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The Secret of Cherokee Cove (Harlequin Intrigue\Bitterwood P.D.) Mass Market Paperback – February 18, 2014
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About the Author
As a child, Paula Graves's favorite books were Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries and Harlequin Romances. When she realized there were books that featured both romance and mystery, she knew she'd found her calling. Now Paula writes for Harlequin Intrigue, where she gets to play both matchmaker and murderer and has a blast doing it.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
She entered the Bitterwood Community Center banquet hall with no fanfare, a tall, fit woman in her early thirties. Fanfare or not, Walker Nix found his gaze drawn her way, taking in her appearance with the practiced eye of an investigator. She had sleek auburn hair worn straight and intelligent green eyes that scanned the room with a specific goal in mind, narrowing as she failed to find her target.
I should paint her, he thought. She wasn't pretty, exactly, but he found her striking features interesting.
Conversation died to nothing as most of the party-goers turned to look at the newcomer. Laney Hanvey, standing near the front of the hall with her mother and sister, crossed quickly to the woman, a smile on her face. She passed Walker, leaving him with a whiff of her light jasmine scent, and extended her hand to the taller woman. "Dana. You look just like your photo. It's so nice to finally meet you!"
Chief's sister, Nix thought, his interest tempered by the impracticality of lusting after a woman whose brother was his boss. Her impending arrival had been the talk of the police station from the time the chief had mentioned to one of the file clerks that she was coming. She'd be in town only a few days, just long enough to get to know her brother's fiancée and catch up on their lives, before heading back to her job in Atlanta.
Still, his gaze lingered on Dana Massey's face as she smiled at Laney and took her hand with what appeared to be genuine pleasure. She really would be a fascinating subject to paint.
"I'm so happy to finally meet you, Laney!" Dana maintained eye contact as if oblivious to the interested stares of everyone else in the room. Nix dragged his gaze away from the meeting of the future sisters-in-law and let it skim across the other faces in the hall. To his surprise, he saw several looks of shock and one or two expressions of near hostility.
Odd, he thought. As far as he knew, this was Dana Massey's first visit to Bitterwood. And what little he'd heard about her wouldn't elicit hostility from anyone but the fugitives she chased in her job as a deputy U.S. marshal.
"Doyle is late," Laney was saying as she and Dana passed Nix's position near the doorway. "I tried calling his phone, but he's not answering."
"He's probably lost it somewhere," Dana murmured in the tone of a sister used to her younger brother's foibles. "He loses a phone every year, I swear."
They passed out of earshot, and Nix made himself look at his watch, not Dana Massey's shapely backside. Almost eight. The party had officially started at seven-thirty. And while Bitterwood chief of police Doyle Massey had a reputation for being a bit more laid-back than his predecessor, he'd never shown a tendency toward tardiness.
Nix bumped gazes with one of his fellow detectives, small, dark-eyed Ivy Calhoun. She was newly married, tanned golden from her recent honeymoon in the Bahamas and looking happier than he'd ever seen her. She flashed a smile at him, and he wandered over to where she stood with her new husband, Sutton Calhoun.
"Nix." Sutton greeted him with a nod. They were both Bitterwood natives, but Sutton was a few years younger than Nix. He was better acquainted with Nix's younger brother, Lavelle, which might explain the wariness in Sutton's gaze. Lavelle had never been anything but trouble.
"Calhoun," Nix responded in kind, saving his smile for Sutton's bride. "Have you heard from the chief?"
Ivy shook her head. "Laney said he told her he had to pick up something from the office before he came to the party. But that was nearly an hour ago."
It didn't take an hour to get anywhere in Bitterwood. "Have you tried calling the station to see if he showed up?"
Ivy cocked her head slightly to one side, her gaze narrowing. "You think something's wrong?"
"One of your hunches?" Sutton added, not without a hint of sarcasm.
"No," Nix lied, even though his hunch meter was going off like a klaxon. "Just doesn't seem much like the chief to keep his girl waiting."
"Is that his sister?" Ivy nodded toward Dana Massey, who stood at the front talking to Laney and her family.
"Yes," Nix answered. "She didn't seem worried about her brother's lateness."
Sutton took a sip from the cup of red punch he held in his right hand. With a grimace, he set the cup on a nearby table. "Maybe she knows stuff about him we don't."
"Maybe," Nix conceded.
"But you don't think so," Ivy prodded.
He gave her a warning look, but her eyebrows merely rose a notch and her dark eyes flashed with amusement.
