This Is How It Happened

By: Jo Barrett

(Not a Love Story)

And the Oscar goes to…

Writing a novel is like the bobsled. You need a brakeman. Carrie Feron, my editor at HarperCollins, along with Tessa Woodward, kept this sled from zipping off the track. As did my literary agent, David Hale Smith, and his assistant, Shauyi.

In my previous novel, The Men’s Guide to the Women’s Bathroom, I was remiss in mentioning Regina Lee who was central in bringing the idea of a television show to actor Hugh Jackman and Seed Productions.

Karen Hamilton of Creative Convergence pushed the idea through to CBS Network.

My agent, Ryan Saul, is the living, breathing, finer version of Ari Gold from Entourage.

For three extraordinary men for whom the world of ideas is not dead: Brian Swier, John Zimmerman, and George Jones, CEO of Borders Books.

For Tim Ruch of Sanford Bernstein, Michelle Ruch, and Becki McClanahan of Sanford Bernstein.

For the superb Charlie Pigeon, CEO of Tige Boats.

And let’s not forget the dazzling Cindi Rose, and Dr. Franklin Rose. You add a spark to Houston, Texas, that has been sorely missed.

For Linda Luna, P.R. Chic, Joanna Vorachek, Erin Powers, Ron Hogan in New York, and Cynthia Jenkins who runs the splendid sugar mama column in Orange County.

For my stylish and intriguing friends, Sharin and Scott Gaille, for whom the world itself is too small, and Angola, Dubai, and Russia just a plane ride away.

My lifelong companions: the brilliant and esteemed Lawrence Cunningham—who wields a pen like a blade; and for LL: Heather Phibbs.

For the hip chicks in Austin and Houston who serve as inspiration: Amy and Melissa, Georgia and Paige Ridenhauer, Lynn, Meredith, Laura, Lisa, Courtney, and Whitney Casey. (As far as I know, these women have never hired a hit man…yet.)

Doug Agarwal of Capital Commercial Investments in Austin, Texas, is an important friend, and one of the finest men I know.

For Congressman Peterson, and his Washington, D.C., staff: Mark, Cherie, Rob.

To Mike Shea at Texas Monthly Magazine for reviving the art of crisp writing.

For Gary Cogill because he gets it.

For the inspirational Ryan Brooks of Goldglove Productions in Los Angeles.

For Dr. Victor Levin and Laurel Westcarth of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, for taking such extraordinary care of my father during his battle with brain cancer. And for Dr. Victor Levin’s continuing friendship.

For my brother, Ronnie Barrett, who is wickedly funny…sometimes.

For Todd Brooks…and the Costa Rican flip flops I fell in love with.

For the Petro family (P.S. This is a long list because they’re Catholic.) Madeline, Mike, the other Mike, Vicki, Nadine, Joe, Paula, Louis, Maria, Richard, Michelle, Bill, and super cool Joe. Am I missing anyone?

For the Barrett family: Dean and Anna Lee, Jim, Karen, Leslie, Chris, Kevin, Susan, Charles, Brandon, and Derrick.

And lastly, for my mother. For staying knee-deep in the trenches. Day after day.

Sir, if you were my husband, I’d poison your drink.


Madame, if you were my wife, I would drink it.

—His reply

Chapter 1

I never intended to KILL him kill him. I mean, actually kill him. It started as a joke. Two women in a coffee shop talking about their ex-disasters. And when Carlton’s name came up, the pain was so searing, so literal across my chest, I checked my stomach to see if someone had sliced me open with a knife.

That’s when I told my best friend, Heather, I wanted to kill him.

“I’ll hide the body,” she said, taking a demure little sip from her cappuccino. And we both giggled like schoolgirls. But then she did something she’s never done before. She put her hand on my shoulder and shot me a look. It was one of those pitying looks. The type of look a person gives a wounded dog before the vet puts him down. She even crinkled her eyes and said, “Be strong, Maddy.”

And that’s when I knew I was serious about killing him.

An hour later, after Heather and I parted company, I found myself browsing the gardening section of Half Price Books. I was looking for a book on poisons. And I didn’t want to pay retail.

I felt angry. Angry as a tornado. Wild and swerving and unpredictable. For some reason, maybe anxiety, my eye had begun to twitch. I rubbed my eyelid and skulked up and down the bookstore aisles.

The book I plucked from the shelf had a picture of a rat on the cover. I imagined Carlton’s face attached to the rat’s body. And then, for a split second, I imagined Carlton’s real body, and us having sex on the kitchen floor, like we always used to do.

Another wave of anger swept over me and I shook my head back and forth, trying to erase the image from my mind. I was an assassin on a mission, after all.

I flipped open the rat book and began browsing through the pages.

Chapter 4: How to Exterminate those Pesky Pests.

“Making your own poison: The organic alternative,” I read quietly to myself.

Am I really going to kill my ex? I thought. I blushed and glanced suspiciously up and down the bookstore aisles, as if half expecting a bunch of FBI guys to burst in and arrest me for Intent to Kill with Lavender-Scented Mouse Repellent.

I strolled to the register, casually, book tucked neatly under my arm.