Jen Talty

Where there is murder there is love...

Where there is murder there is love…

I’ve written very few books where someone doesn’t die. In  Two Weeks (which is FREE, btw) no one dies during the two weeks the story takes place, but in the backstory there is a murdered mother and the hero lost a new born baby. In Dark Water, the backstory is that the Heroine’s sister was murdered. In Deadly Secrets no one dies until the end, but still, a dead body. What I love about the ending of that book is that one of the secondary characters, Stacey, is the one who takes the kill shot. And she’s the heroine of the book that comes out 6 December 2016: Murder in Paradise Bay.

You can get the first book free! I’m also giving away a limited number of copies of Dark Water. You can download your copy here. All I ask that is that you leave an HONEST review on Amazon for either or both. Review are so important to authors and I learn from the feedback!

Now, enjoy an except from the 4th book in the series…

Murder in Paradise Bay

Chapter 1

Every muscle in Stacey Sutten’s body ached. Every joint was swollen from overuse, but she did her best to ignore the pain as she settled in a lounge chair on the sundeck of her father’s home. The water below lapped gently against the shoreline. The warm sun beat down on her face as it began its descent beyond the mountains.

Stacey’s family home stood on a private drive with four other houses near the end of Assembly Point. The house faced east, so the sun was already behind them, though its rays still stretched over the mountains across the lake, dancing on the ripples in a slight breeze that did nothing to cool the temperature.

The end of summer had always been bittersweet for Stacey. Not because it meant winter was right around the corner, with its biting cold and massive piles of snow only Upstate New York could provide. That never bothered her. She enjoyed all four seasons, but she preferred a lazy summer evening on the sundeck.

She stretched her arms over her head, trying not to flinch. Training to be a New York State SCUBA Unit was not only physically grueling, but mentally draining as well. The Academy had been tough, but not as intense. SCUBA School required a mental focus and the ability to ignore muscle fatigue. Her co-workers at the station had warned her how demanding it would be, and she’d welcomed the challenge, but she hadn’t expected her body to be so sore, nor her mind to be so frazzled.

She adjusted her deck chair so she could get as much of the late evening sun as possible, which would only be another half hour at best. Sweat beaded across her forehead. The temperatures were in the mid-eighties, unseasonably warm by about ten degrees for the end of August, but it was also humid, making it feel hotter, exactly what her trembling muscles needed.

She poured herself a glass of white wine. Actually, her second, but who was counting? She’d completed training. Finally, she was a certified rescue swimmer. Until now, she hadn’t realized the decision to enroll in the extra training had been to avoid her ex-boyfriend. If she were being totally honest with herself, her decision to be a New York State Trooper in general was partly to blame for the end of that relationship.

Ultimately, she’d made the right decision. Her relationship with Todd had been over for a long time. She’d just helped seal the deal with her current career path. She smiled. It felt good to finally be in charge of the direction of her own life, but she was going to take the one day she had off of work before going back to the station, and being in a trooper car, on patrol.

“Want company?” the deep, sultry voice of Douglas Tanner yelled from the porch of her father’s house.

God, that voice could melt a frozen tundra in one syllable. It had a husky tone with a playful twist. It was music to her ears, and just the timbre relaxed her muscles. “All I’ve got is wine and some cheese and crackers, so it’s bring your own… if you want to.” Flirting with Doug had always been fun, though in the past, she never really considered it flirting. Just banter between friends. But lately, that banter had turned into long stares, brief touching that lasted longer than appropriate for friends, and flirting with the anticipation of something more. And not just on her side. She wasn’t sure if she should say anything, or just let it go. Doug was her father’s business partner. He was nine years older, and still technically married.

The deck shook a little as Doug ran up the stairs, a six-pack in one hand, a bag of chips in the other, his idea of an appetizer. “You’re never going to believe who I saw today.”

“Who?” she asked.

“That Rictor woman who used to work for us.”

“Haven’t heard her name in years.” Stacey laughed. “She was batshit crazy.” It had been a happy day in her life the day Doug fired that woman. “Where did you see her, and what did she have to say?”

“Grocery store, and not much. Just said hello. Kind of weird. She asked about your dad. How the business was going. Even you.”

“I hope she doesn’t have plans on trying to get back into my father’s life. I want him to have a woman, but not that woman.”

“Yeah. She was a mistake, for sure.” Doug laughed. At six-foot-two, he towered over her. His shoulder-length thick dark hair, sultry brown eyes, and perpetual five o’clock shadow was sexier than any model or movie star she’d ever seen. He was broad at the shoulders, but his body was lean and tight. First time she’d ever seen six-pack abs was on him, and she still enjoyed those abs anytime he went shirtless. He had a natural dark complexion, and in the summer months, it turned copper.

“Have a good day at work?” he asked.

“I did,” she said. “Passed training, but I had to jump out of a helicopter fifteen times and save some guy three times my size. A guy who, I think, got his jollies out of making it nearly impossible to save his sorry ass.”

