From beloved storyteller and #1 New York Times bestselling author Fern Michaels comes a thrilling novel of action and adventure in the Lost and Found series featuring siblings Cullen and Luna Bodman, who must unravel a cold case connected to a mysterious armoire …
Luna Bodman always looks forward to a new shipment of furniture at the restoration shop. Her brother, Cullen, has a knack for finding discarded pieces with an intriguing history, and Luna likes to sit with each item to see if she can feel any kind of vibrations. Usually, Cullen does his thing while Luna does hers, but the arrival of an old armoire triggers a reaction in Luna that’s impossible to ignore.
From the moment Luna wiggles inside the armoire and closes her eyes, she feels an overpowering and disturbing sensation. Emerging, she asks for a flashlight and discovers a word scraped into the wood: “HELP.” Hoping to uncover the piece’s secrets, Luna contacts her good friend, U.S. Marshall Christopher Gaines, and the group sets out to trace the armoire’s origins.
The search points to a private school in New England, and a mysterious, long-ago ransom case. The kidnappers were never found, but decades later, the answers may finally be within reach …
Release date: August 22, 2023
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 320
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Chad Pierce Sr. hit the lottery the day he met Camille. Figuratively speaking, that is. He had been on the sailing team in college, and once a year he and his pals would meet up somewhere for their annual bacchanalian reunion. That particular year it was Newport, Rhode Island, during the America’s Cup match. Even into his late twenties, Chad still enjoyed carousing and drinking until the wee hours of the morning. That is, until he spotted the lithe, stunning woman leaning on the railing of the yacht club veranda. Her gaze was on the sunrise as wisps of her bangs gently caressed her face. Her white silk scarf floated with the breeze. Chad was gobsmacked. She reminded him of Michelle Pfeiffer in that stupid, sophomoric movie The Hollywood Knights. It wasn’t because of the character she had played. It was because she shared that same striking, understated beauty.
Chad slowly moved off the lounge chair that had served as his bed. He was lucky no one had spotted him sleeping, rather recovering, from a night he could barely remember. He looked down at his rumpled clothes, sniffed at his armpits and jerked his head away in disgust. But that woman. He had to meet her. He looked around for a porter or someone who might know the lady’s identity and who might be discreet enough not to run him off the property. He spotted a steward setting up tables for brunch. He riffled through his wrinkled Bermuda shorts, hoping he still had some cash in his pocket. Fortune smiled on him, and he pulled out a twenty-dollar bill. He waited until the steward was within loud whispering range and he could see the man’s name tag.
The man was startled but quickly noticed Chad pressing his finger to his lips, indicating he should say nothing. Chad motioned for the steward to come closer. Once out of the woman’s line of sight and earshot, Chad pulled Selwyn to the side. “Sorry, old man, but could you tell me who that lovely young lady is?” Chad made sure to reveal Andrew Jackson’s face on the proffered bill. He then apologized for his appearance. “A night out with the boys. You understand.”
Selwyn had seen his share of misbehaved, spoiled and often drunk young men. Newport was rife with them. Especially in the summer, during yachting season. Selwyn also knew to remain invisible, never directly interacting with the clientele unless they needed something. Rarely did any of them offer him money for information. He hesitated, but remembered that the young man had been hanging about the night before with several other men dressed in similar regalia. He gently pulled the bill from Chad’s fingers.
“That would be Camille Atherton Tindale. A very nice young lady.” Over the years, Selwyn’s Caribbean accent had softened but the singsong cadence remained refreshing and comforting. When addressed, he always made things sound easy, with a nod and an “absolutely” or “no problem” followed by “right away.” He continued. “She often comes here early in the morning. She likes to feed the ducks.” He grinned at the disheveled young man, eyeing Chad up and down. “If you want to have the pleasure of her company, I might suggest a shower, a shave and a fresh set of clothes.”
“Right.” Chad was appreciative of the man’s kindly straightforwardness. “Can you tell me where she lives?” Chad had immediately recognized the Tindale name. A very wealthy family.
“Oh, no. That would not be correct, but what I can do is tell you that she and some of her friends are planning a little party this evenin’. Some kind of celebration. Six o’clock, if I am correct in my recollection.” He pointed to his head.
Chad grabbed the man by both shoulders. He wanted to give him a big kiss. “Thanks, old chap!” Chad patted him on the shoulder and skedaddled to go clean up his act and figure out a way to meet the very beautiful, very rich Camille. It would take a bit of finesse, but that was one thing Chad was extremely good at. Charm, poise and skill. When he smiled, his green eyes sparkled and the dimple in his left cheek made him even more appealing. He could make you believe you were the only person in the room and you had his full, undivided attention. Yes, his demeanor could charm the pants off anyone . . . and it had. Many times. But this time . . . this time it was different. There was something special about that woman, her wealth notwithstanding.
