Prologue - Chapter 8
The books opens with a woman (Vanessa
) watching another woman, the one her husband (Richard
) left her for. Her marriage disintegrated due to her drinking less than a year ago. The final nail in the coffin was a party where she was asked to get the wine from storage, only to realize it was all gone.
Vanessa lives with her Aunt Charlotte
now and works at Saks. The shoppers are often people she used to socialize with. One of them, Hillary, reveals that Richard is now engaged. Vanessa reaches out to Richard, but he texts her, saying there's nothing to talk about.
is newly engaged to Richard. He's nine years older and a hedge fund manager. Nellie is a preschool teacher at a private school. Nellie has insomnia and gets bad nightmares due to a past incident. She doesn't like talking about her background.
Richard and Nellie met on a flight where he comforted her because she does not like flying. Richard surprises Nellie with a house in the suburbs as a wedding gift. She's excited, but also hesitant about leaving the city.
She meets up with her friends, including her best friend and roommate Sam
, from when she used to also waitress, before Richard came along. They go dancing, and she runs into Nick
, an old boyfriend, who tries to kiss her. Richard happens to be there looking for her and sees it.
Vanessa gets drunk after hearing Richard's news. She also pops a pill. She recalls how they'd wanted to have kids but she was unable to conceive. When they went to a fertility doctor, she'd had to admit that she'd gotten an abortion at 21.
Richard has been wanting Nellie to stop working and travel with him instead. Nellie is reluctant, but after they talk about the Nick incident Nellie decides to agree to his plan.
Chapters 9 - 17
Nellie runs into their nosey neighbor, Mrs. Keene
, who mentions seeing Richard's ex in their building last week. She also has been getting phone calls with just breathing on the other end ever since the engagement. Nellie's wedding photographer gets a call falsely saying the wedding is being postponed. Nellie tells her no, the date is the same.
Vanessa finds herself watching the other woman with her dog and wonders if she knows how Richard feels about dogs. She is certain Richard should not remarry. She remembers how after she stopped working, Richard wanted her to cook for him, and she was terrible at it. She also recalls her mother's elaborate cooking, a result of her manic episodes. Vanessa worries about being too similar to her mentally unbalanced mother.
Vanessa receives a box of stuff she'd left behind at Richard's. She calls Maureen,
Richard's sister. Maureen tells her she needs to move on, but Vanessa needs to talk to her. She hears Maureen direct a driver to go to Richard's favorite restaurant (Sfoglia).
Nellie is on her way to meet Maureen for the first time. She meets Richard there too and Maureen is nice but she feels silly and awkward. Vanessa rushes to get to the restaurant but it's across town, there's traffic and she is on foot. She doesn't see Maureen anywhere by the time she gets there.
Later, Nellie and Richard get home, she gets a call from Sam. A tall, skinny woman came by to check out her apartment (she's looking for a new roommate since Nellie is moving out), but stole the keys. They wonder why Sam's wallet wasn't also stolen.
Richard tells Nellie that he didn't spend summers at the golf course when he was younger playing gold, he was a caddie. Maureen helped pay for him to go to college, and he went to live with her at 15 after his parents died in a car crash.
The wedding is imminent and Vanessa is determined to stop it. She dresses up and applies makeup and visits a colorist to transform herself into the woman she used to be.
Vanessa reveals her nickname, it's Nellie. In other words, the first half of the book has been told jumping back and forth from the past to the present. Nellie is Vanessa when she was younger.
Nellie is not the other woman. Richard calls Vanessa "Nellie" because she was a nervous flyer, so he teased her by calling her Nellie (like, nervous nellie).
Richard was married prior to meeting Vanessa/Nellie (Wife #2). She (Wife #1) is a dark-haired woman who was upset when they broke up. Richard is about to marry Wife #3.
Chapters 19 - 24
Vanessa approaches Wife-To-Be #3, Emma
. Emma was Richard's assistant while they were married. Emma gently explains that she is sorry about the affair, but also that she'll get a restraining order if Vanessa keeps hanging out outside their building. Vanessa tells her Richard is manipulative and can't be trusted. She starts to explain to Emma how Richard had caused a scene involving pretending Vanessa had drunk too much wine, when in reality the wine was never ordered, but Emma cuts her off.
She decides to write Emma a letter, but Richard shows up at her place. He wants to talk. He writes her a check, and tells her to get help. She remembers the many times he insisted she was crazy, and she writes the letter anyway.
She and Aunt Charlotte talk about how she changed after she got married. She was cut off from her friends and lonely. She eventually stopped talking to Sam. Plus she put on weight due to the fertility pills. There's a small kitchen fire which she puts out and she realizes something is going on with Aunt Charlotte that she's been too wrapped up to notice. Aunt Charlotte says it's macular degeneration. She's going blind. She decides she will cash the check so her aunt can get treated.
Vanessa recalls a relationship with a professor (Daniel
) from when she was a sorority girl in college. They had to keep it their relationship quiet. She finds out she's pregnant, and ditches a sorority hazing event where pledges are sent blindfolded into the ocean. She asks someone else to watch the pledge she's in charge of (Maggie
) so she can go talk to him. Vanessa shows up at his house and finds out he's married (to Nicole
) with kids. She gets back to the sorority to find out Maggie never made it back. Maggie's body is later found.
Maggie had an older brother Jason
who was bitter about Vanessa part in Maggie's death. He vandalized their sorority house, and she moves away to get away from him. It wasn't until her mother placed an engagement announcement (with her name, picture, location, etc.) that she started being harassed with the phone calls, etc. She started getting nightmares and insomnia because of the Jason situation.
