On a cold, snowy November day in Big Oak, Wisconsin, Ann Ranson's dogs drag home something bloody. In the height of hunting season, Ann assumes it's a deer part and goes out to get rid of it. Instead, she is shocked to discover it's the remains of a human foot!
Sheriff Lark Swenson, a former homicide detective from Chicago who recently moved to the country after his wife's death, begins to investigate. When a second body is found, the state police join in the case. State Detective Lacey Smith works very closely with Sheriff Swenson, and the two of them find themselves battling their mutual attraction, as well as hunting down a cold-blooded killer.
While the police try to find out who's been killing young female students from the university, someone starts shooting at Ann Ranson and the sheriff. Lark and Lacey need to find the killer before someone else winds up dead!
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January 01, 2002
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Excerpt from Cold Hunter's Moon by K. C. Greenlief
NOVEMBER 20, 2000-THE RANSONS
Just as Ann drifted into a marvelous dream, the gunshot went off. She rolled over and dropped her feet to the floor just as two hundred pounds of dog slammed into her, knocking her back on the bed. Then she remembered she was in the middle of hell week, otherwise known as deer hunting season in northern Wisconsin.
"Get off me, you beasts," she yelled, struggling to see her alarm clock. She couldn't believe it was only 5:45 A.M. Surely it was a sin to be up this early, unless you hadn't gone to bed yet. In the midst of trying to kick the dogs off and gather enough covers to crawl back under, she heard footsteps on the stairs. She groaned and gave up any thought of getting back into her dream.
"Off," commanded a deep male voice, just as the ceiling light went on. All three dogs jumped off the bed and sat demurely at his feet.
"What is going on up here?" John asked, as he bent down to pick up Sheba, a black Schipperke, and pet the two golden retrievers. "Between the gunshots outside and the noise up here, it sounds like an invasion."
"I could swear that gun went off right in this room, so surely it must have been on our property." Ann yawned as she crawled out of bed and staggered to the sliding glass doors leading to the deck. She squinted, trying to see into the woods bordering their backyard. In a couple of weeks a full moon would reflect on the snow and make the woods come alive with light. Now it was moonless and pitch dark outside.
"It wasn't on our property but it was very close," John said, as he walked up behind Ann and wrapped his arms around her.
Meanwhile, the dogs took turns crowding each other to stand in front of the door and look out into the woods. Suddenly Duke, the oldest and biggest golden retriever, growled and lunged at the glass. Two more gunshots went off, seemingly in the next room.
Ann stumbled back to bed and crawled under the covers. "John, please go away and let me die in peace. And take these devil dogs with you," she said, trying to kick the dogs off the bed.
Ann swore she had just put her head on the pillow when her alarm went off at 9:30. She got up and went to look out the sliding glass door. The sun was shining on ten inches of new fallen snow. The thermometer hanging off the side of the house read five below zero. Weather reports had predicted nightly lows below zero for the rest of the week.
Ann grabbed her binoculars and scanned the woods and lake. She didn't see any blaze orange but she did hear gunshots every few minutes. Satisfied that they weren't being personally invaded, she headed for the bathroom just as the phone rang. No rest, even on vacation, she thought as she picked it up.
"Ann, I put the dogs in the garage. Don't forget and let them outside," John said.
"I knew it was too quiet in here."
"Can you do me a favor?" he asked, shouting to be heard over the construction noise.
"When I pulled out of the driveway this morning I saw something bright red lying up by the pond. I think it may be a deer part. Would you run up and get it before the dogs drag it all over the yard? God knows, they don't need to get any dirtier than they normally do."
"Sure. I need the exercise so I'll get out there in the next hour." They hung up after planning lunch for 12:30.
She hustled into the bathroom to get dressed, wondering what the dogs had dragged in. It wasn't unusual for them to drag in part of a deer carcass this time of year. Ann looked in the mirror and realized that while John was off on his construction site she was facing her own remodeling project. In the movies women always look like they have their makeup on and every hair in place when they get up. Her dark blonde hair was standing straight up on top of her head and smashed in on the sides. How could someone with absolutely no body in her straight, fine hair look like Don King first thing in the morning? She did her usual war paint, put a curling iron on the ends of her shoulder-length hair, and brushed it out. The mirror didn't crack, so she sprayed her hair and called it good.
On good days, after a week of sacrifice, Ann wore size 8 bottoms and size 12 tops. This was not a good week, so she headed to the size 12 section of the closet. Even so, she thought she should get a Congressional Medal of Honor for fighting the battle of the bulge every day of her life.
She pulled on jeans and sweatpants, two sweatshirts, and two pairs of socks and went downstairs. Northern Wisconsin winters are serious business. With at least sixteen inches of snow on the ground, below zero temperatures, and a brisk wind, it's possible to get incapacitated and freeze to death in just a few hours.
Ann put on boots and a red hooded parka. She wrapped a scarf around her face, leaving only her eyes uncovered. She stuffed a couple of trash bags into her coat pockets, pulled on thermal glove liners and a pair of heavy mittens, and headed outside.
As she hiked up the driveway towards the pond, she marveled at the beauty surrounding her. The snow John had bladed out of the driveway was heaped into three-foot piles lining the drive. The piles were the beginnings of the eight-foot snow tunnels they would be driving through by the end of March. It was one of those mornings when the snow seemed to stick to every tree branch, making the woods look like a winter wonderland. Except for the occasional gunshot in the distance and the wind in the trees, it was very quiet.
As Ann got closer to the pond, it was obvious that the dogs had been running all over this area. It didn't take her long to see something partially covered with snow near the pond. It was bright red, which made her wonder what it was. Blood didn't stay that red, even in cold weather. She pulled out a trash bag as she crunched through snowdrifts up to her knees to examine the thing.
Ann breathed a sigh of relief when she found nothing more than a shiny red rubber snow boot. As she stooped down to examine it, she wondered how someone lost a boot out in the middle of nowhere. She picked it up and noticed how heavy it was. Ann shook some rubbish out of the boot and bent down to inspect the clumps of brown soggy leaves and grayish white twigs that fell out. She yelled and startled back when a clump of leaves moved. A mouse, obviously scared to death, scrambled out from under the pile of leaf muck and scampered across the snow as she tried to maintain her balance.
Ann ended up on her butt in the snow with her hand buried in the muck from the boot. Silently admonishing herself for clumsiness, she got to her feet and shook the snow and leaf muck off her mittens. She bent down to brush away the twigs clinging to her sweatpants. Gasping, she stooped down to get a better look. The twigs looked just like the bones from a foot. She sifted frantically through the snow to find the rest of the twigs, or bones, or whatever they were, and pulled out what looked like a partially intact skeleton of a foot. In shock, she sat back on her heels and, for the second time, found herself on her ass in the snow.
Despite the cold, Ann felt warm and clammy Sweat rivulets ran down her back and it felt like Krakatowa had migrated to her gut, prepared to explode. She scooped up the debris and the boot, wrapped them in the trash bag, and began walking home. If she had a boot and it had part of a foot in it, then it must be a human foot. If that were true, then where was the rest of the person? How did it get into her yard? She stopped and leaned up against a tree trunk, trying to focus and pull herself together.