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Just Take My Heart

It was the persistent sense of impending doom, not the
nor'easter, that made Natalie flee from Cape Cod back to New Jersey
in the predawn hours of Monday morning. She had expected to find
sanctuary in the cozy Cape house that had once been her
grandmother's and now was hers, but the icy sleet beating against
the windows only increased the terror she was experiencing. Then,
when a power failure plunged the house into darkness, she lay
awake, sure that every sound was caused by an intruder.

After fifteen years, she was certain that she had accidentally
stumbled upon the knowledge of who had strangled her roommate,
Jamie, when they were both struggling young actresses. And he knows
that I know, she thought -- I could see it in his eyes.

On Friday night, he had come with a group to the closing night
of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Omega Playhouse. She
had played Blanche DuBois, the most demanding and satisfying role
of her career to date. Her reviews had been wonderful, but the role
had taken its emotional toll on her. That was why, after the
performance, when someone knocked on the door of her dressing room,
she had been tempted not to answer. But she had, and they all
crowded in to congratulate her, and out of nowhere she recognized
him. In his late forties now, his face had filled out, but he was
undoubtedly the person whose picture was missing from Jamie's
wallet after her body was found. Jamie had been so secretive about
him, only referring to him as Jess, "my pet name for him," as she
put it.

I was so shocked that when we were introduced, I called him
"Jess," Natalie thought. Everyone was talking so much that I am
sure no one else noticed. But he heard me say his

Who do I tell? Who would believe me? My word against
his? My memory of a small picture that Jamie had hidden in her
wallet? I only found it because I had lent her my Visa card and I
needed it back. She was in the shower and called to me to get it
out of her wallet. That was when I saw the picture, tucked in one
of the compartments, behind a couple of business cards.

All Jamie ever told me about him was that he'd tried his hand at
acting and wasn't good enough, and that he was in the middle of a
divorce. I tried to tell her that was the oldest story in the
world, Natalie thought, but she wouldn't listen. She and Jamie had
been sharing an apartment on the West Side until that terrible
morning when Jamie was strangled while jogging early in Central
Park. Her wallet was on the ground, her money and watch were
missing. And so wasthe picture of "Jess." I told the cops that, she
thought, but they didn't take it seriously. There had been a number
of early-morning muggings in the park and they were sure Jamie just
happened to be one of the victims, the only fatal victim, as it
turned out.

It had been pouring through Rhode Island and Connecticut, but as
Natalie drove down the Palisades Parkway the rain steadily
lessened. As she drove farther down, she could see that the roads
were already drying.

Would she feel safe at home? She wasn't sure. Twenty years ago,
after being widowed, her mother, born and raised in Manhattan, had
been happy to sell the house and buy a small apartment near Lincoln
Center. Last year, when Natalie and Gregg separated, she heard that
the modest house in northern New Jersey where she'd been raised was
for sale again.

"Natalie," her mother warned, "you're making a terrible mistake.
I think you're crazy not to try to make a go of your marriage.
Running back home is never the answer for anyone. You can't
recreate the past."

Natalie knew it was impossible to make her mother understand
that the kind of wife Gregg wanted and needed was not the person
she could ever be for him. "I was unfair to Gregg when I married
him," she said. "He needed a wife who would be a real mother to
Katie. I can't be. Last year I was away a total of six months in
all. It just isn't working. I honestly think that when I move out
of Manhattan, he'll understand that the marriage is really

"You're still in love with him," her mother insisted. "And he is
with you."

"That doesn't mean we're good for each other."

I'm right about that, Natalie thought, as she swallowed the lump
in her throat that was always there when she allowed herself to
think about Gregg. She wished she could talk to him about what had
happened Friday evening. What would she say? "Gregg, what do I do
about having the certain knowledge that I know who killed my friend
Jamie, without a shred of proof to back me up?" But she couldn't
ask him. There was too much of a chance that she'd be unable to
resist his begging her to try again. Even though she'd lied and
told him she was interested in someone else, it hadn't stopped
Gregg's phone calls.

As she turned off the parkway onto Walnut Street, Natalie
realized she was longing for a cup of coffee. She had driven
straight through and it was quarter of eight. By this time, on a
normal day, she would already have had at least two cups.

Most of the houses on Walnut Street in Closter had been torn
down to make way for new luxury homes. It was her joke that now she
had seven-foot hedges on either side of her house, giving her
complete privacy from either neighbor. Years ago, the Keenes had
been on one side and the Foleys on the other. Today, she hardly
knew who her neighbors were.

The sense of something hostile hit her as she turned in to her
driveway and pushed the clicker to open the garage door. As the
door began to rise, she shook her head. Gregg had been right when
he said that she became every character she played. Even before the
stress of meeting Jess, her nerves had been unraveling, like those
of Blanche DuBois.

She drove into the garage, stopped, but for some reason did not
immediately push the clicker to close the garage door behind her.
Instead, she opened the driver's door of the car, pushed open the
kitchen door, and stepped inside.

She felt gloved hands dragging her in, twirling her around, and
throwing her down. The crack of her head on the hardwood floor sent
waves of pain radiating through her skull, but she could still see
that he was wearing a plastic raincoat and plastic over his

"Please," she said, "please." She held up her hands to
protect herself from the pistol he was pointing at her chest.

The click as he pushed down the safety catch was his answer to
her plea.

Excerpted from JUST TAKE MY HEART © Copyright 2011 by Mary
Higgins Clark. Reprinted with permission by Pocket Books. All
rights reserved.

Just Take My Heart
by by Mary Higgins Clark

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Mass Market Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Pocket
  • ISBN-10: 141657087X
  • ISBN-13: 9781416570875