Authors: Jessica Verday
For Lee, who knows how to fix it when I break it
Special thanks to my Foundry team for working with me on this project: Mollie Glick,
for being so dedicated and taking it (literally) down to the wire—you are a super
agent; Katie Hamblin, for taking such good care of me; Rachel Hecht for keeping track
of the million and one foreign details; and Deirdre Smerillo and Melissa Moorehead
for their tireless contract work.
Special thanks to Liesa Abrams and Simon Pulse for jumping in and loving this Cynical
little book, and to Michael Strother for finding the answers when I need them!
Special thanks to F. Scott Fitzgerald for the use of the title. And a special thanks
to my readers—without you this book wouldn’t exist. Thank you for your time and your
trust in me.
Show me a hero and I’ll write you a tragedy.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
Sleepy Hollow, NY
give me the keys.”
Cyn Hargrave’s eyes opened wide. She didn’t know it, but her pupils were dilating.
Black swallowing green irises. The man in front of her was defenseless.
He handed over a small plastic key fob. The sappy, love-struck grin on his face disgusted
“Stop staring at me like that,” she ordered. Anxiously looking over her shoulder again,
Cyn could almost hear the police sirens that she knew would be coming.
The besotted man just sighed happily. Like he didn’t care what she was doing.
“Yeah—okay, then.” She grabbed the key ring and turned toward the silver sports car
sitting two inches away from the nearby curb.
Stop. Forgetting something.
She turned back to the man, pupils flaring again. “You, sit. Wait. And don’t think
about me while I’m gone.”
“Okay,” the man said, and promptly sat down.
Cyn returned to the car, wishing as she threw open the door that she had more time
to admire the black racing stripe curving sexily up the hood. A red-leather interior
screamed her name, and she answered its siren call, sliding behind the steering wheel.
With a flick of her wrist, the engine roared to life, and for just an instant she
closed her eyes, savoring the feel.
. Something she was in control of.
But the sweet rush didn’t last long. It was chased away again by the pounding urge
to check her rearview mirror for those flashing red and blue lights.
They have to know what I did by now. There was so much blood. . . .
A streak of crimson still stained the back of her right pinky. She’d scrubbed for
twenty minutes to get it all off, but it wasn’t
enough. She wondered if Hunter’s blood would always be on her hands.
Flinching at the sight, Cyn quickly rubbed her hand against her leg as she peeled
out, pushing the car into third gear and then fourth as soon as she hit the highway.
Three states away, she finally allowed herself to breathe.
Hampton Falls, NH
Two months later
he wig was cheap. It made her head itch. A synthetic material, poorly made. Cyn had
found it in the donations bin of a Goodwill thrift store. Probably somebody’s Saturday-night
castoff. But it made her feel better to have it on. Protected.
“Brunette tonight, huh?” One of the cooks leaned over the disposal in the sink, trying
to fish something out of it. “Thought blondes have more fun.”
“They do, Lenny.” Cyn opened another button on the top of her waitress uniform. “Get
better tips, too. Guess I’ll just have to use my other charms.”
“Don’t forget who takes care of you around here.”
Tucking her pad into her waist pocket, Cyn blew him a kiss before heading to the counter.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Yeah, yeah. Just remember when you bring back all that green that
the guy who does the dishes for you at the end of your shift.” Cyn waved two fingers
dismissively, like she couldn’t hear what he was saying. “
snaked your ring from the drain last week when you dropped it!” he shouted after
Cyn glanced down at the knotted gold ring on her right hand, rubbing it with her thumb.
But she didn’t respond.
“Don’t know how that girl does it,” Lenny muttered to himself. “I swear she bewitches
those customers or something.” He plunged his hand one last time into the sink and
pulled out a bent spoon before adding it to the pile in the box by the back door.
“Order up,” Marv called from the kitchen pass-through. He sat a plate full of steamed
clams on the counter and moved to the next ticket, wiping a greasy hand on his once-white
Cyn deliberately ignored him, returning an empty coffeepot to the coffeemaker. The
diner was half-full, but she liked to take her time.
“Yo, Cynsation.” Marv rapped on a dented silver bell. “I said,
“Calm down, Marv. I heard you.” She rolled her eyes and grabbed the plate. “It’s under
the warmer. It’ll be fine.”
