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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

NEW RELEASE!!

I'm so excited to introduce my new billionaire series - The Tycoons.  Book #1, THE BILLIONAIRE'S PURSUIT will be 99 cents for a limited time, so grab you copy NOW!

Buy Now!




When Nicole Adkins tumbles into billionaire Mick Remington’s lap and looks into his smoldering eyes, she all but stops breathing. He looks like the sexy model on the front of a romance novel cover. Unfortunately, she’s heard about his brazen reputation with women and she’s not about to let herself be taken in.
Nicole’s grandfather is nearing his last days on earth, and his poor health has taken its toll on the family business – her inheritance. But when Mick Remington shows up in town, she fears the worst. He’s here to take control of her grandfather’s business. The company is ripe for a takeover, and Nicole isn’t about to let that happen no matter how sweet and charming Mick pretends to be.
Mick claims to want to help, but with her entire future on the line, Nicole doesn’t know whom to trust. As she spends more time with Mick, she begins to fear her heart may be as at risk as her company.



CHAPTER ONE


Finding the man she’d planned to ruin wasn’t easy. The Country Club’s lounge was packed with people tonight. Nicole Adkins rolled her eyes. Great! Perhaps she wouldn’t have to worry about this after all.
Nicole shook the negative thoughts out of her head. She would do this. It was the only way, and she was desperate to put a stop to Mick Remington.
She blinked several times, trying to get her vision adjusted to the room’s dim lighting. It was imperative that she find her man. Well, Mick Remington wasn’t exactly her man, but he was the only man she was after tonight.
She glanced down at her black, short-sleeve mini-dress with a keyhole neckline collar that hugged her petite figure. With a groan, she tugged at the hem of her dress that ended three-inches above her knee. Her grandfather had purchased this dress for her five years ago, but she’d never had the occasion to wear it.
Tonight was certainly not the right occasion, either, but wearing something so daring would get Mick Remington’s attention. She released a tiny groan. If her father could see her now, he’d wonder where he’d gone wrong. Her father had raised her with high standards, it just so happened that this evening she’d have to put some of her religious beliefs on hold so she could save her inheritance.
If only there was another way.
Thanks to the tabloids, Nicole knew Mick Remington dated fancy-dressed, beautiful women. Although Nicole didn’t consider herself beautiful, she thought this expensive dress might get his attention. Tonight it was important to convince him to spend some time with her, if only for a few hours or however long it took to get information that she could use against him.
She just prayed her angel father wouldn’t judge her right now.
If only her friend hadn’t forced Nicole to go along with this outrageous plan. If it was up to her, she’d find a much prettier woman, dress her up like a model, and make her charm the billionaire. Growing up as the pastor’s daughter, Nicole was the exact opposite of enticing.
A few patrons glanced her way – both male and female. The men’s ogling stares made her uncomfortable, especially when their female dates elbowed them in the ribs and shot Nicole a warning glare.
Losing her nerve, Nicole scampered down a shadowed hallway toward the bathrooms and pressed her back against the wall. With her heartbeat in overdrive, she tightened the cell phone in her hand and dialed her friend’s number. Her friend answered immediately.
“Mary,” Nicole kept her voice low, “I can’t do this. I feel so… cheap.” Her friend’s fit of laughter was so loud, Nicole pulled the phone away from her ear for a moment. When the sound died down, Nicole gritted her teeth. “I mean it, Mary. You picked the wrong woman.”
“First off,” her friend said with a light voice, “you’re definitely not cheap, especially since you’re wearing a Trina Kurk’s designer dress. And no, I didn’t pick the wrong woman. You are perfect for this role.”
“But wearing this dress makes me feel like I could charm the socks off any man who walks by.”
“Great, Nikki. Go with that and use it to your advantage.”
Nicole grumbled underneath her breath. “But this isn’t me. I don’t wear fancy clothes like I’m going to one of Paris Hilton’s parties. I’m more comfortable in a pair of shorts and a tee-shirt and flip-flops.”
“Nikki, don’t worry about what you’re wearing. Keep in mind that you’re a woman on a mission. You must stay focused.”
Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply and slowly. “Yes, I’m on a mission, but I don’t want that man to think I’m like most women with loose morals who regularly hits on him.”
“You’re not,” Mary reasoned. “All you’re trying to do is catch his eye and make him want to date you. Just keep in mind that you should be nice to him until after you’ve found the information we’re looking for.”
“Yes, I hope we can, too.” Frowning, Nicole opened her eyes and sighed. Mick Remington was in town to buy out her grandfather’s company… a company that was going to be hers one day. She couldn’t let Remington take this away from her.
