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Stones Throw

Making her way into Tennessee's Great Smokey Mountains, Stacy Weston has one chance to rescue her four-month-old son, sold into the black market by his father. Running from a bogus warrant, on Christmas Eve, she unwittingly turns for help to the last person who would give it, the one person who needs to uncover her identity. No one in the clannish, unfriendly mountain town of Stones Throw will lift a finger to help her when she's arrested for killing Cobb Slocum, the middle man to the black market ring. Enter tall, dark and deadly Rick McCoy, a drifter with secret, fateful ties to Stones Throw. Stacy's only hope lays with the handyman who has been following her, a man who admitted hating Slocum. Unknown to Stacy, she is scheduled to "vanish" ... for good.

A Hard Shell Word Factory Release


Linda Opdyke

    Trixie Belden and her mysteries was my first foray into the fascinating world of suspense, and at age eleven I realized I was happiest with a pen in my hand and a plot swirling in my mind. My first creation, a ghost/murder mystery, was performed for the school by my seventh grade classmates via the support and encouragement of my teacher, Mr. Schlegle. Organizations like RWA, NJRW, Kiss of Death (RWA Mys/Sus) and Sisters in Crime fanned creative flames and my imagination took flight, into "what if" and "whodunnit".
    My first book, award-winning thriller STONES THROW, was a December 1999 release from Hard Shell Word Factory. "Best Pick for July 2000" romantic suspense LAKE BRAXTON features a husband-and-wife private investigation team (Ethan's a pro - Mickey's not) based in Nashville. SOUTHERN CROSS is my first time travel and is set in the mystique, romance and intrigue of 1867 New Orleans. My works-in-progress include BETWEEN THE MOON AND MIDNIGHT, a tale of murder, revenge and deadly family betrayal and WAITING FOR MIDNIGHT, a thriller about a fatal honeymoon and the clock-dominated, cat-and-mouse game to solve the murder.
    Free time finds me relaxing and listening to country music at the Jersey shore with my husband of almost thirty years, our two children and three grandchildren.
    For more information or updates drop me a line at llopdyke@verizon.net or P.O. Box 1038 Barnegat, NJ 08005. Visit my website at http://www.lindaopdyke.com/

Reviews

"In this panoramic thriller, Opdyke launches you headfirst into the underbelly of Appalachia with a gritty cast of homespun locals and a riveting, yet poignant plot which explores greed and betrayal, heartbreak and redemption. STONES THROW will rock your heart and keep it pounding one suspenseful page after another, proving Opdyke is but a stone's throw from the acclaim that will catapult her to the bestseller lists alongside J.D. Robb, Nelson DeMille and James Patterson"

Delia Parr -- Award-winning St. Martin's Press author and Romantic Time award winner and Career Achievement Nominee


"STONES THROW keeps you on edge with this powerfully written debut novel from a very, very talented author whose writing is oh, so fine, and flows beautifully from page to page combining suspense, betrayal, revenge, and a taunt and haunting love story between two lonely people. The dialogue is dynamite, and the conclusion will blow your socks off as one heck of a ballsy woman comes through and turns the tables in her favor. Stacy is a woman anyone would want in his or her corner, and Rick is one superb hero. I can't say enough good things about Ms. Opdyke, except I can't wait to read her next novel."

Suzanne Coleburn -- The Belles & Beaux of Romance


"Billed as a thriller, Stones Throw is definitely that. Opdyke's descriptive powers make the mountains come alive and create characters so real they're almost visible. Stacy's single-minded purpose, complicated by a relationship she desperately wants and needs, but at the same time, fears, is a tightrope walk through a nightmare no mother wants to face. It starts fast and ends faster. Stones Throw is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Buy it!"

P.J. Nunn -- Mystery Morgue and Raven Feathers
Excerpt

Prologue

Clanging cell doors wasn't a new sound to Jake Weston. Nor was the muffled voices of inmates, betting on loaded dice or whining because they ran short of smokes. He took a disinterested glance around the room and snorted in derision. Christ, these wusses would die if they ever landed in the state pen. Not that he'd been there either, but he'd heard plenty. Inmates there didn't park their delicate asses in a carpeted TV room like they did here in the county lockup.

He leaned against the wall and dragged long on an unfiltered cigarette, exhaling through his nose while he watched five cons roughly push a newcomer before they circled him. Jake shrugged. Typical intimidation, the goal being to steal whatever the poor slob was carrying. The group's target was small, but wiry. Jake's eyes narrowed as he watched the man stand his ground against the ring of toughs. Jake couldn't hear what was being said, but the man repeatedly shook his head, a stubborn set to his thin, hard face.

Jake raised his hand in greeting when the guard he'd been expecting entered.

The tall, burly guard walked to where Jake stood, saying nothing until Jake extracted a folded bill from the pocket of his orange, jail-issued jumpsuit and slipped it into the waiting palm.

"It'll be in your cell after dinner."

"Much obliged," Jake answered genially, still watching the others.

The guard gestured to the group. "What's going on? Cigarettes or cash?"

