Thursday, August 07, 2008

School's Out!!!

Yahoo! School's out and I've been lazy. A week ago Monday was my last day, and I've not left my chair much. I did cook supper one night and washed dishes one night, but I've mostly gotten some much needed rest. Problem is I'm not sure what to do with myself. I've not had a moment to myself in ten weeks. Whoever said that the summer semester was hectic may have been understating the fact. I often find myself thinking I should be doing some homework, or something school related. Anyway, I'm happy to report, I got my report card and for the summer semester and I got all A's again. Yeehaw!

I did do some work I've had to put off unitl today. I upgraded three websites that I'm responsible for and researched more backgrounds, templates, and themes for future use. I'm pretty proud of myself for accomplishing so much. My website alone took most of the day.
There's so much I want to do while I'm off these few weeks, but I've got to get my butt out of this chair to do it. The heat hasn't been much help. But this coming week, I will get some things done. Like, late Spring Cleaning. There's so much to do, I'm not sure where to start.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful summer. We're still trying to get the pool water clear and go swimming. That would help the heat lots.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

WINNER!!!!


Congratulations to Jean! Winner of my latest contest, WINS a copy of our newest anthology release, ONE TOUCH BEYOND.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

RESTLESS SPIRIT by Elizabeth Delisi


An Excerpt From: RESTLESS SPIRIT

Copyright © ELIZABETH DELISI, 2008

All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.

This spirit might be Laura’s only means of reaching Brian. Could she afford to turn her back on such an opportunity? Shaking her head, she decided she had to give it a try. After all, how much worse could things get? She’d already lost Clint and Brian.

She returned to the table, resumed her seat and placed her fingers on the planchette. Cautiously, she spelled out—Help you with what? She would see what the spirit wanted and decide if she were willing to help it or not. Maybe a trade could be arranged—she helped this Rafe and he in turn connected her with Brian.

Connect me with Joshua.

Joshua? Laura didn’t know anyone named Joshua. Joshua who?

Joshua Williamson. My little brother. Died last week.

Tears stung the corners of Laura’s eyes. This poor spirit, this Rafe, had lost a sibling, just like she’d lost a son. Life just didn’t seem fair, when the young ones had to suffer and die.

But why would one spirit need Laura’s help to contact another spirit? Especially a loved one. Weren’t they all supposed to be waiting for you when you died? Shouldn’t this Rafe have been waiting for Joshua when he passed over?

Why do you need my help?

The answer came through quickly. Cannot pierce the veil between worlds.

Laura considered. Rafe didn’t sound dangerous. And if she truly could help him contact his brother Joshua…well, he’d owe her one, wouldn’t he?

What do you want me to do? she asked.

Contact Joshua, came the prompt reply. Ask him if he is happy. Surely a spirit so innocent has gone straight to his reward.

A chill passed through Laura suddenly and she shuddered, letting her hands fall into her lap. If Rafe were not with Joshua…and if Joshua had gone to heaven…then where was Rafe?

She returned her hands to the planchette. Are you an evil spirit? she asked. She was afraid of the answer, yet she had to know.

No. Are you? came the reply.

No, she said, though she was confused why the spirit should ask. Shouldn’t Rafe know she was a living, breathing human, not an incorporeal soul? Maybe she should get straight to the heart of the matter. This Rafe seemed a little slow. I’m a live woman and I want you to find my son, Brian. I want to know he’s all right.

There was a pause, yet Laura felt a deep sorrow that seemed to pass through the Ouija board itself and straight to her heart.

I am sorry, she read at last, and a knife pierced her heart. I cannot help you. I am a living man. And I reckon you cannot help me.

Laura’s thoughts swirled and dizziness thrust mercilessly into her head. She slipped sideways from the chair, pulling the Ouija board and planchette down on top of her as everything went black.

If you like this sample excerpt, you can read all five stories by purchasing a copy of ONE TOUCH BEYOND, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in electronic formats.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

'NEATH HALLOWED HALLS AND IVIED WALLS by Maureen McMahon


An Excerpt From: 'NEATH HALLOWED HALLS AND IVIED WALLS

Copyright © MAUREEN MCMAHON, 2008

All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.

"Stacey, do you have any idea how Professor Donalson died?"

I sat down on a wicker chair nearby. "He...well... Didn't they tell you?"

"No. My mother called and said someone from Harvard contacted the house. She sounded upset but she wouldn't go into detail-said she didn't want to run up the phone bill."

I smiled to myself. Peter's mother never changed, even though she probably had enough money at her disposal to buy the phone company outright.

"There's a police investigation into his death," I said, "but it appears it was suicide. He was found in his car in the garage with a hose from the exhaust...you get the picture." I shuddered.

I could tell Peter was shocked too. Such an act seemed totally unexpected and out of character for the jolly, fun-loving history professor we'd both come to know and respect during our college years.

"I wonder what could have driven him to..." Peter's voice seemed even more distant and withdrawn and I clutched the phone tighter, itching to reach out and take his hand.

"Try not to think about it," I said. "We'll find out more at the funeral. Until then, there's no point in brooding. These things happen. Sometimes we just have to accept it."

The desperate, pleading eyes in the sunken face of a dying Afghani mother suddenly filled my vision. I remembered how she held her arms out for her baby. The baby was being removed to a shelter by international medical aid. The mother would remain in the broken-down, dirt-floored hut. She didn't have long. I wanted to grab the baby from the nurse and place it in those skeletal outstretched arms but instead I just backed away, afraid and uncertain.

The sudden, unexpected power of the flashback knocked the wind out of me and I had to bend over and draw deep breaths, holding the phone in my other hand so Peter wouldn't hear. Finally, I put the receiver back to my ear.

"What's wrong?" His voice was urgent, knowing.

"Nothing." It was just too complicated to explain and frankly I felt too shaken by the experience to talk about it yet. "I'd better go," I said. "I've got to get this last article in today if I'm going to meet you by Friday."

"Stace..."

"Hmm?"

"You know how much I've missed you?"

I smiled and sighed. "Yes. Yes, I do-as much as I've missed you. But Friday's only two days away."

"Yes. Two days." He let out his breath audibly.

"See you Friday."

"See you then."

I replaced the phone on its hook on the wall and turned to look out the kitchen window at the Manhattan skyline. It was sunny but cool, with a cloud haze moving in.

A crow landed on the black balustrade of the balcony, tilting its head this way and that as it eyed me through the closed sliding door. Suddenly it let out a piercing squawk, lifted its wings and flew directly into the glass pane of the door. The sickening crack as it hit the window made me cry out in shock, the impact leaving a stain of blood and down on the glass.

I was out the door in an instant but there was nothing I could do. The bird's neck was broken and it lay in a messy heap of feathers on the concrete balcony. I squatted down and reached out a tentative hand. Its breast was still warm but its eye, a mustard-yellow, stared sightlessly up at me. For no reason I could logically name, I drew my hand quickly away, shivering-overwhelmed by a feeling of mortal dread.

If you like this sample excerpt, you can read all five stories by purchasing a copy of ONE TOUCH BEYOND, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in electronic formats.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

GET OUT OR DIE! by Kim Cox


An Excerpt From: GET OUT OR DIE

Copyright © KIM COX, 2008

All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.

Lana walked Dan out, glass from figurines, picture frames and a mirror splintering beneath their feet. "Look. I know you don't want to leave but please, take Ellie somewhere else just for tonight. I'll call you tomorrow and let you know what's going on. I hope by then I can reason with him."

"It really is Uncle Adam, isn't it?" Dan asked.

"Yes, it is."

"This means that my father did...my father is..."

"There's still no real proof."

"Why else would-"

"I don't know. Give me twenty-four hours to find out. I want to sleep here tonight, try to calm Adam down and see if he'll talk to me. Hopefully by tomorrow, regardless of what happened between him and Sean, he'll realize you're not his father."

Dan's sullen face appeared doubtful. "Do whatever you have to do."

Behind them, the sounds of crashing continued. Lana smoothed her wrinkled clothes, patted down her hair and trekked back into the once beautiful home, trying to force a calm she didn't quite feel.

I can do this. The crashing stopped as she entered the chaotic room. "Adam!" she called out. "Let's talk." Only silence answered her plea. Was he ignoring her? Or had the energy his anger fueled within his spirit faded? Run out?

Lana took a break and used the downstairs bathroom to splash water on her face. As she brushed her hair, the faucets turned on by themselves. Hot water splashed into the sink, steam filling the room. Lana turned off the water and opened the door to let out the fog. Then, she read Adam's large script on the mirror, GET OUT OR DIE!

If you like this sample excerpt, you can read all five stories by purchasing a copy of ONE TOUCH BEYOND, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in electronic formats.

Monday, March 03, 2008

AND THE WINNER IS . . .


Hotcha1 is the winner of the anthology ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS. I need you to send me your full name and mailing information. CONGRATULATIONS!!!!

Fallen Angels Review gives ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS 5 Angels


Enchanted Holidays
Enchanted Holidays is filled with a wonderful collection of stories set around various holidays. Six talented authors each offer their own version of a holiday romance and all are worth reading.

According to an ancient prophesy Alexis Hart is fated to marry the Egyptian god Seth and be murdered so that he may take over the world in the Curse of Osiris by Elaine Hoppe. Zane Ryan has no intention of allowing that to happen; he has come to protect her and he will sacrifice anything to save her. How can a simple man defeat an evil god and why must it be this man that comes to save her; the man who broke her heart four years ago? This tale reminds me of some of the mythology tales I had to study in school, except I found this on more entertaining. Ms. Hoppe has a sense of humor but you must read this story to find the irony!

In Fate's Little Trick by Sheryl Hames Torres, Gemma McKenzie Fuller doesn’t like Christmas, everything bad that has ever happened to her has occurred around Christmas. First she lost her first love and then years later her husband and daughter and her hearing. Gemma’s parents are gone and she is all alone running a small country store and renting vacation cabins. Jared Mittchel and his deaf daughter Emily are on the run. His wife is dead and he believes his in-laws are trying to take his daughter away and they have more money than he can afford to fight. Jared finds Gemma’s cabin and hopes it is out of the way enough that they can’t be found. He loves his daughter and will not just turn her over to his in-laws. Fate’s Little Trick is a wonderful, poignant, story about the hurt some people can inflict on other people. Both Gemma and Jared are wounded souls and none of their pain is of their making; they were wronged and robbed of the opportunity for happiness by the selfishness of another person. Although parts of this story are really sad, it is also filled with hope; hope that love can heal broken hearts. I really liked this tale!

