You can always trust your family… Can’t you?
Some people think I’m jealous of my sister, but it isn’t true.
I love her confidence; her free spirit. She’s the reckless one in the family, always wearing skimpy clothes and posting her life on social media. I prefer reading, walking my rescue dog and early nights in my New York apartment.
It’s not that I meant to keep her a secret from my boyfriend, Bradley, but she just didn’t come up in conversation.
So when I find him looking at photos of her online, I pretend not to notice.
But as he spends more and more time on his phone, I know I have to do something. I can’t let her ruin my life again.
When the police knock on my door to tell me my dear sister has been reported missing, I instantly regret the last thing I said to her—I wish you were dead.
I didn’t mean it. Did I?
If you enjoy gripping psychological thrillers like The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl and The Wife Between Us, you will love this totally addictive novel from a USA Today bestselling author.
What readers are saying about Arianne Richmonde:
“Woah! What a ride! I read this book straight through cover to cover. Full of twists I never saw coming.” Meandering and Muses, 5 stars
“Gripping, heart-pounding and completely unpredictable.” Little Miss Book Lover 87, 5 stars
“A psychological thrill ride you won’t be able to look away from. Once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. 6 stars!” Alessandra Torre, New York Times bestselling author
“Had me up all night to finish it. I just had to know how it ended!!!” The Shelves of a Bibliophile, 5 stars
“I was hooked from the very first page. This one blew me away. I couldn’t put it down. Keeps you on the edge of your seat.” Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
“Taut and tantalizing… Wow, this author has done a fabulous job. I loved every twist. I finished it in a few hours.” NetGalley reviewer, 5 stars
“Wow! I read way past my bedtime simply because I didn’t want to stop reading.” Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
“Plentiful WTF moments and numerous plot twists all made this one of my favorite recent reads.” Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
“Definitely a gripping psychological thriller from beginning to end!” Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
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Release date: October 19, 2021
Print pages: 350
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One Happy Family
When I finally looked up, the detective was waiting for me to speak, rapping her fingers on the table, her eye contact unbroken. But what could I say? I challenged her with my gaze, challenged her to throw the ball in my court. I didn’t want her to see how nervous I was. Perhaps she was too smart for that? I sipped the coffee tentatively to bide my time. It burned my tongue. So I curled my fingers around the cup, allowing the heat to comfort me a little. The air con was up high. Was this on purpose to make me uncomfortable?
They had told me plainly that I was “not under arrest,” yet I knew that did not let me off the hook. They had dressed it up in such a friendly manner. They called this “an appointment.” As if I’d called ahead asking to come in for a chat myself.
The walls of the interview room felt like they were caving in on me. There was nothing but this desk in the middle of the room and three office chairs, not quite as uncomfortable as usually depicted on TV; the officers’ seats on rollers, mine on straight legs, so they could move in on me, but I was trapped. Nothing on the bleak bare walls, just the glare of the bright, neon lights above. Cruel and invasive, showing up every pore of your skin. No clock. I guessed they didn’t want suspects (or perpetrators, which did they think I was?) to know for how long they were being interviewed, or rather, interrogated.
Let the masterful game of cat and mouse begin, I thought, wondering if I had the skills to outsmart them.
I supposed they were all gaping in on us from a one-way mirrored window: the other detectives. I was being videoed—they had alerted me to that fact—and anything I said would be recorded, used in evidence against me, matching up any lies I told so they could lock me into my story. They had their wily ways. They’d be measuring the weight of my guilt, looking for me to slip up, confess. It was soundproofed, the room. My ears felt muffled, but I knew they could hear every single word I said. I hadn’t asked for a lawyer. Not yet. I assumed that would make things look worse. And if they did decide to arrest me mid-interview, they could only detain me for so long, legally speaking. Another thing I’d learned from cop shows.
I knew my rights.
The door swung open and the other detective strolled into the room. This one was the nice guy, I assumed. The good cop. Because he smiled at me. I returned the gesture briefly back, wondering if that made me look guiltier.
