Wednesday, April 6, 2011

First Chapter Wednesday--Hearts Through Time

Hearts Through Time is the latest novel from Marie Higgins


ONE

“You have two minutes to come rescue me before I scream.”

What in the world? Nicholas Marshal held the cell phone closer to his ear as he moved away from the window overlooking Capitol Street. One of the busiest thoroughfares in Sacramento, it was clogged with traffic, making it difficult for him to hear the caller. In the distance, thunder boomed. The ominous weather soured his mood almost as much as the crazy woman on the phone.

Who would call him on the first day of his new law practice and say something like that? Perhaps it was a prank. “I think you have the wrong number,” he said testily.

“Nick, I mean it. I need your help. Now!”

Finally, he recognized the voice. “Vanessa? What are you up to now?”

Thankfully, it wasn’t a reporter from one of the tabloid magazines that had been hounding him for the past six months. Since he had refused an interview for so long, he hoped they had given up on him.

Another grumble came from the other end. “Nick, I don’t think we have time for small talk right now. Although, I must know—how did you know it was me?”

“Because I’ve only been back in town one week, and you’re the only woman I know with the canine senses to track me down so quickly.”

She gasped. “Are you calling me a dog?”

He held back a laugh. Vanessa was anything but a dog; in fact, she’d always been a perfect 10. “No. It just means you find me no matter where I go.”

Nick grabbed the chilled bottle of water off his desk and took a long drink. He wasn’t kidding, either. He and Vanessa had dated over five years ago, but they remained friends, and she always knew where he was and what he was doing.

“So, Vanessa, what do you need?” He sat behind his desk and leaned his elbows on the oak top.

“I’m in the elevator down the hall from your office, and I’m stuck.”

He nearly choked on his water. “Stuck? How did you accomplish that?”

“Well, if you’ll stop yakking for a minute and come to the elevator, you’ll see.”

Chuckling, Nick set down the bottle of water, pushed away from his desk, and hurried out of his office. “All right, I’m coming.” He ended the call and slid his cell phone into the pocket of his suit jacket.

Vanessa was in town. That explained why things were already going wrong. He didn’t expect clients to be lined up at the door—not yet—but he definitely didn’t think his ex-girlfriend would show up to his office, either.

As Nick neared the elevator, Vanessa’s whining alerted him to her presence. She stood between the open doors, bracing each one with a hand as she wiggled her spiked heel, which was caught in the doors’ tracks. Nick shook his head.

She raised her gaze and looked at him. “My hero.” She batted her long, fake eyelashes at him and pouted her heavily glossed lips. The swimsuit model knew how to make men weak in the knees. Thankfully, Nick was immune to her charm. It had been an adventure dating her, but it hadn’t taken him long to realize how selfish she was.

He rolled his eyes. “Do you know” —he knelt in front of Vanessa and reached for her ankle— “if you wouldn’t wear such spiky high heels all the time, this wouldn’t happen.”

She giggled. “Oh, Nicky, you know I only want to look good for you.”

He carefully loosened the heel from the doors’ tracks so her shoe wouldn’t break.

She smiled. “I think you enjoy rescuing damsels in distress.”

Silently, he agreed with her. Perhaps that was his biggest weakness. If he could only stay away from damsels in distress, his life would turn out better. It seemed lately that his life had taken on a disastrous pattern, like one car wreck after another.

When he stood, Vanessa wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss on the lips. Nick pulled away, knowing all too well what she really wanted. The last thing he needed was his ex-girlfriend plaguing him while he rebuilt his reputation and finished scraping his life back together. Especially now, establishing himself as a top-notch lawyer took priority over everything. Allowing Vanessa into his life again would no doubt put a swift and painful end to his career.

Flashbacks of his previous humiliation plastered across the front page of the tabloids passed through his mind. “Scandal rocks Hollywood. Renowned Hollywood attorney, Nicholas Marshall, fired from the case of the century because of his wild lifestyle.”

Nick pulled back and shook his head. “I really didn’t do that much. Any man would have helped you.”

