Take a splash of betrayal, add a few drops of outrage, give a good shake to proper behavior and take a big sip of a cocktail called...Ladies' Night!
Grace Stanton's life as a rising media star and beloved lifestyle blogger takes a surprising turn when she catches her husband cheating and torpedoes his pricey sports car straight into the family swimming pool. Grace suddenly finds herself locked out of her palatial home, checking account, and even the blog she has worked so hard to develop in her signature style. Moving in with her widowed mother, who owns and lives above a rundown beach bar called The Sandbox, is less than ideal. So is attending court-mandated weekly "divorce recovery" therapy sessions with three other women and one man for whom betrayal seems to be the only commonality. When their "divorce coach" starts to act suspiciously, they decide to start having their own Wednesday "Ladies' Night" sessions at The Sandbox, and the unanticipated bonds that develop lead the members of the group to try and find closure in ways they never imagined. Can Grace figure out a new way home and discover how strong she needs to be to get there?
Heartache, humor, and a little bit of mystery come together in a story about life's unpredictable twists and turns. Mary Kay Andrews' Ladies' Night will have you raising a glass and cheering these characters on.
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MARY KAY ANDREWS is The New York Times bestselling author of Spring Fever, Summer Rental, The Fixer Upper, Deep Dish, Blue Christmas, Savannah Breeze, Hissy Fit, Little Bitty Lies, and Savannah Blues. A former journalist for The Atlanta Journal Constitution, she lives in Atlanta, Georgia.
Kathleen McInerney has narrated numerous audiobooks by bestselling authors such as Emily Giffin, Danielle Steel, Jeffrey Stepakoff, Mary Kay Andrews, and Linda Castillo. Her narration of Just One Day by Gayle Forman won an AudioFile Earphones Award. In reviewing Mary Kay Andrew's Ladies' Night, AudioFile magazine said, "McInerney makes each of the characters distinct and recognizable and gives each the perfect voice, accent, and vocal mannerisms. Most enjoyable and well performed."Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
If Grace Stanton had known the world as she knew it was going to end that uneventful evening in May, she might have been better prepared. She certainly would have packed more underwear and a decent bra, not to mention moisturizer and her iPhone charger.
But as far as Grace knew, she was just doing her job, writing and photographing Gracenotes, a blog designed to make her own lifestyle look so glamorous, enticing, and delicious it made perfectly normal women (and gay men) want to rip up the script for their own lives and rebuild one exactly like hers.
* * *
She peered through the lens finder of her Nikon D7000 and frowned, but only for a moment, because, as Ben had told her countless times, a frown was forever. She made a conscious effort to smooth the burgeoning wrinkles in her forehead, then concentrated anew on her composition.
She’d polished the old pine table to a dull sheen, and the available light streaming in from the dining room window glinted off the worn boards. With her right hand, she made a minute adjustment to one of the two deliberately mismatched white ironstone platters she’d placed on a rumpled—but not wrinkled—antique French grain-sack table runner. She replaced the oversized sterling forks, tines pointed down, at the edge of the platters. Should she add knives? Maybe spoons? She thought not. Spare. The look she was going for was spare.
Edit, edit, edit, she thought, nodding almost imperceptibly. Less was more. Or that’s what Ben always claimed.
Now. About that centerpiece. She’d cut three small palmetto fronds from the newly landscaped driveway … No, she corrected herself. The builder’s Web site referred to it as a motor court. The palmettos were giving her fits. She’d arranged them in a mottled, barnacle-crusted pale aqua bottle she’d plucked from a pile of random junk at the flea market the weekend before. They should have looked great. But no. They were too stiff. Too awkward. Too vertical.
Grace replaced the palmettos with a cardboard carton of lush red heirloom tomatoes. Hmm. The vibrant color was a good contrast against the nubby linen of the runner, and she loved the lumpy forms and brilliant green and yellow stripes on some of the irregularly shaped fruits. Maybe, if she placed the container on its side, with the tomatoes spilling out? Yes. Much better.
