By Regina Black
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"Love would be so much easier if it were perfect…"
On the night of her husband Matt’s fortieth birthday, Rachel Abbott receives a sexy, explicit text from her husband that she quickly realizes was meant for another woman. Divorce is inevitable, and Rachel is determined not to leave her thirteen-year marriage empty handed. Meanwhile, Matt, a rising star mayor with his eye on the White House, can’t afford a messy split in the middle of his reelection campaign. They strike a deal: Rachel gets one million dollars and their lavish house in the wealthy DC suburb of Oasis Springs, as long as she keeps playing the ideal Black trophy wife until the election.
Then Rachel meets Nathan Vasquez, a very handsome, very lost twenty-six-year-old artist, and their connection makes Rachel forget about being the perfect politician’s wife. As Rachel reawakens Nathan’s long-dormant artistic aspirations, their attraction becomes impossible to resist. But secrets are hard to keep in a town like Oasis Springs, and Nathan has a few of his own. With the risk of scandal looming and their hearts on the line, they’ll have to decide whether the possibility of losing everything is worth taking a chance on love.
The Art of Scandal is a sizzling, conversation-starting debut about rekindling passion, the transformative power of art, and finding love in unexpected places.
When your husband of thirteen years sends a close-up of his erect penis, you should not, under any circumstances, ask him why he sent it. Rachel Abbott didn’t know much about sexting etiquette, but she was fluent in middle-aged male fragility. It was the theme of the birthday party currently rattling the walls of her home. A massive bowl of pimento cheese sat congealing on her kitchen island, while a dozen lawyers in her living room got wasted on single malt scotch in red Solo cups. Her house was filled with food she didn’t eat and people she barely knew, because Matt was turning forty and needed balloons and streamers to blunt the sharp edges of his mortality.
She shouldn’t have let Faith talk her into such a big phone. Rachel had trusted her twenty-one-year-old daughter’s claim that it was great for watching movies, but it also made the penis inescapable. The detail of the high-resolution image kept her frozen, holding an icing knife in one hand and dick pic in the other, with the muffled beat of “Rump Shaker” as a jeering soundtrack in the background.
Maybe it wasn’t him. She tried to remember the last time she’d seen Matt’s penis up close but could only picture him drunkenly peeing against their neighbor’s crape myrtle after last year’s Fourth of July barbecue. Maybe one of his law firm buddies had stolen his phone when he wasn’t looking. Abbott and Associates had an aging frat boy vibe that eroded the elegance of every event. When she’d sent out the invitations for Matt’s party, one of the senior partners had offered to bring a keg.
Rachel wiped away the buttercream smeared on the screen and tapped the photo to zoom in. No, it was definitely Matt’s penis. She had always thought it looked like something out of a textbook—perfectly shaped, and Goldilocks-sized. Not too big. Not too little. The text was probably a dig at their anemic sex life. Or a bumbling request for a birthday blow job. Both possibilities left her annoyed and wilted. She’d been standing for twelve hours straight and had no intention of spending the rest of the night trading pithy sex memes or getting rug burns on her knees.
The kitchen door swung open, and Matt poked his head inside. The phone slipped from her hand and landed facedown with an ominous crack that made her wince. She could almost hear Faith groan, “I told you to get a case, Mom.”
“Sorry, I forgot,” Matt said. “Where are the cups again?” The overhead light glinted against his glasses, obscuring his eyes. His pale skin was mottled red, and his short dark hair was damp at the temples, like he had just come back from a run.
Or just had sex. That was also his post-orgasm hair, complete with splotchy complexion. He used to tease her about how different they looked after they came—him a strawberry-colored mess, her natural curls a frizzy halo while her dark skin glowed with a dusky pink hue. Now he gave her a puzzled look before stepping into the kitchen. She studied his face as he approached, grappling with the image of him masturbating in the middle of his own birthday party.
“Where are what?” She picked up the knife and searched his cake for a flaw, but it was perfect. Matt’s name was written in iced calligraphy she had practiced a dozen times to get right.
