Her Haunted Heart

B Mine, Book 2

Book Cover: Her Haunted Heart
Part of the B Mine series:

Keynote:

When an aspiring artist inherits a haunted house, it will take the help of the cute nerd next door, the crazy recluse down the street, and a cat named DeLorean to drive the evil out.

Tagline: When things go bump in the night…

Copy:

When Zelda Shaye inherits the infamous Sazerac House, she immediately senses that something’s not right about the ancient mansion. Strange noises interrupt her sleep, the garbage disposal has it out for her father, and things move on their own.

Zelda’s hot neighbor, Tobe Friedkin, confirms her suspicions when he tells her that the house is known by everyone to be haunted and that members of the Sazerac family suffered mysterious deaths until they were wiped out, leaving Zelda left as the last female descendent to inherit the legacy…and the family curse.

Zelda’s parents won’t believe her, so it’s up to her and Tobe, with the help of the crazy cat lady down the street, to lay the unquiet spirit to rest before it’s too late.

Excerpt:

Chapter One

 

Amteep, Idaho, I981

 

 

He dreamed about the house again.

Even though the Greek Revival-Victorian-Italianate-hybrid mansion on the corner of Sazerac Street and Bourbon Court was next door to the simpler split-level ranch house Tobe lived in, the Sazerac House always gave him the impression that it was in another world entirely.

The sense of otherworldliness remained whenever he looked at the house, whether awake or dreaming. A forbidding energy emanated from the light blue-gray wood siding and darker blue-gray trim. The tall leaded glass dormer windows gleamed with a sentient light. Long, graceful columns, painted the same dark blue-gray as the trim, propped up a covered porch that spanned the entire front of the house. Three levels high, with slate-shingled mansard rooftops and four chimneys, the house dwarfed every other property on the street.

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As he stood on the wide flagstone walkway leading up to the elaborately carved oak front door, Tobe only knew this was a dream because Cecile Sazerac, the matriarch and last member of the doomed family, sat in her dead brother’s rocker outside, watching him through milky, bluish cataracts. Cecile had died of old age two weeks ago. In real life, the house stood empty, locked tight as a fortress.

Cecile lived on in his dreams, beckoning him as surely as the house did.

“That house is cursed,” old Mrs. Waters from around the corner had told Tobe one hot summer day last year after he had mowed her lawn.

As always, the eccentric cat lady had beckoned him to the shade of her gazebo, where a pitcher of ice-cold lemonade and a plate of snickerdoodles waited. The envelope with Tobe’s pay sat on the edge of the Formica table, not to be handed over until he chatted with the old woman for at least ten minutes. At first, he’d been annoyed that she did that to him. After finishing his hired task, he’d wanted to take the promised money and run home to get ready to spend it on books, music, or a night at the movies. Being held hostage by a chattering granny with six cats milling around his ankles had not been his idea of an afternoon well spent.

But he quickly discovered two things that changed his mind: The first was that Edith Waters was painfully lonely. She didn’t have any children and her husband had died ten years ago. No one ever came to visit her, so Tobe was the closest thing she had to a friend, aside from her six cats. Guilt tore at him when he’d come to that realization. If eating her delicious cookies and sitting with her for ten measly minutes gave her such joy, he vowed that the least he could do was try to stay longer.

The second thing he discovered, when he actually started listening to the stories Edith Waters told him, was that the old woman was an interesting person. And she knew things. A lot of things. Like what times Officer Higgins around the block did his nightly patrol through the neighborhood before he returned home to sleep the day away. Useful information when you were a teenage boy sneaking out at night long past curfew, and still useful when you were an adult with other plans. Mrs. Waters also told him that the Hurleys were swingers, the Bawdens were potheads, and that Mr. Arenson had terrible insomnia.

And she knew about The House.

“What do you mean, cursed?” Tobe had asked, trying to conceal his excitement.

Mrs. Waters had scooped Kirk, a brown and gray marbled tabby with a white belly and mismatched socks, onto her lap and scratched him behind his ears. “I mean exactly that. The ground it was built upon was drenched in blood, and people have died since the day the first nail was hammered. The Sazeracs used to be a large and prosperous family. Ten members of the clan lived in that house at one time. The house picked them off one by one. And now Cecile is the last.”

Tobe had listened as Mrs. Waters painted a macabre history of the family who built the place. The Sazeracs, who doubled their fortunes from bootlegging during prohibition, seemed to be doomed to misery. Mysterious deaths claimed some, others disappeared, and at least two went insane, imprisoned in their own minds. Edith claimed that the house had at least four ghosts, and probably more.

His new friend’s stories had doubled his fascination with the Sazerac House. So much that he went to the library and dug up every bit of information on the family and house that he could find. By the time his senior year at Amteep High School had started, Tobe had become an expert on the house next door. And by Christmas break, he’d become obsessed.

The drive to get inside the Sazerac House consumed him. His first few attempts failed. An offer to mow the lawn was declined despite the overgrown grass and tangled garden, and Tobe’s offer at selling candy for a school fundraiser resulted in the elaborate oak front door slamming shut in his face.

