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A SHADOW ON THE SNOW

Chapter 1

The red intersection light was flashing, a burst of brightness caught in swirls of white fog and blowing snow. I braked and turned the windshield wipers up to the highest speed. They whirred into action, sending snowflakes flying into the air, but visibility still hovered near zero.

All I could see of Huron Station's Main Street were the bare trees of late November strung with miniature lights, the corner drug store, and the Tuxedo theater, dark and abandoned now with 'Closed' spelled out in black letters on the marquee.

The rest of the block lay shrouded in fog, but I knew the town, even though I hadn't seen it in fifteen years. Only the trees that lined the street were new, no more than two or three years old, I'd guess.

The intersection was clear. I stepped lightly on the accelerator and felt the car skidding on a patch of ice beneath the snow. Biting down on my lower lip, I took my foot off the pedal, letting the Taurus choose its own direction, and steered to the right.

Don't panic. There's nothing here to hit, no moving cars, no pedestrians. Don't even think about sliding into a parked car.

The Taurus sailed across the street like a sled following a familiar trail, but I had control of the wheel again, if not my heartbeat. Thank God the intersection was empty.

The only available parking places on the block were in front of Nichols' Drug Store. I pulled into the deep ruts behind a Huron Station sheriff's cruiser and turned off the ignition. My car should be safe enough here with the law so close.

Pulling off my gloves, I tried to rub the ache out of my hands. I'd been gripping the wheel too tightly for hours, expecting every second to hit that icy patch and spin out of control. That was no way to drive in a Michigan winter.

I knew that I should be relaxed and cautious, ready for anything, and above all have confidence in my ability to control my vehicle. All I could claim to be today was cautious.

My throat was dry, and I was in desperate need of a brief rest. Now that I was within twenty miles of the cabin, I could stop for a quick lunch and a hot drink. I remembered a small restaurant not far from the theatre. Probably it was still there, or another one like it.

I rolled up the collar of my lavender turtleneck that doubled as a scarf, pulled the hood of my purple coat forward over my hair, and put my gloves on again. Then I reached for my shoulder bag, opened the door, and stepped out into the arctic air.

In the street I walked around the back of the car to the sidewalk, stepping in the tracks left by those who had come before me. The wind promptly blew my hood back, and stinging icy flakes hit my face as I climbed over high mounds of plowed snow. The pavement was shoveled and sprinkled with salt. On a day like this, walking was infinitely easier than driving.

The restaurant should be in the middle of the block, directly across from the Huron Station Savings Bank, only ten more steps, maybe fifteen. I had no real memory of it, only fuzzy images of a wooden Indian at the entrance, chicken pie, and an adjoining souvenir shop.

When I saw the bank, I came to a stop. I was in the right place, but the restaurant was now a flower and antique shop named Blooms from the Past. In the window, deep pink azaleas and nineteenth century china surrounded a wicker tea trolley filled with pumpkins.

Everything changes, even small northern towns, but there must be another place to eat on Main Street. I walked on, scanning the vintage storefronts anxiously, ready to take temporary shelter in the first warm and welcoming haven I came to.

I found it nestled between a barbershop and a bakery. Estella's Cafe was a small gabled house, set farther back from the sidewalk than its neighbors, looking as if it had been left in its original location as stores went up on either side. It was brightly lit, open, and appeared to be doing a brisk business.

Relieved and very thirsty, I opened the door and went inside.

The café was larger than it appeared from the outside with a counter wrapped around three sides and oval shaped tables clustered close together under hanging Tiffany light fixtures. The yellows, peaches, and oranges of the color scheme were warm and inviting, and a fire blazed in a wood-burning stove.

As I moved farther into the entrance, the temperature seemed to rise at least twenty degrees. I unbuttoned my coat and paused to read the sign that leaned on an oversized brass easel: 'Welcome to Estella's Cafe. Please Seat Yourself.'

The place was crowded with people, some of them still warmly dressed in their cold weather layers. I walked toward the back where I saw a few unoccupied booths, slid into one of them, and occupied myself by observing my fellow diners, the most interesting of whom were the three law enforcement officers.

They had commandeered the best table in the room, alongside the stove. The two state troopers, tall, armed, and exuding power, were dark-haired and husky. They were so similar in appearance that they might have been brothers. They ate quietly, their eyes fixed on their food. The third man, wearing the tan uniform and badge of a county sheriff, was the most visually appealing part of the decor.

He had a handsome, arresting face with high cheekbones and intriguing angles, tawny-brown hair sprinkled with gray strands, and a hard, lean body. High leather boots reached up to his knees and clung to his long, muscular legs.

He was magnificent, a north woods bear of a man, the kind who could banish the winter night's chill for any woman. If I were Estella, I would pay him to eat in the establishment just to bring in the female customers.

He had reached the dessert and coffee stage of the meal and set his cup close to the edge of the table, ignoring the large piece of pie at his elbow, while he studied a map and waited for his lunch companions to catch up to him.

Don't react as if you'd never seen a handsome man, I scolded myself. Look away now. The next thing you know, he'll turn around and notice you staring at him.

Or was that what I wanted?

The sheriff continued to read the map, as if it were an engrossing news story, and the troopers kept eating. No one at the table was engaging in casual conversation. The Alcona County lawmen were focused on business.

Wishing I'd taken the time to apply lipstick and powder, I ran my hand through my hair. It felt damp, snowdrops melting in a tangle of wind-tossed auburn strands, but I knew it looked better this way with moisture creating instant waves.

The waitress brought me back down to earth. She was young, efficient, and apparently oblivious of the nearby display of male beauty. Her crisp orange and white uniform complemented the café's décor.

"I'm Cindy. I'll be your waitress today," she said, as she handed me a menu and filled my cup with coffee, creating an instant heat source on the table. "Is it getting worse outside?"

"Every second."

"They say the fog is supposed to clear up after noon."

"That's good. I like to see where I'm going."

The first swallow of coffee burned my throat, but this was what I needed. I sat back and began to thaw.

"It's going to be a long winter, and it isn't even December yet," she said. "Our specials today are turkey pot pie and venison stew. The soup is beef barley."

I opened the menu and scanned the sandwich column. It was still too early for heavy dinner food. I wanted something hot now and a sandwich to take out for later. I didn't know what I'd find in the cabin, but I was reasonably certain it wouldn't be a pantry stocked with staples.

"I'll have a cup of soup and also a sandwich to go," I said. "Make it corned beef on rye."

When Cindy left to fill my order, I sipped coffee and glanced surreptitiously at the lawmen's table. The tawny-haired sheriff had folded the map and begun a conversation with the troopers. I wasn't close enough to hear what they were saying. Usually I don't eavesdrop, but I thought they might mention updated information about the weather or the condition of the roads to the north.

Cindy brought my soup then and refilled the coffee cup, and I concentrated on my lunch. Aside from any other considerations, the presence of the lawmen was reassuring. I was going to an isolated wilderness cabin surrounded by eighty acres of woods. Although I hadn't seen the farm since my childhood vacations with my family, my Great Aunt Celia had lived alone there without incident for a quarter of a century, and I expected to do the same for two weeks.

Having an active police force in the area could only add to my sense of security, and a man who looked like the sheriff was a definite fringe. I hoped I'd see him again.

Welcome north, I thought. This time I made the right decision.

* * * *

A cream minivan was parked behind me now, giving me very little room to back up and maneuver my way out into the street. I could only move forward. Unfortunately, I'd pulled closer to the sheriff's car than I should have.

How many sheriffs could there be in Huron Station? This cruiser almost certainly belonged to the tawny-haired officer in Estella's Café. He might come back to his car at any minute or in an hour, as might the driver of the minivan.

I didn't want to wait. The fog was lifting, but it was still snowing, and I had twenty more miles to go.

As I stood in the street, calculating my chances of extricating myself from this cramped place, it seemed to me that the space between the patrol car and the Taurus had shrunk. An illusion brought about by the snow and fog or an earlier lack of foresight? It didn't matter. I was blocked in.

It would be difficult but not impossible to free myself if I kept turning the steering wheel to the left, moving a fraction of an inch forward each time, until I was in a position to swing out into the street.

I thought I could do it. All the same, I cursed the unknown driver of the minivan who had created this unnecessary obstacle for me.

A thin layer of fresh snow covered all three vehicles. I unlocked the car, started the engine, and turned on the windshield wipers and defroster. My long-handled brush lay on the floor in front of the passenger's seat where I had tossed it this morning. I grabbed it and cleared the snow from the top of the car, using long, angry strokes and wishing I could brush away the minivan or, better still, the driver who had cut off my easy exit.

As soon as I could see through the windows, I turned on the lights and began to ease the car out of the space into the street. The familiar ache rushed back to my hands as I gripped the wheel, once again too tightly, but I paid no attention to it and kept my eyes fixed on the back of the cruiser.

I was sure I could do it now. Turning the wheel one last time, I stepped on the gas pedal, moved a bit forward, and rammed into the patrol car. The crunch of steel smashing into steel cracked open the deep afternoon silence.

Instantly I braked and looked in dismay at what I had done. The shiny blue rear fender of the sheriff's car had crumpled as easily as a model made of cardboard. The damaged area resembled a gaping wound, dripping white snow on the ground instead of blood. My car must be dented too.

Of all the vehicles in Huron Station, why did I have to park behind the cruiser? More to the point, why did I have to run into it?

I glanced out the window, expecting to be surrounded by eager witnesses. In any town downstate, the sheer noise of the collision would have attracted at least a few curious passersby to the scene. Huron Station's Main Street, like the intersection I'd recently slid across, was relatively empty. The people who happened to be in the vicinity were intent on reaching their various destinations and getting in out of the cold. They looked once and walked on.

I wished I could drive away and leave Huron Station and this accident behind, but that was unthinkable. I had damaged a sheriff's car while it was parked, and now I had to deal with the situation.

With a shaky hand, I shifted into neutral and got out to view the patrol car's fender more closely. From outside, it looked even worse. I would have to notify the police.

