I have three confessions to make:
1. I’ve got the scar of a gunshot on my forehead.
2. I don’t remember an entire year of my life.
3. My name is Kellen Adams…and that’s half a lie.
Girl running…from a year she can’t remember, from a husband she prays is dead, from homelessness and fear. Tough, capable Kellen Adams takes a job as assistant manager of a remote vacation resort on the North Pacific Coast. There amid the towering storms and the lashing waves, she hopes to find sanctuary. But when she discovers a woman’s dead and mutilated body, she’s soon trying to keep her own secrets while investigating first one murder…then another.
Now every guest and employee is a suspect. Every friendly face a mask. Every kind word a lie. Kellen’s driven to defend her job, her friends and the place she’s come to call home. Yet she wonders—with the scar of a gunshot on her forehead and amnesia that leaves her unsure of her own past—could the killer be staring her in the face?
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Washington State's Pacific Coast Yearning Sands Resort September of last year
Before Priscilla Carter came to Yearning Sands to be the resort's assistant manager, she supposed her life here would involve a blend of poetry, nature and wealth. She imagined long walks among the towering pines, evenings spent in the luxurious lobby, sipping a cocktail while watching the sun set across the restless Pacific, and a wealthy, interesting man who would catch sight of her and rush to her side drawn by the rhapsody of their souls.
That hadn't happened.
When a wealthy, interesting man did show up — and they did, on a regular basis, because Yearning Sands was a destination resort — he was usually married to someone smart, pretty and young. If a single guy caught her gazing at the sunset, he would inevitably tell her his room needed to be cleaned. Her two seemingly good prospects bought her a couple of drinks, gave her a quick grope and rushed for the finish line, and when she demanded romance and promises, they couldn't be bothered. Every viable candidate treated her as if she was a slave, and not the kind they wanted to handcuff and spank and have wild sex with, either. More like a faceless vehicle who lived to make their lives easier. That was so not her.
The man she considered her best prospect, actor Carson Lennex, had reported her brazen behavior to the resort owners. In forceful terms, Mr. Di Luca had reminded Priscilla that her role here was to assist Mrs. Di Luca, the resort's manager. He used words like, probation and trial period, and suggested she might consider chasing her dreams elsewhere.
Elsewhere? She didn't have another position — or a runaway marriage — lined up. So she went to work and got her chores done ... mostly.
Priscilla was in training to take over from Annie Di Luca when Annie had one of her sick spells — Annie was really old and suffered from rheumatoid arthritis — or when the Di Lucas went on one of their rare vacations.
The main hotel building resembled a European castle with towers and turrets, and 592 rooms. Forty-eight cottages were scattered around the property. The resort hosted whale-watching tours and fishing expeditions off their dock, hiking trips to the nearby Olympic Mountains, and expertly-led scientific treks seeking local flora and fauna. They rented all-terrain vehicles, bicycles and small launches. They had four bars, twenty-seven miles of running paths and a beach access that led to the second-longest beach in Washington State. Luxury-inclined guests indulged in the infinity pool, the fine restaurants and the top-notch spa services. When the hotel was at capacity they had two thousand guests, and ordering and organizing for the resort required hours and hours. Priscilla got tired and impatient, and sourly commented that it seemed as if all of the guests were complaining all the time. But surely no sane person could expect her to do it all and do it all with a smile.
Apparently someone did, because that someone complained about her sullen attitude and Mr. Di Luca called her in again and gave her another tedious lecture about being polite to the guests and even the rest of the staff. Like they mattered. He made Priscilla so mad she couldn't sleep.
That was the night it happened.
The resort had lodged her in a rustic cottage at the farthest end of the property, supposedly so when she was off duty, she'd have privacy. Priscilla suspected it was to keep the lowly employees away from the privileged guests.
She went upstairs to the bedroom to try and sleep. No luck. At midnight she got up and poured a glass of wine. She went out to the front porch, and paced and drank. She got another glass, sat in the porch swing and rocked and drank.
She got madder. She put her foot up on the arm of the swing, looked at her silver toe ring, at the Celtic knot with a purple topaz. That ring was the only memento she had from her mother. It kept her safe.
Finally she abandoned the wine and headed along a path toward the beach, walking fast and angry and muttering curses on the entire Yearning Sands Resort staff.
Off in the distance, she heard a motor, a boat on the ocean. Probably someone illegally fishing ...
But it wasn't illegal fishing.
A person clad in dark clothing ran the path from the dock and toward the wind-warped pine the locals called the One-Finger Salute. Belated caution made Priscilla duck into a nearby pile of boulders. In the moonless night she couldn't see who it was or if the person was male or female. She only knew whoever it was bent to place a package at the base of the tree, and ran back to the dock. The motor started again and the boat raced away.
