Chincoteague is one of a pair of barrier islands off the coast of Virginia. Its eastern sister, Assateague, is the actual home of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and of the ponies made famous in Marguerite Henry’s children’s books (remember Misty of Chincoteague?).
Chincoteague has a long, colorful history. First settled possibly by freed slaves in the seventeenth century, it was noted for its antipathy to the heavy hand of government. It was the only town in Virginia to support the Union in the Civil War. Given a glorious cornucopia of waterfowl and deer, many locals were disinclined to follow the strict regulations on hunting and fishing. Thus, when Dagne is shot at on the refuge, citizens, rangers and even the police were less than concerned. As you’ll find out in Dear Philomena, they were wrong.
The Book: Dagne Lonegan, aka Dear Philomena, advice columnist, hoped that spending a year on the Eastern Shore island of Chincoteague would extinguish any feelings she had left for Jack Andrews, erstwhile lover and long-time jerk. It’s just her luck that in her first week on the island she’s entangled in a murder. Only she doesn’t know it. Unfortunately, the murderer doesn’t know she doesn’t know. Strange and dangerous things begin happening to her, disrupting her new romance with Aidan Ellis, the handsome manager of the National Wildlife Refuge. As if that weren’t enough, Jack arrives to take charge of the murder investigation.
Will Dagne stick with the tall, cool glass of a Ranger or risk falling back into the arms of the man who broke her heart?
Excerpt (G): The Sniper
The afternoon sun beat down. Before long, perspiration dripped unpleasantly down her back and her neck began to burn. She reached a curve in the loop where a service road angled off. The cool shade of the evergreen alley beckoned, and she opened the gate and went through. Gravel popped beneath her sneakers and yellow-rumped warblers skipped from branch to branch, moving just ahead of her. She swung along, loving the feel of stretching her muscles, thinking of nothing.
At the end of the pines, the landscape opened out. Ponds choked with cordgrass lay on either side of the road, flanked by dunes on her right and scrub forest on her left. Ducks crowded the shallow water—mergansers, American wigeons, gadwalls. She stopped to watch a pair of diminutive black and white buffleheads putter around at the water’s edge. A cloud passed overhead, blotting out the sun. When it moved on, the light had changed to the desperate gold of a late afternoon teetering on the threshold of twilight. Time to go.
As she stood in the path, not yet willing to give up her afternoon off, she heard a loud crack. Woodpecker? Another bang rent the air, but this time the noise sounded much closer. Oh my God, that’s a rifle. Someone’s hunting out here! A surge of impractical outrage washed over Dagne. How dare they? This is a refuge for God’s sake! Nonetheless, prudence suggested she turn back.
She began with a walk, but some primitive instinct told her to accelerate. Directly over her head something zinged and a chunk of bark plopped at her feet. Her trot turned into a canter. Another shot hit the road, spraying pebbles into the air. They can’t be shooting at me. Can they? What should I do? Duck? Throw myself on the ground? Run into the trees? Instead, like some hapless cartoon character racing down the tracks ahead of the train, she ran straight down the road. By the time she reached the loop, her lungs were clawing for air. Stabbing pains scraped her chest and side. She’d heard no more shots, and after a few minutes’ rest, walked as fast as she could back to the parking lot, slowing every few steps to take a quick check of her surroundings.
She jumped into the car, locked the doors, and roared out onto the park road. At the Chamber of Commerce circle she slowed down, which gave her time to notice that the gas gauge read empty. She pulled into Ivan’s service station, Ivan II. She’d met the owner—a Belarusan native who had defected in the fifties—when he fixed a flat tire for her some years before. Despite his penchant for naming every store he owned after himself, she knew him to be a warm and generous man. He stopped polishing his vintage Morgan and came over. “Dagne, you’re shaking like a leaf! What’s wrong?”
It came pouring out. “Ivan, someone shot at me!”
Instead of reacting with shock, he chuckled, and wiped his hands on a towel. “Well, Milaya—I mean—my dear. It is hunting season. What were you doing—flitting around, doe-like?”
“No! I was on the wildlife loop!”
“Hmm. Last I checked hunting is illegal on the refuge. Now poaching…”
“It’s not funny, Ivan. I heard three—no, four—shots! Someone was trying to kill me.”
