A dream house to share with his love becomes a nightmare when an old diary reveals a dark secret that brings a wounded warrior out of retirement.
When Special Forces veteran Cory Walker purchased the home on Harkers Island, he knew it came with a history. Two white marble angels in the rear yard stand sentinel over the house where Casey Stone and her mother had lived—and died. But that was decades ago, and Cory is now in love with both the house and his girlfriend Amanda. He’s determined to build a new life on the quiet island to readjust to civilian life and enjoy his new love.
Cory’s decision to build a wine cellar turns his dream house into a nightmare when he discovers the hidden diary of Casey Stone. Casey, only sixteen, had been raped and murdered many years earlier, the only horrible crime that had ever occurred on the small island. Her mother was so devastated that she hanged herself, hence the two angels in the yard placed there by Earl Stone. As Cory reads the journal, he discovers that the truth may be much different from what was ever believed.
The wrong man is sitting in jail, and as Cory begins to ask questions about the case, he soon realizes he is opening a box of secrets that may get both him and Amanda killed.
Earl Stone, the formerly grieving husband and stepfather, may be the next President of the United States, and when a man that powerful wants secrets to stay buried, the dangerous possibilities are endless.
Reader advisory: This book includes mentions of sexual abuse and rape of a minor, psychological abuse, violence, reference to warfare including the deaths of children, sometimes graphic injury description and murder.
General Release Date: 27th April 2021
Amanda was driving down from Twin Oaks. I had a bottle of Italian red, a Super Tuscan called Le Volte by Ornellaia, decanting in the kitchen. I’d made a puttanesca sauce, and the garlic, red peppers and crushed anchovies sautéing in olive oil had perfumed my new home. The sizzle was a magical noise. Into that, I’d added diced Kalamata olives, capers, tomato paste and crushed tomatoes.
The spaghetti alla puttanesca was just a little taste—a traditional Italian pasta before the main course. The secondi would be a huge bone-in rib-eye steak, grilled out back on the patio. I had dry-rubbed the steak with my list of secret ingredients. It’s a secret because I never make anything the same way twice, so it’s a secret to me, too. A little sautéed broccoli rabe and badda-bing, dinner would be served. It would be our first meal together in the new house. I was trying to cook my way into her staying with me forever.
In my other life, I had eaten MREs on a regular basis—government-supplied packets of food designed to make you angry enough to kill people. ‘MRE’—Meals Rejected by Ethiopians, Meals Rarely Edible, Meals Requiring Enemas, Massive Rectal Expulsions. You get the idea. They weren’t very good. As a result, I learned to cook—foraging and becoming a creative genius to turn the rancid packets into something my comrades and I might actually eat.
Amanda arrived right on time, and with her, a breath of fresh air and an aura of positive energy and bright light that I’d been missing all my life. Her mere presence made me smile. I was hoping my cooking skills would make up for whatever other shortcomings I have. It seemed to be working. I have two great skills—cooking and killing people, and I planned to leave the death and destruction part in my former life. I was determined to be a kinder, gentler version of myself going forward. I would gourmet my way into Amanda’s heart.
Dinner was a smashing success, with conversation that covered a hundred topics and had us both smiling like lovestruck teenagers as we caught up on each other’s weeks. It was pretty darn perfect. After dinner, we finished that great bottle of Ornellaia, opened a bottle of port and decided to take a walk to the beach.
It was the kind of peaceful night that reminds one of how amazing life can be when everything falls into place. We ended up in the warm, flat ocean up to our knees and I asked her yet again about moving in. This time she didn’t say ‘no’. Instead, she talked about maybe trying to find a physical therapy job down here, closer to the island.
We walked home and sat outside in the back garden, looking at the stars. The moon lit the white marble faces of the two angels who resided in my yard. The pair had stood sentinel there for years before I’d purchased the house. They came alive softly in the moonlight, and with them, their sad story hung in the still air. The house had a history—one that the folks on Harkers Island wanted to forget.
On Sunday, after a late, leisurely brunch, Amanda left. It was like the air had been sucked out of the house. Loneliness snuck back into my soul and once again I had to fight off the ghosts of those last days in Afghanistan.
I needed a mission to focus on. And this time, it would be for me. A wine cellar… It would be a surprise for Amanda when she came back down in two weeks.
When I had purchased the house, I had been surprised to find it had a basement. The island is only a few feet above sea level. When this house had been built, the foundation had been set on a man-made hill, making the house one of the tallest on the island. It made the stately home regal, perched slightly above the rest of the houses like a castle above the serfs. It had an attitude—and I probably had one of the only basements on the island. There were plenty of newer and fancier homes, several worth seven figures, but this house had character—along with that dark history.
The basement was cool, the perfect temperature for wine. I’d sketched out a design and purchased lumber and some tools. The first thing I did was put in some overhead fluorescent lights. Then I scrubbed the poured concrete floor. The walls were cinderblock, with a few open crawlspaces.
Channeling my energy into something positive, I was going to finish making a rack system against one of the walls. Nothing too fancy. I would have the shelves slightly pitched forward. That way I could see the labels and keep the corks angled to the floor. It was a great way to design a wine cellar, but I couldn’t take credit for inventing it. Back in my days with Special Forces, a buddy and I used to kill time talking about our dream houses, and all of them included a great wine cellar. He would have built it someday—I’m sure of it—if some fanatic wearing a bomb vest hadn’t run into his tent one morning in Kabul and killed him and a few other great guys I knew. I’d build it for him. And that first bottle would be used to toast my friend.
I was cleaning off the cinderblock wall, getting ready to nail in the studs, when the beam of my flashlight caught the edge of something inside the crawlspace. That was when my dream house turned into a nightmare and ancient history became my new reality.
Sitting on the sand behind the top of the cinderblock wall was a small leather-covered book. Old and worn… I picked it up and looked at the cover. It must have been covered with doodles and cartoon flowers years ago, but the ink had faded, and insects and moisture had damaged it. When I opened the front cover, it cracked slightly at the binding.
Casey A. Stone 1991.
It took me a moment to realize what it was—a diary.
The paper was stiff and crinkly in my hands. The penmanship was neat and feminine…
My brain started playing catch-up, making the hair on the back of my neck stand.
She was one of the angels in my yard.
Word Count: 68,144
Book Length: NOVEL
Genres: ACTION AND ADVENTURE
CRIME AND MYSTERY
MEN IN UNIFORM
THRILLERS AND SUSPENSE
International, award-winning author David M. Salkin has been entertaining readers since 2005. His brand of thrillers includes military-espionage, horror and crime. Salkin has appeared around the country, including three times as a panelist at New York City’s Thrillerfest and also at Books in the Basin, in Midland and Odessa, Texas. Dave enjoys speaking to book clubs and groups about writing, and has appeared on television, radio, and various print media.
David served as an elected official in Freehold Township for twenty-five years (Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Township Committeeman) and was inducted into the New Jersey Elected Officials Hall of Fame in 2019. He is a 1988 graduate of Rutgers College with a BA in English Literature. When not working or writing, Dave prefers to be Scuba diving or traveling. He’s a Master Diver, as well as a pretty good chef and wine aficionado. David speaks three languages fluently – English, sarcasm and profanity.
David is an associate member of the Philip A Reynolds Detachment of the Marine Corps League, and board member of the Veterans Community Alliance.
Find out more at David's website.