Then Comes Baby

Then Comes Baby

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by Helen Brenna

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Bestselling horror novelist Jamis Quinn hasn't written a word since Natalie Steeger moved in next door. Mirabelle Island has been his peaceful refuge for the past four years. Now he can't concentrate. Not with that sexy, Goody Two-shoes running a summer camp for disadvantaged kids giving him the wrong kind of ideas.

Natalie always pictured hermits as


Bestselling horror novelist Jamis Quinn hasn't written a word since Natalie Steeger moved in next door. Mirabelle Island has been his peaceful refuge for the past four years. Now he can't concentrate. Not with that sexy, Goody Two-shoes running a summer camp for disadvantaged kids giving him the wrong kind of ideas.

Natalie always pictured hermits as grouchy old geezers. Her famous hermit neighbor has grouchy down pat. He's also got tall, dark and handsome going on. The No Trespassing signs Jamis hangs on his property are a joke. But the one on his heart is a little harder to ignore. Looks as though she'll have to up her game to get past it.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Reclusive horror novelist Jamis Quinn is at his wits' end since gorgeous social worker Natalie Steeger inherited her grandmother's house next door and turned it into a summer camp for at-risk kids. Mirabelle Island has long been his refuge from a still-haunting tragedy, and the last thing he needs is a group of needy kids or a sexy do-gooder trying to change his life. VERDICT A disillusioned grouch meets a determined charmer in a warm, engrossing tale enhanced by captivating kids and a blend of upbeat, fast-paced writing and poignant reality. Brenna's latest Mirabelle Island romance is a winner. Brenna (First Comes Twins) lives in Plymouth, MN.

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Island to Remember , #3
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Daddy, I'm scared.

"It'll be all right, sweetheart." Neil stood frozen, listening. "I think it's gone."

Had he caused all this? Neil wracked his brain for another explanation, but there was none. That tunnel in the Ellora caves had been sealed off for a reason, and as usual he'd ignored all the warnings. If only he could turn back the clock. If only he'd never gone to India in the first place. But this was exactly what he'd asked for, wasn't it? Excitement. The unplanned and unknown.

They both heard it at the same time, that god-awful deep-chested cat growl. Katy screamed, and Neil reacted, pumping buckshot through the bedroom door again and again. This time he had to have killed that panther demon.

Jamis Quinn's hands stilled over his computer keyboard. On rereading what he'd written, he couldn't help but chuckle. "Don't get too cocky there, Neil, buddy. Things always seem to get worse before they get better."

"Get back, Katy," Neil whispered. Nudging his daughter behind him, he went to the door. The paint-chipped, shot-up wood barely hung from the hinges. He pulled on the knob, cracked the door open. Red. That's all he could see. Red floor. Red walls. Blood? It couldn't be. That thing had no flesh, no substance.

Then he noticed bare feet and jean-clad legs, motionless on the floor. He hadn't killed the panther demon. He'd shot— "Oh, dear God! Colleen!"

"Mommy!" His daughter darted through the doorway.

"Katy, no!" There was that growling hiss again, coming from the living room. "Get back! It's still here." He jumped into the hall, putting himselfbetween Katy and that… Rak-shasas, that's what the Hindu locals had called it.

"Katy, run! Go to the Turners!"

"But Mommy—"

"Go! I want you out of here. Now!"

She scrambled down the hall, into the bedroom and outside through the window.

Neil cocked his shotgun, pumped off several shots, reloaded and shot again before the black panther spirit leaped and engulfed him like a cool, syrupy wave. The force pushed him back against the wall, but Neil could feel it dying, feel its heat draining away. He had to do something. Before it was too late. If it consumed his energy, the damned thing would revive itself and live to kill again. That was what'd happened with Wayne.

Well, that wasn't going to fly again. Not as long as Neil had a breath in his body.

"Take this, you son of a bitch." Neil pointed the gun at his own chest and fired. He fell to the floor next to Colleen and reached for her hand. "I'm sorry, baby."

"Oops. Too bad, buddy." If he didn't talk to himself, Jamis could go weeks without hearing the sound of his own voice. "Everyone, and I do mean everyone, is fair game. That's what you get for killing your wife."

"You always said one of these days I was going to get myself into something I couldn't handle," Neil whispered. "Well, I sure as hell did it this time."

The End.

"That was a perfect scene." Jamis filled his chest with a breath of air and slowly exhaled. "A perfect ending."

He took a swig of cold, black coffee, proofread the last chapter of his manuscript, and e-mailed it off to his agent. How many books was that? Fifteen? Yeah, that sounded about right. Now what? Book sixteen, of course. But that could wait until tomorrow. He was taking the rest of the day off.

Leaning back, he contemplated the choppy waters of Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay from the desk in his loft office. A cool, early June breeze blew in through the window he'd opened that morning, and wonderfully complete silence fell over his blessedly isolated Mirabelle Island home.

