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 Seriesjump to ordering options →
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Whitaker Island Series
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.
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.
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.”
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.
End of Excerpt
The Secret She Keeps
is pre-ordering now,and begins shipping & downloading December 30, 2019:
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.