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A Best Book of the Spring by Amazon
Chosen by the American Bookseller’s Association for the Indie Next List
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Christine Nilsson and her husband, Marcus, are desperate for a baby. Unable to conceive, they find themselves facing a difficult choice they had never anticipated. After many appointments with specialists, endless research, and countless conversations, they make the decision to use a donor. Two months pass, and Christine is happily pregnant. But one day, she is shocked to see a young blond man on the TV news being arrested for a series of brutal murders—and the blond man bears an undeniable and uncanny resemblance to her donor. Delving deeper to uncover the truth, Christine must confront a terrifying reality and face her worst fears. Riveting and fast-paced with the depth of emotionality that has garnered Lisa Scottoline legions of fans, Most Wanted poses and ethical and moral dilemma: What would you do if the biological father of your unborn child was a serial killer?
“Lisa Scottoline has proven herself a master of stories that combine familial love – especially that of mothers for their children – with nail-biting stories of spirited everywomen bent on finding the truth. Her new novel, “Most Wanted,” demonstrates again her skill with this kind of domestic suspense tale.”
– The Washington Post
“This twisting tale should be MOST WANTED on your to-read list this Spring.”
– Elin Hilderbrand, bestselling author
” A suburban crime tale told with Scottoline’s penchant for humor and soul-baring characterization.”
“A page-turner that will satisfy.”
– Library Journal
“This is a potboiler of a book, crammed full of agonizing choices confronting appealing, relatable characters. Scottoline has penned more hardboiled tales, but never one as heartfelt and emotionally raw, raising her craft to the level of Judith Guest and Alice Hoffman. “Most Wanted” is a great thriller and a gut-wrenching foray into visceral angst that is not to be missed.”
– The Providence Journal
“Spellbinding. Another tour de force from Scottoline. It drew me in, in a single breath.”
– Mary Kubica, bestselling author of The Good Girl
“A Connecticut teacher’s long-sought and hard-fought pregnancy turns into a nightmare when Scottoline unleashes one of her irresistible hooks on her.”
– Kirkus Reviews
By Lisa Scottoline
Christine Nilsson walked to the closed door with anticipation. She knew everyone was waiting for her inside the teachers’ lounge, ready to surprise her. She’d guessed what they were up to, leaving their classrooms after the dismissal bell, then her principal summoning her for a “quick meeting,” even though there was no such thing at Nutmeg Hill Elementary. It was sweet of them to throw her a good-bye party, especially on the last week of school when everybody was crazy busy. She felt grateful and loved all of her fellow teachers, except Melissa Rue, Resident Blabbermouth.
Christine reached the lounge door and plastered on a smile, then stopped herself before she turned the knob. She could manufacture enthusiasm like a professionally cheery machine, but that wouldn’t do. Her friends knew the difference between Teacher Enthusiasm and Real Enthusiasm, and she didn’t want to fake anything. She was going to truly enjoy every minute of her party, which was the end of her teaching career, at least for now. She had finally gotten pregnant and she was going to stay home with the baby, embracing her New Mom status like an immigrant to the United States of Parenthood.
The notion flooded her with a hormonal wave of happiness, plus residual Clomid. Pregnancy may have been a breeze for other couples, but it had been a three-year struggle for Christine and her husband Marcus. Thank God it was over, and she was looking forward to painting a nursery, buying a crib, and fetishizing motherhood in general. She’d read the baby books and visualized her baby at its current stage, two months old and curled like the most adorable shrimp ever. She couldn’t even wait for her baby bump, so she could wear ugly maternity clothes. A smile spread naturally across her face, and she knew it would remain in place throughout the party, if not forever. She opened the lounge door.
“Surprise!” everybody shouted, a gaggle of female teachers with end-of-the-day grins, their makeup worn off and their hair slipping from ponytail holders. There were only two men, Jim Paulsen, who was rail-thin and taught gym, so he was obviously called Slim Gym, and bearded Al Miroz, who taught sixth-grade math and was the faculty trivia expert, whom they called Trivi-Al. Bowls of pretzels and potato chips sat atop the counter next to paper plates, Solo cups, and liter-size jugs of Diet Coke. The damp aroma of brewing coffee permeated the air, and the bulletin board held notices from the district, under a sign: The best way for students not to act like the school year is over is for teachers not to act like the school year is over. Under that, someone had written, GET OVER YOURSELF!
