Goody Goody Gunshots

When Abby Shaw witnesses a stranger gunned down on the highway, she’s convinced that she’s seen a murder. The only problem is, when she returns to the scene with the police, there’s no body. Even elbow-deep in hot syrup, Abby still gets chills thinking about it, and is determined to find out the truth—yet when a body does turn up, days later, wishy-washy witnesses make things sticky.It’s not as if Abby can take her sweet time figuring it out—she’s busy running Divinity, training a new employee, and assistant-coaching her nephews’ basketball team, not to mention reconnecting with an old friend.But she discovers things aren’t always as they seem, especially when it comes to keeping deadly secrets…

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(copyrighted material)

CHAPTER ONE

A chill November wind howled outside the windows of my car as I pulled into the drive outside my brother’s old farm house. Lights spilled from the windows, making the house look warm and welcome, and I allowed myself a moment’s regret that I wouldn’t be going inside. In the distance, the Colorado Rockies formed a protective barrier around the valley and the town of Paradise. I could see their snow-covered spines arching upward in the moonlight to meet the night sky.

Trees towered over the two-story house, and even from where I sat I could hear the branches scratching the walls of the old house. Dry leaves and bits of dirt scuttled across the gravel driveway. A cool gust of wind filled the car as the back doors opened and my nephews, Brody and Caleb, spilled happily out into the storm. Each clutched a small tin of their favorite candy under one arm. With a wave, nine-year-old Caleb raced up the driveway and disappeared into the kitchen. Brody hung back for a minute, suddenly looking serious.

My sister-in-law, Elizabeth, appeared in the kitchen window and peered out into the darkness. I flashed my lights, hoping she’d realize that Brody was still with me.

A gust of wind swept a lock of Brody’s dark blond hair into his eyes. Looking far too serious for a twelve-year-old, he reached back into the car for his basketball and I was struck by his resemblance to my brother. When he grinned, the resemblance grew even stronger. “So have you thought about it, Aunt Abby?”

He was like his father in more than just looks. Neither of them had any patience, and once they got their teeth into something, they didn’t let go. Elizabeth said it was a trait all of us Shaws shared, but I couldn’t see it in myself.

Since Wyatt had to work late and Elizabeth had a conflicting engagement, I’d gone with the boys to their Youth League basketball game that evening. Frankly, I’d jumped at the chance. I’d lived away for most of their lives, and I welcomed every chance I could find to bond with them now.

Once there, they’d talked me into sitting on the bench in the empty assistant coach’s spot to keep the team from forfeiting the game. It wasn’t until the game was over and the three of us were eating pizza and chugging Cokes that my sneaky little nephews revealed their true reason for asking me to come with them tonight.

I motioned for Brody to get in out of the wind. “You only asked me about being assistant coach an hour ago. I haven’t had time to think about it.”

“If you think about it too much, you might say no,” Brody said impatiently. “Please? We need you there.”

I laughed and shifted into park. “So your nefarious plan is to lock me into a promise before I can say no? Nice try, but I know better than to think you need me. I’d be about as useless when it comes to coaching a team as your dad would be in the candy shop.”

Brody’s smile faded. “That’s not true. Dad said you used to play on a team and everything.”

“That was many years ago. I’ve forgotten everything I used to know.” His little face registered such disappointment, I looked away before it could influence me. I’m a sucker when it comes to Wyatt’s four kids, and they all know it. “In case you didn’t notice, I didn’t do anything tonight.”

“You don’t have to do anything,” Brody insisted. “Coach knows plenty. We just need another grownup there or we can’t play anymore.”

I made the mistake of looking at Brody and a powerful aunt-like instinct urged me to say yes. Unfortunately, I had half a dozen good reasons for saying no. “Don’t you think Coach Hendrix would rather have an assistant coach who knows something about the game?”

“He doesn’t care. Honest! He likes doing everything himself.”

I laughed, knowing that what he said was probably true. Kerry Hendrix was a bit of a control freak. I didn’t want to give Brody false hope, but that aunt thing poked at me again and made me ask, “How often do you guys practice?”

“Mostly once a week.” Brody shifted his weight around and his gaze dropped to his hands. “Sometimes two. And then there are the games. We usually play once or twice a week.”

“You’d need me three or four days every week?”

“Yeah, but only for a couple of hours, and it’s after work. Mostly.”

Four days a week probably didn’t sound like much to a kid, but I’d only inherited Divinity a couple of years earlier, and I was barely keeping up with the shop’s demands as it was. With just two of us working sales, and one of me hand-making the majority of the candy we sold, when did I have time to do anything extra?

