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Husbands & Lovers

A Novel

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Two women—separated by decades and continents, and united by an exotic family heirloom—reclaim secrets and lost loves in this sweeping novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer Wives.

“My favorite kind of page-turner—unputdownable!”—Martha Hall Kelly, author of The Golden Doves

New England, 2022. Three years ago, single mother Mallory Dunne received the telephone call every parent dreads—her ten-year-old son, Sam, had been airlifted from summer camp with acute poisoning from a toxic death cap mushroom, leaving him fighting for his life. Now, searching for the donor kidney that will give her son a chance for a normal life, Mallory’s forced to confront two harrowing secrets from her past: her mother’s adoption from an infamous Irish orphanage in 1952, and her own all-consuming summer romance fourteen years earlier with her childhood best friend, Monk Adams— one of the world’s most beloved singer-songwriters—a fairy tale cut short by a devastating betrayal.

Cairo, 1951. After suffering tragedy beyond comprehension in the war, Hungarian refugee Hannah Ainsworth has forged a respectable new life for herself—marriage to a wealthy British diplomat with a coveted posting in glamorous Cairo. But a fateful encounter with the enigmatic manager of a hotel bristling with spies leads to a passionate affair that will reawaken Hannah’s longing for everything she once lost. As revolution simmers in the Egyptian streets, a pregnant Hannah finds herself snared in a game of intrigue between two men . . . and an act of sacrifice that will echo down the generations.

Timeless and bittersweet, Husbands & Lovers takes readers on an unforgettable journey of heartbreak and redemption, from the revolutionary fires of midcentury Egypt to the moneyed beaches of contemporary New England. Acclaimed author Beatriz Williams has written a poignant and beautifully voiced novel of deeply human characters entangled by morally complex issues—of privilege, class, and the female experience—inside worlds brought shimmeringly to life.
Prologue

Mallory

June 2019

Mystic, Connecticut


I kissed Sam goodbye on a Saturday morning toward the end of June, and the call that changed my life came the following Friday afternoon.

Actually, the call came in twice. I’d stepped away from my desk to do some gardening. I remember the tomatoes were growing like crazy that summer, the roses exploding on their bushes. Everything so abundant. Sometimes, when I’m stuck on an idea, I find it helps to walk away for a bit and do something else, something with your hands, something useful, and that knot in your mind will loosen and unwind into the bread dough or the soapsuds or the stacks of folded clothes.

Or the soft, rich loam of a vegetable bed.

It still fills me with terror, to look at that patch of earth and remember how I knelt there, staking the rampant new vines, humming to myself while a new pattern took shape in my head—a trailing creeper in a pristine shade of spring green, not too dark or too light, the color of promise, delicate shoots and leaves curling from the parent vine.

At a few minutes to three, I stood up, dusted my jeans, shucked off my gloves, and went into the house for a glass of water and my sketch pad.

I remember my phone lay on the kitchen counter, because I hadn’t carried it outdoors with me. You know how it is. I meant to step out for a few minutes to pull some weeds, maybe water the tomatoes, breathe some fresh air, but one thing led to another, and it was a beautiful day, eighty degrees and not so humid as it gets later in the summer. A breeze came in from the Mystic River, tinged with brine. Tourists would be swarming the drawbridge for ice cream. Over at the aquarium, kids would be screaming with joy as the belugas hurtled past on the other side of the plexiglass. Anyway, my phone sat alone on the counter, so I picked it up to check for messages and startling news alerts, maybe a little light scrolling, and instead I saw that I’d missed two calls from Camp Winnipesaukee.

You know that feeling. Every parent knows that feeling.

Probably nothing, you think, probably just some missed paperwork or an impulsive, inappropriate exclamation. Maybe a fistfight, God forbid. Kids could get scrappy at that age.

But your body’s not so logical, is it? Your body’s evolved for catastrophe. Your body leaps straight to the worst scenario. Your stomach turns sick, your trembling hand picks up the phone. Your heart cracks against your breastbone.

You swipe the number to call back.

