Book 1 in The Heart of St. Mary’s County Series

Raleigh Buckler’s perfect life in rural St. Mary’s County, Maryland, has just come to a shattering end.  Her naval test pilot husband, Grant, has been killed in a flight accident, and Raleigh is left to pick up the brittle shards of that life.  She prefers to stay hidden away in her grief but is unwillingly dragged out of it by the contents of her husband’s will.

Grant has left Raleigh St. Clements Bluff, a house she didn’t even know he’d owned.  The last known owner was a distant uncle of Grant’s, William “Junior” Buckler.  Junior was from the “other side” of the Buckler family.

Raleigh learns from an old family scrapbook that St. Clements Bluff is a river front estate with a history as a stop on Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad.  Given that Tubman lived on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, it is an exciting—but not necessarily surprising—revelation.

This seemingly noble background is darkened as Raleigh discovers that the house’s story as a safe house for escaping slaves is just the beginning of its dark and winding history.

Book 1 in The Heart of St. Mary’s County Series

Raleigh Buckler’s perfect life in rural St. Mary’s County, Maryland, has just come to a shattering end.  Her naval test pilot husband, Grant, has been killed in a flight accident, and Raleigh is left to pick up the brittle shards of that life.  She prefers to stay hidden away in her grief but is unwillingly dragged out of it by the contents of her husband’s will.

Grant has left Raleigh St. Clements Bluff, a house she didn’t even know he’d owned.  The last known owner was a distant uncle of Grant’s, William “Junior” Buckler.  Junior was from the “other side” of the Buckler family.

Raleigh learns from an old family scrapbook that St. Clements Bluff is a river front estate with a history as a stop on Harriet Tubman’s Underground Railroad.  Given that Tubman lived on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, it is an exciting—but not necessarily surprising—revelation.

This seemingly noble background is darkened as Raleigh discovers that the house’s story as a safe house for escaping slaves is just the beginning of its dark and winding history.

Ebook | Paperback | Audio

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Ebook | Paperback | Audio

Amazon       Barnes & Noble      Books-A-Million   

Chirp      Indiebound      Kobo      Scribd

Backstory

I’m proud to introduce to you a new series, The Heart of St. Mary’s County, set in my beloved home of St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  St. Mary’s is a unique blend of high-tech activities and rolling farmlands, with hundreds of miles of riverfront.  It’s full of rich history dating back to its 17th century settlement and it’s a great place to call home.

Prior to St. Clements Bluff, I hadn’t published a full-length novel in almost four years.  To overcome my dry spell, I decided to do something a little different from my usual historical novels, which require scads of research, and decided that a modern-set novel would have way less “homework” to it and would be quick for me to write, since, of course, I know my county inside and out, right?

With that bit of foolish thinking, I learned that ALL novels require solid research.  However, there was great joy for me to study my area in great depth.  I wanted to give the reader a taste of the many aspects of the county, which is what is presented in St. Clements Bluff.

Excerpt

     Everything was surreal as Raleigh Bishop strapped herself snugly inside the co-pilot’s seat. She turned to observe the pilot, Captain Grant Bishop, to her left.

     He was not only the captain of this XC-88J White Lion experimental stealth transport aircraft but also her husband.

     His helmet was emblazoned with “Buckshot” across the front in white lettering. As was custom, he had been christened with a nickname by others. Nicknames, once earned, were sacrosanct and completely immutable. Grant’s had been given to him on a hunting trip with his compatriots, during which he had been completely unable to bring himself to pull the trigger on an eight-point buck, much to the mockery of his friends.

     Their helmets were wonders of technology, with multiple cameras and sensors embedded in them, as well as visors that informed pilots of flight stats such as remaining fuel and altitude. They even provided night-vision capability. Long-gone were the days when a helmet was considered merely crash protection and a visor was to shield the eyes from the sun.

     This aircraft was a joint effort across U.S. military forces, and had taken more than a decade to reach this stage of flight testing. In the way of joint programs, the initial performance requirements for the craft had bloated and stretched beyond all recognition, with star-encrusted navy admirals and air force generals one-upping each other with their latest must-have features for the plane. The resulting beast was expected to be large enough to transport the military’s rapidly miniaturizing drone fleet, while flying at a jet fighter’s speed to ensure they got to their destinations in record time.

     Size and speed tended to work against each other, but the collective work of thousands of GloboCraft International employees had made it possible to bring an early version of the aircraft to fruition for testing.

     The array of blinking lights and screens spread in front of them meant nothing to Raleigh, as she concentrated her focus on Grant’s confident control of the plane. He was communicating with the jet on the runway next to them. Captained by Avery “Crunch” Sloan, Grant’s best friend, it was identical to the jet where Raleigh and her husband sat, except for some alternate landing controls that the Navy was testing. Today’s flight would determine which craft had landing controls more readily adaptable to auto piloting.

