By S. L. McInnis

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How much can you trust your closest friend?

Beth Montgomery seems to have the perfect life: a beautiful house in the hills above Los Angeles, a handsome, ambitious husband, and plans of starting a family. So it doesn’t occur to her to worry when the news breaks of a quadruple homicide across town, a botched drug deal that leaves an undercover officer among the dead. Beth certainly would never think to tie the murders to the sudden reappearance in her life of wild, sexy Cassie Ogilvy, the estranged best friend she hasn’t seen since they were college roommates.

As Cassie confidently settles into Beth’s new life, making herself comfortable not only in Beth’s guestroom but with her husband as well, it becomes increasingly clear that her old friend has a lot to hide. But it isn’t until a shocking late-night phone call, and Cassie’s even more startling disappearance, that Beth begins to understand that her world, as she knew it, is gone forever.

Unfurling over the span of three fraught, heart-pounding days, McInnis’s masterful suspense debut is fast-paced and diabolically unpredictable–a fresh, surprising, and powerfully smart twist on the traditional thriller.


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“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

—Anaïs Nin, The Diary of Anaïs Nin


“There is nothing like puking with somebody to make you into old friends.”

—Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar



Monday Night

Beth grips the steering wheel so tight, her knuckles push white through her skin. She has a Prokofiev symphony blasting on the stereo, trying to drown out her thoughts and forget the evening. She can still smell his cologne on her clothes. He wore so much of it, she almost couldn’t breathe. Trying to impress Emily, of course. She grits her teeth, remembering the humiliation of watching her husband trip over himself to be sweet, to be funny, to be attentive to anyone but his own wife.

“I can’t believe it! You look amazing!”

“Are you kidding? I haven’t been out of the house in months. I’ve been so busy with the baby, I had to cut off all my hair.”

“I love it! It suits you! You look great!”

Beth wants to scream. Or cry. Maybe both.

She glances in the rearview mirror. Her eyes are swollen from pushing back tears, her frown lines caked with makeup. But did she look so horrible tonight? The black dress was a little plain, she admits that, especially next to Emily’s tight red dress with her bust hanging out. Em was just oozing sexuality, like a fertility goddess. No wonder Jay couldn’t take his eyes off her all night.

He picked up the tab again, too, even though Peter suggested they split it. He knows the trouble they’re in. Does he want to lose the house? The cars? Jay never worries about things like that, of course. His parents always spoiled him, protected him from the realities of life. But it all added up.

Stop it!

She hates the sound of her own thoughts. The endless complaints are like music scales in her head, the same notes played over and over again, nothing ever changing. It’s monotonous.

At a red light, she finds herself toying with her necklace, a double strand of Tiffany pearls; they’re her prized possession; but they make her want to cry, too, because they’re a reminder of everything in life she wishes she had but could never seem to get. She remembers hearing a story, a long time ago, about how pearls were made. They were mistakes of nature really. Accidents.

The light turns green and she hits the gas. Suddenly, the world is a clash of sirens and flashing lights, a cacophony compared with the music inside the car. She has to slam on the brakes as a police cruiser whizzes through the intersection, then another, barely missing her. She hadn’t seen them coming. She’d been too preoccupied, the music too loud. Her heart hammers as the cars disappear into the night. She’s embarrassed, trapped in the middle of the intersection, as other drivers honk at her trying to get by. She turns down the music and drives on more slowly.

She’s in no hurry to get home.



Monday Night

Cassie stumbles along the sidewalk, dragging a small blue suitcase on wheels and hefting a red duffel bag over her shoulder. Her lungs ache as she pants for air. The night seems like a living thing, all energy and light, as sirens rise and fall in the distance. Janis Joplin’s version of “Summertime” runs through her mind. She was listening to it earlier; that angry, desperate craving for comfort still hums in her ears.


She hobbles along, her blond wig swinging, making her scalp tingle and sweat. She looks around the dark street, seeing closed businesses, faded signs, windows boarded up or barred for the night. Where the hell is she? She doesn’t know L.A. well. It makes her even more nervous.

God, the bodies. In a nauseating flash, she remembers the sound of gunshots, like hammers banging steel drums. Everything broken. Blood everywhere. Were they all dead? She didn’t check. There wasn’t time. She had to get out of the house. But where is she is going to go? Will the police be searching for her? Could she check into a hotel somewhere?

Maybe she should call Beth?