You say, in your voice of fake buoyance, Hi! This is Mallory Dunne. Sam’s mom? You were trying to reach me.

And you hear the tiny silence, the fraction of a sigh as the person on the other end gathers courage for the task before her.

Then the dreaded words:

Mrs. Dunne, I’m afraid I have some difficult news.

I think I must have driven the entire three hours to New Hampshire in a state of shock. Now, don’t panic, I told myself, over and over. This is not really happening. This is just a movie you’re watching, a script you’re acting out. Kind of like the metaverse! Whatever that was.

Not real, anyway.

Not your real son, the love of your life.

I remember how I rinsed out my coffee cup and put it in the dishwasher before I left. I mean, you can’t just leave a cup of coffee on the kitchen counter when you lark off to New Hampshire for God knows how long! I swiped on a little lipstick, even though my hand shook so badly I looked like one of those Instagram people who color over the edges of their lips to make them look bigger. I started to throw a few things in an overnight bag and then thought, What if he dies and I’m not there in time to say goodbye?

I dropped the overnight bag and ran out the door to the car. I made it all the way to Springfield before I realized I wasn’t wearing any shoes, so I had to pull over at a gas station and buy flip-flops. And gas. And three Kind bars and a bottle of water, because I was about to pass out.

He’s not going to die, I told myself. A perfectly healthy boy doesn’t die from eating a bad mushroom.

Unless it’s too late.

Unless said boy ate said mushroom on a dare the day before and didn’t mention this fact because he didn’t want his friends to get in trouble, so he spent the night and the morning in the infirmary with so-called stomach trouble because the nurse had no idea she was dealing with a case of mushroom poisoning.

Unless the damage was already done.

Unless they were keeping him alive only so I could say goodbye and give permission for organ donation.

Could you donate a kid’s organs if he’d ingested a poisonous mushroom?

A Range Rover zoomed past, New York plates. I looked at the speedometer and saw I was going only sixty-four, like it was no hurry, no emergency, don’t want to get a speeding ticket or anything.

I pressed the accelerator.

He’s not going to die, I said aloud.

My shining, beautiful boy.

Who loved to play soccer in the fall and baseball in the spring.

Whose favorite food was s’mores.

Who went boogie-boarding last week with his cousins at his aunt’s house on the Cape and pretended to get attacked by a shark. (Not funny, I told him, after I fished him out of the water.)

Who filled an old jam jar with fireflies the night before he left for camp and told me he figured the lights came from all your ancestors in heaven, keeping watch over you.

I pounded the steering wheel. So where were all the f***ing fireflies yesterday?

Just as I reached White River Junction and turned off the interstate, it started to rain. A couple of fat drops, a couple more, and the next thing you know—monsoon. I turned on the windshield wipers. Three seconds later, I turned them on high. Wildly they pumped across the glass and still I couldn’t see a thing. Sheets cascading before me. Like trying to look through a waterfall.

What happened next is a true story.

I’m tearing down this road through the New Hampshire woods toward the hospital, right? Every second counts. But I can’t see ten feet in front of me. So I’m straining my eyes, not even blinking, and this dark shape flashes into view and whoomph! Smacks into the windshield and the jaws of the wipers.

Probably I scream, I don’t know.

Just a few inches long, this poor creature, this bird. Whisking back and forth, back and forth, feathers everywhere, and I’m crying now, screaming and crying, begging God to free the bird because I can’t pull over, I need to reach my son before he dies.

But the poor thing remains stuck in the wipers, smearing blood across my windshield that the rain washes away. I can’t even tell what kind of bird it is. I just keep on driving, and praying, and crying.

The rain was thinning out as I swerved into the parking lot of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, where they’d airlifted Sam a little after noon today.

(Later, when I saw that line item on the explanation of benefits notice from Blue Cross, I would get up to pour myself a glass of bourbon.)

But at this point, I wasn’t thinking about how much any of this would cost. Save my son, that was all I cared about. I found a miraculous space near the emergency room and slammed the brakes and got out. A man stood nearby smoking a cigarette. He stared at the bird on the windshield of my old Volvo station wagon, handed down from my sister.

