From New York Times bestselling author Bryan Reardon comes a tense, twisting story about two brothers locked together in a dangerous game—and an unforgettable tale of a family’s dark secrets.
Liam Brennan teeters on the edge. Early one morning, he snaps, kidnapping a young woman who works for Drew Brennan, Liam’s older brother and the upstart candidate in a heated election. This sudden, vicious attack appears to be the beginning of an unthinkable spiral. But when it comes to the Brennan brothers, nothing is what it seems.
To the rest of the world, Liam is the troubled problem child who grew up to be his brother’s enforcer, while Drew has always been the perfect son and a charismatic leader who has his sights set on the governor’s mansion with his charming and beautiful wife, Patsy, by his side.
Now, as Liam tries to stay one step ahead of the authorities and his brother, every passing minute provides a deeper glimpse into the brothers’ past, long hidden behind a picture-perfect suburban veneer. With the threat of the truth surfacing, Liam and Drew are driven toward one final, desperate act...
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Bryan Reardon is the author of Finding Jake and The Real Michael Swann. Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Bryan worked for the State of Delaware for more than a decade, starting in the Office of the Governor. He holds a degree in psychology from the University of Notre Dame and lives in West Chester, Pennsylvania, with his wife and kids.
Read an Excerpt
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
Copyright © 2019 Bryan Reardon
I watch her, but she has no idea that I’m even here. She’s standing over by the back corner of the bar with a bunch of her friends. They are all around her age, in their late twenties. The guys are wearing suits and look like total yuppie tools. And the girls all dress in outfits at once inappropriate and professional, slacks that press tightly against their thighs and white shirts that fold open between the buttons at the chest. They’re all pretty, I guess. In a way. But I’m really not paying attention to any of them. Only her.
Her name is Lauren Branch. She lives at 3509 Clayton Street. It’s an old row home that has been subdivided into three units. I actually painted the house next door, or part of it. My buddy owns the painting company. I was just working for the day. But that doesn’t really matter, either.
She’s short, maybe five three, with black hair that is perfectly straight and glasses that may or may not be prescription. Her legs are crossed at the ankle under the table. I can only see one shoe, an absurdly high heel with leopard print. When she speaks, her hands alternate between tenting under her chin and caressing the wooden edge of the four-top. They all seem to be listening to her every word, like she’s the boss. They laugh and nod and frown with interest. And I find myself imagining what she might be saying.
When he’s governor, we’ll all have great jobs and everything will be perfect and I’ll get paid a lot.
My mind wanders. My thoughts distract me. For a time, I picture myself married to her. I imagine Lauren coming home from work to my disgusting trailer, finding me on the couch, or maybe working on some half-finished painting. I hadn’t painted in years, since high school, really. Until recently, so maybe that’s why the image slips into my daydream. Lauren would walk in completely put together in some expensive work outfit with high-heeled shoes and carrying a nice bag with a laptop. What would she do? Kiss me hello? A laugh bursts out of me before I can stop it. A couple of people standing nearby hear it. They look around, uncomfortable, so I slip to another wall and stare at the floor for a while.
It’s not really my fault. Maybe that’s why I find the thought so funny. I haven’t had the best set of examples when it comes to relationships. My mom and dad. My brother and his wife. It doesn’t really matter, though. Marriage isn’t in the cards for someone like me. My life diverged from that option decades ago, really.
I close my eyes, trying to picture other paths, ones that I might have followed if things had been different. My old art teacher, Mr. Steinmetz, said I was a pretty good painter. Maybe I would have been an artist. I could have lived in the woods, alone, and the world would have coursed through me, out of me, and onto the canvas. I could have shown the others how I saw things, how sometimes the beauty lay hidden behind what the eye could see. Maybe I could have been famous; immortalized in my art.
Stupid, I think. What a stupid fucking thought that is. Maybe I could have been a damn movie star or a ballerina or something. The frustration of it rises. My left hand lifts, crosses my body. I pull up my right sleeve and scratch at the tattoo on my forearm, a Celtic knot with an empty center. I used to dig my nails in until my skin would bleed. But seeing the blood on my arm, at that spot, was too real. Too close to the truth. Scratching it is my worst habit, though I do it anyway, and try to clear my head, to focus on what I have to do.
