By Sandra Brown

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A TV star with a new lease on life must team up with an ex-cop to investigate a series of murders and dark secrets while danger lurks just outside her door in this thriller from award-winning author Sandra Brown.

A medical miracle gives TV personality Cat Delaney more than a new heart. With her second chance at life Cat trades Hollywood for San Antonio, where she hosts a TV show for children with special needs and meets Alex Pierce, an ex-cop turned crime writer.

But her new world turns sinister when fatal “accidents” begin killing other heart transplant recipients, and a mysterious stalker starts shadowing her every move. Soon Cat realizes Alex may or may not be her most important ally – and that her new heart comes at a terrible price: a tangled web of secrets and someone determined to take her life.


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Table of Contents

A Preview of Deadline

Also by Sandra Brown


Copyright Page

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Chapter One

October 10, 1990

"Cat, wake up! We have a heart!"

Cat Delaney slogged through the mire of drug-induced sleep toward the shore of consciousness. Opening her eyes, she attempted to focus on Dean. His image blurred at the edges, but his smile was wide, bright, and distinct.

"We have a heart for you," he repeated.

"For real?" she asked, her voice raspy, weakened. She'd entered the hospital with the understanding that she would leave either with a transplanted heart or in a hearse.

"The retrieval team is winging it here as we speak."

Dr. Dean Spicer turned away from her to address other hospital personnel who'd accompanied him into the ICU. She could hear his voice, but his words seemed meaningless.

Was she dreaming? No, Dean had clearly stated that a donor heart was on its way. A new heart—for her! A life!

Suddenly she experienced a greater burst of energy than she'd felt in months. She sat bolt upright in the hospital bed and jabbered to the nurses and technicians who swarmed around her, brandishing needles and catheters with which to poke and probe her.

The medical violation of tissue and orifice had become such an everyday occurrence that she barely noticed it. Over the past few months, enough body fluids had been withdrawn from her to fill an Olympic-size swimming pool. She'd lost a significant amount of weight, and very little flesh remained on her petite skeleton.

"Dean? Where'd he go?"

"Here I am." Her cardiologist shouldered his way to her bedside and clasped her hand. "I told you we'd get you a heart in time. Didn't I?"

"Don't be smug. You doctors are all alike. Cocky asses."

"I resent that." Dr. Jeffries, the cardiac surgeon who would perform the transplant, ambled into the room as though he were taking a casual evening stroll—on water. He perfectly fit the stereotype to which Cat had referred. She acknowledged his talent, trusted his ability, but despised him personally.

"What are you doing here?" she asked. "Shouldn't you be in the OR sterilizing your instrument?"

"Is that a double entendre?"

"You're supposed to be the genius. You figure it out."

"As disagreeable as ever. Who do you think you are, a TV star?"


Unflappable, the surgeon turned to the senior ICU nurse. "Does this patient have a fever?"


"Head cold? Virus? Infection of any kind?"

"What is this?" Cat demanded in annoyance. "Are you trying to back out of it? Want the night off, Doctor? Made other plans?"

"Just checking to make sure you're okay."

"I'm okay. Get the heart, cut me open, and make the switch. Anesthesia is optional."

He turned and sauntered out.

"Arrogant ass," she muttered.

"Better not call him names," Dean said, chuckling. "He'll come in handy later on tonight."

"How long do we have to wait?"

"A while."

She hounded him to be more specific, but that was all he would say. Encouraged to rest but charged by adrenaline, she remained wide awake, watching the clock as the hours slowly passed. She wasn't as nervous as she was excited.

News of the impending transplant made its way through the hospital grapevine. Organ transplants were fairly commonplace, but they still inspired awe. Especially heart transplants. During the night, well-wishers popped in to her room.

She was given a bath in iodine, which was sticky and nasty and turned her skin an obnoxious gold. She choked down her first dose of cyclosporine, the vital antirejection drug. The liquid had been mixed with chocolate milk in a vain attempt to cover its olive oil taste. She was still complaining about it when Dean rushed in with the news she'd been waiting to hear.

