Deep in the Alaskan WoodsKaren Harper
In the wilds of Alaska, someone sinister is hunting...
Alexandra Collister came to her estranged cousins’ B&B in Falls Lake, Alaska, looking for a fresh start. The surrounding forest can be harsh and unforgiving—luckily, rugged wilderness tracker Quinn Mantell offers to be her guide. Still recovering from a toxic previous relationship, Alex is wary of getting too close, but when savagely deep claw marks appear outside her bedroom window, keeping her distance from Quinn is no longer an option.
Then a body turns up exhibiting the same ruthless slash marks, and Alex knows it isn’t a coincidence. Something sinister is lurking in the woods around Falls Lake, turning Alex’s fresh start into a brutal game of survival. The murky veil of forest offers more threats than answers. Can Alex and Quinn find the killer before darkness falls for good?
Praise for the novels of Karen Harper
“Another classic by Karen Harper that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the truth is revealed.”
—Suspense Magazine on Silent Scream
“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
“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 by Karen Harper
Home Valley Amish
UPON A WINTER’S NIGHT
DARK CROSSINGS (featuring “The Covered Bridge”)
RETURN TO GRACE
FALL FROM PRIDE
THE HIDING PLACE
BELOW THE SURFACE
DARK ROAD HOME
Look for Karen Harper’s next Alaska Wild novel,
UNDER THE ALASKAN ICE,
coming soon from MIRA.
Visit karenharperauthor.com for more titles.
Deep in the Alaskan Woods
For the fascinating people I met in Alaska, whose stories and amazing land I will always remember.
Setting as Character
Excerpt from Under the Alaskan Ice by Karen Harper
Alex met Lyle at the door with open arms, and Lyle hugged her so hard she could barely breathe. Her black Scottish terrier, Spenser, stayed clear of them but did his usual deep-throated guardian growl. Scotties were wary of new people, but Lyle had been in her life for months. The fact that Spenser had likely been abused before she’d rescued him made him a bit nervous around people. At least he didn’t bark as if her fiancé were some sort of intruder.
“Taking care of that expensive engagement ring while I’ve been gone?” he asked, and kissed her again as he stepped in, pushing her with him. He had a plastic sack in his free hand, but it didn’t stop him from shoving her door closed and clicking the lock. “Stay back, Spenser,” he said to the dog.
Before she could say a word, he went on. “Can’t believe it’s this hot and muggy in good old, scenic Naperville, Illinois. Wish I was back in Scotland’s late-July weather—except you’re here, of course.”
He had just returned from attending the British Open at an exotic-sounding town called Carnoustie in Angus, Scotland, where he’d stayed several extra days with three mutual golf fanatics. At least Dr. Lyle Grayson, the veterinarian she worked for and was engaged to, had a passion for her, too, despite how calm and cool he seemed with those aristocratic good looks, chiseled nose and gray eyes.
“I’m jet-lagged bad, but wanted to see you, bring you these,” he said as they sat close on the couch in her town house living room. Half of the space as well as part of the narrow galley kitchen was taken up with the natural homemade beauty products she sold online and to acquaintances. She’d explained to Lyle that she liked small, cozy spots, then had to assure him she wasn’t criticizing the spacious home they would soon share. He hugged her with one arm as he put the sack on her lap, intentionally brushing the bare thighs beneath denim shorts she wore. Spenser sat erect at her feet, head cocked, watching with his one dark eye.
She opened the separately wrapped gifts from the sack. A white coffee mug with an image of a red unicorn, Scotland’s national animal. She’d researched where he was going with his buddies. She loved to learn about new places and different cultures. She longed to go to Scotland—it was partly why she’d adopted a Scottie from the animal shelter—but Lyle was planning a honeymoon at a Caribbean island resort he’d seen advertised on TV where they’d have their own little spa pool outside their bedroom with the ocean beyond.
She unwrapped the next package. “Oh, and a Carnoustie Links golf ball mounted on a little trophy.”
She didn’t play golf but wished she did so she could see more of her fiancé on their days off from the vet clinic he co-
owned with two other veterinarians. She and the three other vet techs there were second rung on the ladder with the vet assistants and receptionist one step lower. But what a catch Lyle was! At thirty-five, he was only six years older than she and one inch taller. She was five foot nine, and though she loved high heels, she never wore them anymore.
