Wednesday, April 27, 2011

First Chapter Wednesday--Double Deceit

Double Deceit is the latest novel by Stephanie Humphreys. Double Deceit will be available at Amazon, Deseret Book, and your local LDS bookstore May 1st.

CHAPTER ONE

I turned my car onto the side street that led to my childhood home. Unease settled into the back of my throat, and I didn’t know if I could get a coherent word out. I pulled into the driveway and slammed the door, hoping the noise in the otherwise quiet afternoon would draw someone out of the house. But nobody ran down the sidewalk with outstretched arms ready to welcome back the prodigal child. I wasn’t surprised.


A disturbing thought crossed my mind as I stepped away from the car. What if strangers lived there now? I pulled the packet of letters from my purse and looked at the date on the last one. It had been sent over a year and a half ago. As I unfolded the letter, the accompanying obituary fell to the driveway. My sister’s handwriting spelled out the tragic loss of our beloved mother and pleaded for me to come home—at least for a visit. I eased the letter back into the envelope and picked up the newspaper clipping. What would she say when I told her I had come back for good?


The street remained quiet. I sighed. It didn’t make sense to put it off any longer. When I knocked on the front door, the house sounded hollow. First I checked over my shoulder to make sure no one was watching, then I leaned to peer in the front window. The cozy afghan I had curled up with as a child still lay folded over the back of the same old brown couch, but other subtle differences testified to the passage of time. There were different pictures on the walls, and the furniture wasn’t where I remembered it.


The doorknob didn’t yield to my hand, so I walked around the side of the house and into the backyard. The iron garden frog sat exactly where it belonged, the key to the house still in its mouth.


I let myself in the back door and pocketed the key. The house looked like home, but still I felt like an intruder. As I walked through the rooms, the familiarity comforted me, while the changes threw me off balance. At the back of the house I found the only room with a closed door—my old bedroom. I opened it quietly, almost reverently, as if expecting to see the ghost of my youth on the other side.


The posters of my teenage idols no longer plastered the walls, but the old pink quilt on the canopied twin bed made me feel like I had never left. A picture of me with my arm linked through Spencer’s sat on the night table, a reminder of when we first started dating. I shook the nostalgia from my head. Things might look the same, but my twenty-sixth birthday had just passed, and the years since I had slept in this room stretched behind me in best-forgotten paths. I threw my bag on the floor beside the bed, shut the door, and went back to the kitchen.


A pad of paper sat in its customary place next to the phone. I wrote a quick note to my sister, asking her to call me on my cell phone. After I reread the note, I crumpled it up and started again. The second note just let her know I was in town and didn’t include my phone number, because I didn’t want our first conversation in ten years to happen over the phone. I hoped she still liked surprises as much as she had when we were kids. A bowl of apples on the table made my mouth water, and I helped myself to one. Then I locked the door behind me and went back to my car, where I sat with my hands on the steering wheel, trying to decide what to do with the afternoon. Wherever my sister was, it seemed likely she wouldn’t be home until the end of the workday, and I had no desire to sit in the house by myself with only my memories for company.


As I finished the apple, my rumbling stomach reminded me I hadn’t eaten anything else since breakfast. It wouldn’t hurt to pick up some groceries and get familiar with the town again. I reached to start the car, then stopped. Only a few blocks separated the house from Main Street. I grabbed a jacket from the passenger seat, locked the car doors, and began to walk.


A few familiar faces caught my attention, but no one seemed to recognize me. Nearing the grocery store, I noticed the cafe where I’d first met Spencer. The faded paint was the only obvious change. It reminded me of those first carefree days of falling in love. But some things are better forgotten, and I quickly looked away from the building.


Across the street, a small bookstore caught my eye. A library would be a better choice, considering my jobless status, but I could still enjoy browsing. I pushed open the heavy door to the old building and carefully avoided my reflection in the glass. My appearance wouldn’t turn any heads, and I didn’t need any reminder of the tired circles under my eyes. A brass bell tinkled as I entered a reader’s heaven. The shelves bowed under the weight of the many volumes, and the familiar smell of new books filled the air.


Behind the counter sat an older woman who didn’t seem to notice my entrance. Her nose almost touched the book she held open in her hands, and she gasped as she turned the page. On the front cover, a good-looking man held a damsel who I could only assume was somehow in distress.