“Isn’t that what they’re supposed to do? Train you for the crazy drowning person?”

“They are. And I certainly showed him.” She raised her glass to her lips, wincing, and her forearm cramping. She figured by the time she woke up tomorrow, she’d be covered in bruises from that man. “How was your day?”

“The Heritage Inn is coming along nicely. Behind schedule, but all the cabins are operational, and we laid the foundation for two more three-bedroom units. Pretty cool design, if I do say so myself. We’ll have the hotel ready by March. I’m a little worried about having all the extras done by beginning of next season, but Reese seems to be fine with the progress. All depends on the type of winter we have.”

Reese McGinn had been Stacey’s partner when she first started as a trooper. “It really sucks not having him around the station. He was the only one there with a sense of humor.” He’d left when he got married and bought the Heritage Inn. She wanted what was best for Reese and was glad to hook him up with her father and Doug’s construction company, but things just weren’t the same.

“He’s a good guy,” Doug said, “and a lot of fun to work for.” He cracked open a beer and held it up. “Cheers.”

His bottle clinked with her plastic wine glass. They sat in silence for about ten minutes. It was weird how easily they fell back into their old, comfortable, easy friendship. Doug had always been a an asshole to her ex. From the first time Stacey brought Todd home to meet her father three years ago, Doug said Todd was a player and would break her heart.

Well, it wasn’t broken, not completely. Deep down, she had known they were over well before the breakup. He was in law school, and she was just starting her new job. It had been months since she’d seen him and she knew, if they were going to make it, she needed to make an effort, but when she got to his apartment, she found him in bed with another woman. It had been four months since that fateful day, and she was well past it. Thanks to the hunky man who sat next to her, giving her a nice distraction.

“How go things with the divorce?” Stacey asked.

He was loyal to the bone. Even though Stacey knew he desperately wanted the divorce to be final, she also knew he would do his best not to hurt Mary.

“Something weird is going on.” He looked at his phone, then placed it facedown on the ground next to him. “Mary’s secretary texted me this morning asking if I’d heard from her, but she said it wasn’t that important. Could wait until Monday.”

“Why is her secretary calling you?”

“She didn’t know when my meeting with Mary was, so thought I could pass a message to her. I just hope she shows up tomorrow morning. She has the papers. I just want them signed, and the entire sham of a marriage over with.”

“Good to hear you say it was a sham.” Stacey glanced at him. He leaned back in the chair, face tilted toward the sun, eyes closed. He wore a white T-shirt partially tucked into his black shorts, pulled tight across his chiseled abs. She sipped her wine while taking in the nice view, her sore muscles turning to mush. “Wasn’t she coming up here with her boyfriend for the weekend?”

“You sound bitter,” he said.

“You should be angry.”

He shrugged, eyes still closed, chin angled toward the sun. “I don’t care anymore. The house is sold. It was the last thing that tied us together.”

“We really know how to pick ‘em.”

“We sure do.” He took a slow draw from his beer. “You’re staring at me,” he said.

“In your dreams.”

“That might have happened a time or two.”

“Don’t be an ass.”

“You like my ass,” he said. “Mary always thought you had a thing for me.”

“Mary thought a lot of things. She got all upset about me being on your shoulders at one of my dad’s big summer parties during a game of king of the mountain.”

“She was mad that I said you were lighter,” Doug said. “She always thought I paid too much attention to you.” He shrugged again. “She would say and do almost anything to push me to move. She’d say, ‘We’d be happy again if we just move. We’d have a fresh start in Albany.’ It got to the point where I didn’t even hear her anymore.”

“Why didn’t you move?” Stacey asked. “It wasn’t just about the commute, or being mad over her taking the job in Albany without telling you.”

“Same reason you didn’t move downstate with Todd.” He downed his beer in one gulp, then pulled out another.

“Too darn proud and stubborn to admit when you’ve made a mistake, so just wait until it falls apart.”

“Yep.” He pushed the lounge chair to full recline then rolled to his side, propping his elbow on the chair, his hand holding his head. “Remember the summer between your junior and senior year of college?”

“That’s when I brought Todd here to meet Daddy, and you and Mary hooked up.”

“You breezed up those stairs.” He pointed behind him. “You had on this little, tiny red, white, and blue bikini. I always thought you were pretty, but damn, you looked hot.”

“I think you better slow down on them beers,” she said. “You’re talking crazy shit now.”

“Come on,” he said. “You know you’re gorgeous.”

Her heart raced. Every woman wanted to hear those words, but she never expected them to come out of his mouth. And the way he looked at her, with his dark brown eyes seeming to soaking up every square inch of her body, made her dizzy with anticipation.

He took another long draw, then smiled. “Something was different about you that day. You had always just been this funny girl that hung around and made me laugh. I didn’t notice how beautiful you were until that day.”

“Daddy did my laundry that week. I never did find out what happened to that bathing suit.” She laughed. Her father had always been old-fashioned for such a young man. She could never tell if it was his natural state, or just that he’d become a father so young.

