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Coming this winter! Wendy Lightower’s fifth mystery. After this one, Wendy’s life will never be the same…

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New Release!

Beneath the Spectral Veil is available on Amazon now!

Victorian gentlewoman Isadora Reed is a woman ahead of her time. She is intelligent, willful, and unafraid to speak her mind. Whenever her favorite topic arises, that of the plight of women and the state of matrimony, she can expound for hours on the problems caused by meek women and overbearing men, which is why a wedding is the last place she would ever want to be. The upcoming nuptials of a very dear friend leave her little choice, however, and she soon finds herself as a guest of the bride’s at Eldredge Manor, the old and venerable estate of a very proud family. Inside the halls of the ancient house, several surprises await, and Isadora struggles to decide which one is the worst – the dead body in the snow, the ghost roaming through the house, or the appearance of her own estranged husband. As a killer walks the halls and threatens those she loves, Isadora is not one to sit idly by and wait for the danger to pass. Something evil is lurking beneath Eldredge Manor’s respectable facade, and she is just the person to uncover it.

Beneath the Spectral Veil on Amazon

Sample Chapter of Beneath the Spectral Veil

Beneath the Spectral Veil, the first in a new paranormal mystery series, is almost ready for publication. The release date is currently scheduled for April 18. I’m finishing up my edits and sending it out to my proofreaders this week. Here’s Chapter One as it stands right now. I hope you enjoy it!

Chapter One

It is the single inquiry that, despite being central to the continuation of human existence, no scholar has bothered to study, no scientific mind has conducted research upon, no philosopher has pondered. For most, it would seem, the question does not even enter into the conscious mind, though I cannot comprehend how this would be possible, being that it is at the heart of the struggles of nearly half our species’ population.

That is, why would any woman, being of sound mind and body, willingly choose to enter into the state of matrimony?

I completely understand the women of antiquity, forced or coerced into the state against their wills and inclinations by overbearing males. They were oppressed, uneducated creatures with no other choice if they wanted to survive in a stringent male world. It is the modern woman of today, a woman who has freedom and options, a woman who looks forward to the dawning of the twentieth century, a woman who still chooses to shackle herself to a man, with whom I do not agree or sympathize.

“Yes, Isadora, I’ve heard this particular speech before.”

I lowered my fist, which I had thrust into the air for emphasis, and faced my traveling companion, who also happened to be my oldest and dearest friend. “I resent the implication that my words are rehearsed rhetoric, Helen. I speak directly from the heart.”

“Certainly, darling,” Helen drawled. “Only you’ve spoken precisely the same words from the heart on at least four other occasions in my hearing, and I do not find I have the patience to listen a fifth time.”

“Five times, certainly not,” I protested. “I may have expressed a similar sentiment before, and I do not doubt that is so since I feel so strongly in the right in this matter, but it was never more than twice. I would swear to that.”

Helen held up one gloved forefinger. “The first time was nearly a year ago at tea with Lady Allingham. If you remember, she did not share your views and asked us rather coldly to leave early because she had a headache.”

A smile tugged at the corners of my lips. “In that case, perhaps I should have expressed more outrage on behalf of the male. I understand Lord Allingham was subjected to quite the tirade that evening.”

“Second,” Helen continued as though I had not spoken at all, “was three months later at a dinner party hosted by Mr. and Mrs. Hargrove. You were speaking to Mrs. Hargrove directly, I believe, but I heard it nonetheless.”

“I haven’t been invited back to the Hargroves’,” I mused aloud. “And they declined my last invitation.”

“Shocking, my dear,” replied Helen dryly. “Third, you might recall, was in October at my cousin Amelia’s wedding breakfast. You’re lucky Amelia knows you well, or you might have found yourself with another house that won’t respond to your invitations.” Helen lifted her final finger, leaving only her thumb down. “And the fourth was only a month ago. On the very same day that we both received the invitations to Catherine’s wedding.”

I inspected the back of my left hand. “Fine. Never let it be said that I cannot admit it when I’m wrong. And hearing that speech five times doesn’t diminish its veracity.”

The carriage that we rode in gave a sudden jerk, and Helen was forced to brace herself against sliding off the seat. When she recovered her balance, she reached out and clasped my hand.

“Isadora,” she said kindly, “just because marriage didn’t satisfy you…”

I made a rude noise that interrupted her, but Helen was not to be dissuaded from finishing her statement.

“Simply because it didn’t satisfy you,” she repeated, more loudly, “does not mean that the same will be said of Catherine. When we arrive at Eldredge Manor, you must promise me that you will not condemn the union before we even have the chance to witness it. You know how seriously Catherine takes your speeches. Consider first how those words would wound her if ever you feel the need to pontificate.”

I sniffed, feeling slightly put out that Helen would think I would do anything to hurt Catherine. “I adore Catherine.”

Helen made comforting noises as she patted my hand and released it. “Of course you do.”

“And I am happy for her.”

“Indeed.”

“Or at least, I want her to be happy.”

“Yes, that sounds more likely.”

