Cold Case Christmas

By: Jessica R. Patch

Secrets lie buried in ice...

One of them can kill her.

Home for Christmas after her long-missing mother’s body is found, nothing will keep Nora Livingstone from uncovering the truth about the cold case. Especially not Deputy Sheriff Rush Buchanan, whom she once loved and left. Even when threats become attempts on her life, Rush can’t dissuade her—but he will protect her. Because someone is determined to bury the truth...or bury Nora.





The only sound was the snow crunching under their feet.

Nora leaned into Rush as they walked to the cabin.

Crack!

The gunshot sprayed the snow a foot from them.

Someone had been lying in wait, Rush realized. To get her. To get them.

“Run!” When Nora obeyed his command, he ushered her behind a tree.

Another shot fired, this one splintering the bark, and he fired back. Grabbing Nora’s hand, he hauled her into the woods with him.

When they’d made it deep inside, the firing stopped.

“Now what do we do?” Nora asked, her panting breath coming out in plumes in the cold night.

Either the shooter had given up...or he was tracking them quietly. Stalking them.

“We double back to the chalet and call for backup,” he told her.

But his deputy sheriff’s mind reeled with the potential danger. With a list of potential suspects. Someone had planned this attack carefully. Could be anyone. Nora’s mother had had a slew of deadly secrets...

And now one of them was out to get Nora.






The name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.

—Proverbs 18:10





To the lonely and fearful hearts. God sees. He knows. He loves you and is always for you. Stand firm in your faith and trust He’s working on your behalf. Perfect love casts out all fear.

As always, thank you to...

my brainstorming partner and rough draft reader, Susan Tuttle; my wonderful agent, Rachel Kent; and my brilliant editor, Shana Asaro. It takes a village to birth a book. Thank you for being my village!

Special thanks to: Michael Fagin at West Coast Weather for helping me with the forensic meteorology portion of the story. Any mistakes or stretches I made for fictional purposes are all on me! You were wonderful to talk to and provided a plethora of information. I appreciate your time in answering all of my questions thoroughly and professionally.






ONE


A country a version of “Holly Jolly Christmas” played inside Chief Deputy Sheriff Rush Buchanan’s Bronco. His coffee steamed from the insulated thermos and sleet pelted his windshield. Blue lights flashed and cast eerie shadows over Shepherd Rock Lake. Wind jostled his vehicle as he slid his hands into his lambskin gloves. Nothing about this moment was “holly” or “jolly.”

He opened the door and braved the nasty weather. East Tennessee had its perks, though. Splendor Pines was the gateway to the gorgeous Smoky Mountains, capped in white at the moment. But now, in the darkness, with the mountains shadowing the horizon, everything appeared sinister, especially with the headlights shining on the rusted and mud-caked car they’d dragged from the lake.

The crunching of tires on gravel turned Rush’s attention from the car and the pit in his gut. Sherriff Troy Parsons parked beside him and climbed out. He frowned and flipped his collar over his ears. “Well?” he asked in his gruff voice.

“It’s a Jaguar. Deputy Tate ran the plates. It’s hers.”

Troy grunted. Rush didn’t need to expound. Marilyn Livingstone had driven a Jaguar and she’d been missing since Christmas Eve seventeen years ago.

“Remains inside?”

“Skeletal. I think DNA is going to confirm it.”

“Any other remains?”

“No.”

Troy cocked his head, studied the vehicle dripping with water and debris. “Theories?”

Rush had plenty. But speculating aloud wasn’t smart. Especially with the small crowd that had gathered. He moved closer to Troy, his mentor and father figure after Dad became a shell of the man he once was. “I know rumors say she ran off with a man that Christmas Eve.” One of many she’d been whispered to have had affairs with. Not all were lies. Rush had witnessed it with his own eyes on the very night Marilyn vanished. Only Troy knew his secret.

Troy hunched in the cold and rolled his toothpick around lips that were hidden by a dark mustache and beard. “You want to call the Livingstones? Or would you rather not deal with talking to the eldest daughter?”

“You can say her name.” Nora. The woman Rush thought he was going to marry. Then Marilyn went missing and metaphorically, so did Nora. She retreated into herself and broke things off just before she left for college. Rush sighed, took his flashlight and trudged through the snow to the car. A crime scene tech was photographing and collecting materials. “Find anything?”

“A round, silver cuff link and partial remains of a man’s masquerade mask.”

Could they have belonged to the man Rush had seen Marilyn with that night? He turned to Troy. “How do you want to proceed?”

“I don’t know why she’d be out this far from home with the biggest event of the year going on, but it turned into a tragic accident. Pretty cut-and-dried, don’t you think?”

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