OS: Welcome to Vivien Dean here to share with us an an exclusive excerpt from her latest book: THE CHARLATAN’S CONQUEST! Thanks for stopping by and good luck on your tour!
Thank you, Open Skye Books, for hosting me today! To say I’m excited about my upcoming release, The Charlatan’s Conquest, is an understatement. It’s a first for me in a lot of ways: my first solo title at Dreamspinner, my first paranormal story about ghosts, and the first book in a new series. On top of that, I finally get to share two of my favorite heroes with the world. In the following excerpt, my skeptic Brody has crashed his father’s meeting with Cruz, who has been hired to rid the house of ghosts. Things don’t go exactly as he planned…
…“I told you ghosts weren’t real, Dad. They never have been, and they never will be.”
As soon as the last word was spoken, both french doors slammed completely open, crashing into the walls so hard one of the panes shattered. Glass flew through the air. Though Cruz seemed unfazed by the display, Loren cried out in fear, scrambling to hide behind the end of the couch.
“Dad!” Brody had never seen him like this before. Nothing could bend his father’s stalwart demeanor, and Brody had certainly never heard him sound so terrified. Yet there he was, cowering behind the sofa like a child during a thunderstorm.
“That’s what I was talking about!” Loren said. “But nobody would believe me.”
Brody stepped toward the entryway. “Because believing in ghosts is crazy. There’s a perfectly logical explanation for this. A window must be open upstairs to create a draft.”
Through the opening, the distant lilt of music suddenly became audible. Brody froze, every sense he possessed taking a sharp left turn to zero in on the sound. No. It couldn’t be. Except the closer he listened, the clearer it became.
“What is that?” Cruz said, his voice barely above a whisper.
“A music box Brody’s mother gave him when he was little,” Loren replied, matching his tone. “That song from Cinderella.”
“‘A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes,’” Brody said under his breath.
He’d only been nine when she’d died. The music box had been an unbearable reminder of his devastating loss, so he’d begged his father to get rid of it. Loren refused. He’d insisted Brody would regret that decision one day and instead placed it in the guest room she’d been most proud of decorating. When Brody went away to college, he’d considered taking it, but he’d been too afraid of coming across as even more gay than he was. Not his proudest decision, especially considering how much he’d loved her.
Clearing his throat, he looked toward the stairwell. “Did you tell Ramona to put Mr. Guthrie in that room? She must’ve knocked it as she’s cleaning.”
“Ramona’s not even—ah!”
Brody whipped around at the alarm in Loren’s voice. Wild flames danced in the fireplace, the same fireplace that had been cold and silent only seconds earlier.
While Loren bolted to the window, the farthest point away from both the broken door and the newfound fire, Cruz remained stock-still. His gaze swept across the room before settling on Brody. “Still think ghosts aren’t real?”
Brody had no answer to that. Anything he said would damn him.
“Well, I believe.” Cruz didn’t shout it. He didn’t make any grand overtures. He didn’t do anything but stand there and regard Brody with eyes that begged him to listen. “I know we live in a world that wants to have a logical explanation for everything. You search for answers. I work to create them. And sometimes science is absolutely right. There’s no reason to deny that. I’d be a hypocrite otherwise, and I’d never be able to live with myself if that were the case.”
Brody’s face was hot. From the fire. Maybe, partially, but that didn’t explain why he couldn’t feel his fingers and toes, or how his skin kept stippling with gooseflesh.
“But we live in a world we can’t fully explain too,” Cruz continued. “Science doesn’t have all the answers. None of us do. Some people turn to religion, hoping to find them there, but I don’t. I don’t have to. Because to me, they’re not so much questions that need resolutions as they are facts we have to accept. Like ghosts. They’re out there. They see us. They hear us.” The corner of his mouth lifted in a soft half smile. “Be thankful they’re not throwing books at us for ignoring them.” For the first time, he lifted his gaze to the empty space around him. “Not that I’m suggesting you start.”
