Grave Intentions, Book 1
The dead deserve justice…
When psychic medium Joni Smith encounters a pesky ghost in an antique store, she triggers attention from the wrong people. She should have thought twice before jumping the fence past the no trespassing signs, and she shouldn’t have dug up the ghost’s bones to retrieve a locket either, but Joni wants lost souls to find peace. Sometimes taking risks are worth damning the consequences.
So do the living…
Newbie detective and paranormal skeptic, Zeke Gregson isn’t quite sure what to make of Joni digging up a grave in the backwoods of his neighbor’s property. She won’t hand over whatever she stole from the grave, and she won’t answer his questions. He has no choice but to bring her in for questioning because someone is killing women in Pendleton County. If Joni isn’t the murderer, she might be the key that leads him to who is.
A secret society…
As Zeke and Joni comb through evidence, they soon realize they are in over their heads. Before another woman dies, they must lean on each other’s skills in order to get justice.
A secret desire…
Trust doesn’t come easy for either of them, but as they fight for their lives, racing against the clock to stop the killer, they may discover something neither realized they were searching for…love.
Warning: This book is intended for mature audiences only; sexually explicit sex scenes. Discussion of abuse may be triggering.
DEAD RECKONING – SNEAK PEEK
Gallows Hill, West Virginia
The locket is the key.
Joni Smith squatted next to Elsabeth’s shallow grave, removing damp clods of soil from the body’s partially exposed skull and ribs.
A small leather pouch clung to bone. Joni pried it free, smearing wet clay across the surface with her leather-gloved thumb. Whatever was inside wasn’t heavy. “Is this what you wanted me to find?”
You will help the others, yes?
As a psychic medium, Joni didn’t overpromise anything to the living or the dead. “What others?”
No response. Getting straight answers from the deceased was like understanding baby gibberish.
Joni looked to where Elsabeth’s ghost had stood a moment ago and scanned the fog-encased gully. The sun’s weak attempt at making an appearance didn’t reach the forest floor, where ancient trees held a silent vigil and shrouded her in murky darkness. Dew dripped from fern leaves, shifting them like invisible phantoms scurrying across the ground.
“Thanks for dragging me up here and disappearing.”
She stood, tugging off her gloves and tucking them under her arm. Moisture and decay mottled the leather pouch. She lifted the flap and probed inside. A cold metal chain brushed against her fingertip. She looped her finger around it and tugged the item free of its tomb.
The old locket’s gold surface shimmered, illuminated by her headlamp. It looked similar to the one she’d bought the day before at the antique store where she’d first met Elsabeth. Joni wouldn’t have purchased the necklace if the spirit hadn’t insisted. Reasoning with someone who’d died shortly after the Civil War wasn’t easy. Pointless, really.
Joni inspected the heart-shaped locket, three roses surrounded by scrollwork. She let the chain dangle between her fingers, pressing the lever on the side, slowly cracking it open.
An “E” was etched on the right-inside panel, and a deep, rough-hewn cut marred the left side.
She traced the mark with her finger. An image of a buck knife scoring metal came to mind.
“Is that a lower-case ‘L’?” She brought it closer and saw a line centered beneath the scratch. More like the number one than the letter L.
She pulled out the locket she’d bought yesterday and compared the two. The outside panels looked similar, with three roses and fancy filigree design dancing between and around the edges. The new locket had the numbers five, two, and seven inscribed on the inside right panel.
That couldn’t mean there were at least five hundred and twenty-seven dead women, could it? That couldn’t be what Elsabeth had meant, right?
Joni had no desire to keep digging for more bodies, not when her fingers and toes were freezing. She’d done what Elsabeth asked her to do, though Joni had no idea what good it did. It wasn’t like she was going to call the local authorities and let them know there was a body in the woods. A stranger unearthing bones in a small town like Gallows Hill could raise a shit storm of media attention she didn’t want any part of. Better to rebury Elsabeth’s remains, with no one the wiser.
Joni shifted her attention to the exposed bones. It was hard to imagine the apparition, desperate for her help, had once been happy and in the prime of her life. Her killer was long dead, as well. “Why would someone bury you here?”
If Elsabeth hadn’t shown her where she was buried, no one would have ever found her skeleton. Did her body slide down the hill due to erosion? Joni looked around the ravine. It wasn’t a deep grave. Why hadn’t she been laid to rest in a family plot or churchyard? Had she died from disease? Could you get cholera or typhoid from skeletal remains?
