Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, Chris Matheson Cold Case, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty-five titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!
Killer Deadline marks Lauren’s first venture into mystery’s purely cozy sub-genre with a female protagonist.
Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.
A popular speaker, Lauren is also the owner of Acorn Book Service, the umbrella under which falls iRead Book Tours. She lives with her husband and two spoiled rotten German Shepherds on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.
An Excerpt from Shadow of Murder
A Mac Faraday Mystery – Book Fourteen
Erica Hart’s stomach flipped and then flopped when her dark blue SUV crested the top of the hill overlooking Deep Creek Lake. She was torn between anticipation and anxiety. It was exciting to return to her childhood vacation home. At the same time, she was uneasy to face the horrid memories of that one summer that had changed her life forever.
“Wentworth, we’re here,” she said.
There was a grunt and groan from the seat behind her. She could hear the harlequin Great Dane pull himself up from where he had been napping and plop his head on the passenger headrest to peer downhill at the bridge crossing the blue waters of Deep Creek Lake. Boats and jet skis dotted the water on the warm May afternoon.
“Honey, I’m home!” Teddy, the white cock-a-too, hopped out of the back seat onto the center console. He landed in the front passenger seat. He had spent the ride dozing on top of Wentworth. With his beak, he pulled himself up onto the dashboard.
“Not quite, Teddy. Home is at the other end of the lake and three-fourths of the way up Spencer Mountain.” Erica turned left off the freeway to take the two-lane road along the lakeshore. She craned her neck to take in the homes of various shapes and size.
Memorial Day weekend marked the official launch of the summer season in the resort town. Homeowners were busy opening windows to air out their vacation homes and doing other household chores to prepare for the warm weather.
Wentworth continued to rest his head on the back of the passenger seat. He moved only his eyes to take in the unfamiliar sights and sounds. This was the three-year old Great Dane’s first trip to Spencer, Maryland.
For Teddy, it was a return home. Like Erica, he had many happy memories of love and family. Erica’s mother had presented the baby cock-a-too to her father as a Father’s Day gift. His first ten years were divided between their home in Richmond, Virginia, and their vacation home in Spencer.
After their deaths, the visitations became less frequent and shorter as Erica’s life got busy her own family. One summer turned into two and then three and so on until a decade had passed. Eventually, the house turned into a vacation rental.
No matter how far away you may roam, or how long you stay away, there’s no place like home.
“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home,” Teddy said in a voice reminiscent of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz upon reaching the bridge crossing Deep Creek Lake at the base of Spencer Mountain. At forty-years old, the cock-a-too had an extensive vocabulary and impressive collection of movie quotes committed to his memory.
“Thank you, Judy Garland,” Erica said with a sigh as she turned the steering wheel to the left after crossing the bridge.
Gradually, the shades of green pines, oaks, maple trees and other wild plants transformed into a kaleidoscope of yellows, greens, reds, purples, and blues sprinkled among exotic plants corralled inside an eight-foot-tall steel fence. A half mile along the fence, Erica came upon a sign that read in silver gothic letters “Cooper Cove” erected on the fence next to a steel gate.
Erica slowed down and gazed through the slats of the fencing into the rich grounds of the luxurious home. If her memory served her correctly, it possessed a tragic history.
She looked beyond the tall exotic shrubs among the flowers to the windows of the dark brown home that rose above the gardens. Most would have described the estate nestled along the lakeshore as luxurious. No one could deny that it looked splendid.
Erica wondered why it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. Was it here that some woman went mad and threw herself off the roof to her death?
She pressed her foot on the accelerator. She sped down the road to take the right at a fork to begin the climb up the mountain. The two-lane road was steep with only a guard rail to protect her from a perilous drop over rocky terrain.
Erica found it hard to believe that nothing had been done to broaden or straighten the road. While it was hard to believe nothing had been done, she knew why.
Most of the homeowners along the less developed portion of Spencer Mountain were wealthy summer residents who enjoyed a quiet, secluded life removed from the population that poured into Deep Creek Lake during the busy summer season. Wider, safer roads would entice more people to buy property and build houses. That would eliminate the very element that had drawn Erica’s parents and their neighbors to the more treacherous terrain known for boulders and steep drop offs.
Upon reaching the turn-off to the Hart home, the road swooped to the left, dipped, and looped around a boulder that leaned into the roadway. Just as Erica turned to the right, a huge black shadow darted out from behind the boulder and flew across the road.
It passed so close to the front of her vehicle she would later wonder how it was that she hadn’t hit it.
