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Laura Seton's former boyfriend was put to death after being linked to the murder of 100 young women. Now a chilling note is left at her door that may have come from her dead lover.
author of The Surgeon and The Sinner
Three women entangled with a notorious Tennessee serial killer are terrorized by notes and gifts he's apparently sent five years after his execution. Melanie White handled Steven Gage's unsuccessful appeal; Diane Massey launched her true-crime series with the bestselling book she wrote about him; Laura Seton was the girlfriend who provided the most damning evidence against him. Years after he swore revenge on them all, Laura, the most traumatized of the three, has married, gone back to college as Carrie Thayer, had a child, divorced, and settled into a relationship with Rick Evans of the Merritt (Mass.) Police Department. When a note arrives wishing her a happy anniversary five years to the day after Steven's date with the needle, she's terrified not only of the sender but of public exposure-she doesn't want Rick or her ten-year-old daughter Anna to learn about her past-and strenuously resists the attempts of Melanie, the one person she's confided in, to get her to go public. Meanwhile, Melanie is keeping mum about her own note, and Diane's already had more intimate contact with the sender. As the field of interest narrows from three threatened females to one, Gutman (Equivocal Death, 2001) leaves no cliché unturned in her quest to pump up the peril-the escaped convict who idolized the late Steven Gage, the mysterious online friend Anna is corresponding with, the males lounging on the fringes of Carrie's world with no errand but looking suspicious-but the only one that's unforgivable is the presence in a bucolic landscaping that hasn't seen a kidnapping or a murder in years of two killers, one organized, one less so. Otherwise: The thrills keep coming, lashed on by Gutman's craftiness indoling out inside information and her willingness to keep changing direction like a broken-field runner whatever the damage to credibility. Mystery Guild selection. Agent: Nick Ellison
- Grand Central Publishing
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.97(d)
- Age Range:
- 13 Years
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Chapter OneWednesday, April 5
She almost didn't see it. Juggling a pizza box with a load of books, she yanked open the unlocked screen door, her mind on other things. The smell of pepperoni. The sharp spring breeze. Next week's midterm in Abnormal Psych. In retrospect, these thoughts would seem a sort of victory. A sign that, after more than a decade, she'd managed to reclaim her life. But it was days, or maybe weeks, before she realized this, and by then it was too late. She could only look back, helpless, at the world she'd left behind.
By some trick of gravity the envelope stuck, as if tacked against the doorjamb. Later, she'd try to reconstruct this moment, remembering that first impression. An ordinary business envelope. White. Her name - Ms. Callie Thayer - in clear black type. Later even that would seem strange, but at the time she'd barely noticed. She'd seen the envelope, grabbed it, stuffed it into her leather bag.
For the next three hours it had been forgotten, a time bomb in her purse.
"Anyone home?" But of course she knew they were here. It was Wednesday afternoon, just after five. Anna would be home from school. Rick, who worked an early shift, would have started dinner by now.
Putting down her books, Callie gave herself a quick once-over in the mirror at the end of the hallway. Pale heart-shaped face. Thick chestnut hair. A vagrant curl had tumbled loose from the clip she'd used to pull it back. Reflexively, she unsnapped the barrette, pushed the tendrils back. Last month, she'd turned thirty-five, and today she looked her age. Faint lines around the large, dark eyes. Two deeper creases in her brow. Not that any of it bothered her, quite the opposite. She watched the shifting landscape of her face with hungry fascination, concrete proof she wasn't the person she'd been ten years ago.
"Hey, babe! In here." She followed Rick's voice to the kitchen. He was standing at the sink washing vegetables, the Dixie Chicks playing in the background. Wiping his hands on a towel, he stepped toward her for a kiss. Tall and lankily boyish, he wore faded jeans and Birkenstocks with a white short-sleeved T-shirt. He had dark brown hair and a lazy smile. Green eyes flecked with gold. He looked like a carpenter or maybe an artist, someone who worked with his hands. It was still hard for her to believe that she was dating a cop. As Rick's lips grazed hers, Callie touched his shoulder. He smelled of oregano and mint, a rich, earthy scent. They'd been together for eight months, sleeping together for four, and she was still sometimes caught off guard by the looping surge of attraction. But when Rick's lips moved to her neck, Callie pulled away. Anna was just upstairs. Besides, they had to get dinner ready. "Here. Take this." Callie held out the pizza box, with its cargo of fat and meat. He set the box on the counter, then turned toward her again. She couldn't read his eyes, but she knew what he was thinking.
