The following excerpt is taken from an all-audiences portion of my book. If you’d like a peek at the steamier scenes, head over to Racy Reads Blog: “Blood on the Vine” Sample for an R-rated excerpt.
The excerpt is below, but here’s a brief synopsis so you can get a feel for this story:
Miranda Knight has returned to her picturesque childhood home on Seneca Lake. The estate-turned-inn is every bit as haunting and beautiful as she remembers, but is home to more secrets than ever before. As Miranda investigates the disappearance of a former owner, she meets Aldo, a rich Mediterranean vintner. Their whirlwind romance is nothing like she’d imagined, but she can’t help falling in love with him despite his penchants for rough sex and playing hard to get. The other man in Miranda’s life is Ashton, who may or may not have murdered his wife, but who has the most beautiful blue eyes Miranda has ever gazed into. Miranda feels an attraction to both men, but only one is sincere. The wrong man is harboring a dark heart that threatens Miranda’s life and the future of her childhood home, The Molly Grange Inn.
This book is an erotic thriller with strong sexual scenes. Mature readers 18+ only.
Chapter 5 – Miranda hears a knock at the door…
I drew my satin robe around my arms and shoulders and cinched it at my waist, and slipped my feet into my slippers. I felt adequately covered to open the door.
“Besides,” I whispered. “If they’re knocking on my door passed midnight what do they expect me to be wearing?”
It dawned on me that if they could hear me crying, perhaps whoever was beyond the door could also hear me criticizing their late night visit. I took a moment and a deep breath before reaching for the door. As I went for the handle, I jumped because whoever was on the other side knocked three more times.
“I said just a second.” I shouted.
There was no one there. It didn’t seem possible, but there was no one there. The final three knocks had happened mere seconds before I pulled open the door, but the hallway was empty as far as I could tell. It was dark, but I felt certain I’d know if someone was there. I stepped a couple feet beyond my doorway and looked up and down the hallway; certainly it was dark, but it wasn’t so dark it could hide an adult person, a child maybe, but not an adult. Directly in front of me was the massive staircase, brown balustrade and white steps. On the second floor, I could just make out the light of a small sconce. I wished there were lamps lit at this hour on the third floor. On one side was the large balcony, empty and locked up for the evening. The doors to various guest rooms remained closed, but I knew the rooms were unoccupied. There were many closed doorways I couldn’t see because they were eaten up by darkness and distance, but it occurred to me that my visitor could be hiding in one of those doorways. He or she was certainly not nearby, which disturbed me because who could move so quickly to knock and in an instant be gone?
“Hello?” My voice was shaky and seemed inappropriate in the quiet hallway. Behind me, I could still just barely make out Frederick and his French accent calling out his wife’s name, but the hallway itself was undisturbed and it seemed impolite to be shouting into its quietest recesses even knowing that besides myself and the Showalter’s there weren’t any guests or staff on the third floor.
“Is someone there?”
A cool breeze floated from nowhere and caressed only the skin of my cheeks, like two icy hands rubbing against my skin. I looked at the balcony; the doors were firmly shut. The curtains over the windows were not billowing, as they would if a breeze were floating in from the outdoors; and, yet, the cool breeze had found its way under my chin and caressed up my throat and under my chin in a come hither motion. I felt a big gust of air, almost like a body moving passed me and then it was gone. I took another couple steps into the hall, as if pulled by some mysterious force. That’s when I see her, a dark haired woman skipping steps two at a time and heading toward the first floor. I’d have missed her if not for the lit sconce hanging from the wall of the second floor landing. I gave chase.
“Hey, wait a minute.” I called. She doesn’t bother stopping, much less slowing down or issuing a response. And, she looked a little old to be playing late night games of ding-dong-ditch. Just as quickly as I’d seen her, she was gone. I gave chase, unsure I was seeing things. On the second floor electronic candelabras lit up the hallway, but I caught a glimpse of her trailing black hair sweeping behind her as she turned the corner toward the first floor landing. On the first floor, I lost sight of her, but the cook was sitting in the tea room with the door open. The color drained from his red face at the sight of me, having not expected to see anyone awake at such a late hour. Once composed, he stood and greeted me with a warm welcome.
“Can I get you something?” He asked. “Some tea or something to eat?”
“No.” I said. I was distracted by the back door, which was left open perhaps by the dark-haired woman.
“Did you see a woman pass by here? Long dark hair?”
He looked at me as though I were crazy.
“No ma’am. You’re the only guest.”
“Yeah, but maybe she works here?”
“Everyone’s asleep… Are you feeling okay?”
