Tom Hawkins is an ex-Navy Seal turned high-school soccer coach, struggling to forge a good relationship with his teenage daughter, Jill. It's no easy task given the poisonous influence of his ex-wife, Kelly. It gets even tougher when Kelly is found dead in suspicious circumstances.
"If Palmer's second thriller doesn't generate tingling spinal columns, then nothing will." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Moving back to Shilo, New Hampshire, to raise Jill, Tom ignores the whispers about his possible involvement in Kelly's death. Then an anonymous blog post accuses him of having an affair with one of his young players. As the allegations escalate to shocking proportions, implicating him in a sexting ring, Tom realizes he's being targeted by insidious, elusive enemies. Now the only way to protect his daughter is to reckon with the secrets in his past and unravel a web of greed, betrayal, and desperation that stretches far wider than he could have ever imagined. . .
"Palmer scores again with a terrific thriller that has it all." –Library Journal (starred review)
"A compelling and deeply puzzling thriller." --The Associated Press
"Warning: once you start reading this novel, you will not stop!" --Lisa Gardner
"Slam-dunk readable." --Andrew Gross
"A high speed thriller." --Lisa Scottoline
|Product dimensions:||4.00(w) x 7.40(h) x 1.70(d)|
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By DANIEL PALMER
KENSINGTON BOOKSCopyright © 2012 Daniel Palmer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneShilo, New Hampshire, sometime in March
Love can make you do surprising things. Lindsey Wells flashed on that thought as she unbuttoned her black sweater. Her racing heart knew she was crossing a line she'd never crossed before. The hairs of her arms stood on end, as though they, too, were anxious about this unfamiliar but exciting experience. Keep going, Lindsey urged herself. She smiled and released yet another button from its hole. There wasn't any little voice inside her head screaming "No" or "Don't." So Lindsey continued—undeterred, unashamed, and never in her fifteen years feeling more turned on.
Lindsey, known for her cheerfulness, enviable GPA, and deft tackling skills on the soccer field, tilted her head to the right, pinning her cell phone between her shoulder blade and ear. Through the phone's compact receiver, Lindsey listened to Tanner Farnsworth's hard breathing. Her body tingled with these strange feelings. She knew what she was doing was a little bit crazy. On occasion, her mind would flash a warning that something wasn't right with this. Even so, she ignored those nagging worries because that was part of the fun. It was what made her feel so exhilarated.
"Tell me what you're doing now," Tanner whispered in her ear.
His voice. God, his voice alone was amazing. Deep timbred, not quite yet a man's, but not too far off, either. His voice resonated with confidence, and he made her feel desirable, beautiful even. The last time Lindsey had felt this beautiful, she was a nine-year-old girl, competing in local beauty pageants. Those events ended quickly as her body changed and her mother lost interest in shuttling her daughter from one losing effort to another. Soccer was what gave Lindsey confidence in her physical abilities, but it was Tanner who made her feel confident about her looks.
Lindsey unhinged the front clasp of her bra, brushing her fingers against the heart pendant of a gold necklace (or gold-plated, as Jill Hawkins joked) that Tanner had given her. That necklace made her somebody's girlfriend for the very first time. Not just somebody, though, Lindsey thought—Tanner Farnsworth, whose Taylor Lautner good looks, amazing body, and really sweet nature inspired jealous fits from her friends and teammates.
Normally, footballers and soccer players didn't mix at Shilo High School. Soccer players were accurately typecast as the studious ones. Football jocks ate their meals in C house like rowdy animals, while soccer players enjoyed a cerebral lunch in the F house cafeteria. Soccer players didn't take drugs, and most didn't even drink. Sandy Wellford, who'd had her stomach pumped clean of Jägermeister before getting booted off the team, inspired most players to abstain. The going rumor (which really wasn't a rumor, because Tanner told her it was true) had half the football team shooting steroids or popping some sort of speed. But not Tanner. Her boyfriend (God, her boyfriend!) didn't do any of that stuff.
Lindsey's body pulsed with energy. She felt ready to explode from the most scandalous act of her young life. Talking on the phone. Getting undressed. Sharing the details with him. It felt so wrong. It felt sexy. She felt powerful.
