Denying the past proves deadly for BK Hartshaw and Trevor Mayhew in this gripping noir novel where nothing is as it seems.
BK is a rising star at a public relations firm, and tonight’s charity ball should be a high point in her career. But a closely guarded secret threatens to destroy her chance for happiness with the only man she’s ever loved… a man who is also hiding a deadly secret.
Trevor has tried to put the past behind him, pretending it never happened. But the conniving father he’s been running from for years has finally found him—and is determined to settle the score once and for all.
BK and Trevor’s deeply buried secrets are about to catch up with them—and everyone they know and love. Who will pay the ultimate price for their dangerous denials?
“The sins of the parents are visited upon their children in this entertaining thriller. BK’s (short for Beatrice Karen) and Trevor’s lives collide when a charity ball erupts into violence. Tightly plotted suspenseful moments and a deftly-executed plot twist combine to keep readers holding onto this novel until the wee hours.” — Publisher’s Weekly (2008 ABNA review)
“In Ray’s debut thriller, lives converge at a charity ball, where someone has planned a deadly act of vengeance. The prologue adds suspense to the story as it slowly builds, particularly in the latter half, to this scene and even includes a bit of mystery, when BK considers what a psychic, hired for the event, has warned her of. Ray takes her time establishing her characters, including the bad guys, and with a rousing, indelible payoff, it’s well worth it.” — Kirkus Reviews
The clicking of someone’s heels echoed in the hall. Lenny longed to be outside. He stared at the clock as the second hand swept around and around hypnotically.
“…and the money came from a totally different person than from where the protagonist thought. Who can tell me the source of the money?” The English teacher was droning on and on about the plot of Great Expectations.
Lenny didn’t know what a protagonist was and he didn’t particularly care. Mrs. Melman had great expectations of her own if she thought he would actually read this whole fat book. He noisily fanned the pages of his copy of the Dickens classic.
“Mr. Mayhew, please…” She glared. “Do you have the answer for me?”
Lenny shrugged and turned his attention to the girls seated in the rows around him. Felicia, Gail, and Fatty Patty were the only ones worth anything in this group. The rest were either snobs or kiss-ups. Gail Akers was easily the best looking girl in the class, perhaps in the whole school, with her long brown hair and chocolate brown eyes. I could look into those eyes for the rest of my life if only she would let me. Lenny ran his hand over his bumpy cheek. I don’t stand a chance with her.
Class stretched on for an agonizing forty minutes, most of which he spent staring at Gail or doodling her name in his notebook. When the bell finally rang, he bolted toward the door, unaware of any of the material that had been covered in class.
Cool air hit his face as he stepped outside and walked quickly into the woods behind a water tower a few hundred yards from the school. Teachers fought to fence off the area at the beginning of each school year, but due to budget constraints the space remained wide open. Kids continued to gather there, sneaking cigarettes between classes or after the final bell rang.
“Hey, Gail.” Lenny waved as she joined the group. She was wearing a brown and blue plaid skirt that rippled in the afternoon breeze. Lenny wished for a sudden gust of wind.
“Hi, Len.” She gave him a friendly smile as she reached into her purse to find a pack of cigarettes. Lenny lit a match and held it out for her. “Can you believe how long Melman went on about that stupid book?” She paused to exhale a puff of smoke. “I thought I was going to fall asleep right there in the middle of class.”
“Tell me about it. I heard that the test—”
“Hi, Bruno.” Gail interrupted him and turned to face Lenny’s friend who had walked up behind them. Six feet tall with thick dark hair and a muscular build, Edward Brukowski was well known to most of the kids at Lincoln High. An honors student and captain of the football team, he rebelled by hanging around with a group of kids that were nothing like him. They were more interested in hot rods and skipping school than doing homework.
Lenny glowered at Bruno.
“Gail…” Lenny tried to draw her attention back to him. “I was saying that I heard the English test next week is going to be over a hundred questions.”
“Yeah.” She didn’t take her eyes off Bruno. “I heard that too.”
Lenny kicked a rock half-buried in the ground. Bruno’s head, he thought, as his foot hit the rock with one final thud. He tuned back into their conversation.
“You can come over to my house tonight to study. My mother has to work late so we’ll have the whole place to ourselves,” Gail was saying.
