Hotshot movie director Wilton June is in pre-production for a new movie. The moment he sees Maison Toussaint he decides it’s the perfect setting for the film and wants to rent it. The one stumbling block? The owner isn’t sure she can let her ancestral home be used in a movie.
Botanist Jerica Toussaint needs cash – a lot of it – to keep her home up to code and her herbal healing business alive. June’s financial offer is oh-so-tempting, as is the director himself. But the house has a secret Jerica’s guarded her entire life. Can she, in good conscience, rent it to a man who may expose it?
Convincing Jerica to trust him with her home – and her secret – is no easy feat and after a time Will realizes he needs to convince her to trust him with one more thing: her heart.
“Thanks for setting this up,” Will told Genevieve the following morning when he arrived at her office.
Looking at him with skeptical eyes, she nodded and accepted his handshake. A man who could have been her twin in the looks department stood to her right wearing a three thousand dollar suit and if Will wasn’t mistaken, the remnants of a rough day or two. Railroad track red lines crisscrossed in the whites of his eyes and the stubble on his jaw was at either an attempt to grow a beard, or he hadn’t had the compunction to shave for a while. Before Will could be introduced, the guy tugged a handkerchief from his pocket, muttered a choked, “Excuse me,” and then blew his nose twice.
“Sorry,” he said, swiping at his nose with the swatch of white. “Allergy season. Gavin Gordon.”
Will’s eyes ping-ponged between the realtor and this man.
As if hearing the unasked question, he said, “I’m her brother.” He hitched a finger toward Genevieve.
“He’s also my lawyer,” a new voice said from behind him.
One of the most beautiful women Will had ever seen stood in the doorway.
No, beautiful was too tame a word. Striking and exotic were much more appropriate.
Hair the color of a raven’s feathers at midnight – dark and sleek and shiny – fell to below her waist in a mass of curls he knew instinctively were natural. Eyes the color of tempered chocolate regarded him from across the room. The corners were tipped upward in a delicate line, her brows, the twin color to her hair, two perfect arched wings above her eyes. High cheekbones any number of actresses he knew would have killed for covered unlined skin, rosy from the Fall winds blowing about outside. The tiny indent under her lips, bifurcating her chin was the sexiest thing he’d seen on a woman in… forever.
The vision came into the room, nodded at the realtor, then moved to hug the lawyer. For an insane instant, Will grew jealous of the contact between the two of them.
“Thanks for coming down, Gav.”
“Anything for you, babe.”
“Let’s get started,” Genevieve said. Indicating a chair behind the round office table, she said, “Mr. June?”
When all of them were seated – Will on one side of the table and the three of them across from him like opposing counsel in a courtroom – he said to the homeowner, “Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me. I understand you have a few questions?”
She nodded, tossed a quick glance at the lawyer, then leaned her elbows forward on the table and folded her hands together.
When she dragged in a breath heavy with nerves, Will had the sudden urge to reach across the table, squeeze her hand and offer some kind of comfort.
“I understand you want to film a movie in the house.”
“That’s an unusual request. Don’t you usually film in a studio or on a sound stage?”
“I could, but I’d have to construct a prop house. Your home is absolutely perfect for the storyline of the film and it’s already standing. It would be cheaper in the long run to use an already viable structure.”
“What about my house makes it absolutely perfect, to use your words? Ms. Gordon told me you looked at six other properties that are all similar to mine. Surely any one of them would suit your… needs.”
Will couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen a grown woman blush. Her cheeks turned apple-red as she spoke and he’d be damned if it wasn’t the most alluring thing he’d ever seen on a woman.
“True, but when I saw your house it just spoke to me. Screamed to me, in fact,” he said, grinning.
“Sc-screamed?” Jerica swallowed and a fine tremor started in her folded hands. “What do you mean… screamed?”
Will grinned and leaned back in his chair. “The movie I’m set to make is a modern-day love story about two people who try to solve a one-hundred-year-old murder mystery that occurred in the house where the heroine lives. Your house is perfect for the time period, aside from being huge, which is another plus, because of the size of my film equipment. After I walked through it with Ms. Gordon yesterday and got the lay of the land and the room sizes, I’m more convinced than ever it’s the perfect house for my filming needs.”
Her shoulders dropped down from where they’d been hugging her ears. He couldn’t for the life of him figure out why his explanation calmed her nerves, but the response encouraged him. Leaning forward, he told her, “I know it’s a huge intrusion to have people and gear in your home, but I can assure you, we’re all very professional. And my crew is only five people plus me. And the actors, or course. I have a very well-oiled machine of people I trust and who are tops in their fields. I promise nothing will get broken or damaged, and we won’t move a thing unless we ask first.”
She tossed a quick glance at the lawyer who caught the move and nodded.
“Should Miss Toussaint agree to your filming in the house – and that’s still a big if – we would ask you to sign a separate waiver stating you’ll take full responsibility for the costs of any damage.”
“Not a problem,” Will said.
“Now, about the use-of-location contract,” Gavin said, taking a stack of papers from a briefcase that materialized at his feet. “The fee mentioned seems a little low since the house will not only be inhabited by you as a resident but your film crew as well—”
“The crew stays off-site. I’ll be the only one actually living in the house at the time of filming.”
“Be that as it may, the recompense paid to Ms. Toussaint should be higher. After all, the film will be seen, potentially, by a large audience.”
“That’s always the hope.” Will grinned.
“People who may actually want to come and see where the movie was filmed. You can see where this may pose a problem with security for Ms. Toussaint. A higher fee would enable her to employ security if needed. This is, after all, her home. We want to ensure her safety.”
Will’s gaze raked over Jerica Toussaint’s face. “Of course. What price were you thinking.”
When he named an amount twenty-five percent higher than the offer, Will hid his surprise, then did a quick mental math shuffle. He could swing the payment increase if he cut the budget a bit somewhere else.
“Okay. Consider it done.”
Surprise galloped around the table, but it was Jerica Toussaint’s wide-eyed face Will settled on.
“Anything else?” he asked after noting the glances between lawyer and client.
Genevive spoke up for the first time. “The sixth-month rent clause is ironclad. If you decide to leave, for whatever reason, before the lease expires, you won’t be issued a refund.”
“Understood. And I’m prepared to write you a check for the full amount today, as soon as you agree to sign the lease,” he told Jerica.
When she took a corner of her mouth between her teeth, that sexy little dent in her chin winked at him. In a hot second, the lower half of his body went on high alert and he was thankful the desk hid him from the waist down.
Intrigued? If you are, here’s where the book is available: The Haunting of Wilton June