What do Werewolves do for Christmas?

…and vampires? How about witches? On todays episode on my podcast Blood Sweat and Words, award winning author Sharon Ashwood talks about Christmas in a dark paranormal world. She’s one of my favorite paranormal authors and I’ll be reviewing her latest book on Friday.

Murder for Christmas – Chapters 5/6

On Fridays, I’ve been posting chapters from my latest release. Today, I give you chapters 5 and 6.

5

Backin her room as Maddy washed up and slipped into her nightgown, her mind flew in all directions. The boat captain’s warning about curses, the missing guest, the eclectic group of strangers gathered for an unknown reason, the enigmatic host, the handsome Jago … the ghostly figure in the mirror and the chuckler. All in all, things didn’t add up and that haunted her worse than any damn apparition.

She liked it when things added up.

Outside the storm raged. The wind howled and the forest groaned in its path. Rain pelted the windows. Lightening crackled through the dark sky.

It was a dark and stormy night, she thought and chuckled as she pulled out her laptop to pour her memories onto the screen. The process of letting it out calmed her and an hour later she shut her computer down.

An eerie quiet had settled inside the lodge under the full moon. It was hidden beneath layers of clouds, but she could feel it. Too quiet? Nah, that would be her imagination. How much quiet, is too quiet? It sounded silent only because the outside sounded so dramatically loud. People must have fallen asleep by now. She should be asleep by now.

But her body didn’t agree. Somewhere out there was Henri Larochelle, the missing man. She got into bed and pulled up the covers. Dawn would come soon enough, and with luck another boat from the mainland. That’s what bothered her the most, being cut off from the rest of the world.

Twenty minutes later she gave up. Sleep would not come. She sat up. How did she get here? Alone in her room, in a creepy lodge, on a cursed island? Merry Christmas Maddy. She laughed at herself.

And a ghost or ghosts? She couldn’t forget them.

As she hugged herself, and felt goosebumps on her arms, there was no point in pretending she wasn’t scared. Hell, she was terrified. A deep sense of foreboding gripped her like a bad case of the flu.

And she hadn’t said goodbye to anyone in her family, or explained why she wouldn’t be making it to the big Christmas dinner on the 23rd.

She had accepted the invitation to the island to get away from them. And here she was thinking about them. Why is it that family, no matter how much you love or hate them, haunt you? It’s as if the DNA within you has a voice of its own, a voice that refuses to go away. They are part of you, no matter what, part of everything you do. She gritted her teeth.

Okay, so maybe her twin sister Melody had some good intentions when she criticized her. Mel couldn’t help it if she was born stupid. Stupid in terms of understanding other people’s feelings and stupid in terms of understanding we’re all created “different.” We need different in this world. It’s what makes life interesting.

Her mother had told her over and over again to be more tolerant of her sister. “You only have one,” she would say. “Just agree with her and get along.”

Wind whistled outside and windows shook.

Frig that. Seriously, how could her mother ask her to bow down to her sister. What had she said? “Don’t poke the bear.” Frig that, too. Maddy had every right to speak her mind and if Melody wanted to hate her for it, so be it. Hah.

Hah. A shiver stole up her spine. Instinctively she looked at the mirror and the ghostly figure appeared for a second and vanished. A musty smell flooded the room reminding her of old basements in the winter. She hugged herself. This place was beyond creepy.

Would she get out of here alive? Where the hell had that thought come from?

Did it matter? Who would it matter to? Yeah, maybe she had been immature to think that by skipping the turkey-event, she could skip out on the drama of her family. Whether they were in the room or not, they were always in her heart. And though their harsh comments burned deep, it was a part of who she was.

But it wasn’t fair. But then life wasn’t fair. She swallowed and looked at the mirror. It was empty. The ghost or shadow or “whatever” had disappeared.

She got up and drank another glass of the lemon water. She would be better off thinking about Jago’s kiss than this place or her family drama. The memory of the kiss warmed her for a second. The thought of being under him … over him … all around him … She smiled as images of their bodies entwined flowed through her mind. But her worries and her fear pulled her back.