“Is it dead?” I demanded.

He looked at me. I still have the image of him in my head—this young, smart, hardscrabble kid in green scrubs. I remember thinking he might have been a resident or a medical student, by the look of him—a kid who got in the hard way, no fancy private schools, no tutors or pushy parents. Job after school bagging groceries to save up money. He just wanted to be a doctor.

“That’s an owl,” he said. “A baby owl.”

“Is it dead? Just tell me, is it dead?”

“Of course it’s dead,” he said.

At the ER reception, I fumbled out some explanation about summer camp and mushrooms to the nurse on duty. He was used to hysterical parents and interrupted me to ask, in a voice that was neither kind nor unkind, for the patient’s name.

I took a deep breath. “Sam Dunne.”

“Date of birth?”

“May tenth, oh-nine.”

“Relationship to patient?”

“I’m his mother, for God’s sake!”

He tapped away on his computer keyboard, staring at the screen. “Name?”

“My name?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I stared at the part in his hair. Light brown waves. Pink scalp.

The nurse looked up. “Ma’am? Your name?”

Starts with an M, I thought. You can do this.

He waved his hand slowly in front of my face. “Ma’am? Do you need to sit down?”

“Mallory!” I sagged in relief. “Mallory Dunne.”

The nurse turned back to his computer and resumed the tapping. “I’ll need your ID and insurance card, please, Mrs. Dunne.”

“My what?”
“Williams’s work of historical fiction wrapped in a beach read . . . [follows an] engaging, artfully drawn pair of lovers . . . and descriptions of tense postwar Cairo are both commanding and detailed. The conclusion is a soap-worthy cliffhanger, and one that took me by surprise.”—The New York Times

“I loved Husbands & Lovers and devoured it in one delicious gulp. I was so invested in Mallory and Monk. It’s my favorite kind of page-turner—unputdownable!”—Martha Hall Kelly, New York Times bestselling author of The Golden Doves

“In the latest work by historical fiction master storyteller Beatriz Williams, two timelines breathlessly intertwine to form a tale full of passion, hope, and heartbreaking family secrets. As much a poignant and intimate examination of the human heart as a globe-trotting sweep of decades and wide-reaching locales, this one packs the sultry and stunning punch that readers of Williams have come to relish. You will feel the salty ocean air of Winthrop summer nights as you read, as well as the furious white heat of the roiling Cairo streets—and you’ll savor every page of it.”—Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post
 
“The masterful Williams spins a story that spans continents and eras, and it takes readers on a page-turning ride encompassing intoxicating youthful romance, forbidden wartime love, betrayal, espionage, life-eroding secrets, and a mother’s boundless love for her child. Reminding us of the interconnectivity of the past and present and the enduring power of love, Husbands & Lovers is stunning.”—Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling co-author of The Personal Librarian

“From sunny Cape Cod beaches to 1950s Cairo, I loved being immersed in the lives and loves of Beatriz Williams’s complex characters. This novel has it all: a single mother with a secret, a passionate affair against the backdrop of World War Two, and a child so wonderful (and in so much danger) that I stayed up until three in the morning to make sure he would survive. This is sweeping, sumptuous, and utterly enthralling.”—Amanda Eyre Ward, New York Times bestselling author of The Jetsetters

“[A] captivating novel of love and love lost . . . With well-drawn characters and sweeping drama, Williams’ latest is a gripping journey as secrets and hidden desires are exposed.”Booklist
© Marilyn Roos
Beatriz Williams lives with her husband and children in Connecticut. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Along the Infinite Sea, Tiny Little Thing, The Secret Life of Violet Grant, A Hundred Summers, and Overseas. She also writes under the pseudonym Juliana Gray. View titles by Beatriz Williams

Discussion Guide for Husbands & Lovers

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)

About

Two women—separated by decades and continents, and united by an exotic family heirloom—reclaim secrets and lost loves in this sweeping novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Summer Wives.

