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Monday, June 1, 2020

Callie's Calamity - Mail-Order Bride Series

I'm excited about my second mail-order bride romance! And I just adore the book cover!! The book is available in Kindle and Kindle Unlimited - and in paperback.

All Callie Cartwright knows is that she's got to get out of town fast. Her husband is dead and she's pregnant. If the truth comes out to how her husband died, she won't live to see the day her baby is born.

Thankfully, she went through an agency to find a man in search of a mail-order-bride. Callie is a city girl, but perhaps living out in the country on a horse ranch is what she needs right now. One week later, she travels to meet the man she has arranged to wed but is sidetracked when the train she is riding breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Time is running out and she's desperate, but can she rely on the handsome stranger with the dreamy eyes to help her?




CHAPTER ONE


Texas 1889

It had been three days. Three very long and tiring days of running.
And hiding.

Callie Cartwright clutched her satchel with one hand and secured the edges of her cloak at her neck with the other hand. Peeking around the wall of the train station office, she watched for anyone who resembled a lawman. Men with silver stars on their coats frightened her.

The train heading to Colorado would be leaving in ten minutes. She would wait until the last minute before boarding. She couldn’t take any chances of getting caught, not only for her wellbeing, but for her unborn child’s.

Callie pressed a hand to her belly. She had realized her delicate condition two weeks ago, so she hadn’t started showing yet. She prayed her slender figure would keep the pregnancy from showing for at least another four or five months. Her soon-to-be husband couldn’t know, yet.

She glanced at her left hand. The ring Bill Donovan had given her on their wedding still circled her finger. Scowling, she tugged it off. The dirty rat hadn’t deserved the quick death he’d received. If it had been up to her, she would have put him through something more difficult and torturing.

Unwanted memories flashed through her mind of him lifting his heavy hand in an attempt to make her bend to his will while she cowered in front of him. Closing her eyes, she prayed those terrible memories would disappear. She was starting a new life and finding a new husband… one that would care for her and her unborn child… the child she’d convince her new husband was his.

The loud whistle of the train brought her out of her thoughts. Once more, she peeked around the corner of the station office and scanned the platform. Several people hugged their loved ones and said goodbye before they boarded the train and prepared to make the next few days journey as comfortable as they could be. Not Callie. She would only relax once she was out of Texas.

Shifting from one foot to the other, she waited for the conductor to give the last boarding call. A woman with two children holding onto her hands hurried to the train and up the stairs. A man rushed from the other end of the station and climbed onboard. Not far from where Callie hid, a man walked out of the station office. His steps were slow as he headed for the train, and he held a newspaper in his hand. He stopped before lifting his foot to the small landing on the train, and looked down the wooden platform as if waiting for someone. He was dressed nicely in a gray suit jacket and matching trousers with a dark blue vest and white shirt. His brown hair was slicked back off his forehead, and from what she could see of his face, he was remarkably handsome. He appeared to be several years older than her husband, but she was certain the stranger wasn’t much older than thirty-five.

Her first impression of him was that he wasn’t the type of man who would angrily strike a woman. But then, Bill hadn’t appeared to be that kind of man when she first met him, either. Alcohol had poisoned his mind and his heart.

The stranger’s gaze did another sweep of the platform before he released a noticeable sigh and his shoulders sank. He proceeded up the landing and into the passenger car.

The whistle blew again, and the conductor made the final call. Callie glanced around the nearly empty platform once more before hurrying toward the train. The conductor saw her and reached out a hand to help her on board.

Callie’s heartbeat hadn’t calmed yet, but it probably wouldn’t. Not until she was out of danger and far away from Texas.

As she wandered through the railcar, she searched for an empty seat. A few faces glanced up at her, but then the people returned to what they’d been doing. Callie searched for a seat near an older woman or even a woman with children. She didn’t want to stand out, just in case someone was looking for her.

Callie clutched her satchel so tightly to her chest that her fingers turned white, but since this was the only thing she had left in this world, she didn’t want to lose anything. She only had a little money to live on until she reached Fort Collins, Colorado.

When she saw an empty spot on the bench across from a woman with two children, Callie breathed a sigh of relief. She reached the bench and smiled at the slightly older woman looking up at her.

“Is this place taken?”

“No.” The woman motioned toward the empty space. “Please sit.”

Callie smiled the best she could under her duress and sat. “My name is Mrs. Cartwright.” She decided not to give the woman her married name, only because until death do you part. “I’m widowed.” She didn’t want to lie about everything. Besides, an unwed woman traveling by herself was unheard of.

The other woman nodded, wearing a pleasant expression. “I’m Mrs. Linda Butters. I’m also widowed.” She motioned to her two children who looked very much alike and the same age. “This is Matthew and Margaret.”

“Twins?” Callie asked.

The two children nodded.

“Yes. They are eight-years-old,” Linda said.

“Nice to meet you all.” Callie relaxed slightly. “Where are you traveling?”

Linda adjusted the bonnet on her head, pushing back some locks that had fallen across her forehead. “Denver, Colorado. I have family there. And you?”

“I’m heading to Fort Collins.”

“That is a nice place. Have you been there before?”

Callie shook her head. “My first trip. I’m also meeting up with family.” Of course, her family consisted of her soon-to-be-husband and his daughter.

“I wish you a pleasant journey.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Butters. And I wish you and your children a happy journey, as well.”

“Please, call me Linda.”

Callie’s smile didn’t seem as forced this time. “And you must call me Callie.”

From up the aisle, the conductor made his way toward them, collecting the tickets. She dug through the homemade pocket she’d added to her cloak before she left home, looking for her ticket, but when the ticket wasn’t there, her heart dropped. Had she put it somewhere else? She quickly opened her satchel to see if it was on top, but it wasn’t.

Her heartbeat quickened as panic filled her. They would kick her off the train without a ticket, and yet, she had purchased one, so where was it?

She set the satchel down and stood, removing her cloak and shaking it. She then shook out her skirt, but still, the ticket didn’t magically appear.

“Tickets, please.” The older man wearing the conductor’s uniform held out his hand.

Linda handed over hers and the children’s tickets. The conductor ripped off the bottoms and gave the tickets back. When he turned to Callie, she looked at him as her eyes filled with tears. She couldn’t have come this far only to be stopped. Why couldn’t her life go smoothly for once? When would it finally be her turn for happiness? But apparently, that was asking the impossible.

“Your ticket?” the conductor asked.

“I…” Her voice shook. “I had it before I got on the train, but now…” She shook out her cloak, hoping the ticket would appear quickly. Yet, she was prone to receiving bad luck. Why should today be any different?

“Excuse me.” A man’s voice came from across the aisle. “I believe this is yours.”

Callie snapped her gaze to the handsome man with the deep voice. He was the one she’d seen climb on the train a few minutes before she had. He stood behind the conductor, holding a ticket.

“I saw this on the floor.” He motioned toward his feet. “I’m suspecting it’s yours.”

Relief flooded her and she nearly sagged to the ground. With a shaky hand, she took the ticket from him, looking into his kind eyes. “Thank you, sir.”

He nodded. “Glad to help a lady in distress.”

She tried to regulate her breathing as she handed the ticket to the conductor. “I’m sorry about that.”

He took her ticket and ripped off the bottom before handing it back. “I’m glad it was found, ma’am.”

The conductor walked away, and she looked at the man who saved her… Inwardly, she cringed. No, she couldn’t think of him as doing that. He saved the moment. That’s all.

“Thank you again, sir. I thought for sure the conductor would kick me off the train.”

His bright smile only enhanced his handsome looks and made his blue eyes sparkle, his thick, dark brown hair appeared soft. He was a tall man, and had very broad shoulders, but was slender enough to fill out his clothes quite well.

“I’m just glad I noticed it on the floor. I would have hated to start a fight with the older man. After all, throwing a woman off a train is very disrespectful, if you ask me.”

She hitched a breath. Could this man be real? Or maybe he was a figment of her imagination. She hadn’t been sleeping well at all since her husband’s death, and especially since she’d been running. “How kind you are. I’m relieved to know there is a real gentleman on the train.”

“I’m here to assist you in any way, ma’am.”

Her heartbeat stalled, if only for a moment. What made him think she needed his assistance? She had once relied on Bill and look how that turned out. No, she wouldn’t fall so easily for a man again – even if he had a sweet smile as this stranger had.

She muttered another thank you and stepped back to her seat. Once she was comfortable, she turned her head away from him to look out the window. For a moment, she’d forgotten how it had been when Bill had hurt her. He had smiled so sweetly at one time, too. She couldn’t trust smiles. They were fake, just as hers was.

When she and Bill were first married, she was so in love, and had been optimistic about their future. Bill had worked in his father’s bank, and he’d been determined to make a life on his own for him and his bride. Not more than six months later, she realized he wasn’t the man she thought he was while courting her. He didn’t love her as much as he loved his whiskey. At that point, she wasn’t a wife to him, but instead, she felt more like his slave.

The train’s rhythm seemed to slow slightly before the steam engine gained speed again. She tore her gaze away from the moving scenery and picked up her satchel. Just inside was the newspaper article she’d found not more than a week ago, advertising for a mail-order-bride.

Westward Home and Hearts Matrimonial Agency looking for unmarried women who would like to become mail-order-brides. Contact Milly Crenshaw.

Five telegrams later, Callie was getting ready for her trip to Fort Collins, Colorado, to meet a rancher and his five-year-old daughter, Daisy. Callie was confident that she and her unborn baby would find a new life with Everett Lindon in Colorado. Now with her husband dead and a baby growing inside her, and with no money to help them, she didn’t care how she found a husband, as long as she found one who could support them. Love didn’t have to enter the marriage at all. Of course, she had lost hope in love, anyway. That emotion was only for dreamers.

Tears stung her eyes, so she quickly turned her gaze back to the window. The rhythm of the train felt different than before, which was odd. She’d never been on a train before, and yet she could tell something wasn’t right.

She shook her head and adjusted in her seat. Perhaps she was worried over nothing. If something was wrong with the steam engine, she’d let the engineer fret about it. She had other things to concentrate on.

“Mrs. Cartwright…eh, I mean, Callie?”

The woman she’d just met tapped Callie’s arm. She swung her gaze to her. “Yes?”

Linda chuckled. “Forgive me for pulling you out of your thoughts.”

Callie blinked quickly, trying to focus. “Please, don’t fret. I’ve just been overly tired lately.” She sat up straighter. “What do you need?”

