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A Taste of... Shadow's Darkness

A Taste of… Shadow’s Darkness

Chapter One

“What’s the point of owning your own company if you can’t even pay the mortgage?”

Roger Biggio flinched at the reminder of his failure. His wife was so adamant in making her point that her bottle-blond hair flipped into her face, so that she had to bat it away. His heart sank a bit.

Looking at Patsy’s hair, with the gray streaks and dark roots showing, Roger felt another wave of guilt. His loving wife had sacrificed her salon visits when money got tight. Which had only happened because he’d decided to give up his job and start his own company.

Cybersecurity and investigation was a lucrative job in a growing field. Diving into cases of cyberbullying, wire fraud, and computer hacking had satisfied both his technical side and his love of crime stories. His work made him feel like a modern-day Sherlock Holmes. It was thrilling, and he had a knack for it.

For most of his life, he’d made good money with steady raises thanks to dedicated training leading to years of experience. Starting his own company, where he was the boss and made all the decisions, seemed like the next obvious step in his professional growth.

The problem was inflow. He rarely got paid. Leaving his corporate job to branch out on his own meant all the work was on his shoulders, not just the parts he was good at.

Roger had to advertise, schmooze within his network, handle all the bookkeeping, and keep his certifications up to date since there was no one to remind him. He didn’t have a human resources department…or any other employees, for that matter.

While he didn’t have the client list or the recurring contracts that his old employer had, he’d made a name for himself in the field and was certain his reputation would be enough to sustain him once word got out.

When he first struck out on his own, picking up individual clients hadn’t been too difficult. But those jobs were smaller and didn’t pay as much.

The tide turned when he recently landed a big contract from the local hospital. They’d noticed inventory discrepancies in their in-house pharmacy and wanted Roger to go through the system and find the problem. It meant long hours, but the job paid well. Of course, he wouldn’t get the balance due on the contract until he’d filed his report. And he wasn’t quite ready to do that.

“Just because I can’t pay it now doesn’t mean I can’t pay it in the future. Every business runs at a loss for the first couple of years. We just have to get through this, and then we’ll be fine.”

He knew he sounded like a broken record, repeating the same thing over the last year and a half. Why wasn’t she getting it? The business was still pretty new, so of course things were slow now. But every day was an opportunity to generate interest. Roger was certain the day was just around the corner when he’d have the steady list of clients he needed to maintain a healthy income.

“What future?” Patsy threw her hands out, not listening to him once again. “How are you going to have a future after we get kicked out of our house when the bank forecloses on it?”

“I can always sleep at my office.” The response was thoughtless and idiotic. He knew it as soon as the words left his mouth and his wife’s face crumpled. This was going to get ugly.

You. You can sleep at your office. The office you pay for even when you can’t pay the mortgage here. For our home. Where we’re both supposed to live.” She crossed her arms, her hands gripping her elbows.

“That’s not what I meant, babe.” He sighed and scrubbed his hands over his face. “I just meant that, as long as I have my business to fall back on, things will get better. And I’m willing to work day and night to prove to you how serious I am. We just have to tighten our belts a little bit for now.”

“How about instead of sacrificing our home for your business, you give up your office in town and just work from home? That rental is where you spend most of our money, and it’s an unnecessary expense. You have everything you need here.” Patsy sounded patient, rational, and nothing like her normal self.

“I can’t. I need that office space. Besides, I want to keep a solid work-home divide. Otherwise, I’d always feel the need to work, never relax. I’ve heard that from others.”

“Divide.”

Roger recoiled. He’d pushed her too far. He knew it. But he had to make her understand how much potential he had with this career path. And the office was an added layer of security, keeping their home separate and private. While his clients were always happy with his work, the targets of his investigations were less than thrilled to have a light shined on their activities.

Patsy ran her fingers through her hair, combing it back from her face. She looked gentle and serene. But then the sparks in her beautiful hazel eyes died as she went completely still.

Hell was waiting in that silence. He mentally prepared for her to lash out at him. Animated Patsy was a joy to behold. Quiet Patsy was a Bouncing Betty ready to detonate.

“You have your damn divide firmly in place already.” She turned and walked to the foyer.

He rushed to follow her. This was not a good sign. Not good at all. She should be yelling, maybe even throwing stuff.

