Paranormal Romance Novel
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Nestled on Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin is a small, secluded town called Bloodmoon Cove with volatile weather, suspicious folk…and newly awakened ghosts.
Don’t close your eyes…
Some doors, once opened, can never be closed again…
Orphan and widow Corinne Zellman is stunned when she receives several urgent letters from a lawyer, telling her she’s the only surviving heir of Edward Buchanan, a relative of her recently deceased husband. Though Corinne ignores the first few summons, too grieved to consider them anything but cruel hoaxes, she takes notice when yet another arrives, this time with a family ring identical to the one her husband wore and lost just before he was killed. Stuck in a dead end job and curious about the family the love of her life seldom spoke of, she reluctantly pulls up stakes and heads to Bloodmoon Cove, where the persistent elderly gentleman lives. There, with her best friend Ruby, she finds Crooked House, the family “estate”. Crooked House certainly lives up to its disturbing name, as does Edward Buchanan, who is old and pale and disappears so frequently she can almost believe he’s nothing more than a ghost. It isn’t long before Corinne begins to suspect that her new family member had ulterior motives for insisting she come live with him. But to believe that is to believe that Rafe Yager, a hardened soldier, is entirely correct when he says Crooked House is dangerous. The longer she stays, the less chance she’ll ever leave again.
Ghost hunter Rafe is one of the last descendants of the Mino-Miskwi Native American tribe whose elders disappeared during a ritual at their sacred place at the top of Bloodmoon Mountain. Rafe has come home based on a terrifying vision of wide-eyed, wholesome dreamer Cori losing her soul to an evil she doesn’t recognize. Crooked House is falling and its sinister legacy demands recompense for her husband’s death–something that was no accident, as she supposed. Can Rafe save Cori from a sacrifice she never meant to make when she unknowingly came to love a monster?
Crooked House Excerpt 2
© Karen Wiesner
Corinne stared in shock at the recognized return address from a law office in Grimoire on an envelope she’d taken from her mail cubby. She’d begun receiving envelopes from them a few months ago. Only because it had something to do with her beloved, departed husband had she opened the first one. The others had been deemed cruel reminders, burned in the kitchen sink without opening. The first had talked of Tom’s grandfather, of whom, the letter said, she was the last remaining heir by marriage.
When she and Tom had gotten married, he’d refused to let her take his name. He’d insisted she keep her maiden name to prevent his family from ever finding her–and should they ever attempt to contact her, she was to have nothing to do with them, and that was whether he was living or dead. Beyond that, he refused to explain, but she’d assumed he was estranged from his family to the point that he wanted nothing whatsoever to do with them.
But what do I really know about them? How do I know the rift wasn’t caused by some minor thing that had nothing to do with personal honor? Maybe Tom had been shunned for…his many indiscretions.
Corinne’s conscience burned at her disloyalty. She focused her attention on the larger envelope, her hand automatically noting that this one had something bulky inside it. And warm. Unfathomably, her fingers felt warmed to whatever was beneath the manila in just the way they did whenever she touched Tom’s things–his clothes, his photographs, his cologne, his handkerchief that she carried with her always. Curiously, she tore the envelope open, gasping out loud when the familiar ring fell to the plush carpeting in the foyer of the apartment building she lived.
Tom! Tom’s family crest ring! He wore it all the time, wouldn’t let it off his finger for anything in the world. Sometimes I teased him that it was welded on, and he never laughed…
Just before Tom’s death six months before, this ring had been missing. He’d reacted to the loss as if the world had come to an end. Corinne bent and picked up the heavy stainless steel ring, her gaze fixed on the crest with three jagged lines. There was no mistaking this ring. Her fingers closed around the gift and the warmth from it spread all through her. For a moment, she could get herself to believe everything was all right. Tom was here again, loving her, giving her the incentive to get up and face the world each and every day of her life.
