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Shattered Sunset Promises
Shattered Sunset Promises
Shattered Sunset Promises
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Shattered Sunset Promises

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Suspense to make you shiver with Heart to make you sigh.
Her inheritance is disastrous. His murder case is stalled. Then a link between her bequest and his homicide entangles and threatens their lives.

Malory Williams faces an uncertain future. Ten years ago she lost the love of her life, and now she's lost her job. Fate presents an appealing blank slate when she inherits Bay Bluff Cottage, and Mal doesn't hesitate. She sells her current home and pools her assets. Life if looking up....until she discovers she's inherited an albatross.

Two grisly homicides pose a challenge for seasoned investigator John Ryley. A single, precise slash ended both lives and the women's savaged bodies were dumped at the exact same location. The brutal murders occurred ten years apart, though, and John's skeptical...until clues point to a connection between the murders and Malory's inheritance.

Neither John nor Malory are looking for involvement at this point in their lives, yet he finds the stunning widow's perseverance sexy, and she discovers irresistible charm beneath the investigators' tough demeanor. But when a well-kept secret is uncovered the homicide explodes, and John races against the clock to keep Malory from becoming a killer's next victim.

PublisherNancy Kay
Release dateSep 2, 2019
Shattered Sunset Promises
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Nancy Kay

Nancy Kay resides near Lake Erie in Western Pennsylvania with her husband, a former member of the Marines and the Pennsylvania State Police Department who provides valuable insight for her stories. Nancy is a long time member of Romance Writers of America. Her stories are set in small towns and inland communities scattered along the shores of the Great Lakes. They focus on romance, intertwined with the love of hearth, home and family, yet sprinkled with suspense, danger and intrigue. Learn more about Nancy at www.nancykayauthor.com.

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    Shattered Sunset Promises - Nancy Kay

    ~ Copyright ~

    Shattered Sunset Promises

    © Nancy Kay, 2019

    All Rights Reserved

    Smashwords Edition

    This book is a work of fiction. While references may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are from the author’s imagination and resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events is coincidental.

    This book is licensed to the original purchaser only. Duplication or distribution via any means is illegal and a violation of International Copyright Law, subject to criminal prosecution and upon conviction, fines and/or imprisonment. No part of this book can be shared or reproduced without the express permission of the publisher.


    Issued in the United States of America

    Cover Design ~ Rae Monet

    Book Format ~ KMD Web Designs

    ~ Dedication ~

    I strive to make my stories as realistic as possible by gathering little details that speak the truth. This novel is set in and around Presque Isle State Park in Erie, Pennsylvania. Dan Powell, a Presque Isle State Park Ranger, provided me with insight and feeling for his job. Loretta A. Brandon, author of Lightkeeper’s Legacy, took the time to give me a personal tour of Presque Isle where she once lived as a young girl in Presque Isle Lighthouse. Numerous Pennsylvania State Troopers and City of Erie Police Officers provided valuable facts to help me weave my story. I thank Dan and Loretta, Pennsylvania State Troopers and Erie Police members for their time. Their knowledge and personal experience guided me while writing this story.


    Presque Isle State Park is a sandy peninsula that juts into Lake Erie near Erie Pennsylvania. The peninsula has 13 miles of roads, 21 miles of hiking trails, 13 sand covered beaches, and a marina.

    Deer, coyotes, beavers and many small mammals, roam the park and are a joy to see for those hiking, biking and enjoying the park. History abounds from early Native Americans to the French and British during the War of 1812.

    There are several working lighthouses and a United States Coast Guard station located on the peninsula. In 1921 Presque Isle became a state park and hosts more visitors per year than any other Pennsylvania State Park.

    I love Presque Isle, and while hiking one of the many amazing trails my story began to unfold. Of course my story is fiction, but the beautiful peninsula blessed by sunsets like none other year round is real.


    Nancy Kay

    ~ Chapter One ~

    Trooper John D. Ryley stared at his computer screen. The image of a woman stared back. Amanda Wells had average brown eyes, and medium length brown hair framed her oval face. Again, average. Not so average was Amanda’s smile. A dimple on her left cheek and tempting curved lips transmitted humor as she’d lifted a glass of wine and toasted the photographer.

