From where she stands in her newly purchased beachfront bungalow—complete with cozy garage for her beloved red Triumph convertible—life looks good for investment counselor Iris Thorne. The only clouds on her horizon are her boss from hell and the never-ending office battles at McKinney Alitzer. But one hot night, everything changes. Her dear friend Bridget is brutally murdered next to her backyard swimming pool, and the sole witness is Brianna, her five-year-old daughter. The primary suspect is Bridget’s husband, Kip—the volatile creative genius behind the couple’s computer games company, Pandora.
Bridget surprised everyone—especially Kip—when she left her majority stake in Pandora not to her husband, but to her daughter. And she named Iris as administrator of Brianna’s trust. Suddenly, Iris must deal with conflicting emotions as the evidence mounts against Kip and she finds herself responsible for the financial future of a little girl—and maybe even the five-year-old’s life.
“An intricate, involving, suspenseful mystery…”
— Robert Crais
“[Emley’s] come up with another winner that makes all manner of skullduggery look as natural as vanity and greed.”
— Kirkus (starred review)
“A frothy confection of sex, murder, and deceit.”
— Publishers Weekly
“What makes you so sure he wouldn’t try to kill you?”
“Alexa,” Bridget Cross chided her friend. “Kip’s not like that.”
“Desperate people sometimes do desperate things.”
“I’ve been married to Kip a long time. There are no surprises left.”
“You’ve never seen him like this, with his back against the wall.”
Shaking her head with amusement, Bridget gazed at her five-year-old daughter, who was leading the family German shepherd by a leash far enough ahead on the packed-dirt path to be out of earshot.
“Stetson, fetch!” Brianna threw a stick and the dog ran after it, his leash dragging on the ground. He picked up the stick but playfully dodged away whenever the child tried to take it from him.
Alexa added, “You never thought he’d cheat on you.”
Bridget stopped smiling.
“The nerve of him, screwing around right under your nose with that Toni person at the office. Of course, you’re the last to find out.” Apparently oblivious to her friend’s uneasiness, Alexa went on. “You think she was the only one? Did you ask him?”
“I would prefer not talking about it.”
Coldwater Canyon Park was almost deserted in the middle of a weekday afternoon. It was January in Los Angeles and hot, sunny, and windy thanks to a Santa Ana that had kicked up the day before, blowing dry desert air westward to the ocean. The women and child were bare-armed, the dog was panting, and the sky was as blue and brittle as glacier ice.
A gust of wind ruffled the dog’s fur and blew Brianna Cross’s long, dark hair, the crown gathered at the back of her head with a bright ribbon, over her shoulder and into her face. She decorously scraped it from her cheeks and patted it back into place while her mother watched, touched by the young child’s newly grown-up demeanor.
“When are you going to tell him?” Alexa Platt asked.
Bridget sighed, almost with despair. “I don’t know. I keep thinking we can work it out.”
“You could, if he were willing. Seems he’s made it clear he’s not.”
“The last thing I wanted was Brianna to be the product of a broken home, but I’m at my wit’s end.” Bridget grew pensive as she watched her daughter instruct the dog to sit and shake hands. “Maybe it’d be easier if Brianna and I moved out.”
“No way! He’s the one who should move out.” Alexa flicked back her long, blonde hair and planted her hands on her slender hips. “Why are you acting like such a wuss?” she complained. “You are afraid of him, aren’t you?”
Bridget suddenly put out a warning hand for her friend to stop talking. She turned and frowned at the empty lane behind them.
The child, oblivious, continued playing and chatting to herself and the dog several yards away. Stetson, however, was looking in the same direction as Bridget, his ears pricked.
“What’s wrong?” Alexa peered down the path but didn’t see anyone.
The dog cocked his head and began to whimper at the sound of heavy footsteps on the sandy dirt.
A man with stringy, shoulder-length hair and dressed in a khaki uniform rounded the curve.
“It’s that groundskeeper guy,” Alexa remarked under her breath.
Bridget exhaled with relief. “Afternoon.”
He mumbled a greeting as he passed, not meeting their eyes. They watched as he disappeared around a bend in the path ahead of them.
“Ugh,” Alexa commented. “He was staring at me when I was waiting for you in the parking lot. Gives me the creeps.”
Bridget shook her head and resumed walking.
“What?” Alexa stroked her friend’s arm. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
Bridget paused, as if debating whether to respond. “Lately, I’ve felt like someone’s been following me. Watching me.”
Alexa frowned. “When?”
“Last week, in the parking lot at the office. Then, a few days later, at home outside the French doors.”
“On the patio? Did you see anyone?”
“No. Just movement, a shape silhouetted by the pool light. The dog started barking, so I know I wasn’t imagining it.”
“Was Kip home?”
“He was at Pandora, working late on the new release…he claimed.”
“You think it could have been him?”
“Why would Kip spy on me?”
“Maybe it was one of Kip’s scorned lovers,” Alexa said excitedly. “Maybe Toni.”
Bridget raked her hand through her close-cropped hair. “The noise in the parking lot was probably my imagination. On the patio, it was probably a coyote, maybe the same one who jumped the fence and got our cat. Anyway, let’s not talk about Kip’s…” She looked askance.
“Keep the alarm on.”
“I do now.”
“You and Kip still have that gun?”
“I don’t know how to use it.”
“That wasn’t what I was thinking.”
“Alexa,” Bridget scolded.
A strong gust of warm wind blew, sending dry leaves and loose dirt scuttling down the path, pushing the women and the child to take a few quick steps. The dog, more surefooted and lower to the ground, was not affected.
“You have to admit that Kip has changed a lot over the past few years.” Alexa blinked at a speck of dirt that had flown into her eye. “One minute, he’s a…” She searched for the appropriate word.
Alexa laughed. “I was going to say, loner. But, okay, a geek. The next minute, he has groupies. I went through that, ‘you may kiss my ring thing’ with Jim. But Kip’s forgotten one thing—you made him what he is.”
Bridget dismissed the comment with a shrug.
“C’mon, B, everyone knows it.”
“We built the company together.”
“You said you didn’t want to talk about it, but,” Alexa persisted, “I think Kip slept with Toni to punish you for taking the company in a direction he doesn’t want it to go.”
“That’s occurred to me. But I can’t worry about Kip’s need for control.” Bridget’s tone was determined. “I have my daughter’s welfare to consider. I’m not going to throw away her financial security just because her father doesn’t want to answer to stockholders.”
“Bottom line, it doesn’t matter what Kip wants,” Alexa added. “He gave you control of Pandora Software. He couldn’t be bothered with all that icky, business stuff. He wants to spend his time being Mr. Creative Genius.”
“I never thought it would matter unless push came to shove.”
“It has. No wonder you’re looking over your shoulder.”
After admiring Alexa’s new Jaguar convertible, the women said good-bye in the gravel parking lot near the park entrance. Bridget and Brianna pulled out first, rushing to avoid being late for the little girl’s ballet class. Alexa, holding her car keys, waved until Bridget’s Volvo had turned down the hill and slipped out of sight.
When Alexa had not returned home by 1:00 A.M., her husband called the police.