An Affair, a Secret Child, and a Houseguest Who Makes it Weird: Read an Excerpt of THE GUEST by B.A. Paris

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Always books. Never boring.

The premise of B. A. Paris’s The Guest is one to which many of us can relate: an unwanted houseguest overstays her welcome. In this excerpt from chapter 15, Laure, who’s walked out on her husband, Pierre, over his confession of an affair and a secret child, has worn out her welcome in the home of Iris and Gabriel. And her presence (she’s been wearing Iris’s clothes, and sleeping in Iris’s and Gabriel’s bed) has become increasingly suffocating for Iris, in particular…

The Guest is available now wherever books are sold.

Iris paused at the gate to catch her breath and stretch her calf muscles. For the first time, Laure hadn’t wanted to go with her on her run and it was amazing how free she’d felt as she’d run through the dappled shade of the woods.

Her first emotion on waking that morning had been one of relief. Laure was leaving on Saturday, which meant there were only two more days to get through before she got her life back. She’d immediately hated herself for being uncharitable. But the truth was, Laure was harder work than she’d thought.

She moved toward the house, bracing herself. But there was no sign of Laure hovering in the hall, or running down the stairs to meet her. Maybe she hadn’t heard her come in. Iris kicked off her trainers, peeled off her socks and tiptoed to the kitchen, desperate for a drink. She pulled the drawer to the right of the dishwasher open and reached for a glass. Her hand came to a stop in mid-air. There were no mugs or glasses, just packets of pasta and rice and other foodstuffs.

Frowning, she walked to the other side of the kitchen, to the row of cupboards near the cooker, where those foodstuffs should have been.

She opened the doors one by one and found not just glasses, but mugs, plates, bowls and other small dishes, all removed from the drawers near the dishwasher and rehomed into the cupboards.

“You’re back!”

Iris whipped around. Laure was standing in the doorway. “You rearranged the kitchen,” she said, unable to keep the accusing tone from her voice. But Laure seemed oblivious and nodded happily.

“Yes. I thought it was funny that you would keep cups and plates in a drawer. You never did before.”

“No, not until I realized that it was more practical to empty the dishwasher straight into the drawers next to it instead of having to cross over to the other side of the kitchen,” Iris said curtly. “Same with the food; near the cooker is more logical.”

“Oh.” Laure looked crestfallen. “Do you want me to put it back to how it was before?”

“Yes, please.”

“Okay. It’s just that I’ve made a decision about Paris.”

Iris put a smile on her face. That morning, she’d reminded Laure to book her Eurostar ticket.

“Great. Let’s go and sit in the garden and you can tell me about it.”

The terrace was almost too hot for Iris’s bare feet. She hopped over it quickly, jumped onto the grass and headed for the swing seat, Laure following behind.

“So, which train are you getting?” Iris asked, once they were settled.

Laure turned earnestly toward her. “I’m not. I’ve decided not to go to Paris this weekend. I’m not ready. Pierre hasn’t had the decency to phone, he’s only ever communicated by message. I asked him this morning if he’d come to a decision about his daughter and he said he hadn’t. So what’s the point of me going?”

“To talk,” Iris said desperately. “The two of you need to talk.” “Not until he comes to a decision,” Laure said stubbornly. “He knows where I stand, we’ve been messaging about it. It’s either me or his daughter. If Pierre chooses to be part of his daughter’s life, I won’t be in his. It’s as simple as that.”

Iris took a breath. “What about your job? Can you take more time off?”

“No, it’s not easy in the advertising industry at the moment. I spoke to my boss and he said they can’t carry me indefinitely. I don’t have any more holiday to take, and they don’t want me to take unpaid leave.”

“Then what are you going to do?” “I’ve already done it. I resigned.”

“Oh, wow. Right.” Iris reached up, took the elastic from her hair, then shook it out, trying to find something to say that wouldn’t sound like a criticism, because she couldn’t believe that Laure had given up the well-paid job which she’d always enjoyed, especially in the current economic climate. But she couldn’t find anything.

Laure reached over and placed her hand on her arm. “Don’t worry, I have savings, I won’t be a burden on you and Gabriel.” Iris did a double take, alarm shooting through her body. Laure intended on staying longer? “That is all right, isn’t it?” Laure continued.

Once again, Iris found herself searching for something to say. “I thought you’d be going to see your mum. She must be worried about you.”

“She’s not. She said she’s sure Pierre and I would work it out and that all couples go through bad patches.”

“Did you tell her Pierre has a child?”

“No. I’d only get an ‘I told you so’ lecture. She’s always said I’d regret giving up my chance to have children, pointing out that Pierre could have one anytime if he changed his mind.” She gave a bitter laugh. “She was right.”

“Have you told Pierre you’re not going back this weekend?” “Yes.”

“What did he say?”

“I think he was shocked, which was good. He asked when he would see me and I said I didn’t know. It was good to have the upper hand for once.”

Iris gave her a quick smile. “Do you mind if I jump in the shower?

I feel really sweaty after that run. We can talk again after.”

“Of course, go ahead. I’ll still be here when you come back.”

Iris walked quickly to the house, blinking back sudden tears. It’s okay, she told herself. It’s going to be okay.

In the bathroom, she turned on the shower, stripped off her clothes and let the water cascade onto her, needing to obliterate all thought, just for a few seconds. Her emotions were all over the place. Laure needed to go back to Paris. For three weeks now, apart from two days away, she’d barely had more than fifteen minutes to herself. She didn’t know if Laure had become needy because of what had happened with Pierre, or if she had always been needy, and the thought of Laure staying even a week longer was overwhelming.

She finished her shower and wrapped herself in a towel. In the bedroom, she dressed quickly in clean shorts and a T-shirt, and opened the bedroom door. Laure was hovering on the landing.

“I was going to make a smoothie,” she said. “Would you like one?” “I’ll make it and bring it to you in the garden, if you like,” Iris offered.

But Laure was already heading to the kitchen. “What shall we make for dinner tonight?” she called over her shoulder. “We can make a start on it.”

Her mood dipping further, Iris followed her downstairs and while Laure made smoothies, she began preparing dinner. By the time she heard Gabriel coming in from the garden, she was more than ready for him to take over. Laure, perched on the countertop while Iris peeled and sliced, hadn’t stopped asking what she would do in her situation. But whatever she said, Laure would challenge it, not because she was being argumentative but because she was challenging everything to do with Pierre, even her own thoughts, one minute hating him, the next loving him. She might have felt that she’d taken back some control of her life in resigning from her job, but to Iris, Laure seemed just as lost as ever.

“Gabriel’s here,” she said, hoping to stop the constant flow of agonizing.

“Oh good.” Laure slid elegantly from the countertop. “Maybe he’ll be able to tell me what to do. Sometimes I think he knows Pierre better than I do.”

Not anymore, Iris wanted to say.

Gabriel came in and looked at Iris over Laure’s shoulder—How has she been? Too late, Iris realized she should have gone to find him in the garden and warn him that Laure had decided not to go back to Paris. All she could do was give him a quick smile.

“You look better,” he said to Laure. “I have some news,” she announced.

Gabriel leaned back against the countertop. “Oh?” “I’ve handed in my notice.”

Iris, watching Gabriel carefully, saw him smother his surprise. “Right,” he said. “Great.” There was a pause. “So, what are your plans?” “I don’t really have any for the moment.” She looked at him, her eyes wide. “It is all right, isn’t it, me staying here a bit longer?”

“Yes, sure. Of course.” He ran a hand through his hair. “I need a drink. To celebrate,” he added hastily.

Iris threw him a murderous look. “In that case, let’s have champagne. I’ll get it.”

Gabriel caught her eye—I’m sorry.

“Here.” Iris smiled as she handed the bottle to Gabriel. “I’ll let you open it.”

Gabriel twisted the wire from around the cork and eased it from the bottle. There was an explosive pop, followed by a splintering sound, and three pairs of eyes swivelled to the large silver-edged mirror that hung on the wall above the fireplace.

“Damn,” Gabriel said, staring at the huge fissure running down the length of it.

Laure pressed a hand to her heart. “I’ve never seen that happen before.”

Iris stared at their reflections, Gabriel and Laure on one side of the crack, her on the other, like a photo torn down the middle. She gave a nervous laugh. “I hope it doesn’t mean we’ll have seven years’ bad luck.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be silly, it was an accident. I didn’t like that mirror much anyway.” Iris swooped to pick up a glass and handed it to Gabriel. “Come on, let’s drink.”

Except that nobody seemed to know what to drink to. Instead, they clinked their glasses together and smiled bright smiles.

From THE GUEST by B.A. Paris. Copyright © 2024 by the author and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Publishing Group.