by Carolyn Elizabeth
Corey Curtis and Thayer Reynolds are more than happy to put the days of their turbulent courtship behind them. With the holidays upon them, they’re looking forward to celebrating with friends and family, intimate moments alone, and festive surprises.
And in Corey’s world, nothing says Christmas quite like a frozen body. One that Corey must defrost in order to close out her next case. The discovery of the deceased’s possible connection to Thayer inflames the still healing wounds of their recent trauma and sends them both reeling back into a world of uncertainty and turmoil.
With her best friend in tow and the police not far behind, Corey ends up in the unlikeliest of places—a church. Along the way hate and violence erupt while corruption abounds. But from the ashes new relationships are kindled, and even the darkest moments are no match for Corey and Thayer’s love.
Zero Chill is the highly anticipated sequel to Dirt Nap and Gallows Humor.
GCLS Goldie Awards
Zero Chill — Finalist, Romantic Blend.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"This is the book that I never planned. The Curtis and Reynolds series has been loosely mapped out in my mind from the beginning—titles, covers, and rough plots—and Zero Chill was never part of the plan.
When I sat down to write what I originally intended to be the third book, now the fourth, I kept getting hung up on the fact that I skipped Corey and Thayer’s first Christmas together. I tried out some flashback ideas to cover the time, but nothing ever worked out like I wanted. Still, I thought it was just too big a milestone to leave out after everything that happened at the end of Dirt Nap.
The only thing I knew about the story before I started writing it was that it was going to be centered over the holidays. I’ve never ‘pantsed’ so hard in all my writing as I did with this book."
Betty H. - I had so much fun reading Zero Chill by Carolyn Elizabeth. This is the third book in The Curtis and Reynolds Series which includes the novels Gallows Humor and Dirt Nap. I totally enjoyed the first two books in the series, and this newest story fits in well with the other two.
The third novel begins a little while after the second book ends. Corey Curtis and Thayer Reynolds are getting ready to celebrate their first holiday season together. They are both still recovering from their very unusual and tumultuous romance in the first two books. For Corey and Thayer, though, Christmas means a frozen body in the morgue and a new mystery to solve.
I fell in love with Corey and Thayer in the first novel, and I really enjoy getting to revisit them with each new book. This story is a little less tumultuous than the first two, but there is still a mystery to be solved that includes more than just the frozen body. We also have a few blips in the romance between Corey and Thayer. Thayer especially has some issues to overcome from trauma she suffered in the past. I liked the way the author showed how she worked through this, and I liked how her character grew in this book. We even get a bonus possible second love story between two of the secondary characters that looks very promising for the future.
Zero Chill is a wonderful mystery and medical romance with beautiful characters, just the right touch of angst, and a fair dash of dark humor that we’ve come to expect in these books. Ms. Elizabeth has written another winner of a novel to add to this series, and I can’t wait for the next one.
Jules P. - Sound the horns, Thayer and Corey are back, lighting up the pages with their scorching hot chemistry in a new mystery that also sees their relationship evolving into something deeper. One of my favorite aspects of the book is that the couple experiences their first bumps which is expected. Doubts and miscommunication mix with love and commitment into a nice angsty mix.
Main characters are the bread and butter of any story but memorable secondary characters means there is never a lull in the flow even if the mc’s are not the focus in the moment. Gruff Sgt. Collier, Thayer’s sharp Nana, sexy new couple Rachel and Nora, and even a cameo from the saucy lawyer upstairs, Carina Mancini, keep the energy high.
I LOVED the detailed autopsy description. Many kudos to the author for not watering down that scene because it was important to show Corey in her element. Both serious and slightly irreverent, it was perfectly fitting for dark healthcare humor.
A solid addition to the series.
Meike Z. - 4.25 stars. Carolyn Elizabeth never seems to disappoint, she keeps writing these awesome books! Corey and Thayer hold a special place in my heart, so I had to read this new book in the series immediately. This book has a slightly different tone than the previous ones, but it worked perfectly for me.
While Dirt Nap is still my favorite book in the series (it will be extremely difficult to top that one) I think Elizabeth made an excellent choice by making this one more introspective than the previous books. As Elizabeth indicates in the acknowledgements, this is fully written during the pandemic, which was not always easy, and you can feel some of the effects. Being cooped up in my house all the time made me retreat more in my head and reevaluate things and I got that feeling with Corey and especially Thayer as well. They were clearly struggling and a bit aimless. Perhaps it’s me, but I could relate to the feeling. It leads to a nice change of pace compared with the previous books, there is more character development and it increases the general believability, and let’s be honest, if every book follows the same formula it becomes dreary. There are some serious topics, but there is also still plenty of banter and medical procedures happening to keep it interesting and fun.
