The Perfect Sister

A Novel



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July 16, 2024 | ISBN 9780593909614

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About the Book

A woman’s search for her missing sister on the sandy white beaches of the Hamptons uncovers a wealth of secrets worth killing for—a sultry and sumptuous psychological suspense from USA Today bestselling author Stephanie DeCarolis.

Alex Walker has always looked up to her perfect older sister. Maddie has succeeded in all the ways Alex has not: She escaped their hometown and seems to have put the memories of their unstable childhood behind her. But despite the different paths their lives have taken, the two sisters made a pact to spend one week together every summer. It was a promise they’d never broken . . . until now.

When Maddie suddenly cancels her annual trip home, Alex begins to worry. But when Maddie stops returning her calls altogether, Alex is certain something is wrong. Relying on the only clues Maddie left behind, Alex follows her sister’s footsteps to the Hamptons where she meets the Blackwell family—the last people to have seen Maddie before she vanished into thin air. The Blackwells seem to have it all: wealth, beauty, and a beachside mansion on a private stretch of Hamptons real estate. It’s a world unlike any Alex has ever known, but she quickly discovers that looks can be deceiving, and that a life of luxury always comes at a cost.
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The Perfect Sister



WELCOME TO THE HAMPTONS. The old clapboard sign made of tastefully aged driftwood greets me, its white letters gleaming in the afternoon sun as though they’d just been given a fresh coat of paint. I take in my surroundings as my old sedan rumbles down the main road that snakes lazily through the town. Much like the welcome sign, the town itself is a dichotomy of aged elegance and vibrant freshness. The stately colonial manors wear wood shingles weathered to the color of rust, edged with neat white trim, and they sit upon sprawling gardens of Technicolor-green lawns. Bushels of blooming hydrangeas appear lush and flourishing, despite the brutal summer heat.

How the hell did my sister end up in a place like this? I don’t know much about the Hamptons, other than the fact that it’s the place where all the rich people in Manhattan retreat to escape the soaring urban temperatures every summer. The two-bedroom cottage where we grew up could easily fit inside the garage on some of these houses. I pick at the chipping red nail polish on my thumb as my car idles loudly at one of the few stoplights in the center of town. Outside my window, elegant women in floral sundresses and wide-brimmed hats stroll along the sidewalks with luxury shopping bags dangling from satin ribbons at their elbows. Couples sit outside small cafes sipping from wineglasses with delicate stems, and men in linen shirts lean lazily in their wrought iron chairs, tanned legs stretched beneath the tables. Don’t any of these people work?

I look down at my phone once again, at the last photo my sister sent me. It shows a grinning Maddie, arm outstretched, the image of her phone reflected in her sunglasses, and the ocean, a deep sapphire blue, sparkling behind her. It came with a short text:

Found a summer job! Looks like I won’t be making it home this summer after all. Sorry, but I need the $! I’ll call you on your birthday. We’ll still make it special. Xoxo

I hadn’t responded at the time. I was still tetchy about the way we’d left things after Mom’s funeral. The spiked jabs we’d exchanged, the anger we’d spilled like red wine. It had changed the fabric of our relationship, left a stain that couldn’t be lifted. And so we’d ignored it. Letting it weave its way between us, setting into something hard and permanent.

It was just like Maddie to pretend it hadn’t happened, to smooth over the past and go on with life as usual. But things had changed, and her text was only further proof. Maddie wasn’t coming home. How could she leave me alone in that house? Where the memories wandered like lost souls, floating sullenly through the empty rooms.

And so I stubbornly ignored her. I thought that’s all it was—each of us refusing to speak the words we knew needed to be said: I’m sorry. But four days ago, when my birthday passed and she didn’t call as promised, I knew something was wrong.

I understand that Maddie has her own life. One that looks nothing like mine. Unlike me, she got out of Dogwood Grove, that forgotten place in Middle-of-Nowhere Pennsylvania where nothing ever changes. She went to college, made something of herself. But even if she couldn’t make the trip home this year, she would never ignore my birthday, not unless something was very, very wrong.

I think back to my tenth birthday, the first one Mom had forgotten. She’d left to work a shift at the diner that afternoon with a promise of a birthday cake, balloons. But the sky grew dark and she still hadn’t returned. By that time, we should have known better. We should have known that she’d stop for a drink on her way home, and that one would become many until all of her good intentions drifted away from her as light as clouds. But we didn’t. For some reason, maybe because it was my birthday, we thought that night would be different. And so we sat at the kitchen table, the chipped Formica sticky under our fingers, waiting for a party, until it became obvious that she wasn’t coming.

I felt my chin start to wobble. As many times as I told myself that I didn’t care, that I was too old to need my mommy, her absence that night felt like it tore open a black hole inside of me, sucking up any last remnants of my childhood.

Maddie wasted no time. She jumped up from the table ready to set things right.

“Pancakes for dinner? With chocolate chips?”

“Do you even know how to make pancakes?” I asked sulkily, slouching in my chair.

She shrugged. “How hard could it be?” She pulled out Mom’s frying pan, a bag of flour, and a stick of butter, and got to work.

A half hour later, she slid a lopsided stack of lumpy pancakes in front of me.

“Oh wait!” she exclaimed, just as I lifted my fork, my stomach rumbling in anticipation. “Close your eyes!”

I put my hands over my eyes and listened to the clatter of the kitchen drawers opening and closing.

“Go on,” she said. “Open them.”

The pancakes were topped with a pink candle, half melted from birthdays past, and Maddie stood behind it beaming, her face awash in the candle’s soft glow, a trace of flour dusting the tip of her nose. “I know it’s not a real birthday cake,” she said, “but pancakes will do, right?”

“They’re even better.” I couldn’t help but grin as I blew out the lone candle.

When our bellies were full, we dragged our fingers through the melted chocolate smearing our plates, and Maddie grew thoughtful.

“I’ll never miss your birthday,” she said solemnly, her voice soft and tender. “You’ll never be alone.”

“Because we’re twins?” I asked.

“Yes. And we’ll always have each other.”

“Can we have pancakes every year?”

Maddie nodded, a smile edging onto her face. “Yeah,” she said. “We can. Let’s make a pact. Even when we’re all grown up and have our own families or whatever, even if we live a million miles away from each other, we’ll always spend your birthday together.”

“Swear?” I extended my pinkie.

“I swear,” she replied as she looped her little finger around mine.

And she kept her promise. It was a tradition we’d held sacred: standing side by side in the kitchen as we mixed up pancake batter, adding chocolate chips by the handful before pouring them into Mom’s old frying pan. Every summer, Maddie dutifully returned home for my birthday. Even when life got complicated; when the stories she brought with her turned from college parties and dancing, to waiting tables in New York City to save money for medical school, Maddie always came back. Until now.

A horn beeps, and it pulls me from my thoughts. I edge the car forward, following the directions on my phone’s GPS. “In one mile, the destination will be on your right.”

I wonder how long I’d been idling there, lost to the past. It’s something I’ve found myself doing a lot lately, in the months after Mom’s death. Trying to unpack the messy tangle of memories she left in her wake. Some days, all I can feel is the anger. The burning weight of it sitting like a stone in my chest. But on the clear days, when resentment isn’t clouding my memories like a hanging fog, I can still see her as she was before: beautiful, vibrant, certain that it was only a matter of time until she landed the role that would change our lives forever. That was before she’d given up, before all of her dreams, all of her youthful ambitions, left her empty-handed and bitter, just as our father had when he walked out of our front door one frigid winter night. And now Mom’s gone too. It seems almost surreal that all that she was, all that she could have been, is just . . . erased, gone, as if she’d never existed at all.

I look out at the winding road ahead of me, at the green-and-white-striped awnings that hang over the storefronts, at the lemon-yellow umbrellas propped outside an ice-cream shop, children licking cones while ribbons of melted chocolate drip down their wrists. As I round the next curve, the place I’ve been searching for finally comes into sight. The Lobster Shack, which, despite its name, is far from a shack. The white stone facade stands out like a watchtower in the bright sunshine, and the restaurant’s logo, a lobster relaxing in a hammock, sunglasses pulled over its eyes, is visible from the main road.

I pull up alongside the restaurant, squinting against the sun as I size up the scene before me. Seagulls wheel lazily against an azure sky, gliding above the tranquil ocean, and outside the restaurant, smartly dressed patrons queue up, presumably waiting for a table on the seaside deck. There, the tables have been spread with crisp white tablecloths, and water glasses, filled from frosty decanters, are topped with bright lemon wedges.

About the Author

Stephanie DeCarolis
Stephanie DeCarolis is the USA Today bestselling author of The Guilty Husband and Deadly Little Lies. She is a graduate of Binghamton University and St. John’s University School of Law, and currently lives in New York City with her husband and their two daughters. More by Stephanie DeCarolis
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