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.



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.





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.



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.


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?”


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?”


“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?


“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?”


“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.”


“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.”


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.

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.