But two months ago, Tobe achieved successful entry with honesty. He told the old woman that he’d fallen in love with her house and would love to see the inside, even if it was only the foyer.

Cecile Sazerac squinted at Tobe for a moment before nodding. Her cataracts had gotten so thick that she didn’t seem to recognize him. “Very well, young man. I haven’t had living company since my dear brother shuffled off his mortal coil, so I may as well share a cup of tea with you.”

For a moment, Tobe gaped at her, disbelieving that she would allow him inside and blinking at her odd phrasing. Living company? Did that mean that Edith was right and the house was haunted?

“Shut your mouth before you catch a fly,” Cecile had said drily. “Follow me.”

Tobe passed through the doorway into the shadowed foyer and a shiver darted down the back of his neck. Cobwebs wove through the arms of the wrought-iron coat tree, and the black and burgundy fleur de lis patterned rug beneath his feet was faded and worn. He followed Cecile into a large open room that was illuminated by a brass and crystal chandelier, and full of sheet-covered furniture that resembled Halloween ghosts. Paintings of dour ancestors from the previous century hung on the wall beside a huge stone fireplace.

The dining room was in a similar state of disuse, with sheets on the chairs, cobwebs strewn through another chandelier, and a vast dust-covered table that could seat thirty people. He wished he could peek to see what kind of chairs they were. Chippendales? American Victorians? The big cabbage roses on the late-nineteenth-century wallpaper resembled staring faces.

“Come along.” Cecile’s cane had thumped on the heart pine hardwood floor. “You may join me in the parlor for tea and then you may leave.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Tobe hurriedly obeyed, not wanting to risk her changing her mind and having that big butler/handyman muscle him away. Or worse, for her to call the police, as she’d threatened one of the previous times he’d tried to get inside the house.

The parlor was spotless, with gleaming hardwood floors, plush antique rugs, and fancy objets d’art in an elaborately carved hutch. Instead of dour Sazerac ancestors scowling on the walls, paintings of landscapes and nature added to the room’s welcoming comfort. With the afternoon sunlight streaming in the large bay windows, Tobe saw how old and frail Cecile had become. All those years seeing her watering her azaelas every morning had made his subconscious believe that she was ageless.

But sitting across from her in a velvet wingback chair allowed him to see the truth. Ms. Sazerac’s time was running out. Wrinkled skin, thin as tissue paper, revealed blue veins beneath, her hollowed cheeks were framed with bones that looked sharp enough to cut, and her gossamer white hair with pink scalp showing beneath overwhelmed the faint streaks of red.

“I suppose you’ll ask me if I killed Louis.” Cecile’s words disrupted Tobe’s perusal of her features.

Tobe blinked at the abrupt turn in conversation. “No, ma’am.”

He remembered Louis, the catatonic old man who’d sat outside in the rocking chair on the wide covered porch, staring blankly out at the street. Children would sometimes try to taunt him, but quickly gave up when they got no reaction. A maid came out every twenty minutes to wipe the drool from his chin. Tobe had timed the routine once.

Edith had told Tobe that Louis had once been a wild, rebellious man and a notorious drug dealer, but after multiple times being committed to asylums and several shock treatments, he became a vegetable for the last two decades of his life. He’d died in the winter of 1976.

The old woman pulled him back into the present and continued as if Tobe hadn’t objected to the idea of her committing fratricide. “It doesn’t matter one way or another, since I’ll be dead before the lilacs bloom, but I didn’t kill my brother or my niece. The house took one, the demon took the other.”

“The demon?” Tobe echoed. Edith had mentioned a curse, but not a demon.

For a moment, Cecile stared through Tobe, as if trying to find someone inside him. Then she shook her head and made a shooing motion with one wrinkled hand covered in rings. “Go wash your hands. Dolores is about to bring in the tea and cakes. The bathroom is down the corridor, the second door on the right.”

As he’d made his way down the corridor to the bathroom, every bone in Tobe’s body itched with the need to race up one of the curved staircases to explore the bedrooms of the dead Sazeracs whose stories he’d read in the library.

But as his feet began to stray from the path he’d been directed to take, an icy gust of wind rifled through his hair. Goosebumps prickled his flesh. Was he going to see a ghost? A door across from him creaked open. Tobe sucked in a breath.

A woman in a starched uniform stared at him with narrowed eyes and a suspicious stare. She wasn’t as ancient as Cecile, but she was still old. Her white hair was twisted in a tight bun. She must be Dolores. “The bathroom is through that door. Best hurry. The mistress does not like to be kept waiting.”

Tobe nodded and obeyed, taking minimal time to admire the bathtub and the fixtures on the antique sink before hurrying back to the parlor.

The same old woman served Tobe and Cecile with a tray of tea and cookies. With some of the disturbing history he’d read, Tobe didn’t drink from his cup until Cecile had sipped from hers.

The old woman noticed, giving Tobe a wry smile. “The last poisoning to occur in this house was back in 1931. Besides, I wish you no harm, young man. In fact, I am hopeful that you may be useful in the future.”

