COME OUT, COME OUT WHEREVER YOU ARE
Someone was lurking in the woods behind the isolated old cabins Janna McAllister was fi xing up. Who was he? And what could he want with a single mother who hadn't set foot in Wyoming in years? Janna was suddenly grateful for her unexpected new lodgers: deputy sheriff Michael Robertson and his teenaged son. The strong, silent type, Michael made her feel safeespecially when human remains were found on the property. The cold case threatened to remain unsolved. Until Janna unwittingly found a clue that would tempt a killer to come out of the woodwork.
About the Author
Roxanne has a master's degree in nutrition, and works as a consultant dietitian for small-town hospitals and health care facilities. She and her husband have three children, and live on an acreage with two goofy dogs, three semiretired horses, a pony named Michael Jordan, numerous cats...and Sid the Snake, who absolutely insisted on appearing in her first book.
Roxanne Rustand's first manuscript won the 1995 Romance Writers of America Golden Heart for Best Long Contemporary.
Her second manuscript, a 1998 Golden Heart finalist, was published as Her Sister's Children by Superromance in August 1999. As a published novel, it won the Write Touch Readers Award 2000.
Her third and fourth manuscripts both won the West Houston Emily, and were published by Superromance as Montana Legacy (February 2000) and The House at Briar Lake (October 2000).
Cofounder and first president of the Heart of Iowa chapter of RWA, she enjoys speaking at regional and national writers' conferences. Readers can write her at Box 2550, Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52406-2550. She can also be found at: http://www.pobox.com/~Roxanne.Rustand or www.superauthors.com
Read an Excerpt
Janna McAllister swept a cobweb away from her ear, blew at the damp tendrils of hair trailing over her forehead and stared at the three mice sitting on the kitchen counter of Cabin Ten.
They stared right back, whiskers twitching, paws folded in front of their little chests, probably even more surprised than she was. But it wasn't the mice that worried her.
She gazed past them to the candy wrappers and soda cans on the counter.
Snow Canyon Lodge had been closed for a good fifteen years, though the cabins had been empty for longer than that. There shouldn't have been any sign of recent human habitation.
And yet the padlock on the door had been pried off and someone had been in here recently, given the brand names on those wrappers. Hikers? High school kids out for a lark?
Considering what she'd found in a cupboard, she tried not to dwell on other, darker possibilities.
But the people who'd broken in were long gone. She had a job to do, and not much time to get it done. She couldn't afford to let anyone stand in her way.
Determination had taken on a whole new meaning, now that she was a single mom, dealing with an ex-husband who could afford little financial support, plus the care of her elderly mother.
Setting her jaw, she continued her inspection of the property with a clipboard in hand, working backward from the most distant cabins toward the ones near the lodge.
Cabins Four and Five had miraculously withstood years of Wyoming's snow and wind and sun, but precious few of the others would be usable without a lot of work and then only after she hauled away truckloads of trash and moldering furniture. Two of the cabins were just shy of needing demolition.
The main lodge would take months of cleaning, repairs and redecorating to fully restore.
She'd clearly been naive, thinking she could leave her career in Minneapolis the day after Rylie finished school and be ready for business in a few weeks.
Lord, I feel you led me hereand that this place is your answer to my prayers for a new life for Rylie and me. Please help me handle all of this, because I'm sure going to need Your help.
"Mom! Someone's here! Hurry!" Rylie's breathless, excited words floated through the torn screen door of Cabin Three. "I think it's important!"
The nine-year-old's high-pitched voice sent the mice scampering across the buckled vinyl countertops and over the far edge like lemmings over a cliff.
"Just a minute," Janna called out. The last thing the child needed to see was mice. She was already terrified of spiders and ladybugs, thanks to an older boy who'd teased her with both on the school bus.
Janna gingerly stepped around piles of old newspapers, tractor parts and a peach crate filled with grimy Mason canning jars to peer into the back room of the cabin.
She sneezed oncetwicethree times at the eddies of dust stirred up by her shoes.
A sagging iron bed filled most of the space. Its stained mattress undoubtedly provided lodging for immeasurable varieties of verminand possibly dozens of little relatives of the three mice she'd just met. There was no way she wanted to set foot in that room.
Faced with the hard reality of her new life in this remote corner of her mother's ranch, she was torn between tears and incredulous laughter.
"Mom!" Rylie's voice was closer now. A moment later footsteps raced across the lopsided porch of the cabin, and the door squealed open. Rylie stood in the doorway as Maggie, her little white highland terrier-beagle mix, barreled inside. "You should see."
