Houston, Texas, 1985, while investigating the affluent and seedy Gasper family, Rachel Hawkins, a junior reporter with the Galveston Daily News, stumbles upon a story that will make her career.
Billy Gasper, son to the billionaire tycoon Gasper Family is missing. His yacht found near the Port of Galveston, abandoned all but for a seemingly deranged captain. Where are the crew? And where is Billy?
Meanwhile, while searching for his missing sister who was last seen with her boyfriend Billy Gasper, RadioShack manager Mark joins an ex-military security team hired by Mr. Gasper to find his son. Hidden away, Hawkins joins Mark and the hired goons as they race across the Gulf of Mexico to a private tropical island resort.
All attempts at radio communicate with the island have failed. Its as if the entire resort with hundreds of vacationers and staff have disappeared.
What is really going on? And what will the rescue team find when they get there?
Shocked by the sound of her own voice, she pressed her hands to her mouth, muffling the terror rising from her lungs in hitched breaths, spasming violently. She hugged her elbows against her sides, could see them. A slow lurching gait, shuffling outside her hiding place. Someone was shouting, a piercing howl as if they were experiencing the worst pain they had ever felt. Swallowing hard, she peered between the planks of wood of the hut. Pool equipment and toys and floats piled around her. If she moved—God! They would hear. And they would come. And they would consume her flesh. Just like they had Billy, her boyfriend. And Greg and Stacy. Pam. Vicky. Sammy, too. And most of the resort staff. Torn apart and consumed just like in a movie she saw once about cannibals in the rainforest of South America—except these flesh eaters were dead.
What was left of the pool boy Bruce bumped against the hut.
Mary whimpered into her hand, trying not to look at the ruined corpse walking—somehow—despite all rational sense that he should be dead and buried, not moving around, not eating the flesh of the living. His once muscular arms were now riddled with purplish-yellow bite marks, chunks of meat and nerve exposed. Fingers gnawed to the bone. And his eyes were the worst, glassy and bloodied and horrid, but that wasn't just what bothered her. They were vacant; soulless orbs. As if whatever made him human was gone and lost forever.
He groaned and bumped into the hut again.
Did he know she was in there?
Did he hear her? Smell her?
Breathing rapidly, Mary's hands trembled against her mouth, elbows pressed hard against her ribs. Suddenly she could hear the Eurythmics song Sweet Dreams blasting from the tiny foam speakers around her neck.
"No!" she hissed, fumbling with her Walkman clipped to her large plastic yellow belt, searching for the large red button, silencing the music.
Mary looked between the wood planks again.
More of the flesh eaters converged on the hut. Drawn by the rhythmic music, herding together like a pool of slow-moving sharks circling in the water.
She stifled a yelp, but not completely, cursing herself silently for accidently rubbing against the Walkman. The living dead began to bang on the outside of the hut. Gnashing teeth and bellowing a loathing, famished lament.
"Please!" she cried.
The wood of the hut groaned against the pressure of the horde of flesh eaters.
Moaning impatiently, cracks began to splinter. A large section busted inward as a bloated waxy arm shot through, grabbing hold of Mary's windbreaker, smearing dark-red grime against the sky-blue bomber.
"No!" she screamed as the dead man pulled her toward the opening in the hut.
Mary held her arms out, pushing against the wall, resisting—unable to keep her gaze from the splintered section in the broken hut wall and the large wood spike that protruded toward her as she inched closer and closer.
She groaned, swatting at the rotting hand that held her.
"Please!" she breathed.
Closer the dead man pulled her.
The wood spike was inches from her face—her eye.
Excited bellowing erupted around her, outside the hut, as if the living dead could smell the inevitable feast. They pounded against the walls, eager and impatient.
The dead man yanked on her again, tearing her windbreaker, pulling her closer.
The wood spike pierced her eye.
She screamed—an unfathomable utterance.
The pain shot through her face and into her body like an electric bolt. Trembling, she grimaced, biting down, clenching her teeth as the wood pushed deeper inside her eye. Warm runny fluid flowed down her cheek, tasting of salt and iron.
And then the dead rotting man gave one final wrench.
The wood curved up as she slammed into it, penetrating deep and breaking the wood splinter inside her eye socket. The world spun, and she fainted from shock or blood loss, or both, she fell to her knees, ripping her tennis shorts and the skin of her legs.
All around, the walls came down, and the dead had their feast. Grabbing and ripping away shreds of clothing, hair, pounds of meat. The dead, rotting man that still held Mary's blue windbreaker shoved his head through the wood opening and sucked and licked at the juices on the spike, lapping all the moist cream from her burst orb.
Unconscious, Mary was unaware of the things happening to her body.
Unaware as dead, worming fingers clawed into her flesh.
Ravishing her red, oily innards.
About the Author:
Thomas S. Flowers is an Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom Army veteran who loves scary movies, BBQ, and coffee. Ever since reading Remarque’s "All Quiet on the Western Front" and Stephen King’s "Salem’s Lot" he has inspired to write deeply disturbing things that relate to war and horror, from the paranormal to his gory zombie infested PLANET of the DEAD series, to even his recent dabbling of vampiric flirtation in The Last Hellfighter readers can expect to find complex characters, rich historical settings, and mind-altering horror. Thomas is also the senior editor at Machine Mean, a horror movie and book review site that hosts contributors in the horror and science fiction genre.