She saw no one lurking in the darkness. Fueled by curiosity, recklessness and wine, she scurried to the tree and groped for the package. She found it in a shallow hole — an oblong box wrapped in paper. For its size, it was heavy; she knelt in the dirt and lifted it free. Hugging it to her chest, she got to her feet and ran toward her cottage. She arrived out of breath and out-of-proportion excited, as if she had been given a late birthday present. She scurried inside, locked the door and hustled through the cottage, closing the blinds as she went. She climbed the stairs into the bedroom, turned on a lamp and placed the box on the bedside table.
She stared at the dirt-smudged package and wondered what she had gotten herself into. Whatever this was, someone had smuggled it on shore in the middle of the night. Logically, someone was now scheduled to pick it up. So it was valuable, and she was an idiot for sticking her neck out to grab it.
But her hopes of a rich husband had been crushed, she'd been working hard and got nothing for her labors but a reprimand, so why not open this in the hope of finding treasure inside?
Tearing off the paper, she lifted the lid. Inside she discovered bubble-wrapped packages of various sizes, and when she unpacked the largest and heaviest, she discovered the red stone figure of a man squatting on his haunches, an immense penis protruding between his legs. She was so startled she dropped the grotesque thing. It landed on the mattress, and she stood breathing hard.
What was that?
She opened another, smaller package and found a similar stone carving of woman's naked pregnant body. Then a series of broad-cheeked faces with glaring eyes and ferocious scowls. Finally a flat stone carved with weird symbols. She lined everything up and looked at the hideous things.
Someone was sneaking around for this? Her knees were wet and dirty for this? For a bunch of ugly rocks?
She went into the bathroom and brushed her teeth. She intended to go to bed, damn it, go to sleep, and ... okay. Those statues looked old. They were worth something to somebody. One quick online search and she found photos of those very statues in an article about Central American tomb looting. In Guatemala, armed thieves had held archeologists at gunpoint and stolen statuary worth millions on the private collectors market.
"Holy shit," she whispered. She stared at the ugly statues lined up on her nightstand. Millions.
She double-checked to make sure the blinds were tightly closed.
One of the archeologists claimed the symbols on the flat piece of stone were a tomb curse that had been chiseled out, and whoever possessed that would be doubly cursed.
Yeah, sure. Cursed with money.
She should turn this find over to the authorities. Maybe there was a reward. Or maybe she'd be in trouble for ... for stealing the statues.
Millions. That meant someone around here was going to be plenty mad not to find the box by the tree. Better return these at once.
Except ... she'd never before been this close to anything worth millions. She deserved something for knowing about the smuggling and keeping her mouth shut. This was her opportunity. If she had the guts.
Getting the resort stationary and the resort pen, she wrote, "Leave $2000 —"
She threw that note away and started again. "Leave $5000 dollars in a —"
She threw that note away. She took a photo of the stolen tomb treasures. She printed the picture, put it in a plastic bag and wrote, "I know what they're worth. Leave $25,000 in cash here in an envelope on Sept. 12. When I have the money, I'll return the box to Ocean Notch Park beside the high schoolers' painted rock." She'd make the drop-off in broad daylight, on her way out of town, when there were people around. She'd be safe.
She reread the note. The handwriting was shaky, but she sounded clear and tough. She knew the smuggler — Who could it be? — would follow directions. Because ... millions. All she had to do was put the letter in the bag with the photo, return to the tree and drop them off, and not get caught by someone who. Briefly, she shivered. Someone who might be violent.
She would not chicken out. Better do it now. She donned dark clothes, pulled a dark wool hat over her blond hair and ran in a crouch back to the tree. She put the envelope in the hole at the base and a rock on top of it. She raced back to her cottage, and every moment she felt the back of her neck crawl. When she was inside, she locked the doors, checked the rooms, sat on the bed and stared at the collection of statues.
They stared back, solemn, angry, cruel.
They gave her the creeps, so she packaged them up again and stashed the box in the closet.
The next morning, the sun was shining. She went to work and apologized for being late. Annie was, as always, a sweetheart. That skinny exercise freak and spa director, Mara Philippi, invited her to attend the new self-defense class. One of the pilots who flew guests into the airstrip confided that he was a war hero and hinted at a tragic disposition that only a woman's true love could cure.
As Priscilla worked on the resort's supply orders, she began to think she had a future here. She began to have second thoughts about demanding money from a smuggler who, well, might be willing to kill for a fortune. Millions. Maybe she shouldn't have sucked down that entire bottle of wine ...
At noon, she returned to her cottage, got the box, brought it to the resort and stashed it. But now what? She couldn't give those statues to the authorities. She had incriminated herself by writing that note. She needed to retrieve the note. Then she would take the box of horrors to Mr. Di Luca and tell him ... tell him what happened, but say she forgot about it. Or she didn't realize what was in it.
No, not that. Better to pretend she hadn't opened it.
Whatever. She'd figure it out.