She thought it was all great fun, having a genuine Cherokee soothsayer on the police force, and most of the time Nix didn't try to squelch her enjoyment. He wasn't a soothsayer, of course-his hunches were usually based on deduction, not intuition. And he was only part Cherokee. The rest was pure Appalachian Scots-Irish, as his brother Lavelle's headstrong ways would attest. But playing the inscrutable Indian could have its advantages, especially during interrogations.
"I'll give the station a call, see what's what." He wandered away and pulled out his cell phone to call the main switchboard.
The night shift dispatcher, Briar Blackwood, answered, "Bitterwood P.D."
"Hey, Briar, it's Nix. Have you seen the chief?"
"He called about seven to say he was heading in to pick something up from his office, but he didn't show. I figured he might have been running late and decided to come by after the party."
Nix frowned. "Yeah, that's probably it."
"What's wrong?" Briar asked.
"Later, Briar." He hung up before she could ask any more questions he couldn't answer and crossed back to where Ivy and Sutton stood, talking to a tall redhead and an even taller man with dark hair and a rangy but powerful build.
Ivy introduced the pair as Natalie and J. D. Cooper, friends of the chief's. "Natalie used to work with the chief down South," Ivy added as Nix shook hands.
Natalie smiled, but he saw concern hovering behind her green eyes. "Ivy says Doyle's late. Doyle's never late. He may come across as an overgrown frat boy sometimes, but he's as dependable as they come."
Her alarm exacerbated his own growing concern. Keeping his voice low, he told them about his call to the station. "That was an hour ago."
Ivy looked from Natalie's face back to Nix's. "Should we go look for him?"
"I'll do it," Nix volunteered. "You stay here and make sure Laney doesn't start worrying too much until we know what's what."
Unspoken between them was the fact that there might well be a damned good reason to worry. Only three months earlier, Doyle Massey had crossed swords with a man named Merritt Cortland, whose thirst for power had led him to kill his father and several others in a deadly explosion. He'd tried to make the chief another of his victims, but Massey had fought him off. After Cortland had fallen down a steep incline, landing on the rocks below, he'd been thought dead, but by the time paramedics arrived at the base of the bluff, his body was gone.
Was Merritt Cortland still alive? It was a question that nobody had been able to answer to anyone's satisfaction. Nix figured it was possible the man's injuries weren't fatal as the chief had assumed. It was equally possible that one of Cortland's ragtag cohort of meth cookers, anarchists and radical militia soldiers had recovered the body and was keeping it on ice in order to keep the legend alive.
Under Merritt Cortland's father, Wayne, the criminal operation had flourished, and even Cortland the younger had somehow managed to keep the enterprise afloat, despite the disparate elements involved. But if Merritt Cort-land was dead, how long would the conspiracy thrive?
Outside the community center, night had fallen deep and blue. After a mild day, the temperature had dropped into the forties, driving Nix deeper into his leather jacket. As he started down the concrete steps to the sidewalk, the door opened behind him and footsteps clicked across the hard surface.
"Are you going to look for Doyle?"
The low female voice rippled along his nerves as if she'd run a finger down his spine. He turned to find Dana Massey standing on the steps behind him, her intelligent eyes full of stubborn intent.
Lying would do no good. She seemed like the kind of woman who never asked a question if she didn't already know the answer. "I thought I'd see what's keeping him."
"How late is he?"
"Party started at seven-thirty, so-"
"When was the last time anyone heard from him?" She walked down the steps until she stood level with Nix, her head only a couple of inches below his own. She was as tall as her brother and had the same sort of dynamic presence, though the chief's aura of command was often tempered by his good-natured humor.
There was no humor in Dana Massey's green eyes at the moment.
"He called the police station around seven and told the dispatcher he was going to drop by the office before the party to pick up something."
"Pick up what?"
Her lips flattened with annoyance, though her irritation didn't seem to be directed toward him. "Was he at home when he called?"
"Don't know that, either," he admitted. He should have asked the question of Briar, though the chief might not have said where he was. "I'm working on that assumption."
To her credit, she didn't make the usual joke about assumptions. "He's not answering his phone."
"So I hear."
She extended her hand suddenly, as if she'd just remembered they hadn't met. "Dana Massey. The chief's sister."
"Walker Nix. The chief's detective."
Her lips curved slightly at his dry rejoinder as she shook his hand. She had a firm, dry grip, with long fingers that felt like warm velvet against his own. "So I heard. Mind if I tag along?"
He could still feel the lingering sensation of her skin against his when he dropped her hand. "Wouldn't you rather stick around the party?"
She shook her head. "I'm here for my brother. Wherever he is."
He nodded toward the sidewalk. "Bundle up. My heater's acting up."
Dana eyed the rusty-looking Ford pickup truck parked a block down Main Street from the community center, then shifted her gaze back to the tall, dark-eyed man who seemed to be watching her for her reaction. She got the feeling this moment was some sort of test, but damned if she knew what the right answer might be.