As if on cue, the music and the fire died at the same time, leaving silence in their wake. Awareness came back to Brody’s extremities, but the tingling was a small token in light of the chasm hollowing him out.
Silence was not equivalent to a vacuum.
Cruz moved first, grabbing the small broom and shovel from the brass tool set next to the fire, then taking them to the doorway to sweep up the glass from the hardwood floor. Brody stood motionless and watched, stuck in place from the inversion of the entire situation. When had he fallen through the looking glass?
The better question might be, why did he think he’d ever escaped it?
“Don’t just stand there,” Loren said. He’d pulled himself together faster than Brody had, so straight and squared nobody would know he’d been cowering in the corner just moments ago. “Go get Ramona.”
“And a vacuum,” Cruz said. “Something with an extension. The glass went everywhere.” He straightened, the shovel he held full of debris. “Where should I put this?”
Shame that a stranger was cleaning up the mess finally broke Brody from his stasis. “I’ll take it.” As Cruz passed it over, their fingers grazed against each other, and a shock jumped between them. Brody jerked, his eyes widening, but he managed to somehow not spill the glass all over the floor again. “Sorry,” he said automatically.
Cruz’s eyes were kind. “No reason to apologize.”
“But this proves I was right all along,” Loren asserted. “Now you can do the evictions your colleague wouldn’t.”
Brody thought he detected a momentary hesitation before Cruz nodded. “Of course,” Cruz said. “I made a promise to help, and I stand by that. I’ll do everything in my power to give you some peace, Mr. Weber.”
“And that’s going to take two weeks?” Brody asked.
Cruz shrugged. “It’ll take as long as it needs.”
Brody shook his head. “Can’t be done.”
“After everything you just witnessed, are you trying to tell me—tell them—that you still don’t believe in ghosts?”
He didn’t dare utter those words out loud, because Cruz was right about one thing.
Everything he said, everything he did, would not go unnoticed.
“I don’t believe you can do anything about it.” Brody forced a bravado he hoped was credible. “And if you think for a second I’m walking out that door and giving you carte blanche to con my dad, you’re sorely mistaken.”
“Then stay,” Cruz replied. “If it’ll make you feel better, I’m a hundred percent for it.”
Though he hadn’t expected such easy acquiescence, Brody gave him a curt nod, as if that was the only possible response he could have given. He then went off in search of Ramona, trying to ignore the churning in his gut.
Cruz was going to fail in at least one way.
Brody wouldn’t find any peace of mind until he was safely locked away in his lab again.
With love and ghosts, the challenge is figuring out what’s real.
Software engineer Cruz Guthrie needs money for his sister’s cancer treatments. He needs it so badly he’s willing to stand in for a ghost hunter friend and investigate a millionaire’s supposed specters. It should be an easy gig—after all, nobody thinks the haunting is real.
Neurological researcher Brody Weber is furious that Cruz would take advantage of Brody’s father. But his mind changes when spirits manifest—and he realizes Cruz genuinely wants to help. When they learn the paranormal activity centers on Brody, Cruz is willing to fight to free Brody from the entities determined to make his life miserable. With a little help from friends and family—both living and dead—they must figure out why Brody is attracting spirits and how to banish them. Only then can they pursue a future together.
Dreamspinner Press ebook: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/the-charlatans-conquest-by-vivien-dean-8592-b
Dreamspinner Press paperback: https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/books/the-charlatans-conquest-by-vivien-dean-8593-b (buy the paperback and get the ebook for FREE!)
VIVIEN DEAN is a firm believer that love doesn’t care about gender. That’s why her titles encompass both GLBT and het, erotic and sweet, as well as a wide variety of genres. After growing up in the snowy and isolated Midwest, she went off in search of her creative muse. She performed on stage, wrote and directed indie films in Orlando, then met her British soulmate online. One wedding, two children, and ten addresses later, she resides in the Bay Area where it’s easy to indulge in her favorite pastimes—good theater, great movies, and amazing food.
Vivien is a four-time EPIC eBook Award winner and collaborated with Pepper Espinoza to write as Jamie Craig for five years.