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Adam Interviews...Mira Gibson!


That's right, we're back, and we have a fantastic interview for today!

I'm lucky to have gotten time with Mira Gibson! An author of mysteries and psychological literary fiction, Mira can be found most days working in the sunshine of beautiful Long Beach, NY where she dreams up small town characters and writes intriguing stories that are filled with unsuspecting tenderness. She's kindly dropped by with some answers to questions and a huge peek into one of her books. Let's get right to it!


When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. Growing up, I went to a very small school in rural New Hampshire, which placed a huge importance on creative writing. In First Grade, all of the students, including me, would make books using paper, cardboard with wallpaper laid over it, and markers. Throughout grade school, I wrote so many little books like this, and even kept a handful of them, which I still have.


What is your work schedule like when you’re writing?

I recently transitioned from writing in my spare time to writing full-time as my primary source of income… Thank you, savings! I’m still getting the ball rolling, but I’ve settled into a daily rhythm that seems to work for me. I write from around 9am to 1 or 2pm, usually one chapter, and then use the afternoons to market my books on social media, which generally includes creating graphics on Canva and scheduling all of my social media posts for the next day. For me, I’m the most productive in terms of word count when I write in the morning and aim to complete one chapter, whether it’s 1,000 words or 4,000 words.



What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

I live really close to the beach where there’s a 2.4 mile-long boardwalk, and I basically spend all my free time at the beach and walking on the boardwalk when I’m not writing and marketing at home. I don’t care if it’s the dead of winter and the boardwalk is covered in patches of ice, I’m on it, slipping and sliding around, LOL. I also watch a fair amount of YouTube when I’m relaxing at home. Call me boring, but one of the best channels is Useful Charts. I have no idea how those guys make charts so fascinating, but they pull it off with every video!


What is the first book that made you cry?

I believe the first book that ever made me cry was Frederick Reiken’s The Odd Sea, but I was about 19 years old when I read it, so it’s possible another book made me cry when I was younger. I’m kind of a strange writer because I mainly write within the mystery genre, but my favorite genre to read is literary fiction. The Odd Sea is definitely literary fiction, and there’s just something about that genre that’s able to pull on my personal heartstrings much more easily than the mystery, suspense, thriller genre. That being said, because I find literary fiction so touching, I can only bear to read one book from that genre per year. Mystery novels, on the other hand, I plow through, easily reading 2 or sometimes 4 novels a month.


Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing always energizes me. On days when I write, I almost feel high afterwards and have a ton of upbeat energy for the rest of the day. When I don’t write, I actually feel down and can barely motivate myself to leave the house, almost like a kind of disappointment-induced depression, if that’s a thing, LOL.


Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

Yes, I have, I do, and I will. Prior to starting my own writing business and publishing in my name “Mira Gibson,” I worked as a fiction ghostwriter for about 8 years, so I have a lot of experience writing under other names and navigating the pros and cons of not being credited for my written work. Next month, I’m actually going to launch a pseudonym, “Catherine Gibson,” to publish the cozy mysteries I’ve been working on, since that genre has an entirely different audience than mystery, thriller, suspense readers. Funnily, “Catherine Gibson” is technically my legal name, so perhaps this isn’t a real pseudonym, LOL, but it feels like one. My middle name is “Mira,” and I’ve been known as “Mira” since I was in diapers. No one ever calls me “Catherine” unless I’m in some serious trouble–gulp!


Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you building a body of work with connections between each book?

Developing and writing stand-alone novels is my nature. It’s what I do best and it feels the most “right” to me. However, I knew going into indie writing that series sell far better than stand-alones. I’m still towing the line, in a lot of ways. For example, The New Hampshire Mysteries is technically three stand-alone novels that have minimal character overlap. What ties them together is the location and subject matter, so that by the time readers complete the third and final book, they walk away with a sense that they have enjoyed the world of the trilogy and had a lot of fun reading the last book when characters from the first two books really overlapped.


What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?

Honestly, when I got down to business with the right book covers, everything changed. I think for a lot of writers, myself included, that are first starting out, the temptation to create your own book covers using tools like Canva is huge, because you want to save money, but it’s a mistake. I had my ups and downs with professional cover designers, who don’t always hit the nail on the head, but using them helped to “up” my game, sales-wise. That being said, now I use BookCoverZone.com, and I recommend this site to anyone, and no one is paying me to plug them, LOL. I just think that book covers are so important, they make or break sales. People really do judge books by their covers, period.



What does literary success look like to you?

For me, I’m currently aiming to make a living writing full-time, but I’ve had so many small successes along the way that really count in terms of keeping the fire of determination and perseverance alive. Every book sale, even if it’s just one sale, is a victory, and so is every review. The market might seem flooded, but the way that I look at it, I’m not necessarily trying to be the “most visible” author on Amazon. My goal is to connect with readers who will like my books, and to build those relationships by writing more books that they will like, and Amazon just happens to be our meeting place, if that makes sense. Likewise, I have a really small pool of followers on Goodreads, but since every follower is a loyal reader, I consider that to be one of my literary successes. You have to celebrate every small step, because wherever you are today, there are hundreds if not thousands of other writers who have yet to reach your level. Just keep looking up and keep going!


What do you have coming next?

I wrote a mystery novel back in late 2018 that has been sitting in a drawer, unpublished ever since. I really loved the manuscript at the time I wrote it, but I felt the story could benefit if I didn't look at it for a few years. I’m currently in the process of editing this mystery novel, which I plan to publish in either February or March as SMALL TOWN SECRETS. I’m still playing with the blurb, but the following will give you the gist of the story:


Passionate, wounded, and fiercely alive, Leeanne Hessinger has never felt free. She wants something more, something bigger than the life she’s stumbled into as a wife and dispirited drug store clerk, but fleeing to a town unknown to her with a single promise in mind—to finally write a novel—comes at a very high price. When she’s found brutally stabbed to death a year later, a small town’s darkest secrets come to the forefront, and the sheriff investigating the crime covers up her own treacherous involvement with the dead woman. Full of twists and turns, SMALL TOWN SECRETS reconstructs a year in the life of Leeanne Hessinger, as she walks the brink of her own destruction and inches closer and closer to death. The cost of freedom, for Leeanne, is ultimately her life. This stand-alone story centers on the murder of a dangerously mesmerizing woman, and challenges the concepts of both freedom and feminism as lines between ambition and culpability blur. Fans of mysteries and psychological thrillers will likely love this novel for its deeply drawn characters, voice-driven narratives, and controversial subject matter.



