Is it Christmas yet? I’ve been having so much fun writing the third Ravenwood Cove book that I can’t resist putting the first two chapters online. Now, here’s the disclaimer: I’m always tinkering with my stories, so these two chapters may get some minor edits to them before they get published, but I thought I’d share them with you anyway. Just don’t be shocked if they’re have a tweak or two later on!
Mistletoe, Moonlight and Murder: A Ravenwood Cove Mystery
By Carolyn L. Dean
* THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS. This book is available for pre-order on Amazon, and is due for publication December 17th *
MISTLETOE, MOONLIGHT, and MURDER is copyright 2016 by Carolyn L. Dean. All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author or publisher, except for the use of brief quotations in critical articles or reviews.
For those who believed in me and those who did not. You both have motivated me to write.
For the amazing community of cozy mystery readers. I’m having such a good time getting to know you, and reading the books you recommend!
“It looks like Christmas exploded all over the inside of your coffeeshop.”
Meg pushed a stray blonde curl behind one ear and surveyed her handiwork critically. It had taken her most of the morning to decorate Cuppa with huge silver garlands and hanging red glass balls, not to mention the dozen or so strings of colored lights she’d carefully stapled to the ceiling and walls. She frowned a bit at Amanda’s blunt critique.
“Hey, I love Christmas, and we’ve got to do something to compete a bit more with Ivy’s Café. Did you know they’re starting to put out board games and free newspapers on the tables after the breakfast rush?” She brushed her hands together, apparently temporarily done with her decorating, and folded the metal stepstool shut. “Nobody can say we don’t have the Christmas spirit, and if it brings in more customers that’s definitely an added bonus.”
Amanda took a sip of her mocha and settled back into the overstuffed chair in contentment. Meg had added a subtle dash of cinnamon to the top, and it seemed to match the holiday mood perfectly. The only other customer, some bundled-up tourist with a metal detector leaning against his table, seemed completely engrossed in his smartphone, and Amanda wasn’t surprised when her bubbly friend plopped down in the chair next to her, a huge grin on her face. Not much work meant more time to chat.
“You’ll never guess what my grandmother told me.”
“I’m scared to ask.”
Amanda knew better than to guess. Meg’s ninety-year-old grandmother, Mrs. Granger, may have looked like just an old lady with a walker, but she knew more about what was going on in Ravenwood Cove than a detective, a bloodhound, and a fortuneteller combined. She spent a lot of time quietly eavesdropping while she sat and knit on a bench by the warm woodstove in Petrie’s hardware store, chatting with everyone and learning what was happening with most of the small beach town’s residents.
Meg leaned forward, her eyes showing her excitement.
“You know that big empty shop next to Truman’s kite store? That one that’s been vacant forever?”
Amanda knew it. It was rumored that the owner was some investor in Eugene that had bought it as a tax write-off, and then hadn’t bothered to even remove the plywood sheets nailed over the big front windows. The shop was good-sized and shared common walls with Truman’s bike and kite store, with the florist across the alley next door. Years before, it had been a store for auto parts, but it had been closed up for ages, and the townspeople had been grumbling about its sorry state ever since.
“Truman bought it.” Meg’s voice had an edge of glee in it, and Amanda’s eyebrows went up in surprise.
“He bought it? I didn’t think Truman had that sort of cash.”
Meg shrugged and continued, wanting to get her whole story out. “I guess he does. Anyway, Gram told me that he’s decided that his kite and bike store won’t be a good business over the winter months because of the Oregon weather, so he’s going to expand and open a bookstore, too.” Meg was practically bouncing up and down in her seat and Amanda grinned, knowing how much her friend loved to read. “It’s going to have used book as well as new ones, and some comfy chairs for people who want to stay and read a bit. Gram says he’s going to call it Benny’s Books.”
It made perfect sense that Truman would name his new store that. His little brown dog, Benny, was his constant companion wherever he went. Benny was a half-dachsund, half-chihuahua mutt, and all friendly all the time. Even though Truman had only moved to town a few months before, he’d made quite an impression on the residents of Ravenwood Cove. Maybe his tattoos and constantly changing wild haircuts had put some people off at first, but his huge grin and willingness to help others quickly made him friends, Amanda included. The first time she’d seen a trio of cotton-haired church ladies clustered around Truman at a potluck, soberly discussing casserole recipes with him in rapt fascination, she knew he was going to be just fine, even if his hair did sometimes have orange or purple tips.
