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       Fractured, p.1

           Catherine McKenzie
 
Fractured


  PRAISE FOR FRACTURED

  “A contentious past leads a young couple to move thousands of miles from home to an exemplary family community when things go terribly wrong in Catherine McKenzie’s latest tour de force, Fractured. When tragedy strikes, everyone is a suspect, as McKenzie masterfully weaves together the stories of Julie and John: strangers who become friends, neighbors who become enemies. A tightly drawn narrative that begs the question: How much can we really know about those living closest to us? Truly riveting!”

  —Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of The Good Girl and Pretty Baby

  “After page-turners Smoke and Hidden, McKenzie is back with another gripping work that explores the limits of trust and the startling intersections of our lives. Tautly written and intricately plotted, Fractured will keep readers guessing until the final page.”

  —Paula Treick DeBoard, author of The Mourning Hours and The Drowning Girls

  “Chilling and tense, Fractured is one hell of a twisty ride through the hearts and deeds of people who just might feel familiar enough to make us wonder about ourselves. And the punch at the end is everything it should be. A great read!”

  —Jamie Mason, author of Three Graves Full and Monday’s Lie

  “Suspenseful, insightful, and cleverly structured, Catherine McKenzie’s Fractured is a page-turning pleasure. I couldn’t wait to find out what would happen next.”

  —Leah Stewart, author of The Myth of You and Me and The New Neighbor

  “Fractured is a well-crafted, extremely addictive story that kept me turning page after page, eager to put all of the pieces together. When the secrets of Pine Street all click into place, you are left with a highly satisfying conclusion that I promise you’ll find yourself pondering long after you read the last page. This is definitely another masterful piece of fiction from one of my favorite authors, Catherine McKenzie.”

  —Emily Bleeker, bestselling author of Wreckage

  “Beautifully plotted. Breathlessly paced. Fractured is a difficult book to put down. But its insights into love, marriage, and obsession ensure that you’ll be thinking about it long after you do. This is Catherine McKenzie at her best.”

  —Matthew Norman, author of We’re All Damaged and Domestic Violets

  “Catherine McKenzie has crafted a tightly wound tale of complex relationships and engrossing psychological suspense. A finely wrought novel of human strength and frailty, cracked marriages and torn friendships, love and jealousy, Fractured kept me guessing until the very end.”

  —A. J. Banner, bestselling author of The Good Neighbor

  “Fractured shatters the cheery facade of a Cincinnati community to expose the dark side of picket fences, block parties, and speed bumps. Think of it as a welcome basket with a ticking bomb inside. This page-turner of a mystery also features a novelist who may or may not be the neighborhood’s bad apple. A thrilling achievement!”

  —Neil Smith, award-winning author of Bang Crunch and Boo

  “Catherine McKenzie has quickly become a master of the psychological thriller, and Fractured is no exception. A taut, finely wrought novel that had me holding my breath from the very first page, unsure of where the twists and turns would take me but looking forward to all of them.”

  —Allison Winn Scotch, New York Times bestselling author of Time of Your Life and In Twenty Years

  Other Books by Catherine McKenzie

  Smoke

  Hidden

  Spun

  Forgotten

  Arranged

  Spin

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

  Text copyright © 2016 by Catherine McKenzie

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle

  www.apub.com

  Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Lake Union Publishing are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.

  ISBN-13: 9781477817940 (hardcover)

  ISBN-13: 9781503937826 (paperback)

  ISBN-10: 1477817948 (hardcover)

  ISBN-10: 1503937828 (paperback)

  Cover design by Rex Bonomelli

  For Abigail Koons

  CONTENTS

  Today

  Eden Park

  Birthday Boy

  Today

  Close Neighbors Make Good Neighbors

  Good Neighbors Make Safe Neighbors

  Today

  Christmas Cake

  Password Protected

  Today

  Another Day in Paradise

  Trouble in Paradise

  Today

  The Curious Incident of the Dog Poop in the Night-Time

  New Rules

  Today

  Check-In

  Learning to Fly

  Today

  I’ll Be Watching You

  Eye of the Tiger

  Today

  On the Outside Looking In

  Service

  Today

  I Love New York in June

  The Dinner

  Today

  Reinforcements

  Long, Hot Days of Summer

  Today

  Another Day, Another Conflict

  Gut Punch

  Today

  Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off

  The Truth

  Today

  ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

  BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS

  Q&A WITH MARY KUBICA

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  Today

  John

  6:00 a.m.

  I’m still not certain what it was that made me begin my daily morning vigil at the front windows.

  Something innocuous, I’m sure. That’s what I’ll say later today, surely, when I’m asked. Whatever the cause, the effect is that it feels like my days have always begun this way. Me in my boxers, coffee mug in hand, staring out the window at the neighbor’s house. And that my days always will begin this way, although I know neither is possible.

