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A blessing or a curse? That's what Hannah Stone can't decide about a special gift she's been given.
When Hannah and her best friend, Cassie, joined by their boyfriends, set out on one last fun-filled summer of vacations before beginning their senior year of college, they have no idea just how adventurous the trips are going to be.
An old inn that sits along the banks of the Mississippi holds a secret or two, and Hannah finds herself in the thick of things, much to the disapproval of her protective boyfriend. When he reveals his dominant side to her, will it turn her off or endear him to her forever?
The Smoky Mountain trip, where unknown dangers are hiding, turns out to be a life-changing experience.
And the last vacation...a relaxing beach trip...may be the one that convinces her the 'gift' is a rare and treasured blessing.
*Publisher’s Warning: This book contains some scenes of spanking and graphic sex.
Along the Iowa banks of the mighty Mississippi, in the small historical town of LeClaire, sits a quaint two-story brick structure, known as Blackhawk Manor, built in the year 1918. In 1942, the family of the original owner of the business, which continues to provide a lucrative income for the current generation, converted the structure to the current cozy inn.
Actors, actresses and singers have graced the rooms of the beautiful establishment. With the Adler Theater not far away, in Davenport, many sought to relax in the small river town rather than the city when they'd finished their night's performance. Perhaps the most famous of names seen on the register was not one of those theatrical types, but rather a young businessman named Robert Thorndale. Robert and his bride signed the roster hours after their wedding. They planned to spend a week enjoying the shops and scenery before returning to the apartment waiting for them at their home, not far from the inn. Robert was a builder for a major construction company several miles up the river. His new wife, Pamela Sue, was looking forward to making a home for her husband and the children that would surely follow soon.
Neither of them could have known that fate would cut their time together short. But, on a cool summer evening in 1954, Robert met with a death too abominable to comprehend, and the life they had planned with such excitement and high hopes ended. Pamela Sue returned to their home for the funeral, but no one seemed to know what had happened to her after that. The locals would have you believe that Robert's ghost still walks the halls of Blackhawk Manor, searching for his bride.
The current year is 2015, and two young college girls were planning a weeklong stay in the quaint little town. It was the summer between their junior and senior year, and the two roommates had scrimped and saved in order to spend their last summer of freedom, as they called it, traveling and having fun. They had chosen to stay in LeClaire at the famous inn for the first adventure of the summer. Hannah Stone was interested in the local folklore and had heard of the legend surrounding Blackhawk Manor. She had convinced her reluctant friend, Cassie Sharp, to accompany her.
"I want to know if the things they say are true. You know this stuff interests me," Hannah said as she turned her car off Interstate 80. "This is our exit."
"I don't know why, but if it makes you happy, I'll humor you," Cassie replied with a laugh. "I can see it now, old Robert will be roaming the halls at midnight, calling out for his dear Pamela, and you'll be recording it."
"It's kind of a sad story, you know. Think about it. They were on their honeymoon and walking along the river one evening, when someone appears from behind and tries to kidnap his precious new bride. He does the chivalrous thing and defends her, fighting off the man, only to feel the cold sliver of a knife through his heart. He falls to the ground, dead as a doornail."
"I know, I know, and then the would-be kidnapper runs away, leaving poor little Pamela screaming for help."
"How do ghosts haunt, do you think?" Hannah asked as they pulled into the parking lot of the beautiful brick home.
"I guess you're about to find out. This could turn out to be one hell of a week," Cassie said teasingly.
"Then again, it may be boring as all get out," Hannah answered with a giggle.
The two girls pulled into a parking spot near the front of the building and got out of the car. As they took in the sights all around them, they had to agree it was a gorgeous setting.
"Perfect for a romantic honeymoon, don't you think?" Hannah asked.
"Don't go getting any ideas. I have my room, and you have yours," Cassie teased as she walked around to get her bag from the trunk.
"Very funny, I don't swing that way. You just aren't my type. Besides, I think Chad might have a thing or two to say about that," Hannah replied. Chad was her current boyfriend.
"I doubt that Alan would approve either," Cassie retorted. "And with the two of them joining us in a few days, it will be romantic enough."
"Are you guys going to get married, do you think? I mean you've been dating forever," Hannah asked as she lifted her own bag out and slammed the trunk closed.
"Maybe," Cassie said with a flip of her shoulder length red hair. She was a pretty girl, with flashing emerald eyes to go with the gorgeous red mane.
The two friends walked onto the porch of the house and went inside. The sight of a beautifully decorated lobby greeted them. A brick fireplace graced one wall with a china blue couch and two blue and yellow floral upholstered wing chairs in front of it. Bookcases full of books flanked the fireplace on either side and there was a table with coffee, juices and cookies for the guests. On the other wall was the check-in desk. They made their way over so they could register.
"Hi, I'm Hannah Stone, and this is Cassie Sharp. We have reservations for the week," Hannah said to the man behind the desk in a confident tone as she pushed a loose strand of her blonde curly hair out of her face. She was cute, with her short, bouncy blonde curls and snappy blue eyes.
He scanned the computer. "Ah yes, we've been expecting you. Let me print up some paperwork for you to sign, get you some keys, and you're all set." Once he took care of all of that, the young man told them his name was Steven and that the inn served dinner at seven. The young man was fairly good-looking, probably in his twenties and obviously interested in the inn's newest arrivals.
