Sunday, February 9, 2014

Escape to Penny Hollow in Haunt Me by Heather Long

Recently divorced author MacKenzie Dillon has lost her writing mojo. When she inherits her great aunt’s haunted house in Virginia, she is determined to make a new start. The creepy old house provides inspiration but at what cost?

Successful architect and paranormal skeptic Justin Kent returns to Penny Hollow to fulfill his father’s dying wish of revitalizing their small town. To do that, he needs the allegedly haunted estate at Summerfield. Mac, the new owner, may be gorgeous and spunky, but she refuses to sell.

These two have a dangerous history that spans the ages, but will they discover the truth in time to save their lives?

Enjoy the following excerpts for Haunt Me:

Excerpt #1
In the kitchen of her great-aunt’s home she’d inherited a week before, MacKenzie Dillon leaned against the counter and stared at a chocolate bar. She knew she’d left it on the counter by the door. But now it sat next to the sink. Nudging it back to where it belonged, she blinked hard as it began the slow slide back. Either the house was tilted or her grandmother’s ghost stories were more real than she remembered. Either way, she wanted that darned chocolate to stop playing games with her.
She grabbed the bar, unwrapped it, then broke off two full rectangles, popped them in her mouth, and sighed as the chocolate melted on her tongue. Heaven, after living on a diet of freeze- dried noodles and tap water for weeks, courtesy of her ex-douche. Although if I had actually paid attention to the finances instead of trusting him, I would’ve known what he was up to.
Closing her eyes, she did a mental count to ten, twice. Just thinking about her ex caused her an instant headache, but her life would be okay. After dealing with a silent muse for months, she’d been overwhelmed with the desire to start writing the minute she’d stepped foot on Summerfield. She could do this—write a great book and kick-start the next chapter of her own life.
Getting a divorce? Four thousand dollars. Moving to Virginia? A couple hundred dollars. Hiding away in a haunted house and finishing a book? Priceless.
Her cell phone rang in her back pocket. She pulled it out, only to glare at Kevin’s number and face that appeared on the caller ID, then declined the call from her ex-husband. Her life now was all about the future. Bigger and better things.
And right now, the only obstacle to getting her better and brighter future was unpacking the U-Haul.

