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Woman of the Year

A Novel



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About The Book

A deliciously twisty thriller about the dark side of female friendship and a revenge plot that gets a little out of hand from the New York Times bestselling author of the “intense, captivating, and astonishing” (New York Journal of Books) A Simple Favor.

Twenty years ago, gregarious Lorelei and mousy Holly became fast friends as students in the same college psychology seminar. Taught by an expert in control and human behavior, the two students also grew close to their charismatic professor. But in one twisted moment of gaslighting, their friendship flamed out and Lorelei’s once-promising future fell apart.

Flashforward, Holly has everything Lorelei ever wanted, while Lorelei is a lonely cat lady. Now, Holly is even up for an award at a Woman of the Year ceremony, and Lorelei finally has the perfect opportunity to get the revenge she’s wanted for years. But she’s not the only person who has been obsessively following Holly’s career—and when someone winds up dead, Lorelei realizes she may be in danger, too.


Chapter One Chapter One
THE VIDEO of my cat saving my life was shared over four million times.

Cat lovers and cat haters alike were thrilled by the sight of my large, broad-shouldered gray cat sinking his teeth and claws into my assailant, reducing a full-grown man to a whimpering wreck, curled up on the floor.

In the interviews that fueled my sudden media stardom, I’d say: The film speaks for itself. I focused on Catzilla, his courage, loyalty, and grace, the gentleness beneath his brute strength. The telepathic bond between us.

A few interviewers couldn’t help asking, Had I trained my cat to attack?

The answer was no. Of course not! He’d never done anything like that before.

He knew that I was in danger.

He was my protector.

All that publicity led to my current association with the American Feline Protection Society. Really, a second career. A first career, if I’m being honest. So you could say that my cat saved my life in more ways than one.

When I tell the story, I keep certain… details to myself. Certain things I don’t want people knowing, information that might upset my fans and my colleagues at the AFP Society.

For example, the night I poisoned Holly Serpenta.

The Woman of the Year.

I didn’t want to kill her. I just wanted to make her sick.

I didn’t even want to make her very sick. I just wanted to see her get sick in front of two hundred adoring fans who’d paid thousands of dollars to have dinner with her, and who, thanks to me, would be getting more than they paid for.

I didn’t want her dead. Well, maybe briefly dead. I wanted to revive her. I wanted to bring her back to life. I considered getting an EpiPen, in case she went into shock. I could happen to have one on me.

That might have been hard to explain, seeing as I don’t have allergies. Back when men took me out to restaurants, and the waiters asked if I had any food allergies, I’d say, “None that I know of so far.” Funny joke. The waiters would pretend-laugh. They’d heard it a million times.

You need a prescription to get an EpiPen. It’s expensive. The manufacturer went to jail for jacking up the price. But probably no one ever asks why you have a lifesaving drug in your purse. Lorelei, what were you doing with the epinephrine, the Narcan?

I wanted to bring a dead celebrity back to life and say, Hi, Holly! Remember me?

Oddly, or not so oddly, someone did kill Holly. The Woman of the Year.

Later that same week.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who wanted her dead.

Not that I wanted her dead. As I keep saying.

I wasn’t the one who killed her.

Everyone on social media knew that Holly Serpenta’s loyal assistants, Tamara and Dan, were always nearby with the rescue hypodermic that would save her in seconds. Not that they’d need to, because they basically tasted every whole grain of gourmet vegan food that passed her lips.

If they’d put me at another table at the Woman of the Year Gala Benefit dinner, anywhere other than smack up against the kitchen door, I might not have gone through with it.

Self-defense versus a swinging door. How would that play in court?

Miss Green, how do you plead?

Not guilty, Your Honor. Every time the kitchen door slammed open, I had to jump up and scoot over to avoid being concussed by a tray of delicacies on their way to another table. Members of the jury, what would the waiter have done if I’d grabbed a nest of puff pastry cradling a fat blip of caviar? He would have smacked my hand away. Or maybe he’d check out my watch—cheap!—and jewelry—cheap!—and then smack my hand away.

The caviar was for the guests who’d “bought” entire tables and invited a dozen rich, famous friends.

By the time a picked-over tray had limped past me, every last micro fish egg was gone, and the soggy pastry cups exuded a pinkish salmon paste.

The waiter’s smile had been superior and triumphantly bitchy.

I’d smiled and shaken my head no, my Barbie wig shifting a little on my head. Thanks, but no thanks!

At the very least, I would have been sent away somewhere for psychiatric observation. The judge would have been right. I was temporarily out of my mind.

So what if I’d spent forty years being sane, holding down a job, paying rent, having boyfriends then not having boyfriends, taking care of my cats—one cat at a time—nursing them in their final illnesses, nursing my parents in their final illnesses. Living a life.

Not drunk in a gutter. Not in a psychiatric unit. Not a crack whore.

