Middletide: A Novel

Middletide: A Novel

by Sarah Crouch
Middletide: A Novel

Middletide: A Novel

by Sarah Crouch

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Overview

In this gripping and intensely atmospheric debut, disquiet descends on a small town after the suspicious death of a beautiful young doctor, with all clues pointing to the reclusive young man who abandoned the community in chase of big city dreams but returned for the first love he left behind. Perfect for fans of All Good People Here and Where the Crawdads Sing.

One peaceful morning, in the small, Puget Sound town of Point Orchards, the lifeless body of Dr. Erin Landry is found hanging from a tree on the property of prodigal son and failed writer, Elijah Leith. Sheriff Jim Godbout’s initial investigation points to an obvious suicide, but upon closer inspection, there seem to be clues of foul play when he discovers that the circumstances of the beautiful doctor’s death were ripped straight from the pages of Elijah Leith’s own novel.

Out of money and motivation, thirty-three-year-old Elijah returns to his empty childhood home to lick the wounds of his futile writing career. Hungry for purpose, he throws himself into restoring the ramshackle cabin his father left behind and rekindling his relationship with Nakita, the extraordinary girl from the nearby reservation whom he betrayed but was never able to forget.

As the town of Point Orchards turns against him, Elijah must fight for his innocence against an unexpected foe who is close and cunning enough to flawlessly frame him for murder in this scintillating literary thriller that seeks to uncover a case of love, loss, and revenge.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781668035092
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 06/11/2024
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 190,537
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Sarah Crouch is known for her accolades in the world of athletics as a professional marathon runner. She has had freelance work featured in Active Magazine, Competitor Magazine, and many other titles. Middletide is her debut novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: August 22, 1973 1 AUGUST 22, 1973
Elijah chased Nakita’s laugh down the trail.

He was fast, but she was faster. He drove down the pace, almost sprinting, but all he caught were brief glimpses of long hair as it whipped around tight corners and flashed between tree trunks just ahead.

She knew this trail as well as he did now. They’d been running it all summer. It was the pretense, the excuse they’d given their parents; Nakita needed to train for her senior year of cross-country, and since Elijah had been captain of the team the year before, he would put in the miles with her over the summer before he left for college.

Every day since school let out, at the precise moment the minute hand on the kitchen clock slid from eleven-fifty-nine to noon, Nakita’s firm knock sounded on the front door. Elijah sometimes had to remind himself not to fly to the door and throw it open in excitement after the long morning hours he’d waited to see her.

After a quick drink from the hose out back, they jogged side by side past the woodshed and behind the chicken coop, where a break in the fence opened into the forest beyond. That was their starting line, the beginning of the trail loop where they’d now put in hundreds of miles of training. There were plenty of other places in Point Orchards to run, but this trail guaranteed seclusion. Out here, they were totally and completely alone.

“Which way?” she shouted over her shoulder, barely out of breath as she reached the fork in the trail. The left turn would take them back to his house by way of a mossy mile loop through the forest; the right turn was barely an animal trail, overgrown with stinging nettles that would slap and blister their shins. That one would take them toward the sound, to the secret lake they’d first visited weeks before.

“You know which way,” he called, slowing to a walk, his hands folded behind his head as he sucked in August air swollen with the sweetness of dead pine. A bright shaft of sunlight had broken through the firs overhead and illuminated Nakita’s glistening body like a spotlight. She smiled, her black eyes sparkling with the same excitement that stirred in Elijah, and took off like a rabbit down the narrow trail to the right, hopping over thick patches of nettles and Queen Anne’s lace in her bare feet.

The quick pace didn’t feel so taxing when Elijah thought about what was just a few minutes ahead of them, and he quickly pulled even with Nakita, laughing as he darted around her.

“Hey!” She grabbed a handful of his tank top, but he tugged free and charged ahead, right through a thick patch of nettles. He ignored the sharp stinging on his lower legs as he weaved through the woods. In a way, he liked the feeling; convincing the brain to ignore discomfort was half the battle in the sport of cross-country, and he had plenty of thoughts to distract him at the moment. He caught a glimpse of shimmering blue-green through the evergreens and sprinted toward it, racing under the last of the trees and slowing to a halt right at the water’s edge.

Nakita popped through the woods behind him, her chest heaving as she stopped short and caught her breath. Elijah locked eyes with her and she dropped her gaze, suddenly shy as she stood facing him beside the lake.

“I love that you run with your hair down,” he said, stepping toward her and sliding his fingers through it, gently detangling small knots that the wind had tied. “You seem as free as a kid, like running is still just a game to you.”

Nakita closed her eyes and tilted her head back into his hands.

“My nani said the Squalomah word for running means ‘dancing with Mother Earth.’” She shook her hair free and began braiding it loosely with deft fingers. “It’s not like that for you?” she asked.

“Not really. Not anymore. It’s the means to an end. I got what I wanted, the scholarship will get me out of here.”

Nakita shook her head. “Let’s not. Not today. We still have a week. Let’s pretend we can stretch these last few days out forever.”

Elijah grinned as he pulled his shirt over his head and kicked off his shoes, scooped up Nakita, and ran toward the water with her arms tight around his neck. She shrieked as he jumped in and the cool, clear water swallowed them both.

The lake washed away nettles, sweat, and inhibitions, and when they broke the surface, Nakita laughed and pressed her lips to his.

“You know,” he said, kissing her mouth, her cheek, her nose, “this might be my favorite place in the whole world.”

“Then stay,” she whispered, burying her face in his neck.

