Skip to main content

Excerpt - On Deadly Ground by Lauren Nichols

On Deadly Ground
by
Lauren Nichols


Danger in the darkness

The prowler on the construction site of her new camp didn't frighten Rachel Patterson…at first. Fear comes when her home is torched—and worsens when a body is unearthed on the campgrounds. Someone's trying to cover up a murder, and if Rachel can identify the intruder, she might be the only witness. Her neighbor, Wildlife Conservation Officer Jake Campbell, is determined to keep the lovely widow safe. But when a misunderstanding separates the pair, their distance risks more than the growing feelings between them. It leaves Rachel alone and unguarded, which could be just the chance the killer needs…

Excerpt of chapter one:

Sighing, Rachel Patterson squinted at the clock on her nightstand, saw that it was only 2:00 a.m., then groaned, flipped over and burrowed groggily into her pillow again. Outside, the coyotes were up to their old tricks, howling and yipping at the moon, even though there was barely a moon to yip at. She flipped onto her back again and stared in frustration at the ceiling. Wondered if going totally decaf was the solution to her constantly interrupted sleep.

She'd been a light sleeper since David died, and it had been two years now. Two years of listening to the wind in the trees and the coyotes on the hill. Two years of making dinner for one.

Two years of running their campground business on her own.

She felt the emptiness of missing him again. Losing him had been so terrible at first. If it hadn't been for her faith in God and the comfort she found in prayer, she might have packed her bags and joined her family in Virginia. But the business had been David's dream, and he'd awakened every morning, eager to embrace it again. She couldn't walk away from something that had been so important to him.

A strange, metallic sound broke her thoughts, and Rachel stilled. Cocked an ear…listened for a moment.

There it was again. And again.

Throwing back her floral comforter, she strode to the long window facing the strip of land she'd recently acquired. The skimpy moon and woods were swimming in fog making it difficult to see, but—

A jolt of adrenaline hit her as Rachel spotted the moving beam of a flashlight in the misty darkness. Someone was out there! And so was the expensive ground-moving machinery the Decker brothers had parked there late yesterday afternoon.

Grabbing her robe from the foot of the bed and pulling it over her dorm shirt, she hurried across the hardwood to the hall, then through the living room to her kitchen. The light below the over-the-range microwave shone dimly, but it was enough illumination to locate the heavy-duty flashlight under the sink. Snagging it, she unlocked the patio door to her elevated deck and strode, barefooted, to the redwood railing.

The intruder's light went out.

Rachel shone her beam down through the darkness and fog—flicked it over tree limbs that were almost fully leafed—found the mist-shrouded bulldozer, rock crusher and dump truck fifty yards away.

A new rush of adrenaline hit her when the beam revealed a hooded figure crouched near the dump truck. "Hey!" she shouted. "What are you doing out there?"

The figure bolted—clicked his light back on and crashed down through the thick hemlocks and oaks toward the creek below. But not before Rachel caught another glimpse of him.

Rushing inside, she flipped through the phone book, found the number for Charity, Pennsylvania's tiny police force and punched it in. Chirpy night dispatcher and church organist, Emma Lucille Bridger, answered. Rachel and Emma Lu were kindred spirits of sorts. They were both avid readers and borderline insomniacs. Even though it was common knowledge that the sixty-seven-year-old dispatcher napped during her shift, no one on the force minded. Her only job was to answer the phone.

"Emma Lu, it's Rachel Patterson at the campground. I'm trying not to be an alarmist, but someone's prowling around outside my house."

Emma Lucille's sweet soprano rose, and her grandmotherly instincts kicked in. "Are you okay, Rachel?"

"Yes, I'm fine. I'm just worried about— Emma Lu, Decker Construction parked some equipment here yesterday. I'm afraid it might have been vandalized."

Emma Lu spoke quickly. "Okay, honey, I'll radio Fish and tell him to get down to your place right away. He's on patrol, so it might take him a few minutes. You sit tight now. Don't you go outside."

"I won't," Rachel agreed, meaning it. She'd already done that, and going outside to check on someone who obviously didn't want to be seen wasn't the smartest thing she'd ever done. "Thanks, Emma Lu."

"You're welcome. Just stay safe."

She'd just finished pulling on jeans, sneakers and a navy sweatshirt, when she heard the not-too-distant rumble of a vehicle. Her pulse picked up speed. It was after 2:00 a.m., and her campground was five miles from Charity. It was too soon for Patrolman Larry "Fish" Troutman's arrival.

Striding to the window facing her driveway, Rachel cupped her hands against the glass. Headlights poked through the blanket of fog, then followed the winding lane past her camp store and tourist cabins. From Memorial Day weekend through Pennsylvania's deer hunting season, light poles lit the way, but the holiday was still almost three weeks off—and the breaker for the lights was in the camp store.

The motion lights at the corners of her wood-sided ranch house clicked on. And Rachel's anxiety dissolved when a green truck with a Pennsylvania Game Commission emblem on the door swung in beside her red Explorer and parked.

Startled to see him at this hour, but unable to stop the happy quickening of her pulse, Rachel tossed her fingertips through her straight sable bangs and shaggy cap cut—then went stone-still with guilt. Guilt and another emotion it shamed her to acknowledge.

Gathering her composure, she stepped outside to greet her unexpected visitor.

The early-May temperatures had been cool until yesterday when they reached the low seventies. Now, according to the round outdoor thermometer wired to the deck railing, it had dipped twenty degrees. A faint breeze ruffled the trees, carrying with it the fog-damp fragrances of earth, pine and fallen leaves.

"Jake?" she said when he'd exited his vehicle. "What are you doing here?"

He kept his voice low, but she could hear the concern in it. "I was driving back from a callout when your call came over the radio. Are you all right?"

"I'm fine," she returned, warmed by his concern despite her feelings of disloyalty. "Just a little on edge."

Wildlife conservation officer Jake Campbell started up the flight of six steps, his dark brown hair attractively mussed. For a big man, he had a loose, confident way of moving and chiseled good looks that were a little grim until he smiled. He had good eyes, too, Rachel thought. Perceptive brown eyes that missed nothing. The dark green uniform jacket hanging open over his black T-shirt and jeans nearly concealed the sidearm on his hip.

"So what happened here tonight?" he asked when he'd reached her. "The dispatcher said something about a prowler and vandalism."

She nodded. "The prowler part's correct. Vandalism's only a possibility right now." She backtracked to bring him up to speed. "When we spoke last, I think I mentioned putting in a mini golf course on the strip of land I acquired a few months ago. A little putt-putt for the kids."

"Yeah, you did."

She indicated the foggy clearing beyond the trees. "Yesterday, Tim Decker dropped off his equipment because he'll be leveling the land in the morning. He said it would be fine sitting there. Then a few minutes ago, I heard noises and went outside. Someone with a flashlight was messing around near Tim's truck." She paused. "When I yelled, he took off into the woods."

Jake's features lined and he sighed. "Rachel, you're alone here. You should have stayed inside and called the police immediately."

"I know. I thought of that after the fact." But the past two years had forced her to become independent—and part of her liked it. "If David had been here, he would have handled it. But he isn't, so it's my job."

Jake didn't comment, but the troubled look in his eyes sent a clear message: He didn't like that it was her job. "Did you get a good look at him?"

"Not really, considering the fog. But I know he was white, and he was wearing a dark hooded jacket with a light-colored emblem on the back of it." She stilled as her mind recreated that split-second happening, then spoke hesitantly. "He was carrying something. Something light-colored that flapped when he ran. A bag, maybe."

"If it was a bag, that says he expected to carry something away. Do you know if Decker left tools or anything portable behind? "

"I'm not sure. I hope not."

Another set of headlights pierced the darkness and fog. This time, the vehicle was a black-and-white police cruiser, and the patrolman who got out was a tall, lanky young man in his mid-twenties with fire-red hair and a mouth full of silver braces. Fish was the youngest member of the department, and the one with the least experience. The thud of the cruiser's door closing sounded hollow in the stillness.

"Hey, Rachel," he said solemnly as he ascended the steps. "Emma Lu said you had some uninvited company tonight. You okay?"

"Yes, I'm fine," she assured him as he reached her. "Fish, have you met Jake Campbell? Jake's—"

"The new W.C.O.," Fish said cordially, clasping the hand Jake extended. "Our paths cross from time to time. Nice to see you again, Jake."

"Same here, Fish."

"You live around here?"

Rachel nearly smiled. It was a casual inquiry, but Fish obviously wondered why Jake was here at two-thirty in the morning. The amusement in Jake's eyes told her he'd caught that unspoken question, too.

"About a mile up the road," he replied. "I was coming home from a callout when I heard your dispatcher on the radio. Thought I'd see if my neighbor needed some help."

Apparently satisfied with the answer, he smiled his approval and pulled out a notebook and pen. "Okay, Rachel, let's take it from the top. First, can you give me a description of the guy? If it was a guy."