As she returned to the bed alone in the darkness she wondered if she would ever get a chance to forgive her sister and whether her sister would ever forgive her.

 

6

By the time Maddy finished her morning stretches and looked over her notes from the night before, it was nine o’clock. She had put off seeing everyone as long as she could.

As she descended to the bottom floor the smell of bacon and coffee overwhelmed her. The coffee smelled great; the strips of pig, not so much. It reminded her of many good meals. And the taste. Crispy, juicy, yummy. Some days it was hard to be a vegetarian.

The lodge was much quieter. The storm had raged all night and mellowed around dawn. She could hope that the good weather would stay, but she figured it more likely they were in the eye of the storm, and within hours the wind and rain would return.

Sunlight peeking through clouds lit the back sunroom. This space looked more modern than the grand dining hall and more comfortable. The Buchanons had set up a breakfast smorgasbord on a long table at the side of the room. There were scrambled eggs on the dry side, crisp bacon, a variety of sausages, a fruit bowl, heavy on the pineapple, and granola. In the center of the room there were six small tables covered in festive red, cotton tablecloths.

Classic Christmas tunes played over speakers mounted on the wall. “Fa-la, la-la, la, la-la, la, la …”

Linda Li and Sam Charles appeared deep in conversation at the table closest to the food. Roger Reynold ate at another table alone. His eyes were glued to an iPad. Mercedes Brown stood by the window staring outside. She held a cup of coffee in her shaky hands. The doctor ate alone in the middle of the room staring into space. His lips moved as if he spoke to someone. Lucy Diamond hadn’t arrived yet.

Jago waved Maddy over where he sat in the corner. She joined him with her bowl of granola and fruit in one hand and a cup of green tea in her other. “Good Morning.”

“You look rested,” he said. Dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt, he looked relaxed. And handsome.

She smiled. A one-night stand would make her feel better about being alive. She waved off his compliment. “I can’t let go of what happened last night.”

He laughed. “Which part? The dinner or the kiss?”

“Henri Larochelle is lost. Don’t you think we should be worried?”

“Well, when you put it that way.”

“What other way is there to put it?”

Jago pushed his half-empty plate of eggs aside and leaned back. “Okay. After you eat, we’ll go looking.”

She glanced out the window. The storm had eased in its ferocity, but it still drizzled. “I have some rain gear.”

“Rain never hurt anyone. I bet Henri is out there, safe and sound.”

“Why didn’t he come back then?”

“He probably took shelter under a tree and is waiting for a dry spell. Or maybe he’s communing with nature. We don’t know the guy. And to be honest, I never trust entrepreneur-dudes.”

She shook her head. “I have this feeling something happened to him and I can’t shake it.”

“Maybe he twisted an ankle and can’t make it back on his own. We’ll get to him. Don’t worry. There aren’t too many places to hide on a small island.”

“Maybe he fell off a cliff and is dead.”

Jago winced.

And the Christmas music played on. “Silver bells … silver bells …”

“Can’t we call someone for help,” Maddy said. “I don’t trust Reynolds.” There, she’d said it out loud. The man gave her the heebie jeebies and this place … She wouldn’t tell Jago what she thought about this place. He’d think her weird, for sure.

Jago leaned forward. “I asked Buchanon about contacting the mainland this morning. He said the land lines are down, and cell phone reception is never good. I can’t get any bars on mine. The lights are running off a generator in the basement.”

Maddy didn’t have any reception either. “What about a satellite phone? Isn’t that what they use in remote areas?”

His eyes softened. “Smart and beautiful.”

“Stop, will you. Henri Larochelle could be suffering.”

Jago lifted his hands in defense. “Eat first. Then we’ll form a posse.”

She shrugged. Sometimes compliance was the best step. She lifted a spoonful of granola to her lips …

And heard a piercing scream.

The room emptied as everyone ran towards the back door. Lucy Diamond stood outside, screaming.

They rushed to her aid. Water ran off her expensive raingear and Southewester hat. Her face was flushed and the pupils of her eyes dilated.

