Finally, it’s release day!! I’m so excited about this new book. The Well is a novel of paranormal suspense featuring professional ghost hunters, a haunted house, and the mystery of a missing girl. Scroll down, down, down (past the blurb) for an excerpt.
Twenty years after prom queen Cassie Kennedy is brutally murdered, six teenagers break into the house where she was killed to hold a séance. Haven knows his cousin Elise only wants to scare the crap out of him and his friends, but he’s willing to put up with one of her pranks if it means a chance to spend a few hours with the new kid in town, Pierce Hunter.
But when morning comes, Elise has disappeared without a trace.
Twelve years later, Pierce and his twin brother Jordan are professional paranormal investigators, starring in their own ghost-hunting TV show. When Pierce calls Haven, insisting they return to the supposedly haunted building one last time, Haven reluctantly agrees. He’s nervous about seeing Pierce again, but he’s determined to get some answers. Did they really speak to Cassie’s ghost that night? What happened to Elise? And the biggest mystery of all – how did she know the secret of the well?
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Paperback and audio coming soon.
Twelve Years Ago
“Don’t be such a chicken, Haven!”
Not for the first time in his seventeen years, Haven wished he had a dollar for every time his cousin Elise had said those words to him. Ever since they were kids, she’d used that little phrase to goad him into all kinds of stupid things. But having a séance in an abandoned house everybody knew was haunted?
That was an all-new level of crazy.
“I’m not chicken,” Haven told her, hoping he sounded more confident than he felt. “I just don’t want to get arrested for trespassing.”
He glanced over at Linsey for support. Linsey was Elise’s sister, younger by three years. The girls shared the same full lips and perfect cheekbones, but where Linsey’s hair was light brown, Elise’s was almost black. Haven was their first cousin, midway between them in age, and felt like an ugly duckling next to them. Sure, he shared Elise’s dark hair and Linsey’s hazel eyes, but features that appeared striking on his female cousins felt boring and unremarkable on him. Sometimes he couldn’t believe they were related at all.
Luckily, Linsey backed him up. “Haven’s right. It’s a bad idea.”
They were at the diner on Main Street in their hometown of Hobbsburg, Pennsylvania, sipping pop while they waited for their hamburgers to arrive. Other teenagers filled the booths around them. Outside, the early August day promised a hot, sticky evening. It was one of those times when it felt like summer vacation could go on forever, even though school would start in less than a month.
Elise sighed in exasperation. “What’s wrong with you guys? You have no sense of adventure.”
Haven shook his head, trying not to laugh. He and Linsey had both grown up hearing Elise’s wild tales and being subjected to her strange pranks. They knew her well enough to predict she’d spend the entire night trying to scare the crap out of them.
“Forget it,” Linsey said. “Mom and Dad would freak.”
“Mom and Dad never have to know,” Elise argued. “We’ll tell them we’re camping out. Then, instead of going into the woods, we’ll go to the old Gustafson house instead.”
Linsey and Haven exchanged another glance, weighing their options. Elise was stubborn as hell. Once she latched onto an idea, it was almost impossible to talk her out of it. It was a no-win situation. They could give in now, or they could argue about it, only to give in later.
“Come on,” Elise prodded, sensing their hesitation. She leaned her elbows on the table, closing the distance between her and her sister. She lowered her voice to a suggestive whisper. “Craig can come too. You guys will get to spend the whole night together.”
Linsey’s cheeks turned red, but Haven knew she was wavering. He had no idea whether she and her boyfriend Craig had gone all the way yet, but it looked like getting a chance to share a sleeping bag with him was enough to overcome her reluctance.
“No way,” Haven said to Elise. “That means Craig and Linsey go off by themselves to make out, and I’m stuck with you trying to scare me to death all damn night.”
Elise grinned at him, and he had a feeling she’d already anticipated this moment.
“The Hunter twins are coming too.”
Haven sat back in the red vinyl booth, his protests forgotten. That changed everything. He’d been prepared to dig in his heels, but he hadn’t anticipated this.
Jordan and Pierce Hunter had moved to Hobbsburg from Ohio two years earlier. For the past few months, Jordan had been like a puppy at Elise’s heels, doing everything he could to get her attention. He was infatuated with her, so it wasn’t surprising he’d already agreed to her crazy plan.
If Jordan came along, of course his brother Pierce would too. And if following Elise into a haunted house meant Haven had a chance to spend an entire evening with Pierce…
Well, whatever Elise had planned couldn’t be all that bad, could it?
