Danger is in the Shadows (A Paynes Creek thriller)
A child’s mysterious death dredges up the fractured details of Forensic Pathologist Corinne Michel’s traumatic past.
Details about Danger is in the Shadows, the next standalone novel in the Paynes Creek Thriller series, is coming soon.
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A sample chapter of Danger is in the Shadows is available below.
Danger is in the Shadows - Read Chapter One
DANGER IS IN THE SHADOWS
A child’s mysterious death dredges up the fractured details of a woman’s traumatic past.
How had my therapist talked me into this?
Glancing down at my phone, I reread the directions Kate had given me, then looked up at the once dilapidated warehouse that was half the size of a city block. The building was dark except for one corner of the top floor to my right, where bright light shone through large windows.
I pulled my phone from my purse and clicked on Kate’s name. It was the safe thing to do, right? I was supposed call a friend when approaching some dark, scary building to meet a man I didn’t know. He could be a serial killer for all I knew.
“What are you doing?” Kate said when she answered. “You’re supposed to be there already.”
“Relax. I’m standing outside the building.”
“Oh,” she said long and drawn out. “You’re scared.”
“I’m not scared,” I protested. “I’m just cautiously hesitant.”
“Liam is a friend. A very talented artist. I know him well. Just meet him. If you decide you don’t wish to be a part of his project, you say ‘No, thank you,’ and you leave.”
“And what do you know about this project?”
“Well, I’m not exactly sure. He and I were supposed to meet tonight, but I had to push our appointment to next week, so I sent you instead.”
“So I’m his consolation prize?”
“Oh, honey, you’ll never be someone’s second best.” She laughed. “I have a date tonight. And you could use a change of pace.”
“Let me get this straight. I’m going to go meet your friend, the artist, and you get to go out on a hot date?”
“Exactly. Now, stop stalling. This will be good for you. And you’d be helping a friend out. Call me tomorrow.”
I hung up. Looked up at the building again. “Good for me,” I whispered to myself. My therapist—and friend—was telling me that meeting this artist was going to be ‘good for me.’
Dr. Kate Stone, a Doctor of Psychology, was a bit unorthodox in her recommendations for guiding me through my own tough profession, but she’d always been effective.
And as a friend, she pushed me in ways that I needed.
She’d gotten me through a terrible string of fires last year by suggesting acupuncture when a serial arsonist killed half a dozen residents of Kentucky, including a few people in Paynes Creek. I’d been the lead forensic pathologist on the case, and it had involved people I knew and cared for. The acupuncture she’d prescribed did a decent job of temporarily lowering my anxiety during the trial against a local veterinarian, his uncle the fire chief, and the vet’s wife—another psychologist who turned out to be on some sort of revenge serial killing spree against men who had gotten away with sexual assault, and anyone who helped those men.
And lately, the stress I’d taken on when the Commonwealth Attorney for Hopewell County decided to question an autopsy I had performed led me to schedule additional time on Kate’s proverbial couch.
This attorney hadn’t just questioned the autopsy, he’d also made a statement to the press about it, causing many people who’d elected me as County Coroner to question my abilities.
Added to that stress was my recent breakup with a high-power CPA from Lexington who turned out to be a narcissist, which apparently is the clinical term for asshole. I had tried to work through that clusterfuck of a relationship without involving Kate, but she was more than just a psychologist to me. She was my friend, which was probably why she liked suggesting some unusual ways that I might “work on myself.”
That was what she called it—ways to work on myself.
During our session on Wednesday—a session she refused to accept payment for as she felt it was unethical to take my money while we enjoyed a bottle of wine—she suggested that I had stopped having fun or “letting loose” since breaking it off with Eric. She went on to prescribe a way for me to do just that.
And here I was, standing in front of a building, scared—yes, scared—to let loose.
But because I trusted Kate completely, I tucked my phone away and started toward what appeared to be a big ol’ empty building.
Just before dusk, with the sun setting on the other side, the warehouse was highlighted by a rich glow. What had appeared to be an abandoned building when I first arrived—we see what we want to see, I suppose—now looked like the rehabilitated and modernized building that I had read about.
Situated in the middle of the warehouse district—or distillery district, according to some—a developer had turned the first floor of the abandoned bourbon barrelhouse into retail space that was closed up for the night. And the second and third floors had been converted into office and loft space.
On the other side of this particular building sat additional converted warehouses that had been renovated into hip new restaurants, bars, and other retail spaces. And let’s not forget “experiences,” like axe throwing, escape rooms, and rage rooms, all designed to help young professionals with ample disposable income escape the stress and anxiety of their daily lives. This was the current hot spot for the young people of the large university town and a happy hour gathering area for twenty-somethings.
