Turning thirty isn’t easy for
Briella Logan didn’t expect it
to be so traumatic.
Just weeks before her dreaded day, the restaurant which Briella has loved for years is reduced to ash—taking with it the young life of Annalise: a coworker, frenemy, and ex-girlfriend to Brie’s best friend. Despite the fire being ruled an accident, Brie’s instincts tell her otherwise, especially after being questioned by the police herself.
Concentrating on crime proves difficult, however, when an old flame from high school, Paul, makes her a generous job offer and the irresistible Liam lands in Tennessee. Brie finds herself caught in a flurry of secrets between her past and her future and suddenly instead of celebrating with champagne, Brie is hiding at the bottom of a tequila bottle.
When the smoke finally clears, will there be justice? And will Brie finally believe in happily ever after?
After hurling my guts up, my back hit the cold, tiled wall of the bathroom stall. I sank slowly to the floor, completely spent and defeated. Tears bitterly stung my face and my head pounded. I tried to be quiet. I wanted no one to hear me, much less see me, slumped over a commode with bits of cheap toilet paper clinging to my face and snot running out of my nose. My elbow rested where some stranger’s ass had been, likely more recently than any cleaning product, but I didn’t care. I was glad to be locked in that tiny stall, all on my own, no eyes on me. “What’s wrong dear?” Some frail, shaky voice asked me from outside the thin door. I knew I wasn’t being as quiet as I had hoped.
I blew my nose into yet another wad of tissue and then, in an unladylike manner, wiped it with the back of my hand. “Nothing, I’m fine,” I said, but I broke out into another round of wailing, with no hope of hiding it. The tears burned my raw face like little drops of hot candle wax. It hurt so much to cry. But despite my best efforts, the tears kept rolling. I had no idea how long she had held onto my hand before I realized it. I started to pull away, but for some reason I may never understand, I didn’t.
After drying my eyes carefully, I saw the hand, while wrinkled, was perfectly manicured and wearing several exquisite rings. Whoever happened to be out there was concerned enough to sit on a nasty bathroom floor and touch the hand of a complete stranger. Either they were extraordinarily kind, or I sounded exponentially more pathetic than I thought.
Inexplicably, the anonymous guardian kept vigil outside my stall door, showing no indication of letting go for a solid fifteen minutes. I heard people come in and whisper, but The Guardian would clear her throat and the whispering would cease. Occasionally she would tell me things would be okay, but she didn’t ask me anything else. I already had my fill of questions, and I knew they were just beginning. When she took her hand off of mine, she slid a pack of tissue, a tube of lip balm, a peppermint, and a business card for a shrink under the door. She circled the phone number in red ink, and on the back she had written “The Sun Will Shine Again.” I tried to get up, I wanted to thank The Guardian, but my legs had gone to sleep. By the time I got up and did a half-assed job of wiping up the toilet seat, and gathered my new belongings, she had vanished without a trace, without so much as a peep. I washed my face, threw away the bandage from my arm, and braced myself before walking back out into the busy police department.
“You okay?” John asked me. He was leaning against the wall right outside the bathroom door, waiting on me dutifully like any good best friend would. I nodded, and busied myself with trying to spy anyone who might have belonged to the tender hand who had helped me regain my composure. I popped the peppermint into my mouth, and I made a bee line toward the door. Things were moving so fast; my life had become entirely too complicated. Before I pushed through to the outside world, I turned and made one last-ditch effort to find The Guardian. At the very least, I felt I owed them a thank you, but to no avail.
While John and I walked back to the car, I debated whether I should call the number on the card. “Should I see a shrink?” I asked out loud, but I didn’t mean to. John looked at me and shrugged. I tried to put my sunglasses on, but they hurt too much. Everything hurt too much. All I wanted was to go to sleep and wake as the old, lonely spinster I was apparently destined to be.
There was no way I had as many butterflies in my stomach when I’d gone on my first date as I did when John dropped me off at the psychologist’s office. Not that I had anything to compare it to, but it was a nice office, if a bit dwarfed by the rest of Philadelphia’s downtown. How did I get here? Never in a million years would I have guessed I’d rest my head in Philly. But if one more person said anything to me about deities or life working in mysterious ways, I would scream loud enough to be heard back home in Tennessee.
I had refused to allow John to sit around and wait on me; he’d already uprooted his own life enough, so I sent him on his way. But it didn’t take long for me to regret that decision. For the first time in a couple of weeks, I was on my own—I hadn’t counted on how scary that would be. My ears pulsated and my cheeks burned. I sat in the corner and pretended to look at the magazine in front of my face—but my attention was anywhere else in the room. I was still so jumpy, over-analyzing every shadow, every glance from a stranger, and every footstep.
When I heard my name called, I held my breath for as long as I could, long enough my body tingled and my head went fuzzy. I was about to tell my story. Again.
“Briella, I’m glad you kept our appointment today.” The therapist smiled politely and poured me a glass of water. I had canceled twice before. I was shocked, as she must have been, I hadn’t canceled for a third time.
I eased back onto the oversized leather couch and took a sip from the paper cup. “Thank you.” My insides twisted and frothed as she sat across from me with her yellow legal pad. She arranged a few pens and pencils on the table next to her and cleared her throat. I looked at my nails and wished I hadn’t bitten them to the nubs because I wanted nothing more than to bite something.
“I’m ready when you are, Briella. What would you like to talk about today?”
I huffed and barely stopped myself from rolling my eyes. “You know, I’m kind of tired of talking about it.” I found a thread on my jeans and decided picking at it would have to suffice.
“We can talk about whatever you want.” She put the tip of her pen onto her paper, crossed her legs, and for several minutes she remained patient while I gathered my thoughts.
“I’m numb without him,” I blurted and was astonished to discover my cheeks were still dry. I figured I was all cried out; perhaps I was a freak of nature who had a finite number of tears and I had used them all up the last couple of weeks. It seemed plausible. “I wish I could bring him back.”
She scribbled, and scribbled, and scribbled. She sure seemed to have a lot to write after I had said so little; I needed more threads to pick at. “Let’s talk about him, then. Why don’t you take me to the beginning?” she asked.
“Everything is confidential and doesn’t leave this room?”
“That’s how it works,” she said with a half-smile.
I sighed, ripped the loosened thread from my jeans, and looked her in the eye for the first time in several minutes. “I guess I’ll start with the night of the fire.”