Two nights later, Haven found himself in the back seat of Jordan and Pierce’s car, his stomach a knot of nervous excitement as they bounced down a washboard dirt road toward a house everybody knew was haunted. Haven’s new glasses slid down his nose every time the car hit a bump. He’d already pushed them back into place a dozen times.
Jordan was driving. Haven noticed him checking the rearview mirror every few seconds. At first, he assumed Jordan only wanted to check his perfectly styled hair. Then he realized Jordan was verifying that Elise, Linsey, and Linsey’s boyfriend Craig were still behind them in Craig’s car. Jordan’s obsession with Elise definitely hadn’t waned any.
Pierce, who was often as scruffy as his brother was well-groomed, turned partway around in his seat to smile at Haven. “Where’s your book? I hardly ever see you without one.”
His tone was friendly enough, but Haven’s cheeks began to burn just the same. “I figured it’d be too dark to read.” He decided not to mention that he had one stuffed in his bag, just in case. He had a feeling Pierce wouldn’t have laughed, but Jordan might have.
“Do you think we’ll really see a ghost?” Pierce asked.
Haven laughed, shaking his head. “There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
The Gustafson property lay tucked into a secluded clearing about two miles out of town. Several NO TRESPASSING signs punctuated the dirt road, which finally ended at a makeshift gate. It was only a chain strung across the trail, but between it and the thick trees, it was impossible to drive any farther. Jordan and Craig pulled their cars into the shade of the trees and began unloading their gear. They’d have to hike the last half mile.
They began their walk, arms full of sleeping bags, duffels, and grocery bags stuffed with snacks. Jordan and Pierce each held one handle of the giant cooler slung between them. They weren’t identical twins, but they were similar enough that anybody meeting them knew instantly they were brothers. Both were tall, with broad shoulders, dark blond hair, and a smile that had every girl in school weak in the knees.
And at least one boy too.
The trek to the house took longer than any of them expected. At least it was a relatively cool evening for August. Still, Linsey’s boyfriend Craig was whining and the sun nearly setting by the time they reached their destination.
The Gustafson house sat in the center of a small clearing, like some kind of silent queen on her throne. The powder blue paint was cracked and peeling, but she still seemed regal. Even Mother Nature seemed subservient to the house. No birds chirped. No squirrels chattered. The trees didn’t rustle their leaves in the breeze as they had along the path, and the lightning bugs seemed determined to keep their distance.
Jordan and Pierce dropped the cooler and spoke at the exact same time.
“It’s bigger than I expected.”
“How will we get in?”
Both of them used hushed tones. Haven wondered at that. After all, nobody was close enough to hear them.
Unless the stories of the ghosts were true after all.
But the question of how they’d get in was a good one. The windows on the ground floor were boarded up, and a sign on the front door announced that anybody caught trespassing inside the premises would be prosecuted.
“I don’t know about this,” Craig said. “What if we get busted?”
Craig’s dad was a police officer, so it was safe to assume he didn’t want to be caught breaking the law. Still, based on the way he eyed the house, Haven was pretty sure that wasn’t what had Craig scared. Hadn’t Linsey warned him about her sister’s pranks?
Haven caught Linsey’s exasperated expression and tried not to laugh. Then he saw the wicked look on Elise’s face, and his laughter died in his throat. Craig had just set himself up as Elise’s prime target. Haven almost felt sorry for the guy, but he kept his mouth shut. If he ruined Elise’s game now, everybody might decide to turn around and go home. Haven wasn’t about to let that happen. The twins were leaving for Ohio State University in two short weeks, and after that, he might never see Pierce again.
It was pretty much this weekend or never.
“It’ll be fine,” Linsey said, taking Craig’s hand. “Everybody knows ghosts aren’t real.”
Elise twirled her keys around her finger, her bejeweled “Class of ’03” key ring sparkling in the last few rays of daylight. “You’ll be singing a different tune after our séance.”
At nineteen, Elise was the oldest of the group—another reason Haven knew she was up to no good. Jordan and Pierce were only a year younger than her, having graduated from high school in the spring. Haven and Craig were seventeen, and Linsey was the baby at sixteen. Even if Elise liked Jordan as much as he liked her, why would she hang out with a bunch of high schoolers, if not to get a laugh at their expense?
“Hey, Jordan,” Elise said, hefting a canvas duffel bag and motioning toward the front door. “Come help me with this.”