Bruno laughed. “Study on a Friday night? Are your grades that bad?”
A burst of unseasonably warm October wind blew dried leaves from the trees, sending them down like extra-large snowflakes. Lenny’s eyes darted to Gail’s skirt but it hadn’t caught it quite right.
“I just thought I’d get a head start,” Gail answered quietly.
“No thanks. I’m stoked for Ace’s party tonight.”
Lenny took a puff of his cigarette. Smoke escaped from his mouth as he spoke. “I’ll study with you, Gail. God knows I can use the extra help. I can come over right after work.”
“On second thought, I think I’ll go to Ace’s party.”
A pain shot from Lenny’s teeth to his ear. He unclenched his jaw. “I guess I’ll go too.” He mumbled under his breath, “I ain’t got nothin’ better to do now.”
“Hey, Ace,” Bruno called to his friend who was standing nearby. “What’s the charge to get into the party tonight?”
Ace Simeon bent over and carefully stubbed out his cigarette on a rock. He slid the butt back into the pack and walked over to join them. “For you, Bruno, my friend, no charge. If you come, I’ll get me a good turnout. The chicks follow you and the guys naturally follow the chicks. It works out nice for everybody.”
Ace scratched his greasy head. “And Lenny, there’ll be no charge for you neither. Just bring all your friends. They all do whatever you tell ‘em to.”
Lenny nodded but a sneer strained against his lips. He’d rather be alone with Gail.
“Not that you’re bossy or nothing.” Ace backed away, running into the edge of the cement pad under the water tower. “I just meant that you’re a leader.”
* * *
The Akers house was like Gail: a small beauty among the ordinary. There was no peeling paint or sagging stairs like the apartment houses that dwarfed it on either side. The yard was too small to accommodate a tree but two neatly trimmed shrubs stood guard on either side of the door.
Lenny lingered outside. He was going to pretend to be on his way to the party when she left so he could walk with her. His plan was ruined when two of her friends showed up. He darted around the side of the house before they spotted him and stood under an open window framed with stiffly starched ball-fringe curtains. It must be her bedroom. His pulse quickened.
He heard giggling. Hoping to catch a glimpse of an outfit change, he stood on his toes and peeked between the puffy balls at the bottom of the curtain.
Gail’s small room was filled to capacity with a twin bed, piled high with a collection of stuffed animals, and a massive dresser. Gail was rubbing makeup over Felicia’s face.
Felicia’s forehead wrinkled. “Are you sure you can cover all my freckles with that? You don’t seem to be putting very much on.”
“It’s my mother’s. I can’t use too much more.” Gail poured out a few more drops onto her fingertip. “I hope she doesn’t notice how much is missing.” She held the bottle up to the light. “I’m not even supposed to be wearing makeup.”
“You’re sixteen.” Felicia snorted. “She’s got to let you grow up sometime.”
Gail nodded as she passed over the hand mirror. “Okay, take a look. What do you think?”
“Cool! I can hardly see my freckles.” Felicia admired herself, turning her head from side to side. “If only I could cover this red hair.” She tugged at one of her loose auburn curls.
“Oh, Felicia, I love your hair. You’re never satisfied.” Patty shook her head. “I wish I had your color instead of this mousy old brown.” She pulled a clump of her shoulder length hair over the lower half of her chubby face. “I’d feel adventurous if I had exotic red hair.”
The three friends laughed. Lenny rolled his eyes. Patty had been a drama queen ever since first grade.
Gail finished applying bright red lipstick to Felicia’s lips. “Here,” she said handing her a tissue. “Kiss this.”
“I hope this isn’t the only thing I kiss tonight.” The girls giggled some more. Lenny was enjoying this look into the secret lives of girls.
“You’re next, Patty.”
Patty waved her hand. “Don’t bother wasting your mother’s makeup on me. I’m only going to this party to keep you two out of trouble, and from the sound of things, I’m going to have my work cut out for me.”
“Very funny.” Felicia held up a pink floral scarf. “My mother would hate this outfit,” she said with a smile. “You know how she hates me to wear pink.”
“We know. She thinks it clashes with your hair.” Gail laughed. “Come on, Patty. You’ll look great with some makeup on.”
Patty pursed her lips and pulled her baggy navy blue sweater down over her hips.
