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Perfect for fans of Patricia Highsmith and Gillian Flynn, this sexy and seductive debut novel asks: How can you find out that the person you love is a killer . . . and continue to love him anyway?
Ellie Larrabee’s life is perfect. She’s thriving at work, living in a fabulous apartment, and engaged to the man of her dreams. To all appearances, Ellie and Rob Beauman are a golden couple—blessed with good looks, success, and romantic chemistry that’s off the charts. Surely their future together promises nothing but happiness.
But on what should be the most wonderful day of her life, moments after saying “I do,” a shocking secret threatens to shatter Ellie’s happily-ever-after. She learns that the man she just married and loves with all her heart hides a dark past beneath his charismatic exterior. And the more harrowing truth she uncovers, the deeper Ellie is swept into a vortex of betrayal and uncertainty from which she may never escape.
On the island paradise of St. Lucia, Ellie isn’t basking in honeymoon splendor—she’s grappling with the chilling realities of her violently derailed life: Rob has blood on his hands and some very dangerous people on his trail, and only Ellie stands between him and the lethal destiny he’s facing. Rob never dreamed that Ellie would be dragged into the deadly world he’s trapped in—or used as a pawn against him. And Ellie could never have imagined how far she’d be forced to go to save the man she loves.
Praise for Just Fall
“[A] tense, wild fever dream of a debut.”—Entertainment Weekly
“What a terrific novel! Just Fall arrived in the mail this morning and I read the book in one sitting, which I haven’t done for years. Nina Sadowsky’s premise is original, her voice is clear, her storytelling skills are remarkable, and her pacing is perfect.”—Sue Grafton
“Character-rich and compulsively readable, Just Fall is a marvelous surprise. Exploring the universal need for family and human connection, and the costs incurred when those bonds are severed, Just Fall takes the reader on a wild ride through the psyches of two damaged people who hope to find redemption in each other. The writing is lush, the insights sharp. This novel is a winner.”—Diane Keaton
“Apt comparisons to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl . . . The tension becomes almost unbearable. . . . The many plot strands are neatly woven together as the story hurtles towards its shocking . . . ending.”—Booklist
“Chilling . . . Sadowsky’s debut is an excellent foray into the depths of the depraved criminal mind and its control over others.”—RT Book Reviews (four stars)
“[An] intriguing setup . . . Sex and violence abound. . . . Ellie must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice for a man she only thought she knew.”—Publishers Weekly
“Impressive and memorable . . . [Sadowsky’s] creative abilities, honed in the film industry, are on display here. She knows just how much to give the reader, and when.”—Bookreporter
“A chilling story exploring the fine lines between love and hate, good and evil, Just Fall is a wild ride of unnerving twists and turns, right up to the last page.”—Andrea Kane, New York Times bestselling author of The Silence That Speaks
Under the Cover
An excerpt from Just Fall
Salt tang and the slight, sickly sweet scent of alcohol, sugar, and fruit too long in the sun. Orange-tipped sun, baby blue skies, sand fine as powder, azure waves lapping dreamily against the shore.
The room in question is on the third, the top, floor of the hotel. The building runs long and lean, a jagged spine along the pristine shoreline, rooms staggered for optimal views.
The rooms are broad and deep. Each opens out to a private terrace or patio. Sliding glass doors pair with plantation shutters in the event of a desperately necessary lazy afternoon nap. Or fuck.
Juxtaposed against the beauty of the beach, a juicy array of the human species: pale, bronzed, brown, sunburned, leathery, crispy; thin, fat, plump, beefy, curvy, lanky; reading, sleeping, drooling, floating, swimming, sailing. Kissing, snoring, drinking, flirting.
Hotel staff circulates, offering menus, bringing cocktails and towels and sunscreen, planting thatched umbrellas, jerking open extra chairs. You are lucky indeed to be a guest at this hotel.
Directly in front of the room in question, hard-muscled young men toss a football in the surf. They shout and laugh and grunt, their sounds wafting up on balmy air caresses.
At the window of the room in question, a woman watches the men play.
