Murder For Christmas Chapter 4

Do you like gothic suspense? Here’s chapter four from Murder for Christmas, which is now available on Amazon.

Psst: If you haven’t read them, chapters 1-3 were presented on the last three Fridays.

Link

 

Chapter 3

Maddy was the last to arrive.

An enormous table, covered in a white linen tablecloth, dominated the dining room. Intricate designs of mythical creatures crawled up its sturdy legs. Three elaborate candelabras sat in the middle. A table set for a 1930s mystery. How lovely.

Heads of animals covered the north-wall: stuffed deer, elk, moose and bear. Their black, beady eyes held death stares that made her stomach knot. Wide windows and French doors lined the opposite wall exposing the dark wilderness outside.

I may be the last to arrive, but I’ll be the first to leave. As soon as the boat returns, I’m outa here.

The smell of cooked flesh, garlic and roasted vegetables hung in the air. The flesh part curdled her vegetarian appetite.

Six people sitting at the table turned to look at her as she entered.

“Good evening,” Maddy said. “My name is Madison Rathborne, but you can call me Maddy.”  She took one of the two empty seats, the one with Reggie’s name-tag sitting on the china plate. The name tag on the plate for the missing person to her left read: “Henri Larochelle.” The name sounded familiar, but before she could ponder his absence the silence in the room drew her attention.

“Mad Rath?” said the man seated at the head of the table, in a smooth Southern voice. “Your reputation precedes you.”

“Yes, that’s my by-line on the Puzzle website, Wowzers, which is syndicated here and there all over the Internet, but like I said, you can call me Maddy.” She smiled at the group.

The man stood. “Maddy it is then. Welcome. I am your host, Roger Reynolds.” While his words sounded suitably gracious, the rigid set of his square jaw sent a different message. She had the distinct feeling her unexpected appearance had messed up his plans. Her dress suddenly felt two sizes too small.

She studied him.Intense denim-blue eyes stared back at her. The bags beneath them suggested he’d seen serious shit in his thirty-something years. He wore a light blue linen shirt open at the neck with rolled up sleeves and expensive, black dress pants. No belt. A slight scruff on his square jaw gave him that sexy morning-after appearance. His thick white hair was mussed perfectly. An older man, but a handsome man, the kind her aunt would want to marry.

Her brain screamed: be careful. Who, after all, would invite eight strangers to a gathering on a cursed island, one week before Christmas?

He broke their staring contest to look around the table.  “Now that most of us are here, let’s get on with the introductions. I know you’re all dying to know why I created this retreat, but I’ll leave that until everyone has spoken.”

“But we’re not all here,” Maddy stated the obvious. It didn’t take any mathematical skill to see the chair beside her was empty.

“Yes, you’re right, of course. One of the guests is late.”

A sturdy-looking woman in a light-blue maid’s outfit emerged from the kitchen and made her way beneath the dead animal heads with a tray in her hands. As she set the first bowl of soup down in front of Reynolds, he spoke. “Let me introduce you to our cook and housemaid, Mrs. Buchanon.”

The crowd murmured their hellos. She nodded, didn’t smile, and continued to place bowls in front of each of them.

Reynolds turned to the first person on his right. “Dr. Li would you start, please.”

A petite woman of Asian descent stood. Her shiny black hair had been pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck, revealing perfect skin and delicate features. She wore a simply cut, emerald-green dress that added to her classic beauty. “Good evening everyone,” she said in a confident voice. “My name is Linda Li. Please call me Linda.” She looked around the table, making eye contact with each of them. “I’m a research scientist at UBC. I live in a postage-stamp-sized condo in the west end of Vancouver, so I jumped at the chance to get away to the country.” Demure and sincere, her smile aimed to please, but Maddy’s gut sensed the woman was hiding a whole lot of something beneath the green silk, including a superior intellect.

“According to my invitation,” Linda continued, “I’m here to inspire dialogue about global warming. I study the effect of climate change on the marine environment and am considered somewhat of an expert in my field.” She giggled as if that were funny. God how Maddy hated how some women underplayed their brilliance. Because it works, she reminded herself, because it works.

The crowd murmured their approval. Could any of them talk her language of stats and theories?

“I don’t know any of you yet.” Linda Li engaged the eyes in the room once again. “But I’m sure we’ll get to know each other over the next few days.”

“Welcome,” Maddy said. Everyone piped in, “Welcome.”

Linda Li sat down.