Chad had grown up in an upper-middle class family on Long Island. They were well-to-do enough to enjoy a summer house in the Hamptons, which was where he had learned to sail. He attended a state college, graduated and began working at a local bank. But his family’s finances were nowhere near Camille’s. Not even close. Because he had grown up privileged enough, it was easy for him to navigate his way around the elite, and he made it a point to surround himself with rich friends. While he couldn’t afford a $975 pair of Brunello Cucinelli boat shoes, he could pull off the $295 two-tone Sebagos. The salmon shorts and Polo shirts were easier to match as long as he was wearing his Burberry belt. A signet ring and Seiko sports watch finished off the package. Luckily, he had packed enough for the long weekend and had another set of clothes waiting for him at his friend’s house, where they were staying. Next, he had to convince his buddies to stop at the Conanicut Yacht Club for cocktails. It didn’t take much to talk his friends into another night of debauchery. He simply wouldn’t mention his real intentions for fear they might derail his plan.
That evening Chad and his three friends arrived at the yacht club at around five thirty. They gathered around the large patio bar, Chad positioning himself so he could keep an eye on the arriving patrons. His heart sank when he saw Camille enter with another man. This was going to be more difficult than he’d imagined. But then Camille gave the man a peck on the cheek and he proceeded to another table, where a lovely young woman greeted him with a more substantial kiss. Chad thought he was going to break out in a sweat.
“What’s up, mate?” Chad’s friend Steve elbowed him.
“Uh, nothing. I thought I recognized someone.”
Steve chuckled. “Yeah, last night was a doozy. Took me all day to sober up.”
Chad gave a snicker. “You got that right.”
“Speaking of last night, where did you end up?” Steve asked, recalling not seeing his pal guzzling copious amounts of coffee that morning with the others.
Chad indicated one of the lounge chairs on the side of the veranda.
Steve howled. “Man, you are too much. What happened to that babe you were hitting on?”
Chad stared into his glass of Scotch and chuckled. “I have no idea.” He looked up to see Camille greeting three female friends. From what Chad could gather from all the hugging, it appeared they hadn’t seen one another for a while. He tried not to stare at the group of women. They all seemed to be around the same age except for one, who may have been slightly older, but not by much. He noticed Selwyn carrying a champagne bucket over to their table. Clearly it was some kind of celebration. Selwyn looked in Chad’s direction and gave him a very subtle nod. When the cork popped, the women gave a dainty cheer and applauded as Selwyn poured each of them a glass.
Chad was careful not to stare, but it wasn’t easy. Camille was wearing a silk Georgian floral dress, her hair pulled back with a matching ribbon. Chad was keenly aware that his timing had to be impeccable. But he also didn’t want to lose his nerve. It was now or never. He extricated himself from his buddies, snapped a gardenia from one of the planters and casually walked toward the table where the women were sitting.
“I beg your pardon, ladies.” That smile of his stopped them in their tracks. He gave a slight bow with one hand behind his back. “My name is Chad Pierce. I realize this is quite unconventional, but I couldn’t help noticing how stunning you are.” His eyes locked with Camille’s. He pulled his arm around and presented the flower to her. “Please excuse my impertinence, but if you could do me the honor of joining me for dinner one evening, you would make me the happiest man on the planet.” He quickly cleared his throat. “That is, if you are so inclined and not attached to anyone else, although I would find that extremely hard to believe.”
Camille smiled up at him and extended her hand. “Camille Tindale. I am pleased to meet you. And yes, this is a bit unconventional.” The other women were chuckling. “But how do I know you aren’t a serial killer?” Camille’s friend Elle snorted, trying to keep the champagne from flying out of her nose.
Chad was deadpan. “I can give you a copy of my dossier, or would you prefer a chaperone?”
“I think we should invite Mr. Pierce to join us.” Elle looked at the other women. “That way we can all assess the situation.” She, too, was deadpan.
“Oh, I wouldn’t think of barging in on your dinner,” Chad said politely.
“Ah, but you already have,” Camille said slyly. She looked at her companions. They shrugged in agreement.
Chad flashed that smile again. “I am with a few of my sailing mates.” He nodded over to where his buddies stood with their mouths agape.
Elle was the next one to speak. “Then I think we should make this a party. What do you say, girls?”
“Sure!” Maureen raised her glass.
“Sounds like fun!” Liza chimed in.
“Why not?” Camille replied.
“Really, ladies. I sincerely do not want to impose on your dinner.”
Elle was the first to answer. “Not at all.”
Chad looked around. “I’ll talk to Selwyn and have him move us to another table. Excuse me for a moment. I’ll rally the troops.”
