The Secret She Keeps

Book 2 in the Whitaker Island Series

No matter where you run to…

Connor Rye seeks solace on remote Whitaker Island. When his first quiet evening ends with a blow to the head, it’s clear that nothing—and no one—is as it seems. Still haunted by his sister’s murder, he’s buried himself in work while trying to hold his family together. Now, when he has a minute to breathe, he knows better than to get involved with a stranger, but it might be too late to keep his distance.

Desire will find you…

For years she’s pretended to be someone else, but Maddie Rhine is done living in the shadows. Old habits are hard to kick however, and when her past follows her to Whitaker she’s forced to hide once more. Except with Connor. Effortlessly sexy Connor makes it difficult to ignore him. He sees right through her…and senses her fear.

Someone is watching her. And waiting for the right moment to strike. This time Connor vows to be ready.

The Secret She Keeps

Book 2 in the Whitaker Island Series
Romantic Suspense
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The Secret She Keeps

is Book 2 in the Whitaker Island Series

Author Note

I write a lot of heroes who are mysterious. They have rough histories and aren’t emotionally available. They tend to act in ways that might be described as odd (I’m being nice here). Some are commitment-phobic —okay, a lot of them are. Most aren’t looking for a relationship and have been taught by life to be skeptical them.

So, I thought, what about giving all of those same self-protective, tough, and people-averse tendencies to the heroine instead?

And Maddie Rhine was born.

Maddie showed up in the shadows in the first book in this series, Her Other Secret. In The Secret She Keeps, she steps into the spotlight, which is something she would hate. She’s mysterious, quirky, and yes, odd. She’s someone who has seen some ugly stuff. She lived through a terrible situation and came out as a wary and careful survivor.

That means Maddie doesn’t always make choices that seem reasonable, and she often does the unexpected. All of that was great fun to write. I hope you enjoy Maddie and her offbeat charm. Hero Connor certainly does!

Chapter One

Connor Rye arrived on Whitaker Island a little after eight on an unseasonably warm fall evening.

He knew the temperature was not the norm because all eleven people he met in and around the marina where the ferry landed told him exactly that. Then they asked if he, by chance, had a brother who once stayed on the island. As soon as he answered yes, the conversation took a sharp left turn into a discussion about his older sibling.

Happened every single time. Connor grew up listening to his parents, teachers, friends, and many women talk about Hansen’s general greatness. Not that Connor minded . . . that much. He’d counted himself as his big brother’s number one fan, or at least he had until Hansen got engaged after a whirlwind romance that started right here on Whitaker.

If island legend was correct—and he’d gotten an earful about that, too—the romance blossomed in the same cabin where Connor now stood. Probably in and around the two-burner stove he was leaning against.

Connor shot up straight and wiped his palms on his jeans because thinking about his brother’s love life was not a thing he did—ever—and he really didn’t want a mental play-by-play now.

He traveled to Whitaker for a much-needed break. He’d been on a wild roller coaster ride of work and grief for almost two years. Twenty-three months and seven days to be exact. But who was counting?

He’d buried himself in the day-to-day operations of the family business while straining to keep everyone around him moving forward and, damn, he was exhausted. Haunted and bone tired. Completely out of gas and aching for normal.

So tonight he craved quiet. He really hoped for a few weeks of relaxation but relaxation wasn’t exactly his area of expertise. He’d settle for anything that sounded close. Tomorrow he’d set out, meet people, buy groceries, and otherwise pretend to be friendly when he felt anything but. Tonight . . . nothing.

He unloaded the last of the few provisions he’d brought with him at Hansen’s suggestion. The first of many hints and interruptions over the last few days because his big brother had an equally big control issue. He’d texted up until Connor’s flight took off from Washington, D.C., to Seattle, and again as Connor stepped on the ferry from Seattle to Whitaker. A never-ending trail of texts filled with instructions and a few warnings about not messing up the place. One pointed out that the house was on sibling loan only and not to get too comfortable.

Uh-huh. Noted.

Connor decided to end the day of traveling the best way he knew how: with a cup of coffee in his hand, his ass on the couch, and his feet propped up on something. The living room area of the cabin, all cozy with the cushy sofa cushions, looked like the perfect spot. He sank down into a nest of stuff piled at one end and groaned. He’d been skeptical of the wall of pillows and blankets, but he was a believer now.