“I’m wondering if it’s all right with you if my brother-in-law joins us. He’s by himself and it’s a long ride. I figured he would like the company.”

“Of course, I don’t mind at all.” Callie glanced at the empty seat by Linda. At least the seat wasn’t by Callie since one of the children occupied it.

“Splendid.” Linda turned toward the man who had found Callie’s ticket, motioning her hand toward him. “Wayne? Please, come and sit with us.”

The handsome man looked up from the newspaper he was reading, and his gaze met Linda’s before switching to Callie’s. Inwardly, she seethed. It would be very difficult sitting so close to a man whose dreamy eyes held her attention. But she must resist. She needed to prove to herself that she wasn’t the type of woman who swooned over a man with eyes that made butterflies dance in her stomach.

PURCHASE - https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B085DCSCTC

Monday, April 20, 2020

Dear Lovelorn - NEW SERIES!

I'm excited to tell you about a new multi-author series coming at the end of this month - Yours Truly: The Lovelorn!!



Each book in this series will be about the hero or heroine writing a letter to The Lovelorn - and her response... and then how each character will go about following the advice given.

The first book in the series is "Dear Lovelorn". Here's the first chapter:




St. Louis, Missouri

Summer, 1880

 

Annette Baldwin hurried from one desk to the next, collecting articles from the journalists who worked in her father’s newspaper office. Each man glanced up at her, gave her a nod, and returned to typing their next article. Six men worked for her father, and not one of them noticed her swollen red eyes or the tears of rejection she couldn’t stop from running down her cheeks.

Taking a deep breath, she tried to compose herself before taking the articles to her father. Even if the others hadn’t noticed her solemn mood, her father would. Then again, since he was busy getting the weekly edition of the St. Louis Gazette ready for printing, perhaps he wouldn’t notice at all.

She wiped her eyes and dried her moist cheeks as she mentally reminded herself that this was not the end of the world. Discovering her beau didn’t love her – as much as he loved her father’s money – wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last time. Although she didn’t want to admit that she was a spinster, she was nearing her twenty-sixth birthday, so perhaps she shouldn’t worry about trying to find a husband. She’d do what her father had done to get over the loss of her mother. Annette would find a career and put her heart and soul into it.

Releasing a breath of frustration, she entered her father’s office. Just as she’d expected, he was busy arranging the articles on the front page of tomorrow’s issue before sending it to the press.

“Father, I’ve gathered the articles for next week.”

Malcolm Baldwin mumbled something and motioned his head toward the desk tray. She placed the papers in the tray and stepped back, watching her father at work. The newspaper had always fascinated her, especially seeing her father as he concentrated on getting the columns just right and making sure all the articles fit perfectly.

He was still a handsome man, and the silver streaks in his light brown hair only made him look more sophisticated. It was a shame he hadn’t remarried after her mother died ten years ago. Then again, he’d been so dedicated to the newspaper – and to his only child – that he probably didn’t have time to meet women.

As she turned away from the desk, her father’s assistant rushed in the room, knocking into her. She stumbled, and he quickly grasped her arm to keep her from falling.

“My apologies, Miss Baldwin.”

Peter Fletcher’s face was the one she’d seen every day when coming to the newspaper, and one of the last faces she looked at before retiring for bed. Peter spent just as much time at her house as he did at the newspaper office. Six years ago, when he first started working for the newspaper, she wanted to think of him as the brother she never had, but yet he was dedicated to helping her father and didn’t have time to be the big brother she’d always wanted. So, his position in her life was a friend… one that only talked to her whenever he and her father were in a heated conversation.

“There’s no need to apologize.” She smiled.

The man hurried to the desk and placed his palms down on the layout her father had been piecing together, stopping the process.

“I just discovered,” Peter said in a panic, “that Cooper’s article isn’t true.” He shook his head. “The woman was not accosted while taking the train.”

Her father’s forehead creased and his gaze narrowed. “That cannot be. Cooper assured me he had interviewed the woman.”

Releasing a heavy sigh, Peter pushed his fingers through his thick, black hair. “Cooper had assured me as well, but I just came from the train station. I talked to Mr. Hemsworth himself. No woman was attacked while on the train. Apparently, the attack didn’t happen until she was almost home.”

Her father slammed his fist down on the desk, and Annette jumped. Not often did she see her father this upset. She slowly walked into the adjoining room where she had a desk. Her job at the paper was minimal. She collected the articles so that her father could put the paper together, and she went through the mail when it came in since many readers enjoyed sending them suggestions on what type of issues to write about. Occasionally, a letter arrived from an angry customer, but she never took it personally.

“That’s the last straw.” Her father’s loud voice grumbled. “Cooper has written too many untrue articles in the last month. I had warned him to lay off his whiskey, but apparently, he didn’t take me seriously. It looks like I need to fire him.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Peter said, “however, that still leaves us without an article for tomorrow’s paper.”

Growling with frustration, her father paced the floor as he rubbed his forehead. After a few moments, he stopped and looked directly at Peter. “What about the articles that Annette has just gathered? Maybe one of them will work.”

Immediately, the two men started searching through the pile on the tray. Annette sat behind her desk and picked up the first letter, opening it as her mind started spinning with ideas. Although she wouldn’t mind being a journalist, her second love was to write stories. Her father had told her once how gifted she was, and yet… not once had he offered to make her a journalist at the paper. Her father didn’t believe women could handle such a task. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask him, but she didn’t dare for fear he’d shoot down her idea again.

“Augh! None of these will fit in the small space we have left for the article.” Her father groaned and moved to the window, pushing back the curtain and staring outside. “I’ll think of something. We have until six o’clock tonight to get this done. If I have to write something myself, I will.”

Peter moved to her father and stood beside him. “Let me know if you need any help. I can look back through some of the things I’ve written—”

“No, Peter. I don’t want something that has been printed before. Our readers like the fact that we give them new information to read. They enjoy reading about the events happening in our great city or in the United States. I don’t want to break their confidence and give them yesterday’s news.”

“Yes, I understand.” Peter nodded.

“But plan on working late tonight. With this interruption in our schedule, it’s going to push back the printing.”

“I will.” Peter turned and walked toward the door. He peered toward Annette. “Good day, Miss Baldwin.”

“Good day.” She raised her hand in a small wave.

Peter was another man she couldn’t figure out. Of course, since she still wasn’t married, it was obvious that understanding men wasn’t one of her God-given gifts. But she had wondered why Peter had never married. Then again, he was married to the newspaper, just as her father.

Her father stood by the window, peering outside. The urge to ask him for permission to write an article overwhelmed her, but once again, she pushed it aside, not wanting to feel that kind of rejection two times in one day. Seeing the man who’d been courting her for a month as he intimately held another woman was heartbreak enough.

She focused on the letter in her hand. She skimmed the contents. It was from Mrs. Selmer. The older woman complained about everything. Annette expected to read a letter from that old biddy at least twice a month. In this letter, she focused on politics and how women needed more to read about than government topics.

Annette opened the next letter and read it. Apparently, Mrs. White and Mrs. Selmer shared the same thoughts.

After reading ten more letters – most of them written by women – Annette felt encouraged that this time when she asked her father’s permission to become a journalist, it just might work. Because now she had the fuel that would support her cause.

Breathing deeply, she slowly built up the courage needed to confront her father. She prayed this would work.

She moved away from her desk and into the adjoining office. Her father had returned to the layout, but his forehead was still marked with worry lines.

“Father,” she began in a tight voice, “I believe I have a solution to your problem.”

He straightened and met her stare. “You do?”

“I do, but first let me ask… how many women read the Gazette?”

He shrugged. “We probably have more men than women. Why do you ask?”

“Since you’ve put me in charge of going through the mail, I’ve come to realize that I receive more complaints from women than I do from men. The newspaper has more articles about politics and laborious work in the job market.”

He sat behind his desk and folded his arms. “Get to the point.”

“If you had more articles in the newspaper that women would enjoy reading, then I’m sure we’ll get more subscribers, especially if those women have husbands who are too busy working to read, so they don’t have a newspaper.”

He slowly nodded. “Go on.”

“I think that you should allow at least one article each week that will focus mainly on women’s issues such as taking care of their families, running a household, and perhaps… love.”

Her father’s big brown-eyed gaze widened as a chuckle released from his throat. “Women? You cannot be serious. Why would they read the newspaper?”

“Father,” she moved closer to him, touching his arm, “most of the letters that are mailed to us are from women. If the newspaper wants to sell more papers, I honestly believe the way to do that is to bring in women readers. Don’t you realize how much women like to gossip? Well, can you imagine that if one lady says something to her friend or neighbor about the great article they’d read in the St. Louis Gazette, then word will spread quickly and we’ll have more people buying the paper.”

Her father kept quiet for a few very uncomfortable seconds as he tapped a finger on his chin. “How much room would this article take on the page?”

“Not very much room at all. In fact, I suspect it wouldn’t have to be more than three or four paragraphs.”

“Are you thinking a woman should write this?”

“Well, I was hoping—”

He shook his head. “I’m not sure men would appreciate that.”

“The men won’t have to know. We could give the writer a pseudonym so that nobody will know the gender. Perhaps we’ll even get more male readers if the topic is right.”

Her father’s tight-lips made her nervous. She’d seen that expression before. He was pondering over the suggestion, but she figured he’d reject it, just as he’d always done. She continued to say a prayer in her mind that her father would be reasonable about this.

“Father, we could try it for two weeks, and if it doesn’t work, then no harm would be done.”

“I’m assuming,” he finally said, “that you want to write this?”

She swallowed the lump in her throat. “You know I can do it. You’ve read my stories.”

“True, but writing articles and silly stories are two different things.”

Clenching her jaw, she wanted to snap at him for thinking that her stories were silly. Didn’t he understand how committed she was to her writing?

She clasped his hand, pleading with her gaze. “Please, Father. Give me this chance to show you what I can do.” She took an unsteady breath. “You probably haven’t noticed, but I’ve passed the age of marriage.” Her voice cracked. “Since I won’t have a husband and children, I need a career, and what better career could there be for me than following in the footsteps of my hard-working father?”

Releasing a heavy breath, he patted her hand. “Two weeks. That’s all you get. And you must have an article ready to go in tomorrow’s paper.”

Excitement rose inside of her and she gasped.

“However,” he said quickly, pointing his finger at her, “the article had better blow those female readers away, yet at the same time, not offend the male readers.”

