I know it seems like I have been talking about my new Writers Retreat Series for months now but I am super excited about it and am hoping for a strong launch. Book 1 in the series – First Case – will publish on Monday, May 1. The series is set on Gull Island which was first introduced in Treasure in Paradise. While Tj has gone home to Paradise Lake by the time this series picks up, many of the characters such as Blackbeard the Parrot, Deputy Savage, Gertie from the diner, and Mayor Betty Sue Bell will be featured in the new series.
Preorder First Case – it will also be available for iBooks – it will NOT be in Kindle Unlimited
Kindle – http://amzn.to/2pr0aVv
Nook – http://bit.ly/2qk8aoy
Paperback – http://amzn.to/2qbCMJp
Book 2 in the series – Second Look – will publish on July 4, 2017 and I expect that book 3 – Third Strike – will publish in September or October. I’m still working out this part of my writing schedule. The story centers around a five year old murder and the revelation that the primary suspect hadn’t fled as everyone thought but had actually been the second victim who had been entombed in a secret room that no one knew existed until the house was torn down five years after the first death. I’m still writing this one and am super excited to find out how it all ends up. I’m really loving the cast in this series.
Preorder Second Look – it will also be available for Kobo and iBooks – it will NOT be in Kindle Unlimited
Kindle – http://amzn.to/2qcO434
Nook – http://bit.ly/2oQPlZC
Paperback – http://amzn.to/2p8LlpX
Here is a sneak peek at First Case:
The fact that Katrina Pomeroy had been murdered was in and of itself a newsworthy event. The fact that she had been murdered on Friday, October 13, exactly eleven years after she’d been one of five teenagers to survive the Friday the Thirteenth Massacre, made her passing worthy of notice by the national news agencies I used to work for. When an old editor of mine offered me the chance to write a human-interest piece about Katrina’s life and subsequent death, I jumped at the chance. An article such as this had all the makings of becoming the exposé I, Jillian Hanford, needed to relaunch my presently defunct career. Of course to make the sort of impact I was after, I’d not only need to write about Katrina’s unusual life, but to answer the question of who was responsible for her death.
I knew I’d need help to accomplish my goal, so I gathered my friends on a dark and stormy night and, with the help of fellow writer George Baxter, presented a proposal.
“Rayleen Oswald was the first to die,” George shared in a raspy voice as thunder rumbled in the distance. “She was stabbed thirteen times and then propped against a tree that, eerily enough, would be struck by lightning before the horrific night had come to an end.”
A flash of light pierced the sky, causing everyone gathered in the three-story home we shared to gasp as they waited for the clap of thunder we knew would follow. The house, which was part of the rundown resort I had agreed to manage temporarily, shook as the wind battered the island from the south, causing the tension in the room to intensify.
George continued. “Most felt that, as the first victim, Rayleen was the killer’s intended target, the others who died merely victims of circumstance. I’m not sure we can ever know what was in the killer’s mind and heart, but despite the killer’s motive, or lack thereof, two more died before the sun rose in the morning sky.”
Rain streamed down the windows, creating a feeling of isolation in the room that was illuminated by only the light from the fire and a few flickering candles we’d set around to offset the inky darkness created when the electricity had flickered and then gone out. It wasn’t uncommon for strong storms to batter the small islands off the South Carolina coast, but I was new to the area and had yet to develop the backbone necessary to easily weather such storms.
“Why were the kids on the island in the first place?” Clara Kline, a sixty-two-year-old, self-proclaimed psychic and paranormal mystery writer, asked her traditional mystery counterpart.
George took a puff from his pipe before he spoke again. “The day had started off sunny and mild. A group of teens from the local high school decided to cut class and go sailing, even though the local weather service predicted that a major storm would blow in by midafternoon. Now, the kids, having grown up on the island, were familiar with local weather patterns, and most were excellent sailors, but for reasons that have never been fully understood, they failed to return to the marina before the tropical storm rolled in. When the teens realized they weren’t going to make it back to Gull Island, they decided to take shelter in one of the abandoned structures on Waverly Island.”
“Waverly Island?” asked Brit Baxter, George’s twenty-six-year-old niece and the newest member of our group.
“It’s about fifteen miles north of us,” I answered in George’s stead.
