Reunion on Edisto

Reunion on Edisto

C. Hope Clark

April 2021 $16.95
ISBN: 978-1-61194-996-4

Planning a reunion is going to get someone killed. . .

Our PriceUS$16.95
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Planning a reunion is going to get someone killed. . .

Edisto Beach Police Chief Callie Morgan has no desire to relive her senior year and the nightmare of a murder and a suicide that shook her high school to its core. But when the reunion committee convenes on Edisto Beach for a planning retreat, she has no choice. Every person on the committee could be a suspect in the unsolved murder, and one classmate, now a bestselling author, threatens to weave them into a tell-all true crime novel.

Until she disappears the first night of the committee retreat.

Callie must sort fact from fiction in a race against the clock to find a cold case murderer who may have just killed again.

Hope Clark’s books have been honored as winners of the Epic Award, Silver Falchion Award, and the Daphne du Maurier Award.

"Her beloved protagonist, Callie, continues to delight readers as a strong, savvy, and a wee-bit-snarky police chief.”

—Julie Cantrell New York Times and USA Today
bestselling author on Dying on Edisto

"Award-winning writer C. Hope Clark delivers another one-two punch of intrigue with Edisto Stranger.... Clark really knows how to hook her readers with a fantastic story and characters that jump off the page with abandon. Un-put-downable from the get-go.”

—Rachel Gladston, All Booked Up Reviews

"The scenery is rich, the characters interesting, and the mysteries complex.”

—Bonnie Tharp, NetGalley Reviewer on Edisto Tidings

"Page-turning... [and] edge-of-your-seat action.... Prepare to be ab­sorbed by Clark’s crisp writing and compelling storytelling. This is one you don’t want to miss!”

—Carolyn Haines, USA Today
bestselling author on Dying on Edisto

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JJ LOVELESS BROKE up her eight-hour drive from Nashville to Edisto Beach with an overnight stay in Atlanta, to see Antonio and run her thoughts by him for her next book. She was writing it whether he liked it or not. She’d already gone too far with it to alter her course anyway. She even had loose thoughts for a book after that, both ideas complete departures from those past. Unfortunately, her literary agent tended to freak at her wishes for change.

Twenty years ago she donned initials to hide her gender in the mys­tery world, and until the last five years had written from the dark, not making many appearances. Slowly but surely her talent evolved.

Her fan following crept into being, she liked to say, but finally the world embraced diverse authors and all they brought to the literary world. Her mother had been a product of Viet Nam with an Air Force father and Asian mother. Her father black from deep within the Carolina Lowcountry. The depth of her creative well was endless, no longer limited by genes.

Giddy at the concept spurred into being five years ago, the timing for this new book couldn’t be more perfect. If the story came together as she hoped, it could be the masterpiece she’d be remembered for.

She made good time south on I-75, and as she crossed I-285, which circled the city, she used voice command on her Audi to check on Antonio.

"Hello, my sweetness. Where are you?” he answered. Low-level music in the background along with the tinkling of glassware. Totally predictable.

"Crossing into the city,” she said, "and I expect a vodka rocks as tall as I am when I arrive.”

He gave his signature tsk and subsequent sigh. "How you can drink those things is beyond my comprehension.” He was there already, he said, eager to oblige, and she could meet him at the Lockhart for dinner.

Predictable, that man. No point in her coming to New York when he could just as easily fly to Georgia, he’d said. After all, he had arrange­ments to make for her latest mystery, the one coming out in November, but JJ knew better. His current beau served as chef for a well-known restaurant in the heart of the Peachtree City.

Once she arrived they shared gossip, compared her to other authors, him to other agents, but then over crab fritters she broke the news. Over grilled grouper in a scuppernong sauce, she opened the plot. And since he hadn’t yet dismissed the book, she allowed him insight into her plan over the fig soufflé.

"I love it,” he said. "Absolutely love it, girl. And the personal touch... we’ll worry about legalities later, but this, my friend, could work.”

But then the chef arrived, and Antonio knew better than to mix business and pleasure. The food had been foreplay, and the three of them knew it. After coffee, they retired to the chef’s high-rise apartment where the gentleman routinely put them both up. The lemon ricotta pancakes the next morning always made the couple’s love noises worth the trouble.

By noon JJ left energized, eager to make up the remaining five hours to Edisto Beach. She had a tale to spin, research to do, and clues to drop into place, water, and grow.



