A Mother Unravels in This New Psychological Thriller

Kaira Rouda is back with her new novel, The Favorite Daughter.   

favorite daughter excerpt
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  • Photo Credit: Blake Cheek / Unsplash

Jane Harris has had a tough go of it lately. Exactly one year ago, her daughter Mary died in a tragic accident. And since then, she’s turned into a recluse. But all that’s about to improve…Jane is ready to re-immerse herself in the high-class society of Orange Country, California. There’s just one problem: things have changed. Her husband David continues to work late nights at the office, and her younger daughter Betsy is about to graduate high school.    

Suddenly, Jane feels cast out from society…and doesn’t think it’s her own doing. At the same time, she begins to fear that someone knows more about her daughter Mary’s death than they’ve previously conveyed. Kaira Rouda, author of Best Day Ever, brings readers into the dark, twisted mind of a grieving mother in this new story. Full of twists and turns, this novel "will hit you right in the heart," says Bustle.

Related: 10 Domestic Thrillers That Make You Read Between the Lies 

Read on for an excerpt from The Favorite Daughter, and then pre-order the book, which hits shelves on May 21, 2019.   




The Favorite Daughter

By Kaira Rouda



Chapter 1  


6:30 p.m.  

I glance at my creation and smile: behold the dining room table. It is critical to create the proper atmosphere when entertaining, the illusion of perfection. As one of the most important hostesses in The Cove, I can assure you I pull together elegant dinners without a second thought. I know all the key ingredients: arrangements from the best florist in town, tonight white hydrangeas nestled in between succulents, and linens from the exclusive small boutique where everyone must shop to purchase ridiculously expensive table cloths and napkins, in this case, brushed silk, off-white.  

I’ve outdone myself with this table. This will go down in the record books as a crowning achievement in my life.    

Related: A Young Woman is Haunted by a Childhood Disappearance in This Psychological Thriller 

I’m kidding, of course. I don’t care a smidgen about entertaining. And typically, if I’m going to spend time adorning something, it’s going to be myself. Truth be told, the crystal and china pieces on the table were wedding gifts from long-forgotten friends, rarely used. I dug them out from the back of the cupboard. Perhaps I am trying a bit too hard, but tonight is special. It’s my coming-out party, so to speak.   

favorite daughter excerpt
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After a year of grieving, it’s time to step back into my family, or what remains of it, and that’s precisely my plan. I’m reclaiming the throne, like a queen who has been in exile but returns with pomp and circumstance. I shake my head as I look around my castle. I used to be so proud of this home, something so expensive and so uppity that my mother would never be comfortable stepping foot inside. Good old Mom. She taught me everything she knew about how to put yourself first in life. She was ruthless, delighting in bringing others down, including her own daughter. But look around: I’m winning, Mom. I touch the diamond-encrusted heart pendant hanging between my surgically enhanced, perfect breasts. All gifts from my husband in happier times.  

My husband, David, will be so surprised when he arrives home tonight, and he deserves it. He’s been full of surprises this year. In fact, I discovered another little secret when a piece of mail arrived at our house last week. Typically, he has his mail sent to his office, says it’s easier to pay bills that way. This particular notice from the bank must have just slipped through the cracks. I’m playing along. For now.    

Related: 10 Psychological Suspense Books That'll Keep You Up All Night 

The letter congratulated David on the purchase of a new home. I must admit, the thought of a fresh start made my heart flutter. I know it will be even bigger, more expensive than this home. I mean, this home was fine when the kids were growing up, but now we need something grander. More fitting of our station in life. We deserve it after all we’ve been through.    

Maybe he’ll tell me all about it tonight? That would be wonderful. I’m planning our reconnection dinner and he will announce his surprise. I glance at my platinum watch, enjoying the sparkles of the diamond-encrusted face, until my heart thumps at the time. It’s getting late and I have so much more to do. I can’t believe I’ve lost a year in my haze of grief. Sure, some of the haze can be blamed on all of the antidepressants the doctors made me take. They were both a relief and a distraction. While I was stuck in bed, at home, my family members have made the most of their time, both so busy, in fact, I’ve had trouble keeping up.   

But not any longer. I’m back, drug-free, and better than ever. I grab the final crystal wineglass from the kitchen counter and walk to the table, glancing out the window as the bright orange sun drops into the deep blue Pacific Ocean. In an instant, the glass topples from my hand and seems to tumble in slow motion as it falls and shatters on the stone floor, sending sound waves echoing through our lifeless house like an earthquake. Shards of glass sprinkle the tops of my bare feet and dot the floor around me while a large chunk of the stem rests under the dining room table, glistening like the blade of a knife.  

