Final Truth: A Novel of Suspense

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9780345483836: Final Truth: A Novel of Suspense
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In her thrill-packed trilogy Cold Truth, Hard Truth, and Dark Truth, Mariah Stewart proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she can brilliantly and suspensefully handle the truth. Can you? Then prepare yourself for the shocking, eye-opening Final Truth, in which a woman who specializes in exposing lies finds herself trapped in a real-life nightmare.

All that stands between Lester Ray Barnes and the state of Florida’s death chamber is a judge’s signature. He is sentenced to die for the rape and murder of a young woman, his conviction hinging on two pieces of evidence: DNA testing and an eyewitness who placed him at the scene. But when the story breaks that the DNA testimony at trial had been fabricated and that the eyewitness was coerced by a cop, all hell breaks loose. In the absence of credible evidence to sustain the conviction, the court is forced to set Lester Ray free. It’s the sort of circus the media adore–until it turns into the kind of Grimm’s fairy tale the media love even more.

Intrigued by the story of a young man railroaded by justice, true-crime writer Regan Landry is drawn into Lester Ray’s camp like a moth to a flame. For Regan, writing is a way to stay connected to her late literary-legend father, and her knack for detective work makes her a natural when it comes to uncovering new leads in even the murkiest mysteries.

Eager for the spotlight, Lester Ray willingly agrees to work with Regan on a tell-all about his experience as an innocent man on death row. But less than a week after leaving prison, he vanishes from the Sunshine State. Soon after, darkness descends on the outer banks of North Carolina as a string of women are raped and murdered in a frenzied spree. Fearing the worst, Regan, along with Special Agent Mitch Peyton and the FBI, sweeps in to confront the unspeakable: the horrifying possibility that they have helped to free a cunning monster with an insatiable appetite for death–and a ruthless determination never to be caged again.

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About the Author:

Mariah Stewart is the bestselling author of numerous novels and several novellas. She is a RITA finalist for romantic suspense and is the recipient of the Award of Excellence for contemporary romance, a RIO (Reviewers International Organization) Award honoring excellence in women’s fiction, and a Reviewers’ Choice Award from Romantic Times magazine. A native of Hightstown, New Jersey, she is a three-time recipient of the Golden Leaf Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the New Jersey Romance Writers, and has been inducted into their Hall of Fame. Stewart is a member of the Valley Forge Romance Writers, the New Jersey Romance Writers, and the Romance Writers of America. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and two rambunctious golden retrievers amid the rolling hills of Chester County, Pennsylvania.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

One

Regan Landry sat cross-legged on the floor of her father’s study and thumbed through the contents of a file, one of several she’d brought up from the basement in an unmarked cardboard box earlier that morning. Her father, Josh Landry, internationally renowned bestselling author of true crime books, had been the world’s worst record keeper. Almost two years after his death, Regan was still sorting through the boxes of material he’d left scattered throughout his home outside Princeton, New Jersey. So far this past week, she’d uncovered newspaper articles in a box in the attic that related to cases chronicled in the file cabinets in the basement. Not for the first time, Regan rolled her eyes. The man had been the most unorganized person on the face of the earth. When her cell phone rang, she had to move several piles of newspapers to find it. A glance at the caller ID screen brought a smile to her face.

“So what are you doing on this fine morning in May?” Mitch Peyton asked.

“What am I always doing when I’m at my dad’s?” She laughed good-naturedly. “Sorting through files and trying to organize the mess.”

“I’d think you’d be used to it by now.”

“You’d think.”

“I don’t know why you don’t just hire someone to do that for you.”

“How would someone else know what to do with all this?” She glanced around the room and frowned.

“You’d tell them. You’d show them what you’ve done, point them in the direction of the materials that still need to be sorted through, and tell them to follow your lead. If a file exists, file the newly found material in it. No existing file, you make a new one.”

“I wasn’t aware that the FBI taught a class in Filing 101.”

“You’d be surprised what they teach us down here.”

“I’ve seen you at work, Mitch, up close and personal. There’s little that you do that surprises me.”

“I can see I’m going to have to work on my technique. Can’t have the woman thinking she knows all my secrets.”

Regan could have replied that Mitch had been an open book right from the start, but she let it pass.

As a special agent with the FBI, Mitch was a member of a distinguished team within the Bureau that sought out the best of the best. But when it came to Regan, there’d been no sign of the wily investigator with crack computer skills that had brought him to the attention of the team leader. Mitch was a man who wore his heart on his sleeve, and had since the first time they’d worked a case together.

“Maybe you’re right.” She sighed. “Maybe I should just have someone come in and make a list of the files we already have, then go through the other boxes, check the list for duplicates . . .”

“There you go.” He didn’t wait for her to run through the entire process as he knew her mind was already starting to do. “You’ve spent enough time on cleanup. You have a book due.”

“Already turned it in to Nina last week, which is one of the reasons I’m here at Dad’s now. I’m trying to decide what I want to do next.”

