Title: Seasons of Time
Author: Miriam Khan
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Excerpt Heat Level: 2
Book Heat Level: 1
Seventeen-year-old Lara Voight is forced to spend the summer with her stepmom's grandmother, but a ghostly boy in the woods and tales of a nineteenth century murder at the mansion aren’t exactly what she expected.
With her father and his new wife busy with their career, seventeen-year old Lara Voight has no choice but to accept her trip to Spring Mills, Pennsylvania. Her host, Gracen, is as cold and devious as her granddaughter, and Lara continues to experience a burning sensation. The only thing to soothe the horrid pain is the phantom scent that is familiar but hard to recall. When a local girl befriends Lara, she informs her of a girl named Penelope Le Rose who was murdered at the mansion. It turns out it was once known as Montague house.
Lara explores the story further. Gracen is even willing to help, going as far as to reveal a portrait of Penelope who looks just like Lara. Searching for further clues, Lara finds Penelope’s diary and becomes haunted by visions of a ghostly boy who seems angered at her growing affection for Sheba's brother, Will.
The more Lara reads the diary, the more she begins to realize that certain people resemble those described. One of whom could be Penelope’s killer; back to finish her look-alike.
The woman who was lying on her bed was beautiful, with hair a reddish gold and a face as pure white and soft as ivory silk. Although bestowed with love and cherished by those who knew her well, she lacked what most would have called "blessed with substantial wealth." Even so, she imagined she could win the affections of an honorable prince, perhaps a count, a true royal, one who could sustain her heart and flourish within her dreams.
She laughed at her foolishness and stroked the small painting of her beloved, decorated in twine and rose petals she had weaved throughout the night. As she placed a finger to his lips, she marveled at the likeness, wondering if she truly was a gifted artist.
But it was inevitable she would paint him so. He was etched to her mind. Even with her eyes closed, she could see every curve of his exquisite face, the deep earthly heaven of his eyes and sensuous lips. He had betrayed her, yet she still hungered for his touch, she still longed for the press of his lean physique that made her feel light and feverish.
Of course, the wench he craved was rich and that helped her in gaining his attention.
But Elias was hers. Only hers. Not Penelope Le Roses'.
The young woman sat up and grimaced, distorting her cumbersome features.
With her mind set, she knew what to do. She would cast her spell and severe the bond he'd declared for the imposter once and for all.
The sun shifted to the right and I could see the miles of dusty roads and fewer cars up ahead.
Susan, my step-mom, who now even controlled Dad, had insisted I stay with her Grandmother Gracen for some of the summer. It was why my trip to Pennsylvania was a command I had to adhere to. It was why my teeth had been gritted throughout most of the drive from Delaware.
She had practically packed my bags and shooed me out the door this morning. Dad, as usual, wasn't there to argue in my defense. Not that he would have anyway. He was a renowned surgeon, and had probably been placing a new kidney donor as I chugged out of our driveway; my suitcases packed and my date of return unknown.
Ever since Mom left to be with her personal trainer five years ago, Dad barely looked at me. He just noticed the poodle haired blonde he liked to call Flick, the matchstick woman he rushed all the way home to have candlelight dinners with as I sulked in my room.
Stopping at the nearest gas station that looked as if it hadn't been visited since the seventies, I took a short break then set off again. It wasn't long before dotted aspens and maples no longer concealed the entryway to Gracen's large estate. Terra-cotta stone and the edges of a lavish roof were just about visible. I was told Gracen came from a line of successful merchants and oil diggers. It was why she considered herself a cut above the rest of the residents of Spring Mills. Her inherited wealth was the only thing to keep me from pulling up and hyperventilating.
After parking my cherry red Mustang in the pebble driveway, I took in the place. The mansion was breathtaking, complete with a cylinder roof crowned and decorated with golden leaf detail. It reminded me of a centerpiece to a castle.
My smile vanished though as soon as I got out of the car. I sensed I wasn't alone. It was as though someone was watching me, and closely. When I spun around, there was no one around. I rubbed the goose bumps popping up all over my arms and shivered, gasping as a fiery heat crawled from my feet to my neck. The air turned sour next, as if the flowers in the crescent shaped garden were decomposing. The added smell of ash and smoke stung my eyes, and the driveway darkened. Slowly, the ground became paved, horse hooves clamored and large wheels of a carriage creaked to a halt. A barrage of screams erupted from the nearby forest as flames licked at my waist.
"Lara. Lara Voight!"
