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Authors: Margrett Dawson

JanesPrize

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An
Ellora’s Cave Romantica Publication

www.ellorascave.com

 

 

 

Jane’s Prize

 

ISBN 9781419917714

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Jane’s Prize Copyright © 2008 Margrett Dawson.

 

Edited by Ann Leveille.

Cover art by Syneca.

 

Electronic book Publication August 2008

 

 

With the exception of quotes used in reviews, this
book may not be reproduced or used in whole or in part by any means existing
without written permission from the publisher, Ellora’s Cave Publishing, Inc.®
1056 Home Avenue, Akron OH 44310-3502.

 

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or
distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. No part of this book may be
scanned, uploaded or distributed via the Internet or any other means,
electronic or print, without the publisher’s permission. Criminal copyright infringement,
including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is
punishable by up to 5 years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000. 
(http://www.fbi.gov/ipr/). Please purchase only authorized electronic or print
editions and do not participate in or encourage the electronic piracy of
copyrighted material. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

This book is a work of fiction and any
resemblance to persons, living or dead, or places, events or locales is purely
coincidental. The characters are productions of the authors’ imagination and
used fictitiously.

Jane’s Prize

Margrett Dawson

Trademarks Acknowledgment

 

The author acknowledges the trademarked
status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work
of fiction:

 

Blair Witch Project: Artisan Entertainment
Inc.

CNN: Cable News
Network LP, LLLP

Coke: The Coca-Cola
Company,

Donald Duck: Disney
Enterprises, Inc.

Frappuccino: Starbucks U.S. Brands, LLC

Honda: Honda Motor
Co., Ltd.

Jeopardy: JEOPARDY
PRODUCTIONS, INC.

Mustang: Ford Motor
Company

Superman: DC COMICS

Thermos: LAB-LINE Instruments, Inc.

Vaseline: Unilever
Supply Chain, Inc.

Wizard of Oz: Turner
Entertainment Co.

 

Chapter One

 

Jane received the letter from a firm of
lawyers in Cove Bay a week after she answered the newspaper ad.

“Dear Ms. Chartraine,”
it said
. “We are pleased to inform you that your application to
enter the Newland Challenge has been successful. You should plan to spend your
time in the Newland Mansion in Cove Bay, Maine within the next two weeks and
before the fifteenth of July. Please find enclosed a check for one thousand
dollars in confirmation of our good faith. This is yours to keep no matter the
outcome. The remaining four thousand dollars will be issued after you have
spent two days in the mansion—a total of forty-eight hours. Should you not
spend the required amount of time in the house the remaining money will be
forfeit.

Needless to say, your safety is
important to us. We will inspect the premises before you arrive and have
arranged a patrol during the night. You will be given a speed dial number to
call in case of any emergency. Equipment to make the video recording can be
picked up at our offices at your convenience together with detailed
instructions. We can also supply you with a cot, bedding and portable lights.
Please contact us to confirm your acceptance.

The letter finished with the usual
salutations.

She showed the letter to her friend Annice
over coffee. “The firm’s legit. I checked them out.”

“You’re still crazy. There’s not enough
money in the world would make me do it.” Annice sipped her double espresso
raspberry Frappuccino.

“That’s because you hate the dark and
you’re terrified of spiders. Remember when we went camping in eighth grade?”
Jane tried to scoop the last of the foam from the bottom of her cup with her
stir stick.

“There was something outside the tent
trying to get in.”

“Yeah, your dog. We were only at the bottom
of your yard for heaven’s sake.” Jane folded the letter. “I’m going to do it. I
need the money. Five thousand dollars. Imagine what I could do with five
thousand dollars.”

Annice huffed her scorn. “It’s a scam.”

“It’s not. I can survive for forty-eight
hours in an empty house. I don’t think the place is even supposed to be
haunted. Have you ever heard any stories?”

“No. I don’t recall any murders or
mysterious lights, but then, it’s fifty miles away. It’s pretty creepy though.
I drove by there once. All towers and turrets and brooding windows. Supposing
there’s someone else there at the same time as you? Like a serial killer lying
in wait for the victim trying to win herself a cool five thousand. And getting
more than she bargained for?”

“Thanks a lot for that encouraging thought
but it’s taken care of.” She tapped the relevant line in the letter. “Security
patrol and everything. I’ll take my pepper spray and bear repellent. Plus a
personal alarm around my neck. Add a flashlight, batteries and a good book to
keep my mind off any bumps and creepy noises and it’s in the bag.”

“Better you than me.” Annice stood. “Got to
get back to work.”