“Don’t be stubborn. You’re a pretty girl. Just let me put a little bit on.” Gail dabbed some on the end of Patty’s nose.
“I guess I don’t have much of a choice, now do I?” Patty sighed as Gail went to work on her.
“This will complete the look.” Felicia wrapped a black belt around Patty’s waist.
“You look great,” Gail said as they gathered around the full-length mirror.
Patty shrugged. “I look okay, I guess. Let’s do Gail now.” She turned to her friend but her eyes went right back to the mirror. “Enough about me.”
Yeah, enough about you. Lenny’s calf was getting a knot. He sat down and rubbed it. He’d seen enough anyway. All the fake compliments were enough to make him puke. With or without makeup, Gail was gorgeous. Nothing was going to help the other two.
He could still hear Gail. “I know how you feel, Patty. You two tell me I’m pretty but you’re my best friends so you have to be nice.”
“Oh, Gail, please…” Patty said.
“I don’t feel pretty at all. You don’t see any boys lining up at my door waiting to ask me on a date, do you?”
Lenny almost laughed and blew his cover. He was literally lined up at her door. Or her window. Close enough. If she only knew.
Gail continued, “Compared to some of the other girls in school who go out every Saturday night, I’m a hermit.”
“That’s not why they get all the dates and you know it. You’re not that kind of girl,” Patty said.
“I think there is one person who likes me,” Gail said.
“Who?” Felicia was fast to ask. Lenny could picture her face all pinched up because some boy likes Gail instead of her. Hell, what guy wouldn’t prefer Gail over her?
Lenny jumped up and looked in the window again.
“Lenny Mayhew?” He didn’t care for Felicia’s condescending tone.
“Yeah. I think he has a little crush on me. He’s always staring at me in English class and once, I got a peek at his notebook and I could’ve sworn I saw my name doodled all over the page.”
Felicia’s eyebrows shot up. “Really? Are you interested in him?”
Lenny’s cheeks burned and he was sure the girls would hear the drumming of his heart.
“Goodness, no. He isn’t my type. But don’t think I’m stuck-up or anything. It’s not his looks, it’s his moodiness that puts me off.”
Great, Lenny thought. She thinks I’m ugly and moody. Anything else you wanna throw in there?
Felicia nodded. “He gives me a weird feeling every time I talk to him.”
“So, it’s not just me.”
“I keep thinking he’s going to snap at any minute.”
“We should cut the guy a little slack, don’t you think? From what I’ve heard, his life hasn’t been easy,” Patty said. “It’s no secret that his father beat him right up until the day he died.”
Lenny sank back to the ground. Everybody knew? He thought he’d hidden it well. He always had a believable excuse for the bruises, cuts, and burns. Now Gail was going to pity him. Being thought of as moody didn’t seem so bad compared to that.
He stood up and brushed grass off his pants. He couldn’t let this get him down. It would be like the old man winning all over again. He knew what he was going to do. He was going to turn into a combination of Mr. Nice Guy and Mr. Funny Guy, and win Gail over.
He’d start tonight. He thought about his first move as he followed the girls to the party.
Ace’s parties had become routine since he had found a way to profit from them. Mr. and Mrs. Simeon looked the other way when their boys got a little wild, if they even noticed at all.
Lenny trailed behind the girls. They were lucky it was him instead of some criminal out to rob them. They had no idea they were being followed.
As he walked up the street, he could hear music filtering out from the detached garage.
“Do you have enough money to get in?” Patty said.
“Yes Mom,” Felicia and Gail replied in unison.
“I can’t believe Ace charges his friends to come to a party,” Felicia said. “He even has the nerve to charge the girls.”
“At least he has parties. Imagine how dead it would be around here without something to do on Friday nights. I mean, you can only see a movie so many times,” Patty said, tripping on the broken cement sidewalk.
“Walk much?” Felicia reached out and gave her a push, causing Patty to stumble a few extra feet.
“Thanks a lot, Felicia.”
Gail smoothed her red skirt and undid the top two buttons of her blouse as they walked up the driveway.
“This part of town gives me the creeps,” Felicia said. They reached the end of the driveway and stared at the peeling duplex that housed Ace’s family and his grandparents. Light was shining dimly through the Simeon’s dirty garage windows. “It looks like a haunted house.”
Lenny invoked Mr. Funny Guy. “Boo!”
