A sneak peek from the first chapter of All the Dark Corners, a Crimson Falls novella

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Chapter 1

The screeching cry of a vulture from my dream transforms into a ring, vibrating on the night table beside me. I reach across it as it rings again, knocking over an empty wine glass before my fingers find the phone with an urge to make the noise stop. The glowing blue 2: 01 on my alarm clock comes into focus, and a flutter rises from my chest to my throat.

Something’s wrong. Who would call this late?

I work to clear the lump in my throat as I grip the receiver.

Something’s happened. Something bad.

I sit up in bed, and my back presses against the cold wall behind me, shocking me awake as I tug at the curled cord and pull the receiver toward me. “Hello?” I press it to my ear, gripping it tightly. I wait for the words to hit me, but wet breath catches in my mom’s throat. I could never mistake it. Is she crying?

“What is it? What’s wrong?” I ask.

“I’m scared, Sam,” she huffs, her robust tone returning as she says my name. “I can’t do it anymore.”

“Do what?”

Is it finally time? Could she have actually come to her senses? What day is it? October ninth. Just a few more days until Founders Day. I want to hear her tell me she wants out before then.

“… and he’s been stalking us. Driving up and down our street—”


Her wet breath crackles in her throat on the other end. “The man who killed your dad.”

I swallow hard and push my hair away from my face, behind my ear. “You don’t know who did it. Not for sure.”

The last time I spoke with her, she told me she knew who it was, but wouldn’t tell me the name. To her credit, I didn’t ask. I didn’t want to know. I still don’t. No one’s been held accountable. No one will be. There’s no proof, as far as I know, and there’s no point in talking to her about it because it was their choices that led to this. Mom and Dad chose to stay, and with that comes the well-known risks associated with living there. I got out.

“Oh— I know,” the gritty, rasp of her cigarette-soaked vitriol spews out. “We all know it. He killed your father in cold blood, and he’s just driving around while we wonder who’s next, and I— I just can’t do it anymore.”

I inch the phone away from my ear and take a deep breath. She’s not blaming me. That’s a start. Maybe she’s ready to take responsibility for her safety…

“It’s gonna be okay,” I say. “You can get out of there before something bad happens again. You can live a different life away from that town. You’ll be safe. It can be better.”

You can be a better person. I am— in a way.

“Yes, yes.” She clears her throat, bringing on a coughing fit. I pull the phone further from my ear. “… and I’m ready.”

The words soothe me and loosen my grip on the receiver.

“Good, Mom.” The word feels foreign coming from my mouth. It’s been years since I called her that. She needs comfort, and she’ll need a push to actually go..“Today will be the ninth—”

“You think I don’t know that?”

I roll my eyes, ignoring her. “And if you start packing your essentials, just for the next five or six days, you can get outta there before the shitstorm hits.”

“Oh, it’s already begun, Sam. You know that better than anyone… Or have you forgotten where you come from by now?”

Here she goes.

“How could I?” I ask through a clenched jaw before opening my mouth wide and stretching my muscles, rubbing at my cheeks to rid myself of the old, familiar soreness of contempt. “Listen, you get yourself out of there. Go to Aunt Linda’s in Arbordale. I’m sure she’ll understand, or hell, even come here. If you do that, after the thirteenth, I’ll help you make arrangements to sell the house, okay?”

I tilt my head, staring at the ceiling as the silence grows stale. Why am I trying? She’ll never leave that place. She’ll die there, just like Dad.

“Sammy,” she whines, “I need your help. I need you to come home.”

I rub the goosebumps away from my arm before they even begin, and shake the shivers away as they come, wave by wave.

“No, Mom. I’m not coming back.”

That place is not a home. It’s a feeding ground for the vultures that prey on their own town.

“Sammy, please. I can’t do this on my own. I’m not strong enough.”

I let out a huff of laughter. The old battle axe is stronger than any woman I’ve ever known.

“If you make me, I’ll beg.”

“You are already.” I run my fingers through my hair, scraping my nails against my scalp as I reach the top, digging them in deeper as they glide down toward my neck, until I feel the sharp pain that almost brings me back to the present, although never enough to rely on. Some memories always find a way to seep through.

“I’m not coming.” I shake away the itchy feeling and pull my knees as close to my chest as they’ll go, wrapping my arm around them, holding them tightly.

“Then you’ll have two dead parents.”

Ha. Maybe that’s better.


I shake the thought away as quickly as it formed. It’s not her fault. It’s the town. She’s trying to do the right thing. The thing no one in my family has ever done before, until me. Maybe there’s a chance for her. If there isn’t for her, there’s not for me. If she can get out and let down her guard, get a new perspective, maybe she’ll realize the hurt she has caused. Maybe we could heal from it all…

“Fine,” I shout— an eager attempt to silence the voices, hers and mine, before I can’t take it anymore.

“Yes? Oh, thank you, Sammy. I knew you wouldn’t leave me here to die— even after everything— I knew you’d understand.”

And I do. You hurt for the ones you love, and no matter what she has done, I do understand. “I’ll be there by noon. I want you to have your things packed and figure out where you’re staying.”

Please not my place. I’m doing enough by coming to get you. I’ll have suffered enough.

“Yes, yes, I’ll be ready.”

“I’ll see you soon.” I rest the receiver back onto the phone cradle before rubbing the tips of my fingers against my aching temples. A headache worse than I’ve had since Dad died is coming on, and I push the covers off, letting the cold, autumn air from the open window hit me as punishment for letting her talk me into going back.

I dig through the small bathroom cupboard for Percocets and pop two into my mouth, pushing the pills down my dry throat on their own before slamming the cabinet shut and staring at myself in the mirror. My left eye twitches as I lean over the sink and inspect it. It’s barely noticeable, but a reminder that the town’s power over me will grow stronger while I’m there.

It’s not the cursed town itself, but all the people in it who make it a living hell. The people who use Founders Day to settle debts, exact revenge, and entrench themselves in the devious culture of Crimson Falls because there aren’t enough law enforcers to catch them or hold them accountable. A great chance of getting away with their crime is all the incentive they need.

They are the town. I am the town, or I will be once I return.


All the Dark Corners, a Crimson Falls novella, releases April 11th, 2019, and is one of eight novellas in the series. Can be read as a stand-alone or part of the group.

The Girls Across the Bay Author Commentary

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Chapter 3: Setting the Scene

The first time my two protagonists, Madigan and Grace, come together in the first book of the series is Chapter 3.

Their relationship dynamics may seem complicated to a reader in the beginning. Sisters by choice, not blood. Women who shared a traumatic past, including a separation before their teen years, but remained in each other’s lives nonetheless. The chapter begins…

Madigan squeezed the folded lawn chairs under her arm, dragging her small cooler through the sand toward the large rock nestled into the face of a short cliff. They had claimed the spot as their own the year they met, both seven. The year they became sisters—not by blood—but by the bond they shared as misfits. Two innocent children, forced into a new life filled with manipulation, abuse, and desperation.

Their special spot on the coast in the small town of Tall Pines came to me all at once. The place from which they could see the neighboring city, Amherst, from across the bay. Their own prison, or so it felt…

Without a destination in mind, only knowing they wanted to get as far away from home as possible, they slipped away from Evette through the metal gate. Following the long row of tall pines toward the coast, the hum of the crowds faded as they reached the water’s edge and settled on the rocky shore that summer night.
It had been their first time seeing the ocean up close, and Madigan often compared the crashing waves and bubbling water along the shoreline to her own feelings about that night.
They were lost and scared. Finally, free. And together.

What better setting to introduce these women? Here, they reflect on their past. The trauma, separation, and emotions . They also discuss recent events, and an underlying apprehension to tell each other the full truth gives an inkling of the affects of their separation during the year Grace worked undercover.

Even so, this chapter serves as a new beginning.

They reunite in Tall Pines, the town they dreamed of living in as children. After Grace’s demotion, left feeling vulnerable and alone, she purchases a small, cottage-like home, minutes from their special spot. My inspiration for her white beach house came on a walk with my dogs, passing a beautiful house in a nearby neighborhood that I still visit on occasion.

Together again, and with time to revisit the past, their individual points of view in this chapter regarding what happened to them and the people who hurt them showcase some of the main differences in their personalities.

“The police came right down there.” Grace pointed to the rocky pathway she’d walked down.
“And Evette was waiting up there for us with open arms, you remember?” Madigan pointed to the ledge they’d both come from, by Rosebank Drive.
“She was crying. She was faking it.” Grace leaned back in her chair.
“I don’t think she was.”

Their differing points of view came naturally as I wrote this scene, but it also became clear that together, they could use their individual strengths to become something stronger. It was how they got through their time in the same foster home, and I knew it was how they would get through as adults.

I didn’t anticipate how they would both get in their own way, and that it wouldn’t be until the book I’m currently writing, Book 3, The Lies You Told, that they would finally use their skills together in a way they had only experimented with in the first 2 books.

This chapter also introduces the inciting event, the beginning of the central mystery…

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She stepped inside, and a bright red puddle on the taupe living room carpet caught her eye. Deep voices carried down the hallway, and she pulled on a pair of gloves before taking a step from the hardwood hallway onto the plush carpet in the living room.
Red roses and petals lay scattered around a blonde woman, her hair dyed red by the blood, and her body sprawled out like she’d fallen, or been pushed down. As she crouched, light from the lamp reflected off a piece of glass. The rest of the broken glass vase had rolled under the living room table. Another glint caught her eye: a diamond engagement ring.
The floral perfume of the roses mixed with the metallic smell of blood turned her stomach. The cycle of abuse. Apologies made. Promises broken.

Grace and Madigan knew the cycle of abuse only too well, and through the rest of the book, their past and present relationships are explored, both as a team and separately. The foundation of trust is both cracked and rebuilt.

But one thing remains. The bond they share.

I have a sister who is my best friend, too. I’m so grateful to have such a supportive, encouraging, and strong relationship with her, filled with humor, respect, and trust. I know that not everyone has this kind of relationship with a family member, but they might with someone else. Family by choice. All relationships are valid and it’s a great adventure to explore the bond Madigan and Grace share, and their journey together.

Thank you for joining me on this deep dive into the third chapter of The Girls Across the Bay.

You're making a difference

Buy a book, make a difference.

That's what my co-creator of this mental health project, Jade Eby and I have proposed to you, our readers.

And you have.

As a writer, my goal in publishing my stories has always been to share a connection with readers. To entertain, to make people think, and to add enjoyment to someone's life. These are some of the things I've dreamed of.

It's also been a goal to help people.

Those things I listed have the potential to do that, but I'm grateful to have the opportunity to use my stories to help people in a different way.

To work with readers to be part of the solution, and that's just what we've done with this mental health initiative.

Jade and I are pleased to report...

Together, over the past 8 months, you've helped Jade and I raise and donate over $600 to Active Minds and The Canadian Mental Health Association



We've taken 50% of the profits of each featured book of the month sold, and donated the money to our respective organizations to help end the stigma surrounding mental health and fund programs and help for those suffering.

This is a cause that is personal to both of us, and you can read Jade's story here and mine here from when we first started this journey in November 2017.

To visit our project's pages, click here for Jade's and here for mine. We both post our individual proof of donation, but otherwise, the pages are almost identical. Our message is the same.

Moving forward, as a small change, our featured books will remain the same for three months instead of the monthly changes that have been made previously. We look forward to our initiative evolving with time and your continued support. We appreciate your purchases, your help spreading the message, and any other efforts to aid this cause.

On a final note, I address those living with mental illness.

You are not alone. There is hope.

“If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today” ― Thich Nhat Hanh

Grab The Girls Across the Bay FOR 50% OFF!


Emerald O'Brien's Knox and Sheppard mystery/thriller series is about to get a new addition! Beginning May 10th, we're offering Book #1, The Girls Across the Bay, for 50% off to celebrate the release of Book#2, The Secrets They Keep on May 24th, 2018.



