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First Look: Please Join Us by Catherine McKenzie

Monday, August 15, 2022

This excerpt is part of our First Look column where you’ll find exclusive sneak peeks into upcoming books across all genres!

PLEASE JOIN US, the latest novel from bestselling author Catherine McKenzie, follows a high-powered lawyer whose life begins to fall apart. In the midst of it, she’s invited to join a secret networking group of other influential women and believes her luck has changed. But membership in this group is not all it appears to be. Fans of Whisper Network and A Special Place for Women will love this true-to-life thriller, out August 23rd.

Pre-order your copy here!

The door to Athena’s apartment is open. I’m both relieved and petrified by this. Relieved because I’d been worrying on the frantic ride over about how I was going to get in without involving third parties—her doorman, the police. And petrified because it means that Athena’s SOS message was real, that something actually is wrong, and she isn’t simply being dramatic.

I stand in front of the open door with my heart beating like a bass drum.

Athena’s is one of two apartments on this floor; the other door is firmly shut. I can’t yell—that might result in more third-party involvement, although I’m already on the security footage in the elevator and the lobby. I’d glanced up at the camera downstairs, and then away. The doorman knows me. I catalog all of this and conclude the obvious: there’s no covering over the fact that I’ve been here, no matter what I find inside.

The seconds are ticking away in time to my heart, and Athena needs help. But still I linger. I don’t want to know what’s through this open door. I don’t want my life to change in the way I know it will if I cross the threshold. If Athena requires an ambulance, she would’ve called 911. So it’s bad, what I’m going to find, but final.

My phone buzzes. I’d put on dark yoga pants and a hoodie when I got Athena’s message, dressing for a crime I didn’t know I was about to commit. My phone is in the pouch across my belly, its soft purr a tickle. I don’t have to read it to guess who it is, nudging me through the door.


I’ve been thinking about that word a lot lately.

My phone buzzes again and I enter, closing the door behind me gently. Even though there’s no denying I’ve been here, I slip on the pair of surgical gloves I’d grabbed on the way out, moving quietly so I didn’t wake my husband, Dan. I did anyway, and I murmured something about work, the lie slipping easily through my teeth. He turned over and went back to sleep, sadly used to the vagaries of my job.

My heart’s been getting a workout tonight.

Athena’s apartment is shrouded in soft light from a table lamp in the living room. I’ve always loved her home, the product of two classic sixes being knocked together to form something that feels both traditional New York and entirely original—a house inside a building, complete with a full rooftop garden. The downstairs is made up of a large living room, dining room, and a massive kitchen/great room that’s bathed in sunlight during the day and stares at Central Park.

I walk quickly through the rooms, careful not to touch anything despite the gloves, hoping I’ll find Athena downstairs, but with each empty room it grows more unlikely. I search for anything out of place, my mind logging as I go. —There’s a man’s coat laid over the end of the couch, folded neatly. —There are two wineglasses on the counter in the kitchen, stained a deep red. —The sliding glass doors to the balcony are locked tight.

I walk back to the staircase that leads upstairs, a modern combination of metal, glass, and wood, doing my best to keep quiet. I want to call out, to shout her name, to do one of those frantic, loud searches like you see on film, but I don’t. I’ve been instructed to tell no one what I’m doing. Noise is the enemy. Silence and deliberation are required. It takes effort, though. I don’t want to move toward whatever’s waiting for me up these grand stairs. I want to bolt in the opposite direction, out into the night and the city, and then . . .

I steady myself against the wall, my hands sweating inside the gloves. There’s a painting at the top of the stairs that I love: a body of water, maybe a pool, that perfect blue of the sea in Antigua. The lines are blurred, so it’s hard to tell, but it’s beautiful.

Blurred lines. That should be our anthem. I reach the top of the stairs. Up until now, the whole house has been as still as a tomb, only the gentle hush of the central air letting me know that the apartment’s alive, even if no one else is. But now my ears are picking something up—a plinking sound, water dripping, its landing muffled.

The bathroom. There are two of them, but instinct drives me to the guest bath to the left of me, the one right outside Athena’s bedroom. I used it not that long ago, when we had a late night and I ended up sleeping over, calling Dan with my excuses, my lies, like I did tonight.

Work, work. I always blame work. It’s the reason I’ve done all of this, the origin of this moment. Whatever this is. I only need to push open the bathroom door to find out.

My heart is thrumming again. I get another text. Again, I don’t need to read it. Open the door, it will command, and for the first time I wonder—am I on camera? I push that thought aside. The possibility of cameras leads to a cascade of thoughts that I don’t have time for right now.

I open it. My eyes flit over the room, the collection of data my brain’s focus. —Athena, naked, hunched in the corner of the generous bathtub. —The water slowly dripping from the rain head shower. —The diluted streak of blood still circling the drain.

“Athena,” I say, my voice steadier than it has a right to be. “Are you all right?”

Her dark-brown eyes are blank, her beautiful, famous face unmarred. She follows my gaze to the other end of the tub, watching the water drip into the basin, each drop thinning out the red to pink. “It’s not mine,” she says in a hoarse whisper. “It’s Jack’s.”


“Jack’s blood?” I say to Athena in her bathroom. Athena’s head lolls to the side. Has she passed out? No, she’s just out of it. Drugs? I’ve never known Athena to do serious drugs—just an occasional Xanax—and drugs weren’t something I usually dabbled in. But I could use something tonight, something to blur this reality and make me forget what I’m seeing.

“Athena!” I say sharply, close to her face, my hand ready to slap her into reality if necessary.

It isn’t. Her eyes focus and she turns her head toward me. “Can I have a towel?”


“A towel. I need a towel.”

I lean back and grab one off the rack, tossing it to her. She stands unsteadily and tucks it around her body, then glances disdainfully at the remnants of the stain at the other end of the tub. She has bruises forming on her thin upper arms, as if someone’s grabbed her forcefully, maybe to shake her, maybe to hold her still. She steps out of the tub without saying anything.

“Athena! What the fuck?”

She checks herself in the mirror, fluffing her hair back into place. There are dark rings under her eyes, as if she hasn’t slept properly.

“Thank you for coming.”

“Where is Jack? Why is his blood in your tub? What’s going on?” Athena sits on the thin edge of the tub. Her shoulders sag, and she gets that unfocused look again. If I don’t get some answers in a minute, I’m going to lose my fucking mind.

“I texted you?” Athena asks.


“I forgot.”

“Athena. Please focus. I need some answers. Quickly.”

Athena holds her hands out in front of her. Her nails are the same signature red as when we’d first met. But one of them is missing, ripped off, and another is cracked. She tucks her fingers inward and curls her hands in her lap.

“I met Jack on Radius,” she says.

She’s not answering my questions, but at least she’s talking. I need to be patient.

“I remember.” I think back to the night she’d connected with Jack. The app was supposed to be exclusive, and I’d marveled at the people I recognized who were members, some of whom were married. Wasn’t it supposed to be a dating app? Was everyone screwing around? Plus, staid, very married Thomas had been there. How picky could they be?

“Did Jack do something to you?” The bruises on her arms. The coat downstairs. The wineglasses in the kitchen. The blood. Jack’s blood, she’d said. “Where is he?”

Athena’s eyes travel to the wall. Behind it is her bedroom. I know with 100 percent certainty that I do not want to go in there. But it doesn’t feel like I have any choice. I’m here to help Athena. I’ve learned that asking too many questions isn’t a good idea. And Athena’s

returned to her almost catatonic state, so I leave her and walk slowly toward the door. It’s ajar, a crack of light on the wall.

I stand on the threshold wondering, not for the first time, how I got here. What series of decisions led me to this, about to walk into a room to discover—what? Everything else in my life before this feels like a straight line. I checked this box, and I got this result. Binary.

That’s what my life was then. Expected. Even. Now . . .

I push open the door. It drags across the thick carpet. The air is still, but there’s a tangy smell. Something metallic.


My hand flies reflexively to my mouth as I walk slowly through the room. Again, my brain takes an inventory. —The bed is rumpled, but not with sleep. —There’s a pile of clothes in the corner, as if they’ve been thrown there. —There’s a man’s shoe lying at a weird angle on the floor at the edge of the bed.

I want to close my eyes. I want Athena’s soothing voice talking me through this, distracting me so that when I open them again, I’ll be somewhere safe, the danger behind me. But I’m alone. This is my task to complete.

No, not entirely alone.

I turn the corner of the bed. There’s a foot attached to the shoe. And the foot belongs to a man who’s quite dead.