I turned and almost stumbled. The flames disappeared as a man in a black tuxedo came ambling down the stone steps: rake thin and with a silver goatee.
"Lara Voight?" he repeated, getting closer.
"Y-e-s," I stuttered.
"Where are your things?" he asked, looking at my beat up car.
I tried to catch my breath. It was if the wind had been taken out of me. My legs even shook.
What had happened? Was it heat stroke? Five hours on the road could probably do that to a person. I could sue Susan. It was her idea I came all the way to Spring Mills while she "worked things out" with Dad. I was so easy to manipulate.
"In the trunk," I muttered.
The man shook his head without a care for the way I was panting.
"Who are you anyway?" I tried to ask.
"Henry." He held out his hand. His long, boney fingers reminded me of the creature from Alien. "You can give me the keys. I'll take care of your luggage."
I shakily did as asked. It wasn't like I had anything to steal.
"You need to go and see Mrs. Miller before she takes her afternoon nap," he said gruffly. "You're late as it is."
His aggravated tone wasn't appreciated, but it helped me to feel less disturbed by what had happened.
Who was he? Why was there a strange old man in Gracen's home? Was he a live in lover no one knew about?
"Who are you to Gracen?" I queried, trying to match his clipped tone.
"Her chau-ffer," he said, as if I was too dim to know what that was.
He carelessly dragged my luggage out of the trunk and waved me away. He actually waved.
What a jerk.
I ran up the stone steps to blow off steam before I said something I would regret. I couldn't make an enemy as soon as I arrived.
Inside, the house welcomed me with a cool draft that helped me to breathe a lot easier. The interior was less ambient than expected, with a dark hallway and distressed wood on the floor that was partially bordering the empty walls. My name was called out and I flinched, spinning around. Henry was nowhere in sight.
"Make yourself at home," a nasally voice said from behind me, making me jump.
An old woman in a wheelchair zoomed my way. Salt and pepper curls bounced on broad shoulders. My heart stopped thumping when I realized it was just Gracen. She wasn't overly wrinkly for someone close to her eighties.
"Stare all you like." She harrumphed.
"Sorry. I was—"
"I'm not seventeen, but I have my uses," she added seethingly, parking her wheelchair in front of me and lifting her chin. "As you can see, I'm Gracen Miller."
"Nice to meet you, Mrs. Miller."
"You may as well call me Gracen for now." She grimaced. "Follow me, Lorna."
Balling my hands into fists, I watched her wheel away from me. The woman was reminding me of Susan already.
The rectangular room we entered had mismatched furniture cluttered like bonfire piles on either side. Collectable items such as tribal masks, globes of the world, and ceramic Chinese figurines, confused the theme that might have been in mind when decorated.
Unlike the foyer, the walls were lined with watercolor paintings of naked damsels and huntsmen clasping large rifles. Beneath these were pleasant enough antique tables and cabinets. A chessboard beside a mustard leather couch, though, clashed with the pea green walls. It looked like someone hadn’t a clue how to coordinate.
"My husband, Charles, was a prideful hunter," Gracen said as if to explain. "Would you care for a drink?" She began to pour a murky orange concoction into a tall blue glass.
I was suspicious of the act of kindness. It wasn't like I got along with her granddaughter to be made to feel welcome. No. I felt extra wary. It was totally unfair of Dad to make me stay here in some stranger's home. I was even more wary of Gracen's choice of beverage. But the last few hours in my non-air conditioned cocoon had dried out my throat too much to care in the end.
I waited for her to hand me my drink. Gracen supped it herself before pouring herself another glass. I tapped my fingers on my pants as way to a hint that I was getting impatient. Gracen made the effort to glance at me before pouring a third drink, yet only halfway before roughly handing it to me. Then off she wheeled again, almost riding over my sandaled toes.
"Sit," she commanded, pointing her crooked finger at a biege leather couch.
I sipped what was thankfully just ice tea.
"Let's start with a few questions, shall we?" She eyed me.
I nodded, hoping to get on her good side; if she had one that is.
"Susan tells me you're a spoiled brat."
I almost spat out my drink but somehow kept smiling. "It depends on what you think is spoiled."
She harrumphed in that horrible, condescending way of hers. "Do you bathe often?"
Seriously? "Um. Yes."
"Do you smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, dabble in drugs?"
Maybe this was literally a test. "No."
Her bushy eyebrows rose in insinuation. "Are you promiscuous?"
My jaw dropped. "Excuse me?"
"Just answer the question."
"No, you won't answer the question, or no you're not promiscuous?"
"No, I'm not promiscuous."