She spoke to Sheri Jean Hagerty, guest experience manager, and volunteered to lead a tour of the property. Sheri Jean was surprised, but civil. She gave Priscilla a stern lecture about how to behave to the paying guests, then anointed her official Yearning Sands expedition guide.
Priscilla promised to do everything precisely right. She put on the charm for the guests, made a point of taking them to the tree and explaining why it was called the One-Fingered Salute, and glowed when they laughed. She directed their attention to the nearby stack of boulders and explained it was called the nut sack, because the rocks were shaped like walnuts, and she pulled a disbelieving face. They laughed again. With some surprise, she realized she could be good at this. She directed them to the path leading to the Butler Lighthouse Viewpoint, told them it was a great spot to watch for whales. While they were off exclaiming about the panorama, she checked on the envelope.
It was gone. In its place was something that looked like.
She leaned down and brushed at the dirt. Something mostly buried ... She brushed a little more.
A woman's hand. With polished nails. And a ring.
A hand. Dear God, a hand, a hand, a severed hand.
Priscilla didn't scream or throw up. She had enough sense for that. Head swimming, she stood, wanting to get away from the vile thing. That threat. That promise of death and dismemberment. What should she do?
Run away. Now.
"Are you okay? You look ill."
She jumped, looked up at the older woman, a guest with concern on her plump face. The hand in the ground was revealed, crumpled in death's agony, so Priscilla made eye contact with the woman, and started shoving dirt into the hole with her shoe. "I don't feel well. A sudden sickness ... flu season has started."
The woman took a step back. "You should head back."
"You're right. I should. I'll call the other guests."
"No!" The woman took another step back. She didn't want to be infected. "Send somebody from the resort for us."
"Thank you. I'm sorry." Priscilla must look bad. White. Sweaty with fear.
She was going back to her cottage to pack. Now. Put everything in her car and run away. And whoever found that box of cursed statues could keep it.
I have three confessions:
1. I've got the scar of gunshot on my forehead.
2. I don't remember an entire year of my life.
3. My name is Kellen Adams ... and that's half a lie.
Washington State's Pacific Coast Yearning Sands Resort January of this year
On January 27, a low tide revealed ocean caves normally submerged by water, Leo and Annie Di Luca left on vacation, a woman's mutilated corpse was found on the grounds and it rained.
The rain was business as usual.
In early November, U.S. Army veteran Kellen Adams had accepted the position of assistant resort manager. Annie warned her she had arrived at the beginning of what the locals called the Monsoon Season.
Kellen had chuckled.
But they weren't kidding. In winter, on the Washington coast, wind blew. Rain fell. The sun rose late and set early. Every day was an endless gray. The holiday season had been busy and full of guests and lights and cheer, but when the decorations came down and January trudged on, their few guests came for discounted prices on meals and rooms. The resort used the downtime to paint, repair and clean, and Annie practically pushed the hospitality staff out the doors, telling them to go somewhere sunny and come back refreshed and ready to face the Valentine's Day rush. Everyone snatched at their chances to vacation elsewhere, and they knew where to find deals. They were, after all, in the hospitality business. They had connections.
Kellen told Annie she had nowhere to go, no relatives to visit and no desire to smell coconut-scented sunscreen. She stayed, reveling in the isolation, determined to learn everything Annie could teach her, and kept so busy she fell into bed at night and rose early in the morning. She loved the schedule; it left her little time to think, to remember — and to not remember.
Then on that dark, cold, rainy morning of January 27, Annie followed her own advice. She and Leo prepared to fly to warm and sunny Bella Terra, California to celebrate their family holidays at the original Di Luca family resort.
Under the hotel portico, a group of elderly tourists climbed onto a tour bus, so Annie rolled in her wheelchair through the rain toward the limousine.
Her assistance dog, a black lab named Hammett, trotted beside her.
Kellen walked on the other side, holding an umbrella and protecting Annie from the windblown blasts of rain, her brain's little quirk kicking in, her mind subconsciously scrolling through its catalogue of data on the elderly woman:
Annie Di Luca: Female, white, elderly, height undetermined. Too thin. Curly white hair, great cut, brown eyes. Wheelchair bound. Rheumatoid arthritis. Resort manager. Brilliant with staff and guests. Kind to a fault. Frail. Husband: Napoleone (Leo) Di Luca, married "since the earth's crust cooled."
"We'll be back in two weeks," Annie said. "After my last experience with an assistant, I was determined not to hire a replacement. But Leo insisted, and you know the only reason I relented was because you were a wounded veteran."
"I wasn't that wounded." Kellen rotated her shoulder.
"Enough that the Army discharged you!"
"Men were killed." I was unconscious for two days. Had an MRI to discover the cause of my coma. Tricky things, land mines. Woke to find myself being discharged; I hadn't realized the military could process paperwork that fast.
"I'm sorry, dear, about the deaths. I know how you feel about your comrades-in-arms."
Excerpted from "Dead Girl Running"
Copyright © 2018 Christina Dodd.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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