Elizabeth is the bestselling author of Christmas Comes to Bethlehem, Maine and the highly successful Edge of Freedom series from Bethany House Publishers. Her popular literary blog, The Borrowed Book, enjoys a wide readership. Elizabeth is an accomplished speaker and teacher, often attending conferences and seminars where she lectures on editing for fiction writers, crafting effective novel proposals, and conducting successful editor/agent interviews. Along with her husband and children, she makes her home in the great state of Texas.
Max’ism: Do Not Be Afraid
Max is a wiener dog. Though his spirit is big, he’s had to come to terms with the fact that he is a fifty-pound dog trapped in a ten-pound dog’s body. That was made very evident on one of our daily walks.
We live on a country road far from traffic. We do, however, have Barney. Barney is a German Shepherd of considerable size. Even I think so. And when Barney barks, people listen! Normally, Barney is a very friendly dog, but on this occasion, he took our walking past his turf as a personal insult. Terrified, Max scrambled over to me and began jumping on my leg, begging me to pick him up.
“You’re fine,” I repeated over and over, but Max would not be mollified. Not until I held him in my arms, snug against my body, did he finally stop shaking. What Max didn’t realize is that I had no intention of letting that big ole German Shepherd harm him. I was ready to protect him, and watched Barney carefully to make sure he didn’t come near. And then I realized how much like Max the children of God are.
We walk alongside God, content with the way things are, enjoying the view, until something big and scary happens, and then all our faith flies out the window. “God help me! Where are you? Why didn’t you protect me,” we cry. When all along, God stood ready, one eye upon the storm, and one eye upon His child. I can almost hear Him…
“Didn’t you know? I was beside you all along! I had no intention of letting anything harm you, beloved, only that which will strengthen you, and build you up.”
That is, after all, the nature of our God.
It’s been two years since a drunk driving accident claimed the life of Elinor Walsh’s fiancé. Though she’s forged on to create a thriving design business for herself, the past still haunts her. Prompted by her friends, she finally capitulates and schedules a flight to Ireland—a trip that should have been her honeymoon. Armed with just a list her fiancé wrote and the keys to a rental car, Elinor heads to Galway, never dreaming that the people she meets there will change her life forever. Confronted with a choice—her past with an old friend or her future with a new one—will she finally be able to move beyond her grief? Or will she cut her losses, and her trip short, and miss out on the one thing she never expected? AMAZON
Peyton Briggs thought her five-year nightmare was finally over when she moved to Martha’s Vineyard to escape her abusive ex-husband. But when Noah Ryland arrives in town, Peyton fears for her own life as well as her daughter’s. Noah swears he’s only come to warn her, but as her ex-husband’s best friend and former police partner, Peyton isn’t sure he can be trusted. She’s even less certain when her ex-husband shows up. It’s obvious he’ll do anything to get what he wants. Can Peyton get her daughter to safety in time? AMAZON
A young seamstress weaves her own story in a world run by men. After hearing news of a silver strike in Calico, California, Abigail Watts packs up her needles and thread and follows her beloved father out West. But when she’s suddenly left alone in the rough mining town, Abigail finds herself pressed into a marriage of convenience with the local livery owner, Nathan Hawk. Determined to uncover the mystery surrounding her father’s death in the mines, Abigail agrees to stay in Calico. But when the truth sets her free, she must decide whether to leave the town – and Nathan – for good. AMAZON
Writer Christmas Scheirer has been too ashamed to admit that her greed may have led to her grandfather’s death. Wanting to make amends, Christmas returns to Boulder for her grandmother’s wedding and comes across a slew of letters written by her grandfather. She’s determined to see these missives published—even if it means battling with Marcus Taggert, the handsome guardian of her grandfather’s estate. How far will Christmas go to put things right? AMAZON
Veterinarian Leesa McElroy likes the idea of a living nativity, but when the plans include recruiting the help of widowed recluse Logan Franks and his exotic animals, she’s not so certain. Logan has always seemed more at home with camels than Christians, so she’s surprised when he agrees to supply not only the animals—he volunteers to play one of the shepherds. Will the nativity provide the backdrop for one holy night, or will Logan’s bitter heart mean an end to the miracles in Bethlehem?
