The Promise of a Lie


By Howard Roughan

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Howard Roughan’s debut, The Up and Comer, was hailed as one of the most hip and entertaining thrillers of the year. Now Roughan returns at full stride with a scintillating novel of deception that begins when a gifted young psychologist becomes entangled in the life of a beautiful and calculating patient. Nothing can prepare Dr. David Remler for the shocking phone call he receives from a patient named Samantha Kent. Stunned and anxious to help, he rushes out into the Manhattan night to keep a bloody act of violence from spinning further out of control. He knows he is too involved, that he’s crossed a line, and that his professional reputation is at stake.

But he has no idea what awaits him at his destination…that he?s become a pawn in a very deadly game of revenge. Suddenly the focus of a criminal case that flares into an out-of-control media circus, David has only one shot to clear his name. But first he has to clear up the mystery of his patient, – Samantha Kent. Just who is she? And why did she choose to involve David? Little by little, the outlines of a brilliant plot emerge – and, with it, the horrifying power of a single lie – In this richly textured tale of a man?s battle against the mother of all manipulations, the perfect setup is even more diabolical than it looks.


Also by Howard Roughan

The Up and Comer


      Many people to thank so let's get started.

First and foremost, my wife, Christine. For every moment we have together, and for understanding when the work keeps us apart. Trevor and I are two of the luckiest guys around.

Shari and Marc for your love and support. Shari, I've never been more proud to be your brother.

Barbara, Will, Jill, Mitch, and Lisa—for that same love and support.

And Elaine, you continue to be the greatest inspiration to us all. Here's to your eternal strength, and always making me laugh.

From family to my extended family . . .

At William Morris, my agent and Top Dog, Jennifer Rudolph Walsh. The bark, the bite, and the brains to back it up. My sincere thanks for looking out for me. As well, I'm truly grateful to Alicia Gordon on the filmic front-line.

At Warner Books, the list is long—but that's what happens when so many people go to bat for you. Larry Kirshbaum, Maureen Egen, Jamie Raab, and Nancy Wiese. Harvey-Jane Kowal (my goddess of grammar), along with Shannon Langone. Jimmy Franco, Erika Riley, Ann Schwartz, and Jason Pinter.

Now a few glowing words for my editor, Rick Horgan. (There were actually a lot more but, of course, he edited them down.) Rick, your guidance on this novel made such a huge difference; I simply can't thank you enough. You're a true talent, and it continues to be a spectacular pleasure working with you.

Without slowing down . . .

The incomparable Brian Lipson at the Endeavor Agency—a class act if there ever was one.

Michael Douglas, Marcy Drogin, and the rest of the outstanding people at Furthur Films. Also, the very gifted John Polson. Never a dull moment, huh, buddy?

My amazing "technical advisor," Rick Whelan, for being there at the beginning and coming through for me at the end. You're a wealth of knowledge, Rick, and a helluva guy to boot. Thanks for being so generous with your time.

A big dekuji to Jara Burnett. Where would I be without your Czechpertise? Your always-quick answers—diacriticals included!—truly made Mamka come to life.

As with my first novel, I again owe a debt of gratitude to the legendary lawyer, trusted compadre, and short-game specialist, Scott Edwin Garrett. Imagine that, I just used lawyer and trusted in the same sentence.

Thanks as well to . . .

Dr. Jeffrey Blum for the wisdom and insight out of the gate, and Ben Cruz for delivering in a pinch. Also, my friends at the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ; R.J. Julia's in Madison, CT; Books on the Common in Ridgefield, CT; and the Open Book Shop in Wilton, CT.

Finally, a special thank-you to James Patterson. Jim, the more I listen to you, the smarter I get.


To be perfectly blunt and unprofessional, my lineup that day read like the maladjusted all-star team of Manhattan.

My nine o'clock was a bulimic, twice-divorced executive who was having an affair with her married boss.

My ten o'clock was a guilt-ridden kleptomaniac who could never keep what he stole. He was always revisiting stores in order to put things back.

Then came my eleven o'clock. So to speak. A sexually compulsive cellist who, among other things, liked to masturbate in the backseat of cabs. I suppose it goes without saying that she lived well beyond walking distance to my office.

A couple of hours for lunch and paperwork, and it was time to reload.

Two o'clock: a soap-opera actor who could no longer distinguish between himself and the character he played.

Next up was my three o'clock. On second thought, don't get me started on my three o'clock.

