Someone to Watch Over Me
by Judith McNaught
Published by Atria Books
512 pages, 2003
When the rich, successful husband of a beautiful New York actress mysteriously disappears, she plunges into a desperate search to find him ... and into a menacing web of secrets, deception and danger. Once again Judith McNaught, author of the #1 New York Times bestseller Night Whispers, crafts a thrilling tale filled with unrelenting suspense, unforgettable characters and powerful undercurrents of greed, ambition and desire.
Leigh Kendall reveled in her stellar Broadway acting career, and her marriage to Logan Manning, scion of an old New York family. When her husband finds an old country cottage, he decides to build their dream house, and to surprise Leigh with her first view of the mountain property. After a Sunday night performance, Leigh heads north to join him, and into a blinding blizzard. Lost and alone, she's run off the road. When she awakes in the local hospital, seriously injured, she asks for her husband. The police arrive to inform her that he has mysteriously disappeared, and Leigh, although obviously distraught, becomes the focus of their suspicions.
The more she discovers about her husband and his business affairs, the less she realizes she knew about Logan Manning and the more terrified she becomes. Now, with no one to help her, she is heading deeper and deeper into unknown territory ... where friends and enemies are impossible to distinguish, and where the truth becomes the most terrifying weapon of all
"Miss Kendall, can you hear me? I'm Doctor Metcalf, and you're at Good Samaritan Hospital in Mountainside. We're going to take you out of the ambulance now and into the emergency room."
Shivering uncontrollably, Leigh Kendall reacted to the insistent male voice that was calling her back to consciousness, but she couldn't seem to summon the strength to open her eyelids.
"Can you hear me, Miss Kendall?"
With an effort, she finally managed to force her eyes open. The doctor who had spoken was bending over her, examining her head, and beside him, a nurse was holding a clear plastic bag of IV fluid.
"We're going to take you out of the ambulance now," he repeated as he beamed a tiny light at each of her pupils.
"Need ... to tell ... husband I'm here," Leigh managed in a feeble whisper.
He nodded and gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "The State Highway Patrol will take care of that. In the meantime, you have some very big fans at Good Samaritan, including me, and we're going to take excellent care of you."
Voices and images began to fly at Leigh from every direction as the gurney was lifted from the ambulance. Red and blue lights pulsed frantically against a gray dawn sky. Uniforms flashed past her line of vision-New York State Highway Patrol officers, paramedics, doctors, nurses. Doors swung open, the hallway flew by, faces crowded around her, firing urgent questions at her.
Leigh tried to concentrate, but their voices were collapsing into an incomprehensible babble, and their features were sliding off their faces, dissolving into the same blackness that had already devoured the rest of the room.
When Leigh awoke again, it was dark outside and a light snow was still falling. Struggling to free herself from the effects of whatever drugs were dripping into her arm from the IV bag above her, she gazed dazedly at what appeared to be a hospital room filled with a riotous display of flowers.
Seated on a chair near the foot of the bed, flanked by a huge basket of purple orchids and a large vase of bright yellow roses, a gray-haired nurse was reading a copy of The New York Times with Leigh's picture on the front page.
Leigh turned her head as much as the brace on her neck would allow, searching for some sign of Logan, but for the time being, she was alone with the nurse. Experimentally, she moved her legs and wiggled her toes, and was relieved to find them still attached to the rest of her and in good working order. Her arms were bandaged and her head was wrapped in something tight, but as long as she didn't move, her discomfort seemed to be limited to a generalized ache throughout her body, a sharper ache in her ribs, and a throat so dry it felt as if it was stuffed with gauze.
She was alive, and that in itself was a miracle! The fact that she was also whole and relatively unharmed filled Leigh with a sense of gratitude and joy that was almost euphoric. She swallowed and forced a croaking whisper from her parched throat. "May I have some water?"
The nurse looked up, a professional smile instantly brightening her face. "You're awake!" she said as she quickly closed the newspaper, folded it in half, and laid it face-down beneath her chair.
The name tag on the nurse's uniform identified her as "Ann Mackey, RN. Private Duty," Leigh noted as she watched the nurse pouring water from a plastic pitcher on the tray beside the bed.
"You should have a straw. I'll go get one."
"Don't bother about that right now. I'm really thirsty."