“Out there,” she panted. “Out there.” She pointed to the forest. “He … he’s out there.” More panting. “And he’s …” She put a hand to her heart. “Dead.”

The book is available on all Amazon sites. If you type the title in, make sure that you add, “by Jo-Ann Carson,” as many writers have used this title.

Have a great weekend.

 

The Marginalization of Minorities in Books

sandra

It’s a big topic, but S.G. Wong handles it well in today’s episode on my podcast, Blood Sweat and Words.

Link

As always, I’d love o hear what you think on this topic.

Do You Have an Amazon Headache? #MondayBlog

You’re not alone.

I could write a long post on the chaos that’s happening in and around Amazon, but you can find the details everywhere.

I suggest listening to Joanna Penn’s podcast today as she talks about Amazon’s move towards being a “pay to play” platform, the large number of authors who report losses in sales and talks about the difficulty European writers are having with Amazon. Good articles on the general topic are:

My personal story is that I logged into my sales page on Saturday morning and found there were no books. No books! It’s bad enough that my sales have tanked, but to have lost my books was a bit much. I spent my weekend telling myself to breathe. This too will pass, I told myself. And with a few emails it did pass, and everything is back in place. Was it a hickup? More like a belch.

What I know for sure is :

  • seismic change is happening in the Amazon ecosystem (Mark Dawson said that there has been more change in publishing in the last six weeks than in the last six years)
  • also-boughts are dead (at least for now – Is this a marketing experiment???)
  • if you want to be noticed in the biggest book store in the word, you’ll have to advertise
  • Amazon’s segmentation into country stores could become more rigid and shall we say tricky.

For me this upheaval has been more than a headache, it’s been a heartbreak.  

believed, and, yes, you can call me naive, that Amazon’s intent was to further the world of books, to enable people to write and publish freely, to reach their market … to grow art. Now, it’s becoming quite clear to me, that what I was watching was the first step, the seduction phase you might say, of a larger business plan and the true goal is to make lots and lots of money.

Any thoughts? I’d love to hear from you.

Murder For Christmas Chapter 4

Do you like gothic suspense? Here’s chapter four from Murder for Christmas, which is now available on Amazon.

Psst: If you haven’t read them, chapters 1-3 were presented on the last three Fridays.

Link

 

Chapter 3

Maddy was the last to arrive.

An enormous table, covered in a white linen tablecloth, dominated the dining room. Intricate designs of mythical creatures crawled up its sturdy legs. Three elaborate candelabras sat in the middle. A table set for a 1930s mystery. How lovely.

Heads of animals covered the north-wall: stuffed deer, elk, moose and bear. Their black, beady eyes held death stares that made her stomach knot. Wide windows and French doors lined the opposite wall exposing the dark wilderness outside.

I may be the last to arrive, but I’ll be the first to leave. As soon as the boat returns, I’m outa here.

The smell of cooked flesh, garlic and roasted vegetables hung in the air. The flesh part curdled her vegetarian appetite.

Six people sitting at the table turned to look at her as she entered.

“Good evening,” Maddy said. “My name is Madison Rathborne, but you can call me Maddy.”  She took one of the two empty seats, the one with Reggie’s name-tag sitting on the china plate. The name tag on the plate for the missing person to her left read: “Henri Larochelle.” The name sounded familiar, but before she could ponder his absence the silence in the room drew her attention.

“Mad Rath?” said the man seated at the head of the table, in a smooth Southern voice. “Your reputation precedes you.”

“Yes, that’s my by-line on the Puzzle website, Wowzers, which is syndicated here and there all over the Internet, but like I said, you can call me Maddy.” She smiled at the group.

The man stood. “Maddy it is then. Welcome. I am your host, Roger Reynolds.” While his words sounded suitably gracious, the rigid set of his square jaw sent a different message. She had the distinct feeling her unexpected appearance had messed up his plans. Her dress suddenly felt two sizes too small.

She studied him.Intense denim-blue eyes stared back at her. The bags beneath them suggested he’d seen serious shit in his thirty-something years. He wore a light blue linen shirt open at the neck with rolled up sleeves and expensive, black dress pants. No belt. A slight scruff on his square jaw gave him that sexy morning-after appearance. His thick white hair was mussed perfectly. An older man, but a handsome man, the kind her aunt would want to marry.