“Do you see any other man around?” Vanessa laughed and hooked her arm around his elbow. “So, are you going to show me your new office now?”

“Sure.” He led the way. “So, how did you find me? I have a private cell-phone number.”

“You forget, darling Nicky, my father owns Capitol One Associates, the very building where you set up office, and pretty much the whole block along with it.”

Nick suppressed a grimace. “You’re right. I had forgotten.”

Vanessa’s father had approved of him as her boyfriend back then, and Nick was relieved to know the businessman held no harsh feelings for him now. Nick knew he wouldn’t have obtained an office here otherwise.

“I have an idea.” She clutched his arm tighter. “Why don’t you hang up the closed sign, and we can hit the town and spend time together, just like we used to do.”

Nick released his breath slowly. “Vanessa, it’s my first day on the job. I can’t close up for the day.”

“I don’t see any customers yet.”

“Not yet, but they’ll come.”

She gave him a practiced pout again. “What’s happened to you, Nicky? You used to be so spontaneous and fun.”

“Life’s cruel lessons have changed me.”

She leaned her head on his arm. “Yeah, I read about what happened when you represented Leslie Blake, the Hollywood producer’s wife, in their divorce.” She shook her head. “I don’t think there was a single person in the United States that hasn’t heard about that scandal.”

Nick shrugged off her arm and stuffed his hands into his pockets. Vanessa certainly knew how to rub vinegar in his open wound. “Don’t believe everything you read in the tabloids,” he said under his breath.

She walked ahead of him into his office. The moment he stepped in behind her, she pressed him against the wall and kicked the door closed with a black stiletto. She wrapped her fingers around his tie to hold him in place. “Nicky, do you know how much I’ve missed you?”

She leaned up to plant a kiss on his lips, but he refused to accept it. “No, Vanessa. I’ve got to get to work.”

A deep frown marred her face. “Dinner tonight, then?”

“Can’t. I’m busy.”

“No, you’re not.” She scowled. “You’re trying to avoid me.”

“Don’t be ridiculous.”

“Do I need to remind you my father owns this building?”

Nick arched a brow. “Vanessa, dear, that almost sounds like a threat, and I don’t surrender to them.”

“I’m not threatening you. But whether you know this or not, I was the one who made it possible for you to get an office in my father’s building.”

“What are you talking about?”

“My father was going to refuse your lease application because of your public fall from grace. He wasn’t sure he wanted someone with a scandalous reputation renting from him, but I convinced him to give you a second chance.”

Nick bunched his hands into fists. Why couldn’t people forget the past? “Okay, we’ll go out, but not tonight. How about tomorrow night? I’ll pick you up at seven o’clock.”

She lifted on tiptoes to kiss him again, but he turned his face so her lips grazed his cheek. She pulled back and glared.

“I hope you’re in a better mood then,” she snapped before walking out the door and slamming it behind her. Her high heels pounded on the hardwood floor of the hall.

Nick exhaled a relieved sigh, then closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead. Leave it to Vanessa to make the dead aware of her departure. Thankfully, he didn’t have close neighbors in the building.

“Excuse me if I’m intruding.”

Another feminine voice broke his concentration, and he spun around toward it. A woman rose from the brown leather chair in front of his desk. Confused, Nick glanced from the woman to the closed office door and back again. When did she get here? His face went red as he realized she must have been in the office waiting for him when he’d arrived with Vanessa. But why hadn’t he noticed her until now?

Nick did a double take at the strange woman. She definitely didn’t look like a model from a style magazine, like Vanessa did. Instead this woman looked as if she had stepped off the set of a motion picture from the early 1900s.

His visitor smoothed a hand down the side of her ankle-length black dress, which was decorated with entirely too much lace. It fit her body nicely yet was ultra modest, especially in this day and age. Her brunette hair was swept up beneath a large magenta hat decorated with an outlandish pink bow, and black lace gloves encased her hands. Even her proper posture spoke of an old-time society dame. Yet her smooth, young face told him she wasn’t old at all—probably somewhere in her mid twenties. And her eyes . . .
he’d never seen such beautiful, intriguing eyes before.

