#1 bestselling author Sandra Brown ignites crackling suspense and fiery emotion in an unforgettable novel of passion and vengeance.
When her younger brother, Danny, commits suicide, Sayre Lynch breaks her vow never to return to her Louisiana hometown, and gets drawn back into her tyrannical father's web. He and her older brother -- who control the town's sole industry, an iron foundry -- are as corrupt as ever. Worse, they have hired a shrewd and disarming new lawyer, Beck Merchant...a man with his own agenda. When the police determine that Danny's suicide was actually a homicide, Sayre must battle her family -- and her passionate feelings for Beck -- as she confronts a powder keg of old hatreds, past crimes, and a surprising plan of revenge.
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Sandra Brown is the author of numerous New York Times bestsellers--including most recently Smash Cut, Smoke Screen, Play Dirty, Ricochet, Chill Factor, White Hot, Hello, Darkness, The Crush, and Envy. She is the recipient of the 2008 Thriller Master Award from International Thriller Writers, Inc. She and her husband live in Arlington, Texas.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
The highway was barely recognizable. Countless times, Sayre Lynch had driven this stretch of road between New Orleans International Airport and Destiny. But traveling it today was like doing so for the first time.
In the name of progress, landmarks that had made the area distinct had been obscured or obliterated. Rural Louisiana's charm had been sacrificed to gaudy commercialism. Little that was quaint or picturesque had survived the onslaught. She could have been in Anywhere, USA.
Fast-food franchises now occupied the spots where once had been mom-and-pop cafes. Homemade meat pies and muffaletta sandwiches had been replaced with buckets of wings and Value Meals. Hand-painted signs had given way to neon. Menus scribbled daily on chalkboards had been supplanted by disembodied voices at drive-through windows.
During the ten years she had been away, trees draped with Spanish moss had been bulldozed to allow for additional highway construction. This expansion had diminished the vastness and mystery of the swamps that flanked the road. The dense marshes were now ribboned with entrance and exit ramps jammed with semis and minivans.
Until now Sayre hadn't realized the depth of her homesickness. But these substantial changes in the landscape made her nostalgic for the way things had been. She longed for the mingled aromas of cayenne and filé. She would like to hear again the patois of the people who served up Cajun dishes that took more than three minutes to prepare.
While superhighways made for faster travel, she wished for the roadway she had known, the one lined with trees that grew so close to it the branches overlapped to cover it like a canopy and cast lacy patterns of shadow on the asphalt.
She longed for the times she could drive with the windows down and, rather than choking on motor exhaust, inhale the soft air that was perfumed with honeysuckle and magnolia and the seminal scent of the swamp.
The changes that had come about in the past decade were jarring to her senses and an affront to her memories of the place in which she'd grown up. But then, she supposed that the changes in herself were equally drastic, although perhaps not as apparent.
The last time she'd driven this road, she'd been traveling in the opposite direction, away from Destiny. That day, the farther she got from home, the lighter she felt, as though she were molting layers of negativity along the way. Today she was returning, and her dread was as heavy as chain mail.
Homesickness for the area, no matter how acute, would never have brought her back. Only her brother Danny's death could have compelled her to return. Apparently he had withstood Huff and Chris for as long as he could and had escaped them in the only manner he'd felt was open to him.
Fittingly, as she approached the outskirts of Destiny, she saw the smokestacks first. They jutted belligerently above the town, large and black and ugly. Smoke billowed from them today as on every other day of the year. It would have been too costly and inefficient to have shut down the furnaces, even in observance of Danny's demise. Knowing Huff, it probably hadn't even occurred to him to make this concession to his youngest child.
The billboard marking the city limit read "Welcome to Destiny, Home of Hoyle Enterprises." As though that's something to boast, she thought. Quite the contrary. Iron pipe casting had made Huff rich, but it was a bloodstained wealth.
She navigated the streets of town which she had first explored on bicycle. Later she'd learned to drive on them. Then as a teen she had cruised them with her friends, looking for action, boys, and whatever amusements they could scare up.
While still a block away from the First United Methodist Church, she heard the organ music. The pipe organ had been a gift to the church from her mother, Laurel Lynch Hoyle. It bore a brass plaque in her memory. It was the small congregation's pride and joy, being the only pipe organ in Destiny. None of the Catholic churches had one, and Destiny was predominantly Catholic. Her mother's gift had been generous and sincere, but it was yet another symbol of how the Hoyles lorded over their town and everyone in it and refused to be outdone.
How heartbreaking that the organ was playing a dirge for one of Laurel Hoyle's children, who had died fifty years too soon, and by his own hand.
