In honor of Halloween, I’m sharing one of my favorite episodes from my contemporary romance novel, The Reunion. In this excerpt, Gillian, one of the lead characters, is working at a haunted hayride. While she’s there, she’ll confide in a stranger. Or so he seems.
Have a safe, and happy, Halloween.
a Halloween excerpt from The Reunion
Gillian was warming herself at the heater when she heard footsteps coming up behind her. Someone in a Grim Reaper costume had joined her, and whoever it was seemed to be staring at her. Finally, he spoke up. Gillian noticed he had a raspy voice.
“I’m sorry. I was told I’d be working with a blonde lady.”
“Well, I was a blonde until a few weeks ago. Now I’m a redhead.” She extended her hand. “The name’s Gillian, by the way.”
“John. Pleased to meet you.”
As they shook hands John told her he was one of the locals. He also seemed to be curious about her. The sound of clopping hooves, nervous laughter and chatter told them the first wagon was approaching. Gillian pulled up her hood. At John’s cue she ran up to the wagon while he chased after her. Their brief performance brought startled screams from the passengers. The wagon rolled on and they returned to the heater.
“So why would a blonde lady want to become a redhead?” he asked.
“It’s a long story. Let’s just say I’m celebrating a new lease on life. The old me was the blonde, the new me is a redhead.”
As they talked, she caught a whiff of something familiar. The cologne Ian always wore. The scent was a distraction, and she had to reminded herself that it was a popular brand and other men wore it too. John soon became quiet. A short time later another hay wagon came by and they repeated their scary performance in the dark maze. After the wagon left, Jeremy stopped by to check on her.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“So far, so good. Wait a minute, Jer. It looks like you’ve got a little smudge. Let me fix it for you.”
He leaned down as she removed one of her gloves and gave him a quick touch up. “There, that’s better.”
“Thanks.” Jeremy wrapped the reins around the saddle horn and reached down with both hands to pull her hood up. “You need to keep this on so you can stay warm. I don’t want you catching cold.”
“Got it. Thanks, Jer.”
“You’re welcome. I’ll come back a little later to check on you again.”
Jeremy rode away, and Gillian when turned back she noticed John was watching her intently. It was starting to make her feel uncomfortable.
“I take it he’s your significant other,” he finally said.
“Actually, he’s my best friend. Probably the best friend I’ve ever had.”
Despite her growing discomfort with his questions, something deep inside told her John was trustworthy. She followed her instincts.
“It’s a long, complicated story. I’ll just sum it up by saying I wouldn’t be here talking to you right now if it wasn’t for him. That man literally saved my life not too long ago. I don’t remember it, but I’m told I fell into some water and nearly drowned. He’s the one who rescued me.”
“You know, it’s kind of ironic. Here I am talking to you, dressed up as The Grim Reaper, when I’ve met the real thing.”
“Was it scary?”
“To tell you the truth, it really wasn’t, and it’s the only part of the entire incident that I can remember clearly. I was heading toward a light and I wasn’t planning on coming back.”
Gillian sighed. “I’d just lost the love of my life. I had no reason to remain here and I wanted to cross over. Then I thought I heard my friend, Jeremy, calling me. The next thing I knew I was back at my backyard pool, only I wasn’t in the water. Somehow, I was suspended over it. Jeremy was in the pool and he was holding a body in his arms, which I knew had to be mine. Then I saw his face. He had a look of shock and sorrow, and he was shouting at me to stay with him. I knew, right then and there, that if I didn’t come back it would destroy his life, so I had no choice. I had to come back, even though I didn’t want to. I watched him lay my body out on the deck, and then I felt something like a tug. The next thing I knew, he was rushing me to the hospital. That’s why I’m still here.”
She started smelling the cologne again and she looked at him more closely. The costume he wore didn’t reveal much about him. He was wearing a full mask, with a robe and hood, and he appeared to be bundled up underneath it. A strange thought crossed her mind, but it couldn’t be. Larry said his father was spending the day in Fort Collins with friends. John remained silent for several minutes. Finally, he found his voice.
“Well…Gillian, wasn’t it?”
“Well, Gillian, your life is a precious gift. It’s something you must never, ever take for granted. You may think you came back for your friend, but it’s not the reason you’re still here. You’re here because your life is far from over, and you’re meant to be here. I’m sure your family and friends, and your true love, are elated that you’re still with them. And who knows, maybe your true love will return to you someday.”
“Thank you, John. I appreciate your insight, but as far as my true love goes, I’m sorry to say some things just aren’t meant to be. Nice thought, though.”
“Never say never.”
The hay wagons returned several more times, but for the remainder of the evening, John said very little. Gillian was relieved when she finally heard Jeremy’s approaching horse.
“That was the last one,” he said. “Are you ready to go, my dear?” Jeremy extended his hand and helped Gillian get back up behind him. She wrapped her arms tightly around his waist.
“Good night, John. It was nice meeting you.”
John waved goodbye as the horse cantered away.
* * *
John listened closely as the hoof beats slowly faded away. Once they were gone, he pulled down his hood and removed his mask. His phone soon rang in his pocket.
“Is she still there?” asked the woman on the other end of the call.
“Jeremy picked her up a few minutes ago. Thanks, Laura. I owe you one.”
To read more excerpts from The Reunion please click here.