Killer Ambition


By Marcia Clark

Read by January LaVoy

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When the daughter of a billionaire Hollywood director is found murdered after what appears to be a kidnapping gone wrong, Los Angeles Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight and Detective Bailey Keller find themselves at the epicenter of a combustible and high-profile court case.

Then a prime suspect is revealed to be one of Hollywood’s most popular and powerful talent managers — and best friend to the victim’s father. With the director vouching for the manager’s innocence, the Hollywood media machine commences an all-out war designed to discredit both Rachel and her case. Killer Ambition is at once a thrilling ride through the darker side of Tinseltown and a stunning courtroom drama with the brilliant insider’s perspective that Marcia Clark is uniquely qualified to give.



Rocky mountain peaks glowed lonely and austere under the nearly full moon. But the trail that led to God’s Seat, a throne-shaped outcropping high atop Backbone Trail, wound darkly under thick canopies of branches and overhanging boulders. One false step on that narrow path meant a thousand-foot drop and certain death, but the two lone figures walking single file up the trail moved at a heedless pace.

The night was still except for the crunch of their footsteps on sun-baked earth: one confident and driving, the other stumbling gracelessly forward, blinded by terror, steps punctuated by weeping, a nearly inaudible murmuring—This can’t be happening…Can’t…No, no, no, no. Please, let me wake up. Please, please. This is just a dream. At the top of the ridge, beside a waist-high boulder, the larger figure stopped and threw a shovel to the ground, the clang of metal hitting rock.


The smaller figure stared at the shovel, then abruptly doubled over, stomach heaving convulsively as the vomit rose up too fast to control. The larger figure watched for a moment, then, with cold disdain, flashed a vicious-looking blade. “You hear me? Pick up the fucking shovel and—”

“Okay, okay,” came the reply, as clammy, trembling hands took the shovel and thrust it into the earth. Okay, okay…okay, okay…repeating it over and over, mantra-like—wheezing with the effort to breathe through a fear-constricted throat.


Slowly, the hole grew deeper and longer. Okay, okay…This will be okay. Someone will come. Someone will come. Okay, okay…

And then, miraculously, someone did come. A soft rustling, the sound of slow, tentative steps approaching. And, as if in a dream, a moonlit face emerged from the darkness.


Three Nights Earlier

Hayley and Mackenzie spilled out of the chauffeur-driven Escalade and into the throng of twenty-somethings in front of Teddy’s, the “it” club in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Long sparkling earrings and sequined minidresses on spray-tanned body beautifuls, well-toned pretty boys in carefully torn jeans and three-hundred-dollar T-shirts—the air heavy with the tension of feigned indifference, as though each and every one of them wasn’t desperate to gain entrée into the exclusive club. Hayley led the way through the crowd, her blonde head thrown back, stiletto heels hitting the ground with confidence. Mackenzie trailed behind, nervously pulling down her tube skirt as she instinctively reached for Hayley’s hand. Her eyes focused on the ground to avoid the angry glares of the waiting crowd. The jackhammering of her heart made her breath come in short, shallow gulps.

When they reached the door, the bouncer, slender and sinewy, a spider tattoo wrapped around his neck, raised a skeptical eyebrow from beneath the worn brim of a black hat. Mackenzie wiped a nervous palm on her thigh before relinquishing her license. But Hayley, with a sexy-lazy smile, smoothly dipped into the cleavage of her leopard-print halter top and flipped her license out between two fingers. As always, Mackenzie watched with awe and envy, knowing she’d never master that kind of breezy nonchalance.

The bouncer briefly scanned their IDs, then handed them back with a dismissive head shake. “Not even close.”

Mackenzie’s heart stopped. Busted. But then Hayley stepped in and shoved a card under his nose. She looked him straight in the eye. “You sure?”

The bouncer frowned and peered at the card, then took back Hayley’s license and gave it a second look. Suddenly, his face broke into a lopsided grin. “Your dad know you’re here?”

Mackenzie felt giddy with relief—and foolish. After all this time she should surely know better. Clubs, private parties, restaurants—hell, even the Vanity Fair after-party on Oscar night—all happily opened their doors to the daughter of megastar director Russell Antonovich.

“My dad sent me,” Hayley joked, with an intimate look that brought him in on it.

Chuckling, the bouncer lifted the rope, then reached back and opened the door, unleashing a blast of music. “Have a nice night, ladies,” he said.