PLANET of the DEAD and The Last Hellfighter are best-sellers on Amazon's Top 100 lists for Apocalyptic Fiction and African American Horror.
You can follow Thomas and get yourself a FREE eBook copy of FEAST by joining his newsletter. Sign up by vising his website at www.ThomasSFlowers.com
Good morning! We have a new cover reveal for the weekend. What do you think? Is it sea worthy? We think so.
Immerse Mer Chronicles Book 3 Tobie Easton
Date of Publication: March 19th
Number of pages: 396
Cover Artist: Beetiful Book Covers
Immerse is the spellbinding and breathless final installment of the Mer Chronicles series where descendants of the Little Mermaid must face deadly magic, shifting alliances, and the dangers of forbidden love.
Lia can’t wait for her parents’ coronation. Now living in the sparkling palace beneath the waves, she sneaks off to Malibu whenever possible to see Clay. Tucked away in an abandoned seaside mansion, Lia and Clay devise a plan to ensure they can stay together forever.
But when an old enemy resurfaces and Lia is restricted to the palace for the safety of all Merkind, she and Clay are ripped apart once more.
She fears not only for Clay, but for her best friend Caspian, who seems to be swimming down a dangerous path. He has invited the conniving Melusine to the coronation ball, convinced she’s capable of change. And no matter how hard Lia fights it, showing up on Caspian’s arm is just the start of Melusine’s insidious return to her life.
With threats Below growing more ominous by the day and a powerful ancient ritual looming, soon the two girls can’t escape each other. As their fates grow increasingly intertwined, Melusine might be the only one who can help Lia find the answers she desperately needs to save everyone she loves and to achieve her happily ever after. But can Lia trust her?
About the Author:
Tobie Easton was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, where she’s grown from a little girl who dreamed about magic to a twenty-something who writes about it. A summa cum laude graduate of the University of Southern California, Tobie hosts book clubs for tweens and teens (so she’s lucky enough to spend her days gabbing about books). She and her very kissable husband enjoy traveling the globe and fostering packs of rescue puppies.
The elves seem a little pooped from all the festivities and didn't want to play along in the earlier post, darned format gremlins, so here's our interview with author MD Fryson. Be sure to read all about the book in the earlier post this morning!
SC: Tell me a little bit
about your main character of this book.
MDF: The main character’s
name in Black Widow Curse & The Coven, is Meridian.She is a realm born Spirit Guide who has
recently come of age where it is her time to go and watch over humankind.She is special in that she comes from a line
of spirit guides who were realm born as well.
Her growing gifts are a
threat to the current realm’s leader, Warrick, who has his own secrets and
agendas.Her banishment from the realm
leaves her now living as a human and she unknowingly carries the Black Widow
Curse.She finds her way back to a
character from the first book, Tallulah who is a psychic and palm reader that
communicates with spirits.She takes
Meridian in and they go back to Salem, to see the coven there for help.The Fairies who in the past let the spirit
guides down, now come forward to help Meridian find the answers to her
Once she comes to realize
what her curse is and how it affects her and men, she is hit with a double edge
sword in who will help her break the curse and how she finds this person.
Meridian is a bit immature as
she comes through from the first book in the series, but she begins to show she
realizes that much responsibility weighs on her in order to get through her
problem.If she does not succeed, human
kind is under a threat from the demons who wish to rule Earth, not to mention
what may come of certain men.Meridian
undergoes prolific changes and realizations through out the course of the
series, and she is a metaphor for all of us who may have lost our way at one
time, made a few mistakes and came out on the other side stronger with a sense
of purpose and understanding.
SC: Do you believe in the paranormal
and if so, do you have an experience you can share?
MDF: Yes I do.I could not have written about it, if I did
not believe.I will put it to you this
way, I know a person who was raised in the scope of practicing the Wiccan
beliefs which observe the law of Karma and boy do I believe in Karma.One of the aspects that she believed in was
communication with the spirits around by use of a spirit circle.Not to be confused with a Ouija board. In my
personal observation with this experience I was introduced to, I can say that
based on what I experienced, there were too many unexplained things that
occurred that I could not explain away.The experience I speak of is not one that I have told anyone besides my
husband and that, I prefer to keep to myself.
We all have our senses, and I
believe that some people are a little more inclined to use their sixth sense
than others and that is a sense that I have always had, just didn’t always
understand it until I met the person who introduced me to a world I never went
SC: What titles are you
working on now that you can tell us about?
MDF: The third book to the
series ‘Fairy Nymphs & The Demon Court’, is actually with the editor and I
am halfway complete with the fourth and last book to the series.(It is named, but a surprise for later.) The
fourth and last book to the series is halfway complete andI have outlined my next series and will begin
writing in the coming weeks.This series
will actually be even darker than the current one and I know I will have a
blast writing it!
SC: Thanks so much for
stopping by today. Let's take a look at your book now!
