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Authors: Carolyn Hart

Don't Go Home

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Berkley Prime Crime titles by Carolyn Hart

LETTER FROM HOME

WHAT THE CAT SAW

CRY IN THE NIGHT

Death on Demand Mysteries

DEATH COMES SILENTLY

DEAD, WHITE, AND BLUE

DEATH AT THE DOOR

DON'T GO HOME

Bailey Ruth Ghost Mysteries

GHOST GONE WILD

GHOST WANTED

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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This book is an original publication of The Berkley Publishing Group.

Copyright © 2015 by Carolyn Hart.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

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eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-17088-9

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Hart, Carolyn G.

Don't go home / by Carolyn Hart.—First edition.

pages ; cm

ISBN 978-0-425-27654-9

I. Title. II. Title: Do not go home.

PS3558.A676D66 2015

813'.54—dc23

2014046280

FIRST EDITION:
May 2015

Cover photo copyright © by mythja/Shutterstock.

Cover design by George Long.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Contents

Berkley Prime Crime titles by Carolyn Hart

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

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

In thanks for my daughter, Sarah, the inspiration for Annie.

1

R
ae Griffith welcomed the caress of the ocean breeze. Tiny fish formed a dark cloud near her bare feet. Despite the shimmering loveliness of the aquamarine water, she wasn't enchanted. A few years ago to be here with Alex would have been glorious . . .

Alex was farther out. A gentle wave crested near his chest. He turned and was caught in a moment of perfection, chestnut hair golden in the sun, finely chiseled features, deep-set dark brown eyes, muscular and tanned. Extraordinary good looks, boyish charm, and riveting prose had made his novel a smash success.

Descriptive phrases drifted through her mind:
smoldering emotion . . . a hint of danger . . . sex and lies . . . a literary Ryan Gosling . . .
Her lips twisted in wry amusement. She easily churned out apt slogans. Alex had been her first big client, put her on the map of the best Atlanta publicists. She'd crafted plenty of releases for Alex. The one she liked best, the one that now defined him, came in the first flush
of their relationship:
The South Rises Again in the Pre-eminence of Alex Griffith, Golden Boy of a New Golden Age in Southern Literature.

Alex's reckless F. Scott Fitzgerald aura dazzled readers and critics, dimmed those around him to shadowy figures. But the brightest comets burn out and even huge best sellers finally begin a slow slide down the sales charts. The clamor grew.
When will there be a new Alex Griffith novel?

Alex gave her his old impudent, gonna-knock-'em-dead grin. “Come on, Rae. Look happy. We'll go to the island. The Prodigal returns. All hell breaks loose. The morning shows will go nuts. Like you've always said, sex and lies sell.” He was sure of himself and his judgment. For an instant something flickered in his eyes. Not uncertainty. Never uncertainty with Alex. More a suggestion of steel-sharp determination.

She looked at him dispassionately, faced up to a hard reality. Alex was done, finished as a writer. Alex had sucked out the marrow of his life, spun heartbreak and danger and meanness and passion into a sprawling, tumultuous family novel. But he'd been there, done that. Now he was an empty husk. Now she knew the reality. Alex had to have real lives, real people to write about. It was only since they'd begun talking about going to the island that she'd realized his novel was reality in the guise of fiction.

Not like Neil. At this moment, Neil was at his computer, writing, writing, writing, likely unshaven, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, barefoot, maybe hungry, but with too many words to take time for food. She'd persuaded Alex to let Neil live in the sparsely furnished garage apartment behind their house. Behind their mansion. The quarters had once housed a chauffeur in the estate's earlier days. Neil . . .

Alex was talking and much of it she'd heard before. “. . . got the makings of a blockbuster. People rocking along, no threats on their
horizon, suddenly everything changes. Once they're scared, everything will be new and fresh.” He looked triumphant. “I'll get two books out of it.”

She said nothing. If he went to the island, there would be turmoil and confrontations, but there would not be the depths of anguish he'd portrayed in his book. He could fashion a novel and the book would sell because best-selling authors have a market, but sour feelings, even gut-wrenching fear, didn't offer the breadth and scope of the lives played out in
Don't Go Home.

Alex believed he was on the cusp of another huge success, even though she'd told him a nonfiction tell-all wasn't enough. These characters weren't famous. They were ordinary people living ordinary lives. For a big success, he needed a new novel. The orders then would be huge, based on the first novel's blockbuster sales.

Instead, in his usual Alex-centric way, he believed he could take what happened on his return and write both a tell-all and a sequel to
Don't Go Home
.

