A Dash of Romance Spices Up the Mystery of The Cavanaugh House

In honor of The Cavanaugh House $.99 Kindle
Countdown Deal, I thought I would post one of my favorite excerpts from the
book. Though I’ve marketed this novel as a Cozy Mystery, it could also be
considered Romantic Suspense. I set the story in 1968 at a time when telephones were landlines,
usually one-to-a-house. That way, my protagonist Jesse Graham would not have
instant access to 911 or help of any kind when she got into dangerous
This era also meant that the
Woman’s Liberation Movement shaped Jesse, so she is ultra-sensitive to comments and attitudes
that do not impact us in the same way today. The clarion call for women’s
autonomy affects Jesse as she reels from the betrayal of her former fiancé,
Robert. Just as there is no easy way for her to telephone for help when she is in danger, there is no easy way for her to reconcile her need for independence with her deepening feelings for Joe Riley. While
I love the mystery within the Cavanaugh House, I also love the turmoil Jesse
faces in sorting through this new relationship and the sweet romance that
develops between her and Joe. Here’s a peek at their first meeting:
from The Cavanaugh House:
It took a moment for Jesse’s eyes to
adjust to the dim interior, for the windows were thick with grime, and the
trees filtered out most of the sunlight. The centrally located door opened into
a small foyer, a room on either side. Straight ahead was a staircase, and
beside it, a hall led to the kitchen. Musty air invaded her nostrils, dust
turned everything a dull pale gray, and she felt ancient, powdery motes settle
upon her like a second skin. Lacy cobwebs stretched from the high corners to
the brass light fixtures hanging in the middle of the ceilings. She heard
scurrying at the far end of the hall and resisted the urge to run outside.
To her right was the dining room with a
door on the far wall that led back to the kitchen. Turning left, she entered
the living room, sparsely furnished with drop cloths draped over the pieces. A
chair sat perpendicular to a sofa with a round coffee table in front. A floor
lamp hung its head in the space between the sofa and chair, and nestled in a far
corner was an oak secretary with a drop-down desk. Drooping at the windows were
barkcloth drapes that once had boasted white gardenias on a rose background,
but now hung in faded tatters, eaten away by dry rot.
Jesse turned slowly, surveying the room.
“Wow,” she said. “Wow, wow, wow.”
Her thoughts traveled to Robert’s
apartment with its white leather furniture, glass and chrome accent tables, and
carpeting so thick it was like walking on moss. It was as though she was on a
“Rat Pack” set when she was there; everything was sleek and modern, tasteful
and expensive. She had lived in that world for the past two years. And like its
furnishings, that world had turned out to be less ideal than it appeared. A
world more than just miles away from this dilapidated house.
Mustering her courage, she pulled the
fabric off the sofa. She shrieked as a flurry of grey shapes scattered in all
directions—one straight toward her. She panicked as paws scurried across her
sandaled foot. Mice! Goosebumps prickled her skin and adrenalin shot though her
body. Heart pounding, she ran out the front door, off the porch and bolted to
her car. Her knees gave out and she collapsed, trembling.
“Are you okay?”
Grabbing the door handle, she pulled
herself up and looked around for the voice’s owner.
“I’m over here,” he said.
She looked toward the road and saw a blue
pickup truck at the end of the driveway. Leaning out the driver’s-side window
was a man about her age, with tousled red hair. Humor lit up his mouth and
softened his strong jawline and rugged face.
“Are you okay?” he repeated as he climbed
out of his truck and started toward her.
Jesse brushed herself off and ran her
fingers through her hair.
“Oh, yes, I’m fine,” she said.
She saw his hazel eyes twinkle with
“I can see that. In a hurry to get
somewhere? I noticed your quick exit.”
She looked at her watch and gasped.  It was after 2 p.m. If she were going to get
any utilities started, she needed to get to town.
“I need to get my utilities started.”
that sounded intelligent.

