Chapter no 3

Never Lie

Paige is cursing to herself as she stumbles on a loose brick on the walkway to my front door. I watch her from the window, wondering if I should call someone to get that brick fixed this week. I don’t want somebody to fall on it, shatter their ankle, and then I’m responsible. Legally, that is. If Paige fell, it would be her own fault. She would have far more stability if she weren’t clutching a manila envelope in her right hand and scrolling through the screen on her phone with her left as she teeters in her three-inch heels.

Paige has been my literary agent for the last five years, and I have never seen her without her phone in hand. There’s a possibility it has fused to her palm. I have spoken to her in the past and I swear I’ve heard the shower running in the background. Once, I heard the toilet flush. When we speak, she looks up from the screen to meet my eyes, but only briefly.

Paige tucks the manila envelope under her arm so she can ring the doorbell. It’s unnecessary, given I’ve been monitoring her Audi’s trajectory down my driveway, but she doesn’t know that. Chimes echo through the house, and I take my time heading to the front door. Paige may be in a rush, but I’m not. I’ve got the entire morning free before my first patient arrives.

Paige has her eyes pinned on her phone screen when I crack open the door. Her usually perfectly highlighted hair is

slightly windblown from the drive, but she otherwise looks impeccable in a black silk dress and spiky pumps.

“Adrienne!” A smile spreads across my agent’s face at the sight of me, although she still doesn’t put away her phone. “How are you?”

How are you? The three most useless words in the universe of communication. Nobody who asks that question wants to know the answer. And nobody who answers ever tells the truth. “I’m fine, Paige.”

She pauses for a beat, waiting for me to return the nicety. When it is obvious that I’m not going to, she shakes her phone slightly in her left hand. “Sorry I was late. The GPS conked out on my phone. The signal around here is terrible.”

“Yes,” I say sympathetically. “It is.”

I live far enough off the beaten path that most people can’t get a signal out here. Within my house, I have a MicroCell tower and Wi-Fi. But in anticipation of Paige’s visit, I shut them both off. While she is here, I want her full attention. I would never pay more attention to my phone than to a patient, and I don’t enjoy competing for Paige’s attention.

I take a step back to allow Paige to enter the house. She’s only been here once before, and she sucks in a breath at the sheer size of it all. The living area is impressive. Paige lives in Manhattan, probably in a tiny shoebox of an apartment that costs a small fortune.

“This is an amazing house,” she breathes. She is so astounded that she lowers her phone entirely so that it hangs at her side. “So much space.”

“Thank you.”

Her eyes dart around, from the sectional leather sofa to the antique bookcases to the spiraling staircase up to the second level. She could just leave the compliment as it is, but that’s not Paige’s style. Instead, she feels compelled to add, “It’s just you in this big place?”

She knows I’m not married. No children. My parents are long gone. “Yes. Just me.”

“Geez…” She scratches her cheek. “I’d be scared to live here. I mean, you are out in the middle of nowhere. You don’t even have good cell service. Anyone could come in here and…”

It’s not as if Paige is the first person to suggest such a thing. If I had any close family members or close friends, I’m sure they would worry about me. But I’m not worried.

“Do you have a security system?” she asks. I lift a shoulder. “I have locks on the doors.”

She looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. But I feel safe here. Isolation is not necessarily dangerous. The turn to get onto the small dirt road to my house is so narrow that many people drive by it without even noticing. And I need the extra space because this house also serves as my office. I do my writing here and I have a room where I see patients.

I’m disappointed in Paige for her judgment, even though I’m not surprised. I’m sure many people could judge her for her own choices. If she hadn’t taken the time to push out two rugrats, she might be further in her career. She might not have to suck up to someone like me.

And also, she wears far too much makeup. I don’t trust women who cake on layers of foundation like a mask that adheres directly to their skin.

“You know…” Paige gives a sympathetic tilt of her head. “I could see if Alex knows anyone for you. I’m sure one of his colleagues from work would be happy to take you out.”

“No need,” I say through my teeth. “Are you sure? Because—”

“I’m sure.”

She shrugs like she thinks I have made a tragic error in judgment by not accepting a pity date from her husband. It’s not the first time she’s offered. After a few times, you would think she’d get the message I’m not interested, but sadly, she has not.

“Anyway.” Paige thrusts the Manila envelope at me, her bright red fingernails shining under the overhead lights. “Here’s the proof of your new book.”

I accept the envelope from her grasp. I’m tempted to rip it open. This book is the culmination of two years of research and late nights spent poring over my notes and pounding on the keyboard. But I don’t want to look at it in front of Paige. I’ll do it after she leaves.

“Thank you,” I say.