     Grant noticed her looking at him. He winked and flashed her a thumbs-up. There was probably a grin in there, but it was impossible to tell behind his loaded helmet. Any day in the pilot’s seat was a happy day for Grant.

     He reached out his olive green-clad arm and pressed a button. Raleigh heard a tiny beep in her ear.

     The engines revved louder as they prepared for take-off, becoming a roar that enveloped one’s body with a sort of tense excitement that was inexplicable to those who had never experienced it. Grant’s eyes sparkled with childish joy and he threw back his head. Now Raleigh was certain her husband was smiling, if not outright laughing. She smiled back at him.

     Within moments, they were racing down the runway at Patuxent River Naval Air Station. Employees of the base would frequently gather to watch these take-offs—they were almost as thrilling from the ground as they were from within the cockpit—and today was no exception, even though it was an unusually frosty November morning.

     But the onlookers were a blur to Raleigh as both jets tore down the asphalt at speeds unfathomable to the typical commercial air passenger. Grant was competitive, and she knew he was trying to ensure they lifted off before Crunch’s aircraft simply for bragging rights once they landed. Plus, he would make Crunch buy him a beer this evening at the officer’s club.

     In moments they were in the air, still neck-and-neck with Crunch’s plane. It reminded Raleigh of the source of Crunch’s apropos nickname, bestowed upon him for totaling his car in a ditch after an idiotic drag race. Long story.

     “Can’t believe I crunched my car like that,” Avery had observed at the time as he walked away without a scratch, earning him mocking laughter and a permanent nickname. He was slated to earn his captain’s wings soon, which would make his nickname all the more amusing.

     Raleigh had no idea if Grant had won his bet against his friend, for he was now engrossed in the cockpit panel and not flashing her any signs. Listening to his requests and commands through the helmet’s earpiece, she responded as he guided the aircraft around toward Solomons Island, a quaint village near the Navy base. Raleigh glanced down to her right, wondering if she could pick out Angler’s, her favorite restaurant on the island.

     The aircraft gained altitude rapidly, and Raleigh felt Grant’s shared sensation of wild elation that came with these moments. This eagle’s-eye view of the world, combined with their speed and the knowledge that every experimental aircraft not yet in the Navy’s inventory came with a definite level of risk, made for heart-throbbing intoxication. It was like being on a roller coaster with no safety controls, and everything depended upon trust. Trust of the ground crew, the aircraft manufacturer, the software dweebs, and the thousands of other support people who had worked impossible hours to make the White Lion possible.

     “No one but us, babe,” Grant said into the microphone to her, meaning they were the only ones who had ever flown this particular beast. It was like a dangerously delicious secret.

     Raleigh turned back to her husband, intending to give him her own thumbs-up, but something was suddenly very wrong. What was that bang? And why was she lurching forward? Only by inches, of course, as the cross-straps of her harness prevented her from going too far.

     She felt dizzy and disoriented. Why was the scenery above them instead of below them? Were they…upside down?

     She lurched again and the scenery was properly situated again.

     Grant was shouting into his microphone but she couldn’t understand him. No, he was merely whispering. It was so difficult to know. Now his gaze was locked onto hers, pleading. Raleigh knew they needed to eject. Why weren’t they ejecting, their parachutes carrying them safely downward? Even a river landing would be preferable to whatever hell this was.

     Raleigh caught the faintest whiff of acrid jet fuel accompanied by a searing heat as she witnessed an orange ball of light moving upward past them. It felt as though her helmet was being melted against her face. Dear God, it was so hot. She resisted the urge to claw the helmet off, instead staying focused on Grant, whose voice was receding into the background. Or was she fainting? Was this what it felt like to die? Your vision and hearing simply began receding until you no longer had a sense of anything at all around you?

     “I love you!” Raleigh shouted into her microphone, unable to hear her own words. “I love you, Grant Bishop! I love you so much! Do you hear me? I love you!” She knew she was babbling the words but they were all she could conjure up. What was going on on the ground, the incoming messages from flight control—all were irrelevant.

     Actually, even her words were irrelevant, for it was apparent that Grant couldn’t hear her. His gaze was still toward her, but it was so…blank. Raleigh reached out her hand to her husband, but in the next instant he was falling away from her as the cockpit split apart. It was like a roller coaster again—that moment when your car has reached the top of the first hill. You are weightless, as you are neither clack-clack-clacking your way up the hill, nor are you hurtling downward, screaming your way to the bottom again. Instead, you are suspended, heart in throat, as you wait for what you know is the inevitable plunge.

     No, no, no, no, Raleigh implored, her hand clawing upward toward a deity she hoped would save her. This moment is not real. It is not real. It cannot be real.

     Then she, too, began hurtling toward the river, unable to extricate herself from the instantaneous death that awaited her below.

 

Excerpt copyright 2023 Christine Trent.