He kicked off his sneakers and reached for the television remote. He would have turned the thing on but the lure of a pre-bed nap, one where he could close his eyes and not think too hard, proved to be a strong lure. He dropped his head back in the tangle of fluffy accessories and let his eyes drift shut.

The wind rattled through the two-story cabin and swooped to the loft above. Inside stayed warm, but the temperature dropped outside. If he had more energy he’d get up and start a fire. But that would have to wait for another day, preferably after he’d fueled up on island hospitality and some homemade nonairport food.

Drifting in and out, he sensed time passing but he had no idea how much. Just as he started to fall under, something jolted him awake. Wide awake. Blame the strange stillness in the cabin, but his muscles no longer relaxed.

He opened his eyes to complete darkness. Fatigue had pulled at him when he sat down but he was pretty sure he’d left two lights on, the one across the room and the one over the sink in the kitchen. Neither was on now. The steady hum from the old refrigerator had also vanished.

He jackknifed into a sitting position, then froze, trying to take it all in. An unsettling sensation washed over him. The movement of the air in the room wasn’t quite right, but he couldn’t name how. The confusion set his inner alarm buzzing.

He forced his breathing to slow as he concentrated on picking up any clues. A second later, a scraping sound, barely above a whisper, echoed around him. Then he heard breathing, labored and a little rushed.

Just when he started to jump up, he heard the grunt. Pain slammed into his head a second later. The hit dropped him off the edge of the couch. His knees hit the hardwood floor with a thwack.

“Shit.” He blinked as he landed on all fours and fought to keep his focus.

One thought tumbled around in his head . . . Move.

He shoved the ottoman to the side and crawled. He’d only been in the cabin a few hours and struggled to remember the layout. The front door waited a few feet in front of him and off a bit to his right. And his cell . . . where the hell had he put it?

Footsteps thudded against the old floorboards. The attacker didn’t attempt to hide the noise now.

Connor shifted but something—no, that was definitely a someone—landed on his back. Not too heavy or with enough strength to pin him down for long but the pressure slowed him down. He reached around to grab an arm or any limb he could reach when the attacker pressed a hand against his new head wound. One touch and the room began to spin. His arms gave out and his chest and chin crashed into the floor. The force of his yell surprised even him.

Off balance now, he wrestled for control. Repeated bouts of dizziness made it tough to throw the person off him. Everything whirled and raced as he tried to shrug and move. He choked back the need to throw up but froze when the attacker started talking. Right in his ear. Low and deep.

“Leave Whitaker now.”

The insistent sound didn’t hide the person’s attempt to use a fake gravelly tone. A woman? Maybe . . .

Nothing about the hit-and-threaten move made sense but the buzzing in his head had his arms shaking. His body listed to one side as he fought to keep from face-planting on the floor. “I . . . what the hell?”

The pressure against his body vanished in a flash. Then he heard the thump of footsteps as the person raced away. A rush of cold air swept through the cabin. Connor dragged in enough to revive some of his energy and lift his head. Even in the relative darkness he could see the cabin door standing wide open. The pain knocking inside his brain refused to subside. A haze blurred his vision and he tried to blink it away.

Help. He needed help. Get checked. Find the attacker.

But he didn’t know one person on the island. A few by name, but that was it.

He stumbled to his feet. Bobbing and weaving, he made it to the front door and slammed into the wall. His fingers found the light switch and clicked it on. Nothing happened. The cabin up through the loft remained plunged into darkness.

The whole thing had been weird but thorough—cut the power, sneak in, and attack. But that didn’t explain what the person wanted or why.

A few more blinks and his eyes finally adjusted to the relative blackness. Lumps that looked like furniture formed in the shadows. Taking slow steps, he bumped his way back to the sofa. Careful not to shift his head too much, he leaned down and patted the floor and the couch cushion in a desperate search for his cell. His fingertips knocked against it on the ottoman and it slipped to the floor.

“Mother . . .” Even talking hurt his head, so he let the front half of the grumbled profanity be enough.

A few seconds later he found the cell and turned on the flashlight, making sure to aim it away from him. The last thing he needed was a blast into his eyes. His headache would never go away after that.

Scanning the area right around him with a minimum of movement didn’t make things better. He spotted the blood streaked across the floor, on his hand. He wasn’t so great with blood. Seeing it made the dizziness come roaring back. He fought to stay on his feet long enough to make a call.