Her brain screamed: be careful. Who, after all, would invite eight strangers to a gathering on a cursed island, one week before Christmas?

He broke their staring contest to look around the table.  “Now that most of us are here, let’s get on with the introductions. I know you’re all dying to know why I created this retreat, but I’ll leave that until everyone has spoken.”

“But we’re not all here,” Maddy stated the obvious. It didn’t take any mathematical skill to see the chair beside her was empty.

“Yes, you’re right, of course. One of the guests is late.”

A sturdy-looking woman in a light-blue maid’s outfit emerged from the kitchen and made her way beneath the dead animal heads with a tray in her hands. As she set the first bowl of soup down in front of Reynolds, he spoke. “Let me introduce you to our cook and housemaid, Mrs. Buchanon.”

The crowd murmured their hellos. She nodded, didn’t smile, and continued to place bowls in front of each of them.

Reynolds turned to the first person on his right. “Dr. Li would you start, please.”

A petite woman of Asian descent stood. Her shiny black hair had been pulled back into a bun at the nape of her neck, revealing perfect skin and delicate features. She wore a simply cut, emerald-green dress that added to her classic beauty. “Good evening everyone,” she said in a confident voice. “My name is Linda Li. Please call me Linda.” She looked around the table, making eye contact with each of them. “I’m a research scientist at UBC. I live in a postage-stamp-sized condo in the west end of Vancouver, so I jumped at the chance to get away to the country.” Demure and sincere, her smile aimed to please, but Maddy’s gut sensed the woman was hiding a whole lot of something beneath the green silk, including a superior intellect.

“According to my invitation,” Linda continued, “I’m here to inspire dialogue about global warming. I study the effect of climate change on the marine environment and am considered somewhat of an expert in my field.” She giggled as if that were funny. God how Maddy hated how some women underplayed their brilliance. Because it works, she reminded herself, because it works.

The crowd murmured their approval. Could any of them talk her language of stats and theories?

“I don’t know any of you yet.” Linda Li engaged the eyes in the room once again. “But I’m sure we’ll get to know each other over the next few days.”

“Welcome,” Maddy said. Everyone piped in, “Welcome.”

Linda Li sat down.

A fidgeting foot inches from Maddy’s caught her attention as it touched hers. She looked at the man and he gave her a warm, friendly smile that made her feel a touch more comfortable. It appeared she wasn’t the only one anxious about this event.

The man to the right of Linda Li stood and scanned the faces around the table with an arrogance that made Maddy wonder if she had put her best undies on. He looked weathered, with deep wrinkles and a sagging chin. His features were losing their battle against time and sinking into old age, but at one time he had been a good-looking man. Cleanly shaved and immaculately dressed in a well-fitted jacket, white, open necked shirt and charcoal-gray pants, he gave the air of controlled confidence. Heck, his socks probably cost more than her hydro bill.

Really, she shouldn’t be so small. The decrepit lodge that was getting to her.

“My name is Dr. Charles Chamberlain Smith III.  I’ve been invited to this …” he paused as if the words stuck in his alligator neck, “… gathering of adventurous minds to act as your medical doctor.” He frowned. “But given the weather I can’t imagine us doing anything more rigorous than lifting wine glasses.” Without waiting for a response, he sat.

The woman to his right did not stand, but her voice projected with the precision of a scalpel. “My name is Lucy Diamond, that’s diamond as in the most precious stone on the earth and Diamond as in Diamond Realty, a company I proudly own and operate.” She was a petite, plump woman, well-turned-out in a layered, red dress and glossy siren-red lipstick. Probably, mid-fifties. Rings covered her fingers, and her nails had been filed to sharp points and painted red. Her brown hair cut into a classic bob was highlighted, lowlighted and hair sprayed in place.

“We deal with real estate in the southern Island area and specialize in finding you your dream home.” Her smile was positively predatory.

