Special Treat Coming Soon!

A total treat is coming very, very soon. 

On March 23, 2022, I have a Bookbub promo for Intrigued.

The goal is to introduce new readers to Intrigued. However, that book, the series in general, was written a little over three years ago.

Long story short, I started reading Intrigued on Monday to get an idea of the impression it will have on new readers.

Well…

Sigh…

Let’s just say that one of the biggest mistakes I made with books after LOVE in the USA series is not sticking with the POV (Point of View) that I love to write–first-person present tense.

So, soon. Very soon. You will have a chance to read not only Intrigued but the rest of Jasper and Holly’s story from the first-person present-tense. I’ve also strengthened the story. It’s a lot better. 

Stay tuned for more to come on that. The project has to be finished before the 23rd, so I’m working day and night to get it done.

Just to give you a taste of how incredible the revisions will be, here’s the revised chapter 1. 

INTRIGUED

Chapter One

Arrival

December 20th

“Christmas with the Christmases” is something I’ve been repeating ever since I accepted Bronwyn Henrietta Christmas’s invitation. Her offer was twofold—spend the holiday with her family while taking on a project that would excuse the self-imposed debt I owe them. However, what Bronwyn wants me to do for her or her family is still a mystery.

“Is it legal?” I asked during our call. I was also slightly irritated because she sounded as if she were whispering.

From the moment I met Bronwyn, I realized she relished in being a secretive person. Even how we became roommates at Redmond College was sort of shrouded in mystery. Redmond was an all-girls college on the East Coast where the rich and privileged sent their daughters to live up to their blue-blooded family names. Contrarily, my blood was redder than red.  I wasn’t rich, and I sure as hell wasn’t privileged. I was the daughter of a conman and a perpetually depressed woman who had willed herself into an early grave. But school had always been my safe haven. I loved learning and eventually graduated at the top of my class, earning a full academic scholarship to Redmond College.

“Yes, it’s legal,” Bronwyn whispered.  Although she sounded insulted by my question.

“Okay, then just tell me what you want from me,”I insisted.

“I can’t. Not over the phone.”

“Why not?”

“Holly, please don’t make this more difficult than necessary. You’re going to have a lovely time. Plus, what I need falls in line with what you do.”

I frowned incredulously. “What I do?”

“Investigative reporting.”

I sat up straight in my chair. “Oh. Okay…”

“I also know that you’re an independent reporter. I read both of your books, The Howsley Project and In Defense of Bad Air.”

“You did?” I asked in a high-pitched voice as I glare unfocused at the large downtown building on the opposite side of the busy avenue. She did her homework. It’s not like Bronwyn to do her homework unless what she wants is extremely important and beneficial to her. 

“Yes, I did.”

I had sold a lot of those books, but she was the first person from my early days to say she’d read them. It felt strange and rather gratifying.

“I promise it will be worth your while,” she whispered even lower than before.

I’d accepted her invitation, and now, after a hectic start to my day and a four-hour drive from Philadelphia to Newport, Rhode Island, I sit in the driver’s seat of my little car in front of the Christmas mansion estate. The massive iron gates with their pointy spears at the top and a twisting design of the family crest in the middle slowly open wide to give me access to the family’s famous and exclusive abode. 

My nerves soar through the roof as I drive slowly past pine trees, holding glistening fresh snow and expansive white lawns while making my final approach toward the rustic red stone mansion. And what a sight for sore eyes. The gables rise high and pointy, almost like an old church. Picture windows painted across the face of the brick glow with warm light. And several chimneys peaking beyond the roof like narrow spires blow smoke into the opaque white sky. It’s odd. There are so many harrowing rumors about the Christmas family mansion. But from where I sit, the abode is teeming with warmth and life.

Finally, I arrive at a fork in the drive and choose to curve toward the front of the house. Bryn has given me no instructions regarding where to park or what to do upon my arrival, and I’ve been so busy finishing up all assignments before the holidays that I didn’t call her to confirm arrival details. She’d only given me the address and the family gate code. However, we agreed that she should expect me any time between 3:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. I glance at the time on the console. It’s 3:17 p.m. I roll to a stop in front of a long walkway and lean across the passenger seat to search past the black iron gates, which cordons off an enclosed patio. The front doors remind me of large bronze castle doors and they look as if they hadn’t been utilized in centuries.

