Please welcome Kathleen Rowland to NN. We are so excited to have you Kathleen. Scary ghost are exactly what NN is all about. We love the paranormal whether it is romanctic or frightening. Plus a givaway that's great. Take it away Kathleen!
Kathleen Rowland’s giveaway: a purse keyfinder in the shape of a black high heel. With a hinge that hooks over the top of your purse, you’ll never lose your keys at the bottom again. Kathleen will mail it to the lucky winner!
Two Halloweens ago I made a ghost. It scared everyone so well that I used it in the beginning of my book, DEEDS OF DECEIT. In this sensuous romantic suspense, Bayliss Jones’ ex-boyfriend, a set designer, creates a ghost to keep her in line. Read about it below in Chapter One.
Buy link for DEEDS of DECEIT:
A bedroom door slammed with a bang. Bayliss shot up in bed. The ghost was back. She twisted to face the clock radio: five am, pitch black in mid-December. How long had it been since its last visit, a month? Anxiety washed over her as she sorted through recent scenarios. It made sense as Todd’s handiwork. Her blood boiled, remembering her ex-fiancé once had a career in set design. He’d said she would pay. Angry and unemployed, the jerk’s ongoing prank was exploitive. This was the third. She took a sharp breath as fear hit, more for his breaking in than the robotic finery. Trying to calm down, she anticipated the ghost would resemble her mother, like before, but come from a new direction in her late parents’ master suite.
She felt her way along the hallway, open to vast darkness below. Finding a switch, she snapped it on. Traces of fog, no doubt his deeds, created an eerie atmosphere. She heard a teasing cry. Turning the doorknob to their former suite, the door screeched open on its own.
This time the ghost hovered in the shadow of an overstuffed armchair. In a sudden burst, it jumped toward her and spun away. A chill ran up her spine. Todd did it to me again. Howling wind slapped against a bay window, and she strained to hear the vision’s voice. “The earth is quiet. My sleep is not.” She eased into her mother’s chair and brushed her face against the fabric, catching the lingering scent of cologne. Studying the ghost detail, the solid white eyes were lame, but she shivered anyway.
Wearing a gown of sheer layers, the phantom floated along the wall with blonde hair fanning. A knot formed in her stomach over Todd’s plan to drive her mad. He knew about the part she’d played prior to the murder of her parents. The memory hadn’t paled after fifteen years. On the anniversary of their deaths, she braced herself for another blue Christmas.
She was the last person to see her parents and became the person of interest after a maid informed police of their huge fight. The maid couldn’t decipher the content of loud, angry voices. That was good, but stomping down the mountain in a huff wasn’t much of an alibi. Full of sorrow, she was despised. Being cleared hadn’t mattered. Big Bear Villagers didn’t trust Jones money entangled with the legal system.
The ghost circled the room again, and Bayliss stood to meet its vacant stare. In life her mother’s blue eyes sparkled at everyone in her path. Even more famous in death, Susanna McGill Smith, former cheerleader for the San Francisco Forty-niners, and her dad, handsome black quarterback Woody Jones, adorned California’s front pages. The so-called Eight Thousand Foot Murder had reporters camped at the base of their mountain. Usually quiet, Big Bear Village buzzed. Their killer went free. No profile had ever led the police or FBI anywhere. Not a speck of DNA, not a single skin cell on the duct tape.
Her parents’ once lovely bedroom was now without furniture except for the pretty chair. She ran her hand on the green satin. On the back an embroidered “S” for Susanna swirled with leaves and pink rosebuds. Green and white striped wallpaper decorated the wall above white wainscoting to the log ceiling. Reflecting her mother’s feminine touch, their suite was finished in drywall rather than rough hewn wood. Without lamp fittings, Bayliss depended on the hall light to scurry back. Unnerved along the balcony, she turned off the switch for better viewing through a band of clerestory windows.
Catching movement in the pines, her muscles went rigid. Chaotic images struck her with the force of a physical blow. Is it the wind or do I hear two voices in a heated conversation? She flinched. Todd’s latest fling, Hilary, with designs of her own, turned him into her puppet. Dear Ami filled me in, and now I agree. Her only genuine friend, Amihan Creswell, was vacationing with her investment banker husband. Squinting through the glass, security lamps glowed blue and cast pools of light on the lawn. A squirrel jumped on a pine cone, but her inklings solidified.
Todd’s plan to turn Jones Mountain into a ski resort had merit, but she reneged on their verbal agreement for two reasons. A huge investment in equipment was a natural predator of her mountain nest egg. Hilary wants to use it as headquarters for her green organization, Get Megawatts. Back in her bedroom, she felt an urge to confront him about the ghost. Picking up her iPhone, she scrolled to his number but stopped. Hilary Fleisher would text her back.
After dialing 911 and reporting the incident, she added, “I’ve got a restraining order against Todd Sheffield,” and then flattened her back against her bedroom wall. How far will he go? Thrice warned, her nerve endings were leap-frogging. It wasn’t her to give in, even when threatened. Be smart. Keep your cell phone charged. Bolt the door. In her youth, she’d excelled at climbing out the window and down a pine, but tonight her knees wobbled. She plugged her cell into its charger.
Land rich but cash poor, she had her fill of Jones Mountain. Until her birthday, a certain callous trustee held veto power while she had rights to the final inheritance. In a couple of months she’d be done with Brian McGill’s enforcements. The rules weren’t his. She blamed her grandfather for appointing his young fishing buddy with absolute authority while providing him with a salary.
Granddad worried she’d inherited her mother’s spendthrift genes, something he believed would disappear at the ripe age of thirty. Another requirement for her protection from villagers, she lived alone in the massive lodge. Under quilts, she snuggled her cold feet deep but longed to tell someone. Stuffy Byron “Skip” McGill, the youngest cousin of her mother’s generation, wasn’t her first choice. The shirt-tail, non-blood relative was due that morning to go over the trust. The legal obligation they shared put them at odds. They clashed anyway. He didn’t share detail.
Blameless and interfering, she knew the white-cracker would end up a cop. Recently appointed sheriff, he was about to become insufferable. They were fire and gasoline. She called him Skipjackass, he nicknamed her Bay-bay. Being called baby by someone who thought he knew everything put a damper on happy hormone production.
She tried to put herself back to sleep with a plan, sweet talking him into making a monetary contribution to Bearwood. A donation could make the kids’ Christmas merrier. The foster group home had welcomed her as a volunteer therapist even before she’d greased the palms of the director, Milton Swift. Odd I can never get with kids alone. Last week she’d admired miniature windmills on a table. Milton had explained they were for a weekend activity. “The kids will capture the power of the wind as they build windmills. Store the electricity they generate in rechargeable AA batteries. Wind-charged batteries are theirs to keep!”
The windmill project sounded fun, but she winced, thinking about a teenage girl who’d called Bearwood a super-max lockdown. Troubled when reading kids as young as fifteen were escaping into a cult, she wondered who was helping them into it. For her doctorate, she’d written a dissertation on cults.
The usual enticements were wholesome activities—hiking, camping, and environmental cleanups followed by parties. Doing good deeds bonded them. From a fire to a frying pan, a cult was the last stop. Cult members were never allowed to leave, and this was a permanent lockdown. Her mind ran with fragile worries over Bearwood kids. Soon she wouldn’t have to run expenditures over five hundred dollars by Byron. She needed to sleep but couldn’t sleep. Too much was happening. How could she be wise and perceptive when her mind shriveled around a core of gloom like a drying apple? Getting sole rein over finances would be good.
* * * *
Sheriff Byron McGill tossed a leg over the side of his bed. Still dark on the first day of his fishing vacation, he rearranged pillows under his head. He preferred fishing with companions, but his guy friends were working. If his dad could get away from their family-run shop, he’d go, but Skipjack Bait was the game in town from bait to boats. During the holiday rush, his mom would have a tough time handling the traffic alone. In any case, he’d care of business with the thorn-in-his-side before heading out.