When she closed her eyes, holding the ring against her heart, she heard the voices louder than ever, shrill. The voices had been with her since she fell in love with Tom Buchanan. Somehow they were outside her but always close by, whispering in her ears, floating before her eyes; and inside her, in her heart, her mind, her spirit, his name always on the tip of her tongue. The only time they’d gone away had been… Corinne gasped at the memory that came with the same, icy clarity. When I saw that man, Native American, both stone-like yet impassioned as his eyes met mine over the smoking candle Ruby used for her “get what you want” spell… But that didn’t happen. I was hallucinating. Even still, the memory of the voices halting, quieting, leaving me for good for those mere seconds was and is so strong, it feels more real than anything has since I fell in love with Tom.
Life before Tom Buchanan… Those memories didn’t feel like her own. She remembered Tom, remembered her love for him like the only thing that existed, that mattered. Before him, all was vague. She had parents, childhood friends, hobbies and dreams, but they were wisps–someone else’s life inside her. She remembered moving to Grimoire, starting college, intending to become a doctor. Mere recollections, like pictures in another person’s situation. Tom, Tom…he was all, everything.
As she stared down at the familiar crest ring, Corinne felt strongly compelled to put the band on, to bring her husband as close as she could get him.
The doors into the building behind her opened and shut again with a slam, jolting her out of whatever held her spellbound. Quickly, she stuffed the ring back into the envelope, offered a distracted smile to the tenant who’d come in, and rushed to her apartment on the second floor. Once inside, she laid her mail and bag on the kitchen counter, realizing she had to read the letter this time. She had to take it seriously because Tom’s ring had accompanied its arrival.
Her fingers shaking, she read the urgent letter, again stating that she was the only surviving heir of Edward Buchanan, the grandfather of her deceased husband, by marriage. Master Buchanan was old, his health rapidly failing, and his desire was to meet his grand-daughter-in-law and bestow upon her the legacy of Crooked House, the family estate situated in Bloodmoon Cove. Given her disregard for the earlier summons, he’d realized she would require some proof she was indeed the heir since he was certain Tom had told her horrible things about his family—none of it true. Hence, his own family crest ring that was the key to her entry into the family.
Not Tom’s? Something like confused disappointment filled her, but she realized that even if this wasn’t Tom’s ring, it did indeed belong to a member of his family. How could she ignore this summons? Tom had never felt so far away. This ring…a part of him was here now. By touching the ring, a part of her could touch him again.
“‘Master Buchanan urges you to visit the family home, to get to know him and he, in turn, can get to know you, his last remaining relative, before he passes and everything he owns will be transferred to you and you alone.'”
The sound of something smashing and the curse that followed made Corinne pick up the envelope with the ring and rush across the hall to Ruby’s apartment. As usual, the door was unlocked.
“Are you all right?” Corinne said as soon as she entered to find Ruby looking down at the shattered remains of a porcelain incense burner.
Ruby grimaced good-naturedly. “I guess I should be glad it wasn’t a mirror. God, how I hate these crutches.”
Corinne’s friend had broken her leg after falling down some stairs in her shop. She’d been on crutches for the past week and never before would Corinne have said her friend could be so helpless. Ruby hailed from New Orleans, where her family was spread far and wide, thick as thieves, and, according to Ruby, nosy as all get-out. She was tall, big boned, what she liked to call “a free person of color”. Since her accident, she’d taken to wearing all black floor-length dresses (her “witch garb”) because she found anything else difficult to put on and take off with the broken leg.
While Corinne had never considered herself a superficial person, one motivated by looks, she had to admit that once upon a time, she might not have gone anywhere near Ruby Mazant. On looks alone, she’d never seen a stranger person. Ruby’s hair was close-cropped against her skull, shaved in odd, intricate triangles, each dyed either ebony black or scarlet red. She came from a long line of white witches, maybe a few stray hoodoo priestesses, and she was still a novice herself. In college, she’d opened a small occult shop called Mystic Shadows that had expanded in the years since she graduated so that she was now able to make a living by selling her occult items.
