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Table of Contents
A Preview of Beach Road
A Preview of Truth or Die
About the Authors
Books by James Patterson
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"DON'T MOVE," I said to Tess, sweaty and out of breath. "Don't even blink. If you so much as breathe, I know I'm gonna wake up, and I'll be back lugging chaise longues at poolside, staring at this gorgeous girl that I know something incredible could happen with. This will all have been a dream."
Tess McAuliffe smiled, and in those deep blue eyes I saw what I found so irresistible about her. It wasn't just that she was the proverbial ten and a half. She was more than beautiful. She was lean and athletic with thick auburn hair plaited into a long French braid, and a laugh that made you want to laugh, too. We liked the same movies, Memento, The Royal Tenenbaums, Casablanca. We pretty much laughed at the same jokes. Since I'd met her I'd been unable to think about anything else.
Sympathy appeared in Tess's eyes. "Sorry about the fantasy, Ned, but we'll have to take that chance. You're crushing my arm."
She pushed me, and I rolled onto my back. The sleek cotton sheets in her fancy hotel suite were tousled and wet. My jeans, her leopard-print sarong, and a black bikini bottom were somewhere on the floor. Only half an hour earlier, we had been sitting across from each other at Palm Beach's tony Café Boulud, picking at DB burgers—$30 apiece—ground sirloin stuffed with foie gras and truffles.
At some point her leg brushed against mine. We just made it to the bed.
"Aahhh," Tess sighed, rolling up onto her elbow, "that feels better." Three gold Cartier bracelets jangled loosely on her wrist. "And look who's still here."
I took a breath. I patted the sheets around me. I slapped at my chest and legs, as if to make sure. "Yeah," I said, grinning.
The afternoon sun slanted across the Bogart Suite at the Brazilian Court hotel, a place I could barely have afforded a drink at, forget about the two lavishly appointed rooms overlooking the courtyard that Tess had rented for the past two months.
"I hope you know, Ned, this sort of thing doesn't happen very often," Tess said, a little embarrassed, her chin resting on my chest.
"What sort of thing is that?" I stared into those blue eyes of hers.
"Oh, whatever could I mean? Agreeing to meet someone I'd seen just twice on the beach, for lunch. Coming here with him in the middle of the day."
"Oh, that…" I shrugged. "Seems to happen to me at least once a week."
"It does, huh?"" She dug her chin sharply into my ribs.
We kissed, and I felt something between us begin to rise again. The sweat was warm on Tess's breasts, and delicious, and my palm traveled up her long, smooth legs and over her bottom. Something magical was happening here. I couldn't stop touching Tess. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to feel this way.
Split aces, they call it, back where I'm from. South of Boston, Brockton actually. Taking a doubleheader from the Yankees. Finding a forgotten hundred-dollar bill in an old pair of jeans. Hitting the lottery.
The perfect score.
"You're smiling." Tess looked at me, propped up on an elbow. "Want to let me in on it?"
"It's nothing. Just being here with you. You know what they say: for a while now, the only luck I've had has been bad luck."
Tess rocked her hips ever so slightly, and as if we had done this countless times, I found myself smoothly inside her again. I just stared into those baby blues for a second, in this posh suite, in the middle of the day, with this incredible woman who only a few days before hadn't been conceivable in my life.
"Well, congratulations, Ned Kelly." Tess put a finger to my lips. "I think your luck's beginning to change."
I HAD MET TESS four days before, on a beautiful white sand beach along Palm Beach's North Ocean Boulevard.
"Ned Kelly" is how I always introduced myself. Like the outlaw. Sounds good at a bar, with a rowdy bunch crowded around. Except no one but a couple of beer-drinking Aussies and a few Brits really knew whom I was talking about.
That Tuesday I was sitting on the beach wall after cleaning up the cabana and pool at the estate house where I worked. I was the part-time pool guy, part-time errand runner for Mr. Sol Roth—Sollie, to his friends. He had one of those sprawling, Florida-style homes you can see from the beach north of the Breakers and maybe wonder, Whoa, who owns that?
I cleaned the pool, polished up his collection of vintage cars from Ragtops, picked up mysteries specially selected for him by his buddies Cheryl and Julie at the Classic Bookshop, even sometimes played a few games of gin with him around the pool at the end of the day. He rented me a room in the carriage house above the garage. Sollie and I met at Ta-boó, where I waited tables on weekend nights. At the time I was also a part-time lifeguard at Midtown Beach. Sollie, as he joked, made me an offer I couldn't refuse.