The woman, blond, graceful, is poised just on the lip of the balcony, half in the room and half out. A shadow slices her lovely face in half, leaving her eyes recessed in darkness.
She leans out to better watch the game below. Her skin is pale, but for two spots of flush, high on her cheekbones. A slight, sudden inhale through her plummy mouth as one man dives for a catch, his taut body arcing into the air and slicing down hard into sand. He grunts on impact and then groans theatrically before springing up with a laugh.
The blonde backs away from the window.
Behind her, in the room, in the soft white bed, a man is sprawled. A drunken arm crooked across his forehead, a swath of cool sheet twisted over his naked torso, he is completely still.
He looks healthy. That would be anyone’s first impression. His legs are strong limbs, and deeply tanned, fading paler toward his thighs. A man who lives outdoors, wears shorts, uses his body. His shoulders are thick, his arms powerful. His hands are palms up, open, relaxed.
What do these two mean to each other? Let’s hazard a guess. Or two.
A holiday hookup, the pure anonymity of it, the thrill? Possible. They don’t seem quite a pair, somehow.
Newlyweds, finally alone together after the pageantry of their wedding? Or more telling, after a tearful and regretted fight, the very first bitter sticks of marital kindling upon which the funeral pyre of their relationship would be built? Don’t think this cynical. Open-eyed pragmatism is actually romantic.
Or could they be longtime best friends, passion unleashed by mojitos—only to face uneasy regret? Adulterous lovers, mixing their urgent guilt and needy thrill-seeking into a heady cocktail? John and hooker, sex as transaction, the body quite separate from the mind or heart?
Let’s look closer.
The blonde gives us little at first. Her lovely face is composed, her beautiful body at ease. There is that high flush on her cheeks. Could be sunburn. Or fever? But note this: Her eyes look everywhere but at the man in the bed.
Two wineglasses on the dresser. One empty, one full. A bottle of wine lolls on the floor. A joint smolders on the nightstand, burning a small char into the finish, right next to the placard declaring this a No Smoking Room. There was some kind of party here. Maybe it’s still going on.
The blonde crosses to the smoldering joint and considers it. Then crosses to the bathroom and flushes it down the toilet. Returns to rub her thumb over the burn mark it has left on the nightstand.
She lifts the bottle of wine from the floor and empties its contents down the sink, rinses it thoroughly. Rinses both glasses.
The blonde crosses to the man on the bed. It’s time to at least check. She can’t put it off any longer. She looks at his face.
A shock of sun-streaked hair drapes onto his forehead. He looks peaceful. She darts a glance down toward his abdomen.
Is that blood? Yes, it is. No other signs of violence. Just a sticky carnation of blooming blood in the twisted sheets. And the knife that caused it to grow.
Well, that changes things.
Accident? Misadventure? Attack or defense? What happened here? We still have more questions than answers.
Has she done this to the man?
She’s delicate, but she has confidence in her young, strong body. She’s athletic, at home in her skin. Still. She’s half the size of the man on the bed.
No blood sours her lime green bikini or the white gauze cover-up, with its angelic float around her body. That seems in her favor.
But then what is she doing here? What does she feel about this dead man?
She pulls the wisp of white cover-up over her head, wraps it around her hand, and wipes down the room. The phone, the desk, the sink and shower and bathroom counter, the book of guest services. The wineglasses and bottle and bed frame and mirrors. Thoroughly. Methodically. Even the handle of the knife in the man’s belly, careful to avoid the well of blood. Meticulously.
There’s no anger here. Or fear. No sorrow or loss.
Resignation maybe? Calculation? Shock?
Or all three?
A shudder of revulsion courses through her like an electric shock as she notices a strand of her long blond hair on the pillow next to the man’s graying face. She plucks it up. Walks to the balcony and releases the hair into the wind.
A pair of joyful leaping dolphins appears on the horizon, their freedom and exuberant beauty a reproach. She is not free. Her face twists. As she turns to exit the balcony and reenter the room, the raucous hoots of the young men on the beach float up as if to mock her.
Carefully, she spreads a beach towel over the room’s sole armchair, a large, cushy bucket of crisp navy cotton. She settles in, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them.
