Fragments of Fear

Fragments of Fear

by Carrie Stuart Parks

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Overview

FBI-certified forensic artist Carrie Stuart Parks infuses her real-life expertise into her award-winning suspense novels.

Evelyn McTavish’s world came crashing down with the suicide of her fiancé. As she struggles to put her life back together and make a living from her art, she receives a call that her dog is about to be destroyed at the pound. Except she doesn’t own a dog. The shelter is adamant that the microchip embedded in the canine with her name and address makes it hers.

Evelyn recognizes the dog as one owned by archaeologist John Coyote because she was commissioned to draw the two of them. The simple solution is to return the dog to his owner—but she arrives only to discover John’s murdered body.

As Evelyn herself becomes a target, she crosses paths with undercover FBI agent Sawyer Price. The more he gets to know her, the more personally invested he becomes in keeping her safe. Together, they’re desperate to find the links between so many disparate pieces.

Stolen art. A New Mexico archaeological dig. An abandoned dog. And a secret that’s worth killing for.And the clock is ticking.

Praise for Fragments of Fear:

“A rollercoaster ride with a lovable protagonist and a suspenseful, twisty plot.” —Colleen Coble

“Over the years, Carrie has mastered forensic art, fine art, and her own brand of offbeat humor. As a novelist she combines these skills with another: puzzle writing––scattering puzzle pieces all over her fictional universe and then dropping them into place in twists, surprises, revelations, and side-pocket whimsy until the big picture emerges, never too soon, always on the brink of disaster.” —Frank Peretti

“I love Carrie Stuart Park's skill in writing characters with hysterical humor, unwitting courage, and page-turning mystery. I hope my readers won't abandon me completely when they learn about her!” —Terri Blackstock, USA TODAY bestselling author of the If I Run series

“Carrie Stuart Parks has been a favorite author of mine since I read her first book. She's one of the few authors I'll give up sleep for! Without fail, she delivers stories that reel me in and keep me turning pages until I'm done and craving more. Fragments of Fear is sure to make you a Carrie Stuart Parks addict as well! #CSPaddictandproudofit” —Lynette Eason, bestselling, award-winning author

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780785226130
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 07/23/2019
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 383,609
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy, multiple Carol, and Inspy Award–winning author. She was a 2019 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for excellence in mainstream mystery/suspense and has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law-enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Evelyn Yvonne McTavish — Tavish to her friends — clenched the red long-stemmed rose and stared at the glossy casket. The brief graveside service had ended with the Unitarian Universalist pastor reading from Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet. The pastor's last words echoed in Tavish's mind. "And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance."

"What does that even mean?" Tavish whispered. The unseasonably warm Albuquerque sun beat down on her black wide-brimmed hat, giving her a pounding headache. Her dress was itchy black wool made worse by her sweat.

The few mourners drifted away to their cars lined up on the pavement behind her, each first tossing a rose from a spray onto the lowered coffin.

Her mother had put in an appearance at the funeral home but left before the graveside service. Mother's stolen art had been released by the police and was being returned today. The stolen paintings were clearly more important than her daughter's grief.

Tavish felt ... hot. Hollow. Empty. Squeezed dry.

The funeral director, standing in the shade of a nearby tree, shifted and took a quick look at his watch.

Of course. She was delaying them from finishing their work. Fake grass covered the pile of raw, tawny-colored earth — earth that would soon cover her fiancé.

She tried to picture his face. Before. The funeral home said his remains were unviewable, but they didn't realize she'd been the one to find his body. That was the image burned into her brain. He'd told her where to meet him, a parking lot near the Rio Grande River. He was in his car — a rental, it turned out. The shotgun was beside him on the seat.

She snapped the rose's stem in half.

He would have left a note. If it was suicide, he would have left her a note. If he loved her like he'd promised, he would have found a way to tell her why.

The late afternoon sunlight caught the facets of her engagement ring's diamond, sending a shimmering light pattern onto the coffin's dark wood. He'd proposed just a week ago. They planned to have a celebration dinner this very night. He would have formally met her mother — and just as formally asked her mother for her hand in marriage.

She tore her gaze from the yawning grave and glanced at her grandmother's headstone a short distance away. Grandma, I wish you were here.

She felt rather than heard someone come up behind her. She stiffened, expecting more bland condolences or maybe even a nudge toward her car.

"I can't believe it's true." A woman's voice murmured. "I came as fast as I could."