"They're en route to the hospital with your new heart. Ready?"

"Is the pope Catholic?"

He leaned down and kissed her forehead. "I'm going down now to scrub. I'll be there with Jeffries the whole time, watching over his shoulder." He paused. "I'll be with you every step of the way."

She grabbed his sleeve. "When I wake up, I want to know immediately if I've got a new heart."

"Of course."

She'd heard of other transplant patients who had been informed that a suitable heart had been harvested. A man she knew had even been prepped for surgery and put under anesthesia. Upon the heart's arrival, Dr. Jeffries had inspected it and declined to transplant it, saying it wasn't good enough. The patient still hadn't recovered from the emotional setback, which was worsening his critical heart condition.

Now, with surprising strength, Cat clutched the sleeve of Dean's Armani jacket. "The second I come out of it, I want to know if I have a new heart. Okay?"

He covered her hand with his and nodded. "You have my word."

"Dr. Spicer. Please," a nurse beckoned.

"See you in the OR, darling."

After his departure, everything moved with remarkable swiftness. Cat gripped the side rails of the gurney as she was whisked along the corridors. When the gurney burst through the double doors, she wasn't prepared for the blinding glare of the operating theater, where the masked personnel moved about with speed and purpose, everyone intent on his or her duty.

Looking beyond the lights suspended over the operating table, Cat saw faces peering down through the glass that enclosed the observation gallery.

"I see I've drawn quite a crowd. Do those people up there have tickets and printed programs? Who are they all? Hey, somebody say something. Am I the only one here who speaks English? What's that you're doing over there?"

One of the figures wearing scrubs and a mask groaned. "Where's Dr. Ashford?"

"Coming," the anesthesiologist said as he breezed in.

"Thank God you're here. Knock her out so we can get some work done, will you?"

"She's a blabbermouth, a real pain in the butt."

Cat took no offense, knowing none was intended. The eyes above the masks were smiling. The mood in the OR was upbeat; she preferred it that way.

"If you guys are always insulting the patients, it's no wonder you wear masks to conceal your identities. Cowards."

The anesthesiologist moved into place beside the table. "I understand that you're a little hyper and causing quite a ruckus, Miss Delaney."

"This is my big scene. I'll play it the way I want to."

"You're gonna be great."

"Have you seen my new heart?"

"I'm not in on all the good stuff. I just pass gas. Relax now." He swabbed the back of her hand in preparation for an IV needle. "You'll feel a little prick."

"I'm used to little pricks."

Everyone laughed.

Dr. Jeffries approached with Dean and Dr. Sholden, the cardiologist to whom Dean had referred her when he withdrew as her physician for personal reasons.

"How are we doing?" Dr. Jeffries asked.

"Your script needs work, Doctor," Cat said scornfully. " 'How are we doing?' should be my line."

"We've examined the heart," he replied calmly.

She caught her breath expectantly, then frowned up at him. "We use these pregnant pauses in the soaps all the time to build suspense. It's a cheap shot. Tell me about the heart."

"It's beautiful," Dr. Sholden said. "It looks terrific. Has your name on it."

From the corner of her eye, she noticed a group of OR technicians fussing over a cooler.

"When you wake up, it'll be beating inside your chest," Dean said.

"Ready?" Dr. Jeffries asked.

Was she ready?

Naturally she'd had some misgivings when the idea of transplantation had first been broached. But she'd thought all her doubts had been allayed by now.

She'd gone into a slow decline shortly after Dean had first diagnosed her heart problem. Medication had been a temporary remedy for her profound fatigue and lack of energy, but, as he'd told her, ultimately there was no cure for her condition. Even then, she'd refused to accept the severity of her illness.

Only when she began to feel truly sick, when taking a shower became an ordeal and eating a plate of food was strenuous exercise, had she acknowledged that her heart condition might be terminal.

"I need a new heart."