I can barely hear the Irish music from upstairs, some guy from Maryland who makes fun of the older people up there and sings songs like “Cockles and Mussels” and “Wild Rover.” A bunch of people are stomping on the floor to the beat. It’s soothing, though. I feel drawn up the steps. In fact, I’m closer in age to everyone upstairs than I am to the happy hour crowd down here. But I can’t leave, not yet. I need to watch.
See, it’s finally going to happen. I’m going to do it. It would be easy to say that I’m being forced, that this is not my choice, my decision. That I can’t be held accountable for what I am going to do. But no matter how convenient it would be to have a scapegoat, or even share the blame with someone else, I know this is my choice. I want to do it. And I will, soon.
Lauren stands up. Laughing, she tilts her head back just a little and the bank of lights behind the bar reflects off the lenses of her glasses. Her chair leg rattles along the hardwood. She steps away from the table and I lower my head, tilting my shoulders to slip deeper into the shadows. I can’t let her see me.
When I was eight years old Drew used to walk in front of the television show I was watching, a basketball pressed against his hip. He looked from me to the television screen and back.
“Come on. Let’s shoot hoops.”
I jumped up. I’m sure I was smiling as I bounced out of the house close behind my big brother. He had just gotten home from his CYO game and was still wearing very long yellow-and-black shorts. I had asked our dad if I could watch, but he said no. I didn’t know it at the time, but I embarrassed him around the other parents.
“Me against you,” Drew said.
I stopped, looking at him. Where most of his friends at the time still had rounded faces, Drew’s had already started to change. Over the past summer, almost like he was made of some kind of quick-drying putty, his chin squared and stretched and his cheekbones popped out below his deep-set eyes. Dark hair had started to grow on his legs. Worse, he was about five inches taller than me and three times as strong.
“Horse?” I asked.
“Nah,” he said, smiling. “Come on.”
So we played basketball. Although the rim wasn’t too high, I still had trouble getting the ball up. By the time the score was twelve–zip, I felt hot, but from the inside out. I turned my back, and my feet stomped on the driveway as I walked away.
“You quitting?” Drew asked.
I remember the tone of his voice. It was firm and low, like I was just expected to listen. Like I was supposed to hang on his every word.
“No,” I snapped.
“Cool,” he said.
My brother took the ball to the foul line. I stood between him and the basket, just staring at the middle of him, like I might suddenly have heat-ray vision and burn him up. He dribbled between his legs once and then broke for a right-handed layup. What could I do? I was way too short to contest it. I didn’t have the weight to block him from the basket. He could just run right through me. So, with my cheeks burning and my teeth clenched together, I shot a foot out, hooking the front of his ankle.
Drew never saw it coming. He had broken around me with all his ten-year-old quickness. On contact, he went down. But when I closed my eyes, it looked different than that. I swear he sort of flew through the air. In fact, as I remember it, I can still see him floating right in front of me, the basketball suspended a few feet from his spread hand. It’s like a snapshot at the exact second before he realized what I had just done.
In reality, he hit the asphalt, right knee first. The blacktop burned the skin off his leg and his hand as he skidded and tumbled into the grass. Drew grunted and the ball rolled down the hill toward the woods in the backyard. I stood there, transfixed, frozen for another second. I just couldn’t believe I’d done that. There had been no thought, no premeditation. I’d lashed out and now, I knew, I had to pay the price.
“Fucker,” he hissed.
It was the first time I had heard that word. Before it left his mouth, though, I was already gone. I tore back into the house, through the foyer, and up the stairs toward the bedrooms. When I reached mine, I slid on the hardwood, swinging the door shut. Pushing off the wall, I lunged back and locked it. Then I stood, unmoving, my hand an inch away from the handle. I was so out of breath, but I needed to stop huffing so I could listen. I had to hear him coming.
