Return to Me
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by Madison Layle, Anna Leigh Keaton
Category: Erotica/Erotic Romance/Romance
Description: A woman of mixed race born into slavery found love in the arms of her owner's son. Separated by his death and her murder, she's cursed to live a ghostly life on the land she once longed to flee. Dr. Travis Moreland--internationally renowned expert on paranormal phenomena and a spiritual medium--helps spirits cross over to find peace, but he's never met a succubus. Hearing of homeowners desperate to rid themselves of one such specter, his curiosity is peaked. After he meets Dominique, however, he questions his sanity and longs to respond to the siren's call... Return To Me
eBook Publisher: Cobblestone Press, 2006
eBookwise Release Date: February 2008
5 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [108 KB]
Reading time: 66-92 min.
Passionate Plume: Novella Category--Honorable Mention. "Heartfelt and wonderfully romantic, it never felt lacking anywhere despite being a very short read. Hats off to the authors for penning a memorable romance novel that is sure to win raves!"--Just Erotic Romance Reviews--Rating--5
A ground-hugging fog swirled around Doctor Travis Moreland's feet as he stepped from his gray rental sedan and stared at the monstrous mansion--the pre-Civil War centerpiece of what had been the Beau Vista cotton plantation. The moonlight peeking through thin clouds gleamed off the six brick columns in the front and illuminated enough of the yard for him to make out the landscape and building. The walls, what he could see of them beyond the massive pecan trees, were covered in decades' growth of vines. Two large dormer windows extending from the roof gave evidence of a third floor.
A sweeping staircase led to the front doors on the second floor over the old carriage run. The workmanship, even in the dark of night and despite years of neglect, was evident. This place had once been a masterpiece.
From a short distance away, he heard the faint roll and tumble of the Cane River. Beyond the overgrown hedges he saw the gnarled knuckles of the cypress that grew along the picturesque bayou. The earthy scent of decaying leaves, and the sweeter scent of roses in their last stages before dormancy, wafted on the warm night air. Strings of Spanish moss hung from the trees like tendrils of hair, fluttering in the breeze.
Travis breathed in the scents, so different from those of New York City where he lived when he wasn't on tour, and felt a sense of calm settle over him.
Calm was good. He needed to chill out for a bit before he set to work. This particular case had dropped in his lap just a few days ago, and he hated being rushed.
He closed the door of the car with a soft click and moved to the trunk, popping it open with the key chain remote. As he reached in for his equipment bags, a chill raced down his spine, and the hair at his nape stood on end. He jerked upright and smacked his head on the trunk latch.
"Shit," he muttered, rubbing his head. He glanced up at the dormer windows, half expecting to see an apparition floating there, but there was nothing. Then he turned a slow circle, searching through the rising mist of fog for any living creature that might have given him the willies. He didn't think there were bears in this area. Wolves? In Louisiana? Wait.... Alligators ... Would they come this far from the riverbank looking for a snack?
"Crap, Moreland, get it together." He leaned against the car and rubbed his hands over his goose-bumped arms. He'd been ghost hunting for two decades. What a time to start getting creeped out.
He shouldn't have taken this job. Exhausted from a three-week lecture tour, he should be back home in his brownstone in Brooklyn Heights, curled up in front of a fire with a fat book, relaxing. But no, softhearted guy that he was, when the Grangers begged for his help, he said he'd do it.
The young couple had an annoying presence in the home they were trying to refurbish and turn into a bed and breakfast. So annoying, in fact, that the construction crew hired to do the renovations had walked off the job last week.
How could he say no to a couple of fresh-faced newlyweds whose dreams were so close to coming true?
He hated rushing a job, but time was a factor. Spirits were always more active at certain times of the year--late October being one of those times. He glanced at the moon. Not quite full, yet, but it would be in another couple of days. Just in time for All Hallows Eve. Now was the perfect time for ghost hunting, but to rush a job without the proper preparation? It made him agitated and irritable. Susceptible to his own vivid imagination, even though he knew that ninety-nine percent of all legitimate poltergeists were a simple case of the spirit never making the transition to the Other Side. A larger majority of reported hauntings was false or they were cases that he, in light of science, could easily explain as the result of natural phenomenon. There were no--or at least not many--things that really went bump in the night or tore a man's heart out and ate it.
Though, he thought as he searched through the fog that seemed to grow around him, rising nearly to his waist, there were the odd cases...
"Get it together, chicken-shit," he grumbled, chastising himself.
He turned back to the trunk and started layering on the straps of the bags over his shoulders. First his photography gear, then his electromagnetic equipment, then his sound recorders and microphones. Finally he picked up the small backpack that held a couple changes of underwear, socks, pants and T-shirts.
Weighted down by seventy pounds of electronics, he dug into his front pocket, pulled out the house key the Grangers had given him, and then trudged up the endless staircase to the front door.
He hadn't had time to do his research on the house or property, had no idea what he was walking into, and had only been able to conduct a handful of interviews. He didn't like this one bit. He needed to know more.
The stairs went on forever.
All he knew was that the Grangers--who hadn't actually lived inside the partially furnished mansion as of yet--reported experiencing a few oddities such as items being moved. A simple case of apportation. Even spirits from the Other Side sometimes moved stuff around just to mess with the living.
Travis stopped midway up the steps to catch his breath. Back to the gym for him when he returned to New York. Three weeks of restaurant food and cocktail parties was turning him into a marshmallow. God, he needed to wrap up this case soon; he'd be happy to get home when this was over.
As he filled his lungs, the scent of flowers grew stronger. He tried to make out where the rose bushes might be, but in the dark, with the moon filtered through the mossy trees, all of the shrubbery looked alike. Shadowy sentinels. Solitary. Quiet. And motionless.
Instead, he studied the ghostly white façade of the building and the massive columns holding up the porch roof. At least he hoped the construction was sound.
World Renowned Parapsychologist Found Dead Under Plantation Cave-in
He chuckled at the thought and moved farther up the steps. He should hire an assistant. That's what he should do. Then he wouldn't have to carry all this stuff himself. Yeah, and while he was at it, he could just sit back and get rich and fat and go back to doing parlor tricks.
Okay, he was already rich. He'd worked his ass off for years to build a nice nest egg. So why, when he didn't need a new assignment, had he taken on this particular haunting?
"Ahh, right," he said aloud as he reached the wide landing in front of the door. Because I saw something in the eyes of those young'ns and wanted to help. Because they still have dreams.
A sap. That's what I am.
But there was intrigue, too. The stories from two of the construction workers had definitely sparked his interest. On the hundreds of cases he'd worked over the last twenty years, he'd never actually heard of a ghost molesting a mortal. The construction workers had talked about power saws turning on and off when no one was near. Of nail guns shooting nails while they lay on the ground, sometimes unplugged. All of these occurrences he'd heard countless times before. Ghosts transmitted enough electrical current that A/C power wasn't needed to turn on appliances and such.
No, the two men who admitted to being fondled--that had clinched the deal for him. How many books had he read about succubi? How many times had he wondered if they truly existed? He absolutely, as a man of science, of course, could not pass up the opportunity to ... meet one in person.
That was his real reason, he told himself as he shifted his shoulder, bringing a bag strap higher up so it wouldn't slide off, and juggling the key into position for the door. It had nothing to do with the fact that when he met Susan and David Granger, something had tugged at him from deep inside, something unnamed and a little scary. When he'd heard the name Beau Vista, it had been like a little bell went off deep in his brain, and he had to see the place.
But he wasn't going to go there, because he was a man of science--scientific research, years of study, lab work, and hands-on fieldwork. It didn't matter if he was a medium and talked to ghosts and spirits, or that he'd been that way for as long as he could remember. Gut instinct was not logical, and therefore must not be adhered to. Only science and helping lost souls cross over to the Other Side mattered.
He leaned toward the door to slip the key in the lock, lost his balance when the bags shifted against his side, and landed against the door. It swung open as he stumbled through it and landed on his face amid plastic sheeting and sawdust.
He sneezed. Sneezed again. Pushed himself up on his knees, disengaging his arms from the luggage straps as he went, and sneezed three times in succession.
"Terrific," he muttered, reaching into his back pocket for a handkerchief.
The door creaked behind him, and he turned in time to see it shut. Then he heard the distinct sound of the lock engaging.
His heart leapt to his throat. He pushed to his feet and grabbed the brand new brass doorknob. It wouldn't turn.
"Okay. Okay." He took a deep breath, nearly choked on the dust he'd upset when he stood, and slowly let it out, trying not to cough. "You can stop it right now. I'm not going to play your little games. You're not going to scare me away." Displaced spirits could be such pains in the ass sometimes. He slowly glanced over his shoulder, turned, and tried to scan the darkness of the surrounding room.
Light. He needed light. His eyes had yet to adjust to the room that was pitch black except for the faintest hint of moon glow coming through the grimy front window next to the door. He almost laughed at his foolishness--or maybe it was nerves--but he bit his tongue.
He didn't need light. Ghost hunters work in the dark, you dolt. Yeah, but why was this place giving him a major case of the creeps?
The air temperature suddenly dropped by at least twenty degrees. The hairs on his neck stood at attention.
That's why, he thought, as he dove for the bag that held his Geiger counter.
While he rummaged through the dark, trying to locate his electromagnetic equipment, a brush of cool fingers flitted over his cheek. He froze.
"Who are you?" he asked in the strongest voice he could muster.
The invisible hand fluttered over his jaw, along his throat. He had visions of every horror movie he'd ever seen. The bony hand of Death reaching into his chest to grab his beating heart.
Damn it, not now, he silently commanded his imagination.
"Who are you, and why are you here?" he said again, and then shook his head at himself, a silent chastisement. If he'd taken more time to investigate the history of the place before rushing to the scene, he probably wouldn't have had to ask such stupid questions.
A throaty, feminine laugh filled the room, crackling the charged air around him.
Goose bumps raced down his sides. That invisible hand settled on his chest, over his heart.
He'd never felt a physical touch from a PSI being before. It was new, exciting, and terrifying. No wonder those construction workers had run off.
Damn, he wished he had an assistant to back him up so he'd know that this was real and not his overactive imagination at work. He'd look into hiring one as soon as he got back to New York.
The air temperature dropped some more, and he fought the urge to tremble.
A deeply Creole-accented voice murmured right next to his ear, "Welcome home, lover."