A Matter of Life and Depths


KB Jackson

Murder has twisted them together…

It’s bad enough that Kyrie Dawn had an affair and a son with Charlotte McLaughlin’s husband, then, following his death, sued Charlotte for the two-bedroom love nest he’d purchased on a private residence cruise ship. That cabin was Charlotte’s consolation prize, and she’s chosen to travel the world in luxury, with her sister Jane along for the ride.

But now Kyrie Dawn has taken a job onboard teaching yoga—and she’s brought her little boy, who looks just like his father, with her.

Charlotte considers jumping ship as they sail toward Yokohama, Japan. Then the head chef is found in the downward dead position in Kyrie Dawn’s yoga studio, and all evidence points to her as the killer. She begs Charlotte and Jane to look after this friendly toddler—permanently if she’s found guilty.

With a second chance at motherhood snuggled in her lap, Charlotte must decide which life path to follow. Can she even set aside her hurt and anger to help exonerate the woman who ruined her life?

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Chapter One

“My chopsticks are poking me in the rear.”

“I told you not to put them in your back pocket. I also told you that you didn’t need to bring your own. I’m certain they’ll have plenty, both on the ship and in Yokohama,” I said, my head down as I dragged my overstuffed suitcase behind me like a pack mule.

My sister Jane grunted, lugging her own bag up the gangplank of the Thalassophile of the Seas, the private residence cruise ship on which we’d recently decided to live full-time, currently docked at the Port of Seattle in preparation for departure that evening for a two-week cruise to Japan. We had disembarked when the ship had stopped in Los Angeles for maintenance and flew back to the Emerald City where I kept a small place for those times the ship wasn’t sailing.

When Jane and I began our new lives at sea, it only made sense to sell the big house I’d shared with Gabe. Every memory we’d made there had been tarnished by his betrayal, and I certainly didn’t need the space. A condo in Seattle was the perfect solution.

“You know these are my lucky chopsticks, Char.”

“I don’t think seeing a Sir Anthony Hopkins lookalike at the counter of a sushi joint in Turlock makes those chopsticks lucky.”

“It was him! I know it!”

“Welcome back, mesdames.” There was no mistaking the suave French accent of Xavier Mesnier, head of security onboard the ship.

As we made eye contact a bead of perspiration dripped from my forehead to the tip of my nose. I shook my head in an attempt to dislodge it but only managed to make myself dizzy.

Xavier was the kind of man who possessed an air of both intimidation and safety at the same time. He was intense but kind, strong but also gentle under the surface of his gruff exterior. We didn’t start our acquaintance on the best foot—something about him arresting my nephew for murder didn’t exactly endear him to me and my insistence on involving myself in his investigation hadn’t made him my biggest fan either—but we’d developed a modicum of congeniality toward each other (perhaps even a hint more than congeniality) in subsequent months since Jane and I had made the ship our home.

Although I’d never confirmed it, I assumed he was about my age—early to mid-fifties—based on the graying temples of his otherwise black hair and the fact that his olive-toned skin had just enough weathering to indicate he was past the half-century mark. The crinkles around his eyes were the type that came from smiling and laughing, but I’d yet to see that side of him. I’d only seen him serious…about his job, about his responsibilities.

While Xavier hadn’t been thrilled about my involvement in the murder investigation, at least he’d listened to me and respected my input.

I wasn’t used to that.

Gabe had often been dismissive of my thoughts, opinions, and feelings. He was condescending about my job as a librarian, annoyed by my anecdotes, and disinterested in my friends. The funny thing was, I hadn’t even noticed. I had spent so much time hustling for my worth in the relationship I had acclimated to the way he’d treated me.

I cast off thoughts of Gabe like last week’s trash.

“Did you miss us?” Jane let go of her suitcase handle to swat him on the arm.

“I have been awaiting your return with bated breath.” The hint of sarcasm could not be disguised by his heavy accent, although I was rarely able to discern between what was mordant wit and what was just him being…French.

He’d shaved his goatee since the last time I’d seen him.

I waved my hand in front of my chin. “This is new.”

“It is spring.” He shrugged but didn’t elaborate. “How was your time ashore?”

“Not quite long enough to get my body to stop swaying like a buoy.”

“You officially have sea legs.” His mouth hinted at a smile.

“I suppose so. How about you?” I asked him. “What did you do with your free time?”

“We have added a few staff members for this voyage who specialize in the cuisine and culture of Japan, and I would like to be able to communicate with them, even if only in a rudimentary way, so I took a course in basic Japanese.”

