A warm HOLIDAY WELCOME to today's Guest Author, Aaron Paul Lazar. We are so happy to be a part of Aaron's book tour and pleased to present the following excerpt from his latest novel, The Seacrest. Enjoy!
First here is a blurb to lure you in...AND...be sure to scroll all the way down and enter Aaron's Rafflecopter contest to WIN a FREE signed copy of Essentially Yours!
They say it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Finn McGraw disagrees.
He was just seventeen when he had a torrid summer affair with the girl who stole his heart—and then inexplicably turned on him. Finn may have moved on with his life, but he’s never forgotten her.
Now, ten years later, he’s got more than his lost love to worry about. A horrific accident turns his life upside down, resurrecting the ghosts of his long-dead family and taking the lives of the few people he has left.
Finn always believed his estranged brother was responsible for the fire that killed their family—but an unexpected inheritance with a mystery attached throws everything he knows into doubt.
And on top of that, the beguiling daughter of his wealthy employer has secrets of her own. But the closer he gets, the harder she pushes him away.
The Seacrest is a story of intrigue and betrayal, of secrets and second chances—and above all, of a love that never dies.
July 2, 2013
Life can change in the blink of an eye. This blink came when a cop car cruised up The Seacrest’s white shell driveway on a hot Saturday in July.
I’ll never forget the moment. You know how folks remember where they were when John Lennon died? Or when President Kennedy was assassinated? It was like that, every detail stamped into my brain, forever.
A fresh breeze laden with the scent of the sea rustled blue flowers in a nearby hydrangea hedge. Hot and sweaty, I stood in the blazing sun, feeling like a fool. I’d just finished weed wacking around the paddock fence posts. Unfortunately, said weed wacker had spooked Libby Vanderhorn’s favorite mare, Serendipity, who I secretly called Dippy, because she was such a loose cannon. She’d bucked three times and knocking down several fence boards. Libby was a good rider, but this time she’d landed in a sprawling heap on the soft dirt, swearing at me.
The boss’s gorgeous, stuck-up daughter didn’t mince words, and the sting of her accusations still sounded in my head. How stupid can you be, Finn? What’s wrong with you?
Libby’s father held great power on Cape Cod. Rudolph Vanderhorn sat on so many boards, I’d lost count. His father’s fish canning company made a fortune back in the eighties, and he and his daughter had enjoyed the spoils ever since.
I stooped to pick up a hammer from my toolbox, planning to reattach the fence boards before any of Libby’s horses got hurt on the protruding nails. Curious now, I watched the Brewster Police car circle the long drive, heading toward the mansion. The local authorities stopped by every few days to discuss town matters with my boss. But today the blue light was flashing, which didn’t look like a casual visit.
A shudder went through me, and I turned cold. Something bad had happened. I sensed it.
The front door opened, and Rudy watched them approach, one hand shading the sun from his eyes. Like a majestic lion, he stood broad-shouldered and strong, his longish white hair lifting in the sea breeze.
Libby stopped hosing down her big white mare, who thankfully hadn’t hurt herself in the fit she’d thrown earlier. The horse snorted and rubbed her big head against her owner’s arm as if to scratch an itch. Long, dark hair blew around Libby’s face, and she stared with open curiosity at the cruiser, rhythmically combing her fingers through the mare’s curly mane.
I stood still, gripping the hammer, studying the patrol car as it drove past the front porch with its impressive columns and portico. It didn’t stop for Rudy, but passed the six-car garage, followed the driveway to the barn, and rolled to a stop ten feet from me, lights still flashing.
Police Chief Kramer and Deputy Lowell stepped out and ambled toward me, their eyes somber.
I dropped the hammer, letting it thud to the grass near my feet.
“Finn?” Kramer said, approaching slowly. “I’m afraid we have bad news.”
There is nothing worse than hearing that bad news is about to be delivered. My brain went wild, imagining the worst scenarios. But somehow I didn’t quite picture what he was about to tell me.
“There’s been an accident,” Kramer said.
Lowell, a high school football star in his day, kicked the dirt at the edge of the path. “Car went over the cliffs,” he said, avoiding my eyes.
“For God’s sake, guys.” I looked from Kramer to Lowell. “Who was in the car?”
Kramer pulled out a piece of paper. “I regret to inform you that your wife, Cora Mae McGraw, and your brother, Jaxson Robert McGraw, have been killed in a vehicular accident.”