Expecting a feed delivery or possibly something from FedEx, Janna managed a weary smile. Rylie was done with school for the summer and there were no neighborhood kids in the area, so even deliveries were exciting when no one else was around. "Must be about as good as a birthday present, whatever it is."
"It's a man who looks like he could be in a movie. And he's got another guy with him, too."
"Really." Janna dusted off her hands and lifted Rylie's chin to study the smudges across her cheeks and brow. Like all the McAllister women, Rylie had the family's green eyes, strawberry-blond hair and petite, delicate build, but she was defiantly in her tomboy phase. "Where have you been?"
"The barn. Up in the loft."
At least there, the rodents were kept at bay by an extended family of cats and Rylie hadn't seen any spiders.
Janna stifled another sneeze. "Why don't you run up to the lodge and check on your grandma Claire. And I'll" Janna started out the door, but faltered to a stop when she caught sight of the gleaming black Ford 250 club cab parked over by the lodge.
A tall, dark-haired man leaned against its front fender, his booted feet crossed at the ankles, one elbow propped on the hood. His Stetson tipped low over his forehead, and sunglasses shaded his eyes, but even from where Janna was standing, she could see that the strong jaw and sharp angle of his cheekbones promised that this was one good-looking guy.
Probably a very lost good-looking guy, given the out-of-state plates on his truck. Though perhaps he was one of the rich Californians who'd been flooding the area over the past decade, buying up family owned ranches and driving up land values with their palatial homes. According to Janna's sisters, their mother had been pressured to sell out by several of them alreadyinvestors who'd apparently thought an elderly woman would be easy prey.
They'd all met their match in Claire McAllister. And if this guy had similar intentions, he'd find the same was true of her daughter.
Janna strolled across the wiry, sunburned grass to the gravel road that ran past the cabins down to the main ranch road, with Maggie trotting at her side. "Can I help you?"
He'd been staring at the massive, jagged peaks of the Rockies to the west. Farther north, the Teton Range rose dramatically from a level valley floor, but here there were pine-covered foothills with ranches tucked into hidden valleys. He flashed a smile at her. "This is Snow Canyon Resort, right?"
Resort sounded pretentious, given the state of things, but through the smoked glass of the truck's backseat she could see the outlines of luggage and a suit bag hanging behind the driver's seat. An uneasy premonition swept through her. "R-i-i-ight."
"Great." He pushed away from the truck, slipped off his sunglasses and strolled over to offer a handshake. "Michael Robertson."
At closer range she could see his hair was black, his eyes the color of aged brandy flecked with gold. But while some good-looking men seemed to bask in self-satisfaction, this one radiated a level of warmth and openness that surprised her.
She dusted her hand against her faded jeans and shook his hand, trying not to be mesmerized by that low, rich voice or the deep, slashing dimples that bracketed his mouth when he smiled. "Janna McAllister."
He studied her expectantly for a moment. "My son Ian and I have reservations," he said at last. "I called three weeks ago."
Three weeks ago? She and Rylie hadn't even arrived in Wyoming then, so he must have called the ranch office down at the home place, where her sister Tessa still lived.
"You probably talked to Clairemy mother." She darted a look toward the rambling log-and-fieldstone lodge. "I think there's been a mistake."
"I asked for a confirmation number, but the woman I talked to said it wasn't necessary."
Claire certainly hadn't written anything down. The pristine reservation book was still in its cellophane wrapper, ready for the day when the rustic resort could be fully reopened, but that was a long time away. And so far, Janna had managed to restore just a few rooms in the lodge. "I'm sorry, but"
The man frowned as he lifted a folded sheet of paper from the back pocket of his jeans and shook it open with one hand before holding it out. "I asked her to fax me some sort of confirmation, anyway, just to be sure."
Janna accepted the paper. Sure enough, it was Snow Canyon Ranch letterhead, with Claire's familiar looping scrawl. And it said
"Oh, dear," Janna muttered under her breath.
The man glanced impatiently at his watch. "I've essentially got a contract here, signed by the owner of the ranch. A two-bedroom cabin for three full monthsfrom June first through September first."
And according to her mother's almost indecipherable script, she'd agreed to a five-hundred-dollar penalty if either party broke the contract early.
Janna closed her eyes briefly, mentally cataloging the state of the ten cabins trailing up into the foothills, and wished she hadn't started playing with the design of a promotional Web site before she left Minneapolis. "You found us online?"
"Exactly." His friendly tone took on the edge of a man accustomed to taking command. A man who obviously needed a long-term place to stay, and who'd consider this makeshift contract and preposterous penalty an ironclad agreement. "So, is there a problem? I hope notthere's not another place like this within thirty miles of town."
