CJ Carmichael

Decades of silence. A shocking discovery. Some secrets refuse to stay buried.

True crime writer Dougal Lachlan swore he’d never set foot in Twisted Cedars again. Not even for his sister’s upcoming wedding. But an email promising the story of a lifetime pulls him back to his hometown against his better judgement.

Thirty years ago, five librarians were murdered across quiet coastal towns in Oregon, leaving a trail of unsolved mysteries. All signs point to a serial killer.

As Dougal plunges into the investigation, he enlists the help of local librarian Charlotte Hammond, who prefers her mysteries between the covers of a good book since the disappearance of her older sister Daisy.

The more they dig, the more buried secrets they unearth only to realize nothing is quite what it seems, and the danger may be closer to home than they thought…

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chapter one

May, 2010

Back in the seventies four women were killed. Librarians…. The odd message arrived in Dougal Lachlan’s Inbox on the last Friday in May, channeled through his website into a special folder he used for fan mail. He was slouched into the sofa in his East Village apartment, going through line-edits on his latest true crime manuscript. His cat Borden, having been denied her favorite perch—the one on his lap—was curled up on the cushion beside him.

Normally Dougal pursued his writing with single-minded devotion. But since his mother’s death last year, he was often, and easily, diverted.

You don’t know me. But you should. I’ve got a story that will be the best of your career. Back in the seventies four women were killed. Librarians. No one ever solved the cases. But I know what happened. Ever hear of Elva Mae Ayer? She was the first. Check it out then let me know if you want the names of the others. I am here and willing to help.

The message was from a Hotmail account with the name “Librarianmomma.”

At thirty-four Dougal had been researching murders and serial killers—and writing about them—for about eighteen years. During that time, his website had attracted a fair amount of crackpot emails. Some messages threatening, others claiming insider information about grisly crimes that were beyond the power of his own vivid imagination. In the beginning of his career, he passed these emails to his local NYPD precinct. Over the years, though, he stopped bothering. At conferences, when he spoke with other authors of mystery, thriller, and true crime—they had similar stories to tell.

Getting letters from wing nuts came with the territory. You just ignored them and carried on doing your job.

Which is what Dougal intended to do this time. He switched screens back to his line-edits, working his way through a cup of instant coffee and twenty more pages. Normally he loved this stage of a project—the penultimate fussing with details and tweaking of words before his manuscript went in for printing.

But this last book hadn’t flowed like the others. He hadn’t felt his usual passion. The research was tedious, the writing laborious. Maybe Belinda had been right after all. He should have set the project aside for a while. Taken some time to grieve.

He’d broken off with Belinda instead. And kept writing. He didn’t think the story had suffered as a result…at least his editor seemed pleased with the final result. He wasn’t so sure himself.

The typed lines on the page began to blur and Dougal let his hands drop from the keyboard. Borden blinked, stretched, and then pounced to the hardwood floor, in search of her premium cat food, a special brand formulated for senior cats, which she sometimes deigned to eat.

Dougal needed a break, too. He switched back to email, but there were no new messages.

So he read the one from Librarianmomma again.

It was different from his usual crackpot email. Most of them expounded on the grisly details of the crime, to a nauseating degree. This one was almost clinically detached when referring to the crimes. Also notable was the element of enticement, as evidenced by the invitation to write back, the promise of more details, and the story of his career.

Also, most of his prank mail involved unsolved crimes that had received a lot of press coverage, usually infamous or very recent killings. Whereas Librarianmomma was referring to an obscure murder—or series of murders—that occurred decades ago.

Check it out, the email had said. Maybe he would. Dougal typed “Elva Mae Ayer” into a search engine. There were no exact name matches.

He should let it drop, but his instinct for story kicked in. He grabbed his phone from the table where it sat next to a pile of his unopened mail. Danny Delucy, a former cop who’d been derailed by disability into opening his own private investigation agency, sounded surprised to hear from him. “I didn’t know you were working on a new story.”

“Me either. I’m supposed to be finishing up the latest one. But something just distracted me.” He relayed the essence of the email and the name of the librarian who’d supposedly been murdered.

Two hours later Danny called back. “Wow—that took some digging.” The sound of papers shuffling carried over the line, and then Danny spoke again. “I did find a homicide case from 1972. Victim was Elva Mae Ayer—a forty-year-old librarian. Strangled in the basement of the library where she worked.”