Jake shrugged. "Who knows? Or cares."

The guard's laugh was a sneer. "I was on duty when they brought that short guy in. Beat the crap out of three assholes in a dive on Somerset Avenue. Seems he took offense to their jokes about Tennessee hillbillies. Would've killed all three if cops hadn't dropped him with sticks. Gee, Weston, I hear you did some boxing before the navy threw you out," the guard taunted. "Why don't you take him on?"

"Fuck you," Jake answered as the guard walked away laughing. Gaze hooded, Jake turned back to the gang. So, the guy could take care of himself. Local crime was looking for muscle. Reliable teams. He crushed his cigarette in the ashtray and strolled to the group, pushed his way inside the circle to give a silent, appraising look at the thirtyish, balding man in the middle.

At five-eleven Jake towered over him, but the cold brown eyes looking back sent a shiver up his spine. "Hear you took out three in a bar."

The man evenly met his gaze, and continued to hold it while he drew from his throat, then spit the gob onto the carpet. "What's it to you?"

Jake nodded to the now quiet men surrounding them. "Which three of these do you want? Other two are my treat."

The ringleader jabbed an angry finger into Jake's back. "What the fuck you think you're doing, Weston? This ain't no concern of yours."

Unruffled, Jake continued to match stares with the newcomer.

The cold eyes flickered with suspicion. Another gob hit the carpet.

Again, the finger jabbed Jake's back. "Get lost, Weston."

The newcomer's thin lips parted, revealing uneven yellow teeth. "Seems somebody don't like your buttin' in."

Jake's movement was graceful and lightning-quick, the man behind him doubling from a punch to his stomach. Lifting the man's head by his hair, Jake spoke politely. "You were saying, Bobby?"

Jake released his grip when a guard appeared in the doorway and eyed the group. "Break it up over there," he called, and his hand dropped onto the leaded club chained to his belt. "Chow time, ladies," he added. The guard stood unmoving while each inmate filed past toward the dining room, leaving Jake no opportunity to pursue his conversation with the hillbilly.

Everybody stood, cafeteria style, under the watchful eyes of half a dozen armed guards. Inmates, some quietly, some not, waited to get a tray that resembled heavy cardboard and collect plastic utensils before they continued down the line. Thick male hands covered with clear plastic used oversized ice cream scoops to portion the day's supper into the trays individual compartments. Luckier inmates would have somebody on the outside deliver a decent meal.

Jake, one of the last to go through the line, sat alone at the end of a long table. He scowled, looking down at the disgusting mess that had been dropped half-in and half-out of his tray's compartments. Did they expect him to eat this shit? Mashed potatoes, hard peas and mystery meat submerged in watery tan gravy. The dessert was a crumb-topped joke. His stomach growled, but he pushed the plate away, cursing Stacy for refusing to bring him food. For telling him he could rot in jail. He should have let her walk out when she tried. Before they found out she was pregnant. Five-foot-seven and leggy, Stacy's long black hair and blue eyes were more than eye-catching. She was a knockout, something Jake appreciated and pursued. Stacy had grown up in cold foster homes, and Jake used her dreams of family and white picket fence as his way into her heart. She never shared his love of the fast life, and the love in her eyes died with the realization Jake had played on her dreams simply because he considered her a trophy wife. Then the unexpected kid and ultimatum. Straighten out, Jake. Or Jeremy and I are leaving.

Today was the last straw. He'd called, sweet-talking her into coming to visit. Or so he thought. When she'd shown, she'd brushed off his requests for good meals and cash. Instead she unleashed an attack. Cornflower blue eyes he used to make darken in the heat of passion were cold blue steel, her soft voice hard as a rock. He grew angry, and Stacy's face filled his mind as he remembered her visit.

Her palm slapped down on the table and sunlight streaming through the barred window reflected off the plexiglass partition separating them. The telephone needed to communicate was gripped in her hand, but despite her obvious anger he had to strain to hear her through his receiver.

"You listen, Jake, and listen good. I've heard your promises, your wheeling and dealing. You want special treatment while you're in here? Try calling one of the girls you've been chasing. There's nothing left between us. Unless you straighten out for good, stay away from my son."

"He's my son, too," he shot back. He expected anything but her hearty laugh.

"Your son, too," she echoed, as though tasting each word. "After four months of ignoring the child you helped create, except to complain when he cries? No, Jake. I don't want you around Jeremy until you grow up. Don't call again."

The unpleasant memory was interrupted by the pressure of a sharp, jagged point against the tip of Jake's throat. The smell of foul breath coming from behind assaulted his nostrils, but the grip on his shoulder convinced Jake to stay seated. Recognition of the hissing voice was immediate.

"Should've minded your business, Weston. You know the rules."

Jake smiled, even though the man was behind him and he had little chance of gaining the upper hand. "Don't fuck with me, Bobby."

Bobby's mouth was next to Jake's ear, his breath stronger when he expelled mocking laughter. The crude weapon moved deeper into the skin of Jake's throat, threatening puncture. "No? Think anybody'd protest if I sliced that pretty face? Unfortunately for you, guards don't step in until the floor gets slippery."

