Read The Guilty One Online

Authors: Sophie Littlefield

The Guilty One

Praise for
The Missing Place

“Sophie Littlefield is a regular writing machine. The two mothers are the unlikeliest of buddies, but when they learn how to work together they're positively ferocious—and as brave as any of those macho guys up on the rigs.”

—New York Times Book Review

“Littlefield's writing shines.”

—The Boston Globe

“Edgar Award nominee Littlefield deftly contrasts Shay's and Colleen's experiences and prejudices . . . A satisfying, icy thriller.”

—Kirkus Reviews

“Seizes you . . . from its first pages and never lets you go. . . . A remarkable novel.”

—Megan Abbott, bestselling author of
The Fever
and
Dare Me

“I read this in one sitting, unable to leave the fray.”

—Suspense Magazine

“Moving . . . Littlefield maximizes the emotional impact of her character-driven cautionary tale.”

—Publishers Weekly

“Really good read. Readers will admire the tenacity of the lead characters, who must work through their differences . . . to find strength and answers together.”

—Fitness Magazine

”At once sad, frustrating, hopeful and enduring.”

—The Bismarck Tribune

“A novel steeped in secrets and unspoken truths.”

—Christina Baker Kline, #1
New York Times
bestselling author of
Orphan Train

“A powerful portrait of grief, fear, and courage as two mothers fight for truth.”

—C. J. Lyons,
New York Times
bestselling author of
Farewell to Dreams

“Taut and suspenseful, fierce and compelling—
The Missing Place . . .
doesn't let up until the last page is, breathtakingly, turned.”

—Jennie Shortridge, author of
Love Water Memory

”A remarkable story of the unlikely friendship between two women desperately searching for their missing sons, told as only Sophie Littlefield can: with depth, humor, and honesty.
The Missing Place
is a compelling and perceptive examination of just how far a mother will go to save her child.”

—Carla Buckley, author of
The Deepest Secret
and
The Things That Keep Us Here

Praise for
House of Glass

”4.5 stars Top Pick—A book that you'll be unable to put down once you start!”

—RT Book Reviews

”Solid . . . Littlefield is adept at character development, so even the familiar is nuanced.”

—Publishers Weekly

”Intense and captivating . . . Littlefield did an amazing job making it realistic, brutal, and addicting.”

—JulzReads

”Danger and suspense explode through Littlefield's writing.”

—A Twist on a Classic Tale

Praise for
The Garden of Stones

”This book is a searing depiction of what can happen when authorities have a captive population at their mercy; of how lives are altered forever, even after wars are long over. 5 stars.”

—San Francisco Book Review

”This mesmerizing tale explores America's too often forgotten horrific treatment of its own citizens during World War II. A story of unspeakable injustice and bitter sacrifice, it will leave you shaken.”

—RT Book Reviews

”Suspense, mystery, and love drive the intricate plot in this moving drama . . . the shocking revelation is unforgettable.”

—Booklist

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For all the people,

In all the rooms,

With their mistakes and their scars,

Who showed me the way to go on.

acknowledgments

EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES DEMANDED
extra measures of compassion and faith this time around, and I can't adequately express my gratitude to those who somehow both kept me close and gave me room. Barbara and Abby—I've rewritten this sentence a dozen times, and I still can't find the words to thank you. Dana, you may have thought I didn't notice all the times you covered for me, but I did. I won't forget. Stephanie and Marla, thank you for keeping all the balls in the air.

My patient friends—especially Rachael, Julie, and Roseann—you sustained me. You forgave my extended trip into the cave, and I was so glad you were there when I came out again. To my family, thank you for sharing my burden, forgiving my many faults, and being there when you were needed. Love abides. My children: you are everything, always.

one

HOW WAS SHE
supposed to choose among these treasures? A photo in a tarnished frame. A ceramic dish made by small hands, thickly glazed, signed with a wobbly
C
. A silver teaspoon with a design of roses, one of a set her sister now owned but never used. Maris picked up each object and set it down again on the cold, smooth expanse of marble in the master bathroom of the house she was leaving today.

“Mar?”

The voice startled her—it didn't belong here. Hadn't in a while. In two weeks and five days, in fact: he left on a Tuesday, which she remembered because he didn't even take the bins to the curb one last time. As though, having made up his mind, he was excused and exempt from every responsibility of the life that once connected them. As she dragged the bins back up the driveway that evening, she'd imagined their marriage as a wicker basket, the strands now broken and sprung, the bottom about to give way. But unlike Jeff, she had expected to shatter.
Wouldn't you?
she'd thought despairingly, watching the quiet street through the bedroom window, as her neighbors came home from their jobs, their errands, their exercise classes and children's playdates.
Wouldn't you have broken too
?

