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All She Ever Wanted

All She Ever Wanted

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"Three friends reunited to uncover a haunting mystery—I couldn't put it down." Luanne Rice on ALL SHE EVER WANTED

Emily was their closest friend, or so they thought—until years later, when her secrets send them on a perilous search for the truth about who she really was ... and why she died ...

Ten years ago, during a party gone out of control, beautiful, vibrant Emily plummeted to her death, leaving her three best friends and sorority sisters— Natalie, Laura and Madison—devastated. None of them has ever forgotten that night, or the role each may have played in Emily's death, the guilt that has pursued them, and the loss they still suffer.

Now an unknown writer has rocketed onto bestseller lists with a novel that eerily mirrors their own story. Who is he? How does he know the intimate details of their lives? And why is he accusing one of them of murder? As they begin to unravel the startling truth about their friend, each will rediscover a love she lost long ago and uncover secrets that will forever change her life... 

From #1 New York Times Bestselling Author Barbara Freethy comes a romantic and suspenseful story of three best friends and a terrible, life-changing secret.

What the Readers Are Saying...

"Barbara Freethy is a master storyteller with a gift for characterization. Well written and compelling, ALL SHE EVER WANTED is a fascinating blend of romance, mystery, and suspense. Don't miss it!" Susan Lantz, Romance Reviews Today

4 /12 stars - Top Pick of the Month - Romantic Times Magazine - "Freethy's expertly penned novel is a true page-turner."

Chapter One

"Pick a card, any card."

Natalie Bishop stared at the playing cards in the old man's hands. "Mr. Jensen, I really need to listen to your heart. You said you were having some chest pain earlier?"

He ignored her question and tipped his head toward the cards. His fingers were long, his hands wrinkled and pale, weathered with age spots. His dark eyes pleaded with her to do as he asked. The emergency room of St. Timothy's Hospital in San Francisco was not the place for card tricks. But Natalie had learned in the past three years of her residency that healing wasn't always about medicine, and patient visits weren't always about being sick. Sometimes they were just about being old and lonely. So she did what he'd asked—she picked a card. It was the ace of spades. The death card. A chill ran through her.

"Don't tell me what it is, Dr. Bishop. Just hold it in your hand." Mr. Jensen closed his eyes and began to mutter something under his breath.

Natalie had a sudden urge to throw the card down on the bed, which was ridiculous. She wasn't superstitious. She didn't believe in card tricks, hocus pocus or any other kind of magic. She didn't believe in anything that couldn't be scientifically proven. The ace of spades was just a card. If she were playing poker or blackjack, she'd be excited to have it.

Mr. Jensen's eyes flew open and he stared at her as if he'd never seen her before. "The dark ace. Spades."

She swallowed hard. "Good guess." Handing him back the card, she asked, "How did you know?"

"I felt you shiver." He met her gaze with a seriousness that made her feel even more uneasy. "You're afraid."

"No, I'm not." She didn't have time to be afraid. She was a medical resident working double shifts most days. She was overworked, overtired and stressed to the max. She didn't have the energy to be scared. Except that she was scared. She was terrified that something would go wrong at this late date, that with only a month to go on her residency, after years of struggling against almost insurmountable odds to become a doctor, she would somehow fail. And failure wasn't an option. Her career was her life.

"Something bad is coming," the old man continued. "I can feel it in my bones. And these old bones have never been wrong."

"I don't know what you're talking about. Why don't you let me listen to your heart?" Natalie placed her stethoscope on his chest and listened to the steady beating of his heart. It sounded fine. Hers, on the other hand, was pounding against her rib cage. Too much caffeine, she told herself, nothing more than that.

"Your heart sounds good," she said, focusing her mind on the present. "Are you having any pain?"

"Not anymore."

Natalie wasn't surprised. Mr. Jensen was a regular in the ER, and by now they both knew the drill. "What did you have for lunch?”

"Pepperoni pizza."

She had suspected as much. "I think we found our culprit. Was it a burning pain right about here?" she asked, putting her hand on his chest.

He nodded. "Yes, that's it exactly."

"Sounds like the same indigestion you had last week and the week before. It's time to stop eating pizza, Mr. Jensen." She pulled out her prescription pad. "I can give you something to help with your digestion, but you really need to work on changing your diet."

"Maybe I should wait here for a while, make sure it doesn't come back."

Natalie knew she should send him on his way. There was nothing physically wrong with him, and they would no doubt need the bed in the next few hours. It was Friday after all, a perfect night for madness and mayhem. But Mr. Jensen was almost eighty years old and lived alone. He probably needed company more than medical treatment.

Don't get involved, she told herself. Emergency medicine was about fixing specific problems, not getting emotionally involved with the patients. That's why she'd chosen the specialty. She was good at the quick fix but bad at personal relationships.

"I can show you another trick," Mr. Jensen offered, fanning the cards with his hand. "I used to be a magician, you know, a good one, too. I once worked in Las Vegas."

"I've never been to Vegas."

"And you don't believe in magic," he said with a sigh.

"No, I don't."

He tilted his head, considering her with wise old eyes that made her nervous. "When did you stop believing?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"In Santa Claus and the tooth fairy and leprechauns."

"I never believed in those things."

"Never? Not even when you were a little girl?" he asked in amazement.

