How do you convince a skeptic to reverse your curse?
Natividad Houlihan travels the world searching for stunning historical sites with juicy secrets...and ghosts. Nati doesn't believe in the supernatural, but as a location scout for the Spirit Seekers paranormal investigation show she works for true believers. The team is thrilled at the opportunity to investigate an infamous Spanish haunted mansion--but the price of admission requires Nati to spend two weeks stumbling around in the dark searching for EVPs and light anomalies. Nati's only company is Cris, the estate's surly, sexy caretaker, who intrigues her during the day and stars in her vivid erotic fantasies at night.
Don Cristobal Mendoza loved unwisely and paid the price for his indiscretion, suffering a vicious curse that trapped him within the bounds of his ancestral estate. By day he is the manor's mysterious caretaker, and by night he is the shadow demon who stalks its halls. For centuries he has hidden his condition from the world as he despaired of ever being freed from his curse.
Nati is determined to unearth the secrets Cris has kept for centuries and bring his past to light, but Cris can't resist the chance to indulge his dark desires with a bold, beautiful American skeptic. As the balance of magical power shifts, they must work together to break the curse before Cris's time runs out.
About the Author
In 2019, Bachar's sci-fi romance Galactic Cold War trilogy comes to its climactic finale in END TRANSMISSION (May). Her paranormal romance Bad Witch series continues with BAD BLOOD (January) and BLOOD, BOOK AND CANDLE (July), before reaching its final destination in THE BLOODY END (December). In addition, her fantasy romance Just One Spell series continues with THE TIMEFREEZE CURSE (September).
Read an Excerpt
Are you taking readings?
I frowned at Piper's text before firing off a reply.
No. Do I bother you guys when you're working? I added an emoji that cheerfully flipped her off for emphasis and considered the matter closed until my phone buzzed again.
John wants you to use the Spirit Seekers app.
I sighed. The app was a cute bit of fan service, but it didn't do much other than record audio for potential EVPs — electronic voice phenomenon, the whispers that paranormal investigators claimed were the voices of the dead.
I didn't believe in ghosts. I just worked for people who do. Irritating people who enjoyed texting me every five seconds.
Too much noise contamination, I replied. I'm surrounded by loud British tourists.
Spirit Seekers had wrapped production on its fourth season and John, the head investigator, was hungry to line up bigger, scarier sites for season five. Unfortunately, the Castillo de la Coracera didn't look haunted. Few locations did during daylight hours, though the gunmetal sky heralding an approaching thunderstorm added a gothic menace to the Castillo's silhouette. It loomed above the surrounding neighborhood like a warning — a grim reminder of times past.
If it were up to the team they'd investigate every crumbling, asbestos-riddled structure that was rumored to be haunted, but thankfully the network didn't allow that. It's my job to scout for photogenic locations with the right combination of intriguing normal and supernatural history. Right now the view was too monotone for film — good for a noir murder mystery, but not for our purposes. It also didn't help that the Castillo was miles away from the Disney-fied castles that Spirit Seekers' viewing audience expected. The American idea of a castle was one of picturesque drama and fantasy, a confection of delicate towers and soft colors crowned with a nightly fireworks display, and not the reality of a squat, bulldog fortification meant to repel enemy armies.
I traded my phone for my tablet and took notes to send to the team (and more importantly to the producers) as I toured the site. The Castillo's pamphlets claimed that visitors to the castle heard screams in the chapel and disembodied voices, and had witnessed floating rocks and the apparition of a ghostly soldier. Disembodied voices in a structure with questionable acoustics that was surrounded by modern civilization hardly seemed supernatural to me. And dislodged rocks in an old stone building? Please. Though the soldier did break my heart a bit. I'd visited a half dozen forts up and down America's east coast for the show, each with tales of resident unknown soldiers who diligently patrolled the walls after death. I didn't believe in ghosts, but I believed in honoring our armed forces, and there was power in the image of a soul so faithful to the cause that even death couldn't stop him from performing his duty.