“I JUST NEEDED
a few things from the garage,” Jeff said sheepishly, looking not at Maris but at the newel post. She stood at the bottom of the stairs. He stood half in and half out the front door, letting in the heat. She thought about the air conditioner: she must remember to turn it off when she left.

“What things?”

“Just—you know. My clubs, the barbecue tools.” He scowled. “I didn't know you were home. I already loaded up the car.”

A lie, and one into which he put very little effort. Her car was in the garage too; he couldn't have missed it. Besides, where was she supposed to have gone? She had haunted this house like a wraith for a year now; it was careless of him to pretend otherwise. But that was as good a word as any for what Jeff had become.
Careless
. He didn't care. He couldn't care less. About her, about the life she thought they would cling to together, about—and surely it wasn't true, she shouldn't even allow herself to think it—about Calla.

“I'm going to Alana's,” she said abruptly, too tired to correct him.

“You mean—to stay?”

She shrugged. How to answer that? The future lay ahead of her, unknowable, unimaginable. If there was another option—like, for instance, just disappearing, winking into nonexistence like a light turned off—she might very well take it. “For now, anyway.”

“Does that mean we can move ahead on the house?”

All traces of guilt were gone from his voice now. Anger surged inside Maris—cold, sharp, more real than anything she had felt in a long time. Her phone buzzed; she took it out of her pocket, barely glancing at the screen. “I have to take this,” she snapped.

Jeff held up his hands, conciliatory, aware—maybe—that he'd pushed her too far. He backed out the door, mouthed “see you later,” and scuttled toward his car like a kid on his way to recess. Maris shoved the door unnecessarily hard and it slammed shut.

It was a 925 number, not one she recognized. Ordinarily she'd let it go to voice mail—the truth was she let nearly all her calls go to voice mail, even Alana's—but the afterburn of anger at Jeff propelled her to answer.

“Hello?”

“Maris.” A voice she never thought she would have to hear again. “It's Ron. Ron Isherwood.”

“You.” Her voice came out like dried leaves. Pain like she hadn't known since the early days, searing and slicing. “How can you—what do you—”

“I just want to say . . .”

There was a rushing sound, which Maris thought was her own mind ripping from its moorings—finally, finally, splintering apart. She was only surprised that it had taken so long.

But she recognized a pattern to the sounds coming through the phone: the tap of a horn, the rush of passing cars. Ron Isherwood was calling her from the side of a road. But there was something more in the sound of tires on asphalt, a metallic whisper that didn't fit.

“I'm hanging up,” she whispered. Through the glass side panels flanking the front door, she saw Jeff's car drive away, wavering like a mirage through the textured glass.

“No, wait.” Ron Isherwood cleared his throat. “I—I'm . . . this is the last thing I need to say. I wanted to tell you I'm sorry. How very sorry I am. This—this is for you.” He was crying now, the way men cry, choking off every syllable, the words melting together.

“Ron, don't. Stop.” Maris's voice came back, and along with comprehension came rage. Her vocabulary of emotions diminished to shades of fury and sorrow. How dare he—how could he do this to her? When she'd finally, maybe, almost become numb enough to take a few tottering steps, to leave this place. Escaping to Alana's was cowardly, but hadn't she earned a measure of cowardice?

But even that was too much to ask, apparently. She knew what Ron was doing—he was throwing it all back on her, in the guise of a gift. His life, as recompense. Because
he
couldn't endure any longer.
He
was breaking under the weight of it, and so he would make her complicit.

But that was her lot, a mother's lot. Had been, since that murky night eighteen years ago in the thin-walled little apartment in San Ramon she and Jeff had lived in after they married, when Calla was conceived in a jerking fit of cheap-wine fervor. She took a deep breath, closed her eyes, put her hand on the hall table for support. “Where are you?” she demanded, in the steady, no-nonsense voice of the mother she had once been.

“I'm”—indistinct snuffling, sobbing—“The bridge. I'm on the bridge. I wanted . . . whatever you want me to do, Maris. I'm ready. If it helps, if it could—”

“Stay there.”

Maris opened her eyes and found herself staring at her own reflection in the mirror hung over the hall table. She looked grim, exhausted, awful—but she was still standing. You don't spend all your working hours with suburban privileged teens, urban dead-end kids, your
own
child—because yes, damn it, Maris had raised that child from birth through all the usual struggles into a pretty amazing young woman,
she
had done that while Jeff flew business class and played golf and struggled to uproot himself from his own family—you don't do all of those things without building up a reserve for moments like this. Moments when the weak ones fail, the battered ones give up, the broken ones cry out for someone to take their hand.

“Do
not
do anything. I mean it, Ron.” Maris squeezed the phone harder and gathered her strength. “
Please
.”

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