Crooked Lane Books: April 13, 2021
In hardcover, ebook, and audio!
From the cover:
When four women separated by tragedy reunite at a lakeside Montana lodge, murder forces them to confront everything they thought they knew about the terrifying accident that tore them apart, in Agatha Award-winning author Alicia Beckman’s suspense debut.
Twenty-five years ago, during a celebratory weekend at historic Whitetail Lodge, Sarah McCaskill had a vision. A dream. A nightmare. When a young man was killed, Sarah’s guilt over having ignored the warning in her dreams devastated her. Her friendships with her closest friends, and her sister, fell apart as she worked to build a new life in a new city. But she never stopped loving Whitetail Lodge on the shores of Bitterroot Lake.
Now that she’s a young widow, her mother urges her to return to the lodge for healing. But when she arrives, she’s greeted by an old friend–and by news of a murder that’s clearly tied to that tragic day she’ll never forget.
And the dreams are back, too. What dangers are they warning of this time? As Sarah and her friends dig into the history of the lodge and the McCaskill family, they uncover a legacy of secrets and make a discovery that gives a chilling new meaning to the dreams. Now, they can no longer ignore the ominous portents from the past that point to a danger more present than any of them could know.
What Sarah remembered most about that day twenty-five years ago were the sounds.
The words that twisted Lucas’s full lips, that ripped away all the innocence of the weekend, that scraped her to the bone even still.
Janine sobbing, rasping for breath.
Lucas revving the engine of the little red sports car, grinding the gears as he pulled away from the lodge. Michael and Jeremy yelling, then jumping in as they tried to keep him from certain disaster.
The tires squealing on the highway. Metal crumpling. An animal bellowing.
And all of it echoing off the rocks and water and mountains, drowning out the birdsong and the chirping squirrels and the laughter of people at play on the lake. Winding through the spruce and pine and piercing her in the gut.
The siren. Jeremy moaning, strapped to the gurney, its wheels snapping as the EMTs loaded him into the ambulance. The doors slamming shut. The ambulance screeching back toward town.
Did they cry, the girls left to watch and wait? Scream, shout? They must have. She didn’t remember.
Fear and terror, and grievous loss, erase every other sense, wiping the memory blank, leaving time as clean and empty as her grandmother’s ironstone dishes. As she had too recently been reminded.
A light glowed in the window of the far cabin, the cabin closest to the lake.
Sarah McCaskill Carter squinted and tightened her lips. She was seeing things again. She’d thought that once she came home to Montana, to Whitetail Lodge, the apparitions, the ghosts, the specters—whatever they were—would go away. That she would be herself once again. Although the therapist in Seattle had told her it might take months, or longer, to feel she was back on solid ground. Everyone responds to grief differently, the woman had said, in their own way, on their own time.
The light was gone. Sarah blew out a breath and took her foot off the brake, aiming the rented SUV down the last stretch of the winding lane that led to the lodge. She touched the gas and focused on the road. Deer, even elk and the occasional moose, were known to jump out of the shadows that filled these woods, especially when twilight was fading. She knew what damage they could cause, to a car and to a life.
She glanced back at the cabin. The light was on.
“Get a grip, girl,” she said out loud. “Or your next trip will be to the funny farm.”
Moments later, her headlights hit the double doors of the carriage house. Even in the fading light, the roof appeared to be sagging and the siding dull, in need of oil. Less schlepping if she parked in front of the lodge. But high winds and evening rainstorms were common in the mountains, and it was better to be safe and sore than sorry.
Wait. Was one door ajar?
“Don’t get spooked,” she told herself. “It’s just loose. There’s no one here.” When her mother asked her help getting the lake place ready for the summer and making a plan for the future, she’d warned her that the lodge needed serious cleaning. Sarah could deal with that. She’d dealt with worse than a little dirt.
Even so, her mother would have expected her to stop by the house in town first.
Not yet. Sarah could not stomach the thought of staying in Seattle one more minute, but she wasn’t ready to be smothered by mother love.
Tomorrow. She’d call her mother tomorrow and let her know she was here.
The words “better safe . . .” echoed in her brain. It had been seventeen days since her husband’s death, and she had not felt safe for one minute.
Nothing in reach might double as a weapon. She stepped out of the car, leaving the engine running. Opened the rear door and dug in her suitcase for her heavy black flashlight, its heft a comfort.
The ten-foot-high garage door groaned at her touch, then slid open with a squeal. Her headlights picked out a white van, mud-splashed, Missoula County plates reading CKLDY.
She caught her breath. It had to be—it couldn’t be anyone else.
But why was the woman here?
“Janine?” Sarah called into the darkness. No answer. She tried the driver’s door. Locked. Circled the van, straining to see in each window. Empty, as far as she could tell. Touched a muddy tire. Fresh. Laid a palm on the hood—not hot, not cold.
What was going on? She slid open the other door, then pulled her SUV inside. She’d come back for her bags later.
The lodge loomed, tall and dark, casting deep shadows over the circular drive. She strode past the stone steps of the front porch, aiming for the forest path that led to the three log cabins. The evening clouds had begun to part, but there was no moon, leaving only the last hint of twilight to guide her.
It was enough. Her feet knew the way, and she didn’t want to telegraph her presence with a stray flashlight beam. Because who knew why her old friend was here, or if she was alone? With all the time and distance between them, Sarah could not count on being welcomed, even though this property belonged to her family.
Between the first two cabins, she paused to gaze out at Bitterroot Lake, listening to the waves lapping on the shore. Its waters ran deep, frigid even in summer. Now, not quite mid-May, the lake could be deadly.
Her steps slowed. She paused and took a deep breath, intent on the last cabin. The curtains had been pulled tight, but a soft glow leaked out, and she could see a battery-powered lantern on the windowsill. Whitetail Lodge and its grounds had been a haven and retreat since early in the twentieth century, when a railroad tycoon built the lodge as a summer home. Her family had acquired the property—several hundred acres and a long stretch of lakeshore—in 1922. Her mother would have told her if any cabins were occupied.
No, this visitor had come here on the sly. Sarah did not begrudge the refuge or the intrusion. But she deserved to know the reason.
She strode to the weathered pine door. One foot on the path, the other on the stone step, she raised her hand and knocked. Heard the silence within. Knocked a second time.
“Janine? It’s Sarah Carter. Sarah McCaskill Carter.”
Silence, then footsteps, followed by a soft sound—a meow?
The door opened a few inches, a narrow swath of light playing on the worn wood floor. Janine Chapman peered around the edge of the door, gripping it with both hands. Her dark eyes were huge and red-rimmed, her olive skin tear-splotched. Was that blood on her white T-shirt?
“Lucas Erickson is dead,” she said. “And they’re going to think I did it.”
And with those words, all the ghosts in Sarah Carter’s past came back to life.