  The coffee in my mug is strong and bitter. A plume of steam rises from it, circling the rim. We haven’t turned the heat on yet, so the hardwood floor is cold beneath my bare feet. As I catch a draft from the window that needs caulking and the skin on my arms turns to gooseflesh, I think about how important these moments of silence are to me. The time it takes for me to make a cup of coffee and drink it.

  These are the moments I have to consider. To watch. To plan.

  A shadow appears to rise and fall across our narrow street. I move the lace curtain aside to get a better look. I’ve always hated these curtains. Their femininity. The way they don’t actually provide the privacy they promise. A wedding gift from my wife’s parents. Impossible to say no to. Impossible to tuck away.

  The slip of glass I’ve uncovered reveals only the cracked black pavement beyond my front stoop. It’s fall. The few stunted trees that line our street are tinged with red, orange, and gold. Soon, the multicolored leaves will be just another chore for me to complete. Tumbling across the road. Wedging themselves into the gutters. Clogging the street drain. But for now, they dance merrily in the first light, casting an innocent glow over the breaking day.

  Innocent.

  This day seems innocent; the house across the street does too. I’d never thought a house could be anything but. I still don’t, really; only with everything that’s happened, it’s easier to blame something.

  Something inanimate.

  Something improbable.

 
; Certainly not myself.

  So I blame the narrow house with the dark-yellow clapboards and white trim. The one I watch every morning. I blame its red door and double-hung windows that look back at me, unblinking.

  It’s easier than blaming myself.

  That day—two months ago—began this way too. Me at the window. The coffee in my mug still too hot to drink. Then, later, the awful squeal of tires. The scrunch of metal on bone. The shouts. The tears. The professions of innocence.

  There’s that word again. One I’d never thought much about before, but is central to my life now.

  There’s a shuffling noise above me. One of the curtains across the street twitches.

  I drop the flimsy fabric from my hand.

  Today, of all days, it wouldn’t do to be caught looking.

  Welcome, Neighbor!

  On behalf of the Pine Street Neighborhood Association (“PSNA”), I’d like to welcome you and your family to the neighborhood. We’re excited to have you join us and hope you’ll love living here as much as we do! Fair warning: we take being good neighbors seriously, but don’t be alarmed! It’s all in good fun.

  I’m tucking this note into one of our custom Welcome Baskets. You’ll find the following items enclosed**:

  Our PSNA Welcome Packet, full of information about things to see and do around Cincinnati

  Our PSNA Restaurant Guide, full of peanut-free and gluten-friendly suggestions vetted by our very own residents

  Some healthy snacks to tide you over until you make it to the grocery store

  A contact list for everyone in the PSNA

  Please e-mail me ([email protected]) with your contact information as soon as possible. I’ll sign you up for our mailing list, so you will start getting our newsletter right away and don’t miss any of our amazing social events. If I do say so myself, we know how to rock the party in Mount Adams.

  Speaking of social events, our monthly block party is at our house next month. Please join us at Pinehurst (that’s #12 Pine Street) on November 1st at 6:00 p.m. sharp! More information about the block parties (including our alcohol policy) can be found in the Welcome Packet.

  Again, welcome. We can’t wait to get to know you.

  Best,

  Cindy Sutton, PSNA Chair and Founder, 2009–Present

  **Please let me know if you didn’t receive all of these items.

  Eden Park

  Julie

  Twelve months ago

  My first morning in the new house, I rose at the crack of dawn, slipped into the running clothes I’d left at the end of the bed, and let myself out the front door with our German shepherd, Sandy, as quietly as I could.

  It was early October. The morning had a fall crispness about it. I pulled at the zipper on my running fleece, bringing the hood up over my head and pushing my bangs out of my eyes. Sandy panted next to me, her breath clouding around her black muzzle.

  The houses on our new street were a riot of color. It was why I picked this neighborhood. Its hilly streets and close-together houses reminded me of San Francisco with a touch of Cape Cod thrown in. Set on the slopes of Mount Adams—one of Cincinnati’s seven hills—the buildings are tall and narrow, with painted siding or weathered shingles. Below them flows the Ohio River, a happy mix of green and blue. There’s a big stone church at the top of the street, hidden treed paths, and a small commercial strip full of pretty red brick shops and restaurants a few blocks away.

  I’d never been to Cincinnati before we moved there, which was, I admit, part of its appeal. Moving to an entirely new place, where I had no history, seemed like the right solution to the mess my life had become. I spent weeks studying maps of the area before we moved so I’d know my way around and could start my new life with as few hurdles as possible.

  I recited the directions to Eden Park in my head as I ran down the hill. I’d kept the route simple: Parkside to Martin Drive, which would eventually lead me into the Authors Grove.

  Or so I hoped.

  Those words—“the Authors Grove”—jumped out at me the first time I explored the area online, and I knew immediately I’d make it one of my first stops. I hadn’t yet found an adequate explanation of its name, but I imagined a peaceful place, full of inspired light. Or perhaps it contained benches dedicated to Cincinnati authors who wrote about the Ohio River, the seven hills, the city’s history. When summer came around again, it might be the right place to sit and think. Or it might be an anomaly on the map, more enticing in the imagination than in reality.