She opened her mouth to tell him she'd never really been a little girl, when an image of herself in a long pink nightgown came into her head. She couldn't have been more than seven. Her dad had swept her up into his arms so she could hang her stocking over the fireplace and they'd put out chocolate chip cookies for Santa Claus. It was their last Christmas together. A wave of grief hit her hard. She'd almost forgotten. And she didn't know which was worse—that she'd almost forgotten or that she'd remembered.

Natalie looked down at the prescription pad in her hand and forced herself to finish writing. She ripped off the paper and handed it to him. "This should do the trick."

"I don't think I feel well enough to leave yet," he said slowly, putting a hand to his chest.

His lonely eyes pleaded with her to understand. And she did. She knew the old man lived on his own, and she knew how hard it was to be alone. But the attending physician was a fanatic about hospital policies, which always involved moving the patients along as quickly as possible, and he'd love having a reason to call her on the carpet. One more month, she told herself. She had to finish her residency. She could worry about changing hospital policies later. Still...

"You know," she said, the cards in his hand catching her eye, "I bet there are some kids up in pediatrics who would love to see some card tricks. Why don't I send one of the volunteers in, and if you're feeling up to it, she can take you upstairs and put you to work."

A smile lifted the corners of his mouth. "That sounds good. Thank you, Dr. Bishop."

"No problem." Natalie walked out of the room and down the hall, stopping at the nurse's station to drop off his chart and ask the nurse to find someone to take Mr. Jensen up to pediatrics.

"He worked you good," Gloria, the charge nurse, told her, a knowing glint in her experienced eyes.

Natalie shrugged. "It's a win-win situation. The kids will love his tricks, and he'll have someone to talk to. Maybe he can volunteer upstairs and we'll see less of him down here."

"You're trying to stop the dam from breaking with your little finger. There are a hundred more just like Mr. Jensen who come in here every week—are you going to send them all to pediatrics?"

"Only if they can do magic tricks. Do I have time for a break?" she asked, checking the board on the wall.

"A short one," Gloria replied.

"You know where to find me." Natalie headed down the hall to the break room. A lone medical student, Karen Gregg, was eating a sandwich in front of the small television. She put up a hand to shush Natalie when she started to say hello. Natalie glanced at the screen, wondering what was so intriguing. It appeared to be one of those book shows with a man seated at a desk in a bookstore, a hardcover novel displayed next to him. The title of the book was Fallen Angel and the author was Garrett Malone, a man in his forties with a thick beard, studious eyeglasses, and a serious expression.

She was about to turn away when she heard his voice. It was oddly familiar. Or maybe it was his words that resounded in her memory...

"They stood at the gates of heaven, the pledges on one side of the room, the sorority sisters on the other," he read. "They were beautiful young women in white dresses, rings of flowers on their heads. Their faces glowed in the light of the candles held in their hands. The hush of voices provided a beautiful harmony to the night's initiation ceremony.

"One girl didn't belong. She had the urge to run away, but her friends surrounded her. They were called the Fabulous Four, united since their first day as college freshmen and later as sorority pledges. One wanted to be a doctor, another a model, a third wanted a husband and children. But this one girl wasn't sure what she wanted to be. She just knew that she wanted her friends to know the real her.

She wanted to stop pretending to be someone she wasn't. Only she couldn't find the courage to take off the mask, to show her true self. She was afraid they would judge her, and she was right to be afraid."

Garrett Malone paused and looked directly into the camera. Natalie drew in a sharp breath, suddenly reminded of Mr. Jensen and his prediction that something bad was coming.

"In a few moments they would become sisters," Malone continued. "By the end of the night one of them would be dead."

"Emily," Natalie whispered, shaking her head in disbelief. It was Emily's story. It was their story. They were the Fabulous Four: Madison, Laura, Emily, and herself. They'd met at college. They'd pledged together their sophomore year. But the man was reading from a novel. It was fiction, wasn't it? Of course it was. The plot line was just strangely similar. A bizarre coincidence? It couldn't be anything more than that. Could it?

"Is something wrong, Dr. Bishop?" Karen asked.

Natalie realized the woman was looking at her with alarm. "What?"

"You're as white as a sheet. Are you ill?"

"I'm fine. Just fine."

"Have you read the book yet?" Karen tipped her head toward the television set.

"I don't have time to read."

"I don't either, but murder mysteries are my guilty pleasure. This one got a great review in the Tribune."

The Tribune? The Parish family paper? They wouldn't have reviewed a book about their daughter's death, which meant the novel couldn't be about Emily. Natalie forced herself to breathe.

"I read today that it's going to be a movie, too," Karen continued. "I can see why. I just started it yesterday, and I'm hooked. I can't wait to see what happens."

"What's it about?" Natalie asked, then wished she hadn't. She didn't want to know what it was about. She didn't want to know anything more about it. But it was too late to take back her question.

"It's about a murder in a sorority house. A girl named Ellie falls to her death from the second-story roof the night of the initiation."

Natalie's stomach twisted into a painful knot. Ellie, not Emily, but the names were close.

"None of her friends or family knows what happened. At least that's what they say. I'm not sure how it's going to end, but I think one of those girls killed her."

Natalie turned away, her heart racing as the words ran through her head.

One of those girls killed her.

And she was one of those girls.