When her friend Sandy asks for help, Anne Wilson leaves her small, lonely life in Miami for the picturesque island of Saint Martin. But as soon as she arrives, Sandy is murdered, and her death exposes lies: an alias, a secret past, stolen money. Suspected of murder and trapped on the island, Anne is shocked when a cryptic message arrives:
Find the money. Take it and run.
She follows Sandy’s trail of obscure clues, desperate for proof of her innocence and must decide if she can trust the two men who offer help-the dark, mysterious Brit or the American with a wide grin and a pickup truck. When memories resurface-dark truths she’d rather leave buried and forgotten, her past becomes intertwined with her present.
Her only way forward is to face her own secrets.
**SUMMARY TAKEN FROM AMAZON**
EXCERPT OF ASSUMED:
A constant stream of jubilant holiday-goers jostled my suitcase as I paced the arrivals gate, but Sandy’s mobile went to voicemail a fourth time. I hung up without leaving another message and strolled past the baggage carousel. Again.
“Where are you, Sandy?” I muttered under my breath.
A man in a white Panama hat vacated a bench, and I collapsed onto the cold metal and hugged the handle of my suitcase. The other passengers exchanged greetings and gathered their baggage, and the automatic door slid open with a swoosh to receive them. Every time the door opened, humid air blasted my face.
The man in the white hat reappeared but saw me and turned away, presumably to find a bench without a slouching, scowling American. I raised my shoulders from a slump and crossed my legs.
“What now, Anne?” I asked myself, tapping the screen of my phone and resisting the urge to check the time.
A young boy, about five years old, wandered over and climbed onto the bench next to me. We exchanged nervous smiles. Couples and families regrouped near the door, and I watched their faces, expecting someone to claim the boy, but the door opened and closed, over and over, and he remained.
I was just about to ask where the boy’s parents were when a tall woman entered and rushed toward us, shouting in French. Her profile was dark against the bright sunlight outside, and her long hair swirled in the vortex of the doorway. The boy pressed against me, and I almost wrapped my arm around him, but the door closed, and she smoothed her hair back into place.
She pulled the boy from the bench, gripping his arms with long, slender fingers. I couldn’t understand her words, but her reprimand was clear. Her green eyes flashed with fear and anger. She blamed me for his disappearance. I shrugged, trying to remember how to apologize in French. Je suis desole? But I was unsure of the words, so I didn’t say anything, and she didn’t wait for my explanation.
He left with her, his little hand firmly inside hers, and when the door opened and whipped her hair back into the air, the boy turned back to me with a smile. I waved.
And then I was alone again.
I jumped when my phone buzzed.
Sorry, Sandy texted. Can’t make it. Take a taxi to 16 Rue de l’Aile Perdue.
I stared at the text and considered purchasing a ticket for a return flight, but my phone buzzed again with a second text.
I squared my shoulders and pulled on my sunglasses. Then I walked through the whoosh of the doorway and into the sunlight.
The taxi line had already thinned; it took only a few minutes before a lively man ushered me into the back of a bright green sedan. The driver offered a brusque “Welcome to Saint Martin,” and turned up her radio. Taxi code for no talking. Fine with me.
We sped through narrow streets, dangerously close to sunburned tourists wandering street markets. Stalls spilled out from under a rainbow of awnings, hawking loud shirts and oversized beach towels. The air was thick with cardamom and curry, mixed with the yeasty smell of a patisserie. My stomach rumbled. In my rush to make the early morning flight, I’d skipped breakfast.
We left town and traveled up and down winding roads that cut into the hillsides. The villas grew larger and farther apart and then disappeared into thick foliage behind security gates. I caught occasional glimpses of dirt lanes and even fewer paved driveways. When the driver pulled off the road, I leaned out the window to watch the tops of towering palm trees lining a long gravel driveway. We stopped on a cobbled motor court in front of a massive house.
I stared up at the imposing facade from within the safety of the taxi before I bravely stepped into the blazing sun. I thought there must be some mistake, but before I could say anything, the taxi drove away. Why had Sandy sent me to a dismal mansion and not to one of the dazzling resorts I’d passed?
Beyond the house, the sea stretched to the horizon. Sunlight reflected off the water, awakening childhood fantasies of pirate ships and mermaid tails. But the hot sun quickly melted the daydream, and I retreated into the shadow of the mansion.
Up close, the house was shabby and weather-beaten. Peeling gray paint revealed a history of more colorful choices. The porch railing leaned at a precarious angle, and as I cautiously climbed the rotting steps, the wood complained but held, and I reached the front door and knocked. The sound echoed within the house, but only silence followed. I knocked again, louder, and waited. Nothing.