“Of course you did.” Jane’s suitcase began to roll away from her and down the gangplank. “Ack!” She managed to stop it before it vaulted itself into the water and dragged it back to where Xavier and I were standing. “Well,” she huffed, “I’m ready to go take a nap now. Sayonara, Xavier-san!”

With that, she marched off, leaving us in awkward silence.

He opened his mouth to say something but was interrupted by the sound of wheels on metal at the bottom of the ramp.

“Yoo-hoo! Xavier!” A woman in her sixties with a heavily painted face and a sleek red bob waved a bright pink scarf in the air. The scarf clashed with her hair, which, upon further inspection, was an ill-fitting wig. “Can you help me with my luggage?”

“Oui, Madame King. One moment.” He turned back to me. “Charlotte, there is a conversation we need to have. However, the topic should be discussed in private.”

“That sounds ominous.”

The smile he gave me was strained. “Is it alright if I come to your cabin later?”

“Of course. You know where to find me. Good ol’ cabin 701.”

“Are you coming?” Mrs. King stomped her impractical heel on the ground.

“Oui, madame.” He grimaced at me and gave a quick wave before jogging toward the woman standing at the bottom of the gangplank with her arms crossed.

What could he want to talk to me about? While I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t sensed an air of growing friendliness between us, I suspected I wasn’t going to like what he had to say. Nothing about his tone led me to believe it was anything positive. Perhaps because he was extra serious.

Our condo, apartment, cabin, berth–whatever one might call a residence on a floating city–had two bedrooms (one for Jane and one for me), two bathrooms, and a decent-sized living room/dining room/kitchen area. My late husband had purchased it as a love nest for his young mistress and their child.

Gabe hadn’t passed away because of the crash, his death had been the cause of the accident. A heart attack—a widow-maker someone had called it—had caused him to run the car into a light pole, injuring Kyrie Dawn but sparing the child of even a scratch. The boy, Quinton, had turned one shortly prior the accident and was secured in his backward-facing car seat.

It seemed to me the term widow-maker didn’t quite tell the whole story, but I’d yet to come up with a descriptor that encompassed the full scope of impact his heart attack and subsequent death had on my life and others. What did one call a mistress after the death of her affair partner anyway? Certainly not a widow.

Gabe’s death and the revelations had been made all the more painful by the fact he’d told me before our engagement and throughout our twenty-year marriage he never wanted children. I’d given up that dream in exchange for a life with him, and then he’d gone and gifted it to someone else.

As if losing my husband and discovering his extensive betrayal simultaneously weren’t jarring enough, I’d spent the past few months dealing with the lawsuit Kyrie Dawn had filed against me in an attempt to “reclaim” the cruise ship residence which she felt she and her son were entitled to since they’d spent so much time in it. I had to admire her audacity on principle, but my rebuttal was a firm H-E-double hockey sticks N-O.

My attorney assured me her claims were without standing or merit, but so far it hadn’t been resolved. I’d even offered her a cash settlement, one I considered more than generous under the circumstances, but she’d refused it. She wanted the floating love nest and would accept nothing less. If she thought I’d let her abscond with one more remnant of the tattered life Gabe had left me, she had another think coming.

The ship sailed at four that afternoon. The sun was still high in the sky and wouldn’t set until about seven thirty.

We’d been greeted by our unit’s assigned butler, Windsor Hadwin, who seemed to have an extra spring in his step. He’d visited family and friends back in his hometown of Brighton, England, during the downtime.

Jane took her nap after unpacking, but I was too nervous about my conversation with Xavier and too excited about the voyage we were undertaking to close my eyes.

I’d also brought along something precious for this particular trip that I couldn’t wait to unwrap and explore.

From my purse I withdrew an old book and removed the microfiber cloth swaddling it. The spine was cracked and separated in places, revealing the disintegrating, amber-colored binding glue barely holding the pages together. The cover was a frayed black fabric with one word embossed in gold lettering: DIARY.

When I’d sold my house, I’d gotten rid of most of my belongings as well. The land condo, as I liked to call it, didn’t have much storage, and the sea condo had been fully furnished and decorated by my husband’s mistress. Thankfully, she had decent taste.

When I was sorting through the items to sell or donate, I came across a box I’d forgotten I possessed. It contained photos and letters belonging to my great-grandmother Miriam, who’d passed away when I was only eight. I didn’t know her well, but I remembered she’d given me my first Barbie doll. She’d worn a pink tutu. The doll, not my great-grandmother.