Transportation to her mountaintop lodge was about to become difficult with snow predicted. Weather would be a downhill restraint, but another restraint was soon to be lifted. The birthday girl would win freedom on February eighteenth along with Jones Mountain and the lodge. Years ago, after the sale of Jones Lumber, proceeds maintained the property but were dwindling to the point that he no longer took a salary. Soon they wouldn’t be stuck between a rock and a hard place. He let out a sigh of relief knowing his involvement would end.
He chuckled to himself, remembering how her grandfather’s words felt like a compliment. “Byron, because of your upstanding character and dedication, I’m offering you the paid position of trustee. Your salary will increase five percent every year, and you’ll receive an annual bonus. What do you say?”
“Thank you, sir.” Named trustee at age twenty-one, Byron regretted proving reliability. In short, he’d been caught being honest too many times when her grandfather, Lanyard Jones, discovered the opposite to be true with his lawyer. If Woodruff were alive, he’d be running the lumber company. His mind pondered the way their bodies were positioned when the crackling of a 911 call brought him to the here and now. Propping his elbow on the mattress, he reached for the two-way on his bedside table. He strained to hear the dispatcher over the static.
“Sheriff, I’m shooting over a recording. It’s from Bayliss Jones. Over.”
“Ready. Over.” He listened. Her ex-fiancé had broken in. Her dusky whisper was hard to read. Bay-bay was hard to read. She and Todd, involved since their teens, were on and off.
The dispatcher’s voice broke in. “Want to dispatch Cole Blake and the rookie?”
“No, I’m on it.” Byron’s job as sheriff was to oversee the police investigation, but his family obligation hard-wired him into action. Going up earlier was better for getting on with his day. He pulled on jeans, slipped on waterproof boots, and made for his attached garage. Instead of the cruiser, he hopped into his new red Jeep, loaded with fishing equipment, a cooler with water bottles and beer, a thermos of soup and a ham on rye.
Whenever meeting up with Bayliss, a weird sense of anticipation rose in him. It made him antsy. He’d been in situations. He’d been in kick-ass, head-breaking fights, and had come out okay. With her, he relished their disputes even when she treated him like an insect. Publicly scorned after her parents’ murder, she never rebuilt her reputation. Just when he was feeling felt sorry about the troubles she faced, she used her wits to smash him flat.
On rare occasions she was precious as she went about her quiet business alone. He switched on the radio, set at the oldies station. Listening to Elvis’ Blue Christmas, he took Jones Mountain Road upward. Knowing every inch of the winding blacktop, a soft glow came from the eastern peak and turned boulders copper, the color of her hair. As a girl she was adorable with her coppery tight curls. Admired for cuteness but not popularity, her “Get out of my way, I’m coming through” attitude served her well after the tragedy.
Big Bear, California hadn’t changed much in his lifetime of forty years. Glancing in his rearview, the huge lake remained in pristine condition. He admired how the lake looked when distinct seasons reflected on its surface. Crazy beautiful, nearly magical, there were the flowering buds of spring, the green shades of summer, and the gold-red spectrum of dogwoods, redbuds, and maples amidst evergreens. His favorite season was about to begin, when snowy spires glistened against a deep blue sky, but a blue sky wasn’t in the forecast. His piece of heaven had continuity, but when it came to people, solidarity couldn’t always be achieved. The misery of the fathomlessly rich Jones family began with a mistimed pregnancy. His parents told him once. Nice people kept family secrets. As he drove he thought about bait to use for his snowy afternoon of fishing.
No matter what the weather, he’d be out on Big Bear Lake, surrounded by evergreens and mountains. His spirits lifted as he rolled down the window and filled his nostrils with the scent of clean piney air. Taking out his cell to warn her of his early arrival, he speed-dialed her.
It went directly to voice mail. Probably fighting with Todd, and she had lots to fight about. Up there alone, winter made her nuts enough to see a ghost. The last time she’d brought it up, he’d told her the lodge was a giant mass of logs, wind howled between the sections, and she had a big imagination. After her birthday, she planned to sell out and move to a condo in Newport Beach. Fewer trees, fewer animals prowling around, and no living and breathing mountains would petrify her. Today marked the fifteenth anniversary of Los Angeles Time’s front page crime scene.