She grabbed a knife from the sideboard and sawed one of the tomatoes in half, squeezing it slightly, until seeds and juices dribbled out onto the tabletop.
Perfect. She inhaled and clicked the trigger on her motor-driven shutter. Click. Click. Click. She adjusted the focus so the pale gel-covered seeds were in the foreground. Now, she zoomed out, leaving the tomatoes as red blurs, so that the old ironstone platters were in focus, their age-crazed crackles and brown spots coming into sharp relief.
“Very pretty,” a voice breathed in her ear.
Ben rested a hand lightly on her shoulder and studied the vignette.
“Is that for tomorrow’s ‘Friday Favorites’ post?” he asked.
“Mm-hmm,” Grace said. “I tried the palmetto fronds and, before that, a basket of seashells, and then some green mangoes, but I think the tomatoes work best, don’t you?”
He shrugged. “I guess.”
“What?” Grace studied his face, as always, craving his approval. “The tomatoes don’t work for you?”
“They’re nice. In an artsy-fartsy kind of way,” he said.
She pushed a strand of light brown hair off her forehead and took a step back from the table. She’d spent an hour putting the table together, and she’d been fairly pleased with the effect she’d achieved. But Ben didn’t like it.
“Too country-cutesy?” she asked, glancing at her husband. Ben’s trained eyes missed nothing. He’d been in the ad business forever, and no detail was too small or too insignificant. It was why they made such a great team.
“It’s your blog,” he reminded her. “And your name is on it. I don’t want business stuff to impinge on your editorial freedom. But…”
“But what? Come on. I’m a big girl. I can take it.”
“The Aviento folks sent us a big crateful of pieces of their new fall line,” Ben said, hesitating. “Treasures of Tuscany, the new pattern is called. It’s for the giveaway you’re doing on Monday. I was thinking maybe you could put the tomatoes in one of those bowls they sent.”
Grace wrinkled her nose. “That is seriously the ugliest pottery I have ever seen, and it looks about as Italian as a can of Chef Boyardee.”
“You don’t have to set the whole table with it. Just maybe put some of the tomatoes in one of the bowls. They are spending a lot of money advertising with us now, and it would be good if they could see their product … you know.”
“Stinkin’ up my ‘Friday Favorites’ tablescapes,” Grace said, finishing the sentence for him. “Did you promise them I would use it editorially? Tell me the truth, Ben.”
“No!” he said sharply. “I would never try to influence you that way. But would it hurt to maybe try a couple shots with one of the bowls. Or a plate?”
“I’ll try it out. But if it looks as crappy as I think it will, I’m not going to run it. Right? I mean, you promised when we monetized the blog, we wouldn’t be whoring me out by using the advertisers’ product in a way that would compromise my aesthetic.”
“It’s your call,” Ben said, picking up one of the tomatoes and examining it. “These are weird looking. What kind are they?”
“Don’t know,” Grace said, gently taking the tomato from him and replacing it on the table. “J’Aimee picked them up at the farmer’s market.”
“Kid’s got a good eye,” Ben said. He glanced back at the table. “How long before you’re done here?”
“Maybe an hour? I guess I’ll try some shots with the Aviento stuff. Then I need to edit, and I’ve still got to actually write the piece.” She glanced down at her watch. “Good Lord! It’s after six. I’ve been piddling around with this tabletop for hours now. Why didn’t you say something?”
“Didn’t want to interrupt the genius while she was at work,” he said. “But since you brought it up, is there any actual food to go on these pretty plates?”
“Nada,” she said apologetically. “I’m sorry. I completely lost track of the time. Look, I’ll just take a couple more shots with the Tuscan Turds, then I’ll run down to Publix and pick up some sushi. Or maybe a nice piece of fish to grill. I can have supper on the table by seven. Right?”
“Finish your shots,” Ben said easily. “J’Aimee can pick up supper.”
