"Anger and loss— did you ever notice how those emotions mix together?" — writes Best Day Ever author Kaira Rouda in her new book, The Favorite Daughter, a thriller about a woman whose dazzling life has been shattered by the unexpected death of her daughter. The book won't hit bookstores and online retailers until May 21, 2019, but you can read an excerpt below.
Set in an upscale Southern California community, The Favorite Daughter centers on Jane Harris, who lives in a beautiful home in a gated, oceanfront community. But her life isn't as pristine as the beaches near her home: Just one year ago, her oldest daughter died in a tragic accident, and Jane, overcome by grief, has barely left the house since. When the book opens, she is finally ready to emerge again — both to attend a memorial service for Mary and to see the graduation of her youngest daughter, Betsy. But when she returns to the outside world, she discovers that her family has moved on without her — and they're far more secretive than she realized. When she stumbles upon information that challenges her memories of Mary, she realizes that there may be more to the story of her death.
You can begin reading The Favorite Daughter below:
EXCERPT: The Favorite Daughter
THE NIGHT BEFORE
“I loved you, Mary.”
“Who are you talking to?” David materializes behind me. He thinks he snuck up on me but I heard him coming. I see the judgment in his dark blue eyes as he shakes his head.
“Nobody.” We lock eyes. He looks at the photo in my hands and I know he thinks I’m talking to myself. Another “creepy” habit of mine, as he says. I place the photo back where it belongs.
He’s changing in the closet. I hear a swish as he tugs off his tie and know he’s hanging it neatly next to the rest of his collection. Next he’ll open the drawer to find a casual shirt. He reappears in jeans and a white T-shirt, dark brown Gucci loafers. He’s brushing his teeth. We make eye contact in the mirror. Sometimes he knows I’m watching him. Most of the time he doesn’t. I wonder if he has decided to stay with me for dinner. Perhaps I should have changed into a dress? I still can. I smile. “I’m looking forward to our romantic dinner.”
He thinks he snuck up on me but I heard him coming. I see the judgment in his dark blue eyes as he shakes his head.
“Did you sleep well last night?” He spits into the sink, ignoring my statement.
I check my face in the mirror and decide I don’t look too bad. I doubt he notices the circles under my eyes. I’m an expert with concealer. Tomorrow, I’ll look amazing. It’s day one.
I lie. “Yes. Like a baby.”
He tilts his head, slaps his expensive cologne on his neck. How manly, like he’s the Old Spice guy or something. “Are you sure you can handle the Celebration of Life ceremony tomorrow?”
No. What a stupid name. I’m sure this is all his assistant’s idea. I answer, “Of course, I have to be there. I’m the mom. Star of the show.” I meet David’s eyes. I am the lead actor in this house, in this family, I’m reminding him. Every mom is. And I will be there tomorrow for the ceremony. It’s my duty, even though I’m not sure I’m up for it. Even though I didn’t want this memorial service and didn’t plan it. Despite all of that, of course I’ll be there. She was my daughter.
I know he’d like nothing better than to soak up all the attention, both from the attendees and the event planner. The perfect father. He loves the spotlight, hosting parties, chatting with friends. But he’s not going alone. I’ve been preparing myself for this week. I’m looking forward to reviving my role: his adoring, beautiful wife. I reach over and run my hand along the limestone countertop between our two sinks, the stone cool to the touch. I tap my nails, a slow drumbeat.
“I’m coming to the ceremony,” I say and walk to the bedroom, then pause next to our king-size bed. Large enough we don’t bump into each other at night. I touch my favorite pillow.
I know he’d like nothing better than to soak up all the attention, both from the attendees and the event planner. The perfect father.
“I can take care of it, host it alone, if you’re not up to it.” He is behind me. I feel his eyes on the back of my neck.
“I’ll be fine.” I turn to face him. “Dinner should be here any minute. Tonight will be lovely, and tomorrow night, at the ceremony, I’ll be right by your side, David, as you will mine.”
I’m back. I smile at his frown. He doesn’t like my answer.
His shoulders drop. “I can’t stay for dinner. But you eat the pasta. You need to gain some weight. People in The Cove are talking.”
“Oh, are they? About my weight? I don’t think that’s the hottest topic in the neighborhood.” I glance at the bed. After he leaves, maybe I’ll take a nap? I may be able to fall asleep even though it’s barely past seven. It’s been so long since I’ve slept. I’ve been so busy.
“Maybe it isn’t the hottest topic, but it’s a concern.” David walks toward the bedroom door.