When victims are arranged with deliberate care and posed to appear alive, their last moments are agonizing. It was ridiculous upstanding folk pointed their fingers at Bayliss. It wasn’t ridiculous good citizens believed her lumber-tycoon grandfather paid off the right people to shield his only grandchild.
Ten years her senior, the two of them experienced the same place from different angles. Money wasn’t everything. Loyalty was, in spite of her snobbery.
Becoming a police detective allowed him access into the cold case, but his failure to solve it frayed his temper. No one felt his lack of ability the way he did. Pushing against another hunch, his mind marched around teens selling overpriced trinkets downtown, windmill replicas for seventy dollars each. The teens’ pace was desperate, and their eyes were as glassy as sleep-deprived believers.
Approaching the last bend, he slowed. The new engine ran as smooth as rum. Tires gripped to the road, and he was gloating over his perfect choice for the terrain just before he slid on ice. Grasping the steering wheel with no control over steering, the Jeep took a sideways spin toward the edge. Was that the morning sun or was he merging with the holy light? Just when he thought he’d learn answers to life’s questions, the driver’s side rammed hard against a boulder. He didn’t feel at peace, and that was a miracle, but the hood hung over the ledge. Dazed, he prayed the Jeep wouldn’t teeter. He tried but couldn’t open his door, lodged against the boulder. He took stock of the landscape below, a contrast of morning village lights and a dropped slope. Not moving and barely breathing, he hoped the rear wheels were on flat land. If I can think, I’m not dead. With advantage of four-wheel drive, he threw gears into reverse.
His chest hurt from the steering-wheel impact and from holding his breath, but he was grateful. Overwhelmed with luck, he exhaled and then sucked in oxygen. With ruthless determination, he reached into the backseat for a bag of rock salt. Parked square with hazards blinking, he stepped out, ripped it open and spread it over the entire ice slick. When he spotted an empty water jug, he grabbed it with fury and doubted he’d find prints. Turning back toward the jeep, he heard a whimper and spotted a dog sitting in front of a tire.
“Hey.” Coming close and kneeling, the dog hopped into his arms. Weighing much less than a six-pack, he guessed a mix of Chihuahua and Jack Russell due to the spots and broken coat. No collar, no tag? Ninety-nine percent of the time dogs lacking identification were fending for themselves. Its paws felt cold, and he unzipped his parka and slipped the dog inside. The dog tipped its head back, looked him in the eyes, and melted his heart. “How about a sandwich, pup?”
* * * *
She heard a double blast of the horn, Byron’s habit when he drove onto the circular driveway. Is it nine already? Nope, it’s earlier.” The restless cop kept the two-way on, and today she was glad. Slipping her feet into satin mules, she flew down the staircase in her nightgown, toppling and then steadying the bare Balsam fir in its stand. Opening the front door to a frigid blast, she snagged whipping curls behind an ear. She loathed winter.
His jeep looked new, parked between an outbuilding and towering pines. Marching against the wind toward the porch, he was dressed for ice fishing, outfitted with the best from Skipjack, but his baseball cap with machine-embroidered 100% Bearass was familiar. With a brawny arm, he swung an empty bag of rock salt into the recycle bin and with the other, tossed an empty water jug. Taking the rough hewn steps in long leaps, something above caught his eye and held his attention. The brim of his hat, caught by the gale, sent his cap sailing. In another moment, he bent to pick it up without looking. His gaze remained fixed on her late parents’ bay window. After spewing a string of swears, he said, “Restraining orders don’t work.”
“Why not?” She noticed a kind of squirming inside his jacket. She blinked and rubbed her eyes, deciding she must be nuts.
“Some couples play cat and mouse,” he said conversationally, his focus remaining upward.
“At times, it might look that way.” She watched his no-nonsense scowl.
“Not anymore, I take it.”
“What are you staring at, Skip?” She half-expected the tight-lipped cop to wave her off. Being ticked off and then letting a matter drop imposed dominance. Then again, it might have something to do with the ghost apparatus, but she’d let him discover on his own. His mind had logical corners. She couldn’t expect him to follow her suspicions. Her worries trailed through her mind in endless loops.