Her heartbeat tripped and her knees weakened. Could she do as her father had requested? Part of her mind told her she couldn’t do it, but she chose to listen to the positive voices in her head, instead.

Smiling wide, she nodded. “I’ll get right on it.”



PRE-ORDER Dear Lovelorn, only 99 cents!
https://www.amazon.com/Dear-Lovelorn-Yours-Truly-Book-ebook/dp/B083VTL71K

Sunday, December 15, 2019

COMING IN JANUARY!

I'm excited to tell you about one of my January releases. "The Billionaire's Setup" is the second book I'm co-authoring with my sister, Stacey Haynes. This clean romance has a lot of humor, paranormal (ghosts) with a few spooky scenes, and a GREAT whodunnit mystery.  My editor told me this has been her favorite story so far.

If you've read "The Magic of a Billionaire", then you'll recognize my hero in this story.


He’s looking for an honest woman and true love. The beautiful woman he meets has secrets. Can he trust her with his heart?

She dreams of her ancestor’s past life who had been murdered. She can’t let anyone think she’s crazy or she’ll lose her reputation as a billionaire businesswoman

It’s up to the ghost to set them up and make things right.





In silence, they continued walking and looking at the headstones in the cemetery. Nicole lifted the list of names up to the light. She narrowed her gaze and her eyes shifted back and forth over the paper. Suddenly, she gasped and straightened. Even in the shadows he could tell color was seeping from her face.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Look,” she said as she pointed to the name on the list. “It says Victoria Carrigan.”
“Carrigan? Is she a relative?” Nolan inquired.
“I don’t know. I didn’t think we had family here. It says she died in 1925.”
“Let’s look for her,” Nolan suggested. “If we happen to find others, then we can check them off, but let’s focus on Victoria.”
Nicole nodded. She moved next to him and hooked her arm around his. Nolan’s heart softened. They weren’t holding hands, but this was the next best thing. It made him feel heroic thinking that he would protect her from anything scary.
Using the flashlight, Nolan scanned each headstone as they quickened their pace to cover more of the area. As they rounded a turn, Nicole tripped on a corner of a broken headstone. She stumbled, and he quickly caught her before she landed on the ground.
“Oh, good grief,” Nicole muttered and stood upright before placing her hand on his chest. “Thanks for stoppin’ my fall. I’m sorry I’m such a klutz.”
“Don’t be sorry.” He grinned. “It’s nice to find a girl who falls for me.”
She laughed and teasingly slapped his arm. “Oh, you are a funny one, aren’t you?”
“Well, you laughed, so I must have been funny.” He gently squeezed the hand still on his chest. “Are you going to be okay?”
“Maybe I just need to walk slower.” She started to move away, but he kept their hands together until their fingers just gradually entwined together.
“We can walk slower,” he said, trying not to let the excitement rushing through his body come out of his voice. “As long as you hold onto me, I won’t let you fall.”
They were not directly in the half-moon’s light, but he noticed a blush filling her cheeks. Elation filled him, and he hoped she was feeling the same giddiness bouncing around inside of her as he was experiencing.

* * * *

There was something about this man that just made her want to smile constantly and her heart race. She enjoyed the way he watched her with such emotion in his glorious green eyes, but it was more than that. She liked the way he talked, the way he smiled, and the way he teased. She loved hearing the sound of his laugh when they laughed at the same thing.
As she held his hand, she felt like the luckiest woman in the world. It also amazed her that for once in her life she wasn’t trying to act like the billionaire her uncle wanted her to act like. She wanted to be a normal person, and right now, this normal person wanted to walk through the cemetery and hold this gorgeous man’s hand as if they were the only two people here.
Warmth filled Nicole’s face. She was relieved that night’s shadows kept him from seeing her face completely or else he would know she’d been blushing ever since their hands clasped. The rhythm of her heart increased, and she wanted to cuddle against him. Thankfully, that wouldn’t be possible right now.
Nolan was a tall man with strong arms, and just holding his hand made her feel so protected. She raised her gaze to his face. When he looked at her, she smiled. She wanted to hold onto him as he’d suggested, and never let go.
“Are you ready to find Victoria now?”
“Yes.” She squeezed his hand a little more.
She found it strange that he hid his secret just as she was doing. He didn’t want people to know he was extremely wealthy, and it made her feel closer to him since they shared the same secret – even if he didn’t know that about her. But she was more convinced now that he was Aaron Powers… or the cousin, Thomas Powers. It really didn’t matter that he was as rich as she was – what made the difference in how she looked at him was that he was such a sweet man who thought of her feelings. It was so nice to be with a man who didn’t think the world revolved around him.
They wandered deeper into the cemetery, looking at the headstones as they tried to find their list of names, along with Victoria’s of course. It unnerved Nicole to think that she might be related to Victoria in some way, and yet Nicole was excited to get to know her ancestor.
He stepped over a fallen headstone and quickly came to halt. He glanced at the empty space beside him and frowned.
“Oh, I’m sorry Mr. Wright. I didn’t see you floating there. Please forgive me for stepping on your ghostly foot.”
A chuckle escaped Nicole’s throat. Although he was being silly about it, she wondered if he really had seen a ghost, because she didn’t see anything. “Nolan, you might want to ask him to let you know if I get in his way.” Her grin stretched. “I wouldn’t want to cause him any more harm.”
He turned to peer into the shadows again. “Did you hear my friend?” He paused a few seconds and nodded. “Yes, I’ll tell her. Thank you again, Mr. Wright.”
Nolan’s attention swung to Nicole. His mischief smile let her know that he was joking. She was relieved.
“Mr. Wright wants me to tell you,” he stepped around in front of Nicole, taking both of her hands in his, “that he thanks you for your kindness. He also thinks you are a very beautiful woman, which of course, I agree with him.”
Laughing aloud, she stepped closer to him. His arms wrapped around her waist, holding her loosely. The closeness raised her blood pressure a notch or two.
Within seconds, their laughing subsided as she gazed into his eyes… the best she could, anyway. The urge to kiss him was strong. Dare she be the one to initiate the first move?
He licked his lips and her heart strummed faster. Perhaps she should wait and let him make the first move. He started to lower his face toward hers and she closed her eyes, waiting for the moment their lips would touch.
Suddenly, someone from behind pushed her, and she fell against him. Gasping, she swung around to see who had shoved her, but no one was there.
“What’s wrong?” Nolan asked in a voice deeper than she’d been hearing today.
“I thought… I mean it felt like… someone pushed me.”
He glanced around them. “No, sweetie. We are the only two right here.”
She laughed uncomfortably. Irritation grew in her chest. Someone had pushed her, but that’s not what upset her the most. How dare someone ruin their special moment!



Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Contest Entry Chapter - Her Knight in Camelot

I was invited to submit a story for potential movie adaptation by Wattpad Studios, and I'm one of the 10 finalists.

Over two years ago when I was going wild with writing twisted fairy-tale romances, I had my cover artist put together this cover. Unfortunately, I only had two chapters written before I was pulled to another project. But this cover is PERFECT! Thanks, Sheri McGathy!




This is my submission. I hope you like it!!


A modern-day man's world is disrupted when a woman claiming to be from the medieval era travels through time to take him back to Camelot. It's too bad he doesn't believe.

Camelot is in trouble. The king is dead and the rightful heir was magically transported into the future years ago. Now, the granddaughter of the great sorcerer, Merlin, must travel forward in time to retrieve the true king. The problem... she knows very little magic and isn't prepared for the modern world. Worse, King Arthur has no idea where he came from, and she's misplaced her only means to return them to Camelot.




PROLOGUE

Queen Arrosa clutched her five-year-old son against her bosom as her gaze darted around the room. With armloads of clothes, servants rushed from the armories to the several opened trunks where they hastily deposited the garments. Written on each person’s face was an expression of pure white terror. Out in the corridor, the cries of other servants echoed the halls.
Another cannon blast shook the castle walls. Shielding her son, Queen Arrosa turned them away from the falling rubble. Screams out in the corridor as well as inside the chamber, heightened in volume. Although she wanted to scream, she didn’t want to frighten her son any more than he already was.
Tears stung her eyes as the frantic rhythm in her heart accelerated. For several years now, those residing in the castle were forewarned about an attack. Men in the kingdom angry about being sent off to fight other kingdoms. Their funds were now exhausted from the high taxes. They blamed the king of taking all the money for himself and his family.
Arrosa’s stomach clenched. The people were correct. King Marten had been greedy during his six-year reign. He thought of only his power. Not even his wife and son were as important as the king’s lands and treasures. Because of that, the people were rebelling. Arrosa and her son were in danger.
The booming of another cannon blast nearly deafened her. This one was too close. Her son, Arthur, whimpered and buried his face deeper against her. She couldn’t allow this to happen.
“Keep packing,” she instructed the servants before taking her son’s hand and leading him out of her bedchamber. There was only one thing that could be done – only one person who could help.
Merlin.
They hurried down the grand stairs to the lower level. Another blast hit somewhere in the castle. This time, a piece of the ceiling fell and shattered to the ground very close by them. Determination pushed her to get Arthur and herself to safety.
She dodged the servants hastening through the halls. She headed in only one direction. When she arrived at the side doors, she opened the hard wood and peeked outside. Smoke filled the air from the cannons. Terror-filled voices rose all around.
Where was her so-called brave husband… the king? She assumed he’d be with one of his many mistresses. But obviously, they wouldn’t be in the castle. Not today. Especially not if he could get hurt.
Arrosa picked up her son and carried him through the haze of smoke that nearly burned her nose and stung her eyes. She pressed Arthur’s head into her chest, hoping he wouldn’t breathe this vile scent.
She ran until the air cleared and the booming echoes were farther away. Merlin’s cabin stood nearby. Her husband made certain the wizard was close at hand in case he needed protection. Would the kingdom’s fearless leader be with Merlin right now? She highly doubted it.
Reaching his door, she then knocked hard and fast. “Merlin,” she cried out. “I need your help.”
Immediately, the door was opened, and the thin, middle-aged man with long, white hair and beard, motioned her inside. She stepped inside the small cottage and her gaze swept the walls filled with shelves that had different sized bottles on them. Two chairs stood by a table with a plate of bread, meats, and cheeses on top. A little girl, perhaps around the same age as Arthur, sat in one of the chairs, nibbling on a piece of cheese. Her wide, frightened gaze stayed on the queen for a few seconds before moving to Arthur. The girl’s hair was a pretty brownish-red, separated down the middle and woven together in pigtails.
The queen nodded to the little girl. “Good day.”
“Your Majesty,” Merlin said, closing the door and securing it tightly with a rope. “This is my granddaughter, Felicity.”
Arrosa’s heart ached for the little girl, and all the children in Camelot. Would any of these children be alive on the morrow?
“Merlin,” Arrosa said, urgently, “my child and I need protection. Living in the castle, I fear for our lives.”
He nodded and scratched his scruffy chin. “And rightly so. The uprising of the king’s enemies has been foretold to me. We cannot stop it now.”
“But what about his son? Did you not promise me that one day Arthur would inherit Camelot when he was a man? How can that happen if my son is dead?”
“No, Prince Arthur will live.” Merlin shuffled his feet toward a large pot hanging over the fire pit. “I shall send you and the prince to a place that will keep you safe.”
Tears built in her eyes as relief poured over her. “Yes. That is where we need to be. Safe.”
“However…” He paused, lifting a spoonful from the pot. Steam swirled around the grayish-yellow concoction. “You must not let anyone know he is Prince Arthur. The only way he will survive is to have his memory erased of this horrid place.”
Arrosa sucked in a quick breath as her gaze jumped back and forth between the spoon and Merlin. “His memory will be gone?”
“Aye, but only as a cloud will cover it, making it unable for him to remember about his life in Camelot. If he has any recollection of his life here, it will be in dream-form.”
“Then how will he know to return to take over as king?”
“Not to worry, My Queen. I shall come for you when the time is right. I will give him another elixir that will make him remember.” He hesitated as he watched the swirling steam of liquid. “Are you ready?”
“Now?” Her voice rose. “But I do not have our clothes.”
He reached to the nearest shelf and took down a hefty leather bag. Coins clinked together inside as he handed it to her.
“This will help you in the new land, I assure you. You will want for nothing.”
A tear slid down her cheek as she nodded. “Then we are ready, Merlin.”
“May God be with you,” he said before blowing the liquid toward them.
Arrosa squeezed her eyes closed and held her breath. Wherever they were going, she prayed she would be strong enough to raise her son on her own. She couldn’t fail Merlin. Arthur will become king one day, and it was her responsibility to see it through.



