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Shadow of Death
Author: Heather Graham

 


PROLOGUE


   Caves

   Carey Allen paused, looked around, and breathed in deeply. She loved this area of Colorado just outside of the bustling city of Denver. The sky on a day like today was amazing. Blue just touched with delicate white puffs of clouds here and there. And the air! It was fresh, clean, delicious, and the scent of nature was wonderful.

   Of course, she shouldn’t have been where she was without permission and a guide, but she was an experienced hiker. She had climbed all manner of mountains, and she had received her diver’s certificate at Lake Mead and gone on to cave dive! Hey, it was America. She was an adult, she knew what she was doing, and she had every right to be here.

   She closed her eyes for a minute, listening to the sound of the nearby waterfall. Then she dove into the freshwater lake, shuddered slightly at the chill that seized her, then let it fall off. Surfacing, she looked back to the shore.

   Don Blake was watching her with admiration, she hoped. She’d had a crush on the man for the longest time, and she’d enticed him out by telling him she knew the caves here and had explored them on her own before. He waved to her.

   “Come on in! The water is great!” she told him.

   “Freezing!” he countered.

   “Wimp!”

   He laughed. Don was anything but a wimp. He’d served two tours in the Middle East and was still in the reserve. Tall, not dark but red-headed, and very handsome. Working with him at Barrington Advertising, she’d fallen a bit in love the minute they had met—something, she hoped, she’d kept to herself. She had tried very hard to always be casual, fun, and flirty, not like a puppy with a wildly wagging tail.

   But when they had talked about the caves, he’d shown a real interest in her.

   “Wimp?” he returned and, as she knew he would, shed his hiking boots and socks, dropped his backpack and dove into the water.

   Carey swam toward the waterfalls and the entry to the caves she knew she would find behind them. She hadn’t slipped in here in months, but nature had created the phenomena of the falls and the caves over hundreds of thousands of years. They couldn’t have changed much in a few months.

   She crawled up the rocks that rose behind the falls and waited for Don. He arrived shortly, dripping as he joined her on the rocks. They’d both worn tank tops that would dry quickly, but the hiking pants would take longer. In the crisp air Carey had loved so much, it was cold.

   “Follow me!” she said.

   There was a winding path that led into a slew of caves, some deeper than others. And, of course, as they progressed, it grew darker within.

   She stopped, turning to Don and smiling. “Well, I guess this is as far as we go—”

   He was frowning. “What’s that light?” he asked.

   She turned. He was right. There was a strange glow coming from deeper within the earth.

   “I don’t know,” she said.

   “Shall we?”

   “Well, of course!”

   They headed in the direction of the light. Nearing it, Carey suddenly felt the earth slipping beneath her feet. She’d hit an odd angle in the earth and it...

   Led to nothing.

   She fell and fell, landed hard, hurt everywhere, and wondered if she had broken bones.

   She tried to move and cried out to Don.

   “Careful! There’s a slope and...nothing.”

   He didn’t answer her. The dim light they had seen was pale here, barely alleviating the darkness. She turned, trying to see if her limbs would work and to assess her position.

   That’s when she saw him.

   The dead man.

   His face was skeletal. His eyes were open. No. He didn’t have eyes. He just had eye sockets. But they seemed to be...

   Staring. Staring into her eyes.

   She screamed. She forgot her pain as she tried to inch away. And as she did, she saw the dead man wasn’t alone. There were other bodies there and all of them...

   Down to bone. Not all were completely decomposed, just...

   Down to nothing but mostly bone. Flesh remained on some limbs. Decaying fabric clung to other forms. Some of them had eyes that were still partially there and remained open, just catching the glint of pale light that seeped into the deep hole.

   The scent of death rose around her, so she used her hands to push back. As she did so, she touched something small and hard, dark and plastic. She barely registered she had touched something as she started to scream and scream as she cried out for Don.

   There was no answer. Her cries grew hoarse. She managed to drag herself to her feet to seek a way out...

   There was nothing but dirt; no holds, nothing. No way out of the deep hole in the earth into which she had fallen.

   She looked at the thing in her hand and then she looked around at the starved and rotting corpses around her. There were no children, she thought thankfully, not that she could see. She was losing her mind; she could die here, too. She didn’t know what had happened to Don. He wasn’t answering her, so he must have also fallen...

   Into a pile of dead.

   No, no, no, no, he had to be okay. He had to be out there...going for help, she thought. And then she looked at the thing in her hand at last.

   She held...

   A horse. A tiny little black plastic horse.

   Confused, breathing in death, she felt terror sweeping into her like something liquid and icy cold.

   And she started to scream again.

 

 

1


   The sun was just rising. Amy Larson emerged from the water, dripping, feeling the rays of brilliant heat fall on her. The day was beautiful, perfect and warm. It was wonderful. There were few places on earth she loved as much as she loved the Florida Keys and Key West. In all honesty, the best beaches could be found on the state’s west coast but to her, the Keys were a little bit of heaven. Key Largo was an escape from the massive metropolises of Miami-Dade and Broward Counties. And moving southward, the smaller islands were a taste of a purer time. Marathon offered the incredible Dolphin Research Center, and on down to Key West one could look out for the tiny Key deer. Then at the tail end, Key West itself is the island of rich history, bizarre stories, music, and water sports.

   It had been good to come here. Hunter had needed to be here after taking a bullet; even with a vest on, he’d needed a bit of convalescence. Yet, while trying to shake off the last two cases they’d worked along with the salt water, memories still plagued them of the murders in the Everglades that had begun the bizarre Four Horsemen case and those that had followed when she’d received the little red plastic horse in the mail.

   Because it wasn’t over. Someone wanted to play God, and they were using the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and Revelations to do it.

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