Home > Close to the Bone (Widow's Island #1)(2)

Close to the Bone (Widow's Island #1)(2)
Author: Kendra Elliot

“It feels good,” Cate agreed. “I’ve missed you,” she added softly, stealing a glance at the curious group of men watching the two of them. Cate nodded at Kurt, the deputy she recognized. She looked back at Tessa and swallowed hard, searching for the nerve to ask a painful question.

Tessa’s blue eyes suddenly filled with sympathy. “I wondered the same,” her friend whispered in a shaking voice.

“Could it be?” asked Cate.


Becca Conan wasn’t the only young teenager who had vanished from the islands.

Samantha Bishop, the third member of Cate and Tessa’s tight teenage trio, had vanished nearly twenty years ago.


Dr. Henry Powers watched the two women emotionally greet each other. Clearly the dark-haired woman was not the FBI agent Deputy Black had expected.

“Cate and Tessa have been friends since they were tiny,” Deputy Kurt Olson informed Henry and the other deputy. “Cate’s been gone for . . .” Kurt screwed up his gray-stubbled face as he thought. “Must be over fifteen years now. She visits occasionally. Her grandmother still lives on the island.”

“Looks like a happy reunion,” Henry commented. But then both women’s faces fell, and they lowered their voices. They looked ready to cry.

Maybe not so happy.

They drew apart, their faces still solemn, and Tessa introduced the FBI agent to the group.

Cate Wilde looked cold even though she was bundled up in a coat and scarf. An island breeze had started and frequently blew her long black hair across her face. She’d brush it away impatiently. Henry shook Cate’s hand, wondering what had abruptly depressed the women’s reunion. As he met her gaze, the discomfort in her blue eyes startled him.

She’s in physical pain.

He’d seen enough in his years as a doctor to instantly recognize it.

Cate smiled for the introduction, but it appeared forced. “I understand you took over for Dr. Hardy,” she said. “He delivered me and was the only doctor I ever saw until I left for college.”

“I think a few dozen people have told me the same story,” Henry replied, pleased to see his comment created a real smile on Cate’s face.

“That doesn’t surprise me one bit.”

It was true. Ninety percent of the people he’d met during his six weeks on Widow’s Island had informed him of their history with his predecessor. It’d been interesting the first few times, but most of the stories included criticism of what Henry did differently from the old doctor. The islanders weren’t receptive to change.

Will they tell stories about me one day?

If I stick it out.

The job had brought a few surprises. Tonight he’d learned that he’d inherited the title of county coroner. The midnight phone call from the sheriff’s office had caught him off guard.

“You’re the only doctor around, aren’t you?” the sleepy, gruff voice had asked.


“Then you’re the coroner, just like Dr. Hardy was before you.”

“I guess I can tell when a person is dead.” Henry had seen his share of murder victims. And attempted murder victims. A dismal perk of working in a busy Los Angeles emergency room. “How many deaths a year do you get around here?”

“Not many. Mostly old-age deaths. The occasional tourist who climbs over the fence at the Widow’s Walk doing that selfie thing with their phone.”

Henry wasn’t a medical examiner. Depending on the state and county, either a medical examiner who had well over a decade of medical education or a coroner investigated deaths. Oftentimes a medical degree wasn’t required to be a coroner. Henry had heard of rural counties where the mayor or sheriff filled the role.

The body was fully skeletal. The deputies had told him the teenagers had been trying to dislodge a jacket buried in the dirt when they’d discovered the bones. The jacket had been wrapped around the skull. The deputies had responded, uncovered torso bones, and then asked for the coroner. Henry’s stomach had roiled when he’d spotted the braces on the skull’s teeth.


But adults have braces too.

He had carefully moved the rest of the dirt from around the skull and taken a closer look at the teeth. Years ago he’d dated a dentist who had taught him some basics about tooth eruption. The second set of molars had barely erupted on this skull, something that typically happened as a teenager, give or take a few years.

The jacket had looked like something a teenage girl would wear, and the skull had delicate female characteristics.

Deputy Kurt Olson had informed him that fourteen-year-old Becca Conan disappeared two years ago, and the FBI had been involved in the investigation.

“Get the FBI back out here,” Henry had told him. “There’s a possibility their case has been solved.” He quickly scanned the visible bones and the skull, searching for a clue that could point to cause of death. Like cracks on the skull that suggested hard blows, nicks in the bones that indicated the stab of a knife, or a crushed hyoid that suggested strangulation.

Nothing obvious caught his eye as he knelt in the dirt.

Now the FBI agent stood in front of him, looking upset to be responding to the death of someone quite young. Henry understood and wished his first case as a coroner hadn’t been a child. Why wasn’t it a senior citizen who died asleep in bed? Their life fully lived.

Not a child hidden in the dirt.

“I’d like to take a look,” said the agent.

“Over here, Special Agent Wilde.” Henry led her a few yards to the scene.

“Call me Cate, please, Doctor.”

“Henry,” he responded.

Cate squatted next to the skull. “Braces?” She immediately looked to Tessa, who nodded. The two women looked nauseated.

“What is it?” Henry asked.

“Oh jeez,” said Kurt, rubbing a hand over his bald scalp, looking from one woman to the other. “I didn’t think of her.”

The other deputy, Bruce, exchanged a confused glance with Henry.

“Becca Conan isn’t the only missing teen girl from this area,” said Cate in a hollow voice. “Our friend Samantha Bishop disappeared when we were fourteen. She had braces at the time.”

“But so did Becca,” Kurt added.

“Excuse me.”

The three deputies whirled around at the sound of the new voice, their hands hovering over their weapons. A young man with a flashlight had appeared from the woods and held up his hand at the deputies’ reactions. “Whoa. I didn’t mean to startle you.”

“This is a police investigation,” announced Tessa. “Please leave the island.”

The young man twisted his lips. “Well, I live on the island. And my uncle sent me to find out what happened. Your lights are making a glow that we can see above the woods from our side.”

“You’re Rex Conan’s nephew?” Cate asked, placing herself between the young man and the skull.


Henry pegged Dustin to be in his midtwenties and wondered why the deputies hadn’t recognized him. Everyone knew everybody on the islands.

“Why didn’t Rex come himself?” Cate frowned.

Dustin shrugged. “That’s my job. I’m the caretaker of the mansion and island, and I do whatever else Rex needs.”

“Since when?” asked Kurt. “I hadn’t heard that someone lived with Rex.”

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