“Now what?” I asked the house.
The house ignored me, but a piece of paper stuck between two floorboards fluttered in the ocean breeze. I stepped over and picked it up. She’d left a note—an inconsiderate welcome, even for Sandy. I exhaled loudly and unfolded the scrap of paper.
I am not a puppet master
The pandemic taught us surprising things. Some people tried new hobbies. Some people baked bread. All of us learned to respect teachers. Some of us had to get creative to entertain our children. Early in the pandemic, I decided to make sock puppets. We were all taking long, boring walks just to get out of the house, and I thought it might be exciting for the neighbors to enjoy a pop-up puppet theater in my driveway.
I pulled out my sewing machine and gathered fabric scraps and felt scraps and my googly eye collection and got to work. In only an hour, I’d made a few puppets. But then I ran into an issue. I didn’t have a theater. I popped my head out the door to the garage where my husband had been tinkering on something or other and said, “Can you build me a puppet theater?”
His response was typical of his magical-unicorn-husband status. “Sure,” he answered, as easily as if I’d asked him to take out the trash. I closed the door and went back to sewing. Another hour passed while I made two more puppets. Then the door to the garage opened, and my husband asked, “Is this what you had in mind?”
In an hour, he’d built a puppet theater. It was just over four feet long, with 30 inch sides. The particle board frame was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen, and my love for him grew. He painted the frame light gray while I found a discarded curtain rod and ornate black finials, and I fashioned curtains from some old red velvet curtains. (Don’t judge me for having velvet curtains on hand. We all make bad choices sometimes.)
When it was finished, we took turns putting on puppet shows. To be honest, I took more turns than anyone else. The kids humored me and played puppets occasionally, but their excitement didn’t live up to my expectations.
One of the reasons I like putting on a puppet show is that I enjoy telling stories. When the pandemic hit, I’d already finished one draft of a novel, and I was working on a rewrite. Back then I had a few ridiculous ideas of what it meant to be a writer. I was wrong about so many things, but the thing I got really, really wrong was the idea that I had control over my characters’ choices.
Initially, my characters made a lot of inappropriate decisions. For example, I wrote a short story about a woman that lost her partner during escrow on a house that she never wanted. It was her partner’s dream to restore the massive house, but in my story, the grieving widow moved into the house anyway. One of the critiques of my story pointed out that the woman was strong-willed and determined and asked, “Why would she move in if she hated it?” The entire story fell flat because I’d forced her into a decision she never would have made. Her character would have put that house back on the market and sold it–even at a loss.
The story wasn’t salvageable. I’d written beautiful imagery of the dilapidated house and described the grouchy, middle-aged woman perfectly, but the story didn’t make any sense. It was a hard lesson and a turning point in my writing journey. I learned that as a writer, I am not a puppet master.
Well developed characters have backstories that drive their decision making process. They have desires and fears. Just like all of us, they are defined by their experiences. Even though I’m the one telling their stories, I cannot make them do whatever I want. In the case of the grieving widow in the rotting house, I had to move her into a two bedroom condo with a restrictive HOA. She was much happier there, but her story was quite dull.
Now that I’ve learned this lesson I ask myself quite often, “What would [insert name here] do?” The protagonist in my novel ASSUMED is a naive, sheltered woman named Anne. She’s too trusting because everyone in her small life has treated her fairly, older men unconsciously remind her of her father, and she’s lonely. These factors drive Anne’s decisions, and some of her choices are not very smart. Throughout the story, she learns about betrayal, and we see how this affects her future choices. I find this process fascinating.
Learning enough about your characters to determine exactly how they will react in every situation can also be very time consuming and frustrating, but when my characters won’t do what I tell them, I can always crouch inside the puppet theater and put on a show for my neighbors without worrying about any troublesome backstory.
My eldest son has more imagination in his left pinkie finger than I do in my whole brain. He sees things in a unique perspective. As a little kid he wanted to know how everything worked, so he would dismantle things. Not slowly using screwdrivers. He often used a hammer. Sometimes I discuss my current writer’s block with him and shamelessly use his solution, but I consider his share of royalties as payback for all the stuff he destroyed.
His expansive imagination makes him difficult to like sometimes. For example, I yelled a lot the day he poured a half gallon of vegetable oil on his Thomas the Train set. But when he explained that he thought the oil would make the trains go faster, his actions made more sense, and I had to agree that those trains were too slow. I caught myself explaining the reasons the oil didn’t help, but then I remembered he was three years old. The rug was ruined, and I knew it wouldn’t be the last rug to suffer. (Eventually I stopped buying rugs that weren't machine washable and flame retardant.) That day, he learned that vegetable oil doesn’t make the wooden tracks more slippery, and I learned to keep vegetable oil on a higher shelf.