I don’t bother trying to explain what was inexplicable. The back doors led to the veranda. I thought she must be there because who else would open the doors in the middle of the night? It didn’t occur to me that maybe they left the doors open at night to keep it cool on the first floor. It was a sweltering summer after all; even the night air was acrid and lacked a breeze, which reminded me of the cool air I’d felt upon opening my door on the third floor where it was hottest because only the guest rooms were air conditioned. I shook these thoughts from my mind and focused on the task at hand, which was to solve the mystery of the raven-haired girl. I told myself she’d simply mistaken my room for someone else’s, but the cook had confirmed I was the only guest.
She was not on the veranda unless she was hiding in the shadows. The moon was behind dark clouds, so the only light source was the flickering gas lamps out by the edge of the property too far to provide even a glimmer in the shadowy recesses of the veranda’s corners. And, what were they doing on? Hadn’t Nancy told me they were broken?
My mother had decorated the veranda in twinkling Christmas lights that stayed plugged in year-round. The new owners hadn’t thought of lighting up the veranda, which was a disappointment because I longed to be transported to that faraway time, where as a child and surrounded by ambient lighting, I’d jump the two steps down into the grass and catch the fireflies that hovered just inches above the manicured grass of our sweeping backyard while my father and grandfather watched from seats on the ornately decorated veranda, which featured imported Italian furniture, a vintage baby grand piano, and a huge Persian rug. These things had sold with the property, but somewhere along the line had been liquidated, and the replacement furniture was simple white wicker and no lights. I imagined the elegant parties we’d throw out on the west lawn, which was hidden from me in the darkness and yet was so vivid in my memory I could recall every detail. The heated lamps that speckled the property and the dining room tables with huge floral arrangements, the big band with brass instruments and electric guitars that played the classics until the wee hours of the morning, and my mother and father dancing and laughing not fighting and name calling. It was a better time because grandfather was there to oversee things.
I couldn’t see my former home for what it is only what it was. I didn’t see the wrought iron tables, the bland wicker furniture. It wasn’t a Knight’s Inn anymore, but rather the Molly Grange Inn, which was shabbier to be sure, but not entirely lacking charm and yet in that moment it was A Knight’s Inn to me. Despite being shrouded in darkness, the door had closed behind me and the cook, likely assuming I’d headed back to bed, had turned off the hall lights, so I was surrounded by lightless shadows and black, and yet on that warm summer evening I was seeing my old things. I was nostalgic again, and as in a dream things were hazy, but my memory had remained so intact and strong. I was able to trace the steps my little legs would take to jump those two steps to the soft earth and race across the west lawn to where I’d leap into my father’s arms, and he’d dance holding me and my mother close. Like a specter, I am frozen in time standing in the grass, but in my memory the dark lawn is lit up with so many torches that I can see the sparkle in my father’s beautiful blue eyes. I take off running again, must like I did when I was a child, only there’s nothing there now…only darkness. My memories fade, and I turn around to realize I’ve ran so far I can barely make out the house, much less the veranda. I’m lost in the darkness of a moonless evening, trapped alone on the highest point of a rolling hill that sweeps from the west lawn to the east, a full grown woman trapped not just by a frightened body, but held hostage by the misery that is nostalgia.
The gas lamps are below along the properties edge. I’m halfway to where they are blazing with a burning temper. They impose on me in a way they hadn’t before. Before, I’d been happy to see them lit, happy to see they’d lasted as long as they have, happy to see that someone was maintaining the pathway I’d hiked alongside my grandfather countless times; now, despite providing a small amount of light which was solace in the darkness, they seemed threatening. They weighed heavy on my heart, and each burning lamp was a reminder that there was no recapturing my youth because the real joy of the inn was the people who’d inhabited it alongside me and they’re all gone. I felt mocked by the dancing flames, and ached to snuff out every flame of those imposing gas lamps. And, just like that, I was crying again…The girl who never loved, never cried had cried now twice in one evening and begged the universe for love… What was happening to me?
No father. No grandfather. I’m all alone, I thought. Perhaps that is why the lamps were so intimidating? They were the only witnesses to deep and meaningful conversations I’d shared with the men I’d trusted to look after me, and the one I’d trusted to keep me safe and who’d made the terrible choice to take himself out of my life forever. For the first time in what felt like decades, I remembered what it felt like to hold hands with my father and grandfather and happily hike the mile’s journey passed the gas lamps to the vineyard on the other side. The sound of my labored breathing due to falling tears interrupted the silence and I wished desperately that someone would come along because I was so completely and desperately alone.
