#BookReview “Mercy Creek” by M.E. Browning

October 11 – November 5, 2021 Tour

cover

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5/5 Stars!

The opening of Mercy Creek is chilling as it shows how easily an eleven-year-old girl can go missing, even in the midst of a summer fair.

Did young Lena Flores run away or was she kidnapped? Suspicions run high for both options, but hometown Detective Jo Wyatt doesn’t believe the child ran away. However, a difficult investigation is complicated even more by the child’s divorced parents, Tilda and Lucero, and their contentious relationship with Jo going back decades to their teens.

As if that isn’t enough, add in Lena’s older sister, Marisa, who was supposed to be with Lena at the fair.  Four years older, Marisa was vain and selfish and a wannabe social media influencer. Had she taken her duties more seriously, Lena might never have gone missing. Also, her distant relationship with the truth didn’t help the investigation.

Finding Lena is only one arc of this slow burn, as it also delves into Jo’s relationships. With her former trainer and now partner, Squint; with her hard-nosed father and namesake who retired from the Echo Valley Police Department; with her coworkers who have more faith in her abilities than she does at times, and with longtime—and unavailable—friend, Aiden.

Fortunately, there is little of Jo’s past relationship with Cameron, the man she was passed over for a sergeant’s position, and her ex-husband. Could also have done without the new police chief who offers Jo a new sergeant’s position… more so for his benefit than hers. But every story needs its slime factor.

But it’s her past with Tilda and Lucero and the night that changed everything that stays at the forefront of Jo Wyatt’s mind. All three have different remembrances of what happened, with Jo being the bad guy. Even with their youngest child missing, not only are Tilda and Lucero less than cooperative with her, but both are outright rude. Tilda didn’t even try to hide her contempt, and Lucero was toxic. Jo swallowed it all though and stayed professional. She’s better than me.

It goes without saying I’m a Jo Wyatt fan. Whether it’s an inherent ability or an inherited trait from her father, Jo was meant to be a cop. She’s a no-nonsense investigator who finds clues when there are none and gleans the truth from what is not said. I love that she is a strong female character, but even more so, I admire her for being an amazing investigator. She may not take herself too seriously, but Jo Wyatt is one-hundred-percent serious about her job, and do not make the mistake of getting in her way.

Like Shadow Ridge, this amazing read is not short on plot twists and emotions. The author does a great job of distraction and misdirection during the search for a missing child and the person who took her. And while I highly recommend book 1 of Jo’s story, Mercy Creek can be read as a full standalone.

Enjoy!

~~~

Synopsis:

 

In an idyllic Colorado town, a young girl goes missing—and the trail leads into the heart and mind of a remorseless killer.

The late summer heat in Echo Valley, Colorado turns lush greenery into a tinder dry landscape. When a young girl mysteriously disappears, long buried grudges rekindle. Of the two Flores girls, Marisa was the one people pegged for trouble. Her younger sister, Lena, was the quiet daughter, dutiful and diligent—right until the moment she vanished.

Detective Jo Wyatt is convinced the eleven-year-old girl didn’t run away and that a more sinister reason lurks behind her disappearance. For Jo, the case is personal, reaching far back into her past. But as she mines Lena’s fractured family life, she unearths a cache of secrets and half-lies that paints a darker picture.

As the evidence mounts, so do the suspects, and when a witness steps forward with a shocking new revelation, Jo is forced to confront her doubts, and her worst fears. Now, it’s just a matter of time before the truth is revealed—or the killer makes another deadly move.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: Crooked Lane Books

Publication Date: October 12th 2021

Number of Pages: 288

ISBN: 1643857622 (ISBN13: 9781643857626)

Series: A Jo Wyatt Mystery, Book 2 || Each mystery in the A Jo Wyatt Mystery series is a stand alone novel.

Purchase Links: Penguin Random House | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

~~~

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

~~~

ENTER TO WIN:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for M.E. Browning. There will be TWO winners. ONE winner will receive (1) Amazon.com Gift Card and ONE winner will receive one (1) physical copy of Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning (U.S. addresses only). The giveaway runs October 11 through November 7, 2021. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway  