In the empty
space above the center of the table a heat emerged and with it a face that
appeared through the smoke and flames that engulfed the space above the
table. The demon did not make a total
appearance but almost appeared as though he was checking a part of himself
through from his own realm. “Oh, dark
sister, you call upon me. What do you wish to know from the dark places I only
know?” the demon asked.
“Oh, dark one,
hear my plea. I beg of you to unveil the workings of the curse on Meridian!”
Raina shouted out.
answered Raina, with ease. “The curse bestowed on the once-spirit guide is The
Black Widow curse, and one that only a dark one can cast. A dark one born of a demon with powers for
only the dark with a heart of black.”
“Dark one, I am
in your debt. We understand, on the surface, who has cast this curse on
Meridian. We now need to understand how
we may find a way to break this curse,” Raina spoke to the demon.
The demon gave
his answer in riddle form.
The being whose
work is dark can only be stopped with the twin soul.
The being you seek is hard to hold.
Spirit guides who engage with a mortal are not
pure of heart in that act, but in the face of true love all remains
not trust herself in her choice.
She will not
listen to her inner voice.
So many can
enter her mind, her greatest challenge in the true find.
disappeared and was gone from sight.
About the Author:
MD Fryson is a wife and mom to three boys. When not writing, she likes to read, hike, jog, garden and she loves to travel. Favorite place aside from the U.S.A. is London England where she has some family.
One of her favorite authors is Cassandra Clare. She also likes to read inspirational and anything on astrology. Lover of all music, she is an equal-genre-tunity.
Apart from her family she can’t live without, is the ocean and beach vacations, chocolate, coffee and tons of creamer where her husband asks if she would like some coffee to go with her creamer.
An animal lover of all sorts, horses hold a special place in her heart from when she used to ride, train and show.
Facing ruinous debt, Juliana Seabright's father leaves her at the Duke of Hereford’s door with one order—secure the marriage proposal she once turned down flat. But Juliana's shy seduction of the "Corsair Duke" is shattered when news of her family’s scandal breaks, and Connell Beaumont is not a man to toy with. . .
Connell may have cast her out of his life, but when circumstances land Juliana at his country estate, the duke discovers this bookish beauty is not so easily banished from his heart. A chasm separates a peer from the daughter of a pariah, but love will drive a man to risk everything. . .
Ariel MacArran has had a lifelong love of books, stories and writing. Nothing makes her happier than the opportunity to give back some of the magic of being swept up into a story that other writers have given her.
Ariel has always loved Jane Austen and is thrilled to offer her 10th Romance and first Regency.
like a pall of white crepe, smothered the trees and bushes. Belinda looked out of her window and
sighed. It was Christmas eve again. In the distance, she heard carolers
singing. “God rest ye merry gentlemen,
let nothing you dismay.”
year ago, her husband Chester lay dying, a fever wracking his withered
frame. He had been twenty years her
senior and had been sickly for nearly all of their marriage. As he slipped away, she had vowed she would
never forget him. And she hadn't.
a year had gone by. Her small millinery
business had prospered. She was an
independent woman now, no longer the innocent girl she had been when she had
there was Daniel.
really shouldn't be thinking of Daniel on the anniversary of Chester's
death. But Daniel had literally waltzed
into her life last year at a New Year’s Eve ball. The ball was held in an old warehouse that
someone had desperately tried to decorate so that it didn't look like what it
was. She wasn't particularly a good
dancer. But in Daniel's arms, she had
transformed into a graceful nymph, whirling around and around as the tiny
orchestra played Strauss's Gold and Silver waltz. She didn't care if they played out of tune or
if the decorations were tattered and tawdry or the punch was watery and the
she saw was Daniel.
was in his mid-thirties and handsome in a boyish way with twinkling eyes and a
quirky smile. But he had recently come
back from the Spanish war, and there was an expression in his eyes, when he
thought nobody was looking, that told her he had seen unspeakable tragedy and
horror. The first time she had seen it,
it tugged so hard at her heartstrings that it nearly brought tears to her eyes. It hadn't taken much else for her to fall
desperately in love with him.
year had whirled by like a Strauss waltz.
The seasons had changed, spring, summer and fall. Now here it was winter again. How she had changed in a year. Then, a month ago, Daniel had asked her to
marry him. She had said yes before she
even thought about it.
there was still Chester.
gazed out at the snow, her eyes filling with tears. "I'm sorry, Chester," she said out
loud. "I tried to be a good wife to
you, but Daniel ... "
throat tightened, and she couldn’t finish her sentence. How could she explain to Chester what Daniel
meant to her? Chester hadn't been a bad
husband. He had treated her kindly and
supported her in comfort. But his
constant illness meant that she had been more of a nurse than a wife. It hadn't been his fault, but still ...
hadn't been her true love, her twin flame, her soul mate. Daniel was.
turned away from the window and sat down on her bed, her heart heavy with …
what? Sadness? Grief?
Guilt? She wasn't sure. Somehow, she had to leave the past behind and
stop holding any more Christmas Eve vigils.
