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As an heiress to a broadcasting fortune, successful mystery author Caitlin Bennett is used to people saying she bought her way into fame. But the taunts become terrifying when she starts receiving menacing letters from a deranged fan. Meanwhile, the news that a woman has been found murdered—her body lightly covered by the New York snowfall—only adds to the chill Caitlin feels in her elegant Manhattan apartment.
Though she’s not thrilled by the idea, Caitlin agrees to hire her good friend’s stepbrother, ex-cop Connor “Mac” McKee, for protection. When two more women bearing a striking resemblance to Caitlin show up dead under the snow, Mac realizes the stalker is making his way to her, his final victim. Now Caitlin and Mac will have to get very close if Caitlin wants to stay alive.
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About the Author
Sharon Sala is a long-time member of the Romance Writers of America, as well as a member of Oklahoma RWA. In 2014, she published her one-hundredth novel. A fan favorite, Sala is an eight-time RITA finalist, winner of the Janet Dailey Award, four-time Career Achievement winner from RT Magazine, five-time winner of the National Reader’s Choice Award, and five-time winner of the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence, as well as Bookseller’s Best Award. In 2011 she was named RWA’s recipient of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Her novels have been on the top of major bestseller lists including the New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher’s Weekly. Sala also writes under the name Dinah McCall.
Sharon Sala is a member of Romance Writers of America, as well as a member of Oklahoma RWA. She has 94 plus books in print, published in five different genres-Romance, Young Adult, Western, Fiction, and Women's Fiction. First published in 1991, she's an eight-time RITA finalist, winner of the Janet Dailey Award, four-time Career Achievement winner from RT Magazine, five-time winner of the National Reader's Choice Award, and five-time winner of the Colorado Romance Writer's Award of Excellence, as well as Bookseller's Best Award. In 2011 she was named RWA's recipient of the Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award. Her books are New York Times, USA Today, and Publisher's Weekly best-sellers. Writing changed her life, her world, and her fate
Read an Excerpt
You will suffer for the sin.
Caitlin Bennett took a deep, shaky breath as she reread the letter in her hand. No matter how many times she read it, the warning didn't change. It was the latest in a chain of hate mail she'd been receiving for the past six months. Each one she received was worse than the last.
When they'd first started coming, she'd chalked it up to nothing more than a disgruntled fan. As C. D. Bennett, bestselling mystery author, it wasn't the first weird fan letter she'd ever received. But when the second, and then the third, came, each with a similar message of retribution, she began to get nervous. Public figures were often murdered with less provocation.
Deciding to err on the side of caution, she had called Boran Fiorello, an old friend of the family and a detective with the 45th precinct. When she showed him the letters, he was most understanding but didn't consider them truly threatening, and as she looked back, she could understand his reaction.
The first three letters were almost ambivalent, written in an "I don't like you because" style. It was no wonder he wasn't impressed. Fiorello had sent her home with a pat on the back and a promise to take her out to dinner sometime soon.
But the letters kept coming, each one a bit more threatening than the last and renewing her anxiety. Certain that Fiorello would take these more seriously, she called him again. That time his response had been brief, almost distracted. He'd told her that there was no law against not liking what she wrote and no law against telling her about it. Short of receiving an actual physical threat, which she had not, he didn't think she had anything to worry about. Feeling suitably chastened, she'd given up, even though the tone of the letters continued to darken.
Now she had just over two dozen, and all very obviously from the same person. The last one had come this morning. The bright crimson of a felt tip pen on white paper was eye-catching; part of what the writer most likely intended. But it was the perfect blood-red drops added to the bottom of each word that gave her chills. The letters appeared to be seeping blood, and where there should have been a signature, there was an accumulating pool of blood instead. It was the perfect visual assault — horrifying without striking a single blow.
She was scared — as scared as she'd ever been in her life — yet there was nothing but words on which to base her fear. She'd never been accosted, never received a threatening phone call, never had one moment when she'd experienced physical danger.