She was a little off balance, and not just because of the mice encounter; this
man’s gaze was warm and unsettling. He chuckled.
“Well, I would never want to keep a woman
from that.”
“What I mean is…”
He held out his hand.
“Joe Riley.”
She shook his hand and smiled.
“Jesse Graham.”
“Nice to meet you, Jessica,” he said.
“Not Jessica, just Jesse. The nickname
for Jessica is J-E-S-S-I-E. I’m J-E-S-S-E. Pronounced the same, spelled
“Oh, like Jesse James,” he said.
“Yeah, I’ve never heard that one before,”
she tossed back.
“Sorry. Wow—I’m making a great first
impression,” Joe said as he scanned the property, avoiding her eyes. “So you
bought the old Cavanaugh House, ‘Just Jesse.’” It was a statement more than a
question. His eyes studied the place, traveling over the roofline, down to the
foundation and back to the outbuildings. “Mighty brave.”
“I didn’t buy it; I inherited it from my
Aunt Helen.”
He raised his eyebrows and nodded but
didn’t say anything.
“I just met the current residents—all one
million of them, I think—when I pulled the drop cloth off the sofa. The mice
took me by surprise. I panicked and ran.”
He laughed and looked back at the house.
“If there were a million, I’d probably do
the same.”
“Okay, maybe a thousand. At least a couple
hundred.” Jesse laughed, feeling at ease with him. “I think a call to an
exterminator is also in order. I’d better head into town and get things
“Can I help?” His face was earnest, his
smile genuine.
“No, thank you. I can handle things
myself,” she said.
“Well, you can’t stay here tonight with a
million mice living in there. You’d be welcome to stay at my place.”
She lifted her chin and looked at him
sideways. “Right. Your place.”
“No, no, no. You don’t understand. I live
with my mother less than a mile from here.” His face was the color of summer
tomatoes. “It’s all legit. Mom would be a proper chaperone, and we have a spare
room. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply…”
Jesse was touched by his sincerity.  He was falling all over his words.
“No offense taken.  And that is a sweet offer. It’s just
that…well…I need to take care of things myself. It’s important to me.”
“Oh, got it.” He took a step back and
looked around the yard. “Well, then, I’d best be leaving.”
She saw his discomfort and rethought her
“No, Joe, it was very kind of you to
offer, and truly, I take no offense. I’m just at a place where I need to depend
on myself right now.” She smiled at him, and he nodded and turned to leave.
“Wait, there is something you could help
He turned back to her.
“I do need a place to stay, but I have a
friend in town who may have room for me. May I use your phone to call her?”
“Sure, follow me.” He hopped into his
truck as she locked the house and then backed her Beetle out to follow
him.  Looking back at the house, she was
filled with ambivalence. On the one hand the house scared her, on the other,
she already felt like she belonged there.
As she drove, Jesse remembered the day
she found out about her house. On her twenty-first
birthday her mother had presented her with a large manila envelope.
“You will probably want to
sell this as soon as possible. Oh, and happy birthday,” Eileen Graham said as
she tossed the envelope to her daughter.
Opening the envelope, she sensed
her mother’s green eyes on her. She pulled out a sheaf of papers and leafed
through them. Her Aunt Helen’s will, the deed for the house, and the mortgage
forms created a thick stack that intimidated her. Something else was in the
envelope; she tilted it and a set of keys slid into her hand. She looked at her
mother who shrugged, lit a cigarette and then examined her manicured nails.
Breathing smoke as she talked, she gestured at the papers.
“For some reason, my sister
wanted you to have the house.  There was
nothing I could do about it.”
Jesse wondered at her last
statement, but dismissed it as she looked through the documents.
“I own it free and clear. Aunt
Helen has a trust that will pay the taxes,” she said.
Her mother stubbed out her
cigarette and left the room.
Jesse had never sold the
house and, according to her mother, it had stood vacant for all twenty-eight
years of her life. She’d had no idea what she would find when she arrived, but
it would be hers and the house would be away…far away.

The Cavanaugh House is available at Amazon  


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