They call themselves the Serendipity Group, a charitable organization that helps victims take revenge on those who’ve wronged them. But when the group’s hit list leaks, the hunters become the hunted—and two innocents are caught in the crossfire.
A pair of newlyweds are waylaid in Atlanta after a bad storm disrupts their flight to Paris. They are stuck in a dingy airport hotel room—until a stranger insists the happy couple take his lavish suite. But the man’s kindness is a ruse: They are being used as bait, and soon find themselves prisoners of a maniac with a hacksaw—all because of a list of thirteen people marked for execution.
Ex-FBI agent Xanadu Marx doesn’t know how her name ended up on the list, but she’ll be toast if she doesn’t take herself off it. Now a civilian on parole after a career-killing mistake, Xanadu Marx supposedly has three days to live, and the question isn’t whether she has an enemy gunning for her, it’s which one. But when two wide-eyed newlyweds may have become collateral damage, Xana realizes that there are some sins that can’t be forgiven.
Don’t miss any of Joshua Corin’s electrifying Xanadu Marx thrillers:
COST OF LIFE • FORGIVE ME • AMERICAN LIES
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
“There is weather in Paris.”
Scott blinked at the cow-headed gate agent. “I’m sorry?”
“There is weather,” the man insisted, “in Paris.”
“Yeah, I’m not sure what that means, but this is my point . . .” Scott knew there were people in line behind him, people just as frustrated as he was, and he would let them have their turn with this moron—of course he would—but not until his perfectly legitimate questions had been answered in a satisfactory manner. “My point is that my wife . . . it’s still kind of strange saying that . . . you see, we just got married nineteen hours ago . . . anyway, me and my wife checked the weather in Paris before we left for the airport . . . we checked the weather for the whole week, and it’s supposed to be gorgeous, so if it’s a problem with the plane . . . you know, a mechanical problem or whatever . . . then say it’s a mechanical problem, but the flight has been delayed now for almost two hours and it’s already seven sixteen p.m. and we have this itinerary . . . Crystal is all about itineraries . . . and we’re paying a lot of money for our hotel because we’ve got a view of the Eiffel Tower from our room and they have this cancellation fee and so I guess what I really want to know is what contingency plan you have in place so that you . . . so that the airline . . . can do its job.”
The cow-headed gate agent considered Scott’s words, chewed them over cud-like in his mind. Then he replied in a deep, flat-toned moo, “As soon as we receive word of a change, we will let you know.”
Now, Scott McCormick was not a violent man. He had never been in a fight in his life. He had always been the tallest kid in class by at least six inches and had therefore been the object of much ridicule, scorn, and spitballs for many years, but he had always taken abuse with a respectable nonchalance. Even when he had surpassed six feet tall and could have palmed their faces like a basketball, he had maintained this even temper, and anyway, by middle school, he was already ankle-deep in a steady stream of girlfriends and the bullying had ceased altogether.
And so he had never been in a fight, and certainly had never felt inclined to start one, and yet, as this jug-eared, snout-nosed gate agent, this middle-aged man, persevered in his efforts to completely not give a shit about ruining a honeymoon, Scott could feel his own long fingers flex and curl, with his thumbs instinctively sealing his fists into hard, pink blocks.
“Next,” said the gate agent, and Scott brought up his fist . . .
. . . only to feel a pair of soft, warm hands encircle it, calm it, gentle it down to his waist. Crystal stood as tall as his elbow, but her touch, oh her touch, was mighty. Without further word, she guided him back to the waiting area. They sat down beside their carry-ons.
“Take a breath,” she whispered.
He took a breath. He let it go. He thought about his uncle’s cornfield. Trite but helpful. Plus, her soft, warm hand remained wrapped around his fingers, no longer rigid curlicues but now a smooth plane, like hers.
He leaned over and rested his head on hers. Her purple-pink scalp rubbed against his cheek. How he loved the feel of her butter-smooth hair along his skin. He took a breath. He let it go. He thought about her bangs, tipped purple, framing her face, red-brown eyes, red-brown freckles, red-brown lips. He thought about her lips and her lips met his lips and for a moment, he forgot all about apathetic gate agents and flummoxed itineraries. Such was the magic of Crystal Kinkle—no, Crystal McCormick.
