“Dashofy has created a charmer of a protagonist in Zoe Chambers. She’s smart, she’s sexy, she’s vulnerably romantic, and she’s one hell of a paramedic on the job.” – Kathleen George, Edgar-Nominated Author of The Johnstown Girls
A relaxing trail ride turns tragic when Paramedic and Deputy Coroner Zoe Chambers discovers the body of a popular county commissioner in her Pennsylvania woods. Inconsistencies surround the horrible accident, but before she can investigate further, she’s pried away by a plea for help from her best friend whose son has been deemed a person of interest in a homicide over a thousand miles away. When he vanishes without a trace, his mother begs Zoe to help clear him and bring him safely home. The task takes Zoe out of her comfort zone in a frantic trip to the desolate canyons and bluffs of New Mexico where she joins forces with the missing boy’s sister and a mysterious young Navajo.
Back at home, Vance Township’s Chief of Police Pete Adams must deal not only with the commissioner’s homicide, but with an influx of meth and a subsequent rash of drug overdoses in his rural community. Bodies keep turning up while suspects keep disappearing. However little else matters when he learns that half a continent away, a brutal killer has Zoe in his sights.
“New York has McBain, Boston has Parker, now Vance Township, PA (‘pop. 5000. Please Drive Carefully.’) has Annette Dashofy, and her rural world is just as vivid and compelling as their city noir.” – John Lawton, Author of the Inspector Troy Series
“I’ve been awestruck by Annette Dashofy’s storytelling for years. Look out world, you’re going to love Zoe Chambers and Pete Adams.” – Donnell Ann Bell, Bestselling Author of Deadly Recall
Related subjects include: cozy mysteries, women sleuths, murder mystery series, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), book club recommendations, police procedurals series, amateur sleuth books.
Books in the Zoe Chambers Mystery Series:
CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE (#1)
LOST LEGACY (#2)
BRIDGES BURNED (#3)
WITH A VENGEANCE (#4)
NO WAY HOME (#5)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all…
Author Bio: USA Today bestselling author Annette Dashofy has spent her entire life in rural Pennsylvania surrounded by cattle and horses. When she wasn’t roaming the family’s farm or playing in the barn, she could be found reading or writing. After high school, she spent five years as an EMT on the local ambulance service, dealing with everything from drunks passing out on the sidewalk to mangled bodies in car accidents. These days, she, her husband, and their spoiled cat, Kensi, live on property that was once part of her grandfather’s dairy. Her Agatha-nominated Zoe Chambers mystery series includes Circle of Influence (also nominated for the David Award for Best Mystery), Lost Legacy, Bridges Burned and With A Vengeance.
About the Author
Romy Nordlinger is a New York City-based actress whose TV credits include roles on Law & Order, All My Children, and One Life to Live. As an audiobook narrator, she has lent her talents to over two hundred titles ranging in genres from romance and self-help to sci-fi and mystery.
Read an Excerpt
On the heels of three solid weeks of cold rain, dark clouds, and mid-November chill, the gift of sunshine and a promised high temperature of near sixty — on a Sunday, no less — brought horse owners out to the Kroll farm in droves.
Zoe Chambers muscled the girth a little tighter to compensate for Windstar's tendency to puff up during the saddling process, as well as for the gelding's wooly growth of winter coat.
"His eyes are bugging out," fifteen-year-old Allison Bassi said with a grin.
Zoe glanced at her best friend's daughter, pleased to spot the twinkle in the girl's eye. Even if she was being a smartass. "Yeah, right. And two minutes down the trail when he exhales, I'll be hitting the ground because my saddle's loose." She tapped her sternum. "It would not do for the resident paramedic to get dumped and break an arm."
Allison slipped a bridle over the head of her borrowed mount and laughed. "Aunt Zoe, I've seen your saddle slide sideways and you still manage to stay on top."
True, but it wasn't a trick Zoe cared to attempt today. She looked toward the far end of the barn's indoor arena where nearly a dozen riders either stood next to or sat on their horses just inside the massive doors. "We're holding things up. You ready?"
"Yep." Allison gathered her reins and gave a hop, catching her stirrup with her left boot and swinging up in one lithe movement.
Zoe unclipped the lead rope and used the more traditional method to climb aboard her gelding. "Let's go."
As Allison and Zoe rode past the stalls edging the indoor arena, a white Appaloosa with a smattering of black spots gave a raucous whinny, pacing tight circles in its confined space.
"What's got him in such a snit?" Allison asked.
