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Grounded
Sandra Cox
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BOOK SYNOPSIS

On the surface, Gillian Stone has it all: wealth, beauty, and the freedom to come and go as she pleases…at least from sunset to dawn.

BOOK EXCERPTS

Introduction

 

Be careful what you wish for.

While I’m dropping pearls of wisdom let me add, read the fine print.

Why am I wasting my time offering warnings that no one is going to listen to? Because as humans we have this unconquerable urge to try to help others learn from our mistakes. Or in this case my great, great, great, great grandmother’s mistakes.

She came from a very poor background and consequently wanted it all, riches beyond measure, beauty. Need I say more?

Great-great-plus Grams stumbled onto a genie’s lamp and made her wish.

You don’t believe in genies?

Trust me. They’re real all right. Unfortunately, when my ancient relative made her wish she didn’t bother to listen to the genie’s warning of strings attached. This lack of foresight has a direct bearing on the first born daughter of each generation, i.e. me.

To put it mildly, my life is complicated. I am literally grounded forever.

I live on a lavish estate in the mountains of North Carolina. Between sunset and dawn, my life is my own. But during the day I’m grounded in several hundred pounds of marble. If you happen to wander by the Stone Estate and peep through the fence, you’ll hear the rippling sounds of water from a lovely manmade pool surrounded by lush fragrant flowers. Beside it stands a life size statue of a young woman, with long flowing hair and classic bone structure, draped in a Greek toga a cat at her feet.

The young woman is me.

The cat is Merrick.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

“Albert hired a young man to help us, Miss Gilly.”

“Good. You should hire some help too, Olivia. ” My hair fell forward as I pulled on my black leather boots.

Merrick stalked back and forth across the room, his jet-black tail straight in the air.

“He’s got no business hiring a stranger to poke around here,” Olivia stated darkly, her age-spotted hands crossed over her little white apron, starched so crisply it crinkled when she touched it.

“Good point,” Merrick meowed.

“Merrick, hush.” I turned back to Olivia. “You need help. You could yell the truth about me at the top of your lungs and no one would believe you. Best case scenario, you’d find yourself in a psychiatric ward popping happy pills.” We’d had this conversation so often we knew our lines by heart.

I slipped on my black leather jacket then tugged my hair out of the collar. My heels clicked on the gleaming wood floor as I headed for the door.

“He’s downstairs,” Olivia informed me, as she nudged her wire rim bifocals up on her nose with her index finger.

“Who?”

“That young heathen Albert hired.”

Young heathen?  My hand on the knob, I turned. “Why?”

“He wants to meet you.”

“Why?” I love Olivia. She and her husband Albert Morris, who acts as butler, gardener and majordomo have practically raised me. My mother died when I was born, another little codicil of the pact my long dead Grams struck. 

Needless to say, no one in the family is in a big hurry to get pregnant, but somehow these things always happen. Birth control has no noticeable affect on the first born daughter in the Stone family.

But back to Olivia, she is the most pessimistic soul the gods ever created.  She relishes bad news and takes good news as a personal affront. But behind the dire façade beats a heart of pure gold. There’s nothing she or Albert won’t do for me.

“Because he wants to know who he’s working for. He wants to interview you.” She rolled her eyes and stressed the next to last word.

“Interview me?” I jerked my head up. “Well, isn’t that interesting.” I plucked a cat hair off my designer jeans.

“You just watch yourself, missy,” she warned, her thin chest heaving in righteous indignation.

“What do you mean?”

“You’ll see,” Olivia predicted. She turned and took a swipe at the gleaming, spotless chest of drawers with her dust rag. There was no getting anything out of Olivia when she took that tone.

“Where is he?”

“He’s waiting in the vestibule.”

Uh oh.  Olivia hadn’t even put him in the sitting room, not a good sign.

I looked at Merrick.

His shoulders rippled as he gave a feline shrug. “Can we get this over and get going?”

“Got a date with the lovely Esmeralda?” I teased. Esmeralda is a common but beautiful white Persian with emerald eyes as green as Merrick’s. When I say common, I’m not referring to her pedigree. I mean she can’t talk. 

He sat on his haunches and glared at me, his tail twitching.

“Okay. Okay.” I left the bedroom, walked down the long open hallway then went clattering down the stairs.

I stiffened my legs and skidded to a halt three steps from the bottom.  A tall lean man faced the door. His worn jeans cupped a compact butt. A long sleeved navy T stretched across his shoulders.  Hearing me, he turned.

Wow. For a moment, I forgot to breathe. Tousled blue-black hair accentuated a thin face with a nose just crooked enough to keep him from being too handsome. Skin stretched tight across high cheekbones. I couldn’t tell much about the mouth. The lips were in a thin straight line.

Every inch of that lean body radiated attitude.

“I’m Gillian Stone.” I came down the rest of the stairs and held out my hand.

He took it.

I felt a jolt run up my arm and jumpstart my heart.

“Darth Hunter.” He dropped my hand before he’d barely wrapped his fingers around it. I wonder if he’d felt it too.

