New Release: Shadow Manor
Secrets of Covington Corner Novella
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She’d watched him from afar for years…now he’s up close and personal.
Shy librarian Cara spent her life overshadowed by her three older brothers, while secretly crushing on their best friend. After a family tragedy, he cut himself out of their lives, but she still watches his house on the hill from the darkness of her bedroom every night.
Then she gets a second chance to reveal the man behind the mask. A night of revelry leads to passion and high hopes, until her tortured hero’s troubled past rises from the shadows.
Will he retreat into the darkness once more or let obsession lead him to her love?
Cara Gatlin strode down the hillside path in the dark, intimately familiar with every twist, turn, and buried root that might trip her up.
Despite her mother’s many admonishments to not walk on the land that was no longer theirs, Cara couldn’t keep herself away. It called to her on long nights when her restlessness grew until she couldn’t sit still. Tonight that restlessness mixed with an overwhelming anxiety that came with the bombshells from work this week.
Besides, walking here was also her quiet form of rebellion against its new owner…under the guise of giving her parent’s new puppy a good workout before bed. Bernard might still be a baby, but his long legs and gangly body didn’t understand that.
Tonight, of all nights, Cara needed to be out in the crisp autumn air—moving, breathing, living in more than just the history books she worked with every day.
The well-worn path across the wooded hill bordering her parents’ Tennessee farm provided just enough incline to challenge her, just enough familiarity to comfort her. And hopefully the puppy would sleep all the better for running around her on the trails.
As if on cue, she found herself standing in a tiny clearing about three quarters of the way up the hill. The mature trees closed around her, providing protection. But years had taught her that standing in just the right spot gave her a clear view straight to the top… and the tall antebellum-era mansion that had stood like a monument there for so long. She could hear Bernard rustling in fallen leaves, then give a sharp bark before running off into the woods.
The two-story, boxy structure gave it a looming appearance from this angle, where the intricate wrought-iron work on the balconies blended with the darkness. Now that only one person lived there, the upper floor often remained still and inky-black. Cara was ashamed to acknowledge that she often tracked its inhabitant’s presence through the lights on the lower floor.
“What are you doing here?”
Startled, Cara spun around.
His voice was the last thing she’d expected to hear. Not the boy’s voice that she remembered as scraggly and newly deepened. No, this was the man’s voice, deep and smooth as fine bourbon, with the same amount of burn. The voice she’d heard on the news throughout the years speaking about responsibility to community and his goals of helping their fellow citizens through providing good jobs in his family’s factories.
A voice that she woke in the night thinking about, dreaming about.
Though he lived within sight of her apartment above her parents’ garage, she hadn’t actually seen him in person or spoken to him since the funeral when he had been eighteen. Ten years ago now.
Realizing that several moments of silence had passed, she pushed away her quick flash of embarrassment and answered, “I’m walking…I could ask you the same.”
“I’m not a woman in the woods, alone in the dark. That doesn’t seem to be the most prudent of decisions.” He stood several feet away, in the deepest of the darkness surrounding them. But she’d know him anywhere. The fact that he was actually present, not too far from her, sent an illicit thrill down her spine.
She tried to immerse herself in anger instead. “I’ve walked these woods all my life. I’m perfectly safe.”
She didn’t have a justified stand against his accusation, but the quick flare in her internal fire was welcome. “I’m not hurting anything by walking here.” The strict rule-following part of her personality said her excuse was weak, but it was true, nonetheless. Just like with her brothers, she felt the sudden need to defend her choices. “I can assure you, I know how to protect myself,” she insisted.
Silence fell. Her anger faded into a sense of uneasiness that made her shift, crunching brush beneath her boots. In all the years she’d walked the trail up the hill, she’d never run into another soul. What was he doing here?
The successful businessman who lived in the house at the top of the hill. Cara’s mortal enemy.
Jacob Montgomery was a man she should never let occupy a single thought in her brain. After all, he’d walked away from her and her family despite all they’d done for him. Oh, they hadn’t had the riches or influence his family had flaunted, but when he was a child, they’d given him love and acceptance and a welcoming home away from his parents’ indifference.
As much as Cara resented it, resented him, Jacob was never far from her thoughts. An obsession she hoped her family never found out about. They would surely see it as a betrayal.
Jacob took a few steps closer, giving her a glimpse of the boyhood half smile she remembered—and never saw on TV—before the moon moved behind a bank of clouds.
Those appearances on the news only showed the super serious side of him. Never smiling or laughing. Always with a deeply contemplative expression, as if everything in life were to be pondered and picked apart. Which made her wonder just how hard his parents’ deaths had been on him.
As if on cue, she heard a rustling to her left, a low growl, then a dark shape sprang from the bushes to crowd the space between her and Jacob.
The lanky gray pup wouldn’t harm a fly, she knew, but he talked a good game with his whiny teenage growl. One day his ferocity would grow into his body and become truly intimidating. But just like her brothers, his personality was all protector with no aggressor.
She stepped forward to lay her palm on the puppy’s head, his height giving her the gift of not having to bend over. Bernard instantly sat back on his haunches and waited, but she could feel an alert tension beneath her fingers as she pet his neck.
“I guess I wasn’t alone after all,” she boasted.
Jacob braced his legs, his all-masculine stance enhanced by the arms folded over his chest. Had his shoulders really gotten that wide or was it a trick of the full moon that had her heart beating fast for all the wrong reasons?
“So that’s where all those soulful howls are coming from at night?”
She guessed the sound probably traveled up the hill to his place, if he was ever there to hear it…
“My parents got him recently. He sleeps better at night after a little walk.” Which wasn’t the only reason she was out here tonight, but it was the only one she was willing to share with him.
Her long-lost friend. Fantasy lover. Voted most out of reach for a lowly librarian.
“You didn’t say what you were doing out here.” She didn’t want to know, shouldn’t want to know, but she pressed for an answer anyway. Though he’d bought the land when her parents had been forced to sell it to pay for her brother’s medical bills, Jacob’s presence was highly unusual after all these years.
“Walking off the demons.”
Too honest. Too raw. Cara’s body went on alert, as did Bernard’s, rising to his feet as if in preparation to defend or run, she wasn’t sure which.
“I apologize for questioning you, Cara,” Jacob said, though his tone didn’t indicate any such thing. “I forgot I was dealing with a grown woman.” He moved a few steps closer, not intimidated by the big animal between them. “One old enough, and smart enough, to receive the state wide smarty pants commendation. Or should I say, the Jenkins Memorial Librarian Excellence Award?”
A jolt of surprise shot through her. Yes, the announcement from earlier in the week that she’d been chosen for a state wide award for preserving the special collections in the district library had made the news, but not the front page, like he usually did. Why would he have paid attention to that?
Only a moment later did she register the smarty pants remark, which was a phrase he and her brothers had teased her with many a time growing up. The reference was disconcerting, as was him bringing up the very thing that had left her anxious tonight.
For just a single hour, Cara wished for someone to hold her, encourage her, and tell her how the hell to get through the special event she now had to attend to represent her district at the state capital in a few weeks.
Didn’t the Powers That Be realize librarians preferred books to people?
Desperate to focus on something besides herself, she blurted out, “Special collections is nothing compared to running a company that keeps half the county employed.”
Why, oh why, did she say that? The last thing she wanted was for him to think she’d been keeping tabs on him. Even if she was…
He cocked his head to the side in a move she’d seen so many times when he was younger. But the night was too dark for her to read his expression this time. She stroked Bernard, anxious for his comforting warmth in this awkward situation.
“Well, considering your most recent collection is on my family and my father’s art, in particular, I’m grateful to know it’s in good hands.”
His words did not match his tone. Instead irritation seemed to ooze from beneath the surface of his words. Cara had forgotten that little tidbit…and the many times her requests to his lawyer for additional information and materials had been met with utter silence.
Before she could gather her courage to ask about that, he said, “Well, grown-up Cara, I believe I’ll let you get back to the house.”
The tension in her dropped a degree as he turned away, only to rebound as he paused to look back at her over his broad shoulder. “But I believe I’ll be seeing you again soon.”
Breath suspended in her lungs as he disappeared beyond the tree line. His final words circled in her mind.
“Why?” she called out, confused by the encounter after ten years of silence. Ten years of only seeing him on the screen. Knowing him only through her research on his family.
Her only answer was the whine of Bernard beside her, and the rustle of crisp autumn leaves in the night breeze.
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It’s July 2020…if your life was a literal story, what would you make of it?
I’ll admit, we all have some scary scenarios right now. It might be boring, lonely, anxiety-inducing, a struggle…but in 6 months, where do you want to be?
This is the question I’m trying to ask myself.
We’re halfway through 2020, and its been a rough one. I don’t need to go into details for all of us to know that. But I do find myself re-examining, re-evaluating in a similar way to what I do every January. Taking stock of where I am, and where I want to be. I’m sure part of it has to do with my birthday being in June. Plus, I’m a natural overthinker—that doesn’t help!
This could be a good thing, though. It helps me center myself and zero in on where I’m going, despite whatever chaos is happening in my life at the moment. And let’s just say chaos has been abundant this year…am I right?
But often that chaos makes me feel like life is happening to me. And every so often I need the reminder that life is what I make it. What I dream it can be—if I will just stop and think about how to get there despite whatever roadblocks are in the way.
It might not even be something big. That step in the right direction may be a little thing that grows with time. It’s just up to me to take a step in the right direction.
For me, right now, that means focusing down on something small that will bring me a boost in motivation and focus. At the moment, that’s my health. My exercise routine got seriously disrupted when I started working from home. So I’m working toward exercising in some way 5 days a week. My other big priority is my writing. My gothic novella series is coming along! The first two are done, and I’m writing the third. These start releasing in August. Each day I’m just trying to either plot or write or dictate, even if its only for half an hour. Every bit of progress helps me feel productive and boosts my creativity.
It feels good. And that helps me feel happy in the midst of chaos.
What small steps are you writing into your life to make the last half of 2020 worth reading? What are you writing out of your life to bring back your joy?
I’d love to talk about it! Comment below or connect with me on Facebook!