Zoe pointed to the next stall, which stood empty. "His stable buddy's gone. Dale must have taken Cisco out for an early ride." The idea of her star boarder out there alone made her uneasy, but before she had a chance to give it more thought, a young man wearing a wide-brimmed cowboy hat loped over to them, reining in his mount.
"Hey, Zoe. Allison," he said with a polite nod at each of them.
"Hi, Noah." Allison gave him a quick wave. "Aunt Zoe, I'm gonna go talk to the twins."
"Okay. I'll be there in a minute." As the teen rode away, Zoe turned to the rider in front of her. "You and Comanche seem to be getting along."
"Thanks for letting me use one of your schooling horses again." Noah Tucker gave her an eager grin. "Have you had any luck finding one for sale?"
"Sorry. I have feelers out, but so far the only horses I've come across are either too crazy or too quiet for you."
He patted his mount's neck and chuckled. "'Crazy' might be fun. This ol' boy is a bit too tame for my blood."
"Blood is what worries me with crazy though. My blood. You wouldn't be the only one handling any horse you board here."
"I hear ya. Well, I appreciate you helping me look." He glanced over his shoulder. "I think we're holding up the ride."
Zoe urged her gelding forward. "Yep. Let's go."
Behind her, the Appaloosa with abandonment issues pawed at his stall door, the loud wham wham wham echoing through the barn.
"Speaking of crazy. Think he'll be okay?" Noah asked.
"He'll settle down once we get out of here." At least Zoe hoped he would. The last thing she wanted was a lame horse or a damaged stall.
As if in response, the Appaloosa let loose a roof-rattling whinny.
Noah raised an eyebrow at Zoe. "You're sure about that?"
Zoe half turned in her saddle, watching the horse toss his head in frustration. She reached for her phone, tucked into her fleece's pocket. "Maybe I better call Dale's wife and let her know her horse is raising a fuss."
From the front of the group, one of the girls let out a shout. "Do you hear that?" A murmur of comments rippled through the riders until someone else pointed and yelled, "Look!"
Zoe spotted the horse in the distance at the same time she heard it whinny. The Appaloosa answered from his stall.
"Isn't that Cisco?" Noah asked.
As the horse galloped toward them, its unmistakable splotches of white and sorrel became clear. "Yes, it is," Zoe said. Her vision of a carefree day evaporated when she realized the Paint's saddle was empty.
As Vance Township's Chief of Police, Pete Adams attempted to take weekends off. "Attempted" being the keyword. However, his small department, which consisted of himself, two other full-time officers, and four part-timers, plus his weekdays-only secretary, didn't offer him the luxury of ignoring his phone. As he stood over the body sprawled on a filthy bedspread, he wished he hadn't answered it this time.
The girl was young. Very young. Eighteen max, if he was any judge. Drug use, however, aged her. Blond hair framed a gaunt face that at one time had been beautiful. A pinkish froth coated her lips and nose. At least she was fully clothed.
Officer Nate Williamson snapped photos of the girl and the rest of the room in what they had thought was an abandoned mobile home set back off the road, behind an also-abandoned farmhouse. "Looks like this has been party central for a while," Nate said, his voice flat. He wrinkled his nose. "Smells like it too."
Pete managed a grunt.
Drugs, up until now, hadn't been a major problem in this rural community. It wasn't that no one used. But kids tended to travel the twelve miles to Brunswick, Monongahela's county seat, or thirty miles to Pittsburgh to get their fixes. Looking at the assorted paraphernalia scattered around the room, Pete knew that was no longer the case. "Who called this in?"
Nate changed a setting on the camera. "Not sure. It came through EOC."
Pete made a note to check with the Emergency Operations Center.
The front door of the trailer rattled. "Hello?" a familiar voice called. County Coroner Franklin Marshall.
"Back here," Pete replied.
The floor vibrated with Marshall's footsteps. He appeared in the doorway, evidence collection case in hand. He nodded at Pete before grimly scanning the scene. "This is the sixth OD in the last month. The third one to require my services."
Pete grunted again. "The first in Vance Township."
"Yeah, well, you've been fortunate." Marshall stepped closer to the body, careful to avoid a couple of syringes lying on the stained carpet.
Fortunate? Pete preferred to believe his diligence, keeping in close touch with families in crisis, and visits to the elementary and high schools had been doing some good. Keeping the wolves at bay. Right now, failure stared him in the face, the girl's body evidence he'd only been kidding himself.
Nate stepped back, holding up the digital camera. "I'm done."
