A killer strikes—then disappears without a trace
Shattered by her father's murder, Zoe West left Goose Harbor, Maine. Still struggling, Zoe realizes only one thing will help to repair the damage—returning home to confront the past.
FBI special agent J. B. McGrath is burned-out after working undercover for a year. Forced to take a break, he chooses Goose Harbor as a retreat. But he isn't lying low. He believes a killer is still loose in the town—a killer who isn't happy to see Zoe West return.
Zoe isn't sure she can trust the unpredictable FBI agent—or their growing attraction to each other. But the danger mounts, and one wrong move could destroy everything she and J.B. care about. Someone got away with murder and is determined to keep it that way.
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Carla Neggers is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 60 novels, including her popular Sharpe & Donovan and Swift River Valley series. Her books have been translated into 24 languages and sold in over 35 countries. A frequent traveler to Ireland, Carla lives with her family in New England. To learn more and to sign up for her newsletter, visit CarlaNeggers.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Zoe West sat at the cluttered farmhouse kitchen table and stared out at the beautiful northwest Connecticut landscape, the hills dotted with brightly colored leaves, and she tried to piece together how she'd ended up here. It was as if one day she was headed to Quantico, and the next, she was here, canning beets and milking goats with Bea Jericho.
She knew she should be grateful. Charlie and Bea were incredible people, hardworking, determined to hang on to their land instead of chopping it up into mini-estates and making a fortune.
But Zoe didn't belong in Bluefield, Connecticut, and she knew it. She'd known it the day she'd arrived in town almost a year ago.
She needed to go home. It was just a matter of when. Goose Harbor hovered on the horizon of her life, like a fog bank she knew would engulf her in due time. Better to deal with it. Get it over with. The status quo was untenable, increasingly impossible to endure.
She'd had three calls in three days. Bruce Young, a lobsterman who'd graduated high school with her; her sister, Christina; and Greg Sampson, the one friend Zoe had left in the Maine State Police. They all wanted to tell her that an FBI agent was on the loose in Goose Harbor.
At least they said he was an FBI agent. Apparently he didn't want to advertise it but had slipped up with Bruce Young. His name was J. B. McGrath—Jesse Benjamin McGrath. It went right over Sampson's head but struck Bruce and Christina as suspicious, since Jen Periwinkle's evil nemesis was also named McGrath. Mr. Lester McGrath, a fictional character, but still. To them it was at best a weird coincidence.
Greg Sampson said he was at Perry's waterfront bar the night Special Agent McGrath had beaten all comers at darts. Greg had no reason to check out this McGrath character's story but thought it was legit. He reminded Zoe that a person, an FBI agent or no FBI agent, didn't make friends in Goose Harbor by beating all comers at darts.
Deep into her second month of unemployment, Zoe was determined to resist the idea that J. B. McGrath was her problem. He was on vacation. FBI agents deserved to take vacations. Goose Harbor was a great place for a vacation, with its strips of sand beaches, its picturesque harbor, its historic houses and quaint shops and inns. That he'd arrived almost to the day of the one-year anniversary of the chief of police's unsolved murder didn't necessarily mean a thing.
Even in her self-imposed exile in Connecticut, Zoe would have known if the Maine State Police's Criminal Investigations Division had asked for FBI assistance in her father's murder investigation. The truth was, there were no new leads. They had his body, they had the two bullets that had struck him and they had very little else. No footprints in the sand, no DNA evidence left behind, no witnesses. For all anyone knew, Patrick West, Goose Harbor's beloved chief of police, could have stumbled onto out-of-town drug dealers who shot him and made off for parts unknown.
In the weeks after his death, although she was no longer a state police detective herself and was supposed to be on her way to Quantico, Zoe had done everything she could to find her father's killer. She'd stepped on toes of people who got in her way and toes of people who didn't—she didn't care. She just wanted answers. Why had a good man died that early October morning? Why had she been the one to find him?
And Olivia. Her great-aunt had died the next day, on the morning of her one hundred and first birthday. The doctor said she just gave out, but Zoe blamed herself, the shock of the news of her father's death. She and Betsy O'Keefe—the entire town—could have conspired to keep her great-aunt from finding out what had happened. They could have tried.
"I know who killed your father. Oh, Zoe, I know... "
The ramblings of a dying woman. Zoe should have realized Olivia was in trouble, but she and Betsy had coaxed her to bed for a nap. She never got up again.
After weeks of trying to find her father's killer, it was Stick Monroe who'd finally pulled Zoe aside and told her she had to ease off. Calm down. Let her colleagues in CID do their jobs. Stick was a retired federal judge and her mentor, her friend, and everyone knew he was the one person she might listen to. He reminded her that her class at the FBI Academy was set to start. All she had to do was drive to Washington, D.C., and get on with her new life.