"Okay, my sweater is off," Lindsey cooed.
"Oh, you're killing me, Lin. Just killin' me."
She loved it when he called her Lin. It was just so sweet, the way he said it.
"Well, you asked for it."
"Yeah, but I didn't think you'd actually do it. I wanna see."
"What? Come over?" Lindsey cringed, fearing she sounded more panicked than she'd intended. Of course she wanted to see Tanner. She wanted to see him more than anything. But Lindsey was still a virgin, and Tanner wasn't. It had been a source of tension between the two early on, until Tanner assured her it was no big deal. He agreed to a compromise. Kissing. Touching. All fine. Now, add dirty talk to the mix. But the deed? No, it wasn't time for that yet. Maybe after the prom. Prom was only a few weeks away. If he could hold on until prom, then just maybe ...
"Look, Lin, I think I should go."
No! she wanted to scream. Don't hang up. Not yet. Her mind raced with all sorts of imagined reasons for his ending the call with such abruptness. "He's going to dump me" topped her growing list of fears. She felt the pain of her heartbreak as though it had actually happened, and bit her lower lip to keep from saying too much.
"Why do you have to go?" Lindsey asked. Her voice had the force of a whisper.
"I don't know. I'm kind of bored, and you're just getting me frustrated."
Another wave of panic swept through her. Oh no, he said the "B" word. "I don't want you to hang up." Lindsey put her sweater back on but left the front open.
"Well, I thought this would be fun, but it's sort of lame. I mean, I can't see you. What's the point?"
Lindsey again pinned the cell phone between her shoulder and ear as she tied her straight brown hair back into its usual ponytail. The heat of the moment had vanished, and she regretted what she'd already done.
"Why do you have to see?"
"Because you're too sexy, that's why."
"My mom might come home."
That was a lie. Lindsey's mother had gone down the street to Ali's house, probably commiserating, again with too much wine, about their recent divorces. Mother would be home sometime after midnight, and snoring in her lonely drunken stupor a few minutes after that. And her dad had moved too far away to drop by unexpectedly.
"Like I said, it's no biggie. But I gotta run."
"I don't want you to go." You're going to break up with me. I know you are. Lindsey thought that but didn't voice it.
"Well, show me something to keep me sticking round."
"What do you mean?"
"You got a new phone for your birthday. I got one, too. Take a picture and send it to me. Like I said, I wanna see."
Lindsey's face reddened. She didn't debate him, though. Instead, while sitting centered on the green peace sign embroidered into her duvet, with her legs dangling over the side of her twin bed, Lindsey arched her back and took a picture of herself. Her bra was unhinged, though her sweater concealed her breasts. Still, she let the sweater hang open seductively. The top of her head got cut off in the picture, but at least she managed a smile. He's going to think I'm ugly. He'll dump me before prom for sure now. Even so, she text messaged him the picture.
Seconds were all it took for Tanner to get her digital snapshot, open it, and respond.
"You're amazing. I can't believe how hot you look, Lin. Forget Megan Fox. You've got the bod. I want more. I think I'm falling in love."
For Tanner to offer up a comparison to Megan Fox, the latest Hollywood "it" girl, gave Lindsey a fresh jolt of confidence. Not to mention, he said the "L" word (way better than the "B" word), and she could tell he meant it.
"You liked it?" Her voice still lacked certainty.
Lindsey knew what "more" really meant. There's no way he'll break up with me now, she thought. Not when he sees this. The sweater came off. One carefully placed arm across her chest to conceal her breasts.
"Nice. How about more?"
"I don't think so, Tanner."
"No worries. Look, I'll call you tomorrow, if I can."
If! He said "if."
"Hold on," Lindsey said.
She kept her arm on the bed in the next picture. Nothing left to the imagination this time, she thought after sending it.
"Nice," Tanner said.
Lindsey frowned. He sounded less enthused. My chest is too flat, she lamented. She knew that her best features were her legs, long and toned, and her butt. She slipped out of her jeans. Next, off came her underwear. She wanted there to be no doubt. Lindsey stood in front of her full-length mirror. She turned her body sideways so Tanner would be able to see enough, but not everything.