Beth still occupies such a special place in Cassie’s memory, regal and pale, like the white queen on a chessboard. Beth owed her. She’d always said that. And she lives in L.A. now. Is it stupid to think her old friend would help after all these years?

She hears barking in the distance and flinches with panic. If the cops have dogs, they could track her anywhere. She has to get into a car so they lose her scent. A cab? But she can’t flag a cab in L.A. She knows that. And she doesn’t have her phone.

She’s on a busier street now, headlights passing, more shops barricaded for the night. A bus wheezes toward her in the distance. She digs in her purse for change. She doesn’t know how much the fare is, but she has to get off the street. She can’t risk walking around like this.

The bus pulls up, stops in front of her. The door opens and an aging woman gets off, looking tired. But the bus is packed, blank faces staring at her from the windows. With the wig, it would probably be okay—who’d be able to make the connection, a blonde carrying suitcases on a bus this time of night? But she can’t take any chances. The driver stares at her, waiting. She lowers her head and keeps walking. The door closes and the bus wheezes away.

There’s a 7-Eleven sign glowing in the darkness, a few figures in the parking lot—young guys, she can tell. She hears their laughter. She takes off her leather jacket and drapes it through the straps of the duffel bag, adjusting her skimpy tank top so the edge of her black lace bra shows. She grabs a cigarette and heads toward them.

“Got a light?” she asks in her friendliest lilt. All three turn to look at her. Hispanic kids. Early twenties. She sees them all check her out.

“Sure thing, beautiful,” the tall one says. She knows in an instant he’s the leader of the pack. He’s the one who takes a step toward her. The others are staring, but fall in behind him. Without saying another word—a real Prince Charming—he pulls out a lighter, sheltering the flame with his hands. She comes over to light the smoke, averting her face from the others, letting the wig fall against her cheek.

“Can I talk to you?” She nudges him around the side of the store, away from the bright lights. “Do you have a car?”


“Can you take me somewhere?”

“Where?” He’s getting suspicious.

“Just out of here. I’ll do whatever you want if you just get me out of here.”

The guy laughs. He doesn’t believe her.

“I’m serious.”

He reaches in his pocket, pulls out his keys. “After you,” he says, grinning. He glances at his friends, who huddle together, laughing. “You need a hand with that?” He motions to her luggage.

“I’m good, thanks.”

He leads her to a beat-up tan Ford in the corner of the parking lot. He goes to unlock the trunk, but she says, “I’ll just put everything back here.”

She opens the door, throwing the suitcase into the backseat, but she keeps the red duffel with her when she climbs in the front. The bag is heavy, twenty pounds at least, so she lets half of it spill off her lap onto the seat. But she grips the strap like the rope on a life raft. The kid walks around the car, throwing his friends another wave. She thinks she hears one of them yell something that sounds like a schoolyard taunt. He gets in behind the wheel, the vinyl seat squeaking.

“Where’d you like to go?” he asks, putting the car into gear and pulling out of the lot.

Cassie shoves the snout of her Glock 9mm against his ribs. “Just drive.”



Monday Night

The first responders are already on the scene when Detective Francis Goode pulls his brown sedan to the curb in Lawrence Heights. His mind is all input now. Calm and quiet. The front door’s knocked down, the faded stucco chipped, a tiny yard with no grass. A broken front window, the curtain pushed through. No, not a curtain, a blanket, and there’s glass on the ground in front. The window’s been blown out from the inside. He gets out of the car as more units pull up, brakes screeching. So many flashing lights out here, it reminds him of Christmas Eve.

Goode is somewhere in his fifties and looks every day of it. Six-one, African American, two-ten. He can get around at a crime scene like a man half his age, taking the stairs to the front door two at a time.

He steps into a dimly lit, run-down living room. There’s the sound of crunching glass. Flashlight beams circling like tiny klieg lights at a movie premiere. A broken lamp on the floor casts eerie shadows. It takes a moment before it all registers. The bodies, the blood. It’s a small room, with a cheap brown couch on the left. A dining table near the front. A linebacker type in a white track suit sits at the table, but his head is down and there’s blood oozing from a hole the size of a shot glass in his forehead. A skinny white guy is down by the door. Goode has to step over his body to get inside. But where’s Butler? Where’s—

Another big guy crumpled on the floor by the wall. It’s him. Curtis Butler. Six months he’d been working undercover on this case. He had a wife and kids, too.

A silhouette steps into sight from the back of the house. “All clear, sir. But we got another one down here.”