~~~

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

#BookTour “Mercy Creek” by M.E. Browning

Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning Banner

October 11 – November 5, 2021 Tour

cover

~~~

Synopsis:

 

In an idyllic Colorado town, a young girl goes missing—and the trail leads into the heart and mind of a remorseless killer.

The late summer heat in Echo Valley, Colorado turns lush greenery into a tinder dry landscape. When a young girl mysteriously disappears, long buried grudges rekindle. Of the two Flores girls, Marisa was the one people pegged for trouble. Her younger sister, Lena, was the quiet daughter, dutiful and diligent—right until the moment she vanished.

Detective Jo Wyatt is convinced the eleven-year-old girl didn’t run away and that a more sinister reason lurks behind her disappearance. For Jo, the case is personal, reaching far back into her past. But as she mines Lena’s fractured family life, she unearths a cache of secrets and half-lies that paints a darker picture.

As the evidence mounts, so do the suspects, and when a witness steps forward with a shocking new revelation, Jo is forced to confront her doubts, and her worst fears. Now, it’s just a matter of time before the truth is revealed—or the killer makes another deadly move.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: Crooked Lane Books

Publication Date: October 12th 2021

Number of Pages: 288

ISBN: 1643857622 (ISBN13: 9781643857626)

Series: A Jo Wyatt Mystery, Book 2 || Each mystery in the A Jo Wyatt Mystery series is a stand alone novel.

Purchase Links: Penguin Random House | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

~~~

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Everyone had a story from that night. Some saw a man, others saw a girl, still others saw nothing at all but didn’t want to squander the opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves. To varying degrees, they were all wrong. Only two people knew the full truth.

That Saturday, visitors to the county fair clustered in the dappled shade cast by carnival rides and rested on hay bales scattered like afterthoughts between games of chance and food booths, the soles of their shoes sticky with ice cream drips and spilled sodas.

Detective Jo Wyatt stepped into the shadow of the Hall of Mirrors to watch the crowd. She grabbed the collar of her uniform and pumped it a few times in a futile attempt to push cooler air between her ballistic vest and sweat-sodden T-shirt.

The Echo Valley Fair marked the end of summer, but even now, as the relentless Colorado sun dipped, heat rose in waves around bare ankles and stroller wheels as families retreated toward the parking lots. An older crowd began to creep in, prowling the midway. The beer garden overflowed.

Within minutes the sun dropped behind the valley walls and the fairground lights flickered to life, their wan orange glow a beacon to moths confused by the strobing brightness of rides and games. Calliope music and the midway’s technopop collided in a crazed mishmash of notes so loud they echoed in Jo’s chest. She raised the volume of her radio.

The day shift officers had clocked out having handled nothing more pressing than a man locked out of his car and an allegation of unfair judging flung by the second-place winner of the bake-off.

Jo gauged the teeming crowd of unfamiliar faces. Tonight would be different.

#

Carnival music was creepy, Lena decided. Each ride had its own weird tune and it all seemed to crash against her with equal force, following her no matter where she went.

The guys in the booths were louder than they had been earlier, more aggressive, calling out, trying to get her to part with her tickets. Some of the guys roamed, jumping out at people, flicking cards and making jokes she didn’t understand while smiling at her older sister.

Marisa tossed her hair. Smiled back. Sometimes they let her play for free.

“Let’s go back to the livestock pavilion,” Lena said.

“Quit being such a baby.” Marisa glanced over her shoulder at the guy running the shooting gallery booth and tossed her hair. Again.

Lena rolled her eyes and wondered how long it would be before her sister ditched her.

“Hold up a sec.” Marisa tugged at the hem of her skintight skirt and flopped down on a hay bale.

She’d been wearing pants when they’d left the house. The big purse she always carried probably hid an entire wardrobe Momma knew nothing about. Lena wondered if the missing key to grandma’s car was tucked in there too.

Marisa unzipped one of her boots and pulled up her thin sock.

Lena pointed. “What happened to the bottom of your boot?”

Her sister ran her finger along the arch. “I painted it red.”

“Why?”

“It makes them more valuable.”

“Since when does coloring the bottom of your shoes make them more valuable?”

Marisa’s eyes lit up in a way that happened whenever she spoke about clothes or how she was going to hit it big in Hollywood someday. “In Paris there’s this guy who designs shoes and all of them have red soles. He’s the only one allowed to do that. It’s his thing.”

“But he didn’t make those boots.”

“All the famous women wear his shoes.” She waved to someone in the crowd.

“You’re not famous and you bought them at Payless.”

“What do you know about fashion?”

“I know enough not to paint the bottom of my boots to make them look like someone else made them.”

Marisa shoved her foot into her boot and yanked the zipper closed. “You bought your boots from the co-op.” She handed Lena her cell phone.

“You should have bought yours there, too.” Lena dutifully pointed the lens at her sister.

“Take a couple this time.” Marisa leaned back on her hands and arched her back, her hair nearly brushing the hay bale, and the expression on her face pouty like the girls in the magazines she was always looking at.

Lena snapped several photos and held out the phone. “All those high heels are good for is punching holes in the ground.”

