My Niece and Nephew joke that I could open a used book store with all the books that I own. I love to read, that is my addiction. I can't go a week without going to a book store. I love watching CASTLE. I love to write stories and poetry. I also love my family, even though they make me crazy at times. I am a huge Donald Duck Fan.
The Whitfield Estate is hidden deep in the Big Thicket outside of Soda, Texas. This reclusive family brood amassed their oil and timber fortune over four generations, and now that it’s been done, they have become painfully aware of how isolated and broken they are as a family.
Tessa Nettles, fresh from college, is hired as the estate manager. But her main role is to help the youngest Whitfield, Caroline, have a more normal life. She has been cloistered away at Whitfield for the whole of her first fourteen years. Now, her oldest brother, Grayson, wants to make a happier life for her than he and his brother, Travis, had.
But first, what will he do about the strange lights that fall from the sky over the Trinity River, and their connection with the mysterious voices at the end of the road, the voices of entities that have secretly been Caroline’s only friends her whole life? But are these ghostly entities dangerous? And will they want Tessa gone from Whitfield?
Will Old Gullah Woman and Preacher Man be allowed to stay on in the rundown river cabin, stirring up the waters and calling down the mysterious lights? Or will the Whitfield matriarch run them off, even after their Gullah potions kept her husband alive two years longer than the doctors could have?
And will Tessa bring harmony to the estate, or set off a competition between the brothers that has the potential to destroy the Whitfields completely?
Other books in the Ghosts of the Big Thicket Southern Gothic Mystery Series Include:
Twyla Ellis is a descendent of pioneers who came to Texas in the 1840s, while Texas was still a Republic. She grew up roaming the dense pine forests in the Big Thicket around Livingston, Texas at the homes of her grandmother, great-aunts and uncles, and cousins. Her family was one of the founding families of Livingston, and her great-great-great-grandfather was the first city treasurer in the eighteen-forties. She fell in love with the haunting feel of the Thicket, its sounds, and sights, and smells. Her goal is to make people aware of the mystique of this novel part of Texas.
She holds a degree from Howard Payne University and had taught English and Music, and has been a member of NEA, TSTA, and TETA. She was a statewide officer and conference speaker with TETA (Texas English Teachers Association). She has run her own children’s party and event planning business, Parties by Twyla, as well as Remembrances Antiques and Gifts in the Houston area. She is certified in computer graphic design and free-lances in her spare time.
Nothing makes her happier than road trips with her family to interesting old Texas towns. She loves church, antiquing, fossil hunting with her husband and sons (they hunt, she writes), Big Bend, the Alamo (don’t all Texans?), exploring deserted buildings with a camera, and especially, the Big Thicket of deep East Texas.
If she had to give you a one-sentence bio of herself, she would probably say, “That obnoxiously joyful, hug-driven, southern relative that you’d like to hide in the attic, just might be me.”
After his heart was broken by his first love, Kamden Stone avoided romantic entanglements. He lives in the moment, taking partners who understand his desires and know things will end after one encounter. He’s comfortable with the life he’s carved out for himself, refusing to need anyone or anything until a young woman he can’t stop thinking about changes the game.
Everly Mason moved to escape toxic family ties. All she wants is a fresh start and a new life. The house left to her is the perfect place to fall, isolated and in the middle of nowhere, providing plenty of work to keep her occupied. She’s on the right path, taking things one day at a time, when she’s introduced to a mysterious man she can’t stop thinking about.
Despite everything, Kamden and Everly can’t deny their chemistry. When they agree to a trial period, curious to see where things will go between them, they discover they need each other in a way they never thought possible. When the time comes, they’ll have to accept what they want and need. To be together, they both have to find a reason to make them stay.
“How old are you, Everly?”
Relief coursed through her. Was that the problem? She did look young for her age. She’d been told she’d appreciate that later in life. Did he think she was too young for him? If that was the issue, she could ease his concern. She was definitely of legal age.
“Twenty-two. I’ll be twenty-three in March.”
“I’m thirty-four.” He made it sound like a bad thing.
She figured as much, although he could shave a couple of years and pass himself off as a younger man if he wanted to. “So?”
The response surprised him. “That doesn’t bother you?”
The men she’d dated had been in their early twenties, and they hadn’t left behind good impressions. Both had wanted to go to parties, hang out with their friends, and play video games. They were also complete slobs who lived off their parents, worked part-time jobs, and were lazy as hell. The only time they spent alone with her involved sex that, most of the time, didn’t do anything for her. It was the reason she’d broken up with both of them within a year.
