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“A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.” ~Henry David Thoreau
It was another beautiful afternoon at Silver Pine Lake as Bill Harris traveled southwest across the water in his small powerboat. Everyone knew largemouth bass and yellow perch could be found almost anywhere, but trout was more of a challenge. A person had to find the right spot and the best time of day, which for trout was early morning—or about an hour before sunset.
Bill cut the motor and let the boat drift. The kokanee, or silver trout, had been biting all summer, but he’d decided to wear his lucky red shirt anyway. His wife Susan had given it to him for his sixtieth birthday last spring. And every time he wore it, he came back with at least four big trout.
Bill and Susan had started spending their weekends at the lake decades ago, but this was their first full summer. So far, retirement had been all he’d hoped for, and he smiled as he pulled out his fishing rod. The past few months had been worth the long years he’d put in as a data controller for one of the largest banks in the state. Back then, Bill had dreamed about moments like this, so he took his time baiting the jig. Dropping his line in the water, he watched it sink towards the bottom of the lake, pulled it back up, then watched it fall again.
Half an hour later, he was reeling in his third fish. As he reached for his net, he heard raised voices. Glancing over, he saw two men walking along the shore, not far from the gravel road that cut through the woods to the highway. He couldn’t make out who they were, but that didn’t bother him. Plenty of people visited this end of the lake for hiking and fishing, not to mention the cabins for rent further down and the larger lake homes on the other side.
Not as many of those cabins were occupied after Labor Day, but enough that Bill turned his focus back to the fish and getting it in the net. It was another silver trout, and he knew Susan would be happy. She always cooked whatever fish he brought home, but she preferred trout. He looked at his watch and decided to try for one more. After all, he was wearing his lucky red shirt.
The voices grew louder and with the sound carrying across the water, Bill could almost make out what the two men were saying. Not that he really cared. He just wanted them to go further down the beach and away from his fishing spot.
When he dropped the line, the voices stopped. Relieved, he glanced back and saw the second man was picking up a long stick. At the last moment, Bill realized the stick was a rifle. As his eyes widened in surprise, he opened his mouth to say something…and fell backwards. The shot echoed across the lake, but Bill was dead before he hit the water.
Chloe Lawson pulled the ’67 Mustang convertible over to the side of the road and unfolded the map again. She had to be close. She’d been driving since early morning and it was only supposed to be a six-hour trip.
Her cat mewed once. Looking back at the carrier, Chloe replied, “I know, Luna. We’ll be there soon.” She turned the map around and tried again, then ran a hand through her light brown hair. “This is hopeless. There isn’t enough detail to see anything but the main road. We’ll have to stop and ask for directions at the next place that’s open.”
She pulled onto the road again and a few minutes later, saw a sign for a restaurant up ahead. As she took the turn, she could see a large log building with a parking lot in front. Pulling into a space by the main door, she noticed there weren’t many other vehicles.
“It probably gets busier in the evening,” she mused. “I’ll be right back,” she told the long-haired gray and white cat. Luna looked at her for a moment, then turned around and curled up with her back to Chloe.
“Tough crowd,” Chloe said, smiling slightly. She knew Luna was a bit spoiled, but she was also a very smart and normally sweet cat.
Walking into the restaurant, Chloe looked at the view across the room and paused. The large lake looked dark blue from here with the low mountains bordering it on the other side. She walked over to the woman at the counter. “This is Silver Pine Lake, isn’t it?”
The woman nodded, her blonde hair falling over one shoulder. Chloe guessed she was in her late twenties or early thirties. “Want something to drink?” the woman asked, then eyed Chloe more carefully. “Let me guess. A cup of tea, right?”
Chloe looked into the woman’s green eyes and smiled. “Actually, I’d like an espresso if you have it.”
The woman shrugged. “Suit yourself. The machine is in the bar.” She gestured towards an archway off to the side.
Chloe nodded and walked through it into another large space. This one was darker, but she could see several sets of glass doors opening onto a terrace with another spectacular view of the lake.
“Can I help you?” a man asked. Chloe guessed he was in his early thirties. He had light brown hair and deep blue eyes. Chloe told herself to quit staring as the man smiled. “Did you want something to drink?”
“Coffee,” Chloe managed. “I mean, an espresso if you have it. To go if possible.”
“Sit down.” The man gestured to a stool. “It’ll be ready in a minute.”
Chloe sat and told herself to focus. He was handsome, but she was acting like a schoolgirl.
“Looking for a cabin?” He smiled at her again and his blue eyes held hers.
“I’m, um, that is…” Chloe tried again. “I’m looking for Maddie Lawson’s place. I believe it’s on the east side of the lake?”
