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Get a sneak peek of the next Billy Jo McCabe mystery

 February 25, 2022

By  Lorhainne Eckhart

Pre-Order & Read Chapter 1

The Charity

The Charity

"There is always something happening in Roche Harbor…the investigation into the new man in town, an elderly couple scamming others, the widow of the previous chief fearing for her life and the missing children."


Police Chief Mark Friessen along with his wife social worker Billy Jo McCabe keep a watchful eye on their small island town in the Pacific Northwest. As the couple come to grips with the hub of crime by the political elite that had turned what they’d believed to be a quiet sleepy island into a playground for the rich and powerful, a young executive of a major international charity moves to Roche Harbor. Mark and Billy Jo once again find themselves digging deep into the secrets and lies that seem to trail this man, but what they uncover is a twisted truth they may wish they’d never looked into.
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Chapter 1

Sleeping in was something Billy Jo didn’t do, but for the past four days, Mark had opened his eyes to find his wife sound asleep. As he stood in the kitchen, the stove blinking a digital blue 8:10 a.m., he realized he needed to wake her soon.

The coffeemaker beeped, and Mark poured himself a cup of the steaming brew before turning back to the island, on which a file lay open, revealing notes on another thirty of the island’s residents. Hesitating only a second, he wondered when he’d become that cop who went digging into civilians’ lives, looking for any secrets they might have.

Oh, yeah. When a bunch of criminal elites took up using his island as their personal playground.

He had to roll his shoulders, feeling that punch in the gut again, silently hating the world of people who, at times, were untouchable.

“You didn’t wake me.”

He turned to see Billy Jo in a blue robe, yawning as she walked sock-footed past him and pulled a glass from the cupboard to fill with water.

“Figured you needed sleep,” he said. “Was going to give you another ten minutes before waking you. You feeling okay?”

She brushed her shoulder-length brown bed hair away from her face and shook her head before drinking down the water. “Fine. Just tossed and turned because of your snoring. What are you doing?”

She settled her glass in the sink, then reached for his coffee and took a swallow of it. As she looked down at the open file, her brow furrowed. He realized she wasn’t giving the coffee back, and he couldn’t believe she had tossed out that comment about his snoring, considering she had fallen asleep before him.

He leaned down and pressed a kiss to the top of her head, then filled a second mug, a matching green one, from the many wedding gifts that seemed to still be arriving daily from people on the island he’d met only a time or two.

“Looking into the folks who live here,” he said, “why they live here, what they do, especially the ones who look too clean. Who lives here full time, part time, and what hidden secrets do they have? You know, the usual investigative thing I do, looking for red flags and skeletons.”

Mark filled the mug with coffee and settled the carafe back on the burner. Billy Jo angled her head, glancing over to him in that way of hers. She was complex, with many moods, and he figured something else was coming.

“You were serious, then?” she said, flattening her hand over the file, the notes he’d been reading on Shirley and Tom Campbell, and pulling it closer to her. “You’re really going to investigate every person who lives here and dissect their lives even though they’ve done nothing wrong? Isn’t there some law against that, let alone the fact that you’re overstepping a bit?”

She didn’t smile and didn’t pull that fiery gaze from him. She was the complete package, a woman who was his best friend, his lover, his wife, and she knew how to push every one of his buttons. Damn, he loved everything about her.

He reached for the file in front of her and pulled it away. “Knowing who’s on this island and what they’re about is something I should have done long ago. You forget what happened here? I don’t want that kind of evil ever sneaking in. So yeah, I plan to dissect the lives of everyone who lives here to make sure the members of this community are decent, honest, not looking to set up some criminal enterprise, thinking they can do anything. And that includes our politicians.

Consider it my new pastime. I plan to find out everything about them, what they do, who they see, to really dig into their lives. If they are honest people, then they become the people I’m protecting. But how many more criminals are still here, so deep underground that I haven’t found them yet? And yet is the key word.”

She looked up at him, and a smile touched her lips as she leaned against the island, so close to him. “You know all the right things to say sometimes,” she said. “Go dig and dissect the lives of anyone and everyone. Oh, and make sure, will you, that you take a second and third look at everyone collecting a check from the DCFS, and especially who rubber-stamped their approvals?”

“They’re first on the list—kids and animals.” He leaned down and kissed her forehead.

“You’re the best,” she said. “Damn, I’m going to be late.” She lifted the mug and took a swallow. “Oh, and I forgot to tell you we’re going to drop in and see Gail tonight. I’ll swing by the station after I’m done and we’ll head over. I told her we’ll bring dinner…”

She had trailed off as she walked back to the bedroom. Then she turned in the doorway, looking back, when he hadn’t said anything. The tightness that came every time he thought of Tolly Shephard returned deep in his chest. He knew he’d made a face.