Would she still do it when she was married to Daniel and had a blazing
Christmas tree, presents, pastries, mulled wine and possibly even children?
shut her eyes. “Chester,” she
breathed. “Forgive me.”
clock on the nearby church steeple began to strike midnight. A small gust of wind blew through the room,
teasing the bed curtains. The candle
flame sputtered and went out, leaving the room in darkness. Belinda froze in place, tendrils of terror
crawling up her spine. A light that
wasn't from the candle glowed in the corner of the room. A figure took form. The figure of a man.
stood before her surrounded by a nimbus of light. She knew deep within her that she was seeing
his ghost, but he didn't look at all ghastly.
He looked young and strong as though his spirit had shed a frail and
never-quite-right physical body and was now free. She stopped being frightened and surprised
herself by feeling happy for him.
raised his hand and smiled. “Thank
was only a whisper. It could have been
the breeze at the window. but something
inside Belinda knew it wasn't. At last,
she understood. She had done him a
service by tending him during his final illness. But now he was free. And so was she.
smiled. “You’re welcome.”
he was gone. She blinked. The candle blazed again on the dresser. The clock had ceased chiming. Outside her window, she heard the voices of
the carolers rising up from the street.
She rubbed her eyes. Good Lord,
what had just happened? Had it even
frowned in puzzlement. There was
something on her dresser next to the candlestick, something that hadn't been
there moments before. She rose to her
feet, walked slowly to the dresser and picked it up.
was a white rose.
wish you a merry Christmas,” the voices sang.
“And a happy New year."
The Dear Departed Anne Roebuck
Genre: Historical Paranormal
Publisher: Boroughs Publishing
Date of Publication:February 2016
Number of pages: 355
Word Count: 102,748
Tagline: A young widow and a mysterious magician battle a psychic killer in Victorian era San Francisco.
Young widow Virginia Paley has no interest in attending the séances at The Society for Eternal Love, but the women of the society are dying mysteriously in their sleep, leaving their fortunes to Professor Arthur Chadwick, its charismatic medium. As her aunt might very well become the next victim, Virginia will do whatever she must to ensure that doesn’t happen. She will even join forces with the darkly mysterious Jonathan Bradshaw, a man who isn’t what he appears to be.
From the moment he spies her, Jonathan is smitten. But romance is impossible.
Mrs. Paley is a respectable woman, and he himself is outside of society, an orphan, an ex-thief and a true wizard, able to hypnotize with a word and even separate his spirit from his body. No, he must instead remain focused on his goal, avenging his mentor’s death. But, facing a foe with power over demonic forces and Virginia’s very life in the balance, love might indeed be the only salvation.
The gaslight on the wall burned low, leaving only the spectral glow of the astral lamps to illuminate the séance room. Virginia Paley felt her stomach knotting up in both fear and anticipation as the wind rattled the shutters, sounding just like someone—or something—was trying to get in. In the center of the circular oak table, a single red lamp glowed like an all-seeing eye.
Virginia shuddered. Why, oh why, had she allowed her aunt to talk her into this madness?
Six other people sat with her around the table‑—all women save for one lone man who occupied the chair on her left. She studied him for a moment out of the corner of her eye. Just her luck that the only man attending this absurd spectacle was not only handsome but was seated so close to her that she could hear him breathe. As though he sensed her watching him, he suddenly turned to her with a mysterious smile curling his full mouth.
His eyes met hers and Virginia caught her breath. A prickle of apprehension and excitement shot through her insides. The darkness shrouded his face, but his eyes reflected the ruby light within their azure depths, making him appear otherworldly—and disturbingly familiar. He looked like he had stepped out of a dream—her dream.
Was she gazing into the eyes of her secret fantasy lover?
No. She forced herself to turn away. Stop this right now. This was insane. The lover who haunted her midnight fantasies was not a real man. He was only a phantasm that appeared out of nowhere to invade the dreams of a lonely widow. Nothing more.
This man sitting next to her at the séance table was not her fantasy lover, she told herself firmly. She didn’t even know him. Her reaction to him was just one more ridiculous aspect of this silly séance. She abruptly released her hold on the man’s hand, grateful that the darkness prevented him from seeing the flush that burned her cheeks.
She simply mustn’t allow herself to be sucked into the insanity of this place.
Frowning in annoyance, she turned to her aunt sitting on her right. “Really, Aunt Marian.” She kept her voice low. “This whole business is getting absurd. Come. Let’s go home.”
“And miss a message from my beloved Henry?” Behind her pince nez, Marian’s blue eyes widened in alarm. She clutched the lace collar of her high-necked black gown with her gloved hand. “I wouldn’t dream of doing that.”
“Mrs. Salonius got a message from her late husband, too,” Virginia persisted. “And look what happened to her.”
“Now, now, dear.” Marian smiled and gave Virginia’s hand an affectionate pat. “It was just Rachel’s time to depart this life, that’s all. And isn’t it wonderful that she had her adored Hiram waiting for her in the Summerland of Spirit?”
Virginia shuddered at her aunt’s blissful expression. This wasn’t like Aunt Marian at all. And where on earth did the disturbingly vacant look in her eyes come from? Despite her aunt’s beatific smile, Virginia felt in the pit of her stomach that something was very, very wrong.