  Too many things had turned out like that for me.

  There wasn’t any formal entrance to the park, just the sudden growth of large, leafy trees, and a sign indicating that’s where I was—a plaque on a stone pillar with a gargoyle sitting on top of it. I stopped for a moment to do my warm-up stretches and stave off the edge of fear that had crept into my gut. I reached for the disk that hung from a lanyard around my neck. Both a tracker and a panic button, I wore it as constantly as the step tracker around my wrist. It relayed a signal to a base station in my house and an alarm company in an undisclosed location. Trying to calm my nerves, I went over the commands Sandy and I learned together in training school. Stay, growl, attack.

  Nobody knows you’re here, I told myself as I leaned down into a starter’s position, my hands on the cold ground. Stop making excuses. Get ready to move in three . . . two . . . one . . .

  Go!

  I never found the Authors Grove that day, only more hills than I imagined, and the limits of my fitness. Five miles later, I slowed as I reached the beginning of my new street.

  We’d come to Cincinnati because it was the first place Daniel got offered a job. I’d insisted we move after Heather Stanhope discovered our address in Tacoma and started visiting it on a regular basis.

  Who knows how many times she’d been there before she was found out? Sitting in her car watching me put out the garbage, or eyeing Daniel as he mowed the lawn. Or making it all the way to our front door without knocking, stopping to riffle through our mailbox. What need did a view of the outside of my house fill in her? Why did she keep junk mail with my name on it? Because it was something I might touch? All those hours she’d spent, slouched low, trying to be inconspicuous, was she working up the courage to confront me? And if so, for what? Or was she just hoping her mere presence would work its way into my consciousness? And what had led her to finally start leaving traces of herself behind—a series of things she called “presents,” but only gave the gift of fear?

  There was no way of knowing any of it without asking.

  I shuddered and banished the thought.

  Heather Stanhope will not ruin my life.

  That sentence had become a daily affirmation, said as often as my OCD-inclined husband washed his hands. It left me feeling as raw as his winter skin.

  I heard footfalls behind me. A tall man in running clothes. I saw no more of him with my quick glance. My brick-red front door was five, four, three, two, one driveway away. When I stopped, Sandy was looking at me, waiting for my signal, a snarl in her throat. I stood by the large black-and-green garbage and recycling bins that got picked up weekly on a day I had yet to learn. The man behind me turned right onto his own stoop. His house was similar to mine—a turn-of-the-century-size building with several modern additions built over the garage and out the back. It had light-blue siding, black paint around the windows, and a shiny black front door.

  He gave me a small wave. “You one of the Prentices?” he asked. “Julie, I’m guessing?”

  My shoulders tensed. Growl, I thought, flexing my hand to get ready to give Sandy the sign that would send her bounding toward his throat.

  “You guys were in the last neighborhood-association newsletter,” he said, as if he could sense my unease. “I’m not stalking you or anything.”

  I forced a laugh and tried not to flinch at the word “stalking.” “Of course not.”

  We left our front stoops and met in the middle of the street. I si
gnaled Sandy to stay where she was. Despite the run, I was too jumpy. The last thing I needed was to draw attention to myself on my first day by having my dog attack a total stranger.

  “I’m John Dunbar,” he said in a pleasant voice, a bit drawn out. I didn’t know enough yet to determine whether this was the local accent or something particular to him. He started to reach out his hand, then stopped. “Four miles makes for a pretty sweaty handshake.”

  “Five miles for me,” I said, with some pride. Two years before, still carrying the weight I’d gained while pregnant with the twins, I hadn’t been able to run around the block. “Or at least I think it was. With all those twists and turns in the park, it’s hard to tell. Anyway, I can take it.”

  His grip was warm and steady, and I tried to match its strength with my own. I focused on his face. Brown eyes, graying blond hair—from what I could see of it under his running cap—the kind of skin that would burn if left too long in the sun. Rugged.

  “I like a strong shake in a woman,” he said.

  “So do I.”

  “Ha. Well. Another thing we have in common.”

  “We have things in common?”

  “There’s the running, obviously.”

  “Oh, right.” I felt flustered and looked down at the pavement. We were wearing his-and-her versions of the same Asics running shoe. “Look,” I said, wiggling my toes so my shoes moved up and down. “We match.”

  “Weird.”

  “I’ll say. These are my husband’s running shoes.”

  “Funny.”

  “You think I’m joking.”

  He frowned. “I—”

  “I was. I was joking.”

  “Ah. Not completely in sync, then.”

  “I guess not.”

  A creaking bike rounded the corner onto our street. A teenage boy was struggling up the hill with a heavy bag slung over his shoulder. He reached in and tossed a paper at the first house.

  I turned toward my driveway. “Stay, Sandy,” I said in my best command voice.

  “Should I warn him?”

 
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