Book: Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong

Previous: Life Sentence
Next: The Hunt

Deanna lifted the charm bracelet and shifted closer to the bedside lamp for a better look.

“Oh, god,” she said. “Reminds me of the bracelet my dad gave me when I turned thirteen. I asked for the new Guns N' Roses tape, and he gave me one of these. Bastard.”

Gregory double-checked his tie in the mirror. “Think Abby will like it?”

“Shit, yeah. If any grown woman was made for charm bracelets, it’s Abby.” Deanna rolled onto her back and draped the bracelet around her breast. “Looks better on me, though, don’t you think?”

Gregory chuckled, but continued adjusting his tie. Deanna slid the bracelet down her stomach, spread her legs and dangled it there.

“Wanna play hide and seek?” she asked.

She wrapped the bracelet around her index finger and waggled it closer to her crotch. Gregory stopped fussing with his tie and watched. Before the bracelet disappeared, he grabbed her hand.

“Uh-uh,” he said. “Tempting, but no. I’ve heard of giving your wife a gift smelling of another woman’s perfume, but that would go a bit far.”

“Like she’d notice.” Deanna flipped onto her stomach. “Probably doesn’t even know what it smells like. The only time Abby lets her hand drift south of her belly button is when she’s wiping her twat, and she’d avoid that if she could.”

“That, my dear, sounds remarkably like jealousy.”

“No, my dear, it sounds remarkably like impatience.”

He shrugged on his jacket. “These things take time. Every detail must be planned to perfection.”

“Don’t pull that shit on me, babe. You aren’t dragging your heels plotting how to get away with it. You’ve got that figured out. Now you’re just trying to decide how you want to do it. You’re in no rush to get to the reality, ’cause you’re too busy enjoying the fantasy.”

He grinned. “This is true. Shooting versus stabbing versus strangulation. It’s a big decision and, sadly, I only get to do it once.”

“At this rate, you’ll never get around to doing it at all.”

“How about Friday?”

Deanna popped up on her elbows, then narrowed her eyes. “Ha-ha.”

“I’m quite serious.” Gregory patted his pockets and pulled out his car keys. “Does Friday work for you?”

She nodded, eyes still wary.

“It’s a date, then,” he said. “I’ll see you tomorrow and we’ll talk. I’m thinking stabbing. Messier, but more painful. Abby deserves the best.”

He smiled, blew her a kiss and disappeared out the door.

Deanna sat up and looked out the window. The cottage Gregory had rented for her was perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Below, the water looked mirror-smooth, with brightly colored yachts and sailboats bobbing about like children’s toys. Cotton-candy clouds drifted across the aquamarine sky. Farther down the shore, a freshly painted red-and-white lighthouse gleamed like a peppermint stick. It was a picture so perfect that if you painted it, no one would believe it was taken from life. Yet if she looked down, straight down, she found herself staring into a maelstrom of mud and garbage. All the trash those distant boats tossed overboard wound up here, at the bottom of the cliff, where beer cans and empty sunscreen bottles swirled in whirlpools crested with dirty foam.

Be not deceived; for as ye sow, so shall ye reap. The Bible quote came so fast it brought a chill, and she shivered, yanking down the window shade.

For as ye sow, so shall ye reap. How deeply the lessons of youth burrow into the brain. She could still hear her father in the pulpit. The lessons of youth, driven in with the help of a liberally wielded belt.

At fifteen, Deanna had run from those lessons. She’d fled all the way to Toronto and found the hell her father prophesied for her. At seventeen, she mistook Satan for savior, becoming a wealthy businessman’s toy in return for promises of gold rings and happily ever after. After two years, he discarded her like a used condom.

Before he could pass her apartment to his next toy, she’d broken in, intent on taking everything she could carry. Then she’d found the photos he’d taken of them together. And they’d given her an idea. For as ye sow, so shall ye reap. There had to be consequences. A price to be paid . . . but not by her.

It had been laughably easy. Of course, she hadn’t asked for much. She’d been naive, having no idea how much those photos were worth to someone who valued his family-man reputation. But, with practice, she’d learned. For ten years now, she’d made her living having affairs with wealthy married men, then demanding money to keep her mouth shut.

Now, finally, that had all come to an end. One last mortal sin, and she’d be free.

Deanna opened the drawer of her bedside table and reached inside. Beneath the pile of lingerie was a postcard of the French Riviera. She didn’t pull it out, just ran her fingers over its glossy surface. She closed her eyes and remembered when they’d bought it. She’d seen it in the display rack and pulled it out, waving it like a flag.

“Here! This is where I want to go.”

An indulgent smile. “Then that’s where we’ll go.”

He’d said Friday. Did he mean it? Could she book the tickets now? She stroked the postcard. No, not yet. Give it another couple of days. Make sure he meant it this time.

“How retro,” Abby said, waving her wrist above the plate of mussels.

She snaked her hand over her head and wriggled in her seat like a belly dancer, her laughter tinkling chime for chime with the bracelet. The tiny dock-turned-patio held only a half-dozen tables, but every male eye at every one of those tables slid an appreciative look Abby’s way, and an envious one at Gregory. He snorted under his breath. Fools.

He stabbed through his chowder, looking for something edible.

“It’s so cute,” Abby said. “Did you pick it up in London?”

“You could say that. So, you like it?”

“Love it.” She fingered the charms. “Which one’s for me?”

“All of them.”

“No, silly. I mean: which charm did you buy for me? That’s the tradition, you know. If you give someone a charm bracelet, you have to buy them the first charm, something meaningful.”

Like hell. He wasn’t about to waste money on another trinket. Not when it’d be lying on the ocean floor by the weekend. He peered at the charms. A key, a train, a saxophone . . .

“The lighthouse,” he said. “I bought you the lighthouse.”

“Oh?” she said, nose wrinkling as she examined the charm. “That’s . . . interesting. Why’d you pick that?”

He waved his hand at the ocean. “Because it made me think of here. Your favorite restaurant.”

“But the lighthouse isn’t—” She leaned as far back in her chair as she could. “I guess maybe you could see it from here. On a clear day. If you squint hard enough. Well, it’s the thought that counts, and I do love it here. The lights over the water. The smell of the ocean. Heaven.”

Heaven. Right. They lived in a town with two four-star restaurants, and Abby’s idea of heaven was a wharf-side dive where the specialties were beer, beer, and mussels soaked in beer. At least in town he might hope to make a contact that would lead to a sale. But none of the summer people came here, only locals, and no local bought a thousand-dollar painting of the Atlantic Ocean when they could see it through their kitchen window.

The screen door leading to the patio creaked open. Out of habit, he looked, half hoping it might be one of the American celebrities who summered in town. He caught a flash of sun-streaked blond hair and a male face hidden by the shadows of the overhang.

The man scanned the patio, then stepped back fast. The door squeaked shut. Gregory’s eyes shot to Abby as her gaze swiveled back to the harbor.

“Was that Zack?” he asked.

“Hmmm?” Her bright blue eyes turned to meet his, as studiously vacant as ever.

Gregory’s jaw tightened. “Zack. Your summer intern. Was that him?”

“Where, hon?”

Gregory bit off a reply. This wasn’t the time to start sounding like a jealous husband, not now, when all it would take was one such comment passed from Abby to a friend to give him motive for murder. If Abby wanted to cheat on him, she’d had plenty of opportunity to do so before now. As lousy as their marriage was, Abby was satisfied with it. She was satisfied with him. And why not? She had a wealthy, handsome husband who owned a successful art gallery, where every pathetic seascape she daubed onto canvas found a prominent place on the walls. The perfect catch for a pretty, young art student of mediocre talent.

