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A Billy Jo McCabe Mystery Box Set Books 7 – 9

A Billy Jo McCabe Mystery Box Set Books 7 – 9

NY Times & USA Today bestselling author Lorhainne Eckhart brings you a new crossover series! The social worker and the cop, an unlikely couple drawn together on a small, secluded Pacific Northwest island where nothing is as it seems. Protecting the innocent comes at a cost, and what seems to be a sleepy, quiet town is anything but.
Includes The Children, The Last Stand, The Charity

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The Hunted

The Hunted

When two prisoners escape and one is found dead, Marcus O’Connell finds himself being hunted—and the hunter could be someone he trusts.

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******

Chapter 1

The sound of crickets punctuated the quiet neighborhood. Darkness had settled in, but Marcus needed a minute, as he leaned against the large porch beam, before he could lock up for the night and feel that all was okay in his part of the world. He lifted his hand in a wave to his brother Owen and his wife, Tessa, as they drove away in her small compact. Again, he took in the neighbors’ houses. Next door, the lights were off and all seemed quiet.

Ryan and Jenny were already inside their house across the road, and the outside light was now off. Marcus waited for that feeling he got every night before locking up, an assurance that it would be okay for him to lay his head down and go to sleep. He counted heads, making sure everyone was okay, listening to the sounds inside his house, the fussing of Cameron, who was doing his nightly protest against going to sleep.

The screen door squeaked open behind him, and Marcus turned to see his dad step out, wearing blue jeans and a black t-shirt. He heard his mom and Reine talking inside. His dad nodded to him and headed over.

“Your mom is finishing up in the kitchen with Reine and Eva,” Raymond said. “That boy of yours is just like you. You always fought your mom and argued every night about how you weren’t tired, but a second later you’d be out cold. You didn’t know how to stop.”

Marcus turned to look back at the street. He was still trying to understand his dad. He leaned against the post on the porch, breathing in the warm summer night. The smell told him tomorrow would be another hot day.

“You were rather quiet tonight,” Raymond said. “Everything okay?”

What was he supposed to say? This feeling had come out of nowhere. He couldn’t remember ever having felt so unsettled, and he didn’t have a clue what had caused it—family, life, something else?

“Just one of those days, you know,” Marcus said, unable to find words to explain it.

His dad only nodded. It wasn’t lost on Marcus that his dad had been forced to stick around Livingston because his mom had refused to leave her children and grandkids. His dad had a way of seeing everything. Marcus had figured that much out, but a stranger wouldn’t have been able to tell, as Raymond never let his gaze linger too long.

Now he did, narrowing his eyes, peering out into the darkness. The stars were out, and a few streetlights were on. “Always the sheriff, looking out to make sure everyone is tucked in, safe,” he said. “Expecting trouble?”

Marcus looked over to his dad. Inside, the house phone was ringing, and a second later, it was answered. “You know something I don’t?” he said. The sarcasm dripped.

His dad only shrugged. Marcus heard footsteps and pushed away from the post just as the screen door squeaked again, and Reine stepped out, her dark hair pulled back, wearing a peach sundress, barefoot.

“Marcus, it’s for you,” she said. “It’s Therese.” She held out the cordless phone.

Marcus didn’t look over to his dad, who he knew was watching him in the way only Raymond O’Connell could. Marcus took the portable phone. “Thanks, Reine,” he said, then waited as she walked back in the house. He put the phone to his ear, glancing only once to his dad, knowing his deputy called only if there was something he needed to handle. “What’s up, Therese?”

“Sorry to call so late, Sheriff, but I have a message from the warden from Montana State. Two prisoners have escaped, and all he said was that they could be headed this way. I was about to call him back…” There was static on the line. His deputy was cutting in and out, as if she were driving.

“Hey, Therese, you’re cutting out. You said two prisoners escaped from Montana State?” He was already walking back into the house and taking the stairs two at a time. Upstairs, Charlotte was reading to his son, whom he thought he heard jumping on his bed. Marcus was in his bedroom now, yanking open the closet door and opening the gun safe to retrieve his .357 SIG.

“Sorry, Sheriff,” Therese said. “I’m about twenty minutes away, and the cell service is like shit out here. Picked up the message on the way. All it said was that two prisoners escaped. The warden is…”

“Kellogg,” Marcus cut in, fastening the holstered gun to the waistband of his jeans. As he closed up the gun safe, he pictured a man he’d met only a few times.

“I missed that part of the message,” Therese said. “I’ll give him a call and let you know what he says.”

Marcus glanced to the open door. His wife now stood in the doorway. “No, Therese, I’ve got it,” he said. “I’ll have Charlotte check the message, and I’ll give the warden a call.”

She said nothing, and he noted her hesitation.

“Anything else?” he said, realizing it had come out rather short.

“No, that was all,” Therese said. “You sure, Sheriff? I don’t mind making the call. It may be nothing.”

“Or it may be a lot,” he said. “No, I’ve got this one.” Then he hung up and held the phone out to Charlotte, taking in her wide eyes.

“What’s going on, Marcus?”

He reached for his badge. “Prison break or something along those lines. Therese just called, said the warden at Montana State left a message. Two prisoners. I need you to get his number and play that message for me.”

She was already nodding and dialing the office. Something about his wife handling phones and dispatching again settled him in ways he couldn’t explain. She scribbled down the number on a pad of paper on the dresser just as his two-year-old son came running in, all smiles, appearing nowhere near ready to go to sleep.

Marcus reached for him and gave him a toss in the air, then held him and kissed his cheek. “Hey, you. Giving your mom a hard time? You’re supposed to be asleep.”

“Not tired.”

“Yeah, well, you will be soon. Go get a book and get in bed.”

“Here, Marcus, the number,” Charlotte said. “The message is kind of garbled, but yes, it’s something about two prisoners escaping.”

He put Cameron down after kissing him again and reached for the paper and the phone, shaking his head over his rambunctious son.

Charlotte shook her head. “He’s going to be the end of me. You know he argues every night about how he isn’t tired?” She pulled her arms over her faded green t-shirt, her dark hair pulled up in a ponytail. “You’re heading out, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, after I call the warden,” he said. “I don’t like this.”

There it was, that smile of hers he loved. She leaned in the doorway, glancing once over her shoulder down the hall to where their son’s bedroom was as he dialed the phone.

“Montana State, warden’s office.” The voice was muffled, and Marcus had to really listen past the rough twang.

“This is Sheriff O’Connell, from Livingston. Is the warden there? I’ve got a message from him about a prison escape.”

He heard a rustle on the other end, then a clunk. Evidently, whoever had answered barely knew how to use a phone. “Yeah, yeah,” the person said, then yelled out, “Warden! Call for you from that Sheriff O’Connell.”

Marcus reached for his wallet and stuffed it in his back pocket, then reached for his duty belt. Charlotte didn’t look away, gesturing for an explanation, but Marcus only shook his head. There was another rustle on the phone.

“Sheriff? Warden Kellogg here.” The man had a deep voice. “Afraid two prisoners escaped. Was discovered only a short time ago by one of the guards. We’re in lockdown now. Just finished a count and are interrogating some prisoners. We know two got out for sure, but how, we have no idea. They likely had help from inside. I suspect they could be headed your way. These men are dangerous, both of them. I’ve already contacted state officials, as well, along with the other sheriffs in the area. An order has already been issued: Shoot to kill.”

Marcus angled his head, looking right at Charlotte. He wasn’t sure he’d heard the warden correctly. “You can’t be serious,” he said. “Who authorized that order? With all due respect, Warden, capturing the prisoners is the first priority.”

“Sheriff O’Connell, these prisoners are a danger to the community,” the warden said. “They will slit your throat and kill you without a second thought. If you want to dance around them and be the nice guy, do it on your own time and not at the detriment of the good people of Montana. You see them, you shoot them, because these two will do anything and everything to avoid capture. Killing, maiming, looting, burning. You want the details of what they’d do to your wife and sisters, everyone in your family, everyone you care about? If you want to argue with me about bringing them in alive, you can do it, but I don’t want these two getting anywhere near innocent people. I’ve already reached out to Judge Harris, and photos of the prisoners have been sent to you.”

Marcus didn’t have a clue who these two prisoners were or what they’d done, but that sick feeling was back in his stomach with the image of the horror the warden had painted. Damn, what kind of evil had the two men done?

On the other end, the warden was talking to someone else. Then he addressed Marcus again. “Anything else, Sheriff? If not, I suggest you get your ass out there and start looking. Stan has faxed over the photos, and emails have gone out statewide.”

Something about Warden Kellogg had always unsettled Marcus, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was. “Yeah, you said they could be headed my way. Why is that? They have family, friends, contacts here? I need all that information.”

“Everything about both prisoners has been sent to you. One has a girlfriend, I understand, outside Livingston, and a brother up toward Billings. If that’s all, Sheriff, I’ve got a fucking mess to handle here. You have any questions, get in touch with Sheriff Lester up in Park County. He’s got more on them, and he’s been on this since word went out. And, Sheriff O’Connell? A word of advice. I understand you may want to give these men a second chance, but sometimes we’re all better off if a criminal is six feet under. You understand?”

Yeah, he understood, but a knot twisted in his stomach as he looked over to his wife. He wondered if this explained the sick feeling he had or the cold sweat that had broken out up his spine. “Understood,” he said. “I’ll start looking.” Then he hung up and tossed the phone on the bed.

“What is it, Marcus?”

Marcus counted the extra clips in his duty belt, then walked over to his wife and ran his hand over her shoulder. “Warden says the prisoners had help from the inside to get out. Says they’re dangerous. Photos have been faxed and emailed. Can you access those? I’m going to ask Mom and Dad to stay until I get back,” he said. It was just a feeling he had, the need to keep his family together. “See if you can pull up the prisoners’ files, too. Warden said they’ve been sent. I want to know everything about them: who they are, what they did, and exactly how dangerous they are.”

He hurried down the stairs, and Charlotte was right behind him. Raymond was back in the house, and he could hear his mom, Reine, and Eva in the kitchen. Marcus stepped off the

bottom step, and Charlotte moved around him into the living room, over to the small desk where her laptop was.

“What’s going on?” Raymond said as Marcus reached for his sheriff’s jacket and lifted it from the hook.

“Marcus, I just sent the photos and files to your phone,” Charlotte called out.

Marcus pulled his iPhone from his coat pocket and turned to his dad. “Can you and Mom stay?”

Raymond didn’t seem surprised. He only nodded and said, “Yeah, of course. You worried about something?”

Marcus pulled out the keys to his cruiser. “Two prisoners have escaped and could be headed this way. Warden says they’re dangerous, so much so that he wants us to shoot first and ask questions later, so I don’t want to leave Charlotte, Reine, and the kids alone.”

He knew his dad understood. “Yeah, you got it,” he said. “You be careful.”

Marcus thumbed through his phone and pulled up the photos his wife had sent. One was dark skinned, the other lighter, both with dark hair and brown eyes, the same bugged-out mugshot expressions. Their names were Rafe Jackson and Holter Donnelly. “Charlotte, send these to Harold and Ryan, too,” he called out over his shoulder as he opened the door, and his dad was right behind him, holding the inside screen. “Charlotte has the photos,” Marcus told him. “Take a good look.”

Raymond nodded. “I’ll call Ryan and Owen,” he said.

Marcus lingered just outside. He didn’t know what to say to his dad. Out of anyone, he knew Raymond had a handle on this. “Thanks,” he finally said, then started down the steps. He heard the door close behind him and the lock flick closed.

He dialed his cell phone, walking straight for his cruiser and climbing in. As he tossed his duty belt and coat on the passenger seat, the phone rang once, twice…

“Okay, what did you forget?” Suzanne answered. He thought he heard Arnie fussing in the background.

“Put Harold on,” he said, shoving his cell phone in the mount on the dash. He started the car.

“No can do,” Suzanne said. “He’s in the shower. What is it?”

There she went, playing interference. He knew she was still pissed at him because he wouldn’t let her play cop in his county.

“You tell Harold to get the hell out of the shower and call me back,” he said. “There was a prison break. This is serious shit, Suzanne. Charlotte just sent him the photos and files. I need him to dig into it and then meet me at the office. I’m not messing around. Have him call me. Can you do that?”

She was quiet for a second. “Don’t take my head off, Marcus. Yeah, I’ll tell him. Hey, big brother?” She always seemed to need to have the last word.

“What?” he said as he backed the cruiser out, ready to get off the phone. He flicked on the headlights and gave the vehicle gas, looking out into the darkness, knowing he’d be taking a second and third look at anyone he saw that night, scrutinizing who they were and what they were doing.

“Watch your back,” she said.

He felt a smile tug at the corners of his lips. “Always do,” he said. “Now have Harold call me.”

Marcus ended the call before his sister could add one more thing. As he rounded the corner, feeling his own angst, he drove slower than usual and took a good, long look at the few pickups parked along the street, scanning for anyone out walking. There was only a couple with a dog.

This was going to be a really long night.

Chapter 2

Marcus stood outside the station in the dark, looking right and then left, tracking the headlights of a car as it went by. He heard the distant laughter of a few teens skateboarding just up the block. He was getting a sense for who was out, doing what, and where.

He pulled out his key and shoved it in the lock, then pulled open the door. The hallway was dark, but he didn’t flick on the lights as he strode down it, his footsteps echoing. The lights were on inside the county sheriff’s office, and he thought he heard voices.

When he opened the inner door, Therese was there, her dark hair pulled back, wearing blue jeans and a gray t-shirt. Colby, the junior deputy, was there too, which Marcus hadn’t expected. He wasn’t in uniform but instead wore a jean jacket over what he thought was a red t-shirt with a Confederate flag. Both were standing by Charlotte’s desk and the fax machine, holding papers.