Maddy sat back.What could we possibly have in common? The weather? Maddy tried not to stare at the realtor.

Lucy Diamond continued: “I was invited here to assess the lodge’s potential as a destination property. Roger is considering selling or developing.” She gave Roger an appraising look and her eyelashes fluttered.

Roger chuckled. “Yes, I’m considering my options.”

“Whose land do you think you’re selling?” The voice came from the other side of the table. A first nation’s man in his thirties smirked at the Diamond.

“Excuse me?” she said.

“You’re selling land you have no right to.”

Maddy smiled. Maybe it wouldn’t be a dull evening.

“I understand,” said Lucy.

“Yeah?”

“Yes, I understand your people have concerns.”

Maddy laughed. She couldn’t help it.

The man glared at Lucy Diamond. “People like you should be jailed. Making money off of land that doesn’t belong to you.”

Lucy put up her hand. “Now don’t you start about residential schools. I’ve heard it all before and I understand. Truly, I do.”

“But that’s just it. You don’t.” The words tumbled out of Maddy’s mouth before she knew it.

The man looked her way. He had long black hair and deep brown eyes

Roger Reynolds stood. “Now, now. In a diverse group this large, we will have differences of opinions …”

“They’re not opinions,” said Maddy flatly. Because they weren’t.

“On the invitation you claimed we were a like-minded group,” Linda Li stated.

“Yes, yes.” Roger stretched his back. “Thank you, Lucy, for introducing yourself. Sam can you tell us more about yourself?”

The first nations’ man stood. “My name is Sam Charles, I’m a lawyer and I was invited to the island to consider its place in the local first nations’, land claims.” He glared at the rest. “So far, all I can say is that the spirits of this place are unhappy.” With that, he sat.

Roger nodded towards the man sitting next to Maddy, the one with the fidgety foot.

He stood. “Good evening everyone. I’m Jago James. I’ve been invited to take photographs of the event. But, I have to say the wine is delicious…” He droned on with polite compliments to the host. Despite his regular attire: dark brown khakis and a cream-colored shirt, open at the collar, he intrigued Maddy. Intrigued with a capital I. Something about his energy: warm, engaging, youthful. He had cocoa colored skin, thick, black curly hair and dark brown, brooding eyes that a woman could get lost in. What was she thinking?

She zoned back to his speech. “I’m a freelance photographer. I work with National Geographic a lot.” Okay, not only handsome, but talented.And he smelled good, like aloe vera. He’s got to have a flaw. Please, God, give him a flaw.“I received an invitation to this event in the mail last week, and I don’t know why I was chosen.” He raised his wineglass in the air. “To an offer I could not refuse.”

“Cheers.” The crowd mumbled and I joined them, “Cheers.”

Jago turned her way and winked. Heat rushed to her cheeks. Maybe this weekend wouldn’t be a total loss. It would do her good to flirt, or … whatever.

My turn. Shit. “I’m Madison Rathborne. I like to be called Maddy. Like all of you, I am grateful for an invitation to a week away from the world, but I haven’t a clue what I did in this or my last life to deserve it.” She stopped to breathe and was thankful that they laughed. Best of all Jago smiled, which helped her go on. “My friend Reggie Thompson, who passed her invitation along to me, writes an environmental blog syndicated in The Post. When she came down with the flu, she gave me her invitation, and asked me to fill in as the reporter in the group. I’m a cryptographer by trade, but I can write a column. I look forward to getting to know you all better.” Had she raced her words? Her face burned.Everyone nodded politely and turned their attention to the next guest.

“I don’t think I need an introduction.” Mercedes Brown, the famous Hollywood actress spoke to the space in front of her and met no one’s eyes. When no one responded she rose, but her ascent was wobbly and her cheeks turned red despite her inch of makeup. “Sorry darlings, I’ve been drinking since dawn. My agent is giving me such a headache.” She wiped her brow with the back of her hand. Her agent? Does she think we don’t know? How could anyone on the planet not know? Plastered through all the tabloids are pictures of her with a number of men, while her husband, the rich guy who never says anything, looks on. Mercedes lifted her chin. “I’m pleased to be with you all and will leave you autographed photos by the front door.”