When I got older, I learned more of Miriam’s story. It was a complicated one. She’d married my great-grandfather Johann at only seventeen. By twenty-one, she was a mother. By twenty-four, she’d left her husband and son Karl (my grandfather) and boarded a ship bound for none other than Yokohama.

For years, no one in her family knew where she’d gone. She sent occasional letters, but correspondence was sparse. She finally returned to Hawaii more than a dozen years later, in 1934, but by then Johann and Karl had moved to Los Angeles. She didn’t reenter Karl’s life until he was stationed as a naval captain on the USS Dobbin at Pearl Harbor in July of 1941.

On December 7, 1941—a day that would live in infamy—Karl had been having breakfast with Miriam at her home up on the hill overlooking the harbor when the Japanese fleet began bombing the Dobbin, the USS Arizona, and six other battleships. As the attack unfolded, Karl raced down the hill to help his fellow sailors while Miriam watched pilots from her former home of Japan flying over her birthplace, intent on destruction.

My grandfather had once told me she’d called that day one of the most devastating and confusing events of her life. That was saying something, in a long, difficult, and complicated life.

I’d always wondered about her time in Japan but hadn’t had the opportunity to ask her about it. And then she was gone.

When my grandfather passed away in 1999, I was given a box of family mementos. Included in the box was Miriam’s diary. I hoped finally taking the time to read her own words in her own handwriting would help me finally understand the woman who’d been such a mystery to me my whole life.

At some point Miriam had procured a large sapphire ring, gifted to me by my mother on my wedding day. Miriam had given it to Mom on her own wedding day. I knew I’d never have any children to whom I could to pass it down, but at that time I had felt too ashamed to tell my mother about Gabe’s declaration. I’d worn it on my right ring finger for more than twenty years, but it had never given me a sense of her.

Now, knowing I’d be in Yokohama in less than two weeks, the ring had taken on new meaning. So did the diary.

Tucked into its pages were two items.

First was her passport application.

Name: Miriam May Donegan Franke

Age: 24

Stature: Five feet two inches

Eyes: Brown

Place of birth: Hawaii

Declaration: I intend to leave the United States

from the port of Honolulu, Hawaii

sailing on board the S.S. Nanking on February 24, 1921

Countries to be visited: Japan

Reason for visit: To be married

Sponsor: Clayton Mathers

The other item was a sepia photo of Miriam wearing sport togs or knickers, a button-down work shirt, knee-high hiking boots, and a wide-brimmed Anouk hat. With her right hand she held a five-foot-tall walking stick, and with the other she held the waist of a man in work clothes and a floppy wool newsboy cap.

The caption at the bottom of the photo read MR. AND MRS. MATHERS CLIMB MOUNT FUJI—AUGUST 19, 1922.

I stared at the face of the woman who’d left behind her family—including her husband and child—to venture across the sea in search of something different for her life, and while I didn’t agree with how she’d gone about it, I couldn’t help but see my own self in her eyes. It was a strange feeling to be traveling the same path as her, and for similar reasons, but a century later.

Her story fascinated me, and I wanted to understand the why of it all. Why did she leave her marriage? Her baby. What was in Yokohama and what did she hope to achieve there? Would I experience the same sense of accomplishment and fulfillment when I finally stood on the summit of Mount Fuji as her expression appeared to show in the photo?

If I were to understand her better, I would have to start at the beginning. I opened to the first page.

As I read the diary, part of me kept expecting a knock on the door from Xavier, but it never came.

Soon it was time to get ready for the welcome reception.

“I guess what he had to tell me wasn’t so important after all.”

“Are you talking to yourself again?” Jane yawned as she ambled out from her bedroom. “What did you mean when you said what he had to tell you must not have been important? And who’s he?”

I waved my hand in a dismissive motion. “Oh, nothing. Xavier mentioned he needed to talk to me about something.”

Jane eyed me with skepticism. “That doesn’t sound like nothing. Any thoughts on what it could be?”

“None, but the welcome reception is about to start, and I need to take a shower. If he comes by, let him know I’ll talk to him there.”

Jane plopped onto the sofa and picked up the diary. “What’s this?”

“It’s Great-gramma Miriam’s diary. I thought it was fitting to read about her trip to Yokohama.”

The photo fell out of the book and into her lap. She held it up and examined it. “He’s a good-looking dude, but he’s not abandon your husband and child to move across the world level of good-looking.”

“I don’t think that’s how it went, and after reading the first few entries, I’m pretty sure it was more complicated than that.”

