The island knows what you need...
BLURRING THE LINES
Part of the Invitation to Eden multi-author series!
Contemporary Romance with a Paranormal Twist
Released: August 12, 2014
A year has passed since Gretchen lost her fiancé, but she still can’t sleep. Or paint. And her new home in New Orleans is either haunted or she’s finally going crazy.
Her bet is on the latter.
So when her best friend, Burke, offers to sweep her away to a private luxury island for a break, she can’t say no. Maybe if she can be someone else for a few days, the ghosts of the past will quiet. At least for a little while.
Burke knows what she’s going through. She lost her fiancé, but he lost family. He gets her in a way no else can. But lately she’s noticing things she shouldn’t about her former fiancé’s younger brother—his sexy smirk, that spicy Cajun accent, and the way he looks at her when he thinks she’s not paying attention. A week alone with him? Dangerous. If she blurs the lines between them, she could ruin the only friendship that means anything to her. She could ruin it all.
But the island of Eden has its own agenda. The island knows what you need. That’s what the invitation says. She just never imagines it will grant her the one wish that could destroy them both.
READ CHAPTER ONE
Copyrighted Material Roni Loren 2014 - All Rights Reserved
Sometimes I could still feel the weight of him depressing the mattress—that warm, solid body sleeping soundly next to me, the steady whooshing of breath. In and out. In and out. I used to lie in bed and listen to him like others listen to recordings of ocean waves, letting the sound lull me to sleep, soothe my mind after the chaos of the day. It was the sound of life.
Until the morning I woke up and only the weight was there. Not the warmth. Not the sound. Just the heaviness. And the utter, chilled silence.
Like waking up lost in deep space with no tether. Floating, floating, floating as all that darkness swallowed me up.
And at times like these, lying in bed at four in the morning, unable to sleep yet again, that darkness clung to me still, like some oily residue that would never wash off. Like I’d be weighed down for life, always trying to breathe through the sludge.
I rolled over, pulling my quilt more tightly around me, the numbers on the clock mocking me, and I knew there’d be no more rest tonight. I’d woken up with that breathing sound in my head again and the unshakeable feeling that I wasn’t alone. That Harris was somehow here, a tangible presence hiding in one of the many shadows of my darkened bedroom. I probably should’ve been scared. That’d be a normal reaction. Instead, I wished it were the truth. Then at least I could demand some answers.
Something creaked in the front of the renovated shotgun house I’d called home for the last year, the floorboards speaking to me as if to confirm my sense of unease. I groaned aloud. Now I definitely wouldn’t be able to sleep. Even knowing the house was old and the wind rumbling through the crawlspace beneath the house allowed for all kinds of unfamiliar sounds, I’d have to get up and make sure everything was locked. Ghosts I could deal with. Breaking and entering? Not so much.
I shoved the covers off of me and pulled on a pair of boxer shorts I’d left hanging over the footboard. Wrapping my arms around myself, I padded first to the kitchen to check the backdoor then headed through the straight line of open doorways to the front of the house to check the main door.
Outside, the wind swirled post-rainstorm, rattling the shutters on the side of the house and making the oak tree in my neighbor’s yard paint odd, jerking shadows on the blinds. But when I peeked through the front window, the city of New Orleans was fast asleep—well, at least my corner of it. A few miles away, the French Quarter would still be filled with lights, music spilling out of the doorways, and the raucous, drunken voices of tourists and locals alike. But here, on my narrow street, the sherbet colored houses were locked up tight, the windows dark.
Another floorboard groaned behind me, and goose bumps rose on my skin. I leaned back from the window as a shadow moved across the wall. One that was way too fluid to be the tree. My muscles tensed, and I spun around in a Gotcha! rush—stupid, considering the last thing I’d want to do with a weapon-wielding intruder was startle him. But, of course, nothing was in my small living room except the things that were always present—the sharp-cornered New York furniture that was too modern for this house and the mostly blank canvases in the corner that served as a constant reminder of what I couldn’t do anymore.
I used to paint. Now I was an expert at staring at blank white space.
Probably because I couldn’t freaking sleep long enough to give my brain any kind of creative reboot. No, instead of resting, I was up in the middle of the night chasing ghosts—actually hoping one was there. Pathetic.
I leaned against the wall and ran a hand over my face. This was ridiculous. Next I’d be buying an Ouija board and inviting friends over to play Light as a Feather Stiff as a Board. I needed to stop doing this to myself.
But as I stood there with my eyes closed, I got that prickly awareness again, like I was being watched. Was that the breathing sound again? Whoosh, ahhh. In. Out.
I couldn’t open my eyes, and my heart pulsed in my throat. Okay, maybe I was losing it. Sleep deprivation could cause hallucinations and paranoia, right? My gran would say that wasn’t it. She’d told me when I was young that old houses held old souls. Just make your mind quiet and maybe you’ll hear them, she’d say. Back then, the thought excited me more than frightened me. Maybe because Gran had given me the St. Benedict medal that I’ve worn around my neck every day since I was seven. She’d told me it protected me from evil spirits, and I took Gran’s word as law. After all, she was the expert. She’d made quite a living selling her candles, catholic saint medals, and gris-gris pouches at her little shop in the Quarter to help protect people from those things.
And besides Gran’s word, I thought I had my own evidence. Because in those early years, there’d been times I’d sensed the magic in the air, the otherness surrounding me. I’d heard whispers, echoes of distance voices when I was alone. My mom often caught me in the middle of the night, talking to my father who’d died when I was eight. Gran had called me sensitive. My mother had called me troubled. And when she’d plopped me down in a therapist office, they’d found a label for those odd feelings and behaviors—grief, loneliness, a little girl missing the father she’d loved.
They’d put me on medication. Soon after, the voices had quieted, that spark of energy humming at the edges of my awareness had gone dark. My father had been lost to me for good. I’d been fixed. Sad. But fixed.
Or so I’d thought. Then I’d come home to New Orleans and had felt that weird energy quietly buzzing in the background—like it’d simply been waiting for me to return and embrace it again. But I was beginning to think it was simply false hope—or a straight up mental breakdown in progress.
Because over the last few months, I’d found myself wishing Gran’s beliefs were the truth, that if I tried hard enough, I could call forth Harris and ask him all the questions that had run on loop in my brain for the last year. That maybe if I had some closure, I could paint again. Sleep again. Do something.
I’d even gone to one of the mediums who set up shop in the Quarter near my gran’s shop. Talk about a complete waste of time. She’d said she couldn’t help me and had given me my money back. She hadn’t even bothered to fake it. He will come to you when he’s ready, miss.
I stepped around the boxy armchair and plopped down in it with a sigh. The small St. Benedict medal I still wore as homage to my grandmother felt heavy against my collarbone. I reached behind me, unfastened the chain, and held it in my palm for a moment, my eyes blurry with exhaustion. A cup and a raven sat aside Benedict, and Latin words I’d long forgotten the meaning of circled the picture. I set it on the side table. I didn’t need protection from spirits. I needed protection from myself.
Another drawn out noise came from the rear of the house—a heavy foot on a soft board. Creeeak. I let my head drop back against the chair. “If you’re a robber, take what you want. If you’re some otherworldly being, shove the fuck off. I’ve got my own ghosts to deal with. And if you’re Harris, please for the love of God, talk to me. Show me you’re here.”
The house didn’t answer.
Of course it didn’t.
No one was there. This was me going crazy. This was me cracking again.
But as I closed my eyes, exhaustion finally overtaking me, I found myself still wishing I were wrong. That the eyes on me were real. That the noises were his footsteps. That I wasn’t so alone after all.
Because if he was haunting me…maybe he’d never meant to leave.
Maybe it was all a mistake. Or a bad dream. Or another person’s life.
Right as I hovered on the line between consciousness and sleep, coolness coasted over my skin and a familiar hand pressed against mine. I tried to lift my lids, but everything felt weighed down, heavy and slow. Fingers linked with mine. Tugged. Everything went bright for one shining second.
And then there was nothing at all.