The moment he’d laid eyes on Abigail Landry at a Montreal art show, he thought he had found his perfect catch. A beautiful, lauded, young painter, the ideal showpiece artist for his new Nova Scotia seaside gallery, and the ideal showpiece wife for him. The trouble had started three months after the wedding, when she’d refused to paint a custom-ordered portrait of a Schnauzer wearing sunglasses. He’d lost his temper and smacked her. She’d said nothing, just gone into her studio and started the dog’s portrait. Then the next day she’d waltzed in on a private meeting with two of his best clients, her black eye on full display, leaving him stammering to explain, all the while smiling sweetly and asking if anyone wanted iced tea.

Before long, divorce was out of the question. Her silly seascapes accounted for seventy percent of the gallery’s income. Then, two years ago, when the stock market plunge had wiped out his finances, she’d glided to his rescue with her own well-invested nest egg, offered as sweetly and as easily as the iced tea. So he was trapped.

“But not for long,” he murmured.

Another vacant-eyed “Hmmm?”

He smiled and patted her hand. “Nothing, my dear. I’m glad you like the bracelet.”

Abby lifted the crimson-coated brush, in her mind seeing the paint move from the brush to the canvas. No, not quite right. She lowered the brush and studied the picture. The red would be too harsh. Too expected. She needed something more surprising there. She laid the brush aside. Tomorrow she’d be better able to concentrate on finding the right shade. Tonight . . . She smiled. Well, tonight she had other things on her mind.

She moved the painting to the locked room in the back, then picked up the canvas propped against the wall and placed it on the now-vacant easel. She looked at the half-finished seascape. No room for surprises there. Blue sea, blue sky, white and gray rocks. Assembly line art. This was what her talent was reduced to, putting her name on schlock while her true work was shipped out of the country and sold under a false name so Gregory didn’t find out. Seascapes made money. Money made Gregory happy. So Abby painted seascapes, seascapes, and more seascapes, with the occasional crumbling barn thrown in for variety.

She glanced at the clock. For once, they’d have all night. Gregory had taken off after dinner and told her not to wait up. No excuses given. He was long past bothering, and she was long past caring.

She lifted the crimson-soaked brush to clean it, then stopped, and stared at the painting. As if of its own accord, her hand moved to the canvas and the brush streaked red across the surf. Too much red. She daubed the tip in the white and brushed it lightly through the red, thinning and spreading it until it became a pink clot on the wave. The surf tinted with blood. A small smile played on Abby’s lips. Then she took a fresh brush and blotted out the red with indigo.

As she painted, a blob of blue fell on her arm. She swiped at it absently, then stopped, seeing the blue swirl on her pale arm. It looked like a Maori tattoo. She dabbed her finger in the paint and accentuated the resemblance. There. Cheaper than henna, less permanent than ink. As she laughed, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror across the room and grinned.

Any minute now she’d hear the key turn in the back lock. And then . . . A rush of heat started in her belly and plunged down. She looked at her reflection again, gaze dropping to the twin dots pressing hard against the front of her sundress. She rolled her shoulders and sighed as the fabric brushed her nipples. Still looking in the mirror, she unzipped her dress and let it fall. She grinned at her reflection. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Her eyes went to the blue tattoo on her forearm. An unexpected burst of color. She turned to the easel, lifted the paintbrush and grazed it lightly over one hardened nipple. She sighed, then tickled the brush hairs around the aureole of her other nipple.

Another dip of paint, ochre this time. She stroked lines down her torso, shivering at the cool touch of the paint against her skin. Next, the red, on her stomach, drawn in lazy circles and zigzags. She parted her legs, lowered the brush and swirled it across her inner thigh. As she painted lower, she let the end of the brush dart between her legs, prodding like an uncertain lover’s finger, hesitant yet eager. Each time it made contact, she moaned and glanced at her own expression in the mirror. She forced herself to finish her work, painting the other thigh to match the first, letting the brush tip probe her only when it came in contact naturally. Then, when she finished, took the brush and turned it around, so her hand wielded the plastic tip instead of the paint-soaked bristle. She spread her legs and used the tip to tickle the hard nub within.

The back door clicked open. Abby grinned and lifted the brush, painting one last stroke of red from her crotch to her breasts. A bustle of motion in the doorway, silence, then a sharp intake of breath.