The New Hampshire Mysteries: Complete Series is available exclusively on Kindle Unlimited:










About The New Hampshire Mysteries:

This mystery series consists of three stand-alone novels that center on the Lakes Region in New Hampshire where I was raised. All three stories feature different characters, with some crossover characters culminating in the third and final book. I write with a dark, edgy voice that shines through the characters and packs a real punch with every twist and turn these novels take, which is why I consider these stories to be psychological thrillers. That being said, the subject matter of this mystery series includes dark material that some readers may find disturbing, so please beware.


Book Descriptions:

DADDY SODA (A New Hampshire Mystery, Book One)

Hannah Cole has built a life around her job as a receptionist at the local precinct after surviving a tumultuous upbringing, one she's worked hard to forget. For years, Hannah has hardly spoken to her overbearing mother or the half-sisters she barely knows: shy Candice, and Mary, a stunning fifteen year old with an eerie grip on the town. But when she learns her mother has been kidnapped, she returns home to the shack on Hermit Lake and the step-father she's never trusted.


Detective Cody McAlister has never seen a case like this. The kidnapper has planned every detail with exquisite precision and when body parts begin to arrive at his department, the glaring reality becomes all too clear: Kendra won't be alive for long. The key to the deranged kidnapper's motive and identity may be held in the unsteady hands of a twelve-year old girl. But Candice hasn't spoken a word since that tragic night.


As Hannah and Cody's investigation takes them from abandoned strip malls to the outer reaches of the marsh, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Hannah finds herself reliving hellish memories of the shack she thought she'd never have to face. If she doesn't unravel the psychological puzzle of her own past, she won't find her mother in time. In small-town New Hampshire where what you see is what you get, no one is who they seem.


ROCK SPIDER (A New Hampshire Mystery, Book Two)

In the chill of a foggy night, life as Gertrude Inman knows it ends when her car crashes into the murky waters of a quiet lake, killing her teenage sister. Though she survives, she has no memory of the accident or the long, disturbing night leading up to it.


Returning to her position as a social worker, she's assigned only one case: to assess the home of a reclusive family where a ten-year old girl died by suicide. The mother is a former Hollywood starlet, the father a retired cop, but it's their seventeen-year old daughter - a peculiar girl with a cunning smile and a mysterious hold on the family - who reminds Gertrude of horrifying, fragmented memories. And this seemingly straightforward case launches her into an investigation that will threaten the very fabric of her sanity.


Jake Livingston has had his eye on the family and not just because he's been reporting on the strange occurrences that have been happening ever since their youngest took her own life. Men have gone missing, others are winding up in jail, and it would seem those who cross paths with the Kings are silenced in the same bizarre, ritualistic manner. If the woman from social services isn't careful, he knows she'll be next.


As Gertrude delves deeper into the circumstances surrounding the suicide, it proves to be linked to a brutal crime, one far more shocking than she could have imagined because it has everything to do with the night her sister died.


TAR HEART (A New Hampshire Mystery, Book Three)

Recently transferred to the Center Harbor Police Department in the dead of winter, Detective Lucas York is on the downhill slide of a once-promising career when he's called to Squam Lake where a body lies trapped beneath a thick sheet of ice.


The victim, beautiful and respected, appeared to have the perfect life—a charming husband, an adorable baby boy, an idyllic estate a mere breath away from the lake. She also appears to have the face of a woman with whom Lucas shared a dark, lustful night nearly a decade ago, one that has haunted him into obsession.


It's been years since Holly Danes has seen her identical twin, a fact she both regrets and rationalizes. Rose had her secrets and it tore them apart, but nothing can prepare Holly for the dangerous world she must infiltrate in order to catch a killer who left no clues. Peeling back the layers of her twin's troubled past, she slips into Rose's life in search of answers. And the deadly game of cat and mouse that results traps her with the one man whose need to uncover the truth is as intense as her own. But can she trust Lucas when this case begins to stir the most volatile of human emotions in his heart?


As Lucas and Holly sift through the circumstances of Rose's increasingly disturbing lifestyle, a stunning discovery changes everything they thought they knew about the enigmatic woman. And when the killer strikes again and again, they are pulled down a deceiving trail of smoke and mirrors, unaware that someone very close to them is the murderous psychopath.


Excerpt from The New Hampshire Mysteries: Complete Series


TAR HEART

(Book Three)


Prologue


It was freezing, the moonless night deceivingly still except for the stiff wind.

Vacantly, Rose stared at the lake shrouded in darkness, its icy surface, the snowdrift spilling out from the shore, as dread ratcheted up her spine, her heart pumping madly.

As the frigid wind bit into her, she agonized over calling her husband and leaving another voicemail message. She was gripping her cell like a wishing stone, she realized, when the wind changed course, causing her hair to whip into her eyes.

He hadn't picked up when she had tried his cell phone. Dialing his office line had rendered the same result and unnerved, Rose had left a brief, frantic voice message, keeping her point cryptic while urgently demanding he get back to her.

How much time had gone by between her first and second messages? Had minutes elapsed or hours? Anxiety was skewing her sense of time. Her mind was racing like a hamster on a wheel, spinning faulty logic, analyzing their curt exchanges in a favorable light, though she knew she was lying to herself. The hints Benjamin had dropped, the vague answers she had offered to quell the issue, appease her husband, and put the whole matter to bed, amounted to a foregone conclusion.

He knew.

The wind picked up, blowing in from the lake and kicking up snow—needles whipping her face, dampening her light-auburn hair.

Folding her arms, Rose hunched her shoulders. She should've thrown her coat on. A thin sweater and jeans weren't enough to keep warm on a wintery New Hampshire night.

The floodlights over the porch cast just enough light to illuminate the backyard, the natural snow banks, the footprints and fist marks her son had left in his quest to make snowmen and angels. On several occasions he had peed along the shore, intrigued as any two-year-old that the hot stream could melt the snow crust.

He was kneeling where the drift spilled onto the frozen shore. He scooped snow into a powdery ball then chucked it into the wind. Almost before leaving his mittens, the snowball came apart, flurries raining over him. He cackled uproariously and looked at his mother, certain she would find it hilarious.

But she was somewhere else entirely, cradling her phone to her ear, her shoulders rounded in a secretive hunch, as she paced. Her tone, ordinarily melodic and light, sounded guttural, an edge of panic cloying up her throat with every word.

“Benjamin, please,” she insisted, her cell phone was ice against her cheek. “If you don't get back to me...” She had nothing to threaten. She didn’t even have a convincing explanation for her colossal mistake, one that had been years in the making. “Please, don't do this. Call me.”

After hanging up, she switched the cell-setting from vibrate to ring, turned the volume up as loud as it would go, then clutched it worrisomely beneath her chin as if willing the device to ring, only vaguely aware that Tucker was running in circles along the shore.

This life meant everything to her. She wouldn’t let it crumble. She refused.

Decisively, she dialed his office line and left yet another rushed, cryptic voicemail message, nervously fiddling with her necklace, its pendant—a relic of the life she had traded for this one—where it rested against her collarbone.

