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Step on a Crack

First there was Alex Cross.

Then there was the Women's Murder Club.

Now meet Detective Michael Bennett, NYPD.

Detective Michael Bennett is about to face the greatest challenge of his career. After the death of a beloved former first lady, the most powerful people in the world gather in New York for her funeral. Then the inconceivable occurs. Billionaires, politicians, and superstars of every kind are suddenly trapped within one man's brilliant and ruthless scenario.

Ten adopted kids.
Bennett–father of ten–is pulled into the fray but is then hit with devastating news: his wife is battling a terrible disease. As New York descends into chaos, he faces the prospect of losing the great love of his life and having to raise his children alone.

The crime of the century to solve.
Day after day, Bennett confronts the most ruthless man he has ever encountered, a man who kills without hesitation. As the entire world watches, Bennett has to find a way out–or face responsibility for the greatest debacle in history.

Welcome to Michael Bennett's world.
From the #1 bestselling author who introduced readers to Alex Cross and the Women's Murder Club comes the beginning of a brand-new electrifying series. Step on a Crack is his most fiendishly terrifying thriller yet.

Prologue | THE LAST SUPPER

Two

PLEASE, GOD, NO. Don’t let this happen. Don’t! Stephen Hopkins thought as he staggered to his feet. He was just opening his mouth to cry out again when Steve Beplar snatched the edge of the dining table and flung it out of the way.

Crystal and china exploded against the varnished hardwood floor as Agent Susan Wu, the next closest of their four-person security detail, pulled Mrs. Hopkins from the booth seat. The female agent immediately probed Caroline’s mouth with her finger to dislodge any food. Then she got behind her, a fist already under her rib cage as she began the Heimlich maneuver.

It was as if an ice-cold hand had reached into Stephen’s chest. He watched helplessly as his wife’s face turned from red to almost blackish purple.

“Stop. Wait!” he said. “She’s not choking. It’s her allergy! She’s allergic to peanuts. Her emergency adrenaline! The little pen thing she carries. Where’s her bag?”

“It’s in the car out front!” Agent Wu said. She bolted across the dining room and returned a moment later at a run. She had Caroline’s bag!

Stephen Hopkins upended his wife’s handbag onto the satin of the booth seat. “It’s not here!” he said, sending makeup and perfume flying.

Steve Beplar barked into his sleeve mike; then he scooped up the former First Lady in his arms as if she were a tired toddler.

“Time to get to a hospital, sir,” he said, moving toward the exit as everyone else in the restaurant stared in horror.

Moments later, in the rear of a speeding Police Interceptor Crown Victoria, Stephen Hopkins cradled his wife’s head in his lap. Breath whistled weakly from her throat as if it were coming through a cocktail straw. He ached for his wife, watching her eyes tighten in severe pain.

A doctor and a gurney were already waiting out on the sidewalk when the sedan came to a curb-hopping stop out in front of the St. Vincent’s Midtown Hospital emergency room entrance on 52nd Street.

“You think it’s an allergic reaction?” one of the doctors asked, taking Caroline’s pulse as two attendants rushed her through the sliding glass doors on a stretcher.

“She’s highly allergic to peanuts. Ever since she was a kid,” Stephen said, jogging at Caroline’s other side. “We told the kitchen at L’Arène. There must have been some mix-up.”

“She’s in shock, sir,” the doctor said. He blocked the former president as Caroline was pushed through a hospital personnel only side door. “We’re going to have to try to stabilize her. We’ll do everything—”

Stephen Hopkins suddenly shoved the stunned doctor out of the way. “I’m not leaving her side,” he said. “Let’s go. That’s an order.

They were already attaching an IV drip to Caroline’s arm and an oxygen mask to her face when he entered the trauma room. He winced as they sliced her beautiful gown to the navel so they could attach the leads of the heart monitor.

The machine bleated out an awful, continuous beep when they flicked it on. Then a flat black line appeared on the scrolling red graph readout. A nurse immediately started CPR.

“Clear,” the doctor yelled, and put the electrified paddles to Caroline’s chest.

Stephen watched Caroline’s chest surge upward with a pulse, and then a new, gentle bloop-bloop started on the monitor. A sharp, glorious scratch spiked upward on the spooling readout. Then another.

One for every miraculous beat of Caroline Hopkins’s heart.

Tears of gratitude had formed in Stephen’s eyes—when the awful beeeeeeeeeeep returned.

The doctor tried several more times with the defibrillator, but the screeching monitor wouldn’t change its grating one-note tune. The last thing the former president witnessed was another act of mercy by his loyal Secret Service.

Teary-eyed, Steve Beplar reached over and yanked the plug out of the yellow tile wall, halting the machine’s evil shriek.

“I’m so sorry, sir. She’s gone.”

Copyright © 2007 by James Patterson

Read by John Slattery & Reg Rogers

John Slattery's credits include: Flag of Our Fathers, Jack & Bobby, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, Mona Lisa Smile, Sex and the City, and Will & Grace. He has read several audiobooks.

Reg Rogers was nominated for Broadway's 1996 Tony Award as Best Actor (Featured Role-Play) for a revival of Phillip Barry's Holiday. Other credits include: Analyze That, Igby Goes Down, Runaway Bride, If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Now, Shut Up and Sing and TV's: Ed, Miss Match, and Law & Order.

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