“No, I’ll go. I’ve had J’Aimee out running errands all afternoon.”
Ben dropped a kiss on her forehead. “That’s what assistants are for, Grace.”
“But I hate to bother her,” she protested. “She just went back over to the apartment an hour ago.”
Grace gestured in the general direction of the garage, which was at the back of the “motor court.” J’Aimee, her twenty-six-year-old assistant, had been living in the apartment above the garage since she was hired three months earlier. Her battered white Honda Accord was parked in the third bay, beside Ben’s black Audi convertible.
Their builder had referred to the apartment as a mother-in-law suite, or even a nanny suite. But Grace’s mom lived only a few miles away on Cortez and she wouldn’t have moved to this “faux chateau,” as she called it, at gunpoint. Ben’s mother lived quite happily down in Coconut Grove. And since the fertility specialist still couldn’t figure out just exactly why Grace couldn’t get pregnant, the apartment, for now, was the perfect place to stash an assistant.
“Finish your shoot,” Ben said, settling the matter. “I’ll walk over there and roust J’Aimee. In fact, I’ll ride to Publix with her.”
“Thanks,” Grace said, going back to her camera. “You’re the best.”
Ben gave her a gentle pat on the butt. “That’s my girl,” he said.
Grace went into the kitchen and found the heavy wooden crate with the Aviento shipping label sitting on the polished black granite countertop, pausing, as she always did, to flick a crumb into the sink. She hated the black granite. Even the tiniest fleck of sea salt showed up on it, and she seemed to go through a gallon of Windex every week, keeping it shiny.
But Ben and the builder had ganged up on her to agree to use it, after the granite company offered the countertops at cost in exchange for a small ad on Gracenotes.
She was soon immersed again in her work, barely registering the familiar roar of Ben’s car as it backed out of the garage. Grace looked up in time to see that he’d put the Audi’s top down. He did a neat three-point turn and gave her a carefree wave before he sped down the driveway, his forearm casually thrown across the back of the passenger seat, and J’Aimee’s long red hair flowing gracefully in the wind.
Ben reminded her of Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, a golden boy, elegant, aloof, mysterious, maybe even a little dangerous? She reflected briefly on how unfair life really was. At forty-four, Ben was six years older, but you’d never know it from looking at him. He never gained weight and never seemed to age. He kept his tennis tan year-round. His gloriously glossy dark brown hair still didn’t show a speck of gray, and the faint crow’s-feet around his eyes lent him the look of wisdom, not imminent geezerdom.
Grace, on the other hand, was beginning to spend what she thought of as an alarming amount of time on maintenance. At five-four, even five extra pounds seemed to go right to her butt or her belly, and she’d begun coloring her sandy-brown hair two years earlier, at the suggestion of Ruthanne, her hairdresser. Her face was heart-shaped, and only thirty minutes in the Florida sun left her round cheeks beet-colored, giving her even more of the look of a little Dutch girl when Ruthanne got carried away with the blond highlights. Ben insisted she was still as pretty as the day they’d met six years earlier, but they both knew that with Grace’s blogging career about to take off, she would have to be that much more vigilant about her appearance.
Blogging? A career?
If anybody had told her two years ago that she’d make a living out of journaling her quest for a more beautiful life, she would have laughed in their face. And if anybody told her that she would become enough of a success that Ben would quit his career to run hers? Well, she would have politely written that person off as a nutcase.
But it was all true. She and Ben were on the very verge of the big time. This house, a 6,500-square-foot Spanish colonial located in a gated golf-course community had been one of the subdivision’s model homes, and the builder, whose wife was an avid Gracenotes reader, had given them an incredible deal on it in exchange for a banner ad across the top of the blog. Most of the expensive upgrades on the property—the landscaping, the pool and spa, their amazing master bath—had also been trade-offs for advertising.