I fold my arms across my chest for comfort and can’t help but admire my ribs poking into my hands, a reminder of how much weight I’ve lost the last year. Grief is good for the figure. You and I already know thin women get attention, respect in our society. On the few excursions I’ve made out of the house lately, when I’ve taken care to dress and apply makeup, I’ve noticed an uptick in appreciative glances from men. That’s nothing new. My whole life I’ve enjoyed the admiration of the opposite sex.

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For months, I’ve been secretly working out in the garage when David is at work and Betsy at school. Just me and the handsome P90X instructors. My mom would be impressed by my fitness commitment. She never missed a chance to remind me being skinny was the key to our future. And then she’d take my dinner away. She’s long gone, died when I was fourteen in a tragic car accident, but she still haunts me. That’s the power of the bond between mothers and daughters. It can never be broken, even in death.    

But glass can. I stare at my almost-perfect table setting—I even nestled votive candles in crystal holders around the centerpiece and in front of each place setting. Just call me Martha Stewart.    

I wonder what I should wear tonight? Here, in the land of expensive designer purses and shoes, most women blend in, their monochromatic coolness anchored by jeans, topped by their perfectly smooth, porcelain faces. I remember my first dinner party at The Cove: me from the South, them from Southern California. I’d worn a yellow silk cocktail dress, my biggest pearls and wrapped a white cashmere pashmina around my shoulders. I was as out of place as a Twinkie at a Weight Watchers meeting. But you know what? All the husbands approved, tired of the sameness they endured in their wives. Back then, David was proud to have me on his arm, proud I stood out like a beautiful flower in a meadow of boring grass. It’s ironic, really: I gave up my dreams to move here, to become the perfect Orange County housewife. I could have been so much more.   

the favorite daughter excerpt
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This ocean view is why we bought this home all those years ago, scraping together every last dime and tapping into David’s trust fund to move into The Cove, the best community in Southern California. We were young parents, and so madly in love. The ocean was romantic, beautiful then. Not deadly and dark and cold.    

I feel the rush of heat as my hands clench into fists. Anger and loss, did you ever notice how those emotions mix together? It’s a toxic combination. I swallow. I need to focus on the table, the first step of my coming-out party. All that’s missing from this perfect setting is the fourth wineglass. I have another one, of course. It’s almost symbolic. It was Mary’s spot at the table, Mary’s wineglass that fell to the floor.  

Mary who dropped into the sea. I shake my head to quiet the voice.    

My therapist, Dr. Rosenthal, assured me at our last session that it would be a step forward to eat together as a family in the dining room. She wants us to reconnect, and I most always do whatever she says. At our next session I’ll happily tell the doctor all about tonight. I am committed to reenergizing my life, reconnecting with my family. I tell her what I want her to know, what she wants to hear. Sure, she’s the one with the PhD, but I’m the one with life experience. I’m the heart of this family. That’s a mom’s place.    

Perhaps I won’t mention the broken glass during our session, although it is emblematic of all that has happened this year since Mary left us. Nothing is right. My husband has thrown his energy into work, he tells me. He’s gone all the time these days. Betsy is focused on graduating high school in four short days. I swallow. I push away the silly fear, the nagging sound of my mom’s voice telling me Betsy will leave me. It’s nonsense. Betsy loves me, would never leave me. I mean, it’s not like she’s brilliant like Mary was, or smart like Mary was. No, Betsy is average. She’ll be dependent on me forever, and that’s just fine. And David, well, he’s buying us a new home. Everyone is getting in line.  

The hair at the back of my neck tingles on alert. Someone is watching me. I look out the window and see the five-year-old cherub next door, his round face pushing through a partially open window, his eyes bright and curious. He’s up too high. He must have climbed onto a chair. Where is the nanny? Twenty children under the age of eleven die each year because of falls from windows, and another five thousand are critically injured.  

Tragic accidents happen all the time.  

Copyright © 2019 by Kaira Rouda 

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Want to keep reading? Pre-order The Favorite Daughter now. 

Jane is excited to get back in the swing of things after spending a year grieving the death of her eldest daughter, Mary. While she tries to put on a happy face and play the role of wife and mother again…something seems amiss. Though excited about the chance at a new start, is there something her husband isn’t telling her? Kaira Rouda’s new novel will leave you breathless.   

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Featured photo: Blake Cheek / Unsplash