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Silent Scream

Karen Harper

  A violent past leads to a present danger...

  When an old college roommate invites Claire Britten to join her on an archaeological dig at a Florida peat bog, it’s an offer the renowned forensic psychologist can’t refuse. Claire’s husband, criminal lawyer Nick Markwood, is comforted to see Claire working on a prehistoric burial site instead of an open grave for once. But Claire’s investigative instincts kick in when some of The Black Bog’s perfectly preserved corpses show signs of a grisly fate. What really happened to these people?

  What started as an exploration of the past soon escalates into an all-too-current danger. Someone is watching—someone who really doesn’t want Claire digging into the past or Nick making connections to a current, violent murder case he’s investigating. The bog’s corpses may be long dead, but if Claire and Nick don’t figure out who’s gunning for a fresh kill, the next bodies to be discovered will be their own.

  Praise for the novels of Karen Harper

  “Karen Harper has created top-notch characters caught up in a thrilling novel of suspense! A must-read and a keeper.”

  —Heather Graham, New York Times bestselling author, on Shallow Grave

  “Karen Harper keeps the action and mystery going at full throttle right up to the very last chapter.”

  —Suspense Magazine on Chasing Shadows

  “The thrilling finish takes a twist that most readers won’t see coming. While intrigue is the main driver of the story, the able, well-researched plotting and sympathetic characters will keep romance readers along for the ride.”

  —Publishers Weekly on Broken Bonds

  “Haunting suspense, tender romance and an evocative look at the complexities of Amish life—Dark Angel is simply riveting!”

  —Tess Gerritsen, New York Times bestselling author

  “A compelling story...intricate and fascinating details of Amish life.”

  —Tami Hoag, #1 New York Times bestselling author, on Dark Road Home

  “Harper, a master of suspense, keeps readers guessing about crime and love until the very end...of this thrilling tale.”

  —Booklist on Fall from Pride (starred review)

  “A tale guaranteed to bring shivers to the spine, Down River will delight Harper’s current fans and earn her many more.”

  —Booklist (starred review)

  “Well-researched and rich in detail... With its tantalizing buildup and well-developed characters, this offering is certain to earn Harper high marks.”

  —Publishers Weekly on Dark Angel, winner of the Mary Higgins Clark Award

  Also available from New York Times bestselling author Karen Harper

  South Shores





  Cold Creek




  Home Valley Amish


  DARK CROSSINGS (featuring “The Covered Bridge”)














  Visit for more titles.

  Look for Karen Harper’s next South Shores novel Dark Storm coming soon from MIRA Books.



  Silent Scream

  I cherish our thirty winters in Naples, Florida. This novel and the others in the South Shores series are dedicated to our friends who are still there, full- or part-time. And as ever to Don for his continued support.


  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Author’s Note

  Suspense in Real Life


  Naples, Florida

  Sunday, May 22

  “Would you stop pacing and looking out the window, sweetheart?” Nick asked Claire. “You’re making me nervous.”

  “I’m walking the baby,” she said and smiled down at their three-month-old son, Trey, in her arms. “Well, I am a bit on edge. I haven’t seen my old college roommate for years, and that’s quite an offer she’s made me. Really, Nick, I’d just retire from my forensic psych work for a while, but this opportunity sounds too intriguing to pass up. Plus, it’s nearby—and important. I’ve always examined the lives of the deceased, but ones who are thousands of years old in an archaeological dig? Oh, here she is, parking out in front.”

  She put the baby into his arms. “Give us a second, then bring Trey and Lexi in so Kris can meet them,” she told him and pecked a kiss on his cheek.

  “I just don’t want you two to adopt your old ‘women in jeopardy’ nickname again,” he called after her as she headed for the door.

  “That only related to our problems in the old days, and we ‘womjeps’ are both under control now,” she called back to him.

  But her heartbeat kicked up. She and Kristen Kane, nickname Kris, had been through hard times together at Florida State as they’d studied, worked jobs and dealt with their disabilities. With her face blindness, Kris had struggled to recognize people, even those close to her, while Claire was desperately trying to navigate a life with narcolepsy and taking powerful drugs to deal with that. If she hadn’t, she’d have fallen asleep in class and had terrible nightmares.

  She swept open the door before her old friend could ring the bell. “Dr. Kane, I presume! Welcome! So good to see you after all this time!” Claire cried as they hugged each other.

  “You still have your great red hair,” Kris said as, arm in arm, they walked into the house. “I was hoping so.”

  “Yep, not going white-haired yet, though I’ve been through some things that could have done me in.”

