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Publication date: November 15th 2022
Genres: Adult, Holiday, Romance, Thriller
Ash has always felt at home in the small town of Humble, Connecticut, especially for the holidays. After her husband’s death, she never thought she’d love again, but then Cole Whelan arrived. His good looks and haunted hazel eyes were impossible to ignore, and their passion put an end to her simple, ordered life. This year, she can’t wait to celebrate with hot chocolate, a tree to decorate, and presents, lots of presents.
But when Ash stumbles into a cave and a corpse during a run, Christmas turns into crisis. There’s a killer on the hunt, and she’s his next target. With the snow falling, Ash hosting for the holidays, and another mysterious murder, will all hope of holiday cheer be trashed like old wrapping paper?
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She jogged, warming up along the start of the trail, and then increased the tempo. Maple, beech, and birch lined the singletrack, the rough texture and bark color the only indication of the different species of deciduous trees.
Ash sped up, tightening her ponytail in the elastic; a few long, wayward curls drooped down her back. She felt the heat build under her thermal top and vest as her arms and legs pumped. Rambo kept pace.
I need this run. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. In and out. Repeat.
The exercise opened her lungs and stretched lean, athletic limbs until the energy flowing became liquid fire. Invigorated, she picked up the pace again.
Ash saw the cave, her two-mile marker and turnabout point. Surveying the rocky landscape, she gulped air before the return trip. She wiped the sweat from her brow and then ran her damp hands along her black spandex leggings.
Turning back, Rambo refused to follow. He barked and pulled on the leash. His small body was stiff, the fur on his back straight up. He pulled her toward the cave.
“Come on Rambo, let’s go home.” Ash shivered and pulled on the leash.
The dog refused to yield.
“Fine.” She stumbled, realizing her shoe hated her and even with a double knot had come untied again. She bent to retie the laces, double knotting the strings, pulling them tight with vengeance. Standing, Ash hiked the rocky precipice, the dog pulling ahead. The final steps to the cave coalesced along a dirt and twig laden path. The cliff adjacent to her was a high point on the trail, but she had no plans to scale it.
Large rock outcrops created a dark cave entrance shaped like a mouth mid scream. Rambo barked and lunged.
Ash had heard stories of people living in or visiting these caves, from historic figures to modern day squatters. She found it easy to envision a camper coming to one before dark, starting a small fire with kindling, preparing a meal, and enjoying the quiet of nature. At least it was possible to imagine during the warmer months. No one would want to be out here in winter, even if the daytime temperature had topped forty degrees.
Rambo pulled her inside the cave. Instantly claustrophobic, the interior narrowed to a pinpoint at the end. Ash ducked as she made her way under the formation’s schist and gneiss slabs. Cold engulfed her. Rich, dark rock mosaics greeted her from the recesses. Crouching slightly, she scurried forward. “What the heck?” A horrid stench stung her nose A lump rose from the ground and in her throat. Something had died here. Ash pulled out her phone, turned on the flashlight, aimed toward the misshapen entity, and gasped. In the far corner—a body.
Dakota Star lives in Connecticut with her husband and two daughters. Both her daughters have finished college and moved away so her dogs, cats, and retired horse now keep her busy. When not outside hiking or horseback riding, she loves to read and travel.
She has worked as an editor, a freelance writer for local newspapers, and an educator at local environmental non-profits like aquariums and The National Audubon Society.