by Amber Frey

ReganBooks
Chapter One



“Can I trust you with my heart?”

I first met Scott Peterson on November 20, 2002, at the Elephant Bar, in Fresno, California. It was a blind date — my best friend, Shawn Sibley, had set us up — and I got there before he did. I took a seat on a bench in the glass-walled foyer, within view of the walkway, and every time someone approached I looked up. I had butterflies in my stomach. I had a feeling my life was about to change. Scott Peterson sounded absolutely perfect.

Shawn had met him at a convention in Anaheim. She had been very impressed. Scott was intelligent, good-looking, and very funny, and he seemed eager to settle down. “Do you think there’s a special person that you’re meant to be with forever?” he had asked Shawn. From anyone else, the line may have seemed like a come on, but Scott was different. Shawn had told him that she was in a committed relationship, and he never once made a single flirtatious comment, never once tried to cross the line. At the end of the business day, she and Scott joined a few people for drinks and dinner. At one point he joked about putting the words “Horny Bastard” on his business card, thinking it might help him meet women, but mostly he behaved like a perfect gentleman. By the end of the evening, Shawn had a plan. “There’s someone I want you to meet,” she said.

“Who?” Scott asked.

“My best friend.”

Shawn called me the next day to tell me about Scott and to ask if she could give him my number. I was full of questions. “What did you say about me?” I began.

“That you were beautiful and a good person,” Shawn said.

“What was he like? Is he nice? Is he cute?”

“Very cute. And he couldn’t be nicer.”

“And he’s serious?”

“Very. He said he was looking for someone special, and he asked if I knew anyone who was interested in a committed relationship.”

“And?”

“And I thought of you, of course.”

I didn’t hear from Scott for several weeks, and when we finally connected he couldn’t have been sweeter. He asked if I was free for dinner the following evening, and we made plans to rendezvous at the Elephant Bar.

“How will I recognize you?” I asked.

“Well, I’m not very tall,” he said. “And I have long, greasy hair and a big, loose belly.”

“That’s good,” I joked back. “I’m real tall and I weigh about a hundred and sixty pounds.”

“Really?” he asked, laughing.

“No, not really,” I said. “I’m thin and small-framed, five foot seven and a half, with blond hair.”

“Good,” he said. “Then it won’t be a problem if I walk up to every attractive blond in the place and ask if she’s Amber.”

Shortly after six on the appointed evening, Shawn came over to stay with my baby daughter, Ayiana. “Just remember that I have to be at work tomorrow morning,” Shawn said, only half-joking.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I know.”

I arrived at the Elephant Bar with time to spare. At exactly four minutes after seven, as I sat waiting for Scott, a man approached and made eye contact. I thought it might be Scott — he sort of fit the description — but I had a bad feeling about him. “Please God,” I thought, “don’t let it be him.” I looked away, and — much to my relief — he moved through the foyer and disappeared into the restaurant. A moment later, another man approached; in my heart I knew and hoped that this was Scott. He was a shade over six feet tall, in good shape, and he was wearing a well-cut suit. He stepped through the glass door and lit up when he saw me.

“Amber?”

“Scott?” I replied, getting to my feet.

He leaned close and gave me a small peck on the cheek. “Am I late? I’m sorry I’m late.”

“Not at all,” I said.

The plan had been to meet at seven, in front of the Elephant Bar, and to go to dinner from there, so we left and made our way to the parking lot.

“I was a little nervous about meeting you,” Scott said en route, but he didn’t look nervous to me. He was smiling, and he seemed somehow relieved. “Can I ask you a favor?” he said.

“What?”

“I’ve been in this suit all day. Would you mind very much if we went to my hotel so I could check in and shower and change?”

I didn’t mind. It seemed reasonable. I left my car in the parking lot and we got into his Ford truck and drove to the Radisson in downtown Fresno. When we got there, he began to unload his things. There was a big green lock-box in the cab of his truck, and his luggage was stashed inside. Scott looked at me sheepishly, as if embarrassed. “Look at all this stuff,” he said. “I practically live out of my truck.”

We went inside and took the elevator to a room on the top floor. Scott put his luggage down and reached into a brown duffel bag and pulled out a bottle of champagne. He smiled, and I found myself thinking he had a very nice smile. He popped the cork and proceeded to pour each of us a glass. Clearly this was a man who planned ahead.

Scott had a sip and turned on the radio and excused himself and went off to take a shower. I nursed my champagne, singing to myself to pass the time.

When Scott emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later, he was wearing black slacks and a clean white T-shirt. He went off to get a blue dress shirt and was still buttoning it up when he rejoined me. I was wearing a black skirt and a blue top. “We match,” I said.

“So we do,” he said.

Then he seemed to remember something. He reached into the duffel bag again and pulled out a box of strawberries, and he dropped one into each of our glasses. I watched the champagne bubble up around it and I had another sip and looked at him. He was smiling again. It was a warm, friendly smile.

When we finished our drinks, we left the hotel and went to a Japanese restaurant on Shaw Avenue. We were led to a table, but Scott immediately excused himself. He returned a few minutes later to say he had arranged for a private room. He led the way over and we took our shoes off and stepped past the sliding bamboo door. The room had one table, low to the ground, and we sat next to each other on the floor.

In no time at all, we were in the midst of drinks and dinner, and our conversation flowed easily. Scott told me all about himself. He said he was a fertilizer salesman, that his travels took him all over the world — from Cairo to Paris — and that he lived, alone, in Sacramento, in a big, 1940s single-family home. “I’d love to have pets, but I travel so much it wouldn’t be fair to them,” he said.

I told him that I hadn’t traveled much at all, but that I hoped to some day. “I know this sounds a little crazy,” I said, “but when I was in junior college, I took two years of Swahili.”

“I don’t think that’s crazy at all,” he said. “I think that’s very cool.”

Scott told me he had acquired a taste for wine and that he belonged to several wine clubs. This impressed me. I like good wine myself and have always wanted to know more about it.

“I have a nice collection of good wine at home,” he said. “Every month, the various clubs ship me a few choice bottles.”

As the evening progressed, Scott said that he was looking forward to settling down, but that he hadn’t yet found the right person. The way he looked at me when he said that made me feel he might be wondering whether I was that person.

Then I told him about my work as a massage therapist. He seemed genuinely interested and asked lots of questions about my clientele, hours, and techniques. I told him that business was good and that I was on the verge of going out on my own. I was working at a place called Backworks, but I was in the process of making arrangements to take a larger space at American Body Works.

As for my personal life, I admitted that I’d had my share of unhappy relationships, but that there was one very bright spot in my life: my daughter, Ayiana. She was twenty months old that very day.

Talking to Scott was easy. He told me about his mother, Jackie, who was ill with chronic bronchitis. He said he had a condo in San Diego, which was fully furnished, with a Land Rover in the garage, and that he was thinking of selling the entire package.

“I never use the place,” he explained. “I found a couple who are interested in buying it just the way it is, including every last stick of furniture and the Land Rover.”

As I listened to him, I grew more and more impressed. I thought, This guy is hard-working, ambitious, and he makes a good living. He really has potential.

We also talked about the coming holidays. Scott said he was going to be fishing in Alaska over Thanksgiving with one of his brothers, his father, and an uncle, and that he’d be spending Christmas in Kennebunkport with his family, as he did every year. After Christmas, he would be going to Paris with friends to celebrate the New Year, and then he’d take a week or two to do some business in other European cities.

I said I’d be spending Christmas with some close friends, a married couple I’ll call the Bensons. “They’re like a second family to me,” I said. I told him that my parents had divorced when I was five, and that there had been a lot of drama and a lot of back and forth when I was a kid, and that my mother was remarried and my father had been in a relationship for a while.