A fidgeting foot inches from Maddy’s caught her attention as it touched hers. She looked at the man and he gave her a warm, friendly smile that made her feel a touch more comfortable. It appeared she wasn’t the only one anxious about this event.

The man to the right of Linda Li stood and scanned the faces around the table with an arrogance that made Maddy wonder if she had put her best undies on. He looked weathered, with deep wrinkles and a sagging chin. His features were losing their battle against time and sinking into old age, but at one time he had been a good-looking man. Cleanly shaved and immaculately dressed in a well-fitted jacket, white, open necked shirt and charcoal-gray pants, he gave the air of controlled confidence. Heck, his socks probably cost more than her hydro bill.

Really, she shouldn’t be so small. The decrepit lodge that was getting to her.

“My name is Dr. Charles Chamberlain Smith III.  I’ve been invited to this …” he paused as if the words stuck in his alligator neck, “… gathering of adventurous minds to act as your medical doctor.” He frowned. “But given the weather I can’t imagine us doing anything more rigorous than lifting wine glasses.” Without waiting for a response, he sat.

The woman to his right did not stand, but her voice projected with the precision of a scalpel. “My name is Lucy Diamond, that’s diamond as in the most precious stone on the earth and Diamond as in Diamond Realty, a company I proudly own and operate.” She was a petite, plump woman, well-turned-out in a layered, red dress and glossy siren-red lipstick. Probably, mid-fifties. Rings covered her fingers, and her nails had been filed to sharp points and painted red. Her brown hair cut into a classic bob was highlighted, lowlighted and hair sprayed in place.

“We deal with real estate in the southern Island area and specialize in finding you your dream home.” Her smile was positively predatory.

Maddy sat back.What could we possibly have in common? The weather? Maddy tried not to stare at the realtor.

Lucy Diamond continued: “I was invited here to assess the lodge’s potential as a destination property. Roger is considering selling or developing.” She gave Roger an appraising look and her eyelashes fluttered.

Roger chuckled. “Yes, I’m considering my options.”

“Whose land do you think you’re selling?” The voice came from the other side of the table. A first nation’s man in his thirties smirked at the Diamond.

“Excuse me?” she said.

“You’re selling land you have no right to.”

Maddy smiled. Maybe it wouldn’t be a dull evening.

“I understand,” said Lucy.

“Yeah?”

“Yes, I understand your people have concerns.”

Maddy laughed. She couldn’t help it.

The man glared at Lucy Diamond. “People like you should be jailed. Making money off of land that doesn’t belong to you.”

Lucy put up her hand. “Now don’t you start about residential schools. I’ve heard it all before and I understand. Truly, I do.”

“But that’s just it. You don’t.” The words tumbled out of Maddy’s mouth before she knew it.

The man looked her way. He had long black hair and deep brown eyes

Roger Reynolds stood. “Now, now. In a diverse group this large, we will have differences of opinions …”

“They’re not opinions,” said Maddy flatly. Because they weren’t.

“On the invitation you claimed we were a like-minded group,” Linda Li stated.

“Yes, yes.” Roger stretched his back. “Thank you, Lucy, for introducing yourself. Sam can you tell us more about yourself?”

The first nations’ man stood. “My name is Sam Charles, I’m a lawyer and I was invited to the island to consider its place in the local first nations’, land claims.” He glared at the rest. “So far, all I can say is that the spirits of this place are unhappy.” With that, he sat.

Roger nodded towards the man sitting next to Maddy, the one with the fidgety foot.

He stood. “Good evening everyone. I’m Jago James. I’ve been invited to take photographs of the event. But, I have to say the wine is delicious…” He droned on with polite compliments to the host. Despite his regular attire: dark brown khakis and a cream-colored shirt, open at the collar, he intrigued Maddy. Intrigued with a capital I. Something about his energy: warm, engaging, youthful. He had cocoa colored skin, thick, black curly hair and dark brown, brooding eyes that a woman could get lost in. What was she thinking?

She zoned back to his speech. “I’m a freelance photographer. I work with National Geographic a lot.” Okay, not only handsome, but talented.And he smelled good, like aloe vera. He’s got to have a flaw. Please, God, give him a flaw.“I received an invitation to this event in the mail last week, and I don’t know why I was chosen.” He raised his wineglass in the air. “To an offer I could not refuse.”

“Cheers.” The crowd mumbled and I joined them, “Cheers.”

Jago turned her way and winked. Heat rushed to her cheeks. Maybe this weekend wouldn’t be a total loss. It would do her good to flirt, or … whatever.

My turn. Shit. “I’m Madison Rathborne. I like to be called Maddy. Like all of you, I am grateful for an invitation to a week away from the world, but I haven’t a clue what I did in this or my last life to deserve it.” She stopped to breathe and was thankful that they laughed. Best of all Jago smiled, which helped her go on. “My friend Reggie Thompson, who passed her invitation along to me, writes an environmental blog syndicated in The Post. When she came down with the flu, she gave me her invitation, and asked me to fill in as the reporter in the group. I’m a cryptographer by trade, but I can write a column. I look forward to getting to know you all better.” Had she raced her words? Her face burned.Everyone nodded politely and turned their attention to the next guest.

“I don’t think I need an introduction.” Mercedes Brown, the famous Hollywood actress spoke to the space in front of her and met no one’s eyes. When no one responded she rose, but her ascent was wobbly and her cheeks turned red despite her inch of makeup. “Sorry darlings, I’ve been drinking since dawn. My agent is giving me such a headache.” She wiped her brow with the back of her hand. Her agent? Does she think we don’t know? How could anyone on the planet not know? Plastered through all the tabloids are pictures of her with a number of men, while her husband, the rich guy who never says anything, looks on. Mercedes lifted her chin. “I’m pleased to be with you all and will leave you autographed photos by the front door.”

By media standards, she had all the star features: botox fish-lips, high cheek bones iced with a layer of expensive rouge, sparkling, blue eyes that looked more fragile than glass and enormous, silicon breasts well-accentuated in her low-cut, scoop-necked dress. Her interviews made her sound like an idiot, but Maddy had thought that was just a role she played. Yes, she had read about her in the tabloids as she waited her turn to pay for her groceries. Now she wondered. It was quite possible. The woman truly was clueless.

Mercedes flashed her eyes and grabbed the table with both of her hands as she finished her speech, “Is there champagne? I do like a good glass of champagne.”

Maddy tried not to stare at her. The guest list made no sense. What did an alcoholic starlet have in common with an environmental research scientist, a first-nations lawyer and a real-estate mogul?

Roger spoke up. “I’m sorry that Henri Larochelle didn’t make it to dinner. He arrived a day before the rest of you and according to the Buchanons wandered outside. I had hoped he would return for a meal.” Thunder cracked, as if timed by the director of a horror movie. “When the weather let’s up,” Roger continued, “I’ll coordinate a search. Larochelle must have twisted his ankle or gotten lost out there. It’s easy to get turned around in an old forest.”

Everyone nodded, but his words didn’t sit right. How does one get lost on an island? It’s surrounded by water. Could he be somewhere in the lodge? Wait … Henri Larochelle? Where had she heard that name?

“Excuse me,” she said interrupting the murmur of conversation around the table. “Is Henri Larochelle the one they call The Fixer?”

Her host gave her a patronizing smile.

Jago spoke up. “Actually, I think he’s better known as The Spin Doctor.” He coughed.

“Yeah, he sure knows how to spin,” said Lucy Diamond with admiration.

Maddy let Jago’s words sink in. Was Larochelle the one who did PR for all the big corporations around the world, hiding their secrets under a carpet of sweet-smelling lies? Kind of like spraying horse poop with Febreezy. Hadn’t Reggie written an article about him recently? She claimed he was as guilty as the corporations he worked for. Once she called him a slime ball, but her editor made her take out the statement. Maddy would check on that article when she got back to her room, if she could get a signal. She vaguely remembered he had ties to the car company that sold diesel engines claiming they were safe for the environment. They were not. So not.

Roger fussed with his sleeve. “Yes, Henri Larochelle has been called names, but I prefer to hold judgement until I get to know him better. Haven’t we all been misjudged in our lives?”

Everyone nodded.

Roger continued. “In fact, I invited him to liven things up. I hear he’s quick witted and has an endless supply of dinner stories.”

No one around the table seemed too worried about Henri being missing, another telling sign that this really wasn’t Maddy’s kind of party. She wouldn’t even want the most despicable of characters lost outside in this storm. Of course, he could still be inside. Did they have a dungeon? It felt like the kind of place that would have a dungeon, or two. A tingling sensation slithered up her spine.

Jago touched her fingers. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she said quickly, retrieving her hand. “Just tired.”

