Hidden Moon - By Lori Handeland

Though an author's life is solitary, it is also full of people who help us to do what we do the best we can.

My husband, who might not understand what I do, but is always the first one to tell me I have to keep doing it

My sons, who've never known a life without a mother who writes and therefore think I'm normal

My agent, Irene Goodman, an honest woman whose opinion I value

My editor, Jen Enderlin, still the best in the business today

Everyone at St. Martin's Press, who make it such a great place to work

My publicist, Nancy Berland, and her staff

Vickie Denney, the computer whiz behind my Howls newsletter

I couldn't do any of this without you.
Chapter 1
I came home to escape one hell and stepped straight into another. I guess I deserved it. I had walked out at eighteen and never looked back.

The Cherokee call the mountains where I was born Sah-ka-na-ga, or the Great Blue Hills of God. I'd always thought the phrase an exaggeration; now I wasn't so sure. In my present state of mind, the Blue Ridge Mountains did seem a little bit like heaven.

"But then, a lake of fire looks good compared to this," I muttered, scowling at the mess that nearly obscured the top of my desk.

"Have you ever seen a lake of fire? It isn't pretty."

To my surprise, Grace McDaniel stood in the doorway.

We'd been best friends in high school. Then I'd gone to college and taken a job at a television station in the big, bad city of Atlanta, while she'd stayed behind.

Grace was now the sheriff in Lake Bluff, and I was the mayor. Talk about the sins of the fathers...

Phones rang in the outer office. My assistant had informed me I had three people waiting, before she'd taken off to God knows where to do Lord knows what.

Everyone said Joyce Flaherty had been the assistant to the mayor since there'd been a mayor in Lake Bluff, Georgia. Considering the town had been settled by the Scotch-Irish well before

the Revolution, that would make Joyce downright supernatural. If the statement had been true.

In reality, Joyce had been my father's right hand during the thirty-plus years he'd been in charge here and now she was mine. The woman had an annoying habit of doing my job, then telling me about it later. But she knew the job so much better than I did.

"Problem?" I asked.

Grace didn't often show up at my office; she called, left a message, sent a report. We'd been friends, but now... Well, Grace seemed a little pissed at me, and I wasn't sure why.

"You might say that," she murmured in a slow, smooth southern accent. I hadn't realized how much I'd missed the cadence - one I'd trained out of my own voice years ago - until I'd come home.

Grace glanced over her shoulder, then stepped into my office and shut the door. I waved at an empty seat, but she shook her head and began to pace, her nervous energy crackling in the small, enclosed space.

Grace was the least likely small-town cop you'd ever come across. Tall and strong, like the Scottish ancestors we both shared, she also possessed the high cheekbones and stick-straight ink black hair of the Cherokee who'd roamed these mountains for centuries before they'd been dragged west during the embarrassment we've all come to know as the Trail of Tears.

The slightly smoky shade of her perfect skin also hinted at the intermingling with a slave or two somewhere on that family tree. A common enough occurrence in these parts, since the Cherokee had once owned African-American slaves, too.

Grace could have been a fashion model, but she was as unaware of her beauty as I was unaware of how to be the mayor. And she loved Lake Bluff more than she loved anything or anyone; she'd never leave it like I had.

Suddenly she stopped pacing and rested her palms on the front of my desk. "You need to come with me."

A thinker and doer, Grace made a decision and then she executed that decision. Sometimes - hell, most times - I wondered why she wasn't the mayor. Except in Lake Bluff, people followed the path of their parents, and if they didn't want to, they got out of town.

"There's a caravan of Gypsies camped at the lake," Grace said.

I blinked. "I'm sorry. I thought you said 'caravan of Gypsies.'"

Her lips curved. "Nothing wrong with your hearing."

The way she said it made me think there was something