A New Year’s ghost story is an unexpected holiday tale but that is exactly what Ghosts of Auld Lang Syne by Maureen McMahon is. Stacey Christian’s friend Holly and her brother have inherited their grandmother’s old lake house and property and invited their friends down for the New Year’s holidays. Holly tells Stacey an old family ghost story and talks Stacey into trying to help her solve the mystery so the ghost can rest in peace. But something more sinister seems to be going on; there are just too many accidents happing to the people at the lake house. Will Stacey, Holly and their friends figure out what is going on before someone is seriously injured or worse? I always like a good ghost story and this one does not disappoint. The ghost is a sad woman who lost her true love unexpectedly and all the couples at the house have love issues to deal with too. Could this be why the ghost is appearing now? Ghosts of Auld Lang Syne is an appealing story about the power of true love so expect to be charmed but it is also a tale filled with suspense for someone alive now is attempting to harm the people at the lake house! Very well done!

Haunted Hearts by Kim Cox is a charming Valentine’s ghost story. Lana Malloy is a newly licensed private investigator and her great-aunt Lucy wants to hire her to solve a 20-year-old double murder that happened on Valentine’s Day. The only problem is Lucy and her fiancé are the people who were murdered. Lucy has figured out that if Lana can solve the mystery by Valentine’s Day then she and her fiancé will finally be able to leave and be together for eternity otherwise they have to wait another year for this opportunity. I loved this unique Valentine’s story. The ghost characters and their living relatives were all delightful and fun. And of course it is a Valentine’s story, so there is romance as well as the mystery.

Mistletoe Medium by Elizabeth Delisi is a Christmas romantic suspense tale. Lottie Baldwin is new in town and has met and started dating the local sheriff’s deputy Harlan Erikson. Lottie is a psychic and gets periodic images about things, so when Harlan starts investigating a string of strange burglaries, Lottie wants to help. Can Lottie and Harlan work together and solve the crimes; will Harlan be able to believe in Lottie? This is a very cute story. Lottie and Harlan seem like complete opposites. Lottie is a silly, flighty, flirt to Harlan’s serious, straightforward type of personality yet they are attracted to one another. I grinned all the way through this lighthearted romp while these two opposites muddled along trying to solve their mystery. This is a fun story!

In Valentine's Inn by Chris Grover, Rianna Gordon is trying to decide what to do with her life now. She was injured in an auto accident that killed her three best friends and law buddies so she has no desire to return to that life. What Rianna would really like to do is just disappear and hide away for the rest of her life, but first she has to decide what to do with the old family inn. The inn has been in Rianna’s family for over 100 years but she has an offer from a developer who wants to tear it down and build luxury condos for wealthy retirees. The money would allow her to buy the house of her dreams where she could live comfortably and hide from life, but is that what she really wants? Can she let someone tear down over 100 years of her family history? Valentine’s Inn is a really sweet, yet poignant story. I liked Rianna’s character and it was interesting to follow her decision making process as she tries to come to terms with what she really wants to do now. And of course there is a little mystery and romance thrown it to make it an even better tale!

All of the stories in this holiday anthology have a paranormal twist and yet are sentimental romances that anyone would enjoy curling up to read.

Reviewed by: Stephanie B.
http://fallenangelreviews.com/2008/February/StephanieB-EnchantedHolidays.htm

Romantic Times Review of ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS


ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS
by Kim Cox, Elizabeth Delisi, Chris Grover, Elaine Hopper, Maureen McMahon
and Sheryl Hames Torres

RT Rating: 3 stars
Category: PARANORMAL ROMANCE
Publisher: Cerridwen
Published: December 2007
Type: Paranormal (Anthology)


This collection of tales from six authors who know how to please sets the
tone for several romantic holidays. The blend of ghosts, mediums, prophecy
and tragedy -- most of which take place during the Christmas season -- is a
pleasant read.

Summary: Kim Cox's "Haunted Hearts" pits private eye Lana against spirits as
she strives to solve the decades-old murder of her aunt. In "Mistletoe
Medium," Elizabeth Delisi brings together psychic Lottie and the deliciously
hunky Sheriff Harkin. Chris Grover's "Valentine's Inn" uses a ghost to
convince Rianna to keep her inheritance.

Alexis must defeat a demon-god in Elaine Hopper's "Curse of Osiris." Maureen
McMahon's "Ghosts of Auld Lang Syne" has journalist Stacy in a fight to
discover who's haunting her new home. Sheryl Hames Torres' Gemma is a
first-rate Scrooge until a tragic accident gives her the most important
Christmas wish of all in "Fate's Little Trick." (Cerridwen, Dec., 378 pp.,
$9.99) HOT

-Faith V. Smith

http://romantictimes.com/books_review.php?book=34420

Saturday, March 01, 2008

ENIGMA by Sheryl Hames Torres


ONE TOUCH BEYOND - Second Excerpt
An Excerpt From: ENIGMA

Copyright © SHERYL HAMES TORRES, 2008

All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.

Opening his eyes, he turned on the water to rinse blood from the porcelain before lifting his gaze to the mirror to inspect the damage. What he saw there, however, frosted the blood in his veins. She was there, the silver lady who’d enfolded Amy. Now she floated in the mirror, smiling icily at him, her eyes flashing white fire as she stared at the blood dripping onto his chest.

“I believe I told you to go away.” Her voice was like a blizzard, whirling, icy and absorbing the oxygen from the air. It mixed with the storm outside to create a vortex of panic inside him.

His throat felt paralyzed. A chill rose up his spine and threatened to overtake his shivering body. It wasn’t fear exactly. More deep sadness, hopelessness, as if she were sucking all joy from him.

“I assume you imagine yourself in love with her?” Her voice dripped with mock sympathy. Her heavy dramatic sigh wrapped around him like music, transfixing him, seducing him despite its menacing tone.

Brace shivered again. The term “two places at once” came instantly to mind as he watched her image peel, almost as if it split in half. While one layer threw her head back and laughed, horrible and shrill, another layer rocked back and forth as if listening to a beautiful melody. Still another more terrifying layer stared with winter-white eyes hungrily at the cut on his chin. Brace couldn’t lift his fingers to wipe away the blood that fascinated her. She reached toward him and though she never left the mirror, he felt her touch and watched in horror as she raised her bloodied fingers to her lips, closing her eyes as if the taste of him satisfied her every need. He felt her threat rise around him like a velvet sheet, suffocating and heavy. He had to fight her. He had to push against her force.

“I do love Amy.” His voice sounded strangled, harsh to his ears, ineffective in the roaring storms, inside and out. “And she loves me. I won’t let you hurt her.”

With startling speed, the images melded and her eyes flashed at him. “Fool!” she hissed. “Do you think you can play with me, little man? I’ll crush you like the meddlesome flea you are.”

He followed her gaze as her eyes darted to the scissors lying on the cabinet, then shot back at him. Her laughter sounded like shattering glass. The pressure in the room rose to a crushing level, squeezing against his skull. Blood trickled from his right nostril and dripped on the floor as he bent over from the excruciating pain. It felt as though he was being wrung out like a dishrag. The pressure on his eardrums threatened his consciousness. He concentrated on his breathing, battling her and gasping. “You…won’t…win.”

A scream tore through the house. Amy.

If you like this sample chapter, you can read all five stories by purchasing a copy of ONE TOUCH BEYOND, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in electronic formats.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

New Release: ONE TOUCH BEYOND


First except from the anthology: ONE TOUCH BEYOND

An Excerpt From: BELIEVING IN DREAMS

Copyright © CHRIS GROVER, 2008

All Rights Reserved, Ellora's Cave Publishing, Inc.

Since Mom's death, I've felt a desperate urge to know more about her and the people who gave her life. This year will be my first Christmas without her and I've been holding on to the thought that by spending the holiday here in St-Stephan, the loss won't seem quite so bad.

Whether it will or not remains to be seen. The real reason I'm here is because I want to find my roots. On my birth certificate, there's a line drawn through the box where the father's name should be and it's always made me feel like I appeared out of nowhere, like my mother bought me in a store. I never told Mom how I felt because after the one time I asked who my father was, just the way her expression changed from happy to sad told me the circumstances of my birth was a subject she didn't want to discuss.

I have no idea why. Maybe it had something to do with breaking with her family; maybe it was because she never got over being taken in by a handsome face. And just maybe she didn't handle the unwanted pregnancy the way society expected back then. I've read the books and seen the movies, so I know that even as recently as thirty years ago, life for a pregnant, unmarried teenager was far from easy, especially in smaller communities. Girls were sent away on some pretext or other before their condition became obvious. This way, by the time they returned home, their bodies were back to normal and their babies given away to new families.

I've often wondered if something like that happened to my mother. If her parents sent her away to one of those unwed mothers' homes that were all the rage back then but instead of going along with the program, she decided to keep me. Or maybe she ran away with my biological father and things didn't work out. Either way, there would have been no going back home to her family. And no better way for her to cut herself free from her old life than by changing her name, pretending her parents were dead and saying she had no other relatives.

I'll never know now what really happened, so I go back to the dream and try to think if the elderly woman could have a reason other then family or friends for bringing me here. If I knew who she was, then perhaps it would offer me a clue or-

"Can I help you?"

The question, posed in English in a husky, masculine voice, catches me by surprise. I turn around fast, my heart thumping so hard against my ribs, I feel like I've been caught doing something wrong.

The owner of the voice starts down the path toward me, then stops. "I realize the place doesn't look like much but it is private property."

I hadn't heard the arrival of the expensive-looking black car parked at the curb and I hadn't heard the sound of the man's fancy Italian leather boots on the frozen ground. But there he is, standing less than six feet away, dressed in slim-fitting dark blue jeans and a sheepskin-lined coat. A tall, tanned, very handsome stranger whose dark brown hair is attractively mussed in the new spiky style and whose eyes are so exactly the same blue as his jeans, I immediately wonder if he's wearing colored contacts.

"I'm...I'm just looking."

If you like this sample chapter, you can read the rest and 4 other stories by purchasing a copy of ONE TOUCH BEYOND, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in electronic formats.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Haunted Hearts by Kim Cox


Sixth sample chapter from Enchanted Holidays - Valentine's Day - HAUNTED HEARTS by Kim Cox

Chapter One

"How do you like it?" Lucy Ann Malloy, standing at the top of the stairs, turned to the right, then to the left as she modeled the blue and green pastel dress. "I found it in the attic with some of my old things." She lingered in the doorway on the main floor. "Well?"