As the dinner was done and everyone had spoken, the energy in the room ebbed. But Maddy’s unease continued to rise. Each guest may have been invited for a different reason, but the big reason eluded her. There had to be one. She knocked back the glass of wine she’d been served and stood.

“Mr Reynolds, you haven’t told us what this is all about.”

“Mad Rath.” As his eyes connected with hers, she felt a jolt of negative energy. “I didn’t figure on you being a spokesman for this group.”

He didn’t figure on me at all, but that’s okay, because he got me. She smiled.

“I recently retired. I sold my business, and I intend to make the rest of my life memorable. First on my agenda is to have dinner parties with interesting people.”

“Interesting,” she said. She didn’t buy it for a second. “Tell us more. I’d like to know what your expectation of us.” She sat down.

“I spent my working years committed to getting ahead, at any cost, I’m sorry to say.” His mouth twitched on the right side. It made him look vulnerable. “I did well financially, but as we all know that’s not what life’s about. Christmas is in a week and I have no one to share it with, so I’ve invited all of you.”

He invites strangers to spend a week with him because he’s lonely? Was he stupid, or desperate? It was hard to believe such a well-spoken and sociable guy could be the later. And he was handsome. He didn’t need to be lonely. His right hand trembled as he reached for his shot glass. Parkinsons? Alcohol?

“But we have nothing in common,” said Jago in a playful tone.

“Oh, but we do. I’ve studied all your lives and we have more in common than you know.” His eyes twinkled. “As the week unfolds, you’ll see.”

“Except for me,” Maddy said.

His lips flatlined. “There is that, Ms. Maddy. Except for you. You are the exception.”

She laughed and winked at him.

He didn’t even blink.

The French Doors banged open, shattering the glass panes. Wind and wet snow gusted into the room blowing out the candles. The electric lights, which had been set on low flickered and went out. They sat in total darkness.

A low, ominous chuckle echoed through the room. The hair on the nape of Maddy’s neck rose.

A woman screamed. Maddy’s hands shook as she pulled out her phone and turned on the flashlight app. The doctor and Reynolds were closing the doors. Linda Li had gone to the light switch. Jago was lighting a match for the candles. The others remained seated. Their faces twisted into masks of terror.

The Buchanons appeared in the doorway as the lights came on. They pulled thick, curtains over the far wall, hiding the windows and the storm outside. “I’ll get some plywood from the basement to cover the windows,” the man said, and hustled out.

Everyone returned to their seats. Maddy leaned towards Jago. “Did you hear that laugh?” That’s what bothered her the most. Everything else made sense.

“Laugh? No. I didn’t hear anyone laugh. I heard a woman scream.”

Reynolds stood and commanded their attention with his stare. “Let us retire to the sitting room.”

*

They gathered in the large room around the stone fireplace. The heat of the fire warmed the space, but not Maddy’s heart. The doctor looked around with furtive, probing eyes. Linda Li watched the people. Mercedes held her wine glass with a vice grip. The party was not in the mood to party. Nonetheless they took seats in chairs and sofas arranged around the fire.

Mrs. Buchanon brought in coffee, tea and liqueur.

Madison hated small talk at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. Slowly people began talking to those who sat near them. Maddy laced her coffee with Baileys and chatted with Jago about the storm, and her boat trip. Jago’s experience had been much the same. Conversation stalled by the time she finished her coffee.

Nerves. It’s just nerves, and this seriously, gloomy place. She put down her empty cup. “I’m sorry, I’m not good company right now.”

“I think you’re great company.” Jago smiled. His chocolate brown eyes held warmth and mischief. “Especially in these circumstances.”

His attraction warmed her, but the timing was all wrong. “Please excuse me. I need to write notes about our dinner.” She stood. “It will be an interesting part of my report.”

He laughed. “Why don’t I see you to your room.”

“To keep the chuckler away?”

“Something like that.” He touched her back gently in a reassuring and intimate way. “You know this isn’t the scariest place I’ve stayed.”

“Oh, tell me about the scariest.” She let him leave his hand on her back.

“It was a castle in Tuscany. The stories they tell about that place are even worse than the captain’s tales of Deadman’s island.”

Maddy was usually reticent, but the mixture of alcohol and fear made her want to open up and connect. Maybe it was his charm and his good looks. She swallowed. “I thought I saw a ghost tonight.”

“I could stay with you.” He smiled. “Keep you safe, you know. We’re safer together.”

She laughed. “I think I can handle a ghost.”

When they reached her door, he leaned in for a kiss. His lips were soft and full of promise. Maybe this week wouldn’t be all bad. If she survived, that is.

