Escaping New York after a client's untimely death, medium Adrianna Sinclair flees to her family property in Italy. All she wants is to avoid ghosts, but an attractive one tempts her in ways she never knew possible.
Luca Fausto has been trapped on the Romani property for over a century for a crime he didn't commit. Adrianna may be the answer to breaking the curse that keeps him bound.
Standing in their way is a demonic spirit's plan for revenge. Will they prevail or will Luca be cursed to the shadows forever?
|Publisher:||Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)|
Read an Excerpt
You have arrived, the GPS app announced.
For the first time since she turned the app on at the airport in Rome, the overly perky voice failed to elicit a teeth-grinding response. Amazing. Not her lack of response, but the place nestled before her in a copse of trees.
Adrianna Sinclair gawked at the ruined mill. Was this awesome building really on her family's ancestral property? She checked the address on the GPS against the address in her email. Yep. The same.
Midafternoon sun beamed through the copse of trees and danced along light brown stones. Green vines with lush leaves crept around the corners of the edifice while dappled light played peek-a-boo with the stones hidden behind the greenery. Two towers sat in the middle of the ruin with water-stained crenellations reaching toward the sky like arms lifted heavenward for help. One side of the mill had been remodeled with a thick slab of steel for the roof. The other half remained in ruins.
Wow. Just. Wow.
She opened the rental car door and slowly stepped out, resting one arm on the door, her gaze snagged on the ancient structure. Humidity wrapped around her like a heavy blanket in the heat of the afternoon sun. The scent of late summer grass and crushed vegetation filled her nose. Tension eased from her muscles as a warm breeze wrapped around her like a soft blanket.
Umbria, Italy, in the summer never failed to relax her. Escaping here was a great idea.
A squeal of joy caused her to turn to the side, where an older couple jumped out of a car. A car she should have noticed driving up, but holy smokes, the mill captured her attention like a poltergeist on a rampage.
She focused on the older couple heading her way. A smile crept across her face. The caretakers, Luigi and Maria Toscano, had been married for more years than she could ever dream of and were more like family than hired help. Luigi met her gaze, his mouth mirroring her smile. The gray-haired, plump Maria darted around their car, past her husband, and enveloped her in a hug.
"Oomph." The hug came close to smothering her, but at least she had no doubt she was welcomed.
Which was a nice change from what she'd left behind.
"Maria!" She wrapped her arms around the short, matronly woman and squeezed. Home. Maria feels like home.
"Let me look at you." Maria stepped back, holding her at arm's length. Her brown eyes looked her up and down. She tsked. "Too skinny. And you look tired. We'll fix both those problems. Some good food. A little rest. But first you must see the mill."
Luigi limped across the short distance between the cars. When had he started limping? Once he reached them, he enveloped her in a large hug. Another confirmation she'd made the correct decision to leave New York City for Italy.
"Look at you, look at you." Luigi patted her on the back before releasing her. He stepped back and like his wife, let his gaze rake her from head to toe and back again. "You've grown up."
A smile played across her lips. Her Italian was rusty from several years of little to no practice, but it would come back. The out-of-use words wrapped around her tongue as she spoke. "That's what happens when fifteen years go by."
"Fifteen years?" Maria shook her head. "It's been that long?"
Hard to believe she'd spent so long without visiting her family's land. Her land now. Sort of. She shared the title with cousins she only corresponded with on rare occasions and barely remembered from her youth.
Coming to Italy had multiple benefits, including escaping New York City, catching up with relatives, and learning about property maintenance. Not that she was expected to grab a hoe and hack at a grapevine, or whatever one did with a hoe. No, as the property managers, that was the Toscanos' expertise.
Although she suspected they no longer wielded hoes.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have stayed away so long, but life got busy." She hid a yawn behind her hand. The nine-hour flight from New York to Rome, then driving for over an hour was catching up to her. Not to mention the time change. She might be hungry and looking forward to anything Maria cooked, but she'd really prefer to crash for the rest of the day.
"You haven't been back since you went off to university." Maria glared while Luigi nodded.
Fifteen years. Time flew. Hadn't she just been seventeen yesterday, eager to start college and be an adult? Adulting wasn't as fun as her seventeen-year-old self had imagined.
Hoping her smile erased Maria's shaming glare, Adrianna patted the older woman's arm. "I know. I'm sorry. College was busy. And then Grandfather died. And work got crazy." And the Very Bad Thing happened. Hopefully Maria and Luigi hadn't read any of the papers from New York City. Or the internet, tabloids, or gossip rags.
Their English might not be the best, but anyone could hit the translate button on internet news articles and discover the main reason New York City was no longer her city of choice. Being questioned in a murder investigation while having one's face and name splashed across all media outlets tended to do that to a person. She'd gone from being a well-known medium to a second- rate psychic overnight.
All her fault.
She shook her head. Nope. Not getting into it. Italy was her escape. Her perfect home. A permanent vacation to another life.
"Tell me about the mill." She gestured to the moss-covered stone ruins.
A spark lit their eyes as they looked toward the mill, excitement and pride written across the lines of their faces. Maria spoke. "You know we sold the manor house, yes?"
She nodded. She hated to hear that news, but times changed, and while the vineyards and farming properties were profitable, they were not profitable enough to keep up repairs on the sixteenth- century house. She missed the place, but she understood why it needed to be sold. Apparently, the new owners had turned it into an online rental home.
"For centuries, people from all around brought their grain here" — Maria gestured to the ruined building — "for the waterwheel to grind. We knew the stories, how industrialization at the turn of the last century had put most of the mills out of business, and they were left abandoned. But we could never find the mill. It couldn't have been part of the manor house because there wasn't a stream close enough to it. And yet there are stories."
She blinked. Stories? About mills? She couldn't remember hearing any interesting tales about mills, but then again, she'd flown nine hours to Rome, grabbed a rental car, and made it here without falling asleep at the wheel. That accomplishment depleted her last reserve of brain power. "Stories?"
"Many stories. Your grandfather didn't tell you about them?"
Had he? It wasn't like she remembered every single conversation she'd ever had with him. "If he did, I don't remember. But it's beautiful." Her eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute. How could you or my family not know where the mill stood? I know it's a huge property, but still. Wouldn't someone have seen it?"
"You'd think." Excitement turned Maria's speech into a rush of words. "But the land reclaimed it. Trees were growing through everything. We left some of the vines, as you can see." She gestured to the vines spilling from the partially collapsed roof. "The whole thing was overgrown. It took forever to clean it up and make it presentable."
"Okay." The place retained enough of a "buried in a forest" look for her believe Maria's explanation, despite how odd it seemed not to know such a large building existed on the estate. "How did you find it?"
A gleam shone from Luigi's eyes. "We went exploring."
"You did the exploring yourselves?" Adrianna looked from one to the other. Fifteen years ago, she wouldn't have asked the question.
Maria waved a hand. "No, no. Several years ago, after your sweet grandfather passed and we had sold the manor house, we were approached by an enterprising young man with one of those drones. He wanted permission to fly it over our land —"
"He was one of those archeologists. Looking for abandoned mills."
When Luigi took a breath, Maria finished the story. "And he found one. On our property. The mill of the stories."
"And we've turned it into a bed and breakfast." Luigi looked as if he'd found a rent-stabilized apartment in the Bronx.
"You have?" Had they told her that when they offered to let her stay here?
Maria glared at Luigi. "Not yet. We'd like you to try it out first. You said you didn't know how long you wanted to stay. We thought you might rather stay here for free than at a hotel."
They were right. This place was cool, and she'd have some much-needed time to herself. Being alone would give her time to think and strategize her future. Judging by the way nausea roiled her gut each time she thought of returning to New York and continuing her work as a medium, she needed a new life plan.
"That would be great. Is it an apartment or just a room?"
"An apartment. Kitchenette and bathroom." Maria gestured to their left. "The pool is over there."
She glanced toward the pool, but before she got a good look, Maria pointed to the trunk of the car. "Luigi, grab her bag."
Before the older man could move, she fast-stepped to her trunk and popped it open. She grabbed her suitcase, heaved the heavy luggage out of the trunk, and jumped back as it fell on the grass with a soft thud, narrowly missing her foot.
"Luigi, hurry up." Maria clapped her hands twice. "A tiny thing like her can't be expected to lift a suitcase."
She managed to stop an eye roll. Tiny thing? Yeah, right. She was thin but stayed in shape by lifting weights, swimming, and weekly Tae Kwon Do classes. Or at least she had until her poor advice made her want to flee the Big Apple. Running away from problems instead of meeting them head on was a new one for her, but everyone needed to try something different once in a while.
She shook her head. Not thinking about it. Her one-way ticket to Italy came with a deal to not think about what had happened in New York.
At least for the moment.
Before Luigi could grab her luggage, she pulled up the handle, tilted the suitcase onto its wheels, and yanked it across the grass toward the ruins. No way was she letting an elderly man carry the heavy thing. And when had Luigi gotten so old? The last time she saw him, he'd looked like he could pick up a sumo wrestler and pitch him across the gym. Now? Now she doubted he could pick up the wrestler's head gear.
Luigi fell into step beside her, shrugging at Maria's glare.
"This place is amazing."
Created from brown and white stones, the mill boasted two towers in the middle with an arched bridge between them. A sloped tunnel entrance under the bridge paid homage to a dried-out stream bed once diverted to power the mill. The left wing had been renovated to contain the apartment; the right remained in ruins. Tunnels ran underneath both wings, their darkened entrances resembling the black eyes of a demon.
Trees encroached upon the back of the building. At one time, vines overran the entire structure, but most of those had been removed during the cleanup, leaving behind artfully arranged greenery in the corners, falling like a trellis from the roof. A thick metal slab served as a roof and covered the top of the ruin above the apartment.
An amazing feat considering the structure was originally built in the sixteenth century without the advancements of modern construction equipment.
They walked toward the mill, veering to the left side. A wooden door with a window to the right of it greeted them. Her sneakers crunched on the gravel patio as she drew in a breath heavy with the rich scent of fresh flowers. A bench with metal trim and wood slats sat under a window surrounded by flowerpots containing bright blooms of red, yellow, and white. Across from the bench stood a black, metal, trident lamppost.
Luigi pulled a key out of his pocket, unlocked the door and shoved it open. He handed her the key, then he and Maria stepped back, allowing her to pull her suitcase into the room.
"Wow! This is great!" She looked around the room. A queen- sized bed with ornately designed walnut head and footboards was covered in a white bedspread. Matching marble-topped nightstands sat on either side of the bed. Cherubim holding lampshades stood on the nightstands. A large rug covered the brown-tiled floor under the bed.
She set her suitcase on the mattress and turned in a half circle. A table surrounded by four chairs sat to her right. Behind the table, sunk deep into the wall, was a window which overlooked the not- yet-renovated wing. A fireplace bereft of logs sat on the wall next to the table, with a glass frame containing her family's crest hanging above the mantel. Two comfy-looking chairs faced the hearth as if waiting for the warmth of crackling wood. A dresser sat on the wall perpendicular to the fireplace.
She walked to the door left of the bed and pushed it open, poking her head inside. A bathroom. Always good to know where those were located. Closing the door, she glanced at the small kitchenette between the bathroom and the front door and back to Maria.
A smile spread across her face.
Maria clasped her hands together. "I'm glad you like it."
"Like it? I love it! You really don't mind me staying here?"
"No, no. It's not totally fixed up." She glanced at Luigi, an unreadable expression passing between them.
What did that glance mean? Maybe they had construction issues. As long as she had running water and an indoor toilet, she was good.
"You unpack while we get dinner out of the car." Maria gestured to the dresser. "I cooked lasagna for us. We can eat and talk about what's been going on with you."
Once they left, she busied herself unpacking clothes, placing the items in the dresser under the front window. She hung her dresses on the small rack in the bathroom. The lip balm, chargers, and e-reader she placed in the drawer of the nightstand next to a flashlight. Click-click. She pushed the button on the flashlight, turning it on and off. She had just placed her suitcase in the corner of the room when the Toscanos returned.
As soon as they put the food on the table, a cold breeze swept through the room, ruffling her hair. Maria and Luigi's eyes widened as they glanced at each other. Small hairs prickled her nape like fingernails scratching across her skin. The cold draft only meant one thing, and it wasn't a blast from the air conditioner. She doubted this place even had an AC.
No, the cold air meant a pissed-off spirit raced around her room. If she tried, she could see the thing, but she'd decided to no longer interact with ghosts shortly after being released from the police interrogation room. Which meant she was no longer working as a medium.
Bam! They all jumped as one of the nightstand lamps fell onto the floor.
Yep, a seriously pissed-off spirit.
Another gust of cold air swirled through the room. She felt the clash, the fight, even though she refused to allow herself to look at the swarming specters.
Why couldn't they leave her alone? Because spirits are attracted to mediums. She knew the reason, yet a break every once in a while would be nice. Especially when she'd sworn never to converse with one again.
She took a deep breath, marched to the nightstand, and placed the lamp upright where it belonged. At least the golden cherub remained in one piece. Cold stung her hand, residue from the entity tingling her palm. Never a good sign. Closing her eyes, she focused on centering her thoughts, on stopping the chill from traveling up her arm. Before she opened her eyes, warmth returned to the room, the cold air vanishing like it appeared, sudden and without warning.
Maria held her fingers over her gaping mouth while Luigi pressed a hand against his chest. Their pale cheeks slowly regained color. Maria recovered first, crossing herself as if that would help protect her from an angry specter hellbent on destruction.
Did they know an evil spirit inhabited the place? Or were they as surprised as she was? "Something you want to tell me?"
Another meaningful glance between the couple. Luigi shrugged. "It's an old mill. We have ghosts."
She raised a brow. "Those weren't just ghosts." Ghosts did not leave behind a cold residue that caused tingles to creep across her flesh. She rubbed her hand on her jeans, trying to wipe away the sensation.
"No. At least one of them was demonic."
Maria's eyes widened as she crossed herself again. "You're saying a demon haunts this place?"
"Not a demon. Not exactly." Massaging her still-tingling hand, she shook her head. "If a spirit was an evil person in life, like a murderer, it crosses over into death. The spirit becomes demonic. Most spirits are neutral."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Shadowheart Curse"
Copyright © 2019 Karilyn Bentley.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
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