“Wow! That is big news! When he going to open?”
“I guess the paperwork’s already done, and the first shipments of books on are their way. Gram says he’s going to try to catch the Christmas shoppers so he may be open this week, even if everything isn’t quite in place yet. He’s got the bookshelves made and everything.”
Amanda set her coffee cup down and sighed. “I can’t believe I didn’t know about this. I’ve been so buried with work at the Inn that I haven’t talked to people much lately, I guess.”
“Well, with the farmers market closed down for the winter you haven’t had to talk with the merchants as much and besides, you’ve been busy. Except for those cottage rentals down by the cannery, the Ravenwood Inn is the only real place for tourists to stay when they’re in town.” Meg reached down next to her chair and dug around in a paper bag, finally pulling out two more fluffy strands of tinsel garland, this time in green. “You and Jennifer have been so busy making sure that people are happy at the Inn that you haven’t taken much time for yourselves.” She shook an accusatory finger at Amanda. “Even if you are still doing renovating on the Inn – “
“Just the rooms the guests aren’t staying in,” Amanda interjected, feeling a bit defensive.
“Okay, so you’re not restoring the floors and painting the walls in front of the guests. You still need some time off. I know you’ve been working on the canned food drive for the foodbank, too. I never see you stop working, and Jennifer seems to be the Inn all the time, too.”
“Someone needed to organize the food drive,” Amanda said firmly. “And running an inn is hard work sometimes.” The truth was, Amanda wouldn’t want any other job in the world. She loved her historic Inn, even if she was still renovating it to its former glory. That reminded her, she needed to call the gutter cleaning guy to get the leaves out, and buy some smoked salmon for the incoming guests. She also needed to rake the dead leaves out of the front flower beds and look into a linen delivery service and…
Meg interrupted her train of thought. “Just remember that you need some fun, too, okay?” She looped the tinsel garland around her hands, obviously getting ready for another round of over-the-top decorating. “They’re going be showing It’s a Wonderful Life at the Liberty this week. Why don’t you bring James and we’ll double date?”
“Who are you going to bring as your date?” Amanda had a good idea of what the response would be, and she wasn’t disappointed.
“I’ll find someone.”
Amanda suppressed a smile. “How’s the internet dating going?”
Her bubbly friend grimaced a bit and shrugged her shoulders. “About the usual. Gotta kiss a lot of frogs before I can find my prince, I guess.”
“Just make sure you don’t get any warts.”
Meg laughed and threw the wadded up ball of tinsel at Amanda. “Hey, I’ll be careful. It’s not like all of just have some handsome detective wind up falling into our laps. Some of us have to go out and work a bit harder at finding love.”
“He didn’t just fall into my lap. We’ve just started dating, that’s all.” Amanda looped the garland several times and handed it to Meg. “I’ll check with him and see what his schedule is, but you know how that can change.” She took a last sip of her coffee and stood up, gathering her raincoat and shrugging it on.
“Think I’ll stop by and see what’s going on with Truman. Did you want me to take Benny those dog treats you talked about having him sample?”
Meg nodded and walked behind the counter, fishing around for a couple of moments before pulling out a small plastic bag. “I’m hoping that these will be popular enough that we can add them as something new for the pet owners to buy, or to give out to puppies that come in.”
“You’re going to let dogs into Cuppa?” That was a first.
Meg gestured at the front window. “In this weather? We don’t have a covered place for them to get out of the rain, and I don’t have any trouble with a well-mannered dog coming in with his owner.” She handed the bag to Amanda.
“Don’t forget your umbrella.”
“Trust me, I won’t.” She peered out the front window doubtfully, the view of Ravenwood Cove smeared and blurred by the fat raindrops running down the glass. The sky was a flat, leaden gray. Since she’d moved up from Southern California she’d never seen so much rain, and even the townspeople had told her that this year’s winter weather was unusually soggy, even for Oregon. Stepping out into the blowing droplets, she headed off to Truman’s bike shop.
