The fifth STORMWATCH novel, SNOW BRIDES by Peggy Webb, releases today.
The storm sweeps in like a thief in the night…
Winter storm Holly is the worst in eighty years bringing high winds, subzero temperatures and snowfall better measured in feet than in inches. The weather paralyzes everything in its path, but, in this storm, weather isn’t the only threat.
Maggie Carter’s life feels as unpredictable as the epic snowstorm sweeping the Northwest and bearing down on Minnesota. Her marriage to Joe is on the rocks and her daughter Kate is driving home from college for the holidays, perhaps the last they will ever spend together. As Maggie prepares for Christmas, the unthinkable happens. On the drive home her daughter vanishes. Even worse, she’s the third college girl to disappear near the frozen Superior Hiking Trail within the last two years. Is Kate trapped by brutal nature or is she in the hands of a monster? Maggie, a Search & Rescue handler, and Joe are galvanized into action. Can they find their daughter—and their way back to each other—before it’s too late?
Read on for an excerpt of SNOW BRIDES…
SNOW BRIDES by Peggy Webb
© 2019. By special agreement with the author. All rights reserved.
As Stanley Weathers faced the Channel 9 cameras he adjusted his tie and chafed at the latest ribbing he’d taken about his name. It had come from the new hire, some underling in the bowels of the TV station who obviously thought Stan had never heard anybody say, “A weatherman named Weathers? Did you make that up?”
When he got home he’d tell his wife Jean about it, and she’d find a way to make him laugh. If he got home. The snowstorm coming their way was a monster beyond anything he’d ever witnessed. He was going to have a hard time maintaining a cool professionalism during the weather report.
“Stan,” the cameraman said. “You’re on in two.”
He put on his stage smile and faced the cameras.
“Holly is her name, and she’s unlike any snowstorm we’ve ever seen.” He gestured to the weather map behind him, tracking the storm as he talked. “The blizzard that has held the Northwest in its grip since December 12 is sweeping toward Minnesota. This killer storm has left a path of destruction across Montana, Colorado, Nebraska and South Dakota.”
The death toll rose in his mind, and he paused, hoping his TV audience would perceive it as a planned break from his dramatic spiel. Stan was relieved the number of fatalities would be part of the news report, not the weather.
“Expect the blizzard to be one of the worst in the history of Minnesota with snow drifts as high as thirty feet. The mega-monster storm is on a path to hit Grand Marsais at 2:00 p.m. on December 23 and could last up to three days.”
There went the big family Christmas. That was the only good thing Stan could say about the storm. Jean had already called to say her parents had sent a text from Atlanta that their flight had been cancelled. He would have enjoyed seeing them, but he couldn’t say the same thing about Jean’s obnoxious, know-it-all twin sister Joan and her two teenaged brats who were traveling with them.
“Residents are urged to cancel holiday travel plans,” he told his TV audience. “Our team here at TV 9 News in Grand Marsais is standing by to bring you a list of airport closings. As always, Stan the Weatherman will be here at the station bringing you regular updates on Holly. Until then, stay off the roads. Be smart. Be safe.”
“I should have picked her up.”
Joe left his vigil at the window that showed nothing except the distant shape of Carter’s Trading Post and the ghostly outlines of security lights that seemed to float above the water in the snow mists swirling through the darkness. A heavy blanket of snow had fallen on Grand Marsais during the night and the temperature had already dropped below zero, both precursors of the blizzard predicted to hit in early afternoon.
Maggie’s big chocolate Labrador retriever lifted his head at her husband’s uncharacteristic display of nerves then left his pillow by the fire and padded to lean against Joe’s leg.
It was uncanny, Jefferson’s ability to sense the emotional terrain of his family. Though Maggie shouldn’t have been surprised. The four-year-old search and rescue dog had displayed extraordinary intelligence from the moment Maggie started working with him. Even better, he had more heart than any dog she’d ever handled.
He was feeling their pain.
Their daughter Kate was missing, and had been since yesterday afternoon.
“You should have let me go after her,” Joe added as he sank onto the sofa, his face etched with worry and defeat.
The worry, Maggie shared, but if she let herself dwell on Joe’s sense of defeat and the many reasons why, she wouldn’t have the strength to get through this long vigil for her daughter.
“Don’t start, Joe.”
Hadn’t Maggie told herself the same thing a thousand times during the last sixteen hours? Kate, a freshman at the University of Minnesota in Duluth, reveled in her newfound freedom and had scoffed at the idea she couldn’t drive a hundred miles north for the holidays.
“Mom!” Even on the phone Kate’s most exasperated, longsuffering daughter tone had been evident. “I’ll be home long before this so-called monster storm hits.”
“You be careful. And start early. Don’t wait till the last minute.”
“I’m loading the car now. You worry too much, Mom.”
That had been nine o’clock yesterday morning. During normal winter conditions snowplows kept the roads between Grand Marsais and Duluth clean. That far in advance of the storm, Kate should have been home before noon, even in holiday traffic.
To make the nightmare even worse, her GPS tracker showed she’d veered far off course. Maggie had been flabbergasted when her daughter’s GPS put her in Chicago. And the last time she’d checked, Kate was in Detroit and moving northeast.
A thousand horrors played through Maggie’s mind–her daughter skidding off the road and landing in a spot hidden from highway traffic then picked up by a predator who could do anything. Haul Kate out of the country or easily vanish into nearly four million acres of wilderness known as the Superior National Forest. The idea of her daughter in the hands of a predator struck terror to Maggie’s soul.
“Don’t go there.” The sound of her own voice calmed her a bit, but her mind still spun in all directions.
What if Kate had arranged to meet someone, a guy her parents didn’t know, someone she’d met online? It happened all the time, vulnerable young girls with bleeding hearts falling for a sob story only to be lured off then led like lambs to the slaughter.
That didn’t sound like something her levelheaded daughter would do, but who knew how she might have changed under the peer pressure on a college campus?
“Joe, I’m going to make a cup of coffee. You want one?”
“No. I’m good.”
He wasn’t good. Any fool could tell by looking. She wasn’t good. They weren’t good–and hadn’t been for a very long time.
She was glad to escape to the kitchen. She popped a pod into the coffeemaker then made the call she didn’t want Joe to hear.
Ten years ago he’d have been right with her, taking turns as they called on their network of friends in law enforcement who knew them as two of the most successful search and rescue handlers in the U.S. Now everything about SAR, with the exception of Maggie’s dog, sent Joe scrambling backward into a private world of his own making, one with walls so thick and so high Maggie had no hope of getting through.
Longtime friend, Detective Roger Dillard, picked up on the first ring.
“This is Maggie Carter. Any news?”
“Kate has stopped moving. Her GPS tracker shows her in Toronto.”
The shock felt as if somebody had drained off all Maggie’s oxygen. Coffee forgotten, she sank into a chair.
“That’s impossible! She doesn’t know anyone there, and she’d never go off like that without telling us.”
“Are you sure about that? Maybe she had a secret boyfriend and is planning an elopement. It happens all the time.”
“Not with Kate. You know how responsible she is.” Roger’s daughter Teresa had been one of Kate’s best friends since kindergarten. The Johnson’s house was her second home. “Something awful has happened. I just know it.”
“I’ve already contacted the authorities in Toronto, Maggie. As soon as they locate her cell phone, I’ll let you know.”
“You’re going to continue your search, aren’t you?”
“Of course, I am. I love that kid like she’s my own.” The line went quiet and Maggie thought she’d dropped the call. Then Roger cleared his throat. “We’ve already covered a lot of territory north of the college in Duluth, but with the storm closing in, I don’t know how long I can keep my men out here.”
“You owe me, Roger.” This year alone, Maggie had found four missing children for him and dozens of other missing persons through the years, both with her chocolate Lab and the air scent dogs who had come before him.
“I promise we’re going to do everything we can to bring Kate home.”
“Thanks. I know you will.”
Maggie wasn’t about to believe her daughter was in Canada.
She was torn between screaming, crying or racing into the night with Jefferson to start her own search. But where to start? Though air scent dogs, unlike tracking dogs, didn’t need a last known location for their search, they did need a general area as a starting point. Without one Maggie and her dog would waste precious time randomly plunging into a search in the hundred-mile stretch between college and home. Time she couldn’t afford to lose with a blizzard heading their way.
Law enforcement had questioned all the people who saw Kate last–her roommate, the guard at the campus gate, the owner of the service station just off campus where she always refilled her gas tank before starting home. Kate, the good girl, heeding her dad’s advice: Always drive from the top of your tank. You never know what will happen. Driving from the bottom is too risky.
They all remembered her, cheerful, calling out happy holiday greetings and waving as she started toward home. The service station was the last place anyone had seen her, but the manager recalled seeing her drive away and head north.
Maggie grabbed her mobile phone and tapped on her daughter’s name in Favorites. How many times did that make since yesterday morning? Ten? Fifteen?
Hi, this is Kate. Leave a message.
“Kate, where are you? If you get this, please, please call me. Even if you’ve done something you think we won’t approve. Your dad and I are worried sick.”
Maggie could barely function. The Christmas china she’d dragged out for her daughter’s homecoming lunch still sat on holiday placemats, forlorn and hopeless looking among the remnants of a meal they never ate—home baked bread getting hard on the platter, the creamed corn Kate loved, Joe’s favorite apple dumplings, his mom’s recipe for broccoli salad with cranberries and nuts. The only thing Maggie had rescued from the uneaten meal was her oven roasted turkey. Perfectly cooked, waiting for the meal that was supposed to bring them all back together again, now sitting in its own congealed fat in the refrigerator.
She broke off a piece of bread and nibbled around the edges. Yesterday morning when her life had still been halfway normal, Joe had come into the kitchen while it was baking.
“Something smells good in here.”
“Yeast-rising bread. Apple dumplings, too.” She pointed to the casserole dish cooling on the sideboard.”
“You’ve gone all out. Kate bringing somebody home?”
“No. It’ll be just the three of us. I want this holiday to be special, Joe. Like it once was.”
For a moment he looked gut punched. Then he’d smiled in a pale imitation of the way it used to be. “I think I’d like that.”
The one word, think, had said more about the state of their marriage than all those nights she’d reached for Joe only to find his side of the bed empty and him sleeping on the sofa with Jefferson on the wool rug beside him.
It had spurred Maggie to take desperate measures. She’d tried to seduce her husband in the kitchen. She didn’t care where they landed, the floor, the table, propped against the kitchen sink with the faucets poking into her hips. She’d just wanted proof the spark was still there, no matter how small. She wanted to believe their marriage wasn’t dead; it was only in hibernation until some great spring-thaw moment would make it bloom again.
Her spring-thaw moment was a disaster. She’d been clumsy, he’d been awkward, and both of them had been relieved when Maggie’s cell phone rang, bringing their pathetic attempt to a halt. He rearranged his clothes while she scrambled for her phone. By the time she found it, she’d missed a call from daughter.
Mom, something’s come up. Don’t know when I’ll get home.
Ten little words. They meant everything and nothing at all.
Kate hadn’t answered when Maggie called back. Her daughter’s message was the last anybody had heard from her since yesterday morning. And yet, they offered no details. So far search choppers had reported no accidents on the interstate to block traffic, no detours. Why had she called to say she’d be late? Where was she?
Maggie could no longer bear to sit still. She started clearing the table, stowing the clean dishes back into the cupboard, dumping the wilted salad, tossing the corn. The apple dumplings would still be okay. She put them into the refrigerator then grabbed the bread to toss. On second thought, she sliced off the hardened edges then wrapped the soft center in foil.
Joe appeared in the doorway and just stood there saying nothing, his expression speaking volumes. Everything is gone and I don’t know how to get it back.
Maggie whirled toward him, hands on her hips. “What?”
“You always say that, Joe. We never talk anymore. Not really.”
“What do you want me to say?”
“How about, has Kate told you anything that might give us a clue what’s going on?”
“Has she, Maggie?”
Suddenly her legs would no longer support her. She sank into a chair and rested her head on the table.
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Yes?” Joe sat down at the table but he didn’t reach for her hand, didn’t offer her comfort of any kind. “Did you say yes?”
An unexpected fury overtook her and she jerked upright to glare at him. “Do you think our daughter’s blind? Did you think she wouldn’t notice you can hardly bear to be in the same room with me? That every time I head out the door on a SAR mission you hide deeper behind those walls you’ve built around yourself?”
“I don’t even know how to respond to that.”
“You can’t stand to be home anymore, Joe. You spend more time on the Superior Trail leading guided tours than here.”
“What are you getting at?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.” Maggie buried her face in her hands, groaning. If she let herself, she could fall asleep from sheer exhaustion. She forced herself back to life, made herself look at her husband. “Roger says the GPS tracker shows Kate’s in Canada.”
“That can’t be right.”
“I told him the same thing. But I keep wondering if she decided at the last minute to spend the holidays with a new college friend.”
“She wouldn’t do that without telling us.”
“Maybe she did.” Maggie pulled her cell phone from her pocket to replay her daughter’s message. They both strained toward the phone as if they might reach inside and pull Kate to safety. “Maybe the something that came up was dread of coming home to parents who don’t even seem to like each other anymore, let alone love. Just last week she asked me what was wrong between us.”
“Nothing’s wrong. And certainly nothing I’d want to discuss with my daughter.” Joe shoved out of his chair and stalked off.
For what? To stare out the window? To bundle up and open the trading post?
Nowadays, trouble sent Joe racing toward the comfort of a familiar routine. But she couldn’t begrudge him the escape. After all, here she was tidying up the kitchen at four a.m.
The phone she’d left on the table jangled and Roger’s number popped up. She seized it as if it were the last life raft on the Titanic.
“Maggie, we’ve found her car.”
“Thank God! Just a minute. I want to get Joe.” Maggie raced to the door and yelled for her husband, who came on the run. She punched speakerphone. “Go ahead, Roger.”
“Kate’s car is in the ditch on a small side road called Glen’s Crossing about sixty-five miles south of Grand Marsais.”
The ghost of a memory nagged at Maggie, and she felt the chill of an awful premonition. What was it? She was so tired she couldn’t think straight.
“How is she, Roger? Is she okay?”
“She’s not here. We found her suitcase in the backseat and a winter parka in the front.”
“Kate would never leave the car without a coat,” Joe said. “She’s a seasoned hiker.”
“What about her backpack?” Maggie tried to rein in her fear. More and more it appeared her daughter had been taken.
“We haven‘t found anything else yet. I’ve got deputies fanned into the woods searching but the snow last night covered any tracks we might have discovered.”
“I’m telling you, Kate wouldn’t have left the car,” Joe said. “I know that area. It’s isolated. There’s not a single place nearby where she could have walked in this snow for help, particularly when she could have called us.”
“Looks like she had a blowout and the front end of her car is smashed up pretty bad. Considering her GPS tracking information we can’t discount kidnapping. I’m still waiting for a call from authorities in Canada.”
Dread washed over Maggie, and a premonition so horrible she could almost see her daughter, rendered powerless by evil.
“Something about this whole scenario doesn’t feel right, Roger. Give Joe the exact location of the car. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
As Maggie raced out of the kitchen she heard Roger firing off directions followed by the caution, “Storm’s coming. We don’t have much time.”
Didn’t he think she knew that? The latest weather report from Stan the weatherman said the massive storm would hit northern Minnesota in ten hours.
Maggie raced into her daughter’s bedroom and grabbed the raggedy old Pooh Bear off the bed. Kate had slept with it every night since she was born. The wonder is that she hadn’t carried it to college with her. It would hold more of her scent than anything else in the room.
Air scent dogs, unlike tracking dogs, didn’t need an article that belonged to the missing. They worked by sniffing the air for the trail everybody leaves behind, unaware–unseen skin cells and hair that float away when you pass through a place, even the gases you exhale when you breathe. Their uncanny olfactory ability was why air scent dogs were so valuable working landslides, avalanches and other freaks of nature and man that buried multiple victims under tons of debris.
Still, the scent-specific object would let Jefferson know beyond a shadow of a doubt he wasn’t looking for multiple people. His job was to find Kate.
Kate’s bear almost brought Maggie to tears. She hugged the stuffed animal, trying to comfort herself by touching something belonging to her daughter. Finally she said, “Get moving.”
It was the sort of advice she’d once given Kate. When you think you can’t go one step more, give yourself a pep talk. Out loud.
As she hurried about packing everything she’d need for a SAR search in the dead of winter, possibly in the middle of a blizzard, the memory she’d sought earlier hit her with a force that buckled her knees.
The snow. The location, not twenty miles from Glen’s Crossing. The missing girls. Two of them, one year apart. Both college age, both blond. Like Kate.
Maggie had found both of them dead.
Hope you have enjoyed this excerpt!
A new installment of STORMWATCH releases each Thursday starting December 5 through January 9. Each thrilling full-length novel is a standalone story with no cliffhangers. Don’t miss a single one from half a dozen of the genre’s bestselling storytellers!
- December 5 – Frozen Ground by Debra Webb
- December 12 – Deep Freeze by Vicki Hinze
- December 19 – Wind Chill by Rita Herron
- December 26 – Black Ice by Regan Black
- January 2 – Snow Brides by Peggy Webb
- January 9 – Snow Blind by Cindy Gerard