Hayley grabbed Mackenzie’s hand and led the way through a wall of dancers whose bodies glowed under pulsing multicolored lights, their only guide through the near-impenetrable velvet darkness. A hand shot up and waved to them from a crowded horseshoe booth next to the DJ—the sweetest spot in the house. They inched their way over and squeezed in, Mackenzie practically sitting in Hayley’s lap. The walls seemed to vibrate with the thunderous bass, making conversation impossible. But it didn’t matter. They weren’t there to talk and they wouldn’t need to place orders: hors d’oeuvres were served continuously, and they always had bottle service. Tonight’s offering was Patrón Silver, and she and Hayley had doubles in their hands by the time they sat down. A cute curly-haired guy—was his name Adrian?—moved forward with a sexy smile and pulled Mackenzie out onto the dance floor. She didn’t sit down again till unknown hours later when she and Hayley collapsed into the back of the Escalade.



Could that really have been just three nights ago? From her perch high on a hill in Laurel Canyon, Mackenzie barely noticed the spread of twinkling lights, the crawl of traffic across Sunset Boulevard and up La Cienega. She glanced to the west, where, just a few miles away in the Hollywood Hills above Sunset Plaza, Hayley’s dad had his “party house.” It was a favorite hang of theirs when her dad wasn’t around. They loved to skinny-dip in the infinity pool that stretched from the edge of the hilltop and flowed under a heavy plate-glass wall, right into the living room.

Laughing, partying, playing, sharing. The past year had been the best of Mackenzie’s life, and she owed it all to Hayley. Tears sprang to her eyes, turning the red and white lights on the streets below into long, blurry streaks. She pulled the photo, normally enshrined on the mirror in her bedroom, out of the back pocket of her jeans. It was a picture of her and Hayley at Colony, loose, boozy smiles, arms looped around each other’s shoulders. Her first night out with Hayley. And her first step out of the purgatory of “new girl” and, even worse, “poor girl” at the Clarington Academy prep school, aka high school for rich kids. Mackenzie got in on an academic scholarship, but she was a charity case and everyone seemed to know it. For the first few months she’d slunk through the hallways, a lonely, miserable misfit. Until one day, in gym class, she and Hayley had discovered a mutual hatred of field hockey. That’s all it took. Her life, her whole world changed overnight. How could that have been just a little over a year ago?

Mackenzie clutched the sides of her head and tried to breathe. Hayley had said not to worry. That it would be okay. That she’d call and she’d explain everything. But for now, don’t tell anyone. Don’t tell.

But that was three days ago. Three days, with no word from Hayley. Was she supposed to wait this long? What if something had gone wrong? Should she call someone? But maybe nothing was wrong and her call would just screw everything up. It’d be all her fault and Hayley might never forgive her. What was she supposed to do? Mackenzie dropped her head, hugged her knees, and squeezed her eyes shut against the tears. It would be okay. Hayley would be okay. Hayley was always okay. She had to be.


“I’m guessing by your expression that dinner went pretty well after all,” Bailey said. Her expression had an obnoxious “told-you-so” tinge to it that made me want to lie. But I knew there was no point. Bailey was not only a top-notch detective in the elite Robbery-Homicide Division of LAPD, she was also one of my very best friends. She would see right through it. Still, I didn’t have to give it up all at once.

I gave a noncommittal shrug, hung my purse on the hook under the bar, and slid onto the cushy leather stool. “It went okay.”

It was ten o’clock on a Monday night, so the after-work crowd had largely cleared out of the Biltmore Hotel bar. The only exception was a well-dressed middle-aged couple on one of the velvety couches against the wall. They were enjoying Manhattans with a leisurely attitude that told me they didn’t have to worry about a morning commute. Though I didn’t recognize them, I guessed they were staying in the hotel. Being a permanent resident of the hotel myself, I could usually tell who was a guest and who had just dropped by for a drink.

Drew, the gorgeous bartender, who’d been my buddy ever since I’d moved into the Biltmore a few years ago, gave me a knowing smirk. “Just okay? I don’t think so.” He tilted his shining black head toward the mirror behind him. “Take a look at yourself, girl.”

Even in the dim light I could see the sappy expression on my face. Damn. Drew and Bailey exchanged an amused smile. They’d been together for about two years now—the longest stretch either of them had ever managed with a single partner. Most of the time, it was a beautiful thing. But there were stomach-turning moments like this, when their “oneness” made me want to bang their heads together. Hard.