A small clock on her desk began chiming the hour, and as it did, she jumped at the sound. Dismayed by the time, she put the letter in the file with all the others and then hurried to her bedroom.
In less than an hour, a car would arrive to take her to DBC Studios. Kenny Leibowitz, her publicist, had arranged her personal appearance on the Live with Lowell show to promote Dead Lines, her newest release. She didn't like the publicity part of the business, but she dealt with it. Doing television was her least favorite thing, especially when it was on the DBC network. She began a mental countdown of the interview as she put on her makeup.
Inevitably the host of this particular show seemed bent on bringing up the fact that her father was Devlin Bennett, who, among other things, had founded Devlin Broadcasting Company. After that, he seemed compelled to mention that when her father died, he'd left all his millions and his holdings, which included DBC, to Caitlin. Doing television meant she had to cope with the one-liners about owning the network and buying her way into fame. It didn't seem to matter to the glib talk-show host that her books had an average eighty-five percent sell-through, which was phenomenal in and of itself. All Lowell was looking for was the laugh. She didn't like his snide remarks, but she dealt with them in a witty and urbane manner, giving the host as good as he gave. To his credit, he loved it — and her. He didn't know that Caitlin was cringing inside, or that she would much rather have been home watching videos of old movies and having her favorite snack, a peanut butter and dill pickle sandwich. To too many people in the world, she was a poor little rich girl who played at being a writer. Although her father had been dead for almost five years, Caitlin had been forced to accept the fact that she would forever live in his shadow. Not for the first time, she was wishing for a man in her life, and maybe children. She wasn't just afraid, she was lonely. But wishing didn't produce results.
Her makeup finished, she rummaged through her closet, snatching the first warm black outfit she came to, and began to dress. One good thing about being a writer — nobody expected you to look pretty. You just had to be smart. By the time her car arrived, she was ready and waiting.
* * *
"So ... Caitlin ... may I call you Caitlin, or should I say Ms. Bennett? After all, you are my boss."
Caitlin smiled what she hoped was a forgiving smile and tried not to wince. God. Where did they get those people? Ron Lowell was an attractive man, but his brain seemed stuck on Rewind. This was the fourth time in as many years that she'd been on his show promoting a book, and he always started her interview in the exact same way.
"I don't care what you call me, as long as you buy the book," Caitlin quipped.
The audience roared, and Ron Lowell beamed. The interview was getting off to a good start. He picked up the book and made a pretense of flipping through the pages, although his focus was definitely on the swell of her breasts beneath the black knit dress she was wearing.
"So the new book is called Dead Lines. Tell us about it."
Caitlin leaned forward. "It's a murder mystery, Ron."
He grinned. She'd fed him the perfect line.
"Which means you're not going to tell us anything juicy?"
Another round of titters floated up from the audience. Although Lowell couldn't see them, he thrived on the sound.
"I didn't say that," Caitlin said. "I will tell you that it has nothing to do with meeting a deadline. Picture this, if you will. A beautiful inn in the Adirondacks filled with people who've come for an enjoyable weekend. An early winter storm drops two feet of snow on the mountains, making the roads impassable and snowing everyone in. All the utilities go out. No phones. No electricity. No communication with the outside world. Then people start to die ... and not from natural causes."
"Oooh, I get it," Lowell said. "Dead lines of communication." Then he began wiggling his eyebrows in mock fright. "And the killer must be one of the guests, because no one can get in or out, right?" Caitlin just smiled.
Lowell beamed back. "I know. I know. Read the book."
"Ah ... brains to go with all those good looks," Caitlin said.
The audience laughed again, and Ron Lowell glowed in appreciation.
Minutes later they broke for commercial and Caitlin got up to leave. Lowell stood to shake her hand, and when he did, held it a little longer than usual.
"How about some dinner after the show?" Caitlin smiled as she slipped her hand out of Lowell's grasp.
"Ron, I would love it, but another time, okay? I'm on a real deadline with my next book, and I need to work. Thanks for a wonderful interview, though, and I hope you enjoy the book."