A man of about sixty years of age, dressed in a frock coat, snow-white waistcoat and white bow tie, strode into the room and took his place behind the enormous armchair at the table. Silver-haired and distinguished-looking, he carried himself with the aloof kindliness usually reserved for a college professor or a tent revivalist.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.” He swept the room with his gaze. “I am Professor Arthur Chadwick. It gives me great pleasure to introduce two newcomers to our circle. This is Mr. Jonathan Bradshaw.” He indicated the man sitting beside Virginia, who nodded slightly in acknowledgement. “And Mrs. Virginia Paley. A warm welcome to you, both.”
Virginia started as Chadwick's ebony eyes met hers for an uncomfortably long moment. Virginia shivered with sudden dread. They were piercing eyes. Calculating eyes. Cold eyes.
Eyes that threatened to penetrate the secret hidden in her soul—a secret she had no intention of revealing to a living soul. Or any other kind of soul for that matter.
Chadwick finally took his penetrating gaze elsewhere, much to Virginia’s relief. “In tonight’s demonstration, you will experience many manifestations of spirit power. The purpose is to convince even the most skeptical person that spirits do, indeed, exist beyond this earthy plane.” He paused for emphasis. “Which means that the spirits of our departed loved ones exist as well and are eager to reveal themselves to us, if we will but heed them.”
He allowed the murmurs and whispers of approval to buzz around the table. Of the four other women in the room, Virginia was the only one not shrouded head to toe in black taffeta.
“You see, this is why I continue to come here,” Marian whispered in Virginia’s ear. “It comforts me so much to know that my beloved Henry awaits me on the Other Side. And when you receive a message from your dear George, you will be comforted, too.”
Virginia’s stomach dropped to her toes. In spite of all her misgivings about the Society for Eternal Love, Virginia had agreed to attend one of Chadwick’s séances. It was, after all, only fair that she see one for herself before passing judgment on them.
She was sincerely glad that her aunt had found comfort for her grief in the notion of love after death. However, this business of conjuring spooks was going much too far. And the last thing Virginia wanted was for Chadwick to conjure up her own late husband. Any message from him wasn’t likely to be particularly comforting.
As far as Virginia was concerned, it was better to let the dead—especially George—rest in peace.
“Let us all join hands.” Chadwick’s voice intruded into Virginia’s reverie. “And rest the toes of our shoes against the shoes of those sitting beside us. This way, you will each reassure yourselves that everyone, including myself, is seated with hands and feet fully accounted for. Thus, you will see that no living person in this room is producing the phenomena that we shall soon experience.”
Aunt Marian took Virginia’s hand, gave it an encouraging squeeze, and nestled her high-buttoned shoe next to Virginia’s slipper. Virginia hesitated for a moment, then nestled the toe of her other slipper against the instep of Mr. Bradshaw’s boot.
He smiled again and offered her his gloved hand with a flourish. Gingerly, she laid her own hand into the center of his palm. His strong fingers enclosed hers with a gentle firmness that she could feel even through the fine white cotton of his glove. The tingle in her stomach turned into an unexpected throb of desire. Even if he was a real man and not a fantasy, he was certainly having an effect on her. What was he doing here? And why was she so stirred by him?
“Don’t be afraid, Mrs. Paley.” His voice, a musical baritone, caressed her ears.
“I’m not afraid,” she whispered.
“Good. And don’t be afraid of the spirits, either.” He winked at her.
She glanced away in annoyance. It was obvious that he had noticed her loss of composure. Now, she was even more nervous.
“Now, again for the sake of our new members, allow me to remind all of you not to break the circle for any reason during the séance.” Chadwick glanced about the table to make sure his instructions were being followed. “A great deal of psychic force is built up when we join together to concentrate upon a common goal. This force enables me to bring through our loved ones in spirit. Breaking the circle of hands short circuits this force and ends our communication with them. I trust we are all clear on this point.”
Everyone around the table nodded in solemn agreement. After another minute or two of shuffling feet, rustling petticoats and wooden chair legs squeaking on the hardwood floor, expectant silence descended upon the room. Virginia sat rigid in her chair.
“Now, take a deep breath and let all the affairs of the mundane world fall away,”—a collective sigh rose from the group at Chadwick’s words. The wind moaned like a soul in torment against the shutters—“while we attune our minds and our hearts to a higher plane of being. Soon, we will be able to welcome our spirit friends as they come through and speak to us.”
Chadwick paused for a moment, then shattered the silence with a loud sneeze. All the women around the table jumped in unison.
“Forgive me,” he murmured. “A slight cold…”
“Maybe we should postpone the séance.” One of the women leaned across the table with concern in her eyes. “If you are ill.”
Chadwick waved the suggestion away. “No need, my dear Mrs. Henderson. I am well enough. Let us continue. Please be so kind as to extinguish the gaslight.”
Mrs. Henderson, a thin, reedy woman in her late fifties, rose to her feet and turned the handle on the gaslight, plunging the room into total darkness. Only the tiny flame in the blood-colored lamp continued to flicker, making the lamp throb like a beating heart.