Until she made that bold announcement to the television network executives, they had been unaware of her illness. The cast and crew of the daytime soap opera Passages, with whom she worked every day, had never seen the telltale pallor beneath her makeup.

They, along with the network hierarchy, went into a predictable state of denial. None wanted to believe that Cat Delaney, winner of three Emmy awards, their star, whose Laura Madison character was pivotal to the story line of Passages, was that sick. With their unstinting support, and using her acting skills and ebullient personality, she continued to work.

But it had finally reached a point where, no matter how determined she was, she could no longer keep pace with her demanding schedule, and so she had taken a leave of absence from the show.

As her health continued to deteriorate, she lost so much weight that her legion of fans wouldn't have recognized her. Dark circles ringed her eyes because she couldn't sleep, even though she was perpetually exhausted. Her fingers and lips turned blue.

The tabloids reported that she was afflicted with diseases ranging from German measles to AIDS. Ordinarily that kind of cruel media exploitation would have angered and upset her, but she had lacked the energy to let it. Instead, she ignored it and concentrated on surviving.

Her condition became so perilous, her depression so abject, that one afternoon she said to Dean, "I'm so tired of being this weak and useless, I'd just as soon the credits roll."

Dean rarely honored her comments on death, even her joking ones, but on that particular day he sensed her need to speak her haunting thoughts aloud. "What's on your mind?"

"I have daily conversations with Death," she admitted softly. "I bargain with it. Every day at sunrise, I say, 'Let me have one more day. Please. Just one more.' I mark everything I do as possibly being for the last time. Is this the last time I'll see rain, eat pineapple, hear a Beatles song?"

She looked up at him. "I've made my peace with God. I'm not afraid of dying, but I'd rather it not be painful and frightening. When I do check out, what will it be like?"

He didn't glibly dismiss her concerns, but rather answered her honestly, "Your heart will simply stop beating, Cat."

"No fanfare? No drum roll?"

"Nothing. It won't be traumatic like a heart attack. There'll be no preliminary tingle in your arm. Your heart will simply—"



That conversation had taken place only a few days ago. Now, by a quirk of fate, her future had reversed direction and was moving toward life.

But it suddenly occurred to her that in order for her doctors to install her new heart, they had to cut out the old one. It was a chilling thought. While she deeply resented the malfunctioning organ that for the past two years had assumed control of her life, she also had an inexplicable fondness for it. True, she was eager to be rid of her sick heart, but she thought that everyone seemed obscenely cheerful about removing it.

Of course it was too late to start entertaining qualms. Besides, this surgery was relatively simple compared to other open-heart procedures. Clip. Remove. Replace. Suture.

During her wait for a donor, the transplant team had invited her questions. She'd engaged them in extensive discussions and had soaked up volumes of information gleaned on her own. Her support group, comprised of other heart patients awaiting transplant, had exposed and shared their fears during the meetings. Their exchanges were interesting and thought-provoking because organ transplant was a multifaceted issue riddled with controversy. Opinions varied according to the individual, and took into account emotions, spiritual convictions, moral issues, and legal implications.

During the months of waiting, Cat had sorted through all the ambiguities and was comfortable with her decision. She was well acquainted with the risks involved and was prepared for the horrors awaiting her in the recovery ICU. She accepted the possibility that her body might reject the heart.

But her only alternative to the transplant was certain death—and soon. Given that, there really wasn't any choice.

"I'm ready," she said confidently. "Oh wait, one more thing. While I'm under, if I begin composing odes to my personal vibrator, everything I say is a lie."

Their laughter was muffled by their masks.

Seconds later the fluid warmth of anesthesia began stealing through her, spreading a silky lassitude. She looked at Dean, smiled, and closed her eyes for what might be the last time.

And just before unconsciousness seized her, she had a final thought that flared once, brilliantly, like an exploding star an instant before disintegration.

Who was my donor?

Chapter Two

October 10, 1990

"How can divorce be more sinful than this?" he asked.