"Thanks." Marshall moved next to the girl. "Any idea who she is?"
"Shannon Vincenti." Pete tugged on a pair of black latex gloves. "There's no ID, but I recognize her. Parents own a little grocery in Elm Creek." A nice, hardworking couple. Pete dreaded all death notifications, but he most hated telling someone their child had died.
Marshall shook his head. "Today is going to be the worst day of their lives."
While the coroner began his preliminary exam of the body, Pete bent over the nightstand. "Did you photograph all this?"
"Yes, sir," Nate said.
Half-full monster-sized fast food cups of pop sat amidst empty stamp bags, spoons, and cotton. Heroin. Pete had seen plenty of this stuff during his days with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. He'd only had to deal with it a handful of times in the eight years he'd been in Vance Township. But there were a few items on the nightstand that set his nerves on high alert. A glass tube wrapped with duct tape, small chunks of a copper pot scrubber, and crumpled pieces of plastic — the corners cut from baggies — were scattered on top of the other stuff.
Pete met Nate's gaze. The officer's jaw was set. Pete aimed a gloved finger at the bedside table.
Nate gave a minuscule nod. "Meth. Never seen it around here before."
Marshall made a tsk noise. Pete turned to find the coroner examining the girl's arms. "Some old track marks here," he said before gently resting the arm back on the bed. He moved to her bare feet and spread her toes. "Fresh ones here."
Pete cringed. The idea of getting a flu shot was bad enough. But injecting yourself between your toes? "What do think she ODed on? Heroin or meth?"
"We won't know that until we get the tox screen." Marshall shook his head. "If I never see another young person die from this junk, it would be too soon."
Pete agreed. But with meth putting in an appearance in southwestern Pennsylvania, he feared Shannon Vincenti wouldn't be the last.
After Dale Springfield's Paint galloped up to the barn sans his rider, Zoe called for a change of plans. She ordered everyone to partner up, making sure at least one member of each pair had a cell phone on them. Each team took a different route, covering all the various trails in and out of the farm. Certainly Dale would stick to whatever trail he'd been on as he walked back.
Zoe partnered with Allison.
"What do you think happened to him?" the teen asked as they rode through a patch of trees near the farm's line fence.
A distant boom echoed from down the valley. A hunter sighting in his rifle, checking its accuracy for the upcoming deer season. "The gunshots probably spooked Cisco."
"After what happened last year, I wonder why Mr. Springfield went out alone instead of waiting for us."
Zoe wondered the same thing. "Maybe he had plans and needed to get back early."
"I sure hope he didn't get hurt."
Zoe agreed. Dale had become a good friend since boarding his and his wife's horses at the barn. He had an easy smile, a hearty laugh, and a talent for putting everyone at ease, whether they agreed with his politics or not. In addition, Dale was always happy to help with chores even if it meant getting dirty. Not what Zoe had expected from a well-to-do politician.
With any luck, they'd find him muddied and miffed, two-footing it to the barn. But just in case, she had a well-stocked first aid kit tucked in her saddlebags. If someone else found him, they would call her.
Almost a mile from the barn, the sloppy trail they were riding opened into a graveled pull-off next to a narrow country road. Zoe and Allison reined in and listened for approaching traffic.
"Okay, let's go." Zoe tapped Windstar with her heels and led the way. The clip-clop of the horses' shod feet rang against the pavement. They rode in silence for a few minutes as she scanned the trail ahead, hoping to spot Dale trudging toward them. Instead, all she saw was a squirrel scurry across their path and up a tree.
Allison sat up straighter in her saddle and threw her head back. "It's beautiful today. Look at the sky. It's almost as blue as it is out in New Mexico."
Zoe caught the note of yearning in the teen's voice. "Do you wish you were still out west?"
"Yeah, I do," Allison said after a moment. "When I get done with high school, I wanna go to either Western New Mexico University or the University of New Mexico."
"Really?" Rose had neglected to mention this to Zoe. "Does Logan intend to stay there too and keep working in the oil fields?"
Allison cut loose with a bubbly laugh. "Who the heck knows what my idiot brother plans to do? Mom's really pissed at him right now."
"Oh? What'd he do?"
"It's what he hasn't done. He's not returning her phone calls or texts. I mean, it's funny, right? Mom took us out west to get away from computers and phones and technology. Now when he avoids the stuff, she gets all weird about it."
Zoe smiled. "I know your mom wants him home for Thanksgiving. That's not too far off, you know."