Once upon a time, I went to college. Tried "real life." Even taught school for a while back up North, until that fell apart. It would probably shock my pals here that I was once halfway to a master's. In social education at BU. "A master's in what?" they'd probably go. "Beach management?"
So I was sitting on the beach wall that beautiful day. I shot a wave to Miriam, who lived in the large Mediterranean next door, who was walking her Yorkies, Nicholas and Alexandra, on the beach. A couple of kids were surfing about a hundred yards offshore. I was thinking I'd do a run-swim-run. Jog about a mile up the beach, swim back, then run hard up and back. All the while watching the ocean.
Then like some dream—there she was.
In a great blue bikini, ankle-deep in surf. Her long reddish brown hair knotted up in a twist with a flutter of tendrils.
Right away, it was as if there was something sad about her, though. She was staring vacantly at the horizon. I thought she was dabbing her eyes.
I had this flash: the beach, the waves, the pretty, lovelorn girl—like she was going to do something crazy!
On my beach.
So I jogged down to her in the surf. "Hey…"
I shielded my eyes and squinted into that gorgeous face. "If you're thinking what I think you are, I wouldn't advise it."
"Thinking what?" She looked up at me, surprised.
"I don't know. I see a beautiful girl on a beach, dabbing her eyes, staring forlornly out to sea. Wasn't there some kind of movie like that?"
She smiled. That's when I could see for sure she'd been crying. "You mean, where the girl on a hot afternoon goes in for an afternoon swim?"
"Yeah," I said with a shrug, suddenly a little embarrassed, "that's the one."
She had a thin gold chain around her neck, and a perfect tan. An accent, maybe English. God, she was a knockout.
"Guess I was just being cautious. Didn't want any accidents on my beach."
"Your beach?" she said, glancing up at Sollie's. "Your house, too, I guess?" She smiled, clearly toying with me.
"Sure. You see the window above the garage? Here, you can see it." I shifted her. "Through the palms. If you lean this way…"
Like an answer to my prayers, I got her to laugh.
"Ned Kelly." I stuck out my hand.
"Ned Kelly? Like the outlaw?"
I did a double take. No one had ever said that to me. I just stood there with a dumb-ass, starstruck grin. Don't think I even let go of her hand.
"Sydney. New South Wales," she said, displaying her Aussie "Strine," her accent.
"Boston." I grinned back.
And that was how it started. We chatted a little more, about how she'd been living there for a couple of months and how she'd take long walks on the beach. She said she might come back this way the next day. And I said there was a chance I might be there, too. As I watched her walk away, I figured she was probably laughing at me behind those $400 Chanel sunglasses.
"By the way," she said, suddenly turning, "there was a movie. Humoresque. With Joan Crawford. You should check it out."
I rented Humoresque that night, and it ended with the beautiful heroine drowning herself by walking into the sea.
And on Wednesday Tess came back. Looking even hotter, in this black one-piece suit and a straw hat. She didn't seem sad. We took a swim and I told her I would teach her how to bodysurf and for a while she went along. Then as I let her go she hopped the right wave and crested in like a pro. She laughed at me from the shore. "I'm from Australia, silly. We have our Palm Beach, too. Just past Whale Beach, north of Sydney."
We made a "date" for lunch at the Brazilian Court in two days. That's where she was staying, one of the most fashionable places in town, a few blocks off Worth Avenue. Those two days were like an eternity for me. Every ring of my cell phone I figured was her canceling. But she didn't. We met in Café Boulud, where you have to make a reservation a month in advance unless you're Rod Stewart or someone. I was as nervous as a kid going out on his first date. She was already sitting at the table in a sexy off-the-shoulder dress. I couldn't take my eyes off of her. We never even made it to dessert.
"SO, I'M THINKING this was one of the top ten afternoons of my life." I folded my arms behind my head and tickled Tess playfully with my toes. Both of us were spread-eagle on the king-size bed in her hotel suite.
"So, you were a lifeguard on Midtown Beach," she was saying. "Before you became a kept man. What does a lifeguard do—in Palm Beach?"
I grinned, because Tess was so obviously tossing me a softball. "A good lifeguard is a true waterman," I said with a twinkle in my eye. "We watch the water. Is it glassy, choppy? Are there riffs? Smooth flashes warning of riptides? We warn the sleepy snowbird to roll over and fry the other side. Douse the occasional jellyfish encounter with a splash of vinegar. Stuff like that."
