Read an Excerpt
By William Patterson
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2013 William Patterson
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was one of those perfect late-summer Saturdays in Sayer's Brook, Connecticut, just over the New York line, when the dragonflies hovered lazily atop black-eyed Susans and the itchy fragrance of goldenrod powdered the air. Monica Bennett stood on the back deck of her house, watching her husband, Todd, swim laps in their pool, his strong tanned arms breaking the water in a rhythmic motion. In the trees, blue jays screeched.
"Todd, honey?" Monica called.
Her husband paused in his swim and looked up at her, the sun catching the beads of water in his russet hair.
"You will help her with her bags when she gets here, won't you?"
"How much stuff can she possibly have?" he called back.
"Not much. But she'll need help regardless."
"She always needs help," Todd grumbled, and returned to his laps.
Monica sighed, and went back into the house.
Aunt Paulette sat at the dining table, laying out her tarot cards in front of her. "Well," she said, placing one card down in the middle of all the rest. "The Lovers. What an interesting way for this reading to turn out."
"Maybe it means you're finally going to find a man," Monica said, pouring herself a glass of red wine from the bottle they'd opened last night. It was only eleven in the morning, but she had a feeling she was going to need some help in getting through this day.
"Oh, no, silly goose, that's not what the card means," Aunt Paulette was saying. She held it up so that Monica could see the image on its face from across the room. An angel hovered over a naked man and naked woman. "Now, it's true that The Lovers can mean romantic love, but as a point of fact, it's much, much more than just that. It's about duality." The chubby woman with the shoulder-length gray hair replaced the card on the table, then turned around in her seat to flash a broad, red-painted smile at Monica. "It's associated with the star sign Gemini, and in some decks, it's known as The Twins."
"Aunt Paulette," Monica said, leveling her eyes at her. "You know I don't believe in any of that crap."
The older woman looked offended. "I just think it's an interesting card to turn up on the day we're celebrating your sister coming home."
"Jessie and I aren't twins," Monica said, taking another sip of wine. "There's eleven months between us. And four days."
She wanted to add that "celebrating" was hardly the word she would have chosen to describe Jessie's homecoming, but she held her tongue. At least for now.
It had been five years since her sister had scandalized them all by taking up with that filthy thieving murderer. Monica would never forget the spectacle of police cars all along Hickory Dell, their quiet little cul-de-sac. That obnoxious Gert Gorin from next door had had her long nose pressed up against Monica's windows for days trying to learn what was going on. When the news hit the papers that Emil had killed a man, everyone whispered that Jessie must have known about it, or possibly been in on it. The police tore through Monica's house and Mom's old house for any evidence of Jessie being involved in Emil's drug and porn trade. They found nothing to link her to Emil's crimes, but Monica was never entirely convinced of her sister's innocence.
"She's done nothing wrong," Aunt Paulette had insisted, claiming she had read Jessie's mind and seen no villainy there. "She's merely an innocent victim in all this."
Monica wondered why she had been cursed with such a bizarre family. Jessie was a rebel, and Aunt Paulette was a loon. She read tarot cards and told fortunes, and honestly seemed to believe in all that malarkey. Mom had been similar. She didn't go so far as Aunt Paulette, her younger sister, and claim to be clairvoyant, but she was always taking about fate and karma and was always burning incense in front of little green jade Buddhas. Monica was definitely her father's daughter: sensible, rational, business-minded.
Daddy would be proud of me, Monica thought, sipping her wine.
Todd might be the real moneymaker in the house, establishing a name for himself on Wall Street as a young up-and-comer for one of the largest multinational bulge bracket investment banking and securities firms, but Monica had shown she could make a penny or two all on her own. Soon after they were married, Monica had dropped out of college and started her own home business, Baskets by Monica. At first she'd just held classes in basketmaking in the room over their garage, teaching the ladies of Hickory Dell—Gert Gorin, Heather Pierce, Millie Manning—how to weave and cut and the difference between wicker and twine. But as word spread among the ladies of Sayer's Brook— most of whom didn't work outside the home—one class had led to two and then three and four. Over the last six years, Monica had expanded the business so far that she now had assistants teaching classes in Greenwich and Stamford, and Baskets by Monica® were now sold in shops throughout Connecticut and spreading nationwide—not to mention their catalog sales. In the latest sign of her success, Monica had just gotten a mention in Better Homes and Gardens magazine. Homemakers who knew what was "in" would never think of decorating their houses without a few Baskets by Monica®—New England swamp ash or Southwestern limberbush—strategically placed for all to see,
Knocking back the last of her wine, Monica dreaded the question that the ladies of her basket classes were sure to ask this coming week: "Who's that living in your mother's old house? That isn't your sister, is it?"
