Read an Excerpt
The small town of Stewart, Massachusetts not so proudly boasted two claims to fame. Its proximity to Salem and the Corwin Curse.
Derek Corwin was well acquainted with that damned curse, as his family had come to refer to the albatross one of their ancestors had saddled them with. All because William Corwin couldn't keep it in his pants, what should have just been a scandal had turned into a centuries-long damnation.
So said town lore. So said history.
Every male Corwin since had suffered its wrath. Derek included.
A man with half a brain wouldn't return to the scene of the curse, but Derek had figured when the chips were downor in his case, the Dow Jones he might as well head home. That had been six months ago.
"Dad!" His eleven-year-old daughter's yell reminded him of why it was a good thing he'd come back.
After two long years of keeping his child from him, Derek's ex-wife had just remarried and decided she wanted a summer alone in Paris with her new husband. She'd sent his daughter, Holly, to live with him here in Stewart, in the renovated barn directly behind the house that had been in Derek's family for generations. All the girl had were males to guide her through this long, hot summer. Poor kid.
But Derek was happy to have her back, to get a second chance at being a father who was there instead of one focused on his career. He wanted to get to know his daughter. Unfortunately he didn't have a clue how to deal with her moods or her girlish tastes.
"What's wrong?" he asked, pausing at the landing of the stairs that led to the loft, which held two small bedrooms, his and hers.
After two years of living alone in an apartment that was huge by New York City standards, Derek actually enjoyed being among family in the small barn he was slowly but surely making his own.
"The dog chewed up my Abercrombie flip-flops!" Holly yelled downstairs.
He closed his eyes and groaned. The damn dog. "He chewed what?"
She came into view at the top of the loft and rested her elbows on the ledge. "My flip-flops. You know, sandals? Thongs? Flip-flops?" she asked, exasperated.
He nodded, finally understanding the problem. "Sorry. We'll pick up a new pair at Target."
"Target? But, Dad, then they won't have the moose on them," she said in a pleading yet sweet voice.
"In other words, you want to go to the mall near Salem?" he guessed.
"Yes!" She pumped her fist in the air and whirled away, disappearing from view.
He laughed, pleased he'd made her happy. Even if happy translated into him spending more money. He should be used to it.
His ex-wife didn't shop down, as she'd reminded him over the years. The harder and the more hours he'd worked, the more money his ex had spent to compensate for his absence.
Although they'd been divorced for more than two years, he didn't think she'd changed her habits. Certainly his monthly child support and alimony had guaranteed her the lifestyle she'd come to expect. At least it had, until he'd lost the bulk of his wealth in a huge investment gone bad and moved back home. He'd been about to petition the court to change the payments, since he now earned much less than he had in the past, when his ex let him know she was remarrying. That ended Derek's obligation to pay alimony, leaving him with child support only. That he could definitely afford without issue.
He glanced upstairs. "How about we get ice cream while we're at the mall?" he asked.
"I'm lactose intolerant!" came the reply.
He winced. Shouldn't he remember that? He consoled himself with the fact that by the time the summer ended, he'd know everything there was to know about his daughter.
"We'll get lunch instead!" he said.
"Okay! I'll be down in a sec. I have to change."
Another thing she'd learned from her mother She was obsessed with fashion, even at her young age. He figured she'd be at least twenty minutes.
"I'm going to return Fred to your grandfather's." He patted his leg and whistled.
The basset hound came down the stairs slowly, sauntering toward him. Fred didn't look any more guilty for chewing Holly's sandals than he had after he'd peed in the shoes Derek had left at the foot of his bed this morning. Why should he? Fred pretty much did as he pleased, and nobody had said anything for the past ten years. If Holly didn't love the dog so much, Derek would move Fred to his father's place for good.
Derek snapped a leash onto Fred's collar, neither of which the dog had owned before Derek had come back home. Holly joined him just as he walked out the front door.
"I told you I'd be down in a sec!"
"I thought you'd take longer. Sorry."
"That's okay." They made their way over the grass that divided the yard. The barn was on the back acreage, the main house on the front. Suddenly, she said, "I'll meet you at Grandpa's!" She took off across the yard at a run.
He debated jogging over, too, but one look at Fred's sad face and he changed his mind. "You're going to make me fat, old man," Derek said to the dog, slowing his pace a little more.
"Dad!" Holly shrieked, shattering the silence of the quiet morning. "Grandpa has a gun!"
"Good Lord," Derek muttered, pulling Fred into a jog, whether he liked it or not. What was his ornery father up to now?
Holly ran back to him and he handed her the leash. "Stay here," he instructed his daughter. Then he headed over to where his father stood fooling with the old, pump-action shotgun that had been in his family for generations.
"Put that away before you shoot yourself!"
Hank Corwin lowered the gun to his side, glanced at Derek and frowned. "It's not loaded."
Derek breathed a sigh of relief. At least his father wouldn't blow a hole in his addled brain.
"Not yet, anyway." Hank chuckled.
Derek scowled at the older man. "What are you doing with that thing?" As far as Derek knew, the twelve gauge had never been removed from the cabinet where it was displayed.
"I'm polishing the hardware so I can make a point down at the library tonight." Hank ran a hand over the gleaming weapon, the pride in his movement unmistakable.
Derek glanced at his father. At fifty-seven years old, Hank was a handsome man, not that you'd know it by the company he kepthis brother and his long-eared dog, Fred. Appearance wasn't important to him. He rarely cut or styled his dark hair and never worried about what he wore. Why should he, considering the ladies in town were all well versed on the curse and stayed clear of all the living, breathing Corwin men? Hank's summer attire consisted of worn khakis, which he paired with a white T-shirtfor his job as an electrician and on days off.
His father's generation of Corwin men had all discounted the curse and lived to regret it. Hank and his brother Thomas now lived together in the main house. Their third brother, Edward, was a loner, a recluse of sorts, mainly because Thomas had married the woman Edward loved. Derek had two male cousins with whom he was close, one per uncle, and Thomas also had two daughters, both happily married. The Corwin women had prospered. The men had floundered.
Growing up, Derek wasn't sure he believed in curses, but after seeing his father's and uncles' lives shattered, Derek had lived his life very carefully. Not that it had helped him. Derek had even given up the woman he loved to protect them both from the curse. His lifeand financeshad gone down the tube, anyway. He was finished taking chances.
"What's happening at the library that's got you packing heat?" Whatever it was, it couldn't be good, Derek thought, eyeing the weapon.
"This." Hank stalked over to the old wooden picnic table and picked up a flier. "Read it and weep. And not just because your high-school sweetheart's returning."
"Gabrielle's back?" Derek asked, certain he'd misunderstood.
Hank inclined his head. "Yep. And I'm not going to let that girl stir up trouble by getting people talking about that damn curse again."
That girl. Derek's high-school love and the woman he'd pushed away rather than subject to the despair that inevitably followed any woman who allowed herself to love a Corwin man.
His father had liked Gabrielle. She'd come to dinners at their house and he'd had many meals at hers. Her parents had treated him like a member of the family while Hank had welcomed her into theirs. For a gruff coot even back then, Hank had been fond of Gabrielle.
Derek sighed. "You aren't going to shoot Gabrielle just because you don't like her choice in subject matter."
Hank glanced at him, defiance in his stare. "I don't like being talked about. It's been quiet around town for a long while. I'd like to keep it that way."
"Just because you don't hear people talking about the curse doesn't mean they aren't still whispering behind our backs. It's a fact of life." Derek grabbed the flier and scanned the page.
Apparently the Perkins-Stewart Public Library was hosting a lecture titled Curses: Irrational Psychological Suggestion, by onetime resident and bestselling author, Gabrielle Donovan.
Derek knew Gabrielle had written a number of books, debunking popular myths in print and then discussing those books on big-time talk shows. It was no coincidence that she'd chosen to study the occult and New Age, Derek thought. His past had defined both of their lives.
Although she hadn't been back to visit, the town claimed her as their own local celebrity. The diner on Main Street had a signed photograph on the wall, although Derek had seen the signature and doubted its validity. He wouldn't put it past Henry, the owner, to forge it instead of contacting Gabrielle and asking for one.
Even Derek's father was one of her fans Derek had seen her books on Hank's shelves. In reality, Derek wasn't worried that his father would shoot her. But that didn't mean he couldn't cause trouble in other ways .
Derek placed the flier down on the picnic table and looked Hank in the eye. "You aren't going anywhere near the library, Pop."
"Want to bet?" Hank asked.
"Well, you sure as hell aren't taking a shotgun." Though Derek spoke to his father, his thoughts were far away, already in turmoil over the chance of seeing Gabrielle again. He'd spent enough time avoiding watching her on TV. Seeing her in real life would be far more painful. He didn't need to worry about their reunion occurring over the barrel of his father's shotgun.
Derek grabbed the rifle, intending to lock it up tight at his place or in the trunk of his SUV. There was no telling how easily an old rifle like this one could go off if Hank started waving it around to make his point.
Hank stamped his foot and shook his finger in Derek's face. "You don't play fair."
"And you don't play rational. Want to go to the mall with me and Holly?" Derek waved his daughter over.
"No. I have to pick up some things in town. Then I'm going to prepare a rebuttal to that girl's speech tonight. No curse, my hiney," Hank said, stomping toward his house.
Derek laughed and let him go. Hank was all bluster. Derek couldn't imagine Hank showing up any place where the Corwin Curse was the subject of public discussion.
A discussion started by Gabrielle Donovan.
Damn. He couldn't believe she'd returned after all these years.
He'd broken up with her after the prom. Post graduation, her parents had moved away, and she'd gone with them. At least he hadn't had that summer to watch her, longing for something he could no longer have. But while they'd been together, his life had been spectacular. At eighteen she'd been the most beautiful, sensual woman on the planet. He could only imagine what the intervening years had done to her already lush body and china-doll-like face. With her mother's French genes, she hadn't been afraid of passion or sex, and they'd indulged in both often, until Derek realized it was no longer just physical attraction that kept him coming back for more.
She'd been smart, too, the only daughter of parents who were both professors. She had a sharp wit and had been insightful, understanding Derek's love of high-stakes finances even before he had the money to indulge his passion. She probably wouldn't be surprised to learn he'd gone to Columbia undergrad and directly on to Wall Street as a trader until he was hired by an investment-banking company and made himself rich from lucky, huge deals.
He'd made himself poor the same way, investing too much in a company that went south instead of north. These days Derek was a financial planner, getting his thrills by building other people's incomes more slowly and sensibly, not toying with his own.