Authors: Tami Hoag
Tags: #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Women Sleuths, #Thrillers & Suspense, #Crime, #Suspense, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Crime Fiction
By: TAMI HOAG
A Bantam Book / April 1994
Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to use lyrics from "Cry
Like an Angel" by Shawn Colvin and John Leventhal. Copyright 0 1989 AGF
Music Ltd. / SCRED Songs / Lev-a-tunes. Used by Permission-All Rights
Copyright C 1994 by Tami Hoag.
Cover art copyright C 1994 by Gabriel Molano.
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in writing from the publisher.
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Inspiration comes from everywhere and from nowhere, from life and from
dreams and from places that have no names. It comes most often in small
pieces as tiny and bright as diamonds. I catch them when I can and hold
them tight. I wish on them like stars and from them come the seeds of
This book is the result of many small inspirations that came to me over
the course of time. I have a number of people to thank for those diamond
lights. Mary W., for striking a spark half a decade ago. Mary-Chapin
Carpenter and Shawn Colvin, songwriters whose gift for touching the soul
with words continually leaves me in awe.
Philip Aaberg, Montana-born pianist who can transport me west with a
handful of tender notes and the exquisite silences between them. John
Lyons, cowboy and teacher of wisdom and patience. Sarge, old friend long
gone from all but my memory and my heart.
Also, thank you to fellow Bantam author and agency sister Fran Baker for
your generous donation of information on the life of a court reporter.
Thanks, Don Weisberg, for the Feed and Read. Thanks to C.B. and M.E.F.
for your spirited bidding in support of MFW and my ego.
Readers, I hope you enjoy this trip to
. It is a place of unique
and spectacular beauty, at once tough and fragile, timeless and
threatened, as is the American West itself. It is a place where the
incredible, boisterous spirit of the frontier can still be felt, and
where it can be felt slipping away like sand through grasping fingers.
To all who would fight to save that spirit-natives and outsiders alike-I
wish you success.
She could hear the dogs in the distance, baying relentlessly. Pursuing
relentlessly, as death pursues life.
Christ, she was going to die. The thought made her incredulous. Somehow,
she had never really believed this moment would come. The idea had
always loitered in the back of her mind that she would somehow be able
to cheat the grim reaper, that she would be able to deal her way out of
the inevitable. She had always been a gambler. Somehow, she had always
managed to beat the odds. Her heart fluttered and her throat clenched at
the idea that she would not beat them this time.
The whole notion of her own mortality stunned her, and she wanted to
stop and stare at herself, as if she were having an out-of-body
experience, as if this person running were someone she knew only in
passing. But she couldn't stop. The sounds of the dogs drove her on. The
instinct of self-preservation spurred her to keep her feet moving.
She lunged up the steady grade of the mountain, tripping over exposed
roots and fallen branches. Brush grabbed her clothing and clawed her
bloodied face like gnarled, bony fingers. The carpet of decay on the
forest floor gave way in spots as she scrambled, yanking her back
precious inches instead of giving her purchase to propel herself
forward. Pain seared through her as her elbow cracked against a stone
half buried in the soft loam. She picked herself up, cradling the arm
against her body, and ran on.
Sobs of frustration and fear caught in her throat and choked her. Tears
blurred what sight she had in the moon-silvered night. Her nose was
broken and throbbing, forcing her to breathe through her mouth alone,
and she tried to swallow the cool night air in great gulps.
Her lungs were burning, as if every breath brought in a rush of acid
instead of oxygen. The fire spread down her arms and legs, limbs that
felt like leaden clubs as she pushed them to perform far beyond their
I should have quit smoking. A ludicrous thought. It wasn't cigarettes
that was going to kill her. In an isolated corner of her mind, where a
strange calm resided, she saw herself stopping and sitting down on a
fallen log for a final smoke. It would have been like those nights after
aerobics class, when the first thing she had done outside the gym was
light up. Nothing like that first smoke after a workout. She laughed, on
the verge of hysteria, then sobbed, stumbled on.
The dogs were getting closer. They could smell the blood that ran from
the deep cut the knife had made across her face.
There was no one to run to, no one to rescue her. She knew that. Ahead
of her, the terrain only turned more rugged, steeper, wilder. There were
no people, no roads.
There was no hope.
Her heart broke with the certainty of that. No hope.
