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Just take my heart, p.1
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       Just Take My Heart, p.1

           Mary Higgins Clark
 
Just Take My Heart


  Just Take My Heart

  Just Take My Heart

  By Mary Higgins Clark

  Where Are You Now

  Ghost Ship (Illustrated by Wendell Minor)

  I Heard That Song Before

  Two Little Girls in Blue

  No Place Like Home

  Nighttime Is My Time

  The Second Time Around

  Kitchen Privileges

  Mount Vernon Love Story

  Silent Night /All Through the Night

  Daddy's Little Girl

  On the Street Where You Live

  Before I Say Good-bye

  We'll Meet Again

  All Through the Night

  You Belong to Me

  Pretend You Don't See Her

  My Gal Sunday

  Moonlight Becomes You

  Silent Night

  Let Me Call You Sweetheart

  The Lottery Winner

  Remember Me

  I'll Be Seeing You

  All Around the Town

  Loves Music, Loves to Dance

  The Anastasia Syndrome and Other Stories

  While My Pretty One Sleeps

  Weep No More, My Lady

  Stillwatch

  A Cry in the Night

  The Cradle Will Fall

  A Stranger Is Watching

  Where Are the Children?

  By Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark

  Dashing Through the Snow

  Santa Cruise

  The Christmas Thief

  He Sees You When You're Sleeping

  Deck the Halls

  MARY HIGGINS CLARK

  Just

  Take My Heart

  Simon & Schuster

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  Simon & Schuster

  1230 Avenue of the Americas

  New York, NY 10020

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

  Copyright © 2009 by Mary Higgins Clark

  All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Simon & Schuster Subsidiary Rights Department, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

  First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition April 2009

  SIMON & SCHUSTER and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  For information about special discounts for bulk purchases please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-866-506-1949 or

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  Designed by Jill Putorti

  Manufactured in the United States of America

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Clark, Mary Higgins.

  Just take my heart: a novel / Mary Higgins Clark,p. cm.

  1. Heart—Transplantation-Patients —Fiction. 2 Murder —Investigation — Fiction. 3. Cape Cod Bay (Mass.)—Fiction. I. Title.

  PS3553.L287J87 2009

  813'.54-dc22 2008034042

  ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-7086-8 ISBN-10: 1-4165-7086-1

  Acknowledgments

  We all live in a time of medical miracles. Every day, lives are saved that even a generation ago would have been lost. A number of times I have written novels that touched on this subject and truly enjoyed the process of telling this kind of story.

  It is always a joy to begin my acknowledgments by thanking my longtime editor and friend, Michael Korda, who with the assistance of Senior Editor Amanda Murray guides and encourages me from page one to “The End.” Many thanks.

  Thanks always to Associate Director of Copyediting Gypsy da Silva, my publicist Lisl Cade, and my readers-in-progress Irene Clark, Agnes Newton, and Nadine Petry. What a grand team I have working with me.

  Many thanks to Dr. Stuart Geffner, Director of Renal and Pan?creas Transplant Surgery at Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Liv?ingston, New Jersey, for his kindness in answering my inquiries about lifesaving heart transplant surgery.

  Special thanks to Lucki, the beloved little Maltese who belongs to my daughter Patty and my grandson Jerry. Lucki was the inspira?tion in this book for Emily's dog, Bess. I owe her a treat.

  And now it's time for you, my friends and readers, to begin to turn these pages. As my Irish ancestors would say, “I hope you have a fine time.”

  For John Conheeney

  Spouse Extraordinaire

  and

  For our wonderful children and grandchildren

  With love

  Just

  Take My

  Heart

  Just Take My Heart

  1

  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 name.

  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 was the 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 a
lready 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 over.”

  “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 shoes.

  “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.

  Just Take My Heart

  2

  At ten minutes of eight, punctual as always, Suzie Walsh turned off Route 9W and drove to the home of her longtime employer, Catherine Banks. She had been the seventy-five-year-old widow's housekeeper for thirty years, arriving at eight a.m. and leaving after lunch at one p.m. every weekday.

  A passionate theatre buff, Suzie loved the fact that the famous actress Natalie Raines had bought the house next to Mrs. Banks last year. Natalie was Suzie's absolutely favorite actress. Only two weeks ago, she had seen her in the limited run of A Streetcar Named Desire and decided no one could ever have played the fragile heroine Blanche DuBois better, not even Vivien Leigh in the movie. With her delicate features, slender body, and cascade of pale blond hair, she was the living embodiment of Blanche.

  So far Suzie had not met face-to-face with Raines. She always hoped that she'd run into her someday in the supermarket, but that hadn't happened yet. Whenever she was coming to work in the morning, or driving home in the afternoon, Suzie always made it her business to drive past Raines's house slowly, even though in the afternoon, it meant driving around the block to get to the highway.

  This Monday morning, Suzie almost realized her ambition of seeing Natalie Raines close-up. As she drove past her house, Raines was just stepping out of her car. Suzie sighed. Just that much of a glimpse of her idol was like a bit of magic in her day.