“Oh, Lena.” Marisa’s voice dropped as if she was sharing a secret. “If you ever looked up from your animals long enough, you’d see there’s so much more to the world.” Her thumbs rapidly tapped the tiny keyboard of her phone.

In the center of the midway, a carnival guy held a long-handled mallet and called out to people as they passed by. He was older—somewhere in his twenties—and wore a tank top. Green and blue tattoos covered his arms and his biceps bulged as he pointed the oversized hammer at the tower behind him. It looked like a giant thermometer with numbers running along one edge, and High Striker spelled out on the other.

“Come on, men. There’s no easier way to impress the ladies.” He grabbed the mallet and tapped the plate. “You just have to find the proper motivation if you want to get it up…” He pointed with his chin to the top of the game and paused dramatically. “There.” He craned his neck and leered at Marisa. Lena wondered if he was looking up her sister’s skirt. “What happens later is up to you.”

Never breaking eye contact, he took a mighty swing. The puck raced up the tower, setting off a rainbow of lights and whistles before it smashed into the bell at the top. He winked in their direction. “Score.”

Twenty minutes later, Marisa was gone.

#

Lena gave up looking for her sister and returned to the livestock pavilion. Marisa could keep her music and crowds and stupid friends.

Only a few people still wandered around the dimly lit livestock pavilion. The fireworks would start soon and most people headed for the excitement outside, a world away from the comforting sound of animals snuffling and pawing at their bedding.

Marisa was probably hanging out near the river with her friends, drinking beer. Maybe smoking a cigarette or even a joint. Doing things she didn’t think her baby sister knew about.

Lena walked through an aisle stacked with poultry and rabbit cages. The pens holding goats, swine, and sheep took up the middle. At the back of the pavilion stretched a long row of three-sided cattle stalls. The smells of straw, grain, and animals replaced the gross smell of deep-fried candy bars and churros that had clogged her throat on the midway.

Near the end of the row, Lena stopped.

“Hey there, Bluebell.” Technically, he was number twenty-four, like his ear tag said. Her father didn’t believe in naming livestock, but to her, he’d always be Bluebell—even after she sold him at the auction to be slaughtered. Just because that was his fate didn’t mean he shouldn’t have a name to be remembered by. She remembered them all.

She patted his hip and slid her hand along his spine so he wouldn’t shy as she moved into the stall. She double-checked the halter, pausing to scratch his forehead. A piece of straw swirled in his water bucket and she fished it out. The cold water cooled her hot skin.

“You did good today. Sorry I won’t be spending the night with you, but Papa got called out to Dawson’s ranch to stitch up some mare.”

He swished his tail and it struck the rail with a metallic ring.

“Don’t get yourself all riled. I’ll be back tomorrow before you know it.”

If she hadn’t been showing Bluebell this afternoon, she’d have gone with her father. Her sutures had really improved this summer and were almost as neat as his. No one would guess they’d been made by an eleven-year-old. If nothing else, she could have helped keep the horse calm.

Instead, she’d go home with Marisa and spend the night at Momma’s. She wondered if Marisa would show up before the 4-H leader called lights out in the pavilion or if Lena would have to walk to her mom’s house by herself in the dark.

She reached down and jiggled the feed pan to smooth out the grain that Bluebell had pushed to the edges.

“That’s some cow.”

The male voice startled them both and Bluebell stomped his rear hoof. Lena peered over the Hereford’s withers. At first all she saw were the tattoos. An ugly monster head with a gaping mouth and snake tongue seem to snap at her. It was the carny from the High Striker standing at the edge of the stall.

“It’s a steer,” she stuttered. “And my sister isn’t here.”

“Not your sister I wanted to talk to.” He swayed a bit as he moved into the stall, like when her mother drank too much wine and tried to hide it.

Lena ducked under Bluebell’s throat and came up on the other side. She looked around the pavilion, now empty of people.

“Suspect they’re all out waiting on the fireworks,” he said.

The first boom echoed through the space. Several sheep bleated their disapproval and Bluebell jerked against his halter.

“Shhhh, now.” Lena reached her hand down and scratched his chest. “All that racket’s just some stupid fireworks.”

“Nothing to worry about,” the man added. He had the same look in his eyes that Papa’s border collie got right before he cut off the escape route of a runaway cow.

A bigger boom thundered through the pavilion. Halter clips clanged against the rails as uneasy cattle shuffled in their stalls. Her own legs shook as she sidled toward Bluebell’s rear.

He matched her steps. “What’s a little thing like you doing in here all by yourself?”

“My father will be back any minute.” Her voice shook.