“The plastic cups.” He shoved both hands into his trouser pockets. They were the same as in the picture—charcoal gray, light Italian wool. Despite a political platform that included the tax policy version of “eat the rich,” Matt refused to wear anything that wasn’t custom. She’d once gently suggested rethinking his wardrobe when he ran for mayor four years ago. He had brushed her off. “You really think the people in this town would vote for a guy in J.Crew khakis?”
“Hey, isss-everything-okay?” Matt asked, with each word stumbling into the next. Focusing on her face took effort. He was drunk. That had to be why he sent it. Peer pressure plus too many beers had led to a tipsy lapse in judgment.
But wasn’t he supposed to reveal the joke, laugh, and tell her to stop being so uptight? She would laugh too, and they would keep pretending it hadn’t been a year since they had sex. He wasn’t supposed to stand there, blinking through his glasses, waiting for an explanation for the weird air between them.
“I’m fine,” she said, though it was directed more at the anxious knot in her stomach than him. She needed him to leave. The kitchen was usually her haven—the room he treated like the backstage area of a play he was invited to attend. “Go enjoy your party. I’ll find the cups.” And serve the food. And send the thank-you notes. And deal with the fallout from whatever you’ve been doing while the senior partners were in the next room.
He sighed and gave her that look she hated—exasperated but patient—resigned to another teachable moment. “It’s your party too. Why are you hiding in the kitchen? People are starting to notice.”
“I need to finish the cake.” She slid her knife along one side for emphasis.
“No one cares about the cake. They probably won’t even eat it.”
Her face heated. He was so good at that—making something benign, like baking a cake for a birthday party, feel like a childish mistake. “I don’t care if they eat it.” She put the knife down and untied her apron. “It exists. That’s all that matters.”
“Whatever you say.” He shrugged. “Are you coming out or not?”
“Do you like it at least?”
He sighed again, flicked his eyes toward the door, and pressed his lips into a smile that looked more like a gassy grimace. “It’s perfect. Like always. Now come on.” He waved a lazy hand at the cake on his way out. “Bring it with you.”
The silence he left behind was smothering. Their snippy argument was nothing new. Yesterday it was about paint colors, the shade of blue she’d chosen for his office. “It’s too dark. How am I supposed to work in a room that feels like a cave?” That was who they were. Snippy arguments. Cold pimento cheese. Not sexy text messages at inappropriate moments. He’d never proposition her this way.
Rachel flipped her phone back over. The screen was covered in webbed cracks, but the picture was still visible. She sent a reply.
I don’t think you meant to send this to me.
She put her phone down and dipped her finger into a bowl of leftover icing, careful to avoid the red velvet crumbs in the center. She hated red velvet. The kitchen door swung open and banged against the opposite wall. Matt rushed inside, his panicked eyes darting from her face to her abandoned phone. “Jesus.” He shoved both hands in his hair. “God, I’m so sorry.”
Rachel held his gaze and slowly pushed the cake over the counter’s edge. It fell, facedown, into a bloodred pile at his feet.
Two weeks earlier, Rachel had been perched on the edge of her living room sofa while she stared deeply into Matt’s eyes and promised to be less of a selfish bitch. Or, more accurately, decided that keeping her mouth shut was the best way to avoid another surprise marriage counseling session. According to Shania Fariss—their wispy marriage-maintenance specialist—their relationship’s primary area for improvement was Rachel’s lack of gratitude.
“Focus on what your partner gives you,” Shania advised. “Not what you think is lacking.” Whatever annoying habit of Matt’s that Rachel had planned to mention immediately deflated into something so small and petty, it didn’t deserve to be spoken out loud. Instead, they focused on the very important fact that Rachel was not, and had never been, very good at being his wife.
A good wife would not have slipped away during her husband’s Rising Star Award speech at the Virginia bar luncheon to send their driver to Popeye’s Chicken, causing political commentators to speculate whether a white man with a Black wife was a fan of dark meat. According to Matt, her lack of judgment said something deeper about their marriage aside from Rachel’s aversion to underseasoned poultry. The small scandal had called for another counseling session—their third in two months.
