Emery Hazard and his partner, John-Henry Somerset, have solved their first case together. The brutal murders that rocked the quiet town of Wahredua have been put to rest. Hazard, however, finds his life has only grown more complicated as he adjusts to his new home. Living with Somers, whom he has been drawn to since high school, makes ‘complicated’ the understatement of the year.
The turmoil of living together spills over when Hazard and Somers find themselves trapped by the weather in an old mansion and, against Hazard’s better judgment, sharing a bed. Strictly as friends, of course. Just when things can’t get any more confusing, the next morning brings a worsening storm–and a murder.
Cut off from the outside world, Hazard and Somers must face a clever, determined killer who is hiding among the mansion’s guests. Without backup, they can only rely on their wits–and on each other–to survive. And as the snow falls and the mansion’s guests continue to die one by one, solving the string of murders becomes secondary. First, Hazard and Somers have to survive.
Rain swept down from the sky in huge sheets, drops drumming against wood and metal and glass until Hazard could barely hear himself think. As he sprinted towards the Impala, with Somers at his side, rain stung his face. By the time they reached the car, only fifteen feet from the door, both men were soaked. Hazard could feel himself dripping as he sank into the passenger seat.
Hazard told himself it wasn’t Somers’s fault. Somers couldn’t control the weather. Somers couldn’t have known that the phone call would be about a shooting or that the visit to Mrs. Ferrell would require them to stop at Windsor. Somers couldn’t have done anything different, really. Except, of course, keep his goddamn mouth shut instead of volunteering them for holiday work.
As the Impala revved to life and the heaters cranked out humid warmth, rain glazed the windshield so thickly that Hazard could barely see beyond the hood. Somers, squinting and leaning over the steering wheel, looked like he was having the same problem. The Impala crawled forward, thumping once over the edge of the brick pavement before Somers adjusted their course.
And still the rain kept coming. It had been like this for a week. It felt like it had been an eternity. Rain, and then rain, and then more rain: so much rain that Hazard was surprised—and disappointed—that Wahredua hadn’t slid into the Grand Rivere. A slapping noise, too wet and brittle to be called drumming, filled the car as the rain hit the windshield, and the Impala’s heater circulated the smell of wet wool so that it was all Hazard could taste.
The Impala jerked to a halt so suddenly that Hazard rocked forward, his head narrowly missing the windshield. “What the hell—” Then Hazard saw what had caused Somers to stop: the Petty Philadelph had overrun its banks. The water surged up into the overgrown fields, trampling the tall grass before swirling around the Impala’s tires. Ahead of the car, water skated across the top of the bridge.
“How fast do you think it’s moving?” Somers shouted over the drumming rain.
“It’s just skimming the top of the bridge. We can still make it.”
Somers set his face in determination. “We’re getting you to Nico’s house. You’ll never forgive me if you don’t have a chance at going away sex.”
“You’re a complete and total idiot.” But Hazard didn’t object as Somers eased the car forward. Somers was right: the water did look like it was barely rushing over the top of the bridge. And the bridge wasn’t very long. They’d only have to drive carefully for ten or fifteen yards, and then they’d reach dry—well, relatively—land on the other side and be safely on their way back to Wahredua.
As soon as the Impala’s tires touched the bridge, though, metal shrieked and groaned. Water shoved the Impala sideways, and the nose of the car hammered into the bridge’s support. Over the thrum of the rain, the shrill noise of twisting metal grew stronger, and a tremor ran through the bridge and up into the Impala.
“Get out,” Hazard said, fumbling with his seat belt.
Somers didn’t speak; his face had lost some color, but his features were still set in a kind of extreme focus. With two quick movements, he undid his seatbelt and then Hazard’s. Then he pulled the latch, and the door swung open, forced by the rising water.
“This way,” Somers said, grabbing Hazard’s jacket and tugging him across the center console. “The water’s blocking your door.”
Hazard crawled into the driver’s seat, ignoring the searing stab of pain in his shoulder, and splashed out into the water that was already hitting him mid-calf. He staggered under the rushing speed of the water, but Somers still had hold of his jacket, and he used it to steady the larger man. Supporting each other against the growing force of the flood, the two detectives stumbled towards higher ground.