Finally, there was my last patient of the day. My four o'clock. The main reason I remember that day at all.

His name was Kevin Daniels.* A struggling young writer who'd written seven spec screenplays and had yet to sell any of them. Unable to drop the word aspiring from his desired profession, Kevin's frustration had manifested in a deep and bitter hatred of the very people he so much wanted to impress. To Kevin, Hollywood wasn't just populated by mere assholes or idiots. Rather it was infested with, and I quote, culturally retarded wayward whores destined to make feel-good-movie johns out of all of us. End quote.

I could only imagine how his screenplays read.

But on this particular afternoon, an overcast Thursday in the middle of October, Kevin arrived at my office with an uncharacteristic smile. He professed to having significant news.

"I've had a moment of intense clarity, an epiphany," he said. He leaned forward and lowered his voice to a whisper. "I need to be in the belly of the beast."

He stopped and stared at me.

"So you—"

"That's right." He plowed on. "I'm moving, David. I'm going to Hollywood."

"The belly of the beast, as you say."

"You got it."

"To fight the battle from within."

"Exactly," he said.

I nodded, my face giving away nothing. "Are you sure this is a move you want to make?"

"Not only am I sure, I've practically already done it," came his answer. "I flew out there last weekend and rented a place in Hollywood Hills. I'll be heading back there for good the day after tomorrow."

"You're not wasting any time, are you?"

"Not if I can help it."

"Have you told your parents?" I asked.

"They cosigned on the new apartment."

"I take it that means they approve?"

"I wouldn't go that far," said Kevin, his palms raised. "My parents know they can't stop me, so they haven't bothered to try. What about you, though, David? Do you approve of my moving?"

I cautioned myself. Much about psychotherapy, or at least the way I approached it, was predicated on the belief that an opinion should never do more harm than good. My job was not to ferret out right from wrong in any absolute sense. Only what was right or wrong for a particular patient.

Kevin was waiting for my answer.

"Do I approve of your moving?" I said slowly. "To be honest, I'm not sure my thoughts have anything to do with approving or disapproving. The important thing—and this is something you and I have been talking about for quite some time—is that no one has more control over your life than you do. While that fact alone won't guarantee you success, it will guarantee you the right to make your own decisions. For better or worse."

"In other words, fuck anyone who disapproves," said Kevin.

"More or less."

He shrugged. "I can live with that."

After looking at each other in silence for a few seconds, we both realized that continuing to talk merely because we had time left in the hour would be silly. Kevin told me I should still charge him for a full session.

"No, this one's on the house," I said.


"Sure. Buy two hundred, get one free."

He laughed and we shook hands. I wished him luck. After taking a few steps toward the door, Kevin turned and looked back.

"The belly of the beast," he said. "That's where you can find me." Then he left.

And that's how it came to be. Why I remember that day so well. I'd told Kevin what I'd been telling him repeatedly over four years: that no one can have more control over your life than you do. It was pretty good advice, I thought.

Too bad it was wrong.

Dead wrong.

I know this because Kevin's leaving created an opening in my schedule . . . and the person who filled it was going to be all the proof I needed.


The very next night around eight o'clock.

I watched as Parker reached out and poked his index finger at the doorbell. As the three of us stood there waiting, I took the opportunity to complain one more time.

"I can't believe I let you two talk me into coming to this thing," I muttered.

"Nonsense," Parker replied. "You wouldn't be here unless you wanted to be."

"That's very shrink of you," I said.

"And that's a nondenial denial," said Parker.

I chuckled. "There's the lawyer I know and love."

Parker's wife, Stacy, gave him a nudge. "Will the lawyer I also know and love please ring the doorbell again," she said. "I don't think anyone heard us."

Parker rang the bell again as I weighed the option of making a mad dash for the stairwell. Too late. The door opened almost immediately.

"Omigod! Will you look who's here," she practically shrieked. Cassandra Nance, all ninety-eight pounds of her, stood before us with a bony hand slapped over her mouth in mock surprise. A little black dress draped her shoulders as if it were still on the hanger. The woman was thin. "Come in, come in," she said.

Air kisses, initial pleasantries, and the customary bottle-of-wine handoff. A rented man in a tuxedo stepped up and took our coats. We were officially in. Cassandra led us through her foyer and into the party. As she did, she locked her arm around mine and whispered in my ear, "It's really great you could make it, David."