I get credit for that. Considering.

Still… I must have been crazy, after all those years, to poison the partly guilty person instead of the really guilty person.

Of course I had a good excuse: the really guilty person was dead.

A good excuse, not a great one.

Welcome to the annual Woman of the Year Gala Benefit.

Why, thank you. Great to be here.

The long, narrow restaurant was jammed full of women swimming in slo-mo through a body-temperature sea of perfumes so expensive that the scents weren’t competing, though the women certainly were. Who was the most famous, the prettiest, the best dressed, the most respected for her talent, career, and good works?

Mirror, mirror on the wall. Who donated the most money from her women-only hedge fund to an all-women company developing renewable energy options?

It was an A-list crowd of women so famous that even I recognized them. So famous that looking around was like paging through a magazine you’d read if you could afford an eight-hundred-dollar haircut instead of the YouTube video of a fourteen-year-old telling you how to cut the perfect bangs that she definitely did not cut herself.

There was Chief Justice Sonia Sotomayor with Laurie Anderson, Susan Sarandon, and Miley Cyrus. And what was Gwyneth Paltrow whispering to Zadie Smith?

I don’t remember who sat at my table. I didn’t recognize any of them. The Z-list guests couldn’t look at each other. I’d thought I was above all that because I was on a secret mission. Then why did I feel like I’d swallowed an ice cube. My back and shoulders were so frozen solid I couldn’t turn my head. If I’d tried to smile—Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Miranda DeWitt, and you are?—my face would have shattered like glass.

For starters, I’m not Miranda DeWitt.

I was sure that everyone was looking at me, except that no one was looking at me, which—for the women in that room—was worse than everyone looking at them. They wanted everyone looking at them. That was the point.

How would I start a conversation? Are you a fan of Holly’s? Of, you know… this year’s Woman of the Year? Oh, I see. They gave out extra tickets to this dinner at your office?

And me? Oh, I’ve known Holly forever.

Holly and I are friends from college.

The first part of the evening went okay. I’d dressed up… in costume. The costume of a woman with money, self-respect, and social position.

I didn’t really think Holly would recognize me, though I was vain enough to secretly think she might. I didn’t think anyone would remember having seen me at the dinner. Dressing up was more of a magical-thinking thing. I wanted to be someone else.

Not me. Not Lorelei Green. Not Lorelei Green, Long Island born, college dropout, forty, currently unemployed, formerly an underpaid, overworked human resources “counselor.” The giver of pink slips, the wisher of goodbye and good luck.

I’d spent years inflicting and observing unemployment pain I could do nothing about. I hated firing people. I told myself I was making a bad experience less painful. Also I needed a job. Every so often I applied for other jobs and didn’t get them and gave up too soon. Bookstores didn’t pay enough, nor did movie concession stands; two places I would have liked to work.

Go ahead and judge me if you have never done anything out of laziness and because you needed the money.

My hope was that I was making bad things better because I am an empath. I feel more than the average person. I feel what others are feeling. Sometimes too intensely. I’ve always known what my cats were feeling. More rarely, other people, though that would have helped me if I’d become a therapist, which I’d originally wanted.

You may wonder how an empath could want to sicken and publicly embarrass an innocent celebrity who had been her college friend.

First: my former friend wasn’t innocent.

Second: she was never my friend.

And third: just because empaths know what a person is feeling doesn’t mean they want to make that person feel better.

In the biopic based on my life, my first post-college jobs (actually, dropped-out-of-college jobs) would flash onto the screen. Waitress. Flash! Fired. Sales clerk. Flash! Fired. Nursery school aide. Flash! Quit. I thought I could clean up toddler shit, but I couldn’t.

I put on the last good clothes I had and got a job as a receptionist at Cobrox Inc. After twenty years, I still can’t explain what Cobrox does, though I asked (and have been asked) many times, and I’m not stupid. It’s like an agent, or middleman, a corporate matchmaker. The company sets up meetings about purchasing for large industrial buyers. The supply chain. I assume my failure to “get it” was why I wound up firing people who “got it” less than I did.

I’d done other jobs at the company, secretarial mostly. Low-level managerial. Then the human resources person in charge of laying people off quit. Someone thought I’d be good at it, which I was, if good-at-it meant that no one showed up at the office with an assault weapon.

Now Cobrox no longer needed me. They announced furloughs and terminations electronically. They fired me via email.

The office had grown more robotic. People spoke in scripts, like telemarketers and hotline volunteers.

By the night of the Woman of the Year dinner, my unemployment benefits were about to expire. From the outside, my situation must have looked desperate.

Maybe because of my uncertain present, I was more interested in the past, which I had tried to forget.

Is it fair? Two girls from the same college class, one rich, famous, and well respected.

Introducing: Holly Serpenta. The Woman of the Year.

