Now that the big week is over I need to get back to my writing. Hmm, I wonder how I'll fair. Let's hope I do well. I have two books I am trying to get finished, a gothic time travel and a western time travel, both are exciting reads.
Trouble is they are both screaming at me and picking which to work on is difficult. Maybe you all could help me. I can post some of each and you tell me which I should finish first?
I'll post the first chapter of each of them here...
THE TEA CUP AFFAIR
“Oueee Jeff, you sure don’t waste anytime.”
Jeff looked up just as Dan ducked under the header board being lifted by two workers. “Best put on one of those hard hats by the door.”
His friend nodded and went back to get one. Jeff took a steadying breath, he didn’t need any diversion right now and Dan always wanted his undivided attention.
“Good idea, these hard hats.”
Jeff returned Dan’s grin. “What do you need, Dan?”
“Oh yeah, guess we should get right into it.” The man started pulling papers out of his briefcase. “That historical group still wants to be sure you aren’t changing anything.”
“Did you give them the plans?”
The man’s silence finally earned Jeff’s attention. “Why don’t they have the plans, Dan?”
“Well, I wasn’t sure if that was such a good idea. I mean look at this place.”
“The house needs a lot of work, everyone knew that when I offered to buy it from them.”
“I know, but the plans.” Dan followed the man that moved past him in a rush. “They won’t understand all this work unless you can be there for the questions.”
Jeff caught the falling boards someone left propped up against the wall. He wanted to just stand there and yell at them all, instead he bit his inner cheek in frustration. Every minute wasted, cost him another hundred dollars and his bank account wasn’t a bottomless pit.
“Set up an evening meeting and I’ll be there.” The last thing he needed were those uppity historians banging on the front door, no, make that the hole where the door should be. “Is that all, Dan?”
“Meeting, got it.”
Again, the man’s hesitation made Jeff’s jaw tighten. “What else?”
He pushed his way back to the table once he found a laborer to take the wood to the proper place.
“The City Clerk wants to know if you are going to have a business here, like a B&B?”
Jeff looked up to the ceiling for divine guidance. “Nope, just me. This is now my home. Make it clear to them.”
“I will, today, I promise.” Dan turned to go, ducking once again before scooting out the door.
Watching how quickly he vanished told Jeff he didn’t hide his temper very good. “Why can’t they all understand that I bought this for my home?”
He heard someone call out his name and he moved in the general direction. “Who needs me?”
“Up here, boss, in the attic.”
“I’ll be right up.” Jeff gave out some last minute changes to the foremen and took off up the stairs, turning at the landing he called down, “Someone needs to get that front door put in before anyone goes home!”
Three voices called out that they would see to it and all he could do was laugh and head back up the stairs.
When he reached the dim attic it took his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dusty light. “Where are you, Elliot?”
“Over here, boss. Come see what I found.”
The obstacles took a bit of maneuvering, but he eventually made his way over to the far corner of the attic. Elliot was on his hands and knees, with his head stuck into the wall. Jeff got down to see what caused the man’s excitement.
“Can you believe it, I think it is a real secret room.”
The revelation spiked Jeff’s own adventurous spirit. “Are you sure?”
“Oh yes, though I haven’t actually found the door to it.”
He tried to see past Elliot’s body, but quickly gave up and started searching for the latch that might open a secret door. Jeff ran his hands over the wall, but nothing felt different. He began tapping across, then up and down the wall until he heard what he was looking for. “I think I found the door.”
“Wonderful.” Elliot pulled himself out of the hole and sat back on his heals, watching.
“The door is here, I can feel the frame, but the latch is still…wait a minute.” They both held their breath as he reached up and took hold of the gaslight fixture. Ever so slowly he turned it to the right, the door seemed to hesitate than finally slide open. “A pocket door, not bad for a secret door.”
Jeff held up his hand and stopped Elliot from entering the room. “Let’s make sure we can close and open this from both sides.” He reached in and found an identical light fixture on the other side. He stepped in and turned the old light fixture to his right and the door slid shut, to the left it opened. “Remind me to bring up some oil for this.”
Both men stood in the middle of the dark room. Jeff lit a match and found a candle. Once lit, he found a couple more spaced around the room. With the room glowing in candlelight it appeared very welcoming, almost like a parlor of a past era. The brocade couch and matching chair were so well preserved they look almost new. The rug under his steps felt thick and lush, very Victorian in design.
Jeff stood in the middle of the room and turned very slowly, taking in every angle and object. “This was a woman’s secret room.”
“How can you tell?”
“Look at the doilies, the volumes of poetry, the display cupboard filled with tea cups and saucers. The desk is smaller than a normal roll top.” Jeff’s fingers reached out and caressed the feather pen in the ink holder. “The plume is too feminine for a man’s use.”
