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About the Author
Having grown up in the motion picture industry as the daughter of a director, she learned to tell stories from a different perspective. Infusing the rich tapestry of her hometown into her novels, she believes that creating vivid characters makes a story moving and memorable.
A member of both the International Thriller Writers Association and the Horror Writers Association, Weis writes mystery, suspense, thrillers, horror, crime fiction, and romance and has sold approximately one million books. She lives with her husband and pets in New Orleans where she is a permitted/certified wildlife rehabber with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries and rescues orphaned and injured animals.
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Small rocks knocked against the undercarriage of the red Volvo as it traveled along the bumpy gravel road. Boxes crammed the roof rack, the back seat overflowed with luggage, and the U-Haul trailer had a bungee cord across the doors to keep the contents from bursting out.
In the passenger seat, Lexie squinted to read the map on her cell phone.
"You must have passed it."
Will Bennett turned to her. "I know where I'm going, baby. This leads to the house."
Lexie scanned the dense brush at the side of the road. "What fucking house? We're in the middle of nowhere."
Will scowled. "Don't curse, Lexie."
"You curse, so why can't I?"
"Because it isn't ladylike. And I never drop f-bombs."
Lexie reached across the console and wrapped her arms around his neck. The first time she'd met him at a job site in Boston, his muscular build had been the first thing that attracted her. But as their friendship deepened, she realized the caring man beneath was a hell of a lot sexier than his tight ass and square jaw.
"Still want to marry me, Mr. Bennett?"
"You know I do."
Lexie kissed his lips and returned to her seat. "I'm glad you're free from that sadist, Jake Forrester. Forrester and Whitney were sucking you dry."
"But I sure liked the steady paycheck."
"Your clients are going to follow you." Lexie eyed the remote location beyond her car window. "If they can find you."
"There she is." Will leaned forward in his seat. "Altmover Manor."
Lexie searched the sky through the windshield until she spotted the two stone chimneys. She waited as the roofline came into view. Steeply sloped and covered with gray slate, the enormity of the structure hit her. A blend of Colonial and Greek Revival architectural styles, the stone structure's square facade had large Colonial windows with white shutters. Balconies jutted from the second and third floors while a porch extended along the front. Six Corinthian columns, in desperate need of a fresh coat of paint, added to the home's distorted presentation.
"Something, huh?" Will beamed.
Lexie forced a smile, the God-awful hodgepodge of styles was making her feel woozy. But Will looked so proud of himself she didn't have the heart to tell him his pride and joy was downright ugly. She took in a few gulps of air. "How did you find this place?"
Will maneuvered the car to a stop in front of the long steps. "A client, Bob Grenier, told me about the place. His bank has been quietly shopping for buyers."
Sunlight glistened on the leaded-glass front doors as Lexie inspected the porch. "How long has it been empty?"
"More than sixty years. The last person to live here was some old woman. Bob told me his bank has maintained the property for over a hundred years."
Lexie shifted in her seat. "Over a hundred years? Since when do banks maintain properties?"
Will switched off the engine. "One of the bank's owners, Miles Parker, had a daughter, Katherine, who married the man who owned this estate. Katherine and her husband died leaving no heirs, so her father inherited the house and all her husband's assets. His heirs made the bank hold the property until several years ago when they agreed to sell."
"What changed their mind?"
He unbuckled his seat belt. "For over a century, the Parkers had a trust set aside for maintenance of the home. When the money ran out, they auctioned most of the furniture to pay for the upkeep. The trust has kept up the general repairs, but the place needs updating. The wiring is old, so is the plumbing. Not to mention most of the interior design dates to the turn of the last century."
Across the gravel drive, Lexie spotted a ramshackle cottage with peeling yellow paint. "Does that belong to the estate?"
Will shifted around in his seat. "It's the caretaker's cottage. The bank hired a guy named Remi to stay on at the house when local teenagers started giving them problems."
"What kind of problems?"
Will reached for his door handle. "Break-ins. The kids on the island challenged each other to spend the night inside."
"Why? Is it haunted?"
After he shoved his car door open, Will glanced back at her. "Houses are never haunted. Ghosts aren't real; they're just fodder for Halloween decorations."
Lexie stood from the car. Something about the house set her teeth on edge.
An icy breeze enveloped her, and Lexie pulled her brown cardigan closer. In a second-floor window, a mist pressed against the glass, drawing Lexie's attention. The slightest hint of a figure formed.
"Hey, you ready to check out our new home?" Will nudged her.
Lexie flinched and narrowed her gaze on the second-floor window. The figure was gone. "How did they die?"
"How did who die?"
"Katherine and her husband."
Grabbing her hand, Will bounced up the steps, the twinkle in his eyes and smile on his face contagious, as he kissed her. "It was a long time ago."
Will wrestled keys from the front pocket of his jeans, bobbing his black eyebrows at her, making Lexie chuckle. He put a key in the lock, but the deadbolt groaned, refusing to cooperate.
Lexie sighed feigning impatience kicking at the accumulated leaves while Will struggled with the door.
After he put his shoulder into it, the front doors opened. Leaves fluttered and swirled around her, carried by a rush of air. Like a dust devil, the small cyclone swept from the porch into the home, depositing leaves in the center of the cold marble floor.
A jolt of electricity shot through Lexie. The hair rose on the back of her neck. She hesitated at the threshold. Something was wrong.
"Wait," shouted Will. "I need to carry you over the threshold." Before she had time to protest that they weren't in fact married yet he scooped her into his strong arms and strode into the house.
The piercing screech of an alarm echoed throughout the foyer. Will dropped her to her feet rushing to a console on the side of the front doors.
Lexie followed him in and checked out the alarm pad. "An alarm? Why do they have an alarm if they have a caretaker?"
Will punched in the numbers written on the key ring and the shrill alarm cut off. "The bank installed the alarm to deter the vandals. Remi told me it makes a lot of noise, but won't summon the local sheriff."
She stayed in the light coming through the open front doors. "I still don't understand how you got the place at such a cut-rate price."
"The bank was eager to sell. I made a lowball offer and they jumped on it. I was shocked, but this is the kind of house I've always wanted to own. I didn't want to pass it up."
Darkness shrouded the foyer, and a tingle ascended from Lexie's gut. Something small and dark dashed across the foyer floor.
Holy shit! What was that?
"Will, are you sure about this?"
He eased his arms around her. "I'll admit, we've got tons of hard work ahead of us, but it'll be worth it in the end." He kissed her forehead before seeking out the light switch.
"How many bedrooms?"
"Eight with six bathrooms. Two were updated in the eighties. So at least we'll have a decent bathroom to use." He flipped a switch, and several lotus-shaped sconces on the walls bathed the room in a warm light.
Lexie could not shake the sense of gloom lingering in the house. It was as if a great sadness filled the home and had seeped into every piece of peeling wallpaper and every broken light fixture.
Light played off the crystals overhead, causing shards of color to play along the walls, and she looked up.
Attached via a rusted chain to a medallion of interlocking rose vines, hung and enormous chandelier, there were a few missing crystals and appeared bent in sections, but it offered Lexie a glimpse of the home's bygone elegance.
"Where is the chandelier switch?"
Will's footfalls cut through the silence as he made his way across the foyer. He flipped several switches, but nothing happened. "Lights in several rooms, and an assortment of fixtures throughout the house, don't work."
She went to the wallpaper and ran her fingers along flowers of gold thread with leaves outlined in black. "This ... this looks like Candace Wheeler's design."
"Most of the interior hasn't been updated since the Blackwells lived here. The place is filled with such nuggets."
"Will, do you know how rare it is to find an original design of hers nowadays?"
He took her hand, pulling her deeper into the home. "I knew you'd get excited once you saw the inside."
She explored the yellowed and chipped plaster ceiling. "Yeah, I'm getting there." She wasn't lying either the despite the uneasy feeling in her stomach the house was an interior designers dream, from the marble floors to the high ceilings her mind began to conjure endless possibilities.
Will wandered across the foyer. "The foundation is sound and the roof doesn't have any leaks. Until we get in these walls to start working on wiring and plumbing, we may not know the complete story, but there wasn't anything major on the inspection."
She frowned at the damaged ceiling. "Are you sure you didn't bite off more than you can chew?"
"We will be fine, baby. Stop worrying." Will led her to the black walnut staircase past the foyer. "Wait until you see this."
Carved into the banister's bottom newel post was the head of a dragon, its jagged teeth bared. The empty eye sockets glared into the foyer as if warning strangers to stay away. A railing with scales sculpted into the wood wound up the staircase, resembling a serpent's back.
Lexie paused, admiring the dragon's head. "Will, this is stunning."
"The house has dragons everywhere."
She dug her fingers into the empty eye sockets. "Was there anything here before?"
"I wondered the same thing."
The dragon's head suddenly moved beneath her hand. Lexie's heart rocketed to her throat, and she jumped back, staring at the decorative piece.
"What is it?" Will came up to her, putting his hand on her arm.
"The dragon moved."
"The wood might be rotted." Will tested the banister by shaking it, but the dragon's head never budged. "It seems sound."
Lexie wrung her hands. "I'm telling you it moved."
Will shrugged it off. "I'll check it later. I have a feeling a good bit of the wood will have to be replaced. It's a shame there aren't any old pictures of the house lying around. Might help us with the restoration."
Her line of sight ran up the marble inlaid staircase steps, made to look like piano keys. "What about the attic? Anything in there that could help?"
"I checked the attic during the inspection. There are a ton of boxes, trunks, damaged paintings, and some broken furniture, but someone has to go through it to see what we have. Some of the stuff goes all the way back to the early eighteen hundreds."
Lexie shuddered. "By someone, are you suggesting me?"
"I was hoping you would volunteer. I want this to be our project, baby. And when we finish, our home will mean so much more because we worked on it together."
Lexie didn't object as he put his arm around her and ushered her down the narrow hallway along the stairs. She wanted to, but she also didn't want to derail his excitement.
"Over here is the living room." Will dashed across the dusty hall floor, his footsteps reverberating around them. He eagerly pulled at the tarnished brass doorknob on a set of arched doors.
The creak of the doors opening carried throughout the empty first floor, heightening Lexie's unease.
Will turned an old-fashioned light switch and a crooked teardrop chandelier flickered before it came on.
Lexie's discomfort melted when she examined the oak- paneled walls with rosettes dotting the seams.
"Oh, wow. What a great room."
She toed a deep gouge in the parquet floor, pained to find such a beautiful design marred by neglect. More of the same interlocking rose vines from the foyer circled the border of the plaster ceiling, their detail eroded by time. Silence hung in the room as she turned toward the fireplace. Lexie's breath caught in her throat as her gaze swept up the mantle.
Centered above was a life-sized portrait of a man. He stood amidst the craggy land surrounding the home, a hazy fog enveloping the sky behind him. A black, fitted coat tapered from his broad shoulders to his narrow waist. A white ascot bulged beneath his chin, and a red vest added a splash of color. His squared jaw and cruel, thin lips rested beneath a long, aristocratic nose and gave the portrait a sinister feel.
"What a fascinating painting. Who is he?"
"Magnus Blackwell. He was Katherine Parker's husband. Altmover Manor was his family home."
Lexie wasn't certain whether it was the man's arrogant bearing or the cruelty in his green eyes, but something about the likeness unsettled her.
"There are portraits of him throughout the house. None as good as this one," Will said.
With high-cut black boots firmly dug into his land, Magnus Blackwell gripped a dragon's head fixed atop a long cane. Similar to the newel post in the foyer, the red eyes peered out as if cursing all those who dared approach the painting.
"Another dragon?" she commented, moving in closer to get a better look at the cane.
"Yeah, I noticed it, too."
"He's an angry man. The painting reeks of his attitude."
Will's rumbling laughter echoed throughout the room. "Not another one of your feelings. You know how uncomfortable I get when you talk about that stuff."
She turned toward him like an enraged lioness. "Who told you not to get on the flight to DC for your conference three months ago?"
He strolled up to her, grinning. "You mean begged me not to get on the flight."
"Your plane crashed, Will."
He wrapped her in his arms. "No, it ran off the runway, and the kitchen caught fire, but no one died."
"Why can't you admit my feelings are right?"
He kissed the tip of her nose. "Because I was raised to believe we live in a practical world where there's nothing mystical going on. I'll support you in anything you want to do, Lexie, but I have a hard time buying anything supernatural."
"What will you do if our kids are born like me? My grandmother said the gift could get passed down. The same way I got it from her. How will you handle it if they have strange abilities?"
Will stepped back and held up his hands, calming her. "I will love our children no matter what. The same way I love you. Superpowers and all. So when are you going to give me those lottery numbers I need to win a fortune so we can redo this house in style, and," he held her left hand, "buy you an engagement ring?"
"I already told you, my ability doesn't work like that." She kissed his lips. "And I don't need a ring, just you."
"I'm still going to get you one ... someday. If this place doesn't kill me first."
Lexie clasped his hand. "Show me the rest of the house."
The boyish enthusiasm returned to his bright brown eyes as he led her from the living room. "Wait until you see the view from the courtyard."
* * *
A wisp of smoke rose from the parquet floor at the edge of the living room. It swirled and twisted as it formed a shape. When the smoke settled, the light from the living room shone through the apparition of a man as he stood in the doorway. He tipped his head to the side, watching as the couple laughed and strolled down the hall. They dipped out of sight and the misty man's black boots and long black coat materialized. His dirty-blond hair and piercing green eyes were exactly like the portrait above the fireplace. Even his sneer was the same, displaying all the disdain Magnus Blackwell had frequently expressed in life.
He peered down at his empty hands and a low growl carried throughout the hall.
Magnus glimpsed his portrait over his shoulder, sighing as his eyes settled on the dragon cane.
"I feel naked without you, old friend."
A blur of gray shot across the living room doorway. Magnus turned and found a gray Maine Coon cat with a ruff of long hair sitting in the doorway. The animal hissed as it stared at him with its stormy green eyes.
"Don't push your luck, my friend," he said to the creature. "I tend to do terrible things when someone makes me angry."CHAPTER 2
Waves slammed into the rocky shore below as Lexie peered over the side of a sheer cliff to the sea. A spray of saltwater rose into the air as her stomach fluttered.
"You've got to be kidding me. The Atlantic Ocean is in our backyard."
Will raised his head to the rear of the home. "Yeah, gonna make this place a bitch to heat in winter."
"We can sleep in front of the big fireplace to stay warm." She put her hands on the rusty iron railing. "It will be cozy."
Will's snort carried around the courtyard. "Have you ever wintered in Maine?"
"No, but I'm sure —" The railing moved beneath her hands.
Will pulled her away from the edge and into his arms. "Are you okay?"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Damned"
Copyright © 2017 Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor.
Excerpted by permission of Vesuvian Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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