This is a series and to understand the characters and what they go through you want to read them in order. It appears there is more to come and I can’t wait to read more of their ‘shenanigans’. Highly recommended.
Carolyn M. - I loved this book, the third in the series.There is less physical danger to our main characters this time around, but the threat of it has not totally dissipated. Unfortunately, there are always folks willing to hurt others, and that's no less true this time around. Thayer and Corey have grown as individuals and as a couple, and it was nice to see that they can disagree and yet work things out in a mature way. Zero Chill is a mature, satisfying and humourous extension of the series that I've greatly enjoyed, and I can't wait to read the next book!
The Jackson City Memorial Hospital morgue was quiet the day after Christmas and Corey Curtis was hoping it remained so. She wasn’t looking forward to a body rolling in for autopsy and harshing on the holiday high she was hoping to hold onto into the new year. The second the thought floated out of her brain the buzzer to the outside door leading to the loading dock sounded and her stomach sank. If she wasn’t expecting a funeral home for a pick-up it was going to be a drop-off and a case requiring a post. She enjoyed her job as Autopsy Coordinator, but she had hoped she could hang onto all the good feelings from her lovely and lively first Christmas with her girlfriend, Thayer Reynolds. She wasn’t ready to go down the death investigation rabbit hole.
She opened the back door to her friend, Sergeant Jim Collier, and behind him Officer Kelly Warren.
“Merry Christmas, Curtis.” Collier held out a tall cup of coffee.
“Ah, just what I wanted.” She backed away from the door to let them in along with a blast of cold air. She looked around the loading dock but only saw his car.
“The ambulance got stuck behind a funeral procession, ironically enough.” Collier shed is coat and pushed his way into the morgue anteroom, hanging it over the back of Corey’s desk chair. “They’ll be here in a few minutes.”
“I’m in no hurry. Kelly, how’d the rest of your night go?” She raised her brows hoping for some good gossip knowing he gave Thayer’s very drunk best friend, Dana Fowler, a ride home.
“None of your business.”
“That tells me everything I need to know.”
Collier looked between them. “Were you two together last night?”
“At Rachel’s Christmas dinner at the coffee shop,” she said.
“What? I didn’t get invited?”
“You did. Or, at least, Steph did. She said you had plans.”
Collier grunted. “She wanted to work the city soup kitchen.”
Corey’s brows rose. “Wow, man, that’s awesome. She is so good for you.”
“If you say so,” he grumbled, but he couldn’t hide the light in his eyes that talking about Steph Austin sparked. She had been his partner for a short time over the summer while they worked the unidentified body linked to a drug trafficking case. The same case that got Thayer assaulted by Harold Crandall and Corey arrested for interfering with the police when she chased after the kids who’d vandalized her best friend Rachel Wiley’s coffee shop.
“Who are you bringing me?” Corey asked, leaning against the desk and sipping her coffee.
“Eh, could be interesting. Could be nothing,” Collier replied vaguely. “Let’s wait for the body and Doc Webster so we can all be on the same page at the same time,” he said referring to Corey’s boss, the forensic pathologist.
The buzzer sounded and Corey straightened and reached for the phone. “Guess we’re about to find out. If you get the door, I’ll get Webster.”
Corey gloved and gowned before dragging the irregularly-shaped, heavy black bodybag from the ambulance stretcher to the steel table so the paramedics could get back to work.
“Sergeant Collier, I was very much hoping for a quiet week,” Dr. Webster muttered as he lumbered into the autopsy suite.
“Don’t shoot the messenger,” Collier said and snapped open his notebook. “Unidentified, white, adult male found this morning partially obscured by the dumpsters behind the Towne Plaza between the pharmacy and the bowling alley when the trash pick-up came.”
Corey winced. “Ah, jeez, I was just there.”
“We didn’t want to risk any damage with a preliminary search of the body but we saw no obvious signs of trauma or struggle, no blood at the scene, and no weapon of any kind.”
