Friday, December 13, 2019

Christmas at Caynham Castle

at Caynham Castle

Genre: Christmas Romance

Publisher: Rickety Bookshelf

Date of Publication:  November 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-944570-00-2

Cover Artist: Lyndsey Lewellen


A seasonal ball, a charming town
on the Welsh border, and an ancient castle with adventure, mystery, ghosts and
romance in every corner.

Celebrate the Christmas season
with seven authors, each telling the story of the holiday at Caynham Castle in
her own spectacular style.

Ghost of Christmas Past

Genre: Paranormal Romantic

Story Description:

Dr. Denby “Bee” Alden, is a bee
expert from Haven Harbor, Massachusetts. She’s at Caynham Castle to research
ancient beekeeping techniques…and to escape. The ex-boyfriend who dumped her is
getting married and staying for the wedding would be salt in the wound. While
at Caynham, she finds an earl, a dastardly thief, and a ghost. Can the castle
ghost help Bee and the earl find something to celebrate this holiday season?

from The Ghost of Christmas Past:

(This scene takes place after Bee and the Earl, Ward
Mortimer, have spent a little time together and been very attracted to one

“Here now, young
lady, that’s enough for today,” Mrs. Marshbanks slded. The archivist bustled
over. “Ruin your eyes, you will. Not a lamp made that makes up for long winter
evenings here in Shropshire. Not to mention all that cramped script. Tomorrow
will be soon enough for the next journal.”
Reluctantly, Bee
marked her place with the provided ribbon and closed the ancient diary. “It’s
so fascinating, Mrs. Marshbanks. On one hand, so much has changed,” she mused,
stripping off the cotton gloves she’d used to handle the antique books. “On the
other hand, especially when it comes to bees, so little has changed.” Shaking
her head, she rose. “Wow. I’m stiff from sitting so long.”
“And no wonder!”
The older woman exclaimed. “You’ve been at it all day.”
“I don’t have
the luxury of time,” Bee told her. “I’ve only three weeks left.”
“You’re making
good use of your time,” the older woman approved. “But you won’t do your work
any service if you’re exhausted. Now, I’ll see you here in the morning, bright
and early.”
“I should have
checked on what time Mr. Mortimer wanted to show me the silver.” She frowned,
glanced at her phone. “Should I call him, or just come here first?”
Before Mrs.
Marshbanks could comment, Bee’s phone rang.
“Bee Alden,” she
“Dr. Alden, It’s
Ward Mortimer. How was your day in the archives?
“Amazing. Mrs.
Marshbanks and I were closing up shop.”
There was a
surprised pause. “You’ve been at it since I left you this morning?”
Bee nearly
rolled her eyes. Did no one realize how challenging it was to get time off? It
wasn’t like she got to jaunt off to England on a whim, right?
“Yes, well, as I
told Mrs. Marshbanks, I only have a limited time and you’ve been most gracious
so I want to utilize every moment.”
“Of course, of
course,” he backtracked. “Well since you’re still in the main building, may I buy
you dinner? I’d love to show you some of our hospitality.”
A hum of
awareness zipped through her. A date. With the earl.
That thought
stopped her in her tracks. Her friend Lydia, who ran a popular shop in Haven
Harbor, had done a Tarot spread for her before she left. It had indicated she’d
meet a powerful man.
She guessed an
earl ranked as powerful.
“Sorry, yes. I’d
love that. Thanks.”
“Perfect. Shall
I meet you in the dining room?”
When?” She glanced at her watch. It was nearly seven.
Relief coursed
through her. She would have time to run up to her room and freshen up a bit.
“Great. See you
there.” She turned the phone off and gathered her things and she and Mrs.
Marshbanks walked out together.
“I’ll see you in
the morning, Mrs. Marshbanks. Thank you again, for today.”
The older woman
nodded, smiling. “A pleasure. Truly. Have a good evening.”
Bee hurried
across the Great Hall to the solarium side, and down the long, relatively
narrow corridor that led to the Lady Alice Neville Tower. She’d already plopped
her computer and purse on her bed when she realized how cold the room was.
“Crap, did I
turn it to AC or something?” Bee muttered, turning to the thermostat.
That’s when she
saw the ghost.
Her distinct
outline and her period dress were clear and delineated in every detail. Other
than being completely white, Lady Lenore could have been someone doing period
reenactment. Then again, she’d brought a winter’s worth of ghostly cold air
with her. There was no mistaking it.
“So what are
your intentions toward my many-times-great grandnephew, eh?” The ghostly figure
demanded with a knowing smile. “Do you wish to court him? Or just bed him?”
Bee shut her
gaping mouth with a snap of temper. “None of your business.” She crossed her
arms. “Why are you talking to me? Ghosts don’t talk to me, they talk to my
cousin, Dan, and even then, only if we’re related.”
“Perhaps we are
related, then,” the ghost replied, trailing her translucent fingers over the
bedcovers and moving around the room. “Many of the Nevilles, and a goodly
number of Mortimers went to America.” The ghost turned, facing her. “You’re not
afraid of me.”
“Why would I
be?” Bee stated, keeping her voice even, though her knees wanted to knock and
her voice wanted to quiver. “You’re long dead, Lady Lenore.”
“I frighten
most,” she said, and Bee detected the faintest trace of melancholy in the
ghost’s manner, though she smiled. “Most don’t even see me.”
Bee wasn’t sure
where this was going. “I see you.”
The ghost cocked
her head. “And I see you, Denby Alden.” The ghost sat––hovered––in the chair by
the window. “Will you share your body with my grandnephew?”
Blushing, Bee
turned to the wardrobe. She needed to get changed so she could meet Ward––the
ghosts many-times-great grand-nephew. “Why do you care?”
There was a
silvery laugh from the ghost. “I want my line to continue, of course. To have
another witch come to the castle, and one who knows the bees, would suit me
well. It would suit the bees.”
“It doesn’t work
that way these days, Lady Lenore.”
This time the
ghost looked amused. “Of course it does. You think you decide your matches and
your matings, but mostly, you all still follow the heat between your legs.”
“Lady Lenore!”
Bee exclaimed, blushing furiously now. “What a thing to say!”
Now the ghost
really cackled. “Is it not true? I saw this morning how he looked at you. There
is desire there. You should press your advantage.”
Bee snatched her
clothes and stomped to the bathroom. How weird was it that she didn’t want to
change in front of a ghost? She moved quickly lest Lady Lenore pop into the
bathroom to continue their chat.
“For heavens
sake, I barely know him,” she protested, returning to the room. “And even if I
do have the hots for him, that doesn’t mean I’m going to act on it––”
The protest fell
into the quiet of the empty room. The ghost was gone.

