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Dark and Deep

Dark and Deep

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Dark and Deep

4.5/5 (5 Bewertungen)
80 Seiten
1 Stunde
Sep 5, 2020


Deep within the Withlacoochee State Forest lies a hidden cave system that some say is one of Florida’s best-kept secrets. A high-speed rail threatens to shut the cave system down to the public, endangering Ranger Olivia Swanson’s job in the process. When mysterious messages and dead bodies begin showing up around the caves, it’s up to Olivia to lead special investigators Mitchel and Ryan as they spelunk for clues. Ranger Olivia wants nothing more than to help save her beloved cave system, but danger and love are looming around every craggy corner. Hopefully Ranger Olivia won’t lose her heart — or her head — on the quest for truth and justice.
Sep 5, 2020

Über den Autor

Wendy Dalrymple crafts highly consumable, short and sweet romances inspired by everyday people. When she’s not writing happily-ever-afters, you can find her camping with her family, painting (bad) wall art, and trying to grow as many pineapples as possible. Keep up with Wendy at!

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Dark and Deep - Wendy Dalrymple

Part One: Vandal Cave

Olivia Swanson’s alarm sounded at five a.m., as it always did on the days she was scheduled to work. She hit the snooze button and stretched in her loft bed, listening to the sounds of a bird screeching out into the darkness of the early morning. Living on a lake had been a lifelong dream of Olivia’s, but the forlorn, screeching cry of the limpkin made her regret it every time mating season came around.

As Olivia edged down from the loft onto the ladder, Maggie, her twelve-year-old shepherd mix, whined and stiffly rose to greet her.

Me too, girl, she said, starting her coffee maker and wincing at the pain in the side of her neck. Getting older is a real bitch, huh?

At forty-two, Olivia was hardly old, but her body was starting to feel the effects of time just the same. When she built and moved into her tiny home on Stafford Lake eight years prior, the cozy setting had suited her and Maggie just fine. The combination of Olivia’s sciatic pain and the discomfort of her poor geriatric dog were beginning to make her think that a new living situation might soon be in order.

Despite the inconveniences, her tiny home had its advantages. Olivia had purchased the 120-square-foot abode with cash, allowing her to live virtually debt free. With her newfound freedom, Olivia had been able to quit her soul-crushing desk job and instead take a lower-paying job that she loved, working as a ranger for the Withlacoochee State Forest. She had grown up in Citrus County, Florida, with the forest as her sanctuary, a wild, canopied hideout from the rest of the world. While the woods and riverways called to her, it was the allure of the unique and rare cave systems within the forest that truly captured her imagination. Climbing down into the dark depths of the earth always felt like an adventure for Olivia, and it made her heart happy to share the caves with other people as well.

After frying two eggs (one for herself and one for Maggie), she watched the sun rise over the lake and set to the task of getting ready for work. Unlike at her old corporate job, there were no frills necessary when it came to getting dressed in her park ranger uniform. Olivia’s shoulder-length brown hair would stay secured in a ponytail all day, sometimes paired with a wide-brimmed hat, depending on the time of the year. Her khaki shirt, army green pants, and work boots left much to the imagination, but she wasn’t concerned about looking cute on the trails. As she said goodbye to Maggie and loaded her gear into her truck, Olivia had no way of knowing that her usual day at work would be anything but, and that the future of her beloved cave system was hanging by a very thin thread.

Even though it was Wednesday, Olivia greeted a dozen spelunkers at the gated entrance, each eagerly waiting to explore the Withlacoochee State Forest and its caves. The head of the trail leading to the cave system began to fill up at first light every day of the week, and it was part of Olivia’s job to open the gates at seven a.m. and inspect the visitors’ areas. Though acres of the forest surrounding the caves were wide open, the quarter-mile trail leading directly from the off-road parking was secured from sundown to sunup for the safety of the public. If someone wanted to, they could easily enter the caves at night simply by hiking in, and over the years, plenty of people had.

Olivia was finishing up her rounds for the morning when she heard the first scream. The hair pricked at the back of her neck, and her first thought was that someone had gotten hurt. It was suggested, but not required, that visitors to the caves wear helmets and use rappelling gear, but plenty of people ignored the safety precautions.

Samuel, her fellow park ranger, wouldn’t be on-site until nine a.m., so when another scream cut through the trees, Olivia had no other choice but to investigate herself. She broke into a light jog, following the familiar dirt trail that led to the entrance of the cave system, dodging exposed roots and potholes along the path. The dew-covered leaves of the beautyberry bushes and palmetto fronds brushed up against her thighs as she hurried down the trail, and by the time she reached the group of huddled spelunkers, she was positively drenched.

Panting and sweaty, Olivia approached the huddled crowd near the edge of the opening to Vandal Cave. One woman was on her cell phone, trying to stay calm and give her location to whoever was on the line. The other people in the group were murmuring and talking amongst themselves, some with hands pressed to their mouths as if trying to suppress a scream.

As Olivia neared the entrance to the cave, the source of the commotion came into view. There, lying some twenty feet below in the dark, deep chasm, was the half-charred remains of a man.

Burned? You mean, like, alive? Samuel said, licking hot sauce from his fingers. Who would want to do that to George?

They don’t know, Olivia said, shrugging and mindlessly dipping a celery stick into her ranch dressing. Feds are s’posed to come by tomorrow. I’ll have to show them around. Maybe they’ll have some ideas.

Olivia sat across from Samuel at their favorite after-work dinner spot, Wingz & Thingz, poking listlessly at her meal. The body found earlier that day had unfortunately been easy to identify as George Donovan, a local environmental activist and a regular patron of the state forest. Olivia was still dazed from the events of the morning, and the memory of George’s body gruesomely staged at the bottom of the cave put a damper on her appetite.

"So where were you this

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