Book ‘Murder at Sunrise Lake’ by Christine Feehan

PDF Excerpt 'Murder at Sunrise Lake' by Christine Feehan
It starts in her dreams. Hideous flashes from a nightmare only she can stop. Images of a murderer stalking the ones she cares about most... Stella Harrison thought she got away from the traumas of her past. Running the Sunrise Lake resort high in the Sierra Nevada mountains has brought her peace, even though she doesn’t truly share her quiet life with anyone. Not even Sam, the hired handyman that notices everything and always seems to know exactly what she needs. Stella doesn’t know anything about Sam’s past, but somehow over the last two years his slow, steady presence has slipped past her defenses. Still, she knows she can’t tell him about her recent premonitions. So far there’s been no murder...
Publisher: ‎Berkley; 1st edition (June 29, 2021)  Pages: ‎432 pages  ISBN-10: ‎0593333144  ISBN-13: ‎978-0593333143  ASIN: B08KST5XT4

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Author’s biography: Christine Feehan is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, with 83 published works in seven different series: Dark Series, GhostWalker Series, Leopard Series, Drake Sisters Series, Sea Haven Series, Shadow Series, and Torpedo Ink Series. All seven of her series have hit the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list. Judgment Road, the first book in her newest series, Torpedo Ink, debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Book excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Mommy, Daddy’s doing the bad thing again.

The child’s voice very clearly said the words she’d said to her mother when she was four years old. When she was five. When she was seven.

Stella Harrison knew she was dreaming, but she still couldn’t fight her way to the surface. This was the fifth night in a row she’d had the dream, and the camera had widened the lens just a little more, as it had every night, so she saw additional pieces of the hideous nightmare she couldn’t stop. The man fishing. He wore denim bibbed overalls tucked into high olive-colored waders. A blue cap was pulled low over his eyes so she couldn’t see his face. There were boulders among the heavy reeds and plants that grew thick along the shore, creeping out into the lake. He’d made his way through the boulders to get out from under the shade of several trees.

She tried to warn him. Yelling. Calling out. Don’t castDon’t do it. Every night she saw his line go into the same spot. That little darker area that rippled in rings like a little round pool, so inviting. The fisherman always did the same exact thing, like a programmed robot. Stepping forward, casting, the lure hitting perfectly, sinking into the middle of that inky spot, dropping beneath the water into the depths below.

The camera switched then and she could see beneath the water. It should have been tranquil. Peaceful. Fish swimming. Not the man in the wet suit, waiting for that hook, waiting to tug and enter into some kind of terrible game with the fisherman above the surface. The fight for the fish became a real life-and-death battle, with the fisherman lured farther and farther from the safety of the shore and into the reeds and rocks—closer to the threat that lurked beneath the water.

The mythical fish appeared to be fighting. He seemed big, and well worth the exhausting battle. The fisherman paid less and less attention to his surroundings as he reeled the fish nearer to him and realized he was close to winning his prize.

Without warning, the killer beneath the water rose up right in front of the unsuspecting fisherman, slamming him backward so that his waders couldn’t find traction on the muddy floor of the lake. The fisherman hit his head hard on the boulder behind him and went down. Immediately the killer caught his legs and yanked hard, dragging him under the water and holding him there while the fisherman thrashed and fought, weak from the vicious blow to his head from the boulder.

Stella could only watch, horrified, as the killer calmly finished the scene by dragging the body to the surface for just a few moments so he could pull the bottom of the wader along a boulder. The killer then pulled the fisherman back into the water 

and tangled him in his own fishing line just below the waterline in the reeds and plants close to the shore. The killer calmly swam off as if nothing had happened.

The lens of the camera snapped shut and everything went black.

Stella woke fighting a tangle of sheets, sweat dripping, hair damp. She sat up abruptly, pressing the heels of her hands to her eyes. Rubbing, scrubbing her palms down her face over and over. Trying to erase the nightmare. Not again. It had been years. Years. She’d made a new life for herself. New friends. A place. A home.

Now the nightmare was back and recurring. This was the fifth time she’d had it. Five times in a row. It wasn’t like she lived in a big city. Usually if murder was happening, everyone would know, especially in a small town. But this killer was brilliant. He was absolutely brilliant and that was why he was going to get away with it—unless she brought attention to the murders. Even then, she wasn’t certain he would get caught.

She hadn’t realized she was rocking herself back and forth, trying to self-soothe. She forced herself to stop. She hadn’t done that in years either. All those terrible habits she had developed as a child, that came back as a teen, she’d managed to overcome. Now she found they were sneaking back into her life.