Ultimately, the Castillo didn't scream Spain, and Spain was the reason I'd come here. Americans wanted sun-drenched Spanish villas with matadors in red capes — I knew, because I'd been expecting that myself. No luck so far, but I hadn't seen much of Madrid yet aside from the airport and my hotel. I had nine days in Madrid, and hopefully I'd find something with stronger visual interest. There had to be a haunted bullfighting ring somewhere. I also had leads on three different bars that Hemingway was said to haunt.
After two hours of compiling photos and notes, I headed back to my hotel, tapping an anxious beat on the steering wheel of my rented car. The drive didn't make me jittery — I feared no foreign traffic after spending a summer in Mexico City. Instead I was eager to meet with the local genealogist I'd hired. I'd been compiling our family tree as part of my parents' thirty-fifth wedding anniversary present. I dashed up to my room, changed out of my tourist attire, dragged a brush through my hair and hurried downstairs to meet my genealogist in the hotel's restaurant for tapas and wine. My stomach growled in eager anticipation — tapas had officially become my new favorite thing, but the small portion sizes mystified me. I'd always been what my mother diplomatically called "a good eater," as could be attested to by the generous plump to my ass and thickness of my thighs. I refused to travel the world and only order salads and diet sodas. My doctor gave me a clean bill of health, and until he says otherwise my motto is that life is too short to say no to butter. Or olive oil, in this case. The majority of the tapas I'd encountered thus far featured mystery seafood sautéed in olive oil, accompanied by olives, chunks of crusty bread and slices of goat cheese.
Señor Jorge Ramos was a grandfatherly gentleman with salt-and-pepper hair who was semi-retired. Genealogy was good business — I freelanced on occasion because my history degrees paired well with ancestry research. A person who knew where to look could access scanned documents from anywhere in the world, allowing nostalgic Americans to trace our roots back to whatever Old Country had birthed us. My schedule had been too busy to do this particular research myself, and having a local professional do the research was worth every euro. This was the perfect anniversary gift — thoughtful, thorough, and the ultimate proof that I valued family. It wasn't enough to free me from the prodigal daughter doghouse, but it was a giant leap in that direction.
Sr. Ramos smiled and rose. "Señorita Houlihan. I am so pleased to finally meet you." We shook hands, awkwardly — did the Spanish kiss each other's cheeks like the French? I was jetlagged and I hadn't been here long enough to notice the local customs.
"Please, call me Nati." I returned his smile and waved him to his seat. His accent was odd — I'm fluent in Spanish but I was struggling with the local accents. It sounded as though everyone spoke with a lisp, or maybe the whole country had a head cold.
I was so eager to hear his findings that I nearly bounced up and down in my chair like a caffeinated six-year-old kid, but I forced myself to be patient. We ordered a lovely bottle of red wine and I asked him about local historical sites of interest. I explained my work for the World History Channel and he paused, a bite of fried goat cheese hovering between his plate and his mouth.
"¿Fantasmas?" he repeated. Ghosts sounded much cooler in Spanish but no less embarrassing.
My cheeks burned and I giggled a nervous laugh. Most people looked at me like I was insane when they heard that I worked for Spirit Seekers. I dreaded that look.
"I know. I don't believe in ghosts, but it pays the bills." No amount of blurry "light anomalies" and grainy shadows the team presented as evidence convinced me of the existence of an afterlife.
Sr. Ramos cleared his throat. "You are not religious?" "No, but my parents are." After being traumatized by Catholicism I swore off religion, which was one of the many points of contention between me and my mother.
"It is strange that you would mention ghosts, considering what I found."
"Oh?" A morbid chill raised goose bumps across my arms — that was not the transition I'd been expecting.
Sr. Ramos reached for his portfolio and withdrew a manila folder. I nearly drooled at the sight of it and folded my hands atop my linen napkin to fight the urge to snatch his findings up. He set the top page between us and unfolded it, revealing my family tree. Generations of my ancestors were recorded in neat black font and connected with precise straight lines. Decades of history and entire lifetimes boiled down into name, date of birth and death, annotated with tiny superscript numbers. Ooh. End notes. I nearly squealed with joy — the good stuff was always hidden in the end notes, like academic Easter eggs.
