ON HER FATHER’S GRAVE
Rogue River Novella No. 1
THE ROGUE RIVER NOVELLAS
On Her Father’s Grave
by Kendra Elliot
Gone to Her Grave
by Melinda Leigh
Her Grave Secrets
by Kendra Elliot
Walking on Her Grave
by Melinda Leigh
ON HER FATHER’S GRAVE
Rogue River Novella No. 1
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 Kendra Elliot
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Montlake Romance, Seattle
Amazon, the Amazon logo, and Montlake Romance are trademarks of
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Cover design by Marc Cohen
Stevie Taylor parked her car between a police cruiser and the ambulance, recognition washing over her. The grounds surrounding O’Rourke’s Lake hadn’t changed in thirteen years. Beat-up cars and older 4x4s crammed every inch of shoulder along the twisting road to the hidden lake. The teens had left beer bottles and soda cans on the vehicles’ hoods, and chip bags scattered in the dirt.
Apparently O’Rourke’s was still the place to party away from the prying eyes of parents and police.
But tonight, on this Memorial Day weekend, sadness hung like a heavy fog over the recreation site.
Someone had died during the fun.
Stevie was to start her new job as a Solitude cop tomorrow morning, but Roy had called her in, desperate for another warm body to help interview the swarm of upset teens at the lake. Their schoolmate Hunter Brant had died and according to Roy, Hunter was a popular football player from the tiny Solitude High School and had been partying with a big group. News of his death had rocketed through the teenage social network and too many teens were crowding the scene.
Stevie stepped out of her car and the moist, lightly decaying odor of the lake triggered old memories. How many evenings had she illegally drunk and hung out with her friends here during high school? No one had ever died at the lake. An old rumor claimed one kid had drowned two decades before her class’s time and had started haunting the surrounding woods. It was the type of tale teenagers exchanged over campfires along with alcohol, trying to scare one another.
Tonight’s death was real. Chief of Police Roy Krueger’s voice had cracked during their call. “I don’t know what happened yet, Stevie. But this is going to hit our town hard.”
Solitude was a tight-knit town. It stood on the bank of Oregon’s Rogue River, which was currently swollen and churning from the spring’s heavy rains. The small town was halfway between the southern Oregon Coast and Interstate 5, the major freeway that ran from Mexico to the northern US border. Basically, Solitude was the middle of nowhere. The closest big city was Portland, a solid four hours away. Solitude had a main street with the usual small businesses, but no retail chains. Growing up here meant a life of outdoor recreation, family, and friends. Residents waved as cars drove by. Neighbors called to ask about your cold when you didn’t show up for church.
Stevie had loved it and hated it.
Her weapon weighed heavy on her belt as she followed the worn path between the tall firs toward the lake. Memories and a far-off hum of conversation guided her steps. She swore as she realized she’d left her flashlight in her vehicle. The sun hadn’t set, but it would before long. It’d been an unusually hot day for May, and she understood the teens’ desire to cool down and blow off steam at the lake.
The path opened up and the lake spread out in front of her. A gentle slope ran down to the water, creating a solid dirt beach. She paused, startled that the chief considered this a “big” group of teens. About thirty huddled in groups, colorful towels thrown about their shoulders. Some parents had arrived, consoling their kids.
I’m not in the big city any longer.
Stevie had worked cases in Los Angeles, where hundreds of people made up the crowds at crime scenes.
She didn’t want to ever do it again.
A cop moved within the groups, talking quietly and taking notes. Off to the far right, a few four-wheeled ATVs were positioned in a half-circle to shine their headlights on a group of men gathered around a motionless body on the ground.
Stevie felt the weight of curious gazes. To the teens she was an outsider, maybe to some of the adults too. Moving past the groups, she scanned the young faces; she didn’t recognize a single one, but deep inside she wished she did. That was one of the reasons she’d returned to Solitude. She’d grown weary of living in a giant sea of unknown people in the big city. Feeling isolated and adrift, she’d ached for familiar faces.
She strode to the group of cops studying the body at their feet. The male teenager was blond, wearing long shorts and a tank top. He wasn’t wet, so not a drowning. No visible blood or injury.
He looked like he was sleeping.
Roy’s big bulk turned to greet her.
“There she is. Thanks for coming out, hon.” Solitude’s new chief of police looked like Santa dressed in a cop’s uniform, and usually his jolly attitude matched his exterior, but tonight the smile on his round face was distracted and strained.
She made a mental note to talk to Roy about how he addressed her in public. Sure, he’d been her father’s best friend all his life, and this was small-town America, but he needed to be professional in front of her new coworkers.
“Evening, Chief.” She used his title instead of “Uncle Roy,” the nickname she’d called him by for thirty years. He wasn’t her uncle, but he’d always felt like one. Roy blinked, his bushy brows coming together. “Hello,” she greeted the other men.
“Good to have you back in town, Stevie,” answered Kenny Fox. He winked at her, his smile honest but sad in his lean face. She and Kenny had known each other since elementary school. The other cops nodded at her. Two EMTs hung back from the group, packing away their equipment, their initial services unsuccessful. The slump to their shoulders made Stevie’s heart contract. They moved slowly, waiting to perform their next duty: transporting the body to the morgue. The entire group was solemn.
“This is Hank from the county medical examiner’s office,” said Roy, gesturing to a man who was awkwardly getting to his feet. “This is our newest patrol officer, Stevie Taylor.” Kenny put out a hand to steady the rising gray-haired man.
“Lord, help my knees. I’m not as young as I used to be,” said Hank. He nodded at Stevie, the deep sorrow lines in his face reminding her of Eeyore. “You Bill Taylor’s daughter?”
Stevie gave a short nod as a numbness shot through her veins.
“My condolences. Your father was a good man,” said Hank.
“Thank you, Hank,” she said.
Change the subject.
Conversation about her father was tender and raw. She looked at Roy. “You said the teens claimed he simply collapsed? No one touched him? No blows to his head?”
Roy nodded. “Less than an hour ago.”
Stevie glanced at the group of teens. “His parents been notified?”
“Yes. They’re out of town but headed back tonight.”
She briefly closed her eyes.
Nothing worse than a loved one dying and not being there.
“Could be his heart or something,” Roy speculated.
“Awfully young for a heart attack,” mumbled one of the cops.
“I’ve seen teens on the news who’ve died of heart problems.” Kenny spoke up. “Athletes especially. They have heart issues no one knows about and then
. They suddenly drop dead.”
The lights of the ATVs shone harshly on Hunter Brandt’s body. Stevie eyed his bare arms, her gaze automatically searching for the track marks that’d appeared on two-thirds of the dead bodies she’d seen in her past job. “He take something? Or inhale anything? You see any injection sites?” she asked the examiner.
Hank pulled off his gloves, eyeing her curiously. “I’ll know when I have him on the table. In this light I can’t see what I need to, but there’s no sign of anything in his mouth or nostrils, and I didn’t spot any injection sites. Yet. First interviews say no one saw him take any foreign substances, right?” He raised a brow at Roy.
Roy nodded. “Nothing but beer and soda, but we’re still asking the other kids. I don’t know what would cause a collapse like that.”
Stevie straightened in surprise. “A lot of things. Teens pop every pill or inhale any powder their friends claim will give them a high and they take it, regardless of the amount.”
“Kids around here don’t do that. We don’t have a drug problem,” Roy stated firmly.
Stevie exchanged a glance with Kenny, who looked away.
Does Roy really believe that?
“Drugs are everywhere. Kids know how to hide them. And they don’t talk to adults about it. Especially police.”
“Maybe it’s on every corner in the big city where you’ve been.” Roy frowned and wiped at the sweat on his forehead with a handkerchief. “But outside of some illegal pot smoking, not much of that happens here. We keep a tight lid on things.”
Hank shoved a hat on his head and stiffly bent over to pick up his case. “I’ll let you know what I find tomorrow when I open him up. Surprisingly, it’s been a quiet holiday weekend in Rogue County until tonight. You got what you need, Chief?”
Roy nodded. “Pictures are done. Evidence collected.”
Hank glanced at the EMTs. “Bag him up.” He headed toward the path that left the lake.
“Okay,” said Roy, looking to the group. “We’ve got a lot of people to talk to. I want statements from every kid who was here tonight. If they weren’t here when Hunter died, I want to know how they found out and why they came.”
“You don’t think one of these kids did something to Hunter, do you, Chief?” Kenny asked. “Surely the autopsy will show some medical issue he didn’t know about.”
“I’m not waiting until tomorrow to find out,” Roy stated. “Divide them up and let’s get this first round of interviews done. Carter can’t do them all.” He moved toward the teens, the other cops following.
Kenny moaned. “Wish Zane was here. The more people the better for this.”
“Who’s Zane?” Stevie asked. She flipped through the small spiral notebook she always kept in her pocket or purse. She still had notes from her previous job. She sped through them, not wanting any reminders of her past.
Maybe she should buy some new notebooks.
“He comes back from vacation tomorrow. He’s been with us about five years.”
Stevie nodded. In that case, she’d met most of the Solitude Police Department except Zane. Sheila was the support staff. The patrol guys blended together in her brain; she’d get to know them better on the job. Roy had been patrol until ten days ago, when Stevie’s father had died, and then he’d stepped into the chief of police shoes, reluctantly filling his closest friend’s position.
Roy’s promotion had opened up a position on the Solitude PD, and Stevie had been in the right place at the right time, both physically and emotionally, to accept the job.
“Did Hunter have a girlfriend?” Stevie asked.
“Good question. Maybe one of the other guys has heard,” answered Kenny.
Stevie eyed a dark-haired girl who was openly weeping within a small cluster of comforting friends. “I bet that’s her.”
“Lots of tears going on tonight,” commented Kenny. “The town hasn’t recovered from your father’s death, and now this.”