“My favorite kind of page-turner—unputdownable!”—Martha Hall Kelly, author of The Golden Doves

New England, 2022. Three years ago, single mother Mallory Dunne received the telephone call every parent dreads—her ten-year-old son, Sam, had been airlifted from summer camp with acute poisoning from a toxic death cap mushroom, leaving him fighting for his life. Now, searching for the donor kidney that will give her son a chance for a normal life, Mallory’s forced to confront two harrowing secrets from her past: her mother’s adoption from an infamous Irish orphanage in 1952, and her own all-consuming summer romance fourteen years earlier with her childhood best friend, Monk Adams— one of the world’s most beloved singer-songwriters—a fairy tale cut short by a devastating betrayal.

Cairo, 1951. After suffering tragedy beyond comprehension in the war, Hungarian refugee Hannah Ainsworth has forged a respectable new life for herself—marriage to a wealthy British diplomat with a coveted posting in glamorous Cairo. But a fateful encounter with the enigmatic manager of a hotel bristling with spies leads to a passionate affair that will reawaken Hannah’s longing for everything she once lost. As revolution simmers in the Egyptian streets, a pregnant Hannah finds herself snared in a game of intrigue between two men . . . and an act of sacrifice that will echo down the generations.

Timeless and bittersweet, Husbands & Lovers takes readers on an unforgettable journey of heartbreak and redemption, from the revolutionary fires of midcentury Egypt to the moneyed beaches of contemporary New England. Acclaimed author Beatriz Williams has written a poignant and beautifully voiced novel of deeply human characters entangled by morally complex issues—of privilege, class, and the female experience—inside worlds brought shimmeringly to life.

Excerpt

Prologue

Mallory

June 2019

Mystic, Connecticut


I kissed Sam goodbye on a Saturday morning toward the end of June, and the call that changed my life came the following Friday afternoon.

Actually, the call came in twice. I’d stepped away from my desk to do some gardening. I remember the tomatoes were growing like crazy that summer, the roses exploding on their bushes. Everything so abundant. Sometimes, when I’m stuck on an idea, I find it helps to walk away for a bit and do something else, something with your hands, something useful, and that knot in your mind will loosen and unwind into the bread dough or the soapsuds or the stacks of folded clothes.

Or the soft, rich loam of a vegetable bed.

It still fills me with terror, to look at that patch of earth and remember how I knelt there, staking the rampant new vines, humming to myself while a new pattern took shape in my head—a trailing creeper in a pristine shade of spring green, not too dark or too light, the color of promise, delicate shoots and leaves curling from the parent vine.

At a few minutes to three, I stood up, dusted my jeans, shucked off my gloves, and went into the house for a glass of water and my sketch pad.

I remember my phone lay on the kitchen counter, because I hadn’t carried it outdoors with me. You know how it is. I meant to step out for a few minutes to pull some weeds, maybe water the tomatoes, breathe some fresh air, but one thing led to another, and it was a beautiful day, eighty degrees and not so humid as it gets later in the summer. A breeze came in from the Mystic River, tinged with brine. Tourists would be swarming the drawbridge for ice cream. Over at the aquarium, kids would be screaming with joy as the belugas hurtled past on the other side of the plexiglass. Anyway, my phone sat alone on the counter, so I picked it up to check for messages and startling news alerts, maybe a little light scrolling, and instead I saw that I’d missed two calls from Camp Winnipesaukee.

You know that feeling. Every parent knows that feeling.

Probably nothing, you think, probably just some missed paperwork or an impulsive, inappropriate exclamation. Maybe a fistfight, God forbid. Kids could get scrappy at that age.

But your body’s not so logical, is it? Your body’s evolved for catastrophe. Your body leaps straight to the worst scenario. Your stomach turns sick, your trembling hand picks up the phone. Your heart cracks against your breastbone.

You swipe the number to call back.

You say, in your voice of fake buoyance, Hi! This is Mallory Dunne. Sam’s mom? You were trying to reach me.

And you hear the tiny silence, the fraction of a sigh as the person on the other end gathers courage for the task before her.

