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Jaded [MultiFormat]
eBook by Kenya Carlton

eBook Category: Romance/Suspense/Thriller
eBook Description: War correspondent Mia James is back on US soil and ready to tackle a juicy political story that could make national headlines.  A politician's aid goes missing, and the son of the wealthiest family is the only suspect.   Determined to take down the mayor of the small seaside town, Mia comes up against an angry ghost with her own agenda.  Afraid she may be suffering from post traumatic stress Mia figures that she's way over her head and enlists the help of resident black sheep Gabe Montgomery.  Now, she must solve the mystery of her not so friendly ghost and stop herself from falling in love with the mysterious winery owner, while making it out alive.

eBook Publisher: Parker Publishing, Inc., Published: 2011, 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2011

2 Reader Ratings:
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* * * *

Something moved

Jade Demarro turned towards the door and listened to the sounds of the manor but heard nothing new. With a shrug, she figured it was just her cousin's silly cat. If she wasn't in such a hurry, she would have put the furry beast outside, but her belongings were finally packed and ready to go, so she truly had nothing better to do than primp. The exquisite diamond earrings that a playboy director from Italy had given twinkled beautifully in the mirror

The green eyes that peered back at her had seduced hundreds, even thousands of men

Jittery impatience's began to jangle her nerves. She hoped that in a few short moments the studio's driver would be at the front door ready to whisk her back to Hollywood where she belonged

An attempt at a simple pretty life in the country was not in the cards. It had been a dismal failure, one that she vowed never to repeat

The ridiculous notion she had entertained to marry the richest boy in Vine was laughable

It was one thing for the studio machine to dust her off and clean her up for the movies, but it was entirely something else for a small town to see her scars. A publicity department could merely wave their wands to hide her secret from the world, but Vine was different

If her past ever got out to the public in the small and wealthy town, Jade knew she would be in desperate trouble

With one last look around the cozy room she made sure she left nothing behind. Not even her dignity. Without lights to guide through the magnificent house, she used the bright face of the man in the moon to lead her through the manor

The first wave of explosions from the fireworks caught her attention. Brilliant colors burst free over the gigantic house. Jade had a glimpse of the breathtaking display through the window above the stained glass oak door. Hypnotized by the opulent red, greens, and blues that soared over head she began her descent down the stairs. The town's celebration would be over shortly and she planned to be long gone before the grand finale but the driver was late. Most likely he got lost in the winding roads that led up to the manor which were treacherous to even the most seasoned driver

"I'm glad you have enough sense to get out of town.

Jade fingers gripped the banister. Not again. Not him. "What do you want?" She hissed.

"No second thoughts Jade. I want to make sure you leave!"

"You rich boys are all the same," she sneered. "You think daddy's money will buy you respect. Well, I got news for you Junior, it won't buy you dick where I'm concerned!" Terrified she sought his face out in the darkness.

"I never understood why anyone wanted to see your pictures anyway. Your skin, it's not very... fair." His hand reached out of nowhere to toy with the ends of her silky hair. "You're a two-bit actress if I ever saw one."

"Well I guess you have nothing to worry about, Sonny, because this two-bit actress is going back where she belongs, now if you'll excuse me." The drastic change in the air was her cue to exit

"Daddy did a little research and do you know what he found?

Jade tried to take a step toward the staircase but sharp shards of pain gripped her arm as he whipped her around

"He found out what those big wig studio heads have been hiding for years." Jagged needles of pain dug into her shoulder from where his fingers pressed into her skin. "And if that wasn't enough, not less than twenty minutes ago you confirmed it yourself. Yeah I heard you, Sweet Pea, I heard it all, so how did you do it Jade? How did trash like you make it in the talkies?" The tone in his cultured voice filled with rage and hatred in a matter of minutes. Well acquainted with that type of betrayal, Jade didn't bother to charm her way out of this one

Instead she ran

She ran from fear.

She ran for her life and what she anticipated was to come

"Not so fast Snow White!" The last step of the staircase was in bird's-eye view but she was jerked backwards before she could even reach it

The strength he used to snatch her feet from beneath her was extraordinary. The helpless feel of being pulled backwards knocked her breath away. Hot words of hate attacked her ears before the dim despair of grey set in and all the lights went out.

* * * *
* * * *

Chapter One

* * * *

Martin Conway didn't know what to expect. He idled in his police cruiser on the curb in anticipation of a few ominous clouds or some menacing lightening to strike down on the house. He wasn't quite sure since he avoided this place as much as possible.

The manor that sat above Vine was a picture of Victorian splendor. Or at least that's what the welcome brochure to all new tourists had professed.

No one had occupied the oldest standing mansion in town permanently for years and the historical society made sure no one probably ever would. Restrictions had been placed on the home that most modern families weren't willing to contend with and older homeowners would be too overwhelmed to be bothered. The most that could be hoped for was the occasional renter. So the mansion that encompassed every viable asset that a haunted house possibly ever could, sat empty.