Joni knew it was against the law to dig up the dead. So was ignoring the “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs when she’d jumped the fence. If ghosts like Elsabeth gave her a moment’s peace, she’d have half a chance at becoming a law-abiding citizen.
Sometimes helping the dead required bending the rules. Joni didn’t mind, within reason, as long as the restless soul moved on.
She closed both lockets, returning the one she had bought to her jeans pocket and Elsabeth’s into its weathered leather bag, tucking it in her sweatshirt’s front pouch. Now that she’d fulfilled her obligation, she could head back to her hotel room, take a hot shower, and sleep.
Joni slipped her fingers back into her muddied gloves, welcoming the relief from the chill, and began shoving dirt on top of Elsabeth’s bones. “Rest in peace, Elsabeth.”
“What are you doing?”
Oh, shit. Joni stood, snapping her head toward the baritone voice. Maybe he wouldn’t notice the skeleton. She stepped closer to the stranger, blocking his direct line of sight to the grave, doing her best to remain calm.
She squinted and raised her hand to block the flashlight’s beam. He did the same as her headlamp blinded him.
Joni moved more dirt onto the bones with her foot, hoping it’d be enough to conceal what she’d been doing. She turned off her headlamp. He lowered his flashlight.
He took a step to the left, focusing his light along the forest floor.
She swallowed the lump in her throat and stepped out of the way, waving her hand toward the grave. In her best innocent voice, she said, “Look what I found.”
He leaned forward, narrowing his brown eyes, square jaw fixed. His bright flashlight beam grazed over Elsabeth’s half-exposed skull.
“I-I found it this way.” Joni bit the inside of her cheek. She was a horrible liar. “I was going to cover it up. Show respect.”
He stood at least a half-foot taller than she, with broad shoulders. His lime-green running shoes accented his navy-blue sweats. An orange beanie, like hunters wore, covered his head. Hope he doesn’t have a gun.
“Sure you were.”
Joni gasped and feigned indignation. “This isn’t a typical place for a body to be buried. You don’t think I buried these old bones, do you?”
“I saw you.” The corner of his mouth twitched.
Her breath stalled in her chest. “What?”
His lips flattened into a thin line. “I’ve been standing over there.” He gestured to a tree behind her. “Watching you the last ten minutes. Who were you talking to?”
A sneaky suspicion inched up her spine. “How did you see me in this fog?”
“I know these woods.” He shifted. “You’re not from around here. What’s your name?”
She reached for her back pocket. “I have a business card.”
“Stop.” He held his hand up, tilting his head in warning.
“Seriously, dude, relax.” She blew out an unsteady breath. “Not everyone’s packing a pistol.”
She handed him the card. A bit of soil from her glove smudged the corner. She pulled it back, breathed on it like it was a piece of glass, and wiped it against her jeans, smearing a brown streak across the surface. So much for looking professional. She pressed it into his hand.
“Sojourner ‘Joni’ Smith, Historical Treasure Hunter.” He turned it over where her email address and cell phone number were listed. “What exactly do you do, Ms. Smith?”
Joni frowned. “I work for an interior designer. I specialize in buying antiques.” Preferably ones that aren’t haunted.
“What kind of treasure are you looking for in these woods?”
She smiled, hoping charm might ease the stranger’s suspicious glare. “Hers.” Joni pointed to Elsabeth’s remains. She swallowed. Gut-wrenching silence hung between them. I shouldn’t have said that.
He straightened as he slipped her card into his sweatshirt pocket, then turned off his flashlight. His fingers curled around her upper arm. “What did you steal from the grave?”
“‘Steal is kind of a strong word.” She glanced at his hand around her arm.
He didn’t relinquish his grip. He leaned over, staring her in the eye. He had kind eyes, even though his expression was dead serious. “I witnessed you take something.”
“No, you didn’t.” She lifted her chin. “I took what Elsabeth asked me to retrieve.” She cleared her voice. “I had permission from my client.” She squeezed her hands in tight fists, then flexed them open. If she had to, she could get away from him.
Hold on there a minute, Missy. An old man’s ghost stepped forward, dressed in a blue, green, and white plaid shirt, and a worn pair of jeans. This here’s my grandson, Zeke. He hitched a thumb at her accuser.
Joni grinned, sizing up Zeke, armed with new information. “I bet you’ve run this route your whole life and didn’t know she was here.”
Of course he knows these woods. We’re neighbors. Granddad’s ghostly gray mustache twitched as he spoke.
