Laura James froze in her tracks.
Good heavens, was that Brett Mitchell in the gazebo? Back in high school, every girl in Crystal Falls had a crush on him. He graduated a year ahead of her, in her sister's class, and had left for college.
Handsome as ever in a uniform shirt and jeans, he wolfed down a sandwich. Laura hadn’t expected him to return to Crystal Falls, especially not with a father like his.
She heard a noise behind her, and a sudden, sharp pain pinched her behind. With a shout, she leapt into the air and whirled around.
An open back beak jabbed at her.
"Ahhhh!” She flailed her arms at the oversized bird. It headed for her sandwich. Laura swung her purse at a wing. The swan dodged flying makeup and keys.
“Awwwk!” With beady eyes aimed for attack, its long white neck thrust toward her.
Laura threw her purse at the bird and turned to run. The swan bit her butt again. She yelped and ran, looking back as it nipped at her heels.
Suddenly she hit a wall of hard flesh. Strong arms lifted her off the ground. She spun around and landed with Brett Mitchell between her and the swan.
His nearness took her breath away.
My best friend is a ghost, but sometimes I forget she's dead.
I discovered Lilah at the end of June when my family moved into this old mansion on the remains of a Georgia cotton plantation. It's not as grand as it sounds. The house is practically falling down around us and the live oaks, lining the drive, drip with grey-green moss. Very creepy.
The owner, Bill Richardson, lives in Oklahoma. He hadn't been able to keep a tenant for more than a month in the ten years he'd owned it. I bet that's because of Lilah.
I keep trying to guess when Lilah lived, but it's hard to tell. She looks like a pretty normal girl, except she's all silvery-white, so I have to guess at colors. Her hair is dark, like frosted coal, and she wears it in two long braids, the kind where each braid starts right at her forehead and ends in a little ribbon bow. She wears loose fitting jeans and a short-sleeve plaid shirt. My jeans aren't baggy and rolled up at the ankles, but I have a shirt that looks just like hers. Her shoes are the biggest clue. I described them to Mom who said they were called saddle shoes, because the darker piece of leather that runs across the middle looks like a saddle. I don't know anyone who wears shoes like that.
She's really a very nice girl, but most folks aren't too keen on chatting with the dead. Me, I'm used to it. Mom says I'm psychic and, since not every twelve-year-old talks to dead people, that I should keep this stuff to myself.
My name is Hannah Barnes and my family's been here in Fraser, Georgia about six weeks. Before that, we lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Dad met Mr. Richardson when he did some repairs on the guy's office. Richardson liked Dad's work and offered him this gig. A free place to live if Dad would make the needed repairs to keep the place standing. He forgot to mention the ghost.
Dad's making good progress restoring the mansion to its former glory while Mom works in town as a legal secretary. She tried helping Dad with the restoration, but the mansion makes her jumpy. She says the only way she can live here is to escape for forty hours each week.
Lilah and I try to help Dad as much as possible, but he gets jittery whenever Lilah hands him a tool. I guess it's 'cause he can't see her. Maybe flying nail guns would freak me, too. Anyway, he asked me to keep her away from his work area, said it wasn't safe for little girls to play with power tools. Right. He never had a problem with me helping him in Tulsa.
So, until school starts, I've got nothing to do but shoot the breeze with Lilah. Killing time with a ghost has its ups and downs. Lilah's shown me all the house's secrets from the priest hole behind the cellar wall to the loose floor board in the attic where an ancestor kept her diary. She's even shown me cool stuff on the grounds, like the secret spot under the roots of the huge, live oak by the river. The only thing she won't do is go beyond the big iron gate that separates the driveway from the road.
“Shut the door, Bobcat.”
Traci choked on a scream. “Wh…what?” It had been Corky's voice, or someone who could sound exactly like him.
“Shut the door, will you? I don't think Mom could stand the strain, do you? She doesn't look so good.”
Corky again. His voice…but where was he?