Roughly the size of a quarter, the heart-shaped pendant adorned with a jagged opal was one of her sister's finest. Holly had crafted it from her own design, working late into the night at her studio, determined to make her jewelry dream a reality even at the expense of her finances.

Holly ran hot and cold with her, always had and always would. For twins, they rarely saw eye-to-eye. Each had a tendency to be easily sucked into arguments, going for the other's sore spots, kicking one another when they were down, perpetually raw and on guard whenever the other was near. But there had been periods of calm before each storm. And it had been during one of those rare occasions that Holly had given her the necklace.

Where had it all gone wrong?

And why was she now tumbling down the same pike with Benjamin?

Secrets, she thought, tucking her cell phone into the back pocket of her jeans. Rose had her secrets. It was who she was. She liked them. She needed to lead that second life. The one her husband didn’t know about, the one that breathed thrill into her bones with each passing day. Except now he knew. She sensed it. And the house of cards she had built on well-crafted lies and sheer audacity would soon come fluttering down.

She would do anything to prevent its fall.

With shaking hands, she pulled up Holly's contact, tapping quickly against the LCD screen, though her staccato breath obscured it with white plumes of condensation, and sent the call through.

When she glanced up with ringtone blaring in her ear, she saw Tucker padding out onto the ice—ice she knew wasn’t safe—and bolted after him, sprinting as fast as she could, her boots punching hard against powdery snow until she reached the icy shore.

“Tucker!”

He turned, doe-eyed and oblivious to the danger he had placed himself in, a big smile on his face.

“Rose?” Holly's voice came strained through the earpiece. “Did something happen? Is Tucker okay?”

She didn't respond as she waded cautiously onto the ice, her son watching her and at times clapping the snow off his mittens with no awareness that the ice was thin enough to crack.

He was ten yards away, standing where freezing lake water had seeped up onto the ice.

“Tucker, honey, come here,” she said, reaching out for him to take hold of her hand though he was yards away, a mere shadow in the darkness.

Holly kept saying her name over and over again impatiently, but Rose was fully focused on her son, praying the ice would hold, as he shuffled playfully towards her.

It wasn’t until she had Tucker by the arm, a breath of relief rushing out of her, that she returned the cell to her ear.

“I can't get a hold of Benjamin,” she said urgently, Tucker skipping and bounding beside her, though he was tethered in her grasp. She ushered him towards the shore. “I'm afraid I messed everything up.”

Holly sighed into the receiver, knowing her sister far too well to waste time trying to calm her down. Rose didn't panic except irrationally, and there was often no getting through to her. If Rose believed she had done something to jeopardize a relationship, then Holly trusted she surely had. She had done similar to Holly so many times it had ultimately resulted in their estrangement.

“What do you expect me to do?” Holly asked, at a loss. “It’s not like he talks to me. He probably hates me. I thought you did too, for that matter.”

“I don't hate you,” she murmured distractedly as she helped Tucker through the sliding glass door that connected the porch to the living room.

Confrontational, she asked, “What did you do?” her tone stripped of its prior compassion.

“I can't get into it.”

“He'll come home eventually, won't he? You can talk to him then.”

“He hasn't been home in weeks,” she said in a brittle tone, stripping Tucker out of his winter coat and snow pants, and getting him situated with his Thomas the Tank Engine toys. “I tried his office. I tried the resort. I tried his cell. There are no more numbers to try.”

Again Holly sighed and when her voice came through it held an edge of resignation mixed with defeat.

“Are you asking me to come over?”

Debating, Rose made her quick way to the sliding glass door, which she had left ajar and just as she was about to close it, she remembered Tucker’s shovel and pail in the yard.

“I don't know,” she said, suddenly indecisive now that she had Holly in her ear. She trekked towards the pail, but didn't pick it up when she reached it. “I hate that we don't talk.”

Holly let out a sardonic laugh, which relaxed into a carefully measured breath, and Rose expected the usual lecture over whose fault that was. “What are you really worried about, Rose? The police knocking on your door?”

She snapped, “Why would you ask me that?”

“Why do you think? Are you in some kind of trouble?”

“I'm concerned I'm losing my husband.”

“I thought you had gotten it together,” she said as though she was pained that her twin was heading down a long, familiar, yet sordid road she should've outgrown by now. “You have a son, for Christ's sake.”

Rose gazed out across the lake, scanning the darkness as if doing so would free her from every mistake she had ever made. “I shouldn't have called you.”

“I can't do this with you anymore. I can't go months without hearing from you then get a call in the middle of the night when you're freaking out. I can't.”

Holly continued rattling off the countless ways her twin had disappointed her over the years, which mostly centered on the sad fact that their problems had prevented Holly from seeing Tucker, but Rose was suddenly distracted. The distinct sound of tires crunching over compacted snow followed by a brief flare of headlights blazing across the yard sent her heart punching up her throat. A vehicle had pulled into the driveway.

“Holly,” she said, interrupting her sister's tirade. “I think he's here. He just pulled up. I have to go.”

As Rose lowered her cell phone, Holly insisted she not hang up, but she didn’t have a choice. She ended the call and started through the snow, thoughts tangling over what to say to him, how she might convince Benjamin to stay with her, though every option seemed trite if not manipulative.

Expecting her husband to come through the front door, she rounded the porch, snow crunching under her boots and icy wind stinging her cheeks, but before she could pad up the steps, she caught sight of a figure stalking around the side of her house.

Whoever the figure belonged to, the person was wearing a black ski mask.

“Who’s there?” she asked, treading cautiously, terror riding high. When she added, “Get out of here,” her voice was a frayed thread.

“I thought we had an understanding,” said the masked figure, cocking the gun she hadn’t realized was in the person’s hand.

Her eyes snapped up and she instantly knew who the person was.

Some secrets were meant to stay buried.

“Don't do this,” she begged and then tried to lie. “The police are on their way.”

“I doubt that.”

Suddenly, her mind felt starkly paralyzed with fear.

Without thought, Rose took off running. Punching her boots hard into the snow and pumping her arms, she dashed with little concern that she was rushing headlong towards the ice. When she reached the lake, charging hard across its frozen surface, she nearly slipped, but righted her balance, and pressed onward.

Whimpering and glancing over her shoulder to see if she was being chased, she felt the ice shift under her boots, and in the next instant a deafening shot rang out.

She didn't understand that she had been hit until she slammed onto the ice and began skidding and gasping and praying that this wouldn't be the end of her life.

She slid to a stop, her cheek pressed to wet ice and eyes locked on the masked figure hidden in the distant shadows.

Beneath her the thin sheet of ice gave way and she plummeted into the freezing depths.

Her last thought was of her son and the secret she had died for.