Smiling sympathetically, the nurse started to hold the glass to Leigh's mouth, but Leigh took it from her. "I can hold it," Leigh assured her, and then was amazed by how much effort it took just to lift her bandaged arm and hold it steady. By the time she handed the glass back to Nurse Mackey, her arm was trembling and her chest hurt terribly. Wondering if perhaps there was more wrong with her than she'd thought, Leigh let her head sink back into the pillows while she gathered the strength to talk. "What sort of condition am I in?"
Nurse Mackey looked eager to share her knowledge, but she hesitated. "You really should ask Dr. Metcalf about that."
"I will, but I'd like to hear it now, from my private duty nurse. I won't tell him you told me anything."
It was all the encouragement the elderly woman needed. "You were in shock when you were brought in," she confided. "You had a concussion, hypothermia, cracked ribs, and suspected injuries to the cervical vertebrae and adjacent tissue -- that's whiplash in laymen's terms. You have several deep scalp wounds as well as lacerations on your arms, legs, and torso, but only a few of them are on your face, and they aren't deep, which is a blessing. You also have contusions and abrasions all over your -- "
Smiling, Leigh lifted her hand to stop the litany of injuries. "That's too much detail. Is there anything wrong with me now that will need surgery?"
Nurse Mackey looked taken aback by Leigh's dismissive attitude, and then she looked impressed. "No surgery," she said with an approving little pat on Leigh's shoulder.
"Any physical therapy?"
"I wouldn't think so. But you should expect to be very sore for a few weeks, and your ribs will hurt. Your burns and cuts will require close attention, healing and scaring could be a concern -- "
Leigh interrupted this new deluge of depressing medical minutia with another smile. "I'll be very careful," she promised, and then she switched to the only other topic on her mind. "Where is my husband?"
Nurse Mackey faltered and then patted Leigh's shoulder again. "I'll go and see about that," she promised, and hurried off, leaving Leigh with the impression that Logan was nearby.
Exhausted from the simple acts of drinking and speaking, Leigh closed her eyes and tried to piece together what had happened to her since yesterday, when Logan kissed her good bye in the morning.
He'd been so excited when he left their East Side apartment, so eager for her to join him in the mountains and spend the night with him there. For nearly two years, he'd been looking for just the right site for their mountain retreat, a secluded setting that would complement the sprawling stone house he'd designed for the two of them. On Thursday, he'd finally found a piece of property that met all his exacting qualifications, and he'd been so eager for her to see it that he insisted they should spend Sunday night -- their first available night -- in the existing cabin on the land.
"The cabin hasn't been used in years, but I'll clean it up while I'm waiting for you to get there," he promised, displaying an endearing enthusiasm for a task he normally diligently avoided. "There isn't any electricity or heat, but I'll build a roaring fire in the fireplace, and we'll sleep in front of it in sleeping bags. We'll have dinner by candlelight. In the morning, we'll watch the sun rise over the tops of the trees. Our trees. It will be very romantic, you'll see."
His entire plan filled Leigh with amused dread. She was starring in a new play that had opened on Broadway the night before, and she'd only had four hours of sleep. Before she could leave for the mountains, she had a Sunday matinee performance to give, followed by a three-hour drive to a cold, uninhabitable stone cabin, so that she could sleep on the floor ... and then get up at dawn the next day.
"I can't wait," she lied with an affectionate smile, but what she really wanted to do was go back to sleep. It was only eight o'clock. She could sleep until ten.
Logan hadn't had any more sleep than she, but he was already dressed and eager to leave for the cabin. "The place isn't easy to find, so I drew you a detailed map with plenty of landmarks," he said, laying a piece of paper on her nightstand. "I've already loaded the car. I think I have everything I need -- " he continued, leaning over her in bed and pressing a quick kiss on her cheek. " -- house plans, stakes, string, a transom, sleeping bags. I still feel like I'm forgetting something ..."
"A broom, a mop, and a bucket?" Leigh joked sleepily as she rolled over onto her stomach. "Scrub brushes? Detergent?"
"Kill-joy," he teased, nuzzling her neck where he knew she was ticklish.
Leigh giggled, pulled the pillow over the back of her head, and continued dictating his shopping list. "Disinfectant ... mouse traps ..."
"You sound like a spoiled, pampered Broadway star," he chuckled. "Where is your sense of adventure?"
"It stops at a Holiday Inn," she said with a muffled giggle.
With a laugh, he pulled the pillow from her head and rumpled her hair. "Leave straight from the theater. Don't be late." He stood up and headed for the door to their bedroom suite. "I know I'm forgetting something -- "
"Drinking water, candles, a tin coffee pot?" Leigh helpfully chanted. "Food for dinner? A pear for my breakfast?"
"No more pears. You're addicted," he teased over his shoulder. "From now on, it's Cream of Wheat and prunes for you."
"Sadist," Leigh mumbled into the pillows, but she was smiling. A moment later she heard the door close behind him, and she rolled onto her back, smiling to herself as she gazed out the bedroom windows overlooking Central Park. They'd both been very young and very poor when they married. Back then, their only assets had been Logan's brand new degree in architecture and Leigh's unproven acting talent-that, and their unflagging faith in each other.
With those tools, they'd built a wonderful life together and strengthened it over the next thirteen years. During the last few months however, they'd both been so busy that their sex life had become almost nonexistent. She'd been immersed in the pre-opening craziness of a new play, and Logan had been consumed with the endless complexities of his latest, and biggest, business venture.
As Leigh lay in bed, gazing out at the clouds gathering in the November sky, she decided she definitely liked the prospect of spending the night by a blazing fire, with nothing to do but make love with her husband.
She'd hoped to leave the theater by four o'clock that afternoon, but the play's director and the writer both decided to make minor changes after watching the matinee performance, and then they argued endlessly over which changes to make, trying out first one variation, then another. As a result, it was after six when Leigh and the rest of the cast finally left the theater.
Patchy fog mixed with light snow slowed her progress out of the city. Leigh tried to call Logan twice on his cellular phone to tell him she was going to be late, but he'd either left his phone on the charger in his car or else the cabin was beyond range of his cellular service. She left voice mail messages for him instead.
By the time she reached the mountains, the snow was falling hard and fast, whipped into a frenzy by the wind. Leigh's Mercedes sedan was heavy and handled well, but the snow was deep and coming down so fast, she could only see a few feet beyond her headlights. The driving was treacherous; the visibility so poor that it was difficult to see road signs, let alone spot the little landmarks Logan had noted on his map. Roadside restaurants and gas stations that would normally be open at ten PM were closed up, their parking lots deserted. With nowhere to stop and ask for directions, Leigh kept driving. Twice, she doubled back, certain she'd missed a landmark or a road.
When she should have been within a mile or two of the cabin, she turned into an unmarked driveway with a fence across it and switched on the car's map light to study Logan's map and directions again. She was almost positive she'd missed a turnoff a mile back, the one Logan had described as being "200 feet south of a sharp curve in the road, just beyond a little red barn." With at least six inches of snow blanketing everything, what had seemed like a little barn to her could just as easily have been a large black shed, a short silo, or a pile of frozen cows, but Leigh decided she should go back and find out.
She put the Mercedes into gear and made a cautious U turn. As she rounded the sharp curve she was looking for, she slowed down even more, searching for a gravel drive, but the drop-off was much too steep, the terrain far too rugged, for anyone to have put a driveway there. She'd just taken her foot off the brake and started to accelerate when a pair of headlights on high beam leapt out of the darkness behind her, rounding the curve, closing the distance with terrifying speed. On the snow-covered roads, Leigh couldn't speed up quickly and the other driver couldn't seem to slow down. He swerved into the left lane to avoid plowing into her from the rear, lost control, and smashed into the Mercedes just behind Leigh's door.
The memory of what followed was horrifyingly vivid-the explosion of air bags, the scream of tortured metal and shattering glass as the Mercedes plowed through the guardrail and began cart wheeling down the steep embankment. Tree trunks rammed at the car, metal collapsed, and heavy objects tore at her flesh and slammed into her head. She remembered the explosive jolt as 5,000 pounds of mangled metal finally came to a bone-breaking stop.
Suspended from her seat belt, Leigh hung there, upside down, like a dazed bat in a cave while light began exploding around her. Bright light. Colorful light. Yellow and orange and red. Fire!
Stark terror sharpened her senses. She found the seat belt release, landed hard on the roof of the overturned car and, whimpering, tried to crawl through the hole that had once been the passenger window. Blood, sticky and wet, spread down her arms and legs and dripped into her eyes. Her coat was too bulky for the opening, and she was yanking it off when whatever had stopped the car's descent suddenly gave way. Leigh heard herself screaming as the burning car pitched forward, rolled, and then seemed to fly out over thin air, before it began a downward plunge that ended in a deafening splash and a freezing deluge of icy water.