A few years ago, I decided to home school him, and my choice was two fold: I wanted to continue to foster his imagination because I think he’s special, and many other people (including some of his teachers) saw his ideas as destructive. Sometimes they are. He’s definitely an “out of the box” thinker. He likes science which really just means he likes blowing stuff up. But when given the freedom, he comes up with really off the wall, amazing ideas. Sometimes they’re just small things. Like the day I asked everyone in the family to make a pipe cleaner snake for our daily craft. I made a snake, my husband made a snake, his little brother made a snake, but my very imaginative son made a gorilla hanging from a tree holding a bunch of bananas.
I hope his imagination remains intact. As he gets older, he has become less destructive, and while I enjoy the hope that I can have nice things again someday, I do miss being witness to his learning experiences. Perhaps his imagination might just save the world. Or maybe he’ll just use it to make interesting animal shapes out of household items in order to entertain his own children someday. Who knows?
We just wrapped up another holiday season, and I don’t know about you, but I watched more than my fair share of holiday-themed rom-coms. For me, a rom-com is a guilty pleasure that I enjoy in private. Usually with a large bowl of freshly popped popcorn.
Why do we love them so much? I think it’s because our lives are messy and complicated and rom-coms are easy and straightforward. After a long day of finding creative ways to motivate my middle grader into completing his math homework and solving the latest IT crisis at work, my brain feels tired. I don’t always want to solve a mystery or endure the tension of an action sequence. I just want to settle into my Ikea armchair, flip up my footrest, and be entertained.
In a rom-com, you know what to expect. You know the heroine is going to get into trouble, but it’s never going to be a life or death situation. You know that the friction between her and the guy she’s just met is going to spark until it finally ignites a comfortable fire and someone ends up being kissed.
But what about the holiday themed rom-com? Why are they better? The holiday season is stressful. Shopping. Entertaining. Overeating. More than any other time of the year we need to escape, and I can’t think of anything more heartwarming than a small town coming together in a town square brilliantly lit with Christmas lights to solve a small crisis. I never have enough carolers in my life, do you?
When the closing credits roll on a holiday themed rom-com, I blink away the tears and brush the popcorn off of my lap, and I feel so good. I’m inspired to add another reindeer to the herd on my front lawn. I want to bake cupcakes or cookies or a loaf of bread. I want to light a fire in my fireplace even though I live in a place that rarely gets below 70 degrees so a fire would bring on hot-flashes. I feel the holiday spirit.
What holiday rom-coms did you enjoy this year?
INTERVIEW WITH MHR GEER:
Which was the hardest character to write?
Anne. Have you ever disliked someone the first time you met them, but then as you got to know them you realized they were just shy and perhaps quite sad? That’s how it felt to write Anne. I didn’t approve of her choices, but chapter after chapter she showed such strength, and I warmed to her.
What is your writing process like?
Like hiking through progressively larger hills. I can’t see very far ahead, and everytime I climb a hill, I’m surprised by what I find.
What advice would you give budding writers?
Three things: write, read, share. You hear the advice “write every day” because it’s so essential to success. Reading inspires your creativity. And finally, let other people read what you write. Join critique groups, ask friends and family to give you feedback. Constructive criticism will make you a better writer.
Your book is set in Saint Martin, an island in the Caribbean. Have you ever been there?
Yes. (sigh) Such a beautiful place. I want to go back.
Do you have another profession besides writing?
I’m a bookkeeper by day. It’s the opposite of creative writing.
How long have you been writing?
I’ve always journaled, but I began writing novels about nine years ago - which is about the time my first marriage fell apart. Huh, I never made that connection before. Whew. That’s a breakthrough of sorts, isn’t it?
What helps you overcome writer’s block?
There isn’t one remedy. I do laundry or go for walks and listen to loud, angry chick-rock. Sometimes I pull out bins of yarn to design a new knitting project, but then I usually just end up fondling my yarn until I solve the block and return to the computer screen. Yarn is my muse.
What is your next project?
Book 2: Accused. Anne’s story continues! It will be released in 2023.
What is a favorite compliment you have received on your writing?
The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. But the one comment that stands out is when an Amazon reviewer said that Anne (my main character) was so REAL. That was amazing to hear.
How are you similar to or different from your lead character?