Chapter One


Holly Danes stood under the portico and pounded on the front door. She should’ve worn gloves. A hat would’ve been a nice touch. The tips of her ears felt numb. Before making the drive, she had shoved her revolver—a Smith & Wesson J-Frame Center-fire, as snubbed-nosed as a bulldog—down the back of her jeans. No bigger than her palm, the compact metal bastard had absorbed the freezing temperature, and because of it an icy chill was radiating from where it rested against the small of her back, contributing to the misery of this ordeal.

Why the hell wasn’t Rose coming to the door?

She glanced over her shoulder, scanning the dark driveway for Benjamin’s car as if she could’ve possibly missed it when she had started up the walkway. If he had returned like Rose had mentioned when she cut their call short, it might explain why her sister wasn’t answering the door. But his vehicle wasn’t in the driveway, only Rose’s sleek BMW cloaked in eight inches of fresh snow.

Her knuckles were chapped where they rapped again and again against the steel surface of the door, unsuspecting in its brick-red hue. By the looks of it, you would never guess the three-story house was a fortress, the sum total of each barrier—entrance door and rear fortified with state-of-the-art locks, the windows wired with alarms as well as the cellar’s trap door round back—all masquerading as a stately Colonial home, so the opposite of her own that she had felt like a trespasser even when invited inside. Not that she had set foot in her sister’s home recently. It had been two years to the day, in fact.

The fixture overhead dimly illuminated the window on the door, its tungsten glow causing a glare where frost had formed, but she could tell the living room lights were on. The foyer wasn’t that deep.

Again she pounded on the door, this time with the heel of her hand to spare her frozen fingers, and called her sister’s name. She was met with silence.

Shifting her weight, she eased back a step, mindful that the landing was slick with slush over thin patches of black ice, and studied the door as if a way to break in would jump out at her.

That’s what would be required, right? What Rose’s distressed tone had implied? The subtext of her staccato panic, the grand leap from desperately pleading for help to entirely abandoning the request had filled Holly with grim intuition.

Estrangement hadn’t broken their connection.

Her twin was in trouble.

Center Harbor was a small town and last she had heard, Benjamin had just taken over the accounting at his parents’ resort on Squam Lake. He had been sleeping there. Making excuses for his absence, he had explained the disarray of the Wythe Resort’s bookkeeping, the importance of his new position, and the money it would afford Rose and the baby.

Standing under the portico, sensing Rose was near but unable to let Holly in, pitched the memory of their last encounter—the one that had ended their relationship—into the forefront of her mind.

Benjamin was nothing if not consistent.

He liked avoiding his family.

The last time she had been at this house, Holly had sat on the living room couch listening to her sister rage at her husband over the phone in the next room, his home office. Rose’s footfall had indicated pacing—angry pattering punctuated with a stomp, turning on her heel to stampede in a new direction. She had probably had the receiver clamped between her cheek and shoulder, the telephone in her fist, the cord restricting her, maybe wrapping her legs, instigating her frustration, not that Holly had seen.

Her particular brand of outrage, the shrill tone and scattered arguments, which had ranged from reasonable to hysterical—This family will fall apart if you’re not here, and What if Tucker chokes on a grape? I don’t know the Heimlich maneuver!—had tipped Holly off.

It had taken her less than a minute to locate the evidence of her suspicion as to why Rose sounded like a jittering maniac. Hunting for the television remote controls, finding an old one in the coffee table drawer, and popping the battery compartment open—Rose’s most treasured hiding spot—Holly had been confronted with the heart-sinking fact that her sister had started up again, as she stared at the 8-ball, plastic packed to the gills with cocaine. The discovery had stunned her, but the revelation that followed had been far worse.

Rose was still breast-feeding.

“Give me that,” she had demanded, snatching the plastic bag, her eyes firing enraged, though the faintest hint of remorse shined through. Holly hadn’t even heard her sneak back in.

“What about your son?” she had shot back.

Insisting, “This is old,” Rose had tucked the 8-ball into her pocket and tried to stare her sister down, but to Holly she had only looked indignant.

Holly couldn’t remember what she said next, only that she had begun screaming accusations and Rose hadn’t held back either. When words had failed—her twin combating her every point—Holly lunged, fingernails clawing at her sister’s jeans, desperate to take the drugs as if doing so would mean Rose wasn’t a junkie, didn’t have countless stashes hidden throughout the house, wouldn’t slip into the same secretive darkness that Holly had already pulled her out of.

Rose had slapped her so hard across the face that it had rattled her brain, her tongue catching between her teeth. In an instant, her mouth had filled with blood, which trickled out the corner of her mouth as she stared in wide-eyed horror at the woman whose face she shared. In that moment, Rose had looked like a complete stranger, her eyes fixated on the 8-ball of cocaine resting on the floor between them.

Holly had told herself if Rose picked it up, she would walk out the door and never come back.

Rose hadn’t just picked it up. She had seized it, examined the plastic for punctures, and exhaled with heavy relief to find it intact.

Wind whipped at her sideways, jarring her from the memory, as snow flurried down from the roof and settled under her collar. She couldn’t wait under the portico forever, not when there was no indication of Rose inside.

Out of frustration, Holly aimed her revolver at the deadbolt, but then thought better of it. A gunshot would terrify Tucker if he was asleep in his bedroom, not to mention set off the security alarms, alerting the police. If her sister was passed out on the couch in a drug induced coma, which in Holly’s mind would be the best case scenario, Rose would lose custody of her son the second the police put two and two together.

Descending the slick steps with caution and trekking through knee-deep snowdrifts with her revolver gripped firmly in her right hand, she started for the back of the house.

The snow became compact as she cut towards the porch and she noted tracks leading out to the lake, but thought nothing of it. The second she realized the sliding glass door leading into the living room was open, her stomach dropped. Her fears mounted tenfold in an instant at the distressed sound of Tucker shrieking from within the house.

As she walked swiftly, kicking up powdery snow and wincing at the sting of it creeping down her boots, Tucker’s cry erupting into full-blown wailing, concern sprung in her chest.

Slush lay over the porch, a sign it had been salted. When she reached the sliding glass door, she made an honest effort to stomp the sopping mess off her boots, but the attempt only splashed ice water onto her jeans as well as the shiny wooden floor inside the house.

It crossed her mind to take her boots off so as not to warp the wooden floor with water stains. Back when she had visited often, Rose’s every complaint had centered on Holly’s inability to appreciate nice things—Use a coaster, and Don’t bang the piano keys, and Turn on the exhaust fan when you shower or else we’ll have a mildew problem.

Tucker’s cries were lacerating her eardrums, a horrific sound that also hit her like a knife to her gut, her nephew screaming bloody murder and at times gurgling just to breathe.

She eased the sliding glass door closed behind her.

Rose wasn’t passed out on the couch.