I knew what I was being accused of.
Murdering my twin. Although they hadn’t mentioned her yet.
“Coffee okay?” the good cop asked. Detective Elba, his name was. He had a dangerously affable, easy air about him, instantly likeable… he reminded me of Will Smith.
I shook my head. “It could be better.”
“Honesty. I like that,” he said, his lips tipping up into a broad grin. His friendly eyes held mine. Probably about five foot ten? Not tall. He had a hint of a Bronx accent.
The other detective who’d been eyeballing me—the woman, Detective Pearce—was a petite blonde: a tough cookie with an attitude. I admired her bravery for joining the force. What kind of person would do this job? Risk their lives every single day in New York City? It really was commendable. I had no qualms about paying my taxes, knowing my money was helping to keep our city safe from criminals. But now that I was their target criminal, I resented the NYPD’s fastidiousness. Here I was: their sitting duck.
I considered requesting an attorney, at this point, as was my legal right. Have one with me while I answered their questions, but my tongue was stuck to the roof of my mouth and I seemed unable to speak. Plus, there was no way I could tell her the truth. I was screwed.
I wondered how long before they found out what I’d done.
I guessed it was a matter of days before my world came crashing down on me.
If I hadn’t met Bradley, I wouldn’t be here now.
It was a warm April morning, early—it must have been around seven a.m.—when Bradley first laid his discerning eyes on Sara.
He was on his usual daily journey to work, hurriedly striding along the sidewalk of Fifth Avenue, wearing a three-piece suit and polished, handmade shoes. He cut into Central Park, his briefcase moving in time with his clippity-clip pace, his earbuds in place, in case he needed to make or receive an important call. He would always walk through the park, a small detour but worth it, down to 59th and then across to catch the Lexington Avenue 4 train—in the spring and summer especially. In winter, he’d usually forgo the walking—it was too cold—he’d just ride the subway the whole way.
But today, heading to work—he always arrived an hour earlier than he had to—Bradley decided, because it was such a beautiful day, to take a stroll, head in the opposite direction for a change, so he did a one-eighty and veered north.
After fifteen minutes or so, he found himself by the little boat pond, officially known as Conservatory Water, breathing in the scent of cherry blossom and watching mothers with their small kids, and joggers and dog walkers, and all manner of Manhattanites going about their eventful park business.
He noticed the dog first. A black and brown mutt that gave no clue to what breed it was. Medium in size with big pointy, caricature ears. Maybe a mixture of terrier and German Shepherd, with a little Labrador thrown in? It was zipping along, its sturdy front legs trailing a pair of wheels behind it: a contraption that helped it walk. A kind of dog wheelchair, although the dog seemed to have mastery over the apparatus and not vice versa. Bradley discerned the dog’s back legs, held up by stirrups, like legs belonging to a rag doll, yet active, moving helplessly (without thigh muscles to support it) but making all the normal movements any dog would make, were it in good shape. Muscle memory, he supposed. Its two front legs pattered along at a pretty fast pace and the wheels followed smoothly behind on the path. It was a brilliant but simple contraption. He had imagined how many people must have advocated putting the dog down to “save its misery” to “not let it suffer,” but the creature was supremely happy. Thrilled with itself and its surroundings. Wagging its tail as the wheels spun along behind, the dog even letting out little yips of delight. It lifted Bradley’s heart to see such determination and joy juxtaposed against so much adversity. If only all of us, he thought, could be as valiant and upbeat as this little dog.
Its walker, a woman, who looked in her late twenties, kept up a brisk pace herself, a small smile tipping up her pretty lips, her long dark hair blowing faintly in the morning breeze. No makeup, no airs or graces, just a regular-looking girl in sneakers and jeans. Another dog sped across the path, not on a leash. The woman and the disabled dog paused while the other dog, a white standard poodle sporting a fancy pompom, sniffed the disabled dog’s behind. The woman and the poodle’s owner laughed and chatted briefly, and then the cute woman and her wheelchair mutt moved along.