Goode nods, following a heavy trail of blood into the hallway, where there’s another body on the floor, the back of his white T-shirt blooming red from a single gunshot. Goode steps around the corpse into a small, shabby bedroom. The mattress is bare, except for a fitted striped sheet, and the blood trail is gone. He notices a bullet hole in the plywood door before heading back into the hallway.

In the kitchen, the counter is scattered with crushed beer cans and a pizza box, a bottle of Windex, and rubber gloves. The whole place smells of gun smoke, as if there’s been a fire. A screen door is ajar, squeaking in the breeze. He pushes it open, stepping into the night, scouring his flashlight across the backyard. He sees trash cans and plastic lawn chairs, but no movement. Whoever was here is gone now. As he turns back into the house, toward the voices and the crackling radios, he catches a glimpse of the lights spread across the Hollywood Hills. He wonders what the view must be like from up there.



Monday Night

Beth sits in her car in the driveway. The music has ended, leaving a throbbing silence in her head. Jay’s red vintage Mustang gleams in the darkness beside her. She left the restaurant first, so he must’ve raced all the way home to get here before her. He’d been drinking and she probably shouldn’t have let him drive, but she didn’t want to cause a scene at the restaurant. That’s what she tells herself anyway, because the alternative is too perverse: maybe she doesn’t even care.

The beautiful bungalow is perfectly landscaped, up-lights glowing. It’s not a big house, only two bedrooms, two baths, but it’s the kind of house any young couple coveted in L.A.—Jay especially. He always wanted a house in the hills, as if he were already Steven Spielberg or something.

Beth thought it would be the perfect place to start a family. She remembers seeing the extra bedroom for the first time, envisioning it full of Pottery Barn pink or blue, with matching curtains and shelves of stuffed animals. Not that they could have afforded to decorate a nursery the way she wanted to right now, but just thinking about it made her happy. At least, it used to. Looking at Emily’s baby pictures over dinner was so hard. Trying to smile—when all she wanted to do was cry.


“I can’t believe you picked up the tab again,” she says, walking into the kitchen and locking the door behind her. Jay doesn’t even look up at her, scrolling on his phone.“It was our turn. They paid last time.”

“No—we did.”

She heads through the living room—a shrine of midcentury antiques—past the elegant wedding pictures in the hall. They mock her with their happiness. She in her off-white gown. Jay in his gray tux. The country club in the background. She’d been happy that day, hadn’t she? She looks happy anyway. It’s so hard to remember now.

Three years went by fast.

In the bedroom, she slips off the black dress and hangs it in the closet. She opens a blue Tiffany’s box. Unclasps her double strand of pearls—a family heirloom—handling them like rosary beads, before curling them into the case.

Jay walks into the room without saying a word, heading to the adjoining bathroom. He seems to drag resentment behind him. So defensive all the time. She sees him in the reflection behind her, bending over the sink, brushing his teeth. She feels as if she’s aged ten years in the last few months, and Jay, five years older, still seems so young. Clean-shaven, clipped hair. She shudders to think how much he spends on haircuts, when she’s been trimming and dyeing her hair for a year now.

Fake it till you make it, he always says. Gotta look the part.

He’s in such great shape, too, still a handsome man. And he knows it. That’s the problem. But she doesn’t want to go down this path again. It’ll just make her more depressed. She tries to bring brightness to her voice.

“Emily looked good tonight, don’t you think?”


She walks to the bathroom door and leans against the frame. Even in her bra and slip, she doesn’t feel exposed. She doesn’t feel like a sexual thing right now. Maybe she never will again.

“Emily. She looked good.”

He wipes his mouth. “She looked okay, I guess.” He doesn’t meet her eyes in the mirror as he opens the medicine cabinet, grabs his prescription bottle, and takes a pill.

She tries a different tack. “Can you believe all that baby talk, though? God, how can they sit there and talk about that stuff all night?”

“Because that’s what new parents do, Beth.” This time he glances at her, irritation in his hazel eyes.

She feels the gentle sting of the comment. “Still. She knows we’re trying to get pregnant. You think she’d try to be a little more—” The house phone rings, cutting her off.

“Bet that’s her. Calling to brag about the joy of breastfeeding again.”

She walks over to see it’s an Unknown Caller. “Hello?” There’s a moment of silence, and a dial tone is next. Jay gives her a questioning look as she hangs up. She just shrugs. Wrong number.

