Authors: Kathi Daley
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 by Katherine Daley
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
Thank you to Randy Ladenheim-Gil for the editing.
I want to thank the very talented Jessica Fischer for the cover art.
I so appreciate Bruce Curran, who is always ready and willing to answer my cyber questions.
And, of course, thanks to the readers and bloggers in my life, who make doing what I do possible.
And finally I want to thank my sister Christy for always lending an ear and my husband Ken for allowing me time to write by taking care of everything else.
Books by Kathi Daley
Come for the murder, stay for the romance.
Zoe Donovan Cozy Mystery:
The Trouble With Turkeys
Big Bunny Bump-off
Beach Blanket Barbie
Turkeys, Tuxes, and Tabbies
Shamrock Shenanigans –
Zimmerman Academy Shorts
The New Normal –
Paradise Lake Cozy Mystery:
Pumpkins in Paradise
Snowmen in Paradise
Bikinis in Paradise
Christmas in Paradise
Puppies in Paradise
Halloween in Paradise
Whales and Tails Cozy Mystery:
Romeow and Juliet
The Mad Catter
Grimm’s Furry Tail
Much Ado About Felines
The Legend of Tabby Hollow
Cat of Christmas Past
A Tale of Two Tabbies –
Seacliff High Mystery:
Road to Christmas Romance:
Road to Christmas Past
“I can’t believe someone was murdered on our first day here.” Alyson Prescott held the neck of her down jacket closed as the howling wind sent sheets of snow horizontally across the landscape. Just two hours ago she had arrived at this idyllic mountain resort, which was nestled into the foothills of the towering rocky peaks that made up the Canadian Rockies with her friends, Mackenzie Reynolds and Trevor Johnson. Devon Stevenson, her boyfriend of four months, and his brother, Eli, had been spending the Christmas holiday at the resort with their father, who had been hired to beef up resort security.
“I know,” Mac yelled, so as to be heard over the sound of the blizzard that raged all around them. “Here I thought this trip was going to be about skiing and romantic nights with Eli. Instead I find myself in the middle of some Agatha Christie novel. Seriously, whoever said life isn’t fair was dead accurate.”
Part of a tree branch whizzed past Alyson’s head. “Tell me about it. Devon’s been promising me romantic sleigh rides under the stars, world-class dining, and the best skiing in North America. Instead I find myself in danger of being decapitated by the foliage.”
“I hope this doesn’t turn into one of those hugely complex and dangerous situations we seem to find ourselves in at every turn.” Mac jumped when a clump of snow fell off a nearby tree. “’Cause really, I’ve had my monthly quota of dead bodies and people who want to kill me.”
“I’m sure the local police will take care of things,” Alyson consoled her best friend. “Don’t worry; we’ll be on the slopes first thing in the morning.”
“Uh, have you noticed the blizzard we’re standing in the middle of?” Mac hopped up and down in an effort to keep from getting frostbite.
“I guess it is a little windy,” Alyson acknowledged.
“A little windy? You know I’m not a big fan of the cold, but a snowy week at a mountain resort is one thing; gale force wind and subzero temperatures are quite another.”
“This?” Alyson asked. “This is nothing. I’m sure it’ll blow over before the sun rises over the mountain.”
“I hope so. I got new skis and a supercute ski outfit for this trip. I’d hate to have them go to waste. I wonder what’s taking the guys so long.”
Alyson shielded her eyes against the blinding weather as she tried to spot Trevor, Devon, and Eli in the crowd. They’d pushed themselves forward through the throngs of onlookers who had come out for the main event over twenty minutes ago. Apparently a dead body was big news at the isolated resort.
“I think I see them talking to resort security.” Alyson pointed into the distance. “I hope they hurry. I’m starving. I haven’t eaten all day.”
“I know what you mean. I feel a little guilty for being so focused on my stomach when some guy just got his throat slit, but the food on the plane left a lot to be desired.”
“You heard the guy’s throat was slit?” Alyson blew into her glove-covered hands in an attempt to warm them.
“So far I’ve heard the guy died via a slit throat, a gunshot wound, and strangulation.” Mac wrapped her arm through Alyson’s and huddled close. “I don’t think anyone really knows for sure yet. I guess we’ll have to wait until the guys get back to find out.”
“I hope they hurry. I can’t feel my feet anymore,” Alyson said. “I wonder what the temperature is.”