A square of sky and sea and pearl-hued sands can be seen through the window. But she closes her eyes. The sea is spectacular, brilliant turquoise, and she knows the fish and flora below its surface are also marvelously colored. She’s not snorkeled or swum; she doesn’t know this from personal experience, but rather from the Internet crash course on the island she gave herself before she arrived.
She could at least look at all that beauty if she opened her eyes. But that would mean looking past the dead man with the knife in his belly, his thickening puddle of blood.
She has to wait now. Be still and calm and purposeful. Every cell in her body is screaming at her to run. But she will wait.
Long blond hair was twisted into an elegant chignon. Ellie sat stoic and still, a well-mannered girl who usually doesn’t fuss this much, simultaneously a little disdainful and more than a little thrilled by her transformation into a princess for a day. Her hairdresser, Franco, worked his magic. And babbled. “They’re totally lovely people. Been clients of mine for years. After the wedding, you and Rob must come out with me on their boat. A yacht really. Super chic.”
Ellie made some noncommittal sound. She contemplated herself in the dressing table mirror. Her face was flawlessly made-up. Her creamy shoulders were bare, emerging from the beaded lace bodice of a pouf of a wedding dress. She was gorgeous, if a little chilly. What they used to call a Hitchcock blonde.
Mrs. Robert Beauman, she thought but didn’t say aloud. A smile crossed her face, and suddenly she was warm, and therefore even more beautiful. Franco noticed, stopped his rambling. “There you are, sweetheart! I was a little worried. No one should be so somber on her wedding day.”
The door burst open and Ellie’s bridesmaids, Tara and Collette, spilled into the room fizzing with energy, a bottle of champagne and glasses in hand. “We got it! Ellie! You look gorgeous!” said Tara.
Ellie looked at her friends, elegant visions in lavender silk charmeuse. “You too,” she told them. “You both look wonderful.”
“I took a peek,” said Collette. “The place is filling up fast. This wedding is a hot ticket.”
“Are you nervous?” asked Tara.
“Why would she be nervous?” Franco interjected. “They’re perfect for each other.”
“I’m not nervous,” said Ellie. “But isn’t ‘perfect for each other’ just one of those awful clichés? I’m sure we’ll have to wade through our share of shit just like any other couple on the planet.”
“Please!” Collette laughed, a bubble of merriment. “Hang on to a little romance at least for the duration of your wedding day, will you?”
“Collette is right,” said Tara. “Lay down the cynicism. Just until the reception is over, okay? Now have some champagne.”
“All right, all right.” Ellie laughed. “A toast to my groom, Prince Charming, Superman, and the Dark Knight, combined. Let’s all believe in fairy tales.”
“You ever notice how Prince Charming has no backstory?” Tara asked as she poured four glasses.
“And Superman and Batman have tragic pasts. No wonder everyone has daddy issues,” observed Collette.
Ellie laughed again. “And you’re accusing me of not being romantic?”
They clinked and sipped and chatted, and Ellie set down her glass to let Franco put the finishing touches on her hair.
Slippery little doubts leapt like fish in the pit of her stomach.
Shouldn’t she be glowing with romantic idealism? Or were the nervous tugs of doubt that she felt the norm? The enormity of the commitment of marriage, even in these days of easy divorce; the sense of finality. And they hadn’t known each other all that long after all, she and Rob, and given her history . . .
But then her dad was knocking on the door and saying it was time. Ellie took a good, long last look at herself in the mirror and let Tara and Collette fluff out her skirts. Her mother plucked an invisible thread from Ellie’s shoulder and dabbed at her eyes. It was showtime. Ellie pushed her anxieties aside and smiled her radiant smile.
Later, Ellie remembered her near trip as her spike heel caught in her dress going down the aisle, how her dad steadied her and gave her arm a reassuring squeeze; Rob’s warm, loving eyes as he slipped the ring on her finger, the two of them turning to see the laughing, happy faces of her friends and family after the judge pronounced them husband and wife; the triumphant walk back up the aisle arm in arm with her man.