He smiled, baring his teeth. “I’ll be sure to introduce myself when he arrives.”

A series of explosions, sharp as gunfire, erupted outside. Somewhere a cow lowed. Several more joined in, their voices pitiful with fear.

“You’re upsetting my steer. You need to leave.”

“Oh, your cow’s just fine. I think it’s you that’s scared.”

He spoke with the same low voice that Lena used with injured animals. The one she used right before she did something she knew would hurt but had to be done.

“You’re a pretty little thing,” he crooned. “Nice and quiet.”

Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. She stood frozen. A warm trickle started down her leg, and the wet spot expanded on her jeans.

He edged closer. “I like them quiet.”

#

Jo ran.

The suspect veered off the sidewalk and slid down the hillside toward the creek.

She plunged off the side of the embankment, sliding through dirt and duff, closing the distance. She keyed her shoulder mic. “Entering the creek, heading west toward the Animas. I need someone on the River Trail.”

Narrow-leaf cottonwood and willows shimmered silver in the moonlight and wove a thicket of branches along the water, herding the suspect toward the cobbled stream bed.

Jo splashed into the ankle-deep water. Close enough now to almost touch.

Her lungs burned. With a final burst of speed, she lunged. Shoved his shoulder while he was mid-stride.

The man sprawled into the creek. Rolled onto his feet with a bellow. A knife in his hand.

Without thinking, she’d drawn her gun. “Drop it!”

Flashlight beams sliced the foliage. Snapping branches and crashing footsteps marked the other officers’ progress as they neared. Estes shouted Jo’s name. Her eyes never left the man standing just feet away.

“Over here!” She focused on the man’s shoulder, watching for the twitch that would telegraph his intentions. “You need to drop the knife. Now.” Her voice rose above the burble of the stream. “Or things are going to get a whole lot worse for you tonight.”

She shifted her weight to her front leg and carefully shuffled her rear foot until she found firmer footing and settled into a more stable shooting stance. “Drop the knife.” She aimed center mass. Drew a deep breath, willed her heart to slow.

The knife splashed into the creek near the bank.

“On your right.” Estes broke through the brush beside her.

“Get down on your knees,” Jo ordered. “Hands behind your head.”

“It’s my friend’s truck,” the man said.

Jo holstered her gun and moved forward while Estes covered her. She gripped his fingers and bowed the suspect backward, keeping him off balance while she searched him for weapons, then cuffed him.

“Not according to the owner.” She double-locked the cuffs while Estes radioed dispatch they had one in custody.

An explosion above the treetops made Jo flinch. Fireworks slashed the darkness and burst into balls of purple and green and dazzling white that sparkled briefly, then disappeared.

***

Excerpt from Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning. Copyright 2021 by M.E. Browning. Reproduced with permission from M.E. Browning. All rights reserved.

~~~

Author Bio:

M.E. Browning

M.E. Browning writes the Colorado Book Award-winning Jo Wyatt Mysteries and the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo Mysteries (as Micki Browning). Micki also writes short stories and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime… fiction.

Catch Up With M.E. Browning:

MEBrowning.com

Goodreads

BookBub

Instagram – @mickibrowning

Twitter – @MickiBrowning

Facebook – @MickiBrowningAuthor

~~~

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

~~~

ENTER TO WIN:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for M.E. Browning. There will be TWO winners. ONE winner will receive (1) Amazon.com Gift Card and ONE winner will receive one (1) physical copy of Mercy Creek by M.E. Browning (U.S. addresses only). The giveaway runs October 11 through November 7, 2021. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway  

~~~

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

#BookReview “Shadow Ridge (A Jo Wyatt Mystery)” by M.E. Browning

December 1-31, 2020 Tour

Shadow Ridge by M.E. Browning

5/5 Stars

Tenacious and unpretentious, Jo Wyatt lives in Echo Valley, Colorado… her hometown. The town where her mother died of cancer, and where her retired cop father never approved of her. She’s a detective on the police force that just passed her over for promotion, bestowing the sergeant’s position on the less-qualified man she’s divorcing.

If that isn’t enough to qualify for a long rest in a quiet place, Jo’s latest case is a suicide that feels “off” to her. Why would a young video game designer with a bright future kill himself? Though her suspicions are brushed off by Cameron, her soon-to-be-ex… and just about everyone else, Jo can’t let go, especially when she locks horns with Quinn, a foul-mouthed classmate of the victim with a chip on her shoulder, and the person who found his body.

This well-written, slow-burn mystery was character-driven for me with each one well-developed even if they only appeared for a scene or two. Backstories unfold throughout the story and everyone carries scars from the past. Quinn’s just took my breath away. I cannot even imagine.