He smelled like fresh air and tart limes. I wanted to curl up against him and sniff, but I was pretty sure that wouldn’t be appreciated. So instead I asked the first thing that popped into my head, right after ‘are you in a serious relationship’, “How old are you Darth Hunter?”

“Does it matter?” His stormy gray eyes challenged me.

“Not really.”

“I’m twenty-one. And you, Ms. Stone?”

Needled, I shot back, “Does it matter?”

He shrugged.

“Eighteen.”

He didn’t say anything just studied me like a bug under a microscope.

I returned the favor.

“You wanted to meet me?” I was the one who finally broke the silence stretching between us like a taut rubber band.

“I like to know who I’m working for.” He stood with the innate slouch young men have, his thumbs hooked in his jeans, his expression bored.

“You’re working for Albert.”

“It’s always good to know the chain of command. I work for Albert. Albert works for you. You sign both our checks.”

“Whatever.” I shrugged. “Will you be staying in the servants’ quarters or driving back and forth?”

His back arched like a cat’s.

He didn’t like the word servant. I couldn’t blame him. It would have been more politically correct to say employees’ quarters. With anyone else I would have, but there was just something about Darth Hunter that brought out my claws. Try to cop an attitude with me will you?

“I have an apartment in town.”  He bit out each word.

What a mouth. I eyed said orifice, wondering what it would look like when it relaxed into a smile. Too bad it was attached to such a rude individual. If he kept many jobs for any length of time, I’d be surprised. If he kept this one, I’d be surprised. He really irritated me.

“Are you this charming with everyone you work for or just me?” I fisted my hands on my hips.

“I don’t suck up to anyone.”

I took a deep cleansing breath. It didn’t do any good. “Let me assure you our paths will seldom meet. Just keep Albert and Olivia happy. If you cross them in anyway, you’re out of here. Got that?” I looked him straight in the eye, my own narrowing.

He didn’t answer.

“Got that?” I repeated and jabbed a cinnamon-colored nail in the middle of his hard chest.

“The rich employer cares about her underlings?” Darth didn’t quite sneer but came damn close as he swatted my finger away.

Anger bubbled just below the surface. Mr. Hottie Hunter was about two flash seconds away from finding out if the old adage about temper and redheads was true. But that would just be playing into his hands.

Instead, I straightened and managed to look down my nose at him. No easy task since he’s taller than I am. “Servants perform better when they are kept happy, Mr. Hunter.”

I bit my lips to keep from laughing then looked at his ears to see if smoke rolled out. They were as red as his face. Anger snapped in his eyes.

I arched a disdainful eyebrow and spun on my heel, making sure my shoulders didn’t shake.

Merrick rubbed against my leg and meowed to hurry me along. He never spoke in front of strangers.

My attention fixed on Darth, I hadn’t notice Albert slip in. He stood by the door. ”Your bike is parked out front, just as you requested, Ms. Stone.” He dipped his head and handed me my helmet.

“Thank you, Albert.”

“You’d have made a killing on the stage,” he whispered in my ear.

“That will be all,” I said in my most grand dame voice and winked at him.

“Very good, madam.” He opened the door then bowed.

I clattered down the steps and straddled my big black Harley.

Merrick came running after me. The backseat of the bike had been converted into a small basket-like aperture. He jumped in, his black head peaking over the top.

Mr. Hottie Hunter followed me out. He stood on the wide veranda steps staring. “Hey, you’re putting that cat at risk.”

The basket is built to withstand a bazooka attack but I wasn’t about to tell my new employee that as I didn’t consider it any of his business. Ignoring him, I lifted the kickstand, started the motor then gunned it. Taking my feet off the cement, I shot down the drive.

I braked and pushed the button for the gates on the bike’s handlebars. They swung open. I drove through them. As I turned to the right, I glanced back at the manse. Both Albert and Darth stood on the veranda watching me, the porch light haloing them.

Twisting the throttle, I went tearing down the winding drive. I flipped up the face mask of my helmet. The crisp air took my breath away. I reveled in the feel of it. After being incarcerated in marble for twelve hours I need freedom. Motorcycles and fast cars help me unwind.

The scents of the mountain filled me as I went whipping down the winding road.

 A white owl swooped in front of me. Startled, I swerved in a crazy zigzag across the road.

“Hey, watch it,” Merrick shrieked.

I straightened the bike.

Twenty minutes later we arrived at Ashton.  Though, not as large as Chicago or New York, it’s a great city with plenty of action, a conglomerate of liberals and conservatives that manage to adopt a live-and-let-live attitude with each other.

I pulled in front of a little white house on a quiet street. 

As I balanced the bike with my feet, Merrick hopped out of the basket.

“See you at sunrise.”

The cat nodded then put his nose in the air, lashed his tail and went trotting up the sidewalk. A beautiful white Persian jumped through the cat door and came running to meet him.

“Hi, Esmeralda,” I called. But the pretty kitty only had eyes for Merrick. Ah true love.

