Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER

Description of Light Bringer by Pat Bertram :

LBBecka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? What do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area? And how does Jane fit into the puzzle?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

Realizing Mac was waiting for her reaction, Jane said in a noncommittal voice, “You saw a UFO.”

Mac winced. “UFO? No. An FO. There was nothing unidentified about it. I knew exactly what I saw.”

“An extraterrestrial space ship,” she said flatly.

“Of course not, and aliens didn’t abduct me, either. It happened right after I closed on this property. Unable to sleep, I drove out here and was leaning against my rental car looking at the stars when the crescent flew directly overhead. I could see it as plainly as I’m seeing you right now.

“The craft was about fifteen feet in diameter, made of a composite ceramic. A remarkably conductive amalgam of the most refined copper and the purest silver coated its underside, turning it into an electrical circuit offering no resistance to the wave of electromagnetic energy it floated on. It was absolutely silent, sweeping in ions from its flight path, like a whale feeding on plankton. The ionized air around it glowed, giving it an unearthly look, but it was very much terrestrial in origin.”

Jane lifted her hands and let them drop. “How could you learn all that from one brief sighting?”

“I was part of a team working on a craft exactly like it, only we hadn’t been able to get ours off the ground, at least not then.”

She regarded him warily.

“I’m not insane,” he said, answering her unvoiced question. “I’m an aerospace engineer, retired from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena.”

It took a minute or two for the significance of his story to register. “I see. You think Stellar Optics was a cover for a space telescope project, which was a cover for the real project—the development of a flying saucer.”

He didn’t respond, but he didn’t contradict her, either.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER by Pat Bertram

Description of Light Bringer:

LBBecka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

As Special Assistant to the Director of Logistics and Deployment, Teodora, also known as The Fixer, had the best and brightest operatives the department had to offer. Intelligence agencies all over the world recommended their top young agents, hoping to cement their relationship to the powerful organization. The Deputy Director of the FBI himself had written recommendations for Keith Derrick and Hugh Wittier, mentioning their athletic accomplishments, superior scholastic standings at their respective Ivy League Universities, and exceptional performances at the FBI academy.

Teodora studied the two handsome young men visible on the split screen of her computer. They might have impressive pedigrees and extensive training, but they were unskilled liars. She didn’t even need the voice stress analyzer built into her computer to tell her they were deviating from the truth; changes in the size of their pupils and arrested movements of their hands betrayed them. Unfortunately, she could not tell which specific incident they were lying about; their involuntary reactions had begun as soon as Keith opened his mouth to give the report.

They would not be concerned with her knowing they had presented themselves as NSA agents; all her operatives used whatever tools were necessary to get the job done. They would not be concerned with her knowing about the stolen car; they had reported it immediately. They would not be concerned with her knowing the subject had apparently been expecting them or that he had assumed they were interested in the books he read. That left the man—the tall bearded man wearing dark sunglasses and a green tracksuit—who had come out of the bedroom aiming a pistol.

If this gunman did exist, who was he? The subject had no close friends. They only knew about Emery Hill because the operatives found a note wedged in the rear of a desk drawer when they had gone back and combed the apartment.

If the gunman did not exist, how had the subject escaped? And why? Hugh and Keith had been sent simply to ask him what he knew about his mother’s cousin and her ward.

Teodora made a mental note to have her computer technicians look deeper into the subject’s background, then gave the operatives her undivided attention.

Hugh stared out at her from the computer screen. “Why are we looking for these women?”

“They have information.”

“We still have not found out what Hansen knows about them,” Keith said, “and the only item we found in his apartment that might be germane is the photograph album we sent you.”

“Is your fax machine set up?”

Keith nodded.

She faxed them one of the photographs her technicians had altered to show what the females might look like today. Keith reached for the fax, scrutinized it, then handed it to his partner.

A faint line appeared between Hugh’s brows. “I saw the younger woman walk by the coffee shop in Chalcedony.”

Keith snatched the picture and gave it a second look. “I didn’t see her.”

Hugh lifted one shoulder in a barely perceptible shrug.

Teodora made certain that her expression remained blank, but she could not keep her heart from beating faster.

“Find her,” she said.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

Call for Submissions

rangelSecond Wind Publishing is accepting short stories, essays and poetry for its upcoming anthology, Wind Through an Open Door.

