A reporter and her cop fiancé dig into the shocking truth of a cold murder case in this Southern thriller by the #1 New York Times bestselling author.
The most hated woman in Savannah, Georgia, is about to be set free. Twenty years ago, beautiful Blondell O'Henry was convicted of murdering her eldest daughter, Amity, and wounding her two other children. Though she swore she was innocent, the prosecution insisted that Blondell did it all to be with her lover. But Blondell's son has now recanted his crucial testimony.
Reporter Nikki Gillette is determined to get the truth for her true crime book—as well as personal reasons. Amity was Nikki’s childhood friend. The night she died, Amity begged her to meet with her, insisting she had a secret to tell, but Nikki didn't go. Now Nikki's fiancé, Detective Pierce Reed, worries for her safety. Because somehow, the events of that tragic night connect to Nikki's own fractured family.Soon Nikki will discover what really happened two decades ago, but the answers may come too late to save her life. . .
"Jam-packed with scary chills." --Booklist"Absolutely tension filled. . .Jackson is on top of her game." --Suspense Magazine
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By LISA JACKSON
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2013 Lisa Jackson LLC
All rights reserved.
"I know, I know. I'm working on it. Really! I just need a little more time to come up with the right story!" Nikki Gillette glanced up at the skylight as rain drizzled down the pane. Above the glass, the sky was a gloomy shade of gray, the clouds thick with a coming twilight hurrying across the city. Beneath the window, inside her loft and curled into a ball on the top of the daybed, lay her cat, Jennings, his eyes closed, his golden tail twitching slightly as he slept. Seeing him, Nikki reminded herself yet again that she needed to pick up Mikado at the groomer's tomorrow. Her head was so full of her own problems, she'd forgotten him today. Luckily, Ruby had assured her she could pick up the dog tomorrow at no extra fee, a kindness she wasn't generally known for.
Hunched over her desk, Nikki held the phone to her ear with one hand and fiddled with a pen in the other. The conversation was tense. Nearly heated. And for once, she knew she was at fault. Well, at least partially.
As her agent described why her latest book submission had been rejected by her publisher, Nikki glanced at her computer monitor, news stories streaming across the screen—an alert that yet another storm was rolling its way inland, the latest breaking news.
"What was wrong with the Bay Bridge Strangler idea?" Nikki asked, but deep down, she knew the answer.
Ina sighed audibly. "For one thing he's in San Francisco."
Nikki could imagine her agent rolling her expressive brown eyes over the tops of the bifocals that were always perched on the tip of her nose. She'd be sitting in her tiny office, cup of coffee nearby, a second, forgotten one, maybe from the day before, propped on a pile of papers that had been pushed to one corner of her massive desk.
"And you've never met him," she added in a raspy voice. "And since good old Bay Bridge is big news on the West Coast, I'll bet a dozen stories are already being written about him by authors in that enclave of mystery writers they've got out there. You know, I probably already have a submission somewhere here on my desk, if I'd take the time to dig a little deeper through my slush pile."
Another good point. Irritating, yes, but probably spot on. "Okay, okay, but I also sent you an idea about a story surrounding Father John in New Orleans."
"Who knows what happened to that freak? A killer dressed up as a priest. Gives me chills. Yeah, I know. He's a better match, closer geographically and infinitely more interesting than Bay Bridge, but really, do you have a connection with him? An inside look?" There was a pause, a muffled "Tell him I'll call him right back" on the other end of the line, then Ina was back, never missing a beat. "As near as I remember, Father John disappeared. Either moved on or, more likely, is lying dead in some Louisiana swamp. Crocodile bait or something. No one knows, and right now, not a lot of people care. He's old news."
"No one really knows what happened to Zodiac, and he hasn't killed in decades, but there're still books being written about him. Movies."
"Meh. From authors and producers without any new ideas. The reason your first two books did so well was because they were fresh, and you were close to the investigation."
"Too close," Nikki said, shuddering inwardly when she remembered her up-close-and-personal experience with the Grave Robber. That horrifying episode still invaded her sleep, bringing nightmares that caused her to wake screaming, her body in a cold, damp sweat.
"I'm not advocating you ever become a victim again, trust me. But you know you have to write something that you're emotionally connected to."
"So you keep saying," Nikki admitted as she looked around her little garret, with its built-in bookshelves, easy chair, and reading lamp. Cozy. Smelling of the spice candles she lit every morning. A perfect writing studio, as long as she had a story to put to paper.
"Here's the deal," Ina said. "The reason your first book worked so well, or at least in the publisher's eyes, is your connection to the story, your involvement. That's what you need."
"That might have been a once-in-a-lifetime thing," Nikki said as she twisted her pen between her fingers and rolled her desk chair back.
"Let's hope," Ina said. "Look, no one wants you to be a victim again. God, no. But you had a connection with the second book too."
Therein lay the problem. She'd sold Coffin for Two, her first book, a true-crime account of the killer she'd dubbed the Grave Robber, a psycho who had rained terror on Savannah before targeting Nikki herself. She had no intention of coming that close to a psycho again—book deal or no book deal. Coffin for Two, into which she'd infused a little dark humor along with her own personal account of dealing with the madman, had sold thousands of copies and caught the eye of a producer for a cable network that was looking for particularly bizarre true-crime stories. The book was optioned, though not yet produced.
