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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Copyright © 2021 by James Patterson

Hachette Book Group supports the right to free expression and the value of copyright. The purpose of copyright is to encourage writers and artists to produce creative works that enrich our culture.

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book without permission is a theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like permission to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), please contact [email protected] Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10104

littlebrown.com

First edition: May 2021

Little, Brown and Company is a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. The Little, Brown name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

The Hachette Speakers Bureau provides a wide range of authors for speaking events. To find out more, go to hachettespeakersbureau.com or call (866) 376-6591.

ISBN 978-0-759-55569-3

Library of Congress Control Number: 2021932764

E3-20210303-DA-ORI

Table of Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

PROLOGUE

PART ONE: FIVE MONTHS EARLIER

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55

PART TWO

Chapter 56

Chapter 57

Chapter 58

Chapter 59

Chapter 60

Chapter 61

Chapter 62

Chapter 63

Chapter 64

Chapter 65

Chapter 66

Chapter 67

Chapter 68

Chapter 69

Chapter 70

Chapter 71

Chapter 72

Chapter 73

Chapter 74

TWO MONTHS LATER

Chapter 75

Chapter 76

Chapter 77

Chapter 78

Chapter 79

Chapter 80

Chapter 81

Chapter 82

Chapter 83

Chapter 84

Chapter 85

Chapter 86

Chapter 87

Chapter 88

Chapter 89

Chapter 90

Chapter 91

Chapter 92

Chapter 93

Chapter 94

Chapter 95

Chapter 96

Chapter 97

Chapter 98

Chapter 99

Chapter 100

Chapter 101

Chapter 102

Chapter 103

Chapter 104

Chapter 105

Chapter 106

Chapter 107

Chapter 108

Chapter 109

Chapter 110

Chapter 111

Chapter 112

Chapter 113

Chapter 114

Chapter 115

Chapter 116

Chapter 117

Chapter 118

Chapter 119

Discover More

Acknowledgments

About the Authors

Books by James Patterson featuring the Women’s Murder Club

For a Complete List of Books by James Patterson

In memory of Philip R. Hoffman

Counselor and friend

What’s coming next from James Patterson?

Get on the list to find out about coming titles, deals, contests, appearances, and more!

The official James Patterson newsletter.

PROLOGUE

Cindy Thomas followed Robert Barnett’s assistant down the long corridor at the law firm of Barnett and Associates in Washington, DC.

This meeting could be the beginning of something terrific, and she had dressed for the win; sleek black dress, tailored leather jacket, a touch of lipstick, and an air of confidence that came from the material itself.

As a senior crime reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, she had dominated the inside track, investigating and reporting on the vilest and most audacious serial murders of our time.

Bob Barnett, a lawyer and a literary agent, had represented her true-crime epic, Fish’s Girl, making a very respectable sale to a good publishing house. Then, as was said, “It debuted to great reviews” and had briefly touched the hem of the Times Best Seller list.

Fish’s Girl was the real-life story of a psychopathic serial killer with an equally deadly and immoral girlfriend. Reporting for the Chronicle, Cindy had helped the police catch “Fish’s Girl,” and the finale in the book—and in real life—had been a shoot-out. Cindy had been winged by a 9mm bullet and then returned fire, bringing down the psycho killer herself.

The entire Fish’s Girl experience had been extraordinary, but now it was old news. Industry press reported that book sales were down in all categories, and Cindy had been busy with her all-consuming day job.

Then, last week, Bob Barnett called her at home, saying, “I’ve been following your Burke serial avidly. Great work, Cindy. If you craft it into a proposal, I believe I can sell it.”

He’d asked her to write a treatment of the story; an introduction, a chapter outline, and at least one fully written chapter to show off her style for those potential deal makers who didn’t read the Chronicle. He had offered her a plane ticket and a room at the Ritz if she would fly to DC and meet with him about her recent coverage of the serial murders. Cindy had allowed herself to hope that Barnett would work his magic again.

“Call me when you’re ready,” he had said.

It hadn’t taken long.

Now, Barnett’s assistant led her into the corner office, told her that the boss was running a little late, and said, “Make yourself at home, Ms. Thomas. I’m right outside if you need anything.”

The office looked just as Cindy remembered it. The carpet was grass green. A slab of green marble was set into Barnett’s desktop, and potted orchids, most in full bloom, stood proudly on every flat surface. The floor-to-ceiling bookcase at a right angle to Barnett’s desk held every book he’d sold; Cindy saw Fish’s Girl was at eye level slightly out of line, as if Bob had taken it out to review before this meeting.

Cindy loved seeing it fitted in between the big author names, and after snapping a selfie with her book to show Richie, she took a seat on the sofa in the meeting area.

She was ready for Barnett when he strode into his office, saying, “Cindy, I’m so sorry I kept you waiting.”

“Not a problem, Bob.”

He shook her hand with both of his and took the chair at an angle to her seat on the sofa. He was a nice-looking man, designer glasses, natural tan, thick gray hair, and he was easy to talk with.

“I’ve been enjoying the view,” Cindy said. “And the orchids.”

“I’m a genius with orchids,” he said. “And not too bad at picking winners, either.”

She smiled appreciatively, and leaning forward, he got to the point.

“I read your proposal in one sitting. This story is right up there with Helter Skelter, Black Dahlia, and In Cold Blood. I’m dying to hear the up-to-the-minute conclusion. We get the right people on board,

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