Lana Malloy glanced up from editing the ad for her new PI business. "Nice," she said and returned to her work.

Lucy moved to Lana's side and gazed over her shoulder. "What are you working on?"

"The ad for the newspaper and magazines. I've got to figure out how to attract some business, or I'll never make it through the first month."

A chill filled the air surrounding Lana and she shivered, pulling her sweater tightly around her.

"I have an idea and it's actually a pretty good one. I know who your first client can be."

Without even glancing away from her paper, Lana asked, "And who would that be?"

"Me."

"You?" Lana looked up, her interest piqued. "What are you talking about?"

Lucy's white hair shone with blue highlights as if she'd just had it rinsed. She was very well preserved for someone who'd been dead twenty years. "Find my murderer so I can rest in peace. How about it?" Lana's great-aunt had been with her since she moved into the old beach house in Charleston, South Carolina, five years ago.

"And who would be paying for my services?" Lana smiled, pulling her reading glasses off and laying them on her desk. She loved her great-aunt, but she could be a card. Lucy had always been a rebel, always tried to be different from everyone else. "Besides, you died over twenty years ago. That's a cold trail for sure."

"I got money, smarty-a lot of money that no one has found yet." Lucy covered her mouth with both hands then removed them. "Oh, well, the cat's out of the bag now. I can't spend it anyway."

"But you died-"

"Let me finish. Shows how much you, or any of those pigs know." She glided back and forth across the room as if she were dancing at her coming-out ball.

"Well?"

"Get out your pen and pad and take notes."

145 Kim Cox

"Not until I'm sure what you're telling me is the truth." Lucy sometimes changed details to suit herself and the moment, but she'd never talked about her death before. Lana never questioned her because she thought it may be too painful for her aunt.

"Have I ever lied? Never mind, don't answer that." Lucy laughed as she stopped in midair, lowered herself down to the desk and hovered in a sitting position just above the surface. Then she crossed her legs. "It was Valentine's Day. The last thing I remember, I was helping Davide eat his dinner. He had been sick the last few days and I went over to visit. He didn't eat much of his potato soup and I love potato soup on a cold winter's night. You know, that kind your mother used to whip up?" Lucy licked her lips. "I miss that since I've been dead. There's no need to eat anymore...no appetite."

"Get on with your murder case."

"Oh, yeah. I tend to get sidetracked now and then." She giggled. "Anyway, I never left that room until I woke up in this house dead and looked down on my body lying on the living room floor, right in front of my sofa. The next morning, your mother came to see me and found me...I mean, my body. That's it."

"Right. You were poisoned, but your murderer was never caught," Lana mused.

"You call yourself a private investigator? Elementary, my dear Lana. Use some logic. How did I get from Davide's house to my house?"

Lana chewed the eraser on the end of her pencil. "So...you believe you were poisoned at Davide's, but someone brought you back here either before or after you died?"

"By golly, I believe she's got it."

"Are you sure you didn't just forget going home?"

"I didn't forget. I was only sixty and not senile. Someone must've moved me while I was unconscious. Can't you see that?"

Lana stood and paced the room. "It's a possibility, I guess. What did the police say?"

"They said, 'the old broad croaked. No suspects.' And they looked no further." Lucy moved up behind Lana. "Clue number two, I've been reading up on my ghostly position as well. Did you know there are specific reasons why ghosts haunt places?"

"No. What are they?"

"According to this, my reason is..." Lucy took out a book, opened it to the bookmark and started to read. "When someone is murdered and the murder goes unsolved, their spirit must wait around until the mystery is solved, usually around the anniversary of their death."

"Where did you get that book?"

"Here, in this house."

Lana sauntered into the library and fingered through the books on the shelves. "I didn't know we had all these books on ghosts." Lana smiled until she saw the look on

146 Haunted Hearts

Lucy's face. She was serious about this and Lana felt badly she hadn't realized it sooner. She loved the woman dearly, but often, Lucy kidded around so much it was hard to tell when her aunt was genuine.

"I found them in the attic, dusted them off and put them on the shelf last night. You believe me now?"

"I don't know. I'll read over these today and see." Lana brought a book back to her desk as Lucy followed. "What exactly did you figure out? And if you've solved it, why do you need me?"

"Not everything. Just what I need to do to get to my resting place. I was killed on Valentine's Day, 1982."

"So?"

"I need to find my murderer by Valentine's Day, or I'll be stuck here until next year, same time."

"Why?"

"Because that's when I died." Lucy placed her hands on her hips. "Haven't you been listening? Anyway, the book says it's the only time I'll have the opportunity to claim my eternity. It's on page fifty-two."

"Do you have any suspects?" Lana flipped through the pages. "This looks interesting."

"That old buzzard I was trying to help."

"Davide? Your fiancé?" Lana glanced up.

"That's the buzzard."

"You two were going to be married in a few weeks. Why would he want you dead?"

"That, I don't know. But I think he's as good a place to start our search as any. If it wasn't him, it was someone in his family. They were against us marrying. Especially his son, Anthony."

"Our search? But you can't-"

"But I can. I read about it in that book. I can leave anytime I want. I just haven't wanted to badly enough until now. Plus, I need to attach myself to something in order to leave. That something, or rather someone, is you."

A few hours later, Lana looked from her book as Lucy drifted in with a tray of food-a tuna fish sandwich with pickles and chips.

"I thought you could use something to eat. Seafood is brain food, you know."

When Lucy floated back across the room, Lana glanced toward the window and glimpsed a terrified face in the window. It was her neighbor, Roxie Thomas, with curlers in her strawberry blonde hair and cold cream still covering her horrified face. When the dress glided toward a filing cabinet, Roxie's eyes widened and her jaw dropped. The closed window muffled her screams.

147 Kim Cox

* * * * *

"Get back! Roxie saw you. I mean, she saw your dress. I'll see if I can talk to her." But as Lana reached the door, Roxie ran away, her screeches fading as she widened the space between their houses.

"Fix this situation before I bring her back." Lana slammed the door behind her.

Lana's house sat on stilts, but the one room joining the carport sufficed as her new PI office. Trotting across the yard, she caught up with Roxie on the other side of the hedge. "Roxie, wait up." Roxie dashed for her house anyway.

"Stay away from me, you...you...you witch! I'm calling the cops." She stumbled up the steps sideways and sank slowly to her knees on her front porch.

"Don't be ridiculous! It's not what you think. Please, come back and see. Besides, how will you explain to the police that you were peeping in my window? They don't like peeping Roxies around here, you know. They've already warned you about it." Lana leaned down to help her up, but Roxie snatched her hand away.

"Don't touch me!" Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. "I know what I saw. They'll believe me this time."

"Okay, okay, now, just calm down. I only want to help you. Where's Ralph? Can I get him for you?"

"He's right inside, he is." Her voice trembled. "He'll be out here any minute, so don't you try anything. I've always known there was something weird about you...about your whole family."

"What's going on out here, Roxie?" A big-bellied man with thinning hair stood in the doorway.

"Ralph, oh, Ralph, I'm glad you're here. She's a witch. I-I saw her."

"Mr. Thomas, I just came to explain to your wife that what she saw was a new gadget I've invented to dry clothes." Lana smiled. "Your wife thinks I twitched my nose or something to make a dress float across the room."

Ralph scratched the sprigs of hair left on his balding head. "Roxie, you been snooping again? How many times-"

"I'm sure Mrs. Thomas wasn't snooping. Were you, Roxie?"

When Lana offered her a helping hand this time, Roxie accepted it. "That's right. I wasn't snooping. I went over to borrow some coffee when I saw that...that thing flying all over her office."

"See? I knew she had a good reason for being there," Lana said.

"Yeah, but she didn't have to spy on you before knocking on the door. Get in the house, Roxie, before someone calls the cops on you again."

Roxie made her way to the door, never taking her eyes off Lana.

"Wait a minute. Don't you still need that coffee?" Lana asked, innocently.

148 Haunted Hearts

"No. I'll just get some at the store," Roxie said in a defeated tone as she reached for the screen door handle.

"But I wanted to show you the gadget. It's nothing, really. I hate to think you're frightened of me. We're neighbors and I really want to show you that what you saw wasn't what you thought." Lana walked up the steps.

Roxie opened the door and moved behind her husband. "Don't let her hurt me, Ralph."

"Stop this nonsense right now! Go with Lana, get the coffee and see the thing that's making you act like an idiot."

Lana felt sorry for Roxie, living with a man who belittled her at every chance. No wonder the woman was a basket case half the time and Lucy acting up didn't help either. Unfortunately, Lucy enjoyed scaring Roxie. Said it served the old snoop right and just might stop her busybody ways.

But Lana suspected Roxie was just lonely-stuck in the house all day with nothing to do but wait on Ralph hand and foot without him showing her any appreciation.

"Really, come on and let me show you."

"Well..."

"Please. I promise you'll be relieved."

"Go on, woman." Ralph pushed Roxie out the door and shut the screen behind her.

Roxie tried to get back inside, but Ralph held the door tight and then flipped the lock so she couldn't escape back into the house. He chuckled when she pulled desperately on the door handle.

Lana's heart went out to her. She eased her way to Roxie's side and took her by the hand. "Come on. I'll bring you right back. If I don't, Ralph will come and get you. Won't you, Ralph?"

"Yeah, sure, I will." He laughed again. "Stupid bitch is afraid of her own shadow, she is."

Lana wanted to yell at him, "You ignorant ingrate, you're not helping. Can't you see your wife's had a terrible fright?" But she kept her mouth shut, knowing it wouldn't help and might only worsen the situation. Roxie's body trembled, causing the curlers on her head to jiggle.

As they entered the doorway, Lana saw the dress hung on a thin clear line and thanked heaven her aunt had known what to do. Sometimes she thought the two of them occupied one mind when it came to fixing things.

Lucy made herself visible to Lana and winked at her, then stuck her tongue out at Roxie. Lana rolled her eyes upward before speaking to Roxie. "See, the dress is hung on a line."

"But...but, how did it move from there to here and over to there."

149 Kim Cox

"See here?" Lana followed Lucy to the desk on the far side of the room. "I pull the string here and move it wherever I want." She pointed above them. "And the line runs from here to the doorway over there, going right by the file cabinets."

Roxie's face turned a bright shade of red. "I'm such a numbskull, just like Ralph says."

"No, you're not. Anyone would've been scared of what you saw. But you know, you really shouldn't peep into other people's windows like that." She glanced at Lucy, who was nodding her head and laughing as she glided by them.

