A devoted wife, a loving husband and a chilling murder that no one saw coming.
“Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry… That something is really, really wrong with me.”
In Annie Ward’s new novel, BEAUTIFUL BAD, Maddie and Ian’s love story begins with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he’s serving in the British army and she’s a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian’s PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son; and the couple’s tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.
HERE’S AN EXCERPT FROM BEAUTIFUL BAD
The next night I was standing on the sidewalk in front of my apartment with my ancient, liver-spotted neighbor, Mr. Milov. We were chatting at extreme length about the appalling prices of bread and yogurt, and I was slowly inching away toward the entrance to our building when a black Mercedes pulled up alongside us.
Mr. Milov had impressive eyebrows like silver caterpillars, and they shot up in alarm. The passenger window lowered and a man wearing a cap and sunglasses said with a thick Eastern European accent, “Miss Brandt? I need you to get in the car.”
“I’m not getting in your car,” I answered, laughing out loud. Then I noticed that Mr. Milov was legitimately terrified and gulping for breath.
I grabbed his arm, but before I could say anything the back door swung open, and there was Joanna, holding a bottle of champagne. “I’m sorry!” she shouted, jumping out. “Is he okay? Are you okay? It was a surprise for Maddie! We’re celebrating that she doesn’t have to go back home yet! I’m so sorry.”
She held up the champagne and said with an embarrassed, guilty smile, “Iznenada! Surprise!”
Mr. Milov collected himself and shuffled away, muttering with his hand over his heart.
An hour later Jo and I were huddled at a corner table drinking bellinis and eating beef carpaccio and smoked salmon at the Sheraton’s Capitale.
“I owed you a visit,” she said, poking her fork at a piece of salmon. “I’ve been so busy. You’ve been to see me way more times lately than I’ve come to see you. It wasn’t even that long of a drive. Five hours. Tops. Easy peasy. And honestly? It feels so good to be away from all the rage and hate, having a blast here with you. This salmon is amazing.”
She began breathlessly outlining for me the plan she had for us to drive to Montenegro later in the summer and spend a week on the beach at Budva.
“My friend Ana is going to hook us up with a friend of hers, this guy who rents his flat every summer and goes and lives with his toothless uncle under a bridge or something. But it’s got a beautiful view. Ana emailed me a picture, which I’ll show you when we get back to your apartment, but honestly, Maddie, it’s so awesome and now that you’re staying I don’t have to go alone! My break is from August sixth to—”
As she was prattling happily along her phone buzzed. She didn’t even pause until she had opened it, and then her face changed completely. She had this little vein that ran down her forehead, and when she was upset it would become gorged with blood. It was throbbing. Her hand was shaking. “Oh shit.”
She closed her phone and lowered her head.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
She looked up and let out a huge sigh. “I have to go back to ball-sack Skopje.”
“Hold on.” She made a quick call to her driver and then motioned to the waiter for the check. “I’m sorry. I can’t stay after all.”
“We have a shipment of baby formula and diapers for the refugees at Stankovac being detained at the Greek border.”
“But it’s the weekend. Can’t it wait until Monday?”
“If I lose this shipment, it’s thousands of dollars,” she said, rifling through her purse for her wallet. “And apparently the Macedonian police are trying to confiscate it. That would mean we’ll never see it again.”
“Why would they do that?”
“Because some police officer at the border knows that there’s a crazy American lady who will pay to get her shipment released.”
“You mean you?”
“You’re going to pay off a policeman?”
“Yep,” she said nonchalantly, and then knocked back the last sip from her champagne flute.
“Oh my God,” I said.
“Oh my God,” she said, mimicking me, and then laughed. “It’s okay, Maddie. It’s just the way things get done.”
We grabbed a cab back to my apartment. While she threw her things back into her bag, I packed as well. She noticed and said, “I can’t take you back with me.”
“It’s not a good idea this time.”
“I’m done teaching and my assignment package from Fodor’s isn’t going to arrive for two weeks. I can’t even start working until then. Let me come with you.”
“It’s getting worse in Macedonia. Massacres. Bombings. All of us Americans are under a travel warning not to enter the country.”
“You live there!”
“I have to! Don’t be crazy.”
After a second she reached out and took my hand. “Thank you.”
We’ll have a review and you’ll have a chance to win a copy of BEAUTIFUL BAD next month on March 26th.
Have a great day!