  At one o'clock that afternoon, after a cheerful good-bye to Mrs. Banks and armed with a shopping list for the morning, Suzie got into her car and backed out of the driveway. For a moment she hesi?tated. There wasn't a million to one chance that she would see Nata?lie Raines twice in one day, and anyway she was tired. But habit prevailed, and she turned the car left, driving slowly as she passed the house next door.

  Then she stopped the car abruptly The door to Raines's garage was open and so was the driver's door of her car, exactly as it had been this morning. She never left the garage door open and certainly wouldn't be the kind to leave a car door open all day. Maybe I should mind my own business, Suzie thought, but I can't.

  She turned into the driveway, stopped, and got out of her car. Uncertainly, she walked into the garage. It was small and she had to partially close the door of Raines's car to reach the kitchen door. By now she was sure something was wrong. A glance into the car had revealed a pocketbook on the front passenger seat and a suitcase on the floor in the back.

  When there was no response to her knock on the kitchen door, she waited, then, unable to go away unsatisfied, turned the knob. The door was unlocked. Worried that she could end up being arrested for trespassing, something still made Suzie open the door and step into the kitchen.

  Then she began to scream.

  Natalie Raines was crumpled on the kitchen floor, her white cable-knit sweater matted with blood. Her eyes were closed but a soft, hurt cry was coming from her lips.

  Suzie knelt beside her as she grabbed the cell phone from her

  pocket and dialed 911. “80 Walnut Street, Closter,” she screamed to the operator. “Natalie Raines. I think she's been shot. Hurry. Hurry. She's dying.”

  She dropped the phone. Stroking Natalie's head, she said soothingly, “Ms. Raines, you'll be all right. They'll send an ambulance. It will be here any minute, I promise.”

  The sound from Natalie's lips ended. An instant later her heart stopped.

  Her last thought was the sentence Blanche DuBois utters at the end of the play: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

  Just Take My Heart

  3

  She had dreamt of Mark last night, one of those vague, unsatisfying dreams, in which she could hear his voice and was wandering through a dark, cavernous house looking for him. Emily Kelly Wal?lace woke up with the familiar weight on her mind that often settled in after that kind of dream, but determined that she wouldn't let it grab hold of her today.

  She glanced over at Bess, the nine-pound Maltese her brother Jack had given her for Christmas. Bess was fast asleep on the other pillow, and the sight of the dog brought immediate comfort. Emily slid out of bed, grabbed the warm robe that was always close at hand in the cold bedroom, picked up a reluctantly awakening Bess, and headed down the stairs of the home in Glen Rock, New Jersey, that she had lived in for most of her thirty-two years.

  After a roadside bomb in Iraq had taken Mark's life three years ago, she decided she didn't want to stay in their apartment. About a year later, when she was recovering from her operation, her father, Sean Kelly, had signed over this modest, colonial-style house to her. Long a widower, he was remarrying and moving to Florida. “Em, it makes sense,” he had said. “No mortgage. Taxes not too bad. You know most of the neighbors. Give it a try. Then
if you'd rather do something else, sell it and you'll have a down payment.”

  But it has worked, Emily thought, as she hurried into the kitchen

  with Bess under her arm. I love living here. The coffeepot set to a seven a.m. timer was squeaking its announcement that the coffee was ready to pour. Her breakfast consisted of fresh-squeezed orange juice, a toasted English muffin, and two cups of coffee. Carrying the second one, Emily hurried back upstairs to shower and change.

  A new bright red turtleneck added a cheery note to last year's char?coal gray pants suit. Suitable for court, she decided, as well as an anti?dote for this overcast March morning and the dream of Mark. She took a moment to debate about leaving her straight brown hair loose on her shoulders, then decided to pin it up. A quick dash of mascara and lip liner followed. As she snapped on small silver earrings the thought crossed her mind that she never bothered to wear blush any?more. When she had been sick she'd never gone without it.

  Downstairs again, she let Bess out in the backyard one more time, then, after an affectionate squeeze, locked her in her crate.

  Twenty minutes later she was driving into the parking lot of the Bergen County Courthouse. Although it was only eight fifteen, as usual the lot was almost half full. An assistant prosecutor for the last six years, Emily never felt more at home than when she got out of her car and crossed the tarmac to the courthouse. A tall, slender figure, she was unaware of how many admiring eyes followed her as she moved swiftly past the arriving cars. Her mind was already focused on the decision that should be coming from the grand jury.

  For the past several days, the grand jury had been hearing testimony in the case involving the murder of Natalie Raines, the Broad?way actress who had been fatally shot in her home nearly two years ago. Although he had always been a suspect, her estranged husband, Gregg Aldrich, had only been formally arrested three weeks ago, when a would-be accomplice had come forward. The grand jury was expected to issue an indictment shortly.

  He did it, Emily told herself emphatically as she entered the courthouse, walked through the high-ceilinged lobby, and, scorning the elevator, climbed the steps to the second floor. I'd give my eye-teeth to try that case, she thought.

 
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