There’s a full-length mirror next to the bed, and she catches her reflection in it. She runs her hand over her flat stomach, sees her small breasts in the bra, her slim legs. Yet there’s nothing sexy about her, is there? There never was. Not like Emily. So full of life. Compared with her, Beth feels like one of those expensive collectible dolls she used to have when she was a little girl, standing inside their boxes in her pink bedroom in Bryn Mawr. Like those dolls, Beth always looked perfect. She even seemed real sometimes; but it was an illusion, because she feels cold, hard—and untouchable.

She senses the tug of her melancholy and tries to shake it off again. “You think I should get my hair cut short like that? Just for a change. I thought it really suited Em.”

Jay comes over, his shirt unbuttoned. She sees him loom up in the mirror, and it makes her suck in a breath of fear.

“Don’t even think about it. I like your hair just the way it is.” He wraps his arms around her waist and kisses the side of her neck. The look in his eye. The gleam. There’s a sudden softness to his mood as he rocks her slightly in his arms. She can smell the stale cologne, mixed with toothpaste and liquor. “What’s wrong with you tonight, anyway? Why are you so self-conscious?”

“Are you really asking me this?”

They still aren’t facing each other, talking only to reflections, but he gives her an innocent shrug.

“You were ogling her all night, Jay. The flirting? It was embarrassing. For both of us.”

“Beth, come on, I wasn’t—”

But she twists out of his arms and walks into the bathroom, locking the door.

She opens the medicine cabinet and sees his Ambien. Every time she notices that bottle, she wonders what would happen if she swallowed them all.


Two hours later, the house phone next to her side of the bed starts ringing. She sees the time, after three, and gets a chill. It’s an emergency. Has to be. Someone is dead. Or in the hospital. One of Jay’s parents? He doesn’t even stir in bed beside her; God, how she envies him those pills. But as she reaches for the phone, she hesitates. The screen registers another Unknown Caller.


Silence. A moment later, a man asks, “Is this Beth?”

“Yes,” she answers uncertainly. She doesn’t recognize the voice, deep and raspy. “Who is this?”

“Is Cassie there?”

She feels a trill of uncertainty. “Who?”

But the man hangs up. She holds the phone for a moment, staring into the darkness. Did he say Cassie? Couldn’t be. It must’ve been Cathy. That makes more sense, a common name, a wrong number.

She glances at the framed photo on the nightstand, barely visible in the dim light. The shot was taken that last day in the Hamptons, the sun bright, the pool off to one side, the big white mansion in the background, the horizon of the pounding Atlantic beyond. She finally lays her head back down on her pillow, but she knows she won’t be able to sleep for hours.


Is it possible?

A single phrase comes back to her, one she tries not to think of anymore. You know what you are, Beth? You’re a lotus flower. That’s just what you are.

A lotus flower.

She remembers that summer after freshman year, sharing the big yellow bedroom with Cass. How the air was heavy with the scent of brine. The canopy bed brimmed with yellow pillow shams, and the bookshelves were full of old stuffed animals, eyes gleaming like an audience in a darkened theater. They talked about everything that summer. Music and men and mischief. Their plans for life—and for the weekend.

With her husband sleeping beside her, Beth is transported away from this room. This life. She remembers wandering the corridors of the Residence Hall years ago, finding her new dorm room, with its view of Boston Harbor, empty. Two beds, two desks, two dressers, a small fridge. She can almost smell the woody scent of the recital rooms downstairs and the fresh paint on the walls.

She’d been assigned the bed on the left, piling her bags on the bare mattress. In her freshman orientation package, she’d been given a questionnaire to help new roommates get acquainted. What is your major? Composition? Performance? Theory? Voice? There were silly questions, too, like what’s your favorite band, movie, or book. But the last question was different. It read “I hope my new roommate is—” and in the blank, Beth had written “nice.”

After she unpacked, the other girls on the floor had met their new roommates, but hers still hadn’t appeared. She kept busy studying campus maps, putting her books away, deciding what to wear for her first day.

As the sun set, there was commotion in the hall. A moment later, Cassie Ogilvy stood framed in the doorway. Wild dark hair, faded jeans, she was laden with knapsacks and gym bags, which she dropped with various thumps.

“Hey,” she said, out of breath. She smelled like cigarettes. “I’m Cass.”

“I’m Beth.”

As they shook hands, the girl’s wrists, layered with bangles and beads, clattered like pencils in a cup. The first thing she did was crouch next to her knapsack and fill the little fridge with a six-pack of beer, moving Beth’s milk and orange juice out of the way, everything clunking and clanging.

