While driving on an icy road one night, Liss swerves her car when something darts out in front of it. The Scottish terrier she finds shivering in the snow turns out to be a reality TV star. But when the pooch’s owner is murdered, her daughter asks Liss to take her place on the reality show. Before Liss can tell her she’s barking up the wrong tree, she finds herself ensnarled in the strange world of reality competitions and hot on the trail of a deadly competitor. And just as she starts pawing at the truth, Liss realizes she could be next on the murderer’s list . . .
“Full of local color, suspicious characters, and adorable fur-babies. What's not to like?” —Kirkus Reviews
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The Scottie Barked at Midnight
By KAITLYN DUNNETT
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Kathy Lynn Emerson
All rights reserved.
Liss Ruskin peered through her windshield into what could only be described as "a dark and stormy night." She knew that phrase was a cliché, but there were times when a few overused and hackneyed words did a better job of summing things up than a whole paragraph of metaphor-and simile-laden description. This was one of them.
March in the western Maine mountains was always unpredictable. Only that morning the sun had been bright, the sky cloudless. Liss had set off for Freeport in good spirits, shopping list in hand. The day had passed quickly. To be truthful, she'd lost track of time, but by late afternoon she'd scored a bonanza of bargains from L.L. Bean and elsewhere, and had headed home a happy camper. When she was halfway back to Moosetookalook, just after the sun went down, the wind came up. Then the heavens opened to spit out sleet, the worst of the worst when it came to winter driving.
For the last half hour, Liss had chugged along the winding two-lane road at a snail's pace, eyes peeled for glare ice on the pavement. Her windshield wipers were barely able to keep up with the precipitation, and she found herself leaning forward over the steering wheel and squinting, as if that would somehow improve visibility.
Even at fifteen miles per hour, her tires kept losing traction on the slick surface. More than once she narrowly avoided sliding sideways into a ditch. Every hill — and there were lots of them — was a challenge, but it wasn't as if she had much choice about staying on the road. If she pulled over onto the shoulder and stopped, she wasn't certain she'd be able to get going again until spring. Worse, she'd be a sitting duck for some other vehicle to skid into.
As she started her descent of a long, steep hill with thick woods on either side, Liss cautiously applied the brakes. Her hatchback fishtailed and briefly crossed the nearly obscured centerline. She regained control, heart thudding, grateful there were no other cars in sight.
"Only a few more miles," she whispered to reassure herself.
The words were barely audible above the racket. Her tires shushed as they rolled onward through accumulated slush. Sleet pinged, loud and steady, on the car's metal roof. Closer still, the hum of the hardworking engine competed with the whoosh of the heater going full blast to blow hot air onto the inside of the windshield. Liss resisted the temptation to drown them out with the audiobook she'd been listening to on the trip south. As soon as the weather closed in, she'd shut off the player, unwilling to risk being distracted when road conditions were so bad.
She let out the breath she'd been holding when she reached the bottom of a hill and started along the long, level stretch at its foot. To unclench the muscles in her back and neck, she lifted one shoulder, then the other, then rolled both. Ever so slightly, she relaxed the death grip she'd had on the steering wheel. Inside her warm winter gloves, her fingers had clenched it so tightly that they'd gone numb. They tingled with a disconcerting pins-and-needles sensation when she flexed them.
It was at that instant that something darted out of the trees and ran right in front of Liss's car. Despite everything she'd been taught about winter driving, Liss braked hard and turned the wheel, the desire to avoid killing a defenseless animal proving stronger than her sense of self-preservation.
The next seconds seemed to last an eternity. One tire hit a patch of black ice. The car slewed toward the side of the road. Liss felt a small bump and hoped it was only the car going over the ridge of dirty, hard-packed snow left behind by a winter's worth of plowing. Then an enormous tree loomed up out of nowhere. Sure she was about to slam head-on into its massive trunk, Liss let go of the steering wheel, squeezed her eyes tightly shut, and covered her face with her arms.
The car went into another spin, slowed, and shuddered to a stop. Liss's seat belt bit into her waist and torso. Her head jerked. Then a profound stillness settled over everything.
Her heart in her throat, she peeked out from between her fingers. Through a curtain of dark brown hair, she watched the windshield wipers scrape back and forth across unbroken glass. She hadn't hit the tree. She hadn't hit anything. The jolt when the car came to a halt hadn't even been hard enough to inflate the airbag.
Cautiously, she took an inventory of body parts. The seat and shoulder belt loosened, but they'd probably left bruises behind. Nothing throbbed ... yet. She hadn't banged her head on the steering wheel. Alert for any indication of whiplash, she craned her neck to see where she'd ended up.
The tree she'd nearly slammed into was now off to her right, only inches from the passenger-side door. It didn't look as if she'd even scraped the bark. Not only was she still in one piece, so was her car. The engine continued to run, fueling the heater and the headlights.
"Okay," she whispered. "So far, so good."
Her fingers trembled as she reached out to turn off the ignition. Before she tried to drive away, she'd need to leave this warm little cocoon and check for damage to the tires and undercarriage. If she had a flat or a gas or oil leak, she wasn't going anywhere.
It took her three tries to get her seat belt unfastened and two to open the driver's-side door. An annoying dinging reminded her the headlights were still on, but she wasn't about to turn them off. The sound also jolted her memory. There had been a reason she'd gone off the road.
She'd caught only a glimpse of the small animal that had dashed in front of her car, but that had been enough to convince her it wasn't a raccoon or a skunk or a fox. She'd braked in an attempt to avoid hitting someone's pet. With a sick sense of dread, she knew she had to find out what had happened to it before she could continue on her way.
That was assuming she was going to be able to go anywhere. Pushing her door the rest of the way open, Liss stepped out into slush. Her left boot hit the icy ground and took off on its own, wrenching her knee. If she hadn't caught hold of the doorframe in the nick of time, she'd have landed in an undignified heap next to her car.
Liss swore under her breath as she righted herself. That blasted knee was the bane of her existence. Years before, it had cost her the career she'd built as a professional Scottish dancer. It still ached on subzero winter nights. And every once in a while, if she abused it or neglected her regimen of muscle-strengthening exercises, it reacted by zapping her with shooting pains and a tendency to give out without warning. Moving gingerly, she tested it. When it took her weight, she breathed easier. Still keeping one hand on the roof of the car for balance, she surveyed her surroundings.
By some miracle, the car was still half on the shoulder. With the help of the bag of kitty litter she always carried in her trunk in winter, Liss was sure she'd be able to get the vehicle back onto the road. The biggest problem was that it was facing the wrong way. The headlight beams picked out the tracks her tires had left as she skidded toward that tree, proof of how narrowly she'd escaped a serious accident.
Her stomach clenched. For a moment she had to squeeze her eyes shut. She'd been lucky. Another few inches, a few miles per hour faster, and there would have been little left of either her or her car. She was shaken up. She'd have a few bruises, but she was alive. She had a lot to be grateful for.
She fumbled in her pocket for her cell phone, turned it on, and was gratified to discover she was not in one of rural Maine's many dead zones. She punched in the code to call home. She might or might not require help to get the car back on the road, but she did, rather desperately, need to hear her husband's voice.
Dan answered on the second ring. Sounding worried, he answered with, "You okay?"
"I'm fine." Except for the fact that her hands were still shaking and her voice had an annoying tremor and it was taking all her willpower not to burst into tears.
Dan wasn't fooled for a second. "What happened? Where are you?"
"The roads are icy. I'm stopped right now, so I wanted to let you know I'll be a little late."
Just hearing his voice made her stronger. She felt along the inside of the driver's-side door for the UNLOCK button. Then, keeping her free hand on the side of the car for balance, she took baby steps toward the back of the vehicle.
"Where are you?" Dan repeated.
"Maybe ten minutes from home. Don't you dare come out after me," she added in a rush, afraid he'd end up having an accident himself.
"What aren't you telling me?"
She opened the hatchback. The kitty litter was right where she'd left it, although she'd have to move several shopping bags to get at it. She'd stocked other winter emergency gear, too, including a heavy wool blanket and an industrial-size Maglite.
"I stopped because I might have hit a dog or a cat," she said into the phone. "It ran right in front of the car. I'm going to take a few minutes to look around for it before I move on."
There was a moment's silence on the other end of the line, but Liss knew Dan would not try to talk her out of searching for the little animal. Neither of them would ever drive off and leave someone's pet injured or dead. If she'd killed the poor little creature, she'd try to find its owner before she went home. She knew how she'd feel if one of her cats got out of the house and was hit by a car. The thought of finding Lumpkin or Glenora lying by the side of the road had her stomach twisting itself into knots and tears springing into her eyes. Losing one of them would be just as painful if the person responsible came and told her what had happened, but it would not be as traumatic as stumbling without warning over the poor, mangled body of one of her babies.
"Do what you have to," Dan said, his voice gruff. "But be careful. And call me again when you're about to get back on the road."
She broke the connection, slipped the phone back into her pocket, and took a deep breath before bending over double to peer underneath the car. She moved the flashlight beam from side to side. No body. No blood. No sign that she'd hit anything except the snowbank.
"So far, so good," she said again.
Before she straightened, she aimed the Maglite at the gas tank, the oil pan, the muffler, and each tire in turn. Everything looked intact.
Upright once more, she examined the ground next to the car. The surface was slick and glistening with a thin layer of ice. With a sense of surprise, Liss realized that the sleet had ended. The wet snowflakes landing on her head and shoulders and outstretched arm were light and fluffy.
Typical Maine weather, she thought. Wait a minute, and it'll change.
Moving cautiously, well aware that it was still treacherous underfoot, she widened her search. It had been a snowy winter, and a deep white carpet covered the ground beneath the trees. If she'd hit a cat or dog, it had most likely been thrown in that direction by the impact. Since she'd had an impression of black or brown fur, she kept her eyes peeled for a darker shape against the white. Nothing leapt out at her. Had she been luckier than she'd thought? Maybe she hadn't hit the little animal, after all.
