Lynn stood at the back of their small silver SUV, smiling as she watched a soft snow falling quietly around her, wisps of ginger hair slipping from beneath her white cap. Jake unloaded their luggage onto a cart. He had given her a choice of places to spend their two-week honeymoon and she had known immediately where she wanted to go. Silver Pines Ski Lodge. Their Christmas wedding provided the perfect opportunity.
A brisk wind suddenly whipped up, and she hugged her coat around her, shivering. She smiled, thinking of the stories her mom and dad told about their honeymoon here twenty-five years ago. They had looked at pictures, laughing at her dad’s attempts at skiing, or more precisely, not skiing. He’d spent their honeymoon with a broken ankle from his first trip down the slope. Even so, they had wonderful memories of Silver Pines.
A sudden movement at the edge of the tall snow-covered pines, just beyond the sloping drive, caught her attention. Two men in black coats stood face to face, shouting angrily at each other. They were too far away to hear words, but their body language spoke clearly. Each of them had a gloved hand on an envelope, tugging it back and forth. She shrugged and glanced away, but a flash from something shiny caught her eye. She watched, her mouth gaping, as one of the men plunged a knife into the other, putting his arm around him as if hugging him goodbye. She stared as the man dropped to his knees, then fell on his face in a bank of snow. The killer put the envelope into his coat pocket, calmly wiping the blade on the victim’s coat. Taking him by the arms, he dragged him to the side of the road, then rolled him over into a snow bank.
She gasped and covered her mouth with her gloved hand, taking a step back, stumbling into Jake. She hoped the killer hadn’t seen her, but he looked toward the lodge and straight at her. He then turned and walked into the forest, disappearing from sight.
She turned, hiding her face in Jake’s heavy coat. “We need to get inside, NOW!” She was shaking, her tears wet on his shoulder. “Come on.” She grabbed the handle of the suitcase and started pulling it. “We need to get out of sight.”
“Lynn, wait! I need to move the car. We can’t just leave it here. Other guests will need to unload.”
She turned, her eyes wide. “No, no, get back in, we need to leave, go somewhere with more people, more cars!” She was throwing the luggage into the back seat.
“Lynn, what’s wrong?! This is the place you’ve been talking about for months, since we started planning our honeymoon.” He stepped up beside her and took her trembling hands in his. “Honey, what is it?”
“Please, Jake, just do as I ask! We’ll talk about it in the car.” The roads were clear of snow in both directions. Maybe they wouldn’t leave tire tracks to tell which direction they were going. If it even mattered. The killer could be watching them from behind the tree line.
Jake got in and drove down the sloping drive. “Are we coming back, or should you let them know we can’t make it today?”
She twisted her hands in her lap, glancing back to see if they were being followed. When they drove into the first town, at the bottom of the ridge, she spoke for the first time. “I know this is going to sound crazy, but I saw a murder.” A tear escaped from the corner of her eye. “If he finds me, he might kill me too, you know, so I don’t talk!”
He looked at her, clearly puzzled. “Why do you think this stranger would want you dead? Slow down and tell me exactly when and where this happened.”
She glanced around again, trying to see if they had been followed. Was that a Black SUV in the parking lot? “Honey,” Jake’s voice brought her back to the present. “You have to calm down. Tell me what makes you think this guy murdered someone?”
She took a deep breath, trying to control the shaking. “Can we check into a motel, use your dad’s name, you know just leave off the Jr.?” He pulled into a motel parking lot and put a hand on her face.
“But why?” He paused as she looked at him, pleading. “You know I’ll do whatever is necessary, but you have to tell me what happened.”
“While you were unloading the luggage I was standing beside the car just taking in the beauty and reminiscing about mom and dad. Then I noticed something down the hill, just in front of that beautiful stand of pines. There were two men standing in front of a car. Both were dressed in long black coats and black gloves.” She stopped, taking a deep breath staring out the window, remembering. Jake touched her arm and she jumped, coming back to reality. “It was as if they were struggling over an envelope or a piece of paper. I turned my head away, not wanting to intrude, but the sun flashed on something and I glanced back.” She hesitated. “Jake, it seemed like something from a movie. Why did it have to happen while we were there? It’s like God put me there for a reason. It seemed to last forever, but I know it was only seconds.”
“Could you see what caused the flash?”
She glanced at him, her eyes wide. “It was a knife blade.”
“Lynn, how could you tell from that distance? Maybe it was a watch or even cufflinks.”
“No, it was a knife blade. The killer took the paper and put it in his pocket with one hand and stabbed the knife into the other man at the same time. He leaned into him as if they were hugging goodbye. The man crumpled to his knees and then fell to the ground.”
Jake held her, comforting her. “Was that it, did you see any more? Could you identify the man?”
“Well — that’s when I squealed and stepped back. The killer looked up toward the lodge. I know he saw me. He was staring at me, and a cold shiver ran through me. While he looked at me, he knelt down and wiped the blade of the knife on the dead man’s coat, and moved him behind the tree line. He never broke eye contact with me. Then he disappeared into the trees.”
“Wow!” he breathed. “Let’s check in. You sure you want to spend our first night as husband and wife in a shabby run-down motel?” She gathered her purse and coat to follow. He put his hand on her arm. “You need to stay here. I don’t want the clerk to be able to identify you.” She tensed, another tear dropping from the corner of her eye.
She waited for what seemed forever then there was a tap on the window. She screamed and turned, fear in her eyes. Jake climbed in. “Okay, we’ll pull around back and I’ll get the suitcases. You unlock the door.” It wasn’t Silver Pines, but it would do if they were safe.
Immediately after the door locked she started talking again. “What should we do? Should we call the police and give them an anonymous tip?”
