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Private L.A.

Private Jack Morgan investigates the disappearance of the biggest superstar couple in Hollywood.

Thom and Jennifer Harlow are the perfect couple, with three perfect children. They maybe two of the biggest mega movie stars in the world, but they're also great parents, philanthropists and just all-around good people.

When they disappear without a word from their ranch, facts are hard to find. They live behind such a high wall of security and image control that even world-renowned Private Investigator Jack Morgan can't get to the truth. But as Jack keeps probing, secrets sprout thick and fast--and the world's golden couple may emerge as hiding behind a world of desperation and deception that the wildest reality show couldn't begin to unveil. Murder is only the opening scene.

Part One | A VANISHING ACT

Chapter 5

THE KID MET me up on Wilkerson’s rain-soaked terrace around one thirty that morning, about the same time the first news of the killings was reaching the Los Angeles airwaves.

“You get it all?” I asked.

“Everything you shot,” the Kid replied, tugging his hood down over hair he slicked back crooner style. “I didn’t get squat from my perspective. Smell bad?”

“Horrible. Have Sci review the footage, then attach the files to Wilkerson’s personal stuff.”

“Reason?”

“Case someone says he did it and we need to prove he didn’t,” I replied, headed toward the Touareg, suddenly tired and wanting to sleep.

On the drive home, as my headlights reflected off the water sheeting Highway 1, I considered calling Guin, but knew she had to be up in five hours, getting ready to head to London. Then, for reasons I can’t explain, my thoughts slipped to the only person I know who has never minded me calling at odd hours.

I reached over to the touch screen on the dashboard, called up Justine’s number, which appeared with a photograph of her I’d taken a couple of years ago. She was standing in an avocado orchard above the ocean in Santa Barbara. It was late in the day. Golden light. A breeze was blowing. Justine was brushing her hair from her eyes and smiling at me.

As I glanced at the photo, the full memory of that day came in all around me, as if I were there with Justine again in the orchard and the warm breeze blowing off the Pacific, back when it had all seemed perfect and inevitable between us.

But then we ran into the same problem again —I couldn’t open up to her the way she wanted me to. The way she needed me to. So we decided we had to keep our relationship strictly professional. Whatever the hell that will mean.

Blowing out a rueful breath, I wondered if I was ever going to get over a woman I still love but just can’t seem to be with, at least on her terms. And maybe mine. It’s complicated. Justine is a psychologist, a fine one. She also works for me, and —

My cell phone rang so loudly I jerked the wheel and skidded before righting the Touareg. The touch screen was flashing caller ID. I stabbed the answer button, said, “David Sanders, how are you?”

“Not good, Jack,” Sanders croaked. “Not fucking good at all.”

Sanders was a powerful entertainment lawyer who’d been a discreet client of Private’s several times in the recent past. And every time Sanders had called, it had been like this, in the middle of the night, with some mess to be cleaned up.

“You ever sleep, Dave?” I asked.

“Not when I’m dealing with a shitfest of potentially titanic proportions,” Sanders growled. “I want to hire Private. You per

sonally. I’d like you leading.” “I’m...” “Hired,” Sanders insisted. “Be at LAX at seven thirty. The

heliport. Bring a forensics team with you and someone who

knows kids.” “Kids? Where are we going?” “Ojai,” Sanders said. “Thom and Jennifer Harlow’s place.” “Uh-oh,” I said. “A very scary uh-oh,” Sanders said before hanging up.

Copyright © 2014 by James Patterson

Read by Jay Snyder

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