As she charged through the living room, which could’ve been featured in Better Homes & Gardens, it was so artfully decorated—oak furnishings, a plush pink sofa-set, abstract paintings on the walls that to Holly had always looked both childish and pretentious—her ears pricked up, attuned to Rose’s domestic sound effects, but there weren’t any. The house was quiet except for her nephew’s anxiety.

But that didn’t mean the house was safe. She cocked her revolver.

Though Tucker’s bedroom was at the top of the stairs, she followed his cries to the end of the first floor hallway and found him in his crib, his little hands clutching the railing. His face was wet with tears, and snot was running from his nose.

Seeing him, her heart ached with regret for the months that had been wasted, the estrangement having prevented her from being in her nephew’s life. As she searched blindly for the light switch panel, her vision blurry, tears misting her eyes, she smiled at Tucker in hopes it would calm him. Discreetly, she tucked her revolver down the back of her jeans.

He quieted when the lights came on, his expression brightened with recognition, and soon a goofy grin spread across his face.

She couldn’t believe how big he was. His strawberry-blonde hair was a mess of cowlicks just like hers and as she scooped him up, making a ledge of her forearm for him to sit and hugging him tightly for all the months she had missed—God, I love you—it dawned on her how strange it was for him to be in the playroom instead of upstairs.

For reasons that had seemed cruel, Rose had kept Tucker down here to Ferberize him during infancy, the grander plan of which was to move him upstairs into his big-boy bed when he was old enough. During the few phone calls Rose had placed to her sister over their months estranged, she had found ways to mention this amidst her frenzy as though the subject of Tucker helped her catch her breath between panicking over things Holly rarely understood.

But he was three now.

Tucker murmured and seemed suddenly at ease staring up at her as though he understood he was with family. But he hadn’t seen her since he was one. He couldn’t possibly remember her. She suddenly realized Tucker thought his mother had returned.

“You’re okay,” she cooed, her voice going high and breathy to soothe him. She swayed and he nuzzled into the crux of her neck, his wet face pressing against her skin. He felt like warm putty and smelled a bit poopy.

The crib, the diapers, was this coddling or negligence?

Tucker was getting too old for all of it.

“Let’s get you changed, huh?”

She stepped carefully over scattered toys towards the dresser, but clipped her heel on a plastic train. When she glanced down, the smiling gray face of Thomas the Tank Engine was staring up at her. She kicked it aside and juggled the weight of her nephew as she pulled the top drawer open. It was filled with linens so she tried a few more and found a bag of diapers in the bottom drawer.

Holly felt uneasiness grow as she changed her nephew out of his soiled diaper and into a fresh one.

Rose had been outside when she had called. Holly had heard wind grazing the receiver, muffling her sister’s disjointed assertions. Those tracks in the snow led straight to the lake and what little light the porch fixture had provided, she had been able to tell her sisters footprints veered out onto the ice.

As she got Tucker situated in his crib, his verbal skills returned and he protested, “No!” then called her Mom a number of times, clutching at her hair where locks spilled over her shoulder into his face.

“I’ll be right back,” she assured him, smoothing his hair down and giving him a nervous smile. She grabbed the plastic toy train off the carpet and offered it to him, but he chucked it at the wall yelling, bang!

It caught her off guard and because of it, she walked with a sense of urgency down the hallway. A harrowing intuition told her that she would find Rose out on the ice, but to cover her bases she first checked every room in the house.

The downstairs bathroom contained only the faintest scent of her sister’s perfume. Benjamin’s office was airless. There was no sign of Rose in any of the rooms upstairs, though her sister had left the master bedroom in complete disarray—dresser drawers open to varying degrees, the comforter a mountainous heap on the floor, the TV chattering from the corner of the room.

Leaving the warm house, Holly felt the icy wind knock the air right out of her lungs. She glanced towards the lake and noticed tracks in the snow. Following them and noting how the footprints became further and further apart, which confirmed her sister had broken out running towards the lake and onto the ice, she neared the icy shore and scanned the darkness across the lake.

She was nervous about wading out onto the ice. Not one winter had gone by without news reports of children or some drunken fool with grand delusions of fishing having fallen through the ice.

Passing the snowdrift onto the black sheet of ice, her heart fluttering so rapidly in her chest that she felt suddenly light-headed, she pressed onward. After letting out an uneasy breath, shifting her gaze from the ice beneath her boots to the darkness ahead, she sucked in a lung-full of air as if oxygen could loosen the knot that was twisting in her stomach.

Rose had thought Benjamin’s car was pulling into the driveway. She had hung up on Holly. And whatever had followed, had compelled her to flee out onto the lake.

Her heart punched out of rhythm when she spotted a hole in the ice up ahead. She didn’t blink as she eased farther out, fearing the worst as she began closing the five-yard gap, Tucker’s high-pitched voice echoing through her head—Bang.

Though it was excruciatingly dim, she saw blood streaked across the ice at her feet. It was unmistakable, yet her mind kept offering alternatives—mud, oil, paint—pathetically hopeful that it wasn’t what she thought. Kneeling, she touched it then examined her fingertips, but they were clean. The blood had frozen to the ice. Her gaze snapped up, locking on the hole in the ice that was now three yards ahead.

If the ice thinned where it neared the hole, she wouldn’t get away with walking. She knew enough to spread her weight out as much as possible to limit the risk of falling through so she eased down onto her stomach, planting her elbows on the ice, and began pulling herself the rest of the way.

Soon the ice was wet, lake water having seeped up. She ignored her numbing thighs, the chill against her stomach where her coat failed to meet the waistband of her jeans, and came to the edge of the hole. The surface of the lake was as smooth as glass. Black. Her sister wasn’t floating beneath.

Holly muscled backwards, pushing herself away from the hole to safety and wondering why she had sensed that her sister was out here. She wanted to scream and cry, but she had walled-off those emotions years ago. Instead she hung her head, letting her forehead rest on the ice, pinching her eyes shut, and hunting for ideas as to what she should do next, where she should look, who she should call if not the police. Could she call the cops? Or would she be met with the rigmarole of having to wait forty-eight hours before filing a missing persons report. Was Rose even missing?

When Holly opened her eyes, her sister’s lifeless face was staring up at her through the ice.

She gasped, scrambling to her knees then shuffling backwards, straining to grasp that Rose was trapped under the ice.

Not trapped.

Dead.

She couldn’t get back to the house fast enough.

Slipping with every third step, she ran towards the shore and picked up her pace when she reached the snowdrift where it had blown out onto the lake.

How could this be happening?

What had Rose gotten herself into that she had wound up dead beneath the ice while her son slept inside their home?

Why would her sister run away from the house instead of towards it where she could have easily locked herself in, called the police, and waited for help to arrive?

