The Women's Murder Club pursues two cases in an electrifying new thriller–chasing a deranged killer and searching for a murderer with a taste for fire.
Prologue | THE CHRISTMAS SONG
TINY LIGHTS WINKED on the Douglas fir standing tall and full in front of the picture window. Swags of Christmas greenery and dozens of cards decked the well-appointed living room, and apple logs crackled in the fireplace, scenting the air as they burned.
A digitized Bing Crosby crooned "The Christmas Song."
"Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose . . ."
Henry Jablonsky couldn't see the boys clearly. The one called Hawk had snatched off his glasses and put them a mile away on the fireplace mantel, a good thing, Jablonsky had reasoned at the time.
It meant that the boys didn't want to be identified, that they were planning to let them go. Please, God, please let us live and I'll serve you all the days of my life.
Jablonsky watched the two shapes moving around the tree, knew that the gun was in Hawk's waistband. He heard wrapping paper tear, saw the one called Pidge dangling a bow for the new kitten.
They'd said they weren't going to hurt them.
They said this was only a robbery.
Jablonsky had memorized their faces well enough to describe to a police sketch artist, which he would be doing as soon as they got the hell out of his home.
Both boys looked as though they'd stepped from the pages of a Ralph Lauren ad.
Hawk. Clean-cut. Well-spoken. Blond, with side-parted hair. Pidge, bigger. Probably six two. Long brown hair. Strong as a horse. Meaty hands. Ivy League types. Both of them.
Maybe there really was some goodness in them.
As Jablonsky watched, the blond one, Hawk, walked over to the bookshelf, dragged his long fingers across the spines of the books, calling out titles, his voice warm, as though he were a friend of the family.
He said to Henry Jablonsky, "Wow, Mr. J., you've got Fahrenheit 451. This is a classic."
Hawk pulled the book from the shelf, opened it to the first page. Then he stooped down to where Jablonsky was hogtied on the floor with a sock in his mouth.
"You can't beat Bradbury for an opening," Hawk said. And then he read aloud with a clear, dramatic voice.
"'It was a pleasure to burn. It was a special pleasure to see things eaten, to see things blackened and changed.'"
As Hawk read, Pidge hauled a large package out from under the tree. It was wrapped in gold foil, tied with gold ribbon. Something Peggy had always wanted and had waited for, for years.
"To Peggy, from Santa," Pidge read from the gift tag. He sliced through the wrappings with a knife.
He had a knife!
Pidge opened the box, peeled back the layers of tissue.
"A Birkin bag, Peggy. Santa brought you a nine-thousand-dollar purse! I'd call that a no, Peg. A definite no."
Pidge reached for another wrapped gift, shook the box, while Hawk turned his attention to Peggy Jablonsky. Peggy pleaded with Hawk, her actual words muffled by the wad of sock in her mouth. It broke Henry's heavy heart to see how hard she tried to communicate with her eyes.
Hawk reached out and stroked Peggy's baby-blond hair, then patted her damp cheek. "We're going to open all your presents now, Mrs. J. Yours too, Mr. J.," he said. "Then we'll decide if we're going to let you live."
Copyright © 2008 by James Patterson
Carolyn McCormick has appeared in the films A Simple Twist of Fate and Enemy Mine. She has appeared on television as Dr. Olivit on Law & Order, and as a guest on The Practice and Star Trek. Her Broadway credits include roles in The Dinner Party and Private Lives. She read 4th of July, The 5th Horseman, and 6th Target by James Patterson for Hachette Audio.