A bond stronger than blood. A connection that could end it all. 
Madigan Knox and Grace Sheppard became sisters the day they entered their foster home. After living through a childhood nightmare, one brave act set them free, but split them apart into different homes.
As adults, they are reunited in the small coastal town they dreamed of living in as children, but the reality of life in Tall Pines is far from what they had imagined.
When a woman is found dea in her hom, Madigan reports on the crime while Grace investigates. A dark connection to the victim is discovered, pulling them both closer to the crime and the traumatic past they are desperate to move on from. 
With old wounds ripped open and dark secrets threatening their bond, the sisters must rely on each other more than ever before to survive.


Don't miss the next installment in the Knox and Sheppard series...


COVER REVEAL // The Secrets They Keep


From the author of The Girls Across the Bay, comes the highly anticipated second novel in the thrilling Knox and Sheppard mystery series.


They vowed to love each other forever…
When a dead body is discovered outside the Tall Pines reception hall, Detective Grace Sheppard is called to the scene. Searching for the truth among deceitful suspects and within herself, Grace struggles when her professional relationship becomes muddled with attraction. 

They swore nothing would come between them…
As Grace races to find a killer, a personal vendetta is formed when her sister, Madigan Knox, becomes obsessed with a traumatic event from her past. Madigan’s hunt leads her closer to the truth than she has ever been and further away from the person who loves her the most. 

But promises are broken, and the secrets they keep threaten their lives. 
Both sisters are willing to find their culprits at any cost, but will the price of secrets and revenge be their demise?

Wrong Angle is FREE for Subscribers!

My co-written novella with fellow author, Jade Eby, is now available for free for newsletter subscribers. 


People don't just disappear.
But there's no other explanation for what happened to Angela Cole. 

After news spreads like wildfire about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the events of that stormy winter night, Madigan Knox recognizes the face of the missing woman on TV as someone from her past. Someone she might be able to help.

Ames Soriano's persistent hunt for a serial killer leads her to South Bend, where the recent disappearance of Angela Cole parallels that of The Winter Killer's victims.

In a town where outsiders are unwelcome and with no one person eager to find the missing woman, Ames and Madigan begin a hunt for the truth and for a potential murderer with the opportunity to strike again. 

Fast-paced and suspenseful, this novella brings readers to a small town full of secrets to find a missing woman no one seems to miss. 

Clues to the Wrong Angle investigation...

Leading up to the release of Wrong Angle, a co-written novella by myself and Jade Eby, clues to the investigation of a character's disappearance have been released on social media. We are excited to share this fun way to gather some insights that pertain to the story, and you can find those clues below.

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Wrong Angle, a mystery novella by Jade Eby and Emerald O'Brien

People don't just disappear.

But there's no other explanation for what happened to Angela Cole.

After news spreads like wildfire about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the events of that stormy winter night, Madigan Knox recognizes the face of the missing woman on TV as someone from her past. Someone she might be able to help.

Ames Soriano's persistent hunt for a serial killer leads her to South Bend, where the recent disappearance of Angela Cole parallels that of The Winter Killer's victims.

In a town where outsiders are unwelcome and with no one person eager to find the missing woman, Ames and Madigan begin a hunt for the truth and for a potential murderer with the opportunity to strike again. 

Fast-paced and suspenseful, this novella brings readers to a small town full of secrets to find a missing woman no one seems to miss.

Subscribe to receive the novella FREE on March 8th!

We are making a difference... thanks to YOU!

Buy a book. Make a difference.

That's what we asked, and you did just that (and continue to)!

Thanks to our wonderful readers, the co-creator of this mental health initiative, Author Jade Eby and I have been able to raise and donate almost $100 towards our chosen mental health organizations, Active Minds (US based) and the Canadian Mental Health Association. 

I came to this realization today, the second of February, and in three short months, we've worked together to make a real change.

To support those who suffer.

To show others there IS hope.

There ARE people who care.

I'm a writer, but I cannot adequately put into words how this makes me feel. For now, I just had to say how thankful and proud I am of our generous readers.

This month, we have brand new books featured (Jade has even included 2 of hers!) with romantic elements in the spirit of February. I look forward to growing this project with you and again, thank you for your help (kind words, sharing the initiative on social media, and of course, donating or buying our featured books).

To find out more about our project, go here for the one on my site, and here for Jade's!


The First 3 Chapters of The Girls Across the Bay

Chapter 1

“Strike two, Knox,” Ornella Roth said, crossing her thin arms over her chest and leaning back in the chair behind her desk. “There’s always something going on in Tall Pines to report on. When it seems like there’s no news, you dig deeper. Thane’s working under the same conditions you are, and his story about the boat thief down at the Marina made the front page.”

“This is a good story.” Madigan jabbed her finger into the article on the desk. “I stand behind it one-hundred percent. Lower-income families can’t afford the cost of school lunches and the students of Tall Pines Elementary shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of the fact they can’t be served a hot lunch. There has to be some sort of subsidizing. This story needs to be told, Ornella, and it needs to be seen.”

“I told you, I need front page news,” Ornella said. “If you want to keep writing these human-interest stories, I’ll put you back in the entertainment section.”

Madigan clenched her jaw and stared down at her boss. 

I need to keep my job. I need to keep my job, Madigan reminded herself.

Ornella pushed the article further away from her.

“Your writing could use some improvement as well, mind you. You need to keep your personal voice out of it. The media needs to be unbiased. How many times do I need to remind you of that? I can’t have another article of yours where allegations are made and only one side of the story is considered—like that one about Tall Pines Nursing Home. You didn’t even contact them for a comment.”

Madigan’s cheeks flushed, knowing Ornella had a point about her writing. The sting of criticism hit her hard, bringing back memories of the critiques on her last article. She had barely graduated from her Journalism program at the local college, and if Ornella had bothered to check her marks, she might not have gotten the job at all.

She shifted her weight from one foot to the other and avoided eye contact.

The media is biased. Everyone is.

Don’t say it. Don’t say it.

“You show me front page news and I’ll give you another chance,” Ornella sighed, “but for now, you’re back to the local entertainment section. Help Thane out when he asks. Got it?”

She didn’t want to believe she’d been demoted purely based on her writing skills, or lack thereof. She found it easier to be angry at the politics of the Tall Pines Gazette and more specifically, Ornella Roth. She played to the politicians of Amherst, the neighbouring city, and ruffled the least amount of feathers while pushing their agenda.

“Fine.” Madigan frowned. “But I’m taking my story to Cindy, right?”

Madigan had already promised her contact at Tall Pines Elementary she would bring the issue to light. The look on the lunch woman’s face had almost brought tears to her eyes.

When she’d lived in her first foster home during the worst years of her life, she’d often gone to school hungry. At the age of seven, she’d been more embarrassed than hungry and pretended her foster mom had forgotten to pack her a lunch, opting to hide in the washroom, which kept her under the radar of both students and teachers more often than not.

“Ornella.” Madigan said. “Please?”

“Why bother?” Ornella said, wiggling her mouse. The white glare of the computer screen illuminated her face revealing the shadows of fine lines across her cheeks. “It’s hardly news at all. It’s a throw-away.”

Ornella slid the papers Madigan had printed over the side of the desk, letting them fall into her trash can.

Madigan clenched her fists into balls, her heart pounding faster by the second while Ornella kept her eyes on the computer screen.

Those kids need help.

You need this job. You need this job.

Screw it.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Madigan shook her head and walked backwards toward the door. “So much for bringing attention to what’s actually important in this town. We wouldn’t want to change anything, now, would we?”

“I sell papers people will actually read,” Ornella said. “Not sad stories for the sake of depressing people or embarrassing the mayor.”

An embarrassment. That’s what she thinks it is. Like I’m airing dirty laundry.

“This isn’t an embarrassment,” Madigan said. “This is bringing some hard facts to light. This is a story the parents of Tall Pines will want to hear. I promised the lunch staff I would report on this.”

“You know not to make promises when you haven’t run something past me first. This whole story came out of left field. You were told to get me front page news.”

There it was. She’s upset it was something she had no control over. No guiding voice before the story had been written.

I shouldn’t have made a promise.

But I did.

“What do I have to do?” Madigan asked.

Find the flaw, Madigan.

Her first foster father’s words echoed in her mind through all the years after she and her sister had been taken from their house and split into different ones.

Find their weakness and use it to your advantage—one of the first things he’d taught them about manipulating people into doing whatever you wanted. He took advantage of their naivety and made it into a game at first, but when he brought them into their first cons, he expected them to use the tricks he had taught them.

It wasn’t until her last year in the house that she realized he had done the same to them, and since, with each weakness she found, almost without trying, she’d note a strength, too.

“What do I have to do to make sure the story’s included in Monday’s issue?” Madigan asked. “It’s important to those kids. No child should have to hide in the bathroom because they don’t have a lunch.”

Her cheeks burned and she folded her arms in front of her.

Maybe that’ll tug on her heart strings as a mother.

Madigan had found motherhood to be Ornella’s strength and weakness as soon as she found out she had a son.

“Get me something good.” Her manicured nails clicked away at the keyboard. “Something that will keep our readers turning the pages. You’ve got until Sunday at midnight.”

“I can do that.”

What will make Ornella sit up and take notice?

A crime, maybe?

Something big. It has to be big.

“Go on, then,” Ornella said.

“Thank you, Ornella.”

“Make it good, Knox. This is your last chance.”

“I will.” Madigan walked backwards out the door.

“And fix the attitude,” Ornella called, not bothering to look away from her computer screen. “And for Pete’s sake, close the door behind you.”

Madigan closed the door and marched down the hall as Cindy poked her head up from her cubicle.

“I think it’s a good story,” Cindy said in her mousy voice.

Madigan stopped in front of her. “You heard all that?”

Cindy shook her head, but Madigan raised her eyebrow with a smile, cocking her head to the side, and Cindy nodded, glancing in the direction of Ornella’s office.

“Don’t be afraid of her, Cin.”

“I’m not,” Cindy whispered.

 “Those kids deserve better,” Madigan said. “I made a promise. I’m going to do whatever it takes. Do you know of anything going on this weekend?”

Cindy shook her head. “I bet if Thane handed in that same story, it’d already be on my desk for edits for the front page.”

“Probably.” Madigan tapped her fingers along the cubicle divider. “I’ll make sure she runs this story and then I’m back to covering craft fairs and store openings. It’s just as well. Nothing ever happens around here anyway.”

“Don’t give up—on the kids or the front page. It might take some time, but she’ll come around. You’ve got a great eye for detail and you bring heart to this paper.”

Madigan’s cheeks flushed and the compliments made her even less comfortable than the criticism of her writing she’d just received. It would take days, maybe weeks, to put Ornella’s words out of her mind.

Another writing class might do the trick.

“Okay, enough with the flattery,” Madigan said. “It’s tough to get to the story first when Thane’s got the scoop.”

“He has connections,” Cindy said.

So will I, she thought, wondering how her sister’s first day on the job was going.

Grace just needs to gain her confidence back.

“By the way, you actually picked a winner.” Cindy smiled. “Roy was a gentleman, just like you said. A little rough around the edges, what with the cursing and all, but I’m letting him take me on a second date.”

“I knew you’d like him.”

“Thanks for setting us up,” Cindy said, sliding her glasses on. “You were right, I just needed to get back out there.”

“Ladies,” Thane said in his deep voice as he strode past them toward Ornella’s office. “Beat you for the cover again, Knox. Man, you make it too easy.”

A tall black man, always dressed in one of three suits, Thane had ruled the front page for two decades. Probably longer.

“Some real hard-hitting journalism with that boat scandal,” Madigan said, smirking.

Thane straightened his tie and ran his fingers over his smooth chin. “And yet it’s good enough to beat whatever story you conjured up last minute.”

He strode past them into Ornella’s office and shut the door behind him.

If it had been a last-minute story, she wouldn’t have felt so offended, but it had been her only focus that week.