He motioned to Selwyn and explained the party was expanding, and could he please find a space that would accommodate them? Eight in all. Chad was also astute enough to slip him another twenty.
“No problem, sir. Will do it in a jiffy.”
Chad then went over to his buddies, who were still in a state of shock. “Gentlemen, we have been invited to join those lovely ladies for dinner.”
“Wait. What?” Drew asked.
“You heard me.” Chad then lowered his voice. “These are very influential women, and they seem to be in the mood for fun.”
“Only you, Chadster.” Larry used his nickname for his friend. “Well, I’m in the mood for some fun, too.”
“I’ll pick up the check and we can divvy it up later,” Chad added.
“Oh. Trying to impress the lovely blonde?” Larry asked.
“Indeed.” Chad winked, paid the bar tab, and they moved to the table Selwyn had arranged. Introductions went around the table, along with more champagne and laughs.
The evening went swimmingly. Elle explained how the women had met in Europe while Camille was on an art tour. Elle had led the tour group. Before they left Paris, the women promised to get together over the summer. That made for interesting conversation as the men were also having a reunion of sorts.
The talk continued long after dessert was served, one of the subjects being who might win the big race. Of course, everyone was rooting for the defender, the Liberty from the New York Yacht Club, but the Royal Perth Yacht Club’s Australia II was making a good show of it. They had tied the race at three wins each.
Chad slipped his credit card to Selwyn, hoping he wouldn’t be over his limit. Something like that could ruin everything, so he excused himself and followed the steward into the main hall. “If there is a problem, I don’t want anyone to know,” Chad said sheepishly.
Selwyn ran the card through the device and printed out the receipt, saying, “We won’t know until tomorrow, when the bank opens.”
Chad wrote down the phone number of the home where he was staying. “If there is an issue, please call me and I’ll make it right.”
Selwyn smiled. “No worries. I am sure you will.”
The group agreed to meet up again the next day to watch the seventh race together. The Australia II ended up taking the Cup with a margin of forty-one seconds. It was the first time in 132 years the Cup went to the challenger. In spite of the loss, the mood was festive and jovial, and Camille was enchanted with her audacious new friend. After the race they strolled arm in arm back to the yacht club, leaving the other partygoers behind.
“I have to go back to New York tomorrow,” Chad said as he took her hand. “It has been my greatest pleasure spending time with you.” He kissed the back of her hand.
“Mine as well.” Camille hesitated for a moment. “I’ll be in New York next month. My family owns an apartment on Sutton Place. Perhaps we can have dinner then?”
Chad tried to keep his cool. “Yes. That would be wonderful.” He kissed the back of her hand once more. “How shall we be in touch?”
Camille reached into her purse and pulled out a fine linen card with her name and phone number embossed upon it in gold lettering. “I plan to arrive on the first of October. You can call then and leave word.” She smiled, turned and floated back toward her friends, who were also bidding each other adieu.
Two weeks later, Chad phoned Camille and they made plans to meet at La Grenouille, a historic and award-winning restaurant on East 52nd Street with excellent food and a romantic atmosphere. It was a gem for special occasions. And Chad believed this was certainly special. He also chose it so he could suggest walking Camille home afterward, as it was only a few blocks from her parents’ apartment. For Chad, the stars were aligned.
Camille was in her mid-twenties when she first met Chad. She was coming off a very bad breakup, which was one of the reasons she had fled to Paris. She had to get away and immerse herself in a distraction. The timing of the art tour was perfect and the tour guide, Elle, was as passionate about art as one could be. Elle was five years older than Camille and working on her PhD in art history. They hit it off from the get-go. Elle was married to Richard Stillwell, a real estate attorney in Buncombe County, North Carolina. Elle was the kind of person you could confide in, and boy, did Camille need a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to lean on.
Camille explained how her ex had humiliated her after their two-year engagement. Just three months before Camille’s wedding, her father discovered her fiancé was cheating on her with one of her father’s personal assistants. In addition to being a scoundrel, Camille’s fiancé had the nerve to cheat with someone from within her family’s business. Camille was mortified. The wedding invitations had already been sent out. The bridal registries were complete. The Ritz-Carlton had been booked for the reception, and the honeymoon in Greece was paid for.
Camille went on to explain to Elle how her father broke the news to her and suggested she go to Paris, where she could put some physical and emotional distance between herself and her friends. Her father also put distance between the rogue ex-fiancé and his job, firing him in front of the staff and then having the security guards escort him out of the building.
Harrison Tindale Jr. took great pleasure notifying everyone in his circle of friends and associates that under no circumstances should they hire his former future son-in-law No one was going to hurt Daddy’s little girl. The rumor was the ex-betrothed hightailed it to another state. The situation was never spoken about again. Not at home. Not at the office. Not ever.