"Wow! Wow. I mean, whoa. You're so freakin' hot. Dammit, Lin. That's what I'm talking about. I'm totally in love with you. Do you know that? I'm the luckiest guy. Give me more!"
"Tanner, I'm not sure—"
"Prom's coming up," Tanner said.
She understood perfectly well his implied threat. It could be next week, or even prom day, that Tanner would suddenly decide not to go. But she wasn't going to let that happen. Lindsey went back over to her bed, lay down on it, and closed her eyes. With one hand she caressed her body; with the other she held the camera so that Tanner would see everything going on. Everything. Her breathing grew shallower. Her heart beat faster. She fantasized about kissing Tanner in the back of the limo. Pressing her body against his. She touched herself as she thought of him.
She sent him more pictures but deleted the ones she didn't like.
"This is for you, Tanner. Just you."
"No doubt. Can I tell you something?"
Lindsey slid under the duvet, hiding her nakedness from herself.
"This has been the most amazing night of my life."
"Those pictures. Promise me you'll never show them to anybody. I'd die if you did. Promise me, Tanner."
"I promise, Lin. I promise."
Chapter TwoShilo, New Hampshire, late August
"I've got ball!"
Jill Hawkins closed in to apply pressure on her opponent. It didn't matter that Jill played striker for the Shilo Wildcats girls' varsity soccer team. Being the player closest to the ball goal side made Jill her team's first defender. Jill's teammates, each of whom wore the same colored orange mesh practice jersey, sprinted into position to get compact behind the ball. The girls moved as a team and kept their opponent from pressing the ball forward.
Jill covered her gap at precisely the right time, and Lindsey Wells couldn't play the angled ball she had wanted. Lindsey faked left, but Jill wasn't fooled. Jill made a perfectly timed tackle and was dribbling the ball downfield before Lindsey even knew what had happened.
"That's how you attack the ball!" Jill's father, the girls' varsity soccer coach for the past ten years, shouted as he followed his daughter's progress down the sidelines. "Well played, Jill! Well played!"
Jill Hawkins lifted her head and flashed her father a bright smile. Tom stopped running and choked back his emotions. An outsider wouldn't have noticed anything unusual in the exchange between father and daughter. But Tom knew not to read too much into Jill's beaming face. Despite the warmth of her expression, he suspected their frigid relationship was no closer to thawing.
Tom Hawkins understood from personal experience that soccer was a game of battles. He had been an all-American soccer player for the Shilo Wildcats boys' varsity soccer team. He also understood that soccer was a lot like life. Both were just a series of battles, each constrained by a time limit—a whistle to end one, and death the other.
At forty-three, despite a full head of dark hair, blue eyes that still reminded people of a husky, the same waist size from high school, and a muscular physique visible even through his Windbreaker, Tom Hawkins had essentially arrived at the halftime of his life. He had spent the last ten years teaching the girls to battle until the final whistle blew. He would do the same. It was why Tom had fought so hard to win back his daughter.
Tom blew his coach's whistle to signal it was time to practice set pieces. In soccer, corner kicks often decided who got the championship trophy. Coaches picked the drills, but it was the captains who ran them. Team captains Chloe Adamson and Megan McAndrews got the girls into action.
"Hey, orange, ball does not get past us!" Hawkins demanded of the girls with the pinnies on.
"Up, out, and far!" somebody yelled.
The girl's kick came at Tom low to the ground and did not travel nearly far enough.
"Nice try, Becky!" Lindsey Wells exclaimed.
"No, Lindsey," Tom scolded her. "It's not a nice try! That stunk, and you know it."
Tom's expression darkened. The girls nearest to him looked at the ground and kicked at the dirt with the toes of their cleats. They understood perfectly well why their coach had snapped at Lindsey the way he did. They had been taught to pound their teammates on the pitch. Outwork every player on the field. There were rules against Bobby Talk (talking about boys). Phrases like "Nice try" and "I'm sorry" were treated with the same disdain as curse words.