"I know. I don't know why I do things like that. I just wanted to make sure you were up before intruding."

"You're never an intrusion. Feel free to visit any time." Lana crossed her fingers behind her back to counter the little white lie.

"Thank you, Lana. I'm so sorry I acted like such an old fool." Roxie shivered. "It's cold in here. How can you stand having that air conditioner on in winter? It's cold outside."

"Oh, but it's not..." Lana stopped herself, realizing why the room was chilled. "I turned it on instead of the heat by mistake and the darn thing is stuck." She tightened her already crossed fingers. "I was just getting ready to fix that after I finished hanging the clothes."

"Let me send Ralph over to fix it for you. He's pretty handy at fixin' things, you know. It's the least I can do."

Lana edged Roxie to the door. "Oh, no, that's not necessary. The button just fell off and rolled under something. I can turn it off as soon as I find the knob. Or if I don't, I'll just use some pliers to turn it off. But thank you for the offer. I appreciate it."

Lucy put her finger in her mouth and pretended to gag-something she'd learned recently and overused.

Lana pursed her lips and narrowed her brows, giving Lucy a quelling look. When they got to the door, Roxie turned around. "I almost forgot. Can I get that coffee now?"

"Yes. It completely slipped my mind, too. Follow me." Lana turned toward the kitchen.

"I'll wait here," Roxie said, backing up.

* * * * *

Lucy watched as Roxie slipped over to Lana's desk and glanced over the papers stacked there.

Oh, busybody! Lucy hated nosy people more than anything.

Roxie turned the corner of a sheet up with two fingers and tilted her head to one side so she could see what was written on the paper under it.

150 Haunted Hearts

Lucy noticed one drawer wasn't completely closed on the file cabinet. She flew over and pushed it with all her might. The drawer slammed shut with a bang.

Roxie jumped, her eyes wide as she looked around the room for the source of the noise. Lucy whooshed by so fast, the breeze lifted one of the curlers from Roxie's head. Then, she hurried over, opened and slammed another drawer shut.

At this, Roxie ran for the door. "Oh, God! Let me out of here," she cried and struggled with the knob.

"What in this world? Roxie! Here's your coffee."

Without a word, Roxie reached for the cup with one hand and grasped the doorknob with the other.

Lana gave Lucy another narrow-eyed look. "Here, let me help you with that."

Lucy shrugged her shoulders. Could she help it if the woman couldn't handle loud noises? It wasn't her fault. The old biddy shouldn't have been snooping.

Roxie's teeth chattered. The cream on her face now appeared dry and cracked. "What do you have here? Ghosts? Poltergeists?"

"Well, I never. Can you believe she called me a poltergeist? The nerve of that idiot woman."

"Lucy!"

Lucy clasped her hand over her mouth when she realized Lana had said her name aloud without thinking. As Roxie struggled, Lana was able to open the door only after she pried Roxie's hands off the knob.

(c) 2008 Chris Grover - Do not reproduce in any form without the permission of the author/owner.

If you like this sample chapter, you can read the rest and 5 other stories by purchasing a copy of ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in both electronic and print.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Valentine's Inn by Chris Grover


Fifth sample chapter from Enchanted Holidays - Valentine's Day - VALENTINE'S INN by Chris Grover

Chapter One

To Rianna Gordon's annoyance, the rain that started earlier in the morning had now turned to sleet. Pulling up the hood of her winter jacket, she shoved the copy of the developer's offer into the back pocket of her jeans and limped around the perimeter of the lakefront property, trying her desperate best to imagine what it would look like a year from now. After the inn her great-great-grandfather had built on the shores of Lake Ontario over a hundred years ago had been replaced with the condos and other facilities she'd seen on the developer's plans.

Provided, of course, she went along with those plans and agreed to sell Wilton Homes the property.

She sighed sadly, her gaze lingering on the familiar, large, gray fieldstone building with its high slanted roof of cedar shingles, the old-fashioned six-pane windows and solid wood doors. The summer she graduated from high school, she spent part of her vacation helping her Uncle Bill repaint that white trim around the windows. They also painted the solid wood doors a cheery apple red and for as far back as she could remember it had always been her job to keep a brilliant shine on the brass door fittings. This place had been her family's home for more than a century. All her childhood memories revolved around Valentine's Inn and the last thing she wanted to do was let it go. But there was no way she could keep it and that was that. The sooner she made up her mind about the offer, the less painful it would be.

The real estate salesman said Max Wilton had looked at several other properties in the area and was eager to make a decision, so he gave her exactly forty-eight hours from five o'clock yesterday evening in which to make up her mind.

Sell and the moment the sale went through and all the legalities were taken care of, Valentine's Inn would be bulldozed into extinction and she could buy that cute little cottage in the Muskokas. The one with its own private lake. The one that the owner was willing to-

"Hello? Excuse me, miss, could you please give me a hand here?"

Rianna turned, surprised to see a dark-haired man hurrying toward her from the direction of the lake. Tall, broad-shouldered and probably in his late forties, he appeared to be cradling something inside his black leather jacket.

"Help you with what?" She started edging back toward the inn. "You realize this is private property?"

"Yes, I know." He smiled, his dark blue eyes unexpectedly warm and friendly as he opened his jacket. "Actually, it's this little guy who needs your help."

221 Chris Grover

Against her better judgment, Rianna stepped forward to look and felt an almost forgotten stirring in the region of her heart. With both her life and her emotions in tatters, the last thing she needed was involvement with anyone or anything. But a small black kitten, its fur so wet and full of ice crystals it stood up in stiff points, was nestled against the man's chest.

"I found him a couple of minutes ago huddled under a bush. I think someone must have dumped him."

"Poor baby." Rianna reached for the kitten. Tucking him securely inside her own fleece-lined jacket, she headed for the inn. "We need to get you inside where it's warm and dry."

When she reached the large, old-fashioned kitchen that had once been the nerve center of the inn, she realized the man was right behind her. But it was too late for her to worry about that now. Anyway, a man who saved abandoned kittens couldn't be completely bad, could he? If the kitten had been warm and dry on a day like this, she might have reason to think he was using the animal as a ploy, but it wasn't and-

"Do you have something we can use to dry him off? Maybe an old towel?"

"Try those cupboards over there." She pulled off her stocking cap, then jerked her head in the direction of the far wall as she put the kitten down on one of the steel-topped counters and started checking him over for signs of physical injury. "As far as I know, whatever we have is in there."

The kitten gave a tiny plaintive meow and tried to clamber back inside her jacket. "And hurry up. Spiky here is freezing his tail off." The ice on the kitten's fur had started to melt. Grabbing a handful of paper towels from a roll on the counter, she tried to absorb some of the moisture as she continued checking the cat for injuries.

"All I could find are these." He dropped a couple of thin bar towels on the table. "Don't you have anything thicker?"

She pointed to an open door leading off the kitchen. "The living quarters are through there. Grab whatever you can find from the bathroom."

A moment later, he was back with two fluffy pink bath towels. "How is he?"

"Cold, wet and scared, but otherwise okay. At least as far as I can tell." Taking one of the towels, she rubbed vigorously at the kitten's fur.

"Maybe you should take him to a vet."

"Why didn't you?"

He shrugged. "I'm on foot and the nearest vet is at least five miles away. Anyway, I saw you."

"And the word ‘sucker' written on my back?" She smiled wryly.

He looked a little shamefaced. "You could've said no."

The kitten gave another small cry and made a weak attempt to struggle free. His fur was still damp, but he looked a little less bedraggled. Putting the towel she'd used aside, she quickly wrapped him in the dry one and picked him up. "There's milk in the

222 Valentine's Inn

fridge. Can you find a saucepan and warm some up? He might be hungry. And his fur is going to take ages to dry. How do you think he'd feel about my hair dryer?"

"Terrified, I would imagine."

After putting the milk on to heat, the man turned on one of the big restaurant-size ovens that lined one wall and pulled down the door. Positioning a kitchen chair in front of it, he beckoned Rianna over. "This will help to dry him off. Cats love the warmth."

As she opened the towel, the kitten immediately reacted to the heat by stretching out a paw and giving a faint but appreciative meow.

When the milk was ready, she dipped the tip of her finger in it and brought it close to his tiny pink nose. He sniffed at it a couple of times, but that was all. Curling himself into a ball, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.

The man frowned. "I guess he's not interested in milk."

"I think he's more tired than hungry. I don't have a lot of groceries. But there's canned chicken and canned tuna and also some bread. I'll let him sleep for a while, then try him again with something else later."

"You're sure he's okay?"

"His fur is still damp, but he's far from starving. Plenty of meat on his little bones. He could've gone for a walk and gotten lost."

"I suppose."

The man's hair had started to dry and Rianna felt a stab of compassion as he pushed his fingers roughly through it in a vain attempt to control the mass of curls. Same problem she had when her hair got wet.

"By the way, my name's Josh. Josh Byford."

"Rianna Gordon." She hesitated. "It's none of my business, of course. And whatever the reason, I'm sure you have Spiky's undying gratitude for saving his life. But what were you doing out here? Miles from anywhere and in this awful weather."

"Walking. When I'm not working, I come this way most days. I love walking along the edge of the lake. Gives me a wonderful feeling of being halfway between heaven and earth." He smiled. "Hope that's okay with you?"

"Be my guest. You're the one who's likely to die from exposure. Not me."

He chuckled. "Don't worry, that's not going to happen. But since you brought the subject up, what's your excuse for being here? Have you bought the inn?"

"No. I inherited it from my Uncle Bill. He was my mom's brother."

A look of eager anticipation appeared on his face. "You mean Bill Valentine? That's great." He suddenly sobered. "What I mean is, I'm really sorry to hear he's gone, but glad to know the property will be staying in the family."

"You knew him?"

223 Chris Grover

"Of course. I worked for him here at the inn for several years. But after the fire, when he closed up and moved to Hamilton, I'm afraid we lost touch. So, now the place is yours. Does this mean you're going to fix the old place up and reopen?"

"Sorry, no. As a matter of fact, I'm thinking of selling. A developer wants the property to build a retirement community and I'm just camping out here for a couple of days while I make up my mind."

His eager expression changed to outright horror. "Why would you sell?"

"Because..." She took a deep breath and tried to stretch her injured leg without disturbing the cat. "There are a number of reasons. None of which I really want to go into."

"Your property, so it's your call. I suppose the new owner could always convert the inn into a clubhouse or something like that."

"If I sell, I understand the inn comes down to make way for a fitness center."