There was no going back to sleep even though it was still dark outside. She’d planned to sleep in. She had few days off even though the season was winding down. She owned the Sunrise Lake Resort and had for several years, turning it around from a dismal, failing business to one that not only made large profits but helped out the local businesses as well. She loved the resort, loved everything about it, even the hard work. Especially that. She thrived on solving problems, and those problems changed hourly, keeping her mind constantly active. She needed that, and first managing, and then owning, Sunrise Lake provided it.

When the owner had decided it was time to retire four years earlier, he sold the resort to her. They’d kept the transaction quiet and he continued to stay the first year as if he owned it. Over time, his visits became less and less frequent. She renovated the main house but kept a special cabin for him so he had a place whenever he came back.

The property was beautiful, high in the mountains surrounding a good portion of Sunrise Lake. Knightly, the nearest town, was located an hour’s drive below on a fairly winding highway. The town was small, but that just made the community close-knit.

Stella had made good friends there. She liked living in the backcountry. She felt grounded, connected, alive there. There were all kinds of things to do, from skiing to backpacking to climbing. She fit there. She wasn’t throwing it all away on a few nightmares. That would be so foolish. It was just that the nightmares were so vivid, and now they were recurring, becoming more detailed.

It wasn’t like there was even a body—yet. She shivered. There was going to be. She knew it. She just knew there would be. Somewhere, a fisherman was going to be murdered in the next two days. There would be no way to prove that he was murdered. She had to stop thinking about it or she was going to go insane.

She rolled out of bed and headed straight for her shower. She had overseen the renovations to the main house herself, paying particular attention to the bathroom and kitchen. She loved to cook, and more than anything, after a long day of work, she wanted to know she had plenty of hot water for showers and baths. Her spacious bathroom was a work of art.

The standalone tub was deep, and the shower larger. She liked space in her shower and lots of jets coming at her from all sides since she was often sore from the work she did, or from climbing, skiing, backpacking or any of the other outdoor activities she chose to do. Even dancing with her friends sometimes went on all night. Her shower was perfect for her.

She’d designed the renovations of the main house for two people, although she didn’t believe she would ever have a significant other in her life. She was too closed off. She didn’t share her past with anyone, not even her closest friends. She didn’t really date. The minute anyone started to get too close, she backed off.

The hot water poured over her as she washed her thick blonde hair. Her hair was the one thing she was a little vain about. She didn’t wear it down often, but it was almost silver in color, thanks to her Finnish grandparents on her mother’s side. She had inherited that light, light hair color from them, along with her crystal-blue eyes. The thickness of her hair and the darker lashes were a gift from her father’s side of the family. He was originally from Argentina. Her mother had met him in college in San Diego, where both had attended school. Her father was from a wealthy Argentinian family. Between her two parents, she had been lucky to get amazing genetics.

The hot water helped to dispel the last of the nightmare and the bile in her stomach. Unfortunately, uneasiness persisted. She just wasn’t certain what to do. She’d had those dreams only twice before, and both times reality had ended up being worse than her nightmares. Sighing, she squeezed as much water out of her hair as possible before winding a towel around the mass, and then dried her body off slowly with a warm towel.

Dressing in her favorite pair of jeans and a comfortable tee, she pulled on a sweater and her boots before braiding her hair. She didn’t dry it if she could help it, and since she rarely wore makeup or dressed up when she actually had a day off, she was ready to go in minutes.

“Bailey, I can’t believe you’re still sleeping. Get up, you lazy animal.” She put her hands on her hips and tried to look stern as she regarded the large Airedale still curled up in his dog bed right beside her bed.

Bailey’s eyes opened and he looked at her and then around the room, noting the darkness, as if to say she was out of her mind for getting up so early. Heaving a sigh, the dog got to his feet and followed her through the spacious house to the front door. On the porch, she hesitated at the door. She had stopped locking her door or setting the alarm some time ago, but lately, that crawling feeling down her spine was back. The churning in her stomach started all over again. Bailey waited patiently for her to make up her mind.

Stella knew it was ridiculous to stand in front of her door like a loon. She made decisions all the time. It was just that giving in to her fears was like going backward, and she’d promised herself she would never do that. She stood there indecisively, staring at the thick, carved door for another full minute before making up her mind.

Locking the door, she set the alarm, furious with herself that she’d given in to the nightmares and unrelenting terror that could consume her when she was asleep. Fear crept up on her unawares, and slowly but surely took over until she was caught up in things best left alone. If she was going to actually acknowledge that a murder was going to take place in her beloved Sierras, no one was going to help with investigations this time. The killer would make it look like an accident. She didn’t have dreams unless the murderer was a serial killer, which meant he would kill again. Accidents happened all the time in the Sierras.

