What's Become of Her

A Novel

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From National Book Award finalist Deb Caletti comes an emotionally riveting story of a woman falling for a man who may be hiding a dangerous secret—perfect for readers of Jodi Picoult and Kristin Hannah.

“Guilty people keep secrets.”

Isabelle Austen returns to her hometown on a small, isolated Pacific Northwest island to take over the family tourism business after the death of her mother, a disapproving parent and a hard woman to love. Feeling lost, Isabelle is also struggling with a recent divorce and wondering if she’ll ever come into her own. Then her life takes a surprising turn: The mysterious Henry North arrives on Parrish Island, steps off a seaplane, and changes Isabelle’s world forever. From the beginning, their relationship is heady and intense—then Isabelle learns of Henry’s disturbing past, involving the death of a fiancée and the disappearance of a wife. Suddenly Isabelle is caught between love and suspicion, paranoia and passion, as she searches for the truth she may not want to find—and is swept into a dangerous game she may not survive.

Praise for What’s Become of Her

“A darkly enchanting romance sinks into a thrilling cat-and-mouse game.”Kirkus Reviews

“Caletti elevates reader discomfort to the maximum in this nuanced suspense novel. . . . The plot builds to a surprising and well-developed conclusion.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“As Caletti combines literary fiction with suspense, she keeps readers guessing until the last page.”Booklist

“This is a lush, suspenseful read set in a sleepy seaside town, with both main characters using the locale (and each other) as a means to escape. Caletti’s strengths are all on display: the novel is carefully paced, the prose excellent, and the characters (and their ghosts and demons) are realistic and strikingly drawn. Each person’s motivations and reliability as a narrator are weighed and considered over the course of the novel, with expectations upended and reevaluated constantly. The build to the climax is relentless, tense and satisfying.”RT Book Reviews

“This is a fast-paced read, with exceptional moments of suspense.”—The Book Review

Praise for the novels of Deb Caletti

“Striking . . . well-written, strongly characterized and emotionally complex fiction.”Kirkus Reviews (starred review), on He’s Gone

“Caletti once again combines interesting characters, pitch-perfect dialogue, and an intriguing plot to tell a deeply memorable story. Her latest is a thoughtful exploration of love and marriage and the power of family and friendship to help along the way.”Booklist, on The Secrets She Keeps

Under the Cover

An excerpt from What's Become of Her

Chapter 1

In about twelve minutes, Isabelle Austen’s old life will be gone forever. Right now, though, the seaplane is still in the air, out of her sight, a few miles off the coast of Parrish Island. When it finally arrives and splashes down, and when Henry North ducks out of the doorway, that’ll be it. Done. Over. She has no idea. Not a clue. Dear God, it’d be easy, if you could read the future. But you can’t, so she just stands there on that dock as the air currents shift, and wings tilt, and change jets her direction from across the sea. It’ll all be very good and very bad, quite necessary and disastrous, because love plus tragedy plus fury is a potent but untidy mix. Now she only waits, surrounded by gray, choppy waters.

There’s a sudden commotion in the sky. She looks up. No, it’s not the plane yet. It’s those birds. The flock of crows is overhead, midway in their evening commute. She watches and can’t help but shiver, because there are hundreds of them. Hundreds. The sky almost turns black. It could be a Hitchcock film, even if it’s just nature, being weird and creepy and magnificent. She has seen this too many times to count, but she never fails to be awestruck.

Isabelle holds still and listens; she hears the whiff whiff of wings as they pass. A murder of crows, it’s called. No one is exactly sure why. Perhaps it’s due to all those years with a bad rap, with the mean reputation as creatures of terror and loathing. Or it could be because of that old, frightening folktale, which says that crows gather to decide the capital fate of the criminal among them. A death-­sentence jury in wings and black satin.

Look, they come and they come and they come, and it’s like some freak event, only it happens every morning and every night, every single day of the week. If they are harbingers of danger, then there is a lot of danger coming. If they are portents of retribution, the guilty better watch out.