“He’s so smug.” Cindy shook her head. “Ignore him. You’ll get the front page, Madigan, and when you do, we’ll have to stick it to him.”

Madigan nodded and sauntered down the short hall toward her cubicle.

Does she really believe that?

“Hey, tell Roy he owes me some drinks for finding him a catch, alright?” Madigan said over her shoulder.

“Will do!”

As she plopped down in her chair, she stared at her cell phone on the desk.

I’m dying to know how it’s going, but she won’t be able to respond anyway.

She grabbed her phone and hit Grace’s name, running her left finger along the chain of her necklace that matched Grace’s.

Meet me at our spot when you’re off she typed, and sent the text.

Despite the short distance between them for more than a year when Grace went undercover in the city of Amherst, they had only spoken twice. Grace had told her the minimal contact was necessary, but Madigan always wondered if it had been her choice.

If she couldn’t keep her personal and professional life separated without going all the way dark.

Madigan hoped Grace’s new home and position would give her a fresh start in Tall Pines and a chance for them to reconnect.

For things to be like they used to.

After what Grace had been through, she worried it wouldn’t be possible, but she would try just the same.


Chapter 2

Grace took her first sip of coffee, flipping through the binder to the page that always made her heart skip a beat.

The report her sergeant had completed on her.

As she skimmed the lines by the first light of morning, a shadowy crevice near the spine of the binder hid the first few words of each sentence.

It made no difference.

She could almost recite the report by heart.

She pushed her pillows behind her head, leaning back in bed.

Order for Detective Inspector Grace Sheppard to come back in disobeyed.

Special Detective Grace Sheppard accompanied Leah Culper to her apartment building on Bishop Street at ten twenty p.m. while Conrad Burke and his men were awaiting their large shipment.

Conrad Burke had exacted the order to kill his girlfriend, Leah Culper.

Special Detective Grace Sheppard dropped her off at St. Michael’s hospital, stayed with her during her exam, and brought her back to her apartment to gather select belongings with the intention of bringing her into protective custody or getting her to a safe place that had not been authorized.

Nick Hill and Alex Parish attacked Leah Culper, chasing her toward Special Detective Grace Sheppard’s vehicle. Three shots were fired by Hill before Sheppard left the vehicle and Parish aimed his gun at Leah Culper again.

The memory flashed before Grace’s eyes. She set her coffee mug down on her nightstand before continuing.

Special Detective Grace Sheppard opened fire on Parish, killing him. Hill proceeded to fire one round, killing Leah Culper before Sheppard subdued Hill until authorities arrived.

Nick Hill later died in hospital.

Acting supervisor and lead investigator, Sgt. Bruno Colette, was not called by Special Detective Grace Sheppard and his orders to come in were ignored. Sheppard knowingly ignored orders from her superior and endangered the case.

It is recommended that Special Detective Grace Sheppard be put on a mandatory, unpaid leave of absence for a period of no less than three months. During this period, she is ordered to attend therapy until written consent to return to work is granted by her therapist, whereby she be demoted to Deerhorn County upon her return.

Grace closed the binder and sighed before pushing herself off the bed. She crouched beside it and tucked the worn binder back under her spare throw blanket.

The report had been fairly accurate and variations or excerpts had been passed on to any member of the law willing to listen—eager to know what happened the night they arrested Conrad Burke on more charges than she could remember—but the report didn’t include everything that had happened.

Grace had lost so much of what she worked for all her life.

A well-respected position on the force in the city and a reputation for being an intelligent and reliable detective.

She’d work as hard as she needed to gain it all back, and she’d play by the book no matter what.

But nothing will bring Leah back, Grace thought.

Reading the report reminded her that regardless of the effort she put forth, the most heartbreaking loss could never be reversed or changed.

As she entered the small police department of Tall Pines, an officer at the front desk escorted her to the chief’s office.

“Detective Sheppard, pleased to have you with us,” he extended his meaty hand to her. “Police Chief Paul Banning. You can call me Chief or Banning, like most do around here.”

Grace shook his hand, appreciating his firm grip, and he gestured for her to take a seat. She sat down and he sat behind his desk after her.

She’d never once seen her first foster father, the one she shared with Madigan, shake a man’s hand, or woman’s for that matter. Her second and final foster parents had taught her the importance of a good one.

“How are you liking Tall Pines?” he asked. “You moved back about a month ago, right?”

“I’ve found it peaceful,” she said, lying. “Big difference from Amherst.”

The town had always seemed idyllic to her since childhood, but the mature trees, beautiful coast, and smaller population had yet to bring her their promising sense of calm.

Banning released a hearty chuckle and nodded. “If that’s a nice way of saying you’re in the boonies, you don’t have to be polite here. You’ll find all the surrounding towns in Deerhorn just the same if you haven’t already. It’s a slower pace out here but that can be a good thing.”

For someone like me, right?

“I look forward to learning the ropes.”

“You’ll catch on quickly, I have no doubt. Now I don’t want to pretend there isn’t an elephant in the room, because there is, but once we address it, I’m happy to move on.”

Here we go.

She clenched her jaw and nodded, giving him the permission he didn’t need to air her shame.

“I’ve been filled in on the details of your last case,” Banning said, clearing his throat. “I’ve been told the whole take down wouldn’t have been possible without you, but I understand there was an issue with procedure at the end of your time undercover. I need to know you’ll follow procedure here working with the Tall Pines department in co-ordination with the others in the county.”

“Of course,” Grace nodded.

I’ll never make the same mistake.

“I have a good feeling about you, but I run a tight ship here. It’s nothing fancy like what you’re used to, but we do things by the book, and we don’t have any issues. Can I count on you to follow my orders, Sheppard?”

“Yes, sir.”

Maybe he’s willing to give me a clean slate.

“Good,” he said. “Well, you’ve been cleared for duty and I’d like you to start right away by meeting my right-hand man, Officer Adam MacIntyre. He’ll let you know about the current ongoing investigation he’s working on and fill you in on anything else you’ll need to know about the Tall Pines PD. He must be running late. Traffic.”

In Tall Pines? Doubt it.

Grace nodded and folded her hands in her lap, keeping perfect posture, as Banning leaned back in his chair.

“So,” Banning started, and Grace tried not to wince.

Not small talk…

 “You live up on Rosebank Drive. Right by the ocean there?”

“Yes, sir,” she smiled, lifting her chin. “My property backs onto the coast.”

That particular spot had held special meaning since she was a child living in Amherst and dreaming with her sister of living across the bay in the quiet town of Tall Pines.

“And you live alone, then?”

“Yes, sir.”

Why was he asking when he already knew?

“Well, it’s a great spot.” Banning nodded and shifted in his seat as an uncomfortable silence grew between them. “You should help yourself to a cup of coffee.”

A knock on the door gave them reprieve, and without waiting for a reply, it wooshed open. A man with warm brown hair and a wrinkled uniform stopped just inside the doorway.

“Ah, shit. Right,” he muttered, his gruff voice filling the room as he glanced from Grace to Banning.

“This is Officer Adam MacIntyre.” Banning stood and Grace followed. “This is DI Grace Sheppard.”

“Right.” He nodded, switching his Styrofoam coffee cup to his left hand and extending his right. “Just call me Mac.”

His warm hand barely held hers. She went in with a firm grip and shook his once before he let go.

Not a good sign.

 “I heard from Brooks,” Banning said. “That’s the Chief up in Torrance. He says we’ve got her ‘til they need her. I’ve told Sheppard you’ll fill her in on your current investigation and answer any questions she has.”

“Sure thing, Chief.” He smiled and took a sip of his coffee. “Hey, are you up for a round this Sunday?”

“You know it,” Banning said, before returning to his seat. “Seven good for you, Mac?”

“See you there.” He pointed to him and strutted out of the office without giving Grace a second look.

She followed Mac out into the hallway.

“Rhonda,” he called to the officer at the front desk, “I’ll be back for lunch. Could you get a fresh pot on before then?”

“Put your own on, Mac,” Rhonda called to him as he passed her on his way to the door. “Get me a cup while you’re at it.”

As Grace caught up, she nodded to Rhonda, who smiled watching Mac leave.

“He’s a handful,” Rhonda laughed. “Good luck.”

I should introduce myself, but I don’t have time.

I have to keep up.

Grace jogged to the front door before it swung shut, and took long strides to catch up to him.

“So you have an investigation in the works?” Grace asked, as he unlocked his patrol car.

“Two low-lifes going door to door posing as firemen,” he said, before getting in.

She strode to the passenger side and joined him.

“They’re casing homes, using the guise of inspecting folks fire detectors.” He started the car. “Two white males, aged twenty-five to thirty-five.”

“So we’re going to possible routes they may be taking? I assume you’ve spoken to the people who called in the suspicious behavior?”

He pulled out of his spot and waved to an officer walking toward the station. Grace waited for an answer as he turned left and drove out of the parking lot.

“Where are we headed?” she asked.

“I’m taking you to interview a witness,” he said, turning up his radio.

Not a talker. Got it.

He turned onto the main strip of town and not long after, they turned into the small parking lot of a diner.

The Big Spoon.

He’s getting breakfast.

Jerking me around.

He parked and opened his door, but she stayed in her seat.

“Not joining me on the investigation?” he asked.

Don’t fall for it.

“I already ate,” she said, without looking at him.

Play it cool.

“Suit yourself, Sheppard.”

He slammed the door shut and jogged to the diner door.

He’d left the foam coffee cup in his holder between them. A cup with a spoon logo that matched the diner’s.

He’s been here already this morning. What’s he up to?

Don’t get on his bad side. Get in there.

She spotted him through the large glass window, sitting at the counter, speaking with the man behind it. After yanking open the heavy front door, the greasy smell from the grill and fryers filled her nose. Saliva formed in her mouth and she took smaller breaths.

As a vegetarian, she found meat disgusting, but the old familiar smells still made her mouth water.

“Who’s this?” the man behind the counter asked as she took a seat beside Mac.

Mac shrugged and shook his head, chuckling. “No, I’m just fooling with you. Terry, this is Detective Grace Sheppard.”

“Oooh,” the man laughed. “Detective.”

“I’m his new partner,” Grace smiled. “Cup of tea, please?”

“Terry knows I work alone,” Mac said, tapping the counter with his palm.  

“Bagels.” Terry slid a brown bag toward Mac. “Her favourite. I got one in there for you too.”

“You remembered to let her know I’m bringing her breakfast, right?”

Terry nodded. “Those buggers practically pushed right by her, Mac. Went into every room and she followed them helplessly.”

“We’ll get ‘em. I need you to make that call about the alarm system, alright?”

“Used to be we could leave our doors unlocked.” Terry shook his head and grabbed a foam cup from the stack behind the counter.

“I know. But this is for Martha, alright?”

“Thanks for lookin’ out, Mac,” Terry said, tossing a tea bag into the foam cup. “She’ll feel better after talking to you.”

“Don’t mention it,” Mac said, standing. “See you tomorrow.”

He strode away and Grace stood from her seat.

“You coming?” Mac called, just before the door swung shut.

“I’ll take a rain check on that tea,” Grace said.

Terry chuckled and shook his head.

She dashed out the door and got in the car as Mac turned the key in the ignition.

“We’re not partners,” Mac said, before pulling out of the spot.

“For now, we’re working together.”

“I know what happened in Amherst.”

Throw it in my face.

Go ahead.

You can’t say anything I haven’t heard.

Grace shook her head. “You don’t know everything.”

“I know enough not to trust you,” he said.

Maybe you shouldn’t.

She sat in silence, running her tongue along the inside of her bottom teeth.

Rebutting only made it worse in Amherst. There would be no difference here.

“I’ve never been to a shrink,” he said, “but I bet they tried to make you feel like it wasn’t your fault.”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I mean, your contact was killed right in front of you. You disregarded orders,” he said. “It was almost over and you couldn’t stay out of the way.”

Grace felt her cellphone vibrate in her pocket and checked it, pretending not to listen to him.

Meet me at our spot when you’re off.

