Her Shallow Grave
“Another suspense filled thriller… This author knows how to write a book which will grab your attention at the turn of the first page and not let you go until the finish! With an ending you won’t see coming, you will be blown away by this story line!’Stardust Book Reviews
She runs her trembling fingers over the dark, damp walls surrounding her. Above her head, she hears heavy footsteps. She knows she has nowhere to hide and as the door to the cellar is flung open, she finally sees his face.
It’s winter in Black Rock Falls and, as tourists flock to the small town to take in the snowy mountain peaks, one visitor makes a sickening discovery. The frozen body of a young woman hangs from a tree on the outskirts of town. Detective Jenna Alton is called in to investigate.
Jenna’s stomach turns as she surveys the ice-cold remains, and she’s soon alerted to similar burial sites nearby. With no missing persons reported, Jenna and her deputy, David Kane, fear Black Rock Falls is being used as a dumping ground for bodies.
As the body count mounts up, Jenna is more determined than ever to find the person responsible. But as she tries to catch the killer out, he outsmarts her once again and Jenna begins to wonder if he knows her next move. Could he be closer to her than she thinks?
When the investigation takes Jenna to a homeless shelter right in the heart of the community, she fears for the life of a woman who hasn’t been seen for a few days. It’s clear the killer is beginning to escalate, so Jenna ramps up the investigation and puts herself in unthinkable danger. Can she catch the murderer off guard, or does he already know she’s on her way? Has Jenna finally met a killer she can’t catch?
If you like Lisa Regan, Melinda Leigh and Kendra Elliot, you will love this thrilling new book from USA Today bestselling crime author D.K. Hood.
**Each Kane and Alton book can be read as part of the series or as a standalone**
Release date: July 10, 2020
Print pages: 320
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
Her Shallow Grave
Where am I? Evelyn Ross opened her eyes wide but only darkness pressed in on her. Had she lost her sight? Her head pounded and thirst had stuck her tongue to the roof of her mouth. Too afraid to move and heart pounding with fear, she touched her face, feeling to make sure her eyes were open. Her memory of last night was foggy, like reaching for an elusive dream. Where had she been? The memory of taking a ride into a town dusted with snow, filtered into her subconscious. She’d planned to look for a meal and a place to hole up until she found work. She searched her mind, grasping at ghosts, but the memory of what had happened after she’d arrived in town had vanished.
There was no valid explanation, nothing but a void existed, it was as if someone had stolen time from her. From the stale damp smell, perhaps, she’d crawled into someone’s cellar or was in a shed but it was the middle of winter and although chilled, she should be freezing. Sudden moves could mean falling into the dark unknown. She took deep breaths of air that smelled like the bottom of her grandma’s closet. Trembling with panic, she explored her surroundings with her fingers and found the unusual texture of rough blankets under her. The idea of someone locking her in a confined space was her biggest nightmare and she raised both arms above her in blind panic. As she stretched her fingers above and out to the sides, finding only air, she breathed a sigh of relief.
Darkness rose like a wall around her, she had to move and at least try to find a way out. She rolled onto one side, and examined what was under her, finding the distinct surrounds of a bed or perhaps bunk; more exploration found the head of the bed. She sat up and dropped her legs off the edge and her feet touched the floor. The next moment, she heard footsteps and the sound of a door closing. Whoever was upstairs had moved into another room. This was her chance to slip away unnoticed. She’d gotten in here somehow and there had to be a way out. She eased off the bed and dropping to her hands and knees, edged forward until she found the wall. In the darkness, she searched every inch of the cellar, running her hands over the walls until her fingernails bled before she found the staircase. At the top, a tiny line of light crept under the door. She fixed on it like a beacon and crept up the steps. At the top, she pressed her ear to the door. When no sound came from outside, she tried the knob, turning it slowly but the door didn’t move.
As if someone was outside the door, listening, she heard a low chuckle and the jangle of keys.
“You’re never leaving me.” The voice was deep and masculine.
Angry, she hammered on the door. “Let me out!”
“I don’t think so.” He thumped on the door. “Are you thirsty? Hungry? You’ll have to be nice if you want to eat. If you don’t cooperate, you’ll be punished.” His voice changed, becoming hard. “I’m sick of playing games with you, you’re no fun at all. Get back downstairs or I’ll kill you—it’s your choice.”
She screamed for help until her throat ached and her voice came out in a whimper but it only seemed to amuse him.
“Yeah, scream. I like that and no one can hear you.” He chuckled again. “No one is coming to save you, Delores.”
“Who is Delores? My name is Evelyn. You have the wrong person.” She shook her head in defiance, wishing her voice was more than a feeble croak.
