At first, horse trainer and Carson Stables owner Annie Carson blames the random losses of local livestock on feral animals stalking Olympic Peninsula county’s farms and ranches. But when one of her own flock is found savagely slaughtered, it gets personal. Then it turns dangerous, when Annie discovers the body of a young woman hanging in her new hay barn. Suddenly, she’s up to her neck in complicated mysteries—one involving her private life. But her sleuthing skills aren’t exactly welcome by the sheriff. And as she uncovers a clue to the killer’s identity, Annie fears she’s leading a deadly trail straight to her door.
Praise for Leigh Hearon:
"Here's a new heroine after my own heart. Plan to stay up all night with this one because this mystery is a winner right out of the gate!" —Fern Michaels, #1 New York Times bestselling author on Reining in Murder
"This strikingly polished first mystery is, quite simply, remarkable. Reining in Murder has it all: rounded characters, likeable protagonist, thrilling, perfectly paced plot and impeccable narrative style . . . Leigh Hearon masterfully maintains the suspense to the very finish line." —Mystery Scene Magazine on Reining in Murder
“Leigh Hearon seems destined for high marks with what is shaping up to be a delightful new series in the mystery genre.” —Colorado Daily News on Reining in Murder
“This murder mystery will be enjoyed by anyone who likes chewing hay and wearing riding boots.” —Fresh Fiction on Reining in Murder
“The action-packed scenes are stellar, as well as the descriptions of the gorgeous and dangerous Washington wilderness. This third in the series presents a unique heroine, one whose devotion to horses is as admirable as her wit and intelligence.” —Kings River Life Magazine on Unbridled Murder
About the Author
Leigh Hearon began her own P.I. agency, Leigh Hearon Investigative Services, in 1992. Her cases have appeared on In the Dead of Night, Forensic Files, 48 Hours, Court TV, City Confidential, Unsolved Mysteries, America’s Most Wanted, and CBS Evening News with Connie Chung. Hearon was an avid rider of horses throughout her childhood. She currently has a Saddlebred mare, Jolie Jeune Femme, and enjoys watching Jolie and two rescue mares cavort on a fifty-five-acre farm she shares with her husband. Visit her on the Web at leighhearon.com.
Read an Excerpt
Saddle Up for Murder
By Leigh Hearon
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Leigh Hearon
All rights reserved.
Monday, May 2
Apiercing shriek brought Annie Carson out of her reverie. Not to mention her rear firmly back down on her saddle.
She'd been standing in her stirrups to get the maximum view of her sheep pasture. It was a panoramic view — her mount was a 16hand thoroughbred, which already put her more than five feet off the ground. The sight of seventy-five ewes and as many lambs in the grassy lea reminded Annie of a Constable painting she'd once seen in a museum. Even the billowing clouds overhead looked painted.
Now she wheeled Trooper around and nudged him forward. The horse took off at a hard canter, turning abruptly in response to Annie's rein onto the trailhead of an old logging road. She pulled the horse up short a few seconds later.
"Hannah! Thank god you're safe!"
If Annie thought it odd that an eight-year-old who'd just issued an earsplitting scream was now telling her to be quiet, she didn't say so. Instead, she calmly walked her horse closer to Hannah's. Bess, fortunately, was not making any noise. She was munching grass, very quietly.
"What's going on?" Annie kept her voice neutral.
"I saw someone in the woods! A man! I think he had a gun."
Annie scanned the thick trees in front of her. It was early May, and the Pacific Northwest was in the full flower of spring. She saw nothing but a suffusion of ferns and undergrowth forming a luxuriant pillow against densely packed Douglas fir.
"What was the man doing?"
"Hiding! He was behind a tree. Then I saw him run to another one. I didn't scream until I saw his weapon."
Hannah's father ran a security business that included transporting Loomis trucks filled with cash from local businesses. She was well acquainted with different caliber handguns and shotguns.
"What kind of weapon?"
"I'm not sure. I think it was a pistol. But I screamed, and then he ran away back there." Hannah pointed with her left arm into the woods.