Dropping the food at table nine, Cyn noticed the empty mug in front of a burly man
sitting on a bar stool at the counter. “Do you need a fill-up?” she stopped to ask.
He paused, half-eaten ham sandwich dripping mayo and bits of lettuce down his shirt.
“If you’re doing the filling, sweetheart, then I’m doing the taking. But we could
rearrange those positions if you’d be so inclined. My truck’s parked right outside.”
He flashed a smile of rotted teeth and half-chewed food particles at her.
Cyn leaned in, making sure that the barely buttoned uniform she wore gaped in the
I do love a man who uses big words.”
The trucker ogled her hopefully. “You do? ’Cuz I know a million of ’em.”
“Well, I just want you to remember one little word. . . .” Eyes wide, pupils flaring,
~ ~ ~
As soon as the trucker was gone Cyn pocketed his seventy-five percent tip and scanned
the dining room, judging the beverage-fulfillment needs of her customers. Table three
was a guzzler: he’d already gone through two refills before his meal
had even arrived. But tables four and five were moving at a slower pace.
Marv lifted a hand to ring the bell again, and she fixed him with a steely glare.
Throwing both hands up in the air, he slowly backed off and retreated to the kitchen.
But before Cyn could grab the order that was waiting, a blast of chilly air hit her
from behind. October in New Hampshire was cold—colder than the idiot who was currently
holding the door open for longer than was necessary must have realized.
She turned to watch him come in. Stamping his feet and blowing on his hands, he looked
like a glossy-magazine-styled, twenty-something wannabe hipster. Dark hair artfully
tousled, with a gray scarf draped carefully around the top of a fitted jacket.
Cyn dismissed him without a second thought.
The door blasted open again, and this time a teenager came in. Young, blond, and full
of spoiled-brat swagger. Cyn recognized
right away. Stephen Grant. All hands and no manners. He thought his daddy’s money
could buy him whatever, and whoever, he wanted.
She didn’t like the attitude, but she
making him spend some of that money on her.
Turning back to the still-steaming plate, she checked the
ticket and then dropped the food off at table four. The hipster took table seven.
Right next to the back exit.
Stephen sauntered up to the counter and made a show of flipping through the menu even
though it was plain to see that what he really wanted wasn’t on it. He cast a calculating
look at Cyn, then motioned her over. “When are you going to let me sweep you out of
“Are you insinuating that I’m in need of rescuing?” Cyn flipped over her pad to a
fresh sheet and clicked the end of her pen open.
“Yeah. And I can be your Prince Charming. Like the fairy tale.”
“Baby, if this was a fairy tale, I’d be more interested in marrying your father and
becoming a queen instead of playing princess to a punk like you.” She leaned in and
whispered, “He’s the one with all the money, after all. . . .”
It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to say, but he just pissed her off in all the
wrong ways. With his slick arrogance and give-me-what-I-want attitude.
Flushed red with anger, Stephen slammed the menu down. “I want a tuna on rye with
a side of pickles,” he said coldly.
“Coming right up.”
She could feel his gaze burning through her back as she walked away. Mentally sighing,
Cyn reached up to straighten the back of her wig and kept moving to table seven. “What
can I get for you?” she asked, all bright smiles and eager eyes.
The customers never had any idea just how much of an act it all was.
“Coffee. Black,” Hipster said.
“You got it.”
She told Marv about the tuna ticket, and by the time she’d filled Hipster’s coffee,
her order was ready. As she picked up Stephen’s plate, Cyn wished she had opened another
button. Sometimes that was easier than dealing with him.
Sliding the plate onto the table, she said, “Enjoy your meal.” She was turning to
walk away when his voice stopped her.
“I asked for my bread to be lightly toasted.”
“No, you didn’t.”
“Well, that’s the way I want it.”
Cyn gave him an irritated look. “Why don’t you just eat your food the way it is and
stop bothering me? That’s not too much to ask, now, is it?”
He seemed to think about it for a moment. Then he said, “Yes. It is.”
“I want my sandwich remade, and this time it should be
Cyn reached for the plate. “Sure,” she said through gritted teeth. “I’ll get that
fixed right up for you.”
Marv was in the middle of slopping dirty water onto the floor and pushing it around
with a wet mop when Cyn entered the kitchen. He eyed up what she had in her hands
and shook his head. “Nope. Sorry. I can’t remake anything. Cleaning duty.”