Cruising Sisters Mystery, Book 1
Release Date:

Apr 30, 2024



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Until Depths Do Us Part


KB Jackson

Sudden riches lead to a world of trouble…

Newly widowed Charlotte McLaughlin is adrift following the sudden death of her husband of twenty years and the shocking discovery of the lavish double life he’d lived while purportedly traveling for business.

When Charlotte’s only nephew and his fiancée are notified that their secluded wedding venue has flooded, her sister Jane suggests an alternative venue: a Thanksgiving week cruise from Seattle to Alaska aboard the private residence ship where Charlotte’s husband had purchased a two-bedroom unit without her knowledge.

What better way to get closer with her family and banish the memories Charlotte can’t bear to touch now?

But the bride is found dead less than twenty-four hours after departure, and the head of security holds the groom on suspicion of her murder. Charlotte and Jane must figure out who is responsible for the murder before their nephew goes to jail for a crime they’re adamant he couldn’t have committed. Then a second victim is discovered, and Charlotte becomes even more certain there’s a killer on the guest list.

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Chapter One

I stared at my naked reflection in the chrome overflow plate of the bathtub. Those rolls were hard-earned. Maybe not the calories I’d consumed that helped to create them, but the grief which had fueled the consumption of those calories.

My neighbor, Inga, after observing me hauling a box of donuts into my house last week, had told me the Germans had a word for what I was experiencing. Kummerspeck. The literal translation was grief-bacon, but it could apply to any emotional eating. My personal weakness happened to be tacos from the truck down the street from my house, but, since the funeral, my freezer had been stocked with baked goods and casseroles each made to serve a dozen people. I lived alone now, so it was on me to make use of them.

And I had.

I pressed play on the stereo remote and sank into the warm water. Some might have thought it odd, submerging myself in a bubble bath while listening to songs about money from a playlist comprised of artists like Pink Floyd, Dire Straits, even the Flying Lizards, but music was how I processed my emotions, and I had a lot to process when it came to the subject of money.

I’d had no idea of our net worth until six weeks ago when I sat, shell-shocked, in the law offices of Bacon, Volks, and Bettencourt listening to attorney Richard Volks read my husband’s lengthy will.

Money was never something Gabe and I talked about. He was neither stingy nor overly flashy. When we’d gotten married, he told me his income alone could support us, but I loved my job at the library, so I’d continued to work part-time.

I knew we had a financial cushion, but it turned out to be more of a Princess and the Pea situation, with mattress stacked upon mattress. I’d been stunned as Richard listed Gabe’s considerable assets, including several banking and investment accounts and the sizable numbers they held.

Of course, I’d sensed the pea, the vague notion something wasn’t quite right. You couldn’t live with a person that long without noticing they weren’t mentally or emotionally present even while sitting across from you at the dinner table. As one often did when they loved someone, I tried to explain it away, making excuses for the disquiet that had unsettled me for more than two years.

At night I’d lay in bed, restless, wondering why I couldn’t sleep. It felt like that nagging sensation you got when you left home in a hurry and were certain you’d forgotten to pack an item or unplug the iron. Did I turn off the bathroom faucet? The coffeepot? Was the front door locked?

Then I discovered the pea underneath all those layers of the life we shared.

More accurately, the police and paramedics on the scene of the accident did.

A heart attack, they’d said, standing on my front porch about two months ago. Instantaneous. He was gone before his car wrapped itself around the light pole.

My knees had buckled, and I’d gripped the doorjamb. “Heart attack?”

The woman in the passenger seat had suffered moderate injuries, they’d informed me, including a broken right leg, but otherwise she was in good shape. The infant in the back was without a scratch, despite his blanket covered in broken window glass.

“Infant?” Darkness crept into the corners of my eyes. “What infant? What woman?” I parroted his words back to him in the form of questions, hoping that hearing them come out of my own mouth might make sense of it all.

The pea? Well, that was the double life my husband of twenty years had been living.