One Holy Night, part of the bestselling anthology collection, Christmas Comes to Bethlehem, Maine from Barbour Publishing. AMAZON
Casey Alexander refuses to believe her aunt committed suicide. Convinced a murderer is hiding out in her aunt’s sleepy hometown, she’ll do anything to uncover the truth. But as her personal investigation produces mounting evidence, the danger to Casey grows. Now she’ll be forced to trust certain residents of Pine Mills for help, including local nursery owner, Luke Kerrigain…the man with whom she’s falling in love with…and who may be stalking her. AMAZON
Hone your investigative skills with Died in the Wool, a mystery filled with humor, suspense, and romance. Monah Trenary is battling for city funds for her beloved library. When a rival for the much-needed monies winds up dead, Monah is considered one of the prime suspects. When a second corpse weighs in, police detective Mike Brockman discovers that, according to the evidence, Monah and monkshood are a lethal combination. Can Monah and proven sleuth Casey Alexander find the real killer before this librarian is booked for murder? AMAZON
Life has been anything but quiet since Casey moved to Pine Mills, Massachusetts. First, she thought her Aunt Lydia committed suicide, then someone tried to kill best friend, Monah Trenary, and now, an innkeeper’s maid tumbles to her death at Casey’s bridal shower!
Determined to figure out the identity of this Pine Mills’ latest criminal, Casey Alexander embarks on a full-fledged investigation. She begins by enlisting her best friend’s help, and the aid of her fiancé, Luke Kerrigan. Together, the tree of them begin mapping out clues they hope will lead to the killer. AMAZON
THREE IN ONE!
Crazy Cousin Mary is dead, crushed by the weight of La Bamba. . .
Clare Butterfield has always been embarrassed by her unruly brothers’ raucous ways, but leaving the shame of her family’s lifestyle behind also means losing the only man she’s ever loved.
Tied by a sense of obligation to his abused mother and terminally ill father, Matt Walker watches helplessly as the love of his life leaves him.
Together, these unlikely heroes set out to uncover the mystery behind a murder, but hindering their investigation is town full of secrets and a longtime rival with a thirst for revenge. AMAZON
Foreboding raised the hairs on Casey’s neck. She froze and turned wide eyes to Luke, who remained rooted to his seat, the same as she. For several seconds neither one moved. Finally, she stood, walked to the living room window, and pulled back the curtain to look.– Where the Truth Lies by Elizabeth Ludwig and Janelle Mowery
Crazy Cousin Mary was dead. No doubt about it. Her black Converse tennis shoes stuck out from under the rusty old truck she drove—an International Scout with the back end sawed off. Above the wheel well she had spray-painted “La Bamba” in bright yellow letters. – The Trouble With Mary by Elizabeth Ludwig
Monah turned to ask Mike if she was free to go and heard an officer say “password-protected file” and “laptop.” He went on to add “Brandy Purcell.” Monah’s heart froze. They’d found her secret files. – Died in the Wool by Elizabeth Ludwig and Janelle Mowery
FIRST CHAPTER OF WHERE THE TRUTH LIES
Casey Alexander stared across the coffee-stained desk at the Pine Mills detective peering down his nose at her. “That’s not what the police in Virginia Beach told me. They said you contacted them with news she was missing. They didn’t say anything about suicide.”
“We didn’t have all the information at that point. That’s why I needed to speak with you, confirm some of her activities. Unfortunately, our investigation has turned up a few, shall I say, details, which make me believe it’s more than just a missing person case.”
“Look, Detective. . .” She glanced at the name etched on the bronze plate. “Rafferty. Aunt Liddy is many things— zany, eccentric, you name it. But she’s not unstable, nor is she suicidal. You’d need some pretty serious evidence to make me think otherwise.”
Eyebrows raised, Detective William Rafferty lowered his head to peer over his reading glasses. Without a word, he slid a rumpled scrap of paper sealed inside a plastic bag across the desk.
Casey stole a quick glance at Aunt Liddy’s familiar writing. It was too horrible to believe. She shoved the bag back. “Aunt Liddy would never take her own life. You’ve made a mistake.”