All submissions should deal with the question: what happens to us when we pass from this life? Remembrances of lost loved ones, personal experiences, profound recognitions of the afterlife (or its absence)—regardless of religious persuasion—are all welcome.

There is no cost to submit an entry. There is a maximum of 7000 words for essays or short stories. All entries must be submitted no later than June 10, 2014. Those whose work is included in the anthology will receive two contributor copies. Additional copies will be available for purchase, with contributors receiving a 60% discount. Submissions and questions should be sent to mike@secondwindpublishing.com. Be sure to use “Wind Through an Open Door submission” in the subject line.

Best of luck to everyone!

Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER by Pat Bertram

Description of Light Bringer:

Becka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

Philip woke in the dark of early morning, forehead damp with perspiration, heart pounding from unremembered nightmares. When calm settled over him, he listened for the sound of Rena’s even breathing on the other side of the thin wall. Hearing only an indigo silence, he rose and went to check on her. Because he didn’t take the time to put on his braces, he made sure to plant one foot on the floor before swinging the other forward.

Rena’s bed was empty.

He found her on the porch, sitting on the single step, her strange cat beside her.

She turned a smile on him, as bright as the starshine.

He sat next to her. “What are you doing out here?”

“Listening to the music of the spheres.” As one, she and the cat tilted their faces to the sky. “Can you hear it?”

He angled his head. He heard crickets chirping nearby, dogs barking in the distance, and farther away a train clattering on its tracks. As he isolated each sound, he set it aside until there were no more noises. Then, as if from some vast remoteness, he heard a faint silvery tone that seemed to swell, bursting into a thousand jewel-bright notes. Every note sounded clean and sharp, a thing unto itself, but melodized into an aural patchwork quilt of intricate design.

After a timeless interval—minutes or hours, he had no way of knowing—heavy clouds rolled in, turning off the sky.

He shivered in the cooling air. Rena inched closer, put an arm around his waist, and nestled against him.

Warmth and sweet harmony enveloped them as if that aural quilt had settled on their shoulders.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Second Wind Publishing

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER by Pat Bertram

Description of Light Bringer:

Becka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

The trail was a gentle decline, hard-packed, and free of rocks, as if it had been well traveled since time out of mind. It ended at a stream so clear its cobbled bed looked like a mosaic of semi-precious stones. On the other side of the stream, the tall meadow grasses, lavender in the mountain’s shadow, whispered softly among themselves.

Laughing, Rena caught Philip’s hand. “They’re inviting us to come play.” She ran the last few steps toward the edge of the water.

He pulled his hand away, hearing in his mind the sickening sound of ripping ligaments and tendons, and feeling the pain.

Walking carefully, he joined her by the stream.

“Too bad there’s not a bridge,” she said, “but the water isn’t deep. We can wade across.”

He put out a foot, drew it back. “You go. I’ll wait here.”

She nodded in understanding, and took his hand again. “That’s okay. I can go another time.”

They sat on the forested slope, listening to the whispering of the grasses increase in pitch as the day came to an end. After the sun set, they headed home in a rich, warm alpenglow that turned the world to gold.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Second Wind Publishing

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

A Photo of My Muse

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by authors of Second Wind Publishing.

In Rubicon Ranch: Secrets, the third book of the series and our current work in progress, the body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of a blow-up figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret that someone would kill to protect? There are suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he also has to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him, and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

I got tired having my character, Melanie Gray, finding bodies in the desert. Since the story time ended up being around Christmas, I remembered seeing this decoration last Christmas and thought it would be an amusing scene. I didn’t have a photo, so this year I made sure to get a photo of the muse who inspired me.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Rubicon Ranch: Secrets — The Mystery Continues

RRBookThreemidsizeRubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing.

In the current story, the  body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of an inflatable figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret someone would kill to protect? There will be suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he will also have to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery continue! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end! If you don’t want to miss further chapters, please go to the blog and click on “sign me up” on the right sidebar to get notifications of new chapters.

Chapter 22: Lydia Gavin
by Pat Bertram

Sunday, December 23, 5:25pm

Seth sat tall behind the desk in his tidy office, like a king receiving a subject. “What are you doing here?”

Lydia Galvin leaned back in the uncomfortable metal chair and gave the sheriff a serene smile, surprised to find that she felt no fear at facing him. “Your deputies brought me here.”