Deputy Lowell touched my sleeve, then awkwardly stepped back. “We’re real sorry, Finn.”
“Car went into the ocean,” Kramer said. “We believe they were dead on impact.”
I stared at them, numbness creeping up my spine. “What the hell?”
“Er, look, if there’s anything we can do...” Lowell seemed remorseful, and he offered a hand when I lost my balance and grabbed for the fence.
Libby and her father appeared at my side in seconds, but in the dreamlike state of denial and shock, I caught only brief snatches of their words, as if the wind had grabbed them, teasing me with the bits and pieces.
“Who was with her?”
And so on.
Libby guided me across the lawn and around back to the mansion’s cavernous kitchen. I leaned woodenly against the refrigerator while the family’s beloved cook, Fritzi, bustled her big, ample self about the kitchen making coffee and pushing fresh corn muffins at the officers.
Someone guided me into a chair. I sat, dazed and unmoving. The voices warbled around me and now my brain began to pick through the new knowledge, still not comprehending.
It wasn’t real. Couldn’t be real.
Jax is dead?
I hadn’t seen my brother in ten years.
Ten years since I’d even talked to him. I sometimes almost drove past the blueberry farm, thinking of my old life. But I never actually stopped there.
Ten years since my parents died in that fire. Since I lost my little sister, Eva. Ten years since my family burned because of that cigarette smoldering in the couch.
Ten freaking years.
I didn’t even know what Jax looked like anymore. Had he lost hair? Gained weight? Turned prematurely gray like our father did at age thirty?
A shudder passed through me. A great gulping sound sputtered from my throat. I think I started to hyperventilate.
I locked eyes with Libby, whose mouth was moving. I couldn’t hear her.
Cora is dead.
Jax is dead.
Laying my head on my arms, I silently convulsed.
One thought wandered around the edges of my brain, refusing to go away, in spite of the enormity of what had happened.
What the hell was Jax doing with Cora?
July 2, 1997
I’ll never forget the day I fell in love with her.
There she stood, all tall and lanky, dark hair blowing in the breeze as if it loved caressing her face.
She held a beach ball and faced the sea.
She was sixteen.
That’s all it took. That one salty, sandy, sunshiny day—forever staked in my memory.
Her father had claimed a spot on Paines Creek Beach, right next to ours. They laid out a red-and-white striped blanket and matching umbrella with beach chairs, a cooler filled with watermelon and soda, and white paper bags that smelled of fries and burgers.
I’d settled on a beach towel next to my grandfather, Dex McGraw, surreptitiously watching them.
Gramps sat beside me, drinking from a cold thermos of gin and ice, his favorite. He sat with his shirt off and long legs stretched out, his head back and shaggy silver-blond hair glinting in the sun. He always told me his time was “before the hippies,” but I had a feeling he would have made a good one. He was one helluva rebel. And he always stood up for what was right, no matter what.
He saw me watching the girl and casually appraised her, gray eyes slit and his head nodding in approval. With a low whisper, he turned to me. “Pretty girl.”
I know I blushed, because at sixteen that’s all I seemed to do when girls were involved. “Yeah. I guess.” I traced circles in the sand with my forefinger. The sun burned the skin on my back and shoulders, although I’d slathered plenty of sunscreen on earlier at my mother’s insistence.
He didn’t say anything for a few minutes, but closed his eyes, soaking in the sun and soft breeze. I wondered what he was thinking about. Adventures at sea? Lost loves? I knew he had many, and that some of them had died awful deaths. Once in a while he talked about it. But it seemed I never got enough of his stories. I always wanted more.
“I want to tell you something.” He opened his eyes, and caught me watching her again. She’d dropped into a chair while her father dutifully rubbed white suntan lotion on her shoulders.
“I’m listening.” I stared up at his leathery skin, his eyes so full of wisdom. He didn’t look like my friends’ grandfathers. Lean, muscled, and strong, he didn’t use a cane, or bend over when he walked. His body boasted scars earned from long-ago adventures. I bragged about those badges of courage to my friends.
He leaned in close to me. “Grab life with both hands. If you love someone, put your whole heart into it. Give it your all. Your everything.” He glanced sideways at the girl, and a wistful expression crossed his face. “Nothing is forever, my boy. So enjoy every single second.”