The detective’s gaze hardened, and the knuckles of his interlocked fingers whitened. “Our office isn’t in the habit of making mistakes, Miss Alexander. I realize this is a shock. No one wants to believe someone they love could be so desperate.”
Casey shook her head, both palms waving aside his suggestion. “You have to at least consider the possibility that Aunt Liddy was murdered.”
He lifted the note and held the signature side toward her. “Is this your aunt’s handwriting?”
Aunt Liddy’s scriptlike scrawl flowed across the page. She swallowed past the burning lump in her throat and nodded.
“Our handwriting analyst came to the same conclusion.” He lowered the paper and handed her an envelope. “I made a copy for you in case you wanted to read it in private.”
Casey stuffed the letter into her purse next to her ever-present pad of Post-it Notes. “Is there anything else?”
“We found her boat floating free of its anchor in Quincy Bay. And we located a piece of her clothing that looks like an animal, possibly a shark, had ripped to shreds.”
“But you haven’t found her body.”
Detective Rafferty shoved the note into a manila envelope marked Evidence, yanked open the drawer to his left, and dropped the missive inside.
“I wish I could help you, Miss Alexander. I really do. The case will remain under investigation, but unfortunately, there are too many real criminals on the prowl for me to waste time and manpower figuring out why Lydia Alexander took her life. Your aunt is gone, dead by her own hand. How or why is something we may never know.” His gravel-laced voice softened. “Go home. See to your aunt’s things. Make whatever arrangements you need to bring closure, and then move on.”
“What about this?” She snatched her purse off the floor and pulled out a small cardboard box. “Aunt Liddy sent it to me a week before she died.”
She peeled back several layers of tissue paper to reveal the mottled silver key nestled inside.
Detective Rafferty lifted the key, balancing it between his thumb and index finger. “What’s it for?”
“I don’t know. Aunt Liddy’s letter just told me to hold on to it.”
“That’s a little vague, don’t you think? Kinda fits in with my theory that she wasn’t in her right mind.”
Casey dug her nails into her palms. She hated to agree with him, but he was right. It was a little weird. “Maybe, but I still think it’s important.”
Detective Rafferty pushed back from the desk. His swivel chair creaked like a rickety porch swing on a windy day. With his hands folded across his ample belly, his rumpled gray suit, and a striped tie complete with jelly stains, he looked like every police lieutenant on every cop show Casey had ever seen.
“Have you been to the post office or the bank? Maybe it fits a lockbox.”
“Not yet, but I intend to do that as soon as I leave here.”
After a long moment of silence, Detective Rafferty leaned forward, slid the key toward her, and rested his arms on the desk. “Can I give you some advice?”
Casey clamped her lips shut in mutinous defiance. Did he really expect her to answer that?
“Let this go,” he continued without waiting for her response. “Your aunt was a nice lady. I liked her. She deserves to rest in peace.”
Casey reached for the key and dropped it back into its box. Her hands shook with anger, and tears clouded her eyes. She loved Aunt Liddy, and she would not let this farce of an investigation tarnish her reputation. “I agree, Detective, and I’m going to do everything in my power to see she does just that.”
She rose. Detective Rafferty beckoned to a tall, brown-haired officer hovering outside the door. “Brockman, would you kindly see Miss Alexander to her car?”
With a stiff nod to Detective Rafferty, Casey headed for the exit. Not waiting for his junior sidekick, she strode out of the station, down the stairs to the sidewalk.
“Hey, wait up! Miss Alexander, please. Wait.”
She spun on her heel, fuming. “Look, Officer Brockman, if you think I’m going to listen to one more bad word about Aunt Liddy—”
He hurried forward, hand outstretched. Between his fingers he clenched a small white business card.
“I just wanted to say that I knew Lydia. Liked her a lot. In fact, she used to cut my hair.”
Casey studied the earnest-looking officer. So he was a customer of Aunt Liddy’s. Hesitantly, she took the card from his fingers.
He glanced over his shoulder toward the station. “I don’t know what happened to your aunt. Wish I did. I can understand your wanting the details. If you find anything. . .if I can help in any way, give me a call.” He tipped his head toward the card. “Okay?”