Now, many months later, Camille realized it was the best thing that could have happened to her. She had made a very good friend in Elle, and she was smitten with a captivating, alluring, handsome man. All thanks to Elle. Had Elle not suggested the impromptu dinner party at the yacht club, Camille would not be walking on air right now.
The romance was a whirlwind. But to be certain Camille wasn’t getting involved with another ne’er-do-well, Harrison Tindale hired a private detective to find out exactly who Chad Pierce was. As it turned out, Chad came from a decent family. He was educated and ambitious. He worked at a bank and got a promotion after his first year. He had no criminal record and everyone who was interviewed thought highly of him. With all the right boxes checked, Harrison was relieved his daughter had found an acceptable suitor. And Chad seemed to make her happy. Harrison couldn’t remember how long it had been since Camille smiled so much. Even when she was engaged to the cad, she never seemed as happy as a bride-to-be should be. Maybe back then her instincts told her something wasn’t quite right, but now there was someone new in her life. Someone who brought her joy and laughter.
With the size of his bank and Chad’s financial experience, Harrison knew he could create a job for his soon-to-be son-in-law. And because of Chad’s experience, the word “nepotism” would not be tossed around much. Or so Harrison hoped. Harrison’s desire was to keep the family business within the family and not sell out to some greedy bunch of impresarios. His family had made their money the hard way—they’d earned it. They had survived the Depression and created jobs, and he wanted that legacy to continue. The only thing left was the prenuptial agreement, which Chad gladly signed. There was no way Chad was going to screw up this relationship.
Chad had never been in love before he met Camille. He never even thought he was capable of it. His father was a stoic, his mother a bit of a drunk, although they never referred to people in their circle of friends as drunkards. Probably because most of the women cracked open the sauce at noon and no one was going to throw stones. This was a whole new life for Chad, and he was going to be a good husband and partner. If only he could get over his feelings of inferiority. Maybe in time, when he could prove his worth to Camille and her family.
Chad and Camille were married at St. Bartholomew’s Church within a year of first meeting. The reception was held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. They didn’t want to have it at the Ritz-Carlton; that would have been too weird, given Camille’s thwarted original wedding plans. Although the guest list of 500 people remained the same. A second reception was held at the Tindale estate in Newport. That guest list was a modest 300, including Selwyn and his wife. Before Camille’s mother could protest at the idea of inviting a member of the yacht club waitstaff, Camille reminded her family that Selwyn was partially responsible for introducing her to Chad. Camille’s mother never said another word, and the night of the event no one even recognized Selwyn as a steward, with him in his tailored tuxedo and his stunning wife wearing a sexy Norma Kamali dress. Over the years, Camille would grow fonder and fonder of Selwyn. But never more so than at her wedding reception.
As a wedding present, Camille’s parents gave her and Chad a three-story town house on Sniffen Court, a very small historic district in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan. A year later, Camille had their one and only child, Chad James Richard Pierce Jr., whom everyone referred to as J.R. for Junior.
Camille continued her philanthropic work from her home office and tended to J.R. Unlike her friends, Camille refused to have a nanny raise her child. They did have two housekeepers, but that was their sole responsibility: keeping up with the household chores and maintaining the kitchen and other supplies. Chad worked long hours and started a financial advisory branch of the bank. When the time came, J.R. was enrolled in Manhattan’s Trinity School. With J.R. in school and Chad moving up the corporate ladder, continuing to prove his worth to the company, Camille resumed some of her volunteer duties at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Life was good, steady and rewarding—until J.R. began his freshman year in high school.
Despite having private tutors, J.R.’s grades plummeted, forcing his parents to transfer him to a different private school. This time it was Horace Mann, which had a more diverse environment. That lasted a year. From there, he was sent to Hackley, a private boarding school in Tarrytown. His father thought removing him from his comfortable surroundings and his equally spoiled friends might inspire his son to straighten up. J.R. only had two more years to go before college—provided he could get into a college. Sadly, after a few months of skipping classes and being caught smoking numerous times in the stairwell, J.R. was expelled and sent home.
Camille was heartsick over her son’s inability to focus on his schoolwork. Even after months of therapy for J.R., there didn’t seem to be any diagnosis except for laziness and apathy. It appeared J.R. was trapped on the wheel of entitlement, something his parents regretted. J.R. lived a charmed life. The eighteen-year-old was pampered by both his mother and father. He drove a $50,000 car and carried a platinum American Express card, the bills for which went directly to his father’s office. J.R. had failed miserably at his several boarding schools, and now his father was desperate for him to get into a high-profile college. J.R.’s parents therefore decided a complete change of scenery and a stricter environment might shake him into a sense of responsibility. Frustrated and exasperated, they enrolled him in Briarcliff Academy in Massachusetts for his senior year. The school specialized in colleg. . .
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