Excerpt for BEAUTIFUL BAD by Annie Ward
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Hillbilly Buck bellowed introductions so loudly that I concluded he was already drunk. “Ian and Peter, meet Joanna and...”
He snapped his fingers repeatedly in my direction. “Madeline,” I said, pointing to myself helpfully.
“That’s right. I remember you now. Ian and Peter work for the British ambassador. Part of his new close-protection team. They’ve just arrived.”
An elderly accordion player in a ragged suit suddenly started making a musical racket on the other side of the restaurant. Joanna said loudly, “I take it your bosses also made you drive down to this nerd-fest on your night off?”
Hillbilly Buck nodded irritably, but curly blond Peter leaned forward and said, in all earnestness, “I was told there’s going to be a folk dance show after the food!”
Joanna laughed out loud, her pretty face pink with delight. “Ahh. No one’s prepared you for the number of folk dance shows you’re going to have to sit through living here. The good news is not all of the singing sounds like a lamb being sacrificed.”
Peter looked perplexed. He was adorable. Massive, yet cute. Powerful but pleasant. Not smart.
Joanna touched his arm and said, “Sit down next to me. You’re officially my new favorite person.”
I sneaked a few glances at Ian, who had taken the seat across from me. He appeared wholly engrossed in his menu, and took no interest in me or Joanna whatsoever. He was reading it like he had eaten poison and on it was written the formula for the antidote. No Macedonian fish tavern menu could be that interesting.
I resolved to appear unimpressed with him as well. A couple of minutes later, Ian had a little chuckle to himself. He leaned back, lit a cigarette and laid his plastic menu down open on the graffiti-scratched wooden table. (The Balkans had nothing against cigarettes, not in a restaurant or even a hospital, for that matter.) After pensively raising his eyebrow, Ian sat up and said, in a charming English accent, “Well, I think I am going to go for the crap.”
Jo didn’t miss a beat. “In America we say ‘go take a crap,’ not ‘go for the crap,’ and what might be even more helpful to you is knowing that we would almost always keep that information to ourselves.”
“That is helpful! Thank you. But,” Ian said, pointing to his menu, “I was referring to the Lake Ohrid crap. Right here.
“It’s either that,” he continued in a tone of complete seriousness, “or the house special, which is the Lake Ohrid throat.” He leaned forward and fixed his treebark eyes on me.
“What do you fancy? The throat or the crap?”
He pushed the menu in front of me. It was immediately obvious to me that whoever had translated trout and carp for the English menu had made some very unfortunate spelling errors. “Oh I would definitely go for the throat,” I answered.
Ian looked amused. Suddenly I saw myself as I supposed he did. I was wearing a conservative beige turtleneck, and I had not taken my hair down after finishing my lecture earlier in the day. I had donned my reading glasses to examine my menu, and I suddenly felt every inch the dowdy librarian I imagined he saw before him.
“Really?” he responded. “I wouldn’t have thought so. You seem like a nice young lady.”
Heat rose to my cheeks. He gave me a coy smile. I could see it in his eyes. He was teasing me.
“Nice shirt,” I said back, annoyed. He didn’t know me.
“Thank you,” he said, having a quick look down at what he was wearing. He then physically picked up his chair and angled it away from me and toward Joanna. She, though busy tolerating one of Hillbilly Buck’s stories, registered this realignment with a glance at Ian and a flicker of a smile.
The toothless octogenarian playing the accordion suddenly fell upon our table like a vampire bat on a herd of cows, and I started digging though my wallet for a tip.
Ian and Peter eventually left with Hillbilly Buck, who announced he wanted to go somewhere “cooler.” Joanna and I stayed at the tavern, dancing for hours with the scruffy old accordion player and his equally unkempt grandsons who were in the band that came on after.
That’s how we were. Back then.
Things that make me scared: When Charlie cries. Hospitals and lakes. When Ian drinks vodka in the basement. ISIS. When Ian gets angry... That something is really, really wrong with me.
Maddie and Ian's romance began with a chance encounter at a party overseas; he was serving in the British army and she was a travel writer visiting her best friend, Jo. Now almost two decades later, married with a beautiful son, Charlie, they are living the perfect suburban life in Middle America. But when a camping accident leaves Maddie badly scarred, she begins attending writing therapy, where she gradually reveals her fears about Ian's PTSD; her concerns for the safety of their young son, Charlie; and the couple's tangled and tumultuous past with Jo.
From the Balkans to England, Iraq to Manhattan, and finally to an ordinary family home in Kansas, sixteen years of love and fear, adventure and suspicion culminate in The Day of the Killing, when a frantic 911 call summons the police to the scene of a shocking crime.
About the Author: Annie Ward has a BA in English literature from UCLA and an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute. Her first short screenplay, Strange Habit, starred Adam Scott and won awards at the Aspen and Sundance Film Festivals. She lives in Kansas with her two sons and British husband, whom she met in the Balkans. She was recently awarded a Fulbright scholarship and An Escape to Create artist’s residency.
Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Park Row; Original edition (March 5, 2019)
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