The other one was me, Lorelei Green, recently fired from her shitty corporate job of firing other people.

Maybe you think I have blood on my hands. The blood of the newly unemployed. But I wasn’t the one who shed it. I had to harden, cell by cell, which hurts, like any surgery you do on yourself.

I’d bought the ticket to the Woman of the Year dinner with my personal credit card. I’m not a criminal. But when it said, Name of Guest, I typed in: Miranda DeWitt.

Not me.

Imaginary Miranda: the plucky survivor of an ugly divorce. My alter ego would be fine when the dust settled, but the poor thing was struggling. The gala-benefit ticket site didn’t care who was buying and who was attending, as long as the charges cleared. They cared that I wasn’t a robot. A robot was making sure that I wasn’t another robot. What a joy it would be to say, Can you keep a secret? I’m a robot too!

Not that I am a robot.

I found, in the back of my closet, a lightly worn pair of shoes that Minnie Mouse would wear if she were rich and had the ankles for five-inch heels. I’d bought them in a resale shop. Sometimes I bought things for myself as if I were another person. Without knowing it, I’d shopped for Miranda DeWitt.

Were they the smartest footwear for committing a crime? Who would suspect a woman in vintage Marc Jacobs heels?

They’d remember the shoes and not me. That’s what they say in mystery novels and TV detective procedurals. The clever criminal wears an eye-catching accessory—the age-inappropriate kitty-cat headband, the giant aviator glasses, the diamond-studded nose ring—so everyone remembers that, and not her face.

No one sees your shoes in a crowded room. But these women knew what your shoes cost. They could feel it through their feet.

Obviously, my decision to poison the Woman of the Year wasn’t spur-of-the-moment. It was not about getting a “bad” table at a benefit dinner.

This was about an old crime, about justice, about righting an old wrong. Not perfect justice. The crime was worse than the punishment.

I personally hate the word revenge, but I’ll let it float there.

The most shameful part—at this gala event celebrating female power—is that the crime was about a man.

Partly about a man.

The crime was about a man and a cat.

Mostly about a cat.

The women at the benefit dinner might have better understood about the cat.

I decided on a simple black dress (Max Mara—also resale) with a high neck and long, bell-shaped sleeves. I had it dry-cleaned to get rid of the mothball smell.

Dry cleaning isn’t cheap. The old man who handed me the ghost dress, swinging in its plastic skin, said, “Going to a party, young lady?”

Young lady? I will never do business there again. I will walk blocks if I have to.

I wore black stockings with the black party dress, and (for luck) my mother’s real pearls. Eight dollars bought a pair of secondhand Chanel glasses with turquoise frames in a thrift shop on Second Avenue. No one buys eyeglasses secondhand. They practically pay you to take them.

And then there was the wig. I would have loved wearing a rainbow birthday-clown fuzzball, just for shits and giggles.

I had to go blond. It would be an acceptably diverse crowd, but safety dictated a silvery-blond Barbie bob. When I imagined Miranda, I pictured her brave, worried face.

Maybe the imaginary husband had left Miranda DeWitt for the imaginary young secretary, but Miranda hadn’t fallen apart, Miranda got her hair done. Under the wig, I had fallen apart, if the sign of falling apart was not getting your hair done.

I used to have great hair. I used to be blond. A blond. I was blond when I knew Holly Serpenta, now the Woman of the Year, when she and I were students at Woodward University.

My hair was gold, and now it’s straw. Like Rumpelstiltskin backwards.

Back then she was Holly Snopes. For three years of college, I was Laura Lee Green.

Then I was Lorelei.

And now she’s Holly Serpenta. What kind of name is that? Name is destiny, really. Like Doctor Pain the dentist. Serpenta is the perfect name for a snake in the grass. The Snake in the Grass of the Year Award. No one calls it that.

In a fairy tale, I would be the witch crashing the royal baby’s christening. I would cast the spell that it would take the whole fairy tale to undo.

About The Author

Darcey Bell is the New York Times bestselling author of Woman of the YearAll I WantSomething She’s Not Telling Us, and A Simple Favor, which was adapted into a critically acclaimed film starring Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick. Darcey was raised on a dairy farm in western Iowa and is currently a preschool teacher in Chicago. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books (March 21, 2023)
  • Length: 240 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982177300

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Raves and Reviews

"This book is a page-turner."

– Kirkus Reviews

"This clever tale of friendship, trust, and betrayal should win Bell new fans."

– Publishers Weekly 

*Praise for Darcey Bell's ALL I WANT*

"ALL I WANT is a terrifying descent into the darker side of nature, with a double twist that will leave you slack-jawed."

– The Big Thrill

"Sly and genuinely creepy."

– PopSugar

"A mixture of horror and mystery imbue this chilling novel about a couple buying a dilapidated mansion with a dark past."

– Shelf Awareness

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