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. The air was thick with heat, humidity and mosquitos. The lake just beyond the cabin looked cool and welcoming. Under a canopy of pines and leafy green maple trees, they stood in silence—watching.
Detective Daniel Gregg chopped logs at the edge of the deer run. His skin, bronzed from the sun, glistened with perspiration. His light gray t-shirt clung to his chest and back. He stopped chopping logs for a moment, took off his t-shirt and wiped sweat from his face and neck with the shirt. 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. His oddly handsome face was thinner since the last time they had seen one another.
He tossed the t-shirt into a wheelbarrow, took a long drink from a water bottle, ran his fingers through his sandy brown hair, and glanced into the woods—perhaps feeling their eyes upon him. He squinted his steely blue eyes, quirked up the side of his mouth, raised the axe and went back to work.
“Quiet. Sit. Sh… sh…”
They slunk back deeper into the forest at the approaching sound of a truck kicking up gravel along the driveway. The crunch of the tires caught Danny’s attention, and he turned toward the path’s break in the trees. He swung the axe—embedding it into the log he was chopping, pulled on his t-shirt and walked toward the truck that had come to a stop on the gravel driveway. Detective Tom Keller and his black Labrador Gus stepped down from the vehicle.
“Sh… Sh… Sit. Stay.”
Their voices were low and hard to hear—their conversation muffled. Tom said the name “Marnie,” and then he shrugged. He handed his partner a file, and Danny flipped through the pages. This was a familiar scene—the two detectives working a case—discussing leads and next steps. Tom glanced up. His violet eyes surveyed the woods—a stormy expression clouded his face.
She held tight to her Border collies’ leads, and rolled her shoulders, easing her tired muscles following a long drive. Fatigued and anxious, she stood there beneath the trees waiting for the right opportunity—the right moment—or courage, perhaps, to speak with Danny, to let him know she had returned to Creekwood. What could she say? I’m sorry I took off and left you with only a letter, just didn’t seem enough. I left to protect you from my psycho brother. Hmm… that sounded weak. Everyone was in danger and I couldn’t bear anything happening to you again because I love you. That’s what she was planning to say—until she saw him. Until her heart caught in her throat and the fear of rejection seeped in and she froze with uncertainty. C’mon, Reilly, suck it up! One foot in front of the other. Just move!
Caught up in watching the two detectives and daydreaming about what was and what the last several months had been, Marnie’s hold on Tater’s and Dickens’ leads slackened. Tater jumped forward and pulled his lead out of Marnie’s hand. Dickens followed Tater—as he always did. Tater barked, Dickens yelped, and they made a beeline for Danny and Tom. Mouth agape, Marnie stood at the edge of the forest, 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 and excited barks of Tater and Dickens. Danny kneeled on the path and held his arms out—Tater ran into his arms, squiggling and whimpering. Dickens joined in and bumped his chin with his nose. Gus barked and leapt about, excited to see his friends again.
His eyes now focused on the path, Tom stormed across the trail and stared with disbelief into the face of his childhood friend Marnie Reilly. 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. She appeared tired but fit standing there in her tan cargo shorts, white tank top, and hiking boots. A smattering of freckles dotted her sun kissed nose.
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 just 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! We didn’t know if you were dead. You take off in the middle of the night, and leave a letter for us—with Carl? What in the hell were you thinkin’?” Tom’s 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 swung around—glaring at Danny. “No! I don’t think I will take it easy. She took off, and didn’t think to get in touch after all these months. What the fuck is that?” He swung back around—his glare aimed at 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 up at him. Dickens pushed his head between his knees, sat, and then barked up at him.
“C’mon, Tommy. Let’s be calm and rational.” Danny stopped in front of Marnie and stared into her face.
She saw the hurt in Danny’s eyes. Rather than hold his gaze, she bent, grabbed hold of Tater’s and Dicken’s leads, and held tight.
Marnie broke the awkward silence. “Danny? Could I get Tater and Dickens some water? We’ve been on the road since early this morning.”
“Uh… Yeah. Sure. You must be hungry if you’ve been traveling. Can I get you something to eat?” Danny ushered Marnie, Tater and Dickens toward the cabin.
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?”
As I write Fatal Vow – Marnie 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 Guidance – Marnie Reilly Mysteries #1 began just before Thanksgiving – Torn Veil – Marnie 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
Visit the Divine Guidance and Torn Veil pages to read the first few chapters.
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