"Why did you scream? Were you afraid?"
"Just a little. But I thought if I screamed, he'd go away. If he started to shoot at me, I figured I'd just gallop away. Maybe."
Annie was sure Hannah had every intention of galloping away. The problem was Bess, Annie's twenty-five-year-old Morgan who thought indulging in anything beyond a stately walk did not befit her dignified age.
"What did Bess do when you screamed?"
So much for Hannah's fast getaway from the bad guy. But Annie was more concerned about Hannah's near encounter than she let on to her little companion.
The sound of shifting leaves caught both riders unawares. They started and whipped around in their saddles. Hannah clapped her hands over her mouth to make sure another scream wasn't forthcoming. From the dark forest floor, a fawn emerged, almost perfectly camouflaged against the lush, green backdrop. Walking carefully on its long and spindly legs, it wended its way through the thicket and out of sight. Hannah and Annie remained motionless on their saddles.
"A fawn!" breathed Hannah. "A baby deer! I thought I was going to jump out of my saddle, Annie, but I didn't! Even Bess jumped. A little."
"That's because you're nice and relaxed in your seat, Hannah," Annie replied. "So when something like this happens, it's easy to stay balanced."
Annie was a stickler who told all of her riding students not to grip the horse's ribs with their knees. It didn't help their equilibrium, and it impacted their horse's ability to move freely.
Hannah looked thoughtfully at Annie and nodded. "Do you think the fawn will find its mother?"
"I'm sure it will. The fawn isn't going to move far just because a couple of horses are passing through. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a deer clearing in the next hundred feet."
"Let's go find it!"
"Nice try, kiddo. Fawns only want to be found by their mommies. Besides, hot chocolate awaits us."
This was the traditional ending to Hannah's riding lesson, and afterward Annie had driven the little girl to her doorstep. Usually, she let Hannah walk back to her home through a well-worn path; after all, the Clare household was only a quarter mile away. But now Annie recalled recent news stories of young children who'd been abducted just a short distance from their own homes, and she had no intention of taking unnecessary chances.
Taking care of her own safety was just as important. When Annie had opened Carson Stables, her training facility for equines, every man she'd encountered had flat out told her that a single woman who weighed a mere 125 pounds would never be able to handle the workload, let alone adequately protect herself from things that went bump in the night, both animal and human.
"Don't expect me to come to your rescue every time you hear a scary noise in the woods," Suwana County Sheriff Dan Stetson had grumbled after she'd dismissed his advice for the tenth time.
Annie had merely laughed. "I won't," was her breezy reply.
That conversation had occurred fifteen years ago. In the intervening time, she'd proven Dan and everyone else wrong. Not one of her detractors knew how hard she worked to make sure no harm came to her or her animals. She'd learned that the best way to keep danger from coming to her doorstep was to meet it head-on.
After dropping off Hannah, she parked her F-250 near the stables and called for Trooper, now contently munching on a flake of orchard grass in the paddock. It was time to find out exactly who had been lurking off the old logging road. If the man Hannah had seen was simply taking a shortcut through her property, he'd be long gone by now. She certainly hoped so.
As usual, the thoroughbred was up for another trail ride. She slipped a hackamore over his nose and, using a rail post, hopped on his back, deciding to eschew his saddle on this trip. At forty-three, Annie was less enthused about playing leapfrog over a horse's back to mount as she'd been in her twenties, but the joy of riding on a horse, sans saddle, still held a certain thrill. The connection with the animal was undeniable. After whistling for Wolf, her Blue Heeler, she cantered the short mile back to the sheep pasture and entered the now-familiar logging trail.