    The photo was taken one month prior and implied the fifty two year old, twice-divorced lady was moving forward with gusto.

    John clicked to another screen displaying a recent photo. No smile this time. Amanda’s lips were flat, colorless. Her eyes unfocused and dulled by a milky film.

    A horizontal line bisected her slim neck and from the line dark trails disappeared beneath Amanda’s collar, leaving stains and blurred, rusty smudges where it touched the fabric.

    Early that morning a hiker visiting Presque Isle State Park took a seldom-used trail to find peace and quiet. Instead she found the lifeless, knife-ravaged body of Amanda Wells. After years working the crime unit, John knew first hand that for days, maybe weeks to come, peace would elude that hiker because of the gruesome image etched in her mind.

    The hiker’s screams alerted others, who in turn had contacted park rangers. The rangers secured the scene, called Pennsylvania’s State Police Criminal Investigation Unit, and the case was assigned to John.

    And damn it, now the photo with Amanda’s eyes fixed and lifeless was etched in his mind.

    He shoved away from his desk and checked the time. Three thirty, a half hour past the end of his shift. Nothing new there. Taut neck tendons protested when he lifted his arms and stretched. As he reached to shut down the file, someone tapped on the jamb of his office door. Frowning, he glanced up, sighed, and then motioned another trooper into the room.

    Lisa Robb dropped into a chair facing his desk. Her dark hair was secured in a short tail that brushed her collar, and her clear-eyed gaze met his across the top of a scarred desk.

    Bad day, Trooper Ryley? Don’t answer, she hastily insisted. Your cheerful smile says it all. I have something that might be of interest to you, though. Actually, she continued, grinning, two somethings.

    Give them to me one at a time. At this point in my day, too much shit could short circuit my brain. He rubbed stubborn tension between his eyes. My overworked brain, he added, and Lisa, I love you like a sister, and your husband Jake runs the best pub around. But if this is another attempt to fix me up with a woman, I might just pull out my weapon and shoot you.

    Laughing, Lisa reached into the case she’d dropped beside her chair and pulled out a tablet. Not paper, oh no, tech-savvy Lisa preferred a slim electronic device that admittedly sometimes baffled him.

    She flipped it open and balanced it on her knees. Her fingers tapped the keys. Okay, here’s what I’ve got. Leaning forward, she placed the tablet on his desk and scooched around so they could both see the screen. About ten years ago there was another murder on Presque Isle. The victim’s name was Cynthia Black.

    John should have known one of her ‘somethings’ was tied to the current case. Lisa was new to the unit and eager to dig in. He leaned forward and skimmed the image of a front page story in the local paper dated ten years prior.

    He had no recollection of the incident. I wasn’t stationed in Erie when this occurred.

    Me neither. I was in Hershey about to graduate from the academy.

    So, how’d you learn about this particular case?

    An instructor brought it front and center to illustrate how and why sometimes the PSP crime unit was tapped to investigate when an incident occurred in another jurisdiction, such as Presque Isle State Park.

    Two murders in the same location ten years apart do not shout serial killer, Lisa. I was in patrol back then, bucking for a spot in the crime unit, but I wasn’t stationed in Erie. The case doesn’t ring a bell with me.

    He’d also been dealing with the divorce from hell, a personal note he’d keep to himself.

    He leaned in, skimming the article. Are you suggesting there’s a connection to our current homicide?

    It’s possible.

    Granted, two dead bodies on Presque Isle are unusual, but the time span between them doesn’t send up red flags.

    Cynthia Black, the first victim, was forty-two. Amanda Wells was fifty-two.

    Which means?

    Lisa huffed out an exasperated breath. Which means, detective, having two middle-aged--

    Watch it.

    Lisa grinned. "Having two ah...mature women killed in a similar manner in the same location is worth a second look, don’t ya think? Cynthia Black was ten years younger than Wells, yet her murder happened exactly ten years ago. That’s a weird coincidence. Same cause of death, same location yet ten years apart. Both were older, more mature."