So the woman was real. And she had been murdered.

Dougal’s eyes burned from too little sleep and too much staring at pages on a computer screen. He shut them. What would a librarian in the early 1970’s have been like? He knew the era best from old TV re-runs like The Brady Bunch and, his Mom’s favorite, the Mary Tyler Moore, where the women were portrayed as perky, pretty and morally upstanding.

Whatever the decade, however, a librarian seemed an unlikely target for murder. Dougal pictured a Mary Tyler Moore lookalike in the basement of a library, surrounded by stacks of books, file cabinets, archives. This would be before the computer and internet revolutionized libraries. There would still be cards at the back of every book. Card catalogues and basements filled with aging newsprint.

The librarian would likely be in a knee-length skirt and sweater. She’d be wearing glasses, of course, and as she worked at filing books from a cart he visualized a man with murderous intent sneaking up behind her…

He shook his head. Overactive imagination. Curse of the trade. “Did they find the guy who did it?”

“Nope. This is one cold case. How did you hear about it?”

“Anonymous email.”

“After all these years? Bizarre.”

“Agreed.” And it was the extreme weirdness of the message—and the fact that it was grounded in truth—that piqued his curiosity. That and the fact that he was bored of his edits and had no new project waiting in the wings. Not even a germ of an idea. Ten years ago he’d had a notebook crammed with possible book concepts. Last year, after the funeral he hadn’t attended, he’d tossed the notebook.

“Anything else you can tell me?”

“Guess what she was strangled with? A woman’s red silk scarf. That’s weird, huh?”

A memory assailed Dougal, long-forgotten, but vivid. His mother giving him a kiss before she went out for an evening of dancing, the edges of her soft scarf tickling his cheek. This one multi-colored, not red. Dougal had been four at the time. Thirty years ago…

Dougal coughed to get rid of the sudden lump growing in his throat. He’d been having a lot of flashbacks to his childhood in the past year. Stuff he hadn’t thought of in decades. He wished the memories would cease and desist. Hadn’t he moved here eighteen years ago to get rid of that baggage?

“So where did this happen?”

Danny paused, presumably to check his notes. “Roseburg, Oregon.”

Adrenaline pumped through Dougal’s body. His skin literally tingled. “You sure?”

“You heard of the place?”

“I grew up near there.” In a small town by the ocean called Twisted Cedars. He and his sister had lived with their mother in a trailer park on the east side of town. He’d hated that town, that trailer, their life. Right after he graduated high school, he’d left, and he hadn’t been back since.

Had the email come from someone who knew him? Roseburg was only a few hours from Twisted Cedars.

He thanked Danny, then disconnected. For a while he just sat, letting the information soak in and settle. When his stomach gurgled, he noticed he was sitting in the near-dark. No wonder he was hungry. He’d been sitting here working since he’d dragged himself out of bed this morning.

God how his muscles ached—neck, shoulders, back. He rubbed a hand over his face and realized it had been more than just a day or two since he’d shaved.

He ought to shower and clean himself up. Go out and get a meal. Rub elbows with other members of the human race. But he didn’t have the energy for any of it.

Was this depression? Was Belinda right, again? Was that what was the matter with him?

Dougal’s empty stomach growled again. His sated cat, perched on the window ledge, looked at him haughtily, as if to say, Why don’t you just eat, already?

But there were no cans of people food to open in his kitchen. Not unless he lowered his standards to Borden’s mushy chicken and liver food. His fridge was bare, too. Remembering a brochure for Thai food, he went to the pile on the table and sorted through the mess of unopened envelopes and fliers.

The fancy envelope, which had been delivered two weeks ago, caught his eye. The paper was thick, expensive, the kind used for invitations to life-changing events. The return address was familiar—it had been his for the first eighteen years of his life. He’d wondered if his sister Jamie had sold the old doublewide after their mother died. Apparently not.

He stood in the hallway holding the wedding invitation for a long time. His sister had loved fairy tales when she was little. Happily ever after had been her favorite ending. Despite the hard facts of their existence—deserted by their father, dirt poor, living in a trailer—she’d believed in it. Jamie, like their mother, saw the best in everyone. Until recently, that had included him. He expected his sister’s adoration had dimmed somewhat in the past year. After all, what kind of ungrateful son doesn’t come home when his mother is diagnosed with cancer and then doesn’t even show for her funeral?

