Against her better judgment; she decides to fly to North Carolina to meet her cousin Samantha Joe for the funeral. All the while Madison is on a mission to seek out the truth. The truth of her family's lies and deceit leads her into a web of danger placing her own life at risk as the murderer closes in on her.
The last thing she intended to do was meet the man of her dreams and fall head over heels in love.
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By Rachel McCoy
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Rachel McCoy
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIt was a beautiful sunny June morning in the Midwest. The sun was shining and the day was slow to warm up from the lingering cool-morning weather. Madison sat on her patio enjoying a cup of coffee and made a list of all the things she had to do on that Sunday morning. She was full of energy, and the day was wasting. Just as she had finished her laundry list of items to do and was about to start the grocery list, Samantha Jo called. She answered the phone expecting her cheery southern accent but instead found her cousin sobbing so hard Madison could barely understand her.
"Samantha Jo, get a hold of yourself and tell me what is wrong. Is Shelby Lynn all right? Has something happened?" Shelby Lynn was her five year old daughter, and Samantha Jo had recently gone through a nasty divorce. So immediately, Madison thought the worst.
After several minutes of Samantha Jo crying and trying to talk, which all sounded like garble in between her gasps for air, Madison finally heard what she was saying: "Hazel has been found dead." Hazel, their step-grandmother, had been married to their grandfather on their dad's side for over thirty years. Their grandfather, Jethro Walker, passed away five years ago almost to the day, a fact that sent chills down Madison's spine. Jethro's death had been what Madison liked to refer to as the "Family Reunion." Most people would say family gathering for such an occasion; however, this was a reunion for the Walkers.
Samantha Jo and Madison were cousins that first met as young toddlers and did not meet again until they were in their early thirties. Their fathers, Lane and Leroy Walker, were brothers. Madison hadn't seen or spoken to her father, Leroy, since she was two years old, though she did meet him once as an adult at Jethro's funeral. Samantha Jo's father, Lane, and her mother had also divorced when she was young; however, he'd remained living in the same town which allowed him to stay in touch with his daughter.
Hazel Walker had been a beautiful, young woman when she decided to marry Jethro Walker. He was almost twenty years her senior and extremely charming. She had never been married before and came from a wealthy family in town, who, to this day, still feel a lot of resentment and disappointment because of her marriage to Jethro. Her role as his wife prevented her from pursuing the dreams and goals she'd once had. Since his death, she'd lived alone in one of the many Walker estate properties and often appeared nervous and unsettled.
Samantha Jo was trying to explain to Madison that Hazel had been found dead when they were disconnected; Madison's phone dropped the call.
"Damn cell phones!" She tried repeatedly for the next fifteen minutes to call Samantha Jo back and could not get through. Annoyed, she decided that Samantha Jo would call back and it would be best if she tried to remain calm and keep the line open. Thirty minutes passed and she still had not called back. Madison's anxiety was building as well as her fear. Her mind was racing: "Our grandmother Hazel was found dead and that is all I know. I need details! I need to know how, when, and who found her. This is ridiculous; why isn't she calling me back?" Her heart was pounding and tears slowly began welling up in her eyes. "Answers! That's what I need."
She tried her phone again, and Samantha Jo answered on the third ring.
"Samantha Jo, what happened? I've been trying to reach you for the last thirty minutes."
"I don't know; I couldn't get to you either."
"Samantha Jo, you're starting to scare me. What the hell is going on?"
Samantha Jo explained all that she could recollect: "There was a break-in to the house. Hazel had come home early from the riding stables and must have caught the intruder off guard and her ... her ... her throat ..."
"Her throat was what?" Madison screamed.
"Was cut with a knife," she sobbed.
"Oh my God, this can't be for real." Who would do such a horrible thing? Blackberry Creek, North Carolina was such a small town; everyone knew everyone and their business. "Samantha Jo, who told you this? Did the police call you or Hazel's sister?"
As she answered, her voice became nervous. "Lane did. He called me this morning and told me that she was dead, or, rather, found killed three days ago on Thursday. The Blackberry Creek Reader's obituary said her funeral and burial will be on Friday in town at Bethesda Baptist Church at 10:00 a.m."
"Samantha Jo, none of this is registering with me right now. I can't even find the words to speak. None of this makes any sense!"
"I know. I can hardly believe somethin' like this could happen, either, in Blackberry Creek."
"Something's not adding up here. I mean, how would Lane know she was dead before anyone else?"
"Well according to him, he was called by the Sheriff claiming to notify her nearest relatives. Y'all, I really feel like we should go to the funeral, but I'm not wantin' to go alone. Is there any way that ya can get some time off work and meet me there?"
