Sunday, December 09, 2018

Christmas Carole is out from Changeling Press!

You’ll want a visit from these Ghosts of Christmas Yummy…
Carole Elzer is no Scrooge -- she loves Christmas. But when she’s visited by the ghost of her best friend and business partner, Marley, Carole learns she must make amends for something she hasn’t done -- otherwise, Marley warns, she’ll spend the rest of her life in anguish and guilt.
She’s guided on her voyage into Christmas Past, Present and Yet to Come by three sexy spirits, all of whom look just like her partner, Bob Crockett. Bob is still grieving for the wife he loved and lost years ago, but Carole nurses a guilty love for him.
As Carole explores her past, present and future with her handsome spirits, she realizes just how high the stakes are. Bob’s young son Tim’s life hangs in the balance. If she doesn’t learn how to save the child, none of them will ever again know a merry Christmas -- and she and Bob will have no future together.
Changeling Press    Amazon      Barnes and Noble    Kobo      Apple

I turned to continue up the stairs -- and gasped.

Parked on the stairs ahead of me -- stairs that had been empty a heartbeat before -- a hearse stood, its back hatch swung wide to reveal the coffin inside.

Lurching backward with a yelp, I barely saved myself from falling with a frantic grab for the banister. I spun and raced back down the steps so fast, it was a miracle I didn't break my neck. At the bottom, I wheeled to peer back the way I'd come.

The stairs were empty.

Dumbass, what did you expect? No way in hell could a set of hundred-and-forty-year-old steps support a couple tons of hearse.

It hadn't been cannabis that cake had been laced with. It had been LSD.

Bob. I needed to call Bob. Six-foot-four with a broad, muscular build, Bob Crockett could handle anything. One call and he'd be here in ten minutes. Back in his hard news days, Bob had covered everything from shotgun murders to high-speed chases, and nothing shook his cool. Not even his business partner's overactive imagination.

But it was Christmas Eve, and we'd spent all day working that wedding because the bride's family had written us a check with a lot of zeros. I wasn't about to drag him out of bed now. For one thing, he shouldn't leave his twelve-year-old son home alone just to calm me down.

Tim had gone along on today's shoot, just as he'd been doing from the age of five. He'd always been a laughing, bright-eyed boy, but his mother's death had left him pale and quiet. He'd seemed particularly withdrawn today.

Damned if I was going to bother them because visions of serial killers danced in my head. Instead I stood at the foot of the stairs, concentrating on getting my racing heartbeat under control.

I kept a Lady Smith .38 in my upstairs closet. Bob had bought it for me one Christmas, then dragged me to the range to practice until he was sure I could hit what I aimed at. "I've covered too many fucking murders," he'd told me. "If you're going to live alone, you're damned well going to be able to defend yourself."

Now I took back every time I'd teased him about his paranoia.

Pulling my cell out of my pocket, I started up the stairs almost as fast as I'd come down them. If I heard so much as a floorboard creak, I was calling 911.

And tell them what? demanded the voice of common sense. That your doorknocker turned into your dead partner's face and you saw a hearse parked on the stairs? The cops'll search the house for drugs.
Damn it. No cops.

I hurried up the steps and down the hallway to the master bedroom, flipping on lights as I went. 

Pausing, I gave the room a once-over. The brass bed was neatly made under a beautiful heirloom quilt I'd inherited, like the house, from my grandmother. An antique cherry armoire and bureau stood along opposite walls. Next to the bow window, the Christmas tree was draped in twinkle lights, swags of gold tinsel, and wooden replicas of Victorian toys.

I closed the door behind me and hurried to the antique cherry armoire, where the Lady Smith resided in a top shelf gun safe. Fingers flying, I punched in the code and pulled out the matte black automatic.

Yep, fully loaded, safety on.

Feeling a lot more secure -- and a bit stupid at my freak-out -- I put the gun down on the cherry nightstand and started undressing. We always dressed up for weddings, but shooting video requires stringing cable on your hands and knees. Not the kind of thing you do in a dress and hose. Today I'd worn a black wool pantsuit and an ice-blue silk blouse. For a moment, I distracted myself with the memory of Bob in a suit. The jacket had needed no padding to call attention to his broad shoulders, narrow waist, and long legs. Not to mention that perfectly muscled ass...

Cut it out, Carole. No lusting after Marley's husband.

Still, I loved the intent look he got in those gray eyes whenever he was setting up a shot. There was something sensual in the way his powerful hands gripped one of our commercial-grade video cameras, balancing it effortlessly on one strong shoulder.

Thinking about Bob drained the last of my anxiety. I pulled on flannel pajama bottoms and a T-shirt, then crawled into bed. Settling back on the pile of fat pillows, I picked up my phone and opened my Kindle app, meaning to read until I got sleepy.

I did a search on the word "Christmas," meaning to pull up one of the holiday romances I'd collected over the years. The first thing that popped up was A Christmas Carol, one of Marley's favorite books. Every single year, we'd ended up watching one of the many TV or film versions of the classic. She'd told me once the book had fascinated her when she was a child because Scrooge's ghostly partner, Jacob Marley, shared her name.

I suddenly remembered a scene from the book that hadn't been in any of the movies. On the way up the stairs to his bedroom, Scrooge had seen a steam-powered hearse on the steps. My subconscious must have dredged up the memory and produced the modern-day version.

Weird.

I clicked on a promising historical and settled back against the pillows to read. I'd just begun to sink into the lush world of Regency England when a sudden sound jolted me.

Thump clatter rattle thunk clatter.

My head snapped up as my skin went cold, my heart beginning to pound. That was not the house settling. Something was coming up the stairs.

"Shit!" I snatched the gun off the nightstand and flicked the safety off, pointing it toward the door. The clatter grew louder. My terror spiraled until I had to clamp a scream behind my teeth.
Marley floated through the bedroom door.

She wore the dress she'd been buried in, the same bright yellow chiffon tea-length gown she'd worn to marry Bob thirteen years ago. Her skin glowed with an eerie, pearlescent sheen, her long sable hair floating around her face as if she were underwater. Thin cords wrapped her body, each hung with glowing rectangles. One of them spun toward me, and I realized it was an iPhone.

"I guess that's better than chains and iron account books." My voice sounded so high, you'd think I was five. "What... What the fuck, M... Marley? You weren't a miser, and you..."

She shot at me like a comet, USB cables and phones whipping around her. She stopped, her face an inch from mine, her features contorted with a rage I'd never seen there when she was alive.

I recoiled against the pillows so hard, I felt the press of the bed's brass spindles through the fabric. 
"Marley, what the..."

"This isn't about me!" she shrieked. "It's about everything else you've ignored!"

I jerked, nerveless fingers losing their grip on the gun. It tumbled off the bed and hit the rug with a thump. Not that it would've done me any good. She was already dead.

Part of my mind was gibbering, This is not real this is not real this is not real! But it felt entirely too fucking real. She smelled of decaying leaves and wilting lilies, the smell so strong I almost gagged. And the air around her was so cold, breathing seemed to freeze my lungs.

"I... I never ignored C-Christmas!" I babbled. "Bob and Tim are coming for Christmas dinner tomorrow, and I've got him an iPhone..."

Marley's eyes blazed red. "You think all my child needs is a meal and toys?"

Instinctively, I thrust out an arm to push her away, but my hand sank to the wrist into her glowing, insubstantial body. It felt like I'd plunged it into a half-frozen pond. As my skin began to burn, I jerked back, cradling my hand against my chest. "What... what do you need me to do?"

"I don't need a damned thing," she hissed. "I'm dead. You need to be worried about the living. You need to care about someone other than yourself and your own pain!"

That stung. "I care about Bob and Tim! I've done everything for them I can think of, anything they've needed..."

The rage on her face was terrifying, and not just because she was dead. "Right, you care," she sneered. "But do you care enough to actually pay attention?"

"Pay attention to what? If you'd just tell me..."

"It wouldn't do any fucking good! It would end the same, in darkness and anguish. You'll have to learn the hard way." She floated backward a little, and I managed to drag in a breath that didn't sear my nose with cold. "Three spirits will visit you. You'd better learn what they teach, or you'll wish to God you had!"

Somewhere on the first floor, the antique grandfather clock began to chime, bonging its way to midnight. Marley floated backward, her eyes never leaving mine as she stared at me with such fury and betrayal, it felt like an ice pick to the heart.

"I'm sorry," I gasped as she began to sink into the door as if she were submerging in a pool of water. "I never intended... Marley, whatever I did wrong, I'm going to fix!"

"Prove it!" she snapped, and vanished from sight.

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