Elliot was talking, but Jeff failed to hear anything he said, he seemed captured by the room and the mystery woman that would have spent time, alone, in the room.
“I don’t want anything touched in this room, Elliot.”
“But Jeff, the furniture would bring in a hefty price…”
“Nothing Elliot and tell no one about the room, I want it to stay just as it is.”
“It is your call.”
He could hear the man’s disappointment as he left the room. After all, he hired him to collect all the valuable antiques, categorize them and price them for auction if they weren’t to be kept for the house. The thought made Jeff wonder what came over him once he entered the room.
Another call for him came from downstairs. With regret he left the room, closing the hidden door and covering up the hole in the wall. “I’ll fix that tonight.”
* * * *
The house felt oddly silent as he put the finishing touches on the wall repair. Sitting back on his heels he felt the hole would not be seen once the glue on the wallpaper dried. He looked over at the other side of the attic and the missing strip of paper he confiscated from the other wall.
Pleased with his job, Jeff picked up his coffee and headed into the room. He actually felt his hesitation on entering the room, wondering if he should ask permission to enter. “Don’t be foolish, old man. She is long gone.”
Jeff pushed away his thoughts of the nightly events since he moved in two weeks ago. At first he pushed off the noises as those of a creaky old house. The wondrous scent of lilacs was another matter and one not as easily dismissed.
As he leaned against the door frame and viewed the room, he wondered why a lady would need such a room. In his next breath the aroma of lilacs seemed to flow through the room, filling it with her scent.
Jeff pushed off the door and stepped into the room. “I hope I am not intruding, madam. But your room has raised my curiosity.” As he moved about her room, he swore he could feel her watching him. But when he turned no one was there. “I promise not to change anything in the room.”
He smiled over his own silliness of talking to the room. As if in defiance, he slid into the chair at the desk. He placed his coffee on the desk top then opened the roll top. Curiosity made him open each tiny cubby drawer and examine the contents. One drawer held a large skeleton key on a laced button holder that he suspected would fit on a woman’s belt.
Holding the key up he studied it and the room, wondering what it might open. The books of poetry on the small built in bookcase caught his attention. As he examined the books, he removed one at a time until he exposed the bare shelf. There behind the wood frame was a safe of some sort.
For a split second he wondered if he should leave well enough alone, but his curiosity ruled as he slipped the key into the hole and turned it. The metal door opened without a squeak.
Jeff brought one of the candles closer so he could see what lay inside the safe. Two large stacks of what looked like journals were the only items in the safe. With great caution he started to remove the journals, counting ten of them. The leather binding glowed with the gold filigree designs in the initials S. G.
Once he took them over to the desk, Jeff found they were numbered and he began to examine number one as he reached for his coffee. When his hand failed to touch the cup he knew he left there, he slowly looked about the desk…there on the top, with a doily under it, the cup sat. “No way!”
But denial didn’t change the fact that the cup moved and he certainly didn’t put a doily under it.
A quick look about the room didn’t reveal anyone’s presence.
Jeff shook off the chill and took a deep drink from the warm cup, remembering to place the doily under it before setting it down. He didn’t expect any thank you to come, he just smiled over the entire episode.
The journal soon captured his attention as his eyes raced over the elegant handwriting. “Our first year together.”
He wasn’t sure what he expected to find in the journals, but they didn’t disappoint him. It seems the journals were written by a Sophie Gardner, the wife of Buford Gardner a whaling ship captain. Jeff’s fingers move over the carved whale bone desk set as if confirming the man’s existence.
“And Sophie…this is your room.” He looked about it, noting the fine detail that she put into the room to make it her own. As in her journals the woman had a mind towards details. Her writings were those of a newlywed, very much in love with her seafaring captain. There were pages filled with longing when he was at sea and then their times when he returned. But Sophie also put in everyday occurrences as well as news events, even those that didn’t make the papers. Sometimes, Jeff could feel her fright over a murder or beating of a servant. She wrote very freely about her feelings on the constraints put on women by men in power. And that the reason for it was their fear of what women might accomplish.
Jeff laughed at the young girl’s enthusiasm, “You are a rebel, madam.”
Laughter, even as soft and light as it sounded filled the room, sending Jeff spinning about to see who might be there. No one, not even a shadow appeared out of place. He tried to dismiss what he heard, deciding one journal was enough for the night.
Before leaving he locked the journals back in the safe, wondering why they needed to be locked away. He only read one, making him wonder what might be in the next one. “Secrets I’m sure. They must be dangerous to be kept under lock and key.”
* * * *
The worker arrived at seven a.m., Jeff already worked a couple of hours. Sleep seemed to be an impossible feat for him last night. After leaving the room and her journals, she seemed to become the main focus of his thoughts. Even now, he couldn’t wait until they all went home and he could go up to the room and read the next journal. “Which won’t happen if I don’t get some sleep.”
“Rough night, boss?”
