Resort at Castaway Bay: Truth or Dare

Truth or Dare is book one in a new series set on Shipwreck Island off the coast of California. Sydney Whitmore, a forensic psychologist living in San Francisco, moves home to Shipwreck Island, and the resort owned and operated by her family, after tragedy strikes leaving her struggling for a way to make sense of things. After finding out about the assault of an old friend, which has left him comatose, she renews her relationship with Ezra Reinhold, a reclusive billionaire who enjoys poking around in cold cases and has the means to hire the best people to find the answers no one else has been able to.

In book 1 in the series a group of ten high school students go camping but only eight return. The statements those who’ve made their way back have told to Sheriff Sam Stone are so different as to be completely useless. Syd has experience getting the truth out of people so she agrees to help Sam weed though the witness statements to find the truth both are certain exists beneath the lies. Meanwhile Syd’s middle sister Emily has started a new lifestyle blog, her youngest sister Rory is fostering kittens, and Syd renews her relationship with Kelly Green, an FBI analyst she first met while working for the FBI on the East Coast.

Sample Chapter

You can’t outrun your demons. Aunt Charley’s voice echoed through my mind as I leaned
forward slightly and increased my pace in an attempt to do just that. I supposed I knew she was
right somewhere in the back of my mind, although after a particularly long run, the pain in my
body occupied my mind, allowing my soul to rest.

But the relief never lasted. Guilt, I’d learned, was the sort of emotion that bore down into the
darkest corners of your mind, setting up a foothold from which to drive you crazy with thoughts,
which, when examined in the cold light of day, were both destructive and pointless.

My heart raced as I pushed my legs to the limit, running harder and faster as the inky black
night lightened to a predawn gray. Before the incident that would forever change my life, I’d been
happy and optimistic. I was a glass-half-full person in a glass-half-empty world. I’d been the sort
who expected the best in people, and in return, had tried my hardest to give others the best of

And then Conrad Baker came into my life.

As the sky lightened and the last of the stars faded from view, I paused, gasping deeply, as my
heart rate slowed and my lungs filled with clean sea air. Turning toward the east, I willed my mind
to focus on the sky as it turned from gray, to red, to pink, and eventually to blue.

“It’s going to be a beautiful day,” I said to Captain Jack, the terrier mix who lived at the resort
with Aunt Charley, her father-in-law, Hank, my sisters, Emily and Rory, and Emily’s daughters,
Estelle and Esther. “I especially love the way the pinks and grays mix as the sun makes its way
toward the horizon.”

Jack tilted his head, making it appear as if he really was trying to understand. I reached down
to pet him under the chin and then turned and began walking down the beach toward the
westernmost tip of the peninsula. I’d always loved the resort early in the morning when the guests
were still asleep, and it was just me with the birds that flocked to the shore in search of their
breakfast. Sometimes, during my early morning runs, I’d be fortunate enough to see dolphins off
the point, but it looked as if they were sleeping in today.

Once I passed the point, I set off again, slowing my pace just a bit as I neared the old pier that
jutted out into the deep sapphire water that surrounded the island. This particular pier was unique
in its position on the very southern end of Shipwreck Island. Most days, you could stand on the
same pier to witness both the sunrise from the east and the sunset to the west. Deciding to take a
break and enjoy the early morning surfers spread out over the breaking waves, I stepped onto
splintered planks. The waves were somewhat lazy today, which wouldn’t provide much of a
challenge for experienced surfers, but even on days such as this, the sun still shone, and the water
still beckoned.

When I reached the end of the pier, I turned and looked back at the resort where I’d spent a
good part of my childhood. My parents died in an automobile accident when I was nine, so I, along
with my sisters, Emily and Rory, had moved to the resort at the southernmost tip of Shipwreck
Island. Named for Jack Hamilton, the man who built the resort in nineteen thirty-five, it was an
amazing place with pools, restaurants, lodges, and cabanas that stretched out like a long arm
hugging the bay on the east and then jutting out toward the west.

As a child I’d found solace on the sandy shores of Castaway Bay so I supposed it wasn’t
surprising that I’d return when I found myself yearning for solace once again.

Deciding it was best to give Jack a few minutes to rest before we continued, I took out my cell phone and checked my messages.

“This call is for Sydney Whitmore. My name is Yvonne Colton, and I’m a psychologist with
the FBI. I need you to call me to set up the first of what I assume will be a series of sessions in the
aftermath of your incident with Conrad Baker.” The woman then rattled off a phone number as
well as an email address. I had no intention of allowing a brand new psychologist right out of grad
school anywhere near the very up close and terrifying experience I’d had with this particular serial
killer. I hit next and listened to the second of the three messages I had waiting for me.

“Hi, Syd, it’s Colin.” Colin Black was my boss in San Francisco, where I worked as a forensic
psychologist. “I know you’re taking vacation time, and I know I promised not to bother you during
your three weeks on the island, but I had a call from Sheriff Sam Stone this morning. He’s dealing
with a couple missing teens and is looking for help, and I figured that since you’re already there…”
He let the sentence trail off. “Anyway, call me.”

I hit next, figuring I could call him after I got back to the house.

“Hey, Syd, it’s Kelly.” I smiled. Kelly Green was a friend who’d worked for the FBI when I
was just starting out. She’d quit the FBI and moved to Shipwreck Island, so it had been a while
since I’d spoken to her. “Ryder told me that Rory mentioned to him that you were on the island.”
Ryder West was both the mayor of Shipwreck Island and its only veterinarian. My youngest sister,
Aurora, Rory for short, worked for him as a veterinary technician. “I heard about what happened.”
She paused before continuing. “At least I heard part of it. I doubt I have all the facts. Anyway, I
wanted to reach out in the event you wanted to get together. Maybe we could have lunch or go for
a run.” Kelly was a runner like me, and we’d run together when we both lived on the East Coast
during our early years with the FBI. At the time, I was a profiler, and she was a strategist. “If you
want to talk, I’d love to listen. If you want to run in silence, I’m up for that as well. Really, whatever
you need. Call me.”

I slipped my phone back into my pocket, intending to ignore the first phone message. I’d been
careless, and I’d allowed a serial killer to get the upper hand, which had resulted in the death of a
close friend and a near-death experience for me. You could bet I wouldn’t do that again, and I
certainly didn’t need a rookie psychologist to help me deal with my trauma. I was an experienced
agent, and I knew that my trauma was something I was just going to have to work through.
As for the call for help from Colin, I was on vacation, and he had agreed to give me some
space, but I supposed that helping to find a couple missing kids was more important than my need
for time off. I’d call him when I got back to the house.

As for Kelly’s call, I really did want to get together with her. Kelly and I hadn’t been super
close when we’d worked together, but we had been friends and colleagues for many years, and I
realized that I really did want to get reacquainted.

Once I’d deemed Jack to be rested, I headed back down the beach. I figured the family would
be up by now, and Aunt Charley did appreciate it when the whole family showed up for breakfast.
Charley lived with my sisters and nieces in the resort’s main house, which was located on the
ocean side of the peninsula. It was a gated property that provided some level of privacy despite the
dozens of guests who were in residence at any point in time.

“Morning, everyone,” I said after I stepped from the patio into the large, farm-style kitchen
through the back door.

“Wipe your feet,” Charley, a tall thin woman with salt and pepper hair, called as she slipped
something out of the oven that smelled a lot like her famous sausage casserole.

“Something smells good,” I said as I gave Jack a fresh bowl of water.

“Sausage casserole. It’ll be ready in ten minutes.”

“I’m heading up to the shower now,” I said, turning and heading toward the stairs. When we’d
lived here as children, my sisters and I each had our own bedroom suite with a private bathroom
on the second floor. Even after I’d moved out, my room had always been my room until Emily’s
husband had been killed in an auto accident a year ago, and she’d moved back in with Aunt
Charley. Now, my nieces, Estelle and Esther, occupied the room that had been mine. When I’d
decided to come home in the hope of getting my head on straight, Charley had made up the bed in
one of the guest rooms for what we both assumed would be a temporary stay.

As I passed Emily’s room, I poked my head in through the open door. She was twisting her
long dark hair around a finger, and it appeared she was scowling at her computer.

“Hey, Em,” I greeted, taking a step into the room. “Whatcha doin’?”

She looked up. “Trying to figure out my life.”

I walked further into the room, taking a position just behind where she was sitting. “Sounds
serious. Anything specific on your mind?”

She leaned back in her chair, slightly turning so we were facing each other. Her deep blue eyes
were sad, and her expression guarded. It seemed as if she was working up the courage to voice
whatever it was she had on her mind. “It’s been a year since David died.”

I pulled up a chair and sat down next to her. “I guess the anniversary of the accident is coming
up. I’m so sorry.”

She smiled a weak little smile. “Me too. But while I wouldn’t wish the horror of the past year
on anyone, my current angst really isn’t due to losing David. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss him
every day, but I really do think that the girls and I have finally found a way to be in this world
without him.” A tear appeared in the corner of her eye, but like a good soldier, it hung there and
didn’t trickle down her face. “The thing is that while I feel like I’ve worked through the worst of
my grief, I also feel stuck.”


“Maybe stuck isn’t right. Perhaps stagnant is a better word.” She paused briefly and then
continued. “This past year has been a nightmare, but like I said, I think the girls and I have found
a way to move on.” She laced her fingers together. “Estelle is excited to start second grade in a
couple months, and Esther is thrilled to be old enough for kindergarten. And I’m excited that they
are excited to find what the school year will bring, but as I was hemming their back-to-school
dresses yesterday, it occurred to me that while they have something to look forward to, my life has

“Stalled?” I asked, really wanting to understand. “Stalled how?”

She blew out a slow breath. “I’m not really sure. I guess that’s part of the problem. Generally
speaking, I’m happy with my life. I love helping Aunt Charley out at the resort. I love planning
events and getting to know the guests, and you know how much I adore decorating for the holidays. It’s been fun planning menus for the various reunions and receptions we’re becoming famous for, and when the resort is booked during the summer, I do tend to be kept hopping. But sometimes I feel like everything I do is really for Aunt Charley or the family, but maybe now that the girls are going to be in school, it’s time to carve out a tiny piece of my life that is only for me.”

“You have your volunteer work,” I reminded her.

“Which is something I do for the community. I feel like I need to find something that will help
me explore my own interests. I’m just not sure what that might be.”

Okay, I supposed I understood that. Emily was the member of the family who seemed to hold
everything together. She took care of her daughters, helped run the resort, volunteered at church
and in the community, and was always around for Rory and me when we had our own crisis and
needed to talk. “You’re good at so many things,” I pointed out. “I feel like you have a lot of

“Yeah.” She sighed. “I do have a lot of interests, and I suppose honing in on one of them might
be key. I like to write, and I like to cook, so initially, I thought about maybe writing a cookbook,
but I’m not sure that feels quite right. I also thought about selling my crafts at the flea market on
the weekends, but I’m not sure I’d enjoy the selling part of that pastime.” She paused thoughtfully
and then continued. “I thumbed through the help wanted section of the newspaper, looking for a
part-time job that might appeal to me, but then I realized that I didn’t want to be tied down to
specific hours. Being flexible is important to me, and it’s important to the girls as well. I also need
to manage expectations in terms of a time commitment since I do have other obligations.”

I paused to think about what Emily had told me. She really did have many talents, and I was
sure that there were others who’d benefit from what she had to share. “What about a blog?”

“A blog?”

“You’re really good at a lot of things,” I pointed out. “You’re an excellent cook, and the crafts
and decorations you have scattered all around the house and the resort are unique and highly sought
after by almost everyone who stays with us. But you also like to garden and sew. And you love to
entertain. You’re very creative when it comes to repurposing discarded items and finding the
perfect accent to bring a room together. Maybe you should think about doing a lifestyle blog that
touches on all these things. A blog will give you the chance to focus on different things, and it’s
the sort of thing you can fit in whenever you have extra time.”

“A blog?” She narrowed her gaze just a bit. I could see she was considering my suggestion. “I
need to process this a bit, but, conceptually, I think the idea has possibility. I mentioned before
that I’d considered a cookbook, but if I focus on a broader subject matter, I can write about
whatever I’m working on at the moment.” She tapped her index finger on the table she’d been
working at, as she seemed to be considering things. “Maybe I’ll just start with an introduction of
sorts and then take it from there. Most of my best ideas are spontaneous, so perhaps it would be
best if I kept the door open to go wherever my muse takes me.”

“I think that’s a good idea, and if you do decide to do a blog, I think it’s going to be awesome.
You’re definitely the queen of all things domestic and creative in our family. I know there are
women out there, and maybe even a few men, who will love to hear what you have to share.”

She leaned over and hugged me. “Thanks, Syd.”

“Anytime, little sis.” I glanced toward the stairs. “I need to head upstairs and jump in the
shower. Aunt Charley almost has breakfast ready.”

“I should grab the girls and head down as well. Will you be home for dinner?”

“I should be. I’ll call you if I’m not going to make it.”

“I’m making fajitas.”

I did love Emily’s fajitas. “I’ll be here one way or the other.” I took a few steps toward the
stairs. “Oh, I ran into Rita in the lobby when I passed through on my way out for my run. She
wanted me to remind you that the Millers are arriving today.”

The Miller family had been coming to the resort since Emily, Rory, and I were kids. They had
three sons, all grown and married by this point, but the Miller boys and the Whitmore girls had
had a lot of fun together during those long-ago childhood summers.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them.” I lowered my voice. “It’s awesome that they were able
to come for Charley’s birthday.”

“That did work out well,” Emily agreed. “Especially since it’s her sixtieth.”

“Do you think she knows that you’re planning a party?”

Emily shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’ve put all sorts of diversions in place. Martha Miller
knows what we’re doing, and she’s agreed to help me with the planning.”

“When you suggested a surprise party, I wasn’t sure, but I actually think you might pull this

“Oh, I’ll pull it off.” She grinned.

Knowing Emily, she’d do just that. Heading down the hallway to my room, I grabbed some
clean clothes and then headed to the guest bathroom across from the two guest bedrooms. Stripping
off my sweat-drenched clothes, I stepped into the glass enclosure. Allowing the cool spray to wash
over my head, I paused to consider how I’d gotten here.

Emily, Rory, and I were born in San Francisco to John and Gwen Whitmore. My mom had
planned to have three children all along, but she didn’t want them too close together, so I’d been
eight when Rory was born. Our parents had been killed in an auto accident when I was nine, Emily
was five, and Rory was one. Charley was Mom’s sister and had offered to take us in. The three of
us had lived here at the resort with Charley and Uncle Bobby during our formative years. When I
graduated from high school, I went to college at Berkeley and then did post-graduate work in
psychology at Stanford. During my time at Stanford, I applied for and was granted an internship
at the California State Prison in Vacaville. The internship only lasted a few months over the
summer, but it was enough to change the course of my career, causing me to leave a career as a
therapist behind and seek a career in the criminal justice system.

Apparently, I was good at what I did, and after graduation, I headed to Quantico for training
as a profiler. I lived and worked on the East Coast for quite a few years, but eventually decided I
wanted to be closer to home and family, so I took a job with the FBI based in San Francisco.
Things had gone as planned, and I loved my job, loved my friends, loved my life, and was generally
very happy. Then, four months ago, I was assigned to a case involving a serial killer named Conrad
Baker, and from that point forward, things began to go downhill. I knew it was my fault that Faith was dead. Everyone had tried to tell me it wasn’t, but I knew better. After my team and I had been successful in identifying the man we referred to as the Gemini Killer, we’d been determined to locate and arrest the guy. I’d stumbled onto a lead that I wasn’t really sure would pan out but had a good feeling about, so Faith and I set off to a house north of
the Golden Gate Bridge to check things out. When we arrived, I’d suggested we split up and look
around rather than waiting for backup, even though I knew doing so went against protocol. I’d
become overconfident and even somewhat cocky after being the one who realized that the tattoo
on each victim’s shoulder was the symbol for the astrological sign of Gemini and not a Roman
numeral two, as investigators had assumed for years. That realization led to the discovery that all
the victims were twins, which led to a much better profile than the profile the team had been
working from, which led to the name and identity of our elusive killer.

Once I had the man in my sights, I’d grown impatient, and that impatience had caused me to
be careless, leading to the mistake that resulted in Faith’s death and my being taken hostage. A
good friend and excellent agent had died that day, and Conrad Baker had almost gotten away. I
knew it shouldn’t have played out that way. I’d missed the hints that should have alerted me to the
fact that the man I helped profile had become a very real threat and that I should never have
underestimated his ability to gain the upper hand.

After rinsing the shampoo from my hair, I applied conditioner and began to soap my legs. I
had to admit that my pasty white legs had turned a nice golden brown in the past week. Not that I
really cared since I wasn’t the sort who gave much thought to how I looked.

After rinsing off, I pulled one of the thick bath sheets off the rack and wrapped it around my
body. Like all the women in my family, I was petite, and my figure tended to run on the thin side.
Emily was the only Whitmore sister to develop much of a figure, which had caused a bit of jealousy
on my part when we were younger. Her eyes were blue but darker than the aqua blue that Rory
and I shared. Unlike me, who was headed for a big life and a big career, Emily seemed determined
to find her prince and have a family. And she’d done just that. She’d married a really nice guy
named David Rose, who shared her dream of a traditional family where the wife cooked and
entertained and stayed home with the children. It wouldn’t have been my cup of tea, but Emily had
been happy until David died and her world had come crashing down around her.

I dried my skin and slipped on white shorts and a yellow top while I thought about my baby
sister, Aurora. No one ever called her that since she preferred Rory, and it seemed everyone else
did as well. When I’d been a teenager living on the island, I couldn’t wait to head off to college
and spread my wings, but Rory had seemed quite content to stay. After Rory graduated from high
school, she worked in several dead-end jobs until she eventually went to work with Ryder West,
who encouraged her to get the training she’d need to work as a veterinary technician. Rory seemed
to love her job, and from what I’d heard, Ryder loved having her as his veterinary technician as

Once I wiped down the bathroom, I dumped my towels and soiled clothes in the hamper and
headed downstairs.

“How was your run?” Rory asked after I’d returned to the kitchen where the entire family had

“It was good.” I tugged on her long brown ponytail the way I had for most of our lives. “Jack
and I hoped to see dolphins, but I guess we missed them. It was a gorgeous sunrise.”

“One of the best we’ve had for a while,” Charley agreed as she tossed her long braid over her
shoulder. While Charley wasn’t a runner, she did seem to enjoy getting up early to putter around
in her garden.

“I heard there was a shark sighting off the point this past weekend,” Hank Hamilton, Charley’s
father-in-law and the current owner of the resort, informed me. Hank was a young eighty-two but
too old to do much of the heavy lifting, so it was Charley who ran things with Emily’s help since
she’d moved home.

“I heard that as well,” I said, grabbing a glass of orange juice and sliding onto a chair. “I noticed
a few signs had been posted, but the surfers were out as always this morning.”

“Personally, I’ll stick to the pool,” Emily shared. She looked across the table at her daughters.

“I want the two of you to stick to the pool as well, even when you have an adult with you.”

“If I saw a shark, I’d punch him in the nose,” seven-year-old Estelle informed the group. With
her black hair and blue eyes, she was going to be as beautiful as her mother.

“I’d kick him in his fin with my swimfin,” Esther, a brown-haired and brown-eyed cutie, added,
not wanting to be outdone.

“What are your plans today?” Charley asked after Emily shooed the girls upstairs to get dressed
once they’d finished eating.

“Kelly Green called and left a message.” I glanced at my youngest sister. “Rory mentioned to
Ryder that I was on the island, and she suggested lunch. I thought I’d call her back after breakfast.
If she’s not busy, I might make plans with her today.” I decided not to mention the call from Colin.
My family had been terrified to learn that I’d almost died at the hands of a serial killer, and I knew
it gave them comfort to believe I was on vacation for the next three weeks, and they need not worry
about me. I glanced at Emily. “Em told me that she’s making fajitas for dinner, so I’ll definitely
be home in time to eat.”

“I’d forgotten that you knew Kelly from Quantico,” Charley said. “Talk about a small world.”

“Kelly and I were surprised to discover that we both had ties to Shipwreck Island when we
met. She’s eight years older than me, and she was a summer-only resident who spent those
summers in a house on the north shore, so we didn’t know each other during our youth.” I took a
sip of my coffee. “Still, it was fun to catch up back then, and I’m looking forward to catching up
with her again.”

Once breakfast was over, I helped clear the dishes and then headed out to the deck to return
Colin’s call. There was no shortage of fabulous places within the resort to sit and while away an
hour, but one of my favorites was the deck of the main house. The main house had been built on
the ocean side of the peninsula, while the lodge and reception area hugged the bay. The view from
the lodge was nice, but I preferred the larger waves that crashed onto the shore on the ocean side.

“Hey, Colin, it’s Syd. What’s this about missing kids?”

“I received a call from Sheriff Sam Stone early this morning. Apparently, ten teenagers went
camping, and only eight returned. Sheriff Stone has interviewed the eight teens who made it down
the mountain in the hope of figuring out what went on up there, but so far, all he’s managed to
come away with are conflicting stories. He called the FBI looking for help with the case, and it occurred to me that you’re already there and uniquely qualified to help him dig the truth out of all the lies.”

Part of me wanted to insist on him honoring my vacation time, but these were kids we were
talking about. “Okay. I’ll call him. Do you have a number?”

Colin rattled off Sam’s digits, and I promised to call the man right away. Once I’d hung up
with Colin, I punched in Sam’s number.

“Sheriff Stone, my name is Sydney Whitmore,” I jumped right in. “I was asked by Colin Black
from the San Francisco office of the FBI to contact you about some missing kids.”

“Yes. Thanks so much for contacting me. I have two missing teens and eight witnesses who
appear to be lying or leaving out parts of their story. Given the nature of the situation, I called
Colin in the hope of gaining help from the FBI.”

“Do you believe the missing teens have been kidnapped?” Kidnapped minors fell within our
jurisdiction, whereas runaway teens would not.

“I’m not sure. I think it’s possible. My deputy and I are alone on this side of the island, and
given the serious nature of the incident, I’d love a second opinion.”

I appreciated a cop who knew he needed help and asked for it. Not everyone we worked with
welcomed our presence in their case. “I happen to be on the island and would be happy to meet
with you about the situation. When would be a good time?”

“I’m up on the mountain with my deputy and a civilian search party. If we don’t find the kids
this morning, I plan to head back and re-interview the eight teens who returned from the weekend
getaway. I can meet you in my office around one-thirty.”

“One-thirty works for me. If your search this morning is fruitful, call me; if not, I’ll see you

With that, I hung up and called Kelly. “Kelly, it’s Syd.”

“Syd! I’m so glad you returned my call. I was surprised to hear that you were here on the
island. I’d love to take you to lunch.”

“I’d love that as well. I have an appointment in Hidden Harbor at one-thirty, but perhaps we
can meet at noon.”

“Noon sounds perfect. How about the Boho Bar and Grill? The sandpit is open for the summer,
and there’s usually good shade at that time of the day.”

“I do love their crab sandwiches. And the view from the grill is one of the best on the island.”

“Great. I’ll meet you there.” She hesitated. “We can talk. Or not. It’s totally up to you.”

“Thanks. I appreciate that. I’ll see you at noon.”

After I hung up, I looked out toward the rolling waves as they made their way toward the sandy
beach. I remember sitting on this same deck when I was a little girl, wondering if I’d ever be happy
again. Rory was just a baby when Mom and Dad died. She knew they were gone, but she didn’t
really understand what was going on or that they were gone forever. Emily was old enough to feel
the pain associated with their loss, but she was young enough to be easily distracted from her pain.
But as a nine-year-old, I was old enough to conceptualize what was going on. I was old enough to experience the terror of an uncertain future and to worry that life as I’d once known it was gone forever.

Jack jumped up onto the lounger I was sitting on. I adjusted my position to allow him to settle
in next to me. Jack was actually Hank’s dog, but he was the friendly sort and quickly became the
resort’s mascot once Hank brought him to live here. I wasn’t sure how old he was. It seemed like
he’d been around for a long time, yet he was still playful and energetic.

I leaned back in my chair and listened to the waves. I let the steady rhythm wash over me as I
tried not to think about Faith or the monster who’d killed her. I knew that the grief that came with
the murder of a loved one would take time to process, but it wasn’t the grief that threatened my
sanity; it was the guilt I knew I could never escape. 

To continue with the story check out Truth or Dare available on Amazon in Kindle, Paperback, hardcover, and audio.

Book two coming in July


Finding Shelter

Below is a sample chapter from the new book in the Rescue Alaska Series – Finding Shelter.

I have nightmares. Sometimes they are real.

The storm raged outside the isolated cabin, whistling and humming through small fractures in the old timber walls, which I assumed had once stood sturdy, but over the years had aged and decayed, allowing wisps of air to leak through. Small windows were framed on three of the walls. It appeared as if at one point they might have featured panes of glass, although now they were boarded with thick sheets of plywood, preventing even a small amount of light from seeping through. I looked around the room and tried to figure out where I was, but nothing seemed familiar. A splintered table surrounded by four rickety chairs had been placed in the center of the room. If I had to guess, that was the area most used by the inhabitants of the small cabin. There were several tables and a few old lawn chairs set around the room, but there didn’t seem to be any electricity. I narrowed my gaze as I tried to take in the entirety of the scene, but the crackling fire and a smattering of oil lanterns that were strategically placed on scarred tables provided the only light in the small dingy room.

I felt a chill run up my spine as I slowly explored the room with my eyes. I knew there must be an opening somewhere, but so far, I couldn’t see a way in or a way out. This was a dream. This had to be a dream. Yet, I felt fully present.

I tried to take a step forward in an attempt to find a door, but my legs felt heavy. Based on the energy exerted for a single step, it felt as if they weighed a hundred pounds apiece. God, I hated dreams where I wanted to move or knew that I needed to run but could barely manage to walk.

Pushing through the anxiety that came with an inability to respond to my natural fight or flight instinct, I slowly looked around the room once again. I knew that I was here for a reason; now, I just needed to have the presence of mind to figure out what that reason might be.

Nothing stood out as being really important. There was an old woman working near what looked to be a small kitchen area. I was sure I’d never met her, and she didn’t seem to be in any sort of distress. I watched as she moved from one chore to the next, but nothing stood out as needing my attention or intervention.

I didn’t see anyone else in the old wooden cabin, but I supposed someone might be sitting out of my line of sight. Closing my eyes, I tried to enhance my other senses. I could smell the sap burning off the logs in the fire. I could sense the old log walls rattling and shaking with each gust of wind yet the sound they might make as they moved about was unavailable to me for some reason. I could feel the cold seep in through fissures in the wood. I opened my eyes as I realized that if I could get close enough to the cracks in the log walls, I might be able to peek outside and figure out where this cabin stood.

Once again, I tried to move forward, but as had been my previous experience, with each step I tried to take, the heavier my legs became. It was almost as if my legs were not my own.

Perhaps moving toward the wall wasn’t that important. My instincts told me it was night, and, therefore, there wouldn’t be anything to see even if I should eventually reach my destination. I paused as I tried to decide what to do. The old stone fireplace, which was located on the wall furthest from the door, appeared to hiss and snap as burning logs chased the worst of the chill from the room. Its warmth was welcoming, so I turned slightly and headed in that direction. This time, my legs cooperated.

As I neared the fireplace, I watched the old woman, gnarled and bent with age, dish whatever was heating in the pot on the old woodstove into a bowl with a cracked rim. She set the lid back on the pot before grabbing a spoon from the sink and disappearing down a dark narrow hallway. I hesitated as I focused on the hallway. I wanted to follow but was having a hard time getting started. Eventually, my legs cooperated. As I headed down the shadowy abyss, I had to wonder again about the context of the dream. The hallway I traveled was unlike any I’d ever experienced. This hallway was not only dark, but it seemed endless as well. As I ventured further into the void, the darkness seemed to repel the warmth and light from the outer room.

I stopped walking as I saw the child. I stepped forward and peered around the old woman whose movements I’d been following. I watched as the old woman walked into what appeared to be a bedroom. A young girl, who looked to be around twelve, was sobbing uncontrollably as the old woman approached. I was sure I’d never seen the child before, and I certainly had no idea why she was locked in the room at the end of the void, but while I didn’t know her name, I immediately recognized the terror in her eyes.

I could see her mouth moving, but I couldn’t hear her words. Her blond hair was stuck to wet cheeks stained with tears. If I had to guess, she was sobbing to be set free.

I waited to see what the old woman would do, but she didn’t respond. She didn’t make eye contact with the girl or offer comfort or sympathy of any kind. She simply set the bowl she’d brought on the table next to the old iron bed, turned, and walked back into the void.

I didn’t follow immediately. I took a minute to watch as the girl shoved the food aside, curled up into a ball, and cried even harder. Sensing the girl’s fear, I tried to reach out to her, but when I attempted to speak, I found that I had no voice.

I hated these sorts of dreams. I hated the feeling of helplessness that came from knowing someone was in trouble and wanting to help but being helpless to do so. I tried to reach out to the young girl, willing her to know I was there, but she simply lay on the filthy mattress, with the covers pulled over her head as she tried to hide from her pain.

Once again, I tried to step toward the child, but as I struggled to move forward, I felt myself being pulled back. Back to my small cabin in the woods. Back to the reality in which I lived during my waking hours. Back to the comfort and security that I knew the child in my dream might never again enjoy.

My heart continued to pound as I slowly opened my eyes. The room was dark but familiar. I was lying in my bed. Like in my dream, a storm raged outside, causing the walls of my rustic cabin to rattle as the wind whistled through windows in need of sealing. Sensing my restlessness, my golden retriever, Honey, had worked her way up from the bottom of the bed where she usually slept and laid her head on my chest. I ran my hands through her thick winter coat as my therapy cat, Moose, snuggled in beside me. Unfortunately, vivid dreams were a regular part of my life as of late, and the routine of waking in the middle of one to a pounding heart and cold sweats was an event the animals were becoming used to.

“It’s okay,” I said aloud as my wolf hybrid, Denali, moved to the bedroom door and began growling deep in his throat. Denali was my protector, and I suspected that although he couldn’t sense any real danger, he could sense my distress and duress, which disturbed him. “It was only a dream.”

Only a dream.

I rolled the concept around in my mind as my search-and-rescue dog, Yukon, jumped up onto the bed and settled into the spot at the foot of the bed Honey had deserted when she’d crawled up to my side. Had it only been a dream? There’d been a time when the reality I experienced during sleep and the reality I experienced during wakefulness were clearly discernable. But lately, it seemed that the border between my dreams and visions had muddied, leaving me feeling unsettled with every nightmare that invaded my subconscious mind.
Perhaps what I’d just experienced was a sleeping vision. I’d had them before, and each time I had such a vision, my inner voice had been trying to share something important with me. Something I really needed to pay attention to. When I’d first been “gifted” with the ability to sense and actually “see” those I was meant to rescue, my experience had been contained to that specific circumstance. An individual would become lost or injured, and the search-and-rescue team I volunteered for would be called in. I’d focus on the victim, and if I was able to make a connection, more often than not, I was able to help the rest of the team find the person they’d set out to find.

In the beginning, I’d considered my ability to be a gift.

But now? Now that my ability to see the thoughts and movements of others had begun to expand and mutate, I was becoming more and more convinced that my gift was actually a curse.

“Maybe we should just get up,” I said to the animals, who were never able to really settle back down after one of my abrupt awakenings.

Yukon jumped down off the bed where he joined my three-legged dog, Lucky, on the floor. I gave Moose a tiny shove so I could work my way toward the edge of the bed, which caused him to jump down onto the floor as well. Denali had already moved into the main room of my small cabin, which caused my husky mix, Shia, to follow him. Grabbing a heavy robe, I slid my feet into knee-high slippers and made my way out of the bedroom and into the main room. Tossing a log on the fire, which had burned down to embers as we slept, I opened the door of the enclosed porch and called my retired sled dogs, Kodi and Juno, inside. I’d tried to train Kodi and Juno to sleep inside the house, but since they’d been brought up as outdoor dogs, they really didn’t like spending a lot of time inside next to the heat of the fire. I worried about them as they aged, so I’d moved them from the barn to the porch this winter.

Once the log I’d tossed into the fireplace caught and began to heat the room, I turned my attention to making coffee. As I worked, I thought about the old woman in the cabin and the child, who seemed to be a captive. I wondered once again if the scene I’d experienced had simply been a dream or if it had been something more. If it had been a vision and not a dream, then whose mind had I been connected with?

In the dream or vision, I’d watched the old woman bring food to the girl in the bedroom, but I hadn’t been connected with her thoughts or intentions. Likewise, while I’d been able to see the girl in what I was sure was a locked room, I hadn’t felt overly connected with her. I’d been able to observe her behavior but not know her thoughts or experience her emotions first hand.

Maybe my gift was growing and evolving once again. That seemed to be the pattern as of late. At first, all I could do was watch the rescue victims who I was meant to help. Then as time passed, I’d developed the ability to actually read their thoughts and feel their pain, although that connection had initially been a one-way connection where I could sense them, yet they couldn’t sense my presence in their mind. Eventually, my ability to connect psychically rather than just observing the situation had led to my ability to intentionally and deliberately communicate with others at times.

Of course, the evolution of my gift hadn’t stopped progressing there. As time passed, my visions began to leak into my dreams, and many dreams that I experienced became so real that I often awoke crying and shaking.
I supposed as bad as that was, the worst evolution of my gift was the evolution that allowed me to connect, not just with the mind of helpless victims in need of rescuing, but with the minds of vicious killers as well. It was that ability, I was sure, that was causing me to slowly go insane. I suspected it was that ability that had led to the sleepless nights and unending headaches as well.

Once the coffee finished brewing, I settled onto the sofa with a tall mug and wrapped a warm blanket around my shivering body. Honey jumped up onto the sofa and laid her head in my lap. The other dogs settled on rugs in front of the fire. Apparently, this mid-sleep wakefulness had occurred so often over the past few weeks that they recognized the routine. Even Denali, who would usually have remained on high alert had I been startled from sleep before the first rays of light, had happily curled up and gone back to sleep. I had no idea where Moose had wandered off to, but he’d probably gone back to bed. He’d come to me at a time when I’d most needed his ability to center and calm my emotions, but now that the visions and dreams had begun to come so often, I suspected that I was wearing him out.

As I sipped my coffee, I tried to decide if there was something I should do about the dream. If it had just been a dream, then it seemed that now that it had passed, no further action was required, but if the dream had really been a vision…

Of course, even if it had been a vision, I hadn’t picked up enough information to help the girl. I knew that she seemed to have been held captive. I knew that she was frightened, but I didn’t sense that she’d been injured. I knew that she was being held in a small rustic cabin, although I had no idea where that cabin might be located. In my dream, a storm had been raging outside the cabin, and a storm raged outside the cabin I sat in now, so assuming that the cabin in my dream was an actual place and not a figment of my imagination, perhaps the cabin in my dream was nearby. I tried to hone in on the face of the old woman, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t bring her features into focus.

I wanted to help, but I really didn’t know how to do that. I supposed I could call my good friend, Police Chief Hank Houston. Houston knew about my ability, and if he had an open missing persons case relating to a young girl with blond hair and huge brown eyes, maybe what I’d seen could help him. Making the decision to call him once he’d arrived at his office, I uncurled myself from the sofa and headed into the kitchen for a second mug of coffee. As I wandered back into the main room, I noticed the light on my answering machine flashing. While most folks in this day and age had replaced their old machine with voicemail connected to their cell phone account, cell service where I lived was spotty at best during a storm, so I had both.
I pushed the button. “You’ve reached Harmony Carson; please leave a message.” I waited for the message to play. “Hey, Harm, it’s Harley.” Harley Medford was an actor and the benefactor of the Rescue Animal Shelter. Until he came along and donated both the building to house the facility and the cash to run it, Rescue hadn’t had a shelter, which is most likely how I’d ended up with so many animals. “I’m not sure if you remember, but I have a movie starting this month, so I’ll be out of town for eight to ten weeks. We discussed the fact that you’ll need to spend additional time at the shelter during my absence. I hope that’s still okay. Call me anytime on my cell phone. If I can’t answer, I’ll call you back when I can. Love you.”

As the message ended, I thought about my absolutely gorgeous, kind, and generous friend. There was a time when I was sure he was the man of my dreams, but since Harley had moved back to Rescue and I’d begun spending a lot of time with him, I realized we really were better off as friends. Close friends. Best friends. But friends all the same.

It was much too early to call Harley back, so I grabbed my cell phone, which actually had bars for once, and texted him to let him know that I’d gotten his message and would handle everything while he was away. Between my job at Neverland, the bar and grill my brother-in-law, Jake Cartwright, owned, and my time at the shelter, which was the enterprise nearest and dearest to my heart, I was going to be a busy woman. I just hoped the dream that had interrupted my sleep early this morning would resolve itself before I went completely insane.

Read the rest of the book in Kindle or Paperback format:




A New Series and a Sample Chapter

I’m really excited to introduce you all to a new series launching this fall. Gooseberry Bay is an open ended series so there are no set number of issues going in. I plan to explore these characters for a while and see how it goes but I can see a lot of potential with this setup.

The series is set in Washington State and features a quaint little town tucked into the end of a beautiful little bay somewhere within the labyrinth known as Puget Sound. The series features Ainsley Holloway, a instigative reporter turned PI, whose father recently died so after finding clues while cleaning out his attic she decides to go searching for answers about her mysterious past. She was raised by the cop who rescued her as a child, and while her life to this point has been full and happy, she always has wondered who she was and where she came from before she was found alone in a burning warehouse. 


Preorder Halloween Moon: 

Preorder Thanksgiving Past: 

Preorder Gooseberry Christmas:


Ainsley is first introduced when she visits Holiday Bay and spends a few days as a guest at the inn with Abby and Georgia. After she speaks to Abby and realizes the house in the photo she found within the mementos left behind by her father is most likely located in Washington State and not in Maine, she heads in that direction. If you’d like to start at the very beginning you can find Ainsley’s trip to Holiday Bay here: 


Gooseberry Bay:

A heartwarming mystery series about finding answers and fostering hope while building friendships and embracing the magic of life by the sea and small town holidays.

Ainsley Holloway had come to Gooseberry Bay to find answers about her past. She’d come to find an explanation for the dreams that haunted her after the death of the cop who’d both rescued and raised her. And she’d come to identify the family she couldn’t remember but knew in her heart she’d once belonged to.

Ainsley hoped that by finding these answers, she’d also find healing. She hoped that once she’d resurrected the memories buried deep in her mind, she’d find peace.

The Cottage at Gooseberry Bay is a series about, not only finding answers, but finding hope.

It’s a series about family and friendship.

It’s a series about shared holidays, festivals, and celebrations.

It’s a series about shared heartbreak and hardship.

And it’s a series about the bond that can be forged amongst strangers when tragedy binds two or more individuals with a common goal.

In book 1 in the series, Ainsley arrives in Gooseberry Bay only to find there will be no easy answers as she’d so naively hoped. Unwilling to leave before she gets what she came for, she rents a cottage on the sea where she and her dogs, Kai and Kallie, can settle in and wait.

Her first night in town she meets a young woman who is later found dead. The local sheriff has labeled the death of this young woman a suicide based on a text message she’d sent before she died. But Ainsley, who’d spoken to the victim only hours before the text was sent, isn’t quite as sure of the easy answer the sheriff would like everyone to believe.

An investigative journalist by trade and cops daughter by upbringing, Ainsley never had been the sort to walk away from unanswered questions, so with the help of new friends she meets along the way, she initiates a parallel investigation which seems to indicate the sheriff’s real motivation in trying to sell the suicide angle to the community is to protect the interests of a very rich and very powerful man.


Halloween Moon – Chapter 1:

Life, I’ve been led to believe, is a journey of choices, linking the past to the future in a unique sequence that cannot be foretold and will not be complete until the final choice has been made. I like to think I’m the master of my story, weaving a tale I’ve crafted with each decision I’ve made, but as I stood peering across the inlet at the house that had haunted my dreams, I knew in my soul that every choice I’d made up to this point had actually been part of a predestined series of events leading me to this exact place in this exact moment in time.

As I’d envisioned, the house sat impressively on the edge of a tall bluff overlooking an expanse of murky water that seemed to stretch endlessly into the dark sky. I’m certain that on a sunny day, the view from this particular perch would be priceless, but today, as my history and destiny collide, the heavy air settled around the rambling structure, leaving only an imprint chiseled firmly in my mind.

“He’d like it here,” I said to my dogs, Kai and Kallie, who were waiting patiently for me to continue our walk. “It’s odd that I can feel his presence. I have no reason to believe either he or I have ever been here at any point in the past, and yet…”

And yet, a distant memory tugged at my mind. It was blurry and out of focus, and I wasn’t even sure it was a memory and not the remnant of a dream. Still, I supposed it was the and yet that had led to my decision to put my life on hold in order to find the house in the first place.

Glancing at the photo in my hand, I allowed my mind to filter back to the dreams that had become both frequent and vivid during the past several months. There was nothing particularly spectacular or unusual about the image of the woman standing on a porch with two young children, and I’m not sure why I’d even given the photo a second look, yet from the moment I’d first stumbled upon it in my father’s attic, a spark had ignited, which had led to the dreams. Those dreams had fueled my imagination, and eventually planted a seed, which, over time, grew into an obsession. An obsession, I realized, that wouldn’t allow me to rest until I found the answers I’d traveled over three thousand miles to find.

Kai nudged his nose into my hand, causing me to look down once again.

“Is that your subtle way of telling me we should continue on into town and find a place to stay for the night?”

Kai barked once, placing a paw on my leg. I gave him a scratch behind the ear and then called for both dogs to follow me back to the SUV I’d left parked on the side of the road. I popped the hatch, and Kai and Kallie jumped in. Closing the rear door, I checked the latch and then headed toward the driver’s side door. Sliding inside, I turned the key in the ignition, checked my mirrors, and then pulled away from the side of the narrow road that hugged the shoreline leading out to the small town where I hoped to find lodging. The drive through the deeply wooded forest toward the small town was lovely despite the fog, which had begun to lift as I headed south. The recent rain had resulted in a series of small creeks that rolled and trickled down through the pine, hemlock, spruce, cedar, and aspen that covered the mountainside.

Gooseberry Bay was tucked into a forested area that was bursting with color. Vine maples tangled with the wild rose that thrived in the area, creating a breathtaking palette beneath the heavy canopy of the larger trees. I was tempted to stop, dig out my camera, and try to capture the brilliance of the day now that the fog had begun to roll out, but it was late, and I still needed to find a place to stay for a few days. As I neared the small town, a boardwalk appeared to my left. The wooden walkway, which hugged the water for what seemed like miles, was crowded with local vendors peddling their goods and services to the throngs of people who’d turned out to enjoy the near-perfect afternoon. I found the colorful carts, bright yellow pumpkins, and black and orange lights charming. The road forked just after a sign announcing a Halloween festival. Slowing slightly, I took the fork to the right and crossed a narrow bridge that rumbled and groaned as I drove from the road toward the parking area of the inn I’d found with my lodging app.

I parked in the spot designated for those checking in. The inn was a long L-shaped building, with two stories of wood construction, and based on the number of chimneys, there were at least six fireplaces. Planter boxes lined the wooden walkway leading guests to the front door. I had the feeling the boxes were changed out seasonally since they were currently rich with flowers in red, orange, yellow, and gold. The front porch was covered with a line of rocking chairs. Scarecrows, who seemed to be guarding the bright orange pumpkins that were set all about in a haphazard fashion, were tied to the railing, which supported the roof.

Rolling down the windows, I assured the dogs I’d just be a minute and then headed toward the front of the building. I knocked on the front door, wondering if perhaps I should just go on in. The facility was an inn, and therefore should be open to the public, so perhaps knocking wasn’t a requirement.

“Can I help you?” a woman with long dark hair, brown eyes, and a wide grin greeted me.

“My name is Ainsley Holloway. I’m hoping you have a room for a few nights.” I glanced behind me. “One that allows dogs.”

The woman, who looked to be only an inch or two taller than my five-foot two-inch frame, glanced over my shoulder at the two huge dogs waiting patiently for me to return. “Those are big dogs. I bet they weight more than you do.”

“They do. But they’re trained and well behaved. If you rent us a room, I promise they won’t be a problem.”

The woman smiled at the dogs and then looked back in my direction. “I do love dogs and normally would consider your request, but I’m afraid the inn is booked solid. It’s Halloween, you know. The town is famous for our Halloween festival, and with the full moon landing on Halloween this year, there are even more tourists in town than usual.”

I sighed. “I understand. I’d forgotten that it was Halloween or the weekend for that matter until I saw the sign about the Halloween festival. I don’t suppose you can suggest an alternative lodging property that accepts dogs?”

She slowly shook her head. “I’m afraid that finding lodging that will accept two huge dogs is going to be a problem in our little town, especially during this time of the year when tourists come from all around to see the fall colors.”

My smile faded. The dogs and I had camping gear with us, but I’d really been looking forward to a hot shower.

“How long will you be in town?” the woman asked.

I shrugged. “I’m not sure. A few months. Maybe longer.” I glanced back toward the car. “I’m here to do some research, so the duration of my stay is open-ended. I’d hoped to find a place to stay for a night or two while I looked for a more permanent lodging property that would rent to me by the week or even the month.”

The woman rolled her lips and then nibbled on the bottom one gently as she appeared to be considering an idea. “I do know of a place. It’s a cottage and not an inn. I’m afraid it is a bit run down, but it sits right on the water at Gooseberry Bay, which is lovely this time of the year.”

“And you think the owner of this cottage would rent to someone with two dogs?” I glanced back toward the car. “Two large dogs?”

She nodded. “I inherited a large piece of land with five cottages from my uncle, who recently passed away. The four rental cottages are in pretty good repair, but I’m afraid that the cottage Uncle Bucky used as his personal residence is pretty run down. To be honest, the place needs some tender loving care. A lot of it. My plan is to fix it up and then rent it out along with the others, but I’ve been too busy as of late to get to it, so it’s still just sitting there lonely and abandoned. If you don’t mind living in a space that is pretty run down, I’d be willing to rent it to you and your dogs for as long as you want to stay.”

I smiled. “That would be great.”

“I’ve cleared out Uncle Bucky’s personal belongings, but the place will need a good cleaning.”

“I don’t mind. Really. I’m sure you can imagine how hard it is to find lodging with two enormous dogs.”

“I can imagine. And the place, while shabby, is livable. The plumbing is functional, the fireplace has been cleaned and cleared for use, and the electrical seems to be up to code, but the paint is shot, and the flooring is in desperate need of replacing.”

“That’s totally fine,” I assured the woman once again. “The kids and I won’t mind peeling paint or scratched up flooring.”

She nodded. “Okay. Let’s go and take a look. Just let me grab the keys.” She turned back toward the interior of the charming inn, but then turned back. “My name is Hope Masterson, by the way.”

I held out a hand in greeting. “As I said, I’m Ainsley Holloway.” I angled my head toward the car, where the dogs were patiently waiting. “The dogs are Kai and Kallie.”

“I’m happy to meet you. Now let me grab the keys. The cottage is just a couple miles down the road.”

I climbed back into my SUV and followed Hope through town past cute cottage style buildings that lined the road opposite the bay. Just after we passed the harbor, she turned onto a dirt lane that twisted into the woods before opening up to a wide-open space where several parking spaces were marked. “Everyone who lives in the cottages parks here. I’m afraid that means you have to haul groceries and supplies in, but the isolation of each waterfront cottage makes it worth the effort to most.”

“Wow. This is gorgeous,” I said, gasping at the perfection of the whole thing.

“Grab the dogs, and we’ll take a look.”

I walked around my SUV and opened the hatchback. The dogs jumped down onto the dirt lot and sat down beside me, waiting for further direction.

“Can I pet them?” Hope asked.

I looked down at the dog sitting by my left leg. “Kallie approach,” I said in a relaxed, yet firm voice.

Kallie slowly approached Hope and then sat politely just in front of her.

“When you told me your dogs were polite and well trained, I figured that meant they didn’t chew the furniture or pee on the floor, but this dog is amazing.”

“My dad was a cop. He was in the canine unit until he made detective. We always had a dog living with us when I was growing up, and my dad always made sure they had the best training.” I looked down at my best friends. “Kai and Kallie haven’t been officially trained as service dogs, but I got them when they were pups, so they learned manners from an early age.”

After a moment, I called Kallie back and allowed Kai to approach and meet Hope. Normally, I didn’t keep them reigned in quite this tightly, but I wanted to be sure they didn’t do anything that would cause the owner of the little cottage to change her mind about renting it to us.

“The cottages are just down this trail,” Hope said once I’d recalled both dogs.

Hope began to speak as we set off down a well-worn dirt trail. “The five cottages are arranged on a piece of land shaped like a long peninsula. Each cottage has a view of and access to the water. The cottages are spaced far enough apart so that it feels as if you are alone on the peninsula, but I can assure you that the other four cottages are occupied with folks you’ll want to get to know.”

“I look forward to it.”

Hope paused at a trail that veered off the main trail to the left. “This little footpath leads to the cottage occupied by one of my very best friends, Tegan Walker. She owns and operates a bar and grill just about half a mile down the road from the inn. The Rambling Rose is open for breakfast through dinner, and the bar remains open until nine on weeknights and eleven on Fridays and Saturdays.”

“Good to know.”

“The food is excellent, and it’s a good place to meet some of the locals.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

Hope started walking again. “The next little footpath leads to the cottage occupied by Booker Maguire. Booker is currently dating Tegan. He’s a nice guy who works at the harbor. If you need to rent a boat for some reason, he’d be the one to see.”

“I’ll keep that in mind as well.”

“This next footpath leads to the only two-bedroom cottage on the property. It’s currently occupied by Josie Wellington and Jemma Hawthorn. Josie works at the bar and grill with Tegan, and Jemma is a computer geek, who works remotely for a company based in Seattle.” She paused at the next footpath. “This is our footpath, but if you continue on around the peninsula, you will come to the fifth cottage, which is occupied by a helicopter pilot named Cooper Fairchild. Coop owns his own bird, so he’s a good guy to know if you need access to immediate transportation.”

“Good to know,” I said, although I couldn’t imagine ever needing to rent a helicopter.

Hope turned onto the footpath that wound through what looked to be blackberry bushes. I’d noticed that a lot of different types of berries grew in the area. Blackberries, raspberries, gooseberries. The berries were past their peak by this point, but perhaps if I was still in the area next year, which was actually sort of doubtful, I could check out the possibility of harvesting some of the fruit.

“And this is the cottage I was speaking of,” Hope announced as a small cottage perched right on the water came into view.

“It’s lovely,” I gasped, wondering how I’d been so lucky to have inquired about this place at a time when it was empty. The cottage was small, only a single bedroom, small bath, kitchenette, and living area. But it did have a fireplace and huge windows overlooking a deck, which overlooked the sea. There was also a bonus room of sorts at the top of a narrow stairway off the kitchen. The room was small, more of an attic space that had been completely encircled with windows. Hope explained that her uncle had converted the attic space for use as an art studio. Being in the room felt a bit like being in a fishbowl, but the view was stunning.

“The landmass across the inlet,” I asked after stepping out onto the deck, “is that Piney Point?”

“It is.”

“But how can that be? I stopped on the bluff along the way to get a peek at the point, but I drove quite a way south after that.”

“You must have stopped on the northwest corner of Gooseberry Bay. We’re on the south side of the bay now. From the northwest point, you would have continued south toward the town, but then the road curved and hooked back toward the north once you reached the harbor. After we left the inn, we traveled further north, and this cottage is located on the very northern tip of the peninsula, which is surrounded by Gooseberry Bay on one side and Piney Inlet on the other.”

I looked across the bay and realized the land on the other side was the same piece of land I’d been standing on an hour ago. How odd that I hadn’t realized we’d changed direction so radically. I glanced across the inlet toward Piney Point and wondered for the hundredth time since I’d set out on this journey what exactly it was fate seemed to be leading me toward. The fact that I’d end up staying in a cottage overlooking the very house I was here to research was just too much of a coincidence, even for me.

“Do you know who owns the house on the point?” I asked.

“Two brothers: Adam and Archie Winchester. Adam is a great guy, but he travels a lot and is rarely around, but Archie and I are good friends.”

“Does anyone else live in the house?” I wondered.

“They employ a woman named Ruth. She cooks and cleans for the brothers. Is there any particular reason you’re so interested?”

“Sort of, but it’s a long story. I’ll fill you in at a later time.”

Hope nodded. “I need to get back, but if you want to come by the inn before six, you can sign the rental agreement and pay for the first month’s rent.”

I thanked Hope, promised I’d be by, and then headed toward my SUV. It took the dogs and me three trips to get all the stuff we’d brought with us from Georgia transferred from the car to the cottage. Once I’d stowed my suitcases in the bedroom, I opened the large slider and stepped out onto the deck. “Wow,” I said again, for what had to be the hundredth time since I’d been here. The view of the glassy water and hillside splashed with fall colors was almost more than I could take in after only a few moments.

Stepping back inside, I looked around once again. It appeared as if someone had cleaned the place after the man who’d lived here had died, but it also appeared that the cleaning had been a while ago. There was a layer of dust on every surface, so I supposed that if the dogs and I were really going to be comfortable here, I’d need to buy some supplies and give the place a good scrubbing. My plan was to spend as much time in this adorable little town as I needed to figure out why I’d been having vivid dreams about a house I’d never visited. It sounded to me like Hope was willing to enter into an open-ended rental agreement, which given my situation, suited me just fine.

Opening my overnight bag, I grabbed the journal I’d purchased to use more for keeping notes than for jotting down my thoughts. The little town of Gooseberry Bay wasn’t all that far away, but I preferred to get everything I’d need for a day or two in one trip so I could clean the cottage, get the kitchen set up, and ready my life for the intensive research I planned to do.

The first thing on my list was cleaning supplies. The refrigerator had been cleaned at one point and was plugged in and ready to go, so an assortment of food items would be of value as well. I wasn’t much of a cook and had been existing on sandwiches for a good part of my life, so I added bread, meat, cheese, and condiments to the list, along with a couple bottles of wine, a carton of milk for my coffee, coffee, and a coffeemaker since I didn’t see one on the counter, fruit, a few veggies, a box of cereal, and a few doggie treats for Kai and Kallie. I still had dog food from the last bag I’d bought, and I was fine on the vitamins and supplements the dogs took as well.

After opening and closing all the closets, I was able to determine that I’d need a broom and dustpan for the wooden floors, sponges, various forms of liquid cleaner, and gloves for the shelves, countertops, and bathroom, and maybe a few things such as basic plates, bowls, silverware, utensils, pots, and pans.

This would be a start, although I suspected additional visits to town would be in my future over the next few days. I was anxious to dig right into my research, but I knew that feeling settled and establishing a routine would be important to my overall health and ability to focus on the task before me.

I hated to leave the dogs alone in a place they weren’t used to, but they most likely wouldn’t be welcome at the general store, and I wouldn’t be gone long. Laying the blankets they preferred to sleep on over the newer-looking rug someone had left on the living room floor, I called them over, gave them a treat, and then promised I’d hurry back. Kai and Kallie were large dogs who needed a lot of sleep, so I suspected that once I drove away, they’d settle in for a nap that would most likely last until I returned.

My first stop was the inn where I’d promised to return to pay the first month’s rent and sign a rental agreement. Hope invited me in and offered me tea.

“This is lovely,” I said, taking in the pale yellow walls, cream-colored wainscoting, and pretty multi-panel windows looking out over the garden that had been planted on all sides of the large structure.

“I’ve worked hard to give the inn the feel of a cottage in summer.” She crossed the room and took a folder off the desktop. “Let’s head back to the sunroom so we can go through everything.”

I agreed, admiring the perfectly maintained antiques, huge picture windows, and artfully placed landscapes that Hope explained she’d painted herself. Unlike the scuffed floors in the cottage, the hardwood floors in the inn shone, making it appear that someone had just polished them that morning.

“How many rooms do you have?” I asked as we passed the hardwood staircase leading to the second floor.

“Fourteen if you include the rooms with the shared baths in the old wing.”

“You’ve created a very welcoming atmosphere. I imagine that you have guests that return time and time again.”

“I do,” she confirmed. “Mostly in the fall and during the Christmas season when the entire town goes all out to create a Christmas Village.”

Once we arrived in the sunroom, she offered me a seat on the sofa and then presented a standard rental agreement. She took the time to go over a few items, such as the open-ended nature of the agreement and the obligations she as the landlord and me as a tenant might expect. I gave her a check in the amount we’d agreed to and then asked about doing some light upgrades such as a fresh coat of paint to the interior of the cottage. I almost hated to ask since she was already doing me such a huge favor by allowing the dogs and me to stay there, but the warmth and coziness of the inn had inspired me. As it turned out, not only did she agree to the idea, but she was enthusiastic and even agreed to pay for the paint. When she offered me a discount on the rent, if I provided the labor, I knew I’d found not only a landlord but a friend as well.

As we sipped the tea she’d prepared, I asked if she had colors she preferred, which is when she brought out the design magazine she’d been poring over since inheriting the place.

“I really want the cottage to maintain the woodsy feel it has now. I don’t want to replace the hardwood on the walls and floor, but I do want to clean it up, and of course, the place could use a fresh coat of paint. Maybe blue or gray. Something peaceful and tranquil that complements rather than contrasting with the natural beauty of the cove where the cottage sits would be perfect.”

“I totally agree,” I said. “I can already imagine the place with a fresh coat of paint. I’ll stop by the hardware store for some paint samples while I’m in town picking up food and cleaning supplies.”

“A friend of mine owns Hank’s Hardware on Second Street directly across from the Rambling Rose, which sits on the bay,” Hope informed me. “Hank and I have talked about the sort of thing I have in mind. I’ll call him and let him know you plan to stop by. He can make sure you have everything you need, and he’ll just add it to my account, so there will be no need to worry about reimbursement and that sort of thing.”

“That sounds perfect. I might even stop at the bar and grill when I’m done and grab some takeout.”

“Tegan is the best cook in the state. If you like seafood, you should try her chowder. I promise you it will be the best you’ve ever had.”

“I love chowder. I’ll try it.” I looked around the room. “You mentioned that Tegan’s bar and grill was called the Rambling Rose, and I noticed the inn is named the Rosewood Inn. Was it intentional that you have similar names?”

“It was. Actually, Tegan started off here at the inn. She worked in the kitchen for a while, but she really wanted to open her own place, which was a dream I supported. When she finally got enough money together to go out on her own, she was so excited, but she also wanted to maintain the connection to the inn. It’s slow here in Gooseberry Bay during the winter, so instead of employing a chef, I just send my guests to Tegan’s place for breakfast and dinner. We have a voucher system set up. During the summer, I hire a chef, but Tegan supplies all the baked goods and desserts.”

“That actually makes a lot of sense.” I stood up. “I don’t want to leave the dogs for too long, and I have a couple of stops to make, so I should get going. Thank you again for renting the cottage to me. It’s going to make my stay so much more enjoyable than I ever anticipated.”

After I left the inn, I headed toward the general store. It was getting late, so I decided to tackle the hardware store the following day. For now, I just needed some food and cleaning supplies. It would take a few days to feel truly settled, but it would be worth the wait to start my research if I was able to have a place for the dogs and me to live that really felt like home, and so far, Gooseberry Bay felt more like home than anywhere I’d ever lived.

As I entered the downtown section of Gooseberry Bay, I could see that, like many of the other small towns connected by narrow roads, bridges, and ferries to each other and to the larger cities on the mainland of Washington, Gooseberry Bay was all decked out with orange lights, pumpkins, scarecrows, and everything Halloween. I felt a tug at my heartstrings as I stopped for a group of children dressed in colorful costumes who’d been waiting with their parents or another adult to cross the busy street between the boardwalk and the cute little mom and pop shops. I could still remember my father taking me trick-or-treating a time or two. I remembered the fun we’d had going door to door for candy, after which we headed back to the house, opened a can of chili, which we’d eaten while we’d watched a Halloween themed movie.

God, I missed him.

I tried to smile as a father dressed as a doctor waved at me in thanks as his family crossed in front of me on the way to the hot cider stand on the boardwalk. I waved back, but the pain from my loss was too great to enjoy the energy of the little town on this very special night. Once the group had made it safely to the opposite side of the road, I continued down the busy street. Hope had verified that I’d be able to get almost everything I’d need from the general store, so I found a parking space near the front door.

The general store featured housewares on one side and food on the other, so I decided to start with the pots and pans I’d need and then move on to the cleaning supplies, rounding out my trip with the food items I’d added to the list. Of course, by the time I’d placed a coffeemaker, a few inexpensive pots, pans, utensils, silverware, plates, and cups into my basket, it was nearly full. I managed to squeeze in the cleaning supplies, but that left no room for food. I supposed I could come back in the morning since I’d planned to pick up takeout from the bar and grill this evening. It would be nice to have a bottle of wine to sip with dinner, and I would need coffee for my new Keurig. Tucking the wine and a package of K-Cups under my arm, I made my way to the checkout counter.

“You must be Ainsley,” said the young woman behind the counter wearing a witch’s hat and pumpkin earrings when I began placing everything from the basket onto the counter.

“I am. How did you know that?”

The girl, who looked to be in her early twenties, grinned. “My mother, Patty, is good friends with Hope, who happened to mention to her that she’d rented one of the cottages on the peninsula to a visitor who was in town to do some research. Given the fact that you’ve managed to cram everything other than the kitchen sink into that one small basket, I can only conclude that you are new to the area and looking to outfit a rental. Gooseberry Bay is a small town. I put two and two together.”

“I’m impressed,” I said to the dark-haired beauty, setting the ceramic plates I’d selected next to the package of six light blue glasses. “I’m afraid you have me at a disadvantage. You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”

“Cammy.” Her dark eyes flashed with enthusiasm. “Cammy Collins.”

“I’m happy to meet you, Cammy.”

“Did you find everything you need?” she asked as she neared the end of my order.

“Milk. For my coffee,” I remembered. “I forgot the milk. I’ll grab that, and that should do me until tomorrow when I’ll come better prepared to stock my kitchen.”

When I returned from grabbing my milk, Cammy handed me a flier. “Tonight is the big full moon festival. You should go.”

I glanced down at the flier. “Hope mentioned that tonight was the full moon.”

“And Halloween,” Cammy added with a huge grin on her face. “Do you have any idea how epic it is going to be to have the full moon fall on Halloween night?”

“Pretty epic, I would imagine,” I tried for as much enthusiasm as I could muster. “I’ve been traveling for days and am pretty exhausted, so I’m not sure I’m up for dancing under the full moon.”

Cammy began bagging my purchases. “I get it. Partying under the full moon isn’t for everyone, but if you can’t make the celebration tonight, at least come out for the picnic in the park tomorrow. Most of the families in town come, so it’s a good opportunity to meet people.”

“Sounds like fun. What time does it start?”

“The event goes all day, but the softball game is at three. You really have to come for that. I’m pitching this year, so I can guarantee you that my team will win.”

I had to say the girl’s enthusiasm was infectious. “I will definitely try to make it.”

Cammy totaled up my order and told me my amount. After passing her my credit card to pay my bill, I said my goodbyes and then headed out to the parking lot to transfer everything I’d purchased into my car. Just as I was getting ready to leave, a man in a huge black truck drove up, blocking my ability to back up without the risk of hitting him. What was it with men who drove big trucks and their irritating habit of parking like they owned the place? The guy hadn’t even turned off the engine or lowered the volume of the radio he was blasting loud enough to be heard in the next county. My instinct was to stomp back inside the general store and demand that the man move his testosterone enhancer, but I really didn’t want to cause a problem, so in the end, I decided to just wait until he grabbed whatever he’d shown up to grab, and continued on his way.

Deciding to make good use of my time, I texted my best friend, Keni, to let her know I’d arrived in Gooseberry Bay, and I was pretty sure I’d already located the house in the photo. Of course, I would need to get a closer look to know for sure, and I planned to do that as soon as I had the chance, but for now, my gut told me that I was finally nearing the end of my journey.

Keni texted back, excited by my news, and wanted to talk, but since she was in the middle of play rehearsal, she needed to call me later. I sent her hug and kisses emojis and then logged into my email.

There was a newsletter letting all subscribers know about the upcoming holiday festivities at the Inn at Holiday Bay. When I’d stayed in Holiday Bay, Maine before making my trip west, I’d gotten to know Abby Sullivan and Georgia Carter. Abby owned the inn Georgia ran. Both women had been super nice and had even helped me figure out that the house in the photo was more likely on the west coast than the east. I owed them quite a lot since there was no way I’d be as far along in my research as I was if I hadn’t met the women at the exact time in my life I’d needed the advice they’d provided.

It took a bit longer than I thought it should, but eventually, a tall man with blond hair wearing a Seattle Seahawks cap came out of the general store, opened the driver’s side of his truck, and slid inside. He glanced one last time toward the front of the building and then drove away, giving me the room I needed to do the same.

As I was pulling out of my parking space, I noticed Cammy turn the open sign to closed. It was only seven-thirty, and the general store was supposed to be open until eight, but I figured that perhaps she had plans and had made arrangements with her boss to close early. I pulled onto the highway and headed toward the Rambling Rose, never realizing how important my witnessing Cammy’s simple act of turning the sign early would turn out to be in the days ahead.






Summerhouse Reunion

I’ve written the first of what I hope will be a series of three book mini series. The mini series is actually one story told over the course of three books which will publish in April, May, and June. The stories include a mystery, which runs through all three books, as well as two romances, featuring four friends each with their own life changes to deal with. I’ve included chapter one of book one here in this blog for anyone who’d like a sneak peek at what to expect.

Summerhouse Reunion – 

Topsail Sundays – 

Campfire Secrets – 


Chapter 1 – Summerhouse Reunion

Sometimes life is about letting go. Letting go of the way things were supposed to have been. Letting go of unmet dreams and incomplete plans. Letting go of the anger that consumes you as you struggle to make sense of an unfinished life. I’d spent the last year denying the inevitable, negotiating for a different ending, screaming to the heavens that it wasn’t supposed to happen this way, and finally struggling to accept an ending that should never have been.

Letting go, I realized somewhere along the way, was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do.

“It’s a beautiful day.” A woman with white hair walked up beside me as the spray from the rough sea misted my face.

“Yes.” I turned and smiled. The woman looked to be a few years older than my sixty-eight-year-old mother; unlike my mother, however, who simply could not or would not understand the grief that haunted my every waking moment, this woman looked at me with compassion and understanding. “It’s a little rougher than I like my ferry rides, but beautiful all the same. My name is Kelly. Kelly Green. I’m afraid I can’t immediately place you, but I feel like we’ve met.”

“We have met, although it has been a long time since we’ve seen each other. About twenty years, to be more specific.”

My brows shot upward. “Dottie Pemberton?”

The woman smiled and offered her hand.

“Wow.” I reached out and hugged the woman. “I’m so sorry I didn’t recognize you. It’s just that…”

“It’s just that the fifty-two-year-old woman you remember looked a bit differently from the seventy-two-year-old woman standing before you today.”

“Yes.” I stepped back. “I mean, no. I mean, sure, your hair is different, and I guess we all have a few more laugh lines, but still…” I realized I was rambling, so I stopped and hugged the woman again. “How are you?”

“I’m as well as can be expected. I was sorry to hear about Kayla.”

My smile faded just a bit. The death of my twin sister and best friend still hurt almost more than I could bear. I’d tried to do as others seemed to want and hide my pain, but no matter how hard I tried, the simplest thing—a song, a scent, a memory—would remind me just how much I’d lost, and the grief would return in a wave that would envelop me and then cast me into a sea of darkness once again.

“I guess it must have been extra hard with her in a coma for so long and not knowing how things would work out in the end,” Dottie added after a moment.

She had no idea. In reality, Kayla had died a year ago, when a distracted driver had slammed into the car she was driving, but while everyone assured me that her mind was gone, her body had lived on, and as long as she clung to life, I’d clung to hope. Then, two months ago, her distraught husband decided to pull the plug and let her go peacefully, and I knew that my life would never be the same.

“How’ve you been holding up?” Dottie asked. She looked concerned, which I supposed was understandable because I hadn’t said a word since the moment she’d brought up Kayla’s name. “I do understand how difficult something like this can be. I suppose it is even possible to lose ourselves in our grief.”

I cringed as I remembered the random acts of craziness that had been brought on by my overwhelming grief. “It has been hard,” I finally said. “But I’m hanging in there. Some days are harder than others. Some days it doesn’t seem real. But I guess you might understand that. I heard your Harold passed away as well.”

“Yes. Three years ago. He was the love of my life, and I miss him every day.”

I squeezed her hand. “I’m so very sorry. Sometimes I think Kayla’s death would have been easier to deal with if she’d lived a good, long life before passing. Forty-two is much too young. She had so many things yet to do. She had a husband and two daughters who needed her, and she had me, who probably needed her most of all. But then I stop and ask myself if her passing would have been easier if she’d been seventy or eighty or a hundred, and I can’t help but be faced with the truth—when you lose half of your heart, it is going to hurt no matter how long you’ve had together on this earth.”

“It is true that losing someone you love is never easy. How are her husband and daughters holding up?”

I thought about the husband and daughters left behind. “It’s been hard, but the girls are in college now and live busy lives. The accident did occur a year ago, so I guess you could say they’ve had time to adjust. Mark was a mess in the beginning, but he seems to have moved on. He’s even dating.” I exhaled slowly. “Truth be told, I’m really the only one who hasn’t been able to let go. Everyone says I should. Everyone says the time for grieving has passed. But losing Kayla feels like losing half my soul.”

Dottie smiled in understanding but didn’t respond. She turned to watch a pair of dolphins who’d decided to race the ferry, or at least it seemed as if that was what they were doing. I took a moment to rein in my emotions. They still felt so raw, I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that a huge cosmic mix-up had occurred, and Kayla wasn’t meant to die. Not only was she much too young, as I’d pointed out to whatever celestial body might be listening, but in dying, she’d broken a promise, and Kayla was the sort to take any promise she made quite seriously.

A small black bird landed on the railing, not far from where I was still standing next to Dottie. I closed my eyes as I let my mind transport me back in time. I felt the tension fade just a bit as the years fell away, and I conjured up a happier time. I thought about the two little girls who’d looked just the same. Two little girls who were not only sisters but best friends and soulmates as well. I remembered the promise made by those little girls, and I grieved for the hope that had been shattered when that promise was ultimately broken.

When Kayla and I were kids, I guess around six or seven, a friend of ours lost both her parents in an airplane accident. The tragedy was too great for either of us to understand, and I remember that we’d both had nightmares for weeks. The content of our dreams was somewhat different, but the subtext was much the same. We both dreamed of a dramatic event that would rip us from the life we loved, only to be thrust into an empty space, where we’d find ourselves lost and alone.

One night, long after we were supposed to be asleep, Kayla came into my room and climbed into my bed. She was shaking and crying, so I held her close while she shared the depths of the terror she’d been feeling since our friend had been orphaned. I’d been feeling it as well, but I wanted to comfort my sister, so I reminded her that no matter what happened, even if our parents died and we were left alone in the world, we’d always have each other. That reminder seemed to help both of us, so we’d made a pact that we’d always be there for each other, no matter what. We’d even promised to die on the same day, so neither of us would ever have to be alone. As absurd as that might sound, I think there might be a tiny part of me that was angry with Kayla for not upholding her part of the promise.

“So, what brings you to Shipwreck Island after all these years?” Dottie asked after a while.

I tucked a lock of long blond hair that had blown across my face behind my ear before answering. “Carrie Davidson invited me. I guess she had the idea of getting the whole gang together for a long-overdue reunion.”

“So Quinn and Nora are coming as well?”

I nodded. “They are. Carrie rented the summerhouse my family used to own for five weeks.”

“Five weeks. That’s quite the vacation.”

“I’m not sure I’ll stay for the entire period, but I did promise to show up and see how it went. Honestly, I may not have made the effort at all, but this year is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the summer Peggy went missing, and Carrie wanted to do something to commemorate the role she played in our lives.” I turned slightly as a seagull landed on the railing beside me, chasing away the small black bird that had occupied the space. “It’s not that I don’t want to remember her; it’s more that I’m afraid my already raw emotions aren’t going to be able to endure yet another reminder of what has been lost.”

“I remember you were close.”

“The closest. She was like a sister to us, and we never really had the chance to say goodbye. Given the fact that she simply disappeared and no one ever knew what had happened, her family never did hold a funeral. I guess they never gave up hope that she’d find her way back to them.”

Dottie didn’t respond, but I could tell that I had her full attention.

“Carrie thought it would be nice to have a small ceremony,” I continued. “Nothing formal. I think it will be just the four of us.”

“I guess it’s been quite a while since the four of you have been on the island at the same time.”

I nodded. “I was here for Carrie and Carl’s fifteenth anniversary party almost five years ago, but Kayla was on a cruise with her husband, so she didn’t make it, and Quinn was overseas doing a story, so she didn’t make it either. Kayla and I came for our birthday when we turned thirty, but Nora was in Europe, and Quinn was in Africa, so I think the last time we were all on the island together was for Carl and Carrie’s wedding. Wow, I had no idea it had been almost twenty years since we’d all been together.” Where had the time gone? “Of course, now that Kayla is gone, I guess we can never all be together again.”

My heart tightened as I thought of the six little girls who lived different lives but reunited each and every year when our families returned to their summer homes. Carrie’s family lived on the island year round, but Quinn, Nora, Peggy, and Kayla and I lived elsewhere during the school year. I remembered how much I’d looked forward to summering on the island. Those summers were some of the best times of my life. 

“I ran into Carrie at the market a few months ago. She’s lost a lot of weight,” Dottie informed me, changing the subject, which was very much appreciated given my fragile emotional state. “I’d wondered if she might be ill, but her mother told me that Carl had filed for divorce, and Carrie wasn’t dealing with things all that well. I guess I don’t blame her. I can’t imagine having the man you loved and planned to spend your life with decide that he preferred to spend his life with someone else.”

“It has been difficult for her,” I agreed. “I’ve chatted with her on the phone on a regular basis since Carl left, and she just seems so lost. I suppose it’s even worse when Jessica is away at college, and poor Carrie is living in that big, old house all alone. I suggested to her that she should sell the house and buy something smaller, but I think there has been a part of her that’s held on to the hope that Carl would come to his senses and return one day. Of course, now that the divorce is finalized, I guess she doesn’t even have that to hang on to.”

“I don’t know Carl well, but based on what I do know, I think Carrie might be better off without him. I’d noticed him noticing other women for years.”

I hated to admit it, but I’d noticed the same thing almost since the day the two married. “I couldn’t agree more,” I voiced. “Carrie really is better off without Carl, although I would never say that to her. I think she is still at the point where she is totally focused on what she’s lost and is not of the mind to consider what she may have gained with Carl’s departure.”

Dottie shielded her eyes from the sun as the ferry turned toward the island. “I ran into Ryder just last week, and he said pretty much the same thing. Based on what I’ve heard from others on the island, he’s been her rock through this whole ordeal.”

I smiled at the memory of Carrie’s little brother. “Ryder always did have his sister’s back, even though he was younger. Carrie told me he’s the mayor now.”

“Yes, and a darn good one he is. Much better than Mayor Hadley, may he rest in peace.”

I crossed my arms on the railing and looked out to sea. “I’m having a hard time picturing Ryder as mayor. When we were kids, he was such a pest and always in trouble. In fact, I think he was voted most likely to end up in prison by his senior class.”

Dottie chuckled. “He does have a colorful past, and he still tools around town on that Harley of his, but in my opinion, he has done more to bring growth and prosperity to the island than any of his predecessors. The boy might wear his hair a bit too long, and I’m not overly fond of the leather jacket he seems so attached to, but Ryder has vision, and he’s a hard worker. He has a promising future ahead of him.”

“Has he kept his veterinary practice open?”

“He has. Being mayor in a small town like Hidden Harbor is more of an honorary title than a source of income, so all our mayors have had day jobs. Ryder is still very committed to the animals he cares for, but now he is committed to the people of the island as well.”

I shook my head as I tried to picture Ryder West all grown up. I hadn’t run into him during my last two visits to the island, but I had seen him briefly at Carl and Carrie’s wedding almost twenty years before. Even then, he’d showed up in a leather vest and leather pants rather than the tux Carrie had picked out for him. Of course, he’d only been seventeen at the time, which meant he must be thirty-seven by now. I had to admit that most people matured quite a bit in the years between seventeen and thirty-seven.

“I guess you heard that Sheriff Renshaw retired after serving the community for forty years,” Dottie continued.

“No, I hadn’t heard,” I said, raising a brow. “I guess I should have expected as much. He must be well into his sixties now.”

“Sixty-nine. He first started working in law enforcement when he was just twenty-five, and he retired two years ago. He was a good man and a good cop who has been missed, although Sam Stone has done an excellent job as well since he took over the role.”

“Sam Stone is the sheriff?” I had to admit I was even more surprised to hear that than I had been to hear that Ryder West was now the mayor. I seemed to remember that Sam was two years older than I was, so I supposed he must be around forty-four by now. As a teen and young adult, he was very much a wild child, but as I’d already told myself once in the past five minutes, people did tend to change. “I think the last time I saw him was at Carl and Carrie’s wedding as well. I remember that he’d been traveling with a rock and roll band and was getting ready to head out on tour.”

“He did leave the island for almost a decade, but then he came back about ten years ago and joined the force as a deputy. He is a hard worker who is well-liked and highly regarded on the island, so when Renshaw decided to retire, he recommended Sam as his replacement. In my opinion, the lad has done an excellent job filling the very big shoes Renshaw left when he decided to move to Oklahoma.”

“Sheriff Renshaw moved to Oklahoma?”

She nodded. “I guess he has kin there.”

I looped my arm through Dottie’s. “You know, when I boarded this ferry, I had very mixed emotions about returning to Shipwreck Island and Hidden Harbor, but after chatting with you about the people I left behind, I find that I am very much looking forward to becoming reacquainted with the men and women who were such a huge part of my life as a child.” I paused to remember the fun Kayla and I’d had every summer when we were children. The friends we’d made, the trips we’d taken, and the little skip we’d used to learn to sail. “Does Old Man Brewster still run the marina?”

Dottie chuckled. “The old geezer is still policing the fishing boats, the same as he always has.”

“To be honest, I’m surprised he is even still alive. I seem to remember him being about a hundred when I was a kid.”

“Brew has lived his life in the sun, so he looked weathered and aged even when he wasn’t all that old. I think he is about eighty-five now. But he is a young eighty-five. Not only does he have the energy of a man half his age, but he is just as ornery as he ever was.”

I grabbed onto the railing as the ferry made a sharp turn. I could see the island in the distance and suspected we’d be docking within the next twenty minutes. “One of the things I really love about Shipwreck Island is the fact that, while many leave within a few years of moving there, those who stay tend to stay for the duration.”

“That’s true. We do have our share of old-timers. Of course, with the bump in tourism that we’ve seen in the last decade, the number of young families moving to the island has grown significantly as well. I guess you must have noticed all the new housing when you were here five summers ago.”

“Actually, my trip five years ago was a quick one. I came over on the ferry on Friday afternoon, attended the anniversary party Saturday, and then went home on Sunday. I didn’t have the time or opportunity to really look around.”

“Well, you’ll need to take the time during this visit. I think you will be surprised at the changes to both sides of the island in the last ten years.”

A voice came over the loudspeaker announcing that the ferry was preparing to dock.

“It’s been really good catching up with you, but it sounds like we should head down to the car deck. Let’s do lunch while I’m on the island,” I suggested.

“I’d like that very much.”

“Do you have a cell? I can text you my number.”

Dottie nodded. “I do have a cell, but I left it in the glove box of my car. If you text me your number, I’ll text you back, and we can arrange something.”

She recited her number, and I added her to my contacts and texted my number to her right then and there. I knew from prior experience that if I didn’t do it now, I’d most likely forget all about it. We both decided to head down to the car deck, so we chatted as we climbed down the steep stairway to the lower level.

Once the ferry docked, I got in line and followed the cars onto Shipwreck Island. The island was surrounded by deep water that allowed even the largest ships to pull right up to the docks that had been built in key locations over the years. Prior to the island being inhabited, the area had seen more than its share of shipwrecks. Based on what I remembered of local history, there had been more than one cargo ship heading up the coast that had failed to see the landmass in the fog and plowed right into it. Of course, now every ship had sonar, GPS, and various other warning systems. Additionally, the island currently boasted six lighthouses, so it had been at least a century since the island had claimed any new victims.

There were two main towns on the island, which was conveniently located off the coast of Central California. Sea Haven was on the east side of the island and closest to the ferry terminal, while Hidden Harbor was on the west side and accessible only by sea or a narrow road that climbed up over the mountain at its center. Due to the small size of the island, the mountain acted as a natural barrier that tended to keep the two communities separate.

The drive up and over the mountain was gorgeous. The meadows were green and dotted with wildflowers, and the rivers ran full after the steady spring rain. When Kayla and I were children, our family lived in San Francisco, where our father worked as a business banker, and our mother ran a charitable foundation. Both our parents worked a lot of hours, but every June, as soon as school let out, our parents would close up the house in Pacific Heights, and we’d all pile into the van to make the trip to Shipwreck Island for the summer. Mom had a busy social life on the island, and Dad continued to work remotely, but the time we spent in the summerhouse as a family was priceless in my mind.

As I arrived at the summit of Sunset Mountain, I could see the town of Hidden Harbor tucked into the harbor for which it was named. Hidden Harbor was settled by rich families from the city, so although the area was remote, the town and the homes surrounding it reflected the opulent lifestyle of its upper-class residents. As I wound my way down the narrow mountain road, I found my anxiety level increasing with each passing mile.

I really was excited about seeing my friends, but the idea of staying in the same house where I’d spent summers with Kayla left me feeling agitated in a way I couldn’t quite explain. When Carrie had first invited me to the island, I assumed she was inviting me to stay with her in her large home, but after I accepted the invite, she’d sprung it on me that she needed to get away from the walls she felt were closing in on her and had rented the same beachside home my family used to own. While she admitted to feeling better about the choice of location for our reunion, the thought of spending time in the home where I’d once been so happy almost caused me to hyperventilate.

I would admit, however, that the summer home my father designed was pretty awesome. Set on one of the nicest beaches on the island, the views were amazing from every window. When I’d lived there as a child, the home featured four bedrooms and five baths, but the investor who’d purchased the house from my mother after my father’s death had converted the huge suite on the third floor into two, still large but smaller suites.

The second floor of the home featured three bedrooms, all with private balconies overlooking the sea, while the first floor housed a huge kitchen, formal dining and living areas, family and game rooms, two bathrooms, an office, and laundry facilities.

The town of Hidden Harbor, often referred to as the village, was elegant but compact. The village was located behind the harbor, which I supposed made sense because rich men and women who docked their yachts in the harbor for a few days could simply walk into the small commercial area that featured upscale shopping, elegant restaurants, and eclectic bars.

I slowed as I approached the outskirts of the town. I knew I’d need to watch for a fork in the road. The village was to the left, while the summerhouse of my youth was to the right. I wasn’t entirely certain when Carrie planned to arrive, but it was a beautiful, sunny day, so I supposed that if I got to the house first, I’d take a walk along the beach while I waited for her.

“It looks just the same,” I whispered to Kayla as I turned onto the coast road and headed north. “The white sand beach, the sapphire blue sea, the rolling waves, and the endless sky. All of it exactly as we remembered.”

My mother hated it when I talked to Kayla, insisting that I really did need to find a way to let her go, but I knew in my soul that I would never let go of this relationship with the sister who shared my heart.

“I’m excited to see the gang, but I’m also terrified that I won’t be able to handle the memories created by staying in the same house where we lived as children. God, I wish you were here. I wish you could see what I see and feel what I feel. I wish we could sit and chat late into the night the way we used to.”

I wiped a tear from my cheek and forcefully steered my thoughts toward something a bit less emotional. As I drove farther toward the north shore of the island, the empty space between the homes increased, giving the area a desolate feel. Many residents moving to the island wanted to be closer to town, which meant the farther from town you traveled, the more sparsely populated the beachfront property became. The house my family used to own was the last one on the coast road. I didn’t know if anyone had built on either side of it since I’d last visited, but when I was a child, the house stood alone along the northernmost point of the white sand beach.

After arriving at my destination, I stopped to consider the house. It had been a pale yellow when we’d lived there. Now it was sky blue. I liked it. The shutters had been painted a dark gray that contrasted nicely with the white trim, and there was a white screened-in porch. It looked as if someone had installed a new roof as well. The silver Mercedes in the drive informed me that Carrie had arrived. I wasn’t sure if I was happy or sad about that, but it was what it was, so I opened the door of my Porsche and stepped out into the drive.

“Kelly!” Carrie yelled as she ran out of the house and onto the drive. “I can’t believe you’re actually here.”

“I can’t believe it either.” I hugged her back.

She pulled away just a bit. “Let me look at you. It’s been so long, but you look just the same.”

I smiled. “I don’t know about that, but I will admit that I haven’t updated my look in ages.” I dug my fingernails into my hand to stop the tears pooling in the corners of my eyes. “You look fabulous and so different. I guess you went the opposite route and changed everything.”

She laughed. “Divorce will do that to you. After Carl left, I looked in the mirror and decided I wanted to change everything about myself. I lost thirty pounds, bleached my brown hair blond, cut it short, and even got blue contacts. Now, when I look in the mirror, I no longer see the frumpy, outdated woman Carl couldn’t wait to replace, but a new woman he most definitely would have looked twice at had we not already been married.”

I supposed I understood why Carrie might want an entirely new look after her husband of twenty years dumped her for a younger woman, but when I looked in the mirror, I saw not only my old, familiar image but Kayla as well. I knew that I would cling to that for as long as I could and wouldn’t change a single thing about my look, no matter how outdated my long hair and simple style became.

“Grab your stuff, and we can choose rooms,” Carrie said. “Personally, I think the two of us should settle into the two larger suites on the third floor. Initially, I felt greedy claiming one of the larger suites as my own, but then I remembered that I was the one who did all the planning for this event, so I deserved one of the larger suites.”

“I agree. You do deserve one of the larger suites.” I thought about my old bedroom on the second floor, and the Jack and Jill bathroom that connected my room to Kayla’s. Part of me wanted to stay in my old room, but another realized that taking a room on the newly remodeled third floor would be a lot easier on my emotions. “And I’ll take the second of the two third-floor suites, as you suggested. I always wished my bedroom, rather than my parents, was up there when I was a kid.”

After we stowed my luggage in the suite, we headed out onto the back deck that overlooked the sea. Carrie poured us each a glass of wine, which I welcomed after the emotional day I’d had to this point. It would be good to relax with old friends. Maybe by visiting the past, I could begin to heal in the present.

“I’ve been struggling with what to say or not say about Kayla,” Carrie said once we’d settled in with our wine. “I’m sure you must be hurting, and part of me feels like it might be easiest for you if everyone just avoids bringing up her name, but Kayla was a huge part of all our lives, and it feels unnatural not to bring her into the conversation.”

I reached over and grabbed Carrie’s hand. “It’s okay to talk about her. I can’t promise I won’t get teary when someone does, but she was part of the Summer Six in the past, and she will continue to be part of the Summer Six into the future.”

“Even if the Summer Six is now only four?” she asked about the six girls who had formed a club of sorts.

“Even if. We didn’t stop talking about Peggy even after she…” After she what? I asked myself. After she ran away, after she was kidnapped, after she died? The not knowing was the worst part.

“After she was no longer a part of our lives,” Carrie supplied. “And yes, you are correct, we didn’t stop talking about her. In fact, in the beginning, we talked about her more than we ever had before. It’s just that…”

“It’s just that you are being sensitive of my feelings,” I provided. “And I appreciate that. But Kayla is gone, and that’s something I need to learn to live with. Maybe if I talk about her enough, eventually, it won’t hurt quite so much to do so.” Even as I said that, I knew it wasn’t true, but one could hope. “When are Nora and Quinn getting here?”

“Quinn is flying in from Paris and wasn’t sure about all the connections, so she didn’t have an ETA, though she said she’d be getting into San Francisco tomorrow, or possibly even the following day. I guess she’ll make arrangements for the ferry over to the island once she arrives.”

“So she probably won’t be here until Monday at least.”

“That would be my guess. You know how busy she is. I’m just grateful she agreed to take any time off at all.”

Diana “Quinn” Quinby was a foreign correspondent for United Press International and traveled extensively. Although I hadn’t seen her in years, I did chat with her on the phone every couple of months, and it seemed she lived an interesting life.

“And Nora?”

“Nora had to postpone her arrival and won’t make it to the island until next week as well,” Carrie continued. “I’m guessing Thursday or even Friday.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?” Nora was married, with four grown children. She’d married her one true love, Matt Hargrove, right out of high school. Of all the couples I knew, they, it seemed, were the most perfectly suited.

“Shelby has been having some sort of issue with her college admissions packet, and Nora decided to make the trip out to Massachusetts to get it worked out in person. You know Nora; when it comes to those children of hers, a phone call won’t do.”

“I heard Shelby had been accepted to Harvard. That is really something. Nora must be over the moon with pride and happiness.”

Carrie gently nibbled on her lower lip in what seemed to be a nervous habit. “You would think that Nora would be ecstatic that not only has Shelby actually achieved her dream of going to Harvard but, now that she will be going off to college, Matt and Nora would finally have the house to themselves. But when I spoke to her, she didn’t seem happy. She seemed frantic and nervous and sort of sad.”


“I get the empty nest thing,” Carrie shared. “I began to have all sorts of stress-related issues the moment Jessica started applying to colleges, and then, when she actually left the house where we’d raised her for the last time, I broke down and wept, despite the fact that I knew she’d be back for Christmas break. But I sensed something more than empty nest syndrome from Nora. Shelby is her youngest, and she has said goodbye to three other children. Still, I suppose the last one to leave home is the hardest.”

“I guess we can talk to her to see what’s on her mind when she gets here,” I suggested.

“Yes, we can. I can’t wait until we are all together again.”

“I’m excited to see everyone, but sitting here relaxing with you is nice, too,” I said. “I’d forgotten how blue the sea is along this stretch of beach.”

“It is something special,” she agreed. “I always did think this was the prettiest stretch of coastline on the island. I’ve even thought of buying one of the little cottages down the road after I sell my house.”

“You’re selling your house? That’s great. When I spoke to you last, you sounded like you weren’t ready to make the break.”

She nodded. “I used to love that house, but part of my new life, new me plan includes a new living space. I still want to be on the water, but I want something small that I can maintain with minimal effort. I haven’t definitely decided to move to this end of the island because there are advantages to being close to the village, but I have definitely decided to sell the house. Carl is having a fit about that, but to be perfectly honest, I don’t care. I got the house in the divorce settlement, so it is mine to do with as I please.”

I held up my glass in a toast. “Good for you. I love your new life, new you mantra. I think it is exactly the attitude you need to move past this and get on with whatever the future holds.”

Carrie clicked her glass with mine. “I was a total wreck for a long time, but I really do feel better with each day that passes. I actually feel excited to see what comes next for me.” Her phone buzzed. She looked at the caller ID. “It’s a text from Jessica, letting me know that she made it to France.”

“Jessica is in France?”

Carrie nodded. “I’d hoped she’d spend the summer here on the island, but she insisted that she’d made plans with a friend to tour Europe. I know it’s been hard on her since Carl and I split up, so I didn’t really blame her for not wanting to hang out in the war zone, but I sure do miss her. Now that Carl is no longer in my life, I feel sort of empty.”

“I’m sure that will get better with time.”

“I’m sure it will.” She smiled. “In fact, it already has. Since it is just the two of us tonight, should we head into the village to see if we can break some hearts?”

I laughed. “I don’t know about the breaking hearts part, but I’d love to have dinner in the village. Is Danello’s still there?”

“It is, and they still have the best Italian food you are going to get anywhere.”

“It’s been forever since I allowed myself that many carbs, but I’m game if you are.”

“Oh, I’m game.” Carrie stood up. “Just let me change, and we’ll go.”


The Mystery Before Christmas




Book 2 in my new A Cat in the Attic series publishes on November 12th. I am really loving this series and hope you will as well. I’ve included a description and sample chapter below.



After a serious accident leaves Calliope Rose Collins unable to continue with the career that has owned her soul for most of her life, she returns to Foxtail Lake, Hollister House, Great Aunt Gracie, and childhood friend, Officer Cass Wylander, where she begins to rebuild her life from the ashes of what she once had.

In book 2 of The Cat in the Attic series – In addition to the time she spends at the animal shelter, Callie has a new sideline writing human interest stories for the regional newspaper. It is a job she loves and hopes to grow until she is asked to reveal the man behind the mask when Secret Santa comes to town and begins committing random acts of kindness.

Meanwhile, Cass has a new murder to solve, Gracie has gone crazy with the decorations, and Naomi’s friend Hancock comes to town.


Chapter 1

“He moves softly through the night, unseen and unheard, leaving gifts for those in need, while the residents of snowy Foxtail Lake slumber beneath blankets piled high to ward off the chill of a Rocky Mountain winter.” I turned and looked at the cat I’d been reading aloud to. “What do you think? Too flowery?”


“Yeah, maybe I should back off the descriptors a bit. It’s just that I want to grab my readers right from the beginning. Maybe I should just say something like: ‘Secret Santa strikes again,’ and then talk about the gifts.” I paused to consider this. “Honestly, most of the gifts have been delivered by means other than late-night drop-offs, but the imagery of Santa lurking around in the middle of the night is a lot more appealing than the imagery created by a wheelchair being delivered by UPS.” I glanced out the window at the falling snow. The little room at the top of the house felt cozy and warm, and it was this feeling I wanted to bring to my readers. I glanced down at my laptop and began to simultaneously type and speak once again. “Not only has the mysterious gift giver, known only as Secret Santa, been busy doling out random acts of kindness to the town’s residents, but he also seems to understand exactly what each gift recipient needs. Billy Prescott received a new wheelchair after his mother backed over his old one; Connie Denton was gifted a down payment on the diner where she’d worked for over twenty years and hoped to buy from her boss when he retired and moved off the mountain; Gilda Frederickson found a gift card for a winter’s worth of snow shoveling services in her purse after word got out that she’d broken her hip; and Donnie Dingman walked out onto his drive to find a used four-wheel-drive vehicle so he could get to his doctor’s appointments even when it snowed. Some are calling this anonymous gift giver an angel come to earth during this holiest of seasons, while others are certain the late-night Samaritan actually is Santa Clause himself.” I looked at the cat. “Better?”

The cat jumped down off the desk where he’d been sitting and watching me work, and headed toward the attic window, which was cheerily draped with white twinkle lights. Apparently, my honorary editor was done listening to my drivel for the day. I supposed I didn’t blame him. It did seem like I was trying too hard to find the perfect words to describe the phenomenon that had gripped my small town for the past several weeks.

I got up from the desk and joined the cat on the window seat. It felt magical to sit in the window overlooking the frozen lake as fresh snow covered the winter landscape. Great-aunt Gracie had strung colorful lights on one of the fir trees in the yard, bringing the feel of the season to the frozen landscape. Combined with the white lights draped over every shrub outdoors, and the white lights I’d strung around the window and along the ceiling of the attic, it felt like I was working in a magical fairyland.

“Maybe instead of a whimsical piece filled with artful words, I should do more of a hard-hitting expose,” I suggested to the cat. “Everyone knows about the mystery person who has been gifting the citizens of Foxtail Lake with the exact gifts they need the most, but no one knows who he is. Maybe I, Calliope Rose Collins, should work to unmask the Good Samaritan. I know the people he has helped with his good deeds would welcome the chance to thank him. He really is changing lives. He deserves recognition for that.”

“Meow.” The cat began to purr loudly as he crawled onto my lap. I gently stroked his head as I considered the past two months and the changes I’d seen in my own life.

Two months ago, I’d come back to Foxtail Lake after a terrible accident had shattered my world. At the time, I was a broken woman simply looking for somewhere to lick my wounds, but in the two months I’d been here, not only had I finally begun to accept my new situation, but I’d made quite a few strides in my effort to reinvent my life as well. While my years as a concert pianist would always hold a special place in my heart, I loved volunteering at the Foxtail Lake Animal Shelter, and I adored my new career as a columnist for the local newspaper, a role I’d earned after I’d helped my childhood friend, Cass Wylander, solve not only a present-day murder but the twenty-year-old murder of my best friend, Stella Steinmetz, as well. After the case was solved, I wrote about my experience, the local newspaper picked it up, and as they say, the rest is history. The article was so well received that I’d been offered a weekly column to fill with whatever subject matter I chose.

Unfolding myself from the window, I crossed the room and sat back down at the old desk that I’d shoved into the center of the attic to use as my temporary office. The article on Secret Santa would be the fourth article I’d written for the newspaper. The first article on Stella’s murder had been published in mid-November, followed by an article about the missing dogs from the animal shelter where I volunteered, and then an investigative piece relating to the controversy surrounding the misappropriation of the funds which should have been earmarked to pay for the annual tree lighting which was due to run this week. The stories I wrote weren’t the hard-hitting exposes a real investigative reporter might pen, but I had helped Cass find Stella’s killer, I had found the missing dogs and the man who took them, and I had found the cleverly disguised missing money after it was announced the annual tree lighting would be canceled due to a lack of funds.

Of course, Cass had helped with Stella’s murder and the missing dogs. He would probably have been happy to help with the missing funds as well, but that story broke right about the same time Buford Norris turned up dead. Buford was an ornery sort who tended to drink too much, so after his body was found buried beneath the snow, most people just assumed he’d passed out and froze to death. But Cass wasn’t quite as sure as some of the other town folk were that Buford had passed out on his own. Investigating the man’s death as possible foul play wasn’t sitting well with the sheriff or the mayor, but Cass was a conscientious sort who wasn’t going to close a case based on a maybe.

“Is Paisley coming for a piano lesson today?” Great-aunt Gracie called up the stairs.

“She is,” I called back down the stairs of the large lakefront home I’d grown up in. “Anna has dance after school, so her mother can’t give Paisley a ride home. I was planning to pick her up.”

“I’m going to run to the market. I can pick her up if you’d like.”

“That’d be great.”

Paisley Holloway was our ten-year-old neighbor who was living with her grandmother after her mother passed just before Thanksgiving. Gracie and I were doing what we could to help out since the grandmother had her own health issues to deal with. Most days, Paisley got a ride to and from school with her friend, Anna, but on the days Anna’s mother was unable to provide a ride, Gracie or I picked her up from school. On the days we picked her up, we usually brought her here to the house, helped her with her homework, and generally did what we could to make things easier for everyone involved. It really was a terrible situation. One that no ten-year-old should have to live through. I’d lost my parents when I was young as well, so I knew better than most how important it was to have a safe harbor in the storm.

“Is Alastair up there with you?” Aunt Gracie called after a few minutes had passed.

I looked at the longhaired black cat who’d jumped back onto the desk next to me. “He is.”

“Okay, make sure he doesn’t get out. There is a big storm blowing in, and I wouldn’t want him to get trapped out in it.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” I called. I supposed I should have gotten up and headed downstairs when Gracie first called up since it would have cut down on all the yelling back and forth. “Just send Paisley up when you get back. Alastair and I are working on next week’s column.”

“Okay. If you see Tom, let him know that dinner will be at six tonight.”

Tom Walden was Gracie’s groundskeeper, although, in reality, he was so much more. He’d lived on the property with Gracie for more than forty years. Tom and Gracie were friends, good friends who shared their lives. Sometimes I wondered if they weren’t something more.

Once Gracie left, I returned my attention to the blank page in front of me. I had to admit the idea of Secret Santa intrigued me. Not only because this particular Santa had already spent tens of thousands of dollars gifting deserving citizens with items they needed but would be unable to buy on their own, but also because he’d been doing it for almost four weeks and so far no one had figured out who he was. There were theories, of course. A lot of them. Based on the monetary value of the gifts, it seemed pretty obvious the Secret Santa was someone of means. Though our town was small, and those who’d lived here for a lifetime tended not to be the sort to acquire a large amount of wealth, the town did tend to attract more than its share of retirees, many of whom were quite wealthy when they arrived. Since I was suddenly determined to identify Secret Santa in my column, I started a list of possible “suspects” after considering the monetary outlay.

The first name to come to mind was Carolyn Worthington. Carolyn was an heiress who’d lived in Boston until two years ago when her only child, a son in his forties, had died in an accident. Shattered to her core, she realized she needed a complete change, so she bought an estate on the east shore of the lake and then quickly made friends by volunteering in the community. Carolyn was quick to share her wealth and had given a lot of money away in the past, which made her both a good and a poor candidate for Secret Santa. If Carolyn was doing the good deeds, then why the sudden secrecy? Still, given her wealth and her altruistic nature, she was on the top of most of the suspect lists in town.

Then there was Haviland Hargrove, a lifelong Foxtail Lake resident whose grandfather had struck it rich during the gold rush of the nineteenth century. Haviland wasn’t as naturally altruistic as Carolyn, but he certainly had the means to buy everything that had been purchased and then some. He was a man in his early eighties, so perhaps he’d decided to spread his wealth around a bit before he passed on.

Dean and Martin Simpson were brothers who’d made a fortune in the software industry. The men lived together in a mansion set in the center of a gated estate. Neither had ever married nor had children and while they didn’t go out and socialize a lot, they were pleasant enough and had several good friends in the community, including my friend, Cass, who played poker with them twice a month. Cass didn’t think that Dean and Martin were our Secret Santas, but I wasn’t so sure about that.

There were a handful of other locals with the means to do what was being done. I supposed that once I developed my list, I’d just start interviewing folks. Someone must know something that would point me in the right direction. I supposed there would be those who would think I should leave well enough alone, and perhaps they would be right, but after stumbling across a really juicy mystery like this one, anyone who knew me knew I was prone to follow the clues to the end.

“Anyone home?” Tom called.

I got up and walked to the top of the stairs. “I’m here. Aunt Gracie went to the market. She said to tell you that dinner will be at six.”

“That should work. Did she happen to say what she wanted me to do with the tree ornaments she had me pick up while I was in Lakewood?”

I decided to head down the stairs rather than continuing this conversation as a yelling match. “She didn’t say. I’m surprised she wanted additional ornaments. We have boxes of them in the attic.”

“I guess these are special. Custom made. I’ll just leave them on the dining table for now.”

I glanced out the open door at the darkening sky, mindful of Gracie’s warning about not letting Alastair out. “I’m sure that is fine. Let me lock the cat in the den, and I’ll help you carry everything in.”

“I’d appreciate that. It seems your aunt has gone decorating crazy this year.”

I looked around the house, which was already decked out with garland, candles, wreaths, and bright red bows. She really had outdone herself. When I’d asked her about it, she’d mumbled something about wanting the place to be cheerful for Paisley, but truth be told, I think she was just happy to have others in the house to celebrate with this year.

“As far as you know, are we still getting the tree this week?” I asked Tom after we headed out into the frigid afternoon.

“As far as I know. If this storm dumps as much snow as it is calling for, then I’m afraid her plan to go into the forest to cut a tree might have to be altered. Walter has some nice ones in his lot. I took a look while I was there to pick up the branches Gracie wanted for the mantle.”

“I would think a tree from Walter’s lot would be just fine. If we can cut one, we will, but if not, we’ll work together to sell Gracie on the tree lot idea.” I picked up the first of five boxes in the back of Tom’s truck. “I’m really happy she is enjoying the holiday so much this year, but I’m afraid she is going to overdo. Not only has she gone crazy decorating, but she signed up to be the co-chair for the Christmas in the Mountains event as well.”

“Your aunt has a lot of energy. I’m sure she’ll be fine. We just need to be sure to help out as much as we can.”

“I guess.”

“Gracie wants you to have the perfect Christmas. Like the ones the two of you shared when you were younger. This is important to her.”

I glanced up at the sky filled with snow flurries as I started toward the house. “It’s important to me as well, and I do plan to help out as much as I can. Of course, researching Secret Santa is going to keep me busy. I think I’ve pretty much decided to focus on figuring out who Secret Santa is rather than the gifts he has delivered. You haven’t heard anything have you?”

Tom set his box on the table next to mine, and we both turned around to go for the next load.

“Everyone seems to have an opinion, but I haven’t heard that anyone has come up with any proof as to the identity of Secret Santa if that is what you are asking. The guys down at the lodge think it might be Fisher.”

I raised a brow. “Ford Fisher? Why do the guys think it’s him? As far as I know, the man isn’t rich.” Ford Fisher used to own one of the pubs in town before it sold, so I imagined he’d done okay in terms of saving for retirement, but I doubted he had tens of thousands of dollars to give away.

“I think Ford might have more stashed away than one might think. There is a lot of money in alcohol, and Ford has lived simply for much of his life. In my mind, he doesn’t have the right temperament to be Secret Santa, but he has been acting oddly lately, which is why I think the guys at the lodge suspect him.”

We headed back to the house with the second load of boxes. “Acting oddly, how?” I wondered.

“Secretive. Evasive. He hasn’t shown up at the lodge in weeks, and when some of the guys went by his place to see if he was okay, he told them he was fine but didn’t even invite them in. I’ve called him several times, even left messages, but he hasn’t called me back.”

“Sounds like he might be depressed. Do you know if he suffers from depression?” I set my box next to the others on the table.

“Not that I know of. Ford’s always been a real social sort. Other than those few times when he was too hungover to make it to the lodge, he’s pretty much been there every Wednesday and Friday since I’ve been going. Not that I go every week. Sometimes Gracie and I do something, but Ford is a real regular.”

“It sounds like you and your friends might be right to be worried about him. I’d continue to check on him if he doesn’t start coming around. Having said that, in my mind, his overall mood doesn’t seem to have a Secret Santa feel.”

Tom headed back out for the final box. I tagged along after him in spite of the fact there was just one box left to fetch.

“Yeah,” Tom agreed. “The idea of him being Secret Santa doesn’t sit quite right with me either. I hope he isn’t ill. He didn’t say he was feeling poorly, but that could explain his absences.”

“Wasn’t Ford friends with Buford?” I asked. “Maybe he is just missing the guy.”

“Maybe,” Tom agreed. “Ford and Buford went at it like two old junkyard dogs most of the time, but in the end, I guess you could say they were friends. Best friends even. I don’t suppose Cass has proven one way or another what happened to Buford.”

I shook my head. “On the one hand, Buford had been drinking on the night he died and could very well have wandered out into the blizzard, passed out, and froze to death. On the other hand, Buford had a bump on his head that looked as if it had been inflicted by someone hitting him with a heavy object.”

“Could he have hit his head when he passed out?” Tom asked.

“He could have, but the position his body was found in and the location of the bump doesn’t tend to support that theory. Of course, Buford could have bumped his head earlier in the day, and the fact that he had a knot the size of a jawbreaker doesn’t necessarily mean that injury was enough to cause him to fall to the ground in a state of unconsciousness. At this point, Cass is following the idea that Buford was hit on the head, blacked out, and then froze to death. I guess we’ll just have to wait to see where his investigation ends up. I’m sure if Buford simply passed out on account of all the alcohol he drank, that scenario will float to the surface at some point.” I looked up as the sound of a car approaching permeated the still air. “That must be Gracie. Paisley will be with her. Maybe we can talk about this some more over dinner.”

“That’d be fine. The truth as to what happened to Buford has been weighing on my mind. It’d be nice to know one way or the other.”

“Yes,” I agreed. It would be nice to know for certain what had caused a man who’d lived here for most of his life to simply perish in an early but not all that spectacular storm. I knew the mayor was pushing the idea that Buford’s death was nothing more than a terrible accident. I supposed I didn’t blame him. The town was just beginning to recover from the murder of twelve-year-old Tracy Porter. If it was determined that Buford had been murdered as well, it would most definitely bring back the fear and paranoia that had permeated the town after Tracy’s death. Cass wasn’t the sort to simply grasp onto the easy answer; he was the sort to want nothing short of the truth. Sometimes I wondered if his dogged commitment to following his instincts rather than the dictate of his boss was going to get him fired. I supposed that it was more important to Cass to be true to his convictions than it was to keep the job he seemed to do better than anyone else did. I supposed I really admired him for that. In fact, the more I got to know Deputy Cass Wylander, the more convinced I was that my childhood friend had grown into a man I could not only respect but grow to love if I was interested in that sort of thing, which I wasn’t.


A Cat in the Attic Mystery

I’m superexcited about my new series that launches on September 3rd. The Cat in the Attic is a series about starting again when everything you’d spent a lifetime working for is suddenly ripped from your grasp. I’ve included the first chapter of book 1 – The Curse of Hollister House. I hope you enjoy reading this series as much as I am enjoying writing it.



Preorder today: 

How is one to start again after losing the one thing that speaks to your heart and fuels your passion?

After a serious accident leaves Calliope Rose Collins unable to continue with the career that has owned her soul for most of her life, she returns to Foxtail Lake, Hollister House, and Great Aunt Gracie, only to find, childhood friend, Officer Cass Wylander, knee deep in a murder mystery involving a twelve year old girl who died in the exact same manner as Callie’s best friend Stacy had died twenty years prior. Callie is certain the two deaths must be linked, but Cass has a suspect in custody and the Chief of Police wants the case closed in order to get the mayor off his back, so in spite of the fact that Callie is certain that they have the wrong man, it looks like the case will be closed. Callie knows that she owes it to both victims to find the truth, so she decides to look into things on her own, giving her not only a way to fill her days, but a means of renewing her passion.

Join Cass and Callie, along with Alastair the cat, as they seek out the hidden truths that will allow them to see what no one else seems to be willing too.



Chapter 1 

When I was a little girl, I would sit with my cat high up in the attic window overlooking the lake, dreaming the dreams only little girls can imagine. I’d plot adventures and weave enchanted tales as the seasons turned and the years unwound. It was a magical time, filled with possibilities that existed only in my mind. I’d imagined fairies in the forest, mermaids in the lake, and gnomes in the garden. As a child sitting in that window, nothing had seemed impossible, but as a broken adult sitting in the same window a quarter century later, I had to admit, if only to myself, that somewhere along the way, the magic I’d once believed in, had died along with my dreams.

“Callie, are you up there in the attic?” Great-Aunt Gracie called up the stairs.

“Yes, Aunt Gracie,” I called back.

“Is Alastair up there as well?”

I glanced at the black cat sitting in the window next to me. “He is.”

“I’m going to run to the market to pick up something for dinner. Is there something you’d prefer?”

I’d lost my appetite about the same time I’d lost my reason for living, but I supposed I did have to eat. “Anything is fine.”

“Okay, dear. I won’t be long.”

I pulled the cat into my lap as Gracie drove away. I ran my fingers through his long black fur as I turned slightly and looked around the room, filled with boxes and discarded furniture from generations of Hollisters. As the last Hollister daughter, I knew the house, lakefront property, private dock, and groundskeeper’s cabin would one day be mine, but to be perfectly honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted it.

Setting the cat on the floor, I unfolded myself from the window. I wrote my name—Calliope Rose Collins—in the dust covering one of the tables that had been stored by some previous resident. I remembered doing the same thing as a child living in this house after my parents died, and somehow, in that moment, I felt connected to that child and the dreams she’d once held in a way I hadn’t in a very long time. I’d done my best to go after those dreams. To bring my fantasies into reality. But along the way, I’d learned that what we plan for and what we are destined to have don’t always line up.

Alastair darted under a sheet that was draped across an old sofa. I supposed if you were a cat, the attic was filled with all sorts of magical places to explore. I could hear him swatting at something beneath the covering as I wandered around the large space, opening boxes and sifting through the contents inside. When I was a child, the boxes and their contents had seemed like treasures. The old clothes left by ancestors long gone had provided hours of entertainment as I tried on each piece and let my imagination take me where it might. The old top hat had become a magician’s hat, the costume jewelry a queen’s dowry, and the yellowed wedding dress a ball gown. The books stored in the boxes had provided hours of escape, the old art supplies a creative outlet, and the old piano, which some ancestor had schlepped all the way up to the attic before I was even born, a window to my soul.

I’d found a safe haven in this attic. Not only had I found solace during a time when little could comfort me but I’d found meaning and passion for the one thing that had pierced my grief and mattered. Pausing, I turned and looked around the room, searching for the piano. I remembered the first time I’d stumbled across the fascinating device that would deliver wonderful music with the touch of a finger. I’d been enchanted from the first keystroke and had begged Gracie to teach me to play. And she had. She’d taught me the notes and how to read music, but it was the hours spent alone with the melodies that existed only in my imagination that cemented a love affair that I was sure would last a lifetime. I looked down at my hands. Using my right forefinger, I traced the long scar that ran down my left arm from elbow to wrist. I tried to move fingers that, at times, refused to cooperate. Everyone said I’d been lucky. Everyone said that it could have been so much worse. Everyone said that having a life without music was better than having no life at all.

They were wrong.

I swallowed hard and forced myself to move on. While the attic was dusty, crowded, and unorganized, I did appreciate that everyone that had lived in the house had left something of themselves behind. Even I’d left boxes of old toys and outgrown clothing when I’d moved away. I wondered why Aunt Gracie hadn’t just taken all this junk to the secondhand store, but I supposed if she did, some future resident of the house would be robbed of the opportunity to play dress up and spin tales of salty pirates and kidnapped princesses the way I had.

Longing pierced my heart as I opened a box of photos. I picked up an old Polaroid of my parents on their wedding day. They looked so happy, so optimistic about the future. My mother and I looked a lot alike. Dark hair, dark eyes, a petite frame barely reaching five feet in height. My father, in contrast, had been tall and blond. His blue eyes sparkled with happiness as he stared back at the photographer. I knew I’d joined the couple and created a family just ten months after the photo had been taken, and four years after that, the people I most depended on would be forever ripped from my life.

Setting the box of photos aside, I lifted the sheet in search of the cat. “Alastair,” I called.

“Meow,” he responded from across the room.

I turned and tried to home in on his exact location. There were a lot of objects for something as small as a cat to hide behind, so I started across the attic in the general direction of the meow. I supposed if I didn’t find him by the time Gracie returned, I’d just leave the door ajar and he’d find his own way out. I maneuvered carefully through sheet-covered furniture and dust-covered boxes, jumping involuntarily as I bumped into the dressmaker’s mannequin. I remember how terrified I’d been of the lifelike shape when I’d first seen it. As a four-year-old, I’d been sure the form came to life when no one was looking. Gracie had been patient with me, taking her time to convince me that the stuffed dressmaker’s tool wasn’t real. It had taken several months, but eventually, I stopped screaming every time I saw the dang thing.

Aunt Gracie’d always had a lot of patience. After my parents died I felt so alone in the world, but Gracie had taken her time with me. She’d tried very hard to make me feel at home in my new surroundings, but I never really had until she’d introduced me to the attic and the magic that could be found in the little room beneath the rafters. Old houses, with their history, their lifelines, and their curses, fascinated me. Despite the tragedy that seemed to be connected to my own family home, I loved the idea of longevity, and places where multiple generations shared a single space.
Pulling a sheet away from the portrait of my great-great-grandmother, Edwina Birmingham, I thought about my parents’ death and considered the family curse. Apparently, Edwina had seduced Jordan Hollister away from her best friend, Hester Stinson and, in retaliation, Hester, a purported witch, had laid a curse on the happy couple that had stipulated that any Hollister daughter born to Jordan and Edwina, or any daughter born to their descendants, would suffer the tragic and early loss of their beloved. Neither Jordan nor Edwina were concerned about the curse, because the couple had only one child, a son they named Samuel. Samuel married a woman named Anastasia, who he brought to live at Hollister House. Anastasia gave birth to twin daughters, Gwendolyn and Gracie.

Gracie, the younger of the twins, continued to live in the house but never married or had children. Gwendolyn moved to Denver, where she married a man named Richard Hastings. Richard fell to his death on the couple’s one-year anniversary, so Gwendolyn, who was pregnant with twins at the time of her husband’s death, moved home, where she delivered Phoebe and Penelope. On the twins’ second birthday, Gwendolyn died of a broken heart, leaving Gracie to raise her nieces.

Penelope never married or had children. She loved to travel and never seemed to stay put until an unfortunate encounter with a French artist, a hot Ferrari, and an ill-advised joy ride, ended in her death on a narrow country road just outside Paris.

My mother, Phoebe, unlike her twin, was the sort to settle in and plant roots. She married a man named Roderick Collins. Ten months after marrying, they had a daughter, me, and four years after that, Roderick and Phoebe were killed in an automobile accident. I supposed there were those who would argue that the tragic yet unrelated deaths of three Hollister women over five generations didn’t constitute the results of a curse, and perhaps they’d be right. But I also knew that things like curses weren’t to be trifled with. I was now the only Hollister offspring alive and of childbearing age to carry on the curse, if one existed. Whether or not the curse was real didn’t really matter; even if it was, I knew it would end with me.

Picking up the cat, I headed for the door. The dust in the attic was beginning to irritate my sinuses, so perhaps a walk out by the lake would help. I set Alastair on the floor after closing the door behind me and headed down the stairs. Stepping out of the house onto the lawn that grew from the edge of the front porch down to the waterline, I stood and watched the sun as it dipped toward the horizon. I placed a foot onto the garden path that led down to the dock. Gracie loved her garden. She’d always said her prizewinning flowers filled the space in her soul left by the children she’d never had. The winters were harsh here in the Colorado Rockies, but every spring Gracie coaxed her garden back to life, and every winter she tucked it in beneath a scattering of hay to protect the delicate plants.

After walking down the path lined with flowers in warm fall colors, I stood at the water’s edge. I closed my eyes and listened as the frogs, with their long-drawn-out calls, competed with the buzz created by insects hovering over the crystal-clear water. I thought of the lush gardens and magical fairyland I’d played in as a child. I thought of the wraparound deck where I’d rocked in the swing with Gracie’s cat, Archie, as I’d shared with him my hopes and dreams. When I’d left, I hadn’t planned to return to Foxtail Lake. I’d believed the answers to my dreams lay elsewhere. I couldn’t wait to leave the sleepy small town behind, but I had to admit I’d been happy here once. Perhaps with enough time I’d find the peace and solace I longed for within the walls of the Hollister family home, the way I’d found peace and solace within those same walls after my parents’ death.

Taking a deep breath, I lifted my face to the setting sun and allowed the warm evening air to wrap me in a warm hug. I had no idea what I was going to do with my life now that the career I’d poured my entire being into had come abruptly to an end. I’d worked so hard to get where I’d been, only to have it stripped from my hands by a drunk driver who never should have been on the road in the first place. While Gracie’d taught me to understand the keys and play simple songs, it was the years of relentless focus and practice that had helped me to perfect my gift until I’d managed to get it just right. By the time I’d graduated high school, I’d wanted nothing more than to focus on my music. Sharing the music in my soul with auditoriums filled with people who loved my melodies almost as much as I might seem like a lofty goal, but it was a dream I’d worked hard for, and had realized by my twenty-fourth birthday. It hadn’t been an easy life, and the hours of practice were long, but oh how I’d loved traveling to interesting places and meeting new people. I’d had a good life, a meaningful and complete life. Until…

I tried once again to flex the fingers on my left hand. I could move them, but the movements were slow and the range of motion limited. My doctor said that with a lot of hard work, maybe I’d regain the full use of the hand, but I knew in my soul that I’d never again have a chance to play at Carnegie Hall.

I blew out a breath, closed my eyes, and tried to refocus my mind. I knew that obsessing over what had happened would get me nowhere. Life, I’d decided, was cruel and unfair, but what was done was done, and nothing I could do would bring the music back to me. I opened my eyes and looked around at the peaceful setting. Glancing toward the caretaker’s cabin, I thought about Mr. Walden. He’d lived on the property since before I’d come to live here as a child. Gracie hadn’t mentioned him since I’d come slumping home with my tail between my legs two days ago, which made me wonder if he still lived on the property, or even if he was still alive. This was the first time I’d ventured from the house, so I supposed he might be around and I just hadn’t noticed.

I was about to head back inside when I heard sirens in the distance. That sound always transported me back to the accident in which my parents had died but I’d escaped with only minor injuries. I’d been told that being strapped in a car seat in the back seat had made all the difference, but there had been many occasions in those first painful years when I wasn’t certain that surviving had been a good thing.

“Quite the ruckus going on across the lake.”

I turned and smiled. “Mr. Walden.” I hugged the grizzly old man whose skin was a sort of leathery brown after a lifetime in the sun.

“I guess now that you’re all grown up, you can call me Tom.”

“Okay. Tom. How are you? I was wondering if you still lived on the property.”

“I’m fine. Been a while.”

I nodded. “It has. I know I should have come back for a visit sooner, but you know how it is.” I turned back toward the lake. The flash of lights from emergency vehicles could be seen against the darkening sky. “I wonder what’s going on.”

“I heard on the scanner that a body was found near the campground.”

I narrowed my gaze. “I’m sorry to hear that. Do you know what happened?”

“There was talk of a bear. I guess we’ll see. The last time there was a bear attack it didn’t turn out to be a bear at all.”

“Like with Stella.”

“Exactly like with Stella,” Tom agreed.

Stella Steinmetz had been my best friend when I was in junior high. She’d disappeared while walking home from school one day. There were no clues to what had happened to her until her body was found weeks later in an unmarked grave. It appeared that she’d been attacked by a vicious animal, most likely a bear, but we all know that bears don’t bury their prey.

At the time of Stella’s disappearance I’d been devastated. Not only had she been my best friend, but the only reason she’d been walking alone, and probably the only reason she was attacked, was because we’d argued and I’d left school without waiting for her as I usually did. Yes, I was only twelve at the time, and I realize now, after years of counseling, that twelve-year-old friends tend to have spats, and I’d almost let the therapist convince me that her death wasn’t my fault, but there hadn’t been a day since Stella’s body was found that I hadn’t wished I’d done things differently.

They never did figure out who’d attacked her or why her face had been shredded the way it had been. They never figured out who had robbed a young girl on the cusp of womanhood of the life she’d been meant to have.

I turned when I heard a car in the drive. It was Gracie. I waved to her but didn’t make an effort to close the distance between us. I didn’t suppose I’d be able to learn any more than I already knew by standing there watching the lights in the distance, but somehow, I found myself unable to walk away.

“Looks like another girl has died,” Tom said to Gracie when she walked up and joined us.

“I heard. They think it is Tracy Porter.”

I glanced at Gracie. “Tracy Porter?”

“Young girl who went missing a month or so ago,” Tom answered. “She was walking home alone, same as Stella and, like Stella, she never made it to her destination.”

“It’s been twenty years since Stella died. Surely we can’t be looking at the same killer,” Gracie pointed out.

“Is Deputy Quinby still in charge of the local sheriff’s office?” I asked. To be honest, when I’d lived here, I found the man to be very nice but pretty useless when it came to tracking down individuals behind any serious crimes.

“He retired,” Gracie answered. “Cass Wylander is in charge of the local office now.”

I raised a brow. “Really? I hadn’t heard.” Cass and I had been kindred spirits when we were kids. We both had active imaginations and a willingness to seek out adventures. Next to Stella, Cass was probably the best friend I’d had when I’d lived here. He’d played the guitar and I’d played the piano and keyboard. We’d talked about forming a rock band, but that was before I realized it was a different type of music that was surging through my soul.

“I thought the two of you kept in touch,” Gracie said.

“We did,” I answered. “At first. But you know how it is. I left Foxtail Lake fourteen years ago. I guess as time went by, we drifted apart.”

“Cass is a good cop,” Tom said. “If anyone can figure out who killed Tracy, he can.”

“You should look him up when you have a chance,” Gracie suggested.

“I will.”

Gracie looked at Tom. “I’m making spaghetti. Do you want to come by for a bite?”

“I’d like that very much. I’ll need to clean up a bit first.”

“That’s fine. I’ll see you in an hour.”

I watched as Gracie made her way back to the house while Tom headed toward his own cabin. The two had lived on this property together for close to forty years. I knew they were friends, but at times I’d wondered if they might not be more. I knew that Gracie believed strongly in the Hollister curse and had vowed never to marry, but vowing not to marry didn’t mean she hadn’t ever fallen in love.


The Inn at Holiday Bay: Letters in the Library


Book 2 in the my new Women’s Fiction/Cozy Mystery series publishes on February 11th just in time for Valentine’s Day. I’m really excited about this series and hope you will give it a try.


Paperback coming soon or read for FREE with Kindle Unlimited



If there is anything I have learned over the course of the past fourteen months, it is that life is fluid and evolving. It is made up of highs and lows that seem to merge one into the other as events unfold and memories take us where they might. It is messy and unpredictable, and a single unforeseen moment can result in an event so unimaginable, it can cast us into our own personal hell. But life can also surprise and uplift us. It can bring joy and laughter, and if we open ourselves to its presence, it can bring a breathless beauty mere words cannot convey. Life can energize and enrich us, it can provide meaning and belonging in places never expected. Life is a state into which we are born, but in the course of living out our moments, it can also be a decision we are challenged to make.

Fourteen months ago, my husband Ben and infant son Johnathan were killed in a senseless accident that sent me into the darkest depths of despair. At the time, it seemed easier to give in, to lose myself in the darkness, but somewhere along the way, I’d found a reason to choose life, and with that choice, a willingness to dig myself out of my grief one painful moment at a time.

Today would have been Ben’s thirty-fifth birthday had he lived, which, if it had been anything like his thirtieth birthday, would most likely have resulted in a day of sullen introspection on his part. Ben had serious goals for his life, and a timeline marked off in five year-increments, which corresponded to those goals. If his timeline was off by even a tiny bit when a defining birthday came around, you could bet that champagne toasts and decadent cakes would have been replaced by the sort of despondent torment that would make him almost unbearable to be around. Of course, in this moment, as I sat in a dark room and remembered my life with the man I had loved with my whole being, I knew in my heart I would welcome despondent torment, or really any mood, if it meant that Ben and I could be together even one more day.

God, I missed him.

I leaned back into the pillows I’d stacked against my headboard as a deep sorrow engulfed me. Rufus, the cat I’d never wanted but now couldn’t imagine living without, snuggled up next to me, purring loudly. I leaned over and turned on the bedside lamp. Opening the drawer of the nightstand, I pulled out a small box. Taking a deep breath, I lifted the lid, then reached into the box and pulled out a photo. The one I’d randomly chosen had been taken of Ben the day he’d made detective. I ran a finger over his huge grin. He’d been so happy and proud. He’d worked hard and never looked back despite the challenges he’d been tasked with along the way. Ben had most definitely been a disciplined fellow, and with the promotion, he’d actually been ahead of his schedule, so maybe this birthday, unlike his thirtieth, would have been all smiles and happy celebration.

Rufus butted his head under my chin, in a move I’d come to recognize as his attempt to offer comfort when I was sad. I scratched him behind the ears, then picked up another photo of Ben and me on our wedding day. A single tear trailed down my cheek as I turned the photo over to find our names, Ben and Abby Sullivan, along with the date of our union, and the location, in the heart of San Francisco, where we’d promised to love and honor each other until death do us part.

Death do us part. Who could have guessed that death would part us a mere five years after we pledged our lives to each other?

I replaced the photo and rummaged through the box, which also contained photos of the first little apartment we lived in before we were even married, my first book signing, the trip to Mexico we took when I made the New York Times Bestsellers list, and, of course, many, many photos of the unexpected and unplanned but very welcome child who had come from our union. Ben loved Johnathan and would have been a good father, but I did have to wonder how a baby in the house might have altered the life path he had set up for himself. Would he have taken changes to that plan with a grain of salt or would he have eventually sunk into a depression he might never have been able to work himself out of? Now I guess we’d never know.

Johnathan had only been five weeks old when a distracted driver had swerved into Ben’s lane, ripping both my husband and my infant son from my life. Ben had never wanted children, and to be honest, prior to having Johnathan, a baby was the farthest thing from my mind as well. But once Johnathan was born, and I’d held him in my arms, I knew that he occupied a hole in my life that could never have been filled by anyone as completely as it had been by the tiny little gift from heaven that had arrived two weeks early on a rainy fall day.

I set the box of photos on the nightstand and glanced out the window. It was early. Still dark. I doubted that my roommate would be up, which was just as well because I felt that I needed some time to pull my ragged emotions into line. After Ben and Johnathan died, I hadn’t wanted to go on living. I was so lost and afraid. I truly believed my life was over, and I hadn’t known what to do to find my way back to the living. Those first weeks of empty rooms, pitying glances, and days without hope of happiness were the darkest of my life. But then I’d seen an ad for a dilapidated old mansion perched high upon a bluff overlooking the sea, and I knew that if I ever wanted to reenter the land of the living, I’d need a fresh start and a new perspective. I paid cash for the house sight unseen, packed up my belongings, and moved from San Francisco to Holiday Bay, Maine, where I found the new life I’d longed for and a reason to go on.

Making a decision, I slid my legs out of bed and sat up. It had been a while since I’d taken Rufus to Velma’s Café for his favorite scrambled eggs. Velma was one of the first people I’d met after arriving in Holiday Bay and I still considered her to be one of the most important people in my East Coast life, second only to my new best friend and roommate, Georgia Carter, who had shown up on my doorstep a couple of months ago with her huge black dog, Ramos. Since Velma and Georgia had become a daily part of my life, the world had opened up for me, and things I’d once thought impossible, had begun to fall into place. Getting out of bed, I slipped on a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt, and a heavy sweatshirt, then padded into the bathroom to brush my teeth and comb my hair. Tiptoeing so as not to wake Georgia, I picked up Rufus and headed out into the frigid morning.

I paused after exiting the cottage and looked out toward the sea. The dawn of a new day was just beginning to light the horizon. It was a frosty morning and I’d heard they were predicting snow, but in this isolated moment, as I looked toward the distant light, I felt a deep gratitude for the life I had discovered. From the moment I’d first seen the cottage on the rocky bluff overlooking the sea, I knew in my heart that fate had led me to the exact spot in time and space where I needed to be to rebuild my shattered life.


The lull between the enchantment and magic of the Christmas Festival and the elegance and romance of the Valentine’s Ball had settled over Holiday Bay, bringing a quiet I found welcoming. Not that I hadn’t enjoyed the festival, which ran from the day after Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve, but I found that after the energy of the holiday season, I longed for the quiet and serenity that comes with a slower pace. Of course, I supposed that at least part of my appreciation for the silence stemmed from the fact that I was smack dab in the middle of the remodel on the mansion and my days at home tended to be loud, and crowded, and hectic. A lot more hectic, I realized, than I had even imagined they would be.

“Morning, Velma,” I said to the woman I’d met on my first morning in Holiday Bay and now called a friend.

“Abby; Rufus. It’s been a while since the two of you have been in.”

I hung up my jacket and then slipped into a booth. The diner was deserted so early in the morning, which was just fine with me. “I’ve been busy with the remodel, as well as the novel, so I have been staying close to home. Rufus and I woke up early this morning and decided it was a good day to come in and say hi.”

Velma set a menu on the table. “Georgia not with you?”

“Georgia and Ramos were still sleeping when we left the cottage.”

“Well, I’m glad the two of you stopped by. It’s been quiet now that the holiday is over. What can I get for you?”

“I’ll have biscuits and sausage gravy and Rufus will have scrambled eggs.”

Velma set a cup of coffee in front of me, then hurried off to make our meals. Rufus, who was familiar with the procedure, followed Velma into the kitchen, where he would eat in the mudroom at the back of the building. Once they had disappeared from sight, I took out my phone and checked my messages. There was one from my agent, asking for an update on the manuscript I was working on, one from an old friend of Ben’s, acknowledging his birthday and wishing me all the best on what must be a difficult day, and one from my insurance agent, asking for some additional information for my homeowner’s policy. The most surprising message of all, however, was a short email from my sister Annie, letting me know that she was thinking of me today.

As I read the email for a second time, I put my hand over my heart and sucked in a deep breath. Tears I had been valiantly holding at bay streamed down my cheeks as I pictured my sister in my mind. In the months since I’d left California for Maine, I’d longed for even a small glimmer of hope that my relationship with Annie could be repaired, and after months without a word from her, this was the first time I actually felt hope.

“What is it?” Velma asked, setting a plate of food in front of me.

I used the back of my hand to wipe the moisture from my face. “It’s nothing. I’m fine.”

“My eyesight might not be as good as it once was, but you don’t look fine.” Velma sat across from me. She placed her hand on my forearm. “What is it, sugar? Maybe I can help.”

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Today would have been Ben’s birthday.”

“Ah. I see. I guess that events such as birthdays never celebrated would lend themselves to a few tears.” Velma handed me a napkin. “You go ahead and have yourself a good cry.”

I took the napkin from Velma and wiped my eyes. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but I’ve already spent some time this morning with my memories of Ben, and I think I am going to be okay. The fact that it would have been his thirty-fifth birthday, which admittedly is a big one, isn’t really responsible for these tears.”

“So what is behind those leaky eyes?”

“I received an email from my sister, Annie.”

“Sister?’ Velma raised a brow. “I didn’t know you had a sister. You’ve never mentioned her.”

I took a sip of my coffee and leaned back in the booth. “We’ve been estranged ever since I made the decision to move to Holiday Bay. At least we’ve been estranged on her part. It’s sort of confusing, but basically, I was such a mess after Ben died, and Annie tried to help me through it. The problem was, at the time I didn’t want to get through it and wasn’t ready to let go of my grief, so I guess I pushed her away. She still hung by me despite my sour mood, until I decided to use my share of the money our grandmother left us to buy the house here. She thought I was making a terrible and impulsive mistake and tried to stop me from both buying the house and making the move. When I chose to ignore her pleas, she tried to stop me legally, and when that didn’t work, she removed herself from the situation and hasn’t spoken to or even communicated with me since.”

“Oh darling, I’m so sorry. To lose a sister after having lost so much. I just can’t imagine.”

“It’s been tough, and I have been trying to find a way back to her. Ever since I’ve been living in Holiday Bay, I’ve been writing her chatty emails about the house and the town, hoping that she will see that I am happy. I hoped if she could see that, and the decision to move here wasn’t a huge mistake, she would choose to let bygones be bygones and be happy with me. But until today, she hasn’t responded to any of the dozens of emails I’ve sent.”

“And today?” Velma asked.

“She sent me just a single sentence that let me know she was thinking of me. It’s not a lot, but it is something. To me, the act offers hope that maybe at some point in the future we can heal our relationship. She’s the only family I have left.” I glanced at Velma. “Well, at least the only family that is related by blood. Since moving to Holiday Bay, I feel like I have a new family that means much more to me than I can ever say.”

“I know what you mean. One of the reasons I would never consider a move from Holiday Bay is because I have family here, although truth be told, not a single member of that family is related by blood.”

“Your parents are no longer with you?”

Velma shook her head. “They’ve been gone a long time. I do, like you, have a sister, but like you, we are estranged. She moved away a very long time ago and I haven’t seen her since.”

“I’m so sorry. When was the last time you saw your sister?”

“More than thirty years ago.”

I choked on my coffee. “Thirty years? But why? It seems that in thirty years you could have found a way to mend fences.”

Velma shrugged. “The years get away from you if you aren’t keeping a close eye on them. When Regina left, I assumed she’d be back. I really didn’t even fret about her departure at the time. We had both set our sights on the same guy, a guy she loved but who chose me, and I guess I figured that a little separation would be good for us. I hoped it would give us some perspective so that we could talk things through and put our argument behind us.” A look of sadness came over Velma’s face. “I really thought she’d be home by Christmas. Reggie loved Christmas at Holiday Bay. But Christmas came and went and she didn’t come home, so I decided to set my sights on the following December. But the years sort of melted one into the other, and she never did come home. I guess at this point I should assume she never will.”

“And the guy?”

“Married him.” Velma let out a laugh that sounded more like a snort. “Didn’t last more than a couple of miserable years. Guess I should have let Reggie have him, but I was young and he was everything I thought I’d ever wanted. He was a mistake I have lived to regret.”

“You should go to Reggie and talk to her. Tell her that you made a mistake and are sorry.”

“Can’t. I have no idea where she is.”

“There must be a way to find her. Have you tried?”

Velma shook her head. “Seems pointless at this point in time. I may not have known where to find Reggie all these years, but she knew where to find me. If she had wanted to talk to me at any point during the past thirty years, she could have called or come by.” Velma looked up as a family of six came in through the front door. “I need to get to work. You enjoy those biscuits.”

That family turned out to be the beginning of the breakfast crowd, so I finished my food in silence. Wow, thirty years. I guess I understood how little things could turn into big things and people we cared about could drift away, but thirty years? Maybe Velma didn’t know where her sister was after all this time, but the mystery writer in me assured me that there must be a way to find her. With today’s technology, oftentimes a name and a directed internet search was enough to provide the information I knew we’d need to at least begin our search.

Velma was still busy when I’d finished my meal, so it seemed apparent I wouldn’t be able to speak to her about it today. I left a nice tip, grabbed Rufus, and headed to my car. As long as I was in town, I figured I’d stop by the market, so I set Rufus on the passenger seat of my SUV and drove in that direction. The town was beginning to show signs of life by this point, as folks headed to work and parents began ferrying their children to school.

After I purchased the items I needed, I headed out to the parking lot, where I stood for a moment and simply listened to the sound of the wind whistling through the trees. Snow flurries filled the air, blocking out the clear skies I’d woken to. Winter in Maine certainly wasn’t for everyone, with the frigid temperatures and frequent snow, but given the current parameters of my life, I found the isolation to be actually pretty perfect.

Once my groceries were loaded, I returned the store cart and then headed home. Home, I thought to myself. A word that means so much more than just a place to hang one’s hat. A word that at one point in my life I’d taken for granted. A word I’d lost along the way, only to rediscover it in a place I’d never imagined before tragedy had consumed my life.


The Inn at Holiday Bay: Boxes in the Basement


Book one in my new Holiday Bay series publishes on November 20th. Here is a preview for those of you interested in a sneak peek.

Preorder Today:


Chapter 1

Maybe it had been insanity that caused me to sell my condo, pack my belongings, and buy a huge old house I had never even seen. Maybe it had been my unwillingness to face the grief I would not deal with and could not escape, that caused me to move to a town I knew nothing about and had never even visited. Or maybe, just maybe, when I’d seen the ad for the rundown old house perched on a bluff overlooking the sea, I hadn’t been running at all. Maybe, I tried desperately to convince myself, I’d simply seen the opportunity to do something fun. Creative. Different.

No, I admitted as I gingerly placed a foot on the first of three rotted steps leading to the decayed front porch. It hadn’t been insanity, an unwillingness to deal, or a longing for fun that caused me to give up my life in California to move to a tiny town in coastal Maine where no one knew who I was or what I had been through. What it had been, I decided, was preservation.

I sighed in relief when I made it to the front door without falling through the rotted wood. I took out the brand-new key I’d been given by the Realtor after he’d had the locks changed prior to my arrival, opened the door, and then stepped into the entry. The floor was damaged and would need to be replaced, and the wallpaper was peeling and would need to be stripped, but the rooms were totally empty, and empty rooms, I knew, even those in disrepair, were preferable to rooms filled with well-meaning friends who were unable to deal with your grief and wanted to help but felt helpless to do so.

The entrance to the home was large and airy and opened up to twin staircases spiraling toward the second story. I’d been told the house had three stories of living space, ten bedrooms, eight baths, and a large living area consisting of several rooms including a parlor and a library, on the first floor. I was also promised the property included a separate guesthouse that could be used as a mother-in-law unit. Apparently, the English gentleman who built the house back in 1895 had grand plans to marry his one true love and fill those ten bedrooms with chubby-cheeked children, but his dream, like mine, had never come to fruition, and so like me, he’d moved away. I knew there had been several owners between Chamberlain Westminster and Bodine Devine, the man from whom I’d bought the house. I wasn’t certain of the entire history, but I supposed it didn’t really matter.

While my move to the small town of Holiday Bay might not have been well-thought-out, the challenge to gently nudge the old girl back to her former glory had come at the perfect time. The house, I decided, would occupy my energy and my mind. Rehabilitating it would give me focus and provide a safe harbor from which I could fight my demons and finally begin to heal.

My long brown hair blew across my face as the front door blew open behind me. I whirled around, prepared to defend my territory, but all I found was empty space. I put a hand to my chest as my heart pounded. There was no one there; it was just the wind. I had to admit this huge, empty house had me on edge. It was almost as if I was half-expecting someone or something to jump out at me from around every corner. I took a deep breath, crossed the room, and reached for the door, preparing to remedy the situation, when a huge orange cat that had to be half mountain lion given its enormous size, darted between my legs and into the entry. “Shoo,” I said as I waved my arms toward it. The cat looked at me with eyes as green as my own, took a few steps, turned, then trotted up the stairs. “Hey,” I called after the feline. “You don’t live here. You really can’t stay.” The cat reached the landing at the top of the first flight of stairs, turned to glare at me once again, and then continued down the hallway.

“Damn cat,” I muttered under my breath. Life, I decided, was a cruel jokester. As if I didn’t have enough to deal with, I now seemed to have a stowaway. Suffice it to say, Abby Sullivan was not now, nor had she ever been, a cat person, or any kind of animal person for that matter. I considered going after the cat but decided that perhaps it would find its way out on its own.

Returning my attention to the house, I walked into what, I assumed, was the main living area. The room was empty, but the hand-carved mantel, which framed the old stone fireplace, truly was a work of art. I ran my hand over the intricately carved surface and imagined the craftsman who had taken the time to get every detail just right. Hand carvings like this were rare these days, and I knew in my heart that the mantel, at least, would need to be preserved.

I turned back toward the room and considered the intricately carved crown molding along the ceiling. There were sections that would need to be replaced, but I supposed the damaged sections could be replicated. It would be a shame to tear down the original material if there was any way it could be saved.

I knew I’d taken on a project when I bought the place, but until I’d arrived and had a chance to look around, I’d had no idea how truly large a project it would be. There were a lot of rooms in need of attention, and so far it looked as if each room was the size of my entire condo back in San Francisco.

No need to panic, I assured myself, as I walked into the room I assumed had been previously used as a formal dining area. The house was going to be a lot of work, but I was up for the task. I’d just need to get organized, consider the entire project, and come up with a plan. From my experience, almost any project was possible as long as I broke it down into small steps I could handle so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the work in its entirety.

I walked through the dining area to the back of the house, where I imagined I’d find the kitchen. The room was charming in an old-fashioned way. It was a large room with a lot of potential, although the appliances were ancient, the wallpaper peeling, and the cabinets dated. I supposed a total gut job would be required for this particular room, which meant that a hotplate and microwave might be good items to purchase, along with cleaning supplies, mousetraps, and maybe something that would provide the mountain lion, who I was certain was still prowling around upstairs, motivation to leave. What I needed, I realized, was a list. I took out my phone and opened an app. Taking action, any action, seemed like a move in a positive direction, which provided my slightly overwhelmed psyche with the illusion of control.

“Number one,” I said aloud, “go to the store and buy food to last several days, and maybe an ice chest to store the food until the status of the refrigerator can be determined.”

I walked over to the refrigerator and opened the door. I grimaced at the mess I found and then took a step back. Determining status didn’t seem to be the issue so much as replacing the old unit with something less disgusting.

“Number two,” I continued, as I walked around the room, opening and closing cupboards, “find a place to set up a home base while renovations are underway.” I had brought an air mattress, sleeping bag, pillow, and jug of water with me, so once I’d figured out where to set up, I’d bring it all in and build a little nest. I had a stack of books, several bottles of wine, music on my phone, and even a propane light that would come in handy until I could deal with the electricity.

“Number three,” I said into my phone, “have gas, water, and electricity turned on.” I paused and looked around at the shabby interior. It really had been a while since the house had been lived in. “Number four,” I added, “find a plumber and an electrician to check everything out before using the gas, water, and electricity.”

There was a door leading off the kitchen that I assumed led to the basement that had been part of the listing. I turned the handle and opened the door to find wooden stairs descending into a dark space. Closing the door, I decided to leave a tour of the basement for another time and continued toward the rear of the house. The laundry area was large, but the windows had been boarded up, and the place was nothing more than a tangle of cobwebs. Taking a deep breath, I continued to the back door, which led out onto a huge deck that actually appeared to be in good repair. Climbing down from the deck, I headed in the direction of an adorable little cottage the Realtor had referred to as the guesthouse. From its location on the edge of the sea, I bet the view from this little place would probably be even more spectacular than the one from the house. Climbing the steps to the wraparound porch, I took out the second set of keys I’d been given and opened the door. I wasn’t expecting much, given the state of disrepair of the main house, so when I opened the door and stepped inside, I was more than pleasantly surprised. The cozy space was dusty, but it looked as if it had been recently renovated and appeared move-in ready. I smiled as I noticed the large stone fireplace on one wall of the main living area. I could imagine how cozy it would be to curl up in front of the fire during a winter storm. The fireplace had a gas insert that looked as if it had been recently installed, but I supposed I should have it checked before I used it. I picked up my phone and added fireplace guy to my list.

The living room, which featured hardwood floors and pale gray walls, opened up to a small but newly updated kitchen, which, thankfully, appeared to have working appliances. The space was charming and modern, with granite countertops and updated cabinets. I knew the cottage had two bedrooms, one in the front that looked out over the now-overgrown garden, and one at the back, overlooking the sea.

I poked my head into one of the two bathrooms. The dark gray granite countertops, like those in the kitchen, looked new, which thrilled me, but the cabinets, while updated, had been painted a dark green. Not really my color, but I could always repaint, and the room looked as if it would be adequate once I had the water turned on. Things were definitely looking up, I decided as I headed to the larger of the two bedrooms. The room had a door at the rear that I assumed opened out to a private deck.
“Wow,” I said as I took in the view. It was simply amazing.

The dark gray of the winter bay in the distance was bordered by a lush green forest covered with a layer of snow producing an absolutely stunning contrast. The entire shoreline looked to be uninhabited, with the exception of a single dwelling in the distance, perched on the edge of the sea. A feeling of peace rose as the serenity of the landscape wrapped itself around me like a warm hug. I’d always found the sea to have a calming effect on my nerves, even during the worst of times.

Here, I decided, as I took in a deep breath of fresh sea air, was where I’d build my nest. Here in this little guesthouse, where I could both wake up and fall asleep to this spectacular view. I’d need a bed, and possibly a dresser, but for now I’d blow up my air mattress and set it next to the huge glass doors, which I planned to wash as soon as I got my supplies. It would be from this perfect spot, in this little house, that I’d read, dream, refurbish, and heal. I knew the journey to making the main house habitable would be a long one. I knew the road to healing would be even longer. But for the first time since I’d packed my SUV and merged onto Hwy 80 east, I actually believed both might be possible.
Heading back to my SUV, I grabbed my laptop and travel bag. I went back to the cottage, making the first of many trips. Once I had the vehicle unloaded, I sat down at the kitchen counter on one of the stools left behind. I took out my laptop and opened my mail app. I used my phone to take a photo of the fantastic view, then attached it to an email.

I stared at the blank page for several minutes as I worked up the courage to continue. I had done a lot of difficult things in the past year, but for some reason, writing this email seemed harder than most.

Dear Annie,

Greetings from Maine. I’ve attached a photo of the view from the little cottage where I plan to begin rebuilding my life. Isn’t it fabulous? I know you’re concerned that I’ve descended into madness and am no longer in control of my mental faculties, and I understand your trepidation at the choices I’ve made since the accident, but I needed to do this despite your fears. It would mean so much if you could find it in your heart to understand and support my choice.


I read the email through, then let my finger linger over the Send button. Part of me wondered why I bothered, but another part realized that making things right with the only family I had left was a necessary step if I really wanted to rebuild my life.


A Whisker in Time


A Whisker in Time, book 16 in the Whales and Tails series, publishes on Tuesday September 25th. It includes the bonus short story The Cat of New Orleans for those you of who have not as of yet read it. According to the Madrona Island timeline, The Cat of New Orleans would fall between Farewell to Felines and A Whisker in Time, so if you haven’t read it you might want to hop to the back of the book and read it first.

The Catsgiving Feast follows A Whisker in Time on November 6.


Preview from A Whisker in Time


Friday, October 26

The dark hardwood floors shone brightly as the first patrons entered the newly remodeled bar my brothers, Aiden and Danny Hart, had sunk all their money as well as all their time into. While O’Malley’s had been the local watering hole for quite some time, after years under the same ownership it had begun to feel tired and somewhat dated. When the O’Malley family came to the decision to move to Boston, Aiden and Danny had decided to buy the bar, refurbish it, and make it their own.
And what a facelift they’d given the place! The scuffed and faded wood floors had been sanded and stained in a dark walnut to match the original bar, which now had to be considered an antique by anyone’s standards. The old rickety tables and wobbly chairs had been replaced with new furnishings in a much lighter shade. The natural wood walls, which had previously been dark and dingy, also had been sanded and stained, this time with a rich pine finish. The most dramatic change, however, was to the old back wall, which had featured a black metal door leading out to the back deck. My sister Siobhan had suggested that the brothers replace the metal door with large glass sliders, which would bring in more natural light and a new element if placed on either side of a floor-to-ceiling brick fireplace. The doors, along with the additional accent windows that had been placed along the entire wall, brought in the feel of the outdoors, while a low-maintenance gas fireplace provided a warm, cozy feel during the colder winter months.
The place, in a word, was fabulous.
“It looks like the whole town came out for the grand opening,” my best friend, Tara O’Brian, said to me. Tara and I, along with my sisters, Siobhan Finnegan and Cassidy Hart, my fiancé, Cody West, and my brother-in-law, Ryan Finnegan, had volunteered to help out during this important event.
“I knew people were excited about seeing what the guys had been up to, but even I have to admit the turnout is better than I could have hoped.”
“I guess the real test will be whether the guys can retain the steady local business O’Malley always was able to depend on,” Tara commented as we loaded pints of beer on a tray for delivery to the tables to which we’d been assigned.
“Danny and Aiden have been customers at the bar for years. They know all the regulars. I think they’re going to do fine.”
I looked around the crowded room. As I’d predicted, many of the bar’s regular customers had shown up and were holding court at their usual tables. Chappy Longwood was an old and weathered fishing captain who’d worked the waters surrounding Madrona Island since before my brothers were born. He was retired from commercial fishing now, but it wasn’t unheard of to find him out on the water, reeling in his own dinner for the evening. Chappy was in many ways considered to be a fixture at O’Malley’s. He liked to sit at the bar and chat with whoever was tending bar on any particular day.
Edwin Brown, a retired history teacher who’d worked at the high school when I was a teenager but had since retired, liked to set up camp in the corner by the window. He was currently running for island council and used the bar as a place to meet with voters and campaign for the seat. He usually showed up early with a book. He liked to read the classics while he waited for his fellow islanders to arrive, but once he had an audience, he worked the room so effectively, you’d assume he’d been in politics his entire life.
And then there was Pops McNab. Pops had lived on the island since before my father was born. I had no idea how old he was, but I was certain he must have passed his eightieth birthday years ago. Pops liked to talk about the Madrona Island of his past, and most of the regulars who spent time at the bar enjoyed listening to his often-far-fetched stories.
Yes, I decided as Tara and I picked up our trays and walked through the crowded room, the regulars had shown up in an offer of support. Both Aiden and Danny were behind the bar, filling orders and chatting with everyone who came in. Cody and Siobhan were helping Cassie in the kitchen, while Finn stood near the front door, ready to take on the role of bouncer if necessary. Tonight truly was a family affair, but after this, Danny and Aiden would have to make do with the staff they’d hired, including two new waitresses, Stacy Barnwell and Libby Baldwin. They were both running a mile a minute, so I’d pitched in to help deliver drinks. I’d just emptied my tray when someone bumped into me from behind, almost knocking me onto my backside. I turned around only to come face-to-face with the last person I wanted to see.
“Monica,” I said with the sweetest smile I could muster. Monica Caldron had gone to school with Cody and Danny. She’d been, and still was, a beautiful woman who’d dated both my brother and my fiancé before leaving the island a decade ago. When I heard she was back, I was cautious. When she told me right to my face that she planned to seduce Cody away from me and would offer proof that she had, I was furious.
“Well, if it isn’t the soon-to-be-dumped Caitlin Hart,” Monica purred.
I was pretty sure I snarled at her.
“Where is that handsome fiancé of yours anyway?”
“In the kitchen helping out, but I’m afraid that’s off-limits to everyone other than staff and tonight’s volunteers. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.” I turned and headed back to the bar, summoning every ounce of willpower I had not to deck the witch I’d been itching to punch it out with ever since she’d shown up on the island two weeks ago.
“What’s she doing here?” Tara asked as I began refilling my tray with the next load of drinks.
“She’s looking for Cody.”
“Ask Finn to kick her out,” Tara suggested. “You know she’s only here to cause trouble.”
I watched as the woman made her way around the bar, distributing her own sickeningly sweet brand of sensuality to every male, whether they were with a date or not. She stopped to smile at Chappy, kissed Pops on the cheek, then sat down across from Edwin, leaning in close, as if to have a serious conversation. I had to admit she knew how to use her God-given gifts.
I looked away from the woman who seemed to be working hard to piss me off and turned my attention to Tara. “Other than bumping into me, which I’m sure was intentional, she hasn’t done anything to warrant removal from the premises. This is a public grand reopening and the whole community was invited. If I insist on her being bounced, I’ll be the one who looks petty.”
“She’s on the island to steal your fiancé,” Tara reminded me. “I don’t think anyone would consider you petty for defending what’s yours.”
“I know why she’s here and you know why she’s here, but no one else other than family knows she’s been threatening to seduce Cody away from me. Even Cody defended her in a roundabout way when I made it clear to him Monica was on the island for one reason and one reason only.”
Tara frowned. “He defended her?”
“Sort of. First, he assured me that even if she was here to win him back, she had absolutely zero chance of success because I was the only one he’d ever loved or ever would love, but then he ruined his vow of devotion by adding that Monica had been drunk when Siobhan and I ran into her while dining at Antonio’s, and he was sure she’d spoken out of turn when she made it clear she was on the island to rekindle things with him after all this time. He even hinted that perhaps I’d misunderstood what she said.”
Tara picked up her tray. “Men are so clueless. They see a pretty face and a perfect body and their minds freeze up, preventing them from seeing the demon beneath the beauty.” She added napkins. “I’ve no doubt Monica is here to do exactly what she threatened to do, but Cody loves you. I doubt he’ll even notice if she comes on to him.”
I hoped Tara was right, but I had my doubts. I remembered how Danny had followed Monica around like an obedient little puppy when they were dating, and he wasn’t the type to trail any girl around. He was much more the love-’em-and-leave-’em sort, so the fact that she seemed to have mesmerized both Danny and Cody when she lived here before terrified me. I trusted Cody. I really did. It was Witch Monica I didn’t trust.
“The group at table seven wants another round,” Stacy informed me. She was a single mom with two-year-old twins who had recently moved to the island, a hard worker who seemed like a genuinely nice person. It was my opinion she would fit in to the O’Malley’s family quite nicely.
“I’m on my way,” I answered with a smile. “I think we’re all going to be exhausted by the end of the evening, but I’m loving this turnout.”
Stacy smiled back. “Yeah. I think the guys are pretty happy too.” She picked up her own tray. “By the way, I saw what happened. I have your back if you need some help with the she-devil.”
“Thanks. I appreciate the offer, but I can handle Monica if need be.”
The next two hours were so crazy busy, I had little time to worry about, or keep track of, Monica. Finn was called away from his post by the door after an accident was reported on the highway. Of course this was Madrona Island, so a bouncer was probably unnecessary anyway.
By the time ten o’clock rolled around, the bar was so crowded it was almost impossible to walk through. I wasn’t sure how Danny and Aiden were keeping up with the drink orders until I noticed Siobhan had joined them behind the bar. “Who’s helping Cassie in the kitchen?” I asked my older sister.
“The brothers decided to close the kitchen and focus all their energy on the bar until closing. Aiden ordered a bunch of pizzas from the place down the street and Cassie went to pick them up. She’s going to cut them into small pieces and we’ll serve them as complimentary appetizers.”
“That’s a good idea.” I looked around the room but didn’t see Cody. “Did Cody go with her?”
Siobhan shook her head. “I don’t think so. I’m not sure where he went. He was talking to Alex Turner, who showed up with Willow earlier, but I think they left to pick up the baby from his grandpa’s.”
Alex Turner and Willow Wood were friends who were co-parenting Willow’s son, Barrington Wood Turner. Alex had adopted baby Barrington, who was named for his biological father, which made him legally responsible for him along with his mother, despite the fact that he and Willow weren’t married or even dating. At least, they weren’t dating in the traditional sense of the word. They were living together and raising a child, but so far their personal relationship seemed to have remained platonic.
By the time I’d delivered another round of drinks, things were beginning to clear out. Aiden and Danny planned to stay open until midnight if the bar was still hopping, but I was exhausted and hoped the party would break up earlier so I could head home and fall into what I was sure would be a dreamless sleep. Siobhan had left shortly after we spoke to pick up baby Connor from our mother’s place. Connor was born to Finn and Siobhan just four months ago, but already it seemed most family events revolved around the totally adorable baby boy who looked just like his mama with the exception of his eyes, which were Finn all the way.
I’d set down my tray and was about to go outside to look for Cody when someone shoved me from behind, sending me into a table that tipped over, landing on top of me as my butt hit the floor. “What the—?” I was about to finish the sentence with a very unladylike four-letter word when I saw Monica smiling smugly at me. I’m not really sure what happened next; I guess my pent-up frustration with her finally got to me, because the next thing I knew, I was on my feet, and Monica was on her knees with her right arm pinned firmly behind her back.
“You witch,” Monica screamed at the top of her lungs. “Are you insane? Let me go!”
I hesitated.
“Let her go, Cait.” Danny walked up next to me.
“She started it.”
“I didn’t start anything, you raving lunatic. Now let me go or I’ll have you arrested for assault.”
Danny put his hand on mine. “It’s okay. I saw what happened. I’ll take care of it.”
I released my grip and took a step back. Monica slapped me and called me a pathetic loser, which resulted in Danny grabbing her by the arm and dragging her away.
“Are you okay?” Aiden asked after Danny and Monica headed toward the back hallway.
I rubbed my cheek. “I’m okay. I just need some air. I’ll be outside for a few minutes.”
I left through the new side door onto the patio, where outdoor fire pits had been set up to provide warmth on cool evenings, and sat down on an empty bench. I wanted to cry, or yell, or even slap Monica back, but all I could manage was a few deep breaths to get myself under control. I hoped Danny would have shown Monica the door by the time I went back inside. The thin thread of patience I’d been clinging to since she’d returned to the island had definitely snapped when she’d thrown me into the table. Damn, that and the slap had hurt.
After a few minutes, Cody came out and sat down beside me. “Are you okay? I heard what happened.”
“I’m okay. I just needed to get away. Where were you?”
“Out in the parking lot, talking to a couple of the guys from the softball team. I wasn’t gone long. I needed some air after spending the entire evening in the kitchen.” Cody put his arm around me and pulled me close. “Maybe I should take you home.”
“No, I’m fine. I want to help with the cleanup, and the last thing I want to do is give Monica a reason to think she ran me off. That woman needs to go.”
“I don’t disagree, but I can’t make her leave the island. I’ve told her that I’m not interested in what she’s offering and I’m doing my best to avoid her, but I’m not sure what more I can do.”
“People turn up missing all the time. No one knows why.”
Cody raised a brow. “Really? You want me to dump her in the ocean?”
I shrugged. “I’ve had worse ideas.”
Cody chuckled. “You’re right. You have had worse ideas. But in this case, I think we might want to come up with a different strategy.”
I huffed out a breath in frustration. “What strategy?”
“We could get married.”
Now it was my turn to raise a brow. “Really? You want us to throw together a quickie wedding so your ex will leave us alone?”
“We’ve been engaged for a year,” Cody pointed out in what seemed to be a much more serious tone than the one he’d used when we were discussing the option of a cement-boots burial.
I paused and then answered. “I know. And I want to marry you. But I’m not going to hurry things along just to get rid of Monica. We’ll get married when we’re ready to and not a minute before.”
Cody put his hand to my cheek and turned me to look at him. “Just so you know, I’m ready.”
I let out a long breath. “I know. But we have that one pesky problem I can’t seem to find an answer for. And no, I’m not referring to Monica. I’m referring to your mother.”
Cody’s mother was insisting that he and I get married in Florida, which was where she and several other West family members had moved after leaving Madrona Island. I wanted to get married on the island where I’d lived my entire life, with my family and friends. I wanted to get married in the church I’d attended since birth and I wanted to have the reception on the peninsula where I lived, down the beach from the house Cody would someday inherit and where we would raise our family.
“I told you, we can get married wherever you want,” Cody countered.
“I know, but I don’t want to start my married life with my mother-in-law hating me. I need another option.”
“If I can work it out so my mom is happy and we’re able to get married on Madrona Island, would you be willing to set a date?”
I nodded. “In a heartbeat.”
Cody leaned in and kissed me lightly on the lips. “Okay. Let me see what I can work out with her. She can be stubborn, but in the end, she wants me to be happy.”
“Okay,” I said. “If you can work it out, we’ll set a date.” I leaned forward and kissed Cody slightly harder than he’d kissed me. “In the meantime, I think it’s important we continue to practice for the honeymoon. Let’s go in and start cleaning up. I have a bottle of wine and two glasses waiting for us back at the cabin.”
Cody took my hand and pulled me to my feet. When we arrived inside, there were only a few partygoers still mingling around. One of Cody’s friends had consumed way too much alcohol to be driving, so Cody ran him home, while Cassie, Tara, and I began cleaning up. By the time we’d cleared the empty glasses from the front and headed to the kitchen to start the cleanup in there, everyone had left with the exception of the two full-time waitresses and the family who’d stayed behind to help.
“I don’t suppose anyone knows what happened to the mop?” I asked the rest of the cleaning crew.
“I think it might be in the storage room,” Tara answered.
“Okay, I’ll get it.” I figured if we hurried with the cleanup, I could leave without feeling guilty once Cody returned. It had been a long night and I was beyond tired. Still, I was happy the evening had been a success. Other than the intrusion of Monica, it otherwise had been close to perfect. It seemed everyone on the island had come out to wish the brothers well, which I hoped indicated their venture would turn out to be even more successful than they’d hoped.
I stepped into the back hallway, which provided access to the back door and emergency access outside the building but was locked to prevent anyone sneaking inside. In addition, the hallway led to the business office, the men’s and women’s bathrooms, and the storage room. The office was supposed to be locked when Aiden, who handled the business end of things, wasn’t working. While the brothers didn’t have a lot of expensive equipment, the office did house a fairly new computer plus the safe, where change for the cash drawer was kept.
I walked past the bathrooms and opened the door to the storage room. It was dark, so I turned on the overhead light. A quick scan of the room revealed the mop, leaning against the back wall. The bucket was nearby, as was a broom and dustpan. I took several steps forward and was about to step over a tarp that had been tossed over something when I realized the object that was sticking out just a bit from the bottom of it was a human foot.


“Okay, walk me though everything that happened after I left to respond to the accident,” Ryan Finnegan, the island resident deputy as well as my brother-in-law, asked after I’d called him to return to the bar.
I took a deep breath and thought about Danny before I answered. The first thing Finn had done after arriving was to separate everyone left on the premises. He was interviewing us each separately, and I knew I had to tell the truth, but no matter how I spun this, it wasn’t going to look good for my younger brother. “Monica and I got into a fight,” I began. “She started it and I guess she ended it too, but I did manage to bring her to her knees at one point.”
“So it was a physical altercation?”
I nodded. “She bumped into me and knocked me to the floor. Once I managed to push the table that had fallen on top of me to the side, I jumped up and pulled her arm behind her back. I learned that in my self-defense class, and it brought her to her knees. She started screaming like I was killing her or something. Danny came over and told me to let her go, which I did grudgingly. I released her and she stood up and slapped me, and Danny grabbed her arm and pulled her toward the hallway.”
“And after that?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t see her again. I assume Danny gave her a stern talking-to, then sent her out the back door to avoid another scene.”
“That’s exactly what Danny said happened,” Finn confirmed. “Did the two of you discuss your response?”
I glared at Finn. “Really? Do you actually think this was some sort of an elaborate cover-up to get Monica out of my hair permanently?”
Finn lowered his notepad. “I don’t think Danny killed Monica. And I don’t think the two of you were part of some plot. But a woman is dead and you just admitted that Danny pulled her into the hallway, which was the last you saw of her.”
“I know how it looks, but you have to believe Danny is telling you the truth. If he said he showed Monica to the back door, he did.”
“So how did she get back in? The back door automatically locks when it’s closed, which allows one-way access out of the building but not inside. I haven’t had a chance to interview everyone who was here, but I called Tripp, who offered to keep an eye on the front door after I was called away, and he didn’t remember Monica coming back in through the front door after Danny hauled her away.” Tripp Brimmer had been the deputy for Madrona Island prior to his retirement.
I leaned back in my chair and let out a groan. “I know how it looks,” I repeated, “but the bathrooms are down that hallway. A lot of people used them during the evening. The back door opens from the inside because it’s a fire exit. Even if Monica didn’t come back in through the front door, anyone could have opened the back door and let her back in once Danny tossed her out. All she had to do was text someone inside to help her.”
“I suppose that’s true, but so far, no one I’ve spoken to remembers seeing her after Danny hauled her away. If she came back in, why didn’t she return to the party?”
“Maybe whoever let her in is the one who killed her. We both know she was a loose cannon. I’m sure she made a lot of enemies, years ago and since she’s been back. I’m sure we’re going to come up with a long list of people who had motive to want her out of their lives, including me, and no, I didn’t do it.”
“I agree she made a lot of enemies. And I agree we’ll eventually come up with a long list of possible suspects who could have let her back in and then killed her. However, given the fact that Danny is the prime suspect at this point, and he’s my brother-in-law, the sheriff is sending someone over from San Juan Island. Mitch Bronson will take over the investigation into Monica’s death.”
“Mitch? Mitch hates Danny.”
“He has reason to dislike him after Danny had an affair with Mitch’s ex, but he’s convinced the sheriff he’s over his ex and the entire incident with Danny is in the past. He convinced the sheriff he’s able to be impartial, and apparently, the sheriff believed him. Given that Mitch used to live on Madrona Island, the sheriff realizes he has relationships with the individuals who’ll serve as witnesses. I’m not saying I agree, but the sheriff has decided Mitch is a good person to take over. There wasn’t a thing I could say to change his mind.”




Finding Courage

Finding Courage – Book 3 in the Rescue Alaska Series – publishes September 11. Here is a preview.



Chapter 1
Saturday, October 13

His pulse quickened as they approached. He’d waited so long. Too long. He closed his eyes and reveled in the memory, which didn’t come as a gentle wave but as a surge of agony from the depths of his personal hell. He’d craved the searing pain, the deeply felt anguish. It was only during these moments, when he was sure he would drown in a river of longing, that he felt truly alive.

On the surface, the rescue seemed fairly routine. Two teenage boys had gone hiking earlier that morning. They were only supposed to be gone a couple of hours but had failed to return by the time they’d agreed to meet with the families for lunch. The father of one of the boys had gone looking for them, and when he was unable to find them after a couple of hours, he’d called the Rescue Alaska Search and Rescue Team, of which I, Harmony Carson, am a member. It was fall in Alaska, which meant the days were becoming shorter toward the endless night of winter. Although the daytime temperatures were mild for this time of the year, the overnight low promised to dip well below freezing. Normally, we like to interview the person making the call, but the man said he was heading toward Devil’s Gulch, where he was certain the boys had been planning to hike, and the reception there was sketchy, so the information we had to go on was limited. By the time the call came through, the sun had begun its descent toward the jagged peak of the distant mountain, so we knew there was no time to lose.

Jake Cartwright, my close friend and brother-in-law, had taken the call. I was already at Neverland, the bar Jake owned and where I worked as a waitress, as was S&R team member Wyatt Forrester, who worked part time there as a bartender. Jake had made a quick decision to employ the team members present to look for the boys, so he and his S&R dog, Sitka, me and my S&R dog, Yukon, Wyatt, and team member Austin Brown, who happened to be in the bar having a drink, set off with a feeling of urgency, given the sharp drop in temperature and impending darkness.

“Jake to Harmony,” Jake said over the two-way radio we all carried as we traveled toward our destination.

“Go for Harmony,” I answered. We’d spread out to cover more ground in the event the boys had either doubled back or taken another route. We knew if we didn’t find them before then, once we reached the narrow entrance to the gulch, we’d all converge into a single unit.

“Have you managed to pick up anything?” Jake referred to my ability to psychically connect to those victims I was meant to help rescue. My ability, which I oftentimes considered a curse, had come to me during the lowest point in my life. My sister Val, who had become my guardian after our parents were killed in an accident, had gone out on a rescue. She’d become lost in a storm, and although the team tried to find her, they came up with nothing but dead ends. She was the first person I connected to, and the one I most wanted to save. I couldn’t save Val, but since then, I’ve used my gift to locate and rescue dozens of people. I couldn’t save them all, but today, I was determined that our search would lead us to the missing boys.

“No,” I answered, frustration evident in my voice. “Which is odd. Even if the boys are uninjured, they must be scared. The temperature has dropped and the sun is beginning to set. The fact that I’m not getting anything at all is concerning me.”

There are really only three reasons I can think of when I don’t pick up something, even a small whisper, during a rescue. The most common is that the person who’s been reported missing isn’t really missing at all. They might not have checked in with the person who reported them missing, but they were perfectly safe, not in physical pain or mental duress. I hoped that would turn out to be the case with these two boys.

The second commonest reason I’m unable to pick up a psychic connection is because the person I’m trying to reach is either unconscious or already dead. That’s the reason I least hope to confirm, but at times, the person we’re trying to find has already taken his final breath before we even begin our search.

And the third reason I’m occasionally unable to make a connection is because the person in need of rescue senses me but is blocking me. This rarely occurs, but it’s possible.

“Is Sitka picking up anything?” I asked. Even if I was unable to connect, I’d think Sitka would pick up something. We didn’t have anything with the boys’ scent to help direct the dogs today, so they’d been instructed to find anyone who might be in the area. Having a specific scent to track worked a lot better, but at this time of the year, when there weren’t many people out hiking, if anyone was around, the dogs should be able to locate them.

“No. Nothing specific at least, but he does seem to sense someone,” Jake answered. “If the boys came this way, as the father seemed to think they had, he’ll find them. If they veered off in another direction, though, we might have a real problem. Given the anticipated overnight temps, it’s important to find them as quickly as possible. We’re going to go on, but I’d like you to take a short break and really try to connect. If you sense something, let us know.”

“Okay.” I stopped walking and looked around. “I don’t have a lot to go on, but I’ll try.”

“The man I spoke to said the boys’ names are Mark and Andrew. They’re both fourteen and have dark hair and dark eyes. That’s all I got from him before he cut out.”

I signed off, then sat down on a large rock. I instructed Yukon to sit and stay next to me, then I closed my eyes. I relaxed my mind and focused on the information I had. Mark and Andrew. Scared, most likely. Possibly injured. Dark hair, dark eyes.

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I tried again. I allowed whatever images that came to me to pass through my mind. I hoped if they were out there, their psyches would somehow find mine.

Still nothing.

I had an intuition that the man who’d called Jake to report the missing teens had been less than honest. If I had to guess, this whole thing was a hoax. It happened from time to time, although I had no idea why anyone would do such a thing. Still, if the boys actually were in the area and were in some sort of trouble, it was likely I’d pick up an echo of fear if nothing else. I was about to give up my quest to make a connection and had stood up to move on when a feeling of sorrow pierced my heart with such intensity it left me gasping for air.

Oh God. My hand clenched my chest.

My instinct was to break the connection, but I knew if I wanted to locate the source of the pain I needed to maintain it, so I took a deep breath and opened my heart to the anguish. I allowed the pain to envelop me as I tried to figure out who it was I’d connected to. I could sense the distress was emotional rather than physical. Someone was dealing with intense grief. No, not grief, longing. The suffering was deep and real, but there was something else as well. I frowned. In the midst of the sorrow was anticipation.

I focused harder. I knew I hadn’t connected to the boys but someone else. Someone older. I could sense a darkness. An emptiness. As if the soul of the person I’d connected with had been drained of all life. I felt the individual try to pull back. He knew I’d made a connection and was trying to push me away, but I resisted. I tried to go deeper, but then I saw it. My eyes flew open.
My hand flew to my mouth. I was sure I was going to be sick, but I thrust the nausea aside. “Harmony to Jake.”

“Go for Jake.”

“It’s a trap. Pull back. Pull back now.”

In that instant, there was a loud crash as the mountain above the narrow opening to the gulch exploded, sending tons of dirt and rock to the path below. I turned and ran as fast as I could. Tears streamed down my face, but I didn’t really notice. I felt fear, and pain, and death.

Oh God.

I ran faster still. Yukon was running in front of me. He must have sensed where to go because he never wavered. When I arrived at the place where the dirt and rock had settled, I found Sitka standing over Jake, who appeared to be unconscious.

“Jake.” I ran to where he was lying on the hard ground and felt for a pulse. I let out a breath of relief when I saw he had one. He had a bump on his head but appeared to be otherwise uninjured. I grabbed my radio and called Sarge, who was holding down the fort at the base. “Harmony to Sarge.”

“Go for Sarge.”

“There’s been an accident. A landslide. Find Jordan. Have her meet Dani at the helipad. We’re going to need an air evacuation. And Sarge, tell them to hurry.”

With that, I stood up and slowly looked around. I wasn’t sure where Austin and Wyatt were. Had they been with Jake? In front of him? On another trail altogether?

I heard Jake groan. I turned to find both Sitka and Yukon licking his face. I knelt down next to him. “Are you okay?”

Jake put his hand to his head. “What happened?”

“Landslide. You were hit in the head with something. You blacked out but appear to be otherwise okay. Where were Wyatt and Austin before the mountain came down?”

Jake sat up. His face paled. “In front of me.”

I looked down at Sitka and Yukon. “Find Wyatt. Find Austin.”

The dogs ran on ahead, and I knew I needed to follow, but the dizziness and nausea I’d kept at bay had returned. I was fine, I reminded myself. I’d seen something I’d need to process, but the most important thing was to find my friends. I stood up and looked at the spot in front of me, where the trail had once been. This was bad. Really bad.

It didn’t take the dogs long to find Wyatt. He’d managed to find a place next to the wall of the canyon to crouch down, avoiding most of the debris from above. After a bit of back and forth, we determined he was trapped and hurt. Jake managed to get up despite his head injury to help me dig him out. It was a long, arduous process because each rock needed to be lifted and set aside. I don’t know how we found the strength to do it, but when I saw Wyatt’s face, bruised but alert, I wanted to cry in relief.

His leg was broken and his shoulder dislocated but he didn’t appear to have any life-threatening injuries. By the time Jake and I had freed him, the sun had set, but we could hear Dani’s chopper in the distance. I wasn’t sure I had any strength left, but we weren’t done. “Find Austin,” I said to the dogs, even though I suspected he was gone. I’d been able to sense Wyatt as the dogs looked for him, but when I focused on Austin, all I found was silence. Of course, if he was unconscious I might not be able to make a connection, so there was that hope for me to cling to. I tried to keep up as the dogs scrambled over the rubble. Wyatt hadn’t been all that far in front of Jake and so hadn’t been in the area of largest destruction, but the farther toward the center of the landslide the dogs traveled, the more certain I was Austin was gone. By the time Dani had landed the chopper, Sitka alerted. He’d found Austin.

Sometimes all you can do is what you have to do. Dani had brought Jordan and Sarge with her, so they helped load Wyatt into the chopper, where Jordan went to work on his injuries. Once Wyatt was in Jordan’s hands, Dani and Sarge helped us retrieve Austin’s body. When we’d freed him from the rubble, it was completely dark and the temperature had dropped at least thirty degrees. Jake was still dizzy from his head injury, and we couldn’t all fit in the chopper at the same time, so Jordan went with Dani, who flew Wyatt and Jake to the hospital, while Sarge waited with the dogs and me. Austin’s body would be airlifted down as well, but it was more important to see to the injured.

“It wasn’t an accident,” I said to Sarge after we’d built a fire for warmth, then settled in to wait for Dani to come back for us.

“What do you mean, it wasn’t an accident?”

I tilted up my head so I could more clearly see the northern lights overhead. I wanted to embrace the breathtaking beauty that could be found in the Alaskan wilderness, but all I could feel was grief. “In the brief moment before the mountain exploded, I connected with someone in so much pain it was almost unbearable. I felt the rawness of exposed emotion as grief was channeled into rage.” I lowered my head and looked at Sarge. “Someone lured us up here. Someone set off explosives and intentionally caused the landslide. I have no doubt the intention was to bury us all, but I’d stopped to try to make a connection, so I was well behind the others. When I realized what was happening, I was able to warn Jake, which gave him maybe a second to retreat.” I swallowed as a lump of emotion clogged my throat. “Jake told me that he’d called to the others, but the mountain was already coming down and they were too far ahead.”

Sarge was silent for a moment. I imagined he needed that time to try to process what I’d just said. To lose a member of the team to a random landslide was bad enough; to lose him to a madman was another thing entirely. “So you’re saying Austin was murdered.”

I nodded. “Yes. That’s what I’m saying.” I took a deep breath as my entire body began to shake.

“Are you okay?” Sarge looked me in the eye. He put his hands on my shoulders and gave me a little shake.

“I’m okay. It’s just that…” I couldn’t continue. I tried to speak, but at that moment I couldn’t even breathe. I felt my heart pounding in my chest as a flash of memory seared through my mind.

“Just that what?” Sarge said persuasively. “You didn’t finish what you were saying.”

I shook my head. I couldn’t speak. I didn’t want to remember.

“You know you can trust me.”

I nodded. Sitka and Yukon were sitting so close to me, they were practically in my lap. I could sense their distress. I needed to pull myself together, but I wasn’t sure how I was going to do that.
“I want to help you, but you need to finish your thought,” Sarge insisted.

I put my arms around the dogs and took comfort in their warmth. I let them lick the tears from my face, and then I answered. Softly at first, but as my voice found its footing, I went on with more intensity. “In that moment, when I connected to whoever set off the dynamite that caused the landslide, I saw something else. A memory. Not my memory, his memory.”

Sarge frowned. “Okay. What was it?”

“It was Val.” I felt my body begin to shake again. “He was with her. The man who killed Austin was with Val when she died.”