“Hmm. Probably there’s more to the story than we’ve heard.” She set the diary onto the coffee table. “I never knew growing up that there was any tension between Gramps and his mom. It wasn’t until later I heard Aunt Gert talking to Mom about it.”

“Me neither,” I said. “It’s like they all decided to play nice whenever we were around.”

Jane nodded. “I guess Gramps figured it was better to set aside his own pain for the sake of the greater good.”

“Martyrdom was a virtue of that generation. I’m not sure I’m capable of it.”

“Me neither. On an unrelated note, is there a theme for tonight? I forgot to look at the itinerary.”

“Not that I’m aware. I know tomorrow’s dress code is all-black for Ninja Night.”

“Do you think they’ll have real ninjas?”

I shrugged. “How will we know?”

“What do you mean? Because ninjas don’t carry official ninja badges?”

“Because the word ninja literally means one who is invisible.”

When we entered the dining room, we saw some familiar faces and some we didn’t recognize. Of the hundred or so residences, many were just one of multiple vacation homes for their owners, so they were often only onboard for a few itineraries per year and the rest of the time the units were left vacant. Some of the owners rented out their units by the trip through a company called Travel the World Experiences and Rental Properties, which Jane so aptly pointed out created the acronym TWERP. That was how we’d been able to secure enough accommodations for our nephew’s ill-fated wedding cruise.

Jane and I had been living on the ship for a few months, and we’d begun to get to know several of the regular residents, but each sailing brought with it opportunities to meet new people as well. It was easy to spot the visitors at the welcome reception because they typically stood on the fringes to observe.

The dining room staff were circulating with trays of champagne and light hors d’oeuvres. Jane snagged the last flute of champagne off a waiter’s tray as he shimmied behind the bar to restock. He held up a finger to indicate he’d have a glass for me in a moment, and I smiled in return. I didn’t recognize him, likely one of the new hires Xavier had mentioned.

“Oh look,” Jane said. “It’s the four horsewomen of the one-up-pocalypse. I wonder what version of Keeping Up with the Kardashians they’re playing tonight.” She tilted the glass in the direction of four unnaturally blonde women huddled so close a piece of paper couldn’t squeeze between them.

They ranged in age from mid-forties to mid-sixties; it came to their combined net worth and average dress sizes, well, there were a lot of zeros between them. Despite being beautiful and wealthy, they displayed latent insecurities through a series of bragging barbs directed at each other and anyone unfortunate—or more so too fortunate—enough to be deemed a threat.

Although her back was to me, there was no mistaking the lithe figure of their queen bee, Rhodie Atkinson. Married to Bubba, the great-grandson of a department store tycoon, Rhodie had initially been described to me by another suite owner as a hybrid of Scarlett O’Hara and Coco Chanel…not just their fashion sense, either. Rhodie apparently had a propensity for making snobbish statements with an undercurrent of latent racism.

I’d yet to meet the notorious Bubba. Rhodie was always making excuses for her husband’s absence, insisting he was often too busy running his family’s company to travel.

Next to Rhodie was Willow Strawbridge, whose style was garden party ready, year-round. Jane liked to say she was the human equivalent of a mint julep: simple, syrupy sweet, a little muddled, and not as enjoyable as people feigned while trying to be part of the in-crowd.

Willow’s husband Simon Strawbridge was a hedge fund manager. A slight, bespectacled man with dark floppy brown hair, in the few encounters I’d had with Simon, my perception of him was he was a wet noodle of a man, with a limp handshake. His strongest quality was the odor of sweet tobacco that permeated his skin, and he was at that moment being accosted in the alcove by an agitated Deacon Beauchamp.

Deacon, a brawny corporate attorney who reminded me of Bluto the brute always trying to steal Olive Oyl from Popeye, loomed over Simon with veins bulging from his flushed neck and forehead. Simon had his hands up and shook his head vigorously in denial.

Deacon’s wife, Grace, looked uneasy as she surreptitiously peeked over her shoulder at the kerfuffle in the corner and then at Willow, who was too busy whispering into Rhodie’s ear to notice.

When Jane and I had met Grace just after New Year’s, she’d introduced herself as “Grace Beauchamp…of the Somerset Beauchamps,” like we had any idea what that meant. I wasn’t even certain which Somerset she was talking about. For all I knew it could have been Maine, Kentucky, or England. Her pale blonde hair was styled in a can I talk to your manager wavy blunt bob that was short at the nape and longer in the front.