“Okay,” I said.
He locked eyes with me. “I’m serious.”
I nodded. “I got it.”
“Why don’t you go say hello? I think she’s looking for someone to toss that ball with.”
I nearly froze, but he gently urged me with his eyes. Summoning my courage, I stood up, brushing sand from my legs and arms.
“Go on. You’ll have fun,” he said.
I glanced at her.
Now her father rubbed lotion on her back. Creamy skin. Soft skin. Touchable skin.
She held her hair aloft with one delicate hand.
Piano playing fingers, I thought.
You can do this.
As if reading my mind, Gramps nodded in her direction again. “You’ve got this, Finn.”
“Right.” With heart thumping, I took a deep breath and headed toward her.
July 5, 2013
On the day after Independence Day, I stood beside the grave, staring at the casket.
Oh my God.
The pain spread through me like hot oil in a frying pan, searing my insides and coating my brain with sticky, gooey nothingness. For the past two days, I’d been disconnected from the world and had rarely responded to people’s questions. I hadn’t met anyone’s eyes. And when they’d finally left me alone, I stayed in my dark bedroom for hours. No lawn mowing, no weeding in the Vanderhorns’ gardens, no stall mucking.
It was embarrassing, really, in that part of my brain that still connected tenuously with normal thought. But the double loss of Cora and Jax, coupled with my unresolved anger at him, was quite simply—unbearable.
My wife’s coffin lay in the rectangular hole covered with fake green grass carpet, sparkling white with lavender flowers. With a detached inner smile, I thought she would have liked it. That is, had she been standing here beside me and able to ignore the issue of her own death.
Maybe she was standing beside me? Maybe her spirit lingered in the salty sea breeze.
I wasn’t so sure. Because in the end, I didn’t even know if she still loved me.
Libby and Rudy Vanderhorn stood on either side of me, alongside a small group of our friends who crowded around the grave overlooking the cliffs, the very spot where my wife and brother had plunged to their deaths.
It was too much. Seeing those craggy bluffs, imagining—over and over again—the car bursting through the guardrail and plunging into the deep green water.
But I had no choice, really. The Shady Pines cemetery hosted the plots my parents bought long ago, and I didn’t exactly have enough pocket cash to buy two new gravesites. Okay, I’ll admit it. I didn’t have enough money to get the muffler fixed on my old Jeep. Or pay for that stack of overdue bills on the kitchen table. Worst of all, I didn’t have enough to cover the cost of flowers or funeral services.
Cora and I had sunk everything into paying off school loans. Me with my useless degree in fine arts, she with a performance degree in cello. Together we’d owed almost a hundred grand.
We both tried for years to get jobs in places like museums and orchestras. Occasionally, we’d get part time gigs. I sold some of my watercolors once when I lowered the price at the town sidewalk sales to ridiculous levels. But it was never enough to pay the bills, and over time, both Cora and I had given up our elusive dreams and fell into the jobs as groundskeeper/groom and housemaid at the Vanderhorns’ mansion by the sea.
The Seacrest wasn’t a bad place to work, and part of the deal was free use of a one-bedroom cottage on the far side of the barn. Where I used to sleep every night with Cora. Every night with Cora. Never again with Cora. Never.
I surveyed the contiguous plots beneath the tree. Beside the graves of my parents and little sister, there was a space for me, a plot for my brother, and two adjacent spots for our wives. Jaxson’s wife had left him years ago, so I had no idea who would end up buried between him and me. My brother and Berra had produced no kids, thank God.
Cora and I had no little ones, either, although I’d always wanted a family. She’d said we “weren’t ready” every year, for the past eleven years. It always came down to finances, the fact that we had no home of our own, and her insistence that she wasn’t ready to be a mother.
Now she’d never get the chance. And I’d probably never be a father.
Another stab of pain hit me hard in the chest. I’d really wanted a family.
I clutched at the tie I borrowed from Rudy, loosening the choking fabric. The sun blazed overhead, and I’d broken into an uncomfortable sweat since we left the shelter of the cool limousine. I wore the same dark suit I’d bought for the triple funeral when my parents and sister died in the fire. It hung loose on me now, especially since I’d worked all day, every day for the past five years outdoors.