The woman sighed. I rolled my eyes and began looking for something to read. The shelf in front of me displayed children’s books of all sizes, shapes, and colors. On the second shelf, a familiar title caught my eye. I felt the impulse to run, but I resisted and dropped to my knees. I took the book from its place and opened the pages. The colorful pictures matched the images I remembered. The words played over and over in my head as I shut my eyes and recalled the many times I had read the story to Annie.


“Is there something wrong?”


The masculine voice startled me from my thoughts. I scrambled to my feet, avoiding the man’s eyes. The wetness of tears cooled my burning cheeks, and I stole a look at him. He studied the book I held as if he couldn’t understand how a child’s story could be so sad. I wasn’t about to explain it to him, but I caught a faint trace of sympathy in his expression before I held out the book to him and ducked my head.


He took the book and placed it in the correct spot on the shelf. “I’d rather my customers didn’t cry.” A brief smile followed his kindly spoken words.


“Sorry,” I whispered, caught up in his green eyes.


Our brief interaction caught the attention of the woman behind the till. She put her book down on the counter. “Can I help you?” She climbed down from her stool and hurried over to us, then gave the man a gentle push and handed me a tissue. He chuckled at her and without a backward glance, turned and walked toward the back of the store.


I smiled and used the tissue to wipe away my tears. “Sorry.”


“Stop apologizing. Nothing to be sorry for. Everyone needs a good cry sometimes.” The woman straightened an already-perfect display. “Are you looking for anything specific?”


“Not really. Do you have any suggestions?”


The woman clapped her hands together. “Boy, do I ever.” She hurried back to the counter, grabbed her face-down book, and pushed it into my hands.


“I don’t believe in romance.”


She didn’t respond right away, but took the book back and hugged it to her like an injured child.


The shelf next to me held a display of books about the local area. I grabbed one titled Flora and Fauna of Southern Alberta. “I’ll just take this one.”


The woman ran a hand through her silver hair and shook her head. Something in her blue eyes made me uncomfortable. I looked at the floor to avoid her gaze and gasped in surprise as she took the book from me and placed it back on the shelf.


“You don’t really want that.”


Her statement caught me off guard and I stepped back. “I’m sorry to take up your time,” I said. A quick escape seemed like the best option, but she had other plans.


“Are you new in town?”


The question came in such friendly tones that I found myself answering her, thoughts of leaving pushed momentarily aside.


“I lived here as a teenager, but I left a long time ago. I’m thinking of moving back.”


The woman grabbed my hand and shook it until my elbow hurt. “Oh, welcome home, dear. I don’t remember you, of course. I must have come to town after you moved, but welcome home anyway. I’m Sandra.”


Her friendliness made me a bit uneasy, so I slipped my hand from her grasp and put it in my pocket. “I need to get going.”


Sandra’s thin shoulders sagged. “It was nice meeting you.”


I turned to go. Before opening the door, I looked back at her. “You wouldn’t know of anyone in town who is hiring, would you?”


The blue eyes began to sparkle again. “Come here early tomorrow morning. My son’s been looking for a new employee, and you might be just the thing.”


I smiled at her and nodded. “Tomorrow, then.”


When I left the store, my heart felt lighter. Sandra might be fun to work with once I got used to her, and if I could resist buying too many books, it might be a good job. I made a quick stop at the grocery store to buy the ingredients I needed to make a nice meal for my sister. Soon, with a heavy brown bag balanced on each hip, I headed home.


As I rounded the corner, I saw a young woman sitting on the front step of my childhood home. My little sister! She stood and watched me come toward her. Natalie looked like the girl I once knew, but she also reminded me of our mother, the way she tilted her head to one side as she studied me and chewed on her bottom lip. The girlish long hair I remembered had been cut into a trendy style, and the tresses bounced as she walked toward me, the blond highlights catching the late-afternoon sun.


We stood and stared at each other. She looked me up and down, then furrowed her brow. I knew she had noticed how skinny I had become, and how my waist-length hair hung dull and lifeless down my back. Again, I wished I could make the dark circles under my eyes fade, but they seemed to be a permanent feature these days.


The words I planned on greeting Natalie with suddenly didn’t seem right. What do you say to a sister you haven’t seen in almost a decade? Tears streamed down my face. I reached up to wipe them away, but my hand faltered as I noticed her cheeks glistening too.