“Nikki? Are his associates still with him?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him yet.” Nicole moved out of the hall and back into the main lounge. She scanned the bar before studying the booths. “Remind me what he looks like again.”
“Seriously, Nikki? Can’t you remember seeing him on that tabloid magazine two months ago?”
“Well, I think I remember,” Nicole muttered.
“Mick Remington is probably the hottest guy in the lounge tonight. Six-foot-four, broad shoulders, dark brown hair, and a trimmed goatee. The article I read about him mentioned his gray eyes will make any woman drool.”
Nicole snorted a laugh. “Well, I can guarantee he won’t make me drool.”
She continued searching for the man her friend had described, but she couldn’t find anyone who fit that description. Mary’s boyfriend had insisted Remington was here, so she didn’t dare leave just yet. The longer she studied each person in the room, ease began to settle her nerves. Could she hope he had already left?
“He’s not here,” she told Mary, trying not to feel relieved that she wouldn’t have to go through with this after all.
“No, he’s there. I just talked to Kent.”
Nicole stepped into the lounge a little further, continuing to hold the phone to her ear. Out of the corner of her eye, a handsome man with broad shoulders and dark brown hair captured her attention as he walked away from the bar and to a booth, holding a drink. He scooted on the seat and set his drink next to a folder of papers on the table.
Crap! Nicole frowned. He was here. “I think I see him.”
“Is he still with his associates?”
“No. Remington is by himself.”
“Great!” Mary’s voice lifted with excitement. “Now make your move, babe. Strut your stuff in front of him.”
Nicole rubbed her forehead, but it didn’t relieve the pain knocking against her skull. “Mary, I don’t—”
“Stop it, Nikki. Tell yourself you can do this. You must. Kent is there and will help you, I promise. As soon as we hang up, I’ll call him to make sure he’s ready.”
Nicole glanced at the four cowboys standing at the bar, flirting with the cute server girl wearing tight leggings. “I see Kent and his friends. They’re near Remington’s table.”
“Perfect. Give me a minute to call, and then you can make your move.”
Nicole clicked off her phone before sliding the cell into her purse. Sucking in a deep breath, she squared her shoulders. Mary was right. This must be done. It didn’t matter how underhanded the plan; someone needed to stop this man.
Wealthy businessmen like Mick Remington were parasites. The only reason men like him were billionaires was because they destroyed people’s lives. She had no other choice. She must stop him from ruining more people in his pursuit of money and glory.
Mick Remington had learned from the best. His father had been the destroyer feared by all large business owners. Whenever they heard Remington was in town, every business doubled up on their shareholders. Now his son held the destroyer title since she’d heard the elder Remington was retiring.
She wrung her hands against her waist, mentally going over her checklist. She’d charm Mick and convince him to tell her about his next business takeover. If that didn’t work, she’d go against her morals and let him take her to his hotel room and she’d slip a sleeping pill in his drink. Once he was passed out, she’d look for information that would help them fight the takeover of Adkins Dev-Tech, her grandfather’s company. And, if that didn’t work, Mary was ready with her camera to take pictures of Remington to sell to the tabloids. It was rumored that Mick hated to have his picture taken without consent.
Nicole shivered with anxiety. She prayed it wouldn’t come to that. Would she even know what to do at that point? Besides, blackmailing a successful businessman like Mick Remington could be dangerous.
From over at the bar, Kent’s phone chirped, and Nicole swung her gaze in his direction. He pulled it from his pocket and answered it. As Nicole focused on the four cowboys, Kent’s gaze met hers as he talked to Mary. He gave Nicole a nod.
Everything was set just as they’d planned.
Nicole’s heart pounded so hard, it threatened to bruise a rib or two. Maybe, break one. This was it. It was now or never.
Taking a deep breath for courage, she ran moist palms over her dress to help dry her skin faster. She also tried to pull the hem of the dress down to cover more of her bare legs, but the material wouldn’t budge. On shaky three-inch high-heels, she headed toward Mick Remington’s table, keeping her focus on the back of his brown head of hair and wide shoulders.
With each step, she clenched her jaw a little tighter. How could she act sweet and docile toward him when she loathed the very ground he slithered upon? What if he found her attractive? He’d want to touch her. The very thought of being so intimate made her stomach roll.
Nicole’s plan had to succeed. Grandpa James’s disease had grown worse. He had one foot in the grave, and she would inherit the company after he was gone. But not if Mick Remington sank his uncaring claws into it first. If that man took over, the town’s very existence would be depleted.
