The Hook exclusive excerpt

Chapter 1

Alex peeled back the foil on the bottle and reached for the corkscrew. She didn’t need anything fancy, just a little moscato to file down the edges. Grabbing a glass, she padded to the back porch. It wasn’t the view she had imagined she would have the night before her life as an investigative reporter began, but it would do. She poured the wine and put her feet up on the rail. Of course, the story wasn’t what she had imagined either, but it was too late to stop the presses. The delivery team would be folding the paper and stuffing it in plastic sleeves to protect it from the early morning dew by now. Her fate lay in the hearts of the tiny readership of the Pickers Point Press.

All around her, male fireflies floated up from their hiding places in the grass, each one sending out a love call written in light in hopes of a flash or two from the earthbound females. How simple it all seemed. Life in the northern woods of Wisconsin rarely deviated from the path, but all that was about to change. Alex looked up on the sliver of moon. Razor thin, it reflected her concerns. Would they take her seriously, or laugh her out of the county? Either way, she would know soon enough. She curled her toes around the vine of a morning glory. Grandma never would have allowed the garden to get to such a state. Memories of hot summer nights spent sleeping under the stars on Grandma’s back porch, too excited to sleep, yet too exhausted to keep her eyes open flooded her mind. Alex had come full circle.

Her timing had never been good. With two broken engagements and a crushing mortgage acquired three months before the bottom fell out of the real estate market, she had also managed to come of age in the era of the rogue blogger. She didn’t remember when she had decided she wanted to be an investigative reporter, but it didn’t matter. It’s what she was.

Adorned with a shiny new degree from the University of Wisconsin’s Journalism School, Alex had snagged a juicy paid internship at the Young Madisonian Magazine, something unheard of in today’s climate of dwindling subscriptions and robotic talking heads. She had celebrated by purchasing a primo condo overlooking the domed capital, a smaller replica of the one in Washington, DC. Alex still remembered how she felt that first night as she sat on her deck with an expensive bottle of wine. Alexandra Trefarro had been on her way—to nowhere.

Ten months later, and with nary a nibble on her stellar resume, Alex was ready to head back to school to take up something practical like nursing. Unfortunately, the smell of blood made her woozy and she couldn’t even conceive of a life full of bedpans. Headed toward financial disaster, she had melted into her overpriced sofa and turned on the television.

The phone rang, and she reached for it with high hopes. Mom. Alex didn’t know how she did it, but that woman could sense a bad mood from 100 miles away.

“Honey, are you sitting down?”

Alex looked down at her bunny slippers. “Just a minute let me get to the sofa. Oh, that feels good—been on my feet all day.”

“Really? Good news?”

“Nothing yet, but soon. I can tell I’m getting close.” Alex knew she would go to hell for lying to her mother, but the lies she told herself were worse.

Meredith Trefarro paused, and Alex could hear the groan racing across the cellular system, but Mom was an eternal optimist. “Honey, Grandma’s dead. I got the call about an hour ago. The poor dear’s heart just gave up. Sheila, you remember her, Grandma’s neighbor. Sheila found her in bed with her hand on her chest. She said she doesn’t think she suffered. It was spunky one minute and too-da-loo the next.”

Spunky was one way of describing Grandma, Alex would have chosen manipulative, but editing was a nasty by-product of her chosen career. “She was 89 years old, Mom. Even Grandma couldn’t live forever.” The old bird had been a tough broad. Norwegian to the core, she had outlived her husband by 28 years and two of her children. Mom had tried to get her to move to Madison when they left town, but Grandma had refused. She stayed in that farmhouse in Pickers Point until the day she died. “Should I come over and help with the arrangements?”

“Gracious, no. Grandma has had her funeral planned for decades. She even wrote her own eulogy, but I don’t think your father is going to agree to read it. I may have to put that burden on you, Alexandra.” Meredith Trefarro hated the name Alex, and she insisted on retaining naming rights.

“Sure,” Alex said, but her grimace was nearly audible.

“Alexandra, there’s something else you should know.”

Here it comes.

“Grandma was frugal. She never allowed a penny to slip from her grasp without a fight.”

“Trust me Mom, I know.” Memories of never purchased snow cones materialized in her head.

“Honey, are you still sitting?”

“Yes.” In fact, she felt like she was becoming a part of the sofa.

Grandma managed to put away a nest egg. I’ve known about it for years, but Ernie Potts, you remember Ernie, he was Grandma’s attorney, Ernie says it all goes to you.”

The room faded away.

“Me? But I didn’t think she even liked me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Alexandra. You were her only granddaughter. She loved you.”

More memories of denied snow cones were pushed aside by a stern woman admonishing her for coloring outside the lines. “How much are we talking?”

“Ernie says there are some final bills to take care of, but there’s a lot of zeros.”

Alex put the wine glass down.

“And then there’s the farm, that’s yours too, and that brings me to my other point. There’s a one catch.”

Manipulative Grandma strikes again.

“You have to move back to Pickers Point for at least 10 years.”

Pickers Point, Wisconsin was a small town 500 miles north of nowhere, and the most interesting thing that happened there was the weather report. “That can’t be legally binding.”

“I’m afraid Grandma had a lot of time to get this right. Ernie said he tried to talk her out of it, but well, you know how she could be. Honey, he says you’re stuck.”

The woman had been an expert in the art of manipulation.

“And if I turn it down?”

“Oh, you can’t do that Alexandra.” Mom’s voice skyrocketed up an octave.

“I’m not going to let her bully me, Mom. I want to know what happens to the estate if I walk away.” Alex had a streak of Norwegian in her too.

“It goes to a series of animal shelters that could sure use the cash, but Grandma wanted you to have it.”

Alex was only human with a looming student loan and a huge mortgage. “I’ll throw a few things in the car and meet you in Pickers Point.” She looked down at her snoozing papillion. Tiny, fragile, and also too expensive, the little dog was her best friend. “Poppit, let’s go home.”

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