“What are we going to do?” he asked her.
“It’s out of our control,” she answered. “Paris will still be there tomorrow.”
“If it exists.”
This was their private joke, stemming from the fact that Crystal had tried—and failed—to visit Paris twice before. The first time had been with her high school. Thanks to a sudden bout of mono, she was the only student in French III who had not enjoyed a week abroad in the City of Light. The second time had actually been with Scott—or was supposed to have been with Scott. Through his job at the bank, he had won a weekend getaway to Paris and had surprised her with the news a month before their one-year dating anniversary. Although he himself could not have cared less about Paris, he knew how much it meant to her. He had told her over dinner at the only French restaurant in their speck of a town and she had become so excited by the news that she had popped from her chair, jumped up and down, screamed, and then wept on and off for a good three hours.
The next day, the travel agency that had sponsored the trip declared bankruptcy.
And so, their private joke, that Paris didn’t really exist and all photographs and anecdotes related to it were an elaborate fiction. A private joke was like a precious and loyal pet, and Scott had felt a tinge of regret at bidding this particular bit adieu. This, of course, was before their flight from Lincoln, Nebraska, had landed at Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, whereupon their layover became a Kafka nightmare.
In the end, the airline’s solution for its stranded passengers had been abeyance. They were all given vouchers for an overnight stay at a local hotel and were assured—repeatedly—that a special flight to Paris would be waiting for them at 9 a.m. Two employees of the airline, recognizable in those bland blue blazers, directed the passengers with ruthless efficiency toward the four shuttle buses.
Once on the bus, Crystal phoned their folks, first Scott’s parents and then her own, while Scott tried to distract himself with an e-book he had downloaded to his phone. It was a biography of Napoleon. Something to get him in the mood for Paris.
If Paris even existed.
Once she had finished reassuring their families that they were in fact still continuing on with their honeymoon, Crystal slid a breath mint under her tongue and emitted a brief teapot-whistle of stress. Scott slid an arm around her shoulders and hugged her close. They kissed. Accidentally, the breath mint traveled mouths. They kissed again. The breath mint returned to its original owner.
“How’s Napoleon?” she asked him.
Scott slid his phone into his pocket. “Napoleon has a low battery.”
He tightened his grip on her shoulders.
“There’s weather in Paris,” she said.
“Who would’ve thought?”
“It’s our fault. We should have picked a place without weather. Like the moon. We should have gone to the moon.”
“Yes.” She rested her head against him. “Next time.”
The Peachtree Marriott, which their shuttle bus parked in front of—the other three shuttle buses having driven to parts unknown—was surprisingly classy. Cavernous lobby. Wood paneling. The hotel employees were all smiling, and all wore a small white rose on their left lapel. The rest of their uniform was crimson wool. A Ray Charles look-alike was playing light jazz on a black piano. Several guests sat nearby on pillowy divans.
The thirty-some passengers formed a line. It was an old habit by now. Scott and Crystal found themselves in the middle of the line. Every few minutes they inched forward. They were too tired and too hungry to chat. But the man at the piano was very, very good, and the music soothed their tired, hungry silence.
Finally, they reached the clerk at the desk. Her white rose glistened with dew. Scott handed the woman their IDs. How many times today had Scott handed over their IDs? There was the ticket counter in Lincoln, the first time they approached the gate agent in Atlanta, the bar in Atlanta while they waited out their delay, the second time they approached the gate agent in Atlanta . . .
And as always, there was the once-over, as the person compared the faces in their photographs with the faces on their heads. What did they see? Probably a basketball player and a punk rock grrl. Scott and Crystal fit the profile, even if, in actuality, the carrot-topped string bean had truly clumsy hand-eye coordination and even if, in actuality, the rainbow-coiffed cupcake at his side preferred the sultry sounds of Nina Simone to the loud growls of Kathleen Hanna.
At least this clerk was smiling. That was a pleasant change of pace. She handed them their room key card and pointed them in the direction of the elevators and advised them to have a blessed day.