Scanning the room with bulging eyes, Traci slowly shut the door. She didn't want to but she also didn't want Mrs. Evans to hear her…or him. If there was indeed a him. “Where…where are you?” She'd play along with the full knowledge this was an elaborate, not-very-funny hoax. Nevertheless, she kept her voice slightly above a whisper.
“Over here, on the bed. I haven't figured out how to make myself visible yet. I can make a few sparks, but that's about it.”
Traci swayed where she stood. She stuck her hands behind her to brace herself against the door. Her heart had lodged somewhere between her tonsils and her voice box.
“Come on, Trace! You've never been a coward. Don't start wimping out of me now. I thought you'd never come over.”
Coward? Her? Absolutely, and she wasn't ashamed of the fact. “You…you…” It was no use. She wasn't getting much past the heart in her throat. She tried unsuccessfully to swallow it. Corky was a ghost, yet he was talking to her as if he'd never died.
“Man, I see you've lost most of your baby fat. Guess chasing boys will do
that to you.”
It was Corky all right. He'd always had the knack for ruffling her feathers. She licked her dry-as-a-bone lips and tried to talk again. “You…” Okay, so she had a voice, but it sounded like it belonged to someone else. “Is…is that really you?”
Charlie finds romance of her own with Kyle from next door, and she tells him about meeting Harm. A practical rancher, Kyle cannot accept the presence of a ghost. His reaction to her abilities leaves Charlie no choice but to help Harm find his true love without Kyle’s help.
Join Charlie and Kyle as their relationship swings from the highs of new love to the dark despair of shattered dreams.
Moonlight Dancer by Mona Ingram, available from Climbing Rose of The Wild Rose Press.
Excerpt from Moonlight Dancer:
“Hello again.” She stilled. Could it possibly be him again? Still holding the broom in one hand, she turned slowly. He was there, a faint smile playing around the corners of his lips. “I was hoping to see you here today.”
She studied him openly. It was easy to see why Charlotte had fallen in love with this man. He was confidently masculine, and yet the aching vulnerability in his eyes showed how deeply he’d loved her namesake.
“I was wondering if I’d imagined you,” Charlie said finally. “It’s not every day a person talks to a ghost, you know.”
He nodded. “I’m as surprised as you are.”
“Yes. Nobody has ever been able to see me before.” He looked at her curiously. “You’re the only one." The light caught the gold flecks in his eyes. "Do you mind?"
Opening the door to room five-o-five, Freshman English, I slid in quietly and scurried to my seat at the far side of the room. Although I didn’t see Mrs. Warren, I could hear her movement from behind a big pile of books that sat atop her desk. Maybe she hadn’t taken roll yet. I received only a few evil glares as my fellow classmates caught me sneaking in late, but they didn’t dog me. They didn’t want extra homework, either.
“You’re late, Sophie!” Frankie Salas, who sat directly across from me, announced this to the entire class.
I felt every muscle in my body tense.
Frankie turned to me with a grin.
I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move, couldn’t unstiffen my frozen face if I tried. All I could do was stare at my tormentor and think, “Why?”
“Wh…what was that? Someone came in late?” The teacher’s balding head popped up from behind a pile of books in the corner of the room. It took a moment to register it wasn’t Mrs. Warren talking.
Substitute teacher, Mr. Dallin, or as we so fondly called him, Mr. Pick-N-Flick, had been teaching since the beginning of time and he hadn’t earned his booger picking reputation for no reason. He was my oldest sister’s math teacher. She told me he left crusties on her papers at least once a week. He was our sub for three weeks in my seventh grade geography class. On two occasions, I’d caught him digging for buried treasure. He was one reason I carried antibacterial hand lotion in my backpack.
Another one of Dallin’s shortcomings, he had blessedly horrible hearing and eyesight. My lucky day.
“No, no, Mr. Dallin. I said you look great, Sophie.” Frankie winked. “Doesn’t she look great, Mr. Dallin?”
I felt the heat rise from my chest into my cheeks.