“I heard someone say it was minus twenty Celsius,” Mac yelled over the thunder of the wind. “I think we should go inside.”
“I think I see them coming.” Alyson waved at Devon through the crowd, although she doubted he saw her because he had his head down against the driving blizzard. Huge drifts were beginning to form as snow was shifted by the power of the wind.
“So what’d you find out?” Alyson shouted when he finally made his way over to where she was waiting with Mac.
“Let’s get inside and I’ll tell you.” Devon took Alyson by her gloved hand and led her down the road toward Rosa’s Mexican Cantina.
The restaurant was decorated in a traditional Mexican motif. There was a large stone fireplace resembling that of the others in town, but the décor was rustic Mexican cantina rather than mountain lodge. There was a long wooden bar with brightly colored ceramic bowls filled with chips and salsa. The tables were made of rough wood and were surrounded by benches rather than chairs. There were brightly colored tapestries hanging from the walls and brightly colored lights hung from the ceiling. Mariachi music played softly in the background.
They discarded their hats, gloves, and jackets in the mudroom before walking toward a table for six near the fireplace.
“This place is great.” Alyson stood in front of the roaring fire, trying to thaw out. Her hands and feet were numb and she was fairly certain her face had frozen into a permanent smile.
Mac grabbed a menu and stood next to Alyson with her back to the dancing flames. “And the food looks like it’s to die for. I’m leaning toward the beef burrito.”
“I’ve tried those. They’re excellent,” Devon assured her.
A pretty dark-haired waitress brought glasses of water and baskets of warm tortilla chips and freshly made salsa. Due to the late hour the restaurant was pretty much deserted. Most of the resort guests had retreated either to the pub, which was filled to capacity, or to their rooms to wait out the storm.
“I’m not sure I can remember ever being so cold.” Alyson held her hands in front of the fire.
Devon vigorously rubbed Alyson’s arms in an effort to help stimulate circulation. “You should wear thermal underwear under your clothes. The layers help hold in body heat.”
“Now you tell me. So did you find out what happened to the dead guy in the snowbank?” Alyson sat down on the bench closest to the fire as the feeling started to return to her limbs. She dipped a tortilla chip in the spicy salsa and tried not to shiver as she chewed.
“I’m not sure. A couple walking back to their cabin from the village saw a foot sticking up out of the snow. The body was otherwise completely covered. The security guard I spoke to said the man appeared to have frozen to death.”
“I thought the guy had his throat slit.” Mac broke one of the salty chips in half. “Or possibly he was shot or strangled; I’m not sure. The chatter I’ve heard seems to be inconclusive to this point.”
“That’s what the rumor mill suggested,” Trevor joined in, “but according to the security patrol the death appears to have been accidental.”
“The security guy seemed to think the man had a little bit too much to drink, passed out, fell, and was covered by the snow,” Eli added. “He said that happens more often than you might think.”
“Really? People just get drunk and freeze to death?” Mac scooted closer to Eli, in an attempt to share body warmth, Alyson assumed.
“The temperatures up here can dip into dangerous territory pretty quickly,” Devon pointed out. “The air temperature dropped forty degrees when the blizzard blew in a couple of hours ago. Most people weren’t prepared for it. There’s a ton of literature in all the rooms warning about the danger of hypothermia, but most people don’t bother to read it.”
“Forty degrees. Wow, that’s a lot.” Alyson took a sip of her water. “Any word on how long this storm is supposed to last?”
“At least a couple of days,” Devon answered. “Sorry. I know you were looking forward to skiing, but the house we’re staying in is nice. Huge fireplace, outdoor hot tub, fantastic views.”
“Yeah, cozy,” Trevor complained. “The ultimate love nest for the five of us. Maybe I should have invited Chelsea.”
“No!” Alyson and Mac shouted simultaneously.
“It’s going to be awkward being a fifth wheel the whole trip.”
“We need to get you a girl,” Mac mused. “I’m sure there are a lot of single hotties at the resort who would be glad to round out our little group.”
“Speaking of hotties, who’s that who just walked in?” Trevor asked.
A petite blonde with waist-length hair and a tight-cropped sweater walked in with three other teenage girls. They were laughing about something one of them had said as they hung up their parkas.
“Which one?” Eli asked.
“Her name’s Andi,” Eli supplied. “She’s the resort owner’s daughter.”