She had expected to feel as if the night flew by; everyone had warned her: It was the way of weddings.
She was wholly unprepared for the single sentence that tipped her into surrealism, clouding as it did all subsequent events and making every moment of her prior life irrelevant.
They were alone. The two of them. Bride and groom, brand-new husband and wife. The wedding planner had given them fifteen minutes, had promised them they would welcome the chance after the ceremony, before the duties of hosting their wedding pulled them in well-meaning opposite directions. It was a moment that should have been all kisses and sweet nuzzles, clasped hands and murmured endearments. A private little celebration of the two of them, the nucleus of this whole lavish event.
Rob’s admission was sudden, downright bizarre, and, if true, terrifying. Insane words coming matter-of-factly from his familiar, dear lips. The way he gripped her forearms so she had to look into his eyes. The intensity of his voice. The clench of his jaw.
And then before she could process, or determine if this was some kind of sick joke (but why would he joke about something like this? Why?), it was time to enter the party. Their guests were waiting; they heard the drumroll that was their cue.
Tara and Collette swung open the doors. Rob took Ellie’s hand, kissed her lightly on the lips. He raised their linked hands in triumph and led Ellie into their reception.
And so they had made their grand entrance: “For the very first time, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Beauman!”
“What were you talking about?” Ellie asked Rob urgently, sotto voce, as everyone cheered. “I don’t understand. That can’t be—”
Rob put his fingers to his lips and shushed her. Kissed his fingers and tapped her lightly on the forehead. “Later,” he said. He smiled, she smiled back, uncertain, and they were swept in and away.
Their wedding party had begun.
Ellie shook hands, kissed cheeks, brought arch effusiveness to a greeting when she couldn’t, for the life of her, remember the name of that coworker of Rob’s she had met at least half a dozen times. She accepted good wishes and compliments. The photographer’s camera flashed. Food was served.
Ellie spun through her wedding party, propelled by love, happiness, obligation, ritual, friendship, champagne, and kisses. She pushed aside the confusing and repugnant nature of what Rob had just told her. It couldn’t be true.
They had planned this wedding together, she and Rob, they didn’t fight once, they never fought at all really, she knew him, he was her best friend, she loved him, he loved her.
They danced their first dance together. Kissed when it was over. She was pulled away by her cousin Andrea and drank more champagne. Did one shot of tequila for old times’ sake.
But then, later, talking to her tedious aunt Sonia (or rather listening to Sonia talk, which left Ellie completely free to roam her own thoughts), the phrase “He’s too good to be true” popped into her head. Everyone said so. It’s what people said all the time about Rob. What if they were right? But she loved him. She was being ridiculous. He was kidding. What a nervous bride she turned out to be! Ellie made her excuses to Aunt Sonia as she saw her friend Marcy Clark out of the corner of her eye.
“Excuse me, I have to thank—”
Sonia waved her off and Ellie caught up to her friend. “It means so much that you came.”
They hugged, sharp contrast between Ellie’s snow-white fairy princess dress and Marcy’s tailored black sheath, young widow chic. Ellie’s veil fell forward and shielded both their fresh faces. Cocooned.
“I hope you’ll understand if I just slip out when I feel I need to leave, okay?” said Marcy.
“Of course, sweetheart.” Ellie’s eyes had filled with tears then. “I know Ethan is here with us in spirit.”
Marcy’s eyes had filled too. But she brushed away Ellie’s tears, smiling, and then her own. “He is. Now be happy, darling. It’s your wedding day.”
Then the wedding planner was there and it was time to cut the cake. Ritual enacted for endless photographs. Rob and Ellie fed each other tidy morsels. A quick sugary kiss. The cake was whisked away for service.
Nina Sadowsky has written numerous original screenplays and adaptations for such companies as The Walt Disney Company, Working Title Films, and Lifetime Television. She was president of Meg Ryan’s Prufrock Pictures. She was the executive producer of The Wedding Planner and has produced numerous other films. She also served as president of production for Signpost Films, where she worked on such movies as House of Sand and Fog. Sadowsky is currently an adjunct professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, teaching both script development and producing. This is her first novel.