“Now, now, Dagne, calm down. Tell me, where on the loop did this happen?”
She took a deep breath. “Well, I’d actually gone up the service road—as far as the Farm Fields impoundment. You know, beyond the pine woods?”
He nodded. “That explains it.” He removed the gasoline cap and inserted the nozzle. “I think they allow hunting up there on certain days. Did you see a sign?”
“Well, check at the visitor’s center. If it’s not an authorized hunting day, you most likely ran into a poacher. The ranger should be informed.”
Dagne wasn’t about to go back to the refuge alone, but another idea had insinuated itself while Ivan talked. She paid, headed down to Main Street, and parked next to Lance’s car behind the decoy shop. As she passed it, the sun glinted on something in the rear seat. She peered in. A rifle. The back door opened. “Dagne? What are you doing here?”
Did his voice sound odd? Did she hear a hint of menace in his tone? Lance sidled up to her. “Everything okay?”
“Sure…sure.” Should she run? No, that would be absurd. This is Lance after all.
Lance looked into his car and back at her. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, Dagne. Does the itty bitty gun scare you? I haven’t had a chance to tell you—Dwayne Oates is giving me shooting lessons.” He struck what he evidently thought was a manly pose. “You don’t think the hairy-chested outdoorsy image suits me?”
The laugh bubbled up before she could stop it. “No, Lance, I’m sorry,” she spluttered. Then the thought of her recent adventure sobered her. “Lance, someone shot at me. On the refuge.”
“Today? Are you all right? Did you see them? Where? Oh…on the loop?” His concern certainly seemed genuine. He stopped. “No wonder you looked so frightened when you saw the rifle.”
She could only nod mutely.
Lance took her arm and led her into the store. He sat her down and bustled around making coffee. When she had the mug in her hand, he leaned against the counter, arms crossed. “Okay, tell me everything. But first, have you been to the police?”
“No, not yet. I wanted to talk to you first.”
“Why? Oh, in case I’d seen anyone on my way out. Hmm. I’ll think about it, but I don’t think so. At least no one passed me coming into the refuge, but the perpetrator could’ve come from anywhere, you know—even by boat. Look, Dagne, I think you should tell the police. No, no, don’t argue. I’ll go with you.”
“Okay.” It comforted her to have someone else take charge, even if he didn’t exactly fit the superhero model.
They walked across to the police station. Sergeant Akers stood at the desk. “Hey, Miss Lonegan. Mr. Forrester.” The sergeant eyed him with some trepidation. Lance winked at Dagne and whispered, “Wait’ll he gets a load of the new huntin’ and fishin’ me.”
Dagne ignored him. “Sergeant, is Detective Andrews here?”
“No, Miss. He’s up in Salisbury. Can I help?”
Dagne stifled the urge to keep her news for Jack. Anyway, Lance wouldn’t let her. “Sergeant, Dagne’s been shot at.”
Lance nudged her. “Tell him. You have to make a report, even if the detective isn’t here to take it.”
The policeman pulled out a form and a pen. “Okay, give me the details.”
Dagne described the incident. He wrote it all down carefully, then put the clipboard down. “The shots could’ve come from off the refuge.”
“That’s what Ivan thought.”
“Or we could have ourselves a poacher. Duck season’s started and hunting is permitted up the service road a couple of days a week. He probably thought he could get away with it. He wouldn’t expect anyone to be walking up at that end of the refuge this time of year.”
Dagne caught Lance nodding in agreement. Sigh. No sense in beating a dead horse. “If you think so. What happens now?”
“Oh, we’ll let the Fish and Wildlife folks know. It’s their jurisdiction.”
. . . … . . .
To Buy Now…
Dear Philomena: Love, Lust & Murder on Chincoteague Island
I Heart Book Publishing, October 12, 2015
eBook, 72,000 words, ISBN 978-1517770464
Available as Print-on-demand, 209 pp
Romantic Suspense, Contemporary Romantic Suspense, Mystery Romance
About the Author:
Although M. S. Spencer has lived or traveled in five continents, the last thirty years have been spent mostly in Washington, D.C. as a librarian, Congressional staff assistant, speechwriter, editor, birdwatcher, kayaker, policy wonk, non-profit director and parent. She has two fabulous grown children and a perfect granddaughter, and currently divides her time between the Gulf coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine.