Fatal Vow – Marnie Reilly Mysteries #3

Chapter One

Creekwood, NY

Paige Reynolds’ long auburn hair ruffled in the breeze as she lay across a carpet of last autumn’s leaves. Dried blood smeared her forehead—the by-product of the three-inch gash on her temple suffered when she stumbled over a tree stump onto a granite boulder protruding from the forest floor. Scraped hands rested on her chest, just above the neckline of her azure tank top. Fear contorted her once pretty face as her body gave one last shudder and her blue eyes clouded with death.

June 21st, First Day of Summer

Chirping cicadas and tree toads masked the footfalls of the weary travelers on the long driveway leading to the cabin. Thick with heat and humidity, the air swarmed with mosquitoes and black flies eager for sustenance. Beyond the cabin, a rippling lake conjured a memory of a frigid winter’s night, and an icy battle that ended the life of a wannabe ninja. The stillness of the day, standing here under a canopy of pines and leafy green maples, was soothing in contrast to the recollection. The trio crept into the shadowy forest, biding their time as they waited and watched an oddly handsome man as he worked.

Detective Danny Gregg chopped logs at the edge of the deer run. His skin, bronzed by the sun, glistened with perspiration. His light gray T-shirt clung to his chest and back and his defined muscles pulsed with every movement. He laid down his ax, took off his shirt, and wiped the sweat from his face and neck. The scar on his back, a reminder of an incident involving an icicle last winter, glowed shiny and white in contrast to his tan. He’d lost weight, and his oddly handsome face was thinner and drawn. He tossed the sweaty garment into a wheelbarrow, took a drink from a water bottle, then doused his head, back and chest with the rest. Glancing into the woods, he squinted his steely blue eyes and quirked up the side of his mouth. He ran his fingers through his sandy brown hair, picked up the ax, and got back to work.

“Quiet. Sit. Shush … shh…”

They slunk deeper into the trees at the approaching sound of a truck kicking up gravel. The crunch of the tires caught Danny’s attention, and he turned toward the path’s break in the foliage. He swung the ax—embedding it into the log, pulled on his T-shirt and walked to the truck that had come to a stop. Detective Tom Keller and his black Labrador Gus stepped from the vehicle.

“Shush. Sit. Stay.”

Their voices were low and hard to hear over the chirps and buzzes of the native fauna. Tom said the name “Marnie,” and then shrugged and handed Danny a file, who flipped through the pages. This was a familiar scene—the detectives working a case—discussing leads and next steps. Tom glanced up. His violet eyes surveyed the woods—a stormy expression clouding his face.

She had remained in this spot for what seemed like ages, clutching tightly to the leashes of her Border Collies. Weary and apprehensive, she stood beneath the trees, patiently awaiting the perfect opportunity—or the courage to approach Danny and inform him of her return to Creekwood, but she couldn’t find the words. What could she possibly say? Merely apologizing for her sudden departure, leaving him with nothing but a letter, didn’t feel sufficient. On the drive to Creekwood, she had mulled over the conversation with her dogs.

“I left because I love you and couldn’t bear anything bad happening to you again. There is a deranged murderer on the loose. I had to protect you and Tom, Gram and Hannah, and everybody!”

Although that explanation sounded feeble, it was the truth. That was the speech she had prepared until she spotted him. At that instant, her heart leaped into her throat, and the dread of rejection seeped in, leaving her frozen with uncertainty.

 “Come on, Reilly,” she muttered to herself. “Suck it up! One foot in front of the other. Move it!”

Distracted by her daydreams of what once was, Marnie’s hold on Tater’s and Dickens’ leads slackened. Tater leaped forward, freeing himself from her grasp, and Dickens bounded after him—as he always did. Excited to see the detectives, Tater barked, Dickens yelped, and both made a beeline for Danny and Tom. Mouth agape, she froze, watching in horror as her Border Collies revealed her presence. With resignation, she took one step forward. She had no choice but to step into the sunshine, lighting the path to Danny Gregg’s cabin.


The two men turned in tandem when they heard the familiar barks of Tater and Dickens. Danny kneeled on the path and held out his arms, which Tater ran into, squiggling and whimpering. Dickens joined in and bumped Danny’s chin with his nose. Gus barked and leaped about, excited to be reunited with his friends.

Angry eyes fixed on the trail, Tom charged forward, coming face-to-face with his childhood friend. Her strawberry blonde hair was lighter—bleached and highlighted by the sun. It had grown past the middle of her back and hung loose—her signature ponytail forgotten. A smattering of freckles dotted her sun kissed nose. She appeared tired but fit, standing there in her tan cargo shorts, white tank top and hiking boots.

The dogs broke away from Danny, waggled their tails with excitement, and ran to Tom—Tater nearly knocking him over with a friendly nudge. Tom ignored them—he stood there, staring into Marnie’s face. His stern gaze shocked her. Tears welled up in her aquamarine eyes, and her bottom lip trembled. She didn’t know whether Tom was going to hug her or throttle her.

“Where in the hell have you been?” Tom demanded, throwing his hands in the air. “For fuck’s sake, Marnie, we’ve been going crazy here! We didn’t know if you were hurt or worse, dead! You take off without any notice, and leave a letter for us—with Carl? What in the hell were you thinkin’?” His jaw clenched, and his hands rolled into frustrated fists.

“Hey! Take it easy!” Danny walked the distance between the woodpile and the path.

Tater and Dickens trotted behind Danny—tongues out—silly Border Collie smiles on their faces. Gus ran to Marnie, sat, and then leaned on her leg. She scratched the top of his head and gently tugged his ear.

Tom wheeled around, glaring at his partner. “No! I don’t think I will take it easy. She took off and didn’t think to get in touch. What the fuck is that?” He reeled back around—angry eyes focused on Marnie.

Tater stopped next to Tom, nudged his hand with his nose, and then reached out a paw and placed it on his knee. Tom glanced down. The Border Collie smiled at him. Then Dickens pushed his head between his knees, sat, and let out a soft woof.

“C’mon, Tommy. Let’s be calm and rational.” Danny stopped and stared into his runaway girlfriend’s face.

She saw the hurt in his eyes. Rather than hold his gaze, she bent, grabbed hold of Tater’s and Dicken’s leads, and broke the awkward silence.

“Danny? Could I get water for the knuckleheads? We’ve been on the road since early this morning.”

“Uh … Yeah. Sure. You must be hungry, too. Can I get you something?”

She gave a curt nod and trudged up the path to the cabin.

Tom stomped behind them with a huff. “Are you freakin’ serious? You’re gonna feed her?”

Coming 2023

As I write Fatal VowMarnie Reilly Mysteries #3, I conjure up the sounds of summer in my memory – crickets, tree toads and birds calling for rain, mosquitos buzzing my ear as I fall asleep, and the sound of rain on the roof just outside my bedroom window. I also remember the humidity – the hot and sticky days of summer, when the only relief came from a breeze off of the river. The sights and sounds of my childhood summers will all be present in Fatal Vow – the train whistle from across the river in Canada, lightning bugs blinking in the distance, a thunderstorm brewing, the Big Dipper sparkling in the night sky, the sound of ships chugging up and down the St. Lawrence, and the lap of ship waves slapping the shore.

Divine GuidanceMarnie Reilly Mysteries #1 began just before Thanksgiving – Torn VeilMarnie Reilly Mysteries #2 just before Christmas. I’ve got a theme going with holidays, and as such, Fatal Vow – Marnie Reilly Mysteries #3 brings us to Independence Day – fireworks and all. This is going to be fun! Fatal Vow will find Marnie Reilly navigating her most dangerous journey thus far.

Fatal Vow Book Trailer #1

Fatal Vow – the third in the Marnie Reilly Mysteries series

Visit the Divine Guidance and Torn Veil pages to read the first few chapters.

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