Monday, June 3, 2013

Free First Chapter: In Love's Own Time - could you fall in love with a ghost?


If falling in love with a ghost is romantic and if time traveling to make a real relationship possible piques your fancy, In Love’s Own Time might be the perfect read and here's the first chapter so you can find out!


The blurb:

There may be no place like home and nothing like love…..when history teacher Lillian Dorsey inherits a three story Edwardian brick mansion from the grandfather who banished her pregnant mother decades before, it’s a no brainer.  She’ll visit the place, see it and sell it.  Instead Lillian’s captivated by the beautiful home and intrigued by the ghost of the original owner, Howard Speakman.  Soon she’s flirting with the charming, witty gentleman who’s been dead for more than a century and before long, they admit it’s a mutual attraction.  Still, when she’s alive and he’s dead, any shot at being together seems impossible.

 

But where there’s a will, there’s a way….one afternoon while pretending to visit the past the impossible becomes a brief reality.  If they visited 1904 before, Lillian knows they can do it again and if so, she can prevent Howard’s untimely death.  With a combination of love, powerful hope, and stubborn will, Lillian bends time to her will and returns to the summer of 1904.  But Howard’s death looms ahead and if she’s to find a happy ending, she must save him from his original death.

 

 

                                                Chapter One

 

This was not what a haunted house should look like, Lillian thought, gazing up at the old family home, setting of her mother’s nightmares, and centerpiece for family stories. She expected creepy but this was no more than vintage wine, a dust covered bottle with a worn label.   Although she had never seen it until today, this was her house.  The grandfather she never met left her this legacy, the house he called home for decades.   She paused, observing each detail to form her first impression.

Like a monarch, the old house reigned over the neighborhood with faded dignity and remembered glory.  No other homes were as large as Seven Oaks in the surrounding streets and most were much newer than the once gracious Queen Anne mansion.   Although the original beauty of the house was evident in the still sturdy brick, Seven Oaks’s glory days were over.   Corners of the front porch sagged and the black teeth of rotten boards above were visible from the street.   The sun porch above the portico where Landau carriages once allowed  residents of the home to alight from a day’s shopping around the Square downtown looked like it would be unsafe in a strong wind.   What remained of the spacious lawn was unkempt with grass inches too tall and weeds that crowded the fragrant, fragile perennials for space.

            A weathered, rusted chain blocked the original drive that wound up to the portico and the cobbled surface was dotted with dandelions that survived between the cracks.   Her triumphant entry into this ancestral manse had to be through the front door so Lillian Dorsey parked along the narrow street and walked up the curving sidewalk that led to the porch.

            From this angle, the house looked immense, rising three stories.   In the evening sun, the upstairs windows reflected back like blind eyes staring out in an effort to determine who had come, who mounted the front steps as if by right.  The old tales that her mother had babbled about ghosts seemed much more plausible in this setting but Lillian had no fear as she crossed the porch and inserted the heavy old-fashioned key into the lock on the massive front door.

            It opened without a hitch; with no groans or creaks as she stepped into the entryway and stopped to stare.   Although she had never set foot in this house, she knew it from faded sepia photographs.   The oak stairs that rose upward and made a sharp turn at the open landing felt familiar even in the dim light muted by dust motes that floated in the air.   With one hand on the heavy post at the foot of the stairs, Lillian claimed her inheritance with an expected rush of emotions.   Despite the fact that since leaving childhood she had never called anywhere home for more than a year, she felt an odd sense of homecoming. Six years teaching middle school had placed her in four different school districts and each apartment had been a temporary landing spot, nothing more.

            The stairs ascended to the right of the entry doors and to her left a long, wide room stretched to the windows. A heavy coat rack stood beside the door and a low sofa that even she could identify as antique reclined beneath a painting in an ornate frame.  Matching lamps that looked like vintage Tiffany flanked the sofa on delicate tables frosted with fine dust.    Among the leather bound books atop a small table, she spied a family Bible.  For kicks, she flipped to the pages that recorded births and deaths.  Her mother’s name appeared there, scrawled as the final entry.

            An open living room dubbed the parlor in it’s’ heyday caught the last of the sunshine. The light enhanced the dark, aged wood of the built in bookcases and the ornate fireplace crowned with mirrors.  Books lined built-in shelves, stacked in neat order like old soldiers at parade review.

            Double doors opened into the dining room, dominated by the massive table and chairs in the center of the room.   More built in shelves held china and glassware behind beveled glass doors.  The drawers would hold silver and linens she mused.   Dark woodwork trimmed the doorways and windowsills in a style popular during King Edward’s brief reign.

