Excerpt


CHAPTER 1
Kadie Andrews eased her car to a stop when she reached
the narrow bridge. She wasn't afraid of heights, or bridges,
but the wooden expanse didn't look as if it would hold a
VW Bug, let alone her SUV. Still, she had taken a wrong
turn somewhere along the way, and now it was dark, and
she was lost and very nearly out of gas. Peering through
the windshield, she saw what looked like a gas station in the
distance.
She had just decided to park the Durango on the side of
the road and walk across the bridge when the storm clouds
that had been following her for the last few miles decided to
release their burden. There was a jagged flash of lightning,
a deafening roar of thunder, followed by a sudden deluge.
Walking was out of the question.
With a sigh of resignation, Kadie turned on the windshield
wipers, put the SUV in gear, and drove across the bridge as
quickly as she dared, praying all the way that the bridge
wouldn't break and dump her in the shallow river below.
When she reached the other side, she headed straight
toward the gas station, her sense of unease growing as she
drove down what appeared to be the main street. Only there
were no lights showing in any of the nearby buildings. No
cars on the street. No people in evidence.
The place looked like a ghost town, and she knew all
about ghost towns. As a freelance writer and photographer,
she had visited ghost towns from Bumble Bee, Arizona, to
Vader, Washington. Some were truly ghost towns, with little
left but the spirits of those who had once lived there. Some,
like Virginia City in Nevada and the city of the same name
in Montana, were not really ghost towns. Saloons had been
revived and buildings restored, giving people a glimpse of
what life in the Old West had been like.
Her most recent adventure had been to Rambler, Wyoming.
It had been a difficult trip and not worth the effort,
since little remained. But Wyoming was a beautiful place.
Kadie glanced out the side windows of the Durango. If
there were any ghosts lingering in this old Wyoming town,
she was certain they weren't the friendly kind.
Pulling into the gas station, Kadie stared in disbelief at
the pump. Instead of the modern, automated kind she was
used to, this one had to be pumped by hand. She had seen
pictures of old pumps like this. They dated from the 1920s.
She wasn't surprised to see a CLOSED sign on the office
window. The place looked as if it had been out of business
for decades.
Now what?
Grabbing her cell phone, she flipped it open and punched
in the number for the auto club, only to receive the message
that there was no service available.
Chewing on the inside of her lower lip, she drove slowly
down the main street, hoping she might be able to get a
signal at another location.
She passed a quaint two-story hotel built of faded red
brick. The lights were out.
The lights were out in every store she passed.
She tried to use her phone several times in different locations
with no luck.
Tossing the phone onto the passenger seat, she made a
right turn at the next stop sign and found herself in a residential
section. The houses were mostly made of wood, set
on large lots, well back from the street. Most of them had
large front porches and old-fashioned picture windows. A
few had cars in the driveway, cars that came from the same
era as the gas pump. Every house was dark inside and out.
Pulling up at a stop sign, she glanced down the street,
then smacked her hand against her forehead. Of course! The
lights were probably out due to the storm.
She made a quick U-turn and drove back to the hotel. The
Durango sputtered and died several yards short of her goal.
Taking her foot off the gas, she coasted to the curb.
Kadie sat there a moment, reluctant to leave the shelter of
the SUV. Rain pounded on the roof and poured down the
windshield. No doubt she'd be soaked clear through before
she reached the entrance.
She glanced at the hotel again. If the storm had caused
the power failure, it was odd that the hotel didn't have a
backup generator, or at least have some candles burning.
Leaning forward, she rested her forehead on the steering
wheel and closed her eyes. Maybe she would just sleep in
the Durango. She'd done it before.
She jumped a foot when someone tapped on the driver's
side window.
When she looked up, she saw a man peering at her
through the glass. For the first time, she wished she had
taken her father's advice and bought a gun to keep in the car.
"The way you go gallivantin' around the country, you might
need it someday," he'd often said.
And now someday had arrived.
"Are you all right?" the stranger asked.
Kadie stared at him, surprised she could hear him so
clearly in spite of the rain and the thunder.
"Fine, thank you," she said. "Except I'm out of gas. Is
there a station nearby?"
"Just the one, and it's out of business."
Kadie frowned. She'd seen cars in the driveways. Where
did they buy gas?
"You're gonna freeze to death in there," he said. "There's
a tavern down the street that's open late. You can warm up
inside."
Kadie shook her head. She wasn't crazy enough to follow
a stranger down a dark street in the middle of the night.
"You'll be perfectly safe. Cross my heart," he said, his
finger copying his words.
Kadie took a deep breath as she weighed her options. If
he meant to do her harm, there was nothing to stop him from
breaking into the SUV. And she was cold, and getting colder
by the minute. Lightning lanced the clouds. A rumble of
thunder shook the car.
"They have hot coffee," he added.
That did it. Grabbing her purse and the keys, she pulled the
hood of her jacket up over her head and unlocked the door.
She was careful not to get too close to him as they walked
down the street.
The bar was only half a block from the hotel. Kadie hesitated
when the stranger opened the door; then, taking a deep
breath, she stepped inside.
Warmth engulfed her. The light from a dozen flickering
candles revealed a large room dominated by a bar that ran
the length of the back wall. A number of booths lined one
side of the room; a dozen small, round tables occupied the
other side.
She felt suddenly self-conscious as five men and a
woman turned to stare at her.
Ignoring them one and all, she followed her companion
to an empty table.
"Here, let me take that," he said as she shrugged out of
her wet jacket.
Kadie murmured her thanks as he draped it over the back
of an empty chair, then took the seat across from hers.
A tall, skinny woman who looked almost anorexic approached
the table on silent feet.
"Do you want anything besides coffee?" Kadie's companion
asked.
When she shook her head, he ordered a glass of wine for
himself and the skinny woman walked away as silently as
she had appeared.
Kadie clasped her hands in her lap, looking everywhere
but at the man across from her.
"I'm Darrick."
He had a faint English accent. Dark brown hair brushed
the collar of his black shirt and his eyes were a shade lighter
than his hair.
"Kadie," she said.
"What brings you to Morgan Creek?"
"I took a wrong turn," she admitted, and felt a faint flush
of embarrassment warm her cheeks. She had always prided
herself on being able to find her way around. "And ended
up here."
"Far off the beaten path, to be sure."
The silent waitress returned with their drinks, and silently
departed.
"Is there something wrong with her?" Kadie asked.
He lifted one b
(Continues...)