But I wasn’t on my way to throw hatchets at targets, mentally fight my way out of a locked room, or to smash old computers and furniture into smithereens. I wasn’t even on my way to enjoy a happy hour drink with a friend or, even better, a date.
As a group of young adults laughed in the distance, most likely on their way to one of the nearby bars, I stared up at the controversial Lexington landmark. Painted into the side of the brick warehouse was a large mural.
As hesitant as I was when I first arrived, I could still pause to admire the art that had caused quite the stir among the blue bloods of Lexington. Even Eric, who sat on the art council, had gotten involved in trying to stop the mural from happening. But even then, I didn’t understand the point of view of the local shop owners, something Eric and I had fought about. Looking back, that fight should have been a final clue that the relationship wasn’t going to work.
As the story of the mural goes, the warehouse developer was an admirer of street art, and he commissioned an award-winning, renowned French muralist to create the giant painting.
From a distance, admirers of the art could see that the concrete beams running vertically along the building had been used to look like jail cell bars, and the mural itself was of a person behind those bars. The person depicted in the painting was supposed to be an infamous street artist who’d gotten trapped inside the building after running from police in the 1920s. He’d been trapped there for days when he finally made his way out.
Not sure if that story was fact or fiction, I made a mental note to look up the legend of the mural later. There had even been a video about it. All I remember was that the local business owners were appalled when the mural was complete, and they fought hard to have it painted over.
Smiling now, my heels clacked against the broken asphalt of the parking lot. Remembering that story and talking to Kate had calmed me enough to proceed.
Even if my session with Kate hadn’t been a real therapy session, she’d been right when she suggested I needed to get out more. Add to that the fact that I wasn’t getting any younger. I was about to turn thirty-two, and to many in the conservative small town of Paynes Creek, I was an old maid.
But, dammit, I looked good. And I wasn’t about to start listening to the ideals of people who would have me married off to the first person I met at a Sunday night potluck. So I took Kate’s suggestion.
After a deep breath, I approached the entrance in the center of the building. Contemporary glass doors contrasted with the rustic brick facade of the warehouse and the dark street mural. I eyed the electronic control panel next to the doors
Just before I requested entrance, movement to my left caught my attention.
Next to one of the few vehicles in the parking lot, a man in a black ball cap lifted a hand, and the burning glow of a cigarette lit up beneath the shadow of that cap. He was pointed straight at me, his head unmoving as he took another drag. I tried not to stare, but the way his head seemed trained on me sent a chill across my neck and down my spine.
I couldn’t really make out the features of his face due to the cap siting low on his head. I reached for my phone, and as I hovered my finger over Kate’s name again, he turned away. Then he tossed the cigarette to the ground and snuffed it out with his foot before opening his car door. He climbed behind the wheel of an older model sedan and started the engine.
I gave my head a little shake, clearly allowing paranoia to creep inside my head.
Turning back to the entrance, I pressed a string of numbers into the electronic control panel Kate had provided.
A man’s voice spoke through the speaker. “Hello? Corinne?”
“Uh… yes,” I nearly stuttered, assuming that the man on the other end of the speaker was seeing me on video.
“Come on up. I’m on the top floor.”
I entered and made my way to an elevator that appeared to be old with wrought iron and wooden doors, but in reality, the elevator, like the front doors, had been modernized.
After a short elevator ride, the doors opened up to what I could only describe as some sort of lobby with hardwood floors clearly constructed of reclaimed wood, black-painted walls, and crystal chandeliers overhead. Again, it was a perfect mix of old and new, rustic and opulent.
To my left, a door opened, and a man stepped out. He wore faded blue jeans that sat low on his hips and a black concert t-shirt. His dark brown hair was slightly unkempt and spiked in the front. “Corinne?” he asked with just a hint of a smile. His midnight eyes held mine.
To say he had an intimidating edge to him would be an understatement.
When I said nothing, he leaned against the doorjamb and crossed his arms.
I gave my head a little shake. “Sorry. Yes, I’m Corinne.” I stepped forward and held out my hand. “Kate’s patient—” I winced. “Friend,” I quickly corrected. “I’m Kate’s friend.”
His brows shot up, but he took my hand in his and shook. “Liam Jameson. Come in.” He backed up and ushered me through the door.
Inside, I stopped and admired the large, open space. “Oh, wow,” I said as I scanned what could only be described as the perfect artist’s studio. One large wall was nothing but floor to ceiling windows framed in black. Beyond the windows, and in the distance, was the Lexington skyline. Stretched canvas paintings of all sizes leaned against the white walls and each other.
On the opposite side of the oversized space from the windows, a black metal spiral staircase led to a loft. The loft appeared to be minimally decorated with not much more than a bed and a dresser.
“What an amazing space!” I said as I walked further into the room.
“I’m glad you approve,” he said with something in his tone that said he couldn’t care less if I liked the space. He walked past me and straight over to where an easel was set up. “You ready to get started?”
Okay. Not one for small talk.
I watched him carefully. That I had been nervous to come here was quite the understatement. I was doing this man—this artist, Liam Jameson—a favor, according to Kate. Well, it was supposed to be good for me, as well, but she had pitched it as “you’d be helping a friend out.”
“How do you and Kate know each other?” I asked.
Kate had explained that a famous artist was in town—a friend of hers—to work on an art exhibit to take place in the fall, and he needed subjects for his paintings. She promised that he was just getting started on this new project, and that I most likely wouldn’t even be considered for the actual exhibit. I would just be practice for the real thing, but that it would be good for me to do something out of my comfort zone and, in her words, something to put me in touch with my artistic side.
But now that I was here, I was having second thoughts. So far, I wasn’t sure what to think of the man Kate spoke so highly of. He seemed cold and impersonal.
“She didn’t tell you?”
“No.” I thought about my conversation with Kate. “Actually, she was rather vague. Just said you were friends.”
“We go back quite a few years.” He just stared at me, smirking, not really answering the question. It was weird, but I made a mental note to question Kate later. “You’re here to model for me, right?” he asked. “You want to be part of my upcoming exhibit?” Without waiting for an answer, he lifted his hand and gestured toward an area against the wall. “You can change over there. The curtains slide around and there’s a clean robe.”
I looked from the makeshift dressing room and back to him. cocked my head. “Did I misunderstand?”
He sat on a stool behind the blank canvas, propping one leg on a rung. “I don’t know. What was your understanding?”
“That you needed models to paint.”
“That’s right.” He casually crossed his arms, considering me.
I glanced at the robe, then at some of the paintings against the wall. Only then did I see that most of the paintings were of men and women wearing very little, if any, clothing. One woman was wearing nothing but a pair of red lace panties and a stethoscope. A doctor? A nurse?
The painting beside that one was of a man wearing no clothes, but he was holding a book in front of his crotch titled Criminal Law of Kentucky.
To the left of the nude lawyer were several more women. Most of the paintings were of women.
I turned back to Liam. “What sort of exhibit are you creating?”
“Kate really didn’t tell you?” Amusement flashed across the features of his face.
“She might have left a few details out.” I was going to kill Kate.
He stood from the stool. His demeanor began to shift slightly. “We can start slowly.” He walked over and grabbed my hand and pulled me to a spot in front of the canvas. He then grabbed another metal stool. “How about for tonight, you just sit for me.” He eyed me up and down, considering me with those dark eyes. “Leave your heels on, and your skirt. But take your jacket off. And unbutton a couple of buttons of your blouse.”
As he spoke, the beginnings of panic formed in my chest. A cold sweat spread across my neck. Staring at the empty stool, I said. “I can’t do this.” I turned and started for the door.
Liam caught up to me. “Wait. I’m sorry. Did I say something wrong?”
I cocked my head. His tone had softened. As did his eyes.
“I’m not sure,” I said. “But I don’t have a good feeling, so I’m out of here.”
Because those were the rules. My personal rules. If I didn’t have a good feeling, I left a situation. I didn’t stick around to find out if I was right or wrong. And between the mysterious smoking man in the parking lot and the intimidating man who painted nudes, I needed to go home and rethink my life.
I continued toward the door, but before I reached it, my phone rang. I pulled it from my purse and saw that it was Mac McCracken, the Paynes Creek Chief of Police. “Hello,” I said, turning back toward Liam.
“Dr. Michel,” the chief said. He always used my professional name when he called in an official capacity. “We have a situation. I’m going to text you an address.”
I tensed at the urgent tone in the chief’s voice. “Can you hold for just a minute, Chief?”
I muted the phone and held it down for a second while I addressed Liam. “Sorry to have wasted your time, but duty calls.” I pointed at the phone to indicate work was much more important than the mistake I’d been about to make.
I walked to the elevator and hit the call button, but before I took the chief’s call off of mute, Liam asked from the doorway, “What do you do, Corinne? Kate didn’t tell me.”
The elevator arrived, and I climbed on. For the first time since I’d met Liam, I smiled, then nodded toward the paintings behind him as the elevator doors began to close. “Nothing that will look good in one of your paintings.”