Chapter 1 Chapter 1
Laurie Moran flinched at the sound of yet another horn honking, this time from the pickup truck behind them.
From the driver’s seat, Charlotte Pierce glanced in the rearview mirror and threw up a frustrated hand. “I don’t know where he expects me to go.”
Laurie held her breath momentarily while the delivery truck in front of them blasted out a dark cloud of exhaust.
It wasn’t even noon yet on a Wednesday, but the Long Island Expressway was at a standstill as city dwellers lined up in search of a beach respite from the sweltering streets of Manhattan. The two-hour drive to the Hamptons would be three for them today and creep up to a four- or five-hour commute by Friday evening.
Unfazed by the surrounding snarl, Charlotte sang along blissfully to the Janis Joplin song that was playing on the radio. “Take another little piece of my heart now, baby—”
She flashed a grin toward her passenger. “Aaaah, the glamour of the LIE in mid-July.”
Charlotte had bought this car—a new Mercedes convertible—only a month ago and was still reveling in the novelty of cruising with the top down. She wore big, dark, round sunglasses and had tucked her chin-length bob tightly behind her ears for the car ride. Laurie could see that behind the shades, Charlotte was looking past Laurie to the car in the right lane.
“That guy next to us is checking you out, my friend. Poor dude doesn’t know that you’re about to be a married lady.”
On instinct, Laurie turned her head. The driver of the SUV was in fact smiling in her direction. She quickly looked away.
“Please, he’s staring at us because of this music. He knows we’ll need hearing aids by the time we reach our destination.”
The comment only made Charlotte turn up the volume even more. “Take it!,” she sang, swaying her shoulders with the music. The deep, satisfied laugh that followed was infectious, and when traffic began to move again, Laurie found herself smiling and singing along with her friend.
She had more than her fair share of reasons to celebrate. In four days, she would marry Alex Buckley, who had spent more than two years convincing her that he could be part of her busy life as a widow and working mother. After a small ceremony at the church for their families and closest friends, then a dinner reception at one of their favorite restaurants, they would head to Italy for a ten-day honeymoon. She had not only made room for Alex in her life; they were starting an even better life together.
It had been Charlotte who had talked Laurie out of the idea of a “family honeymoon.” The private trip with Alex would be the first time she had ever been away from her ten-year-old son, Timmy, for more than a couple of nights. In lieu of the post-wedding family trip, though, she and Alex had planned a three-day stay on the east end of Long Island for their immediate families to celebrate Alex’s fortieth birthday in the days leading up to the actual wedding.
For the getaway, they had chosen the South Shore Resort & Spa in the Hamptons, right on the water. Joining Laurie, Alex, and Timmy would be Laurie’s father, Leo; Alex’s brother Andrew and his wife and three children; and of course Ramon, who insisted on calling himself Alex’s butler but was more like a surrogate uncle to them all by now. To help with the children, they had also invited Timmy’s favorite babysitter, Kara.
Laurie’s plan had been to leave the city early that morning with Alex, Timmy, and Ramon until the world decided to interfere. She was the producer of Under Suspicion, a news-based reality television show that reinvestigated cold cases. She had everything ready to start filming her next case special once she returned from Italy. Eight years earlier, a journalist named Jonathan Brown had simply vanished. According to Brown’s wife, Amy, he was meeting with an anonymous source about potential fraud at a pharmaceutical company. When police were unable to confirm the existence of any such meeting, public suspicion shifted toward Amy. Brown was never found, either dead or alive, and Amy was never charged.
After a year of trying to contact former employees of the pharmaceutical company, Laurie homed in on a researcher who was killed in a hit-and-run car accident only one week after Brown went missing. Even more intriguing, the researcher’s widow, Carrie, told Laurie that he had been anxious about something at work in the weeks before his death. When Laurie asked Carrie whether her husband had known a reporter named Jonathan Brown, Carrie had looked confused until Laurie reminded her that Brown was a reporter who had disappeared a week before her husband’s car accident.
Carrie’s face had gone white.
“No,” she said. “Or at least, I never thought so. But I remember him shaking like a leaf when a news report came on saying that this journalist had gone missing. I asked him why he was so upset, and he said something vague—like it was sad that someone with a family could just disappear.”
