Authors: Madeline Sloane
Tags: #fiction, #romance, #thriller, #suspense, #murder, #mystery, #love story, #womens fiction, #chick lit, #contemporary, #romance novel, #romance ebook, #romance adult fiction, #contemporary adult romance
Book One in Secrets of Eaton
By MADELINE SLOANE
Copyright © 2012 by Madeline Sloane
All rights reserved
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters,
places and incidents either are the product of the author's
imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual
persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales
is entirely coincidental. Prepared for publication by The Omnibus
ALSO BY MADELINE SLOANE
The Women of Eaton Series
East of Eaton
APRIL 12, 1961
Light from the kerosene lantern threw
grotesque shadows on the wall as the woman struggled with the
corpse. She rolled the dead man over and over until he fell,
facedown in the crawlspace beneath the cabin. She reached into his
back pocket and removed his wallet, then picked up the floorboards
and placed them over the opening with care. Using a rusty hammer,
she pounded the nails back into place.
In the corner, a small girl stared vacantly,
tears drying on her dark cheeks. She flinched when her mother
“Cherry, get that quilt off the bed,” she
said, her voice hushed.
They searched the small cabin for anything
they could carry then the woman slung the knotted bundle over her
shoulder and opened the cabin door. “Come on, baby,” she said. “We
have to leave now.”
Cherry took her mother’s hand and they
slipped into the night.
Bridget Cormac drove fast despite the snowy
weather. After seven hours on the road, most of them in blizzard
conditions, she was exhausted and wanted to get home.
She’d spent the past week at Boston’s
luxurious Park Plaza. Decorated for the holiday, the elegant hotel
sparkled with lights and ornaments but, like many of its guests,
Bridget missed being home on Christmas day.
Her heart lifted as she approached the old
farmhouse on Last Chance Road. She could see the kitchen light
glowing through faded, linen curtains. A bag of warm cheeseburgers
rested on the car seat next to her. They were peace offerings for
her dogs, although a neighbor stopped by once a day to feed them
whenever she traveled.
She coasted into the drive and touched the
brakes. A police cruiser blocked the garage. Chief Alec Boone stood
in the breezeway, stomping his snowy boots. She pressed a button
and the electric window slid down, then stopped, half-frozen.
Falling snowflakes peppered her hair when she leaned out.
The sight would alarm most people, but
Bridget smirked. “Hey, you galoot! Move your car so I can pull into
Boone tipped his hat and sprinted back to the
Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. He cranked the powerful motor,
slipped it into reverse and backed down the drive. Bridget
depressed the garage remote control and within seconds the heavy
door slid up its tracks. She punched the gas pedal and shot into
the dark, bumping into an empty trashcan before stopping. She
climbed out of the car, leaving her luggage but hugging the bag of
burgers to her shoulder, and pushed the wall-mounted button to
close the garage door. She passed through the storm door into the
cluttered breezeway, as Boone once again stomped his boots clean of
snow on the stoop.
“Why don’t you be a sweetie and get my
suitcase out of the trunk?”He caught the tossed car keys
“Do I get a cheeseburger, too?”
“No. These are for Squirt and Morty. I’ll
make you some coffee, though.”
She approached the kitchen door and heard the
scrabbling of claws and excited whining. Squirt, a large shepherd
mix, and Morty, a small, furry mongrel of terrier and Chihuahua
heritage, shot out the door once it opened. They danced circles
“Yes, yes, Mummy’s home,” she gushed. “Yes,
I’ve got your cheeseburgers. Come on inside.” She tried to hug the
wiggling dogs, then gave up. Swinging the aromatic bag, she enticed
them into the kitchen. Morty, however, eyeballed the storm door and
waited for Boone to reappear. Then he growled and dove for an
ankle, sinking his teeth in Boone’s boot. Ignoring him, Boone
walked into the kitchen, dragging the snarling dog. He dropped the
suitcase with a clunk and then lifted his leg. Morty, teeth still
embedded in the leather, swung in semi-circles, growling
“Can’t you teach him manners?”
“He does it because he likes you,” Bridget
She unwrapped the burgers, then cut them into
quarters using a pizza slicer. “Hey, let go Morty. This tastes
She waved a morsel of melted cheese and meat
by the little dog’s nose and he snatched at it, releasing Boone’s
boot and falling with a thump. Undeterred, the small dog rebounded,
leapt into the air and snagged the burger from Bridget’s
Squirt sat like a lady, waiting for a signal.
With Bridget’s permission, Squirt stood on her hind legs, rested
her paws on the counter and nibbled at the burger quarters.
Bridget wadded the fast food wrappers and
tossed them, along with the sack, into the garbage can. Then she
washed her hands and took off her coat, hanging it on a hook behind
the kitchen door. She reached for a Mason jar of coffee beans and
“Would you like Columbian or French
Boone put his hat on the kitchen table and
slid his jacket off, draping it over a hook. He sank into a nearby
chair and sighed deeply.
“Whatever you want. I’m bushed.” he said,
massaging his forehead. He yawned and slouched in the chair. Squirt
placed a paw on his knee and watched him with trusting, brown
“Ahhh, you’re such a good dog,” Boone said,
rubbing her furry ears.
“Yeah; she’s the best dog ever,” Bridget
agreed, smiling when Squirt settled at his feet, her head on his
cold, wet boot.