"Nice wheels," she murmured.
The right corner of his mouth quirked upward. "Thanks." He opened the passenger door without producing a key.
Her high heels weren't the most practical footwear for climbing into an oversized truck, but she managed to haul herself into the cab without making too much of a spectacle. Her wool slacks and cable-knit sweater had seemed to be sufficient for the cool night, but the truck's hard vinyl seat felt like a block of ice under her backside. She stifled a shiver and held her breath until she located the seat belt and reassured herself that it actually worked.
Walker Nix slid behind the steering wheel and engaged his own seat belt before turning to look at her.
"Need a blanket?"
She bit back a shiver and shook her head no. "How far away is Doyle's house?"
"You're not staying there?"
She shook her head again, hoping he didn't ask any uncomfortable questions. "I booked a room at a motel in a town north of here. Quaint name-Purgatory."
"That's a bit of a drive."
A bit of a drive? Purgatory was maybe ten minutes away by car. A commute that short in Atlanta, where she lived and worked, was something to be deeply coveted.
Thinking of the short drive from Purgatory reminded her that her car was parked across the street. The Chevy featured soft seats and a working heater. But before she could suggest they take her car, Nix had already cranked the truck and swung it out of its parking place.
"You didn't see anything on the drive here?" Nix asked her.
"No, but I was already in town by seven." She'd waffled over the gift she'd picked out for her brother and his new bride on the drive from Atlanta and had decided to do some last-minute shopping in Bitterwood. But, of course, most of the town's quaint little shops had closed down at five. "Thought I'd do some last-minute shopping, but nothing was open."
"Everything closes at five around here."
"Well, there are some joints here and there where you can paint the town red until you can't see straight. But I don't think they're selling what you were wanting to buy."
Like most of the other people she'd met since arriving in town, Walker Nix had a hard-edged mountain accent, though his was tempered a bit, as if he'd spent some time away from the hills. He wasn't handsome, exactly, but she rather liked the flat planes and hard angles of his features. He had olive skin and dark hair worn very short on the sides and only a little longer on top. Military-style, she guessed. Probably had some armed-forces service in his background-marine corps, or maybe army. Infantry, not rear echelon. The man had jumped right to action at the first sign of trouble.
Once they left the small town center, artificial lighting nearly disappeared, save for the occasional residences spaced every few hundred yards along the winding two-lane road. So the sudden bright beams of light that split the darkness around a blind curve caught them both by surprise. Nix hit the brakes, the sudden deceleration slamming Dana hard against the restraint belt crossing her chest. The brakes squealed, but the truck shimmied to a stop a dozen yards short of the large black truck that lay on its side in the middle of the road, its headlights slicing through the darkness.
No, God, no. She stared at the wreck with a knot in her gut. Not Doyle, too.
Before Dana could unlatch her seat belt, Nix had jerked the truck in Park and jumped out, running toward the wreck. She joined him, cursing the high heels that kept getting caught in the uneven, rutted pavement.
Terror sucked the air right out of her lungs as she faltered to a stop in front of the vehicle.
The beam of Nix's flashlight scanned across the bloodied features of her brother Doyle.
Oh, God, please no.
Her brother's eyes opened, squinting against the flashlight beam. She felt her knees wobble and grabbed the first thing she could wrap her hand around-Nix's arm.
Her brother's gaze met hers, and he forced a smile that looked more like a grimace. "About time you got here. I'm an hour late for my own engagement party, and nobody thinks to come looking for me?"
She nearly drooped with relief, dropping her hand from Nix's arm. Doyle sounded as if he was in pain, but his sense of humor was still in play. That had to be a good sign, right?
"How bad are you hurt?" Nix asked, shining the light toward the floor of the cab. Dana could see that one of Doyle's legs was broken. Grimacing, she looked back at his face, trying to figure out where the blood was coming from.
"Broken leg," Doyle growled. "My head is bleeding, but I haven't lost consciousness, so I don't think it's bad. My seat belt saved me from going through the window."
"Where's your cell phone?" Dana asked as Nix backed away to call in the accident.
"Somewhere on the floorboard. I tried to get it but " He waved at his broken leg. "I decided I wasn't about to bleed out and could wait for help to find me. Although I have to admit, I was about to get desperate enough to risk wiggling around again to find the phone."
"Rescue's on the way, Chief." Nix walked back over to the wreck. "What did you hit?"
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Top Customer Reviews
Now, if you want more romance than mystery this may not work for you. You get a grand total of 3 kisses. That is it. The timeline is also only a matter of days so if you don't like "insta-love", again, this may not work for you.
My only other complaint is about Dalton, who is introduced in this book. He acts like a complete d-bag/as$. Now, normally I would forgive him because of what he is dealing with, but he has the nerve
SPOILER******* to say to Dana's face that his father did not belong in jail ONLY HOURS AFTER HE TRIED TO KILL HER! He also takes all his anger out on her when he knew the truth. It wasn't like he could still have thought dear old dad and grandpa were innocent, I could have understood that. I did not expect him to embrace Dana or Doyle but he took being a jerk to an unacceptable level for me. *********
Wish Nix had knocked him on his butt. Thankfully Paula Graves is such a great author I have hope she can redeem him since he stars in the next Bitterwood series book.
I really liked both Dana and Nix. Dana is a US marshal and very good at what she does. She is also a workaholic, using her job as a way to fill her life. As the oldest in her family, after her parents were killed in an accident she took responsibility for her two younger brothers. She blames herself for the death of her youngest brother and has never been able to open herself up to emotional commitment to another person. Dana's first day in Bitterwood has her accompanying Nix as they look for her brother. She is attracted to him, but resists because she won't be there for long. Investigating the accident with Nix shows them both that there is something going on that involves her family. The deeper they delve into her mother's past the more it becomes obvious that someone is hiding something big and they'll stop at nothing to keep it that way. Dana is determined to get at the truth and working with Nix is the best way to do it. I loved seeing Dana start to open up to Nix and share her feelings with him. Her guilt has been overwhelming until Nix shows her that she couldn't have changed what happened. Her feelings for Nix are growing too, but she is afraid of loving and losing.
Nix has spent his whole life in Bitterwood except for a short time spent in the Marines. He loves his hometown and the mountains. Working as a detective gives him a bit of excitement in his life while keeping him close to home. He hasn't been happy about the problems in the police department and is fully on board with weeding out the corruption. I like the fact that he has respect and liking for his boss. He's the one who takes the initiative to go look for Doyle when he doesn't show up where he should be. I also enjoyed his reaction to Dana and how he realized early on that she was going to be very important to him. I loved his protectiveness toward her, even though he knew she was capable of taking care of herself. Working with Dana gave him the chance to get to know her even better and realize that he wanted her in his life permanently. And that meant he was actually going to have to talk about his feelings too. I loved the ending and what he offered to do and how it all worked out.
I loved the mystery of Dana and Doyle's mother. Doyle had first gotten an idea that there was something going on during the last book and his investigation is what got him hurt at the beginning of this one. As Dana and Nix discovered more about what had happened the danger she was in increased. I loved the whole investigation and seeing Tallie come to life for Dana. The person behind the attacks wasn't a total surprise but there were some surprises leading up to it. I'm looking forward to the next book and seeing how it all comes together.
There wasn't much about the missing crime boss in this book, as it concentrated mostly on the mystery of Dana's mother. There were a few mentions of the ongoing search and investigation. I expect the next one will wrap it all up.
Stand alone read. 5th in Bitterwood P.D. series
GOOD READ! Well written, strong characters, good dialogue, low-key, sensitive romance, and a great supporting cast. WHILE there is no real mystery about the crimes, it does not detract from the storyline.
THE STORY revolves around Bitterwood Detective Walter Nix, Federal Marshal Dana Massey, and Dana's mother, Tallie, who is introduced to the reader as Dana and Nix investigate Tallie's troubled youth in Bitterwood, the reason she left, and why Tallie and her husband were killed in a car crash when she returned to Bitterwood.
As the story opens, Dana is visiting Bitterwood to see her younger brother, Police Chief Doyle Massey, and meet his fiancé. While en route to the engagement party, Doyle is injured in a not-so-accidental, single-car crash. Investigating this murder attempt, Detective Nix and Dana soon discovers that the crash is tied to her mother's 30-year old secret and the subsequent death of her parents years later. Attempting to uncover the truth makes Dana a target as well and Nix must step in to protect her.
OVERALL, well-paced storyline and the characters are smart and level-headed, which makes for a sweet, believable romance (bpl). The BITTERWOOD P.D. series includes Murder in the Smokies, The Smoky Mountain Mist, Smoky Ridge Curse, Blood on Copperhead Trail, and The Secret of Cherokee Cove.
You may also enjoy the complex characters and storytelling of N. Bruhns, A. Stuart, or E. Palfrey. For good mystery/detective writers you might try J. D. Robb, D. Stabenow, S. Grafton, Gayle Wilson, Julie Miller, or Sharon Sala.
Reviewer for Coffee Time Romance & More
Most Recent Customer Reviews
it and I like all of Paula Graves books that i have read so far.