Grace sighed and started to type an excuse.

She had been able to keep Madigan at a safe distance during her therapy in Amherst, but since moving to Tall Pines, her sister had been more insistent on getting together.

On figuring out what happened while Grace was away.

Looks like it’ll be a long one, she typed.

“I’m taking you along here as a favor, but tomorrow you’re on your own. Do some paperwork or something,” Mac said. “Don’t know why Banning agreed to bring you in. Guess he didn’t have a choice.”

Grace kept her head down, wanting to tell him off. To tell him he didn’t know jack about her assignment, but making enemies right away wasn’t smart.

A little voice of doubt always found a way to creep inside her thoughts.

Give up on the fresh start. It’s impossible.

Do the best with what you have.

Do better.

So far, from what she’d gathered, Mac’s weakness was that he saw things in black and white. Right and wrong. Not to mention his cocky demeanor.

See you at eight. Bring alcohol, she typed and sent the text to Madigan.

Mac was quiet for the rest of the drive.

Just for you, Madigan, I’ll come up with a strength, too. Mac’s strength is that he knows how to shut up.

She tried not to look at him and stared out her window.

Be professional. Focus on the job. Show him he can’t break you.

After her shift, she’d need a drink with the only person in the world who still thought she was a good person.

She grabbed the pendant of her necklace that matched Madigan’s, and twisted it back and forth.

That’s because she doesn’t know.

And Grace would keep it that way.

She couldn’t lose Madigan.


Chapter 3


Madigan squeezed the folded lawn chairs under her arm, dragging her small cooler through the sand toward the large rock nestled into the face of a short cliff.

They had claimed the spot as their own the year they met, both seven.

The year they became sisters—not by blood—but by the bond they shared as misfits.

 Two innocent children, forced into a new life filled with manipulation, abuse, and desperation.

So desperate that on Grace’s eighth birthday, Madigan hatched a plan to run away together.

Their foster mom, Evette, promised Grace they would take the ferry across the bay into the small town of Tall Pines and spend the night riding all the rides and eating all the treats they wanted at the summer fair.

The plan almost fell through after they’d disappointed Eli, their foster father, by failing one of his “missions”, but after he left for the night, no doubt on one of his benders, Evette kept her promise and brought them to the fair.

Without a destination in mind, only knowing they wanted to get as far away from home as possible, they slipped away from Evette, through the metal gate. Following the long row of tall pines toward the coast, the hum of the crowds faded as they reached the water’s edge and settled on the rocky shore that summer night.

It had been their first time seeing the ocean up close, and Madigan often compared the crashing waves and bubbling water along the shoreline to her own feelings about that night.

They were lost and scared.

Finally, free.

And together.

Madigan dragged the cooler closer to the flat rock, squinting to focus on the port for the ferry in the far-off distance across Bones Bay. Little lights sparkled further up the coast along the shore line. Tiny houses they’d seen from their bedroom window in Amherst, looking out across Bones Bay, while dreaming of living in Tall Pines with a family who loved them, or at least didn’t hurt them.

Dreaming of living the lives of the other little girls at the fair who sat on their father’s shoulders, or tugged at their mom’s leg, pointing to what they wanted next.

The little girls from Tall Pines had everything they wanted.

When Grace told Madigan she’d been relocated to Deerhorn County, Madigan had been thrilled to learn they would be living in the same place again. To have her close. To have the ability to see each other anytime they wanted, but there had been a sadness in Grace’s voice that day and ever since, so it still came as a beautiful surprise when Grace announced she’d purchased a place on Rosebank Drive, less than half a kilometer away from their spot.

She had chosen a small white beach house on the corner of the street with a beautiful rose garden along the L-shaped walkway leading to a blue front door. With a backyard that overlooked the ocean, a short walk away from their special spot, she’d made their dream come true in her own way.

Madigan wanted to make it a special kind of homecoming.

She spun around in a circle, finding the exact spot they’d taken refuge that summer night, and unfolded the two chairs beside it. She pushed the small cooler in front of them, opened it up, and plunked an icy beer bottle down into each of the chair arm’s drink holders.

A shadowy figure stumbled down the short rocky footpath from Rosebank Drive toward her.

Grace’s long strides would have given her away had Madigan not expected her. Her long raven-black hair blew in the breeze across her face, and as she kicked sand up behind her with each step, she tucked her hands in her dress pant pockets.

“I knew you’d do something like this.” Grace smiled as Madigan dropped into her chair and cracked open a beer.

“You said bring alcohol.” Madigan held the beer up high before pressing it to her lips and taking a sip.

“I know, but we could have just sat on the rock like we always do.”

Grace sat beside her and pulled her bottle from the holder. As she leaned back, her hair blew across her face and she pulled it away, sighing.

“Rough first day?” Madigan asked.

“Nothing I didn’t expect.” Grace cracked open the beer and took a sip, sighing afterwards. “It’s beautiful.”

“The water?”

“Everything,” Grace said, and her eyes glazed over.

“Grace? You okay?”

Graced nodded and took another sip.

Madigan wanted to prod further, but in the weeks since Grace had moved back, she’d learned not to pry. It only made her withdraw into herself more.

She’d managed to figure out the relocation had been a demotion, and that whatever had happened to Grace while she was undercover in Amherst rivaled the trauma they’d faced together as children.

Or maybe it was worse.

Shivers crept up Madigan’s spine, sending chills across her arms. Waves rocked up the shore and rolled back toward the ocean again several times before Grace spoke.

“It reminds me of you,” she said.

“The ocean?” Madigan asked, pulling her sweater on, zipping it up.

Grace nodded.

“It reminds me of you, too.” Madigan took another sip. “I was remembering the night we found this place.”

“I was crazy to let you drag me out here,” Grace laughed, the sound drowned out by the crashing waves.

Even without makeup, Madigan thought Grace was one of the most beautiful women she had ever known. Naturally beautiful—something Madigan had never felt.

As much as she had also never felt like she fit in, Grace’s appearance—part aboriginal and part Caucasian, both of unknown lineage—set her apart before anyone could even get to know her. Teachers in school would ask Grace questions like what are you, or why did you leave the reserve?

At least I can blend in. Go unnoticed.

“You didn’t even know where we were going.”

Madigan shrugged. “It was a good night. The perfect night.”

“It was my favourite birthday,” Grace said, staring out at the waves.

Madigan turned to her with a grin, ready to make a joke about how mushy she’d been but decided to let the moment linger.

She looks peaceful.

“Cheers to being back,” Madigan said.

They clinked their bottles together and drank.

“I was remembering how we fell asleep,” Grace said. “You remember when we woke up, and heard them calling, we thought we were going to jail?”

Madigan nodded. “Eli always warned us if we didn’t do as he said, we’d go to jail. That’s terrifying for a kid.”

“The police came right down there,” Grace pointed to the rocky pathway she’d walked down.

“And Evette was waiting up there for us with open arms, you remember?” Madigan pointed to the ledge they’d both came from, by Rosebank Drive.

“She was crying. She was faking it.” Grace leaned back in her chair.

“I don’t think she was.”

Grace shrugged. “I think she knew if she didn’t find us, Eli would know she took us out against his wishes. She wasn’t even mad at us when we returned home. Do you remember that?”

“I remember she told us never to leave her again.” Madigan clenched her jaw remembering the beating they’d each gotten the night before. They’d been given a mission to collect money from one of the richest neighbourhoods in Amherst for their supposed girl scout troupe or some organization young girls collected money for. Eli changed the charity each time.

They’d both gotten tired and Madigan pitched a fit in front of one of the houses.

When they returned back to the house, they each received their first bad beating from Eli, because they hadn’t followed through or hadn’t collected enough money. They were too young to remember, but whatever the reason, they both had trouble sitting for the week after and Madigan had tried to fight him off, ending up with an extra beating too.

“She knew if she was caught bringing us the to fair, she’d get a beating worse than ours,” Madigan said.

“Eli knew the police wouldn’t follow up with us,” Grace sighed. “No matter how many marks or bruises, they really bought the whole kids-will-be-kids line.”

“When he beat us the night before the fair—“

“Can we talk about something else?” Grace said, putting her feet up on the cooler, knocking sand from the bottom of her shoes onto the top of it. “Damn.”


 “How was your day?” Grace asked. “Anything exciting going on in this town I don’t know about?”

“Business as usual. Unless you know of anything?”

Grace shook her head.

She’d been careful not to burden Grace with any of her own problem’s since she came back, and after the rough day she guessed Grace had, she wanted to lighten the mood.

“I set up our chief editor, Cindy, with the owner of Roy’s Tavern.”


“Right, and looks like I might have a talent for matchmaking.”

“Oh yeah?” Grace asked. “And speaking of, how’s your match?”

After Grace came back from her undercover job, she’d seemed shocked to hear Madigan not only had a boyfriend, but that they’d moved in together. After hearing about him, she’d ran his name through whatever system they had at the department, disappointed to report back that he was clean. According to her, that had meant trouble—until she met Will soon after she moved in. He could win over even the toughest critics.

“He’s good,” Madigan nodded. “At the hospital a lot.”

“I know what it’s like to work crazy hours.” Grace set her beer back into her chair. “Do you two see each other a lot?”

Madigan nodded. “It’s nice. He does his whole trauma surgery thing, and I have time to do my investigative reporting. Then, when we’re together we get to relax a bit or do something fun.”

“Like English horseback riding?” Grace asked and stifled a chuckle.

Madigan shot her a look. “It’s good to try new things and it was Will’s turn to pick.”

“I know. You’re more of a western girl though. I’m surprised he didn’t choose that style.”

“His parents are members of the country club and they get free lessons. Plus, Will doesn’t know me as well as you do. We’ve only been together… six months. Or is it eight?”

“Okay, okay. Any progress on getting closer to that front page?” Grace asked.

In other words, why haven’t I made the front page yet?

Change the subject.

“Oh, actually, about Will. He texted to tell me he has some good news for me, so we’ll see what that is. I bet he got a promotion.”

“Another one?”

“Everyone at the hospital loves him,” Madigan said. “I bet they’re trying to hold on to a good thing.”

“And how about you?” Grace asked, turning to her. “Are you finally doing the same?”

Madigan sighed and took a swig from her bottle.

She wondered if Grace had been alluding to the fact she’d never been with any guy for long, or any job for too long.

Probably both.

But she’d seen better days at the paper when she’d first started, and ever since Grace had implied there must be something wrong with Will, Madigan had tried to find his imperfections, as she always inevitably did.

“You’re doing good,” Grace said. “I’m proud of you. You really seem like you have it together, you know?”

Madigan had never done a good job of fooling Grace. They had both been trained with the same manipulation techniques, and they knew each other better than anyone.

Or they used to.

Grace hadn’t paid attention to the way Madigan’s smile faltered when she asked how her day was. How Madigan had drank to avoid answering whether or not she was really trying to hang on to the life she’d built since Grace left to go undercover for over a year.

“Better than my usual hot mess, huh?” Madigan smiled.

“Well, I just meant—since Drew, you know?”

The smile slipped from her lips as she nodded, pretending to agree, and losing focus as she glanced out at the ocean.

It’s been ten years. No, eleven. How? How could you be gone for that long?

Tears filled her eyes as the wind swept her hair across her face.

I miss ya, Drew.

“I’m sorry I brought it up,” Grace whispered, and Madigan shook her head, although she was sorry too. “He was a great guy.”

Madigan nodded, pressing her lips together to keep them from trembling.

“Have you heard from your parents?” Grace asked.

Madigan shook her head.

Her adoptive parents, the Knoxes, had bought a summer home in Florida a year after their son—her brother—Drew’s death. They needed to get away from the things that reminded them of him—that was what they told Madigan—but she knew the truth.

They wanted to get away from her.

After she and Grace had been taken from Eli and Evette, and split apart, she felt so lucky to have been sent to the Knox family. To become one of them and feel like she belonged—even if something had always and would always be missing.

