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  UNDERCUT

  Hemlock Creek Suspense Book 2

  Heather Day Gilbert

  Other Books by Heather Day Gilbert:

  Out of Circulation, Book One in the Hemlock Creek Suspense Series

  Miranda Warning, Book One in A Murder in the Mountains Series

  Trial by Twelve, Book Two in A Murder in the Mountains Series

  God’s Daughter, Book One in the Vikings of the New World Saga

  Forest Child, Book Two in the Vikings of the New World Saga

  The Message in a Bottle Romance Collection

  Indie Publishing Handbook: Four Key Elements for the Self-Publisher

  Undercut

  By: Heather Day Gilbert

  Copyright 2017 Heather Day Gilbert

  ISBN: 978-0-9978279-1-0

  Cover Design by Deranged Doctor Design

  Interior Formatting by Polgarus Studio

  Published by WoodHaven Press

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form, stored in any retrieval system, posted on any website, or transmitted in any form or by any means, without written permission from the publisher, except for brief quotations in printed reviews and articles.

  Series: Gilbert, Heather Day. Hemlock Creek Suspense; 2

  Subject: Romantic Suspense Stories; Genre: Suspense Fiction

  Author Information: http://www.heatherdaygilbert.com

  Author Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/Q6w6X

  Dedicated to Sky, our blessing from the flood

  Table of Contents

  Other Books by Heather Day Gilbert:

  1

  2

  3

  4

  5

  6

  7

  8

  9

  10

  11

  12

  13

  14

  15

  About the Author

  1

  Zane Boone had carried the weight of his guilt longer than he cared to admit.

  As his psychologist repeated himself, Zane rubbed a sweaty hand over his cargo pants. His blood pressure was probably sky-high. He was in fight or flight mode, and he couldn’t flee.

  “I said it’s obvious that you still have issues you need to deal with, Isaiah.”

  Why did the man persist in calling him Isaiah? He’d told him he went by Zane. And why did he always seem so condescending? Had he spent hours camped on rooftops in Afghanistan? Had he ever killed someone for his country?

  Zane wished he hadn’t let his ex-wife choose his psychologist, but he’d been so blindsided when Krista had cleared the house out and filed for divorce. Reeling from her sudden enmity, he was willing to agree to anything to ensure he could have regular visits with his five-year-old daughter—even if it meant signing a release that his smug new psychologist could contact his ex at any time if he deemed Zane unfit for visitation.

  He tried to give a winning smile. “I’m sure I do, but don’t we all?”

  Doctor Christianson leaned forward, adjusting his clear glasses frames. Early in their sessions, Zane had asked the man a few questions of his own and had determined they had absolutely nothing in common.

  “There is no need to be so cavalier,” the doctor said. “Your recent persecution complex is very real, and we must get to the bottom of it.”

  Zane sank into the plush chair, wishing the floor would swallow him up. He couldn’t seem to explain that it was no complex. He really was being followed. The terrifying thing was that he couldn’t prove it.

  As he drove to The Greenbrier Resort, his cell phone rang. He hit the speaker button.

  “Zane, where are you?” His ex-wife’s voice, with its melodic alto tones, always disarmed him—even though he knew anger simmered just beneath.

  “I’m on the road, heading to a job. Gotta check on my crew.”

  “Well, Doctor Christianson contacted me. He thinks I should come to the next session.”

  Zane punched his truck’s dashboard.

  Krista must have heard it because her reaction was swift. “What was that? You didn’t break something again, did you?”

  Of course, she’d have to bring up the one time he’d knocked a glass lamp from the nightstand when he’d roused from a nightmare. Now she was convinced he was cracking up.

  But the truth was, he was in a much better place now than he’d been in two years ago, just back from his second tour of duty. Back then, he’d suffered from insomnia for four straight months. It was all he could do to sit in his chair and play video games, much less try to be a husband and dad.

  He knew his inability to cope had played a large role in the destruction of his marriage, but the divorce had changed everything so swiftly and so irreversibly. Now he mostly saw Lola on weekends, no longer waking to her daily “I love you, Daddy,” as she face-planted into his chest for a hug.

  He tried to sound carefree. “I’m fine. No worries.”

  He glanced in his rear-view mirror at a black sedan that was following too close on the curving mountain road. He eased off the gas and tapped the brake. By slowing, he would protect both himself and the death-defying driver behind him. The driver was probably not from West Virginia and had no concept of the switchbacks to come.

  The car continued driving so close, it nearly clipped his bumper.

  “Shoot! Knock it off!” He sped up a bit.

  “What’s going on? Who are you talking to?” Krista’s voice held an accusatory edge.

  “Just some joker following too close on the mountain. Listen, I’ll call you back tonight so we can talk about Lola’s schedule for next month. I want to help out more. And we can talk about my next session.”

  Krista sighed, and he could picture her sitting at her desk, twirling her pen between her narrow fingers. “Okay, sure. Just don’t forget.”

  As if he ever had.