The last gift was a wool scarf, a lovely tartan pattern, though it seemed so alien with the heat and humidity outside. “Oh, the bars of color are striking against the white background. Thank you, Lyle.”
“It’s called Dress Stewart.”
“The royal clan. I can see why you picked it out. I’ve been reading up a bit on Scotland, you see, and even watched an old Mary Queen of Scots movie on TV. So tragic she was beheaded.”
“Forget all that. What I see is my beautiful girl.” He tilted her toward him for another masterful kiss. She hoped her parents, who lived in England where her father worked for an international company, could be here to meet Lyle before the wedding. They hadn’t set a date yet, thinking the holidays would be a great time since the clinic would be less busy and her parents could come over.
“Can I get you a drink?” she asked when he ended the kiss. He still had a good grip on her arms as if she would spring up and dart out the door. She had always loved how protective he was, but lately she’d begun to think he might actually be a bit possessive.
“No. I’m beat. I’ll even take a rain check on the kind of welcome I’d like—at my house,” he added, frowning, “where I won’t fall over boxes of face creams and lip balms.”
She was surprised at the relief she felt that he wasn’t staying tonight.
He kissed her again, got up with a groan and said, “I’ll call you tomorrow, and you can come over on Sunday. I take it you’ll be here, cooking up your brews and pastes after work,” he added, stifling a yawn.
“Yes. I need to catch up with online orders and answer questions on my blog. Despite the heat, I’ll be walking Spenser in the morning, of course, and—”
“What in the hell is this?” he demanded, and snatched the eight-by-ten photo from the end table. He frowned at it. “This is a recent addition, and it seems to have a place of honor.”
“I decided at the last minute to go to my high school reunion. Rah, rah, Naperville North! Those are members of the graduating class who attended. I’m there,” she said, pointing, “in the back row, see?”
“Of course I see. Was that guy you used to go steady with there?”
“Mike? Yes, with his wife.”
“That’s him next to you, isn’t it? But no wife here. He’s brought his Airedale into the clinic, but I didn’t let on I knew who he was. I hate that he was your first love.”
“Lyle, his wife was there, but it’s only the graduates in the photo.”
“You got caught up with him, of course. I hope he has a happy marriage, though he probably knows by now he was an idiot to pass you up for the long haul. Any other guys there you knew well?”
“Lyle, so what? I was wearing my big, emerald-cut—expensive, as you say—ring and told people I was getting married soon. I wanted to get out. I was tired of looking at just these walls and the caged animals at the clinic while you were on a fun trip to Scotland!”
“Did he or the other guys call you since?”
“Did you listen to me? Oh, by the way,” she plunged on, her voice sassy now, “I also went out to lunch with my best girlfriend from high school the next day. And guess what? There were men in the restaurant, and who knows if some of them looked at me?”
He seized her upper arms and pulled her against him. “It’s just—just that you’re mine now and need to act like it.”
“I do. And maybe—at least once we’re married—if you go to some great place like Scotland for a week, you’ll take me instead of going with ‘the boys.’ But you don’t hear me asking about any bonny lassies you might have stood next to or said ‘hi’ to.”
“That isn’t the point!” he shouted, and gave her a hard shake while Spenser started barking. “Maybe I will just stay the night!”
She fought to remain calm, keep her voice in control. “I don’t think so and I’d rather you not stay. You need your rest, since you are obviously distraught and unreasonable. Please leave, Lyle. Now. I hope once you’re rested—get back to yourself, that is...”
Her voice trailed off as she managed to loosen his grip on her—one hand, then the other. Lyle looked stony-faced. His eyes narrowed. In the slanted light he looked different, cruel, almost demonic. With a sudden move, almost a wrestling flip and hold, he pushed her back on the couch and lay almost on top of her.
Spenser went wild with sharp barks, but Lyle ignored him. Lyle, the gentle, caring veterinarian she had seen help animals, the suitor who had wined and dined and wooed her. He thrust a knee between her legs, then another. He had her left arm pinned, but she instinctively hit at his throat and jaw with her free elbow.
His head snapped back in surprise. She shoved him off the couch and scrambled up. Grabbing her cell phone, she ran for the front door and got it open, Spenser at her heels.
To her relief, Lyle didn’t chase her, but came out past her slowly, glaring at her, shaking his head and fingering what must be a sore throat. They stood glaring at each other on the edge of the parking lot in the late blast of sun. She was sweating as she scooped up Spenser in her arms.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” he told her, pointing a finger almost in her face to punctuate his words. “We need some new rules or else.”
