Believe Me

A Novel

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On Sale 2018-07-24

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In this twisty psychological thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Before, an actress plays both sides of a murder investigation.
 
“A compelling read . . . redefines the concept of an unreliable narrator . . . [a] rich, nuanced, highly literary take on the Gone Girl theme.”Booklist (starred review)

A struggling actor, a Brit in America without a green card, Claire needs work and money to survive. Then she gets both. But nothing like she expected.
 
Claire agrees to become a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers. Hired to entrap straying husbands, she must catch them on tape with their seductive propositions.
 
The rules? Never hit on the mark directly. Make it clear you’re available, but he has to proposition you, not the other way around. The firm is after evidence, not coercion. The innocent have nothing to hide.
 
Then the game changes.
 
When the wife of one of Claire’s targets is violently murdered, the cops are sure the husband is to blame. Desperate to catch him before he kills again, they enlist Claire to lure him into a confession.
 
Claire can do this. She’s brilliant at assuming a voice and an identity. For a woman who’s mastered the art of manipulation, how difficult could it be to tempt a killer into a trap?
 
But who is the decoy . . . and who is the prey?

Under the Cover

An excerpt from Believe Me

1

My friend hasn’t showed yet.

That’s what you’d think if you saw me here, perched at the bar of this corporate-­cool New York hotel, trying to make my Virgin Mary last all evening. Just another young professional waiting for her date. A little more dressy than some of the other women here, maybe. I don’t look like I just came from an office.

At the other end of the bar a group of young men are drinking and joshing, punching one another on the shoulder to make their points. One—­good-­looking, smartly dressed, athletic—­catches my eye. He smiles. I look away.

Soon after, a table becomes free near the back, and I take my drink over and sit at it. Where, suddenly, this little scene unfolds:

INT. DELTON HOTEL BAR, W. 44TH ST., NEW YORK—­NIGHT

MAN

(belligerently)

Excuse me?

Someone’s standing in front of me. A businessman, about forty-­five, wearing an expensive casual-­cut suit that suggests he’s something more than the usual executive drone, the collar lapped by hair that’s just a little too long for Wall Street.

He’s angry. Very angry.

ME

Yes?

MAN

That’s my table. I just went to the bathroom.

He gestures at the laptop, drink, and magazine I somehow managed to miss.

MAN

That’s my drink. My stuff. It was pretty clear this table’s occupied.

Around us, heads are turning in our direction. But there’s going to be no confrontation, no eruption of New York stress. Already I’m getting to my feet, pulling my bag onto my shoulder. Defusing the drama.

ME

Sorry—­I hadn’t realized. I’ll find somewhere else.

I take a step away and look around helplessly, but the place is busy and my previous seat has gone. There is nowhere else.

Out of the corner of my eye I can sense him taking me in, running his eyes over Jess’s Donna Karan jacket, the expensive one she keeps for auditions, the soft dark cashmere that sets off my pale skin and dark hair. And realizing what a stupid mistake he’s making.

MAN

Wait . . . I guess we could share it.

He gestures at the table.

MAN

There’s room for us both—­I was just catching up on some work.

ME

(smiling gratefully)

Oh—­thank you.

I put my bag back and sit down. For a while there’s a silence I’m careful not to break. This has to come from him.

Sure enough, when he speaks his voice has changed subtly—­it’s huskier, thicker. Do women’s voices change the same way? I should experiment with that, sometime.

MAN

Are you waiting on someone? Bet he’s been held up by the snow. That’s why I’m staying an extra night—­it’s chaos out at LaGuardia.

And I smile to myself, because it’s actually pretty neat, the way he tries to find out if this person I’m meeting is a man or a woman, and at the same time let me know he’s here on his own.

ME

Guess I could be here awhile, then.

He nods at my now-­empty glass.

MAN

In that case, can I get you another one of those? I’m Rick, by the way.

Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world . . .

ME

Thank you, Rick. I’d love a martini. And I’m Claire.

RICK

Nice to meet you, Claire. And, uh, sorry about just now.

ME

No, really, it was my mistake.

I say it with such offhand nonchalance, such gratitude, that even I’d be surprised to discover it’s a lie.

But then, this isn’t lying. This is behaving truthfully under imaginary circumstances. Which, as you’ll discover, is very different.

The waitress takes our order. As she leaves, a man at the next table leans across and gives her a hard time about a missing drink. I watch as she sulkily tugs a pen from behind her ear, almost as if she can pull the customer’s words out and flick them to the floor.

I could use that, I think. I put it away somewhere, deep in the filing system, focus my attention back on the man opposite.

ME

What brings you to New York, Rick?

RICK

Business. I’m a lawyer.

ME

I don’t believe you.

Rick looks puzzled.

RICK

Why not?

ME

The lawyers I meet are all ugly and boring.

He matches my smile.

RICK

Well, I specialize in the music business. Up in Seattle. We like to think we’re a little more exciting than your average criminal attorney. How about you?

ME

What do I do for a living? Or do I think I’m exciting?

To our mutual surprise, we’re flirting now, a little.

RICK

Both.

I nod at the waitress’s departing back.

ME

Well, I used to do what she does, before.

RICK

Before what?

ME

Before I realized there are more exciting ways to pay the rent.

It’s always in the eyes—­that slight, almost imperceptible stillness as an idea dawns behind them. He turns the possibilities of what I’ve just said over in his mind. Decides he’s reading too much into it.

RICK

And where are you from, Claire? I’m trying to place that accent.

It’s Virginia, damn you. Hence the way I rhymed the law in lawyer with boy.

ME

I’m from . . . wherever you want me to be from.

He smiles. A wolfish, eager smile that says, So I was right.

RICK

I never met a girl from there before.

ME

And you meet a lot of girls, right?

RICK

I do combine my business trips with a certain amount of pleasure.

ME

Before you fly back to your wife and kids in Seattle.

Rick frowns.

RICK

What makes you think I’m married?

ME

(reassuringly)

The ones I go for usually are. The ones who know how to have fun.

Certain though he is now, he doesn’t rush it. We sip our drinks and he tells me about some of his clients, back in Seattle—­the famous teenage idol he names who likes underaged girls, and the macho heavy-­metal star who’s gay but doesn’t dare admit it. He tells me, with a hint of emphasis, how much money there is to be made doing what he does, drawing up contracts for those who are temperamentally unlikely to abide by them, requiring the services of people like him at both ends, the making of the contract and its eventual dissolution. And finally, when I look suitably impressed at all that, he suggests that, since my friend clearly isn’t going to show, we move on to someplace else, a restaurant or club, whichever I’d prefer—­

RICK

(softly)

Or we could just get ourselves some room service. I’m staying right upstairs.

ME

Room service can be expensive.

RICK

Whatever you want. You choose. A bottle of Cristal, some caviar . . .

ME

I meant, room service can be expensive . . . when I’m the one providing it.

There. It’s out in the open now. But don’t react to what you’ve just said, don’t smile or look away. No big deal. You do this all the time.

Just ignore the hammering in your chest, the sick feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Rick nods, satisfied.

RICK

I’m not the only one here on business, right?

ME

You got me, Rick.

RICK

If you don’t mind me saying, Claire, you don’t seem the type.

Time to confess.

ME

That’s because . . . I’m not.

RICK

So what type are you?

ME

The type who comes here to take acting classes and gets behind on her tuition fees. Every couple of months I go out, have some fun . . . and the problem goes away.

On the other side of the lobby, a family is checking in. A little girl, about six years old, all dressed up in a coat, knit hat, and scarf for her trip to the city, wants to see what’s going on behind the desk. Her father lifts her up, placing her feet on her elephant-­trunk suitcase, and she sprawls across the counter, excited, as the manager issues the key cards, handing one to her with a smile. Her dad keeps one hand protectively on the small of her back, making sure she doesn’t slip off. I feel a familiar tug of envy and pain.

I push it from my mind and get back into the conversation with Rick, who’s leaning forward, his voice lowered, eyes bright—­

RICK

And how much fun are you looking to have tonight, Claire?

ME

I guess that’s open to negotiation.

He smiles. He’s a lawyer. Negotiations are part of the game.

RICK

Shall we say three hundred?

ME

Is that what they charge in Seattle?

- About the author -

JP Delaney is a pseudonym for a writer who has previously written bestselling fiction under other names. Delaney is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Girl Before, which is being brought to the screen by Academy Award winners Ron Howard and Brian Grazer’s Imagine Entertainment.

More from JP Delaney

Believe Me

A Novel

Believe Me

— Published by Ballantine Books —