No Turning Back is a romantic suspense novel I wrote early in my career. It was originally published in the 90s as If You Believe, under the pseudonym Nancy Kelly. I’m thrilled that it’s now available again in this repackaged edition.
They find the body deep in the woods, lying beneath a carpet of wet leaves, eyes still open in a sightless stare. Three dark stains across his chest, and another bullet hole in his forehead.
Child psychologist Liz Havers made a mistake sixteen years ago, and she’s ready to face it. That means confronting Detective Hawthorne “Hawk” Hart, who’s come back to Woodside, Washington, after a case in LA went tragically wrong. His teenage son, Jesse, is finding it difficult to adjust, and stumbling across a dead man doesn’t help.
Bad things never used to happen in the small town of Woodside. Now no one is safe. And the more Hawk tries to untangle a terrifying web of greed and murder, the more desperate his adversary becomes to hide the truth, even if that means killing again and again . . .
With its new title and new cover, No Turning Back feels like a whole new book to me—one I hope you will enjoy as much as I do.
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Beneath the waterlogged bough of a Douglas fir, Jesse Hart pursed his lips around a cigarette and pulled hard. Smoke burned his throat. The vision of a dragon mistakenly inhaling his own fiery breath filled Jesse's creative mind. Defiantly, he dragged down harder on the Camel until the tip glowed scarlet and his lungs filled to their cancerous limit. Exhaling, he couldn't quite help several soft, choking coughs. Gnashing his teeth, he tried again. By God, he was gonna smoke, and smoke with attitude. Even if it killed him.
Ten minutes later he ground the smoking butt beneath the heel of his boot. Wet mulch and leaves smoldered and sizzled. He loved the hiss of fire meeting water. He loved rebellion. Sixteen and ornery as a badger, Jesse glowered into the dark woods surrounding him and hoped like hell Brad was going to manage to sneak out of the house without thunking his head on the window again and waking up the whole goddamned neighborhood like last time. What a dumbass!
Water dripped from drooping leaves, remnants of this latest wash of rain that had pelted down like wild arrows from some wicked water nymph lying in wait in the heavens. Jesse listened. He'd ducked beneath the spreading arms of the huge tree and greeted the wild, furious rainfall with a boyish grin — the kind of smile he refused to let anyone see these days.
He ran a hand through his hair. Sun-streaked brown strands, straight as a stick, seemed to grow from a center swirl at the back of his head and fall bluntly to somewhere near his chin. He had to part the floppy bangs to see, accomplishing this action by flipping his head long enough to cop a clear view before the slick strands fell in front of his face again.
Jesse prided himself on being a throwback clone of Kurt Cobain, lead singer for Nirvana and Jesse's personal hero. In memory of Cobain, a victim of suicide, Jesse wore vintage Nirvana T-shirts and played his music as loud as his father allowed — louder, when he could. The more the room throbbed, the more tribute was paid to the Seattle band that — in Jesse's biased opinion — still epitomized the misunderstood anguish and heat of his generation. No Pop 40 sterile music of today's so-called artists for him. His music icons were artists.
Closing his eyes, Jesse swayed his head to the dripping symphony around him. I'm so happy, 'cause today I found my friends ... Nirvana lyrics. Cobain had been a master.
Jesse could admit he was a bit of a bad apple. Since moving from L.A. the year before, he'd been in a series of scrapes ranging from a suspension from school for cursing at a teacher to grand theft auto. Okay, the car thing was just a joke on a buddy of his, but having a cop for a dad really screwed things up. The excuse, "I'm sorry. We were gonna bring it back," just didn't cut it when your father had to explain it to the rest of the department (if you could call it that in this godforsaken nowheresville!).
What a bunch of crap. It wasn't like Dad was any big deal here, but Woodside's Finest sure as hell treated him like he was. Apparently Detective Hawthorne Hart's reputation preceded him: he'd been an ace shot with a police unit associated with the LAPD and even the residents of Woodside, Washington — two hours south of Seattle — knew it.
