Perfect Little Lives
Authors: Amber and Danielle Brown
Publication Date: December 5, 2023
Publisher: Graydon House/HarperCollins
LibraryReads December Bonus Pick!
ON ASHER LANE, SOME SECRETS ARE WORTH KILLING FOR…
Simone’s mother was murdered when she was thirteen. When her father was convicted, everything changed. Overnight, Simone went from living in a wealthy white neighborhood to scraping by.
Ten years later, Simone has given up on her dreams and lives a quiet life, writing book reviews and getting serious with her boyfriend. But with a true crime documentarian hounding her for a scoop and a surprise encounter with her childhood next-door neighbor, Hunter, the past seems set on haunting her. And after Hunter reveals that his father and her mother had a years-long affair, Simone is determined to find out who really killed her mother.
Simone is convinced that all evidence points to Hunter’s father, a renowned judge who had everything to lose if his affair—and his nascent love child—came to light. Playing the game from all sides, Simone enlists Hunter’s help in her investigation into his family—whether he realizes it or not. But is she so desperate for closure that she'll risk imploding her carefully rebuilt life?
From PERFECT LITTLE LIVES by Amber and Danielle Brown. Copyright 2023 ©Amber and Danielle Brown. Published by Graydon House.
A fat, heavy tear trickles down my cheek when I yank the final hair from my left areola, and it’s not even twelve seconds after I exchange my tweezer for the disposable razor I grifted from Reggie’s top drawer that blood is gushing down the inside of my thigh. I pause at the shocking appearance of crimson and immediately wonder if this laceration is punishment for being impatient or an indictment of my anti-feminism. Part of me thinks hustling to shave the stray hairs that still stubbornly sprout along my bikini line, despite the six agonizing laser removal sessions I’ve suffered through, is a reflection of how deeply I’ve internalized the particular brand of misogyny that says any hair below the brows on a woman is gross and revolting, and the fact that I’m doing this for a man, not myself, is in itself gross and revolting. I’ve also already chugged sixteen ounces of pineapple juice this morning, for obvious reasons.
The other part of me thinks it’s complete bullshit, that being hyper hygienic and having a general disdain for visible body hair is simply considerate, because feminism and a preference for hairlessness shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. I don’t actually think Reggie has ever noticed the hairs on my tits, or even the splattering on my toes that I compulsively remove once a week,
so in a way maybe I am actually plucking the hair from my nipples for my own aesthetic appreciation, not because of the patriarchy, and my feminism is not actually in jeopardy at all.
My dad used to get on me all the time for fixating on tiny, inconsequential details, a habit I no doubt inherited from my mom. But I really am torn about whether I should be judging myself or just owning the part of my personality that is unapologetically vain as I glance at my phone again to see if Reggie has gotten back to my three where r u and did u leave yet and you’re still coming, right? texts, which is what I was doing when I slashed myself in the first place.
There is no reply.
No ellipsis to show he’s typing.
I sigh because I can’t remember the last time my thigh has felt even a trickle. Granted, the deep red liquid heading toward the marble tile is vastly less pleasant than the warm ropes that Reggie sometimes sends down my adductor, or wherever I request, but it’s warm and sticky just like it, and in the most bizarre way, watching it drizzle down my skin turns me on a little. After checking my phone again to no avail, I bandage the nick on my leg and toss the razor, assuming Reggie is already packed in a subway car like a sardine. He is not ghosting me. He is not cheating on me. He just doesn’t have reception and can’t write back yet.
Another thing my dad is constantly grumbling about, usually while he scans the days’ headlines in the Star-Ledger I bring him every Sunday, is how highly intelligent people can convince themselves of really dumb shit. So there’s that.
I look myself over, naked except for the fresh bandage and the glint of gold around my neck, and wish I could see myself the way Reggie sees me. I notice the flaws first. The blemishes. The discoloration. The faded scars I still have from childhood. He notices everything he likes and never has time to consider that I could even potentially see a single flaw in my own body because his hands and mouth are always busy pawing and sucking before he has the chance. Well, that’s how it used to be. Before Goldstein & Wagner claimed his soul. Now I think his perpetual delirium from the lack of sleep gives him a soft-focus gaze and that’s why he thinks I’m so hot.
Most of my dresses are of the silky, shapeless variety, but the one I pick for tonight is also obscenely short, more reminiscent of a chemise than a dinner garment, something I would never wear out alone. But whatever I wear has to pull its weight tonight. My period is two days away and Reggie squirms even at the idea of a speck of blood. I’m virtually celibate five days every month because even bloody hand jobs freak him out, but he does run to Duane Reade without complaint whenever I’m almost out of tampons and always grabs the right box depending on my flow, so it balances out. He’s put in at least ten hours at the firm today, but I’m totally down for doing all the work to get us both off, so yes, this is the dress, and I’m going to make sure he orders something light with plenty of green on his plate so he doesn’t get the itis on the ride back to my place.