The elevator was to the right, and so to the right they strolled, and maybe with a little more pep now that, for another pleasant change of pace, they were going to actually reach their destination. And they would have reached the elevator in good time too had a tall man in a black hat not stepped in their path.
“You’re newlyweds,” he said, pointing, “aren’t you?”
The black hat shadowed his face, but his teeth were wide and white. This was a hotel filled with grins. The man wore a long silver-gray suit that shimmered like the coat of a warhorse. He wasn’t one of the passengers. He must have been among the guests sitting near the piano.
“Want to know how I can tell?” His breath smelled like mosquito repellent. “It’s two things, really. First, it’s the rings. I love your rings. And rings means married. Ring-a-ding-ding. Second—and this is the real giveaway—you’re holding hands! Married and holding hands? Newlyweds! Am I right? You don’t need to tell me. I know I am. But you’re thinking—who is this douchebag and why is he rudely interrupting our honeymoon bliss?”
Which was in fact exactly what Scott was thinking.
The man flashed them his key card, and then waved it in front of their noses as if it were made of gold.
“I have the best room in this hotel and I didn’t pay for it. My company paid for it. It’s not even a room. It’s a suite. Top floor. Got to be two thousand square feet from wall to wall. Marble floors. Marble shower. Jacuzzi. A full kitchen—not that I’ve cooked a meal in my life. And now you’re thinking—why is this douchebag telling us all this?”
Which was again exactly what Scott was thinking.
Crystal squeezed his hand. This man was making her uneasy.
This man was making the both of them uneasy.
“Look—” said Scott.
Suddenly, the man reached for Scott’s free hand and slapped the key card against his palm.
“It’s yours,” he said. His voice had lowered to a confidential whisper. “I don’t need it. I’m here alone. What am I going to do with a two-thousand-square-foot suite? No. It’s yours. If you want it.”
Crystal squeezed Scott’s hand three times. He squeezed her hand three times back.
It was all they could do to keep from exploding.
Managing some semblance of chill, Crystal then asked, “What’s the catch?”
“No catch. I mean, we’ll have to trade key cards. I still need a place to crash. What kind of bed did you get, a
queen or a king?”
Crystal looked to Scott. Scott frowned. He honestly couldn’t remember.
“No matter,” the man said. “A bed is a bed. And it won’t take me more than a minute to pack. So what do you say?”
“Yes?” Scott replied.
“Yes,” Crystal replied.
“Yes!” the man added. “Now let’s get this party moving.”
And so the three of them took the elevator up, way up, to the twenty-seventh floor of the Peachtree Marriott. The carpets here were crimson, although a slightly darker shade than the uniforms. The door to the suite, Room 2702, was rose white, but it did sport a crimson trim.
“Congratulations, by the way,” the man said, and he unlocked the door to the room and led them inside.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Paybacks are hell! And Xanadu is finding that out the hard way. Xanadu spent 30 years in the FBI. At one time she was one of the best … but then she picked up a bottle and never put it down. Her drinking cost her everything, especially the job that she loved. Now ‘retired’, she spends her days with her lover, Em, and going to meetings. She’s been sober almost a year. A pair of young newlyweds stumbles across something called the Serendipity Group. This is an organization that helps victims take revenge on those who have wronged them in some way. The group’s hit list lands in the newlyweds’ hands. Bottom of the list reveals Xanadu’s name. Xanadu has a long, long list of people that may have a grudge against her. But who? And Why? To be honest, I did not like the character of Xanadu. She comes across as arrogant, which surprised me considering where she is in her life and all the mistakes that she has made. When the local police step in, she treats them as though they are bumbling fools and she knows everything. The book started off with a bang … I really liked the newlyweds, who had no idea of what was going on. They became a pivotal point of importance. It seemed to bog down a bit in the middle … but then picked up again. The ending was a huge surprise and just blew me away. Because of that ending, I upgraded my review rating. Many thanks to the author / Random House Publishing Group – Alibi / NetGalley who provided a digital copy in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.