Jesse grimaced and spat. Dad hadn't been the same since the shooting. It shouldn't have happened. It was unfair, and it totally pissed Jesse off that the damn incident had sent him and his father to exile, far away from his buddies and life in sunny California.
'Course if they were still back home, Jesse never would have met Tawny Fielding and that would have been a crime. If there was ever a girl worth knowing, it was Tawny. Not that he could touch her. She was way out of range. But he could say hi in the halls and she always smiled and said hi back. Brad had jabbed him in the ribs and giggled once and Jesse had been forced to snap him in a headlock and yank the numbnuts around.
The cool thing was, this summer had been something of a breakthrough for him where Tawny was concerned. He'd actually stopped by her house a time or two, and she'd seemed kind of glad to see him. 'Course he'd always been with Brad, but he sensed she was warmer to him than his buddy. Maybe he was crazy. After all, she was a total good girl, and he was aligned with the losers. You couldn't attend Woodside High and not know where you stood. Jesse had shown up there last fall, looked around, and immediately refused the company of the football asses and computer nerds. Good God, it was hard to find decent friends.
Tawny ... She was gorgeous. Damn near perfect. And she was always smiling. That was the first thing he'd noticed about her. Her smile. Jesse might not do a lot of it himself these days, but he could appreciate its simple beauty and honesty and be drawn to a girl whose joy was reflected on her bright face and curved lips.
Just thinking about her made him hard.
Jogging footsteps suddenly crashed through the underbrush, sounding like a clumsy ox on speed. "Jeezus, Brad." Jesse nailed him when his best friend came into view. "Why don't ya take out a full-page ad?"
"What's your problem?" Brad swiped rain from his own lank, near black hair. His cut was identical to Jesse's, but he was bulkier, with a good-natured freckled face. Brad had to work extra hard to look cool and cop an attitude.
"Gimme a smoke," Brad said, shaking water out of his hair like a wild dog.
"Damn it," Jesse muttered, but he handed his friend the pack and Brad fumbled for his own lighter.
While Brad smoked, Jesse ran his tongue around his mouth and didn't like the way it tasted. Smoking was a bitch any way you looked at it.
"So, what are we gonna do?" Brad asked "Wanna go scare the Ryerson twins?"
"Nah." The Ryerson twins tattled and shrieked and ran around like Donald Duck on acid. Jesse was tired of terrorizing them. Didn't life have any meaning anymore?
"You thinkin' about stealin' something?" Brad suddenly guessed with a trace of fear and eagerness.
The truth was Jesse only had Tawny Fielding on his mind these days, but he couldn't share that with Brad. Brad saw girls as sluts or prudes — period. Up until he met Tawny, Jesse pretty much felt the same way. But he was experiencing something new here. A kind of lust mixed with respect and even awe.
It was a shitty way to feel.
"Come on," he said, impatient with his own thoughts. He pushed hard at branches as he furthered his way down the path into the vacant property along Hummingbird River. A wetlands. Saved by a group of chanting environmentalists who'd linked arms and chained themselves to trees.
"Where're we going?" Brad wondered.
Stumbling over an exposed root, Jesse suddenly fell to his hands. Brad whooped with delight. "Fuckin' smooth move."
Jesse suddenly whipped around and yanked Brad's leg out from under him. With an earth-shaking thunk, Brad landed on his butt, his mouth an "O" of surprise. Jesse howled with laughter. Brad swore pungently and jumped him, and the two boys wrestled and thrashed through the underbrush until they were both swearing, panting, and covered with wet leaves, fir needles, and muck.
"Shit, this is my favorite shirt," Jesse complained.
"You shoulda thought of that before you jumped me."
"You jumped me, asshole."
"That's 'cause you broke my butt."
Jesse half-laughed. Brad grinned in the darkness. And it was then that Jesse saw, in his line of sight, the sole of a shoe. He blinked. The shoe was attached to a leg, and it wasn't Brad's.
A straight shot of adrenaline hit his bloodstream — a total body rush. "Holy shit," he muttered, leaping to his feet and backing up so fast he slammed into a tree.
