Black Rock Bay, page 1
PRAISE FOR GIRLS OF GLASS
“Excellent . . . Readers who enjoy having their expectations upset will be richly rewarded.”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
PRAISE FOR IT ENDS WITH HER
“Once in a while a character comes along that gets under your skin and refuses to let go. This is the case with Brianna Labuskes’s Clarke Sinclair—a cantankerous, rebellious, and somehow endearingly likable FBI agent with a troubled past. I was immediately pulled into Clarke’s broken, shadow-filled world and her quest for justice and redemption. A stunning thriller, It Ends With Her is not to be missed.”
—Heather Gudenkauf, New York Times bestselling author
“It Ends With Her is a gritty, riveting, roller-coaster ride of a book. Brianna Labuskes has created a layered, gripping story around a cast of characters that readers will cheer for. Her crisp prose and quick plot kept me reading with my heart in my throat. Highly recommended for fans of smart thrillers with captivating heroines.”
—Nicole Baart, author of Little Broken Things
“An engrossing psychological thriller filled with twists and turns—I couldn’t put it down! The characters were filled with emotional depth. An impressive debut!”
—Elizabeth Blackwell, author of In the Shadow of Lakecrest
OTHER TITLES BY BRIANNA LABUSKES
Girls of Glass
It Ends With Her
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2019 by Brianna Labuskes
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Thomas & Mercer, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Thomas & Mercer are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.
Cover design by Rex Bonomelli
To Deb and Bernie
For your unconditional support, always.
And for, thankfully, being nothing like the parents I write in my books.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
St. Lucy’s Island, Maine
The whimper was a quiet thing, broken and almost lost to the wind battering the outside of the lighthouse. But it was enough, just enough, to pull Mia from the fog, despite the sly promises of numbness that oblivion offered.
Everything was soft and blurry when she opened her eyes. That’s not right, panic whispered.
There was something in Mia’s hand, slick and metal and sharp, and her fingers convulsed around it as she tried to blink the world into focus.
A razor blade.
It was nestled in her palm, fresh droplets of blood gathering in its divots. It hadn’t hurt, though. That slice of its edge into her flesh when her grip had tightened. Why hadn’t it hurt?
The whimper. The whimper. There it was again. And a rustle, the drag of fingernails against wood. Another person.
Mia shifted, the starlight slipping in behind her enough so that Monroe Bell’s face was bathed in silver.
The girl was sprawled on the floor, not far from where Mia sat, her dull eyes pleading for something. Help, probably. Because of the blood. The dark sludge of it pooled beneath Monroe’s body, the wood, already saturated, unable to absorb any more.
Monroe’s lips quivered, struggling to wrap around words without success.
Maybe if Mia got closer. She pushed to her knees to cross the small space between them, but her hand slipped when she tried to brace herself. More blood. This time hers—from the weeping gash at her wrist.
“Why?” The question when it finally came was whispered, but it jolted Mia from her daze.
The razor clattered on the floor as Mia crawled toward Monroe, her knees scraping against the hardwood. It didn’t hurt. Why didn’t anything hurt?
“Come on.” Mia fumbled at Monroe’s shoulders, trying to lift her up into a sitting position, not really sure why but knowing she couldn’t just leave her like that, a broken doll, horrifying in its pliancy. “Come on.”
“Why did . . . ?” Monroe tried again, her eyes locked on Mia’s face. But she didn’t work at all to help Mia’s efforts.
“Come. On.” Mia’s fingers dug into Monroe’s shoulder, hard enough to leave bruises had there still been enough blood left in the girl’s drained body to rush to the blown capillaries. The roughness wasn’t enough to shake Monroe—she was lax, mostly unresponsive, her head lolling back and to the side. The directive—come on—had stopped making sense, if it ever had, but it was the best Mia could do. Monroe was looking for answers, and there were no answers here. None that Mia had, at least.
The last thing Mia remembered was drinking whiskey down by the black rocks. With Cash.
Cash. Nearly dropping Monroe back to the floor, Mia shifted, her eyes sweeping the small room, the corners, the shadows, the hiding spots, for signs of another body.
Because there it was. A hand, an arm. But it wasn’t Cash.
The anguished howl she just barely recognized as coming from herself pulsed against the walls, returning in vibrating waves that slammed into her chest.
“Why did . . . ?” Monroe’s voice was fragile, but still it managed to slip through the pain that held Mia in its grasp.
Monroe. Focus on Monroe. It was too late for Asher.