The oddly dressed woman cleared her throat and stepped closer. “Forgive me for interrupting.”

Despite the musical lilt to her voice, the trace of British intonation brought to mind the high-and-mighty aristocrats Nick had rubbed elbows with at his last firm. He quickly straightened his tie and came forward. “Uh, no, ma’am. You didn’t interrupt anything important. I’m sorry you had to witness that, um, display just now.”

Her lips remained stretched in a thin line. “Are you Mr. Nicholas Marshal?”

He maintained a professional smile, but after what she’d caught him doing, it was hard not to feel embarrassed. Maybe Vanessa really had set out to sabotage his first day in a new town.

“Yes, I’m Nick.”

“The solicitor?”

Solicitor? Who uses that term anymore? Nick wondered. “I’m a lawyer, yes. And you are . . .”

She took another step toward him. “I’m Abigail Carlisle.”

He approached to shake her hand, but when her eyes widened and her face paled, he stopped. Maybe she was claustrophobic or had a fear of getting too close to people. “Nice to meet you, Miss Carlisle. How can I help you?”

Her brilliant green eyes flashed. “I’m seeking your services as a solicitor.”

Nick motioned toward the chair where she’d been sitting. “Please, then, have a seat.” He straightened his suit jacket as he walked around the desk to his chair. “I want to apologize again for that scene a few minutes ago. She was an unexpected visitor.”

“No need to explain, Mr. Marshal.” The woman arched an eyebrow. “I understand perfectly.”

As she sat, he slid his chair closer to the desk. “I’m surprised I didn’t see you,” he said. “I can’t remember passing you in the hall.”

Her expression remained solemn, and Nick dropped his gaze to the delicate shape of her mouth. This woman was definitely a looker, although so different from Vanessa. He looked back at her eyes. They were an intoxicating green, and he wanted to stare into them. He wanted to get to know her. Back to reality, Nick, he told himself silently. Clients are off limits!

She cleared her throat. “Going unnoticed is something I have become accustomed to as of late, sir.”

Unnoticed? Not dressed like that. Once more he took in Miss Carlisle’s clothing. The woman would stand out in any crowd.

He opened the drawer, took out his mini voice-recorder, and pressed the on button. “I hope you don’t mind, but I always record my sessions.”

“That is permissible.”

“What can I do for you, Miss—or is it Mrs. Carlisle?”

“I’m not married.”

“Then Miss Carlisle it is.” Her stiff, aloof behavior pricked his curiosity. In an attempt to draw her out, Nick flashed his most charming smile. She did not so much as bat an eyelash in return.

She repositioned herself on the chair, pulling her shoulders back primly as she faced him. “I have searched for you for a long time. You are the only person who can help me.”

The urgency in her tone made him pause. “Really?” he asked. “Why do you think I’m the only person who can help?”

“I don’t think, Mr. Marshal. I know.”

Nick cocked a skeptical brow. “How do you know?”

A flash of hesitation, or perhaps embarrassment, skirted across her face. “My maternal grandmother” —Miss Carlisle drew a deep breath— “told me one day I would find the man who could help me.”

Nick knew he should be amused at the absurdity of her story, but instead he felt intrigued. “And she actually said my name?”

“Well, not exactly,” Miss Carlisle replied, “but it was close enough. She gave the initials N.M., and she said you would be a solicitor.”

“Solicitor? When you use that word, you are referring to an attorney?”

She shrugged. “They mean the same thing, do they not?”

Disturbing tingles crawled up Nick’s back, the sort of sixth-sense sensation one experiences while walking through a cemetery in the pitch dark of night or after a scary movie. “So how do you know N.M. is me?”

Finally, a timid smile touched her mouth. “Because you are speaking to me right now.”

He shook his head. “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand, Miss Carlisle.”

She closed her eyes as though in pain. “I knew explaining my situation,” she spoke the words carefully, as though testing their meaning, “would be difficult, but I’m at quite a loss for how to clarify myself.”