Chadwick waited patiently until Mrs. Henderson found her chair once more. “Now, if we are ready…” His voice trailed off into another loud sneeze. “Again, forgive me,” he said after a moment. “Please take my hands once more and let us begin.”
He paused again, letting silence engulf the room once more. Virginia held her breath.
“Come, ye spirits,” Chadwick intoned in a sing-song tone. “Blessed denizens of the Summerland, that happy place of peace and contentment. We ask you to reveal yourselves to us. Come and speak…speak to your loved ones here assembled. Comfort them, give them hope, lend them solace from their grief and loneliness.”
A bell rang somewhere in the room. Virginia quickly turned her head to try to determine from which direction the sound came, but it seemed to come from all corners of the room at once. She shuddered at the sudden tingling in her spine. It was only a trick, she told herself sternly. It wasn’t real. It couldn’t be real.
“Ah, the veil between this world and the spirit realms is lifting,” Chadwick said. “One by one, our spirit friends announce their presence to us.”
Virginia gasped. The table in front of her, a piece of solid oak so heavy that she would have thought it almost immovable, rocked and thumped beneath her hands, almost as if it had come to life. Several sharp raps echoed hollowly from somewhere beneath its surface making a pattern that sounded almost like the dit-dah-dahs of Morse code.
Finally, it rose into the air so high that Virginia strained to keep her hands on its surface, as though it were up to her to keep the wayward piece of furniture from escaping altogether.
“Our spirit friends cavort and play as they did in life.” Chadwick chuckled. “They wish us to be very sure that they are here. Look!”
Virginia looked up at the ceiling. There, in the darkness, danced several little bright points of light, darting first this way and now that, now, flying around over her head, now floating down towards her like little wisps of fluff blown about by some spirit breeze. Then, they would vanish abruptly, only to reappear again just as suddenly somewhere else entirely.
Virginia's eyes widened as a human hand, glowing pasty white in the darkness of the room appeared just above her head. Other gasps echoed in the room as the ghostly hand, opening, closing and wiggling its fingers, fluttered about the room.
Chadwick moaned suddenly, his deep base voice echoing eerily off the walls. A small brass trumpet sitting on the table began to quiver, rattling a staccato pattern on the tabletop. It rose slowly into the air, all by itself, until it was high over Virginia's head. As she stared up at it, it turned about several times, then halted in mid air.
“It is I, Gentle Fawn.” A small voice floated from the mouth of the trumpet. “I bring you greetings from one of your company who has recently crossed over into the spirit world.”
“Gentle Fawn is Arthur’s spirit guide,” Aunt Marian whispered. “You remember that I told you about her?”
Virginia nodded curtly. Marian had told her all about Chadwick’s various spirit “guides.” But hearing the eerie voice issuing from the trumpet was another thing altogether.
“Rachel gives everyone her love,” the voice continued. “She wants everyone to know how happy she is. Hiram is with her and they’re holding hands. It’s so sweet to see them together again at last.”
The trumpet whirled around again, then pointed to Marian. “I have a message for Marian from her beloved Henry.”
Marian sighed ecstatically, her ample bosom lifting up from her whalebone corset, then falling once more. The voice dropped to a masculine tone. “Marian?”
“Oh yes, Henry. Yes, I’m here.”
“Keep up with your good work, my dearest Marian. You will be given an opportunity to do even more to comfort the bereaved. Watch for that opportunity.”
“I will,” Marian said with a catch in her voice. “Thank you, Henry.”
The trumpet carefully selected its next subject. “This is a message for Ethel.”
“Oh, yes.” Mrs. Henderson scooted forward in her chair, her eyes gleaming in the red light. “Yes, I’m right here.”
“Ethel?” The voice that emerged from the trumpet was a light tenor this time. “Dear Ethel, it is almost time. I am waiting for you, my love. Waiting…yearning…aching for you. Oh, my darling, how I long for you. I cannot wait much longer to hold you, kiss you, love you.”
“Tomorrow.” Ethel’s voice trembled with emotion. “It will be done tomorrow. I promise, Oswald dearest. Then, I will be ready.”
Ethel sat back in her seat and closed her eyes, a look of utter ecstasy on her face. Virginia watched her with growing apprehension. Ethel Henderson had seemed like such a sensible woman when Virginia had spoken with her in the foyer before this sideshow began. Now, she looked as though she had abandoned her sensibilities completely, just like Aunt Marian had.
What on earth was happening to these women?
Startled out of her reverie, Virginia jumped as the trumpet swung around again and halted directly in front of her. “There is a man here,” Gentle Fawn’s voice announced. “He is a portly man, middle-aged with thinning hair. He calls for Virginia. Is she here?”
Virginia stiffened. No!She frowned in sudden anger. Don’t you dare!
Aunt Marian certainly must have informed Chadwick of Virginia’s own widowed status. Now, she was the newest pigeon in the flock.
“I'm here,” she muttered through clenched teeth.
“It is difficult.” The voice lowered to a throaty bass. “So difficult to come through. I have so much to say to you. But I cannot. Not now.”
Virginia’s heart began to hammer painfully. The voice couldn’t be George’s. It was impossible, wasn’t it? If only she could be sure. It had been barely a year since he died. Surely, she had not forgotten the sound of his voice already.