"But the inn is over a hundred years old. A genuine piece of Canadian history. If you need the money that badly, surely you can find someone interested in preserving it? If not as an inn, maybe as a restaurant? Even a bed-and-breakfast."

"From what the real estate salesman said, I was lucky to get this offer."

"I don't believe that."

"I do. The fire that forced Uncle Bill to close down ten years ago did a lot of damage. A complete refit would cost a fortune. Anyway, why do you care whether I sell or not?"

"Because I'd hate to see the place disappear unnecessarily. The worst damage is in the reception and lounge areas. I realize it wouldn't be cheap to fix, but surely not that expensive."

"Upstairs suffered a lot of smoke damage, so there'd be the expense of new furniture and linens."

"But the building is structurally sound."

"So the insurance company assured Uncle Bill. But after ten years, there's a great deal that would require either repairing or replacing. Probably cost two fortunes to get it even halfway back to its former state. Then, there're startup costs for inventory and supplies and all new furniture and accessories for the bedrooms and lounge area. And you can just bet the health authorities would insist everything here in this kitchen be ripped out and more modern equipment installed. It's hard to find anyone who has that kind of money to speculate with these days. And what about staff? Who would want to work out here? And where would the customers come from?"

"I'm sure you'd have no problem arranging a loan to cover all that. And people worked here before," he said stiffly. "I'm also sure some of the old employees would want to come back. As for customers, the inn is on the main Toronto-Niagara Falls highway. The dining room never lacked for trade before the fire and it wouldn't if you reopened tomorrow."

224 Valentine's Inn

"Sorry. That's not going to happen, so I won't start cooking," Rianna shot back unable to keep the sarcasm from her voice. What did Josh, whatever his name was, think he was up to trying to bully her like this? "In any event, I can't cook."

"Can't or don't care to?"

She stared at him in surprise. "Excuse me?"

"My mom learned from her mom. She loved to cook...especially for her family. Of course, I realize women today have cutting-edge careers and don't have time for old-fashioned domestic skills."

"If it's any of your business, I don't have a family. Not anymore. But I know how to turn on the microwave, plug in the electric kettle and fry an egg. And for one person living alone, that's bordering on culinary information overload, in my opinion."

"What do you do? I mean, do you have a job?"

"Not at the moment. But I'm... I was a lawyer."

"Was?"

"Was. Not disbarred or discredited, just was."

"As in disenchanted?"

"No. As in retired."

He looked at her for a moment then laughed. A deep, booming belly laugh that set her nerves on edge. "You can't retire at your age. You have to do something. Even if it's only to relieve the boredom of turning the microwave on and off and staring at the walls."

"Not necessarily."

"Okay. So you're financially independent, you'll get a nice chunk of cash from selling the inn, then what happens next?"

"Why are you so concerned about me?"

"From the sound of it, I think someone needs to be."

She gritted her teeth and glared at him. "I intend to buy a winterized cottage on a remote lake in the Muskokas and read, watch TV and generally indulge myself. You have a problem with that?"

"Can't imagine it being much fun if you're by yourself."

Her leg was aching badly from being in one position for too long. Another legacy from the accident that the doctors said she had to learn to live with. She needed to stand up and walk around to relieve the pain. Getting to her feet, she handed him the sleeping cat. "Take care of Spiky for a minute. I have a cramp in my leg."

"I thought perhaps you'd injured it. I noticed you limping earlier."

"Actually, I broke it in a couple of places. But it's fine now, provided I don't sit in one position for too long."

On her second tour around the big kitchen with its long, central island, green-tiled floors and steel-topped counters, she noticed the sleet had changed to snow. Big fat

225 Chris Grover

flakes were whirling in the wind and covering the landscape with a mantle of white. She picked up the electric kettle she'd brought with her and filled it with water. She was being a lousy host and while Josh was hardly a guest, he had saved Spiky from certain death.

"Want a cup of tea?"

"I should be going."

"I don't think so. Have you looked outside recently?"

He went over to the window and grimaced. "When did that happen?"

"While we were talking. Where do you live?"

"A couple of miles east of here."

"Well, you can't walk that far in a blizzard. As soon as it eases up, I'll drive you."

"That won't be necessary. It's only a snow shower. We get lots of them this close to the lake. Wait an hour or so and it'll be like it never happened." He returned to the stove. "Think you can find a box or something to use for a cat bed? Put it here in the kitchen near the stove, where the little guy will be warm and comfortable."

And let him think he's found a new home?

"First, I'll make the tea, then I'll go look. I need to fix up a temporary litter pan for him as well. I noticed there's still some sand in one of the fire buckets. He'll have to make do with that until I go to the store."

(c) 2008 Chris Grover - Do not reproduce in any form without the permission of the author/owner.

If you like this sample chapter, you can read the rest and 5 other stories by purchasing a copy of ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com/ in both electronic and print.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Announcements


I'm a guest author at www.ashleyladd.blogspot.com Thursday, January 31st. Please join us!

Our (4 other authors and myself) anthology, One Touch Beyond (see cover) will be released at www.cerridwenpress.com February 21st.

Kim Cox

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Ghosts of Auld Lang Syne by Maureen McMahon


Fourth sample chapter from Enchanted Holidays - New Years - Ghosts of Auld Lang Syne by Maureen McMahon

Chapter One

What house more stately hath there been

Or can be, than is Man? to whose creation

All things are in decay?

--- George Herbert

"Man"

I hadn't expected the house to be so imposing. When Holly Purcell, my friend since childhood, asked me to accompany her to the remote New Hampshire property her grandmother had willed her, I'd expected a quaint little holiday cottage. What loomed before us, as my little blue car slid up the icy drive between twin rows of gnarled, naked willows, was something much more impressive—and much more sinister.

Gripped by unkempt tangles of dormant vines and shrubbery and oblivious to the encroaching forest, the house thrust a multi-peaked roof, complete with stately turret, into a gray, wintry sky. Its windows observed our approach with dull disinterest. I couldn't help but shudder.

"God! You didn't tell me it was so old and spooky," I said.

"Didn't I?" Holly smiled. "Well, it should be—spooky, that is. It's supposed to be haunted."

"Oh, right," I scoffed. "This is beginning to sound like one of those slumber parties where we used to try to scare each other to death. Sorry, Holly, but I'm not so gullible anymore."

"Cross my heart," she said, making the appropriate sign, her expression sincere. "Gran loved to tell us the tale of Miss Clementine Kreen, the daughter of the original owners. She lived here back at the start of the century. She was supposedly jilted by her lover on New Year's Eve and ran off into a blizzard, never to be heard from again."

I stopped the car in front of a ramshackle shed that once must have served as a garage, but was now leaning precariously to one side under the pressure of a huge pine tree that had grown up much too closely. Heavy pine boughs lay across the sagging roof. Holly looked at me, her beautiful, cornflower blue eyes twinkling beneath thick lashes. "They say her spirit still roams the woods—searching."

"Searching for what?" I cocked a skeptical brow, unable to prevent my journalistic curiosity from snapping up the bait.

Holly shrugged. "Some say she's still searching for her lover. Others say she's searching for shelter from the blizzard she was lost in. But Gran always believed there was something else. No one knows for sure."

I turned off the engine and took the keys out of the ignition. "Well, it seems like a mammoth waste of time to me. Maybe while we're here, we can give her a hand and

99 Maureen McMahon

help her find whatever it is she's looking for." I had meant the words to be sarcastic, but Holly was delighted.

"That's just what I'd hoped you'd say!" she said. "I knew if anyone would understand, you would."

"Well…" I began, but she was out of the car and trudging up the path toward the house so quickly that my words were lost and I was forced to run to catch up.

She waited at the foot of the front porch steps. "We'll get the luggage later," she said. "First, I'll show you around. It's positively gorgeous—but needs a lot of work."

I nodded, puffing small white clouds after my brief exertion. The structure's decay and neglect was more apparent close-up. The weatherboards were badly in need of painting and some of the fascia was loose or missing altogether. An old broken porch swing hung askew, its chains rusted stiff. Pine needles and old brittle leaves littered the porch floor.

"Does anyone look after the place?" I asked, glad there was only a dusting of snow on the ground. It was already December twenty-nine and so far, it had been a relatively mild winter. While I had hoped for a traditional white Christmas, I was relieved we'd been spared the inconvenience of traveling through heavy snow.

"Lyle asked Brent Atherton to keep an eye on things," she said. "Brent is a neighbor—he and his granddad live just over there." She pointed off into the woods to our left.

I nodded. I didn't know Brent Atherton or his grandfather, but Lyle was Holly's older brother who lived in Boston, a good four-hour drive away. The house was left to them both, but I suspected that Holly was more enthused by the bequest. Lyle already lived a life of luxury, with a glamorous wife and a high-paying real estate business. He'd have little use for a dilapidated old homestead set on a remote lake in upper New Hampshire. Holly, on the other hand, lived modestly in a one-bedroom apartment in New York, trying to make a living from her art. She was an excellent artist, but work was scarce and often didn't pay well.

"So, come on!" Holly said, producing a set of keys. "Let me give you the guided tour before the others arrive."

"What others?" I asked, surprised.

She smiled mischievously. "Why, Lyle and Clare, Armando, who's bringing up my car and, I hope, Peter."

"Peter?" I echoed.

She dimpled at my expression. "Yes, silly, your Peter. Lyle thought it would be fun to have us all together again. Since Peter's bank handles the trust account for the estate, we can combine business with pleasure. But I'm not sure if or when he can make it."

I scowled, disturbed by the sudden lurch in the pit of my stomach at the mention of Peter Mansfield's name. We'd been inseparable during our college days—even came close to making a permanent commitment—but stubbornness and youth contrived

100 Ghosts of Auld Lang Syne

against us and, after graduation, we went our separate ways. We still kept in touch, but now his work as a partner and financial advisor at his father's bank and my job as a journalist for a prestigious travel magazine, left little opportunity to rekindle old sparks.

It had been pure luck that my New Year's holidays coincided with Holly's invitation to come with her to her grandmother's estate. I had visualized just her and me toasting in the new year in front of a cozy fire, reminiscing about our life growing up in Marblehead, a quaint, but well-to-do, suburb of Boston. I was naturally taken aback when she dropped her bombshell.

"So, you're still trying to play at being the matchmaker, eh?" I griped. "Will you ever give it up?"