Ready to get back to work, she headed out the open door. In the U-Haul, she grabbed a box, only to have the lid pop open. She stared at the number of unfamiliar books inside. They were old, some plain and well-worn. She flipped open the top book and read the first page. A diary?
Now she remembered. She’d received the box along with the notice from an attorney that she’d inherited Summerfield. As tempting as it was to start reading the books now, she made herself put the diary back and closed the lid. She could read them later, she promised herself. After she’d unpacked, settled in, and started in on her new book.
“It’s all going to work out,” she told the box as she folded the lid shut.
“Everything happens for a reason.”
“Does it?” A purely masculine voice echoed behind her. MacKenzie screamed and jumped. The box fell, hitting her foot, and she had to steady herself with a hand on the wall of the trailer. She stared at the blond Adonis blocking her exit. Six feet of pure, masculine sex appeal stood before her, wearing well- worn jeans and a plaid button-down and attractive enough to eat. Broad-shouldered and thick-chested, this was a man who worked hard rather than worked out.
Down, girl.
He grimaced and held up both hands. “Sorry. I thought you heard me pull up.”
“Clearly not.” No way she would have missed him if she had. “May I help you?”
“Justin Kent.” He took a step forward and picked up the box. “Your neighbor.”
She knew that name. Had heard from his lawyer several times since she’d inherited Summerfield. So this is the guy who wants to buy my house... He wasn’t exactly a welcome sight. She reached out and took custody of her box. “MacKenzie Dillon. Not selling.”
At first she didn’t think he would let it go, but then he relented and turned sideways to let her exit the U-Haul. She made it two steps when she realized he’d grabbed another box and was following her.
“Seriously, Mr. Kent. Not interested in your offer. Told your attorney three times, in fact. I think I was pretty clear.” Although, two people could definitely off-load the truck faster—and he was so not hard on the eyes. But she didn’t want to accept help from someone who wanted something from her. She’d had enough of that.
She took a closer look. He’d seemed so solid, dwarfing the interior of the little trailer, but outside of it? Tanned skin crowned by wheat-blond hair and those blue, blue eyes were the icing on top of a very attractive beefcake package. Not interested, she reminded herself. Moving to Summerfield was supposed to be a new beginning for her. Lusting after her neighbor—who, in turn, was lusting after her property—was the last thing she needed. Hell, she hadn’t even fully moved in and already a ghost was making its presence known.
Haunted house for the win.
“Helping you unload is about being neighborly,” he said. “I don’t mind, especially since it seems like you’re on your own. Besides, it’s a guy thing.”
“Alone doesn’t mean helpless.” Defensiveness edged her tone, but she didn’t care. Sure, it would be nice to have help, but she couldn’t afford any more bites taken out of her pride. “I’m fine. As you can see, I’m almost done.”
“Uh-huh. Well, just point me where you want this to go and I’ll help you finish.”
“Nothing personal, but I just met you, and I would really rather you didn’t come in my house.” She slid the box she carried onto the counter and turned to catch the one he had, effectively blocking him from entering at the same time. The shirt did little to hide the flex of his muscles and she tried to ignore the flutter in her stomach.
Surprise filtered through his expression, and his mouth tightened. “My apologies, Ms. Dillon. I was just trying to be neighborly.”
“Really? Were you just being neighborly when you doubled your offer to buy my house? Or was it more neighborly to let me know about all your plans and how I was getting in the way of what my great-aunt really wanted for the town?” Guilt stabbed her at the less than hospitable reaction, but dammit, she held her ground.
“All right, then.”
The nonanswer didn’t do much for her, but the corners of his eyes crinkled. Her heart did a little back flip at his easy smile, but she reminded herself no one looked that good and turned out to be. Her ex had been a damned attractive man, too.
Once burned, lesson learned.
But he didn’t leave. He pivoted and walked back into the trailer, retrieved another box, and returned to the door before she could slam it shut. He held the box out, being obvious about not crossing over the threshold. The corners of his mouth curved upward when she grabbed it from him.Then he turned and left her to gape at him as he strode back to the trailer. His jeans stretched taut over his rear, and she snapped her mouth shut before she started drooling.
She gave up. He could help if he wanted to.
Twenty more minutes later, between them they’d off-loaded all but the furniture. A fort of cardboard, stacked two-deep in front of the kitchen cupboards, surrounded the two of them. Sweat soaked her shirt and her throat had gone dry. She grabbed two bottles of water from the fridge—one for her and one for her irritating yet hunky neighbor.
“Water?” She held out her peace offering.
Justin accepted it with a smile. “Thank you.” He twisted the cap off and took a long drink. Sweat darkened his gray T-shirt, which clung to the damp skin beneath. “That bed frame in the U-Haul is pretty heavy.” He cast a sidelong glance at her.
“I’m a lot stronger than I look. I can handle it.”
“Or I could help you.” He pointed out the obvious, all reasonable-like.
Amusement bubbled up, surprising her, and she wrinkled her nose. She shouldn’t laugh, because it might encourage him to stay. “You don’t seem to take no for an answer.”
“I didn’t step a foot inside your house, per your request.” He gestured at her with the water bottle. “But it’s hot out here. And you’re on your own...”
Again, he sounded perfectly reasonable, but that didn’t change the fact she didn’t know him, and if she were honest with herself, she didn’t want to know him. This move was about finding who she was without a man in her life, without all the shadows, doubts, and insecurities that came from her past. Thank God for Aunt Katherine and the out-of-nowhere inheritance.
“I’m sorry. You’re trying to be nice...”
“But?” He raised his eyebrows, not bothering to disguise his amusement at her predicament.
“But I’m not comfortable asking anyone for help—especially the person who wanted to buy my house.”
Instead of answering, he tipped the bottle of water up and drained it. After recapping it, he handed her the bottle. Then he stripped off his shirt.
All the moisture fled her mouth at the ripple of muscle. He tossed his shirt on the counter, headed back to the U-Haul, where he lifted the heavy footboard with a flex of those same muscles.
“You...” she sputtered.
“No worries.” He exhaled the words on a hard breath. “You didn’t ask for help.” He carried it right on inside, leaving her no choice but to follow.
It took Justin less than ten minutes to unload what few pieces of furniture she’d brought with her. When the U-Haul was completely empty, he dusted his hands on his jeans and strode outside. On the porch, he paused and turned back to face her. “By the way, welcome to Penny Hollow,” he said. “And I’m right across the street if you need anything.”
