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Lake Braxton

Grieving widow Jesse McClain didn't kill herself, no matter what her diary says. Michele Jenks, about to end her seven year marriage to top private investigator Ethan Jenks, goes undercover as an amateur investigator in the Tennessee resort town of Lake Braxton, obsessed with proving her cousin Jesse's suicide was finely orchestrated murder. The amateur goes toe-to-toe with the professional as Michele and Ethan work together to unmask the killer. Only, the killer is waiting for Michele, with different plans. Plans that include a five-million-dollar land deal, no questions about the death of the woman who had been about to expose him (Jesse) and one final murder ... Michele's.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release

Linda Opdyke

    Trixie Belden and her mysteries was my first foray into the fascinating world of suspense, and at age eleven I realized I was happiest with a pen in my hand and a plot swirling in my mind. My first creation, a ghost/murder mystery, was performed for the school by my seventh grade classmates via the support and encouragement of my teacher, Mr. Schlegle. Organizations like RWA, NJRW, Kiss of Death (RWA Mys/Sus) and Sisters in Crime fanned creative flames and my imagination took flight, into "what if" and "whodunnit".
    My first book, award-winning thriller STONES THROW, was a December 1999 release from Hard Shell Word Factory. "Best Pick for July 2000" romantic suspense LAKE BRAXTON features a husband-and-wife private investigation team (Ethan's a pro - Mickey's not) based in Nashville. SOUTHERN CROSS is my first time travel and is set in the mystique, romance and intrigue of 1867 New Orleans. My works-in-progress include BETWEEN THE MOON AND MIDNIGHT, a tale of murder, revenge and deadly family betrayal and WAITING FOR MIDNIGHT, a thriller about a fatal honeymoon and the clock-dominated, cat-and-mouse game to solve the murder.
    Free time finds me relaxing and listening to country music at the Jersey shore with my husband of almost thirty years, our two children and three grandchildren.
    For more information or updates drop me a line at llopdyke@verizon.net or P.O. Box 1038 Barnegat, NJ 08005. Visit my website at http://www.lindaopdyke.com/


"Linda Opdyke is in league with Tami Hoag and Kay Hooper, and Iris Johannsen. She gives you the tops in suspense!"

Suzanne Coleburn -- Belles & Beaux of Romance

4 Stars!

"This book was full of suspense. I found myself picking it up to read just one more chapter time and time again."

Romantic Times

"This whodunit will keep you guessing until the very end with a fine and touching ending. I give Ms. Opdyke a bronze medal. SWEET"

Meredith J. Leo -- Bridges Romance Magazine

"Opdyke is an extraordinary storyteller, with vivid descriptions and characters that resemble people every reader might know. Emotional entanglements take a back seat to non-stop action and the pace never slows on this roller coaster ride of mystery and suspense. Lake Braxton is Opdyke's second in what should be a very long and exciting career. A book this intense is definitely a one-sitting read and will have readers clamoring for more!"

PJ Nunn -- Mystery Morgue

Chapter 1

JUST OUTSIDE Nashville, Ethan "Cockeye" Jenks' booted stride carried him out of the heat of the mid-June twilight and into the air-conditioned, dimly lit cocktail bar. The big private detective, dressed in a denim shirt that matched the jeans encasing long muscular legs, stopped just long enough to scan the room for the person who'd requested this meeting. After exchanging greetings with several patrons, he spied the woman he was looking for, at a table nearly hidden in a corner, half a dozen yards past the tuxedoed man playing the black piano.

As breathtakingly beautiful as always, her slender five foot six frame made even her pale green sweater and white jeans look elegant. The walk toward her table was unhurried, the expression behind his lazy left eyelid the same as the one in his normal eye. The same expression that covered his face. Polite distance. He eased into the padded pink chair opposite her. "How you doin', Mickey?" he asked softly, taking note that his wife's face, delicately framed by a pixie cut of dark blonde hair, was as carefully composed as his own. "It's been a long time."

While he watched, she momentarily lost her stoicism, and her attempted smile looked anything but relaxed. Thickly lashed clear emerald eyes left the gaze of his brown ones to note his leather tied ponytail and the diamond studded silver cross that adorned his left ear. Things she'd seen a thousand times. But as though prearranged, her mask of poise came back.

"You're looking well, Ethan," she said quietly. "I've been hearing a lot about you, Rick McCoy, and where was it -- Stones Throw."

He didn't even glance at the waiter beside him, just said, "Beer. A glass of Peters and Jackson white wine for the lady." When the waiter left, he said, "You didn't ask me to come here so you could compliment me on how well I do the job that sent you walkin' out on me."

A delicately arched brow shot up and her slight smile seemed forced, then faded under his scrutiny. "No. I suppose not."

An awkward silenced followed. Then she reached out, one slim, well-manicured hand resting on the hand he'd laid on the burgundy tablecloth. When he withdrew his hand, but continued to watch her, he saw a flush of embarrassment stain her cheeks. She had no way of knowing that just the sight of her had brought back all the searing pain of her leaving. Undiminished pain that continued to bring him awake in a cold sweat too many nights, reminding him how much he still cared. Her touch was something he couldn't bear to have again and lose, a touch that brought once beautiful memories flooding back before he could stop them.

"Well?" he prompted. "Is this about the divorce?"

"No," she answered. "I -- actually, I was hoping you'd do me a favor. I have a wedding gift for Rick and his wife."

"You know where he lives."