I sat back against the upholstered bench of the carriage, suddenly deep in thought. I had to wonder whether Helen was right, whether my personal history was prejudicing me against the entire institution of marriage unfairly. As quickly as the thought solidified, my rational mind dismissed it, so vehemently that the word actually burst from my lips.

“No.”

Helen, who had begun to nod off in time to the rocking of the carriage against the rough road, sat up. “No? No, what, Isadora?”

“I’m sorry,” I hastily assured her. “I was talking to myself. I didn’t mean to wake you. Please, get some rest.”

Helen raised one eyebrow at me, but when I didn’t add anything, she complied, relaxing once more into a dozing state. When she looked like she’d fallen asleep once more, I resumed my argument with myself, only this time making certain I kept my thoughts safely silent in my own mind.

No, I simply cannot agree that it is only because of my own rather unfortunate experience with marriage that I disapprove of the union for women. It is an undeniable fact that women lose their rights, their freedoms, even on occasion their very sense of self, under the domination of a husband, also known as a lord and master. I have heard too many tales of women whose husbands spend their money, beat them without consequence, and stray from the marriage bed at the slightest hint of an interested female. No, it is not bias that tells me marriage is little more than a form of voluntary servitude and a guarantee of misery for a woman. My conclusions are the result of serious study, observation, and experience.

Feeling very satisfied and justified in my views, I settled back against the seat and joined Helen in a brief, yet refreshing nap.

***

I was awakened when Helen grabbed my arm and shook it vigorously.

“I’m awake,” I snapped, sitting up and blinking my eyes.

“You had me fooled, darling. That wasn’t the first time I prodded you.”

As if to prove her point, a spot on my upper arm throbbed slightly. “I believe you bruised me, Helen.”

“If you didn’t sleep like death itself, I wouldn’t have had to be so rough,” Helen replied, unapologetically. “We’re about to arrive. I imagined you would want a moment to collect yourself.”

“I’m a very light sleeper,” I protested.

I was both glad and disappointed that she hadn’t said ‘freshen’ myself. After hours of riding in the interior of a carriage, that no matter how elegant must by necessity be cramped, I was ready for a bath and change of clothing. Since I would get neither until after we arrived, I had to settle for patting my hair as flat as was possible and straightening my traveling dress, which was all I could manage under the circumstances. As my hair, though of a nice enough brownish color, is unruly at the best of times, I wasn’t too optimistic about the results. However, at least I could be certain that by the time the carriage turned onto the neatly graveled drive of Eldredge Manor, my eyes were pure hazel, clear and wide, not a hint of redness remaining to testify to my short rest.

When I expressed as much to Helen, she smiled indulgently. “Short rest? Isadora, you’ve been snoring in the corner for over an hour. Luckily, no one would care if you had been, seeing as you look as lovely as ever.”

Not knowing how to respond, I fiddled with the gold trim on the door of the carriage. “I hope Catherine is happy to see us.”

“She most assuredly will be.”

“And I don’t snore.”

“Oh, but you do. Quite loudly, in fact.”

I was saved from answering when the carriage came to an abrupt stop. I disembarked, reveling in the sensation of fully stretching my limbs for the first time in hours. I knew I still looked frightful, wrinkled and dirty, but at least I felt better.

That is, I did until a woman burst through the front door, a vision of freshness, youth, and beauty from her piled blond ringlets down to her frilly pink frock. She ran towards me, cornflower blue eyes sparkling with joy and welcome.

“Isadora, Helen. I’m so pleased you could come,” Catherine cried as she threw her arms around myself and Helen in turn.

“And we,” Helen emphasized the pronoun heavily, “are happy to be here to share your special time.”

Helen was a stark contrast to Catherine, tall, dark, and willowy. She was exotic while Catherine was all English sweetness and purity. Both of them outshone me in appearance quite easily, but I was never jealous. My dear friends were so lovely on the inside that it only seemed right their outward appearance should match.

Catherine threw her head back, allowing her blond curls to cascade down her back, and laughed. “That is true of you, Helen. I will accept Isadora’s presence under protest, as I am certain it is the only way she will stay.”

“I’m sure I do not know what you mean,” I replied, a little stiffly.

Meanwhile, Helen only smiled in return. “I got her here, as promised.”

“Thank you,” Catherine replied warmly. Then she turned to me. “I could not have gone through with it without both of you here.”

“Then I suppose I should have stayed at home,” I murmured under my breath.

Catherine threw an arm over my shoulders. “Thank you for coming, Isadora.”

The genuine warmth in her voice completely disarmed the sarcasm I had ready to fire her way. That was Catherine’s way, however, and I should have been ready for it. She could kill even the most bitter enemy by smothering him with kindness, and I, for one, had absolutely no immunity to her charms.

“Catherine,” I found myself saying as she escorted Helen and I towards the large house, “do you recall the first day we met?”

Catherine let out one of her high, tinkling laughs, like the sound of silver chains coiling in on themselves. “How could I forget? You accosted me in that shop for buying the last bolt of lilac silk. I was rather afraid that you would turn violent.” She smiled as she spoke, and as Catherine had a naturally disarming smile, I couldn’t help but return the gesture.