Jeanne Adams:

Jeanne Adams writes award-winning
romantic suspense, paranormals, mysteries, and urban fantasies, as well as
space adventures with her pal, Nancy Northcott

Since all Jeanne’s books have
blood on the pavement and a high body count, it’s a good thing she knows how to
get rid of the evidence. Then again, after spending 13 years in the funeral and
cemetery business, she’d better! (She uses that knowledge to teach her highly
acclaimed class on Body Disposal for Writers.)

Jeanne lives in DC with her
husband, two teenage sons, and three dogs – two Labs and an Irish Water
Spaniel. She loves football, baseball, dog shows, Halloween and the weird.
Don’t tell, but she’s also prone to adopting more dogs when her husband isn’t

Featured in Cosmopolitan
Magazine, and other publications, her books have been consistently hailed as
“One of the best Suspense Books of the Year!” by Romantic Times.

Cross Springs Novella

Genre: contemporary romance

Story Description:

A young woman from Cross Springs,
NC, who was orphaned young and has not found a place to call “home” until she
lands in Caynham-on-Ledwyche and meets a local man who is reconnecting with his

from Christmas Crossroads:

When Connie
Burns talked, everyone in Cross Springs, North Carolina, listened. Especially
the employees at her new event-planning company. Most especially those hired
away from key competitors, like Chrissie Mayhew.
incredibly grateful to be working for Connie’s new firm, wanted desperately to
impress her stylish, slightly intimidating boss. She hated to gape, as she knew
she was doing, but she wasn’t at all sure she’d heard Connie right. “Wait, you
want me to handle a Christmas wedding alone? As in, by myself?”
“Yes,” Connie
said, eyebrows raised in a manner that spoke volumes about how she felt about
Chrissie’s question. “I’m sure you’ll give it your very best. It’s the wedding
of the daugh-ter of my friend Prudence.”
Lytton?” Chrissie asked, hating how her voice rose to a veritable squeak.
“Yes,” Connie
said, giving her a look Chrissie could only define as disgusted. “Prudence
Lytton. The rich British lady who lives in that Tudor monstrosity in Surrey
Hills. And yes, it’s a monstrosity. I know because I sold it to her.”
Connie had been
a go-to real estate agent for years before she decided to start an
event-planning business. Though Top Tier Events was only two years old,
Connie’s business and social connections and impeccable taste had shot it to
the apex of everyone’s must-have list.
“So, a Christmas
wedding.” Chrissie’s brain raced with ideas. Christmas was her favorite time of
year, so she had a million ideas for how to knock this wedding out of the park.
“Does the bride have any specific ideas?”
Connie snorted a
laugh. “Does she ever. For one thing, she insists on having it in Pru-dence’s
home town of Caynham-on-Ledwyche.”
Where is that, like Massachusetts or somewhere?” Chrissie had visited New
England once, but that name did not ring a bell.
“It’s in
England, Chrissie. Caynham-on-Ledwyche, England. It’s in Shropshire, which is
northwest of London, close to the border with Wales. Takes about 2-1/2 hours to
get there from the airport.”
panic, which she’d tried to beat down, rattled its cage and almost broke out.
She didn’t even know which airport Connie meant. “I’ve never been to England. I
don’t know anything about it, don’t know anyone there, and I have no idea how
to even start planning a wedding overseas. Do they even have a venue booked?”
Connie obviously
saw the panic writ large on her face. “Don’t worry, Chris. Prudence booked the
venue six months ago. It’s this awesome medieval castle, Caynham Castle, and
the wedding will be in the chapel. It’s not a church, just a chapel, so they’ve
arranged for someone to perform the ceremony who isn’t a pastor, just a
layperson or whatever. I have the name for the events coordinator at the
Castle, a caterer, a florist, the whole nine yards. All you have to do is
contact the bride, get her particulars, then work with the vendors to get
things set up. Easy peasy!”
“Connie, I hate
to ask, but is this some sort of trial-by-fire thing?  A test to see if I break under the pressure
or pull off a miracle or something? ‘Cause it kind of feels that way.”
Connie smiled.
Not an evil smile, which Chrissie had definitely seen on her, but a genuine
smile. “Chris, the reason I hired you away from Events Bar None”—Connie rolled
her eyes—“was that you have vision. I know that you’ll represent Top Tier in
the manner I expect. This wedding will have grace, panache and a unique,
personal touch. A Top Tier touch. A Chrissie Mayhew touch.”
Chrissie tried
not to tear up at the compliment, but it was a struggle. Connie Burns be-lieved
in her like no one else had since her mom died. It meant everything. “I won’t
let you down, Connie. I’ll make sure Prudence and her daughter…”
Of course.
“Lucinda. I’ll make sure they are both delighted with all the arrangements.
I’ll ensure this wedding enhances our reputation.”
Connie picked up
a folder stuffed full of papers and handed it to Chrissie. “I know you will,”
she said. “That’s why I assigned you. Now, go make sure your passport is
current and start making calls.”