 

Mystery, Romance, Thrillers, Westerns get Bad Raps

Do you love genre fiction? I do. I’m an eclectic reader, but I have to say I love reading adventurous stories and I think they get a bad rap. What about you?

I really enjoyed my conversation with Janice MacDonald about this topic. She also talks about the mystery genre. I could listen to her for hours. She really knows her stuff and she’s funny. I first heard her at a Sisters in Crime Conference.

Have a listen …

The Also-Bought Apocalypse???

Murder for Christmas – Chapter 3

I’ve been posting my latest release, chapter by chapter ,on Fridays. Here is Chapter 3:

Chapter 3

Confused, Madison stood in front of the lodge and tried to get her bearings. It didn’t look at all like the one in the photograph, sent with the invitation.

The picture showed a sprawling lodge built of logs, with a wide wooden stairway entrance and a wrap-around veranda, the kind of place featured in outdoor magazines. An enormous stone chimney rose in the center and it had a cedar shingled roof. The building in the photo had character and a rustic charm that called to her. Maddy had imagined herself sitting by a roaring, wood fire listening to it crackle. She even imagined having a good mystery book in her lap. She’d be sipping a hot cup of cocoa laced with Baileys while people chatted amiably in the background. The invitation made it sound like a haven for traveling souls, a perfect elixir for her dread of her family’s Christmas celebration.

But the lodge in front of her was not the lodge in the invitation.  Drenched in sea water, shivering in the cold wind and wobbly kneed from the trip through the storm, not to mention the Captain’s tales, Maddy stared at the building. She couldn’t believe her eyes.

The stand of tall trees that surrounded the area swayed and groaned in the wind.  A mixture of rain and snow fell on her bare head. The low dark clouds pressed down, heralding the approaching night. A shiver ran up her spine. Heck, the place was a mere shadow of what it had once been, with boarded-up windows and a broken stairway. It looked haunted. But she didn’t believe in haunted.

Swearing every swear word she had ever heard, she climbed the stairway to the front door, pulling her suitcase behind her. The building had some resemblance to the one in the picture, but not much. What surprised her the most was the feel of the place. She laughed at herself. A mathematician concerned with how a building feels? Good grief, the storm rattled my brains.

Still, Madison couldn’t ignore her physical response to the lodge. The hair on the back of her neck rose. Rather than a cozy haven for lost souls, the place felt like a cavernous void. What a fool she had been to think that a building could heal her wounds. Still, she had no choice so she kept climbing. She needed shelter from the storm.

There was no turning back. The boat with the crazy captain had departed as soon as she placed one foot on the dock.

When she reached the front door, it creaked open. Images of The Adams Family came to mind, but the man who answered looked human enough. About forty and dressed in a butler uniform, he had a courteous manner. His hair, cut short, had been slicked down, but a stubborn cow lick revolted at the back of his head. He stood taller than Madison by a few inches, and looked down his long nose at her with eyes the color of cold marmalade left in the fridge too long.

“Ms. Thompson, I presume.”

She reached out her hand. “Hi, my name is Madison Rathborne. Reggie Thompson was unable to attend. I’m her friend, and she sent me in her stead. I can take the required notes.”

His left brow rose.

“Reggie has a terrible flu,” Maddy continued, “so she passed her invitation along to me.” Maddy rushed her words, hoping he would let her enter before her wet hair grew icicles.

“Welcome Ms. Rathborne.” He opened the door wider. “My name is Buchanan. Your room is upstairs in the north wing. You will see a sticker with the name “Reporter” on the door.”

“Thank you. I was hoping to meet my host and explain my situation before I took my room.”

The butler dusted the sleeve of his jacket. “You will meet him and the rest of the guests at dinner. Seven p.m. Be prompt.”

As she crossed the threshold the lights in the grand foyer flickered. Her breath stopped. That’s all I need. She looked around. Log walls that needed dusting, a thick oriental rug worn in spots, a hanging chandelier missing key pieces; elements of a once elegant place, now dated and forlorn, as if forgotten by the rest of the world. As the windows rattled, she tightened her grip on her luggage.

The butler rolled his eyes. “That’s the wind, Ms. Rathborne. Just the wind.”

