First dates can be murder.
"Ferociously smart." —AJ Finn
"Riveting." —Riley Sager
"Addictive." —Liv Constantine
"Wonderfully tense." —Aimee Molloy
"Irresistible." —Mary Kubica
"Impossible to put down." —Megan Miranda
Riveting and compulsive, national bestselling author Wendy Walker’s The Night Before “takes you to deep, dark places few thrillers dare to go” as two sisters uncover long-buried secrets when an internet date spirals out of control.
Laura Lochner has never been lucky in love. She falls too hard and too fast, always choosing the wrong men. Devastated by the end of her last relationship, she fled her Wall Street job and New York City apartment for her sister’s home in the Connecticut suburb where they both grew up. Though still haunted by the tragedy that’s defined her entire life, Laura is determined to take one more chance on love with a man she’s met on an Internet dating site.
Rosie Ferro has spent most of her life worrying about her troubled sister. Fearless but fragile, Laura has always walked an emotional tightrope, and Rosie has always been there to catch her. Laura’s return, under mysterious circumstances, has cast a shadow over Rosie’s peaceful life with her husband and young son – a shadow that grows darker as Laura leaves the house for her blind date.
When Laura does not return home the following morning, Rosie fears the worst. She’s not responding to calls or texts, and she’s left no information about the man she planned to meet. As Rosie begins a desperate search to find her sister, she is not just worried about what this man might have done to Laura. She’s worried about what Laura may have done to him…
|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.36(w) x 8.29(h) x 0.89(d)|
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Laura Lochner. Session Number One. Four Months Ago. New York City.
Laura: I don't know if this is a good idea.
Dr. Brody: It's up to you, Laura.
Laura: What if you try to fix me and I end up more broken?
Dr. Brody: What if you don't?
Laura: I'm scared to go back there. To the past. To that night in the woods. A piece is still missing.
Dr. Brody: It's up to you. Only you can decide.
Laura: It was in my hand. The weapon that killed him. But that night didn't change me. That night made me see what I've always been.
Dr. Brody: Then let's start there. Tell me about the girl you've always been.CHAPTER 2
Laura. Present Day. Thursday, 7 P.M. Branston, CT.
Lipstick, cherry red.
I choose the color because it's bright and cheerful. It's optimism in a tube. And that's exactly what I need tonight.
The guest bathroom at my sister's house is impossibly small, with slanted ceilings and a tiny oval mirror. The lipstick hovers on the edge of a pedestal sink.
I put it on first so I won't change my mind, rolling that optimism right across my lips. Next comes the concealer. Two stripes under my brown eyes, and the dark circles from weeks of insomnia disappear. Rose blush colors cheeks that have not seen the sun for far too long.
Insomniacs sleep during the day.
My sister, Rosie, gave me a pretty dress to wear. Black with tiny flowers.
Wear a dress for a change. It will make you feel pretty.
Rosie just turned thirty. She has a husband and a toddler — Joe and Mason. They have a house in the hills of Branston, six miles from downtown. And one mile from the place where all of this started. The street where we grew up. Deer Hill Lane.
Rosie says she doesn't have any occasion to wear the dress. The skirt gets in her way when she's chasing after Mason and she's too tired to do much of anything at night except grab a beer in the strip mall at the edge of town. She says this like she misses having nothing better to do than put on makeup and dresses. But really, she doesn't need the dress or the occasions to wear it, because her days are filled with bear hugs and belly laughs and sticky kisses on her face.
Her husband, Joe, doesn't care. He adores her. Even now, after thirteen years together. After growing up together on the same street. Even with Mason sleeping in their bed, and an old house in need of constant repair, and Rosie never wearing a dress.
He adores her because when they were young, she wore lots of pretty dresses for him and that's the person he still sees.
That's the kind of person I need to be tonight.
I search for my phone in a pile of towels and clothing that lie on the bathroom floor. When I do, I pull up the profile and unchain the hope. Jonathan Fields. His name sounds like a song.
Jonathan Fields. I found him on a dating website called findlove.com — an actual website. The name says everything about it. Jonathan Fields is forty. His wife left him a year ago because she couldn't get pregnant. She kept their house. He drives a black BMW.
That's what he told me.
Jonathan Fields spoke to me on the phone. He said he didn't like emails or texting because it was too impersonal. He said he hated online dating but that his friend met his fiancé on findlove.com. It was not one of those hookup apps. No swiping allowed. The profile takes an hour to build. They have to approve your photos. Jonathan Fields said it was like having your grandmother fix you up on a blind date, and this made me laugh.
Jonathan Fields said he liked the sound of it.
I liked the sound of his voice, and remembering it now actually sends a surge of warmth through my body. I feel my mouth turn up at the corners. A smile.
