Did Someone Say Back to School?

 

Okay, I don’t actually have children currently attending grades K-12, but I do have grandchildren who attend public school, so I am up on all the start dates and school vacations. While my own grandchildren don’t start school for a couple of weeks, my nieces and nephews started back last Monday (8/7.) That seems was too early to me. When I was a kid (yes I known that only us old folks start sentences in this manner) we didn’t go back to school until after Labor Day.  I realize that with the earlier start dates, the school vacations during the school year are longer and more frequent, which I suppose is nice.

My friends who have children affected by the earlier start date are divided on the issue. Some would prefer to see a longer summer break and others prefer more time off during the school year.

From a strictly personal standpoint I am always happy when the kids go back to school. Living in a resort community which must accommodate a visitor population four times the actual population during the summer, I am happy to see the end to traffic jams and restaurants so crowded you can’t get a foot in the front door. I do find by the time mid August rolls around, I am more than ready for cooler and shorter days, as well as a quiet town where I can take solitary walks and dine in my favorite restaurants without having to wait for two hours.

In order to celebrate a return to school I am giving away Kindle copies of Hopscotch Homicide FREE for two days only – August 12 and 13, 2017. (That is Saturday and Sunday)

FREE 8/12 – 8/13 – http://amzn.to/2uynXlY

To be eligible to win a $5 Amazon Gift Card, comment below and let me know if you think kids should have a shorter summer vacation and more breaks during the year or a longer summer vacation.

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Third Strike

 

http://amzn.to/2w6H7zS

Hey gang,

Third Strike is publishing on August 4. It is the third book in my new Writer’s Retreat Mystery Series. I’m providing a partial chapter if anyone wants to see what the series is all about.

Chapter 1
Wednesday, November 15

Trey Alderman was Gull Island’s most important claim to sports fame. He was the starting pitcher for the Gull Island Seagulls and went on to stand out nationally among college players while attending the University of South Carolina. It was assumed he would be a top draft pick a year and a half back, and it seemed the sky was the limit in terms of his career. Trey came home on spring break during his senior year and, while on the island, agreed to play in a charity event in Charleston. The game, which featured other draft hopefuls, came down to a single run. It was the bottom of the ninth, the tying run was on third, the bases were loaded, there were two outs, and the tension was high. The pitch was thrown fast and down the middle and the crowd held their breath as Trey swung his bat with all his might before falling to the ground. He was pronounced dead at the scene. It was later determined he died of a heart attack. He was twenty-two, healthy, and, as far as anyone knew, had no preexisting heart condition.

It was later revealed that Trey had arrived at the game feeling dizzy and disoriented. He’d elected to suit up but wasn’t in the starting lineup. He’d begun to feel better as the game progressed, and by the ninth inning he was feeling amped and ready to play, so the coach put him in as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the ninth. The autopsy revealed that Trey didn’t have an undiagnosed heart condition, as everyone had believed, but had been suffering the ill effects of a drug mixture in his system that could have led to a heart attack when combined with extreme stress. The local investigators determined that he had most likely engaged in recreational drug use at a party he’d attended the previous evening.

Alex Cole, a twenty-eight-year-old, fun and flirty millennial who’d made his first million writing science fiction when he was just twenty-two, had decided to write a book about Trey’s life and death and had brought the mystery of Trey’s death to the Mystery Mastermind group made up of people who lived and worked at the Gull Island Writers’ Retreat, which my brother, Garrett Hanford, owns, and I, Jillian Hanford, operate.

“On the surface, it seems as if Trey’s death was the result of his own poor choices,” I pointed out. “I guess my question is: Where’s the mystery?”

“There are those, including Trey’s parents, who believe he didn’t knowingly consume the drugs that led to his death,” Alex answered.

“They think someone slipped him the drugs without his knowledge?” I clarified.

“Exactly. It’s my intention to dig into the twenty-four hours leading up to his collapse and try to determine if Trey’s death really was nothing more than a terrible accident or if he was murdered.”

“You’re suggesting whoever slipped Trey the drugs, if that’s even what happened, knew they would cause his heart to fail?” I asked.

“Not necessarily. Trey’s heart attack seems to have been the result of a very specific set of circumstances that couldn’t have been planned or predicted, so my use of the word murdered is probably a bit more melodramatic than the situation warrants. Still, I do believe someone could have slipped Trey the drugs with the intention of making him ill enough that he’d miss the game.”

“Have you had a chance to narrow down the lists of suspects and witnesses we need to follow up with?” Brit Baxter, a twenty-six-year-old chick lit writer and the newest member of our group asked.

“I have nine names I think should give us a starting point,” Alex said as his long blond hair fell over his bright blue eyes. “Everyone on the list attended the same party Trey did the night before he died, all attended the game, and all had at least somewhat of a motive for wanting Trey out of the way.”

I grabbed a bright red marker and stood in front of whiteboard, prepared to take notes as the discussion unfolded. We’d found that writing everything down permitted us to look at situations from a variety of perspectives and, in the end, helped us make sense of what usually began as a lot of unrelated information.

“I’ll start with the residents of Gull Island who attended the party,” Alex began as the group listened intently. “Fortunately, four of these five people still live on the island and are willing to speak to us when we’re ready to begin our investigation.”

“You’ve already spoken to everyone on the list?” asked George Baxter, a sixty-eight-year-old writer of traditional whodunits.

“I’ve spoken very briefly to more than half the people on the list so far,” Alex confirmed. “I figured it would save us some time if I did a bit of the legwork ahead of time.”

“Okay,” I said, marker in hand. “Who do you have?”

“Heather Granger dated Trey Alderman all though high school. It was assumed Trey and she would marry at some point, and Heather had even applied to the University of South Carolina and sent in her acceptance there as soon as she found out that was the school he’d decided on. Shortly after their high school graduation, Trey broke up with her. He offered the standard we’re-entering-a-new-phase-in-our-lives speech and asked her if she wanted to consider attending one of the other schools where she’d been accepted to make things less awkward.”

“What a creep,” Brit said with a hint of disgust in her voice. “If he didn’t want his old girlfriend to interfere with his groove, he should have changed schools.”

“The University of South Carolina was Trey’s choice in the first place,” Alex pointed out. “Heather was only going there to follow him.”

“Whatever.” Brit rolled her eyes.

“So what did Heather decide to do?” I asked to prevent an all-out argument. “Did she change schools?”