They were lying on the bed she normally shared with her husband, who was presently working his shift at the meatpacking plant. Because of a leak in the gas line, their office building had been evacuated for the remainder of the day. They were taking advantage of the unexpected holiday.

The small, cluttered bedroom was redolent with the steamy essence of sex. Sweat was drying on their skin, assisted by the ceiling fan that slowly circled overhead. The sheets were damp and tangled. The window shades were drawn against the afternoon sun. Scented candles burned on the nightstand, casting flickering light over the crucifix hanging against faded, floral wallpaper.

The somnolent atmosphere was deceiving. They were on a deadline; their time was limited, and they were frantic to wring from it every ounce of pleasure. Her two daughters would be returning home from school shortly. She hated to waste the precious moments they had remaining on this recurring and painful disagreement.

This wasn't the first time he'd implored her to divorce her husband and marry him. But she was Catholic. Divorce was not an option.

"I'm committing adultery, yes," she said softly. "But my sin affects only the two of us. We're the only ones who know about it. Besides my priest."

"You've confessed our affair to your priest?"

"Until my confessions became repetitious. I no longer go to confession. I'm too ashamed."

She sat up and moved to the edge of the bed, facing away from him. Her heavy dark hair clung damply to her neck. The cheval glass in the corner mirrored his view of her. Her unblemished back tapered at her waistline before gracefully flaring into her hips. She had twin dimples in the small of her back.

She was critical of her body, believing that her hips were too wide, her thighs too heavy. But he seemed to like the lushness of her form and the duskiness of her skin. It even tasted dusky, he'd told her once. Pillow talk whispered in the heat of passion meant nothing, of course. Nevertheless, she had cherished his praise.

He stretched out his hand and stroked her back. "Don't be ashamed of what we do. It destroys me when you say you're ashamed of our love."

The actual affair had begun four months ago. Prior to that they'd spent several agonizing months wrestling with their consciences. They worked on separate floors but had seen each other in the elevators of the office skyscraper. They had first met in the basement commissary when he accidentally backed into her, causing her to spill her coffee. They'd smiled at each other with chagrin while exchanging apologies and names.

Soon, they coordinated their lunch hours and coffee breaks. Meeting in the commissary became a habit, which then evolved into a necessity. Their well-being depended on seeing each other. Weekends seemed torturously long, eternities to be endured until Mondays, when they could meet once more. They both began working overtime so they could capture a few moments alone before departing for home.

One evening as they were leaving together, it began to rain. He offered to drive her home.

She shook her head. "I'll take the bus like always. But thank you anyway."

Gazing at each other with regret and longing, they said good night and parted. Clutching her handbag against her chest with one hand and holding an insufficient umbrella with the other, she dashed through the downpour to the corner bus stop.

She was still huddled there in her thin coat when his car pulled to a stop at the curb. He rolled down the passenger window. "Get in. Please."

"The bus will be here soon."

"You're getting soaked. Get in."

"It's only a few minutes late."


He was pleading for more than the privilege of driving her home, and they both knew that. Unable to resist the temptation, she slipped inside when he pushed the car door open for her. Without another word, he drove to a remote spot in the municipal park a short distance from downtown.

No sooner had he cut the motor and turned to her than they began kissing hungrily. With the first touch of his lips, she mentally abandoned her husband, her children, and her religious convictions. She was governed by carnal demands, not the mores she had been espousing since she was old enough to discern right from wrong.

Impatiently they grappled with buttons and zippers and hooks until they had loosened their damp clothes and were touching skin to skin. First his hands and then his mouth did things to her she found both thrilling and shocking. When he entered her, her conscience couldn't be heard above his ardent professions of love.

That initial passion hadn't abated. If anything it had escalated during their stolen hours together. Now, she turned her head and looked at him over her shoulder. Her full lips fashioned a shy smile.

"I'm not ashamed enough to end our affair. Even though I know it's a sin, I'd die if I thought I'd never make love to you again."

