Spirit Lake [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Christine DeSmet
eBook Category: Suspense/Thriller/Romance RWA Golden Contract Contest Winner
eBook Description: Secrets surround Spirit Lake ... their forbidden love is one of them. Danger collides with the peaceful beauty in Laurel Hastings' woodland hideaway when the man who jilted her fifteen years ago suddenly reappears--on the run from a killer. Cole Wescott--bullet lodged in his leg--stumbles off the train near her cabin on Spirit Lake in northern Wisconsin. He claims the evidence against the killer is stashed in her backyard--across the lake at the abandoned Victorian mansion his family once used as a summer home. The same ramshackle danger zone she wants the county to raze. Now, Cole's living in it! A wildlife rescuer, Laurel would rather fix the paw of a snarling wolf than risk helping this man who always lived on the edge of life. As a teenager she fell in love with him while racing cars on the old logging roads, and skinny-dipping in the ponds in the flowering meadows. But then he left. Without a word. His broken promise of love brought heartache and tragedy. She has no intention of scratching old wounds. Her life is now one of healing ... but Cole needs justice. His brother Mike is dead, killed in an explosion made to look like a boating accident off the Florida Keys. The prime suspect? Their boss in an ocean salvage business. What had Mike uncovered about him that was so heinous? Can Laurel risk helping Cole set a trap for the killer? And risk revealing her own secrets? Can she risk a rekindled love, knowing he might die and this leave her yet again? What is the secret that made him turn from her fifteen years ago and never look back? [Cover art Mary Z. Wolf]
eBook Publisher: Hard Shell Word Factory, Published: 2000
Fictionwise Release Date: September 2003
16 Reader Ratings:
"SPIRIT LAKE crackles with sexual sparks and an interesting romantic suspense adventure. ... Readers will enjoy the adventures and rediscovery of young love between Cole and Laurel."--Diana Rowe Martinez, firstname.lastname@example.org
"SPIRIT LAKE abounds with suspense and mystery. Christine DeSmet weaves a taut tale of murder and love. 4 Stars!"--Affaire de Coeur Magazine
"Spirit Lake is a compelling tale that grabs you from the first page and never lets you down. Christine DeSmet is a strong writer with terrific pacing and a unique style."--Pamela Dalton, author of And Baby Makes Six
BOARDING A TRAIN was going to be difficult for Cole Wescott. Especially since he didn't have a ticket. Then there were the guys shooting at him.
Cole hauled fast through the railyard's main gate, his boots sliding on the cinders and gravel. The June fog rolled its gray plumes around the boxcars and Cole like hot breath from a relentless hunting dog. With a backpack slapping up and down against his shoulder blades, Cole raced on, slipping deeper into the murky maze of steel tracks and trains crisscrossing Miami's downtown past Biscayne Boulevard just after midnight.
A dry desperation overwhelmed him. Find an open car. Hop on. Get out of here without detection.
Little over a week ago he was diving off the sunny Keys, pulling up encrusted treasure from a sunken World War II ship, and looking forward to a weekend speedboat race. Normal, relaxing danger. Now, he looked forward to an illegal trainride cross-country to ditch hitmen in order to dig up the truth behind his brother's death. A simple midnight run.
Cole sweated just thinking about his brother's final missive. Mike's letter from the bank's safety box said he'd hidden crucial information in the one place nobody would think of and Cole never wanted to see again -- a whistlestop called Dresden, Wisconsin. Or was it her he never wanted to see again? Love can be messy sometimes, like a Pandora's box better left behind with the lid slammed shut.
Stumbling on the cinders, Cole quickly scrambled up, shoving the backpack in place. The mementos inside included the papers and a map Mike had left him in the bank. Cole was loathe to return to Dresden, a patch of northwoods filled with bears... and her.
She'd be a woman now, past innocence. Probably married to the richest man in town, with the big house and kids, volunteering in the church and school. Not involved with trouble anymore.
A muffled click echoed through the fog. A gun being cocked? Or was it only tons of metal adjusting its own weight on the tracks?
If the hitmen didn't splice him, the trains might.
Perspiration trickled down the back of his neck.
Footsteps crunched nearby, planted step by step in the cinders.
Cole felt his way along the boxcar, fingers feverishly scrabbling along dew-studded steel. He found the front corner of the car, straddled the coupling, then leaped across two sets of rails.
