Title: Smoke and Mirrors: A Vampire Romance
Author: Elise Nelson
Genre: romantic cozy mystery, gothic romance, vampire romance, paranormal romance, romantic suspense
Caroline Blake is a young reporter with a past almost as cryptic as her future. She never put much stock into her late aunt’s eerie tales of monsters and demons until she takes an assignment to cover the elusive Ashdown family’s Harvest Festival. As part of her assignment, she must live at the family’s mansion for six weeks and help prepare for the event. No one has seen the family since the tragedy that occurred at the last festival almost thirty years prior. As the only female reporter on-site, Caroline must hold her own while uncovering why the family closed their doors all those years ago. Perhaps the most challenging part of her assignment is dealing with her working partner, William Ashdown. The handsome lord of the house seems bent on testing her patience every time they meet. Still, there is something intriguing about him that she can’t ignore. Caroline is soon swept into a world of generational secrets, unsettling mysteries, and unexpected romance. Amidst all the uncertainty, one thing is sure: in the shadows, nothing is ever what it seems.
She nodded, face blank. “There may not be a curse,” she said, looking up to meet my gaze, “and I don’t think it’s necessarily dangerous . . . at least I hope it isn’t . . . but you should still be careful. You should know that I support you either way, though. If you’re uncomfortable even five minutes before, or three days—or weeks—in, it’s okay to quit.”
“But at that point, it will be even worse than if I never showed up at all,” I said. “I have to do this. Everyone thinks we’re less intelligent and less capable than men. We need to show them they’re wrong.” I hadn’t realized my voice had escalated until the sound of my pressed words echoed back at me from the walls.
A fierce wind rippled through the window and rattled across the room. The weather was in rare form today. Agnes’ quiet laughter coaxed my mind back into the moment. “See, that’s what I like about you, Caroline,” she said, “You’re a tough one. We need more people like you.” The words struck me, just as her earlier comments had. People didn’t usually reward my boldness with praise.
“Thank you, Agnes.” I smiled again. “I’ll do my best to give our readers a good story.”
“I’m sure it will help us get readers anyway,” Mary said, her voice flat, but then she turned to me with a slight smile. “I am rooting for you. I’m just worried.”
“I know, Mary, it’s okay.”
“It’s just,” she continued, “no one has seen the family for decades. They never came out with an apology or explanation. They were never even charged with anything—”
“Well, to be fair, we don’t know if they were behind any of it,” Agnes interrupted. Mary raised an eyebrow at her, her mouth agape.
“Then what do you think happened? The proof is in the pudding: They held a festival where most of the guests died, leaving all the others scarred, and they have never shown their faces in public again.” She waited for Agnes’ reply. When it didn’t come, she continued. “We don’t know what kind of people they are. For all we know, they’re waiting hungrily for their next victims.”
“That’s ridiculous!” I said. “We need to give this a shot. I’ll be fine. We will all be fine. Do you honestly think they’d put this festival on if there was a risk of another massacre? They probably haven’t come out again because they’re frightened of what people here might do to them, whether they’re guilty of anything or not.”
Neither of them looked at me, but I could tell they knew I had a point. “And they could have done something at any point over the last three decades—something horrible—but they haven’t, right?” They nodded, albeit reluctantly.
“I suppose you’re right,” Agnes said.
Mary grumbled before adding, “Maybe.”
“Exactly. I’ll be fine. There’s nothing to be afraid of at this Ashdown Manor. I’m sure everything will be all right. A horrible thing happened thirty years ago, or so. That’s all there is to it.” The confident smile remained on my face for one moment longer before I heard it. My name.
My skin went cold, and the corners of the room started to blur.
Caroline! the voice called again. Neither Mary nor Agnes was saying a word; I watched their closed mouths, which weren’t so much as twitching when I heard the voice one more time, clearer now.
The blood drained from my face.
As I said her name, the room went black, and despite the gusts of wind that had torn through me earlier, I was even colder now. It felt like I’d been plunged into an ice-cold sea but didn’t know how to swim.
All around me was sheer darkness, and I couldn’t feel anything but pins and needles at my fingertips and toes, and on every inch of skin in between. It was that feeling when your body succumbs to sleep when the world around you is too cold to bear.
Then I heard something else—like someone yelling through water. I tried to scream out to it over and over again, but I couldn’t make a sound.
The voice called out again, closer this time. I still couldn’t make out what it was saying, but I could tell that it wasn’t saying my name as the first voice had. I listened as closely as I could, but my body was shivering uncontrollably and aching with pain.
A glaring flash blinded me momentarily, and then everything went dark again. Spots splattered across my eyes as they adjusted between the two extremes. Then I heard it again, but this time, I began to remember.
Another burst of light crashed around me, and the sheer horror that splintered through me was unbearable. The light fled once more, but my heart was pounding. I didn’t notice anything but the terror forming knots in my body, tensing the muscles in my back and pulling at my chest. My body shook harder, doused with fear. And I waited. I waited to see what happened next. I didn’t know where I was or what was happening. I just wanted it all to go away.
Another flash crashed around me, revealing the body of that dreaded creature even closer now. A creature I’d forgotten all about. One I could never escape. It reached its claws out at me, but just as its talons splayed out toward my face, it all vanished. All of it.
I was back at the office. Then darkness cloaked the room, and I lost consciousness completely.
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Elise Nelson is a writer of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, comics, and articles. She has published under a few different pen names since she was nineteen and has been published in literary periodicals, including The Nassau Review and Essig Magazine. Upon publication of her latest title, Smoke and Mirrors, she made it onto multiple Amazon bestseller lists for vampire and gothic romance. She has also worked as an editorial intern for Christopher Matthews Publishing as well as a writer and editor for many other companies, magazines, and websites. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree from Boise State University, where she studied English literature, creative writing, and multimedia storytelling. She is currently a writer and editor for Jotaku.net and enjoys writing Star Wars fan fiction in her spare time.
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