Bailey turned back just in time to catch my nauseated look—and ignore it. “And in case you were worried, you’re not alone out there. Graden was actually whistling.” Bailey made a face. “All day.”

Since Lieutenant Graden Hales was Bailey’s boss, she knew he never whistled. But I refused to give her the satisfaction of seeing how good it made me feel. I looked at her, deadpan. “Funny how annoying little things like that can be.”

“Isn’t it?” Bailey deadpanned right back at me.

Graden and I met a couple of years ago when he worked the case of Jake Pahlmeyer, a dear friend and fellow Special Trials Unit prosecutor, who was found dead in a sleazy downtown motel room, not far from the Biltmore. We’d begun dating, and I was just starting to believe Graden and I would go the distance when we had a major blowout over a violation of privacy; specifically, his violation of my privacy. He’d done some digging, otherwise known as “Googling” me, and found out that my sister Romy had been kidnapped when she was eleven years old. And was still missing.

He hadn’t known that Romy’s abduction was my closely guarded secret, one I’d kept from even my besties, Bailey Keller and Toni LaCollier, also a Special Trials prosecutor. But my breakup with Graden had forced me to tell them about it. Bailey and Toni had been sympathetic to my upset—well, actually, fury—at what I called the trampling of my boundaries, but they’d made no secret of the fact that they thought I’d overreacted…wildly. “He surfed the Web, Knight,” Bailey’d said. “Hardly an act of high-level espionage,” Toni’d added. I knew they were right, but knowing something intellectually and dealing with it emotionally are two very different matters. It’d taken me a while to come around.

But I did get there. At least enough to recognize that my reaction was over the top, and that I wanted to give Graden another chance. So we’d been taking baby steps, getting together for coffee breaks and lunches over the past few months. Tonight had been our first real date since the breakup—or, as Toni and Bailey called it, breakdown. I’d been a little apprehensive. Would he try for a sentimental play and take us to the site of our first date, the Pacific Dining Car? Or to the romantic hilltop restaurant that had become a mutual favorite, Yamashiro? I’d hoped not. I wasn’t ready for any trips down memory lane.

“So where’d you go?” Drew asked.

“We went to Craig’s—”

Drew nodded sagely. “My man, Graden. Excellent choice.”

It really was. The leather and white tablecloth steakhouse in West Hollywood had that same Sinatra–Dean Martin feel as the Pacific Dining Car—great food and a comfortable ambience for real dining and conversation—with none of the emotional undertow of having been “our” place. It wasn’t cheap, but money was no concern for Graden, who’d made a fortune on Code Three, the video game he’d designed with his brother.

Bailey studied me for a moment. “You look ridiculously sober. You stuck with water, didn’t you?”

I nodded.

“Didn’t trust yourself?” she asked.

“Of course I trusted myself.” I cadged a cube of cheese off Bailey’s plate. “I just want to keep a clear head.”

“Time to put a stop to that,” Drew said. “What’ll you have?”

I ordered a glass of pinot noir, and Drew moved off.

“So…you didn’t trust yourself,” Bailey said.

“Nope, not for one second.”

We laughed, and when Drew set down my glass of wine, we toasted.

“To knowing your limits.” Bailey raised her glass, and I clinked it with mine.

“To that.”

We took a sip.

“And he really didn’t see anyone else?” I asked.

“Not unless she worked the cleaning crew at the station. From what I saw, he was in the office night and day. I’d guess he was keeping himself distracted.”

“Know what I’d guess?”

But I never got a chance to say, because Bailey’s work cell phone rang. If Bailey was next up on the roster, she wouldn’t have been drinking, so it couldn’t be work. I listened, hoping to get some information, but all I heard was “Yep” and “Got it” and “Let me write that down.” Finally, Bailey ended the call and drained her water glass in one long gulp. Then she took my glass of wine—still practically full—out of my hand and set it down.


“O’Hare’s sick, so I’m up. Got a kidnapping call. Russell Antonovich.”

Russell Antonovich. A name attached to so many blockbusters even I, who knew nothing about Hollywood hotshots, recognized it.

“Someone kidnapped him?”

“No.” Bailey made sure no one was near us, then lowered her voice. “His teenage daughter, Hayley. Antonovich delivered the ransom and was supposed to get her back within the hour. That was two hours ago.”

Bailey motioned to Drew that she’d call, and we headed for the road.


Bailey got off the 405 freeway and headed east on Sunset Boulevard. I was about to ask where we were going when she turned onto Bellagio Road—which led to the heart of Bel Air. If I were a billionaire director I’d live there too.