“Gruesome stuff,” she comments, crinkling her nose. She made no secret of the fact that she thought I should “tone down” some of the violent scenes described in the book, but I was adamant they should stay as is. “It’s hard to read—for some people.”

“It’s all true.”

Paige eyes the envelope in my hand. She was hoping I would open it in front of her. She drove all the way up here from Manhattan after all. It’s no small trip to Westchester, but my first book, Know Yourself, was on the New York Times bestseller list for twenty-seven weeks. This highly anticipated follow-up could be worth a fortune to her. She wants to keep me happy.

She stands there for a moment, waiting to see if I’ll offer her a tour or perhaps a cup of coffee. She wants to be my friend. Or at least, she wants a pretend friendship, where we gossip, do lunch at a café, and act as though we don’t dislike one another.

I don’t have friends. I never have.

“Could I…” She licks her lips. “Could I trouble you for a glass of water?”

I throw a glance toward my kitchen. “Of course. The water is a bit brown though, I have to warn you. I’ve gotten used to the metallic taste, but it bothers some people.”

Her nose crinkles again. She has the faintest hint of freckles on the bridge, no doubt covered by several layers of

makeup. “Brown water? Adrienne, you should have somebody take a look at that.”

“Oh, I don’t mind. It tastes fine. Let me grab that water for you.”

“Actually, that’s okay.” “Are you sure?”

“Yes, it’s fine.” She looks a tad green at the idea of choking down a glass of my fictional brown water. She wants to be my friend, but not that badly. “I should be heading out now. It’s a long drive back to the city.”

I nod. “Drive safely.”

She takes one last long look around my house. She’s probably wondering how much it cost me. In another life, Paige could have been a real estate agent. She has the right personality for it. Pushy as hell.

“Honestly,” she says, “you should think about getting some sort of security system for this place. I don’t want to come here one day and find you murdered in the living room.”

Statistically, the risk of such a thing is low. Less than a quarter of all homicide victims are female. Most of those women are young and low-income.

“Or get a boyfriend,” Paige adds with a laugh. “Like I said, happy to help on that front.”

Up to seventy percent of females who have been murdered are killed by an intimate partner. So in actuality, her suggestion to “get a boyfriend” is not only highly judgmental and insulting but would only increase my risk of meeting with a violent end. But I will not debate this woman.

“I’m really fine,” I say again. “I don’t need a security system.”

She considers this for a moment then snorts. “Yeah, that’s right. You invite the crazies right in, don’t you?”

It hits me now. I don’t know how I never saw it. Paige doesn’t respect what I do. She has been my advocate

through two publications, and in her defense, she’s damn good at it. But she doesn’t believe in any of it. To her, the people I help are a bunch of “crazies.”

During the five years I have known Paige, she has insulted my home and my lifestyle choices, and she’s been the harshest critic of my manuscripts. I have taken every bit of her abuse because she’s good at what she does. But today, she has crossed a line.

Nobody talks about my patients that way.

“Paige.” I tap the corner of my right eye. “You’ve got a bit of mascara caked right here.”

“Oh!” Her black eyelashes flutter as her hand flies self-consciously to her eyes. She automatically reaches into her purse to search for a compact, but in the process, her phone slips from her left hand and clatters loudly to the wood floor. “Shit…”

She scoops up her phone—there’s a spiderweb of cracks imprinted on the screen. She looks like she’s going to burst into tears.

“Oh, dear,” I say. “It looks like your phone got cracked.” “Shit.” She runs her index finger over the screen as if

she might magically fix it with her touch. She swears again and yanks her finger away. The glass has sliced right through the pad of her finger. “Just my luck, right?”

“Maybe it’s a sign,” I say. “Perhaps you should spend less time on your phone.”

Paige laughs like I made a joke. She doesn’t know me well enough to know that I don’t make jokes.

Her smile is strained as I lead her to the door, and once she gets outside, the smile drops off her face altogether. I watch from the window as she makes her way back to her car, this time avoiding the treacherous loose brick. As soon as she slides into the driver’s seat, she twists her body to look at her reflection in the rearview mirror. She touches the corner of her eye, frowning as she searches for the mascara I had assured her was caked in there.

She’s having a bad day. But it’s going to get much worse when she gets the email from me terminating her as my agent.

I turn away from the window and look down at the manila envelope that Paige left me. My book. Two years of blood, sweat, and tears.

I carefully lift the clasp and open the envelope. I pull the proof copy of my book from within. The corners of my lips twitch. The book is exactly the way I envisioned it. My name is in bold block letters: Adrienne Hale, MD, PhD. The publisher balked when I suggested the knife dripping with blood on the book cover, but after the success of my last book, I got to call the shots. They must realize now what a brilliant decision it was—how striking the image is. I trace the letters of the title as I read the words out loud:

The Anatomy of Fear.

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