"Don't you have things to do?" she murmured with mock severity. "Like this?"
As he ran a hand down the curve of her back, something inside her sparked. She let her eyes drift shut, her head resting on his shoulder. He pressed against her rhythmically, once, twice, again. "Not now," she whispered into his chest. "Come on, Rick. Please."
Still, she was almost disappointed when he dropped his arms and stepped away. A last chaste kiss on the cheek, and he was back at the kitchen sink. For a moment, Callie stood where he'd left her, flushed and slightly bereft. Then she went to the refrigerator and grabbed a San Pellegrino. She took a glass from a cabinet, sat down at the table.
"Tough day?" Rick's back was turned to her, and she couldn't see his face.
"Not too bad, really." Callie took a sip of sparkling water, the bubbles sharp in her mouth.
Roseanne Cash was playing now, a song about the wheel going 'round. Outside, the sky was a dappled gray, streaked with red and gold. Callie watched as Rick moved easily through the snug brightness of the kitchen. He pulled three plates from a cupboard, tasted the salad dressing. The flash of arousal she'd felt was gone, replaced with a sense of contentment. A delicious awareness that, just for now, all was as it should be. "You want me to help?" Callie asked. "Nope, we're pretty much set."
Again, her eyes moved over the room, a scene of order and comfort. Notched pine floor, granite counters, pots hanging on the wall. Fresh herbs growing on the windowsill: tarragon, basil, thyme. It was the life she'd wanted for herself but most of all for Anna. Callie thought, as she often did, how lucky they were to live here, in this cozy Cape Cod cottage in this picture-perfect town.
Merritt, Massachusetts. Population: 30,000. White-steepled churches. Brick storefronts. Astounding autumn foliage. A place where kids still went out to play without the bother of play dates.
It was more than six years since she'd moved here, an anxious single mother and student. She'd attended Windham College on an Abbott Scholarship, a special grant for older "nontraditional" students working on their B.A.'s. She'd majored in English and, three years later, graduated with high honors. By then, she'd bought the house and fallen in love with the town. They'd lived here for going on seven years, and it was lucky she'd bought when she did. She'd been astonished when the house across the street sold last year for more than six hundred grand, purchased by a wealthy family moving from outside Boston. Bernie Creighton had kept his job in the city, commuting two hours each way. It was worth it, he and his wife said, for the quality of life. It seemed a little ridiculous - what was wrong with the suburbs? - but their youngest child, Henry, was Anna's best friend, so Callie was hardly complaining.
She herself had once considered a move to Boston, where job prospects would be better. But after a stressful round of interviews, she'd decided to stay put. She already had the house. And if salaries were low in Merritt, so were her expenses. After finishing her degree, she'd gone to work in Windham's alumni office, a job that gave her flexibility and ample time with Anna. Now that Anna was older, Callie was back in school part-time. She'd switched her focus to psychology and hoped to go on to grad school. Rick was chopping carrots, intently watching the knife. The steel made a muffled clicking sound on the wooden cutting board. He brought to cooking the same dedication he brought to making love. Callie had teased him about it once, his rapt concentration.
"The kitchen," he'd said seriously, "is the most dangerous room in the house." An odd thing to say, she'd thought at the time, though probably accurate. "So how're things going?" Callie asked. "Did you talk to your dad today?"
"I'm going back down this weekend," Rick said. "I got a cheap flight on Saturday." Callie looked up, concerned. "But I thought the tests were normal. The electrocardiogram."
Rick put down the knife. Picking up the cutting board, he dumped carrots into the salad. "It wasn't definitive. Now they want to do this thing called a thallium stress test. To find out how much blood is getting to different parts of the heart. Depending on what they find out-"
The phone rang sharply behind her, a shrill bleating sound. "Go ahead," Rick said, tossing his head back toward it. Turning in her chair, Callie picked up. "Hello?" She recognized the voice immediately, soft and hesitant. "Nathan, I'm really sorry, but we're about to sit down to dinner."
"Oh, sure. Sorry." Callie imagined him flushing crimson on the other end of the phone. She'd never known a boy or man who blushed so easily. She'd met Nathan Lacoste last fall in Introductory Psych. A Windham junior, twenty years old, he'd somehow latched onto her. Smart, she thought, and not bad looking but painfully self-conscious.