Abby looked up, and flourished a hand at her painted body.

“What do you think?” she said. “A work of art?”

“A masterpiece.”

Gregory switched the cellphone to his other ear and took his keys from the ignition.

“Yes, that’s right, a room on the west side. Not the east side. There was construction on the east side last time and it kept me up all night.” He paused. “Good. Hold on, there’s more. I want extra towels. Your housecleaning staff never leaves enough towels.”

The hotel clerk assured him everything would meet his satisfaction. It wouldn’t, though. Gregory would be sure of that. He’d find something to pester them about at the front desk, raise a little fuss, just enough so that when the police asked the clerk whether she remembered Gregory, she’d roll her eyes and say, “Oh, yes. I remember him.”

Once he finished here, he’d stop by Deanna’s cottage and make sure everything was ready. He chuckled. Deanna was ready, that was certain. Ready, willing and chomping at the bit. She wanted to be free of Abby almost as much as he did. Last night when he’d gone by to finalize the plans, he’d barely made it through the door before she’d pounced and given him a taste of what life would be like post-Abby. He felt himself harden at the memory. A remarkable woman, Deanna was. He only hoped everything went well tonight. It would be a shame to lose her.

Last night she’d suggested—not for the first time—that she join him at the hotel, so she could corroborate his alibi. He’d gently reminded her that wasn’t a wise idea. When the police dug into his personal life, he knew they’d find he had a history of infidelity, but there was no sense doing their homework for them. Or so he’d told Deanna. The truth was Gregory didn’t want anyone seeing them together tonight. Better to leave her behind . . . in close proximity to his about-to-be-murdered wife.

Not that he had any intention of offering up Deanna as a scapegoat. But, if things went bad, it always helped to have a plan B. Deanna had bought the weapons and the tools, so it would be easy enough to steer the police in her direction. If the need arose, he had a speech all prepared, the heart-rending confession of an unfaithful husband who had realized he still loved his wife and told his mistress it was over, then made the tragic mistake of leaving on a business trip to Halifax that same day, never dreaming his scorned lover might wreak her revenge while he was gone. He’d practiced his lines in front of the mirror until he could choke up on cue.

But that won’t be necessary, he told himself as he headed for the gallery. Everything would run smoothly, and when the furor died down, he and Deanna would start their new life together.

He pushed open the door to the gallery. A muted laugh tinkled out, followed by a deep chuckle that grated down Gregory’s spine. He paused, holding the door partly shut so the greeting bell wouldn’t alert Abby and Zack. The murmur of their voices floated out from the back room. Zack laughed again. Gregory eased the door open, trying to slide in before it opened wide enough to set off the bell. He was almost through when it chimed.

The voices in the back room stopped suddenly. Zack peeked around the corner, saw who it was, then said something to Abby, too low for Gregory to hear. The intern backed out of the studio.

“Ab? I’ll grab coffee on my way back, okay?”

Abby appeared from the back room, carrying a wrapped canvas, and beamed a smile at Zack. “Perfect. Thanks.”

As Zack strode out the front door, he slid a smirk Gregory’s way, as if being allowed to play errand boy for Abby was some great honor Gregory could only dream of. Art student, my ass. The kid looked as though he should be riding the waves, not painting them. Not that Gregory cared. If Abby wanted to play teacher with California Picasso, she was welcome to him. He only hoped the kid wouldn’t cause trouble later.

“I sold the new Martin’s Point oil,” Abby said, laying the canvas on the counter. “Got the asking price, too.”

“Good, good. I just stopped by to make sure everything was okay before I left for my meeting.”

“You’ll be staying for the weekend, I assume.”

Being little more than an hour from Halifax, there was no need for him to stay the weekend, and they both knew it, just as they knew he usually stayed anyway, and why he usually stayed. Yet Abby asked as casually as she’d ask whether he’d take Highway 3 or 103, a matter of no interest to her either way. The thread of anger that rippled through him surprised him, as it always did, and, in surprising him, only angered him more.