Still, as much as I am craving tongue and hands and a long, indulgent dicking down to sustain me while my ovaries wreak havoc, I would happily handle it myself once he’s asleep and take a couple hours of slow, deep conversation instead. A little shit talking, but mostly watching him eat, and laughing the way we used to back when we first met, when he was finishing the last leg of law school and had a fraction of the responsibilities he does now. I try not to romanticize the days when we were fresh and new, because it was fresh and new and so of course it was fucking romantic, but I’m human and can only look back on the inception of our relationship through a halcyon lens.
My apartment is a microscopic studio in a freshly gentrified Bed-Stuy, all I can afford on my own with my salary, which, five hundred miles toward the center of the continent, could get me a mortgage on a cute starter home. It can feel claustrophobic with more than two people inside it at once, but when it’s just me here, it’s perfect. The galley kitchen is at the front and my bed is made semiprivate by the two white open-shelf bookcases I have packed with too many books, some vintage with gorgeous, battered spines, most pre-loved before I got my hands on them. Reggie thinks I have a problem since I’ve lost count of how many I have and because I have dozens more books littered around the four-hundred-square-foot place. He had the nerve to toss around the h word once. I deadfished him that night, and he never used it again. Though if I’m being objective, there is barely a flat space that isn’t occupied by at least one paperback, but that’s only because I am an actual slut for an aesthetic floppy copy of almost anything. Reggie doesn’t get it. He thinks hardbacks are supreme, and I think it’s tied to the fragility of his masculinity somehow, especially since he’s barely a recreational reader, which makes his opinion hardly justified. Then again, I’m a fiend for his dick when it’s floppy too, so maybe I’m the one with a complex.
I run through my standard series of poses using my floor-length mirror to check how far I can lean over without flashing my nipples or my ass, and frown at my visible panty line. They’re seamless, allegedly, but I can see the faint indent where they grip my skin beneath the delicate fabric of my dress. I step out of them and shuffle through my top drawer for a much less conspicuous thong, but then shut it empty-handed and decide that it’s fine, Reggie has had a long week and it’s only Tuesday. I’m sure he’ll appreciate the surprise.
I’m ten pages away from knocking another contrived, predictable thriller written by a man that swears the narrative is feminist but comes off glaringly misogynistic off my TBR by the time I hear the jingle of Reggie’s keys outside the door to my unit. I toss the book aside without dog-earing my current page, though I feel an instant pang of regret and swing my legs off the arm of my couch as I reach for my phone to see what time it is. It’s been two hours since I gashed my leg. I wait for the door to fly open and brace myself to be seen, for his jaw to drop when he sees me.
But nothing happens.
Reggie doesn’t push in. I don’t hear that jingle anymore.
Before I fully convince myself that I’m suffering from hallucinations courtesy of my surge of pre-menstruation hormones, I straighten out my dress and cross the space to glance through the peephole and be sure. Reggie is on the other side, head bent over, his thumbs beating away at his phone’s screen, whatever email he’s writing taking precedence over our date. Envy erupts like a geyser inside me.
It’s hard to stay pissed at him once I swing the door open and look him over without the distorting view of the peephole. His shirtsleeves are rolled up to his elbows, revealing his forearms that are corded with thick veins, the left one covered in a massive tribal tattoo I still don’t know the meaning of. So slutty of him. His tie is loosened around his neck, but not all the way undone, and I can still smell the remnants of whatever soap he showered with this morning.
“Hey.” He hasn’t looked up yet. “Sorry I didn’t hit you back. I was swamped.”
I don’t reply, will not dignify anything he says with a response until he properly acknowledges me and all the work I put in to look edible for him tonight. He finally hits send and lifts his chin, a guilty smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. I don’t know why, with all this pent-up anticipation, his double take at my dress still makes me blush, and I sort of resent that part of me. Though, at the same time, it feels good to be taken in like this.
“Thought you said seven thirty,” I say, fighting to not sound too accusatory, but it’s not much of a battle since the way he’s checking me out is softening me right up like a stick of butter in a microwave.
His eyes are moving quickly, like they are being pulled downward by some invisible force. “This new?”
He reaches for my amorphous dress, his touch rough enough for me to worry about the preservation of its barely-there straps.
“Figured you’d like it,” I say.
I would have much preferred an immediate and sincere apology for keeping me waiting, but I relinquish my simmering irritation and let him feel me up as I lean in to give him a kiss. He settles a hand on the small of my back, definitely wanting me closer, wanting more, but I pull away before he gets too distracted by the dessert and no longer has an appetite for the meal.
“So.” I look for my purse. “Where you taking me?”
He smirks. “To the bed.”
Amber and Danielle Brown both graduated from Rider University where they studied Communications/Journalism and sat on the editorial staff for the On Fire!! literary journal. They then pursued a career in fashion and spent five years in NYC working their way up, eventually managing their own popular fashion and lifestyle blog. Amber is also a screenwriter, so they live in LA, which works out perfectly so Danielle can spoil her plant babies with copious amount of sunshine. Their debut Someone Had to Do It, was a Library Reads pick.
Author Website: https://www.amberanddanielle.com/