the Author:

Caren Crane was born and raised
in Nashville, Tennessee, the home of country music. She doesn’t love country
music, but she does love books. Nashville had plenty of those in the Inglewood
branch of the Nashville Public Library. Thanks to the librarians, she
discovered classical literature (they approved) and Barbara Cartland (they did
not). Thanks to her mother, she discovered Harlequin Romances. When the writing
bug bit, she was doing cubicle time in the world of electrical engineering. She
greatly prefers writing.

Caren lives in North Carolina
with her wonderful husband and a semi-feral rescue cat. She has three
intelligent, gorgeous grown children and has neatly side-stepped her mother’s threat
that she would have children Just Like Her.


Story Description:

Morgan Lafayette is a Light Witch
with a Shadow problem. Injured while trying to rescue a young psychic, Morgan
is in a race against time and the blight growing inside her. Her family sends
her to Caynham-on-Ledwyche to meet with Meg Davies, a powerful healer. She
doesn't expect to meet Meg's son and fellow astral traveler Arthur Davies or
have him become her literal knight in shining armor. With the blight growing
and threatening her nascent relationship, will Morgan put her trust in
Shadowchaser Kira Solomon, knowing the Chaser will literally hold her life in
her hands?

from Still:

Morgan plastered
on a smile as the chime sounded, announcing a customer entering Lafayette’s Teas
and Reads. Summoning smiles grew more difficult by the day. Six weeks ago, she
didn’t have a problem. Six weeks ago, she didn’t need the tea leaves swirling
at the bottom of a cup to give a customer a reading. Six weeks ago, she’d been
whole and nightmare-free and not breaking a hematite ring every three days from
stress and negativity.
The door chimed
again, so she smiled again. That smile froze as her mother, father, and
grandmother entered the shop. For them to come to River Street, much less downtown
Savannah, meant something was wrong. Given the way they looked at her, that
something was definitely her.
A heavy breath
slumped her shoulders. She led them to the back office, ignoring her cousin
Jackie’s worried expression. Maybe it was guilt. Maybe Morgan was the only one
in the Lafayette family who didn’t know a confrontation was coming, given that
her extrasense was about as reliable as a broken clock. “This intervention
couldn’t wait until I got off work?”
Her grandmother
reached out to cup her hand, skin the color of pecan pralines stretched tight
over the gnarled bones. She rested her thumb against Morgan’s wildly pounding
pulse. “How are you?”
The automatic
answer leapt to her tongue, forcing her to press her lips together to hold it
back. She wasn’t fine. Lying to her grandmother would be futile—that thumb over
her pulse was the best lie detector in Savannah, if not the state. Probably the
“I’m managing,”
she equivocated.
“Are you?” her
mother asked, studying her closely. “It hasn’t been that long since—”
“I know, Mama,”
she cut in, not wanting to hear the words. They echoed in her brain anyway.
Since that poor girl died.
“I know exactly
how long it’s been,” she said. “I’ve had sessions with Bethany and with Dad.
I’ve tried meditation and blocking crystals. Healing isn’t happening as swiftly
as it should.”
Her father
covered her hand with his. “That’s why we think you need to take some time away
from Savannah.”
“You want me to
miss a Lafayette Christmas?’ she asked, aware of her voice climbing. “Not even
the mayor misses a Lafayette Christmas!”
Ma Belle gave
her a look, one that had made her sit straight and mind her manners since she
was a toddler. “You act as if this is a suggestion.”
“There’s nothing
I can say to change your minds?”
“Do you remember
what happened to Cousin Lainie?”
Morgan’s hope
plummeted along with her stomach. She’d been a preteen, but Cousin Lainie’s
descent into Shadow-madness had left an indelible scar on the family. When the
family could no longer contain Lainie, Ma Belle had made the decision to
contact the Gilead Commission, the governing body for all things Light. Instead
of sending agents, a Shadowchaser had arrived in Savannah. The family still
didn’t know what happened to Cousin Lainie.
“I remember.”
“Gilead knows
what happened with you,” her grandmother said. “They’ve been in contact.”
Morgan’s breath
caught. It wasn’t a surprise that the Gilead Commission, the governing body for
all things Light, knew about her encounter. The fact that they had contacted the
Lafayette matriarch didn’t bode well.
“Did they call
you to apologize for not sending agents to handle that monster?” she asked,
barely keeping her anger in check. “If they’d done their jobs, I wouldn’t have
been trapped and nearly killed by that son of a bitch and you wouldn’t be
trying to get rid of me like rancid garbage!”
“I’m sorry.” It
took effort to spit the words out. “Dealing with the fallout hasn’t been easy
for me.”
“We know,
sweetheart,” her father said, squeezing her hand. “You need time to heal, which
means you need time away from town. Someplace else than can offer you the
stillness you need.”
“I suppose y’all
have a place in mind?”
Ma Belle reached
into her purse, extracted a brochure. “Here.”
A tinge of
energy singed Morgan’s fingertips as she accepted the brochure from her
grandmother. Elegant script at the top proclaimed: Experience the Magic of
Caynham Castle. A grayish-tan stone castle rose against a gray-blue sky, not
quite like the grandiose structures of fairytales. No, this one was not for
show unless it was a show of strength, hunkering down and weathering anything
thrown at it. “You want me to vacation in a castle. In a place called
Caynham-on-Led…Ledwyche. I don’t even know how to pronounce that or where it
“It’s in
Shropshire, England,” her father helpfully clarified.
“How is being
sent away from my business and my family during Christmas supposed to help?”
she asked, choked. “You sure you’re not getting rid of me because I’m
irreparably broken and susceptible to falling into Shadow?”
“No, baby, no.”
Her mother pulled her against her chest. “There’s a Light Witch who lives near
the castle. Her name is Margaret Davies. She has an antiques shop there called
Curiouser & Curiouser.”
She straightened
with a choked snort. “A Light Witch with an Alice in Wonderland fixation.”
“Meg Davies is
also a healer,” her grandmother said, frowning at her sarcasm. “She happens to
specialize in healing psychic wounds, particularly those caused by Shadow.”
Morgan froze.
Something unfurled in her chest, too tiny and frail to be called hope. “Do you
really think there’s a chance she can heal me?”
Ma Belle’s
expression softened. “We wouldn’t send you there if we didn’t.”
“Okay.” That
tiny thing in her chest fluttered again, gaining strength. “Okay. Let’s do

