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On second thought, p.1

On Second Thought, page 1


On Second Thought

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On Second Thought

  From the New York Times bestselling author of If You Only Knew comes an irresistible look at the affection and the acrimony that binds families together Ainsley O'Leary is so ready to get married--she's even found the engagement ring her boyfriend has stashed away. What she doesn't anticipate is being blindsided by a breakup he chronicles in a blog...which (of course) goes viral. Devastated and humiliated, Ainsley turns to her older half sister, Kate, who's struggling with a sudden loss of her own.

  Kate's always been the poised, self-assured sister, but becoming a newlywed--and a widow--in the space of four months overwhelms her. Though the sisters were never close, she starts to confide in Ainsley, especially when she learns her late husband was keeping a secret from her.

  Despite the murky blended-family dynamic that's always separated them, Ainsley's and Kate's heartaches bind their summer together when they come to terms with the inevitable imperfection of relationships and family--and the possibility of one day finding love again.

  Praise for On Second Thought "Emotional depth is seared into every page along with wry banter, bringing readers to tears and smiles. Another hit for Higgins."

  --Library Journal, starred review Praise for If You Only Knew "[An] emotionally compelling story [and] perceptive study of love, marriage, sisterhood, and loyalty. A powerful, emotionally textured winner."

  --Kirkus Reviews

  "The kind of book I enjoy the most--sparkling characters, fast-moving plot and laugh-out-loud dialogue. A winner!"

  -- New York Times bestselling author Susan Elizabeth Phillips "Poignant, funny and richly entertaining."


  "This emotional journey is filled with drama, laughter and tears and squeezes the heart. It should be on every bedside table in the country!"

  --#1 New York Times bestselling author Robyn Carr "Oh, what a satisfying and delicious read! I admired the writing, the wit, the keen eye at work here. Thank you, Kristan Higgins."

  --Elinor Lipman

  "Higgins' tender, heartfelt If You Only Knew bridges the gap between romance and women's fiction."


  "Hilarious... Kristan Higgins is spot on with her dialogue and characters. A fantastic story."

  --Fresh Fiction

  Kristan Higgins is a New York Times bestselling author of over a dozen novels, including her acclaimed Blue Heron series. Along with her heroic and tolerant firefighter husband and two snarky and entertaining children, Kristan lives in her hometown in Connecticut.

  Also by Kristan Higgins IF YOU ONLY KNEW


  The Blue Heron Series IN YOUR DREAMS














  This book is dedicated to Hannah Elizabeth Kristan, who is one of the best people I know in all the wide world--funny, kind, brave and brilliant. So proud to be your cousin, sweetheart!


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six



  Questions for Discussion

  Excerpt from Now That You Mention It by Kristan Higgins

  Chapter One


  If I had known how things would play out on the evening of April 6, I would've brought my A-game that morning.

  I would've set my alarm early so Nathan and I could make love. We'd been married for only four months, so that wasn't out of the realm of possibility. I would've brushed my teeth first and my hair. Afterward, I would've kissed him lingeringly, cupped his face in my hands and said, "I love you so much. I'm so lucky to be your wife." This would've probably caused him to give me the side-eye, because such gooey proclamations weren't my style, but the feelings were there just the same.

  I also would've added, "Don't get me that second glass of wine tonight, by the way."

  Instead, I did what I'd been doing almost every morning of our marriage; when Nathan's alarm went off--at 6:00 a.m., mind you, a cruel hour--I pulled the pillow over my head and muttered darkly. Nathan got up every day to spend forty-five minutes on the elliptical, which proved the old "opposites attract" theory, since I viewed walking down the block to get a coffee as my daily workout.

  As I grumbled, Nathan laughed because my hatred of predawn wake-ups had yet to grow old for him.

  However, I did get up after he finished dressing, and I stumbled down to the kitchen in my plaid flannel pajama bottoms and NYU sweatshirt, the thrilling, awkward sense of newness at seeing my husband off to work still with me. I loved him like crazy, despite his addiction to exercise. At least he was healthy. (The Fates laughed merrily, the capricious bitches.)

  He was already at the kitchen table.

  "Morning," I said, tousling his still-damp hair. Hard to believe I'd married a ginger, which had never before been my type. And yet we'd had fantastic sex just last night. I leaned down and kissed his neck at the memory. See? I wasn't exactly in a coma, even if it was still too early to blink both eyes simultaneously.

  "Hey," he said with a smile. "How'd you sleep, honey?"

  "Great. How about you?" I took out a mug and poured some life-giving coffee, wondering if the fact that I still liked the smell meant I wasn't pregnant.

  "I was very happily exhausted," he said with a smile. "Slept like the dead."

  Nathan put his cup in the dishwasher, which he emptied every night before bed. He always used the same cup and put it in the same place on the top rack. He was an architect. He liked things neat and square, and his house was a showplace, after all. A literal showplace of his workmanship.

  "We have Eric's party tonight, right?" he asked.