Rachel told him everything she could remember, glad that Fish was on duty. With the Charity P.D. being small, there was a chance the new police chief would have responded. She'd only spoken to Lon Perris once since he'd pinned on the badge—the night of his welcoming dinner sponsored by the chamber of commerce. But she hadn't come away from that conversation feeling warm and fuzzy. Chief Perris was… She searched for a word Reverend Landers would approve of. "Condescending" was the best she could do.

When she'd finished detailing what had happened, Fish made a final note, then tucked his pen and pad away. "Okay, I'll take a look at the site and drive around the loops before I leave—make sure this guy isn't coming back for a vehicle. You're pretty far off the beaten path, so I doubt he got here on foot." He chewed his lip. "You didn't hear any engine sounds before Jake got here, right?"

"No."

"Jake? See any vehicles on the road tonight?" Jake wandered closer, his boots quiet on the plank floor. And Rachel felt another stir of attraction as she looked up at him. "No, and I was watching for them. But I came in from the other direction, not from town. Since the guy cut through the woods, he might have parked on one of the logging roads."

"Yeah, he probably did." Fish pulled a flashlight from a loop on his belt, then shone it in a wide arc over the construction site and campground. "Could have been a kid looking to siphon gas or steal tools. It's a little early in the season for that stuff, but it happens."

He tucked the light away and turned back to Rachel. "Like I said, I'll check out the sites and loops, but it's kind of hard to see now. I'll be back in the morning for a better look, okay?"

"That'd be great," she returned. "Thanks for coming. I know I should have told Emma to hold off sending you down here until daybreak, but I wanted to report the incident right away in case there are damages."

"No problem," he said, heading for the steps. He stopped then and glanced back. "One more thing. That logo or whatever it was on the back of the jacket? Can you describe it?"

Rachel hesitated. As descriptions went, it wasn't the best. "It looked like a round head with rabbit ears. That's probably not very helpful, but I only saw it for a second."

"It's a start," Fish replied. He started down the steps, his lanky body still half-turned toward her. "I'll stop back if I find anything out of the ordinary. Otherwise, I'll see you in the morning."

"Thanks, Fish."

"Yep. Night, Jake."

"Night, Fish."

And in short order, the cruiser's red taillights had

disappeared, leaving her alone with Jake again. Rachel looked up at him. She was more attuned to his presence now that they were alone, more attuned to their woodsy isolation.

"I should get moving, too," he said with some hesitance. "Will you be okay? Do you want to call someone to stay with you?"

"I'll be all right," she replied. "I'm a lot tougher than I look."

A faint smile tipped his lips. "So I've noticed. You paint, you plow snow, you run a successful business and you even make a decent cup of coffee. I'm impressed."

"Don't be," she said, smiling. "It's all smoke and mirrors."

"No, it isn't," he returned. "It's all you." Then out of the blue, the night seemed to shrink around them, his gaze softened and he looked at her in a way no man had looked at her since David. "You're an extraordinary woman, Rachel."

For a few seconds, she didn't even breathe—and she wasn't alone. Jake seemed just as stunned by his words as she was. Then he quickly rebounded and spoke again, his tone a little gruff.

"Well, I'm out of here. Maggie's probably wondering why she's still in her pen." He drew a breath. "If there's another problem, and you're not sure it's serious enough to call Fish, I'm only a phone call away."

Rachel found a smile somewhere, but her heart was still racing. "Thanks. And thank you for checking up on me."

Print book:
eHarlequin.com (Save an extra 10% with code SAVE10EHQN at checkout!)
Barnes and Nobleicon
Amazon
Christianbook.com
BooksaMillion

Ebook:
eHarlequin.com (Save an extra 10% with code SAVE10EHQN at checkout!)
Nookbookicon
Kindle
BooksaMillion



Save 20% off all Love Inspired Suspense Books

Comments

Popular Posts

Merry Christmas! Enjoy The Spinster's Christmas

As a Merry Christmas gift to all my blog readers, I’m going to be posting my Christian Regency romantic suspense, The Spinster’s Christmas , for free on my blog! I’ll be posting the book in 1000-1500 word segments every Tuesday and Friday. (When I do the calculations, it’ll finish around the end of May.) Why am I posting a Christmas story when it won’t be Christmas in a week? Because I can! :) The Spinster’s Christmas is the prequel volume to my Lady Wynwood’s Spies series . Right now I’m editing volume 1 of Lady Wynwood’s Spies, and it’s on track to release in 2020. (If you’re on my Camille Elliot newsletter , you’ll be sure to hear when it’s available for preorder.) I anticipate that the Lady Wynwood’s Spies series to be about ten volumes. I think the series story will be a lot of fun to tell, and I’m looking forward to writing up a storm! Below, I’ll be listing the links to the parts of The Spinster’s Christmas as I post them. (I created the html links by hand so please l

Lady Wynwood's Spies, volume 4: Betrayer is here!