the Author:

Seressia Glass is an
award-winning author of more than 25 works in contemporary, historical, and
paranormal romance and urban fantasy. In additional to her writing career, she
is an instructional designer for a Fortune 500 company. She lives south of
Atlanta with her husband, son, and two attack poodles.

Heart in His Pocket

Genre: Historical Romance

Story Description:

A surprise reunion of a
pickpocket turned lady’s maid and a mysterious unexpected footman occurs just
in time for the Christmas Frost Ball at Caynham Castle. The past of each could
jeopardize the future of the other, and the future of Caynham Castle itself.

Excerpt from Her Heart in His Pocket:

The excerpt is
in the hero’s point of view.  Ben
received a mysterious invitation to attend a ball at Caynham Castle, along with
a drawing of monstrous figure.  While he
realized the rumpled invitation was not originally meant for him, he comes to
the castle to investigate who sent it and why.
Upon arrival, he’s mistaken for a footman named Kitzmiller who was
loaned to Caynham Castle, but who apparently did not show up – so Ben rolled
with it. He is surprised to discover a childhood friend, Elizabeth, who is also
at the castle.  Elizabeth is a lady’s
maid for a guest and who is hiding her past occupation as an accomplished
pickpocket in London. Mr. Hastings is the household butler.  Clarice is a household servant that keeps the
history of the castle.  She spends her
days polishing silver in the kitchen.
Bish is another

Elizabeth hadn’t
had an easy time of it growing up in the London slums. None of them did. But he
admired that she abandoned her pickpocket skills and developed new ones—legal
skills, this time. Her grown-up name signaled that she had left her difficult
childhood behind. One look at her curves and there would be no mistaking that
she was full-grown.
 At lunch, however, she looked different. She
was nervous, jittery. Had she reconsidered his presence as a threat? He thought
he had made it clear that he would guard her secrets.
Kitzmiller,” Bish called. “Come and sit down here.”
He patted the spot of the table next to him. “Entertain us with stories of
Elizabeth in her early years.”
He didn’t need
to look at Elizabeth’s stricken face. He could feel her panic.
“I think you’d
be disappointed and certainly not entertained. I knew Elizabeth’s older brother
back then. She was just a young schoolgirl who wasn’t interested in the manly
arts of grooming horses and fishing.”
He winked at
Elizabeth, then ate his meal, engaging in some of the conversations around the
table. Once he’d finished, he turned toward Bish. “Tell me about the things
that aren’t repeated to the guests at Caynham Castle. Is this castle haunted?
All there ghosties about?” He wiggled his fingers eliciting laughter. “Any
romantic stories or spots I should know of?”
Or avoid,” Hastings added in his solemn commanding voice.
Yes.” Ben laughed. “Or avoid. I wasn’t sent here to pursue
“There’s the
gargoyle.” Clarice spoke from the far end of the table. The room immediately
silenced. Bish had told him that Clarice had been on the service staff for more
years than anyone else. She rarely spoke. She certainly looked as old as the
ruins outside.
“If you kiss
another where the gargoyle can see,” Clarice’s high voice
recited in rhythmic rhyme, “Your true love you’ve found and will forever be.”
The room
remained silent until Bish asked, “there’s a gargoyle at Caynham? A real gargoyle?”
questions unleased around the room.
“There are
grotesque figures carved over the doors, is that what you mean?”
“I think every
castle has gargoyles, but they’re up on the roof and channel the rain.”
never heard of such a thing and I’ve been here for five years.”
“Where is this
“Mr. Hastings,
do you know?”
Hastings stood
up. “Ladies and gentlemen, I believe this romantically inclined gargoyle lives
with the fairies and goblins. It’s just a fanciful tale--”
“Lady Rosalyn
believed it,” Clarice interrupted. “It worked for her.”
“A military man
took advantage of Lady Rosalyn and left her with child,” Hastings growled. “I
cannot sanction that as the true love she sought.” He glared at poor Clarice a
moment before dragging his hand over his face. “I believe it’s time to dismiss
this gathering. Our guests require our attention.”
Amid the
scraping of the chairs, Ben leaned close to Elizabeth.
“Meet me
tonight. I’ll be waiting in the chapel.”