"Look, Samantha Jo, I'm not exactly crazy about going back to Blackberry Creek again, especially for another funeral, but I will if you do?"
"Yeah, I feel like we have to. It's the right thing to do."
They agreed to fly in on Tuesday and meet at the Comfort Inn in Blackberry Creek. Both Madison and Samantha Jo had to rearrange their schedules and would need a day to do so.
After Madison hung up the phone, her mind began to race. "How could such a horrible, violent thing happen? Who would do such thing?" Hazel had been in her early seventies and kept to herself outside of visiting her sister, Tessa, who lived in town and the horse stables where she boarded her three horses. Things were not adding up by her count, and she needed more information. Madison didn't believe for one minute this was a robbery gone bad. Her instincts told her that Hazel's death was no accident, and she intended to find out the truth, one way or another. She felt a darkness closing in around her as thoughts drifted towards Leroy and Lane. Were they responsible for Hazel's death? It wouldn't surprise her one bit, as shocking as that may seem to outsiders. They were crazy, vindictive, and dangerous men. It was possible.
She sat on the patio in a trance, staring out at nothing in particular. Samantha Jo's call had completely immobilized her and she couldn't move. She suddenly had a lot to do in a short period of time, leaving her first "To-do" list no longer relevant. She tore a fresh page from her notebook and began a new list that would prepare her for the following days.
2) Travel Arrangements
3) Mason – stay with his father
4) George – call Michael
6) Call Mom??
Madison felt uneasy and restless. She couldn't stop her mind from going over and over the call with Samantha Jo. None of it made sense at all. "Why was Lane the one to call Samantha Jo and tell her? How did he know before she or I did? Why, Why, Why? ..." kept playing in her head like a broken record.
Abruptly, Madison's thoughts were interrupted when she remember to call her boss. Madison had been with the same advertising agency for the last fifteen years—Alexander Koplin, located in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. She was a dedicated and loyal employee and one of the best account managers they had. She called John Alexander, her direct boss and a partner within the firm, to let him know that she would be needing time off for a family funeral. Ten days, to be exact. He assured her that she could take the time she needed to be with her family. They would talk after the Monday morning meeting before she left to ensure that her accounts would be tended to in her absence. John Alexander was a very understanding, kind man; however, he did enjoy making money, lots of money, and was very business driven, so Madison was surprised by his generosity.
"One down, four more to go," she said to herself as she scratched items off her To-Do list one by one. She went to her computer and made her travel arrangements. Next, she called her colleague and closest friend, Joe, to arrange for him to watch her dog, George. The last call she made was to her ex-husband explaining why she needed to leave town and asking if it would be all right for Mason to stay with him the next couple of weeks. He assured her it would be fine and would give him some extra time with Mason. As Mason was graduating from high school in June and leaving for college in August, both parents were aware of how little time they had left to spend with him.
Packing could wait until tomorrow evening leaving the last item on her list: Call Mom?? She decided to wait on making that call; she did not want to deal with the questions and concerns that she'd be pressed to answer. Although Madison was good at dealing with conflict, she decided to take the road of avoidance for now. She loved her mom very much, but knew that her mother would do everything she could to keep her from going to this funeral. Madison's mother, Ann, was deathly afraid of Leroy and had spent all of Madison's childhood years protecting her from him. There was no way to know for sure if Leroy would bother to show his face for Hazel's funeral or not, but, still, he was a threat to Madison and she knew it. Inside Madison wanted to pick up the phone and tell her mother everything, knowing full well it wouldn't help ease her fears but would only upset her mother. They had a very close relationship since they were all each other had for many years and, like a little girl, Madison wanted to run to her. She resisted making the call and decided to rethink it in the morning after she slept on it.
Chapter TwoIt was 7:30 a.m. when Madison arrived at Alexander Koplin Associates and unlocked the door to her office. It was a spacious office with a dark cherry wood desk, two matching bookcases, and an oversized-plush brown leather chair with a matching ottoman. The chair sat in front of one of the three large picture windows that overlooked the Mississippi River. She had spent many hours in that chair gazing out at the view—watching boats maneuver up and down the river, joggers on their morning runs, mothers with strollers on afternoon walks, and various others enjoying the trails that ran parallel to the river. This was where she could take a break when stressing or agonizing over which advertisement she would present to her client. On her office door, her name was etched on the frosted glass—Madison Slone.
It was good that Madison loved her office because she spent a considerable amount of time there. She put down her purse and oversized leather work bag and booted up her computer. As the computer turned on she walked out into the hall and headed for the lunchroom where she found coffee already made. She poured a cup and retreated to her office. This was going to be a busy day, and the Monday morning meeting began in twenty minutes.