    Damn it, now she’d tweaked his interest. Send me the file. I’ll look it over. John leaned back and rolled his shoulders. Satisfied, detective?

    Sometimes you’re a pain in the ass, J.D. Ryley. She paused, frowning. But today you look beat. You need to take better care of yourself.

    He waved her concern away. Never mind me. Have you got anything else? Your other half has a cold draft waiting with my name on it.

    Lisa’s fingers flew over the keys. I’m sending you the file. She finished and blew out a short, sharp breath. Think about this. Amanda Wells and Cynthia Black were murdered on Presque Isle. They went there alone and forensics indicates they both died of multiple stab wounds. She tapped the tablet’s screen. "The article doesn’t say where they found Cynthia Black’s body, but if it was the same trail where they found the Wells woman today, that is a coincidence. Maybe someone lured them both down that path in order to kill them."

    She had a point, but he had to poke at her. Motive?

    Lisa closed her tablet. That’s what we detective types get paid the big bucks to determine.

    Whisker stubble scraped his fingers as John rubbed his chin, chuckling. Lisa, either you’ve got an overdeveloped imagination or you’ve hit on something.

    I like to think my imagination led me to hit on something. Think about it, okay?

    I’ll see if I can dig up anything on the Black case. We need details, not speculation. John picked up a pencil and doodled on his desk calendar. A lot of people go to the peninsula every day, and I’ll admit the similarities you’ve pointed out between the two murders are valid. The elapsed time between them weakens your theory.

    Lisa stowed her tablet. At least give it some thought.

    I’ll do that. Is that all you wanted?

    An old acquaintance is in town.

    John rolled his eyes. Here it comes. Lisa...

    No, wait. She’s not some young babe looking to become a cop groupie. John cocked one eyebrow. Not that you’re into cop groupies, she amended. Jenny, my college roommate, has an older sister. She’s a tad over fifty, but she’s hot, she insisted. That’s Jake’s take from a recent picture of her.

    He shook his head and pushed out of his chair. So you actually haven’t seen this person in how long?

    Lisa stood, picked up her case, and slid her handbag onto her shoulder. My roommate and I visited her and her husband during my freshman year in college. They had two young boys back then who are all grown up now and live on the West Coast.

    Uh, Lisa, are you forgetting about the husband?

    Jen’s sister is a widow. Her husband died about ten years ago. I know this sounds dramatic, but Jen told me he proposed to her on Presque Isle.

    Hmm, his death occurred ten years ago, another coincidence?

    There’s no connection, smarty. This time it is just a coincidence. She poked his shoulder. Don’t be a jerk. Let me finish. Jenny’s sister’s husband was killed in an accident when their boys were teenagers. She’s had a rough life."

    What brings her to Erie?

    Her late husband and a business associate co-owned a converted beach house in Erie. Jen’s sister and her family sometimes vacationed there. It’s supposedly gorgeous and overlooks the bay. When her husband was killed, Jen’s sister inherited his half of the house.

    Did the associate buy her out?

    No, which I find strange. Regardless, time passed and she never came back. Who knows? Maybe she couldn’t face staying there alone after she lost her husband.

    Life does have a way of sidetracking best-laid plans. John shoved to his feet. His plans had been sidetracked, although his lovely wife didn’t die. She just wasn’t happy with his career choice and found someone else.

    Lisa glanced up at him as they left his office, their footsteps echoing in the deserted hallway. Your ex didn’t deserve you, so quit dwelling on the past and move ahead.

    He dug out his keys. How do you know what I’m thinking?

    I know your face, Ryley. I can tell by your expression where your mind went. Anyhow, this sister’s husband’s associate, co-owner of the cottage, recently died and left his half of the house to her. Jen’s big sis had gone through some rough times, so she encouraged her to consider a fresh start and talked her into coming to Erie. She got into town yesterday and is meeting with an attorney today about her inheritance. I invited her to come by the Pub for dinner.