She nodded cautiously. “Thank you.” His concern appeared genuine, unlike the detective, but she was still leery of the offer, since Rafferty had already told her they wouldn’t spend a lot of time investigating.
He gave a half smile then turned and went back inside.
Casey sighed. The brick facade of the Pine Mills Police Department sneered down at her, its many windows grinning like some giant, toothy jack-o’-lantern.
Go home? Get closure? Was Rafferty kidding?
The strap of her leather handbag dug into her arm. She jerked it over her shoulder. She’d just learned that Aunt Liddy was missing and presumed dead. The last thing she intended to do was leave this backwater hole-in-the-wall before she found out exactly what she wanted to know—why.
She rubbed at the tears pooling in her eyes and followed the peony-lined sidewalk toward the silver BMW parked next to the station. Detective Rafferty might not like it, but she would open her own investigation with help from the police or no. She hadn’t spent countless hours reading about Brandy Purcell’s adventures in the True Life Detective series for nothing.
“Casey? Casey Alexander?”
She paused with her fingers curled around the door handle. A tall, barrel-chested man, cheeks reddened and hair swaying in the crisp spring breeze, hurried across the street toward her. He sported a brown leather cap, and reflective sunglasses hid his eyes. The defense mechanism that came with living in a large city kicked in. She fumbled with her keys, instinctively searching for the biggest, thickest one she could find. She’d read once that it was possible to thwart an attacker using them.
The man drew to a halt a few feet shy of her passenger door. “I’m Jack Kerrigan. Remember me? I was a friend of Lydia’s.”
It took a moment for recognition to snap. “Jack? Jack!” She dropped the keys back into her bag and hurried around the car. He shifted the rolls of white paper under his arm and enfolded her in a hug.
Jack Kerrigan looked as though he belonged on the cover of a Wheaties box. Casey remembered him working out, jogging regularly. Even at fiftysomething, he had a body college grads would envy. She drew back, surprised by the tension she felt in him.
“How—how are you?”
He chuckled and tapped the rolls of paper. “Oh, business is crazy. I just got back from a meeting with our architect. You?”
Though it had been several years since she last saw him, the change in Jack’s appearance was remarkable. Gray streaked the raven hair, and lines crisscrossed his weathered face. He looked pale, drawn. . .tired.
She swallowed. “Oh, I’ve been better. Just finished up with Detective Rafferty.”
He glanced at the police station. “Was he helpful?”
Her sunglasses poked from the top of her purse. She pulled them out, shined the lenses on her pant leg, and slid them on. Her composure once more intact, she shrugged and turned her back on the building. “Not so much, but no matter. I’ll find what I need without them.”
“Liddy was a dear friend, Casey. I’d like to help, if I can.” He followed her around to the driver’s side.
Casey allowed him to open the door. “Okay. I’ll give you a call—”
He cut short her words with a wave. “Why don’t I stop by late this afternoon? You’ll be staying at your aunt’s place, I assume?”
“I’m headed there eventually. I’ve got some stops to make first.”
Jack’s interest dissipated faster than a light fog on a warm day. He glanced over his shoulder while he waited for her to climb into the car. Once she sat inside, he closed the door and patted the roof.
“See you later.” He whirled and headed across the street the way he’d come.
Casey started the engine and hit the power button to lower her window. “Sure, Jack. It was nice to see you again. Can’t wait to catch up.” Her words poured out faster, louder, as he walked away.
She blew out a deep breath, put the car in gear, and drove the four blocks to the Pine Mills Savings Bank. Along the way, she passed the Ice Creamery, cheerful and inviting with its brightly painted roof and antique windows. Casey gulped back a sob. Aunt Liddy had taken her there often. Sometimes they made up reasons to go. She could still taste the chocolate melting on her tongue. She sped up and focused on the large building at the end of the street.
Like the rest of the town, the bank wore its age proudly. Red, white, and blue bunting fluttered from the windows. Pathways decorated with flowers wound around the front and stopped at the steps, which were flanked on both sides by tall white columns. Casey parked, lifted the key from its box, and went inside.
