A Little Mystery, a Little History, a Little Romance
After writing two historical romance novels, I wanted to tackle my other favorite genre, mystery. I couldn’t help it—the characters in my mystery fell in love. My friend and editor, H.J. remarked after rereading Middlemarch, “Every book is a romance.” Pretty much. We all seek to love and be loved, so one of the most compelling elements in a story is relationships. Romance seems especially fascinating.
Needless to say, there is romance in The Cavanaugh House. Jesse Graham is reeling after her fiancé, Robert’s, betrayal; her trust factor is at an all-time low, her defenses at an all-time high. Enter Joe Riley with his easy smile and laid-back charm, and Jesse feels her resolve eroding with each encounter.
I set The Cavanaugh House in 1968—a quirky time period that can’t be nailed down as historical and certainly isn’t contemporary—for a couple of reasons. First, the lack of instant communication devices such as cell phones. When Jesse is faced with danger, she can’t dial 911 or text someone. She has to deal with the threat on her own using her brains and calling on her courage. Some readers will have trouble relating to “one telephone in the downstairs hall” or no phone available in the car. But I liked the challenge that inconvenience presented to Jesse.
The second reason is because romantic relationships didn’t advance to intimacy quite as quickly back in the day. Jesse and Joe’s romance would be considered “sweet” or “behind closed doors” in today’s market. Don’t get me wrong—things heat up—but they don’t jump into bed at the drop of a hat…or pants… Plus, Jesse is in the midst of the Women’s Liberation Movement at its peak. Betrayed by a fiancé? You bet she supports Women’s Lib. She is strong, independent, and plucky which means she is not ready to surrender her autonomy to another man who might be unfaithful.
The premise of a woman who needs to fight off danger, deal with a deserted, dilapidated and haunted house, plus decide if she’s willing to trust again is a recipe for mystery with a little history and a little romance.
Excerpt from The Cavanaugh House:
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 amusement.
“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.”
Oh, 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.
She shook his hand and smiled.
“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 differently.”
“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 started.”
“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 words.
“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 with.”
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.
Meyette’s Musings: http://elizabethmeyette.blogspot.com
The Cavanaugh House is available at:
Barnes & Noble (paperback only at this time)