Angel of the Dark by Sidney Sheldon

“Yeah. I’m sure.” He forced a smile. “Let’s go choose that cake.”


MATT AND CASSIE DALEY’S WEDDING DAY was a triumph. The garden in Brentwood exploded with flowers, the sun shone brightly and the bride and groom looked as happy and in love as two people could possibly be. The small group of family and friends who came to toast their union with nonalcoholic fruit punch—Matt had given up drinking in support of Cassie, and half their friends were in AA—all agreed that the intimate, low-key ceremony was a perfect reflection of the relationship of this adorable couple, both of whom had been through so much. It wasn’t their happy ending. It was their happy beginning.

The honeymoon in Tahiti was idyllic, with nothing to do but sleep, snorkel and make love beneath the stars. Occasionally thoughts of another, earlier experience of paradise in Indonesia flashed into Matt’s mind. But he banished each one firmly, remembering the mantras he’d learned at Wildwood, little sayings he’d come to believe and that had literally saved his life.

My mind is my own.

I can control it.

The past is gone.

Only the present was real. Only the present mattered. And the present belonged to Cassie. At first Matt struggled, being so totally cut off from the outside world. The private atoll they were staying on was the last word in reclusive luxury, but by design, the honeymoon villa had no Internet access, television or phone. Cassie made fun of Matt’s twitchiness (“I swear to God you’re like an addict. Is it really that hard to go two weeks without Anderson Cooper or an in-box full of junk mail?”), and after a few days, Matt started to relax to a degree he hadn’t managed in years. Perhaps it was his imagination, but he felt as if even his back and leg pain was receding. He swam every day in the warm, pale blue waters and often walked from the house to the beach and back without his cane. In every possible sense, his marriage to Cassie was healing him. Matt felt profoundly grateful.

It wasn’t until they got back to L.A. that the marriage faced its first big test. Claire Michaels came to meet them at the airport. Both Matt and Cassie instantly knew that something was wrong when they saw that Claire and her husband, Doug, were accompanied by two uniformed police officers. At customs, they were pulled aside into a private room.

“What is it?” Cassie asked, panicked. “Is it Brandon? Is he okay?”

“Your son’s fine, ma’am,” the older cop assured her. “There’s nothing to worry about. We’re really only here as a courtesy. In case you had any questions.”

“Questions about what?” said Matt.

Claire took her brother’s hand. “Matt…Sofia Basta died while you were away. It happened last Wednesday, but we had no way to reach you.”

“Died?” Matt couldn’t take it in. “What do you mean? How?”

“It was an accident,” said the policeman. “It wasn’t public knowledge, but she’d been allowed some limited freedoms at Altacito over the last six months, as it was felt that her mental state was improving and she was no longer a danger to society.”

Matt nodded absently.

“She was on a hiking trip somewhere in the mountains,” the policeman continued. “She was with two other patients and four members of the staff when it happened.”

Claire took over the narration. “Apparently she slipped and fell into a deep ravine. They called 911, and sent down search-and-rescue helicopters, everything, but where she fell was like a crevasse, incredibly narrow and miles deep. They never recovered the body. But, Matt, she’d have been dead on impact. She wouldn’t have suffered.”

Matt stared at his sister blankly.

“They’re sure she’s dead?”

“Quite sure. One of the guards and one other patient were there with her when she fell. There’s no way anybody could have survived that fall. The helicopters were only ever there to try and extract a body.”

“Matt…honey.” Cassie wrapped a protective arm around her husband’s waist. “Do you want to sit down?”

“I know it’s a huge shock,” said Claire. “But we wanted you to know before you went through arrivals. As you can imagine, the media have been all over the story. They knew you were coming back today, so there’s a whole horde of photographers and reporters out there all wanting a reaction.”

Cassie looked horrified. From their perfect honeymoon to this. It wasn’t fair.

The cop caught her anxious look. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Daley. We’ll escort you outside. We have a car waiting.”

The words Mrs. Daley jolted Matt out of his stupor. Cassie was his wife now. His first thought must be for her, not for himself.

“I’m okay,” he said reassuringly, pulling her into his arms. “It was a shock, that’s all. But I’m fine. And maybe…” He hesitated to say it, but he made himself go on. “Maybe it’s for the best.”

Both Cassie and Claire looked at him wide-eyed.

“Not that I would have wanted it to happen. But if she didn’t suffer, maybe that’s a better way to go than lingering into old age, behind bars, with nothing to do but dwell on the past…You know?”

Cassie nodded. She knew.

Matt kissed her, closing his eyes and breathing in the scent of her, searching for reassurance, for safety, for love. “And for us too. It’s awful and it’s tragic. But it draws a line. The past really is gone now.”

Cassie Daley looked up at her husband and burst into tears of relief.

At last, at long, long last, the nightmare was over. Once and for all.



THE WOMAN WALKED INTO THE STARBUCKS unnoticed. There was already a long line. It was nine in the morning, right after school drop-off time, and the place was packed with moms picking up their iced lattes en route to the gym. The woman wore the same mommy uniform as everybody else: Hard Tail yoga pants, Nike sneakers and a Stella McCartney for Adidas running top just tight enough to emphasize her pert breasts and flat stomach without being showy. Her pretty face was hidden behind a pair of Chloé aviators, and her shoulder-length blond hair was pulled back in a ponytail.

Matt Daley didn’t look up from his computer. He was supposed to be working, coming up with a first draft for a piece for Vanity Fair on the comedy business in Hollywood. Having left Azrael behind him, Matt had returned to his first loves, comedy and writing, and was enjoying something of a renaissance in his career. This morning, however, he was goofing off, scouring Marie Chantal online for cute baby clothes. They’d found out a few days ago that, quite unexpectedly, Cassie was expecting. An elated Matt was convinced that the baby was going to be a girl.

“Is this seat taken?”

The woman was hovering next to him, coffee in hand.

“Oh, no. Please…” Matt moved politely to one side to make room for her to sit down. She did so, putting her coffee cup down on the table first. Something about her hand and the languid way she moved her arm caught his eye. She reminded him of someone, but at first he couldn’t remember who.

“I’m not disturbing you, am I? It’s just that the place is so packed…”

The voice. Matt felt the hairs on his forearm stand on end.

Aware of him staring at her, the woman took off her sunglasses. “What’s the matter?” She smiled. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

THE PHONE WAS RINGING. CASSIE DALEY dragged herself from the bathroom, where she’d just finished throwing up for the second time that morning, into the kitchen.

“Hello? Hello?”

Typical. The moment she got there, the person hung up. Perching at the kitchen counter, Cassie poured herself a tall glass of filtered water and sipped it slowly, nibbling at a piece of dry toast. She’d forgotten about morning sickness and how rotten it made you feel. It had been so long since she’d given birth to Brandon, and almost three years since her last hangover. Nausea felt like a novelty.

The ringing of telephones, on the other hand, was grimly familiar, the sound track to Cassie and Matt’s marriage ever since they got back from Tahiti. Claire’s warnings at the airport that day about the media circus following Sofia Basta’s death had been depressingly prophetic. They’d walked into the hallway of their house to a cacophony of ringing telephones, home, office and cell, all competing for Matt’s attention. Even the fax line buzzed insistently like an angrily trapped bee.

“Mr. Daley? This is CBS News. Do you have any comment on Sofia Basta’s death…?”

“Mr. Daley, do you buy the coroner’s verdict of accidental death…?”

“Matt, hi, this is Piers Morgan. I’m sure you must be inundated with offers right now, but I wanted to call personally to see if I could persuade you to talk to us first.”

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Categories: Sidney Sheldon