"Here." Sr. Ramos tapped a cluster dated in the late 1600s. "It seemed unremarkable at first. One of many quiet generations who lived out their lives peacefully. Yet in searching for the name I came across this news article dated nearly two hundred years later." He produced a scanned, printed copy of the article in question. "It was written during the height of the spiritualist movement and describes a sÃ(c)ance. It claims that the sister of your ancestor here" — he tapped the branch again "— was murdered, and her soul was not at rest."
"Murdered?" My jaw dropped and I picked up my wineglass, rolling the stem between my fingers. Sure I hoped for something surprising to tell my parents, but this wasn't what I had in mind.
"Yes. I will let you read it for yourself. It is quite dramatic, though everywhere in Spain is reputed to be haunted by some tragedy or other." Sr. Ramos waved a dismissive hand and shrugged. "I have not come across any other sources that specifically mention the incident, and there was no record of the cause of Angela's death." Angela. My focus returned to the spot in question on the family tree and the name with no descendants. Angela's brother had married and had three children, one of whom connected all the way to me. Angela was a branch who never flowered, and she had been murdered at the tender age of eighteen. Being thirty-three suddenly made me feel positively ancient. My mom had been married at eighteen, and thankfully my dad's disapproving family had confined their disapproval to words and not weapons. I narrowly avoided being married at eighteen myself.
I cleared my throat and changed the subject. "What else did you find?"
We pored over pages of information — baptismal records and census data for the most part, mixed with obituaries and other newspaper announcements. Still no royal connections, but apparently in the 1600s my ancestors had been wealthy merchants who dealt in New World trade, doubtless at the expense of the Native Americans.
After another glass of wine I traded the payment for Sr. Ramos's work for the file. I hurried back to my room with my new treasure and spread the contents of the folder across the bed. The somber black-and-white photos fascinated me. My studies had taught me that the stoic expressions featured in early photography were not due to the burden of wearing ten pounds of fancy dress, complete with complicated undergarments, but instead were a result of the photo's long exposure time. Essentially it hurt to hold a smile for five minutes straight. Dark-haired men and women frowned at the camera, their names and pertinent information typed at the bottom of the printouts. Where were the originals? Must be in a library somewhere, or a historical society collection. I picked up the printout of a newspaper article.
Famous, or perhaps infamous, spiritualist medium DoÃ±a Marisol de la Vega conducted a sÃ(c)ance on the evening of October 31 at midnight at the request of the grieving lady of the house, DoÃ±a Isabel GarcÃa Parra. Having recently lost both children to cholera, DoÃ±a Isabel was anxious to contact the spirits of her loved ones.
Ouch. Life before modern medicine was hard, and losing both children at once? Damn. I'd be desperate enough to do anything, too ... Well, probably not desperate enough to turn to an infamous spiritualist medium. DoÃ±a Marisol probably had one hand out to offer comfort while the other picked the grieving mother's pocket. Scowling, I moved on.
DoÃ±a Marisol was unable to contact the deceased children. Instead, she came across a spirit claiming to be one Angela RodrÃguez de Mendoza, a young woman who told a tragic tale of murder. Slain on her wedding night by the jealous lover of her new husband, Angela's soul is unable to find rest. The forlorn spirit pleaded for aid until the medium was overcome by her exertions.