At least one of us thought so.

Nonetheless, by that point I was resigned to the situation. This was the appearance to keep up appearances, and I was wholly prepared to put in the good effort. Perhaps even enjoy myself. But before that could ever happen, I needed to say hello to someone. Hello, Mr. Bartender. After a very brief, one-sided conversation with the guy, I was handed my bourbon and water. Two quick sips and I was ready. Any notion that David Remler had become a complete social recluse was about to be unequivocally dispelled.

I looked around. The circle-of-friends legacy of two rich ex-husbands, numerous patron-of-the-arts type endeavors, and Cassandra's current stint as a fashion editor at Vogue meant a most eclectic gathering. Seemingly every ethnicity, ideology, and sexual orientation was represented—all happily conversing with one another and all somehow connected to our hostess.

As for my connection, it was originally through Parker and Stacy, my escorts for the evening. Quick background. Parker Mathis was my freshman-year roommate at Columbia. Call it luck of the draw, but we became fast friends and, over the course of four years, best of friends. Had we gone our separate ways after graduation, we still would've been close. That we'd each decided to remain in the city practically made us brothers. I had even forgiven Parker for growing up to be a criminal defense attorney.

But to the extent I could kid him for his lapse of judgment in choosing a career, I had to hand it to him for his success in choosing a bride. Stacy Mathis was smart, witty, attractive, and the founder of a women's crisis center in Harlem. The complete package topped off by a halo. Indeed, as Parker himself would often concede with a slow nod, it was only on the coattails of Stacy's social conscience that he had any real chance of getting into heaven.

Anyway, as for my said connection to Cassandra, its origins were geographical. Up until the previous year, Parker and Stacy had lived in the same building as Cassandra, two floors below. They'd struck up an elevator friendship, which spawned back-and-forth social invitations. That translated into her being a regular at Parker and Stacy's annual Christmas party. She never missed it. She also never missed the opportunity to corner me—another regular—in conversation once she learned I was a psychologist. Over the years and a plethora of eggnog, I'd managed to hear Cassandra's entire life's story. I think all she wanted was some validation for her decisions. I gave it to her. In appreciation, I suppose, I had become a permanent fixture on her guest list.

So there I was. Reasonably dressed up and ready to mingle. And what a backdrop to mingle against. Italian marble, Persian rugs, French doors, and English furniture. The American dream. At least on the Upper East Side. For the next couple of hours I made the rounds, shaking hands and trading anecdotes, happy to discover that my group social skills, while a bit rusty, hadn't completely deserted me.

Then, en route to another bourbon and water, I felt a sharp tug on my arm courtesy of Cassandra. She was standing with a few other people. "David, dear, you absolutely have to hear this!" she announced.

"Hear what?" I asked, obliging her.

"Nathan's theory, that's what. It's positively Neanderthal."

I waited a moment as feet shuffled left and right to make room for me in the conversation. The Cocktail Two-step.

"Oh, c'mon, Cassandra, you can't pretend to tell me you disagree," said the man I presumed was Nathan. We hadn't met.

"Nathan Harris," he said to me, quick to remedy that. He shifted the highball in his hands so we could shake.

"David Remler," I told him.

"Yes, I know. I read your book."

Cassandra, ever the hostess: "And, David, you've met Jane and Scott Wallace, right?"

"Yes," I said, smiling at the other couple rounding out our circle.

"Good," she said. "So go on, Nathan, tell David what you were saying. I'm curious what our resident psychologist will make of it."

"Only if he promises not to bill us later," joked Nathan.

"Not to worry," I assured. "I'm taking my usual fee in hors d'oeuvres this evening."

"Fair enough," he said, humored. I watched as he took a long sip from his drink. He was fortyish, thin, and tan out of season. He was also impeccably groomed. The word dapper immediately came to mind. So did pompous. "What I was saying," began Nathan in a measured tone, "is that I have this theory about the true difference between men and women. Very simply, I believe men are superior to women when it comes to all things tangible—things that we can actually touch and get our hands on. For example, men are far better than women when it comes to building things. I don't just mean in terms of physical construction; I'd include the planning and design as well. Think about it. All the great architects throughout history have been men. And while we're at it, consider the arts, at least those with a tangible component. Holding a brush and palette, molding clay—all the great painters and sculptors throughout the ages have been men as well. The better surgeons? Men. The better chefs? Men. Even when it comes to making money in general—cold, hard cash—men are better at it than women."