“No,” she answered firmly, meaning it, “it doesn’t.”
He took that in, clutching the steering wheel. “It should bother you, darlin’.”
It was the second time he’d called her that, meaning he had to have some kind of interest in her. For some reason, he didn’t want to let things happen as they should, keeping himself distant and apart. She didn’t know why, but she wasn’t going to let him dodge her anymore.
“Don’t tell me what should and shouldn’t bother me. I’m a big girl, and I can make up my own mind. If that’s the problem, I can tell you the age difference doesn’t matter to me. It’s just a number.”
“You also don’t know anything about me.”
That much was true, but she wanted to. “Then tell me all about you.”
His gaze darted to her, his fingers gripping the wheel tighter. “I’m not sure I should.”
“You don’t sprout fur and howl at the moon once a month, do you? Or go around drinking people’s blood? If not, I think I’m good.” Her attempt at humor worked. She could see him trying not to grin. “I don’t frighten easily.”
“I don’t do that, but I can be beastly on occasion.”
About the Author
Aline Hunter has written stories featured in horror magazines, zombie romance anthologies, and flash fiction contests. Her work has a dark undertone, which she credits to her love of old horror films, tastes in music, and choices in reading, and has been described as “full of sensual promise,” “gritty and sexy,” and “a breath of fresh air.”
A Southern California landmark primarily known only to law enforcement earned a reputation for crime scenes of the most unspeakably vicious homicides. Infamous serial killers had chosen this location to discard and display their victims as trophies of their horrific deeds. Lieutenant Scott Hunter must lead a team of detectives to identify and capture a perpetrator who’s targeting young women, and has chosen this landmark to showcase his victims.
This story is a work of fiction, but the Orange County location is real. So notorious, in fact, that those officers working the graveyard shift need only radio their activity at a site bearing two words, and they are immediately dispatched a back-up officer to the “pepper tree.”
As a young patrol officer, Hunter had been introduced to the “terror at the tree” on an evening when he turned his police cruiser down that dusty road separating asparagus fields, and discovered a corpse hanging from a low-hanging limb. But now as the leader of the Robbery/Homicide team, he received that most dreaded call interrupting the stillness of the night, a body dump.
Like the mast of a majestic clipper ship rising vertically through the horizon, the trunk and its heavily leaved branches interrupted the monotonous plane of the two-lane roadway. Interstate 405 ran parallel to Barranca Road, giving motorists driving northbound from Sand Canyon to Jeffrey Road an expansive view of the tree and its surroundings. Bordered by asparagus fields, Barranca was seldom traveled, but the pepper tree announced its presence, and the density of its foliage shielded the most unspeakable of crimes.
By day the tree was odd; almost enigmatic. Why one, rather than a row? By night, it was an ominous adversary; in particular, to the officers of the graveyard shift. Most activities observed were cars with fogged windows, or simply the impromptu beer bust. But for the serial killer, it seemed to be a magnet that hypnotically drew the perpetrator toward the culminating acts of his horrific crime. It was the kind of place training officers, would admonish trainees to pay particular attention to possible ambush, proper illumination, and the avoidance of passing in front of spotlights, and backlighting you as a target.
This evening was going to prove to be the very thing about which Officer Jim Janowitz had been warned. When his flashlight revealed the woman’s leg, the history of this site flashed before him within a millisecond. Serial killer Randy Kraft had been convicted for the murder of a man whose body had been dumped at this very spot. The newspapers had sensationalized the crime by sharing that a four-foot twig had been stuffed into the victim’s body cavity. Two months prior to the discovery of Kraft’s crime, Gerald Shill had chosen this tree to dispose of a prostitute he had shot to death. Now this.
Janowitz hit the high beams and directed his driver side spotlight across the hood of his cruiser, while with shaking hands he radioed for back-up.
The spotlight illuminated her entire body from feet toward the crown of her head, as she lay prone, and nude from the waist down. Her dark hair, draped over the shoulders of a blue long-sleeved blouse, was matted with blood that sparkled from the beams of light projecting from the idling patrol car. With his flashlight in his left hand, he got out of the patrol car leaving the door ajar.
