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From #1 New York Times bestselling author Harlan Coben, a heart-pounding thriller about the ties we have to our past...and the lies that bind us together
It’s a profile, like all the others on the online dating site. But as NYPD detective Kat Donovan focuses on the accompanying picture, she feels her whole world explode as emotions she’s ignored for decades come crashing down on her. Staring back at her is her ex-fiancé, Jeff, the man who shattered her heart—and whom she hasn’t seen in eighteen years.
Kat feels a spark, wondering if this might be the moment when past tragedies recede and a new world opens up to her. But when she reaches out to the man in the profile, her reawakened hope quickly darkens into suspicion and then terror as an unspeakable conspiracy comes to light in which monsters prey upon the most vulnerable.
As the body count mounts and Kat’s hope for a second chance with Jeff grows more and more elusive, she is consumed by an investigation that challenges her feelings about everyone she’s ever loved—her former fiancé, her mother, and even her father, whose cruel murder so long ago has never been fully explained. With lives on the line, including her own, Kat must venture deeper into the darkness than she ever has before and discover if she has the strength to survive what she finds there.
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Harlan Coben is the internationally bestselling author of more than twenty previous novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers Six Years, Stay Close, Live Wire, Caught, Long Lost, Hold Tight and Six Years as well as the Myron Bolitar series and, more recently, a series aimed at young adults, featuring Myron’s nephew, Mickey Bolitar. The winner of the Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony Awards, he lives in New Jersey.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Kat Donovan spun off her father’s old stool, readying to leave O’Malley’s Pub, when Stacy said, “You’re not going to like what I did.”
The tone made Kat stop mid-stride. “What?”
O’Malley’s used to be an old-school cop bar. Kat’s grandfather had hung out here. So had her father and their fellow NYPD col- leagues. Now it had been turned into a yuppie, preppy, master-of- the-universe, poser asshat bar, loaded up with guys who sported crisp white shirts under black suits, two-day stubble, manscaped to the max to look un- manscaped. They smirked a lot, these soft men, their hair moussed to the point of overcoif, and ordered Ketel One instead of Grey Goose because they watched some TV ad telling them that was what real men drink.
Stacy’s eyes started darting around the bar. Avoidance. Kat didn’t like that.
“What did you do?” Kat asked. “Whoa,” Stacy said.
“A Punch-Worthy at five o’clock.”
Kat swiveled to the right to take a peek. “See him?” Stacy asked.
Décor-wise, O’Malley’s hadn’t really changed much over the years. Sure, the old console TVs had been replaced by a host of flat- screens showing too wide a variety of games—who cared about how the Edmonton Oilers did?—but outside of that, O’Malley had kept the cop feel and that was what had appealed to these posers, the faux authenticity, moving in and pushing out what had made the place hum, turning it into some Disney Epcot version of what it had once been.
Kat was the only cop left in here. The others now went home after their shifts, or to AA meetings. Kat still came and tried to sit quietly on her father’s old stool with the ghosts, especially tonight, with her father’s murder haunting her anew. She just wanted to be here, to feel her father’s presence, to—corny as it sounded—gather strength from it.
But the douche bags wouldn’t let her be, would they?
This particular Punch-Worthy—shorthand for any guy deserving a fist to the face—had committed a classic punch-worthy sin. He was wearing sunglasses. At eleven o’clock at night. In a bar with poor lighting. Other punch-worthy indictments included wearing a chain on your wallet, do-rags, unbuttoned silk shirts, an overabun- dance of tattoos (special category for those sporting tribal symbols), dog tags when you didn’t serve in the military, and really big white wristwatches.
Sunglasses smirked and lifted his glass toward Kat and Stacy. “He likes us,” Stacy said.
“Stop stalling. What won’t I like?”
When Stacy turned back toward her, Kat could see over her shoul- der the disappointment on Punch-Worthy’s glistening-with-overpriced- lotion face. Kat had seen that look a zillion times before. Men liked Stacy. That was probably something of an understatement. Stacy was frighteningly, knee-knockingly, teeth-and-bone-and-metal-meltingly hot. Men became both weak-legged and stupid around Stacy. Mostly stupid. Really, really stupid.
This was why it was probably a mistake to hang out with some- one who looked like Stacy —guys often concluded that they had no shot when a woman looked like that. She seemed unapproachable.
Kat, in comparison, did not.
Sunglasses honed in on Kat and began to make his move. He didn’t so much walk toward her as glide on his own slime.
Stacy suppressed a giggle. “This is going to be good.”
Hoping to discourage him, Kat gave the guy flat eyes and a dis- dainful frown. Sunglasses was not deterred. He bebopped over, mov- ing to some sound track that was playing only in his own head.
“Hey, babe,” Sunglasses said. “Is your name Wi-Fi?” Kat waited.
“Because I’m feeling a connection.” Stacy burst out laughing.
Kat just stared at him. He continued.