Nathan paused and took another long sip of his drink. While he did, I glanced at his hands. Much to my surprise: a wedding band.

Nathan went on. "Ah, but women," he said, wagging his index finger in the air. "When it comes to the intangible—the things you can't touch—women have us men beat by a mile. Feelings. Emotions. That's what women are all about. That's what defines their world and what motivates them more than anything. As far as women are concerned, men can have their buildings, their statues and canvases; men can even have their greater earning power. Just so long as women have their intangibles—their feelings and emotions. Because when it comes to that, women rule and men are powerless. And don't think for one second that women don't know this. They know it all too well and take full advantage; often luring us men into a serene sense of being in control, only to suddenly turn the tables."

"So," said Cassandra, turning to me with a frown. "What do you think of Nathan's theory?"

"I think it's very interesting," I answered, completely aware that that alone wasn't going to get me off the hook.

"You'll have to do better than that, David," she said, shaking her head. "You've already had far too many of my hors d'oeuvres to be so evasive. You have to tell us what you really think."

What I really thought at that moment was that I should've taken a different route to the bar.

"Well, let's see," I began. "You seem to be saying, Nathan, that while men are the hands of our collective culture, women represent the heart. Unto itself, numerous exceptions notwithstanding, that's a pretty tenable idea. Take one thing you didn't mention, for instance. Sex. Not who's better at it, but the widely held belief that men view sex as a physical act, while women view it as an emotional one. I think that kind of supports what you're talking about.

"However, here's where you lost me. The notion that women use this difference as a way of tricking and deceiving—sort of like, if you'll pardon the pun, men are from Mars and women are Venus flytraps. With all due respect, I'm afraid I don't really buy that. To me that paints a rather unflattering, not to mention inaccurate, picture of what I've always considered the more compassionate sex. Wouldn't you agree, Cassandra?"

She looked ready to kiss me. "I couldn't agree more."

"Sold!" I announced. The only thing left was my exit line. I shook the empty glass in my hand. "Now if you'll all excuse me, I seem to need a refill."

Not so fast, David.

Nathan Harris, hardly shaping up to be my new best friend, couldn't leave well enough alone. I'd tried my hardest to appease both Cassandra and him with my assessment of his little theory. Yet Nathan was clearly the type who took no pleasure in partial victories.

"Interesting," he said, scratching his temple. "Let me ask you something, though, David. Can you honestly say that you've never been taken advantage of emotionally by a woman?"

"I don't think so," I answered without hesitation. Deliberately, I looked at my watch and smiled. "Of course, the night is still young."

Everyone found that amusing except Nathan. Like a pit bull, he'd latched on to the idea of goading me and wasn't about to let go. "With all due respect, I'm afraid I don't really buy that," he said, throwing my exact words back at me. "Somewhere along the line surely you've been the victim of a woman."

Jesus, Nathan, isn't there a tanning salon appointment you're late for?

A little help, please. I looked over at the other couple standing with us, Jane and Scott Wallace, hoping one of them would say something, anything, to change the subject. No such luck. They were being highly entertained and had no intention of talking during the middle of the show.

"Nathan, my dear, don't you think we're getting a little bit personal?"

At last, Cassandra had come to my rescue. The party's hostess was informing one of her guests that he was perhaps in bad form. Certainly, Nathan Harris, with all his pretensions of being a gentleman, would cool it now and back off.

No such luck again.

"I'm not asking him to name names or reveal intimate details," said Nathan indignantly. "I'm simply asking him to be honest." He turned to me. "You can be honest with us, David, can't you? I mean, you're capable of that, right?"

That about did it. Overt condescension. My mind raced with possible comebacks, not the least of which was informing the guy that I recently had an opening in my schedule and that, in my most honest opinion, he currently ranked as the person most in need of therapy on the entire East Coast. I figured the gloves were off. Nathan Harris was becoming far less dapper and far more pompous by the minute. It was time to put him in his place. A thought was jelling and words were forming, and I was about to say a few things I knew I'd later regret.

"Excuse me, do you mind if we borrow David for a moment?"

It was a welcoming and familiar voice. Parker, with Stacy by his side, had leaned in over my shoulder. I was being sprung. Parker already had ahold of my arm and was pulling me away.

"I'm afraid I've been summoned," I told the group, which was all that needed to be said. It happened so fast that Nathan could do nothing except stare helplessly as I backpedaled.

