A half tank up the mountains from L.A., Big Bear winters are isolating for heiress Bayliss Jones. Circled by the same cult that murdered her parents fifteen years before, death awaits her around every corner. Her shirttail relative and trustee of her estate, Sheriff Byron McGill, never agreed with local hearsay that made her a suspect. Air crackles between two people who clash, but the spoiled princess needs his help. Besides hers, the life of a young man, her secret baby, hangs in the balance. There’s no time for error.
Review from Storytellers’ Soiree:
Bayliss Jones, cleared (from) killing her parents, is still shunned by the tight mountain community. Todd, her ex-fiancée, and his love interest, cult-head Hilary Fleisher, create a ghost so that Bayliss will turn Jones Mountain over to the cult. Complicating matters, Byron McGill, a police detective, is entrusted by Jones' grandfather with her entire property. When Hilary and Todd give up on "nicer ways" they come after Bayliss heavily armed. Byron protects her, but the evil pair escapes the police during an earthquake.
As they get to know each other, Bayliss and Byron discover a fierce attraction.
Bayliss's fifteen-year-old son, whom she put up for adoption at birth, has become a member of this cult. Can Bayliss and Byron together defeat Todd and Hilary, save Avery from the cult, and come back for more of each other?
Deeds of Deceit is a thrilling, must-read page-turner set in the frosty confines of Big Bear Lake.
Deeds of Deceit is a thrilling, must-read page-turner set in the frosty confines of Big Bear Lake.
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Excerpt from Chapter One:
Big Bear, California hadn’t changed much during Byron McGill’s lifetime of thirty-three years. The huge lake remained in pristine condition, surrounded by giant granite spires, waterfalls, blue skies, and clean air. He admired how the lake looked when distinct seasons reflected on its surface. Crazy beautiful, nearly magical, there were the flowering buds of spring, the green shades of summer, and the gold-red spectrum of dogwoods, redbuds, and maples amidst evergreens, but his favorite season was about to begin, when snowy mountains glistened against a deep blue sky. His piece of heaven had continuity, but when it came to people, solidarity wasn’t always achieved. The misery of his shirttail relatives, the fathomlessly rich Jones family, began with a mistimed pregnancy.
A teenager at the time, Bayliss Jones had given birth to a baby boy. Without consulting Bayliss, her mother, Byron’s third cousin Susanna, had arranged for the baby’s adoption. Hours after a bitter argument, her parents, the prettiest woman in town and her affluent black father, former quarterback at USC, were murdered.
Upstanding folk pointed their fingers at Bayliss and believed her lumber tycoon grandfather had paid off the right people to shield his only grandchild. Just two years older than her, Byron and Bayliss had experienced the same place but from different angles. Money wasn’t everything. Loyalty was, but he didn’t have to like her bad temper and snobbish attitude.
Thoughts of her beckoned him to glance upward toward Jones Peak. Transportation to her massive lodge was about to become more difficult. Bayliss, required to live there until her thirtieth birthday, would win freedom in another week. Maybe she’d become a snowbird and move south. In any event, the birthday girl would receive the entire mountain with the lodge and two million in index funds. He let out a sigh of relief knowing his involvement would end. They’d both been stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Her grandfather, unable to face running Big Bear Lumber after the death of his son, had sold and invested in the funds but hadn’t foreseen the balloon-pricking recession. Byron looked forward to not watching expenditures eat away at the principal. Soon, besides choosing where to live, Bayliss faced another kind of freedom; her divorce from Todd Jones was scheduled for the last court day of the year. Byron wondered if Bayliss knew Jones lived openly with another woman. Perhaps that was why the louse, who’d made Bayliss pregnant as a teen, hadn’t contested the prenuptial agreement.
Having been named trustee since his ripe age of twenty-one, Byron regretted proving reliability. In short, he’d been caught being honest too many times when Bayliss’s grandfather, Lanyard Jones, discovered the opposite to be true with his lawyer. Had his son Woodruff been alive, he would be running the lumber company, and this arrangement wouldn’t have happened.
Woodruff, when alive, brought the enterprise to new heights with log homes dotting Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead. As the lower section of Mount Jones and other areas had become barren of trees as it filled with luxurious log homes, young pinions were planted. Now with reforestation entirely reversed, one monster log-mansion after another was blocked by big trees and high gates. Today was the fifteenth anniversary of the grisly Jones crime scene that had adorned California’s front pages. Dubbed the “Eight Thousand Foot Murder”, reporters had camped out around Mount Jones for months.
When victims are arranged with deliberate care and posed to appear alive, their last moments are agonizing. Becoming a police detective allowed him access into the cold case, but his failure to solve it frayed his temper. No one felt his lack of ability the way he did. He pushed against his hunches all the time.
Digging past rock bottom, he’d come upon activities of tree huggers. Nothing pointed directly at her parents’ murder, but he’d noted other eco-crimes that year. One cult-like group won notoriety about living in forests, eating roots and shoots, and foraging for wild mushrooms. They also committed vicious acts; loggers in the northern Sierra Nevada had become blinded and had lost limbs due to tree spikes. Nearby, some residential projects had been turned to charcoal, but none of the victims were murdered with hands similarly posed: Here is the church, and here is the steeple. Open it up and see all the people. Byron imagined their pre-death taunting.
Publicly scorned Bayliss had never rebuilt her reputation. At times Byron had felt sorry for her and the troubles she faced except that she still treated him as if he were an insect. Every chance she got, she used her wits to smash him flat. While Halfpence, as he’d continued to call her, had been adorable with her coppery tight curls and every color she wore looked radiant against her mocha skin, she was never popular. Even before the tragedy, her expression revealed her “Get out of my way, I’m coming through” attitude.
Driving his new hardtop Jeep Rubicon through downtown, he admired Big Bear Village festooned in holiday splendor. Santa and Mrs. Claus appeared to be busy with tots today. Even a single guy like himself had a sense of Christmas spirit. He’d already given himself a present, the red Jeep, and he’d mounted a fake moosehead on the front grill. The grog festival had come and gone, but the tour of lights was in full swing. Listening to the weather, he heard snow was predicted. He swung onto Pine Knott Avenue toward the big blue kiss, Big Bear Lake that only froze at the edges, wanting to check on his parents who lived over their store.
His mom decorated McGill’s Skipjack Bait and Supply with multicolored lights around windows. This year the abundance of lights on the twenty-foot Jeffery Pine was weighing down boughs. Their shop would have been hopping earlier in the day. Winter anglers went after illusive brown trout at Deep Creek and Bear Creek and stopped for artificial lures, fishing licenses, and other supplies. The bait shop and gas station arrangement remained the same. Because fishing from boats slowed in winter, the gas pump on the dock that extended out back was shut down, but his mother had adorned it with a wreath.
He squeezed the jeep between white lines and dropped three quarters into the meter, more than enough for a half hour. For any cop, getting slapped with a parking ticket led to teasing, but as the chief, it’d be worse. Large snowflakes blew against his face, and he noticed the sky was going gray. Ducking his head against the cold breeze, he raced up the steps. The stencil on the double-glass door, Skipjack Bait, had been repainted around edges. Obviously, his dad had no plans to retire. Otherwise the thrifty mountaineer would consider new lettering frivolous.
Opening the door to the minnow tank, he whiffed the fresh fish scent destined to tempt perch. On the opposite wall, he felt a stab of sadness as he gazed at the photo taken by the Grizzly News of Lanyard Jones, Bayliss’s grandfather, decked out in tweeds and holding a string of trout. As an eight-year-old tournament winner, Byron remembered going along with the kindly black millionaire to teach him about depths and why crankbait was the most productive lure. You can fish it on top, everywhere in between and all the way to the bottom.
It wasn’t long before his college-aged, third cousin Susanna snared Woodruff, the elder’s reluctant fishing buddy. Eventually Byron replaced him, and the Jones and McGill families hung out on a regular basis. When Susanna and Woody’s daughter, Bayliss, hit her teens, her “Oh shit, I’m wasted” and other iffy behavior got her into all kinds of trouble.
All too well, Byron remembered the day of her parents’ murder. Their housekeeper, terrified by her discovery, stumbled from the log mansion on Mount Jones. Outside around noon, waiting to go fishing with her grandfather, Byron heard the maid’s cries and called 911 since the housekeeper had contended they were alive. Within minutes, the idyllic piney mountain was swarming with police. A helicopter thundered overhead, and the housekeeper led the officers through the two-story great room to the kitchen. Sneaking in behind them, Susanna and Woody sat lifeless against a wall, mouths gagged, and bound with duct tape, wrists and hands were wrapped in an odd church-steeple position. Here's the church, and here's the steeple. Open the door and see all the people. Here's the parson going upstairs, and here he is saying his prayers. Because Susanna had taught him the popular nursery rhyme with hand positions, he’d pondered the congregation at the Community Church on the Lake; random faces had a way of floating into his memory. Both had suffered gunshot wounds from a medium-caliber gun at the base of their skulls, execution style. Even at close range, they would not have died instantaneously.
Arriving downstairs, Bayliss became the only person of interest. The housekeeper gave reports of a big fight that morning between Susanna and teenage Bayliss, unwed mother of a week-old baby boy, after adoptive parents picked him up. Police tested her hands for gunpowder, and then questioned her into the night. Finding no evidence to hold her, they released her to her grandfather. Murder and stares, there are many ways to die.
Her grandparents, Lanyard and Dorthea, arranged Bayliss’s visits with a psychiatrist when her grieving took a macabre turn. To this day Bryon kept her continuing envisions of her mother’s ghost private. After her parents’ assassination, townsfolk and even her grandparents had expected her to drop out of school. She didn’t. Whatever she’d started, she’d seen it through. She’d soldiered on and fulfilled many other clichés. Presently commuting to CU Riverside, she was closing in on a doctorate in psychology. Her hobby was photography, something that suited the pain-in-the-ass outsider.
“Mom, Dad,” he said. Behind the counter, his parents looked up. Coming closer, he saw they were arranging various types of crankbait, some with a bill which acted as a cover for the hook. His dad smiled and walked around.
“Hello, Son. Just got a shipment. Supposedly, these hooks hold their sharpness.” His dad’s overalls were pale at the knees, but the sole owner of Skipjack had managed to buy out other relatives.
“New on the market?” Byron asked and bent to inspect. “Nice, hooks with a split ring.”
“Son, like all hooks, nothing lasts forever. They need to be changed out if defective. I remember how you used to add Mudbugs.”
“Sure, kept me from losing fish when they jump and try to throw the bait.” Byron chuckled, hoping to go after bass tomorrow, the start of his two week vacation. When you go after something, bait it with a disguise but something that grabs attention.
His mom jumped with a girlish squeal and rushed for him. You’d think he hadn’t visited in months. She stepped gracefully in sheepskin Uggs, wearing a red sweatshirt with snowflake appliqués. Somehow he managed to get his arms around both of them, a feat even for a big guy. His parents were socially benign but if you asked them, they knew everything about everyone who lived between highways thirty-eight and eighteen, but they didn’t know who’d adopted Bayliss’s baby. He did but never spoke of the closed adoption that landed her baby in the arms of Larry and Melissa Creswell of Lake Arrowhead, now long divorced. Their son Dennis was in his second year at UCLA. Keeping track of everything-about-Bayliss was important.
“You’re not going up the mountain tomorrow morning, are you?” his mom scolded. “You’ll meet the storm head-on.”
His dad, Dunigan McGill, who knew weather by smelling the air, raised his eyebrows in protest. “Weather won’t turn nasty until tomorrow night, Mary Beth. Still, we’d love to have Bayliss visit.”
Mary Beth held a stern gaze on Byron. “If and when the storm hits, ask her. Rules are rules, but I never for the life of me could understand why Lanyard laid down the law that Bayliss had to live up there alone.”
“He needed to protect her from the town.” Byron knew the order sounded outrageous, but the looks folks gave her were on the evil side.
A smile curved Dunigan’s lips. “That scheme didn’t protect her from marrying Todd Jones, the hardly-working set designer. He’s with some green enthusiast, what’s her name, Holly Fisher?”
“Hilary Fleisher heads up Get Megawatts.” Byron guessed Don Juan’s interest in the crass woman was more opportunistic than personal.
Mary Beth shrugged. “Whatever that means, get megawatts.”
Dunigan added, “Her group hopes to fund a windmill farm, Hon, for generating electricity.”
It was also a front organization for a cult, Byron knew, but they hadn’t done anything illegal. Kids joined when their egos were stroked, believing their talents were absolutely necessary to improve society. That was how Hilary recruited them, but unlike them, she was high in the hierarchical structure. Eventually, all cults abuse general members. Besides the work they do for little or no pay, they serve politically. Since recruits are forced to attend political rallies, moneyed people, swayed by their enthusiasm, invested in Get Megawatts. Byron said, “A windmill farm won’t come to fruition. Hundred-foot pines block the wind, making turbines non-viable.” Glancing at the wall, he straightened a fishing kayak leaning slightly sideways.
“Gonna be law suits.” Agitated, Dunigan began a tirade, sympathizing with investors who wouldn’t see a return on their money, but Mary Beth lacked interest.
“Ask Bayliss down, Byron,” she snapped, marching toward a crate packed with Ready-2-Fish kits. Glaring at him, she reached down and individually hung kits on a child-level pegboard. ‘We have a guest bedroom upstairs, you know. I’ll tidy it up.”
“That won’t be necessary.” Halfpence expected him to drive up the second Saturday of every month, transfer her monthly allowance and pay maintenance expenses including Mighty Maids, their tasks clearly stipulated in Lanyard Senior’s will. A pair arrived weekly to clean the two-story entry. Bayliss took care of areas she used-- the kitchen, the greenhouse with indoor lap pool, and her upstairs bedroom with attached bath. With seven other bedrooms and baths closed off, the maids dusted through the main floor billiard room, theatre, gym, and temperature-controlled wine storage. In three hours, they were in and out. He’d tried to hire a live-in housekeeper, but the word was out; Mount Jones was haunted. An unusual number of people complained of malfunction of cameras, believing a spirit siphoned off energy from battery-run devices. Nonsensical ballyhoo, he thought, and ground his teeth, reflecting on his last conversation with Bayliss. Her mother’s supposed ghost had returned, and like a restless murmur, he’d need to argue it away with logic.
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Deeds of Deceit AMAZON buy link: http://www.amazon.com/Deeds-Deceit-Kathleen-Rowland-ebook/dp/B006DK1BVS