Sheriff Jenna Alton headed for the shower after a grueling workout with Dave Kane, her second-in-command at the Black Rock Falls Sheriff’s Office. So many things had changed since she’d left DEA Agent Avril Parker and the FBI behind, and entered witness protection as Jenna Alton. She should be safe, but the drug cartel she’d given evidence against was never far from her mind. Although all had been killed in a shootout with the police, being undercover for so long, Jenna understood just how far the families of the cartel stretched. Even with extensive plastic surgery to disguise her and hiding in plain sight in a backwoods town in Montana, she never really relaxed. Especially now that her once sleepy town had become the center of attention of late and, it seemed, a magnet for every type of murdering psychopath. Since the homicides, a series of novels had been written about Black Rock Falls and throughout the week a book convention was being held at the ski resort at Glacial Heights. Authors, agents, publishers, and readers from all over had descended on the town. The fact it was snowing hadn’t deterred the inquisitive visitors, and a variety of tours to the gruesome scenes of murder and mayhem had been booked out for months.
After showering, she dressed in warm clothes and headed toward the smell of fresh coffee and bacon. As usual, Kane had gotten ready before her and was busying himself with breakfast. As Jenna heated the maple syrup in the microwave and placed the fixings on the table for the coffee, her black cat, Pumpkin, weaved in and out of her legs, waiting for a tasty morsel from her plate. Jenna smiled at Kane as he flipped the hotcakes. He made such delicious hotcakes from scratch and liked them with crispy strips of bacon and floating in maple syrup. She took the maple syrup from the microwave and heated two plates. “The bacon smells so good.”
“Yeah, it’s smoked. I had some at Aunt Betty’s Café the other day and asked for the name of their supplier. The order came in yesterday with the other supplies. If we get snowed in, we can survive the winter.” Kane looked over one shoulder at her. “Ready to eat?”
Jenna smiled at him. Since moving into her house, he’d taken over the laborious chore of ordering supplies. He was the most organized person she’d ever met and knew exactly what they needed for themselves or the animals at any given time. “Yeah, let’s get at it. The snowplow guy just went through and, by the way it’s snowing up a storm out there, the roads will be blocked before we make it to town.”
“I’ll attach the snowplow to the Beast in case we run into trouble.” Kane slid hotcakes onto plates and added a stack of bacon. “Remind me to grab another coat for Duke as well. He got wet yesterday and his teeth were chattering like castanets on the way home.”
Jenna nodded. The snowplow attachment Kane had purchased for his tricked-out black truck, affectionately known as the Beast, had been worth its weight in gold during the long winter months. “Sure.” She poured the coffee. “I guess we should wander up to the convention and make sure everyone is behaving themselves.”
“Ha.” Kane poured cream into his coffee. “You just want to meet the authors.” He grinned at her. “You’ve had your head in a book for the last few weeks.”
Jenna nodded. “They’re kind of addictive, you know, reading about our town and the crimes we solved. I’d love to get my copies autographed and there’s a book signing this morning.”
“Uh-huh.” Kane tossed a strip of bacon to Duke, his bloodhound. “Personally, I like to forget the murders once we have the killer in jail, but I’m a sucker for a good thriller or a historical novel. They’ll have books for sale there as well, I assume?”
Jenna nodded. “Yeah, from the flyer, a group of publishers are promoting a ton of authors.” She cleared her throat. “I hope Rowley and Rio can handle the office for a couple of hours. Although nothing has come in on the 911 line overnight.”
“I’m sure they can handle any accidents caused by the weather.” Kane ate slowly. “We have snow every year and yet people still drive unprepared. It’s hard to fathom.” He gave her a long thoughtful look. “Although, with all the visitors in town just now, anything is possible.”
Shaking her head, Jenna swallowed a mouthful of food and then sipped her coffee. “I figure the roads in town will be fine unless we have an unexpected weather event. A blizzard is always in the cards, but because the ski resort brings so much revenue to the town, this year the mayor purchased a ton of snowplows and salt spreaders. He’s hired more drivers and has them working practically around the clock to keep the roads clear for the tourists. Most visitors are flying in for the convention and staying for a couple of weeks. The ski lodge is almost full and so are most of the cabins.”
“Those chalets are growing like a small city up there.” Kane leaned back in his chair and sighed. “The building is nonstop. I figure finding your way around there now will be like negotiating a maze.” He took a long drink from his cup and eyed her over the rim. “I wonder if we could sneak a couple of days up there? Two days skiing and staying one night would be a nice break.” He grinned at her. “But I so want to go to Hawaii next summer or maybe Florida. Somewhere hot.”