    And you figured I’d just drop in and meet this hot babe. He shook his head. No deal. I’m not looking for anything except a cold beer, maybe a burger. Then I’m going home to my cat. Keystone is one female that comes with no complications other than shedding on my clothes.

    They left the building together. September was changeable in Erie, Pennsylvania. Afternoon sunshine took the edge off the morning’s chill, but wind and rain were expected by evening.

    The crime lab was next door to State Police Troop E Headquarters, and they waved to a trooper heading in for shift change. John dug out his shades and opened the door of his car.

    Lisa tossed her case and shoulder bag into her car. Will you at least think about having a drink with her?

    He squinted up as a gull screamed overhead in a sky turning stormy before meeting Lisa’s gaze across the roof of his Volvo. Maybe. Follow me to the Pub, and I’ll buy you a drink.

    Thanks, but I can’t today. She tugged at her hair and grinned. I have a hair appointment. Besides, I sleep with the owner, and all my drinks are free.

    He laughed and slid into his car.

    Since joining the crime unit Lisa was like a dog with a frickin’ bone when it came to details, but damn it, she’d stirred up what he’d been ready to put away for the night. The ten year connection was a wild card, but strong leads often developed from overlooked, seemingly inconsequential details. If he checked and found more links, he’d look closer.

    Less than five minutes away, Jake’s Pub sat on the south side of East Lake Road. A paved lot fronted the long, low building and wrapped around both sides. Sometimes you played hell looking for a space. John lucked out getting there early on a Thursday. The usual crowd had yet to arrive, and as he stepped inside, a spicy, heady aroma tickled his taste buds.

    Hey, ‘bout time you showed up, Jake Robb called from behind the bar. The sturdy structure spanned the entire back wall, and its dark wood gleamed in the low light. I thought you got off at three?

    The stocky pub owner was a couple inches shy of John’s six feet and about fifteen years younger. His thick mop of rusty brown hair was sun-streaked. John’s hair was as thick as Jake’s, but dark brown and laced with silver streaks. Lately the contrast made John feel plain, frickin’ old.

    He raked his fingers through haphazard spikes. The length was border line for regulation. Time to schedule a trim.

    He slid onto a stool and fielded the foam-topped mug Jake slid down the bar. He glanced around. Relieved when the aforementioned hot widow wasn’t in sight, John drank deeply, snatched up a paper napkin, and wiped foam from his lips. Some of us don’t have the luxury of setting our own hours.

    Jake pulled a second mug of dark ale and slipped around the end of the bar to sit beside his friend. Did Lisa catch you before you left work?

    Staring into his chilled brew, John gave a slow nod. Yep, and no, I don’t want to meet her college roommate’s hot sister.

    Jake’s burst of laughter made him smile. A cold beer with a good friend was all he needed, nothing more. Stopping after work was a familiar routine, and routines worked for John. He worked, went home, and sometimes watched a little TV. He spent time with Jake and Lisa on occasion and had a good relationship with others on the job. He preferred to keep to himself, and a handful of close friends were all he needed.

    Jake poked his side. What’s on your mind, trooper?

    The usual, murder and mayhem.

    Noting Jake’s poker-faced stare, John shrugged. Sorry, some days I tend to wallow in self-pity.

    Maybe you need to shake up that rigid routine of yours. Get out more, meet new people. Quit spending so damn much time with your cat.

    My cat’s content with me and my lifestyle. But, you’re right. I tend to keep to my safe little rut, but I’ve been thinking of getting back to something I used to do.

    Which is?

    Hiking. I used to do some serious hiking.

    Jake nodded. That’s a good place to start. There are a lot of great places close by for hitting the trails.

    I agree, and I thought of that today at the crime scene. When I first transferred here I often hiked on Presque Isle.

    Too bad about the crappy circumstances that pulled you out there today. Has anything new surfaced?

    Not so far. I hope to hell it’s an isolated incident.

    Me too, buddy. Jake rose as the door burst open. Laughter spilled into the room as the first wave of after work regulars entered. I’d better get to work. Are you sticking around for dinner?

    John gauged Jake’s expression. What time is the hot widow expected to show?