We are very different, but we do have a couple things in common. She works in accounting like I do, and we’ve both suffered significant loss - the kind of loss that you never really recover from. Writing her character was so interesting because she dealt with her loss so differently than I did.
What is something you had to cut from your book that you wish you could have kept?
A scene between Anne and Luke. It was such a sweet moment between them, but nothing really happened, and I had to cut it. But the banter between them was so much fun. And, of course, we all want more time with Luke…
Do you snack while writing? Favorite snack?
Tortilla chips. But never from the bag or I won’t stop. The crunching helps me stay calm during suspenseful scenes - like eating popcorn while you’re at the movies.
Where do you write?
Everywhere. At my desk, in my favorite armchair, in the car (when I’m not driving,) on a plane. I’ve written during warmups at my son’s soccer games, sitting in the parking lot waiting for jiu jitsu to finish, and on a sailboat. That wasn’t a good idea though. I’m not sure how my laptop didn’t fall into the Pacific ocean.
Do you write every day?
No. (slight chuckle.) Some days it just isn’t possible. But I try to write even if I know I’m going to delete all of it the next day.
Is there a specific ritualistic thing you do during your writing time?
I listen to music. Really loud music. It blocks out everything else so I can focus on the story. A few indie bands like Metric, but sometimes I plug in my earphones and play catchy mainstream pop. And I like it.
In today’s tech savvy world, most writers use a computer or laptop. Have you ever written parts of your book on paper?
In the first part of a flight, I scribble furiously in a notebook until that glorious “ding” sounds, and I can start typing.
If you’re a mom writer, how do you balance your time?
Define balance...The truth is I don’t have balance. I work too much. But I think “balance” is overrated. We threw out the idea of traditional gender roles in my house. My husband and I are a team. I work, and he does almost everything else. (Except matching socks. He cannot figure that out.)
Favorite travel spot?
Kansas City. Such a friendly place. It always inspires creativity. I love the Nelson-Atkins museum and City Market on the weekends. Also, there’s a place in Westport Plaza that makes the best Matcha ever. Don’t get me started on the barbeque…yum.
If you were stuck on a deserted island, which 3 books would you want with you?
Ulysses. I might be able to read it cover to cover once I’m stuck on a deserted island. One of the Harry Potters because I’d want a little magic. And I’d bring one of my husband's books on boat building because then I could escape to get back to all the other books!
So many hobbies. Knitting mostly, but I enjoy loads of crafts, jewelry and macrame. I want to try pottery, but my yarn takes up too much space. I simply don’t have room in my life for clay. Yet.
What TV series are you currently binge watching?
A while ago, season 1 of Silent Witness popped up as a recommendation on my BritBox. It should have come with a disclaimer like “Don’t watch this unless you’re prepared to commit several months to it.” Sheeshers. I just finished Season 25. I don’t regret a thing. Well. Maybe I regret some of the popcorn.
What song is currently playing on a loop in your head?
I just watched Free Guy with my son, so that Mariah song. So. Freaking. Catchy. It’s in your head now too, isn’t it?
What is something that made you laugh recently?
I live in SoCal, so we don’t get a lot of weather. My son went out for a bike ride and came back after only three minutes and put on a second sweatshirt, a beanie, and gloves. Five minutes later he returned for knee pads and a chest plate because the “wind was bitter cold.” It was 56 degrees.
What is your go-to breakfast item?
A beet smoothie. I know. Gross, right? I hate beets, but they resolve my gallbladder issues. I roast golden beets and blend them with spinach and frozen berries to hide the taste.
What is the oldest item of clothing you own?
Such an embarrassing question! I have a favorite T-shirt that I keep because maybe someday I’ll be the same weight I was in college. The shirt is not even that cool. It’s faded green with a well worn cartoon frog. But it’s so soft and comfy.
Tell us about your longest friendship.
Marie. We met in college because our boyfriends were roommates, and we both instantly had a “you’re my person” moment. I live in California, and she lives on the East Coast, so we meet annually in random cities in the middle of the country to hang out. She’s still my person after all this time.
What is the strangest way you've become friends with someone?
One of my friendships started during the darkest period in my life. We were at a youth football practice that my ex-husband was coaching. I can’t even remember why, but I had to move my chair, and someone I barely knew carried it for me. That’s it. She carried my chair. It was a tiny thing, but the gesture meant the world to me. And we’ve been close friends ever since.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
MHR Geer was born in California but grew up in the Midwest.
She attended the University of California, Santa Barbara to study Physics. After school, she moved to Ventura, CA and started a small bookkeeping business.
She lives with her two sons and her unicorn husband (because he's a magical creature).
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