GROUP THERAPY

Coming February 1

Animated knife glint GIF.gif

Enter the Giveaway!

From the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of 44 Chapters About 4 Men (inspiration for the 4th Most-Watched Netflix Original Series of all time, Sex/Life) comes a fun, forbidden romantic comedy about an inexperienced psychologist and her ultra-famous client.

I am thiiiiis close to finally becoming a full-fledged psychologist. PhD? Check. Prestigious postdoc position, providing therapy to entitled millionaires and C-list celebrities whose pumpkin spice lattes cost more than my Converse and make excellent projectiles during their reality TV–worthy tantrums? Check. Letter of recommendation from my velociraptor-like supervisor?

That’s going to take a miracle. Not only because my boss said I have to cure our most-prized client’s writer’s block in time for him to meet his insane deadline, but also because that client just so happens to be …

Thomas F*@%ing O’Reardon.

Yeah, that Thomas O’Reardon. The wickedly brilliant, achingly beautiful, devastatingly British best-selling author whose psychological thrillers line my bookshelf at home and whose face I might or might not picture while I … you get the point. Sitting in a confined space with him; inhaling the crisp, clean scent of his cologne; gazing into his broody blue eyes while trying to remember to nod and listen and come up with suggestions that don’t involve taking our clothes off … it’s torture.

So, when Thomas casually asks me out at the end of a therapy session, I’m forced to make an impossible choice: say yes and risk losing my dream job, or say no and risk losing my dream guy. In a panic, I blurt out a third option—the only solution I can think of that will allow me to see this man after hours without it being considered a career-ending ethics violation:

Group therapy.

The only problem? I’ve never actually done group therapy. And side problem: my other clients are heathens. But what’s the worst that could happen? I mean, it’s not like I’m going to lose all control of the group and let it devolve into a chaotic, bloodthirsty, topless fight club.

Right?

Read on for a Sneak Peek...

Speed-walking down the Atlanta Psychology Associates hallway, I tuck my sweaty vintage blouse—not vintage, as in the aesthetic, but vintage, as in I found it at a thrift store and assumed that the previous owner had purchased it out of a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog using a rotary phone—into my plaid menswear pants. As I do, I'm reminded that I opted for Chuck Taylors today instead of heels.

Shit. Is that what this is about? The dress code?

I push a few random braids and my feather extension down into the dark, wavy mess that is the rest of my hair, hoping that they’ll stay hidden at least until my meeting is over. Then, I stop directly in front of the last place I want to be right now and stare at the plaque on my supervisor’s door.

Erica Ito-Cohen, PhD

I take a deep, shaky breath and lift my fist when a voice barks at me from the other side, “Don’t knock when I call for you.”

Inside, a small, severe woman with a sharp, angled bob sits behind a desk even bigger than mine. I hustle in and sit across from her, feeling like I’ve been called to the principal’s office. Only this is worse because the woman behind this desk holds my entire career in her clawlike hands.

In the state of Georgia, getting your doctorate is only the first step to becoming a licensed clinical psychologist. You also have to pass a licensing exam, which I’m studying for; do a yearlong postdoc fellowship, which … you’ve seen how well that is going; and you have to submit a letter of recommendation from your postdoc supervisor, who, in my case, just so happens to be The Notorious E.I.C.

Dr. Ito-Cohen glances with disapproval first at me and then at her Apple watch.

“Sorry it took me a minute.” Sit up straight. “I had to—”

“If I wanted to hear the excuses of a millennial, I wouldn’t have taken all that birth control in the ’90s,” E.I.C. snaps.

I can feel my heartbeat in my neck.

“This matter is urgent, so I’ll be quick. I need your help. Dr. Ramos was in a terrible accident during his lunch break—”

“Oh my God,” I gasp. “Is he—”

“He’ll live, but he has a very important client coming in right now, and you’re the only...”—Dr. Ito-Cohen looks me up and down and then arches an eyebrow in disappointment—“...psychologist with an opening.”

“Oh.” I swallow. “Okay.”

Dr. Ito-Cohen opens her desk drawer and pulls out a handful of M&M’s. Popping several into her mouth, she continues talking, a little faster than usual and crunching on random syllables. “The editor in chief at Snowden Publishing House is a dear friend of mine. She called me, at her wits’ end with an author whose writer’s block is ruining her publication schedule. She asked if we had any creativity specialists on staff who could cure him.”

“But we don’t—”

“I told her yes,” E.I.C. cuts me off before shoving another handful of M&M’s into her usually poised face.

I feel the blood drain out of mine.

“You.” Dr. E.I.C. points one skinny claw at me. “You’re my new creativity specialist.”

“Me?" I cough. "But I—”

“You’re … artsy,” she says, gesturing vaguely at my appearance.

“Sure, but I don’t—”

“This isn’t up for discussion. I need a warm body, and right now, you’re the only one with an opening.”

My mouth snaps shut, and her face softens fractionally.

“I’m counting on you, Dr. Sterling. This case is important to me.”

“Okay.”

“It’s personal.”

“I understand.”

“What I’m saying is, it’s going to be very hard for me to write you a letter of recommendation if you fuck this up.”

I swallow my shock and force myself to nod as I desperately try to remember my training.

Don’t react. Validate her feelings. Restate the problem in your own words.

“What I’m hearing is, this editor is actually some asshole from your past who’s come crawling to you in her time of need, and you want me to make you look good.”

I deeply, deeply regret that statement the second it leaves my mouth. I can actually feel my own asshole pucker as I brace for E.I.C.’s wrath. She opens her mouth to … I don’t even know … scream at me, fire me, feast on my soul, but then her pointy little jaw closes again, her mouth settling into a thin, hard line.