Instead she withdrew from the academy and took off, ending up as the sole detective in Bluefield, Connecticut, a small town in the northwest part of the state. Nothing much had happened until the past summer, when the governor of Connecticut drowned in his own swimming pool in her town. It wasn't an accident. Then a Texas Ranger and a Texas lawyer showed up, the new governor and her kids were nearly killed, and basically all hell broke loose.
And when it was all over, Zoe was fired. Her chief accused her of letting the Texas Ranger "run amok," which was ridiculous—Sam Temple was a total professional. But the real reason she got the ax was that she'd stopped wearing a gun on duty in the weeks before the governor's death. It was basic U.S. law enforcement. She was supposed to carry a weapon on duty.
After she lost her job, Charlie and Bea Jericho had offered Zoe their son's room now that he'd married the new governor and moved out. She helped Bea can and freeze a ton of fruits and vegetables, and Bea was teaching her how to milk goats and knit.
But Zoe really knew she'd put law enforcement behind her last week when she got her tattoo—not because it was a tattoo, but because it was a tattoo of a beach rose. She'd designed it herself.
Cops didn't have beach roses tattooed on their hips. As far as Zoe was concerned, that was another rule, right up there with carrying a gun.
She sank back in her chair. She was losing her damn mind. At least she'd quit smoking. She'd let a pack-a-day habit creep up on her this past year but had finally kicked it.
What she needed to do now was say goodbye to Bea and Charlie, the sheep, the chickens and the goats and go home.
When her cell phone rang, Zoe assumed it was someone else from Goose Harbor calling to tell her about Special Agent J. B. McGrath.
But it was Christina, her voice shaking, her words coming out tight and fast. "Zoe—Zoe, the police just left. Someone broke into my house. Can you believe it? Who'd do something like that?"
They'd both inherited their father's house when he died, and since Christina was already living at home, she'd simply stayed there. Their great-aunt had left Zoe her 1890s house overlooking the harbor, and Christina enough money to open a breakfast-and-lunch café on the town docks. By all accounts, the café was doing well, but Zoe had yet to go there. She hadn't stepped foot in Goose Harbor since she'd fled for Connecticut.
"Are you okay?" she asked her sister.
Christina sniffled. "Yes. I wasn't here. I close up the café at three, and today I did cleanup as fast as I could—I was done by four. Kyle and I came back here to work on his documentary on Aunt Olivia—" She took a breath, and Zoe could hear her sister's hesitation. Kyle Castellane wasn't one of Zoe's favorite people. He was young, rich, arrogant and determined to do this documentary on Olivia despite the grief Christina and Zoe both still felt at her death. To him, it was a matter of "strike while the iron's hot." Christina didn't share Zoe's frustrations—she thought Kyle was brilliant.
"Go on, Chris," Zoe said softly, reining in her own tension. No one had ever broken into their house. Not ever.
"The house—it wasn't torn up, but you can tell someone's been through here. They came in through the side door. Bruce is bringing a new one by tonight."
"No. Not that I can see. The police think they were looking for cash, maybe because I run a café, and when they didn't find any, just ran off."
It happened all the time. Still, the timing felt odd on top of the calls about the vacationing FBI agent. Zoe sighed. "I'm sorry, Chris. What can I do?"
"Come home. Zoe, I—I don't like this. I'll admit it, I'm scared. What if this FBI agent is stirring up trouble? What if—"
Zoe stopped her—they were on the same wavelength. "I can leave here in thirty minutes and be there in about four hours."
"Really? You're sure? I don't want to wimp out. I'm not making mountains out of molehills, am I?"
"Let's hope so, Chris. I'd rather have molehills to deal with than mountains, wouldn't you?" Zoe tried to lighten her sister's mood. "By the way, do you know how to knit?"
"Sure. Aunt Olivia taught me."
"Good. You can help me finish this scarf I'm knitting. It looks like a dead snake. Wait until you see it. I think I've dropped a million stitches—"
But Christina managed a laugh, although Zoe felt only marginally better when she hung up. She didn't have a lot of stuff. She'd never owned much. It wouldn't take her a half hour to pack—it'd take her fifteen minutes.
Perry's waterfront bar was located on the southern end of Goose Harbor's Main Street. Its bank of windows overlooked the docks; its barn-board walls were decorated with wooden lobster traps, fake lobsters and framed black-and-white pictures of lighthouses and Maine days gone by. J. B. McGrath nursed a beer at a small corner table. He was thirty-six, tall, lean, black-haired, blue-eyed and had a face that would look right at home on a wanted poster. He was good at undercover work, and he'd been doing it a long time. Maybe too long. That was why he was in Goose Harbor, Maine. He was on vacation. Not his idea.