Liss stepped off the shoulder, her boots crunching loudly as she moved deeper into the trees. After a few steps, she stopped and called out, "Here, doggie. Here, kitty."
Shaking her head at the notion that someone else's pet would come for a stranger, she walked parallel to the road, using her flashlight to search for tracks. She left footprints, but it didn't take her long to realize that a small animal wouldn't be heavy enough to make any impression in the thick coating of ice on top of the snow.
Sweeping her light back and forth as she went, Liss started back toward the car. She froze when, for just an instant, the light was reflected back at her — eyes? She held the beam steady on a spot near the tree she'd nearly run into. Was something there? She held her breath and listened, wondering if she'd been making too much noise to hear the faint whimper of an animal in distress.
Nothing moved. No sound reached her, but when she played the light a little to the left, the beam picked out two bright eyes and a bit of dark fur. A small dog crouched between two small birches.
"Stay right there, sweetie," Liss cooed.
Hoping that it wouldn't be spooked by her approach, she moved closer. She breathed a little easier when it emerged from hiding and took a few hesitant steps in her direction. It seemed to be favoring one leg, but at least it was moving on its own.
"It's all right, baby. I'll take care of you," Liss murmured.
She stopped and went down on her knees when she was still a few feet away from what turned out to be a Scottish terrier. Setting her flashlight on the ground, she stripped off one glove and held out her bare hand. The little dog sniffed her fingers, then licked them, apparently willing to accept that she was there to help.
"Okay, sweetie. I'm going to pick you up now. Okay?"
The limp indicated an injured leg, but there might also be internal injuries. Liss didn't intend to take any chances. Her first stop would be the office of the nearest vet.
Continuing to move slowly, she scooped up the little dog and stood. The Scottie squirmed in her arms, trying to reach her cheek with an affectionate wet tongue. Definitely someone's pet, Liss thought, although it wasn't wearing a collar.
Carrying twenty pounds of wiggly dog while juggling a heavy flashlight made the trip back to the car an adventure. Fortunately, Liss was accustomed to lugging Lumpkin around. Her Maine coon cat had tipped the scales at close to that same weight when she'd first inherited him, although since then she'd helped him slim down to a mere fifteen pounds.
With the blanket that was part of her emergency gear wrapped around her new friend, Liss settled the Scottie in the backseat of the car. She remembered reading somewhere that the hard, wiry outer coat of the Scottish terrier was weather resistant, but the poor little thing was shivering with the cold.
Liss had just closed the car door when a sharp cracking sound made her jump. It sounded as if someone had stepped on a twig.
"Is anyone there?" Liss hoped someone was — preferably the Scottie's owners, searching for their missing pet. She called a second time, but no one answered either hail.
Deciding that the sound she'd heard must have been a branch breaking under the weight of accumulated ice, Liss moved on to the next task, spreading kitty litter beneath her tires so she could maneuver the car back onto the road, get herself turned around, and continue on to Moosetookalook. As she worked, she tried to remember if there were any houses nearby. There were none in sight. That made her wonder where the Scottie had come from. She was still pondering that question when she climbed back in behind the steering wheel. She was just about to start her engine when flashing lights, moving slowly in her direction, appeared in her rearview mirror.
"Hallelujah!" Liss whispered.
It was a town plow, clearing the road and depositing sand and salt in its wake.
In the examining room at Moosetookalook Small-Animal Clinic, Liss's anxious gaze followed the veterinarian's hands as she gently poked and prodded, searching for injuries. She'd already confirmed that the Scottish terrier was female and that she seemed well cared for.
Audrey Greenwood had moved to town three years earlier to set up her business a few blocks away from the town square. Ever since, she had been active in civic affairs, including the Moosetookalook Small Business Association. In a few weeks, she'd be running the information booth during the March Madness Mud-Season Sale, an annual one-day shopping extravaganza sponsored by the MSBA on the last day of the month. She was also Liss's cochair for the event.
"You say she came out of hiding when you called?" Audrey asked without looking up. Her blunt-cut blond hair was just long enough to be tucked behind her ears to keep it out of her way when she bent over a patient. In the bright light above the examining table, her pale, flawless skin, devoid of makeup, looked almost translucent.
Excerpted from The Scottie Barked at Midnight by KAITLYN DUNNETT. Copyright © 2015 Kathy Lynn Emerson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have every book in this series and have enjoyed them all.
This not one of this author's best, but the characters were interesting and the ending totally surprised me!
Skipped 3/4 of it.
In THE SCOTTIE BARKED AT MIDNIGHT author Kaitlyn Dunnett has gone to the dogs. Champion competition dogs that is. This book starts out with an exciting first scene and the excitement, as well as the fun and mystery, continue right up to the last page. The plot was a good one. Very tight and well written with interesting main, and supporting characters, and wonderful situations. The story find Liss out of her store, Scottish Emporium, and into the world of a variety competition show. It was fun to get a behind the scenes look into such a hectic world. Ms. Dunnett finally brings a Scotty dog into her series. But the question is, will the Scottie be a regular character? You have to read the book to find out! ;-) Fans of this long running series with be pleased with this installment. And new readers need not worry, you can read this story without having read the others.