No, Virginia told herself sternly for the third time. This was not real. It was only a confidence trick Chadwick designed to try to dupe her just as he had duped her aunt.
Still, Virginia let her breath out in a heavy sigh of relief as the trumpet turned again—this time to the man sitting beside her with his hand cradling hers with such firm strength.
“Jonathan?” A woman’s voice emerged, sounding on the verge of tears. “Oh, Jonathan, where are you? I can’t see you. I don’t know where I am. I’m so frightened.”
She heard Jonathan Bradshaw suck in his breath in a startled gasp. His gloved hand suddenly squeezed hers.
“Susan?” He called out in a voice that quavered with emotion. “Oh my love, is that really you?”
Virginia turned to him in alarm. He sat still in his chair, his lips pressed tightly together with a look of anguish on his expressive features. He was obviously maintaining his composure with a considerable effort, but Virginia could see the glint of tears at the corners of his eyes. Virginia’s heart went out to him. How disgraceful that Chadwick, with his bogus messages, should take such advantage of this man’s obviously deep and heartfelt grief.
Perhaps after the silly séance was over, she could find some place away from the babbling crowd of women and try to comfort him. Maybe, press his cheek against her breast, stroke his hair, kiss his furrowed brow. Show him in other ways that love was not dead.
Acutely embarrassed at the direction her wayward thoughts were taking her, she turned her gaze back to the ruby lamp. For the second time that evening, she was grateful for the dim light which prevented anyone seeing the flame creeping up into her cheeks.
“You see?” The voice of Gentle Fawn returned. “Souls on both sides of the Veil must learn to accept the reality of love which transcends the change you call death. If only we could tell Susan that her beloved Jonathan is here waiting to talk to her, it would comfort her so much. But she doesn’t hear us. We will have to wait until she is ready.”
Chadwick caught his breath and sneezed a third and final time. “Perhaps we ought to end this séance for now,” he said. “My dear Mrs. Henderson, would you please turn up the light?”
Ethel shoved her chair back with a squeak and rose to her feet. She turned up the gaslight on the nearest wall, then went to the light on the far wall. As Virginia’s eyes adjusted to the brightness, she could clearly see Chadwick seated at the table with both of his hands still firmly held by the women on either side of him.
“I hope this modest demonstration has served to convince even the most doubting mind.” He disengaged his hands from the women’s grip and rose to his feet. “I thank you most sincerely for your attention and cooperation.”
Virginia pushed back her chair and rose to her feet as well. All the women, Aunt Marian included, swarmed around Chadwick like bees on a sunflower. Virginia hung back, not wanting to be drawn into the midst of the adoring throng.
The door opened and a maid came in rolling a cart with a coffee urn, sugar, cream and a stack of china cups. She parked the cart by the far wall and tiptoed back out of the room. Virginia edged backwards towards the cart, grateful for an excuse to leave the laughing group before she said something that would embarrass her aunt.
She noticed that Jonathan Bradshaw already held a steaming cup of coffee in his hands. She took the opportunity to discreetly study him in more detail while he stirred sugar into his cup.
He was certainly more good-looking than a mortal man had any right to be. Tall and lithe like an athlete, his broad shoulders narrowed to a trim waist and slim hips, accentuated by a dove gray waistcoat and tapered silk trousers.
Black hair, longer than the current fashion, curled well past his collar and swept back from his brow in an ebony wave. It gave him a look reminiscent of some bygone romantic era even though his dinner jacket and black bow tie were cut in the latest style.
Not only did she find him attractive, Virginia had also been impressed with how his finely sculpted features and generous mouth had mirrored such strong emotion during the séance. It showed him to be a man capable of deep and tender feelings.
She sighed. What a shame for any woman to have to die and leave such a husband behind.
Professor Chadwick, with Aunt Marian and Mrs. Henderson trailing along in his wake, detached himself from the group and approached them. Virginia shrank back against the wall at their approach, but it soon became clear she was not their quarry.
“Ah, there you are, Mr. Bradshaw,” Chadwick spoke up over the babble of female voices. The target of his inquiry glanced up sharply. “I trust our little demonstration has succeeded and you are satisfied of the veracity of our claims.”
“Absolutely.” Jonathan gave him a wan smile. “I must admit that I was skeptical when I first arrived. It all seemed so, shall we say, theatrical. But now…” He paused for a moment, his sensitive mouth tightening. “I find that there can be no other explanation for what I experienced. None, whatever. It was truly extraordinary.” His voice hoarsened. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Chadwick acknowledged Jonathan’s expression of gratitude with a gracious nod. Satisfied that he had found another true believer, he turned and rejoined his group of disciples.
“There, you see, dear?” Marian turned to Virginia with a triumphant look. “Mr. Bradshaw came here with an open mind about the existence of the spirits, and now he believes. Why on earth, can you not believe as well?”
“Aunt Marian, please.” Virginia twisted the strand of pearls around her neck in annoyance and embarrassment. The last thing she wanted was to argue with her aunt here in Chadwick’s parlor, especially in front of this handsome man. She didn’t want to sound like a shrew. “Mr. Bradshaw can hardly be interested in my opinion of these proceedings.”
