Camp Carter


Camp Carter is the 25th installment to the Zoe Donovan Cozy Mystery Series. A preview of the book is included in this blog. 


Preview Camp Carter

The fact that Zak had signed us up to act as chaperones for Scooter’s end-of-school-year campout was bad enough. The fact that there wasn’t a bathroom in sight of the cabin Zak and I had been assigned was even worse. But the fact that I was six weeks pregnant and dealing with relentless bouts of morning sickness almost had me running back home to my hometown of Ashton Falls with my tail between my legs.

“What am I going to do?” I asked my best friend, Ellie Denton, who had stayed behind with her husband, Levi, new baby Eli, and our resident animals. “I’m never going to survive without a bathroom.” I walked farther into the forest as I tried to find the sweet spot where cell reception would be the strongest. It seemed that every time I found a strong signal the reception faded and I needed to seek out the next best location to have this very important conversation.

“What you’re going to do is tell your very sweet and very caring husband that you’re going to have his baby. Not only is there no way you’ll be able to continue to hide your condition while camping in that tiny cabin but there’s absolutely no reason for you to do so.”

“You know what happened last time. You know why I wanted to wait.”

Ellie paused and took a deep breath. I was sure she was trying to channel the patience she knew she’d need to deal with my irrational emotions. Yes, I’d experienced a setback at Christmas, when it turned out that my first pregnancy didn’t take, but even I had to admit I’d been a handful as of late. I cried when I was happy, I cried when I was sad, I cried just because, but the one thing I never let myself do was cry in front of Zak. At least he’d been busy with the remodel of the boathouse and the end-of-year activities at Zimmerman Academy, which had just let out for the summer the previous Friday. So far, I don’t think he’d had the time to really notice my crazy mood swings.

“Zoe, you know I love you and you know I only want what’s best for you, but you have to tell him. You should have already. The longer you wait the more awkward it’s going to be. Besides, while he hasn’t said as much, I’m willing to bet he already knows.”

“I’ve been careful.”

“He loves you. He’s in tune with your moods. He seems to be aware of everything that’s going on with you. He always has been.”

I sat down on a rock overlooking the warm shallow lake. “Then why hasn’t he said anything?”

Ellie sighed. “Honestly? I think he wants to give you the time and space you need to work through your issues. Zak really is the most patient man on the planet.”

Ellie was right. Zak was very patient and he probably did already know or at least suspect I was pregnant. And he probably had decided to give me the space I needed to deal with whatever it was I was so worried about. Zac was a saint; he’d proven on more than one occasion that he was willing to let me set the pace in our relationship.

“Okay,” I finally said. “I’ll tell him.” I put my hand to my churning stomach. “He’s hiking with Scooter, Alex, Charlie, and some of the counselors, but as soon as he gets back, I’ll tell him.”

“Good. I’m glad. He’s going to be so happy.”

I smiled. “Yeah. He will.”

“You’re going to be a mom!” Ellie said, a squeal of happiness in her voice. “We’re going to be moms together. I’ve been dying for you to tell Zak so I can finally tell Levi.”

“I’ll call you after I talk to Zak, but don’t tell Levi before I do. The guy is a real blabbermouth.”

“Don’t worry; I won’t say a word until you give me the green light.”

After I hung up with Ellie I made what I would later look back on as a huge mistake. The thought of finally telling Zak my secret was making me more nauseated than I already was, so I headed over to the rustic kitchen to ask the cook for a few saltine crackers and some club soda. Camp Carter was a wilderness camp about sixty miles from Ashton Falls. It was nestled in the foothills of the mountains I call home, so the midspring temperatures were already climbing into the high seventies in the lower elevations, while the high temperatures back home on the mountain still lingered in the low sixties. The lake the camp was built beside was warm and shallow, perfect for swimming and canoeing even early in the season.

Zak and I, along with my dog Charlie and the two twelve-year-olds who lived with us, Scooter Sherwood and Alex Bremmerton, had arrived early to help get things up and running. By the time the sun set over the distant mountain the camp would be filled with more than a hundred students from four elementary schools who would spend five fun-filled days under the constant care of ten camp counselors, two activities leaders, a cook, an administrator, and a handful of selfless parents who’d agreed to act as chaperones.

At the moment there were six counselors on the premises, in addition to the cook and the camp administrator. The rest of the staff and the campers would be arriving on the buses the administrator had hired later that afternoon. It was a warm spring day and everyone who’d arrived early had decided to go hiking. I had chosen to rest instead of recreate and was fairly sure I was the only one, other than the cook, left in the area where the cabins and other buildings were located.

“Mrs. Potter,” I called as I walked through the dirty screen door. “It’s Zoe Zimmerman. Are you here?” I scratched at a mosquito bite that had shown up on my thigh just below the hem of my shorts as I walked farther into the room.

I looked around and didn’t see the cook, although there was a pot of gray goop I assumed must be some sort of gravy simmering on the stove. I put my hand over my mouth and looked away, fighting the nausea that had suddenly intensified. If I didn’t find something to calm the rumbling in my stomach I was afraid I was going to be the architect of a huge mess all over the kitchen floor.

Given the fact that the room was empty, I had to assume Mrs. Potter had stepped out. I really needed something to calm my stomach, so I figured I’d look for the crackers myself. I opened several cupboards filled with canned goods, paper products, seasonings, and pots and pans, but nothing resembling a cracker. I was about to give up when I noticed a doorway on the far end of the long kitchen that either led outdoors or, more probably, to a pantry or storage room. I tried opening the door, but something had fallen behind it and it wouldn’t budge. I leaned my hip into it and pushed, getting the door to open a tiny bit. Most people wouldn’t have been able to squeeze through the small opening, but it just so happens I’m smaller than most, so I was able to push my way through. I had to suck in my gut as I tried to maneuver in the tight space, but after a fair amount of effort I found myself propelled into the space behind the door. I turned to see what had blocked it, and that was when I finally lost the lunch I’d been trying so desperately to hang on to.



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