I gripped harder trying to keep my sweaty hands from slipping off the steering wheel. I hit the gas andpulled the wheel hard to the left, instead of the right. Coach totally did not expect this, since he told me to go right. It seemed like it took forever for this to register in the Coach’s brain, which gave me enough time to hit the gas again—hard.
Coach was slamming that extra brake on the passenger side that’s installed on Driver’s Ed cars; and our car started skidding.
I jerked the wheel back the other way, still sliding across the wet pavement like we were on ice, and stopped directly in the line of the police cars. Oh yeah, we also did a complete 360. This was actually kind of cool, except that is for the sirens and the cops.
I couldn’t help but think this day couldn’t get any worse. I was losing control of the car, my mind, and I guess, my mouth, too. I started babbling about Chemistry and Mums, and, oh yeah, the cute guy in the backseat, who doesn’t even know I’m alive. It really doesn’t matter because I’ll probably be dead soon anyway!
Angelic Voices by Deb Logan, available from Climbing Rose of The Wild Rose Press
Excerpt from Angelic Voices:
Susie Emerson sucks. I can't believe I ever admired her. Mrs. Davis gave that descant solo to me. My voice was supposed to lilt over the rest of the choir, float to the rafters above the sanctuary, maybe even soar right up to heaven and please God with its sweetness. Until Mrs. Davis reassigned the descant to Susie.
If Susie's mother wasn't the Director of Music at Valley Christian Church, I'd trap Susie in the alley and tear her hair out. Actually, I'd be doing her a favor. That fine, white-blonde, wispy stuff hardly qualifies as hair. If I pulled it all out by the roots, some decent, dark, thick curls might have a chance to grow.
Yeah, I know. Violence is never the answer, but it sure felt good to think about.
"Deanne Lawyer!" Mrs. Davis' voice cracked over my head like a whip and forced my thoughts away from Susie's destruction.
"I asked you to trade places with Susie. I want you to lead the soprano section." She turned to face the other girls as I switched seats with Susie. Mrs. Davis missed the smirk Susie aimed at me, but I didn't.
You are SO toast. I settled into her vacated chair. Your own mother won't recognize you when I'm finished.
I plotted as I sang the melody line to our portion of the Easter cantata. Honestly, the soprano part was so predictable, even the eight-year-olds should be able to sing it without sheet music or my strong voice to lead. In spite of the ease of the part, I still heard Heidi waver off-key, so I turned my head and aimed my clear, perfect-pitch voice in her direction. She pulled into the key and held her own.
What to do about Susie? I wanted my descant back, but couldn't fault her execution of that soaring counterpoint. If only I'd had some warning about her backstabbing. I could've held my own in a fair fight, but when Susie Emerson, my fourteen-year-old idol, pulled in close to me and sang right in my ear…well…it'd take a stronger vocalist than I was at the moment to stand up to Susie's voice and sight read at the same time.
Unfortunately, the same tactics wouldn't work for me. My voice could blow the wax out of your ears, but Susie wasn't sight reading. Like I said, her mom was the Director of Music. Susie had been studying that piece since before Mrs. Davis settled on it. She might've even talked her mom into insisting Mrs. Davis choose it. Score one for 'Sucky' Susie.
Poor Me, by the Mother/Daughter writing team of Dara Edmondson and Raina Edmondson, available from Climbing Rose of The Wild Rose Press.
Excerpt from Poor Me:
Ma's hands were fisted at her sides and she looked ready to burst. "I'm so excited," she said. "It's at that school in Coconut Grove. Remember? I applied over a month ago."
I tried to recall the help wanted ads she'd read me, the ones she'd said sounded promising. There were always so many. "Is that the secretary one?"
"Administrative Assistant, they call it now. Let's go in and I'll tell you all about it." She ushered me inside our tiny apartment.
It took my eyes a moment to adjust to the dim light. Sitting on a plastic kitchen chair, I gave her my full attention. "The expensive private school, right?"
Her head bobbed up and down. "And you'll never guess what they've offered." She pursed her lips and arched her dark eyebrows.
A steady paycheck would be good. Knowing we won't be evicted again, at least not for a while, that would be wonderful. "What?"
"Free tuition." She crossed the room and hugged me. "You can attend Worthington Academy, Jessie. And they don't have lockdowns because someone's brought a gun to school, or graffiti on the walls, or gangs." She stepped away and drew a deep breath, let it out slowly. "It's so scary to send you where I don't know if you'll be safe. This way, you'll get a terrific education and I'll rest easy. And we can carpool."
I swallowed hard. Go to a private high school in Coconut Grove? With a bunch of rich kids? "But all my friends–"
"You'll make more, I promise. Starting at the beginning of the school year, there'll be other new kids." She shrugged. "And it's not like you can’t stay in touch with Brianne and Nicole. You just won't see them every day, that's all."
I thought about what it would be like, going to a different school, a private school. Girls like me never had opportunities like that. Feeling safe in the classrooms would be nice. Learning something, instead of listening to the teachers yell at the disruptive kids.
It wasn't like I hadn't started over at new schools before. I'd done that loads of times. Every time we had to move too far for me to stay in the same district. No big deal. Standing, I hugged my mother.
"Congratulations. This'll be the one, Ma. The job that'll work. I know it."
So, an Eppie finalist! You must be pretty excited--how did you find out? And what did you do when you heard the good news?
I was informed by an e-mail from the Eppie people. I was thrilled, of course, and the first thing I did was share the news with Jill Williamson, who edited Moonlight Dancer. Where would we be without our editors?Tell me about Moonlight Dancer.
How did you get the idea for Moonlight Dancer?
Moonlight Dancer is set on the Canadian Prairie, where Charlie Mitchell, city girl, clashes with Kyle Fleming, a young man whose future is irrevocably tied to the land he farms with his father. Charlie’s unusual abilities include being able to sense the dreams and emotions of people who have gone before. In her aunt’s farmhouse, she discovers that her ancestor Charlotte had been desperately in love with a handsome ranch hand, Harm. Even though Harm was killed in a rodeo accident before the couple could elope, Charlotte went to the dance hall where they met every time there was a full moon, until she dies of a broken heart.
Alone in the dance hall one day, Charlie meets Harm’s ghost and agrees to help him try to contact Charlotte. When she tries to explain all this to Kyle, who’s a straightforward kind of guy, he can’t quite grasp that Charlie talks to ghosts, and she wonders if their relationship will survive the emotional roller coaster that ensues.
I was traveling in Saskatchewan and saw an old dance hall on the edge of a lake. Built back in the depression years, people would drive for miles to meet and dance there. And believe it or not, it’s still going strong! Maybe I’m a bit like Charlie, but I just knew that there was a ghost in there with a romantic story.
Are you drawn to paranormal stories?
You know, I didn’t think so, as I mainly write contemporary adult romance. But writing Moonlight Dancer has led me down an entirely new avenue. What I like about writing for Young Adults is that they are so accepting of the paranormal…so open-minded.
Are you inspired by any particular music? What's on your playlist when you're writing?
I don’t listen to music when I write, because I’m in the scene I’m writing. But if I did, it would be Andrea Bocelli. I have no idea what he’s saying, but who cares? It’s music to fall in love by.
What was your favorite book when you were a teenager?
I read absolutely everything, but I do remember reading a lot by an author called Sax Rohmer. The main character in the books I read was an oriental gentleman called Fu Manchu. If I recall correctly, they were very violent and gory, but I loved them.
Any other books coming out soon that Climbing Rose readers will love?
My stories percolate around in my head for a long time before I sit down toHow about an excerpt from Moonlight Dancer?
write them, and I have one bubbling away, but I’m committed to a couple of other
books just now, so I’ll have to say no.
Mona, thanks so much for stopping by! And good luck in the Eppie Awards!