HAUNTED HEART
Etopia Press
MF sexy romantic suspense
Heat Level 3
Word Count 73,111

BLURB:
All Rowena Sommers wants is a life away from Hollywood gossip and her Oscar-winning ex-boyfriend, Brett Fontaine, who trashed her costume design career and reputation because she dared to issue him an ultimatum.

Van Whitney has been struggling to keep his family's restoration business from going under ever since his uncle embezzled money. When he agrees to restore Rowena's home, he vows to keep their relationship professional. When strange things start happening at the house, Van discovers one of his own crew might be involved with a local ghost hunter who is trying to scare Rowena and sabotage the house, and Van's business is in trouble once again. Not to mention he’s lost his heart to Rowena.

EXCERPT:

She didn’t need Hollywood, or Brett Fontaine.

Rowena Sommers stuffed the latest issue of Celebrity back in the magazine rack, glancing around the Pilot gas station to see if anyone was watching. She sipped her coffee, fuming over the slant of the article.

Contrary to what the reporter said, her relationship with bad-boy leading man Brett Fontaine was in trouble long before she filed a libel suit against him for leaking her personal e-mails to the tabloids. The dumb-ass reporter should have checked the back issues, like the ones with candid photos of Brett and his female costars, taken every time he went on location. They ran right next to the stories with headlines like: "Who’s Keeping Rowena Company While Brett Romps in Australia?"

A woman in denim cutoffs and an Ohio State T-shirt plucked a copy of the magazine from the rack and glanced sideways, her eyes wide. “This is you. On the cover.”

Rowena studied the picture, taken on the steps of the Van Nuys courthouse three weeks ago. The day she won her lawsuit against Brett. The same day she found out her great-aunt Lunette had died. She’d trade twice the settlement amount to hear Aunt Loony’s voice again. “Yes. That’s me.”

Ohio State opened the magazine and skimmed a thick finger along the text. “How much money did he have to pay you? It doesn’t say.”

Rowena took another sip of coffee as she tried to formulate an answer that didn’t involve telling this woman where she could stuff that magazine. Her cell chirped. Saved by the ring tone.

“I have to take this. Excuse me.” She headed for the counter as she opened the phone with her free hand. “Tricia, impeccable timing, as always. You just saved me from an inquisitive fan.”

"And judging by the sarcasm in your voice, I’m guessing you’ve seen this week’s Celebrity?”

She glanced back toward the magazine rack, where the woman and a teen dressed like Lady Gaga were reading the article out loud. “Yeah, I’ve seen it. And as if this day could get any worse, I’m forced to drink gas station coffee.”

“No Starbucks in Creek Ridge, Ohio?”

Her best friend’s voice reached across the miles, tugging at her heart. Had it been a huge mistake leaving LA? “God, I hope there’s still a Starbucks here.” She took another sip. “This is actually better than the brown goo they tried to serve me at the Holiday Inn Express this morning.”

“Have you been to Aunt Loony’s house yet?” asked Tricia.

Rowena swiped her credit card through the machine. “On my way now. I’ll call and let you know what the contractor said.”

Ohio State and Lady Gaga moved behind her in line, still talking about the article. Rowena’s fingers trembled as she put the card back in her wallet. She pushed past them without a glance. As she opened the door to the parking lot she heard one of them mutter something, but only caught the words “Hollywood” and “bitch.”

Wonderful. Back in town less than twenty-four hours and already someone thought she had an attitude. So much for believing the gossip wouldn’t follow her home.

She waited until she pulled out of the parking lot in her brand-spanking-new Infinity SUV before screaming. Dialing her iPod menu to Led Zeppelin, she turned up the volume, loud. Angry, frustrated, rebellious. Perfect.

The readers of Celebrity weren’t interested in the story behind the lawsuit. They didn’t care about the string of bullshit promises Brett had made. Or the callous way in which he’d trashed her costume design career and her industry contacts with a few keystrokes, all because she’d dared to issue him an ultimatum.