The water was still ankle-deep when the bridge gave a last, pained squeal and tore free. The wood-and-steel frame whipped around once in the Petty Philadelph’s muddy waters, and then it crashed against the bank, bounced, crashed again, and drifted out of reach of the Impala’s headlights. The Impala, its front tires no longer supported by the bridge, sagged forward into the river. Inch by inch, the car slid away.
“Jesus fucking Christ,” Somers said, wiping rain from his eyes as he stared at the sinking Impala. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Icy rain continued to pelt the men; Hazard shivered, and he was suddenly aware of the river water and the rain leaching heat from him. Somers still had hold of Hazard’s jacket, and Hazard pried him loose.
“Come on,” Hazard said. “Before we freeze to death.”
By the time they reached the house, Hazard’s shivering had become uncontrollable, and his teeth chattered so violently he was afraid of biting his tongue in two. Somers, who was smaller and carried substantially less body fat, looked blue. Hazard half-carried his partner up the steps to Windsor, propped Somers against the door, and started hammering on the wood.
What felt like an eternity passed before the door swung open, and Meryl, with her red hair shining like a welcome fire, stared at them. “What in the—”
Hazard pushed past her, dragging Somers into the entry hall. “Fireplace,” Hazard managed between bouts of chattering. “T-t-towels.”
“The dining room,” Meryl said. “You know the way. I’ll grab towels and blankets.”
Without waiting for an answer, she sprinted up the stairs, moving faster than Hazard expected a woman in a gown to move. Hazard, still carrying much of Somers’s weight, moved into the dining room. He was pleased to see that the other guests had abandoned the room, and even more pleased to see that platters of turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes with congealed butter still sat on the table. A fire flickered in the chimney, and Hazard and Somers dragged chairs next to the flames. With the poker, Hazard stirred the logs and added more fuel. Heat poured over them, and, still shivering, Hazard sank back into the chair.
“Y-y-y-you’re going to s-s-set yourself on fire,” Somers managed.
Hazard blinked at the other man, too tired to respond, and settled lower towards the flames.
Somers tried to say something else, but he couldn’t get it out. Instead, he settled for leaning forward and swatting Hazard on the leg. Hard. The blow stung, and Hazard pulled his legs back. It was only then that he noticed the smoke curling up from his trousers. With a grudging nod, Hazard pulled his seat back from the flames—but only a little.
“What happened?” Meryl, clutching towels and blankets to her chest, watched them from the doorway.
“Bridge is out,” Hazard managed to say. The heat from the fire soaked into his chilled skin, and as numbness gave way, tingling prickles took its place. He shrugged out of his jacket, worked stiff fingers into the pocket, and found his phone.
“Who do I call?”
Hazard dialed, and a familiar voice answered on the second ring. “Swinney.”
Elizabeth Swinney and her partner, Albert Lender, were the other two detectives on Wahredua’s police force. Both of them seemed decent types, but Swinney had struck a note of friendship with Hazard. More importantly, between Swinney and Lender, they knew Wahredua and the surrounding county better than almost anyone—they specialized in drug-related crime, which took them all over the area.
“Where are you?”
“Halfway to Nebraska. We’re spending Thanksgiving on the farm if you can believe that. Where are you?”
“That big house near the Petty Philadelph.”
“I know what Windsor is. Why are you there?” Then Swinney groaned. “Lord, this doesn’t have to do with Mrs. Ferrell does it?”
“Pretty much. Bridge is out.”
“You all right?”
“But you’re stuck at Windsor?”
“That’s why I’m calling.”
Swinney was silent for almost a full minute, and then Hazard heard the line ringing. For a moment, he thought the call had disconnected, and then a man’s voice picked up. “Swinney? What’s up?”
“Lender, I’ve got Hazard on the line. Bridge is out at Windsor, and he and Somers—that’s right, isn’t it, you’ve got Somers with you?”
“He and Somers are stuck there. You know another way out? Backroads?”