The girls screamed. Then Felicia glared and Patty clutched her chest.
Gail laughed. “I guess you got us good.”
“See you inside.” He walked past them and went into the garage, ready to deploy Mr. Nice Guy.
* * *
Ace greeted the girls at the door of the musty garage. “Good evening, girls. You all look lovely tonight.”
Patty was first in line. “How’s the party shaping up? Are we too early?”
“Right on time, Patty-Pats. Right on time.” Ace had an annoying habit of nicknaming people. The only name he didn’t tamper with was Lenny’s. Everyone else was fair game.
Patty frowned but didn’t say anything.
“Now that you’re here, the party will really get going.” Ace put his hand up as Felicia tried to give him her money. “No charge.”
Felicia tossed her hair back. “That’s more like it.”
He pointed. “Compliments of Mr. Lenny Mayhew.”
Lenny waved from the corner. He and Bruno were standing by a barrel of rakes and shovels talking to a small circle of girls, all of who appeared to be hanging on their every word.
They walked up beside him, Patty lingering behind. “Thank you for paying our way in, Lenny,” Gail said. “That was sweet of you.”
“Anything for you, Gail.” His face lit up.
Felicia cleared her throat and put one hand on her hip.
Lenny barely looked at her. “And your friends.” His gaze returned to Gail almost immediately.
Gail was watching Bruno pull something from his pocket. She whispered into Lenny’s ear, “Is that what I think it is?” She stared at the hand-rolled cigarette.
Lenny nodded. “Just act like you know what you’re doing.”
“Come on, girls, let’s go get a snack,” Patty said loudly. She leaned in close to her friends and whispered, “We’d better get out of here now. I don’t want to get involved with this.”
Gail spoke for Felicia. “You go on if you want. We’re going to stay here for a while.”
“Hanging around a cute boy isn’t worth it if it gets you thrown in jail.”
“Don’t be so melodramatic. We’ll catch up with you later,” Felicia answered.
Patty turned and walked away.
“Want to try some?” Lenny held out the cigarette that had already been passed around the circle.
“Sure,” Gail said, sounding confident, but her hand reached out haltingly to accept it. She didn’t know the names of the other girls but she recognized them as seniors. None of them gave her a second glance at school but they were staring at her now. This was her chance to show them, and Bruno, that she was cool. She put it to her lips.
“You’ve got to inhale,” Bruno said, laughing. As she’d seen the others do, Gail closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. She quickly passed it off to Felicia.
Patty came up behind them. “Are you two ready to come with me yet? Don’t you think you’ve tried enough of that stuff?”
“No. Leave us alone,” Felicia said, not even bothering to whisper.
“What’s the matter, Patty? Are you their mother or something?” Lenny said.
Patty looked at her friends but they were pretending to be deep in conversation with each other. “Fine. It’s your life.”
Gail chewed on her thumbnail as she watched Patty walk away.
“She’ll get over it,” Felicia said.
“What are your plans after graduation?” Bruno asked.
Felicia spoke right up. “I’m going to beauty school to become a hairdresser. I might go out to Hollywood with Patty.”
“Good plan,” Bruno said. “What about you?”
Gail’s face got hot. She couldn’t tell anyone that she dreamed of going to college—it didn’t have to be Ivy League or anything—a state school would do. She had wanted to study business ever since she joined DECA last year. At the first meeting, she didn’t even know what DECA was. She only went because she heard Bruno belonged. He wasn’t there that day, but she stayed anyway and learned about marketing, finance, and management.
But her dream wasn’t going to happen. If she was accepted somewhere, her mother couldn’t afford to pay the tuition. She’d try, no doubt, probably even sell the house, her only asset, if she had to. She always put Gail first but Gail wasn’t going to let her. She had sacrificed enough since Gail’s father died. Gail bit her lip. “I’ll get a job, I guess. I’m just a junior so I have another year to decide.”
“I guess that’s what I’ll do too. Maybe a full time job at the gas station. They love me there,” Lenny said.
“Want to dance?” Bruno asked.
Gail’s breath stalled. She tapped her index finger against her chest. “Me?”
He nodded. “Yeah, you.”
She wished she could check her teeth for lipstick and pop a breath mint first. “Okay.”
