I am so excited, and to prove just how bouncing happy I am, you can all read the first chapter for FREE!
Plus...Pluses are always good when authors offer them...I will give away a PDF of Fairview to the first three people to tell me the names of all my books (hint: there are six of them).
But wait, there's more. I will also give away a PDF of my novella Calypso's Curse to the first five people to answer the above question.
So that's a PDF of my newest release, Fairview for the first three answers, and a PDF copy of Calypso's Curse for the first five. So that means three
lucky readers get copies of two of my books.
But wait, there's more. Oh, no there's not. I was getting a bit carried away.
The idea of a murder mystery party is simple. Someone pretends to die. The guests solve the murder. Simple. But when Marina Cornell is invited to Fairview House by her brother, solving the murder becomes a lot harder than she expected, especially because she is so easily distracted by Jackson Bradley, the gorgeous owner of the estate.
Cast as the nanny to watch over Jackson’s younger sisters, Marina is told blood-chilling stories of suspected murder and abandoned children, and it becomes quickly apparent that something isn’t right about the Bradley family. Or the house. One by one, the Bradley siblings are found dead and Marina finds her perception of real and make-believe distorted. Someone really is killing Jackson’s family, but the murderer is the one person she never expects and in the end, she must rely on more than love to save her life.
Darkness, thick and impenetrable, swept over the hills, across the dry plains of rural southwest Queensland, and folded around the replica Cobb & Co coach. The coach’s wooden wheels rattled, the sound almost drowning out the methodical clap of horses’ hooves on the unsealed road. Inside the coach, Marina Cornell surveyed a map in the pale light of the brass lantern hanging from the roof. Her slender finger followed the line of the road past Bell, past Dalby, then stopped when tiny letters spelled Fairview. She raised green eyes to the darkness beyond the window and sighed.
The youngest of her five brothers, Patrick, sat opposite and flicked through a newspaper. Dressed in early nineteenth century costume, he looked different, older than his twenty-six years. He swayed left, then right, unperturbed by the lurch of the carriage as it followed the curve of the road. Marina steadied herself with a hand on the seat and shook her head, bemused by her situation. When Patrick had offered to take her on a holiday for her 25th birthday, Vanuatu or the Whitsundays had come to mind—a world away from where the replica coach was taking her. She would rather be at the beach wearing her new polka-dot bikini, a pina colada in each hand, not in the middle of the Queensland outback. She chewed her lip thoughtfully. Maybe she could still wear her polka-dot bikini…
The image that filled her head brought a smile. She wore her pink and purple bikini and pointed at a faceless man. “It was Professor Goldworthy, on the staircase, with the crystal lamp base,” she declared. A pina colada magically filled her fingers and she smiled, triumphant. The image faded.
Another sigh whispered through her lips as the regular beat of horses’ hooves penetrated her thoughts. A murder mystery holiday! Of course Patrick would find the concept exciting; he relished mysteries, and he’d written dozens of novels dedicated to murder and mayhem. He’d submitted the stories to at least fifty publishers, but the replies had all said the same thing—his stories lacked realism and passion. After reading one, Marina tended to agree. Although she would never tell her brother.
She glanced at the moon, barely visible through the high clouds “It’s so dark,” she said.
“That’s because there’s only bush and paddocks out there.” Patrick took a glossy brochure from the seat beside him and waved it in her direction. “According to the brochure, Fairview Estate consists of over two hundred thousand acres of land. There isn’t another house for kilometres in either direction.”
“I don’t like the fact that we had to leave our phones and computers at home. What if something happens?”
“The week is set in the year nineteen hundred and seven, but I’m sure the owners could contact civilization somehow.” Patrick leaned forward to show her the brochure. “Here’s a list of cast members. There’s the nanny…” He shot an amused glance at her.
“I like kids,” Marina told him defensively.
“Mmmmhmmm,” he replied with a skeptical raise of his brows, and then studied the page again. “I play the very suave butler, a piece of casting genius. There’s Jackson Bradley, the owner, his siblings Addison, Melissa and Jessica.” He caught her gaze. “I wonder if they're the devil children.” He winked.
Marina rolled her eyes and chose not to bite the bait. She’d grown up with Patrick and four other brothers, and had become accustomed to their taunts.
Patrick continued, “There’s the family’s cousin Simon Ashbrook, Naomi the maid, Dot the housekeeper and cook, and lastly the farmhand Brad Harrison.”
“So one of them is the killer,” Marina said.
“And one the killee.”