A fucking smile.
I told him a lot about my job, and this made it easier to tell him very little about me.
I have an impressive résumé after jumping through hoops all my life. Princeton ... an MBA from Columbia ... a job on Wall Street!
"Wall Street" is one of those terms that won't leave this world no matter how antiquated it's become. I work in Midtown, nowhere near Wall Street, which sits at the very bottom of Manhattan. And the firm I work at isn't quite as sexy as Goldman Sachs. I sit at a desk and read stuff and write stuff and hope to God it's not wrong, because other people at our firm will make trades and deals upon the advice I give. Me, a twenty-eight-year-old who needs a shrink to tell her how to behave.
Jonathan Fields works at a hedge fund downtown, so he understands about my work.
That's what he told me.
I didn't tell him about my childhood here, running wild in the woods behind our house with the neighborhood kids. Me and Rosie — and Joe, whose family lived up the street until he went to high school and they moved closer to town.
And I didn't tell him why I've stayed gone all these years.
I don't use social media, not ever, so it's not like he can check. I didn't tell him my father's last name. Lochner. Google still finds Laura Lochner and the things she did, or didn't do — they can never decide — years ago. I've used my middle name, my mother's last name, since I left this place. Heart. Laura Heart. Isn't that ironic? Named after the one thing inside me that feels broken.
Omissions are not lies.
Rosie took Joe's last name, Ferro, so there are no Lochners from our clan left in all of Connecticut.
I did tell him that I drive my sister's minivan. It's blue. And humiliating. I'm shopping for a new car, but I've just been so busy.
There's a knock at the door. I open it and find Joe looking at me sheepishly. He's still in his suit from his law office, but he's loosened his tie and undone the top button of his shirt. Joe stands six foot two and can barely see through the frame of the door without ducking. His stomach bulges at the waist of pants that have grown too small. But he still manages to be handsome.
"I'm supposed to tell you to wear the dress," Joe says, as though talking about women's clothing has just cut off his balls.
My sister's voice echoes from downstairs. "Wear the damn dress! The one I gave you!" Joe smiles and hands me the glass of bourbon he cradles in his hands. "The mouth on her, I'm telling you. Our kid is gonna be so fucked up."
I feel the smile growing and I want to cry. Joe loves my sister. She loves him. They both love Mason. Love, love, love. It's all around me, making me regret staying away so long. But then also reminding me why I have. The love is here, but it always feels just beyond my reach.
I take a sip of the bourbon.
"Yeah, well, that was a given, right? You married a Lochner," I say.
Joe rolls his eyes. Shakes his head. "I know. Is it too late to get out?"
Joe sighs. He glances at the dress hanging on the shower rod. "All right. Just wear the dress. And this guy — he'd better not be a douchebag or I will kick his ass so hard...."
I nod. "Got it. Dress. Ass kicking."
Then he adds, and my smile fades, "Are you sure you're ready for this?"
I've returned home because of a man, a breakup, and that's all they know about it. I haven't had the courage to tell them more. They're happy to have me back. More than happy. And I don't have the stomach to see that change by revealing another bad chapter in my life. The fact that they haven't pressed me for answers tells me they're expecting the worst — and that they don't really want to know. Maybe they need to believe I've changed as much as I do. Maybe we will now be a normal family because I'll stop being me.
Still, I know it must seem a bit extreme, taking a leave of absence from a competitive job, a grown woman moving in with her sister, just because of that. One breakup, and with a man they'd never met or even heard of. How serious could it have been? I feel this question seeping from Rosie's skin every second of every day.
I consider Joe's question. Am I ready for this? I look at him and shrug. "Probably not," I say.
Joe replies with sarcasm. "Awesome."
We had this same conversation before I came upstairs. Joe walked in circles, wiping counters, listening to the hum of the dishwasher, feeling satisfied that he'd put everything back in order after being at work all day. (He's neat. Rosie is not.) He's a happy hamster running on his wheel.
Just have fun. Don't make too much of it. I would walk across glass to be free for a night!
Rosie punched the side of his arm, and he sighed dramatically like he was nostalgic for his single life. They both like to do this. Rosie in the kitchen making me coffee, complaining about the long day ahead. Joe in the kitchen at night, just the two of us, each having a bourbon, pulling back his floppy black hair so I can see the receding of his hairline. Look! he says. Can't you see it! I'm balding from boredom!
But all I see is the truth. I see it when they fold Mason in their arms, or steal a kiss when they think they're alone. It's all just talk.
It's the way happy people talk when they want to make the rest of us feel better.
Our friend Gabe was over as well, lending advice. Gabe was the fourth lifelong compatriot in our childhood band of thieves. He lived right next door with his parents and older brother, until the brother went to military school and then enlisted in the army. Now Gabe lives in that same house where he grew up. He bought it from his mother after his father died and she moved to Florida.
