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Phelps was a sheep farmer; he and his son, Matt, always carried ropes on their saddles, as did Sean.
In a group, they walked to the ledge. They peered into the crevasse, but small bushes and grasses sprouting from the rock walls made it impossible to see what lay in the shadowed depths.
The opposite lip of the crevasse was lower than the ledge, but was flanked by scree; circling around to it wasn’t an option. But the crevasse was very narrow, a gaping wound ripped in the side of the hill and lined with rock as far down as they could see; there was no way to walk in and no path down.
Phelps, Matt, and Sean laid out the ropes. The other men organized themselves into teams to lower Sean and Matt into the crevasse. Her arms tightly folded, her mind blank, Niniver watched as the pair went over the edge, each on separate ropes, with a third rope dangling between them.
As they descended into the shadows, she walked to the edge; she looked down, watching, but the bushes soon obscured her view.
She turned her attention to the ropes. The men slowly let the ropes play out—and out; the crevasse was deeper than any of them had thought. At last, the tension on the ropes eased as first Sean, then Matt, reached a point where they could stand.
A moment later, a yelping exclamation—both Sean’s and Matt’s voices raised in surprise—erupted from the depths. Peering down, Niniver frowned. Sean and Matt had known what to expect, so why had they sounded shocked?
“What did they say?” Ferguson called from where he waited with the other men to haul the pair up again.
Still frowning, she shook her head. “I don’t know. The rock distorts their voices too much. They’re talking now, but I can’t make out what they’re saying.”
The third rope—the one Sean and Matt had planned to tie around Nolan’s body—shifted. Phelps came to stand beside Niniver, but he, too, could make nothing of the mutterings rising from below.
Then Sean tugged on his rope, and Matt tugged his. Phelps rejoined the other men, and they hauled the pair up.
Sean reached the ledge first. His weathered, normally ruddy countenance was chalk-white.
“What is it?” Niniver demanded as he scrambled onto the ledge.
Sean pushed to his feet. “We found Nolan’s body. He’s dead—neck broken, among other things—just as we expected.” He glanced at Matt as the younger man scrambled up to stand beside him.
Matt, too, looked badly shaken.
Sean turned to Niniver. He hesitated for a second, then blurted, “Nolan’s body was lying on top of another body. Nigel’s body was already there—Nolan flung himself down in the same place.”
Niniver blinked. Her mind whirled. “Nigel flung himself off this ledge, too?” She couldn’t imagine that, not of Nigel, but she hadn’t expected Nolan to kill himself, either.
Looking grimmer by the second, Sean shook his head. “Nigel landed on his back, and Nolan’s hunting knife, the one he said he lost last year, was buried between Nigel’s ribs.”
She felt her mouth fall open, then her mind whirled one last time, and like a kaleidoscope, all the pieces fell into place. “Ah.”
The quiet sound—of recognition, of realization—was drowned beneath the men’s shocked exclamations.
She looked around the group. Unlike the others, she wasn’t surprised.Indeed, just the opposite. Finally, everything was starting to make sense.
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About Stephanie Laurens
New York Times bestselling author Stephanie Laurens originally began writing as an escape from the dry world of professional science. Her hobby quickly became a career; she has been writing historical romance novels for more than 20 years. Currently living outside Melbourne, Australia with her husband and two cats, she spends most of her days writing new stories in her signature ‘Errol Flynn meets Jane Austen” style.
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Thanks to TLC for my review copy.