I stood there in a haze. My heart thumped against my scrawny chest. And the scene played over and over again in my head. I could even see a blossom of crimson blood on his kneecap. I could see the line of his mouth. I could smell his anger. I swear it.
But he never came into the house. He never came after me. I stayed in the room for a good half an hour but never heard the front door open. Honestly, I thought it was a trap, an ambush. So when I finally eased the handle just enough for the lock to pop, I braced for a sudden impact that would hurl the door open. But that never happened, either. I slowly opened it and skulked into the hallway. I made it all the way to the foyer, and still nothing. When I looked out the window, he was still out there, shooting the basketball over and over again.
I avoided him for another half hour. At one point, his friend from down the street showed up. At about that time, I heard my mother’s bedroom door open. Her footsteps barely sounded as she moved through the house, closer and closer to me.
I sat on my knees in the family room, back in front of the television. I knew I should turn it off, that if she found me there, she’d send me outside. And that could be a problem. For some reason, though, I just stayed there and waited.
She appeared at the doorway. I looked up and she pressed a hand against the jamb. My mother was a tall woman, almost six feet. That day, she wore white shorts and a sleeveless red shirt. But there was something timeless about it. Especially when her perfectly manicured fingernails, shining at the end of long musician’s fingers, tapped on the wood frame. And her thick black hair was pressed under a blue-and-white kerchief. Like some tragic 1960s movie star. I didn’t think that then. I was only eight. Back then, though, she was just our mother.
“No TV,” she said that day, as she said most. “Outside.”
I switched it off. With my head hanging, I walked past her, greeted with the overpowering scent of flowers. I headed into my bedroom, grabbed an armful of my action figures, and pushed open the front door. Drew and his friend watched me walk over to the front shrubs. I lay in the grass and played, acting like they didn’t even exist, holding my breath because I felt utterly exposed, which is a strange thought for an eight-year-old to have, I think.
For a time, they ignored me and I played by myself in the mulch. Then, out of nowhere, Drew called out to me.
“Hey, come here,” he said.
I turned and he was looking over his shoulder, up the street. That’s when I saw my dad’s car rolling down the hill. I stood up, leaving my figures in the dirt, and walked slowly toward my brother and his friend. At the same time, the door opened. My mother stepped out into the sunshine. She smiled at me and winked.
“It’s your turn, little brother,” Drew said.
I looked back at him. “Huh?”
“Horse,” he said, tossing me the basketball.
I caught it and watched them both suspiciously. His friend fidgeted as I stepped onto the driveway. I remember feeling excited, too, at being allowed to play with the older boys.
As our father parked the car behind us, I eyed my first shot. It was a midrange jumper. Something easy, because I needed to make it. I needed to prove I could hang with them. I heard the car door open and his dress shoes clicking on the pavement. Then I launched the ball. It sailed in a straight line until it hit the front edge of the rim, hard. The backboard vibrated and the ball shot back at me, fast. I grabbed for it but missed. As I turned to give chase, I saw my dad pick it up out of the grass.
Maybe I felt nothing. Or maybe the look on his face melted me into the asphalt. I don’t know, really. What I do remember, though, is that he actually dribbled it, the basketball. Twice. Then he stopped and his knees bent. I really thought he was going to take a shot, something I never even imagined seeing before. I felt exhilarated, like we were at an amusement park. I couldn’t even blink, but my insides vibrated. In my head, I kept saying, Shoot, shoot, shoot.
But he didn’t. My father’s eyes lowered from the basket. He looked at Drew’s friend for some reason. Then his knees straightened, and so did his back. His thin mouth cutting a straight line across his tight jaw, he took a step and handed the ball to me like it was a piece of smelly trash.
“Hey, Dad,” Drew said.
“Drew,” he said, passing me.
As I stared at his back, my brother or his friend took the ball out of my hands. I heard them talking, but not the words. Instead, I just watched my dad moving toward the door, toward my mom.
“Hi,” she said softly.
I think he responded to her. Then her arms opened. She had a huge smile on her face. Like a second sun right there in the front yard. His head turned as they embraced. I saw his expression. Though he held her tightly, every muscle in his face constricted. Like her touch was worse than the basketball.