His fear infected Brad, who was up and beside him in an instant. "What? Are you messin' with me? What the hell do you see?"
Jesse grabbed his friend so hard even Brad's duller wits caught on and he closed his mouth with a snap.
Jesse waited, half-expecting the body on the ground to rise up and arrest them or something. "It's a guy," he whispered.
"Where?" Brad craned his neck.
"Shhh!" He stabbed a finger in the general direction and Brad visibly started when he saw the shoe and leg. The rest of the body was presumably tucked in the undergrowth.
Slowly, gathering courage but poised to run for their lives, the two boys parted the wet leaves and scraggly stems of the plants to reveal a middle-aged man. A very dead middle-aged man. The series of huge dark spots across the man's chest and the hole in his forehead were silent testimony. His eyes were open.
Jesse shuddered and stepped back. "Somebody wasted him."
"Let's get outta here," Brad murmured.
They backed up slowly, twisted, hit the trail at a half gallop and tore away as if the devil were at their heels, which he very well might be.
"Don't tell," Jesse warned.
"No ... no ..." Brad's teeth were chattering. Not a good sign.
"I mean it. We could get blamed."
"For killin' some guy?" His voice was an octave higher than usual. "Oh, come on!"
"I'm not gonna chance it," Jesse muttered. Another scene unfolded inside his mind. An imagined one, but the facts were real enough. His father taking aim, prepared to shoot to kill, his rifle pumping rapidly, bullets zinging into human flesh.
The cold breath of reality fanning his neck, Jesse tore away from the downed body of Barney Turgate. He ran and ran, Brad at his heels, and with the fervor of a religious zealot vowed never to smoke again.
A guy like him needed all the lung capacity he could get.
"... and then I told him he couldn't go. I said, 'You can't go,' and you know what Josh did then? He swore at me!" Deanne Martin said with controlled fury. "So, I told him, 'Get in the car.' He just stared at me. Never moved a muscle. And his friends just stood around and smirked."
Petite and well groomed, Deanne smoothed back her short brunette hair, crossed her legs beneath a sleek, black skirt, and waited, lockjawed, for a response. Her gaze rested on Liz Havers, who mentally compared herself to the furious woman and, as ever, came up short. Liz's hair was light brown, her eyes an unremarkable blue, and she spent most of her time in jeans and cotton shirts.
But not today. Not on work time. Carefully schooling her features, Liz glanced from Deanne to her son, who sat in a chair as far away from his mother as possible. As a child psychologist, Liz spent most of her time listening to similar problems. The boy, a rebellious teenager over six-feet who had to weigh at least twice as much as his mother, glared at Liz behind eyes dulled with disrespect.
"You shoved me," he reminded his mother sullenly. "You said, 'Get in the car,' then you shoved me at the car and I banged my head."
"And then Josh just left with those boys," Deanna finished, her gaze fixed on Liz. "I'm lucky he agreed to counseling."
Liz glanced at Josh. He wore a baseball cap backward over hair dyed a shade between red and magenta. She'd counseled a lot of kids his age. There wasn't much that surprised her anymore, though once in a while some creative youngster did manage to make her jaw drop. Once in a great while.
"What's going on, Josh?" she asked him.
"Nothin'." He glared at her before turning his attention to the straggling laces of his black Nikes.
"His dad's coming to pick him up on Friday and Josh is going with him no matter what he says." Deanne's voice rang out. Josh shot her a filthy look.
"What are you and your dad doing this weekend?" Liz asked him.
"Nothin'." He hesitated. "Besides, it'll be stupid, whatever it is."
Deanne shot Liz an exasperated look that said, See what I mean!
Communication breakdown. "What's a typical weekend with your father like?"
Josh rolled his eyes and refused to answer. Deanne seemed to take this as a cue to belittle her ex and, as a by-product, Josh. "Robert spoils him. Buys him all kinds of gadgets and just plops him in front of the TV. He never takes him anywhere."
"You don't know!" Josh exploded.