“Sheriff, the photos and files of the two prisoners came in,” Therese said. She held one for Rafe Jackson, the same one he’d already seen. “Colby just got off the phone with Sheriff Lester, who has all his men out looking.”

Marcus dragged his gaze over to a quiet Colby. “And?” he said, taking in the young deputy’s round face and eyes that were more brown than blue. Colby was lanky and tall, but Marcus still had a few inches on him. He hated this twenty-questions shit, and for a second, he didn’t think Colby was going to divulge anything.

“He said not to worry about coming out,” Colby said. “He has his men doing a grid search with the dogs, and he told me to pass along that you can stay close to home. They’ve got this.”

Marcus just stared at Colby, then dragged his gaze to Therese. He couldn’t shake the feeling that there had been a lot of discussion before he walked through the door.

The door opened behind him, and he expected Harold but glanced over his shoulder to see Suzanne, wearing the same blue jeans and bulky blue shirt under a faded old jean jacket, her long brown hair hiked high in a ponytail. She closed the door behind her.

“Where is Harold?” Marcus said. “Please tell me you’re not bringing the baby, too.”

Suzanne made a face only she could. “I’ll have you know Arnie is at home, fast asleep, and so is my husband. I left him a note.”

For a moment, he just stared at his sister, wanting to snap. She’d always been the hardest one to read. “Suzanne, this isn’t the time for you to pull this crap. You understand there’s been a prison escape? Call Harold. You go home.” He knew it had come out rather sharply, but he just turned back to Therese and Colby, who were watching the siblings with wariness. His frustration ramped up as he gestured at Colby. “And what were you about to tell me, Colby? You don’t get to talk to another sheriff as if you’re running things here. Sheriff Lester has no jurisdiction to tell you to pass along a message like that, as if I shouldn’t worry my pretty little head.”

“No, Sheriff, sorry, that wasn’t what I meant,” Colby said. “Or rather, it wasn’t what Sheriff Lester meant. I’m sure he was just trying to be helpful, is all.”

Now, why didn’t Marcus believe that? “So that’s it? That was all he said to you? You call him, or did he call here? Because I’m pretty sure my cell phone didn’t ring.”

Therese was now looking at Colby, and Marcus was starting to sense something else was going on.

Colby looked down to Charlotte’s desk and the papers there. “I was here first, and there was a message from the sheriff. I called him, thinking I could get a head start on things before you got here, is all. He told me they’re already on it and there’s no need for you, that they

have all the manpower they need. That’s all, Sheriff. He was neck deep, and I could hear the dogs in the background. We didn’t talk long.”

Marcus glanced back to his sister, who had her arms crossed, watching Colby. She shot Marcus a significant look, and he heard himself let out a weary groan under his breath. He pulled out his cell phone. “I spoke with the warden,” he said, “and he figures there’s a girlfriend here in Livingston and a brother outside Billings. See what you can find out.” He flicked his gaze to Therese, then over to Colby. “Both of you, start digging. What came through on these two?” He took in the message from his wife, a PDF, and tapped it open to see the mugshots of Jackson and Donnelly again, along with their arrest dates, prison records, and next of kin.

“We have a list of misdemeanors for both, nuisance charges, as well as trouble in prison,” Therese said, holding out a paper with the same notes that had been on his phone. “Career criminals, by the looks of it. Verbal threats, assault involving a police officer, criminal mischief, unpaid fines…”

Marcus reached for the paper, because Therese had to be missing something, but it was truly just a bunch of petty misdemeanor charges. A pain in the ass, for sure, but not dangerous. The public defender had been the same for both of them, George Wallace, someone he’d never heard of.

“Therese, call the warden back and find out where the rest of the file is,” Marcus said. “And call this public defender, Wallace, and find out from him what I’m missing about his clients. We were given an urgent warning, shoot to kill, which is not something I take lightly, and what I’m looking at here doesn’t warrant that. I want to know what they haven’t told me about how dangerous these two men are. I have a town full of people who have no clue about these prisoners on the loose. If anything, I need an alert put out to everyone in town to be on the lookout. You both got it?”

“Yes, Sheriff, absolutely,” Therese said, already on her way to her desk. Colby was still holding some papers, which Marcus snatched from his hands, but they were just a duplicate of the misdemeanor charges, as if someone had just kept faxing the first page.

“Colby, you tell me everything that was said between you and Sheriff Lester?” Marcus said.

Colby looked up at him with wide eyes. “He was just rushed, impatient, is all. Sheriff, he said not to worry, that he’s got it.”

Marcus glanced back to his sister, who only shrugged and widened her eyes. She thought she was being coy, but he knew her better. He dragged his gaze back to Colby. “Yeah, well, I doubt that. He’s got nothing in my part of the county. Go and give Therese a hand.” He turned to his sister. “You, come with me.”

Marcus headed for his office, hearing Therese on the phone already, wishing Harold were there. He waited as his sister walked into his office behind him, and he flicked on the light and closed the door behind her, holding the knob, taking a second. He walked over to his desk and dumped the papers on it.

“I know what you’re going to say, Marcus.”

“Oh, I highly doubt that,” he said. Everything in his sister’s face, her passion, her life, reminded him so much of the little girl who had tried to tag along on whatever he and Ryan had been up to as kids. They’d spent so much time ditching her, and it seemed she was still trying to find a way to sneak in, only now they were grown-ups, and she wasn’t scared of anything.

“You don’t have to be so nasty,” she said. “Besides, you’ve got Therese and Colby out there, making calls for you. You really should get notice out to the public. You don’t have to give details of what they’ve done, but you need their photos out there so people in the surrounding area know to be on the lookout and not open their doors for a stranger. We don’t

want someone to take the trash out and find one of these two hiding in their yard. People need to know to lock their doors tonight, Marcus, and maybe keep that shotgun in easy reach.”

He just stared at his sister, knowing she was right, but it was only because she was messing with him and interfering in his business, police business, that he wasn’t already all over it.

“Don’t worry, Marcus,” she said. “I can handle this for you, and then I promise you I’ll call Harold.”

He just stared at her. The phone was ringing from Charlotte’s desk, and he heard Colby answer it. “Fine,” he said. “Handle it. Get the notice out to local TV stations and cell phones, and then you call your husband and go home.”

Whomever Colby was talking to, he was now writing something down. “Yes, I’ll let the sheriff know,” he said. “He’ll be right out there.” Then he hung up. Marcus had just stepped back around his desk when Colby lifted the notepad and called out to him, “Sheriff, they found them! One’s dead, just past Miller’s Field. They need you out there to sign off. I can tag along.”

Marcus stared at Colby with a sinking feeling. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a long night after all. “No, it’s fine,” he said. “You go on home. I’ve got this.” Then he looked back to his sister, who was giving him that wide-eyed look. He shook his head and said, “You may as well come with me.”

There it was, a smile. For a second, he wondered whether she’d do a victory dance.

“Don’t get too excited,” he said. “Just making sure you don’t turn this office upside down.”

“Now, don’t be nasty, Marcus,” Suzanne said, thumping his chest with her fist as she walked past him and pulled open the door.

Marcus glanced back over to Therese, who was now off the phone. “You too, Therese, head on home. I’ll call you if there’s anything else,” he said.

Then he was out the door behind his sister, letting out a heavy sigh as he took in the paper he held. He knew well the location, a secluded spot in his county. His sister should have been home with her baby, yet there she was, sticking her nose in his crime scene.

“Well, are you coming, Marcus?” Suzanne called from the door and gestured impatiently.

“After this, you go home,” he told her. “Better yet, I’ll drop you off.”

She only angled her head, then gave it a shake and fell in beside him as they walked out to his cruiser. Harold’s Kia was parked right beside him.

“You didn’t tell Harold, did you?” he said, though it wasn’t a question.

Her hand was on the passenger door. Her mouth tightened, and she shrugged. “He really did fall asleep. I left him a note.”

He shut his eyes as Suzanne open the passenger door and climbed in. Yeah, he was going to have to have a word with his deputy about dealing with his sister. He slid behind the wheel and started the car. “When we get out there, Suzanne, I want you to stay out of the way.”

“Whatever you say, Marcus,” was all she said, and he knew she didn’t mean it. Damn, at times, he really did have a ton of sympathy for Harold.

Chapter 3

“Is that it?” Suzanne said. “Holy shit, Marcus, it looks like everyone’s here. What did Colby say happened, again?”

Marcus parked behind a sheriff’s cruiser from Park County and took in how many vehicles were on the scene just off the dirt road, surrounded in bushes and trees—another sheriff’s cruiser, a few pickups, and a van with Montana Corrections on the side. What had to be the crime scene was flooded with light. He shoved the vehicle in park, feeling his anger spike, because he wondered how many of them had missed the fact that they were now treading in his territory. Suzanne was staring out the window, glued to the scene. Yeah, he really wished she weren’t there.

“All he said was that it’s a crime scene,” he said. “I didn’t expect this. Like, what the hell? This is clearly on my side of the county line.” He stepped out of his cruiser and could just make out a sheriff’s deputy walking his way. It was a face he’d never forget. “Lonnie,” he bit out, still pissed that Sheriff Lester over in Park County had hired the deputy without so much as a damn courtesy call. Lonnie had been a source of misery for Marcus, considering how far the man had gone in trying to destroy his family.

“Marcus, we’ve got this all handled here,” Lonnie called out, actually raising his hands and waving as if Marcus were some bystander, as if he had any hope in hell of stopping him. Lonnie seemed to puff out his chest as he came to stand in front of him, sporting a mustache now. He settled his hand on his duty belt, another reminder of his arrogance. Then he held an arm out to stop Marcus from walking past him. “Whoa, stop right there.”

“You seem to forget yourself, Lonnie,” Marcus said. “This is my county you’re in. You ain’t handling nothing in my county. Now move the hell out of my way. You’re out of your jurisdiction with no authority. You hear me?” Marcus leaned in, biting the last part out.

He took a step and realized Suzanne was right there beside him. Of course, she hadn’t stayed in the car. Lonnie dragged his gaze over to her, lingering a little too long.

“Hey, Lonnie,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”

Marcus didn’t look away. He couldn’t believe how calm Suzanne sounded.

“You keeping well, Suzanne?” Lonnie said.

Marcus gave his head a shake. “Fuck,” he bit out, then stepped around Lonnie, bumping him, and glanced back at his sister. “Let’s go,” he said, knowing he sounded pissed off.

He kept walking, and Suzanne fell in beside him. He couldn’t help glancing back to Lonnie, who was actually looking into his cruiser. “Fucking asshole! I swear, he puts one print on my cruiser and I’ll take him down.”

“Seriously, Marcus, let it go,” Suzanne said. “He was just flexing his non-existent muscles, making up for the fact that he was castrated as a kid and has nothing for balls—not real ones, anyway. You think I haven’t had to put up with those asshole moves? Just let it go.”

He couldn’t believe his sister sometimes. She kept up with him, her long legs matching his stride, hearing the crunch of debris, sticks, and leaves under his feet. It was still warm out. The trail was wide, and he passed another pickup, a four by four with the Park County sheriff’s logo. At another vehicle, a man had the back gate down and was loading three dogs in, two of them barking.

“Romi, who called you out?” Marcus said.

The dog handler was a big man whose dark hair had a natural messy wave. His beard was braided, his glasses were thick, and his belly was hanging over his belt. “Sheriff Lester over in Park County called me,” Romi said. “Got a call from the prison, too. Been a while since I had the dogs out, chasing someone down. Sheriff’s over there. He asked me to hold tight and

pick up the trail again for the other guy. The dogs need a break and some water, anyway. I told them if they keep tromping all over the scene, it makes it hard for the dogs to pick up the scent. It’s been a long night so far, and it’s about to get longer, I suppose.”

Marcus took in the dogs in the back of the pickup. Two were now drinking water from an old tin bucket, and one was lying down. Under the floodlights just ahead, he spotted Lester with a bunch of other cops he didn’t recognize. “Hold that thought,” Marcus said, “and don’t do anything until I give the word. This is my county, and any order to do anything comes from me first. Let me get up to speed here. One is caught, you said?”

“One is dead.” Romi gestured with his thumb, and even though it was dark, Marcus didn’t miss the disgust all over his face, though for what, exactly, he didn’t know.

“Don’t go far,” Marcus tossed out over his shoulder as he started walking to the lit-up scene. His sister had again fallen in beside him.

“How friendly are you and this sheriff?” she said.

“He’s tolerable, barely, considering he went behind my back in hiring Lonnie. Haven’t had to deal with him too much. He stays in his county, and I stay in mine. Now this…” He gestured to the scene and the six people he counted ahead.

“Marcus,” Suzanne said quietly, gesturing to Sheriff Lester, who was now walking his way, sweat stains on his brown uniform shirt and a sheriff’s badge pinned to his chest. He was balding, heavyset, and gestured to someone behind him who had called out.

Sheriff Lester took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his forehead. The other man, the one who had called out, was in a ball cap and blue jeans, no one he’d ever seen before, another person in his county who should have been talking to him first. He was now walking the other way, though where to, Marcus had no idea.

“Well, Sheriff, sorry to drag you all the way out here and waste your time,” Lester said. “We caught one of the bastards—or found him, really. Not much for you to do here. We kind of got this all handled. Body bag will be here in a minute. We’ll toss the poor bugger in it, and the prison can deal with the remains.”

Marcus stopped and looked past the sheriff, who was a few inches shorter than him. In a circle of trees, a man lay face down, arms at his sides. One of Lester’s deputies was kneeling down over the body, and floodlights lit up everything. “I heard he’s dead,” Marcus said. “Just one, so the other is still on the loose?”