Huge. Cavernous. Even if she tried for days, she’d never come up with a word that did the place justice. She could put on lipstick by her reflection on the gleaming marble floors. She adjusted her scarf and blazer, smoothed the wrinkles from her matching slacks and silk blouse, and walked past the red velvet rope line toward a row of glassed offices.
“Okay, thanks, Jeff,” said a young brunette.
“No problem, Monah. Let me know if that key gives you any trouble.”
Casey stopped and backed up to peer through one of the open office doors. Sure enough, “Monah” held up a silver key similar to the one clenched in her hand. With a final farewell, Monah got up, left the office, and headed toward the service desk.
“Excuse me,” Casey said, darting in front of her.
Monah tucked a white bank envelope into the tiny macramé purse bouncing on her hip. “Yes?”
“I know this will sound strange”—Casey opened her hand to reveal the key lying flat on her palm—“but does the key they just gave you look anything like this one?”
The young woman looked taken aback. She glanced first over one shoulder, then the other. “Um. . .I don’t think I caught your name.”
No wonder she looks like a doe in the headlights, Casey thought. I might as well have bowled her over and ripped the key from her purse.
“I’m sorry.” She pulled back her hand with a sheepish grin. “I’m a little overzealous at the moment. My name is Casey Alexander. I’m Lydia Alexander’s niece.”
“Lydia’s niece!” Monah’s eyes widened behind her preppy black spectacles. “I hoped I’d get to meet you. She’s told me so much about you.”
Dull grief tightened Casey’s stomach. “Thanks. Listen, I was wondering—”
To her surprise, Monah took her arm and led her to a quiet corner of the bank. Potted palms hid them from prying eyes. Nestled among the plants were two brocade-covered chairs. Monah sat on one, Casey on the other, close by.
Monah put her hand to her chest. “My name is Monah Trenary. Did Lydia ever mention me?”
Casey shook her head. “I don’t think so. Should she have?”
The hopeful light in Monah’s eyes faded. Surprised by her fervor, Casey unclasped her hands and touched Monah’s elbow. “It’s been several months since I spoke to her. I’ve been swamped getting my Web design business off the ground. Maybe she did, and I forgot.”
Monah twisted a strand of her long brown hair between her fingers. “Well, it’s just that Lydia and I got to be friends after she started coming to the library. We talked a lot, about God and stuff. Matter of fact, she accepted Christ not more than three months ago. That’s why I find it so hard to believe—”
She broke off and grasped one of Casey’s hands. “You don’t believe she committed suicide, do you? Not Lydia.”
“Aunt Liddy. . .Aunt Liddy talked to you about God?” Casey blinked, trying to process all Monah said in one simple sentence.
“Yeah, and she was more full of spunk than ever. Do you think she was ready to end her life?”
Finally, someone who thinks like me. Casey shook her head so hard her hoop earrings bumped against her cheeks. “No, I don’t. The woman I know never would have acted so selfishly. But I can’t for the life of me think why anyone would want to do her harm.”
“Maybe that’s where I can help, if you’ll let me. Not that I think Lydia had enemies, mind you, but I’ve lived here all my life, and I know just about everyone. Maybe I can answer your questions.”
Optimism curbed by caution over her new ally swirled in Casey’s stomach. She bit one corner of her lip and nodded. “Okay, then maybe you can tell me about this. Aunt Liddy sent it to me.”
She retrieved Lydia’s key. This time, Monah didn’t shy away but pulled out her own key and held the two side by side. It was obvious they didn’t match. Casey stifled a stab of disappointment.
“Sorry,” Monah said. “She didn’t tell you what it’s for?”
“No, but I’m just getting started. I’m headed to the post office next, and then Aunt Liddy’s house. Something will turn up.”
Monah glanced at her watch. “Wish I could go with you, but I’m due at the library in less than an hour.” She tore a piece off the bank envelope, scribbled a couple of phone numbers across it, and handed it to Casey. “Call me if you need anything. I wrote the library’s phone number on there, too, just in case.” She rose, her long hair swaying. “I’m glad you’re here, Casey. Maybe now the police will have to do something. They wouldn’t listen to me.”
Casey offered a wry smile. The police hadn’t listened to her, either, but it was a comfort to know someone else had tried. “Thanks, Monah. I’ll call you.”
Monah left, taking her green tea scent with her. Casey folded the paper and slid it into the pocket of her billfold. She decided to check her voice mail before heading to the post office. A message from her secretary told her that one of her clients accepted the Web design she’d proposed before leaving Virginia Beach for Pine Mills, Massachusetts. At least something was going right.
She remembered the location of the post office without much trouble. She’d accompanied her aunt on more than one occasion to buy stamps. Outside, a line wound from the double glass doors down the sidewalk.
What in the world?
Purse in hand, she exited the car and went to take her place in line.
Casey turned to look at the kind face that accompanied the friendly voice. “Hello.”
“Gotta love tax time.” The woman, easily in her late fifties or early sixties, held up a long white envelope. “Are you mailing your return?”
Tax time. Casey grimaced. She still hadn’t gotten hers filed. “No, ma’am.” She peered around the line of last-minute filers at the doors. From here, the sunlight bouncing off the glassed entrance winked like a lighthouse.
“Did your filing early, huh? I always tell Delbert we wait too long. I wish he’d listen to me and get this silly thing taken care of in January.” She waved at the people standing in front of her. “Seems like the line gets longer every year.”
“No kidding.” The words sounded harsher than she’d intended. She took off her glasses and poked out her hand. “I’m Casey Alexander.”
The woman smiled, revealing two rows of perfect dentures. The flowered scarf wrapped around her pink foam rollers snapped and fluttered in the breeze. She put up her hand to stop it from flying off.
“I’m Ethel Dunn. You say your name’s Alexander? I don’t suppose you’re Lydia’s niece?”
Several heads turned to stare, and no wonder. The woman practically shouted to be heard above the wind and voices.
“Yes, that’s right,” Casey said.
The old lady nodded, her head bobbing like a yo-yo on a short string. “I thought so. Lydia talks on and on about how much you and she look alike.” She tapped the fingers of her right hand against her bottom lip. “I’m surprised to see you. A planned visit?”
Obviously, the news of Aunt Liddy’s demise wasn’t public knowledge, and Casey wasn’t in a hurry to change that. “Not exactly.” She tipped her head to peek toward the doors.
Ethel patted her arm. “She’s so proud of you. If ever there was a person who loves her niece, it’s Lydia.”
Casey glanced around at the growing number of interested bystanders. “Thank you,” she said, cutting her off before the speech got longer. “Maybe we can catch up another time?”
She slipped out of line, ignoring the irritated looks tossed her way, and wound toward the entrance where a female postal worker stood directing people to available windows.
“Sorry, ma’am. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait your turn.”
Casey tugged the key out of her purse. “Yes, ma’am. I’ve just one quick question. This doesn’t happen to look familiar, does it? Maybe a post office box?”
The postal worker barely glanced at it. “Nope. Ours are bigger and have fatter heads. Plus, there’s an ID number on them for when we have to reorder.” She reached around her and waved to the next person in line.
Panic gripped Casey’s insides. “I’m really sorry.” She dipped back into the woman’s line of sight. “I know you’re busy. But could you look again just to be sure? It’s very important.”
The lady took the key in one hand and gestured people forward with the other. “See right here?” She pointed with a chubby, brightly painted finger. “It should say ‘United States Postal Service’ or ‘USPS.’ It’s not ours.”
Disheartened by the quick rejections that met her first attempts at tracking down a clue, Casey shoved the key back into her purse and walked, head lowered, to her car.
“Okay,” Casey sighed, sliding onto the BMW’s heated leather seat, “what would Brandy do?”
Star of the True Life Detective novel series, Brandy Purcell was Casey’s favorite character. She flicked her long blond hair over her shoulder and tapped her temple the way Brandy always did whenever a case had her stumped.
“Think. Think. Think.” Suddenly self-conscious, she jerked her finger from her temple and looked around. She had to stop copying a fictional character. People were bound to think she belonged in a nuthouse. She snapped her fingers. The house. The key was an important clue, no doubt, but surely there would be others. She started the engine and pointed her car toward the highway.