Zeke nodded. “Makes me wonder how a stranger finds a body—if you didn’t bury it in the first place. For all I know, you came back here to move the evidence or to hide your tracks.” He narrowed his eyes. “Or take a trophy.”
She lifted a brow. “You watch too much TV.” He remained unfazed. “If you were so concerned, why didn’t you stop me?”
“I wanted to see how far you’d go.”
She let out a disgusted groan. “My client not only showed me where she was buried, but asked me to retrieve an important piece of jewelry.”
His brows slammed together. “Your client is…” His eyebrows disappeared under his cap. “Dead?”
Dang it. She winced. How could she prove Elsabeth was the one who showed her to the grave? Was it too much to ask for her to make an appearance, enough so Zeke could see? Who was she kidding? He couldn’t see his own grandpa. He’d never believe her.
He opened his hand, palm up. “Retrieve what?”
She shook her head. “I’m not giving it to you.” Who did this joker think he was? He couldn’t haul her into some local backwoods jail for questioning. Could he? She’d try outrunning him first. In the thick fog? Yeah, her odds weren’t too bad.
Now, Missy, you don’t want to test him. He’s a bit surly when crossed, she heard.
Zeke rolled his eyes. “Listen, Sojourner.” He lowered his hand.
He paused, biting his bottom lip. “You’re coming with me.” He nodded once, as if no one ever contradicted him. Hell, he looked sturdy enough to fling her over his shoulder and carry her out of the woods. “Do you have any weapons or drugs on you?”
“Right, then what’s that bulge at the top of your boot?” Again, he put out his hand. “Hand over the weapon.”
“Oh, yeah. Forgot.” She bent to retrieve the knife her best friend LeBron had given her after they’d closed their first case, and placed it in his hand.
“‘Be bold. Be fierce. Be YOU’?” He eyed the switchblade’s inscription. “Your boyfriend give this to you?”
She shook her head. “Does it matter who gave it to me?”
“An old boyfriend?”
Why was that important? “No, we’re still friends.”
“Hm.” He slipped her knife into his pocket. “Let’s go.” He motioned toward the hill.
“First, let’s cover her bones.”
His laughter echoed in the mist. “Cover the evidence? I don’t think so.”
“Evidence?” She pulled back. Good Lord. No way. What were the odds? “Are you a cop?”
“Unfortunately for you.” The left side of his mouth quirked, like his granddad. “Yes. I’m a detective for Pendleton County.”
A series of swear words streamed through her thoughts. She wanted to kick the dirt, but didn’t. She glanced at Elsabeth’s bones. What could she be charged with? Grave digging? Was that a crime? Grave-robbing, for sure. Trespassing, a no-brainer.
She cringed. Her name couldn’t be entered into any law enforcement database. A background check would notify her NSA watchdog, Christian pain-in-my-ass Bain. She didn’t want him locking her in a six-by-eight cell again.
Nope. She had to do whatever it took to stay on the down-low. She kept her composure, taking a deep breath. “Listen, Zeke.”
His hand gripped her upper arm as his jaw jutted forward. “I never told you my name.”
Joni Smith had the most beautiful eyes Zeke Gregson had ever seen. One look from her pretty much knocked his universe off kilter. He couldn’t help but stare. She had a mixture of green and blue bull’s-eye rings for eyes. They were mesmerizing.
“Who told you my name? If we’d met, I’d have remembered you.” Zeke was his nickname. The locals knew his real name was Uzekiel, named after three generations of men before him.
“I could tell you, but I think this is where I need to keep my mouth shut, in case I incriminate myself.”
He glanced at the bones. About a year ago, on Christmas Eve, he’d found a woman half-buried in the snow, beaten and left for dead. That was when he’d put his military police skills to use and hired on as a rookie detective for Pendleton County. Almost a year later, he still didn’t know jack about how to be a detective other than reading penal codes, collecting and tagging evidence, but never learned how to solve a case.
“Come on.” He tugged her arm. “My Jeep’s over the hill.”
She resisted. “Are you arresting me?”
Zeke let go. “Go ahead.” He waved a hand toward the path. “Run.”
She glanced around, as if weighing her options, and shivered.
“Are you cold?”
“The fastest way to get warm is in my Jeep, which is parked on the other side of this hill at the Harpers’ house.”
That convinced her to start walking in the right direction. She kept at a steady clip. He was prepared to carry her if need be. She’d never outrun him on an incline.
