“So, about Book Five…” Sara’s attorney, David, finally stopped fiddling with his glasses. He clasped his hands together, swallowed hard, and fixed his gaze firmly on Sara.
“Your mom wants you to write Book Five.”
Sara laughed again. More like a confused sputter.
Then with a quick gasp, the whole amusing absurdity of the joke settled in and Sara laughed fully and deeply. This was actually a very funny joke.
“Aww, David. You know the Graysons too well. You did get my attention, though, with the hands-clasped-together and that scary attorney look—like I’m going to find out my mother is broke.”
David laughed nervously. “No, your mother isn’t broke. But yes…she did choose you to write the book.”
That’s when Sara noticed David’s sweaty brow and how he wasn’t wiping it. Two beads of sweat hung there, practically defying gravity, and David didn’t budge.
Sara’s stomach dropped to her toes, and disbelief washed over her entire body. “David, you can’t be serious. The book’s already written. It has to be. Mom’s a finisher, a closer. I heard Anna-Kath ask her about the final book. Mom said it was taken care of. I heard it myself.”
David wiped his forehead with the back of his hand and adjusted his glasses. “She was behind. She was working on the outline last year. She was hoping for more time.”
Sara’s body froze, her eyes wide. Her heart pounded so loudly she could hardly think.
David leaned forward, resting his arms in front of him. “It’s her dying wish. She asked me to wait three weeks after her death to tell you. There’s a letter for you.” He opened a file in front of him and handed Sara a letter on yellow stationery, dotted with white daisies, all sunshiny and bright, like it should contain a birthday greeting instead of some horrifying last wish. Sara’s hand shook as she read her mother’s words:
My Dearest Sara,
Audacity. Four fabulous syllables. Remember this was on our favorite words list? A word with superb meaning and long overlooked as a girl’s name. So, David has told you the news. Yes, the book is yours. This audacious request is my gift to you. I know what we talked about, but you were meant to tell stories too. You have words, my dear. Write them.
Sara pulled out her ponytail, threw her head back against the leather office chair, and pressed her hands against her forehead.
Sara wasn’t exactly a model of emotional stability before she walked into this office. Now her brain felt like it was swelling out of her skull, and the grief clamped around her heart bubbled out of her chest with a rising fury. She shot out of her seat.
“What the hell could she be thinking?!” Sara walked to the window and turned around. She pointed her finger at him. “This is impossible. First of all, there’s no way Mom’s publisher would ever allow this ridiculous dying wish to go forward. Second, she must have been on drugs when she decided this. She was on heavy pain meds, David. She was drugged, and she was crazy.”
“Your mom had an authorship rider on her contract with Iris Books. In the event of your mother’s untimely death, the rider stipulated that she had the right to choose the author to finish her series and that she would indicate her choice in her last will and testament, which she did, dated six months ago on November 15th. She was of sound mind.”
“My mother made this choice in November? November? She wasn’t even sick in November!” Sara was shouting now, her face flushed and hot.
David rubbed the back of his neck and discreetly swallowed a few pills.
Sara gasped in understanding. She slumped back against the window, the letter clenched in her hand. “Oh my gosh. She was sick. Even then. How long did she know she had cancer, David?”
“I didn’t know she was sick then. She’s had the rider for years, but she never specified an author until last November. The publisher is legally bound to work with you. They’re eagerly awaiting to hear Cassandra’s choice of author, and they are understandably anxious.”
“Oh, you think?” Sara sat back in her chair. Her breathing was short and rapid, and she began to feel lightheaded. This could not be happening. “Mom must have specified an alternate author, besides me, right? I mean she wouldn’t pin the future of the Ellery Dawson empire entirely on me, right?”
David shook his head, avoiding eye contact. “It’s only you.” He chewed on his bottom lip, searching for something comforting to say. “I’m sorry. This is obviously overwhelming.”
“Overwhelming? My mother sold 15 million copies of Book Four. Those fifteen million people are waiting for Book Five. They cannot be waiting for me.” Her voice had turned shaky and high-pitched. She hardly recognized it. She covered her wet face in her hands again.
David walked around the front of his desk and handed Sara a box of tissues in a solid walnut holder with the firm’s monogrammed initials. Sara stared at the box with an inordinate amount of disgust. No wonder people hated attorneys. She started pulling tissues out by the fistful in crazed quick movements. She wiped her face. Blew her nose. She pulled out more tissues and stuffed them in her bag. She huffed and stood up.
“Thank you, David. I’ve got to get back to work now.” She folded her mother’s letter in half. And then again. And again. And one more time until it resembled a stick of Juicy Fruit gum.
“Wait,” said David. “We have a lot to talk about, and I’m sure you have more questions. Can I get you something to drink?”
“I have to go.” She attempted to hold her chin high, to feign confidence. Sara reached past David to gather another fistful of Kleenexes. She finally opened the walnut tissue holder and removed the entire tissue box, placing it securely under her arm like a clutch. “I’ll just be going now.” Her flip-flops made a squishing sound as she stomped away.
She found her car and quickly pulled out of the parking garage. She needed to see Anna-Kath. To tell her the horrible thing. She passed the cemetery on her way. Sara hit her brakes and pulled a U-turn. The wheels screeched as she turned hard and fast. She pulled up close to her mother’s grave and marched over. Sara snatched the daisies right out of the vase she’d left just an hour ago and stomped back to her car. An onlooker nearby raised her eyebrows in disgust.
Sara looked right at her. “You have no idea,” she said and drove away.
What happens when your mother’s dying wish becomes your worst nightmare?
What happens when the world’s greatest literary icon dies before she finishes the final book in her best-selling series?
And what happens when she leaves that book in the hands of her unstable, neurotic daughter, who swears she’s not a real writer?
Sara Grayson is a thirty-two-year-old greeting card writer about to land the toughest assignment of her life. Three weeks after the death of her mother—a world-famous suspense novelist—Sara learns that her mother’s dying wish is for her to write the final book in her bestselling series.
Sara has lived alone with her dog, Gatsby, ever since her husband walked out with their Pro Double Waffle Maker and her last shred of confidence. She can’t fathom writing a book for thirty million fans—not when last week’s big win was resetting the microwave clock.
But in a bold move that surprises even herself, Sara takes it on. Against an impossible deadline and a publisher intent on sabotaging her every move, Sara discovers that stepping into her mother’s shoes means stumbling on family secrets she was never meant to find—secrets that threaten her mother’s legacy and the very book she’s trying to create.
Women’s Fiction [Post Hill Press, On Sale: May 25, 2021, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781642937824 / eISBN: 9781642937831]
About Joani Elliott
Joani Elliott grew up with six sisters which means that she can shower quickly and do her make-up using the kitchen toaster as a mirror. You should never pick her for your dodgeball team or any team sport—but she does have a rather excellent cartwheel. Joani has taught writing at the University of Maryland and Brigham Young University. She is the mother of two adult daughters who feel sorry for Sara Grayson and believe authors should finish their own damn books. For book club resources, virtual author chats, and more, visit https://joanielliott.com/.