  Hanging up, Zane rounded a curve and stole another glance into the mirror. Sure enough, the car was practically glued to him. He wasn’t even going that slowly anymore—he was exceeding the speed limit. If they were determined to push it to 65 on the mountain, they could pass him on a double line and risk their own necks.

  Then the driver did something unthinkable. He sped up and bashed into Zane’s bumper.

  He knew then. It was the same people who’d been following him the past few days. There had been different cars, different people, but they had one thing in common—they were closing in on him.

  He knew this road like the back of his hand. There was an abrupt turnoff coming up. He would dodge onto a winding side road, slick as a bullet through an oiled gun barrel.

  If his tail followed him, he’d be ready. He might be an honorably discharged Marine, but he was still always ready. He patted the Colt he kept snug in his belt holster.

  Seeing the dirt road to his right, he made the turn at the last moment. The sedan nearly plowed into him, but had to keep going. He knew there wasn’t another turnaround for at least five more minutes. He’d be nearly to The Greenbrier by then, parked in an area reserved for workers where his truck wouldn’t easily be seen.

  He slowed the car along with his breath. He didn’t want his men to think he looked half-crazed. When he finally parked, he glanced down and noticed a slight tremor in his hand—his shooting hand.

  He pushed his dark blond bangs out of his eyes. He really needed a haircut, but who had time for that, between running a business, trying to be there for his daughter, and dealing with stalkers who seemed to be invisible to everyone else?

  If only Krista could’ve been in the car with him instead of on the phone, she would’ve seen he wasn’t making this up. But why did he still care what Krista thought?

  He pictured Lola’s heart-shaped face, a
n exact replica of her mother’s. Her dark eyes and hair that made her Krista’s Mini-Me.

  He didn’t want his daughter to wind up thinking her daddy was crazy. And he wanted to show Krista that he wasn’t still trapped in that wordless, helpless zone he’d been in a couple of years ago. He needed to prove he was more than capable of being a great dad.

  A difficult thing to do when he was always looking over his shoulder to see if someone was following him.

  Outside The Greenbrier, Zane picked his way toward the creek bank where his men were still chopping and loading logs uprooted by last year’s horrific June flood. His foreman, Brett, hailed him with a loose salute. It was a gesture that indicated his respect for his military service.

  Dad had said the men worked harder for Zane than they’d ever worked under him. “Don’t downplay their loyalty, Zane,” Dad said. “Those men can’t even put into words how much they appreciate the tours of duty you did for this country.” The way Dad’s eyes crinkled and welled with tears had told Zane he felt the same way.

  Zane surveyed the area and slapped Brett on the shoulder. “You’ve made a lot of progress this week. Probably finish the job tomorrow?”

  “Sure thing, boss. Wanna join us?”

  His grin slid into a grimace. “Actually, I have to head inside to square away some billing details in person. Not as fun as chopping, but somebody has to do it.”

  Brett scanned Zane’s attire and rubbed at his beard. “You figure they’ll let you in, dressed like that?”

  It was an honest question. The Greenbrier was a high-class resort, and he was wearing his usual plaid flannel shirt, cargo pants, and heavy boots. Not to mention a three-week-old beard he hadn’t gotten around to shaving.

  He tucked his shirt in, which was no easy feat with his gun holster. He didn’t carry a small gun.

  “I’ll only be in there a few minutes, hopefully. I’ll check in with you before I leave.”

  Brett nodded, pulling on work gloves before returning to his job.

  Zane took a shortcut toward the main building, striding across the immaculate golf course. Just last year, the grounds had been strewn with debris from the heavy flooding. It hadn’t taken long for locals and volunteers to clean up most of the damage, but the haunting imprint of lost homes and tragic deaths had scarred everyone in the affected counties.

  Maybe that’s what had happened to him. The imprints of those whose lives he had taken—those he had sniped in the line of duty—would always haunt him, even though he didn’t consciously dwell on them.

  Maybe he was being chased by their ghosts. Maybe he was losing it.

  Deep in thought, he nearly careened into a woman in tall heels as he stepped onto the green-and-red carpeting inside the front door. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he mumbled, allowing his eyes to travel from the unique springhouse design in the center of the carpet to her face.

  He startled. Molly McClure. He’d recognize that curling auburn mane and those gold-hazel eyes anywhere. Molly was a hard woman to miss. But why was she still working here? Last time he’d seen her, she’d said she was looking for another job.

  Struggling to come up with something to say to fill the awkward silence, he felt relief when she spoke first. But her words weren’t what he expected.

  “Well, look what the mountain lion dragged in…a real, live lumberjack.” She slowly eyed him up and down, and her eyes snapped with something that belied the dazzling smile on her peachy lips. “Where in the blazes have you been, Zane Boone? Do you know I actually waited for you to call me back after that last date? I mean we’ve known each other since what…sixth grade? You could’ve at least let me know you weren’t interested.” She lifted one shoulder, as if shrugging off any offense she might have taken.