"Well, it's true." Deanne rushed on to Liz. "Josh used to love the arts. Theater, music, painting. I've got pictures he made when he was in kindergarten that are just amazing. You'd be astounded."
The past tense of that remark echoed throughout the room. Her regret was so deep, Josh couldn't help but make the comparison: good, then; bad, now.
"But his father doesn't appreciate the arts. Business, business, business. And football." Her lip curled. "He could name you every player on every NFL team, but he can't remember birthdays and he never remembered his own anniversary! At least that's one date he can forget now. I certainly have."
"Can we go?" Josh demanded in a loud voice.
Before Liz could respond, Deanne glanced at her slim gold watch. "We're five minutes late already. Great. Now I'll be in trouble at work." Gathering up her purse, she said, "Same time next week? Oh, I'll have to call you. I've got some important meetings. I might have to reschedule. Josh, hurry up!"
She practically stepped on his heels as he sauntered out of Liz's temporary office. Before she disappeared into the hallway, Deanne shot Liz one more glance of Can you believe this? as if she were the only parent on earth who had ever spawned such an undesirable offspring.
Liz sighed, closed her eyes, and ran her hands through her shoulder-length hair. She itched to get out of her cotton slacks and blouse and into a pair of well-worn jeans. She had so much to do, so many problems of her own to solve, and Deanne and Josh's troubles brought them all too close.
Switching off the lights to her office, she sat in semidarkness, contemplating, though it was only ten in the morning. She had another appointment at two and a house call to make in-between.
Her job could be rewarding. Her job could be heartbreaking. So much of the time kids and their parents just couldn't bridge the gap. Parents were frustrated; teenagers were anxious and insecure. A deadly brew with sometimes tragic consequences.
Josh just wanted things his way, and his mother wanted to punish his father. And so it went.
Locking the door, she left her nondescript office and drove through a torrential summer downpour to a drive-through coffee shop, a cute tucked-away place called the Coffee Spot, then to the little house she'd purchased this past spring. Balancing her coffee, purse, and a briefcase with notes and papers, she dashed through the rain into the kitchen. Small and cozy, it was a haven. Her favorite spot in the whole world.
Dropping everything but the coffee, Liz stood at the front window, passing the scorching paper cup holding her latte from hand to hand. Newly hired by Woodside's school district, she would start as Woodside High's resident psychologist this coming fall. For now, she saw a trickle of patients whose parents were desperate for some kind of counseling right away. It helped her limp financially through the summer, though producing a steady income was the least of her problems.
No, all of this was just window dressing, for Liz Havers was on a mission.
Squinting her eyes, she gazed inward to her own troubled soul. Too much time had passed. She'd left it all too long. Yet she'd been working for this half her life.
My son. My sixteen-year-old son.
She'd moved to Woodside to reconnect with the child she'd given up for adoption not long after her own graduation from Woodside High.
She breathed deeply several times. Air in, air out, air in, air out. Relax. Nothing else could have dragged her back here. Not even the pleas of her best friend, Kristy Fielding, who was having her own personal difficulties and was raising a teenage daughter.
The opportunity to meet her son face-to-face both thrilled and terrified Liz. With more trepidation than expectation, she'd plunked down in Woodside two months earlier and begun the mine-filled process of reconnecting.
She knew where he lived. She knew his father. And she knew also how negative her reception was going to be when that meeting came off.
Her heart jerked painfully. She'd made a lot of terrible mistakes, but she'd been seventeen, for crying out loud! Two heaven-filled weeks with a man nearly a decade older than herself and she'd set herself on this unlucky course.
Briefly, she let her thoughts touch on that insane time and the wild love she'd felt. It had been infantile, delusion-ary, and just plain wrong, but the intensity of it could still take her breath away. He'd been so handsome and reluctant and soul-sick with longing and loneliness. A lethal combination. A seductive brew. A chemical explosion destined to drug her own level-headedness and send her down destruction's path.
Excerpted from "No Turning Back"
Copyright © 2018 Nancy Bush.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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