Excerpt of Saving Laurel:

She was just about to put her key in the lock when the front door swung open. Laurel let out a little scream of fright before spotting Maria and the maintenance man, Jack, in the entryway.

“We came over to make sure everything was okay. The house was lit up like a Christmas tree,” Maria explained.

Laurel stepped inside, closing the door behind her. “I’m sorry. I should have let you both know that I was coming, but it was a spur-of-the-moment thing.”

“We thought someone had broken in.” Jack pulled out the baseball bat he’d been holding behind his back.

“We thought it might be you when we saw the luggage, but one can never be too careful these days. Burglars can be very inventive,” Maria added.

Laurel gave her housekeeper a kiss on the cheek. She’d been like a second mother to her while growing up. “I’m glad you came over to check on things. I would have been upset if you hadn’t. It was my fault for not calling you.”

“I could have gotten the house ready for you.” The lines on the older woman’s face deepened when she frowned. “Is there anything I can do for you now? I can put fresh sheets on your bed. Oh, and there’s no food in the house. I made a stew for dinner. I can bring some over.” She wrung her hands in distress.

“Don’t worry. I’m fine. I don’t need a thing tonight. I just had dinner at Bell’s and now all I want is to go to sleep. It’s been an exhausting day.”

Maria seemed to relax some knowing that Laurel wasn’t starving. “I’ll go to the grocery store first thing in the morning.”

Laurel smiled. “That would be wonderful. I’ll put together a list, and you can stop by tomorrow to get it.”

“Will you be here long?” A hopeful gleam twinkled in her faded hazel eyes.

“A few weeks. I’m having work done on my apartment.”

Maria’s disappointment showed on her face. “I was hoping for longer, but at least you’ll be here for the holidays.”

“Yeah, it’s been a long time since I spent Christmas in this house.” She glanced at the elaborate spiral staircase and then quickly looked away. “I need a quiet place to study the lines for my new role.”

“Well, we’ll be no bother to you at all.” Maria glanced over at Jack, who was leaning against the wall with the bat propped up by his leg, and he nodded his agreement.

Laurel kissed them both on the cheek before saying good night. After they left, she slipped off her down jacket and hung it in the hall closet, then headed up the stairs with her luggage in hand. Halfway up, though, she froze. An image of Ashley standing at the top, smiling down at her, flooded her mind. It seemed so real, it was hard to believe he wasn’t actually there. She blinked quickly to make it go away and took another couple of steps. This time what she saw made her heart beat so quickly, she became light-headed. She set her bags down on the step in front of her and grabbed on to the bannister so she didn’t tumble down the stairs like the vision of Ash just had.

Maybe it hadn’t been a good idea to come here. What if facing her guilt didn’t make it go away, but made it worse? She shook her head as if shaking off the demons that haunted her and decided to put off going upstairs for a while.

She set her bags back in the hall, then took her script out of her handbag and headed into the library. There was something about the wainscot paneling, the plush leather furniture, and the wall of stacked windows with the little alcove that made it the perfect place to curl up and read.

She took a chenille throw off the back of the sofa and draped it over her shoulders then settled in and began to read over her lines. At some point, she must have dozed off, because she woke with a stiff neck. When she checked the time, she was surprised to learn it was 3:00 a.m. No wonder her neck hurt. She had to have been asleep for hours. Still groggy, she staggered into the entryway and was about to head up the stairs, when the sound of violins playing stopped her. She heard the dull hum of people talking and laughing, as if at a party—a party like the one her parents used to throw each year the week before Christmas. It was twelve years ago at one of those parties that Ashley had fallen down the stairs.

The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and beads of perspiration broke out along her brow. Could she be sleepwalking and this was simply a dream? Or was she hallucinating, as Lucas had sarcastically suggested when she’d thought she’d hit a man?

Slowly, she started up the stairs. When she reached the top, she thought she caught sight of something black and shadowy out of the corner of her eye, but she blinked, and it was gone. Her heart raced, and her fingertips tingled.

“I’ve been waiting a long time for you, Laurel.”

There was no mistaking his voice. “Ashley?” Although her lips moved, she couldn’t be sure whether she’d spoken his name aloud or just did so in her head.

When she didn’t receive an answer, she spun around, her gaze scanning the darkened upstairs hall.

“Ashley!” This time she shouted his name. The music grew louder, as did the voices of the partygoers, and she felt like she was being dragged back in time or into another dimension. She cupped her hands over her ears trying to block it out. She didn’t want to go there. She didn’t want to remember. But the music and voices grew even louder. She squeezed her eyes shut.

“Stop it! Stop it!” she screamed as tears ran down her cheeks.

The area where she stood grew cold as if she’d stepped into a walk-in freezer, and her entire body began to shake. What was happening? She tried to move, but she couldn’t. Sheer terror rooted her feet to the floor.

“Don’t be afraid.” Ashley’s voice wasn’t as deep as it would’ve been if he’d matured into a man, but it was exactly as she remembered it.

She opened her eyes and a bright white orb hovered in front of her, then it dissolved into hundreds of tiny particles of brilliant sparkling light. They began to take shape, and when fully formed, although with a milky transparency, Ashley stood before her, as handsome as he’d been the last time she saw him.

“Is that really you?” she whispered. But when she reached out to him, she felt nothing.

“I’m so glad you’ve come back.” He lifted his arm as if to meet her outstretched fingertips, but his vision was fading, and she could barely see him anymore.

Her emotions whirled and skidded. “No, don’t go,” she cried, but it was too late. The orb shot past her and disappeared, taking the music and voices with it so that she was left with nothing but the silent dark hall.

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