Murder at Haven's Rock by Kelley Armstrong
What is the 1st Chapter Newsletter?
We send the first chapter of a different book straight to your inbox every week, for free.
This week’s chapter:
Title: Murder at Haven’s Rock
Author: Kelley Armstrong
I’m pressed against the glass of an airplane window, looking for a dream come true, and I’m absolutely terrified. I don’t have dreams. Ambitions, yes. Plans, certainly. Get a degree. Go to police college. Become a detective. Get on the homicide squad. Very practical aspirations, devoid of people or places. Get a dog? Have a circle of good friends? Fall in love? Move into the countryside? Nope. I excised all that from my life plans at eighteen, when I took a gun to confront a guy who put me in the hospital, and I pulled the trigger, and I spent the rest of my life waiting to be caught for it. I didn’t dare live a life where others might get hurt. Where I might get hurt, when the inevitable end came. I couldn’t afford dreams.
Now I have one. I have so damn much these days that it scares the shit out of me. Good friends. A husband. A life focus. Even a dog. All of that swirls together around the nexus of a place that has been born from my idea, shaped by our shared dream, now taking form in the Yukon wilderness. Taking form somewhere below me.
I shouldn’t be able to see it from here. If I can, then it’s not hidden, and we’ve paid a lot of money for nothing. That doesn’t keep me from peering into the endless forest, straining for a glimpse of a roof, a glitter of metal, something that doesn’t quite fit in this vast forest.
“See it yet?” drawls a voice through my headset. I glance over at Dalton sitting beside me. One leg bounces, his fingers tapping against it, and I have to smile at that. My husband is used to being in the pilot’s seat, and that leg has been bouncing since we boarded the plane in Dawson City.
“Just give me the damn coordinates,” he’d said when Yolanda said someone would fly us out. She’d refused, and I saw the power play there. The latest in a series of them. This will be our town when it’s finished. Until then, it’s hers, and we’d better damn well get used to that.
“One more month,” I say over our private channel. “Then construction will be done, and we can say thank you very much and put her on a plane.” I catch his expression. “All right. I’ll say thank you very much, and you can put her on a plane.”
That makes him snort. Our dog, Storm, lifts her huge, black Newfoundland head, and Dalton gives her a pat as he leans over to look out my window, hand going to my knee.
His gray eyes squint. Then he says, “Right there,” and points.
I peer out the window and see nothing but trees and lakes and mountains—in other words, I see the Yukon. He directs my attention, but I shake my head. There’s nothing there. Just one of hundreds of small lakes and the endless green of the boreal forest.
When the plane veers in the direction he’s pointing, I say, “No way. I don’t see . . .”
And then I do. We’ve flown low enough that I can make out the buildings. Or what I know are buildings, though the structural camouflage makes it look like a rocky clearing. A little lower, and my breath catches.
Dalton’s hand tightens on my leg. “Just like you imagined it?”
I bite back the urge to say “like we imagined it.” It’s my nature to deflect when attention turns my way. I’m not shy—it’s just how I was raised. Share credit; accept blame. But when Dalton tenses, waiting for me to correct him, I smile and say, “It’s perfect, isn’t it?”
He brushes a kiss over my cheek. Haven’s Rock was my idea first, but it was our dream, and now I see it unfolding below, and my chest clenches so hard I have to fight to draw breath.
I throw my arms around Dalton’s neck. There’s a moment of surprise. Again, this is one hundred percent not Casey Butler behavior. But after that spark of shock, he hugs me back and whispers in my ear, “We did it.”
I hug him tighter. “We did.”
Haven’s Rock. The town may be new, but its roots go down into the permafrost. Even the name is significant. Rock for Rockton, the town where I went to work as a detective four years ago and met a hard-assed sheriff and fell in love—with him and the town and the Yukon itself. Rock for stability, too, a bedrock foundation, the thing we lacked in Rockton.
And Haven? Well, that’s the most important part. Haven’s Rock is a sanctuary for those in need. It’s a place to hide when the law isn’t enough to protect you from persecution for your beliefs or lifestyle, or from a stalker or abusive partner. Rockton was supposed to be that, and it was for some, but for the owners, it was a purely financial investment. This will be different. This time, we’re in charge.
The plane lands, and Dalton’s still opening the door when a woman strides into the hangar. Yolanda. We’ve never met, but I know her cousin, Petra, and her grandmother, Émilie, and there is enough of them in her that I know her on sight. She’s taller than her cousin and grandmother, with dark curls and skin a couple of shades darker than mine, but her expression is one I know well—it’s Émilie or Petra on a mission and ready to do battle.
Great. We aren’t even out of the plane yet, and we’re already the enemy, even after dropping everything and flying a thousand kilometers to help her.
Dalton climbs out as I snap a leash on Storm. The dog sighs at that, jowls quivering, and thumps her bulk back onto the floor of the plane.