“I love you small chicks, you know? You’re kinda adorable. A
spinner, am I right? You know what would look good on me? You.” “Do these lines ever work?” Kat asked him.
“I’m not done yet.” Sunglasses coughed into his fist, took out his iPhone, and held it up to Kat. “Hey, babe, congrats—you’ve just moved to the top of my to-do list.”
Stacy loved it.
Kat said, “What’s your name?”
He arched an eyebrow. “Whatever you want it to be, babe.” “How about Ass Waffle?” Kat opened her blazer, showing the
weapon on her belt. “I’m going to reach for my gun now, Ass Waffle.” “Damn, woman, are you my new boss?” He pointed to his crotch.
“Because you just gave me a raise.” “Go away.”
“My love for you is like diarrhea,” Sunglasses said. “I just can’t hold it in.”
Kat stared at him, horrified. “Too far?” he said.
“Oh man, that’s just gross.”
“Yeah, but I bet you never heard it before.” He’d win that bet. “Leave. Now.”
Stacy was nearly on the floor with laughter.
Sunglasses started to turn away. “Wait. Is this a test? Is Ass Waffle, like, a compliment or something?”
He shrugged, turned, spotted Stacy, figured why not. He looked her long body up and down and said, “The word of the day is legs. Let’s go back to your place and spread the word.”
Stacy was still loving it. “Take me, Ass Waffle. Right here. Right now.”
Ass Waffle looked back at Kat. Kat put her hand on the butt of her gun. He held up his hands and slinked away.
Kat said, “Stacy?” “Hmm?”
“Why do these guys keep thinking they have a chance with me?” “Because you look cute and perky.”
“I’m not perky.”
“No, but you look perky.”
“Seriously, do I look like that much of a loser?”
“You look damaged,” Stacy said. “I hate to say it. But the damage . . . it comes off you like some kind of pheromone that douche bags can’t resist.”
They both took a sip of their drinks. “So what won’t I like?” Kat asked.
Stacy looked back toward Ass Waffle. “I feel bad for him now. Maybe I should throw him a quickie.”
“What?” Stacy crossed her show-off long legs and smiled at Ass Waffle. He made a face that reminded Kat of a dog left in a car too long. “Do you think this skirt is too short?”
“Skirt?” Kat said. “I thought it was a belt.”
Stacy liked that. She loved the attention. She loved picking up men, because she thought a one-night stand with her was somehow life changing for them. It was also part of her job. Stacy owned a private investigation firm with two other gorgeous women. Their specialty? Catching (really, entrapping) cheating spouses.
“What won’t I like?” “This.”
Still teasing Ass Waffle, Stacy handed Kat a piece of paper. Kat looked at the paper and frowned:
“What is this?”
“KD8115 is your user name.” Her initials and badge number.
“HottestSexEvah is your password. Oh, and it’s case sensitive.” “And these are for?”
“A website. YouAreJustMyType.com.” “Huh?”
“It’s an online dating service.”
Kat made a face. “Please tell me you’re joking.” “It’s upscale.”
“That’s what they say about strip clubs.”
“I bought you a subscription,” Stacy said. “It’s good for a year.” “You’re kidding, right?”
“I don’t kid. I do some work for this company. They’re good. And let’s not fool ourselves. You need someone. You want someone. And you aren’t going to find him in here.”
Kat sighed, rose, and nodded to the bartender, a guy named Pete
who looked like a character actor who always played the Irish bar- tender—which is what, in fact, he was. Pete nodded back, indicating that he’d put the drinks on Kat’s tab.
“Who knows?” Stacy said. “You could end up meeting Mr. Right.” Kat started for the door. “But more likely, Mr. Ass Waffle.”
Kat typed in “YouAreJustMyType.com,” hit the return button, and filled in her new user name and the rather embarrassing pass- word. She frowned when she saw the moniker at the top of the profile that Stacy had chosen for her:
Cute and perky!
“She left off damaged,” Kat muttered under her breath.
It was past midnight, but Kat wasn’t much of a sleeper. She lived in an area far too upscale for her—West 67th Street off Central Park West, in the Atelier. A hundred years ago, this and its neighboring buildings, including the famed Hotel des Artistes, had housed writ- ers, painters, intellectuals—artists. The spacious old-world apart- ments faced the street, the smaller artist studios in the back. Eventually, the old art studios were converted into one-bedroom apartments. Kat’s father, a cop who watched his friends get rich doing nothing but buying real estate, tried to find his way in. A guy whose life Dad had saved sold him the place on the cheap.
Kat had first used it as an undergrad at Columbia University. She had paid for her Ivy League education with an NYPD scholarship. According to the life plan, she was then supposed to go to law school and join a big white-shoe firm in New York City, finally breaking away from the cursed family legacy of police work.
Alas, it hadn’t worked out that away.
A glass of red wine sat next to her keyboard. Kat drank too much. She knew that was a cliché—a cop who drank too much—but sometimes the clichés are there for a reason. She functioned fine. She didn’t drink on the job. It didn’t really affect her life in any notice- able way, but if Kat made calls or even decisions late at night, they tended to be, er, sloppy ones. She had learned over the years to turn off her mobile phone and stay away from e-mail after ten p.m.