It was almost comical how quickly Jordan moved to do her bidding. Haven wondered for a moment if Elise planned to recruit Jordan as a conspirator in her little campaign to scare the rest of them. He watched them put their heads together and noted the cunning glint in Elise’s eye. No. She’d leave Jordan in the dark. She wouldn’t give up such a willing victim, especially knowing anything she said to him was likely to reach Pierce’s ears ten seconds later.
Haven dropped his sleeping bag, slipped his backpack off, and rolled his shoulders, glad to be free of the weight. Linsey and Craig had moved a few feet away and seemed to be having a quiet but intense argument. Elise and Jordan were on the front porch of the house, completely engrossed in each other. That left Haven alone with Pierce.
Which was exactly what he’d hoped for when he agreed to this ridiculous plan.
“What do you think?” Pierce asked, coming to stand next to Haven. “Is it haunted?”
“That’s what they say.”
Pierce was two or three inches taller than Haven. Their arms touched, and not for the first time, Haven found himself wondering if those touches were accidental or intentional.
“I know what they say. But do you believe it?”
Haven didn’t know how to answer. Haunted or not, he didn’t care. Standing so close to Pierce, he had the wild, exhilarating feeling that everything in his life had been leading him to this moment with Pierce in this strangely quiet clearing. He was sure this one night would change his life.
Years later, he’d look back and marvel at that surety. He was right. That night did change his life.
But not in the way he’d hoped.
Haven always expected he’d see Pierce Hunter again. He was fairly certain he knew how it would happen too. The only question was when.
After the incident at the Gustafson house, and the frenzied investigation that followed, everything had fallen apart. The last time he’d seen Pierce, they’d argued bitterly over the events of that night. Then they’d gone their separate ways. The Hunter twins had left for college and Haven had returned to Hobbsburg High School for his senior year. A year later, he’d been the one leaving for college. And during the years he spent at West Virginia University, both his parents and Linsey and Elise’s parents had moved away from Hobbsburg.
There were just too many memories there.
Haven had never gone back to his hometown or to the Gustafson house. He didn’t know if the Hunters had ever returned, or if their parents still lived there. The only thing Haven knew for certain was that Jordan Hunter was a murderer. Someday, Jordan would be arrested. And when that happened, both Haven and Pierce would be in the courtroom for the trial, albeit on opposite sides of aisle.
So yes, Haven assumed he’d have to face Pierce again on some dreary, distant day. What he hadn’t anticipated was turning on the TV one lazy afternoon and finding the twins starring in their own TV show, Paranormal Hunters.
As crazy as it sounded, Pierce and Jordan had become professional paranormal investigators.
“Their journey began years ago, in a house everybody knew was haunted,” the voice-over intro began. “One night, one ghostly encounter, and a mystery that was never solved. Now the Hunter brothers are determined to find the truth about ghosts, haunted houses…” Here, there was a dramatic pause in the narration, a crescendo of the spooky music, and a close-up of the brothers standing back to back with their arms crossed. “…and what lies beyond this realm.”
The twins were still gorgeous, and still naturally charismatic enough to draw in fans. Jordan, it seemed, was the believer. Pierce acted as the skeptic, cheerfully debunking as many of their findings as he could. Sometimes the show struck Haven as borderline ridiculous. Other times, it creeped him right the hell out. Either way, Paranormal Hunters was surprisingly entertaining.
An even bigger surprise came in the summer between the second and third seasons of Paranormal Hunters, when Pierce suddenly contacted Haven out of the blue.
It started with an email.
I know it’s been a long time, but I’d really like to talk. Can I call you?
Haven was midway through a round of edits on his latest novel when the email arrived. He’d rented a quaint little cabin in Downeast Maine for the summer, determined to do a bit of research for his next story in between edits, although, in truth, he hadn’t done much more than read and watch the boats move in and out of the harbor. Outside, the day was warm and sunny, but after reading Pierce’s email, Haven was instantly lost in his memory of a dark, chilly room in a house that had long been rumored to be haunted.
Pierce wanted to talk to him. Was it about what had happened that night? Was he finally ready to accept the truth about his twin?
Haven’s fingers shook as he typed a quick reply. He didn’t say much. Just gave his cell number and hit send.
It had been twelve long years. Maybe justice was finally about to be served.
“Hey, Haven,” Pierce said, over the phone. “Long time no talk, huh?”