Then:

The plane arrives. Isabelle ties it down to the moorings, with big ropes wound in figure eights onto iron cleats. She wipes her hands on her jeans. Eddie Groove, the pilot, cuts the engine of the four-­seater Cessna. When he does, there is an abrupt silence. At least, the only sounds are the waves sloshing against the plane’s pontoons, and a far-­off radio on a boat, and the whisper-­flap of those crows overhead. The propeller slowly spins to a stop.

Inside, Eddie and the passenger exchange a few last words. The door of the plane opens, and a man appears. He has tousled hair and a quiet confidence and bright eyes with smile crinkles.

“Welcome, Mr. North,” Isabelle says.

“Isabelle? Nice to meet you in person.”

Henry North takes her offered hand and steps onto the dock. Why this handsome man—­an innocent-­looking man, carrying a leather case and wearing a sweater with soft elbow patches—­chose this far-­off corner of the world, well, it’s not a question that occurs to her until much later. The too late kind of later. She doesn’t think about what his plans are, or what his history might be, probably because her own history is shouting and crashing so loudly in her head right then. She recently left Evan after eight years together—­two married, six not—­and her mother’s just died, so she’s as unanchored as a ship from its shore. History jammed with history is always where the trouble starts, even without all the suspicions that shadow Henry North.

“Beautiful,” he says, as he looks around before settling his gaze back on her.

The word seems to refer to the harbor, the cove, the island, to the fact that he’s arrived, and even to Isabelle herself. For a second, this makes her feel something lately unfamiliar: happy. Isabelle doesn’t spot the dark circles, which tell the truth of his haunted, sleepless nights. She doesn’t think about crow metaphors and doomed foreshadowing, or what your own wrecked self brings to a situation. Instead, the positive and grateful word beautiful reminds Isabelle that she’s always been a positive and grateful person, and all at once she smells that great gasoline-­and-­saltwater smell, and notices the way the waves sparkle, and how do you explain a swift turn of mood, anyway? Her emotions have been all over the place. It’s just maybe a good day for once, a good day during a bad time.

He grins at her, and she smiles back, and right there, zing, something sort of aligns with something else. It’s not the huge, tectonic shift of love at first sight. It’s just a crickle of energy. Still, a grin can be enough to set things in motion, same as a loose rock can start a landslide, same as a burble of lava begins a blast. Things have to start somewhere. Because, what a great grin. It’s the kind that makes you like a person instantly.

“Did you have a pleasant trip?”

“I definitely did.”

He stares straight into her eyes. It’s a trick of both lovers and predators, she realizes, but so what? Blame the fact that she’s brokenhearted (but ready to be done being brokenhearted), recently uprooted and orphaned (if you can call a thirty-­seven-­year-­old with dead parents an orphan). Blame fate, or the semi-­evolved parts of a human brain, whatever. But her heart flops like a newborn. The fingers she’d just grasped were warm and solid, so it’s understandable.

He shields his view, takes in the eerie flock above. The dock rocks a little. The sky has turned dusky pink. The crows are a multitude of stark shadow puppets flap-­flapping behind the sunset screen.

“Wow.”

Henry North watches for a while. As he does, Isabelle checks out his nice leather shoes. She takes in the rest of him, too: his left ringless hand holding a briefcase, a maroon bag slung over his shoulder, and Oh, no, Isabelle—­the way he smells. He smells like outside, sun plus wind, an open-­air largeness that makes her remember old, great summers.

“ ‘With many a flirt and flutter . . .’ ” Henry North finally says. To Isabelle’s confused squinch, he clarifies. “Poe. ‘The Raven.’ ”

“Ah.”

Intriguing, she thinks.

Actually, slightly thrilling. A poem! (Though her hiding, cynical side, the dream squasher she ignores, scoffs. A poem?) Evan, the reluctant husband, the cruel heartbreaker, was in pharmaceutical sales. He could quote the highest prescribing physicians in a tristate region, but that was all. Oh, the number of missteps already! She’s completely forgotten that past lovers and future ones are sometimes like dogs. They can look so different from each other, but they’re still the same animal.

“Does this . . .” He indicates upward.

“Every night. Every morning at sunrise, too.”

“I’ve never seen anything like it. What are they doing?”

“Coming home. They go to Friday Harbor for the day and then return here to their roost.”