Donna MacMeans:

Award winning author Donna
MacMeans writes about the humor in relationships in her seductively witty
romance page-turners. Her books have won the Romance Writers of America ©
Golden Heart, Romantic Times’s Reviewer Choice Award for Historical Love &
Laughter, among other rewards. Best known for her historical romances set in
the late 1800s, she also writes time-travel and paranormal romance. She has
been published in multiple countries around the world.   

A licensed CPA, MacMeans never
believed she’d be published.  Then her
first historical went up for auction with three NY firms bidding on it.  The dream never stopped.  While she maintains a small tax practice in
Westerville, Ohio, she still finds time to work with unpublished authors, teach
workshops, and help others reach their dream.

You can contact MacMeans through
her website at While there you can register for her
monthly newsletter that includes giveaways and advance announcements of her

Deadly Curiosities Story
Z. Martin

Genre: urban fantasy/MM romance

Story Description:

When Teag Logan and his fiancé
Anthony Benton travel to England to celebrate their engagement, Teag’s magic
and supernatural experience hone in on restless ghosts, an old scandal and
century-old secrets that could turn deadly. Can Teag and Anthony solve the
mystery and settle the ghosts before the Ball, or will more people join the
ranks of the castle ghosts?

Crewel Fate is part of my Deadly
Curiosities urban fantasy series, and falls immediately after the newest novel,

from Crewel Fate:

When they
finally reached the Great Hall, Teag welcomed the warmth. Everything was done
up for Christmas, with evergreen boughs, red ribbons, fairy lights, and gold
bells. A huge fir tree nearly reached the ceiling, and Teag could only imagine
how much more decorating would happen before the night of the ball.
“It said on the
website that the mother of the current Earl took that hand-blown glass tree
topper down into the air raid shelters during World War II,” Teag added. “She
said she wasn’t going to let the Nazis ruin Christmas!”
“It’s pretty
fantastic,” Anthony said, slipping an arm around Teag. “Look at that ceiling!”
Teag craned his
neck. “It’s called ‘hammerbeam’ and it’s an English Gothic style of open timber
roof truss,” he said. “See the kind of stuff I remember from my classes?”
Hand-cut beams
arched downward at intervals, while still others formed arches along the flat
of the timber ceiling, embellished at the corners with intricate woodcutting.
It reminded Teag of the ceiling of the great hall in the Harry Potter movies.
“I wish they
could really make candles float in the air,” Teag said with a sigh. “But I
guess twinkle lights are almost as good.” He took in a deep breath. “I love the
smell of a real Christmas tree.”
“And the
fireplace looks big enough to roast a boar—or maybe an ox,” Anthony said, with
a nod toward the huge opening in the stone wall with its carved firebox and
ornate mantle. “I could stand up inside and not hit my head. And I bet that if
I spread my arms wide, I still wouldn’t touch on either side.”
“Come on,” Teag
said. “There’s more to see in the solar and conservatory.” He led Anthony by
the hand out of the Great Hall through an archway into two adjoining
glass-enclosed rooms. Christmas lights twinkled in the now-dry central fountain
and wrapped around the potted shrubs. Poinsettias, icicles, ribbons, and tinsel
turned the greenhouse rooms into a wonderland.
Anthony hauled
Teag in for a kiss, under a ball of mistletoe tied with a red velvet ribbon. “Turnabout’s
fair play,” he said.
“This is so
beautiful,” Teag gushed when they headed back through the main hall. “And there
are a few of the other rooms open for display if we go this way.” He led them
toward Bride’s Tower, where two sitting rooms on the third floor were decorated
and furnished as the castle would have looked during the 1920s. From the
colors, fabrics, and scale of the furniture, it was clear that one room was
meant for women and the other for men.
“So this would
have been the way it looked right around World War I,” Anthony mused, reading a
sign near the door. “Their Downton Abbey period.”
“I love that
show. So elegant. And the old miniseries we watched of Brideshead Revisited? If
I could have tailored suits like those, I might not mind giving up my jeans,”
Teag gushed.
“Maybe we’ll
have to throw a Gatsby party for Halloween next year if the spooks give you the
night off,” Anthony teased. “Just thinking of you turned out like that is
giving me all kinds of naughty ideas.” He leaned against Teag, brushing his
groin against Teag’s leg to let him know exactly what kind of thoughts were
going through his mind.
“I like the way
you think,” Teag purred.
The more
masculine of the two rooms had dark wood wainscoting and upholstery in rich
emerald and sapphire hues. Brass fittings and etched glass shades accentuated
the wall sconces and table lamps. Leather-bound books filled the shelves, along
with display cases of watches, silver cigar boxes, monogrammed flasks, and a
taxidermied lion that was likely a trophy from safari in Africa. It was easy to
imagine well-off men sitting down with cigars and good Scotch to discuss the
news of the day, or play a few hands of cards.
“This is so far
beyond ‘man cave’ I’m not sure what to call it,” Anthony remarked. “But I guess
it’s not that different from what some of the big plantation houses had. For as
nice as this is, I’m glad things have changed. I like our friends, and I’d hate
to have to split everyone up instead of being able to all hang out together.”
The ladies’
sitting room had high-backed upholstered couches and wing chairs arranged in
conversation groupings, with side tables to hold drinks. The furniture was
roped off for display only, and glass covered the bookshelves, protecting both
the books and an assortment of family personal items and trinkets from around
the world.
Teag felt a pull
toward a framed piece of hand-embroidered fabric. It was a sampler, the kind
done by young women learning to practice various stitching and designs, common
at the time. But as soon as Teag saw it, he felt traces of the maker’s magic,
old, faint, and still potent.
“What’s wrong?”
Anthony laid a hand on Teag’s shoulder. “You’ve got that look.”
Teag managed a
smile. “Nothing bad. It’s just that whoever did that embroidery had my kind of
gift. Weaver magic.”
“You can pick up
on that, after all these years?” A note next to the frame said that the
needlepoint had been done by Lillian Mortimer in 1916.
“Uh-huh,” Teag
replied, distracted as he read the rest of the notecard. “So Lillian was one of
two daughters to the Mortimer family who lived in the castle around the time of
the First World War. She and her older sister, Mabel, would have been in their
late teens or early twenties when the war started. It ran longer over here—the
war. In the States, we think of it as just 1918, but it started in 1914 in
Europe.” He couldn’t help being a history nerd, and thankfully, Anthony shared
his interest.
“From what we’ve
watched on the History Channel, that war pretty much broke the aristocracy,
didn’t it?” Anthony replied. “The death toll was so high—wiped out most of an
entire generation of men. I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been
Teag shivered,
although the room was warm. Lillian’s needlework held both power and emotions.
Now that Teag’s gift had tuned in, he could sense sadness, grief, loneliness,
and anxiety that made his heart pound.
“Teag? Hey!”
Anthony’s voice
brought him out of his thoughts, and Teag stepped back. “I’m okay. I just could
pick up some feelings from the magic Lillian used. I don’t think she was very
“It must have
felt like the world had gone mad during the war. I don’t imagine most people
were happy,” Anthony replied.
Lillian’s magic
had brought Teag’s ability to the forefront, and as he walked around the room
with Anthony, he gently probed other objects like a needlepoint pillow and a
small tapestry near the fireplace. None of them held any magic of their own.
But when he came
to the display case with a gold and pearl hair comb, an ivory fan and a black,
enameled cigarette holder, Teag recoiled as he glimpsed a gray, transparent
figure near the case.
“More magic?”
Anthony asked in a whisper, glancing around to make sure they were alone.
Teag shook his
head. “No. There’s a spirit attached to those pieces, I’m sure of it. Maybe not
the one they told us about at the tea room, but it’s definitely a ghost. And
she’s not friendly.”