Holly had a good mind to do just that, but as soon as she locked the sliding glass door behind her, the disturbing reality of it all took hold.

She barely heard Tucker call out, “Mommy!”

“Give me a minute,” she said, not liking the dismissing tone in her voice, as she pulled her emotions together enough to find the staircase.

Taking the treads two at a time, she reached the landing and hurried down the hallway into the master bedroom. After closing the door to shut out Tucker’s incessant questions—What time is it? and Can I have water? and Daddy?—she unzipped her coat pocket and used the frozen claw of her hand to scoop out her cell phone then searched through her contacts for Benjamin Wythe’s number.

The line opened up after one ring, but before his voice came through, Holly heard the melodic giggling of what sounded like a young woman in the background.

“I checked out the house,” she asserted to steal his attention from whatever woman he was with this time. “You need to get over here.”

Benjamin directed his smooth voice away from the receiver, getting his guest to be quiet, but his tone was gravely deep addressing Holly. “What’s the problem?”

“Rose is dead.”

He said nothing.

“Hello?”

“You shouldn’t have called me.”

“What?” she blurted out, astonished. “You asked me to come over here.”

“You should call the police.”

“I plan to,” she shot back. His reaction wasn’t what she had expected. Tense silence ensued. He didn’t ask how his wife had died or where Holly had found her. He didn’t seem alarmed or shocked. Benjamin had been absent from Rose’s life to say the least, but she would’ve thought she would get more from him than this. “Benji, your wife is dead. It looks to me like she was killed. Get your ass home.”

In the background, the woman whispered something breathy and Holly could almost see her cloying at the forty-year old man, maybe pouting for sex or at the very least eager to compete with the caller who had the audacity to take up any of her lover’s time.

Benjamin rushed through a stunted goodbye, and Holly heard a click and the line went dead. She snorted a laugh, appalled he could hang up on her so easily.

Her hands were thawing out so she tucked her cell in her pocket and scanned the bedroom, but she was too overwhelmed for her eyes to work.

The police would comb every inch of this house as soon as they concluded Rose Wythe had been murdered and Holly would be damned if she let them get sidetracked from catching her sister’s killer.

She hoped like hell Rose hadn’t relapsed, but she systematically worked her way through every room in the house checking for hidden drug stashes anyway.

After twenty minutes, she had found a dime-bag taped to the underside of the toilet bowl lid and three 8-balls—one tucked in the toe of a Jimmy Choo, another wedged beneath a mini-fridge on Benjamin’s side of the bed, the man liked his nightcaps but not enough to journey down to the kitchen, and the third stuffed inside one of Tucker’s stuffed animals where the nape of its neck had sprouted cotton, whether her nephew or her sister had mangled the bear, Holly couldn’t understand.

And that was on the second floor alone. The ground floor proved even more bountiful, a fact that deeply disturbed her.

All told, by the time she sat on the living room couch after setting her findings on the coffee table, Holly was looking at about a quarter-pound of cocaine; more than enough to kill her sister if Rose went on a bender.

But it wouldn’t kill her.

Someone else already had.

And fathoming that was the force that compelled her to tear open one of the little baggies, tap out a heap of powder, chop it with the plastic edge of her debit card, scrape the drug into a long crisp line, and snort it with the only bill she could find in her wallet.

She had never felt closer to her twin.


Chapter Two

The LED light panels angled across the lake were bright enough to illuminate a football field. The Center Harbor PD had set up five of them, each on eight-foot stands, each weighing approximately 200 lbs. Three were on the shore, the last two strategically placed on the ice as close to the hole as possible without compromising the safety of the volunteer firefighters and medics that were working to retrieve the body of Rose Wythe.

Detective Lucas York had ordered one rookie to watch those lights and listen out for moaning, a sign the ice was about to crack. If it did, his team would have very little time to abandon retrieval and get to the shore.

The rookie, Officer Bobby Gibbs, who was barely out of diapers in Lucas’s estimation and whose voice trilled whenever he got nervous, crouched equidistant between the two LEDs, his head snapping left and right, gaze shifting from one light to the other like a ball boy at a tennis match. He was taking his duty very seriously.

There were too many men on the ice; too much heavy equipment. Lucas had shouted at the team several times to keep their distance from one another, so that their body weight wouldn’t strain the ice. He had been met with glares from the senior medics and wide-eyed confusion from the junior firefighters as if there would be no way to carry out the order.

Grouped tightly together as they were, the ice wouldn’t hold.

Lucas kept his eye on the diver, as the man bobbed in the water, readying himself to have another go at submerging. His breath came out in white clouds. There was no way his wet-suit would ward off hypothermia if he didn’t get out of the water soon. But the body had been drifting towards the shore.

Gibbs straightened up, drawing Lucas’s attention, and shouted, “I think I heard the ice whine.”

“Whine?” Lucas questioned.

The rookie nodded, terrified.

“Tell me when it moans.”

Gibbs twisted his mouth to the side, furrowing his brow, but crouched down again, getting back on task.

Splashing and adjusting his mouthpiece, the diver slipped beneath the surface, while the firefighters yelled their encouragement to the tune of, You got this, Carl! and Think warm thoughts! and Beers at Shenanigan’s after, because one of the guys had a cousin who owned the only bar in town that dared keep its doors open until four in the morning.

As the diver inched along beneath the ice, reaching the body and straining to hook his hands under the dead woman’s armpits, Lucas stalked around the hole at a distance, coming to the far side of it, the team five yards ahead, the Wythe house glowing like a Thomas Kinkade postcard in the distance, the twin sister somewhere inside.

Lucas hadn’t lived in Center Harbor long. Though this was his first case with the Center Harbor Police Department, he had worked his fair share of homicides in Plymouth, the most notable of which revolved around a prostitution ring where two under-aged girls had been brutally murdered. Closing the case had earned him accolades that in his mind he didn’t have a prayer of living up to so he had decided to move from the small northern town. It had been more impulsive than reasoned, but Lucas had long since accepted that side of himself. In fact, he rarely questioned it or even thought twice when barreling headlong towards change.

The diver surged to the surface, hugging the body tightly. Without hesitation, three firefighters hoisted the dead woman onto the ice, lining her parallel to a stretcher on which they placed her.

Lucas had to bark to be heard over the teams cheering. “Don’t cluster!”

“Moaning!” yelled Gibbs, who they also ignored. He shuttered, staring at the ice beneath his boots. “It’s cracking!”

Just as the firefighters got to their feet, each lifting a corner of the stretcher, the body shifting precariously on top, Gibbs bolted for the shore and not a second later one of the LED lights plummeted through the ice, splashing into the lake.