Tavish nodded. She couldn't believe it either. She'd walked around for the past week like a cyborg — when she could get out of bed. She hadn't bothered to contact her accounting company and let them know why she was absent. They called and she'd just let the answering machine pick up. They'd finally stopped calling. She didn't care to know why. What difference did that make? Her life was over. And she hated that company anyway. Though Tavish's heart had been in her art ever since her grandmother died, her mother insisted she work "a real job" and had given her the firm. Now her mother could take it back.

"Why? Why?" the woman asked.

Why indeed? Tavish wished the mourner would leave. She needed these last few moments alone with Andrew. Her love. Her loss. She'd mentally planned their wedding, honeymoon, first home. The baby they would make. Family Thanksgivings and Christmases together. Now only emptiness stretched before her.

"I had so much to say to him," the other woman whispered. "I ... I ..." She quietly sobbed.

Tavish pulled a clean handkerchief from her pocket and held it out. The woman took it.

He'd brought meaning into her life, which had lost direction since Grandma's death. Before he came along, she'd been a fat, ugly lump of clay. He'd thought her intelligent, beautiful, and a brilliant artist.

The weeping continued, followed by coughing and throat clearing. "This is so wrong."

Wrong? Nothing's been right for a long time.

"He never would have left me." The woman's voice steadied. "Never. Not now. We were to have been married —"

Her words shot through Tavish's thoughts. "Excuse me?" She turned.

The strikingly beautiful young woman stared at Tavish through brown, glittering eyes. A black shift stretched across her pregnant belly.

Tavish tore her gaze from the woman's midsection and took a half step backward. "Oh. It's ... I'm ... This is extremely awkward, but I think you're at the wrong funeral. This is ... was Andrew James."

"Yes. Andrew James. He's dead, and it's all my fault." She stared at the lowered coffin, then shifted her gaze to Tavish. Her eyes narrowed. "Or maybe it's your fault."

Glancing around for the funeral director, Tavish hoped to catch his attention and have him escort this obviously deranged woman away. She spotted the man walking toward the hearse.

"I made him choose," the woman said. She was now glaring at Tavish. "But it is your fault."

Tavish wanted to put her hands over her ears. "Please go away —"

"I never would have done that ... made him choose between us"— the woman shook her head — "If I'd known he'd kill himself."

Tavish's stomach churned. "He didn't kill himself! He was murdered, and it was set up to look like suicide. I ... found him."

The woman's gaze sharpened. "Do the police believe it was murder?"

"Not yet, but —"

The woman opened a faux leather tote bag, grabbed a photograph, and thrust it at Tavish. Andrew grinned out at her, his arm around the woman. In the background, Tavish recognized the distinctive shape of the Spirit Lodge and Spa on the edge of town. She sucked in air through numb lips. "That d-doesn't prove anything."

The woman snatched the photograph back. "You don't have to believe me. Think about all the times Andrew was gone —"

"He was an investment counselor. He had to travel —"

"Yeah. Right. Investment counselors do most of their work on the phone." The woman jammed the photograph back into her purse. "Did you ever go with him on a business trip? Did you ever meet a single client?"

"No —"

"And where are his clients? His friends? Family? Why didn't anyone come to his funeral?"

"Um."

"Did you ever even go to his home?"

"He ... he said he had a roommate."

"Yeah. Me."

Tavish opened her mouth but no words came out. She felt like someone had just sucker-punched her in the stomach.

The woman's lips tightened. "Did you think a man as handsome as he was would ever fall for you?" She held up the handkerchief Tavish had given her. "Who has embroidered initials on their handkerchiefs? Who even carries handkerchiefs anymore? You're a plain, dumpy rich girl. That's all he wanted. Your money."

"He ... he had money ..."

"Is that what he told you? Ha! That ring on your finger is nothing more than cubic zirconium."

Tavish's head buzzed.

"Want more proof that he was engaged to me? That I knew him? Andrew loved IPA beer, wore his father's dog tags, and hated his work. Shall I describe his —"

"No!"

"I knew about you, but you didn't know about me. I told him he had to either break up with you or I'd make sure this little bundle"— she rubbed her bulging stomach —"Would be your next news flash. Andrew took the easy way out." She turned to leave, then turned back. "None of this had to happen if you and all your money hadn't come along. Now neither of us wins." She pivoted and stalked away.

Tavish turned toward the open grave, staring at it blindly. She could barely breathe.

The funeral director coughed softy.