Bel Air is in the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains, and it’s the highest of the three legs known as the Platinum Triangle—the other two being Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills. The most expensive homes in the world occupy real estate in that wedge of land, and the majority of those homes are in Bel Air. The biggest and most lavish are usually closest to Sunset Boulevard, but you’d never know that, because massive trees and dense shrubbery hide all but the gated entries, and even those gates are tough to find, hidden as some are by deliberately overgrown leafy climbers.

Which explains why Bailey was frowning and muttering to herself as she scanned the road for house numbers. But when we reached Bel Air Country Club, she made a U-turn and pulled over. “Do me a favor and look for this number. The navigation says we’re there, but I don’t see a damn thing.” She handed me a scrap of paper with an address and headed back down the road. One minute later I told her to stop and peered closely at a set of massive black iron gates that were almost completely obscured by towering elm and cypress trees. The tops of the gates met in an arc, and there in the apex, woven into the iron scrollwork, was the number.

“This is it.” If I hadn’t been parked in front of it and looking hard, I’d never have seen it.

I pointed out a discreet black metal box mounted on an arm in the brick wall, and Bailey pushed the button. A voice that sounded like a British butler’s said, “Yes?” Bailey identified us, and he told us to hold out our badges. I couldn’t see any cameras, but I didn’t imagine he’d have asked us to do that just for giggles, so I held them outside the window, not sure where to aim them. After a couple of seconds the gates swung open, and Bailey steered up the brick lined road.

Los Angeles has some of the most outrageously opulent manses in the country and Bailey and I had seen our share over the years, but nothing compared to this. The road opened to a bricked-in area that was the size of half a football field, in the middle of which was a massive Italian Renaissance–style fountain, complete with cherubs’ and lions’ heads that spewed water. Towering over the grounds was a palatial two-story Tudor-style house all in that same matching brick. It was tastefully covered in ivy that obediently climbed where it best accented the archways and latticed windows and formed a large L around the perimeter of the front area. Judging just by what I could see from the outside, that “house” was at least thirty-five thousand square feet if it was an inch.

Bailey parked and we both stepped out of the car and took in the view.

“Damn,” said Bailey under her breath.

“A quaint little ‘starter.’”

By the time we’d made it up to the arched brick entry, the door was open and a slender man in his fifties, with thinning hair combed neatly back and dressed in a cardigan and dark slacks, beckoned us in.

“Right this way, please.”

We were eventually ushered into a room that was sectioned off by furniture groupings of leather couches, ottomans, and cherrywood tables. Large wall-mounted flat screens hung on opposite walls. The room was big enough that both could be watched at the same time without anyone suffering noise interference. I supposed it was what the Realtors called a “great” room. Cozy.

Several people had gathered and the room buzzed with tension, though no one was moving. It was an odd sensation, as if everyone were vibrating in place. A tall wire whip of a man approached me with a smooth, athletic stride. Something about him looked familiar. I studied the brows that arched expressively over green eyes, the full lips, the faint spray of freckles across the bridge of his nose, and the dampish, freshly showered–looking dark red hair that curled down the sides of his neck. When recognition hit, shock made the name spring from my mouth. “Mattie!”

A brief look of annoyance was quickly replaced by a self-deprecating smile; it got me at first, but there was a too-polished feeling about the expression that said he’d probably been working it from his earliest child-star days. “Right.” He held out his hand. “Though I actually go by Ian Powers.”

We shook, and I collected myself. “Sorry,” I said. “I just wasn’t expecting—”

Ian Powers held up a hand. “Hey, don’t apologize. At my age, I’m only glad that people can still recognize me.”

It was somewhat remarkable. Though he definitely didn’t look it, Ian Powers had to be in his forties. I knew it’d been more than thirty years since he’d starred as the eight-year-old boy in the sitcom Just the Two of Us, about Mattie, a charming, wise-beyond-his-years boy and his single father. I remembered watching the show when I was a kid, though by then, the show had long since been in reruns. It was weird to see the vestiges of that sweet little-boy face in this fully grown, casually elegant man.

“I take it you two are the detectives?”

“Actually no. I’m Rachel Knight, deputy district attorney.”

“Detective Keller.” Bailey put out her hand. “And your connection…?”

“I’m Russell’s manager.”

Ian led us to the left side of the room, where a short man, no more than an inch taller than me, dressed in a baseball cap, faded jeans, and a forest green Henley, sat on the arm of a plush burgundy couch. “Russell, this is Detective Bailey Keller and, ah—”

“Deputy District Attorney Rachel Knight,” I filled in. Clearly, I was already making quite the impression.

