September 29, 2009
Riptide -- Out now from Avon Books
rip·tide (rip/tid/), n. a tide that opposes
another or other tides, causing a violent
disturbance in the sea.
— Random House
Webster's unabridged dictionary
Christina achieved unparalleled wealth and prestige when she married Jason Cardiff, Wall Street wizard and Mayflower descendant. But once the cracks in the union began to show, even the towering privet hedges surrounding their East Hampton estate could not contain the dark rumors. Then everything came crashing down . . .
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I came to on a moonlit beach. I was running, or trying to. My bare feet made furrows in the cold night sand. My right hand was wrapped around the slim neck of a near-empty bottle of Jamesport Vineyards Chardonnay. An onshore breeze played havoc with the sheer voile of my wrap dress. The bow at my waist had come undone, so most of the dress billowed at my side like a sail. It felt like I had an imaginary invisible twin.
This struck me as hilarious. I stopped so I could laugh as hard as I wanted. I felt I should tell all this to Dan, explain to him about my imaginary twin, and how we could finally have that threesome he kept bugging me about.
But the wind tore away my words before I could say them. I hiccupped.
I heard Dan’s deep, booming laugh behind me. He came up close and I felt his breath on my shoulder that was bare except for the silk strap of my bra. I got a whiff of the hot cloud that was Daniel Cunningham, a thick stew of Old Spice and cigarettes, and the fruity scent of the wine we’d been drinking since lunch at Lenny’s on the dock in Montauk.
His bare arms came up sharp around my waist, warm and muscled, marbled through with thick veins on smooth skin, pulling me back against him. I lost my balance and fell against his chest, melting into that cloud of his, slipping down and down and down . . .
Christina felt their eyes on her. The circle was quiet, waiting.
Dan, his face, his scent, the knowing way of his hands on her bare skin, filled her mind. He was always there for her, the lover who lived in her head. Like a drug she could always come back to and use again.
But not here. Not now.
The counselor’s name was Peter, and he leaned forward until he was in danger of slipping off the edge of his molded plastic chair. “Christina?” He said her name again, coming down heavy on the next to last syllable so it sounded like a question.
But it was not a question, not really, and Christina knew it. It was a command to spill her guts.
The group watched, like so many hyenas in the veldt waiting to pounce on a fresh kill.
Peter let a moment or two pass. He began to speak when Christina did not. “There came a day, finally, when I knew my number was up. I don’t know why that day was different, but it was. I had hit my bottom and I knew it.” Peter picked up the folded napkin from underneath his Styrofoam cup and used it to mop up the sheen along his upper lip.
Heat from outside seeped in around the edges of the heavy automatic doors and sealed windows of the rehab despite the A.C., which was kept in arctic blast mode to protect the patients from the merciless furnace that was Minnesota in July.
Beads of sweat poked through Peter’s Polo shirt, dotting his midsection like chicken pox. “The way I was drinking, I should have been dead ten times over.” He used the flip side of the napkin to blot at his forehead.
Nods and murmurs of assent moved around the circle like a wave through the stands inside a football stadium.
“But the day I finally got it, I was done. My number had come up. I had taken my last drink. And I knew it.” The counselor leaned back until the plastic chair creaked, his gaze never wavering from Christina’s face. “That’s what we call hitting bottom, Christina. Have you hit your bottom yet?”
She looked at him, taking stock of the pale blue eyes and thinning blonde hair, the face that was arranged into a permanent frown of understanding. He was a third-generation Norwegian-American whose drinking had taken him on a wild ride across the Midwest through two marriages, seven locked psych wards and even a brief stint in prison. Until he had seen the light and found his way here, where he could dedicate all his time and energy to shining the beacon of recovery into the dark hearts of drunks like Christina.
“You don’t need to hide any more, Christina. You’re in a safe place.” Peter’s blue eyes swam with compassion for her, so deep and so full, apparently, that he needed to press the napkin into service yet again to dab at them. He took a swig of coffee that went down with an audible gulp.
Signaling to Christina that it was okay, he had all the time in the world when it came to saving her soul.
God, she hated him.
“Carroll is a strong writer whose ability to construct a scene and weave a tale rivals the best in the business.”
— RT BOOKReviews awards Riptide 3 stars! (posted October 2009)