If she approved, they would go to the island. The result would be disrupted lives, anger, fury. Did he understand the consequences? Quite possibly. True to himself, he didn't care. He thought more fame and fortune awaited him. But she knew the limitations of tell-all books unless launched with a sensational twist or sordid revelations about the rich and famous. At Alex's insistence, his agent was trying to get interest in Hollywood. Those calls would go unanswered. Tawdry details about private lives, even those that had inspired famous literary characters, didn't sell in Hollywood. They might get the cable spotlight for a few weeks but that interest was always short, like a sparkler. When the flash ended, there was nothing left but charred wire. Hollywood wanted hot scandal about celebrities, preferably spiced with lust or death or mystery.

Alex reached down, tried to grasp a tiny fish, but the silver sliver swerved and skittered away. He laughed.

She saw him for what he was: handsome, rich, done for as a writer. Not like Neil with his boundless creativity and not a penny to his name. Money made such a huge difference in launching a book. Alex was counting on making old wounds bleed again for another best seller.

If Alex returned to the island, there would be those who would wish him ill.

She'd warned him. If they went to the island . . .

•   •   •

T
he lead story in the Sunday edition of the
Broward's Rock Gazette
Lifestyle section:

LITERARY BOMBSHELL

by Ginger Harris

Has Martin felt remorse for pressuring Regina before her death? Will Buck keep Louanne's secret? Will Mary Alice ever tell Charles the truth? As he swings a golf club, enjoying power and pleasure, does Kenny think of a wasted form lying on a bed? Does Frances remember choking in the water, flailing to the surface, swimming to safety with no thought for her companion?

Whether in graduate seminars or sophisticated book clubs, readers instantly recognize these characters from the million-plus best seller
Don't Go Home
by Alexander Griffith.

In an exclusive to the
Gazette
, Griffith announced plans to reveal the real-life inspirations for characters who cast a spell on readers worldwide. Griffith is included in a short list of exalted Southern writers such as William Faulkner, Thomas Wolfe, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, and Flannery O'Connor.

In an interview Saturday at the Seaside Inn, Griffith revealed for the first time that
Don't Go Home
, which is set in Atlanta's famed Buckhead, is actually based on his boyhood years on Broward's Rock. Critics have marveled at the emotional depths reached in the novel and attributed much of its power to Georgia literary traditions. Griffith has been something of a mysterious literary figure, rarely granting interviews and never discussing his South Carolina roots. Several biographies mistakenly list Augusta as his hometown. He spent summers there with his Georgia grandparents and later attended Emory.

Griffith sounded boyish and eager when he said he was excited to come home. He and his wife, Rae, may spend the remainder of the summer on the island, working on a nonfiction manuscript tentatively entitled
Behind the Page.
“Readers have taken my characters into their hearts, their lives. I have received thousands of requests to share the background of my characters. People want to know if they are based on real people, real lives. For the first time, I intend to be brutally honest about the characters. I owe readers the truth about them.”

Griffith said he might reveal some aspects of the book before he finishes the manuscript. “Just enough to give readers
a hint of what is coming. Maybe we'll have a pre-publication party while we're here.”

Griffith said his agent has spoken with several Hollywood producers about film possibilities. “I expect to hear from some film companies soon.” Griffith's smooth tenor voice retains a soft Southern accent, although he has lived in the cosmopolitan Atlanta suburb of Buckhead since he became a literary sensation. Publication of his novel six years ago launched him as a wunderkind of Southern literature. “Drama in ordinary everyday lives matches anything possible in fiction. Reality television exists because of the power of truth. Everyone marvels at the success of
Duck Dynasty
. Not that I watch
Duck Dynasty
.” He laughed at that. “The people in my past aren't that wholesome, but Hollywood will find plenty of excitement in the reality behind the characters. As everyone knows, all families are dysfunctional, which warps relationships with classmates and co-workers. Nothing is as powerful as hidden secrets in everyday lives.”

When asked if he was concerned about privacy issues, Griffith sounded untroubled. “Libel? Truth is a defense, isn't it? If I honestly discuss my past, who can complain? It's my past. As Burkett says in
Don't Go Home
: ‘What is, is.'” The character Jason Burkett is chief of police in the fictional small town in the novel.

Above the headline was a studio photograph of a barefoot man in a black turtleneck and age-whitened jeans leaning against a weathered piling of a dock. He was tanned with reddish-brown hair and
brown eyes, handsome with classic features. From beneath a tilted-back slouch hat, a lock of hair drooped—too perfectly?—on a broad forehead. His gaze was level, perhaps with a hint of amusement. There was the aura of a man accustomed to adulation. A second glance noted the supercilious confidence of a slight smile and the swagger of his posture.

