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Judith A. Barrett

Romantic Mystery 5-Book e-Bundle

Romantic Mystery 5-Book e-Bundle

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Just a Girl and Her Dog who Expose Serial Killers

Journalist, camping enthusiast, accidental crime fighter. 

Wren's new assignment to write travel articles about haunted campgrounds is absolutely perfect for her and Rascal, except for the cute, overprotective Marshal they leave behind in Arizona.

Wren discover crimes that only she can solve with the help of the resident ghosts at each campground as she and Rascal travel across the US from the wild west of Arizona to a beach in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico.

The killers can't wait to read her obituary.

Bloodshed in the Badlands, Chapter One: Look Inside

Chapter One

 Wren glared at her phone as it rang. “I didn’t even remember that my phone rang. Do I answer it?”

Wren’s black and tan mostly Labrador Retriever, Rascal, opened one eye then went back to sleep.

“A lot of help you are.”

After she answered, a man said, “Wren, my name is Charlie Hogue; I’m a friend of your mother’s, and I’ve been following your writing for a while. I particularly enjoyed that piece you did for the culinary magazine on the Cajun chef who moved to Nebraska ten years ago and opened a restaurant. You have an entertaining way of engaging the reader with your refreshing viewpoint.”

When Mr. Hogue didn’t continue, Wren waited then frowned. It must be my turn to say something.

“Thanks.” Wren sighed. I’m definitely out of practice with the phone etiquette.

“Not at all; your mother told me you were between engagements; I’d like to offer you a position as a staff writer for my travel magazine. Check with your mother then call me back, so we can see if I have something that might interest you.”

After Mr. Hogue disconnected, Wren sent her mom a text. “Charlie Hogue offered me a job. Legit?”

Mom responded, “Take it. Charlie’s an old friend.”

“Mom says he’s okay, Rascal, but he must be eccentric; guess I’ll have to get used to talking on the phone.”

Wren flopped onto her broken down sofa and put up her feet before she returned Mr. Hogue’s call.

When Charlie answered, he said, “Carolina must have given me the old thumbs up.”

“Sure did.” Wren rolled her eyes. That sounded lame.

Charlie said, “A CEO of an RV manufacturing company is interested in having his camping trailers and vans tested by someone in their twenties. He’s looking for some honest feedback about his models because he’d like to expand his market to a younger population. Your mom used to be big on camping, so I called her for a recommendation, and she said you’d just completed a large project for a longtime client. Are you available?”

Wren nodded. I need grocery money; that’s pretty available.

She replied, “I’m listening.”

 “I pitched the idea of a series of articles on a theme, and he bought into my idea of a young woman driving across the country while she visits lesser-known haunted campgrounds, but his board of directors was concerned about asking someone to travel alone to possibly remote locations. I told him you had a dog; you still have your lab puppy, Rascal, don’t you? I seem to recall he’s a black and tan lab with a little husky mixed in.” Charlie chuckled. “Since you got him from the animal shelter, I assumed he wasn’t one of those designer dogs.”

Wren raised her eyebrows. He really has read a few of my articles.

She said, “You have a good memory; Rascal’s four now, so not as much of a puppy anymore.”

Charlie chuckled. “I remember animals and their names; people, not so much.”

Wren smiled then realized they weren’t on video chat, so she chuckled too.

“What kind of feedback does the CEO want?” she asked. “Are there certain components he wants tested?”

“Tested might have been the wrong word, which was a terrible faux pas for a magazine publisher, wasn’t it? My only excuse is that my magazine editor is on vacation. The campers and RVs have been designed for two different groups: retirees and families; so, for example, the retirees prefer extra living space and comfortable furniture for relaxing, while the families prefer two sleeping spaces separate from their living area, and both groups like a household-sized side-by-side refrigerator and freezer. Your assignment is to camp in different models then share what worked and what would have made the camping more enjoyable for you.”

“Got it; I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a haunted campground.”

“I was surprised how many there are when I researched it last year. I’ve been kicking around the idea for a while, but I had to have the right person write it.”