That is, until a hopeful whine escaped from the tricol-ored mutt lying impatiently at the top of the steps. Jamis glanced at Snickers, whose fluffy black, brown and white tail swayed tentatively. "So you think it's time to celebrate finishing the book, huh? Red wine and a T-bone? I get the steak, you get the bone. My thoughts, exactly."

So what if it was only two o'clock in the afternoon? Feeling uncharacteristically cheerful, Jamis stood and followed Snickers, who was racing down the stairs and into the kitchen. Looking at the log cabin with its marble coun-tertops, leather furnishings and big-screen TV, it was hard to imagine the place had been built close to eighty years ago. When he'd first bought it four years ago, the roof leaked, a family of raccoons had been nesting in the loft where his office was now, and a good gust of wind would have been as likely to blow rain as snow through the cracks in the windows.

Except for the massive fieldstone fireplace, Jamis had practically gutted the entire interior. He'd hired someone to update the wiring, plumbing and insulation, but had done the majority of the finishing work himself. Though he hadn't been much of a cook when he'd first moved here, he'd never regretted adding the center island stove and countertop that looked out over the great room, the woods and the lake beyond.

He stood there now, slicing the last of the mushrooms he planned to sauté, when his phone rang. "Figures." Caller ID displayed his agent's name. "Hello, Stephen." Jamis put the call on speakerphone, cracked open a bottle of cabernet sauvignon and poured out a generous glass. "You read it that quickly?"

"What do you think? You sent me everything but the last chapter last week," Stephen said. "I had to find out what was going to happen."


"I can't believe you killed Neil. I liked him."

"He deserved it." Jamis was normally hard-pressed to find anyone truly worthy of life, himself included.


"He was a selfish idiot." Jamis tossed the last mushroom toward Snickers, who snatched the morsel out of the air and gulped it down without chewing. "He should've known that killing a monster of his own creation wouldn't be easy." He took a sip of wine. Full flavor, not overly tannic, decent finish.

Stephen sighed. "Who amI to argue? You're on aroll. Your editor thinks this one's going to get you back on the list."

Many years ago when his career had been on the up-swing, he'd hit the New York Times bestseller list several books in a row. But that had been before his life had fallen apart. Since then he'd done a damned good job of burning bridges and every big publisher refused to work with him. Save this last one.

"I just need to write," Jamis whispered. This crap building up inside him had to manifest itself somehow. "At the moment it seems preferable to serial killing."

An uneasy silence hung on the line. "Honestly, Jamis, sometimes I don't know whether or not you're kidding."

"It sucks to be you, doesn't it?"

"Your publisher will up your advance on your current contract if you'll come out and play."

"A signing?"

"One-shot deal. You name the time and the place."

"No." Jamis tossed the T-bone onto his stovetop grill, the mushrooms in a pan of melted butter and garlic, and flipped on the cooking fan.

"But that's—"

"I said no."


"We've been over this before." He hadn't stepped off this island in four years. He wasn't about to leave for a damned his-skin-crawled-thinking-about-it book signing.

"It'd be in your best interests—"

"It's the one thing I will not give on, Stephen."

"Well, I had to try. You're contracted to give them the next book in three months. You have to make that deadline, or else—"

"It's a wildfire, tsunami and earthquake all rolled into one. I know, I know." He'd been in this business long enough to understand that a writer's success was due, in part at least, to momentum. Lose it and you might as well give it up. Starting over was worse than never having begun.

"You going to have the next book finished by September thirtieth?"

"No problem."

The summer months were his most productive. Fall, winter and spring, he could roam Mirabelle's shoreline, even the town square, to his heart's content and rarely encounter a living soul. But from June through August, with tourists crawling all over the town, Jamis kept his in-town excursions to a bare minimum, giving him all the time in the world to sit at his desk and write.

Snickers ran over to the porch windows, jumped onto his favorite chair, an oversize corduroy-covered monstrosity, and stared outside, cocking his head. Probably a squirrel.

"You're long overdue for a vacation. Why don't you take a trip somewhere? A few weeks off might do you some good."

Vacation? He had no intention of ever leaving this island. They'd be carrying him off in a long pine box. "You want that book by September thirtieth, I gotta get to work."

"Are you cooking? I can barely hear you."

He flipped off the noisy fan and what sounded like voices and a boat motor penetrated the thick walls of his cabin. People? Here? Highly improbable. There were only two private homes nestled within the more than five square miles of undeveloped Wisconsin state parkland on the northwest side of Mirabelle Island. His cabin was one and the other was an old Victorian that had been built in the 1950s to match the quaint architecture of the rest of the island. That house, a few hundred feet away, was owned by an old woman who spent only summers on Mirabelle.

Snickers let out a short bark.

Jamis walked out onto his four-season porch, glanced out the window and down the steep and rocky hillside to the Lake Superior shoreline. Through the new spring foliage now thick on the trees he barely made out the shape of a boat. It looked as if a small barge had anchored near the shore and had swung out a gangway to the dock. Several men were carrying boxes up to the old woman's house, and by the sheer number of them, it looked as if whoever was here, was here to stay.

"Good God," he muttered.

"Jamis, you there?" Stephen's voice came across the speaker on the phone. "What's the matter?"

Snickers sat in front of him and whined.

"Looks like someone's moving in next door."

"What happened to the old woman who used to live there?"

"I have no idea."

"Well, let's hope these new people are quiet."

No one could be as quiet as the previous occupant. Jamis barely ever heard a peep out of her. Occasionally, she'd have a guest or two, and he'd hear a door slamming or a garbage can clanging, but that had been the extent of it. She'd kept completely to herself. In fact, now that he thought about it, he wasn't sure he'd even seen her last summer.

"I gotta go," he said.

"This won't interfere with the new book, will it?"

"Have I ever once missed a deadline?" Jamis disconnected the call, and shut off the T-bone and mushrooms before going out onto his deck. Snickers raced down the steps, through the yard and toward the activity next door.

The events of the past several weeks finally made sense. He'd woken late one morning to Snickers barking frantically at the door. But when Jamis had looked outside there'd been no one around, although a boat similar to the barge now anchored below had been pulling away from the shore. A few days later, coming home from a lengthy trip to town for various errands and copious amounts of groceries, he'd passed the new police chief, Garrett Taylor, on the main road. Taylor, apparently a part-time construction handyman, had been pulling a small trailer filled with tools and supplies behind his golf cart. Jamis should've guessed then that something was up.

Now he walked through the shaded woods, stepped over the poison ivy and past the heavy ferns toward the old woman's house. There had to be at least four men carrying boxes from the water's edge.

"You got that end?" one of the men hollered.

"You betcha."

"Damn, this is a steep hill."

There was no practical way to move that much stuff from Mirabelle's town center to this side of the island. The path from the main road had to be close to a mile long and barely wide enough for golf carts, the only motorized vehicles allowed on the island.

"Who's moving in?" Jamis asked one of the men passing by and loaded down with a large, cardboard box.

"Don't know for sure." He nodded toward a woman standing on the wide back porch and directing traffic. "Ask her."

"All the boxes have the rooms marked," she said to the moving men.

That spindly wood sprite was in charge? Impossible. In tight, low-rise jeans and a short-sleeved orange T-shirt, she looked barely old enough to have graduated from college.

"Bedrooms one through four are upstairs," she went on. "The numbers are on the door. Bedroom five is on the main floor." With wavy blond hair, wide, heavily lashed eyes and a tall slender frame, all that honey needed was a wand to look like a modern-day princess from a kid's movie. Wholesome, there was no other word for her.

"Excuse me." He stepped toward the porch. "This house belongs to a quiet old woman." He'd no sooner closed his mouth than he realized how odd the comment sounded, but he'd be damned before he'd explain.

"Hi," she said. Then she smiled, lighting up her face and making the deepest blue eyes he'd ever seen almost dance, and wholesome turned to lively, pretty to beautiful. "Yeah, my grandmother used to live here. Sweet, wasn't she?"

"I wouldn't know." He'd never once spoken with the old woman. "What're you doing here?"

The wattage of her dazzling smile dimmed. Much better. "Grandma passed away a few months ago, and I inherited her house." She came into the yard and Snickers raced toward her. "Well, aren't you the cutest thing in the whole wide world?" She squatted and rubbed the dog's ears.

Snickers showed his appreciation by planting a big sloppy one on her mouth. Disgusting. How could she let him do that?

"Is he your dog?" she asked, looking up at him.


"What's his name?"

"Snickers." Was he really having this conversation?

"And you look like a candy bar, too," she cooed and scratched the dog's neck, then she stood and held out her hand. "I'm Natalie Steeger. Nice to meet you."

Feeling distinctly dazed, Jamis shook her hand before the distant rumbling of golf carts coming through the woods distracted them both.

"Oh, goodie," she said, grinning. "Here they come."

Oh, goodie. "Here who come?"

"The kids."

Kids. As in more than one?

"I know it's crazy having them come on moving day, but I wanted them to feel a part of this." She motioned to the activity around her. "You know, help with the unpacking decisions. Get vested in everything happening here."

"What, exactly, is happening here?"

"I'm starting a summer camp for kids."

"You're kidding." Surely, his heart stopped midbeat. "Did Stephen put you up to this?"

"Stephen who?"

Meet the Author

Helen Brenna was a successful CPA before trying her hand at writing. Since her first book was published in 2007, she's won numerous awards, including RT's Reviewer’s Choice, Book Buyers Best, National Readers’ Choice and Romance Writers of America’s most prestigious award, the RITA. She lives in Minnesota with her family and a menagerie of pets. Contact her at PO Box 24107, Minneapolis, MN 55424 or via her website at

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Then Comes Baby 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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