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Piper has lived her entire childhood on the run. She’s about to uncover the deadly reason why…
In the second book of the Piney Falls Mysteries series, Piper Moonlight is tired of constantly looking over her shoulder, afraid of the remaining Fallen Branch cult members. She decides the best place to land is in Piney Falls, Oregon, where the cult originated. At least everyone there knows her story and she’ll be safe.
When she arrives, she finds employment under the watchful eye of Cosmo Hill, also a former Fallen Branch member, at his bakery. Cosmo doesn’t trust Piper or her story. He enlists the help of his fiancé , marketing wonder and super sleuth Lanie Anders to uncover the truth of Piper’s past.
Lanie and Cosmo soon discover there are still shocking secrets buried within the layers of the former cult. As those secrets come to light, those who keep them will stop at nothing to stay hidden. The ugly truth of Fallen Branch will force Lanie, Cosmo and Piper to make unthinkable choices to save themselves and the life they know in Piney Falls.
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“Can I ask–did you ever love me?”
There is laughter from the other room and a chill runs down his spine.
“I assumed we’d already discussed the uselessness of emotions. They get in the way. Imagine if I let that interfere during the last two decades. We wouldn’t be where we are, on schedule for the metamorphosis.”
“YOU wouldn’t be on schedule. The rest of us–well, me–would be fine. You don’t remember those times we were gardening at Fallen Branch, talking about the future? You said then you couldn’t picture anyone else by your side.”
“I couldn’t. That didn’t mean I loved you, though. You were the perfect partner…for a time. As you’ve said: you didn’t have control of your emotions and I could direct you easily. I gave you a list. You accomplished every bullet point.” The Killer stalks closer. “Is there anything you want them to know? I’m giving you this gift that we never gave the others. A thank you for your service. Let’s call it my ‘emotion’ for today.”
“Tell them I’m sorry. I wasn’t strong enough to continue by your side and I wasn’t smart enough to survive on my own.”
“That’s not at all what I thought you would say.”
“What did you expect? A lengthy speech? I’ve always left those to you.”
“I thought you might want them to know you were a brave soldier in our war. Kind of make them proud, at least.”
He throws his hands in the air. “I give up. You’ll make it your own story no matter what. I learned long ago that it’s impossible to please you. They’ll learn that soon enough.”
“I hope not.”
“Tell them…I tried. Just get on with it now. I can’t bear to think about it anymore.”
His killer hands him a cup. “Cheers, my friend. It was a good ride while it lasted.”
His hand brushes his killer’s and without looking up, he lifts it to his lips.
The doorbell squawks from a speaker above my head, the biting sound of an injured chicken. “Lanie! There’s someone here to see you!”
When I reach the seating area of Cosmic Cakes and Antiquery, I’m pleased to find my best friend. November Bean, always chromatically dressed and in the middle of a new ritual, smiles at me. Today, she is dressed in matching buttercup yellow attire from head to toe, including the frames for her glasses and the head band taming her frizzy hair.
“Vem! What brings you—”
November steps aside, revealing a stranger. She’s young, probably twenty at most and just darling. She has short, dark hair and peculiar, almost violet eyes. As she smiles shyly, two dimples on either side of apple cheeks are visible.
“This scrumptillyicious woman is Lanie, my best friend in the entire universe. No offense to you, Cedar.”
Cedar opens her mouth to speak but changes her mind.
“Now that I’ve come into my own,” Vem continues, “I found I needed a strong woman with business acumen to guide my inner being to the path of success. I’ve got so much to teach you about that.”
“You’re watching words this month, right?” I gently remind her. “Word Waste Not, or something like that.”
“I’m sure I have leftover words from yesterday. Meditative mumbling doesn’t count.”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes and turn my focus to the young woman. “Hi there! You must be Piper.”
She reluctantly takes the hand I offer and shakes it.
“I’ve heard so much about your bravery. We’re so happy to have you in our community, and we’ll do our best to keep you safe.”
“Thank you, Lanie. I’m pleased to meet you.” She laughs nervously. “You’re the one who solved the mystery of the floaters. Isn’t that what they called them, Mrs. Bean?”
November blushes. “Yes, that’s what the Townies called them. Former Fallen Branch members who were murdered by Zion. But that’s all in the past. Just like Mrs. Bean. I’m just Vem now.”
“Zion is in jail awaiting trial. His lawyers have delayed it for almost nine months. I’m telling you that so you’ll know he can’t hurt you here.” I nod, hoping to reassure her. Instead, she has no reaction.
We stand for a moment in awkward silence. “There are many former Fallen Branch members here, but they’re all good people. I promise you that. Can I ask you about your eye color? It’s so unusual.”
“Oh that,” she giggles again. “I wanted to hide. One time, I even shaved my head. Anything to change my appearance to the Firestarters – that’s what I called the bad people who always try and take me. Last year, my mom took me to an eye doctor who told me it was possible to turn green eyes violet. He gave me these contact lenses. I thought, you know, I wouldn’t look like everyone else.”
It seems like a strange choice for someone who doesn’t want to be noticed.
Vem looks at her large-faced, pale-yellow watch. “We have to get you over to the bakery. But first, I told my sacred rock guru I would bring Piper in so he could bless a rock for her. Will you go to the bakery and prepare Cosmo, Lanie? Try to soften him up a bit?”
“I could, for a—”
“Lanie and Cosmo are dating,” she explains to Piper. “Not the way you kids do it, where you sleep with each other first and then decide you want a relationship. No sirree. They did it the old-fashioned way. It was months before they even held hands, and they could be well into their golden years before they share a bed.”
“November!” I gasp. “That’s not appropriate.” I turn quickly so Piper can’t see the heat flare on my cheeks. “I’ll go prepare Cos. Though I think he’s already November-proof and Piper won’t be an issue.”
USA TODAY bestselling author, Joann Keder spent most of her years in the Midwest, growing up and raising a family on the Great Plains of Nebraska. She worked for sixteen years as a piano teacher before returning to school to receive a master’s degree in creative writing. A mid-life move to the Pacific Northwest led her to re-examine her priorities. She now creates stories about life and relationships in small towns while her ever-patient husband encourages her on.