Gail Z Martin:

Gail Z. Martin writes epic
fantasy, urban fantasy and steampunk for Solaris Books, Orbit Books, SOL
Publishing, Darkwind Press, Worldbuilders Press and Falstaff Books. Recent
books include Reckoning, Sellsword’s Oath, Inheritance, CHARON, Wasteland Marshals.
As Morgan Brice, she writes urban fantasy MM paranormal romance including the
Witchbane, Badlands and Treasure Trail series. Recent books include The Rising,
Flame and Ash.


Last Favor

Story Description:

Grayson (Gray) Kane comes to
Caynham Castle to pick up an award for his late father. Dealing with his loss
amid the families celebrating the holiday makes him question his solitary life
as an covert agent. His partner, Laurel Whitney, joins him to protect Gray from
an assassin. As the long-suppressed attraction between them flares anew and a
killer closes in, she must decide whether she has the courage to seize what she
has always wanted.

from The Last Favor:

Chapter 1

Nothing could
keep this Christmas from being godawful.
The only thing to do was push through and get it over with. Grayson Kane
grabbed his suitcase from the baggage carousel and headed for the exit. He
usually traveled lighter than this, at least where clothes were concerned, but
jamming a tux into a carryon bag just led to problems.
He walked
through the maze of the Customs exit and finally reached the vast lobby and the
meeting area. Now to pick up his rental car so he could head west for the
really hard part of this holiday.
“Kane! Gray!”
Halting, he
turned his head toward the sound. A familiar, auburn-haired woman with a
deceptively sweet face waved to him.
What was Laurel
Whitney doing here? Was a work problem about to interrupt his trip? Little
though he looked forward to this, he couldn’t let anything derail it. Not this
He walked over
to her. “Hey.”
“Hey. The London
office sent me. I already picked up your rental and put the equipment they’re
providing in the trunk.”
Weaponry, she
meant. “I was supposed to meet someone at the rental office for that.”
“Plans changed.
I’ll explain in the car.”
She was never
particularly talkative, but this terse mode was new. Frowning, he accompanied
her out into the biting air. The lowering sky implied snow might be on the way.
The wind blew his dark hair onto his forehead, and he pushed it back.
Dodging travelers
rushing into the terminal, they hurried through the covered walkway toward the
nearby short-stay deck—car park to the British, no matter how many levels it
offered.  The familiar, annoying
awareness that always plagued him around Laurel hummed in his gut. Yeah, she
moved with deceptively relaxed grace and had curves in all the right places,
but they’d never found any common ground beyond work. Not that they’d ever
really looked.
That didn’t
matter now, though. What mattered was why she was here. Standing five feet six,
with a slim build, she didn’t look like she could put a bruiser on the ground.
He’d seen her in action, though. She was serious muscle in sheep’s clothing. He
didn’t need that kind of backup for a holiday at a castle hotel. So either Arachnid,
the covert, multinational intelligence agency they both worked for, wanted to
pull him in for a job or he had a problem.
If she’d picked
up the car, someone at the agency had hacked the rental car computer. That
didn’t happen without orders from the boss, known as Arachne. What else had
they done?
“You didn’t mess
with my hotel reservation, did you?”
She grimaced.
“Because of the nature of your visit, the bosses decided to consult you first.
I’m supposed to talk you into cancelling.”
“Not going to
“You should hear
me out before you decide. We can talk in the car.”
Nothing she said
would change his mind. He was on his way to Shropshire to spend Christmas at
the Caynham Castle Hotel and pick up an award the hotel’s operating foundation
was bestowing on his dad. Pop was supposed to be with him. The Earl of Caynham
had personally invited them, and his dad had loved the idea of the two of them
having this different, fun father-and-son outing for Christmas. Until cancer
intervened. Pop’s last request had been for Gray to take this trip for both of
them and pick up the award. Come hell, high water, and anything short of
nuclear war, he would do that. No matter how hard he found it.
Laurel guided
him to a gray sedan and opened the truck. A large, black suitcase lay inside,
along with two familiar, hard-sided gray Arachnid gear bags. He set his checked
bag next to the nearer of the two.
“Yours is on the
right,” Laurel said. “You have your favorite Sig Sauer P226, a Beretta 9mm,
spare mags, two combat knives, a nanofiber undershirt, and some choice
electronics. Explosives and grappling gear are in mine.”
“I take it
you’re not just along for the ride.” He closed the trunk, checked his movement
to the left, and walked up the right side of the car to the driver’s door.
