Excerpts from the book and its audiobook
New York, Spring of 2008
As night threw its dark veil over Manhattan’s skyline, Tristan Donovan knew he would be out there again, taking another life. Murdering used to be the only way to stop his hands from shaking and to quiet the agonizing itch inside his chest. But when he killed now, he no longer felt a sense of accomplishment, or even a fragment of that inner silence he used to call peace.
Murderers are notorious for being cold-blooded creatures, incapable of feeling compassion or empathy. But life is ironic, and what could be more ironic than a killer falling in love?
It happened to Tristan. He knew very little about love or how to deal with it. He recognized, however, the craving that came along with it, because craving had always been familiar to him.
Tristan had been depopulating the human race since he was a teenager. Had he ever been caught, a psychiatrist would have said in his defense that his abusive father had contributed to his fractured environment, and his schizophrenic mother had passed on her wayward genes. But it’s actually chance that puts the pieces of our lives’ puzzle together. Thus, had anyone else been in his shoes, that poor soul might have become what he became.
As a criminal attorney himself, Tristan learned that most murderers were once harmless individuals who – due to an unrelated combination of unfortunate variables – slipped over to reside somewhere between their own dark world and ours. And they are out there, in the ordinary places we frequent, charming us with pleasantries to gain our trust. Some enjoy the hunt and find pleasure in the kill. Others have a purpose, and killing is simply a means to an end.
Tristan Donovan definitely belonged to the second group. He was the reason many people never returned home. But he never thought of himself as a serial killer until he began electing important victims whose deaths made headlines. For the past eight years, he had been featured in the news as a menace that preyed on the powerful and wealthy, yet no one had a clue who he was.
Due to the impeccable crime scenes he left behind, the press and the FBI referred to him as The Ghost. Indeed, he was feared like a mystical creature that surged from the depths to devour the living. The most incredible part of all is that he was often accompanied by acquaintances when they first read the headlines, “The Ghost Strikes Again!”
They shared their fear and indignation with him and he pretended to sympathize.
Serial killer? He never liked the term. It brought to his mind old movies about losers who lived in basements and drove beat up vans. At the age of 38, he was a reclusive millionaire, retired early from a successful career to enjoy his fortune. His playground was a dreamland of mansions, yachts and private jets. He socialized with celebrities, made sizable donations to charities, and slept with women who woke up safely the next morning.
He would have described himself as an actor who had mastered the art of murdering. By wearing his “mask of sanity,” he had been able to commit his crimes throughout the years and continued to be the model citizen and the good friend. He was the man any woman would aspire to date or at least spend a night in bed with.
Any woman, except for one – the one who changed everything.
This story is about her.
About the man she chose over him.
And about his obsession with destroying their love.
Texas, early ‘70s.
Tristan Donovan’s first memory was of scarlet curls dangling onto his face like fingers of silk. During the early part of his childhood, he was cared for by Evangeline, a blithesome Haitian woman whose lullabies filled the air like a warm, exotic breeze. The lyrics were in a foreign language, which comforted him, even before he could understand them. But when this gorgeous red-haired woman entered his room, he was entangled in her warmth. Nothing else mattered when she was alone with him. She was like his personal sun—an angel who would kiss his face, make him laugh, and carry him around in her arms.
A big, loud man also inhabited their home. He seldom spoke to Tristan and never touched the boy. He was merely a murmur, a dark figure that filled the recesses of Tristan’s memory. He interrupted his playtime and told Evangeline to take him to his room. There were a few precious days, however, in which the big man didn’t come, allowing Tristan to sleep in the red headed woman’s arms. And there, playing with the ruby-colored curls that descended to her breasts, he experienced the greatest sensation of safety and love.
By the time he was five, Tristan already understood that the object of his fascination was his mother. Nora was tall and slim, and had inherited her rich red locks from her Irish parents. And that man, whose name turned out to be “James,” was his father and he seemed intent on instilling fear among those around him. The mere sound of James’ voice drove Tristan into a tremble.
Tristan also realized at an early age that Nora and James were not a good match for one another. But he was far too young to understand all the dirty secrets behind their relationship. His parents had met in New York when Nora was performing in an off-Broadway show. At the age of twenty-eight, James was tall and solidly built, yet not handsome. His lips were too thin, his nose too flat. But his green eyes were intelligent, his straight brown hair impeccably cut, and he always dressed in the finest suits. He had an air about him that invited admiration, and commanded respect. Most importantly, his family controlled the largest law firm in the United States, which made him a very eligible bachelor, regardless of everything else.
James courted Nora for three months while he worked in the city. It wasn’t long before she announced that she was pregnant. For the Donovans, producing a worthy heir was tantamount to the birth of a new king. For five generations, they had maintained a very important tradition: to wrest control of the family firm to the member of each generation who both graduated law school with honors, and had a child to succeed them.
