It was called a haven for runaway teens. In truth, it was a nightmare, one that ended in fiery violence sixteen years ago. Or so its survivors believed...
Syracuse news anchor Julie Jones is afraid. Her long-dead past was resurrected when a blackmailer threatened to expose secrets that could destroy her. Then the man was found dead -- his throat cut with a knife from Julie's own kitchen. Now a new, faceless enemy wants more than money. This time Julie stands to lose the most precious thing of all -- her teenage daughter, Dawn.
Julie finds herself with one unlikely ally, Sean MacKenzie. A journalist with a flair for the sensational, Sean covers the worst humanity has to offer. Julie Jones is hiding something that terrifies her, and he's determined to find out what. He just can't decide whether his goal is to expose her or save her.
Julie will do anything to protect her daughter. But someone else is watching, willing to do whatever it takes to avenge a past that cannot be forgotten.
Straight-laced upstate New York news anchor Julie Jones has a deadly secret: 16 years earlier, as a teen runaway named Jewel, she fled the besieged burning compound of fanatic cult leader/drug dealer Mordecai Young, with his hidden fortune and her dying best friend's newborn child. Self-proclaimed "Reverend" Young and the rest of his cult, save two other "favorite" girls, perished in the attack by federal agents-or so Julie always thought. But when a blackmailer threatening to expose Julie is murdered and two former "favorite" girls turn up dead as well, it appears the messianic madman may be after the daughter Julie has raised as her own. Her only ally is sensationalist shock-jock radio reporter Sean MacKenzie, Julie's worst professional rival. Suspense thrums throughout due to Shane's (Twilight Hunger, etc.) seemingly effortless skill at teasing readers with surprising but believable plot turns. Just as suspenseful-in a different, delicious way-is the snappy sparring between the reluctantly paired co-anchors; romantic sparks fly between them as fast as witty insults, making this a tasty, tension-packed read.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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September 30, 2005
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Excerpt from Thicker Than Water by Maggie Shayne
Sixteen Years Later Syracuse, NY
Mascara tears were so far beneath her that she could barely believe they would dare skim down her face. She speedyanked a half-dozen tissues from the hotel-issue dispenser and wiped the trespassers off. Then she cranked on the cold water, splashed her face and went still, staring at her reflection as the water dripped from her chin.
What would Dawn think of her if she saw her mom like this? Was this the way she was raising her daughter to be? Weak? Compliant? Afraid?
No. "I'm not paying the scrawny little bastard anymore," she whispered to her reflection. She stood a little straighter, lifted her chin a little higher. "No more. It's over. One way or another, it's finished."
She opened her purse and yanked out a compact. She wouldn't give the bastard the satisfaction of knowing he'd made her cry. No one made her cry. Hell, she was the one who was known for making other people weep. On the air, in front of the entire city. This idiot had jerked her around long enough. The fact that he'd dared to even try -- the fact that she had let him get away with it, even for a little while -- it was beyond the pale.
"What the hell was I thinking?" she asked her reflection, while her hands moved to automatically and expertly return her face to a state of near perfection."I'm not some little nobody. I'm Julie Fucking Jones."
The doorknob of the hotel's bathroom jiggled. She sent it a burning glance. "Keep your pants on, Harry. I'll be out by the time room service gets here with your goddamn celebratory champagne."
Footsteps moved rapidly away from the bathroom door. She paused, glanced down at the mascara she'd just pulled out of the handbag, and grimaced at it."Waterproof, my ass." She flung it at the wastebasket, then snapped the bag shut and turned on her heel to return to the other room -- to end this thing, as she should have done six months ago.
She flung open the door and stepped through it. "I don't know why it took so long," she said, her voice as firm and strong as it was when she was on the air. "But you've finally pushed me too far. It's finished, Harry. You're not getting another nickel from me. You can drop this now, or I'm going to go to your brother and tell him everything."
He sat in the small armchair, right where he'd been when she'd excused herself to go to the bathroom and gather her courage. As if he'd never moved. His back was to her. She could only see the top of his head. The little pink patch where his black hair was starting to thin. He said nothing, probably too surprised. She couldn't imagine why he hadn't been expecting this. Did he really think she would let him keep pushing?
"You can do whatever you want with the evidence, I don't care," she lied. She did care."If it goes public, Harry, you'll go to prison. I'll see to it, even it means losing everything. Nobody wrongs me like this, much less threatens my daughter, and gets away with it. Nobody."
She strode straight past him to the nightstand, wondering at the metallic smell in the air. He always brought copies of the damning evidence to these meetings. Always promised they were the last copies in existence as he sold them to her for large amounts of cash. Always insisted on closing the deal with a glass of champagne. And a month later, he always showed up with another set of demands. She looked down at the table. But the envelope was gone.
She turned slowly to face Harry. "All right, what did you do with the..."
Her voice tripped over a heartbeat when she faced him fully. He sat in the chair, just as he had before. Only now he was dead. The white dress shirt he wore was completely soaked in blood. So were his hands, and the chair itself, his shoes and the beige carpet underneath them.
Her gaze slid to his face again. The slightly open mouth. The wide, sightless eyes. The dark, gaping, bloody crescent in his long, skinny neck. Her body began to shake. A tremor formed somewhere down deep and worked its way outward to her hands and knees and even her head, lips, eyes. Fear gripped her heart like an icy fist as her gaze danced around the room. But no one else was there. Not now. She checked the tiny closet just to be sure, but it was empty. She was alone in the room, and Harry Blackwood was dead.
A wave of nausea rose up in her stomach as she lunged toward the door to turn the dead bolt. She barely got it done before she had to run for the bathroom again, and while she leaned over the toilet, she got so dizzy she nearly fell in.
When she could finally stop retching, she braced one hand on the tank to hold herself upright, knocked the lid down, flushed. Then she turned weakly to the sink to rinse her mouth.
It was as she turned the taps off again that she found herself blinking down at her hands on the knobs. And slowly a line of news copy printed itself across her mind.
Respected News Anchor Sole Suspect in Brutal Murder. Fingerprints Found at Scene. Blackmail Plot and Scandalous Past Uncovered.
"Details at eleven," she whispered softly. She was swimming in motive. And standing in the middle of a visit that spelled opportunity in 30-point type. She closed her eyes.
"No. No, goddammit." Yanking tissues again, she used them to wipe the faucet and valves, the toilet tank, its handle and anything else she had touched in the bathroom. She tossed the used tissues into the wastebasket, and then grabbed a washcloth from the stack, wet it and wiped down the counter, the doorknob, everything. She removed the plastic bag from the wastebasket and carried it with her back into the main part of the hotel room. When she bent to wipe off the nightstand she had touched moments ago, an icy chill whispered along her spine. The envelope. Where was the envelope? What if the killer had taken it?
"Jesus. What is this? How could anyone know what was in that envelope? And why would they take it if they didn't know, and..."
No time, not now, her mind whispered, and she found herself nodding in agreement. She had to move; she had to be smart, eliminate any hint of her presence and get the hell out of here, all unseen. She could not afford to panic.
Moving silently and quickly, her entire body still trembling, she wiped down the dead bolt, the doorknob, every surface and door frame in the room, anything she had even been close to, just in case she had rested her hand on any surface. She was careful, and she was thorough. She searched as she wiped. Every cupboard and drawer. She found a stack of selfhelp books by self-proclaimed psychics on the nightstand: John Andrews and Sylvia Brown and Nathan Z. But the envelope wasn't there. It wasn't under the bed. It wasn't in Harry's coat pockets or his shaving kit, and those were the only things in the entire room that belonged to him.