Seth glowered. “You know that’s not what I meant.”

“You want the whole story? I needed to get some groceries, so I walked up Delano Road to where I’d parked my car, and apparently your deputies found it and staked it out, because even before I could unlock the door, they jumped out of their vehicle, arrested me, and brought me here.”

“They didn’t arrest you. They just offered you a ride. I wanted to talk to you.” Seth gave Lydia one of his oh-so-familiar looks, the one that said she meant no more to him than an annoying insect.

“How did you know I was in the area?” Lydia kept her voice neutral, not wanting to seem confrontational. No point in arousing the beast in him until absolutely necessary.

“We checked out the bystanders’ videos of the burning crime scene, and there you were.” He drew in a quick breath as if upset with himself for responding. “But you’re supposed to be answering my questions. What are you doing in Rubicon Ranch?”

“Having fun. It’s quite a spectacle out there, you know.” Lydia crossed her legs, and felt a flash of satisfaction when he cut a glance at her thighs. All that running since she’d been fired had paid off—she now had the body she’d always wished for.

He remained calm, but his thinned lips and tensed shoulders told her how much that unruffled air cost him. “Why did you come to Rubicon Ranch?”

“Why do you think I came? To see what other lives you were ruining, of course. I had no intention of staying, I just wanted to check out Melanie Gray—according to the newspapers you two were quite a team—but then I met Nancy and when she let slip that you and she were sleeping together, I thought I’d hang around to see how you got out of that affair when it turned against you.” Lydia made a show of inspecting a fingernail. “I guess I’m lucky. You only ruined my career. Poor Nancy ended up in the morgue.”

“You think I killed Nancy?” Seth cocked his head like an eagle and stared at Lydia for a moment. Then he nodded. “I see. You think that by accusing me, I will assume that you’re innocent, because if you believed I killed her, then you couldn’t have.”

“Did you kill her?” Lydia waited for an answer that didn’t come. “She would have ruined you. She loved nothing but herself and power and money. She loved secrets, too, of course, but only because the secrets gave her power over people and were a source of great income. She said she used to be an actress and a model, but once when we had a few drinks, she admitted that was a front. She’d really worked as a call girl. I figured she gave up the life when she realized how much more lucrative secrets were than her body.”

Seth rose to his feet and paced the office. “You say she would have ruined me. Like you ruined me?”

Lydia forced out a small laugh. “I ruined you? No. You manipulated me. You began by treating me as if I were the most important woman in the world. You flattered me, paid attention to me, offered me words of love and the endearments I hungered for. When I was hooked, you stepped back, left me feeling bereft. And every time I spoke of leaving you, you’d pay attention to me again.” She felt tears beginning to gather behind her eyes. He doesn’t matter. Think of fire. Flames. Heat.

She drew in a deep breath, surprised Seth didn’t jump in to defend himself. He kept pacing the office as if she weren’t even there, which made it easier for her to confess. “You were my grand passion. I know you don’t believe that, but it’s the truth. I never expected you to leave your wife. I just wanted you to notice me. To put me first once in a while.”

Seth stood over her, his eyes icy as they locked onto hers. “But you turned me into the department. Said I misused my authority.”

“You did abuse your authority. I never wanted an affair with you. I had enough trouble with my husband. I didn’t need another abusive man in my life. You never knew about my husband, did you?” Lydia didn’t even try to modulate her bitter tone. “The great detective never noticed that his girlfriend had a husband who beat her. I wouldn’t have told your wife about us. Even though I threatened to tell her, I couldn’t have made our affair public. My husband would have beat me when he found out. And after you dragged your wife to my house so she could confront me, my husband did beat me. I had to go to the emergency room that time. But oh, no, everything that happened was my fault.”

“Good story,” Seth said. “Too bad none of it is true.”

“The all-wise Seth Bryan says it isn’t true, so that means it isn’t true?” Lydia shook her head sadly. “The law might be about what you can prove, but life isn’t like that. Some things are true no matter how much we don’t want to believe them.” Things like her husband’s abuse. Things like Seth’s disregard. Things like death and fire. “You men are all so blind you can’t see what’s in front of your eyes. I loved you but you threw me away, calling me a vituperative bitch. Yet Nancy, who didn’t love you at all and who truly was a vituperative bitch, you kept. But I’m through with all of you now.”