Without hope, there was nothing. All the other systems began shutting
She broke from the woods and stumbled into a clearing. She couldn't run
another step. Her head swam and pounded. Her legs wobbled beneath her,
sending her lurching drunkenly into the open meadow. The commands her
brain sent shorted out enroute, then stopped firing altogether as her
Strangling on despair, on the taste of her own blood, she sank to her
knees in the deep, soft grass and stared up at the huge, brilliant disk
of the moon, realizing for the first time in her life how insignificant
she was. She would die in this wilderness, with the scent of wildflowers
in the air, and the world would go on without a pause. She was nothing,
just another victim of another hunt. No one would even miss her. The
sense of stark loneliness that thought sent through her numbed her to
No one would miss her.
No one would mourn her.
Her life meant nothing.
She could hear the crashing in the woods behind her.
The sound of hoofbeats. The snorting of a horse. The dogs baying. Her
heart pounding, ready to explode.
She never heard the shot.
It started out as a bad hair day and went downhill from there," Marilee
Jennings said aloud as her Honda crossed the border into
took a last drag on her cigarette and crushed out the stub amid a dozen
others in the ashtray.
The line was a joke she and Lucy had shared time and again during their
friendship. Whenever either of them began a conversation with that line,
it meant the other was to provide the Miller Lite, the pizza, and the
shoulder to cry on. Usually, they ended up laughing. Always they ended
They had met in a stress management course for court reporters. After
two hours of being counseled not to attempt to resolve stress with
cigarettes, liquor, and shop talk, they walked out of the meeting room
and Lucy turned to her with a wry smile and a pack of Salem Light 100's
in her hand and said, "So you want to go get a beer?"
The bond had been instant and strong. Not a cloying friendship, but a
relationship based on common ground and a sense of humor. They both
worked on their own, hustling for government contracts and working for a
string of attorneys, taking depositions and doing the usual grunt work
of transcripts and subpoenas and fending off amorous advances of legal
beagles in heat. They both saw the kinds of ugliness people could resort
to in labor-management disputes, and took down in the secret code of
their profession first-person accounts of everything from the
absurdities of divorce battles to the atrocities of murder. They shared
the common problems of their profession-the stress of a job that
demanded perfection, the headaches of dealing with arrogant attorneys
who wanted everything but the bill in twenty-four hours, then went for
months without bothering to pay them. And yet, in many ways, they were
as different as night and day.
Lucy liked the glamour attached to the people she worked for. She
thrived on intrigue and dyed her hair a different shade of blond every
six months because sameness bored her. She looked at the world with the
narrow eyes of an amused cynic. Her insights were as sharp as a stiletto
and so was her tongue. She was ambitious and ruthless and wry. She
adored the limelight and coveted the lush life.
Marilee clung at the the weary hope that people were essentially good,
even though she had seen that many were not. Appearances seldom
impressed her because she had grown up in a neighborhood where the
phrase "all style and no substance" was the battle cry of most of the
women as they ran to their BMWs, charge cards in hand, to race to the
latest sale at Nordstrom's. She had no aspirations to fame or fortune
and dreamed mostly of a quiet place where she could fit in unnoticed.
Their differences had only served to balance their relationship. They
had shared a lot in those late-night beer and bullshit sessions. Then
Lucy had come into some money, chucked her job, and moved to
and while the bond between them hadn't broken, it had been stretched
The intervening year had been a long one. Marilee had missed her friend.
Neither of them was good about writing letters, and time slipped by
between phone calls. But she knew the friendship would still be there.
Lucy would welcome her with that same kind of casual amusement she
turned on every other aspect of her life. All Marilee would have to do
would be to step out of her car, shrug her shoulders, and say, "It
started out as a bad hair day and went downhill from there."
Her eyes darted to the rearview mirror, betraying her as the tide of
depression tried to rise again inside her. She frowned at the state of
her wild, streaky blond mane.
Who was she kidding?
Her whole life had been a series of bad hair days.
While her two sisters had inherited their mother's champagne-and-satin
locks, Marilee had been given a tangle of rumpled raw silk with dark
roots that turned nearly platinum at the ends. It was an unmanageable
mess, and she wore it sheared off just above her shoulders in a bob that
somehow never lived up to the description of "classic" or "stylish."
Long ago she had decided her hair was a metaphor for her life - she was
wilder than she ought to be; she didn't match the rest of her family;
she never quite lived up to expectations.
"It doesn't matter, Marilee," she declared, leaning over to shove a