With a groan of renewed desire, he pulled her back against him. She twisted her body around until she lay on top of him, her open thighs straddling his hips.

He thrust himself deep inside her, then raised his head off the pillow to nuzzle her breasts. She pressed her large nipple against his lips. He caressed it with his tongue, then greedily drew it into his mouth.

This position was still a novel and exhilarating experience for her. She rode him hard until they enjoyed another explosive and simultaneous climax, which left them weak and panting for breath.

"Leave him," he rasped urgently. "Today. Now. Don't spend another night with him."

"I can't."

"You can. Thinking of you with him is driving me crazy. I love you. I love you."

"I love you, too," she said tearfully. "But I can't just walk away from my home. I can't desert my children."

"Your home is with me now. I don't expect you to desert your children. Bring them. I'll be their father."

"He's their father. They love him. He's my husband. In the eyes of God, I belong to him. I can't leave him."

"You don't love him."

"No," she admitted. "Not the way I love you. But he's a good man. He provides for me and the girls."

"That's not love. He's merely fulfilling his responsibilities."

"To him they're more or less the same." She rested her head against his shoulder, willing him to understand. "We grew up in the same neighborhood. We were sweethearts in high school. Our lives are entwined. He's a part of me, and I'm a part of him. If I left him, he'd never understand why. It would destroy him."

"It'll destroy me if you don't."

"That's not so," she said. "You're smarter than he is. More self-confident and strong. You'll survive no matter what. I'm not sure he would."

"He doesn't love you the way I do."

"He doesn't make love to me the way you do. He would never think of…" Embarrassed, she ducked her head.

Sexuality was still a secretive subject, closed to candid discussion. It had never been openly acknowledged, either in her family when she was a girl or in her marriage. It was done in the dark, a necessary evil tolerated and forgiven by God in order to perpetuate the human race.

"He's not sensitive to my desires," she said, blushing. "He'd be shocked to know I even have desires. You encourage me to touch you in ways I would never touch him because it would offend him. He'd think your sensuality is wimpy. He wasn't taught to be giving and tender in bed."

"Machismo," he said bitterly. "Do you want to settle for that the rest of your life?"

She looked at him with sorrow. "I love you more than my life, but he is my husband. We have children together. We have a heritage in common."

"We could have children."

She touched his cheek, feeling both affection and regret. Sometimes he was like a child, unreasonably demanding something he couldn't have.

"Marriage is a holy sacrament. Before God, I pledged my life to him until death—and only death—parts us." Tears formed in her eyes. "I've broken the vow of faithfulness for you. I won't break the others."

"Don't. Don't cry. The last thing I want to do is make you unhappy."

"Hold me." She snuggled down next to him.

He stroked her hair. "I know that being with me violates your religious convictions. But that gauges the depth of your love, doesn't it? Your sense of morality wouldn't allow you to sleep with me unless you loved me with all your heart."

"I do."

"I know." He wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Please don't cry, Judy. We'll work it out. We will. Just lie with me for the time we have left today."

They clung to each other, their misery over the situation as absolute as their joy in their love, their naked bodies joined seamlessly.

That's the way her husband found them a few minutes later.

She was the first to notice him standing in the doorway of the bedroom, quivering with righteous indignation. She sprang up and groped for the sheet to cover herself. She tried to speak his name, but her mouth was arid with fear and shame.

Muttering vicious deprecations, lavishing them with lewd epithets, he lurched across the room toward the bed, raised a baseball bat above his head, and swung it down in a deadly arc.

Later, even the paramedics, who were accustomed to seeing gory crime scenes, had difficulty keeping down their lunches. There was an unspeakable mess splattered on the floral wallpaper behind the bed.

Meaning no disrespect to the blood-spattered crucifix on the wall, one whispered, "Jesus Christ."

His partner knelt down. "I'll be damned, I feel a pulse!"

The other gazed doubtfully at the lumpy matter oozing from the split cranium. "You think there's a chance?"

