Home > Murder at Sunrise Lake(2)

Murder at Sunrise Lake(2)
Author: Christine Feehan

Dressing in her favorite pair of jeans and a comfortable tee, she pulled on a sweater and her boots before braiding her hair. She didn’t dry it if she could help it, and since she rarely wore makeup or dressed up when she actually had a day off, she was ready to go in minutes.

“Bailey, I can’t believe you’re still sleeping. Get up, you lazy animal.” She put her hands on her hips and tried to look stern as she regarded the large Airedale still curled up in his dog bed right beside her bed.

Bailey’s eyes opened and he looked at her and then around the room, noting the darkness, as if to say she was out of her mind for getting up so early. Heaving a sigh, the dog got to his feet and followed her through the spacious house to the front door. On the porch, she hesitated at the door. She had stopped locking her door or setting the alarm some time ago, but lately, that crawling feeling down her spine was back. The churning in her stomach started all over again. Bailey waited patiently for her to make up her mind.

Stella knew it was ridiculous to stand in front of her door like a loon. She made decisions all the time. It was just that giving in to her fears was like going backward, and she’d promised herself she would never do that. She stood there indecisively, staring at the thick, carved door for another full minute before making up her mind.

Locking the door, she set the alarm, furious with herself that she’d given in to the nightmares and unrelenting terror that could consume her when she was asleep. Fear crept up on her unawares, and slowly but surely took over until she was caught up in things best left alone. If she was going to actually acknowledge that a murder was going to take place in her beloved Sierras, no one was going to help with investigations this time. The killer would make it look like an accident. She didn’t have dreams unless the murderer was a serial killer, which meant he would kill again. Accidents happened all the time in the Sierras.

There would be no gossip, no whispers or rumors. Before, she’d hated that, the way everywhere she went, murder had been the topic of conversation. Now, if she wanted to stop a killer, she would have to ask the right questions herself. Several of her friends were involved with Search and Rescue. She knew the medical examiner. Maybe she could figure out a reason to ask questions that would make sense and at the same time raise suspicion that the death wasn’t an accident.

Stella deliberately avoided the marina and walked in the dark to reach the family pier. This dock was not one the original owners drove their boat to— they used the marina’s piers for that. This one was private, one to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets, just as she was doing now. The dock had been positioned perfectly to catch the beauty of the mountains mirrored in the lake as the sun rose or set. She never got tired of the view.

She was so familiar with the layout of the grounds that she barely needed the small penlight as she maneuvered the narrow path that took her away from the main buildings, the small grocery store, the bait shop, the collection of cabins and the play areas designated for children and game areas for adults.

The trail took her behind the campsites and RV sites to an even narrower path that led through a pile of boulders and into a heavily forested area. Once through the trees, she was back to the shoreline. It seemed like a ridiculous place to put a pier, but she liked the peace when she needed it most— like now. Tourists didn’t know the way to reach the pier, and that meant precious solitude when she had a few hours— or a day to herself.

Fall had arrived, and with it the glorious colors that only the Eastern Sierras could cloak her with. She loved every season in the Sierras, but fall was definitely a favorite. The cooler weather after the summer heat was always welcome. There was still fishing, and tourists were still coming, but things were slowing down so she could take a breath. Climbing was still a possibility, and she loved climbing.

Then there was just the sheer beauty of the blazing reds, all the various shades, from crimson to a flat, almost purple-red on the leaves of many of the trees. The oranges were the same, all the varying shades. She hadn’t known there were so many shades, subtle to brilliant orange, golds and yellows, the colors vying for attention even among the varying greens, until she came to the Eastern Sierras.

The mountains rose above the lake; forests of trees pressed together so tightly they seemed impenetrable from a distance. The mountains stretched for miles, canyons and rivers, amazing forests and scarred, beautiful rock found nowhere else. This was the place of legends, and she had come to love it and the ever-changing landscape.

Stella sat on the end of the thick planks making up the pier and stared out over the water of the icy lake. Fed by the high mountain rivers and snowpack, Sunrise Lake was a huge bowl of deep sapphire-colored water. A light breeze ruffled the surface, but for the most part, the water gleamed like glass. Sometimes the incomparable beauty of this place stole her breath. It didn’t seem to matter what time of year it was, the lake and surrounding mountains always had such elegance and majesty to them.

Bailey curled up beside her, close, the way he always did when she sat on the end of the pier. He went right back to sleep, never knowing how long she planned to sit, waiting for the sun to come up. She wished Bailey could talk so she could at least have someone to sound out important things with— like murder— but when she’d tried, the dog gave her a look like she’d lost her mind and shoved his face in her lap, inviting her to scratch his ears. Taking advantage. That was her beloved Bailey.

There was no warning. A hand touched her shoulder and she nearly threw herself forward off the dock into the lake. Bailey didn’t even look up or make a sound. The hand caught her in a firm grip before she could tumble off the pier. She turned her head to glare up at the man towering over her. Sam Rossi was one of those men who could walk in absolute silence. Sometimes, like now, he freaked her out. He was too rough to call gorgeous, with his chiseled masculine features, all angles and planes. His jaw was always covered in a dark shadow that never was a beard, yet never was shaved. He rarely smiled, if ever, and when he did, that smile never quite reached his arctic-cold eyes.

He had a body on him. Wide shoulders. Thick chest. Lots of muscle. He was strong. She knew because she employed him as a handyman and he had to do all sorts of jobs that required unbelievable strength. He had to have knowledge of boats, carpentry, fishing, climbing and most outdoor activities, and so far, he hadn’t let her down once.

He had scars. Lots of them. He took his shirt off when it was hot as hell and he had to work outside. Not so much when there were others around, usually only her, or when he was a good distance from others, but she’d seen the scars, and those scars weren’t pretty. They weren’t the kinds of scars one acquired in a car accident. It looked like the skin had been flayed from his back. He’d been shot more than once. He had a few knife scars, for certain. She hadn’t looked closely. She’d made it a point not to stare, although she’d wanted to. She’d never asked and he’d never volunteered an explanation.

“Quit sneaking up on me,” she snapped irritably as she reached for the coffee he had in his other hand, clearly meant for her.

He pulled the to-go mug out of reach and sat down, Bailey between them, ignoring her outstretched hand.

“Sam.” She practically growled his name. He couldn’t bring the aroma of her favorite brew and then withhold it.

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