ONE
Present Day

Shifting his position on the steed, Arthur Gavin Beaumont clamped his right hand over the steel sword hooked to his belt and leaned forward. A bead of sweat dripped from his forehead, sliding down his cheek. The medieval knight costume he wore nearly suffocated him, and once he was in full action, it would become even hotter. He waited for the signal so he could ride out in the center of the ring to battle against Lance, the Blue Knight. Gavin’s title was the Red Knight—the Lion’s Heart.
Strange that he’d assume that particular title. In his childhood, his delusional mother used to refer to him as Prince of Camelot. She would always pretend she was the queen and he was the prince. He never knew her to be serious, and yet, every game she played with him, every sport she urged him to take had something to do with the medieval era.
Chuckling, he scanned the many people who’d come to this afternoon’s event at the Medieval Restaurant. Wouldn’t his mother be proud of him now? He loved his job, and his skill exceeded the requirements for the games performed at the restaurant. The crowd was privileged to see their favorite knights battle against each other, either in jousting, weaponry, or horsemanship. One segment of the evening was showing off the eagle which Gavin had personally trained.
All of the attention he received, especially from the pretty ladies, gave him an over-sized ego. But he didn’t mind. At least he knew he excelled at something since he wasn’t doing very well in college. Sadly enough, he doubted he’d ever become the lawyer he’d set out to be when he entered college five years ago.
The music changed to a marching beat. That was his cue to ride into the arena. He urged his horse into a trot and entered the dirt-filled stadium. The crowd in the stands cheered, and he breathed in the great attention.
The Blue Knight rode atop his horse, slowly coming toward Gavin. He couldn’t see the other knight’s face, but immediately Gavin suspected something was vastly different. The armor didn’t fit Lance as it had before. Even the way the knight rode his horse was odd. Either that, or Lance had finally figured out how to ride without bouncing all over the animal.
Both Gavin and Lance maneuvered their steeds in fancy steps as they circled each other. After a few minutes of doing this, they dismounted and withdrew their swords. Cheers in the crowd increased. Some guests even chanted his name.
The clang of the swords meeting each other echoed through the arena. Gavin shifted in the fancy footwork he’d been taught, and the Blue Knight followed his lead. Another thing different about Lance was that his blows were stronger this time. The men who played the knights were just acting and so they didn’t need to overpower the other unless it was planned in the script. However, tonight Lance was stronger. Faster. More determined.
This knight couldn’t be Lance. The man behind the armor seemed shorter and thinner, especially by the way the armor practically hung on the man’s frame. Had they replaced Lance with someone new at the last minute?
More sweat ran down his face as the heat grew inside his helmet. He diligently used his sword to block his opponent, but after exchanging blows for ten whole minutes, his muscles began to ache. Irritation swept over him, so he pushed his opponent harder. Gavin couldn’t lose. He worked out every day for an hour, sometimes more, so why were his muscles screaming for rest now?
Grumbling, he yanked off his helmet and tossed it to the ground in order to get more air to his face. The volume of the crowd lifted. His opponent didn’t remove his helmet. Instead, the Blue Knight paused in his fighting and stared at him.
Gavin arched an eyebrow. What was wrong with the man? Perhaps this was the moment Gavin needed to take control. He raised his sword to finish the game, but in a quick instant, the other man ducked and swept his sword lower, knocking Gavin to the ground.
He swore under his breath. That wasn’t the way this program had been planned.
Gavin jumped to his feet – even with the cumbersome armor limiting his movements – and raised his sword again, but his opponent counter-attacked. Unfortunately, this new person was skilled, almost as good as Gavin.
Anger guided Gavin’s movements. He didn’t care that his muscles were weakening, he continued to meet his opponent’s sword. Completely focused, all he heard was his own heavy breaths and the loud clang of the swords when they blocked the other.
In one quick swipe, his challenger knocked Gavin to the ground again. Out of breath, he lay still and looked up at the roof of the arena. What is going on? The Blue Knight was not supposed to win.
He shifted his gaze toward his rival just as the man started to remove his helmet. Once the object was off, long, auburn hair fanned out around the person’s shoulders, and showed everyone a very delicate and pretty face. A woman?


Thursday, July 18, 2019

Sneak Peek - The Magic of a Billionaire

Let me tempt you a little more. This is REALLY a great book, and the reviews that are pouring in are all saying the same thing - they could not put this book down!  This is a full-length story that's worth every penny!





A tragic accident – or cleverly disguised murder? Only one woman will be brave enough to find out.

Paralegal, Elizabeth Martin, has two reasons for staying at a mysterious mansion – to help get the property ready to sell, and to investigate the rumors of the ghost who is haunting it. After shockingly finding the rumors to be true, one question stirs in her mind. Had the renowned magician’s death really been a careless accident – or was it a cleverly disguised murder?

The deceased heir to the Powers’ billions, Aaron Powers, is only after one thing. Revenge. He couldn’t use his magician’s skills and illusions to keep his murder at bay, so now he must depend on the strikingly beautiful paralegal’s help. Unfortunately, he can’t stop himself from becoming attached to her – both heart and soul.

Solving a murder is no magician’s trick, but can Elizabeth and Aaron see through the smoke and mirrors to bring the criminal to justice? And can they do it without their growing feelings for each other getting in the way?





PROLOGUE

Aaron Powers stood on the Rockwell Theatre stage, as a sold-out room of spectators sat and watched him as he prepared his next act. Sweat formed on his forehead and behind his neck. Even his palms were moist. The frantic rhythm of his heartbeat only made things worse.
He silently cursed the doubts scrambling his mind, confusing him. It had been five years since Aaron experienced the jitters during one of his acts. But no longer was he an apprentice when dealing with magic. In fact, last month, Forbes magazine had interviewed him and given him the title of a Rising Star. Of course, it didn’t hurt that his billionaire grandfather owned three wineries, which helped give him a leg up. The magazine had written that Aaron’s sold-out shows and fame would make him wealthier than his grandfather one day.
Taking a steady breath, Aaron prayed that day would come. But with all the accidents that had been happening to him lately, he worried he’d never get to see that day.
The loud music with the intense beat boomed throughout the theatre, heightening the moment when Aaron would climb in the box for his swords-through-the-box illusion. This trick had never failed before, and because he’d checked all the props for tonight’s show two hours ago, he was sure everything would go smoothly.
And yet… there was still that niggle of doubt in his mind that caused his nerves to jump and his hands to tremble.
His beautiful assistant, the very lovely blonde bombshell, ZoAnn – a woman he’d dated for a while until realizing they’d be better as friends – sashayed in front of the coffin-shaped box, opening the cubby doors to show the audience that there was no way for him to escape, and no extra room once Aaron was inside.
He grinned to himself. What the audience didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. Once he was inside, there would be plenty of room for him and the swords.
Once she connected the doors around the box, she stepped in rhythm to the pounding music, slinking her way around stage. When she reached him, she pressed herself up against him and slowly moved around his body, sliding her hands over his chest, his shoulders, back, and finally around to his front again. He grasped her roughly, pulling her closer as if he was going to kiss her, but just as their mouths were a breath apart, he moved her aside and stepped inside the box.
Continuing to stand in the box, he moved his arms as he motioned from one side to the other of his short-lived tomb. He had arranged to have the fan on high at this section in the act, which blew his wavy hair, but especially, the wind lifted his white silky shirt away from his throat, giving the ladies in his audience a glimpse of his muscular chest.
ZoAnn raised one of the swords, blade-side up, showing the audience. Aaron withdrew the silk scarf from around his throat and tossed it toward the sword. As soon as the cloth touched the blade, the scarf immediately split in two, showing the audience how incredibly sharp it was.
Finally, he slid down into the box horizontally as ZoAnn finished locking up the doors. The slight tremble was still in his hands as he reached for the lever that widened the side of the box that the audience couldn’t see. He barely heard the clicking noise of the gears over the booming music in the theatre.
The wood beneath him shifted ever-so-slightly… and then stopped. His heart stilled momentarily. His throat tightened, as did his chest. This wasn’t enough room!
He moved the switch again, but the box extension beneath him didn’t widen any further. Gently, he pushed with his legs and hips, trying to get the extension to widen, but it wouldn’t budge.
Panic filled him. The frantic beat of his heart pounded through his ears, blocking out any other sounds. He must make ZoAnn aware of the faulty box extension, and yet – how could they stop the show? His act would be ruined. So would his name.
However, sharp swords slicing through the box would definitely kill him.
“ZoAnn, stop the act,” he shouted, but the music was too loud. Using his fist, he hit the side of the box, but that didn’t accomplish anything. The music was just too loud.
Suddenly, a sword pushed through the flimsy box. Pain shot through his arm. Clenching his teeth, he cussed.
Taking in deep breaths, he tried controlling the fear rising inside him. “ZoAnn,” he shouted again, but seconds later, the second sword slid through the box. Pain exploded in his leg. Warm, sticky blood oozed down the side of his leg.
“Stop the act!” This time when he screamed, he tried rocking the box. He prayed like he never prayed before. Someone just had to hear him.
Suddenly, another blade entered the box, cutting into his stomach. He couldn’t tell which was worse – the fiery pain that made him want to vomit or the numbness slowly spreading over his body.
“ZoAnn…” he cried out again as tears rolled into his ears. His body told him it was too late, anyway. Slowly, his body weakened as blood continued to gush out of him. An artery had been severed, he just knew it.
Closing his eyes, he pictured his grandfather’s kind and loving face – the face Aaron had grown to love as a father-figure since his own parents died when Aaron was six-years-old. Out of everyone he knew, his grandfather would mourn Aaron’s death the hardest. They’d been so close over the years…
Aaron’s mind filled with childhood memories that quickly meshed into adult memories. He’d had a good life. He’d made some good friends… but apparently, he’d made enemies, too.
As he lay dying, he said one last prayer – that he would not cross over. Being a ghost and haunting those responsible for his soon-to-be death was what he wanted now. That was the best kind of revenge.