Today Rudy and Libby flanked me, also dressed in black. Rudy had kindly arranged for the funeral details for both Cora and my brother. Somehow, the flowers and service were ordered and paid for. Jax’s funeral was yesterday, a complete blur. I was certain it had displaced a number of July Fourth barbecues. I remembered very little, except some of the hymns we used to sing in church when we were a whole family. A complete family. A living family.
How can I be the only one left?
Reverend Mitchell droned on and on, but I didn’t process his words. He hadn’t known Cora. His words were hollow, and I almost resented the way he talked about her as if they’d been best friends.
I watched his mouth move, his hands holding a worn bible. His wizened mouth puckered and turned to a frown when a crow tried to compete with him and yammered in the white pine overhead, seeming to mimic the pastor’s words.
I almost laughed out loud.
I hadn’t stepped foot in the quaint little Presbyterian Church where he preached since the deaths of my parents and sister.
I was still mad at God for that one.
But I was also equally mad at Jax. I was certain it was his cigarette that started the fire.
“Finn?” Libby took my arm and guided me toward the car when the coffin was lowered. Someone’s hand—maybe my own—had dropped a handful of soil on it.
I held in my grief like a man.
My father would’ve been proud. My mother would have wept. And my little sister would have comforted me, holding my hand and telling me she loved me with those big green eyes.
But I felt it welling up in my throat, and if someone approached and was too nice, I was afraid I’d lose it.
“Finn? Come on. Let’s get you home.”
Libby had been kind for the past three days, sparing me her usual quips and complaints. Her father had treated me with respect and kindness, also out of character. Yet both of them had tactfully avoided the question I still agonized over.
Why had Cora been in Jax’s car?
I didn’t think they’d ever met. She’d asked about him, of course. Wondered why he inherited the farm and I got nothing.
She’d treated me like I lost my mind when I told her I’d rejected the inheritance and told him he could have it. All of it. The three hundred and fifty acres of blueberry fields and woods. The house and barns. The stand for the berry picking operation.
I’d given it all up to flee the horror of that night.
With a sigh, I slumped in the back seat of the limo. Libby touched my hand, and I felt my resolve crack.
Just five more minutes. Hold on for five more minutes.
July 2nd, 1997
We played with the beach ball for about an hour, laughing and churning up sand three hundred yards up the beach, away from the sunbathers and family picnics. After the first few nervous minutes, the whole thing felt very natural, as if we were just kids and there were no boy-girl elements to be embarrassed about.
But there certainly were boy-girl elements.
I watched her tawny arms as they flailed and whapped the ball and marveled at her long, delicate legs when she ran back and forth along the quiet stretch of sand we’d chosen. Her eyes had a way of widening in mock horror when I tossed it too high and she missed it, quickly followed by a wide smile that dizzied me.
She had a nice figure, with slim legs, a narrow waist, and pretty shoulders. Her one-piece black suit covered areas I tried not to stare at, but couldn’t help wanting to. I wondered how it would feel to touch her. Probably softer than silk. Her hair cascaded along her back, bouncing dark against her summer brown skin.
We collapsed on the sand with the ball between us, breathing hard and laughing.
“You’re pretty good at this,” she said.
I leaned back on my arms and chuckled. “So are you. For a girl.”
She sat up and hit my arm. “What? For a girl?”
Afraid she’d storm off, I took her hand and pulled her close to me. “I’m just kidding! Really, you’re good, even for a guy.”
She smiled that lazy, sweet grin again and I felt my heart melt.
“Okay. That’s better.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Okay.” I sat up, furrowed my brow, and placed fingertips against my temples, staring at her. “I’m getting something. It’s coming.”
She laughed and poked my chest. “Oh, really? What do you see?”
I gave it a shot. “Jennifer?”
She snorted. “No!”
I tried again. “Sarah?”
She giggled. “Heck, no.”
I tried to think of the most popular names of our generation, hoping it was one of them. “Allison?”
“Uhnt-uh.” She shook her head.
“Give me a hint.”
“Oh, come on!” I frowned. “How can I guess?”
“You have to.”
“Okay. Hannah? Jessica? Carly? Jenna? Lisa?”
“No, no, no, no, and no.”
“Hey. How ‘bout if I tell you my name?”
“What is it?”
I hesitated. “It’s a weird one.”
“Okay. It’s Finn.”
She tilted her head. “That’s not weird. I like it. Finn.” She seemed to taste the letters on her tongue, enjoying the feel of it. “It’s different. But nice.”