Right across the street must mean the positively gorgeous Southern plantation house up the half-mile-long gravel driveway, across the two-lane road, and down a bit. If that was his house, he hadn’t been exaggerating about being her neighbor.
Puffing a loose strand of hair away from her damp forehead on an exhale, she nodded to him. “Thank you for your help.” When he grinned slowly, her stomach did a little flip.
“You’re welcome. Not that you asked for any help.” With a wink, he was off. Electricity sizzled over her. Damn if he doesn’t look as good walking away as he did arriving.
Excerpt #2
A little over an hour later, in the town’s only grocery store, she studied the produce offerings. Prepackaged sliced veggies, or fresh produce? The packaged ones would save her time when it came to cooking. Seriously, how often am I going to cook?
She liked to cook, but between the much-needed work on the house and the book she had to finish, she didn’t have time for a lot of meal prep. She tapped a finger on the cart, then winced. The split nail still hurt.
If the town had a food-delivery service, it would make her life easier, but pizza wasn’t even delivered out where she lived. She’d made do with ramen noodles three nights running when she’d roused herself from writing long enough to search for food.
Her phone buzzed in her pocket. She pulled it out to see another call from Kevin. Tension squeezed her chest. Would he never leave her alone, or did he plan to haunt her forever? She clicked ignore and focused on finding groceries.
“Maybe sandwiches would be better,” she muttered.
“For what?”
The bubbly voice came from directly behind her and sent
Mac’s pulse rabbiting. She turned to find a beautiful blonde pixie, beaming at her.
“Sorry!” A musical laugh accompanied the apology. “Hey there, you’re new—and it’s terrifically unfair of me to ambush you here in the produce section, but I’ve been wanting to meet you and when I saw you here, I said to myself, Jock, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for, so go say hi. Besides, it’s so much easier to ‘run in’ to someone at the grocery than it is to wander up a
driveway, you know?”
Mac backed away, but the girl edged her cart to the side and
joined her.
“This isn’t the best season for squash,” the girl continued, “but
the eggplants should be great, and Wilson’s just delivered some of the fattest, juiciest tomatoes you’ll ever experience. Do you like to cook? I suppose you’d have to, considering you haven’t been to any of the restaurants. I would have come out to see you sooner, but I had to register for my classes and move into my dorm. But I’m back for the weekend.”
The girl who called herself Jock picked up one of the zucchini and pretended to look at it, but her gaze never left Mac’s face. Bright blue eyes seemed to be assessing every aspect of her, from her appearance to her reactions. Mac regretted not having at least glanced in the mirror before walking out of the house. Casting a surreptitious glance down, she managed to not groan. She’d thrown on a tank top and pair of denim shorts—hopefully both were clean.
“Anyway, I hope you’re not having too much trouble out at the Summerfield house.We’re all very well aware of the reputation and no one would think twice if it was giving you the creeps. I have no idea how old lady Summerfield could stand it”—Jock dropped her voice to an almost conspiratorial whisper and leaned uncomfortably close— “though the rumor is, she went quite mad living there.”
Mac backed up a step and tried to keep her attitude casual. “I—”
“Oh, I’m sorry, that was more than a little tasteless of me.” Jock bit her lower lip and grimaced. “Sometimes my mouth jumps ahead of my brain. While she did get a little dotty in her later years, everyone thought the world of Miss Katherine. She was a part of our town and our community. She wanted what was best for it.”
“Jocelyn Marianna Kent.”
The clipped syllables of a full name, coming from a very male voice, drew the blonde up with a jerk, and she snapped her mouth closed to glare at Justin, who stood two feet away, arms folded.
No wonder the woman seemed familiar, Mac realized—she had to be one of Justin’s siblings.
“Really, Justin? You’re going to growl my whole name like I’m some errant five-year-old?”
“You’re late. We need to go.” He jerked his thumb toward the door. “Move it. Leave Mac alone. Hey, sorry about her.” He gave Mac a brief smile.
The apology in his words did nothing to diminish the heat scorching her as his gaze collided with hers. Her tummy did a little somersault.
“I wasn’t bothering her.” Jocelyn tossed a beguiling smile at Mac. “Was I? I was just saying hello.”
Charmed despite—or maybe because of—the overabundance of personality, Mac held out her hand. “MacKenzie Dillon.”
“Oh.” Jocelyn smacked herself in the head before grasping her hand. “Jocelyn Kent, if you didn’t already know from Justin’s rude interruption—but everyone calls me Jock. Don’t mind him, by the way. He’s grumpy.”
He is going to be late,” Justin growled, but beneath the impatience and timbre of his voice was a clear affection for his sister. “And you’re supposed to be at school.”
“Not twenty-four/seven,” she snapped back at him, but her smile rebloomed the moment she looked at Mac. “If you’d like, I could show you around—introduce you to some people. Let you get a real feel for the town. Though I’m really not sure what a big-name author like you could enjoy about Penny Hollow. We’re about as far off the beaten trail as you get. In fact, you’d probably need a backhoe to find the beaten trail around here—”
“She won’t have time for any of that. She has to go.” Justin’s
expression waffled between exasperation and amusement, but Jock didn’t seem to notice.
This side of Justin fascinated Mac. His affection for his sister seemed so different than how Kevin had treated her—no. No more thoughts of him. She wanted to enjoy Justin for Justin.
Jock’s face tightened with a scowl as she glared at her brother. “Are you an only child, Ms. Dillon?”
“Yes,” Mac admitted.
“You are so lucky. Brothers are a pain in the ass. Look—” She dug around in her purse and pulled out a pen and notepad. “This is my number. Call me. We’ll do coffee. I’m only a few hours away and I get back here on the weekends. I can also tell you everything you ever needed to know about the town.”
She all but thrust the paper at Mac. Only when their hands brushed, Jock blinked furiously. “Wow,” she said, breathlessly.
Mac pulled her hand away and waited. Wow, what?
“Jock, I swear to God, if you don’t get your butt in gear and head back to school, I’m going to toss you in back of the truck.” Clearly Justin was not nearly as charmed by his sister as Mac was. “Sorry, Mac. I’ll get her out of your hair. And don’t forget—I’ll be by your place around five.”
Those few words sent her awareness of him rocketing...or maybe it was the way his gaze lingered on her.
“I’m leaving.” Jock made it three steps before she pivoted and looked Mac square in the eye. “And you should be careful at Summerfield, Ms. Dillon. The Summerfield Curse is a very real thing. The women who live there...they’re never happy—hey!”
Whatever else Jock might have said was cut off when Justin made good on his promise by swooping his sister up and throwing her over his shoulder. He gave Mac a wink and a smile before marching away with an air of grim determination, leaving his sister to wave at Mac before she began beating on his back.