“I’m sure it got strategically placed in the garbage,” Doug said. “I got smacked upside the back of my head. Jim said I was gawking at you like some schoolboy. Then Mary read me the riot act. But the whole time, I kept thinking about you. Not the bathing suit or how desirable you looked in it. But just you. Somewhere down the road, you grew up, and I missed it.”

“You got married that summer.” She remembered it all too well. He came over for dinner, without Mary, and said she was pregnant and he was getting married. He didn’t look like a man head over heels in love. They’d only known each other for a couple of months and it was obvious his honorable code was the only reason he even considered getting married. Her father had, at first, kept his thoughts to himself. Stacey had not.

It nearly cost her their friendship over the last couple of years.

“I did,” he admitted. “Would be three years this month.” He blinked a few times, and a sadness washed over his face. “I knew it was a mistake when I did it, but she was pregnant. With my child. A child I wanted. But even if she hadn’t lost the baby, our marriage was doomed.”

She pushed her chair to full recline, matching his position. He had the deepest brown eyes she’d ever seen, reminding her of hazelnuts. “Why doomed?”

“We didn’t know each other well enough. When she lost the baby, I thought we would try again, as if that were the normal thing to do, but she took her dream job and said kids were off the table unless I agreed to move. I dug in my heels, and so did she. We fought all the time. Then, when we stopped fighting, we stopped talking altogether. Then, the affair with her boss. Well, we both finally had enough.”

“I tried to like her,” Stacey said, “but she was always so cold to me.”

“You were a threat.”

Stacey laughed nervously, ignoring the fact that Doug placed his hand on her shoulder, then gently glided his index finger down her bare arm. “I find that hard to believe.”

He pulled her chair closer, the legs scraping against the outdoor deck carpeting. Her wine swirled out of the glass onto her hands. He gently took the glass then licked the wine off her fingers. “I probably shouldn’t have done that.”

“Probably not,” she whispered. Her pulse raced out of control. Their fingers entwined. His thumb caressed her skin, sending sensual messages to her brain and her body. She wanted to feel his lips pressed against hers so badly she could taste him. “What are you doing?”

“I have no idea, but it involves your mouth.” His eyelids grew heavy. “I want to kiss you.”

She continued to stare into his dark eyes as he maneuvered closer, his breath hot on her cheek. He pressed his lips gently on her sun-kissed skin. He’d kissed her cheeks a million times, but never did it feel like this. Like it meant something. There was intent behind the way he let his warm lips linger, electrifying her skin. His long hair brushed against her shoulder. She shuddered.

“It wouldn’t be just any kiss.” He pressed his thumb against her lower lip. “It would be the kind of wet, sloppy kiss that changes everything.”

She held her breath. Her gaze went between his full lips and his dark smoldering eyes. His thumb rolled off her lip and down her chin. His strong hand cupped the back of her neck.

“Last change to stop me,” he whispered. His lips so close she could feel them against hers before they touched.

She looked deep into his eyes while his lips danced tentatively, but with purpose, across hers. She cupped his face, meeting his lips, and entangling their tongues together in something so decadently exquisite, she couldn’t get enough.

She ran her hands across his broad shoulders, digging her fingers into his back. His hand ran down her side, gliding over her hip, and gently squeezed her ass. She wanted to be closer. Feel his hard chest pressed against her body.

When she angled herself closer, he pulled back. Her chest heaving up and down as he stared at her for a long moment.

“You didn’t stop me,” he said. Then his lips were locked with hers in that wet sloppy kiss he’d promised. There was nothing controlled about it. His hand ran up and down her leg, stopping to cup her ass. She fisted his shirt, wanting to reach under it and run her fingers across his rock solid stomach.

The shaking of the deck forced her to pull away.

Doug wiped his lips, then handed her back her glass of wine, ripped open his chips, and adjusted his chair to an upright position. He winked playfully, focusing his attention on his snack.

She barely had enough time to catch her breath before her father stood at the base of her chair.

“I got steaks,” her dad said. “Friday is steak night. Let’s grill.”

“I’m good with cheese and crackers,” she said, snagging a pillow then tucked it under her head, opting to stay reclined.

“I could eat a steak,” Doug said.

“Then how about you go grill, them,” her father said with a stern tone. “The grill is on, and the steaks are marinating. Veggies in foil. You know what to do.”

“Sure thing.” Doug took his beer then headed back down the stairs, not once looking over his shoulder. “More beer?” he yelled.

“Just a couple,” Jim said. “We need to go to the Heritage tomorrow and make some headway.”

Stacey sipped her wine, ignoring her father’s “what the hell are you doing” glare. She and her father were close. Even during her so-called rough teenage years, her father had been her best friend. Her biggest supporter. The person she counted on the most.

Doug was the same way, but different.

“Care to tell me why you were kissing Doug?” he finally asked.

“Not sure what you are referring to.”