  “So I hear and read, but you know what I mean,” Kris told her as they stopped in the tiled foyer while Claire closed the door behind them. “Your unique hair color was how I identified you until I heard your voice. But you know what, my friend? Working with the bog bodies in Denmark—even here—somehow, I can recall their faces and ID them easily. And it isn’t just their twisted postures either. Well, you’ll see. What a great house,” she said, looking around. “But then since you’re married to a big-deal criminal lawyer, what would I expect?” she teased. “I haven’t found my knight in shining armor yet, but then I’ve
moved around too much. I’m here now though, for the foreseeable future anyway.”

  “Come sit in here, and I’ll introduce my family before we have lunch and get caught up,” Claire said, leading the way. “I can’t wait to hear about this fascinating dig.”

  At age thirty-four, Kris looked much the same, maybe with a few new worry lines or squint marks at the outside edges of her blue eyes. Her Florida-girl complexion was a bit paler than Claire recalled. She probably bleached her straight blond hair now, though she still wore it blunt-cut, chin-length with bangs. As ever, Kris looked so serious when she didn’t smile. Almost as tall as Claire, who was five-foot-ten, she came across as confident, though for both of them, that confidence had once been a mutual facade to get through tough times. But what a challenge for Kris to not even recall the faces of her family members without other visual clues.

  Kristen Kane had thrown herself into a major in forensic archaeology while Claire had stayed with forensic psychology. Kris had a doctorate and studied dead people from the past, ones who no doubt weren’t upset if she didn’t recognize them.

  As Lexi bounced into the room, Claire introduced her six-year-old daughter. “Almost seven in ten months!” the child told Kris. Nick followed, holding the baby whom Kris soon fussed over. Lexi was Claire’s child from her first husband, Jace, but little Nicholas Markwood III, whom they called Trey, was hers and Nick’s.

  “I see Nick is a good catch, looking like a Mr. Mom,” Kris said with a little laugh after introductions. She hit Nick’s arm lightly with a fist. He just smiled, but Claire felt he still looked every bit the courtroom lawyer with his height of over six feet, erect posture, piercing gray eyes and dark but silvering hair. Kris was studying his face as she always did with someone new.

  “I did look up your picture online, Nick, and found one on your law firm’s website,” she admitted. “I try to do my prep work. I guess Claire explained my prosopagnosia.”

  “It certainly hasn’t slowed you down, Doctor,” Nick assured her. “It sounds like you have a fascinating career.”

  “Important too—really. We learn so much about the present and future by studying the triumphs and tragedies of the past.”

  “Are you a baby doctor?” Lexi asked, looking up at her. “We have one now, and Mommy said she wished he’d come to the house.”

  “No, not that kind of doctor,” Kris told her as they sat back down, Nick still holding Trey and Lexi perched on the footstool by Claire’s chair. “I do try to find out what happened to people sometimes, though—if they got sick or not when they were alive, things like that.”

  “I heard Mommy say she might help you, and she told Dad that her motto is ‘The dead still talk if you know how to listen.’ But I don’t think you can hear what dead people say unless they are Halloween ghosts and that’s all pretend. I do like secrets, though, and I keep them really quiet.”

  “Well, you have a very bright thinker here,” Kris said, turning toward Claire. “I can tell Nick’s concerned about what I want to offer, but don’t be, either of you. Not a thing to worry about except getting bog mud on yourself, a few mosquito bites and keeping a secret. And, if you accept my offer, both of you must keep our privacy agreement too.”

  Claire looked at Nick, but thank heavens, he didn’t frown or protest, because she wanted desperately to help with this mysterious dig into the past.

  * * *

  After lunch in the Florida room overlooking their fenced-in pool and backyard, Nick excused himself and went to put Trey down for a nap. He was a great father and stepfather, Claire told Kris, explaining that they were still friends with Lexi’s father, Jace, and his fiancée, Brittany.

  “I’m so glad to hear that,” Kris said, frowning. “I was wondering how you and Jace were doing, sharing your daughter and all after the divorce. Before I saw how great she is today and how happy you are now, I was feeling guilty that I introduced Jace and you. I know you two fell for each other hard and fast, and it seemed so right at the time. Jace isn’t like so many of those other handsome flyboys. I always had a soft spot for that derring-do kind of guy myself, though nothing ever came of it.”

  “When you set us up seems so long ago. Obviously, Jace and I had some great times—and then some bad. But Lexi was the best, and we are sharing her well. He’s engaged now. Nick and I know and like his fiancée, and she’s good with Lexi. Works at a zoo, so that goes a long way. Even Nick and Jace are friends after some of the tough times we’ve all been through.”

  They both looked out in back to see that Nick was now sitting in a lounge chair with some paperwork while Lexi perched by his feet staring at a picture book she had already “read” over and over. Claire was glad they were in the shade because the sun was hot for late May.