Seth sneered. “Turning into a lesbian?”

“That’s beneath even you, Seth, my love.”

“True. Perhaps the only true thing you’ve said today.” The phone rang. Seth took two long strides to the desk, and grabbed the receiver. “Yes?” A pause, then, “She’s home now? Stay there. Make sure she doesn’t leave. I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”

He hung up the phone, and turned to face Lydia.

She quirked her lips in an unamused smile. “Still on your wife’s leash? I’m surprised you haven’t killed her, too.”

“Just go,” he said wearily. “Keep my office informed of your whereabouts. We still have lots to talk about.”

Lydia rose, straightened her skirt, and settled the strap of her purse firmly on her shoulder. “There’s nothing left to say but good-bye. I didn’t kill Nancy. You did. But don’t worry, I won’t testify against you.”

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

I’m a Guest on the Second Wind Publishing Blog!

I am blogging at my publisher’s blog today, talking about Crashing the (Science Fiction) Party,

Once a long time ago, I crashed a Halloween party. Sounds very bold, doesn’t it? But truly, it was out of character for me, and besides, I was in costume so in a way the person who crashed the party wasn’t really me. I remember that the party was given by a friend of a friend, but I have no idea how or why I decided to go — perhaps as a joke to see how long it would take for people to realize they didn’t know me. Continue reading—>witch

My previous guest post for Second Wind Publishing was Finding the Truth of a Story,

We are steeped in story. From birth to death, story forms our lives. Today, more stories are available to us in more media than ever before in history, including the stories we share with each other and ourselves. What is a daydream if not a story of the future we tell ourselves? And at night, while sleeping, our dreams tell us other stories. No wonder we have such a hard time finding a story that is not clichéd. Continue reading—>

My most popular post on the Second Wind Blog is: What is Your Character’s Favorite Color?

Because colors have meaning, a character’s favorite color can tell us a lot about him or her. Red for an ambitious extrovert. Pink for an affectionate, compassionate person. Yellow for an optimistic artist. Green for a benevolent humanist. Blue for a cool, confident conservative. Purple for an intuitive, spiritually oriented person. Brown for a down-to-earth type. Continue reading—>

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

I’m a Guest on the Second Wind Publishing Blog

I am blogging at my publisher’s blog today, talking about Finding the Truth of a Story,

We are steeped in story. From birth to death, story forms our lives. Today, more stories are available to us in more media than ever before in history, including the stories we share with each other and ourselves. What is a daydream if not a story of the future we tell ourselves? And at night, while sleeping, our dreams tell us other stories. No wonder we have such a hard time finding a story that is not clichéd. Continue reading—>

 My previous guest post for Second Wind Publishing was Writing: A Universe of Choices.

When we choose to write, we are faced with a universe of choices where all things are possible. Many would-be writers never put a single word on the page because the number of choices to be made seem insurmountable. First, we have to choose what to write about. The topic can be anything: love, abuse, super novas. Next we have to choose how to present the topic. As fiction or nonfiction? As a blog? A poem? A short story? A novel?

By making these decisions, we begin to limit our universe of choices. A blog has certain criteria to be met; it must be brief and interesting or we run the risk of losing our readers. A short story can contain complex ideas, but a novel has the scope for us to develop those ideas more fully. Continue reading—>

If you’re not bored yet, feel free to check out my highest ranked post on the Second Wind Blog: What is Your Character’s Favorite Color?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Rubicon Ranch: Secrets — My Current Chapter

RRBookThreemidsizeRubicon Ranch is a collaborative and innovative crime series set in the fictional desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing.

In the current story, the  body of a local realtor is found beneath the wheels of an inflatable figure of a Santa on a motorcycle. The realtor took great delight in ferreting out secrets, and everyone in this upscale housing development is hiding something. Could she have discovered a secret someone would kill to protect? There will be suspects galore, including a psychic, a con man, a woman trying to set up an online call-girl service, and the philandering sheriff himself. Not only is the victim someone he had an affair with, but he will also have to contend with an ex-wife who has moved back in with him and a jilted lover, both with their own reasons for wanting the realtor dead.

We hope you will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Let the mystery begin! Whodunit? No one knows, not even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end! If you don’t want to miss further chapters, please go to the blog and click on “sign me up” on the right sidebar to get notifications of new chapters.