“On the contrary, Mrs. Paley.” Jonathan’s smile was polite and proper, but his eyes were not. His gaze caressed her body boldly and appreciatively, making her want to grab her shawl and cover her bare arms and low neckline. “I am very much interested in your opinion of these proceedings. Do tell me.”
“I must say I find this spirit business quite unhealthy.” She lifted her chin, ignoring her aunt’s disapproving glare. After all, he had asked for her opinion and she fully intended to give it to him. “I have lost my husband too, and I know how devastating it can be. But, one mustn’t dwell on the past like this. One must go on with one’s life. And perhaps find someone else to love.”
Virginia broke off suddenly. She hadn’t intended to say those last few words. They tumbled out before she could stop them. Unnerved, she pressed her lips tightly together, lest the other, more suggestive words that filled her mind escape.
“You have a very sensible argument, Mrs. Paley.” Jonathan turned away from her and gazed into the depths of his china cup, as though he were trying to read an oracle from it. “Still, when you lose your one true love, anything— no matter how strange and unorthodox it might be—which offers some kind of hope of finding that love again is worth exploring. If there is one chance in a million that it could be genuine, then one must take that chance, mustn’t one?”
His voice trailed off into a husky whisper. Reaching into his breast pocket, he pulled out his handkerchief and pressed it to his nose. After a moment, he recovered himself and tucked the handkerchief back into his pocket.
“I had better be going. It’s growing late.” He drained his cup, placed it back onto the tray, then turned to Virginia. “Will I see you here next week, Mrs. Paley?”
Virginia bit her lip. She hadn’t planned on having anything more to do with the Society for Eternal Love. But that was before she gazed into his captivating eyes and felt the pang of longing that those eyes aroused within her. “Are you planning on being here next week?”
“Indeed, I had planned on doing just that. And I urge you to do the same.” His tone grew intense. “It is very important that all of us who have lost loved ones believe that true love endures beyond the grave, or we shall all perish from grief.”
Virginia turned and found Aunt Marian gazing at her with an eager expression. Behind her, Chadwick loomed like a specter, fixing Virginia with another of his piercing looks.
“Well, dear?” Marian demanded. “Will you come back next week?”
Virginia faltered for a moment. Every instinct she had told her to run and not look back at these two people— her beloved aunt and this disturbingly attractive man—who so compelled her to return to this madhouse.
She glanced up at Chadwick, then looked away with a shudder. “I shall consider it.”
Jonathan regarded her with a raised eyebrow for a moment. Wearing that mysterious half-smile she had seen several times during the evening, he bid Chadwick and Aunt Marian goodnight, then retreated into the hallway. He retrieved a silk top hat from a rack in the corner gathered up what looked like a full-length cape which men who frequent the opera often wore and headed for the door.
Virginia waited until her aunt had rejoined the knot of women, then edged her way into the hallway after him, making sure that no one lurked close enough to overhear.
She knew she was taking a terrible risk. No doubt by now, her aunt had informed Chadwick that she was less than impressed by his demonstration. But she couldn’t bring herself to allow this tormented man out of her sight without one final word of warning.
“Mr. Bradshaw.” As he turned around to face her, she lowered her voice to a whisper. “Please forgive me for being so forward. I know I have absolutely no business interfering in your affairs. But I fear that this man and his so-called ‘spirit messages’ is taking dreadful advantage of my aunt’s grief. I should hate to see you taken advantage of as well.”
He made no reply for several moments, his handsome face wearing an expression Virginia couldn’t quite name. He seemed to be choosing his words with care before uttering them.
“I deeply appreciate your concern.” He kept his voice low and conspiratorial. “And I assure you I have no intention of allowing myself to be taken advantage of. But this is something I must investigate—both for my sake and the sake of my adored Susan. You understand, of course.”
“Of course.” Virginia lowered her gaze. In spite of all her best intentions, she had been much too bold and judgmental. Or perhaps she was just jealous of a dead woman. “Good night, Mr. Bradshaw.”
“Good night, Mrs. Paley.” Jonathan took her hand in his and caressed her palm for a long moment before releasing released it. Virginia felt her pulses suddenly throb. His touch held the same sense of intimacy that she had seen in his eyes—eyes that weren’t those of a man in mourning. “Until we meet again.”
About the Author:
From her first poem at age 10 and her first short story at age 12, Anne hasn’t been able to help writing about her two favorite things—magic and love. An unrepentant nerd, Anne started out in biomedical research but ended up writing software manuals instead. She spent many years as a member of science fiction and historical reenactment groups and has been at various times a Renaissance scholar, a druidess, a pirate wench, a saloon floozy, a belly dancer and a chainmail-wearing warrior maiden.
Still, her first love is writing. It doesn’t matter whether the story is set in the Middle Ages, Victorian times, the present day or far in the future. If it has both love and magic, Anne will write about it. Anne also writes young adult historical fantasy under the name of Ann Finnin.
A native of Southern California, Anne lives in the hills above Los Angeles with her husband Dave, and a Dog of Indeterminate Breed named Rufus.