I laugh under my breath. “Yes, it’s a leash. Don’t worry, we’re not in a city.”
When we take her to Dawson City or Whitehorse, she only needs her leash in a few places. To her, a leash means a big city, like Vancouver, which she likes as little as Dalton does.
“Sheriff Eric Dalton,” Yolanda says outside.
I turn to peer through the open door. She’s striding toward him, her expression a little smug, as if she’s pleased that Dalton is nothing more than the cowboy she imagined. A modern-day Wild West sheriff, complete with boots and faded jeans and flannel shirt and even a Western-style brimmed hat. He has the rangy build, the steel-gray eyes, and the gun at his side. Tanned white skin and close-cropped dark blond hair complete the look. If there’s anything she might not expect, it’s his age, and he’s actually younger than she probably thinks—three days of beard scruff masks smooth skin, and he has crow’s feet on his eyes, from squinting into the sun. He’s thirty-four, a year younger than me and about ten years younger than Yolanda.
They shake hands as I bring Storm out the door. Yolanda’s gaze goes straight to the dog, with a frown of puzzlement. When it rises to me, that expression doesn’t change.
Dalton might have been what she expected. Evidently, I am not. It could be that my name led her to expect someone whiter. It could be that my job title led her to expect someone more physically intimidating. I’m neither. I’m a slightly built, five-foot-two woman who takes after her Asian mother more than her Scottish father.
“Casey Butler,” I say as I walk over with my hand out.
“What’s with the dog?” she says.
My brows rise. Good to meet you, too.
I don’t say that. I’m the good cop in this relationship—the reasonable one that everyone prefers to talk to. Everyone who doesn’t know us well, that is. Dalton and I have learned the benefits of this particular game, and so I bite back anything even mildly sarcastic and only smile.
“This is Storm,” I say.
“She’s our dog.”
“I see that.”
Dalton’s jaw flexes. “She’s our dog,” he says, in a tone that tells her nothing else should need to be said.
Our dog. Our town. Yes, her grandmother invested in Haven’s Rock, but the majority of the money came from my inheritance and my sister’s, and even that is none of her business. Yolanda was hired to oversee construction of our town. We can bring in an elephant if we want.
So far, I’ve been calm, even conciliatory, in recognition of the fact that Yolanda is a damn fine builder, even if, like so many experts, she’s a pain in the ass. I guess, if you’re at the top of your game, you have that luxury and the confidence to use it, and I completely respect that . . . it just doesn’t make her any less of a pain in the ass.
We’d expected to be up here, helping build our town and getting a sense of this corner of the wilderness as we did. Yolanda vetoed that. If we wanted her, we had to stay away. She wouldn’t work with the “homeowners” peering over her shoulder.
“I have two missing crew members,” she says. “I called you in to find them. This isn’t a site visit.”
Dalton points at Storm’s nose. When Yolanda narrows her eyes, he says, “The dog is here for that thing on the end of her snout.”
“She’s a tracking dog,” I say.
Yolanda’s look says this is a very fine excuse. We don’t argue, because she’s fifty percent right. Newfoundlands are water-rescue dogs. Dalton used the tracking-dog justification as an excuse for buying me my dream breed and pretending it was a practical choice.
“May we go into town and talk?” I ask.
My head jerks up. “Excuse me?”
“I said ‘no,’ because once you’re in town, you’re going to want to look around, and I need my people back.”
Dalton’s jaw tenses, and his gaze shifts my way, lobbing this grenade in my direction.
“While we are certainly interested in seeing the town you built for us,” I say, trying hard not to emphasize those last four words, “the missing people are our priority, and we’re quite capable of focusing on that.”
“Not being easily distracted children,” Dalton mutters.
Yolanda turns to him. “You built a town in the middle of the Yukon wilderness for people in need of sanctuary, and you’re convinced it’ll work out, despite it failing spectacularly the last time.”
“Rockton didn’t fail,” I say, as evenly as I can manage. “It saved hundreds, thousands even. Which you well know, being the descendant of some of the people it saved. Your grandparents believed in it enough to devote themselves to keeping it alive for as long as possible.”
Enjoying this 1st chapter? Subscribe to discover new authors.
“And all it got them was heartache and disappointment. No, you aren’t children. You’re something worse. You’re idealists.” She waves away any protest. “Which is none of my business. It’s your money and Gran’s. My concern is my missing people, and I need you out there now, looking for them.”
I glance at Dalton. His expression is dark, but he says nothing. My call.
“I’ll need scent markers,” I say. “Recently worn clothing for both your architect and your engineer.”
“I’ll bring it.”
“Once we find your missing people, we will do a site visit. Then we’re staying.”