The latest volume in my Christian Regency epic serial novel is released! Here’s the back cover description of Lady Wynwood’s Spies, volume 4: Betrayer : A Christian Historical Adventure set in Regency England with romance and a supernatural twist Part four in an epic-length serial novel Beleaguered spies Lady Wynwood’s team of spies are trying to heal from the physical and mental wounds recently dealt to them. However, their investigation into Apothecary Jack’s mysterious group has turned up only a few strange, disjointed clues, and the dangerous Root elixir continues to circulate in the London underbelly. It is only a matter of time before the Root is sold to Napoleon, which would give him overwhelming dominance in the war. Sudden threats Then Laura, Lady Wynwood, is unexpectedly attacked by a man she had trusted. Although Phoebe and her household staff manage to protect her, her life is now in danger and she must go into hiding. Dangerous mysteries Laura uncovers more

Tabi socks, part deux

Captain's Log, Stardate 07.25.2008 (If you're on Ravelry, friend me! I'm camytang.) I made tabi socks again! (At the bottom of the pattern is the calculation for the toe split if you're not using the same weight yarn that I did for this pattern (fingering). I also give an example from when I used worsted weight yarn with this pattern.) I used Opal yarn, Petticoat colorway. It’s a finer yarn than my last pair of tabi socks, so I altered the pattern a bit. Okay, so here’s my first foray into giving a knitting pattern. Camy’s top-down Tabi Socks I’m assuming you already know the basics of knitting socks. If you’re a beginner, here are some great tutorials: Socks 101 How to Knit Socks The Sock Knitter’s Companion A video of turning the heel Sock Knitting Tips Yarn: I have used both fingering weight and worsted weight yarn with this pattern. You just change the number of cast on stitches according to your gauge and the circumference of your ankle. Th

How can I pray for you?

Photo credit: lalalime.blogspot.com 日本語訳は下をご覧ください。 I hope you had a good Thanksgiving, taking time to be still and remember God’s grace. My IBS has gotten a little better, but I’m still not entirely in control of my symptoms. There are simply too many things I don’t know if I can eat or not, and when I try things, if they affect my IBS, then I’m out for about a week at a time. My writing has slowed down more than I’d like. Please pray for God to heal my IBS, and for me to learn what God wants me to learn by allowing these struggles. Just as I’m struggling, if you are too, remember that God is with us and has a reason for everything that happens to us. Lord, thank You that You are always with us and have control over everything that happens to us. Help us to surrender to You and do Your will, no matter what is going on in our lives. Amen How can I pray for you today? Please leave me your prayer requests! Prayer requests can sometimes be private things, so to keep your

ひとり寿司第25章パート2

「ひとり寿司」をブログに連載します! ひとり寿司 寿司シリーズの第一作 キャミー・タング 西島美幸 訳 スポーツ狂のレックス・坂井 —— いとこのマリコが数ヶ月後に結婚することにより、「いとこの中で一番年上の独身女性」という内輪の肩書を「勝ち取る」ことについては、あまり気にしていない。コントロールフリークの祖母を無視するのは容易だ —— しかし、祖母は最終通告を出した —— マリコの結婚式までにデート相手を見つけなければ、無慈悲な祖母は、レックスがコーチをしている女子バレーボールチームへの資金供給を切ると言う。 ダグアウトにいる選手全員とデートに出かけるほど絶望的なわけではない。レックスは、バイブルスタディで読んだ「エペソの手紙」をもとに「最高の男性」の条件の厳しいリストを作った。バレーボールではいつも勝つ —— ゲームを有利に進めれば、必ず成功するはずだ。 そのとき兄は、クリスチャンではなく、アスリートでもなく、一見何の魅力もないエイデンを彼女に引き合わせる。 エイデンは、クリスチャンではないという理由で離れていったトリッシュという女の子から受けた痛手から立ち直ろうとしている。そして、レックスが(1)彼に全く興味がないこと、(2)クリスチャンであること、(3)トリッシュのいとこであることを知る。あの狂った家族とまた付き合うのはごめんだ。まして、偽善的なクリスチャンの女の子など、お断り。彼はマゾヒストじゃない。 レックスは時間がなくなってきた。いくら頑張っても、いい人は現れない。それに、どこへ行ってもエイデンに遭遇する。あのリストはどんどん長くなっていくばかり —— 過去に掲載済みのストーリーのリンクはこちらです。 *** ビーナスはベンの視界をさえぎった。「ここは大丈夫だから、もう帰っていいわよ」 「でも——」 ビーナスは、また彼の目の前でドアを閉めた。 「何——」 ビーナスはレックスの言葉をさえぎり、ドアの隣の窓から外をのぞいた。「よかったわ、レックス、エイデンが来てくれて。あなたの巻き爪を全部切ってくれるわよ」ビーナスの声が小さい部屋に響き渡った。 どうやって礼儀正しく答えようかと決めかねているように、エイデンの表情は少し硬くなった。多分、(そうなの?)とか(それはおもしろいね)とでも言う