Erica thought it was a bear, but it moved too fast. She wondered if it was an enormous bird. Were those black wings?
Fearful of hitting the animal, Erica spun the steering wheel to the left and hit the brakes. The SUV headed straight toward the boulder.
Wentworth fell against the back seat. Teddy dropped into the foot compartment.
“That was dumb!” Erica hit the brakes and spun the steering wheel to head in the other direction—for the cliff.
“Not that way either!” She spun the wheel in the opposite direction and stomped on the brakes. The SUV fishtailed from one side of the road to the other until it smashed through the guardrail.
The airbags deployed to block Erica’s view.
The SUV came to a halt on the edge of a boulder jutting out over the mountainside.
“Lord have mercy!” Teddy pulled himself up onto the seat.
Erica sat still to regain her senses so that she could evaluate her circumstances. She saw treetops directly in front of her. As Wentworth righted himself, she felt the SUV lurch forward.
The vehicle teetered.
“Wentworth, stop!” She groped for the command. “Stay! Don’t move!”
His eyes wide, Wentworth lay still on the seat.
She reached for the button on the steering wheel to turn on the hands-free phone to call for help. The SUV lurched forward. “Damn!” She fell back against the seat.
Even reaching that far forward is enough to send us over.
She looked over at Teddy. He was a smart bird. Very smart. She wondered if he was smart enough to tell someone that they needed help. At the very least, she could save his life. There was no reason to force him to go over the cliff with her and Wentworth. Moving slowly, she pressed her finger on the button on her door to lower the windows.
“Teddy, go! Go get help!”
“Help!” Teddy called out in the voice of Erica’s late mother.
“That’s right. Get help,” Erica said.
“Help! Please!” Teddy climbed up the back of the passenger seat and hopped into the window. He turned to Erica and cocked his head. “I don’t want to die.”
“Neither do I,” Erica said. “Go! Fly for help.”
Teddy spread his wings and flew off through the treetops.
Unable to move, Erica watched the big white bird as best as she could. His white feathers stood out among the greenery of the forest.
She wondered if he would find someone. Even if he was smart enough to tell them that he needed help, would they understand that he was relaying a message? She doubted it.
While Teddy had an extremely extensive vocabulary and often conversed with people, he wasn’t communicating, he was simply mimicking what he had heard.
Erica looked in the rearview mirror and wondered how long it would be before Wentworth decided to stretch his muscles and send them both plummeting to their deaths.
“Oh, God, please help me.”
Dusty O’Meara made a sharp right turn in his police cruiser to begin the steep climb up Spencer Mountain.
The new deputy chief of the resort town’s small police force was not yet familiar with the roads in and around Deep Creek Lake. His predecessor, Art Bogart aka Bogie had taken him on several trips around the area. Bogie and the police chief, David O’Callaghan, had the advantage of having been born and raised in the area. Dusty thought he just about had it down, except for the rural trails that snaked through the boulders and thick forest that lined the more remote area of the mountain.
As the road following the side of the mountain lurched to the left, Dusty stopped when he saw the sign marking the fork in the road. The road to the right was named Robin’s Way.
A large white cockatoo rested on top of the sign. His long tail feathers hung far beyond the bottom of the sign.
“Someone must have lost a bird.”
The cockatoo spread his wings and uttered a loud scream in a woman’s voice. “Help!”
“Definitely someone’s pet.” Dusty opened the door to his cruiser and slid out.
“I don’t want to die.”
Moving as slowly as possible to not scare the bird, Dusty asked in a smooth tone, “Now are you just making conversation or does your human need help?”
His eyes fixed on Dusty, Teddy spread his wings. He uttered another scream. “Help me please.”
This is crazy. But hey, I never claimed not to be crazy. “What do you want me to do? How can I help you?”
The bird flew off the sign and landed in the branch of the fork that weaved along the edge of the mountain. He turned around and cocked his head at Dusty.
“Okay, I’ll follow you. But if this turns into something weird, we’ll just keep it between the two of us.” Dusty climbed back into his cruiser, and slowly drove toward where the bird was waiting.
As he neared the bird, Teddy took off and flew down the road. Dusty sped up and followed.
As the woods became denser and the terrain rougher, Dusty slowed down. “I’ve lost my mind. Does anybody really live out here? I can’t believe they’d even be able to build a house onto the side of this mountain.”
“Help! Help me, please!” The large white bird swooped low and flew over the windshield of the cruiser. He then turned and headed back down the road.