As the phone rang, one simple thought kept replaying in his head. He’d only been on the island a few hours and someone already wanted him gone.


Chapter Two

Connor hated hospitals. Hated dealing with police and answering questions. When his sister was killed all those months ago, his life split wide open. There was the man he was before and the one he’d turned into after. He went from being the younger son, working his way up in the family business, to the only one in the right headspace to lead.

In the “before” he’d been naive. Dedicated but still grounded in the belief that a healthy person needed outlets and friends. Time away from his desk and responsibilities.

Everything changed on that one day. Alexis plunged over that cliff during a hike because the one person in the world who was supposed to love and cherish her threw her off. Her psychopath of a husband wanted money and another woman, and he made Alexis disposable.

Since then Connor had disappeared into his work. With his parents broken with grief and his brother obsessed with revenge, everything fell to him. That included identifying the body and handling the police, the lawyers, and the press.

Sitting there now, with his legs hanging over the side of the hospital bed in the Whitaker Clinic’s emergency room, feeling the panic swirling through the halls and the grim sense of urgency on the staff’s faces, brought it all back. The sight of nurses rushing around. The smell of cleaning supplies and disinfectant.

The sensation that he would never be okay again.

Before he could muster his scrambled thoughts, the curtains surrounding his bed parted. He tried not to jump at the clinking sound of metal against metal as hooks slid on the rod.

Ben Clifford, the island’s version of law enforcement, stepped into the open space. He’d been the one Connor called because Hansen had given him Ben’s contact info for a meet up once he got settled on Whitaker. This was his big brother’s friend and he came rushing, asking questions and making sure Connor got in to see a doctor right away.

Things were calmer now as Ben gave a nod hello. “There are better ways to meet.”

“I was thinking dinner and a movie, but yeah.” Connor touched his head and felt the bandage.

At least the urge to projectile vomit had subsided, but he guessed it would return with a vengeance if he moved too fast or the wrong way.

Ben frowned as his gaze searched Connor’s face. “You sure you don’t have an enemy back home that might have followed you here to Whitaker?”

Connor stilled. “Are you serious?”

“Let’s pretend I am.”

“I want to make sure I get this theory of yours.” Connor waited for Ben to nod before continuing. “You think the attacker was angry with me back in D.C., so they got on a plane, then a ferry to follow me here, in order to tell me to go the hell back home.”

“Huh.”

Exactly. Connor couldn’t make that stretch work with any amount of mental gymnastics. “I’m struggling with the logic of that.”

“I get that, but logic isn’t always the right motivator in cases like this.” Ben stepped up to the bed. He wore jeans and zip-up hoodie. Not the usual police gear but it seemed to fit with the laid-back style of the island on display so far. “Still, you make a good point.”

“Hansen said you were practical.” Connor turned his head and . . . yep, there it was. A vicious rush of bile. That’s all it took to convince him not to try that again. “Any chance this is left over from the mess with Hansen and the guy who killed my sister?”

For a few seconds Ben just stood there, not saying a word. “You don’t even use his name.”

Connor didn’t pretend to be confused. He knew who Ben meant. His sister’s killer. “He’s taken up enough of my family’s time and energy. He was a predator and deserved the end he got.”

“Can’t argue with that.” Ben nodded as nurses passed behind him and a few crowded at the monitor directly across from Connor’s bed. “It is hard to see how this could be connected to that since that’s been over for months. That guy is dead. Your brother is back home. Things have been quiet around here since the end of summer and now we’re heading into winter.”

“Quiet until I got here.”

“Well, it is hard to ignore the timing and your head wound.” Ben shrugged. “At least tying the past to this injury would be an explanation.”

Connor really couldn’t come up with another one. Even a business competitor gone rogue wouldn’t engage in this sort of thing. “I’m usually the nonproblematic brother.”

“That’s what I was told.” Ben turned and greeted the woman who stepped into the space with them. “Good evening, doc.”

Connor recognized her as the one who’d worked on his head. She’d used a minimum of words while she checked him over. She’d been efficient and called out orders that sent everyone scurrying. She might be petite—not much over five feet—in her fifties or so, but everyone in the clinic took her seriously, and so did Connor.

She held out her hand to him. “Lela Thomas. I introduced myself earlier but you weren’t really in a position to know much of what was happening around you.”

