"I hate you. I hate you with all of Sylvia's heart."
Helen has waited for months for the heart that will save her life. After reaching out to the grieving mother of her donor heart, Helen realizes that a second chance comes at a price. The price, she soon realizes, is much steeper than she'd ever have chosen to pay.
There's more than one way to break a heart. There's more than one way to destroy a life...
First off, many thanks to Masquerade Book Tours for providing us a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.
Helen is 45 years old, and is on the transplant list for a new heart. She and her family are suffering for her illness, as Helen is tired and snappy, bitter that this fate should have come to her so young. She is certain that her beeper will never go off - she jokes that it will go off at her funeral - and that she will die from this condition. She’s lost in her own misery. Tom is her husband, Josie is her teenage daughter. One night after another tense dinner that resulted in Tom throwing his wineglass into the wall and taking Julie out to the movies, the beeper goes off.
The story picks back up six months later. Helen has written a thank you letter to the mother of the twenty year old whose heart she received. She is at her last meeting with her doctor, Jack. She feels like she should be more grateful, that having a new heart should have fixed all of her problems. Not so. She and Tom are still contentious and drifting apart. She embarks on an affair with her doctor, telling herself that it’s just the one time, one time to feel alive, to celebrate her “new life”. Before she knows it she thinks she’s falling in love with him. She receives a return letter from Marian Chambers, the mother of her heart donor. They meet. They exchange numbers, and Helen tells Marian that she will take care of Sylvia’s heart, now hers. Helen feels kind of disturbed by Marian, but can’t rightly say why. On the other hand, Tom and Marian hit it off immediately. Jack pinpoints the reason, saying that Marian makes Helen feel like a lesser person. Jack tells her that she has no obligation to Marian other than to live her own life - she is not Marian’s deceased daughter.
She gets back home one night not long after that from spending time with Jack to find Marian in her home, with her husband Tom. She had dropped by and Tom invited her in, thinking that Helen would be home soon. Helen feels guilted by both Marian and Tom - Marian tells her not to overdo things, she’s not out of the risk zone, Tom tells her that she should be more grateful to Marian. She reports all of this to Jack, who is furious, and has been furious with Tom’s treatment of her for some time. Tom continues to invite Marian over, integrating her into their lives. Marian and Tom tell her they have a plan for her. Helen was formerly a painter, and they want her to paint again, as “a way for you to begin repaying Sylvia” for her heart. They want her to paint five pieces and and sell them off for charity, the charity of Marian’s choice, of course. Helen is furious with them for guilting her into this, and doesn’t feel good about having more contact with Marian, or feeling like she’s on a payment plan for her heart.
Helen begins a new painting, but quickly realizes that it reflects her feelings for Jack, and doesn’t want Tom or Marian to see it.She wants to leave Tom, but worries for Josie, who only just now feels like her family is back to normal. She decides to send her painting to Jack, that he should have it.
(I was all prepared to hate her for running around on her husband, but damn, Tom’s a jerk, and Marion’s creepy.) Marion continues inserting herself into their lives, mostly at Tom’s request. She has totally pulled the wool over his eyes. She has him convinced that she can do no wrong. Tom is constantly telling Helen that she’s ungrateful and selfish and undeserving of the heart that Marian “gave” to her. (Even though it was totally random that she got that one). He takes pleasure in tearing her down every chance that he gets, and regularly makes snide comments and jokes in public to other people at Helen’s expense, often with Marion egging him on. Feeling guilty about it all, Helen breaks up with Jack, sending him the painting with a breakup letter. Helen doesn’t hear from Jack again, except for a few voicemails which she ignores. She’s trying to be a good person.
Several weeks later Helen reestablishes contact with Jack after a chance run-in. Jack tells her that she didn’t have to be so dramatic, if she wanted to stop seeing him she just had to say so, there was no need for the stunt with the painting. Helen has no clue what he’s talking about and finally gets it out of him that the painting was delivered, wrapped, just as she had sent it, but all slashed up and full of rotted meat. He shows her the pictures of it and her expression convinces him that she didn’t know what was going on. Helen returns home from Jack’s still reeling from what he has told her, and collapses that afternoon. Marian (who is a nurse), practically moves in to take care of her. Marion really starts to creep Helen out while she convalesces - she calls her by Sylvia’s name, and says things like “I used to do this when you were little”. As the days pass, Helen gets Marion to admit that she has been inside her studio, and that she was the one responsible for wrecking her painting. When Helen calls her out on it, Marian denies it. Marion starts crying when Tom comes in, making Helen look like the bad guy. Even though Helen did wrong first by cheating, by this point I can’t blame her for it.
Helen makes a quick recovery as soon as Marion is removed from the picture for the weekend. Jack begins to suspect that her illness was engineered, and is proven right when a sample of Marion’s mushroom soup is positive for poison. The dosage is low, so they decide that Marian was not trying to kill her outright, only get a point across. Marion knows about Jack, and has passed judgement on Helen. Helen has had more than enough by this point and digs into Marian’s past. She finds that her ex-husband was killed by mushroom poisoning as well. She is shocked to find out another secret: Sylvia had a twin sister, Sarah. Marian has never mentioned her, not even in passing. Helen confronts Marion with all of this, telling her that if she threatens or harms anyone that she cares about that she will “run this heart into the ground” as Sylvia’s heart is the only thing left that Marian cares about.
Marian disappears, telling Tom that she is staying with a sick relative. Helen’s search for information on Sarah’s death (as Marian claimed) leads only to dead ends. As time passes, she begins to relax, thinking that the danger is over for now. She couldn’t be more wrong. She is confronted with someone she never expected, and the story this person tells her only confirms how deep Marian’s psychosis runs. The danger is far from over for Helen and her family, because Marian soon returns to exact her revenge and take back what she believes is hers.
I’ve seen a lot of people comparing this story to The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. It certainly fits the bill for a great thriller. Marian is the culprit that someone on the outside looking in would never think to suspect, and her harmless demeanor hides a seriously screwed up mind. This was a creepy little read, and I very much enjoyed it!
Till next time,