He arched his brow.

“It’s none of your business,” she said, though she knew her father would push.

He arched both brows.

“It was a kiss,” she said.

“He’s still married. You’re just getting over Todd—”

“I’m so over that weasel.” And she was. Todd had been a waste of a few good years. She tried to tell herself he was a learning experience, but the only thing she learned was that he’d been a mistake.

Another arched brow. Her father’s go-to look. It worked for him. He was barely forty, having become a father at eighteen. A single father, no less. He had greyed prematurely, like his own father. He looked older than her boss Jared, though they were about the same age. “All right. You’re over him,” he said, “but Doug is my business partner. Not yet divorced, and if you haven’t noticed, he just had to move back in here because he had to sell his house. Not sure the two of you starting something up right now is a good thing.”

“You don’t sound opposed to the idea of us starting something up,” she said, a little surprised.

“No reason to be opposed. He’s a good man. Just not the right time.” Her father shook his head. “You’d have to be dead not to see the attraction between the two of you.”

That came as a shock. Sure, she’d been attracted to Doug for years. But him, attracted to her? That was new. Very new. And her father was okay with it? That was the biggest shocker of them all.

“I always knew your love life was going to be the death of me,” he said.

“Right now, I don’t have a love life, but if things change, I’ll let you know.”

She looked to the front yard, where Doug stood in front of the grill, smiling up at her… She looked back to her father, who was looking at Doug as well. “Things have already changed,” her father said.

Are you ready for #NaNoWriMo? #amwriting #writegoal

I’m currently in Seattle with Bob Mayer. We came out here to teach about how to prepare for a successful NaNoWriMo to three different libraries. We gave two workshops today. We’ll do another one tomorrow.

We had a good turnout with a good group of writers. Always nice to teach to those who want to learn.

I’ve done NaNoWriMo a few times. I love it! I find it to be motivating. Inspiring. Really helps me focus on finishing the draft. I believe the key to having a successful NaNo month is to write down as much as you can about your book. Don’t start writing it, but hash out your idea, characters, plot. I’ve always believed if you don’t map out where you are going, you’re probably going to get lost.

Bob spent the first part of the workshop talking about The Original Idea, Conflict, and Narrative Structure, occasionally letting me speak. Then we opened up for questions and I got to speak a little more. Get Bob in a car or at a workshop and the quiet man never stops talking. Seriously. I learned the history of Seattle in an hour as we drove from one side of the city to the other, but I digress.

So, for those of you who plan on participating in NaNoWriMo, spend the rest of October preparing for success. Here are some slideshares of what we presented. I think you’ll find them very helpful.

 

#Themeaningoflife…#debates…#WTH…Come on, lets get to the important stuff!

I almost never talk about politics with people. Well, certain people I can and no, its not always the people who are sitting on my side of the fence. I like a good debate every now and again. I’ve always believed to understand one side, you have to understand the other. Only way to make an informed decision. But mostly, I don’t talk politics because for a person like me, its a personal thing. I have a right to vote, which means I have the right to vote for the candidate I believe is best. Doesn’t make it right. Just makes it my vote.

This years election seems to be so emotionally charged that a conversation turns into an argument. Or perhaps it starts in an argument. And never even really an argument about the issues.

I started this election thinking one thing, then changed sides, and now? Daffy Duck would make a better president. What I’m really sick of, and I know its been in campaigns since the beginning of time, is the trash talk. I know, it happens every election. Either my tolerance for it has changed, or the trash talk has gotten worse. Worse than a hockey game, and trust me, there is some nasty trash talk there.

I watched the first good hour of the debate last night. I heard very few solutions. However, I did hear a lot about locker room talk, emails, Bill’s sexual exploits, etc. The interesting thing about this election, to me, is not about who is most qualified to run this country. Or who is best suited to run this country. Who has the best interests of ALL Americans. Its about who can elicit the most emotion in the general public. Normally, I’d say that’s a good thing. Its important for people to care. To get out and vote. Emotion brings that out. But what our presidential candidates are doing is creating a negative atmosphere where the world is focusing on what is wrong. Not how to fix what is wrong. And certainly not what is right.

Negativity feeds negativity. Same goes for positive. But it seems negativity is the stronger of the two. Of course, that takes me to Zombie land, simply because I think if the world were to have an apocalypse of any kind, its the bad people and corrupt people who would rise to power. And we’ve taken a lot of whack jobs to power. Read the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Fascinating reading.

I was honestly pretty disgusted by the debate last night. I remember as a little girl watching debates. I just watched All The Way, about Lyndon B. Johnson. That was a really good movie. The first election I remember was Nixon. Of course, then there was Watergate. Another good movie, All The Presidents Men. Hal Holbrook played Deep Throat. I’m distantly related to Hall (my maiden name is Holbrook), so of course I became fascinated with that movie. And oh yeah, Robert Redford! But I digress.