Officer Wyatt—who I’d taken to be the boss, as he’d done the bulk of the talking—grimaced. “A young woman, in her early thirties. Blonde hair. The child, a boy, is about a year old. She said they were on a family outing when Mr. McLaughlin gripped his chest and lost consciousness.”

When a sixty-five-year-old man with a penchant for red meat and cheesecake dallied with a woman less than half his age, I suppose he took the risk of his heart failing him.

In many ways, his heart had failed both of us.

Perhaps I’d have sympathized with him if I hadn’t been so busy dealing with my own humiliation, I thought, as “Money, Money, Money” by Abba echoed off the marble surround of the tub.

I sank deeper into the bath until my ears were fully submerged under the water, as if it were remotely possible to shield myself from the pity thrown my way over the past few weeks with a fortress of soapy bubbles. I snorted at the absurdity and accidentally inhaled a bit of the peony-scented foam. The lower I sank, the more muffled the music became, but the chorus was unrelenting in its chanting message about money and the world of the rich man.

I knew very little about the world of the rich man.

While I’d dutifully clipped coupons and ate leftovers, my husband had been living in the rich man’s world. While I spent gloomy winter days shelving books in a library, he’d been basking on beaches with another woman.

I fixated on a water stain in the ceiling above me. Gabe had said he’d deal with it, but he never did. I’d have to hire someone to fix it before it became a bigger problem. I knew we had a handyman who could do it, but I didn’t know how to get in touch with him. Peter. Peter, uh…I didn’t even know his last name.

The one thing that had been made clear to me throughout the past couple months was I knew very little about my own life. Next to nothing, as a matter of fact.

I didn’t know about the money.

The woman.

The baby.

The lies.

When I died, it should be etched on my tombstone:

Here lies Charlotte McLaughlin

She didn’t know

Richard Volks had known. Gabe had Richard change his will the previous August shortly after his son, Quinton, was born. Accommodation had also been made for Quinton’s mother, Kyrie Dawn. Between the two of them, they’d been given twenty-five percent of Gabe’s assets.

I couldn’t help but wonder who else had known. Staff from Gabe’s office? His friends? The barista at his favorite coffee shop? And yet they all were still able to look me in the eye at his funeral. Perhaps they were the same people huddled together at the reception afterward in whispering conclaves as they drank from the open bar and filled their bellies full of crudités and charcuterie trays.

I grabbed the wineglass from the table next to the tub and swigged. The wine probably wasn’t helping my figure any more than the nine-by-nine pan of brownies I’d defrosted that afternoon and finished in one sitting while watching Charade for the zillionth time.

I’d always loved the movie, but since the revelation of the pea, it resonated with me in a viscerally familiar way. Newly widowed Audrey Hepburn discovered her husband wasn’t the man she’d thought. Unfortunately, I was still waiting for my Cary Grant to show up and make me feel better about the deception of my marriage.

My cell phone rang from the counter.

I heaved a sigh. Time to climb out of my refuge and back into reality. My joints groaned as I hoisted myself from the tub and over to the vanity. Without looking at the screen, I knew it was my older sister, Jane. No one else called me anymore. None of them knew what to say.

“I was taking a bath.” I wrapped a towel around my damp body with my free hand.

“At four thirty in the afternoon?”

“It’s already dark.” I shrugged my shoulders, despite her not being able to see me.

“If we were sipping margaritas poolside in Puerto Vallarta, it would still be light outside. Instead, we’re in gloomy Seattle trying to ward off seasonal affective disorder. It’s only November ninth. We’ve got four more months of this. I’ll never make it to spring.”

“I buried my husband six weeks ago. Cut me some slack. We can plan a trip. I just wasn’t ready when you brought it up at the wake.”

“Yeah. Sorry about that. Probably should’ve waited until after the bast—” She paused and cleared her throat. “Until Gabe was cold in the ground for more than five minutes.” His name dripped off Jane’s tongue like the venom she felt toward him.

It was understandable. She was, after all, my protective older sister, so of course she was angry at him. I was, too, but my anger was muddled with the betrayal I felt in the deepest parts of my wounded soul.

