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Authors: Mary Logue

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Frozen Stiff

BOOK: Frozen Stiff
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FROZEN
STIFF

A CLAIRE WATKINS MYSTERY

MARY LOGUE

a division of F+W Media, Inc.

In the infinite winter of space,
heat is tiny;
it is the cold that is huge.

—P
ETER
S
TARK,
Last Breath

to Alison and Ben, for persevering

P
EPIN
C
OUNTY
is in the grips of an icy winter; twenty degrees below zero as the new year rolls in. Deputy Sheriff Claire Watkins is happy. She’s been living with Rich Haggard, and as they sit together awaiting midnight, she feels ready to step into the marriage he’s wanted all along.

But not all marriages last. Car mogul Daniel Walker is celebrating New Year’s Eve alone, roasting in his sauna with a bottle of Belvedere vodka by his side. His soon-to-be-ex-wife Sherri has left him at their cabin, and he’s glad to be starting fresh. What better way to symbolize his new freedom than by a quick roll in the pure white snow? Daniel braces himself for the cold and, naked, heads outside.

He’s found the next morning, frozen and covered in snow.

Claire must investigate Daniel Walker’s family and friends as doctors pump warm fluids into his body, struggling to thaw and revive him. Meanwhile, the new year brings new life to Pepin County as a local teen gives birth to an unexpected child.

In the chill of midwinter, Claire discovers that every warm body has the potential to house a very cold heart...

The Claire Watkins Mystery Series

Blood Country

Dark Coulee

Glare Ice

Bone Harvest

Poison Heart

Maiden Rock

Point No Point

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1

CHAPTER 2

CHAPTER 3

CHAPTER 4

CHAPTER 5

CHAPTER 6

CHAPTER 7

CHAPTER 8

CHAPTER 9

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 11

CHAPTER 12

CHAPTER 13

CHAPTER 14

CHAPTER 15

CHAPTER 16

CHAPTER 17

CHAPTER 18

CHAPTER 19

CHAPTER 20

CHAPTER 21

CHAPTER 22

CHAPTER 23

CHAPTER 24

CHAPTER 25

Blood Country

Also Available

NEW YEAR’S EVE

11:55 pm

E
ven though it was twenty below zero outside, wind blowing up a storm, Daniel Walker was stark naked and sweating like a boxer in the beyond balmy two hundred degrees of his cabin’s new sauna.

This is the life, especially in the dead of winter,
Walker thought as he tilted his head back and blew smoke from his Davidoff double corona up toward the cedar ceiling. The cigar wrapping was wet and unraveling, but he was almost done. A bottle of Belvedere vodka, nestled in a rapidly melting block of ice, sat on the wooden bench next to him. Wynton Marsalis was blowing his horn through the Bose speakers.

All was so calm. Taking a large swallow of vodka, he could feel the liquid easing its way into his stomach, then sliding into his veins while the sweat beaded up all over his naked body.

Toxins in, toxins out.

Slowly he poured another shot of vodka down his throat, enjoying the feeling of the freezing drink cooling his insides. He had much to celebrate—a terrific new land deal that was going to save his ass, even as his car dealership was struggling. And he was pretty sure he was going to be able to step out of his marriage without giving Sherri a penny, bless his pre-nup.

In the end, he would probably throw her a bone, just to make up for any hard feelings. She wasn’t a bad sort, but he had grown tired of her.

Dan wouldn’t have minded some sweet young thing in her birthday suit sitting next to him, ready to massage any part of his anatomy that required it, but women did bring problems no matter how careful you were. Much as he loved them. He tried not to think about his latest fiasco.

He wondered what his darling daughter Danielle was up to tonight. She certainly took after him. She enjoyed partying as much as anyone he knew. Too busy to come out and see her old dad. But you were only young once.

Yesterday, he had texted her an invitation to join him in the sauna for the new year, but she had texted back: “Big Pop, no way. Hanging with bffs.” That was his kid!

Glancing up at the clock in the sauna, he saw it was nearly midnight. Perfect timing. He was so hot he thought his liver was going to melt. He banged through the sauna door, took a gulp of the cooler air in the ground floor basement. Not cool enough.

Dan braced himself, then pushed open the back door and stepped outside. When the frigid air hit his naked skin it burned hotter than the sauna.

Glorious. Looking down from the edge of the bluff, he couldn’t see a house from his place to Lake Pepin. The snow glittered like the exterior of a new white car and the air smelled almost as good.

After taking a couple long strides, Dan threw himself into a snow drift. His skin pulsed hard and deep all over his body. He rolled over on his back and looked up at the pattern of pinprick
stars. Who needed anything more than this? His breath rose up in plumes. He was his own Mt. Vesuvius.

Dan felt like he could lay there all night, staring at the stars until they fell into his brain. Moments passed as he slowly felt the warmth ease out of his body. No worry. The sauna would heat him back up.

His skin stung as if it had been scrubbed with a hard brush. Pins and needles all over. He crawled to his knees, then stood up and spread his arms wide.

Happy New Year to me!

The wind was picking up, blowing the snow into him, which felt like BBs hitting his skin. His feet were freezing and he could feel the warmth of his core leaving him. Time to get back into the sauna to warm up before he headed off to bed.