She’d always loved writing, and had tinkered with photography for years, but once the blog took off, it had somehow caught the eye of magazine editors and television producers. In addition to having their own house featured in half a dozen magazines, writing, photography, and decorating assignments had begun coming her way. She’d become a contributing regional editor for Country Living and Bay Life magazines, and next month, they were going to start working with a production company out of California to shoot a pilot television show of Gracenotes for HGTV.
All because of her silly little blog.
* * *
She couldn’t say why she awoke so suddenly. Normally, Grace fell asleep the moment her head hit the pillow, and she slept so soundly Ben often reminded her of the time she’d slept through Hurricane Elise, not even stirring when the wind tore the roof totally off the screened porch of their old house in a slightly run-down Bradenton neighborhood.
That night was no exception. She’d retreated to her office after dinner, writing and rewriting her Gracenotes post and fussing over the photographs before, finally, shortly before eleven, pushing the SEND button and crawling into bed beside her already-slumbering husband.
For whatever reason, she sat straight up in bed now. It was after 1:00 A.M. Her heart was racing, and her mouth was dry. A bad dream? She couldn’t say. She glanced over at Ben’s side of the bed. Empty.
She rubbed her eyes. Ben was probably downstairs, in the media room, watching a tournament on Golf TV, or maybe he was in the kitchen, looking for a late-night snack. Grace yawned and padded downstairs, already planning her own snack.
But the downstairs was dark, the media room deserted. She went out to the kitchen. No sign of him there, either. The kitchen was as spotless as she’d left it three hours earlier, after finishing up the last of the dinner dishes and packing up the faux-Tuscan pottery. Not even a cup or a spoon in the sink.
Grace frowned, and this time she didn’t bother to worry about wrinkles. She checked the downstairs powder room, but the door was open and there was no sign of her husband. She ran back upstairs and peeked inside the two guest suites, but they were empty and undisturbed. She walked slowly back to the bedroom, thinking to call Ben’s cell phone. But when she saw his cell phone on his dresser, along with his billfold, she relaxed a little. And then she noticed the keys to the Audi were missing, and her heart seemed to miss a beat. She went to the window and peered out, but saw nothing. There was only a quarter moon that night, but it was obscured by a heavy bank of clouds. The backyard was wreathed in darkness. She couldn’t even see the garage.
“It’s nothing,” she told herself, surprised to realize that she was talking out loud. She shrugged out of her nightgown, pulling on a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, slipping her feet into a pair of rubber flip-flops. “He’s fine. Maybe he’s out by the pool, sneaking a midnight cigar.”
The sandals slapped noisily on the marble stairs, the sound echoing in the high-ceilinged stairway. She ditched them by the back door, carefully switching off the burglar alarm before stepping out onto the back patio. She paused, put her hand to her chest, and could have sworn it was about to jump out of her body.
“Ben?” She kept her voice low. It was pitch black, except for the pale turquoise surface of the pool and the eerie green uplights on the date-palm clusters at the back of the garden. Cicadas thrummed, and in the far distance, she heard a truck rumbling down the street. She crept forward, her hands extended, edging past the pair of chaise lounges perched at the edge of the patio, feeling the rough-textured coral rock beneath her feet.
Gradually, her eyes adjusted to the dark. There was no glowing cigar tip anywhere on the patio or the garden. She glanced toward the garage. No lights were on in J’Aimee’s upstairs apartment, and the garage doors were closed. Was Ben’s car there?
For a moment, a train of scenarios unspooled through her imagination. Ben, passed out, or even dead, at the wheel of his car, an unknown assailant lurking nearby. Should she retreat to the house, find some kind of weapon, even call the police?
“Don’t be an idiot,” she murmured to herself. “You’re a big girl. Just go look in the garage. You live in a gated community, for God’s sake. The only crime here is dogs pooping on the grass.”
She tiptoed toward the garage, skirting the electronically controlled metal doors, heading toward the side door, trying to remember whether or not it would be unlocked.
Luckily, it was. The knob turned easily in her hand, and she stepped inside the darkened space...
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