“I know exactly who you are, Delores.” He sounded self-assured and she could hear the excitement in his voice. “I control every breath you take. You belong to me.”
“No! I’ll never belong to you.” She banged on the door. “Let me out!”
The door flew open, hitting her in the face. Her feet slipped and she fell backward into darkness. Agony ricocheted into her back as she slammed into the steps and then bounced down the stairs like a rag doll. Gasping to draw air into her bruised lungs, she closed her eyes. She’d broken one arm for sure and her hip hurt so bad, yet she’d survived. Nauseous from intolerable pain, she lay panting in a tangled mess on the cold cement floor. High above, the open door flooded the room with light. A man stood in the doorway, the backlight making his dark shadow menacing, but it was the glint of the weapon in his hand that petrified her. A light came on in the cellar and she made out his cold dark eyes. He was watching her without expression.
“You’ve been a very bad girl, Delores.” He rubbed the muzzle of his Glock against his chin. “You’ve broken my rules and spoiled everything. We could’ve had so much fun.”
Terrified, Evelyn stared at him. “We can still have fun. Please don’t hurt me. I’ll be good, I promise.”
“It’s too late.” He chuckled as if at a private joke. “It always ends up like this, doesn’t it, Delores? You begging for your life and offering me the world?” He aimed the pistol at her and smiled. “You already know the end to the story.”
The steps creaked under his weight. He was enjoying her fear. In sheer terror, she tried to drag her battered body away and hide but the sound of heavy footsteps followed her, walking slow. There was no escape and he had all the time in the world. I’m going to die.
Sheriff Jenna Alton glanced at her reflection in the glass door as she made her way toward the brilliant white snowscape outside the ski lodge. She sure didn’t resemble a sheriff at the moment, and the memory of her past life as DEA Agent Avril Parker was well hidden. Bundled up with all the resort shop had to offer in the latest ski gear, she slid on her UV sunglasses and pushed through the second set of doors, glad to be out of the overheated interior. She hadn’t made up her mind if the two sets of doors created a chamber to prevent the heat from leaking out, or to give the guests a few seconds to acclimatize. If the latter was the case, it did little to stop the shock of the arctic blast hitting her the second she exited door number two. The icy chill of winter blasted her cheeks and the familiar smell she’d craved since the last melt, filled her nostrils. It was a fragrance only someone who’d been fortunate enough to visit an alpine region during snow season would recognize. She often thought it was like stepping inside a freezer but with a hint of fresh pine needles and a touch of woodsmoke. She inhaled and coughed as the air threatened to snap freeze her lungs. She stepped with caution onto the snow-covered path and made out Deputy Dave Kane, her close friend and ex-special-forces sniper and the best darn profiler she’d known. He stood six-five and in his big boots and fur trimmed hood, resembled a florescent blue sasquatch rather than a man. She blinked at him through the falling snow dusting the walkway. “Is that you, Dave?”
“Yeah.” Kane turned away from the sets of ski equipment he had leaning against a pine tree, to look at her and grinned. “Ha, I love the new outfit. You look like the Easter Bunny, all pink and fluffy. Have you got your GPS tracker and satellite phone with you? There’s only a few people using the northern slopes and none have gone down today, so we’ll need to be careful.”
Not wanting to divulge what she’d thought he resembled, she smiled. “Yeah, nothing has changed since you last asked me.”
She enjoyed Kane’s company, they had an easy relationship and although she indulged in the odd girls’ day out with her friends, she preferred to spend her downtime with him. As he lived in a cottage on her ranch, they’d become close but with Kane mourning the loss of his wife in a terrorist car bombing, being friends for now worked just fine. It was great to be away from the office, and over the weekend the slopes had been busy for so early in the season. They’d spent the weekend with her protégé Deputy Jake Rowley and his girlfriend, Sandy. The couple had returned home on Sunday night and Jenna had put Rowley in charge of the office. As the ski resort was only a short drive from town, Jenna and Kane planned to remain for the rest of the week unless a crime wave suddenly descended on the town of Black Rock Falls.
The fresh snow had given the entire village a powder finish and after getting their ski-legs over the weekend, they planned to tackle one of the advanced slopes. She took the skis he handed her and clicked in her boots. “Thanks.” She looped the cords of the poles over her thick gloves and looked at her weird reflection in his sunglasses. She hoped he had the titanium plate in his skull—compliments of the car bombing—well-covered. The cold gave him incapacitating headaches and was the only Achilles heel of the strong capable man, well, unless she considered, his determination to jump in front of a bullet to protect her.
