried his phone.
It went to voice mail.
Hey. It's Sean. Let me know where to reach you so I can give you a call back.
I wandered into the kitchen and eyed the faucet, wondering if whatever Sean had taken with him would keep it from running. A careful turn of the handles showed it hadn't made any difference.
Rain was pummeling the window above the sink. At least I wasn't out in it the way Sean was. But even so, our old 1920s bungalow came with a built-in draft that circulated about two inches above the floor. It also came with twelve-foot ceilings. Draft; high ceilings. Life was a trade-off.
Sam was hungry and I couldn't delay dinner forever, so I dished us up our servings and we ate together in front of the TV exactly the way I swore to my mother that I never did.
When I tried to steer him toward bed later, he balked. "Dad said we'd play Legos."
"And you will. But it's your bedtime soon and you can't play if you're asleep."
I put a hand on his head to calm him. "I know he did. He'll kiss you when he comes back. And I'm sure he'd love to play with you tomorrow."
As Sam finished up the episode of his TV show, I called Sean's phone again. He didn't pick up.
Eventually, I shooed Sam down the hall to his room. Once prayers were said and one ... two ... three stories read, I kissed him good night and then curled up on the couch in the living room, pulling a blanket over me. Our dog lifted her head, eyeing me as if wondering whether it would be worth the effort to join me.
Shifting, I parted the curtains and stared out past the front porch into the night. Raindrops glittered like tracer bullets as they fell through the streetlight's diameter, but the light's glow didn't illuminate the ground. It just left silvery smudges on the asphalt.
I let the curtains settle back into place. Tried to talk myself out of the uneasiness that was starting to flutter around in my gut.
Finding a part for an old faucet at one of those home warehouse stores couldn't be easy. But calling me wouldn't have been hard.
I wished it would stop raining.
Drivers in the DC area were notorious. "Powdered Idiots," Sean called them. "Just add water."
Our dog, Alice, huffed a sigh.
She flicked an ear. I wouldn't have called a 150-pound mastiff Alice, but she'd already had the name when we got her.
I'd just started reading a well-thumbed copy of my favorite Asimov novel when I heard footsteps on the stairs outside.
My apprehension lifted away like a helium-filled balloon. Throwing off the blanket, I vaulted toward the door, ready to shush Sean. Sam didn't usually wake up after he'd fallen asleep, but wouldn't it have been just our luck for him to do it that night?
I yanked the door open. "Shh! You're going to —
"It wasn't Sean.
Two men dressed in identical blue uniforms, each holding a rain-flecked hat, stood in front of me. Their faces were sallow in the porch light. "Mrs. Brennan?"
Alice had gotten up and ambled over to see what was happening. As she nudged me aside with a push of her head to my hip, the men took a step back.
"There's been an accident."
I leaned out over Alice and glanced up and down the rain-slicked street. An accident? "Where?" I hadn't heard any sirens. Didn't see any flashing lights.
They exchanged a glance. "Not here. In Falls Church."
"Then why are you —" Realization hit me with the impact of a sledgehammer. "Sean?" With his name came the last bit of air I had in my lungs. Clearing my throat, I tried to swallow an enormous lump of fear. "Is he all right? Where is he?"
"His car was hit. He didn't survive." They exchanged a glance. "We're sorry."
"What are you saying?" I looked from one to the other, trying to decode their words because I couldn't understand them. "Sean's not dead. That can't be what you're saying because he's not — no. No, it's just — he just went to get a part." I was so cold all of a sudden.
Alice stepped forward onto the porch, moving the men farther away from the door.
I had to try several times before I could force more words out. "It was a part for the faucet. It's not working. He took the part off so he could match it, to get a replacement. Only sometimes it's not easy because everything in the house is so old. Sometimes there aren't any replacements. Or they have to be special-ordered. It can take a while. So he's not dead. It's just taking a while. He said he'd be back."
"I'm sorry, Mrs. Brennan. Can we come in?"