The Knoxes weren’t perfect, but she didn’t know a family who was.

Grace’s next foster parents never adopted her or showed her much affection. Nothing like the bond Madigan had developed with her new brother, Drew.

You’re lucky, she would remind herself every day—until the accident.

They had gone on a family camping trip and while out on their kayaks, away from their parents, Drew’s had flipped over. The current had carried him away, drowning him before Madigan could reach him.

“It kind of felt like I had a brother, too,” Grace whispered. “I loved coming to stay with you guys. He’d be proud of you.”

Grace’s phone rang, the bleeping notes faint over the crashing waves.

“I have to take this,” she said, bringing the phone to her ear. “Sheppard.”

Madigan played with the loose material hanging from the arm of her chair as she sniffled back her tears.

How could he be proud of me? If he saw me now and knew what Mom and Dad thought of me…

She tucked her hair behind her ear and turned to her sister. Grace frowned and stared down at the rocks.

Something’s wrong.


“We’ve got a possible homicide down near the subdivision by Thornhill,” Banning said, and Grace pressed the phone against her ear. “I’m sending you the address now. Get down here.”

“Yes, sir,” Grace said. “I’m on my way.”

As she turned to Madigan, her long highlighted hair blowing in the wind across her face, her heart sank a little, wishing they could have sat together a while longer.

“This town’s not as quiet as it seems,” Grace said, standing from her chair.

“What is it?” Madigan asked.

Grace shook her head. “Can’t say. I’m sorry, I have to go.”

Her heart thudded harder. Faster.

I have to go, now. I have to show them I’m reliable.

“I totally understand,” Madigan nodded, her blue eyes staring up at her as she pulled on her faux leather jacket. “We’ll catch up later.”

“Thanks for this,” Grace said, and zipped her jacket up.

“Anytime.” Madigan nodded and stood.

She never wore much colour, and her rocker chic style hadn’t changed much since high school. While she had sometimes swapped out her black combat boots for sexy black ankle boots, rocker t-shirts and black nail polish had remained fashion staples for Madigan.

Grace waved goodbye and jogged back up the beach toward the small rocky pathway.

“It’s not a real first day on the job unless there’s a murder,” Grace muttered to herself as she backed out of her driveway.

It was just as well.

She hadn’t sat beside her sister for more than a minute before the beautiful moment had been filled with guilt.

The guilt she felt that Leah would never get to see the ocean again, or spend time with her own sister, or any of her family.

Why didn’t I leave it alone?

The question seemed simple but the answer proved to be complicated. She had spoken to her therapist about it on multiple occasions, and she must have given the right answer, because she was approved for work again.

Leah Culper had been the contact chosen for Grace by the undercover unit, and they made fast friends right away—not only because Grace had the advantage of knowing an incredible amount of information about her—but because Leah surprised her.

Leah hadn’t just been the Drug King of Amherst’s girlfriend. She was an artist. A friend. A doting daughter. Most of all, a protective sister who’d do anything for her sibling.

The thing that connected them from the beginning had been something Leah never knew they had in common.

Leah’s strength and weakness had been doing everything with all her heart.

The trick Eli had taught Grace at a young age was something she’d later been trained to use as a detective. The most important part of her undercover assignment had been to exploit Leah, but her boyfriend, Conrad Burke, had been doing a better job of it before Grace came along. He’d abused her emotionally in front of everyone and physically behind closed doors. After more than a year of watching them together, Grace knew Leah would never leave him on her own.

And that’s why she’d done what she did.

Leah’s death rested on Grace’s shoulders and although the weight had been almost too difficult to bear at times, she carried it because she needed to carry it.

Simple as that.

Every time something good happened, she reminded herself what a terrible person she was for what she’d done and that she didn’t deserve anything good.

It made it easier to take the painful remarks from her colleagues after she came back in, the intense glares, and finally, the demotion she’d received to move from the city to Tall Pines.

I got what was coming to me.

The only thing left to do was work her way up again.

It was the only way she could think of to atone for her mistake.

As she turned down the short country road with only three houses, an ambulance and two police cars sat in front of the first house on the right.

She knew who the first car belonged to before she could even read the plate.

Chief Banning must have called her after realizing Mac was on the scene and hadn’t followed his orders to fill her in.

As she parked behind Mac’s car, some movement across the street caught her eye. A neighbour peaking through their curtains.

What have you seen tonight?

As she walked up the long driveway, she passed an officer with a roll of yellow caution tape.

“Mac inside?” she asked.

“Sheppard?” the officer asked. “He said you’d be late. Young woman in her mid-twenties. Head injury and she bled out. Mac’s waiting for you in the kitchen with the vic’s fiancé. He’s the one who found her.”

“Thanks,” Grace said, and strode along the path toward the front door.

No distinguishable marks along the path, and no visible signs of forced entry at the front window or door.

She stepped inside and a bright red puddle on the taupe living room carpet caught her eye.

Deep voices carried down the hallway, and she pulled on a pair of gloves before taking a step from the hardwood hallway onto the plush carpet in the living room.

Red roses and petals lay scattered around a blonde woman, her hair dyed red by the blood and her body sprawled out like she’d fallen, or been pushed down.

As she crouched, light from the lamp reflected off a piece of glass. The rest of the broken glass vase had rolled under the living room table. Another glint caught her eye. A diamond engagement ring.

The floral perfume of the roses mixed with the metallic smell of blood turned her stomach.

The cycle of abuse. Apologies made. Promises broken.

After Eli beat Evette bad enough to make her bleed, red roses were sure to follow the next day. She’d put them in her painted vase and sit them on the windowsill, admiring them as she did the dishes each night.

She’d cry when he beat her and again when he brought the roses.

Before they could wilt, they’d be at it again.

“Sheppard?” Mac called from down the hall, shaking her out of her daze, and she stood.

No ripped clothing. No blood on the vase.

Where’s the M.E.?

She stepped back into the hallway, her heels clicking against the hardwood, and walked toward a bright light in the kitchen. No picture frames hung on the walls, but a wooden sign hung above the entry to the small country-styled kitchen.

Home is where the heart is.

The clichéd quote had always resonated with her.

She entered the kitchen where a man at least a few years older than herself sat at the small round table. His button-up shirt hung loose over his front and tight around his toned upper arms. His sleeves had been rolled up and tattoos covered his forearms, stopping at his watch. A hint of grey hair through the dark locks at the sides of his head made her reconsider his age.

Mac leaned back against the marble island with his arms crossed over his chest.

“I’m Detective Inspector Sheppard.” She turned to the man.

“John Talbot,” he said, leaning back in his chair.

“Mr. Talbot,” Mac said, “please tell us what happened tonight.”

Grace pulled a wooden chair out from the table and sat opposite John, before taking out her phone and hitting record.

“I just—“ John started, resting his hands on the table, and turning to Mac. “Could you please just look into him?”

“I’ll be having a word with everyone who might be able to shed some light on what happened here tonight.”

“I told you, I just got here and she …” Tears slid down John’s tanned cheeks and he shook his head.

“Before then,” Grace said.

“I came home from work tonight at about seven.”

He stared down at his dry hands, small cuts along his forefingers.

He works with those hands.

“John,” she said. “I understand this must be very difficult for you, but if you want to help us find out who did this, we need you to co-operate.”

He frowned, staring at the table. “I brought Lily those flowers. I was late coming home because I stopped to get her flowers. She put them in that vase from her mother. I know that because the vase was supposed to be some kind of peace offering. I watched her. She put them in the vase before we had supper.”

A peace offering?

“So you ate,” Mac said, and glanced over his shoulder toward the sink.

Grace had already noted it was empty. If they’d eaten, their dinner had been cleaned up.

“Yes. Then I went to Amherst.”

“Why?” Mac asked.

“To see a friend,” he said, frowning. “I met a friend I know through work for coffee.”

The front door creaked open and Mac leaned backward to see through the doorway.

“Lockwood,” Mac said, nodding to someone down the hall, and stood up straight again. “You met a friend?”

“Yes, and then I drove back along Bones Bay instead of the highway.”

“And what happened when you came back?” Grace asked.

“I walked in and found her like that. The vase smashed. Flowers…” He shook his head again and pressed his hands over his face. “I—I called the cops as soon as I could—could catch my breath.”

“Where do you work?” Mac asked.

“Thom’s Tackle Shop.” He choked out the words, wiping at his red face and clearing his throat. “Bait and tackle shop on Bones Drive, right at the end by the bay. I work for Thom Hanks.”

Grace frowned at the name.

Like the movie star?

“What friend did you see?” Mac asked. “I need you to write down their name and number.”

Grace tore off a piece of paper from the small pad she carried, and handed it to John with her pen. He wrote it down and slid it back to her.

“His name’s Luke. We’re old friends.” John crossed his arms. “Met at the shop. He fishes. Hadn’t seen each other in a while, so we were catching up. Listen, you’re wasting your time talking to me. You have to go see Mickey Clarke.”

“Why?” Grace asked.

The name sounded familiar.

“Lily had a restraining order on him. No contact. She used to work for him until a month ago, and after she quit, he didn’t get the hint that she wasn’t interested in him. He’d show up at her new job.”

“Where’s that?” Mac asked.

“She worked at his club, Wild Card, as a server and bartender while taking classes to be a realtor. She graduated this summer and she quit as soon as she sold her first home. He’d show up at her office, or follow her and pretend it was a coincidence when they saw each other.”

He spaced out again and looked up at Mac.

“I took her to see you guys at the department—twice—and it took a bruised arm before you granted her the no contact order,” John said through his teeth. “He’s a dangerous prick and he hurt her. He’d do it again. It was him.”

Tears welled up in his red eyes.

“We’ll be checking into Mr. Clarke,” Mac said. “I told you, we’ll follow up on your concerns. For now, you were the person closest to her. We need to hear from you.”

“Why did you bring her flowers?” Grace asked.

“It was just something I did every once in a while,” John sniffled. “She deserved more. I should have given her more.”

“Were you fighting with her?”

He shook his head and pressed his lips together.

Nonverbal. Something’s up with him.

“Mac.” The officer from outside called down the hallway. “Chief’s back.”

Mac left the room without a word. He and Banning spoke in low voices down the hallway, and another female voice joined them.

“When you walked in and found her, John, what was the first thing you thought?” Grace asked.

“He did it,” John said with wide eyes. “He’s finally done it.”

“Mickey Clarke?”

John nodded and covered his mouth with his hand, shaking his head.

He’s going to go into hysterics if I don’t keep him calm.

“How old are you, John?”


“And Lily?”

“Twenty-seven. Her birthday’s coming up. She would have been twenty-seven this year.”

“John, we need to contact Lily’s parents. Do you have their number?”

He shook his head. “She doesn’t talk to her parents much. I don’t have a relationship with them.”

“Why’s that?”

“They’ve just never liked me,” he shrugged. “The age difference, I think. Since we got engaged her dad wasn’t speaking to her anymore.”

The peace offering of the vase from her mom.

“But her mom does?”

He nodded.

“Why don’t they like you?” she asked.

He shrugged. “I’m too old? I’m not good enough for their daughter. I never would have been. They’ll blame me.”

“For her death?”

He shook his head no. “For estranging them from their daughter. It’s her father’s fault he didn’t speak to her. He hurt her so bad because of that…”

He stared past her.


“I’m sorry.”

“That’s alright,” Grace said. “We’ll get their number. Is there anyone else you can think of who’d want to hurt Lily?”

“No one. Everyone loves her.”

“Anyone else who has keys to your home?”

He shook his head.

Would Lily have let Mickey Clarke in after she’d just been granted a no contact order against him?

Grace stood from her chair, passing him a tissue from the box on the marble island.

“Did you wear a coat when you left?” she asked, staring at the tattoos on his forearms as he took it.

“Yeah,” he said, frowning.

“When did you take it off?” she asked.

When did you have time to think about taking off your coat?

She walked around the marble island and stood on the other side. Banning, Mac, and the officer entered the kitchen.

