The Cove (FBI Series #1)

The Cove (FBI Series #1)

by Catherine Coulter

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A picturesque town. A woman on the run. An undercover agent. The first riveting novel in Catherine Coulter's #1 New York Times bestselling FBI Thriller series.

Sally Brainerd can't remember what happened the night her father was murdered. Maybe she did it. Or maybe it was her poor, traumatized mother. Either way, the safest place for her is far away from Washington, D.C.. But while her aunt's home in The Cove should be a quiet refuge, Sally can't shake the feeling that there's something not quite right about the postcard perfect little town.

Despite his target's checkered past and convenient memory loss, FBI Special Agent James Quinlan isn't convinced she's the killer—but maybe she knows who is. As he uses his cover to get close to Sally and unearth the memories her mind has hidden away, James can't deny his connection to the troubled woman. But as their lies and passions intertwine, Sally and James soon learn they aren't the only ones keeping deadly secrets in The Cove...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780515118650
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/01/1996
Series: FBI Thriller Series , #1
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 21,472
Product dimensions: 6.72(w) x 10.90(h) x 1.02(d)

About the Author

Catherine Coulter is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the FBI Thrillers featuring husband and wife team Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock. She is also the author—with J. T. Ellison—of the Brit in the FBI series. She lives in Sausalito, California.

Read an Excerpt

SOMEONE WAS WATCHING her. She tugged on the black

wig, flattening it against her ears, and quickly put on another

coat of deep-red lipstick, holding the mirror up so

she could see behind her.

The young Marine saw her face in the mirror and

grinned at her. She jumped as if she’d been shot. Just stop

it. He’s harmless, he’s just flirting. He couldn’t be more

than eighteen, his head all shaved, his cheeks as smooth

as hers. She tilted the mirror to see more. The woman

sitting beside him was reading a Dick Francis novel. In

the seat behind them a young couple were leaning into

each other, asleep.

The seat in front of her was empty. The Greyhound

driver was whistling Eric Clapton’s ‘‘Tears in Heaven,’’

a song that always twisted up her insides. The only one

who seemed to notice her was that young Marine, who’d

gotten on at the last stop in Portland. He was probably

going home to see his eighteen-year-old girlfriend. He

wasn’t after her, surely, but someone was. She wouldn’t

be fooled again. They’d taught her so much. No, she’d

never be fooled again.

She put the mirror back into her purse and fastened the

flap. She stared at her fingers, at the white line where the

wedding ring had been until three days ago. She’d tried

to pull it off for the past six months but hadn’t managed

to do it. She had been too out of it even to fasten the

Velcro on her sneakers—when they allowed her sneakers—

much less work off a tight ring.

Soon, she thought, soon she would be safe. Her mother

would be safe too. Oh, God, Noelle—sobbing in the middle

of the night when she didn’t know anyone could hear

her. But without her there, they couldn’t do a thing to

Noelle. Odd how she rarely thought of Noelle as her

mother anymore, not like she had ten years before, when

Noelle had listened to all her teenage problems, taken her

shopping, driven her to her soccer games. So much they’d

done together. Before. Yes, before that night when she’d

seen her father slam his fist into her mother’s chest and

she’d heard the cracking of at least two ribs.

She’d run in, screaming at him to leave her mother

alone, and jumped on his back. He was so surprised, so

shocked, that he didn’t strike her. He shook her off,

turned, and shouted down at her, ‘‘Mind your own business,

Susan! This doesn’t concern you.’’ She stared at

him, all the fear and hatred she felt for him at that moment

clear on her face.

‘‘Doesn’t concern me? She’s my mother, you bastard.

Don’t you dare hit her again!’’

He looked calm, but she wasn’t fooled; she saw the

pulse pounding madly in his neck. ‘‘It was her fault, Susan.

Mind your own damned business. Do you hear me?

It was her fault.’’ He took a step toward her mother, his

fist raised. She picked up the Waterford carafe off his

desk, yelling, ‘‘Touch her and I’ll bash your head in.’’

He was panting now, turning swiftly to face her again,

no more calm expression to fool her. His face was distorted

with rage. ‘‘Bitch! Damned interfering little bitch!

I’ll make you pay for this, Susan. No one goes against

me, particularly a spoiled little girl who’s never done a

thing in her life except spend her father’s money.’’ He

didn’t hit Noelle again. He looked at both of them with

naked fury, then strode out of the house, slamming the

door behind him.

‘‘Yeah, right,’’ she said and very carefully and slowly

set the Waterford carafe down before she dropped it.

She wanted to call an ambulance but her mother

wouldn’t allow it. ‘‘You can’t,’’ she said, her voice as

cracked as her ribs. ‘‘You can’t, Sally. Your father would

be ruined, if anyone believed us. I can’t allow that to


‘‘He deserves to be ruined,’’ Sally said, but she obeyed.

She was only sixteen years old, home for the weekend

from her private girls’ school in Laurelberg, Virginia.

Why wouldn’t they be believed?

‘‘No, dearest,’’ her mother whispered, the pain bowing

her in on herself. ‘‘No. Get me that blue bottle of pills in

the medicine cabinet. Hurry, Sally. The blue bottle.’’

As she watched her mother swallow three of the pills,

groaning as she did so, she realized the pills were there

because her father had struck her mother before. Deep

down, Sally had known it. She hated herself because she’d

never asked, never said a word.

That night her mother became Noelle, and the next

week Sally left her girls’ school and moved back to her

parents’ home in Washington, D.C., in hopes of protecting

her mother. She read everything she could find on abuse—

not that it helped.

That was ten years ago, though sometimes it seemed

like last week. Noelle had stayed with her husband, refusing

to seek counseling, refusing to read any of the

books Sally brought her. It made no sense to Sally, but

she’d stayed as close as possible, until she’d met Scott

Brainerd at the Whistler exhibition at the National Gallery

of Art and married him two months later.

She didn’t want to think about Scott or about her father

now. Despite her vigilance, she knew her father had hit

Noelle whenever she happened to be gone from the house.

She’d seen the bruises her mother had tried to hide from

her, seen her walking carefully, like an old woman. Once

he broke her mother’s arm, but Noelle refused to go to

the hospital, to the doctor, and ordered Susan to keep

quiet. Her father just looked at her, daring her, and she

did nothing. Nothing.

Her fingers rubbed unconsciously over the white line

where the ring had been. She could remember the past so

clearly—her first day at school, when she was on the seesaw

and a little boy pointed, laughing that he saw her


It was just the past week that was a near blank in her

mind. The week her father had been killed. The whole

week was like a very long dream that had almost dissolved

into nothing more than an occasional wisp of memory

with the coming of the morning.

Sally knew she’d been at her parents’ house that night,

but she couldn’t remember anything more, at least nothing

she could grasp—just vague shadows that blurred, then

faded in and out. But they didn’t know that. They wanted

her badly, she’d realized that soon enough. If they

couldn’t use her to prove that Noelle had killed her husband,

why, then they’d take her and prove that she’d

killed her father. Why not? Other children had murdered

their fathers. Although there were plenty of times she’d

wanted to, she didn’t believe she’d killed him.

On the other hand, she just didn’t know. It was all a

blank, locked tightly away in her brain. She knew she was

capable of killing that bastard, but had she? There were

many people who could have wanted her father dead. Perhaps

they’d found out she’d been there after all. Yes, that

was it. She’d been a witness and they knew it. She probably

had been. She just didn’t remember.

She had to stay focused on the present. She looked out

the Greyhound window at the small town the bus was

going through. Ugly gray exhaust spewed out the back of

the bus. She bet the locals loved that.

They were driving along Highway 101 southwest. Just

another half hour, she thought, just thirty more minutes,

and she wouldn’t have to worry anymore, at least for a

while. She would take any safe time she could get. Soon

she wouldn’t have to be afraid of anyone who chanced to

look at her. No one knew about her aunt, no one.

She was terrified that the young Marine would get off

after her when she stepped down from the bus at the junction

of Highways 101 and 101A. But he didn’t. No one

did. She stood there with her one small bag, staring at the

young Marine, who’d turned around in his seat and was

looking back at her. She tamped down on her fear. He

just wanted to flirt, not hurt her. She thought he had lousy

taste in women. She watched for cars, but none were coming

from either direction.

She walked west along Highway 101A to The Cove.

Highway 101A didn’t go east.


She stared at the woman she’d seen once in her life

when she was no more than seven years old. She looked

like a hippie, a colorful scarf wrapped around her long,

curling, dark hair, huge gold hoops dangling from her

ears, her skirt ankle-length and painted all in dark blues

and browns. She was wearing blue sneakers. Her face was

strong, her cheekbones high and prominent, her chin

sharp, her eyes dark and intelligent. Actually, she was the

most beautiful woman Sally had ever seen.

‘‘Aunt Amabel?’’

‘‘What did you say?’’ Amabel stared at the young

woman who stood on her front doorstep, a young woman

who didn’t look cheap with all that makeup she’d piled

on her face, just exhausted and sickly pale. And frightened.

Then, of course, she knew. She had known deep

down that she would come. Yes, she’d known, but it still

shook her.

‘‘I’m Sally,’’ she said and pulled off the black wig and

took out half a dozen hairpins. Thick, waving dark-blond

hair tumbled down to her shoulders. ‘‘Maybe you called

me Susan? Not many people do anymore.’’

6 Catherine Coulter

The woman was shaking her head back and forth, those

dazzling earrings slapping against her neck. ‘‘My God,

it’s really you, Sally?’’ She rocked back on her heels.

‘‘Yes, Aunt.’’

‘‘Oh, my,’’ Amabel said and quickly pulled her niece

against her, hugged her tightly, then pushed her back to

look at her. ‘‘Oh, my goodness. I’ve been so worried. I

finally heard the news about your papa, but I didn’t know

if I should call Noelle. You know how she is. I was going

to call her tonight when the rates go down, but you’re

here, Sally. I guess I hoped you’d come to me. What’s

happened? Is your mama all right?’’

‘‘Noelle is fine, I think,’’ Sally said. ‘‘I didn’t know

where else to go, so I came here. Can I stay here, Aunt

Amabel, just for a little while? Just until I can think of

something, make some plans?’’

‘‘Of course you can. Look at that black wig and all that

makeup on your face. Why, baby?’’

The endearment undid her. She’d not cried, not once,

until now, until this woman she didn’t really know called

her ‘‘baby.’’ Her aunt’s hands were stroking her back, her

voice was low and soothing. ‘‘It’s all right, lovey. I promise

you, everything will be all right now. Come in, Sally,

and I’ll take care of you. That’s what I told your mama

when I first saw you. You were the cutest little thing, so

skinny, your arms and legs wobbly like a colt’s, and the

biggest smile I’d ever seen. I wanted to take care of you

then. You’ll be safe here. Come on, baby.’’

The damnable tears wouldn’t stop. They just kept dripping

down her face, ruining the god-awful thick black

mascara. She even tasted it, and when she swiped her

hand over her face it came away with black streaks.

‘‘I look like a circus clown,’’ she said, swallowing hard

to stop the tears, to smile, to make herself smile. She took

out the green-colored contacts. With the crying, they hurt.

‘‘No, you look like a little girl trying on her mama’s

makeup. That’s right, take out those ugly contacts. Ah,

now you’ve got your pretty blue eyes again. Come to the

kitchen and I’ll make you some tea. I always put a drop

of brandy in mine. It wouldn’t hurt you one little bit. How

old are you now, Sally?’’

‘‘Twenty-six, I think.’’

‘‘What do you mean, you think?’’ her aunt said, cocking

her head to one side, making the gold hoop earring

hang straight down almost to her shoulder.

Sally couldn’t tell her that though she thought her birthday

had come and gone in that place, she couldn’t seem

to see the day in her mind, couldn’t dredge up anyone

saying anything to her, not that she could imagine it anyway.

She couldn’t even remember if her father had been

there. She prayed he hadn’t. She couldn’t tell Amabel

about that, she just couldn’t. She shook her head, smiled,

and said, not lying well, ‘‘It was just a way of speaking,

Aunt Amabel. I’d love some tea and a drop of brandy.’’

Amabel sat her niece down in the kitchen at her old

pine table that had three magazines under one leg to keep

it steady. At least she’d made cushions for the wooden

seats, so they were comfortable. She put the kettle on the

gas burner and turned it on. ‘‘There,’’ she said. ‘‘That

won’t take too long.’’

Sally watched her put a Lipton tea bag into each cup

and pour in the brandy. Amabel said, ‘‘I always pour the

brandy in first. It soaks into the tea bag and makes the

flavor stronger. Brandy’s expensive and I’ve got to make

it last. This bottle’’—she lifted the Christian Brothers—

‘‘is going on its third month. Not bad. You’ll see, you’ll

like it.’’

‘‘No one followed me, Aunt Amabel. I was really careful.

I imagine you know that everyone is after me. But I

managed to get away. As far as I know, no one knows

about you. Noelle never told a soul. Only Father knew

about you, and he’s dead.’’