What she found in the interior brush was not a deer clearing, but rather one made by a human, or humans. True, the rough campsite was on the edge of Annie's property, but it looked as if it had been recently used, and for all she knew would be occupied again that evening. The folded army bedroll and cigarette butts littering a small fire pit were enough to confirm that no one had broken camp yet. The only item that was incongruous to the site was a small stuffed animal scrunched partway under a blanket. Annie slid off Trooper to take a closer look, and discovered it to be a very worn, and therefore presumably very much loved, toy lamb. Annie looked it over carefully, then back at the campsite. There was nothing else to intimate a child had been sleeping or living here — just a person who enjoyed inhaling carbon monoxide. She positioned the lamb in the vee of a nearby tree. She figured it wouldn't hurt for whomever was staying here to know that their secluded home had been busted. And for some unknown reason, she felt like keeping the inanimate toy safe. Maybe it was the remnant of a homeless person's former life that he or she carried with them.
Maybe Dan knows who might be living here. Annie snorted as soon as the thought came into her head. Fat chance. The county abounded with homeless people, and the only transients the sheriff knew were the ones who landed in the county jail. However, there was no sign of a man in the vicinity, armed or otherwise.
Annie clambered onto Trooper's back, turned her reins toward the horse trail paralleling the sheep pasture, and headed for home. She waved to Trotter, her donkey of indeterminate age, still fully capable of keeping any would-be predator out of the electrified barriers that encased him, her ewes, and their offspring. When summer ended and the sheep returned to Johan Thompson's farm where they wintered, Trotter would rejoin the rest of Annie's horses. The rotation would begin again in the spring, just before birthing season. Annie kept her sheep for their prized wool, not their taste. She had nothing against meat but preferred that anything she ingested had not first been fed and sheltered by her. It was a specious rationale, but Annie didn't spend too much time worrying about it.
When the barn and tack room loomed ahead and her four horses nickered to her from across the pasture, Annie put the makeshift campsite out of her mind. She leaned forward slightly, Trooper's cue to canter. Normally, Annie wouldn't let anyone canter a horse back to the barn — it was a bad habit and hard to break — but Trooper, bless his equine soul, was a perfect gentleman and knew exactly how far he could go and when to stop.
Annie quickly ushered the horses into the paddock, which adjoined the row of stalls inside the stable. Everyone was ready for dinner and a warm stall, and each horse knew his or her place, although Rover, a once-starved horse Annie had rescued, predictably veered toward Trooper's stall, which held a flake more of Timothy hay than his own. It took one quick sideways look from the thoroughbred to convince Rover he'd made a mistake.
Watching each equine politely enter its stall, she thought smugly, My horses behave better than most children. Annie was more than satisfied with playing big sister to Hannah and other youngsters who loved horses. She was less than thrilled at playing the same role to her real half sister, Lavender, who'd trekked out from Florida earlier this year and temporarily found refuge in Annie's home. Lavender had left their father's home after learning he intended to marry a woman younger than she was. Annie couldn't have cared less about her father's marital exploits; he'd divorced her own mother more than twenty years before, and she hadn't had contact with him in years. But Lavender, despite being a full-fledged adult — at least in age, if not maturity — had always relied upon their father's financial support. Annie had discovered that her half sister now expected her to provide the same level of care and feeding she'd enjoyed in Florida. There were so many things in her own universe to explore, she explained to Annie, she simply didn't have time for a paying job. Annie noticed that Lavender still had plenty of time to criticize the way she lived, however. Fortunately, the situation had remedied itself, and Lavender now lived a safe three miles away. Annie had made sure Lavender returned her extra house key.
Before turning off the stable light, she stepped inside each stall and quickly ran her hands down each horse to make sure all was well. Normally, she would have lingered by them, inhaling and loving the smell of their manes and quietly grooming them as they munched their dinners.
But tonight she had a phone date with Marcus Colbert, the man who had given her Trooper. A few months earlier he'd mysteriously disappeared after his wife, Hilda, was murdered, and he resurfaced — by way of a cryptic postcard — only after the case was solved. The entire world had been convinced that Marcus was on the run from the crime of killing his wife, but Annie's faith in Marcus's innocence had never wavered and she'd been proven right when the real killer was apprehended. Tonight, she would speak to him for the first time in almost two months. His personal assistant in San Jose had set up the phone appointment last week and had promised that Marcus would answer all her questions. And she had a bucketful.CHAPTER 2
Monday Evening, May 2
Walking toward her farmhouse, Annie saw a white van slowly round the curve in her driveway. It wasn't UPS, and she couldn't remember ordering anything from State Line Tack. She quickened her step, and Wolf, who'd been by her side, raced toward the vehicle.