Morty snuffed in disdain, then headed into
the corner to his dog bed, keeping mistrustful black eyes pinned on
The whirring and chopping of the bean grinder
shattered the quiet of the kitchen and soon, the drip began.
Bridget leaned into the counter and inhaled the bouquet. “Oh, I’ve
Over her shoulder, she said, “Hotels have
coffee pots in the rooms, but I think it’s only to taunt people.
I’ve never been able to make a decent cup. Those little packages of
generic creamer and sugar are the pits,” she complained. “This pot
was worth every penny.”
Turning, Bridget saw that Boone dozed, his
chin on his chest. She noted the black curly hair touching the
collar of his brown uniform shirt. It was a bit longer than
regulation for the by-the-book police officer. Laugh lines fanned
from the corners of eyes framed with long lashes. A stoic man with
a killer smile, Boone epitomized the cliché “tall, dark and
The youngest son in a large family, he
resembled his mother, a beautiful and fiery singer from Frascati,
Italy, a small town near Rome. While on tour thirty-five years
earlier, she met and fell in love with Eli Boone, a country
preacher. They married and she traded her operatic career for an
enormous clan of rambunctious, dark-haired children. Although
Carlina remained a devout Catholic, she also attended her husband’s
church and reared their children in their father’s faith.
The old song about the “son of a preacher
man” was true – eight years before, Boone had been the wildest,
most romantic summer fling of Bridget’s life. It was impossible to
keep her hands off him, much less his off her, the summer after her
senior year of high school. But that was a long time ago and their
short romance settled into a comfortable friendship, with
occasional escort duty on formal occasions.
Boone didn’t date. He’d been engaged once to
a young Mennonite girl, until a college-sponsored ski trip to the
Poconos ended in tragedy. An eighteen-wheeler lost control on the
icy road, colliding with the school van. Six students died. Boone,
seriously injured and in a coma for two weeks, couldn’t remember
the accident, a blessing since his fiancé, Daphne, died in his
arms. After two years of rehabilitation, he still walked with a
slight limp. He stayed in Eaton, along with the rest of the Boone
clan, and attended Marshall College to finish his degree.
Bridget opted for a large university in North
Carolina. She majored in history and creative writing and, luckily,
found a job doing what she loved after graduation. She came home
and worked at the local paper, the Eaton Daily News, where she
developed a popular weekly column, “The History Detective.” She
investigated mysteries of the past. She began with local and
obscure oddities, but soon larger historical societies and museums
invited her to solve their riddles. It became a unique and
Before long, other newspapers asked to
reprint the column and within a couple of years, she syndicated it
to newspapers along the East Coast. As a full-time, freelance
columnist, she chose her own topics and, because of its national
appeal, found herself traveling frequently.
Her latest trip had been at the request, and
expense, of a wealthy Massachusetts family who claimed to possess
one of the lanterns used to signal “one if by land, and two if by
sea” at Boston’s Old North Church. Generations of schoolchildren
learned the story of when Paul Revere took his midnight ride,
thanks to the famous poem by Longfellow. The event preceded the
battles of Lexington and Concord during the American Revolution,
and Bridget accepted the assignment eagerly. It would take awhile
to establish the lantern’s provenance, but the outcome was
immaterial to Bridget. The story behind the journey to historic
truth is what interested her readers.
While Boone napped in the kitchen chair,
Bridget opened the refrigerator and searched for a snack. She found
a tube of cinnamon buns, turned on the oven and arranged the raw
dough on a baking sheet.
Boone slept despite the clatter and smell of
cooking pastry. He worked such long hours, Bridget often wondered
if he used his job to mask his sadness. She knew doctors diagnosed
Boone with post-traumatic stress disorder after the accident, but
he brushed off treatment saying “everyone gets stressed.”
His solace came in the woods, photographing
wildlife on long hikes. When he needed company, he went to
Bridget’s old farmhouse where he relaxed in the easy chair, a cup
of coffee in his hand and Squirt nestled beside his sprawling legs.
Sometimes, he fell asleep, lulled by the crackling fire and Bridget
would cover him with an old comforter. Then she would curl up on
the sofa and read, or retreat to her home office, researching the
Internet for upcoming articles.
Once, she stroked his face while he slept.
Eyes closed, he murmured and grabbed her hand, pressing it to his
lips. At that instant, Bridget ached for Boone, his touch
reawakening youthful passion. She suppressed the urge and withdrew
her hand. She didn’t want him to avoid her like he did other
But tonight, Bridget snapped her fingers at
Boone’s ear. “Wake up. Here’s your coffee.”
Boone’s head jerked back, startled when
Bridget set a steaming mug on the table.
“I found cinnamon buns in the fridge. They’re
in the oven.” She heaped sugar and creamer into her cup and
stirred. “Be careful; it’s hot.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize I was so tired.”
He yawned and stretched.
“Not a problem. So, what have you been up to
this past week?”
He lifted the mug and closed his eyes,
inhaling the fresh brew. “Just what I needed,” he said, placing the
mug on the table. “I’ve been busy. Carlo and Nico found a body in
an old shack.”
Carlo and Nico, Boone’s older brothers, ran a
tackle and bait shop along the river. During the winter, they
closed for hunting.
Bridget gasped. Murder? That kind of thing
didn’t happen around Eaton, much less in the small town of Chance.
When she’d left last week, Boone’s big “case” was a missing
“A body! What do you mean ‘a body’? How do
you know it was murder?”