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Private L.A.

Private Jack Morgan investigates the disappearance of the biggest superstar couple in Hollywood.

Thom and Jennifer Harlow are the perfect couple, with three perfect children. They maybe two of the biggest mega movie stars in the world, but they're also great parents, philanthropists and just all-around good people.

When they disappear without a word from their ranch, facts are hard to find. They live behind such a high wall of security and image control that even world-renowned Private Investigator Jack Morgan can't get to the truth. But as Jack keeps probing, secrets sprout thick and fast--and the world's golden couple may emerge as hiding behind a world of desperation and deception that the wildest reality show couldn't begin to unveil. Murder is only the opening scene.

Part One | A VANISHING ACT

Chapter 1

SHORTLY AFTER MIDNIGHT, as the first real storm of the season intensified outside, the lovely Guin Scott-Evans and I were sitting on the couch at my place, watching a gas fire, drinking a first-class bottle of Cabernet, and good-naturedly bantering over our nominees for sexiest movie scene ever.

For the record, Guin brought the subject up.

“The Postman Always Rings Twice,” she announced. “Remake.”

“Of all the movies ever made?” I asked.

“Certainly,” she said, all seriousness. “Hands down.”

“Care to defend your nomination?”

She crossed her arms, nodded, smiled. “With great pleasure, Mr. Morgan.”

I liked Guin. The last time I’d seen her, back in January, the actress had been in trouble, and I had served as her escort and guard at the Golden Globes the night she won Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. Despite the danger she was in, or perhaps because of it, a nice chemistry had developed between us. But at the time, relationships were not clear-cut in her life or mine, and nothing beyond mutual admiration had developed.

Earlier that evening, however, I had run into her leaving Patina, a first-class restaurant inside the Walt Disney Concert Hall complex, where she’d been attending a birthday party for her agent. We had a glass of wine at the bar and laughed as if the Golden Globes had been just last week, not ten months before.

She was leaving the next day, going on location in London, with much too much to do. But somehow we ended up back at my place, with a new bottle of wine open, and debating the sexiest movie scene ever.

“The Postman Always Rings Twice?” I said skeptically.

“I’m serious, it’s amazing, Jack,” Guin insisted. “It’s that scene where they’re in the kitchen alone, Jessica Lange and Jack Nicholson, the old Greek’s young wife and the drifter. At first you think Nicholson’s forcing himself on her. They wrestle. He throws her up on the butcher block covered with flour and all her baking things. And she’s saying, ‘No! No!’

“But then Nicholson comes to his senses, figures he misread her, backs off. And Lange’s lying there panting, flour on her flushed cheeks. There’s this moment when your understanding of the situation seems certain.

“Then Lange says, ‘Wait. Just wait a second,’ before she pushes the baking stuff off the butcher block, giving herself enough room to give in to all her pent-up desires.”

“Okay,” I allowed, remembering it. “That was sexy, really sexy, but I don’t know if it’s the best of all time.”

“Oh, no?” Guin replied. “Beat it. Be honest, now. Give me a window into your soul, Jack Morgan.”

I gave a mock shiver. “What? Trying to expose me already?”

“In due time,” she said, grinned, poured herself another glass. “Go ahead. Spill it. Name that scene.”

“I don’t think I can pick just one,” I replied honestly.

“Name several, then.”

“How about Body Heat, the entire movie? I saw it over in Afghanistan. As I remember it, William Hurt and Kathleen Turner are, well, scorching, but maybe that was because I’d been in the desert far too long by that point.”

Guin laughed, deep, unabashed. “You’re right. They were scorching, and humid too. Remember how their skin was always damp and shiny?”

Nodding, I poured the rest of the wine into my glass, said, “The English Patient would be up there too. That scene where Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas are in that room in the heat with the slats of light, and they’re bathing together?”

She raised her glass. “Certainly a contender. How about Shampoo?”

I shot her a look of arch amusement, said, “Warren Beatty in his prime.”

“So was Julie Christie.”

There was a moment between us. Then my cell phone rang.

Guin shook her head. I glanced at the ID: Sherman Wilkerson.

“Damn,” I said. “Big client. Big, big client. I...I’ve got to take this, Guin.”

She protested, “But I was just going to nominate the masquerade ball in Eyes Wide Shut.”

Shooting Guin an expression of genuine shared sympathy and remorse, I clicked ANSWER, turned from her, said, “Sherman. How are you?”

“Not very damned well, Jack,” Wilkerson shot back. “There are sheriff ’s deputies crawling the beach in front of my house, and at least four dead bodies that I can see.”

I looked at Guin, flashed ruefully on what might have been, said, “I’m on my way right now, Sherman. Ten minutes tops.”

Copyright © 2014 by James Patterson

Read by Jay Snyder

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