Her second book, Myth in Blood, also had a personal hook; she had been close to that true-crime story as it had unfolded. Working for the Savannah Sentinel, Nikki had pushed her way into the investigation, stepping on more than a few toes in the process and pissing off just about everyone in the crime department at the newspaper. That case, involving the rich and ill-fated Montgomery family, had had enough grotesque elements to appeal to the public, so another best-seller had been born. While trying to get close to that investigation, she'd met Detective Pierce Reed, and their relationship had developed to something deeper. Now they were engaged, and she was supposed to be writing book three of her publishing contract, but so far, no go. She just didn't have a story.
Ina said, "You know, dozens of true-crime books come out every month, but the reason yours stood out was because of your personal involvement. Take a tip from Ann Rule; she knows what she's doing. You've read The Stranger Beside Me. The reason that book is so damned chilling is because she knew Ted Bundy. She was there."
"She seems to have done well with other books, where she didn't know the killer."
"I'm just sayin' that we could use another Coffin for Two or Myth in Blood."
"Or The Stranger Beside Me."
"Yeah, I'd take that too." Nikki heard the smile in her agent's voice.
"You can come up with something. I know it."
"Easy for you to say." Stretching her back, Nikki stood. She'd been sitting for hours, working on a story for the paper, and now her spine gave off a few little pops. She needed to get out. To run. To start her blood pumping hard. For as much as she was arguing with Ina, Nikki knew her agent was right. She was itching to get to work on another project, couldn't wait to sink her teeth into a new book about some grisly, high-profile murder.
Cell phone pressed to her ear, she walked to the window, where she was lucky enough to have a view of Forsyth Park, with its gorgeous fountain and display of live oak trees. From her vantage point above the third floor, she could watch people in the park and look beyond the trees over the rooftops of Savannah. She loved the view. It was one of the selling features that had convinced her to buy this old, converted mansion with her advance from the book deal. She'd leased the two lower floors to renters and had kept the third, with this nicely designed loft office space, for herself. She was in debt to her eyeballs.
"Look, Nikki, it's getting to be crunch time. Maybe you should talk to Reed, see if he'll let you help with an investigation."
Glancing at the diamond sparkling on the ring finger of her left hand, she said, "Yeah, right. You know I won't use Reed."
"I know just the opposite."
Ina wasn't one to mince words.
"Thanks so much." Inwardly, Nikki winced as she glanced at a picture propped on her desk. In the photo, she and Reed were huddled close together, beach grass and dunes visible in the background, their faces ruddy from running on the sand. The wind was up, her red-blond hair blowing across Reed's face. They both were smiling, their eyes bright. The photo was taken on the day he'd proposed on that same beach.
So now she was considering compromising their relationship?
"Okay, maybe not use him, of course, but maybe he could, you know, let you get involved in some way with a current case?"
"That's not Reed's style."
"Seems you managed to squeeze into an investigation or two before," her agent reminded her, and she squirmed a little in her chair. There was a time when she would have done just about anything for a story, but that was before she'd agreed to become Mrs. Pierce Reed.
"Forget it, Ina, okay? Look, even if I could get him to agree, and let me tell you that's a gigantic if, it's not like knife-wielding psychopaths run rampant through the streets of Savannah every day, you know."
"Every city, or area around a city, has bizarre crimes. You just have to turn over the right rock and poke around. It's amazing what you might find. People are sick, Nikki."
"And I should be the one to capitalize on that." Nikki didn't bother to keep the sarcasm from her voice.
"It's what you do best. So dig a little," Ina suggested. "Turn over those rocks. Squeeze Reed for some info on a new case, even an old one. There's got to be something. What are the police working on now?"
"Reed doesn't confide in me. Or anyone. It's just not his deal."
Ina wasn't persuaded. "Not even pillow talk? You know, men really open up in bed."
"Let's not even go there."
Ina sighed loudly. "Don't play the blushing virgin card. I know you, Nikki. If you want something, you go after it and, hell or high water be damned, you get it."
"Come on, Ina. Think about it. If there were another serial killer running loose in Savannah, don't you think I would know about it?"
She could almost hear the gears turning in her agent's mind. In her mid-forties and shrewd as hell, Ina was barely five feet tall and the only agent in New York who had wanted to take a chance on Nikki when she'd submitted her first manuscript. Ina had seen what others couldn't, and now, damn her, she was trying to wring out of Nikki that same essence and perspective for a brand-new sales-worthy story. "So get creative," she suggested, and Nikki heard bracelets jangling as she shifted her phone. "Maybe this time not a serial killer per se."
"Just a really sick monster with some kind of a blood fetish?"
"Or foot, or hand or breast. Or whatever twisted obsession turns him on." Ina gave a laugh that was deep and throaty from years of cigarettes. "Yeah, that would probably work." Clearing her throat, she added more earnestly, "You know the book is due in six months.