Aunt Liddy lived in an old Victorian two-story a few miles outside of town. Along the way, high stone walls carved from the belly of the Appalachians rose on each side. Wildflowers dotted the valleys, and with her window cracked to catch the crisp spring breeze, she could smell just a hint of pine.
The mountains had always fascinated Aunt Liddy, and Casey loved visiting them with her. Hard to imagine her gone.
She wiped her damp eyes and then adjusted the mirror to check her mascara. No streaks. Good. She lifted her hand to push the mirror back and paused. Funny. She hadn’t seen any other cars earlier, but bearing down on her was a large black pickup. She slowed and eased over to let the vehicle pass. No good. The driver refused to budge. Up ahead, the road narrowed where it curved into the mountain. A deep chasm gaped on the opposite side.
She clenched the steering wheel tighter, her nervousness building. Behind her, the headlights in the rearview drew closer, looking like some ancient, angry gargoyle. She tore her gaze from the mirror.
Relax your grip. Accelerate into the turn. Don’t oversteer.
Easy to say. The hundred-foot drop looming to her right made it difficult. She held her breath as one of the front tires rumbled off the road, spewing dirt and gravel. With a smooth, controlled jerk, she pulled the car back, knuckles white, legs shaking.
The yellow-eyed beast inched closer. Casey no longer saw the yawning grille in her mirror. It was too close and getting closer. The first thump nearly sent her skidding out of control. She quelled the urge to stomp on the brake and corrected the fishtail, pressing on the gas.
“God, help! Help me!”
Up ahead, a scenic turnout sloped up the mountain. If she could get that far before the truck hit her again. . .
She risked a peek. The black Chevy inched closer, its engine roaring as the driver downshifted. She couldn’t slow down to make the turn. It was all or nothing.
She dropped her right hand to the parking brake and timed the turn. The truck hugged the centerline. He’d force her off the mountain with the next hit. She waited, heart pounding, as the turnout rushed to meet her.
The Chevy crashed into her bumper. The car’s back end swung hard. The steering wheel jerked and would have ripped from her hand if she hadn’t been ready. With the added momentum, she almost missed the turnout. She gasped as the edge of the mountain swirled by outside the window.
Once she hit the turnoff, Casey wrenched up on the parking brake. The back tires squealed as the car swung around, spitting smoke and gravel. She grabbed the wheel, tried to steer with the spin, and nearly threw up when at last the car rocked to a stop.
Her hands shook so badly, she fumbled for several seconds with the door handle. At last she kicked it wide and scrambled out of the car. She tripped, caught herself, scraping her palm in her haste to get away.
She headed for the tree line. Branches ripped across her face as she threw herself into the woods and squatted behind a scrubby bush. Above the sound of her own ragged panting, she strained to hear if anyone followed. After several moments, her breathing slowed, and the surroundings returned to their former stillness.
Whoever drove the truck must have sped away when I went off the road. They either thought they got me or gave up, she thought, shuddering.
She left the safety of the trees and crept toward the car. The soft idle of the engine mingled with the ding, ding, ding of the open door.
Thank God for those defensive driving classes she took last summer. She signed up after Brandy Purcell nearly got killed by an angry suspect in the latest book of the True Life Detective series, Backward Glance. Hands shaking, she reached inside the car and flipped off the key.
In the center console lay another pad of Post-it Notes and the pencils she’d bought after reading book 2, Downward Spiral. Brandy Purcell always had Post-it Notes handy to jot down clues. Casey thought it was a good idea.
She scribbled, “Late-model Chevy, black, extended cab,” on a yellow sticky note and pressed it to the window. “Hey there!”
Casey nearly jumped out of her skin. The voice rang off the rocky walls, echoing so she heard “Hey there!” over and over. She pulled her head out of the car. The late afternoon sun shone in her eyes, blinding her, but when she squinted, she saw a man running toward her with a shovel clenched in both hands.
Her breath caught. A muscular male wielding a shovel could really do some damage, and she didn’t have Brandy’s martial arts skills to fall back on. PURCHASE HERE