“She didn’t go to college at all. From what I understand, she was pretty broken up when Trey dumped her from out of the blue, and most of the people I’ve spoken to said she sank into a bit of a depression. She has, however, gotten on with her life since then,” Alex assured us, looking directly at Brit. “She’s engaged to a chef she met just after Trey’s death and they’ve bought that old storefront on the wharf and are opening a restaurant.”

“If she has moved on, why is she on your list?” Brit asked.

“Because she hadn’t moved on at the time of the party. In fact, I’ve heard she was quite enraged when Trey showed up with his new girlfriend, Rena Madison.”

“Tell us about Rena,” Brit suggested.

Alex hesitated. “I’d planned to cover the locals first and then move on to the visitors to the island who attended the party.”

“It’s okay. I can hop back and forth between the two lists, and I’d like to hear about Rena as well,” I said encouragingly.

“Okay,” Alex agreed, sorting through his notes. “Rena Madison was a popular cheerleader at the University of South Carolina. She started dating Trey when they were both juniors. From what I could find out, she’s both beautiful and popular, and while she was majoring in communication, she had big plans to make a name for herself in modeling. While she didn’t say as much to me, based on what others have told me, Rena was using Trey to advance her career. I can’t speak to what was actually in her heart, but Trey’s best friend from high school, Hudson Dickerson, shared with me that Trey planned to dump Rena as soon as he was drafted, so in a way it appears they were using each other.”

“Like I said, the guy was an ass.” Brit’s eyes flashed with annoyance. “Why are we trying to find out what happened to him again?”

“You’re helping me write a book based on a set of circumstances I’m exploring. Trey Alderman may not be a sympathetic character, but I do find him an interesting one.”

“Oh, right. Okay, continue.”

I could see Trey’s cavalier attitude toward the women he dated had become a sore spot for Brit. It would appear the blond-haired pixie was a lot more of a romantic than she let on.

“Do we have reason to believe Rena knew Trey planned to dump her?” asked Jackson Jones, a never-married, forty-two-year-old, nationally acclaimed author of hard-core mysteries and thrillers, who was as famous for his good looks and boyish charm as he was for the stories he penned. Jackson currently lived on Gull Island as mild-mannered Jack Jones, small-town newspaper owner.

“I spoke to a woman named Candy Baldwin. She was and still is Heather’s best friend and has lived on the island all her life. She said Rena did know what Trey planned and had told everyone at the party she’d find a way to get her revenge.”

“Do you have the sense Candy is someone whose word can be trusted?” Jack asked.

Alex shrugged “I’m not sure. She’s a nice enough woman who’s since married her own high school boyfriend, Hudson Dickerson.”

“Trey’s best friend?” I clarified.

“Yes. It seems all through high school Trey and Heather and Hudson and Candy weren’t only best friends but best couple friends. It’s been suggested to me that Candy took Trey’s breakup with Heather and the end of their little group almost harder than Heather did. I can’t say for certain yet, but it seems Candy might hold a pretty big grudge against the victim, so I guess I’d take anything she tells you with a grain of salt.”

“Should Candy and Hudson both be added to the suspect list?” I wondered.

Alex nodded his head. “I would definitely consider Candy a suspect at this point. Hudson was Trey’s best friend; as far as I can tell, he didn’t have a motive to want to hurt him, but he was at the party and the game, so at the very least he’s a witness. Add him to the list of people we should follow up with.”

I made a few notes on the whiteboard, then asked Alex to go on.

“There are two locals we haven’t discussed yet,” he said. “Dexter Parkway was a bit of a nerd in high school, went on to pursue a career in computer science, and is currently working on a doctorate at Harvard. While in high school, he was an unpopular geek who saw Trey as something of a hero. Dexter idolized Trey and spent quite a lot of time not only following him around but doing his homework, while Trey treated him like a trained dog.”

Brit didn’t say a word, but I saw her face was quickly becoming an interesting shade of scarlet.

“If Dexter idolized Trey, why would he kill him?” asked Victoria Vance, a thirty-seven-year-old romance author and my best friend.

“I’m not saying he killed Trey, but keep in mind Dexter was in his final year of undergraduate work at Boston College at the time Trey died. The guy’s really smart. I bet by the time he was twenty-two he must have realized his own worth and grown out of his need to idolize an athletic bully. Again, I only spoke to each of the people on my list for a brief time to get a general background, but it seems to me that by the time that party rolled around, Dexter should have been well past the point of being happy being someone’s lapdog.”

“So you think he could have drugged Trey to get back at him for the way he treated him in high school?” Victoria asked.

“I’m not ready to say that, but Dexter would have had a legitimate complaint, and he’s one of the few people on the list who could have had the knowledge to put together the drug cocktail the police believe ended up killing Trey.”

Everyone paused to let that sink in. While it was true you could get almost any information on the Web these days, it sounded like the drugs that killed Trey were pretty specific. I wondered if anyone else on the list had a background in chemistry or medicine, so I asked the question.

“Actually, yes. There’s another person on the list with the expertise to concoct such a drug cocktail. Her name is Quinn Jenkins, but let me circle back around to her. First, I want to mention Coach Cranston.”

“The baseball coach over at the high school?” Jack asked.

“Yes. Coach Cranston has been the coach for a number of years and was Trey’s coach when he was in high school,” Alex said.

“Trey was a star. Cranston must have loved him.”

Alex nodded to Jack. “He did then. In fact, he put in a lot of extra time helping Trey hone his skills. He even managed to get him recognition from other coaches he knew in other parts of the country. The issue was, Trey more or less promised Coach Cranston that if he helped him get a college scholarship, he would take Cranston with him when he went pro. He promised to make him his agent. But when the time came to look for an adviser, he decided he needed someone flashier, someone with more experience. It was while he was home on spring break that he told Cranston he’d decided to go a different way.”

“I bet he was angry,” Clara Kline, a sixty-two-year-old self-proclaimed psychic and the writer of fantasy and paranormal mysteries, commented.

“From what I’ve heard, he was. Very angry. He’d stayed in contact with Trey all through his college career, treated him like a son, and discussed their plans for the future on many occasions. Trey’s announcement that he was going with someone he’d just met seemed to come from out of left field. I understand Coach Cranston was not only angry but hurt as well.”

“Have you considered a scenario where they all conspired to drug him?” I asked as the grudges against Trey piled up fast.

“Hang on; I haven’t even gotten to the best suspects yet.”

“Okay, spill,” Brit encouraged. “Who do you think had the strongest reason to kill Trey Alderman?”

“Two other baseball players come to mind. Both were at the party, both played in the charity game during which Trey died, and both improved in ranking with Trey’s death. Jett Strong attended Florida State University and was nationally ranked number two behind Trey. The rivalry between Jett and Trey was fierce, and each felt they deserved the title of MVP. During their four years of college, the two traded the number one spot a few times, but as of the day Trey died, it looked like he was going to edge out his rival and come out on top.”

“And did Jett finish number one once Trey was out of the picture?” I asked.

“He did.”

I jotted down a few notes. “You said there were two rivals?”

“Parker Wilson was the other one. He attended the University of South Carolina with Trey and was his teammate. He was a very good player in his own right, but he couldn’t quite compete with Trey, who always stole the spotlight. Many people felt if Parker had been on a different team he would have been a star, but as Trey’s teammate, he never got the attention he deserved.”

“I bet that sucked,” Brit said.

“I’m sure it did,” Alex agreed.

“Why didn’t Parker just transfer to another school?” I asked.

“It isn’t that easy to transfer once you’re committed to a sports program, plus he was attending the university on a scholarship,” Alex explained.

“Now, what about this Quinn you were going to circle back to?” Brit asked.

Alex shuffled through his notes. “Quinn Jenkins also attended the University of South Carolina and was Parker’s girlfriend. An assertive woman majoring in microbiology who felt Parker was getting a raw deal, she wasn’t afraid to let anyone who would listen know about it. There are people I’ve interviewed who felt Quinn was exactly the kind of person to remove obstacles in her way, no matter what it took. For the rest of the season following Trey’s death, Parker became the star of the team and was drafted by the New York Yankees. I understand he’s building a pretty spectacular career with Quinn at his side.”

I completed my notes, then took a step back from the whiteboard. We really had a daunting task ahead of us.
“Do you have a plan?” George asked.

“I know you’re all busy with your own lives and careers, so I thought maybe you could tackle the suspects who live on the island, while I go after the ones who live out of state. Parker and Quinn live in New York, which is where I plan to start.”

“And Jett?” I asked. “Was he drafted?”

“Yes; to the Florida Marlins. The season is over, so I’m not sure whether he’ll be in Florida, but I’ll track him down.”

“And Rena?” I asked.

“She moved to New York to pursue her modeling career. I’ll catch her at the same time I visit Parker and Quinn. I’m planning to leave for New York tomorrow. I’d love to get the interviews and other research wrapped up before Thanksgiving if possible.”

“Okay; I’m game to jump right in,” I said to the group.

“Me too,” Jack seconded.

“I’ll consult my cards,” Clara promised. “I think this is going to be a juicy one. I can already sense lies and deceit. If I had to guess, the true motive behind Trey’s death is still buried deep beneath the surface of the cruelty and betrayal he left behind. Agatha,” Clara said, referring to her cat, “thinks there may be another player not yet identified.”

“Please have Agatha let us know as soon as she figures out who we’re missing,” Alex said gently.

“Oh, I will, dear. This is quite a task you’re taking on and we’re happy to help. Aren’t we, Agatha?”

“Meow,” answered the cat, sitting primly in Clara’s lap.

“And I’ll dig in with my research,” George promised. “I have several ideas already.”

“I’ll build a social media map,” Brit offered. “I’ve found them to come in handy.”

“I don’t know how I can help, but I’m in as well,” Victoria offered.

“Great,” I said after everyone had chimed in. I looked at Blackbeard, my very opinionated and very intuitive parrot, who seemed to be able to communicate his thoughts and feelings. “How about it, big guy? You up for another mystery?”

Blackbeard didn’t respond, which was uncharacteristic of him.

I turned back to the others, “I guess he doesn’t have anything to say. Can everyone meet back here on Monday evening? That will give us time to do some digging around.”

Everyone agreed Monday would be fine. Jack was going to make some calls the next day, and then he and I would get started with interviews on Friday. Hopefully, once we began speaking to people, a pattern would emerge.

 

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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. http://amzn.to/2sBVWZa 

 

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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Second Look

 

I’m so excited that book 2 in my new Writers Retreat Mystery Series is publishing next week on July 4! I really love this new series and hope you all love it as much as I do.

I am using this blog to share the first chapter of Second Look with anyone who is interested in previewing it.

 

Kindle: http://amzn.to/2qcO434

Nook: http://bit.ly/2tu2w7Z 

 

Chapter 1
Monday, October 23

Five years ago, award-winning actor Rhett Crawford threw a party for a group of family members and friends. The event was held at his beachfront estate on Gull Island. At around eleven-thirty on the night of the party, the groundskeeper, Wylie Slater, found the body of one of the guests, Georgia Darcy, bludgeoned to death and left in the toolshed at the edge of the property, beyond the garden. The authorities were notified and interviews of all individuals on the property were conducted. It was eventually determined that the victim’s date, a man named Dru Breland, had most likely killed the woman before fleeing the scene of the crime.

After Georgia’s remains were found, the authorities conducted an exhaustive search but were unable to locate Mr. Breland. As far as anyone associated with the investigation could find out, he was never seen again by friends, family, or business associates. It was assumed by most that he had fled the country and started a new life under an assumed name.

Then, five days ago, the oceanfront estate once owned by Rhett Crawford but now owned by an out-of-state developer, was scheduled for demolition. During the destruction of the house, a human skeleton was found in a hidden room off the wine cellar. After a thorough investigation by the medical examiner and his team, it was determined that the body was the decomposed remains of murder suspect Dru Breland.

My friend Jackson Jones, owner of the fledging Gull Island News, had latched onto the story and seemed determined to find out not only how Dru Breland ended up in the secret room but who had killed Georgia Darcy, if, in fact, Dru Breland wasn’t the killer, as everyone had believed. Jack knew the five-year-old mystery would be a complicated one to unravel, so he asked me, Jillian Hanford, if I’d be willing to present it to the writers’ group I lived and sleuthed with. I agreed, which brings us to the regular Monday night meeting of the eclectic group of writers I call friends but consider family.

“Okay, so what do we know about the other guests at the party?” asked George Baxter, a sixty-eight-year-old writer of traditional whodunits who was currently living in one of the cabins on the property I was running as a writers’ retreat.

“There were twelve people in all on the property during the party,” Jack answered. “As I mentioned before, the estate was owned by actor Rhett Crawford. He, along with his wife at the time, Hillary Crawford, invited eight guests, including four visitors from off the island: the victim, Georgia Darcy, who was Hillary Crawford’s younger sister; Georgia’s date, Dru Breland, who was living in Los Angeles at that time; Jedd Boswell, also an actor and Rhett’s best friend; and Honey Golden, a model living in Orange County and Jedd’s date.”

Jack paused while I wrote the names of the out-of-town guests on the whiteboard we always used when attempting to unravel mysteries. We’d found visuals to be invaluable as relationships, motives, and secrets long kept began to reveal themselves.

“Also at the party were six Gull Island residents,” Jack continued. “Tiffany Pritchett, a friend of Hillary’s; Reggie Southern, Tiffany’s date; Claudia Norris, the woman who owned the adjoining estate and had become friendly with the Crawfords, and her date, Trent Truitt; and two employees, Olivia Cotton, who was hired to handle the cooking, and Wylie Slater, who lived on the property and worked as the groundskeeper.”

Once all the players had been identified, Jack paused to ask if there were any questions. I glanced around the room, which was lit by a crackling fire and warm candlelight. On this particular occasion, the electricity was up and running, but after a previous meeting held during a blackout caused by a storm, we’d decided the subdued lighting somehow heightened the senses. The only electric light in the room was a small overhead one we’d positioned over the whiteboard so everyone could see the details I was recording.

“I’m not really one to keep up on all the Hollywood news,” Clara Kline, a sixty-two-year-old, self-proclaimed psychic who wrote fantasy and paranormal mysteries, admitted. “You said Hillary Crawford was married to Rhett Crawford at the time of the murder. Have they since dissolved their relationship?”

“Yes,” Jack answered. “They were divorced shortly after the murder of Hillary’s sister, Georgia. The specifics of their divorce aren’t public record, but the press at the time reported that Hillary in some way blamed Rhett for what happened to Georgia.”
“Did they have children?”

Jack shook his head. “The couple seemed to be focused on their careers above all else. Not only was Rhett a major star at the time of the party but Hillary was a pretty big name as well. Based on what I’ve heard, it seems the couple’s relationship took a backseat to the fame they seemed to crave.”

Clara rocked back and forth in the antique rocker she favored, stroking her cat, Agatha, but not commenting further. Clara was an intuitive of sorts who had, in the past, helped provide key pieces of information necessary to solve the mysteries we were working on. The problem was, she was an emotionally intense individual who had a tendency to be flighty and distracted. When her emotions became too entangled with the specifics of the case, they seemed to block the psychic ability she claimed to possess. I just hoped she’d be able to maintain an emotional distance and help us out this time.

“Do we know if any of the guests who attended the party still live on Gull Island?” asked Brit Baxter, George’s twenty-six-year-old niece and the newest resident at my writers’ retreat. Brit had been a business major who’d decided her true calling was to be a writer. She’d yet to have anything published, but she’d already established herself as a valuable member of our little family. She had an intense look of concentration on her face as she sat on a barstool next to where the resident mascot, a parrot named Blackbeard, watched from his perch.

“Tiffany, Claudia, Olivia, and Wylie still live on the island,” Jack answered. “Tiffany Pritchett, who, as you’ll remember, was Hillary’s friend, is married to a contractor, Vince Flannigan. The couple have two children and seem to be contributing members of the Gulf Island community. Olivia Cotton, the woman hired to cook for the party, now owns her own bakery in town, and Wylie Slater, the Crawfords’ groundskeeper, now owns a fishing boat docked in the marina. And finally, Claudia Norris, who lived next door to the Crawfords’ beach house, still lives on the same property. She’s single and is no longer dating Trent Truitt.”

“And Truitt?” Brit asked.

“Now lives on Folly Island.” Jack named a nearby island.

“So it seems Tiffany, Claudia, Olivia, Wylie, and Trent should be available to interview,” stated Alex Cole, a twenty-eight-year-old, fun and flirty millennial who’d made his first million writing science fiction when he was just twenty-two.

“In terms of proximity, it seems very likely these individuals will be available for interviews,” Jack agreed. “I haven’t, however, had the opportunity to contact any of them, so it remains to be seen whether they’ll be willing to share their memories of what occurred.”

“I don’t see why they wouldn’t speak to us if they’re innocent,” Alex added. “If they’re guilty of killing two people, however…”

Alex made a good point. If Dru hadn’t killed Georgia, one of the people we sought to interview most likely had.

“So where do we start?” Brit asked.

“Is everyone in to help?” Jack queried.

“As interesting as this sounds, I’m heading to New York tomorrow morning,” Alex informed us. “I have meetings with my agent, publicist, and publisher, so I’ll be gone for four or five days. If you haven’t solved this by the time I return, I’d be happy to help then.”

“Actually,” Jack smiled, “the fact that you’re heading to New York works out really well. I did some research before this meeting, and it seems Hillary Crawford moved to Manhattan after she divorced Rhett. I have her current address and phone number. Maybe you can find the time to interview her while you’re there.”

“I’d be happy to.” Alex reached out for the paper on which Jack had recorded Hillary’s contact information. “I’ll call you to let you know what I find out.”

“What about the others who aren’t on the island?” I asked. “Do you know where they are now?”

“Rhett and Jedd still live in Los Angeles. They both continue to be active in the entertainment industry. Reggie Southern, Tiffany’s date to the party, has moved to Charleston.”

“And Honey Golden?” I asked.

“Her present whereabouts are unknown.”

“I’ll do some research to see if I can track her down,” Brit volunteered. “Almost everyone has social media accounts these days. I’m sure I can find her, and maybe Victoria can have a chat with Rhett and Jedd.”

“I’ll call to ask her,” I said.

Victoria Vance was the final member of our writers’ group, a thirty-seven-year-old romance writer who lives the life she writes about in her steamy novels. She was currently in Los Angeles, meeting with the production studio that was thinking of making some of her novels into movies. She’d be the perfect person to interview Rhett and Jedd. For one thing, she possessed certain assets that tended to make men do whatever she asked of them. For another, Victoria is a strong-willed woman who rarely takes no for an answer.

“Jill and I will get started on the interviews for the guests living in the area,” Jack added. “I have contact information for most of them and should be able to dig up phone numbers for the rest.”

I glanced at Clara, who seemed to be deep in thought. “Are you picking up anything?” I asked.

She frowned. “Maybe, but I’m not ready to say anything just yet. When we’re done here, I’ll consult my cards to see if I can confirm my suspicions.”

I was happy to see Clara was on board and hoped she’d be able to make a connection.

“And I’ll look in to the history of the estate,” George offered. “The idea of a secret room intrigues me. I wonder if its existence was widely known.”

“If not, that could narrow down our suspect list,” Jack said.

“It would be interesting to find out if the room was built into the original structure of the house or if Rhett added it.” George looked at Jack. “Do you happen to know if there was anything in the room other than the body of Dru Breland?”

“I’m not sure. I’ll see if I can find out.”

“How long ago was the property sold to the developer?” George added.

“I think about a year ago,” Jack answered. “I’ll find out the exact date.”

“On the surface, it seems Rhett is a likely suspect because he would know about the room, but if he’s the one who put the body in it, I would think he’d have moved it before he sold the property. He was selling to a developer, so he must have figured the house would be torn down at some point.”

George might be right. In all likelihood, Rhett wasn’t the killer.

The room fell into silence. I glanced at Blackbeard, who seemed to be taking in everything that was happening and was watching, not speaking. I know looking to a bird for insight might seem odd, but I’ve discovered since living on the island that Blackbeard had a way of knowing exactly what was going on even when no one else had a clue.

“Does Deputy Savage know you’re taking a second look at the case?” George asked Jack.

I glanced at Jack. I’d wondered that myself but hadn’t gotten around to asking. Deputy Savage was a good guy who honestly seemed to care about the people he had sworn to serve, but he hadn’t been much of a fan of civilians getting involved in ongoing cases. While the case had been closed when it had been decided that Dru Breland must have murdered Georgia Darcy, there hadn’t been an ongoing investigation. I was certain it would be reopened now that Breland’s body had been found.

“I haven’t spoken to Deputy Savage, so I don’t know what he thinks about the new developments in the case,” Jack admitted. “Having said that, I’m a newspaperman now and it’s my duty to my readers to find and report the facts as I see them. I believe we all have our assignments. When should we meet again?”

“I can meet whenever,” Brit answered. “When’s Victoria due back?”

“I don’t think until the weekend at least,” I told her. “But she can pass along anything she finds out to me and I’ll bring it to the meeting.”

“I won’t be back for several days, but I’m fine with calling Jack or Jill with any information I uncover as well,” Alex added.

I glanced at George, who asked for a day or so to do his research but was pretty open, and Clara indicated her schedule was flexible as well. Those of us who would be on the island tentatively arranged to meet again on Thursday. George, Brit, and Alex headed out to the cabins they were living in and Clara and Agatha went upstairs to her suite.

I began picking up coffee mugs and dessert plates once they’d gone and it was just Jack and me. “So what do you think?” I asked.

“I think we have a good plan that hopefully will yield the results we need. We won’t begin to get a good picture of what might have occurred five years ago until we begin to speak to people. I can make some calls in the morning and set up appointments if you want to get started right away.”

“Yeah. We may as well plunge right in.” I glanced at Blackbeard. “Any thoughts?”

“Secret kisses, secret kisses.”

“That big guy turns out to be the motive behind more murders than you might think,” Jack replied.

I opened Blackbeard’s cage. “How about we get you settled in for the night?” I turned and glanced at Jack. “I have wine in the kitchen if you want to stay.”

“I have an article to write, but we’ll catch up tomorrow. Call me and we’ll set up a time to get started on the interviews.”

After Jack left, I got Blackbeard settled and then poured myself a glass of wine. It was a lovely autumn evening and a stroll along the beach seemed just the thing to sooth my jangled nerves. The last time the group had taken on a case it had been at my request, and the time before that it had been George we’d helped. When I’d decided to move to Gull Island temporarily to help the half brother I hadn’t known I had, I’d never imagined the family I’d find; not just Garrett but the writers I shared my life with as well.

The idea for the writers’ retreat had been something of a whim. Garrett had run the place as a family resort before he’d had his stroke. When he realized he would most likely never be able to live on his own again, he’d thought he had no choice but to sell the property that had been in his family for generations. The resort had fallen into disrepair over the past decade, and Garrett realized that to make any money selling the resort he’d have to fix it up first. Initially, he’d asked an old friend of the family to oversee the renovations, but when a chance occurrence revealed my existence to him, he’d gotten in touch and asked me if I’d be willing to run the property in his absence. Normally, island living wouldn’t be my thing, but my own life was a total mess at that time, and I’d jumped at the chance to escape and try something new.

I walked along the well-worn path to the beach. The Turtle Cove Resort was a magical place, situated on the tip of a narrow peninsula that jetted off the southern end of Gull Island. Due to its unique location, the property was bordered by oceanfront on the east and marsh on the west. The sheer amount of wildlife that inhabited this part of the island, including the endangered sea turtles, created an enchanting setting to work and live.

Initially, I’d planned to oversee the renovations and then move on. I could see Garrett wanted me to stay, but I couldn’t see myself running a family resort. Then his good friend, George Baxter, had come for a visit, and a conversation about the old days, when he’d come here to write, gave me the idea of reopening the resort as a writers’ retreat rather than a family vacation spot. I’d approached Garrett with the idea and he’d assured me that he was fine with my running the property whatever way I saw fit. At that time only the main house was habitable, but it had ten bedrooms, so George had moved in. Shortly after that, Clara found her way to my doorstep, followed by my best friend Victoria, Alex, and, eventually, Brit.

The remodel of three of the cabins was now completed, so George, Alex, and Brit all had their own space. Clara seemed content to remain in the main house, and while Victoria wanted her own cabin eventually, she wasn’t around much and so had been content to wait. I’d remodeled the attic to create my own private retreat within the communal structure; so far, my plans were working out perfectly, and I had additional writers who’d signed on to come aboard as soon as the first of the year.

I paused and took a sip of wine as the waves rolled gently onto the shore. It was a cool evening, although the day had been hot, so I took a moment to enjoy the perfection of the moment. It seemed I’d been running full throttle ever since making the decision to move to the island. Not only had I had the renovation to deal with but our little mystery solvers group had been kept quite busy as well.

Jack was the only member of the group who didn’t live at the resort, but as a writer, he was qualified for membership. Not only did he own the local newspaper but he was a novelist, probably more successful than all the rest of us combined.

Jack had written his first best seller and made his first million when he was just nineteen. Since then, he’d had several other best sellers and was considered one of the major names in the industry. He lived in an oceanfront mansion, but most weekday evenings you could find him here at the resort, hanging out with the rest of us lowly writers.

I took a deep breath and turned back to the house. Despite the peaceful evening, I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t imagine how investigating a five-year-old murder could put anyone in danger, but my instinct told me it would be found before the answers we sought were revealed.

 

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Taming of the Tabby

 

Taming of the Tabby publishes on Tuesday June 20. I’m really excited about this Cait and Cody crossover with Alyson from Seacliff High.  I really had fun with the story and hope you will as well. Here is a preview if you are interested.  http://amzn.to/2sMACnM

 

I could feel something brush my cheek as I struggled toward consciousness. I swiped at it with my hand, but it didn’t seem to help. I tried to open my eyes, but my head was throbbing and the effort seemed almost more than I could bear. I felt myself drifting toward the darkness, but whoever or whatever was brushing my cheek wouldn’t allow me to drift away completely.

“Stop,” I yelled, although it came out more like a croak. God, I was tired. All I wanted to do was slip back to the comfort of nothingness.

I swatted at whatever was irritating my cheek and slowly opened my eyes. It was dark. Eerily, totally dark. The only thing penetrating the inky black night were bright eyes staring at me. I stifled a scream and tried to move away, but I realized I was trapped.

Where was I?

After a moment the creature with the glowing eyes moved away, although I could still sense its presence. I raised a hand to my throbbing head. It felt wet and sticky.

Was I bleeding?

I lowered my hand and tried to get my bearings. I was sitting up, but I was tilted to the side and something was holding me in place. I struggled to liberate my tangled limbs but couldn’t get free. My heart raced and I began to breathe heavily as panic set in. After a few seconds of emotional terror as I struggled to untangle myself, I realized I was in Cody’s truck. I took a deep breath and looked around. I began once again to panic, but after a moment more I realized I was trapped in place by my seat belt and the airbag in front of me.

“Is anyone there?” I yelled into the darkness.

I paused to listen, but the only sound that penetrated my fogged mind was a soft rumbling that sounded like … purring?

I turned my head and once again locked my eyes on the dark figure beside me. I narrowed my gaze as I realized the rumbling was coming from the huge black cat with bright green eyes who must have been the one responsible for waking me in the first place. I immediately felt my heart rate slow and my panic ebb.

“How did you get in here?”

“Meow.”

I took several breaths, blowing them out slowly. Now that I knew where I was, I knew I needed to get out. I struggled to release the catch on the seat belt, which had become trapped between my body and the airbag. In a couple of minutes I’d worked the catch free and scooted out from behind the bag. The driver’s side door was jammed, but the window on the passenger side was open. I supposed that was how the cat got in. I moved my arms and legs to make sure everything was still functioning and then moved across the front seat and climbed out onto the wet ground.

Once I landed I paused to let the dizziness and nausea pass. I put a hand to my torn dress and tried to remember where I’d been and where I was going. I’d been driving Cody’s truck, so I knew he hadn’t been with me. Had anyone else? I looked around and didn’t see anyone, so I supposed I must have been alone. The truck had settled into a ditch, but from where I stood I couldn’t see the road or hear any traffic. I looked around for another vehicle but couldn’t see much in the darkness.

I realized I needed help and looked around for my phone. It wasn’t on the ground, so it must still be in the truck. I was considering crawling back inside to look for it when I smelled gasoline.
“We need to get away from the truck,” I said to the cat who sat watching me.

I paused as I tried to decide which way to walk. Nothing looked familiar. I looked down at my dress and remembered dancing. I was certain I’d been dancing. But if that had been the case why was I alone in a location so remote that not a single car had passed since I’d been here? I looked around, trying to get my bearings, but it was so dark I could only see a few feet in front of me. I figured the truck must have rolled down an embankment, which meant the road would be up the hill, so I started in that direction. I’d lost one of the high heels I’d been wearing, so I took the other one off and tossed it aside. It was slow going as I tried to walk across the rocky ground barefoot, but I had to put some distance between myself and the truck, which I feared could explode at any minute. The cat followed along as I dragged my bruised and battered body up the steep incline, one agonizingly slow step at a time.

As I walked, I listened for the sound of…well, pretty much anything. If I had been in an accident there must have been a second car. Were there survivors in need of help? And even if there hadn’t been a second car it seemed like I should be able to hear traffic on the highway. I paused and put a hand to my throbbing head. God, it hurt, but I needed to find my way back to the road, so I kept going.

As I walked, I tried to remember the events leading up to the accident. I looked down again at my dress, which was, by this point, little more than a tattered rag barely covering my body. Yellow. Siobhan’s favorite color. The wedding! My older sister, Siobhan Hart, had finally married the love of her life, Deputy Ryan Finnegan, and I, Caitlin Hart, had been her maid of honor, while my boyfriend, Cody West, had been one of the groomsmen.

I sighed with relief, now that my scrambled mind was beginning to put things back into place. Finn and Siobhan were supposed to marry a week ago, but she’d come down with a nasty virus and there was no way, she’d declared, that she was going to try to get through one of the most important days of her life when she felt like she wanted to die. It had been a juggling act requiring a lot of hard work and negotiation, but eventually we were able to postpone the event until today. Finn and Siobhan had been cutting it close with the postponement because it meant a lot to them to have Father Kilian officiate at the ceremony, and tomorrow was his last day as a priest at St. Patrick’s before his retirement.

I paused to take a breath and once again wondered where I was. I could remember the wedding and subsequent reception, but then everything seemed to go black.

I crinkled my nose as the smell of smoke penetrated the air. I looked back toward the truck. I didn’t see any flames, but perhaps there was a small fire on the far side of the vehicle that was hidden from my view. I gauged the distance between me and the truck and realized I was still much too close should it explode. I looked down at the cat, then continued forward. The brush was dense on this part of Madrona Island, requiring me to navigate the steep hillside carefully. I couldn’t see my legs, but based on the number of scratches I could feel, I was sure it was going to be a while before I was going to be able to wear shorts again without looking like the subject of a medical experiment.

It probably took me a half hour to make it up the embankment to the road. I looked carefully in both directions, but there wasn’t a single headlight on the horizon. I did see something on the side of the road ahead of me, though. My feet were raw and bleeding and I winced in pain with each step I took, but eventually I was close enough to the object that it began to take form.

Oh God.

I put my hand to my mouth and moved forward at a slightly faster pace. On the side of the hill just a few feet down from the road was the still form of a man lying on his stomach. “Are you okay? Can you hear me?”

He didn’t move. Kneeling beside him, I placed two fingers on his neck. I’m certainly not a trained medical professional and I’ve had zero experience taking pulses, but I didn’t feel one, so I had to assume he was dead. I looked around but didn’t see a second car. I wondered who he was and how he’d come to be there.
Had I hit this man before plunging over the embankment? I didn’t remember it, but, to be fair, I couldn’t remember anything else either.

I carefully checked the man’s pockets for identification or, better yet, a cell phone, but they were completely empty. That in and of itself was strange, but I didn’t have time to dwell on it now. I looked carefully at the side of his face that was exposed. I didn’t know who he was, but for some reason he seemed familiar. Mostly, I felt certain I hadn’t known him before tonight, but a memory flashed through my mind as I studied his face. My head began to spin and I was certain I was about to pass out, so I looked away. I hated to leave him lying on the side of the road, but I needed to get help and because not a single car had passed by, I wasn’t confident waiting was the best thing to do.

“I’m going for help,” I said to him, just in case he was alive and could hear me, which, to be honest, I pretty much doubted. “I’ll try to hurry. If you’re alive and regain consciousness wait here for me.” I looked around. “Wherever here is.” I stood up, then looked down at the cat, who was pacing back and forth alongside me. “What do you think? Do you know where we are?”

“Meow.”

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing.” The only thing that made sense was that we were on the northern end of the island, which was only sparsely populated. There weren’t any retail outlets there, but there were a few homes. Based on my best guess, if I walked long enough in either direction I should come across a house, which might contain a Good Samaritan willing to let me use their phone. “What do you think? Left or right?”

The cat took off trotting to the west and I fell in behind. I was several hundred yards down the road when I heard a boom, followed by a flash of light. It looked like Cody was definitely going to need a new truck. The ground and surrounding forest was wet from all the rain, so I doubted the fire would spread. At least I hoped it wouldn’t.

The road was narrow and twisting as it wound through the dense forest. I had the sense we were heading toward the coast and hoped that if I managed to make it that far we’d either come across a residence or perhaps a car. The loop road that hugged the coast of Madrona Island was fairly well traveled, though not necessarily on the north shore and not necessarily at this time of night.

Every step I took sent pain shooting up my leg. My feet were covered in deep cuts, making walking agony, but I needed to get help. I figured Cody must be worried and looking for me by now, although I had no reason to believe he’d be looking for me here.

I frowned. Why was I even on the north shore?

I took a deep breath, focused my mind, and struggled to remember.

Finn and Siobhan had gotten married. It had been a beautiful ceremony, with our family and friends surrounding them. Finn was the resident deputy for the island and Siobhan was the mayor, so they knew a lot of people. The church had been packed to capacity for the ceremony and the reception, which had been held in the church hall, had been a festive and happy affair.

I remembered them leaving to catch the last ferry to the mainland. They were going to Italy on their honeymoon, which struck me as perfect and romantic. Their flight left from Seattle early tomorrow morning, so they were spending the night in a hotel near the airport.

After Finn and Siobhan left the guests began to disperse. I remembered discussing cleanup duties with my best friend, Tara O’Brian, and that’s where things got fuzzy. I could picture a girl with blond hair. She was somehow involved, but I couldn’t quite nail down how.

I paused and looked around. Large clouds covered the moon, plunging the narrow forest road into almost complete darkness. Tiny fingers of panic began to work their way up my spine. I needed to fight the urge to curl up and cry if I was going to make it out of the forest alive.

I glanced down at the cat, who must have sensed my panic because he began to wind himself through my legs, purring so loudly that he chased away the eerie silence of the night. I bent over and picked him up, then buried my face in his warm fur. I willed myself to relax as I took comfort from my four-legged companion. I kissed the cat on the top of the head, thanking him for the affection he’d offered, then set him gently on the ground and looked around again.

I felt so small and insignificant. How would anyone ever find me? The temperature had dropped significantly as the time passed, but I didn’t think it would get so cold that I needed to worry about hypothermia. Still, I needed to keep moving.

It would help if I had something to wrap around my feet, but I couldn’t immediately think of anything that would stay in place as I continued my trek. After a moment I decided to tear strips from what was left of my dress and tie them around my feet to act as protection between my torn skin and the rough ground.
I ripped several strips of fabric and sat down on a log. I flinched as I tried to remove the small rocks that had become embedded into my flesh before wrapping my feet. God, they hurt.

I waited for the pain to ease and then stood gingerly. My feet felt like they were on fire and pain shot up my legs, but the only thing to do was keep going, so I did.

I let my mind wander back to the wedding. It helped to divert my attention from the pain, and I hoped determining a sequence of events would lend perspective to the situation. I could picture gathering discarded cups as I worked the room and thanked everyone as they left. I noticed that one of Siobhan’s bridesmaids, a woman named Shelby Long, had imbibed a few drinks too many and wasn’t in any shape to drive home. I’d offered to drive her, despite the fact that she lived on the north end of the island. I didn’t have my car at the church, so I took Cody’s truck. Ah; that answered the question of why I was on the north shore, but Shelby lived on the coast, so what had I been doing on an old logging road in the island’s interior?

“Meow.”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m coming,” I said to the cat, who had started to pick up the pace.

Now I remembered Cody volunteering to go with me, but Tara and her date, Dr. Parker Hamden, needed help cleaning up and returning all the tables and chairs to the storage area in the church hall. We discussed it and agreed it would be better for Cody to help Tara and Parker while I ran Shelby home. I’d delivered her home safe and sound and then …

I narrowed my gaze as I tried to remember. I was in the truck driving back toward Harthaven when …
When what?

The answer to how I’d ended up on this rarely used logging road in the middle of the night probably wasn’t as important as the fact that I might have run down a pedestrian. My heart ached at the thought that I’d taken a life.

I raised a hand to my head as a wave of nausea gripped me. It felt like the wound had stopped oozing, but my head still pounded and my thoughts were still unclear. My feet were mostly numb by this point, which I supposed was a good thing considering that based on my calculations I still had a good two miles to walk before I hit the coast road.

I wasn’t sure how much time had passed when I heard the hum of an oncoming vehicle. The driver wouldn’t be expecting to find someone walking around in the dark, so I didn’t want to stay where I was, in the middle of the road. I was trying to decide how best to get the attention of the driver when headlights shone from around a corner. Before I could react the cat darted across the road and the driver slammed on the brakes.

I held my hand to my chest as my heart raced. Had the cat been hit? I looked around frantically but didn’t see it.

A man jumped out of the car and looked around. When he saw me standing on the side of the road he came in my direction.

“Are you okay?” he asked in a heavily accented voice.

My eyes darted around. “The cat. Did you hit it?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think so. I didn’t hear a thud. I tried to stop in time, but I can’t be sure. He came out of nowhere.”

“I know. I saw what he did. He wanted to get your attention. He didn’t want you to miss me in the dark.”

He gave me an odd look. I was certain he thought I’d lost my mind. “What happened to you?”

“I was in an accident. Do you have a phone?”

“Yes.”

“I need to call my boyfriend, Cody West. He’ll know what to do.”

He lent me his phone and I made the call. As I’d thought, Cody had been out looking for me and wasn’t all that far away. He assured me he’d be there in five minutes, so I thanked the man and he went on his way.
I called to the cat who had helped me while I waited for Cody, but he seemed to have disappeared. The fact that I didn’t see his body lying on or near the road meant that at least he hadn’t been killed by the oncoming car. Still, he could have been injured. My heart ached at the thought that he might have given his life for mine. I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer as tears streamed down my face.

A few minutes later Cody pulled my car to a stop at the side of the road, followed almost immediately by Dr. Hamden’s car.

“My God, what happened?” Cody wrapped me in his arms.

“I don’t know. I was in an accident. I don’t remember.”

Parker pulled up and Tara jumped out and joined us in the middle of the road. She hugged my back because Cody was still hugging my front. “What happened? We were so worried.”

“I’m fine.” I struggled to breathe amid all the hugging.

Parker walked over and shone a flashlight in my face. “You have a fairly serious head injury. We need to get you to the hospital.”

“Wait.” I put up a hand. “There’s a man down the road. I think I might have hit him, although I can’t really remember. I think he’s dead, but I can’t be sure.”

We all piled into the cars and headed down the road. We drove slowly, so we wouldn’t miss the place where the accident had occurred. The fire from Cody’s truck was still smoldering. Luckily, as I’d hoped, the damp forest hadn’t burned from the explosion. I got out of the car and walked to the edge of the embankment, a wave of nausea gripping me as I looked down. The remains of Cody’s truck were clearly visible, but up here, the man was gone.

“I found him on the side of the road. He was right here, I swear.”

Cody and Parker both used flashlights to search the area while Tara took me back to my car. The men looked for a good fifteen minutes, but neither found evidence of a body, a second car, or even any blood.
“But that can’t be,” I insisted. “I saw him. I felt for a pulse. I swear to you, there was a man in this very spot.”

Parker put a hand on my shoulder. “You were in an accident, leaving you with a serious head injury. You’re in shock. It’s completely possible you were hallucinating. We’ll notify the sheriff’s office; for now I have to insist we take you to the hospital so I can look you over.”

“But…”

“Please.” Cody placed his hands on my face and forced me to look at him. “We’ll call the sheriff’s office and they’ll handle things regarding the missing man, but Parker’s right; we need to get you to the hospital. You could have internal bleeding.”

“Okay,” I reluctantly agreed. “But I know what I saw.”

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The Future of Seacliff High

 

So, you may have been wondering, what is up with the Seacliff High series? In this blog I hope to share the good, the bad, and the ugly.

In 2015 I published the first 5 Seacliff High’s. These were books I had written for fun years earlier before I was a published author so all I had to do was polish them up and have them edited. Those who read the series seemed to LOVE it but I had a hard time getting people to try it for the first time. I think part of this problem may have been due to an identity crisis of sorts. One hand the series features teens which gives people the idea the series is for teens, but on the other hand, given the lack of sex, drugs, and violence, it really wasn’t the sort of thing to appeal to most modern day teens. While I did gain some teen readers the largest reader pool were my ‘forever teens’ in my 50+ age group. This particular age group grew up on Nancy Drew and welcomed a modern day equivalent with a little bit of paranormal thrown in.

In 2016 I decided it was not economically feasible to continue the series. By the time I paid for editing, cover, advertising, etc., I actually lost money on every book in this particular series. It seemed at the time to be a logical decision but what I didn’t know was that I had some very impassioned readers of the series who launched a email campaign to convince me to write another book.

I love my readers and want all of them to be happy so I decided to complete a Seacliff I had started but never finished. This story will publish as The Shadow on June 1, 2017. I am also definitely going to do book 7 – The Haunting in September (or maybe October). After that??? I would like to continue the series and think it has a lot of potential but I will need the help of everyone who loves the series to help me get the word out.

In an effort to introduce the series to new readers I decided to have Alyson visit Madrona Island in Taming of the Tabby. If you follow the Whales and Tails series but have not yet tried Seacliff here is an opportunity to meet Alyson and her faithful dog Tucker.  I have also moved the series from Amazon Exclusive and have published the first 5 books on all the major outlets – Amazon, Nook, Kobo, and ibooks. This is risky but in the end I hope this will help me find new readers.

 

I had already put The Shadow in Kindle Unlimited before I decided to move the series out of Kindle Unlimited so this is what you can expect from this book. It is currently on presale for $2.99. Once it publishes the price will be raised to $3.99. It will remain in Kindle Unlimited for 90 days and then it will be pulled and offered on Nook, Kobo, and ibooks like the other books in the series. If you want to buy it for $2.99 buy it while it is in preorder. If you want to borrow it do so within 9o days of publication. http://amzn.to/2p6MsTU

At this point I plan for all future books in the series to be distributed widely from the very beginning in the hope of getting a large enough following to continue with new books for years to come.

If you have read the series comment below and let me know what you think.

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Welcoming a New Series

 

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

Kobo – https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/first-case

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.

 

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