These are common questions. Most of Island Air’s flights leave in the early hours and arrive at dusk, a schedule that nearly matches that of the crows, so the unrushed tourist will often ask. Right then, Isabelle can see another one of their pilots, Liz Rajani, off in the sky-­distance. She’s in the tiny yellow-­and-­white Beaver, bringing six passengers for a family reunion on Parrish. Out their left-­side windows, they’ll glimpse the swath of black, looking like the long, trailing scarf of a widow.

If they even notice. If they’re not too busy chatting about so-­and-­so’s new boyfriend and Aunt Someone’s heart attack and whether they’ve ordered enough chicken for the barbecue. Who ever notices omens, anyway.

Pilot Eddie salutes Isabelle with two fingers, indicating he’s done, that’s all, no more help needed. All the pleasantries with the customer are finished—­the Thank you and the You’re welcome and the Have a great time. Henry North walks up the dock with the intoxicated-­looking gait of one unaccustomed to the bumping and rocking of water. It makes him appear humble and vulnerable, and so do those soft elbow patches. With his briefcase, he seems like a too-­serious child, the ill-­fated sort, on the way to a school full of bullies.

Isabelle feels a gust of concern for this stranger, the sort of compassionate goodwill that gets a thoughtful person into trouble. On a whim, she follows him, trots to catch up, not something she would generally do. It’s unusual enough that she feels Eddie Groove’s eyes boring into her back, or maybe that’s just her good sense jabbing her between her shoulder blades.

It’s not Eddie’s business, anyway. He’s known her since she was small, but she’s his boss now. Since her mother died and she came back here five months ago, Island Air is hers until she decides what she wants next. What she wants next is a question that gapes like the dark mouth of a cave. All she knows so far is that she wants things to be easier than they have been. It’s been effort, effort, effort trying to make things work with Evan; she’d put the coins in that particular slot machine for years hoping for the sweet jackpot of a happy marriage and children, and instead, the slot machine just stopped taking coins one day. That dream is gone, but she maybe still wants the regular good stuff a life can offer—­love, a little happiness, peace.

But maybe she wants to take chances, too. She’s always been so ridiculously careful. She kind of hates herself for it. Come on—­be bold! Life is short, right? Hers is a complicated legacy—­might as well get some pleasure out of it. For all the mess and hassle, she can at least have a pleasant conversation with a good-­looking man. Why not? She’s a grown woman, for God’s sake. Sometimes grown women must remind themselves that they are grown women.

I sign your paycheck, Eddie, so stop looking at me like that, she thinks, while Eddie is only peering at the distant sky, gauging the change in weather. Isabelle gets angry with the wrong people and not angry enough with the right ones. It’s silent anger, besides; all stomachaches and insomnia, because anger is nuclear. Her acts of rebellion occur mostly in her head, which has been a big problem. Another problem: It can be hard to tell if your best traits are actually your worst ones. You’ve got a kind heart, Isabelle, her friend Anne used to say, and it’s the common refrain. Her entire life, from the first grade on, when Mrs. Baxter paired her with Tony Jasper to be a good influence, it’s been You’re so helpful! You’re always smiling! You’re so nice! Nice can feel like being shoved in a trunk with your wrists bound and your mouth taped shut.

Her mother is gone, so there’s no hovering threat, no forceful presence or hand about to smack. Evan is gone, too, so there’s no moody baby-man to tiptoe around. She can be anyone she wants. Do whatever she wants. She can rewrite her own history, starting today. She has always wanted to travel, to be a part of a wider world, so how about it, huh? She can be spontaneous, learn to scuba dive, climb Everest (okay, maybe not climb Everest).

She finds Henry North waiting just outside the small white bungalow that serves as Island Air’s office. He faces the street that’s rapidly filling with ferry traffic.

- About the author -

Deb Caletti is an award-winning author and a National Book Award finalist whose books—The Secrets She Keeps; He’s Gone; Honey, Baby, Sweetheart; The Queen of Everything; The Secret Life of Prince Charming—are published and translated worldwide. She lives with her family in Seattle.

More from Deb Caletti

What's Become of Her

A Novel

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What's Become of Her

— Published by Bantam —