She blinked, dropped the rose's broken stem, then crumpled the petals and let them drift through her fingers. Carefully she removed the engagement ring, lifted a corner of the fake grass, and shoved the ring into the dirt. She straightened, turned, and walked to her car, never looking back.

CHAPTER 2

ALBUQUERQUE, NE W ME XICO THREE WEEKS L ATER

Is this, ah, Evelyn McTavish, thirty-five, zero three, seventeen seventy-nine?" The man's voice was unpleasantly high-pitched.

Tavish checked the caller ID again. Happy Tails Shelter. "Yes, this is Evelyn McTavish, but I don't know what those numbers mean, and I don't donate to charity over the phone."

"That's how the registration came back. Your name, them numbers, this phone number, and the address of 965 Westwood Estates."

Tavish glanced at her watch. "What registration?"

The man gave an exasperated sigh. "Your dog registration.

From the microchip."

"I don't own a dog. Please don't call me again." She disconnected.

The phone rang again. Happy Tails Shelter. "Look —" she began.

"No, you look, lady, and I'll give it to ya straight. Either pay up and get the dog, or we're gonna kill it." The man's voice rose even higher. "We don't kid around. What's it gonna be?"

She made an effort to loosen the white-knuckled grip on her cell. "And I'm telling you for the second time, I don't have a dog! I've never had a dog. I've never even owned a goldfish —"

"Alls I know is the microchip on this mutt is registered to you. The shelter is overcrowded with dumped dogs, and this one bites, so we can't place her in another home. Come and get her or she's dead." Click.

The cell phone dropped from Tavish's shaking hand and onto her lap. Her stomach tightened and knotted and the room spun. She glanced at her fingernails, several of which were wrapped in Band-Aids. Finding one that was exposed, she bit down on the remains of the ragged nail. The sting made her eyes water, but slowly the anxiety attack passed.

"I'm okay," she whispered. "This will pass. Breathe in calm, breathe out fear. Om Mani Padme Hum." She thought the chant sounded like a sick cow, but this week's therapist wanted her to try it. The counselor before that gave her a journal to write in. And the string of psychiatrists her mother had set her up with after Grandma's death all gave her drugs.

Once her heartbeat returned to normal, she stood. "It's not my dog. Why should I care? I've never owned a dog. Dogs are great for books and movies, like Turner and Hooch or Lassie." What if it was just a puppy? A tiny fur ball that just needed a home? A baby Old Yeller? Or Hachiko waiting by the train station? A lump closed up her throat and her eyes blurred. They wouldn't kill a poor, defenseless puppy.

They will if I don't save it.

She snatched the phone, then dialed her mother's house. One of her mother's gardeners or staff workers could retrieve the dog and find a location to keep it until she could find the owner.

The housekeeper picked up. "Hi." Tavish couldn't remember this one's name. She hadn't set foot inside her mother's house since her grandmother's death more than a year ago, even though the front door was just a hundred yards away. "This is Tavish ... um, Evelyn ... Helen's daughter. Is Maria there?"

"Maria?"

"Maria ... um ..." What was her last name? It started with an M. "The lady who cleans my house. She works for my mother."

"No."

"Okay then. I need you to send someone to the Happy Tails Shelter and retrieve a dog —"

"Lo siento, pero no tengo coche, señorita. No car."

"The gardener ... el gardener ...? "

"No. Nadie está aquí todavía."

"Okay. Um, gracias." Tavish disconnected, grabbed a handful of tissues, her purse and keys, then raced to her car. She punched the name of the shelter into her cell, then directions. That horrible man hadn't said how long she had to fetch the poor dog. "You'd better not hurt that little puppy or ... or I'll ..." What? Draw his picture? Stab him with a pencil? Throw crumpled up newsprint at his head? Not a lot of vengeful acts available to her in her new career as a fine artist. Nor in her old career as an accountant. Hard to physically injure someone with numbers.

She could always just sit on him. The revenge of a fat lady.

She shot out of the driveway, almost sideswiping a passing pickup. The driver hit his horn.

"I'm so sorry!" Should I stop and apologize?

The pickup turned the corner and drove off.

She bit a piece of cuticle off her thumb. Her horoscope said she'd have a surprise today. Who would have believed the surprise would be an unwanted puppy?

At the red light, she tugged on the crystal pendant around her neck. Come on. Come on! She'd get the canine-thing straightened out. Maybe pay them to keep it for a few more days. Just long enough to get through her gallery opening. She'd place an ad in the newspaper. Find the owner ... somehow. She glanced at her watch. The Albuquerque pet shelter was in the opposite direction from the gallery.