They shook hands. “Connor Rye.”

She winked at him. “Let’s hope you’re less trouble than your brother.”

Her mix of confident and comforting worked for him. It also put him at ease in a place guaranteed to make him twitchy. “An hour ago I would have said yes.”

“Now?” she asked.

He shrugged and immediately regretted moving. “It’s an open question.”

Some of her amusement faded as she snapped into doc mode. “The good news is, no concussion, but you did get rattled. You have a few stitches, and I’d like you to come back in a few days. But for now, you should get some rest. I’d prefer for you not to be alone, so you can stay here—”

“No.” Connor thought about apologizing for the cracking whip of his voice but decided to pretend it didn’t happen because it wasn’t personal, and the doc had to know that.

She eyed him for a few seconds before talking again. “Okay. But I’d prefer if someone checked in on you periodically.”

That struck Connor as a problem. “I just got to Whitaker. I don’t actually know anyone here except Ben, and I met him a half hour ago.”

“I have some forensic work to do at your place tonight,” Ben said. “I’ll put you up at Berman’s Lodge, let the owner, Sylvia, spoil you, and I’ll check on you a few times.”

“That’s not necessary.” It was too much attention. Connor sucked at being coddled. Like, really sucked at it. People tried to help him and he had to bite back the urge to scream for space.

“It’s one night,” Ben said, clearly not impressed with Connor’s refusal. “Then you can come with me to the cabin tomorrow and let me know if anything is missing.”

“How will I know? I’ve been in town for about ten seconds.”

“Right.” Ben winced. “We’ll figure something out.”

The doc winked at Connor. “See? All problems solved.”

Maybe it was the island air. That was the only explanation Connor could come up for why no one seemed that upset about an attacker whacking him in the head for no reason. “Uh-huh.”

“Look at it this way. You’ve been on the island for less than a day and have already made new friends.” Doc Lela, which was what everyone in the clinic called her, checked his bandage as she talked. “That’s a good sign.”

She’d missed an obvious bad sign when it came to his dangerous island welcoming committee, but Connor let it slide. “There are probably easier ways to meet people than being attacked.”

She smiled as she worked. “No kidding.”

Ben laughed. “Welcome to Whitaker.”

One good thing was that it had to go up from here . . . At least, Connor hoped that was true.


Chapter Three

Maddie Rhine couldn’t stop shaking. She sat at her kitchen table and opened and closed her hand as she looked out the floor-to-ceiling windows to the water in the distance. It had been more than twelve hours and the fine tremor running through her fingers refused to stop. She was starting to think it never would.

She’d been terrified and in hiding for most of the last two years. Never getting a decent night of sleep. Watching over her shoulder and wrapping herself in loneliness to avoid more pain. When the killings happened on Whitaker a few months back she seriously considered running again, but the stark desperation to finally build a new life kept her rooted here.

Still, exhaustion tugged at her. She didn’t have the strength to do this alone. Not anymore.

She looked at the letter resting on her table. The one she’d barely touched, except to open the envelope. She’d been trained in this. She knew not to handle the paper too much.

I found you, bitch.

Nothing subtle about that message or the angry scribbling scrawl.

The knock at the door made her jump. Warm tea spilled over her hand. A second later that familiar racing sensation revved up inside her. The need to bolt, or at least hunt for a weapon and hunker down . . . and wait.

“Maddie?”

Ben’s voice reached her through the door.

This was Ben. Safe, dependable Ben. With that cute face, he turned heads all over the island. Attractive on any scale. Tall, dark, and handsome, but to her, brotherly with a background in ass-kicking, which was exactly how she preferred the men she knew. At a distance and lethal, protective without smothering.

The one time he’d asked her out, she’d panicked. She wanted him near her as her last line of defense. Ever since her life had blown up, the idea of dating, of trusting another person on any sort of intimate level, left her cold and shaking. She stayed away and totally out of the dating pool because it was easier, safer.

She mentally insisted keeping her life and her world separate from other people saved them from harm. Some days she wondered if her reclusive existence really only made it easier for her. No attachments meant no possibility someone could hurt or disappoint her.

At the second knock, she got up and headed for the door. She opened each lock, all four. A rush of relief hit her when she saw him standing there, tall and sure. “Hi.”

His eyes narrowed. “You okay?”

That would teach her to think her fake smile worked. “It’s been a long morning.”

“Same here.” He glanced into the empty room behind her. “What’s going on?”

She’d called him and asked for his help, something she never did. She knew she could, but she hadn’t, until now. She tried not to drag anyone into her messed-up life. “I have a problem.”

“Okay.” He glanced behind her again. “Which is . . . ?”

Right. Invite him in, like a non-messed-up person might do.

It took a lot for her to abandon her safety precautions, but it was either call him to come to her or go to his office, and the latter felt like a big step compared to her usual loner life.

“Sorry.” She gestured for him to come inside.

“Maddie, we’ve known each other for almost two years.”

She had no idea where he was going with this, so she cut him off. “We’ve barely seen each other.”

“You’re the town’s answering service. You handle all the calls for my office.”
Is he always this chatty? “I do that from here. Alone. Without anyone around.”

He made a face that suggested he was weighing his words and trying to find the right ones.

“That’s my point. Not once—ever—have you asked for anything. The fact you did today is a clue something is very wrong. Just tell me what it is so I can help.”

She appreciated the straightforward attitude. He was known for it and it relaxed her now. Maybe that would make the next ten minutes easier, though she doubted it.

She walked over to the table and pointed at the handwritten note. “This.”

He frowned as he followed her. Lines appeared across his forehead and the scowl deepened as he studied the piece of paper. “What the hell is this?”

“It was on my porch. Slipped under the mat.” Peeking out as if to taunt her. Just like the last two. “I’ve been getting notes, on and off, for a few months.”

His eyes widened. “And you waited until now to tell me?”

“It’s complicated.” She couldn’t exactly start a conversation with, Maddie isn’t my real name and my whole life is a lie, even if that would be the one true thing she ever said while on Whitaker.

“Maddie.” His tone sounded half exasperated and half stunned.

“There are things you don’t know about me.” Things no one could know. Her past loomed right behind her. Things had changed and she should be safer now to venture out and meet people, but the notes suggested otherwise.

“Your former handler called me.”
Handler.

“I . . . you can’t . . .” That’s all she had. A sputtering mess of words that made no sense as a sentence.

He reached out but didn’t touch her. “Easy.”

Memories of her former life smashed into her, stealing her breath. She stepped back, ramming her calf into her favorite chair. “What are you talking about?”

“Evan Williams.” Ben nodded.

Anxiety jumbled and churned in her stomach. “I don’t know who that is.”

He stared her for a few extra beats without saying a word. “Wildflower at night.”

He knew the name. The right name. And the code.

“How?” She forced that question out as a whisper.

While she fumbled and shifted her weight and generally wanted to crawl under the house and hide, Ben stayed calm. He didn’t fluster or panic. The evenness of his voice wrapped around her. “When everything unfolded a few months ago, and the killing, and you were, well, secretive. I thought . . . you know, maybe . . .”

The wince gave him away.

“Did you think I did it? You thought I killed some random guy who showed up on the island?”

Good lord. Talk about a communication misfire.

He backed up that wince with a guilty shrug. “You disappeared for a few—”

“I was hiding!” And she was yelling now. It wasn’t fair to Ben but the idea that he thought she could kill someone almost doubled her over.

“On the island?” Shock took over in his voice. “Where?”

Was that really the point? “I’m not telling you that. A hiding place ceases to be a good hiding place when you announce where it is.”

“Okay, look.” He held up his hands his mock surrender. “I don’t know details of what happened in your past. I got the call from Evan, pitched as an informal talk between enforcement professionals, that digging into your identity was . . . I believe the phrase this Evan guy used was frowned upon.”

“Sounds like him.” She could almost hear Evan’s deep voice, all commanding and half threatening. Technically he no longer protected her or worked on her behalf, but he called and checked in often. Offered his support and insisted she get back in the program, just in case.

They’d known each other ever since her life changed, and had become friends of a sort. Or the only sort she had.

“Where are the other notes you received?” Ben asked.

“I sent them to Evan.”

“I can call him but I think we both know you took photos.”

She rushed forward, stopping right as her hand brushed his sleeve. Then she dropped it. “I don’t want to do this.”

Ben being Ben, he stayed focused. He didn’t reach out for her. He wasn’t the type to crowd or
plow through boundaries. “What?”

