Excerpt from The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Baker's Daughter

A Novel

by Sarah McCoy

The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2012, 304 pages
    Aug 2012, 304 pages

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She scooted farther beneath the countertop, crumpling the paper into her lap and hugging the iron pot that stank of yesterday’s stewed onions. She waited for the flame to curl upright and steady, staring so hard that her eyes began to burn. She closed them for relief and saw scenes like old photographs: girls with matching bows at the end of plaited pigtails sitting beneath a fruit tree; a boy with limbs so thin they looked like bent reeds on the river’s edge; a man with a face marred by shadows swallowing chocolate that oozed out a hole in his chest; a woman dancing in a bonfire without smoldering; crowds of children eating mountains of bread.

When she opened her eyes, the flame had gone out. The black of night was lifting to velvet blue. She’d fallen asleep in the hiding place. But morning was coming, and it would no longer be safe. She crawled out, bones creaking and popping.

She carried the letter with her, hidden in the flimsy folds of her nightgown, and once more took the steps on tiptoe, past the girl’s room; through her bedroom door, she slipped back beneath the covers; her husband abided in dreamlessness. Slowly and with great precision, she reached around the bedside and pushed the paper beneath the mattress, then rested her hand on her chest.

Her heart felt foreign, as if someone else’s thudded within, moving ceremoniously, while the rest of her lay numb and cold. The clock ticked on the bedside table — tick, tick, tick without the tock of the pendulum swing. Her heartbeat filled the balancing pulse. In her mind, she read the letter’s words to the rhythm of the metronome. Then suddenly, the clock erupted in clattering shouts. The hammer struck the bell again and again.

She did not flinch.

Her husband rolled over, pulling the blanket with him and exposing her body. She remained rigid as a corpse. He switched off the alarm clock, turned back to kiss her cheek, and rose. She feigned deep sleep. The kind that, when true, gives glimpse to eternity.

Soon enough she would join him in the day, keeping silent what she knew and welcoming the white- hot sun as blamelessly as possible. She would tend to the children, scrub the dishes, wind the cuckoos, and sweep the floors. She would bake bread and glaze the buns in melted sugar.

NOVEMBER 5, 2007

Reba had called Elsie’s German Bakery every day for over a week without getting through. Each time, she was greeted by a twangy West Texan voice on the answering machine. She took a swig of orange juice to coat her voice sunny and sweet before the beep.

“Hi, this is Reba Adams from Sun City magazine. I was calling again to reach Elsie Meriwether. I left my number in my last two messages, so if you could ring me back . . . that’d be great. Thanks.” She hung up and threw the cordless onto the couch. “P.S. Get your head out of the oven, and pick up the damn phone!”

“Why don’t you go over there?” Riki pulled on his coat.

“Guess I don’t have a choice. My deadline is in two weeks,” Reba complained.

“I thought this would be an easy, fun one to write. An hour on the phone, send the photographer to take some shots, and I’d be done. It’s just a feel- good profile.” She went to the refrigerator and eyed the caramel cheesecake Riki was saving for tonight. “Christmas-round-the-world with a local slant.”

“Uh- huh.” Riki jingled his car keys. “Well, that shouldn’t be too hard. We got Texas and Mexico— what else matters?” He smirked.

Reba rolled her eyes and wished he’d hurry up and go. The happy anticipation of his departure made her sadly nostalgic. Once upon a time, his presence had incited waves of giddiness, like she’d drunk too many glasses of wine. The smart- aleck remarks had been cute in a cowboy way; his dark looks and Spanish accent made everything feel exotic and afl ame, brazen and irresistible.

Excerpted from The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy. Copyright © 2012 by Sarah McCoy. Excerpted by permission of Crown. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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