    I think that plan got sidetracked. You’re safe. Grab a burger, go home, feed your cat, and then go out. Do something wild and crazy.

    Such as?

    Jake winked. Take an evening hike. I’ll put in your order. Your standard burger okay?

    What the hell, put cheese on that frickin’ burger.

    Jake pressed his hand to his heart. Good lord man, the cooks in back won’t recover. You’ll screw up their routine.

    Good, tell them I need protein for my evening hike. That’ll confuse them.

    Jake walked off laughing, and John picked up his mug. He waved to some guys he knew and crossed to a lone table against the wall. Off and on recently he’d toyed with the idea of doing some hiking again. Admitting it out loud planted the thought, and it felt like a damn good idea. It’d be something to look forward to and keep him from dragging work home to fill empty days and long evenings.

    Tomorrow was Friday, and then he had the weekend free. He’d dig out his hiking boots and take it from there.

    Malory Williams pulled her gaze from the stunning beauty of Presque Isle Bay when Attorney Brad Cole’s secretary hung up her phone. The poignant, brief, journey into the past as she’d gazed across the bay didn’t make her heart ache as much anymore.

    A new beginning at this point in life was looking better and better. The last minute delay meeting with the attorney irked her, but now it appeared things were moving ahead.

    Attorney Cole is ready now, Mrs. Williams. Please follow me. The secretary led her down a short hallway and into the attorney’s private office through double oak doors.

    Mr. Cole rose from behind a desk polished to gleaming, came forward, and held out his hand. His handshake was firm and brief, after which he gestured to a chair facing his desk. Please, Mrs. Williams, get comfortable. I’m sorry we had to reschedule this morning. I hope it wasn’t too inconvenient. The paperwork handled through your attorney in Pittsburgh helped immensely. Almost everything is in order.

    Malory gave a curt nod. Thank you. I’d like to conclude this as soon as possible. The delay had damn well inconvenienced her, and now he claimed to have things almost in order? She sat and frowned across the wide expanse of desk as he settled in his chair. Is there a problem, Mr. Cole?

    He opened a file folder, glanced up, and smiled. Not with the will. Scott Nichols left Bay Bluff Cottage and all contents of said cottage to you. There are a few...ah, circumstances we need to address.

    Circumstances? Almost? What the heck was going on?

    Malory stared at the man behind desk.

    The attorney’s smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. Something in their pale blue depths warned her that the new beginning she’d envisioned was about to smack into a brick wall.

    Take a moment to read this, Mrs. Williams, he said, passing her several documents. Then we’ll discuss options.

    The forms were concise. The property known as Bay Bluff Cottage overlooking Presque Isle Bay in Erie, Pennsylvania was now hers. It stated the address and that all contents, which she assumed meant furnishings, were included.

    Puzzled, she glanced up. The previous papers I received were similar, Mr. Cole.

    He nodded, and then withdrew another form from the folder. This came to my attention following the title search after I’d forwarded the initial papers to you. There wasn’t time to send the findings before you left for Erie. He passed the second form to her. Read this one carefully.

    She scanned the second one. The first few lines were repetitive, stating the property and location.

    The next line stopped her cold.

    She lifted her gaze, meeting Mr. Cole’s. He wasn’t smiling now, and neither was she. This claims the cottage is mortgaged to the hilt. Why wasn’t I told about this earlier?

    I didn’t receive this information until the title search was complete. There’d been a delay, which is not unusual, so I proceeded, assuming it was only a paperwork glitch.

    You knew this morning and delayed our meeting, she snapped, tossing the paper onto his desk. She leaned forward and tapped it with her finger. I should have been told then.

    His formerly detached tone softened. "Mrs. Williams...Malory, I apologize.

    She took a deep breath and eased back into the chair. I don’t want an apology, Mr. Cole. I deserve an explanation.

    He gave her a long considering look. I agree. May I get you something to drink, coffee or tea?

    Water will do. Anything containing caffeine would not help. To calm herself and collect her thoughts while he retrieved her drink, she gazed around the room.