“Yup, afraid so,” Lester said. “That one’s Donnelly. Poor miserable soul, evidently not the smarter of the two.” He actually tsked under his breath, then looked at Suzanne but said nothing, and his silence only put Marcus further on edge.

Three other men stood by the body in uniforms, so he stepped around the older sheriff, but his hand slapped right to his arm, stopping him. Marcus let his gaze fall there, and the sheriff pulled it away.

“Again, Marcus, we’ve got this handled. You just need to sign off and we’ll finish up here. The guards will get the body hauled out, and everyone can go on home.”

“You don’t mind if I have a look, do you?” Marcus said. “After all, this crime scene is in my county. As you said, you need me to sign off. Seems you’re working pretty hard to send me on my way, which has me wondering why. And a word of advice? Don’t put your hands on me again.”

His pissed-off voice had held a clear warning, and the sheriff lifted his hands and made a face, taking a step back. Marcus glanced over to his sister again, who, he realized by her widened eyes, had evidently picked up on the fact that something was wrong. She joined him in stepping around Lester.

“Now, don’t go getting all hot and bothered there, Marcus,” Lester said, turning to follow them. “We’ve already

on home, crawl back in bed with that pretty little wife of yours, and have a good night’s sleep.”

Suzanne slapped her hand right to Marcus’s chest before he could say anything. The old sheriff had fallen in beside her. Evidently, she knew Lester was really stepping into it with Marcus.

Marcus realized three of the uniformed men ahead were prison guards, likely from the state prison, men who worked for Kellogg, one taller than the other two. They only nodded once to him, but no one said anything, and everyone had a look that put him on edge just a little more.

Marcus took in the four spotlights lighting up the scene. The man was facedown, unmoving. There was blood on his back, and instead of an orange jumpsuit, he wore dirty brown prison garb, pants and a short-sleeved shirt. His dark hair was messy, short. Marcus didn’t have a clue what had happened.

“So is someone going to fill me in?” he said. “I take it this is one of the escaped convicts. Bullet in the back, lying facedown, dead. Who did this? A man shot in the back poses a problem.”

The prison guards said nothing but exchanged the kind of look that had the hair on the back of Marcus’s neck standing up. A deputy who had been leaning over the body walked over to him. He was of medium height and build, wearing a Park County uniform, and had short dark hair.

“Jim Carlyle, Sheriff,” he said, pulling off his rubber gloves to hold his hand out to Marcus in the first show of respect he’d received since arriving at the scene. Marcus hesitated only a second before shaking his hand.

“So what happened here?” Marcus gestured to the body, waiting for someone to start talking. He glanced behind him to the three men from the prison, standing together. What was it about having his back to them that really unsettled him?

“He was hiding,” Sheriff Lester said, stepping in. “Came out of the bushes and took a swing at Peters over there. Lonnie shot him before he could do anything else. Dead by the time he hit the ground. Good thing Lonnie was there, or Peters could’ve been the one lying dead. Dangerous motherfuckers. Look, we chased him for miles on foot. He was a danger to the community, and the community is better off and far safer. He’d have raped, murdered, and done worse to any woman and child out there. This is better for everyone.”

Marcus could just make out Lonnie standing over by his cruiser. He spotted emergency lights pulling up, likely for the body. He turned back and looked at the ground, the debris, leaves, twigs. His sister was staring at the body, and her blue eyes flickered with something he was familiar with. She had the same questions he did, maybe. At least she was staying quiet, or maybe she realized he wasn’t in the mood to handle her, as well. It seemed Lester was speaking for everyone there.

Marcus stepped around Deputy Carlyle and angled his head as he took in the body again.

“Marcus, I understand your apprehension,” Lester said, “and I’m very aware this is your county, but we’re on the same team here.”

“Oh, I doubt that very much,” Marcus snapped, glancing back over to him. Lester had been sheriff in Park County for as long as Marcus could remember. He wondered which residents kept electing him.

“Now, don’t go getting all territorial,” Lester said. “You’re still new at being a sheriff, so you haven’t learned how things work here. You back us up, Marcus. Don’t go making this into something it’s not, because the folks around here won’t appreciate their sheriff wasting tax dollars and putting resources into a criminal who has already taken so much from so many. He’s dead, caught, and that’s all they care about. They don’t want this dragged out or stirred up, creating a problem. The investigation is done, you hear me?”

He heard the warning in the old sheriff’s voice, but he didn’t miss the awkwardness in Jim Carlyle’s stance, and then there were the guards, who had said nothing at all. He let his gaze linger on Lester. The man was doing his best to tell Marcus how to run his county and shut down questions about what had really happened there.

“Which one of you is Peters?” Marcus said, then waited. The one in the middle nodded. He was round in the middle, a few inches shorter than Marcus, and he realized none of them carried a weapon.

“That’s me,” the man said, then actually stepped forward and lifted his hand in the air. His hair was a lighter shade of brown, with messy waves. The other two guards had dark skin, one lighter than the other, one a few inches taller than the other, but both offered nothing, watching silently.

Lester appeared in his line of sight again, over by the guard, close to losing it on him. Evidently, he had missed the fact that Marcus was the kind of cop who actually did his own homework and allowed no one to tell him how to do his job.

“Well, how about you tell me what happened here?” Marcus said. He rested his hand over his duty belt, not missing the way the deputy glanced over at the sheriff.

“Just like the sheriff said, Donnelly sucker-punched me, knocked me down, and Lonnie took him out before he could take one of us out.”

Marcus let his gaze linger on Peters. He heard approaching voices. One he knew was Lonnie, with the arrogant twang that had always irritated the shit out of him. He glanced over his shoulder to see a man in a jacket, the coroner, walking toward him as well.

Marcus dragged his gaze back to Peters and Sheriff Lester, who was watching the guard closely. Marcus figured the men would do what their sheriff said and go along with everything he told them to do. Again, that off feeling just wouldn’t go away. He looked down at the body. The blood that covered the man’s back and the ground appeared dry.

“So you’re telling me he hit you?”

The guard hesitated, then nodded.

“Knocked you on your ass? And you were running around out here without a gun?”

The guard hesitated, narrowing his gaze. “Look, of course I had a shotgun. It’s secured now, back in the vehicle. Sheriff, this was a long chase, and he wasn’t about to go quietly. These are dangerous men. It could go down only one way.”

Marcus pulled out his phone and opened the camera to take photos of the body, then walked around to the head. The man’s arms were by his sides. Marcus crouched down and then gestured to Deputy Carlyle. “Roll him over,” he said. “You have another pair of gloves?”

Carlyle pulled gloves from his back pocket and held them out to Marcus, who snapped them on. The sheriff was saying something to the guards, all three of them talking in low voices. The deputy leaned down and helped him roll the body over. He was very aware the crime scene was both compromised and clean. The prisoner’s face had bruising, nothing fresh, and blood covered the front of the shirt. He found himself looking for an exit wound, aware that everyone was watching him.

“It looks like someone worked him over pretty good,” he said.

“Prison life is hard,” one of the other guards drawled.

Marcus didn’t bother looking up. “Maybe so,” he said. “You say he came out swinging, hit you? From here, it doesn’t look like you have a mark on you. You look like you have at least thirty pounds on him, give or take, but not a mark or a speck of dirt other than stinking of sweat? You don’t look like a man on the receiving end of a fight. If it went down as you said, the prisoner should have been lying in a pool of his own blood, but the ground is dry, and the way he was lying on the ground, his hands at his sides, it seems as if he didn’t even try to break his fall, almost as if he were placed there…”

“Now, you just wait a minute, Sheriff O’Connell,” Lester snapped, fire in his eyes as he stepped over to Marcus, right in the circle of a crime scene that no one seemed too concerned about keeping clean. Marcus already knew without a doubt that everything had been tampered with, but could he prove it? No. “You accusing us of lying? If I were you, I’d think real long and hard about what you say next. You forget about what a danger this man was? A shoot to kill order was issued, so we took that motherfucker out, and no one is going to question us—not the warden, who ordered it, or Judge Harris, who signed off on it. You and I both know there could be a lot of reasons for the way we found him, including the fact that he was dead before he hit the ground. The blood could have soaked into the soil. And he sucker-punched Peters in a low blow to the groin. You want him to drop his pants so you can inspect him?”

Lonnie still stood with the coroner, and everyone was watching Marcus as if he were the problem. He realized he was the odd man out. He dragged his gaze over to Suzanne and her horrified blue eyes, and he just couldn’t shake the feeling that time was up. She was in way over her head, and he needed her out of there.

“Marcus, the only one who has a problem here is you,” Lonnie said. “This was a dangerous criminal that the world is a safer place without.”

Marcus knew he made a face as he pulled off his gloves, standing up. “You shot a man in the back, Lonnie.”

“Shoot to kill was the order, Marcus, or would you rather it were one of us lying there, dead?”

Lester pulled his hand over his chin and took a step closer to him, dragging his gaze from Lonnie to him. “Lonnie is right, Marcus,” he said. “It was him or one of us, and I can tell you there was no goddamn way one of us was going down. You don’t take chances with criminals who pose a danger to the good people of your county. I’m going to save you before word gets out in Livingston that the sheriff is more interested in protecting dangerous criminals than the people who elected him.

“This is how it’s going to work, son: You’re going to sign off on this, and we’re going to handle all the paperwork, and then this thing is going to get filed away neatly. There’s nothing for you to see here, nothing other than an escaped convict. This is about your ego, is all. I know there’s bad blood between you and Lonnie, but set it aside, Marcus. Shake hands about this and move on.”

Marcus couldn’t believe the old sheriff was seriously treating this like some schoolyard disagreement. He let out a rough laugh and shook his head. “Un-fucking believable,” he said under his breath, then dragged his gaze back to the sheriff and over to the three guards. Lonnie still stood with the coroner, who was holding a folded-up body bag. “Two prisoners, one dead, the other still on the loose.”

His cell phone started ringing, and he saw Harold’s name on the screen. He handed his sister the phone and said only, “It’s your husband.” She took it and stepped away to answer, and Marcus turned back to the sheriff and said, “So that’s it?” He gestured to the body and to Deputy Carlyle, who was standing off to the side.

“As soon as you let it be and stop holding everyone up here,” Lester said. “Oh, and, Sheriff? No need for you to join in the hunt for the other prisoner. Romi has his dogs ready, and we’ll track him in no time. He couldn’t have gone far. We’ll find him.”

Calm, cool. The way the sheriff let his gaze linger on Marcus, he knew he was done there. He tossed his gloves to Carlyle, who caught them one-handed, and then he took one step and then another over to the sheriff standing in front of him.

Marcus jabbed his finger at Lester’s chest. “You come into my county again and pull this bullshit, you and I are going to have more than a problem, and you do not want that,” he said.

Then he glared at Lonnie, who stared at him with an arrogance Marcus wanted to wipe off his face.

He glanced over to Suzanne as she hung up, her back to him. The tension lingered, but he figured Harold had spoken his piece and then some. Marcus headed over to her and took his phone back.

“Let’s go,” was all he said as he started walking, and Suzanne fell in beside him again, glancing back only once. “Everything okay?”

“Sure, other than the fact that Harold is likely ready to file for divorce,” she said. “He demanded I get my ass home. Oh, and he asked me if I’ve lost my mind, considering Colby just called and filled him in, and that was when he saw my note.”

Marcus glanced down at his sister. “Harold isn’t going to divorce you. Don’t be so damn dramatic.”

She shrugged and nudged him. “No, he’ll get over it. You’re right, he loves me. But thanks for letting me tag along,” she said, her voice light.

He glanced down at his little sister, who, at times, knew how to push every one of his buttons, and grunted, “Don’t let this go to your head, but thanks for the extra set of eyes out there.”

And for just being there to watch his back, he thought, but he wasn’t about to tell her that last part.

Suzanne wrapped her arms around him, hugging him, and Marcus stumbled a bit. “Yay! Does that mean I can join the department?” She pulled back and tapped his arm with her fisted hand. He always knew when she was excited. Deep down, she was still a tomboy.

“Hell, no. I just have a feeling that if I’d shown up alone, this could have ended differently.”

Suzanne glanced back, unsmiling. They kept walking past Romi, who was leaning over the back of his pickup, running his hand over one of the dogs, talking on his cell phone. He only lifted his hand in a wave to Marcus as he walked past.

“Yeah, about that,” Suzanne said. “So who do you think moved the body, staged the scene?”

He shook his head, glancing again to his sister as they reached his cruiser. She walked around to the passenger side, and as Marcus climbed in and closed his door, she reached for her seatbelt. He pulled his keys from his pocket, shoved them in the ignition, and started it, considering everything that had happened, the scene, the night, and everyone who had been there.

He let out a sigh as he dragged his gaze to his sister. “Good question,” he said. “My guess? All of them.”

Chapter 4

As Marcus drove outside Livingston on a highway that went for miles, bordered by forests, mountains, privacy, and lots of places to hide, his mounted cell phone was ringing again, Harold’s name on the screen. It was dark in the car, but he knew Suzanne saw it. He pressed the green answer icon.

“You know where we are right now?” was all Marcus said when he answered, hearing the baby crying in the background.

“Yeah, well, not much I can do, where I am. You’re bringing Suzanne back? Can’t even pack Arnie up because she took my car.”

Marcus winced at the way Harold had snapped. Yeah, he was pissed, and could he blame him? Marcus kept on the road, his brights on the empty highway. His sister was quiet as he looked over at her, shaking his head again.

“Call my mom,” Marcus said. They were getting closer to Livingston. “She can send Jake over to pick up Arnie. Your car’s at the station. Just left the crime scene, where Donnelly’s body is. Goddamn Lonnie was there, put a bullet in his back. The way the body was laid out neatly, someone put it there. He was shot somewhere else. Makes no sense, considering the order was shoot to kill. Still don’t know why, and you know me; I don’t like puzzles where there are no answers. No one seemed too willing to come clean on what really happened. I smell a ton of bullshit, and the hunt is still on for the other prisoner, Rafe Jackson. If it’s all the same, I’d like to find him first.”

“Forget your mom,” Harold said. “I already called Owen. He and Tessa are on their way over and will watch Arnie. Suzanne, you listening? You can’t keep pulling this shit. A fucking note. You left a note about an active manhunt.”

Marcus turned to his sister again. They had reached a point where this wasn’t just between her and Harold anymore. “You two can hash that out later,” he said. “You spoke to Colby? He filled you in on what the prison sent over on those two? Because I remember the warden saying something about a girlfriend in the area and a brother up by Billings, but I didn’t get the details on them. Can you get me her address? And which one’s girlfriend is she? Also, I told Therese to call the warden back and get me the rest of the file, because what they sent was nothing. They based a shoot to kill on a bunch of threats and misdemeanors. I’m missing something, and I don’t like these kinds of holes.”

“Look, I talked to Colby,” Harold said. “He said Therese put in a call to the warden but didn’t talk to him. Had to leave a message. He didn’t tell me you were missing information. I guess if someone had actually woken me, I could have been at the station, handling this already, and we wouldn’t be two steps behind.” Harold paused. “Owen and Tessa are here.”

Marcus heard voices. Evidently, Harold was answering the door. The baby was still fussing. Suzanne said nothing, and when he glanced her way again, she stared straight ahead. Yeah, she was tough to crack.

“Well,” Marcus said when Harold had come back on the line, “get your ass to the station and dig up everything on those two, but get me the girlfriend’s address first and information on any other next of kin for Rafe Jackson. Everything on Donnelly, too.”

Headlights were coming his way. Marcus flicked his brights as the car passed. His phone beeped, another call on the line.

“Harold, someone is calling,” he said. “Just let me know when you’re at the station.” He hung up before his deputy could say anything else and answered the other call. “Marcus O’Connell.”

“Sheriff, I just got off the phone with the public defender, George Wallace.” It was Therese. “He couldn’t recall the names. Said he’d have to pull the files and he’d call me in the morning.”

“You tell him to get his goddamn ass out of bed and dig out those files now, not in the morning,” Marcus said. “Does he have no fucking idea what the hell has happened? Two of his clients broke out of prison, there is a shoot to kill order, and one is dead.” Damn, he was so done with no one giving him the answers he needed.

“Which, if you would have let me finish, was exactly what I told him,” Therese said. “And I told him to call me right back.” She sounded rather calm in response, considering he’d just taken her head off.

“Colby still there?” he said.

“Uh-huh. Told him to start digging around in the Corrections database.”

Okay, so she’d been thinking.

“Oh,” she said. “It’s the public defender calling back.”

He heard a phone ringing. “You know what, Therese? Put him through to me, and keep digging. And, by the way, Harold’s on his way in.” He glanced over to Suzanne in the darkened cruiser and realized she was looking right at him, shaking her head.

“Sure, I’ll put him through,” Therese said. Then she hung up, and Marcus glanced again at his sister.

“You know, Suzanne, stepping between you and Harold is not what I’m interested in doing, but you can’t pull this. He’s right. I depend on him. He’s one of the best investigators out there, and he finds things I wouldn’t think to have him look for. He’s that good.”

His cell phone started ringing again, and Suzanne said nothing. She was getting hammered from all sides. He pressed the green answer icon.

“This is Sheriff O’Connell.”

“Sheriff, this is George Wallace, public defender. One of your deputies called about two prisoners I represented, a Rafe…” He was flipping through papers. His voice was a little too soft, too abrupt.

“Rafe Jackson and Holter Donnelly,” Marcus said. “Donnelly is dead, by the way. Just left the scene. Jackson is still on the loose, so I need you to tell me why there’s a shoot to kill order on them both, considering the only thing I received from the warden was a history of verbal threats, assault involving a police officer…” He could see the edge of Livingston and its lights.

More papers were flipping. “Oh, here it is,” Wallace said. “Well, this doesn’t make sense. You said who was dead?”

Damn, a confused public defender.

“Holter Donnelly,” Suzanne said, jumping in. “Gunshot to the back. Was he a danger to the community?” Then, maybe because the public defender didn’t know who was talking, she added, “This is Suzanne O’Connell.”

Marcus wanted her to just stop, already.

“Okay, yeah,” Wallace said. “I remember these two now, but I hope you know I can’t share anything with you. Client confidentiality…”

“I’m not asking you to breach confidentiality,” Marcus said. “What I’m asking for are the charges. Explain to me what this is. Were they a danger?”

He heard a heavy sigh in the background, then papers shuffling. “All I can say, Sheriff, is that they were charged with misdemeanors that never should have landed them where they are. But I’m just a public defender. You have any idea how thick my case load is? I usually meet my clients for the first time when they’re dragged into the court room, shackled, and the only thing I have time for are quick questions about how they want to plead and whether the charges have merit, and then the judge is there.

“Dangerous? I don’t know where that came from. All I can tell you is that one of them was a street preacher, the other a veteran. Both, I think, were in the wrong place at the wrong time. In that altercation with a cop, the cop said they were the aggressors. I wish I could tell you more, but I’m sorry to say I don’t know anything about them. I had basically five minutes with each of them.

“Oh, here it is. Rafe Jackson was given five years and was up for parole soon. Holter was given a ridiculous sentence of eight years, plus three years’ probation over some bullshit. Excuse the French. But he was angry. I understand lack of sleep in jail does that, but he didn’t keep his cool in front of the judge, which landed him on his wrong side. The first thing I tell everyone is respect first, because the judge doesn’t give a shit about their problems, threats from other inmates, that they can’t get a shower, take a shit, or sleep, or that there’s some guy inside named Sue who won’t leave them be.” The lawyer sighed again.

Marcus glanced over to see how intently Suzanne was staring at the cell phone. “So why the shoot to kill order?” he finally asked.

“Honestly, Sheriff?”

“Please. Would be appreciated.”

“How often do you hear of prisoners escaping?”

Marcus shook his head. “Rarely, if ever.”

“My guess is you’re dealing with ego,” Wallace said. “A pissed-off warden of a state prison is not someone you want to be on the wrong side of. Can you imagine what would happen to the prisoners if caught alive? Their fates would be worse at the hands of the warden, who basically owns them, and there’s no one they can call for help. If that warden wants to, he can make sure a prisoner disappears, never sees the light of day, and everyone knows it, those inside, anyway. My opinion, Sheriff? The shoot to kill may have been a mercy.”

Suzanne hissed, and Marcus glanced over to her before saying, “You know anything about a girlfriend or family of either of these two? The warden mentioned something about one of them having a brother up towards Billings and a girlfriend around Livingston.”

The man grunted. “Here it is. Tracy Mitchell, girlfriend of Rafe. It just says Livingston. I don’t have an address or phone number. You said one of them has a brother? I have nothing here. The only reason I know about the girlfriend is that she’s left me a lot of messages, hounding me to file an appeal.”

Marcus shook his head. His sister had pulled out her cell phone and was typing something in, then held the screen up toward him.

“Marcus, an address right here for Tracy,” she said.

He only nodded. “Okay, thanks, George. If you hear from Rafe or think of anything else, you call me.”

“Goodnight, Sheriff,” was all the lawyer said.

Marcus hit the end call icon and turned to his sister. “How far is she from here?”

Suzanne tapped her phone, then gestured to the road ahead. “Not far. So does this mean you’re not taking me home?”

He pulled in a breath, knowing his sister wanted him to say the one thing he wasn’t about to. “Nope, but you’ll have to stay in the car this time. Now give me the address and don’t let this go to your head.”

He turned left on a secondary road just outside of town, still rural, with houses on lots that were an acre or two in size. A lot of places to hide. There was that feeling again. Just how far behind were Sheriff Lester and his men or Kellogg’s guards?

“I’m letting nothing go to my head,” Suzanne said. “I know my limitations very well, but at the same time, Marcus, I know how to look up an address, I know what a crime scene looks like, and I know when someone shouldn’t be someplace. Oh, Tracy Mitchell’s place is

right here.” She gestured to a dirt driveway with a small doublewide and an old pickup parked out front.

Marcus pulled in behind it and parked, then turned to his sister, who had unfastened her seatbelt and already had her hand on the door. “Suzanne, I mean it. This time, I need you to stay here in the car.”

She looked over to him in that way of hers, and for a moment, he thought she’d argue. He took in the double wide. The outside light was off, and the house was dark. In bed? Likely, considering it was well past midnight.

“If you want me to stay here, I will,” Suzanne said. “But, Marcus, you’re alone. There’s still the matter of this prisoner on the loose, and the warden wants him dead. If he’s here, you think he’s going to come easy? The least I can do is watch your back.”

Damn, why did she have to be so reasonable? He knew he needed to say no. He gave his door a yank. “You stay behind me and out of the way,” he said.

Then he stepped out of the vehicle, and so did Suzanne. He closed his door quietly, and she did the same. As he walked around the front of the vehicle, she fell in beside him. She gestured to the door, up some narrow rickety steps, and he nodded.

He pulled the screen door open and gave a solid knock on the wooden door behind it. “Sheriff’s department!” he called out, then glanced down to his sister, who stood at the bottom of the steps, looking at him and around. He heard footsteps inside, the outside light flicked on, and his hand went right to his holstered gun as he heard the lock click.

“Tracy Mitchell, open up!” he yelled.

The door cracked open a bit. A light was on inside. The woman standing there was short, with a narrow face, messy brown hair, brown eyes, and a dark blue robe. “Can I help you?”

He didn’t think she was that old. Mid-thirties, maybe. “Are you Tracy Mitchell?”

She nodded. “I am. What is this about?”

He looked past her, listening for anything. “There was a prison escape tonight, Rafe Jackson and Holter Donnelly. I understand you know them?”

She pressed her hand to her chest, pulling her robe closed. “I do, but I don’t know anything about them escaping. You must be mistaken.”

Again, he wondered if she was hiding something. “So you haven’t heard from either of them.”

She made a face and shrugged. “No, I haven’t.”

He wondered if she’d tell the truth. “Well, let me put it this way: The warden and the Park County sheriff’s office have a shoot to kill order out on both of them, and law enforcement has been alerted they’re both considered dangerous. I was just at a crime scene where the body of Holter Donnelly was, shot in the back. So, again, I’m going to ask you about Rafe. You see him? And before you answer me, know that I’m trying to save his life, but he’s got to turn himself in, because the law out there are looking for him, and they aren’t going to ask questions. They’re going to shoot first. You understand what I’m saying?”

She said nothing, just swallowed and licked her lips, nervous. She glanced out to his sister at the bottom of the stairs. “I don’t know what I can tell you, Sheriff, but if you’re really trying to help, and I hope you are, then you have to know the truth of the matter. Neither of them should have been in jail. The only thing they did wrong was stand before the wrong judge, and that was after a cop lied about what happened. They’re not dangerous, neither of them.” She sounded pissed.

“Then you won’t mind if we come in and have a look around.”

She was standing right in the doorway, her arms crossed, both scared and pissed. “You have a warrant? Because unless you do, you’re not setting one foot in my house.” She moved to shut the door, but Marcus slapped his hand to it before she could.

“I guess you didn’t hear me,” he said. “Rafe is a wanted man, a criminal, and in the eyes of the law, he’s already been convicted. I don’t need a warrant, so unless you want to find yourself arrested for obstruction or aiding and abetting a fugitive, a felony conviction for which you’d serve a good many years…”

Her eyes flashed with fury as she stepped back, letting go of the door. Marcus pushed it open, and she just stood there, staring at him with an anger he didn’t even know how to reason with.

“Well, don’t just stand there,” she said. “Come on in. But hear me well, Sheriff: I will not be intimidated, pushed around, or threatened. I already said Rafe isn’t here. Just don’t make a mess, and don’t be long. I have an early day tomorrow.” Then she turned her back, walked into the small kitchen, and lifted a kettle and filled it with water.

Marcus stepped into the living room, seeing a large flatscreen, a small green sectional, and piles of papers and books. On one wall, papers and notes were pinned up along with photos of a cop and a judge, as well as a timeline. He found himself looking back to the woman, who was now watching him.

“What’s this?” He gestured to the wall, on which there was also a copy of a police report.

“What does it look like?” Tracy said. “I told you Rafe and Holter didn’t deserve what happened. Their only crime was standing up to a bully for those who couldn’t stand up for themselves. But as you said, Sheriff, he’s been convicted. To hell with whether it was right.” She put the kettle on the stove and flicked on the burner.

“I never said that,” Marcus said. “Right now, I’m just trying to prevent Rafe from also ending up on a slab in the morgue. If he’s innocent, I promise you I’ll look into it, but I’ve got to find him first.” He knew he sounded reasonable. He heard the squeak of the floor and turned to see his sister in the doorway.

Tracy shut her eyes for a second. He wondered if this was where she would come clean. She had to know something. Then she flicked her eyes open and gave her head a shake. “As I said, Sheriff, I haven’t heard from him, so if you don’t mind, have your look-see, and then, with all due respect, get the fuck out of my house.”

Chapter 5

Time was ticking. Marcus pulled open the driver’s door of his cruiser, then slid behind the wheel. Suzanne was still just inside the house, talking with Tracy.

He had searched the two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and small laundry room but knew no one was hiding inside. He still figured Tracy knew something, though, and he didn’t have a clue how his sister managed to talk to a woman who’d basically told him to go fuck himself. Tracy was gesturing passionately now, maybe because Suzanne wasn’t wearing a badge, carrying a gun, or representing a system that had incarcerated someone she cared about. Or maybe it was because Suzanne was less of a threat.

“You still there, Marcus?” Harold said. He had called a few seconds ago and was waiting on the line.

“Yeah. Tell me you have something, anything, on Jackson and Donnelly,” Marcus said. “The lawyer said one was a street preacher and the other a veteran. I’m at Tracy Mitchell’s right now, and she’s less than forthcoming. Suzanne is talking to her.”

“My wife, Suzanne?” Harold said rather sharply.

“Yes, your wife, my sister—who, evidently, Tracy likes better than me. She’s fine. Just don’t tell her she was helpful tonight.”

Harold made a rude sound on the other end. “Whatever. We’ll save that discussion for another time. About the two prisoners, they were friends. Rafe Jackson was a retired veteran, served in Afghanistan. He took the BUD/S training but washed out the first week, and apparently, that was it for him in the military. Donnelly was a minister who worked mostly with the homeless, vets, the down and out, anyone on the street. So he knew the streets and who was there, but he had a problem with the local authorities and butted heads with them all the time.

“He’d been issued numerous parking tickets, which I guarantee was because he pissed off the wrong person, or many of them, and they had him in their line of sight. He was fined for trespassing and mischief, but never anything more than a fine, so I’m having a hard time understanding what happened to escalate things to him standing before a judge, arrested. There was a charge of inciting violence, but that disappeared off the books. There were verbal threats to a cop, but not sure what was said. This is the first time I’ve seen just the charge with no explanation of what, why, and how.

“As for assault of a police officer, from what I’ve read, a cop sprayed gas over a homeless guy from his car, and either Jackson or Donnelly threw an umbrella at the cop’s car. A statement was filed by Donnelly about the cop, but I can’t find it anywhere. This was some cop over in Billings. He arrested him, and I’m not sure how all this had them before a judge and sentenced with what they were. As for them being dangerous…”

Harold paused. “Let’s see. They fed the homeless, tried to find shelter for those on the street, and were basically do-gooders who gave a shit and tried to help people no one would help. The shoot to kill order, I can find no reason for that at all. If something happened in the prison, I’ve got nothing here. You said they shot Donnelly? He was the preacher. Wow, something is wrong there. Jackson grew up in a small town, Shelby, over in Toole County, hunting, fishing, tracking. He’d know how to hide and stay hidden. Donnelly had a brother-in-law outside Billings, Jack Cooper, but I’ve got nothing here on a sister. I can send you the address, or do you want me to head out?”

Marcus took in Suzanne, who was gesturing to him from the open doorway. What the hell was she up to now? “I’m still here at Tracy’s,” he said. “Looks like I’m headed back inside to have a word, maybe. Your wife is waving me back. Why don’t you give the brother-in-law a call? I wouldn’t be surprised if he hasn’t already b

or the Yellowstone County sheriff. But yes, call him, and let me know what he says. So no other family, friends? You said Donnelly was a minister. I think he pissed off the wrong person. From his face, someone had worked him over. Not recent. The bruising, from what I saw, was old. See if you can find out anything from inside the prison. Damn, I just have a feeling Tracy knows something. I mean, think about it. If you were in trouble and on the run, wouldn’t you go to Suzanne, or at least call and let her know you were okay?”

Harold grunted. “One, that would never be me. Right now, the best thing for me and Suzanne is for you to talk some sense into her. She’s got a baby. You do know what this is about with her?”

Marcus pulled in a breath and stepped out of the cruiser. He nodded to his sister, who gestured sharply and made a face as if he were taking too long. “Yeah, I know,” he said. “I’ll talk to her.” He let out a sigh.

“You do that,” Harold said. “I’ll call you and let you know what I come up with.” Then he hung up, and Marcus pocketed his phone, closed his door, and started back to the double wide and up the rickety steps.

“Tracy, tell Marcus what you just told me about Holter,” Suzanne said as Marcus stepped inside.

Tracy was pouring a steaming mug of tea, and she gestured to Suzanne and said, “Cream or sugar?”

Suzanne walked over to the counter and reached for the mug. “No, this is fine. Thanks so much, Tracy. You really have done a lot of work here, your research. How long had Holter been ministering on the streets?”

Marcus knew he was frowning. It was the middle of the night, and his sister had a woman who’d basically told him to fuck off making her tea. He wanted to give his head a shake. Tracy lifted another steaming mug, standing on the other side of the small counter. She dragged her gaze over to Marcus, and he swore daggers appeared again in her eyes.

“Ministering was Holter’s life,” she said. “He’d been doing it for twenty years, started as a kid. Spent time in Panama, in Africa, at a church in Columbia Falls, over in Wyoming, and then in Billings. With everything going on, when the housing market fell and so many lost their homes, he was out there, helping where he could. He said most ministers want to preach to people who can pay. He said a lot have sold their souls and forgotten what it’s really about, helping those who need it, not those who can pay for it.

“In doing so, he had a knack for pissing off the wrong people. He called a spade a spade and challenged anyone who took advantage of the little guy. He was as politically incorrect as they come. He considered himself an activist, saying too many believe freedom is not something you really have to fight for. He believed our freedom was being snatched away every day by politicians and corporations who were all about profit. I think it was six years ago when Rafe got back, left the military, and went through a hard time. It was Holter who pulled him up, said he needed him to watch his back. Holter was a born warrior.

“Rafe turned him down, but when Holter was beat up and dumped in an alley, Rafe was there. Long story. After that, Rafe made sure no one messed with Holter. He watched his back. Said there were cops and business owners who wanted Holter gone and brought him a heap of trouble. Can you imagine, you’re just trying to help those who have nothing, nowhere to go, and then one day you lose it? Let me be clear, Holter had a temper, but if you saw how some of those cops, community leaders, and business owners treated the people he was trying to help, you’d be angry too.

“To be clear, it’s not all cops, but it takes only one or two. The brotherhood protects the ones who kick the shit out of innocent people. There was an elderly woman with a walker on the streets, and one day a cop took her walker and dumped it in a trash bin. Rafe filed a complaint with the county sheriff’s office in Billings. It wasn’t just one thing, either. One cop

took a shopping cart filled with all a man’s belongings. It was endless, the beatdowns, and everyone on the street was scared to point a finger.

“The gaslighting by the media was the worst, he said. He saw a story about a vagrant urinating at the back door of some big store, and it said the resulting confrontation turned ugly. The business owner was on the news, complaining about the homeless in the area, who were defecating all over and had damaged his property, trying to break in, stealing, threatening customers. Except it wasn’t true. The media put a few crisis actors there to say it had happened. Rafe said the shop owner didn’t want the homeless there, so he made up a story, created a lie. The people believed the news, and no one questioned it.”

Marcus glanced over to the clock, feeling the lateness, wondering where this was going. “You know, Tracy, I sympathize, I really do,” he said. “But how is this helping us find Rafe? So he watched Holter’s back, and now he’s on the run. Holter is dead. Someone worked him over in jail, and I’m afraid Rafe is next unless you level with me.”

Suzanne put down her mug. Tracy lifted her chin and glanced away.

“You know where he is, don’t you?” Marcus said.

Outside, an engine started.

Marcus ran to the door and slammed his hand on the screen to open it just as the pickup floored it and backed out. He glanced back to Tracy and saw it written all over her face. “He was here the whole time,” he snapped.

Tracy had put down her tea, fear in her eyes.

Marcus pulled his cuffs from his pouch as he strode to her. “Turn around,” he said, then slapped the cuffs on her and grabbed her arm. Suzanne was looking at him with wide eyes, and he said, “You stay here with her. Call Therese and tell her to get over here and pick her up.”

He ran to the door, and as he yanked it open, he heard Tracy yelling, “You’ll never find him!”

“Marcus, I swear I didn’t know,” Suzanne called out.

He just shook his head, still hearing the squeal of the truck as it reached the road. He sprinted out to his cruiser, started it, and gave it gas, spinning the car around and flooring it down the driveway. He hit all the ruts, following the trail of dust to another road that led farther from town. He drove faster than he ever had, his high-beams just reaching the back end of an old white pickup rounding the bend ahead.


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The Visitor

The Visitor

New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Lorhainne Eckhart returns with a Friessen family character who must come to terms with unfinished business and long-buried hurts—not just for her family but for herself.

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Support an Author–Buy Direct & Save!

I’m pleased to announce that my eBooks and audiobooks can now be purchased directly from me via my new author store!  Check out my shop here, and be sure to take advantage of the coupon below to receive 15% off your purchase through July 31st.  Several titles are now available and more will be arriving soon.  Plus, a newly-added feature: I’m now accepting crypto payments!

Please note that to purchase titles from my store, you’ll first need to download the BookFunnel app which you can download here.  The eBook or audiobook will be delivered from BookFunnel instantly; if it doesn’t arrive in your inbox immediately, be sure to check your junk folder.  

As always, thank you for your support!    

Save 15% when you buy direct from my author store! Use code: LORHAINNE15 Offer good thru July 31, 2022.


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Are you a super fan of the Friessens, O’Connells, McCabes and more? 
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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 shadows around her eyes. 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. 

Chapter 2

Mark dropped the files on his desk just as Carmen walked into his office, wearing a dark blue sweater over blue jeans, dark hair pulled back in a ponytail. She was holding a file of her own, unsmiling, and her badge was pinned to the waistband of her jeans, her gun holstered. 

She closed the door. “You know, there’s a point where I wonder whether I’ll go to hell,” she said as she held out the file to Mark. “You have any idea how hard it was for me not to look at Lacy while I was digging into her personal life, learning the kinds of things I shouldn’t and don’t want to know? God damn, Chief, we all have something in our closets. Now I know way too much.” 

Mark reached for the file and glanced out of his glassed-in office to where Lacy was filling Lucky’s dog dish with more kibble. Her hair was short, a mix of white and dark. The scent of fresh brewing coffee was a reminder he needed another cup. He set the file atop the others on his desk, then shrugged out of his jean jacket and tossed it on a hook on the spindly old coat tree that had come with the office. “Good morning to you, too,” he said to Carmen, noting the impatience in her expression and how stiffly she stood. “Any red flags? Anything stick out that I need to see?” 

Carmen pulled her arms over her chest and made a rude noise as she shook her head. “Let’s see. She’s had a total of four different cell phones. Seems she cancels one when she gets a better deal somewhere else. Maybe I should ask her about that, considering my own carrier seems to be screwing me over and over. She has accounts at three different banks. The highest balance is with the local credit union, just over three thousand, give or take. The other two carry balances of only around fifty dollars. 

“She’s been divorced twice. Has a daughter who’s married, living in New Mexico. Ex number one is the father. Looks like the scumbag drained their bank account and took out a second and third mortgage on the house they owned, then lost everything to gambling debts, drinking, and a fondness for cocaine. The only good thing he did for her was up and leave. Lacy and her daughter were on food stamps and welfare for six months. 

“Then she worked a job in Astoria for three months before picking up odd jobs back on the island and living in an old travel trailer on the north end for a year. She worked at the cheese factory, one of the local farms, the brewery, and the grocery store, then cleaned houses and waited tables at four of the restaurants on the island. Deadbeat number two she married and divorced in six months. During that time, roughly ten years back, there was a complaint on file that Tolly responded to.” 

Mark opened the file, taking in the pages of notes. Hearing the name of the old chief, he was still having trouble coming to terms with his death. It sucker-punched him every time. Those last moments he had seen Tolly alive still haunted him. 

“What kind of trouble was it?” he said, flipping the pages. 

Carmen leaned on his desk and pointed to the third page, halfway down. “She pulled a shotgun on deadbeat number two and threw him out of the house, her house, which she bought after scraping together enough money. The deadbeat called Tolly, saying she was trying to kill him, which apparently was how Tolly found her when he arrived on scene. He took the shotgun and talked the deadbeat into leaving quietly. Looks like the deadbeat hired a lawyer to push it further, though, and ended up getting half of what Lacy had managed to put away. A nice fat payday. Evidently, he had taken up with Dori Little, who runs the post office, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that Lacy busted him for the affair. Lacy had to move, because him taking half meant selling the only thing that was hers. That put her in the little house she now owns by the cove.” 

Mark flicked his gaze over to Carmen. He knew by the way she had hesitated that she wasn’t done. He lifted a brow but said nothing, and she gestured toward the file again. 

“If you’re wondering whether Dori is still with the deadbeat, no. Seems she saw the light not long after. For the record, I can see why Lacy has decided men aren’t worth the effort. She’s remained single, and for that she’s kept her house and her bank accounts.” Carmen pulled in a heavy breath and tossed an uneasy glance over her shoulder. “Now how the hell am I supposed to look her in the eye, knowing what I know about her messy personal life? God dammit, Chief, if anyone looked into my past…” She angled her head. “Wait, you looked into my past?” 

At the sharpness in her tone, he felt pinned by her scrutiny. He made himself clear his throat. “You were always a tough one to read. I looked into you long ago, Carmen. For the record, you were screwed over. Always bothered me what happened with your kid. But, cards on the table, I’m pretty sure you’ve done your own digging into my life, probably before I got here. So now that we all know everything about each other, let’s move past it. Good to know there’s nothing to worry about with Lacy and my instincts about her were right on.” 

There it was, the blank look Carmen had mastered. She blew out a breath. Maybe she was still stuck on the fact that he knew she was human just like he was. “Fine,” was all she said, with a ton of snark. She glanced away just as there was a tap on the door and it popped open. 

“Chief, coffee’s ready,” Lacy said, leaning in. “Lucky is out of kibble, so I’m going to make a quick run to the corner store.” 

Carmen was quiet, with an expression that gave nothing away. She pulled her arms over her chest, awkward. 

“Oh, and are you done dissecting my past, Carmen?” Lacy continued. “Found all my skeletons? My bank called with one of those automated alerts, said someone had pulled my credit, which I thought was odd, since I’m not in the market to buy anything. I’ve learned the hard way from deadbeats trying to steal from me, so I know when someone is doing something they shouldn’t behind my back. Then there was the fact that you couldn’t look me in the eye for two days. 

“Well, I’m not an idiot. I know you’re looking into everyone on this island. Wondered when my turn was coming. Guess I have my answer. Yes, I’m not perfect. My credit is average. Never understood the world of finance, but I did figure out how to balance my own checkbook after living in a moldy trailer for a year with my daughter. Never put all my money in one bank, either, and I’ve finally figured out how to stop paying endless fees. I’ve never stolen anything except for the candy I pocketed when I was five and my mother wasn’t looking. My car I own outright, and I have no secret stash of cash anywhere. Wish I did. Oh, and I’ve been binge-watching Netflix before I cancel that subscription. I’m too cheap to purchase cable, and I have time on my hands since spring is coming and I’m waiting for the ground to thaw so I can expand my garden. Any other questions?” 

Carmen appeared uncomfortable in the face of Lacy’s calm. Damn, he really liked her. 

“Just one candy?” Mark said as he closed Lacy’s file. 

A twitch of a smile pulled at the edges of her lips. She only shook her head. 

“Thanks, Lacy,” he said. “Appreciate it, you taking care of my dog.” He pulled a twenty from his wallet and held it out to her, and she walked around Carmen, saying nothing. The icy chill that lingered had him wincing. 

“Oh, and, Chief,” Lacy said as she took the twenty, “you may want to stop in and have a word with Shana Guzman. She owns the local pub, the Dog and Whistle. She mentioned last night that her ex surprised the hell out of her by moving here after she hadn’t heard from him in, like, forever. She was downright pissed, too. Apparently, he said something about wanting to make amends.” 

Mark dragged his gaze to Carmen, who had an odd expression—curiosity or pensiveness, he wasn’t sure. “Shana and her ex, what do we know about them?” he said. 

Carmen lifted her hands. “I know nothing about him. Shana has a kid, I think…” 

“Shana grew up here,” Lacy said. “Nice lady. Locals know her. She’s a straight shooter but, like many of us, attracts the wrong kind. She’s always been hard working. Hasn’t heard from her ex since her daughter was two. Just saying, because I know you want to know about everyone on the island, he apparently bought forty acres on the west side. Showed up the other day, and I’ve never seen Shana so angry. All I know is she doesn’t trust him.” Lacy stepped back. “You’ll listen for the phone?” 

“Yeah, we got it,” Mark said, and Lacy was already walking back to her desk. 

“You want me to take that one, add it to the list?” Carmen said. 

Mark watched Lacy grab her purse and head out. It was suddenly so quiet, and that sinking feeling he had too often was back. “Nope, I’ve got this one. You just keep working through everyone in town.” The coffee smelled tempting, but the knot in his stomach and the tightness that pulled across his shoulders had him glancing at the clock on the wall and reaching for his jacket on the coat tree. “I’m going to have a word with Shana, find out who this ex is. You hold down the fort and try to smooth things over with Lacy.” 

“What do you want me to say?” Carmen said. “You’re the one who told me to check into her, yet she’s pissed at me.” 

Mark knew he had winced. He’d never understood why women were harder on other women than on men. “You want me to talk to her?” 

Carmen uncrossed her arms and flicked her hand at him, giving him the pissed-off vibe that seemed to roll off her at times. “I don’t need anyone running interference for me,” she said, then walked out of his office past Lucky, who was walking in. 

Mark considered this for only a second before reaching for his keys and saying, “Come on, boy, let’s go.” 

Chapter 3

Mark could feel the rain in the air as he stepped out of his Jeep into the parking lot, empty except for an older green Subaru. 

“Come on, boy,” he said, then waited for Lucky to jump down before he closed the door. 

His cowboy boots scraped the gravel as he took in the old clapboard building, painted a light tan, and the old neon sign for the Dog and Whistle, which had wires sticking out, wrapped in electrical tape. There were beer bottles on the railing of the old porch. 

He pulled open the door and heard the clink of glasses. The scent of stale beer hit him as he pulled off his sunglasses and tucked them in his shirtfront. 

“I’m closed. Don’t open until eleven,” Shana called out with her back to him, her dark hair pulled into a ponytail, carrying a handful of dirty glasses. Then she turned around. 

“I can see that,” he said. “Hoping to have a word or two with you, Shana.” 

She set the glasses on a tray, then reached for a gray dish bin and headed toward a table still covered with dirty glasses. She was a short woman, not much taller than Billy Jo, with a round face. He figured she was in her late thirties, give or take. “You want a word with me, Chief? What about? Something happen I need to worry about? Can tell you it was a quiet night yesterday aside from a few of the usual rowdies, who otherwise behaved themselves.” 

Mark took in the tables, the old wood chairs, and a pool table at the far end. 

“Your dog going to behave himself too?” Shana said, her gaze going right to Lucky. “I just mopped the floor and don’t intend to wash it again.” She jutted her chin to a bucket and mop in the corner. 

“Don’t worry about him,” he said. 

“Mm-hmm,” was all she said in response. 

“Lacy said something about your ex moving back here?” 

Shana shook her head, clearing off the table, and reached for the bar towel over the shoulder of her black t-shirt. When she straightened, wiping her hands, she gave him a scowl he hadn’t expected. “Walter? You want to talk to me about Walter? What the hell did he do? What is this really about?” She tossed the towel back over her shoulder and lifted her hands, oozing tension. Evidently, there was more than a story here. 

“You know we’ve had some trouble on the island,” he said. “Just doing my due diligence when I heard he recently moved back. You’ve had problems with him?” 

She shook her head and frowned before letting out a rough laugh. “Problems? The man did me a favor by walking out on us without a word when Haley, my daughter, was two. At the time, he didn’t give me the time of day or return one call. Now he suddenly shows up and says he wants to make amends after basically telling me to go fuck myself without saying a word? I’m pissed that he thinks he can just walk back into my life, my daughter’s life. He bought a place, not just any place but a nice piece of property, forty acres, a nice big house, yet he couldn’t give two cents to his kid? No, no problems. I’m totally peachy,” she said with a bite. 

Mark never had been able to navigate women’s emotions. “Didn’t know that,” he said. “An expensive property? So he’s worth something.” 

Shana made a rude noise as she lifted the gray bin, glasses clinking, and walked back around the bar. “Guess that all depends on how you define being worth something.” 

Mark walked over to the bar and gestured to Lucky to sit. “You have any idea why he suddenly moved here?” 

Shana was now wiping down the bar again, her face not hiding her dislike. “No idea. As I said, he showed up here, walked in after years without a word, and said he wanted to make things right. I told him to go fuck himself. He asked me to hear him out, said he had reasons for doing what he did. I told him at one time I might have listened, but I really don’t give a shit now. As a matter of fact, I told him to leave and not set foot back in my bar.” She pointed to the bar top before picking up the rag again and scrubbing at it. “This is my place. Now, why he’s here is the million-dollar question. I really don’t care, but if he has any ideas about inserting himself into Haley’s life or mine, he won’t get that chance, and I told him as much. But you haven’t told me what he’s done or why you’re asking about him.” She had finally stopped wiping the scratched dark brown bar counter and looked up at him, unsmiling. 

“Just doing my due diligence, Shana. I don’t have anything on him. Lacy mentioned him to me this morning, and I just want to make sure everything is on the up and up, that he’s not moving here to cause problems. Is he retired, working? I mean, what does he do?” 

Shana glanced away and then smiled. “Ah, Lacy. Love her. Didn’t expect her to go to you. You planning on paying him a visit? Maybe you can ask him all that, because me asking would mean I give a shit, and I don’t. And, while you’re at it, remind him of the fact that he walked out of our lives, so he should stay out.” 

Now he had more questions. 

“Well, you’re my first stop, and he’s my next,” he said. “I’ll be sure to ask him. So what can you tell me about him, Walter Guzman?” 

“Crandall,” she said. “His name is Walter Crandall. I kept my name, and in fact, my daughter has my name too. Of every bad choice I made, giving her his name was not one, though I’ve had no shortage of people forcing their opinions on me about how not okay that was. As far as I know, he’s never been in trouble with the law. He never cheated on me, either, as far as I know. Instead, he worked all the time. Yes, his first love was his career, and I was second. He has a fondness for vanilla ice cream, hates seafood. Used to run in his younger days, but only when he was stressed. He doesn’t much care for animals, would never allow me to get a cat or dog. He’s a neat freak, can’t stand dirt, to the point that a glass can’t even be left in the sink. He has a thing for shoes. Hates beer but has a fondness for chocolate-flavored whiskey. He wouldn’t be caught dead in a place like this. Hates most sports except cricket.” 

Mark was getting a picture of someone he didn’t see fitting in on the island. Maybe his expression said so, as an odd smile pulled at the corners of Shana’s lips. 

“Wondering how someone like me could end up with someone like that?” she said. 

He had to remind himself he hadn’t yet met this man, but the image she had painted wasn’t flattering. He made himself shake his head. “I’m not going there. So, as far as you know, he’s not involved in anything questionable?” 

“Define questionable.” She leaned on the bar, her brows raised, her gaze intense. 

“Anything that raises a red flag.” 

She leaned back. “You’ll have to ask him, because even now, I’m wondering how I could have ever fallen for him. The best thing that came out of our being together was my daughter, and the next was him leaving. Other than that…” She lifted her hands and gave her head another shake. “Seriously, I have no idea why he’s here. I didn’t ask. Red flags? I don’t know. He works all the time. When he wasn’t working, he was always thinking of work. Anything else?” 

The way she’d said it, he realized she really didn’t want to know. That was something else he hadn’t expected. 

“What does he do for work?” he said. 

She pulled in a breath. “He’s a corporate executive. Marketing, that kind of thing. On a big scale, though. He runs a department for a big company, with a sizable staff working under him. He was always giving presentations, putting together sales pitches, closing deals. Nothing that interests me in the least. Are you looking for his specific job duties? That’s not something we discussed, ever, because I have no interest. All I know is he works with the kind of people I’m not interested in meeting, the kind of people who don’t bat an eye at paying a thousand dollars for dinner. I didn’t attend anything with him after we were married. And only one miserably embarrassing time before we were married, which I will not go into. At the time, I told myself it was because he knew I wasn’t interested, wouldn’t know the difference between a butter knife and a table knife, and failed miserably at bullshit small talk. He found it amusing. Whatever events he went to, he went alone. But in hindsight, I often wonder why he was so willing to keep me out of it.” 

He just stared at her, again wondering why that unsettled feeling just wouldn’t go away. Her gaze seemed to soften, and he wasn’t sure what she was thinking as she let out a sigh. 

“Yeah, we really weren’t a match,” she said. “Sorry, Chief, that’s all I can tell you. Again, as to why he’s really here, your guess is as good as mine.” 

“Thanks, Shana,” Mark said. “Anything else? Oh, and do you have his address, by any chance?” 

She turned and reached into a box behind the bar to pull out a card. “I can do better than that. He left his card with a phone number and address.” She held it out to him, and Mark reached for it. 

“I can take a photo with my phone,” he said, but she only waved him off. 

“Keep it, really. He left it on the bar, and instead of tossing it, I kept it. Seriously, you’ll be doing me a favor.” 

Mark shoved the card with the address scribbled on the back in his jacket pocket, then started to the door, saying, “Come on, Lucky.” 

“Oh, and, Chief, one more thing,” Shana called out. 

He turned back to her, his hand already on the door. 

“When you see Walter, give him a message for me. Tell him Haley and I are doing fine, better than fine, and if he gives a shit about his daughter, he’ll stay away from us. She doesn’t need him walking back into her life now to mess things up. And as far as making things right, tell him I’m not interested.” 

He didn’t know what to say, taking in the sharpness in her gaze. “I’ll give him your message. Thanks again, Shana,” he said. Then he walked out the door, his dog following him. 

He felt the rain sprinkling down as he pulled open the door to the Jeep and said, “Get in there, boy.” As Lucky jumped in, he took another second to observe the old bar, which wasn’t much to look at, and he wondered what kinds of things his digging would turn up on Walter Crandall. 

A man who wanted to make amends was someone who’d done something he needed to make amends for. Was it just the fact that he’d walked out on a wife and kid? 

Mark climbed in his Jeep and started the engine. Running his hand over his dog in the passenger seat, he took in the old car he knew belonged to Shana. Something about all of this just didn’t sit right. 

Chapter 4

Billy Jo’s windshield wipers flicked back and forth in the light rain as she pulled down a paved circular driveway bordered by trees and bushes, taking in the gloom and dreariness that seemed to affect more people than not on the island. The once landscaped front yard, always neat and tidy, was now piled with old wet leaves and debris that appeared forgotten. 

As she pulled up in front of Gail’s house, the siding that she thought had been white seemed mostly filled with hints of gray. So much had changed, as if the life of the home were slowly seeping away. It was just a feeling she got. Something about this house, this once welcoming property, seemed so empty. Loss hung heavy in the air. 

Gail’s pickup was parked in front of an older tan Explorer she knew had to be Tolly’s with a bad paint job she knew was to cover up the vandalism. She put her car in park and turned off the engine, breathing in the large shrimp and mushroom pizza, which she knew was Gail’s favorite. Damn, she wished she could do more for her. 

She reached for her cell phone and saw nothing from Mark, a silence she hoped wasn’t his way of saying he wouldn’t show. There were times she wanted to wring his neck. She typed out a quick text: Where are you? I’m at Gail’s and you’re not! Don’t you dare not show. 

She waited for a moment, feeling the knot in her stomach before she saw the three dots and then his text back: On my way. Do you need me to pick up pizza? 

She let out a breath. The front door had opened, and Gail was standing there, her arms crossed. Damn, she looked as if she’d lost more weight. She didn’t smile but lifted her hand in a wave. 

Billy Jo sent off a reply. No, I already did. Just hurry your ass up before it gets cold. 

His message popped up again: Five minutes, promise. 

Billy Jo shoved her phone in her purse, reached for the pizza box, and climbed out, juggling the box as she lifted her bulky purse over her shoulder. “Hi, Gail. Mark’s on his way,” she said. 

Just then, she heard his Jeep and spotted him driving in fast, the way he always did. He parked behind her as she shoved her door closed, and she waited as he climbed out and held the door for Lucky to jump down, his tail wagging all the way over to her. 

“Hey, you.” She gave him a rub with her free hand, and then he took off to Gail as Mark strode over to her. “You made it,” she couldn’t help herself from saying. 

He lifted his hand and called out, “Hey, Gail!” before he reached for the pizza box, then leaned in and kissed her. 

“How was your day?” she said, not knowing what to make of his blue eyes. Something was on his mind, or maybe whatever emotion she saw there was because she was making him break bread with Gail. She knew how much trouble he was having with all of this. She reached over and touched his arm, feeling his heavy jean jacket. The rain was beginning to pick up a bit. 

“Fine, busy,” he said. “Some crazy stuff and more crap. How was yours? Thought you were going to drop by the station first?” He managed to turn her and slide his hand over her lower back to have them walking to the open door, which Lucky had already gone through. 

“Couldn’t because my day got away from me.” And the pizza place was closer to Gail’s than town. “I sent you a text.” 

Mark said nothing at the same time Billy Jo didn’t miss the shadows that filled Gail’s eyes as she stared at Mark, not trying to force a smile, and said, “How have you been?” 

The edge in her tone gave away how much she was struggling. A good day, a bad day? Billy Jo figured the latter, by the gray sweats and bulky beige sweater, which she was pretty sure was Tolly’s. 

“I’m good, Gail,” Mark said. “See you have some yard work that needs taking care of.” 

Gail didn’t pull her gaze from Mark. The fondness that had always been there between them was now a wariness. “Had other things on my mind,” she said, and there it was, an awkwardness that lingered. Billy Jo had to fight the urge to wince. 

“Well, I don’t know about you two, but I’m absolutely starving,” she said. “I see Lucky has already made himself at home.” 

Gail stepped back. “Come on in, you two. Sorry this is still kind of awkward. I don’t have many stopping by. It’s been quite a while, Mark.” 

Billy Jo kicked off her shoes, and Mark closed the door behind him and gave his cowboy boots a quick wipe but kept them on. 

“Well, can I get either of you a beer?” Gail said. “I don’t have any wine left and haven’t worked up enough nerve to go into town. Plan on making another trip off island to stock up on things.” She had walked on ahead into the kitchen. 

Billy Jo tapped Mark on the chest and looked up to him, making a face. 

“What?” he said in a low voice. “I’m here, aren’t I?” 

She only shook her head as she walked ahead of him, and Mark called out, “Beer sounds good, Gail.” 

Gail had filled a bowl with water and set it on the floor, and Lucky was already lapping it up. Billy Jo took in the counter, which was filled with empty bottles: wine, beer, a few liquors. In the family room, boxes were stacked in the corner, and in the fireplace she could see half-burned paper. She made herself look over at Gail. “Never been a beer drinker,” she said. “I’ll just have some water.” 

Gail pulled a beer from the fridge and held it out to Mark, saying, “Here you go.” 

“Thanks, Gail.” Mark twisted off the cap. 

Billy Jo listened to Lucky lapping up the water as she shrugged out of her dark blue jacket and set it over the back of the chair. Mark had settled the pizza box on the counter. She realized Gail was already drinking a beer, evidently having started before they came. She was distracted, carrying the weight of everything on her shoulders. She’d already forgotten about Billy Jo’s water. 

“Let me get some plates,” she said. 

Damn, this was awkward. Maybe she should have come alone. She glanced over to Mark, who was looking around, staring at the boxes. He took a swallow of beer and shot her a look, having picked up on the problem. Billy Jo listened to the clatter as Gail set the plates down along with a roll of paper towels, then lifted the box lid. 

“Mark, come on,” she said. “I know you never shy away from eating. Dig in, considering you brought the pizza.” 

Billy Jo didn’t wait. She dropped a piece of pizza on a plate and handed it to Mark, and his blue eyes didn’t pull away. He really was struggling with being there. What was it with guys? She supposed Mark never got into an emotional black hole when he was struggling. She dropped another piece on a second plate and said, “Here, Gail,” then waited for Gail to take it before getting a piece for herself. 

Mark sat at the head of the table with a scrape of his chair, Gail at the other end, and Billy Jo took a bite of the pizza before she walked over to the cupboard and pulled out a glass. 

“Oh, geez, Billy Jo, I forgot about your water,” Gail said, scooting back her chair to get up. 

“Don’t worry, I got it,” Billy Jo said. “Sit down, Gail.” She filled the glass from the tap, brought it and her plate to the table, and fetched the box from the island as well before sitting down at the empty chair in the middle. 

Mark shoved the last of his piece in his mouth and reached for another. Gail took the tiniest bite ever and kept looking awkwardly over to Mark. Damn, the silence was unnerving. 

“So what’s with the empty bottles?” Billy Jo said after taking another bite. “You been drinking alone or cleaning house?” 

Gail dropped her half-eaten pizza on her plate and wiped her hands together before leaning back, reaching for her beer, and tipping it to drink. She looked over to Billy Jo, gesturing with the beer in her hand as she said, “Cleaning up, you could say. Those are from a while ago. Knowing you were coming, the place was…well, let’s just say I’m not much of a cleaner lately. It was so bad that I realized I needed to at least run the vacuum. But once I started vacuuming, I had to pick up, and one thing led to another…” Gail took another swallow of her beer and finished it. 

Billy Jo couldn’t help wondering how much she’d been drinking. She took in the short haircut she was sporting and the dark circles that had appeared under her eyes since Mark had told her about Tolly. “You sleeping?” she asked. 

Gail shrugged. 

Mark had finished off another piece and reached for a third, but this time he shot a quick glance to Billy Jo and then to Gail, and she realized he was listening more than she’d realized. 

“Is that a yes or a no?” she said. “I see you’ve lost more weight, too.” 

Gail let out a heavy sigh and a rough laugh. “Yes, Mom, the nights suck because that’s when the ghosts come out.” She reached for her pizza again and made herself take a bite. “I’m sleeping a few hours at a time. Had a nap before you came, so there is that. But I’d rather talk about anything else. You two, you look happy, good. Tell me what’s going on with you, the new house, anything. Come on, I need a distraction.” 

Billy Jo had to fight the urge to redirect the conversation back and make her talk about the ghosts, her feelings, and how she was really doing. 

“I’m investigating everyone on the island,” Mark said, leaning back in his chair with a creak. He took another bite and chewed, then swallowed, and his heavy gaze connected with hers. She felt every day that they were more and more on the same page, but then there was this. 

“You’re investigating everyone? Why? For what?” Gail leaned on the table, her pizza back on her plate. 

“We had a den of pedophiles here in positions of power, and the entire time I’ve been on this island, there has been one bad actor after another. It seems the elite of the world use this place as their personal playground. I’m looking into everyone. I want to know why everyone is here, how they make their money, and any secrets they’re hiding. Everyone has them, so I’m going to do my due diligence and find out what everyone is about, one by one. I will look into everyone’s closet so that never again will shenanigans of any kind happen on this island.” 

Mark hadn’t pulled his gaze from Gail. For a moment, Billy Jo couldn’t wrap her head around what he was doing, bringing up the very thing he’d said he didn’t want Gail anywhere near. 

“You’re investigating people who haven’t done anything?” Gail said. “Kind of stepping over the line there, Mark.” She put her pizza down and brushed her hands together. “But I have to say I agree with you.” 

Billy Jo turned to Gail, taking in the awkwardness and a hint of something she hadn’t seen in a long time. She wondered sometimes about the shadows that haunted her still. When would Tolly and what he’d done, what he’d been part of, leave her? 

Gail glanced out the window and then back to Mark. “Can I help?” 

Billy Jo turned to Mark, she was still holding her pizza. Mark was considering as he finished chewing, wearing that look he had when he was focused, saying nothing. She dragged her gaze back over to Gail, who was watching Mark expectantly. For a moment, she wanted to kick him under the table. 

“Yeah, actually, you can,” he said. 

Billy Jo whipped her head back to him. This had been her idea, and he’d said hell no. He must have realized she was staring at him, but he didn’t look her way. 

“Wonderful,” Gail said. “How?” 

Billy Jo angled her head, and now Mark did glance her way. 

“What can you tell me about Shana Guzman, who owns the Dog and Whistle, and her ex, Walter Crandall, who just moved back to the island?” he said. “She hates him. He disappeared for a while and now wants to make amends, though I don’t know for what, exactly.” He moved in the wooden chair, and it creaked again as he leaned back, setting a hand on the table. “Let’s start there. Tell me everything you know about both of them—who he is, what he does, and any ideas you have about why he’s suddenly back on the island. I want to know what he did and for whom, because I have to tell you, something about this and him isn’t sitting right.” 

Mark had that look about him again. Billy Jo didn’t know who the hell he was talking about, but he glanced back over to her as he said, “I get a feeling when something is off, and I have it now. Walter Crandall and Shana Guzman, I want to know everything about their story and what, exactly, he’s hiding in his closet.” 

Chapter 5

Billy Jo had a way of watching him that felt as if she were shooting daggers his way. She was intense, bold, and he couldn’t pull anything on her. He knew he should have talked to her before bringing up Shana and her ex, because Billy Jo and surprises couldn’t coexist. In fact, she was likely to pull him out of the room soon and ask him what the fuck he was doing. 

But instead of letting her, he leaned forward and set his hand over hers, and she stiffened. She settled down only when she was damn good and ready. Then there was Gail, who had seemed to brighten from the sadness and despair that was sucking the very life out of her. 

“Sorry, babe,” Mark said. “I know I should have mentioned this. Just been a shitty day. Never know what’s going to come out of left field. Gail, you should know that my wife suggested I ask you to lend a hand and give your insight into the people here, and I think she’s right. I mean, you know the people on this island better than I do, better than most, and could likely save me a lot of time and digging.” 

Gail leaned back, having suddenly gone quiet, and he didn’t know what to make of the expression on her face. “You know, Mark, I do know the people on this island, but some of the people I thought I knew, I realized I didn’t know them at all. You’re right about one thing: People can hide horrible secrets, and what you see isn’t always what’s real.” 

Now he knew she was talking about the preacher and Tolly. He wondered if he’d ever get the image of the last moments of Tolly’s life out of his head. He knew Billy Jo was right; he was going to have to sit down and talk with Gail about Tolly, only he didn’t know if he’d ever be able to find the words. 

“Yes, that’s true about everyone, Gail,” Billy Jo said, “but you know people here, and I think you can help make it easier for Mark so he’s not starting from scratch when he’s looking into them. This island has a lot of people who own places here but live elsewhere. You know who parks their money in real estate, who visits maybe a few weeks a year, and who lives here full time, and you know who the original residents of the island are. I bet you know a lot of secrets Mark doesn’t.” 

Mark hadn’t expected this reasonable encouragement from Billy Jo, who had pulled her hand out from under his and leaned back, crossing her arms over her chest. At times, she was so damn hard to read, and he knew he had to tread carefully. 

“Did you have any idea of the wise woman you were marrying, Mark?” Gail said. 

He had to remind himself every day. “I know how lucky I am,” he replied. 

Billy Jo didn’t look at him right away, but when she did, that familiar awkwardness was there. She still didn’t know how to take a compliment. Gail was watching them both closely, and Billy Jo didn’t appear amused. 

“Okay, so Shana and Walter,” Mark said, then sighed and leaned forward, resting his forearms on the table after he had pushed his plate away. He reached for his beer and took a swallow. Billy Jo was still watching him, and he knew she wanted a word or two with him. 

“Shana is a damn hard worker,” Gail said. “She and Walter were never a match. You know how some men marry beneath them? Well, Walter comes from that world. With his people, with the circles he moved in, Shana never fit. I have no idea how they met, but I do know Shana is one of the island kids. She grew up with backwoods bonfires, swimming at the local lakes, roasting hotdogs over a fire, and crushing peanuts on the floor of the old bar, whereas Walter is all about black tie events, Gucci, and getting a reservation at a five-star restaurant where the dinner service placement confuses the hell out of the average person. Shana wouldn’t have a clue which fork to use, or which knife, or that the drinkware depends on the wine you choose. Don’t even get me started on the bread plate and whether it goes on the right or left. The types of formal dinners Walter was accustomed to have a dress code, jacket and tie or dress and heels, with butlers and etiquette to boot. 

“I remember hearing from her once what a nightmare it was the one time he took her to a charity dinner, a work dinner. She was expecting something resembling what you might see with a local charity, maybe auctions or something with the money going to the needy. After all, what is a charity for? But she was humiliated when she discovered the dinner was only about getting money for a large foundation. She never really understood the people there, who she never in a million years could have fit in with. She said everything about the night was all show. She messed up every protocol possible, using the wrong fork, taking bread from the plate of the man to her right, not having a clue what the hell anyone was talking about. She drank too much and spilled her last glass of wine. 

“That was all she shared. She was embarrassed and uncomfortable, and she said Walter was furious with her. When they got home, she told him not to ever take her to an event like that again. Apparently, he didn’t. He went alone, and she worked at her bar, and eventually he went off island to wherever he went. Never saw them together at all. I do know he worked for some big philanthropic foundation, and when I say big, I mean big, all about money. The people he worked with lived in a world the average person is never invited to. 

“Shana didn’t want any part of it. What exactly he did I can’t tell you, but I do know he worked with private family foundations, handling the kind of money you and I will never see in this lifetime. To tell you the truth, it’s not so much that he and Shana were opposites, because opposites do work at times. It was that Shana didn’t belong in his world. Anyway, he was always away, traveling for work, I suppose, and it wasn’t as if they had been together that long. Don’t know why he married her—on a whim, maybe. But then she was pregnant, and if I recall, he wasn’t even in town when his daughter was born.” She pulled her arms across her chest, and her brow knit. She was thinking. 

“Shana said he walked out when her daughter was two,” Mark said. “He didn’t provide any support, just left.” 

Gail shrugged. “I don’t know about that, but I heard that one day he was there and the next he was gone. Shana kept her head up and moved on. News came that they divorced, but she didn’t share much about it. You said Walter has moved back to the island?” 

Mark didn’t have to look over to his wife to know she was still watching him closely. He tapped the table. “Yes. I stopped in and had a word with Shana. He bought a big property on the west end.” 

“You mean the forty waterfront acres with the boat house and caretaker’s house?” Gail said. “It’s a gated property that was listed at twelve million and change.” 

He really didn’t know the island like Gail. Now he did glance at Billy Jo. “Well, I didn’t have a chance to check that part, but it sounds about right. Take it you know the property? I had Carmen run the address and tax records. Haven’t paid him a visit yet, but I plan to after I run a few checks on him first.” 

Billy Jo had looked away and become unusually quiet. 

“Where would you look first?” Mark said, flicking his gaze to Gail, who looked between Billy Jo and him. 

“Well, I would find out why he’s here,” she said. “Go talk to him face to face and get a read on him before you start digging into his past, his life. Come on, Mark. You have the best instincts in a cop, and you know when someone’s lying to you or something is off. But at the same time, and this is just a word of advice, you also want to be careful how much you dig, because the kind of investigating you’re doing could lead you down rabbit holes you may not want to go down. Everyone has secrets, things they’d never want anyone to know about them. And sometimes those secrets can be dark and dirty, and they change how people see you in the community. If he’s a bad guy, sure, you expose the shit out of him. But if you’re not one hundred percent sure, remember that in the wrong hands, a well-placed lie or assumption can spread like wildfire. And that can destroy someone.” 

He wondered whether they were talking about her now, about how the people of the island had tarred and feathered her over what Tolly had done. Billy Jo still said nothing. 

“I know very well how misinformation and disinformation are used,” Mark said, “and I’m also well aware of how to destroy someone’s credibility with a well-placed and believable lie. You probably know who on the island is trustworthy, who is questionable, who not to trust, and who looks too good to be true.” 

The quiet was unsettling. Gail flicked her blue eyes, which were filled with the weight of the world, over to him as she said, “So how does this work? You want to call me or just swing by when you have questions?” 

Billy Jo pulled in a rather deep breath. “How it works is that you’ll need to leave this house, Gail. You’ll work out of the station,” she said, then turned her sharp gaze on Mark, who knew he was frowning. “That works for you, doesn’t it, Mark?” 

Now what the hell was he supposed to say? He tapped his fingers on the table and took in the tightness around his wife’s mouth. 

“Sure,” was all he said, though he suspected that having Gail work out of the station was not a good idea at all. 


Are you all caught up?


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New Releases

Get a sneak peek of the next Billy Jo McCabe mystery

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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."

Paytonpuppy

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.


For My Audible Book Listeners

Audible has given me FREE audiobook codes to pass on to you for select titles in this series!  In turn, please be sure to take a few moments after listening to leave an honest online review.  Click the yellow button below to claim a code. 

*Due to limited availability, codes must be redeemed within 48 hours or will be reassigned to another requester.

If you are not currently an Audible member, you can still sign up and claim a free code without signing up for a membership or subscription. If you have any issues, Audible’s Customer Care team is just one phone call away & are happy to help–you can reach them directly at (888) 283-5051.


Join My Street Team

Are you a super fan of the Friessens, O’Connells, McCabes and more? 
I’m looking for eager readers to join my brand new Facebook street team to provide feedback and share your enthusiasm for my stories via reviews, social media and good ‘ole word-of-mouth.  Interested?  Click the button below to join the team. 

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Additionally, when my group reaches 2,000 members, I’ll be giving away a new waterproof Kindle Paperwhite to one lucky team member! 

As always, thank you for your consideration and support–I’m truly grateful!

Read More
New Releases

Book 1 in my new series is now available!

New Release

Finding Home

Finding Home

What happens when a family loses everything and has no place to go?

Terrance Mack has a wife and two young boys. Never in a million years did he expect to find his family living on the streets, with no home, no jobs, in a position where everything they owned has been taken from them in the cruelest of ways. As the family struggles to stay together, they encounter a hard and unfriendly way of life, having to move from town to town, being harassed by the police and by locals, and confronting danger each day. Living on the streets is nothing as he expected.

All Terrance wants for his family is for someone to give them a chance—a chance for a new beginning, a roof over their heads, the opportunity to once again build a life without constant fear, having to look over their shoulders, feeling as if the rug will continue to be yanked out from under them again and again.

The worst is seeing the light in his wife’s eyes slowly diminish, along with the hope they once had. Terrance carries a constant weight, and every day brings a new challenge as doors close and they’re forced to move on. Even though they’ve stayed together, finding a place to stay has forced the family into survival mode, living one day at a time. The dignity Terrance once took for granted has become something he struggles to hold on to as he dreams of one day being able to have a peaceful night’s sleep.

More info →
Buy now!

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For My Audible Book Listeners

Audible has given me FREE audiobook codes to pass on to you for select titles in this series!  In turn, please be sure to take a few moments after listening to leave an honest online review.  Click the yellow button below to claim a code. 

*Due to limited availability, codes must be redeemed within 48 hours or will be reassigned to another requester.

If you are not currently an Audible member, you can still sign up and claim a free code without signing up for a membership or subscription. If you have any issues, Audible’s Customer Care team is just one phone call away & are happy to help–you can reach them directly at (888) 283-5051.


Join My Street Team

Are you a super fan of the Friessens, O’Connells, McCabes and more? 
I’m looking for eager readers to join my brand new Facebook street team to provide feedback and share your enthusiasm for my stories via reviews, social media and good ‘ole word-of-mouth.  Interested?  Click the button below to join the team. 

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Additionally, when my group reaches 2,000 members, I’ll be giving away a new waterproof Kindle Paperwhite to one lucky team member! 

As always, thank you for your consideration and support–I’m truly grateful!

Read More
New Releases

The O’Connells return in audio! 🎧

Now on Audio

“…crammed with action, drama and intrigue…Yet another well written and addictive story…” ★★★★★ Samanthagirl, Amazon UK Reviewer

Narrated by John Mo


$2.99 Boxed Set Sale

“Tears and laughter and lots of tissue. A GREAT READ FOR WEEKEND.” ★★★★★ Lartis, Amazon Reviewer

The Friessens Books 1 – 5

The Friessens Books 1 – 5

In this box set of emotional romances, the Friessen family siblings find their relationships tested, lay their hearts on the line, and discover lasting love!

The Reunion (The Friessens, #1)

The Bloodline (The Friessens, #2)

The Promise (The Friessens, #3)

The Business Plan (The Friessens, #4)

The Decision (The Friessens, #5)

 

More info →

For My Audible Book Listeners

Audible has given me FREE audiobook codes to pass on to you for select titles in this series!  In turn, please be sure to take a few moments after listening to leave an honest online review.  Click the yellow button below to claim a code. 

*Due to limited availability, codes must be redeemed within 48 hours or will be reassigned to another requester.

If you are not currently an Audible member, you can still sign up and claim a free code without signing up for a membership or subscription. If you have any issues, Audible’s Customer Care team is just one phone call away & are happy to help–you can reach them directly at (888) 283-5051.


Join My Street Team

Are you a super fan of the Friessens, O’Connells, McCabes and more? 
I’m looking for eager readers to join my brand new Facebook street team to provide feedback and share your enthusiasm for my stories via reviews, social media and good ‘ole word-of-mouth.  Interested?  Click the button below to join the team. 

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Additionally, when my group reaches 2,000 members, I’ll be giving away a new waterproof Kindle Paperwhite to one lucky team member! 

As always, thank you for your consideration and support–I’m truly grateful!

Read More
New Releases

A new audio release & more

Now on Audio

The social worker and the cop, an unlikely couple drawn together on a small, secluded Pacific Northwest island where nothing is as it seems. Includes The Trap, Above the Law and The Stranger at the Door.

Grab a FREE US or UK Audible code below–first come, first served!  
Honest reviews are much appreciated.


$2.99 eBook Sale

It’s never a good thing when a corpse appears when you least expect it…

Buy from GoodReads

Also in audio
(regular pricing applies)


Free eBook

He stopped for an accident and stumbled upon the one woman he’d been looking for all his life.

“…a delightful delicious romance…” Kindle Customer


For My Audible Book Listeners

Audible has given me FREE audiobook codes to pass on to you for select titles in this series!  In turn, please be sure to take a few moments after listening to leave an honest online review.  Click the yellow button below to claim a code. 

*Due to limited availability, codes must be redeemed within 48 hours or will be reassigned to another requester.

If you are not currently an Audible member, you can still sign up and claim a free code without signing up for a membership or subscription. If you have any issues, Audible’s Customer Care team is just one phone call away & are happy to help–you can reach them directly at (888) 283-5051.


Join My Street Team

Are you a super fan of the Friessens, O’Connells, McCabes and more? 
I’m looking for eager readers to join my brand new Facebook street team to provide feedback and share your enthusiasm for my stories via reviews, social media and good ‘ole word-of-mouth.  Interested?  Click the button below to join the team. 

Free icons | Kungfuoctopus's Blog

Additionally, when my group reaches 2,000 members, I’ll be giving away a new waterproof Kindle Paperwhite to one lucky team member! 

As always, thank you for your consideration and support–I’m truly grateful!

Read More
New Releases

★★ Special Release Day Sale★★

TODAY ONLY, grab this new release for $2.99!* 
But hurry–sale ends at 11:59pm Pacific Time tonight!

*Also applies to pre-orders

The Children

The Children

She picked up the wrong file, and now everything is falling apart.

 

 

From New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Lorhainne Eckhart comes a new Billy Jo McCabe mystery set on a small island in the Pacific Northwest. When social worker Billy Jo McCabe accidentally picks up the wrong file, she discovers a shocking, twisted mystery plotted by a high-ranking social worker in the DCFS.

 

When Billy Jo McCabe accidentally picks up the wrong file, before she realizes her mistake, she discovers a secret no one was supposed to find.

She takes the file to the newly appointed chief of police, Mark Friessen, but he doesn’t believe her—that is, until they discover dozens more files and missing money from vulnerable at-risk children who have aged out of the system and are living on the streets.

As she digs into the files, the system, and the people involved, everything falls apart.

And what Mark and Billy Jo discover is a secret far more shocking than missing money.

More info →
Buy now!

For My Audible Book Listeners

Audible has given me FREE audiobook codes to pass on to you for select titles in this series!  In turn, please be sure to take a few moments after listening to leave an honest online review.  Click the yellow button below to claim a code. 

*Due to limited availability, codes must be redeemed within 48 hours or will be reassigned to another requester.

If you are not currently an Audible member, you can still sign up and claim a free code without signing up for a membership or subscription. If you have any issues, Audible’s Customer Care team is just one phone call away & are happy to help–you can reach them directly at (888) 283-5051.


Join My Street Team

Are you a super fan of the Friessens, O’Connells, McCabes and more? 
I’m looking for eager readers to join my brand new Facebook street team to provide feedback and share your enthusiasm for my stories via reviews, social media and good ‘ole word-of-mouth.  Interested?  Click the button below to join the team. 

Free icons | Kungfuoctopus's Blog

Additionally, when my group reaches 2,000 members, I’ll be giving away a new waterproof Kindle Paperwhite to one lucky team member! 

As always, thank you for your consideration and support–I’m truly grateful!

Read More
New Releases

The newest Billy Jo McCabe Mystery is here!

It’s Release Day

The Stranger at the Door

The Stranger at the Door

She knocked on his door. He never should have answered.

More info →
Buy now!

******

Plus, download a FREE bonus short!

Ever want to get into the head of a character and understand why he is the way he is? Read TRUTH AND LIES, a bonus short story on Ash Byrd.


For My Audible Book Listeners

There is a very limited number of US/UK Audible codes available for select Billy Jo McCabe titles!

In turn, please take a few moments after listening to leave an honest online review.  Click the yellow button below to claim a code. 

*Due to limited availability, codes must be redeemed within 48 hours or will be reassigned to another requester.

If you are not currently an Audible member, you can still sign up and claim a free code without signing up for a membership or subscription. If you have any issues, Audible’s Customer Care team is just one phone call away & are happy to help–you can reach them directly at (888) 283-5051.


Join My Street Team

Are you a super fan of the Friessens, O’Connells, McCabes and more? 
I’m looking for eager readers to join my brand new Facebook street team to provide feedback and share your enthusiasm for my stories via reviews, social media and good ‘ole word-of-mouth.  Interested?  Click the button below to join the team. 

Free icons | Kungfuoctopus's Blog

Additionally, when my group reaches 2,000 members, I’ll be giving away a new waterproof Kindle Paperwhite to one lucky team member! 

As always, thank you for your consideration and support–I’m truly grateful!

Read More