  But Claire and Kris remained in the glassed-in, air-conditioned room, facing each other in matching rattan swivel basket chairs. At lunch, Kris had talked about her life in Denmark in general, but with Lexi there, she had obviously said little about the ancient bog people her crew had disinterred and studied. But now she leaned forward, elbows propped on her knees, gripping her hands together.

  “Claire, you won’t believe this amazing local archaeology find until you see it. Not to sound cute, but it is absolutely groundbreaking. Extremely significant, but we’ve managed to keep it top secret to all but a few in the Florida state government and museum world because support money is a challenge. The site is privately owned, funded and controlled to keep a lid on what we are uncovering there.”

  Claire sat up straighter. She only nodded at Lexi when she came in and announced she was going to the bathroom before disappearing down the hall.

  “Let me just give you an overview,” Kris went on, leaning even farther forward. “In Denmark, I’ve been working with Early Neolithic bodies—Stone Age. Most of the ones we excavated were sixteen to twenty years old at death, so we assumed, and then found evidence that they were either human sacrifices or executed criminals. And that’s what got me the job offer here.”

  Kris’s face and voice were so intense, but Claire realized she was holding herself rigid too, hanging on each word.

  Kris went on, “But so far none of the bodies in Black Bog nearby show signs of violence or ritual. Claire, archaeological sites are often like crime scenes. You specialize in psychological autopsies where you don’t have a body, but still examine the person’s life and death to help the police make a determination of the type of death—natural, accidental, suicidal or homicidal.”

  Riveted, Claire just nodded. She’d recently discovered a shallow grave and the tragedy it had been connected to, but to be able to peer into an ancient grave and solve that death—amazing.

  “Have you heard of the Windover Culture?” Kris went on. “The bodies dug up in a bog quite a ways north of here near Disney World in the early 1980s?”

  “Yes, but I don’t remember details. I know they found Stone Age people there.”

  “Here too, near Naples in Black Bog. I have been hired to lead the dig team that is excavating a treasure trove of ancient people, and I need you to consult. After all, your expertise of studying the lives of the dead could be invaluable to us. I’ll do the science, you put the clues together to psych out how they lived and died. If you’ll agree to visit the dig with me, I’ll introduce you to the property owners and dig controllers, Andrea and Bradley Vance.”

  “Bradley Vance? Wasn’t he a state senator or something?”

  “One and the same, recently retired, so he has some clout around here and in Tallahassee, not to mention an inheritance from his family to finance this, though I think he and his wife have gone through that already. But his wife, Andrea, is even more important. Do you remember my talking about Professor Andrea Carson after you graduated, and I went on for a masters and doctorate?”

  “You admired and worked closely with her.”

  “My mentor, oversaw my dissertation,
later my orals. I did some prehistoric Anasazi tribal digs with her out West. I’ve worked hard for her, and she’s brought me along in her impressive wake. A genius, and we’d be working directly with and for her.”

  “I’ll have to convince Nick if it will take a lot of my time.”

  “Like I said in my letter, you can work three days a week, part-time, if need be, but I—well, I need your help, frankly, figuring these ancient people out. Like I said, for now, it’s top secret so we don’t get looting or reporters tramping all over, ruining things in that delicate environment of moss, mud, water and peat. Neither you nor Nick—and not even sweet, little Lexi with her secret-keeping—can let on about what you and I are really doing, not until we know enough to go public with this huge find without having outsiders tell us what to do and how to do it. Deal?”

  “I will explain to Nick, tell him how much I’d love to do this. When we first got your note right after Trey was born, he said that, after all, what can go wrong when you’re dealing with those who are long dead, who have no family members or even enemies to file a lawsuit or cause a problem?”

  “Right. I know you’ve been through a lot, but this is different. Oh, by the way, though the dig is state-of-the-art, I should tell you there are no cell towers close enough to the bog that cell phones work there, so we use two-way radio transmitters to keep in touch with each other on-site. You know, walkie-talkies, our only real concession to nontech. I know from your Clear Path website that you do consulting only online these days, but this will be hands-on. The Vances and I need your help, and it will contribute to the knowledge of all mankind.”

  Claire nodded. For the first time, she would not be helping living people, but knowledge of the past was important too.

  “Think about this, Claire. Black Bog bodies are seven thousand years old but only look two years dead! They were interred before the time of Christ, before the pyramids were built! Yet they’re only a bit shriveled. They’ve been preserved under piles of peat that has tanned their bodies to a dark brown, but you can see their expressions, absolutely what they looked like. Even someone with face blindness is blown away by their individuality and the stories they have to tell.”