He held her for a long minute, memorizing the feeling of wet hair plastered across his bare chest. He’d save this moment, every bit of it, in that special place she lived inside his mind. The heat of her sun-warmed skin, the salt on her lips, the rhythm of her beating heart so close to his own; he’d close his eyes and relive every last detail when he was in the sky, headed south on his first airplane ride this time next week.

“You hungry?” he asked and she nodded.

Elijah carried Nakita through the waist-deep water to where the small stream fed into the lake. He set her down on a mossy log, and she leaned forward to dangle her fingers in the creek, a glossy ribbon of light and shadow that snaked through the dark woods, gurgling cheerfully on its way around slate-gray stones that sprouted ferns like hair. Nakita sat admiring it while Elijah gathered overripe blackberries from the thornbushes behind her.

His hands dripped with purple juice when he called her name, beckoning her to a massive hemlock tree beside the lake. They sat and ate the sweet berries with their backs against the sturdy trunk, the gentle sound of lapping water filling the silence.

Elijah stood and reached into the pocket of his shorts, withdrawing a small jackknife. Flicking it open, he stood and faced the hemlock.

Nakita watched the blade in his hand as it twisted, gouging the thick bark.

“Nobody’s gonna see whatever you’re carving,” she said practically.

“The birds will,” he replied. “Maybe a deer or two.”

Nakita turned her eyes to the lake. A heron on the far shore bobbed for a fish, quick as lightning, then took slow, luxurious flight with its lunch still wriggling in its beak.

Elijah hummed a casual tune above her.

“I just can’t believe this time next week you’ll be gone.”

Elijah risked a glance at Nakita and found her eyes downcast with regret for having spoken the words out loud. They hung in the air like fog, tainting the sweetness of the silence.

For several minutes, the only sounds were the babble of the creek and the etching of his knife. Tiny bits of dust and wood fluttered down and landed on Nakita’s shoulder.

“Try to put yourself in my shoes, just for a second, okay?” Elijah blew the last of the dust away and sat back down beside her. “Think of all the things I’ll be able to do and see in a city, things I could never do here. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Point Orchards, or any small town really, I just don’t think anyone can truly find themselves in a place like this the way they could in a city like San Francisco.”

“What are you hoping to find?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Inspiration. Brand-new inspiration, the kind you can only find in a city.”

Nakita looked around, her eyes landing on an ancient trunk nearby. It was half-decayed, with three young trees growing on top of it, old and new growth, the twisted roots of the younger trees weaving through thick patches of white lichen and pockets of decomposing bark to anchor themselves in the earth below. She nodded to it.

“See that log? That’s a city. You could spend years learning its roads and houses, studying how one generation built a life on top of the last. You could find yourself there, while you count the hundreds of creatures that call that log home. And I bet, if you were willing to be quiet and just sit with it long enough to listen, it would probably tell you its stories.”

Elijah jumped to his feet and stared down at her, his eyes as vividly blue and animated as the lake behind him. “That’s the thing, Nakita, I don’t want to listen to stories. I want to tell them. I want to write stories that tens of thousands of people read. Hundreds of thousands. I honestly believe I have it in me to be a great writer, but not if I stay here.” Nakita remained silent, her eyes tracking him as he paced back and forth in front of the tree.

“I haven’t seen enough,” he claimed. “I haven’t lived enough. Writers write what they know, and I just don’t think anyone wants to read a story about someone who stays in the same small town their whole life. I owe it to myself to experience something, don’t I?”

Nakita’s black eyes flashed with indignation as she stood to face him. “And this isn’t something? What is this, Elijah? What are we even doing here?”

Elijah’s face softened. He took a step toward her and wrapped his hands around her waist.

“Look, it’s not that I don’t... that I don’t want to be with you. But there’s a life waiting for me in San Francisco, a very different life than the one I’d have if I stayed here.”

Nakita remained silent and Elijah let out a frustrated sigh.

“Look, I don’t know how to make you understand. You were raised with this idea that the land you were brought up on was sacred, like it was where your people were meant to be. I just don’t feel that way about this town. I’ve been itching to leave for as long as I can remember.” His gaze faltered and he stared down at his feet. “You’d probably understand if you were stuck in that cabin day after day after day with my dad.”

Somewhere in the center of the lake, a trout jumped, startling them both. When Elijah turned back to Nakita, he found her jaw set and shoulders squared.

“Elijah, do you love me?” she asked boldly.

He blinked at her, this beautiful sixteen-year-old girl he’d only truly known since she and a few others from the reservation had joined the high school team at the beginning of the season. Once he’d opened his mind to the possibility of being with her, she had come flooding in, consuming every corner of his waking thoughts and most of his dreams as well. He had never known anyone like her. They came from different worlds. Even so, spending the summer together had been like reuniting two halves of a torn photograph, every edge aligning perfectly.

“Yes,” he said, surprising himself.

“Then go,” she said firmly. “Do what you need to do in San Francisco, live the life you want to live for a few years, then come back.”

He closed the distance between them, folding her in his arms and pressing her head to his chest.

“I will,” he promised. “Tell you what, what’s today, the twenty-second? Let’s make a pact right now that on August 22, exactly four years from now, let’s meet at this tree. I’ll have just finished college, and no matter where I am in the world, no matter where you are, or where life has taken us, we’ll meet right here.”

Nakita twisted her head to kiss the palm of his hand.

“Okay,” she whispered.

Elijah pulled back and lifted her face to his.

“I mean it,” he said, searching her eyes with a fierceness she’d never seen in him. “I’ll come back for you, Nakita.”

She nodded. “I’ll be here.”

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