And, there she was the pale, raven haired girl. I could barely make her out from so far away; I’d forgotten I’d put myself on an adventure to confront her for her late-night knocking, and catching a glimpse of her heading between the two tallest gas lamps, which mark the entrance to the trail, was proof that I’d not imagined her and it was a welcome distraction from my sad thoughts and memories. I called out, but she’d already disappeared between the trees. I gave chase once again and raced down the hill while taking care not to trip on the pieces of a large retaining wall whose cement pieces jutted out of the ground like ancient ruins forgotten by time, but not forgotten by my inner child who seemed to recall every dip and divot in the great lawn. Just as I hit the trail’s entrance, I saw her dark hair disappear around the bend and caught the color pink on the ruffles of her shirt before she blinked out of sight again. I scratched my head and wondered why she was running and how she was able to keep such a quick pace when I was out of breath and panting, and no longer capable of moving faster than a light jog.
It was too hot on the path to continue running. Wide enough for three people to walk if they stayed close together, the gas lamp torches lined the entire narrow path and it was hot traipsing through the center of it between the burning lamps, which lined the path at alternating positions and beyond which there was a tree line, which looked like a tall black wall impenetrable by sight in the darkness. It felt like I was cooking in a narrow oven, but I continued a brisk pace down the curvy trail jogging around corners and admiring how well the space had been maintained. It was free of brush and roots and that meant someone had been caring for it, yet Nancy had indicated it wasn’t frequently used on account of the electrical issues. Around another corner, I catch sight of her determined face. She’s pale, pretty, and likely to be around my age, early-thirties. She’s wearing a pink sweater and shades of lighter pink from a t-shirt billow out from its bottom edges and catch in the wind as she runs, but that’s all I can make out before she’s disappeared around another bend. Did she not see me, I wondered? I wasn’t so far behind, but there was a slight chance she didn’t know she was being followed, or perhaps she thought I was chasing her.
“Hey,” I called out. “Wait up! Please, I’m in a bathrobe and slippers! I saw you back at the Inn!”
There’s no way she didn’t hear me, and then it occurred that maybe she was in danger; why else would she be running out of the hotel and into the woods so late at night.
“Do you need help?” I shouted. Suddenly, my shouts were haunting me in the forest which was too eerily quiet. I trailed off, no longer wishing to experience the chilling vacancy of a forest which answered no reply to my calls. No response, and yet I was certain I’d hear it if she’d yell and she must have heard me; although, judging by the pace she’d kept thus far, she was likely to have covered a lot of ground. I kept rigidly still and listened intently for any sound from the forest, a rustling of leaves or the familiar kee-kee of a small killdeer which nested in tall trees and was known to sing its gentle song at night. The forest was silent except for the hisses of gas being burned by the lamps whose flames danced menacingly over my head.
“What’s this chick’s problem?”
I wondered aloud, but under my breath. I had to break the silence, so I started walking and listened to the sounds my slippers made kicking up dirt and leaves.
“Am I even sure this is the woman that knocked on my door?”
The knocking was so hard and heavy… It suddenly occurred to me that I’d never asked the cook about the knocking. The soft, gentle tapping could have been anything. At the time, I was convinced someone was knocking, but perhaps it was another noise; perhaps, it was some noise associated with the nocturnal activities of my carnal neighbors. And, the cook was awake. Was he responsible for the knocking? Had he accidentally knocked on my door? He was certainly more capable of pounding out such loud knocks; more so than the small woman I was chasing through the woods at night. Despite this logical reasoning, I continued to walk, one fuzzy slipper in front of the other. Just as they had in my youth, the torches casted more of a shadow especially when one spits a bit more gas and the flames flicker higher and catch on the iron sides of the windowed box that housed the flames and stopped them from sending embers into the woods to catch fire. These shadows had a chilling effect on me and slowed me down. I wanted to catch up with her, but it had to be well after midnight and I was only halfway down the path. It was still another half mile at least to Bianchi winery, and there was no telling even if that’s where she was heading, and if it is did I really wish to follow? Would I go knocking on a stranger’s door at midnight to ask after her? And, what if I couldn’t find my way through the rows and rows of grapevines to the main house with no light to guide me? In my youth, I’d held my father’s or grandfather’s hands and he’d led the way, but I’d never gone walking in the darkness by myself. I couldn’t fathom what had possessed me to go running around the property in my pajamas in the middle of the night to chase some woman who clearly did not want to be caught, and I had that childlike feeling that something sinister lay around every corner and the silence of the wood was unnerving. I beg nostalgia to give me a break and stop reminding me of the times I’d ventured into these woods alone, never at night, but even in the day it could be a creepy place, but hadn’t there been noise? Birds chirping? Bull frogs croaking? I told myself it was only quiet because the forest’s creatures had heard us running, and that had scared them into silence, but that didn’t explain the lack of crickets or any sort of rustling, and somehow the gas lamps actually made the woods seem darker as they cast no light behind them but for a few inches.