Back in the day, when I majored in Business with a concentration and in Marketing and  Sales, we learned in Advertising 101 that its better not to rely on negative campaigns. Leave the competition out of the advertisement, focusing on the theme, image, and benefits of your product. Anyone who grew up in the 70’s probably can recite the words to this ad for Coke. Its a classic. And what it did was invoke a POSITIVE feeling about the product. Brilliant!

But today, we have negative ads. Though this ad for sprint is both positive and negative. But when I took advertising and when I worked as a product trainer, the idea was not to have to put down the competition to make a sale, but focus only on the qualities of the product. This sprint ad puts Verizon down. Actually mentions the competition.

So why do we have to go down the negativity rabbit hole? Come on people. Doesn’t that Coke ad make you feel all warm and fuzzy? Feeling good is as good as if not better than feeling outraged, yes? I know its not the new year, but hell, I’m all about feeling positive now. Negativity just messes with the important things. Also messes with getting things done. All that negativity is why no matter who is president, all this blubbering they are doing about making changes, well it won’t get done. And what does get done? I don’t have faith that it will benefit the masses. I want a president who will look at people’s strengths. Focus on what they can do, not their past mistakes. There is a saying. Live and learn. I feel like politicians don’t live and learn. They just rant.

When I was in Madagascar, just a few days ago, I saw an entirely different world. Talk about a corrupt government. Geez. I was in my daughters local town, where she teaches English. The town had such a strong sense of community it made me want to go live there forever. In that village. I didn’t care there isn’t a waste management system in place and garbage is everywhere. I didn’t care that there was no running water and I had to fetch water from a well to take a bucket bath. I didn’t have time to contemplate the meaning of my life. It was all about daily existence and looking out for your neighbor. Like when we’d go on these excursions at a few the “resorts” we stayed at when we left my daughters town. If we didn’t finish all the food that was prepared for us, it was shared with the locals.

Madagascar is the 7th poorest country in the world, yet I found the majority of the people to be the kindest, nicest, welcoming, caring, and friendly group of people I have ever meet. In general, they are a positive group. Something we all could learn from. I’m sure that’s not true of the entire culture, but I totally understand why my daughter has chosen to live 2+ years there.

Go do something nice for a neighbor. Buy a homeless person a meal. Step outside of yourself for one moment and keep the world company… its the real thing.

 

Being an empty nester at 50… re-defining yourself #changes #lifechanges #meaningoflife

I got married young. Very young. I was only 22. Had my first child at 25. She’s now half my age. She joined the Peace Corps. Lives in Madagascar. She’s been traveling the world since she went to college. The last birthday she had in the states was when she turned 20. Her next chapter when she gets out of the Peace Corps will be to attend Medical School to become a Psychiatrist and work with brain trauma and PTSD with Military Vets. Probably in a war torn area. She’s always been goal oriented, stubborn, and always goes after what she wants with full force. I have a son who will be 23 on the October 21st. He graduated in May and took a job at Golf Course in Los Vegas just three weeks out of school. He sold his first golf membership yesterday and then played golf with a Pro from the UK. He’s living the dream. My youngest boy is 19. He’s double majoring in Finance and Economics at Xavier University while also playing Club Hockey. He’ll most likely being doing a summer internship in Cincinnati this summer.

My favorite role has always been mother. Its funny, I didn’t see myself as being a mother when I was a little girl. But I also never really thought about it. I was a tomboy, always trying to keep up with the boys, proving girls could do anything boys could do. And we’re better looking doing it. I went head to head with a male swimmer at 12 to be the first “person” and “girl” to swim five miles at camp. He got a cramp half way through and had to stop (he was at least 2 laps ahead of me at the time, still think he was being a gentlemen) and I succeeded. Back then, I thought I’d be living and working at summer camp forever, but things change.

Things always change.

I didn’t have a clue as to what I wanted to do as I graduated from HS. I changed my major three times in college and didn’t graduate until I was 25 and pregnant. I worked in my chosen field until I gave birth to child number #2 at age 27. By then being a mother was all that mattered to me. I worked part-time at something my entire life until six years ago where I started working full time because you know, I was preparing for being an empty nester. Something I thought was going to be great! But not really. Not so much. But really, great. Its weird how that works.

I never lived through my kids. Sure, I put my daughter in dance because I was in dance. We taught them how to waterski and snow ski because those were our hobbies. But they all ended up taking on their own sport, and they all ended up in Hockey. Go figure. That was quite the adventure and became the center of our lives. Hell, we averaged 30k miles on the cars, went to about 150 hockey games a year in two countries and five states with three kids. being a hockey mom was all I knew.

I remember the day my daughter and husband packed up the car and he took her to college. Child number one, sort of gone. Then child number two. Then number three. Didn’t happen at once. And really, when #3 went, I was fine. First year went really well.

But I was just faking it. When I drove my middle boy across the country to Vegas where he started his first job out of college, it just hit me like a ton of bricks. There does come a point where a parent looks at their children and realize, while they will always be “mom” its time to really just let go. Sure, I give them my two cents every chance a I get (and the fifty bucks in my wallet), but they are grown, making their own decisions, and making their own way through life.

