Friday, October 25, 2013

5 Days of Halloween

Night of the Harvest Moon: Harvest Moon Heart: by Maxine Douglas  

“A harvest ball on the night of a full yellow moon? And Drac wants me to attend? What the hell is he thinking?” Jasper Reynolds tossed the invitation onto the lone shackled chair in the cold, stone basement; his only means to keep the innocent safe from his rage. Drac knew what havoc the full moon brought forth. The night the wolf appeared and would be capable of doing unspeakable things during those dark hours, leaving Jasper utterly helpless and unaware of the carnage he’d done. . . .

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Friday, October 11, 2013

Knight to Remember -- Chapter 1

A Time Travel Romance by Maxine Douglas

In 15th Century England, The Black Knight a/k/a Sir Reynold, has fallen from grace with his childhood friend, Queen Isabel, and is in a no-win situation. He must compete against his friend, and blood brother Thomas. If he wins, Sir Reynold will be banished from Heartsease; if he loses, Thomas will be stripped of his knighthood…

Courtney Parker is a 21st Century seamstress at the Bristol Renaissance Faire. Unlike other reenactors, she performs her profession year-round, making costumes for others. She's always loved the story of the mysterious Black Knight of Heartsease and has looked forward to it every year. But this year’s different…

Issie Cummings, the Ren Faire’s potion shopkeeper, will stop at nothing to gain what escaped her centuries ago...Sir Reynold Loddington’s love and body.

Will Reynold be able to turn back the hands of time and right what went wrong—or will he find himself banned from another country and the woman he loves? 


Chapter One 

England, 15th Century 

“Black Knight, pledge thy loyalty and love to me and no other!” Queen Isabel Trenowyth demanded.
“I cannot, Your Grace,” the Black Knight replied, ignoring her haughty tone while holding back his jet-black Andalusian from prancing too close to the queen and her court. “My heart belongs to another.”
“Another? Thou wearest the colors of this kingdom. My kingdom.” Isabel snorted, her proud face suffused with rage. “Thy heart canst belong to no other in this time or in any other time.”
“Thou speakest the truth. I wear the black and gold colors of Heartsease as a knight by my own pledge, sworn to protect the castle walls and its people, nothing more, Your Grace. I cannot give my heart to one who on a whim hast so many knights on bended knee.” The Black Knight backed his snorting stallion a little farther from the anger of Queen Isabel. He’d vowed to protect Heartsease and its lands for longer than the queen’s reign; he’d never promised to be her lover.
“Of course, there are other willing knights of Heartsease who would give me the pleasure I request. It is what thou hast refused me all these years which I seek. I have offered thee everything, and now thee shall have nothing.” Isabel waved him off like a finished piece of meat. “The tournament shall continue.”
A sneer marred her otherwise beautiful face. “Ruin him, Sir Thomas!” Queen Isabel commanded of the Black Knight’s opponent.
Sir Thomas backed his gray mount away from Queen Isabel until he reined in solidly beside the Black Knight. The line had been drawn, and the Black Knight knew Isabel would not take lightly a refusal from two of her knights.
“My Queen, I cannot. I have given my life to protect the people of thy kingdom. Heartsease is the place of my birth and that of my family before me. Our alliance to thy father before his death is long and unquestionable. It will continue as such. On this day, I refuse to take the Black Knight’s life to ease thy pride and bruised heart,” Sir Thomas replied, loudly enough for half of Heartsease to hear him.
“Thomas, thy protection of me is admirable but not needed,” the Black Knight rebutted under his arnet to his childhood friend and then turned to the queen. Her furor over Thomas’s refusal was evident and so would be her vengeance. He couldn’t allow Thomas to face her wrath. “I refuse Sir Thomas’s protection and challenge him to Joust a’ Plaisance.”
Queen Isabel thought for a moment before coolly signaling for the Chief Marshall to approach her. A wicked smile crossed her lips as she whispered into his ear. A look of dismay soon turned to pleasure as the Chief Marshall faced the Black Knight and Sir Thomas.
“These are the queen’s terms of the challenge set forth. If the Black Knight loses, he will remove the coat of arms signifying his alliance with Heartsease and be banished from these lands for all time. If he should be the victor, then Sir Thomas will be stripped of knighthood and work the land as his father before him. In addition, the Black Knight shall do the queen’s bidding day and night as Queen Isabel so chooses.”
A hush fell over the list as all in attendance waited for the Black Knight’s answer to the cruel request. If he accepted this challenge and lost, he’d be forced to leave his homeland forever. This was the place of his birth and the birth of his beloved Catherine. His victory would bring shame upon Thomas and his family and devastate them, and he’d be at Isabel’s mercy for the rest of his days. Either way, he was doomed. The queen left him without a true choice.
The Black Knight backed his black steed, turned, and then trotted around the list toward William, his young squire. Passing along the rail, he paused long enough to take up the lace-and purple-ribboned offering from Catherine, the beautiful daughter of Heartsease’s dressmaker. He leaned in toward the raven-haired, blue-eyed young woman, his heart already hers. She smiled and tied the token around his lance, making him her champion.
“How can I help but not fail, Catherine,” he whispered to the lovely but plainly dressed maiden.
“I know not, but thou wilt find a way to right this wrong,” she said, a trusting smile brightening her worried face. Touched by her faith in him, he rode off to the east end of the list, doom flittering down his spine. The only honorable way out would be to lose, even though it went against his nature, and he could possibly lose Catherine as well.
“Sir Reynold?” William queried.
He gave his squire a confidant smile, seeing the fear in the boy’s eyes. “I will not allow the queen to dictate my life any longer, my young friend. If I must leave my home and country to save Thomas’s family name, I will.” Reynold dismounted and handed the reins to William.
“The queen would rather see thee dead, sir,” William commented, leading the stallion alongside Reynold toward their tent.
“Beware what thou sayest, young William. In this court, even the ground hast ears,” Reynold cautioned his bold squire, placing a hand on the young man’s shoulder. “Lest thou take care in those words, or it could be thee riding Abraxas and carrying a lance against thy father instead of me.”
“What of my cousin?” William tethered Abraxas to a post outside their tent. “What will become of Catherine if thou art no longer here to protect her?”
“Catherine knows I’d not bring shame on thy family name. I will find a home and send for her when the time is right.” Reynold walked into his tent to prepare for his joust against Thomas, his blood brother and childhood friend. “Wherefore Isabel hast chosen this course now is beyond my knowledge, Will. Her jealousy runs deeper since her father’s death.”
“Some say that Isabel hast consulted the stones. They say the stones have foreseen thy failure and disappearance from Heartsease, Reynold,” Will said in a hushed tone, as if afraid to be heard by anyone but himself. “Father is fearful that Isabel plays with the darkness of life to rid thee of thine. Her witch is powerful in the black arts.”
Reynold handed his arnet to Will, shook his head, and took a deep breath. It confirmed his own thoughts. “I have heard the same words whispered behind tankards of ale. It is more than my life she yearns to rid me of, it is my will to refuse her advances and physical pleasures.” 

Reynold pulled himself into the saddle and waited for Will to hand him his shield and cronel-tipped lance. Much was at stake in this event. At the other end of the list, his oldest and closest friend waited for their time at the joust.
They all had grown up together—Thomas Astley, Catherine, Isabel, and he. Thomas was the son of a farmer, and his cousin, Catherine, was the dressmaker’s middle daughter who was more of a tomboy than a girl. As a child, Isabel hadn’t known the difference in their positions in life. Her father, King David, had allowed her to play with the children of Heartsease. She’d been a big-hearted girl, filled with passion and love. Reynold had been the king’s eyes and ears even as a boy, up until the king’s death when Isabel was but an enthusiastic girl of sixteen. Something inside her changed that day—something dark and evil.
At one time in Reynold’s life, he had thought he loved Isabel. These past years with her ruling cruelly as queen made him realize that Catherine, and not the selfish woman Isabel had become, had his heart.
After years of fulfilling the promise he’d made to Isabel’s father as he lay dying, Reynold continuously refused the provocative suggestions Isabel presented him on a regular basis. He’d promised the king he’d defend Heartsease and look after Isabel, not become a bed toy for her to play with like so many others. Isabel proved to need no looking after; she had plenty of willing knights to defend her honor and visit her private quarters.
The sound of trumpets brought him back to the present and the task awaiting him. His plan was a simple one that he’d have to conceal from Will. If he didn’t, the young squire would find a way to inform his father of Reynold’s planned deception.
Reynold spurred Abraxas ahead and entered the list at the east end at the same time Thomas did from the west end. They’d been through this many times before on the practice field. Abraxas stomped in eagerness to charge, and Reynold spurred the stallion forward.
Galloping toward Thomas on the opposite side of the tilt, Reynold felt the jolt of the lance against his chest. He’d hit Thomas but not enough to knock him off his mount.
Gathering himself, he repositioned the lance and charged toward Thomas again. As they met in the middle of the tilt, Reynold lowered his weapon at the last moment and felt the jolt of Thomas’s lance hit him squarely in the chest, causing him to teeter in the saddle. The cheers of the crowd echoed inside his arnet, vibrating in his ears.
One more pass, and it would be over.
Ignoring Will’s questioning look, Reynold spurred Abraxas around and charged his lifelong friend for what he prayed would be the last time. When the two passed, Thomas lifted his lance, missing Reynold by inches. Knowing in that instant Thomas was no fool, Reynold fell sideways, allowing Abraxas to drag him to the west end of the list.
The pain shooting through his body was nothing compared to the satisfaction of knowing Thomas would continue his life as a knight. His plan may not have worked to perfection, but his honor to Thomas was held intact. Reynold would find a new life—a lonely one but a life nonetheless.
“Whoa! Whoa!”
The words came through the blackness trying to take claim to his mind. Abraxas suddenly halted, and Reynold felt himself lifted off the ground. Someone took his foot from the stirrup and pulled the arnet from his head.
Focusing, he gazed into the eyes of his raven-haired love. He had indeed found his place, at last, in Catherine’s arms. . . .
Find your knight to remember.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Queen