“Does she have a boyfriend?” Trevor wondered.
“Not that I know of.”
“All of a sudden this trip got more interesting.”
Alyson saw Trevor watching the girl as she reached up to adjust her turtleneck, exposing a strip of skin between her sweater and her jeans. She had to admit she had a nice figure. Coupled with her long hair and nice smile, she was exactly the type Trevor would go for.
“Wipe the drool off your face, she coming over,” Mac warned Trevor.
Andi’s friends headed toward a table in the corner while Andi came toward their table near the fireplace.
“Hi, guys. Who are your friends?” Andi asked Devon and Eli.
“This is my girlfriend, Alyson, and Eli’s girlfriend, Mackenzie,” Devon introduced them. “The handsome guy drooling at the end of the table is our friend Trevor.”
“Glad to meet you.” Andi was looking directly at Trevor.
“The pleasure is all mine.” Trevor grabbed her hand and kissed the back of it.
Alyson rolled her eyes.
“We were just about to order some dinner. Would you care to join us?” Trevor asked.
“Well…” Andi hesitated. “I’m here with my friends. But hey, why not? I’ll just go tell them what I’m doing. I’ll be right back.”
Andi started toward the table where her friends were waiting. After explaining things to her friends, she sat down on the bench next to Trevor.
“We were just talking about the man they found in the snowbank,” Trevor said. “Rumor we heard was that he froze to death.”
“Yeah, that’s what we think. People don’t realize how dangerous the elements can be. We have quite a few deaths every year at the resort and it’s always a nightmare. Families come here to have fun and relax, and then someone ends up dead.”
“People freeze to death often?” Mac asked.
“Not really. Most accidents happen on the slopes. Skiing is a dangerous sport, and unfortunately, there are more skier-meets-tree accidents than anyone realizes. We also have our share of backwoods avalanches that out-of-bounds skiers and snowmobile riders sometimes get caught in. A heavy snow like we’re having right now is a key trigger. You guys should be careful and stay on the groomed runs.”
“Are the local police going to investigate the death even though it appears to be accidental?” Alyson asked. “I mean, there’s always the possibility that the guy didn’t pass out but was knocked out.”
“We don’t really have a police force per se, just a security patrol. Usually someone from Vancouver comes in to investigate crimes, but no one will be able to fly in until the storm passes. From what I hear, that could be days.”
“Can’t they drive in the way we came?” Alyson asked.
“Didn’t you hear? There’s been a snowslide; a pretty big one, from what I heard. The road will be closed until they can get it cleared. I’m afraid we’re on our own for the next few days.”
“You mean we’re trapped here?” Mac asked. “No one can get in and no one can get out?”
“Don’t worry. We’re completely self-contained. We have our own shopping, restaurants, entertainment, fueling stations, and medical facility. We even have our own volunteer fire department. Barring a real emergency, we should be fine.”
“How do you power all this?” Alyson asked. “I don’t remember seeing electrical lines when we came in.”
“The terrain is too rugged to run electricity. We have several alternate energy sources: propane-powered generators, solar power, even wind power. We’re really cutting edge.”
“What about phone service?” Mac asked. “I noticed my cell doesn’t work here.”
“We have a satellite system that works pretty well except when there’s a big storm like this one. If the satphones are out we rely on two-way radios. It’s not always the most convenient system, but most guests come here to get away from it all, so lack of phone service usually isn’t a problem. We do have the occasional workaholic who goes into withdrawal during storms. Usually when the phones are down we can’t get Internet service either.”
“Does that happen often?” Mac asked. “Total isolation from the rest of the world?”
“No, not really. I mean, we have storms and lose the phones several times a year, but I can’t ever remember having a slide that completely blocked the road the way this one has. I’m afraid the staff really has their hands full with this one. We have guests who are due to check out who can’t leave and others who have prepaid for rooms they can’t get to.”
Alyson looked up as the waitress returned to the table. She was dressed in a brightly colored dress that fit in perfectly with the décor.
“Can I take your order?” she asked.
“I’ll have the fish tacos,” Alyson ordered.
“Beef burrito for me,” Trevor said.
“Same here,” Eli agreed.
“I was going to have the burrito, but now I’m thinking chicken tacos,” Mac informed the woman.
“I’ll have the chicken tacos as well,” Devon ordered.
“Andi?” the girl asked.