From the first, Corinne had been put off by her, but…somehow…she’d become Corinne’s only friend. Corinne wasn’t entirely sure how that’d come about. Her memory seemed to have blanks about that, just as it did when it came to recalling everything before she’d fallen in love with Tom and the voices had come, drowning out all else. Considering she’d been an orphan without a single memory of her real parents and had ultimately been adopted by a wonderful family who’d led as uneventful a life as beavers, maybe her forgetfulness was warranted. Corinne had lived a quiet, not unhappy existence until…Tom, there, here, everywhere, everything, inside me, filling me, screaming his name and his presence, his entire being, becoming my whole life, nothing before and nothing now, after him.
Corinne bent to carefully pick up the broken pieces, her gaze meeting her friend’s as she straightened. “Oh, Ruby,” she cried out at once, “why do you have to wear those creepy contacts?” Since her friend had discovered a place she could get contacts in all kinds of “monster” shades and detailing, she’d been wearing them so she had yellow, orange, silver, white or red eyes at any given time–whatever was most horrifying.
Ruby shrugged, laughing. “I like them. They’re unusual. Like I am.”
Corinne shook her head, dropping the shattered shards into the trash and going to get the broom and dustpan. While she did, her friend asked, “Have you been putting that steeped basil into your baths and doing the protective chant I taught you while visualizing yourself in the middle of a pentagram? You can’t be half-hearted. You have to believe in it or it doesn’t work.”
Corinne shook her head again as she swept. “Ruby…I’ve been doing what I’m capable of for six months, against my will, I might add. How long do I have to? I don’t even know what I’m cleansing or purifying or protecting myself from. And I took down those mirrors you said I should keep pointed at each other, too, burning the candle between them. You know me, Ruby. I don’t like this stuff. It’s too weird, and I don’t understand it. It feels wrong to me. I don’t know how I ever let you talk me into that spell…”
The words were pouring out of her without forethought, and Corinne gasped in realization that she was talking about Tom’s death–what had happened just before the car accident, when she’d been so desperate to help him out of the unbearable situation he’d been in. He’d slept with a patient at the hospital and he’d gotten caught in the very act by another doctor, a superior. He’d worked so hard to become a doctor himself. Corinne had put him through college, forgetting her own dream of becoming a doctor to see that he accomplished his goals.
“That he actually told you the sick truth about the whole, screwed-up situation…like he wanted to test you, prove whether you could love him even after…” Ruby had spit in response six months ago, appalled to the point of disgust that had only gotten worse when Corinne had begged her to do something, anything, to help Tom so he wouldn’t lose his license, wouldn’t be removed from his already precarious position at the hospital.
Ruby glanced away, knowing how hard it was for Corinne to talk about anything where her husband was concerned these days. She looked at the envelope with the letter on top that Corinne had deposited on the kitchen counter while she cleaned up Ruby’s mess. “What is this?”
Grateful to abandon the direction she’d been heading into recall, Corinne said, “Remember months ago I told you I got that letter supposedly from the lawyer who represents Tom’s family? This is another.”
Without permission, Ruby was avidly reading the letter. Corinne put away the cleaning tools, then went to stand next to her friend. While she read, Corinne shook the envelope slightly and then pointed to the ring that fell out onto the counter. Ruby made a choking sound the sight of it, pushing herself back a step. “Where did that come from?” she demanded, obviously panicked. “It was gone…missing…”
Corinne nodded. “It’s not Tom’s. It belongs to his grandfather. He wanted to make sure I knew this was all legitimate. So what do you think? I can’t believe Tom’s family was so close all this time.” Bloodmoon Cove was a scant hour from Grimoire. Such a small town to include an “estate”. And what kind of an estate is named Crooked House anyway? Hardly sounds like anything prestigious. Tom might have told me or I just guessed that he grew up a spoiled, pampered rich kid. His extravagant tastes continued even when he broke the ties with his family and he couldn’t afford the lifestyle he was accustomed to…
I still can’t believe I sold Tom’s things. Even if I had no choice because he left behind so many debts…and Ruby was right–I have no need for his exotic, imported car, his many jewels, his massive, tailored wardrobe, first edition library.