Russell stood and rocked on his toes—I’d bet so he could look down on me. But he’d have needed a step stool to look down on Bailey, all five feet nine inches of her. He took her in with a sidelong glance that avoided his having to look up at her, and didn’t offer his hand to either one of us. He took a deep breath, expelled it through his nose, then started to dive in. “Got the first message about—”

Bailey held up a hand and looked around the room. “Mr. Antonovich, before you get into it, can you tell me who all these people are and why they need to be here?”

With a pained expression he said, “Russell, okay? Call me Russell.” His tone was peremptory, almost impatient, and his voice was high enough that if I hadn’t been looking at him I’d have thought he was a woman. “They all pretty much live here.” He pointed to a willowy blonde who looked to be in her mid-twenties and easily twenty years his junior. “My wife, Dani. That’s her assistant, Angela,” he said, nodding at a trim young girl with a mop of curly brown hair who was pouring bottled water into a glass for the missus. He pointed to a sturdy-looking girl in overalls and a matching baseball cap. “My assistant, Uma.” I noticed she was the only one in the room who was shorter than Russell. I was sure that was no accident. An older woman came in carrying a trayful of plates bearing finger food. Russell followed my gaze. “That’s Vera, the cook.” No last name—unless you counted “the cook.” In fact, none of these people had a last name. Not as far as Russell was concerned anyway.

“And that…?” I asked, pointing to a young man wearing jeans that sagged below sea level who was sitting on an ottoman at the other end of the room.

“Jeff, my runner. Assistant too, sometimes.”

And then there was the butler who’d answered the door, and all the others it would take to keep this place going. If we kept taking attendance, we wouldn’t get to the case until sometime next week. Bailey had apparently reached the same conclusion.

“I’ll need a list of everyone who’s been in the house today and who’s in the house now,” Bailey said.

“Right, got it, got it.”

“When did you first realize your daughter had been kidnapped?” Bailey asked.

Russell pulled off his baseball cap, which now showed me it was his substitute for hair. The hem of tight straw-colored curls just above his ears was all that remained. He rubbed his head and then his face. With the cap off, I could see the worry and fear etched in his features. Suddenly the celebrity director was just the frantic, distraught father of a child in danger. And in that moment, the picture of my father’s face filled my memory: the panic and confusion in his eyes, turning to frozen shock when, sobbing and hysterical, I told him of the stranger who’d taken Romy while we were playing in the woods near the house. I brought myself back to the present with a stiff jerk. That was Romy and my father. Not Hayley or Russell. This daughter still had a chance of a safe return.

“I got a text message with the photograph of Hayley. It came in before noon from Hayley’s phone. She was at my place in the hills—”

“Hollywood Hills?”

Russell nodded. “Sent it to my private cell phone. Only my family has it. But I didn’t see it till after I got home. Said that photo was proof of life and that the demand would come later. Warned me not to call the cops.”

“You still have that message and the photo?”

“Yeah, of course. Got ’em right here.” He pulled his cell phone out of his hip pocket and handed it to Bailey.

Bailey and I read the message on his phone: I’ve got your daughter. She’ll be safe if you do as I tell you. If you call the police she’ll be killed. I’ll be in touch with my demand.

“A little while later, I get an e-mail telling me to bring a million in cash to a place in Fryman Canyon.”

“Could you tell where the e-mail came from?”

“The e-mail address was Hayley’s, but—”

But all the kidnapper had to do was get her password to send from her e-mail address.

“Was there a photo of Hayley in the e-mail?” I asked.


On Sale
Jun 18, 2013
Hachette Audio

Marcia Clark

Marcia Clark

About the Author

Marcia Clark began practicing law as a criminal defense attorney. She became a prosecutor in the L.A. District Attorney’s Office in 1981, and spent ten years in the Special Trials Unit where she handled a number of high profile cases prior to the O.J. Simpson case, including the prosecution of stalker/murderer Robert Bardo.

In May of 1997, her book on the Simpson case, Without a Doubt, was published and quickly rose to #1 on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, LA Times, and Publisher’s Weekly bestsellers lists.

Marcia has published three novels which feature Los Angeles Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight: Guilt by AssociationGuilt by Degrees, and Killer Ambition. TNT has optioned the books for a drama series. Marcia is attached as an executive producer.

Learn more about this author