At Pentimento, a renovated estate in wealthy Tuxedo Park, N.Y., the host of a gala is found dead in an apparent suicide. Attending the event is Eliza Blake, co-host of the morning TV show KEY to America, who's determined to get to the bottom of the crime.
She and her colleagues, producer Annabelle Murphy, cameraman B.J. D'Elia and psychiatrist Margo Gonzalez realize that Pentimento holds the key. The mansion is full of clues hidden in its fireplaces, fountains and frescoes that all lead to the killer's victims. As Eliza keeps digging, it seems that no resident in the tony town is safe.
Read an excerpt of "Dying for Mercy" below, and head to the "GMA" Library for more good reads.
A few hours from now ... The moonlight trickled through the glass roof. He pulled a large clay pot from the corner of the room and sat on the cold ground beside it. Then he removed his shoes and socks.
To be accurate, he would have had to use thick nails and a lance to make the wounds—but how would he be able to hammer the nails into both his hands or maneuver the long spear into his own side? The hunting knife would have to do.
He held the blade in his right hand first. He drew up his knees so that his feet would be as close to the rest of his body as possible. Leaning forward, he positioned the point of the knife over his foot. He closed his eyes and pushed.
He let out a long groan while pulling out the knife. Then he quickly repeated the motion on the other foot. He tried to block his mind from the searing pain, directing his thoughts instead to the greater good that would come from this act.
Turning his left palm upward, he held the back of his hand against the ground to steady it. The knife found its mark in the middle of his lifeline.
He must act quickly, not knowing how rapidly he would bleed out or if he would lose consciousness. He transferred the hunting knife to his left hand, opened his right hand, and stuck the blade into his palm. There was only one thing remaining to do.
You look pretty, Mom."
Facing the mirror, Eliza stared at the reflection of the child standing behind her in the middle of the bathroom floor.
Janie was wearing her soccer uniform. One kneesock was bunched around her thin ankle, dirt smudged both her knees, and more wisps of brown hair sprang free from her ponytail than were caught up in it.
Her cheeks were still slightly flushed from running up and down the school field. Turning, Eliza bent and kissed her seven-year-old daughter on the top of the head.
"Thank you, sweetheart." Eliza held herself back from gathering the child in her arms and holding her close. It was a familiar urge now, the desire to hang on to Janie and not let go. Almost three months since the kidnapping, and Eliza still woke up in a cold sweat many nights. How close she'd come to losing her only child, the daughter whose father had tragically died before she was even born, the little girl who was at the center of Eliza's world.
"I want to come with you," said Janie.
"I wish you could, honey, but it's a party for adults. There won't be any children there."
"But Valentina and Innis would want me to come," insisted Janie, hands on hips. "They like me. When we went to their house that time, they said I could come again anytime I want."
Eliza turned back to the mirror and picked up a tube of mascara. "I know they did. And we will go there again. Remember I told you about the little house we've rented near the Wheelocks'? Our lease starts next week. I'm sure we'll be able to visit Valentina and Innis when we go up there on weekends."
Janie's expression brightened. "Can we go in the birdhouse?"
"It's called an aviary, Janie, and I think that can be arranged."
"You know, they have a bird in there that talks," said Janie.
"Uh-huh. Innis showed me. And it can tell you what it likes."
"Really?" asked Eliza as she put gloss on her lips.
"Yep. It says 'sun' and 'air' and 'grapes.' It likes to eat grapes."
"You'll have to show it to me," said Eliza.
Mollified, Janie followed her mother as she walked into the bedroom, went to the closet, and took the jewelry case from the wall safe.
"Which ones should I wear?" Eliza asked as they sat side by side on the bed. "The pearls or the garnets?"
Janie considered carefully before answering. "The dark red ones," she said decisively. "They're the color of your dress."
"Good choice," said Eliza, fastening the stones to her ears. She stood, slipped on her heels, and took a last look in the full-length mirror.
"What kind of party is it, Mom?" asked Janie as they left the bedroom and went down the stairs. "A birthday party?"
"Not exactly," Eliza answered. "It's a party to celebrate the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi."
"Are you bringing him a present?"
Eliza laughed. "No, sweetheart, he won't be there. St. Francis died a long time ago."
"Then why are they having a party for him?"
"Valentina and Innis want to celebrate his spirit. St. Francis was a very good and holy man who did many things to help many people and animals in his lifetime. He's the patron saint of Italy, and when Valentina and Innis lived there, they became very devoted to him."
"Did people give him parties when he was still alive?" asked Janie.
"I don't think so," said Eliza. "He taught repentance. Parties weren't on his agenda."
"That's too bad," said the child.
"I doubt that St. Francis thought so, Janie. He loved nature and animals and wanted the people who followed him to live simply and take care of other people. I suppose St. Francis would consider a party like this frivolous."
Janie cocked her head to the side. "What does 'frivolous' mean?" she asked.
"Silly, not really important."
Janie considered this. "I don't think my birthday party is silly. I think it's very important."
"Of course it is," said Eliza, "but as you get older, a birthday party, believe it or not, isn't always something you want. Besides, I bet St. Francis would rather see the money spent on his party go to feeding the poor."
While Janie thought about this, Eliza looked out the living-room window and saw yet another car driving slowly past her house. The place where they lived had become a tourist attraction since the kidnapping.
Sightseers strained for a glimpse of the famous mother and the daughter who'd been the subject of a nationwide search.
Eliza hated the loss of privacy. Ordering tall evergreens to be planted along the front of the property might help shield them from prying eyes, but she knew the drive-bys would continue.
She'd hired a security company and it was reassuring to see the car parked out front. The guard inside was watching—and armed. The local police also patrolled the street more often these days.
Still, Eliza knew that no amount of security could absolutely guarantee that something wouldn't happen to her child. She had to live with the fact and try not to dwell on it.
"Mrs. Garcia," called Eliza as she saw her driver pull up, "I'm leaving."
The housekeeper came out of the kitchen and put her arm around Janie's shoulders as Eliza uttered yet another silent prayer of gratitude that Mrs. Garcia had survived the kidnapping as well. That the FBI had found both before it was too late was a miracle.
"We are going to have a good time while your mommy is out, aren't we, niña?" Mrs. Garcia asked Janie. "I think we make some brownies."
"I won't be late," said Eliza as she started for the door.
Janie reached out and grabbed her mother's dress.
"What, Janie? What is it, sweetheart?" asked Eliza, fearing she had been wrong to accept the invitation. Yet Valentina Wheelock had been so insistent that Eliza come to the party, and the Wheelocks' house in Tuxedo Park was only twenty minutes away from Ho-Ho-Kus. Now, as she looked down at her daughter holding onto the red fabric of her dress, Eliza doubted she'd made the right decision to go to this party.
"What's wrong, Janie?" Eliza asked again as she bent to look directly into her daughter's eyes.
"What does 'repentance' mean?"
"What?" asked Eliza.
"You said St. Francis taught repentance," said Janie. "What is that?" "Basically it means being sorry for things you've done," Eliza answered with relief that Janie was focused only on a definition.
"What kinds of things?" asked Janie.
"Sins," said Eliza. "The kinds of things nobody should ever do."