Chapter 1

THE SUN RICOCHETED off the incoming tide of the Dawhoo River. Over it, traffic snaked across the McKinley Washington Bridge, escaping the mainland like the plague. March winds followed the brackish creeks, licking up whitecaps and making sixty-six degrees feel ten degrees cooler, but enthusiastic beachgoers poured onto Edisto Island regardless, like goose-bump sunbathing was a rite of passage. Had to be warmer on the sand, right?

Ten a.m., Police Chief Callie Jean Morgan parked her cruiser at the corner of Portia Street and Palmetto Boulevard, judiciously still in long sleeves. From behind shades she scanned zealous drivers jockeying for places to park. Half-naked, cream-skinned folk on feet not yet calloused, high-stepped across the street, scurrying to stake their claims. Winter bellies out. Bikinis too new for tan lines.

Callie had just completed her second circuit around the tourist town, judging whether the lower temp had intimidated visitors. No such luck.

Easter came in March this year, plus this was the first Friday of the first spring break in South Carolina, and while the commercial side of Edisto welcomed the early horde, the year-round natives sighed with resignation. Nevertheless, Callie and her officers would juggle the car mishaps, trespassing complaints, and illegal parking, the latter having a raised fine of fifty dollars per the last town council meeting.

Beach season had arrived.

"First fender bender of the year,” came a voice across her radio. "I won the pot.”

Callie grinned into her mic at the enthusiasm of her youngest officer. "Can you handle it?”

"At Jungle Road and 174. Could use some help.”

"Be right there,” she replied and flipped on her light. A family of four with fifty pounds of beach gear scampered back up on the curb, letting her turn past them onto Palmetto.

June, barely two months away, would be two years since she’d planted permanent roots. Her childhood vacations on Edisto Beach left indelible memories, but none like those that came with year-round living... or policing these blocks. She could name each house and resident, and with the help of her admin queen, Marie, could recite skeletons of each.

Appointed by the town council, Callie’s indoctrination into beach politics had come with wounds, lessons, and ultimate wisdom. They needed her now, and through thick and thin she guessed she needed them, too.

She rounded Palmetto at the Pavilion and hit a wall of cars and trucks. With a few whoop-whoops, she managed to reach the entrance of the State Park, left her lights on, and, eyes on drivers, zig-zagged her way on foot to Officer Thomas Gage.

Always a favorite with the ladies, the dark-headed officer stood fit and tanned amongst the melee, rerouting cars, hat low on his brow and arms snapping attention to drivers. He’d parked the two accident victims at the entrance of the Bi-Lo, soon to be Food Lion, not long ago having been a Piggly Wiggly.

Guess Pig-Lo would soon be Pig-Lion.

Callie and Thomas untied the worst of the traffic knot, and with the bottleneck eased she turned to her officer. "Want to handle the accident or the traffic? Shouldn’t take long with the both of us.”

"Traffic.” Abruptly he stared over her head, his height a ten-inch advantage. "Watch it!” He leaped quickly beside her to pop a palm hard on the hood of a small Honda that veered too close. The car dipped, the woman behind the wheel wide-eyed and afraid to move until he pointed at her then down the road, telling her to proceed.

"How did these idiots get licenses?” he said, falling back into his conversation. His head tilted toward the parking lot. "Those two over there claim they know you. Asked for you by name.”

She stared up at him, sunglasses to sunglasses. "And you believed them?”

He shrugged. "Both of them said it.”

She gave Thomas the traffic and headed toward the men.

Her name wasn’t foreign after the Pine Landing shoot-out incident, then the Indigo Plantation case, both of which gained her undesired statewide notoriety. These guys wouldn’t be the first to name-drop and expect her to be flattered... or waive a ticket.

The men didn’t act injured, but she asked anyway, "You guys okay? Nothing hurt?”

Both shook their heads, the sportier one grinning like a Cheshire cat. The other, however, carried a sour pout. She had no time to con­template the whys.

Taking a stroll around the cars, she saw little more than a small dent and shared paint, nothing that justified filing a claim unless they just enjoyed paying a deductible. The driver in back, though, warranted a ticket. She pulled her pad from the back of her waistband where she’d slid it before leaving her cruiser.

"You’re seriously writing me a ticket,” said the sourpuss.

She pointed to the car in back. "Is this one yours?”

Lips tight, he nodded.

"Then you rear-ended that car,” she said, and turned to the grinning guy. "Which is yours?”