Dan hopped on his stiffening feet to the door and, shivering, pushed down the latch. Nothing happened. Must be stuck. He pressed it down harder, but it wouldn’t budge. Then he slammed his shoulder into the door, but no movement.

Why wouldn’t the door open? He couldn’t have locked it. He didn’t have the key.

All he could think was that it had somehow gotten jammed.

Stepping back, he thought of running around the house, but remembered that he had already locked the front door for the night.

Dan shivered hard—fear and cold cracking down on him. He had to get into the house. The cold was searing his skin. He slammed his whole body against the door, but it wouldn’t open.

Break a window, that’s what he needed to do. He pounded on the picture window by the back door, but his hands were
worthless. They just bounced off the glass. Damn those custom windows he had special ordered for the ground floor. Unbreakable, they claimed.

Squatting down, he tried digging into the snow to find a rock, a branch, anything, but he was getting so cold. He was shaking so hard he could hardly think. His whole naked body was racked with convulsions.

Finally his hand hit a piece of cement left over from a project last summer. He lifted it in both his hands and walked up to the window, hoisting it over his head, he slammed it into the window.

The chunk of cement bounced back and hit him square in the face. He stepped back and tried to keep his balance.

Dan looked back toward the door and saw a form in the window. He tried to remain standing but his head ached and his legs gave out. His eyes rolled back as he fell.

Blowing snow covered him like a blanket.

CHAPTER 1

New Year’s Day: 1 am

I
’m ready,
thought Claire as she watched the fire pulse deep red in the woodstove,
I want this for the rest of my life.

She was reading a bird book Rich had bought her for Christmas. He was nodding off in the chair next to her, his head bent over and the book in his hands about to fall. The stroke of midnight had come and gone. They had clinked their glasses and finished off the bottle of champagne and then, too comfortable to get up from their chairs, decided they would watch the fire for a while longer.

Claire couldn’t believe they had made it past midnight. They hadn’t managed to stay up so late the last few years. She tried to convince herself that she wasn’t waiting up for Meg to come home. Her daughter had gone to some friend’s house to play her new Wii game, and had promised she’d be home by one. Only one time had she not made her curfew, with disastrous results. But since then, she had been Johnny-on-the-spot.

Hard to think that in less than two years, Meg would be gone. She was slowly pulling out of their lives already, working at the Red Wing YMCA on Saturdays and taking a college class in River Falls, driving an old Toyota Corolla that Rich had fixed
up for her. Claire found it hard to imagine life without her energetic, darling daughter breezing through it.

For eight years she and Meg had been living with Rich in his family farmhouse, longer than she had lived with her husband. Rich reminded her of the Mississippi, which flowed just a block away from where they were sitting: down the driveway, across Highway 35, and through the Fort St. Antoine park. He moved along steadily, but those waters ran deep and, every once in a while, he would surprise her in an amazing way. He was her able companion and had been next to her, supporting her through some very hard times.

Claire knew that he had trouble with how involved she got in her work. Being the lead investigator—the only investigator—for the Pepin County Sheriff’s department did put a crimp in her home life from time to time. Rich would complain, and then have a good meal waiting for her when she finally showed up.

For all his griping, Rich more than supported her. He had grown up in Pepin County, unlike her, and he understood how vital her police work was to the health of the community. He knew how information moved through the county, he knew who was related to whom, he knew the lay of the land. He was her guide in what had been a new country for her and often told her what she could not see.

He was a good man and the love of her life.

Claire turned to wake him. The book was wavering in his lap. When it fell, Rich jolted awake. Claire laughed.

He glanced over at her to see what had happened and then smiled with warmth in his eyes.

“Time for bed?” she asked.

“I guess.”

She rose from her chair and knelt down next to him. A touch of gray showed in his black hair. She reached up and brushed his face. “Will you marry me?”

He shook his head as if to clear it, then said, “I don’t know. I kinda like it the way it is.”

She swatted at him with her hand. He pulled her up into his lap and took her face in his hands. The kiss wasn’t like the hungry embraces they had at the beginning of their relationship, it was deeper and more satisfying. A kiss that said I’m here, next to you, where I will always be.

Claire heard the back door open. Rich and she pulled apart as if they had been caught doing something they shouldn’t. Then they laughed. Her daughter was home. She heard Meg open the refrigerator door, always her first act when she walked into the house. Like most teenagers, she was constantly hungry.

“Hey, old fogies! You stayed up.” Meg came to the doorway of the living room and yelled in her outdoor voice, “Happy New Year!”

New Year’s Day: 3 am

The woman lounged in bed, waiting. She knew he would be here soon. She loved this time before he came, the anticipation of his energy, his desire. In many ways, her imagining what was to come was better than what actually happened. Her New Years’s Eve would start when he walked through the door.

She had gone out with Carly and Petra for a few drinks at midnight, but when some guys starting hitting on them, she
cut out. The girls were like, You can’t leave now. But she knew those two could handle the men all by themselves.

The radio was playing party music. She had taken a long bath, done her nails, put on a silk t-shirt, then taken it off, and climbed into bed. She had thought of getting a bottle of champagne for the occasion but he was more of a Budweiser kind a guy. She had a six-pack waiting in the fridge.

BOOK: Frozen Stiff
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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