“Yes, I’ll be staying the weekend. With a friend.”

He hated himself for tacking that on the end, hated himself for studying her reaction, and hated her even more for not giving one.

“Don’t forget we’re having dinner at the Greenways’ on Sunday,” she said. “Eight o’clock.”

“I’ll be there.”

She nodded, then disappeared into the back room. He stifled the urge to call out a good-bye, turned on his heel and left.

“You’ve reached the voice-mail of Gregory Keith—”

Abby sighed and hung up.

“Still no answer?” Zack asked as he flipped the gallery’s “open” sign to “closed.”

“He must have turned off his cell. Maybe he’s still in a meeting.”

Zack cast a pointed look through the window into the darkening night. “Uh-huh.”

“Sometimes his meetings run late,” she offered lamely. “I’ll try once more from home, then call Mr. Strom back and tell him we’re still considering his offer.”

She turned off the main lights as Zack locked the front door. He followed her into the studio, and trailed out the back door after her, walking Abby to her car.

“Go,” Gregory hissed.

Deanna lurched from behind the bushes as Abby parked at the top of the long drive. Gregory had to squint to see her. For a kilometer in either direction, the only lights were the security floods beaming onto the renovated farmhouse.

Abby climbed from her car. She started to lock it, then stopped as she spotted Deanna stumbling up the driveway, her clothes torn and bloodstained. From this distance, Gregory couldn’t see his wife’s expression, but he could imagine it. Eyes wide, mouth dropping open, a whispered “oh.”

Abby jogged down the driveway toward Deanna. Smatterings of their conversation drifted to him.

“—accident—help—”

Abby gestured at the house. “—911—?” She didn’t have a cellphone, hated them.

Deanna grabbed Abby’s arm, her voice shrill with panic. “—son—trapped—please—”

Then Abby did what Gregory knew she’d do. She followed Deanna. When Deanna stumbled, Abby grabbed her arm and draped it around her shoulders, supporting the injured woman. Very heroic. Also very stupid, because when she reached the shadows of the cedar hedge, all Deanna had to do was trip Abby, throw her weight on top of her and Abby went down. Deanna shoved a chloroform-soaked cloth over Abby’s mouth and nose, and she stayed down.

Deanna turned toward Gregory’s hiding spot, but he didn’t step out. Not yet. First, he was making damned sure Abby was out cold. If anything went wrong, Deanna’s would be the only face she remembered seeing. He motioned for Deanna to slap Abby’s face. She did. When Abby didn’t move, Deanna slapped her again, the sound cracking through the silence.

“I think that’s enough, my dear,” Gregory said, stepping from the bushes. He didn’t want any bruises to be found on Abby’s body later.

He tossed Deanna the rope and watched her tie Abby up. Then he took over.

Deanna slapped Abby again, the sound echoing the rhythmic smack of the waves against the boat’s hull. Gregory shifted, fighting the growing worm of pique in his gut. Abby wasn’t waking up. What if she didn’t? He’d have to go through with it, of course, killing her, but he’d really hoped she’d be awake when he did it. He wanted her to see who wielded the knife, to regain the power she’d sucked from him over the years.

Gregory grabbed the knife. “I’ll wake her—”

Deanna snatched it from his hand. “No, let me.”

Deanna lowered the knife tip to Abby’s cheek and pressed it against her pale skin. A single drop of blood welled up. Abby’s eyes flew open. Gregory reached for the knife, but Abby bucked suddenly, startling them both, and the knife clattered to the deck. Abby jerked against her bonds, wriggling wildly. Deanna dove to hold her down. In the struggle, Deanna’s foot knocked the knife across the deck.

“She’s tied up,” Gregory said. “She’s not going anywhere.”

Deanna nodded and pulled back from Abby. His wife looked around, gaze going to the knife by the cabin door.

“I’ll get that,” Deanna said.

As she pushed to her feet, Gregory took her place, looming over his terrified wife.

“Ah, now she’s afraid,” he said, smiling down at her. “Smart girl. Don’t worry. This won’t hurt a bit.” He grinned. “It’ll hurt a lot.”

“Gregory?” Deanna said behind him.

His lips tightened at the interruption. He faced her. “What?”

“Yesterday you asked if I was looking forward to this. I said I wasn’t.” She bit her lip, looking sheepish. “Well, I just wanted to let you know, I lied. We are looking forward to this.”

“Good. Now—” He stopped. “We—?”

Deanna smiled. Her gaze moved to something beyond his shoulder.

“Yes,” she said. “We.”

He turned, following her gaze. Behind him, Abby sat up, tugging the rope from her wrists.

“Wha—?” he began.

Something cracked against the side of his head. He stumbled and managed to turn just enough to see Deanna raise the fire extinguisher again. She swung it.

Abby and Deanna stood at the side of the boat, watching Gregory’s body sink into the inky water. A late-night fog was rolling in, a dense gray blanket barely pierced by the distant lighthouse beam.

“You’re sure he won’t wash up on shore?” Deanna asked, nibbling her thumbnail.

“Which way is the tide going, hon?” Abby asked gently.

“Out. Right. You said that. I forgot. Sorry.”

“That’s okay. You did a good job.”

Good, but not perfect, Abby thought as she bent to wipe a smear of blood from the deck. She’d have to bleach that later. If the first blow had succeeded, there wouldn’t be any blood. It took a second hit to the head to induce bleeding. But Deanna hadn’t known that and Abby hadn’t thought to mention it and, really, it wasn’t as if Abby would have changed her mind when the first blow failed.

She stood to see Deanna frowning as she squinted overboard, trying to see Gregory’s body through the fog.

“It’s okay, hon,” Abby said. “He’s definitely heading out to sea and will be for a few hours yet. Even if he does eventually wash up on shore, it won’t be near here.”

“But they’ll identify him, won’t they?”

“Yes. But then what? He wasn’t shot. He wasn’t stabbed. He hit his head and drowned. Happens all the time. Even if they suspect something, it can’t be linked to us. We were careful.”

“You’re right,” Deanna said, forcing a small smile. “You’re always right.”

Abby walked over to Deanna, smiling. “Not always. I married that bastard, didn’t I?”

She put her arms around Deanna’s neck and leaned in. Their lips met. Deanna’s parted, hesitant at first, as always, as if unsure, maybe still a little shocked at herself. A minister’s daughter in spite of everything, Abby thought. She kept the kiss gentle and tentative, their lips barely touching. After a moment, Deanna tried to pull Abby closer, but she held back, teasing Deanna with modest kisses.

Abby reached down to the bottom of Deanna’s blouse and began to unbutton it, her hands moving as slow as her lips. Deanna gave a soft growl of impatience, but Abby only chuckled. Only when the blouse was fully unbuttoned did Abby let her hands touch Deanna’s skin. She pressed her fingertips against Deanna’s stomach, then traced twin lines up her ribcage. She cupped Deanna’s bare breasts, and slid her thumbs over her hard nipples. Deanna groaned, grabbed the back of Abby’s head and kissed her, all shyness gone. As Abby returned the kiss, heat throbbed through her. Perhaps just once more . . . But no. She couldn’t.

She wrapped her hands in Deanna’s hair and eased her back a step. Deanna’s balance faltered. She tore her lips from Abby’s to shout a warning that she was too close to the edge of the boat. But Abby already knew that.

She put her hands around Deanna’s torso and thrust her away. Deanna started to fall. She grabbed blindly and caught Abby’s charm bracelet, but the clasp broke. Deanna’s arms windmilled as she fell over the side.

Abby walked to the back of the boat and pulled up the anchor. In the water below, Deanna thrashed and screamed. As Abby headed to the pilothouse, she looked down to see Deanna frantically trying to find a hold on the smooth side of the boat.

“I can’t swim!” Deanna shouted.

“Yes,” Abby said. “I know.”