Yeah, no pressure. It wasn’t like everyone in Maple Springs source of income rested heavily upon her shoulders.
As she passed Kent, he laughed out loud and jumped back. He stomped his cowboy-booted heel directly on her foot. Crying out, she stumbled away from him… and fell right into Mr. Remington’s lap. The man’s muscular arms wrapped around her waist as a gush of air escaped his mouth, brushing her cheek. He smelled like mints – not alcohol. How refreshing.
The throbbing pain in her foot brought her back to what she was doing on his lap in the first place. Tears gathered in her eyes from the pain Kent had inflicted upon her. He knew how small her feet were since he’d teased her about them. Now she worried he’d broken some bones.
“Uh—sorry Miss,” Kent slurred and returned to the bar, chuckling.
Tomorrow she would make him pay dearly for this. But at least she had Remington’s attention.
Nervously, she turned and met Remington’s dark stare. Worry etched his handsome expression at first, but within seconds, kindness replaced it as his gaze practically caressed every inch of her face.
A sharp breath caught in her throat. This couldn’t possibly be Mick Remington. From what she’d heard, the man didn’t have an ounce of kindness.
Nicole blinked a couple times and focused back on the dream-man still gazing at her with a look that didn’t fit his reputation. Had she fallen on the wrong person?
Sweeping her gaze over his features, she double-checked to see if he was really Mick Remington. He resembled the man Mary had described, but somehow his skin seemed darker as if he’d just returned from enjoying the sandy beaches of Jamaica. Definitely, a possibility since Mick constantly traveled all over the world – according to the tabloids, anyway.
She swallowed hard. “I’m… I’m sorry for falling for you… I mean on you.” Embarrassment heated her face. Had she really said that? What an idiot she’d been… a very confused idiot.
Nicole struggled to move off his lap, but when she put her weight on her injured foot, the pain intensified. Stumbling, her shoe fell off in the process, and she sank back to his lap. “I can’t seem to stand.”
“How badly are you hurt?” His voice held a hint of concern.
“I can’t put pressure on my foot. I don’t know… it might be broken.”
Mr. Remington’s large hand slid down her leg until it hooked over the heel of her sore foot. His touch was so tender. So warm. Tremors of unexpected delight danced across her skin. She quickly silenced a traitorous sigh before it exited her mouth.
“Let me take a look.” He bent, inspecting it closer.
His hot breath caressed her skin. Goosebumps rose over her body from her neck, clear down to her toes.
She froze. It wasn’t just the pain from her bruise torturing her now, but the way his gentle fingers brushed over it.
He straightened. “It’s going to be a nasty bruise, but I don’t think it’s broken.”
Nicole forced a smile. “Thanks, but I should be leaving—” She moved to stand again, but his arms tightened around her waist.
“Sweetheart, you shouldn’t step on your foot now. It’s starting to swell.”
Her heart flipped from the nickname he’d given her. And why was his voice so stimulating when he said it? The pain must be affecting her hearing, too.
“But, I can’t stay on your lap all night.” From the mere idea, her face grew hotter. “I don’t even know you.”
“How about we change that right now?” His eyebrows lifted. “I’m Mick Remington. And you are…”
The woman that’s going to destroy you!
As much as she wanted to say those words, the sound of his deep, yet soothing voice brought odd sensations trickling over her. Her throat turned dry, as did her mouth.
She refocused on her mission and licked her parched lips. “I’m Nicole.” She couldn’t tell him her last name. He’d know exactly who she was related to. Quickly, she used her mother’s maiden name. “I’m Nicole Stanley.”
His gaze did a quick sweep around the room before landing back on her. “Are you here alone?”
“I’m not supposed to be.” She swallowed hard and began her lie. “But my date stood me up. I was on my way out the door when I was pushed onto your lap.”
He ran his hand softly over her knee, stirring the heat inside her up another level. They were way too close for her comfort.
“I really feel awkward sitting on you like this.” She motioned her head toward the empty space next to him on the booth’s seat. “Would you mind if I scooted over there?”
He gave her another devastating grin that lifted the right side of his mouth higher than the left. Dimples creased in both cheeks. Why did he have to have such an adorable feature about him? Regardless, she must stay focused on her goal.
“I would mind because I think this is very cozy, but I wouldn’t want to make you uneasy in any way,” he said.
Shifting her on his lap, he slid his hands underneath her legs and eased her onto the empty space beside him as if she was as light as a feather. He kept her injured foot propped on his thigh.
Nicole sucked in a breath and heat rushed over every inch of her body. Silently, she cursed her reaction to this gorgeous man. She prayed she wouldn’t be fighting him and her traitorous body all night long. There was no way she could endure that much torture.