Bruno led her to the center of the garage where a few other couples were dancing to “You Light Up My Life” from a portable record player.
* * *
Lenny stormed out of the garage when Gail started dancing with Bruno. It should be me pressed up tight against her. He took a few breaths of the cool night air before he went back inside. He had to know what was going on.
They were still swaying back and forth to the slow beat. Gail had her eyes on Bruno’s face, almost like she wanted him to kiss her.
Lenny dug a small white pill from his pocket and swallowed it dry.
Felicia came up from behind him. “Want to dance with me?”
Lenny’s eyes narrowed. “You don’t even like me.”
“Why do you think that?”
He couldn’t admit he heard it from her own mouth earlier while he was eavesdropping outside Gail’s window. “Just a feelin’ I get from you.”
“Fine.” Felicia walked off. “Maybe you’re right.”
Lenny watched as Bruno’s arms tightened around Gail’s waist and pulled her closer to him. He buried his face in her neck and ran his hands through her hair.
I can’t let this go any further. Lenny sauntered up to the record player and stopped the music mid-song, replacing it with “Cold As Ice.”
It did the trick. They separated and Bruno headed for the snack table.
Gail stomped over to Lenny. “Why’d you change the music while I was dancing?”
Lenny’s tongue wasn’t cooperating, his words were beginning to slur. “Never mind that.” As he started to lose his balance, he grabbed Gail’s arm. “How ‘bout dancing with me now?”
“I don’t want to.” She shook him off. “Bruno will be right back.” She pointed to a rickety card table where Bruno was talking to another girl. “Who’s that?”
Lenny smiled. Thank God Bruno was a dog. “That’s Ace’s older sister, Stacy Ann. Graduated two years ago, I think.”
Gail’s shoulders drooped. “He was supposed to be getting me something to eat. I should have gone with him.”
“I’ll get you a snack.” Mr. Nice Guy to the rescue. When he returned with a cup of punch and a handful of popcorn, Gail was rubbing her temples and had her eyes closed. “Whatsa matter with you?”
“I’m getting a headache,” she said, reopening her eyes.
He let the popcorn spill through his fingers onto the floor. He reached in his pocket and pulled out another nondescript white pill. “Here.” He held it out to her. “Take this and your headache will be gone before you know it.”
“Is this some kind of aspirin?”
Lenny shrugged. “Sure. What else?”
She popped the pill into her mouth and took a swallow of punch.
“It’ll work even better than aspirin.”
“What? I can hardly hear you. It’s getting so crowded in here.” She fanned herself. “And hot.” She gulped down the rest of the punch.
“Never mind.” They stood for a few minutes watching the kids on the crowded dance floor. “Feeling better yet?”
“I guess so.” She pinched the bridge of her nose. “Smoking that stuff must not agree with me. The room is spinning.”
Lenny spun around in a complete circle. “Let’s take advantage of the spin and dance.”
“Sure, what the heck. It doesn’t look like Bruno is going to come back any time soon.”
Lenny enjoyed the usually stiff and reserved Gail as she danced like she had never danced before, bumping up against him to the beat of the music. People were watching them.
Lenny pulled her close whenever a slow song played and whispered in her ear, but when he followed her gaze he knew she was looking at Bruno. He was dancing nearby with Ace’s sister.
Gail disentangled herself from Lenny. “I need some more punch.”
Mr. Nice Guy was getting a workout tonight. When he returned, Bruno was talking to her. “I’ve been watching you. You’re a great dancer.”
“Thanks. I was waiting for you to come back and dance with me again.” Gail’s shyness had totally disappeared. Lenny had wanted that, just not with Bruno.
He grabbed her hand. “Then let’s go.”
“Wait,” Lenny shouted. “I have your punch.” They either didn’t hear or didn’t care.
A slow song started playing and Bruno bent down and kissed her on the lips.
Lenny’s grip tightened around the punch. Red liquid rose to the brim of the flimsy paper cup and cascaded over the side.
Bruno winked as they walked past him on their way to the door. “She won’t be needing that, Len. I’m walking her home.” He mouthed, “Her mother’s at work.”
The door closed behind them. Lenny ignored the Bee Gees singing “How Deep Is Your Love” and the kids slow-dancing around him as he whipped the cup at the wall. The remaining punch splattered and dripped down toward the floor.