When I'd left the restaurant, the town's law officers were still lingering over their dessert. That meant I would have to return to Estella's Café and confess what I'd done, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I had hoped to see the sheriff again, but not like this.

I was reaching across the seat to get my shoulder bag when I heard someone behind me walking up to the car, boots stamping down the snow, the sound magnified in the stillness.

I turned to see the sheriff. He was looking at his cruiser and frowning. "What have we here?" he asked.

He was taller than I had imagined and brawnier, and his hat and jacket were layered with new snow. As he stood waiting for my answer, his hand rested casually on the holster of his gun.

Although his expression hovered between neutral and benign, there was a chill in his voice that had nothing to do with the bitter temperature. I noticed that his eyes were the ice-blue color of Lake Huron in the winter. He was waiting for me to answer him, to offer an excuse I couldn't possibly give, while the snow blew and drifted between us, creating a high, frosty barrier.

"I thought I had enough room to pull out," I said.

He didn't say a word. He was so silent that I could almost hear the snow falling.

"Obviously I didn't. I'm sorry."

Still without answering me, he stooped down in the hard-packed snow and ran his large gloved hand along the damaged fender and then back again, as if caressing a loved one.

I wished myself a thousand miles away, anywhere but on the main street of this frozen backwoods town at the mercy of a man whose property I had damaged.

At last he spoke again. "You did have enough room. Are you a new driver?"

I bit back an angry retort. I was the offender here, and the sheriff was apparently a take-no-prisoners kind of man. Not an hour ago in the café I'd thought of him in a vastly different way. The reality didn't match my fantasy, except the part about the bear. That was accurate, except he would be a deadly brown grizzly, not the fuzzy, snuggling kind.

"No, of course not," I said. "I've been driving for years. That minivan parked way too close to me. I'm really sorry. I did the best I could."

Realizing that this defense bordered on belligerence, I ended it and waited for him to respond.

He didn't say "just like a woman driver," or anything remotely similar, but his expression did. I couldn't think of anything else to say. Probably it was better that way.

He stood up, brushing snow from his gloves.

"I see. Do you have your driver's license and registration, ma'am?" He paused and added, "Your insurance too?"

It was a relief to look away from him and fumble in my bag for the documents he requested. My hands were definitely shaking as I removed the cards from my wallet. I handed them to him, hoping that he wouldn't notice, or, if he did, would think I was only cold and not intimidated.

He studied each one carefully. Just as I began to think he suspected they were forged, he said, "Krista Marlow, is it? Like Christopher Marlowe, the playwright?"

"Close," I said. "My mother was an English professor."

He removed his gloves and reached for a ticket pad. I didn't expect this. What had happened was an accident. Didn't the concept of "no fault" exist this far north?

Suddenly, my remorse vanished. I hadn't broken any laws or injured anyone, and surely even in Huron Station a policeman took weather conditions into consideration before issuing a citation. Also, my car had its own share of damage. That should be punishment enough.

"You're not giving me a ticket," I said.

"I am, for handling a vehicle carelessly."

"But the minivan . . ."

"It didn't hit a parked car."

He handed me a pen. "Sign here, please."

I had no choice, but as I wrote my name, I felt resentment welling up in me and willed myself not to let him sense it. This was a small town, after all. Maybe they needed the income collected from downstate tourists who broke their laws, or their handsome sheriff could be a male chauvinist, in which case I didn't have a chance.

Silently I handed him the signed citation. Even now there wasn't the slightest hint of friendliness in his face, only the self-satisfied look of a lawman who has done his duty, or a bear that has captured his dinner.

I liked that last comparison better.

"So you're from the big city. Are you going to stay in Huron Station long, Ms. Marlow?" he asked.

"I'm just passing through."

"Didn't I see you at Estella's?"

"Probably. I was there."

"I thought so. Be careful," he said, making no attempt to disguise the condescension. "These roads can be tricky for a city girl."

I dropped the ticket into my bag. "I'll keep that in mind. Is it all right if I leave—and would you move your car, please?"

"Sure, Ms. Marlow." He tipped his hat, and a shower of snow fell against his jacket. Now that I was on my way out of town, he looked positively congenial.

"And drive safely. You're in dangerous country now."

TOP

Original Release - September 2005

Coming Soon

   
  Reviews
  Praise for "A Shadow on the Snow."

"A SHADOW ON THE SNOW is simply brilliant. Krista Marlow is a fetching detective — witty, intuitive, and valiant."

"Simply put, A SHADOW ON THE SNOW has it all! If you are looking for a cozy winter chill, look no further than A SHADOW ON THE SNOW. With romance, mystery, action, a bit of haunting, and a cuddly canine, how can anyone say no to this cozy mystery?" Beverly Forehand, Romance Roundtable Reviews

Dorothy Bodoin has created an action packed story that is loaded with some haunts,
romance, and a touch of mystery. Ms. Bodoin puts you right in the middle of the action.
The tension between the characters is believable and with a cuddly canine by the name
of Tasha, the story really gives pause for a satisfying read. If you love a good mystery
with a touch of romance, then I recommend this book. Cherokee - Coffee Time Romance & More

   
   
 

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