Then the dreaded words:

Mrs. Dunne, I’m afraid I have some difficult news.

I think I must have driven the entire three hours to New Hampshire in a state of shock. Now, don’t panic, I told myself, over and over. This is not really happening. This is just a movie you’re watching, a script you’re acting out. Kind of like the metaverse! Whatever that was.

Not real, anyway.

Not your real son, the love of your life.

I remember how I rinsed out my coffee cup and put it in the dishwasher before I left. I mean, you can’t just leave a cup of coffee on the kitchen counter when you lark off to New Hampshire for God knows how long! I swiped on a little lipstick, even though my hand shook so badly I looked like one of those Instagram people who color over the edges of their lips to make them look bigger. I started to throw a few things in an overnight bag and then thought, What if he dies and I’m not there in time to say goodbye?

I dropped the overnight bag and ran out the door to the car. I made it all the way to Springfield before I realized I wasn’t wearing any shoes, so I had to pull over at a gas station and buy flip-flops. And gas. And three Kind bars and a bottle of water, because I was about to pass out.

He’s not going to die, I told myself. A perfectly healthy boy doesn’t die from eating a bad mushroom.

Unless it’s too late.

Unless said boy ate said mushroom on a dare the day before and didn’t mention this fact because he didn’t want his friends to get in trouble, so he spent the night and the morning in the infirmary with so-called stomach trouble because the nurse had no idea she was dealing with a case of mushroom poisoning.

Unless the damage was already done.

Unless they were keeping him alive only so I could say goodbye and give permission for organ donation.

Could you donate a kid’s organs if he’d ingested a poisonous mushroom?

A Range Rover zoomed past, New York plates. I looked at the speedometer and saw I was going only sixty-four, like it was no hurry, no emergency, don’t want to get a speeding ticket or anything.

I pressed the accelerator.

He’s not going to die, I said aloud.

My shining, beautiful boy.

Who loved to play soccer in the fall and baseball in the spring.

Whose favorite food was s’mores.

Who went boogie-boarding last week with his cousins at his aunt’s house on the Cape and pretended to get attacked by a shark. (Not funny, I told him, after I fished him out of the water.)

Who filled an old jam jar with fireflies the night before he left for camp and told me he figured the lights came from all your ancestors in heaven, keeping watch over you.

I pounded the steering wheel. So where were all the f***ing fireflies yesterday?

Just as I reached White River Junction and turned off the interstate, it started to rain. A couple of fat drops, a couple more, and the next thing you know—monsoon. I turned on the windshield wipers. Three seconds later, I turned them on high. Wildly they pumped across the glass and still I couldn’t see a thing. Sheets cascading before me. Like trying to look through a waterfall.

What happened next is a true story.

I’m tearing down this road through the New Hampshire woods toward the hospital, right? Every second counts. But I can’t see ten feet in front of me. So I’m straining my eyes, not even blinking, and this dark shape flashes into view and whoomph! Smacks into the windshield and the jaws of the wipers.

Probably I scream, I don’t know.

Just a few inches long, this poor creature, this bird. Whisking back and forth, back and forth, feathers everywhere, and I’m crying now, screaming and crying, begging God to free the bird because I can’t pull over, I need to reach my son before he dies.

But the poor thing remains stuck in the wipers, smearing blood across my windshield that the rain washes away. I can’t even tell what kind of bird it is. I just keep on driving, and praying, and crying.

The rain was thinning out as I swerved into the parking lot of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, where they’d airlifted Sam a little after noon today.

(Later, when I saw that line item on the explanation of benefits notice from Blue Cross, I would get up to pour myself a glass of bourbon.)

But at this point, I wasn’t thinking about how much any of this would cost. Save my son, that was all I cared about. I found a miraculous space near the emergency room and slammed the brakes and got out. A man stood nearby smoking a cigarette. He stared at the bird on the windshield of my old Volvo station wagon, handed down from my sister.

“Is it dead?” I demanded.