She was so smooth he never knew he'd been brushed off. By the time she got off stage, she was sick to her stomach from nerves.
"Caitlin, darling! You were marvelous, as always."
Caitlin made a face at Kenny as he helped her into her coat.
"Next time you better ask me first before you book one of these things. I need more warning."
Kenny kissed the side of her cheek, then winked. "Of course," he said, straightening her coat on her shoulders. "It's cold as a witch's tit outside tonight. Looks like it might even snow."
Caitlin shivered at the thought and ignored the fact that he hadn't promised anything regarding her scheduling. She sighed, reminding herself that he was only doing his job, then shivered. She hated winter. If it weren't for the promotions Kenny had set up here in the city for the new book, she would have gone south weeks ago.
As she began to button up her coat, Kenny caught her hands in his own.
"Let me, dear," he said. "Your fingers are almost blue. Didn't you bring gloves?"
"I think I left them in the car."
"Poor baby," Kenny murmured, as he buttoned her up, then clasped her hands in his, pretending to warm them.
What he wanted was to hold her hand, and Caitlin knew it. He had been making delicate passes at her for some time now, and it was all she could do to fend him off without ruining their working relationship.
"They're warmer now. Thanks," Caitlin said, and stuck her hands into her pockets as one of the producers led them through the backstage maze to an exit door.
The limousine was waiting just outside in the alley. Kenny opened the door before the driver could get out. Caitlin stepped into the interior, settling into the luxurious leather and bone-melting warmth with relief.
"Oooh, this heat feels so good," she sighed. "Why on earth do they always keep those studios so cold?"
"Money, honey," Kenny said, and slid as close to her as he could get. "Here, put on your gloves. I don't want my best girl to get sick."
Caitlin slid her fingers into the soft, creamy calfskin and ignored the "best girl" remark. After that, they rode through the busy streets in silence, and as they did, Caitlin's thoughts returned to the letters.
A part of her wanted to tell someone, but her close friends were few and far between. Finding the right person to tell secrets to without having them wind up in the morning papers was a caution she'd learned at an early age. She glanced at Kenny, considering how he would take the news, and then discarded the idea. She didn't trust him not to use the letters as some sordid hook to sell more books. She could see it all now: Mystery Writer Fields Own Death Threats.
She sighed again, and as she did, Kenny leaned over and cupped her face with his hand.
"What's wrong, honey girl? And don't tell me nothing, because I know you too well." When Caitlin remained silent, Kenny persisted. "You can trust me."
She smiled. "Nothing is wrong, Kenny, other than that I'm cold and tired."
"Do you want some company tonight?"
Her smile felt as cold as her hands. Some men were so dense. How many times would she have to say no before he got the message?
"Thanks, but I just want a quiet evening alone. You understand."
Leibowitz's eyes glittered with a frustration he never verbalized.
"Sure, honey. No problem. Maybe you'll feel better in the morning." Then he glanced out the window as the limo began to slow down. "And it looks as if we've arrived."
The driver got out and opened their door. Kenny stepped out first, then steadied Caitlin as she exited the car.
"Have a good night," he said softly, and kissed the side of her cheek.
Caitlin waved goodbye and, as soon as the doorman opened the door, bolted inside the building. The security guard looked up from behind his desk and smiled.
"Good evening, Miss Bennett."
"Good evening, Mike. How's the family?"
Mike Mazurka grinned. "Good, good. My youngest boy, Tom, just had his first child. I'm a grandpa again. Can you believe it?"
Caitlin laughed. "How many does that make?"
"Seven. But who's counting?" Mike said.
She waved goodbye as she continued toward the elevators. But when she got inside and slid her key card into the slot, apprehension returned. She wouldn't feel safe until she was behind the locked doors of her own apartment. Even though this elevator took her straight to the penthouse without stopping on any other floors, she felt her vulnerability all too acutely.
