Her mother lied about her identity and her husband wasn’t who she thought he was. Can Bailey even trust herself anymore?
Running for her life in the wake of her mother’s murder, Bailey Fleming escapes to the only place she can think of—a remote, dilapidated cabin in Lavender Tides. Intending to finally get to the truth behind the lies of her past, Bailey only finds more questions when bodies are discovered near her cabin hideout along with traces of a dangerous human trafficking ring. In an unlikely partnership with FBI agent Lance Phoenix, Bailey races to understand the mystery surrounding her life and circumstances before the murderer tracks her down.
Meanwhile, Lance is determined to rescue his sister, Ava, who was abducted after running away from home as a teenager. An unexpected lead brings him to the remote cabin, and he wonders if Bailey—with her suspicious past and strange connections to his sister’s case—is really who she claims to be and if she can somehow lead him to Ava.
Secrets at Cedar Cabin takes us back to the evocative landscape of Washington’s coast where nothing is quite as it seems.
“Secrets at Cedar Cabin is filled with twists and turns that will keep readers turning the pages as they plunge into the horrific world of sex trafficking where they come face to face with evil. Colleen Coble delivers a fast- paced story with a strong, lovable ensemble cast and a sweet heaping helping of romance.” —Kelly Irvin, bestselling author of Tell Her No Lies
“Once again Colleen Coble has delivered a page-turning, can't-put-down suspense thriller with Secrets at Cedar Cabin! I vowed I'd read it slowly over several nights before going to bed. The story wouldn't wait—I HAD to finish it!” —Carrie Stuart Parks, award-winning, bestselling author of Portrait of Vengeance and Formula of Deception
- Full length romantic suspense
- Includes discussion questions for book clubs
- Part of the Lavender Tides series
- Book One: The View from Rainshadow Bay
- Book Two: The House at Saltwater Point
- Book Three: Secrets at Cedar Cabin
About the Author
Colleen Coble is a USA TODAY bestselling author and RITA finalist best known for her coastal romantic suspense novels, including The Inn at Ocean’s Edge, Twilight at Blueberry Barrens, and the Lavender Tides, Sunset Cove, Hope Beach, and Rock Harbor series. Connect with Colleen online at colleencoble.com; Instagram: colleencoble; Facebook: colleencoblebooks; Twitter: @colleencoble.
Read an Excerpt
Bailey Fleming glanced out her patient's window into the parking lot, but the swirling snow obscured all but the dim glow of the streetlamp. She smoothed Thomas Dutt's sheets. "Even though it's early November, the Snow Queen has officially claimed the Keweenaw." With the sheets changed a fresh, lemony scent replaced the stink of urine.
Thomas fixed a blank stare at the sea of white and didn't reply, but she knew he was in there somewhere. Every now and then he'd surprise her with sudden bits of information about his forty-year history as a physician or he'd quote a poetry couplet to her. She'd already combed his remaining wisps of white hair over his bald spot, brushed his perfect teeth, and gotten him dressed for the day, but he'd be unlikely to move much from his chair by the window.
Being with the elderly was her happy place. She felt connected and needed here with them.
She spared another glance out the window. Six inches of snow swirled around from the overnight storm and another twelve inches were predicted by evening along with sixty-mile-an-hour winds. Rock Harbor, Michigan, already lay sluggish under the heavy blanket, and getting around would be difficult. Bailey's workload was going to be crushing today. Some nurses and aides living in the county probably wouldn't make it in with this blizzard.
She thrived on the challenge though. These elderly folks were the family of her heart.
Ruby, one of the other aides, poked her head in. "Kyle is here to see you. I put him in the conference room."
Bailey curled her fingers into her palms. What was he doing here? She'd said all she intended last week. "Thanks, Ruby. I'll run over there now." She gave Thomas's pillow a final pat, then squatted beside him. "I left you some fresh water, Thomas. I'll come back and read some Robert Frost to you later, okay?"
Sudden clarity surged into his eyes. " 'In leaves no step had trodden black.' "
This sweet man's f lashes of wisdom made her love him all the more. She patted his liver-spotted hand. "That's right."
Squaring her shoulders, she moved past Ruby and hurried down the hall. She stood outside the conference room, staring at Kyle through the open door for a long moment. It had been a fairy-tale dream that Kyle Bearcroft, lead singer of the rock sensation Bearcroft, would see her at a concert and marry her after a whirlwind courtship of two months. Kyle was not much taller than her own five feet eight inches, but he came across as larger than life. In constant motion, he was as mercurial as the Upper Peninsula weather, and it was one of his many charms. Even now he paced the floor with quick, energetic movements before he stopped to gaze out the window at the swirling snow.
Everyone thought he was rock royalty, but this prince had quickly shown his toad-like qualities and exposed every hidden wart. Seeing him reminded her of all he'd stolen from her. What man would want her now, even if she dared to dip her toe back into the dating pond? She'd allowed herself to dream of a real home and family. How ridiculous.
Lifting her chin, she stepped into the room and drew the door shut behind her. "What are you doing here, Kyle?"
Did he know how he looked all romantic and forlorn there by the window? His blond hair perfectly styled. Probably. The woody fragrance of his Dior Intense wafted to her, and she wanted to stop breathing, to exhale every part of him trying to persuade her to overlook his lies.
She crossed her arms over her chest. "I want you to leave."
He turned to face her. His blue eyes the color of Lake Superior caressed her, and the resistance-melting smile emerged. It used to set loose butterflies in her stomach, but now she recognized it for the weapon it was. A sword that had separated her from the purity she'd intended to save for her husband. Her real husband.
"You didn't use to be so cold."
"That was before I knew you were a bigamist, Kyle, and that all your charm was because you'd practiced it so often."
He flinched at the word bigamist. "What are you going to do?"
That's what this was all about? He wanted to make sure his crime didn't get out. "I'm going to take care of my patients and try to forget you ever existed."
The furrows between his brows eased. "Who have you told?"
"My mom. That's it. She's the only person who knew we were married." He'd said he wanted to keep their relationship quiet to protect her. What a liar.
He fumbled a folded paper out of his pocket. "My attorney wants you to sign a nondisclosure agreement. I've put a house in your name, too, and I'll give you a hundred thousand dollars."
Fury washed up her neck, and she batted the paper away. "I'm not a whore you can pay off, Kyle. I was your wife, or so I thought. The media would have a field day with this, wouldn't they? But don't worry. I'm not about to let the world know what an absolute fool I was. Please, just leave me alone."
Her heart had been ripped out of her chest when she overheard him speaking to his real wife. She lived on a ranch in Idaho with no internet and little contact with the media. He'd actually thought he could get away with it, and he probably would have if she hadn't forgotten her phone. She went back to get it, and he hadn't seen her come in. She heard everything, all the sickeningly sweet talk. When Bailey confronted him, he hadn't even tried to weasel out of it.
When she asked him why, he'd held her angry gaze and shrugged. "You wouldn't sleep with me otherwise."
Her cheeks heated, and she gulped at the bare truth. She didn't know if she'd ever be clean again.
The paper landed on the pointed toe of his black boot. He stared at it, then stooped to pick it up. "Look, can you just sign the thing so I can reassure my lawyer?" He pressed the envelope in his other hand into her palm. "Here's the deed. See, I've already made it out in your name. It's all legal." He set a key down on the table.
Tearing up the deed would be a grand gesture, but all the fight drained out of her. With the envelope in hand, Bailey stalked to the door and jerked it open. "Get out. I never want to see or hear from you again or I will contact the media. Leave me alone, and your secret is safe."
Her face burned as he passed her. She shut the door behind him and propped her back against it until she stopped shaking. She stuffed the envelope in her pocket where she could deal with it later.
Her stomach churned, but she still had a lot of the workday left. Bailey strode to the bathroom attached to the conference room, went to the sink, and splashed cold water on her hot cheeks. She gazed in the mirror. I'll pass muster. Her long black hair was wound up in a bun, and her green eyes looked calm. Bailey Fleming, super aide to the geriatric. She tried on a smile, but tears flooded her eyes instead. She wiped them away, then scooped up the key on the table on her way to the door.
When she stepped into the hall, she saw the sheriff heading her way. Mason Kaleva had been the sheriff for the two years she'd been in Rock Harbor, and most everyone liked the big bear of a man. She hoped he wasn't here to deliver accident news to someone.
His gaze connected with hers, and he stopped a moment, then approached her. His hand settled on her shoulder with a comforting squeeze. "I need to talk to you, Bailey. Is there somewhere we can speak in private?"
She searched his face for clues and saw sympathy. "What's wrong?"
"Look, there's no easy way to deliver this news. It's your mother. She was shot this morning."
Bailey's knees buckled, and she would have fallen if he didn't have hold of her. "She's in the hospital? I'll go there right now."
He eased her onto the floor, then knelt beside her. "I'm sorry, but she's dead."
She closed her eyes and shook her head. Dizziness struck her, and she rested her forehead on her knees where she sat crumpled on the floor. She was going to black out.
* * *
His top man, Chey, shut the door behind him and entered the large room paneled in walnut finish. "She's dead, King." His lips pressed into a hard line above his black goatee.
King. One of the other men had called him that with a sneer in the early years, but he'd turned the moniker into something real. He'd done what had to be done to acquire this position, and he enjoyed the perks that came with being the absolute ruler of his organization. His word was law, even when he'd had to order the death of someone he loved.
He stood at the window looking out at his beloved garden and closed his eyes. He patted his pocket, then drew out a cigar and inhaled its cherry aroma. Chey could wait.
She'd meant a lot to him once upon a time, but he couldn't afford to let emotion strip him of his business. From the moment she'd called him a month ago, he'd known it would have to end this way. There had been no other choice.
He opened his eyes, lit his cigar, and blew out a curl of smoke. "It was quick and painless as I ordered?"
Chey's dark eyes were expressionless. "Yes, King. Clean shot to the head. We made it look like a mob hit and tied her hands behind her back after it was over."
He tried not to picture it. Her blonde hair spread out on the pillow was the stuff of dreams even twenty-four years since he'd seen her last. And her eyes always seemed to see inside his soul. He hadn't wanted to kill her, but Chey couldn't know of his weakness.
"I appreciate your tight adherence to orders."
The man always did an excellent job. Was he dreaming of seizing this chair someday? If Chey was worth his salt, he was. He was already in his forties — a good age for the responsibility. His dark-brown eyes took in everything, and he never showed emotion. All excellent traits for leadership.
King pulled a paper toward him. "How's the shipment?"
"On target. We have ten women arriving from Cambodia on Saturday, and we'll disperse them as seems appropriate."
His fingers were in many pies, but the trafficking piece had become one of the most lucrative. What should he do about Bailey? He couldn't afford to be soft. Not if he wanted to stay in power. Any one of his men would be happy to supplant him at the slightest sign of weakness.
There was no telling how much Olivia's daughter knew. "Eliminate the girl too."
"Yes, sir." Chey's Italian leather shoes squeaked on the marble floors as he exited the office.
Alone, he could let his emotions show. King sank into the chair and opened his laptop, then navigated to his video file. His subordinates had sent him many videos of Olivia over the years, from the time Bailey was an infant to just a month ago. Small lines around Olivia's eyes didn't mar the perfection of her face. He'd hoped someday she'd come back to him, but even though he'd called her on occasion, she held firm to her determination to abandon their love unless he left his wife.
Impossible. Every bit of his empire would crumble without the authority of his wife's name. He might be able to hold it together a few years, but without warning a shot would inevitably ring out, and he'd be dead on the ground in a puddle of blood.
He hadn't been willing to risk it. Once Bailey was dead, all of his secrets would be behind him. No one would ever know what he had done, how he had achieved this chair. His power would be secure.
Somehow he found himself at the window again staring at the rhododendrons, their roots already resting in their winter blanket. Olivia had loved rhododendrons, and much of the garden had come about because of her. His wife disliked them, probably because she suspected why he collected them. They'd never really talked about his long-ago mistress, but he had no doubt she knew. Her father would have seen to it that she knew everything about him and any of his peccadilloes over the years. Though Olivia was the only one who'd mattered.
Did her father know King had ordered Olivia's death? Probably not. Her father had likely forgotten her name by now.
King had to make sure of that.
He probably should have arranged something that appeared accidental for Olivia, but he hadn't wanted her to suffer.
His phone rang and he glanced at the screen, then sighed as he plastered on a smile before answering the FaceTime call. "Hello, darling."
His wife had lost whatever beauty she'd had. Her jowls made her resemble a hound, and only her brilliant hazel eyes had remained the same. Her main attraction was her name and her connections. She had the power to topple him if she chose.
She wore a gray dress that did nothing to complement her curves or her coloring. "Are you still at the office? We're going to be late for the girls' ballet recital."
"I'm on my way. I'll meet you there." He rose and grabbed his jacket from the back of his leather chair.
She was still shrieking in his face when he ended the call and slipped his phone into his jacket pocket. He went out the side door to the garden and lingered for a long moment. Touching the stiff rhododendron leaves, he let himself remember Olivia. Ballet could wait. His wife could wait, and so could his business.CHAPTER 2
Ava had to be inside. Lance Phoenix adjusted his binoculars and focused on the building across the street in the early morning light. His breath fogged in the air as he studied the place. It looked like every other warehouse on this block in south Tacoma, but agents had seen men coming and going at all hours.
It housed more than shelves of automotive parts and other supplies.
He motioned to the FBI senior agent, his partner Daniel Atkinson, to move into place across the street, and he crouched as he ran after him. Other members of the task force couldn't be seen but were in position. A muscle in his jaw jumped, and Lance made an effort to calm his nerves. He couldn't let hope distract him.
At his command the SWAT members charged the side door, and fists pounding on the metal echoed in the cool air. "FBI!"
When no one answered the door, the SWAT team quickly broke through the lock and fanned out inside the building, searching for imprisoned minors and johns.
Search warrant in hand, Lance stepped into a large room with a stage at the far end. The place reeked of pot, booze, and human suffering. A teenage girl standing in the doorway pushed unkempt black hair out of her eyes.
His breath seized in his lungs. Ava?
But this girl had green eyes, not brown. And she was only sixteen or seventeen. Ava would be twenty-one now.
The girl tried to wrap her flimsy robe around her better and hugged herself. "I didn't do anything."
Lance held his hands out, palms forward. "You're not in trouble. We're here to rescue you. Where's Alfie Jackson?"
A flicker of hope lit her face, and she took a step toward him. "He's not here." She looked past his shoulder toward the door. "I-Is my mother with you?"
The despair in the words nearly brought him to his knees. Though this girl wasn't his sister, her rescue was just as important. "We'll get you back to your mom. What's your name, and who else is here?"
"I'm Sarah Hosteler."
He recognized the name. "Your dad has called our office every week. Your parents never gave up hope of finding you."
Her eyes flooded with tears. "Can you call them now?"
"I need to ask a few questions first." He jotted down everything she told him. Three other girls were here, all imprisoned for the past six months, two of them from Vietnam. This ring particularly favored Asian girls.
As the girls scurried into the living room with the agents, he studied their faces. All were teenagers, and none were Ava. The ones who weren't Asian had been forced to dye their hair black.
"What can you tell me about your captors? Did they teach you a Cambodian dance?"
Sarah's eyes widened. "Not me, but there was one here who had been trained in Apsara dance. Alfie took her and another girl away."
His pulse jumped. "Do you know anything about them, their names, ages?"
She shook her head. "We weren't allowed to use our real names. One of the two who'd left was older though, in her early twenties. She had long black hair." Sarah paused. "Well, it was long. She got hold of scissors and chopped it off. Alfie was super mad at her. I think that's why he took her away."
"What color were her eyes?"
"Dark brown. She was Asian."
It could be Ava, but the chances were slim. Lance wasn't sure how he'd managed to hold on to hope all this time, but he couldn't let it go. Not when there was even the slimmest chance he'd find his sister alive someday. The FBI knew the traffickers trained the most elite women as Apsara dancers, but he had no idea if Ava was one of them.
Daniel motioned him over. About five ten and stocky, he was a man Lance would trust with his life — and often did. Ten years his senior, Daniel was steady, thoughtful, and experienced. He took off his cap and rubbed his blond hair. "That snake is like smoke. He always seems to slip right out of our fingers."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Secrets at Cedar Cabin"
Copyright © 2019 Colleen Coble.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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