Inset in the story was a photograph of a book cover, a starkly white tombstone with black letters—
Don't Go Home
—and the name Alexander Griffith against a crimson background.

•   •   •

T
he Sunday-morning issue of the
Gazette
was widely read across the island.

•   •   •

T
he Lifestyle section fluttered to Joan Turner's lap. She stared across the patio but she didn't see the palmetto palms or the white blooms on the honeysuckle or the glitter of sunlight spangling the clear blue water of the pool. The article had torn away the scab of an old wound. Pain bubbled hot and hard just as it had when she'd first read Alex's book. The section on Mary Alice and Charles made every breath a struggle.

Damn Alex.

A core of icy fear had lodged deep inside her ever since. What if Leland read the book? If he read it, he would know. She waited for knowing glances from friends. But so far no one had made the link to her and Leland. The book was set in Atlanta. In several instances the gender of characters had been changed, though not in the scenes with Mary Alice and Charles. None of the names suggested a link to the island. The facts of the incidents were transformed. The
character Martin was obviously Lynn, her dead brother's widow. The character Frances was her brother George. She knew. And she knew what Alex knew.

Alex was clever—a woman driver on a foggy night instead of a man, a Scout camp instead of a football game—but she knew who was meant and what.
Names are changed to protect the innocent
. Wasn't that what was always said? But there were no innocents. There were only people whose innermost thoughts and feelings and fears and betrayals and mistakes had been sucked up by Alex and used to make him rich and famous. After he left the island, Alex led a charmed life, acclaimed, lionized, admired. Why did he want to come home and hurt them all?

“What's wrong?” Leland's kind and gentle voice was concerned.

She looked at her husband, thought how perfect they would appear to onlookers, a couple at ease in a sea-island setting, relaxing in wicker furniture with gaily striped cushions on a patio overlooking a glittering pool, she with a pixie haircut and a narrow, fine-boned face, her knit top and linen skirt beautifully tailored, he with a sensitive expression, relaxed in a polo shirt, worn jeans, sandals.

She wanted to rush to Leland and feel his arms around her, a tight hard embrace, but she must never reveal that Alex's return meant anything to her. She managed a bright smile. Leland was innately intuitive with an antenna-like awareness of others clearly apparent in his scholarly face, in the quizzical tufts of his eyebrows, in the depth of his gaze. He would understand. He always understood, but the gossamer bonds of trust would be ripped apart. Love forgives, but love can be maimed like an unsuspecting animal struck without warning.

She brushed back a strand of hair. “I was thinking about the party next week. I haven't decided on the menu yet.”

Leland leaned back and laughed. “You looked like you'd had a ransom note for Sugar.” His slender hand dropped and he smoothed the golden fur of the cocker resting at his feet. “Go give Mama a kiss, Sugar. Tell her a caterer is the answer to all her worries.”

Joan folded the newspaper section into a small, neat square. “Let's go to Savannah.” She rose, resolution in every angle of her body. They would take the ferry and stroll on the waterfront, hand in hand, together.

Together . . .

She could not lose Leland.

•   •   •

H
ead up. Arms back and down. Head down. Dolphin kick. Head up . . . Lynn Griffith reached the end of the pool, made a smooth flip turn. Heyward had never been able to do the butterfly. As Lynn powered through the water, fragments of the
Gazette
feature slid through her mind. Irritating. But unimportant. Alex had never liked her. She kicked, felt as though she flew through the water, washing away all annoyances. Ugly innuendoes have no effect if you ignore them. Her only worry at the time had been the insurance company investigator, who'd been suspicious, hoping to prove Heyward committed suicide. But that was never a danger. No one who knew Heyward would ever believe that was possible. There were rumors that he had chosen to have an “accident” to save Lynn from bankruptcy, but they were spread by people who didn't know him well. And by some who didn't care for her. That didn't bother her a bit. Finally the investigator had had to accept the police conclusion: an accident, a regrettable accident. She, of course, had been sad. Poor Heyward, but how fortunate that he had taken out the insurance, which saved her from penury, made possible all kinds of improvements to the
house. She'd used some of the money to refurbish the brown-toned plantation brick home built in 1852. New curtains in the living room, crimson damask lined with ivory silk, patterned after the styles of the 1840s. The room was a gem with cypress paneling and an ebony desk. The money after Heyward's death had saved everything. She still took a cottage in Carmel every August, was a patron of the High Museum, never missed a gala affair there, enjoyed the luxuries that made a good life possible. Her latest pleasure was a red 1952 MG TD in pristine condition, a steal at $26,000.

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