The dog knew better than to rush into oncoming cars. But he loved surprise visitors. Maybe he thought it was a delivery from the makers of gourmet pet food.
Instead it was the delivery van from Port Chester's most chichi grocery, the one that sold French cheeses that cost more than a T-bone. Annie assumed the driver was lost and wondered how she could convince him that he'd really come to the right address.
As it turned out, he had, and after confirming that she was, indeed, Annie Carson, she watched in astonishment as the driver unloaded three cartons of food, carried them into her kitchen, and then gave detailed instructions on how to heat and serve the meal.
"The tomato and pepper gazpacho soup with sherry doesn't need any help," he explained to Annie, who was now sitting down, her mouth unattractively open. "It's served chilled, and should still be the right temperature now — it's been refrigerated the entire way over. But the rib roast with Madeira sauce will need to be gently heated."
He saw Annie glance at her microwave. "And not in that," he said severely. "Put the dish in your oven at 300 degrees for about twenty-five minutes. And keep the foil tent on."
Annie gave him a quizzical look. "Really?"
"Really. The sauce is to die for. You don't want it to evaporate in that machine. Besides, microwaves zap all the nutrition out of your food and create carcinogens while they're doing it."
He and Lavender would get on like a house on fire, Annie thought. Her half sister loved to regale total strangers about the unhealthful attributes of the food they loved most. It was highly annoying. But Annie decided not to argue with her server. There was too much good food being unloaded, and she didn't want it to stop.
Kenneth, as Annie now knew him, went on to discuss which cheese was to be eaten now and which after dinner.
"Although you must have a sweet tooth, because your client doubled up on dessert."
"Marcus Colbert. He said you had an important phone conversation to be discussed over dinner."
What a guy. "And, ah, what dessert did my client decide to pair with the cheese?"
"Well, it doesn't really fit, but who cares. Double-dark chocolate cake with bourbon-whipped crème fraîche."
Annie couldn't help her hedonistic groan.
Kenneth took his time about leaving. He carefully placed the roast into Annie's antiquated electric oven, clearly distrustful of her ability to follow through on his orders. He placed the cheeses on one of Annie's few china plates and tossed the arugula salad for her. In fact, he was the epitome of a perfect waiter until he saw the label on the wine Marcus had selected.
"Saint-Émilion Grand Cru! My god, look at the year! And the château!" Kenneth looked over at Annie with undisguised envy. "What kind of business do the two of you have together, if you don't mind me asking?"
"Thoroughbred horses." This was technically true. Annie was in charge of finding homes for Marcus's dead wife's twenty-three horses.
Kenneth seemed impressed, and finally took his leave.
* * *
Annie was sprawled in a living room chair, a glass of wine in one hand while she stuffed gloriously runny cheese into her mouth. The reason behind Marcus's extravagant dinner had finally come to her. On the back of the mysterious postcard she'd received over a month ago, he'd written, "I'll tell you everything over dinner. And this time, I promise not to be a no-show." Well, Marcus had certainly fulfilled that promise in consummate style. Annie knew the entire message by heart.
Her cell phone suddenly lit up, flashing the time and a California number on caller ID. Eight o'clock — Marcus was right on schedule. She hurriedly swallowed and took a large bolt from her wineglass, probably not in a way that Kenneth would approve of, she realized. She picked up the phone.
There was a long silence. Then Annie remembered her manners. "Your dinner arrived, and it's wonderful. Delicious." She paused. "Thank you."
A low chuckle followed. Marcus's voice was so sexy that even his quiet laughter made her body tingle.
"I wish you were here to enjoy it with me." This was two glasses of wine speaking, but Annie didn't care.
"I do, too."
Another long pause followed.
Then Annie blurted out the question she'd asked herself nearly every day since late February. "Where have you been?"
This time, the response on the other end was a long sigh.