I knew I should say no. I had to say no. But then I looked at Brody’s little face again and my resolve dissolved like sugar in hot water. I’m such a sucker. For the past two years, I’d been searching for some way to connect with the boys. Now one had landed in my lap. How could I turn my back on it? But I also had responsibilities, obligations to Karen and to the shop. How could I say yes?

Knowing I’d cave in if I stayed there even a minute longer, I made myself say, “I don’t know, Brody. I’m going to have to think about it.”

“But we have to prove to the league that we have another coach in two days. If we don’t, we can’t play this season.”

“I understand that,” I said, “but I’m not sure I can commit to something that’s going to take so much time. I have to consider what’s best for the shop.”

“Can’t Karen take care of the store while you’re gone?”

Karen was my cousin and assistant manager of Divinity. Actually, she knew more about the candy-making business than I did, but I was learning. “Karen and I are barely keeping our heads above water the way things are right now,” I told Brody. “If I disappear four times a week, the whole thing might go under.”

Disappointment flashed across his face, but he tried to look brave. “Okay.”

I felt like a weasel. “I’m not saying no,” I said, backpedaling so I wouldn’t have to see his little chin quiver. “I’ll still come out here tomorrow and talk to Coach Hendrix like I said I would.”

“Yeah, but you probably will say no.”

“I might,” I said honestly, “but not because I don’t want to help out. You know that, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” He swept his gaze across my face quickly and got out of the car again. “I gotta go. Mom’s waiting for me.”

He scuffed his feet as he crossed the yard and dragged himself onto the back porch. I’d let him down, but what other choice could I have made?

Feeling lower than pond scum, I watched until he was safely inside, then put the Jetta into reverse and backed out of the yard. Newcomers to the area sometimes find the closeness of the mountains intimidating. Some even become claustrophobic. But for those of us born in the heart of the Rockies, these peaks are a comforting presence, and I needed their comfort tonight. Even with a storm looming, their solid, steady presence made me feel as if everything would be all right. I wanted to believe that, but I wasn’t so sure.

Lost in thought, I reached the main road and turned toward town. The storm was gaining strength, and wind buffeted the car as I maneuvered along the twisting two-lane highway that separates my brother’s house from town. Every few minutes a handful of raindrops hit my windshield–just enough to blur my vision, but never enough to swipe away with the wipers.

I forgot all about the blinking red light the county had recently installed at Hammond Junction until I was almost upon it. I’m still not sure what actually pulled me out of my reverie enough to hit the brakes, but as I did, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and a short, dirty man in a trench coat and knit cap stumbled onto the highway in front of my car.

I jammed my foot hard onto the brake and shouted, “Hey! Watch out!” but my windows were up and I don’t think he heard me. My tires bit gravel scattered over the highway’s surface, and I skidded sideways, straight toward the man who stood in the glow of my headlights, his eyes wide with shock.

At the last second, my tires found something solid, and the car jerked out of its spin. The man’s eyes met mine and I realized that the shock on his face had been replaced by a look of terror. Smudges of dirt and grime covered his face, and it looked as if he hadn’t shaved in days. He stretched one trembling hand toward me.

I sat frozen, unable to move, while my heart slammed against my rib cage and my mouth grew dry with a mixture of fear and anger. What in the hell was wrong with him, darting into the road like that? I could have killed him! Did he even realize how close I’d come to hitting him?

Anger was just what I needed to get my brain in gear. I fumbled for the window control on my armrest, ready to yell at the idiot who’d almost gotten himself killed. But before I could get the window down, he jerked upright and lurched away from my car toward the other side of the highway. He ran awkwardly, dragging one foot slightly as he moved.

Had he limped before, or had I hit him? I could have sworn that I hadn’t, but what if I was wrong? Anger changed to guilt in the blink of an eye. I didn’t want a lawsuit to blindside me later, so I reached for the door handle.

“Hey!” I shouted again.

Whether he couldn’t hear me over the wind or chose to ignore me, he kept running.

I thought about going after him, but something about the deserted road, the rising wind, and the shadows on the sides of the street stopped me. He’d be okay, I told myself. I’d probably frightened him as much as he’d frightened me, that’s all.

Giving a thin laugh, I reached for the gear-shift. At the same moment, a loud bang sounded just outside my car, followed by a second, and then a third. The man in the trenchcoat jerked backwards with each shot, and then, while I watched too stunned to move, dropped to the ground like a rag doll.

(copyrighted material)


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