By media standards, she had all the star features: botox fish-lips, high cheek bones iced with a layer of expensive rouge, sparkling, blue eyes that looked more fragile than glass and enormous, silicon breasts well-accentuated in her low-cut, scoop-necked dress. Her interviews made her sound like an idiot, but Maddy had thought that was just a role she played. Yes, she had read about her in the tabloids as she waited her turn to pay for her groceries. Now she wondered. It was quite possible. The woman truly was clueless.

Mercedes flashed her eyes and grabbed the table with both of her hands as she finished her speech, “Is there champagne? I do like a good glass of champagne.”

Maddy tried not to stare at her. The guest list made no sense. What did an alcoholic starlet have in common with an environmental research scientist, a first-nations lawyer and a real-estate mogul?

Roger spoke up. “I’m sorry that Henri Larochelle didn’t make it to dinner. He arrived a day before the rest of you and according to the Buchanons wandered outside. I had hoped he would return for a meal.” Thunder cracked, as if timed by the director of a horror movie. “When the weather let’s up,” Roger continued, “I’ll coordinate a search. Larochelle must have twisted his ankle or gotten lost out there. It’s easy to get turned around in an old forest.”

Everyone nodded, but his words didn’t sit right. How does one get lost on an island? It’s surrounded by water. Could he be somewhere in the lodge? Wait … Henri Larochelle? Where had she heard that name?

“Excuse me,” she said interrupting the murmur of conversation around the table. “Is Henri Larochelle the one they call The Fixer?”

Her host gave her a patronizing smile.

Jago spoke up. “Actually, I think he’s better known as The Spin Doctor.” He coughed.

“Yeah, he sure knows how to spin,” said Lucy Diamond with admiration.

Maddy let Jago’s words sink in. Was Larochelle the one who did PR for all the big corporations around the world, hiding their secrets under a carpet of sweet-smelling lies? Kind of like spraying horse poop with Febreezy. Hadn’t Reggie written an article about him recently? She claimed he was as guilty as the corporations he worked for. Once she called him a slime ball, but her editor made her take out the statement. Maddy would check on that article when she got back to her room, if she could get a signal. She vaguely remembered he had ties to the car company that sold diesel engines claiming they were safe for the environment. They were not. So not.

Roger fussed with his sleeve. “Yes, Henri Larochelle has been called names, but I prefer to hold judgement until I get to know him better. Haven’t we all been misjudged in our lives?”

Everyone nodded.

Roger continued. “In fact, I invited him to liven things up. I hear he’s quick witted and has an endless supply of dinner stories.”

No one around the table seemed too worried about Henri being missing, another telling sign that this really wasn’t Maddy’s kind of party. She wouldn’t even want the most despicable of characters lost outside in this storm. Of course, he could still be inside. Did they have a dungeon? It felt like the kind of place that would have a dungeon, or two. A tingling sensation slithered up her spine.

Jago touched her fingers. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she said quickly, retrieving her hand. “Just tired.”

As the dinner was done and everyone had spoken, the energy in the room ebbed. But Maddy’s unease continued to rise. Each guest may have been invited for a different reason, but the big reason eluded her. There had to be one. She knocked back the glass of wine she’d been served and stood.

“Mr Reynolds, you haven’t told us what this is all about.”

“Mad Rath.” As his eyes connected with hers, she felt a jolt of negative energy. “I didn’t figure on you being a spokesman for this group.”

He didn’t figure on me at all, but that’s okay, because he got me. She smiled.

“I recently retired. I sold my business, and I intend to make the rest of my life memorable. First on my agenda is to have dinner parties with interesting people.”

“Interesting,” she said. She didn’t buy it for a second. “Tell us more. I’d like to know what your expectation of us.” She sat down.

“I spent my working years committed to getting ahead, at any cost, I’m sorry to say.” His mouth twitched on the right side. It made him look vulnerable. “I did well financially, but as we all know that’s not what life’s about. Christmas is in a week and I have no one to share it with, so I’ve invited all of you.”