“I don’t think an anonymous tip is enough for the police. Maybe we might have a look behind the trees in front of the Lodge, now that it’s dark. If there isn’t a body, we can’t really prove a murder.”
She considered it, still wringing her hands. “Jake, I’m afraid to go back. Suppose he’s there, at the lodge. I’m sure I’m the only one who saw it happen.”
“It’s okay. It’s nearly dark and I’m pretty sure he’s as far away by now as he can get. Dress in your dark ski suit and tuck your hair under the cap. We’ll just look right in the area you said it happened.”
Mark Stanfield was busy cleaning up the mess. He certainly hadn’t intended on being seen. All he needed to do was push Bob Sanders a few feet off the road and bury him in a snow bank. By the end of the weekend, Mother Nature would have dumped several more feet of snow on top of Bob and he would be home free. It would have been weeks before his body was found.
There was only one fly in the ointment. The girl had witnessed the whole thing from the driveway at the Lodge. He remembered the shock on her face, her reddish brown hair waving from beneath a white cap as the wind picked up. He cursed. He hated messiness.
Dusk had settled over the square. Even though she knew it would be dark on the mountain, she didn’t know if she had the courage to go back, even with Jake. She watched the silhouettes of the trees as they drove back up the mountain, fear covering her like the falling snow.
Jake pulled the car to the backside of the Lodge and they got out. He took her hand, assuring her he would be by her side the whole way.
They walked down the driveway and she scanned the area, her body tingling and trembling as they reached the spot. The moon breaking through the clouds cast eerie shadows across the road as they stepped into the frozen snow. Jake slipped and fell hitting his head hard on the ice. Lynn screamed and turned to help him. Something went over her head, covering her eyes and muffling her scream.
She struggled and fought as she was pulled deeper into the forest. Her mind raced. She couldn’t tell which direction she was being taken, but they walked for what seemed like miles. Suddenly she felt her body thrown down and footsteps crunched the snow as someone walked away. She tried to clear her mind. It was silent all around her. Jake might be knocked out and she couldn’t scream for fear her captor was still near. The only thing she knew for sure was that it was bone chilling cold. “Please, God, send someone to help.” She tried to stay awake and kept digging the snow from around her until she gave in to fatigue and rested. Her thoughts drifted in and out, like a soft, swirling snowfall.
She wasn’t sure if she was dreaming or if she actually heard her hubby’s voice. Other voices joined his. Was the man back again? Did he have Jake?
From a distance, she heard Jake calling her, gently at first, then more urgently. “Lynn, come on, wake up. We need to get you to the ambulance.” She felt herself being lifted and moved, then voices talking all at once. The next time she came to she was on a gurney in an emergency room, Jake holding her hand.
She jolted awake, looking around the room. “Where am I? What is — all this?” She took in the IV, monitors and other equipment surrounding her.
“Take it easy. Do you remember anything about last night?”
She frowned. “Yes, it was our wedding night and we checked into a cheap motel in, I don’t even know where. Why not the Lodge? Why am I in the hospital?”
He smiled, gently brushing the hair from her face. “Relax, we’ll talk about it when we’re all tucked in at the Lodge. We actually spent the night here, after we solved the murder you were so sure you witnessed. As far as the rest, it will come to you soon enough.”
The doctor came in and handed Jake her release papers. While he helped her dress, the nurse went over the papers telling her to rest and stay warm for the next couple of days. They left, but this time to the Lodge.
She came out of the bathroom, warm and relaxed after a long shower. Jake had ordered a special dinner from the quaint diner available for after hours guests and laid it out on the coffee table in front of the sofa. He’d also ordered a bottle of champagne along with some chocolate dipped strawberries.
She smiled. “Where did you find this feast? I’m starving.” A Christmas movie played on the TV and a fire danced in the fireplace. She snuggled next to him on the sofa.
“It’s been an eventful couple days. Maybe it wasn’t the start to our honeymoon we had planned, but we have the rest of two weeks and I want to start our life together sipping champagne and watching a cozy movie.”
She reached for a strawberry and smiled. “Your choice of honeymoon fare is perfect.”
The sun was shining in through the sheer curtains and the TV was still on as they woke, wrapped warmly in each other’s arms. All her thoughts of what had happened no longer pressed in on her. “Jake,” she murmured softly, “I love you.”
“The most wonderful words you’ve spoken since our vows. I’ll never tire of hearing you say them.” She smiled and cuddled closer and closed her eyes.
While Jake ordered breakfast, she turned on the TV. To her surprise, there were reporters and a news van reporting breaking news from the Silver Pines Lodge. He came back in, telling her about breakfast. She held out her hand. “Honey, come here. Listen to this.”
The reporter was talking about the police capturing a man in the woods across from the Lodge. The arrest resulting from a tip called in by a witness. The investigation was ongoing, and the newsman said they would provide more information as the details became available.
She caught her breath, turning to look at Jake. “I remember the whole thing now. They actually have him in custody?”
“Yes. When I realized you had disappeared, basically in front of my eyes, I knew you had witnessed just what you’d said. I looked for a while, but it was getting colder and there was no moon to give direction. That’s when I called the emergency responders.”
“But how did they find him?”
“He was still hiding behind a cluster of pines, waiting to drag you away. They were able to surround him then we got you to the hospital.” He took her hands and pulled her to him in a warm embrace, whispering in her ear. “I prayed a million prayers and cried as many tears. Lynn Ford, I will love you for the rest of my life. Please don’t witness any more murders, or get yourself captured. You’re the bravest woman I know.”
Our holidays have been super busy, as I’m sure most everyone’s has. We’ve been watching Christmas romances the last few weeks, and I thought this would be a little different twist on those — very predictable — holiday stories. Thanks for being patient through my lapse of posting. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! As usual, I look forward to comments and new followers.