Publisher: Steeple Hill
Release Date: June 2009
Poised for an interview, TV reporter Hallie Berglund walks into a murder scene instead. The victim’s boyfriend stands over the body, murder weapon in hand. Hallie couldn’t stop the crime, but as the star witness, she’ll see the man brought to justice . . . right? Not according to her colleague Brody Jordan, who is convinced the police—and Hallie—are targeting the wrong man. To prove it, he’ll need Hallie’s help. The victim was wearing a bracelet handcrafted by Hallie’s long-dead mother. Now Hallie is the only one who can unearth the secrets of the past—and bring the sinister truth to light.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Channel Six television news reporter Hallie Berglund put her right foot on the bottom step of the swaybacked porch, then stopped cold. The hairs on her arms prickled. What was that awful noise coming from inside the house? Some kind of music? This century-old Victorian was rented by four University of Minnesota coeds, but even if they liked punk rock they wouldn't listen to this. And why was the front door several inches ajar?
Careful to keep the heels of her pumps from clacking against the wood, she walked up the remaining two steps, but angry creaks from the porch boards announced her arrival. Whoever—whatever—was inside gave no indication her approach had been heard. The noise progressed in decibels.
Hallie frowned. There had to be a logical explanation. On the telephone, Alicia Drayton had sounded eager, almost desperate, to do the interview as soon as possible. The part-time fashion model and full-time student had said her roommates would be out all afternoon—a perfect opportunity for the two of them to talk privately.
The sound continued—long, drawn out. Like something a person would hear on a dark and moonless night, not in the balmy afternoon of a cloudless June day. She doused the impulse to back away and wait for her cameraman to catch up with her. She was a reporter, and she needed to find out what was going on. Sooner rather than later
Her rap on the warped door panel widened the opening, revealing a foyer done in dark wood and last decade's wallpaper. She stepped inside onto a scatter rug and was greeted by lingering scents of mingled women's perfumes. To her left a set of stairs led upward. Ahead and to her right lay an opening framed in old-fashioned wide wood.
"Alicia?" Hallie's voice sounded hollow in the open space.
The noise stopped, and silence fell like a skipped heartbeat. Then a loud sniffle announced a fresh round of wails, this time in words spoken in a masculine tenor. "No, no, no. This isn't real. Allie, baby, wake uuuuuup!"
Hallie's breath caught. Was Alicia hurt? Hallie hurried forward, heels tapping the faded floorboards. She stepped through the opening, and a squawk escaped her throat.
What whirlwind had trashed this living room? The couch was tipped onto its back, an easy chair lay on its side, and the entertainment center had fallen face down, scattering shattered electronic equipment. And who lay sprawled on the floor near the heavily curtained picture window? The head and torso were concealed from view by a lean man with spiked blond hair who crouched over the inert body. His bare, muscular shoulders quaked beneath a sweat-streaked tank top the same shade of tan as his running shorts.
"Who? Wh-what?" The words stuttered between Hallie's lips. "Should we call 9-1-1?"
The man eased to his feet, all six feet six inches of him. He swiveled toward her like a man in a trance, slate-blue eyes staring blankly. Wetness glistened on drawn cheeks in a face all sharp planes and angles. In his fist he clutched a braided gold cord. "She's… dead."
Hallie's gaze fell to the head and shoulders on the floor behind the man's feet. She gulped. Whoever had trashed this room had also done a number on the woman's face… and her neck. Raw cord marks dug into her pale throat.
Alicia? The glossy auburn hair splayed around her head matched the publicity photos that had been sent over to the station, but the facial features were too puffy to be identified.
The giveaway was the man with what appeared to be the murder weapon in his hand—Alicia's boyfriend, Minnesota Golden Gophers' bad boy, Damon Lange. The college basketball player's famous temper had finally turned him into a killer.
Hallie's gaze locked with his. Ice encased her muscles, and her heart slammed against her rib cage. A change melted over Lange's face. Pinched sorrow fell away, relaxed into open-mouthed awareness, and then red-faced fear—and fury. Lange raised the fist that held the cord and charged toward Hallie.
Jill Elizabeth Nelson is an award-winning author of mystery and suspense. She writes what she likes to read—tales of adventure seasoned with romance, humor, and faith, earning her the tagline: Endless Adventure, Timeless Truth. Jill speaks at conferences, writer’s groups, library associations, and civic and church groups. She and her husband live in rural Minnesota where they raised four children and are currently enjoying their first grandchild.
Visit Jill Elizabeth Nelson’s website for excerpts, book giveaways, and contests.
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