Everyone hugged Christine, filling the small windowless lounge, which had a few fake-wood tables and chairs, a donated coffee-maker, an old microwave, and a brand-new TV playing cable news on mute. They’d won the TV as a consolation prize in a contest for Teachers’ Lounge Makeover, but they’d deserved first place. Burn in hell, Dunstan Elementary.
“Thanks, everyone!” Christine said, overwhelmed by their kindness, and she felt how much she would miss them, after eight years at Nutmeg Hill. She was the reading specialist on the Instructional Support Team, helping students who had reading issues, and she’d grown closer to her friends on the faculty since her fertility drama. They all knew bits and pieces of her story and they’d been kind enough to ignore her premature hot flashes from Pergonal or to schedule meetings around her doctors’ appointments. Christine was grateful to all of them except Melissa Rue, who’d caught her throwing up in the ladies’ room and blabbed about her pregnancy. Everyone had assumed that one of Christine’s fertility procedures had been successful, but only her best friend, Lauren Weingarten, knew the whole truth.
“Girl!” Lauren shouted, her big arms outstretched, in a loose white blouse and black cropped pants, enveloping Christine in an embrace that smelled of fruit-scented Sharpies. Lauren was the Academic Coach at school, so she taught the faculty whichever new curriculum came down from Common Core, which they all called Common Enemy. Lauren’s oversized personality made her the most popular member of the faculty: their Pinterest Queen, Ed-camp Organizer, and Head Energizer Bunny. This, even though Magic Marker covered her arms like defensive wounds.
“Thanks so much, honey,” Christine said, touched, when Lauren finally let her go.
“Were you really surprised?” Lauren’s dark eyes narrowed, a skeptical brown. She barely had crow’s-feet, but she had beginner laugh lines because she loved to joke around. Her dark brown hair was pulled back, trailing in loose curls down her back.
“Totally,” Christine answered, smiling.
“Yeah, right.” Lauren snorted, her full lips curving into a grin, and just then there was a knock on the door.
“What’s that?” Christine asked, turning.
“Aha! Now you will be surprised!” Lauren crossed the room and opened the door with a flourish. “Ta-da!”
“Hey, everybody!” Christine’s husband Marcus entered to applause and laughter, ducking slightly as he came through the doorway, more by habit than necessity. Marcus was six-foot-two and 215 pounds, built like the college pitcher he had once been.
He must have come straight from the airport because he still had on his lightweight gray suit, though his tie was loosened.
“Babe!” Christine burst into startled laughter.
“Surprise!” Marcus gave Christine a big hug, wrapping his long arms around her, and Christine buried herself against his wilted oxford shirt, its light starch long gone.
“I thought you were in Raleigh.”
“It was all a ruse.” Marcus let her go, meeting her eye in a meaningful way. “Your boss gets the credit. I just do what I’m told.”
“Well, thanks.” Christine smiled back at him, reading between the lines, that the party was the principal’s idea and he had gone along with it. She turned to Pam, who was coming forward holding a flat box.
“We’ll miss you, Christine, but a baby is the only acceptable reason to leave us.” Pam beamed as she set the box down on the table. “I brought this from a bakery near me. No grocery-store sheet cake for this occasion.”
“Aw, how nice.” Christine went over to the table, with Marcus following, and everybody gathered around. She lifted the lid, and inside was a vanilla frosted cake that read in purple script, Good-bye and Good luck, Christine!
Underneath was a drawing of an old-school stork in a hat, carrying a baby in a diaper.
“This is too cute!” Christine laughed, though she felt Marcus stiffen beside her. She knew this couldn’t have been easy for him, but he was putting on a brave face.
Pam looked over at Christine and Marcus. “The stork is okay, right? I know this isn’t your baby shower, but I couldn’t resist.”
“Of course it’s okay,” Christine answered for them both.