“Stop!” I blurt, my tone sharper than I’d intended. I cover my mouth with my hand, forcing myself not to say more. He can’t just walk away from me. It has been surprisingly comforting to have David home this evening. I even allowed myself to imagine him joining me for dinner. How stupid. I need to get back in control of things. The way I have been, since we met.
Our relationship began slowly like an orchestrated dance number. I was in the lead. David had been dropping into the Santa Monica club where I worked for more than two weeks and we’d been making eye contact and flirting, despite his regular blonde date attached to his arm. Sure, she had a gorgeous body and the air of money that made the space around her sparkle like gold. But I knew I was different than all those sorority girls. Special beauty, as my mom would say when she was sober.
Our relationship began slowly like an orchestrated dance number. I was in the lead.
I’d worked hard since I’d moved to LA after high school. I’d lost my accent but I hadn’t lost my Southern charm. I could tell David was looking for someone like me, someone different, someone with big dreams, a charmed future: a diamond in the land of cubic zirconia. I slipped him my phone number, in the most old-fashioned way, written on a napkin placed under his beer, our fingers brushing as electricity surged between us.
Now, as David stands at the door to our bedroom, he laughs and shakes his head. “You shouldn’t yell, Jane. It’s not becoming.”
I walk to his side, my hands clenched. It’s part of our dance these days, this feigned politeness, this lingering something. Is it nostalgia or just an endurance test to the finish line on Thursday? I put my hand on his chest, imagine I’m touching his heart. “Sorry. Please stay.”
Instead of embracing me, he takes my hand from his chest and squeezes, an awkward gesture that presses my two-carat engagement ring into the knuckle of my middle finger. “I’m going to work out and grab dinner after at the club. Don’t wait up.”
Once he’s gone I sigh, trying to push my frustration aside. In the bathroom I pick up his bottle of cologne. When I unscrew the lid, I take a deep inhalation of his favorite scent, the smell of my husband. In our closet I see his silk ties hanging up in a neat little row. He’s so tidy. Likes his things under control, orderly. For David, and I suppose most husbands and fathers who are the “sole providers” for their families, their personal spaces at home provide the comfort they don’t find at the office. The sense of order, the semblance of routine. Home is so much more than a place; it’s your anchor, your retreat. I know it is especially important to him now that Mary is gone, his favorite daughter, his reflection. He finds peace in his color-coded closet. David is a cyclone of activity out in the world ever since the accident. He’s kept up a frenetic schedule this past year, but he always comes home to me, eventually.
I shake my head, knowing I don’t have the energy to straighten up the chaos on my side of the closet. I’ve learned to embrace my mess. And besides, I have other things to focus on. My husband deserves my thoughtfulness, my presence at the ceremony tomorrow, and I can’t wait to surprise him with everything else I have planned.
Each time he walks out our front door, he becomes someone different. At home, with me, he’s the grieving father of a dead daughter. Out in the world, he’s an über-successful businessman with his sculptured chin held high, invincible. Out in the world, he doesn’t worry about his sad wife. I’m sure of that. Most of the time, it’s easier for him if he doesn’t think of me at all. But I’m always thinking about him.
For example, who wears cologne and Gucci loafers to the gym? No one. I swallow and try to control my shaking hands by shoving them into the pockets of my jeans. I hurry from the bathroom and climb into bed as my tears roll down my cheeks and I stare at the dark black glass of our huge flat-screen TV. David insisted on having a television in the bedroom, something I opposed. I know myself. I can get sucked into a show, a story, and always ended up staying up too late when the girls were little. I like to lose myself while I watch television, one of the things my mom and I had in common. She had the television on all day and night, making me watch her favorite shows with her when she was in a good mood. She taught me how to critique actresses, and to learn from them.
Out in the world, he doesn’t worry about his sad wife. I’m sure of that. Most of the time, it’s easier for him if he doesn’t think of me at all.
And I’ve learned a lot over the years. That’s why it’s time to pull myself out of my seemingly unshakable depression. After this week, I’m going to begin my career again. I’ve already lined up a photographer to shoot some head shots. David will be so pleased. He fell in love with me when I was acting in LA. He’ll be so surprised when the old me makes a comeback. I’m focusing on the future now.
Tomorrow’s ceremony will be the beginning of my second act. Us women, especially moms, we’re resilient. At times life just throws us knockout punches. But I’ve always been a fighter. Sometimes we have to take a stand for those we love protect them from bad choices, love them even when they don’t think they need it.
I know some women who are stuck in their relationships, in their lives, who don’t have choices. I know how lucky I am and I know how to fight to get what I deserve.
So, life, let’s get ready to rumble.
Excerpted from The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda, on-sale May 21, 2019.
If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.