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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 6

THE STREETS IN Santa Monica were still slick and blustery around five fifteen that morning as Justine Smith climbed out of her car in shorts and a sweatshirt, drinking water and groaning. Her muscles hurt in places she hadn’t known she had muscles. And yet here she was, back for more punishment.

Am I a masochist at some level? Is that why I work too much, my love life is a zero, and my body feels like someone whacked it with two-by-fours?

Unable to formulate a coherent answer, Justine stiffly crossed the street toward a light-industrial building with a garage door that bore a sign reading “Pacific Crossfit.” Justine had a hate-love relationship with Crossfit, which was tougher than any other exercise program she’d ever followed. No high-tech machines. No mirrors. No fashion statements. Just Olympic free weights, gymnastics equipment, and the guts to perform brief, insanely intense workouts that often left her soaking wet, gasping on the floor, and sore for days.

Justine came from academics, not law enforcement, but her current job at Private required her to be kick-ass strong. So when she’d discovered that many US Special Forces operators, firefighters, and cops were switching to Crossfit for their physical training, she’d signed up at the gym, or “box,” closest to her.

The first few weeks she honestly thought she was going to die during the workouts. Rather than let the new regime defeat her, however, she had embraced it with her typical zeal. No matter what, she’d been first at the door on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday mornings, even before the ex-SEALs and LAPD SWAT team cops who usually showed up for this early class.

Six months, she thought, then admitted that she still feared Crossfit. But she absolutely loved the fact that she could now do twenty dead-hang pull-ups, deadlift two hundred and twenty-five pounds. And her abs were ripped. There was no other way to describe them.

The coach opened the door to the box from inside. A blue Toyota Camry rolled up to the curb and a guy Justine had never seen before climbed out stiffly.

She crossed through a small lobby, past a changing room, and out into the box itself. She glanced at the whiteboard on the wall before starting her warm-up. When she saw the workout of the day written there, her stomach fluttered with anxiety.

“ ‘Grace: thirty clean and jerks for time’?” a man’s voice groaned behind her. “That’s crazy. I can’t move from the box jumps yesterday.”

Justine looked over her shoulder and saw the new guy, midthirties, curly brown hair, trimmed beard and really, really nice hazel eyes.

“Soreness is a way of life here,” Justine said.

He smiled at her. A really nice smile. “Paul,” he said, holding out his hand. “It’s my fifth class.”

She smiled back, shook his hand, and said, “Justine. A little over six months.”

“Does it get better?”

“Nope,” she said. “Not one bit.”

Copyright © 2014 by James Patterson

Read by Jay Snyder

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