I've written stories since I could hold a pencil in my hand and form letters into words. I recently made the jump from Historical Romance to Contemporary Romantic Suspense, with a Paranormal Twist, in the When Spirits Stir Series.
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See a list of my books on this site and enjoy the blurbs
When Tracey Miller inherits Stone Oak, an abandoned music theater in Branson, Missouri, she gets more than renovation headaches. She’s caught in the middle of a battle between the spirits who dwell there.
Murmurings emerge from the granite slab that comprises one side wall of the theater. A mysterious crow in the rafters refuses to leave. The ominous oak tree outside scrutinizes Tracey through knot-hole eyes.
Then there's the cowboy from Oklahoma who shows up stating he's the owner of Stone Oak.
Tracey is propelled into a world of conflict, and the war won’t end until someone dies.
Present Day – Branson, Missouri
Tracey Miller bit her lower lip, took her foot off the gas, eased down on the brake, and checked the address written on a legal-size sheet of paper given by Attorney Walter Russell. Two forty-two Monument Drive. This was the place, all right. She blinked several times, hoping the image before her might improve. It didn’t. Desperation coiled in her stomach. A faded and peeling sign that once announced Stone Oak Music Theater dangled from a chain hook on what was left of a rusted iron tripod near the road.
Early morning mist laced through the autumn foliage of maples lining the street. It hung heavy in the air and caused a glare that made the driveway precarious to navigate. Once in the parking lot, Tracey coasted to a spot beneath the sprawling branches of a mammoth oak and turned off the ignition. She leaned forward, peered through the windshield to survey the natural stone and wood building constructed into the side of a hill. With only the front and one side wall exposed, the structure seemed a part of its surrounding landscape—overgrown and neglected.
“Oh. My. Glory.” Tracey sat back. Her flesh porcupined goosebumps she couldn’t rub away. Why would you purchase this dilapidated old place, Daddy? Why in the world would you leave such a shamble to me?
A tower room extended above the sagging pitched roof and formed a partial second story. Spider webs clung to the eaves. Black widows she’d bet. Rain-spattered, time-stained windows reflected the awakening of a new day.
What the hell am I going to do now? Her schematic for life didn’t align with the blueprint before her. She massaged her throbbing temples. Her father’s dealings so meticulous in the past, she’d not given a thought to making an advance trip to survey the property. Giving up a good paying but boring job in Columbia, Missouri, to relocate to Branson might not have been her best decision. She didn’t have a clue why her father would purchase a building in such disarray.
Tracey saw her dream of turning the inherited commercial property into a bookstore and gift shop teeter on a thin thread, like the abandoned bird’s nest that hung from the corner brace above one window. She’d arrived with hope and a vision of starting fresh, of turning Stone Oak into a unique business, making her entrepreneurial dream a reality before she turned thirty. Seeing the condition of the old theater, she wondered if that was a viable possibility. A breath escaped her lungs she didn’t realize she’d held. A shiver tensed her muscles. Thin rubber bands ready to snap.
“You’re here, girl. You might as well take a look.” She prayed the inside would yield more potential than what appeared on the outside. She exited the car, locked the door, and roped her determination.
The ancient guardian tree seemed to scrutinize her through knot-hole eyes when she glanced up at the span of thick twisted foliage. A breeze stirred the icy morning air. The branches of the oak dipped and swayed in angry protest.
Tracey headed toward the theater entrance. With each step she took the tree limbs flailed wilder in the wind. The leaves rustled an eerie refrain. Go away. Go away, they seemed to say. An ominous warning slithered up her spine and stopped her mid-step. She was dizzy. Her surroundings fuzzy, out of focus. She reached out and pressed her palm against the rough trunk of the oak to steady her gait. The smell of spent gun powder assaulted her nostrils. The musky scent of damp rotted timbers—of death, engulfed her like toxic smoke. She gasped, her lungs unwilling to expand. She jerked her hand from the tree and placed it against her throat and inhaled a deep cleansing breath. Again she breathed, coaxing her body to take in oxygen. Her heart thundered in her ears like dueling drums. She hadn’t been this afraid since she thought a monster lived in her closet.
Tracey stumbled away from the big oak and managed to regain her footing. The apprehension dissipated. Her heartbeat slowed. “Get a grip.” After a night of little sleep and fatigue, followed by the long drive from Columbia, along with her shock and dismay at seeing the property, opened a speedway for her imagination to run amuck. “It’s only a tree,” Tracey said aloud. Not some forest anomaly with eyes that followed her every move and leaves that shooed her away. Ridiculous. The odor, she surmised, the remnants carried on the wind of an animal that had crawled into the abandoned building and died. Although now, the foulness no longer drifted in the air.
She shook the scattered thoughts from her mind and hurried toward the theater, seeking shelter under the tattered doorway awning. The wind kicked up, blew harder, and wailed like a banshee when it cornered the building. Torn strips of the awning’s rotted fabric flapped in its wake. Tracey fumbled to put the skeleton key into the mud-caked lock, her fingers numb from the sudden cold.
The heavy wooden door screamed in protest against rusty hinges. Tracey forced her 120 pounds against it and shoved hard. The door swung open, she rushed inside, closed it tight, and leaned against the ornately carved barrier.
“Safe. You’re safe now.” Why would she say that? There was never any danger. She shook that notion from her mind.
It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dim interior. Slate tiles, dulled with years of grime, covered the floor. The hair on her arms prickled, not as if a cat stepped on a grave, but more like déjà vu.
She took several cautious steps into the area that appeared to have been the lobby of the one-time theater. Again, she experienced momentary vertigo and knew how Alice felt when she stepped through the looking glass.
Tattered and faded rose-colored velvet curtains obscured the morning sun that attempted to peek through dirty beveled glass windows. Through the riddled window coverings, eerie shadows from early morning traffic danced in strobe-like patterns across the floor. Dust particles floated in the stale air like ghost dancers. She sensed a kinship to the old building, an immediate belonging. Coming home.
There were many unanswered questions regarding this surprise inheritance. She and her father always had an open line of communication, yet he’d never mentioned this property before his death. Tracey questioned if she had the vision and means to turn an abandoned, crumbling theater into a profitable business.
She gazed around the lobby and tried to imagine it as it once was, bustling with eager visitors coming to see and hear country music stars and hopefuls. According to the information packet she’d received from the attorney handling the estate, Stone Oak in its day boasted being a hot spot of the Ozarks. Alive with the strains of guitars, mandolins, fiddles, and banjoes. Once it resounded with nasal voices singing about love and love lost, of living and dying, of going on and giving up. That was all before the big names in the country music field came to Branson and constructed enormous theaters along the now-famous Country Music Strip. In the growth that propelled a small town in Missouri to the top of the places-to-go and people-to-see charts, some small, locally-owned theaters could no longer compete. Stone Oak, located off the main drag had fallen prey to the jaws of tourism.
Tracey sat her purse on a dusty glass concession counter, heaved a ragged sigh, and yanked
the rotten faded curtain from the windows. That was a start. A show of commitment to transforming this old forgotten building into something special. She piled the torn fabric in a corner and scanned the room. “What did you have in mind, Daddy, when you purchased Stone Oak? Surely, you had a plan.”
One wall of the lobby was composed of a gray and white speckled slab of granite, floor to ceiling. A musty smell hovered in the space as she neared the massive rock wall. She reached out to touch its cool dampness, and her grasp on reality dimmed. The sudden fragrance of sage suffocating. Propelled into some mental vortex, Tracey’s mind and body warred to separate one from the other. She swayed, unsteady on her feet. Holding her head in her hands, she fought to focus on who and where she was. The spinning slowed. The incident ceased. It lasted only a moment but left her short of breath and weak-kneed.
“Glory.” Tracey rested her hands on her thighs and took a deep breath. What the heck is going on? She wasn’t prone to such spells, yet it’d happened twice since parking the car.
Food. She needed food. She’d left Columbia hours earlier with only a slice of toast and cup of coffee to sustain her. No wonder she was light-headed.
Remembering a small café not far away, she picked up her purse to leave when she heard a mournful sound. A woman’s voice. Crying. The sound vibrated off the walls, made it difficult to pinpoint its source. It was faint and timid but definite.
“Who’s there?” Tracey walked through an archway that led to the stage area. The cries echoed through the high rafters. “Where are you?” Are you hurt?”
The granite slab from the lobby continued into the auditorium forming one complete
sidewall. Walking down the aisle and between the rows of seats, Tracey tried to get a bearing on
the muted sobs but couldn’t. “I won’t hurt you. Please tell me where you are,” she pleaded.
“Nobody’s gonna answer ya, ma’am.” A gravel-cracked voice boomed behind her.
Tracey jerked around. The backlighting from the adjoining room silhouetted a slightly stooped man standing in the archway. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“Name’s Hank Parker. Mr. Russell, the attorney, sent me to be sure you found the place. Appears ya did.”
Tracey walked toward the man. “You scared the sass out of me, sneaking up like that.”
“Didn’t mean to. I called out when I came in the front door. Guess you didn’t hear me.” He removed his bright yellow baseball cap and rolled it in his hands. “I’ve been keepin’ an eye on the place since your daddy bought it. Meant to WD-40 them front door hinges afore now. I’ll get that taken care of today, make it easier for ya to come and go.”
Hank, dressed in faded bib overalls and scuffed work boots, escorted Tracey back to the lobby. She guessed him at about seventy, but his keen step and bright blue eyes gave evidence to a much younger state of mind.
“That noise you was trailin’ comes from behind the stone wall,” Hank offered.
“What is it?”
“Been all kinds of theories over the years, but most agree it’s an underground spring trapped behind the granite. The water flows against the rock and makes the sounds.”
“Yes, ma’am. Sometimes it takes on a cryin’ voice. Other times sings sweet as an angel choir.”
Tracey cocked her head and stepped closer to the stone wall but heard nothing.
“And sometimes The Lady sleeps,” Hank said. “Like now.”
“Oh, we call it The Lady on account it has a feminine ring to its goings-on.”
Tracey cocked her head. “Is this an Ozarks yarn?”
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Welcome to my website blog. I'm busy these days going through the final publishing stages for book one, Love's Lingering Refrain, in the When Spirits Stir Series. This begins my new Contemporary Romantic Suspense, with a paranormal twist, series. I've made the jump from Historical Romance, which was my Texas Strong Series. Life is a bit smokey up here in the Southern Sierras because of all the wildfires going on in California. We are a strong bunch. We will survive.