Studying the window, his brows pulled together. “There’s wiring. Not attached to security cameras. I slid on ice.”
“Snow melts, Byron. When the temperature drops, you get an ice slick. It was ten below last night.” Now he’s here, all strength and refuge. I feel brave. It didn’t mean she liked him.
He flashed impatience. “No precipitation until now, Bay-bay.” The wind whipped mare’s tails of flakes along the ground. “Driving up, I spread Ice Melt.” Nodding toward the recycle bin, his breath billowed like a rolling steam cloud. “That was after.”
“After the big dent.”
“You slid into a boulder? I’m sorry.” Remembering the empty water jug he’d slammed into the trash, she looked past him at his new Rubicon. The pine tree hid the alleged dent. If feeling her usual self, she’d chide him. He usually drove a no-frills nag from the impound lot, and another dent wouldn’t matter. Still he’d kept the worn interior as tidy as a tackle box which suited his compartmentalized mind. Under most circumstances, she’d throw a jab.
“If you’d driven down, you’d be in the lake. Dead.” His eyes were deep set, and his expression flickered from puzzlement to deep thought. She saw into it when he made a six-gun out of his thumb and forefinger. “Has Hilary been here lately?” He wasn’t aiming at her, she realized. They had a conversation after Ami’s heart-to-heart about the other woman. Byron had shared Hilary Fleisher, spokesperson for Get Megawatts, had applied for gun permits.
“Not lately.” Before Hilary’s involvement with Todd, she contacted her, wanting to hold a meeting at the lodge with her people. Like Byron, she found it odd that an environmental enthusiast bought guns.
He pressed his lips together and shook his head. On the porch he stomped off pine needles before coming through the door. “You look like you’ve dragged yourself out of the hamper. Smell nice, though.”
“Must be the eau de toillet.”
He placed his hand on her shoulder to steer her inside. “See the ghost last night?”
Hoping he believed her, she nodded but didn’t look up at him. “Todd’s special effects, I’m sure.” The back of her neck ached from ragged nerves. “Don’t say I’m too stupid to live.”
“I’d never say that.” He shut the door against the deadly chill and leaned against it. “What time?”
“Just before four, I heard rattling. At five, the door slammed.” She cringed with a delayed reaction. Had Todd tried to kill her with ice on the road? After her February birthday, without the stipulations, she wouldn’t be required to live here but didn’t want to leave either. She did long for spring weather and sprouts of crocus. Maybe she’d buy a dog.
“Todd hasn’t given up, right? Still wants the ski-out condos?”
“Yup, still wants us to be partners.” Dread circled the back of her mind like a flock of ravens.
“He wants you terrified, wants you agreeable.”
“I’m not falling apart.” In truth, she struggled to get her bearings.
“Doubt if Todd’s companionship ever amounted to a hill of beans.” The look he gave her was bleak. “High in the Hinterlands, you’re isolated. A person gets creeped out.”
“The ghost makes the hair at the back of my neck stands on end. Todd does it.”
“Damn cruel, he takes advantage.”
Out of frustration, she panted.
“Breathe easy, Bay-bay. You were never one to pass out.” He bent to place his cap on the ledge of antique umbrella stand below her hanging purse.
She saw that his blond hair was thinning at the crown, but he had a good face for the camera and handsome in a manly-male way. “I wasn’t sleepwalking, Byron.” She hoped he wouldn’t tell her to see another psychiatrist. “If you’re going to be a brick wall, I’ll get out the jack hammer.”
“I’ll bet,” he said with a genteel snort. “The big doings take place in the master suite, like before?” His gaze cut up the stairway. A furry head peeked through his jacket. “Hold the puppy.” Without another word, he handed off the warm bundle and bounded up.
Following behind and cuddling her early Christmas present, she recalled the wire around the window outside.
Wow! Sounds like a great book! It was such a pleasure to have you on NN Kathleen, Hope you will come back again soon.
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