I am so excited to announce the upcoming release of my eleventh novel, Up In The Pines, on June 23, 2017! This book has been two long years in the making, and I can’t wait to share it with you all. The eBook is available for Preorder on Amazon, and will be available in paperback format on release day. Learn more about the book below!
Deep in the mountains of Montana, Deputy Lark Galloway discovers a body. Despite being nothing more than bones, she connects the remains to a resident who disappeared twenty years earlier. As she unravels the dead man’s history to solve his murder, someone tries desperately to throw her off the scent. Meanwhile, famed Hollywood screenwriter Sawyer Matheson returns to town to escape his cheating fiancé, only to find himself at the heart of Lark’s investigation. Sparks fly as things heat up between Lark and Sawyer, but nothing can prepare her for the earth-shattering truth behind the body in the pines.
The inspiration for this book hit me two years ago while I was listening to a beautiful song by Ray LaMontagne. I was so swept up by the imagery in the song that I knew I just had to write something about wild, untamed forests of sky-high pine trees…
Armed with the setting in mind, I set out to craft a story filled with romance and mystery. Out of that grew the fictional town of Eden Falls, Montana, nestled in the mountains of Missoula County. Lark Galloway, the lead character, came to life in my mind first–a serious, dedicated deputy sheriff with Montana in her blood and a distaste for lies and gossip. The cold case she sets out to solve proves to be far more disturbing than even she was prepared for.
Her love interest and childhood crush, award-winning screenwriter Sawyer Matheson, is Eden Falls’ claim to fame, despite having left town a decade earlier in pursuit of his dreams in Los Angeles. He returns to Eden Falls to escape his cheating fiance, and is caught up in the middle of the town’s first real murder investigation. Upon learning the identity of the victim, he realizes the murder may be tied to his own mother, who abandoned him and his father when he was a young teenager. He starts hanging around Lark, scoping for information, and the sparks fly in more ways than one.
Read below for a sneak peek of the book, and check back for more sneak peeks and a couple of other big announcements! Happy Spring everyone!
“The body’s this way.”
Deputy Sheriff Lark Galloway stepped nimbly over a fallen tree trunk carpeted with moss, her weathered hiking boots sinking into the rich soil beyond. Faded pine needles and the skeletal remains of pine cones littered the forest floor and crunched beneath her feet.
“You sure you remember the way?” she asked, her breathing practiced and consistent as she navigated the terrain. Her length of dark brown hair was swept back in a neat tail, clear of a long face made masculine by smooth angles and a notable cleft in her chin.
The young man adorned in flashy new L.L. Bean outerwear that she followed wasn’t nearly as capable. He huffed and puffed and shivered with what she imagined were more nerves than a chill, though the October air did have a distinct bite to it. Pieces of black hair poked out from beneath his bright red beanie, a sharp contrast to the pasty white of his face.
He gave a curt nod. “Yep. It was right up here.” He paused, his eyes scanning the expanse of trees. “Somewhere…”
Lark stopped beside him, her hand lowering instinctually to her holstered pistol as she followed his gaze. “You said you found it near a damaged tree?”
“Yeah. The tree looked like it’d been struck by lightning or something.” He glanced up as a light mist began to fall, scrunching his face against the wetness. “Oh, great.”
“Let’s keep moving.” Lark urged him onward, wondering if he was leading her on a wild goose chase. She never knew what to expect with tourists, but generally they were as green as the pines were tall. “Keep an eye out for bears. It’s nearing dusk.”
He faltered. “You really think we’ll run into one?”
She regarded him through heavy-lidded jade eyes, unamused by his lack of preparedness. “This is their home you’re intruding upon, Mr. Lowry. You’d do well to remember that.”
He gulped, but nodded before continuing.
As they walked, she felt the sick feeling in her gut grow stronger. When Kevin Lowry had shown up at the sheriff’s department in a panic declaring he had discovered a body in the woods, she hadn’t really believed him. It was common for tourists’ imaginations to run wild while on a hike through the desolate forests of Montana, leading them to believe they had seen all manner of odd things. She thought she had heard it all. Of course, no one had ever claimed to have found a body before.
In her eight years as a deputy sheriff, the worst she had dealt with were drunk locals starting bar fights and the occasional domestic dispute. She had been trained to handle more, but in the tidy mountain communities of Missoula County life was often quiet and predictable. It suited her, as she valued the constant and the familiar. But every once in a while, she found herself craving a little more excitement.
She was seriously regretting that desire now.
There was a distinct change in the air, like she had walked through an invisible wall. The atmosphere was heavier, charged with an electricity that prickled the hairs on the back of her neck. Whatever caused it had her instincts on high alert. They screamed at her to run, to flee to safety. It was exactly the sort of feeling she imagined animals got when they scented the death of one of their own.
Only this wasn’t a smell. It was a sensation. A sudden, tremulous shiver that told her this was the site of something terrible. Something tragic and wrong.
At that moment, she saw the tree several yards in the distance. The lightning bolt had severed the trunk neatly down the center, carving a vertical line of exposed bark. The light amber wood stood out like a flame among the sea of charcoal gray trunks.
Kevin pointed. “There it is!”
He took off at a run, leaving her no choice but to race after him. Adrenaline pumped in her veins, joined by a horrible sense of dread. Her finely tuned body seemed to pull her back, advising her to stay away from her destination. Her equally focused mind wouldn’t let her.
“Stand back, Mr. Lowry,” she ordered just before he reached the tree. He doubled over, panting as he pointed once again, this time at the forest floor.
“It’s there. See it? Sticking up out of the ground.”
She did see it. Tucked into the bed of needles and cones was the perfectly rounded skull of a human being. Beside it, what she imagined to be rib bones and perhaps a leg or arm jutted up out of the earth. One look at the jagged slope of the ground had her determining that rainwater must have exposed the grave some time ago.
Kevin inched closer, his hands shoved deep inside the pockets of his jacket. “See? Told you I wasn’t crazy.”
Lark ignored him and knelt beside the bones, careful not to disturb them as she took a closer look. She was no expert, but she’d wager they had been buried for a very, very long time.
“Who do you think they were?” Kevin wondered aloud.
Lark reached for her radio and motioned for him to stand back. Just as she was about to call her partner to give him her location, she spotted the hole on the front of the skull. Her eyes narrowed as she lowered her radio and shifted closer, needing to confirm what she saw. Though her fingers itched to examine the neat, half-inch diameter circle cut through the yellowed bone, years of training had her resisting. Instead, she rested back on her heels and released a long, unsteady breath.
Kevin’s shaky voice broke the silence. “Wait, is that a bullet hole?”
Not willing to confirm or deny it, Lark raised the radio to her lips.
“Russ, come in.”
“Hear ya loud and clear, Sparky. Go ahead.”
Lark rolled her eyes at her partner’s nickname for her. “I’ve got possible human remains up here on Heller Ridge. Request back up.”
“Hot damn. So the tourist wasn’t kidding, huh?”
“Just get your ass out here.”
“Ten-four. On my way.”
Clipping her radio back onto her belt, Lark refocused on the pile of neglected and weathered bones. She felt the first stab of remorse hit her like an ice pick to the stomach.
There was no doubt in her mind that this person, whoever they were, had been shot point blank in the head. Murdered in cold blood, right in the heart of her forest. At that moment, the how and the why of it were unimportant. She simply took the time to ponder the heavy weight of death and how it would inevitably shake up the remote mountain town she’d been sworn to protect.
Murder, it seemed, had come to leave its mark on Eden Falls, Montana.