When she crested the hill, she paused.
He took one step on the decline before he realized she wasn’t following, and turned.
The corner of her mouth twitched. A gleam entered her eye. He cocked his head.
She provided an innocent smile.
Oh, yeah, she was going to try something. He braced his foot against the hill, shifting his weight forward.
A twig snapped, drawing his attention to his right.
As he turned his gaze back, her hands hit him square in the chest. She managed to knock him back a step.
We’re going to do this? Zeke glared, stepping closer. He grabbed her arms, yanking her weight toward him.
He’d underestimated the hill’s slope as her body slammed into his. Her eyes widened. He held her tight as they fell, landing hard on his back.
He groaned, his breath whooshing from his lungs. He started to slide down the slick, frost-covered grass like a human toboggan. She tucked her head under his chin and gripped his sweatshirt in her hands.
Toward the bottom of the hill, they began rolling. One final roll, he pinned her against the cold, damp ground, bracing himself on his forearms. Her warm legs nestled beside his. “You okay?”
Somewhere in the cyclone of rolling bodies, she lost her headlamp.
She cracked her eyes open and eased her grasp on his sweatshirt. “Hm.” A corner of her mouth smirked. “I kind of imagined this ending…where you went down the hill, and I ran the other way.”
His whole body shook as he laughed. “No doubt.” They stared at each other, smiling. “Why’d you dig up a grave?” He’d like to know the truth behind the bones, but she was going to be a stubborn cuss. It was written all over her face.
“Sometimes you have to do something that you know is wrong, but for the right reasons.”
He couldn’t argue with her there. He lifted a brow. “You going to behave now?”
Her shoulders sagged. “Yes.”
He stood and pulled her with him in one swift motion. “Let me take a look at you.” He held her wrist as he turned her around and brushed the bits of grass and frost from her shoulders and back. Cute ass. He didn’t dare brush there.
“You don’t have to hold onto me.”
Zeke stared, dubious, given her shenanigans.
A diesel truck’s engine echoed, obscured by fog. He’d know the sound of the Gallows Hill sheriff’s truck anywhere. Trey Martin was a bastard with a badge—and nobody messed with anyone in his town. Especially not an antique buyer who dug up bones for no good reason.
Zeke pulled her toward his Jeep. He opened the rear passenger door. “Quick, get in the backseat and hide.”
“Hide?” Her mouth dropped open. “I’m not five years old.”
“The Gallows Hill sheriff is a mean son of a bitch.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder. “If he finds you here, he’ll be the one interrogating you.” He thumped his finger against his chest. “Trust me. You’d rather be questioned by me.”
She crossed her arms and glared. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
He shut the Jeep’s door, muttering under his breath, “Hope you have a lawyer.”
Trey Martin’s Ford 350 pulled into the driveway behind Zeke’s Jeep. He killed the engine and cut the lights. He stepped from the vehicle, slipping his beige sheriff’s hat on his head.
“Good morning, Martin.”
“Gregson. What brings you to my cousin’s house?” Martin’s right eye squinted.
“I promised Jess and Mary I’d come by and make sure everything was okay while they’re gone.”
Martin gave one slow nod before his gaze drifted to Joni.
“This is Joni Smith.” Zeke contemplated whether he should tell Martin the truth or lie and say she was a friend. There wasn’t any hiding those bones she’d uncovered. That’d be on the news by noon. “She said she stumbled across an open grave on the old trailhead.”
“Grave?” Martin’s jaw flexed, glancing toward the hill they’d rolled down.
“I was about to bring her down to your station, since it’s closer than the county office.”
“Without cuffs?” Martin retrieved his pair. A little overkill, in Zeke’s opinion. “Turn around. Place your hands behind your back.”
Joni hesitated and then complied. “Am I under arrest?”
“Do you have any drugs or weapons on you?”
“I confiscated her knife.”
“Any other sharp objects in your pockets?” Martin began patting Joni down. His hand paused over her front jeans pocket.
Joni closed her eyes, biting her lip. “I bought that yesterday at Berwick’s Antiques.”
Martin pulled on the item. A heart-shaped pendant hung on a long gold chain. His eyes widened. He clutched it in his hand before Zeke could get a look at it. The jewelry had some significance, he guessed. Martin apparently recognized it—and the murderous glare in his eye wasn’t good.
REVIEWS FOR DEAD RECKONING
Reviewed in the United States on November 22, 2020
This was an outstanding debut novel! I don’t normally read ghost stories but I do love me a good paranormal romance. The story was very original, well-crafted and held my attention throughout. In fact, I sped through several parts more quickly because I was so eager to read how they ended! The characters were very well-defined, charming and relatable. Well, most were anyway-lol! The hero really caught my heart and I was so happy when he won the heart of the heroine.. They were pretty sweet together. The side characters were interesting, especially Mambo Janetta. I also appreciated the humor interspersed within the story because it dealt with some pretty dark and sadly, contemporary themes. I’ll be reading other books from this author for sure!
Reviewed in the United States on November 29, 2020
This is a fabulous debut novel. If you like edge of your seat stories, with paranormal activity, romance and some humour thrown in, you will love this book. It deals with some dark subject matter but it’s done very well. The characters are strong and you will love them…. and the ending… wow… let’s just say there are some twists and turns and you will be surprised. Can’t wait for more from this series!
Reviewed in the United States on January 25, 2021
I’m a sucker for quirky characters. Zeke and Joni are that and more. Take some mystery, a bit of spooky, and then some romance…throw it all into Aedyn Brooks clever brain. Sit back and wait for a fun story! When I read just the first few pages, I was hooked by a heroine who blamed her law-breaking ways on the dead.
This is a must-read!
Reviewed in the United States on December 20, 2020
A captivating story! I loved Joni and Zeke, their interaction and discovery of one another. The plot dealt with a tough subject that was very well written. Excellent!
Reviewed in the United States on January 9, 2021
Excellent debut novel. While this is first and foremost a romance, it’s also paranormal mystery with a fast-paced story line. The paranormal elements were top-notch with some unique aspects that I really enjoyed—the ghosts and demons were amazing! The characters all have interesting quirks that provide humor. The romance was lovely . . . Zeke is a great hero and Joni is the friend you always wanted. I also really liked some of the unusual descriptions this author uses. I can’t wait to see what other goodness this author publishes!
Reviewed in the United States on December 9, 2020
This book was so well thought out! I felt like every word was important. I’ve read some authors lately that put alot of fluff in the book, so it has so many words and pages. This book was hard to put down. I got very involved while reading and due to subject matter, had me looking over my shoulder a couple of times!
I hoping for a Book 2!!
Reviewed in the United States on July 22, 2021
GOOD READS ~
I am not going to tell you the story of ‘Dead Reckoning’ – I am not a spoilsport, and it would be extremely ill-mannered of me to deprive you of the experience of this story.
So I am going to tell you this story kept me on the edge of my seat, then my pillows. From page 1, the tension built throughout, and even though I KNEW the main characters had to survive, I still worried myself silly into the wee small hours when I really should have been sleeping.
The characters were very well drawn, the good guys (and gals) relatable and worth worrying about, and the bad guys just plain creepy and horrifyingly real.
Did I enjoy this story? I’m not a masochist, and I generally prefer happier reads that don’t destroy my previously impeccable nails. So I guess I am perverse because I devoured this story, and not just because I really needed to discover that the good always win either.
It was difficult to believe this was written by a new author, but clearly the author has taken the time to learn and develop their craft – it certainly shows in the finished product.
I’m now impatient for Book 2 in this series, but having read this story and discovered the author’s talent for the unexpected, I am not going to presume or even hazard a guess at the next story’s plot.
I can highly recommend this book.
I was watching a YouTube video with the author & she was describing the personal experiences she had and how they made their way into her book. I’m not going to lie, that really piqued my interest and I was compelled to buy. Aedyn Brooks’ hybridization of paranormal AND romantic elements made for a fantastic read. My only regret is that I didn’t read it sooner.
*Non Spoiler Review*
Wow, what a punchy Paranormal Romance!
I loved the MC Joni, she was not afraid to wear her vulnerability on her sleeve. To me it still make her powerful and engaging. Zeke was your classic good guy, who luckily still has some elements to him that make him a believable character. There is always a danger in some PNRs where the MC’s turnout to be this too good to be true character. Whereas Brooks manages to make them both quite relatable – #winning
The setting is Pendleton County as small place that is quite backwards in its way of thinking, I thought Brooks did a fantastic job weaving supernatural, suspense and romance into the storyline. The overarching story was good and I found myself wanting to know more about the supporting characters, which is always good because it gives a writer the chance to do separate books on them.
Overall, very happy with the story. I would have liked to have know a little more on Joni’s background, but I guess that is being saved for the next book.