In a letter, Vanessa notes to Emma that Richard is dangerous, and Emma has probably already suspected it but ignored her own suspicions.
Vanessa recalls going out with Sam one night and staying in the city. She didn't tell Richard, who was out of town. She end up at Richard's city apartment, and gets the idea to go down to the storage to look for old photos. She finds their old wedding cake topper which he claimed was from his parents wedding, but sees the date (1985) doesn't make sense.
At one point, Richard surprised her with a German shepherd, Duke
, to help her feel safer and less lonely, who she became very attached to. One day the dog disappeared after Richard sent her on an errand to pick up dry cleaning.
She remembers a party where she's speaking to someone (Paul
) about a potential teaching job in the city and accidentally breaks a glass. Richard tells her they should go even though it's not a big deal. He makes people think they're leaving because she's too drunk. When they get home, he asks her why she wants to go into the city and she she was seen getting dressed up and going into the city. She's been going to therapy, but doesn't want him to know and lies. He hits her.
Vanessa was upset over him hitting her, but then her mother dies and Richard takes care of her. For a while it seemed like they will be okay.
Back in the present, Richard finds out about the letter she tried to deliver to Emma and is furious. Vanessa knows she needs to go talk to Emma before he does.
When Vanessa first met Emma, it was clear there was chemistry between Richard and Emma. (A twist!
) She'd encouraged Richard to spend time with Emma. She wanted to be free of him. (This is all contrary to the assumption the book has thus far led us to believe. Vanessa has never been jealous of Emma, she feels guilty for setting her up.)
Chapters 31 - 38
Vanessa first goes to cash the check since she knows Richard will try to stop the payment on it. She then goes to Richard's office, pretending to be Emma to get past security. She picks up a receipt, a a $31,000 refund for wine. She texts it to Emma so Emma will see how manipulative Richard is. He wanted everyone to believe Vanessa was a drunk.
Vanessa tries to come up with the best examples of Richard's controlling, manipulative behavior. Vanessa remembers when she realized how he lied about having taken a fertility test, which meant she'd been feeling guilty and taking fertility pills needlessly. She thinks about Duke, and his physical abuse.
Vanessa receives a call from a shelter she'd set up reoccurring donations to in Maggie's name. She finds out that not only has Richard cancelled it, that he was getting messages from the family that he never shared with Vanessa. All this time she'd been living with this guilt causing her anxiety but they (including Jason) had long forgiven her. Richard simply preferred to keep her on edge.
Vanessa kept a notebook/diary during her marriage but he discovered it and her thoughts about leaving him and beat her up badly. That's when she decided she needed him to end the marriage.
When she gets to Emma's place, Emma lets her in, but she quickly realizes Richard is there, too. Vanessa begs Emma to believe her. She suggests they call the credit card company to confirm that he set her up regarding the wine. Richard says no, and asks her to leave. However, Emma calls her after she confirms with the credit card company. They agree to meet.
Vanessa meets Emma at a bridal shop. Vanessa tells her Richard is tracking her via her phone. They chat and Vanessa tells her to leave him and find a friend to stay with. They come up with a plan. Vanessa hides in Emma's apartment while Emma invites Richard over to break things off. But then Emma ends up going off-script and doesn't do it. Vanessa needs a new plan.
The next day, Vanessa intercepts Richard outside of Emma's apartment. Emma and Maureen are inside. She says stuff to purposely set him off so Emma will see what sort of man he is. He attacks her before she can get to the door. She ends up grabbing something out of his pocket (it's the porcelain cake topper) and smashing it on his head.
Emma and Maureen comes out, sees what happened. Maureen is upset at first when she realizes what Richard has done, then she sounds strange and different as she comforts him. A twist!
Maureen assures him she'll take care of everything and he doesn't have to worry. She sound satisfied. (Note: It's clear Richard's controlling nature and desperation to be the end-all-be-all for his wife is just a reflection of Maureen and Richard's weird relationship.)
Chapters 40 - Epilogue
Later, Vanessa meets with Maureen at the mental health facility that Richard is at. Maureen tells Vanessa that Richard was in the car when his parents died, and that his father was abusive too. She tells her that the cake topper was originally bought for his parents to put on a cake for their anniversary. He wanted to inspire them to love each other again.
Richard apologizes, and Maureen assures her that she'll make sure Richard isn't getting married again. Vanessa gives them her wedding/engagement rings and the wedding photobook; she thinks Richard should have them. Maureen comments, making her realize Maureen was the one who tried to cancel her wedding photoshoot many years ago. As Vanessa walks away, she sees Maureen slip the wedding ring on her own finger. (So creepy.)
Vanessa visits the therapist, Kate
, who she hasn't seen since she was married. A (small) twist!
This is actually Richard's first wife. Vanessa had previously sought her out when she was married for information on Richard. (They both know who the other is.) She tells Kate what happened. Kate finally tells her about how her leg is injured -- Richard pushed her down the stairs when she tried to leave him. Vanessa realizes that once many years ago she saw a woman watching her who moved funny, possibly with a limp.
Vanessa works on repairing her relationship with Sam. In the Epilogue, there's a final twist!
Emma was not Emma's real name. She was the daughter of the professor Vanessa had an affair with. After the affair was revealed, the professor moved out, destroying her family, and she wanted revenge. She did not realize until now that Vanessa never knew he was married. "Emma" find Vanessa and reveals who she really is and they part amicably.
See The Wife Between Us