“And you call yourself a writer.”
The coach slowed. Patrick moved closer to the window. “Hey, look. There’s the house.”
Fairview House broke the darkness ahead like a beautiful sandstone beacon. Bathed in the glow from fire lanterns, the house stood at the end of the curved driveway in all its nineteenth-century glory. Built in the French classic style, with thick pillars on the ground floor verandah, the two-storey homestead oozed grandeur and mystique.
Excitement widened Patrick’s eyes. “It’s huge.” He turned to her. “This holiday is going to be great.”
Marina wasn’t so sure. Uncertainty niggled at the back of her mind. She wasn’t comfortable with leaving all her modern gadgets behind, and would she really have to babysit the Bradley children?
Trees bordered both sides of the road, their branches stretched and twisted together to form an eerie, living arch. Thick tree trunks lined the cobbles, silent protectors of the night, watchers of the house. Once through ornate iron gates, the coach followed the curved drive to the front of the house. Patrick opened the door and jumped from the carriage, obviously eager for the holiday to begin.
Marina descended a little more slowly, accepting her brother’s assistance as she stepped from the last rung of the stepladder. In the cool of the evening, she studied the sandstone façade. Eight square windows punctured the first level of the house, and eight on the ground floor, their white painted frames stark against the muted sandstone slabs. Warm light flowed from the open double front doors, and the inviting aroma of baked chicken filled the evening air. But the familiarity of cooking and light didn’t make her any less apprehensive.
A middle-aged woman appeared in the doorway. She wore a brown Victorian style dress, her steel-grey hair plaited down her back to her waist. “Hello,” she called as she wiped her hands on a white apron. “Welcome. You must be the nanny and the butler. I’m Dot. Come in, come in. Naomi is waiting to show you to your rooms.”
Marina adjusted her gored skirt and then tugged at the matching tailored jacket she wore. Both items of clothing were a little big, but she hadn't had much choice at the fancy dress shop. With any luck, she wouldn’t be overdressed for her position as nanny. She drew in a deep breath and released it slowly to calm her nerves. She liked children, but caring for them wasn’t her forte. Antiques, on the other hand, were. Especially glass antiques.
Patrick nudged her with his elbow, and she entered the house with him close behind. A pretty, round-faced woman in her early twenties greeted them with a bright smile. “I’m Naomi. Follow me, and I’ll show you to your rooms.”
Suitcase in hand, Marina followed Patrick and the young woman up the sweeping staircase, and turned right to walk along a corridor. Small lanterns poked from the walls at even intervals, their flames bright enough to light the way. Ornate skirting boards and cornices followed the corridor to the very end, where a single round window stared into the night. The fresh scent of lemons drifted through the open doors to her left. Marina managed to peek into each room as she passed, but couldn’t see anything apart from shifting shadows.
Naomi stopped suddenly and turned to Patrick. “This is your room. Mister Bradley’s room is across the hall.” She indicated to a closed door. “I’m sure you will enjoy your time here. Please make yourself comfortable. Dinner is served at seven.”
“Excellent,” Justin said. “I’m starved. I might just dump my bag and head on down.”
“Very well. Mister Bradley is already in the dining room with his family.” Naomi turned to Marina and smiled. “Your room is on the other side of the house. This way.” She hurried past the stairs, into the left corridor, and stopped by an open door. “Here you are. Behind you is Melissa’s room. Jessica’s room is here on the other side of yours. They are your charges. Master Addison sleeps near Mister Bradley. The other three rooms are empty… Oh! Except for Mister Ashbrook’s room.”
Marina couldn’t concentrate on Naomi’s words. Her ears homed in on a sound coming from the ceiling of her bedroom. Tap. Tap. Tap. An eerie moan filtered through the walls. Marina’s grip on the handle of her suitcase tightened. “Did you hear that?” she whispered.
“That moan. It came from up there.”
“Oh…” Naomi’s laughter sounded false. “This is a large house, Miss Cornell. You might think you heard a voice, but it’s only Fairview settling.” She clasped her hands in front of her and smiled. “I’m sure you will enjoy your stay. Melissa and Jessica are delightful girls, and Mister Bradley is quite hospitable.” She turned and walked down the stairs. “Please join us in the dining room at seven for dinner.”
Marina remained in the corridor for a few moments and stared at the interior of her room. What she’d heard hadn’t been the house settling. She’d definitely heard a moan. The last of Naomi’s footsteps faded. Somewhere within the house cutlery tinkled. Glassware clinked. Distant feminine laughter sounded. She couldn’t hear any more taps or moans from the ceiling.
She entered the room, placed her suitcase on the bed and opened it to pull out the other costume she’d hired. Not much better than the brown plaid she wore, the dress sagged lifelessly from the hanger. Green. She sighed. Brown suit. Green dress. Why hadn’t she found a nice purple ballgown, or lace-trimmed shirt and skirt? She hung the dress on a hook behind the door so the creases would drop out.
Her gaze moved to the Edwardian bedstead, and her heart beat a little faster. The double bed consisted of white wrought-iron bars finished with brass rosettes. She caressed the cool iron bed end. Could it be an original? Marina turned to the mahogany cheval mirror and clapped her hands, excited. It had to be at least a hundred years old.
Patrick stopped in the doorway. “I’m heading down to dinner.”
Marina turned to him, speechless at the thought of the mirror and bedstead being original Edwardian furniture.
Patrick glanced at the mirror. “Don’t tell me…it’s an antique, right?”
“Edwardian,” she said, breathless.
Her brother rolled his eyes. “Don’t take too long, okay? You may be the only person worth talking to down there.”
Distracted, Marina nodded and ran her finger along the mirror’s frame. Over the years, how many people had admired their reflections here? Who had looked into this mirror? She checked her own image, and tucked dark wisps of hair back onto the matronly French knot. With one last glance at the bedstead, the mirror, and then her appearance, she left her bedroom and headed for the stairs. The house lacked ornaments and personal family items; only the occasional landscape painting of sheep, horses, or both, hung on the walls. She stepped onto the wooden floor of the entrance hall, and stopped.
A Victorian-era walnut side table sat against the wall to her left. The decanter and six glasses on the table caught her eye. She had sold a similar set only a week before -- circa 1900. She slid her finger along the curved lines of the side table, picked up a glass and studied it closely. In fact, they could be the very glasses she’d sold…
Masculine laughter erupted from the room behind her. She recognized her brother’s unrestrained guffaw. The other, more controlled chuckles she didn’t know.
“Marina, stop checking out the glasses,” Patrick yelled from the dining room.
Marina cringed. She gently placed the glass back onto the table. Her brother had no decorum. But, really, would she expect anything more from one of her brothers? She plastered a smile on her lips and crossed the wooden floor to enter the dining room.
Antique sideboards, perfect for the 1900s, filled three walls. A silver-gilded fireplace sat in the centre of the fourth wall, and a mahogany table with enough chairs to seat twenty dominated the room. Patrick sat at the end of the table and sipped wine like a true aristocrat, not the butler he’d been cast as. As Naomi showed her to her seat, Marina briefly acknowledged the three other men at the table and sat in the chair between two teenaged girls. “Hello everyone,” she muttered and accepted a glass of wine from her brother. “Would we normally eat dinner here?” she asked.
Patrick shook his head. “Just tonight, so we can meet everyone.”
“And so everyone can meet you. Patrick has informed me of your love for antiques, Miss Cornell.”
Marina raised her gaze to the dark-haired man who had spoken. Blue eyes rested on her face. Very blue eyes.
“Myself,” he continued, “I enjoy art.”
“Marina likes art, too.” Patrick’s tone encouraged her to continue.
She toyed with the stem of her wine glass, looked at the man and then quickly lowered her eyes, strangely flattered by his attention. Marina was about to tell him about her antique shop, Glass Shards, but remembered she played the part of an Edwardian nanny, not a 21st century independent woman. “I particularly like glassware.” She lifted the crystal wineglass. “Glasses, decanters, vases, perfume bottles…”
The man’s face came alive with a smile. “Fascinating.”
“I think so.”
“Forgive me if I sounded insincere. I find your passion for glass fascinating.”
He placed his glass on the table and rubbed his hands together. “Now for the introductions.” He nodded to the auburn-haired man who sat beside him. In his late teens, maybe twenty, he studied Marina with mocking grey eyes. “This is my brother, Addison.”
“Sonny,” Addison corrected. He stood and leaned across the table to shake her hand. “If you call me Addison I’ll think I’m in trouble.”
“Which is never far from the truth," the dark-haired man went on. "Beside Sonny is our sister, Melissa. On your right is our other sister, Jessica, the baby of the Bradley family. Next to Patrick is our cousin, Simon Ashbrook, and I am Jackson Bradley.”