I flop back against the driver’s seat with a heavy sigh. I should’ve planned my arrival a lot better than this. But I wonder though, would I be able to recognize Bronwyn if I saw her today? I hadn’t laid eyes on her since we hugged and wished each other a great summer at the end of our first year of college. Since I had been assigned to the same dorm room for the next academic year, I thought surely I’d be rooming with her again. But she never show up. Junior and senior years went by, and I was assigned to the same dorm room, but still, no Bryn. I even tried calling her on several occasions, but I would only reach one of the family estate secretaries, who promised to tell Bryn that I rang.

For four years of college, I lived in the most posh dorm on campus. I eventually learned that wasn’t by accident. I gaze out my windshield unfocused as I recall the first time I ever met the pretty, wealthy heiress with her perfect bob of blond ringlets that showcased her sensual bow-tie mouth and coveted bedroom eyes. Students had gathered in the main sanctuary for our welcome orientation which took place two weeks before classes started.

No one sat on the same row as me in the large auditorium, although the place was packed and abuzz with excited chatter. It was as though all the girls knew each other from summers at a posh camp in the Alps or somewhere like it or from the times their families mingled while vacationing in Europe. My curious ears listened to how they discussed who went to which overpriced private high school and how some of the girls didn’t have the grades to land a spot in Redmond.

“Her spot was given to one of the hobos,” one of them said.

I only realized I was one of the hobos when the girl with the dark hair and eyes that looked too large for her thin face glared at me after making the hobo comment.

I was still shocked by what felt like a passive aggressive verbal assault when a girl flopped down in the seat next to me. “Don’t mind them. They’re stinky little bitches with bad breath and sour pussies,” she said.

I gasped at her filthy language, even though I was thankful that my new adversaries seemed wounded by her insult.

“I’m Bronwyn Christmas, but the people I like call me Bryn.”

One of the girls turned to the side and pretended not to be watching us through her peripheral vision. Something told me she wasn’t permitted to call Bronwyn by her nickname. It was also clear that in the pecking order of the rich and powerful, Bryn was at the top.

She asked for my name and I tentatively said, “Holly, Holly Henderson.”

“Where did you grow up?”

Eyebrows pulled, I said, “Final destination, Pittsburgh.”

That seemed to intrigue her and so she asked, “What does your father do?”

I narrowed an eye baffled by her forwardness. “You mean for work?”

“Yeah…” She waited attentively for my answer.

Thanks to the help of a really good principal, guidance counselors, and teachers, I’d learned years ago not to let who my father was make me feel ashamed. His choices are not mine. “Absolutely nothing,” I finally said.

Bryn tossed her head back and laughed. “I like you.” She adjusted in her seat, turning her body toward me. “You don’t know who I am?”

I leaned away from her and raised my eyes to get a good look at her. “Should I know who you are?”

She blurted an amused chuckle. “Have you ever heard of the Christmases?”

I frowned, confused. “Which Christmases are you talking about?”

She studied my expression for a moment then burst into laughter.

I felt my face turn warm when I realized what she meant. “Oh, you mean your family name?” I tilted my head curiously. “Really? It’s Christmas? Like, Merry Christmas—Christmas?”

Her smirk was smug. “Yeah, like Merry Christmas—Christmas.”

Our conversation was interrupted when Dean Westerly took the stage. As she welcomed all the new students to Redmond, Bryn sprung to her feet and strutted out of the auditorium like she owned the world. The next time I saw her was a week later when I walked into my version of heaven on earth. My new dorm-room looked more like a luxury apartment. It had all the bells and whistles, including two master bedrooms with their own attached bathrooms. My jaw dropped when I saw the jetted tub. Puzzled by my accommodations, I checked the tag attached to the key my student advisor had given me and grimaced at the room number. I was in the right place.

“Hey, roomie,” a voice called.

I quickly turned to see Bryn standing behind me and next to a cute guy with floppy hair and a bad boy smirk. I soon came to know her male friend as Dale Rumor. 

“I needed a roommate, so I chose you,” she said, her delicate lips stretched into a cocky smile.

It didn’t take long to realize why Bryn had sat next to me before orientation and chatted me up. She was looking for a hobo because she had secrets, and I was an outsider. She wanted her double life to remain safe from gossip and scandal. 

Lucky for her my past had taught me to mind my own business. It was as though she brought home a new guy every night. Only a few would sleep over; most would be locked in the room with her for several hours and then leave. If they were having sex in her master suite, then I couldn’t hear them. They stayed quiet, which I thought was very odd. 