"No, but let's haul anyway. We might have an organ donor here."

Chapter Three

October 10, 1990

"Is there something wrong with the pancakes?"

He raised his head and gave her a blank look. "What?"

"The batter mix promises lighter-than-air pancakes every time. I must've done something wrong."

He'd been toying with his breakfast for five minutes without taking a bite. He poked his fork into the syrupy mush on his plate and smiled apologetically. "There's nothing wrong with your cooking."

He was being kind. Amanda was a terrible cook. "How's my coffee?"

"Great. I'll take another cup, please."

She glanced at the kitchen clock. "Do you have time?"

"I'll make time."

He rarely allowed himself the luxury of being late for work. Whatever had been preoccupying him for the last several days must be vitally important, she thought.

Awkwardly, she rose and moved to the Mr. Coffee on the counter. Bringing the carafe with her, she returned to the table and refilled his cup.

"We need to talk."

"Conversation will be a welcome change," she said, resettling into her chair. "You've been in another world."

"I know. I'm sorry." A frown formed between his brows as he stared at the steaming mug of coffee, which she knew he really didn't want. He'd been stalling.

"You're scaring me," she said gently. "Whatever it is that's troubling you, why don't you just tell me and get it over with? What is it?" she probed. "Another woman?"

He shot her a retiring glance, clearly conveying that she knew better than even to suggest such a thing.

"That's it," she said, slapping the tabletop. "You're disgusted with me because I look like Dumbo's mother. My water-retentive ankles are a turn-off, right? You miss the small, pert tits you used to tease me about. My inny is nothing but a fond memory, and you find my outy repugnant. Pregnancy has robbed me of all sex appeal, so you've got the hots for a sweet, young, slim babe and dread telling me about her. Am I warm?"

"You're crazy." He reached across the small round table and pulled her to her feet. When she was standing before him, he splayed his hands over her distended abdomen. "I love your belly button, inny or outy."

He kissed it through her loose cotton nightgown. Some of the coarser whiskers of his mustache penetrated the sheer fabric and tickled her skin. "I love the baby. I love you. There's no other woman in my life and never could be."



"Michelle Pfeiffer?"

He grinned at her while pretending to ponder it. "Gee, that's a tough one. How're her pancakes?"

"Would it matter?"

Laughing, he pulled her down onto his lap and wrapped his arms around her.

"Careful," she warned. "I'll crush your privates."

"I'll take my chances."

They kissed deeply. When he finally released her mouth, she gazed into his worried face. Despite the early hour and his recent shower and shave, he looked haggard, as if he'd already put in a full day.

"If it's not my cooking, not another woman, and you're not disgusted by my bloated figure, what is it?"

"I hate like hell that you had to put your career on hold."

Fearing that it would be something much more serious, she felt a deep sense of relief. "Is that what's been eating you?"

"It's unfair," he said stubbornly.

"To whom?"

"To you, of course."

Amanda peered at him suspiciously. "Or were you planning to take early retirement, become a couch potato, and let me support you?"

"Not a bad idea," he said with a half-smile. "But honestly, I'm thinking only of you. Because biology strongly favors the male—"

"Damn right," she grumbled.

"You're having to make all the sacrifices."

"How many times have I told you that I'm doing exactly what I want to do? I'm having a baby, our baby. That makes me very happy."



    "Heart-stopping!" --Los Angeles Daily News

    "A page-turner...A compelling heroine...Brown has once again hit her mark."

    "No doubt will increase her legion of fans."
    --Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

    "A masterful storyteller, carefully crafting tales that keep readers on the edge of their seats."
    --USA Today

On Sale
Apr 14, 2020
Page Count
480 pages

Sandra Brown

About the Author

Sandra Brown is the author of sixty-nine New York Times bestsellers, including the #1 Seeing Red. There are over eighty million copies of her books in print worldwide, and her work has been translated into thirty-four languages. She lives in Texas.

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