She followed Kane, sliding along the path to the northern slope and through the tall pine trees, their branches heavy with snow. The owners had used every care to blend in the resort so not to damage the environment, with no conspicuous buildings or bright colors. The main resort building and surrounding log cabin village seemed to grow out of the forest, and even the ski lift was unobtrusive and didn’t ruin the majestic views. They ran the entire complex on solar- or water-generated power and the resort had become a beautiful addition to the county of Black Rock Falls. The slopes formed a natural break in the forest and the northern one ran parallel to one of the access roads to the resort. As they moved toward the top of the slope the trees cracked and groaned with the lowering temperature. Winter had come in a rush and taken nature by surprise.
When they reached the top of the slope Jenna stopped beside Kane to read the noticeboard. The prominent black diamond designated the slope for advanced skiers. It also gave the current weather report and listed any projected problems they might encounter on the way down and where to locate the ski lifts. The advice to stay in the middle was usual and Kane had already checked the conditions several times before they’d decided to ski. He took no chances of being out on the mountain during a blizzard. She moved up beside him. “You go first. I’ll follow you down.”
“I’d rather follow you, just in case.” Kane inclined his head and looked at her but she couldn’t see his eyes behind the blue reflective lenses.
Jenna laughed. “In case I fall? I won’t. I’ll be careful and if I did, you’d be back here in minutes.” She grinned at him. “I like watching you. You go so fast it takes my breath away.”
“Okay.” Kane moved forward. “Meet you at the lift.” In a swish of snow, he was away and heading down the slope.
She watched him for a few seconds and then followed. With a push of her poles and bending her knees, she tucked in her elbows, leaned forward, and surrendered herself to the thrill of the slopes. Glacial wind bit into her cheeks but the rush as she gained speed was exhilarating. As she entered a long sweeping bend, she noticed Kane jump to one side and come to a stop in a plume of white snow. He turned toward her and waved both arms. She zig-zagged to slow down and then mirrored his move in what she called a hockey stop and glided slowly to his side. “What’s up?”
When he didn’t answer, handed her his gloves, and then searched his jacket pocket for something, worry for his health churned her stomach. “Dave. What’s wrong?”
“I’m not sure.” Kane pulled out the small pair of binoculars he always seemed to have in a pocket and trained them along the trees growing alongside the road. “Oh, that’s not good.”
Following his line of sight, Jenna swallowed hard. “What the hell is going on?”
“Someone has decorated a pine sapling with what looks like body parts.” Kane handed her the binoculars. “On the bend close to the road.” He pointed in the direction and took back his gloves. “We’ll have to go down, take the ski lift, and then go look. It might be a prank.”
Jenna peered into the binoculars. “I can’t imagine anyone doing that in this weather.” She scanned the area. “Okay, I’ve found the bend.”
“Move in slowly, I spotted them on the way down.” Kane took her shoulders and turned her a couple of degrees to the left.
“I see it.” The sight of discolored frozen arms and legs hanging from the snow-laden tree branches came into view and she gaped in astonishment. Some of the limbs had brightly colored tattoos and one of the frozen hands still wore a pinky ring. “That’s no prank.” She dropped the binoculars from her eyes and stared at him in disbelief. “Well, that’s our vacation over. It’s starting again. Another lunatic has arrived in Black Rock Falls.”
The top of his truck, he’d discovered, made a fine place to rest his rifle and peer through the scope. From his position, he could make out the flashing lights of the deputy’s black truck. He’d caught the expressions on their faces at his display and chuckled. Mouths turned down, the sheriff and her deputy had puffed out great clouds of steam and waved their arms around. Hampered by their thick winter clothes they resembled automatons. He glanced at his reflection in the side mirror and shuddered. The amount of clothes he had to wear in the mountains dragged him back to his memories of his time as a kid. He’d been the kid without a friend, more round than tall with zits covering his face in exploding masses. He’d hated himself and as he’d grown had taken steps to change his appearance, but the little boy, bullied or ignored, still cowered inside.
As the years went by, he often wondered why teachers, who professed to nurture their students, made two kids captains of opposing teams and allowed them to humiliate the other kids by choosing who was best and next best and so on to join their team. He’d always been the last pick, the boy nobody wanted. Did anyone understand what it was like to walk in his shoes or what it was like to feel worthless, unloved, and despised?
And then there was Delores. She’d made like she was his friend. He’d never forget her, the black fingernails, colorful tattoos, the ring through her nose, and her black hair. Most of the guys thought she was hideous but he’d loved her—until she’d humiliated him. The little boy hiding inside exploded into flames and a new man rose out of the ashes. He’d enjoyed killing her but it hadn’t lasted long enough—he wanted more and had planned to spread her remains far and wide but when he’d returned to her shallow grave, he’d found it empty. Since then, he’d seen her in every town he visited. She just wouldn’t stay dead.
He always gave Delores a choice. She could spend some quality time getting to know him before she died. He only wanted to talk and maybe a little company over dinner. He wasn’t interested in sex but she always abused him, threatened him, and called him names. The screaming did something to his head, it turned on a buzzing sound that made him happy. At first, he waited for her to attack him and then he’d defend himself. It was the same as if a bear walked into his cabin and slashed out with its claws. It had been messy but he’d refined his skill as more Deloreses came into his life. Although, the last one had been a mite easier. He’d opened the door and set her free. She’d run through the snow, staggering like a wounded deer, and then he’d popped her.
He smiled. The sound of the chainsaw still rang in his ears. Left outside in the snow overnight, she’d made his work easy and then he’d hauled the smaller bits of her to a tree and added a few other touches and arranged them just so. It had become a skill he enjoyed. People would remember him for his frozen art but no one would recognize her, she’d become another statistic, another Jane Doe. He looked through his scope again and smiled. “You thought you were all that, huh, Delores, and now look at you, downgraded to bear popsicles.”
Medical Examiner Shane Wolfe glanced at the desk over the shoulders of his two interns: Emily Wolfe, the eldest of his three daughters and Colt Webber, a badge-holding deputy at the Black Rock Falls Sheriff’s Department. He nodded. They’d finished the tissue sampling exercise he’d given them and had achieved the same results. “Great job. You can finish up here. That’s all for this semester. I want you to go back to school for the rest of the day and study for your exams. If anything interesting comes in, I’ll call you.” He smiled. “If you have any questions, drop by any time.”
“I have to pick up some books from my locker.” Webber stood. “But I can do that on the way home.”
Wolfe looked at him. “Take what time you need. The exams take priority.”
“I have everything we need here, so is it okay if we study in the front office, Dad?” Emily looked up at him. “It’s as quiet as a morgue.” She chuckled.
Wolfe smiled. “Sure, as long as you both study and don’t waste time staring at your phones. The exams are important.”
“I know, Dad.” Emily tidied the bench.
Being ME had become his life now, but he still held the title of FBI handler for the man now known as David Kane. The quiet deputy remained a valuable operative and the office of POTUS required regular updates on his and Jenna’s status. Wolfe had enjoyed a varied career in the military, starting as an IT specialist. He’d spent his deployment as a field medic, became an MD, and then while nursing his terminally ill wife, had studied forensic science. His arrival in Black Rock Falls hadn’t been a fluke, it had been carefully engineered by the powers that be. After his wife passed, Wolfe found himself back on the payroll, with all the help the government could offer. Now he’d become part of a well-oiled team of professionals, which was just as well as Black Rock Falls attracted trouble. When his phone chimed a familiar ringtone, he sighed. If Jenna called him when she was on vacation, something was up. He strolled out the door and headed for his office. “Hi Jenna, what’s up?”
“I’m staring at a pine sapling decorated with body parts. It’s close to the backroad leading to the ski resort. We’re on scene so you’ll see Dave’s truck. I need you out here now. I’ll send you the coordinates.” Jenna sounded all business. “I’ll get Rowley and Walters up here as well. We’ll need to block off this road for a time.”
Wolfe turned back to the pathology lab. “Okay, I’m on my way.”
He pushed open the door and Emily and Webber looked up at him. “Get your gear, we have a case in the mountains.”
In less than ten minutes he had the ME’s van packed and was heading out on the recently cleared roads. Clouds hung low in the gray sky and he could just make out the snow-covered mountains soaring out of the frozen forest. The van wasn’t the best vehicle for traveling in the harsh conditions but he’d fitted snow tires and Webber had decided to follow him in his truck. As they reached Stanton Road and headed alongside the forest, the wind picked up and dislodged the snow piled up on the tall pines’ branches. Ice-filled chunks of snow rained down on them. The wipers were no match for the frozen lumps and slowed down under the weight. “That’s all we need.” He pressed the water and jets sprayed the windshield. “Ah, that’s better.”
“Are you going to tell me about the case?” Emily had one hand locked into the handgrip above the door. “Jenna’s on vacation, so who called us out?”
Wolfe didn’t take his eyes off the slippery blacktop. “Jenna. Apparently, someone has decorated a small pine tree with body parts. She said it was on the backroad into the Glacial Heights Ski Resort.” He slowed to move around a pile of snow that had spilled down onto the road. “I’d say Kane is working the scene with her now. If it’s body parts the evidence on scene will likely be minimal.”