“Okay, I’m coming.” Dusty pressed his foot on the accelerator.
As the road twisted and turned, the cockatoo maneuvered each turn in the road—remaining approximately six feet above the ground. Occasionally, he rose and slowed down—seemingly to check to see if Dusty was still following.
At a sudden dip in the road and twist around a boulder, Dusty saw the dark blue SUV wobbling on the edge of the cliff.
He hit the brakes. The cockatoo landed on the lights stretching across the top of his cruiser.
Forgetting the white bird, Dusty jumped out of his cruiser and pressed the button on his radio. “Dispatch, we have a vehicle in distress on Robin’s Way. We need emergency crews ASAP.” He saw the head of an enormous dog rise above the head rest and let out a deep bark.
Dusty rushed to the driver’s side door where a woman with long red hair pressed against the back rest to balance the vehicle tottering like the deadly version of a child’s game.
“Now is not a good time to ask for my driver’s license and registration.”
Despite the situation, Dusty laughed. “I guess that means you’re not hurt?”
“Not yet, but if I don’t get out of here soon, I will be.”
Wentworth scratched the door and whined a plea for Dusty to open it.
The vehicle rocked. Dusty pressed his weight against the rear section of the SUV in hopes of keeping it balanced on the boulder.
Erica tried not to whimper.
“Have you unbuckled your seatbelt?” Dusty couldn’t believe that he was telling someone to unbuckle their seatbelt. He saw that she had already unbuckled it and slipped out of it. “Are the doors unlocked?”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m not leaving without Wentworth.”
Dusty flicked his eyes at the dog peering at him through the open window. He could hear the sirens of the emergency vehicles making their way up the mountain. There wasn’t enough time. The huge dog was ready to bolt and when he did, the vehicle was going over the cliff with his human inside.
“No dog left behind.” He flashed her a broad toothy, reassuring grin. “I get it. Will he jump out when I open the door?”
“He’s not as stupid as he looks.”
Dusty placed a hand on both door handles. “Okay, on the count of three. I’m opening both doors. As soon as your door is open grab my arm.” He locked his eyes with her sapphire pools. “Ready.”
She nodded her head.
“One. Two. Three.”
In one movement, Dusty threw open both doors. “Wentworth! Come!” While he called for Wentworth to jump out, Dusty reached into the vehicle to grabbed Erica’s outstretched hands.
She felt herself lifted from the vehicle and yanked toward the roadway. He fell back. They hit the ground wrapped in each other’s arms.
The SUV slid over the edge of the boulder and dropped front end first to the rocky terrain below.
Dusty and Erica climbed to their feet to watch the SUV roll end over end down the mountainside. The sound of the vehicle crashing its way down the mountainside echoed throughout the forest. Doors burst open to eject whatever was not secured inside. Her suitcase flew like a frisbee out of the rear compartment. It popped open when it ricocheted off a tree to send her clothes flying across the terrain.
Nose first, the vehicle hit a rocky ledge that jutted out over the lake. Erica recalled many sunny afternoons when she and her friends would jump off that ledge to dive into the lake.
Not unlike Erica and her friends, the SUV bounced off the rock ledge to fly off and land with a giant splash into the water below.
They stared at the thick woods littered with debris and broken tree branches. They could only imagine the horror if Erica and Wentworth had been inside. Teddy flew from where he had perched on top of Dusty’s cruiser to land on Erica’s shoulder. Wentworth rested his body against her side. She stroked the dog’s head in comfort.
Dusty broke the silence. “Is now a good time to ask for your license and registration?”
True crime blogger, Erica Hart starts a new chapter in her life with a bang when a dark shadow darts into the mountain road to send her SUV off a cliff and to the bottom of Deep Creek Lake. Spencer’s newest addition to the police force, Dusty O’Meara assumes it was a bear. Erica is not so sure.
Soon afterwards, contractors discover Konnor Langston’s body at the bottom of an abandoned swimming pool at the new summer home of Mac Faraday’s son.
With Police Chief David O’Callaghan away on paternity leave, Deputy Chief Dusty O’Meara must lead the investigation in his first murder case since moving to Spencer. Not only does Dusty have to work under the shadow of the legendary Mac Faraday, but he also has to match wits with Erica, who is determined to find justice for Konnor, her childhood friend.
Mac isn’t so difficult. Even Gnarly, the town’s canine mayor, is manageable if his authority is well-respected and he is kept entertained.
Erica Hart, Dusty finds, is more of a challenge. It wouldn’t be so difficult if she wasn’t so irresistible.