ONE

Elizabeth Martin’s fingers flew over the keyboard as she finished typing the research notes she’d done on an embezzlement case. Out of all the research she’d completed the past three years working for Taylor, Baker, and Swift, Attorneys at Law, this particular embezzlement case had been the easiest. The bank employee hadn’t covered his tracks while stealing money from his company, and the fool bragged about it to his friends. This was an open and shut case. Easy-peasy.
Once finished, she saved it to a folder and closed the program. She pushed away from her desk just far enough to rest her hands in her lap and sigh with relief, smiling. She loved her job, however… a job like this gave her the advantage of getting inspiration for her next story. Not many of her co-workers knew about her love for writing romantic suspense.
Lately, her muse had been a little dry – so much, in fact, that she started spending more time with her boyfriend, Sam Livingston. The smile quickly left her face. Now she knew why writing came first. At least in her novels she could get away from life’s stress. In her stories, the hero adored the heroine, and everyone had a happy-ever-after.
She grabbed her bottled water from her desk and drank the remaining liquid. It had grown warm since she had bought it, and she decided she needed something cold to hydrate her. Otherwise, she was in danger of dozing off at work. She looked in her drawer for some loose change, and then headed to the breakroom. After retrieving a fresh, cold bottled water from the office’s new vending machine, she leaned against the counter and sipped the refreshing liquid.
Just then, two of her co-workers walked inside the breakroom. She nodded to them but kept drinking. They were in the middle of a conversation, anyway.
“It was like watching a scary movie, I tell ya.” Susan shook her head, her eyes growing wider by the second. “It wasn’t until the assistant pulled out the bloody swords that she realized something had gone wrong with the act.”
Tonya opened the refrigerator and pulled out a baggy of carrots and celery sticks. “I’d heard rumors that someone was purposely trying to kill him.”
Susan shrugged. “I’m assuming it was investigated, but his death was reported as an accident.”
Elizabeth lowered the water, suddenly caught up in her friends’ conversation. “Who died?”
Susan spun around, her long, auburn hair flying over her shoulder. “It was about three months ago, but it was all over the news. Didn’t you hear? It was Aaron Powers, that famous magician.”
Nodding thoughtfully, Elizabeth tapped her finger on the bottle. “I think I’ve heard his name before.”
“His shows were all over – in California, Nevada, and even Arizona.”
Elizabeth stepped closer. “And he died?”
“Yep. One of his acts went wrong, and his assistant stabbed him to death with swords.”
Elizabeth’s stomach churned. “While on stage?”
“Oh, yes.” Susan nodded vigorously. “I was in the audience. It was surreal. I still can’t believe I watched it happen.”
“How sad.” Elizabeth took another sip of her water.
“You should look it up on the internet. Like I said, it was all over the news.”
“I think I will.” Elizabeth turned and took slow steps toward the door.
“So, who inherits his grandfather’s billions?” Tonya asked.
Elizabeth came to a sudden halt and glanced back at the other two ladies. “The man was rich, too?”
“Well, you see…” Susan walked toward Elizabeth. “His grandfather, Jethro Powers, owns three wineries. Aaron was his oldest grandson. Powers’ billions would have gone to Aaron, but now…” She shrugged. “I guess everything will go to the surviving grandson when the old man kicks the bucket.”
“That definitely makes an interesting tale.” Although it was sad what happened to Aaron Powers’ life, Elizabeth’s mind spun with story ideas. It had been a while since she’d been energized like this about a story. She’d have to do more research and see what she could find. Within all of those details was a suspenseful romance story waiting to be written, and she was anxious to find it.
She returned to her desk without even thinking about it as her mind whirled with ideas. As soon as she found herself in front of her computer, she reached for the keyboard and quickly searched the internet for the magician’s name. She clicked on the first link that popped up.
Aaron Zeke Powers of Surprise, Arizona, died March 10th, while performing on stage at the Rockwell Theatre in front of a large crowd. He was performing the famous, yet dangerous, swords-through-the-box illusion. The props used were not working correctly and he was stabbed multiple times. He bled to death on the way to the hospital. He was the oldest grandson of the renowned winery owner, Jethro Powers. Well known in the winery communities, Jethro Powers had accumulated a large fortune that was to pass to Aaron upon Jethro’s death, including the wineries. With Aaron’s passing, Thomas Powers, the next grandson in line, is now poised to inherit the fortune.
Elizabeth continued through the article and studied the pictures taken of the handsome magician. Aaron appeared to be in his early thirties and looked very confident. He had a charming smile that made his blue eyes sparkle. She couldn’t tell if it was his costume that made him appear so robust, or if it was just his nature, but either way, he was one finely built man. She found it sad that something so terrible could happen to someone as good-looking as him.
She kept searching the internet and came across some videos of his performances. As Elizabeth watched, she caught her breath quite a few times. The way he looked deeply into his assistant’s eyes made Elizabeth wonder if Aaron had been in love with the blonde woman with the Barbie-doll figure. While his magic tricks kept her mind buzzing with wonder, his hypnotic smile kept her eyes glued to the screen. His electrifying blue eyes, framed by his dark hair, captivated her imagination, and one question stuck out in her mind.
Had his death really been an accident? Or, could it have been murder?
She clicked another link that displayed a magnificent mansion in Surprise, Arizona. As she read the article, she discovered that this had been Aaron’s home before he died. According to the article, the man had been alone for most of his life. His parents had died in a tragic car crash when he was only six. Aaron had never married and had no children.
Another paragraph mentioned that visitors to the mansion since Aaron’s death had thought they’d seen Aaron’s ghost. They’d heard doors shutting on floors where nobody entered, and whispers in the ventilation system.
“Ah, perfect! You’re doing your research already.”
Elizabeth jumped from her boss’ deep voice. She swung around in her chair and faced him. Heat burst in her cheeks for being caught playing on the internet. “Todd, I didn’t hear you come in.”
Chuckling, he pointed to the computer. “The horrific story of Aaron Powers’ death would enthrall anyone. I don’t blame you for being so caught up in that.”
“So, why do you think I’m doing research?”
“Carey hasn’t told you yet?”
“Told me what?” By her suddenly racing heart, she already had a feeling she knew, but she didn’t want to get too excited until she knew for sure.
His grin widened and he waggled his eyebrows. She always thought her forty-five-year-old boss was a handsome man.
“The elder Mr. Powers, Jethro, has hired us to help him get the mansion ready to sell. As part of the process, we are to check into these ghost rumors and see why people are saying the property is haunted.”
As she pondered his request, she couldn’t stop the laugh bubbling up from her throat. “Are you serious? We’re lawyers, we’re not detectives.”
“While that is true, Jethro is a longtime friend of the head of this firm. Jethro is also a billionaire, which means he has the power to get whatever he wants. In this case, he’s asked for us to oversee the mansion’s legals.”
She shrugged. “Okay, so how are we supposed to see if the place is haunted?”
Todd rested his hand on the desk as he leaned toward her. His expression changed to one of mischief.
“I hope you’re not afraid of ghosts…” his leery grin widened, “because you’re the one we’re sending to the mansion.”
Part of her wanted to shout with glee. Staying at a rich guy’s mansion was just what she needed to give her newfound story idea more fuel. And yet, the other part of her was intrigued with the mystery of getting to know more about the famous magician who had died so tragically. Plus… she had never seen a ghost.
Chuckling, she shook her head. She didn’t believe in ghosts, anyway, but she had to admit that spending a week or two there did sound like fun. “How soon do I need to pack?”

* * * *

Surprise, Arizona.
Elizabeth chuckled to herself. She’d never known the place existed. However, being a native to Los Angeles, she had always found enough to keep her busy in California that she had never wandered to other states.
You’re not in California anymore.
The five-and-a-half-hour drive through seemingly endless desert was enough to make anyone sick, and even the lizards she passed looked dehydrated. But Surprise, Arizona, was quite a – dare she say – surprise? Several palm trees lined the streets, shading the fronts of the city’s adobe-style homes. The further she ventured, the more she realized that this was a golfing community. In just the few minutes she’d been there, she’d already counted more than fifteen golf carts on the road. Her GPS continued to lead her through the heart of the city and to the other side, into the richer neighborhoods.
Thankfully, the town was small enough that it didn’t take her very long before she reached the road leading her toward the Powers’ mansion. The property was surrounded by large, full trees she didn’t recognize, as well as an ornate rock wall. As she began her journey up the very long driveway, the iron gate was opened automatically and allowed her to drive straight up to the mansion’s front porch.
Four massive white stone columns jutted out of the sunflower-colored brick, framing three stories of glistening windows. Never had she seen a mansion close up, but this one seemed to have an older style of architecture. It was very nineteenth century, but something seemed different about it. Elizabeth put the thought from her mind. She was more excited to go inside and get a view of how a billionaire lived.
 As she pulled around the top of the driveway, she was surprised to see a red Ferrari parked in front of the house. Elizabeth turned off her car and opened the door to step out. A man in the Ferrari also climbed out at the same time. He was definitely not the man she thought she’d be meeting today. Instead of an eighty-something-year-old, the man appeared to be not much older than she was. He wore a beige tee-shirt stretched across his wide shoulders and chest, and crisp blue jeans on his lean legs, with white athletic sneakers on his feet. His hair was dark brown, and his face resembled the pictures on the internet that she’d seen of Aaron Powers.
He smiled, stopping in front of her. “You must be Elizabeth Martin.”
She nodded and stretched forth her hand to shake his. “I am. And you are definitely not Jethro Powers.”
He chuckled. “No, Jethro is my grandfather. I’m Thomas Powers. My father was Jethro’s second son.”
She had read a little about Thomas from the article on the internet. She also recalled that her co-worker, Susan, had said he would inherit all of Jethro’s billions once the old man kicked the bucket. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Powers.”
“Call me Thomas. Around here, people call my grandfather Mr. Powers.”
“Okay, I will.”
“I’m glad you arrived when you did. Had you been earlier, you would have had to wait for me. As I got ready to leave my house, I found that someone had slashed my tires.”
“Oh, that’s terrible.”
He gestured toward the Ferrari. “Thankfully, I had another car to drive, despite my travel plans being set back a bit. I’m glad I didn’t keep you waiting.”
“That’s okay. I would have waited.”
He motioned toward the house. “Are you ready to go inside?”
Her heartbeat hammered with excitement as she silently repeated in her mind, I can do this! “Of course, I’m ready.”
After taking two steps toward the mansion, Thomas paused and glanced back at her. “You’re not afraid of ghosts, are you?”
She laughed. “Thomas, can you honestly tell me that there are ghosts in this place?”
He shook his head. “No, there aren’t ghosts.” He hesitated. “There is only one ghost, and it’s my cousin, Aaron.”
She tilted her head, studying the good-looking man. “Really? You’ve seen him here?”
“Let me tell you something about this place.” He continued toward the door. “Gramps bought it when my dad and Aaron’s dad were young, and the family lived in it until Gramps wanted something bigger. Gramps had another mansion built in Scottsdale, and that’s where he lives now. The house was then given to Aaron’s father, and Aaron was born here. When his parents were killed in a car accident, Aaron went to live with Gramps until he was old enough to live in this house by himself.”
Thomas pulled out a key, unlocked the door, and held it open for her. He motioned for her to enter first. She walked inside the spacious hallway; the many curtained windows stifling the bright sunlight, casting shadows of various lengths across the room.
“So why does that information have anything to do with ghosts?” she wondered.
Thomas casually leaned his shoulder against the wall as he clicked on the lights. “Because this place has great memories for Aaron. When he was alive, he felt close to his parents here, too.”
She moved toward Thomas and stopped in front of him, crossing her arms and giving him a serious gaze. “Then what are the odds the ghosts are his parents?”
He nodded slowly and pulled away from the wall.
“That’s an excellent point, and…” he grasped her shoulders, “that’s why we want you to do some research during your stay.” Grinning, he released her and walked past her. “So, as I said before, I hope you’re not afraid of ghosts.”





TWO

Elizabeth blinked, adjusting her vision to the room’s dim lighting. As Thomas walked toward the grand staircase, she noticed the furnishings of the entryway. Brass-framed mirrors hung on the walls along with other pictures and ornaments; all objects sparkled with polished perfection. The wall paneling was dark colored – royal blue and mauve mixed with natural brown and black. While it was obvious that someone cleaned this place on a regular basis, it definitely showed that a man had been living here alone for many years since the d├ęcor lacked any sort of flowers or other feminine items.
The temperature in the house was cooler than it should be for being an empty house in Arizona. The central air was definitely working properly.
“Nolan Ricks is the name of the caretaker,” Thomas said, moving through the entryway toward the grand staircase. “He’ll come and go throughout your stay, so don’t be alarmed if you run into him.”
“That’s good to know,” she muttered. Perhaps she should pay more attention to Thomas, but she couldn’t help but study each room as they passed.
The first room to the right was a sitting room furnished with antique couches, tall-backed chairs, and a modern-looking minibar filled with liquor. Across the hall on the left seemed to hold an office, defined by a large dark-oak desk with a few filing cabinets. The next room looked to be a family room, with heavily cushioned couches placed around the largest fireplace she’d ever seen. Above the mantle hung a theatre-size flat screen television. Another room was connected to the family room, and contained two pool tables, an air-hockey table, a ping-pong table, and another minibar.
“Just so you know,” Thomas said as he began his climb up the stairs, “Nolan was Aaron’s best friend. They met in their young teenage years in school, and they bonded like brothers. If there is anything you’ll need to know about Aaron, Nolan will be the man to ask.”
“Oh, good. I’m sure I’ll have many questions.” She glanced up the stairs. “Where are you taking me?”
“To your bedroom, of course. There are six bedrooms on the second floor that hardly ever get used, so I asked Nolan to prepare one especially for your stay here.”
“That’s very kind of you, but I would have been happy sleeping on one of the couches. From what I’ve glimpsed so far, I’m sure they are a lot more comfortable than my bed at home.”
He chuckled. “Aaron did like nice things. Of course, growing up with Gramps as his guardian, I’m sure Gramps’ expectation for buying only the best had rubbed off on Aaron.”
The tone in Thomas’ voice shifted slightly when he mentioned Jethro’s and Aaron’s relationship. Had he, as the cousin and second in line to inherit the billions, been jealous of Aaron? With Aaron’s golden-child status, she couldn’t help but suspect.
“Will I get to meet your grandfather?”
Thomas shrugged. “I don’t know. Gramps has been quite depressed since Aaron’s death and hasn’t had many visitors since then.”
“I can imagine.”
After what seemed like hundreds of steps, they reached the second floor. The hallway was long and wide with three doors on each side. She could only wonder about the size of each bedroom. More pictures hung in the hallway, depicting Aaron during many of his different performances.
“So, if Aaron wasn’t married and didn’t have children, why would he want to live in such a large house with so many bedrooms? I would think he’d be lonely living in such a place by himself.”
“Aaron wasn’t married to a woman, but he was married to his magic. Most of these rooms were where he practiced his illusions until he mastered them. However, he made it a point not to be alone very often. He was always hosting private performances and parties for his closest friends. He always made sure to have at least three of the bedrooms ready in case a friend ever needed to stay overnight.”
 Thomas stopped at the first door on the left and rested his hand on the knob, sighing. “I wasn’t close to Aaron as an adult, but from what I’d heard about his life, he had a kind heart. This house was rarely empty.”
He opened the door to the bedroom and motioned for Elizabeth to enter. She walked inside and gasped, nearly choking on the air in her throat. This single bedroom was larger than her whole apartment.
A king-size bed with a four-post wooden frame sat in the middle of the adjacent wall. Its comfy cushions reflected in the mirrored ceiling above the bed. The rest of the room was arranged with antique furniture; couches, loveseats, and heavily cushioned armchairs… not to mention the fireplace on the other wall with an opening large enough to fit a ten-person kitchen table. The entrance to two walk-in closets, as well as the adjoining bathroom were nestled along the back wall. When she stepped inside the bathroom, she gasped again; the sound of her wonder echoing on the porcelain tile. Luxuriously fluffy towels hung on the towel rack, and on the opposite side, hung a gigantic mirror lined with more lights than a Christmas tree. A bathtub as big as a hot tub sat near the back window, complete with spa jets, spouts, and knobs. The thought of immersing herself in the wonderful jets of water and not coming out for at least a whole day began to tempt her mind.
“Is the room to your liking?” Thomas asked, smiling.
She walked back toward him. “Liking? The words I’m looking for go much deeper than just liking. In fact, you just might have a very difficult time getting me to leave once my stay is over.”
He laughed. “Well, we’ll see about that. Maybe a night or two of ghostly encounters may change your mind.”
His comment sent a chill down her spine as she pulled back the curtains and gazed over the courtyard below. Despite the crispness of the well-manicured lawn, the enormous swimming pool and the covered Jacuzzi, and the Arizona sunshine, she couldn’t shake the feeling that had come over her. Even if Aaron’s ghost did reside here, she would just have to make friends with it. Staying here one week – or however long it took to get the place ready to sell – would be so much more relaxing than any vacation she’d ever taken. And oh… the inspiration for stories that she’d receive here was just the icing on the cake.
She turned and leaned against the window. She smiled, happy to find Thomas still staring at her. Was he married? Would he be interested in dating someone like her?
Shaking the thought from her head, she sighed. Before she could even think of dating other men, she’d have to figure out a way to get Sam out of her life, first. While there had been something at the beginning, the love she had thought she’d felt for him had diminished quickly over time. Mostly, due to Sam’s controlling personality.
“So… what do you want me to do first?” she asked.
“For today, you can relax and get to know the house. I want you to wander around and familiarize yourself with the layout. There are many secret passageways in this place, so you’ll need to familiarize yourself with those as well.”
Was he serious? “Why are there passageways?”
“Are you forgetting what kind of man Aaron was?” Thomas shook his head. “His heart and mind were constantly in his magic.”
She nodded. “Understandable.”
“The only place in this house that you’ll need to stay away from is the basement.”
“Basement?” She blinked as surprise washed over her. “Why does this place have a basement?”
 “There are actually two parts to the basement. There is the wine cellar, of course, but the other room is where Aaron had hidden his props. After all, it wouldn’t be smart to have them out for all of his guests to see them.” Thomas chuckled. “The storage area has been securely locked and they won’t be brought out until the auction before the house sells, so please don’t try to get into there.”
“Hey, I’m here to do whatever Mr. Powers needs help with, so if you tell me no, then I won’t do it.”
He stepped forward and held out a ring of keys. “These are to the house,” he said and then fished around in his pants’ pocket. Holding out a business card, he continued, “And this is my phone number. Call me if you need anything.”
“I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“I expect Nolan will be by shortly to give you more instructions.”
“I can’t wait to meet him.”
He turned to walk through the bedroom door and paused, looking back at her. “I wish you luck, Elizabeth Martin. You’re going to need it.” He winked, turned, and left the bedroom.
She softly turned the keys over in her hand. Luck? No, she wouldn’t need luck – not when she was in a place as grand as this.
After a few minutes, she heard Thomas open and close the front door. The silence of the house quickly became unsettling, and she resolved to make some sort of noise before her mind started playing tricks on her.
She hurried back down the stairs and outside to retrieve her luggage, laptop, and briefcase holding all the legal documents Todd had given her to complete the firm’s transaction with Mr. Powers.
Once the trunk of her car was shut and doors were locked, she gazed up at the mansion. This time, she studied each window carefully. Was she really by herself now? Or would Aaron’s ghost try to frighten her?
Whatever happened, she prayed she’d have the strength and courage to make it through this assignment.
“Aaron,” she whispered, “if you’re really here, I’m not going to let you chase me away.”
Suddenly, she saw movement in one of the second-floor windows. Her heartbeat quickened. Were her eyes playing tricks on her, or did she really see something?
Elizabeth kept her eyes on the window, and seconds later, she witnessed the same movement again. A lump of fear formed in her throat.
Nodding, she arched an eyebrow. And so, the haunting begins.

* * * *

The kitchen was amazing!
Elizabeth had never spent a lot of time in her small apartment’s kitchen, but the expansiveness of this particular room was making her reconsider a career in the culinary arts. The cupboards and counters matched the room’s nineteenth-century aesthetic, although she was sure that people from that era would have been amazed by the silver double ovens and the chrome-finished dishwashers that had been installed. The center island in the kitchen had a polished countertop, and the island held many more drawers, in addition to a trash compactor, an extremely large sink, and cabinets filled with other gadgets she couldn’t name. The built-in China hutch on the side wall made her green with envy, as well as the two chandeliers hanging above the island… and the three large refrigerators.
She could definitely get used to something like this.
The ding of the microwave against the far corner of the long counter jerked her out of her dreams and she withdrew the cup of hot water. She dipped a teabag inside and took the mug and spoon to the adjoining room, a dining area with one ornate, twelve-chair table.
She hadn’t even been here two hours, and already she was lonely. How could anyone want to live in a place like this without having a family? Thomas mentioned that Aaron had his friends over quite frequently, so perhaps that was his solution to the house’s solemnity.
The sound of the front door opening and closing made her jump, and her heart rate accelerated as footsteps thudded on the entryway floor. She tried to convince herself it wasn’t Aaron’s ghost. Why would a ghost just walk through the front door?
On unsteady legs, she rose from the table and moved into the hallway. Instead of finding a ghost, she found a man wearing a green short-sleeve polo shirt, khaki shorts, and black flip-flops. He had his attention on the letters in his hands, placing one behind the other as he read their fronts. He looked to be in his mid-thirties. His light brown hair was longer than she liked, barely brushing his shoulders, but at least it wasn’t long enough to put up in a man bun.
Finally finished with the mail, he lifted his gaze and walked toward her.
“You must be Elizabeth Martin.”
“I am.” She walked toward him.
“I’m Nolan Ricks, the caretaker of the estate.”
She shook hands with him. “And, you were best friends with the deceased.”
His smile disappeared and he nodded. “That, too.”
“Please accept my deepest condolences.”
“Thank you.” He nodded and took a deep breath. “Thomas sent me a text to let me know you were here and settling in.”
“Actually, I just finished unpacking.” She pointed to the dining room. “I was just having some lemon balm tea. Would you like some?”
“Tea? In this heat? I’m sure there is some iced-tea in the fridge.”
“I’m an herbal woman. Plus, it helps me focus.”
He shrugged. “Whatever is best for you, I guess. I don’t need anything to drink right now, but I’ll sit with you while you finish your tea.”
He followed her into the dining room and sat beside her. Nolan was a nice-looking man. Not as handsome as Thomas, and of course, nowhere near as handsome as Aaron’s many pictures that she’d seen since she first heard about him.
She drank the last of her tea and leaned back in her chair, looking at Nolan. “What exactly does Mr. Powers need me to do in order to get the estate ready to be sold?” She glanced toward the window before looking back at him. “From what I’ve seen of the inside, and the outside, the place looks ready to me. So now I think I’m missing a piece of the puzzle – something neither you nor Thomas has told me.”
Nolan’s eyebrow rose slightly. “What do you think that is? Thomas did tell you about Aaron’s ghost, right?”
“He mentioned the ghost.” She drummed her fingers on the table. “But I can’t help but doubt his stories.”
Nolan linked his fingers on the table and leaned forward toward her. “You’re not a ghost believer?”
“No, not entirely.”
“I’m sure within the next twenty-four hours you’ll change your mind.”
Elizabeth couldn’t stop being suspicious of Nolan, and even Thomas. But Nolan was the one who looked as if he knew something more.
“Nolan? Have you personally seen Aaron’s ghost?”
Sighing, his gaze dropped to his hands. He was silent for a few moments. “Although Aaron and I were best friends, I haven’t seen him.” He lifted his gaze to her. “I’ve felt him here. I’ve heard noises in his room when nobody else is in there. And… I’ve smelled him.”
Smelled him?”
Nolan nodded. “Aaron’s favorite cologne was a fragrance by Giorgio Armani. It’s an unmistakable scent. Whenever I know Aaron’s spirit is nearby, I can smell his cologne.”
Elizabeth honestly didn’t know what to believe. Nolan looked so sincere – so trustworthy, and remarkably enough, he didn’t look crazy. Of course, neither did Thomas, although she felt the cousin had a bad case of jealousy.
“Nolan? Do you think Aaron’s death was an accident like all the articles I’ve read have described?”
His mouth tightened and his forehead creased. “I’d bet all the money I have that my best friend was murdered.”
She held her breath. If she had been watching all of this on the movie screen, this would be the part where she’d hear the music – dun, dun, duuuun… Yet, this was not a movie. This was really happening, and she was now involved.
This would definitely make a great book once it was over.
“Tell me, Nolan. If you were the police investigator for this case, who would you suspect of killing Aaron?”
His face hardened and his green eyes turned so dark, she thought they were black.
“ZoAnn, his assistant.”
Sucking in a quick breath, Elizabeth knew her work was cut out for her, and she couldn’t wait to start poking her nose into things that weren’t her business. If there were any way, maybe she’d be able to uncover more about his death and potentially solve his murder. Maybe if she did that, he would have enough peace to cross over…
If his ghost really was here, of course.