Bryn and I genuinely liked each other, though. She would listen for hours as I talked about my parents and all the crap they had put me through. Bryn never really said much about her family. I knew she had a twin brother and two older brothers. Like my parents, her far richer and seemingly just as unstable parents never came to visit. At times, a woman would show up to check on her. Bryn never told me the woman’s name or how they were related to each other.

When I graduated from college, I received a handwritten card from Bryn that read, “Don’t worry about paying us back for the dorm. You deserve to live in the lap of luxury.”

My mouth dropped. I had thought my scholarship paid for my room and boarding. I went straight to the finance department. It took three people to figure out that Christmas Family Enterprises had indeed footed the bill. 

As soon as I landed my first job as a reporter, I contacted the estate and made arrangements to pay them back. I’ve been paying them eight hundred dollars a month for the last three years. Only thirty-six thousand more to go and my debt will be paid in full. However, I’m here to do a job. And Bryn promised I will make triple the amount I owe. But what does she want me to do? I hope it’s legal.

I turn to glare at the massive doors. Soon, I will see her face again. I wonder if she’s changed much. There are no recent pictures of her anywhere on the Internet, not that I’ve done much looking. I hadn’t thought of her much in years. Every now and then her older brother Jasper will come up on my radar, but, everybody knows you don’t cross Jasper Christmas. At least, almost everybody—I have a colleague who’s obsessed with the Christmases. However, Bryn was a stunning beauty back then, I can’t imagine that’s changed. 

“Here goes nothing,” I say with a sigh. Twisting my body, I reach into the back seat of my car and snatch my ankle-length wool coat off the seat. The coat is long and thick and battles the cold with the precision of a ninja warrior. I angle my body downward and stretch my hand beneath the passenger seat to feel for my purse. “Got it,” I whisper. My arm aches from expending so much energy to perform only two actions in such a cramped space. For sure, my fuel-efficient compact car is not the most comfy vehicle. 

Bang, bang, bang.

I press my hand over my pounding heart as I put my face closer to the glass to see a man with the world’s most intense eyes glaring at me from the other side of the window. It took me a moment to absorb more of his face. His angles are a work of art and he has the most kissable lips I’ve ever seen. His face in general is just so… Wow. Looking at him is like being transfixed by a hypnotist’s medallion that’s shifting back and forth.

The man takes a step back. “Roll down the window,” he says while motioning for me to do just that.

I steady my breaths and press the button on the handrest.

He folds his arms like he’s a highway patrolman giving me a ticket or something. “Who are you, and how did you get through my gate?”

“I’m Holly Henderson.” My tone indicates that my name should jog his memory, but the stern look on his face doesn’t change. “Bryn invited me for the holiday, and…” My expression expands with acknowledgment. I now know which of Bryn’s brothers I’m looking it. 

The extremely handsome man standing outside my car door is Jasper Walker Christmas, the oldest brother and presidential hopeful. Holy shit. Is he the reason why I’m here? Does Bryn want me to interview her brother. I have a reputation for taking down powerful and shady figures like her older brother. A favorable interview from me would make him look squeaky clean, which is why I’m not sure I’m willing to do it.

“You’re Bryn’s friend?” he asks as if accusing me of a crime.

“Yes,” I say feeling a spike of adrenaline. “And you’re Jasper Christmas.”

His eyes narrow to slits. There are thoughts behind the way he’s looking at me, and none of them appear welcoming.

“She didn’t inform me that we were having guests this week,” he says.

I press my lips. I get the feeling that he wants me to make a U-turn and go home.  Part of me wants to say, “Okay. Thanks, and hope to never see you again.” But I remain silent and wait for him to progress this little moment of ours. What a dick.

“Well, you can’t park here,” he grumbles and then glares toward the fork that I encountered before stopping here. “It’s going to snow in a few hours. Turn around, go back to the split in the drive, and make a left at the back of the house. I’ll guide you to  the garage.”

He walks away before I could say thank you for finally showing a little hospitality, dude. As he strides past the iron gates, which open for him automatically, I catch a glimpse of his straight and elegant gait. Jasper Christmas carries himself like a man convinced he owns the world. And maybe he does. But he is, very attractive wearing a pair of well-fitting casual dress pants and thick black winter coat. I bet he smells really good. Guys like him always smell good.  

“Get a grip, Holls,” I whisper. My slightly trembling hands clench the steering wheel as I make a three-point turn. What’s wrong with me? I’ve certainly interacted with men just as good looking and intimidating as Jasper in the past. But he’s having an effect on me, a very odd effect on me.