Monica had thought Jessie was safely hidden away in New York. She still remembered the day she had driven Jessie and Abby into the city, five years ago now, setting them up in their apartment—all paid for by Todd, of course, and Jessie had yet to pay them one thin dime of it back. Monica had thought that Jessie, with her bohemian ways, would have made Manhattan her home. But something had happened to Jessie in that apartment. Monica remembered the sobbing telephone call she'd gotten the morning after her sister's first night in the city. She'd been blubbering about her miscarriage, about the baby she'd lost. Monica had had no patience and no sympathy. Jessie might have lost one of the babies she'd been carrying, but she'd delivered Abby, hadn't she? She'd given birth to a fine and healthy girl. Meanwhile, ever since her marriage to Todd seven years earlier, Monica had been trying without success to get pregnant. She didn't envy Jessie much—why should she, given her sister's miserable life?—but she did envy her Abby.
"How is she getting here from the city, by the way?" Aunt Paulette asked, shaking Monica out of her reverie.
"Todd had one of the drivers from the office bring her up in a company car," Monica replied, pouring herself a little more wine—not much, just a splash.
"Well, she should be here soon, shouldn't she?"
Monica glanced at her phone sitting on the counter. She had three text messages. She typed in her pass code and read them. They were all from Jessie. One had come in an hour ago, telling her they were leaving the city. Another had come a half hour later, reporting that they were stuck in traffic. The last text had come fifteen minutes after that, letting Monica know that the traffic had dissipated and they were moving again.
"Yes," Monica told her aunt. "I'd say she should be here any minute now."
And she filled her wineglass right up to the top.
If Monica was honest with herself, and sometimes, when she drank enough wine, she could be, she'd admit that she didn't only envy her sister for having produced a living, breathing, healthy child. She also envied her for something else—something far less tangible. She envied her for her "joie de vivre" —or at least, the exuberance for life she had shown before Emil. Jessie was always the prettier, the more outgoing of the two sisters in high school. She'd been Mom's favorite, too—at least, Monica had felt she was. The two of them had always been laughing and carrying on, taking off on hikes or bike rides or fishing trips; Monica was definitely not the outdoor type. And the boys had always responded to Jessie in ways they never responded to Monica.
That was why Monica had taken such pleasure in stealing Todd away from her. She knew it had broken Jessie's heart—and that did trouble Monica's conscience, especially because of the underhanded trick she'd used to accomplish her task—but in the end, Monica believed, it had all worked out for the best. Jessie would never have been happy with such a button-down Wall Street kind of guy as Todd, and he sure as hell wouldn't have been happy with a hippie-chick wife like Jessie. He needed a business-savvy wife like Monica, someone who strove to be part of the one percent, not someone whose sympathies were always inclined toward the ninety-nine percent. So maybe Monica's means, and her motivation, had been a little shady in stealing Todd away from her sister. But the end really did justify it all. No two people could be happier than Todd and Monica.
At least, Monica wanted to believe that, as she swallowed the last of her second glass of wine.
She heard the tires of a car crunching gravel in her driveway out front.
"She's here!" Aunt Paulette shouted, stumbling out of her chair in excitement. A couple of tarot cards fluttered up from the table, disturbed by the breeze she'd stirred up. One fell to the floor. Monica noticed it was The Lovers.
No, she and Jessie weren't twins.
Far from it.
But Jessie had been carrying twins when she miscarried....
"Oh, she's here, she's here!" Aunt Paulette kept repeating, happily scampering out of the dining room through the sunroom and toward the front door. "And that precious little girl, too! Helloooo! Jessie! Abby! It's Auntie Paulette!"
Monica walked over to the back door and peered out through the screen. Todd was still swimming laps.
"She's here," she called out.
Her husband stopped mid-stroke and looked up at her.
"And now the fun begins," he said.
"Get out and help her with her bags. It's a long hike up to Mom's house."
The driveway ended at Monica's house, and the only way up to Mom's house—now, Jessie's house—was by foot up a rather steep hill. Monica would have to get used to her sister and her niece traipsing past.
She turned away from the door. From where she was standing, Monica could see the driveway through the sunroom and through the large picture windows that fronted the house. A young man was emerging from the driver's door of a black Lincoln town car and going around to open the door in back. Monica took a deep breath. She recalled again the harrowing phone calls she'd gotten from Jessie in those first few weeks after she'd moved to New York, how terrified she had been, how she'd thought she was seeing ghosts and strange apparitions of bloody babies, how convinced she'd been that Emil was lurking somewhere out on the street, watching her, waiting for her. For a while Monica had thought she might have to have Jessie committed. Her sister had seemed to be cracking up. Finding her a place in the city hadn't helped her. In fact, it had seemed to make things worse.