Before Jake could answer, Bobby's hand jerked from his shoulder. When the weapon also lifted, Jake jumped up, turned, then stopped.

Directly in front of Bobby stood the short hillbilly, one hand covering Bobby's wrist so tightly Bobby's face was white. Bobby gasped in pain, but the man didn't blink, didn't relax his grip. Bobby opened his fingers and dropped the knife.

The hillbilly's only communication to Bobby was a cold stare, coupled with breathing that said anything but retreat would be a foolish move. The penetrating coldness finally made Bobby lower his gaze and walk away.

Jake said nothing, and fought the urge to grin. His interference today paid off in a way he hadn't expected. But the hillbilly wasn't giving friendly looks, or making overtures to talk. He ignored Jake's "Thanks" and simply walked back to his seat and continued eating. Wheels already turning in his mind, Jake did the same.

Bolted to the wall, the hard cot that passed for a bed was no easier for sitting than for sleeping. Now, reclined on the thin, dirty mattress with his hands clasped behind his neck, Jake listened to sounds from the adjoining cell. Surprise was surpassed only by pleasure when he'd learned the hillbilly was the current occupant.

With an eye peeled for passing guards, he rose and reached beneath the blanket at the foot of the bed. As promised, a pint of cheap rye. Just the contents were cheap. The deal with the guard cost Jake the price of the pint plus twenty. It didn't take a practiced eye to see the broken seal. More than likely the whiskey was watered down. He unscrewed the cap, closed his eyes and lifted the bottle.

The liquid heated his throat. Opening his eyes, he pulled the bottle away from his mouth. Watered, yes, but not as bad as expected. He screwed the cap on and walked to the bars, standing close to the wall between his cell and the one to his right. In a low voice he called, "Hey. Tennessee."

From the other cot came silence, then, "What?"

"Thirsty?"

"Maybe."

Jake looked up and down the corridor. "Appreciated your help in the chow room, Tennessee. Nice to have somebody watching your back."

The voice remained unfriendly. "Forget it. We're squared."

Undeterred, Jake continued. "Name's Jake. Like the way you handled yourself today with Bobby's gang. He's a pretty tough bastard. In county lockup couple times a year, til his connected brother gets him bailed."

Silence.

Jake allowed minutes to pass, taking an occasional swig. His lawyer had assured him he'd get probation, had promised he'd be out by the end of this week. He needed work. Stacy'd made it clear "straightening out" meant legit work. Fuck Stacy. If he could talk the hillbilly into working with him as an enforcer or collector they'd build a fast reputation, along with a fast wad of dough.

A small, hairy hand appeared from the other cell. "Lloyd."

Jake wasn't stupid, and knew the extended hand expected the feel of the whiskey bottle, not a handshake. He passed the bottle and the hand disappeared. Within seconds he heard swallowing. A loud belch.

Jake covered irritation. "I'll be out in a few days. Anyone posting your bond?"

"Awful nosy, ain't you?" Lloyd asked, handing the bottle back.

"Keep it," Jake said, ignoring the proffered bottle. "I think we can pick up a few bucks doing what we're both good at."

"And what might that be?"

Jake grinned. "Working with our hands, so to speak."

Lloyd snorted. "Ain't interested. Besides, I'll be out tomorrow. Them assholes ain't goin' to press charges," he added with confidence Jake didn't miss.

"You still need money," Jake argued, certain the hillbilly didn't make an honest living any more than he did. "And it guarantees easy cash."

Lloyd laughed. "I get all the easy cash I need. No work involved. No bruises, no shiners, no overhead. Sheer profit. You go work with your hands. I'll pass."

If they were able, Jake's ears would have stood straight up. No work involved. Sheer profit. Was the hillbilly a blowhard, or doing something Jake wanted in on? Remembering the confident"..ain't goin' to press charges", Jake decided to find out. "Sounds like good work. Looking for new faces?"

"Most people don't find what I do real attractive."

Jake narrowed his eyes. What the hell was that supposed to mean? He shrugged. "You talking about whacking people? Or kiddie porn?"

Lloyd offered a crude laugh. "Whackin' people and kiddie porn is for amateurs. What do you do for a livin', Jake?"

How should he describe theft? "Odd jobs."

"Stick to 'em. You don't want to start screwin' around in the business I'm in. It ain't pretty."

"Steady work?"

"Oo-- h, yeah!"

"Then let me be the judge of what I want to screw around in," Jake answered, overpowered by curiosity.

Brief silence, then Lloyd passed a beat-up photo through the bars. When he spoke his voice was low. Calm. "I make my money from people who don't let petty shit like the law stop them from buyin' what they want."

So many things seemed off-center with the hillbilly that Jake didn't bother asking how Lloyd slipped the photo through booking. He simply stared at the photo, surprised by his lack of shock. There wasn't a doubt in his mind what the image in the photo represented. Shouldn't Lloyd's source of income be repulsive to any decent person? It probably was. To Jake, it sounded lucrative. Inviting.