“I’m grateful for my family. My daughter.” Rachel paused, and then quickly added, “The Abbotts of course,” because everyone thought she should be grateful for them. Matt had made her one of the Abbotts, a family so royal adjacent that the press had dubbed Rachel “the DC Meghan Markle.” And like Meghan, any hint of dissatisfaction with her royal status would be met with skepticism and, occasionally, open hostility. Who wouldn’t be grateful to wake up each day swaddled in downy white privilege?
In truth, Rachel was grateful for not worrying about whether her bills were paid or there was food in the refrigerator. She was thankful for the car that always started and insurance that swallowed medical bills like magic. But Matt and Shania wouldn’t understand any of that. They couldn’t relate. He was born with money, and Shania, with her Wellesley pedigree, would probably launch into a lecture about the pitfalls of focusing on material things as if they were discussing a designer shoe collection instead of basic human needs.
When Rachel and Matt were dating, it didn’t matter that she was always broke. Their differences seemed small and romantic. Like how he would order too much food at restaurants because he knew that outside of their shared dinners, Rachel existed on ramen noodles and cheap gas station hot dogs.
“I’m grateful for this community,” Rachel continued. “How Oasis Springs has embraced me.” Fifteen years ago, she didn’t know the place existed. Their suburb was so exclusive that most Fairfax County realtors didn’t bother to include it in their guides. As an outsider, being accepted meant being useful in some way. Rachel was their First Lady. Aside from the chicken incident, a symbol of elegance. Basically, a mascot.
“Jesus, Rache. You’re starting to sound like me.” Matt exchanged another look with Shania. “I’m grateful for my wife,” he said, unprompted, because he was a lawyer and a politician and always said the right thing. “She keeps me solid. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
But they both knew exactly what he’d do. He’d hire someone to cook his meals and keep his social calendar. If his office needed an update, a dozen interior designers were a Google search away. Need a pretty girl on his arm? Toss a rock and he’d hit one of the blue-blooded socialites eager to be photographed with the next Pete Buttigieg. Everything he was grateful for could be purchased for the right price.
But she didn’t say any of that. She didn’t admit how lonely it was to be appreciated for what you did for someone rather than who you were. Remember when you thought I was funny? Remember when I took a pen from your father’s desk and you told me it cost more than a thousand dollars? And I panicked while you laughed and drew crooked hearts along my shin?
Shania gave her an expectant look. Matt pushed his glasses up his nose with one finger and gazed back at her with soft, encouraging eyes.
“I’m grateful for you too,” Rachel said, and repeated how sorry she was for the chicken thing. She mentioned his birthday and suggested a nice dinner, but Matt wanted a party. “Something with shitty food and loud music.” She’d agreed and promised to make the cake herself. “It’s your fortieth, which is a big deal. I want everything to be perfect.”
His eyes had clouded over, and he’d asked if she was happy. “Really happy. Not just… you know.”
She’d laughed and said, “Of course!” as if there were no other way to feel.
Now, Matt refused to leave the kitchen. His rambling turned him further into a cheater cliché while Rachel seriously considered picking up the knife again. Someone walked into the room and they both froze. It was Kenneth, a new associate and Matt’s mentee. His cherubic face took in the messy pile of cake on the floor, his boss’s fight-or-flight posture, and what was probably a maniacal gleam in Rachel’s eyes. “Cheryl and I were just leaving,” he said with a thumb jab over his shoulder. “But we had a great time. I wanted—”
Rachel left the kitchen before he could finish. Matt hissed her name, following close behind. She needed to get to the stairs. Her heels made clacking sounds against the tile as she moved past the foyer. Matt struggled to keep up without running. She glanced over her shoulder, and he said her name again, this time sharp and determined. Rachel shucked off her shoes and sprinted.
A few party guests watched them, wide eyed. What would people say tomorrow? That Matt Abbott chased his hysterical wife up the stairs at their over-the-hill birthday kegger? Rachel slowed at the landing and Matt gained ground. He darted ahead, blocking her path. His eyes were bloodshot and brimming with excuses. She made a fist, and he stepped back like she’d put her finger on a trigger. “Rachel, talk to me. Please.”
Once inside their bedroom, she started pacing, her bare feet sinking silently into the carpet. Maybe it was a mistake. Or an accident. Or some onetime thing he would confess during their next session. Shania would look at Rachel instead of Matt and sigh at his pathetic lapse in judgment.