“No ideas?”

“I have plenty of ideas, but none of them have struck my immediate fancy.” She stood and went to the desk and flipped through one of the files she’d left out last night, thinking it might be a contender for the topic of her next book. “There are lots of possibilities, but nothing seems to be jumping out at me and demanding my attention.”

“I always wondered about the process you writers go through,” he said. “How you decide on one idea over another.”

“The story that needs to be told decides for me. It’s simply a matter of finding it. I’m just lucky that Dad did so much of the groundwork on several potential projects. There’s no end to the number of books he’d wanted to write. Which, of course, explains why there’s no end to the number of boxes and folders he left everywhere from the attic to the basement to one of the outbuildings.”

“But until some idea grabs you by the throat . . .”

“. . . I’ll be sorting through files, hoping something does, sooner rather than later.” She sighed. “I get antsy when I’m not working.”

“I’ve noticed. While you’re waiting for lightning to strike, move the search for an assistant to the top of your list of things to do. You know how things go with you: something lands on your radar, and you forget about everything else.”

“You know me too well, Agent Peyton. Once I get started, finding an assistant will be the last thing on my mind. I shall put an ad in this week’s Princeton Packet and one of the Trenton papers—maybe I should try New Brunswick, too—and see what kind of response I get. It would make more sense to have someone else doing this”—she stared around the room at the piles of files and boxes—“so that I can focus on my next project.”

“Speaking of projects, anything new on your search for the elusive Eddie Kroll?”

“Not really.” Regan sat in her father’s oversized leather chair and swiveled around to stare out the window.

“Dolly Brown still not returning your calls?”

“No. She called me back, left me a message saying, effectively, she’s told me everything she knows and to stop calling her. I can’t for the life of me figure out what she’s hiding, but she’s lying about something.” Regan paused. “I think if I work on her sister-in-law, Stella, I might be able to finally get some answers. But since her husband, Carl, died back in March, I’ve given Stella a pretty wide berth.”

“Carl was Dolly and Eddie Kroll’s brother?”

“Right. Stella always seemed to have something she wanted to say, but she was a bit wary of speaking up in front of Dolly, and Dolly was always around.” Regan watched several ducks land feetfirst in the pond behind the old farmhouse. “Maybe I should make a quick trip to Illinois, stop in and see if Dolly feels like chatting. While I’m there, I can stop at Stella’s as well.”

“Good idea. But put that ad for an assistant in the paper before you leave. Think you can be back in time for the weekend? I’m planning on a few days off, and I was hoping we could meet up at your place in Maryland. I miss you.”

“I miss you, too. I was thinking about going to look at boats on Saturday. You can come with me and put in your two cents.”

“I’ll brush up on my boat-speak. Fore and aft. Avast and ahoy. Bow and stern.”

“You’re going to have to do better than that, if you’re going to crew for me.” She laughed. “I guess I’ll see you . . . when?”

“Let’s shoot for Friday night. I’m leaving this afternoon for Michigan, but I don’t expect this case will go more than a day or so. I’ll let you know if there’s a change.”

“Okay. I love you, Mitch.”

“Love you, too, babe.”

Regan closed her phone and slipped it into her pocket, hoping that Friday night would find Mitch on his way to her home in Maryland rather than the scene of some other heinous crime. She admired his work, was proud of his reputation as one of the FBI’s top agents, understood the urgency of his job. But there were times when she needed him, too. Like now. She wished she could have his company for even an hour, right now.

Unfortunately, wishing alone couldn’t make it happen, she reminded herself.

She forced her thoughts back to Sayreville, Illinois, and the mystery she’d found there a year ago, a mystery that remained unsolved.

She turned the chair around to gaze on the boxes she’d brought up from the basement. It had been in a box very much like any one of those that she’d first found report cards, dated from the 1940s, from Saint John the Baptist Elementary School in Sayreville, Illinois, for a child named Edward Kroll. From the comments written in the small, precise hand of Sister Mary Matthew, Regan had learned that Eddie Kroll had been an asset to the class, had shown an aptitude for mathematics, was inquisitive and an excellent reader. But there’d been no explanation of how or why her father had come into possession of these pieces from another boy’s childhood, or why he had kept them hidden away. She’d searched through hundreds of files since her father’s death, but the name hadn’t turned up anywhere else. She’d even asked Mitch to run a check through the FBI computers to see if Edward Kroll had a criminal record, but he hadn’t gotten any hits. The puzzle had led Regan to place ads in all of the newspapers local to Sayreville, Illinois. It had been one of those ads that had come to the attention of Dolly Brown.

Dolly Brown told Regan she’d been a neighbor of the Krolls, and how, at age thirteen, Eddie Kroll and two of his friends had lured another classmate to a vacant lot, where they’d beaten the boy to death. Eddie, as the youngest of the three, and the least culpable, had been sentenced to juvenile detention until he turned twenty-one, at which time he was released. No one knew what happened to him after that, Dolly ...

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