She shook her head, unperturbed. "Probably not," she said. "Especially not where you and Peter are concerned." She pushed a stray lock of silky golden hair back from her face and met my glare without flinching, her petal lips set in a stubborn moue. "You know, Stacey, men like Peter Mansfield don't grow on trees. And everyone who ever knew you knows you two are meant to be together. Why won't you just accept fate and live happily ever after?"

"I'll accept nothing of the kind," I said haughtily. "What Peter and I had was wonderful, I'll admit, but we've both changed."

"Yes," she said pointedly, "now you're even more suited to each other."

I opened my mouth to retort, but she didn't give me a chance. Climbing the porch steps, she inserted a key into the lock and pushed the front door open. "But let's not argue," she said. "Peter may not be able to make it anyway. He wasn't sure if he could get time off—so there's no point making a fuss. Won't you please step this way, Miss Christian?" She made an exaggerated sweeping bow and I had to smile.

"Yes, ma'am." I saluted briskly and stepped past her into the dim interior of the house. There was no point arguing with Holly once she made up her mind. Secretly, I wasn't averse to seeing Peter Mansfield again—if only for auld lang syne.

* * * * *

Despite the ancient wallpaper, threadbare carpets and rustic plumbing, the house seemed comfortable enough. The front door opened onto a hallway that ran the length of the house. A set of narrow stairs covered by an ancient paisley runner hugged the right wall of the hallway, then made a left turn from a small landing to complete its rise to the second floor. It seemed there were doors everywhere, many opened into closets or cupboards filled to the brim with products of a lifetime of hoarding. Holly's grandmother had apparently parted with very little in her eighty-six years.

The kitchen was at the back of the house. Originally, it would've been exceptionally small, but someone in recent years had possessed the foresight to modernize and enlarge it. Now, there was room for an oak table surrounded by six matching chairs and a large hutch filled with china and crystal. Double-glazed windows framed a small backyard that gently sloped to the frozen expanse of Lake Catawah beyond. The lake

101 Maureen McMahon

was not large by any means, but large enough to provide a refreshing swim in the summer and good ice fishing in the winter.

"Did you bring your skates?" Holly asked.

"No," I sighed. "Though I practically pulled my parents' basement apart to find them. In any case, I don't think they would've fit anymore."

"Well, I'm sure Gran will have some around here that'll fit you," Holly said. "I know she always kept quite a few pairs—as well as boots and gloves for winter and swimsuits and sandals for summer. Whenever we came to visit, we forgot something. But no matter what it was, Gran always had a replacement." Her voice trailed off into a squeaky sob and I put my arms around her and hugged her, feeling her shoulders tremble as she let pent-up tears fall silently.

"I'm so sorry," I said. "I've been so thoughtless. I didn't even consider all the memories you must be dealing with."

"It's okay," she said. She gave me a quick, tight hug in return, then pulled away, snatching a tissue from a box on a nearby shelf and wiping her eyes. "Gran would hate to think I was crying over her."

I nodded. I had met Holly's grandmother only twice, but both times she struck me as a strong, no-nonsense woman who wouldn't stand for tears.

"Come on," Holly said, her moment of weakness past. "Let's go get the bags and I'll show you your room. I've put you right next to Peter—if he comes, that is." She winked with exaggerated innuendo.

But seeing the warning look in my eye, she squealed with laughter and made for the front door at a run. I followed, happy to see her naturally vivacious nature restored.

* * * * *

My room was one of four on the second floor—two bedrooms, a bathroom and what appeared to be a sitting room. I couldn't be sure of this, though, since the furnishings were draped with dust covers.

I was lucky to have a room of my own. It was modest in size and somewhat stark in comparison to the other rooms in the house, most of which were filled with a hodgepodge of furniture, paintings, photographs and bric-a-brac. The wallpaper was a faded yellow floral and the rug was old and slightly musty, but welcome, considering the cold hardwood floor underneath.

The single bed sagged slightly in the middle, but was made up with crisp white sheets, fluffy blankets and an exquisite, hand-sewn quilt.

A small closet contained a few old coats. Holly had pushed these to the back to make room for my things. Against one wall was a mahogany chest of drawers, full except for the top two drawers that she'd haphazardly emptied into a cardboard box and also shoved to the back of the closet. There was a matching mahogany bedside

102 Ghosts of Auld Lang Syne

table, sporting a lace doily and a rather extravagant lamp, the base of which was a statue of Aphrodite holding aloft a bulb, covered with a yellow, lace-edged shade.

The window next to the bed looked out over the kitchen to the lake and surrounding forest. I gazed out, mesmerized by the sunset colors tinting the frost-tipped trees and casting multicolored fingers across the thin covering of snow. I could just make out another house at the far end of the lake, set against the steep wooded slopes that rose protectively on all sides. But the only real sign anyone else inhabited the area was a thin stream of smoke rising from some hidden chimney in the woods to my right. The scene was lovely and peaceful, but at the same time, lonely and forbidding.

I turned from the window and rummaged through one of my cases for my camera. I wasn't a great photographer, but I'd learned to appreciate the artistic value of good lighting from Arthur Wong, my magazine's resident photographer. Finding the apparatus, I snapped a couple of cursory pictures through the window as the sun set. I intended to be more vigilant at keeping visual records of my holidays and trips. I'd realized sadly that I'd kept few pictures of my halcyon days at college and I was determined not to make the same mistake with the rest of my life.

There was a cursory knock at the door and Holly poked her head in. "How're you settling in? Do you need anything?"

I shook my head. "No. I think I'm okay, thanks. But come in and keep me company while I unpack."

She complied happily, settling herself on the bed and running a reverent hand over the quilt. "You know, Gran made a quilt for every bed in this house. They're all different—all with unique themes. This one is the holiday quilt. You see? Here's a patch with a Christmas tree and another with a decorated egg motif. There's Valentine's Day, Washington's birthday… Look, here's one for Groundhog Day! But I don't know what this one is for."

I went over to look at what she indicated. It was a patch depicting an old man with a long beard, holding a scroll. "That's Father Time," I said. "He often represents the new year—the passing of time. Out with the old and in with the new."

Holly frowned. "Well, he doesn't look very festive," she said.

I laughed. "No. But that's what the new year is all about—you really never know what it'll hold. You can only hope to put the past to rest and move on to whatever the future has in store."

She cocked her head and weighed my words. Then she shrugged. "Well, I sure wish I knew what the future held in store for me." She sighed and I sat down on the bed next to her.

"What about you and Armando? Aren't you happy with him?"

She smiled. "Oh, sure. Armando's fun and romantic and sweet…but he's not going to be here for much longer." At my questioning look, she explained. "He's only here from Peru for a year. His working holiday visa runs out at the end of January."

103 Maureen McMahon

"I see," I said slowly. "But…if you love each other…"

Holly scoffed. "No, nothing like that. We're deeply infatuated, but it's not love. We both know that."

I hadn't met Armando Perez yet, but Holly had told me a bit about him. They'd met at an art exhibit in Boston. He was an artist himself, working at the Boston Art Museum during his visit. They had their art in common and Holly insisted that he had "looks to die for". Because he had no relatives in the U.S. and she couldn't stand the thought of anyone spending the holidays alone, she'd invited him to join us at the lake for New Year's.

"Well," I said, patting her hand sympathetically, "you never know what the future holds."

"I suppose," she said. "And as Scarlett would say, 'Tomorrow is another day.'"

We laughed.

"So, when will the rest be arriving?" I asked.

She glanced at her watch and frowned. "Well, Armando said he'd be down tomorrow morning and Lyle and Clare said they'd be here tomorrow afternoon sometime. Who knows with them! And Peter—well, like I said, if he can make it, he'll make it whenever."

I glanced at my own watch. It was nearing six p.m. and already nearly dark. "What do you say we go find some dinner?" I said. "We may have to go shopping tomorrow. Do you know where the nearest supermarket is?"

"Oh, yes," she said. "It's not too far. We're off the beaten track, but not totally cut off. I brought some food along, but I'll definitely have to stock up to feed everyone. And we have to have champagne for New Year's Eve and ham and turkey…"

"Whoa!" I cried in mock horror. "I hope you know what you're getting into! You do know that my culinary skills are nonexistent?"

She laughed. "Don't worry, I like to cook. But we'll take it day by day. No need to go overboard."

"Good," I said. "Let's go down and see what's available for dinner tonight. I'm starved!"

She agreed and together we headed for the kitchen. But just before I shut the door, I glanced back at the quilt on my bed and the patch with Father Time and felt a tiny pang of regret for all the months since I'd last seen Peter Mansfield.

(c) 2008 Maureen McMahon- Do not reproduce in any form without the permission of the author/owner.

If you like this sample chapter, you can read the rest and 5 other stories by purchasing a copy of ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com in both electronic and print.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Curse of Osiris by Elaine Hopper


Third sample chapter from Enchanted Holidays - New Years - Curse of Osiris by Elaine Hopper



Chapter One

The turn of the new millennium ~ the real new millennium

"If you want to live, you'll come with me now." Zane Ryan's penetrating golden gaze intensified on Alexis Hart as he thrust his hand out to her.

Alexis Hart had tried every trick, every remedy she could find to erase the infidel standing in front of her from her heart. As easily as he'd breezed into her life, like a desert sandstorm, he'd stormed out. And for what? Money!

Ha! The American rat didn't deserve her love. Furious with her weak heart, she spat on the floor.
She never believed him when he said she was too young to marry, to take to his homeland, the birthplace of her biological parents. In her adoptive family's clan, she was already an old maid four years ago. She was an anachronism now.

Oh, she could have, should have married. Her adoptive father had fielded many offers for her hand. By now he could be many camels richer, but she couldn't get over the American.

" And I should believe you? All your ever cared about was your precious treasure." She stared at the cowboy's dusty hat and boots, so reminiscent of the movies depicting America's Old West. Squinting in the glare from the setting sun, she jabbed him in the chest, not caring if her adoptive mother was gasping from her impudence around the corner. "Why should I believe you?" A terrible thought struck her and she jabbed him with more force, wishing she was impaling his heart. Perhaps that would finally purge her helplessness when it came to this man. "Unless you're being paid in precious gems and gold to cart me off to who knows where."
The cords in Zane's sinewy neck popped but otherwise, he showed no sign of emotion.

The cowboy just stood stoic in that daring American manner that so infuriated her, so attracted her. Hating to show even a hint of the old love that hadn't been enough to hold him to her four years ago, she anchored her fists on her hips, jutted up her chin and stared him square in the eye.