Matt told her that the affair had started during a monthlong swing of small towns last August. The trip was supposed to make him more appealing to blue-collar workers, and Rachel had been ordered to stay home because she was “too elegant” to fit the narrative.
“You’ve been fucking this woman since last year?”
Matt lifted his hand to touch her. She probably looked like a wounded animal. Rachel flinched and scooted away. Roadkill didn’t look to the driver for sympathy.
“Seeing. It’s not just…” His voice lowered to a squeamish hiss. “Sex. I didn’t plan this. It just happened.”
Rachel yanked her dress down over her knees as his affair shifted in her mind from a selfish mistake to a deliberate betrayal. “Is she white?”
Matt blinked, and she could almost see his brain fumbling for the right response. “Yes. Why would you ask that?”
“Because I’m not.”
“Are you implying—”
“I’m not implying anything. I’m saying it.” That was better. Her anger had wrapped her voice in steel. Instead of being shattered, she’d become a blade. “If you think a congressional campaign would be easier with—”
“Would you stop?” Matt reached for her hands. “It’s not an election strategy, Rachel. This is about me falling in love with someone else.”
Falling in love? That couldn’t be right. Their life was a blur of photo ops and campaign fundraising events. Their nights were surfing cable news shows or mining social media mentions for useful sound bites. Matt’s political career had the velocity of a comet that incinerated every free minute in its path—including her minutes, her life, and all that time she spent flourishing cakes with royal icing. When did he find time to fall in love?
Rachel let her eyes roam around the bedroom she had designed—the fluffy white down comforter, the espresso-colored furniture, the bright turquoise accents—everything was coordinated, down to the small fringe hanging from the curtains in the master bathroom. That’s what she did in her spare time. Generate new palettes on her color wheel app while Matt kept secrets and nodded absently at variations of ecru.
“Why are you telling me this?” Her voice trembled, close to cracking. “You were obviously fucking her behind my back for months. Suddenly you can’t think of a decent lie?”
Matt flinched. He wasn’t used to being called a liar to his face. That’s what happened when you were the firstborn Abbott golden boy—no one bothered to hold you accountable. He released her hands and put more distance between them. “I was going to tell you once the election was over. I didn’t want you to find out like this. It’s embarrassing.”
He really meant inconvenient. Matt’s mayoral reelection was a formality—a small step in his ascension to an empty US congressional seat. The position had been vacated by a ten-term octogenarian who’d been accused of quid pro quo sexual harassment. Matt was being vetted as his replacement because, besides his progressive agenda, he was bankably bland. A young blue blood with a picture-perfect marriage to a Black woman he’d lifted from poverty like some liberal fairy-tale prince. Dumping Rachel for his white mistress would ruin the narrative.
Matt looked down at his hands. They were thinner than when she met him, which didn’t seem fair. Her old rings didn’t fit anymore.
“You’re embarrassed?” She waited until he made eye contact again. “I just threw you a frat boy Pinterest party. How do you think I feel?”
Matt didn’t answer, which was probably for the best. What could he say besides some cliché like he never meant to hurt her? He might as well admit that ripping her life apart wasn’t a big deal because she was the last thing on his mind. “What’s her name?”
He tensed. “Does it matter?”
“I should know who stole my life.” The woman Rachel pictured was the opposite of herself—blond, willowy, and born swaddled in Chanel. But then she remembered how Matt used to look at her before they got married, like she was priceless. “You’ve ruined me for other women,” he’d said. “How could anyone compare to you?”
Rachel bit back a laugh. Or a sob. She couldn’t tell the difference. “We have to separate.”
“No.” Matt waved away the idea. “I might as well write a signed confession and mail it to every news station in the country.”
Her jaw tightened. Even now, it was all about him. “I am done scheduling my life around your career. And I don’t want you in my house.”
“It’s my house, Rachel.”
She knew it was just his flailing attempt to win the argument. Matt winced, fidgeting inside this new, dickish skin. When his pacing brought him to a wall mirror, he stepped away from his own reflection. Rachel held her breath, waiting for him to take it back.