Pam smiled, relieved. “Great!” She looked up at Marcus. “Marcus, so, do you want a boy or a girl?”
“I want a golfer,” Marcus shot back, and everybody laughed.
Lauren handed over the cake knife. “Christine, will you do the honors?”
“Grab your plates, kids!” Christine eyeballed the cake, then started cutting pieces.
“Isn’t somebody going to make a toast?” Melissa called out from the back of the crowd. “Marcus, how about you?”
“Sure, right, of course. Yes, I’ll propose the toast.” Marcus flashed a broad smile, his blue eyes shining, but Christine knew what he was really thinking.
“Go for it, honey!” she said, to encourage him. “They hear enough from me.”
Lauren snorted. “Ain’t that the truth.”
Everybody chuckled, holding their plates and looking at Marcus expectantly. They didn’t know him as well as the other husbands because he traveled so much, and Christine could tell they were curious about him from the interest in their expressions. Lauren used to joke that Christine had the Faculty Alpha Husband, since Marcus was an architectural engineer who owned his own firm in Hartford and probably made a better living than many of the faculty spouses, most of whom were also educators. The running joke was that it took two teachers’ salaries to make one living wage. But Lauren had stopped making her alpha-husband joke when it turned out that Marcus was completely infertile.
He’d been devastated by the diagnosis of azoospermia, which meant, literally, that he produced no sperm. It had come as a shock after they had been trying for a year and couldn’t get pregnant, so Christine’s OB-GYN referred her to Dr. Davidow, an RE, or reproductive endocrinologist. Christine had automatically assumed that she was the problem, since she was thirty-three years old and her periods had never been super regular, but tests revealed that she was perfectly healthy. Dr. Davidow had broken the news to them, choosing his words carefully, cautioning that male infertility was “a couple’s joint problem” and neither husband nor wife was “to blame.”
Marcus had taken the diagnosis as a blow to his ego, as well as his manhood, and it was a revelation for them both that a handsome, masculine college All-American could be completely infertile. Marcus attacked the problem with characteristic goal-mindedness; he ate enough kale to start a farm, since vitamin A was supposed to raise sperm counts, and he avoided tighty whiteys, bicycling, and hot tubs, the last not proving a problem since he thought they were disgusting. As a last resort, he even underwent the TESA procedure he’d dreaded, whereby Dr. Davidow had operated on his testicles in an attempt to find viable sperm, but it didn’t succeed.
I’m really shooting blanks? Marcus had said when it was all over, still in stunned disbelief.
They’d entered therapy with Michelle LeGrange, a psychologist employed by their fertility clinic Families First, and she had taught them that the key word was “acceptance.” Christine and Marcus had come to accept that they had a choice, either to adopt or to use a sperm donor. Christine would’ve gone with adoption so that Marcus wouldn’t have felt left out, which Michelle told them was common among infertile men, who didn’t make a “genetic contribution.” But Marcus knew that Christine wanted the experience of being pregnant, and he’d said in one session that he wanted a child to be “at least half-ours.” Michelle had suggested that wasn’t the best way to think about the decision, but there it was. After more therapy and tears, one night, they’d been sitting at the kitchen island, having take-out Chinese for dinner.
Marcus looked over, chopsticks poised. I made a decision. I think we should go with a donor.
You sure? Christine hid her emotions. It was what she wanted, too, but she didn’t want to pressure him.
Yes. We tried everything else. Marcus set down his chopsticks, moved his plate aside, and pulled his laptop toward him. Let’s find this kid a father.
Not a father, a donor.
Whatever. Let’s do it. Let’s make a baby.
So they’d gone on the websites of sperm banks, which had the profiles of their donors online, so you could search the physical characteristics of each donor before you chose, and in the beginning, Christine and Marcus felt uncomfortably like they were on Zappo’s, shopping for people. They wanted a donor who matched their blood type and phenotype, their physical traits, so the child would look like them. Marcus was an ash blonde with a squarish face, heavy cheekbones, and a strong jawline, and his parents were of Swedish ancestry. Christine was petite, five-three, with an oval face, fine cheekbones, a small, upturned nose, and long, straight, brown hair; her father was Irish-American and her mother Italian-American. Christine and Marcus both had blue eyes, his rounder in shape and hers more squinty but wide-set, and they both had decent teeth, never having worn braces.