Bradley didn’t have time to study her closer, so he overtook, circling back around the pond, and carried on his brisk journey, wondering what it would be like to date her. Pretty, but not too pretty. Not intimidating. Not unapproachable. She had a lovely, soft look about her. A little dreamy maybe. But thinking about dating again made him nervous. He didn’t want his heart broken into tiny pieces again. When Cassandra died, his whole world had folded in on itself, and he asked himself if he’d ever be able to love again.
He had vowed to himself to never get too involved, to just have fun without giving too much of himself. Sex without love: that was the way to go. Choosing women for short-term commitments had been working pretty well, or so he had thought at first. His plan was to shoal up as much money as he could while he could, and when it came to settling down—because he did want a family—he wanted someone to love him for who he was. But he’d been going about things the wrong way; at thirty-nine, he was aware that things needed to change.
When he found the right woman, he’d take it slowly. He would not rush in.
Lately, in the last few months, he’d had that creeping realization that he wasn’t getting any younger and he was missing out on what mattered in life. His friends back home had settled down, yet Bradley’s lonely heart was meandering, roaming without purpose, wasting time. The “fun” he’d promised himself had turned out to be the opposite of what he’d imagined: a string of vacuous affairs that left him feeling empty, even worthless. Who were these women he had nothing in common with, who saw him only for his veneer of wealth? He’d been choosing so badly. Invariably things went pear-shaped within a month or two, sometimes within weeks, or even days. Either they wanted to move in with him yesterday, or they had addiction issues. Or partied with abandon.
No, Bradley had been there done that. His old friend and confidante, Delilah, was right. He needed to regroup, reevaluate his situation. His work was just a means to his true pathway in life. He needed to milk his situation while he could, buy as many stocks and shares as possible, date the right girl, and buy his dream home in Hawaii. Bradley was just a regular guy from a pretty simple, suburban background. Nothing fancy, nothing unusual, but he’d always had drive, and that inner drive had made him push himself to make the most out of life. He was an opportunist, in a way, knowing a good thing when he saw it, snapping it up without hesitation. He’d worked hard to get where he was, and although he wanted to pat himself on the back for what he’d achieved so far, he couldn’t deny he felt that razor-sharp edge of insecurity running along his spine. So he made up for it with a smattering of bravado and his confident smile. At work, he’d bring his colleagues donuts and coffee (he learned that tip from Dexter, his favorite show). He liked being the nice guy, the one they could depend on, the one they trusted.
He knew his parents were less than impressed with his life, though, as things stood now. The partying, the glitzy show of worldly goods he pocketed like shiny marbles. He couldn’t throw off that materialistic pull, that need to prove himself, that deep feeling in his gut that he was nothing without his beautiful apartment, the closet of hand-tailored suits, his sleek dress watch. Where had this come from? For a Minnesota boy from a humble family, with parents who wanted nothing more than for their son to do an honest day’s work, he had no idea how he had become so covetous for material cornucopia, the outward trappings of success. A bandage for his wounds? Possible.
He felt like Bud Fox, sometimes, Bud from the movie, Wall Street. It had been a revelation when he saw that film. He was only a little boy when it came out, but he’d seen it on TV recently and the story had moved him profoundly, so much so, he had vowed he’d make changes to his lifestyle. Like Bud, he had sold his soul in a way. Sold it for things. Exchanged it for a way of life that was alien to everything he’d been taught by his parents and the values they held strong. His dad would be watching a game of football on TV now, drinking a beer, his mom shopping at the local mall, comparing prices, picking the generic brand, his old school friends maybe playing pool in the local bar or, in summer, cooking up a barbeque in their backyard, kids running around excitedly. But Bradley had wanted more than just a nice, stable, two-point-two-kids life. Always searching for something to make him feel whole. He knew money wasn’t the answer. So, what was? What was the magic ingredient if money wasn’t the answer? So he’d gone to the other extreme in his pursuit: he’d tried to get spiritual with Ashtanga yoga, but he found out that a lot of those yoga people were covertly ambitious. It was quite a paradox: their competitive ego spirits clawing to be fed: proving how open their hips were, how flexible their hamstrings, and how lean their muscles. Forget Ujjayi breathing, it was the six-pack they were all after. He’d gotten willingly sucked in to the spirituality of it, but Bradley knew better; it had turned into a competition.