(If the Christmas theme seems unseasonal, well . . . considering how long it takes to write a book at the rate of a chapter a week, in a few months, the season will catch up to us!)

Chapter 25: Melanie Gray
by Pat Bertram

Sunday, December 24, 9:00am

Melanie stayed up most of the night sending emails to people on Alexander’s and her contact lists, asking what they knew about her husband. She told them—untruthfully—that she planned to write his biography, and so needed to know anything that could help explain his life and especially his death

She didn’t really expect to discover his secrets this easily, but she hoped that she could at least find a place to start looking for answers. The immediate responses were condolences from those who hadn’t known about his death and from those who hadn’t taken the time to write five months ago when he’d died in what had seemed to be a car accident. A few responses included an anecdote about Alexander, but no one dropped a hint about what he could have done to trigger an assassination.

Only one response surprised her. She’d expected their agent to gush with delight at the prospect of the book, but Dottie wrote: Are you sure this is a wise idea, darling? You might not like what you find out. And isn’t it better to remember him as a real man rather than a character in a book, even one as brilliant as I’m sure yours would be?

Too tired to think of a response to her agent’s message, Melanie dragged herself to bed. She dozed off but jerked herself awake to escape the shadowy creatures who chased her into a building with no windows and no way out.

She thought she’d been asleep for only a few minutes, but the brightness of the room told her she’d slept far into the new morning. She lay in bed, unwilling to face another day in the horror that Rubicon Ranch had become, when she realized she heard something strange for this neighborhood—silence.

She jumped out of bed, ran upstairs to her loft office, and glanced out the window. No tour buses, no streams of cars with gawking passengers, no young people (or old people for that matter) dressed as Halloween ghouls. The only things out of the ordinary were the sheriff’s department vehicles cruising the street—at least four of them. One of the tan vehicles pulled up to the curb in front of her rented house, and Sheriff Seth Bryan climbed out.

Melanie dashed down the stairs to the bathroom, splashed water on her face, ran a brush through her hair, and grabbed a dress from the closet. The off-shoulder peasant dress wouldn’t have been her choice for the first encounter with the sheriff in two months, but she didn’t have time to rummage in her closet for something more appropriate.

The doorbell rang. Barefoot, she went to answer it.

The sheriff’s jeans and white shirt still fit his lean, flat-bellied body as if they’d been tailored for him. As when they first met, he wore a blue ball cap with “Sheriff” embroidered in yellow, but his hair curled around the cap as if it had been awhile since he’d taken the time to get it cut. For once he’d left off the mirrored sunglasses, and he looked as if he’d aged two years since she’d seen him last. Apparently, his attempt to make his marriage work hadn’t succeeded. Or maybe the marriage was succeeding, and his haggard expression and weary dark eyes came from too much time in bed with his wife.

Why do you care?

“Good morning, Ms. Gray,” Sheriff Bryan said, his tone as formal as his words.

“Good morning, sheriff.” Melanie stepped outside, put a hand above her eyes to shade them, and made a show of peering up and down the street. “What happened?”

“The people’s right to free expression and lawful assembly destroyed our crime scenes and impeded our investigation, so we cleared the area of anyone who didn’t live here.”

The chill of the concrete crept up Melanie’s bare legs, but she held herself in place. “You call that lawful assembly? So, if there hadn’t been a murder, you’d have just let all those necrophiliacs continue overrunning the neighborhood?”

“Not murder, Ms. Gray. Murders—two of them. And arson.”

“How did you get rid of all the ghouls and gawkers?”

“We have a deputy stationed on Delano Road and Tehachapi, checking to make sure only people who belong here enter the street. And those who were already here—well, we told them we’d arrest them as accessories to murder. When that didn’t work, we reminded them that tomorrow was Christmas, and that Santa didn’t deliver presents to bad little boys and girls in jail.”

“So, you’re the UnSanta Claus?”

The sheriff quirked one eyebrow as if surprised to discover she had a sense of humor, but Melanie had to admit to herself that in their relationship—if a few meetings and a couple of meals could be called a relationship—there’d been no room for humor. There’d been too much death, too much pressure, too many unanswered questions.

“Have you found out anything more about Alexander’s assassination?” Melanie asked.

“We’re doing what we can, Ms. Gray, but there’s nothing to go on. Just skid marks on an open road.”