Lying in her hospital bed with her eyes closed, Leigh relived that plunge into the water, and her heart began to race. Moments after hitting the water, the car began a fast nose-dive for the bottom and in a frenzy of terror, she started pounding on everything she could reach. She found a hole above her, a large one, and with her lungs bursting, she pushed through it and fought with her remaining strength to reach the surface. It seemed an eternity later before a blast of frigid wind hit her face and she gulped in air.
She tried to swim, but pain knifed through her chest with every breath, and her strokes were too feeble and uncoordinated to propel her forward more than a little bit. Leigh kept thrashing about in the water, but her frozen body was going numb, and neither her panic nor her determination could give her the strength to swim. Her head was sliding under the surface, when her flailing hand struck something hard and rough-the limb of a partially submerged fallen tree. She grabbed at it with all her might, trying to use it as a raft, until she realized that the "raft" was stationery. She pulled herself along it, hand over hand, as the water receded to her shoulders, then her waist, and finally her knees.
Shivering and weeping with relief, she peered through the falling snow, searching for the path the Mercedes would have carved through the trees after it plunged off the ridge. There was no path in sight. There was no ridge in sight either. There was only bone-numbing cold, and sharp branches that slapped and scratched her as she clawed her way up a steep embankment she couldn't see, toward a road she wasn't sure was there.
Leigh had a vague recollection of finally reaching the top of the ridge and curling her body into a ball on something flat and wet, but everything after that was a total blur. Everything, except a strange, blinding light and a man-an angry man who cursed at her.
Leigh was abruptly jolted into the present by an insistent male voice originating from the side of her hospital bed. "Miss Kendall? Miss Kendall, I'm sorry to wake you, but we've been waiting to talk to you."
Leigh opened her eyes and gazed blankly at an unfamiliar man and woman who were holding thick winter jackets over their arms. The man was in his mid-thirties, husky, and prematurely bald. His expression was pleasant, but businesslike. The woman was somewhat younger, slightly taller, and very pretty with long dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. Her expression was also businesslike, but her brown eyes were filled with sympathy.
"I'm Detective Harwell with the New York City Police Department," the man said, "and this is Detective Littleton. We have some questions we need to ask you."
Leigh assumed they wanted to ask about her accident, but she felt too weak to describe it twice, once for them and again for Logan. "Could you wait until my husband gets back?"
"Gets back from where?" Detective Harwell asked.
"From wherever he is right now."
"Do you know where he is?"
"No, but the nurse went to get him."
Detectives Harwell and Littleton exchanged a glance. "Your nurse was instructed to come straight to us as soon as you were conscious," Harwell explained, then he said, "Miss Kendall, when did you last see your husband?"
An uneasy premonition filled Leigh with dread. "Yesterday, in the morning, before he left for the mountains. I planned to join him there right after my Sunday matinee performance, but I didn't get there," she added needlessly.
"Yesterday was Monday. This is Tuesday night," Harwell said carefully. "You've been here since 6 AM yesterday."
Fear made Leigh forget about her battered body. "Where is my husband?" she demanded, levering herself up on her elbows and gasping at the stabbing pain in her ribs. "Why isn't he here? What's wrong? What's happened?"
"Probably nothing," Detective Littleton said soothingly. "In fact, he's probably worried sick, wondering where you are. The problem is, we haven't been able to contact him to tell him what happened to you. "
"How long have you been trying?"
"Since early yesterday morning, when the New York State Highway Patrol requested our assistance," Harwell replied. "One of our police officers was dispatched immediately to your apartment on the Upper East Side, but no one was at home." He paused for a moment, watching her as if to make certain she was following his explanation. "The officer then spoke to your doorman and learned that you have a housekeeper, so he asked the doorman to notify him as soon as your housekeeper arrived."
Leigh felt as if the room was starting to rock back and forth. "Did your officer talk to Hilda?"
"Yes." Harwell flipped open his notepad and consulted his notes. "As soon as Miss Bruner arrived at work, Officer Perkins returned to your apartment and spoke with her. Miss Bruner didn't know exactly where you and your husband had gone on Sunday, but she gave Officer Perkins your husband's cellular phone number. He called that number from your phone at the apartment. Your husband didn't answer, but his voicemail picked up the call, so he left a message for him. Officer Perkins also asked Miss Bruner to check the messages on your answering machine. There were twenty-three messages, but none of them were from your husband. Until now, we haven't been able to do much more than that."