"This isn't about us." He herded her to the far corner of the ornate room, so that the potted palm hid them from view of the others surely peeking. He swept off his grimy hat and ran his unsteady fingers through his mussed sandy-brown hair. Curses rolled off his lips. "I know you and I have history and we'll deal with that later, but for now, just hear me out and let your head rule. A lot of lives are at stake."

6 Curse of Osiris

Omar, her foster father, joined them. His face gray, his eyes rheumy, he took her hand between his and implored, "Listen to him, daughter. He speaks truth."

"Nay, I refuse to leave you, Papa! Especially not with this infidel." With a swish of her long skirt, she turned and addressed herself to her foster father, wishing to be done with Ryan, wishing her heart would let her.

Despite the rippling anger coursing through her at the sight of the man who had broken her heart four years before, she gazed transfixed at his outstretched hand from beneath her veiled lashes. She thanked Allah she wore the traditional burqa to veil her expression. It was no longer a boy's hand but a man's hand, sinewy with a whipcord strength that could easily crush her smaller, daintier hand. Dark hair curled over the tanned knuckles and the clean nails were clipped neatly short. Yet the calloused pads of his fingers told her that he was still as rugged as he had always been.

Her foster father ushered her out of hearing distance of the cowboy and then spoke softly so only she could hear. "Allah knows the mind and the heart. Ryan is a good man sent by your birth family. I trust him. You must flee Egypt now." Alexis' foster father Omar drew his heavy brows together as he folded his arms across his broad, barreled chest. His thick, wavy hair, dark as midnight, bounced to his shoulders as he nodded. Gaunt cheeks tapered beneath his neatly sculpted beard. His sharp piercing gaze willed her to listen to him.

H er nostrils flared, her protective instincts screaming no. She sucked in a deep breath and then instilled steel into her words. "I fear Allah in everything. But I don't believe that you know His will or that you are here to do His bidding," she said to Zane.
Despite her brave words, sparks exploded in her arm when Zane brushed against it. Alarmed, she scrambled around her papa's ornate desk to put as much space as possible between herself and the overbearing American. In her haste, she almost knocked over a fifty-year-old fern, but caught and righted it. No reason it should be a casualty of their war. Nor would her foster mother thank her for spilling damp soil on her prized Persian carpet.

The large room bespoke a quiet elegance. Heavy ornate furnishings made the room seem smaller and darker than it actually was but it also gave it a homey, secure feeling. A feeling that usually seeped into her, wrapping around her, but which eluded her this night as the shadows deepened and the moon rose high on the other side of the window.

Staring up at the moon, she fingered the gold filigree locket that hung around her neck and which contained pictures of her American birthparents. She tilted her chin regally and glared at Ryan, willing him to leave. Maybe her heart wouldn't ache so badly once he was safely back on his continent, thousands of miles away.

"You must come with me. The safety of the entire world depends on you." Zane's deep voice was deadly quiet. His gaze locked with hers sending chills down her spine. He didn't move a muscle, not even to brush away the unruly burnished golden locks that fell across his furrowed brow.

7 Elaine Hopper

"Don't dare mock me." Seething, her bosom rose and fell heavily.

"Perhaps your motives are mere worldly double-dealing. How can the world's safety depend on me?" She bit her tongue, but too late. She cursed her fiery American blood for tricking her into being too outspoken, too careless. No matter how hard she tried, however, she could not suppress her forthrightness. Oh, how she wished there was a void where her heart dwelled instead of this hammering ache.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her foster mother's shadow cross hers. Several smaller shadows flitted across the floor.

Zane quirked his right brow and shifted his gaze to her foster father, including him in the discussion. "You know of the Curse of Osiris, the Millennium Prophecy. Explain to her how important it is that she leaves with me now."

Omar nodded slowly. Then he glanced at his wife and their five small daughters. "Savvy, escort the children to another room. We have most urgent, private matters to discuss."

Alexis' foster mother curtsied with quiet assurance and silently ushered her family to another room. She strolled with an easy grace, her long robes flowing gently behind her. Curiosity blazed in the sloe-dark eyes of her five younger foster sisters, but they all dropped their gaze hurriedly except Olivia, the second oldest and bravest child, who stared brazenly from Alexis to Zane with a knowing smile on her lips.

When Alexis turned to exit with the others, Omar put a gentle hand on her wrist, halting her. "Nay, Alexis, you are to go with Zane, not the others."

She nodded, folded her hands together demurely and tried to hide her chafing and immense curiosity, even though she could not help but steal veiled glances at the man who had ruined her life. Did he have any inkling how deeply he had hurt her?

"Come along, Olivia. Your father has spoken." Savitri shooed the girl into the adjoining room and shut the door firmly.

Nodding sagely, Omar locked the door behind them. "I know the prophecy well." He gazed up at the heavens and frowned.

"See? Cassiopeia shines brightly, as prophesied." Zane pointed up at the heavens.

Zane's words were frightening, nonsensical riddles to Alexis' ears. She followed the men's gazes, wondering for what she searched. Cassiopeia was a constellation, wasn't it? What significance did it hold?

"Prophecy said the Evil One would return at the dawn of the new millennium and we have safely passed that. I thought we were safe." Omar's obsidian eyes flashed with alarm. "After Alexis' parents told me of this prophecy, I made it my life's mission to protect her."

"Protect me from what evil? Of what prophecy do you speak, Papa?" Her skirt swished around her ankles as she paced with her hands linked behind her back. "The Evil One? 'Tis very bizarre, like some fairy tale."

8 Curse of Osiris

"I wish that's all it was." Zane ambled to the window and pointed at the brightest star. "See that? When the constellation of Cassiopeia appears at the turn of the new millennium, Seth will come back for his bride. And then a new world order will reign." Zane gazed darkly at them, his intense, inscrutable gaze lingering on her. "The calendar got screwed up. Tomorrow night, the new millennium arrives."

Omar strode to the window and he peered closely at the night sky. "'Tis Cassiopeia all right, which means that Alexis must depart Cairo immediately. Egypt is too dangerous for her now. Can you get her out of the country?"

Zane brushed his unruly hair out of his eyes. His unsettling gaze lingered on her. "Great minds think alike. A chartered plane is waiting for us near the Giza port. The sooner we get the hell out of here, the better."

Befuddled, exasperated, Alexis crossed the room to join the men and stood on her foster father's right so that Zane was on his other side. She stared up at the myriad twinkling lights surrounding the moon, fascinated against her will. "Which constellation is Cassiopeia?"

Zane moved over to her and his scent wrapped around her, tantalizing her despite her wariness of him. He smelled of musky American spices that she'd not encountered since she'd last seen him. They were very familiar, very disturbingly erotic scents and she was aggravated that they sent tremors to the very core of her being. She'd thought she had purged his scent from her memory, but it haunted her as if he had never left.

Zane dropped heavy hands on her shoulders and pointed out the window. His hot breath scorched her neck as he pointed to the brightest cluster of lights in the sky. "Look to the south. The brightest group of stars is Cassiopeia."

Uncontrollable shivers gripped her. She told herself that the fateful stars were responsible for her reaction, but the breeze whistling through the window seemed to whisper "liar". "Will one of you please explain all this talk of doom and calamity?"

Without permission or warning, Zane lifted her veil and then the heavy coil of hair off her neck. His rough fingertip tickled her ultra-sensitive flesh. "You bear the sacred mark."

"What sacred mark is this? I know of no sacred mark on my being." Alexis whirled around, scorched by the man's unwelcome but tingling touch.

"You were born with the sacred mark. Your parents, being students of Egyptology, recognized it and sought to free you from the evil prophecy. But they died protecting you before they could tell me how to save you from the curse." Omar shook his head at her and frowned.

" The wicked god Seth will return to wed his promised bride—you—on the eve of the new millennium. If he succeeds, all hell will break loose."
Annoyed at the men's foray into fantasy, she reeled around. She glared hardest at the foolish American. "Curses? Phophecy? Ancient evil? Pish-tosh!"

9 Elaine Hopper

A disturbing thought nagged at her and she lifted her accusing gaze to Zane. "Is the reason you came into my life before only to be my bodyguard? Was I merely a means to accomplishing your sacred mission?"

"I was sent to protect you, but New Year's Eve came and went and nothing happened."

"And then you departed on swift wings. Your twisted tongue bespoke false tales." So, she had been merely a job. His heart had never overflowed with love for her. She had made an absolute and utter fool of herself. This most heinous knowledge cut her deeply.

Omar turned to her, squared his shoulders and lifted his bearded chin. He held out his hand forcefully. "Cease! We both believed you to be safe, daughter. Now, we know we must get you out of here immediately, lest you fall into Seth's clutches. I prayed it would never be necessary to tell you. I kept guard over you and never saw the signs returning—until my friend pointed to the proof in the stars. Seth tricked us into a false sense of security. Very clever, he is."

S he fingered the back of her neck for any indentations or abrasions and found none except the indentation of the chain that was her constant companion. She couldn't wait to locate two mirrors and see this so-called sacred mark for herself. She rubbed her forehead as merciless tension hammered away at her. "I implore you again, Papa, explain this to me before you send me away."
Omar took her hands in his and led her to a buttery-soft leather chair in front of his desk, motioning for her to take a seat. He perched on the edge of his desk and stroked his beard, sighing. "Listen closely, daughter, for time runs short. Seth, who murdered his own brother Osiris, married his brother's wife and tried to take over his brother's kingdom, is prophesied to awaken from his long slumber at the dawn of the third millennium. Because of his portentous misdeeds, he is not fully human, but a viciously sinister creature who will stop at nothing to remake the world in his own vile image."

Omar half turned, sweeping his arm in a wide arc toward the window behind him, indicating the vast twinkling sky. "The constellation of Cassiopeia signals the monster's return. When the stars are fully aligned, he must wed his betrothed in order to fully regain his powers. Then, he will make over the Earth in his vile image and then no mortal can stop him."

Zane paced before them, his hands linked behind his back. Shadows flitted across his chiseled features and haunted his eyes. Instead of their normal honeyed shade, his eyes were the rich deep hue of warm molasses.

Omar's melodious, rich voice continued to weave its spell over her. "'Tis why we must keep you from him and thwart his plans, or it will be the end of this era."

Her mind fogged, Alexis licked her suddenly parched lips and smoothed her long skirt over her knees. She spoke slowly, thoughtfully. "Why am I the chosen one? Was it a lottery? Or just bad luck? And if this monster is really a god, assuming of course the gods of ancient Egypt are not pure myth, is there refuge to be found anywhere?"