Mia was all but holding the girl in her lap now, rocking her as she would a frightened child.
Too late for Asher. Too late for Monroe.
No. Not too late for Monroe.
“Why . . . ?”
Why what? Why what? Again, the anger flared, and she wanted to shake the girl into answering. Why what, Monroe?
Instead, she petted at Monroe’s hair, trying for comfort.
The fog’s tendrils slid along the edges of her skull again, whispering promises of silence, of escape.
Mia looked at Asher instead of giving in to them.
Pale cheeks, so pale. Not like the ruddy chapped pink he’d get from running through the woods, from getting teased, from giggling after three too many shots of whiskey. Long arms and legs, un
“Why did . . . ?” Monroe tried again, and it brought Mia’s attention back to her. It had to be the last time; it had to be. Her lips were white at the edges, almost so white they were blue.
“What? Why did what?” Mia asked. If these were Monroe’s final words, Mia would at least hear them.
Then with one last shudder, an inhale, an exhale, Monroe met her eyes.
“Why did you do that?”
Mia stilled. Then a shudder. An inhale. An exhale.
“Shhh. Shhhh,” she whispered as Monroe slipped into the darkness.
The bloated hand disappeared beneath each whitecap, only to knock against the bow of Greg Lawson’s boat in between the swells.
The paleness of it stood in stark contrast to the boat’s cheerful red bottom, and Greg could only stare, a lobster cage still in his tight grip. Icy droplets of ocean spray slashed at his exposed cheeks, tangled, and then froze in his beard. The dock beneath his feet rocked, but muscle memory born from spending forty years on the sea kept him upright. It was the only thing that did.
“Oi,” Brandon called from the helm. “Stop pissing around. It’s freezing out here.”
Greg finally remembered to breathe. “Get down here.”
The curse Brandon shouted back nearly got lost in a gust that swept along the crests.
“Get. Down. Here.”
Another wave, and something more solid than a hand bumped the boat.
The cage crashed to the deck, bouncing off the rope that lay coiled at Greg’s feet as he crossed himself.
“What the blessed hell are you doing down here?” Brandon stopped in front of Greg, his eyes the only thing visible beneath his slicker’s hood and the scarf he’d wrapped high around his face.
The rush of saliva was an early warning sign that the rolling in Greg’s stomach shouldn’t be ignored.
In a quick move, he spun toward the side, away from the hand, and heaved, his body desperate to rid itself of that image, of what it meant.
When he was done, he wiped his chin with his sleeve, a sour taste still lingering on his tongue. “There’s a body.”
“What?” Brandon yelled it like he thought the wind might have twisted the words into something that couldn’t be possible.
“There’s a body,” Greg said again, pointing to where he’d last seen the fingers trailing along the red bottom, clutching at it, begging for help that was coming far too late.
Finally, the younger man caught on.
When Brandon glanced back toward Greg after peering over the side, there was a hardness in his eyes that Greg recognized. Young men around here were like that. Had to pretend to be tough, even when they were scared shitless. “Let’s get it up.”
They worked together with the efficiency they’d mastered hauling in cages up and down Maine’s coastline. Brandon was the one to grab the fingers first, in an obscene parody of hand holding.
Greg plunged his own glove into the water, searching for something to latch onto.
Water-swollen flesh gave beneath his fingers, and he gripped it tight so it wouldn’t disintegrate. “Got it. Pull up.”
Brandon nodded once and then wrenched his arm back at the same time Greg hauled what he presumed to be the body’s thigh up and over the slight lip of the boat.
They staggered beneath the sea-laden weight of their burden before dropping it to the deck. The head bounced against the same rope the lobster cage had earlier when it had slipped from Greg’s numb fingers.
“Hell.” Brandon hadn’t let go of the body’s hand but took three shuffling steps back to avoid it landing on his feet.
“You can let go,” Greg said quietly, watching Brandon’s face, where a determined mask had slipped into place. “You can let go.”
It took another moment, another deep, shuddering breath, before Brandon let the body’s arm fall to the deck.
There was a sickening thud as the limb slapped against the hard plastic.
Only then did Greg get his first good look. It was a man on the younger side. Thirties maybe. Late twenties. Though his face was puffy, he looked familiar. Not an islander. But not a stranger.
No other defining features stood out, no tattoos or deformities. Just an average guy with apparently shit luck.
“We better call the mainland,” Greg said.