She exited quickly, dashing across the foyer outside the elevator to her door. A quick turn of the key in the lock and she was inside, slamming the door and turning the dead bolt behind her. Slumping with relief, Caitlin leaned against the door, her heart pounding, her skin clammy. The longer she stood there, the more disgusted with herself she became.
"I will not live like this," she muttered, and headed toward her bedroom to change, turning on lights as she went.
But who to tell? She thought of calling Fiorello again and then dismissed the notion. He hadn't believed her the first time, and he'd blown her off the second. She wasn't in the mood for more of his derision. Yet as she readied herself for bed, she accepted the fact that something had to be done, and the resolution had to come from her.
* * *
The steady rise and fall of a pair of scissor blades cast a shadow across Buddy's newspaper, separating the article about C. D. Bennett from the rest of the page. He tacked it to his bedroom wall beside all the others, then stepped back.
Bennett pens another winner.
He sneered. Bennett had been a winner the day she was born.
A gust of wind rattled the windows, reminding him of the bitter cold outside, but he had no fear of freezing. The rage inside his gut would keep him warm.
His belly growled. He hadn't eaten since noon, and it was almost midnight. Technically tomorrow was already here, but he was hungry now, and it was too long to wait for breakfast.
With the job that he had, regular meals were sporadic at best. Half the time he ate on the run; the other times, when he managed to sit down at a table, something or someone managed to interfere. God. He didn't belong at this job — always at the beck and call of others. He should be the one calling the shots, not the one always being paged.
He glared at the wall, scanning the pictures and clippings. Caitlin Doyle Bennett. What the hell was she playing at, taking up shelf space in bookstores? There had never been a day of her life that she had needed money. She didn't know what it was like to wonder where her next meal was coming from or if she would still have a roof over her head next week. If she had half a conscience, she would step aside for those more deserving.
His belly growled again, breaking his concentration, but when he strode to the refrigerator, the sight of food turned his stomach. He slammed it shut with a frown. He didn't want to eat, he wanted to forget, and the best way to do that was a couple of drinks. The bar on the corner didn't close for another couple of hours. That was what he needed — a drink or two, maybe some pretzels or nuts and a little conversation.
Grabbing his coat, he patted his pockets to make sure his keys were inside. The bulge of his switchblade was in his right pocket, the jingle of his keys in his left. The knife was a holdover from his childhood, one he was reluctant to leave behind. As a youth, it had saved him more than once from being beaten half to death, and as an adult, he found it a comfort against a possible mugging.
He let himself out the door of his fifth floor apartment and took the stairs down to the street. The first bite of wind took his breath away, but he began to acclimatize as he walked, relishing the frigid cleansing.
Despite the hour and the cold, the bar was noisy. He entered with a grin, and when someone called his name, he nodded and waved as he slid onto a stool and ordered a drink.
"Looks like I'm not the only cold fool in the city," he said, grabbing a handful of pretzels from the closest bowl.
The bartender laughed. "Cold weather is always good for business," he said. "What'll it be?"
"How about a lager?"
"Any particular brand?"
"Just something dark and smooth."
Moments later, the bartender sat a tall glass of brown liquid in front of him, which he used to wash down the pretzels. The cold bite of the brew tasted of yeast and hops and something wonderfully strong. He liked the scent almost as much as the taste as it slid down his throat. Glad that he'd come, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on the bar and closing his eyes, letting the anonymous camaraderie of the place seep into his soul. For this moment, it was easy to pretend he was among friends.
An hour had passed when he got up to leave, tossing a handful of bills onto the bar then waving goodbye as he left. The cold seared his eyeballs, making them tear as he walked outside. It had gotten colder in the short time he'd been inside, and he quickly put on his gloves and pulled the collar of his coat up around his ears.
He paused, looking up at the sky and wishing he could see the stars. But in a city the size of New York, you couldn't see night past the streetlights. A spurt of longing swept through him as he thought of his mother's house on the outskirts of Toledo. Unwilling to go to bed with old ghosts, he turned in the opposite direction from his apartment, hoping to walk off the mood.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Snowfall"
Copyright © 2015 Sharon Sala.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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