Alright y'all, I received this ARC from St. Martin's Press, and it was definitely a thriller I wasn't expecting. I was excited from the get go when I saw the cover said "Just because you love someone doesn't mean you know them." Who doesn't love a line like that when it comes to thrillers? We can all admit, myself included, that we all love a Lifetime movie like this book. I did take a little longer to read it than I planned, but that is mainly due to the new reality of homeschooling while blogging. Anyways, D.J. Palmer is an amazing author who definitely knows how to pull you in from the first chapter.There are only three POVs, but I will only focus on Nina and Maggie since the third one will spoil the ending. Let's dive in shall we?!
Anthony Strauss is taking his Boston Whaler (mini yatch) off the trailer and into the water when he spots Starcraft Starfish (bass fishing boat) floating nearby. He maneuvers closer and sees a golden retriever standing on the deck alone. The dog has its eyes locked on a spot towards land and the engine is off. Anthony tethers the two boats together and climbs aboard the Starcraft. He sees that the dog is perfectly fine, but the cabin is covered in dark red blood.
17 Months Later:
Nina, her 13 year old daughter Maggie, 16 year old son Connor, and her boyfriend Simon are in the process of moving into their new house. Maggie was understandably upset because Simon wasn't her father, but that didn't change the fact that this move needed to happen. While it was only fifteen minutes across town it felt like it was across the country, but Nina knew she just needed time to adjust. She already missed pop up visits from her best friends Ginny and Susanna. Everyone involved will just have to learn to accept what was happening, because it was either move in with Simon or move herself and the kids to her parents place out of state.
Connor doesn't hold the same resentment as Maggie, but that was because he was older and accepted that their father Glen wasn't coming back. Connor steps around their five year old golden retriever Daisy as he carries in another box. Nina had to wait eight more months for the divorce to be granted due to spousal abandonment. Nina follows Maggie into the house and listens to Maggie voice her desire to be moving to Nebraska to Nina's parents. Simon comes in with a box marked for the office, and tries to use his teacher voice to help calm down Maggie. Nina tries to use one of her social worker phrases, but Maggie just walks out of the room with distaste written all over her face. Simon tells Nina things will work because neither one of them wanted her to move to Nebraska.
Nina is tackling laundry when Ginny and Susanna come in for yet another round of unpacking. Ginny opens one box in the kitchen and pulls out an old copy of Real Simple
magazine that brings Nina back to the day her whole world changed. Nina was at home about to read the magazine on the couch when two officers pull into her driveway. She meets them at the door and listens as they try to explain that Glen's boat was found adrift by itself, covered in blood, and Daisy alone. After letting Daisy out of the car, they tell Nina they need to go to the station in order to get into more details. Nina is brought back to the present where she has to explain the memory she just relived. They recommend that she start seeing Dr. Sydney Wilcox for therapy sessions.
At her first appointment, Nina found herself nervous even though she used to untangle family messes all the time during her years as a social worker. She took the necessary classes to keep her license current, but she hasn't worked a case in years. Nina gives Dr. Wilcox a quick background on why she needs the therapy sessions before explaining how her and Simon started dating. The hour ends just as she explains how their first date was him actually cooking dinner for the whole family before fixing the kitchen sink at the old house. Nina knows that it will take time and multiple sessions to get through the surface of everything, but that's the point of therapy right?
Maggie still loves Nina, but she's annoyed and angry that she started a relationship with Mr. Fitch aka Simon. Maggie is a good kid with good grades, but has no friends and dreads the idea of being home alone with Simon. Especially now that Nina is talking about getting a job, and Maggie cannot do lacrosse due to her sprained ankle. It was one of those few nights alone with Simon, and he was cooking while Maggie watched TV with Daisy. Simon comes in at 6 p.m. saying to turn the TV off and go do her homework like Nina asked. Maggie ignores him since he has no legal power over her until he snatches the remote from her hand. As he turns it off himself, Maggie watches as a dark and sinister look comes across Simon's face for just a few moments. Maggie runs upstairs and stays in her room until Nina comes home with Connor.
When Nina arrives home, Simon tells her about what happened with Maggie and the TV before she heads up to answer Maggie's calls. Nina thinks about how Simon has always been so attuned to her wants and needs. They haven't even fought during their relationship so far. Nina listens and thinks carefully over how this could have happened, but just comes to the conclusion that she set him up for failure no matter how she looked at it. Nina heads upstairs to deal with yet another "he's not my dad" fit from Maggie who is reading the same book she was when Glen disappeared. When Glen first went missing, Nina kept most of his misdeeds from the kids until it became clear that Glen wasn't coming back. She explained even more when she realized things were getting serious with Simon.