“Yeah, guess I’m not used to the old house yet.”
The worker’s brow rose, Gary, yes that was the man’s name. Jeff watched him work before and knew he is a good carpenter.
“They say, boss, that houses have a soul just like we do.”
Jeff smiled and shook head. “I don’t know about souls, Gary.”
“Oh, don’t mock the house spirit, boss. They can be real touchy.”
“Good advice.” Jeff meant what he said. “What about this house? Do you feel a spirit?”
The man seemed to study him before answering. “Sure do, a lady. I bet she was kind and pretty in her time.”
Jeff’s mouth opened to ask the man if smelled the lilacs, but someone needed him, Gary shrugged and moved off.
The rest of the day Jeff thought of very little, wishing he were alone. By the time the crews left he felt exhausted and actually stopped on the stairs, contemplating which room he should go to. “A hot shower and hit the sheets or a hot cup of coffee and Sophie’s journals?”
The grip on the coffee gave him his answer and he headed up the stairs to the attic. He wasn’t surprised to find two groups of furniture forming in the attic. Both look great and filled with antiques, he regretted that any of the pieces would go to auction, but he needed the funds for the house repairs.
As he entered the room, he tried not to acknowledge the sudden essence of lilacs. The doily was waiting for his coffee, even though he deliberately placed it in the drawer last night. Jeff never really thought much about ghosts until this house. Why this one? He renovated houses for a living and nothing like this ever happened. The only difference with this house is that it would be his home, he wasn’t renovating it for resale.
Once he stacked the journals on the desk, he opened number two. The ink appeared nearly faded from the first couple of pages, but he could make out most of the writing. It seemed that the good captain once again set sail. He could feel her sadness in the words and it became a weight about his heart. If he expected her mood to lighten it took a nose dive for the worse. It seemed that the lady was pregnant and miscarried a month after he set sail.
The heartbreaking event nearly destroyed Sophie. If Jeff didn’t feel it in her writings, her script told how weak she became after the miscarriage. There were days, even a week between entries and they were short and lacked the life he found in the other journal.
Spring came and still no sign of Buford’s return. She wrote about going up to the widow’s walk with the scope, searching for his vessel, but never finding it. By the time summer passed to fall, Sophie’s worry over her husband’s return mounted with each day.
“No!” The blank pages stared back at him as he thumbed through the journal. He nearly gave up hope until a page of writing appeared near the back of the journal.
August 21, 1880
The magistrate came by this morning. We all knew what prompted his visit; the funds were so low I was forced to let three more servants leave. Even though they wanted to stay without pay, I can’t afford to feed them. Now this, the taxes on the house. However will I pay them?
A couple more blank pages and she finally wrote again.
August 30th 1880
A great storm tore up the coast last night. Many vessels were lost, but none was B.G’s
Jeff noticed how she stopped using his full name, almost as if it were her way of dealing with the loss.
There was one turn of events that came out of the storm. A shortage of rooms at the inns forced people to offer rooms to boarders. I have five such rooms and currently have them filled with married couples. I swallowed my pride and asked for the rent money up front, thankfully they all paid and I used the funds to feed them and house them properly.
Enough funds were left to catch up on the taxes.
Gardner house has now become the Gardner’s Bed and Breakfast Inn. B. G would be furious over this turn of events, yet, I would suffer his anger for his life.
“So she found a way to survive.” Looking about the room, he thought he also found the answer for her secret room. “You are a smart lady, Sophie.”
The air breezed past his ear as he heard a woman’s voice say thank you.
Uncovering the Truth
“You have to take me there. I know you remember where you took her!” Sally wanted to cry. All her arguments with the old man didn’t budge his resolve. “Please Mr. Wind, please take me to the last place you saw Angie.”
The silence hung in the air like a great boulder, one that nearly crushed the life from Sally before the man turned to finally face her. She could see the anger he fought to tame and wondered if she made a horrible mistake following him to his place when she saw his pickup pass her as she pulled the car onto the road.
It was too late for regrets, if he refused to help her Sally would find someone else to take her into the woods. But only this man knew the exact location, “You didn’t show the police the exact place…did you?”
His chin rose in defiance before answering her glaring declaration. “I told them the truth as I told you and her aunt.”
“I know that, but you never told any of us the exact location.”
“I am an old man…”
“Pish posh!” Aunt Belle’s favorite saying flew out of Sally’s mouth before she could stop it. “You are as sharp as I am.”
She caught the slight lifting of his lips, one that couldn’t be mistaken as anything but a smile.
“She said you would be stubborn.”
“We are more like sisters than friends.”
He nodded in understanding for what she didn’t say. “Why must you try to find her?” He held up his hand to stop her answer. “You may not return and still not find her.”
So he did know…Sally tried not to show any emotion, “I know that Mr. Wind, but I must try.”
“She is where she wants to be.”