As Lucas jogged away from the hole, someone shouted, “Reroute!” The firefighters veered left, avoiding the compromised ice but nearing the remaining LED and they soon realized their error. The ice shifted beneath their feet. Hollering ensued as they maneuvered away, shuffling along a narrow strip of what everyone hoped was thick ice.

Carrying the stretcher, the men couldn’t spread their weight, but Lucas could keep away from them and not be the straw to break the camel’s back.

Calmly, he stilled, breathing deeply and steadily.

“York! Get off the ice!” It was Gibbs this time, screaming from the shore, his hands cupped around his mouth.

But Lucas couldn’t risk the rescue team’s safety. He waited, heart punching up his throat, the glare of the last LED in his eyes, and watched his men cross the threshold to the backyard where an ambulance was idling, its lights blazing red and white in manic alternation, its rear doors open, ready to transport Rose Wythe to the morgue.

Finally, he started for the shore, arching around the fractured ice and taking slow, prayer-filled steps.

“I radioed Cody McAlister,” Gibbs told him, as he stepped onto an inclined snow bank along the shore.

“Great,” he said dryly. He would prefer to examine the body without his partner. “Where’s my medical examiner?”

“She was shot in the chest,” said Gibbs, indicating he assumed a preliminary examination might wait until morning, as if he was even remotely high enough on the totem pole for the privilege of such an assumption...

Lucas tried not to berate the young cop, as he ushered him to the stretcher and pointed at the wound in Rose Wythe’s chest. “She was shot between the shoulder blades. This is an exit wound. I need a second opinion on the caliber. I need the medical examiner.”

“I think he went off to Shenanigan’s.”

“Get him back here,” he ordered.

“Second opinion? You can tell the caliber?”

Lucas glared at him, exercising his last shred of patience by adding, “Nice work with the LEDs.”

If it hadn’t been below freezing, Gibbs would’ve turned scarlet.

“Now, Officer.”

“Right, on it.” As he produced his cell phone, sent the call through, and pressed his phone to his ear, he asked, “What’s your guess?”

Indulging him, he supplied, “.48,” but didn’t elaborate.

Gibbs wandered off, sounding apologetic in his effort to summon the medical examiner.

Lucas leaned in and studied Rose Wythe’s face. Her lips were gray, her hair icicles. The skin on the tip of her nose as well as her chin were gone, those parts of her that had adhered to the under-wall of ice. He noticed a silver chain around her neck and felt blindly for the pendant that he figured had slipped around to her nape. When he set the silver heart on her chest, he resumed his examination. Her left cheek had minor lacerations, presumably where it had slid over the ice. But Lucas could see past the cuts and abrasions to the woman beneath. He could almost picture her alive, her cheeks rosy, her eyes bright. Maybe she had been the type to smile at the drop of a hat. Maybe she had gotten more beautiful when angered. The necklace was of interest to him, though he couldn’t pinpoint why. He found the clasp and unhinged it then pocketed the jewelry, acutely aware he was risking his job.

What kind of person would shoot a woman in the back as she ran away?

A tar heart.

It wasn’t a real term. Lucas had invented it; the psychopathy of a killer, its toll on the human heart. Killers didn’t emote, not like normal people. Their capacity for empathy was limited, if it existed at all. They often felt stuck, imprisoned in the obligation to be normal, pretending to be like everyone else. It weighed on them, oppressed them, heaviness black and sticky as tar. Or that’s how Lucas thought of it.

Killing brought them to life. Thrilled, perhaps electrically when indulging in murder; the killer felt light and free. But it wouldn’t last. It couldn’t. Not if they were truly warped.

Rising from contemplation, having sensed he wasn’t alone, he found his partner, Cody McAlister, rounding the gurney and angling over the body.

Like Lucas, Cody had received notoriety as the result of a previous case he had solved, but unlike Lucas, his partner had bounced around afterwards, moving from town to town, department to department in the months that followed the Kendra Cole case. Perhaps he had felt suffocated by his own success or maybe he had left the small town in search of the next newsworthy crime. Lucas didn’t know for sure. Cody had never told him. They were still in the butting-heads phase of their new partnership.

“We swept for shell casings,” Cody mentioned. “The killer must have taken them.”

“How’s the sister?”

Cody frowned stiffly. “You might take a crack at her.”

He cocked his brow, curious.

Indicating the body, Cody suggested, “Let’s get her to the morgue.”

As soon as he said it, a medic appeared, creeping into view from the driver’s side and waiting in hopeful expectation for the final word.

“Don’t you want Roger to take a look?”

Dismissively, Cody shrugged, “Roger’s two beers deep at the bar,” as if he were at a loss for motivating small-town, underpaid, and overworked assistants. “Tomorrow will be soon enough.”

In addition to being furious with the M.E., which he suppressed like a pro, Lucas had to admit he was impressed the man could knock ‘em back so quickly. Roger had only just left ten minutes ago. Changing the subject, he asked, “Where’s the husband?”

“That’s what I would like to know.”

Sheepishly, the medic inched closer. “Final word?”

Cody didn’t glance at Lucas for confirmation, but obliged the young man. “Go ahead.”

“Would you say that’s a .48?” Lucas was pointing to the wound in Rose Wythe’s chest, preventing the medic from collapsing the gurney legs as he motioned to shove the body into the ambulance.

“I’d say a .42. The report will tell us.”

His words were friendly enough, but his tone had been adversarial.

Lucas gave him a curt nod to end the conversation and started for the house, but turned after Cody said, “Let me know what you think of the sister.”

Holding his gaze for a beat before setting off towards the porch, Lucas’s response came loud and fast but only in his mind.

His thoughts about Holly Danes were unrelenting.

Sliding the glass door aside, he entered the living room where police officers were obtrusively rummaging through drawers with little tact as though the killer would’ve possibly thought to stash the murder weapon within these four walls.

Lucas told his officers to sweep the upstairs rooms.

Seated on the couch with a mug of coffee in her hands was Holly, her right arm cradling a young boy. The kid looked conked out when Lucas flicked his eyes in their direction, waiting for his men to shuffle out and give him privacy with the woman.

He hadn’t seen her in upwards of ten years.

When the living room was quiet except for the murmuring voices of officers in nearby rooms, Lucas finally took in the sight of her.

She looked exactly the same, though her fawn-brown eyes weren’t only round but glassy, likely from balling her eyes out all night. Her pronounced features, the Grecian slope of her nose and truncated lips that reminded him of the Statue of Liberty, swept him into a time-warp—their chance encounter, the dive bar empty of customers though the bar-back had a definite presence, Lucas’s unshakable interest, and her shy reluctance as she had fished a stray olive from her martini glass.

It hadn’t been until the morning after, when he had woken alone in bed, that he realized their long, sex-filled night hadn’t been the start of something exhilarating. It hadn’t been the start of anything at all. He had driven out of Center Harbor after that three-day weekend meant to clear his head and found he had managed to do the opposite, thoughts of Holly Danes cloying at him from the back of his mind. When he had put in his transfer, he had deliberately chosen the one town he hoped she still lived in.