10 Curse of Osiris

Zane leaned heavily on Omar's desk. Gazing deeply into her eyes, he said, "According to ancient legend, you are Seth's reincarnated betrothed, Nepththys."

Grimacing, she glanced down at her dour dress. "Me? You think he believes me to be his star-crossed love?"

"It isn't surprising. Your line is descended from the pharaohs of Egypt." Omar held up a picture and squinted at it. His bushy mustache twitched. "You bear the sacred mark. Thus, the evil one will seek you out."

She was descended from royalty? She turned a suspicious gaze on Zane, still not convinced of the truth of their words. "How do we know you're not the unnamed creature trying to trick me into accompanying you? False tales have slithered from your twisted tongue before."

Zane's scowl deepened. "Give me a break. An evil god wouldn't waste words or give you a choice in the matter."

She wrinkled her nose at the sarcastic American and then glanced at her foster father whom she trusted with her eternal soul as well as her mortal body, seeking confirmation. "Papa?"

"Zane speaks the truth. Seth won't wear modern clothing but ancient robes of gold. He won't travel by boat, plane, or car, but ride on the wings of the wind." Omar reached across the table and squeezed her hand. His lyrical voice washed over her. "'Tis fanciful and farfetched, but many mysteries abound in our world. Have I failed in teaching you this?"

He had taught her, but her sensible American side retained doubts, even if she couldn't recall her birthplace. It could be a very troublesome part of her make-up, one that constantly concerned her foster mother and one that she worked very hard to mask. Right now, she had no desire to suppress that side. "So, I'm the chosen one? Once I'm bound to this Seth, I shall also rule over this new cursed dominion?"

The men exchanged troubled glances. "No. Once you are his virgin bride, he will sacrifice you to fulfill prophecy," Zane said thickly.

"Sacrifice? Remove me to my grandparents at once, before this calamity ensues." She rose and headed toward the door.

Omar kissed her on one cheek and then on the other. Then he waved his hand toward the east. "Make haste before the moon is buried in darkness! May you journey on swift wings."

Alexis stopped dead, her hand on the door handle and stared at her foster father. She couldn't recall a time when Omar hadn't been there for her when she needed him. And she needed him now more desperately than ever, if what the men told her were true. "You aren't journeying with us, Papa? But you're my protector."

Omar extracted official-looking documents from the desk drawer he always kept locked. He strode over to her and handed her the sheaf of papers. "Your passport and birth certificate. You'll need these to depart the country."

11 Elaine Hopper

He enfolded her in a fatherly hug and then he stepped back a pace and smiled into her eyes. He took a wad of money from his desk and tucked it into her hands and closed her fingers around it. "I cannot leave your mother and sisters. I shall accompany you as far as the Giza port, but I cannot journey to America. Always remember that my spirit and my love travel with you. You always have a home here, whenever you desire to return."

She turned the documents over in her hand, staring at them. The end of her life in Egypt and as a member of Omar's family suddenly loomed. Dread washed over her.

Zane threw a heavy-looking duffel bag over his shoulder and straightened to his full, impressive height. He stepped out into the star-studded night and was instantly bathed in moonlight. Moonbeams danced on his golden hair, making it appear brighter than the daytime sands. "I'm taking over his job now. The sooner we leave this godforsaken place, the better."

Tightening her jaw, she passed Ryan without looking directly at him. Out of long habit, she made her way to her camel Raheed, stroked his nose, unhitched him and then mounted. She clucked to her steed as she reined him around so that she faced her new protector. "Shall we?"

Zane arched a brow. He gestured to his vehicle, nodding at the far side of the tent where it barely peeked out. "The Jeep is much faster."

"Oh." She felt like a small, foolish child and heat rushed into her cheeks. She dismountd and tied up the camel. She was quite certain the American was delusional. How had she let herself be swept up in this hysteria? "Are you quite certain that legend about my birthmark isn't some silly fairy tale? You Americans are always predicting the end of the world, doom and disaster."

"You're American, too, sweetheart. Or have you forgotten?" Zane's brow lifted and he shook his head. He unholstered a pistol, snapped it open, filled the chamber with bullets and closed it. Then he flipped the safety and stuffed it back in the holster. He repeated the process with a second pistol holstered on his other shoulder.

"Do be careful with those." She eyed the firearms suspiciously, wondering about his prowess with them.

H e grinned wryly. "No fear, sweetheart. I'm a very cautious guy." His glance raked over her. "It wouldn't hurt you to carry a weapon, under the circumstances. Do you know how to handle a firearm?"
Tremors shot down her spine. "Nay! I've never fired a weapon, nor could I slay another living creature."

"We're talking self-defense. I could teach you—if we had time, which we don't." Zane took a sheathed knife out of his pocket and handed it to her. "Here, keep this handy—just in case. It's better than nothing."

"Will guns and knives protect us against gods?" Or demons? "Don't we need weapons of magic? Potions? Incantations? Amulets?" She pocketed the knife and then

12 Curse of Osiris

rubbed the locket between her fingers, wishing it were a magic amulet and gnawed her lower lip.

"Let's hope we never find out." The arrogant American opened the door, swept his arm wide and bowed mockingly. "Your chariot, Princess Nepththys."

She clenched her teeth and narrowed her eyes at him. "I would be most appreciative if you'd refrain from addressing me as such."

Omar climbed in the back of the topless Jeep and leaned over the seat. He produced an ancient book that looked older than time and passed it to her. "Read this on the plane. Perhaps there is a passage in here that will bring illumination. It belonged to your parents and they asked me to give it to you if ever this constellation again appeared in the night sky aligned like this."

Awe washed over her. When she accepted the book, she felt a solid connection to her parents that had been lacking. Here was additional proof they had lived. This was their legacy to her and perhaps a message from the past. "Thank you," she murmured, rubbing her thumb over the heavy gold cover.

The book mesmerized her, bidding her to open its gilt-edged pages. Parchment crackled between her fingers as she slowly turned pages. Her eyes strained to see the ancient scrawl with only the aid of moonlight.

Zane slid a surprised glance to her. "You can read that gibberish?" He pressed the accelerator, fascination gleaming in his eyes.

"I could with better light." She yearned to read it, to learn more of her family and her own fate.

Omar leaned over her shoulder, his chin resting on her shoulder. "'Tis an amazing gift, daughter." A frown knit his brow and his mustache twitched.

She managed to make out a few words with the aid of a small flashlight that Zane extracted from the Jeep's glove box. She underlined the words with her fingertip as she read. "And in the last moments of the old millennium, Seth shall wed his betrothed. Then he will slay the virgin bride as his sacrifice and in so doing, all under the heavens shall be his kingdom and his subjects shall take his form."

Chills raking her body, she stared off into the distance. "Seth," she murmured. "The Evil One. The one who murdered his own brother, Osiris, and tried to steal his throne."

"You're still a virgin, I gather?" Zane asked dryly, his gaze dispassionate once again as if it were an insult.

"What kind of question is that to ask an unmarried woman?" Highly indignant, she clenched her jaw tightly. "How dare you ask me something so intimate!"

Zane chortled in a distinctly American way. "I thought virgins your age were extinct. It is almost the new millennium."

"My age?" She arched her brow at him. "Is twenty-three a spinster in your land?" She tossed her head, snapped the book shut with a bang and laid it on her lap. "We are in Egypt, not America."

13 Elaine Hopper

"Feisty as ever, isn't she? I do believe she's more difficult than I remember," Zane said to Omar, shrugging. Wind whipped his long hair into his eyes and he pushed it away ineffectually, just to have it blow back.

"Vainglorious as ever, aren't you?" she shot back, her eyes narrowed at the younger of the two men. The Jeep rumbled beneath her, bumpy over the uneven dirt road and when they hit a large rock and she was bounced a couple of inches off her seat, she clutched at the door handle lest she be flung against her grumpy savior.

Zane cracked a grin and shook his head as he turned the wheel. Moonbeams danced in the spun gold of his hair, mesmerizing her until she tore her gaze away. "You're not catching me at my best. It's not every day that's the end of civilization as we know it."

"Then let Allah be with us." She kept her gaze straight ahead, pretending a nonchalance she didn't feel. She clutched the handle as the Jeep sped forward at an alarming rate and seemed to home in on every hole and bump in the road. Perhaps it would be a blessing if they died in a motor accident.

Dawn's pink and lavender fingers stretched high into the night sky, pushing it away. Alexis watched, the sun resembling a sorbet floating on the horizon. She stared at it, mesmerized for several long moments before breaking its bewitchment with thoughts. How could evil exist in amidst such beauty?

"I'm well aware of my mission and my duties. It's never left my mind for a moment." Zane nodded at the book. "Now that you have more light, why don't you make it your mission to find a magical solution to our little problem?"

"You always spoke with a flowery tongue, Ryan." She paged through the book slowly, trying to decipher it, losing herself in the fascinating history of an ancient civilization and its allegiance to gods in which she had never believed, but who had supposedly betrothed her long ago.

Omar's hand shot out in front of her face, startling her. "Look out. The sand brews ahead."

Zane swore under his breath and turned the Jeep to go around, pressing the accelerator to the floor. "Hold on tight and close your eyes." He leaned over her lap and fumbled in the glove box until he pulled out a pair of sunglasses.

"Those won't protect you against the sand. You cannot outrun a sandstorm," Omar said direly, wrapping his scarf around his face and pulling his hood up over his head. He leaned forward and helped Alexis to pull up her veil as well.

Zane grimaced, smacking the flat of his hand on the dashboard. "I'm sure going to try. The alternative is to let it bury us alive."

But the storm shifted to the west when Zane moved west and it shifted to the east when Zane turned the car east. The storm more than tripled in size as it closed in on them.

"Faster!" Omar urged, leaning over the front seat. "It will swallow us alive. We need a magic carpet! You do not, perchance, have one?"

14 Curse of Osiris

Zane reached behind him. He pulled a pistol from his holster and held it on the seat beside him.

Alexis stared at the weapon, her mouth as dry as the desert sand. He really planned to use that? Did he expect to do so now? What did he fear from sand that a bullet could cure?

Her foster father shielded his eyes with his hand. The rest of his face remained covered by his scarf. "The next time you come to rescue us, my friend, bring your plane."

Zane palmed the pistol and clicked off the safety. "I wish I had."

(c) 2008 Elaine Hopper- Do not reproduce in any form without the permission of the author/owner.

If you like this sample chapter, you can read the rest and 5 other stories by purchasing a copy of ENCHANTED HOLIDAYS, available from Cerridwen Press http://www.cerridwenpress.com in both electronic and print.
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