“Okay.” Jane dropped her empty cup into the
trash bin. “Wish me luck.”

The letter gave no clue about who was
issuing the challenge or why. Jane turned the check every way and held it up to
the light. It looked genuine. Why would she refuse a gift like this?
Forty-eight hours was nothing out of her life. School was out for the summer
and her class of fifth graders and the upcoming grade fours were dispersed all
over the county and the surrounding states, not to be seen again until after
Labor Day. Besides, she loved a challenge and she had the scars from all the
dares her brother had set her to prove it.

Five thousand dollars would go a long way
toward the deposit on the apartment she wanted to buy. If she ever managed to
get enough cash together she could move out of her mother’s house, start to
live her own life… At twenty-eight, it was more than time.

 

After supper Jane loaded the dishwasher
while her mother sipped her coffee. “Have you ever heard of the Newland
mansion, Mom?” she asked.

“My heavens, why would you ask?”

“I heard the name mentioned the other day.
Something in the newspaper.”

Elaine set down her cup. “I didn’t know it
was still standing. I thought they would have torn it down long ago.”

“Why? What’s the story?”

Elaine handed over her empty cup. “Don’t
overfill the cutlery rack, dear. The knives come out spotty.”

Jane moved a couple of pieces. “So what
happened at the Newland mansion?”

“It was before my time of course but I
heard the story from my grandmother who lived over near Cove Bay. I’m sure it
was exaggerated in the telling. You know how people love to embroider stories
as they go around.”

Jane closed the door of the dishwasher with
a little more force than necessary. She picked up a towel to dry her hands.
“What happened, for goodness’ sake?”

Elaine settled back into her chair and
moved the pepper and saltshakers to the center of the table. “Well the Newlands
were very wealthy. They owned a whole fleet of fishing boats, that’s when there
was cod and lobster for the taking of course.” She shook her head. “Those days
are long gone.”

“What happened to the Newlands?” Jane tried
not to clench her teeth and to keep her voice low and pleasant.

“Nothing really. They just kind of died
out, faded away. There was a son who disappeared. Some said he ran off with a
girl from Boston. Other people said his stepmother did away with him.”

Jane’s heart gave a little jump and her
pulse began to race. “You mean she murdered him?”

Elaine nodded. “The stepmother had a son
and rumor said that she wanted him to inherit. But he died in a terrible
influenza epidemic and there was no one in the family to carry on. The fleet
was sold and the house stood empty. I did hear there was a cousin who inherited
and who said he would never sell the house in case Pierce Newland came back. It
seems they had been good friends when they were young. There was some kind of a
trust set up, I think. Why are you so interested?”

“Someone mentioned it the other day. I was
just curious.”

“It must be a complete ruin by now. The
roof has probably caved in and goodness only knows what’s living in there.” She
shuddered. “You wouldn’t get me near it. There’s always been a story that it’s
haunted, you know.”

Jane picked up a cloth and began to wipe
the spotless counter again. “A ghost?”

Elaine nodded. “Pierce apparently liked the
ladies but those who didn’t believe he’d run off with a girl say he was killed
and buried somewhere in the house. His spirit wanders around the rooms looking
for his family.”

A cold shiver crept up Jane’s spine. “Has
anyone seen him?”

“One or two. But they’ve mostly been out
there partying or smoking dope so there’s nothing reliable.”

“I guess you can never be sure of having
seen a ghost.” Jane gave her mother a smile and hung the cloth over the tap.
“Enough of this creepy stuff. It’s time for Jeopardy. I’ll turn it on.”

 

Later that evening she phoned Annice. “It’s
haunted,” she said.

“What is?”

“The Newland mansion. There’s a ridiculous
story about the last son of the family being murdered and walking the halls
wringing his poor ghostly hands and wailing for his family.”

“So you won’t go?”

“Of course I’ll go. I don’t believe in
ghosts.”

 

The following Tuesday afternoon, her mother
hovered around while she stowed her gear in the trunk and the backseat. “If
you’re going camping won’t you need a tent, dear?”

“I’ll use shelters or a lean-to.”

“Do you think it will be safe, going off on
your own?”

Jane showed her the can of pepper spray and
one of bear repellent. “I’ll be fine. I just need some time away on my own.
It’ll help me unwind after last term.” It had been her year to have the class
from hell and it made sense that she needed to destress.

“Don’t forget your phone.”

Jane patted her pocket. “Right here and
charged up.”