Her windshield wipers could barely keep up with the downpour. It was almost as if the rain’s blowing sideways, she thought ruefully, keeping an eye on the brakelights of the car in front of her. She’d had a great time chatting with Truman and getting the grand tour of his new bookstore, but she was already regretting her offer to pick up the carved wooden sign that Roy Greeley had made to hang over the front door. The road to Likely was full of potholes and twists, and in the dim, late afternoon light the headlights struggled through the rain to shine any light on the pavement. Even the cheery Christmas music playing on the radio didn’t make this trip any more fun.
It had been great to see Truman again and catch up on his big plans for the new bookstore. Like always, he was full of enthusiasm and ideas, and had been happy to point out where the secondhand sofas would be, so that choosy readers could have some time to peruse a book or two before they decided to buy. Benny had kept pace with his owner, seemingly pleased with the fresh smell of cut wood and maze of tall bookcases. Truman had installed a wide door between his bike shop and the new bookstore, explaining that he’d be able to decide if he wanted both businesses open on some days, or just one side at a time. When he mentioned possibly hiring someone else to help him out, Amanda made a mental note and started thinking of possible candidates to point in his direction. Winters were tough for some of the residents of Ravenwood Cove, with the lumber industry stalling out and the recent surge of tourists tapering off to a thin trickle due to the season. Mrs. Granger had mentioned how some families just scraped by, and Amanda knew a new job could be a blessing to many people.
It wasn’t too far out of town to get to Roy Greeley’s place, just across from Sandford Lake. She’d been there a couple of times before, when her contractor had been building special items for the Inn, but the last time she’d showed up to pick up a new porch swing, it had almost ended in disaster. Just as they were about to load it into the back of her SUV, they’d heard the high whine of police sirens chasing an armed suspect and had scrambled to take cover in Roy’s basement. They’d been safe there, but Amanda hadn’t been on the road to Likely since that day. Too many memories.
She was less than a quarter mile from Roy’s house when she saw the strangest thing. She’d been concentrating on the road, carefully steering around potholes and following the car in front of her, when a motion on the steep hillside to her right caught her attention.
It was surreal. The trees on the hill were walking down the slope toward the car. She could see them moving, their leafless branches waving as they wobbled a bit, heading straight for the road ahead of her.
Only they weren’t actually walking. They were sliding. The entire hillside was sliding, picking up speed as the sodden earth gave way, tons of rainwater eroding the soil so deeply that boulders and trees were being rolled along in the churning, inevitable mass.
Amanda frantically hit the horn on her steering wheel, trying to warn the car in front of her, her heartbeat leaping in fear. The dark landslide swept down the slope and the frantic taillights of the sedan in front of Amanda’s car were too late. The roiling mud slammed into the side of the sedan, sliding it sideways on the broken road, and pushing it relentlessly over the embankment, the brake lights still desperately blinking as the driver tried futilely to keep from going over the edge.
Amanda slammed her car into reverse and hit the gas as hard as she could, grateful no one was behind her as she rocketed backward, trying to keep from being engulfed by the tons of wet earth pouring down the hillside. By the time she was far enough away to jump on her brakes and put her car in park, the landslide had mostly stopped. Small rocks were bouncing down the hill, but the bulk of the huge, muddy mass settling into heavy stillness. She jerked her door open and ran as fast as she could toward where she’d seen the sedan disappear from sight. Wiping the pelting rain from her eyes as she ran, she could just make out the right doors of the car, the rest completely encased in unstable mud. She eased her way down the slope toward the car, grabbing at small shrubs and tall grass as she tried to keep from falling down the incline. She tried to keep watch for movement or bouncing rocks as she peered in the passenger side window but the pouring rain and dimming light made it difficult.
The passenger, a man, had his face turned away from her and was loudly groaning. She could see that part of the roof near the men’s head had caved in a bit and there was a flat, tinny taste of fear in her mouth as she realized that they probably only had seconds before the landslide moved again or crushed the entire car.
She grabbed the handle and tried to wrest the door open, frantically pulling while trying to keep her feet under her on the slippery grass.
“HEY! Kick out the glass! Can you open the door from your side?” she frantically shouted, nearly dislocating her wrist as she struggled with the stuck door.