This past Friday we went to our cottage that just recently sold to empty out 27 years of stuff. We’d been ready to sell for a couple of a years as no one really gets down there, so I was shocked at how emotional I became, literally crying almost all day. I’ve never really been a sentimental person. I never thought I got attached to things. But I’ve also lived in the same house for 25 years and had that cottage for 27. They both were home to me the majority of my life so far, and the best part of my life…my family.

I recently went to Madagascar, where my oldest child is living. We spent about 3 weeks there. It was literally a life changing experinece. I’m going to be blogging a lot about that experience and the realizations about myself I discovered. My life is heading in a new direction. Its both exciting and scary at the same times. Get ready to go on a ride of a life time with me. Seriously. I’m going to embark on a process that in a way, I always thought I was cut out for, but never had the balls to do it. Well, perhaps I grew pair! Har har.

As my brother would say, peace out!

 

What happens when a secret reaches out from the grave…

Dark Water

Chapter One

Patty Harmon checked the time on her cell phone as a new client left the law offices of Winston and Associates, followed by an entourage of men in very expensive suits, including her boss and his two junior associates. It was only four in the afternoon, but considering this particular client had his own driver, as she noted from her picture window, she figured whatever the man wanted, he got. She squinted, trying to see if the drivers in the two large SUVs had those wiry things attached to their ears, but she couldn’t see that far.

Winston and Associates was a small law firm dealing mostly with estates, wills, a few local businesses, and the various needs of some of the locals. Lately, however, there seemed to be a wave of new clients. Rich clients. Out-of-town clients.

“Hey, Matt,” she yelled.

“What’s up?” The other paralegal in the office stepped into his doorway, down the hall from hers. She had a view, while he hadn’t a single window, but a view of the parking lot wasn’t much to talk about, and his office was twice in size, with plush office furniture compared to her metal desk. Matt’s office also came with a large bookshelf with all the office resources at his fingertips. When Conrad had hired her, he told her the cushiness of her office was proportional to how much she proved her worth.

“Who’s the new big shot?”

Matt was in his mid to late-forties, nice-looking, with short brown hair graying at the temples, and brown eyes. He’d been with Conrad for about nine years before she came on a year ago, and he got the bigger cases. Hell, half her work came from him, not Conrad.

“Keith Holland of Holland Development. They won the bid for the Casino and are looking into putting it on the old Kendrick Paper Company site.” Matt leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed. He always wore khaki pants and a well-pressed dress shirt. If it weren’t for the fact he was gay, and she was, well…she couldn’t really call herself involved anymore. Reese had made it clear he was never going to settle down. He’d proven that when she broke up with him two weeks ago, and he shrugged and said, “Well, it was fun while it lasted.” He then kissed her cheek and walked away. She thought he’d argue with her, asking her not to call it off, expressing his devotion to her. Begging her. Yeah, that was a nice fantasy.

But the reality was, Reese just walked away. She had noticed a hint of sadness in eyes. She knew that look. She knew he cared. But he was closed off. Unable to commit. She couldn’t change him.

Nor did she try. Her father had made that mistake, and Patty had ended up paying a huge price for it.

She bit back a sob pushing against her throat. Her life had been so planned. It was going to take some to get over Reese. She should have listened to her cousin when he’d warned her last summer. Then again, if she had listened, she wouldn’t be pregnant.

She dreaded telling Reese he was going to be a father. She could picture the conversation, and it wasn’t pretty. He’d likely accuse her of trapping him. Well, this was no trap. He could be part of his child’s life or not, but she was going to have this baby.

“I still can’t believe we’re going have a casino here in a few years,” she said, pulling herself from a train of thought that could only end with misery.

“Well, Holland plans on making this his home away from home. He’s looking for other properties to buy, a place he can bring his family and extended family for the summer. I guess he’s got a bunch of kids and cousins, all wanting to summer somewhere around here. Seems weird if you ask me”

“Which properties?” Patty asked, intrigued.

“Haven’t been told yet,” Matt said. “I had him pegged for a “summer in Saratoga” than in Lake George, but what do I know? Me and rich people, not a good match.”

She was about to ask why Holland hired Conrad when she heard the familiar sound of a rifle being cocked.

Matt whipped around. A stranger stood in the hallway with a rifle in his hands. “What the—”

Patty sat frozen in her chair, her hands pressed so hard on the desk they turned white. Matt reached for the rifle, but the stranger holding it was too quick.

Instinctively, she hit the floor and rolled under her desk. The rifle went off, and Matt screamed. She closed her eyes and covered her ears. She’d learned that agony firsthand when she’d been shot in the shoulder last summer. Footsteps echoed, and she felt the floorboards vibrate. Oh, God, she thought, what happened to Angela? If the receptionist had been shot, Patty would have heard it, so where could she be?