Jo Wyatt is a protagonist to get behind. Despite the barbs and obstacles thrown in her way and a ton of emotional baggage, she pieces together a psychotic plot of murder and revenge just as another life is about to be taken. Go, Jo, go!

Can’t wait for Jo’s next case! Hope to see more of Squint, her boss, and Aiden, her “friend.” Can live without Cameron (jerk face), and Everett, the nosy reporter.

If it sounds like I’m already invested in these characters, good!

Enjoy!


SYNOPSIS

Death is one click away when a string of murders rocks a small Colorado town in the first mesmerizing novel in M. E. Browning’s A Jo Wyatt Mystery series.

Echo Valley, Colorado, is a place where the natural beauty of a stunning river valley meets a budding hipster urbanity. But when an internet stalker is revealed to be a cold-blooded killer in real life the peaceful community is rocked to its core.

It should have been an open-and-shut case: the suicide of Tye Horton, the designer of a cutting-edge video game. But Detective Jo Wyatt is immediately suspicious of Quinn Kirkwood, who reported the death. When Quinn reveals an internet stalker is terrorizing her, Jo is skeptical. Doubts aside, she delves into the claim and uncovers a link that ties Quinn to a small group of beta-testers who had worked with Horton. When a second member of the group dies in a car accident, Jo’s investigation leads her to the father of a young man who had killed himself a year earlier. But there’s more to this case than a suicide, and as Jo unearths the layers, a more sinister pattern begins to emerge–one driven by desperation, shame, and a single-minded drive for revenge.

As Jo closes in, she edges ever closer to the shattering truth–and a deadly showdown that will put her to the ultimate test.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery (Police Procedural)
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 6th 2020
Number of Pages: 296
ISBN: 1643855352 (ISBN13: 9781643855356)
Series: A Jo Wyatt Mystery, #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Penguin Random House | Goodreads


Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!


Enter To Win!

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for M.E. Browning. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card and there will be 2 winners of one (1) physical copy of Shadow Ridge by M.E. Browning (US and Canada ONLY). The giveaway begins on December 1, 2020 and runs through January 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 


#BookTour “Shadow Ridge (A Jo Wyatt Mystery)” by M.E. Browning

Shadow Ridge by M.E. Browning Banner

December 1-31, 2020 Tour

Synopsis:

Shadow Ridge by M.E. Browning

Death is one click away when a string of murders rocks a small Colorado town in the first mesmerizing novel in M. E. Browning’s A Jo Wyatt Mystery series.

Echo Valley, Colorado, is a place where the natural beauty of a stunning river valley meets a budding hipster urbanity. But when an internet stalker is revealed to be a cold-blooded killer in real life the peaceful community is rocked to its core.

It should have been an open-and-shut case: the suicide of Tye Horton, the designer of a cutting-edge video game. But Detective Jo Wyatt is immediately suspicious of Quinn Kirkwood, who reported the death. When Quinn reveals an internet stalker is terrorizing her, Jo is skeptical. Doubts aside, she delves into the claim and uncovers a link that ties Quinn to a small group of beta-testers who had worked with Horton. When a second member of the group dies in a car accident, Jo’s investigation leads her to the father of a young man who had killed himself a year earlier. But there’s more to this case than a suicide, and as Jo unearths the layers, a more sinister pattern begins to emerge–one driven by desperation, shame, and a single-minded drive for revenge.

As Jo closes in, she edges ever closer to the shattering truth–and a deadly showdown that will put her to the ultimate test.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery (Police Procedural)
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: October 6th 2020
Number of Pages: 296
ISBN: 1643855352 (ISBN13: 9781643855356)
Series: A Jo Wyatt Mystery, #1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Penguin Random House | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Detective Jo Wyatt stood at the edge of the doorway of the converted garage and scanned the scene for threats. She’d have the chance to absorb the details later, but even at a glance, it was obvious the occupant of the chair in front of the flickering television wouldn’t benefit from her first-aid training. The stains on the ceiling from the gun blast confirmed that.

Officer Cameron Finch stood on the other side of the sorry concrete slab that served as an entrance. “Ready?”

The only place hidden from view was the bathroom, and the chance of someone hiding there was infinitesimal, but someone always won the lottery. Today wasn’t the day to test the odds. Not when she was dressed for court and without her vest.

She pushed the door open wider. Her eyes and handgun moved in tandem as she swept the room.

A mattress on the floor served as a bed. Stacks of clothes took the place of a real closet. A dorm-sized fridge with a hot plate on top of it made up the kitchen.