When Allison didn't respond, Zoe looked back, expecting to see her daydreaming again. Instead she was scowling and staring intently through the trees. "Is that ...?"
Zoe hauled on the reins, swinging down from the saddle at the same time. Leaving Windstar with Allison, Zoe charged through the underbrush, slipping on wet leaves and tripping over rocks and downed branches. Heart pounding, she dropped to her knees beside Dale Springfield, sprawled on the damp woodland floor, his arms extended over his head. One leg was torqued at an unnatural angle, that foot bootless. His bloodied head was turned to one side, eyes open, but sightless.
"Ah, no," she breathed, her chest heavy.
"Do you need my help?" Allison called, her voice still unsteady.
"Stay there." Zoe knew without checking, but slipped her fingers into the groove of Dale's neck anyway. The coldness of his skin startled her. The lack of a carotid pulse did not. She dug her penlight from her pocket and leaned down to flick it in his eyes. The pupils remained fully dilated.
Sitting back on her heels, she stuffed the light in her pocket and stared at what was left of the man with the quick wit and rollicking laugh. She sniffed away the rush of tears and retrieved her phone. After pulling up speed dial, she keyed a familiar number. It only rang once.
"Pete," she said, "I need you. I have a dead body."CHAPTER 2
Pete found an ashen-faced Allison Bassi waiting for him on horseback at the graveled pull-off where Zoe had directed him on the phone.
"Hi, Chief," the girl said, her voice tight. "Do you want to ride double? Or you can take the horse, and I'll stay here. You can't miss them. Zoe and Mr. Springfield are right down that trail."
She sounded a little too eager for him to select the second option. The poor kid'd had more than her share of experience with dead bodies. However, neither choice appealed to him. Horses were not his preferred mode of transportation. Ever. He studied the trail Allison had indicated. Trees too close together for his Ford Explorer to maneuver. "How far are they?"
She gave him a wide-eyed shrug. "I dunno. Not real far, but the trail's pretty muddy." Pete trusted his boots more than a half-ton beast with a brain the size of a baseball. "I'll walk." He noticed her pained look. "You can wait here and flag down the ambulance."
"Okay," she said, obviously relieved.
Pete gathered his evidence collection bag from the rear of his vehicle and crossed the narrow road.
Allison hadn't been kidding about the mud. Ten yards down the well-used trail, the stuff clung to his feet like wet concrete. When he slipped and nearly went down, he decided to hike through the woods, battling briars instead of muck.
He spotted Zoe's horse tied to a tree roughly a quarter mile from the road. Zoe, her short honey blond hair curling around the edge of a ball cap, stood next to the animal, leaning on a tree, arms crossed. He paused despite the situation, admiring the sight of her, sexy as hell even in a sweatshirt and fleece vest. And those skin-hugging jeans.
She looked up when Pete stepped on a branch, eliciting a loud snap. "You walked?"
He ran a hand across his face to erase the appreciative smile. "My Explorer wouldn't make it in here."
"You could have ridden Allison's horse." A trace of a grin crossed Zoe's lips. By now, she must have figured out why he always avoided her invitations to ride.
"Maybe another time. What's going on?"
The grin vanished. She tipped her head toward the trail ahead of them. "He's right up here." She left her horse where it was and led the way. "I backed off after I confirmed he was deceased. Figured Franklin would want to check out the scene, so I didn't want to contaminate it."
"He's a little busy this morning."
"We had an OD. I left him with Nate and the county crime investigators. Franklin said you should process the scene since it's probably an accidental death."
She raised an eyebrow at Pete. "Franklin likes to keep the high-profile investigations for himself. If he knew who my accidental death was, he wouldn't be so quick to turn the case over to his lowly deputy coroner."
Pete tensed. What had Allison told him? Zoe and Mr. Springfield are right down that trail. "Not Dale Springfield?"
"Uh-huh. Monongahela County Commissioner Dale Springfield."
Dammit. "I didn't realize he had a horse at your place."
"Two horses. His and his wife's. For over a year now."
Pete rubbed his forehead, trying to quell the mental rumblings. The death of one of the top politicians in the county was bound to stir up a nest of vipers. But right now, he needed to focus. One headache at a time. "Tell me what happened."
As they trudged through the undergrowth next to the trail, Zoe told him about the planned trail ride and how Dale Springfield had already left by the time everyone else arrived. She described his horse's solo return to the barn. "Cisco's notoriously gun shy. Any loud noise will set him off."
"Set him off? How?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "No Way Home"
Copyright © 2017 Annette Dashofy.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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