Her first stop was at the law offices of
the firm that had written to her. She met a plump, motherly woman called
Abigail, who introduced herself as an executive assistant. “Here is your video
camera, dear,” she said. “It’s been tested and it’s working fine. Now all the
instructions are in the box but just remember that you’re to walk around the
whole house filming at certain times, especially at night.”

“Why? I mean, why does someone want video
of an empty house?”

“I believe the owner wants to sell at last.
The house has been empty for years. There have been some silly stories of a
ghost and the owner thinks it’s someone spreading rumors to scare away buyers
and bring the price way down. This way he thinks he can prove it’s not haunted.”
She pushed her spectacles up her nose. “People do funny things.”

“That’s for sure.”

“Don’t forget we have a short day on
Fridays, so bring it in before noon if possible.”

“No problem.”

“I’ll get someone to give you a hand with
these things.” Abigail patted Jane’s arm. “I don’t believe in ghosts, do you,
dear?”

“Of course not.”

 

The little Honda was packed to the gills
with boxes of food, spare batteries, camping equipment and the camcorder when
she pulled up in front of the Newland Mansion in Cove Bay.

The mansion didn’t look in bad shape from
where she parked. Maybe parts of the roof had fallen in but if so, the damage
wasn’t visible from the driveway. In fact it was almost as if the house wanted
to look its best for her. The afternoon sun sent probing fingers of shadow over
the carved moldings, picking out delicate traceries around the windows, hiding
cracks and flaking paint. The lawns and flowerbeds were overgrown of course,
but at one time they must have been magnificent.

A turret stood at one end. Curved windows
up high promised fine views over the treetops and interesting angles to the
rooms.

Jane climbed the stone steps at the front,
one of her cans of pepper spray firmly in hand, and fit the key the lawyers had
given her into the lock of the front door.

The key turned easily and the door opened
on oiled hinges. No creepy creaking here. Someone must have been here to see to
things like that. Of course Abigail had said they wanted to sell, so they would
have spruced things up. She hoped that meant they had swept out the cobwebs and
scared away any bats at the same time.

 

The light was fading by the time she
finished hauling in all her equipment and supplies. She chose a small room near
the front door to set up her camp. Since she was to be alone it gave her some
reassurance to be near an escape route and the room had a window that locked
firmly and two doors. Not that she would need to make an escape.

She surveyed her setup with satisfaction
from the doorway. It really looked quite cozy. Almost like her own home. The
power had been turned on in the house so she picked up her can of pepper spray
and decided to explore. She had already located a small bathroom—it was likely
called a cloakroom years ago—under the wide stairs. It appeared to be in
working order.

Under the dirt and neglect she could still
see the magnificent bones of the house. The rooms were large and airy with
banks of windows and hardwood floors covered with faded rugs. They were paneled
in wood marked with water stains, hung with brass light fixtures now tarnished,
velvet drapes full of dust. Some of the rooms contained heavy, ornate
furniture. A huge mirror with elaborate carving around the edge was poised
above a wide, empty fireplace. Jane recalled a story she’d read by Margrett
Dawson, one of her favorite erotic romance authors. In the book a woman had
pulled a man from the last century through the mirror and enjoyed wild,
uninhibited sex with him.

Jane put out her hand and touched the
mirror. Her hand hit solid glass and she sighed. Fantasies belonged in books.

Opposite the mirror hung a large oil
painting, darkened and discolored with age. A family group was visible in the
gloom, obviously a middle-aged father with a young wife. The woman had her hand
on the shoulder of a boy of about six. Behind the couple and a little apart
from them as if wishing to distance himself stood a tall young man with
chestnut hair and glowing dark eyes. Jane moved her head and the man’s eyes
seemed to follow her. He wore a suit in the style of the early twentieth
century but the loose cut could not disguise the width of his shoulders or the
careless arrogance of his stance. Pierce Newland without a doubt.

This had to be the Newland family before
Pierce disappeared and before the young boy died of influenza. What a waste.
She stretched out her hand and touched the tip of her finger to the young man’s
cheek. A tiny vibration hummed through her nerves and she snatched her hand
back. Fantasies!

Darkness was closing in fast, so she had
better read the instructions on the video recorder before her first filming at
ten p.m. Back in her cozy little room she closed the drapes, switched on her CD
player, poured herself a glass of wine and settled into a camping chair with
the instruction manual and a bag of cheesy tortilla chips. Her mother hadn’t
set eyes on her food supplies. For two days she could indulge herself with junk
food and chocolate with no one to urge her to eat fruits and vegetables. Her
rebellions were small but nonetheless meaningful.

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