"But," Littleton interjected kindly, "Captain Shrader wants you to know that NYPD will assist you in every way we can. That's why we're here."
Leigh eased back against the pillows, her mind falling over itself as she tried to come up with logical explanations for a terrifyingly bizarre situation. "You don't know my husband. If he knew I was missing, he'd do a lot more than call the apartment! He'd call the State Highway patrol and every police department in the surrounding areas, then he'd start looking for me himself. I have a phone in my car, but he didn't try to call me there."
"You're making too many assumptions," Detective Littleton interrupted gently. "He might not have been able to use a telephone or go looking for you. The blizzard knocked out telephone and electrical service in a 50 mile radius. In some areas, it still hasn't been restored."
"Logan had his cell phone," Leigh said. "The cottage doesn't have electricity."
"But he wouldn't have been able to re-charge the phone's battery unless he could get to his vehicle, which is probably buried under a snow drift. Snow drifts are eight feet high in places, and the plows have only been able to clear the main roads. Some of the side roads and most of the private roads are still completely impassable."
"They are?" Leigh said, clinging shamelessly to the possibility that Logan was safe and warm and simply unable to use his phone.
"Yes, they are."
Harwell opened his notebook and removed a pen from his jacket pocket. "It's also possible your husband went out looking for you and got stranded," he added. "Now, if you can tell us where this cottage is, we'll go out there and look around."
Leigh gazed from Harwell to Littleton in renewed alarm. "I don't know exactly where the cottage is. It doesn't have an address. Logan drew a map so I could find it."
"Where is the map?"
"It was in my car."
"Where is your car?"
"It's at the bottom of a lake, or a pond, or a quarry, near wherever I was found! I can draw you another map," she added quickly.
Harwell handed her his notebook and pen.
Weakness and tension made Leigh's hand shake as drew first one map and then another. "I think that second one is right," she said. "Logan wrote notes on the map he drew for me," she added as she turned to a fresh page and tried to write the same notes for the detectives.
"What sort of notes?"
"Landmarks to help me know I was getting close to the turnoffs."
When she was finished, Leigh handed the notebook to Harwell, but she spoke to Littleton. "I might have gotten the distances a little wrong. I mean, I'm not sure whether my husband's map said to go 8/10 of a mile past an old filling station and then turn right, or whether it was 6/10 of a mile. You see, it was snowing," Leigh said as tears choked her voice, "and I couldn't-couldn't find some of the landmarks."
"We'll find them, Miss Kendall" Harwell said automatically as he closed his notebook and shrugged into his jacket. "In the meantime, the Mayor, the Chief of Police, and our captain all send you their regards."
Leigh turned her face away to hide the tears beginning to stream from her eyes. "Detective Harwell, I would appreciate it very much if you would call me Mrs. Manning. Kendall is my stage name."
Samantha Littleton waited until the hospital elevator doors closed before she spoke. "You shouldn't have mentioned that her husband might have gone looking for her and gotten stranded somewhere in the mountains. She has enough to worry about without that."
Harwell shot her a derisive look. "I didn't think she'd believe for long that he's too lazy, or too stupid, to get from his front door to his vehicle so that he could use his cell phone."
The lobby of Good Samaritan Hospital was deserted except for two maintenance men who were polishing the terrazzo floor. Harwell put his shoulder against the exit door, and the blast of arctic wind nearly blew both of them back a step.
On the third floor of the hospital, a young doctor was standing at the foot of Leigh's bed, reading her chart. He left quietly, closing the door behind him. The additional morphine he'd ordered was already seeping through Leigh's veins, dulling the physical ache that suffused her body. She sought refuge from the torment in her mind by thinking about the last night she'd spent with Logan, when everything had seemed so perfect and the future had seemed so bright. Saturday night. Her birthday. And the opening night of Jason Solomon's new play. Logan had given her a party afterward to celebrate both occasions....
Leigh closed her eyes, trying to concentrate on that night, but all she could think about was this one. "Oh darling," she whispered, "stay safe for me. Please, please be safe." | February 2003
Copyright © 2003 Judith McNaught
Judith McNaught is the author of 13 novels with more than 30 million copies in print. The last eight of her novels have been international bestsellers and have appeared on the New York Times bestseller list, most recently Night Whispers, which debuted at #1.