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I walked down the center of the shadowy street, far away from men who might slither out of alleys and doorways and grab me, a lone female. The woman whose child I had come to check on lived over a bar when she functioned well enough to remember where she lived. She and the child were nowhere to be found. I had tarried too long, and the night hovered under the thin crescent of moonlight that marked the time between the dark moon and the new moon. Clouds scuttled across the moon, darkening the sky.
The puny glow from the single streetlight outlined two men slouched between boarded-up buildings, smoking and swigging from bottles sheathed in tattered brown bags. They catcalled and hooted, “We got whatcha want, girlie.” I scurried faster to my old Honda Civic, parked a block away. My heart pounded and my calves burned from the effort to put distance between me and their drunken lewdness.
Soft crying, a sound more like a wounded kitten than a person, stopped me in the middle of the street. I cocked my head toward the dim alley but only saw shadows. The pitiful sound drifted out, forlorn and frightened. I scanned the street for movement. No one was there. I walked on my toes to the mouth of the alley. Nothing stirred. Tiny fingers of light trickled into the alley from the streetlight. “Who’s there?”
The crying became snuffling, and then silence.
Footsteps rustled. I called into the darkness, asking if anyone needed help.
“Si,” the voice whimpered.
Parking by the Weatherford Hotel lifted my spirits. I was off duty and this might be fun. The third floor Zane Grey Ballroom was a popular watering hole for the locals in downtown Flagstaff. The Grey was misnamed since it had never been a ballroom, but always a beautiful bar full of stained glass and gleaming wood. Antique photos of the hotel from its heyday in the late 1890s hung on the walls. The warped old stairs creaked all the way to the third floor where convivial conversation and laughter drifted out over the smoky sounds of jazz. My worries drifted away, and I had a tingle of anticipation. Maybe the blind date and I would walk out of my desert of broken dreams together.
I scanned the crowd for Taylor. She waved at me from a table adjacent to the carved wood fireplace. She and Trace sat beside a tall man with jet black hair, sculpted short on the sides and longish on top. The men stood as I approached. My date had a warrior’s face, a hawk nose balanced by high cheek bones and a chiseled jaw. Taylor reached over and grabbed my hand.”Hey, you look great.” She jerked her thumb toward the warrior. “This is Sam Tohee.”
Sam’s hand was warm and calloused, his fingers thick and hard as he clasped my own. A grin tugged at the edge of his generous mouth, and when his eyes held mine, it became a slow contagious smile that spread across his face.
I wriggled around, trying to ease the pain in my back and butt, but no place on the cold rock was comfortable. I finally dozed off into a troubled sleep, twitching with violent dreams that looped and twisted, finally morphing into the vision of a mutilated body of a woman lying on the canyon floor. Cold mist twined through the fins and hoodoos, swirling around her body, creeping over my boots as I inched toward the woman’s corpse. Fear had me quivering, but I was drawn to her body like a moth to a flame. I saw no one, heard nothing, smelled nothing, felt only the cold steal into my bones and the unseen force pull me ever closer to her.
Dim moonlight shimmered over the dead woman, glinting obscenely off her sightless eyes. One of her arms and part of one breast had been gnawed; dark blood stained the sand beneath her, and an arm bone gleamed white in a shaft of moonlight. I tried to scream, but no noise came out. A single omen of death, the owl feather, had been laid across her neck, and gray ash powder covered her nude body.
Clumsy with terror, I stumbled over an up-thrust rock and crashed backward, knocking my head on a boulder. She arose and drifted to me, hovering over me, reaching out to me with her mangled arm. Rotting flesh that hung in tattered strips from her arm brushed my sweater.
GENRE: Romantic Suspense
Social worker Jordan Bia finds a child who escaped her captors and a life in the sex trade, but four other girls from her small Mexican village were not so lucky. Smugglers hide their human cargo in the hoodoos of a remote canyon on the reservation—a place the Navajo shun, fearful of the witches who practice their black rituals and feast on the dark energy of evil. Mysterious rites, omens of death, and bodies litter the canyon.
When she meets Navajo police officer Sam Tohee, sparks fly fueled by the danger of hunting men who buy and sell little girls. Techno savvy Jordan plots to trap the smugglers and free the rest of the children, but unless she and Sam can find the power to defeat the witches she may not live long enough to save the girls.
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I call Austin, Texas home now after working on the East and West coasts, the Rocky Mountains, and an island in the Gulf of Mexico. I’ve come full circle to live and work close to the farm my family settled in the 1850’s.
Truth is stranger than fiction, and years in the news business provided lots of peculiar characters and stories to write about. My books are set in my favorite places, the desert canyons and high mountains of the American West.