Sweat bathed him now, dripping off an eyebrow. His thoughts mutated strangely, back to glimpses of a sun-drenched meadow -- anything but this railyard -- and him and her, laughing, wearing nothing but the sunshine's sheen, glorying in that limbo between adolescence and adulthood.
How would she look and sound after fifteen years?
He'd changed a lot. People never picked him out of his old yearbooks. He liked it that way, scars and all. Helped him keep that Pandora's box shut.
Groping alongside a boxcar, he discovered the lettering CSXT, sighed with relief, then prayed for an open door. Cole knew from his research that this line headed through Tallahassee, Pensacola, then Mobile to New Orleans. From there he'd pick up the Southern Pacific to Phoenix. He'd head for Sacramento, maybe stay a day or two there to catch a newspaper's sports page and see if anyone missed him, then double back on the northern route, loop through Chicago and up to Oshkosh riding on the Wisconsin Central.
Nobody wanting to kill him could follow that route, could they? Mike -- the level-headed brother and detail man of the two Wescotts -- had warned Cole constantly about hopping trains for fun. Now, instead of an adventure, this would be the ride of Cole's life.
Picking up his pace, he inspected tons of murky brown and red steel beside him on the tracks but failed to find an open cavity big enough to hide a man. The rail companies had learned to foil hobos and vandals by redesigning and enclosing train cars. He'd be lucky to find an open auto carrier where he could break in and snuggle down for a ride in a backseat.
He stopped, holding his labored breath again to listen to the night. The metallic clanks of a rail car rumbled some distance away. Sweating, he fingered Mike's hunting knife sheathed in his pocket.
Voices drifted to him through the fog.
Running again, he slipped on a wet rail but refused to fall. He clutched his chest pocket, crinkling the photo of the mysterious man who might help him avenge Mike's death. The photo had been in the lock box, right on top but with no note, as if Mike had hastily deposited it there. As if he'd been watched.
Quaking from a thousand thoughts, Cole almost slammed into a huge boxcar oozing past from out of the white soup.
"Jesus," he whispered, feet pedaling backward, his stomach churning. He swiped at the sweat collecting on his chin stubble.
Several cars slid by. Cole adjusted the backpack to one shoulder.
Voices came from the other side of the slow-moving train. It would pull away like a curtain, revealing what? A gun in his face?
Cole spun in the opposite direction and sprinted until another line of boxcars halted him. They moved laboriously. Rumbling. No open doors. No holes. Nothing to grab onto. Nothing to leap into.
Click. Ping! The cinders exploded at his feet.
He catapulted across the track, then tossed his body and backpack under a resting grain car, forcing himself to roll under and out.
Another shot split the railyard rhythms of rocking, creaking steel.
He dashed into a narrow cinder alley between two trains.
A whistle blew. Then air whooshed from brakes up ahead, and the cars next to him jerked with a deafening bang and began grinding forward.
Running hard, in time with the cranking train axles, he barely felt the bullet.
It grazed him from the left side and hit his chest pocket and right upper arm. Warmth seeped onto his skin under his shirt. He kept running.
Then a second "pop" ripped his eardrums.
A sting erupted in the calf of his right leg.
He flung himself at the side of the next car, digging his fingers into a slit in the steel to hold on, knowing he could no longer run. The moving train would have to save him.
The stench of cattle manure curled into his nostrils. The boxcar flinched, threatening to shake him off. He grabbed for any bolt, board or strap, calling on every muscle in his shoulders and forearms to drag him upward one slat at a time, despite the smarting pain making his leg feel like a cement block.
He heard a shout, and then, "Get him!"
With adrenaline engorging his arms, Cole surged up to the top edge of the moving car and then an arm dipped into hollow air. An open hatch!
To get his bearings, he clung for a moment on the top slat, squinting over the edge to see beneath him. Seeing....
Bulls. Used-up bulls, huge beasts on their way from Florida ranches to who knows where and what, their graying muzzles adding steam to the fog, their pointed horns decidedly uninviting.
Another gunblast chinked the steel near his butt.
Cole swung up and over, diving through the hatch and into the fray of hide and horns... and yet one more Cole Wescott adventure.
Copyright © 2000 by Christine DeSmet