As he awaited the arrival of what would soon become a busy crime scene, Janowitz surveyed the open field leading from the tree to the freeway, straining to see any signs of human shadows that might have fled upon discovering the approaching sedan bearing an overhead light bar. He rounded the trunk and ducked below the flashing amber caution light, carefully stepping toward the body, scanning for threats, while trying to avoid trampling evidence. He swept the immediate perimeter ensuring there was no further danger, and checked the victim to confirm that she was, in fact, deceased.
The familiar roar of an accelerating V-8, signaled to him that help was on the way in the form of the Area 4 car, manned by Officer Karl Peterson.
As Peterson’s cruiser approached from the north, he could see the tree awash in the lights beaming from his partner’s patrol car. The scene appeared surreal – a pale, mannequin-like figure lying face down in the dirt, at the base of a huge tree, with a slender uniformed officer standing over the body.
“You call a supervisor?”
“I phoned Austin. I heard him radio that he was Code 7 (meal) at Denny’s and figured he didn’t hear my call; the reception’s so bad there,” Janowitz responded, gesturing with his cell phone.
“Let’s get a unit to block Barranca at Sand Canyon, and another to block it off at Jeffrey. I’ll call it in, and you can start setting up a cone pattern for the crime scene.”
“Austin can make the call for the homicide team.”
Sergeant Richard Austin’s supervisor’s unit lumbered down the potholed, graveled asphalt of Barranca Road. The 20-year veteran was in a sour mood. Although he was the senior supervisor in Patrol, he was forced by policy to rotate onto graveyards for a three-month stint, and he had just sat down for dinner when this dead body call came out. He had a feeling that he would be standing a long time, and his back would be smarting from the weight of his Sam Browne gun belt. It was day three of his 4-day work week, and it looked as if his uniform wouldn’t make it to day four before needing dry cleaning. Austin slowly strode from his unit toward Janowitz after glancing at the body.
“Are you sure she’s dead?”
“I checked carotid, no pulse. I looked for lividity, and saw signs of blood pooling on the exposed extremities – knees, thighs…”
“This is Irvine, Janowitz, America’s safest city; we generally frown on this type of activity.” Austin responded sarcastically.
The sergeant then began to approach the body, tracking across the dirt shoulder of the road.
“Sarge, careful, there’re some footprints around her that aren’t mine.”
“I’ve handled more dead bodies than you’ve taken petty theft reports Junior.”
Janowitz hoped Austin’s bluster was compensation for the sobering scene that lay before them. Viewing bodies was, unfortunately, part of the job, but what appeared to be a beautiful girl being discarded at the foot of this tree seemed, well, monstrous.
Austin reached over and separated several strands of the victim’s dark brown hair glued together with dried blood, revealing what appeared to be an entry wound.
“Well, Janowitz, looks like this young lady has a bullet hole in her skull. I’ll call Homicide.”
About the Author
Dave Freedland is a 34-year decorated law enforcement professional having served with the Irvine (California) Police Department. Following a competitive athletic career culminating with the award of “UCLA’s Most Valuable Gymnast,” he graduated 1st in his Sheriff’s academy class. As a SWAT team leader and commander for over 25 years, he supervised operations for numerous barricade and hostage incidents, and was the recipient of several awards including “Police Officer of the Year” and the “Meritorious Service Award.” He retired at the rank of Deputy Chief, and currently holds a 6th degree black belt in Japanese Shotokan karate. His first novel, Lincoln 9, was Oak Tree Press’ best-selling book on Amazon in 2015. His second novel, The Pepper Tree, published by Aakenbaaken & Kent, received a 2018 manuscript award from the Public Safety Writers’ Association.
Vana, the math prodigy with a voice that is 85% Sarah Vaughan, 10% Billie Holiday, and 5% Aretha Franklin and an attitude to match. Desperate to leave her chaotic family and become the independent woman of her imagination, she lands a summer job on an aging Greek cruise ship as a member of the house band.
Marko, who failed his university entrance exams, is on the trail of bouzouki god Markos Vamvakaris, in hopes of claiming his own artistic identity.
Stepan, agronomist, accordionist, occasional mystic, has spent the last ten years hopelessly, secretly in love with his only friend.
Stranded in the surreal microcosm of a cruise ship, the three friends stumble across a series of dark and dissolving frontiers: between love and friendship, memory and forgetfulness, sacrifice and redemption. On this voyage to the heart of an ancient world, can the bonds of a friendship forged in childhood survive the tests of tragedy and self-discovery?