“Keys, please.”
She tossed them
to him. “If I can’t persuade you to cancel, I’m your date.”
“Why you and not
Hayes?” Gray had worked with Laurel, but John Hayes was his regular partner.
Settling into her seat, she shrugged. “I’m one of the few who’ve worked with
you, didn’t have family plans, and was geographically convenient. Not to
mention being American.”
Since he was, it
made sense that his companion should be. But he’d wanted the extra time before
they officially became a team in March, when Hayes retired. Gray needed to find
a way to deal with the unacknowledged sparks that flashed every time they
paired up. That had happened more often as Hayes reduced his workload and
Laurel picked up the slack. Gray had to get it under control. Feeling that way
about a partner could influence tactical decisions in a way that got one or
both of you killed.
“Where were you
that was convenient?”
“Greece. I had a
hiking trip planned.”
“Sorry about
“It’s no big. I
can go later.”
She’d always
struck him as a bit of a loner. A bit…detached. Having no plans she couldn’t
change at this most connected of holidays confirmed that.
He drove out of
the deck and away from the airport. When they were on the M25 motorway and
headed for Shropshire, he said, “Okay, what’s the deal?”
“Do you remember
Petar Stankovic?”
Enforcer for the Tirania Cartel.”
“Until you
killed him.”
“That was two
years ago. What does he have to with my trip?”
“Someone has
been hunting for you. Based on chatter the London and Rome offices have picked
up, it’s his brother Aleksandr, with revenge on his mind.”
Gray frowned.
“No sign of him
in the UK so far, but that’s based on passport info. If he traveled under an
alias, especially with a good disguise, he could’ve slipped through. Not to
mention the thousands of miles of unguarded coastline in these islands.”
“Stankovic had
another brother, a wife, and two daughters. I think the older daughter,
Teodora, works for Serbian intelligence. We sure it’s Aleksandr?”
“We have nothing
implicating any of the others.” Laurel shrugged. “So we’re as sure as we can be
at the moment. I have a secure laptop for you with data files on it, and you’ll
want to gear up.”
Well, hell. The
holiday had already promised to be tough, and now this. “I’ll look for a place
to pull off that offers more privacy than the parking deck. Then we’ll stick to
the secondary roads.” They should leave the outskirts of London behind soon.
“Works for me.”
She punched the in-dash GPS. “We can switch to the A413 just ahead and then
follow the A41 most of the rest of the way.”
“Opt for that.”
He glanced over at her. “Level with me, Laurel. What are the chances of some
civilian at the hotel getting hurt because I’m there?” That was the only thing
that could make him miss the awards ceremony. Thanks to the publicity, anyone
hunting him could figure out that he’d be there, and that would put crosshairs
on the occasion.
“Right now,
negligible, but that could change.” She frowned at the road ahead. “Arachne
talked to his London counterpart. They want to stash you in a safe house with a
protective detail until they locate Stankovic. There’s a nicely isolated
cottage ready. We’ll lure him there and nail him. Better to grab him now than
to have him come at you when you’re focused on something else.”
That could work,
but he’d promised Pop. “If I go to Caynham?”
“A team of four
agents will back us up.”
Great. He was
ruining multiple people’s Christmases.
As though she
knew what he was thinking—he sometimes suspected she did—Laurel added, “Plenty
of agents don’t celebrate the holiday, so don’t worry about that. Intel will
continue monitoring chatter and travel, and we’ll stay alert while you do this
holiday thing.”
“Then that’s
what I’m doing. If other people aren’t at risk, I’m not cancelling.”
She frowned. “I
thought you would say that, but I had to ask. We could get this over with faster
if you blew off the castle.”
“Maybe,” he
qualified, his voice dry.
For a moment,
she compressed her lips, emphasizing the stubborn angle of her chin. Then she
shrugged. “What’s involved in all that Christmas stuff, anyway? The website
makes it look like one big party.”
“I think it is.
There’s ice skating, various activities Pop signed us up for—I guess you’ll
take his slot—and a charity ball where he was to receive his award.”
She narrowed her
eyes at him. “It’s that last you’re stuck on, isn’t it? That’s why you won’t
He answered her
with a curt nod.
“I’ll make the
arrangements, then.” After moment, she added, “I’ve gathered you and your
father were close. This holiday season must be particularly difficult.”
“I’ve had
better. Thanks.” She meant well, but he wasn’t about to discuss the
heart-numbing grief of losing Pop with someone he knew mostly as a colleague.
Better to turn
his attention to staying alive during these next few days.