“Okay. Your turn.” I sat forward expectantly.
“Nope. I’m not telling. You have to keep guessing.”
I ran through all the names I could imagine, and didn’t hit on it. Frustrated now, I flopped back on the sand. “Okay. Then I’m gonna make up a name for you.”
She made a face. “Really?” Quickly, she leaned over me, her face blocking the sun.
In a sudden rush of feeling, I wanted to pull her to me, to smother her in kisses, to taste the salt on her skin.
“Okay, what’s it gonna be? What’s my new name?”
“Let me think.”
Her hair danced over my bare chest. I caught it and played with it. “You are sweet. I could call you Honey.”
“Boring,” she said.
“How about Candy?”
“Sexist,” she pouted.
“Even worse! I’m not a playboy bunny!”
“Okay, Well, you look delicious. How about Cupcake?”
She hissed. “That sounds like a chubby girl. Or a pony.”
“Okay, okay. Let me think. Maybe I need some inspiration. How about a kiss?”
At first I thought she’d reel back and hit me. But to my surprise, she lowered her lips to mine, stopping just an inch apart. “Okay. Just a little one, though.”
I reached my arms up to her neck and pulled her toward me. At the last minute, just as I felt the soft sweetness of her mouth brushing mine, she pulled back.
“Nope. Too soon.” She got up and laughed, twirling around with the ball. “Come on. What’s my nickname?”
I sat up, trying to control the heat surging beneath my bathing suit. “Okay. I’ve got it.”
“What? What is it?”
She pranced toward me. “I love that! Okay. From now on, I’m Sassy to you.”
Her father appeared out of nowhere, his face a study in disapproval. I think he hated me from the moment I’d asked her to toss the ball around. I also figured he’d probably seen us lying near each other, and got nervous.
He glared at me. “Time for lunch. Let’s go.”
There was no arguing with his stern tone. She tossed him the ball and wiggled her fingers at me. “See ya ‘round, Finn.”
I grinned like an idiot. God, she was cute. “Okay, Sassy. See ya.”
I watched her link arms with her father and sashay away from me. The sun winked on the brilliant sand, almost blinding me. As if hypnotized, I stared with slack jaw until I could barely make out her figure among the crowded, colorful throng of beach-lovers.
Oh, Sassy. You’re the one for me.
AUTHOR BIO: Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. An award-winning, bestselling Kindle author of three addictive mystery series, writing books, and a new love story, Aaron enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his website at http://www.lazarbooks.com and watch for his upcoming releases THE SEACREST (2013), SANCTUARY (2014), and VIRTUOSO (2014).
Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/16pjh4i
Smashwords Link: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/369357
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Twilight Times Books by multi-award winning author, Aaron Lazar:
DON’T LET THE WIND CATCH YOU (print, eBook, audio book)
MURDER ON THE SACANDAGA (~2014)
THE SEACREST (coming fall of 2013)
- 2012 ForeWord BOTYA, Mystery, FINALIST
Tremolo: cry of the loon –
- 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Awards: Grand Prize Short List
- 2013 Eric Hoffer Book Awards: Honorable Mention, Eric Hoffer Legacy Fiction
- 2011 Global eBook Award Finalist in Historical Fiction Contemporary
- 2011 Preditors & Editors Readers Choice Award – 2nd place Mystery
- 2008 Yolanda Renée's Top Ten Books
- 2008 MYSHELF Top Ten Reads
For the Birds
- 2011 ForeWord Book Awards, FINALIST in Mystery
- 2012 Carolyn Howard-Johnson's Top 10 Reads
- 2013 EPIC Book Awards, FINALIST in Suspense
- 2013 Eric Hoffer Da Vinci Eye Award Finalist
- 2012 EPIC Book Awards WINNER Best Paranormal
- 2011 Eric Hoffer Book Award, WINNER Best Book in Commercial Fiction
- 2011 Finalist for Allbooks Review Editor's Choice
- 2011 Winner of Carolyn Howard Johnson's 9th Annual Noble (not Noble!) Prize for Literature
- 2011 Finalists for Global EBook Awards
Terror Comes Knocking
· 2013 Global Ebook Awards, Paranormal – Bronze
· 2013 Semi Finalist in Kindle Book Review Book Awards, Mystery Category