“Oh yeah.” Jenna chuckled. She enjoyed being in a relationship with Kane. It had been a long time coming. “Somewhere hot with a beach and palm trees is my dream vacation, but with our luck, something will happen to keep us tied to town.” She sighed. “It’s been ages since we last hit the beach.” She finished her coffee and stretched.
“You done eating?” Kane stood, collected the plates, and stacked them in the dishwasher. “We’d better head off or we’ll never make it to work on time. The roads might be okay in town but we still have to get there.” He bent and kissed her on the head. “You’d better bring your books. From the flyer, the book signing is at ten.”
Jenna’s phone chimed and she glanced at the caller ID. “It’s Carter.” She raised an eyebrow and put her phone on speaker. “Morning.”
“Hi there, Jenna. Just calling to touch base. With the snow and all, we have nothing to do. Any cases you want to share?” Special Agent Ty Carter out of Snakeskin Gulley, an ex-navy Seal, super-detective, and bomb expert, sounded bored.
Glancing out the window at the threatening snow clouds, Jenna bit back a laugh. “Sorry, we have nothing either. It’s all quiet here, thank goodness. How is Jo?”
They’d met behavioral analyst and Special Agent Jo Wells when she and Carter became their local go-to FBI office. She liked Jo and her little girl, Jaime, and they’d all become friends. She figured working on murder cases created a close bond between people. She had a close-knit team: Deputies Jake Rowley and Zac Rio and the medical examiner, Shane Wolfe. He and his daughters were like family. In fact, the entire team were all close friends and worked together like a well-oiled machine.
“She’s fine. How are you since the break-in?” Carter cleared his throat. “Having any flashbacks?”
Sighing, Jenna smiled at his concern. Over Halloween, Jenna had been alone when an intruder trashed her ranch house. “No, I’m good, but I was a bit jumpy living here alone. I’m fine now Dave is staying with me.”
“That’s good to know.” Carter cleared his throat. “Ah… Jo sends her love and is begging you to call us if you, and I quote, ‘Get anything juicy.’” Carter chuckled. “We’re running out of things to do. Jo’s writing a book and I’m whittling.”
“Really? Is she writing about criminal behavior?” Jenna collected her things and headed for the front door.
“What else?” Carter laughed. “Okay, I’d better let you go. Chat soon.”
“Bye.” Jenna disconnected and pulled on her hat and gloves. She looked at Kane. “Ready?”
“Yeah, as soon as I’ve put Duke’s coat on. Come here, boy.” Kane bent to secure the coat and stood. “Let’s go.”
Jenna stepped out into the cold and surveyed the pure-white landscape. It sure was pretty in winter. It was a shame the deep snowfalls and ice became treacherous. The tall mountain peaks and frosted pines held a deadly deception. The sudden drop in temperature could cause massive tree limbs to shatter, blocking roads and causing damage to houses. The sidewalk or blacktop could freeze in seconds and just making it to the curb to put out your trash could be deadly. As she climbed into the Beast her phone chimed again. She stared at the caller ID. “Hi Jake, what’s up?”
“Probably nothing.” Deputy Jake Rowley sounded exhausted. “I just had a call from the ski resort. Apparently one of the room service people found a guest missing and thinks she saw a shoe floating in the fishing hole near one of the cabins. I can’t get much from the manager. He said he went and had a look, but the fishing hole is frozen over and covered with snow. They’re looking for the guest. That’s all the details I have.”
Jenna leaned back in the seat and thought for a beat. “We’ll go up and take a look. Are you okay running the office with Rio until we get back?”
“Sure.” Rowley yawned. “Sorry, I had a long night. I took Sandy to the hospital but it ended up to be a false alarm. I dropped her at her parents’ house. It’s closer to the hospital and her mom will keep an eye on her today.”
Rowley’s wife was expecting twins at the end of the month, but they’d all laid bets that the babies would arrive early. Jenna nodded to herself. “Well, if you need a couple of hours shut-eye, leave Rio in charge and head down to the cells. It’s nice and warm in there. I’d rather have you alert than exhausted from lack of sleep. I’ll wake you when we get back, if need be.”
“Thank you. That’s a very tempting offer.” Rowley gave a raspy cough. “I’ll have some coffee and I’ll be okay for a time. Are you dropping by the office first?”
Jenna checked the time. “No, we’ll head straight to the ski resort. Catch you later.” She disconnected and rolled her eyes at Kane. “Let’s hope this isn’t anything to worry about.”
“It’s a ski resort. The guest is probably in someone else’s room.” Kane shrugged. “Or she’s fallen into a snowdrift and is a Popsicle. Worse case, she’s been murdered.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her. “The cold weather doesn’t seem to slow down killers around here.”
“That would complicate things.” Jenna blew out a steamy sigh. “I just wanted one hour to have some fun, one itsy-bitsy little hour. Trust me, one more murder in the dead of winter and I’m moving to Hawaii.”