WANT TO SEE MY OTHER BILLIONAIRES?  CLICK HERE

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Speed Date with a book!


Tonight I spent a couple of hours at the Brigham City Library with 7 other authors. It was a BLAST!!  I met some authors I've met before at other author events, and I met one author face-to-face who I've only known online. And... I met a FAN!  It was rather exciting!! 

Each of us authors had 5 minutes to talk about our writing careers and our book(s) in order to sell ourselves to those who came to listen. We had a great turnout, too! It was very interesting to listen to the other writers and the stories they wrote and how they created them. If you've never been to an author group like this, it is a MUST!  Talk to your local library to see when they're having an event. I promise you'll love it.

These were all some awesome writers. You'll have to check them out!!

So I took a few pictures. My battery died before I could take more. Of course, I only had like 1/4 of juice in my cell phone, to begin with... (MY BAD!!)




My phone battery died before I could get a picture with Johnny Worthen, but he took some of us together, so hopefully, he'll share them.


See the girl with the gray jacket and the ponytail? Yeah, she's my FAN!! 

This is Jenny Flake Rabe who I've known online and we finally met face-to-face!


She read this book to the little kids who were there. What a cute story!!

Oh, look!  That's MEEE! I'd already sold 5 books by this point... lol

What a cute story she's written!!  You'll need to check her out!

Jenny Flake Rabe and I finally meeting!!

Jenny, it was great to finally meet you!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Haunting Secrets - Episode 4

Instead of having weekly episodes that don't read very well on my website, I decided to make this book FREE!!

All you have to do is click on this link. Easy-Peasy... https://claims.instafreebie.com/free/3O3UomfX

ENJOY!




Sunday, September 23, 2018

Haunting Secrets Episode 3

As promised, here is the next episode for my Paranormal Victorian Romance.




Victoria’s limbs shook as she stared at the opened door, now empty of the powerful presence that had stood in her room earlier.

Was it a dream, or had her imagination gotten the best of her? She pinched her arm, and then grimaced at the small pain on her skin. No. She was awake, which meant she had talked to someone.
The ghost from the East Wing? Not likely. The intruder who’d entered her room not too long ago was not the ghost, but someone trying to frighten her away from the manor, and from discovering secrets.

If a servant was behind this, she’d make certain Jonathan had them dismissed immediately. What if the presence had not been one of the staff? Could it have been Mr. Maitland or even Jonathan? And how in heaven’s name did he get into her room? The intruder had left through the door, but he definitely didn’t enter that way.

If she could assure herself this was a servant’s prank, she’d be able to rest more soundly. But why would anyone want her to leave? And why would they tell her she was in danger?

Taking a deep breath, she slowly calmed her quaking body. She’d find out who had the nerve to sneak into her room and nearly scare her to death.

Victoria slid her feet to the floor and into her slippers. She rushed out of the bedroom, pulling on her wrapper. If she remembered correctly, when her night visitor left, he’d turned toward the long hallway heading to the east of the manor.

Her feet padded on the hardwood floor as she hurried toward what she’d hope would bring her answers. Nothing made sense.

An echo of mumbling made her pause on the stairs leading to the third floor. A man and woman’s voices floated through the air.

Her heart slammed against her ribs. She glanced around the darkened hall for a place to hide. The pounding of footsteps grew closer, and she skirted behind the stairs and flattened against the wall. She held her breath, praying she didn’t make a sound.

A man wearing a dark dressing robe descended the marbled steps and passed close by her. Roderick. Marching next to him, grumbling in distaste was his wife.

“You treat me like an unruly child,” he snapped.