Excerpt #3

Mac waited on the porch until Justin showed up, a burly, spotlight- sized flashlight in his hand. Fortunately, she’d found a pair of shorts on the washer, or she’d have been standing out there in her tank top and panties.
“Hey,” he said, sweeping his gaze over her.
Laughter gleamed in his eyes, but she couldn’t fault him for making fun of her. She hopped from foot to foot. “Thanks for coming.”
“Sure thing.” He turned the beam from the flashlight toward the darkened house. Lightning flashed in the distance, illuminating his amused face. “Ghost chase you out?”
“The power went out and the door is stuck.” She crossed her arms, mallet in one hand and phone in the other. She wasn’t letting go of either. Her heart continued to race, and she tried hard to keep the sob catching in the back of her throat from making an appearance.
Justin paused and turned the flashlight back on her. “Hey,” he said, taking a step toward her. His humor sobered to concern. “It’s an old house. We’ve got a storm coming. Chances are it’s just a blown fuse. I’ll fix it, okay?”
Not trusting herself to speak, she simply nodded.
“Mac.” Justin gave her arm a squeeze. “Really. Happens all the time. You want to come with? Or go wait in my truck?”
At least he’d managed the offer without making fun of her. Stop being a chicken... But she couldn’t resist staring up at the dark house. It seemed so much more ominous in the occasional flash of lightning. “I’ll go with.”
“Okay.” He held out his hand, and she passed him the mallet.
To his credit, he simply nodded and took the lead. She followed him and fought the urge to grab his shirt and hang on. He went to the fuse box first, but a few minutes of fiddling didn’t earn them any results. When he would have left the mallet behind to head out to his truck, she picked it up.
Justin glanced at the mallet but didn’t say a word. He put a hand on her arm, and the contact soothed the nerves doing jumping jacks in her belly. Supplies in hand, he went back to the kitchen, but the lights still wouldn’t come on. “All right, chances are it’s something at the power station’s end. I’ll make a couple of calls. Let’s check the door next.” Halfway down the hall, he motioned for her to stop. “Watch your feet.”
She glanced down at the shards of lightbulb glittering under the powerful beam of his flashlight.
“Stay right there,” he told her. Glass crunched as he made it to her door. It opened the moment he twisted the knob.
Mac wanted to cry. “I swear it wouldn’t open.”
“I believe you,” he said swiftly—almost too swiftly. “It’s late, you’re exhausted, and I think you could use a break from what goes bump in the night—especially with the storm rolling in.” Despite his tone, Justin wasn’t laughing at her. He could have— particularly after their conversation about ghosts. “C’mon, why don’t you come back to my place? You can have a guest room. We’ll come back and fix this in the morning.”

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