“I prefer the ‘or else,’ and I’ll determine what that is,” she said, amazed how steady her voice sounded, how sure she was of what she was doing. It all fit together too well now, and it scared her and made her sick. How could she have been so stupid and ignored so many subtle signs? She’d fallen for a controller, a potential abuser, and she knew what she had to do. It would be the same tomorrow, even if he had some rest, even if she had time to think it over. How could a man who was so good with animals and people turn so mean? Surely not just jet lag. What had she missed?
“Lyle, I think we should break it off.”
“Look, pretty baby, I’m your boss. You need me.”
“Take your ring back,” she insisted, squeezing Spenser closer to take it off, so heavy and hard in her hand. She started to cry. Darn, she didn’t want to cry. Didn’t want to lose him, didn’t want to admit she’d been stupid to have loved him, but he’d seemed so caring, so eager, so protective and well-off and stable, an achiever who adored her.
She pressed the ring into his hand. At least it was still broad daylight in a public condo parking lot or she wasn’t sure what he would have done. Suddenly, even here, she was afraid of him.
“You’ll regret this,” he said with narrowed eyes and deadly calm. “You and that damn little dog, too.”
He walked away, got in his car and backed out of his parking place. He squealed the brakes, then roared away.
Alex rushed back inside, locked the door. Fastened the safety bolt, since Lyle had a key. She leaned back against the door, then slid to sit on the tiled floor, holding Spenser, sobbing.
That threat, the last thing he’d said about “you and that damn little dog, too,” haunted her. She’d watched a rerun of The Wizard of Oz on TV last week and that’s more or less what the Wicked Witch had said to Dorothy.
“Alexandra Collister, you have been an idiot,” she whispered to herself as Spenser whined in sympathy, thinking she was talking to him.
How...how had it happened that Lyle had turned so bad? How had she gotten this far with him, been swept away by his initial charm, his spoiling her and wanting her? And he was her boss, so there went her job, too. She’d have to find work elsewhere, though he’d probably never give her a recommendation. Her career might be over, but she knew she was right to get him out of her life.
She sat there, not sure for ho
w long, cuddling Spenser and agonizing until it got dark outside. Oh, why hadn’t she listened to Spenser? The one-eyed little guy had more smarts about Lyle than she did.
When the dog had fallen asleep, she finally put him down on the couch to close the vertical blinds to her little back patio lined with containers in which she grew many of the plants for her Natural Beauty products. But when she reached the window, she gasped.
Despite the darkness, with the streetlight coming over the privacy fence and gate only she and Lyle had a key to, she could see that her lavender plants, even her four tea rosebushes, had been violently yanked from their pots and containers, spewing their soil all over the patio. And her tall sunflowers had been beheaded.
Leaning against her Double Delight rosebush, which lay uprooted on its side, was a crudely written sign that read in big letters: You Are Mine or the End!
As she hurried to her car just as daylight was breaking on Friday, Alex was grateful she had the early shift at the Gentle Care Vet Clinic. She had hopes that Lyle was so exhausted he wouldn’t come in. Hopefully he was sleeping the sleep of the dead, because she’d definitely decided that he was dead to her.
Surely that’s what the threat on the sign meant. He was insisting she commit—and submit—totally to him or their relationship was over. But in case he was still nasty and pushy when she resigned from her job, and he meant that as a physical threat, she kept the sign so she could give it to the police. But she dreaded confrontations and hoped it didn’t come to that. She just wanted out of here—out of his life.
She gripped a small spray can of mace in her hand, hoping it wasn’t clogged after years of disuse. She should have tested it, but what could she spray? She heard her car doors lock as she started the engine. Her little sports car—a birthday gift from Lyle—started and purred away with no one lurking, no one following. Should she return this darling car as she had her ring? She could just imagine these tires slashed and the deep blue finish spray painted with You Are Mine or the End!
At least going into the clinic by seven a.m. would give her a chance to ask for her last paycheck and leave the letter of resignation she’d written last night. She wasn’t sure whether Lyle could be reasonable enough to give her a good recommendation to find another job, or if that was another dead end and she’d actually need to move to a different suburb and just tell her interviewer the truth, at least part of it. She’d say her previous place of employment was uncomfortable because she’d broken off an engagement.