She walked into the pilothouse and started the engine. She moved the boat out of Deanna’s reach, then waited and watched as Deanna’s blond head bobbed like a beacon through the fog. When Deanna finally sank and didn’t resurface, Abby pushed the throttle forward and headed for shore.

Abby parked at the top of the driveway and rubbed her hands over her face. God, she was so sick of playing the distraught wife. How much longer did she have to do this? The last week had seemed endless. Pretending to look up expectantly each time the bells chimed over the gallery door. Murmuring, “I’m sure he will,” whenever someone reassured her that her missing husband would come home soon. Enduring Zack’s constant, mooning, “I’m here for you” glances.

It hadn’t taken long for the police to discover that her missing husband had been renting a cottage outside of town for his mistress who was, conveniently, also missing. A quick check of their shared bank accounts showed that Gregory had slowly drained out nearly ten thousand dollars over the last month. That had been Abby’s idea, passed through Deanna to Gregory. As Deanna had warned Gregory, he couldn’t be seen dipping into the accounts right after his wife’s murder. Better to siphon some out early so they’d have celebration cash during the mourning period. Now, with a missing husband, a missing mistress and missing money, it didn’t take a genius to realize Gregory had cut his losses and left. Too bad all their assets were jointly held, meaning his abandoned wife could now use them as she wished. She even had the ten grand in cash Deanna had squirreled away for them.

Abby grabbed the pile of mail from the passenger seat and climbed out. As she circled around the front of the car, she leafed through the bills, flyers and notes of sympathy. An unfamiliar postage stamp caught her attention. France? Who did she know in France? When she looked at the handwriting on the front, she froze. It wasn’t possible. It wasn’t.

Hands trembling, Abby tore open the envelope. In her haste, she ripped it too fast and the contents flew out. A postcard sailed to the ground.

“No,” Abby said. “No!”

Deanna stood by the water’s edge, arms wrapped around herself, shivering despite the warm night breeze that blew off the Mediterranean. Behind her the lights of the French Riviera flickered in the darkness, a scene that nearly matched the one on her postcard . . . the postcard Abby now had.

Deanna felt the sharp edges of the charms biting into her palm. She looked down at the bracelet in her hand. When she’d dove into the ocean, leaving Abby to think she’d drowned, Deanna had still clutched the bracelet. She’d kept it, thinking maybe she’d send it back to Abby as proof that she was alive. But then she decided the postcard would be enough . . . the postcard they’d picked out together, when they’d first hatched their plan, when Deanna still thought—hoped—that Abby and her promises had been real.

Deanna fingered the charms on the bracelet, stopping at the lighthouse. She remembered her last evening with Abby, sitting behind the cover of the lighthouse, dipping their feet in the surf, their clothing strewn over the rocks and bushes. Abby had asked, oh so casually, how well Deanna could swim. And, as accustomed as she was to lies and deceit from her lovers, Deanna still almost fell for it. The truth had been on her lips, ready to tell Abby she’d been captain of the swim team before she’d dropped out of school. Instead, when she opened her mouth, she heard herself say, “Me? Can’t swim a stroke. Never learned how.”

Deanna had tried to look past it, told herself she was too suspicious. And yet . . . Well, it never hurts to have a plan B.

She let the lighthouse charm fall from her fingers. A lighthouse had been her lucky charm that night, when the unexpected fog rolled in. She’d followed its beam back to shore. Then, before she’d left town, she’d returned to the lighthouse one last time, to leave something for Abby. On the postcard, she’d written only one line, instructing Abby to look for further “correspondence” at the “charmed” place. There, in the very spot where she’d deceived her lover, Abby would find detailed instructions on how to make her penance, on the exact penalty she must pay. The demand was fair. Not enough to send Abby into bankruptcy, just enough to hurt. For every action, there is a price to be paid. Deanna knew that, and now, so would Abby.

Deanna drew back her arm and pitched the bracelet into the ocean. Then she turned and headed back to the hotel.

Previous: Life Sentence
Next: The Hunt