Xanadu Marx is a recovering alcoholic (one year), terminated FBI agent who is also a lesbian. She is the protagonist in this wild romp. People are being murdered and the police are investigating. A young honeymooning couple accidentally witness two of the murders because their plane was delayed and they were housed overnight in a plush hotel by the airline. They also, at the same time, see a list of names of those being victimized and Xanadu is on the list. She begins to accompany the detectives who are investigating the crimes. The story proceeds from there and covers a multitude of characters including Xanadu's partner, who is the nicest woman she has ever known. I won't go any further into the plot, but guarantee the reader will be riveted to its many twists and turns. Thanks to Net Galley and Alibi for an ARC for an honest review.
I loved this book. This is the first book I've read by this author, but it won't be the last. He is an exceptional storyteller and has crafted a tightly woven novel that kept me turning pages just as quickly as possible. A young newlywed couple are on their way to France for their honeymoon when they end up waylaid in Atlanta due to a flight delay. A stranger overs them a room upgrade to his suite. They happily accept, but nothing is free and the room upgrade comes at a cost that they never could have anticipated. Then add in Xana is a disgraced former FBI agent that was terminated after driving drunk into a house. She is nearing one year of sobriety, but then her name turns up on a hit list. Xana could be described as user hostile, so the list of people she's hurt is long. One of them is out to get her, but which one? All they have in common is the Serendipity Group - an organization that none of them had heard of before, but that will change all of their lives. If you enjoy thrillers, you will love this book. I strongly recommend it to fans of the genre. I have added the author to my must read authors' list.
"Forgive Me" by Joshua Corin will be published by July 5, 2016. I had already read the first of this series in 2015, "Cost Of Life", and loved it so I was eager to start this book. Xana Marx has been sober for a little under one year after she drunkenly drove her car through someone's living room wall. That incident also got her fired from the FBI. In her alcoholic state Xana did many things she should apologize for when she worked as an FBI agent. Many times she overstepped the bounds of moral decency in the pursuit of justice and it seems one of the people she victimized in her zeal to catch the bad guy wants their own revenge. They turned to The Serendipity Group. The Serendipity Group is a "a charitable organization that helps victims take revenge on those who've wronged them." But when their hit list gets out and Xana's name is on it, there's no way the police are going to keep her away from the investigation. Although Xana is a pain in the neck to work with, the detectives assigned the Serendipity case are going to need the brilliance of this tarnished former FBI agent to unravel just what's going on. From an innocent couple just trying to go on their honeymoon to Paris to a hacksaw wheedling priest this case will tax even the most inventive detective. The problem is Xana only has three days until someone will be coming after her and if she can't help the detectives figure out what's going on she'll never see her attacker coming. As the second installment of the Xana Marx series I really enjoyed getting to know our main character better. Although a broken hero, she has many redeeming qualities to admire and she's wicked smart. I love a female protagonist with brains, snark and some personal flaws, that's Xanadu Marx in a nutshell. This book is at least a four out of five star, if I could I'd give it another half a star because it's so close to wonderful. Xana is trying to stay on the wagon and get through one year of sobriety so she can get her life back on track. I found her struggle to be a better person added to the depth of this book. This mystery is complicated, not because there's too many characters or overwhelming details but because the situation is just so unique. There was also something intriguing about the idea behind the Serendipity group that elevated the mystery to a new plane. So many of us hate the bullies we had to endure as children or resent the truly abysmal boss that crushed our dreams. There's all those victims of the Bernie Madoff scandal etc. Do those people deserve revenge? The moral quagmire one steps in when considering that question is at the heart of this book and it makes the mystery all that much more enjoyable. You don't have to read "Cost of Life" first to truly enjoy this mystery, it stands on its own. But if you would like to add a new female protagonist to your list of great reads then I suggest you read both books, they're great mysteries with a terrific lead character.
Joshua Corin is a consummate story-teller. This Xanadu Marx thriller is a fast-burning flame of excitement with an ending that will give you chills to the core. A great story-teller can make even a weak story good, but this is a strong story told in perfect tempo and words. Be prepared to stay until the end, and to spend the next several days thinking about the story. It won't let go easy.