Christine got used to the idea of shopping for a donor online, admittedly sooner than Marcus did, and she became obsessed with checking the bank websites, like Facebook for the infertile. She could “Like” and “Favorite” donors, and the banks refreshed their pages throughout the day—New Donors Daily!— although the tall blond donors were often Sorry, Temporarily Unavailable! Try Again Soon! Finally, Christine narrowed it down to three choices, the way she had when they’d bought their first house.
Donor 3319, Marcus had said, which was Christine’s first choice as well. Donor 3319 was on the Homestead Bank and had kept his name and identity anonymous, but he had nevertheless, like many of the donors, provided two photos of himself, one as a child and one as an adult. Donor 3319 had round blue eyes like Marcus’s, lemony-blond hair a shade darker than Marcus’s but more like her highlights, and a medium build, like a combination of them both. He reportedly had an out going and friendly personality, plus he had been accepted to medical school, which had been the clincher for Marcus. What had made the decision for Christine was that she’d loved the expression in his eyes, an intelligent and engaged aspect that showed interest in the world around him.
So they had phoned Dr. Davidow, who ordered Donor 3319’s sample, and when Christine was ovulating, she returned to Families First, where Dr. Davidow performed IUI, or intrauterine insemination, injecting the pipette of sperm inside her while she held hands with the nurse. Unfortunately, Marcus had been called back to a job site in Raleigh the night before and so was out of town when their child was conceived, but that was form over substance. He was back for the home pregnancy test, which they weren’t supposed to take but did anyway, its happy result confirmed later by the doctor. And in the end, Christine had gotten pregnant and Marcus was going to be a father, a fact he was still trying to wrap his mind around as he stood before the teachers in the lounge, about to make a toast.
“Everybody, let’s raise a glass, or a paper cup, or what have you.” Marcus grabbed a Solo cup of Diet Coke from the counter and hoisted it high. “To all of you, for being such good friends to my wonderful wife. Nutmeg Hill is a great school, and she will miss all of you, I know.”
“Aw,” Christine said, feeling a rush of love for him.
“Hear, hear,” Pam said, nodding.
Marcus turned to Christine, smiled at her with love, and raised his cup to her. “And to my amazing wife, whom I love more than life, and who truly deserves the happiness and joy to come.”
“Thank you, honey.” Christine felt her throat catch at the glistening that came suddenly to his blue eyes, and she put her arms around him while he set the cup down and hugged her back, emitting a tiny groan that only she heard.
“Love you, babe.”
“I love you, too.”
“Get a room!” Lauren called out, and everybody chuckled. The party swung into gear, and Christine circulated with Marcus, introducing him to those who hadn’t met him and saying good-bye to all of her colleagues, whom she would miss. They exchanged teary hugs, and the party wound down until only a handful of people were left: Christine, Marcus, Lauren, Pam, and Trivi-Al, who turned on the TV while they cleaned up.
Suddenly Trivi-Al gestured to the TV screen. “Oh look, they caught that serial killer.”
“What serial killer?” Christine asked idly, gathering her good- bye gifts.
“That serial killer they’ve been looking for, they caught him in Pennsylvania.” Trivi-Al pressed the button on the television to raise the volume, and the voiceover said, “Zachary Jeffcoat, here being transferred, remains in custody outside of Philadelphia for the stabbing murder of nurse Gail Robinbrecht of West Chester, which took place on June 15. The FBI and Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia authorities also link him to the murders of two other nurses . . .”
“Al, really?” Lauren said, annoyed, as she picked up dirty cake plates. “Don’t be so weird.”
The voiceover continued, “The first alleged murder took place January 12, of Lynn McLeane, a nurse at Newport News Hospital in Virginia, and the second alleged murder was of Susan Allen-Bogen, a nurse at Bethesda General Hospital in Maryland and took place on April 13—”
“Al, please turn it off,” Pam chimed in.