Brit was not only new to the group but new to the writers’ retreat and Gull Island, so I wasn’t surprised she was unfamiliar with the small settlement on the nearby island that had been occupied a half century ago but had been destroyed by a hurricane and never rebuilt. I glanced at Blackbeard, the outspoken parrot I’d inherited when I took over as manager of the resort my half brother, Garrett Hanford, owned. It appeared he was listening intently to the story, which sort of creeped me out; he was, after all, a bird. Blackbeard nodded in my direction, which made me flinch. It had occurred to me on more than one occasion that the assertion by Clara that the large tropical transplant was really an apparition in disguise might not be as wild a claim as I’d originally believed.
“So eight teenagers took refuge on a deserted island in the middle of a tropical storm…” Alex Cole, a fun, flirty millennial who’d made his first million writing science fiction when he was just twenty-two trailed off, thereby encouraging George to go on.
“The shelter where the teens sought refuge was within the walls of a structure that had been destroyed more than thirty years before. They built a fire for warmth and decided to wait out the storm. At some point after they settled in, Rayleen and her boyfriend, Troy, got into a fight. Rayleen stormed off, and the next time anyone saw her, she had been stabbed thirteen times and left leaning against a tree that had just been struck by lightning. The specifics of this story are complex,” George warned. “I’m going to suggest we keep to the overview this evening and then examine the bones of the mystery at a later time.”
“Sounds fine by me,” Brit answered. “But I still want to hear the end of the story.”
“Very well.” Charles refilled his glass of brandy from the bottle on the table. “After Rayleen was found, the others feared they weren’t alone on the island. So, after much discussion, they did what the characters in any horror movie do: They split up to take a look around. After an exhaustive search in the pouring rain, with gale-force winds hampering their every step, the seven remaining teens finally concluded that if there had been someone else on the island they were long gone. They returned to the structure where they’d initially set up camp and waited for the storm to pass.”
“And then? You said there were three victims,” Alex pointed out.
“Why is it that young people today are so anxious to get to the finish line? Stories such as this one should be drawn out and savored.”
Alex gave Charles an impatient look.
“Anyway,” Charles continued, “after a long day battling both the storm and their fear, everyone began to drift off to sleep. No one claimed to know exactly when the second victim, Trevor Bailey, left the others, but at some point his girlfriend, Brooklyn Vanderbilt, woke up and noticed him missing. When he didn’t return after almost a half hour, Brooklyn went looking for him. She found him impaled on an old ship’s anchor.”
The room fell silent as Charles paused for everyone to digest what he’d said. The shadows created by the wood fire in the old stone fireplace lent an eerie feeling to the already spooky aura that had been created by the storm and the story. Alex got up and poured himself a tall glass of whiskey while Brit wrapped her arms around her legs, as if attempting to make herself as small as possible. I wondered what must have gone through the minds of the teens that night. Knowing you were trapped on an island with a homicidal maniac had to be the most horrifying thing one could imagine. A representative from the sheriff’s office had interviewed the survivors, but they’d been so traumatized that their memories had been distorted. In the end, the stories each told were so completely different as to be rendered useless.
“And the third victim?” Alex finally asked. Most of the time you could count on Alex to interject a bit of humor into a tense situation, but tonight, as the storm raged outside and Charles shared this very true story, he looked as spooked as anyone.
“The third victim was a boy named Joshua Vanderbilt. He was Brooklyn’s cousin, who was visiting Gull Island. Joshua was found facedown in a freshwater pond. Some said he’d passed out due to the large quantity of alcohol he’d consumed that day and his death by drowning was an accident; others insisted he was murdered.”
“So Brooklyn was connected to two of the victims,” Alex commented. “She was the girlfriend of victim number two, Trevor Bailey, and the cousin of victim number three, Joshua Vanderbilt. Was she related in any way to victim number one, Rayleen Oswald?”
“Trevor was friends with Rayleen,” I answered. “In fact, it was Trevor who introduced Troy and Rayleen to each other. As far as I can tell from my preliminary research, a lot of people have spent a significant amount of time looking at both stated and secret relationships between the kids who set off on the boat that day. The reality is, this is a small island, and except for Joshua, the teens all went to the same school, so they were all connected to one another in some way.”
By this point everyone in the room was frowning. Not that I blamed them; the story was not only tragic but confusing as well. Finally Clara asked about the names of the other survivors and where they currently lived, if known.
“Brooklyn Vanderbilt still lives on the island,” George provided. “She teaches third grade at Gull Island Elementary School. She’s married to a local contractor, Flip Johnson. They have two children, a boy and a girl. She’s a well-respected and liked member of the community.”
“So theoretically Brooklyn would be available to be interviewed,” Brit commented.
“Theoretically,” George answered. “Another survivor, Carrie Quincy, also still lives on the island. She works as a waitress at Gertie’s. I’m sure most of you have met her.”
“Carrie from the diner was on the island that night?” Alex asked.
“She was, although she prefers not to speak about what happened. She was with her boyfriend at the time, Jason Rogers.”
“And Katrina Pomeroy?” Brit asked.
“She left the island after the incident. Prior to her death, she owned an art gallery in Charleston.”
“I heard her body was found at the foot of the old pier,” Alex commented. “It seems as if she’d been pushed. Do you think her murder is related to the Friday the Thirteenth Massacre?”
“Perhaps,” I answered.
“So if she’d moved to Charleston, what was she doing here when she was killed?”
“That’s one of the unanswered questions I’ve been pondering,” I said.
In the past twenty-four hours I’d been struggling unsuccessfully to outline a news article about Katrina’s murder. I’d finally brought my problem to Charles, who, after quite a bit of discourse, had suggested we bring the puzzle to the rest of the writers’ group.
“Who owned the boat the kids sailed on?” Clara asked.
“Jason Rogers. He still lives on Gull Island. He’s a marine mechanic and works over at the marina in the summer. During the off-season he does odd jobs for Troy Wheeler, who, as you’ll remember, was Rayleen’s boyfriend at the time of her death. Troy works as a bank manager. He also serves on the island council.”
The group fell into silence, trying to process everything that had been said. Although we all were writers, each of us had our own niche and tended to work alone. The writers’ group had begun meeting a couple of times a week to discuss our work the previous summer, when Charles was researching a true crime for his latest whodunit. He’d hit a roadblock and asked Clara, Alex, and me for help. The result of our work was a bestseller for Charles and a clue that led the Charleston PD to a real-life killer.
From that point we decided to use one another as a sounding board when we ran into snags in our projects. Brit had just moved out to the resort the previous week, after deciding that her degree in business was getting her nowhere. After a bit of introspection she’d realized she wasn’t taking the business world by storm because her real love was writing. Because she was Charles’s niece there was no question that she’d be admitted into the group even though she had yet to solve her first mystery or publish her first book.
“When’s your article due?” Brit asked.
“They want it by the end of next week. I could turn it in minus a resolution to the murder, but I’d really like to solve the mystery before we go to print. I could use everyone’s help.”
“I’m in,” Brit answered. “Just let me know what you need me to do.”
“I’ll help as well,” Clara offered.
“I think that even if the entire group commits we’re going to have an uphill battle, though I’m up for the challenge,” Alex agreed. “When’s Victoria going to be back? I’m not sure we can do this without her snarky comments to keep us on track.”
Victoria Vance, a best-selling novelist who specializes in steamy romances, is my best friend.
“Not until Monday. The convention is over tomorrow morning, but she planned to visit friends and do some shopping before heading home.”
“Have you spoken to Deputy Savage?” Alex asked. “I’m sure he’s the one investigating Katrina Pomeroy’s murder. He must have established a list of suspects by now.”
“I called to speak to him, but he isn’t sharing. I guess I don’t blame him. My interest in the case is journalistic, while his is in bringing the person responsible for killing Katrina to justice. I guess I’ll need to pay him a visit in person, where my powers of persuasion can shine through.”
“Couldn’t hurt to have a cop’s perspective,” Alex commented.
“What do you know about Katrina and her death?” Clara wondered.
“That shortly after the five survivors of the Friday the Thirteenth Massacre were rescued, Katrina’s family left the island. She pretty much dropped off the radar, though I found an article that said she was living in Charleston, where she owned an art gallery. It seems she was doing quite well. I have no idea why she happened to be on Gull Island exactly eleven years after the horrific night that sent her running in the first place. If she was as traumatized as the article made it sound it makes no sense that she’d return to the island, especially on the anniversary.”
“Have you spoken to the other survivors?” Alex asked.
“Not yet. I just got the call from my old editor this morning, and with the storm, I haven’t had a chance to work on it other than to do some computer research and discuss the matter with Charles. It isn’t going to be an easy mystery to solve, but I feel if anyone can get to the bottom of the whole thing we can.”
“I think we have as good a shot as anyone,” Charles agreed.
“My sense is that we’ll find our way to an answer, but I’m exhausted. I think I’ll head upstairs,” Clara announced.
Alex and Brit agreed they could use some shut-eye as well, so they followed Clara up the stairs to the second floor, where most of the house’s ten bedrooms were located.
“What do you really think?” I asked Charles when the three of them had gone. Although I’d only met him a few months ago, I felt I could trust and depend on him more than anyone else in my life. Maybe it was the kindness in his faded blue eyes, the nostalgia of the worn tweed jackets he favored, the smell of tobacco coming from his cherrywood pipe, or the careful way he considered every situation, but from the moment I met him I’d felt like I’d finally been united with the grandfather I’d always longed for but never known.
“I think this is going to turn out to be a difficult and complicated case. The initial murders occurred over a decade ago and for one reason or another have never been solved. The death of Katrina Pomeroy appears to have occurred in isolation, with no witnesses.”
“So you think I should drop it?” I tucked a lock of my long brown hair behind my ear to keep it from falling across my face.
“Not necessarily. If the case had been easy to solve it would have happened already and would therefore be of little interest to your editor or us. We have captured Alex’s interest, which is a good thing. The kid is young and cocky and occasionally tests my last nerve, but he is also bright, creative, and industrious. He has a unique way of weeding through facts and honing in on the root of the matter. I have a feeling if we can channel his focus he will turn out to be a huge asset.”
“And the others?”
“I love Brit. She is my very favorite niece. But she is young and untested. She still needs to grow into her place with the group. I’m not sure she will be a lot of help with this case, but given time, I’m sure she will fit in. As for Clara, we both know she has the potential to provide the precise insight that can make the difference between success and failure. I think the fact that teens were involved in this case has caused her to take a step back emotionally. It is my sense, however, that in the end she will make the connection to provide the insight we need.”
Clara wrote paranormal mysteries and claimed to have psychic powers. Her books were wonderful, but I hadn’t decided if the psychic part was true. Clara had provided a key insight that had allowed us to solve the case Charles had been working on the previous summer, but she tended to become emotionally involved in whatever case we were discussing, which seemed to block her ability to get a clear and concise reading. There was a part of me—the long-suppressed child part—that really wanted to believe in her psychic powers, but I was no longer a child, and the pragmatist in me had pretty much decided Clara was just very observant and that was why she picked up on subtle clues others missed.
“The reality is,” Charles added, “we have nothing to lose by attempting to figure this out. If we do you will have a wonderful twist for your article and a killer will have been brought to justice; if we don’t, we will only have wasted a few hours of our lives.”
“Thanks, Charles. I only have a week to turn in my article, so I plan to give it my all. I’m not sure if the case is solvable, but I’d like to give it a try.” I could hear thunder rumbling in the distance. “It looks like we’re in for the second wave of rain the forecasters said was coming.”
“I think I will go up and get settled in before it gets here.”
“Me too. I’ll see you in the morning.”
I tossed another log on the fire before heading upstairs. Normally Blackbeard slept in a cage in the library, but tonight, with the storm and all, I’d decided to bring him upstairs and have him sleep in my room at the top of the house. One of the first things I’d done upon moving in was remodel the attic and turn it into a bedroom. Not only did the third story have the best view in the house, but being alone on my own floor afforded me a certain degree of privacy.
“What about you?” I asked the bird as I carried him up the two flights of stairs. “Do you think we have a chance of solving this complicated case?”
“Captain Jack, Captain Jack.”
I smiled at my brighter-than-average bird. Leave it to him to come up with the exact person I’d need to bring this story home.
Bring the story home. God, how I missed that.