Oh, golly, do I have something exciting for you guys! A new novel in a new series, spun-off from BOTH my Patrick Flint and What Doesn’t Kill You Series. Release date for BIG HORN: A Jenn Herrington Wyoming Mystery is 6/1. But it’s not just a mystery. It’s a legal thriller. It’s a novel of Wyoming suspense and adventure. And it’s a romantic exploration of one couple’s journey back to each other. Squee! I love this one.
I love it so much, in fact, that I’m doing two things to celebrate its release. The first is that I’ll give you an excerpt each week via this blog leading up to it. Starting today!
The second is that for anyone that pre-orders the BIG HORN Kindle ebook, you’ll get BUCKLE BUNNY, a Wyoming suspense novella. Free. Included with your ebook. You can do that here: https://amzn.to/3KSKe5q.
Before I release you to the exciting BIG HORN prologue, though, I want you to know that my Amazon Top 25 bestselling Patrick Flint novel, SWITCHBACK, will be free in Prime Reading (and Kindle Unlimited) from now through May. If you haven’t tried it, now’s the time. Do it here: https://amzn.to/3xzADMO.
With no further ado, here’s the prologue of BIG HORN:
Big Horn, Wyoming
The clouds drifted in front of the sliver of a moon, blocking Jennifer Herrington’s view of the snowscape behind the house. Deck boards creaked, and the cold against her bare feet shocked her fully awake. What am I doing outside in the middle of the night, barefoot and without a robe, much less a coat? She wasn’t sleepwalking, per se. Something had woken her from a deep, warm slumber, and she’d responded on autopilot, like a reluctant protagonist from a Mary Higgins Clark novel.
She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. In the distance, muffled by the wind, she heard sounds that didn’t belong. Maybe that was what had lured her from bed. Is it a voice? The only people onsite at The Big Horn Lodge were Jennifer, her husband Aaron, and the proprietor and her client, George Nichols, and she’d left Aaron snoring in bed. Unless George was yelling at himself—not an impossibility, if he were drinking again—then either her ears were playing tricks on her, or the sound was coming from somewhere else.
Only there was no one else around.
Their location was remote and isolated, at the base of the Bighorn Mountains. Still, sound did carry like crazy out there. Sometimes, when the wind was just right, Jennifer could hear distinct conversations at the nearest neighbor’s place, over a mile away. Or she assumed it was them and not the ghosts of Native Americans roaming the foothills, as the locals claimed.
The wind swept the voices to her again. Male, maybe more than one. Agitated. Angry.
“. . . your fault . . .”
“. . . can’t . . . sorry . . .”
Light shining from a window of George’s cottage caught her eye. She grabbed the porch railing and peered more closely at the little house, wondering if that’s where the sound was coming from. She heard it again. Definitely coming from another direction. But she paused. Something seemed off about the cottage, and she squinted. What is it? Then it clicked for her. His front door was ajar, a thin line of light crossing the porch. In the middle of the night when it’s thirty-degrees outside? If he were passed out near the door, he might die of exposure before morning. She couldn’t let that happen.
For a split second, she thought about waking Aaron. But as she turned back toward the lodge, she saw a pair of men’s muck boots by the doormat. It would only take her a minute to check on George. She’d left her phone in the bedroom, but, if she needed Aaron’s help, she could call him from George’s phone. She slipped her feet into the too-big boots and clomped off the deck. Goose flesh pimpled her arms and legs. Her Texas fall sleepwear of silky pants and a baby doll tee wasn’t cutting it in Wyoming, certainly not outdoors in this onslaught of early cold and snow. In her sleepy state—made worse by nightmares and insomnia that had plagued her since their arrival—the dry air had tricked her into thinking she didn’t need a coat, but she wished she had one now. She broke into a trot, and her heels rode up in the boots. She caught a toe on a hidden rock and tripped, crashing onto her hands and knees.
“Ow!” The snow had an icy bite to it. She scrambled to her feet, brushed off her hands, and ran faster, lifting her knees as high as she could while still moving forward. Her quads and butt felt the weight of the boots almost immediately.
At George’s front door, she poked her head inside. The light she’d seen was from the kitchen. “George?” she called. She knocked for good measure. Her eyes swept the floor. She was relieved not to see him crumpled around a bottle. “George?”
Best to do a quick bed check.
She walked in. A musty smell hit her. She’d only been in the ramshackle building once before. The sparse furniture was thrift-store and threadbare. The place was sorely in need of Lysol, multi-purpose cleaner, and elbow grease, not to mention an overall facelift. She made her way to the only bedroom and stopped at the open door. The drapes were drawn, and it was dark inside.
The silence mocked her.
