Excerpt (G): A Tall, Cool Ranger
As she leapt out of bed, someone knocked at the front door. She checked the clock. Eight. A bit early. Maybe it was the milkman. She clucked at her little joke, but took a moment to smooth her hair and flip off her fuzzy slippers. Halfway down the stairs, she peered through the glass door to see a tall, broad-shouldered silhouette. Someone new? And handsome too! Panting only slightly, she tripped on the last step and almost fell flat. Sucking in a couple of ragged breaths, she called, “Who is it?”
“Miss Lonegan? It’s Aidan Ellis. I’m the Chincoteague Refuge Manager. I apologize for the early hour, but I’d like to ask you a couple of questions.”
Questions? Dagne zipped into the kitchen and turned the burner off before opening the door. A tall, remarkably good-looking man in the tan uniform of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service stood on the mat. His dark brown eyes flecked with cream reminded her of the Sika elk that roamed Assateague. The flat-rimmed ranger hat obscured his hair but his tanned face sported a bit of five o’clock shadow, which only served to highlight the straight Roman nose. He smiled a dazzling smile, and stuck his hand out. “Miss Lonegan?”
“May I come in?” Dagne realized she was still holding his hand and gazing hungrily into those chocolate eyes. She shook her head to clear it.
“Of course, of course.” She led the way into the living room and indicated one of the easy chairs patterned in blue ponies. She sat down on the sleep sofa, only to spring up to clear the coffee table of half-filled take-out boxes and bits of underwear, her face burning. The ranger sat quietly, hat in hand, while she bustled about trying not to stare at his large, strong hands. A full head of rich brown hair too—is there anything that isn’t gorgeous about him? “Sorry. I’ve just moved in and I haven’t had time to organize, or even grocery shop.”
“I understand. Cora Anne said you’re staying for a year?”
Chincoteague sure was a small town. “Yes. I’m trying to write a novel.”
“That’s wonderful.” He didn’t seem surprised at the news. The pause lengthened. Dagne finally settled down on the sofa. “Well…Mr. Ellis, is it? What can I do for you?” How about a big, wet one?
“Miss Lonegan, as I mentioned, I supervise the wildlife refuge. I don’t know whether you’ve heard, but there’s been a murder.”
Dagne took a moment to pull her jaw back up and her eyes back in. “A what?”
“A murder. We found the body Saturday morning. On the refuge.”
“No, I had no idea. I haven’t talked to anyone yet today.” Wait a minute. When was I trapped on the Woodland Trail? “Saturday? The day before yesterday?”
“Yes.” He studied her, his eyes sharp. “I heard you were there on Friday afternoon. I mean, on the refuge. Nick, one of our volunteers, said he talked to you.”
Dagne tried to think. “Yes, that’s right. I stopped in at the visitor center just at closing around four. I’d seen a fawn with a broken leg on the Swan Cove trail the day before and wanted to let them know.”
“And where did you go after that?”
“I decided to walk the Woodland Trail.”
He sat forward eagerly. “You did? Did you see anyone else on the path?”
“There were a few people, yes, but they passed me early on. I was alone for most of the hike.”
“Did you see anyone in the parking lot?”
“No. No one. By the time I got back to my car everyone had gone.”
“What made you decide to go so late in the day?”
This was beginning to sound like an interrogation. His intensity made her nervous. “I…I didn’t really think about the time. I’d been working and thought I’d take a break and get some exercise. To tell the truth, I’d forgotten how long the trail was. When the sun went down the place spooked me a bit and I ran most of the way back.”
“Hmm.” He sat back. A couple of minutes ticked by. He seemed lost in a reverie.
“Mr. Ellis? Who was murdered?”
“What? Oh, please, call me Aidan. A local girl, name of Terri Aster. She’d been missing for three days. We assumed she had run away, but then Park Service maintenance reported an…odor. Police dogs found her.”
“Oh dear. And do you know who killed her?” Now that’s a stupid question. Why would he be here if they’d already caught the murderer?
“No, ma’am. We’re just following up leads, looking for possible witnesses. That sort of thing.” He looked grim.
“I see…Aidan. And you can call me Dagne.” God, he’s cute. Did I just simper?
“Dagne. Nice name.” He smiled, and a tingling sensation trickled up her back. “Anyway, we don’t have much to go on yet. We’re questioning anyone who visited the refuge on Friday or early Saturday.”
Curiosity trumping prudence, Dagne ventured, “So, how was she killed?”
Aidan stopped smiling. “I’m afraid it would be inappropriate to give out details at this stage.” He stood. “Here’s my card. Since we found the body on federal property I’ll be in charge of the investigation. If you think of anything else that might be of interest don’t hesitate to give me a call. For example, if you saw or heard anything unusual.”
It was on the tip of her tongue to make a flirtatious reply, but she bit it instead. Talk about inappropriate timing! But he was so gorgeous, so polite, so different from Jack. Maybe, just maybe….