Belinda had actually booked them plane tickets. Her last action as his girlfriend. He’d asked her to move out after that, and frankly, her departure had been a relief. With her gone he could finally wallow in his misery, without the additional burden of feeling guilty about it.

The envelope felt heavy in his hand. He should either throw it out, or open the damn thing. He opened it and pulled out a “Save the Date” card with a collage of photographs, several of a romantic couple, another with the same couple but including two kids, a boy and a girl.

Dougal’s face burned with anger and shock as he stared at the man posing beside his beautiful, sweet sister. No. Not Kyle.

He checked the printed name inside the card, and there it was, confirmed in black and white, Kyle Quinpool and Jamie Lachlan would be so happy if…

Back in high school, Dougal played football with Kyle. In Dougal’s mind Kyle was the Great Gatsby of Twisted Cedars. He had it all—wealthy family, golden-haired good-looks, and a great talent as a quarterback as well. After graduation Kyle married the prettiest girl in town, went to work with his dad, fathered twins. But his storybook life took a twist at that point.

Dougal had heard most of the details from his mother. Apparently Kyle’s wife, Daisy—also a friend of theirs from high school—changed after the twins were born, suffered some sort of breakdown. A few years later, she and Kyle divorced, and shortly after that Daisy left town. Just like that, abandoning her children as well as her parents and a younger sister.

“Poor thing was so disturbed,” Dougal’s mother had said.

But Dougal had wondered if she was just that anxious to get away from Kyle.

Once Kyle had been someone Dougal envied and admired. But now, with the distance of miles and years, Kyle was someone he despised. He was not someone Dougal wanted anywhere near his sister. Let alone married to her.

After a night filled with dreams and numerous trips to the john—had it been the Thai food he’d ordered in? Or the beers?—Dougal awakened knowing what he had to do.

As a writer, Dougal believed in the power of three. First had been his mother’s death. Second had been that curious email. And now, third and finally, was Jamie’s impending wedding.

He’d once sworn he would never do it. But he had to return to Twisted Cedars. He had to try and talk his sister out of making this mistake or he’d never forgive himself. And while he was there, he might as well hit Roseburg and check into that homicide. Flying would be the quickest option, but getting around in Oregon wasn’t like here in the city. There was no metro. No taxi waiting around every corner, either. He could rent a car, or he could buy one here and make a road trip out of it. That would take longer, but the idea of driving across the country was appealing for some reason.

The biggest problem was Borden. He doubted his eighteen-year-old cat would enjoy a cross-country road trip. In the past, his editor had taken care of Borden when he was traveling. But those were mostly book tours. This was personal.

There was that crippled, old guy next door. Monty something-or-other. He’d moved in about a year ago and been reasonably friendly when they passed in the hall or by the mailbox. Once Borden had snuck out Dougal’s door when the old guy was in the hall, and he’d mentioned that he’d like to get a pet himself, if he was younger and healthier.

It was worth a shot, Dougal figured. So he headed down the hall to 5C. He knocked, then listened to the sound of the man’s cane hitting the wooden floors as his neighbor made his way to the door. With his long gray hair and scruffy beard he looked like a guy you’d cross a street to avoid.

Dougal held out his hand. “Don’t believe we’ve formally met. I’m Dougal Lachlan.”

“Monty Monroe.”

Dougal looked beyond him into the living room of the apartment. Monty’s place was pretty tidy for an older man living on his own. “I have a big favor to ask.” He explained about needing someone to feed his cat and change the litter.

“I’d be glad to. Maybe she could stay here with me while you’re gone?”

Dougal smiled. “That would be great. Thanks. Tomorrow morning okay?”

“Sure. Where are you going?”

“Road trip.”

Monty looked like he wanted to ask more questions, but Dougal cut him off, promising to drop by early the next morning with Borden and her supplies.

The rest of the day was spent making arrangements and by six o’clock Dougal had purchased a Ford Escape, packed his bags, and let his editor know about his plans.

Early the next morning he took Borden over to 5C.

Monty opened the door quicker this time, as if he’d been waiting by the door.

Dougal handed him the supplies, then wrote down his number, and the vet’s. When he unzipped the cat carrier, Borden refused to come out.

“Strange place,” Monty said. “Doesn’t smell like home. But curiosity will win out eventually.”

“If not that, then the need to pee. Where would you like me to set up her litter box?”

“Maybe here?” Monty pointed out a corner in the hallway. He stood nearby as Dougal filled the plastic box with fresh litter. “You goin’ on another of those book tours?”

“Not this time. Driving cross-country to Oregon. Maybe do some research for my next book.”

“That’s a long drive. Got family out there?”

“I grew up on the coast.” Dougal pulled out his wallet and peeled off a couple hundred. “This should see her in food and kitty litter until I get back. With some extra to thank you for your trouble.”

“Good-bye, Borden,” he called as he retreated to the hall. But Borden wouldn’t even look at him. Formal farewells weren’t her thing.

“Safe travels,” Monty said. “And don’t worry. I have everything covered.”

Within the hour, Dougal was on the Interstate, listening to John Hiatt tell him to drive south.

But Dougal was heading west.

The days were long in late May and Dougal took advantage of the extra sunlight hours, pushing through to the edge of Chicago before stopping for the night at a motel just off the highway.

First he had a shower, then feeling bone tired, he turned on the news, which was focused on a recent oil spillage. He watched for fifteen minutes until, thoroughly depressed, he turned off the TV and fell asleep.

The next day he was back on the I-80, listening to a Bob Marley CD Belinda had given him. She said he needed to “chill” and “get happy.” She had a point. Hadn’t his mother said virtually the same thing? He’d overheard her telling her friend and housecleaning partner, Stella Ward, that he was too serious. Too much like his—

She’d seen him listening. Hadn’t said the last word. But he’d filled in the blank. He was like his father.

Why couldn’t he have taken after his mother and his sister, both of whom had sunny dispositions and kind hearts? Even when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, five years ago, their innate optimism hadn’t been quenched.

“You can beat this,” Jamie had said, and Mom promised she would. Not that Dougal had been around to witness his mother’s slow and painful decline. He’d been too busy churning out his latest bestseller in the Big Apple.

Enough of the reggae beat, thank you. He switched the CD for one of Herbie Hancock’s. Another gift from Belinda. “Did you ever consider that the reason you like interviewing other people and writing their stories is so you don’t have to deal with your own issues?”

Oh, she was full of insights, Belinda.

On another occasion she’d asked him why he never talked about his family. Poor woman. She’d really believed she could find a kind, sensitive soul beneath his gruff exterior, if she could just get him to open up.

“Not much to tell,” he’d answered. But the truth was…there was too much to tell.

His mom, Katie, had been a good woman. Kind. He didn’t blame anything about his childhood on her. In fact, she’d deserved a better son than him. As an adolescent he’d been embarrassed by her, by the fact that she cleaned houses for a living, and worse, that she had a weakness for spending her Saturday nights at the local bar, dancing and chatting with men who always said they would call but never did.

And then there was dear old Pop. He’d left before Dougal started grade school, when his sister had been only a tiny bump on their mother’s small frame. They’d been lucky. Ed Lachlan had beaten his second wife to death and had only recently been released from Oregon State Penitentiary where he’d served his time.

Just like your father…

Some legacy.

chapter two

As she watched her fiancé approach, Jamie Lachlan felt like a school girl again. Silly, excited, maybe even a little nervous. Kyle Quinpool had always made her feel this way, even when she was younger and Kyle had been one of her brother’s best friends.

The group of older kids usually hung out on Driftwood Lane, or on the beach. Mostly the guys—Kyle, Dougal and Wade—ignored her. But sometimes Kyle would give her one of his smiles, as if he knew she was going to grow up and knock his socks off one day.

These days she knocked off more than his socks.

“Hey there, handsome. I missed you.” He’d been away on business in Coos Bay for a few days. She’d wanted to go with him but, as he reminded her, their wedding was in two weeks and she had lots of packing to do.

He was anxious for her to move out of her trailer and into the house with him and his children. If he’d had his way, she would have done it the day they were engaged. She wasn’t an old-fashioned sort of woman, but since the children from his previous marriage were only nine and impressionable, she gently suggested they wait.

Kyle had sulked for a week.

But that had been months ago. And now there wasn’t much waiting left to be done.

Kyle took her in his arms and kissed her. “I’ve missed you too. Ready to go?”

She was. As they passed by the mailbox he asked, “I don’t suppose you’ve heard from Dougal?”

“Nope. I guess you were right. He isn’t coming.” She tried to sound like it didn’t matter.

“Maybe it’s better this way. It’s not like he’s an important part of your life anymore.”

She wished she could dispute Kyle, but the facts spoke for themselves. When her mother was alive, they’d been lucky to see Dougal once a year—and only if they traveled to see him. Dougal never came to Twisted Cedars.

Since he’d missed their mother’s funeral, Jamie had stopped phoning and emailing, as well. And he hadn’t reached out once with an explanation for his absence.

Kyle held the door open to his black Audi SUV and she climbed into the passenger seat.

“Pretty dress,” he said.

She smiled, knowing it was the woman inside the dress he really liked. When she was younger, she’d despaired of her overly generous butt and boobs, but as a mature woman, she loved her sexy curves.

Kyle clearly did, too. Maybe because his first wife had been willowy and tall? Kyle’s first wife had once been beautiful—glamorous even, especially by Twisted Cedar’s standards. Unfortunately after the birth of the twins Daisy had developed some sort of post-partum psychosis. It was so bad, she’d been hospitalized for a while. Even when she was released, she couldn’t cope with her babies on her own.

So Kyle’s parents, Jim and Muriel Quinpool, had moved back into the family home, which fortunately was large enough to accommodate them all. But even with the extra help, Daisy couldn’t manage. After two years, the marriage finally broke down, and then, shortly after the divorce was finalized, Daisy had left town.

She’d sent an email explaining that she wanted to start a new life, and she hadn’t been heard from since.

Some women might feel slightly jealous of their fiancés ex-wife, but Jamie felt only pity for Daisy. She’d had everything, once. It was tragic the way mental illness had stripped everything away from her.

Kyle drove out of the Evergreen Trailer Park faster than the posted speed limit. There were always kids and pets running around, but Jamie held her tongue, knowing he hated a back-seat driver. She expected him to turn toward town, but he surprised her by heading north on the one-oh-one.

“What’s up?”

“I wanted us to have a quiet dinner for a change. How does the Sea House in Port Orford sound?”


Kyle had proposed to her at the Sea House. It was “their” place. She reached over to touch his cheek. His skin was so smooth he must have shaved again, to prepare for their date. How sweet that he’d wanted to please her.

She felt like she was poised at the top of a roller coaster, about to start the most thrilling ride of her life. Sometimes it scared her, how much she loved him. She couldn’t help worrying something would go wrong. She’d been programmed to think that way, she supposed. Her dad had taken off before she was born, then her brother had split as soon as he finished school. The only one she’d ever been able to count on was her mom—and even she, as sweet as she’d been—had been undependable at times.

The point was—Jamie wasn’t used to relying on people. She had to get over that.

She settled in to enjoy the drive. The one-oh-one had been carved through the rocks and the forest that made up the Oregon coastline and it wasn’t the sort of road one could drive recklessly. Two years ago Patricia and John Hammond—Daisy and her sister Charlotte’s parents—had been killed in a horrible head-on collision just before the turn-off to the Rogue River Golf and Country Club.

As they passed the spot, Jamie sent out a private prayer, but said nothing to Kyle about slowing down. Maybe he drove a little faster than she liked, but she had to admit he had complete control over the vehicle.

By the time they arrived at Port Orford, the sun looked like a golden beach ball resting on the far edge of the Pacific and the ocean shimmered with streaks of apricot, lavender and rose. They were seated at a table right by the window so they could enjoy the view. Kyle ordered wine and they chatted about the little things that had occupied them during the day, holding hands across the table. Jamie’s diamond caught the last of the brilliant rays from the setting sun and glowed as if with magical powers.

I wish, Jamie thought. I wish we could always be this happy. She supposed all brides had the same hopes and expectations at the beginning of a marriage, though not all of them were lucky enough to fall in love with a man like Kyle.

Looking at him now, she had to catch her breath. Not just because of his good looks, his blond hair, bronzed skin and sparkling green eyes. He was also a loving father and a successful businessman. Too good to be true? The best thing was—he was all hers.

Jamie moved her foot until she touched his leg. As she’d hoped he would, Kyle reached down to stroke her bare calf. She felt a pleasurable shiver and was glad she’d worn a dress, and heels, and a dab of perfume.

“I can’t wait until we’re living together,” he said.

“Sleeping together…”

“Waking up together…”

She laughed softly. “Yes. Waking up together.” They’d only had that luxury twice, when both Cory and Chester had been invited to sleepovers on the same night.

“We get so little time without my kids.”

“Don’t worry. I get it. And I love them, too, you know.” Kyle didn’t want more children, but he might change his mind, eventually. And if he didn’t, Jamie could live with that. She already had so much to be grateful for.

“I’m just so glad you all get along. Asking Cory to be a flower girl was a smart move. She’s so excited she can hardly sleep at night.”

“The dress Stella designed for her is beautiful.” Winning Cory over would be easy. His son was another matter. Chester was more guarded than his sister. Cautious. Jamie knew she had to prove to him that she was in his life to stay.

“Your children are easy to love, Kyle.”

“And so are you.” He waited as the server came to top up their wineglasses. Once they were alone again, he leaned in closer. “Have you thought about what our life will be like after the wedding?”

“You mean whether we’ll move into your house or my trailer?” When Kyle frowned, she was sorry she’d made the joke. “Just kidding. But what’s to discuss? We’ve listed my trailer for sale and I’ve already started packing.”

She would have a couple weeks to settle in to her new home, and then after school let out for the summer and the kids had gone to camp, she and Kyle would honeymoon in San Francisco.

“What about your job?” he asked.

“I’m not following.”

“I have a good income. Our expenses are low. You don’t have to keep working.”

The suggestion shouldn’t have come as such as shock. Yet, she hadn’t seen it coming, at all. “I’ve been working for as long as I can remember.” As a kid she’d delivered fliers and bagged groceries at Sam’s Market. When she was in college she’d delivered pizzas. There had never been a time in her life when she hadn’t had a job. “What would I do for money?”

Kyle touched the diamond ring on her fourth finger. “Don’t you get it? We’re going to be a family. I guarantee money won’t be a problem.”

“But I like my job.” Putting herself through college had been a struggle. So had the early years as a junior with the local CPA firm. Now, finally, she’d been promoted and was earning at a level that made all those sacrifices seem worthwhile.

“Some women find it rewarding to be home with kids. You might, too, if you gave it a try. And if you wanted something part-time, you could always take over the bookkeeping at Quinpool Realty for dad and me.”

“But Olivia’s been your accountant for years. I’d be doing her out of her job.”

“Family comes first. But you don’t have to make up your mind now. Just think about it.”

The sun had slipped away, leaving a quiet aquamarine glow in its wake.

Jamie thought about what Kyle wasn’t saying. His kids had been through a lot. Just a year ago their lives had been upset again when Kyle’s parents separated. Muriel had gone to live in Portland with her sister, while Jim had moved to the apartment above Quinpool Realty. Now the twins had to go to Nola Thompson’s house after school. Nola was a nice enough lady, but she had six children of her own. She didn’t really have the time or energy for two more.

“I want to help with Cory and Chester as much as I can. But one day I hope to be a partner at Howard & Mason.”

Kyle tapped his wine glass against hers. “Fair enough. Just thought I’d mention it.”

Books were in Charlotte Hammond’s blood, part of her heritage, the source of her livelihood, and her principle pleasure in life. When she’d finished high school, there had been no question that she would go on to study library sciences. After graduation it seemed just as natural that she should take over from her mother at the Twisted Cedars Public Library, which had been founded by her great-great grandmother back in post-Civil War days.

For the most part, Charlotte was happy with her fate. She couldn’t imagine a job more suited to her interests. And she was never bored. During lulls in activity levels she could always read—as she was doing now, thirty minutes before closing.

Charlotte had just started a new mystery series and devoured two chapters before she finally snapped out of the author’s spell. Reluctant to stop reading, she closed the book, and then slipped it into her purse so she could pick it up later at home. She went to the windows that banked the west wall where chairs and tables were arranged next to a display of magazines.

Ian Rankin had evoked Edinburgh so deftly that she almost expected to see the Scottish city when she looked out the glass pane.

But the view along Driftwood Lane was familiar. A row of small businesses and restaurants geared to meet the shopping needs of the thousand-odd residents of the town, led to the town square where two cedar trees, many hundreds of years old, grew with trunk and limbs so intertwined you could hardly tell where one ended and the other began.

Come summer, Twisted Cedar’s population would more than triple with tourists. But right now the town was sleepy, small and safe, tucked in between the ocean to the west, and redwood forest and mountains to the east.

Charlotte knew no other home. She’d been adopted by the Hammonds when she was only three-months-old, welcomed into the family to provide a sibling to her sister, Daisy. Twisted Cedars had sheltered her all these years. But since her parents’ car accident she was the only Hammond left in town and sometimes she wondered what held her here. It would be different if Daisy came back. But her sister hadn’t been heard from since she ran off seven years ago.