Maddy’s room was large and well-appointed with a canopy bed made-up in maroon, silk sheets and a down comforter. Against one wall sat a writing desk. A blue velvet, wing chair had been placed by a large picture window that looked over the grounds. On the other side of the room there was a vanity, circa 1930. She walked over to the window, but all she could see was fog. All in all, the room was more than satisfactory. It had a slightly musty smell, but it didn’t have the same feeling the rest of the house had. This would be her sanctuary.

On top of the writing desk sat a pitcher of water filled with ice and lemon slices. The condensation on the outside of the glass made it look so appealing. Beside it stood two glasses. Maddy poured herself a glass and guzzled it down. The ice-cold water felt wonderful on her parched throat. It tasted refreshing, lemony and … something else. Was it a hint of lime? No. She shrugged. They must use either a cistern or a well to hold their water. Either could have traces of minerals in it. She had another glass.

It took only a few minutes to unpack. She could explore the lodge, but that might be considered rude and all she really wanted to do was chill out. The trip across had taken a lot out of her. Not to mention the Captain and his stories. She stretched out on the bed and worked on a puzzle in her head, one she had been creating for some time.

At six-thirty she rose and dressed for dinner. She brought clothes she thought would be expected of a reporter, conservative, comfortable and not interesting. It was her job to blend into the furniture and observe the others.

She looked at herself in the mirror. Her long auburn hair was pulled back into a braided bun, exposing her plain face. At least she thought it plain.

This Christmas would have been the worst. Her non-fraternal, twin sister Melody had bagged a rich bachelor and had the mega-carat diamond to prove it. That he bought and sold businesses with no thought to ethics didn’t raise anyone’s eyebrows in her family. All they talked about was his shiny BMW and his pedigree.

Melody wasn’t all bad. She had tried to help Maddy out as they grew up, by giving her make-over tips and how-to books on dating and growing bigger breasts. Regularly she sent her cast-offs in Maddy’s direction—both clothes and men. But none of them fit. Maddy was forever cast the plain and boring sister with a brain like a cyborg. She could never be a Melody with manicured, good looks and demure personality and she didn’t want to be.

Maddy grumbled out loud at her memories. Melody may have been trying to help her. Heavy on the “may,” but really it was pretty clear that at the heart of all this sisterly attention lay the fact that Melody thought Maddy odd. Not odd in a good way, but odd as in peculiar and needed to be fixed. After all, who would spend so much time playing with numbers?

When Maddy turned twenty-one and finally stood up to Melody, sparks flew. Mel couldn’t understand Maddy. She accused her of being mean and well—evil—and they had talked little since.

That was four years ago. Maddy had managed to avoid running into her. And now, because Mel had bagged a big one, she was expected to come to a big family Christmas dinner and eat dead bird. Yuck. Yuck. Friggen yuck.

As Maddy thought about her sister her heart pounded harder, lodging itself in her throat. She slowed her breathing to gain control of her body. Damn her sister. Damn her family. Why could they not understand her? She may be the ugly duckling of the clan, but she was a viable human being just like them. Well, to be honest, she was more like a daffodil in a bed of red tulips, but still, there was nothing wrong with her. Melody needed to back- the hell-off. Her parents needed to back-off.

Why did she have to think of her sister now? She shook her head and stood to see her whole silhouette in the vanity mirror. Her black dress stopped at the knee exposing her black stockings and flats. She put on a bright shade of red lipstick and dangling pearls to brighten her image. That would do. She couldn’t possibly look less like her sister, the elegant one. Maddy took a deep breath and headed for the door.

With a doctorate, she would have no trouble writing a simple report about a social event. Still, her gut felt queasy. She was a mathematician, not a writer by trade, and being a perfectionist had its downsides. And this place! It was so peculiar.

As she tucked a strand of her hair back into her bun, a ghostly shape floated across her mirror. Her breath caught. What the hell? She stared at the reflecting surface. Nothing. It had to be the fog.

But fog doesn’t happen inside.

The sound of the dinner gong reverberated through the house.


MurderChristmas_CVR_LRGMurder for Christmas

      Agatha Christie meets The House of Usher

When code-breaker Madison Rathborne gets an all-expense paid trip to a remote island in the Pacific Northwest the week before Christmas, she expects a peaceful getaway from the fake Santas in the city and the drama of her family’s turkey feast, but Deadman’s Island offers no such sanctuary. Trapped in a maze of secrets, scandals and murder, with a side of ghost, Maddy struggles to make sense of it all. Macabre stories of gruesome deaths on the estate go back centuries. Her logical mind refuses to believe in legends, but there’s no reasonable explanation for what’s going on around her.

Twelve strangers invited to the gathering, discover turkey is not the only thing on the menu, as one by one they meet their maker.

Will Mad Rath’s superior logician skills crack the mystery before the killer gets her? Or is there a supernatural force at work that cannot be conquered?

*** You can pre-order today on Amazon. It launches on Tues. Nov. 13th

Buy Link

 

 

Anne Janzer: Why Brain Science is Important to Writers and Marketing

Podcast Link

 


In the mood for a gothic suspense? Check out my new book.

MurderChristmas_CVR_LRGMurder for Christmas

Agatha Christie meets The House of Usher

When code-breaker Madison Rathborne gets an all-expense paid trip to a remote island in the Pacific Northwest the week before Christmas, she expects a peaceful getaway from the fake Santas in the city and the drama of her family’s turkey feast, but Deadman’s Island offers no such sanctuary. Trapped in a maze of secrets, scandals and murder, with a side of ghost, Maddy struggles to make sense of it all. Macabre stories of gruesome deaths on the estate go back centuries. Her logical mind refuses to believe in legends, but there’s no reasonable explanation for what’s going on around her.

Twelve strangers invited to the gathering discover turkey is not the only thing on the menu, as one by one they meet their maker.

Will Mad Rath’s superior logician skills crack the mystery before the killer gets her? Or is there a supernatural force at work that cannot be conquered?

Murder for Christmas – Chapter 2

Last Friday I posted the back blurb and first chapter. This Friday I offer you the second chapter:

The book releases on November 13th, but you can pre-order it today on Amazon.

2

24hours earlier …

Henri Larochelle hummed a Christmas tune as he wandered around the island estate trying to make sense of the mysterious Christmas event. His invitation said he would be joining a party of like-minded adventurers. Whatever. It sure beat spending the week before Christmas with his cat. Having arrived first, he decided to check the place out. His butter-soft, Italian, leather shoes were useless in the two-inch blanket of wet snow, but he trudged through it anyway, feeling compelled to examine his surroundings.

The lodge might have been beautiful at one time, but it had lost its majesty. It had a gothic edge to it, not seedy, just plain creepy. It belonged in a cul de sac with the House of Usher and Bates Motel; the Rue de Gory.

An old-growth forest of cedars and firs surrounded the lodge and its out buildings. In the thickening dusk the tree line looked dangerous and foreboding. He shook his head. It wasn’t like him to get spooked by a few trees. Wood and needles, that’s all they were. The stories of the captain were getting the better of him.

Why not go into the woods?One needed to challenge oneself. The strong scent of cedar was invigorating. Would there be cougars or bears? He made a lousy outdoorsman and he knew it.

Humming, “On the first day of Christmas…” he wandered through the trees. He liked the song because it challenged his ability to memorize lines. Every year he learned a new adaptation. Currently he was stuck on day six. “On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, six …” Seals? No. Skunks? Obviously not. Silver bells? No, no, no. He forced his mind to concentrate on the words ignoring his body’s increasing alarm at being in a place so foreign to him.

His chest tightened until he could no longer hum and he came to a stop. Okay, this place is downright creepy.But he was a man after all, and men weren’t supposed to be scared of the woods.

Old growth trees towered over a hundred feet all around him making him feel small, fragile and mortal, very mortal, but he shrugged off his feelings.Snow fell silently from the low, gray sky, dusting the green needles on the limbs with a layer of pure white. As he exhaled, air fogged into wispy clouds. He should enjoy this. Everything around him appeared on the surface tranquil and perfect, as if it were a scene in a holiday postcard. He started to sing.

But his tune froze on his lips. It wasn’t perfect. Nothing about this scene was perfect. This was no postcard. He couldn’t put his finger on what or why, but the raw beauty of the island didn’t feel right. It was off. Really off. His shoulders tensed.

Who would invite strangers to a holiday gig?

Man up, he told himself. Don’t let your imagination get the better of you.

But he couldn’t ignore his fear. It flooded his senses. At thirty-five, he had seen enough of life to know appearances can be deceiving. Hell, he made a living doing just that, making people think what he wanted them to think, see what he wanted them to see. They called him The Spin Doc for a reason. He knew how to hide a whole lot of nasty beneath a well-crafted surface. If he painted his words right, he could sell anything. People are so stupid. He blew out a long breath.

He needed to analyze the situation. What was he being sold? A gloomy lodge surrounded by forest on an isolated island …. What was the host hiding? Why had he been invited? What was the game? The plan? There had to be more to this than the invitation stated.