Marina nodded to everyone in turn before her attention returned to Jackson. The start of a smile tipped one corner of his mouth as he raised his glass in a toast. “Welcome to Fairview Estate.”
Marina also raised her glass. Welcome to a week of eye candy. She sipped the wine and relaxed considerably. Her gaze lingered on the eldest of the Bradley family. A snug-fitting black waistcoat covered his white button-up shirt, and he wore a dark blue cravat tucked into his waistcoat. His blue eyes caught and held hers over the top of her wine-glass. Immediately, a tingle started in the pit of her stomach. A poolside birthday party suddenly became unimportant. Her polka-dot bikini became a faded fantasy, and the pina coladas she’d dreamed of became dry white wine in antique crystal glasses. Gone was the tropical beach, replaced by the dry dirt of outback Queensland.
“I’ve lost my cat.”
Startled from her thoughts, Marina turned to Jessica Bradley. Roughly thirteen years old, spirals of copper colored hair fell to her shoulders. Two ruby-encrusted combs secured her hair out of brooding dark eyes.
“Her name is Tabby,” Jessica explained. “She’s orange and white, and she’s been missing since yesterday.”
“I’ll keep my eye out for her,” Marina replied.
Melissa Bradley shifted her chair across the floor. Long, strawberry-blonde hair fell down the back of her white blouse to the waistband of her dark blue skirt. A headband made of pink lace kept hair off her face, and as she leaned in closer, her sky-blue eyes shone with kindness. “You like him, don’t you?”
“I like who?”
Melissa giggled, only as a teenager could. “Jack, of course.”
Aghast that she could be so transparent, Marina stared at the young woman. “I don’t know your brother,” she whispered.
By now, Jessica had edged her way between the table and Marina’s chair, and virtually sat on her lap to hear the conversation. “But you want to,” she said.
Marina shook her head.
“Jack needs something to distract him,” Melissa told her.
“Distract him from what?”
Melissa’s eyes glowed with admiration when they moved to Jackson. “When our father died, six years ago, Jack returned from the navy to care for us and the farm. Sometimes, he looks so sad and lonely.”
Marina looked at Jackson. His entire face lit up as he spoke to Patrick and Sonny. He certainly didn’t look sad and lonely -- handsome maybe, but not miserable.
“So, Simon, tell us about your travels,” Jackson was saying. “Have you found anything of interest further north?”
Simon nodded. “Bundaberg and Rockhampton have grown threefold since I visited in eighteen ninety two.” Hazel eyes surveyed the faces at the table. “Sugarcane is the latest fad. I’ve secured a few hundred acres for my own plantation.”
“Sealing your name as a landowner?” Jackson asked with a grin.
“Hardly. I may own land, but my moneybags are empty. My sights are set on an estate as grand as Fairview.” Simon shrugged slender shoulders. “I’ll get there, one day. By the way, rain and flooding chased me down the coast. I predict some very wet weather over the next few days.”
Melissa released a surprised gasp. Jessica clapped her hands and squealed quietly. Marina understood the family’s excitement about the coming rain; she’d recently read about the drought and its effects on farmers in the west.
“That’s excellent news,” Jackson said. “I haven’t heard rain on the roof for over half a year. I’ve lost five head of cattle today alone, and Brad is out there looking for sixty stray sheep.”
“Well, there is a lot of rain coming,” Simon replied. “Enough to fill the dams twice over, and to give life to that empty creek at the bottom of the garden.”
“It’s about time,” Sonny declared. “We haven’t had good rain since Father—.”
The table went quiet. Sonny had lowered his eyes to the glass of wine in front of him. Melissa and Jessica exchanged worried looks. Jackson stared straight ahead of him, jaw tensed.
“I’m sorry,” Sonny muttered. “I know you didn’t want us talking about Father.”
Jackson placed a hand on his brother’s shoulder and gave him a reassuring smile. “Our father’s tragic story is one of the many sacrifices made to keep Fairview Estate operative.”
Marina met the excited glow in Patrick’s eyes. He mouthed, “What happened to their father?” and shot a look in Jackson’s direction. Marina barely lifted her shoulders into a shrug and glanced around the table once more. Even Simon’s eyes had lowered.
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“Dinner!” Dot called as she pushed the dinner cart into the room. “Roast chicken and vegetables, all reared and grown on Fairview land; parsley dumplings and warm bread, straight from the oven.”
Thankful sighs echoed around the table. The family was spared having to tell their father’s tragic story, much to Marina’s disappointment.
“Dot…” Jackson said, “…you have impeccable timing.”