When Jennifer and Robert Stinson buy a beautifully restored Victorian house, the last thing they expect is to share their home with a ghost — especially one with a penchant for setting fires. Unfortunately the ghostly arson only creates more tension in their already strained marriage. Jen launches her own investigation into the history of her house and discovers a surprising ally in a sympathetic fire captain. But can she unravel the mystery of the fires before they consume her home, her marriage … and her life?
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I was inspired to write this book by a simple conversation with a friend, another writer doing a ghost story. She told me very bare bones of her book: it had 2 ghosts in it, one good and one evil. That started the wheels turning in my head and before I knew it, I had my own story framed and ready to write. This book came to me so quickly and so easily, I wrote it down in 39 days. I’ve never written any book that quickly.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The characters evolve as I write. Although I know the main personalities (they have to fit the story), they become more fleshed out as I write. They reveal their nuances to me little by little.
The Stinsons pulled up to the curb in front of the house and parked, Robert in his BMW sedan, Jennifer behind him in her sportier Toyota SUV. She grabbed her purse and her small overnight bag and climbed out of the car quickly. They could come back for the clothes hung across the back seat and the larger suitcases; she wanted to see the house.
In all her thirty years, she had never been as excited about a house as she was about this one. A curious mixture of Victorian and Midwest farm house, the upper structure rose elegantly above the square first floor, its gabled roof and widow’s walk an odd contrast to the stacked rock of the front porch supports. The house was either the masterful melding of two different styles or the work of a schizophrenic architect, depending on one’s viewpoint.
Jen actually could not say exactly what it was that drew her to the house. If pressed, she could point out the finer features of the carved newels that lined the widow’s walk railing, the lovely cornflower blue color that mirrored the Nebraska sky overhead, but the truth was that it was more nebulous than that. All the separate pieces came together in an indefinable but comforting way. It just felt like home to her.
She walked briskly up the front walkway, mounted the five wide steps and waited a trifle impatiently for Robert to bring the key.
Her husband struggled with the large suitcase he’d pulled from the Beamer’s trunk, dragging it noisily up the steps. “This place needs a fricking ramp,” he declared testily.
Jen dismissed his comment and the negative emotions that went with it. She wasn’t going to allow his mood to leach away her excitement. Suppressing the urge to bounce up and down on the balls of her feet, she waited until Robert turned the key and pushed open the door, then stepped happily into her new home.
The dining room was to her right while the living room opened up to her left. Straight ahead was the hallway that led to the back rooms, next to the stairs that rose to the upper floor. Her shoes tapped lightly on the wood floor of the entry way, then silenced on the slate blue carpet of the living room. The new carpet smell was a bit strong, but airing out the place would take care of that. She put a hand to the freshly painted off-white wall. Maybe some wainscoting with a light colored wallpaper beneath? Her mind was already turning with decorating ideas.
“Where do you want this?” Robert asked, his hand still on the handle of the suitcase.
Jen tore her attention from the living room. “The master bedroom,” she said. “We can hang our clothes up and put the suitcases in the closet so they’ll be out of the movers’ way.”
“I hope they get here when they said they would,” Robert groused. Pulling the rolling suitcase behind him, he moved off down the hall.
Jen sighed. She knew he wasn’t as keen about this as she was; he was still angry about being assigned to this rural sales route. The new CEO of Copper Creek Industries, a young forward-thinking go-getter, had shaken up the structure of the company completely and had apparently decided that Robert was no longer a “good fit” for his prior route in the outlying area around Albany. Robert had been offered this northwestern quadrant of Nebraska–or he was free to look for opportunities elsewhere. At first the couple was dismayed to realize that the largest town near the center of the route was Alliance with a population of just 10,000, but the clean, friendly city had appealed to Jen on their first reconnaissance trip, and finding this house had cemented it for her. Robert was less convinced.
Feeling as if the house itself helped to shore her up against his venting annoyance, she took her overnight case into the bedroom and began to help Robert hang up clothes.
The movers arrived just after noon and the quiet stillness of the house was shattered by the constant movement and shouting of the men as they jockeyed furniture into place. Jen stationed herself at the entry way, directing men this way and that, while Robert tended to follow after them to make sure they placed the furniture correctly and didn’t ding the walls as they did so. The living room began to take agreeable shape with the sofa and chairs set around the coffee table but the dining room set was almost too much for the dining area. The formal dining table and six chairs had been perfect in their large Albany apartment, but here the heavy, dark furniture almost overpowered the small space allotted for it. Luckily, the smaller, lighter kitchen table and chairs fit perfectly into the small breakfast nook at the back of the kitchen.