“Please try, Miss Carlisle, because you have me confused. Why exactly do you need an attorn—er, a solicitor? And why do you believe I’m the man your grandmother spoke of?”

Her breathing quickened as trepidation touched her face. “Mr. Marshal, the reason I know you’re the man who can help is because you—you can . . .” She cleared her throat. “You can actually see me.”

Nick stifled a chuckle. “Of course I can see you. You’re sitting right in front of me.”

“True, but your lady friend could not.”

He silently cursed Vanessa. “I don’t think my friend was paying much attention at the time.”

“When she walked into the room first, she looked my way, but she didn’t see me.”

“I do apologize for that. Vanessa can be a little self-absorbed at times.”

“No, you don’t understand. The reason she couldn’t see me is because, well . . .” Miss Carlisle’s green eyes locked on his with something akin to fear shadowing their depths. “I’m a ghost,” she ended in a whisper.

Nick’s jaw dropped. “Did you say a . . . ghost?”

She nodded.

He scrutinized her solemn expression and decided there were only three possibilities: she was either telling the truth (not likely), completely and utterly insane, or pulling some kind of joke on him. Nick’s mind settled on the third option. Vanessa had known exactly where and when to find him, which meant Steve and Travis must know too. Nick had a sneaking suspicion this was his fraternity brothers’ way of welcoming him to his new life. Those jokesters! Nick tapped a finger on the desk. His so-called friends had set him up royally, first with Vanessa, and now the ghost lady. He’d play along and see how far Miss Carlisle would take the joke.

He bit his lip to hold back his laughter, scratching his chin instead. “You think you’re a ghost?”

“Yes, sir, I do.”

Leaning back in his chair, he steepled his fingers against his lips. “Can you tell me why you think you’re a ghost?”

The young woman stared at the ceiling and expelled a heavy sigh. “Mr. Marshal, I don’t think I’m a ghost, I know.”

He nodded. “Go on.” Now he sounded like a psychiatrist.

“I was murdered in 1912.”

Nick clenched his jaw to stem the laughter building in his chest. She was one heck of an actress. Not once did she crack a smile. Her eyes didn’t twitch with a hidden laugh; in fact, they almost looked sad. He even felt sorry for her for half a second. “Who killed you?” he asked.

“I don’t know, which is why I need your help.”

Nick shook his head, hoping to put an end to the charade. “I’m a lawyer, Miss Carlisle, not a private investigator. Perhaps I could refer you to a good PI or an agency.”

“But you were a private investigator at one time.”

He sobered. How did she know that? He hadn’t done PI work in a good ten years, closer to eleven. Nick didn’t think Steve and Travis even knew about it. “Not any longer, Miss Carlisle. I’m a lawyer now.”

“But you’re the only one who can help me,” she said with a hint of desperation.

He frowned. “You keep saying that. Is it because your grandmother said a man with the initials N.M. could help you?”

She nodded.

“Come now, Miss Carlisle. Sacramento is a large city with many attorneys, and there have to be several N.M.’s. Any one of them could be the man you’re looking for.”

“You’re the only man with those initials that has been able to hear me.”

The serious look on her face stole all humor from the moment—that and her knowledge of his past. Maybe she was a reporter with some newspaper, here to get a story. Wouldn’t they ever leave him alone?

Nick’s head throbbed, so he pinched the bridge of his nose and took in a deep breath. Miss Carlisle still sat in front of him, looking very proper. If she were from a newspaper wanting to do a story on him, would she have taken on the role of a 1912 dame? Probably not. So why was she here and dressed like that? Steve and Travis. It had to be them.

Enough was enough. Nick didn’t know how his fraternity brothers knew, but it was time to end this and force the young woman to confess. He slapped his hands on his desk, making her jump. “Listen, Miss Carlisle, I have to be honest with you. You look like a nice person, but you have to admit what you’ve told me is pretty unbelievable.”

She frowned, and the spark in her eyes disappeared. “But I haven’t even told you the whole story.”