"Annie, if you only knew how much I've wanted to confide in you all this time."
"And how much I've wanted you to. Marcus, I need to know everything. Where were you the day you disappeared?"
"Straight to the point, as usual, Annie. I love that about you." She could feel Marcus readjust himself in whatever he was sitting. "I was with my wife's killer."
Annie shuddered, recalling the traumatic events of just a few months before. Until now, she'd avoided thinking about them or even saying the killer's name. Their encounter was just too painful to relive. She took a deep breath.
Excerpted from Saddle Up for Murder by Leigh Hearon. Copyright © 2016 Leigh Hearon. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PROLOGUE - Tuesday, April 26,
CHAPTER 1 - Monday, May 2,
CHAPTER 2 - Monday Evening, May 2,
CHAPTER 3 - Tuesday Morning, May 3,
CHAPTER 4 - Tuesday Afternoon And Evening, May 3,
CHAPTER 5 - Wednesday, May 4,
CHAPTER 6 - Thursday Morning, May 5,
CHAPTER 7 - Thursday Afternoon, May 5,
CHAPTER 8 - Thursday Evening, May 5,
CHAPTER 9 - Friday, May 6,
CHAPTER 10 - Sunday, May 8,
CHAPTER 11 - Monday, May 9,
CHAPTER 12 - Tuesday, May 10,
CHAPTER 13 - Wednesday, May 11,
CHAPTER 14 - Friday, May 13,
CHAPTER 15 - Saturday, May 14,
CHAPTER 16 - Sunday, May 15,
CHAPTER 17 - Monday Morning, May 16,
CHAPTER 18 - Monday Afternoon, May 16,
CHAPTER 19 - Tuesday, May 17,
CHAPTER 20 - Wednesday, May 18,
CHAPTER 21 - Thursday Morning, May 19,
CHAPTER 22 - Thursday Afternoon, May 19,
CHAPTER 23 - Friday, May 20,
CHAPTER 24 - Friday Evening, May 20 — Saturday, May 21,
CHAPTER 25 - Sunday, May 22,
CHAPTER 26 - Sunday, May 22,
CHAPTER 27 - Monday, May 23,
CHAPTER 28 - Tuesday, May 24,
CHAPTER 29 - Tuesday, May 24,
CHAPTER 30 - Later That Same Day,
EPILOGUE - Sunday, June 12,
REINING IN MURDER - A Carson Stables Mystery,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Title: Saddle Up For Murder - Carson Stables Mystery Book 2 Author: Leigh Hearon Published: 10-26-2014 Publisher: Kensington Books Pages: 352 Genre: Mystery, Thrillers & Suspense Sub Genre: Amateur Sleuths; Animals; Cozy Mystery ISBN: 13: 9781496700353 ASIN: B01BAYWZ8Y Reviewer: DelAnne Reviewed For: NetGalley Rating: 4.5 Stars I received a copy of "Saddle Up For Murder" from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Description From the Publisher: At first, horse trainer and Carson Stables owner Annie Carson blames the random losses of local livestock on feral animals stalking Olympic Peninsula county's farms and ranches. But when one of her own flock is found savagely slaughtered, it gets personal. Then it turns dangerous, when Annie discovers the body of a young woman hanging in her new hay barn. Suddenly, she's up to her neck in complicated mysteries—one involving her private life. But her sleuthing skills aren't exactly welcome by the sheriff. And as she uncovers a clue to the killer's identity, Annie fears she's leading a deadly trail straight to her door. My Review: Leigh Hearon's main Character, Annie is a woman of compassion, who is intelligent and independent. She wants answers about the death of woman who came looking for work at the stables and then later found dead in her barn. She and the other characters are well rounded and multidimensional. The dialogs are believable and the story is well planned and flows quickly and smoothly. There are many threads in the mystery to gather and weave into the net to snare the killer. Readers will enjoy "Saddle Up for Murder" from the first paragraph to the last. Congratulations Leigh Hearon on another winner. Even tho this is the second book in the series, readers will have no problem understanding past events and the relationships between the characters, either good or bad. Ms. Hearon has included brief explanations where required to keep the read up to date. My rating of "saddle Up for Murder" is 4.5 out of 5 stars. I hope you find this book as much an enjoyable read as I did.
