Every marriage has secrets. Some are deadly.
Lydia Harris knows her marriage to Dean has problems, but when she finds a box of news clippings he took great pains to conceal, the problems go from disappointing to dangerous. Nation-wide murders… in cities where he has traveled. She doesn’t want to believe him capable of such violence, so she searches for clues to explain the hidden clippings.
As the evidence begins to mount, Lydia is torn. Dean seems to be trying to rekindle their lost spark, and she yearns for what they’d once had. But can she look past her own feelings to uncover the truth, or will she be next on his list?
Dean’s List is a nail-biting psychological thriller penned by the multi-talented Stacy Claflin. Pick up your copy today!
Dean’s List is a standalone novel from the Gone Trilogy. You don’t need to have read the trilogy to read Dean’s List.
Lydia Harris focused on her phone conversation, not paying attention to her actions as she got ready for a night out with the girls. She headed into the closet to find the perfect top to go with her adorable new shorts. She forgot she carried her glass perfume bottle, and her fingers slid as her left flip-flop caught on the corner of the molding of the large walk-in closet.
“Are we meeting for drinks first? I want—”
The perfume bottle slid from her hand, heading straight for Dean’s treasured safe. It was the one where they kept the really important things, like money and jewelry.
Lydia watched in horror, the blood draining from her face, as the little glass container appeared to move in slow motion.
“Are you there, Lyds?” asked Bri.
Lydia let the phone fall onto the carpet as she reached for the perfume bottle. Her middle finger grazed it, pushing it closer toward the safe.
It hit, and broke instantly, sending glass in all directions. The strong smell surrounded her as she watched the liquid run down the front and sides of the safe, moving its way inside.
Lydia picked the phone back up. “I’ve got to go, Bri. Can you tell everyone I’m going to be a little late? Now I have a mess to clean up.”
“Oh.” Bri’s pout could be heard through the phone. “Can’t you leave the mess for the housekeeper?”
“No. Dean’s due back tonight, and housekeeping won’t be here until Tuesday. I have to take care of this now.”
“How late?” Bri asked.
“Hopefully not long, but if you guys have to start without me, then go ahead.”
“I’m sure we can wait, sweetie. See you soon.”
“Bye,” Lydia said, ending the call. She stared at the mess, not knowing where to start.
Dean was almost never home, but when he was, he was extremely particular about keeping things clean. And by clean, he meant perfect. If she left behind even a shard of glass or drop of sticky perfume, he would know, and would let her hear about it, too.
Lydia picked up the nozzle from the perfume and the larger pieces of glass, and walked back to the bathroom. Wrapping them in a paper towel and put them in the garbage, she opened the windows in the bathroom and the bedroom, and then grabbed the rest of the paper towels.
Staring at the mess in the closet, she again tried to decide the best way to get rid of all traces of her mistake. Lydia pulled off a few paper towels and used them to pick up the small pieces of glass. She was relieved to see how many stuck. When she had most of them picked up, she went back into the bathroom and threw the paper towels away.
Lydia brought the garbage back into the closet with her so she could throw each remaining shard of glass into the bin. She got on her knees and picked up the tiny shards stuck to the carpet fibers with her long, manicured nails. When she was sure she had gotten every last piece, she spun the dial and opened the safe door. Perfume ran down the inside of the door.
At least it hadn’t gotten on anything inside. She wiped everything with the paper towels, but it wasn’t enough. Lydia went back into the bathroom for a spray bottle of cleaner. After she was sure that every trace of the perfume and its bottle were gone, she gave it a once-over and then noticed something underneath the safe. It looked like her perfume may have pooled up there.
Lydia groaned, not wanting to move the heavy thing. She slid her finger along the bottom, and sure enough, underneath the safe it was wet. There was no other choice.
She moved the garbage bin and the paper towels out into the bedroom, and then stared at the safe. It was good sized, but not enormous. It wouldn’t be impossible to move, but it would take some work. She wrapped her arms around the back of it and pulled, grunting. It moved about an inch. She repeated the process until the safe was out of the way—and she was covered in sweat.
Sure enough, there was a spot where the perfume pooled underneath the safe. She was going to have to get the liquid and the smell out of the carpet. Lydia went back into the bedroom to grab the paper towels and the spray bottle again.
Several minutes into the cleaning process, her phone rang. Lydia stared at the mess in the closet, shaking her head. She grabbed her phone, knowing that it was Bri. She was right. “Bri, I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to make it today.”
“Oh, Lyds. Don’t bail on us.”
“Sorry, but you know how Dean gets about his stuff. He’s going to be back tonight, and I made a huge mess.”
“Well, if you can make it come down, okay?”
“I’ll try. Tell the girls hi for me.”
“Will do. See you later, sweetie.”
“Bye, Bri.” Lydia threw her phone on the bed and then grabbed a flashlight. She went into the closet and shone the light over the carpet to make sure she hadn’t missed any glass.
She was about to turn the flashlight off when something on the carpet caught her eye. Lydia wouldn’t have noticed it without the brighter light. Part of the carpet was a slightly different color than the rest. She knelt down and shone the light closer. A patch of the carpet was just a shade lighter.
They had never replaced any of the carpet. She would have remembered, because Dean hated stuff like that. If something was wrong, he would have simply had all of it replaced. He would much rather throw money at something than accept a substandard version.
That was how he treated Lydia as well.
She leaned over and pulled on the lighter part, and the entire piece came off. Lydia stared at it and set it down, eyes widening. It looked like there was a groove in the wood flooring.
Lydia slid her finger into the channel and pulled. The wood came up, exposing a box underneath. Her heart pounded in her chest. She had to remove two more pieces of wood to get the box out.
It was made out of a material similar to the safe, but didn’t appear to be as strong. She held her breath as she looked over the box.
Did she dare open it? She’d gone this far, she couldn’t just put it back without seeing what was inside. She crossed her legs and set it on her lap.
Lydia’s breath caught as she reached for the latch. What was she going to find? Was it something that had belonged to the previous home owner? Or something of Dean’s?
If so, it could be paperwork laying out some kind of shady deal he’d made with a client. It wouldn’t surprise her, given how secretive he always was about his work.
Whatever it was, it had to be good for Dean to go to so much trouble to hide it. He was home only about three days a month, so she was impressed that he had managed all of this without her knowing.
She pulled on the latch, and the top came off with a creak. The box was full of newspaper clippings. Lydia dug around, looking for whatever was hiding beneath the papers.
Lydia unfolded the first paper and looked at the headline. It was a story about a housewife in Detroit who had been murdered. Chills ran down her back, despite the warm summer weather.
She set the paper down and unfolded the next one. A waitress from Boston slain.
Lydia looked at the next one. A hotel manager from San Diego killed under suspicious circumstances.
A librarian from Houston murdered in cold blood.
Everything around Lydia disappeared as she read the headlines from each of the papers. Her ears rang, drowning out other sounds. Dread washed over her as she realized that Dean had been to every one of the cities when he traveled for work. Would his work schedule match the dates on the papers?
Her stomach lurched.
Why would he keep those clippings? Surely he’d have a good reason to save and then hide them.
She went into the bedroom to look at the time. It was later than she thought, and Dean was due back in a little over an hour. That wasn’t much time to get everything back in order.
Lydia grabbed a notebook and took it back to the closet. She wrote down the dates and cities of each murder on one of the pages.
Then she snapped a picture of each clipping on her phone. She had some digging to do, but it would have to wait until after Dean left again.
She folded the clippings with great care. If anything was even slightly off, Dean would notice right away. She put each paper in exactly as she had found it, and then closed the lid. She slipped the box into the floor and then put the pieces of wood back. Getting the carpet back as it had been was trickier, but she managed.
Lydia’s nerves were on fire as she pushed the safe back into place.
Then she put some baking soda down on the carpet and vacuumed, hoping that would bring out the scent. It did seem to help—hopefully enough. Dean could be hyper-aware of tiny details.
She double-checked everything to make sure the perfume was fully cleaned up and that not a piece of glass remained. Once she was certain everything looked untouched, she tied up the garbage bag and took it to the bin outside.
A bead of sweat ran down her forehead. Lydia wiped it away, and went back upstairs to her room. She folded the paper she had written the dates and cities on and slid it into one of her steamy romance novels, where he would never look for it. Then she changed the password to her phone. She couldn’t risk Dean accidentally finding the pictures she’d taken of the clippings.
She slid her phone into her shorts pocket and went back up to the bedroom so she could take a shower. The mixture of the perfume and sweat offended her nose, and Dean would definitely complain when he got home. Not that he would want to touch her, and for the first time, Lydia was grateful for that.
She went into the closet to grab some clean clothes. The smell of the perfume lingered, but wasn’t nearly as bad as it had been. If she could keep Dean away from the bedroom for a little while, he would never know anything had been spilled—or moved.
Lydia shook as she grabbed a sleeveless top from the hanger. She wanted to be wrong, to believe that the clippings meant something else, but how could they? Why else would he go to all that trouble to hide them?
Dean obviously wanted to save them, and clearly not digitally since that would probably leave a trail.
Lydia put her new clothes on the bathroom counter and then went into one of the guest rooms and grabbed a fan. She plugged it in by the window next to her side of the bed and turned it on, facing the window. The fragrant air needed to be pushed outside. She lit a candle, too.
Lydia finished showering and getting ready just before she expected Dean to arrive. Her pulse quickened at the thought of talking to him. Usually, he preferred to avoid her as much as possible. He averaged three nights with her every thirty days, and she used the term ‘with her’ generously. He’d be in the house, but they wouldn’t be together.
Often that bothered her. This time she dreaded his return. And prayed they wouldn’t spend any time with each other.
His job required him to travel, but Lydia had always been certain that it didn’t demand that much. He had to offer it up. She always assumed it was because he was having affairs. Never in a million years would she have guessed it was anything like this.
Lydia fluffed her hair, put the fan back in the guest room, and went downstairs. Everything was still quiet, which meant he wasn’t home yet. Dean stomped around like the king of a castle, making sure Lydia knew it was his domain, and that he could do what he wanted.
She paced back and forth between the living room and the kitchen.
Maybe just the fact that she was home was enough to alert him that something was wrong. It might be better if she joined her friends, even though she was already really late.
She heard the sounds of the garage door opening. Dean’s arrival made the decision for her.