“Oh,” the man paused, and his eyes clouded slightly. “Miss Maddie passed away a few months ago.”
“I’m guessing that would make you Chloe,” a man’s voice said behind her. Turning, she saw a tall man with rugged good looks, probably in his early forties. His hair was a combination of dark and silver, carelessly pulled back in a ponytail. Holding out a hand, he offered it to her. “I’m Royce Collins.”
“Nice to meet you,” Chloe replied, shaking his hand. “You knew my aunt well?”
“Very well,” Royce replied. “She and I were good friends for a lot of years.” He looked Chloe up and down. “You look like her. Same nose. Same chin.” He smiled. “Same hazel eyes.”
Chloe nodded. “So, I’ve been told. I wish I’d known her better.”
Royce ran a hand along his mustache as if considering something, then smiled. “The house is just down the road, take the second right and follow it to the lake. Her driveway is the last left before you get to the lodge.”
“Thank you,” Chloe replied.
“And be sure to lock up tonight,” Royce added. “We’ve had some problems lately with thefts and…”
He stopped as a deputy walked in. “Royce, I need to talk to you,” the man said. He was Native-American and seemed to be in his late thirties. “Have you seen Bill Harris today?”
“No, I haven’t,” Royce replied.
The deputy looked at the man behind the bar. “Jason, have you seen him?”
“No,” Jason replied.
“He didn’t come home last night,” the deputy explained. “Susan called around eight, really upset.”
“It’s not like Bill to just take off.” Royce looked at Chloe, then back to the deputy. “This is Miss Maddie’s niece.” They exchanged a look, but Chloe guessed they were worried about the missing man.
“Thanks again,” Chloe said, picking up her coffee. “I hope you find your friend.”
“If you need anything, just ask Natalie,” Royce said. “She owns the lodge just past your place…she and Miss Maddie were real close.”
Chloe nodded and walked out of the bar. Getting into her car, she put the coffee cup into the holder between the seats. “Come on, Luna. Let’s get you settled, then we’ll figure out something for dinner.”
The cat meowed. “Yes, well you’ve got plenty of food.” Chloe glanced into the rear-view mirror as she started the car. “I just forgot to bring anything for me to eat.”
She followed Royce’s directions and soon found the road. She drove slowly along the curves, since the road was fairly narrow and steep. She was glad to see it got wider as they neared the water. “This is beautiful,” Chloe said. “Looks like the lodge up ahead, so this must be our turn.”
She took the left and followed it about a quarter of a mile. The cottage looked old, but charming, with a wide porch across the front. The front door was painted light blue.
Parking the car, Chloe opened her purse and found the large key. It had seemed a bit old-fashioned, but now she could see it suited the house. “Let’s get you inside,” she said to the cat, picking up the carrier.
As they walked up to the door, she set the carrier down and turned the key in the lock. The door opened easily and swung directly into a nice-sized living room with a huge fireplace. An archway separated this space from the dining area and kitchen. She could see a large table and chairs in front of French doors that opened out to a terrace. “Look at the garden!” Chloe exclaimed. The lake view was beautiful, but she’d always wanted a garden of her own.
Luna meowed. “Okay, we’ll get you situated, then I’ll explore the rest of the house. I even brought your food with me.” She set down her purse and pulled out a can of cat food, then took the carrier upstairs to one of the bedrooms. “A bit small, but this should do nicely.”
After she got the cat settled in the room with her food, water and litter box, Chloe decided to take a quick tour of the rest of the house. Then, she was going outside for a closer look at that garden.
The back bedroom was larger than she expected with French doors to a small balcony. She smiled. This would be the perfect place to set up her easel.
There was small bathroom along the hall, then a larger bedroom and bath on the other side of the house. There were windows overlooking the forest on two sides, and a view of the lake from the window over the clawfoot tub. Chloe decided she’d unpack later. It was late afternoon and she wanted to explore the garden before it got dark.
As she walked out onto the terrace, she saw steps that led down to the lake and a grass path that divided the garden. On either side of the path were beds of herbs, vegetables, flowers, and even some small fruits like strawberries and low blueberries. Raspberries were on one end and she’d guess blackberries on the other, with roses along the back. Even though it was September, the roses were still blooming here and there…and one area had raspberry shrubs still covered with fruit. They must have been cut down in the spring to bear this late in the fall.
Chloe knew a lot about gardens, even though she didn’t have much of one herself. She’d illustrated several herbal books and taken photos for a few well-known garden magazines. She’d always wanted a large garden, but there wasn’t room at her apartment for more than a few pots on the balcony.