There would be no gossip, no whispers or rumors. Before, she’d hated that, the way everywhere she went, murder had been the topic of conversation. Now, if she wanted to stop a killer, she would have to ask the right questions herself. Several of her friends were involved with Search and Rescue. She knew the medical examiner. Maybe she could figure out a reason to ask questions that would make sense and at the same time raise suspicion that the death wasn’t an accident.

Stella deliberately avoided the marina and walked in the dark to reach the family pier. This dock was not one the original owners drove their boat to—they used the marina’s piers for that. This one was private, one to enjoy the sunrises and sunsets, just as she was doing now. The dock had been positioned perfectly to catch the beauty of the mountains mirrored in the lake as the sun rose or set. She never got tired of the view.

She was so familiar with the layout of the grounds that she barely needed the small penlight as she maneuvered the narrow path that took her away from the main buildings, the small grocery store, the bait shop, the collection of cabins and the play areas designated for children and game areas for adults.

The trail took her behind the campsites and RV sites to an even narrower path that led through a pile of boulders and into a heavily forested area. Once through the trees, she was back to the shoreline. It seemed like a ridiculous place to put a pier, but she liked the peace when she needed it most—like now. Tourists didn’t know the way to reach the pier, and that meant precious solitude when she had a few hours—or a day to herself.

Fall had arrived, and with it the glorious colors that only the Eastern Sierras could cloak her with. She loved every season in the Sierras, but fall was definitely a favorite. The cooler weather after the summer heat was always welcome. There was still fishing, and tourists were still coming, but things were slowing down so she could take a breath. Climbing was still a possibility, and she loved climbing.

Then there was just the sheer beauty of the blazing reds, all the various shades, from crimson to a flat, almost purple-red on the leaves of many of the trees. The oranges were the same, all the varying shades. She hadn’t known there were so many shades, subtle to brilliant orange, golds and yellows, the colors vying for attention even among the varying greens, until she came to the Eastern Sierras.

The mountains rose above the lake; forests of trees pressed together so tightly they seemed impenetrable from a distance. The mountains stretched for miles, canyons and rivers, amazing forests and scarred, beautiful rock found nowhere else. This was the place of legends, and she had come to love it and the ever-changing landscape.

Stella sat on the end of the thick planks making up the pier and stared out over the water of the icy lake. Fed by the high mountain rivers and snowpack, Sunrise Lake was a huge bowl of deep sapphire-colored water. A light breeze ruffled the surface, but for the most part, the water gleamed like glass. Sometimes the incomparable beauty of this place stole her breath. It didn’t seem to matter what time of year it was, the lake and surrounding mountains always had such elegance and majesty to them.

Bailey curled up beside her, close, the way he always did when she sat on the end of the pier. He went right back to sleep, never knowing how long she planned to sit, waiting for the sun to come up. She wished Bailey could talk so she could at least have someone to sound out important things with—like murder—but when she’d tried, the dog gave her a look like she’d lost her mind and shoved his face in her lap, inviting her to scratch his ears. Taking advantage. That was her beloved Bailey.

There was no warning. A hand touched her shoulder and she nearly threw herself forward off the dock into the lake. Bailey didn’t even look up or make a sound. The hand caught her in a firm grip before she could tumble off the pier. She turned her head to glare up at the man towering over her. Sam Rossi was one of those men who could walk in absolute silence. Sometimes, like now, he freaked her out. He was too rough to call gorgeous, with his chiseled masculine features, all angles and planes. His jaw was always covered in a dark shadow that never was a beard, yet never was shaved. He rarely smiled, if ever, and when he did, that smile never quite reached his arctic-cold eyes.

He had a body on him. Wide shoulders. Thick chest. Lots of muscle. He was strong. She knew because she employed him as a handyman and he had to do all sorts of jobs that required unbelievable strength. He had to have knowledge of boats, carpentry, fishing, climbing and most outdoor activities, and so far, he hadn’t let her down once.

He had scars. Lots of them. He took his shirt off when it was hot as hell and he had to work outside. Not so much when there were others around, usually only her, or when he was a good distance from others, but she’d seen the scars, and those scars weren’t pretty. They weren’t the kinds of scars one acquired in a car accident. It looked like the skin had been flayed from his back. He’d been shot more than once. He had a few knife scars, for certain. She hadn’t looked closely. She’d made it a point not to stare, although she’d wanted to. She’d never asked and he’d never volunteered an explanation.

“Quit sneaking up on me,” she snapped irritably as she reached for the coffee he had in his other hand, clearly meant for her.