And there she was, staring at him with stunned recognition.

Under her breath she said, “Damn,” and stiffened nervously, as he sat at the far end of the couch. Between them, the young boy jostled his feet in a fit of dreams, shuttering a rocky exhale, and then stilled. “I already spoke with the other guy.”

“You’re still making jewelry?”

She smiled, but the offering was mild.

“Can you tell me why you think Benjamin Wythe isn’t here?”

Exhausted, she supplied, “He’s probably sleeping.”

“We would like to know where.”

“A motel? I’m really not sure. We aren’t close.”

Lucas fell silent to give her the impression her answer had been satisfactory. Pressuring her too soon, too hard wouldn’t be productive.

“I can take Tucker for the night,” she went on as if that was what he had been getting at. “Look, this is all a shock to me. I haven’t seen Rose in nearly a year.”

“What made you think to swing by?”

Holly sniffled, wrinkling her nose, as she freed a hand to wipe it, but to Lucas it seemed like she was stalling. “I was on the ice for awhile,” she mentioned, excusing the gesture. “Rose called me. She sounded... I thought I should go over to the house. Before she got off the phone, she said that she thought Benjamin had just pulled up the driveway. I already told that guy, McAlister, all of this.”

What struck Lucas most was her complete lack of emotion. It didn’t seem characteristic, but then again, he hadn’t seen her in years and their night together had been just that—an unforgettable eight hours, not enough to trust that he could possibly know her.

It occurred to him that though her eyes were glassy, there was no sign of puffiness or smeared mascara. “Why hadn’t you seen her in a year?” He asked, wondering the impetus of their estrangement.

“We just... were too busy,” she said vacantly. “It has nothing to do with why she was killed.”

If it had been anyone other than Holly sitting on the couch, he would’ve told them that he would be the judge of that.

“Was she wearing a necklace?” she asked, once again jumping topics.

“Not that I know of,” he lied.

She narrowed her eyes skeptically in response, but the squint was barely perceptible. “I thought I saw a thin chain around her neck.”

“I can call the morgue if you like,” he offered, carefully gauging her expression. Color was coming into her cheeks, indicating her heart rate was quickening.

“Please do,” she said in a far away voice. Her gaze softened as well and soon lowered to the boy in her arms, the mug of coffee she had been passing between her hands, its steam waning. Then her eyes brightened and she met his gaze. “I didn’t tell the other cop about the security cameras. Benjamin had at least four installed around the perimeter of the house.”

“There are four?” he asked, surprised.

“They’re above the floodlights,” she explained. “You wouldn’t notice them, especially at night. You would just be blinded by the lights. The cameras record onto a server that’s located in the basement.”

“That’s fairly high-tech,” he commented. “What does Benjamin do for a living?”

“Hospitality,” she said easily. “But he’s been out of work.”

From outside, Cody neared the sliding glass door, stomping snow off his boots, then eased it open, letting himself in. An icy gust of wind came with him, but he quickly slid the door closed.

“Excuse me,” he told Holly and joined his partner at the door.

“There are cameras hooked up-”

“Where are the evidence logs?” Cody barked, cutting him off. “You told me you would leave them on the passenger seat. The guys can’t find them.”

Taken aback, Lucas kept a poker face, wracking his brain. He couldn’t recall being asked. “I was half asleep when Tammy called.”

“You were awake when I talked to you,” he pointed out, not at all concealing how annoyed he was.

“Sorry, Cody, I must’ve forgotten.” He shouldn’t have spoken so casually using his partner’s first name instead of his last, but at least he had held his tongue from saying what he really wanted to. Center Harbor was supposed to have more money than his former precinct and it was ridiculous that cops were expected to supply their own forms and evidence bags and latex gloves during after-hours investigations. Hire a damned night-clerk to make runs, was Lucas’s feeling.

The way Cody was glaring at him made him wonder if the man even cared about the evidence logs. Typically, the officers would file them next-day. Maybe his partner was itching to get on Lucas’s case for anything no matter how insignificant.

Without thinking, he snuck a glimpse at Holly, which Cody didn’t seem to appreciate. He was gaping at him, but Lucas ignored him.

A thin trickle of blood was dripping from Holly’s right nostril.

Nearing her and fishing under the necklace that was also in his pocket for a tissue, he said, “You might need to get checked out. I think we have a medic floating around somewhere.”

Confusedly, she glanced up at him just as blood hit her lip. She dabbed it with her finger, realizing the nosebleed. “I’ll be fine,” she said, accepting the tissue.

“Tip your head back,” he suggested.

“Really, I’m fine,” she said, declining. “Happens all the time when it’s cold out.”

He didn’t trust the statement. They had met during winter. The bar had been chilly. They had drunk whiskey to ward off the draft. Outside they had taken a long stroll, drinking beers from paper bags and yelping when the wind kicked a flurry of snow in their faces. The motel they had stumbled upon had been no better, its heater clanging and unreliable. Not once had Holly gotten a nosebleed. There hadn’t been any bloody tissues in the bathroom trash receptacle when he had riffled through it in hopes of finding evidence he had remembered to use a condom, the night having been a blur in that department.

Holly wadded up the tissue he had given her and tucked it into her pocket. The nosebleed had been quick and uncharacteristic of your common, run-of-the-mill winter dehydration, which afflicted children more often than adults.

“You’ve been helpful, Holly,” he told her. “We won’t keep you here any later. Thanks a lot for your time.”

She pulled the boy against her chest, rising to her feet.

“Need help getting him to your car?”

“I’m fine,” she said quickly. “You’ll let me know about the necklace?”

Quirking his mouth into a somber smile, he told her that he would and walked her to the entrance door and opened it for her.

She stepped outside, but turned, looking up at him, while the child murmured in her arms. “Will there be an autopsy on Rose?”

She seemed apprehensive.

“I don’t see the need for it. Her cause of death is cut and dry.”

Letting out a carefully measured breath and nodding to herself, she started for the steps. Lucas watched her from the doorway, as she made her way through a snowdrift illuminated by stark floodlights, and got Tucker situated on the passenger seat. After she rounded the front of her vehicle, making brief, nervous eye contact, and climbed in behind the steering wheel, Lucas eased the door closed and leaned against it.

Cody wouldn’t appreciate Lucas making an unauthorized move, but after the punitive lecture on evidence logs he couldn’t care less. Pulling his cell phone from his jeans, the image of Holly nude on top of him burning into the forefront of his mind where it competed with his take on her shady behavior, he found Roger’s number.

When the line opened up to one very inebriated medical examiner, Lucas told him to run a full autopsy on Rose Wythe.


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