“I don’t doubt that either.”
Time seemed to suspend itself as he thought over her words.
“In the morning we leave, I will take you to the area. I can’t promise you will see anything that will help.”
Sally felt the tension ease out of her neck, “I know, thank you.”
They didn’t speak much more after that. Sally went into her own thoughts over what Mr. Wind said about her not returning. She wondered if maybe she should just accept what Angie wrote, but everything told Sally she needed to do this, needed to find the answer.
“I hate snow!”
The man’s soft laughter didn’t ease Sally’s chatting pout of discomfort. She thought about adding horses to her list of complaints, but figured the man heard enough of her grumbling the last two days on the trail.
Two days of riding through snow drifts that reached the top of her boots and still he pushed on. He told her at the start that it would take longer to reach the place because of the deep snow. Sally never realized what deep meant until now. Thankfully, most of it seemed to just swirl about as the horses pushed through it. Joe called it spirit snow, she didn’t want to know what that might mean.
One thing Sally did realize was that Angie couldn’t have survived out there alone. She said a silent prayer that this Striker did find her friend.
“Her son called her back.”
It was the most she’d heard from the man in two days. Sally urged the horse up to get closer. He never even looked at her, so she figured it was up to her to keep him going. “The doctor said she was pregnant.”
“At first you wouldn’t notice, but before we reached here her son showed his presence.”
It took a moment for Sally to realize the horses stopped moving. She looked at Joe Wind and his arm came out and pointed to the stand of trees off to the left. She looked at them and then back at him, but he wasn’t going to give her anything more.
For a second Sally wasn’t sure if she should head for the trees or what to do next.
“She went towards them then disappeared.”
Her lips didn’t quiver from the cold, she bit down to stop the fear from taking hold. What could she say to this man, she could see his thoughts were back to that day. Sally looked toward the trees his gaze never left.
Without another question to herself Sally moved the horse out towards the tree stand. Joe Wind pulled his own horse up, stopping him from following her, but never said a word to halt her progress. Sally almost wished he would, but then she shut him out and concentrated on what laid ahead of her.
It sounded like the crack of a rifle laced with thunder! Levi struggled to get the horse dancing under him back in control. "Whoa there big guy!"
Diablo finally came to an impatient stop, pawing the ground as he snorted out his displeasure over being spooked. The uneasy peace didn't last, within seconds a shrill filled the air!
Plow reining the horse in a tight circle Levi turned him around and dug in his heels, heading them in the direction of the scream. Whatever was going on the woman sounded desperate.
Hooper raced over the hill barely slowing the stallion as he tried to hear any sound that might help point him in the right direction. Thoughts of another woman filled his mind, but he quickly dismissed Angie knowing she would never come back to this place. Hell, neither did James McFarlain. Levi didn’t figure that Michael’s latest trip to find his brother would give any further clues to the man’s disappearance.
There! Levi cautiously guided the horse to the far side of the hill. Whoever it was sounded hurt. He pulled the horse up and his boots hit the ground in the same motion. Even as he moved closer to her there was no mistaking that the disheveled heap was a woman.
Large and gentle his hands turned her carefully over into his arms. The wild blonde curls fell over his forearm in waves of gold silk. “Beautiful…” Levi clamped his jaw down to prevent any more unwanted thoughts from escaping. His fingers brushed back the waves trying not to let the soft essence invade his sense as he looked at the dark bruises on her cheek and chin. “No doubt knocked you out.” But who did this to her, he took another cautious look around them to see if anyone might be hiding, nothing, not even horse tracks.
He looked her over, but couldn’t see any other noticeable injuries. The thought of moving her worried him, but leaving her lying on the thawing ground wasn’t a good alternative.
With all the gentleness at his command Levi lifted the woman up into his arms and started back toward the stallion. “Be good boy, the lady is hurt, another tumble won’t help her much.” The way the big horse sniffed and looked the girl over made Levi wondered if the stallion understood him.
Levi received his answer when the horse pulled his head back and stood perfectly still for him to mount with the woman. He arched his brows over how slowly Diablo turned about once his feet set the stirrups. The horse automatically started working his way down the hill toward the ranch.
“Maybe I’ve been going about riding you all wrong Diablo, seems you have a thing for the ladies.” The horse’s returning snort made Levi laugh before his attention went back to the girl filling his embrace. “She sure is a pretty filly.”
Levi’s gaze dropped to her hand and he cussed over what he knew he looked for, even felt his relief that there wasn’t any ring to be found. “So how did you come to be out here, away from any civilization?”
He tried to adjust her and make her more secure in his hold. Her moan stilled him, when she turned into his chest and her fingers closed over the edge of his vest Levi needed to still his own groan. “Damn lady, you wouldn’t be do’n that if you knew how long it had been since I’ve been with any woman!”
These are the two, can you pick one?