Just as Nina is about to start her lecture after Maggie said something about Simon scaring her when Simon bursts into the room holding his prized Revolutionary War musket. He uses it as a prop for his yearly school presentation as well as part of his costume for a field trip he chaperones. He lays it on Maggie's bed as a peace offering of sorts. Nina tells her that they all need to try better, and something about her tone tells Maggie to quit pushing the matter. Later Maggie sneaks downstairs to eavesdrop on the animated discussion Nina and Simon were having over her going back to work. Simon was clearly against it and tried to use Maggie as the reason why, which just made Maggie want to cheer her mom on to get a job.
It was Saturday and Nina woke with a start at the sound of a lawnmower as well as the thought she forgot to mail a birthday card to her dad early in the week. She goes downstairs in search of coffee and is surprised when Daisy doesn't start demanding breakfast. Nina heads outside where she finds Simon prepping to trim a tree in the neighbor's yard. Maggie and Daisy come from the backyard just in time to see Nina tell Simon to leave the tree alone. Nina gets a glimpse of the sinister look Maggie described, but just brushed it off as his controlled anger when he agrees in a normal posture, tone, and voice. She simply brushed it off as Maggie not having the life experience to teach her the difference between evil and anger since she was only 13.
At her next session with Dr. Wilcox, Nina talks about the first few days after Glen went missing. She talks about how the cops wanted a tearful display for the media, but Susanna gave a statement on behalf of the family. Then a few nights later Nina got an anonymous text with photos and a name of a woman that Glen was supposedly seeing. It says her name is Teresa and she lives in New Hampshire. Nina of course gave the photos and screenshots of the text to the police, but it didn't lead to much except proof Glen was leading a double life.
Maggie dreads going to lunch every day since she got booted from her lacrosse friends and lunch table. This was all because of her ex best friends Laura and Justin branching off due to Laura's jealousy of Justin being nice to Maggie. Justin started showing more empathy towards Maggie after Glen disappeared, because his parents got divorced. It only got worse when the sprain happened and she was no longer able to play lacrosse. Now Maggie sits alone while trying to ignore all the bullying thrown her way. Today however the group floater Ben decided to join her. When he sat down with her it actually made Maggie feel less lonely for once in over a year.
Nina is having a post workout latte with Ginny and Susanna talking about how Stephanie, Laura's mom, was still talking about Nina even though she stopped volunteering. Stephanie is still in denial about Laura bullying Maggie. Nina is about to make a comment about putting a boot to Stephanie's throat when her phone rings with an unknown number. It is the head of HR at Davis Family Center with a job offer for her. She decides that she needs to talk to Simon and the kids before accepting. At her next therapy session, Nina picks up where she left off with Dr. Wilcox about the search for Glen after she received the photos. Nina explains how she felt she was betraying the volunteers after finding out about Glen's affair. She also noticed no one from Glen's work ever made an appearance, called, or emailed. Nina ended up calling the bank he worked at only to find out that Glen was fired two years prior. The session ends with Nina admitting she wants to take the job, because she doesn't wan to let another man control her finances after Glen practically wiped their savings.
Maggie is sitting through another family dinner when Nina announces that she got a job starting in two weeks. Simon says that he booked them a Niagara Falls trip for him, Nina, and Maggie that same week. Maggie internally calls BS since taht is the same week as Simon's annual field trip where he carries his musket. Later that night, Nina is putting on a mini fashion for Simon to determine what her first day of work outfit will be. He gifts her with the Coach bag she had been eyeing. Simon even had it monogrammed with her initials and stuck an encouraging note in it. He brings up them getting married and the monogram being an easy fix. Nina thinks about how his proposal came too soon before they moved in, and it makes her more determined to start her new job.
On Monday, Maggie tells Ben about the fake trip and decides to investigate during lunch. Maggie calls the hotel Simon says he booked, and poses as Nina to check the reservation. There isn't one under Simon or Nina's name which is all the confirmation Maggie needs that he lied. Later at home Maggie tells Nina as soon as she gets home. Nina instantly makes it out like Maggie was in the wrong for snooping. She finds Simon and tells him about Maggie calling the hotel. Simon explains that he booked the trip through a travel agency which is why the hotel didn't have it on computer. When Maggie brings up the field trip, he tells her that bonding as a family was more important to him. Maggie is still suspicious but knows she is really pushing her luck.
Saturday comes and Nina is getting ready to go have dinner with Ginny and Susanna. Nina starts her job in just four days, and is about to walk out the door when Simon comes rushing into their bathroom. She can hear him throwing up, and wonders if she needs to cancel. Connor is at his friend's house and Maggie is home, so Nina calls and cancels for the second time. After four hours that include a movie with Maggie and getting ready for bed, Nina checks on Simon who seems to be feeling well enough to be flipping through one of her magazines. Simon plants the seed of her cutting her hair into a bob like a model in it and presents her with a gift certificate for a spa day.