“What if wedon’t go?” Vana tugged at the life preserver belt in exasperation, trying in vain to tighten it around her waist.
“First of all, you must go because it is a law of the sea; they must have a drill for every person within twenty-four hours of sailing, and they will not see you because you are supposed to be my partner, and I will tell them you are sitting in here, and they will dock your pay.” Cristina surveyed her critically. “Second of all, it would be easier if you put it on correctly. Come here. Pay attention to what I am doing because you will have to do the same for passengers in a minute.” She spun Vana around and began trussing her up with a speedy efficiency. “Yes. That is correct. Now, let’s go.”
Vana’s mood had not improved. She had tried unsuccessfully to assert herself in the cabin’s décor, with a small stack of band photos she had cut out of magazines; asking to borrow some tape, she had been told that the wall space was taken, and that any pictures Vana had could be taped above her bunk, “so I don’t have to look at them. Here you have trees and nature—much healthier than a bunch of men in funny-looking clothes staring at you.”
Bo had asked Cristina to kit her out in an Oceanis staff uniform.
“He said medium? Not with those breasts. Large for you, or maybe extra,” she said primly, snatching the blouse from Vana’s hand and replacing it with another. Vana found the uniform both bland and unflattering, something that was designed for men or slender women with no curves to speak of: no darts, no bias-cut, no shape at all. The stiff blouse was tucked into a tube-like skirt that forced her to walk in tiny, insecure steps. It stung that Cristina wore a gauzy gold charmeuse jumpsuit, nipped at the waist and billowing everywhere else; when Vana challenged her, she replied shortly, “I am about to lead the children’s sing-along hour after this. Therefore, I am working; therefore no uniform.” Trudging along down the corridor behind her, staring daggers into this person with her petite but saucy hips, her cascading curls, oiled and fragrant, Vana had a rare attack of insecurity. She thinks I’m fat and ugly, she thought. I work for an hour every morning to make myself look presentable, and she just gets out of bed like that. She reflected ruefully on the lovely, lacey, and very expensive underthings that spilled out from Cristina’s side of the armoire, that she would rummage through every morning before shutting herself in the microscopic lavatory to dress. I probably couldn’t even fit one leg in some of those panties. She winced at the thought of her own ironclad, prosaic bras—her mother’s hand-me-downs—full of points and bones and sturdy, inhospitable clasps, gone gray from over washing.
My mother made me an orange dress her favorite color and Sofya is walking toward me smiling with two hands full of leaves and bits of dirty grass and twigs and calls out Look what we’ve got here, it’s a great big pumpkin and she releases the leaves and twigs above my head and they cascade down, some of them get caught in my hair and then the other girls are there picking the rest off the ground and stuffing them in my ears, laughing, Look, this pumpkin’s got vines growing out of its ears and I couldn’t do anything but feel the tears on my face taste the snot on my lips, I couldn’t move couldn’t run and with these things you never remember the end because there isn’t one.
Marko and Stepan were already on deck when the rehearsal drill began with a five-bell warning. Neither had ever worn white trousers before; both were acutely aware of how distinctly un-nautical they looked doing so. They were discussing the relative degradation of their costumes versus that of the uniforms.
“The uniforms are worse, without a doubt,” Stepan said definitively. “If ever there was a need to make you feel completely unmanned, this is the answer. You can’t hide anything—not even your underwear.”
Bo brushed past. “Hey guys, go down to your assigned floor and start knocking on doors. Make sure that everyone is out and help them with their lifejackets.”
This took some time. Marko and Stepan suspected that many people hid in their rooms until the drill was over. Others flapped about hopelessly in the lifejackets, fussing over one another; a group of older men, perhaps reliving some military aspect of their youth, practically stood at attention, ready to remand the women and children into the lifeboats. A blowsy Englishwoman in her late sixties held a Bloody Mary in one hand and tried to guide Stepan’s hand to her lifejacket tapes with the other. “I jus’ need a little help, sweetie, that’s all!”
One of the military men hustled her away. “Shut up, Marsha, for God’s sake. You’re making a fool of yourself again in front of these foreigners.”
Once back on deck with their herd of passengers, Marko and Stepan had to line them up in front of the appropriate lifeboat and try in vain to hold their attention throughout the endless, multi-lingual PA announcement that described in minute and mild-mannered detail everything that would happen in the event of a catastrophe.
