Tessa Jamison couldn’t have imagined anything worse than losing her beloved twin girls and husband—until she was convicted of their murder. For ten years, she has counted off the days in Florida’s Correctional Center for Women, fully expecting to die behind bars. Fighting to prove her innocence holds little appeal now that her family’s gone. But on one extraordinary day, her lawyers announce that Tessa’s conviction has been overturned due to a technicality, and she’s released on bail to await a new trial.
Hounded by the press, Tessa retreats to the small tropical island owned by her late husband’s pharmaceutical company. There, she begins to gather knowledge about her case. For the first time since her nightmare began, Tessa feels a sense of purpose in working to finally expose the truth and avenge her lost family.
One by one, the guilty will be led to justice, and Tessa can gain closure. But will she be able to learn the whole truth at last . . . and reclaim her freedom and her future?
Related collections and offers
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||8 MB|
About the Author
Hometown:Summerville, South Carolina
Place of Birth:Hastings, Pennsylvania
Read an Excerpt
Tessa rolled over, facing the same wall she'd viewed for more than ten years. Thirty-seven cracks, 192 tiny holes punched in the shape of a small handgun, courtesy of the prison cell's previous "guest." She had often wondered what instrument had been used to make such tiny holes, as any objects that could remotely cause injuries were forbidden. Some days she spent hours thinking about it. It was usually at this point that her circumstances served up a harsh dose of reality. Tears pooled, and she wiped them away with the edge of the wool blanket that covered the thin, worn mattress.
When her thoughts took her back to her previous life, which they did on a daily basis, Tessa did the one thing that helped her to cope with her anxiety.
She lay down on the cold cement floor, hands folded behind her head, and began doing sit-ups. When she reached five hundred, she stopped, a thin sheet of sweat covering her, the hair at the nape of her neck slick with dampness. She stood and began doing jumping jacks, something she'd learned in her seventh-grade gym class. She remembered thinking how stupid some of the girls in her class had looked. A few had developed breasts, some quite large. Jumping up and down with their breasts practically smacking them in the face, she'd been glad to be a bit behind in the physical-development department. The memory brought a mimic of a smile, a rarity. The last time she'd smiled and felt true happiness was nothing more than a distant memory, as though it belonged to someone else.
A lifetime ago.
With the force of an indescribable power, her mind suddenly registered the blatant fact that she'd now been incarcerated longer than her girls had lived. Tears blurred her vision again, and she wiped away the mixture of sweat and tears with the back of her hand. For once, she felt blessed to have the small sink in her cell. She turned on the tap, cold water only — all they were allowed — and she was glad of this missing amenity. The sharp sting of the cold water brought back the harsh reality of what had become of her life.
One day the same as the next, rarely a variation unless an inmate caused a disturbance. It could be over a stolen cigarette, one's helping of dessert being more, or less, plentiful, or the startling whistle from a guard as they observed the crimes committed by the convicts. Tessa learned that nothing was off-limits where the inmates were concerned. Every item was made even more valuable, as the supply of what counted as contraband was limited and the demand so much greater. Contraband was mostly Marlboro cigarettes, which she never touched as the smell made her sick. Stamps were also a hot commodity, as was bottled water and the digital radios they were allowed. She kept her supply meager so as not to seem covetous. She knew this would set her apart from the other inmates even more. Flashing her wealth was totally out of bounds. And she wouldn't do that under any circumstances. She'd experienced being poor as well as being wealthy. Little good either status did her.
On each Saturday and Sunday, they were allowed visitors. For days afterward, the cellblocks were almost cheery; at least cellblock C-15 was. She'd been in the same cellblock since being sentenced to prison, despite the crime she'd been convicted of. This was the least violent of the murderers' blocks, as the guards constantly reminded them when there was even the slightest threat to their safety. She did nothing to rattle their chains or that of the others. She spoke only when spoken to and did not participate in cellblock chatter. She had not made friends and did not want to. To what end? To plan a coffee date upon their release, then spend the day shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue? Not going to happen. No way.
Other than her attorney, she rarely had visitors since she had no close family except for her sister, Lara, who was two years younger. Lara had visited all of six times in ten years. Each visit she had asked for money, and Tessa always gave in and would see to it that Jamison Pharmaceuticals released the money her sister had requested. Lara used drugs, and Tessa suspected she worked as a prostitute when her supply of money and drugs was low. They had never been close when they were young since they were raised in separate foster homes after their alcoholic and drug-addicted mother died when they were just eight and ten years old. They'd never known their father, or even if whoever Tessa's father was had also fathered her sister. They both resembled their mother, and neither had really cared enough to discuss the topic when they were old enough to understand that their mother's lifestyle wasn't considered normal.
Tessa remembered feeling relief when she had learned of her mother's death, and the brief flash of guilt she had felt at her own thoughts. She had been in Mr. Pittenger's fourth-grade class, studying her spelling words for the week. Mr. Cleveland, their principal, had quietly entered the classroom, whispered into her teacher's ear, then the two of them looked at her, and she had turned away, knowing that whatever Mr. Cleveland had told Mr. Pittenger wasn't good because they focused on her.
She had already turned her eyes back to the list of spelling words when she felt a tap on her shoulder. Bracing herself, she stood and followed the two men who'd had such a positive influence on her in the past year. Lara was waiting inside the principal's office when she entered. Tessa stood next to her younger sister, and reached for her hand, gripping it tightly as they were told of their mother's death. Both were stoic as they were given the news of their loss. Neither of them cried, accepting the fact that once again, their lives were about to change. Though they had not been told at the time, Tessa and Lara soon learned that the cause of their mother's death had been a heroin overdose.
The rest of that year was spent in foster care. Hard as their caseworker, Lauren Keller, tried, she was unable to find a family willing to take in both of them, and Tessa and Lara lived apart for the first time in their lives. They'd stayed in contact in the beginning, but after two years, Lara stopped answering the letters Tessa sent her sister through Lauren, and their phone calls were few and far between. Tessa optimistically decided that her younger sister must be happy, and she focused on her own set of problems.
She had been in her third foster home for only three months when Hector and Maria Amaya were arrested and charged with fraud. She never knew exactly what kind of fraud but suspected it had something to do with the "other" business Hector operated in their spare bedroom after he thought she and the three other girls she shared a room with were asleep. People would come and go all night long. Some laughed, some cried, and others were bold and vulgar, their Spanish loud and guttural. Tessa had not slept a full night since she had been placed with them, so when she was told she would be relocating to yet another foster home, she was fine with the decision.
She hated leaving the other girls behind. They were all younger than her and looked up to her. Ashley, a pale, thin girl with long blond hair reaching her waist, appeared to be around nine or ten. Tessa knew something very bad had happened to her family, but when she tried to ask her about it, Ashley would just cry, and Tessa held her hand because she didn't know what else to do. Deanna was seven and didn't speak at all. Tessa thought she might have been a bit deaf because she never seemed to react to the loud, boisterous noises at night. Deanna followed Willow, the youngest of the girls, around like a shadow. Willow was small and dark-skinned, with hair so curly it looked like dozens of tiny corkscrews were attached to her head. She was the sweetest little girl, and Tessa thought she had the kindest eyes, especially for one who was so young. She had not seemed at all unhappy with the Amayas, so Tessa didn't spend too much time worrying about her when she left.
In seventh grade, Tessa was sent to live with the Carter family in Davie, Florida, which was a suburb of Fort Lauderdale. Glenn and Shirley Carter were in their early forties when Tessa entered their lives. Of the three families she had lived with, this one's situation was, by far, the most promising. No trailers or shabby apartments. The Carter family home was a mansion compared to those other places. Painted a pale shade of peach, with a redbrick tile roof and a perfectly manicured lawn with a screened-in swimming pool, Tessa thought she had hit the jackpot. Briefly, she wondered if Lara had had such luck.
She didn't recall how long she had been with the Carters when the nightmare began. Looking back, it all seemed so surreal, so off the charts. Unable to cope with the luridness that plagued her nights, she had focused her attention elsewhere.
School was her savior.
She had studied hard in school and, in her senior year of high school, earned an academic scholarship to the University of Miami, where she studied and earned her bachelor's degree in molecular and cellular pharmacology. She had been a science nerd ever since first grade. In high school, she was a member of the National Honor Society. When she had been offered the scholarship, she knew that receiving it was her only way out of a world of poverty. It had not been easy, but she had delved into her studies and managed to graduate near the top of her class.
The day she had turned eighteen, she packed what few belongings she had and left Glenn and Shirley Carter and her former life behind. Shirley, who'd always asked the fosters to call her Mama Shirley, had truly been sad when Tessa moved out. Sure that she had not known what horrors Tessa had been subjected to, Tessa had merely said her good-byes and never looked back.
After working at Miami University Hospital for a year, she found herself getting bored and applied for a job at one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the state of Florida.
It was here that she met Joel Jamison, the owner of the company, and after working in pharmaceutical sales for a year, she and Joel became involved. Ten months later, they were married, and one month after that, she was pregnant. Six weeks after learning she was pregnant, she was ecstatic when her doctor told Tessa and Joel that they were going to be the parents of identical twin girls.
At first, Joel had seemed a bit shaken at the news that they were expecting twins. She had questioned him on this later, and he'd told her the idea of raising one child was mind-boggling. Two at once, he'd said, scared the pants off him. But a few days later, once he'd gotten used to the idea, Tessa remembered he'd become even more excited as together they planned their daughters' future.