Tuesday comes and Nina heads to the salon using the certificate Simon gave her since he also set an appointment for her. She decides to get a shoulder length bob instead of the angled one Simon pointed out. She heads to her session with Dr. Wilcox afterwards. They talk a little about how her new job is affecting Nina and Simon's feelings before moving on to Teresa. Nina thinks about how before Glen she only dated a lot of "broken" men. After college one of her co-workers told her to try online dating which is how she met Glen. Nina recalls how she went to the Muddy Moose to confront Teresa just a few days into the search, but found out from one of the other bartenders that she disappeared without telling anyone anything. The police looked for her but she never appeared, which left Nina feeling even more hurt because Teresa was her polar opposite.
When Nina got home, Connor and Maggie praised the new hair do. Simon fixated on how it wasn't just like the model's in the magazine. Later in bed, Nina made it clear his reaction was hurtful. Simon starts spewing apologizes before engaging in sex that doesn't end with a happy ending because he's "tired". Nina obsesses over whether he is still attracted to her all night long. The next day Nina tries to get settled in at the Davis Family Center, which mainly included paperwork and catching up on current New Hampshire Family Law. After work she goes to the salon to get her hair cut just like in the magazine in hopes it will reignite the attraction between her and Simon.
Meanwhile at home, Maggie calls Ben to "witness" the reaction she is going to get from Simon after she "accidentally" breaks the musket. Simon is outside in the yard, so Maggie keeps Ben on the phone while she tries to secretly record him. Simon seems to figure out that she is recording him, and holds her wrist gently enough to keep the camera pointed at the ground. He tells her that they will just have to wait for Nina to get home in order to deal with Maggie's dangerous "accident". Simon keeps a blank poker face the whole time, but tilts his head and winks as he says the last sentence. Maggie is more scared and creeped out than the TV incident.
Simon calls a total of seven times during Nina's work day. The first couple are sweet, but she quickly gets annoyed by the time the last one comes in. She is at the salon finishing up when he tells her about Maggie breaking the musket. Nina drives home and tries to process and come up with a plan. She says hello to Connor and Simon who are standing in the driveway while Maggie sits in her room. Nina goes up and starts talking about taking Maggie's phone away as her punishment. That is until Simon comes into the room saying not, because he can get it fixed and no one was hurt. Nina agrees but notices Maggie trying very hard to not react to Simon's overture or meet his eye contact. Simon tells Nina that dinner is ready, but he won't be joining them since he wants to get to the gun store before it closes. The rest of the evening was peaceful and ended with Simon making love to Nina.
Maggie is sitting with Ben at the anti-bullying lecture half-listening because she is still dealing with bullying. Just as Maggie thinks it is over, Simon gets up and vaguely refers to the bullying impact on Maggie which has her even more embarrassed. Maggie runs out so fast to the bathroom she doesn't bother with politeness. She stays in the bathroom long enough to know people were already talking about her in the hallways and on social media. She opens Talkie, the new Twitter, to find a friend request from TracyNuts. That's the joke Glen made about her peanut allergy. She reads the message attached, and it is supposedly from Glen. She almost waves it off as a cruel joke until she reads the last line. "I love you to the moon and back and there and back again to infinity," which is exactly what Glen used to whisper to her when he tucked her in at night.
Later that night, Nina decided it was time for a family meeting to not only discuss Simon's speech, but how they all need to pull equal weight around the house. Simon apologizes, but Maggie's body language tells Nina that she doesn't fully accept it. After the family meeting is over, dinner eaten, and bedtime routine followed, Nina lays down with Simon. She tries to tamper down her anger as he once again brings up her quitting her job, because of the negative impact on Maggie. He falls fast asleep shortly after she tells him to stop using her kids as his reasoning. Meanwhile Nina stays up trying to understand what his real reason could be for not wanting her to work.
At school the next day Maggie is in the library working on a science project with Ben that will make up 20% of their grade. She tells him about the Talkie message even though Glen told her not to tell anyone. She still hadn't heard anything back, but they talked about why Glen may have disappeared in the first place. Simon comes into the library suddenly and politely dismisses Ben so he can be alone with Maggie. As Simon goes into another one of his "we need to try harder to make this work for everyone's sake" speeches, Maggie's phone vibrates. It's another Talkie message from TracyNuts. Maggie tries to end the conversation with Simon as nicely as possible before running off. She reads the message and sees that Glen wants her to have her phone handy at noon on Monday so they can talk.