* * *

Driving under five miles per hour, I see Jasper’s stunning physique standing alongside the drive. I wonder which of Bryn’s brothers I’ll meet next. Maybe Spencer, the playboy of the family, or Asher, the chemist who has all the brains. I’ve already met the brawn, Jasper’s the brawn. He’s the muscle. And look at him… Oh my God, just look at him.

When I’m closer, he gestures, motioning for me to follow him as he walks toward a garage that has many stalls for cars to park. His walk is mesmerizing. He’s mesmerizing. 

Suddenly, one of the many garage doors automatically rise. Jasper points to where he wants me to park. As I carefully pull into the stall, I realize that soon he and I will be standing face to face.

“Hi. Thank you for having me,” I whisper, practicing my greeting, even though he doesn’t seem happy to me at all.

I make sure my vehicle is perfectly straight then turn off the engine. I fight like crazy to steady my nerves as I pop the trunk. I collect my coat and purse off the passenger seat then quickly tuck a fast-food bag under the seat. I sigh sharply, upset for suddenly feeling so self-conscious about how Jasper will perceive me. He’s probably never eaten a french fry from a paper bag in his entire life. I open the door and step out, ready for my eyes to meet his intense, panty-melting glower.

“Hello, ma’am,” a middle-aged gentleman in a black suit says.

“Hi.” I sound and look flabbergasted.

“I’m William your guest butler,” he says and then bows his head demurely.

I shrug on my coat. “I’m—”

“Holly Henderson, I know. Miss Christmas informed me of your arrival.”

I perk up. Finally, I’m encountering someone who’s aware of my arrival. I now feel like a welcomed guest.

I step to the trunk of my car. “Well, I have to get my things out.”

“Miss Henderson, please do not worry with the luggage. Our staff will bring your things to your room and unpack for you.”

My eyebrows flash up and I gnaw on my lower lip. Unpack for me? I’m not really keen on people rifling through my personal things.

“We promise the utmost discretion,” he says, apparently reading my expression.

I fight the urge to pass on the special treatment. Plus it’s too late. Two young woman both dress in a khaki blue skirt and shirt are trotting in our direction. 

We say hello to each other as they take my luggage out of the trunk and then race back to the house. However, the garage keeps going up and down and William apologizes as he tries to fix the mechanical issue. I assure him that I’m able to find my way to my room and reluctantly tells me where to go. I quickly head up the drive as fast as I can. I don’t want William to change his mind and escort me anyway. I love the idea of walking into the Christmas mansion without a chaperone.  I want to get a real good feel for the place—see if I can pick up on all the darkness that’s associated with the abode.

* * *

The back door is nearly as large as the one out front. I open it and entered a wide-open space with white marble floors. Gentle instrumental music plays in the background. It sounds like elevator music. The curving stairwell that William had mentioned is ahead of me. For some reason, the right side of my face burns as if I can feel someone watching me. I quickly turn in the questionable direction. No one is there. Perhaps my mind is playing tricks on me. I so desperately want to see Jasper Christmas again. Maybe the next time we meet, he’ll be more agreeable. 

Or maybe not. 

Why do I even care? 

Oh right, he’s powerful—very powerful. It’ll be great to learn what makes a man like him tick.

I carefully walk up the stairs and follow William’s instructions exactly. My room will be to the right and at the end of the hallway. However, there are two doors, side by side and I wonder if they belong to the same room. Since William had said “the right” a few times, I decide to open the door on the right. I cautiously enter the bedroom then stop to observe the tall king-sized bed with an opulent gold silk bedspread and a golden-tufted backboard. It’s the sort of bed that I picture the Queen of England sleeps on. Two thick red velvet curtain panels with beautifully draped valances cordon off the sleeping area from a sitting room. My eyes gravitate toward the beautiful crystal encrusted chandelier hanging over the bed. Then I turn toward the wall of windows. The elegant drapes and valances are made of golden brocade fabric. I have a view of the snow-covered lawn bordered by tall trees holding snow on their thistle branches. Next, I turn to look at myself in the standing mirror, which is outlined with a gold-leaf frame. I appear so out of place with my heavy black coat and dark messy hair. I’m a creature of modernity and the decor of this room is an homage to the long ago past. And then, I gasp as stiffen. I spot him. Jasper Christmas sits in one of the high-backed chairs next to the window. 

“Oh, I didn’t see you,” I say, pressing a hand over my beating heart.

“What are you doing in here?” he asks sharply.

My mouth falls open. His frown is fierce and his presence commanding, both render me speechless.

And that my darlings is revised chapter one!

Onward I go.

 

Much❤️Z.L.