There was something else. Something shameful I’d yet been able to voice to anyone: I blamed myself as much as I blamed him.

It took two people to have a terrible marriage.

“How about now?” Jane said.

“How about now what?” I pulled the drain plug and the bathwater gurgled.

“Are you up for a trip?”

“What are you talking about?”

I waddled into the bedroom and flopped onto the left side of the bed. I still wasn’t used to sleeping alone and had yet to venture to the right side. Gabe’s side.

“Andy called. He and Phoebe have run into an issue with the wedding.”

“What kind of issue? Other than interrupting everyone else’s family traditions because they insisted on scheduling the ceremony at a farm in the boonies on Thanksgiving Day, I mean. Who does that?”

I knew very well who did that. The boy who’d always been the center of our family’s universe, who, along with strong prompting from his bride, knew we’d move mountains for him.

Andy, a fourth-grade teacher, was the only child of our older brother Bernard. Since neither Jane nor I ever had any children, Andy was the last of the family line. When Andy was only three, his father was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Bernie died less than two years later, and raising Andy became a group project.

“What’s the problem? Did they break up?” I tried to keep my optimism at the thought, out of my voice. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Phoebe, exactly, but she and Andy had dated only eight months, and during that time I’d witnessed several red flags in her behavior toward him.

The private remote wedding was understandable, considering Phoebe was trying to stay out of the spotlight. Two years ago, Phoebe Braithwaite was a globally known YouTube personality who’d let her viewers observe her every waking moment from the time she made avocado toast for breakfast to the application of her bedtime skincare routine. All that had come to an abrupt end when she began receiving threatening messages and packages at her home from an obsessed fan. It had spooked her enough to shut down the whole channel. Her resulting paranoia affected everything in her life, including her mercurial relationship with Andy.

“No. The farm flooded in the rainstorm last night. There’s at least a foot of standing water everywhere. Even if it drains by the day of the wedding, the barn and the furniture are too damaged to be repaired and or replaced in time.”

“What does that have to do with taking a trip?”

“I’ve been looking into it, and I believe that surprise you found in Gabe’s will might be just the ticket.”

“Which surprise? The millions of dollars he had stashed away or the previously unknown infant heir and his”—I swallowed the pejorative term I wanted to use—“mother to whom Gabe left one quarter of his estate?”

“The other one. The cruise ship condo.”

“Ah. His lover’s lair on international waters.” My nostrils flared at the thought of Gabe and Kyrie Dawn clinking champagne glasses as they watched the sun set over Ibiza or Sydney Harbor.

“I did some research after Andy called in a panic. Phoebe’s a blubbering mess, and he’s desperate to fix it, of course. The ship is due to dock at the Port of Seattle the weekend before Thanksgiving. They’ve got tons of open berths for rent because a large portion of the owners are visiting family on land for the holiday. We—and by we, I mean you with your newly discovered fortune—we could rent several of them and have the wedding onboard. It’s scheduled for a weeklong tour through the waters of Alaska, arriving back in Seattle the following Sunday. It’s the perfect solution.”

“How is that the perfect solution?” I grunted. “Alaska in November sounds awful. Isn’t the ocean frozen up there at this time of year? I swear I saw once on Deadliest Catch, there are chunks of ice floating around, waiting to tear a hole in the hull.”

“It’s called the Thalassophile of the Seas, not the Titanic, and the itinerary doesn’t have us docking for a land excursion until the last full day. The rest of the time will be spent floating around looking at the beautiful scenery from within the warmth and comfort of a luxury residential cruise ship.”

“You know Thalassophile means lover of the seas in Greek, right? So, basically, the boat is called the lover of the seas of the seas.”

“Is that a yes?”

I released the deep exhalation of the emotionally exhausted. “Fine. But Phoebe’s uncle Frank’s room needs to be far away from mine. Every time I encounter him, he’s got a glass of scotch in one hairy hand and my buttocks in the other.”

End of Excerpt

Until Depths Do Us Part is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-961544-94-9

April 30, 2024

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