Camy Tang's November newsletter

My Camy Tang (Christian Contemporary Romantic Suspense) newsletter went out this week, but in case you missed it, the link is below. In my newsletter this month, there’s an update on my personal life and publishing schedule, and I also linked to a blog post about what the TV show Supernatural has to do with GONE MISSING, the 6th book in my Sonoma series Click here to read my Camy Tang newsletter for November. I also forgot to post the link for the October newsletter, so you can click here to read it.

No Cold Bums toilet seat cover

Captain's Log, Stardate 08.22.2008 I actually wrote out my pattern! I was getting a lot of hits on my infamous toilet seat cover , and I wanted to make a new one with “improvements,” so I paid attention and wrote things down as I made the new one. This was originally based off the Potty Mouth toilet cover , but I altered it to fit over the seat instead of the lid. Yarn: any worsted weight yarn, about 120 yards (this is a really tight number, I used exactly 118 yards. My suggestion is to make sure you have about 130 yards.) I suggest using acrylic yarn because you’re going to be washing this often. Needle: I used US 8, but you can use whatever needle size is recommended by the yarn you’re using. Gauge: Not that important. Mine was 4 sts/1 inch in garter stitch. 6 buttons (I used some leftover shell buttons I had in my stash) tapestry needle Crochet hook (optional) Cover: Using a provisional cast on, cast on 12 stitches. Work in garter st until liner measures

Grace Livingston Hill romances free to read online

I wanted to update my old post on Grace Livingston Hill romances because now there are tons more options for you to be able to read her books for free online! I’m a huge Grace Livingston Hill fan. Granted, not all her books resonate with me, but there are a few that I absolutely love, like The Enchanted Barn and Crimson Roses . And the best part is that she wrote over 100 books and I haven’t yet read them all! When I have time, I like to dive into a new GLH novel. I like the fact that most of them are romances, and I especially appreciate that they all have strong Christian themes. Occasionally the Christian content is a little heavy-handed for my taste, but it’s so interesting to see what the Christian faith was like in the early part of the 20th century. These books are often Cinderella-type stories or A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett) type stories, which I love. And the best part is that they’re all set in the early 1900s, so the time period is absolutely fasci

One-Skein Pyrenees Scarf knitting pattern

I got into using antique patterns when I was making the scarf my hero wears in my Regency romance, The Spinster’s Christmas . I wanted to do another pattern which I think was in use in the Regency period, the Pyrenees Knit Scarf on pages 36-38 of The Lady's Assistant for Executing Useful and Fancy Designs in Knitting, Netting, and Crochet Work, volume 1, by Jane Gaugain, published in 1840. She is thought to be the first person to use knitting abbreviations, at least in a published book, although they are not the same abbreviations used today (our modern abbreviations were standardized by Weldon’s Practical Needlework in 1906). Since the book is out of copyright, you can download a free PDF copy of the book at Archive.org. I found this to be a fascinating look at knitting around the time of Jane Austen’s later years. Although the book was published in 1840, many of the patterns were in use and passed down by word of mouth many years before that, so it’s possible these are p

Year of the Dog serial novel, chapter 7

I’m posting a Humorous Christian Romantic Suspense serial novel here on my blog! Year of the Dog is a (second) prequel to my Warubozu Spa Chronicles series. Year of the Dog serial novel by Camy Tang Marisol Mutou, a professional dog trainer, is having a bad year. While renovating her new dog kenneling and training facility, she needs to move in with her disapproving family, who have always made her feel inadequate—according to them, a job requiring her to be covered in dog hair and slobber is an embarrassment to the family. She convinces her ex-boyfriend to take her dog for a few months … but discovers that his brother is the irate security expert whose car she accidentally rear-ended a few weeks earlier. Ashwin Keitou has enough problems. His aunt has just shown up on his doorstep, expecting to move in with him, and he can’t say no because he owes her everything—after his mother walked out on them, Aunt Nell took in Ashwin and his brother and raised them in a loving Chri