They only cared about two things: reading her personal e-mails, and how much money the Superior Court of Los Angeles had ordered him to pay her because of what he’d done. They didn’t care why she was in Ohio, or that Aunt Loony was dead. Brett’s money wouldn’t bring her back. Fun and zany, she’d been dubbed Aunt Loony by Rowena’s father when he was a teen, and she’d loved Rowena and her five siblings as if they were her own.

Fresh grief mixed with anticipation. Willow Lane was less than two miles away. Would she be able to handle walking through Aunt Loony’s house, knowing she’d never see her warm smile again?

Spotting a cop parked in front of a strip mall, she braked. Just for good measure, she turned down the volume on Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. She could see the headlines now: Rowena Sommers Arrested for Speeding in Hometown!

The memories overwhelmed her when she turned onto Willow Lane. She’d spent almost as much time on this street as her own, two blocks over. It hadn’t changed in ten years. The oak tree in front of Traci Westphall’s house, where she used to hide from her older sister Emma, still had dead branches along one side. Two doors down, she half expected Bud Williams to materialize in his driveway, sweeping up leaves and twigs while he muttered about the damn, dirty trees.

The scent of roses, lavender, and freshly cut grass filled the air. May sunshine shimmered on the pavement. The smells evoked memories of the end of each school year, when the magic of summer stretched out endlessly. Summer vacation meant going barefoot, walking down by the railroad tracks, and staying outside after dark to catch lightning bugs.

She was home, ready to be part of this town again. To be with people who made her feel safe, wanted, and who didn’t measure their lives by the latest Nielson ratings or market shares.

But would they welcome her? Or had they read the tabloids while laughing at the girl voted Most Likely to Trip Over Her Own Shoelaces? She’d tripped all right, landing smack in the belly of the gossip machine.

The imposing Queen Anne at the end of the street, just before the entrance to Oak Park, rose into view. Despite the faded siding and missing shutters, the grandeur of the home still took her breath away. As her eyes settled on the four-story tower, she remembered summer nights in the second-floor bedroom, wishing she could live with Aunt Loony. Her own room, with no Emma harassing her or parents screaming at one of her brothers.

She slowed the car, turning off her iPod. Letting her gaze travel up to the top floor of the tower—the lookout point—she recalled her big brother Jake and his friends pretending they were pirates. Part of the game included the ability to see all the way to Cleveland, where ships from exotic places like Spain or China would pull into port, stuffed with treasure beyond imagination. She was usually stuck playing the kidnapped damsel in distress or a cabin boy. They’d ignored Emma when she repeatedly pointed out Lake Erie had never been plagued by pirates, nor had treasure ships sailed on the Great Lakes.

The trim lawn and pristine flower beds brought a smile to her face. Her little brother had actually kept a promise. If a contractor showed up, he’d have kept two. For Mike, that would be a record.

She raised her eyes to heaven. “Thank you for the house, Aunt Loony. I promise to take good care of it.” She could almost hear Aunt Loony’s hearty laugh and see the twinkle in her green eyes.

Her smile faded at the sight of a silver Mercedes parked in the driveway. If that belonged to the contractor, she was about to get ripped off.

She parked the SUV in front, then caught the hem of her favorite summer skirt in the door as she tried to make a graceful exit. She glanced toward the Mercedes. Too late. The driver’s side door was already open. Classy way to make a first impression, Rowena.

In the towering maple on the front lawn, a pair of robins started to chirp, probably about her clumsiness. She released her skirt then took a deep breath, turning to look at the man leaning against the Mercedes. Her mouth fell open as she scanned his face. It couldn’t be…

Vance Whitney— everyone calls me Van—belonged to the perfect, popular crowd of cheerleaders and jocks that had made her existence at Creek Ridge High a lesson in insignificance.

He crossed muscled arms over a forest green polo shirt that set off his luminous blue eyes, even at this distance. Broad shoulders tapered to a trim waist, and the khakis he wore accentuated his long legs. The same confident grin she remembered spread across his tanned face.

This is the contractor Mike called? No way. Not happening.

No matter how hot he still looked.

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