“Just after he got here,” he nodded to Mac.

“You’re going to have to stay somewhere else for a while,” Mac said. “Do you have anywhere you can stay?”

“I’ll get a hotel room.”

Mac nodded. “Officer Malone will escort you to your room to pack a few things and answer any questions he’s able to. When you know where you’re staying, this is my number. Please contact me and let me know.”

Mac handed him his card, and John stood from the table and took it.

He was tall, and as she stared up at him, she couldn’t believe he was over forty.

With a girlfriend in her twenties.

Officer Malone followed John out of the room and up the staircase just off the hallway.

Banning shook his head. “This is the first body this year. I want you both on this, and use Malone when you can too, alright?”

Mac nodded. “When Lockwood gets back to me with her findings, I’ll let you know.”

“You’ll notify the parents now, then?” Banning asked.

Mac nodded. “There’s someone else I want to question tonight, too.”

“You’ve got a busy night ahead,” Banning said, nodding to Grace.

Banning turned back down the hallway and Mac followed him. A woman in a dark blue coat stood beside a man photographing the scene and nodded to Mac.

Chief M.E. had been stitched in yellow writing on the back of her jacket.

“I need that report ASAP,” Mac said.

The woman nodded.

“I’m Detective Inspector Grace Sheppard.”

“Raven Lockwood,” she nodded. “Chief M.E.”

“Nice to meet you,” Grace said, and followed Mac out the front door.

Still trying to keep up.

“You get the parents’ address?” he asked.

“No,” she said. “I asked him but he didn’t have their number so I’ll look—“

“Don’t bother. I already have it.”

“Then why did you ask?”

“You’d better ride with me,” he said, shaking his head as they passed another officer lugging an evidence box up the driveway. “Don’t want you to fall behind.”
Grace rolled her eyes and as they reached to the bottom of the driveway, Banning stood in front of two reporters and a camera-man.

Madigan stood at the front with her phone held out in front of her.

“You coming?” Mac asked.

She caught Madigan’s eye and nodded to her. She’d never thought of her as The Press. Just a writer for the local paper, but more often than not, Grace found the media got in the way of the cases she worked.

Grace turned and jogged to Mac’s car. As soon as she got in, he started to roll away.

“I’m going to need you to pick up the pace,” he said.

I’m not slow.

Am I going too slow?

“I wanted to talk to the neighbour across the way,” she said.

“I’ve got Malone on it.”

He sees things in black and white. He wants facts.

“I’ve heard of Mickey Clarke,” she said.


“He owns Wild Card and he’s one of the owners of Salty Rocks too. He’s a rough guy.”

Once she’d gotten close to her contact, Leah, she’d also caught the eye of her boyfriend Conrad Burke’s best friend, Nick Hill. She’d been instructed to get closer with him and they started dating, hoping the more intimate relationship would get her closer to Burke and any intel on the drugs they’d been moving.

Salty Rocks had been their group’s favourite club, and Grace suspected the owners were involved in other unsavory business too.

“Any priors?” Mac asked.

“Nope. Nothing they could catch him with. John Talbot?”

“He was arrested and sent to juvie as a teen for possession with intent to distribute,” he said. “After that, it’s just parking tickets through his twenties. Couple months ago, he was involved in an altercation on seventh in the city. No charges though.”

“Seventh?” Grace frowned. “That’s where Wild Card is. Who was he fighting with?”

“Guy didn’t leave a name. Didn’t have a record, I guess, but John’s name was on the record.”

“Think it was Mickey?” she asked.

Mac shook his head.

“They’d know who he was, wouldn’t they?”

Of course they would. Why did I ask that?

Mac turned up the radio, and as they merged onto the highway bridge toward Amherst, she wondered if meeting a friend was John’s real reason for going into the city that night.

“We should check the café,” she said, as they got off the bridge and took an exit lane. “See if he was there for as long as he said he was with who he said he was with.”

“Tomorrow,” Mac said. “I want to see her parents and then Clarke tonight. Her parents live just outside Amherst, technically in Deerhorn County. Then we’ll carry on to Wild Card and see if we can find Clarke there. If not, I want to pay him a visit at home.”

Grace nodded. “I think they were fighting.”

“John and Clarke?”

“John and Lily. I mean sure, men buy women flowers just because, but it was more likely they’d been fighting, it was his fault, and he was trying to make it up to her. I asked if they’d been fighting, and he shook his head, but I think he was evading the question.”

“I like to work with facts,” Mac said. “Not theories.”

Add predictable to the list of Mac’s weaknesses.

She would keep her theories to herself until they turned into something more.

If only Mac would keep his snide comments to himself, too, they might have a chance at working together in a cohesive manner to find out what happened to Lily.


To read on, find The Girls Across the Bay on any of these retailers here!

tGAtB ebook.jpg

Giving and Receiving Help- A Mental Health Project

It took me almost 20 years to put a name to the dreaded feelings that would come over me during both times when I expected it, such as before tests, during dentist appointments, on the first day of school, during the first week of school for that matter, and when I didn't expect it, like at the movie theater, or watching a sports event live, or celebrating a friend's birthday. When it seemed rational, fearing for myself or the safety of others, and when it didn't, like driving, or while cooking, or after an event when I got home into comfortable clothes, in conditions and circumstances I *should* feel good in.

It's a feeling that most people experience during high stress situations, or when they fear the worst, but to varying degrees.

This feeling has been with me since some of my earliest memories. I knew something was off, but I internalized it as much as I could because I thought there was something wrong with me. I hid it from many people for many reasons. 

It's too hard to explain. I can't explain it, I just feel it. It's easier to just sweep it under the rug. I don't have time to explain. They won't understand. I'd rather them make assumptions about why I did that or am like that than to know the truth.

I have anxiety and panic attacks.

Putting a name to these feelings has helped me learn more about them, about myself, and how to get help. Not only that, but it made it easier to relate to others. Others who were able to put a name to their feelings, or lack thereof.

I realized, to my relief and chagrin, I wasn't alone. 

Since then, I've learned about friends and family before me who also suffer(ed) mental illnesses. I've listened to what they went through back when even less was understood about mental health. How they weren't able to put a name to how they felt, or had no one to talk to who understood, dealing with it in silence the only way they knew how.

After it became a more acceptable topic of public discussion with many, I learned even more from those loved ones who suffer(ed) from anxiety, depression, eating disorders, personality disorders, post-par-tum depression and more. 

Bottom line is, the people I care about have suffered. Still suffer. Chances are, you and yours have too.

Some are able to cope, and have been a living example of how to handle difficult things in life. It may have taken them a long while to learn the best way for them to feel well, but they always serve as a reminder of hope that it can get better.

 For others it is a constant struggle and I'm concerned for them. I worry about them, but I also enjoy the good times even more, because you never know when their beautiful smile will fade, and be replaced by something they feel helpless over.

Finally, some loved ones aren't with us anymore. I remember them often. Mostly the good times, but sometimes I wonder things like, what if the way our society viewed mental health had been different? What if there had been more funding toward a better understanding of mental illness, and to give people suffering more help? Would that person have felt so helpless and alone? Would we, their loved ones, have had a better chance of helping them with the right tools?

We all need more help. Period.

Those are 3 of the reasons I'm writing this.

Regardless of our age, gender, race, income, illness, location, etc. we need more help. There is still such a stigma surrounding mental health and an inconceivable amount to learn, but I feel things have come a long way. People educate themselves with the ever-growing tools available to better understand/support/improve their lives or that of their loved ones.

I believe that confiding in the people we love and trust can not only help to end the stigma, but to build a support system through times of suffering, regardless of what you are going through.

People in our lives don't always say or do the right thing whether their heart is in the right place or not. We ourselves don't always do or say the right thing either.

I've had a great deal of encouragement and understanding, but I have also faced judgement, frustration, and ignorance when dealing with my anxiety from people in my life, and also acquaintances. I've had people tell me to just get over it and to stop being ridiculous or making excuses. People who think less of me because of the way I cope. People who think they're helping, but make things worse. People who, through no fault of their own, I haven't shared my struggles with.

There are people who simply don't understand, some who are afraid, and others who inflict suffering on others because they suffer themselves.

Because of my support system, I've been able to talk things out, during or after an anxiety attack. I have friends who will pick me up when we go somewhere, because they understand my driving anxiety. Family who show their support when I have to challenge myself in order to grow. Friends and family who lend an ear or discuss their own mental health, and I am grateful for their confidence.

 I know not everyone is so lucky to have people in their lives they can count on, and that is another one of the reasons I am writing this. One of the reasons I decided that along with talking, listening, encouraging others to do the same, and donating to mental health initiatives when possible, I need to take more action.

I think, if you've made it this far, you want to do more too.

I've always wanted to use my writing, my stories, to add to the quality of a person's life. When I realized I could and should do that in more ways than one, I contacted my dear friend, Jade Eby, another author who I knew would want to do the same. I knew this because Jade has been part of my support system and an advocate for mental health support. We've had so many conversations about our personal struggles, and mental health as it pertains to world issues as a whole. She loved the idea, and together, we decided that each month, readers would not only be able to purchase our stories, but simultaneously help others.

Jade and I will be donating 50% of the profits of each monthly featured book sold to our chosen mental health organizations. You can learn more about it here as we launch our initiative on November 1st, 2017.

We want to hear from you. We want to give you the support you need to help yourself or loved ones. We want to make a change.

I hope you'll join us in supporting mental health organizations that have the power to help so many people.

Above all, I hope you realize you have the power to help people, whether by donating, sharing, talking about your experiences, listening to others, being present for those struggling, or generally giving people hope for a better future.

"If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today." - Thich Nhat Hanh

October Movie Recommendations 2017 Edition

Each year, my dear friend Ashley and I watch scary movies together.

All. year. round. 

October is a special month because we get to cozy up on the days and nights counting down to Halloween with some of our favourites and try some new ones as well.

We've made it a point for the past couple of years to put out a recommendation infographic, giving my readers and those we know ideas for their own October movie nights.

This year, we rounded them up into categories. We hope you enjoy, let us know if you try any, and have a spooktacular October!

-Emerald and Ashley

In order beginning top left: IT, Hocus Pocus, Disturbia, The Cabin in the Woods, Halloween, Silence of the Lambs, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Rear Window, What Lies Beneath, Oculous, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, Unfriended, Get Out, Flatliners, House of Wax, Chernobyl Diaries, Sinister, The Strangers, As Above, So Below, Grave Encounters.

A special preview of Midnight Motel

A special preview of the first chapter of Emerald's upcoming YA Fantasy release, Midnight Motel, Book 1 in The Anna Kelleher Chronicles.

Chapter 1

Anna Kelleher arrived at The Golden Leaf Motel as dusk approached, desperate to keep the promise she made to the person she had loved most.

It hadn’t been her intention to confront her mother’s side of the family so soon after the funeral service, but as she drove through the day into night, Anna knew if she’d waited any longer, she wouldn’t do it at all.

The service had been held exactly one week after her grandma Martie passed away of cancer. Her friends, Pete and Cassie, met her in front of the funeral home and their condolences had barely sunk in before her dad pulled into the lot.

After the service, her dad gave her a short hug and shuffled off without saying a word before they left the funeral home for the cemetery. It had been months since she’d spoken to him, and almost a year since they’d come face to face. He’d always taken pride in travelling for work, and if she’d had to hear him brag about pharmaceutical sales while his own mom attended chemotherapy and radiation, she’d have lost it on him.

Anna spent most of the time after he arrived focused on avoiding any awkward encounters with him. He and the rest of her paternal side came to pay their respects to the glue that held their family together, but Anna doubted her maternal side had even heard of the passing.

After driving in the funeral procession to the cemetery in a daze, she’d forgotten how she even got there. She mourned the loss of the best friend she’d ever had, and as she stood over her grave, her deflated body barely held itself up.

