Welcome to this week’s edition of the Midweek Tease. With only 17 days until Christmas Eve, I find myself running around like a chicken with my head cut off! The house is finally decorated, many of the gifts purchased, and now it’s a matter of wrapping and stuffing stockings as well as preparing the food we’ll eat that day.
Today, I’m pleased to bring you another excerpt from Desert Deception, my new release, available in both digital and paperback version. If you are part of the KDP Select, you can read it for free.
Seeing is believing, or is it?
When high-powered Santa Fe attorney Casey Stevens reluctantly returns to Fortune for Gold Rush Days, she is drawn to Cole Walker Junior, but he is no longer the shy, quiet boy she recalls. Then again, Cole isn’t the only one who has changed. The town may be celebrating its past, but someone is trying to destroy its future. A hit and run accident leaves Fortune’s only lawyer in a coma, forcing Casey to choose between helping innocent people and running away once more. Can she face the demons of her past or will they destroy her this time?
Cole Warner has a secret identity, one he’s determined to protect at all costs. The police officer, volunteer firefighter, and part-time store owner, is also popular western novelist, CJ Coleson, who uses Fortune and its people as the inspiration for his books. Having Casey walk into his life turns it upside down. When someone starts using the murders in Cole’s books to stage a killing spree of their own, keeping his secret may be too costly, but admitting the truth could ruin any chance they have for a happily ever after.
As the bodies pile up and the buildings burn down, Casey and Cole have to work together to stop a madman with gold fever before more people die. The answer lies on Superstition Mountain or is it all a desert deception?
Here’s this week’s tease. Enjoy!
Cole carried the copy of Black Widow back to the cash and set it down next to the other two.
“It’s amazing we don’t find more damn fools out there with broken necks. Superstition Mountain and the wilderness are dangerous at the best of times, but around those old mines, the ground’s unstable. Some of those pits were holes in the ground they’ve just backfilled.” He shook his head. “Ever since those guys dry-panned a small fortune in gold nuggets last summer after the quake, we’ve had more and more prospectors coming through town, desperate to hit it rich. The campground’s still overflowing, just as it’s been despite the hot summer we’ve had. I guess there’s still no cure for gold fever.”
“Unfortunately, no, nor for stupidity, and I think it takes more than a little of both to go off into the mountains when the temperature’s well above one hundred and ten degrees in the shade, if you can find any. The quake really shook things up, and then those two days of rain … Those nuggets could’ve come from anywhere, including the Skansen mines. It’s a real shame, but it all comes down to greed no matter how you sugarcoat it. I’ve had Eddy Ramos in complaining at least a dozen times in the last two months. Sometimes he doesn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders, but he’s incensed about this. It seems people are trespassing all over the place, and he wants me to make an example of them.”
“Of course he does. Just because he’s the company’s CEO doesn’t mean he actually has to do anything, like posting signs or hiring more security.”
“Security costs money, and if he can get us to do it for free…” He shook his head. “No matter how many no trespassing signs Skansen Mining posts, if someone wants to get into the mine, they will.” Hal frowned and huffed out a frustrated breath. “I talked to Ms. Minerva a couple of months ago when he came to me the first time and asked her to consider cementing the entrances to those old shafts, but she refused. She’s got this thing about the historical significance of the area and her legacy. Eddy’s on my side, claims keeping the shafts the way they do costs them a fortune in liability insurance. He’s looking into solar-powered security cameras, but so far that hasn’t happened. He mentioned selling off some of the excess land and a few of the unpatented mining claims from the early strikes.”
“Eddy can say that all he wants, but we both know he can’t do it. He may have the title of CEO, but when it comes right down to it, Ms. Minerva runs that company, and everyone knows it. She won’t part with as much as a grain of sand. I don’t understand why she hasn’t cut him off. When she dies, he’ll blow through that money like a hot knife through butter.”
“I agree.” Hal tipped back his Stetson and leaned against the counter. “He’s got two ex-wives to support, only because he was smart enough not to marry the others. He’s moved in with Minerva, claims it’s his responsibility to watch out for her, but my guess is his latest skirt gave him the heave-ho and kicked him out of that fancy condominium, and his aunt is too damn nice to do the same.”
Cole chuckled and rubbed his chin. “That man just doesn’t learn.” He frowned. “When does the anthropologist think Leon died?”
“Twelve to fifteen months ago, probably closer to twelve. That’s about the time of the quake, so it’s possible the mountain shook him off, just like it did those nuggets. The animals had lots of time to scatter his remains, but the jeans kept most of his lower half intact.”
Cole shook his head. “Got to hand it to denim for durability. I figured, given the shape of the bones, they’d been out there for years. Didn’t anyone report him missing?”
“Apparently not. Since we have no proof Leon’s death was anything but an unfortunate accident, Apache Junction PD have taken over the case, but they’ve run into a little problem.”
“What’s the issue?”
“According to government records, Leon’s living in Apache Junction and still collecting his pension and social security. His bank account’s been active—rent paid, regular withdrawals made—but that’s damn hard to do when you’re scattered all over hell’s half acre.”
“Are we looking at identity theft?” he frowned.
“Maybe, but he’d have to be one brave son of a bitch to move into the guy’s apartment. No. They’ve found family—a nephew you might know—Trent Gibbs.”
“That’s a name I haven’t heard in awhile. He was never one of my favorite people. Obviously he and his uncle weren’t close if he didn’t even know the man was missing.” The idea the poor old guy might’ve lain there alive but injured, before eventually succumbing to the heat and lack of water, twisted his gut.
“Can’t be sure of that. Gibbs works for Skansen Mining, and they want me to have a talk with him—see what I think of the guy. The police have called the bank and have put a hold on the account. Apparently there’s a safety deposit box, too. AJPD will get a warrant for it and follow up with the landlady, see when she saw him last or at least describe the person who’s been using the apartment. Trent works for Skansen Mining, so I’ll go over there and talk to him tomorrow.”
“From what I remember of him, Trent wasn’t exactly Mr. Reliability.” Cole scratched his head. “I can’t see him going out of his way to help anyone. He looks after Number One, and that’s it. Mom told me his wife finally got fed up with his antics, took the kids, and went back to her family somewhere in the Midwest, I think. What does he do at Skansen’s?”
“He’s their head accountant.”
Cole burst out laughing. “Seriously?”
“As I recall, he and Eddy were thick as thieves in school, which is probably how he got the job, but he’s the last man I’d put in charge of my books. Hell, if I shook hands with him, I would count my fingers afterwards and check for my watch. He almost got kicked out of school for taking bets on the high school football team.” Using the electronic scanner, he totaled the sale. “I realize this was labelled an accident, but it’s possible whoever’s using that money knows what really happened. Maybe they had something to do with his fall.”
“True enough, but unless someone confesses to the crime, we’d never be able to make a murder charge stick. Not enough evidence.”
Cole shook his head. “And they say there’s no such thing as the perfect crime.”
Want to read more? Desert Deception is available from all Amazon retailers.
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