She wasn't ready for the meeting as she usually spent Sunday evenings planning for the week to come, but she was confident she could wing it. She was good at improvising when times called for it. In light of the call yesterday, Madison was very distracted and really had only come to the office to prepare for her leave of absence. She sat at her desk and stared at the client files in front of her, debating. Joe would have to take over her clients while she was gone. He was one of the greatest graphic designers in town. Joe would work the graphics angle and her assistant, Tamara, was more than able to handle all client relations.
Tamara had been Madison's assistant now for nearly ten years. They had worked side by side during that time and spent many hours deliberating over which advertisement would best suit a client's needs. Tamara knew Madison's clients just as well as she did and would be more than competent to handle any situation that should arise. Besides that, Madison would only be gone for ten days.
She sorted through the folders and made a few notes in each for Tamara. Joe would know what to do; she didn't worry about him and besides, he would call if necessary. She gathered her files and coffee and walked down the hall to the conference room where everyone was slowly gathering.
John Alexander began the meeting with a quick greeting and got right to the point. There was an important new client, Landis McNeil, considering Alexander Koplin and Associates to be their new advertising agency. It would be the kind of account where everyone collaborated and each person added value.
As John began discussing updates on the progress of the project, he couldn't help but think about how Madison's expertise was needed. She was one of the best when it came to presenting to clients with finesse. He knew that Tamara was great at keeping the ball rolling and things organized for Madison, but she was not a senior rep of the company and the client would see through that. He needed Madison.
For a moment he wondered if they should hold off on having the Landis McNeil meeting next Wednesday without Madison. Maybe they could postpone it to the week after her return. He could feel the tension gnawing at him as his thoughts raced. He pulled at his collar as if to loosen it and sat back in his chair while everyone gave their progress updates. There was still so much to do. He decided that he would consult with Madison privately after the meeting. Knowing full well she was not going to be back from the funeral until later the following week, he toyed with the idea of asking her to come back early.
The meeting ended and everyone scattered back to their offices and cubicles to get started on the long week ahead. As Madison exited the conference room, she asked Tamara to meet her in ten minutes. Madison walked briskly back to her office and set her things down. Before the phone or anyone in the office could distract her, Madison quickly made her way to the bathroom. It was going to be a busy day and bathroom breaks would seem to be a luxury—not only for the relief but because there were no distractions. Ironically, it was the quietest place to have a moment's thought.
She hurried back to her office and pulled out several notes she had to review with Tamara. She still had not told Tamara that she would be leaving town. In fact, no one really knew yet. Madison felt uncomfortable about the whole situation and the unknown circumstances that surrounded the death, so she had asked John to hold off on saying anything until she was gone.
Madison glanced down at her list of "To-Dos." Lists were good. They helped her feel in control and organized. Scratching something off the list was a joyful accomplishment and provided personal recognition. Any additions to a list were mere raises of the bar in Madison's mind.
At that moment her list consisted of the following:
1) Confirm flight/hotel/car arrangements
2) Dinner with Mason
3) Drop off George
4) Meet with Tamara
5) Meet with Joe- lunch
6) Discuss loose ends with John Alexander
7) Tell mom? Undecided.
Tamara arrived and had brought two cups of coffee for their meeting. Madison thanked her before saying, "There's been a terrible accident over the weekend, and I will be leaving town for ten days."
Tamara asked, "God, Madison, is everything okay? Is it Mason?"
"No, he's fine. It's my grandmother in North Carolina: she was found murdered in her home."
As Madison began to tell her about Hazel, Tamara intently studied her face, trying to pick up on the emotion Madison was displaying. She couldn't put her finger on it. Losing a loved one is painful enough and then finding out they've been murdered must be torturous. As Madison kept talking, Tamara noticed and thought, "She seems more upset over the murder than the actual loss." Then again, she herself had never experienced the murder of someone she knew. Maybe that was just another step in the grieving process she was obviously not familiar with.
Madison reminded her that she would only be a call away if Tamara had any problems or questions and to not hesitate in calling. They went through each file, and Tamara wrote feverishly for the next hour. As they wrapped up, Tamara looked at Madison and said, "What about the Landis McNeil project? Everyone is killing themselves on this project and we need you!"
"Tamara, you will be just fine. I've laid out for you all that needs to be done and you will do great! I wouldn't leave this in your hands if I didn't feel confident in your abilities. I'm only a call away if you need me, and I will have my computer with for any drafts needing my approval."
Excerpted from Blackberry Creek by Rachel McCoy Copyright © 2011 by Rachel McCoy. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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