No darts tonight. He'd pissed off enough locals. He was from Montana but could handle himself in a lobster boat. He was an FBI agent but argued lobstering with people who'd done it all their lives. He was a guy on vacation who didn't have the grace to lose at darts once in a while. None of which endeared him to the good people of Goose Harbor.
Bruce Young pulled out a chair and plopped down across from him with a frosty beer glass. "Eight o'clock and nobody's ready to kill you? Slow day, McGrath."
Bruce grinned and unzipped his Carhartt canvas jacket. He was built like a rock cliff, a big, red-faced man with scars and nicks on his hands from working his string of lobster pots day after day. His blue eyes were so like J.B.'s own, J.B. wouldn't be surprised if he and Bruce were distant cousins. But that was another thing—the locals didn't believe J.B.'s ancestors hailed from Goose Harbor. They thought he'd just made that up.
J.B. hadn't made it up. His grandmother was a Sutherland, as in Sutherland Island off the Olivia West Nature Preserve—as in Olivia's best friend, Posey Sutherland, who ran off with drifter Jesse McGrath after World War I and ended up in Montana and dead at twenty-seven.
Her father, Lester Sutherland, disowned her.
Hence, Mr. Lester McGrath, Jen Periwinkle's evil nemesis. A combination of two men Olivia West hated because of what they had done to her friend Posey.
"I heard some of the guys talking about setting fire to your boat. They think you're obnoxious." Bruce took a long drink of his beer. "I reminded them it's my damn boat."
"Old, wooden, practically leaking."
"That's a great boat. The guys said if you don't get out of town or get an attitude adjustment, they're going to tie your hands and feet together and throw you in the drink."
J.B. shrugged. "Wouldn't do them any good."
"Uh-huh. You're a highly trained federal agent, drown-proofed and everything."
Skepticism had crept into Bruce's tone. He obviously had his doubts about J.B.'s credentials, too. J.B. didn't mind. He hadn't produced an I.D. or really confirmed one way or the other he was with the bureau. Bruce had guessed it. His truck had backfired, and J.B., still on edge from his last investigation, had gone for his weapon—not that he was carrying one. Bruce nailed him then and there. "You a cop? A fed?" J.B. just said he was on vacation. Period.
The talk about tossing him overboard wasn't serious—he'd invaded these men's turf, and they were remarking their territory, letting him know they didn't care if he was on edge or why. He was bad company. They weren't going to give him an inch.
"Nobody believes you're here on vacation," Bruce said.
"You don't look like you take vacations."
J.B. didn't disagree. He looked as if he'd spent the past year working on an undercover operation that had ended badly, leaving him with his throat half slit and the searing memory of killing a man in front of his own children. Not what J.B. had envisioned when he'd infiltrated a group of violent criminals who used their virulent antigovernment beliefs to justify robbery, murder and the possession and distribution of illegal assault weapons and explosive devices.
"I'm doing genealogical research on my Maine roots," J.B. said.
"Uh-huh. You a Mainer. I like that. You ever been to Maine?"
"There you go."
"My ancestors helped settle Goose Harbor in the seventeenth century."
"So did mine."
"You see? We could be cousins."
Bruce wasn't amused. "Yeah, right. Listen, McGrath—" Bruce sighed, staring at his nearly untouched beer. "Christina West's house was broken into today. The police think it was some idiot looking for cash, but I'm wondering—you didn't have anything to do with it, did you?"
J.B. shook his head. He hadn't heard about the breakin. "No."
"Because, you know, some people think you're here because of her father's murder last year—"
"Bruce, I'm on vacation. I know about the murder, but that's it."
Bruce rubbed a big hand across his face. "I know. It was stupid. I just—Chris is so damn young, and she's here on her own."
"What about her sister?"
But J.B. knew about the sister. Zoe West was a screwup. The rising star, the local hotshot pushed hard and fast because she made everyone else look good, too. She should have gotten her ass kicked along the way, but instead she got accepted into the FBI Academy for new-agent training. It was only natural she'd think she could solve her father's murder—only natural she'd come unglued and fallen apart when she'd had to face his death, her aunt s death, her own limitations, the kind of real-world experience she must have known was out there but hadn't had to confront herself.
Zoe West had bowed out of the academy, moved to Connecticut and got herself fired from what was likely her last job in law enforcement.
J.B. thought of the man he'd killed. The looks on the faces of his three children. Nine, eleven and fourteen. They were horrified, furious, filled with hate. J.B. didn't know what would become of them. Their father, a murderer and a rapist, a man who'd taught other people how to build bombs and convert legal weapons into illegal weapons, had attacked J.B. from behind, without warning, and stuck a knife in his throat, and J.B. fought back. It was self-defense. But nothing, he thought, was ever that simple.
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Book Description Thorndike Press, 2003. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. book. Bookseller Inventory # M0786254610