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After a gritty detective becomes involved with a beautiful widow suspected of murder, rumor and obsession obstruct his quest for justice.
Sunlight blazes on an empty canvas.
Arctic winds gather snowflakes on a frosty window ledge as a statuesque form appears. She moves past a table littered with papers. Headlines splash news of murder, but it's the photo of another young woman with features mirroring her own that draws her attention.
A different headline peeks from underneath the Anchorage Times.
Wealthy Businessman Dies in Car Crash ... BLACK WIDOW SUSPECTED!
Graphic images swirl through her head and a tear rolls down her cheek. She drifts toward an easel and a trembling hand dips a sable brush into a palette of paint.
The Westminster doorbell chimes. The brush slips and blood-red paint stains the floor.
Detective Steven Quaid waits. His Tlingit, Indian features carved from granite, mask his Irish passion ...
Will he arrest her this time?
All fingers point to her guilt.
But, is she guilty of this cunning plot? Or, just a victim of circumstantial evidence?
The door opens ...
His eyes lock on hers ...
His heart races ...
Hers skips a beat.
***** ***** *****
November 14th—10:00 p.m.
Debra pulled up the collar of her jacket and stared out at the arctic gale battering the city. "Well, it’s do or die. See you tomorrow," she said to Ginger, her best friend.
"Deb, you’ve nothing to prove." Ginger’s words were barely audible over the sound of the storm as Debra opened the door.
She stepped across the threshold. "Yes, I do. I have to prove I’m as tough as any Alaskan!"
Debra waved and leaned into the wind, wishing she had listened to Ginger and bought that ugly parka. Instead, she braved the stinging wind and sleet, resolved that Alaska’s elements would not beat her this time. Her mood quickly shifted from determination to irritation when the cold air tore at her clothes. Sharp fingers of ice brutally needled her in places familiar only with warmth.
"I hate this place!" she grumbled.
Determination pushed her forward when common sense should have won out and sent her back inside. You can do this. Halfway through the alley, Debra spotted her car. A co-worker had cleared the SUV of snow. Thank god for friends. Debra pushed the remote button on her key chain to start it and felt a sense of accomplishment. Now all she had to do was master the drive home. Her joy was fleeting, as hands clamped down on her shoulders.
"Hey, wait a minute!" She barely had the words out before a gloved hand closed over her mouth. Utter helplessness and cold steel, slicing deep, registered in her mind as reality changed from surviving a winter storm to sheer terror.
"Oh, god." Debra wanted to cry, but her stifled screams became gurgles, as she choked on blood.
Released from captivity, she sank to the ground like a deflated balloon. Her hands, finally free from immobilizing fear, reached for her throat. Lifeblood poured between her fingers, and her final seconds moved in slow, deliberate steps. Debra fell back into a soft pillow of snow. Oh, god! Please, don’t let me die. She screamed in her mind because her larynx no longer worked.
A shadow appeared. Debra tried to raise her leaden arms skyward, to reach for rescue, but they fell limply at her sides when she realized her attacker stood above her.
"Why? Why me?" She tried to speak, but her jaw only jerked lamely. The words bounced soundlessly in her skull. Critically weakened, she fought to cling tightly to the life being so savagely stolen from her.
She stared up into the falling snow, but could no longer feel the sting of its chill. The arctic air rapidly extinguished the last embers of her life. Tears froze on her eyelashes, and snowflakes—numerous and unrelenting—began to cover her with an icy blanket. Blood poured from the open wound, sending spirals of steam, and Debra’s essence, heavenward.
* ******** *
The falling snow, and its furious hurry to leave the heavens, mesmerized Sarah, and several feet had already fallen, making concentration difficult. A stack of papers lay, untouched, on her desk, a testament to the current object of her procrastination. Quarterly financial reports simply did not hold the ambiance of the snowstorm. Entranced, Sarah could not resist the storm’s inviting whispers. After hours of blizzard-like conditions, the snow now fell gaily, like weightless sparkles of light. As if by magic, the city lights reflected off the clouds and helped to vanquish the blackness of winter to another time. Sarah's newfound joy began to lift her lingering heartache and, for the first time in a long while, she felt adventurous.
The unnatural light gave the park across the street the appearance of a fantasy world, where snow angels sang while gnomes and fairies danced. The clock chimed eleven, breaking the spell and spurring Sarah to action. She dressed warmly and hurried to the park to make the season's first snow angel. Twenty-two of her twenty-seven years fell away as she marveled at the snowflakes caught on her sleeve. Her first real snowfall in eight years—Sarah finally felt welcome in her hometown.
Joyfully, Sarah played. She fell back on a snow bank, waving her arms and legs to displace the snow around her body, and then jumped to her feet to admire the impression she had created. Pleased with herself, she smiled, gazed skyward, and opened her mouth to taste the cold, wet flakes.
Wishing she had her sketchbook, Sarah carefully recorded the scenes on the canvas of her mind. With an artist's eye, she noted the snow-laden trees and bushes, the empty children’s swing and slide, the park benches and the ball field. Sarah immersed herself in this simple life experience, reveling in the reemergence of her creative energy.
The death of her husband, Michael, a year earlier had left her empty and uninspired. The snowfall and her sudden, unbridled play had filled the black hole inside her heart with longing. Sarah wanted to capture the scene, the city’s night-lights, and the reflected colors of red, green, and orange, and imagined the blue and gray she would need to portray the evening's eerie brilliance. On a whim, she created a choir of angels on a snow bank and vowed to put it on canvas at her first opportunity.
The fun and fantasy ended abruptly with a flashing light, and a screaming siren. Startled back into reality, she felt cold and realized she had played much too long. Sarah headed home, her joy erased by the harsh reality. Despair took hold again. She tried shaking off the darker mood, imagining the negativity floating away with the clouds moving east overhead. But, through the window of his unmarked truck, Sarah caught sight of the officer whose presence had reminded her unhappiness was always within reach. He nodded. She glared at him and trudged defiantly home.
Detective Steven Quaid had definitely caught the young woman’s attention. The siren and light, meant to scare her into getting out of park, had done the job. She stopped playing and started walking—he hoped—home. Midnight was not a suitable hour to be alone anywhere in the city. And, while Steven understood the draw of the season's first snowfall, he also knew firsthand the craziness the first snowstorm inspired.
He wanted to yell at her. Go home! When she looked directly at him, and Steven found himself smiling and nodding, despite his concern. Not the teenager he expected: the woman’s eyes held a sparkle that was obvious, even in the subdued light, and Steven was certain he saw a look of confident defiance in them. He slowed and turned in his seat for another look. But his view of long hair turned white from the snowflakes caught in the curls, while lovely, disappointed him. He wanted to see her face.
"Damn." Had he just caught a glimpse of the woman of his dreams?
Minutes earlier, Steven had spotted her from his apartment window. He smiled once or twice at her innocent play, his own memories of childhood fun tugging at him. A telephone call from the dispatch center had ended any thoughts of engaging her in a snowball fight. The department needed Steven downtown. A body discovered under the freshly fallen snow required his expertise, but, in answering the call, he detoured through the park to warn the young woman about the dangers of playing alone.
A native Alaskan, Steven Quaid could trace his family's heritage back to the gold miners who had settled the Alaskan frontier in the late eighteenth century, as well as the natives: the first stewards of the land. His father constantly reminded him of it, insisting a political responsibility existed simply because of his ancestry. His father, Daniel Quaid, a retired statesman, never lost hope that Steven would one day change his mind about being a cop and aim for a more prestigious occupation.
Steven’s mother, who was a member of the Tlingit tribe, admired Steven’s success, and secretly gave her blessing for whatever choice he made. Steven had been a detective for more than ten years and had decided long ago he would never tire of the challenge each case brought.
When he stopped at the intersection on the far side of the park, he surveyed the area. Finding the rest of the playground empty, Steven focused on the job before him, and made his way uptown, just five blocks from the park. Within minutes of the body’s discovery, the department had notified him. Once on scene, Steven maneuvered his truck through a maze of aid cars and black-and-whites, and his frame of mind became one of unswerving determination.
Persistent and shrewd, Steven had unparalleled success in solving mysteries. While he could attribute his unyielding resolve, quick anger, and dry wit from his Irish father, his mother had contributed to his good looks, sharp intellect, and thoughtful manner. Thoughts of his first case haunted him as he approached the scene of this crime.
Was Anchorage in for another bloody winter?
** ******************* **