“Live in hiding anymore.”

His forehead wrinkled in what looked like confusion. “Okay. But I was talking about Evan and the photos.”

“It’s all mixed together.”

Ben visibly took a long breath. “Slow down and tell me how.”

“Do you know who Evan is?” She didn’t see Ben as part of some big conspiracy against her, but her past life had been complicated and dangerous and she didn’t recognize either of those things until she walked into a disaster.

“I know he’s with the Marshals Service and I know what the people there do. I don’t think you’re a fugitive on the run or I’d have agents all over the island.” He hesitated. “So I’m guessing you need protection or some sort . . . or did. It would explain the hiding and minimal contact with people on Whitaker, except for your voice through a telephone.”

He understood enough to get what she was about to say. It was more of an explanation than she’d given anyone in years. “I can’t go back into hiding again. Not back to the kind where my life isn’t my own and I don’t decide anything.”

“I can appreciate wanting . . . I don’t know the right word. Freedom? But this is a serious situation.”

“Which is why I called you. You’re the police. This is your job.”

“I’m not even sure what I’m dealing with other than this one threat. Seeing the others won’t answer that fully, but they might help.” He glanced at the paper again. “So would a little bit of background on why you needed Evan in the first place.”

That was asking too much. She didn’t have the energy or will for a full show-and-tell. “Please don’t make me regret calling you.”

“Just the notes then.”

It was a fair request but still she mentally debated it. After a few seconds when she was sure her fingers would refuse to move, she pressed a few buttons and sent the copies to Ben’s
phone. “There you go.”

“Thanks.” He let out another breath, this one louder and longer. “I hadn’t planned on sharing this, and I don’t know if it’s related, but we had an attack on the island last night.”

She froze. Everything inside her stopped. She even held her breath. “What?”

“Hansen Rye’s brother is in town and staying at the cabin. He was—”

“Wait, who?”

“Connor.”

“That’s not right.”

Ben’s gaze narrowed. “Excuse me?”

“But . . .” Her breath whooshed out of her. “The cabin is empty.”

“Was.”

“Was?”

“As in not now. I get the impression him coming to Whitaker was a last-minute decision, but
he’s here.”

Her mind spun. The facts she knew . . . thought she knew. Empty, as in no one there. Locked and off-limits to anyone. She had asked around. She made it her business to know who came on and off the island and why. How had she missed him?

She swallowed hard but it didn’t help. Her voice still sounded rusty. “You said something about a brother?”

Ben shook his head a bit and continued to stare at her. “Yes. His name is Connor.”

That would mean that she . . . She closed her eyes and reached for her last bit of control. Breaking down in front of Ben was not in her plans today.

“Is he okay?” She gulped in air now. She could feel it stuttering and rattling around in her chest. She was two seconds away from wheezing.

“Maddie, is there something I need to know here?”

She doubled over with her hands on her thighs and wondered if that blow-in-a-paper-bag thing she’d seen on television worked. “That Whitaker is about as safe as a medium-sized city right now,” she said, trying to make a joke.

He helped her into the kitchen chair without commenting on her current condition. “We’re not quite at that danger level yet.”

“If you say so.” She threw her head back and stared at her ceiling. After a slow ten-count, some of the nervous energy pinging around inside her vanished.

“Trust me.”

“His brother.” The words came out in a harsh whisper.

“Do you know what happened at the Rye brothers’ cabin?” he asked, sounding half like he’d formed an answer but wanted to test her anyway. “Were you there?”

Silence screamed through her. “Hmm?”

He shook his head. “I think you heard me.”

“Do you need to get back . . .” He never stopped shaking his head, so she figured she could not fake her way out of this. She pulled her scrambled thoughts together to form a sentence.

“Maddie.”

“What? You just told me about the cabin. I’m surprised. That’s all.” Not the best avoidance tactic, but it was all she had at the moment.

When she looked at Ben again, she found him staring at her with a look somewhere between concern and complete confusion. Of course he was. He had eyes. He had to recognize stress-lying when it played out right in front of him.

“I’m thinking someone sneaked into the cabin, heard Connor there, and panicked.”

She hated how close he was. “I’m sure it was a fluke thing.”

“Uh-huh.” He finally broke eye contact and glanced at the letter. “I’m going to bag this note up and get it analyzed.”