Nina receives a phone call from Simon about his attempt to talk to Maggie, and she just gets frustrated that the conflict doesn't seem to end between Simon and Maggie. Nina had her first home visit for work which gave her some perspective on her own life and marriage to Glen. She tells all this to Dr. Wilcox later during their session, along with all her concerns about moving in with Simon too quickly. Dr. Wilcox offers to do a session with Simon, but that just makes Nina cringe. She admits that he doesn't know about her seeing a therapist, so Dr. Wilcox suggests they go to a couple's therapist separately. Especially since there seems to be a lot of unresolved issues from past relationships on both side. On the way home, Nina thinks about calling Susanna and Ginny, but changes her mind simply to avoid the impending fight about her cancelling lately. Instead Nina calls the Muddy Moose and finds out that Teresa is supposed to work on Monday when she poses as Teresa's friend.
On Saturday Nina wakes up and decides to go workout with Ginny and Susanna as well as go shopping with them since it's been awhile. Simon tries to convince her to stay home and help with the yard, but Nina stays determined. After their workout, the three of them grab lunch and plan out their annual girls getaway before heading to the mall. When Nina gets home, Simon leads her down to the basement blindfolded. When Simon takes it off, she sees a Bowflex home gym and elliptical trainer Connor helped put together. Nina acknowledges that it an expensive and thoughtful gift, but it just makes her feel trapped. Especially when Simon explains that now she can workout during the week and help with the housework without worrying about making it to the gym before it closes.
Monday comes and Maggie is in the library with Ben waiting on TracyNuts to message her. They came up with five questions only Glen should know the answers to. Maggie finally gets a message and starts asking questions including where he is. Ben hands her tissues while she texts pleas for Glen to come home. She ends up telling him how she feels about Simon when Glen repeats that no one can know that they are communicating. To make the day worse, Maggie can't find her and Ben's science project when they get to class later. She is convinced that Simon took it since she put it in her bag last night, and he knew how important it was for her grade. She calls Nina but doesn't get an answer on the first try.
Nina picks Maggie's call the second time just after seeing her message. She listens as Maggie explains why her grade will drop in science since her project is missing and she is sure that Simon did something. Nina calms her down since there is nothing that she can do about it right now before saying she has to work late. Nina is really heading to the Muddy Moose to confront Teresa, but she doesn't tell Maggie or Simon that when she calls him next. She warns him about the impending Maggie storm, and he tries to convince Nina to cancel her girls trip because of everything going on.
Nina gets to the Muddy Moose and finds Teresa as she is about to serve food to a table. Nina waits until her tray is clear before introducing herself. Teresa say they need to talk, so Nina grabs an empty booth while Teresa grabs a couple sodas. Teresa explains that she had a one night drunken stand with Glen after being bar buddies for a while. She makes it clear that she didn't normally mess with a married man, but they were both really wasted and another man was involved. Teresa is pretty sure that her stalker ex boyfriend is the one that sent the photos and texts to Nina. He was also the reason she left town without a word to anyone a month before Glen disappeared. She only came back because he is currently in jail for at least five years for doing something to his girlfriend at the time. Teresa asks Nina about Simon which leads to a discuss about Maggie's behavior lately. Teresa gives her the advice to make sure she really knows Simon, because she's been in Maggie's shoes with four stepdads.
Nina leaves with no more resentment towards Teresa, but a lot more questions about Glen. She decides to pull into a strip mall on the way home, and Google Simon again. She sees the usual school posts and articles she saw when she did this when they first started dating. She sees a few references to his second wife Emma who killed herself. Nina decides to Google Emma as well, and finds her obituary. She sees that Emma left behind parents, extended family, and a man named Hugh listed as her husband. Nina looks him up, sees his mugshots from drug related arrests, and then looks Hugh up on Facebook. She finds the right one, and messages it. She gets the simple reply of "So you're the one, we need to talk."
What will Nina find out from Hugh? Will Maggie ever be able to show Nina the dark side to Simon? Who is Maggie really messaging? How is Simon so perfect? Is he really that perfect? What will happen to all of them if Nina finds out otherwise?
Probably not the most ideal spot to stop, but I already left a couple chapters out that were from the third POV because I didn't want to spoil the story. I was actually shocked a few times while I read this book, because there were a few things I didn't see coming. The ending was unpredictable, but extremely satisfying! Thank you again to St. Martin's Press for sending it to me! I may have taken a little longer to read this book due to the crazy new reality we are living in due to COVID, but I loved it! If you simply must find out what is wrong with Mr. Perfect in this thriller, be sure to head on over to my page: