How well do you really know the person you love? How far would you go to find out?
If there were one person in the world Dr. Lauren Chambers was sure she could rely on, it was her husband, Michael. Slowly recovering from an agoraphobic depression and still prone to episodes of blinding anxiety, the gifted psychologist has depended on his love and support. So when Michael suddenly and mysteriously vanishes, Lauren once again finds herself balancing on a knife’s edge of paranoia.
Is there more to it than paranoia, though? Private investigator Nick Bradley believes so. As the pair takes off on a cross-country journey in search of answers—a search that yields a series of unsettling truths about the husband Lauren believed she knew so well—bestselling author Alan Jacobson sets in motion a page-turning tale of concealed identities, an assassin’s vendetta, and murderous revenge.
A master of the shocking twist and the ingenious turn, Jacobson builds an exhilarating road thriller filled with hairpin turns and unexpected detours as Lauren heads for a face-off with the most dangerous secret of all: the truth. From the author of False Accusations and The Lost Codex, this is “a book that is impossible to put down” (Library Journal).
About the Author
Jacobson’s books have been published internationally, and several have been optioned for film and television. A number have been named to Best of the Year lists.
Jacobson has been interviewed extensively on television and radio, including on CNN, NPR, and multiple ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox network affiliates.
Alan Jacobson is the national bestselling author of the critically acclaimed FBI profiler Karen Vail and OPSIG Team Black series. Jacobson’s years of extensive research and training while embedded with federal and local law enforcement agencies have influenced him both personally and professionally, and have helped shape the stories he tells and the diverse characters that populate his novels.
Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: January
"I've got her tied down to the chair. I slap her. She likes it, she smiles at me. She wants more."
Dr. Lauren Chambers swallowed hard, then leaned forward in her seat. "Who is this, Steven, who's tied down?"
"Gina. My girlfriend. The others are unconscious."
Lauren bit her bottom lip. This was one of the most extraordinary first sessions she had ever experienced with a patient. Steven Simpson, a forty-year-old state worker, had come to her because he had lost his ability to fight off his sexual urges. But they weren't just sexual fantasies, her patient was quick to point out. "They're torture fantasies," he had said. "There's a huge difference. Haven't you been listening to me?"
Normally, Lauren had no difficulty focusing on her patient. She was a professional, and when she walked into the office, she left her problems at the door. But today was different. She forced herself to look at this person, really see this man, who wore oversize, rose-tinted glasses and a bright blue polyester shirt opened at the collar. She decided that if a dictionary publisher were searching for a defining image of the word geek, Steven would qualify. His hair was frizzy and wild, parted and combed across his head in an apparent attempt to tame it. But the effort had failed miserably, and he looked more like a mad professor than the moderately paid state worker drone that he professed to be.
Judging by what he had just told her, she had to agree with him. These torture fantasies were not merely a benign form of sexually oriented daydreaming.
Though in a hypnotic state, Steven smiled. "She wants more."
"Steven," Lauren said, "you mentioned others. How many women are there?"
"There are four. They're all strapped into chairs. I'm more intrigued by the last one, the blonde."
"These...sessions you have with Gina and her, uh, friends. Are they just fantasy, Steven, or are they real?"
"There's blood. She's grinning at me so I slap her again. There's too many of them, too many women. The blood is coming from her nose, it's dripping down to her chin. I smear it all over her face with my hand. She's laughing. She loves it, she wants more. She wants me to hit her again. But there's a noise from behind me. It's Cynthia. She's naked. She's calling my name."
Lauren suddenly felt uncomfortably hot. She knew she was taking risks by placing her patient under hypnosis on his initial session. Establishing an accurate diagnosis and a trusting rapport with a patient often took the better part of two meetings. But from what she had seen in their first forty-five minutes together, Steven's case required immediate intervention.
Although therapy could sometimes get stressful -- and this one certainly qualified -- she never feared for her safety. Yet something about Steven made the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention. She pulled a couple of times on her silk blouse, attempting to flap some cool air against her moist skin, then refocused on her patient. "So what happens next, Steven?"
"I take Gina, right there on the chair."
"While she's tied down?"
"And how does Gina feel about this?"
Lauren paused for a second. "Does she cry out?"
Steven licked his lips. "Oh, yes. Very loudly." He threw his head back and lifted his hands. "Owww," he groaned. "Like that."
"Oww? You mean, like she's in pain? Is she in pain, Steven?"
He smiled again. "Intense pain."
Lauren looked down at her pad. This man routinely rapes his girlfriend. But is it fantasy or reality? She shook her head. "How does that make you feel, Steven? How does her pain make you feel?"
"It makes me come. It makes me feel special. But not as special as tying her down. I make the ropes so tight they cut into her skin. So tight that they hurt. The ropes hurt, they hurt me."
Lauren's head snapped up. What did he just say? "The ropes hurt you, or do they hurt her? Who's tied up, Steven? You or Gina?"
Her patient did not answer. A tear coursed down his cheek.
"Steven, remember, no one can hurt you here. You're completely safe. No one will judge you. You can tell me everything."
He smeared away the tear with the swipe of a hand. "Gina. Gina is tied up."
"Does Gina say anything to you afterwards?"
"She's angry. She went away for a couple of days."
Lauren sat for a moment, trying to think of the best treatment approach to use on Steven. She knew what she had heard: her patient had clearly stated that he was tied up, which could explain many things. Was he abused as a child? Had he been tied down and tortured by one of his parents? She shuddered at the thought.
A noise in the hallway grabbed her attention and she glanced at the large black-on-white wall clock behind her patient. She needed to bring this session to a close. But what a time to have to end it!
She sighed deeply. She knew she could not leave him in his current state. If she could curb his overwhelming desires, it might keep him in check until she had a chance to work with him further and probe deeper to reach the root cause of his psychosis. Right now, she needed an immediate, albeit temporary, measure to accomplish this. To make it work, she had to take him down deeper.
"Steven, we're going to talk more about this next week. In the meantime, I want you to close your eyes, let your head fall back against the chair, and focus on my voice." She used a calm, melodic tone to relax him. "That's it, just let everything go. I want you to picture yourself at the ocean. The waves are effortlessly rolling up the sand and tickling the tips of your toes. The soft breeze is blowing the hair off your face. Now think about all your anger, frustration, tension...and toss it out into the ocean. Watch it float away as it bobs up and down on the waves, moving farther and farther away from you."
Her patient's facial muscles went flaccid, causing his cheeks and mouth to droop slightly. He was now exactly where she wanted him. She had performed so many hypnotherapy sessions in graduate school that she was affectionately known as the Underlord, a nickname she did not particularly like. Still, it was a good-hearted attempt by her colleagues to honor her exceptional hypnosis skills.
"Each time you feel a sexual urge coming on, when you feel yourself losing control, you'll feel intense pain in your left temple. It will be an explosive headache that will last for five minutes and then subside. Do you understand what I'm saying, Steven?"
He continued to lie back in the chair, his head extended and cocked to one side, his mouth hanging open. He smacked his lips a couple of times, swallowed, then said, "Yes."
"Good. Now, I'm going to wake you up. You won't consciously remember anything we talked about. When I snap my fingers, you will awaken refreshed and happy."
He opened his eyes and sat up, looked around, and focused on Lauren. "What happened, Doc? We were talking, and then...I don't know, you're sitting there looking at me."
"Everything went fine, Steven. You just went into a very relaxed state for a few moments." She glanced again at the clock and rose from her chair. "Next week we'll talk some more, try some things that I think will help."
"I feel great."
"Good. I want you to feel great." Lauren smiled. "This was an excellent first session, Steven."
"What about those thoughts, those fantasies?"
"I don't think you'll have any problems with them. But you'd better carry a bottle of Excedrin with you."
Lauren followed her patient out into the hallway, where the shared receptionist sat behind the desk wearing a telephone headset. The other therapists had gathered in the area, as they all had completed their sessions at the top of the hour. Lauren ignored their burgeoning discussion and looked over at the receptionist.
"Did my husband call?"
"No, Doctor, he didn't. Just like the last hour, and the hour before that."
Fortunately, the bizarre case Steven presented had helped take her mind off Michael, even if only for a few minutes. Lauren looked away and headed back into her office. She stood in front of a photo on the wall, the one she had taken of Michael in their backyard a few years ago, shortly after purchasing their house.
"Michael," she whispered, "please come home."
Copyright © 2001 by Alan Jacobson