I snorted. Yeah, right. More likely she required more money to continue the reading. "For the bargain price of $19.95 you can continue the reading and save this poor damned soul." Where had Marisol gotten Angela's name? Maybe she'd trolled cemeteries, looking for crumbling tombstones and taking note of people who had died young. An eighteen-year-old bride would invoke sympathy, and the vicious jilted lover was a pretty standard trope. Though really I couldn't imagine being so worked up over a man that I'd kill for him. Plenty of fish in the sea, and I was an experienced fisher of men ... Angela had to be buried nearby. It would be a nice touch to the family tree if I visited her grave and took photos of her headstone, or any other residents of the family plot. I could chalk it up as a business expense if the network was interested in following this lead. I fired up my laptop and dashed off an email to Sr. Ramos thanking him for the excellent work and a lovely evening and asking if he knew the location of any local cemeteries where my ancestors were buried.
I needed to know what happened to her. Mama claimed that my first word was why, and I believed it. I'd always been consumed by cuRÃosity, and never afraid to dig for answers. I loved it, in fact. I was happiest when surrounded by old documents, my gloved fingertips tracing words written decades, sometimes centuries ago. It was like reaching through time to touch history. I needed to know Angela's story, because it was part of our story — and anything that distracted my mother from my own story was well worth any effort.
The team seldom investigated cemeteries. As they explained it, cemeteries were for the living, not the dead — a place for grieving friends and family to visit and remember their loved ones. I supposed there was some sense in that, because I wouldn't want to hang out in a cemetery if I were a ghost. I'd want to be where I was most comfortable and had fond memories of. Or somewhere fun, like Disney World or Las Vegas.
Sr. Ramos had informed me that Angela's grave was located outside Barcelona. At first I'd assumed that the distance took visiting them off my itinerary, but the team wanted me to go. I'd emailed Piper a translation of the article about Angela's restless spirit, and she replied with an all-caps excited email and dove into the investigation. She loved a challenge, and the boys thanked me for distracting her from endlessly searching baby name sites. I tried explaining that despite their American assumption that all of Europe is tiny and everything is just next door, Madrid and Barcelona are not close and taking the train there and back would eat up a day of my trip, but the team was excited by the possible ratings bump of investigating a location that I had a personal tie to, so off I went.
A local associate who owed Sr. Ramos a favor had provided me with the cemetery's location. There's something poignantly melancholy about cemeteries — the stoic memorials, faded by years of sun, wind and rain. Generations who had passed from memory, with only a date and a name to remind the living of who had come before. Uncovering those forgotten stories had drawn me to study history. My mother claimed that I suffered from an overabundance of busibodiness and had gone into a profession that paid me to crawl around people's attics and uncover their dirty laundry in forgotten diaries and packets of old letters tied together with crumbling string. It was true enough, though to be fair now I also judged whether that dirty laundry was photogenic enough to be broadcast to the world in high definition.
The sculptures in the cemetery creeped me out. Weeping angels and mournful Madonnas guarded the graves, and I shivered and huddled deeper into my hoodie. I should've worn a sweater under it — I was never truly prepared for local weather no matter how much I agonized over weather reports and wardrobe choices. I probably also should have grabbed an umbrella, judging by the fat gray clouds lumbering in this direction — the rain had followed me from Madrid like a stalker ex. I kept a rain poncho in my bag as a last resort, but it looked dorky and was awkward to wear. I didn't want to be mistaken for a bright yellow ghost trudging among the tombstones.
My canvas shoes were quickly soaked and stained green as I hurried through the damp, unkempt grass toward the spot on the map that promised to contain the graves of my distant relatives. I frowned at a tiny headstone, the timespan between birth and death only a handful of days. My eyes stung and I swallowed hard.
I didn't have children, and I intended to keep it that way. As the eldest of seven, I'd done my share of childcare while looking after my younger siblings. When I moved out I'd vowed that I would never share a bathroom with anyone ever again. My space was mine and mine alone. I could pick up and travel anywhere at a moment's notice, no babysitters, pet sitters or even plant sitters required. My father called me a free spirit, but my mother simply shook her head at my choices and looked forlorn. I kept hoping that once she reached a certain number of grandchildren she'd give up on me, but thus far she was focused on seeing her firstborn properly married.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Bad Blood"
Copyright © 2019 Robyn Bachar.
Excerpted by permission of Robyn Bachar.
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