A safe distance later, I thanked Parker and Stacy for their timely appearance.

"We figured as much," said Parker. "You looked almost constipated standing there."

I performed an exaggerated deep sigh and kidded, "Like I said, I don't know how I let you two talk me into coming to this thing."

"Oh, c'mon, David," said Stacy with a push on my shoulder. "You've had a good time tonight, admit it."

"If I do admit it, can we leave?"

Stacy's eyes rolled. "Why is it that men always have to get something in return?"

"Because apparently all men are based in the tangible," I answered.

Blank stares.

"Never mind," I said.

Soon thereafter, the three of us shared a cab home. We discussed (read: gossiped about) some of the people we'd encountered that evening. No shame to be had. That's what cab rides home after parties are for.

Stacy told of being introduced to a recently married couple who had the distinction of meeting while taking part in a Spencer Tunick photograph. Apparently, mass public nudity was the ultimate icebreaker.

As for Parker, he recounted his discussion with an older woman who'd bent his ear about a Holocaust documentary that had recently aired on public television. The woman's obvious passion for the program was muddled, however, by her inability to distinguish between a notorious secret police force and a certain chilled soup. "It was almost surreal," claimed Parker. "This woman kept referring to the scare tactics of the German gazpacho."

Even our cabdriver laughed at that one.

For my part, I gave a quick synopsis of Pompous Nathan and his little theory about the difference between men and women—the tangible versus the intangible.

"Personally, I would've given the guy a very tangible kick in the ass," said Stacy, having what would appropriately be the last word on the subject.

Other than that, the only remaining business was our ever- diminishing hostess, Cassandra. Unanimously agreed: the woman could really stand to eat a Twinkie or two.

At Sixty-ninth and Third, the taxi pulled over to let me out. As I opened the door, I thanked Parker and Stacy again for not taking no for an answer when they asked me to join them for the party. Persistence is the hallmark of friendship, I declared. Or something like that. They got the point.

Once out on the sidewalk, the autumn night air crisp and biting, I watched as their cab sped off, fully aware of the inevitable. Now it was I who'd be discussed by Parker and Stacy. But don't read gossiped. To know them as I did was to know their words would be kind, their faces ones of concern. They'd talk about me and continue to wonder as they surely had since the day it happened: in missing her as I still did, would I also miss out on the rest of my life?

At the time, I was kind of wondering that myself.


I didn't do the silly things. The things that screamed for help. I didn't continue to set a place for her at the dinner table. I didn't talk to her as if she were still somehow in the room. Yes, I visited her grave, but I did that once or twice a year, not once or twice a week. As for her clothes, they'd long since been donated to Goodwill.

It had been nearly three years since my wife, Rebecca Remler, died at the age of thirty-one. She was four months' pregnant at the time.

Talking about it didn't really bother me. To do so was to switch on the autopilot and engage in rote recitation, the facts and details of her death so ingrained in my memory—so ingrained in me—that I didn't ever have to think about them. It was almost as if I was telling another guy's story. His sorrow, not mine.

A few of those facts and details.

Rebecca and I owned an apartment in Manhattan. In addition, we owned a small cottage out in Connecticut on Candlewood Lake. Our weekend retreat. The cottage was intentionally rustic, but being city dwellers, we didn't go overboard. The wood beams, Buck Stove heating, and hanging lanterns were more than neutralized by a small satellite dish and a digital thermal coffeemaker that cost four hundred bucks. It couldn't be helped. I loved watching the Yankees, and she loved her caffeine.

In fact, that was the only thing Rebecca complained about after becoming pregnant. The occasional morning sickness; the extra pounds beginning to round out her slim, athletic frame—those things she could handle. Not having her coffee was another story. At one point, I gently reminded her that the doctor had said it was fine to have a cup a day if she really wanted to. No harm to the baby. In return for my reminder, I was given an immediate look of exasperation. Said Rebecca: "It wouldn't work; I couldn't enjoy just one cup. I'd be too busy thinking about the others I couldn't have."

I'm pretty sure there's a life lesson in there somewhere.


On Sale
Mar 1, 2005
Page Count
432 pages

Howard Roughan

About the Author

Howard Roughan has cowritten several books with James Patterson and is the author of The Promise of a Lie and The Up and Comer. He lives in Florida with his wife and son.

Learn more about this author