It's odd how the three of them are all still here. Right where I left them a decade ago.
Gabe got married just last year to a woman he met through work. Melissa. She was a client of his, but he never talks about that because it's awkward and unseemly — his words. Gabe does IT forensics, sometimes for suspicious spouses like Melissa had been when they first met. He found the evidence that led to her divorce and now she's married to Gabe.
He's happy, but not the kind of happy that makes you talk shit about it. I imagine it will take more than a baby to get him there. Melissa was broken, and Gabe likes to fix things — people, especially. But Melissa is an outsider to Rosie and Joe, and to me now that I've come home. She moved here from Vermont to be with her first husband and now she's here for Gabe. It's difficult to see her in three dimensions.
It doesn't help that she is tolerated here rather than welcome, though we all try to hide it. She's tall and stick thin and that makes Rosie feel short and fat, even at five four and 130 pounds. Melissa doesn't like how much Joe swears, her back arching every time he drops the f-bomb. Which, of course, makes Joe say it more. He managed to use it four times in one sentence last week at a barbecue. And me — well, I'm a single woman with a lifetime of stories lived with her husband. She's too simpleminded to understand our friendship.
So, as Joe says every time she leaves and wants Gabe to follow, Fuck her. The band of thieves from Deer Hill Lane is a tough crowd.
Gabe stayed today, after Melissa left. He gave me a cheese-ball wink and said something encouraging like, Laura will eat this guy for lunch. She's always been fierce and fearless.
I tried to smile. But the truth is, I left a great job because a man broke my heart. Not so fierce and fearless after all, am I? Not exactly Lara Croft or Jessica Jones, kicking ass and taking names. Men falling at my feet — but I have no time for them because I have to save the world.
This talk, like the ones before it, stopped before we got to the good part. To the bad things this fierce and fearless girl has done. Right here, in this town.
Mason calls out for Joe. His voice melts my heart. Rosie probably put him up to it. I can hear her — Mason — go call for Daddy! She's enjoying a glass of wine.
Joe rolls his eyes.
"Want me to leave the bourbon?" Joe asks.
"Which one of us needs it more?" I reply.
Joe takes the bourbon and leaves me with the dress and the makeup.
And the mirror.
I did not find Jonathan Fields right away. I was a novice on findlove.com and did everything wrong. The first mistake was being honest in describing myself. I said I was independent but compromising. I preferred tequila to chardonnay,scuba diving to sunbathing,sneakers to high heels. I said I didn't know if I wanted children. Cringe.
And the worst, most colossal mistake — the pictures. They were current and unfiltered. Me on a hike with an old friend. Me playing with Mason on the front lawn. Me standing in the kitchen in a T-shirt, my mousy brown hair in a ponytail. No boobs showing, not even my poor excuse for them.
I thought they were attractive — the pictures, that is (I'm not a good judge of boobs). All of it, the entire profile, was me. The old me.
When we were just kids who ran through the woods like hooligans, thoughts of romantic love a million years away, our mother used to hold court in our kitchen. One day Rosie and I came inside undetected. I can't recall what we needed from the house, but we stopped at the foot of the kitchen door when we overheard her say my name to Gabe's mother, Mrs. Wallace. I was six, Rosie eight. They were drinking coffee.
I don't know. ... She was just born that way. Born with fists for hands. It's hard to love a girl like that.
I've never forgotten it, that expression. Fists for hands. Or the conclusion she'd come to about my fate. Rosie pulled me away, back outside, where we were free and easy. She made a joke about it, about how our mother was always wrong about everything, anyway. Rosie was trying to protect me from words that should have been hurtful, but all I remember feeling was a sense of pride that our mother had bothered to see me at all. I had always felt invisible to her.
We never spoke of it again — about how hard it was to love me. Rosie got her hands on Joe and held on to him like the golden ring at the carousel. And I rejected everything remotely feminine, beating it all away with my fists for hands. The color pink. Smiles. Dresses.
In the race for love, she learned to walk and I'm still crawling. Though she's never stopped trying to teach me.
I find my reflection in the tiny oval mirror and give it a look of admonishment. My brown eyes and mousy hair.
No, no, no.
Nope. No looking back. Lipstick, cherry red ... Old Laura woke up every morning to an empty mailbox on findlove.com. Not a wink or like or message. So, in spite of the worry Rosie hides behind smiles, she helped me change my profile and the new me got a date with Jonathan Fields.
I put on the dress, wrapping it around my body and tying it at the waist. We've always been the same size, though Rosie has boobs and curves and high cheekbones and gold highlights that light up her face. Sometime I think I willed those things away too, when I was a little girl. Still, I let myself look in the mirror and see what I knew I would see. It is pretty. I am pretty.