Living in western Washington, she was used to the cooler days and knew they had a longer growing season. She’d read that this part of the country had short summers with more heat. Looking around at the vegetable beds, she was impressed with how many tomatoes were still on the vines. No frost yet, which meant she might have time to try canning a few. She’d always wanted to try that and started picking a few in case it got cold tonight.
“Hello?” she heard a woman’s voice say softly from the terrace.
Chloe spun around, half expecting to see a ghost.
A Native-American woman smiled. “I hope I didn’t scare you. I’m Natalie, and Royce called to say you’d arrived.” She held up a large key. “I wanted to return this and see if you needed anything for dinner.”
“It’s nice to meet you,” Chloe said, walking back to the terrace and setting the tomatoes on a small table. “You and my aunt were close?”
“Maddie was a good friend,” Natalie replied. “She was there for me after my husband…” She stopped, then smiled. “You look a bit like her.”
Chloe nodded. “So, I’ve been told. I wish I’d known her better.”
“She was a very independent woman,” Natalie said. “She lived out here by herself, but she always had the guest room ready if anyone needed a shoulder to cry on…or a safe place to stay.”
“Did that happen a lot?” Chloe asked. “I mean this seems like such a lovely place.”
“Oh, it’s a beautiful place to live,” Natalie assured her, “but there’s always…” She stopped and turned around at the sound of a meow. “Is this your cat?”
“Luna!” Chloe ran over and scooped up the cat. “How did you get out of the bedroom?”
“The guest room door doesn’t always latch,” Natalie said. “Do you mind?” She reached out to pet the cat.
“Not if she doesn’t,” Chloe replied. “She not very friendly with strangers…but she seems to like you.”
“I’m good with animals,” Natalie said. “It’s my gift.”
“Do you have a cat?” Chloe asked as she picked up Luna.
“I wish!” Natalie smiled. “Three dogs, a parakeet, two hamsters, and a goldfish, but my youngest is allergic to cats.” She walked over and picked up the tomatoes. “Let me get these for you.”
“Thank you. How many children do you have?” Chloe asked as they went back into the house. She closed the door, then put Luna down on the floor.
“Two boys,” Natalie replied. “Twelve and nine. They are the lights of my life, but they do keep me busy.”
As Luna ran after a moth that had also come in through the French doors, both women laughed. In the brighter light, Chloe saw that Natalie was probably in her mid-thirties and very pretty.
“I’m glad you stopped by,” Chloe said. “I remembered Luna’s food, but I didn’t think to pack any of my own. I guess I thought there would be a store or something…”
“Why don’t you come over to the lodge and have dinner?” Natalie asked. “My treat.”
“That’s very nice of you.” Chloe smiled. “I’ll just get a few more tomatoes and put Luna away. I don’t want to leave her out while I’m gone, not until she gets used to the house.” She paused. “My aunt has been gone for a few weeks. Are you the one who’s been taking care of the garden?”
“Me and my boys,” Natalie replied. “My oldest is very good with plants. That seems to be his gift.”
“I see.” Chloe smiled. There was nothing unusual about it really, but the way Natalie said gift made it seem like it should be spelled with a capital G.
Natalie looked over at the tomatoes. “There’s no frost expected for at least another week. I’m sure the tomatoes will be fine for a few more days.”
“Good to know,” Chloe said, walking with her to the front door. “Thank you again for the invitation. I’ll be over in about half an hour.”
“See you then,” Natalie replied. Chloe watched her walk down the driveway. It was still light enough to see, but she was surprised Natalie hadn’t driven over. Of course, she might know a shortcut back to the lodge.
As she closed the door, she looked around and saw Luna on the coffee table. “You know you’re not supposed to be up there…moth or no moth.” She picked up the cat and took her upstairs. “Let’s see if we can figure out this door, so you don’t get into trouble while I’m gone.”
With Luna securely tucked into the guest room, Chloe walked over to the master bedroom. It was a little warm up here, so she opened one of the windows facing the woods to let in some cool air.
Chloe went into the bathroom to wash her face, changed her clothes into something less wrinkled, then touched up her makeup. When she was ready to leave, she walked over to close the window, then stopped. A wolf was howling and as she listened, others joined in. It was an eerie sound and after a few moments, it stopped as quickly as it had begun.
She closed the window and got her jacket on the way downstairs, deciding she would definitely be driving to the lodge. Locking the front door, she walked quickly to her car. When she got in, Chloe glanced around, then realized it was perfectly normal for wolves, as well as other animals, to live in these woods. This was a lake surrounded by forest and rather remote despite the houses and lodge. Taking a deep breath, she turned her car around and drove towards the lodge.
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