“Hon—”

“I’ve made countless sacrifices to help your business succeed. I want you to succeed. But every decision you make, you make on your own. Every time something must give, I’m the one to give it. Well, I’m done giving.”

She laughed, but her hands trembled as she picked up her purse and slipped on her shoes. He stood watching her, unsure what to say or do. Thoughts raced through his mind, but none were up to the task of appeasing Patsy.

“I have nothing left to give. Not a care. Not a damn. Not a single fuck left. Go live in your office. That’s clearly where you want to be and where you’re happiest. Go play big shot businessman for your clients with all your expensive trappings. I’m tired of playing a game I can’t win.”

She straightened, and he prepared to dodge whatever she hurled at him. But she never even looked back before walking out the door, closing it softly behind her.

The quiet click of the latch sliding into place sent a chill down Roger’s spine.

Last month, they’d had a big fight. A real doozy. She’d later labeled the argument his “trifecta of insensitivity.” Roger had been working long hours and treated himself to an afternoon off, playing a round of golf on the mainland. When Patsy found out, she lost it. She screamed about how she was working long hours and scrimping to help their budget and he decided to blow a chunk of change on eighteen holes.

Then, in typical fashion, she layered on all her other concerns. He was reminded how he hadn’t taken out the garbage for the last three weeks. How he couldn’t be bothered to put his dirty clothes in the hamper she’d moved for his convenience. How he hadn’t put a dirty dish in the dishwasher for as long as she could remember. All of it had bubbled over and spilled out in a rush of emotions.

But they’d talked after she cooled down, and Roger was working every day to be a better husband and partner. He was devoted to Patsy, and his stress about work wasn’t an excuse to neglect his responsibilities…or her.

She always hollered at him when he screwed up. That was how he knew this time was serious. This gentle, collected approach was new and terrifying. Roger stood there for several more minutes, shifting his weight from foot to foot and watching the door, waiting for his wife to return.

Since she hadn’t yelled, it meant she’d come back. Right? Of course she would. He took a deep breath and turned away from the entrance.

Patsy loved him and always came back after a fight. She was off collecting herself.

He couldn’t let her see him standing in the foyer waiting for her like a sad puppy. He had to play this cool. Maybe if she saw how unfazed he was, she would finally have some faith too.

It was late. By this time of night, he and Patsy were usually in bed. The fight probably got out of hand because they were overtired—that, and he’d chosen his words poorly. Like always. But he knew how to fix that.

Grabbing a snifter of whiskey, he beat a hasty retreat to his office. His tongue always betrayed him because he was terrible at spur-of-the-moment reasoning. He needed time to find the right words to convey his deepest thoughts and feelings. Pulling out his chair, he dropped down at his work desk, prepared to write a sincere apology and explanation to his one true love.

His home office setup was basic—high-tech on the inside, worn and dirty on the outside. He had a more expensive, showier desk in the office his clients visited in town, and he’d gotten a particleboard substitute for home. It was a bit crowded with three monitors, two horizontal and one vertical, but it had everything he needed to get the job done.

But his home retreat with all the gadgets and tech was somehow different tonight. Roger felt as worn and dirty as his equipment looked. Perhaps he was the human equivalent of a cheap desk, a particleboard husband. Patsy was his everything, and her unsettling calm had turned his world upside down.

Roger’s favorite part of his private setup was the multicolored keyboard. It was too flashy for his public-facing persona, but it made the time he spent working at home more enjoyable. At least it had, until tonight.

When pressed, the keys had a crisp snap that echoed throughout the house, informing his wife when he was busy without him needing to say a word. But tonight, there was no one to hear them. And the glowing keyboard felt more like warning lights than high-tech gadgetry.

Opening a word processing document, he started pouring his heart out to his wife. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been typing, minutes or hours, before he heard a sound somewhere in the house. He paused for a moment and listened. Footsteps in the living room.

His fingers moved faster. He’d already written his apology, but now he was compiling all the proof he needed to demonstrate to Patsy that his business was lucrative. He needed to do it in such a way that it still protected his clients’ anonymity.

One thing Patsy had never understood—because he’d shielded her from it—was how dangerous his job could be. When millions of dollars and professional reputations were on the line, his targets could go to extreme measures to bury the truth.