Jo avoided the well-worn paths in the carpet and silently approached the bathroom. Its door stood slightly ajar, creating enough space for her to peer through the crack. Never lowering her gun, she used her foot to widen the gap.

No intruder. Just a water-spotted shower stall and a stained toilet with the seat up. A stick propped open the narrow ventilation window above the shower. Too small for even the tiniest child, but an open invitation to heat-seeking raccoons.

“Bathroom’s clear.” She holstered her gun. The cut of her wool blazer fell forward and did its best to hide the bulge of her Glock, but an observant person could tell she was armed. One of the drawbacks of having a waist.

She picked her way across the main room, staying close to the walls to avoid trampling any evidence. A flame licked the edges of the television screen—one of those mood DVDs of a fireplace but devoid of sound. It filled the space with an eerie flicker that did little to lighten the gathering dusk.

Sidestepping a cat bowl filled with water, she stopped in front of the body and pulled a set of latex gloves from her trouser pocket.

“Really?” Cameron asked.

Jo snapped them into place, then pressed two fingers against the victim’s neck in a futile search for a pulse—a completely unnecessary act that became an issue only if a defense attorney wanted to make an officer look like an idiot on the stand for not checking.

The dead man reclined in a high-backed gray chair that appeared to have built-in speakers. In the vee of his legs, a Remington 870 shotgun rested against his right thigh, the stock’s butt buried in the dirty shag carpet. On the far side, a toppled bottle of whiskey and a tumbler sat on a metal TV tray next to a long-stemmed pipe.

“Who called it in?” Jo asked.

“Quinn Kirkwood. I told her to stay in her car until we figured out what was going on.”

Jo retraced her steps to the threshold, seeking a respite from the stench of death.

A petite woman stood at the edge of the driveway, pointedly looking away from the door. “Is he okay?”

So much for staying in the car. “Let’s talk over here.” Not giving the other woman the opportunity to resist, Jo grabbed her elbow and guided her to the illuminated porch of the main house, where the overhang would protect them from the softly falling snow.

“He’s inside, isn’t he?” Quinn pulled the drawstring of her sweat shirt until the hood puckered around her neck. “He’s dead.” It should have been a question, but wasn’t. Jo’s radar pinged.

“I’m sorry.” Jo brushed errant flakes from a dilapidated wicker chair and moved it forward for her. “Is there someone I can call for you?”

She shook her head.

“How well did you know—”

“Tye. His name is—was—Tye Horton.” Quinn played with the tab of her hood string, picking at the plastic that kept the ends from fraying.

Jo remained quiet, digesting the younger woman’s unease. She was all angles: sharp shoulders, high cheekbones, blunt-cut dark hair, and canted eyes that looked blue in the open but faded to grey here in the shadows.

A pile of snow slid from a bowed cottonwood branch and landed with a dull plop. The silence broken, Quinn continued to fill it. “We have a couple classes together up at the college. He missed class. I came over to see why.”

“Does he often cut class?”

“He didn’t cut class,” she said sharply. “He missed it.” She pulled out her cellphone. “The project was due today. I should tell the others.”

What would she tell them? She hadn’t asked any questions. The pinging in Jo’s head grew louder. “Did you go inside before the officer got here?” She looked at the woman’s shoes. Converse high-tops. Distinctive tread.

Quinn launched out of her seat, sending it crashing into the porch rail. “I called you guys, remember?”

“It’s a simple yes or no.”

The smaller woman advanced and Jo fought the impulse to shove her back. “No, Officer—”

“Detective Wyatt.”

The top of Quinn’s head barely reached Jo’s chin. “Tye and I were classmates with a project due, Detective. I called him, he didn’t answer. I texted him, he didn’t respond. He didn’t show up for the game last night, which meant something was wrong. He never missed a game.”

Football. Last night Jo had pulled on her uniform and worked an overtime shift at the Sunday night game. Despite the plunging temperatures, the small college stadium had been filled to capacity.

“Did you check on him afterward?” Jo asked.

“No.” Color brightened Quinn’s pale cheeks. “By the time the game ended, it was too late. After he missed class today, I came straight over. Called the police. Here we are. Now, can I go?”

“Was Tye having any problems lately?”

“Problems?”

“With school? Friends?”

“I shared a class with him.”

Another dodge. “You knew he wasn’t at the game.”

“I figured he was finishing up his end of the project. Are we done? I’ve got class tonight.”

“I need to see your identification before you leave.”

“Un-fucking-believable.” Quinn jammed her hand into her jacket pocket and removed an old-fashioned leather coin purse. Pinching the top, she drew out her driver’s license and practically threw it at Jo.

