Ice Cold Heart by P. J. Tracy: ‘As he shoveled, he never noticed the pair of eyes watching him’

The latest novel in the gripping, bestselling Twin Cities series.

Peter never grew tired of walking the rough forest trails near his home as twilight descended. There was beauty in shadows, especially on a night like this, when a voluptuous full moon was rising in a velvety purple sky. To him, it looked like a mammoth diamond, embellishing a royal cloak. As he walked, he admired the spires of pines vaulting high above the lower canopy of leafy oak and maple, all casting eerie silhouettes on the forest floor. He delighted in the first firebugs of the season, punctuating the encroaching darkness like tiny restless candles, as they swirled through the woods on their brief mission to mate and die.

Eventually he stopped at the familiar clearing on the crest of a small hill, where the trees opened up to reveal a moon-spangled lake. He heard waterfowl flutter and fuss and squawk in their night-time nests. Bullfrogs were synchronizing in an amorous chorale, and a pair of cats let out ear-splitting yowls, which preceded a union.

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As he shoveled, he never noticed the pair of eyes watching him from the shadows of the forest. It was only when the familiar voice spoke that he realized he’d been entranced by his work to the point of oblivion.

It was mating season for just about everything in the forest, but there was also plenty of death afoot. While mating rituals were loud and riotous, the art of death was largely silent. A finely attuned ear might pick up the hushed swoop of an owl’s wings as it dove in for a kill, the rustle of a clever fox pouncing through tall grass to take its quarry, and maybe even the faint pad of a larger group of predators, like wolves, stalking a vulnerable fawn. All were stealthy bringers of death, efficient, brutal and without remorse. Yes, death was mostly silent, until the cries of the dying pierced the air. They didn’t last long, and there were no sounds after that He continued on to the abandoned cabin that had once sheltered hunters during inclement weather. How ironic that it now sheltered the hunted. The door creaked open on rusty hinges and he smelled mold, dirt, shit, blood. He trained his flashlight on the seven dishonest men and women, the traitors, who were huddled in the corner, bound, blindfolded and tethered to the wall. He’d also gagged them, because he had no interest in hearing their lies or their pleas. They still struggled, but very feebly now. Their cries definitely wouldn’t last long: he would make sure of it. He studied the pathetic tableau for a few moments, wondering if he shouldn’t take care of things now. None of them deserved the mercy of death, but keeping them here was getting dangerous. Moving them would be even more so.  

He heard the distant, guttural rumble of thunder – or had it been an explosion? Either way, it was most definitely a sign meant to guide him. The spirits were speaking to him. Feeling profound relief and gratitude that he’d been granted direction, he slipped back outside, retrieved the shovel propped against the front log wall of the cabin, and began preparing the grave. It would be a long night of work, but he had the moon to illuminate his efforts and keep him company. As he shoveled, he never noticed the pair of eyes watching him from the shadows of the forest. It was only when the familiar voice spoke that he realized he’d been entranced by his work to the point of oblivion. Foolish, dangerous, potentially deadly.

‘Let’s not kill each other, Peter,’ the man said. ‘It’s time to set aside the past and help each other.’

Peter gaped at him.

‘How can you ever expect me to set aside the past?’

‘Things are ending, you know that, and we can’t stay here.’

‘I don’t want your help. I don’t need it.’ ‘I think you might. I can understand why you don’t trust me, so as a gesture of goodwill, I’ve brought you a gift. I think you’ll like it.’

Peter watched a figure emerge cautiously from the forest. From what he could see, he liked the gift very much.


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