Bethany’s arms were folded across her bosom, her lips curled up in disdain. “If you’d stop acting like one, I wouldn’t have to scold you so often.”

When they turned the corner of the hallway and walked away from Victoria, she released her breath in a loud gush. The scene had been almost comical, serving to diffuse a bit of her tension.

But she knew something now. Even in the darkness, she could tell Roderick wasn’t the man who’d visited her earlier. His shoulders were not wide enough, and he wasn’t as tall.

It was all very strange. Didn’t anyone sleep in this house after midnight?

On shaky legs, she took two steps at a time to the top floor and the servant’s rooms. It looked as if her prankster was indeed someone who worked in the manor. But who?

Inky shadows, longer than seemed natural in the dim light of the hall, stretched in forlorn warning before Victoria. Needing answers, she refused to turn back. The intricately carved mahogany doors marched ahead of her as tall soldiers guiding the way toward the forbidden East Wing. She pressed an ear to each polished frame, stemming the trembling in her hands as she progressed from one lonely door to the next…to the next.

When she reached the end of the hall she frowned. A dead end.

Heaving a sigh, she ran her fingers through her hair, massaging her scalp. Whoever played this trick on her would certainly try again. Perhaps she should return to her room and wait for them tomorrow night. She’d be better prepared then.

A draft swept across her feet. With a frown, she glanced at the corner of the hall. Since no windows or doors were nearby, where had the cool air emerged?

Edging her way in that direction, she tapped her toes on the floor. Within seconds, she stood in front of a potted plant. Cautiously, she touched the leaves then reached behind it to the wall. It felt like an ordinary wall. She slid her hand along the wall then stopped. A seam sprouted from the ceiling and extended to the floor. With both hands, she pushed. The wall moved slightly.

Jumping back, she covered her mouth, stifling a scream.

The East Wing.

Her heartbeat thundered in her chest. Her cold palms moistened. Dare she continue? She must. How else would her questions be answered?

From somewhere behind the wall came the howling of a wolf. She sucked in a cry of panic, turned and hurried back to her room. She didn’t stop until she reached her door. Her throat was dry and scratchy. She clicked the lock tight and rushed back into her warm bed, pulling the blankets up to her chin. Staring at the shadows in the room, she listened for any signs that someone might have followed her.

Nothing. The room remained silent.

She dared not close her eyes. Not yet. Would her night visitor return again this evening? Probably not, but tomorrow was a different day. If she stayed at the manor instead of heeding his warning, she suspected he would indeed visit her again.

Recalling the wolf howl, she exhaled. Where had that animal come from? It couldn’t have been a wolf. Perhaps it was a wild dog, but the Maitlands wouldn’t have allowed an animal inside their manor. That chilling cry was like nothing she’d heard before. The sound had tugged at her heart as if he was injured or in pain.

She shook off the thought and settled deeper into her bed, forcing herself to relax. Her eyelids grew heavy and cuddling her knees onto her stomach, she curled on her side. She closed her eyes and willed herself to fall asleep.

From outside the night’s sounds crept into her room. The hoot of an owl. The branches scratching against the window with the rhythm of the wind.

And the howling of a wolf.

She opened her eyes. The animal was now outside. Nothing made sense anymore.

Bits of the conversation she had with her maid came back to her. Could there really be a cursed white wolf that roamed the grounds? Could he be looking for another woman to kill tonight?


Shivering, she bundled the covers closer around her body. She silently cursed her wayward thoughts. From now on, she would instruct Francine to keep her old wives’ tales to herself. Victoria wouldn’t listen to them any longer.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Haunting Secrets - Episode 2

As promised, here is the next Episode to my Historical Paranormal Suspense, "Haunting Secrets".




A chill shivered across Victoria's skin. “Hush, Francine. You’re talking nonsense.” Even so, she glanced up the winding stairs to the second level. The sun from the window above sparked off the crystals of the large chandelier, spattering rainbows across the vast walls. The brilliant colors were hardly ghostlike, and she tried to shrug off the prickles of awareness dancing over her body. “My father may have written a few ghost stories in his lifetime, but I was never one to believe.”

The butler opened the double doors to the drawing room and made a sweeping gesture with his arm. “You may enter, Miss Fawson.”

She nodded to Francine to remain in the hallway. Victoria stepped across the Persian rug to the black and white checkered marbled parlor floor.