He copied over his invoices, showing how much he expected to make in the next few months. It was more than enough to cover all their bills. In fact, it was more than he’d been making at his last job. Once the hospital contract was finished, he’d have enough to not only repay Patsy for everything she’d given up, but to treat her to professional hair coloring for the nice cruise he was going to take her on.

Roger reflected for a moment before deleting that part. He couldn’t give away his surprise Christmas present so early.

He kept one ear tuned into her whereabouts. She was wandering around the house a bit. He fought against himself, trying to stay focused on what he was doing and not worry about his wife.

From the doorway, he sensed her presence, though the expected yelling hadn’t started yet. Guilt twisted Roger’s stomach. Could he have pushed things too far? Made her feel like he didn’t actually care? That wasn’t what he wanted. He loved Patsy with all his heart. Once she read the love letter and saw how bright their future was, she’d understand.

“One more minute, baby, please. I promise I’m not ignoring you. When you see this, what I’ve just written, I think you’ll understand and hopefully even forgive me. We won’t lose this house. I can prove it.” He hit the print button before glancing over without fully turning his head.

Her petite shape was a shadow in the doorway. He’d forgotten to turn on the light when he’d come into the office, so she was backlit from the hallway lights. She moved closer, likely to read what he’d sent to the printer. A sharp pinch in his arm made him jump.

Stunned, he rolled his chair to the side, swiveling to face her. The movement must’ve been too abrupt. Or he’d drunk that whiskey too fast. The world wobbled around him.

“What the hell, babe? That hurt.”

He had to struggle to lift his eyes to stare at Patsy. For some reason, his lids were so heavy. He craned his neck up instead, his head falling back on his leather headrest.

She was still…so quiet.

Her shape seemed wrong, somehow. Her shoulders were too wide. She was opening my desk drawers and looking under my keyboard. What was she searching for?

After a few clicks on my keyboard, she glared at me with eyes I didn’t recognize. She reached behind her and pulled out something that looked like…a thick, metal pole or…something.

“What’s going on? Babe?” Roger’s legs and arms tingled. A chill spread from his limbs to his chest. His wife stood there, looming. No. That wasn’t right. His wife was a tiny woman, thin. Not broad and…

“Oh, we’re not close enough for you to call me babe, Mr. Biggio. And since you’re expecting your wife, I need to move quickly. How do I access your cloud server?” The voice came to him, warbled and distorted. It reminded him of the tin can telephones he’d made as a child. His mind wandered back to calmer times, playing with his childhood friends.

“Wha…I don’t…why?”

“Give me the access codes to your server where you store all your work.”

Wait. That’s not Patsy’s voice. Why couldn’t he think? The pinch! His adrenaline started pumping as he realized the stranger had drugged him in his own house. “Who are…I don’t…”

“Damnit. The drugs are kicking in too fast.” The object in their hand was silver, shiny, cylindrical.

The stranger leaned over the desk, moving the gadget over the monitors. Even through his fog, Roger recognized it. A large magnet. As it was placed on his PC tower, his letter to his wife rippled as the hard drive struggled against the electromagnetic interference. Briefly he wondered why his printer hadn’t spit out the letter yet.

Like a human wave at a sports stadium, each screen turned black, one after another, as the operating system was wiped clean. But the stranger hadn’t gained access to Roger’s encrypted cloud backup system. His PC might be toast, but Roger prayed this person wouldn’t get their hands on his client files.

His half-numb legs kicked reflexively, lifting him out of his chair. His balance wasn’t there, though, and he fell back. The chair spun under his weight, rotating him back toward his desk. A photo of his wife from their last vacation together rested next to his blue computer screen.

Patsy. He had to get away, get to Patsy. Make everything right.

“Whose why?” Roger’s brain was foggy, his tongue thick. He struggled to use the right words. “The ow my arm.”

Using all his concentration, he managed to get upright. The man—he thought it was a man with short hair—stepped back, laughing at him.

Roger tried to take a swing at him but missed and stumbled. His shin smashed into his desk. The glow from the monitors, the only source of light in the room, wobbled. The world danced once again, and Roger didn’t know how to make it stop.

He couldn’t feel anything. No dizziness. No panic. No pain. Even the adrenaline was fading as the beat of his heart slowed. Whatever had been in that syringe made his brain and body start to disconnect.

The strange human shape reached for him again as Roger pitched forward. A terrifying, tingling darkness clouded his vision, but he spied Patsy’s beaming smile beside his monitor. As a lone tear trickled down his cheek, he prayed Patsy would forgive him.

 

Chapter Two

Seriously?

Seriously?

Sheriff Rebecca West simply couldn’t believe what was happening on her island. Was it truly cursed, like so many of the town folk seemed to believe? Or was it just her? Was she the curse that brought death to this tourist town?

Does death and destruction follow me everywhere I go? Am I the cause of all the bad things that have happened on this otherwise peaceful island?

All she and her newest deputy had wanted to do was visit the grave of the former sheriff, Alden Wallace. After that, they’d simply sought out the caretaker to discuss the unkempt condition of the cemetery.

Instead, they’d found…this.

“Never a dull moment on this side of the desk.”

Deputy Viviane Darby had a way of succinctly characterizing the horrors of her new role. Her troubled brown eyes were locked onto the bloated, blotchy face of a man hanging from the rafters inside the caretaker’s shed at Oceanview Cemetery.

Rebecca worried this could be yet another victim Viviane knew. In some ironic twist, the man had taken his final breath at a graveyard, where Rebecca and Viviane had been the ones to find him.

Better us than some innocent who’d be scarred for life.

There was something peculiarly gruesome about any strangulation death exaggerated by hanging.

Any body part that was tightly bound swelled, deformed, and changed colors as the trapped blood died and pressure built within the veins. The skin of the face warped out of shape, and parts not normally seen became exposed. Delicate membranes swelled, expanded, or even popped while the outer layer of intact skin folded as it stretched.

Especially in the August heat.

For many people, seeing a face so badly disfigured would trigger an instinctual fear response. Rebecca’s deputy was holding up well so far.

Rebecca was also proud that Viviane wasn’t automatically considering this a suicide, even though initial impressions leaned in that direction.

A professional law enforcement officer didn’t have the luxury of assuming anything, and each death had to be approached with an open mind and a meticulous eye for detail, regardless of how obvious the circumstances might appear on the surface.

Inside the work shed, concrete scraped beneath Rebecca’s shoes as she shifted to take pictures of the rest of the scene. With an unusually high ceiling but a small footprint, the wooden building seemed impractical. So much so that locals mocked the shape, joking that the roof was extra high to allow ample meeting space for all the spirits of the departed.

Rebecca shook her head at the thought, goose bumps rising on her arms.

In the hour since she and Viviane had discovered the body, Rebecca had called in the crime scene techs and the M.E. before cataloging the evidence.

A body, a rope, and a knocked-over bench. The bench matched the shed’s worktable, in age and wear, and had been moved out of the way until it could be carted off to the forensics van. Viviane had found the padlock for the double doors on the ground a few feet away. It was unlatched but didn’t appear damaged when she bagged it.

Questions rapidly formed in Rebecca’s mind. Who was the dead man? The lock could’ve been picked, or perhaps someone had a key. Did the cemetery simply symbolize death, or was there a deeper connection?

The decedent’s identity would have to wait until Dr. Bailey Flynn and her assistants were ready. Currently, Bailey was having a debate with the crime scene techs about the best way to get the body down without destroying any potential evidence.

The techs had already collected samples of the bodily fluids evacuated at the time of death, most of which had pooled on the concrete below the corpse. That elimination was the only mark on the ground to indicate that a death had happened here. There were no footprints, drag marks, or anything else.

Despite the tidiness of the scene, Rebecca had insisted on pictures being taken from every angle, and she had made sure to get her own. Not because she doubted the techs’ abilities, but because she felt better having her own copies to review while the case was still fresh and raw.

“We’re done with everything below the body.” Justin Drake, the unofficial spokesperson for his group of techs, pointed to the wooden rafter where the rope was stretched tight. He was the only chatty one on his crew. Rebecca liked him.

“Then can I get the gurney in here and position it under the body?” Bailey walked in, pulling the strap of an N95 face mask over her tightly braided black hair.

When Justin turned to Rebecca, she took one final look around. “I don’t see any issue with that.”

“Let’s lay down plastic first.” The tech waved his hands, outlining the area he wanted covered.

Bailey’s gloved hands thumped as she clapped her palms together. “Good plan. You never know how squishy or squirty these bodies will be until you get them horizontal.”

“Squirty!” Viviane squeaked, then cleared her throat, looking around desperately for an excuse to leave.

“Deputy Darby.”

Like the female lead in a slasher flick, Viviane slowly turned her head to face Rebecca.

“Why don’t you clear out, so they have room to work? You still need to fingerprint the lock and draw a rendering of the scene to scale.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Needing no further prompting, Viviane fled the building.

Bailey, with the help of Justin, laid out the plastic sheeting they would lower the body onto. “Breaking in the rookies is always so much fun. Remind her that the sooner she learns to laugh in the face of death, the easier it’ll be for her to deal with the nightmares our jobs bring. Vi’s a soft one. She’s going to struggle with that.”

Rebecca stepped out of the way, closer to the door. “Yeah, but if I break them too hard right out of the gate, I’ll be the one getting my hands dirty and dealing with the smelly stuff while they huddle around the cruisers trying to look busy.” She pointed over her shoulder where Viviane had been joined by Senior Deputy Hoyt Frost, Vi’s training officer. His long, lanky frame made him easy to find in any crowd.

“Oh, don’t blame Frost on me.” Bailey struggled to get the gurney in and properly aligned without disturbing the plastic ground covering. “His infamous weak stomach was well established before I worked with him.”

A snicker escaped her assistant, Margo Witt, a thirtysomething, physically fit woman with a freckled face. Bailey deliberately ignored her.

“So! About that rope!” Bailey finished smoothing out the plastic tarp. “Justin, are you willing to get him down while we catch?”

After another round of debates that Rebecca stayed out of, the beam was removed and lowered with the body onto the gurney. They’d determined that the beam wasn’t structural to the shed, so removing the entire thing prevented spraying sawdust around the potential crime scene.

Once Bailey was back in her lab, she could carefully remove the rope from Roger’s neck and give it to the techs for testing. Just from looking at it, Rebecca guessed the material was natural fiber, probably hemp.

With the rope preserved so it could be examined by the forensic techs, Justin mouthed, Timber, and the corpse and wood beam were lowered.

The stiff corpse had to be shifted and carefully adjusted as it came to rest. The beam complicated matters, since there was little room for both the body and the long piece of wood on Bailey’s cart. With the time already two hours past noon, the day was plenty warm, plumping the body slightly with decomposition.

But at least they’d found it before the bugs did. It could have been so much worse.

“I’m guessing time of death was about twelve hours ago. He’s in full rigor.” Bailey grunted as she maneuvered the body.

Even freed from hanging, the man’s chin remained tucked against his chest, obscuring his face and trapping the rope. Still, Rebecca continued to take pictures.

Bailey pulled her hand from the man’s back pocket and held up a wallet. “This might be helpful.”

Already gloved up, Rebecca reached for the evidence.

“Finally got him down?” Frost asked, joining them.

If Hoyt had been standing straight, he would have needed to duck through the door. But he almost always walked in a slouch. He was a good man to have at her back, except when the sight or smell of dead bodies had him gagging.

His weak stomach was one of the many reasons he’d refused the office of sheriff, despite serving as a deputy longer than anyone else on the team. He hadn’t changed his mind when Rebecca had pointed out that sheriffs did less of the squirty work than their deputies. In reality, the man simply didn’t want the job.

“Boss, thought you’d want to know the new guy’s here.” Hoyt pointed over his shoulder, turning his body with the movement to give Rebecca a better view.

After years of the sheriff’s office running with a thin crew, she was finally hiring some trusted officers. Finding someone she could ensure was not corrupt had been the hard part. Worries over hiring compromised employees had led her predecessor to institute a hiring freeze long before she’d joined them.

Rebecca was pulled from her thoughts about staffing when Hoyt pivoted to talking about the identity of their victim. “Even without seeing his face, I can tell you that’s not the caretaker, Abe Barclay. Abe’s a big guy, as in heavy.” Hoyt rubbed the back of his neck while still keeping his distance from the body on the gurney.

With so many unconnected threads being tossed her way at once, Rebecca chose to focus on the one Bailey had handed her first. She flipped open the wallet and pulled out the driver’s license, crouching to examine the dead man’s face. Now that he was on his back and gravity no longer tightened the noose, he was starting to look human again.

Rebecca glanced up at Bailey. “Didn’t happen to find a suicide note in his pocket by chance?”

The M.E. shook her head. “Just the wallet.”

Though Rebecca took another few moments to check all the compartments inside the wallet for a note, aside from the driver’s license, twenty bucks, and a few credit cards, she came up empty.

“Our victim’s name is Roger Biggio.” She held the license closer to the man’s face. “The face is a bit twisted, but he still matches his picture.”

Hoyt gazed up at the high ceiling as if deep in thought. He knew just about everyone on the island. “Doesn’t ring a bell.”

“Then run that name for me. And send Jake over. It’s his first day…maybe we’ll see how he handles the mess. Since it’s our shift overlap, have Viviane track down Abe the caretaker. And make sure she asks when he was last in this work shed. Also find out who else might have a key to it.”

Hoyt stayed still, his eyes twitching as Rebecca lobbed tasks at him. She raised an eyebrow, waiting to see if he was going to ask her to repeat any of it.

“On it, Boss.” He took a step toward the tree where Viviane stood sketching the scene, then he paused and turned to where a tall man in a crisp, new deputy uniform was watching them with the piercing, pale blue eyes of a husky.

It looked like Hoyt would choose heading to his cruiser until he pivoted and marched toward the new deputy instead.

Bailey had a twisted smile when she looked up at the sheriff. “Is it pick on Frost day? ’Cause I have to admit, that’s my favorite day of the week.”

“Just giving him some payback.” Rebecca took the evidence bag that Justin Drake held out, giving him a nod of thanks before filling out the label. “He’s been having entirely too much fun hazing Darby. Nothing she can’t take, but I like to remind him not to turn it my way. Besides, he needs to get better at delegating tasks instead of doing the lion’s share of the work himself.”

Bailey shook her head without disturbing her intricate French braid. “Frost really should know better than to pick on the person whose job it is to delegate the work.”

Rebecca grinned, showing her teeth. “He’s been in a bit of a mood since I came back.”

“Yeah, he wasn’t in a great mood when we hauled your broken and bleeding body off that island in a medevac either. Or when I talked to him still covered in your blood.” Bailey subtly looked around, seeing how many people were within hearing distance.

It was just them, her assistant Margo, and Justin, who was working in a corner. Bailey’s other assistants were waiting just outside the door to allow her space to work.

“Have you talked about it yet? You and Hoyt?”

Rebecca didn’t want to recount how scared and pissed he’d been at her sending him and everyone else away on the boat while she stayed and watched their backs. At the time, she’d made a joke about playing Gandalf, making sure no one else could pass, while Hoyt piloted the boat to safety.

But like the wizard in the books and movies, she’d fallen as well. If Bailey hadn’t been on scene when they found her, she would have bled out on that tiny spit of land surrounded by dead cartel drug runners. Even now, almost a month later, she still didn’t like looking in the direction of Little Quell Island.

Fragments of images flickered in her mind. A shot ringing out. Ryker dropping lifeless. Darian’s jokes, even as blood poured from a wound somewhere she couldn’t see. Hoyt’s angry face. Locke’s look of fear and determination. Guilt was a bitch, and it weighed heavily on her each time she closed her eyes.

“We hashed it out, the two of us. But that’s not the only thing bothering him. We’ve had a lot of changes in just a few days, and of course, we had to hire some new faces. Something Wallace had refused to do because of political pressure,” Rebecca again took note of who might be listening, “and unreliable deputies.”

She pointed at the man striding toward them now, the one Hoyt had told her was here.

Bailey watched the new deputy approach. “This one’s good?”

God, I hope so.

“He’s a highly regarded deputy, brought to us by a glowing recommendation from Agent Rhonda Lettinger of the Virginia State Police.”

The early afternoon sun made Jake Coffey’s light-brown hair appear almost blond. He bobbed his head hello to everyone as his frame filled the doorway to the small shed. Having worked for the state police for the last five years, including a few scenes on Shadow Island, he likely knew everyone already. As he moved, his pale eyes shifted constantly, taking in his surroundings without pause.

That was one of the things Rebecca had noticed about him the few times they’d interacted. Not his hair, eyes, or even his impressive height and build. It was the way his gaze was always moving, always assessing. That was why she’d approved his request to transfer into the department from the state police. Having Rhonda’s recommendation clinched the deal.

Once she read his résumé, his habit made sense. Jake Coffey was ex-Army, like Darian had been. The major difference was Jake had been military police and never deployed to a combat zone. Instead, he’d spent most of his service in Germany, working crime scenes and, as he put it, “hauling asses out of places they had no place being.”

“Sheriff.” Jake greeted her, then gave a friendly nod to Bailey. If the condition of the body bothered him, Rebecca couldn’t tell. “Dr. Flynn, always good to work with you. I hear the sheriff found us a hanging vic.” His voice was so even and calm, they could’ve been chatting about the weather.

“He’s not hanging anymore, Deputy Coffey. It’s good seeing you again, though. Watch out for this one. She’s a real taskmaster. I’m going to have to take Biggio and his beam back to the lab before I can get this rope off, though.” Bailey glanced around. “And it looks like everyone could benefit from me getting all this out of the way. It’s crowded in here with all these rookies.”

Jake grinned at the jibe but turned to Rebecca. “Deputy Frost mentioned that the victim’s name is Roger Biggio.”

Rebecca watched his eyes slide to the side, and she followed his line of sight toward the rows of headstones outside the shed. “That’s right.”

“There’s a Lauren Biggio buried right over there. They might’ve been related or even married.” Jake then pointed out the gold band on Biggio’s left hand. “And I noticed a car parked near the gate. I ran the plates while I was waiting for you, and it’s registered to Roger Biggio.”

Bailey grunted. “Okay, maybe rookie is the wrong term. You’re just the new guy.”

Jake gave her another nod, the all-purpose gesture of soldiers that could mean nearly anything.

Rebecca cocked an eyebrow at her new hire. She was impressed by his level of perception. “Very observant. I’ll have Frost check into Lauren. I’m having a little fun busting his balls today. You can dig through the car and see if you find anything that gives us a clue about what happened here.”

“That what he used to climb up there?” Jake pointed at the heavy wooden bench that was near the body before they moved it. Based on current evidence, Biggio had stood on it, secured the rope, and kicked away the bench to hang himself.

“Could be.” Rebecca passed her camera to him. “I know your uniform is brand-new and spiffy, but this isn’t a messy scene. Once Bailey clears out of here, how about you go ahead and get pictures of the bench he used? We may as well take advantage of your height and get some pictures from higher up. Perhaps there’s something we’re missing at these lower angles. And there’s a ladder if you need it.”

Jake accepted the camera with a smile and shifted his focus toward the rafters twelve feet up. “Always glad to be someone’s eye in the sky.” He looked where the one beam had been removed.

“Good to see you’re finally growing your department.” Bailey projected her voice over the crinkling plastic of the body bag on the gurney as she started tucking Biggio away for transport. The lengthy beam cozied up next to him made adjusting the body bag a bit tricky. Closing the zipper was out of the question.

Rebecca glanced around at the crew she’d assembled. “Hopefully, if we get enough trained deputies running patrols, you’ll only have to come out here to hang out, instead of working all the time. We’ll have enough of a police presence that the criminals will go somewhere else.”

“Now that’s what I’m talking about! Islands are supposed to be for fun in the sun and drinking with friends.” Bailey zipped the bag as far as she could, leaving the rope to extend out and over to the beam by Biggio’s side. She leaned forward, dropping her voice conspiratorially. “But it’s okay to admit the real reason you decided to hire him.”

Rebecca raised her eyebrows in question.

Bailey glanced over at the deputy who was climbing the ladder with the camera. The new uniform pants clung like a second skin to the muscles in his legs and everything else as he leaned to get several angles of the other beams and some aerial photos. Rebecca saw where the other woman’s gaze was traveling before she turned back. There was a wicked gleam in her brown eyes.

“You only hired him because his name is Coffey.”

Rebecca laughed and shook her head. “No comment.”

When the dead can’t speak, the shadows whisper their secrets.

There’s never a dull moment on Shadow Island, especially for its small but growing sheriff’s department. This time, Sheriff Rebecca West, along with new deputy Viviane Darby, discover a man hanging from the rafters of the caretaker’s shed at Oceanview Cemetery.

Does death follow Rebecca? Or does she attract it?

The scene suggests suicide—an unlocked padlock, a rope, a toppled bench, and the lifeless body. The plot thickens when they unearth the fact that the man’s high school love and former wife, claimed by cancer, lies buried close by. Surely, the man took his own life.

Rebecca’s gut says otherwise…. Read More