* * *

Cars and trucks parked unevenly in the packed dirt of the parking lot of Happy Tails Shelter. Tavish stepped into the dry, early May sunshine and winced at the cacophony of wails and barking coming from the low pink-stuccoed building.

Inside the crowded lobby, a family of six hugged a wildly joyful yellow lab. The dog brushed against her, leaving fur on her tailored jeans. She brushed it off and avoided getting near two outdoorsy couples patting a shaggy mutt. In the corner, an elderly man held a small terrier. Three staff members wearing khaki shirts with "Happy Tails" and a dog's rear end — apparently the logo — embroidered on the pocket held clipboards and were gesturing to the attached paper. Everyone was shouting over the din of barking.

A short man wearing the Happy Tails shirt, made his way to her side. He sported a five-o'clock shadow, sunken cheeks, large nose, and receding chin. "Can I help you find a new fur baby?"

Fur baby? She recognized the voice on the phone. "You just called me. The dog with the microchip —"

"Oh, yeah." His smile faded and eyes narrowed. "So you came to your senses and don't want your dog killed." He turned and strolled toward the kennel area, not waiting to see if she followed.

Tavish caught up with him. "I told you on the phone. It's not my dog. I mean, dogs are fine in theory, and they make fine literature and films, but —"

He opened a door. The overwhelming sound of frantic barking and more people talking slammed into her ears. "I don't have a dog." She raised her voice over the din. "I don't know why my name and address was connected to it." The odor of disinfectant cleaners and urine burned her nose. "It must be a mistake." Chain-link dog runs lined either side of a hall, with several dogs of all sizes and breeds in each run. She made sure she walked down the middle. At the end of the hall, a door with a window marked No Admittance led to additional runs. He paused and pulled out a set of keys at the end of a chain. After unlocking the door, he passed through and stopped.

In the first run, a small black dog with a coat that looked like dreadlocks lay with its head between its paws, eyes watchful.

"Marley?" Tavish approached the kennel. "Marley?"

The Puli stood and stared at Tavish.

Tavish turned to the man. "I recognize the dog. But it's not mine. As I told you, I don't own a dog."

Marley launched herself at the gate, leaping against it, barking wildly. The leaps turned to spins, then to a race from one end of the run to the other, long cords flying. She looked like an animated black string mop.

The man snorted. "I don't care what you say. This is your dog, lady. Look at how she's acting."

The happy canine, now spinning in one place, continued to bark.

Tavish stepped back and brushed imaginary fur off her pressed jeans. "This is John Coyote's dog."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever. Can you show evidence of vaccination, including rabies?"

"How can I show you ... ? Never mind." After pulling out her phone, she thumbed through the numbers until she came to John's. "I'll call Marley's owner."

"You do that."

The phone rang. And rang. And rang. "He's not home." Tavish disconnected. "How long can you keep her —"

"You don't get it, do you, lady? Either you walk out of here with your dog, or she's toast." He leaned against the dog run.

Marley leaped away and lifted her lips, exposing sharp canines. The happy yips deepened to a bark worthy of a Doberman.

He straightened and jerked his thumb at the canine. "See what I mean? She's vicious."

Maybe she just has good sense. "Not usually."

The man's expression didn't change. "Look, ya either own a dog and take care of 'em, or ya put 'em up for adoption, or ya put 'em to sleep." He leaned forward, his eyes narrowing to slits. "Ya don't turn 'em loose where they'll get hit by a car, or shot, or killed by other dogs, or chewed up by coyotes, or starve to death. Got it?"

She pulled at a hangnail on her left finger. "Mister ... um?"

"Brown."

"Look, Mr. Brown, I know this dog because I'm an artist and was commissioned to draw her and her owner. Well, actually paint them, but —"

Brown headed toward the lobby. "I got work to do. Either purchase her shots and get her license, or leave and we'll take care of her."

"Marley's owner is John Coyote, a retired archaeologist." She raced to keep up with him. Marley's yelps grew frantic behind them. "He's probably consulting on an archaeological dig somewhere, and Marley got loose. You just need to keep her —"

Brown stopped so abruptly that Tavish crashed into him. "Seventy-eight bucks. And you take her with you."

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "Fragments of Fear"
by .
Copyright © 2019 Carrie Stuart Parks.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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