At one point, as we were finishing dinner, he put his hand on my back — a quiet, pleasant gesture — and said he was really enjoying the evening and would like to see me again. Everything felt very natural. I felt a nice connection to him.

“When are you going to see me again?” I asked. “Sounds like you’re going to be gone for a long time.”

“Not that long,” he said. “I’ll be back before the end of January.” That was as specific as he got.

Suddenly the hostess came in to tell us that they were getting ready to close for the night, and we were the last two people in the restaurant. She could see we weren’t done talking, so she suggested we go next door, to the karaoke lounge. We went over and Scott ordered a pair of gin and tonics — not that we needed them — and he told me we should get up and sing.

“No way,” I said. “I’m not getting up in front of people. I’m too shy.”

“Come on!” he said. “I heard you singing in the hotel room, when I got out of the shower. You have a beautiful voice.”

He really wanted to get up there and sing, and he kept pestering me, but nicely, and I looked around and noticed that there were only a few people left in the place. So I said yes. We decided to try our luck with “Islands in the Stream,” which has two parts, male and female, and we launched in. We were terrible. I was laughing so hard I could barely catch my breath. But Scott kept singing, so I played along.

When the song was over, I apologized to the patrons for our performance — a couple of them actually clapped at this point — and we began to make our unsteady way back to the table. But a Frank Sinatra song came on, and I felt like dancing.

“I’m not a very good dancer,” Scott said.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll lead.”

I was pretty tipsy by this point, so we didn’t really dance much. We just sort of stood there and swayed. It was nice, though. It felt good just being close to him.

When we went back to our seats, Scott looked at me and asked if I was a smoker.

“No,” I said.

He leaned over and kissed me. “Oh yeah,” he said. “You are definitely not a smoker.”

A few minutes later, the lights went up and we realized it was time to go.

We got into his truck and drove over to the Food Maxx for a bottle of gin, which we also didn’t need, then returned to the Radisson. I was in no condition to drive home, so I went up to his room. When we stepped inside, he turned and kissed me again, somewhat more passionately this time.

“I don’t know if I’m ready to be with you,” I said, but my resistance soon faded and I ended up spending the night. I liked him. I could see myself falling for a man like Scott Peterson.

In the morning, early, Shawn called me on my cell phone. She didn’t ask any questions, but she reminded me that she had to go to work. We got dressed and Scott drove me back to my car, which was still in the Elephant Bar parking lot. There was a ticket on the windshield, and I gave it to him. “Here’s a little memento for you,” I said. I wasn’t feeling all that good about myself, and about having spent the night, and I guess I was trying to be funny. But Scott didn’t seem to think it was funny. He looked very serious. “I really want to see you again,” he said. “Do you want to see me?”

“Yes,” I said. “I do. I guess I just feel a little weird about last night. It felt like a one-night stand, and I don’t do one-night stands.”

“It wasn’t a one-night stand,” he said. “I know we just met, but I think we really connected. I really like being with you, and I want to spend more time with you and get to know you better. I’m sorry I have to leave town so soon.”

“Will you call me?”

“Sure,” he said. “I’m not real good about phones, but I’ll try.”

We kissed good-bye and I got in my car and drove off. I didn’t look back. I felt certain we would see each other again.

I got home and told Shawn that I’d had a very nice evening, but she didn’t have time for details. Then I took my daughter, Ayiana, to preschool, and made my way to Backworks.

Scott called later that day. He had gone to a meeting and was passing through Fresno again, and he wanted to come over and see me. But I was tired and I had more clients that afternoon. He said he understood and promised to call again.

The next day, Scott called and left a message. “I’m kicking myself,” he said. “I wish I could have seen you at least once more before my trip.” He called a couple of days later to tell me that he was on his way to Alaska. He said he had picked up a book about nature hikes in California, and that there were some pretty amazing trails around Fresno. “Maybe we’ll go on a hike when I get back,” he said.

“That would be nice,” I said.

The foregoing is excerpted from "Witness" by Amber Frey. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from HarperCollins Publishers, 10 East 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022

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