Yet here she was, late at night, checking out random dudes on a dating website.
Stacy had uploaded four photographs to Kat’s page. Kat’s profile picture, a head shot, had been cropped from a bridesmaid group photo taken at a wedding last year. Kat tried to view herself objec- tively, but that was impossible. She hated the picture. The woman in the photograph looked unsure of herself, her smile weak, almost as though she were waiting to be slapped or something. Every photograph—now that she went through the painful ritual of view- ing them—had been cropped from group pictures, and in every one, Kat looked as though she were half wincing.
Okay, enough of her own profile.
On the job, the only men she met were cops. She didn’t want a cop. Cops were good men and horrible husbands. She knew that only too well. When Grandma got terminally ill, her grandfather, unable to handle it, ran off until, well, it was too late. Pops never forgave himself for that. That was Kat’s theory anyway. He was lonely and while he had been a hero to many, Pops chickened out when it counted most and he couldn’t live with that and his service revolver was sitting right there, right on the same top shelf in the kitchen where he’d always kept it, and so one night, Kat’s grand- father reached up and took his piece down from the shelf and sat by himself at the kitchen table and . . .
Dad too would go on benders and disappear for days at a time. Mom would be extra cheery when this happened—which made it all the more scary and creepy—either pretending Dad was on an under- cover mission or ignoring his disappearance altogether, literally out of sight, out of mind, and then, maybe a week later, Dad would waltz in with a fresh shave and a smile and a dozen roses for Mom, and everyone would act like this was normal.
YouAreJustMyType.com. She, the cute and perky Kat Donovan, was on an Internet dating site. Man oh man, talk about the best-laid plans. She lifted the wineglass, made a toasting gesture toward the computer screen, and took too big a gulp.
The world sadly was no longer conducive to meeting a life part- ner. Sex, sure. That was easy. That was, in fact, the expectation, the elephant in the date room, and while she loved the pleasures of the flesh as much as the next gal, the truth was, when you went to bed with someone too quickly, rightly or wrongly, the chances of a long- term relationship took a major hit. She didn’t put a moral judgment on this. It was just the way it was.
Her computer dinged. A message bubble popped up:
We have matches for you! Click here to see someone who might be perfect for you!
Kat finished the glass of wine. She debated pouring another, but really, enough. She took stock of herself and realized an obvious yet unspoken truth: She wanted someone in her life. Have the courage to admit that to yourself, okay? Much as she strove to be indepen- dent, Kat wanted a man, a partner, someone in her bed at night. She didn’t pine or force it or even make much of an effort. But she wasn’t really built to be alone.
She began to click through the profiles. You’ve got to be in it to win it, right?
Some men could be eliminated with a quick glance at their profile photograph. It was key when you thought about it. The profile por- trait each man had painstakingly chosen was, in pretty much every way, the first (very controlled) impression. It thus spoke volumes.
So: If you made the conscious choice to wear a fedora, that was an automatic no. If you chose not to wear a shirt, no matter how well built you were, automatic no. If you had a Bluetooth in your ear—gosh, aren’t you important?—automatic no. If you had a soul patch or sported a vest or winked or made hand gestures or chose a tangerine-hued shirt (personal bias) or balanced your sunglasses on top of your head, automatic no, no, no. If your profile name was Man- Stallion, SexySmile, RichPrettyBoy, LadySatisfier—you get the gist.
Kate clicked open a few where the guy looked . . . approachable, she guessed. There was a sad, depressing sameness to all the write-ups. Every person on the website enjoyed walks on a beach and dining out and exercising and exotic travel and wine tasting and theater and museums and being active and taking chances and grand adventures— yet they were equally content with staying home and watching a movie, coffee and conversation, cooking, reading a book, the simple pleasures. Every guy claimed that the most important quality they looked for in a woman was a sense of humor—right, sure—to the point where Kat wondered whether “sense of humor” was a euphe- mism for “big boobs.” Of course, every man also listed preferred body type as athletic, slender, and curvy.
That seemed more accurate, if not downright wishful.
The profiles never reflected reality. Rather than being what you are, they were a wonderful if not futile exercise in what you think you are or what you want a potential partner to think you are—or most likely, the profiles (and, man, shrinks would have a field day) simply reflect what you want to be.
The personal statements were all over the place, but if she had to use one word to sum them up, it would probably be treacle. The first read, “Every morning, life is a blank canvas waiting to be painted”— click. Some aimed for honest by telling you repeatedly that they were honest. Some faked sincerity. Some were highfalutin or show- boating or insecure or needy. Just like real life, when Kat thought about it. Most were simply trying too hard. The stench of desperation came off the screen in squiggly, bad- cologne waves. The con- stant soul-mate talk was, at best, off-putting. In real life, Kat thought, none of us can find someone we want to go out with more than onc...
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