This time, there was a noise, but not from his room. It was from somewhere outside again. The same man sounds, elevated. Her pulse quickened. Dread rooted her in place, but she forced herself to break its grip and enter the room.
The bed was empty.
Her eyes adjusted, and she hurried through. No George, anywhere.
Moonlight returned and shone through the window. For a moment, Jennifer imagined she saw something outside. She clutched the collar of her pajama tee. Should she call Aaron? But she didn’t see a phone on the TV tray that was serving as a bedside table. She ran into the kitchen. No phone on the wall, the counter, or the table. In the living room—nothing, save an empty bottle of Wyoming Whiskey on the coffee table. She put her hand on the wooden surface and felt a few dribbles of liquid. Darn it. He’d found the liquor she’d hidden from him.
No phone anywhere.
The voices grew louder outside. One of them rose to a roar. Or was it really a voice? On the front range, it could be a mountain lion. Or a bear. She went out onto the porch and lifted her hair from her ear. The roar came from the barn, where a faint light glimmered. Only it wasn’t a roar. It wasn’t even a voice. She recognized the noise.
It was the log splitter.
Panic gripped her. George’s pride and joy, a conical drill bit powered by a tractor engine, capable of rending thick sections of tree into split logs with the slightest pressure against its tip. Capable of doing the same and worse to a careless or drunk human operator. George is out there after drinking so much whiskey that he left his door open in the middle of the night? She’d told him earlier that day that the lodge was low on logs, and now she regretted it.
Jennifer would have preferred to have her big husband with her, but she didn’t have time to go after him. She had to get George away from the splitter, without delay. She took off at a sprint for the barn, slipping and tripping but somehow managing to stay upright. It was only twenty yards away, but at nearly seven thousand feet in altitude, her chest heaved, and frigid air seared her lungs like she was sucking on a blow torch. A few feet from the hanging barn doors, she tried to slow down. She lost traction and caught herself on one side of the doors.
A person barreled out and past her, knocking her aside. Light from the barn revealed someone of medium-to-tall height, with a ball cap covering the hair and pulled low over the face, and layers of bulky clothing hiding body type. Except for the shoulder, where the clothing was ripped away, exposing skin. Not just skin. Skin and a dark patch. The brief glimpse slammed into her brain like a battering ram. A tattoo of a snake coiled in rocks with D-T-O-M below it.
She’d seen it before. It was a recurring image in her nightmares. For a fraction of a second, she was frozen in place, speechless. The tattoo was real. Did that mean the man in her nightmares was real, too—a memory instead of a phantom? That it was George, who she’d let into her inner circle? It was too horrible to contemplate. Because that man pulled out an AR-15 and opened fire on a schoolyard. On her and other children. But it was just a bad dream. Easily explainable based on events like Sandy Hook and Columbine and her own recent case in Houston. Wasn’t it?
She pushed the thoughts away. The ripped clothing. The log splitter. Those weren’t good things. She had to stay in the present.
“George?” she cried.
The person didn’t stop. Didn’t answer her. George. It has to be.
Inside the barn, the roar hadn’t stopped either. Why did George leave the log splitter on? Was the exposed shoulder a sign he’d been injured? He’d moved like he was okay. Okay enough, anyway. She’d just go turn the machine off, then she’d follow him back to his cottage and make sure he was all right.
She stepped into the barn. A single caged bulb hung from the ceiling, illuminating the interior in meager light that was mostly shadows. Jennifer frowned, inhaling the scents of sawdust and motor oil. It was spooky, but warmer. She rubbed her prickly arms and strode past the big orange tractor that George used outside to get to the red tractor carcass that housed the engine powering his contraption. As she drew closer, hair rose on her neck like hackles. Something felt wrong. Instead of turning off the key, she kept going, intuition drawing her toward the splitter on the back of the tractor.
When she reached the rear corner, she looked around it toward the evil-looking cone. What she saw, she wouldn’t be able to wash from her memory with a gallon of bleach and a stiff bristle brush.
Bloody boots. Red-splashed legs. A torso drenched in blood. A note on its chest. I AM A MURDERER. A photo by a hand of two men and a woman picnicking beside snowmobiles.
And an arm, ripped and thrown two feet away from the rest of the body.
She had to do something. Behind her, she heard a grating noise as the barn doors slid further open, then the distinctive action of a shell chambering into a shotgun.
To lock in your pre-order Kindle ebook and bonus novella, order BIG HORN + BUCKLE BUNNY, here: https://amzn.to/3KSKe5q.
Now, here’s Chapter One: https://pamelafaganhutchins.com/2022/04/26/sneak-peek-big-horn-chapter-one/