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Excerpt - THE FAMILIAR STRANGER by Christina Berry

I'm a little late on this, but I wanted to post this excerpt of the debut novel of my friend Christina Berry! I've known Christina and her mom for a few years now, and they always have a warm hug for me. :) I love the story premise of Christina's novel and hope this excerpt tantalizes you enough to go order her book!


The Familiar Stranger
by
Christina Berry


Craig Littleton's decision to end his marriage would shock his wife, Denise . . . if she knew what he was up to. When an accident lands Craig in the ICU, with fuzzy memories of his own life and plans, Denise rushes to his side, ready to care for him.

They embark on a quest to help Craig remember who he is and, in the process, discover dark secrets. An affair? An emptied bank account? A hidden identity? An illegitimate child?

But what will she do when she realizes he's not the man she thought he was? Is this trauma a blessing in disguise, a chance for a fresh start? Or will his secrets destroy the life they built together?

Excerpt of chapter one:

His

I wrapped a towel around my waist as Denise stalked into the bathroom. Avoiding her eyes, I wiped a clear spot on the steamy mirror and studied my reflection. A caged man, a Houdini, stared back at me. Bound inside a straitjacket, locked in chains, submerged in a tank, I could taste the metallic tang of the key hidden in my mouth. If I held my breath a little longer and waited for the right time to rip my shoulder from its socket, I would escape my stifling life.
“Did you wipe down the shower, Craig?”
What harm would happen if once, just once, I left droplets on the glass doors? I bit back my retort. “Of course, honey.”
“Good.” She peered into the brushed-silver mirror hanging above the white marble countertop—a bathroom that had cost me a month’s wages—and added another layer to her lipstick. “Need to hurry if we’re going to be on time.”
“I’m not going.” I said it as if I didn’t care one way or the other what she thought of my bombshell.
“What are you talking about?” Her shoulders tighten into unnatural stillness.
I rubbed the scruff of my neck and scrutinized my image. A few wrinkles around the eyes. Two slight recessions on either side of the hairline. Not bad for a guy of forty-six.
“Craig, the deacons’ meeting is right after the service and you’ve missed the last two. Are you trying to sabotage your position?” Her reflected hazel eyes drilled into me.
For a second I thought of giving it all up, going to church with her and the kids, acting as though that was all I had planned for the day. Then the image faded and a pair of deep brown eyes replaced hers. No, I wouldn’t be setting foot in a house of worship this Sunday, or ever again.
She wouldn’t turn away without some kind of explanation.
“Denise, every day of the week I’m looking into people’s mouths. Different teeth, different breath, same office, same chair. Same mindless, indecipherable banter. This is my one day off and I’m not going to waste it sitting in a pew with a bunch of pretenders.”
“Pretenders?” Her lipstick tube tumbled to the counter, leaving a blood-red slash against its starkness. “Sometimes I don’t understand you at all.” As she rubbed a tissue over the spot, the red smeared across the dead veins in the rock, veins that merged and parted, crossed and died, without purpose or pattern.
Had I pushed too hard? The last thing I needed this morning was an interrogation built on suspicion.
I’d planned this day for too long to blow it now.
I turned and put my arms around her. “I’m going crazy. Call it a midlife crisis if you will, but I can’t put on a tie and sing a happy little hymn. I’m going hiking.”
Relaxing into my embrace, she fingered my jaw line. “Hiking,huh? Along the trails in Washington Park?”
Why do you always have to make a suggestion so it still seems as if I’m still doing what you want? It was her fault I had to carry out my plan.
Yet I had to feign tenderness, feign caring. I tried to smile. “No, to Multnomah Falls. The weather’s supposed to be great in the gorge.”
Denise stiffened again and moved away from me, heading into the bedroom. “The Columbia Gorge is kind of a long drive for a spur-of-the-moment thing, don’t you think?”
Trailing after her, I recalled all the weekends I spent following her from one of the kids’ soccer games to her friends’ barbeques after work on Saturday. Waking the next day to the usual church service, out for lunch with another of her friends—the husband and I pretending camaraderie even though we knew nothing more about each other than our favorite football teams. Back to church for the evening meeting. Finally dropping into bed, dreading the idea of telling people to floss more, brush with softer bristles, lay off the self-whitening strips for a while, and all the other advice I dispensed only to have it ignored.
I slipped on a pair of loose jogging shorts and a T-shirt over my head. “Give me today, and I’ll do whatever you want next Sunday.”
“Fine.” She sighed. “Your mind’s made up anyway. I’ll figure out something to tell everyone.”
“Say a dental emergency came up. A root canal.”
She touched the edge of the dresser and balanced on one foot while she slid on a new shoe, a beaded red high heel. I’m sure it set me back a pretty penny. Dyed honey-blonde hair hung over her face as she leaned over to put the other shoe on, calf flexing. I was surprised at how young and attractive she looked. Apparently our physical connection still flowed deep, like the veins in the marble, but my heart sat cold and dense.


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