“Oh, Elaina.” She threw her arms around me. “You’re home.”


It was the welcome I needed. Moments later we sat at the kitchen table. “I can’t believe you showed up after so long without any warning.” Natalie kept repeating the phrase, but the words held no sting, since her expression made it clear she was happy to have me home.


I smiled, then steered her to safer topics. “What do you do now?” As a girl, Natalie had always wanted to be the center of attention, and I hoped this was still true. My turn would come, but I wanted to put off any discussion about my life for as long as possible.


She kept true to my memories of her and told me about the grade-four class she taught at the local elementary school. Her movements were animated as she spoke about her career. She seemed content and happy.


When the topic of school grew old, I changed the subject. “What else is going on in your life?”


Natalie laughed and shook her head. “Well, I’m not dating anyone, if that’s what you’re asking. But I’m always looking for Mr. Right.”


It wasn’t what I was asking, but I welcomed the information. I didn’t want to share her for a while.


“By the way, how’s Spencer?”


Her question hit me like a slap in the face, and my breath caught in my throat. I wanted to tell her everything, but the thoughts wouldn’t form into coherent sentences. “He’s dead,” I finally whispered. I stood quickly, causing my chair to fall backward to the floor. The statement hung between us as Natalie struggled to find the right response. When the sympathy on her face became too much to bear, I turned and ran down the hallway to my old bedroom, leaving Natalie sitting speechless at the table.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Get to Know You Monday--Stephanie Humphreys



We got to know a little bit about Stephanie Humphreys, author of Finding Rose, and her soon to be released novel, Double Deceit, last September. If you want to know what Stephanie's favorite food and color is, check out the interview here. This time we're lucky enough to get to know her a better on a literary level.


Your top five authors: Phyllis A. Whitney, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Dean Hughes, Victoria Holt, William Shakespeare

Favorite book when you were a child: I loved the Little House on the Prairie series. I read every book at least ten times when I was a kid.

Book you’ve faked reading: I don’t think I’ve ever faked reading a book unless you count textbooks in high school.

Book that changed your life: There are so many, but the one that always stands out is Lighten Up by Chieko Okazaki. I read it just after the birth of my first child and the message was exactly what I needed at the time. It has influenced how I approach just about everything in my life.

Favorite line from a book: I love the last few lines from The Angels of Morgan Hill by Donna VanLiere. “When I was a child I never had to stand on anyone’s shoulders to touch the angels around me. They were always within reach.”

Book you want to read again for the first time: The Angels of Morgan Hill by Donnal VanLiere. There is just something about this book that I love and I’ve read it several times. (I don’t usually read a book more than once. There just isn’t enough time.)

Book you bought for the cover: I’m not much of an impulse buyer when it comes to books. Usually I am looking for a specific book. On the other hand, when it comes to embroidery and quilting, at least half of the books I own were purchased for the cover.

What was your first story about: I wrote a story about the life of the Tooth Fairy that I used to tell my brothers and sisters.

What was the name of your main character: I’m sure she had a name, but I don’t remember it.

How do you come up with your plots: My plots come from plenty of brainstorming. I’ll have a character in mind, or just one specific scene. From there I start writing down ideas until the story starts to come together. I often plot when my husband and I are on dates. It takes half an hour to get from our house to the city, so that gives me lots of time to bounce ideas off him and see where the story goes.

When did you know you wanted to be an author: I don’t remember ever not wanting to be a writer. It was always just something I knew I had to do.

Most influential writing influence: The first one that comes to mind is my great grandmother. She did a little writing of her own and always encouraged me to keep writing. When I was a child, she was the only one who thought I should grow up and be a writer. The second one that comes to mind is Tristi Pinkston. She taught a class at the first LDStorymakers conference I went to that changed the way I saw writing and changed the way I saw myself. It helped give me the confidence to pursue the crazy lifestyle of an author.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Free Book Friday Giveaway--Hearts Through Time

Congratulations to Steve for winning a copy of Overcoming Addiction.

Hearts Through Time is the latest novel from Marie Higgins

Entering is easy, but you must be done by MIDNIGHT MST THURSDAY, April 14th.

To enter, leave us a comment with the answer to the weekly question. Make sure to include your email address if it isn't found on your blog profile.

The weekly question is
"If you could go back in time, which era would you go to?"


******

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?


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.