He looked at me. I still have the image of him in my head—this young, smart, hardscrabble kid in green scrubs. I remember thinking he might have been a resident or a medical student, by the look of him—a kid who got in the hard way, no fancy private schools, no tutors or pushy parents. Job after school bagging groceries to save up money. He just wanted to be a doctor.

“That’s an owl,” he said. “A baby owl.”

“Is it dead? Just tell me, is it dead?”

“Of course it’s dead,” he said.

At the ER reception, I fumbled out some explanation about summer camp and mushrooms to the nurse on duty. He was used to hysterical parents and interrupted me to ask, in a voice that was neither kind nor unkind, for the patient’s name.

I took a deep breath. “Sam Dunne.”

“Date of birth?”

“May tenth, oh-nine.”

“Relationship to patient?”

“I’m his mother, for God’s sake!”

He tapped away on his computer keyboard, staring at the screen. “Name?”

“My name?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

I stared at the part in his hair. Light brown waves. Pink scalp.

The nurse looked up. “Ma’am? Your name?”

Starts with an M, I thought. You can do this.

He waved his hand slowly in front of my face. “Ma’am? Do you need to sit down?”

“Mallory!” I sagged in relief. “Mallory Dunne.”

The nurse turned back to his computer and resumed the tapping. “I’ll need your ID and insurance card, please, Mrs. Dunne.”

“My what?”

Reviews

“Williams’s work of historical fiction wrapped in a beach read . . . [follows an] engaging, artfully drawn pair of lovers . . . and descriptions of tense postwar Cairo are both commanding and detailed. The conclusion is a soap-worthy cliffhanger, and one that took me by surprise.”—The New York Times

“I loved Husbands & Lovers and devoured it in one delicious gulp. I was so invested in Mallory and Monk. It’s my favorite kind of page-turner—unputdownable!”—Martha Hall Kelly, New York Times bestselling author of The Golden Doves

“In the latest work by historical fiction master storyteller Beatriz Williams, two timelines breathlessly intertwine to form a tale full of passion, hope, and heartbreaking family secrets. As much a poignant and intimate examination of the human heart as a globe-trotting sweep of decades and wide-reaching locales, this one packs the sultry and stunning punch that readers of Williams have come to relish. You will feel the salty ocean air of Winthrop summer nights as you read, as well as the furious white heat of the roiling Cairo streets—and you’ll savor every page of it.”—Allison Pataki, New York Times bestselling author of The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post
 
“The masterful Williams spins a story that spans continents and eras, and it takes readers on a page-turning ride encompassing intoxicating youthful romance, forbidden wartime love, betrayal, espionage, life-eroding secrets, and a mother’s boundless love for her child. Reminding us of the interconnectivity of the past and present and the enduring power of love, Husbands & Lovers is stunning.”—Marie Benedict, New York Times bestselling co-author of The Personal Librarian

“From sunny Cape Cod beaches to 1950s Cairo, I loved being immersed in the lives and loves of Beatriz Williams’s complex characters. This novel has it all: a single mother with a secret, a passionate affair against the backdrop of World War Two, and a child so wonderful (and in so much danger) that I stayed up until three in the morning to make sure he would survive. This is sweeping, sumptuous, and utterly enthralling.”—Amanda Eyre Ward, New York Times bestselling author of The Jetsetters

“[A] captivating novel of love and love lost . . . With well-drawn characters and sweeping drama, Williams’ latest is a gripping journey as secrets and hidden desires are exposed.”Booklist

Author

© Marilyn Roos
Beatriz Williams lives with her husband and children in Connecticut. She is the New York Times bestselling author of Along the Infinite Sea, Tiny Little Thing, The Secret Life of Violet Grant, A Hundred Summers, and Overseas. She also writes under the pseudonym Juliana Gray. View titles by Beatriz Williams

Guides

Discussion Guide for Husbands & Lovers

Provides questions, discussion topics, suggested reading lists, introductions and/or author Q&As, which are intended to enhance reading groups’ experiences.

(Please note: the guide displayed here is the most recently uploaded version; while unlikely, any page citation discrepancies between the guide and book is likely due to pagination differences between a book’s different formats.)