Corey unzipped the bag to reveal the body of a young man in dark jeans and dark, hooded sweatshirt, curled up on his side, arms and legs tucked in. “Ooh, boy.”
“Frozen?” Dr. Webster asked.
Corey pulled on an arm, the flesh was rock hard and rigid in a way not explained by death and rigor. What skin they could see was bluish and icy. “As if by the hand of the Snow Queen, herself.”
Dr. Webster studied the body. “What’s your best guess on his weight?”
Corey pursed her lips, considering. “Hard to tell because of his positioning—one-eighty, maybe?”
Dr. Webster stroked his chin. “All right. Nothing for us to do until he thaws. Corey, get his temperature and whatever external you can and pop him in the cooler. Send me an email with the preliminary external exam. Keep an eye on him and let me know when he comes up above freezing.”
“How long is that likely to take, Dr. Webster?” Kelly asked.
“Depends on how frozen he is, but from what I can tell just by looking at him, I’m thinking solid. Could be three days or could be as long as a week. If his identity or your investigation turns up something urgent, I can put in a request for CT or X-ray. Don’t forget photos.”
Corey was already sliding a new card into the camera. “I’m on it. You guys going to stick around?”
Collier nodded. “Give me something to go on, I beg you, Curtis. We’re checking through missing persons and we’re requesting security footage for all the shops at the Towne Plaza since the last dumpster pick-up, but it would help if we could narrow the time frame or get an I.D.”
Corey hooked the stool out from under the autopsy table and stood over the body to start on her pictures. “I can tell you this to start. Based on the position of the body, he most likely wasn’t dead before he got cold. Pretty classic heat conservation posture or burrowing he’s got going on right now.”
Getting his clothes off was challenging and the stainless-steel shears crunched through the frosty fabric. With the body so contorted, she had to make multiple cuts and take the clothes off in sections, dropping them into an evidence bag Kelly held out for her while Collier jotted notes about the size and description of every item.
“Check this out.” She held up his cut up sweatshirt and indicated the wasp logo. “Looks like he was a Jackson City Black Jacket at some point.”
Collier nodded. “Let’s pull the high school yearbook photos for the last…” He eyed the body. “How old do you think he is?”
“Hard to say.” She looked at his face and nearly naked body. “Seventeen to twenty-five, maybe?”
“That’s a lot of photos to go through,” Kelly said, apparently aware he was going to be the one slogging through them.
“Let’s start with the last three years then. If nothing turns up you can expand from there,” Collier said.
Corey got down to his boxer shorts and paused, the sheers hovering over his hip.
“Urine stained.” She rubbed the thin cotton between her gloved fingers. “Yep.”
Collier looked up from his notes. “He pissed himself?”
“Looks like. Could be a response to the decrease in temperature. I just learned this. It’s called cold diuresis. Another possible check in the not-dead-before-frozen column.”
“You done with that?” Kelly nodded toward the last section of stiff, dark jeans still on the table.
“Oh, yeah.” Corey dug her hand in the pockets front and back coming up with only a ragged scrap of paper. “You know I saw a bunch of kids dressed like this at the Towne Plaza the other night,” she mused.
“Doing what?” Kelly asked.
“That anything?” Collier gestured to the scrap of paper.
She unfolded it, tilting it back and forth to determine top from bottom. “The fuck?” She held it closer to her face and swallowed hard, her jaw clenching fiercely.
“What now?” Collier asked.
Corey’s teeth ground together so hard she could hear them and she backed up, feeling for the counter with a hand, stumbling back against it, her legs trembling.
“Corey?” Kelly’s hand shot out and gripped her elbow, steadying her. “What’s going on?”
“You got another evidence bag?”
Collier shook a small one open, holding it out, and she smoothed the irregular paper out and dropped it in the bag. He studied the paper through the clear plastic, his eyes snapping up. “This what I think it is?”
Kelly peered at the paper. “I don’t get it. Looks like a prescription print out with partial signature and medical license number. Is that the date? That’s good. Looks like Christmas Eve he was alive. That narrows things down.” He looked up to see Collier and Corey staring at each other. “What?”
“The signature is Thayer’s,” Corey said.
Collier sighed. “Warren, head up to the ED and ask Dr. Reynolds to join us. I’ll call ahead to Manning.”
Kelly shot Corey a sympathetic look before disappearing.
Corey sighed and snapped off her gloves so she could run her hands through her hair. “Fuck.”