Three Strikes


By Kate Kessler

Read by Cindy Harden

Formats and Prices


This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 24, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

When a mysterious young girl arrives in the small New England town of Edgeport, it’s up to criminal psychologist Audrey Harte to figure out where exactly she came from . . . but sometimes the past should stay in the past.

Thanksgiving is approaching, and Audrey Harte has a lot to be thankful for — her mother has recovered from surgery, her relationship with Jake is solid, her father is relatively sober, and her career is evolving in an exciting direction. So when an 18-year-old girl turns up on her mother’s doorstep, claiming to be the daughter Maggie Jones gave up for adoption, Audrey is amazed.

As Audrey helps the girl discover where she came from, people in the little town of Edgeport think she should leave the past alone, and they let her know through threatening messages and phone calls. Soon, Audrey realizes that it doesn’t matter how well you think you know someone — you don’t know what they’re capable of until their secrets are threatened. . .



Necromania is defined as an obsession with death or the dead. Most of humanity has it to some degree, being very much aware from a young age that life is a temporary and fragile thing. Psychologist Dr. Audrey Harte was familiar with the term, as well as the corresponding paraphilia that sexualized corpses. Fortunately, she’d never met anyone who suffered from the disorder.

Unfortunately, none of her academic or professional research had ever provided a label for those people who seem to have death obsessed with them—people like herself who had to have a grim reaper watching over them just as others claimed to have angels. It was an impossible theory to prove, but she wanted to name it, because if it was possible for death to stalk a person, she wanted a restraining order. Like, yesterday.

Since returning to the East Coast just five months earlier she’d been caught up in two separate murders and had a serial killer become obsessed with her. People always thought Maine was a peaceful state, and for the most part it was, but nothing that crazy had ever happened to her when she lived in California. It made a sort of karmic sense, however, that returning to the place where she’d once murdered someone would attract death’s attention. If her life was one of those paranormal romances her sister liked to read (and Audrey too, occasionally), death personified would be a gorgeous guy with a lot of muscle and incredible sexual stamina, but her life was not a romance novel, and she was a little afraid death was actually a guy who lived in his mother’s basement and had a shrine to her in his bedroom, along with thirty-two copies of The Catcher in the Rye and an autographed, framed photo of Ted Bundy.

She also realized that thinking she’d been singled out by death was somewhat egomaniacal, irrational, and paranoid, even if she had the scars to prove it. So she concentrated on her mother, who was recovering from a partial hysterectomy due to cancer, instead and told herself that death might back off if she didn’t flirt quite so much.

“I’m going to lie down,” her mother said, getting up from the table. Anne Harte was trim and youthful-looking for a woman in her sixties, who usually had a lot of energy, but fighting the cancer, and now the surgery to remove it, had slowed her. Audrey had taken time off from work to help out, which was ironic because just before her mother’s surgery, she’d been shot in the left arm by a teenage psychopath, and consequently hadn’t been as much help as she’d hoped.

“You need anything?” Audrey asked her, watching her tentative movements. Her mother was healing as she should, but she’d still been cut open, and was uncomfortable. If seeing your father vulnerable was scary, seeing your mother vulnerable was a lesson in impotent terror.

“Nope. Maybe a tea in a little while.” Anne tucked her graying brown hair behind one ear. “You should rest too.”

Audrey shook her head. “I’m good.” It was true. It had been almost three weeks now and she felt okay. Her arm ached, but it was healing and that was all she cared about. Surprisingly, she’d done all the things her doctor and physical therapist told her to do to speed recovery. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t a little surprised to discover the practices actually worked.

“Wake me up in an hour or so, will you, babe? I want to make cookies for when Isabelle gets home from school.”

Izzy was Audrey’s five-year-old niece—a fabulous kid who had her grandparents wrapped around her little finger. “Aren’t there any of the ones Jake made left?”

Her mother blushed. “No.”

Audrey laughed—as much at her mother’s sweet tooth as in relief that she was eating. “I’ll ask him to make you some more.”

“Don’t you dare. That boy already feeds us more than he ought. I’ve probably gained ten pounds since the two of you started dating.”

“Dating.” That was such an insipid word to describe her relationship with Jake Tripp. Regardless, her mother needed the extra calories. The cancer and treatments had taken a lot of fat off her frame, and she was only now looking more like her usual self.

“He said he’s bringing chicken potpie tonight. Gracie’s recipe.”

Anne smiled. “If he proposes, you’d better say yes.”

Audrey started. She and Jake had only gotten together in June, but they’d loved each other since they were children. The idea of life without him was unfathomable, but she hadn’t fantasized about marrying him since she was sixteen—and wasn’t about to let herself start again. It wasn’t like either of them was ever going to be free of the other, so why try to put expectations on it? “Have a good nap.”

Her mother left the room and Audrey waited until she was gone to get up from the table and clear the remnants of their late lunch. Her weakened arm made the process take a little longer than it ought, but she eventually got everything put away. She took butter out of the fridge to soften for cookie-making later and carried her laptop into the living room.

Technically she was off work for the foreseeable future, recovering, but she needed to check her e-mail and make sure all was good with the Boston office. What she really wanted to do, however, was work on the proposal for a youth facility she planned to show her boss, Angeline Beharrie, a renowned psychologist.

The two of them had spent a lot of time recently discussing a remark Audrey made once about hoping to someday run a facility for troubled teens. Early next year, Maine was planning to close a couple of state-run properties, creating an opportunity she never would have thought would be available to her at this stage in her career. Angeline was interested, as having a private facility would greatly improve the efficiency of conducting research.

Over the years, Angeline had indulged her—spoiled her, even—but she didn’t want to count on that always happening. And she didn’t want to always be in Angeline’s shadow. Audrey wanted to earn her achievements. Still, she wanted this dream to become reality bad enough that if Angeline did want to indulge her, Audrey wouldn’t try to stop her.

Lately, Jake had begun to show interest as well. She didn’t know exactly how much money he had, but it was a lot, and his backing would allow her that much more control over the project. The proper phrasing and outlining was important, though. It all started on paper.

She was typing away, ignoring the slight ache in her arm, when her cell phone buzzed beside her on the sofa. She glanced at the screen; it was her friend Neve asking where she was and could Neve swing by? Audrey’s reply was Mum’s & yes. She hadn’t seen the other woman in a few days, and she’d welcome the company. Working on the proposal didn’t take the place of having a full-time job.

Neve’s car—the familiar unmarked state police car—pulled into the drive a few minutes later. Audrey opened the door before she could ring the bell or knock. “Mum’s napping,” she explained in a low voice when her friend raised a brow.

Neve nodded. She and Audrey were the same age, and had chosen careers in which they could help people, but that was where the similarities ended for the most part, except maybe for resting bitch face. Neve was a tiny bit shorter, her complexion several shades darker, and her hair a riot of corkscrew curls that could be achieved only through genetics. “How’s she doing?” she asked, as she crossed the threshold into the house.

“Better.” Audrey closed the door on the cold November air. She hadn’t re-acclimatized to it yet. Jake laughed at her every time she insisted that Maine was colder than it had been before she left. “Much better than we expected, to be honest.”

The other woman toed off her boots and shrugged out of her coat. “And you? The arm doing okay?”

“Yeah, it aches a bit, but it’s healing.” Once Neve hung up her coat, Audrey gestured for her to walk ahead.

“Dad says you’ll be tender for a while. He also said you must have the devil looking after you that it didn’t tear through all the muscle.”

“I’m sure he did,” she replied dryly. Neve’s father had arrested her and her best friend Maggie for the murder of Clint Jones—Maggie’s father—almost nineteen years ago, and had been convinced ever since that Audrey was Public Enemy Number One. “He needs a hobby.”

“Tell me about it.”

They walked into the kitchen and Audrey put the kettle on. “Biscuit?” she asked.

“Your mom’s or Jake’s?”

Audrey reached for the plastic container on the counter and popped the lid. “Dad’s actually, but he used Gracie’s recipe. Mum was not impressed with him.”

“I’ll try one, sure.”


“You know it.”

They made small talk as Neve helped her set the table and make the tea. Audrey asked about Neve’s boyfriend, Gideon, and his daughter, Bailey.

“B’s good. She mentioned that you came to see her last week. It meant a lot to her.”

“I’m glad.” Audrey felt responsible for Bailey’s incarceration at Stillwater—a correctional facility for girls—and that responsibility was part of the reason she was working so hard on making her own facility a reality. Stillwater was where she had gone after killing Clint, and it was one of the properties that would be closing in the spring. There needed to be a place where girls like Bailey could get the help and support they needed while paying for their crimes.

“How much longer are you going to be around before you return to Boston?” Neve asked. “It would be nice if you could stay until after Christmas and not have to worry about driving back and forth.”

Audrey hesitated.

Are you returning to Boston?” Neve asked as they sat down.

“Probably. Maybe.” Audrey shrugged and reached for the sugar bowl. “I don’t know. I have some things to discuss with Angeline first. I’ve been thinking about what you and Jake both said to me about getting more involved with kids who need help rather than just studying and interviewing them, and the more I think about it, the more I think you’re right.”

“Had to happen sometime,” her friend replied with a smile. She pulled a biscuit in half and slathered it with butter before reaching for the molasses. “You wouldn’t think I was right if it wasn’t what you wanted for yourself.” She took a bite.

Audrey tilted her head in acknowledgment as she dressed up her own biscuit. That was true. “So, what’s up?”

Neve swallowed and creased her brow. “I got a call from a friend of mine a couple of days ago. Before she was killed, Maggie registered with the state adoption registry. Did you know she had a kid?”

She had, and since the father of that child was also Maggie’s father, it was a detail Audrey had kept to herself since finding out several months ago. She had thought about looking for the girl, but frankly, she couldn’t bring herself to do it, knowing the problems the kid might have. The kind of problems that arose when your father was also your grandfather.

Just when she thought she couldn’t despise Clint Jones more, he managed to make it happen from beyond the grave.

“I knew,” she replied. “It was a few months after I went to Stillwater.” The years there had been the worst and best years of her teenage life. Certainly the most life-changing. That’s where she’d met Angeline for the first time, and where she decided that she wanted to be a psychologist too.

Neve winced. “Christ, she was that young? No wonder I didn’t hear about it. Maggie probably wanted that secret to stay hidden. I don’t think Gideon knew.”

Gideon had been married to Maggie. Not a huge dating pool in small towns—it made it all very incestuous, for lack of a better term. “He probably didn’t.” She was fairly sure of that because she hadn’t known either, until she read Maggie’s journal. “Did your friend say anything else?”

“Yeah. So, someone requested Maggie’s contact information, and the registry had to let them know she’d died.”

Audrey’s heart smacked against her ribs. “You think it was her daughter?”

“It was. My friend responded to the request personally, and offered to see if she could find any family. She knew I grew up here so she called me.”

Audrey shook her head. “There’s no one left. Everyone that I knew of is dead. There might be family in New Hampshire. That’s where they lived before coming here.”

“I checked. No one.”

Audrey studied her friend carefully. Why did it feel like Neve wanted more than Maggie’s family tree from her? “Is Gideon considering meeting her?” Talk about a strange situation—him meeting Maggie’s kid after she’d done so much damage to his own daughter, Bailey.

“I haven’t told him yet.” Neve’s hand on the table curled into a fist. “The only person I could think of who might be able to tell this girl who her mother really was is you.”

Oh, no. “You do realize there’s a good chance Clint is the kid’s father.” She let that—and all its implications—sink in.

Neve’s jaw dropped. “Shit. I never thought.” She looked panicked. “She’s already on her way. She’ll be here in fifteen minutes.”

“Here?” Audrey echoed. “As in, here?”

Neve nodded. “She drove down from Calais.”

She ought to be angry at Neve for making presumptions. She should be pissed, because she was sitting there in sweats, with no makeup, and still recovering from a gunshot wound to her left arm. Now was not a good time to meet a kid whose origins she couldn’t possibly begin to explain in any way that wouldn’t be upsetting to either of them.

But she wanted to meet the girl. God, she was almost excited about the opportunity. And it wasn’t just because Audrey wanted to know if she was all right, or if she was loved, but because the kid was all there was left of the Maggie who had been her best friend. The Maggie she had loved and had killed someone to protect before she became … what she had become.

“What were you going to do with her if I hadn’t been here?”

Neve shrugged. “I would have figured something out. You okay with this?”

She laughed. “I kind of have to be, don’t I? She’s going to be here any minute.” She shook her head. “Asking first would have been nice, you know.”

The cop didn’t even have the decency to look apologetic. “If I’d given you warning, you would have found a way to avoid her.”

“No, I wouldn’t.” She would have wanted to, but she wouldn’t. “Maggie named her after me, did you know that?”

“Shit. No.” She looked uncomfortable, which made Audrey smile a little. Good. “She told me her name was Mackenzie.”

Weird as having the kid share her name would be, Audrey was a little disappointed the girl or her parents had changed it. “Did she seem developmentally delayed when you spoke to her?”

“I haven’t actually spoken to her. We’ve e-mailed and texted each other.” Neve’s brow puckered. “How bad are you talking?”

“It varies.” She reached for another biscuit. “She could be okay. I’m not looking forward to telling her that I killed her grampie-daddy, but it will be easier if I know she can fully understand why.”

Neve stared down at her cup. “Oh, right.”

“Yeah,” Audrey agreed. That little matter of murder. She sighed. No point in getting wound up.

They sat in silence for a long moment, and then the doorbell rang, startling them both. Audrey hadn’t heard a car drive in. Her heart thumped heavily against her ribs as she walked to the entry way. The knob was cold beneath her palm as she pulled the door open.

Standing on the step in the cold was a young woman with long dark hair and big blue eyes. She had Maggie’s nose and mouth, but she was taller and not as curvy. She smiled uncertainly and extended her hand. “Dr. Harte? I’m Mackenzie Bell. Detective Graham said you could tell me about my birth mother, Maggie Jones.”

Audrey swallowed, fighting the tears that burned behind her eyes. “Hi, Mackenzie,” she said as she wrapped her fingers around the girl’s. “I’ll tell you as much as I can.” But she wasn’t going to have to tell her that she’d killed her father, because there was little to no way the girl belonged to Clint Jones—she had no obvious physical or mental defects.

But if Clint wasn’t her father, who was?

Incest didn’t happen just in small rural towns, but the sheer happiness—the relief—Audrey felt realizing that Mackenzie probably wasn’t both Maggie’s daughter and sister made her feel like she was trapped in a South Park joke.

There was no denying who her mother was, and every time Audrey looked at the girl she saw another little heartbreaking reminder of Maggie—her Maggie—but there was someone else there too and she couldn’t figure out who he was. It wasn’t Clint—she knew this in her bones.

Audrey had taken her to the kitchen, where Neve waited, and made a third cup of tea. When the girl sat down at the table, after saying hello to the other woman, Audrey and Neve exchanged a glance over her head. The girl wasn’t what they’d expected, and that only raised more questions.

“Thank you both for agreeing to meet with me,” Mackenzie said when Audrey set a cup of tea in front of her. “I just turned eighteen in October. I went on to the registry that same day. I couldn’t believe my birth mother died only months before I could find her.”

Audrey shook her head. The emotion on the kid’s face cut deep, even though a part of her was certain reality wouldn’t have lived up to Mackenzie’s hopes. “I can’t imagine how disappointing that must’ve been.”

Mackenzie glanced at Neve. “You knew her as well, didn’t you? Maggie, I mean.”

Neve nodded. “I’ve known both her and Audrey since I was young, but Maggie and Audrey were best friends.”

Audrey shot the other woman a narrow look. What she said was true, but it was also throwing Audrey under the bus as far as explaining all of Maggie’s issues.

The girl smiled, and there was Maggie again in her face. The good Maggie, before life had totally destroyed her. “What was she like?”

That was a loaded question, but Audrey found herself smiling fondly, despite all the baggage she and Maggie shared. “When Maggie moved here I thought she was so exotic. She came all the way from New Hampshire, and I had never been outside of Maine.”

Mackenzie looked at her with delight. “Did you become friends right away?”

“Yeah, we did. The best of friends.” She just let that hang there, uncertain of what else to say.

“Did you stay best friends even after you killed her father?”

Audrey blinked. “Well, that was … blunt.”

“Sorry.” There was no hostility in the girl’s tone, no judgment in her expression, just simple curiosity. She should have known that Mackenzie would know who she was, and what she and Maggie had done. If their situations were reversed the first thing she would’ve done upon finding out her birth mother’s name was a Google search. The records were sealed, but that didn’t stop people from talking, and talking was what people in Edgeport did best.

“For a while. Then we grew apart.”

“Did he really molest her?”


“She told you and you believed her?”

“Yes, but also I witnessed it.”

Both women stared at her, their eyes wide. Had she never told Neve that part of the story? Hadn’t her father? Everett Graham was the one who had arrested her, who came to the house that night and found Clint’s bludgeoned naked body on the floor of Maggie’s bedroom. Audrey had cracked his skull open like a bone piñata after finding him raping his daughter. There were times when she wondered if Maggie had planned for her to arrive during one of Clint’s “visits” so she’d do exactly what she’d done.

Jesus,” Neve whispered.

Mackenzie’s face was white—stark white. “Please tell me he isn’t my father too.”

Relief and remorse rushed through Audrey at the same time. She’d been so concerned about how she was going to explain to the girl the situation surrounding her birth, she hadn’t entertained the idea that she would have already put it together. How long had she spent scared and dreading the truth before driving down to Edgeport?

“I don’t think he is.” Audrey braced her forearms on the table and leaned over them. “There are certain characteristics of children born of father-daughter incest that I don’t see in you. I’m not a geneticist, but I have studied the psychological aspects, and I would be very surprised if you were the product of such.” Though a small percent of such births did turn out perfectly healthy.

The girl made a tiny noise as her shoulders sagged. “Oh my God, you have no idea how happy that makes me. I was so scared.” She wiped at her eyes. “How could he have done that to her?”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure I want to.” The thing was, she could try to explain it, but it wouldn’t make sense, because most sane people couldn’t wrap their head around the concept.

Her dark blue gaze locked with Audrey’s own. “You killed him for what he did.”

She wasn’t completely comfortable discussing this in front of Neve, who might be a friend but was still a cop, but what the hell. She wasn’t ashamed of what she’d done, and truth be told, if she could go back in time she’d probably do it again. Not like they could try her again for it. “Yes. I didn’t want him to hurt Maggie anymore, or hurt anyone else.”

Neve was watching her, because as far as the world was concerned, Maggie had been the one to put an end to Clint. That’s what they had told the police—Neve’s father.

“You owe me.” She could hear Maggie’s voice echoing in her head from a day long ago, just before Audrey left for college. “I took the blame for you. Don’t you ever forget that.”

Mackenzie reached across the table and touched Audrey’s hand. “Thank you.”

Her words struck like a kick to the sternum. It was foolish, really. After all these years, hearing those words from a stranger shouldn’t have any effect. She knew at the time that Maggie had appreciated what she’d done, and she was certain Maggie must have thanked her several times, but after having so much judgment piled on her for that one act, hearing those words from Maggie’s daughter meant more than she could ever articulate. In fact, she had to actually take a moment to compose herself before she could reply, and even then all she could do was nod. There was a band around her throat that made speech impossible.

“Will you tell me about her? Everything about her?” Mackenzie asked. “I’m staying at the Cove. I’d like to find out as much as I can about where I came from.”

Audrey cleared her throat. “I’ll tell you everything I can, but you should know that Maggie’s life was not an easy one.”

The girl laughed humorlessly. “Yeah, I kind of figured that out already.”

“I’ll bring you some of Maggie’s things that Gideon has in storage,” Neve said, but she looked at Audrey. Neither one of them would deny the girl the chance to know Maggie, but there were some things a daughter just didn’t need to know, and it would be their job to weed those things out before letting her comb through Maggie’s short life.

Mackenzie glanced at both of them. “Who killed her? I heard rumors …”

Neve grimaced. “Look, there’s a lot you don’t know—”

“And probably a lot I don’t want to,” the girl interjected. “I know. I don’t want either of you to think I’m judging. I just want to know the truth, no matter how bad it is.”

Audrey and Neve shared yet another glance, and both of them nodded. “Okay then,” Audrey said. “That’s what you get. I’ll give you as much truth about Maggie as I can.”

“Do either of you have any idea who my real father is?”

The girl was asking all the hard questions up front, and each one was like a slap. Audrey didn’t resent her for it, but she had had easier conversations with psychopaths.

“I don’t,” Neve told her. “I knew Maggie, but we weren’t that close.”

“She never said anything to me,” Audrey admitted. “Back then we told each other everything, or at least I thought we did. She always seemed to be in like with some guy, and she was … provocative for that age. Unfortunately, no single person stands out in my mind.”

“Well, maybe there’ll be some clue in her things,” Mackenzie suggested so hopefully Audrey’s heart twisted in an effort to get away from her vulnerability.

“Maybe,” she agreed. “It’s a small town, somebody must know something.”


  • "Deliciously twisted and genre-bending, Kate Kessler's positively riveting It Takes One boasts a knockout concept and a thoroughly unique and exciting protagonist, a savvy criminal psychologist with murderous skeletons in her own closet."—Sara Blaedel on It Takes One
  • "A book that kept calling to me when I should have been doing something else. Hard to put down, compulsive reading."—Rachel Abbott on It Takes One
  • "[A]gripping roller-coaster ride of shock and suspense. ...Kate Kessler excels at creating an atmosphere of fear and suspense."—Kate Rhodes on It Takes One
  • "Kessler has created a kick-ass, heartfelt character in this lively, twisty thriller. Believe me - you'll enjoy the ride."—Sandra Block on It Takes One
  • "This first in a series combines an intriguing mystery with a terrific cast of characters. Fans of Nancy Pickard or Lisa Unger will find much to like in Kessler. Expect her to become very popular very quickly."—Booklist (starred review) on It Takes One
  • "[Audrey's] a likable heroine, and between her moxie and sense of humor, she'll soon become a favorite of those who like their suspense less dark and bleak....Audrey is definitely a keeper."—Kirkus on It Takes One
  • "Tense, fast-paced....The action builds to compelling and unexpected conclusion."—Publishers Weekly on It Takes One
  • "Carve out some time to read this series starter -- it's that hard to put down."—RT Book Reviews on It Takes One

On Sale
Oct 24, 2017
Hachette Audio

Kate Kessler

About the Author

As a child Kate Kessler seemed to have a knack for finding trouble, and for it finding her. A former delinquent, Kate now prefers to write about trouble rather than cause it, and spends her days writing about why people do the things they do. She lives in New England with her husband.

Learn more about this author