She could tell he'd had trouble making friends, and she tried to be kind to him, remembering the pain of feeling lost and alone during her own years in college. Lately, though, she'd come to wish that she'd kept a bit more distance. He'd taken to calling her at home much more than she liked. "I'll let you go. To eat." But Nathan didn't hang up. For someone almost pathologically shy, he could be very persistent. "I ... could you just tell me what you're having?"
"Excuse me?" Callie was barely listening. She shouldn't have picked up the phone. As she watched Rick finish the salad, she thought how tired he looked. His parents lived in North Carolina, outside Chapel Hill. This would be his third trip in the past six weeks, and the travels were taking a toll. "I was wondering what you're having. To eat. I was sort of feeling hungry, but, I don't know, I couldn't think what to make." He seemed to be angling for an invitation. She had to get off the phone. "Pizza," she said shortly. "Pepperoni pizza. And salad." "Pepperoni pizza." He slowly repeated the words. "That sounds good. What kind of salad? You know, I never know what to put in the dressing. Sometimes I buy it, but I think that's stupid. It costs-"
"Listen, I really have to go. We'll talk tomorrow, okay?" "Yeah, okay. Sure." She could tell he was hurt, felt a twinge of guilt, then told herself he wasn't her problem. She could be Nathan's friend to a point, but she wasn't going to adopt him. "Who was that?" Rick asked when she'd hung up the phone. "Nathan Lacoste. You know, that kid I told you about." "The weird one?"
"Well ..." Callie stopped. It was as good a description as any. "Yeah. That's the one." "He calls you a lot." "Not that much." Annoyed as she'd been with Nathan, she could still feel sorry for him. "A couple of times a week, maybe. I'm a mother figure or something." "Or something." Callie shook her head. "Oh, come on, Rick. He's a kid. He's lonely." She paused, still carefully watching him, ready to drop the subject. "So what about your dad? What were you telling me?" "I think I pretty much said everything. Hey, could you set the table?" Callie pulled out three place mats, red-and-white-checked gingham. "So you're leaving on Saturday?" "Right."
"I could drive you to Hartford. To the airport." "I've got an early flight." From upstairs, the sound of canned laughter exploded from Anna's room. "How's she doing?" Callie gestured toward the stairs. "Good. She's fine." "Really?" "Sure. She came home. I said, 'How was school?' She said, 'Okay.' Then she grabbed a bag of cookies and went upstairs. No complaints." "She's supposed to set the table before she goes upstairs." "I guess she forgot." Callie sighed. "She didn't forget." "Well, then, I guess she just didn't want to."
After she'd set out the silverware, Callie plopped back in her chair. "I wish she-" "Just give her some time, Callie. She's still not used to having someone else around. She's used to having you to herself."
"I know. You're right. I just - I just wish it was easier for her. It's not like we just met. She's had time to get to know you. I don't know what the problem is."
"Let it go, Cal. She'll come around in time. Once she sees that I'm not going anywhere."
Once she sees that I'm not going anywhere. The words were like a gift that she welcomed but didn't quite expect. Her mind held them awkwardly, uncertain where to put them. "I thought ten was supposed to be easier," she finally said. "I was reading somewhere that nine is a hard age, then things settle down at ten. It's supposed to be one of the ages of equilibrium. I thought there'd be some, you know, break before she's a teenager." "Kids are individuals. They don't grow according to plan." A pause. Callie stretched her arms overhead, then folded one at the elbow and dropped it behind her back. Using the other hand, she pressed down on the upper arm. A yoga stretch she'd learned years ago, back when she did such things. "At least she's speaking to you," Callie said. "I guess that's an improvement."
"There you go." Dropping the other arm, Callie repeated the stretch, this time on the other side. She was more tired than she'd realized. She'd love to go to bed early tonight, but she still had reading to do. If she let herself get behind, she'd be screwed by the end of the school year. She was way beyond the age when all-nighters seemed like fun. "Ready to eat?" Rick was pulling the pizza from the oven, where he'd stuck it to keep warm. The yeasty scent of dough wafted through the room. Callie looked at him and smiled, the tension subsiding again. She loved their Wednesday pizza nights, haphazard and slightly festive. She got to her feet, stretched again, and headed toward the stairs.