Laurie was convinced that the dead researcher had been Brown’s anonymous source. She had been planning to use what Carrie and Amy knew about their husbands to pressure the pharmaceutical company to answer her other questions.
She felt a nudge on her left forearm. “Hello? Earth to Laurie.” Traffic was moving again, and Charlotte turned down the radio so they could hear each other. “You look worried. Why are you worried? You have all of the logistics for Alex’s birthday locked down like clockwork. The wedding and honeymoon, too. Your mind went back to work, didn’t it?”
Indeed, it had. She had woken up that morning to find late-night emails from both Carrie and Amy, declaring a “change of heart” (Carrie) and a “panic attack” (Amy). Both of them, on the same night, had suddenly changed their minds about the investigation. Neither would be appearing on Under Suspicion.
Laurie had spent most of the morning trying to reach both women by every means possible. She had been planning to continue her efforts during the drive to the Hamptons, but just as Ramon was loading their bags into the trunk of the car, she received back-to-back emails again. This time, they were from two different lawyers, requesting that she cease all efforts to contact their respective clients, Carrie and Amy. Whether the women had been threatened or bribed, the implication was obvious. Someone had gotten to them. Laurie had no choice but to pull the plug on a production that was supposed to start as soon as she returned from her honeymoon.
At her insistence, everyone else headed to the beach while she delivered the bad news to her boss, Brett Young. Two hours later, she had gotten nowhere with him. He was insisting that she find another case in order to keep the show’s current airdate. The only turn of luck she’d had all morning was that Charlotte had a summer house in East Hampton and had been planning to drive out that evening anyway. Charlotte had used Laurie’s dilemma as an excuse to leave early.
“You’ve done everything you can,” Charlotte assured her. “You can’t bring two men back from the dead. You reported what you knew to the police, and that’s all you can do. And if their wives took a payoff from the pharmaceutical company, that’s on them. You can’t set yourself on fire trying to keep other people warm, Laurie.”
Laurie knew her friend was right, but she still wanted to do more. Laurie’s first husband, Greg, had been shot in cold blood when Timmy was only three years old. She could not imagine any amount of money or intimidation that could have kept her from seeking answers about his death.
“You’ll find another case,” Charlotte said. “You always do. But you’re getting married in four days, my friend. How are you feeling about that?”
“Honestly?” Laurie leaned her head back against the passenger seat and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on her skin. “I almost feel guilty about how happy I am with Alex. Does anyone deserve to have this much joy in their lives? It’s like I’m sure the other shoe’s about to drop.”
Charlotte scoffed. “That’s my friend, Laurie ‘Gloom and Doom’ Moran. You don’t have to apologize for happiness. You’re going to have three glorious days on the beach with your family and Alex’s. And then Sunday, the two of you start a brand-new life together. You deserve to enjoy every second of it.”
Laurie could imagine Greg telling her the same thing.
When they pulled into the parking lot, Laurie felt the stress of the office melt away. The South Shore Resort & Spa was bright and white and modern. It was also on the best beach in the Hamptons, almost all the way to Montauk. She smelled salt in the air and heard the roar of waves from the ocean and chirps from seagulls circling above. She spotted Alex and Timmy beside a green minivan at the front entrance to the hotel. Alex’s younger brother, Andrew, and his family had apparently arrived just moments earlier from Washington, D.C.
She watched as her son, Timmy, like a perfect young gentleman, opened the front passenger door for his future aunt, Marcy. Then the sliding back door opened, and seven-year-old Johnny jumped out and hugged Timmy as Uncle Andrew helped his four-year-old twin daughters from the van. Timmy had already begun calling Andrew’s three children his “little cousins.”
Charlotte tapped the horn of her convertible lightly with a short beep beep to announce their arrival. When Alex looked up, she saw that his nose already had a touch of color from the afternoon sun, and his dark hair was windblown. He broke out into a broad smile.
Charlotte feigned an enamored swoon. “Look at your guy, Laurie. I’d say the feelings there are mutual.”
Laurie returned his smile. Charlotte was right about Alex and the work that would be waiting for her in two weeks. Until then, she was going to focus on her family.
Amid the joyous greetings, no one noticed the white Chrysler that pulled into the resort parking lot as Charlotte drove away.