The driver seemed to hear the shouting, and rolled his head toward her. Amanda gasped. It was James’ brother, Ethan Landon. His eyes didn’t look focused, and a cut on his head was streaming bright red blood down the side of his face.
“Ethan! Unbuckle your belt! Open the door!”
He blinked at her, running a hand across them to try to clear the blood from his right eye. Amanda could tell he was still dazed from the impact, but he slowly unbuckled his seatbelt.
“Ethan! Kick out the glass!” Her words seemed to be having some impact on him, and he unbuckled his seatbelt. Amanda could hear the metal in the car groan as the weight of the sodden earth and rocks compressed it. Her frantic heartbeat was pounding in her ears. There was no time to waste. Ethan was going to be crushed to death, and the wall of mud would sweep farther down the slope, taking her with it. She wondered what it would be like to die by avalanche.
“ETHAN! I SAID MOVE, MISTER!” she shouted in her best drill sergeant voice, still yanking on the door handle futilely. The passenger side window, flexed by the extreme weight on the car roof, finally shattered like an exploding bomb, spraying brilliant shards of safety glass outward as it broke. The sound seemed to awaken Ethan, and he moved to the window and put his head and shoulders outside, trying to lean forward and push with his elbows enough to escape. Amanda frantically grabbed him under the armpits and pulled with every bit of strength she had, silently praying that she’d be able to move a full-sized man in time. Ethan pushed with his feet and he finally slid completely out of the car window, Amanda still grabbing onto him as he rolled to the ground.
“This way!” she ordered, and the dazed man scrambled along with her as she pulled him away from the deadly landslide up the sodden embankment, slipping repeatedly as they moved as quickly as possible. They could hear the metal creaking as Ethan’s car was slowly pushed and crushed by the avalanche, the mud still shifting as tons of dirt and rock above it pressed downward. With a final, desperate heave Amanda and Ethan pulled themselves onto the edge of the road, the solid pavement a welcome sensation underneath them.
The climb had been strenuous, and Amanda was gasping for air as she pulled herself to her feet. She could see that Ethan’s scalp wound was still bleeding copiously, the scarlet blood being washed down his body by the driving rain. She kept a firm grip on his upper arm, yanking him upward and pulling him toward her car. The headlights were still on, the radio cheerfully singing Christmas carols, the driver side door still open from when she’d sprinted toward the sedan. She opened the passenger door and gently eased Ethan into the seat, and offered him a clean sweatshirt she had stowed in the back seat to press against his head wound. Shutting his door, she raced around to her side of the car, plopping into the seat, her fingers scrabbling around inside her purse. Her heart was racing as she dug out her cell phone. She clicked off the car radio.
“Who are you calling?” Ethan was leaning back in the seat and peering at her with one eye, the other covered by the gore-soaked fabric he had pressed to his head.
“Nine one one. I tend to call them a lot. You’d think they’d know my voice by now,” she babbled, desperately hoping that she’d get cell reception. Two bars. That would be enough.
As she punched in the first number she looked up through the foggy windshield. The car headlights were shining on something at the base of the landslide. It was striped. Definitely not a rock or tree. She squinted and leaned forward, swiping a hand over the damp glass, trying to figure out what it was.
It couldn’t be.
She must be seeing that wrong.
Her heart caught in her throat.
Amanda got out of the car, not feeling the cold rain pelting her as she slowly walked toward down the road toward the strange object.
It wasn’t one object. It was two.
Two feet, one with a dark tennis shoe and one only encased in a striped yellow and green sock.
Someone was lying on their back on the asphalt, covered by tons of mud, only their feet sticking out of the rubble piled on top of them.
Amanda took a deep breath and knelt just far enough away that she could touch the feet. Trying not to gag, she slowly pulled one sock down far enough to touch the waxy skin.
It was cold as ice.
Whoever this person was, they hadn’t been alive for quite some time.
Wiping her fingers off on her sopping-wet jeans, she stumbled quickly back to the car, squinting against the glare of the headlights. The body that was under that landslide was beyond help, but Ethan needed an ambulance and he needed one fast. Sliding gratefully into her seat again, she pulled out her phone.
“Nine one one. What is your emergency?”
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