"No " She took a steadying breath. "I just wasn't aware of the reservation, and the cabins aren't quite ready for guests. But we'll soon be reopening the main lodge as a B&B. You'd be welcome there for a day or so until I can have your cabin ready."
His gaze flickered toward the barn and corral, where a tall, lanky teenager was hanging over the fence to look at a horse. "You have an extra room for my son, as well?"
"Absolutely, and your meals will be on me until we can get you settled properly. We've got a nice guest dining room where we can serve you."
She bit her lower lip as she visualized all of the moving boxes still stacked in that room, and hoped he'd want to dine fashionably late tonight. Very late. "I know it's an inconvenience, having to settle in twice, but I'd be happy to help with that."
"No problem." He called to his son, then turned to open the back door of his truck. Draping a suit bag over the top of the open door, he pulled out several suitcases and two duffel bags. "I'm just glad this is going to work out."
"It will. My family and I live in the north wing, and you'll be on the second floor, center. You'll have plenty of peace and quiet during your vacation," Janna assured him as she hefted the weight of the smallest duffel and swung it over her shoulder.
"Actually, I start work as interim sheriff on Monday, while Sheriff Brownley is away on long-term disability leave. The office is in Wolf Creek."
Janna whistled. "That's quite a commute."
"I bought a house on the edge of town, but it needs a lot of work before we can move in." His son ambled up to the truck, clearly trying to mask a definite limp, and grabbed two suitcases. "Ian, this is Janna McAllister, our innkeeper."
She offered him a warm smile. "Hi, Ian."
The boy barely nodded, his head downcast. "I see you like horses."
He lifted a shoulder in silent response.
He appeared to be about sixteen or seventeen, with his dad's dark hair and eyes. She glimpsed heavy scarring down one side of his face and beneath the cuff of his long-sleeved T-shirt before he ducked his head and turned away, clearly self-conscious.
Michael rested a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Ian is looking forward to some trail riding during his summer vacation. Do we talk to you about that?"
"That's my middle sister, Tessa. She's gone for weeks at a time, leading pack trips up into the high country, but she'll be back at her place on Saturday."
Ian gave his dad a bored look, his mouth curled in derision.
Michael frowned, obviously reminding him to watch his manners. "I'm sure that will be fine. Thanks."
Janna guessed the boy hadn't been entirely cooperative about moving to Wyoming. "In the meantime I could saddle up Frosty for you, if you'll promise to stay up around the corrals. She's in her twenties and safe for anyone."
Ian dug the toe of his Nike into a tuft of wiry grass. "I know how to ride," he mumbled. "I'm not gonna fall off or anything."
"You look like an athletic kid," she assured him.
"It's just that people get lost all too easily if they stray off the trails around here. Come on up to the lodge, and I'll show you your rooms."
Janna turned for the lodge and pretended she didn't hear the brief, sharp exchange between father and son. Ahead, she could see her mother standing at her bedroom window with a stern expression.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really wished the i had the rest of the series of this book
Janna, a single mother, is trying to restore Snow Canyon Resort, but trouble seems to find her at every turn. She hasn¿t been there for a very long time, but is determined to make this work, despite the conflicts with her mother and the pressures of being a single mom in addition to all the problems of getting the cabins ready for guests. Stubborn as a mule, she is stressed to the max. Or so I thought. Then, as if it weren¿t enough, a body was found on her land! Michael, a deputy sheriff and guest at the lodge, is the hero in this perfectly woven suspense novel, who tries to help Janna by investigating into it to try to figure out who is behind everything happening at the resort. And he has problems of his own with a troubled son. And to top it all off, hard as he tries, he¿s extremely attracted to Janna. First in the Snow Canyon Ranch Series, I found I was hooked as soon as I opened the book with Roxanne Rustand¿s well-crafted story and characters. Janna is a loving and dedicated woman, whose problems many could relate to in one way or another. With engaging conversation and believable characters, Hard Evidence is a page-turner that will have you saying ¿...just one more chapter and then I¿ll call it a night¿. You won¿t be able to put it down. You have to know what happens! Rustand has a talent for hooking the reader and keeping their attention with her fast-paced mystery uniquely laced with romance and even some inspiration. I can¿t wait to read the rest of this series!
Roxanne Rustand weaves a great suspense story that keeps you guessing who the killer is up until the end. I often read more than one book at a time and I love it when a book can grab me to where I can't put it down and pick up one of my other books and Hard Evidence was one of those books. She made all her characters lovable, even Janna's cranky mother. It was also a great story about moving on and letting other's into your life. I can not wait for the next book in the series. Posted by ladystorm at 1:57