As if he could, he grinned bigger. "Yeah. You don’t remember me, do you?”

His skin hinted tanning bed, his teeth whitened in a dental chair. The sunglasses hid his eyes, and in an afterthought, he jerked them off. "That better?”

"Butch?” Then she caught herself. "Wait. That high school reunion committee thing is this weekend?” Damn, of course it was. She kept the word shit to herself.

A tad paunchy, yet he effortlessly swept her up in an armful. "You’re still not big as a bug,” he said, setting her back down.

Sheepish, she glanced at Thomas who snatched his attention back to traffic.

Brandon Ives, aka Butch, star baseball player and team captain at Middleton High School. He’d been scouted for the pros after playing for the University of South Carolina. Callie had no idea what washed him out, but he’d bounced back as a sports commentator for WLSC, a local station out of Charleston. She hadn’t liked him in high school, didn’t watch him on the news, and disliked journalists period.

Most of all, she wasn’t into reliving high school history. Not with her memories.

She couldn’t remember the other gentleman, though, the one she’d about decided could do without the ticket.

"Clearly I don’t ring a bell,” he said. "But then I’m not a television celebrity.”

She tried not to squint too hard while picturing rows of desks and who’d been in her classes. Tall, black, attractive... just couldn’t place him at all. Had the size to have played football, but she drew a blank.

"I wasn’t memorable, or at least in a popular way,” he said and reached out his hand. "Reuben Douglas.”

Reuben, Reuben... then she took in a gasp. "Oh my God, you’re Reuben?”

Which elicited a reserved smile from him. He didn’t seem to be a man big on open expression. "President of the Science Club, which you weren’t a part of,” he said. "Graduated second in our class.”

"The Perv, remember?” Butch added with a laugh too loud. "Skinny, kept to himself, hung out in the chemistry lab sucking up to Dr. Lynch. Watched the girls a little too hard, in my opinion, but never spoke.”

Yet ol’ Butch had owned a reputation for keeping a score card on his dates. Nope, still not a fan.

"Wendy spoke with him, though,” she said, a slight smile at the slighted man. Reuben’s eye connection showed he appreciated the men­tion.

Not the lead cheer and not the most popular, but, most profoundly, Wendy had been the sweetest on the squad.

And Callie had found Wendy’s body after the football playoff against Berkeley High School.

After that night, senior year consisted of a unique and painful mix­ture of reporters, crazed parents, finger-pointing, and class gossip. Callie crossed that graduation stage, never looking back, and had missed every reunion since.

Butch guffawed. "Wendy just felt sorry for him. Look where that got her.”

Reuben remained hushed except for a whispered afterthought. "Knew I shouldn’t have come.”

Callie would do her damnedest to avoid the bloody lot of them, too.

She tucked away her ticket pad. "If y’all are good about the fender tap, I am as well. We can—”


The men pivoted toward the Pig-Lo. Didn’t take Callie two seconds to spot the flurry of peach and white from the liquor store next door. In a fluttering layered, gauzy cotton dress, a blond woman their age scut­tered awkwardly in low white summer sandals across the lot. Callie ex­pected her to face-plant at any time, especially hefting two bags of liquor bottles.

Callie rushed toward the burst of personality in Bvlgari sunglasses and took one of the bags. The woman had to be freezing in that strappy dress.

Georgia Walker Stilmack owned a house out here, but was someone Callie had seen little of her entire two years on Edisto. Nothing in common except the same high school. They’d traveled in entirely opposite worlds back then, but the present-day distancing was mainly attributed to the particular beach house she owned, the infamous beach house titled Water Spout. Not many rental histories involved a tenant killed in the living room.

This particular one at Callie’s hand. With a broken bottle.

Georgia shoved the other bag in Butch’s hands to allow her to smack a kiss on Callie’s cheek. "God, I never see you. Aren’t you excited, girl? I ran out to get just a few more mixers and chasers for the committee meeting.” She turned to the men. "Butch, be a doll and carry that in your car, will you? Damn, you look better than on television.” Then to Reuben, as she took his hand and reared back, not hiding her inspection of his physique, "Honey, damn if you didn’t fill out well. If you’d looked this good in high school, my children might’ve been darker complected. Um, um, um.”

Callie pivoted Georgia around with a gentle escort toward the parking lot. "Georgia, it’s too busy out here, so take your groceries on back to Water Spout.” She spoke over her shoulder at the guys. "Twenty blocks down Palmetto on the water side. The house is about the color of her dress and, trust me, unmistakable.”