“Come out,” the stranger said.

Her entire body trembled. She pulled her knees tight to her chest to stop it, but failed. The stranger rounded the desk, then kicked her leg. She looked up, and once again, she was staring down the wrong end of a rifle.

“Get up.” His voice was eerily calm. His finger rested over the trigger.

She did as she was told, though not gracefully. Her stomach twisted and tightened so badly she knew she would be sick at any moment. She held her hands high, leaning against the desk for support. She glanced at Matt, who held his knee with both hands, his lips formed a tight thin line, his pupils dilated from the pain, but he managed to give her a reassuring look. Him not being mortally wounded didn’t make her feel better at all.

“Where’s Conrad?” the stranger asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “He left a few minutes ago, and I don’t know where he was going.”

“What about you?” The stranger turned his attention to Matt, who had one hand on his bloody knee, while the other reached for his phone, which must have fallen out of his pocket during the short struggle. “I wouldn’t do that if I we’re you, or I’ll put a bullet between this pretty woman’s eyes.”

Matt wrapped both hands around his knee, as he fell against the wall, his lips still pursed, his eyelids drooping with defeat.

“Can I tie a belt or something around my friend’s leg? He’s bleeding something awful.” Patty felt the water welling in her eyes, drip down her checks as she sucked in her breath. “Please,” she begged.

The stranger pointed the gun directly at Matt. “Are you wearing a belt?”

Matt nodded.

“All right then,” the stranger said. “You can help him with the belt as soon as you get me Conrad on the line.”

The stranger kicked Matt’s phone toward Patty. “Well, little lady,” he said, “you hurry up and make that call if you want to help your friend here with that belt.”

Patty’s body trembled as if she were the center of an earthquake.

“Are you deaf? Either pick up the phone on your desk or the cell off the floor and call your boss. Tell him Terry is waiting for him, and he better haul ass back to his office and deal with me and no funny stuff or I will kill you.”

Patty looked at the phone on her desk for a long moment, then reached for it with a trembling hand. Her other hand pressed protectively over her stomach. The baby was so tiny that it was probably to early to pick up a heartbeat, but she knew it grew inside her. Boy or girl, didn’t matter. All she wanted was a chance to have a healthy baby.

And the opportunity to tell Reese, no matter his reaction.

“Hurry up, or I’ll shoot this guy in the chest.” The stranger now pointed the gun at Matt, who grappled with his belt, trying desperately to make his own tourniquet.

“I’m calling him… please don’t shot anyone.” Patty gripped the phone with one hand while she braced herself against the desk, shaking so badly she dropped the receiver three times before she was able to bring it to her ear and then dial star one on the phone.

She called Conrad, but it went straight to voicemail, so she left the gunman’s message, then ended the call. She thought about screaming, He’s got a gun, he’s shot Matt!, but she figured the stranger would shoot her.

She did not want to get shot today.

With a shaky voice, she pleaded, “At least let me tend to Matt. He’s bleeding too much.”

“Go ahead,” the gunman said.

Quickly, she knelt beside Matt, taking the belt from his weak hands and tightening it has hard as she could. She locked gazes with Matt, who conveyed an understanding of the situation. There was nothing they could do but sit and wait. And pray.

“Go sit down over there.” The gunman pointed to her office chair.

“Please, can I—”

“Whatever it is, no. Now go sit.”

Patty did as instructed.

Poor Angela. The gunman must have done something dreadful to her. A flash of the gunman twisting Angela’s neck until it snapped raced through her mind’s eye. She swallowed, feeling bile rise in her throat.

For the second time in a year, Patty could see the most important parts of her life as if she were thumbing through an old photo album. She had no regrets. Not even Reese, the untamable man, as she had started calling him, but only to herself. It saddened her that he was so emotionally closed off, because deep down he was caring and generous, but he avoided emotions, a master at redirection.

Her only regret was for the baby. It hurt to think this was how both their lives would end.

The tears came on fast. She blinked past them, but could have sworn she saw Reese running across the hallway. Couldn’t be. Could it? Could he have somehow sensed she needed him? That she…that his… no. She was delusional with fear.

The gunman turned toward the hallway. “Anyone else in the office?”

She immediately thought of Angela, but if she’d been here, he would have seen her in the reception area. She shivered at the thought of what fate may have been bestowed on the receptionist. She heard… or maybe felt the old floorboards creak. Her pulse did a double time as a showdown emerged in the hallway.

“Put down your weapon,” a familiar voice shouted.

She held her breath. Reese was here. He was actually here. Her heart lifted a little, but she knew this wasn’t over as she still stared at the wrong end of a rifle.

“The building is surrounded,” came another voice. “Put down your weapon.”

“You’re going to have to shoot me before I do that, but if you do, my trigger finger will go off, and that nice little lady over there—”

Bang!

The gunman lunged forward as a second shot rang out, shattering the picture window. Patty dropped to the floor, covering her face and screamed as either a bullet or a piece of glass tore into her calf. She curled up in a ball and rolled back under her desk, seeking any kind of safety from the line of fire.