    The office fit the man. Both reflected a flare for style. Brad Cole was clean shaven, even this late in the day, and his silvery gray shirt complimented the steel gray of his suit. Shelves behind his desk contained books, a few tasteful photos and, strangely, a whimsical frog statue wearing glasses.

    The frog almost made her smile. Then the attorney returned with her water and her momentary distraction vanished as reality came crashing back.

    Though nicely chilled, the water burned like fire all the way down.

    Instead of returning to his chair, Brad Cole leaned against the front of his desk and crossed his arms. I’ll explain what I can, and, if I may, offer suggestions.

    His attempt to be more helpful didn’t go unnoticed. Maybe the lawyer had a heart after all, but she wasn’t about to let her guard down. Explain first. Then I’ll see if I’m open to any of your suggestions. My husband Mark was killed in an accident years ago. He owned half of the cottage, a business venture undertaken before our marriage. Start by explaining why Scott’s son Dan didn’t inherit Scott’s half of the cottage. Why was the whole estate left to me?

    First, I’m sorry for your loss, and I was aware that your husband’s share in the property came to you upon his death.

    The last time we stayed in the cottage was over ten years ago. We celebrated our twentieth anniversary. Mark died shortly after that trip, and I never returned to Erie. She took a small sip of water. A million questions crowded her brain. Wouldn’t Scott need Mark’s signature, or mine, to encumber the cottage?

    I thought about that and checked. It was then I realized how long this had been going on. Your husband’s signature was on the initial paperwork. It’s possible back then he trusted Scott and - -

    Scott handed him a good line. Malory shook her head. You’re right. Mark trusted Scott. I’m sure if he’d known how bad things were he’d have questioned Scott’s decisions.

    It’s possible after the initial paperwork that Scott forged your husband’s signature. The attorney shrugged. It happens, especially if he could charm a young bank officer.

    Humm, I could see Scott doing that. He was connected and took advantage when he could.

    We’ll look closer, but I’m afraid it’s way too late to do anything. As to why he left nothing to his son, only Scott could have answered that question. I do know they had a falling out years ago after he divorced his first wife, Dan’s mother Barbara. He removed her from his will at that time. I suspected there was something else going on in his life back then, but he didn’t confide in me. He had a brief second marriage shortly after divorcing Barbara. Then last year we revised the will again and he removed Dan. I was surprised because Barbara had since passed away and word was that Dan had a couple rough years. I didn’t question Scott’s decisions, though, what occurred was between Scott and his son.

    So this isn’t Scott’s original will?

    No, it isn’t. This is personal and not my place to discuss, but it’s no big secret. So, in order to help you understand I’ll try to explain.

    At that point Brad pushed away from his desk and circled around to his chair. Once seated, he placed his hands on his desk, interlaced his fingers, and began, At some point last year Scott learned he had cancer, an aggressive form of liver cancer. Within days of his diagnosis he contacted me to update his will.

    Malory shook her head. I’m not surprised. My husband, Mark, saw Scott during that last visit. He suspected Scott was seeing someone. He didn’t reveal the woman’s name. Mark didn’t ask, but he did notice Scott’s heavy drinking.

    Brad grabbed a pen and did a quick doodle on a note pad. Drinking wasn’t Scott’s only problem. He gambled. I imagine like most in his situation he figured there’d be plenty of time to recoup his losses, but with the rapid onset of his disease time ran out. I tried to dissuade him from making hasty decisions, but he’d made up his mind. We changed the will, and he insisted you not be told until he was gone.

    Did he say why he didn’t want me to know?

    No he didn’t, and I had no reason at that time to question his choice. Pen still in hand, he tapped the paper she’d tossed back onto his desk. Now I do, but it’s too late. I hope you’ll consider selling the property and see if you can recoup the loss. I’ve contacted a very reputable realtor and - -

    Malory jerked upright. You want me to sell the cottage? I can’t do that. Selling isn’t an option I can afford.

    She pushed to her feet and strode to the window. The sweeping expanse of glass faced north over the bay. Presque Isle lay between the bay and open waters of Lake Erie. The peninsula’s jagged outline stood out against a sky now roiling

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