He invites strangers to spend a week with him because he’s lonely? Was he stupid, or desperate? It was hard to believe such a well-spoken and sociable guy could be the later. And he was handsome. He didn’t need to be lonely. His right hand trembled as he reached for his shot glass. Parkinsons? Alcohol?

“But we have nothing in common,” said Jago in a playful tone.

“Oh, but we do. I’ve studied all your lives and we have more in common than you know.” His eyes twinkled. “As the week unfolds, you’ll see.”

“Except for me,” Maddy said.

His lips flatlined. “There is that, Ms. Maddy. Except for you. You are the exception.”

She laughed and winked at him.

He didn’t even blink.

The French Doors banged open, shattering the glass panes. Wind and wet snow gusted into the room blowing out the candles. The electric lights, which had been set on low flickered and went out. They sat in total darkness.

A low, ominous chuckle echoed through the room. The hair on the nape of Maddy’s neck rose.

A woman screamed. Maddy’s hands shook as she pulled out her phone and turned on the flashlight app. The doctor and Reynolds were closing the doors. Linda Li had gone to the light switch. Jago was lighting a match for the candles. The others remained seated. Their faces twisted into masks of terror.

The Buchanons appeared in the doorway as the lights came on. They pulled thick, curtains over the far wall, hiding the windows and the storm outside. “I’ll get some plywood from the basement to cover the windows,” the man said, and hustled out.

Everyone returned to their seats. Maddy leaned towards Jago. “Did you hear that laugh?” That’s what bothered her the most. Everything else made sense.

“Laugh? No. I didn’t hear anyone laugh. I heard a woman scream.”

Reynolds stood and commanded their attention with his stare. “Let us retire to the sitting room.”

*

They gathered in the large room around the stone fireplace. The heat of the fire warmed the space, but not Maddy’s heart. The doctor looked around with furtive, probing eyes. Linda Li watched the people. Mercedes held her wine glass with a vice grip. The party was not in the mood to party. Nonetheless they took seats in chairs and sofas arranged around the fire.

Mrs. Buchanon brought in coffee, tea and liqueur.

Madison hated small talk at the best of times, and this was not the best of times. Slowly people began talking to those who sat near them. Maddy laced her coffee with Baileys and chatted with Jago about the storm, and her boat trip. Jago’s experience had been much the same. Conversation stalled by the time she finished her coffee.

Nerves. It’s just nerves, and this seriously, gloomy place. She put down her empty cup. “I’m sorry, I’m not good company right now.”

“I think you’re great company.” Jago smiled. His chocolate brown eyes held warmth and mischief. “Especially in these circumstances.”

His attraction warmed her, but the timing was all wrong. “Please excuse me. I need to write notes about our dinner.” She stood. “It will be an interesting part of my report.”

He laughed. “Why don’t I see you to your room.”

“To keep the chuckler away?”

“Something like that.” He touched her back gently in a reassuring and intimate way. “You know this isn’t the scariest place I’ve stayed.”

“Oh, tell me about the scariest.” She let him leave his hand on her back.

“It was a castle in Tuscany. The stories they tell about that place are even worse than the captain’s tales of Deadman’s island.”

Maddy was usually reticent, but the mixture of alcohol and fear made her want to open up and connect. Maybe it was his charm and his good looks. She swallowed. “I thought I saw a ghost tonight.”

“I could stay with you.” He smiled. “Keep you safe, you know. We’re safer together.”

She laughed. “I think I can handle a ghost.”

When they reached her door, he leaned in for a kiss. His lips were soft and full of promise. Maybe this week wouldn’t be all bad. If she survived, that is.

 

Mystery, Romance, Thrillers, Westerns get Bad Raps

Do you love genre fiction? I do. I’m an eclectic reader, but I have to say I love reading adventurous stories and I think they get a bad rap. What about you?

I really enjoyed my conversation with Janice MacDonald about this topic. She also talks about the mystery genre. I could listen to her for hours. She really knows her stuff and she’s funny. I first heard her at a Sisters in Crime Conference.

Have a listen …

The Also-Bought Apocalypse???