Man, she must really be desperate.

Dr. Ito-Cohen reaches across the desk, and instead of ripping my still-beating heart from my chest, she yanks a thrift store price tag from the armpit of my blouse and hands it to me.

“Do not make me regret this.”

 

I walk back to my office in a trance, clutching that price tag as if it were a death sentence. It might as well be. If I don’t convince some high-profile author that I’m a distinguished creativity specialist and miraculously cure his writer’s block, E.I.C. is going to flush the last ten years of my life, plus my entire future, down the fucking toilet.

This day just keeps getting better.

April, our receptionist, bounces down the hall toward me, looking every bit the TikTok superstar she aspires to be. Dewy twenty-year-old skin that looks filtered, even in real life; pants that are extremely high-waisted yet baggy enough to allow freedom of movement while she records herself doing choreographed dance moves when the waiting room is empty; toxic positivity—she’s got it all.

“Hey, girl! Here’s the file for your new client.” April beams, handing me a manila folder.

“Thanks.” I muster a smile and accept the file in her hand before ducking into my office.

April follows me. “Ooh, you should Google him before he gets here, so you can pretend like you know who he is. Famous people love it when you already know who they are.”

I take a bite out of the half-eaten bagel on my desk and glance at the name on the file.

Then, I choke.

As I dig deeper through the contents of the folder, my mind begins chanting one word over and over while simultaneously losing its grip on reality.

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

My eyes fly over every word, every line, hoping something I see will prove that this can’t be the man I think it is, but it’s all there in black and white.

Name: Thomas O’Reardon

Date of Birth: 6/14/91

Address: 128 Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7LJ, United Kingdom

“Apparently, he’s kind of a big deal.” April twirls a shiny lock of hair around her finger.

I lift the trash can and spit the hunk of bagel into it.

“Kind of a big deal?” I sputter, wiping the crumbs from my lips with a shaky hand. “Kind of a big deal? Thomas O’Reardon isn’t just kind of a big deal. He’s the next fucking Stephen King! His books are dark and romantic and terrifying and brilliant and … and …”

I yank my bottom drawer open and thrust a hand into my shapeless, crocheted shoulder bag. Pulling out a tattered, dog-eared paperback, I thrust it into the air with the back cover facing April. “And he looks like this!”

April’s perfectly contoured face brightens as she reaches for Thomas’s latest number one New York Times best-selling psychological thriller. His publisher obviously knows he’s beautiful. His headshot takes up half of the back cover and seems to get bigger with every book he writes.

I should know—I own them all.

“Dude, he’s super hot for a millennial.”

I snatch the book back and protectively cradle it against my chest while trying not to hyperventilate.

April furrows her perfectly microbladed eyebrows at me. “You’re, like, really freaking out.”

“It’s Thomas O’FuckingReardon!” I squeal.

April only blinks in response.

“He’s like … okay, he’s like Harry Styles but for books.”

“Oh my God, I love Harry Styles,” she gasps, recognition finally dawning on her vacant face. “It’s the hair for me.”

I clutch my copy of Ruby Lies tighter as icy-cold dread grips my throat and squeezes with both hands.

He’s coming here. Right now. He’s coming—

April waves her hand in front of my face to snap me out of my trance as an angelic male voice calls out from the lobby, “Hello?”

An angelic British male voice.

Fuck me.

Paralyzed from the nose down, I shift my eyes to April and feel them widen in panic.

April holds her hands up, as if I’m some unpredictable, caged beast, and walks slowly backward toward the door, reciting inspirational quotes from Instagram memes the entire way. “Hey, girl, you got this. You are enough. You can do hard things. Just … don’t be weird.”

The second she leaves, a switch inside my brain flips from Inactive to Hyperactive. Suddenly, all I can see is messes. Little messes everywhere.

I begin cleaning frantically. I clear the entire left side of my desk into my trash can, laptop and all, as my office phone starts to ring. I hit the speaker button so that I don’t have to stop my manic tidying. “Please tell me it’s not him.”

April’s disembodied voice floats through the speaker, sounding even girlier than usual. “Dr. Sterling, your three o’clock is here.” Then, she lowers her voice to a whisper and adds, “He even sounds like Harry Styles!”

I drop a handful of shattered mug shards into the trash. “Just … keep talking. I need two more minutes.”

“Oh, really?” April coos.

I can almost see the flirty little smile on her face. Thomas must be standing right in front of her. He has that effect on women. Lots of women, if the tabloids at the grocery store checkout aisle are to be believed. Not that I read them. Not that I buy them and take them home and kiss his picture and scribble out his date’s face and then glue a picture of myself over her picture and cut the whole thing out and tape it to my bathroom mirror. Nope. Not me.

“You want me to clear your schedule for the afternoon, so you can devote your full, undivided attention to Mr. O’Reardon?”

“Please don’t,” I say out loud.

I grab my legal pad and flip to the next blank page. 

“How do you think your four o’clock is gonna take that?” April muses.

 

“You know he’s been in a bad place ever since he did Detective Pikachu.”

“Ryan Reynolds? Really?” I rummage through my desk drawer until I find an old peppermint.

“You’re right. Mr. O’Reardon is our number one priority. I’ll send him right back.”

“Nice. Thanks a lot, April.” I hit the speaker button again to end the call, smear on some lip balm, and fluff my hair. Cupping my hand over my mouth, I exhale into my palm just as Thomas O’FuckingReardon darkens my doorway.