"But now you're a kept man?" She grinned.
"Maybe I could be," I said.
She turned. There was glimmer in her eye that was totally earnest. "You know what I said about your luck changing, Ned. Well, maybe I'm starting to feel the same way, too."
I couldn't believe that someone like Tess McAuliffe was actually saying this to me. Everything about her was first-class and refined. I mean, I wasn't exactly Average Joe; I knew if I was on the show, I'd be one of the hunks. But holding her, I couldn't help wondering what in her life had made her so sad. What she was hiding in her eyes that first day on the beach.
My eyes slowly drifted to the antique clock on the fold-out writing desk across from the bed. "Oh, Jesus, Tess!"
It was almost five. The whole afternoon had melted. "I know I'm going to regret these words… but I've got to go."
I saw that sad look from the other day come over her face. Then she sighed, "Me, too."
"Look, Tess," I said, putting a leg into my jeans, "I didn't know this was going to happen today, but there's something I have to do. I may not see you for a couple of days. But when I do, things are going to be different."
"Different? How different?"
"With me. For starters, I won't have to keep people out of trouble on the beach."
"I like you keeping people out of trouble on the beach." Tess smiled.
"What I mean is, I'll be free. To do anything you want." I started buttoning my shirt and searching around for my shoes. "We could go somewhere. The islands. That sound good?"
"Sure, it sounds good." Tess smiled, a little hesitantly.
I gave her a long kiss. One that said, Thank you for an amazing afternoon. Then it took everything I had to get out of there, but people were counting on me.
"Remember what I said. Don't move. Don't even blink. That's exactly how I want to remember you."
"What're you planning to do, Ned Kelly, rob a bank?"
I stood at the door. I took a long look at her. It was actually turning me on that she would even ask something like that. "I dunno," I said, grinning, "but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do."
NOT A BANK, I was thinking as I hopped into my old Bonneville convertible and headed onto the bridge to West Palm, floating on cloud nine. But Tess was close. A one-shot, can't-miss deal that was going to change my life.
Like I said, I'm from Brockton. Home of Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Rocky Marciano. Ward Four, Perkins Avenue, across the tracks. There are neighborhoods, anyone from Brockton will agree, and then there's the Bush.
Growing up, people said Brockton's a quarter black, a quarter Italian, a quarter Irish, a quarter Swedish and Polish, and another "quarter" no one wanted to mess with. Hardscrabble neighborhoods of run-down row houses, churches, the ruins of closed-up factories.
And the Bush was the toughest. We had gangs. We got into fights every day. You didn't even call it a fight unless someone broke a bone. Half the kids I knew ended up in reform schools or juvie detention programs. The good ones took a few courses at the junior college or commuted to Northeastern for a year before they went into their father's restaurant or went to work for the city. Cops and firefighters, that's what Brockton seems to breed. Along with fighters.
Oh yeah, and crooks.
It wasn't like they were bad people. They paid for their homes. They got married and took the family out for birthdays and Communions like everyone else. They owned bars and joined the Rotary. They had barbecues on Sundays and screamed bloody hell for the Sox and the Pats. They just ran some bets at the same time. Or fenced a few stolen cars. Or cracked open some poor sucker's head now and then.
My father was that kind of guy. Spent more time up in the Souz in Shirley than he did around our dinner table. Every Sunday we'd throw on a tie and pile into the Dodge and make the trip up to see him in his orange prison suit. I've known a hundred guys like that. Still do.
Which brings me to Mickey, Bobby, Barney, and Dee.
I'd known them as long as I can remember. We lived within about four blocks of one another. Between Leyden and Edson and Snell. We knew everything about one another. Mickey was my cousin, my uncle Charlie's son. He was built like a wire hanger with curly red hair, but as tough a sonuvabitch as ever came out of Brockton. He was older than me by six weeks but made it seem as if it were six years. Got me into trouble more times than I can count—and got me out of it a whole lot more. Bobby was Mickey's cousin, but not mine. He'd been like a big brother to me, ever since my own big brother died—in a shoot-out. Dee was Bobby's wife, and they'd been together since before anybody could remember. Barney was about the funniest human being I had ever met; he'd also been my protector all through high school.
Every year we'd spend the summer working the Vineyard: tending bar, waiting tables, doing a "job" now and then to pay the bills. Winters, we came down here. We parked cars at the clubs, crewed tourist boats, bellhopped, joined catering teams.