            On either side of the small hallway exiting the dining room she found more rooms.  The first was a study or second parlor.  More shelves held books and a collection of yellowed sheet music.  An upright piano and matching stool faced the entry door.   In her fingers, the fragile paper crackled as she lifted the top music to read the title, In the Good Old Summertime.    Must be from before Grandpa’s time, she mused.  The stories she had heard painted him as a rather mean, austere man without a musical bone in his body.  That meant that the piano and music must date from before Grandfather David’s lifetime.

            The kitchen was large as her entire apartment.  A huge gas range that gave her the willies dominated one area.  Using it would be difficult and terrifying.  In another corner, a freestanding sink on four metal legs crouched like a spider waiting for prey.   More shelves and cabinets ringed the room.  Empty clay flowerpots in a deep windowsill must have once grown herbs or perhaps bright geraniums.   Perhaps in the summer months, the pots had been outside on the rear brick porch, smaller, than but as sturdy as the one in front.  Beside the rear door was another stair, this one as plain as the front staircase was grand.  

            She climbed the stair and entered a wide corridor on the upper floor, stopping to flip on an overhead light in the dim evening gloom.    Seven doors opened from the hall; after investigation, six were bedrooms furnished with exquisite antique furniture and a bathroom with outdated fixtures lay between the two front bedrooms.   There was a small second bathroom near the top of the back stairs. One door opened onto the sun porch above the portico but it was empty so she explored the front bathroom instead.

A claw foot tub sat in the center of the room, an odd place and yet it looked right.   Indulgence in a late afternoon bath sounded heavenly and the view from the three tall windows that faced north would be beautiful. Lillian peered outside but it was dark and she could not see more than the silhouettes of the tall oaks that ringed the house. Somewhere below there had been gardens, her mother said, beautiful gardens with roses, lilacs, lilies, and daisies now choked by weeds.

            Above the single light fixture dimmed and brightened before sputtering out.   Left in darkness, she groped back into the hall and edged down the front staircase, fingers tight on the banister.   Engrossed in touring the house, she had not noticed how silent it was until her footsteps echoed through the large rooms.

            Just as she reached the bottom and reached for the purse left on the bench at the foot of the stairs, a shrill sound cut through the waves of silence.   Lillian missed the last step and caught herself as she grabbed her cell and flipped it open.

            “It’s Lil.”

            “Who else would it be?” Her sister Lavinia’s voice sounded as crisp as if she stood at her elbow.  “Is the house very bad?”

            She sat down on the bottom stair.  “No, it’s nothing like I thought.”

            13 Mockingbird Lane was what she had expected, not  this rundown, slightly shabby Edwardian lady.  Nor did she think that the house would tug on her heartstrings or birth a desire to stay.   The plan had been to visit, assess the property, market any antiques, and sell as soon as possible. 

            “What does that mean?” Vinnie’s voice sounded choked as if she was laughing.

            “It means I like it.” Admission was the first step toward recovery.   Staying here was not in the plan.  “It was a beautiful house in its glory days and still impressive, just rough around the edges.”

            “Leave.  Get out while you still can.  Run!” Vinnie cackled over the phone.  “It’s a lost cause already.  I can tell.   You’re hooked.  Next, you will be moving to Mayberry and becoming a regular at Home Depot.   Maybe you can call up Ty Pennington and the Home Makeover crew.”

            “Funny.” Lillian wasn’t amused.  “The town’s called Neosho, not Mayberry and I doubt there’s a Home Depot closer than the next biggest city.    I like the house, okay, but that doesn’t mean I’m planning to move in or stay here.”

            She could, though.  That was the problem.   Envisioning a life here was not hard. A little eclectic d├ęcor to jazz up the vintage antiques and the house could be a showplace, somewhere her friends could gather for long holidays.  In addition, if she ever found the right guy, who could make marriage sound enticing and had a family, space would never be an issue in this house.  This was temptation, hard to resist. That Vinnie sensed her weakness stung but then Vinnie could always catch her in the littlest lie.    On cue, her sister called her on this one.

            “It’s a lost cause already.   Dollars to donuts, you stay.   God knows why.   Mom didn’t want that old white elephant but you do.”
            “Maybe.”  She would concede that.  “But, not for sure, not yet.  Is she still mad because I came here?”
            “Mad does not begin to define her anger.” Vinnie wasn’t laughing now.  “She never got over her fight with Grandfather and she hates that house.   Maybe that’s why you like it so much.”

            Opposing viewpoints had been lifelong points of contention.  As a toddler, she preferred apple juice if Mom offered orange or a bouncing ball instead of a baby doll.   This was different; she came with the idea she would have no feelings about the house, clean it out, and sell it with money in her pockets.   This comforting sense of home blindsided Lillian and she did not like it, even as she longed to stay and make this place home.

            “Liking this place doesn’t have anything to do with Mom; it’s about me,” Lillian said, choosing each word with care to express her feelings.  Although they shared the same mother, Lavinia was Joe’s daughter and although the sisters were close, they were very different. “I’m done for tonight, though.  I’m off to the motel, a long, hot shower, and bed.   Tomorrow I will come back and assess what I want to do.   Maybe it’ll look different in the bright morning light.”

            Vinnie laughed. “I doubt it, you hopeless romantic.   Call me tomorrow and call Mom if you dare.”

            Darkness gathered in the entry hall and tall shadows made deeper patches of black.  Despite the gloom, Lillian could see well enough to find her way to the front door.  Just as she stepped outside and pulled it shut, she heard a small sound within the house, something that sound like the faint plink of a piano key.   Couldn’t be, she mused, no ghosts lived here as she continued down the walk.

            She did not look back until she was behind the wheel of her Buick and from the street, the house seemed immense.   Every window was dark and she wished that she had left at least one lamp burning to dispel the darkness.   A movement in one of the upstairs windows caught her eye and she focused on it.   For a fraction of a single second, she thought she saw a silhouette framed in the window but a bird careened out of one of the oak trees and the image vanished.

            I am tired, she thought, and I am seeing things because of the stories.    Hunger rumbled her stomach and she drove back toward the highway where she had seen the Golden Arches and a few other chain restaurants.   Charmed by the Edwardian house, she still craved light, modern plastics and people.  

            After a Shoney’s meal, the basic motel room welcomed her.   After a shower, she sprawled on the king sized bed to watch a documentary on the History channel before falling asleep without ever thinking about calling her mother.

            Just when she was deep into sleep country, her cell phone shrilled and she surfaced from the depths of a dream to answer.

            “Lillian, is that you?”

            “Yes, it’s me.  I am sorry.  I think I fell asleep.  I meant to give you a call.”

            “Well, I wondered when I didn’t hear from you.   Are you still at Seven Oaks?”

            Surprised that Mom would utter the name of the house she purported to hate, Lillian roused herself by sipping from a tepid Diet Pepsi on the nightstand.  “No, I’m at a Best Western out by the highway.   I’ve been to the house, though.”

            “So, what do you think?”

            It was a loaded question; one that she would not be able to answer and please her mother but she could try.  “Well, it’s a little bit rundown and needs some housekeeping but it’s a lot nicer than I expected.   I was surprised that the utilities are still on. From your stories, I expected a house of horrors but it’s just a big, old house with a lot of antique charm.”

            Sylvia snorted. “I never said that Seven Oaks was as frightening as one of those horror movies on television.   There aren’t any ghouls charging around with bloody knives or whatever they do in those movies but there is something there.   Didn’t you hear or see anything strange?”

            “No, I didn’t.   What kind of strange should I expect?”

            “Footsteps, knocking on the wall, strange smells, the piano playing, and a man walking through the rooms.”

            Classic haunting, Lillian thought, nothing too terrifying.  “If I hear or see anything, I’ll let you know.   Do you have any idea who the ghost might be?”

            “Oh, Lillian, don’t mock me.   I don’t know; one of the original owners, I guess.”

            “Seven Oaks wasn’t always in the family?” Lillian grew up believing that maybe her grandfather had been born there.   She had imagined generations of Davids living in the same location.

            “Of course not, my father bought it not long after he married my mother and that was in 1955. Seven Oaks was built around the turn of the century, 1900 something.” Mom’s voice held a petulant whine, the tone in which she always told the horror tales. “I think the people who built it were named Speakman. I guess the ghost must have been one of them. Did I tell you about the time that I met the ghost for the first time?”

            Lillian sank bank against the pillows and tuned out the stories. She knew them by heart, anyway. One told of a man who appeared on the staircase one morning and then vanished; another was the dark figure that stood over her mother’s bed while Mom, then about eight years old, shivered with terror. None of the stories ever seem that terrible to Lillian but they had been her mother’s bane for decades. She picked up the conversation in time to finish it.

            “And that’s just a few of the things that happened so you watch out.”

            “I will.”

            “And call me again tomorrow.”

            She would without the reminder. “I will, Mom. Good night.”