The final member of the conclave was Florence Loomis. Florence was thrice widowed and the eldest of the group, but it was nearly impossible to tell that by looking at her. She was nicely tanned, fit, had few wrinkles, and, thanks to Teresa Corazon, the onboard hair stylist, not a strand of gray in sight. Her cleavage gave the impression of surgical enhancement, as did her perfectly upturned nose. She had two tells about her actual age: the sunspots on her hands and the incessant name dropping about her time as a hostess at Studio 54.

Florence made several furtive glances in the direction of Elliot Patenaude, the ship’s executive chef. He was holding court near the entrance of the dining room like a celebrity, surrounded by fawning (mostly female) admirers.


The server lifted his tray for me to take a glass of champagne.

“Thank you. We haven’t met before, uh,” I scanned his vest for a nametag. “I’m sorry, I don’t see your name.”

He looked down at his chest. “Oh. I must have left it in my locker. I’m Hawk.”


“Yeah.” He blinked a couple times.

Jane, who’d been monitoring the gaggle in the center of the room, focused her attention on the young man. “Did you say your name is Hawk? Like the bird?” She cawed.


He flared his nostrils. “That sounds more like a crow.”

“Hmph. I’m Jane Cobb.” She held her glass to her chest and then tipped it in my direction. “This is my sister Charlotte McLaughlin. We live here full-time now, so you’ll be seeing a lot of us.”

“I’m not sure I’ll be here long.” He scanned the crowd. “This isn’t exactly my scene. No offense.”

“None taken,” I said. “It’s not really ours either.”

He scoffed. “Yeah. Sure.”

Jane swigged the remaining champagne and set her glass on the bar. “She’s not lying. We’re what you might call nouveau riche. Well, not me, I’m just along for the ride, so to speak, but Char here only recently discovered she’s got money. We aren’t bougie.”

Hawk appraised me. “How did you not know you’re rich?”

“Ehh…” I shrugged. “My therapist calls it willful ignorance. Long story. So, where are you from?”

“I got on the ship in LA. Before that, kind of all over.”

“You seem pretty young to be from all over.” Jane made air quotes.

Haimi Dara, one of the head waiters, made her way to the bar with a tray of empty and mostly empty glasses. Several had lipstick marks on the rim. “Hawk, there are many people awaiting champagne.”

I smiled at her. “Sorry, Jane and I have been keeping him.”

She fluttered her long dark lashes. “No problem, Mrs. McLaughlin. It is nice to see you.” She nodded at Jane. “And you as well, Ms. Cobb.”

“Please, Charlotte and Jane,” I said. “No need for formality.”

“As you wish, Ms. Charlotte.” Haimi looked pointedly at Hawk. “Why don’t you start near the back and work your way forward. We must make sure everyone is served.”

She disappeared into the kitchen.

Hawk finished filling the flutes with champagne and hoisted his tray. “Well, I’m off. Nice chatting with you ladies. I’m sure I’ll see you around.”

Jane and I watched as he maneuvered through the dining room to those standing near the windows.

“What do you think?” she asked.

I tilted my head. “I’m not sure. He seems polite, but I suspect there’s more to him than appears.”

“Psychoanalyzing the staff, are we?”

I whirled to face Xavier. “I expected you to come by earlier, but you never did.”

His expression soured. “I know, and I apologize, but I had some issues arise that needed my attention.”

“Everything okay, X-man?”

I enjoyed watching him cringe at Jane’s nickname for him.

“I am handling the situation. Charlotte, it is important that I speak with you, and the sooner the better, before—”

Jane interrupted him with a gasp. “Oh my gosh! It can’t be! She wouldn’t dare.”

I glanced at her and then followed her line of sight. The room was filled with people laughing and chatting, but nothing I saw seemed gasp worthy.

And then I spotted her.

I gasped too.

The satin emerald green and floral print cocktail dress she wore was floor-length but had a side slit that nearly reached her waist revealing one tanned, toned leg. Her strappy nude sandals with a clear band across the toes sported a five-inch Lucite heel. Her blonde hair was swept into a chignon and fastened with a jade and gold hair pin in the shape of sakura cherry blossoms.

She was engaged in what appeared to be an intense conversation with Chef Elliot. Her lips were pursed, and her brows were furrowed as she listened to whatever he was telling her. She looked away from him as if to break the tension. At the moment our gazes connected, her expression was cool and unaffected, but I noticed her mouth twitch.

Kyrie Dawn.

I muttered a string of expletives.

End of Excerpt

This book will begin shipping August 28, 2024

A Matter of Life and Depths is currently available in digital format only:

ISBN: 978-1-962707-95-4

August 28, 2024

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