Sara Shepard is making the shift to adult fiction with The Elizas.
The author has amassed an enormous amount of success with her YA page-turners, including popular TV adaptations of her best-selling book series Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game. Now, Shepard is set to make her adult thriller debut with a story blending Hitchcock, S.J. Watson, and Ruth Ware.
As The Elizas begins, debut novelist Eliza Fontaine is found at the bottom of a hotel pool, leaving her family at first to assume that it’s another failed suicide attempt. But Eliza swears she was pushed, and her rescuer is the only witness. She takes it upon herself to investigate, but as the publication date for her novel draws closer, Eliza finds more questions than answers: Why are her editor, agent, and family mixing up events from her novel with events from her life? Her novel is completely fictional, isn’t it? The deeper Eliza goes into her investigation while struggling with memory loss, the closer her life starts to resemble her novel.
The book will be released on April 17. Until then, you can read an exclusive excerpt below, for a taste of the latest suspenseful mystery that Shepard will unfold. Read on, and pre-order the book here.
Excerpt from “The Elizas,” by Sara Shepard
I’M SCREAMING AS I wake up. The sound is sucked away as soon as I open my eyes, but it leaves a mark on my brain, a quickly fading handprint in wet sand. My throat is raw. My head is pounding. I struggle to look around, but all I see are blurred shapes. There’s an acrid taste of booze in my mouth.
Way to go, Eliza. You dodge a bullet, and you do this?
I picture the upgraded suite I’m missing out on because I’m too wasted. When I arrived at my suite in the Tranquility resort in Palm Springs late Saturday afternoon, I opened all the blinds in all the rooms. I stripped off my clothes and lay atop the bedsheets in only my underwear. I sat in the enormous empty tub and later warmed my ass on the heated toilet seat. And then, against my better judgment, I unlocked the minibar and belted down several bottles of vanilla-flavored Stolichnaya in quick succession. It tasted so good. Like an old friend.
As I drank, I stood on the balcony and stared into the courtyard seven flights below. It’s a perfect square, that courtyard, made up of flagstone paths and flower beds. The space is divided into secluded quadrants that invite privacy . . . and scandal. The lore about this place is that in the early sixties, a wannabe starlet named Gigi Reese was murdered in that courtyard. Bludgeoned in the head, apparently, probably by some local goons she got mixed up with. When they first found the body, officials ID’d her as another blonde actress named Diana Dane — the two women looked very similar. The public mourned for Diana Dane, who’d danced alongside Danny Kaye in a few pictures. What a tragedy! A life cut short! We must find the killer, pronto! Then Diana Dane returned from a USO trip to Japan and told the world she was just fine, thank her lucky stars. When the coroner got the dead woman’s true identity sorted out, the Hollywood headlines barely mentioned it. They were still talking about what a relief it was that Diana Dane was okay. No one cared who’d offed Gigi Reese. The mystery is still unsolved.
After I finished my third mini bottle of vodka, I was feeling loose and reckless, so I figured I might as well go all out. I ordered room service, telling the guy taking my order, “Oh, just send up one of everything, especially the desserts.” While I waited, I looked at the hand towels in the bathroom. They were soft, yet substantial. Unforgiving. I tried to imagine Gigi Reese’s killer using such a towel to muffle her screams. Or maybe he knocked her out quickly, and she hadn’t had time to make a sound. I ran my fingers over the spaceship-shaped alarm clock next to my bed, noting the sharpness of the tip and the heaviness of its base. It would make a good bludgeoning tool.
But now, when I turn my head to check out the space-age alarm clock again, it’s not on the bedside stand. In fact, I don’t even see the bedside stand. Light streams through a window, too — but isn’t it nighttime?
A face emerges above me. “I think she’s awake.”
It’s my mother’s crinkled forehead, her wire-frame glasses, the sunburned nose from Saturdays spent kite surfing. She is so incongruous in this setting I assume, at first, that I’m still dreaming.
“What are you doing here?” I ask. It is an effort to speak. It feels as though there is someone sitting on my face.
My mother licks her lips. “Eliza.” Her voice cracks. Trembles. And then she sighs. It’s a big sigh, sad and long, gloomy and defeated. “Honey.”
Honey. It sets my heart thumping. My mother only calls me honey when I’ve done something to really shake her up. We’ve been through things, me and my mom. I’ve scared her one too many times.
“W-what’s going on?” I croak.
My stepfather, Bill, shimmers into view. There are mussed tufts of grayish hair above his ears. “Don’t worry, chicken. You’re going to be okay.”
I remember the scream I’d made upon waking. “Did something happen?”
Gazes slide to the left. I spy my stepsister, Gabby, slouched in a doorway. This isn’t my hotel suite at all. And what I’d thought was the typical crushing, sticky-mouthed descent into a hangover doesn’t feel that way anymore, not completely. I notice a machine standing to my left. Green LED numbers march across a screen. The beeping sound is rhythmic, organic, matching the cadence of a body — my body. There’s an IV pole with bags and tubes next to me, too. The goopy liquid in the IV bag is tinged an inorganic, vampire red, but when I look again, the liquid is thin and clear.
“Why am I in a hospital?” I whisper.
Again, no one speaks. A slick, cold feeling creeps down my back. A voice prods from somewhere deep. You’ve got to get ahold of yourself. I hear clinking glasses and a strain of “Low Rider” on the stereo — but what stereo? My vision swirls. Stop staring, someone says. And: I’ve been looking for you.
I try to grab the memory, but it’s a petal blowing off a patio. Someone’s screaming. Then . . . nothing. When was this from? Is it even real?
I try another question. “What day is it?”
“Sunday,” my mother answers. “Sunday morning. You’ve been asleep for a while.”
“Why am I in a hospital?” I ask again. “Please. Somebody tell me.”
Bill clears his throat awkwardly. “You were found at the bottom of another pool last night.”
I blink. In a way, I’m not surprised. This is, what, the fourth time I’ve almost drowned? The fifth? No wonder my family seems fatigued.
“The one at the Tranquility resort?” I ask tremulously.
“You don’t remember.” Bill says it like a statement, not a question.
I glance at my mother. She’s staring down at her chest, biting her lip, so she doesn’t see when I shake my head — but then, it’s clear she already knows. I hate that I’m disappointing her — scaring her — but . . . I don’t remember. Again.
“Where’s my phone?” I ask.
My mother’s face shifts into a mix of anger and annoyance, her favorite way to deflect fear. “Eliza. The last thing you should be worrying about right now is your phone.”
Bill leans forward. “It’s true. The doctors want you to rest. You need to get your strength back up.”
I crane my neck and look at Gabby. Her expression is grave behind her round glasses. A sliver of memory from last night suddenly wriggles through. It’s nighttime, a few hours after my minibar and room-service binge. I am standing on the pool deck at the Tranquility, but I don’t know why. Every other time I’ve been at the pool, it’s been pleasantly crowded with lounging bodies, but in this memory, the area is empty, as though everyone has just evacuated. Waves bob tempestuously on the water. Towels are thrown haphazardly across chairs. An upended cup sits on a table, a balled-up napkin printed with the resort’s logo has missed the trash can and lies on the concrete. The diving board wobbles, as if someone has just jumped off . . . and dissolved into nothing.
The sky is very dark in the memory, opaque black velvet. The air is a cleansing kind of chilly, like there was a sudden drop in barometric pressure wicking away all the humidity. I can practically feel my heels ticking against the hard tiled pool deck. I stand near the water, looking around frantically — for what? And I feel scared — but why? And then I hear footsteps. There’s a confusion of movement, and I trip. There’s a yelp — my yelp — and a stranger’s laugh. The water is shockingly cold when I hit it belly-first. My useless limbs flap, I try to paddle, but I quickly give out. Air leaves my lungs. My shoes fall off my feet as I sink to the bottom. I can’t swim. I never learned.
I inhale and detect the faintest hint of pool chlorine in my nostrils. I hear that “Low Rider” riff again. A cold sweat breaks out on the surface of my skin. “Did they find him?”
My mother’s lips part. “Who? The person who pulled you out of the water?”
Once again I feel those strong hands pushing me from behind. Once again I hear that laugh. A high-pitched, mocking, satisfied laugh.
“The person who pushed me in,” I whisper.