“Ready for that? We accept that our home may not be ready, and we’ve brought supplies to avoid using yours. We need to stay and get things ready, since we apparently have residents moving in next month, a year ahead of schedule.”
Yolanda grumbles under her breath. For once, those grumbles aren’t directed at us. They’re for her grandmother, the one pushing the timeline forward. She’s found people in urgent need and convinced us to open our doors right away, rather than living in the town for a year on our own, as planned.
“We’re staying,” I say. “After we find your missing crew members.”
Dalton mutters, “Who failed to obey the first fucking rule of this town.”
“Rules one through three, I think,” I say to Dalton. “Stay out of the forest. Stay out of the damn forest. Goddamn it, what part of ‘stay out of the forest’ did you not understand?”
Yolanda stares as if we’re speaking a foreign language. We are, in a way, though it’s one anyone who spent a week in Rockton would have understood.
Finally, she says, “I did not fail to impart that rule. Imparted it, reinforced it, and enforced it. But short of an electric fence, you can’t keep people from sneaking out.”
“Electric fences don’t work either,” Dalton drawls. “We tried that. Course, they probably work better if you have electricity.”
I snort a laugh. Yolanda doesn’t crack a smile.
“We know exactly how hard it is to keep people in,” I say. “Especially if they’re the outdoorsy type, surrounded by the fabled wilderness of the north. So tell us a bit more about who we’re looking for. Your engineer and architect. A man and a woman who went missing at night. The obvious answer is that they were hooking up. Any sense of that?”
“I would have no idea,” she says. “My crew’s social lives are their own.”
“All right,” I say. “Then I’m going to need to talk to someone who actually knew them. There are a dozen possible scenarios here and knowing which is most likely will help us find them.”
“How? You’re tracking them. You don’t need to know why they’re out there.”
“It helps if we do,” I say calmly. “Tracking isn’t a perfect science. Storm will do her job, and Eric will do his, but there will be times when they lose the trail, and we need to make a guess. Being able to make an educated guess will help.”
I brace for an argument, but she nods. “Understood. All right then. We have two missing people. One is Penny, the architect. Early forties. Single. Sexual orientation unknown, as you were asking about a possible entanglement. She’s never shown any interest in the forest or in Bruno, who is my engineer and the other missing person. Late forties. Married to a woman.”
“Has anyone mentioned seeing them together in a social setting?”
She pauses long enough that I add, “I know people are here to work, and they’re being paid extra to work long hours, but I’m presuming there’s still some social scene, even if it’s only hanging out around a campfire with beers and marshmallows.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
I glance at Dalton and then say, “I’m not asking whether you’ve noticed who participates in social gatherings. I’m just wondering whether there’s someone I can speak to about them.”
“I presume there are social gatherings, but when my work-day finishes, I’m in my office, working some more.”
In other words, she’d hesitated because she’s honestly not sure how her crew socializes, much less who hangs out with whom.
“Did Penny and Bruno seem to get along in a professional sense?” I ask.
“As well as can be expected for an architect and engineer.”
Dalton rocks, a subtle show of frustration, and she says, “The architect has the vision and the engineer has to make it work. There is always conflict, but it was minimal, as far as I know.”
“Have either of them been known to go into the forest for any reason?” I ask.
“Bruno joined the guided walks that you two suggested. I allowed them, recognizing that while they’re an inconvenience, they might cut down on people wandering off on their own.”
“She never joined them. Before you arrived, I asked the young woman in charge of the walks. I also reviewed our initial interviews.” She’s relaxing now, on familiar ground. “Bruno mentioned he’d love to work in Alaska again—we’ve told them it’s Alaska, not the Yukon. He’d worked in the north before and enjoyed it. Penny said nothing about the environment. The setting seemed inconsequential to her.”
“Two last questions before we take off. Was there any evidence they took anything with them? Clothing or other equipment?”
“I had people check their lockers as soon as they were reported missing. All clothing is accounted for except for what they would have been wearing. Each crew member was issued a high-powered penlight and a utility tool with a knife. Penny’s are in her bunk. Bruno’s are not. However, I have seen Bruno carrying his on the job.”
“Meaning if they’re missing, that doesn’t necessarily mean he prepped for a trip into the forest. Penny definitely didn’t, which brings me to the final question. Is there any evidence that either of them was taken by force?”
Yolanda shakes her head. “No. Both their beds show no signs of being slept in. Several people saw Penny earlier in the evening. The last person to see Bruno seems to have been me. We were discussing the schedule, and we parted at around nine. No one reports seeing him after that.”
I’d rather ask around myself. I’d also rather get a look at their sleeping quarters myself. But we have a trail that’s growing cold, and if I’m being truly honest, even my focus might waver once I see our new town.
“All right,” I say. “If you can bring those scent markers, we’ll set out.”
Want to read more?
Click here to buy Murder at Haven’s Rock by Kelley Armstrong.