Her eyes closed briefly, then she met his gaze. "I'm going away for a little while. Since they're not back from their honeymoon, I was wondering if you'd--"

"Cut the bull," he directed. "Why did you call me?"

Her jaw tightened at his bluntness, but after an almost imperceptible pause, she shrugged. "Look, I haven't seen Rick since before you and I -- well, in almost two years. I don't want to put him in an awkward spot by showing up at his door. Since I've never met his wife I thought maybe you'd do this for me."

Cockeye said nothing as the waiter left their order and retreated. Then he laughed and took a swallow from his mug of beer. "Why should it be awkward for Rick? You weren't his wife. You left me, remember?" He grabbed her wrist when she stood to leave. "Sit down," was the best apology he could manage. She didn't respond, just continued to level an angry look at him. Finally, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that," put her back in the chair.

She lifted her wine. "I'm happy for Rick. He was alone a long time."

"Yeah," Cockeye answered, then added, "Funny, isn't it? Biggest name in country music and he was willin' to chuck it all for this woman." His gaze met and held his wife's. "They're due back soon. I'm sure he'd like to see you again."

"I can't. I'm leaving tomorrow morning."

"For where?"

A soft sigh was her answer, followed by, "That isn't important."

"Is that why you called?"

She looked confused, then asked, "Is what why?"

He drained his mug, then stated, "You know, Mickey, this whole conversation isn't makin' sense. You don't need me to play delivery boy. You can send anything you want through the mail or by messenger service. I'm bettin' you're either in, or have, some kind of trouble." The bite of sarcasm edged his next words. "Maybe it's just habit, but I always was the first one you turned to when trouble came knockin'. Right up until I was the trouble."

For a split second he saw the sting of his words in her eyes, instantly replaced by a look that gave no readable answer. She rose to her feet, then reached down to tighten each thin ankle strap of her white leather sandals. When she straightened she was trembling with visible anger, and her soft voice was nearly a hiss. "You want the truth of why I asked to see you? After all the horrible stories I heard about what happened in the mountains, I wanted to reassure myself that you were all right. Because I used to care." She leaned into his face to add, "You can bet your sweet ass it won't happen again. Next time I hope they blow your head off." Any further sentiments went unsaid as she stalked from the bar and into the steamy June night.

Angered at both himself for his lack of control, and at her for the immediate reactions she aroused in him, Cockeye cursed under his breath, but paid no attention to either the stare of the piano player or the buzz of comments coming from the other tables. Tossing money onto the burgundy cloth, he ignored the whispers and strode outside. He didn't bother looking for her, he knew she was gone. Regret at the digs he'd made had already found him, regret that manifested itself in speed and screeching tires when he reclaimed his slate Jeep from the valet.

He drove for the next hour, the open road serving as therapy when deep, unhealed scars rose to the surface. After nearly two years, he'd fooled himself into believing he was over her. How wrong that was hit him this morning, when answering his doorbell put divorce papers in his hand. The echo of her footsteps leaving his life all those months ago still held the power to rip his heart in half, but the pieces dangled by a single thread that refused to be destroyed. And the love he couldn't kill tormented him, making sure the thread remained strong. He could still picture the unhappiness in her eyes the night she left. She'd had enough of long, lonely nights and cold sheets. Of fear that kept her walking the floor, wondering if he'd been killed. There was no ultimatum. Just her quiet voice telling him their marriage was over, that the dreams they'd created would never stand on equal ground with the dangerous work he loved. She couldn't compete with his first love and was through trying. Not even an argument. Only the sound of the door closing.

Images swam through his head as the speeding Jeep covered miles, vivid images accompanied by a dull ache inside of him. Exchanging wedding vows in the ivy-covered chapel in her Kentucky hometown. The promise of forever love and a houseful of kids. Shared laughter when he tried to teach her to fish using a hickory rod and uncooperative worm. Neither of them caring that the poles slid into the lake while they made love. But strongest of all was the image of the slamming door.

Heading back to his Brentwood home, he pulled the Jeep into his circular driveway and parked at the front door. The sprawling, one story white ranch was dark, something he corrected as soon as he unlocked the door and walked inside. But before he had a chance to shut the door behind him there was a soft knock on the jamb. Surprised, he turned to find Mickey standing on the flagstone porch.

Her smile awkward, she gestured inside. "Can I come in for a minute?"

"Yeah," he said tiredly. "I suppose I owe you an apology."

She closed the door, and expelled a breath that said she felt every bit as uncomfortable as she looked. "No. I owe you one. I feel terrible about what I said. I don't really hope somebody blows your head off."

"Me either," he assured her, then smiled. "So, how are you?"

She smiled again, and started to say, "Fine," but her lower lip trembled and the word died. Her eyes filled with tears. "You know -- how -- Jesse--?"

"Yeah," he answered softly, then gestured toward a grouping of rich, russet leather furniture across the spacious living room. "Sit down." Her expected refusal didn't come. Instead, she nodded and walked across thick cream colored carpeting.

He sat beside her on the sofa and took her small hand in his, giving a squeeze of heartfelt sympathy. "I'm real sorry about your cousin's suicide. I know how close you were to her. I was out of town, but I contacted your mother. She told me what happened, and said you were holdin' up okay, considerin'."

Mickey wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I guess I just can't believe Jesse would take her own life."

Rising, he stated, "You make better coffee than I do. Why don't we start tonight over?"

"I'd like that."