The body lurched to the side as a wave slammed into the boat, and Brandon finally lost the contents of his stomach to the ocean.
Black Rock Bay, Maine
Thursday, January 17
Detective Mia Hart sank deeper into the warmth of her field jacket as the ferry’s engine roared its displeasure with the choppy bay. It had always been tradition for her to stand at the bow and watch St. Lucy’s come into sight, no matter the time of year or how painful the weather.
“You’re insane,” Detective Izzy Santiago yelled as she came shoulder to shoulder with Mia. Izzy was off-balance as only a kid raised nowhere near a boat could be, and she bumped into Mia with each wave.
“Go back inside,” Mia urged her partner. “I won’t think any less of you, I promise.”
As Izzy angled her bare and vulnerable face away from the wind, she shivered beneath a thin winter coat that was useless against Black Rock Bay’s merciless bite.
“We’re almost there, right?” Izzy asked, ignoring Mia’s suggestion.
Mia traced the blade-thin scar on her wrist through layers of gloves and jackets and long johns before turning her eyes back in the direction of St. Lucy’s. “Yes.”
Even as she spoke, the Bell mansion, which sat as an imposing sentry on the island’s northern cliffs, began to take shape, cutting through the thick mist that had settled into Black Rock Bay. Soon they would be able to see the lighthouse to the west.
A briny tang hung heavily in the air, coating Mia’s nostrils as she inhaled, and she concentrated on the soft expansion of her lungs instead of the way her skin suddenly felt too tight stretched across her bones.
It had been fifteen years since she’d been back to St. Lucy’s, yet she could still count the seconds it would take for the smooth, white slope of the lighthouse to emerge from behind the jut of cliffs after the ferry passed the mansion.
Izzy whistled, low and impressed, when it came into sight, the water-slick black rocks lending a bleak, ominous look to the scene. “It’s like a scary postcard.”
Mia laughed, amusement cutting off the anxiety that had been coiling in the depths of her belly, winding tighter with each minute they crept closer.
Izzy was good for that, easing the tension. They’d been partners for only about two months, ever since the woman had transferred up from Dallas under apparently less-than-ideal circumstances, but Mia liked her.
She was a few years younger than Mia’s own thirty-one and about half a foot taller than her. She was loud and sarcastic, often leaning into the self-deprecation that was the cornerstone of her humor. Her spiky pink hair, tattoos, and piercings had proved to be an asset more often than not, letting them blend into places where Mia struggled not to look like a cop.
And Mia was endlessly entertained by the born-and-raised Texan discovering the delights of winter in Maine.
“I didn’t pack right, did I?” Izzy asked as the channel into port created a particularly vicious wind tunnel. “I’m going to freeze this entire time, and you’re just going to sit there and laugh at me.”
“Go back inside.”
Again Izzy didn’t listen. “We’re meeting the coroner at the ferry landing?”
“Yes.” Although “coroner” was a generous term. St. Lucy’s was so small that it didn’t have basic emergency services like a police department or a dedicated medical examiner. Sammy
Robert Twist. The name was one of the few concrete details they had in the case. Twist was a small-time journalist who had, according to Sammy, arrived on St. Lucy’s sometime before Christmas, then disappeared a few weeks later. No one on the island probably would have given him a second thought had his body not been dragged onto that fishing boat.
The rest of the information they had was bare bones, at best.
Mia had called the magazine Twist usually pitched to, and the editor there hadn’t been able to give them anything more than what they already knew. The man was a freelancer, and the place was small enough that they didn’t pay for expenses beforehand. Twist hadn’t even hinted at what he was working on or why he was going out of town.
“He’s pretty secretive,” the editor had told Mia. “Paranoid someone’s going to scoop him.”
But there was secretive, and then there was their vic.
Twist didn’t have an emergency contact on file with the company, and a search for a family member or friend turned up zilch. In fact, the man’s digital footprint was almost nonexistent, save for a website with a simple listing of his articles. None of the outlets he worked with even had a picture of the guy. The best they’d been able to find was a years-old pixelated snapshot. For what it was worth in the modern world, they might as well have been hunting a ghost.
Frustrating as it was, the dead ends gave Mia something to focus on apart from the burning, acidic knot that had pulsed beneath her breastbone ever since Gina Murdoch, Rockport’s police chief, had handed over the Twist case, eyes dark and watchful as Mia took the file.
Mia’s thumb found her scar once more, a weak attempt at self-soothing.
“Do you think it was murder or suicide?” Izzy asked.
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