Read an Excerpt
The jail cell was cold. Cold and gray and ugly. Jennifer ran her hands through her long, taffy-brown hair and sank wistfully against the wall.
The chill reached through her sweater and embraced her shoulders. She shot straight up on the backless bench and shivered. She felt as though something were crawling down her back, something with many legs, but she knew it was her imagination. She prayed it was her imagination.
She thanked God that she was alone in the cell--no gun moll, no whore in wig and fishnet stockings, no runaway street kid whose innocence had just been ravaged. She knew them all so well, but not in the flesh, never in the flesh.
She wondered how she had come to such a state, how she would ever explain to Sam or Dee Dee or Mrs. Walker. Or anyone else she had ever known in her twenty-nine years.
And what would all this mean to Jaimie, her unborn child? She patted her stomach and sighed. She had promised Jaimie she (or was it he?) would someday be born. He (or she) had yet to be conceived. "Don't give up hope,
little one," she whispered. "We've been through so much together." Not for the first time, she wondered about her own sanity. She was talking to an unfertilized egg.
Jennifer would like to pretend that her arrest had been a complete misunderstanding. She didn't belong in a jail in Atlanta, Georgia. She'd only toyed with the idea of murder. A mere whim. An elaborate game.
Okay, so she'd planned the whole thing, but that wasn't the point. Except for a brief dalliance with Buddhism, she was a good, Baptist girl. She knew right from wrong. The Ten Commandments were clear. They were even numbered for easy reference, and number six left no room to hedge.
And hadn't she promised God when she was immersed in the baptismal pool that, if He didn't let her drown, she would always be good? By the third dip she truly believed in miracles, and came up sputtering with a new understanding of what it was to be "reborn."
Jennifer Marsh was no more a murderer than Jimmy Carter was an adulterer.
She was a caterer and a novelist--a mystery novelist. True, she had committed murder twelve times in eight novels--if you didn't count Sir Conrad's death, which turned out to be the result of natural causes. Eight novels that were stacked neatly on the shelf in her hall closet--eight novels collecting layers of dust--nearly three thousand manuscript pages in all.
Stacked next to them in a pile that seemed to tower over the manuscripts were rejections from some of the best publishing houses and most prestigious agents in the country. The story was always the same: "While your characters are interesting, I feel they are not unique enough to carry a series," or "I'm sorry but while your material is exceptionally well written and plotted, I could not become sufficiently enthused with it to take it on."
So they wanted unique. She gave them unique in her last book. Her heroine,
Jolene Arizona, was a left-handed, blind-in-one-eye, bareback-riding circus performer turned Hollywood detective who took stunt gigs on the side when her client list dwindled. And she slept with all of them--every solitary client--employing a few tricks she'd learned on the circus circuit.
Jennifer sighed and settled back against the wall, letting the cold creep into her bones--she didn't deserve any better--and let her mind wander back to the day just three weeks ago when she set in motion the events that would inevitably lead to that cold jail cell: the day she decided to commit murder....
As usual, she'd been hard at work, writing most of the morning. A little after eleven o'clock she typed the words the end on page 293 of Jolene Arizona's first adventure. Tears of joy stung Jennifer's eyes. This one,
she promised herself, this one would sell. The elation was suddenly washed away with a wave of nausea. She pushed back from the word processor and ran to the bathroom, where she stripped off her clothes and let the warm water of the shower flow over her, mingling with her tears. She would not sell her soul for a buck just to be published. She would not.
The roughness of the fresh towel brought her back to reality. She dried off, folded herself into the warmth of her royal blue terry-cloth robe,
and wrapped the towel about her head. She caught her reflection in the mirror that ran the width of the small bathroom. She looked tired, bereft of vitality. Who was she fooling with her dreams of being a novelist?
Maybe it was time to settle, time to make a little fire in the fireplace,
time to clean the closet.
She sighed, wiped a final stray tear from her cheek and walked barefoot into the bedroom. The remote control was where it always was, between the pillows on the unmade double bed. She sank onto the sheets, not caring that the damp from the towel was seeping into the feather nest of her pillow. She touched the on button and the face of Geraldo Rivera loomed before her. Another show about prostitutes. How quaint.
She touched the CHANNEL UP button and Sally's red glasses appeared on her smiling, blonde head. Nice work if you could get it--talking to people day after day who made you feel like you were so much better off than they.
The topic was romance gone bad. What a unique idea!
Another flip of the button brought Oprah's smiling face into view. She was talking to an author. Jennifer lay paralyzed on the bed. Turn it, she ordered herself, but her finger lay still. Turn it, she demanded again, but it was fatally too late.
This was no celebrity book this woman was promoting. She had been unjustly accused of murdering her husband. The trial had been in all the papers.
Jennifer remembered it vividly. It was such an involuted case, she'd clipped several of the articles for her idea file. But the woman had been exonerated. She was not guilty after all. Not only was she not guilty, she had written a book released just last week that was already in its third printing. She was famous, she was acquitted, and she was on her way to living happily ever after.
Jennifer pushed the power button and the screen went blank. Her eyes fuzzed out of focus, a nervous twitch settled into one corner of her mouth, pulling it upward into a half-crazed smile, and her thoughts ...
her thoughts strayed in a direction that would lead her straight to jail.
From the Paperback edition.