Nancy Northcott:

Nancy Northcott’s childhood
ambition was to grow up and become Wonder Woman.  Around fourth grade, she realized it was too
late to acquire Amazon genes, but she still loved comic books, mysteries,
fantasy and romance.  A sucker for fast
action and wrenching emotion, Nancy combines the action and high stakes she
loves in the books she writes.

She is the author of the Boar
King’s Honor historical fantasy trilogy and is the co-creator, with Jeanne
Adams, of the Outcast Station science fiction mystery series. She also writes
the Lethal Webs and Arachnid Files romantic suspense series

Perfect Grey Christmas
New Jersey Ice Cats’ Novella

Story Description:

In order to win the ultimate
cooking prize and the right to cater the Ice Castle Charity Ball in Caynham
Castle, a former hockey player, turned restauranteur, must work with the woman
he once loved, but who then left him to marry an English lord.

from A Perfect Grey Christmas :

Lydia’s temper
sparked. “Stop being a jackass and let me speak.”
“I don’t need
your explanation, prettying up how you ‘did me a favour’.”
“Maybe not. You
can do me the decency of listening to my answer, instead of making unwarranted
accusations and playing the martyr.”
His jaw set,
Ryan crossed his arms over his broad chest, which only infuriated her more.
“I worked too
damn hard to win this contract to play nepotism games. My business and
reputation are on the line. There’s no room for sentimentality. All that matters
is that I work with the best.”
He tilted his
head in acknowledgement.
importantly,” she continued, “as the ball’s co-ordinator, my chosen charity
benefits.  I will not allow anything to
damage the Piers Pedley Foundation or the money it will receive.”
“I get all that.
But you did something. I see it in your face. I could always read you.” His
tone softened. “Well, most of the time.”
He didn’t need
to add that the one time she’d totally surprised him was when she’d left Grey’s
to marry Piers. She hadn’t told him the whole story; it wasn’t her story to
tell. Too much had been at stake.
“I didn’t select
the finalists. I was asked to provide a short-list, from those who entered, of
the chefs I believed to be the best of the best. You were one of those.”
His gaze
narrowed. “How big a shortlist?”
“I see.”
She shook her
head at his wry tone. “Get over yourself. That didn’t guarantee you’d make the
final three. You still had to pass muster with the committee. And I had to
prove I was not biased because we’d worked together.” She leaned forward.
“Think of what I did as securing you a professional try-out. I got you in front
of the coaches, but your talents got you the gig.”
The analogy
seemed to hit home. His tense body language eased a smidge.
“Oh, and f.y.i.
if you don’t deliver the best menu or the best samples, you’re done.” She
tapped his folder with her forefinger. “You won’t win just because I’m working
with you. I’ll give my best effort to all finalists equally.” She sent his
folder back across the desktop. “Now, time is short. If you want my help, shape
up. Otherwise, I walk.”
“Yeah, you’re
good at that.”
She stiffened.
Even though she had that coming, it hurt nonetheless. Struggling to keep her
expression impassive, she stood. “Enough. I know we need to talk about what
happened, but this isn’t the time or place.”
He sat back in
his chair and steepled his fingers. “This is the perfect time and place. Where
it all started. And where it all ended. If we’re going to work together, we
need to clear the air. I need your assurance that you won’t quit on me.”
“The success of
the Ice Castle Charity Ball is as important to me, as it is to you.”
“You said that
about launching Grey’s.”
She threw up her
hands. “Are you really willing to give up your spot in this contest, because
you can’t let go of the past?”
 “Time out.” Ryan thrust a hand through his
hair and sighed. “You’re right. I’d be crazy to let what happened between us
ruin my one, big shot. That was a long time ago and it’s done with. I’m sorry.
I guess this whole situation is a little weird.” His lips curved into a
self-deprecating half-smile.
That smile had
always got to her. She fought the urge to smile in response.
“For both of
us,” she allowed.
“Maybe when this
is all done, we can have dinner and you can tell me the whole story.”
Once she’d
achieved what she’d promised Piers, then she’d be free to share everything with
Ryan. He might not forgive her, but at least he’d understand.
“I’d like that.”
She let her smile free.
“Deal.” He stuck
out his hand.
Relieved the
first hurdle had been crossed, she took it.
The warmth of
his hand, the familiar calluses, reached deep inside her. The simple touch felt
as much like a homecoming as landing in New Jersey.
Her gaze lifted
and collided with his. Similar emotions to those tumbling about inside her were
visible in his grey eyes. Seemed she could still read him too.
Slowly, Ryan
released her hand. She didn’t know how to feel about his reluctance to break
contact. Especially since she felt the same.
“Where do we go
from here?” he asked.

Anna Sugden:

Award-winning author, Anna
Sugden, enjoys reading novels and watching films with happy endings. She also
loves hockey and football, where she prefers a happy ending for her teams. When
she’s not researching hockey players  --
for her books ;) -- she enjoys craft projects, collecting penguins and great

A former marketing executive and
primary teacher, Anna lives in Cambridge, England, with her husband and two
bossy black cats. Learn more about Anna at

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