Nora’s announcement at first startled James. He had never intended their relationship to continue beyond his time in the city. But it didn’t take him long to realize that this “situation” could be the miracle he needed. His eldest brother had recently married and was already behaving like the company was his. James could not wait to give him the news. Nora lacked the privileged mantel his father would have preferred from a Donovan bride, but she was beautiful, smart, and, as an actress, had the necessary abilities to impress the old man. Donovan Senior would fall for Nora’s great looks and be delighted in knowing his first grandchild was growing inside her womb. With that in mind, James appeared in Nora’s dressing room one night after her show, armed with a beautiful diamond, and popped the question.
At the time, James’s proposal seemed like a miracle for Nora as well. When she met him she was having an affair with an actor who co-starred with her in her play. Kevin was gorgeous, his career was progressing, but his manager was also his girlfriend. Nora was madly in love with him, but she ultimately decided that James was a better investment. She went on sleeping with both men. Yet, when she realized she was pregnant, it didn’t matter which of them was the father. It was unlikely that a wealthy bachelor from a traditional family would commit to her, but she told James the baby was his.
The diamond ring he offered her was not a promise of eternal love. James was temperamental and Nora knew their life together would not be so easy. Yet, by marrying him, she and the baby would be safe. She had always wanted to be a mother and that was the right way to do it. Without hesitation, Nora said “yes.” A week later, she abandoned the play and moved to Texas with James. She never contacted Kevin again.
Seven years later, Nora had long come to regret her decision. When she hadn’t been able to fall pregnant again, the doctors discovered that James was sterile. Soon, Nora’s world had collapsed on top of her. If James hadn’t needed an heir and a wife to keep up the appearance of a solid family unit for his father and the members of the company board, he would have thrown her and Tristan out with the trash. He’d chosen to keep them on, in return for Nora’s silence, but tortured her for her infidelity. After Nora grew numb to his attacks, James turned his anger toward Tristan.
Nora had considered divorce several times. But James appealed to her greed, agreeing to make million-dollar deposits on Tristan’s behalf, for every five years they remained married. Nora was a practical woman who had grown up in poverty, and money had always seduced her. James was a lousy father but he never laid a finger on Tristan. Besides, at that point, Nora did not care much for her own happiness, so the bargain seemed worth it. For the sake of Tristan’s prosperous future, she had agreed to stay on in that hell, adorned by diamonds and fur coats, with the guarantee that her son would have everything she desired for him.
Nora’s greatest heartbreak was to watch Tristan grow up with the knowledge that his father did not love him. The poor child did just about everything to please James but with no success. The first few years, James merely ignored Tristan, who would bow his head with a crestfallen frown upon his face. Hostile looks and constant screaming followed, and soon the young Tristan started to fear his own father.
Nora tried to bring more color into her son’s day by enveloping him in a world of fantasy. She read to him, playing all the parts in the stories with larger-than-life characters, exaggerating her voice and sweeping about the room in grand gestures. Tristan was captivated.
One day, she started to act out Peter Pan, one of Tristan’s favorites, when Tristan interrupted her. “Wait. Don’t do all the characters this time, Mommy. Let me help you.”
Nora smiled. “Alright. Who do you want to play?”
“How about you play Wendy and her brothers, and I’ll be Peter Pan and Captain Hook?”
“Fine, but we only have one book. What are we going to do?”
“You read. I’ve memorized my parts.”
And to Nora’s amazement, he truly had. He mimicked his mother’s exaggerated characters, sending his mother into fits of laughter. Nora was so impressed that they spent the next couple of hours acting out Peter Pan.
Once the curtains fell and the two bowed to their imaginary audience, they collapsed on the bed, breathless from laughing so hard. “If you continue like this,” breathed Nora, “one day you’ll win an Oscar. You were fabulous!”
Tristan smiled proudly and hugged her. “Thank you, Mommy. What are we going to act out next time?”
And so acting became their favorite routine.
Tristan soon mastered the craft of acting. As he grew up, his performances became more and more elaborate. He was a little chameleon, capable of morphing into whatever character he wanted to be.
At the age of ten, he joined the theater club at school, and it was fascinating for Nora to watch him on stage. Not only was he extremely talented; Tristan was growing into the handsome features that would define him in his adult life. He was taller than the other boys his age, and had fair skin, straight black hair, and honey-green eyes.
Nora loved the idea of her son becoming a serious actor, someone more famous and respected than she had ever been. But she knew that it would never happen, and so did Tristan.
By then, Tristan was aware that his family was extremely wealthy, and knew that one day he was destined to become a lawyer and take over their business. The emphasis that James placed on the subject weighed on Tristan’s young shoulders. Tristan simply rejected the idea of doing anything that would make him like his father. In fact, even calling James Father seemed wrong, and in his absence, Tristan referred to him by his given name.
James never recognized Tristan’s achievements. He never watched his acting performances at school, nor congratulated him for winning his swimming competitions. But he screamed at the boy and made him feel like an idiot whenever he made mistakes. Tristan had recurring nightmares in which James tortured him with whips and chains, gagged him or shoved his head into a bucket of water. After those dreams, Tristan would invariably wake to find he’d wet the bed.
He hoped that as he grew up he would become strong enough to control himself, but instead, he grew even more terrified of his father. It got to the point where Tristan would urinate in his pants whenever James screamed at him. But this was nothing compared to what occurred the following fall. James would prove to his son that the boy’s nightmares had only just begun.