The master bedroom was elegance itself with the king bed against the inside wall and facing the two back windows with their chiffon curtains, the matching cherry wood dresser on the side wall opposite the closet. The two upstairs rooms adapted easily to their roles as small spare bedroom and office; each had its own front window that looked out over the widow’s walk and the quiet street below. Jen was already imagining pictures on the walls and found herself itching to tear into the boxes that piled up in each room.
The best thing about the house was the fact that it did not need major restoration. Built in the 1920s, the house had undergone both plumbing and electrical upgrading earlier in its lifetime, and the inspectors had not found any structural issues at all. With all its underpinnings intact, the house was almost like a bare canvas, just waiting for Jen to sweep across it with color and accent.
When she’d majored in art in college, she hadn’t thought too much about the practical application of her degree, but the intern job at an interior design company had changed all that. Suddenly all the theories of light and shadow and color that she intuitively understood had morphed into tangible, three-dimensional things: furniture, molding, windows and walls. When she’d graduated and the intern job had led to full-time employment, she found she had money left to prowl thrift shops and estate sales, and she eventually rented a corner of an antiques store where she could showcase her treasures and make a small profit. Her first venture into home-ownership had been a small bungalow with a large service porch on the back that she had converted into her studio. It was there she learned the intricacies of cleaning antiques without removing the patina of age, and her appreciation of design and craftsmanship increased tenfold. Her eye for value improved as well, and she realized she had a knack for finding valuables in a sea of junk. The entire process–the hunting, the buying, the cleaning, the reselling–was an immense satisfaction to her that she had never imagined in her younger years.
Probably the largest factor in this Alliance home–at least for her–was the carriage house out back. Converted to a garage decades ago, it also had a second room that ran the length of the garage with large windows and a slate floor. It was the perfect place for Jen to continue her handiwork, and because Robert’s job paid inordinately well, she was free to spend all her time doing just that.
For her, this house was perfection.
The movers had the truck completely empty by five o’clock, and the few adjustments that had to be made in furniture location were quickly accomplished. By the time the truck backed out of the driveway and rumbled down the street, Jen was already unpacking kitchen utensils and thinking about dinner.
“What do you think?” she asked Robert as she smoothed down shelf paper and then stacked plates in cupboards. “Go to the store and get stuff for dinner and breakfast, or just go out to dinner and shop tomorrow?”
Robert leaned his small, spare frame against the kitchen counter and pulled on his lower lip thoughtfully, then opened the refrigerator door and surveyed the empty space inside.
“We’ll have to get a few things tonight,” he said, “but I’m hungry. Let’s go to dinner, then stop on the way home and pick up the necessities.”
“That sounds like a deal,” Jen nodded. “When do you want to go? I need to take a shower and change clothes.”
“Me, too,” he said.
“Why don’t you take the downstairs bathroom and I’ll go upstairs?” she suggested. “That’ll save us a little time.”
“Good idea,” Robert said.
Jen put the last of the plates in the cupboard and tossed the empty box into the service porch with the others. Following Robert to the bedroom, she grabbed clean underwear and her robe. While he disappeared into the bathroom, she mounted the steps to the upstairs.
The upstairs bathroom was long and narrow, running along the back wall of the upper story, but it had a double sink, a large mirror and a huge linen closet. She took a fresh towel from the linen closet and started the shower running. It would feel good to wash the grime from her body. She’d have to wash her shoulder-length hair, but it would dry quickly. As she undressed, she noticed that she’d broken a fingernail. Probably wouldn’t be the last. She opened the hammered glass shower door and stepped into the warm water. She had a feeling she would absolutely die when her head hit the pillow tonight.
Sudsing her hair, she noticed the nice, even spray of the showerhead. That was a surprise. She hoped the same kind was in the downstairs bath. She liked the tile in the shower, too; it was a warm tan with veins of a darker chocolate color marbled through.
As she washed, she began to notice a prickly feeling crawling across her skin, as if eyes were watching her. She shrugged it off, but glanced over her shoulder through the steamy hammered glass door. There was a shape in the doorway.
Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres: biography, contemporary, western, action, romance, fantasy, paranormal and spiritual. She has been both traditionally and independently published and is a regular contributor to the superblog Indies Unlimited. She lives in a small community in northern Arizona with her husband and an Airedale terrier. She also writes under the pen name Amber Flame.
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