Two months after their honeymoon, Matt handed her a brochure of real estate listings and dismissed his million-dollar town house with an eye roll. “This place is too small. Faith needs a backyard. Pick something.”
Rachel hadn’t argued, even though the home they already shared was large enough to have an echo. The realtor showed them sprawling colonials in subdivisions with names that sounded like resorts. It was overwhelming. When she walked into what would eventually become their three-story Georgian on Millwood Avenue, she had burst into exhausted tears.
One call and the house was theirs. Another call and a blond decorator with a faint Eastern European accent appeared with a binder containing measurements of every room in the house. That was how he managed their life. Matt dialed a number and another hard thing got easier. A decade later, it was Rachel who made the phone calls, because all of it was theirs, not just his. That was supposed to be the deal. Matt contributed money. She gave time, attention, and every hour of her day in return.
“Let’s think rationally here.” His voice was slow and deliberate, like he was taking cues from Shania. “We’re not normal people. I can’t be seen checking into some hotel with a suitcase. Hell, I can’t be seen in public alone without some asshole with a camera asking where you are. Neither of us wants that kind of attention.” He gazed at the ground, the window, everything in the room but her. This had turned into a strategy meeting. She might as well have been a member of his campaign.
Rachel’s stomach heaved, threatening to empty its contents on the rug. She pushed off the bed with a hand over her mouth, and Matt stopped midsentence, eyeing her warily. The nausea faded, but the sight of him poised to sprint away made her eyes prickle with tears. He really didn’t care about any of it. Not about her or their marriage.
She stalked past him, yanked open the door, and was in the hallway before he sputtered her name. “Rachel! What are you doing?”
“You want to stay, stay.” She didn’t hesitate on the stairs this time. The house was empty. Everyone had likely smelled the rancid air and fled to avoid an awkward goodbye. Her fury intensified as she stared at used cups and paper plates strewn over various surfaces, waiting for the cleaning service she’d scheduled to come in the morning. She should cancel it. She should leave the house so wrecked he wouldn’t want it anymore.
“It’s almost midnight,” Matt shouted. “Where are you going? We’re not finished talking. Rachel!”
There was a liquor bottle in a red velvet sack on the gift table. She grabbed it on the way out the door. A hard gust of wind slammed into her face, smothering her briefly before it eased and she could breathe again. She could hear Matt’s footfalls against the foyer tile. He matched her pace but didn’t go much faster. He didn’t want to catch her.
Hiding in a public bathroom stall wasn’t how Nathan Vasquez usually dealt with awkward social scenes. Although, to be fair, the bathrooms at the Oasis Springs Drive-In weren’t the worst place to spend your time. There was something cool and a little creepy about how the sterile walls glowed under the buzzing fluorescents. The apple-shaped air freshener plugged into the wall made the room smell like industrial soap and cinnamon. If it weren’t for the toilet paper under lock and key, he could have been in someone’s Williams Sonoma’d, rarely used guest bathroom.
Nathan knew that the night’s downward trajectory was partially his fault. A boring night out usually called for one of two options: make things interesting or leave. Only assholes suffered in silence, which was exactly what he was doing, sitting on a decorative pouf that he’d stolen from the sitting area, with his legs propped up against the door, ignoring his best friend’s text messages to draw on a hot dog wrapper against his thigh.
Dillon: Are you hiding in the shitter?
It would be nice to think he was evolving—that turning twenty-six had triggered some adult gene lying dormant all these years. But he’d always hated conflict, and hiding was his newest avoidance tactic. That could count as evolution if you squint.
Dillon: Come on Nate. Where are you?
Nathan had sketched a large cheeseburger with razor-sharp teeth gnawing on the leg of a rough self-portrait. The movie playing a few hundred feet away had ramped into high gear with raised voices battling blipping laser guns. He drew lips on the burger before he responded to Dillon’s text.
Nathan: Third stall on the left.
It took a few minutes for Dillon to find him, which gave Nathan time to add a pair of walking french fries to the scene. The sketch took a darker turn, with the fries reaching for Nathan’s likeness, slobbery drool streaming behind them.
“You’re not jacking off in there, are you?”
Nathan unlatched the stall door. “I just needed some air.”
Dillon frowned and glanced at the wall of urinals to his right. “Cool. Cool. It’s just uh… the girls keep asking about you.”
The girls were two college students Dillon had picked up at the gas station earlier that evening. He’d arrived at Nathan’s apartment with his arms draped over their shoulders, grinning as though he’d won the lottery instead of saddling their night with the awkwardness of two strangers who were old enough to drink but young enough to make the whole thing embarrassing.
“I think Laura really likes you,” Dillon said. “She’s cute, right? All that red hair.”
“What do you think?” Nathan showed off his sketch. “New tattoo?”
The excitement on Dillon’s face faded as he focused on the actual image. He glanced at the tattoos covering Nathan’s right arm as if trying to picture greasy french fries next to corrido lyrics.
“It’s interesting.” He squinted at the killer burger. “Very… Adult Swim. But who cares what I think? You’re the artist.”
There was a whiff of pity in the compliment. They both knew that posting fan art online and doodling cartoon characters on fast-food wrappers wasn’t an actual art career. Dillon was starting to make a habit out of lying to protect Nathan’s feelings. Last week it was an apology that went on too long when Dillon bailed on plans. Two weeks before that, he claimed a food truck Nathan recommended “was fire!” with the same disgusted eye twitch that appeared when someone mentioned sushi. It made Nathan feel like a guy who needed handling, when in the past, he’d always been the handler.
Nathan stuffed the wrapper inside his jeans. “The movie’s almost over. We should probably head back to the car.” He left the restroom with Dillon trailing close behind, struggling to match Nathan’s longer, faster strides.
- “A seductive, sweltering debut. Regina Black crafts such decadent tension between her characters and their opposing worlds, each word chosen for maximum impact. Achingly raw and beautifully messy—this book is a work of art."—Rachel Lynn Solomon, New York Times bestselling author of The Ex Talk
- "As poignant as it is passionate, this marks Black as a writer to watch."—Publishers Weekly
- "In this deeply emotional and fast-moving romance, debut author Black writes a sultry story about family, forgiveness, art, and embracing love, even when it’s inconvenient."—Library Journal, starred review
- "The combination of complex characters, gorgeous prose, and a compulsively readable plot made The Art of Scandal one of my top romances of all time. It was an ache in my throat, a crackling tension in the air, a haunting melody in my head long after I'd finished reading. I absolutely inhaled every word and am ready for everything and anything Regina Black writes in the future."—Alicia Thompson, national bestselling author of Love in the Time of Serial Killers
- "The Art of Scandal is devastatingly beautiful and captivatingly romantic. Every so often, a book strikes the perfect chord of touching, poignant, sexy, and thrilling and this is that book. Black's storytelling draws you in and holds you close and her diverse cast of characters shine with three-dimensional emotion and sizzling chemistry. This one is not to be missed."—Denise Williams, author of How to Fail at Flirting
- "In The Art of Scandal, Black puts her mastery of character on full display . . . A riveting debut perfect for readers of Seven Days in June."—Shelf Awareness
- “Smart, sexy, and absolutely sizzling with steamy scenes, this book makes the list as one of my all-time favorite romances. Art, scandal, and finding love where one leasts expects it—what’s not to adore?"—Ashley Herring Blake, author of Delilah Green Doesn't Care
- "[A] provocative and sexy debut."—POPSUGAR
- “Richly characterized and beautifully depicted, Black brings the political drama and electric chemistry of Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal to this novel of two starkly different individuals learning to find themselves in each other.”—Shirlene Obuobi, author of On Rotation
- "The Art of Scandal is a one-of-a-kind story! Sexy and smart with messy yet relatable characters, this is the book you need in your life! Regina Black is a force!"—Catherine Adel West, Author of The Two Lives of Sara
- “Right out the gate, Regina Black charges in to bring drama and sensuality. Black's dazzling use of language creates a compelling novel of heartbreak, passion, and rediscovery. Justice for Rachel Abbott is as delicious as it is scandalous. Readers are going to cheer for her the whole way!”—Charish Reid, author of The Write Escape and Hearts on Hold
- "Juicy."—Sisters from AARP
- "The ultimate beach read."—The Root
- On Sale
- Aug 1, 2023
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Grand Central Publishing