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An excerpt from The Anniversary Party, releasing late December 2023


December 29, 2023
late afternoon

A fire crackled in the stacked stone fireplace. A large floral arrangement of snow-white roses, white lilies, and creamy white tulips mixed with soft blue hydrangeas and deep blue delphinium in full bloom filled the sitting room with a heady perfume. Soft laughter overlapped with the murmured conversations floating on the air. Outside, a fierce winter storm raged. But at this moment, in this space, with these nine people, Sasha McCandless-Connelly felt as if she’d been wrapped in the warmest, coziest blanket imaginable. The setting, the company, and the ambiance more than made up for the roaring blizzard.

As if he’d read her mind, her husband of ten years—or as he’d informed her earlier, nine years, eleven months, and twenty-nine days or 3,651 days total, accounting for the two leap years—pulled her into his arms and whispered against her ear, “This is going to be a perfect weekend.”

She smiled up at him and stretched to her full (almost) five feet in height to plant a kiss on his neck. Well, as near as she could manage, given their twelve-inch height difference.

He rubbed the arms of the fuzzy sweater she’d thrown on over her silky sleeveless dress to stave off the chill in the old stone structure that would be their home for the next three days. His lips parted, but whatever he was about to say was drowned out by the distinctive pop of a champagne cork, followed by a second, softer pop and bubbly giggles from the kitchen. A moment later, Naya Andrews and Maisy Farley walked into the room, towels draped over their arms and bottles in hand.

“Grab your flutes, people,” Naya ordered with good-natured efficiency.

The assembled guests hurried to comply, reaching for the crystalware that Sasha and Leo hadn’t used since their fifth anniversary (spent eating takeout with their three-year-old twins). Sasha would never have thought to pack it for this weekend, but it was the type of detail Leo lived for.

As Maisy and Naya circled the room, Maisy announced in her sweet Southern accent, all rounded vowels and drawls, “Now, I’ve got the high-test. If y’all want sparkling white grape juice, Naya’s your gal.”

Bodhi King lifted his hand. “I’ll take what Naya’s selling.”

“Me, too,” Chris, Daniel’s husband, echoed.

Naya threw Chris a curious look. Her meaning wasn’t hard to discern. The pianist was usually one of the more exuberant partiers at any event—and this wasn’t just any event. It was Sasha and Leo’s tenth anniversary party/New Year’s Eve weekend extravaganza.

“Chris woke up at five this morning to get in his long training run so it won’t be looming over him all weekend. It was good planning, but if you give him alcohol before he eats something, he’ll probably pass out,” Daniel explained. “So, Maisy, you can go ahead and give me his share, too.”

“Eighteen miles,” Chris announced, elbowing Daniel playfully in the ribs. “We’re running a marathon next month. And unlike some people, I need to train.”

Naya poured his non-alcoholic bubbly and moved on to Bodhi.

Then she stopped beside Aroostine Higgins. “If memory serves, you’re not a big drinker, either.”

“I’m not,” Roo confirmed but waved her off. “But I’ll make an exception for Sasha and Leo.”

Maisy and Naya finished filling glasses and placed the empty bottles on the butler’s cart near the fireplace. Leo raised his glass and surveyed the room. Sasha followed his gaze:

Naya and her long-time companion, the ever-patient, unflappable Carl, got cozy on the chintz loveseat near the bookcase. Bodhi lounged against the wall, his long legs crossed at the ankles in front of him. Aroostine perched on the arm of the chair that Maisy had claimed for herself. Hank Richards, Leo’s boss and one of their oldest friends, sat in its mate on the opposite side of the coffee table. Finally, Daniel and Chris sprawled on the velvet couch.

Eight friends who’d stood by Sasha and Leo for years. They’d shared joys, sorrows, and the occasional harrowing, near-death experience. Sasha was overcome by a wave of deep gratitude for these people and their presence in her life. She blinked back the tears that threatened to spill out and nudged Leo.

“My beautiful bride is gently encouraging me to say what I have to say before the fizzy gets flat. So, I’ll keep this short. We’re so glad—beyond glad—to be able to share this weekend with you. You’ve all played such an important role in our lives. We love you and look forward to celebrating with you.”

He tipped his glass toward their guests, and everyone returned the gesture.

As Sasha sipped her crisp, cold champagne, Hank cleared his throat. “Here’s to one decade of the indomitable McCandless-Connelly duo, and many more decades. May this weekend, and every one that follows, be blessedly boring and uneventful. Unlike the wedding.”

“Hear, hear,” Bodhi exclaimed.

Maisy enthused, “I’ll drink to that!”

Leo laughed.

Sasha feigned umbrage. “You invite your friends to one destination wedding where they’re taken hostage by armed mercenaries, and they never let you forget it.”

Naya hooted. Aroostine barely avoided doing a spit-take. And Chris laughed so hard he snorted. Sasha was glad they could laugh about it now. At the time, it had been terrifying, tense, and traumatic. But they’d all survived unscathed, except for her blood-stained, machete-hacked wedding gown. She smiled at the uproar in the room. This is exactly what she and Leo had pictured when they decided to throw this weekend bash. It was off to a promising start.

A high-pitched scream pierced the cold afternoon air.

For a heartbeat, nobody reacted. 

Another shriek. This one was louder, closer, and more desperate. Sasha shivered, and goosebumps rose on her arms.

“Is that the wind?” Naya ventured gamely.

Aroostine was the first one to the window. She pulled aside the heavy curtain and peered outside, scanning the woods behind the house.

“There’s a woman staggering through the trees. She’s not wearing a coat or anything.”

At her announcement, the rest of them crowded around the window beside her. It took a moment for Sasha to spot the woman among the wildly swaying trees. Her head was lowered, and she bent forward almost at the waist, fighting against the wind and blowing snow. Her long dark hair and the skirt of her slinky emerald green dress streamed behind her.

“She’s coming this way. Headed straight for the house.” Maisy turned away from the window and grabbed Sasha’s arm, wide-eyed and breathing fast. “What do we do?”

“She looks harmless enough,” Sasha mused.

Leo gave her a close look.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

The woman must have seen the group at the window because she began to run—or tried to. The strong headwind pushed her back. As they watched her struggle forward, she opened her mouth to scream again, but the gale tore the noise from her throat.

By the time she reached the small front porch, she was nearly on her knees. Bodhi was already at the door. He wrenched it open, and she dragged herself over the threshold and into the house with a swirl of snow. He hurried to shut the door against the cold outside.

She looked around the room, wild-eyed, and settled her attention on Leo. Her lips parted, and as she collapsed on the floor, she managed to croak a single word. “Help.”


If you want to join the party, you can preorder the ebook everywhere AND … drumroll …. You can preorder a signed paperback from me (US only for right now—sorry)! 

That’s right, I listened to your survey responses and a fair number of you are interested in signed paperbacks. So, we’re starting small: if you order from me this week, you should receive your paperback in the mail on or around December 19! If you order later, I’ll still ship them out early, but holiday shipping deadlines will mean your book may take a bit longer to reach you.