Sayre had received the news Sunday afternoon upon returning to her office from a meeting with a client. Ordinarily she wouldn't have worked on a Sunday, but that was the only day this particular client was free for an appointment. Julia Miller had recently celebrated her fifth year as Sayre's assistant. She wouldn't let Sayre work on a weekend without working herself. While Sayre was with the client, Julia had been catching up on paperwork.
When Sayre returned, Julia passed her a pink memo slip. "This gentleman has called three times, Ms. Lynch. I wouldn't give him your cell number, although he demanded it."
Sayre glanced at the area code, then wadded up the memo and tossed it into the wastepaper basket. "I don't wish to speak to anyone in my family."
"He's not family. He says he works for the family. It's imperative that he reach you as soon as possible."
"I won't talk to anybody who works for my family either. Any other messages? By any chance has Mr. Taylor called? He promised those valances by tomorrow."
"It's your brother," Julia blurted out. "He's dead."
Sayre stopped short of her private office. For a long moment she stared through the wall of windows toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Only the very tops of the orange supports were visible above a solid blanket of fog. The water in the bay looked gray, cold, and angry. Foreboding.
Without turning around, she asked, "Which one?"
"Which -- "
Danny, who had called her twice in the last several days. Danny, whose calls she had refused to take.
Sayre turned to face her assistant, who was regarding her sympathetically. She said gently, "Your brother Danny died earlier today, Sayre. I thought you should be told in person, not over a cell phone."
Sayre released a long breath through her mouth. "How?"
"I think you should speak with this Mr. Merchant."
"Julia, please. How did Danny die?"
Gently she said, "It appears he killed himself. I'm sorry." Then after a moment, she added, "That's all the information Mr. Merchant would give me."
Sayre then retreated to her private office and closed the door. She heard the phone in the anteroom ring several times, but Julia didn't put the calls through, realizing that she needed time alone to assimilate the news.
Had Danny been calling to tell her good-bye? If so, how would she live with the guilt of having refused to speak to him?
After about an hour, Julia knocked tentatively on the door. "Come in," Sayre called. When Julia stepped inside, Sayre said, "There's no point in your staying, Julia. Go home. I'll be fine."
The assistant laid a sheet of paper on her desk. "I've still got work to do. Buzz me if you need me. Can I bring you anything?"
Sayre shook her head no. Julia withdrew and closed the door. On the sheet of paper she'd brought in she'd written down the time and place of the funeral. Tuesday morning, eleven o'clock.
Sayre hadn't been surprised that it was scheduled so soon. Huff always acted with dispatch. He and Chris would be impatient to put this behind them, to bury Danny and get on with their lives as soon as possible.
However, the timeliness of the funeral had probably worked to her advantage, too. It prevented a lengthy internal debate on whether to attend. She couldn't languish in indecision but had been forced to make up her mind quickly.
Yesterday morning she'd caught a flight to New Orleans via Dallas-Fort Worth and had arrived in the late afternoon. She'd taken a walk through the French Quarter, eaten dinner at a gumbo shop, then spent the night at the Windsor Court.
For all the comfort the luxury hotel afforded, she'd had a virtually sleepless night. She did not want to go back to Destiny. She did not. Silly as it was, she feared walking into some kind of snare that would trap her there, keep her in Huff's clutches forever.
Daybreak hadn't lessened her dread. She'd gotten up, dressed for the funeral, and set out for Destiny, planning to arrive just in time for the service and to leave immediately thereafter.
The church parking lot was already overflowing into the surrounding neighborhood streets. She had to park several blocks away from the picture-book church with the stained-glass windows and tall white steeple. Just as she stepped onto the columned porch, the bell chimed the hour of eleven.
The vestibule was cool compared to outdoors, but Sayre noticed that many in the sanctuary were waving paper fans to supplement the inadequate air-conditioning. As she slipped into the back row, the choir finished singing the opening hymn and the pastor stepped up to the pulpit.
While everyone else bowed their heads for prayer, Sayre looked at the casket in front of the chancel rail. It was simple, silver, and sealed. She was glad of that. She didn't think she could bear her last image of Danny to be his lying like a wax doll in a satin-lined coffin. To prevent thoughts of that, she concentrated on the elegant purity of the arrangement of white calla lilies on top of the casket.
She couldn't see either Huff or Chris for the crowd, but she supposed they were seated in the front pew, looking appropriately bereaved. The hypocrisy of it all made her nauseated.
She was named among the surviving family members. "A sister, Sayre Hoyle of San Francisco," the minister intoned.
She wanted to stand up and shout that Hoyle was no longer her name. After her second divorce, she had begun using her middle name, which had been her mother's maiden name. She'd had her name legally changed to Lynch. That was the name on her college degree, her business stationery, her California driver's license, and her passport.
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Book Description Coronet, 2005. Paperback. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0340836393