Chapter One 

Well Cole Masterson, you’re in for the adventure of your life I murmured to myself as my taxi travelled south down the 710 Freeway through the midafternoon traffic toward the Queen Mary. Now I’d be able to solve the family mystery regarding my great-grandfather, the gold locket, and Hanna. Who was Hanna? By the end of this mission I hoped to know. Palm trees, sunshine and sandy beaches, everything that makes Southern California a haven to those who come to play. For me playing is the last thing on my mind. Ghost hunting occupies it more times than not, and the Queen Mary is the perfect spot to exercise those inclinations and thoughts.

Turning onto Queens Highway—formerly Pier J—at the south end of the Long Beach Freeway, the world’s once largest transatlantic vessel, loomed in front of me. I knew she’d be large, but I never imagined the magnitude of her presence. It was as if I could feel the past calling to me. Climbing out of the taxi, I felt dwarfed by her shadow, and more intrigued than I wanted to admit being a skeptic.

I handed over my bags to the bell captain, and stepped into the elevator outside the ship. Once on A Deck, I slowly walked through the door and into another era. An era of 1930s glitz and glamour with a week’s worth of ocean as a backdrop. The floors gleamed and the shops glimmered with a long forgotten style. Okay, so we’re basically in dry dock—but we are surrounded by water and most of it the Pacific Ocean so it felt like I was about to sail away on a transatlantic adventure.

And, strangely, it felt like coming home as I boarded the ship I’d never stepped foot upon until this moment. A chill crept through me as a picture of those glamour years danced before my eyes and the iconic Titanic flitted through my mind; minus the sinking into freezing cold water of course. I was entering another world and I felt it down to my bones. I walked over to check in, sure the chill was anything but déjà vu. The smarmy desk clerk beamed at me no doubt glad of the publicity I might bring to this floating hotel.

“Welcome aboard the Queen Mary, Mr. Masterson. We’ve worked hard to meet all your requirements, including making sure the other guests will not interfere with your investigation. You’ll be staying starboard side in room A105.” He handed me the keycard, then pointed toward a hallway just past a small lounge. “Enjoy your stay with us.”

“Thank you.” I gathered my bags then walked the short distance to the room. Pausing for a moment at the small hallway entrance to the room door, I gazed in awe of the mile long corridor disappearing into infinity.

At that moment of anticipation a delicate shadow caught the corner of my eye and I smiled. “And so it begins,” I muttered, swiping the keycard. I opened the door and stepped into a long narrow room. Nothing paranormal in nature jumped out to greet me. Two twin beds lined the wall to the right with a small round table and lamp sitting between the foot of each of them. A television stand sat directly across from the table, leaving barely enough room for one person to pass by.

It was pretty much what I expected. Yes, my room was a bit meager than the first class accommodations I could have stayed in. But it was exactly what I wanted, simple and cozy affording me the quiet I needed to work.

“Alrighty then, good thing I opted to room alone after all.”

Tossing my bags on the far bed, I unpacked for the next week or two. Taking the digital camera out of its protective casing, I checked the lens and the amount of space left on the SD card. A quick glance into the bag holding the 35mm affirmed my supply of black and white film was up to par.

When G.H.O.S.T. received a call to investigate the Queen Mary, there was no way I could turn down a chance to disprove the ghost stories surrounding one of the most historic hotels in the country. The entire purpose of this requested investigation was to find a rationale reason for what people thought they saw along the ship’s hallways, in pictures, or at pianos. Nine times out of ten, a camera will pick up dust particles in the air that seem to suggest spirits moving around. With the ship’s history of service during World War II, I hated to disprove the theory of the ship being haunted, but it was part of my job and I’d perform it to the best of my ability.

This assignment has become two-fold and personal. Not only would I be able to do what I loved—dissecting hauntings—but now I’ll also be able to find out if in fact the stories about my great-grandfather were true, and not the ramblings of a lonely physician treating the wounded during World War II.

According to the tattered journal packed safely between my socks and underwear, my great-grandfather Dr. William Masterson fell in love with an English nurse while caring for the wounded aboard this ship called The Grey Ghost during the Second World War. My great-grandfather went on leave promising to return for the young lady the next time The Ghost came into port.

Upon the ship’s return, William found the nurse was gone. Instead, he’d been met by the ship’s commanding officer and given a small pouch housing a gold locket. He’d recognized his beloved’s locket on sight because it contained precious pictures of them and his heart had broken. The commanding officer told him, Hanna Amery had died of influenza on their return voyage from Sydney, Australia and been buried at sea. As she lay dying, he’d promised her to deliver the package to Dr. Masterson upon the troopship’s return to the States.

After seeing the beauty of the lobby with its art deco and highly polished woods, it was hard for me to believe this luxury ocean liner had ever been a troopship, let alone that great-grandfather was ever aboard her. A ship regarded so highly by Hitler that he’d placed a bounty on her. The first U-Boat commander who sunk The Grey Ghost would receive two hundred fifty thousand dollars plus instantly become a hero. Fortunately, the Ghost’s propellers were so loud the special sonar equipment on the enemy’s U-boats was useless. If not for that, The Grey Ghost and her eight hundred thousand soldiers would have perished in the seas, and I wouldn’t be aboard now spending the next few weeks investigating every nook and cranny.

I hung up the last of my clothes and waited for the ship to quiet down for the night before starting my investigation. The rest of my team wasn’t expected to arrive for another twenty-four hours. I’d delayed their trip not wanting the legend of the haunts to override the reality of their causes. Plus, it gave me a chance to do some digging into the ship’s history, and my great-grandfather’s role aboard ship during war time.

Glancing at my watch, I was surprised by the late hour. The lobby piano had been silent for some time, but obviously I’d been lost in my own thoughts to take notice. Now, if the rest of the ship was the same I’ll be able to start investigating without the interruption of the overnight guests. One of the reports was a woman heard the laughter of children coming from the display of the First Class Playroom while on one of the guided tours. Another was the sound of shuffling feet in the Isolation Ward, followed by screaming. The Isolation Ward was one of the exhibits in its original location; so many others had been moved and relocated to the exhibit halls.

I gathered up my camera equipment, headed out the stateroom door into the hallway. With a black bag containing video equipment slung over my shoulder and my great-grandfather’s locket in a pocket, I headed for the Promenade Deck.

I strolled through the lobby then down the portside hall. The weight of my 35mm camera slung over a shoulder, I turned the voice activated digital  recorder on then spoke into it.

“Cole Masterson, portside hall, A Deck, Queen Mary, approximately 1:30 am.” I continued down the never-ending corridor, passing doors closed tightly for the night. Other than an occasionally late night television show penetrating the silence, all was peaceful…and a bit eerie even for me. I made sure my footsteps fell light so as not to disturb any of the other hotel guests. Not that I have a heavy step, I don’t, I just wanted to be sure everyone stayed where they were and out of my hair. For some reason, I have a knack of attracting people inquisitive about ghost hunting techniques. I’m only too happy people want to know, but their questions always came in the middle of an investigation.

