#1 New York Times bestseller Kelley Armstrong returns to the captivating town of Rockton in The Deepest of Secrets, the next installment in one of the most imaginative crime series on shelves today.
"This is a series that covers all the bases.” —St. Louis Post Dispatch
It’s not always easy to live in the hidden town of Rockton, something Detective Casey Duncan knows firsthand. Tucked away in the Yukon wilderness, the community survives—and thrives—because the residents' many secrets stay just that—secret.
But what happens when these secrets start to come out? Overnight, no one is safe. It’s not a question of if your secret will come out—but when.
Casey and her boyfriend, Sheriff Eric Dalton, need to find the culprit while protecting those who have been thrust into the spotlight. For a place built on privacy and new beginnings, Rockton isn’t handling these revelations very well. People are turning on one another, and when one of the loudest complainers turns up barely alive, it's clear that their trickster is actually a murderer.
The threat of exposure is reaching its breaking point, and no one knows what’s going to happen next.
A Macmillan Audio production from Minotaur Books
Release date: February 15, 2022
Publisher: St. Martin's Publishing Group
Print pages: 368
Reader says this book is...: action-packed (1) clever protagonist (1) emotionally riveting (1) entertaining story (1) unexpected twists (1)
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The Deepest of Secrets
If you’re new to the Rockton series—or if it’s been awhile since you’ve read the last book—here’s a little introduction to get you up to speed. Otherwise, if you’re ready to go, just skip to chapter one and dive in!
Welcome to Rockton. Population 171 and dropping faster than we care to admit. Located in the Yukon wilderness, we’re a hidden town where people go to disappear. Residents come here under false names and false histories, and they must stay a minimum of two years. Extensions can stretch that to five years, but those extensions have become impossible to get. The council is shutting us down. They just refuse to admit it.
Rockton was born in the 1950s as an exercise in idealism. It’s a place for people who needed refuge, and in those earliest years, it was often their ideals that brought them here, fleeing McCarthyism and other political witch hunts. When the town struggled in the late sixties, a few wealthy former residents took over management and organized regular supply drops. That’s when the town began evolving from a commune of lost souls into a for-profit institution. While there are still people here who genuinely need sanctuary, there are also white-collar criminals who’ve bought an escape hatch from the law. And there are an increasing number of hardened criminals that the council sneaks in to increase the profit margin.
The council runs Rockton from afar. We’ve never seen them. We only speak to a council liaison on a satellite phone. There’s also a board of directors, including Émilie, one of those “wealthy former residents,” who still believes in the philanthropical ideal of the town. We believe in that ideal, too. We’re the people of Rockton.
We live off the grid, with no access to the outside world. No roads. No phones. No internet. We’re cut off from the world, and we need that to keep everyone here safe. You won’t find Rockton on any map, and we stay that way with the help of camouflage, both structural and technological. That’s easier than it seems when you’re in the Yukon—a northern Canadian territory the size of Texas with fewer than forty thousand people.
There are a handful of key residents in Rockton. I’m Casey Duncan—known here as Casey Butler—the lone detective. Eric Dalton is the sheriff and my common-law husband. We also have a deputy, Will Anders, and an honorary canine officer, Storm, my Newfoundland dog.
The town’s council representative is Phil, who used to be our liaison before he was exiled here, and he’s still adjusting to that. Technically, Phil and Eric are the town leaders, but really, the most powerful person here is Isabel, who runs the bar—the Roc—which doubles as the brothel.
My sister, April, is our doctor. My former best friend, Diana, is training to be her nurse.
Petra doesn’t have any such “essential” job in Rockton—she’s a comic-book artist who works in the general store. Or that’s her cover. She’s actually Émilie’s granddaughter and a former operative for an organization that shall never be named.
Mathias also holds a nonessential position—as the town butcher—belying the fact that he’s a psychiatrist with an expertise in criminal pathology, both professionally and personally. His current project is Sebastian. At twenty, Sebastian is Rockton’s youngest resident. He spent seven years in prison for killing his parents. He’s a certified sociopath determined to overcome his diagnosis, and we’re willing to give him that chance.