“I was having a rather horrid day,” I replied by way of excuse, not that it provided much of one for my behavior. “I was absolutely beastly to you, and instead of asking that the shopkeeper escort me out, you apologized to me.” Simply remembering the incident left me as speechless as it had that day. One of the worst days in my memory, and it had taken only a few kind words from Catherine to completely disarm the rage I’d managed to froth up within myself.

Catherine patted my arm. “It seemed very important to you, and I did feel terrible for having bought it first.”

“Only you would feel terrible for something like that, Catherine. That’s why I love you so dearly.”

Catherine beamed, which made her look absolutely angelic, and patted my arm. “I’m very glad you were in such a bad mood that day. Otherwise we might never have met.”

I tried to smile at her, on the face, innocuous comment, but I feared it looked more like a grimace than an expression of pleasure. Despite the positive consequence of meeting Catherine, I could not be happy for what had caused my anger and short temper on that particular day.

Looking away from my friend, I had the chance to see the house that would be her future home for the first time. My impression of the place depressed my spirits even further. It was a huge, rambling monstrosity made of dull gray stone that was most certainly original to the structure. Each corner, of which there seemed to be too many for a normal building, was topped by a spindly turret, reaching high into the sky and topped by a menacing, pointed conical shape. While three seemed to be in relatively good condition, the two towers on the east wing of the manor were cracked and blackened, like dead fingers still attached to an aging, yet living hand. The entire place was covered with an air of desolation, like a heavy cloud threatening a vicious storm. It was with a sense of a foreboding that I couldn’t entirely explain that I allowed Catherine to escort me inside.

The large wooden doors were carved in intricate patterns worn down by generations of hands until the design was indecipherable. The doorway opened to an expansive hall backed by a set of curving stairs that disappeared into an upper story. Even the interior, which was well-furnished and obviously cared for, held the same feeling of melancholy, as though this were a place where terrible things were destined to happen. I shook my mind clear of that unsettling thought, silently berating myself for engaging in such fanciful thinking, which was not a way I normally choose to occupy my thoughts. When footsteps echoed from the stairs through the drafty entrance, I welcomed the newcomer as a distraction from my morbid musings.

“Catherine,” a male voice boomed as the footsteps became louder and closer. “Are these the friends you’ve been telling me so much about?”

If it were possible, Catherine’s face took on an even dreamier aspect, her eyes widened and lit up, her lips relaxed and then curled. That look confirmed all my very worst fears.

Catherine wasn’t just getting married; she was in love.

The object of her affection traipsed down the stairs two at a time, landing on the ground with a flourish. At first glance, I had no trouble understanding what exactly Catherine saw in this young man. From the top of his curly blond head down his long, lean body, he was the very image of male perfection. There was a beauty in his features, from his deep blue eyes and sharp patrician nose, that balanced with the pure masculinity of his strong chin and thick eyebrows. If he was a little more slender than my own preference dictated, I was able to set that aside in the name of differing tastes. He swaggered towards Catherine with a grin on his lips that looked, at least to my more experienced eyes, a little too smug.

Catherine reached out her hands to grasp his as he approached. “Daniel,” she breathed. Then it seemed to occur to her that the two of them were not alone because she blushed becomingly and dropped his hands. She cleared her throat, and when she next spoke, she sounded normal again. “Yes, these are very dear friends of mine. Miss Winters.” Catherine indicated Helen, who nodded her head politely.

“Miss Winters.”

“Mr. Eldredge.”

“And this,” Catherine continued, “is Mrs. Reed.”

It was gone too quickly for me to be certain, but I could swear that I saw a small spark light in Mr. Eldredge’s eyes when he heard my name. Whether it was recognition or amusement, I couldn’t say, and he gave no indication of any particular emotion as he greeted me cordially.

“Mrs. Reed. I have heard so much about you from Catherine that it feels as though I already know you.”

A haughty response jumped to my lips, but a quick look at Catherine curbed my tongue. “Thank you for inviting us into your home, Mr. Eldredge.”

“Catherine wouldn’t have it any other way.” He smiled indulgently at his future wife. “I don’t suppose I could convince either of you to call me Daniel, could I?”

Helen beat me to a response. “How kind. We will be practically family, after all.”

I glared at her, and she ignored me. Even catching Catherine’s eye and seeing the happiness evident in her face was not enough to curb my irritation with the trip, Helen, Daniel, and my entire situation. I had just finished convincing myself that this visit could not possibly get worse when I heard a voice behind me that made my heart stutter and stop in my chest. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Everything went from unpleasant to disastrous with the utterance of two simple words.

“Hello, Dorie.”

New Series Coming in March!

The first book in this new series in will be released in March. Beneath the Spectral Veil is the first in a historical mystery series with a paranormal twist. Look for the synopsis coming soon. And don’t forget, the fourth installment in the Wendy Lightower series will be out this summer!

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