  "What? Oh, yeah. His 'To Life' party." I took a long pull of coffee and suppressed a grimace. Eric, my sister's eternal boyfriend, was celebrating his cancer-free status, and while I was obviously glad he'd recovered, the party seemed to smack of hubris. His health status wasn't exactly news, either--he'd kept us all up-to-date in searing detail on his blog, Facebook page, Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, Tumblr and the Pinterest board with photos of himself, his IV bag during chemo and, yes, his affected, er, area.

  "He's a good guy. I'm so happy for him," Nathan said.

  "I wonder if he'll run through a photo of himself, like they do on that weight-loss show," I said. Na
than laughed, his eyes crinkling with attractive crow's-feet, causing a warm tightening in my stomach.

  Our togetherness still occasionally caused me a slight prickle of alarm. It was like waking up in a hotel room, that second when you don't know where you are before realizing you're on a wonderful vacation.

  We looked at each other a minute, and the mood shifted slightly. Don't ask if I'm pregnant, I ordered telepathically. My gaze shifted to the window to dodge the unspoken question. Outside, a lion's head sculpture spit water onto a pile of rocks. I can't say I was comfortable living in a house that had "water features" just yet.

  In a few weeks, we planned to survey my stuff, currently in storage, and see what we wanted to bring here. But for now, the house was Nathan's, not mine.

  Nathan, too, did not yet feel like he was mine. After all, we'd known each other less than a year, and yet we'd vowed to love each other till death did us part.

  So I did what I always did when I felt awkward--lifted my Nikon, which was always close at hand, and took his picture. I am a photographer, after all. Through the lens, I saw that he, too, felt a little shy, and tenderness wrapped my heart as I pressed the button.

  "You'll break that thing, Kate," he said with a rather adorable blush.

  Now, if I'd known what would happen later, I would've said, Are you kidding? You're gorgeous, even though his face was kind and interesting rather than gorgeous. Or even better, I want lots of pictures of the man I love. Even if it was smarmy, it was also true. Love had surprised me at the age of thirty-nine.

  But in my ignorance, I said, "Nah. It's really strong," and smiled at him. He kissed me, twice, and I gave him a long hug, breathing in his good clean smell, then patted his ass, making him smile again as he left.

  The minute he pulled his BMW out of the driveway, I bolted up the stairs and into one of the guest bathrooms, where I'd stashed the pregnancy tests. The lights there were motion sensor for some reason, and a little picky, so I jazz-handed and flapped until they went on.

  Why the guest bathroom? Because Nathan was the type to sit on the edge of the tub and watch me go through the whole thing, stick in hand, trying not to pee on myself. I'd let him watch the first two times, but I really didn't want an audience.

  Because no matter what the literature said, a negative pregnancy test still felt like my fault.

  "Two lines, two lines, two lines," I chanted as I peed. After all, I'd be forty in a few months. No time to waste. We'd been trying since we got married.

  I set the test on the edge of the sink, not looking at it, heart knocking. Three minutes, the instructions said. One hundred and eighty seconds. "Come on, two lines," I said, channeling my sister's cheerleader attitude toward life, minus the sugarcoating that she seemed to put on everything. "You can do it!"

  A baby. Even now, the cells could be multiplying inside me. A mini-Nathan on the way. A boy. The image was so strong I could feel it in my heart, my rib cage already expanding with love--my son, my little guy, with blue eyes like his daddy's and brown hair like mine. I could see his little face, the soft blue newborn cap on his perfect head, a beautiful baby, warm in my arms. Mrs. Coburn--Eloise, that was--would look at me with newfound admiration (an heir!), and Nathan Senior would cluck with pride over Nathan IV (or perhaps a different name. I was partial to David).

  One hundred and seventy-two. One hundred and seventy-three.

  I decided to go for two hundred to give the pregnancy hormones a chance to really soak in. To give those two lines a chance to shout their news.

  A baby. A husband was already pretty surreal after twenty years of singleness. Somehow, it felt greedy to be asking for a baby, too.

  But I did want a baby, so much. For the past six or seven years, I'd been telling myself I was perfectly fine without one. I'd been lying.

  One hundred and ninety-eight. On hundred and ninety-nine.

  Two hundred.

  I reached for the stick.

  One line.

  "Well, shit," I said.

  The disappointment was surprising in its heft.

  I wrapped the pregnancy test in some tissues and buried it in the trash.

  Not this month, little guy, I told my nonbaby, swallowing. I wouldn't cry.

  It was okay. It had been only four months. I could have wine tonight at Eric's party. And Nathan would be sweet when I told him. He'd say something like, "At least it's fun trying."

  But if it took too much longer, it wouldn't be. I'd known friends who went through this, the grim tracking of the ovulation cycle, the way making love becomes insemination, as romantic as a turkey baster. One of my college friends, in fact, had said she preferred the turkey baster. "I don't have to pretend that way," she'd said.

  I'd bought a six-pack of pregnancy tests. Hadn't really envisioned needing more. My periods had always been regular; a good sign, the doctor said. But now, there was just one lonely test left, since last month, because I hadn't believed the negative test, I had repeated it the next day.

  The lights went off. I jazz-handed, and they came back on.

  "Next month," I said, my voice bouncing off the tile of the bathroom. Then I looked at myself in the mirror and smiled until it felt real. I was lucky. Nathan was great. If we couldn't get pregnant, we'd adopt. We'd already talked about it.

  I imagined my sister, Ainsley--my half sister, really--would get knocked up the first month she tried. She rarely had to work for anything. Happiness just fell in her lap.

  Well. Sitting in the bathroom wasn't going to make me feel better. Coffee would, and now that I knew I wasn't pregnant, I could have another cup. I left the bathroom and made my way downstairs. It seemed like a five-minute walk.

  Nathan's bread and butter came from designing high-end homes--faux Colonials and Victorians and Arts and Crafts "bungalows" that were 4,800 square feet on half an acre of landscaped perfection. Westchester County, just north of Manhattan, couldn't seem to get enough of them.

  We lived in an older neighborhood of Cambry-on-Hudson, Nathan's hometown, the same town where my sister and parents lived. Nathan had torn down a house to build his masterpiece on this lot--a vast modern house with walls of glass and dark wood floors and minimalist furniture. He'd built it just after his divorce, thankfully; I didn't want to live in a house where another wife had made her mark.

  But I needed a couch for flopping. The one drawback to living in this architectural jewel was the lack of a flopping couch. Yes. We could get rid of a couple of those angular chairs and replace them with my squishy pink-and-green couch from Brooklyn.

  Not that pink and green matched the color palette of the house. Still, I could probably stick it in a bedroom somewhere. We had five, after all. Seven bathrooms (seven!), a huge eat-in kitchen, a dining room that could seat sixteen. Living room, family room, study, den--I still mixed them up sometimes. Laundry room, mudroom, butler's pantry, modest wine cellar (if any wine cellar could be considered modest), and even a media room in the basement with a huge wonking TV and six leather recliners. In the four months of our marriage, we'd managed to watch one movie down there. There was even a special bathroom off the garage to wash a dog. We didn't have a dog. Not yet.

  I loved Nathan. I loved this house. I even loved (or really, really liked) his sister, Brooke, who lived three-quarters of a mile down the street, next door to Nathan's parents. This new life would just take some getting used to. Soon, I'd feel right at home. Soon, I'd even master the light switches. There were so many.

  What I really wanted was for time to fast-forward to when things felt more real, more solid. In three years, this house would feel like home. Our child's things would brighten up the place, a basket of toys, finger paintings hanging on the fridge and dozens of pictures of the three of us, laughing, smiling, snuggling. I would know how to turn on every light in the house.

  I went into the study (or was it the den?) that served as both Nathan's and my home office. "Good morning, Hector, noble prince of Troy," I said to my orange betta fish. He was
still alive, bucking the odds at the age of four. Nathan had bought him a gorgeous, handblown bowl when I moved in, replacing the one I got at Petco, and filled it with real plants to oxygenate the water. No wonder Hector was thriving. I watched my pretty fish for a minute, drinking my coffee, pushing against melancholy.

  Tonight, when Nathan got home, I'd grab him the second he walked through the door, and we'd do it against the wall. Or on the floor. Or both. We'd be flushed and mellow at Eric's party. And tomorrow, I'd make crepes, one of my few culinary specialties. The forecast was for rain, so we could stay in and read and watch movies and make love all weekend long--just for us, not for the baby--and he'd smile at me every time he glanced my way.

  My sister and Eric lived in this same town; in fact, they knew Nathan before I did. Ainsley had never mentioned Nathan to me back when I was dating; while I wasn't positive, I thought it was because she didn't want me on her turf. Our parents had moved to Cambry-on-Hudson a month after I started at NYU, when my brother, Sean, was a junior at Harvard, so only Ainsley spent her teenage years here. She viewed it as the epitome of perfection.

  Me, I'd lived in Brooklyn since I was twenty, about a year before it became the capital of hipsters and microbreweries. Yet here I was, in a town where the nannies had degrees from Harvard, where my mother-in-law invited me for lunch at her beloved country club each week, where my sister took hot yoga classes.

  Speaking of my sister, there was a text. Can't wait to see you and Nathan tonight! <3

  Her not-so-subtle way of reminding us to come. And the emojis... I sighed. All her life, Ainsley had been not-so-subtle. She was a people-pleaser and, I had to admit, it grated. I understood why, but I just wanted to take her aside and tell her to turn it down a few notches.

  And then I'd remember how she used to crawl into my bed when she was four. I texted back. We can't wait either! Should be so much fun! Sure, it was a lie, but it was the good kind. I couldn't bring myself to emoji back, though. I was thirty-nine, after all.

  There was a message on my phone from Eloise, left ten minutes before, when I was in the bathroom.

  "Kate, it's Eloise Coburn. I'm wondering if we could schedule--" she said shedule, like a Brit "--a portrait of Nathan's father and myself for our anniversary. Please get back to me at your earliest convenience."

  It always felt like my mother-in-law was about to catch me committing a petty crime. She was never rude; that would be to disobey the cardinal rule of Miss Porter's, of which she was an honor's grad and active alumna. But she was a long cry from warm and fuzzy.

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