Quite unmistakable. Three stories on prime sand. Used to be blue. Callie hadn’t been inside since she’d killed Georgia’s tenant, the man who’d kidnapped Callie’s son. Callie poured herself into gin bottles for months after that experience.

Memories of Water Spout, memories of high school, memories of specific classmates—like this reunion planning committee—were any­thing but a catalyst for additional nightmares.

They reached their respective vehicles, pinched their ways into the stream of other cars, and headed down Palmetto. Callie returned to her cruiser but took Jungle Road instead, dominated by a sudden urge to see if her son’s Jeep was in the drive.

Jeb was finishing up his second year at the College of Charleston. Spring break meant he had to visit at least a couple days, she hoped. The house didn’t seem empty until she expected him home, but she found nothing parked there but her little Escape, and drove on. She took Jungle all the way down, left on Lybrand to come out on Palmetto. Water Spout rose tall and masterful, two short blocks ahead to her left.

Though repainted and re-landscaped to shed the dead body reputation, the house remained ominous to Callie, and her pulse spiked in its shadow.

Butch and Reuben unloaded suitcases and Georgia’s groceries, with Georgia already on the porch, empty-handed, unlocking the door. Men doing her bidding. Georgia wasn’t nearly as bubble-headed as she let on. In addition to being lead cheerleader, she’d been in the Honor Society in high school and created the real estate business her husband ran in Savannah.

Callie, seeing each arrived okay, tried to slip past without stopping, but damn it, Butch waved. She made a U-turn and parked. She helped them tote belongings up the tall flight of stairs required of most houses for hurricane season water surges, with Butch huffing the most at the top.

While the others strolled in, in awe of the venue, Callie pulled up short at the door. No level of interior decorating could disguise those massive glass doors across the back of the house, reminding her of those deep, roiling gray clouds that night. Her gaze darted across the open floor plan and memories of that party, over a hundred people back then having no clue of the criminal element present.

That might be a different, bigger, softer color sofa, but it rested where the other had been, before Callie had fought her captor and soaked the furnishings in his blood.

She had to get out of there. "So who’s coming?” Callie asked, setting a bag on the counter and remaining near the exit.

"Didn’t you read your notice?” Georgia replied with her cute scold before speaking out to the group. "One of y’all want to turn on the heat? It’s frigid in here!” Reuben searched walls for a thermostat, and Georgia leaned over to Callie. "Can you believe how awesome he looks? Damn, gives me little chills.”

"The chills are from that dress, Georgia. Put some clothes on. Who else is coming?” Callie was eager to gain intel and leave. Reliving high school was a cliché on this beach, exponentially raising the odds of a disturbance call.

"Twelve,” Georgia replied. "Figured the brightest and finest could come up with the best spring reunion so I invited the senior superlative people listed in the yearbook. Best of this, best of that. You were best of something. We all were.”

Yeah, they dubbed Callie Most Political, thanks to her parents and the occasional cause she championed. One in particular about did her in... that she cared not to relive with this group.

Her father had been a fifth-generation mayor, her mother the po­litical science mastermind behind his campaigns. Her mother’s attempt to blueprint Callie’s life was part of what drove Callie to marry a federal agent in Boston, and break the family chain of politicians.

Georgia opened a bag of something, tasted it, and poured it in a bowl. "Y’all get chips for the time being. The hot appetizers go out at four when the last are supposed to arrive. I have an entire agenda planned!”

"I’ll try to make it, but—”

Georgia pressed hands to her chest. "Awww, Callie, you promised. Everyone promised!”

Actually, Callie hadn’t promised a damn thing. "I’ll do my level best, but police work comes first.”

The lie seemed to appease the hostess, so Callie moved toward the door. But as she stepped onto the porch, two more cars drove in, blocking her cruiser, and before she reached the bottom of the stairs, yet another. On the ground, after brief handshakes and a couple hugs, she directed musical cars to enable her escape before the whole bloody lot of them showed up.

The trailing car turned out to be Jessie Jane Loveless, turned JJ Loveless, bestselling author and former yearbook editor. Callie motioned her to the far left of the drive, then held her door open. "How’re you doing, Jessie? Or is it JJ?”

"JJ,” she said, hoisting over her laptop case to Callie as if she served as bellboy.

Far from any sort of slick New York image, JJ rose casual in jeans, turtleneck, and cardigan, though Callie estimated their value to exceed her week’s salary if she included the boots. A slight spread across the rear end, but that’s what hours at a computer did to a person. Nobody, however, could deny her success. She’d always possessed a natural beauty of sort, and Callie seemed to recall Asian in the author’s background. With the area’s military history, mixed marriages weren’t uncommon.

"Did you ask Edisto Bookstore to stock your books while you’re here?” she asked the author. "They might appreciate a signing. The crowd’s pretty strong this weekend.”

She got out and let Callie shut the door. "We’ll see.”

Guess her words were more meant for paper. "Suitcase?” Callie asked.

"Rented my own place,” she said, then headed toward the stairs. "Carry that laptop up for me, will you?”

Okay, she’d tried. Yeah, Callie would work forty-eight hours straight if it meant missing this, but she’d be polite and tote the laptop and maybe stick around a few minutes longer. She might taste the appetizers if they looked good.

Six people had arrived, counting Callie, with six to go. After intro­ductions all around, the amazements said and done about age and looks, Georgia brought out the mixers, the glasses, and finally the booze. These people would be snockered early if the proportion of alcohol to chips was an indicator.

JJ made her way to a barstool, ordered a fizzy water from Georgia, and seemed to analyze the others while they snacked, fixed drinks, and strolled the home, most collecting at the three sets of glass doors facing the Atlantic. Poised like a grand matron, JJ seemed forced to endure the noise of the irritating progeny around her.

Butch propped at the bar a few feet away with a straight whiskey, chin in his hand, studying her. He’d already asked how much she made, how many sales, how many proposals of marriage compared to his since, after all, they were both celebrities.

Callie moved toward the door again. "Later, y’all. When everyone arrives, maybe I’ll drop in—”

"Everyone’s here,” JJ said.

Georgia chuckled. "No, they’re not.” She patted a notebook. "I have my organizer right here. Once the others—”

"I said everyone’s here,” the author stated, firm and loud enough to silence the group.

But then Butch jeered. "What, are you a fortuneteller or something? You dress like a bit of a snob, if you don’t mind my saying, JJ. For God’s sake, let Georgia find something with life in it for you to wear. Have fun.”

Unsure how to behave at the announcement, Georgia stood motionless in the kitchen, peering over at Callie, as if the token cop needed to do something about plans already going astray.

"JJ,” Callie said, "you headed up the yearbook, so you ought to know. There were twelve of us.”

"And I uninvitedthe ones not here,” she said.

"What?” Georgia yelled. "You didn’t!”

"I did,” she replied.

A half smile from Butch who enjoyed the theatrics. "Let the games begin.”

Quietly, however, Reuben returned to his stoic look displayed at the accident. The one that hinted at distrust and commanded space. The others stopped dead, not sure what they weren’t understanding.

Not surprised but not happy at how easily the event had turned on its head, Callie had to admit she was intrigued. Which classmates warranted acceptance versus those dismissed?

Georgia’s fretting escalated, bouncing her focus from JJ to Callie, to each of the others. "This cannot be happening! How embarrassing! Why didn’t they call me?”

"I told them not to,” JJ said.

"You bitch,” the hostess said. "You hijacked my weekend.”

JJ ignored her. "Look around, people. What do we all have in common?”

Everyone exchanged tense glances, nobody having a clue. Yet Callie felt the bait-and-switch tactic taking place.

"Each of you was present the night of Wendy’s death, weren’t you?” JJ said.

The crew rose in an uproar of explanations.

"I hadn’t even spoken to her that day.”

"What the hell does that mean?”

"Who the hell do you think you—”

JJ abruptly raised a hand, which surprisingly stopped the ruckus. "I’m writing a true crime about what happened to our classmate. You can cooperate with me, or I can take your classmates’ word for your involvement, but each of you is going in the book. Curse me, yell at me, or sue me; trust me, I’m girded for it, but that girl’s death was an abomination, and you each know your involvement.”

Heat rose up Callie’s neck, and she agreed with Georgia. JJ Loveless was a first-class bitch. Opportunistic, callous, and cruel. Whether the author wrote for Random House or grocery store rags, she’d just fallen into the same category as journalists, and Callie shot one of those just last year.

The stunning announcement gave Callie just enough pause not to leave... and to scan the participants. To see if any of them looked half as guilty about Wendy as she felt.

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