It has to be published next year if we don't want to piss off the publisher and if we want to keep the Nikki Gillette brand out there."
Oh, Nikki knew all right. The date was circled in red on two calendars and highlighted in the virtual office on her computer as well. She wasn't about to forget, and she really couldn't. The struggling Sentinel was a slim remnant of its former self. Layoffs had been massive and painful. Nikki was working part-time for the paper and lucky to have a job. More and more, she relied on the advances and royalties from her books. Between the economy, the new technology, and her own ambition, she'd backed herself into a financial corner. She would be an idiot if she didn't make this work. "Okay, okay. I'll come up with something," Nikki heard herself say. As she hung up, she wondered what the hell that something would be.
She didn't take the time to think about it now. Instead, she flew down the circular stairs to her bedroom below, peeled off her jeans and sweater, and stepped into her running gear; old jogging pants and bra, a stained T-shirt, and favorite, tattered sweatshirt with a hood. She'd never been one for glamour when she was working out. Her running shoes were ready, near the back door, and after lacing them up and tossing the chain with her house key dangling from it over her head, she took off down the interior stairs and out the back, then sprinted around to the front of her home, ignoring the coming darkness. Her mind was a jumble, not just from the pressures of coming up with a blockbuster idea for a new book, but also from the fact that she was about to marry Reed. In her family, happily-ever-afters rarely occurred, and now she was planning to marry a cop—one with a tarnished reputation who'd left a string of broken hearts from San Francisco's Golden Gate to Tybee Island here on the Eastern Seaboard.
"You're a masochist," she muttered under her breath as she jogged in place, waiting for a light so she could run through Forsyth Park. And deep inside a hopeless romantic. The light changed, just as one last car, an Audi exceeding the speed limit, scooted through on the red, and Nikki took off again.
Starting to get into her rhythm, her heartbeat and footsteps working together, she ran beneath the canopy of live oaks, their graceful branches dripping with Spanish moss. Usually the park had a calming effect on her, brought her a sense of peace, but not today. She was jazzed and irritated; Ina's call had only added to her stress level.
Get over it. You can handle this. You know you can.
The air was heavy with the scent of rain. Deep, dusky clouds moved lazily overhead, and the temperature was warmer than usual for this part of November. She sent a worried glance toward the sky. If she were lucky and kept up her brisk pace, she might just be able to make it home before the storm broke and night completely descended.
With that thought, she increased her speed.
A few pedestrians were walking on the wide paths, and the street lamps were just beginning to illuminate. A woman pushing a stroller and a couple walking a pug made her feel a little calmer, because the truth was that Nikki wasn't as confident as she seemed, wasn't the pushy cub reporter who'd been irrepressible and fearless in her youth. She'd had more than her share of anxiety attacks since her up-close-and-personal meeting with the Grave Robber. To this day, small, tight spaces, especially in the dark, totally freaked her out. So she ran. In the heat. In the rain. In the dark. Even in the snow during the rare times it fell in this part of the country. She didn't need a shrink to tell her she was trying to run from her own demons or that her claustrophobia was because of her past. She was well aware that she was walking on the razor's edge of some kind of minor madness.
Hence, she flew down the cement sidewalks and cobblestone streets, along asphalt county roads or muddy paths, speeding along the beach or cutting through woodlands. Mile after mile passed beneath her feet, and as they did, the nightmares that came with restless sleep and the fears of closed-in spaces seemed to shrivel away and recede, if only for a little while. Exercise seemed safer than a psychiatrist's couch or a hypnotist's chair or even confiding in the man she loved.
You're a basket case. You know that, don't you?
"Oh, shut up," she said aloud.
By the time the first raindrops fell, she'd logged three laps around the perimeter of the park and was beginning to breathe a little harder. Her blood was definitely pumping, and she slowed to a fast walk to alleviate a calf cramp that threatened, veering into the interior of the park again, only to stop at the tiered fountain. Sweat was running down her back, and she felt the heat in her face, the drizzles of perspiration in her hair. Leaning over, hands on her knees, she took several deep breaths, clearing her head and her lungs.
Straightening, she found herself alone. Gone were the dog walkers and stroller pushers and other joggers.
No surprise, considering the weather.
And yet ...
She squinted and found she was mistaken.
On the far side of the fountain, beneath a large live oak, stood a solitary dark figure.
In the coming rain, she and the man in black were alone in a shadowy park.
Her heart clutched, and a sense of panic bloomed for a second as the stranger, an Ichabod Crane figure, stared at her from beneath the wide brim of his black hat, his eyes hidden.
Every muscle in her body tensed. Adrenaline fired her blood.
It was so dark now that even the streetlights cast an eerie hue.
It's nothing, she told herself, cutting her rest period short. With one final glance at the man over her shoulder, she took off again, feet splashing through new puddles, her lungs burning as she cut through parked cars, ignored traffic lights, and sprinted home.
He's just a guy in the park, Nikki. Sure, he's alone. Big deal. So are you.
Excerpted from TELL ME by LISA JACKSON. Copyright © 2013 by Lisa Jackson LLC. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.