Book Two: Paths Unknown Series
Towers of the Hungry Ghosts
Seven years after her ex-lover disappears Paula inherits the vast fortune and ruined Romanian castle of the famous painter. Moving into a medieval castle would blow anyone’s mind, but reclusive Paula doesn’t want her mind changed let alone blown.
Her reluctance quickly dissolves when ominous happenings on her new island convince her Goran is still alive and trying to make contact. Despite the castle’s dark past as an insane asylum, she digs in to transform the dank space into a gallery of his most precious murals. Whether it’s criminals, ghosts, or a vengeful mad artist at work, Paula’s friends fear she won’t survive long enough to find out.
Taken from Chapter 2...
In a dingy, low-slung corner, she grasped the hand he offered, and they stood on the ancient flagstones in silence, their toes touching the beveled edges of the metal floor plaques marking the ashes of Goran’s parents.
Tibor Vlakia, one inscription said. Beloved Husband, Died August 13, 1991, Aged 53. The other bore Sophie Vlakia, Beloved Wife, Aged 52, who Paula noted died exactly three years later to the day.
The resolve in Ram’s grip and the serenity which envelopes all places where the dead lie, quickly dissolved any desire she had to mar it with questions about Goran’s parents.
Suddenly, he let go of her hand, bent down, and lay the flashlight at his feet, crossing himself and joining his palms in prayer. Ram had spent his childhood in a Catholic orphanage in India, but this display of faith surprised her. Was this behind his ambivalence about her following him into the crypt?
His prayers hung in the dead air like a droning swarm. As she turned away to give him a moment of privacy, Paula froze in her tracks at an image on the dark wall behind them. There, illuminated within the flashlight’s cameo was a mural; its unmistakable meaning twisted her insides tight as a garotte. She gasped at the life-size fresco of herself and stumbled from it at first, then drew near and dropped to her knees, mesmerized.
Now that Goran was officially dead, why not go to Romania, her friends had said. Tidy up a few loose ends at the old ancestral castle. She’d relented, descended into this gloomy crypt to pull on one of those dangling threads.
Now her whole damn life was about to unravel.
Seven years since he’d disappeared—was this mural not proof Goran was still alive?
In the depths of a medieval chapel gutted of anything holy, Paula palmed the cold, smooth plaster. She trailed fingertips across a jagged row of freckles at her hairline before moving to the sprinkles of sand on her cheek and lips—here was the day on the Bay of Bengal when she fell asleep while Goran surfed. She woke to the sun-warmed press of his lips on hers. When she’d propped herself on one elbow and laughed, he snapped this image with his cell phone’s camera. How proud he’d been to own the cutting-edge technology in 2002.
If there was any doubt as to the time and place, one corner of Suni’s guesthouse had nudged its way into the background. At the mural’s lower end, beads of perspiration bisected the deep well of her cleavage. What yearning and sorrow he must have felt with each dip of his brush. She squeezed her eyes shut against his pain.
Was it possible he loved her so deeply?
That day on the beach had been long before the first episode hit, and she’d admonished Ram for not warning her off Goran. “What are you talking about?” he’d shrieked. “You were already in too deep the first night. You would have told me to get lost.”
Ram stirred and scooped the flashlight from the stone floor, sinking the mural into obscurity. No way was she leaving without confirming what she’d seen.
“I’ll carry the flashlight.” Ram let go of it, but before he could turn to climb the stone steps into the chapel she said, “Look at this, and tell me what you think.” The painting jumped to life under the cool rays rippling across the crypt’s ceiling.
He inched forward, speechless, no doubt already running possible scenarios as to how his his friend could have kept this painting a secret from both of them.
“I’ll tell you what it means to me.” She thrust the beam into his startled eyes. “Goran is still alive.”
Taken from Chapter 3....
Frantic, she slammed the chair against the trunk and hauled herself to the crook of a branch just as the animal’s snout appeared at her boot. She raised the blank gun. Boom! The shock wave reverberated within her like scattershot, sending the wolf thundering down the knoll.
Low and menacing, a woman’s voice pierced the mist. A ragged stranger seemed to float within it. Tossing her twisted snake pit of black hair, she raised her arms, palms up, high overhead, scattering the wolves over a nearby embankment.
Tall and bone-thin, a face cut with age, she wore a billowing white blouse over a torn burlap skirt which flapped about her ankles. Her embroidered vest and the red bandana capping her head snatched her from the ranks of a common tramp and into the realm of a nomadic fortune-teller.
The cottage door banged open; out burst Ram, swinging a charred piece of firewood, and naked except for his jockey shorts.
Hyper-alert, Paula slid from the tree and advanced, the gun at her side. If the wolves returned, a lot of good it would be, never mind Ram’s piece of brittle charcoal.
He stopped in his tracks as the strange woman wheeled around.
“Well.” Her head swept up and down his body. “You’ve filled out nicely.”
Ram lunged to embrace her. “I honestly didn’t have a clue it was you,” he said, holding her at arm’s length.
Paula kept her distance. While they’d sat on their water-bound rock, had a new fashion craze swept the globe? Instead of shredded denim—, threadbare, soiled burlap?
“We seem to be picking up right where we left off. No?” She homed in on Ram’s hands, hovering in front of his crotch. “I don’t believe you wore any pants that time, either.”
With Ram’s virility diluted to a lopsided smile, he glanced back at Julie, standing on the steps and clutching a blanket, then said to Paula, “Uh—you can put the gun away, now.”
“I was sure I saw some kind of wild animal.”
“Naw, Claudia’s fairly tame, aren’t you?” The two of them guffawed into the wind, locked in a weird private moment until Ram’s eyes strayed to Julie once more and the grin fell right off his face.
“Okay, then. Claudia, this is my fi-an-cée, Julie, and over there is my dearest friend, Paula. That’s not a real gun by the way. I’m going in to throw some clothes on.” Without a glance back, he shouted, “Goran’s cousin.”
The woman’s enthusiasm evaporated at the click of the door. She looked down her nose at Paula.
There was no mistake. Paula had clearly seen this bizarre woman among the wolves. “I’ve been sitting on that chair up there, but I didn’t see you come up from the beach. How did you get here?”
The cousin frowned and shifted to a superior tone. “I wouldn’t climb those stone stairs if I were you. To be honest, which is what I always am.” Claudia aimed an acerbic eye at Paula. “This rock has never been more treacherous than now.” Without warning, she wheeled around as if challenging Julie’s sour stance, and the two of them studied each other with the shiftiness of thieves divvying up a bag of money.