"Twins," she had remarked one night as they'd dined in Coral Gables at the stylish Pascal's On Ponce. She was three months pregnant and had already gained sixteen pounds, something Joel had recently started teasing her about. He told her she looked like a starving Ethiopian. She had been truly offended. Not so much for herself but for those in Ethiopia who barely had enough food to exist. He'd apologized, but from that moment on, she was careful not to completely undress in front of him. When their waiter asked if they wanted dessert, Tessa declined, but Joel had insisted she have the key lime raspberry tart, and she remembered wondering if this was his way of telling her that he didn't mind if she was a bit larger than some women at this stage of pregnancy. Of course, she really had no clue about relative sizes, as no one she knew had ever had twins, which led to a discussion on the topic of twins.
Tessa asked Joel if there were identical twins on his side of the family. At first, Joel seemed angry at her inquiry, but then he brushed it aside, telling her he personally didn't know of any twins but mentioning that he seemed to remember having once been told that there had been a set a few generations in the past.CHAPTER 2
Tessa forced herself to think of something else, anything but the past. The cellblock was beyond noisy, and she remembered that today was Saturday, one of the two visiting days each week. She planned to finish reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby for the third time since she knew there wouldn't be anyone anxiously waiting to visit her, to ask if she was okay, if there was anything she needed. That was not going to happen.
She had loved reading her entire life, and it was her love of books that continued to protect her sanity. Lost in the fictional world of the Brontë sisters, she devoured their stories, anything to escape her own reality. Books had been her escape as a child and would apparently be for whatever remained of her miserable life in this cell she called home.
Randall Harper, her attorney, occasionally visited when there was something new to report. He'd filed an appeal immediately after the sentencing, as was customary after one's client had received a life sentence — in her case three of them — one for each count of murder in the first degree to run consecutively rather than, as was normal, concurrently. Randall had warned her not to expect a decision in her favor, so she wasn't surprised when her appeal had been denied. In point of fact, she really had not cared one way or another. Her daughters were gone, her husband was gone, her family no longer existed. Her life was over, and all the appeals in the world wouldn't change that fact. She had told her attorney not to waste his time on her. It didn't matter where she lived, she would still be grief-stricken and labeled a murderer, despite the fact that she was totally innocent of anything other than, perhaps, stupidity.
Liam Jamison. Joel's half brother. He was the person responsible for her loss, and he had never even been questioned regarding the murder of her entire family. Repeatedly, she had told her story to the police officers. Over and over that fateful Sunday when she had returned from San Maribel. She had begged, pleaded, and finally, she had screamed with such rage, crazed with unparalleled grief, that they'd actually listened to her. She told her story again, over and over, repeatedly, or at least she thought she had because years later, when she had tried to recall the events that had led up to her arrest, she had no clear memory of exactly what she had said to the police that day or any other day aside from her absolute, unwavering conviction that Liam had killed her entire family. Over and over, she had implored them to locate Liam, telling the police she knew he was responsible because he had been molesting her daughters, and that was the reason she had traveled to San Maribel. To arrange a place to hide her girls from the media, which would exploit the horrid act that had changed their lives forever. It didn't seem to matter what she had said; they would not listen. She recalled being whisked from room to room and questioned until she simply stopped talking.
She had told the officers on the scene what she knew to be true. When the detectives had taken her downtown to police headquarters, where she was questioned for hours, so long, that her memory of that day, or it might have been days, was still hazy more than ten years later.
Liam was never investigated; in fact, he was never even located. Sure that Rachelle, her mother-in-law, had whisked him out of the country, never to be found again, Tessa had simply given up on locating him. Rachelle had done a damn good job because Tessa's attorney said he'd hired the best private detectives in the business, and they had failed to locate him. The one thing that they did know was that he had not been in Japan as she had thought when she flew off to San Maribel. He seemed to have fallen off the face of the earth.
The police investigation, what little of it there had been, centered completely on her.
Her trial was short, taking almost no time at all and occurring scant weeks after the deaths of her loved ones, making headlines across the country. While the case went to the jury after only fourteen days of testimony, she listened to the talking heads discuss her life, what her motive had been: a 50-million-dollar life insurance policy and Jamison Pharmaceuticals. Virtually everyone agreed that she should get the death penalty for her greed.
The talk of her weekend "getaway" had been the subject of a great deal of speculation. A secret lover in San Maribel. A sudden hate for her children. Revenge for an unfaithful husband. On and on the murders made headlines across the country, and there wasn't a single ounce of truth to any of them.
She had truly lived through a nightmare.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Sweet Vengeance"
Copyright © 2018 Fern Michaels.
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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.