“Stop.” I whispered. My feet obeyed and stopped their slow shuffling. There was no point in chasing her. The whole thing had been an exercise in futility and it had left me rather exhausted, and impatient for my bed and the relative safety of the inn. It was all too odd and imposing and that feeling had come on so suddenly, like the shift from a strange dream to a full-on nightmare, and what was I even doing near Seneca Lake? I promised myself that tomorrow I’d give up the foolishness and take the borrowed car, sure to arrive sometime in the morning, and head to my mom’s and never look back. I take one more look around and realized I’d made it to the old bench; it was just sitting there, beautiful, a safe place to rest tired legs. I’d spent a great deal of my youth sitting on that bench, greeting people as they made the mile trek to the vineyard or bird-watching with my grandfather. I couldn’t resist relaxing on its warm wood one final time, at least to catch my breath before I turned back.
It had held up so well, a testament to my grandfather’s ability to work with his hands, but still surprising none the less considering the areas harsh winters. I’d have to thank Mr. Belanger for doing such a great job maintaining the old pathway and keeping the elements from ruining the bench that had meant so much to my youth. It was all too obvious that I’d grown; my legs no longer swung just above the ground. I was all at once overcome with emotion, both happy and sad, content and longing, nostalgic and stuck in present-day realities. The pressure my brain felt was overwhelming, so I closed my eyes and slumped down in my seat until my head could rest against the back of the bench. I don’t know if I fell asleep, but when I opened my eyes again everything had gone dark. If I thought the gas lamps were imposing before, I hadn’t yet felt the very real and much worse imposition of impenetrable darkness because I was plunged into darkness and immediately I longed for the lamps to cast light on my way again. I couldn’t see the hand in front of my face. I blinked many times, closed my eyes tight, prayed for the lamps to come on, and then opened my eyes again. They adjusted only slightly to the darkness that impeded my ability to see the path, which with all its twists and turns would be impossible to navigate in the darkness. How had every single gas lamp simultaneously gone out like that? I guessed that was what Nancy had meant when she’d said they were broken; that’s why it wasn’t recommended that guests come down here in the evenings. I estimated myself to be about three quarters of a mile in. Sometime in the last few minutes, a breeze had set in and without the warmth from the gas lamps, my body grew cold and I shivered both from the cold and from the panic that was beginning to set in. The darkness was weightier, thicker than when there’d been light, as though I were swimming in Jell-O and my legs went rubbery when I stood up, so I immediately sat back down and tried to clear my head which was swimming in thoughts, such as worries that I’d get lost in the woods and devoured by a bear or freeze all night waiting for the sun to come up.
For the second time that night, tears slipped from my eyes and slid down my cheeks. The tears further blinded me, but I stood up anyway. It occurred to me that I could use the lamps to guide me. They weren’t so far apart… If I went slow and kept my bearings, I could make it home. It was so dark, so thickly dark, but with ringing ears and a body on the edge of swooning, I stood up and lunged across the path and took told of the lamp directly across from me. I grasped the pole, which was frighteningly cold. It wasn’t even a little bit warm, which caused me to push off from it and my legs, still wobbly, collapsed underneath me so I was sitting in the dirt. It took me a minute to find the slipper which had slipped off my foot and landed at the path’s edge, thankfully not in the woods.
“Get it together,” I whispered.
I wiped the tears from my eyes, took a deep and steadying breath, and then stood tall on my own without support. I took a few more deep breaths to steady my racing heart. The whole experience was maddening. I prayed it was all a dream and that any minutes I’d wake up in my comfy bed, back up in the Josephine Suite, my old room. The chilling breeze drew me back to reality. It wasn’t a dream, so I had two choices: stay in the woods or use the lamps as a guide to escape the woods. The crunch of leaves somewhere behind me gets me moving, and I touched the cool lamp again and speed walked to the next. A second crunch, louder and nearer to me, causes my heart to sink to my stomach. I hold desperately to the lamp post and struggle to see into the darkness. My heart sinks further when I heard the faint click of a cigarette lighter, which ripped through the silence of the forest like a lion’s roar, vicious and unmistakable. I know that sound. I couldn’t forget that sound. My grandfather made that sound all the time when he lit cigars with a silver Zippo lighter. It wasn’t my imagination. Sweat poured from my temples to my chin despite the chill in the air, and I didn’t bother to wipe it away. I was stunned, shocked still and white knuckling the lamp post because I had nothing else to hold onto and no way to see in order to run.