"We not only serve breakfast here, but lunch and dinner," he explained. "Of course, if you prefer to check out some of the local spots, you're most welcome to try them. Between you and me, you won't find any better fare than our dining room, though. The pool is open until ten."
"Thank you," Hannah said as she accepted the key he held out to her.
"You're in number 5, and Miss Sharp is right next door in 7," Steven informed them.
"Thank you, if you could just point us in the right direction," Hannah replied with a sugary smile.
"Certainly, just take a left down the hallway, and you can't miss them on the left side of the hall. Enjoy your stay. I'm on duty until midnight if you need anything. Maria will be here during the night."
"Thank you so much," Cassie said with a flutter of eyelashes. When they were out of earshot, she giggled. "Not bad for a sample of the local fare," she whispered.
"Cassie, really, you are such a flirt. How have you and Alan stayed together so long?" Hannah teased.
"It's all in good fun, harmless," Cassie replied with a giggle. "Alan knows he's the only one for me."
The girls found their rooms and arranged to meet in thirty minutes. Hannah walked into her own room, and the sight that greeted her simply took her breath away. Cherry furnishings, polished to a high gloss, the bed, covered in a stunning dark blue and maroon paisley comforter. A dark blue throw lay at the foot of the bed and the draperies at the window matched. In front of the window sat two maroon wing chairs and a cherry table. The cherry armoire held a television set and there was a bureau for her clothes. She quickly unpacked and found hangers and a tiny closet for the things she preferred to hang. Wandering into the bathroom, she was not disappointed when she saw gleaming white fixtures and marble counters. The floor was tile, and there was a Jacuzzi tub with a separate shower stall.
Slipping off her flip-flops when she walked back into the bedroom, she let her feet sink into the thick, luxurious deep blue carpeting. "I could get used to this," she said aloud as she grabbed a menu from the table and plopped down on the bed. "Seafood and steaks, makes sense," she said as she perused the dinner choices. Glancing at the dainty gold watch on her left wrist, she saw that it was nearly time to meet her friend. She jumped up and ran into the bathroom, where she splashed her face with water and dried it. Taking her makeup out of the cosmetic bag she'd packed that morning, she touched up her face and ran a brush through her short blonde curls.
She was just walking back into the bedroom when there was a knock on the door. She ran to open it. "Cassie, come on in. This place is great. What's your room like?" she asked as she stood aside to let her friend in.
Cassie looked around the room. "It's similar, although my color scheme is gray and mauve. I'm famished; did you look at the menu yet?"
"They have seafood, so I'm content to stay here and try out the dining room. They have an all you can eat buffet tonight."
"Why doesn't that surprise me? You and your love of seafood," Cassie said with a laugh. "I'll probably have a steak."
"Your tastes are so boring."
"Blame it on growing up in the Midwest, on a farm, no less," Cassie told her. "Can I help it if you big city gals have different tastes?"
"How we ever became best friends in college is beyond me. They couldn't have paired two more different personalities as roommates."
"True, but after that awful first few months of adjusting to each other's quirkiness, it just all sort of fell into place. I honestly don't know how I would have made it through the last three years without you."
"This fall will be our senior year. We have to make a pact to stay in touch, no matter where our lives lead us after graduation."
"Of course we will. Why would you think otherwise? Let's go eat."
Arm-in-arm, the two friends walked down the hall to the dining room, located beyond the lobby. After a short wait, the hostess seated them, and the view of the river from their table was breathtaking.
"Look at all the boats on the water," Cassie said.
"There's a barge moving downstream," Hannah pointed out.
After a delicious dinner, they walked around the grounds, marveling at the sights. It was obvious that someone tended to the gardens and surrounding grounds carefully. Ending the night by sitting on the porch in rockers with some of the other guests, they listened to an older couple talking about the legend.
"You know, they make such a big deal about the young man who died on his honeymoon defending his bride, but there was also a very famous actor who died in his sleep in this very place. They don't talk about that much," the woman said.
"Really?" another woman asked. "I have never heard that story."
"It's all kept very hush-hush. Apparently, he suffered a heart attack, and one of the housekeepers found him the next morning when she went in to clean the room. He was in his seventies, so I guess it wasn't that big of a deal, but still, he was pretty famous in his day."
"Who was it?" one of the other guests asked.
"Roman Carrington, I'm sure you've heard of him. He played in several movies years ago and also did some work on Broadway," the wife of the couple replied.
"The name is familiar. I guess the story of the young honeymooners was of more interest," another guest said.
"Well, it is much more romantic than an old man dying in his sleep," the husband of the woman telling the story added. "You know, the murderer was never caught."
Hannah listened intently, but she could see that her friend was growing bored by all the talk of the deaths that had occurred in the area.
Cassie yawned. "I think I'm going to my room and calling Alan before it gets too late. Are you coming?" she asked.
"Yes, I'm sure Chad will call when he gets in from his shift at the hospital."
When they were outside Hannah's room, they made plans to meet at eight for breakfast. "We'll plan our day while we eat. I hope to work some shopping in. I know they have some really neat shops here," Hannah said as she turned the key in the lock and prepared to go inside.
"Have a good night. Don't get spooked by any ghosts, young or old," Cassie said with a giggle as she headed for her own room.
"Very funny," Hannah said as she went inside.