Saddle Up for Murder by Leigh Hearon is the second book in A Caron Stables Mystery series. Annie Carson owns Carson Stables in Washington. Annie is at home when she notices a young woman coming up the drive. Ashley Lawton is looking for a job. Unfortunately, Annie cannot afford help at this time. The next day Annie goes to check on her hay barn and finds Ashley hanging from the rafters. Who would kill this young woman? Annie has recently discovered a camping site in her woods. Could Ashely have been camping out? Annie discovers that Ashley was also involved with Eloise Carr who recently passed away. There are questions being raised and Annie is out seeking answers. It does not help that she has to talk with her half-sister, Lavender. Annie would rather keep her distance from Lavender, but Annie will do what she must for her investigation. Join Annie on her latest adventure in Saddle Up for Murder. Saddle Up for Murder was disappointing for me. The novel was more about the day in the life of Annie Carson. I wanted more mystery, less mucking out of the horse’s stalls. The mystery was uncomplicated and easy to solve. The books pace was slow and I had a hard time liking Annie in this book (she felt she was entitled to information on the case because the body was found on her farm). I give Saddle Up for Murder 3 out of 5 stars. If you are looking for a nice book about life on the farm with emphasis on horses with just a touch of mystery, than you will enjoy Saddle Up for Murder. I hope the author readjusts her focus in the next novel (if there is one).
Fans of the first book in the Carson Stables Mysteries will be thrilled with this installment! SADDLE UP FOR MURDER is a horse lover’s mystery for sure. Readers get to spend a great deal of the story on protagonist Annie’s ranch. If you’re not into horses one way or the other, you will leave this book with more fondness and knowledge about them, and enjoyed the learning. This second book in author Leigh Hearon’s Carson Stables Mysteries was a strong story and a difficult mystery to solve. Each time I came close to what I believed was a solution, Hearon added something that would throw me off my answer. While SADDLE UP FOR MURDER is a cozy mystery, it’s a bit more, not edgier really, just a bit heavier. That’s not quite right either. Got it…there isn’t as much humor as many cozies. It stays a little serious. That being said, the story is very well written, and worth the read. If this is your first book in the Carson Stables Mysteries, check out the back of SADDLE UP FOR MURDER, for an excerpt of the first book in this series, REINING IN MURDER.
Saddle Up for Murder by Leigh Hearon was a good read. I did enjoy parts of the book, but there were parts that seemed a bit overwhelming with information. I am not familiar with this author so I can only base my opinion on this book. Annie Carson is a horse trainer and owns Carson Stables. When local livestock losses are reported, Annie believes it could be due to animal predators. When the livestock losses begin at her stable, she tries to find out some answers. I couldn't relate to Annie or any other characters in this book. I think if readers have a fondness for horses, this would be a good book for them to read. There was nothing wrong with the book, the story didn't capture my interest and I found myself struggling to finish it. The writing was clear and concise and the author did a good job with the mystery angle. I received an ARC of this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for my fair and honest review.
Annie Carson is 43, single, owns a stable and works to rescue animals and rehabilitate animals; she also seems to have an affinity to finding murdered people. In this, the second book in the series, Annie is again involved in investigating in hopes of assisting in the identification of a murderer. I had an idea who the murderer might be early on in the story but enjoyed the gradual identification of who the baddie was. The potential love interest, Marcus, is in the background but doesn’t have a major part in this book. This story had a lot going on with many people involved and a rather intricate plot to be played out. I knew many of the characters from reading the first novel in the series and enjoyed finding out what was happening in their lives. I see potential for further books in this series and look forward to reading them as they are published. I would recommend reading the first book in the series before this one for more comprehensive background information about Annie, Marcus, Dan and some of the other characters although the story would no doubt make sense without doing so. Thank you to NetGalley and Kensington Books for the ARC. This is my honest review. 4 Stars