I put on the one pair of high heels that's not in a box in the basement. Black pumps. I can't stop now.
Dark circles erased. Lips bright red. Rosy cheeks. Pretty dress. I'm feminine and fun-loving. Smart but obedient. Ready to move into some man's life like a new piece of furniture. I look just as good in jeans as I do in a black cocktail dress. That's what men say they want. That's what women say they are.
It feels dishonest, but what I feel doesn't matter. Not tonight.
Rosie has been teaching me — how to be sexy but not sleazy. How to be smart but not intimidating.
It's a game, Laura. Do what you have to do to get the first date. Then you can be yourself. People don't know what they want until it's right in front of them.
Yes. That's true.
Joe was more pragmatic.
Men don't read the profiles. They look at the pictures and measure their hard-ons.
Sometimes I think I will lose my mind trying to understand. The shrink told me that I would find it here, at home. The answer to this question about me and men. Me and love. Why I lack the skills to find it, and why I beat it away when it finds me. Me with my fists for hands. The girl no one can love. So here I am.
Our mother was beautiful and she did everything that was asked of her. She would have killed it on findlove.com. Even so, our father left her when I was twelve. He left her, left us, for a woman who was older than our mother. A woman who didn't wear dresses. He left us and moved to Boston with her. Now our mother lives alone in California, still trying to get past that first date.
Our father's name was Richard. He hated when people called him Dick, for the obvious reason.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Night Before"
Copyright © 2019 Wendy Walker.
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
Chapter One: Laura Lochner. Session Number One. Four Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Two: Laura. Present Day. Thursday, 7 P.M. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Three: Rosie Ferro. Present Day. Friday, 5 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Four: Laura. Session Number Six. Three Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Five: Laura. The Night Before. Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Six: Rosie. Present Day. Friday, 5:30 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Seven: Laura. Session Number Two. Four Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Eight: Laura. The Night Before. Thursday, 8 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Nine: Rosie. Present Day. Friday, 11 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Ten: Laura. Session Number Seven. Three Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Eleven: Laura. The Night Before. Thursday, 9 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Twelve: Rosie. Present Day. Friday, 12 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Thirteen: Laura. Session Number Nine. Two Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Fourteen: Laura. The Night Before. Thursday, 9:30 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Fifteen: Rosie. Present Day. Friday, 2:45 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Sixteen: Laura. Session Number Eight. Three Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Seventeen: Laura. The Night Before. Thursday, 10 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Eighteen: Rosie. Present Day. Friday, 11 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Nineteen: Laura. Session Number Eleven. Two Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Twenty: Laura. The Night Before. Thursday, 10:30 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Twenty-One: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 2 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Twenty-Two: Laura. Session Number Thirteen. Two Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Twenty-Three: Laura. The Night Before. Thursday, 11 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Twenty-Four: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 8:30 a.m. New York City.,
Chapter Twenty-Five: Laura. Session Number Fourteen. Seven Weeks Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Twenty-Six: Laura. The Night Before. Thursday, 11:30 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 10 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Laura. Session Number Three. Four Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Laura. The Night Before. Friday, 12 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Thirty: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 10:30 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Thirty-One: Laura. Session Number Ten. Two Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Thirty-Two: Laura. The Night Before. Friday, 12:45 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Thirty-Three: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 11 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Thirty-Four: Laura. Session Number Twelve. Two Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Thirty-Five: Laura. The Night Before. Friday, 1 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Thirty-Six: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 1 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Thirty-Seven: Laura. Session Number Fifteen. Six Weeks Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Thirty-Eight: Laura. The Night Before. Friday, 1:15 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Thirty-Nine: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 1:30 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Forty: Laura. Session Number Five. Three Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Forty-One: Laura. The Night Before. Friday, 1:30 a.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Forty-Two: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Forty-Three: Laura. Session Number Sixteen. Six Weeks Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Forty-Four: Laura. Present Day. Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Forty-Five: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 4 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Forty-Six: Laura. Present Day. Saturday, 4:15 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Forty-Seven: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 4:20 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Forty-Eight: Laura. Present Day. Saturday, 4:25 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Forty-Nine: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 4:25 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Fifty: Laura. Present Day. Saturday, 4:30 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Fifty-One: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 4:30 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Fifty-Two: Laura. Present Day. Saturday, 4:30 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Fifty-Three: Rosie. Present Day. Saturday, 4:32 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Fifty-Four: Laura. Present Day. Saturday, 4:35 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Chapter Fifty-Five: Laura. Before the Sessions. Five Months Ago. New York City.,
Chapter Fifty-Six: Laura. Present Day. Saturday, 10 p.m. Branston, CT.,
Also by Wendy Walker,
About the Author,