Today’s snippet comes from my first Magnolia Blossom Publishing books, MERRY’S GHOST.
When writer and paranormal investigator Chase Seacort comes to spend a few weeks at a friend’s Hampton getaway, all he wants is to be alone, finish his current book about East Coast hauntings, and try to put the horrid events of his past year behind him.
All thoughts about a quiet respite alone vanish when he meets his quirky, gorgeous neighbor. The blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty captivates him with her perpetual smile and free and easy personality.
Merry June lives a quiet life in her beach house, devoting herself to her two loves – art and photography. Once she discovers Chase’s identity, she can’t wait to introduce him to her great-grandaunt Davinia. But Davinia rarely shows herself to others.
You wouldn’t either if you were a ghost trapped between this world and the next.
With Chase’s help, he and Merry investigate the mystery that’s kept Davinia’s spirit prisoner in the house for over 100 years, and in so doing discover a history of infidelity, heartache, and murder.
When a face from Chase’s recent past puts Merry’s life in danger, he must fight two battles for the woman he’s come to love – one on the spiritual plane and one in the physical world.
From across the street, he watched her work.
“Okay, Sam. Now open your arms wide like this.” Merry moved back from behind the tripod and extended her arms out to the sides, palms up. “Turn your face up to the sky, close your eyes, and smile as big as you can.”
Sam, all red hair and freckles and just turning eleven, did as he was told.
Merry smiled and crouched down behind the camera. “Okay. Stay that way until I say three.” She counted, snapping away as she did.
“That was great, Sam. Just great.”
The boy ran down from the gazebo steps, his smile the size of a cavern opening. “Really, Merry? Was it good?”
She laid a hand on his shoulder. “Better than good. Can I call you again if I need a male model?”
Sam lifted his shoulders and puffed out his chest with pride. “Sure thing, Merry. Anytime. You just call.”
“I will. And thanks for the soda. Thank your grandma, too.”
“Sure thing.” With that, he hopped on his skateboard and headed back towards the beach.
Chase watched her reload the camera and move the tripod to a new location, a few feet forward from where she’d been. All around her on the ground stood bags of what he assumed to be photographic supplies. Each satchel was open, and he noticed two extra hand cameras lying together next to the curb.
But it was to the woman his eyes strayed to and stayed. She was dressed as she’d been when they’d met, her feet still barefoot even though the concrete had to be scorching. With the sun shining full force down upon her head, the blondness of her hair seemed white in the bright light. Her face was free, no sunglasses to bar the glare of the sun. She stepped back from the camera, made a rectangular lens with her index fingers and thumbs, and peered into it. Chase saw her nod, once, then go back to the camera.
In rapid succession, she took numerous photographs of the aging town gazebo. It stood four square in the center of Main Street in front of the City Hall and courthouse. Against the fading red brick of both official edifices, the Victorian-spiraled, circular gazebo stood out, contrasting against them with its newly painted white facade. Hundreds of purple, pink and white Impatiens had been planted around the outer edge of it.
In all, the scene was a beautiful one to his untrained eye. He wondered how it would look captured on film from her viewpoint.
His breathing quickened as he found himself walking over to her. He hadn’t planned this, he told himself. Didn’t know if he wanted to see her again so soon. But he had no choice as his body took over his mind and propelled him toward her.
She was changing film again, securing one of the other cameras to the tripod.
“So you’re a photographer as well as a sea shell collector,” he said when he was sure she could hear him.
Her smile came first, as she folded the film into the camera. He thought it was as if she’d known he was there, watching her, all along, and had just been waiting for him to approach. Then she turned to him. The sun blasted full force into her face and she squinted against its blinding glare. She said, “Among other things.”
The cannonball that shot into his mid-section when she stared up at him made his stomach muscles tighten into tangled knots.
Switching the cameras, she turned the tripod away from the gazebo, aiming it straight in his direction. While he stood, watching her, she bent and winked into the viewfinder.
“Going to take my picture?” he asked.
She stood up, hands on hips, and angled her head to one side. “Not unless you want me to. I’m trying to get to the Post Office before the sun moves.”
“Don’t let me disturb you, then.” He turned, intent on walking away.
“You don’t have to go,” she said, squatting down again. “I don’t mind being watched when I work.”
“Being watched?” he came towards her, hands in his pockets.
“Hmmm.” Hands in place, she clicked the shutter. “You were watching when I was photographing Sam, weren’t you?”
Damn. She’d seen him. His embarrassment made him silent.
Merry clicked a few more shots then straightened and turned to him. “It’s okay,” she said, smiling. “Like I said, I don’t mind. Sometimes an audience is good for me. Keeps me on my toes.”
Why, he asked himself, every time she smiled like that, did he want to drag her against his body and cover her mouth with his own? Where had this desire come from? And why was it directed at her, a woman he didn’t know and couldn’t make up his mind if he even wanted to?
To hide his uneasiness, he decided to challenge it by being honest. “I saw Sam come into the grocery store. He was all excited about being photographed by you. He practically flew out of the store with your drink.”
She started packing up her gear, taking the film from the cameras and putting them into the pockets of her shorts. “Sam’s always been a ham. I first photographed him when he was seven and I found him sitting on the beach, a caramel apple dripping all over his face. His mother loved the shot so much she used it for their Christmas card that year.”
Her laugh gamboled through the air. He’d never heard a sound that was at one time so childlike yet so thoroughly seductive.
“His grandmother thinks he’s in love with you,” he said, picking up one of her bags and handing it to her.
“Thanks. Selma’s a card, smokes too much, and has a heart as big as the ocean. She loves that boy no end.”
“I thought the same thing when I was in her store.”
“Speaking of the store,” she tossed the last of the bags over her shoulder, “I’ve got to get a few things myself.”
When she went to pick up the tripod, her hand collided with his as he’d had the same idea.
Together, their fingers stayed twined around the pole for a few seconds. Neither of them had the desire to remove their grips.
The heat that Chase had felt before was now at a boiling point. For the briefest of seconds, he found himself energized by her touch, vitalized by the feel of her skin against his. It was almost like being struck by lightning.
“Where’s your car?” he asked, barely able to keep the aching going on within him banked from her ears. “You’ve got an awful lot to carry. Let me take this.”
“No car. I walked.”
“You came all this way, carrying this load, alone?”
“Sure. I do it all the time. I can manage.” The gentle tug she exerted on the pole was met with resistance. “Can I have my tripod?” she asked, a playful smile dancing on her face.
His eyebrows furrowed above the glasses. “It’s too hot to walk, ” he said. “My car’s about two blocks away. Come on, I’ll drive you home.”
“It’s okay, I can walk. Besides, I need to stop at Selma’s.”
“I’m parked right outside her store,” he said, taking one of the bags off her shoulder.
He began walking and she had no choice but to follow.
“Are you always so bossy?” she asked, matching him stride for stride, even though she was barefoot and carrying a third of her weight on her shoulders.
“I’m not bossy,” he said, “just practical. It’s almost ninety degrees. You’d be exhausted by the time you got home, carrying all this.”
“Like I said, I’m used to it.” One arm slung over the bag across her shoulder, and she peered at him from the corner of her eye as they walked along.