Her gaze immediately fell to the handsome man standing by the fireplace. No more than thirty, if that, he held a brandy snifter and flashed her a dazzling smile, his dark hair gleamed in the sunlight peeking through the window, and his eyes roved the length of her. Victoria gulped, suppressing the urge to squirm. To the gentleman’s right, sat the lovely woman Victoria had met in Exeter a few weeks ago. Bethany Maitland’s red hair was wound fashionably atop her head with wispy tendrils decorating her forehead and ears—the vision of every woman’s envy—she appeared more refined perched in her winged-back chair than she had during their meeting on the street.

Bethany settled a porcelain teacup on the small table beside her and swept an assessing gaze over Victoria. “My dear, Miss Fawson. It’s so lovely to see you again.” She motioned to the man by the fireplace. “May I present my husband, Roderick Maitland.”

Victoria bobbled an uncertain curtsy. “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir.”

The older woman indicated to the chair next to her. “Please sit with me, my dear.”

Through quaky nerves, Victoria put on her best smile and sat in what she prayed was a delicate, ladylike fashion.

Mrs. Maitland patted Victoria’s cold hand. “We shall have such a wonderful time together, you and I. Earlier I told my husband what a joy you were when we met.”

Victoria arched her brow. “Indeed? I’m surprised you found me so interesting. We didn’t converse for very long that day.”

The other woman laughed, the sound forced and dry. “Nonsense. I found our brief conversation extremely delightful.”

Uncomfortably Victoria smiled in return. “As did I, Mrs. Maitland.”

Still lingering near the fire, Mr. Maitland chuckled. “Bethany, you were correct about Miss Fawson. She’s charming.”

For some reason, Mr. Maitland’s cheerfulness seemed forced as if he was struggling to be nice. Still, it bothered Victoria to think Bethany Maitland would suggest matching Victoria and Jonathan in the first place. According to society’s rules Victoria was considered at a highly unmarriageable age. Being the daughter of an adventurous American novelist kept her living a life most men did not agree with. That, and most men didn’t want a woman who possessed the ability to think for herself.

Victoria shouldn’t be fickle. If her upbringing didn’t keep men away, her daring personality would. Her uncle couldn’t wait to get her married off and out of his household, so when he heard about Victoria’s visit to Maitland Manor, it was the first time she could remember that her relative looked excited.

Apparently, she wasn’t the only person in need of help in the marriage market. Why else would the Maitlands seek available women for Roderick’s youngest brother, Jonathan? Why couldn’t he find a suitable bride for himself? Perhaps he was deformed or severely obese. Inadvertently Victoria shuddered. Or did it have something to do with the family’s secrets? Gossip from the Maitland family’s past boasted of dark shadows, and Victoria’s inquisitive mind couldn’t put them to rest; neither could she ignore the teeming questions surrounding her father’s relationship with Justin Maitland.

Where is Justin Maitland anyway? She could hardly blurt out the question seeing as she’d come to the manor to court his brother. Surely, Justin would make an appearance before long. According to her father, Justin served as Master of the house and was indeed, a fine man.

“How was your journey, my dear?” Roderick Maitland’s melodious voice brought her out of her thoughts. She startled. He’d moved across the room to stand directly in front of her.

“Splendid.” She shifted back in her chair. “I was surprised at how far away your estate is from Exeter. Quite a bumpy ride, I’ll admit.”

“Yes, that’s the inconvenience of living so far from civilization,” Bethany said. “Would you like to see your room now?”

Victoria smiled. “Do you not want me to meet Mr. Jonathan first?”

“In due time, my dear.” Roderick helped her stand then hooked her hand over his arm and pressed it against his side. “My brother is still out riding and probably won’t return for several more hours. I’ll have Horace take you to Mrs. White, who’ll show you to your room.”

“Before I go, may I ask a question?”

“But of course, my dear.”

“Is there a chance I could meet Justin Maitland?”

Her host’s eyes widened and his wife sucked in a quick breath.

Their reaction brought a flush to Victoria’s cheeks. “I—I’m sorry. Is something wrong?”

“Oh, my dear Miss Fawson,” Roderick said. “I thought you knew…but my brother died in a house fire a little over a year ago.”

Her heart sank with such force her chest ached. No! Justin Maitland could not be dead. She needed him to be alive. He alone held the answers she so desperately sought. He was her sole reason for traveling to the manor. How else could she discuss her father? Tears stung her eyes. No wonder he had never returned her letters.

She swallowed hard. “Please forgive me for speaking of such a painful subject. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

“Tell me, Miss Fawson.” Bethany scooted to the edge of her chair, eyes bright with curiosity. “How did you know Justin?”

Victoria shrugged. “I didn’t. My father knew him and spoke so highly of Justin that I’d hoped to meet him.” She shifted her gaze from Bethany to Roderick. “Again, I apologize for mentioning your late brother.”

Roderick patted the hand still hooked over his arm. “Quite all right, my dear Miss Fawson. May I offer my condolences for your own loss?”

She nodded and looked away, the agony which must be painted on her face was real, but hardly for the reason the Maitlands would suspect. Victoria sucked in a cleansing breath, pondering her dilemma. With or without Justin she had a mystery to solve. She couldn’t leave. Someone besides Justin had to know about her father. “Did you know my father, Mr. Maitland?”

“By reputation only,” he replied without looking at her. “Horace?” Roderick motioned his butler.

“Yes, sir?”

“Kindly show Miss Fawson and her maid to their quarters. See to it that their needs are met with the utmost haste.”

“As you wish.” Horace looked at Victoria. “Miss, would you follow me, please?”

As Victoria followed the butler, her maid walked beside Victoria. Francine’s face was a touch pinker than earlier, and as she glanced around the hall, her eyes grew wide.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Victoria whispered.

Francine smiled. “Extremely lovely. I’ve never seen anything so grand.”

A woman with a curvy figure bustled in from one of the side rooms, her smile stretching from ear to ear. She wore the crisp gray dress and white apron of a housekeeper. Perhaps in her late forties, the woman still held a bit of her youth even through the silver streaks lightly touching her dark hair.

“Good morning.” The woman bobbed in a curtsy. “I’m Mrs. White, the housekeeper.”

Victoria nodded. “Good day.” Mrs. White surprised Victoria. Housekeepers were supposed to be pleasantly plump and old…at least the ones Victoria knew.

“Miss Fawson, please follow me and I’ll show you and your maid to your quarters.”

Mrs. White hurried down the long corridor, stopping in front of a closed door where she withdrew a thick set of keys from her apron pocket and opened the door. “If you need anything or have a problem, please don’t hesitate to ask me.” She nodded up the hall. “I’ll show your maid to the attic dormitory where the other servants reside.”

“Oh, no!” Victoria touched the housekeeper’s arm. “I must have Francine in the room next to me, if at all possible.”

The older servants’ eyes clouded, her expression blank for several tense moments. Finally she gave a curt nod. “As you wish. The room next door is vacant.”

Victoria forced a smile to ease the apparent tension. “Thank you.”

Mrs. White rushed inside, straight to the closest window. She pulled the tassel cord and opened the green velvet curtains. Sunlight spilled into the room and Victoria squinted against the sudden brightness.

Such beautiful chambers. Much better than the room in her uncle’s little cottage. The bed reminded her of the one she had as a child, nearly fit for a queen with many pillows and white silk hangings around the posts. An armoire and two chests of drawers stood along the walls. A small sofa and reading table sat next to the largest window, and a separate bathing chamber adjoined the room.

Mrs. White turned from the last window. “You may rest for a few hours, then I’m quite certain Master Roderick and his wife would enjoy your company for tea this afternoon. I’ll fetch you then. Mistress Bethany is hoping Mr. Jonathan will also be there.”

Victoria ran her hand over the downy comforter. “I look forward to meeting him.”

Mrs. White released a heavy sigh and shuffled nervously, clasping and unclasping her hands.

Victoria arched her brow. “Is something wrong?”

Mrs. White smiled. “The whole household has been aflutter, hoping you and Mr. Jonathan will make a fine match, but…”

“But what?”

Mrs. White took a step closer. “There’s something I must tell you,” she whispered, her dull brown eyes narrow with warning. “Neither you or your maid are allowed in the East Wing. Under no circumstances should you wander to that side of the manor. If you’re found there, Mistress Bethany will dispatch you home with all haste. Do you understand, Miss Fawson?”

Victoria’s mouth fell agape. The Maitlands were hiding something. Determination to find out what surged like fire in her veins—she was her father’s daughter after all—she’d search the household from top to bottom after everyone retired.