A Deadly Row

Chapter 1

“ARE YOU STILL FIDDLING WITH THAT PUZZLE, SAVANNAH? I need some help in the bedroom with that blasted shelf I’m putting up. You’re the one who wanted it in the first place, remember?”

“Hang on a second. I’ve almost got it.” My dear husband loomed over me as I worked on the couch with paper and pencil, toiling over my latest creation. My name’s Savannah Stone, and it’s my job to create a variety of the math and logic puzzles you find in your newspaper every morning, just as long as you subscribe to one of the forty-two papers my syndicate sells my puzzles to every day. While I might not be in The New York Times, I am in the New Bern Register, along with the Covington Chronicle and the Grandfather Mountain Gazette. I taught high school math in Charlotte until puzzles came into my life, and though the money I make now is somewhat less than I made before, the freedom my current career provides is well worth the cut in pay.

I wasn’t sweating literally like my husband was, but the math on this new puzzle was taxing me just the same. Working a puzzle and creating it were two very different things.

I looked up and saw beads of sweat traipsing down Zach’s nose and threatening to despoil the puzzle I’d been toiling so hard over for the past two hours. As I pulled my work safely out of the way, I noticed that the silver touches of frost around his temples were matted with sweat as well. Why was it that my husband’s graying hair looked so distinguished? On me, it looked like I was nearing my expiration date—though I wasn’t even up to my fortieth birthday, while he was two years past his.

He looked at me, the exasperation clear on his face. “Seriously? You can’t put that down for one minute to help me? It won’t take that long, Savannah, I promise.”

“Zach, I’ve almost got it. That shelf is going to have to wait until I’m finished. You’re supposed to be retired anyway, remember? So why don’t you be a dear and go retire somewhere else until I wrap this up?”

My husband had been the police chief in Charlotte, North Carolina, when a bullet had hit him in the chest and ended his career. The irony had been that he’d been stopping a robbery when he was off duty and heading home to me. My husband was a hero, no matter how much he downplayed what had happened. Zach had managed to save three people with his intervention. Just thinking about that night sent me into shivers. It still felt like yesterday when I’d gotten the call, the one every police officer’s wife dreads. As I’d raced to the hospital, I frantically worried if I’d be a widow by the time I got there. Fortunately the gunshot wound hadn’t been nearly as bad as it might have been, but I didn’t think I could ever go through that again. At least no one would be shooting at him anymore. Or so I hoped.

Unfortunately, the wound had left him technically disabled with an injury too close to his heart, though you’d never know it by the way he acted. Zach had taken early retirement—though not willingly—but he’d soon been bored with his idle lifestyle. Instead of puttering around the garden on our mini-farm on the outskirts of Parson’s Valley in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains or tinkering in his woodworking shop, Zach began working as a consultant to various police forces in North Carolina, and occasionally