She was harder to break than he’d expected. He pushed away from his desk and walked to the door. “Please, don’t make this any more difficult. You don’t need a lawyer—you need a psychiatrist, which I’m not. If you’d like, I could give you the number—”

“No, thank you.” Miss Carlisle rose from her chair, keeping her back perfectly straight, and walked toward him. Mere inches away, she stopped and stared him in the eyes. “I’m not insane, Mr. Marshal. Just dead.”

Nick couldn’t hold back a laugh. “Lady, I don’t know where Steve and Travis found you, but I have to admit, you’re good.”

Her hands rested on her small hips. “Nobody found me. I will give you one day to consider this, and I shall return tomorrow. I cannot put this off any longer. I need to discover who killed me so I can stop living in this . . . this . . .” She swiped a hand down the length of her. “This ghostly existence.”

“Really, Miss Carlisle. The game is over. Where are Steve and Travis?” He peeked around the door into the hallway. Empty. But he was sure his friends were close by. He looked back at the woman, expecting her to give in. Instead, her expression remained impassive.

She scrunched her brow. “I’m afraid I don’t know anyone by those names.”

“Then who paid you to come here and tell me this story?”

She stomped her foot. “Mr. Marshal, I assure you this is not a story, and I was not offered money. I’m truly in need of your help!”

He motioned toward the door. “Miss Carlisle, if anything, it was a pleasure meeting you. You’ve made me laugh, which is something I haven’t done in a while.”

She grumbled, turned on her heels, and marched out. The gentle sway to her backside—was that a bustle she wore?—made his eyes widen. He shook his head. Miss Carlisle moved as if she had been born in that dress, as if it was second nature for her to walk without getting the skirt caught in her legs. His friends had certainly gone to a lot of trouble to find such a well-trained actress.

He shut the door and ambled back to his desk, shaking his head. Now he had to wait for his friends’ phone call. Nick had been one step ahead of them the whole time.

Sitting behind the desk, he glanced at the voice recorder. He clicked it off. Perhaps he’d missed something in their conversation, something that might give him a clue as to who the real joker was.

He clicked rewind. When it stopped, he pressed the button to turn it on. His voice boomed clearly, but only dead air space lingered in places where he knew Miss Carlisle had spoken. He turned up the volume, but her melodic voice did not come through.

Nick’s attention snapped back to the door. A ghost? No way! He didn’t believe in them. Besides, hadn’t she felt real? Thinking back, he realized he hadn’t touched her, but there had to be something concrete to latch onto, something to explain the whole thing.

He scowled. Fancy-dressed women usually smelled fabulous. He inhaled, but didn’t detect a scent. He jumped up from his desk, ran to the door, and pulled it open. The hallway was deserted and the elevator door was closed.

There had to be an explanation, because no way was that woman a ghost.


******

A love story that transcends time . . .

When a woman claiming to be a ghost from 1912 appears in Nick Marshal’s office and begs for help in solving her murder, he thinks he has lost his mind. A scandal that rocked Hollywood almost destroyed his law practice, so he doesn’t need any more fireworks as he rebuilds his life. Still, he is intrigued by Abigail Carlisle’s plea, and he needs clients, even if this one insists she’s dead. The more secrets Nick uncovers, the deeper he falls for the beautiful ghost.

Abigail believes Nick is her heart’s true desire, but how can happily-ever-after happen when she’s already dead? The more time she spends with him, the more real she becomes, until Nick can finally touch her.

In a strange turn of events, Nick is suddenly whisked back to 1912, two weeks before Abby’s murder, but she doesn’t remember him. When he attempts to win her over so he can save her from a tragic destiny, Abby thinks Nick is courting her for her inheritance. But even if he can rescue her and make her trust him again, how can they be together forever?


You can purchase your copy of Hearts Through Time from Amazon.com, Deseretbook.com, or from your local LDS bookstore.





Want to read the first chapter of Marie's other novel? You can find Winning Mr. Wrong here.


1 comment:

  1. Wow! That is a great first chapter. I'm excited to read your book.

    ReplyDelete