About three-quarters of the way through the announcement, the captain appeared. He was a smallish man and surrounded by a flock of officers; to Marko and Stepan, only the peak of his cap and the flash of a waving hand was visible. He sped by and to the passengers, he called as if by way of apology, “Hello, the less you see of me this cruise, the better! Then you know all is well!”
Two things happened. The captain and his entourage swiftly rounded the prow and disappeared, the announcement droning on although the passengers had all stopped listening (“Why, I didn’t even see what he looked like!” “Where are you from, honey?”), and there was a small thud from the lifeboat group to their left, followed by a commotion.
A Filipina lay on the deck, unconscious. “That’s one of the ‘toast girls,’” a grandmotherly American observed to Marko. “They bring breakfast to your cabin and toast and tea when you’re too sick to leave.” She clicked her tongue sympathetically. “The way they run those girls off their feet, I’m not surprised to see them collapsing.”
Marko turned to say something but Stepan was gone.
“Sorry, out of the way please.” Stepan kneeled beside the woman, taking her pulse, brushing back her hair with his palm. “Move back; she needs air.” Her eyes opened slowly, but her soft-featured face was drained of color; her fellow group leader, another “toast girl,” stood with her hand over her mouth, staring at her prostrate friend. “Go get Mr. Taranto, now,” he told her, and she fled inside the ship.
By the time Bo had been found, she was sitting up against the lifeboat hoist, trembling. Stepan, on one knee beside her, rubbed her hands with his and spoke to her gently; one passenger dabbed her face with a wet handkerchief, another offered her broken bits of biscuit.
“What’s going on?”
“I think she’ll be all right. She said she didn’t eat breakfast this morning.”
“Take her to the doctor just to be sure. Not that it’s something catching. I’ll radio her that you’re coming.” He bent down to grab her hand. “Can you walk?”
She looked at him dazedly. “I think so…”
“Good. Stepan here will go with you. Quick thinking, by the way! Where’d you learn all that stuff? Red Cross training?”
Stepan shrugged. “I did my military service with a medical unit. You pick up things.”
The drill had by this time ended, and Vana, eager to leave her partner, came in search of the other two. “What was all that?” she asked Marko as Stepan led the toast girl away, her arm draped around his shoulder.
“Just Stepan playing ‘Young Pioneers First Aid Badge.’”
“Really? That’s odd. I wonder if he would do that for me?”
“Maybe you should faint and find out.”
About the Author
Lori Frey Ranner is a New Orleans native and Oxford-trained Byzantinist. For the past twenty years she has taught history, theology, and Classics in various New Orleans institutions. Married and mother to three children, Sailing to Byzantium is her first novel.
Join the Townsbridge siblings as they risk scandal in the name of love. As a bonus, find out how it all began in a special prequel featuring their parents.
If you love Regency romance, you’ll simply adore the Townsbridges…
Once Upon a Townsbridge Story
The time has come for George Townsbridge to marry. But how can he convince Margaret to give him a chance when he is rumored to be the exact sort of man she hopes to avoid?
When Love Leads to Scandal
When Charles Townsbridge meets a beguiling young woman in the park, he’s smitten. Unfortunately she’s his friend’s fiancée, so he knows she can never be his. Or can she?
Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match
James Townsbridge dislikes Lady Abigail, but circumstance forces the two into marriage. Now, as he gets to know her better, might he discover that his perception of her was wrong?
Falling for Mr. Townsbridge
When William Townsbridge returns from Portugal and meets his mother’s new cook, it’s just a matter of time before he loses his heart completely. But is a shared future possible?
A Duke for Miss Townsbridge
Sarah Townsbridge knows there’s something wrong with the duke next door, so she decides to save him. But is she prepared to fall for a man who has sworn off love forever?
An Unexpected Temptation
Athena Townsbridge ruined Robert Carlisle’s chance at marriage once. Will he keep holding a grudge when she tries to make amends, or will he start seeing her in a new light?
About the Author
Born in Denmark, USA TODAY bestselling author Sophie Barnes spent her youth traveling with her parents to wonderful places all around the world. She’s lived in five different countries, on three different continents, and speaks Danish, English, French, Spanish, and Romanian. But, most impressive of all, she’s been married to the same man three times—in three different countries and in three different dresses.
When she’s not busy dreaming up her next romance novel, Sophie enjoys spending time with her family, swimming, cooking, gardening, watching romantic comedies and, of course, reading.