Yearning to prove how adequate he was, all he felt was inadequate. This, he knew, was the antithesis of what yoga was supposed to be, but, inexplicably, he’d ended up in a class full of alphas. Ambitious, master-of-the-universe hardcore yogis (despite the class being mostly female), their strong jaws and challenging eyes masked by serene, “spiritual” smiles as they performed the perfect asanas. It catapulted Bradley to a place that actually felt even more false than the state-of-the-art stove that lorded in his kitchen, in his multi-million-dollar apartment, unused, shining—never-made-a-meal-in-its-life perfection. Like some piece of artwork that was not there to be enjoyed, but only as part of the seamless package. Yes, his apartment on Fifth Avenue had cost him. He felt like he had made a pact with the devil for that apartment, with its view of Central Park, because none of it was true. He was denying his real self—whatever that even was—in favor of a lie.
And what was it all for?
He needed to make changes in his life, and he would start with the right partner.
He spotted the pretty woman again—the disabled dog’s mother—two weeks later, this time, by the bronze Alice in Wonderland statue. This time, in the afternoon, on a weekend. The truth was, Bradley was actively… not stalking her exactly, no, but doing everything he could to bump into her.
She was hovering about with a coffee in her hand, talking to a group of dog owners, while a couple of kids scrambled atop the giant mushroom worn smooth by so much use, the White Rabbit looking on, checking his pocket watch. Bradley, too, glanced at his watch: a Patek Philippe. He did so love this exquisite watch. A cut above the more obvious Rolex.
Minneapolis seemed centuries away.
He tried to imagine what the woman’s life story might be. Cherry blossom drifted across the park in pink and white. Little snowflake petals rested on her dark, Italianate hair (was she foreign?) and her skin seemed to glow, incandescent in the April light. It occurred to Bradley that she might be a dog walker, a nanny to this particular dog-on-wheels. She seemed to have so much time on her hands, didn’t appear to have regular work hours. She was unhurried. Un-hassled. Not your typical New Yorker. Now she was laughing: a cute, girlish laugh, and then she put her hand over her mouth as if bashful to be showing such emotion. As if happiness had not come easily to her and she was surprising herself with her own joy. Completely charmed, she was, by a man with a silver-gray Weimaraner.
Suddenly, and overwhelmingly, Bradley wanted to be in that man’s shoes.
These dog people were like that: they gave the easy impression of belonging to a private club in Central Park. They’d often meet, Bradley noticed, the same time of day, and chat while their dogs played. A kind of Doggygarten. Bradley had heard snippets of conversation. They would discuss their “kids.” Their meals and sleeping habits, the health of their stool, even. He’d heard one talking about “projectile diarrhea.” Some of the animals wore little tartan jackets or even bobby pins to clip the hair off their faces. All shapes and sizes. All sorts of breeds. There was one man who pushed his dog about in a baby stroller: a Yorkshire terrier that wore a pink bow on its bangs. A girl, he supposed. Bradley often felt envious that he didn’t have a park social life. He simply used the park to pass through, hardly even having time to appreciate the place. These people and their dogs were the park, just as much as the squirrels, or the reservoir, or Sheep Meadow, or the Belvedere Castle, or the trees. These people and their dogs were the soul of Central Park.
He felt like an onlooker.
Bradley slowed by the Alice statue and glanced at the brunette. She met his eye for just a second: a brief half-smile catching her lips before she quickly turned away. Her dog zipped around as if it didn’t have wheels at all, as if it were perfectly fit. It was a joy to watch, and he wondered how the creature had become disabled in the first place.