Maybe someone who lived a conventional life would say we were a bad lot. But he'd be wrong. You can't choose your family, people always say, but you can choose the people you love. And they were more of a family to me than my own. Proved it a hundred times.
There are two types of people who come from Brockton. The ones who try to make it by putting away pennies every week. What the government doesn't take, the church will.
And the ones who keep on waiting, watching, keeping their eyes peeled for that one big score.
Once in a while they actually came around. The one you couldn't pass up. The one that could get you out of the life.
And that's where I was headed when I left Tess's suite at the Brazilian Court.
My cousin Mickey had found it.
The perfect score.
AS SOON AS Ned left, Tess threw herself back on the bed with an exhalation of joy and disbelief. "You must be crazy, Tess! You are crazy, Tess."
Crazy, to be opening herself to someone like Ned, especially with everything else going on in her life.
But something about Ned wouldn't let her stop. Maybe his eyes, his charm, his boyish good looks. His innocence. The way he had just come up to her on the beach like that, like she was a damsel in distress. It had been a long time since anyone had treated her that way. Wanted. And she liked it. What woman didn't? If only he knew.
She was still cozied up on the sheets, reliving every detail of the delicious afternoon, when she heard the voice.
"Next." He stood there—leaning, smirking—against the bedroom door.
Tess almost jumped out of her skin. She never even heard the key open the door to the suite.
"You scared me," she said, then covered herself up.
"Poor Tess." He shook his head and tossed the room key in an ashtray on the desk. "I can see the lunches at Boulud and Ta-boó have started to bore you. You've taken to going around to the high schools, picking up guys after SAT practice."
"You were watching?" Tess shot up. That would be just like the bastard. Thinking he could do that. "It just happened," she said, backing off, a little ashamed. And a lot ashamed that she had to justify herself. "He thinks I'm something. Not like you…"
"Just happened." He stepped into the bedroom and took off his Brioni sport jacket. "Just happened, like, you met on the beach. And then you went back a second time. And you both just happened to meet at lunch at Boulud. A lifeguard. How very romantic, Tess."
She sat up, angry. "You were following me? Go fuck yourself."
"I thought you knew," he said, ignoring her response. "I'm the jealous type." He started to remove his polo shirt. Tess's skin broke out in goose bumps. She was sure he could sense her alarm as he began to unbuckle his pants.
"And about fucking myself"—he stepped out of his slacks, smiling—"sorry, Tess, not a chance. Why do you think I buy you all that expensive jewelry?"
"Look," Tess said, wrapping herself into the sheet. "Let's not today. Let's just talk…."
"We can talk," he said with a shrug, folding his shirt neatly on the edge of the bed, slipping off his shorts. "That's okay with me. Let's talk about how I treat you like some kind of society princess, how I bought the rings on your fingers, bracelets on your wrist, that diamond lariat around your neck. Hell, I know the girls at Tiffany's by their first names—Carla, Janet, Katy."
"Look…" Tess stared at him, nervously. "It just happened. He's a good guy."
"I'm sure he is." He smiled. "It's you I can't figure out. The jewelry and the Mercedes. Then you're like some horny little cotillion bitch, doing it in the parking lot with the guy who parks the cars."
She was starting to get scared. She knew what he was like when he got this way. He moved over to the edge of the bed and sat down. His erection almost made her sick. She pulled away, but he grabbed and squeezed her arm. Then he sort of cradled her diamond lariat. For a second she thought he was going to rip it off her neck. "My turn, cupcake…."
He yanked away the sheet and threw her down on the bed. Then he grabbed her by the ankles and spread her wide. He rolled her back and thrust himself inside. She didn't fight him. She couldn't. Feeling him inside her made her gag. He thought he owned her, and maybe he did. He moved hard against her, the way he always did, something crude and foreign inside her. All she felt was shame. "I'm sorry, Ned," she whispered to herself. She watched him grunt and sweat like some disgusting animal.
He made her do everything he liked—all the things she hated. When he was finished, Tess lay there, feeling so dirty, shivering, as if the room had grown cold. She wanted to cry. She had to end this. Now.
"I need to talk to you," Tess said. He was up and looping his belt through his fancy Italian golf pants.
"Sorry, darling, no time for cuddle talk now. I have to get back."
"Then I'll see you later? At the benefit?"
"Well, that depends." He smoothed his hair in the mirror.
"On what?" She didn't understand.