“You’re not actually considering going there, are you?” Ruby asked in shock. “What would possess you to do that?”
Corinne sighed, finding herself unexpectedly grateful that her friend was so motherly toward her. Usually just when she needed it, Ruby would become the voice of reason Corinne felt so incapable of being. She needed that now more than ever. “You know the reason as well as I do, Ruby. Tom left behind a lot of debts. We barely started paying off his undergraduate loans, and then medical school. All his possessions… I don’t know how I’ll ever make a dent in paying these off without selling everything, moving out of this luxury apartment I can’t even afford every month. Don’t need for just me anyway. That doesn’t even get into my own for the first two years of college.” How can I move? Sell all Tom’s things? I don’t need any of these things, but Tom used them. He touched them. His scent is still on them. His presence remains.
“Cori, didn’t Tom tell you to stay away from his family? He was adamant about that.”
Corinne focused her gaze on the small, sparkling stud earring in her friend’s nose to avoid her contact-creepy eyes.
“Maybe they’re…I don’t know, dangerous,” Ruby insisted.
“I suppose they could be. But there’s one old man whose health is failing. How dangerous could he be? Besides, I always got the impression, though Tom wouldn’t confirm it, that his family disowned him mainly because he left. Because they wanted him to take over the family business…whatever that is…and assume his rightful place as the head of the family. And he always wanted to be a doctor. That apparently wasn’t done in the Buchanan family. Leaving the family estate simply wasn’t acceptable and could never be forgiven.”
Ruby snorted in her usual unladylike way. “Who wouldn’t want a doctor in the family?”
Corinne shrugged in wonder.
“Maybe there’s more than he ever told you.”
“I’m sure there is. But he hated talking about his past. I never pressured him.”
The words “about anything” hung between her and Ruby, but neither spoke them. Corinne pushed the ring, which seemed to flare against her flesh warmly in the contact, back into the envelope and stuffed the letter after it.
“You’re not actually considering this, are you? Going there? Maybe even living there? On the ‘family estate’? Who has estates anymore anyway? Unless they’re filthy rich.”
“Maybe his family loved him, hated losing him,” Corinne said softly. “I’ve never had a family.”
“Of course you did. The family that adopted you? Hello? The Zellmans?”
Corinne frowned, realizing belatedly that Ruby was right. Why did she always forget that almost as if her life was divided into two separate halves: Before Tom and After Tom? Sometimes she felt she had nothing concrete to call her own before she fell in love with Tom. Her friend was right…and yet she couldn’t understand what Corinne had been through. When the love of her life had died, in ways Corinne concluded her own life had also ended. She still loved her husband as much as she had the day he died. The voices were as strong now as they’d been, filling her entire being and every waking and dreaming moment with him, when he was alive. She was as consumed by her feelings as she had been from the start with him, beyond life, death, any sin, no matter how unforgivable. The voices wouldn’t let her do anything that meant moving away from all that mattered to her. Tom. Tom. Don’t make waves. Don’t give him a reason to abandon you…
“Maybe you’re right,” Ruby said suddenly. “You’ll never get from under this debt without something like a major inheritance to off-set it. You should never have been forced to take it on anyway.”
Don’t say it. Don’t voice what we both know–how much you hated Tom, despised him, thought he was the biggest creep on the planet. You can’t understand any more than anyone else can, Ruby. I loved him. More than anyone or anything I’ve ever loved. I’ll never stop loving him, never get over him, never leave behind this yawning hole inside me without him, a hole that’s sucking away my will to live. I’ll never fall in love again. Never. Six months after his death, I haven’t moved on, haven’t even tried. I can’t imagine how I would.
In the six months since Tom’s death, Ruby had stopped bad-mouthing him the way she had all those years of their marriage, pronouncing judgment on him, telling her she was worth so much more than he could ever give her. Ruby knew she’d curl up and die if anyone–especially her closest friend–said a bad word about him now.
“Maybe you do need a change of scenery, Corinne,” Ruby said softly, her yellow eyes freaky yet tender with emotion. “And if, after this old guy kicks it, you’re left with enough money to pay off all those debts, well, that can’t be a bad thing. Then maybe you can leave your suck-fest job, get an apartment without so many memories…”
Though Corinne had originally intended to go to medical school and become a doctor, she’d realized after falling in love with Tom and marrying him that they couldn’t both afford their dreams. So she’d given up hers, supported his. She was a registered nurse at a nursing home, a job that once upon a time she thought she could continue doing indefinitely. Now, since Tom had died in the car accident, she couldn’t stand even the smell of the place. Death hovered everywhere inside those walls, and she couldn’t take any more death.
“I don’t want anyone else to die,” Corinne said almost with thinking. “Even a stranger who estranged Tom. Maybe something happened between them that wasn’t anything like Tom made out.”
“You think he lied?”
“I think it wouldn’t hurt to find out more. And obviously his grandfather doesn’t hold a grudge about any of it. Maybe he’s even sorry that he and Tom didn’t stay in touch. He must know Tom di–” Corinne swallowed the evil word, banishing it even from her mind. The voices screamed for ignorance.
To be in the family home where the man I love grew up, lived most of his life until he started college–what else could I want? In that place alone, I can be as close to Tom as it’s possible to be now. I can be where I belong again. I have to go there. There’s no other option.
“So you’re going? You’re definitely going?” Ruby said, no doubt seeing the determination in her face.
“Ruby…I know… But… Well, would you come with me?”
“Look, I’ll pay for everything. You’re off your feet for how many months. You said you don’t want to navigate all the stairs in the shop with your crutches and that your employees can handle things in your absence. We’ll just go to Bloodmoon Cove for a few days. Check things out. I’ll talk to my supervisor at work, but I’m sure she’ll give me time off. She always said I didn’t take enough after…” Blindsided once more by reality, the voices reaching fever-pitch, Corinne brushed reality away from her once more. “Anyway, I’m going. I would love to have you come with me.”
“You sure you don’t want to stay at the ‘estate’?”
Corinne shook her head. “I don’t know what things will be like there. Best to stay in a motel, and an estate implies stairs. Lots and lots of stairs.”
Ruby grimaced. “Which I’m looking to avoid. Sure. Why not? I’ve never been to Bloodmoon Cove, not even to the park it’s known for, other than to pass through on the way somewhere significant. I’ll call my staff and let them know. And I’ll do what I can to pack while you’re at work.”
“Great. I need to get going. When I get back, I’ll get a little bit of sleep, then I’ll pack, help you finish, and we can be off.”
Ruby smiled. “It’ll be an adventure. I think we both need that after all we’ve been through.”
Corinne offered a smile that felt painful and almost sacrilegious.
As she went down to her car to drive to the nursing home for her shift, she wondered why the letter hadn’t included a phone number so she could call Crooked House and let Tom’s grandfather know she was coming for a short visit. Calling ahead might give her some indication whether or not this was a good course of action. Maybe that’s why a phone number wasn’t included?
She could always call the law office in the morning, but she wanted information now. During her break, she used her cell phone to look up the Buchanan estate, Tom’s grandfather on the internet. But there was nothing, nothing at all there to give her the details she required, not so much as a phone number or an address on SuperPages for anything called “Crooked House”. True, Bloodmoon Cove was a very small town. If memory served the few times she’d driven near it, the popular was under 500. She would probably find the estate easily enough, especially if she asked around town, even without an address.
As the old nursery rhyme went around her head, she wondered why, if they were so eager to get her to Crooked House, neither the lawyer nor his client had provided anything as basic as a street address.