  2

  Despite her affected indifference, Molly felt a wound had just been reopened. Zane Boone was the one man who’d ever dared to disappear from her life with nary a by-your-leave. As she took in his appearance, made even more rugged with his beard, she tried to hold onto some shred of pride.

  She’d had a crush on this man since sixth grade, truth be told. And when he’d asked her out last year—post-divorce—she’d jumped at the chance. But he’d been distant, different from the carefree leader she’d known in high school. Still, it came as a total surprise when he’d never even asked her on a third date, and he’d never contacted her to explain why.

  He held her gaze, his gray eyes smiling, but she caught that shadow of sadness he seemed to carry everywhere now. “Nice to see you, too.”

  She couldn’t tell if he was mocking her. That was the infuriating thing—Zane was often unreadable. Or maybe she just hadn’t learned to read him yet? Her sister Katie would say she was only attracted to him because he was hard to get and didn’t throw himself at her like her other suitors.

  She rallied. “Did you come back to apologize? You’re only…seven months late?”

  He took her verbal lashing and didn’t rise to her bait. Instead, his eyes traveled over her smoke blue suit and carefully-twisted updo. “You still working the front desk?”

  “No. I’m the wedding coordinator now.”

  He whistled. “The weddings here…Krista always said they were out of a fairy tale.”

  Molly tried to hide her frown. Why did he always bring his ex-wife into the conversation, after what the thankless woman had done to him? From what she could piece together, his ex had left him high and dry when he got back from Afghanistan, just because he had some difficulty adjusting to civilian life again. Molly could never forgive her for that. A woman should stand by her man, plain and simple, for better or for worse.

  Zane suddenly stepped toward her, taking her arm and forcefully shifting her to the side.

  “What on—”

  He moved in front of her, as if bodily guarding her against the darker-skinned man who’d just walked in. The man—probably Middle Eastern—shot them an irritated look, but he kept up his fast pace toward the sunken casino area.

  Unsure of the intense look in Zane’s eyes, Molly placed a calming hand on his shoulder. “You okay?” she whispered.

  He nodded slowly. “Sorry about that. He was walking too fast and his hand was in his jacket. I notice things like that.”

  “Of course you do.” She took a deep breath. “Listen, I have to get back to the bride-to-be. Did you really come here to see me again?”

  “Sorry I didn’t explain. I came to see the accounts manager about a logging job we’re working.”

  Her smile didn’t budge. She was a Southern girl, after all, capable of swallowing disappointments like sweet tea on a hot day. “Sure.”

  Muted piano music filtered through the open area, giving visitors their cue to head up for the afternoon tea. She stepped out of the way and continued, “Alex can give you directions down at the concierge desk. I really should get going.”

  Zane nodded, but followed her toward the stairs. His hand shot out and rested on her arm, setting off a ripple of unexpected pleasure. His smooth baritone voice sounded near her ear. “Molly, what would you say to another date? Maybe this Friday night?”

  She turned and tried to read his look. Did guilt over their last date drive him to ask her out now, or did he still harbor some interest in her?

  His eyes softened, and so did her resistance. She really didn’t care why he had asked her out again. “Sure. You can pick me up at Mom’s—I know she’ll want to see you again.”

  Molly could hardly concentrate on what the overly-tanned bride-to-be and her wedding planner were saying, although it certainly sounded as if this would be another unforgettable Greenbrier wedding. Hot pink peonies and green hydrangea. Steak and seafood. A Hollywood Glamour theme. Every detail was already nailed down, thanks to Heidi, the wedding planner she’d worked with numerous times before.

  Heidi nudged her out of her stupor. “Did you hear what I said? I need one of your people on the lights in the ballroom at least twenty minutes before the end of the meal, just to be
sure.” She shook her head, short dark hair covering one of her warm brown eyes. “You’re unusually quiet. You aren’t even taking notes today. What’s up?”

  “Don’t worry—I heard everything you said.” Molly parroted her list of responsibilities back to Heidi. “I’ll write it down as soon as I pick up my bag. I just got waylaid on my way to meet you.”

  “Oh. Okay.” Heidi gave her a probing look. Finally she gave a short nod of satisfaction, as if she’d decided to take her word for it. “I know you’re in high demand around here.”

  Molly offered an enigmatic smile. Sometimes she was in higher demand than she wished, especially with the male clientele. It wasn’t unusual for her to be asked out on a weekly basis.

  She took Heidi’s arm. “Let’s go to the ballroom so you can show me what you’re looking for there.”

  When she trudged downstairs over two and a half hours later, Molly wanted nothing more than to take off her heels and collapse onto one of the blue overstuffed couches outside the wedding planning room. Instead, she walked by them into her office, grabbed her bag, and locked up. Then she meandered down the sloped hallway of shops, not even glancing at the latest displays of designer shoes and fashions. It seemed to take all her effort to push open the glass paned door to exit the building. Fumes from an idling green shuttle bus assailed her, so she hurried along a landscaped pathway toward her car. She was sure Zane had left long ago, but she found herself wishing for his company.

 
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