Tom had coached both boys and girls at the high school level, so he knew the inherent difference in their style of play. His first priority as coach for the Shilo girls' squad was not to accept those differences, but to change them. He began his coaching tenure by asking the girls as a group, "Why are you here?" Not a single player volunteered an answer. Tom prodded until at last one shaky hand rose and a girl meekly replied, "Because I have good foot skills." Just as Tom had expected, the other girls soon chimed in and offered supporting evidence of their teammate's brave claim.
"No, you have great foot skills!" one said, before then offering several examples.
Boys got their confidence from bravado. Girls seemed to get it from their teammates. Good, because it showed a respect for the team. Bad, because they tended to be less selfish players. They'd look to pass before they'd look to shoot.
"Play like you're six years old again," Tom often instructed. "Remember? My ball! Mine!"
Transforming his players into instinctive, selfish, smart winners depended on his ability to enhance their individual resourcefulness, while teaching them how to work effectively as a team. He applied many of the techniques he'd learned from his time with the Naval Special Warfare Command. Tom often quoted one of his favorite SOCOM mottos: "Alone I am lethal. As a team I dominate."
Tom might have gone on to become a collegiate all-American soccer player if not for the career day event organized by the faculty of Shilo High School. At that event, a young Tom Hawkins had stopped by a metal folding table manned by a navy recruiter. A small television set on that table played a looped video depicting the physical demands and mental fortitude required to become a Navy SEAL. Two minutes into the three-minute production, Tom was hooked.
The recruiter never gave Tom the hard sell. He'd caught the excitement exploding like fireworks in Tom's eyes. Tom enlisted in the navy the day after he had his diploma in hand. College could wait, he explained to his somewhat surprised parents, but the youthful endurance and strength required to become a Navy SEAL could not.
Tom wasn't the only Shilo youth to forgo college for military service. Roland Boyd, Tom's childhood best friend and fellow soccer teammate, followed Tom's lead and enlisted on the very same day. While Tom had surprised his parents by deciding to serve his country, Boyd had enlisted to spite his father's wishes. But motivation didn't matter for shit once you signed on the dotted line. Tom was dead set on the navy, and Roland, who was somewhat prone to seasickness, decided to enlist in the army, same as their other military-bound classmate, Kelly Kavanagh.
Kelly and Tom had dated for most of their senior year in high school. Tom's decision to enlist might have influenced Kelly's choice as well, but not because she wanted to keep their relationship going. Unlike Roland, Kelly didn't come from money and claimed she needed the promised college financial assistance when she got out. Tom hadn't spoken with Kelly since graduation and assumed she'd followed her "go to college" plans. He certainly hadn't expected to see Kelly again when he arrived at a military base in Germany for training exercises with his SEAL platoon. He had no idea she'd re-upped for another six years with the army. It was a chance encounter for the two former sweethearts that altered both their lives profoundly and forever.
Their reunion in Germany might have been the first time Tom had laid eyes on Kelly since graduation, but his attraction to her had never waned. Less than a year after rekindling their romance, Kelly got her requested discharge, gave birth to a daughter, married the baby girl's father, and changed her last name to Hawkins.
The marriage lasted only six years.
The divorce turned uglier than any battle Tom ever fought with a gun.
Unable to get what she had wanted from Tom, Kelly took every opportunity to poison the father-daughter relationship and drive a permanent wedge between them. Kelly believed Tom would eventually cave in to her demands—even if it took years to accomplish her goal. From the age of six on, much of what Jill learned about her father were the lies her mother told.
Excerpted from HELPLESS by DANIEL PALMER Copyright © 2012 by Daniel Palmer. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are Saying About This
Slam-dunk readable, scarily real, and emotionally satisfying. If you're looking for a hero to root for; an innocent man charged with unspeakable crimes; an everyday town riddled with secrets, and a desperate father with everything on the line, look no further than Helpless. (Andrew Gross, New York Times bestselling author)
Warning: once you start reading this novel, you will not stop! Palmer has concocted an adrenaline fueled thriller as former Navy SEAL Tom Hawkins races against the clock to save his daughter, clear his name, and confront old enemies who know exactly where to strike and how to hurt. (Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author)
A high speed thriller. . .Helpless is edge-of-your seat reading. (Lisa Scottoline, New York Times bestselling author)