Under the ringing in her ears, she heard muffled voices, a couple she recognized, and a few new ones. Sirens screeched in the background. Her calf felt as though someone had stuck a knife into it and twisted it. She reached down to feel her leg just as she saw two boots in the opening of the desk. “Who’s there?” she whispered, retreating further, pinning herself tightly in the corner.

“Reese.” His voice rang soft and sweet in her ears. She dropped her head to her knees and began to sob.

“Hey, now, it’s okay.”

She felt Reese’s fingers glide on her leg, then gently placing something around her calf. Even though she knew the situation was under control, the fear didn’t leave her body. She flung her arms around Reese, banging her head on the desk, but she didn’t care. To be in his arms was the only way she was going to feel safe.

“I can’t have you moving, okay?” Reese cupped her face, tilting her head. His blue eyes so warm and caring. She could get lost in those eyes. “You’ve got a pretty nasty cut, so until the EMT’s arrive, you stay put, okay?”

She nodded.

He wrapped his arms around her, holding her close, making her feel safe, making her feel tingles she’d tried to forget just two short weeks ago. This was not going to be an easy man to get over. Her body shook even more.

“You’re going to be okay,” he said. “Trust me.”

She wanted so wanted so badly to tell him about the baby. While the fear for her life was past, the fear that something might have happened…Before she could finish her thought, she emptied the contents of her stomach all over Reese’s New York State Trooper uniform.

“Not the kind of greeting I anticipated.” He took towel a young female trooper tossed his way and wiped Patty’s lips, face, and clothing, ignoring his own need to clean off. “Want some water?”

She shook her head as she stared up at his blue eyes, offset by his naturally darker Italian complexion. His hair was jet-black, and he wore the same jarhead haircut as that of half her male family members.

But it looked so much better on Reese.

Everything looked better on Reese.

“I’m so sorry,” she mumbled, but she couldn’t let go of him. She hugged him tighter, trying to make the trembling in her body stop.

“It’s okay,” he said. “You’re going to be just fine.” His voice was so deep, so incredibly calming. His right hand stroked her hair, and his left danced across her arm. “Ambulances should be here any moment.” His eyes fluttered, like butterfly kisses as he pressed his lips to her temple. “I’ve got you,” he whispered. “You’re okay.”

“Matt!” Patty cried. “Where’s Matt?” She tried to stand, but a sharp pain tore through her calf. Reese gripped her shoulders.

“I don’t think you’re hurt too bad, but I can’t have you moving at all, okay?” He glanced under the towel over her leg. “You’ve got a piece of glass in your leg. I can’t tell how deep it is, so until the EMTs get here, you don’t move it. Got it?”

She nodded. “How is Matt?”

“My partner is tending to him, and we’re going to make sure he gets the care he needs.”

“Frank’s here?” Her cousin Frank had introduced her to Reese…and warned her about him.

“He’s here, but he’s outside. My new partner is Stacey,” Reese said. “She’s a good cop, but so young. Barely even legal to drink. Makes me feel like an old man.”

Patty hand always enjoyed Reese’s dry sense of humor, but often wondered if it was a defense mechanism. She wrapped the blanket Reese offered around her body while he looked at her leg again. She couldn’t bring herself to look down, and he did his best to block her view. “How did you know to come here?”

“Angela,” Reese said. “She was in the bathroom when the perp came in. She called 9-1-1.”

“I’m so glad she’s okay.” And Matt was okay. And Reese was okay. Oh, how she missed his touch. His calloused hands against her smooth skin. His full lips pressed against hers, their tongues entwined in a ritualistic dance. He made her feel she was the only person in the room. It might not be real, but being in his arms again made everything else fade away, except one thing.

She couldn’t tell him about the baby until she knew for sure things with the baby were okay. Considering the day’s events, she worried that something might have happened. She also worried how Reese was going to react to the news, so best she wait. At least that was what she told herself.

She watched in a daze as the medics arrived. One group tended to Matt, while another buzzed around her like bees on honey. She chose to focus on the tight grip she had on Reese’s hand. She couldn’t let go. Didn’t want to let go. Thankfully, he stood by her side the entire time.

The other group of EMT’s rolled Matt out into the parking lot. He was pale, but managed a thumbs-up in her direction.

She gripped Reese’s hand tighter when she felt him try to pull away. He looked down at her, locking gazes. “Let them put you on the gurney.”

“I think we should let the ER doctors pull that out,” she heard on of the EMTs say. “Doesn’t look too bad, though.”

“I’m going to need her statement,” Reese said as he helped load her into the ambulance. “I’ll be right behind you,” he said, cupping her face and pressing his lips against hers. “Hang tight.” He stepped out of the ambulance.

“Reese,” she called.

He turned. “I’ll be right behind you.”

She placed her hands over her stomach, closed her eyes. The baby…

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