The derelict ante bellum house in the North Carolina mountains called out to Jill Carey, almost as if living beings compelled her to buy it and restore it to its former glory.
For good reason. It’s inhabited by the ghosts of century-old illicit lovers, trapped in the place where they died until a descendant returns to Bliss House, finds a lasting love he is free to marry.
Kyle Randall, great great grandson of one of the ghosts, hates coming to the haunted house but agrees to restore the place for Jill, only to set in motion a dark, sometimes frightening tale of sexual obsession, ghostly intervention—and the healing power of lasting love.
Kyle settled back with a beer and wondered why the idea of going back to Gray Hollow—to Bliss House—made him feel like his guts were churning.
Hell, it was only a house.
What had gone on there nearly a hundred years ago was ancient history, doubtless without a bit of meaning to anybody except the Randalls scattered about the North Carolina mountains. No one now would give a damn that his great-great grandma had been the infamous Laura Randall, or that she’d died with her lover at the house that still bore his family’s name.
Who was he kidding? Parents in Gray Hollow must still scare their kids with stories about the ghosts of Bliss House, the same way their parents had been doing for generations.
He should call this crazy Jill Carey and tell her he didn’t have time for her damn pet project. But if he did, he’d regret it. He’d won the bid to restore the Gray Hollow courthouse, but the commission had voted to postpone having the work done until next spring. That meant he had to find a project now.
Earlier today, he’d told George Wilson he didn’t know any contractor desperate enough to take on the ghosts of Bliss House. Boy, had he been wrong! In ten short minutes, Kyle had gone from being overbooked with work to a state of minor desperation. Big jobs were few and far between this time of year, especially ones in this part of the country, where he could work and still be close enough to visit Alyssa every weekend.
Kyle’s gaze settled on the child in a picture on his coffee table. His little girl looked so pretty, laid out on a blanket underneath an old oak tree, her dark eyes wide open as if she was looking at something far off in the distance. Knowing Alyssa would never see anything, never walk or talk or be able to learn her name, ate him alive.
He’d never have to put on a monkey suit to walk his baby down the aisle to some guy who wasn’t good enough for her. Or hold a grandchild in his arms. But one thing was for sure. Alyssa would need the total care of people like the ones at Angels Paradise School as long as she lived—and that care didn’t come cheap. “Damn her to hell!” Tina, Alyssa’s mother probably was already roasting in the devil’s fiery flames for having passed the results of her lousy drug habit on to their unborn daughter seven years ago before checking out on life with one final overdose. When Kyle thought of Alyssa, he couldn’t help wishing Tina were still alive. He’d have liked to kill her for what she’d done to their child.
The way everybody says Harry Randall killed his faithless wife and her lover.
Where the hell had that thought come from? Was the idea of going to Gray Hollow, bidding on fixing up the house where his great-great grandmother had died, starting to drive him insane? It didn’t matter. He had to bid on that job. Winter was coming—and no matter what the season, Alyssa’s special school expected to be paid.
Draining the last of his beer, Kyle tried to push those odd, scary feelings out of his head but they stayed with him, even as he drifted off into a restless sleep.
* * * * *
Jill yawned. Glancing at her watch, she saw it had been nearly four hours since she had begun poring over the blueprints she’d found tucked away in a moldy wardrobe. She wanted modern comforts along with authenticity, yet Bliss House seemed to call out and beg her to restore it to the way it was when Mortimer Bliss had built it in 1858 for the bride who would arrive the following year from England.
Perhaps Kyle Randall would be able to suggest how she might bring to Bliss House the best of both old and new worlds. For a moment, she tried to picture a face to go with the deep, sexy voice that still rang in her ears. Then she laughed. She was visualizing young and ruggedly handsome, while Randall was probably ugly as sin and old enough to be her dad. Besides, Jill reminded herself, she’d sworn off men—not just Rob, but everybody of the male persuasion.
Still, hearing Kyle’s mellow voice had made her tingle. And the effect lingered in her nipples that now stabbed insistently against her soft silk robe. Idly, Jill ran a finger back and forth against one aching nub, gasping when the flesh swelled and elongated with the slight, warm pressure of her touch.
She didn’t need this. Didn’t want to give in to that insistent noise in her head that reminded her she was still a woman with needs. Sexual needs.
After washing up and brushing her teeth in the closet—like bathroom of the trailer, Jill crawled into her narrow bed. Damn Rob for having taught her never to ignore her own sensual needs, she thought, stroking her aching sex until the tension inside her broke. When she finally slept, she dreamed.
* * * * *
Bliss House shone bright, and sounds of joy came from within. Jill stood in the doorway, waiting for a sad-faced butler to take her velvet wrap. Her gaze wandered from a beautiful chandelier twinkling above her head to the modest ballroom someone had created by opening the front and back parlors of this gorgeous old home to create one highly polished dance floor.
Suddenly she felt naked. All the other guests looked positively Victorian. This black silk minidress didn’t cover nearly enough of her. Damn, had she missed the words “costume ball” somewhere on her invitation? Dancers twirled gracefully to a distinct three-beat tune that sounded as if it came not from a stereo system but from a small live orchestra.
She looked around. Where had Rob gone? Annoyed, Jill stepped inside the ballroom and searched for his angel face. She couldn’t find him. Instead, her gaze settled on a couple whose quaint costumes reminded her of a Victorian picture post card.
The woman’s rose crushed-velvet gown featured a bustle and train that dripped with ecru lace. More of the lace peeked out from a low, heart-shaped neckline and the cuffs of fat leg-o’-mutton sleeves. Her partner wore tails, stark black, with pristine white linen at his wrists and throat—too much for even the most formal of Atlanta balls. Feeling out of place, she hid behind the French doors that normally would have separated the two rooms, and searched again for Rob.
But her gaze kept returning to that mesmerizing couple who seemed to have stepped out of yesterday. The way they looked at each other and the graceful way they moved together kept Jill enthralled. Then a stranger found her, and the spell broke. He pulled her onto the dance floor, seemingly unaffected by the sense of the past that surrounded her.
He was tall and rugged, oozing raw sex appeal. When he looked at her, her sex clenched with anticipation. But then he changed, became Rob again. Suddenly she relived the horror that had sent her running from Atlanta and her memories of how her marriage had begun and ended.
“No!” She awakened to the sound of her own screams. Suddenly she couldn’t stay in her sweat-drenched bed another second. Pulling on a robe as she ran, Jill sought peace inside Bliss House. For some reason, she felt that there she’d be safe from the nightmare that tormented her.