Kyle had hired an investigator back then. And after the death of their parents, Charlotte had tried again, as the size of the Hammond’s estate was considerable. But both times there had been no luck.

It seemed Daisy didn’t want to be found, and had either changed her identity, or was living below the radar of modern life. Daisy’s only communication with her old life—if you could call it that—were the regular five-hundred dollar withdrawals she made from the joint account their father had set up for her years ago.

The withdrawals were made from various ATMs in Sacramento, usually at night, with Daisy wearing a hat and sunglasses that obscured her face from video surveillance. Charlotte had been advised to put a hold on the account, but she couldn’t bring herself to do that.

Chances were, Daisy really needed that money. And if she was using it for alcohol, or drugs, well, Charlotte only hoped they bought her peace.

Lots of people in town judged Daisy harshly for falling apart after her children were born, and especially for deserting them. But Charlotte had sat by Daisy’s hospital bed enough to know how much her sister had suffered. Postpartum psychosis was a devastating illness—one that medical science knew far too little about.

It was just five minutes to closing now. Abigail, the full time library assistant, had left at four-thirty, and since then the library had been deserted. Charlotte doubted any new customers would be arriving now, so she began powering down the computers and turning out lights, preparing to close for the night.

Her boyfriend, Sheriff Wade MacKay would be by shortly to pick her up. She hoped he wouldn’t be late. This was her least favorite time of the day.

There was something spooky about the library when the lights went out, even in the summer. A shiver went up her spine as she imagined a man hiding in the stacks, waiting until she was all alone and vulnerable…

She knew the fear was irrational. Unfortunately, irrational fears were her specialty. Her mother put it down to the period of her life before she’d been adopted.

Of course, Charlotte couldn’t remember that far back. All she knew was that she was afraid to go into her own basement at night. Afraid of big cities and afraid of flying, too. Her parents had taken her and Daisy on a trip to Disneyland once that had sent her into a full-blown anxiety attack.

College in Portland had been a challenge, requiring daily phone calls home to her mother. Since then, she hadn’t strayed far from Twisted Cedars. The occasional shopping trip to Portland, or attendance at the Oregon Library Association’s annual conference, was the most she could manage.

Thinking of the conference reminded her she had to reply to the email from Libby Gardner. Libby was the current president of the OLA’s Executive Board, and had been a great friend of Charlotte’s mother. She had invited Charlotte to make a presentation at this year’s conference. “Revitalizing the Small Town Library,” or something to that effect.

Charlotte went to her desk and opened up the message. “I’ll think about it, Libby,” she typed, then hit “send.”

But she wouldn’t. She’d wait a week or two, then send her regrets. Out-of-town trips were tough enough without compounding them with public speaking commitments.

A chime sounded from the main door, and Wade Mackay walked in, his large frame and clean-cut good looks a familiar and welcome sight.

He’d first asked her out about a week after Kyle Quinpool and Jamie Lachlan announced their engagement. The timing had not been a coincidence, she suspected. Which made her second choice. But she didn’t mind.

She really liked Wade. Sweet and kind and trustworthy—he was a good friend, and if things continued to go well between them, she knew he’d make a dependable husband, too. They hadn’t yet made love. So whether sex was going to happen, and whether it would be any good, was still a question mark. But the kisses were nice. That was a positive sign.

One thing was for sure. Her parents would have approved of the match. What better suitor for their fearful daughter than the local Sheriff?

“Ready for our big night out in Twisted Cedars?” Wade teased.

“I suppose I can tear myself away from my books for a few hours.”

They kissed—just a light peck, a form of hello—then he took the key from her and locked the door, testing the handle before returning the key. Wade was meticulous about matters of security, which she appreciated. He was chivalrous, too. He took her arm in his, considerately matching his longer stride to hers as they headed for the Linger Longer.

They didn’t need to discuss their plans, since every Friday was the same. It was sort of comforting, knowing exactly what the evening ahead would hold.

A pub meal followed by a few beers and a game of pool. He’d walk her home and kiss her again at the front door.

Another woman would probably want more passion, but not Charlotte. Just like adventures and mysteries, Charlotte suspected that romance was safest when contained between book covers.

End of Excerpt

Buried is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-0-9878613-3-7

May 8, 2024

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