“You mean to mow your lawn or to help with repairs?” The cornices over most of the bay and dormer windows were crumbling and the roof was in dire need of new shingles.

Cecile cackled, a dry reedy sound. “Oh, things are too far gone here to bother trying to improve. Leave that to the next one to bear this millstone.”

Tobe felt a twinge of sadness to hear her talk about this beautiful house in this way. How much tragedy and suffering had really occurred under this roof? He remained silent, watching the dust motes swirl lazily in the air, hoping Cecile would continue.

He was rewarded after an endless silence. She leaned forward and seized his hands with wrinkled, bejeweled fingers. “The curse must be broken and the demon must be imprisoned in iron.”

Wow. That was not what Tobe expected “The demon?”

“Iron,” Cecile repeated calmly, as if she were asking Tobe to rake the leaves from her yard. “That’s what they told me.”

Tobe’s arms had prickled with goosebumps at her words. “Who are they?”

Cecile shook her head and blinked rapidly, an unnerving sight, with those filmy cataracted eyes darting around blindly. “Dolores,” she cried out in a shrill voice. “Help me to my bed.”

The maid had rushed into the parlor and glared at Tobe as if he’d been responsible for the old woman’s sudden distress. “You had best leave.”

Tobe had never left a place faster.

***

It was that day Tobe dreamed about. Only this time, he went further.

The wood had creaked below his shoes as he’d ascended the west staircase, the one that led to Belinda Sazerac’s attic room. The one who’d famously gone mad, and been imprisoned for years before throwing herself from the window and falling to her death.

Suddenly, the whole house seemed to spin around him. Tobe clung to the bannister and closed his eyes, overcome with dizziness. When he opened his eyes, he stood before the attic room.

The door swung open before he could reach for the tarnished knob.

A woman in a white lace-trimmed nightgown stood in front of one of the large octagonal bay windows. She swayed back and forth, humming softly. The melody was haunting and somehow familiar.

Tobe held his breath and willed himself not to move. He knew on some primal level that if he saw the woman’s face, he’d lose his mind. Don’t turn around, his mind cried out. Please, for the sake of my sanity, don’t turn around.

The woman turned.

Her face was a corpse’s ruin, cheek and jawbones protruding through paper-thin flaps of desiccated flesh. Insects crawled through the tattered, yellow lace of her nightgown. Her eyes were covered with a rheumy film.

She grinned at Tobe, her brown teeth seeming to be too large for her cavernous face.

“I’ve been waiting for you, young scholar, future kin.” The words emerged in a dry rustle, wind through a tomb. “Help the bearer of the legacy. The demon must be contained.”

She reached for him and—

Tobe jerked awake, drenched in sweat despite the air conditioning blowing from the vent above his bed. He trembled as he rolled out of his queen-size bed and dug his clothes from the pile of clean laundry his mom had set on top of his dresser.

The dream was so intense that Tobe couldn’t stop reliving it, occasionally shivering despite the early June heat. After showering and eating breakfast, he rushed outside, eager to head over to Edith’s house to tell her about the dream. She was the only one who appreciated his obsession with the Sazerac House. His parents thought he needed to see a shrink.

As Tobe’s feet sank into the lush lawn, he froze when two cars parked in the driveway of The House. “Breaking the Law” from the latest Judas Priest album, British Steel, blared from the open windows of the second car, a shiny blue Datsun wagon. The new owners had arrived.

Edith had told Tobe about the family only last week, the day before he graduated high school. He’d been at school, cleaning out his locker, when two men had shown up at the house to look it over. Edith had used her granny-skills to get the story. The Sazerac family hadn’t been wiped out after all. Some distant relatives had been found, but Edith wasn’t told whether the family would be moving into the house. Tobe hoped they did. Especially since one of them clearly liked good music.

His wish had come true. Not caring if he was caught staring, he watched the driver’s side door of the Datsun wagon open and a pair of pale glorious legs step out onto the cobblestone driveway.

Tobe’s jaw dropped when he saw the rest of her. Tall and lean, with dark red hair tumbling over her shoulders, she was the most beautiful girl Tobe had ever seen. Black cutoff shorts hugged her slim hips; threads of denim caressed her shapely thighs. A black AC/DC shirt with the sleeves ripped off revealed slim arms and sculpted shoulders. Her vibrant stance and aura of open energy was the antithesis of the previous owner’s stooped posture and guarded air.

“I think I’m in love,” Tobe breathed.

As Tobe watched her walk to the back of her car and take a cat carrier from the wagon’s cargo area, the house behind her seemed to awaken from its uneasy hibernation.

As if sensing his staring, the beautiful redhead halted and spun on her heel to look at him. When her blue eyes met his, Tobe’s mouth went dry. An electric spark, teeming with stories of the future, jolted between them.

They would do great things together. They would—

Abruptly, she turned her back on him and headed up the walkway to the house. If her reaction to him was any indicator, his hopes of getting inside were crushed.

COLLAPSE

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