            Ghosts did not scare her; she did not believe in supernatural entities. She wondered more about the man her grandfather was what he was like and if she had inherited any of his traits. The lack of a grandfather bothered her; in grade school, she had written him a letter but lost it before she could send it. In her early readers, grandfathers were genial old gentlemen who bought ice cream cones or hair ribbons. The man described by her mother was not like that at all. If Sylvia’s stories were accurate, he had been a selfish man who wouldn’t listen to his daughter when she explained that she was in love. His response was as hard-hearted as Pharaoh’s was when the seventeen-year-old Sylvia told him that she was going to be a mother and that the father was a student at the local junior college. After the battle that ensued, Mom packed her suitcase and left, never to go home again. 

            I was that baby he wanted her to abort, Lillian thought, as she turned off the lights to sleep. Wonder what he would have thought about me if he could have known me. Even more, she wondered what he would think of her plans for the old house.  Why he had left his home to her in his will and directed that no one – not even her mother – hear of his death until six months after his cremation remained a mystery.   Stranger still was the fact that he revised his will ten years before he suffered a debilitating stroke that put him in a long-term care facility.  Thanks for the house, Grandpa, Lillian thought, her gratitude mingled with sarcasm.  Then she slept.

            Her dreams were about the house but on waking, she could not remember the details, just a sense of Seven Oaks, and the large rooms. Her original plan was to contact a realtor and an antiques dealer but she decided she wanted to visit the house again before calling anyone. With a bag from McDonald’s in hand, she walked back into the entryway and was as entranced as she had been the day before.

            If anything, the rush of emotions was stronger now and the house felt like home. With the sun shining from the east, the entry hall sparkled with bright light that highlighted every speck of dust. Cleaning the place – or hiring it done – was a priority. She would do that before making any phone calls. That faint musty smell she noticed on her first visit lingered but there was something else. She sniffed and wrinkled her nose.  If she didn’t know any different, she would swear she inhaled the scent of fresh sausage frying and something that reminded her of Ivory soap.

            Chalking it up to the power of suggestion, she sat down on the steps to eat the sausage biscuit and drink the orange juice.   That aroma of sausage, she realized, came from her breakfast and the Ivory soap was a figment of her imagination.   By the time she sat down at the desk in the study with a phone directory she found in a kitchen drawer, Lillian wasn’t looking for an antique dealer or a realtor. A listing for a cleaning service caught her eye and she punched in the numbers on her cell. Within moments, she arranged for a team from Tidy Gals to clean the old house from top to bottom. She would have liked to have done the chore herself but it would take too long.  

            Since the crew would not arrive until tomorrow, she explored the house again, this time visiting the attic – a wide, open space filled with furniture and odd bits from the past – and even the cellar. There she found some ancient jars of some murky substance that must have been jam or jelly, a broken table with three legs, coal in the coal chute, and a carved wardrobe. Inside it, she found men’s garments, suits from long ago. Each was on a hanger and covered with old sheets to preserve the fabric. Whose they might have been she did not know but the styles were too outdated to have been her grandfather’s.

            Lillian whiled away the rest of the day poking into every corner of the house. She rifled through desk drawers, sorted through kitchen cabinets, and opened drawers in the bedrooms upstairs. In the largest bedroom, she found an old copy of The Virginian by Owen Wister, a novel she remembered from a college lit class. The red cover had faded to almost pink and she opened it with care. Handwriting on the flyleaf was too faint to read until she carried the book to one of the windows and squinted at it in the sunlight.

            “Howard Speakman, Christmas 1902, from Mother”.

            Speakman was the name that Mom said might have been the original owners. If so, then the book must date back to the early years of the house. Howard was such an old-fashioned sounding name now but back then, it could have been a young man or even a boy.  Lillian carried the book with her when she left the bedroom; she could read it in her motel room later if she was careful with the fragile pages.  

            After picking up a turkey and Swiss sandwich at a small market not far from the house, Lillian retreated to the motel and ate a solitary supper. After making phone calls to both mother and sister, she settled down with the book and lost herself in the world of late 19th century Montana. Although the language was flowery and outdated, she enjoyed the story and stopped when she became too sleepy to keep her eyes open.

            Twenty-four hours later, she was as exhausted as if she had cleaned the old house alone but mounted the front steps with her suitcases in tow.  The lawn – cut down to size by one of the Tidy Gal’s teenage sons – got a nod of approval.   As she opened the front door, a burst of fresh, clean scents rushed out in greeting. Each surface sparkled and was dust free; every bit of glass and each mirror shone and the floors glistened. In each room Lillian looked for something to find fault with, some little job left undone but could find nothing. Tidy Gals had done their job well.

            No more motel rooms, she mused, as she chose the larger of the two front bedrooms as headquarters. Both rooms faced out onto the lawn and had large windows. Each of the rooms adjoined the bathroom. Privacy standards had changed, she thought, no one today would want two bedrooms opening onto the same bathroom but in 1900 or so, indoor plumbing was still a marvel. For the first time she wondered where her grandfather had slept since neither of the front bedrooms held any personal effects. Curious enough to search, Lillian toured the remaining upstairs rooms and found that the smallest room, near the top of the rear stairs, must have been her grandfather’s lair. That room held a narrow cot, the nightstand held an outdated magazine, and the closet yielded men’s clothing, mostly polyester slacks and Arrow shirts. A faint hint of liniment, Old Spice, and Vicks Vapor Rub still hung in the air even after half a year.  The very small bathroom next door held a commode and sink; the shelves about it held a razor, dried out soap, and a comb.

            Mystery solved, she returned to the front bedroom and unpacked the new bedding bought that afternoon at the local Wal-Mart Supercenter. She changed the faded, thin linens and dropped them down a laundry chute in the rear hallway, then went for a soak in the claw foot tub. Fingers crossed that the plumbing was in working order; she filled the tub with warm water and added a swirl of lavender bath salts. Lillian sank into the bath with a sigh of pleasure, comfortable as a cat on a cushion in a sunny window.

            From the tub, she could see through the oak branches over the lawn and to the hills that ringed the small town. Orange from the setting sun streaked the sky and filtered through the green leaves on the trees that ringed the house. Most of her fatigue slipped away into the bath waters and Lillian relaxed, really relaxed for the first time since arriving. Although the house she had expected to be a white elephant or an albatross around her neck had proven to be comfortable and homey, the decision to stay was definite, made during the long day and she felt content enough to sing.

            She had never had much of a singing voice and she could not quite carry a tune but Lillian loved music so her voice soared, off-key into old songs, the kind of songs she remembered from childhood. There had been a time when her mother sang to her each night and the songs had not been traditional nursery rhymes but vintage tunes. Strange but the songs were not from her mother’s own era but even earlier, songs popular from around the turn of the century. Songs, Lillian, thought that would have been popular in the era when Seven Oaks was new. Although she discounted the idea of ghosts and haunting, a small shiver rippled across her shoulders and she decided that bath time was over. She dried off on a faded, thin bath towel (and made a mental note to buy new towels) and combed out her waist length hair, then braided it wet.

            Shadows reached toward the high ceilings of the bedroom and she pulled her robe tighter as she moved through the dimness to the lamp beside the bed. The pretty lamp was as vintage as the rest of the furnishings. Roses bloomed on the white porcelain base but the light cast by the lamp banished most of the shadows. Out of habit, she pulled the drapes shut although no one who was not at tree top level could see into the house and climbed into bed. Although the mattress felt well used and more than a little lumpy, she wiggled into a comfortable spot and opened The Virginian.

            Although the book engaged her senses, she found herself glancing through the open bedroom door into the darker hallway every few minutes. The shadows there were deeper in the darkness. Lamp light filtered out into the corridor and cast odd shaped shadows. One that looked like an oval vase was the shadow of the lady’s chair at the dresser and although she could not quite identify the source, the outline that looked like a man in a broad brimmed hat must have a source inside the bedroom. Reading about Montana cowboys was enough to imagine such a hat, she thought, as she turned the final page and glanced out in the hall. The shadow was gone.

            That disconcerted her enough that she tossed back the new comforter and stalked out into the hall, eyes rotating back and forth. No shadows resembled the one she had seen earlier and she felt no sense of dread, none of the angst a haunted house should summon. Mimicking the cocksure tone of the team in Ghost Busters, she called out,

            “I ain’t afraid of no ghost.” Music from the theme song rocked her mind and she danced a little to the imaginary beat. “If anyone – or anything – is here, come out, come out wherever you are!”

            No shapes separated from the shadows, no odd sounds echoed through the quiet house so she smiled, secure in her house and retired for the night.   Once or twice, she stirred, not quite to full consciousness but floated out of sleep for a few moments. Through her sleep clogged senses, she heard the rhythmic creak of the old rocking chair in one corner and once she thought – and wasn’t scared at all – that a man was seated there, face hidden by a broad brimmed farmer’s hat. Awake, under normal circumstances, a stranger’s presence in her bedroom would have both frightened and angered Lillian but half asleep, she didn’t mind.

 


 

 


 


 


 

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