“We may be lucky. I doubt the snowplow or salt spreader has been out there this morning or they’d have called it in.” Emily turned in her seat to look at him. “If so, there may be tire tracks and footprints.”
Wolfe glanced at her. All he could see was a strand of blonde hair escaping from her hood, wind blushed cheeks and a pink nose. With her sunglasses and scarf, she was barely recognizable. The GPS informed them to take the next left and they turned onto a side road that wound through the forest. Although the road was snow covered, it was minimal. The snowplow would have gone through in the last twenty-four hours, followed by the salt spreader. Snow tossed from the plow, along with leaves and other forest debris, formed a wall along each side of the blacktop. Snow dusted the gray piles but not enough to cover them completely. “We can assume whoever did this came by after the snowplow and up to the time Jenna arrived on scene.” He cleared his throat. “Make a note to mention this to Jenna, she’ll follow up and find out when they came through last.”
“Okay.” Emily pulled out a small book and made some notes.
As they took a sweeping bend, Wolfe made out Kane’s unmarked black truck, his wig-wag lights flashing from inside. He drove up slowly, searching all around for any signs of disturbance. From inside his van, he couldn’t see the crime scene at all. He pulled up behind Kane’s truck and Webber stopped behind him. He climbed out as Jenna appeared on the top of a bank of snow. He gave her a wave. “How far to the scene?”
“It’s over here, a few yards from the road.” Jenna pointed toward the front of Kane’s truck. “There’s a walkway cut through the snow. We believe the killer dug it out to gain access. We have checked all around, but the recent falls have covered any footprints or tire tracks, I’m afraid.”
Wolfe jumped up beside Jenna and looked both ways. “Is it visible from the road coming down the mountain?”
“No and we were looking for it.” She frowned. “We crawled down the hill and reversed back up and I scanned the trees with Dave’s binoculars before we located the scene. It’s just inside the tree line.”
“Well, that shoots my timeline to hell. I thought the snowplow guy would’ve noticed it for sure.” Wolfe jumped down to the road and offered Jenna his hand. “Show me what you’ve found.” He turned to Emily and Webber chatting beside the van. “Grab our gear, the scene is a few yards inside the tree line. There’s a cut-through in front of Kane’s truck.”
“I don’t know how Dave spotted it on his downhill run, he must have the eyes of an eagle.” Jenna’s boots crunched on the icy blacktop. “He’s photographing the scene. We thought the less time we spend out here in the freezing cold the better.”
Wolfe followed her through a deep opening in the snowbank. “This would’ve taken some time. I don’t know many killers who would go to this much trouble and it advertises the fact there’s something through here.”
“I thought the same.” Jenna turned to him. “I’d say it wasn’t done on the fly, he did this and then came back later to drop off the body parts.” She waved a hand to where Kane was taking photographs. “This is new.”
“Uh-huh.” Wolfe stared at the ground, scanning for any scrap of evidence. He looked at Kane. “You found nothing, no footprints, drag marks, blood?”
“No, the snow was pristine, it’s been snowing overnight and I doubt he’d try this in daylight.” Kane walked to his side. “Although, as the tree is concealed from the road, it’s possible.”
Wolfe turned as Emily arrived with Webber carrying his forensics kit. “Okay, Kane has taken the crime scene images, we’ll need to tag and bag the body parts.” He glanced at Jenna. “From what I can see, it looks like we have the limbs of a female but what I’d like to know is where has he hidden the rest of her?”
“We have searched the immediate area but who knows what’s lying under the snow?” Jenna frowned. “The rest of the remains could be anywhere.” Her phone chimed. “I’d better take this, it’s Rowley. He’s up aways, stopping traffic.” She walked away.
“Need any help?” Kane walked to his side.
“Nah.” Wolfe examined a forearm hanging from the branch of a tree. “We might find some evidence on the twine he used. Cotton twine picks up fibers.” He shook his head. “Look at the holes. I’ll need to look closer but I’d say he drilled these when the limbs were frozen.”
“That’s not a good sign.” Kane rubbed his chin and stared at the tree. “Maybe he keeps the rest of the body. I’ve read about cases where killers keep their victims in the fridge, so anything is possible.”
“Dad.” Emily walked over and held out two evidence bags. “Not one woman, two. These hands don’t match, for one thing they’re both left hands and the nails are different in shape.”
Wolfe nodded. “We’ll keep them frozen. Pack snow around the bags and I’ll take a closer look when we get back to the lab.” He turned at the sound of Jenna’s voice. She was walking back toward his van with her protégé, Deputy Rowley, close behind.
“Rowley has some information. I figured you’d want to hear thi. . .
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