It didn't matter that the lawn was cut and the bushes were trimmed. Nor did it matter whether fresh paint was applied every other year or so. Right now all that mattered was that he, Martin Conway, had to get his butt in gear to welcome the new residence of Holloway Manor to Vine.

As Sheriff he took his job seriously. Crime was virtually nonexistent. A few run-ins with the local teenagers now and again were the worse offenses he imagined but that was expected in any small town.

Martin turned the ignition off and grabbed his hat. Vibes of intense displeasure seemed to waft his way from the house, with a deep breath he pushed his apprehension to the side and sorted through his thoughts of what to say to the new neighbors of Vine.

"Good Afternoon, Ma'am." Martin tipped his head to the cute little number at the door. Pleasantly surprised he greeted the woman with all smiles.

"Good afternoon, Officer-"

"Conway, Sheriff Conway," he introduced himself.

The look on her adorable face made him forget the regular spiel he had prepared for all the newbie's that entered town. She was this tiny little thing with big boobs and a nice ass which was a win-win combination in his estimation. Her smooth cocoa skin made his mouth water not to mention her face was kewpie doll cute but her expression told him she was all about being bad. The pool of her brown eyes seemed to suck him into her.

"Where are my manners? Please come in Sheriff. My name is Tracy and this tired piece of trash over here is my cousin, Mia." He followed the woman into the Holloway home to find it was exactly as he had imagined.

Big and creepy!

The structure was the only house that could be seen from the Carlisle hilltop that looked down on Vine. From the door the stained glass windows cast a colorful dance of colors around the front room. A bright and cheery effect that should have appeared fun and joyful, but came across eerie and haunting instead.

White dust cloths covered what he could only imagine was antique furniture. The unlived look probably lent a helping hand to the spooky factor of the estate.

Entranced with the infamous inside interior of the Holloway mansion, he almost stumbled over this woman. Simply stunned into stupidity by her perfect face he missed the hand that she held out to him.

"Mia James, what can I do for you?" His tongue twisted around his mouth. Ordinarily he would be considered a man of authority but this woman made him babble like a fool.

"I uh, I wanted to welcome you to Vine. I saw your truck and thought I would be first to welcome you to our fine city."

"I appreciate that," she replied.

"We have a little picnic scheduled this evening at The Grove and we would be delighted if you could join us." He flashed his pearly smile in hopes it would be enough to persuade them to come.

"Who is we, Sheriff?"

"The Mayor is sponsoring this little shindig to extend his hand of thanks to the people of Vine."

"Special thanks for what?" Mia asked.

"Uh." Both women stared at him with something crossed between humor and confusion.

"He wants to thank everyone for their support in Vine and continued support when he runs for Congress."

"Well Conway," Mia began, "that's a mighty fine invitation but I think I'll pass." she touched his elbow, with the sweetest smile. He was so enchanted with the Egyptian shape of her brown eyes that he found himself outside of the front door without the faintest idea how he got there. "Thank you for keeping us in mind."

"But there's barbecue and fireworks," he stupidly stammered.

"Sounds like a true hootenanny of a good time. We will definitely give it some thought." He understood a polite brush off when he saw one. Mia was so gracious he almost didn't mind how she had just kicked him out of the house.

"Oh well." He stepped off the wraparound porch. Most likely he would see her again around town. Of course, the lack of information about these women would leave room for the Mayor to be unhappy with his fact finding duties.

Martin headed to his cruiser and figured he would go check across town for those vandals that kept spray painting something as silly as 'Water' in the quarry. It was the perfect excuse that he was too busy to be nosey if the Mayor asked.

Mia inhaled the rich charcoal and wood scented ribs wafting through the park. The city of Vine's downtown look had been directly taken out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The perfect picture of the well-to-do upper middle class families apparently ran for no reason, jumped for the hell of it, and played all the time. Plainly nothing occurred in this world that was distasteful since other countries were so far out of these people's realm of paradise.

"You're doing it again, stop!" They walked through the residents of Vine, which garnered their fair share of unwanted attention. Against Mia's better judgment, Tracy managed to talk her into the routine task of fake socializing at the Mayor's picnic.

Apparently her cousin had found the Sheriff's bumbling personality charming, while she on the other hand found him mildly goofy. But regardless Tracy reminded Mia that she had a job to do. The point was quickly made that she wasn't in the city to hide. The goal was to soak up the personality of the town and get any and all of the dirt on the local Mayor. The best way to do both was to mingle with the residents of Vine.

"I'm not doing anything." Mia sighed.

"You're judging these people for grabbing a life of freedom and good health instead of death and fear."

"I was just thinking about how great those dogs on the fire smell," Mia lied to cover up her own bias. It was easy to forget how perceptive Tracy is regardless of her silly chatter about inane subjects.

"I'm thinking you have some sort of post-stress syndrome from years of dodging falling debris, but hey, what do I know? I sniff an unhealthy amount of hairspray on a daily basis."

Mia chuckled. "You said it sweetie, not me."

"Now what do we have here?" Tracy purred.

Out of the corner of her eye, Mia saw Tracy's new mark immerse himself in the cliche' act that only Andy Griffith would be proud of. He assisted an elderly woman across the street.

"That's sweet," Tracy cooed. "I might have to pin an award on him for valor."

"I bet that's about the most taxing thing he's done all day," Mia noted.

"Who's being pessimistic now?"

Mia ignored her cousin and for a moment allowed the beatific melody of birds chirping to replace the sounds of rapid gunfire that often ripped through her mind at any given time. Long periods of sleep that weren't interrupted from a bomb explosion were rare. Peaceful slumber that involved eight to ten hours rest was generally out of the question.

"I'm a little itchy in my own skin, that's all," Mia admitted.

"And that's exactly why you shouldn't have taken this assignment," Tracy scolded her.

"Words to live by." Mia watched the Sheriff try to nonchalantly make his way towards them.

"I'm glad to see you two could join us."

"We wouldn't miss this little get together for all the world," Tracy cooed at the Sheriff batting her doll eyes in his direction.

"The speech is about to start, why don't we get a plate of food and find a good spot," The Sheriff invited them.

"You two go ahead I'm going to mingle"

"Well I'll take you around if you like, introduce you to a few folks?"

"That's okay." Mia backed off. "You two go on without me." Tracy looped her arm around the Sheriff's biceps with instant ownership.

The man was no better than a deer in headlights where Tracy was concerned. Pity for the Sheriff started to make its way into Mia's subconscious as she wandered off to take in the eclectic inhabitants of Vine. People laughed and joked together in familiar camaraderie. Their easy smiles and tidy appearance helped form the article she would write on the mayor.

Young, old, and middle-aged made up the face of the town. A few affluent black families mingled around in a neighborly fashion with their white counter-parts. Her curiosity about the city far surpassed her interest in the mayor.

The town lay outside of Santa Barbara, a well-known vacation area for the elite. Which made Vine what she wondered? Their bastard cousins?

"Ladies and Gentleman. I'm proud to introduce our Mayor Cooper Worthington." The buzz of the crowd waned to soft murmurs as the Mayor took the podium. A distinguished man in his late sixties, early seventies oozed wealth and charm gave the citizens a perfect smile for the lights and cameras. He had a full head of silver hair and a grin that had to be right out of the Vaseline container.

"I'm so happy to see that many of you could make it out here to show me support on this fine day. As everyone knows, I am considering a stab in a new direction, but nothing has been set in stone. I will consider my options and then inform everyone on Memorial Day of my decision. You are the most important thing to me and I would never let down the people I love."

"Not everyone," she heard titters of gossip on the opposite side of the tree. "Things are really getting out of hand between his boy Jonathan and that Gabe Montgomery." Mia perked up in alarm at the mention of the familiar yet not surprising name of Gabrielle Montgomery.

"Jonathan's panties are still in a bunch over that Vineyard, if you can believe that."

"The one thing daddy wasn't able to buy him."

"Buy him? I heard it used to be in the family. One of the Worthington's lost it in a poker game."

"I'll tell you this whole thing is becoming quite the Hatfields and McCoys if you get my drift."

"Except these two are sexy and hot instead of toothless and poor." They giggled as Mia found herself draw closer.

"I can't tell you who I want more, Jonathan exudes class and charm-"

"But he's as cool as a cucumber. Hey, speaking of the devil."

Mia glanced toward the podium to see the object of their desire take the microphone. He was a younger version of his father. A cool blonde that had the exact attributes the ladies had spoken of.

"He is easy on the eyes but that Gabe Montgomery is one exotic man." The blonde giggled.

"You mean mutt is more like it, his father is African American and his mother was what American Indian? A recipe for disaster if you ask me."

"Dark and brooding type." The blonde continued to moon. "Kinda dangerous, oh well." She sighed. "Nothing like my Gene but a girl can dream."

"Yes, but there's no taking him home to mamma."

"That's not where I want to take him." Another peel of laughter was garnered which gave Mia the opportunity to interrupt.

"Excuse me ladies."

The humor fell from the women's faces. They straightened taking the stance of two people who had done nothing wrong.

"I'm Mia James, I just moved into the Holloway home," she introduced herself.

"Oh hi, I was wondering who was staying there. I've always wanted to get a look at that old place." The guarded look fell from the bubbly one's face.

"I just got in this morning." Mia focused her attention on the blonde who seemed to be the more approachable of the two.

"I'm Jo and this is Belinda." Jo's, the chubby one said, Belinda, on the other hand, didn't appear nearly as sweet.

"As soon as I get the house organized I would love to have you over. I want to have a get together, something for the neighbors, and was wondering where the best place to pick up supplies, food, wine, and some knick knacks." Mia knew she was on the right path by the way Jo's face lit up like a Christmas tree.

"Oh that's easy. Donovan's Market on fifth has the best cold cuts, Collie's Furniture on Lincoln has the cutest trinkets, and Sanctuary Vines has the best wine, it's right on the outskirts of town going west."

Mia fought off the urge to run to her car like she just stole something. "Great, well it was nice meeting you ladies." She smiled goodbye.

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