“What about Alexander’s missing cameras? If someone stole them from the car right after the accident, there might be a witness.”

“We haven’t found a witness, but if a bystander took the opportunity to steal what you said were expensive cameras, I’m sure he or she wouldn’t be interested in informing us of that fact. Have you looked for the cameras? Maybe they’re inside the house somewhere.”

Melanie wanted to stamp her foot, but she refrained. She didn’t want the sheriff to see her acting so childishly, especially since he was being so damned formal. Besides, it would hurt her bare foot. “I told you. I put the cameras in the car myself.”

“Did he drive off immediately?”

Melanie gazed at the driveway where the car had been parked that morning. She’d put the cameras in the trunk. Alexander had yelled at her from inside the house that she had a phone call. She’d slammed the trunk shut and hurried inside.

The call had been from Dottie, their agent, wanting to know if they’d get the book done by the deadline. Melanie had been annoyed with Alexander for not talking to their agent himself because it would have taken him less time to assure Dottie than to shout for Melanie.

When she hung up the phone and went outside, she found that Alexander had left. She never saw him again, never got to say good-bye.

“Ms. Gray?”

The sheriff’s voice, smooth as melted chocolate, startled her.

“Stop calling me that,” she snapped.

“What would you like me to call you?” he asked.

“Nothing. Stop using my name every sentence as if you’re some kind of used car salesman with a lemon you want to get off your hands.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Melanie clamped her mouth shut, refusing to rise to the bait.

The sheriff smirked, and the haggardness disappeared from his face. “I need you to tell me what you know about Nancy Garcetti, Clark Bailey, and the fire.”

Melanie glanced back at the door of the house, wondering if she could slip inside for shoes to warm her icy feet, but she didn’t want to have to invite the sheriff into the house. It would feel too much like a fly inviting a spider to visit.

“Go put your shoes on, I’ll wait out here.”

Melanie ran inside, put on socks and shoes, and then sedately ambled back outside. The sheriff hadn’t moved.

“I wish I could help you, sheriff,” she said. “But I don’t know much.”

“I asked you once to call me Seth.”

Melanie shook her head. “Not exactly appropriate.”

“Ah, yes, I’d forgotten how very ‘appropriate’ you always were.”

Melanie narrowed her eyes, wondering if that had been a dig, but he continued as if unaware of her reaction.

“Had you ever met Nancy?”

Melanie tried to remain as still as the sheriff. Or was that the wrong way to act? Did her stillness indicate guilt? Crap, being a maybe murderer was hard.

“I met her once, but we only exchanged a few words.” I know you killed your husband.

“And what about Clark Bailey?”

Melanie relaxed, knowing she had nothing to do with anyone by that name. “Never met him.”

“Oh, but you did. You met him last night. After the fact, so to speak. He’s the man you found wearing the Santa hat.”

“I guess maybe I should have called it in—”

“Ya think?” the sheriff interjected.

Melanie winced at his sarcastic tone. “But I just could not face being known once again as the cadaver dog. I suppose Moody had no choice but to tell you.”

Sheriff Bryan gave her an avuncular smile. “Moody didn’t tell us. She left you out of it. Be careful. She has her own agenda, and she eats innocent women like you for breakfast.”

Melanie straightened her shoulders. “I can take care of myself.”

“Perhaps. Be careful, anyway.” The sheriff turned to leave, then glanced back. “What do you know about Lydia Galvin?”

“Lydia Galvin?” Melanie frowned. “Your Lydia?”

“It’s not how I’d put it, but yes, that Lydia.”

“I don’t know anything about her. Why, is she here?” Melanie laughed, feeling suddenly lighthearted. “She is, isn’t she? Oh, poor Seth. All his chickens coming home to roost. Your wife. Now Lydia. Maybe you’re the one who needs to be careful.”

When Seth cut across her property to the Sinclair house, Melanie realized he hadn’t asked her about the arson. He didn’t forget such matters. Like Moody, he had his own agenda, kept his own counsel.

Melanie went inside, locked the door behind her, and climbed the stairs to the office to see if she’d received any new emails. There was just one from an unfamiliar gmail address:

You never know when to leave well enough alone, do you? Alexander Gray is dead. Let him rest in peace.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” All Bertram’s books are published by Second Wind Publishing. Connect with Pat on Google+

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