“I’m sure you understand. Whenever there is a death, we have to treat it as a crime until we determine otherwise.”

The air left Quinn in a huff of frost. “I’m sorry. I’m just…” She dipped her face but not before Jo saw the glint of tears. “I’m just going to miss him. He was nice. I don’t have a lot of friends in Echo Valley.”

“Were the two of you dating?”

The sharpness returned to her features. “Not my type.”

“Do you know if he was in a relationship?”

“Not that I know of.”

“Would you know?”

Cameron joined the women on the porch and extended his hand to Quinn. “I’m Sergeant Finch.”

Jo sucked in her breath, and covered it with a cough. The promotional memo hadn’t been posted even a day yet.

“I’m sorry about your friend,” Cameron added.

Quinn crossed her arms, whether for warmth or for comfort, Jo couldn’t tell. “Your badge says Officer. Aren’t sergeants supposed to have stripes or something?”

“It’s official next week.”

“So. Really just an officer.”

Jo bit the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. Served him right for acting like an ass.

“I wouldn’t say just.” Cameron hooked his thumb in his gun belt.

“Of course you wouldn’t.” Quinn drew a deep breath and let it out as if she feared it might be her last. “What happened?” she finally asked.

Jo spoke before Cameron could answer. “That’s what we’re here to find out.” She opened her notebook.

Quinn sized up the two officers like a child trying to decide which parent to ask, and settled on Cameron. “Will you get me the laptop that’s inside? It’s got our school project on it.”

“I’m sorry,” Jo answered. “But until we process the scene, everything needs to stay put.”

Quinn sought confirmation from Cameron. “Really?”

Jo shot him a look she hoped conveyed the slow torturous death he’d suffer if he contradicted her and compromised the scene.

Cameron placed his hand on Quinn’s forearm. “I’m certain it won’t take long and I’ll personally deliver it to you as soon as I can.”

“Thanks.” She shook off his hand and addressed Jo. “Am I free to go?”

Prickly thing. Jo handed Quinn’s license back to her. “I’m truly sorry about your friend. May I call you later if I have any questions?”

Cameron stepped closer, all earnestness and concern. “It would be very helpful to the investigation when she realizes she forgot to ask you something.”

The coin purse snapped shut. “Sure. Whatever.”

“Thank you,” Jo said, then added, “Be careful.”

Quinn jerked. “What?”

The wind had picked up, and waves of snow blew across the walkway. Jo pointed toward the street. “The temperature drops any lower and it’ll start to ice up. Be careful. The roads are going to be slick.”

Quinn bobbed her head. Hunched against the cold, she climbed into her bright yellow Mini Cooper.

Snow had collected on the bumper and Jo noted the plate. She’d seen the car around town, its brilliant color and tiny chassis a contrast to the trucks and four-wheel-drive SUVs most locals drove.

The car crunched down the driveway. Jo returned to the task at hand, ignoring Cameron as he followed her.

Two buildings—the main residence and the converted garage—stood at the center of the property. The driveway dumped out onto an alley and the hum of downtown carried across the crisp air. Dogs barked. Cars slowed and accelerated at the nearby stop sign, their engines straining and tires chewing into the slushed snow. A sagging chain-link fence ringed the property, pushed and pulled by a scraggly hedge.

Built in the days when a garage housed only a car and not the detritus of life, the building was barely larger than a tack room. A small walkway separated the dwellings. She followed the path around the exterior of the garage.

Eaves kept snow off the paint-glued windowsill on the far side of the outbuilding. Rambling rosebushes in need of pruning stretched skeletal fingers along the wall. Jo swept the bony branches aside. A thorn snagged the shoulder of her blazer.

She studied the ground. Snow both helped and hindered officers. In foot pursuits, it revealed a suspect’s path. But the more time separated an incident from its investigation, the more it hid tracks. Destroyed clues. This latest snow had started in the early hours of the morning, gently erasing the valley’s grime and secrets and creating a clean slate. Tye could have been dead for hours. The snow told her nothing.

As she stood again at the door, not even the cold at her back could erase the smell of blood. The last of the evening’s light battled its way through the dirty window, failing to brighten the dark scene in front of her.

She tried not to let the body distract her from cataloging the room. Echo Valley didn’t have violent deaths often. In her twelve years on the department, she’d investigated only two homicides, one as an officer, the second as a detective. Fatal crashes, hunting accidents, Darwin Award-worthy stupidity, sure, but murder? That was the leap year of crimes and only happened once every four years or so.

Cameron joined her on the threshold and they stood shoulder to shoulder. He had a shock of thick brown hair that begged to be touched, and eyes that said he’d let you. “Why so quiet, Jo-elle?”

