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By B.J. Daniels
Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.Copyright © 2003 Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTuesday, October 27
Darkness pressed against the window. Beyond the glass, something moved at the edge of the tangle of growth.
Under the glow of the desk lamp, Nina Monroe feathered the paint along one side of the wooden duck decoy.
She'd forgotten she was alone in the isolated Dennison Ducks decoy plant. Nor had she noticed how late it was. Her mind had been on her future.
For the first time in her twenty-seven years of life, her future looked good. Not just good. Dazzling. Almost blinding. Sometimes she had to pinch herself it was so hard to believe. Soon she would have everything she'd ever wanted. Soon she wouldn't be painting duck decoys in the middle of nowhere, that was for sure.
A voice in her head warned her not to count her chickens before they'd hatched. The voice was that of her old-maid aunt Harriet and she shut it out, just as she had all of her life. Aunt Harriet the doomsayer.
After tonight, Nina would finally have what she deserved. It had been a long time coming. She smiled at the thought of blowing this dinky boring town knowing she'd never look back, never even give Timber Falls, Oregon, another thought. She felt dazed by the possibilities. And filled with righteous indignation that it had taken so long for justice to finally be done.
She'd picked Halloween. A perfect time to unmask the true villains. By Halloween, she'd be long gone - but not forgotten. She would have it all, the money - and - the revenge. Who said revenge wasn't sweet?
A noise at the window made her look up. From the darkness appeared a distorted face. It filled the window, the eyes like empty sockets.
She let out a strangled cry, dropping her paintbrush as she shoved back her chair and stumbled to her feet.
Just as suddenly as it had appeared, the face was gone. She snapped off the lamp, the only light in her corner of the decoy plant, and stood in the dark staring out at the night.
Beyond the glass was a jungle of ferns, vines, moss and trees that fought for space in the suffocating rain forest on the Pacific Ocean side of the Oregon Cascades. Sometimes she felt so closed in here she wanted to scream.
Like right now. The trees moved restlessly in the wind. Shadows flickered over the glass from what little moonlight pierced the forest.
She took a breath and tried to calm herself. There was no one out there. It had just been a trick of moonlight and shadows. Hadn't her life always been full of shadows? But not for much longer.
So close to finally getting everything she wanted, she felt nervous, jittery, excited and maybe a little spooked. Spooked because something could go wrong.
But she knew that was just her aunt Harriet talking. After all those years with the pessimistic old woman, Nina could hear Harriet in her head. The voice of negativity. The voice of defeat.
She pushed all thoughts of Harriet away as she looked out the window again and saw nothing but the movement of trees and ferns in the faint moonlight.
Glancing at her watch, with its glowing dial, Nina saw that she had at least another hour to wait. She wanted to try to finish this duck decoy, hating to admit that over the past month, she'd come to enjoy the painting.
It required an exactness that appealed to her. She'd found she had a talent for it that surprised - and pleased - her.
From behind her, she heard a soft click. The sound of the door, on the other side of the building, opening?
She turned slowly. A single small bulb illuminated the employee entrance, casting the dark images of hundreds of ducks over her. Mallard and canvasback, pintail and greenwing, buffalohead and widgeon decoys filled the shelves from the floor to ceiling.
From where she stood, she couldn't see past the shelves covered with ducks. Had she imagined the sound, just as she'd imagined the face at the window?
"Sure, that's all it was," she could hear Aunt Harriet sneer. "Fool."
Something moved across the light on the other side of the building. A flicker of dark shadow followed by the soft scuff of a shoe on concrete. The scent of damp night air cut through the sweeter scent of freshly carved pine. She heard another click. The door closing?
It was too early. Unless there'd been a change in plans. But then, wouldn't she have gotten a call? After all, tonight was supposed to be the last time they would meet. Once she had the money ...
She glanced up at Wade Dennison's second-story glassed-in office, half expecting to see the owner of the plant watching her as he so often did. But the office was dark, just as she knew it would be, and there was no one behind the glass.
Another soft scuff of a shoe, closer this time. She told herself it had to be one of the employees. No one else had a key to get in. Unless in her excitement she'd forgotten to lock the door.
Her heart lodged in her throat as she frantically tried to remember locking the door.
Maybe meeting here hadn't been such a good idea. But usually she had the place to herself, preferring to work at night. Her co-workers thought she worked late to impress the boss and resented her for it - as if she cared. But that was why meeting here had seemed ideal. No one ever came around at night and she didn't have to worry about her nosy old landlady eavesdropping.
"Who's there?" she called out, expecting an answer.
She hadn't been afraid, hadn't had any reason to be afraid. Until now.
She heard Aunt Harriet snickering inside her head. "Told you this scheme would get you killed."
Excerpted from Mountain Sheriff by B.J. Daniels Copyright © 2003 by Harlequin Enterprises, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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