“Want one?” she asked, holding out a can.

Beth shook her head. There was a strict no-drinking policy in the dorm, but she decided not to mention it. That was no way to make friends with a new roommate. Over the course of the next hour, she watched Cassie pile rumpled clothes into the dresser and stack jazz CDs on her shelf. She had lots of makeup and hair products—but no alarm clock. She lined up half a dozen prescription pill bottles on her desk, and Beth wondered what they could be for. The girl almost never stopped talking, a stream of confessions and jokes. Beth felt stilted in comparison.

“So? What about you?” she finally asked. “What’s your story?”

Beth handed her the questionnaire. “I think I should just give you this.”

“Oh yeah. I didn’t fill mine out yet.” She glanced at the page, skimming. She looked up, arching an eyebrow. “Nice?”

Beth shrugged.

“I would’ve put cool,” she said with a grin.

Later that night, they were in their single beds, trying to fall asleep for the first time in a new city. A new life. Crosshairs of shadow from the harvest moon shone through the window.

Cassie’s voice was quiet in the darkness. “Beth? Can I ask you a huge favor?”


“Is it all right if we don’t close the door?”

“At night?” Beth was confused. Was she afraid of the dark?

“No, I mean, ever. We can partly close it, just not all the way. None of the girls would be able to see in. It would just be a crack, so it’s not completely closed. Would that be okay with you?”

“Um…do you mind if I ask why?”

“I don’t want to dump on you so soon,” she said. “You’ll think I’m nuts.”

“No, I won’t,” Beth insisted. “Cassie? What is it?”

She was quiet another moment longer. “You might not think it’s a big deal, but I used to get locked in my bedroom,” she finally said. “Not just at night. All the time. Whenever I acted up, anyway. I hated it. I felt so—trapped. So helpless. So now I just don’t like closing doors all the way, that’s all. I can’t sleep.”

“Oh.” Beth shuddered. She preferred doors that not only closed, but locked.

“Would you mind?”

“Um…” She was flooded with remorse for this girl who burst in smelling of cigarettes, full of confessions and laughter. Yet beneath it all was this strange vulnerability. “How awful for you, Cass. I’m so sorry. Of course you can leave the door open a bit.”

“Thanks,” she said, sounding relieved. She got out of bed and tiptoed across the room. She opened the door not more than an inch. The lights in the hall were dimmed for the night, so it wasn’t overly bright, but Beth still saw a thin, vertical strand glowing in the darkness. Highlights of Cassie’s Gap T-shirt. The profile of her face. The sheen of her legs.


  • "Exceptional...A fresh riff on the Gone Girl motif."—Publishers Weekly
  • "Fans of Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl and Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies will find much to love."—Library Journal
  • "This is a terrific debut for McInnis... She is adept at not only setting the scene but her characters, including Beth's husband, have depth. This is definitely a writer to watch."—The Globe and Mail
  • "Fast, twisty and totally unexpected. A riveting read!"—Shari Lapena, New York Times bestselling author of The Couple Next Door
  • "McInnis is a fine writer and Framed has a double twist I didn't see coming.—Toronto Star
  • "A heart-stopping thriller that makes you think twice about those you think you know."—
  • "With a narrative that keeps the tension rising throughout, from one twist to another, Framed is going to be one of the more deliciously enticing thriller reads of 2020."—Mystery Scene magazine
  • "Just when you believe that you have an inkling of what's happening, you're wrong! McInnis has an excellent way of weaving in clues and setting the stage for a blockbuster ending that is positively jaw-dropping."—
  • "Nothing is as it seems in this story. Or is it? Complete with false leads, superfluous characters serving to distract, a gripping atmosphere and fast-paced storytelling, this book is an extremely engaging and enjoyable read."—
  • "FRAMED by S.L. McInnis is absolutely sensational! With a stunning blend of brilliant psychological suspense and hard-hitting police procedural, this explosive thriller has a cast of vivid, well-developed characters, a gripping, taut plot with twists in every chapter, perfectly placed clues, and a shocking, fully satisfying ending. It's one of the best thrillers I've read this year!"—p.p1 {margin: 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px 0.0px; font: 12.0px 'Times New Roman'}Samantha M. Bailey, author of Woman on the Edge

On Sale
Feb 4, 2020
Page Count
336 pages

S. L. McInnis

About the Author

S. L. McInnis has a degree in broadcasting and has worked in public radio and television. Like Beth, she studied music for years. Framed is her suspense debut.

Learn more about this author