But, then, all at once, everything had changed. A few months after Jessie's move to the city, they'd gotten a call. Emil was dead. He'd been shot by Mexican police in a drug bust in Ciudad, Juarez. U.S. agents had identified his body through fingerprints. Jessie was at first uncertain whether she could believe it, but Aunt Paulette did a psychic reading and announced she could no longer see Emil anywhere on the planet, meaning that he must really be dead. That seemed to convince Jessie.
From that moment on, she'd been like a woman reborn. She'd started writing for magazines and newspapers, and two years later, had had a book published called You Can Survive Anything. She'd even been on local radio stations being interviewed about it. Little Abby, meanwhile, was growing up happy and healthy—and smart, too: Monica had been impressed when she was already reading words at the age of three. Now Jessie had been signed to another book contract, and Abby was getting ready to start kindergarten. Monica had believed her sister was doing fine, and that she'd live out her life in New York. They'd see each other occasionally at holiday times. That would be it.
But then Jessie had announced she wanted to move back in to their mother's house, which had sat empty since Mom's death, up on top of the hill at the very end of the cul-de-sac. Both girls had inherited it, but Todd had never wanted to live there, not liking its old Victorian floorboards and creaky stairs. That was why they'd built this modern place of spun glass and marble. Monica had figured eventually they'd sell Mom's house, and the small parcel of land it stood on. But Jessie wanted to live there. She said she wanted Abby to grow up and go to school just like she had in Sayer's Brook.
Monica wasn't happy that her sister would now be her neighbor. Not that she had to worry anymore about the kind of criminals and thugs Jessie had once associated with; she had seemed, these last five years, to have sworn off men entirely. She was a successful author now, and a happy, devoted mother of a beautiful daughter. If Monica was being honest with herself, and she was being brutally so right now, she'd acknowledge that Abby was the real reason she didn't want Jessie living next door.
That, and the fact that her sister looked damn good again—and Todd was sure to notice. In her heart of hearts, Monica worried that, for all his disdain of Jessie's bohemian lifestyle, Todd might still be hot for the girl he'd dumped in high school.
"Jessie, honey, welcome home!"
Aunt Paulette's voice came lilting in from outside.
Monica watched as Jessie stepped out of the backseat of the car, the sun catching the gold in her hair. Right behind her little Abby came scrambling, her golden ringlets a match of her mother's. The little girl ran straight into Aunt Paulette's outstretched arms.
In that moment, Monica hated her sister more than she had ever loved her.
Stretching her lips into a tight smile, she headed outside to welcome Jessie home.
Chapter Two"The neighborhood still looks the same," Jessie was saying, as she, Abby, Monica, Todd, Aunt Paulette, and Abby's nanny, Inga, headed up the hill to Mom's house, each of them carrying a suitcase. Even Abby lugged a little bag, though hers was filled with dolls. "Does Mrs. Gorin still live across the street?"
"Sure does," Todd replied, as he hauled Jessie's heaviest bag. "And she's as nosy a bitch as ever."
"Hush, Todd," Monica scolded. "Voices carry."
"I found her once peering into my back window," Aunt Paulette said, a mountain of Jessie's clothes draped over one arm. "Gert claimed she'd tried ringing the doorbell, but I knew she just wanted to catch me casting spells or stirring my witch's cauldron."
"Are you a witch, Aunt Paulette?" Abby asked, her little pink face looking up at the older woman.
"No, sweetie, but some of the neighbors think I am."
"Why do they think that? You don't wear a black pointy hat like Elphaba."
"Well, I have a pink pointy one that I'll show you one of these days!"
"That's like Glinda's!" Abby exclaimed.
Jessie grinned and looked over at her sister. "I took Abby to see Wicked five times. She loved the show."
"You're going to miss being able to do things like that," Monica told her, "now that you're not in the city anymore."
"Oh, we're less than an hour away," Jessie replied. "Besides, I want Abby growing up hiking in the woods and catching fish in the brook, not hiking up Second Avenue and catching subways."
She smiled, looking around at the family property. It was good to be home. The maples glowed with a greenness as vivid as Jessie remembered from her childhood. The tall fir trees still resembled the protective sentinels she'd imagined they were as a kid. The birds hooted in the trees as they always did; the brook that cut through the property still babbled like it had in the days when it lulled her to sleep. The family owned seventeen and a half acres—most of it had come from Mom's family, though when she'd married Dad, they'd bought the lot next door as well, adding to their domain. Aunt Paulette had gotten her share some time ago—as well as the little cottage that had once housed the estate caretaker, back when the Clarksons had employed servants. But, being childless, she was leaving it all to Jessie and Monica, so the land was definitely staying in the family.
Excerpted from SLICE by William Patterson Copyright © 2013 by William Patterson. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.