With the financial help from her dad, and some support from her uncle and a personal support worker, she’d cared for her grandma at home until the very end, save for the hospital visits. Just how her grandma had wanted it to be, and that was the reason she never confronted her absentee father or the rest of the family about the lack of their presence after her diagnosis.

We’ve got each other, Anna.

After the service, she thanked her friends for coming and accepted a rare hug from Pete before striding off to her car without a word to the rest of her family. Tears poured from her eyes, soaking into the neckline of the jade dress her grandma had made for her, turning it an emerald green. She choked on her saliva as she gasped, not for breath, but for answers.


Why did it have to be her? The kindest person Anna had ever known. The only person Anna had ever felt truly loved by.


Why couldn’t she have gone peacefully in her sleep? Why had such a terrible disease that first took her hair, then her appetite, and eventually her ability to breathe been the way she left this world?

Anna wiped under her eyes, smearing mascara along her fingers. She swept her long dark curls over her shoulder, leaning back against her seat as the cool air hit her neck—soothing her.

She couldn’t go back home where she’d lived with her grandma for almost a decade.

Her grandma’s things still had to be sorted and divided between the family, and the lease on her apartment would be up by the end of the month, but Anna couldn’t think about any of it.

Her grandma’s pictures displayed at the funeral had been too painful to look at. They mocked her as she walked by them, trying to focus on anything else but her grandma’s thin-lipped smile that greeted her every morning over the past ten years. The twinkle she’d get in her eyes when she was pleased with Anna, or excited about something. The pictures were just a reminder that they were the only way she’d see her face again, and she couldn’t go home to them.

To the smell of fresh lavender laundry detergent Anna got a whiff of every time she hugged her goodbye before school. To the ironing board all set-up beside the pile of their clean clothes. To the left-overs in the fridge from the fantastic meal the night before that she’d never have made for her again.

She grabbed her locket tight in her fist and let the tears keep falling.

I love you, Grandma.

As she sniffled, she turned the key in the ignition, but before she put the car in drive, she rested her hands on the wheel.

It’s time to make good on that promise.

She let go of the locket, and instead of turning right, she made a left out of the cemetery.

Anna had packed a small beach bag before she left, intent on staying at her best friend Cassie’s place, or even sleeping in her car. Anything to avoid facing the memories that made her chest ache.

She drove as fond memories swirled in her head, of Sundays with her grandma at her friend’s nursing home. Of reading to the group, and stealing a glance at her grandma’s face every so often, pride written all over it.

Deep wrinkles all over it, too. Ones she seemed embarrassed of, covering her cheeks with her hands when she laughed too hard. Most days, Anna would take her hand in hers and remind her how beautiful she was. That those lines were from a life well-lived and that she could only hope to have as many when she was her age. Her grandma would shoo her hand away and roll her eyes, but a small smile remained on her lips in the seconds after those special moments.

Painful memories came, too, and Anna tried to keep them at bay as best she could. Her grandma made her promise not to think of those times towards the end. To think of only the good, but she couldn’t help it.

Countless times, she’d thought about turning around, but something pulled her to the motel. Or pushed her. She couldn’t be sure, but it felt like something more than a promise. It was instinctual.

By the time she reached Maple View, the big orange sun had sunk in the sky, and she knew it wasn’t an accident that she’d ended up in the small town she spent her early childhood in. She passed the large shiny boulder on the side of the road. As a child, she knew it meant she was almost home.

As she pulled into the entrance of the deserted L-shaped parking lot, her heart beat louder in her chest.

The Golden Leaf Motel.

The last place she had to turn to.

And she wouldn’t have tried if it weren’t for her grandma.

On her deathbed, she made her a promise.

To let love in.

She’d whispered the simple words, knowing Anna would understand. They rarely spoke about her mother’s side. Her grandma rarely spoke a bad word about anyone, even her son, Anna’s father, who’d rather travel for business than spend time with his own daughter. Her grandma nodded and held her after every time Anna visited her mom, having given her chance after chance to prove she was a priority in her life, and being disappointed each time.

“There, there,” she’d whisper.

Acknowledging Anna’s hurt. Holding her tight even at the beginning when Anna was first dropped off on her doorstep. When her mom said she couldn’t do it anymore and finally meant it. It had been years since her mother held her the way her grandma did, and she’d struggled to pull away at first.

But her grandma broke down her wall piece by piece.

She became her only soft place to fall in the years that followed. Safe from the harsh reality of Anna’s life before she came to stay with her.

And all she wanted, lying on her death bed, was for Anna to give it one more try.

As she squeezed her grandma’s hand, she promised her, hoping in her heart that there was a chance to make good on it.

But her grandma didn’t know all the details. She didn’t know her mom well at all. She seemed to understand why Anna’s mom brought her to stay, or at the very least, she wasn’t angry at Constance for it. She couldn’t know what Anna had been through, though. The anger and hurt, and then the fear that her mom had left her for good that day.

The day she made the decision to trust herself and only herself from then on in.

Her grandma had squeezed her hand back, satisfied with her promise.

By then, she’d made an exception to her rule—only for her grandma—trusting her implicitly. Owing her every bit of happiness she’d had in her life since living with her.

And Anna knew she had to at least try.

She pulled her visor down, and studied her face, wiping the streaks of mascara and liner from her big doe eyes.

Blue today.

She flipped her long dark curls in front of her shoulders and adjusted her black blazer over her dress before flipping the visor back up. She grabbed her purse and hung it over her shoulder as she stepped out of her old car and slammed the door shut. The gravel on the lot crunched under her black ankle boots as she strode toward the office on the far-left side of the building.

The brick building stood just one story tall in the shape of an L. The right side led toward the back at the bottom of the L. At the far left, the office was located at the top of the L. Loose shingles hung from the edges of the roof. Each white door had black faded numbers above the peep holes, and drab dark gray curtains covered each window.

The unlit white sign overhead with the motel’s name in gold towered over her and the whole building stood in darkness.

Anna slowed down as she approached, convinced the place had shut down. She’d never have known if it had. She hadn’t spoken to her mom in years, and the last she’d seen of her uncle, she still attended elementary school.

The sun had sank below the horizon, leaving trails of orange streaked across the royal blue sky. A lump formed in her throat and she swallowed hard before she reached the office door. She twisted the knob and pulled without any movement.

She took her cell phone out of her pocket and scrolled through to her mom’s number.

What would she say?

Grandma passed away.

I came to see you.

She wasn’t sure which of the two lines she dreaded uttering more.

Someone should be here.

Anna slipped her phone back in her purse and wiped her clammy hands against her dress, walking onto the lot again.

Has everyone left me?

The chirping of crickets from the back field answered her before she turned back toward her car, and a man leaning against a shovel stood on the lot a few feet away, gripping the handle with his gloves.

She took a step back and glanced around them. The Golden Leaf Motel sign buzzed behind him, the light flickering on and off, casting a stark shadow over him. She couldn’t see him well, but he wore work boots and a hooded sweater. Taller than her with a solid frame. She took another step back.

“Can I help you?” He asked in a raspy voice.

“I’m looking for Cal.” She readjusted her purse over her shoulder and raised her voice. “Calloway Thorpe. Who are you?”

He walked toward her, and as he closed the distance between them, she could make out his facial features. He smiled and stared at her from just beneath his brow, stopping just short of her.

She straightened her posture and pursed her lips.

“He should be in there.” He gestured toward the office, not taking his eyes off her for long. “How do you know Cal?”

He looked a little older than Anna, with short dirty blonde hair, some of it held in part of a style, while other pieces fell in front of his face. It must have been weeks since he’d shaved, and his scruffy beard matched his hair colour.

Anna turned around and walked toward the office door again. She knocked on the glass three times and turned back toward the attractive man still standing a few feet away.

When she’d decided he was attractive, she didn’t know, but she kept her unfazed façade in place as she avoided eye contact with him.

“He might be passed out,” he said, grinning, “and if he is, there’s no way you’ll wake him up by knocking.”

Anna shrugged before turning back to the door and knocking harder.

“I have the key.”

Metal jingled behind her and she looked over her shoulder. He held a large ring of keys up in front of him.

Anna batted her lashes a few times and smiled.

Maybe you’re more helpful than I thought.

“Could you open the door for me, please?”

He tossed the key chain in the air just above his head and caught it again.

“Depends. Will you tell me your name?”

She took a soft strand of her hair and twisted it around her finger, shifting her weight onto one foot while supporting herself on the toes of the other.


Her grandma’s name slipped out and she let go of her hair, the smile slipping from her lips.

She hadn’t said her grandma’s name in so long, and she surprised herself with the alias she chose to give him.

“And how do you know Cal?” He stood up tall and stabbed the shovel in the gravel in front of him, letting it go.

“I told you my name,” she laughed. “It’s getting cold out here. Could you please just let me in?”

“You’re not his girlfriend,” he said. “Cal doesn’t have a girlfriend. You’re too young to be his girlfriend, anyway.”

“Not his girlfriend.” She shook her head, letting her curls sway from side to side.

“And you’re not here to book a room.” He walked up to the building and leaned against it.

“Maybe I am.” She squinted at him, pursing her lips, growing tired of his guessing game. “But you won’t know until you open the door for me.”

He shrugged and walked around her, over to the office door. “I’m just wondering why you’re here. Not many people stay here anymore. You don’t look like a debt collector.”

She released a soft sigh and stared up at the night sky, waiting.

He took his glove off, slipped the key into the door and twisted it. She put her hand on top of his, feeling the back of his rough warm hand against her cold skin, and he looked up at her, his eyes wide open.

Time to lose him.

“You’re very kind,” she said in a soft voice, as her other hand reached for the glove under his arm. “I appreciate your help…”


As she got ready to tug his glove loose, letting it fall to the floor as a distraction, she stopped.


“Short for Lachlan,” he said, and she tilted her head to the side. “But nobody calls me that anymore. It’s just Lock.”

Goodbye, Lock.

She tugged the glove, and with a flick of the wrist, it fell to the concrete ground beside them.

“Oops,” she said softly, and started to reach down for it.

“I’ve got it,” he said, “no worries.”

That was her cue.

As soon as he bent down, she yanked the door open at the same time taking the key out with her, and pulled it shut, all before he stood up straight again.

As he reached for the door, she locked it, laughing to herself at the irony.

He shoved his hands into his pockets and nodded once at her, raising his brow.

Anna bit back a smile.

“Well played, Martie.” He grinned.

At least he gives respect where it’s due.

She saw something black out of the corner of her eye, and turned around as the black thing lunged at her from the desk.

She stumbled back against the door.

“Meow,” it cried at her feet.

She let out a sigh, ignoring the faint sound of Lock laughing behind her, as she bent down and guided her palm over the soft fur beneath her fingers.

“Pokey?” she whispered.

The cat she’d named herself as a child purred as she stroked his head.

The light turned on in the office, revealing the reflection of a tall man in the glass window, standing in the alcove to her right. He wasn’t as skinny as she remembered, but just as tall, with a thick head of dark brown hair.

“Uncle Cal,” she said, before turning around.

He shuffled towards her, his hair a mess, and his wrinkled button down shirt half tucked into his pants. His already small eyes squinted at her until she could barely see them.

“Anna.” His deep voice boomed down to her.

Was it anger in his tone?

He rolled up his sleeves, and ran his fingers through his hair as he looked past her out the window.

“Anna?” Lock’s muffled voice asked from behind the glass door. “Who’s Anna?”

Anna stood and Cal grabbed the keys from her hand—dark circles under his eyes. He twisted the key in the hole and opened the door.

“That’ll be all, Lock,” Cal barked.

He tossed him the keys and Lock caught them against his chest.

Lock raised his hand and waved goodbye to Anna while he grabbed his shovel and Cal twisted the lock on the door again.

He stumbled to the front desk, opening a drawer.

“What are you doing here?” he asked, without looking up.

Whoa, what did I do to deserve the warm welcome?

“No hello?” She muttered under her breath, but he ignored her, grabbing a plastic bottle and shaking it.

Unsatisfied with the lack of noise, he threw it over his shoulder, going straight for the next drawer. He rummaged through it and she guessed what he was looking for. She’d seen the same look in her mom’s eyes when she realized she was out of her prescription for Xanax.

Pills or alcohol?

He turned his back to her and scoured the mantel above the fireplace behind the desk. He opened a tin can and took a small bottle of whiskey with a gold label out of it. He turned around, thumped it down against the desk, and looked up at her.

“Why are you here, Anna?”

The words stung. She opened her mouth to say she already regretted it, but closed it again.

Stay calm. Now’s not the time for sarcasm.

Pokey rubbed himself against her ankles as Cal took a swig from the bottle and screwed the cap back on, shaking his head.

Was she such an inconvenience? Was she interrupting something besides his buzz?

She rested her hand on her hip, ready to lay it on him. To make him regret being so rude.

“My grandma passed away a week ago.” Her lower lip quivered as she spoke, and she pressed her lips together to make it stop.

His chest heaved up and down as a sigh escaped his lips and looked down at the desk before looking back up at her. He’d never spent any time with her grandma that she knew of, and he may not have been able to pick her out in a crowd, but he knew Anna had lived with her.

She blinked several times to keep her tears at bay.

Pokey’s weight against her body soothed her.

“I’m sorry, but that still doesn’t explain why you’re here.” He unscrewed the bottle, and took another swing.

Wow. That was it?

No sympathy. Not a care in the world from the only man she’d ever been close to.

Her chest ached as he slammed the bottle down and her shoulders jerked up.

It’s the alcohol. It has to be. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.

“I thought maybe I could stay here for a while.” Her voice shook. “Maybe I could get a room and we could talk in the morning?”

He rubbed his eyes with his palms and looked back at her. 


Even if she’d picture a hundred scenarios ahead of time, she’d never have thought reconnecting with her uncle could go this poorly.

He couldn’t mean that.

He took another drink and leaned over the desk, steadying himself with both hands.

As if daring her to say anything back.

Dare accepted.

She stared into his bloodshot eyes.

“You never used to be this much of an asshole,” she sneered.

He raised his brow and shook his head, standing up straight. As he turned back to the mantel he lost his footing, and reached out, grabbing it for support.

He hadn’t been egging her on as he leaned on the desk, but rather using it as a support.

He could barely stand. He swayed from side to side as he turned over his shoulder.

“You didn’t always have such a slart mouth, either,” he slurred, grabbing the bottle. “I guess you got that from your mother.”

She clenched her jaw, hating the fact he’d compared her to the woman who’d given her up. Who’d decided to quit being a parent, but still wanted to retain control over her life.

“I’m nothing like her.”

He let out a low laugh and took another swig of the amber liquid.

“You know I have to tell her you came,” he said, wiping his mouth with the sleeve of his shirt.

“I came to see her, too,” she said, although after the comparison, she felt like doing anything but.

He scoffed and screwed the lid on the bottle. “She’s busy. You can’t see her.”

“She’s always busy.” Anna rolled her eyes. “But she doesn’t know about my grandma.”

“What can she do ‘bout it?” He pointed the bottle at her, closing one eye and staring at her with the other, like staring down the barrel of a gun. “Why are you here?”

“I told you—“ she said, about to work up the courage to let him know that she could use the time away. But she stopped herself.

What she needed was some support.

She couldn’t bare to open herself up to whatever insult he’d sling back at her.

He shook his head and stumbled out from behind the desk toward the alcove that led to the hallway.

“You’re not tellin’ me why, so if you don’t mind, lock up on your way out.” He reached his hand out to turn the light off.

“I need money,” she said, and he stopped with his back to her. “I need a job to save some money up. I was hoping I could work here.”

He looked over his shoulder. “Even if I said yes, it’s not like it’s—it’s your mom’s decision.”

“Why?” she asked. “It’s your motel.”

He staggered out of the room through the alcove that led to the rest of the motel, and she followed him, turning the light off after her.

“Nothing’s mine.” He sighed, and turned left into the door to his place directly on the other side of the office.

“Can I stay until she comes?” Anna called to him. “Until you talk to her?”

“Do whatever you want, Anna. You always do.”

Anna walked through the alcove, onto the dull burgundy carpet, and turned right, staring down the long hallway. The walls that once glowed a champagne colour looked like they’d been stained in cigarette smoke instead. She recognized the scent of cigar smoke, coffee, and burnt popcorn.

Comforting smells.

She turned back to her uncle’s door that had been closed. Only a small beam of light shone from its cracks and a clattering came from inside.

“Alright in there?” she called.

A muffled groan made her open the door all the way, revealing Cal sprawled out on his corduroy couch, one arm behind his head, and the other dangling off completely.

With his eyes closed, he rubbed his lips together and released a deep sigh.

“Uncle Cal?”

He raised his arm and dropped it again, turning over on the couch.

Shoes still on his feet.

The ashtray on the end table beside him had been knocked over, dumping ashes and two cigars onto the carpet. She went to the sink filled with dirty dishes and wet a piece of paper towel. Back at the spot, she got down on her knees, wiping up the ashes as he began to snore.

After throwing the paper towel in the overflowing garbage, she looked around his place.

Clothes on the floor and hanging over her uncle’s prized telescope. The wooden table that had black and white squares painted on the top where he’d taught her how to play chess no longer had the pieces on it. His bed was unmade and she couldn’t bring herself to look in the washroom.

An uneasy feeling washed over her. To her memory, Cal had kept his place spotless. He’d taken pride in his things. Everything always seemed organized.


It was nothing like the place she’d known.

He was nothing like how he used to be.

Something was wrong, and with all the time between her last visit, she couldn’t begin to piece it together.

Anna went to the end of the couch, grabbed his shoes, and heaved until each one slipped off. He continued snoring through it all, and after taking a blanket from his bed and covering him with it, she turned off the light.

If she wasn’t mistaken, Cal used to tuck her in at night after reading to her. Something she hadn’t thought about until her hand rested on the cold metal door knob and she looked back at him as he must have with her countless times.

 “Night, Uncle Cal,” she whispered with tears in her eyes, and shut his door firmly behind her.

What she once called home was no more, and as she wiped her eyes with her fingers, she wondered if she’d made a mistake coming back. She went back to the front desk, taking her time. Under the top shelf, she grabbed a random key and ambled back to her car to get her things.

When she got back to the motel, she checked the number on her key.


As she passed under the alcove, Pokey sat in the middle of the long hallway, waiting for her. She walked down the hall, gazing at the pictures along the walls that brought back memories. Pictures of the night sky, taken with the telescope Cal had once taken pride in. Of pressed golden leaves from autumn expeditions she’d go on by herself.

She was surprised he kept them up.

A picture hung beside room seven of five men standing together in front of a large gray building. Her grandpa stood in the middle, but she hadn’t met him before he passed away. Everyone spoke of him with great respect but she’d never liked the picture.

All their eyes staring at her.

She turned to room eight and used the skeleton key to unlock the door.

Midnight Motel releases July 26th, 2017 on all retailers.

Pre-order your copy now at Amazon or Kobo

Add Midnight Motel to your to-read list on Goodreads

Midnight Motel Cover Reveal and Pre-Order

I'm thrilled to finally share the cover for my upcoming YA Fantasy, Midnight Motel (The Anna Kelleher Chronicles, Book 1), releasing July 26th, 2017.

Pre-orders will be available on all retailers, beginning with Amazon.

"You have a choice to make, Anna. If you run we can protect you, but should you choose to stay, there’s no turning back." 

Anna Kelleher returns to the motel her family owns after years of estrangement for one reason: to make good on a promise to her dying grandma.
Upon her arrival, Anna finds an uncle she barely recognizes, a motel that looks nothing like she remembers, and the one person she needed to see is gone.
She soon discovers that one of the motel rooms hides a portal to another dimension and she is forced to either walk away from her dysfunctional family for good or become a gatekeeper to help them defeat The High Power that rules there.
With lives in the balance, her morals in question, and a promise yet to be fulfilled, Anna must use what little time she has to her advantage. Travelling between a world she thought she knew, and a dark dimension that needs her help, Anna is caught in the middle when evil knocks on the motel’s door seeking answers and vengeance.

My Biggest Promotion Yet!

Beginning Friday February 17th-21st, LIES COME TRUE will be FREE on Amazon!

The Avery Hart mystery trilogy has been a fan favourite since the books came out, and I want to give all my readers the chance to start or finish the trilogy with this exciting deal!

O’Brien drops you into the middle of the action and doesn’t stop until the end.
— Jade Eby, Author
Best I have read in this genre this year!!! Holy mystery!
— Girly Girl Book Reviews


For the first time EVER, I've deeply discounted BARE YOUR BONES and EVERY LAST MARK through a Kindle Countdown Deal, and now you can own the whole trilogy for the lowest cost to date!

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I share details about what I'm currently working on, answer questions about my previously published novels, and chat with members on a weekly basis.

I appreciate my loyal readers and their support. This group is a way to connect with you all.

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Excerpt from Lies Come True

I really enjoyed writing The Avery Hart trilogy, and the whole story is still one of the ones I'm most proud of. Crafting three books to fit together in one overarching story had me flexing my writing muscles in ways I hadn't before, and I find myself beginning that process again with the first in a series I am currently writing. It's exciting to begin a story that's full of possibilities that mostly depend on what the characters decide to do.

Avery Hart is a character of mine that I relate to in many ways and getting to know her was like getting to know more of myself (and even gain a better understanding of those around me, because she was also modeled a bit on someone I'm close to). I wanted to share an excerpt that exemplifies who Avery is in my eyes, and even gives a hint as to how she acts/reacts through the trilogy.  I wanted to share it with readers who've read the trilogy before, but also for those who are new to Lies Come True and Avery. I hope you enjoy this first impression (or memory).


Chapter 2

Avery cracked into her fortune cookie over the table as the credits of her favourite TV show started to roll.

A muffled cry from the baby next door rang through the wall behind her and she turned the   volume up to drown out the wails. She pulled the tiny piece of paper from the cookie bits, and the news came on as she unfolded her fortune.

"... at Birch Falls Park on Glenn, and Fourth Street, in Birch Falls, Ontario, less than three hours north of Toronto..." The reporter droned on, but Avery focused on reading the paper.

You will soon gain something you have always wanted.

Avery read it twice, set it down beside the broken cookie, and folded up the small box of left over veggie noodles.

"Peace and quiet?" She grumbled as she gathered the boxes, and took them to the kitchen fridge. "I doubt the Donovans are moving anytime soon."

As she made her way back to the living room, the baby cried again, as if to taunt her. She'd thought about tapping on the wall, writing them a letter, and even paying the Donovans a visit, but the simple fact was, babies cried. At all hours. She tried to sympathize with the parents, but when it came time for her early morning classes, she cursed them.

She grabbed the napkins from the table, and threw them in the garbage before she settled in on her soft couch again. When she looked at the TV, she did a double take. Her mouth hung agape as she focused on the picture beside the reporter.

"This man is considered armed and dangerous. Please contact the Crown River Regional Police   with any information you may..." The segment was ending, and the picture disappeared from the screen, as a phone number crawled along the bottom.

That has to be wrong.

She stared at the screen, stunned, as they began to broadcast a different story. She thought about calling the news station, but they wouldn't have any more information, and she had already seen the sketch. That was the part that mattered. For a moment she thought about calling the number on the business card in her purse. The only one she carried. Instead, she   sat still on the couch, and twisted her blonde hair around her finger.

What if she was wrong? What if she only imagined the picture was familiar? That's what Inspector Jacoby would tell her. She wondered why she hadn't torn up that business card after he gave it to her.

She thought about calling her parents, but they'd say the same thing as Jacoby. 

Sadie might listen, might even believe her.

The feeling that glued her to the couch turned into something she recognized. She couldn't be sure what she saw. That's what they told her after all and that's what finally stuck after years of therapy.

If you enjoyed this excerpt and would like to read more: