The Haunting


The Haunting is book 7 in the Seacliff High Mystery Series. The book published on September 5th and I wanted to provide those of you who have not tried the series a peek at Chapter 1. 

Alyson has three things to deal with in this story: A haunted house, a reoccurring dream which could be portence, and Chelsea’s stalker.


Chapter 1
Thursday, October 19


My life is a lie. Everything about me—my name, my past, even my future—is shrouded in secrets and half-truths. At my core, I’m basically an honest person, so it pains me that I must deceive the people I care about the most. My birth name is Amanda Parker. Prior to my death and very public funeral, I was a popular student, heiress to millions, and a well-known socialite. Only a handful of people in the entire world know that my death was staged in order to protect me from the men who threatened to kill me. When Amanda Parker died, Alyson Prescott was born.

As far as names go, I’m rather fond of Alyson, but after more than a year in witness protection, I find the line separating Amanda from Alyson has begun to blur. Despite the insanity that has become my life, I was dealing with the changes, until five months ago, when my handler whisked me away from my new life after an unconfirmed tip threatened my very existence.

Four months ago, my mother and I made the decision to return to Cutter’s Cove, Oregon, despite the danger that may exist. The nightmares, which would come to overshadow my life, began the very next day. Although the intensity of the dream has escalated over time, the script for each dream is the same. I’m standing on the porch of a dilapidated old house looking at a dark-colored door. I instinctively know that my destiny resides beyond the threshold, but I’m paralyzed with fear and hesitant to enter. I gather my courage and fight the instinct to flee as I cautiously turn the handle and take a step inside. In the instant before I wake, I experience the terror and helplessness that has come to dominate even my waking hours.

“Earth to Alyson,” my best friend Mackenzie Reynolds said as she snapped her fingers in front of my face.

I glanced at her, dazed, as I wondered where I was and why I was there.

“Class is over,” Mac informed me. “We need to go.”

“Was I sleeping?” I asked.

“I’m not sure. Your eyes were open, but you certainly didn’t seem to be listening to the lecture.”

“Did I drool?” I wiped the side of my mouth with one hand.

“Just a little. Don’t worry; you didn’t snore. I don’t think anyone else knew you’d dozed off. That’s the third time in a week. Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” I said as I closed my book and slipped it into my backpack. “I just haven’t been sleeping well. I guess everything is catching up with me.”

“Still having the dreams?”

I nodded. “Almost every night.”

I slipped out of my desk and followed Mac out the door and into the crowded hallway of Seacliff High. Only one more period until lunch, when I could head to the library, find a table in the back, and have a proper nap.

“Do you think maybe you should talk to someone about what’s going on?” Mac asked.

“Who would I talk to? We both know the dreams began after I returned to Cutter’s Cove from Madrona Island. We both know the root of the dream stems from the fact that very bad men are trying to kill me and I have no idea whether they’ve actually found me and are waiting for the right opportunity to strike, or if Donovan’s intel is wrong and my cover is secure.”

Mac stopped walking. She turned to look at me, her dark eyes mirroring her concern. “I know this is a crazy way to live and I can’t imagine how difficult this must be for you. You know I missed you desperately when you were away, but are you certain coming back to Cutter’s Cove was the right decision?”

“Honestly?” I tilted my head to one side, causing my long blond hair to cascade over my shoulder. “I’m not sure. I do know that unless I want to run forever, at some point I need to make a stand.”

Mac took my hand in hers and continued down the hall. “You know I’m here for you. Whatever you need.”

“I may need to copy your history notes.”

“You got it. In fact, why don’t we get together after school and I’ll help you study for tomorrow’s exam?”

“There’s an exam tomorrow?”

“Midterm. Remember, we were given a study guide on Monday.”

“Oh, that exam.” I groaned. I had to admit it was beginning to feel like I actually was losing my mind. “I do need to study, but I promised Caleb I’d go over to the house the Halloween committee has selected for the Haunted Hayride to see if I can get a sense about what’s going on.”

“Is weird stuff still happening?” Mac asked.

“The weirdest.”

“Poor Caleb.”

Caleb Wellington was the event chairperson for the Haunted Hayride and he took his responsibilities to the school and the town very seriously. “Not only are there all sorts of strange sounds and slamming doors, but some of the props were moved from one location to another, and there’s been a fair amount of vandalism as well. Based on what Caleb has told me, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the house really is haunted.”

Mac furrowed her brow. “Can ghosts do that? Move things?”

“As far as I know, no. In my experience to date ghosts aren’t corporeal and can’t move things, but things are being moved and there doesn’t seem to be an earthly explanation, so for the time being I’m going to suspend disbelief and see what I can discover. Caleb is a smart guy and he’s pretty much convinced the problems they’ve been having are paranormal in nature.”

“Even if that’s true and ghosts are behind all the problems, is there anything you can do about it?”

I shrugged. “I’m not sure. If the house is haunted I’ll need to see if I can determine why the spirits are hanging around. If I know why they failed to move on maybe I can find a way to help them resolve their issues. And if I can’t do that maybe I can at least find a way to appease them so they’ll quit messing with Caleb’s props. I don’t suppose you’d want to come with me?”

Mac looped her arm though mine as we continued down the hallway. “You know I will. And I’m sure Trevor will come as well if he doesn’t have football, although he did say something about extralong practice sessions this week because there’s a home game tomorrow.” Mac had referred to Trevor Johnson, the third member of our awesome threesome. “I have next period with him, so I’ll ask him. Do you want to meet for lunch?”

“I’m going to head to the library instead. Tell Trevor I’ll meet him in the parking lot after school. If he has football ask him to text me. Either way, I’ll swing by and pick you up from your internship on my way out to the house.” Mac was a computer genius who worked for a software company as an intern during fifth and sixth periods.

A look of concern crossed Mac’s face. “Are you sure you don’t want to have lunch with us? You’re looking a little thin.”

“I’m sure. I have a granola bar in my backpack. I’ll nibble on it between classes, but right now my body is demanding sleep over food.”

“Okay. I’ll see you after school. And maybe we can study after we check out the haunted house. I have a feeling this midterm is going to be a tough one.”

“I need to study and I need to pass that class. Why don’t you plan to come over for dinner? Trevor too. I’ll text my mom to tell her to expect you.”

“That sounds good.”

Somehow I managed to stay awake through my fourth period computer science class and was looking forward to a power nap in the library. I’d been spending my lunch hour napping more and more often lately, and I was sure someone was going to notice and say something at some point. When that happened I guess I’d have to alter my routine and maybe nap in my car, but for now the library provided a warm, quiet place to catch some Z’s.

The library at Seacliff High was actually a pretty awesome place to hang out even when you weren’t looking for a place to nap. The room was quaint and cozy, with two levels, each containing mahogany bookshelves and hardwood tables and chairs. The ceiling was high in the center of the building, allowing for the levels to be open to each other. I’d settled in on the second floor at a table in the back that provided the best place to nap unnoticed. I took my sweater out of my backpack, folded it to use it for a pillow, and lay my head down on the table in front of me.

“Alyson,” I heard Chelsea Green say just as I was drifting into unconsciousness.

I opened one eye but didn’t lift my head from where it was resting. “Yes?”

“Are you okay? You haven’t shown up in the lunchroom all week.”

Chelsea and I weren’t all that close, so I was surprised she’d noticed. It wasn’t that we didn’t get along; it was more that she was an A-list cheerleader and I was a no-list weirdo who saw ghosts and solved mysteries. “I’m fine. Just a little tired. Did you need something?”

Chelsea sat down on a chair across from me. I groaned as I opened my other eye and raised my head. It looked like I wasn’t going to be able to avoid finding out what was on Chelsea’s mind no matter how much I really wanted to drift into a dreamless sleep.

“Because you’re awake anyway I do have a teensy problem I could use your help with.” Chelsea tilted her head so her long dark hair brushed the table as she spoke.

“And what teensy problem might that be?”

“I have a stalker.”

“A stalker?”

“For the past couple of weeks someone has been sending me photos. They’ve been taken in different locations, but all of them are of me during the day. At first I just thought it was one of my so-called friends pulling a prank, but now I’m not so sure.”

“These photos—were they taken at school?”

“Yes, initially, either at school, at cheerleading practice, or at a school-related event. But lately I’ve been receiving photos taken at home, the most recent at my dad’s birthday dinner two nights ago. It’s really beginning to irritate me.”

I sat up straighter. “Have you told anyone else what you told me?”

Chelsea shook her head. “I’m not sure who I can trust. The photos have to have been taken by someone who knows me well enough to know my routine. And they’ve been sent to me via both text and personal email, which means they also know my phone number and email address.”

I narrowed my gaze. “Are any of the photos inappropriate?”

“Not really. There were a few without makeup, which terrified me, but so far, I haven’t been sent any photos of me getting dressed or in the shower. Still, I’m starting to feel violated. I find myself looking over my shoulder all the time. It’s creepy.”

“I agree; it is creepy. You should tell your parents. Or maybe even the police.”

Chelsea crossed her arms across her chest. “No. I can’t do that. If I tell my parents they’ll probably keep me under lock and key until they find out who’s behind the photos, and if I tell the cops they’ll interrogate all my friends. For all I know, this really is just some joke, and I don’t want to look like I give a rat’s ass if it’s just one of my stupid friends pulling a prank. If it got out that I ran to my parents over a joke it would destroy my popularity ranking. What I need is for someone like you who likes to play Nancy Drew to look into this quietly.”

I paused but didn’t answer.

“Please. I can pay you.”

I frowned. “I don’t want your money, but I’m worried. Being stalked is nothing to take lightly. The person behind the photos could be dangerous.”

“Maybe, or it could just be Cora Lee trying to make me look like an idiot. You know she was mad when I beat her out for homecoming queen. It would be just like her to come up with a lame prank to embarrass me.”

I frowned as I considered Chelsea’s request. While having a stalker was serious business, Chelsea was a self-serving snob who was both the most popular girl in school and one of the most hated. I could totally see someone sending her the photos just to mess with her. If it was just a prank and she let it be known that the photos had gotten to her I did see how it could affect the way she was perceived by others; she was famous for trying to pretend she didn’t care in the least when others tried to retaliate against her for one slight or another.

“Please, Alyson. I’ll be nice to you and everything.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Don’t do me any favors.”

“Okay, then, I’ll totally ignore you if that’s what you want. You’re the only one who can help me with this.”

“Okay,” I eventually said. “I’ll look in to it, but I have some conditions.”

“Such as?”

“You show me all the photos you’ve received so far as well as all you receive in the future. If I suspect at any point you’re in actual danger we tell your parents what’s going on.”

Chelsea paused and then answered, “Okay. I guess I can live with that.”

“I’ll also need to bring Mac in on this. I know she isn’t your favorite person, but she can help us track down the origin of the texts and emails.”

Chelsea let out a loud sigh. “Oh, all right. But no one else.”

“I can’t guarantee Trevor won’t find out. The three of us are a team. We spend a lot of time together, he’s helped in the past, and quite frankly, it will make it easier for me if I don’t have to keep it from him. Besides, if your stalker is male he might have a better chance of getting a confession, if we even get that far.”

Chelsea hesitated.

“You know Trevor cares about you, and you know he can keep a secret.”

Chelsea groaned. “Oh, okay. You can bring Mac and Trevor in it, but that’s it. If you need to bring my name into a conversation with anyone else I need you to promise you’ll check with me first.”


Chelsea smiled. “Great. So where do we start?”

I jotted down my email address and slipped it across the table to Chelsea. “Forward the photos to my personal email, not my school one. Once I get them I’ll talk things over with Mac and we’ll come up with a strategy. The easiest way to figure out who’s doing this to you will probably be to backtrack the photos to the phone number the texts were sent from or the IP address the emails were sent from.”

“Okay I’ll do it after school, and thanks, Alyson. I know I haven’t always been nice to you, so I do appreciate your helping me.”

“No problem.”

I started to lay my head back down when Chelsea spoke once again. “You know, you’re looking a little ragged. If you aren’t going to get the sleep you need some concealer would be a good idea. The dark circles under your eyes are going to begin to attract attention and I sense attention isn’t what you’re after.”

Chelsea was right about that. Attention wasn’t at all what I was after. “Thanks. I’ll keep your suggestion in mind. Now if we’re done…”


Chelsea stood up and I lay my head back down on the desk. Unfortunately, the bell for fifth period rang before I had a chance to even close my eyes. Despite how desperately I needed it, it looked like I wasn’t going to get my power nap after all.





The Fall Line Up

September represents a change in season to most of us. Summer fades to fall, new shows premier on our favorite television stations, and we put away our shorts and flip flops in order to make room for sweaters and tennis shoes.

September also brings to mind the new line up of Halloween themed cozy mysteries from all your favorite authors. While there are a lot of good seasonal mysteries on the horizon I am going to use this blog to highlight a few of mine.

The first mystery with a Halloween setting was actually Second Look, book 2 in my new Writers Retreat Mystery Series. Jack and Jill and the entire gang from the writers retreat agree to take a second look at a five year old investigation involving a murder that took place at a Halloween party thrown by a rich movie star five years prior.

The second Halloween Book to debut this year has also published. Frankencat is book 13 in my Whales and Tails Cozy Mystery Series. Cait and Tara are holding a book club meeting at Coffee Cat Books the week before Halloween. There are twelve participants reading Frankenstein as a storm rolls in. The storm intensifies and the lights go out thrusting the store into darkness. By the time the electricity is restored one of the book club members will be found dead.

Up next is The Haunting, book 7 in my Seacliff High Series. In this seventh book in the series, the gang from Seacliff High are busy planning their annual Haunted Hayride. When strange things begin to happen Alyson suspects the house they have selected to host the party at the end of the hayride might actually be haunted. Alyson decides to pay a visit to the mischievous ghosts who are causing such a ruckus only to find that the ghosts who live there are not at all who she expected to find. Alyson sets out to discover how the ghosts came to be trapped in the house, how they died, and who killed them in a mystery that will keep you guessing until the very end. The book publishes on September 5 but is currently available for presale.

And it just wouldn’t be Halloween without a visit from Zak and Zoe and the Gang. In this 27th book in the series Zak has gone Halloween Crazy, while Zoe is trying to overcome the baby bump blues and harness some enthusiasm for the annual Haunted Hamlet. Things seem to be on track for a Spooktacular good time until Zoe stumbles onto a Halloween mystery even she didn’t see coming. Trick or Treason will publish September 26 and is available for presale.

And rounding out our fall lineup is Murder at Midnight, book 7 in the Sand and Sea Hawaiian Mystery Series. Luke is dealing with a personal crisis, layoffs are imminent at the Dolphin Bay Resort, Lani finds a body early one morning while surfing, and in spite of it all the gang are trying to make the best of things by planning a Halloween blow out.  Murder at Midnight will publish on October 3 and is available for presale.

To be entered it win a $5 Amazon gift card comment below and let me now which Halloween themed mystery you are the most excited about.

The winner of the gift card from last week is Pam Jacobsson Perkins. Please email me at to collect your prize.


It’s All About The Dots


Now that summer is drawing to a close it is time to look back and see how we did. I know that to some it seems sad that a couple of nature lovers living in the middle of nature, would be reduced to keeping track of our ‘fun’ time in an effort to remind ourselves to get outside and enjoy the bounty of the beautiful place we live, but sometimes life takes over and we forget to take a moment to relax.

It all started a few years ago when the first snow hit early and Ken and I looked at each other and said, “Where in the heck did the summer go?” We’d been right here in one of the most beautiful spots on the planet and yet we’d barely taken a moment from the hustle and bustle of our lives to enjoy it.

We decided the next year to create a graph and list all the things we really wanted to do such as taking a hike, going out on the boat, and taking dinner to the beach. We found that by keeping track we actually were more active so we have been doing it ever since.

That first year we included all sorts of things which did become somewhat of a burden to keep track of, but this year we decided to only track hiking, boating, dinner at the beach, and watching the sunset. My back has been bothering me so I didn’t do a lot of boating but Ken went out wakeboarding 2 – 3 times a week, we both enjoyed hiking, dinner at the beach, and watching the sunset, at least three times per week.

In conclusion, treating having fun as a task to check off may seem crazy to most but to us it works so I a have a feeling that counting the dots will be a strategy we employ for years to come.


To be entered to win a $5 Amazon gift card comment below and share with me an activity or two you would put on your summer chart if you had one.

The winner of last weeks gift card is Kathy Peel . Please email me at to collect your prize.



Wild for Wildflowers


Prior to the winter of 2016/2017 Lake Tahoe, and California in general, has been experiencing a major drought. Last winter was the biggest winter we have had in years and the wildflowers in the area this summer have been fantastic.

The nice thing about living in the mountains is that you don’t really have to go anywhere to experience the summer color. The meadows at lake level tend to bloom in early summer while the meadows in the higher elevations bloom late in the season, but if the winter was heavy and the spring wet, there are plenty of flowers to be found right up until the leaves change color in the fall.

For those who are willing to take a long trek into the higher elevations, the flowers are simply spectacular. I hope you enjoy this selection of photos brought to you by me and my friends.

Comment below and let me know if you live or have ever lived in an area with an abundance of wildflowers during the spring and summer in order to be entered to win a $5 Amazon Gift Card.


The winner of the gift card from last week was Candy Kennedy.  Please email me at to collect your gift card.



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 –

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.


Third Strike

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.



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.