THREE

Elizabeth stood in the kitchen, washing out her porcelain cup and spoon. Nolan reached into the fridge and pulled out a cold bottled water.
“I knew from the start,” Nolan said, “that ZoAnn only wanted Aaron because of his grandfather’s money. It was common knowledge around these parts that he was the grandson who would inherit more of his grandfather’s billions. Thomas would inherit some as well, just not as much.”
Elizabeth grabbed a dish towel to dry her dishes. “So, if it was obvious to you that she was after his billions, why didn’t he see that?”
“I believe that was part of her game.” Nolan shook his head as he unscrewed the lid and tipped the bottle to his mouth. He took several gulps before moving away from the fridge. “Aaron actually met ZoAnn through Thomas. She had been going out with Thomas, but when she showed interest in being Aaron’s assistant, Thomas knew he couldn’t compete with his cousin, so he broke it off with her. ZoAnn wasn’t actually Aaron’s first choice when it came to his assistants, but she resembled his existing assistant, Gina, so Aaron hired her.”
Elizabeth placed the cup back in the cupboard and the spoon in the drawer, before waving her hand to stop him. “Hold on. I’m confused. Why does it matter if his assistants look alike?”
Nolan grinned. “I’ll tell you, but I’ll be giving away a magician’s secret here, so don’t tell anyone.”
“A secret?” Elizabeth moved closer to Nolan as excitement pumped through her. “I love secrets.” Of course, she would take mental notes for the story she was formulating, but Nolan would never know.
“Have you ever seen a magic act where the magician makes his assistant disappear, and within a split second, she’s across the room?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“The only way that trick is possible is with two assistants that look very similar to each other. After the main assistant disappears, she hides in one of the stage props. The second assistant that nobody knows about is the one that suddenly appears whenever she’s needed. It’s all about timing and distance. If she’s far enough away from the audience, they think they are the same woman.” He shrugged. “It’s all a clever illusion.”
 “Okay, that makes sense. So, were there any relationship problems between Aaron, Gina, and ZoAnn?”
“Gina flirted with Aaron every chance she got. She’d do anything for his love and attention. However, Aaron really didn’t want a relationship with someone as clingy as Gina. Once ZoAnn entered his life, her treating him as a friend and not throwing herself on him was a refreshing change. It ended up distracting him from what I saw in her when he wasn’t looking. I could see the lustful dollar signs in her eyes.”
 “I’m assuming they dated.” Elizabeth leaned her elbow on the counter.
“They did. He’d even thought about proposing at one point.”
“What stopped him?”
“Grandpa Powers.”
Elizabeth widened her eyes and hiccupped a small laugh. “He stopped it?”
Nolan nodded. “Gramps had suspected the whole time that ZoAnn was being underhanded, so he added a clause to his will. The change made it clear that if Aaron married, his spouse wouldn’t have access to his inheritance. Even more, upon Aaron’s death the money would be passed on to Gramps’ other grandson, Thomas. With that one change, Jethro made sure that money-hungry women his grandson would encounter would never get their clutches on his billions.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Let me guess… after ZoAnn found out about the change, she was the one to break off their relationship?”
Nolan winked. “Actually, it was Aaron. He noticed a change in her demeanor. She began acting more indifferent to his grandfather and him. That’s when Aaron finally realized that ZoAnn wasn’t the woman for him, so he broke it off with her. He was not only protecting his heart, but his wallet.” He took another swig of his water before recapping the lid.
“Okay, so ZoAnn was upset at Mr. Powers’ changing his will, but that doesn’t really explain why she’d want Aaron dead.”
“ZoAnn didn’t want to break up with Aaron. Although she’d never get his money if they were married, she still wanted to enjoy the life of a rich man’s wife. Aaron tried to break off their relationship nicely. She was a good assistant, and he didn’t want to lose that. He promised he’d pay her well for being his assistant and that he’d never find anyone else who could replace her.” He drained the last of his water and tossed the bottle in the kitchen’s recycling bin. “Then one day, ZoAnn decided to try and get back together with Aaron, so she stopped by to see him at the house. He was in the Jacuzzi with Gina… and she was in his arms.”
Elizabeth sucked in a quick breath, her mouth forming a surprised O.
“That happened a week before he died.”
“So ZoAnn assumed he was replacing her, both as an employee and as a girlfriend.”
“Exactly.” Sighing, he crossed his arms over his chest. A few moments passed and he smiled. “Hey, would you like to see one of Aaron’s favorite rooms in the house?”
Her heartbeat quickened. “I’d love to.”
She followed Nolan out of the kitchen and across the spacious hallway, into the room where she’d seen the pool table earlier. She wasn’t much of a pool player, but she had messed around in billiards bars with her friends during her college years and knew enough to get by.
Once inside the room, her mouth dropped open in awe. There were more than just pool tables, air hockey, and ping-pong tables. One entire wall that was on the opposite end of the room was nothing but mirror from ceiling to floor. Strange golden vine-like designs were traced across its surface, and the occasional bit of gold-leaf catching the light from the nearby window, making it sparkle.
She slowly walked over to one of the arcade games and brushed her hands across its faded buttons. It’d been a while since she’d seen arcade games like this. Some of the titles Aaron owned were among the first video games that had come out in the ‘80’s. She grinned, imagining Aaron trying to beat his high score surrounded by a group of his friends. Her gaze shifted to the minibar filled with glass bottles and decanters of various shades of amber liquid.
“Nolan?” she asked, walking to the bar and picking up one of the bottles. “Was Aaron a heavy drinker?”
“No, why do you ask?”
“Because I’ve noticed a lot of liquor bars in this house so far, and I haven’t been through every room, yet.”
Nolan chuckled. “Aaron was just a social wine drinker. He always preferred wine over the heavy stuff, but he always made sure to have a decent selection for his friends. I’d imagine his preference had something to do with being raised by Gramps and being around the wineries so often. Plus,” Nolan sighed and frowned, “that’s how his parents died. His father had too much to drink one night and tried to drive himself and his wife back to their hotel where they were staying. They didn’t make it. It was one of the reasons Aaron only drank wine – and very little of it, at that.”
Elizabeth nodded. While the story of his parents’ death was sad, she seemed to be liking Aaron a little more with every story she heard. “Wise man.”
“Yes, he was.” Nolan moved to the pool table and placed the eight-ball in the center. “So, would you like to know why this was Aaron’s favorite room?”
“Sure.”
Nolan gestured for her to move to the other side of the pool table, and then grinned. “Even as a boy first learning magic, Aaron loved to use his skills to play jokes on his friends. As an adult, he improved his craft. Watch…”
Nolan lowered his eyebrows and focused on the eight-ball. He leaned in closer, making sure not to touch the felted green surface. Suddenly, the black ball twitched. First once, then twice, then it shot across the table toward one of the corner pockets. Then, as if by magic, the eight-ball reversed directions and rolled back to the center of the table, stopping right in the center, perfectly still.
Gasping, Elizabeth jumped away from the table, her hands over her mouth in awe. Nolan laughed and motioned for her to come and stand next to him.
“Don’t be afraid,” he said. “It’s all an illusion that Aaron designed. He had this table custom made to perform the trick. All you have to do is press this hidden button.”
Cautiously, she moved beside Nolan and studied the area underneath the table where his hand was touching. The intricate scrollwork of the wood seemed to be seamless.
“Go on,” he urged. “Put your hand right here. You’ll feel a slight indentation. Slide it to the right and see what happens.”
She slowly moved her hand to the spot he had indicated and did as he’d directed. Once again, as if by magic, the eight-ball shot across the table and smacked another ball right into the corner pocket. She laughed and stepped back again. “Aaron was the little trickster, wasn’t he?”
Nolan leaned on the table, giving her a lazy grin. “He especially loved scaring beautiful women because it gave him the chance to take them in his arms and comfort them.”
Elizabeth’s heart flipped as butterflies danced in her belly. Why was Nolan looking at her with dreamy eyes? Had he wanted to comfort her for her momentary freak-out just a second ago?  Despite the fluttering feelings, she knew she’d have to turn him down. Although he was easy to talk with and was rather good-looking, she just couldn’t think about getting involved with someone right now. And to be fair, she needed to give Sam his walking papers, first.
She moistened her suddenly dry throat with a hard swallow. “Was the pool table the only reason this was Aaron’s favorite room?”
“No, there’s more.” He motioned his head toward the mirrored wall. “Come with me.”
He took her hand without asking, and while not completely unexpected, she decided she wouldn’t get upset about it yet. After all, Nolan was quite entertaining, even if the only thing he was doing was telling her about a dead man’s life.
When they reached the mirror, he lifted her hand to the glass and pressed her palm against a cluster of ornate designs near the top corner. The mirror shifted. Once again, she gasped and jumped back. Slowly, a large piece of the mirrored wall pulled itself backward a few inches and then slid to the side, revealing a darkened pathway.
She threw Nolan a confused look. “Are you kidding me?”
“Not at all. Weren’t you told about the passages?”
“Well… yes. Thomas did mention them.”
“This is one of the entrances.” His grin widened. “Care to take a tour through the secrets of the mansion?”
She wasn’t afraid of the dark, but this kind of darkness terrified her. If she entered, she knew she’d find rats or spiders or… lizards, since this was Arizona. Besides her phobias, she wasn’t sure she knew Nolan well enough yet to trust being alone with him inside darkened passageways where she knew he expected her to jump into his welcoming arms for comfort at the first sign of trouble.
“Thanks for the tempting offer, but I’m going to pass this time.”
He shrugged, pressed another spot on the mirror, and the panel slid closed again. “Just let me know whenever you want a tour.”
“I will.”
Nolan stared at her as if trying to read her thoughts. She hoped he couldn’t tell what she was thinking right now. Finally, he pulled away from the wall and withdrew his cell phone, checking the time.
“Oops, I’ve chatted with you longer than I should have. I have a few things to do before I leave.” He stuffed the phone back in his pocket. “Is there anything I can get you before I go?”
“Nothing I can think of – except your phone number.” His eyebrow shot up as a cocky grin stretched his mouth. Inwardly, she groaned, knowing she’d given him the wrong impression, so she quickly added, “I need your number just in case I do need something.”
His expression relaxed and he nodded as he pulled out his phone. “What’s your number and I’ll text it to you.”
She gave him her number and he punched it in his phone, and then called her. When her phone rang, she saved it. “Thanks again.”
“Well, have fun.” He turned toward the door. “Call me any time – day or night. With any luck, the ghost won’t bother you too much.”
“I think I can handle it.”
“Okay. See ya.”
As she watched Nolan leave, she prayed she was right. Hopefully, she really could handle a ghost.

* * * *

This is so much better than a nice hotel.
Elizabeth sighed and relaxed in the surprisingly comfortable Jacuzzi. The warm water bubbled over her bikini-clad body, and she sank further into the soothing water.
After Nolan had left, she’d wandered inside each room on the first and second floors, taking pictures and sending them to Todd. For some reason, none of the keys Thomas had given her had worked for the third-floor door, and she still couldn’t figure out how to get inside.
Todd had called her once he received the pictures, but he didn’t know what exactly she needed to do, either. “Just pretend you’re on vacation for now,” he’d told her. “Enjoy the beautiful, big house while you can.”
So, following his advice, relaxing in the Jacuzzi was the first thing on her list to enjoy while she could.
She’d turned the music on her phone to a classic rock playlist; love ballads were her favorite. Smiling, she closed her eyes and relished the gentle massage from the jetted tub.
As she relaxed, she reflected on the other things she had done today. She’d spent a lot of time searching the internet as she ate dinner – a wonderful spread of grilled chicken breast and steamed broccoli and cauliflower. She was surprised at how the kitchen seemed to have so many of her favorite foods. She had mainly been searching the internet for anything related to Aaron Powers’ death. One of the pieces of research she’d found was a video from someone who’d been in the audience during Aaron’s last performance. While the video wasn’t very long, the owner had recorded the disturbing scene, and her mind hadn’t been able to stop replaying it.
She pictured the video in her mind again: she saw the assistant, who Elizabeth assumed was ZoAnn, strutting around the box that had several hilts protruding from its top. She reached for the one in the center and pulled it out with flair – and then froze as she saw the crimson blood on the blade. She stared at the blood for a few unsettling seconds, and then screamed as she dropped the sword and slowly backed away from the box. At this point, some people in the crowd had also began screaming and four men from backstage rushed onto the stage, attempting to open the lid to the box. Security guards began running down the aisles attempting to calm the crowd, as someone backstage started to close the curtains. As the curtains were halfway closed, the video ended abruptly.
Elizabeth couldn’t help but put herself in his situation; inside a box and couldn’t get out, knowing the swords would slice through the box at any second. And then, she imagined the pain…
She shivered and shook her head, trying not to think of something so traumatizing. The articles she read all said it was an accident, and yet, Nolan firmly believed Aaron was murdered.
Suddenly, the motor in the Jacuzzi stopped, and the bubbles ceased bubbling. She snapped alert. She pushed the button on the control panel to start it up again, but nothing happened. She looked around, trying to see where it was plugged in. Her gaze followed the power cord to one of the walls of the gazebo… and stopped on the plug that was now on the cement floor.
Her heartbeat accelerated, and she paused her music, listening for any nearby sounds. Someone must have unplugged it, but she didn’t see any signs of someone being there.
She climbed out of the Jacuzzi, picking up her towel to dry her hands before plugging it into the outlet again. The motor started up again, and she moved back to the tub. As soon as she slid one leg inside, it turned off again. She snapped her gaze toward the outlet. The plug was lying on the ground again… but nobody was around.
Fear pumped through her body as her mind raced to explain the mysterious unplugging. She couldn’t believe… she didn’t want to believe.
Slowly, she moved out of the tub and picked up her towel again, wrapping it around her body. “Who is there?” She paused and then added, “Because I know someone is there. I don’t scare easily,” she lied. Her inquiries were met with silence.
From the other side of the gazebo, she heard the limbs from the bushes shake – and yet, there was no wind. She spun around. The movement of the bushes transferred from one plant to the other, slowly moving closer to where she stood.
She clutched the towel tighter as her heartbeat shifted into overdrive. She needed something to use as protection, but she hadn’t even brought her shoes out with her. Running in the opposite direction and screaming was the first thing to cross her mind, but fear paralyzed her as she realized she was all alone. Who would hear her cry for help?
Nobody.



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