“You have to figure out a way to get past that, Mark,” she said. “Gail is our friend.”

“Her husband was part of a child trafficking ring.”

She let out a heavy sigh. “I know what Tolly Shephard did and didn’t do—and what they did to his son to gain his compliance when he played both sides. He’s dead, but Gail isn’t, and she still has to get up every morning and come to terms with all the secrets Tolly had. Mark, you’ve turned this island upside down and woken up a lot of people to what has been happening behind their backs. No one saw it. The town council is in a state of flux. You have interim appointees, as the mayor and councilors are now charged, awaiting trial. The entire CPS department has been turned upside down, and jobs are still being vacated. You’re a hero for the children, Mark, but you have to know many of the island folks have turned on Gail. Their anger is misdirected. Her truck was spray painted with CHILD KILLER. People she’s known forever on the island have phoned and said some horrible things…”

“Someone vandalized her truck?” he cut in. “Why didn’t she call me? When did this happen?”

Billy Jo glanced over to the window. Her three-legged cat was curled up on the cat tree, whereas Lucky had padded into the kitchen and was lapping water out of his dog bowl. She started back toward him in the fuzzy robe that was more warm than flattering, and he didn’t know what to make of the shadow in her face. He knew well the places her head went when she struggled. What she was thinking, he had no idea.

“Gail won’t phone you,” she said. “Not that she thinks you wouldn’t show up and file a report, because she knows you would, but I think she believes that because of what Tolly did, she deserves every hateful thing coming at her. Yet every time someone lashes out at her, it kills a little piece of her soul. I can see it. I know Tolly wasn’t strong enough to end things the way you did. But I also know he hid it well. So tonight we’ll take a pizza over, talk to her and be civilized, and let her know she’s a human being and we care.”

Maybe it was the way she’d said it, but he wondered whether she understood how he felt about Gail. He couldn’t look at her without seeing Tolly.

Instead of saying something, he took another swallow of coffee.

“She thinks you hate her, Mark,” Billy Jo said, striding back over to him. She put her mug down on the island, not looking away from what he knew was likely shock staring back at her.

“Excuse me?” he said. “I don’t hate her. Where would she ever get an idea like that?”

Billy Jo took another step toward him, sliding her hand on the island to touch the file again, likely seeing the names listed. “Maybe it’s because you make excuses never to go and see her. I show up alone, and every time I do, she asks about you, and I feel like I’m cheating when I say you’re great but busy, or else you’d be there too. She doesn’t believe one word of it, because she can see in my face that I’m lying. Or maybe it’s because the last time she saw you was when you told her about Tolly.”

Mark pulled his hand over his face, knowing she was right. He could feel the heavy sigh of frustration before it passed his lips.

“You going to make me go alone?” Billy Jo said, pulling her arms over her chest, not looking away.

“I don’t hate her,” he said. “I just don’t know what to say to her. There’s a difference.”

Billy Jo glanced away, pulling in a deep breath. Then she lifted her gaze, which had softened just a bit. “Sometimes just being there is all that’s needed. Don’t say anything. Don’t pretend. Just pick up a piece of pizza and eat. Can you do that?”

He’d never known Billy Jo to be so reasonable. “I can do that.”

She ran her hand over his arm, rose up on her tiptoes, and kissed his cheek. “Good. And you may also want to consider asking Gail to help you dig into the people here. Pick her brain,” she said as she reached for her mug and topped it with more coffee.

He wondered if she’d lost her mind. “Breaking bread with Gail is one thing, Billy Jo, but I’m not having her anywhere near this.” He knew it had come out rather sharply. He had felt the bite in his words.

Billy Jo blew on the steaming coffee and took a swallow. “Well, that’s too bad, because I’m sure she could fill in a lot of holes about a lot of people that you wouldn’t otherwise know. And it may help her feel as if she’s doing something to make up for what Tolly did. It’s a helpless feeling, Mark, feeling responsible even though it’s not logical. You could dig and miss something Gail knows that you would never have figured out in a million years. She’s been here, like, forever.” She tapped his arm again. “Think about it, Mark. That’s all I ask.”

Then she walked away, and he watched her, her heavy socks, her warm housecoat. This time, she didn’t look back.

He reached for the file, seeing the names, as the shower popped on.

“Yeah, there’s no way I’m asking Tolly Shephard’s widow for help when it comes to anyone on this island,” he muttered. Lucky brushed his leg, then looked up at him and whined. “Now, don’t go looking at me like that. We’ll go see her, eat pizza, and then leave.”

There it was again, that sinking feeling he got every time he thought of Gail. As he took in the open file and the notes that only scratched the surface, he couldn’t help thinking Billy Jo was too often right. But he wouldn’t ask Gail even though she could clear up a lot of questions about a lot of people.

No, involving Gail was exactly what he wasn’t going to do.

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