“Wh-who-who’s there?” I stuttered.
I prayed it wouldn’t be my grandfather who answered. I’d run screaming into the forest if it were him. I lean toward the sound, trying desperately to see and praying that it was the dark-haired girl; perhaps, she’d returned to check on the crazy woman who’d been chasing her earlier. I gently sway in the stranger’s direction, listening for another sound and praying I would not hear one. The lighter clicks again, does not light, and shivers are racing down my spine. A third click causes the flame to ignite finally and it’s the outline of a man before me, which causes my heart to sink further into my stomach and I was suddenly nauseous. I felt as though I’d swallowed a handful of pills and they were swirling about in my tummy. Thankfully, it wasn’t my grandfather’s shape before me. He wasn’t slim and tall, but rather rotund and short. Seeing a stranger in the woods left me longing for ghosts because it was completely dark and he was eerily silent; clearly, I thought, he is here with plans to kill me. The odor of a fragrant cigar filled my nostrils and despite that it was terrifically sweet smelling, it threatened my already fragile stomach and I coughed but held back vomit. Quite suddenly, my fear spurned me to action and I stepped away from the lamp, my only guide in the darkness, and backed away from the man. I planned to turn in run, but first I would watch him to make sure he didn’t come any closer.
“What are you doing out here by yourself?” He spoke, finally. “All alone in the dark.”
“None of your business.” I fired back. “Stay away from me.”
“Calm down.” He said, and I heard the unmistakable crunch of leaves as he moved toward me, but could not see in the dark to be certain.
“Stay back.” I cried.
“Relax.” He said. He sounded gentle and concerned. “My name is Aldo Bianchi. I own the winery at the end of this trail… Just up the way there. Do you need help?”
He spoke gently, slowly, as if he were speaking to a woman on the ledge of a building about to jump off. He thought I was crazy, and all at once I wasn’t surprised by that considering I was out in the woods alone and in the dark, wearing only a nightgown, robe, and slippers. I recognized the name; although, it took me a moment to recall him. I was still suspicious because how could I be certain he was telling the truth. I took another step backward when I could see him coming toward me in the dark, his hand just visible inches away. I turned to flee, but tripped over an exposed root. Aldo leaned forward and gave me his hand, but I refused to take it. He placed it into his pocket instead and dug around looking for something; a gun? A knife with which to slip my throat?
“Relax.” He said in a calming tone, still speaking to me as though I were crazy. “I’m going to give you my lighter. You’ll need it to see… Unless you prefer to continue wandering around in the dark?”
I reached up and took the lighter from his hand. He kept his hand open, and I placed mine in his and he helped me to my feet. I’m grateful and less afraid, and once I light the lighter I recognize his dark features and know that he is telling the truth. He’s a grown man, older than me, and incredibly handsome.
“Aldo.” I whispered.
“At your service.” He answered coyly.
“Do you remember me?” I ask.
“I can’t say I do, but it’s hard to see out here.”
I moved the lighter closer to my face, but was careful to keep it away from my hair which breezed around my face in the breeze which had appeared once the light had disappeared.
“Miranda Knight.” I said cautiously. It took him a moment and then he said, “Little Miranda Knight.”
“At your service.” I said with a laugh.
“Of course I remember the little girl with bouncing curls who used to run through my father’s grape fields with wild abandon.”
“Well, I’m not so little anymore.”
“Even in the darkness I can see that.” He said, and I could sense him sizing me up. I couldn’t see his eyes, but I could feel them tracing the contours of my body barely illuminated by the flame of his tiny lighter. My arms and legs lit up in goose pimples, and I was all at once excited to see the boy I’d forgotten I’d had a bit of a crush on growing up.
“What are you doing out here, Miranda?”
“I was following a woman… She was running from something… See, she knocked on my door… I’m staying at the old inn, and she knocked on my door and then ran away.”
“So, you were chasing a woman who knocked on your door?”
He sounded incredulous and I was terribly embarrassed. I attempted to explain myself better by describing her pink shirt, long dark hair. His body tensed; even in the darkness I could see him stiffen. Perhaps he saw her too, and that’s why he shuffled on his feet. I asked him if he had, and he laughed casually and spoke in a perfectly relaxed tone, which did well to ease my initial nervousness.
“I haven’t seen a woman, but I haven’t been out here long.”
“Do you know if the gas lamps will come back on?”
“They haven’t worked in years.” He said matter-of-factly.
I wrote a brand new book, and it would be amazeballs if you would read it. As always, free copies to anyone willing to leave an honest review on my Amazon page. So far, feedback has been great for this sexy, new paranormal romance.