I reached the end of the hall and stood at the stern. Again I brought the handheld close to my mouth. “I’ve completed the walk down the hall between the outside staterooms and the inside rooms from bow to stern. Nothing appears out of the ordinary.” I spoke clearly, then stepped into a small elevator and pushed the button for the Promenade Deck. The shops are closed at this time of night so no one should be wandering about, but I have an overwhelming feeling to get out into some fresh air as if being crowded. The unusual need to smell the brisk ocean air and watch its inky blackness stretch further into the night past the Long Beach port of call for Carnival cruise ships is overwhelming.

My blood rushed through my veins like liquid silver as the small compartment takes me slowly up two deck levels. Sucking in a breath to calm my nerves, confusion began to cloud my mind as my head swam.

Why would a simple elevator ride unnerve me like this? This is so not professional but I can’t deny it. Damn, all I want is a breath of fresh air and to check out a good place to settle in for an hour or so. Just me and the ship—that’s all I want.

The doors slid open, and I surged forward trying to get away from whatever bad vibes were haunting me and jerked to a halt brought up short by a slight, but noticeable, tug on my camera strap. What the hell? It was as if it was caught on a hinge but looking back I see that that’s not so. I’m completely alone and unfettered. Damn it all this is weird even for me. On that thought I literally charged out of the elevator as a shiver ran through me. Standing and trembling outside the Royal Salon, looking around I glanced over my shoulder hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever, or whoever, wanted my attention but came up empty. Oh well.

I’m well used to this kind of thing happening on an investigation until I get settled into the rhythm of the site, which was why I always went in a few days earlier than the crew. I’m continuously jittery and on edge at first—I keep telling myself it is the rush of the hunt. Maybe one day I’ll actually believe it. Tonight was not the night though; this feeling was totally different, this was feeling personal. Hanna’s ghost?

I’m here to get to the bottom of my great-grandfather’s journal and the locket that had been found among his World War II belongings packed away in the attic. Granny had said that old chest held secrets of a war well left dead and buried as far as she was concerned. She’d hated the pain reflected in her father’s eyes each time he’d gone to the attic and tore through the chest. She’d always found him slumped against it with his war journal spread out in front of him, an opened tarnished locket in his hand, and tears streaming down his face mumbling something about the war and The Gray Ghost and someone named, Hanna. Granny always presumed it was the young woman in the locket, but no one knew for sure—not even great-grandmother.

Faint sounds of voices and music jumble me out of these memories as I stepped from the glitz of what was once the first class area onto the deck. There must be a late night party going on in the ship docked at the Carnival port, but why would they be playing Big Band music unless it’s a themed cruise. I listened a bit closer but the musical notes dissipated, so I stepped out onto the deck.

The lights cast a yellow glow onto the polished planks and lit my way as I rounded the corner from port to starboard side. Pausing at the stern, I looked out into the bay and tried to imagine what it may have been like for my great-grandfather during those days of war…but can’t.

* * * *

He’s come for you at last, Hanna. Bill, my Bill. Here aboard the ship? Reluctantly, Hanna Amery keeps her distance from him, fading into the background, yet wanting so badly to touch the man she had given her heart to. Admittedly, he looked a bit different now, his ebony skin now a light milk chocolate, his once thin body more muscular but she could feel Bill’s spirit inside him. She aches to reach out and let him know she was there waiting for him like she’d promised. From the moment he’d walked out onto the deck heading toward the Isolation Ward she’d felt his presence. His spirit felt as strong today as it was seventy years ago when they first met, and it called to her bringing her back to the present.

The man she loved, here aboard ship in the spot where they’d declared their forbidden love. She, from a white family and he an African American man. The spot where they’d said their true love vows to God and their shipmates. It shouldn’t be possible yet here he was. Didn’t the captain tell him she’d died from influenza trying to heal the sick and wounded on that final trip during the war?

She’d thought for sure he’d feel her near him as he stepped onto the deck but he walked right by her and her heart broke. Still, she couldn’t help noting that he was alone, no wife in tow at all and it gave her hope. Her mind spun in a thousand different directions!

Why oh why doesn’t he know I’m here waiting for him?

Hanna continued to watch him, close enough to touch him but not daring to. If only he’d turn around and really see her things would be alright. When he finally stopped staring out into the bay her heart leapt. Had he felt her? Then he looked right at her and she smiled rejoicing but he seemed to look through her. Oh no. He headed down into the Isolation Ward. Hanna was a ghost. He would never see her. She had to accept that.

~~ Will Cole and Hanna find each other? ~~

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