He smiled, almost pathetically. "Things have gotten very cozy, haven't they, Tess? It must feel just like home, right, since you seem to make a habit of shitting where you sleep. You're very pretty, my love, but you know what I think? The jewelry and the fancy car… I'm beginning to think they've made you feel like you really belong." He smiled one more time. "Hope that was as good for you as it was for me."
He turned, tossing the room key in the palm of his hand. "And by the way, you know you really ought to lock the door. You can never tell who might pop in for a quickie."
IT'S OVER! she screamed to herself.
Tess kicked at the covers in rage. She felt ashamed, angry, weak. This wasn't going to happen anymore.
Some stuff that must've fallen out of his pocket jangled on the sheets. Loose change, a golf tee. Tess hurled them with all her might against the wall. It wasn't worth it anymore. Not for anything.
She threw on a robe and ran herself a bath, anything to remove the touch of him. That was the last time she would ever feel his hands on her. It would mean giving this up, but he was more than she could take. Like Ned said, they could go anywhere. Go walkabout. He didn't know just how prophetic he was. A fresh start. Yeah, she'd earned that.
Tess went into the bedroom closet and laid out a long backless Dolce & Gabbana evening gown. She picked a pair of brown Manolo Blahniks. She would look gorgeous tonight. Give him something to miss for the rest of his life.
Tess knotted up her hair and sank naked into the large tub. The scent of the lavender bath oil made her feel good, clean. She lay back and rested her head on the smooth porcelain rim. The water lapped up over her shoulders. She shut her eyes.
Ned's face and his laugh crept into her mind. Whatever shame she felt, it wasn't enough to erase what had been a very good day. Ned Kelly. Like the outlaw. She smiled again. More like the pussycat. It was about time she had a go with someone who treated her well—make that great. He actually looked up to her.
She heard the bathroom fan go on. For a second Tess just lay back with her eyes closed. Then she heard humming.
Her eyes bolted open. Someone huge was standing over her. Tess's heart leaped into her throat. "What're you doing here?"
He had a sullen, cold look in his eye, dark hair tied in a ponytail. She thought she'd seen him somewhere before.
"A shame," he said with a shrug.
Suddenly he had Tess by the throat with his thick hands. He forced her head underwater. What're you doing?
Tess held her breath as long as possible, but as she opened her mouth, water rushed into her lungs, making her cough and gag, letting more water in. She was thrashing and kicking against the porcelain tub. She tried to force herself up, but Ponytail had her by the shoulders and head. He was incredibly strong, probably outweighed her by a hundred pounds.
Panic took hold, more water pouring into her lungs. She was clawing for the man's face, trying to scratch him, anything. Through the soapy water she could see his thick arms holding her down. Too much time going by. She stopped kicking. Stopped flailing. She wasn't coughing anymore. This can't be happening, a voice said inside her.
Then another voice, afraid—far more accepting than Tess ever imagined. Yes, yes, it can. This is what it's like to die.
"HEY, OUTLAW!" Bobby exclaimed as I stepped into the kitchen of the run-down, canary yellow house in a seedy area just off 95 in Lake Worth.
"Neddie." Dee got up and came over and gave me a kiss on the cheek. A dream in jeans and long honey blond hair, every time Dee wrapped her arms around me, I flashed to how I'd had a crush on her since I was fifteen. Everyone in the neighborhood did. But she fell for Bobby and his Bon Jovi looks in the ninth grade.
"Where you been?" My cousin Mickey looked up. He was wearing a black T-shirt that read, YOU AIN'T REALLY BAD, TILL YOU BEEN BROCKTON BAD.
"Where do you think he's been?" Barney rolled back in his chair and grinned under the kind of black-framed glasses Elvis Costello wears. "Look at the kid's face. Biggest day of his life, and he's out romancing the ladies."
"Please," Dee scowled at him reprovingly. Then she shrugged with an inquisitive glint. "So?"
"So…" I looked around the table. "She showed."
A little cheer went up. "Thank God," said Bobby. "I was wondering how we were going to pull this off with Neddie-boy having a panic attack every five minutes. Here, you deserve this…." He slid me a beer.
"Judging by the time, and that shit-eating grin on your face," Mickey said, looking at his watch, "I'd say it was the best lunch of your life."
"You wouldn't even believe me." I shook my head.
"Hey, we've got all the time in the world," Mickey said, the sarcasm running thick. "What the hell else we have going on here today? Oh, yeah, just that little matter of the five million dollars."
- On Sale
- Aug 1, 2006
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Grand Central Publishing