“Sounds interesting, but you’ve read my articles; I don’t write fiction.”

Charlie said, “I’m not looking for fiction. I’ll email the details to you; read them over and get back to me with your questions. Your mom told me to find a private plane for you, so you could take your carry pistol and ammunition. Your pistol would have to be in your suitcase in the luggage compartment, and all your ammunition would have to be in a locked box. Carolina told me you knew all that, but I wanted to remind you because if you can be ready in two days, I have a friend flying out from Atlanta to Phoenix; that might be the best option for Rascal because he won’t have to stay in a crate.”

After Wren read the email that Charlie Hogue sent her, she sipped on a glass of sweet tea while she listed her supplies to pack and the items she’d need in a camper on her phone then researched the weather in Arizona and modified her lists.

“It’s hot during the day and cold at night in the desert in September; even though we’ll be there for only a week or two, I’ll have to pack for summer, fall, and winter, Rascal.”

 *  *  *

 Three days later

A slender young man with a buzzed haircut held a lined notecard in his hand as he stood at the gate near the runway for small jets.

“Miss Weaver and Rascal?” He read from the card when Wren and Rascal reached the gate for private plane passengers after they exited the plane.

“That’s us.” Wren squinted in the intense sunlight. Sure is bright in Arizona.

He smiled as he took her medium-sized suitcase. “There probably isn’t another young woman with her dog landing here in a private plane today, but I was supposed to ask, so you’d know I was hired to take you to the truck dealership; your truck is ready for you to pick up. Here are the keys.”

Wren dropped the keys into her backpack then pulled out her dusty rose ballcap and sunglasses.

As they walked to the young man’s car, he said, “After you get your truck, you can follow me to the RV dealership.”

He grinned. “Your boss told my boss you wouldn’t know your way around Phoenix. I’ve lived here all my life, but they keep switching around those freeways, and I get lost half the time myself.”

On the way to the dealership, he said, “Make sure you have a long rope; they come in handy when you need them, and when you don’t, they store just fine. Do you have a water bottle? You’ll need to drink lots of water here.”

“Thanks; in Georgia, people say it isn’t the heat, it’s the humidity.”

The young man chuckled. "Can’t say that here.”

 When he pulled into the car dealership, the young man stopped next to a pickup that was parked in a spot close to the showroom.

“The red extended cab pickup with four doors is yours. It’s plenty big and has a powerful engine, so you won’t have one lick of trouble pulling any size trailer.” He peered at her. “No offense, but are you okay with driving a big truck?”

 Wren smiled at the concern on his face. “Sure am.”

A slight, middle-aged man in a white short-sleeved dress shirt met her at the door. “Miss Weaver? We’ve been waiting for you. Follow me to the registration desk, and we’ll take care of the last few details.”

While Wren waited, she reviewed the directions from the RV dealership to the town of Hidden Gulch and the Forgotten Oasis Campground. In less than five minutes, Wren headed toward her red pickup; the young man opened the door to Wren’s new truck for Rascal. Wren started the engine and familiarized herself with the pickup then waved; the young man headed toward the exit, and she followed him.

After Wren turned at the entrance to the RV dealership, she swung around and turned toward the exit.

Wren scanned the acres of large and small RVs, camping trailers, and fifth wheels. “Look at all these RVs, Rascal. Don’t some of them look like city buses?”

After they went inside, Wren perched her sunglasses around her cap’s brim, so they’d be within easy reach when she went outside.

The receptionist glanced up. “You Ms. Weaver? We been expecting you. I have your gift right here.” She beamed as she held out a large, orange-tinted plastic water tumbler with a lid and straw and the dealership logo.

“Thank you; this will help me remember to drink water.”

“You’re in Arizona now; that’s critical to remember.” She led Wren and Rascal to the service desk in the back of the expansive building.

The receptionist opened the door to the service area and shouted before she left for her desk, “We got company.”

A large man with a ruddy face came inside; he wore a gray shirt that was soaked with sweat. He stopped at a sink next to a door and scrubbed at the dark grease and grime on his hands.

After he dried them and tossed the paper towel toward the wastepaper basket and missed, he mumbled as he picked it up, “Timing’s off.”

The man smiled as he held out his hand. “Ms. Weaver, I’m the service manager, chief mechanic, and supply clerk around here. I’ll give you a tour of your new trailer.”

The service manager went through the camper with Wren and pointed out its major features and idiosyncrasies then went into more detail as he explained the workings of the electrical and water systems.

Wren opened the refrigerator then touched a rack. “It’s cold.”

He nodded. “Cold and ready to go.”

After Wren locked the camper door, the service manager said, “Let’s have you take it from here; bring your truck around.”

When she returned, he handed her a three-ring binder. “We made up a few cheat sheets for you on the different systems, and the answers to the typical questions people have after they leave. We went over everything, but it was a lot to take in.”

She backed the truck close to the trailer while he provided gentle words of encouragement and guidance until the truck was in position to hook up. After she secured the trailer onto the truck’s hitch, he showed her how to check the trailer lights without someone else helping.

“Do you want to take a short drive to get a feel for the truck and trailer before you go solo?” he asked.

“I’d like that.”

When they returned, he handed her his business card before he climbed out of the truck. “You and Rascal are ready for the road. If you run into any problems or have any questions, remember to check your notebook, or feel free to call or text me or our service department; we’ll be happy to help.”

“The young man who picked me up at the airport told me to have a long rope in my truck,” she said. “Is that important?”

“It isn’t unless you need one, then there’s no substitute; it will store in the compartment under your back seat and be your insurance that nothing will happen.”

“I don’t think I have a compartment under the back seat.”

“I’m sure you do; tell you what: I’ll give you a sturdy rope that can pull you out of the deepest mud as a gift from the dealership. I’ll be right back.”

When he returned with a coiled rope, he grinned. “This is the longest one we had.” He showed her where the lever was to release the bottom of the seat, so it flipped forward. “See how that looks like you have a flat surface? Lift that tab.”

Wren pulled the tab, and the flat surface tipped back like opening the cover of a book. He dropped the rope into the boxlike space. Wren closed the lid then locked the seat back into place. “That’s really slick.”

“You have another space on the passenger’s side just like it if you need it.”   

“Thanks again.”

“You’re quite welcome; let us know how your trip goes.”

“I’ll make sure the publisher sends you a magazine with my article.”

“Make sure you mention the dashing, brilliant service manager at your first RV dealership.” He chuckled.

After she started the engine, he tapped on the hood twice then stepped back and saluted her with two fingers.

“That was a nice sendoff, wasn’t it, Rascal?”

After she was on the freeway, Wren clutched the steering wheel as she maneuvered her way through the maze of the Phoenix interchanges and the fast-moving, nerve-wracking, bumper-to-bumper traffic. “This is rough; the truck handles the camper, but I’m afraid to breathe until we’re on the open road.”

Wren relaxed and gazed in wonder at her surroundings after they were away from the city and its freeways. “I thought Arizona was all brown when we circled to land; now that I have the chance for a closer look, I see different colors of brush: yellow-green, burnt orange, dusky gray, and dark purple; green cactus; gray rocks with streaks of red; and the bluest sky I’ve ever seen. The desert is beautiful.”

As she drove through a small town, she noticed a tall sign on her right that announced she was approaching her favorite superstore.

“I just realized I meant to stop in Phoenix to get our basics for the trailer, but I was so focused on my driving, I forgot. I already have my list; I won’t be long. I’ll park in the shade if I can find any and leave the engine running. Don’t let anyone steal the truck.”

Rascal growled then barked.

“Good boy, thanks.”

When she walked into the store, she glanced to her left and raised her eyebrows in surprise at the grocery section. The store’s completely backwards to what I’m used to; this might take longer than I expected.

After she finished her shopping and checked out, she pushed her full cart to the truck. She unlocked the camper, so she could put away the groceries that needed to be refrigerated then locked the camper door.

She opened the back door of the truck on the passenger’s side and put the rest of the sacks on the floor. “I think I have everything we’ll need for a few days. I’m sure I missed something, but I bought towels, a pillow, and sheets for me, and two bowls, dogfood, and treats for you, so we’ll get by.”

She glanced at her suitcase. “I forgot to pull out my carry
piece and some ammo. Mom would have a fit if she knew.” Wren loaded her pistol then slid it into its holster and snugged the inside waistband holster into place.

As she left the outskirts of the small town, Wren chuckled
as a roadrunner briefly raced her then disappeared into the brush. When the road with large rocks along the side twisted through the hills, she smiled as the truck’s engine managed the climbs and maintained its steady speed on the downgrades with ease.

Wren pulled over at a roadside rest area for a break; after she and Rascal climbed out of the truck, she poured water from the jug she’d bought into Rascal’s bowl and into her cup. After she ate the small salad she’d bought for her lunch, Wren gave Rascal a treat.

When he abruptly darted after a jackrabbit, Wren gasped then whistled; Rascal slowly returned.

She snatched up his leash from the truck then attached it to his collar. “This was my fault; I forgot we weren’t at home. We don’t know our way around the desert, boy; we have to stay together.”

Rascal led the way to the truck but glanced back with longing at the brush where the rabbit had disappeared.

Wren smiled when they reached the truck and opened the door behind the driver’s seat. “That rabbit was scared you were going to catch up
with it; you were impressive.”

Rascal grinned then hopped into the truck.

It was late afternoon when Wren passed a sign, “Hidden Gulch Town Limits”; three miles later, she turned at the Forgotten Oasis campground
sign and slowly made her way to the small, wooden building with peeling once-red paint that was marked “Office.” 

Before she climbed out of the truck, Wren surveyed the
campground. “I can’t tell where the campground stops and the desert begins because it all blends together; I’ll bet my eyes will adjust just like they did after we left Phoenix.”

Wren snapped on the leash. "This is just for show because
we’re going into the office.”

When they reached the office, Wren smiled at the large bowl
of water with the sign, ‘Dog Hydration Station’; after they were inside, Wren sighed at the refreshing coolness of the small office that contrasted so sharply with the intense, dry heat outside.

A woman in her fifties with soft brown hair highlighted with
streaks of golden blond smiled as she set a box of ice cream treats into the ice cream chest and hurried to the desk. “Welcome to the Forgotten Oasis.”

Another woman popped up from behind an aisle where she’d been stocking camping supplies, and Rascal wagged his tail. She was at least ten years younger than the first woman; she wore a tight, bright turquoise T-shirt that accentuated her curvy figure and was a perfect complement to her pale brown skin and dark brown eyes and flyaway hair that she had unsuccessfully tried to entrap into a ponytail.

“Feels good, doesn’t it? I’m Socorro Mendez, and you must be Wren Weaver; who’s your handsome companion?”

“Rascal.”

Rascal wagged his tail even faster at the mention of his
name then grinned at Socorro’s throaty chuckle.

She held out her hand for him to sniff then scratched his
ear, and he leaned against her hand. “You are such a good boy,” she cooed.

Rascal followed her and Wren to the desk.

“Socorro, I pulled up Miss Weaver’s registration,” the woman at the desk said.

“Thank you, Betsy.”

While Socorro motioned for Wren to stand next to her, Betsy asked, “Rascal, are you a good boy?”

Rascal scrambled around to the side of the desk where Betsy stood and sat. She chuckled and gave him a treat. “Any time you need to go into town for research, Miss Weaver, you’re welcome to leave Rascal with me.”

“Please call me Wren, and I think he might enjoy that, thank you.”

Betsy pointed to the sign on the desk. “That’s our motto:
Dogs Welcome, People Tolerated.”

“We take our motto seriously.” Socorro smiled. “We have you
registered for a week with the option of a second week. Here’s the campground map.”

While Wren looked on, Socorro pointed as she spoke.
“Restrooms are here, and this is the code to the door; the laundry is in the same building. We have a pool that is refreshing, especially in the afternoons, and a fenced-in dog park that our canine visitors enjoy, but Rascal may prefer to investigate the grounds. Our campground is completely fenced except for the entrance. This back section is part of the campground if we ever decide to expand, but so far, we enjoy having our personal desert. We do have roaming predators at night, so you may want to stay relatively close to your camper and the buildings after dark.”

 Socorro marked an X with
a black marker next to a rectangle on the map. “Here is your site; our rows are one-way.” She drew a line from the office to Wren’s spot.

“This is my cell phone; text me anytime.” Socorro circled the number on the map. “I live in the little house near the entrance, so I’m always onsite except when I go into town once a week on Tuesdays for supplies.”

“I hadn’t thought about whether anyone would be onsite; I should have because that’s important.”

Socorro raised an eyebrow. “It would be for me if I was
traveling solo. Your magazine publisher, Mr. Hogue, told us you were coming here because the campground has a long-standing reputation of being haunted. I’ve owned and managed the campground for fifteen years; I bought it after my worthless ex-husband ran off with that hussy.”

Socorro fanned her face with a brochure from a local tire
company that was on the counter. “I don’t think about that sleazy scumbag very
often, but when I do, I still get a little worked up. Anyway, I haven’t seen or heard anything that was remotely haunting, other than this odd feeling I’ve had lately that someone was watching me…”

Socorro peered past Wren and surveyed the parking lot before
she cleared her throat then continued, “The hot wind from the desert gets on my nerves now and then and makes me jumpy; it’s nothing. What I meant to say was I won’t be able to help you with anything about the campground being haunted, but I know where the old-timers hang out, and they’re quick to tell stories about the Old West. If you’re interested in local color, you’re welcome to join me for breakfast at the Watering Hole, our one and only diner.”

“I hadn’t thought about local color at all, but that would definitely help my article come alive; thank you. I can go anytime; I don’t have a set
schedule yet.”

“Let’s go tomorrow morning; can you be ready to leave around seven, or is that too early?”

“I’ll still be on Eastern time, so seven won’t be early at all for us.”

As Wren and Rascal headed toward the door, Socorro added, “When you and Rascal go exploring, be careful around the wooden structures out back; they were here when I bought the place, and I haven’t had the motivation or funds to fix them up.”

“I’ve called Butch; he’ll show you the way to your site,” Betsy said.

When Wren and Rascal went outside, a wiry man with gray at his temples and dimples that deepened when he smiled waited next to her truck in
a golf cart that had been repurposed into a maintenance vehicle.

“Follow me.” He led her to her site then signaled for her to
stop when the trailer was in line with the utility hookups. When she stopped, he nodded then sped away.

 After Wren unhooked and leveled the trailer, she plugged the electrical cord into the outlet and attached her water hose to the faucet next to her camper. She carried the rest of her shopping bags into the trailer; Rascal went inside with her.

“It’s a cute camper, isn’t it? Nice and compact.” She turned
on the air conditioner then pulled out her sheets, towels, and other items and dropped them into her new laundry basket. “Let’s stop by the laundry and get a load into the washer, then we can explore.”

Wren’s eyes widened when they went into the laundry room. “It’s spotless, Rascal.”

She tossed her laundry into the washer, poured in her detergent, then fed coins into the washer’s slots. When the washer started, they left.

Rascal trotted ahead then waited for Wren before he raced ahead for a rabbit that scurried away.

“Don’t go too far,” Wren called out.

Rascal trotted back to her; the two of them continued to the
fence then followed it to the back.

When they reached a wooden structure, Wren raised her
eyebrows.

“Would you look at that?” she whispered almost reverently.

The façade of an old western saloon was on a wooden stage
that was almost five feet from the ground. The windowsills were sagging, and the one remaining swinging door hung by a single hinge. The stage was missing a few boards, and the entire structure leaned precariously to the right.

“Wow; they must have presented Old West shows here at one time.”

“They sure ‘nuf did, but don’t you go thinkin’ they was real,” a young man said.  

“Who said that?” Wren looked around then glanced at Rascal
who was staring at the top of the old saloon.

When Wren looked up, she saw the frail young man perched at the peak of the roof; he wore a battered hat, a shirt with a large hole in the
chest, and oversized britches held up by suspenders.

“What are you doing up there?” she asked.

“Doin’ my job. Wait up there a minute. You heard me? You can see me? I been talkin’ to people for ages and ain’t nobody ever heard me before. What’s your name? Are you a ghost or somethin’?”

“My name is Wren. I’m not a ghost; are you?”

The young man stood up and stuck out his chest. “Nope; I’m Thomas, the guard for the stagecoach. My first job, and the man gave me a real silver
dollar and told me to keep the lady safe. When the stagecoach robbers chased
us, they shot me, but I always remembered it was my job to keep the lady safe.” Thomas patted his nonexistent shirt pocket.

Wren stared at Thomas, then he disappeared.

“You saw him, right, Rascal?” Wren whispered.

“Of course, he did; dogs is smart,” Thomas said from the far end of the facade. “Smarter than people.”

“Who’s the president, Thomas?” Wren asked.

“Ask your dog; he’s smarter than you are, silly girl,” Thomas chortled. “Everybody knows it’s James Monroe.”

“Of course, I was testing you.”

Thomas snorted. “That’s a girl answer if I ever heard one.” 

Wren glared at him then stomped back to her trailer; Rascal trotted along behind her.

Wren watched a small dust devil dance across the field near the campground as she sat at the picnic table next to her camper.

She reached down and stroked Rascal’s chin. “Did I just get
into an argument with a ghost?”

A gust of wind blew off her cap.

“Okay, a stagecoach guard.” Wren laughed as she dusted off her ball cap then jammed it onto her head.

“Let’s go inside and put away our groceries then check to
see if our laundry’s ready for the dryer, Rascal.”

After they returned from the laundry room, Wren fed Rascal
then pulled out the fried chicken she had bought. She wrapped it in foil then stood in front of the stove and stared. “There’s no oven, Rascal. I don’t want mushy chicken which is exactly what I’d get if I tried to warm it up in the microwave.”

Wren sighed then warmed her dinner roll in the microwave and ate her cold fried chicken, coleslaw, and roll.

She rinsed her plate and fork in the small sink then left them in the drainer to wash when she had more dirty dishes.

“The cold fried chicken wasn’t bad, I suppose, but it would
have been better crispy. No oven is definitely complaint number one. I suppose
I’ll have to get a toaster oven or something like that, if I want anything to be crispy or browned like the frozen biscuits I bought.”

When they returned from the laundry room, Wren folded the
bath, hand, and dish towels then stared at the bed. There’s nowhere to stand next to the bed to make it. I’m going to have to climb onto the bed, tuck in the top of the fitted sheet, then climb off the bed and hope the elastic doesn’t pop loose.”

When she crawled onto the bed, she growled, “This bed is not just impossible to make up, it’s rock hard. A person would have to be totally exhausted every night to get to sleep.”

After the bottom sheet was on the bed, she flipped the top
sheet over it. “That was terrible; I’ll fix it when I go to bed.”

She exhaled. “That won’t work; I’ll need a blanket.”

She slipped under the sheet and pulled it up; after she
climbed out of bed, she threw the blanket on top of the sheet and groaned. “I should have done both of them at once. I’ll wait to pull up the blanket.”

She put the pillowcase on her new pillow and tossed it at
the bed; it landed in the middle. “At least that worked, and I have my next two issues to report.”

 She set up her laptop at the small dining table and typed the details of her three complaints.

“Charlie and his CEO don’t need the details, but it felt
good to get the frustration out of my system.”

Rascal whined; Wren finished her last sentence then rose
from her seat and stretched. “There was an outlet next to the table right where I needed one: that’s a bonus point for the manufacturer. I’ll add the good features in a different section. We need a walk before it gets dark. I think more RVs and trailers pulled in; let’s see what everybody else has.” She clipped his leash onto his collar.

As they strolled to the office building, Wren gazed at the
orange-streaked sky with reds so brilliant near the horizon that it looked on fire.

After she and Rascal were near the drive in front of the office, they went from one row to the next until they eventually came to the ending row of trailers and RVs. Wren inhaled the sweetly distinct aroma of the sagebrush that surrounded the campground. She thought, I love camping in new
places.

 Most of their neighbors were relaxing in camping chairs while they enjoyed a cold drink. Wren returned waves and greetings; Rascal grinned to the delight of his new fans.

After they were back inside their camper, Wren said,
“Everybody had camping chairs that looked a lot more comfortable than sitting on a hard picnic bench; I’ll add one to our shopping list, then we can sit outside and wave when people walk by too.”

Wren made a pitcher of sweet tea then opened her laptop to
research stagecoach lines from El Paso to Tucson in the 1800s; after half an hour, she switched to researching the history of the area.

Another hour later, she yawned then added western boots to
her list before she set up her coffee maker for the morning.

Rascal stayed on the rag rug that she had purchased on
impulse because of the colors: red, turquoise, tan, and black.

“I’m glad you like our Arizona rug. I’ll see you in the morning.”

 

Journalist, camping enthusiast, accidental crime fighter.

Wren lands her dream job: write articles about haunted campgrounds across the US.

She’s accompanied by her sweet dog, Rascal, who has her back along with the ghosts at the campgrounds.  Her plans become complicated when she meets a cute town Marshal whose protective instincts are infuriating and captivating.

At each campground, she discovers crimes that only she can solve. The killers can’t risk exposure: Wren has to die.  

 

Get the entire 5 Book Series (and a bonus!) of the thrilling, sweet mystery by the award-winning author Judith A. Barrett. 

This offer is NOT available anywhere else. 

  I highly recommend! "The characters are well-rounded and likable, and the plot, which includes a budding love interest, leads the reader through plenty of twists and turns to a satisfying, unexpected ending. " ~ Amazon Review

 

Her Dream Gig: Write articles about haunted campgrounds.  Pitfall: Killers wants her dead.

 

ENJOY EXCERPTS

(One version of) THE STORY of FORGOTTEN OASIS CAMPGROUND 

“The Forgotten Oasis was an…establishment run by a lady who was tossed off a stagecoach outside of town. She walked straight to the town marshal’s office and asked if there was a store she could buy. The old hotel was up for sale because it was in rotten shape. The marshal was kind of sweet on the purdy lady, so he wouldn’t let the hotel owner swindle her. She paid a fair price for the hotel considering the condition it was in; she fixed it up, then some girls she knew showed up, and she was open for business.”

“Yep,” the first man chuckled, “eyewitness.”

“You’re crass,” the second man said.

The first man narrowed his eyes. “What did you call me?”

“Look it up in the dictionary. Some of the merchants in town began grumbling because her business was booming. Every single one of them claimed he was about to buy the hotel, but she snatched it away from him. One man tried to get his wife to rile up the church ladies, but she asked him how he knew what business the nice hotel lady had, and he shut up.”

“Well, that’s unbelievable,” the first man said.

“You might think so, but the hotel lady had all her girls going to Bible study so they could learn to read. You done interrupting?”

The first man put money on the table and left.

When Wren’s eyes widened, Socorro whispered, “They take turns walking out on each other; they’re brothers.”

The man continued with his story. “It was all going good for the town and the hotel lady until a gang of outlaws decided she was easy pickings and tried to rob her. Twelve of them rode into town and ambushed her outside the church. They didn’t know that after the daily Bible study, the hotel lady took all her girls and church ladies outside of town and taught them to shoot. There were sixteen sharpshooters in that church, and while the hotel lady lay on the ground mortally wounded, they came barreling out and cut down all twelve of the cowardly killers.”

“I love this story,” Socorro said.

Wren nodded.

“The outlaw leader thought he’d gotten away, but the church ladies and all the girls swore they saw the hotel lady manage to get herself on a horse and ride after him. Two days later, they found him alongside the road dead with a bullet right between his eyes. They never found the hotel lady or her body. Some say the church ladies and the girls secretly buried her in the church cemetery, but others say they saw her in an upstairs window at the Forgotten Oasis while she made sure her girls and the church ladies were safe.”

***

JUST HIS JOB

Wren opened the kitchen trash can. When she smelled the distinct iron odor of blood, she pushed aside the coffee filter filled with wet coffee grounds, junk mail, and other papers, then stared at the blood-soaked hand towel that had been shoved down into the trash. She rushed out of the house and sat down on the porch with her head between her knees until the waves of nausea passed.

She pulled out her phone and called the marshal.

Justin immediately answered his phone. “Are you okay, Wren?”

“No, I found a blood-soaked towel in Socorro’s kitchen trash. I think she was attacked and beaten in her kitchen.”

“Where are you?”

“On her front porch.”

“Go to your camper; I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

Wren stumbled to her camper, then went inside and sat on the floor with Rascal while she sobbed. After her tears slowed, she rose from the floor, blew her nose, and splashed water on her face.

When a car stopped at her camper, she peered out and then opened the door for the marshal.

“Why don’t you have a seat while you fill me in,” Justin said.

After they sat at the small dinette, Wren said, “The amount of blood on the towel shouldn’t have shocked me, but it was such a graphic reminder of how brutal the attack on Socorro must have been. Sheridan asked Betsy to check the house, and Betsy wanted me to go with her.”

After Wren recounted the events, beginning with going with Betsy to check Socorro’s house, Justin said, “I’ll let the investigators know Socorro was probably attacked in her home, and I’ll check the back of the house before I leave. Anything else?”

She shook her head. “I probably should have taken a breath or two before I called you so you didn’t have to come all the way out here. I could have told you everything over the phone.”

Justin rose. “Don’t worry about it; it’s my job.”

Wren nodded. It’s his job.

After he left, Wren angrily brushed away a stray tear. “The marshal is a polite, brilliant law enforcement officer who is highly skilled at encouraging people to trust him. I think I’ve read a little too much into his protective approach, which is strictly professional, Rascal.”


 Ready to read more? 

Grab BLOODSHED IN THE BADLANDS and the entire bundle of books to enjoy the thrilling, romantic mystery series.   

Journalist and crime fighter: killers look forward to reading her obituary.

 

  I have not read a series this good in years! "I tell myself I’m going to stop reading at the end of the this chapter. But no! A cliffhanger! I have to keep reading! Wonderful series!" ~ An Amazon Review 


IMMERSE YOURSELF IN WREN'S WORLD...

Freelance journalist Wren's latest assignment is a dream come true: writing articles about haunted campgrounds beginning in the picturesque Arizona desert. Her passion for travel and camping, shared with her loyal Labrador Retriever, Rascal, leads her to the Old West-style Forgotten Oasis. But beneath its charming facade, a deadly threat awaits.

Wren's investigation into the campground's eerie history puts her at odds with the young, widowed county marshal. His protective instincts both frustrate and intrigue her, adding a simmering romantic tension to her quest for the truth.

The campground's resident ghost, who haunts the abandoned saloon with a snarky attitude and his own secrets, complicates matters further.

As Wren uncovers a long-forgotten crime, she realizes that the ghost's cryptic hints are key to solving recent, chilling deaths.

With a serial killer lurking in the shadows, Wren must race against time to uncover the truth before she becomes the next victim.

Bloodshed in the Badlands is the gripping romantic mystery that sets the stage for the Wren and Rascal Mystery Series where the past and present collide in a deadly dance.

Books included in the Bundle:

  • Bloodshed in the Badlands
  • Whacked in the Woods
  • Murder in the Mountains
  • Slaughtered in the Sand
  • Bones in the Bayou
  • BONUS BOOK: Chasing Stories
Learn More!