He pulled the to-go mug out of reach and sat down, Bailey between them, ignoring her outstretched hand.

“Sam.” She practically growled his name. He couldn’t bring the aroma of her favorite brew and then withhold it.

He quirked an eyebrow at her. Evidently, he thought he could. He set the mug on the opposite side of his body so there was no way she could lunge over the dog and grab it. Ignoring her, Sam calmly drank from his mug and looked out over the lake. Bailey didn’t even help her by biting him. Or lifting his head and growling.

“Did you come out here just to annoy me?” Stella demanded.

He didn’t answer. She knew he could keep the silent treatment up forever. It was like his annoying nickname for her. He called her Satine in that silly voice—Satine from the lead character in the movie Moulin Rouge! Well, not that he had a silly voice exactly; he had a low, mesmerizing, sexy-as-hell voice. Fortunately, he didn’t call her Satine in front of anyone else. He didn’t talk much, so it never came up when her friends were around.

She was not one to be embarrassed by much, not even when she was caught in a ridiculous situation, but because she harbored a slight crush on Sam, she found things she normally would laugh at nearly humiliating.

She loved the movie Moulin Rouge! Loved it. It was her go-to movie when she was in a funk and wanted a pity party. She didn’t have them often, but when she did, she played that movie and cried her eyes out. When she wanted to watch something that made her heart sing, she played Moulin Rouge! and ate popcorn and cried and laughed.

Stella didn’t even know how it happened that Sam had come in while she was having a pity party, but he had. He sat down and watched the movie with her. After that, he’d joined her more than once and seemed to watch her more than the movie. As usual, he didn’t say anything, he just shook his head as if she were a little nutty and walked out afterward. She didn’t even know if he liked the movie, but if he didn’t, he had no soul, which she shouted after him. He didn’t even turn around.

She knew every song by heart, and every single morning, when she did her exercises, she played the songs, sang to them and danced. At night she did her fitness routine to them and did a little burlesque show. Naturally, Sam had walked in just as she was kicking her leg over a chair and she didn’t quite make it and landed on her butt. That was the first time.

She loved to do aerial silks as a form of exercise. Because the house was two stories and open, she had her own rigging in her home and practiced some nights. Of course, when she’d gotten tangled for a moment and was upside down, desperately trying to get her foot unlocked from the silks, music blaring, he had walked in.

The third time she was doing a very cool and sexy (if she didn’t say so herself) booty shake to the floor and back up again. Naturally, he would be leaning against the doorjamb watching, arms crossed over his chest, those dark eyes of his on her. She could never tell what he was thinking because he had no expression on his face.

He took to calling her Satine in a low, dramatic movie voice every now and then. She wanted to glare at him but it always made her laugh. He didn’t share the laugh with her, but his dark eyes sometimes went velvet soft and her stomach would do a strange little roller coaster loop, which irritated the crap out of her.

“Seriously, Bailey, what kind of watchdog are you?” She sighed as she sank her fingers into her dog’s curly fur. There was no getting around the fact that now that coffee was in her reach, she needed it. “Sam, thank you for thinking to bring me coffee. I appreciate it so much.”

Since she did appreciate him bringing coffee, it was easy to keep the sarcasm out of her voice, although a part of her wanted to be sarcastic. Maybe push him off her private dock into the snow-fed freezing-cold water. He’d no doubt find a way to drag her into the water with him, so she couldn’t even get satisfaction that way.

Without a word Sam handed her the to-go mug. She gratefully took her first sip as they both watched the breeze play with the surface of the water. She stole a quick look at Sam’s face. Fortunately, Sam never smirked. He was a restful person in that he never demanded anything from her. Sometimes she was so exhausted at the end of the day she didn’t want to have to give one tiny bit of herself to anyone.

Those days, Sam would be on her deck grilling vegetables and steak or whatever, as if he knew she’d had a terrible day and didn’t want to talk. He’d indicate the cooler and there would be ice-cold beer in it. She’d grab one for herself, hand him one and go sit in her favorite swing chair hanging from the ceiling covering the porch. He never asked anything of her. She never asked anything of him. That was the best part of their strange relationship. He just seemed to know when things were bad for her. She didn’t question when he’d show up and make things better or how he seemed to know she needed a little care.

She sighed and took another sip of coffee, her hand moving through Bailey’s fur. She’d found a few things made life great. This place and its beauty. Her dog. Coffee. Her five friends. Her favorite movie of all time and maybe Sam Rossi. She wasn’t certain what category to put him in. They didn’t exactly have a relationship. Sam didn’t do relationships. Neither did she. They both had too many secrets.