Pushing off with my feet, I coasted out of the neighborhood, not wanting to draw undue attention to either Merrick or myself.

From there I went to a popular little bistro in the hippie district. Seated at a corner table, I could see the door.

A young couple, holding hands and laughing, walked in. Their clothes shrieked utilitarian. Neither seemed to have a sense of fashion.  They were pleasant looking but not memorable…except for the expressions on their faces when they looked at each other. They radiated joy. It was obvious they were very much in love.

A sharp stab of loneliness pierced my chest. I rubbed my aching breast bone and swallowed an uncomfortable lump in my throat.

I’m not jealous. I scowled then sighed. Well not exactly. For some reason I thought of bad-tempered Hottie Hunter.

I hoisted my chin and sat up straighter. I held the cup of aromatic coffee, I’d ordered, under my nose and let the fragrant steam fill my senses. My life isn’t suited for making friends. But that’s alright. I have Olivia, Albert and poor ole Merrick.

Merrick doesn’t care for our lifestyle any more than I do. But you play the cards you’re dealt.

Tired of people watching, I abruptly sat down my cup and stood up. Dark, hot liquid sloshed over the sides and ran into the saucer.

I’ll go shopping. If that doesn’t perk me up nothing will.

I went to my favorite boutiques. I bought a little black dress I’d probably never wear, designer jeans, a fitted pink silk sweater and a darling pair of crystal earrings. After making arrangements for the packages to be picked up the next day, I decided to take in a movie.

The wind whipped my hair in my face as I tucked my head down and walked several blocks to the theatre, ignoring wolf whistles and cat calls from men on the streets. I didn’t need company that bad.

The clerk gave me my ticket. Stepping out of the cold into the warm room was nearly orgasmic. The sound and tantalizing aroma of popping corn drew me to the concession stand. I got a tub of buttered popcorn and an ice cold Coke then settled into the old comfortable movie seats to have my socks scared off by a horror flick.

As the lights dimmed, I looked around the theatre and felt a twinge as a young man in front of me put his arm around his sweetheart. What would it be like to come to a show with a date or better yet a boyfriend? The loneliness, I’d been grappling all evening crept back.

I took a deep breath and exhaled. What was wrong with me? After spending ten minutes in the company of an arrogant, albeit hot-looking male, I was acting like some love-starved teenager. My life didn’t have to revolve around a man to be happy. Dating was probably way overrated. And I wasn’t truly alone. Again, I reminded myself of my three friends who were my family.

I needed Merrick and his pithy commentary on life and the foibles of humans to get me out of this funk. No one could be depressed with that particular feline around.

I munched on my popcorn, determined to enjoy my evening. As a bloody ax filled the screen, all thoughts of feeling sorry for myself fled. I slid down in my seat and watched the flick through scrunched up lids.  

After the movie, I stepped outside and shivered. I took a cautious look around to make sure no one followed me with a chainsaw or pick ax then dropped into an all night coffee shop that had a jazz band.

Several hours later I glanced at my watch, four a.m. Time to get the Harley and head back to the manse.

My head down, my hands shoved in my pockets, I walked down the street. As I reached my bike, I heard a thin scream from a nearby alley. Without stopping to think, I raced in. The scent of urine and rotting garbage filled my nostrils. In the flickering shadows, I saw three men accosting a young woman.

“Back off, Bozos,” I yelled, my legs splayed, my hands fisted on my hips.

Surprised, they let her go.

She ran toward me. Her jacket ripped. Tangled dark hair fell around a pretty face. She looked to be about sixteen. I frowned. The features looked familiar. Where had I seen her before?  No time to think of it now.

She drew even with me.

“Can you ride a Harley?” I asked urgently.

“Yes,” the young woman panted then whirled to face her attackers.

Shoulder to shoulder, we backed up.

The ruffians advanced.

“Do you know where Stone Hall is?” I didn’t take my gaze off the men.

“Who doesn’t?”

Who doesn’t, indeed. “Go to Stone Hall. Tell my chauffer where I’m at.” Still backing up, I pulled my key out of my pant’s pocket and pressed it in her hand.

I felt more than saw her start of surprise, but all she said was, “What about you?”

“I’ll be fine. Go. Now,” I snapped, impressed that she’d given me a second thought.

“Come with me,” she pleaded.

The bike had been made specifically for me and Merrick. This was the first time I ever regretted it. “It’s a one-seater. Now go!”

She took off running.

When the thugs saw her heading for the bike, they raced forward.

She stumbled.

My heart leaped to my throat.

She righted herself and jumped for the bike.

Reaching it, she straddled the Harley and fumbled with the key. Moments seemed to last forever. Then the big Harley roared to life.

“I’ll call the police,” she called over the noise of the engine.

“Just get to my chauffer. His name’s Albert,” I yelled back.


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MORE BOOK INFO
ISBN(13-digit): 9781935048411
Copyright: 2010
Book Publisher: Class Act Books
Binding: Perfect
No. of Pages: 203



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