A shiver stole up his spine and he swallowed. According to the Captain, stories about the island went back centuries. Legends passed down through First nations’ people spoke of blood curses, black-magic rituals and death. He had thought it all hype and nonsense. But now …

The visceral sense of dread snaking through his system warned him of something, but not of anything tangible enough for his mind to grab onto. It was like a child’s fear of the boogey man. How silly was that? He swallowed his fear as best he could, but his throat felt dry, and it stuck in his throat.

The heavy sense of foreboding would not leave him as he trudged on, forgetting the lines of the song. He felt as if evil hid in the branches of the trees ready to pounce, ready to smother him in the snow-covered earth. It made no sense, but feelings never do, especially fear.

His terror numbed his brain, which struggled to make sense of it all. He didn’t believe in ghosts. Didn’t believe in magic or curses. He didn’t believe in pure evil.

Drop a pair, he said to himself. Stretching his tense neck muscles, he tried to regain his composure. Maybe he had a bad case of jet lag.A week’s vacation in nature would do him good. Besides, what could go wrong in a place as beautiful as this? He started humming again. “On the second day of Christmas…”

Ignoring the sweat on his palms, he balled his hands into fists and pushed them deep into his pockets. He picked up his stride. “On the third day of Christmas …”

Something didn’t add up. Why would anyone want a bunch of strangers to get together for the week before Christmas?

The idea, which had humored him at first, now made his knees weak. Why him? Why now? He stopped under a cedar tree and stomped his shoes on the forest floor, shaking the snow off. There had to be a reason. People always had reasons for what they did.

Darkness descended and with it the temperature fell. He needed to turn back to the lodge.

Had he been a fool to blindly accept the invitation? It had seemed like a good idea when he received it three days ago. Between assignments, he had nothing special to do, his mysterious host would pay his expenses and the picture of the reclusive estate called to him. It was an invitation to something completely different during a season he dreaded.

Cold air tickled the inside of his nostrils and he wriggled his nose. Ah hell, I can handle this.It will be an adventure to tell the guys over a beer. He’d start out with the island legends told by a drunken sailor and then tell them how a storm had been forecasted. It would make a good story. Isn’t that what his life had become—a string of good stories?

A bone-numbing chill reached into his body and he clenched his teeth. He shook himself. Since when did Henri Larochelle call it quits?A deadly sense of unease flowed through his body like blood. He swallowed.

“No, no, no,” he murmured as he stomped his feet for warmth. He couldn’t let his imagination get the better of him. He would find his way back. The crazy captain’s tales of the island had got under his skin. That was all. That man should get an award for storytelling. A small branch cracked under his right shoe and for a second he stopped breathing.

He laughed at himself.

Another branch cracked, but he hadn’t moved. Then another. What was out there? Probably a raccoon, he told himself.

In the distance the high-pitched call of an eagle pierced the quiet. Its mate responded.  The Pacific Northwest was paradise. Awed by the majesty of the wilderness surrounding him, he slowed his breathing, and tried to focus on its beauty. The scent of the cedar trees, the freshness of the cold air on his cheeks, the smell of snow…  For a second, he held the moment, but then his mind slid away, pulled by fear.

The swishing sound of wings above him drew his eyes upward. His stomach plummeted.  A Peregrine Falcon swooped up to perch on a top branch of the cedar tree standing opposite him. Beauty could be so….

“Crack.” Was that another branch?

Pain swept through his head as he heard the crunch of his skull, and the world went dark.

 

North of the Border with Guest Marjorie Lindsey #GetLostInAStory

I love hearing about the journeys of authors.

Jacqui Nelson

NOTB-MarjorieLindsey-BlogHeader

Who’s next on my North of the Border guest blog series? Today we have Marjorie Lindsey, author of the Falcon Chronicles Series!

Where does Marjorie get her inspiration? How is Canada part of that inspiration? Read on and see…

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Thank you, Jacqui. I’m delighted to be a North of the Border blog guest.

I write teenage/young adult futuristic fantasy novels. How has living north of the border inspired my stories? It puzzled me too until I realized—it’s about my love for my environment.

Marjie in the country

I was a city kid. Apart from Sunday drives into the country and a two-week camping trip each summer, I spent most of my childhood in Toronto. We had a small backyard, but during daylight hours I roamed away from the house. There were lots of kids in my neighbourhood. Our playground was the tarmac in front of our houses and the…

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