Angel of the Dark by Sidney Sheldon

One day it would get to be too much. One day he would drive toward the edge of a cliff and simply keep on driving. Lay down his burden. Be free.

One day…


CLAIRE MICHAELS SIPPED HER COFFEE AT a corner table of a Le Pain Quotidien in Brentwood feeling totally content. It was a glorious June day, nine months since her brother Matt’s last abortive Altacito visit, and at long last things seemed to have turned a corner in all of their lives. Claire had driven up San Vicente in the new Mercedes convertible Matt had bought her for her birthday last month, drinking in the blue skies and sunshine and feasting her eyes on the blossoming acacia trees that lined the wide, sweeping road. Even nature seemed to be celebrating today, erupting in a riot of color and scent and joyfulness in honor of her brother’s big news.

It was all such a far cry from that awful day last October. She remembered it like it was yesterday. Matt calling her from a rest stop on the I-5 sobbing uncontrollably, barely able to speak, to tell her where he was. His breakdown had been total and catastrophic. Claire had driven him straight to Wildwood, a rehabilitation center in Toluca Lake, and signed the papers as his next of kin. By the time she drove away, Matt no longer remembered his own name.

But miraculously the breakdown had been the making, or rather the remaking, of Matt Daley. After only ten days at Wildwood, he was well enough to receive visitors. Within eight weeks, the depression that had dogged him for more than five years now—since the day Sofia Basta, posing as Lisa Baring, drugged and left him in a Hong Kong hotel room—at last seemed to have lifted. Claire cried the first time she saw him laugh again, and not just laugh with his mouth but with his eyes, his whole being, like he did in the old days. He gained twenty much-needed pounds, began to work out regularly and started to talk about the future. Most importantly of all, he stopped talking about Lisa, or Sofia, or Andrew Jakes, or anything to do with the Azrael murders. It was a miracle.

There were more miracles to come.

Matt met a woman in rehab, a divorcee and recovering alcoholic named Cassie. The two of them bonded instantly, and despite Claire’s initial reservations, when she and her husband met Cassie, they found her to be as warm and sweet and funny as Matt had described her. Last week, after a quick but astonishingly happy, drama-free courtship—much too mellow to be called a “whirlwind romance”—Matt and Cassie announced their engagement.

“Hi, sis. Sorry I’m late.”

Weaving his way through the tables, smiling broadly in khaki shorts and a blue UCLA T-shirt, Matt looked the picture of health and happiness.

“Hey.” Claire beamed back at him. “Cassie not with you?”

“I just dropped her off at her Pilates class. Why, I’m not good enough for you now?”

“You’ll do.” Grinning, Claire pushed a small, gold-wrapped package across the table.

Matt raised an eyebrow. “For me?”

“Hey, I can give presents too you know. It’s an engagement gift. Don’t get too excited, though, it’s nothing much.”

Matt unwrapped the box. Inside was a simple but elegant antique man’s watch, with a battered leather strap and a rose-gold face. On the back were engraved the intertwined initials M and C, and the date of their engagement. “Nothing much? My God, Claire, it’s gorgeous. It must have cost a fortune.”

“Not really,” Claire lied. “I’m just so happy that you’re happy. You deserve it, Matt. You really do.”

Matt was happy. It wasn’t the soaring elation, the addictive thrill he’d felt in Bali with Lisa. But in its own way, he told himself, what he had with Cassie was just as precious. Cassie brought him peace and security and contentment. She didn’t give a damn about his money, she was nothing like Raquel—and she never questioned him about the past. Loving Cassie was a choice that Matt had made, something rational and good that he had decided to do. Loving Lisa had been an impulse, the irresistible pull of a powerful and dangerous drug. Matt would never forget the high he’d felt at the time. But he knew that that drug had damn near killed him. He could never go back.

Matt ordered two soft-boiled eggs and an open salmon sandwich for himself and a duck-breast panini for Claire while she fired questions at him about the wedding. Had he set a date yet? Booked a venue? Who was on the guest list? Were Danny and Céline McGuire coming over from France? Had Matt heard from Danny at all?

Matt answered all the questions good-naturedly, referring his sister to Cassie for all bride-, cake-and flower-related details. But the basics were simple. It would be a small wedding, in the garden of Matt’s new, Nantucket-style Brentwood Park home. The McGuires had been invited but were not expected to attend. They’d somehow managed to have three children—three!—since the trial, and their newest baby was still too small to travel, but according to Danny’s e-mails they were very happy. Angela Jakes’s ghost had finally been laid to rest.

David Ishag had sent Matt a case of champagne back when the Azrael documentary came out and wrote him a very kind letter while he was at Wildwood. But other than that, Matt had deliberately severed all ties with anyone connected to the case or to Sofia Basta. His wedding to Cassie would mark the beginning of a new, happier chapter in his life. The old book was closed.

TWENTY MINUTES LATER, BACK BEHIND THE wheel of his Range Rover, Matt switched on the radio. NPR news from Washington blasted the familiar, singsong voice of Lakshmi Singh into the car. The first two reports washed over Matt. New growth figures from the Fed and something about global warming from the National Science Foundation that he ought to care about but didn’t. He was thinking about Cassie and how cute she always looked after Pilates, all sweating and energized, convinced that she was a mess without makeup when actually she looked more natural and sexy than ever. Swinging the car right onto Montana, he suddenly screeched to a halt, narrowly missing slamming into an SUV in front of him.

“In breaking news,” Lakshmi Singh was saying, “Frankie Mancini, better known to the public as one of the two Azrael killers, is reported to have taken his own life while on death row at San Quentin Prison in central California. Mancini was awaiting execution for his role in the murders of four men between 1996 and 2006 and after numerous appeals was expected to be executed later this year. It’s understood that Mancini was found hanging in his cell in the early hours of this morning.”

The woman in the SUV was yelling at Matt, shaking her fist out the window. Behind him, honking vehicles began to drive around him. Matt was completely oblivious.

Mancini was dead.

Matt had held on to his hatred for Frankie Mancini for a long time. He’d needed someone to hate so he could continue loving Lisa. But now that Frankie was actually gone, Matt felt none of the satisfaction, none of the sense of closure and of justice rendered that he’d expected to feel. Instead he felt…robbed. He’d interviewed just about everyone connected with the Azrael killings for his documentary, and during the trial he’d heard Lisa’s—Sofia’s—side of the story. But the one person who knew the most about what had happened on those terrible nights, and why it had happened, had never uttered a word about his crimes. Whatever his motives and feelings, Frankie Mancini had taken them to his grave. Even his death had been on his own terms.

When Cassie got into the car, she’d already heard the news. CNN was playing in the locker rooms.

“Are you okay?” she asked Matt.

“Sure.” He still looked dazed.

“I wonder how it happened. I mean, aren’t they supposed to have all death-row inmates on twenty-four-hour suicide watch?”

Matt nodded absently. He wasn’t thinking about Frankie Mancini, or how he’d managed to outwit the authorities at San Quentin and take his own life. He was thinking about another prisoner, behind another set of walls, only a hundred miles or so north of where he and Cassie were talking. A prisoner he hadn’t thought about for a long, long time. A prisoner he’d trained himself to forget.

Was she grieving? Was she suffering? The thought of her distressed and alone tore through Matt’s heart like a drill. He winced.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Cassie’s face clouded with anxiety. “We can do the wedding planner another day if you want.”

The wedding planner. Shit. He’d totally forgotten. Like a physical weight he forced thoughts of Lisa out of his mind. Our wedding. Our future.

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