Excerpt from The Madd Mountain Murders by Lana Waite, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Madd Mountain Murders

by Lana Waite

The Madd Mountain Murders
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    Feb 2004, 246 pages

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I don’t think so, Jake.

So—first thing—I negotiated the use of the old family cabin instead of agreeing to stay at the lodge. The lodge was awesome but the cabin was cozy, and it felt like home. Jake had owned it forever, long before he bought Tall Trees. It was where my family had vacationed, and now it seemed like the perfect place to stay. It was a mile away from the lodge, on the road that led to Madd Mountain Ski Area. In his heart, Jake would understand my choice. He went there himself from time to time, to hide from hotel bustle. And that was what I wanted to do—hide out, escape, not be on call twenty-four hours a day, and—most important—not be where Ella could grab me any time she felt the need to nag and be generally unpleasant.

Second thing—I planned to show up a day early. I’d told Jake I’d arrive Tuesday but I’d get there Monday. It would give me time to settle in. And maybe time to take a lovely, quiet walk in some snow. A storm was due.

The best laid plans…

It was only November, and the storm that arrived was too warm for snow. Instead it produced torrential rain. Turbulent, wet, sloppy stuff, it drummed on the roof and whiffled down the windshield of my old car as I drove through the town of Cougar Pass at seven p.m. I watched for the well-remembered fork in the road. The left-hand choice would lead to the timbered gateway of Tall Trees Lodge. If I turned in there I’d see an imposing old stone hotel—turrets, mullioned windows, massive oak doors—standing in front of a towering cliff. I’d see the gaping black hole of Ezra’s Cave in the cliff face. I’d hear the muted roar of the river behind the hotel. It was all very wonderful but that wasn’t what I wanted tonight.

So at the fork I turned upmountain and watched for the old wooden mailbox that marked the footbridge over the creek and the short path to the cabin. On its side would be faded white letters that spelled SPEER, Jake’s last name. And my mother’s maiden name until she married James O’Connor. Maren O’Connor, that’s me, unattached at forty-plus and pretty much O.K. with that.

The mailbox appeared through the murk, and with it the cabin’s parking space alongside the road. As I pulled in and stopped the engine the rain became a deluge. Wind whistled, water twisted in channels down the windshield, and trees dipped and bent beyond it. The old bridge that spanned the creek and led to the cabin was barely visible. I squinted through the gloom and plotted the trip from car to cabin. How many sprints to move a suitcase, a bag of groceries, and a box of San Francisco frozen specialties? I’d be wet as a channel swimmer by that time. Maybe if I waited…

Bad idea. It might get worse. It might last for an hour. Who knew? Grabbing keys, purse, and the suitcase, I splashed across the footbridge to the shelter of the porch. I shook off some water and fumbled for the old house key I’d had for so long. It slid into the lock, then I stopped in surprise. The door swung open at my touch. Not only was it not locked, it had not been completely shut.

Without even thinking, I moved aside and put my back against the wall beside the door. Why do hollow, black doorways always seem menacing? Too many scary movies? Too many crime shows? Or—tonight—was it the weather? Whatever the cause, I could feel a pulse begin a strong beat in my throat and wasn’t that nonsense? There was nothing to be afraid of. No one was lying in wait for me because no one knew I was arriving. And Jake had said the cabin was empty so people weren’t asleep inside. I was being stupid.

I moved to the edge of the doorway, reached around the doorframe, and turned on a light switch. The redwood-paneled room was empty. Of course! I stepped inside. And all the hair on my arms stood straight up!

From The Madd Mountain Murders by Lana Waite. Copyright 2004 Lana Waite.  All rights reserved.

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