Mystery/Crime, 397 pages, cover art by Pat Evans
Rosalyn Everett was missing and presumed dead. Her dogs had been rescued, and her house was abandoned. But a blue merle collie haunts her woods and a figure in bridal white traverses her property.
How do the mysteries at River Rose connect to Jennet's purchase of an antique silver sleigh?
Every time I stepped on River Rose land, the snowswept expanse seemed more bizarre.
Or was 'bizarre' the best word to describe it? Haunted would be better; forbidding better yet. Once before I'd had the feeling that Rosalyn's abandoned house didn't want us invading its rooms.
Now that was bizarre.
This afternoon the usual otherworldly silence greeted me. Scattered animal prints and fallen branches marred the snow. The festive Christmas wreath still adorned the front door in mid-January, its ribbon crisp and bright. A discernible pall hung over the deserted kennel buildings, and the dark woods behind the house rose to meet a sullen sky. They appeared to issue a voiceless warning:
Don't come any closer.
Leaving the Taurus idling, I grabbed a bag of beef chunks and made my way up to the house calling Icy's name loudly.
An echo flung it back to me, an echo followed by a deep bark. Then another. I'd hoped for a response but hadn't expected one.
I called again. "Icy! Treat!"
He emerged from the side of the house near the blue spruce where I'd first seen him. And oh, he was magnificent! Large and majestic with a silvery-blue coat that shone in the last of the afternoon light as if it had been freshly bathed and brushed. Impossible, of course.
The Quicksliver Collie.
I held my breath, hoping he wouldn't move.
A piece of light green material dangled from his mouth. A rag?
"Are you hungry?" I rattled the bag, a sound that unfailingly drew my dogs from all corners of the house.
He tilted his head, licked his chops.
I tossed a chunk of beef into the snow. He lounged for it, swallowed it in one gulp, and stared at the bag in my hand.
"Poor hungry baby."
I tossed two more pieces and eyed the material that had fallen into the snow.
Focused on devouring the beef, the collie didn't object when I bent down to pick it up. Wet and torn, definitely the worse for wear, it was still recognizable as a woman's blouse or shirt, probably silk.
The leap was inevitable. Who but Rosalyn Everett would have worn this blouse found on her property?
From somewhere a snippet of information floated into my mind. Sue Appleton saying, "Rosalyn often wore green. It was her favorite color."
Icy had apparently brought the blouse from the woods. If I could find the place… There might be other garments there. There might be a grave.
I showed Icy the empty bag. "No more. Sorry."
He sniffed at it warily, then dashed off back to the yard, up the incline, and into the woods.
Still carrying the blouse, I followed him, followed his imprints in the snow, crossing treacherous roots that reached out of the ground cover to entrap me. Soon I'd lost sight of the dog but not his tracks. He must have come and gone this way often enough to create a path of sorts.
The trees grew close together. Hungry branches reached out for me, snagging my sleeves. In an alarmingly short time, my breath grew ragged and my heartbeat raced. Just when I thought I could go no farther, I caught sight of Icy. He had come to a stop in a clearing at a large nest of branches. His makeshift home or…
Something had disarranged the neat order of the branches, scratched or clawed them aside to expose more green material.
I stopped quickly and grabbed onto the trunk of a slender tree for support, still breathing heavily as the significance of the discovery caught up with me. This was Rosalyn's grave. I had found her.
The collie lay down close to the nest, panting, waiting with the air of one who has completed his mission.
Rosalyn's grave. At last. But shouldn't I make certain her body lay beneath the branches?
Yes, but I didn't want to touch a corpse unless there was no alternative. Not when I was alone in the woods except for a dog who wasn't mine. Not when I had my cell phone in my pocket and access to an officer of the Foxglove Corners Police Department.
Just move the branches aside with your boot, I told myself. You won't have to touch anything.
No. I couldn't be that disrespectful.
Keeping my eye on the gravesite and the guardian collie, I called Lieutenant Mac Dalby.