All the Lies We Tell

All the Lies We Tell

Everyone knew Alicia Harrison’s marriage to Ilya Stern wouldn’t last. They’d grown up on a remote stretch of Quarry Street, where there were two houses, two sets of siblings, and eventually, a tangled mess of betrayal, longing, and loss. Tragedy catapulted Allie and Ilya together, but divorce—even as neighbors—has been relatively uncomplicated.

Then Ilya’s brother, Nikolai, comes home for their grandmother’s last days. He’s the guy who teased and fought with Allie, infuriated her, then fled town without a good-bye. Now Niko makes her feel something else entirely—a rush of connection and pure desire that she’s been trying to quench since one secret kiss years ago. Niko’s not sticking around. She’s not going to leave. And after all that’s happened between their families, this can’t be anything more than brief pleasure and a bad idea.

But the lies we tell ourselves can’t compete with the truths our hearts refuse to let go…

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Reviews

“Guilt and forgiveness are the powerful muses that fuel Hart’s newest endeavor. Poignant, heartfelt and raw with realism, Hart writes in the past and the present to take readers on a journey that examines the intricacies of human nature and the choices we make that shape us. Rich in detail with complex characters and Hart’s familiar bold and honest dialogue, All the Lies We Tell offers a chance at redemption and forgiveness to two families who are torn apart and then rebuilt by tragedy.” – RT Book Reviews

Review: ALL THE LIES WE TELL by Megan Hart
RT Book Reviews
May 2017
https://www.rtbookreviews.com/book-review/all-lies-we-tell

Guilt and forgiveness are the powerful muses that fuel Hart’s newest endeavor. Poignant, heartfelt and raw with realism, Hart writes in the past and the present to take readers on a journey that examines the intricacies of human nature and the choices we make that shape us. Rich in detail with complex characters and Hart’s familiar bold and honest dialogue, All the Lies We Tell offers a chance at redemption and forgiveness to two families who are torn apart and then rebuilt by tragedy.

Alicia Harrison should never have married Ilya Stern, but grief and guilt often blind people to the truth until it’s too late. Now divorced but still connected through business, Alicia feels trapped and unable to move forward. When her ex-brother-in-law and former best friend comes home for a funeral, she finds herself reliving the past and admitting to herself the part she played in creating her own cage. Nikolai Stern ran from his home and family years ago but he never forgot Alicia — or his feelings for her. Now back home, he takes stock of his own life and the decisions he made. As Alicia and Niko lie to one another and their family about their growing attraction, choices will again be made that will either destroy them or finally set them all free. (MONTLAKE, May, 304 pp., $12.95)

Excerpt

Ilya was the same as he’d ever been. His brother, on the other hand, had seemed to change quite a bit. Physically, obviously. Nikolai had been a short, skinny, geeky kid who’d always seemed to be all bony knees and elbows.

Now Nikolai Stern stood a few inches taller than she did, which put him at about five eleven. He wore his dark hair to his shoulders, shaggy and unkempt, though not hanging in his eyes. Greenish-gray eyes, clear and bright, not at all like Ilya’s, which were a darker, greenish brown. And Nikolai’s body, Alicia thought a little guiltily, letting herself remember it as she sat back in her chair to spin around with her eyes closed. Thinking of those hard arms, chest . . . his thighs—damn, they were like tree trunks. Nikolai felt like he’d been carved out of stone.

She couldn’t name the cologne he wore, but the scent lingered in her memory. Something fresh. Clean, not overbearing. Like she could bury her face against his neck and breathe him in and in and in . . .

“Umm, Allie?”

With a small shriek, she stopped spinning in her chair and slapped her hands on the desk to bring herself to a stop. Her throat dried at the sight of her brother-in-law—former, she reminded herself. Her former brother-in-law.

“Nikolai. Hey. Is everything all right?” She coughed lightly into her fist, certain her sexy musings were shining right out of her eyes all over him. She lifted her chin and kept her expression neutral, pushing away anything remotely resembling a sexual fantasy about Nikolai. Because that was—no way—going to keep happening. Ever. No matter how his biceps bulged and flexed or how hard his body was . . .

“Yeah.” He gave her a curious look and held up a six-pack of beer from the local craft brewery and a pizza box. “I thought you might want some dinner. I called your cell, but you didn’t answer.”

She looked at the clock, surprised to see how late it had gotten. She put a hand on her stomach, which let out an oddly convenient growl, and checked her phone. “I had the ringer off when we were in Babulya’s room and forgot to turn it back on. How’s she doing?”

“She perked up just after you left. They gave her some IV fluids, said she was a little dehydrated, but she was coherent. She was happy to see Theresa.” Nikolai paused to put the pizza on the desk. “Crazy about her showing up, huh? I haven’t seen her in years.”

“We’re friends on Connex, so I keep in touch with her now and again. I figured she’d want to know what was going on. Oh, God, you got anchovies? Nobody likes anchovies on their pizza!” Grinning, she looked up at him, surprised and touched that he’d remembered. “Other than you and me.”

His slow smile matched hers, and for a moment they stared at each other. The tick of the clock became very loud in the silence. This was Nikolai, Alicia told herself.

He only wants you because you remind him of your sister, and you’ll never be able to take her place.

Damn, the memory of his words still hurt. Fierce and pointed. He’d always known just how and where to sting her.

“There are paper plates in the cupboard there.” She pointed. Her voice had come out hard and cold; the grin vanished.

Nikolai shot her a glance over his shoulder. “Ilya went home. Said he was going to crash for a few hours, then head back tomorrow morning unless something happened overnight. I told him I’d be back at the house later. Figured I’d see if you were still working, since obviously he’s not.”

“Thanks. I’m starving.” She lifted a greasy, dripping slice from the box and settled it onto one of the plates he handed her. Then another for herself. Watching him take the empty chair across from the desk, Alicia leaned back in hers. “Fox’s still makes the best all around.”

Nikolai bit into the gooey cheese with a sigh of bliss. He chewed, swallowed. Wiped his mouth like a grown-up, not a caveman. “I’ve dreamed about Fox’s pizza. I mean, literally dreamed.”

“Get out of here.” She laughed, not easily but genuinely.

“It’s the truth. You can’t find American pizza like this in Israel. And when I was in Antarctica, I craved pizza like you wouldn’t believe. Thick slices, greasy cheese, the salty anchovies . . .” He shivered with pleasure and took another slice. His tongue swiped along his lips as grease slipped over his sculpted chin and down his throat.

Mesmerized, Alicia watched the slow, glistening trickle move over his skin. How would that taste, to lick it away? He’d caught her staring. She covered it up by leaning over the desk to grab a beer.

When she looked up, she’d caught him staring.

“You look good without my brother’s ring on your hand.”

Heat rushed so fiercely up the column of her throat and into her cheeks that she swore she was about to burst into flames. She opened her mouth to castigate him, to really let it fly.

Every part of her tensed at his expression.

Narrowed eyes, slightly parted lips. Intensity in his gaze that had nothing to do with disapproval or lacking or anything but everything to do with pure, raw male appreciation. It wasn’t the first time she’d had a guy look at her that way, but it had been a long, long time since any guy’s look had made Alicia feel this way.

What was that old saying about keeping your enemies close? She wasn’t sure she could call Nikolai an enemy, exactly. But all at once, keeping him close had become very appealing.

Still, there was that small and stubborn part of her that remembered how vocal he’d been about his disapproval when she and Ilya had announced they’d run off to Vegas and eloped. Looking back, she’d known as well as anyone—better, even—that she and Ilya had made a mistake, but you couldn’t have made her admit that. Not at nineteen. Barely at twenty-nine, when at last she’d left him after one too many nights staring up at the ceiling wondering how she could spend the rest of her life being so miserable.

Based on her reaction to Nikolai’s look, she seemed on the verge of making a brand-new mistake. A bigger one, this time. You’d think she’d have learned her lesson the hard way from Stern brother number one.

She drank some beer to cool herself down. “Well, I don’t know if that’s something to say thank you for. But thanks.”

“It was meant as a compliment, but I sounded like a dick. Sorry.” Nikolai grimaced, then grabbed his own beer and took a long swig. “I’ll blame my lack of social skills on all the time I’ve spent alone in the wilderness, if you believe that story.”

“I can tell you, being alone in the wilderness has nothing to do with why you’re still such a colossal doofus.”

It was easier after that. Less awkward, anyway. It wasn’t that she forgot, exactly, that Nikolai had turned into the sort of guy who could turn her head so fast it gave her whiplash. It was more like she was forcing herself to remember to look past the arms, the thighs, the chest, the abs—oh, Lord, the abs. Rippling, rimmed ridges of delicious muscle she glimpsed when his shirt rode up as he stretched while regaling her with a tale of his adventures on a kibbutz in Israel.

She forced herself to remember him as the guy who’d made her feel like she was somehow lacking in comparison to her sister. That she hadn’t been enough for his brother.

And there it was, she thought, watching Nikolai tip back in his chair and lift the bottle of beer to his lips. The real reason she’d been so angry at him for so long. All he’d done was reinforce the feelings she’d been pretending she’d gotten over. Hell, the ones she wanted to pretend she never had.

“You were right,” she said quietly.

He’d been telling her about working in the kibbutz’s apiary, taking care of dozens of hives and harvesting gallons of honey. Now Nikolai stopped, looking her over.

“About?” he asked.

“Me and Ilya.” She didn’t say the rest, but his expression told her he understood.

“Oh. That.” He looked uncomfortable and scrubbed a hand through his hair, pushing it off his face. “I was a dick then, too. I thought we’d established that already.”

“You were still right. You were the only one to say so out loud, though. That’s why we fought.” Alicia laughed ruefully and shook her head. “I was so furious with you.”

“You and I always fought,” Niko said. “We were constantly at each other. It was kind of the way we worked, I guess.”

She nodded, thinking of all the insults and teasing. “This was different, though. What you said hurt so bad. That somehow I wasn’t as good as Jennilynn—”

“Wait, what? No. No, Allie.” Nikolai wiped a hand over his mouth and looked stunned. “That’s not what I meant at all.”

“It’s what you said,” she told him.

He shook his head. “It’s not what I meant. When I said you’d never take her place, I didn’t mean because you weren’t good enough. I meant that my brother wasn’t capable of giving you the relationship you needed or deserved. You weren’t your sister. She might’ve put up with his bullshit and been satisfied with it.”

Alicia swallowed a weakly bitter taste. “We won’t ever know.”

“No. We won’t. But dammit, I’m so damned sorry if you thought back then I meant that somehow you weren’t as good as she was. I never meant that. How could you ever have thought it? God, no wonder you haven’t talked to me in years. What the hell must you have thought about me?”

The truth was, no matter how often she’d found herself thinking of him and what might have been, she’d always pushed those thoughts away so fiercely there’d been only one way to remember him at all.

“I thought you were a know-it-all jerk,” Alicia admitted, certain he’d frown.

Nikolai smiled. “I thought you were smart and beautiful and amazing, and it made me nuts that you were with him, when he so clearly didn’t deserve you.”

Silence, a beat of it. Then another. The clock ticked, and so did her heart. She smiled.

“Maybe,” she said, “we can get over all that crap and put it behind us. Be friends.”

Nikolai leaned over the desk to offer her his hand. “It’s a deal.”