That’s not what she expected him to say, but she was grateful for the reprieve from questions. This part she knew by heart, unfortunately. “There won’t be any fingerprints. There weren’t on the others. No prints. Paper you can buy anywhere.”

“With that kind of thorough assessment you could probably do my job.”

Dealing with criminals all day sounded like the ultimate nightmare to her. “No thanks.”

He leaned against the table, facing her. “Now that you’re breathing better there are a few things we need to do.”

“Like?”

“You should come into the office to work until we can get a handle on who is sending you these notes.” When she started to protest, he kept talking. “The more you’re around people, the harder it will be for anyone to get to you. Being out here, by yourself in this house all the time? Not good.”

“It’s my home.” She rented it, but then, everyone on Whitaker rented. It was a private island owned by a mysterious person who didn’t pipe up and identify themselves. But she loved the cottage. It was out of a fairy tale with the flower trellis around the door and a garden out back, just off the patio. She’d loved it from the second she saw it.

“You need security,” he said.

“I have a gun.” One that she might start carrying on her at all times.

He rolled his eyes. “So do I.”

That news caught her off guard. “I thought the town board didn’t let you carry one.”
He crossed one ankle over the other. “Protocol changed. Do you know how to shoot?”

“I learned that when I learned about how to handle a threatening letter. It was all part of the protection protocol. I had training and a handbook and everything.”

“Really?”

“Evan insisted.” She’d logged in hours at the shooting range and in self-defense classes. She had no idea if either would help if danger really knocked on her door, but she could at least sleep an hour or two at a time now without waking up in a panicked sweat.

“Right.” He stood up again. “Come to the office with me and we’ll work out a plan.”

She shouldn’t ask because it was weird for her to show too much interest, but she needed to know. “I don’t think you answered me. Is Hansen’s brother okay?”

“Connor is fine.” Ben was too busy bagging up the note to look at her.

“Good.”

He looked at her with an expression that dared her to lie to him. “But you’ll need to apologize and explain.”

Her muscles stopped working. “What are you talking about?”

He glanced at her. “Really?”

She tried to deflect because how could he know? “About an accident or whatever? Probably kids. Or someone got confused. I’ve just been here . . . you know. Answering phones.”

“That’s a lot of rambling.”

“You’re intimidating.” Sort of. He might be fair and listen and not be a jerk, but he still had a job to do and she may have tiptoed a wee bit over the line of what was appropriate when it came welcoming to the island’s newest visitor.

He’d surprised her and she panicked. Ben got that part right. After fifteen minutes of debating how to get down from the cabin’s loft and get by the guy, she’d been wound up and the breaker switch was right there, so . . .

“This isn’t my first day on the job, Maddie.”

Her mind raced with justifications and excuses. She blocked them all out and went with denial. “So?”

“I know guilt when I see it. You saw a guy and panicked, or you were in that cabin for a reason. Either way, Connor got hit.” He nodded in the general direction of her front door. “Grab your coat and let’s get this over with.”

She refused to believe he was some sort of human lie detector. “I didn’t do anything.”

“You’re really going to play it this way?”

Until the very end . . . or until she came up with a logical reason for what happened last night. “I think so. Yes.”

“This is going to be interesting.”

End of Excerpt

The Secret She Keeps

is available in the following format:

Avon

Dec 30, 2019

ISBN-13: 978-0062892799

Reviews of


The Secret She Keeps

The islanders are just as nosey, loyal, and quirky as ever, adding local flavor and comic relief to this intense story. Readers who enjoyed the prior book won’t be disappointed.

Publishers Weekly

Dimon's second Whitaker Island-set romantic suspense once again plays up the remote location populated by a community full of secrets and fueled by gossip. Calm, capable Connor (brother of Hansen from Her Other Secret, 2019) is the perfect partner for rattled Maddie, and their journey to happiness is smart and satisfying.

Kirkus

THE SECRET SHE KEEPS is a story of secrets and lies; obsession and betrayal. The premise is intriguing and captivating; the romance is seductive; the characters are energetic and spirited.

Reading Cafe

This novel was packed full of action, mystery, and romance.

Urban Lit Magazine

The Secret She Keeps is a complex story of love and grief, forgiveness and fresh starts. It’s a perfect story with which to wrap up the decade and forge a new path in the New Year. HelenKay Dimon is definitely on my keeper shelf.

BookPage