I felt like I should offer them something. You didn't invite some- one into your home and not offer them something. Not if you were raised properly; not if you were raised by my mother. "Can I ...?" Having made it into the living room, I thought for a moment before remembering what it was I wanted to ask them. "Tea? Coffee? Would you like something?"
My teeth were starting to chatter. I clenched my jaw to try to stop them. But then my mother's training kicked in and I opened my mouth again. "Could you, would you like to ..." I disguised a full-body shudder by gesturing toward the Alice-distressed brown-leather couch that sat in front of the window. "Please."
"We just need to ask you a few questions."
I heard what they said. I must have. I remember answering questions. And I must have asked them some in return because they told me what they knew.
The accident was a hit-andrun.
Sean's car was totaled.
He was dead.
They handed me a card with the phone number of the medical examiner's office. Asked me to go the next day to identify the body. As they were leaving, one of them paused in the doorway. "Will you be okay, ma'am?"
Sean was dead.
"What?" What was he saying? His mouth was moving, but I couldn't hear any words.
He put a hand to my arm.
I looked down at it.
"Is there someone we can call for you?"
I looked back up at him. "No. Yes." What was the question again? "No. No, I'll be fine. I just have to ..." My hand was groping for something to hold on to. It found something. A leash. I seized it. Held it up. "If you'll excuse me? It's getting late. I have to walk the dog now. Before I go to bed."
* * *
I didn't normally walk Alice at night. Sean did. But if he wasn't . ... if he didn't ... Alice needed someone to take her out. Sam was sleep- ing; there was no need to wake him. I only went down to the end of the block. I'd forgotten to take my umbrella but I had remembered my phone. I called Sean again, willing him to answer, willing for it all to be a mistake.
It kept going to voice mail.
Hey. It's Sean. Let me know where to reach you so I can give you a call back.
I didn't know what else to do, so I just kept calling, waiting for him to pick up.
When I got back to the house, I decided to try a different number. I called my mother instead.
"Mom? They told me Sean died."
"Sean died. Sean's dead, Mom. He died."
She gasped. "What?" It was a guttural, Southern whut.
"He went to the store to get a part for the faucet and his car was hit and he died. Mom?" I'd made a list in my head while I was walking Alice. There were things I needed to do. Lots of them. I just couldn't remember what they were right then. "Mom? What do I do? I'm not sure. I don't know what to do now."
"You just hold yourself together."
"We were flying in tomorrow anyway. I'll call and make them put us on an earlier flight."
"I just keep thinking I should have fixed the faucet. I could have fixed it when we first moved in and none of this would have happened. I've always been better at fixing things than he is."
"Georgia Ann, you listen to me, do you hear?"
"This is not your fault."
Not my fault. She sounded so sure of it that I wanted to believe her.
"Mommy?" The call came from the hall. "Mommy?" It was Sam.
I closed my eyes. I hadn't even thought of Sam. What was I going to tell him? What was I supposed to tell our son?
"Georgia Ann? Are you still there? Georgia Ann! What's happening?"
"Mommy?" Sam appeared at the entrance to the living room, bleary-eyed and pale, sniffling from his cold. "Mommy? Where's Daddy? He was supposed to kiss me when he came home."
I was sitting in the conference room at work surreptitiously trying to write my grocery list while my boss, Ted, was talking about our upcoming two-day red-team exercise. We were supposed to be playing devil's advocate on a group of proposals to make sure we weren't so in love with them that we'd overlooked the obvious or failed to anticipate our customers' criticisms. But Sam and I had just gotten back from a weekend trip we'd taken with my parents to the Eastern Shore and the refrigerator was bare.
I'd been doing better handling my parents in small doses since Sean had died. My father passed through DC regularly to visit companies on whose boards he sat and for whom he served as a consultant on classified projects. The trip to the shore, however, had been about a day too long. They just would not let up on trying to get Sam and me to move in with them once my father got confirmed as secretary of defense. They had bombarded me with a barrage of reasons throughout the weekend.
Excerpted from "State of Lies"
Copyright © 2019 Siri Mitchell.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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.