Amabel just nodded. Sally sat quietly, watching Amabel

move around her small kitchen, each action smooth

8 Catherine Coulter

and efficient. She was graceful, this aunt of hers in her

hippie clothes. She looked at those strong hands, the long

fingers, the short, buffed nails painted an awesome bright

red. Amabel was an artist, she remembered that now. She

couldn’t see any resemblance at all to Noelle, Amabel’s

younger sister. Amabel was dark as a gypsy, while Noelle

was blond and fair-complexioned, blue-eyed and soft as

a pillow.

Like me, Sally thought. But Sally wasn’t soft anymore.

She was hard as a brick.

She waited, expecting Amabel to whip out a deck of

cards and tell her fortune. She wondered why none of

Noelle’s family ever spoke of Amabel. What had she done

that was so terrible?

Her fingers rubbed over the white band where the ring

had been. She said as she looked around the old kitchen

with its ancient refrigerator and porcelain sink, ‘‘You

don’t mind that I’m here, Aunt Amabel?’’

‘‘Call me Amabel, honey, that’ll be just fine. I don’t

mind at all. Both of us will protect your mama. As for

you, why, I don’t think you could hurt that little bug that’s

scurrying across the kitchen floor.’’

Sally shook her head, got out of her seat, and squashed

the bug beneath her heel. She sat down again. ‘‘I just want

you to see me as I really am,’’ she said.

Amabel only shrugged, turned back to the stove when

the teakettle whistled, and poured the water into the teacups.

She said, not turning around, ‘‘Things happen to

people, change them. Take your mama. Everyone always

protected your mama, including me. Why wouldn’t her

daughter do the same? You are protecting her, aren’t you,


She handed Sally her cup of tea. She pulled the tea bag

back and forth, making the tea darker and darker. Finally,

she lifted the bag and placed it carefully on the saucer.

She’d swished that tea bag just the way her mother always

had when she’d been young. She took a drink, held the

brandied tea in her mouth a moment, then swallowed. The

tea was wonderful, thick, rich, and sinful. She felt less on

edge almost immediately. That brandy was something.

Surely she’d be safe here. Surely Amabel would take her

in just for a little while until she figured out what to do.

She imagined her aunt wanted to hear everything, but

she wasn’t pushing. Sally was immensely grateful for that.

‘‘I’ve often wondered what kind of woman you’d become,’’

Amabel said. ‘‘Looks to me like you’ve become

a fine one. This mess—and that’s what it is—it will pass.

Everything will be resolved, you’ll see.’’ She was silent

a moment, remembering the affection she’d felt for the

little girl, that bone-deep desire to keep her close, to hug

her until she squeaked. It surprised her that it was still

there. She didn’t like it, nor did she want it.

‘‘Careful of leaning on that end of the table, Sally. Purn

Davies wanted to fix it for me, but I wouldn’t let him.’’

She knew Sally wasn’t hearing her, but it didn’t matter,

Amabel was just making noise until Sally got some of

that brandy in her belly.

‘‘This tea’s something else, Amabel. Strange, but

good.’’ She took another drink, then another. She felt

warmth pooling in her stomach. She realized she hadn’t

felt this warm in more than five days.

‘‘You might as well tell me now, Sally. You came here

so you could protect your mama, didn’t you, baby?’’

Sally took another big drink of the tea. What could she

say? She said nothing.

‘‘Did your mama kill your papa?’’

Sally set down her cup and stared into it, wishing she

knew the truth of things, but that night was as murky in

her mind as the tea in the bottom of her cup. ‘‘I don’t

know,’’ she said finally. ‘‘I just don’t know, but they think

I do. They think I’m either protecting Noelle or running

because I did it. They’re trying to find me. I didn’t want

to take a chance, so that’s why I’m here.’’

Was she lying? Amabel didn’t say anything. She

10 Catherine Coulter

merely smiled at her niece, who looked exhausted, her

face white and pinched, her lovely blue eyes as faded and

worn as an old dress. She was too thin; her sweater and

slacks hung on her. In that moment her niece looked very

old, as if she had seen too much of the wicked side of

life. Well, it was too bad, but there was more wickedness

in the world than anyone cared to admit.

She said quietly as she stared down into her teacup, ‘‘If

your mama did kill her husband, I’ll bet the bastard deserved



Excerpted from "The Cove"
by .
Copyright © 1996 Catherine Coulter.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
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.

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