Bradley yearned to strike up a conversation. He took a breath, wishing to call over her way about her dog. Cute dog, he’d say. No, that sounded sarcastic, considering. Nice weather. No, how lame was that?
Just as he took two steps forward, she headed off the other way, calling “Poppy, come on girl. What a good girl! Who’s a pretty girl! Come on, Popps. You ready for din-dins?”
It was the way she gazed at that helpless animal with so much love in her eyes, telling Poppy how pretty she was—when the mutt dog really wasn’t—that made Bradley fall for this brunette. She was a kind person, that was obvious. Wasn’t it time for him to open his heart up to a little kindness? Kindness was undervalued in this world.
Really. No kidding, he thought. That warm-hearted girl-next-door could be the one for me.
I loved Central Park. I never understood how anyone could think Greenwich Village or SoHo cooler than my neighborhood uptown. They were really missing out. Ironically, rents down there had eclipsed those up here, yet those people lived, in my opinion, in a concrete metropolis because they didn’t have Central Park’s 843 acres within walking distance.
I counted my blessings every day to have a job where I worked from home. To be able to come here anytime, come rain, howling wind, or snow, exercise Poppy and exercise my mind. There’s something about walking that puts your brain into gear, unlocks part of the subconscious that can solve problems that have been plaguing you for weeks. Central Park was an extension of my office, in a way. I’d come up with design ideas for book covers I was working on. I found inspiration all around me. Nowhere, probably in the world, could match Central Park for people-watching, for idea-spinning.
I looked up at the spring green of the foliage, the blue backdrop of the sky bringing everything into crisp relief. Squirrels scrambled along the branches of the stately elm trees; trees that had strangely survived disease here in New York yet had succumbed in other parts of the country, their arcing graceful boughs like gothic cathedrals, protecting us from rain and sun, and in the backdrop, the most incredible skyline in the world: the skyscrapers of Manhattan peeping through the trees. And pink cherry blossom floating like wedding confetti.
I love New York, I thought, counting my blessings, grateful for all I had and pushing away any wistful thoughts, any nostalgia about what I’d lost.
As well as my unofficial office, Central Park was my social hub. I didn’t like going out: dinner parties, clubs… no, that wasn’t for me: I was pretty shy. I’d get my daily fix here, chatting to other dog owners, watching them watch with vicarious pleasure as their dogs chased each other’s tails and woofed; some wildly bumptious, others like old dowagers with droopy ears, or gentlemen dogs in little tartan coats that trotted neatly by their owners’ sides, nose high, tail quirked up, ignoring the mayhem around them.
The people here seemed to be infused with a serene, gently pulsing sort of energy, different than the frantic, rapid-fire energy on the streets or subway. Like they were leaving fierce thoughts amidst the traffic and sidewalks when they marched through one of the park entrances, stepping into another world, a new milieu, and in an instant their faces would soften, their strides relax. Each season had its own pace, too. In winter, dogs and children might look like a Lowry painting: white, snowy background, splashes of red or blue scarves, stick figures from a distance. Or when Wollman Rink was frozen, people would go ice skating below the forever evolving skyline; skyscrapers looming above like the open hand of a protective mother.
Central Park always looked to me like a piece of art. Movement and energy and emotion and people splashed into one great big canvas, the crisp architectural skyline always in the background, never letting anyone down. However you felt, New York would hold you up. Make you survive. Infuse you with energy.
I love New York. I felt the city in the marrow of my bones. I dreamed with her at night as I slept and as she lay awake with her glimmering grasping lights. My heart beat along with the rhythm of her pulse, mending a little more each day.
Today was sunny but with an icy edge to the air. Spring could be like that in New York City. You never knew which way it could go.
My old camera slung around my neck, I snapped away: an old lady doubled over pushing a shopping cart full of stuffed plastic bags, muttering to herself as she shuffled along. A jogger in box-fresh sneakers, his neon-green feet pounding the paths, hardly breaking a sweat, while at his side, a woman (his . . .
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