The use of her nickname surprised her. Only two people had ever called her that and Cameron hadn’t used it in a long time. “I don’t want to miss anything.”

“What’s to miss? Guy blew his brains out.”

“It’s rarely that simple.”

“Not everything needs to be complicated.” He laughed. The boyishness of it had always charmed her with its enthusiasm. Now it simply sounded dismissive. Perhaps it always had been, but she’d been too in love to notice. “Hey, you got plans tonight?” He tried to sound innocent. She had learned that voice.

“Other than this? I don’t see as that’s any of your business.”

“Of course it’s my business. You’re still my wife.” He stared into the distance as he said it. A splinter of sun pierced the dark clouds and bled across his unguarded expression.

Yearning.

Jo stood as if on ice, afraid to move lest she lose her balance.

He seemed to wake up, and after a deep breath, he surveyed the room. “The landlord is going to be looking for a new tenant. You should give him your name. It’s got to be better than living with your old man.”

Fissures formed beneath her and it took her two blinks before she recovered her footing.

“I need to get my camera. I’ll be right back.”

She left him at the door. The December chill wormed through her wool dress slacks as she trudged the half block to her car. She drew breath after breath of the searing chill deep into her lungs to replace the hurt, the anger, the self-recriminations that burned her. She sat in the passenger seat and picked up the radio mic. She wasn’t ready to face Cameron. Not yet.

To buy herself some time, she ran a local warrant check on Quinn. Something wasn’t quite right about the woman. A warrant might explain things.

Dispatch confirmed Quinn’s address, but had nothing to add.

Jo grabbed her camera bag and crime scene kit and schlepped back to the scene, prioritizing her actions as she went. She’d need to snag another detective. Interrupt a judge’s dinner to get a search warrant. Swab the victim’s hands for gunshot residue. Try to confirm his identification. Hopefully, the person in the front house would return soon so Jo could start collecting background on the deceased. Take overview photos of the exterior first. Inside there’d be lights. Then evidence. Identify it. Bag it. Book it.

She reached the door before she ticked through all the tasks. Cameron was circling the chair.

Jo stopped on the threshold, stunned.

“No wonder they didn’t promote you.” Cameron peered into the exposed cranium. “If you can’t tell this is a suicide, you got no business being a cop—let alone a detective.”

“Get out.”

“We’re not home, sweetie. You can’t order me out here.”

“Actually, I can. Detective, remember? This is my scene and you’re contaminating it.”

He laughed. “Sergeant outranks detective.”

“I think it’s already been established that you’re not sporting stripes.”

“Yet. Couple more days.”

Three. Three days until he started wearing the stripes that should have been hers. Three days until he outranked her. Three. Damn. Days. “And until then, Officer Finch.” With exaggerated care, she took out her notebook and started writing.

“What are you doing?”

“Making a note of the path you’ve taken. Try to retrace your steps. I’d hate to have to say how badly you mucked things up.” She paused for effect. “You getting promoted and all.”

“You’re such a bitch.”

“Is that how you talk to your wife?”

He picked up the overturned bottle on the TV tray. “Johnnie Walker Gold.” He sniffed the premium Scotch whisky. “And here I would have pegged him for a Jack fan, at best.” Cameron tipped the bottle back into place and retraced his steps.

The latex gloves did nothing to warm her fingers, and Jo shoved her hands in her pockets. Had he changed or had she? “When did you become such an ass?”

“When’d we get married?” He shouldered past her, swinging his keys around his finger. Outside, the streetlamps flickered to life. “I’ll leave you to it. Even you can see it’s a slam dunk.”

She didn’t want to agree with him. “It’s only a suicide when the coroner says so.”

“Oh, Jo-elle.”

There was that laugh again, and she hated herself for warming to him.

“You’ve got to learn to choose your battles.”

***

Excerpt from Shadow Ridge by M.E. Browning. Copyright 2020 by M.E. Browning. Reproduced with permission from M.E. Browning. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

M.E. Browning

M.E. BROWNING served twenty-two years in law enforcement and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime fiction. Writing as Micki Browning, she penned the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo mysteries, and her short stories and nonfiction have appeared in anthologies, mystery and diving magazines, and textbooks. As M.E. Browning, she recently began a new series of Jo Wyatt mysteries with Shadow Ridge (October 2020).

Micki is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime—where she served as a former president of the Guppy Chapter. A professional divemaster, she resides in Florida with her partner in crime and a vast array of scuba equipment she uses for “research.”

Catch Up With M.E. Browning On:
MEBrowning.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

 

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