It hadn’t taken long for him to call, and even though Haven had given Pierce the green light, he’d debated not answering the phone at all once it rang. But now here he was, clutching his iPhone to the side of his face, his heart racing the way it always had where Pierce was concerned. “Yeah,” was all he managed to say. “Twelve years.”
“How’ve you been?”
“Uh…okay, I guess.” But as sucky at small talk as ever, it seemed.
“I’m a big fan, you know. I’ve read all your books. That last one, about the house with the haunted basement? I’m telling you, it scared the crap out of me.”
Nearly every one of Haven’s books had grown from one of Elise’s wild tales. If he had it to do it all over again, he’d have published them under her name. But at the time—back when he’d finished that first manuscript and sent it in to an agent—it hadn’t occurred to him. Sometimes he felt like a fraud for having stolen all his stories from her, but he tried to look at it as his way of honoring her. Every book he published was dedicated to Elise.
Still, the fact that Pierce had read his books surprised him.
And, in that moment, the pieces fell into place. Haven made his living writing horror stories with a paranormal twist. Pierce and Jordan were professional paranormal investigators. And they’d once spent a night together in a notorious haunted house.
He knew now why Pierce was calling.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen our show?” Pierce asked. “Paranormal Hunters?”
“Once or twice.” Actually, he’d watched every single episode, partly just to have an excuse to stare at Pierce, partly in hopes of catching Jordan in some kind of lie.
“Well, here’s the thing…some teenage girl in Hobbsburg recently reported a paranormal encounter at the old Gustafson house. Our producers got wind of it, found out it was the house—you know, the one we talk about in the intro—and now they’re determined to do an episode there.”
Haven’s throat was so tight and dry he had a hard time forcing any sound past his lips. “Oh?” was all he managed.
“We start shooting in two weeks, and the thing is, well… I’d really like to have you there.”
“Officially? Because you were there. And because having the world famous horror author Haven Sage on our show will be great publicity for both you and us.”
“World famous” was probably a bit of a stretch, but Haven let the flattery lie. “And unofficially?”
“Because after all these years, I think it’s time we got some answers.” He paused for a moment, but when Haven didn’t respond, he went on. “The producers are contacting Linsey and Craig too. They’re turning this into a two-part event, centered around finding the truth about what happened that night.”
“What happened had nothing to do with ghosts.”
“I know. You and I can agree on that, at least.”
“And what about Jordan?” Just saying the name made his skin crawl.
Pierce seemed hesitant to answer, and Haven knew why. Pierce knew that Haven blamed Jordan for Elise’s disappearance. “He’s a believer,” he confessed at last. “He has been ever since that night. He thinks Joseph got to Elise.”
Pierce sighed. “Look, Haven…” Haven was surprised at how sad and uncertain he sounded. “I don’t want to argue. Not about this. Especially not over the phone.”
Haven almost laughed. “What? You want to save the arguments for in person? Or maybe for the cameras?”
“That’s not quite what I meant, but yeah. We all have our theories. Jordan blames a ghost. You blame him. I blame Craig. But the truth is, the case went cold ages ago.”
“That special on the ID Network generated a lot of calls to the hotline.”
“But did any of them pan out?”
Haven didn’t want to answer that. The tiny bit of hope the show had generated had resulted in more than a dozen dead ends. “They say they’re working new leads every day.”
“Do you truly believe that?”
It hurt to say it, but he decided to be honest. “No. That’s just what they’re supposed to say.”
They fell silent. Outside, the gulls swooped over the bay, calling to one another. Across the road from Haven’s cabin, a group of teens lounged on the dock in swimsuits and cutoff shorts. Sunlight flashed off sunglass lenses and highlighted smooth, tan arms and thighs as they laughed and flirted, oblivious to how quickly their world could change. Haven closed his eyes, not wanting to see them. Not wanting to remember how young and carefree and clueless he and his friends had once been.
Wherever Pierce was, Haven imagined him running his hand through his hair, trying to find the right words to say.
“You want justice for Elise, don’t you?” Pierce finally asked.
“More than anything.”
“Then meet me in Hobbsburg. Help me finally find the truth. Between us, we’ll figure out what happened to Elise, one way or another.”
“And if the truth is that I was right all along?”
Pierce hesitated, but only for a moment. “Like I said, one way or another. So what do you say? You in, or are you out?”
Haven didn’t hesitate. “I’m in.”
BUY IT HERE:
Paperback and audio coming soon.