“Geez, you guys picked a bad time to go to Windsor.”
Hazard didn’t bother to reply.
“Windsor’s land stretches a long way. There used to be a service road that met up with some of it.”
“Used to be?”
“Gone. It was a dirt road, and it washed out years ago.”
“Maybe we could still find it.”
On the other end of the line, Lender snorted. “Nothing left to find. You could walk right past it and see nothing but the last ten year’s growth.”
Hazard decided now wasn’t the best time to tell them about the car being lost to the Petty Philadelph. Instead, he said, “So we’re stuck here.”
“Until the rain dies down at least.”
No one spoke for a moment.
“That all? I’ve got to get back to my kids.”
“Thanks, Lender,” Swinney said.
“Happy Thanksgiving.” A click marked Lender’s disconnection.
“You’ve got somewhere you can hole up?” Swinney asked. “I can call the company that owns Windsor, see if they have a place you can stay.”
“We’ll be fine.”
“You want me to call Cravens?”
“No, I’ll do it.”
“You want me to drive back there and see what I can do?”
“Keep driving to Nebraska, Swinney. Somebody deserves a vacation.”
“Give me a call if I can help.”
Hazard disconnected the call. He was surprised that the pins-and-needles in his hands had faded and the terrible cold gripping him had eased. The smell of roast turkey made his stomach grumble, and Hazard dragged himself out of the chair and over to the table. Using a leftover dinner roll, he made a sandwich of turkey and stuffing. Meryl approached with the towels, but Hazard waved her away.
“Yeah?” Hazard asked, holding the sandwich towards Somers.
Somers nodded and took the sandwich, which he devoured in three bites. Hazard made a plateful of sandwiches, carried them back to the fire, and shared them with Somers.
“You don’t want to dry off?” Meryl asked as she hovered near the table, a towel outstretched.
“Not until I’m out of these clothes,” Hazard said. “Laundry?”
“They said—” Meryl gestured towards the back of the house. “In case we had an emergency, there’s a machine back there.”
“I don’t suppose you’re going to do it,” Hazard said, fixing a glower on Somers.
Somers must have been feeling better because he managed a weak grin. “I’ll just hang everything up to dry.”
“Fucking barbarian,” Hazard said, stuffing the last of the sandwich in his mouth. He dialed his phone again, and this time, the call picked up on the first ring.
“We’ve got a problem, Chief.”
“What’s going on?”
Hazard told her everything, starting with Mrs. Ferrell and ending with Lender’s pronouncement that there was no way to leave Windsor. When he’d finished, he said, “You want to send a chopper for us?”
“I hope you’re joking, Detective.”
“Not really. I’m not planning on spending Thanksgiving at this place, and Somers and I are on duty tomorrow.”
“We’ll find someone to cover.”
“Swinney and Lender are—”
“I know where my detectives are, thank you very much. Let me think.” After a moment, Cravens said, “There’s nothing to do about it. You stay there until the weather clears up. I’ll start making phone calls about getting a temporary bridge; we’ll have to evacuate everyone as soon as it’s safe to do so. Are you and Detective Somerset all right?”
“We’re doing better than the department vehicle.”
“We’ll talk about that later. You’ve got food, you’ve got a roof, you’ve got heat. For now, plant yourselves and try not to cause any trouble. I don’t need you giving the mayor another reason to stretch my neck on the block.”
What did the mayor have to do with any of it? Before Hazard could ask, though, Cravens said goodbye and disconnected the call, and Hazard was left staring at the phone in his hand. Then, not quite ready to face Nico’s anger, Hazard sent a quick text: Grab the shuttle, we’re stuck. Call later.
“Well?” Somers said. The color had come back into his face, and aside from the occasional shiver, he looked like he could have splashed off the set for a commercial—cologne, maybe, or a fancy watch, something high-end and very expensive.
“We stay until they can put in a temporary bridge and evacuate us.”
“Evacuate us?” Meryl dropped into a chair at the table. “You’re kidding, right? We’re stuck here?”
“Boy, I have all the luck.” She blew out a breath, shaking back her fiery hair to expose a pale neck and an even paler decolletage. Somers was noticing that decolletage, and Hazard noticed him noticing, and he hated the fact that he was noticing Somers’s noticing.
“Extra toothbrush?” Hazard said abruptly, getting to his feet to break the moment. “Soap? Shampoo?”
“What? Oh, yes. It’s like a hotel, see? They have all of that in the bathrooms.”
“How about a place for us to stay?”
“Let me—Ran, don’t try to sneak away. I saw you.”
Ran, his acne shining in the firelight, slunk into the dining room. “I wasn’t sneaking,” he said in his high, whiny voice.
“The detectives need a place to stay.”
“Because they just do, all right?” Meryl got to her feet, still clutching the towels and blankets. “Do you still have that stupid map?”
“It’s not stupid.”
“Do you have it?”
“If it were stupid, you wouldn’t want it.” Ran gave a nasally giggle at this. “But you do want it.”
“Ran—” Meryl began.
“A room with two beds,” Hazard said. “Either take us there or give me the goddamn map, right now.”
Ran swallowed the rest of his giggle, wrapping his arms around his thin chest, his eyes sullen as he said, “There’s only one room left.”
“Then let’s see it.”
Hazard and Somers followed the acne-spattered young man through the entry hall and up to the second floor. Meryl trailed behind them. At the top of the landing, Hazard noticed the light shining under the door where Adaline had delivered Thomas Strong’s dinner. When Hazard looked up, Meryl was watching him.
“Working late,” Hazard said.
In a whisper, Meryl said, “He hasn’t come out all night, and you saw what happened to poor Adaline when she disturbed him. He’s all in a frenzy about the stock price. It went rock-bottom today, that’s what Benny says, and Thomas quite literally might go mad if he can’t get it back up.”
They continued down the hallway. Electric sconces were dimmed to provide only the faintest glow, and the wood paneling glimmered at odd angles. The air was colder here, Hazard noticed, and another shiver ran through him. Up here, the smell of wax polish and a dry, stone scent, which made Hazard think of a museum, filled the air. Ran led them past a series of doors, all closed and dark, and stopped at the bottom of a crooked, winding staircase. Cold air rushed down the stairs, and Hazard shivered again.
“It’s the only room left,” Ran said in his sniveling voice, but there was a look of dark satisfaction in his eyes, the look of a man who thinks he’s very clever and enjoys the last laugh.
“Fine,” Hazard said.
“And the bathroom?” Somers said.
“You’ll want these, I guess,” Meryl said, her voice still pitched low as she passed the bundled blankets to Hazard.
Ran didn’t wait to be dismissed; he scurried down the hallway and disappeared into one of the rooms they had passed. The sound of the lock turning echoed down the hallway.
Her extraordinary features set with grim amusement, Meryl said, “And then there was one. I suppose I’ll go to bed too. Benny was right, you know? The whole game was ruined. Everybody’s pitching a fit in their own way, and,” her voice dropped so low that Hazard could barely hear her, “Thomas is the worst of them, the old bully.” Without a goodbye, Meryl strode down the hallway, the hem of her gown sweeping the floor. In the wan light, with the opals of her dress glowing, she looked like royalty, like an ancient and eternal queen, and then she pressed a switch and the hall went dark.
“Upstairs, I guess,” Somers said, jostling Hazard as he mounted the steps. “They’re crazy. You get that, right?”
Hazard followed. “I don’t know. Meryl seems all right.”
“She’s the worst one.”
“What does that mean? She’s the only one that’s been decent.”
“I don’t know,” Somers said. “I’m too tired to care. It’s fucking freezing up here. Did they leave the window open? And look at the dust. Here we are, half-icicles, stuck in this house full of crazy people, and I don’t know how it could—”
“Don’t say it,” Hazard said.
“—get any worse.”
At that moment, Somers opened the door at the top of the stairs and flicked on the light. Hazard felt like the floor had opened up be
neath him; his stomach dropped and just kept dropping, past his knees, past his ankles, and he doubted it would hit bottom for another mile or so.
There was just one bed.
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