"Just put it on the table. I'll go get Anna," she said.
DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT PERMISSION THIS MEANS YOU!!!!! ANYONE WHO COMES IN WITHOUT ASKING WILL BE IN TROUBLE WITH THE LAW RICK EVANS YOU CANNOT COME INTO MY ROOM Signed, Anna Elizabeth Thayer
The sign on Anna's door was a new addition. With a slight sinking feeling, Callie read the words again. She thought about what Rick had said downstairs, how Anna was simply jealous. The sign on the door was like a cry for help, or at least a cry for attention. Callie knocked on the door. No answer. From inside, she heard a cartoon character's high-pitched, excited voice. The words were followed by a bonking sound, then a whistling and a crash. Callie knocked again, louder this time, then cracked open the door. "Hi, bug."
Anna was sprawled on her bed in a sea of stuffed animals. She was wearing gray sweatpants and a Merritt Elementary School T-shirt.
"Hi, Mommy," she said. "May I come in?" "Okay." Anna's eyes had moved away from hers, drifting back to the TV screen.
The room was its usual chaos, and Callie had to pick her way through the obstacle course to reach her daughter's bed. A hairbrush, a necklace, a black patent shoe, a Harry Potter book. Callie's old computer, which Anna had begged for, had become an impromptu clothes rack, barely visible beneath a pile of pants, skirts, and sweaters.
Perching on the side of the mattress, Callie leaned down for a kiss. As her lips brushed her daughter's cheek, she smelled something unfamiliar, a cloying chemical sweetness that clung to Anna's hair. "That smell," she said. "What is it?" "Remember? We got it in the mail. You said that I could have it."
A shampoo sample, Callie remembered now. One of those minuscule bottles tossed by the millions into consumer mailboxes. A puke-green-colored container with a picture of daisies on the label.
"I like your usual better." "But Mom, that's baby shampoo." "They just call it that because it doesn't sting your eyes. I use it, and I'm not a baby."
"Mom." Anna rolled her eyes toward the ceiling, as if her mother's views on this subject were too embarrassing to consider. Callie sighed, and sat back. There'd been more and more of these moments lately, and she had to pick her battles. The mess in Anna's room, for example, was something she didn't push. Maybe once a month or so, she'd insist on a full-scale cleanup.
Excerpted from The Anniversary by Amy Gutman Copyright © 2003 by Amy Gutman. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Amy Gutman is an honors graduate of Harvard-Radcliffe College and the Harvard Law School. She practiced law for four years at a top law firm in New York City and has worked as a journalist in Washington D.C., Tennessee and Mississippi. She is the author of Equivocal Death.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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I loved this book. I bought this book not knowing what to expect and I was blown away by all of the twist, turns and an amazing storyline.
It keeps you on the edge of your seat, and I couldn't put it down and ended up finishing it in less than two days! She's a great author I can't wait to read her other books!
The published reviews for the novel in hardback were enough for me to indulge in this well-written thriller. Amy Gutman is a great writer and has managed to keep away from the 'romance fluff' this kind of story could have easily garnered. Well worth your time.
He is credited with strangling to death over one hundred women and then having sex with them postmortem. His crimes not only impacted the victims themselves but the victim¿s families, his lawyer and his girlfriend who was the state¿s star witness during his trial. On the anniversary of his death five years after Steven Gage was executed by the state of Tennessee, three women receive a note saying ¿Happy Anniversary, I haven¿t forgotten you!¿ When Callie Thayer receives the note, she immediately knows what it means and is afraid that her new life in Merritt, Massachusetts will be destroyed when the truth comes out. Melanie White, once Steven¿s lawyer and now practicing in New York City doesn¿t make the connection until Carrie calls her asking for help. True Crime writer Dianne Massey, whose book about Steven skyrocketed her to fame doesn¿t take the note seriously. By the time the dust settles one will die, one will be severely injured and the last will fight for her life against a killer who is determined to have his vengeance. Every once in a while, a book come along that is so exciting and chilling that the reader instinctively knows it will become a bestseller. THE ANNIVERSARY is such a book with its speed of light pacing and its action packed plot focusing on three females in peril. Try as one might, nobody will guess the identity of the killer until the author chooses to reveal the identity. Harriet Klausner