Kenny is our carpenter and head of our militia, which also includes Jen, my self-appointed nemesis. Devon and Brian are a couple who run the bakery—my favorite shop in town.
We are a secret town and a town of secrets. I don’t even want to guess how many residents are actually here because of crimes they committed down south. I am, and Anders is, and I hold out hope that most are like us—people who made mistakes, desperate to get back on the right track and repay any debt we owe. Only Dalton knows everyone’s history—he must, for the protection of all. As his detective, I get that information only when I need to know it, or when someone tells me their story.
There are also people who live outside our boundaries and our jurisdiction. When capitalism moved into Rockton, a group of residents moved out and formed the First Settlement, which is now in its third generation. The First Settlement is run by Edwin, one of the earliest settlers there. His granddaughter, Felicity, is expected to succeed him.
The next exodus from Rockton began in the seventies with nature-loving residents. They formed the Second Settlement, a more commune-like, nature-faith-based nomadic community.
There are also people who choose not to join a settlement, like Eric’s brother, Jacob, and former sheriff Tyrone Cypher. They’re twenty-first-century pioneers, living off the land.
There used to be another group, the most dangerous one: the hostiles. A few months ago, I solved the mystery of their existence, and most have been taken south for rehabilitation. My reward for that? The council is shutting us down. We know they are. They just haven’t made it official yet, and we don’t quite know what to do about that.
It’s July in the Yukon, a gorgeous night that’s perfect for a campfire. Or, in this case, a game of campfire Dungeons & Dragons. Having suffered an untimely demise, I’m tossing a ball with Storm while keeping one ear on the game as my friends—sorry, my questing party—wriggle through an ink-black tunnel.
“Caves,” Marissa grumbles. “Why is it always caves with you?”
Anders grins over at his new girlfriend. “Because caves are awesome.”
“Could you lighten up on the setting and just get to the monsters? They’re a lot less terrifying.”
The dungeon master tonight is our local deputy, Will Anders. The games started because he used to play as a kid. It’s not an image he fits these days, as a six-foot-two, brawny former military man. Give him a twenty-sided die, though, and that suburban teenage geek surfaces in all his shiny-eyed glory.
Marissa is a relative newcomer to Rockton. I’m delighted to have her join our games. Even more delighted to see Anders settling down. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the hookup scene, but there’d always been a touch of the frenetic to the way Anders went about it. Losing himself in sex the way he’d lose himself in a bottle. Both have steadied as he finds his footing and finally boxes up his past.
Beside Anders is Eric Dalton, the local sheriff. I’ve been working as his detective since I arrived and living with him for the past eighteen months. When his gaze flicks to the ice cooler, I toss the ball again for Storm and then play a little fetch myself, getting a beer.
As I pass the bottle over Dalton’s shoulder, he catches my wrists and tugs me against his back. I loop my arms around his neck and kiss his cheek, which suggests I’ve reached my two-tequila shot limit for the evening. Public displays of affection are not my thing.
“I’m up against a beholder,” Dalton says. “Any advice?”
“Hey!” says Kenny, head of our militia. “No tag-teaming.”
“Eric’s a necromancer, right?” I say. “He can consult with the dead.”
“Shit, I forgot that,” Dalton says. “Fuck, yeah. Casey’s my spirit guide or whatever.”
“His elven ranger love,” I say. “Taken too soon from this world. Stabbed in the back by her own sister.”
“I am not your sister in-game,” April says. “Nor did I kill you. That was the orc you insisted on facing down single-handedly. I simply chose to use my shamanic skills to slay the beast rather than resuscitate you. I acted in service to the greater good. Your death, while tragic, was not undeserved.”
“Harsh,” Kenny murmurs.
My sister is a brilliant neuroscientist. She’s also almost certainly on the autism spectrum, and learning to deal with her undiagnosed condition. Even sharing an evening game with friends is new for April. Back home, she’d have spent the night as she spent the day: working. I know what that’s like, though my relentless drive can be chalked up to a demon of my own summoning.
Dalton pulls me onto his lap, which proves he has also hit his alcohol limit. This is a rare chance for us to relax, hidden from public view behind our chalet.
“We’re in a cavern, right?” Dalton asks. “Lots of loose stones?”
“No, Eric,” Anders says. “You can’t throw rocks at a beholder. Also, being a necromancer, you could barely lift them. Your strength lies in your dominion over the undead.”
“So where the fuck are the undead?”
“Ooh!” I say. “I can be your zombie soldier. Resurrect me.”
“Your corpse is twenty miles away,” Anders says. “Also, it was decapitated by the orc’s ax, which is why Eric couldn’t resurrect you at the scene.”
“Conveniently decapitated,” Dalton mutters. “Fine. Lots of dead things in a cave. I’ll raise a few.”
“There are no animal corpses nearby,” Anders says.
“Dead bodies, then. I’ll summon them, and they’ll crawl from their final resting place—”
“No dead bodies within twenty miles.”
“Huh,” Kenny says. “Must not be near Rockton then.”
Everyone laughs. Everyone except Marissa, who glances at Anders.
“Remind me why I’m a fucking necromancer again?” Dalton says.
“Because April expressed an interest in playing the shaman, and you agreed to switch roles.”
“In other words, I was being nice. Let this be a lesson to me. Nice guys get stuck in a forest, facing a beholder, without a resurrectable corpse in sight.”
Anders sighs. “Fine. I’ll give you a rabbit. A very mangled, very decomposed dead rabbit is now at your command.”
“One killer bunny is all you need,” I say.
Dalton is considering his play when footsteps pound beside the chalet. I jump off Dalton’s lap so fast I nearly end up in the fire. When I see who it is, I expect a sarcastic comment, but Jen doesn’t seem to notice my lap-sitting or my stumble. She’s focused on Dalton.
“There’s a problem,” she says. “We need you in the square.”
Anders rises. “Conduct issues come to me, Jen.”
His correction is gentle. He has endless patience with Jen, as if he’s made it his mission to take the town’s biggest lawbreaker and turn her into proper militia. I expect Jen to snap back, but her gaze shunts his way, and there’s trepidation in it before she returns her attention to Dalton.
“Will should stay here,” she says. “Enjoy the rest of his night off.”
Again, I know how Jen should say this, her voice dripping with sarcasm, as if the three of us—and Kenny—taking a rare night off together is first-order slacking.
“What the hell is going on, Jen?” Dalton says.
Kenny lifts a hand. “Let me handle it. Eric can take over my barbarian.”
“As the dead player, I can duck out easily,” I say.
Dalton and Anders both still hesitate, but Marissa puts a hand on Anders’s leg, murmuring that he doesn’t need to break up every town brawl. My look to Dalton says the same. We’ve had a shitty month. Dealing with the council shutting down Rockton while we tackle a seemingly endless stream of minor crimes. It’s been three days of relative peace, and so I declared us all in need of a break. One evening off, and we couldn’t even get through it without a fresh fire to put out. Hopefully not an actual fire.
* * *
I see the problem as soon as I get into town. Or I think I do. There’s a crowd in the square long after there should be gatherings anywhere. It’s past midnight. Anders had insisted on working until ten, so we’d gotten a late start to our game. This being a weeknight, the Roc shut down about fifteen minutes ago. If there’d been trouble, Isabel would have warned us.
That’s when I spot Isabel herself, marching from the Roc, one end of a ladder in hand. Phil carries the other end. Both their faces are set in grim determination.
“Move away from the pole.” Isabel’s voice rings out. “Anyone who does not get out of my damn way earns a month’s suspension from the Roc.”
Only one resident—a guy named Conrad—dares turn on her. Before Conrad can get a word out, Phil grabs him by the collar. Conrad straightens, but Phil is younger and taller, and Conrad backs away with a few parting grumbles.
Jen, Kenny, and I are still heading toward the square, and no one has spotted us yet. Jen’s in the lead, and Isabel sees her first.
“What the hell is this?” she says, waving at the pole. “Were you just going to leave that up there?”
“I couldn’t reach it,” Jen says.
Copyright © 2022 by KLA Fricke Inc.
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