Trivi-Al ignored them, glued to the TV. “Oh this guy’s a freak, let me tell you. They call him the Nurse Murderer. I’ve been following this guy.”
Christine finished her task and glanced at the TV, then did a double-take at the screen. It showed a young blond man in a rumpled jacket, his hands handcuffed behind his back as he was escorted to a police cruiser. A cop put a hand on the man’s head to press him into the backseat, then the man glanced up with round blue eyes.
Christine felt her heart stop.
She recognized those eyes.
She would know that face anywhere.
The serial killer was their donor, Donor 3319.
Questions for Book Clubs
- The struggle to have a child can strain a marriage. What is your overall impression of Christine and Marcus’s marriage? How did it evolve over the course of the book? Do you think they would have had problems in their marriage even if they did not have to deal with infertility? If so, why?
- A large percentage of couples face fertility problems for a variety of issues, and turn to modern medicine in order to have a child. Was there anything that you learned about the process that surprised you? Had you ever heard of Marcus’s condition? What are your feelings about the entire process? Some view helping infertile couples conceive as “playing God.” Do you agree or not? Do you think this is generational? Faced with Christine and Marcus’s situation, what option do you think you would have chosen?
- Through Lisa’s research for Most Wanted, she discovered that although there is extensive testing of egg donors, including psychological evaluations, the same was not true of sperm donors. Why do you think the standard practices and regulations are so lopsided? Do you think this is reflective of the double standard between men and women? What responsibility do you think the sperm banks should have to their customers? How much follow-up do you think they should be required to do with their donors? Do they owe it to their customers to report concerns, after the fact? Isn’t it also true that there are costs associated with such monitoring? And do you think infertile women and men view their medical condition differently?
- Couples may be so understandably vulnerable by the time they rely on medical intervention to have a baby. Do you think the industry is regulated enough to protect these people from unscrupulous business practices? What should people do to protect themselves? With the legalization of same-sex marriage, the use of sperm and egg donors is sure to increase. Do you think the industry is prepared for the increase in demand?
- What rights do you think the child has in this situation? Interestingly, the US allows anonymous sperm donations, but the UK requires disclosure to the offspring. What do you think about that difference? Although the donor provides a detailed history, do you think that is enough information for the child? Would you want to meet your donor parent? If you used a donor, how would you feel about your child meeting the donor? At what age, if ever, would you tell your child? Some experts Lisa consulted said six years or even younger it’s the time to tell the child. Agree or disagree?
- What do you think about nature vs. nurture? Do you think that a tendency toward violence is inherited through DNA, or created by the environment to which a person is exposed? What are your thoughts about the warrior gene? Do you think it is a real genetic indicator? With the amount of violence in today’s society, do you think children should be tested for it? If yes, under what circumstances, if no, why not? What would be the benefits of this and what would be the downside?
- The competitive tension between Marcus and his father is palpable. In what ways do you think the competitiveness was positive for Marcus, and in what ways did it have a negative impact? Do you think it was a good idea or a bad idea for Marcus not to partner with his father in his firm? In what ways are Marcus and his father similar, and in what ways are they different. Who did you like better, and why? Do you think mothers and daughters compete the same way that fathers and sons do? If not, do you think it’s all about the testosterone?
- Like most mothers, Christine will do anything for her child, and won’t take no for an answer. What is the craziest thing you have done for your child, or what is the craziest thing your parent has ever done for you?
- Often the allure of committing a crime is the notoriety it brings. Christine poses as someone looking to write a book about the serial killer. Although there are laws in most states that regulate felons making money off book, movie, and TV deals, the attention is still appealing to the criminal. What can we do as a society to reduce the amount of fame that comes with committing a crime. Why do you think we often focus more on the criminal than the victims? How much of the responsibility lies with the media for the stories they report, and how much of the responsibility lies with the general public which supports the sensationalization of these stories.
- In the end, Most Wanted is the story of a family, although one in crisis. Every family faces challenges that can make them stronger, or divide them. What challenges has your family faced, and how did it change your family? In looking back, what would you have done differently, and what would you do the same?