Oleander House (Bay City Paranormal Investigations series book 1)
Oleander House is available for download on all the major channels.
I wanted this book to be free everywhere, but Amazon won’t let me do that. So if you want a free Kindle-compatible copy, you can get one from Smashwords. Then if you don’t mind taking an extra minute, head over to Amazon and report a lower price on the book. A few reports ought to get them to make it free.
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When Sam Raintree goes to work for Bay City Paranormal Investigations, he expects his quiet life to change. But he doesn’t expect to put his life and sanity on the line, or to fall for a man he can never have.
Sam Raintree has never been normal. All his life, he’s experienced things he can’t explain. Things that have colored his view of the world, and of himself. So taking a job as a paranormal investigator seems like a perfect fit. His new co-workers, he figures, don’t have to know he’s gay.
From the moment Sam arrives at Oleander House, the site of his first assignment with Bay City Paranormal Investigations, nothing is what he expected. The repetitive yet exciting work, the unusual and violent history of the house, the intensely erotic and terrifying dreams that plague his sleep. But the most unexpected part is Dr. Bo Broussard, the group’s leader. From the moment they meet, Sam is strongly attracted to his intelligent, alluring boss. It doesn’t take Sam long to figure out that although Bo is married to a woman, he is very much in the closet, and wants Sam as badly as Sam wants him.
As the investigation of Oleander House progresses and paranormal events in the house escalate, Sam and Bo circle warily around their mutual attraction, until a single night of bloodshed and revelation changes their lives forever.
Warning for graphic violence and disturbing dream images.
© Copyright 1st edition 2006 Ally Blue
© Copyright 2nd edition 2017 Ally Blue
Twenty minutes later, Sam headed down the stairs to the library. He followed the sound of voices through an archway and into a large room lined floor to ceiling with deep shelves overflowing with books. Rugs patterned in red and gold lay scattered on the dark wood floor. A round table that looked like mahogany sat in the middle of the room. It was covered with equipment, some familiar and some not. The room felt vaguely oppressive.
David caught his eye and waved him over. “Hey! I was just wondering if I ought to come get you.”
“Sorry to keep you waiting.” Sam took a seat next to David on a small sofa upholstered in deep red leather.
“No problem.” Bo smiled. “Before we do anything else, I’m going to tell y’all about the history of this house.”
“I’m sure we all know it already,” Cecile said in a bored tone. “Carl told me all about it.”
Amy’s eyes narrowed. Andre laid a hand on her arm, as if to stop an impending outburst. David rolled his eyes, but didn’t say anything.
“You mean Carl Gentry, the owner of the house?” Sam asked, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice.
“I’m sure he gave you the basics,” Bo jumped in before Cecile could reply. “But I doubt you’ve heard the full history. I don’t believe even Mr. Gentry knows the whole story. And I know that the rest of the group still needs to hear it.”
Cecile pursed her lips, but didn’t say anything else.
“This house was built in 1840,” Bo began without further comment, “by a man named Claude Devereux. He and his wife, Esmeralda, named it Maison de Oléandre, Oleander House, after the oleander bushes lining the driveway. They raised their children here, and lived out their lives here. They lost a daughter in the yellow fever epidemic of 1853 and two sons in the Civil War, but never experienced anything out of the ordinary in their home, at least not that anyone knows of. Claude and Esmeralda are both buried in the family plot out back. Their oldest son, Gaston, inherited the house when they died, and he moved his family from New Orleans back to Oleander House.
“In 1890, the local preacher came to visit one afternoon and found the entire family slaughtered, all except the oldest daughter, Cerise. The sheriff found her upstairs in her room when he came to investigate the killings. She was covered in blood, none of which appeared to be hers. She was completely unharmed, physically anyway. She died thirteen years later in an insane asylum at the age of twenty-eight. She never spoke another word from the time of the killings until the day she died.”
“Did they think Cerise did it?” Sam wondered. “It seems unlikely that one teenage girl could slaughter an entire family in the pre-automatic weapons age.”
“They were pretty sure she didn’t,” Amy said. “There were no weapons anywhere on the property that could’ve done the things that were done to the bodies that they found. They were literally torn apart, and it didn’t look like it was done by any sort of blade. There was no way Cerise could’ve done it, but she never told them who did.”
“Wow.” David grinned nervously. “Creepy.”
“The house stood empty for a while,” Bo continued. “The bank held the title, since Cerise was female and mentally incompetent to boot. In 1902, another family, the Wards, bought it and renovated it. They lived there without incident for over forty years. The kids grew up and moved away. A place this size was a little too much for an aging couple to keep up with on their own, and the husband and wife moved out in 1945. They sold it to a middle-aged couple, George and Sarah James.
“Five years later, in 1950, Sarah’s sister came for a pre-arranged visit and found Sarah dead, hacked into pieces. George was curled up in the corner, covered in blood. Like Cerise, he himself wasn’t harmed. He wouldn’t respond to anyone. He died two days later in the hospital. His heart just stopped, no one was sure why.”
“I’m sensing a theme here,” Andre said.
Bo nodded. “You’re sensing right. The house’s title reverted to the bank after George and Sarah died. In 1965, Lily Harris and Josephine Royce bought the house together and completely renovated the whole thing.”
Cecile raised her eyebrows. “Lesbians? In Mississippi?”
Amy glared at her. “Cecile, even in Mississippi in the sixties, people looked the other way if you didn’t rub it in their faces. Besides, nobody ever knew that for sure. They claimed to be cousins.”
Sam smirked behind his hand as Cecile’s face flushed and she looked away.
Bo took a deep breath. “Whatever their relationship was, they renovated the place and opened it up as a bed and breakfast. Right from the start, there was trouble. Guests sometimes complained of strange noises and cold spots, and some people saw things that scared them. It wasn’t constant by any means, but it was enough to make people nervous, and the word got around that Oleander House was haunted.
“According to the man who delivered groceries to the house, Lily wanted to sell and move out, but Josephine insisted on staying. Business kept getting worse, and by 1972 they were nearly bankrupt. They moved out and the title went back to the bank. Lily was relieved, but Josephine never got over it. She always talked about going back.
“In 1979, some school kids broke into the house on a dare. It had a reputation for being haunted, so of course kids were always hanging out here whenever no one was living here. Anyhow, these kids broke in and found Lily dead. Josephine was never found. The landlord where she and Lily had been living said they’d headed off for a weekend trip to the country, but he didn’t know exactly where they were going. The cops suspected Josephine of killing Lily, but of course they never could prove it. She’d been ripped to pieces, just like the others. A hard thing for one middle-aged woman to do.”
“Quite a story,” Sam said after a silent moment. “So who lives here now? It looks like it’s in great shape.”
“Carl Gentry’s the current owner, as you know. He bought the house from the bank the year after Lily was killed.” Amy twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “He spent a shitload of money fixing the place up, and he lived here for about sixteen years without ever experiencing anything unusual. He moved to a penthouse condo in Mobile and opened Oleander House to the public for tours in 1996. It got to be pretty popular because of its reputation.”
“I heard about it in college, when Mr. Gentry was still living here,” Bo added. “I’ve been dying to investigate it ever since. I started trying to get permission as soon as I had the resources for a real investigation. Mr. Gentry ignored all my calls and letters for years. I’d about given up completely when he called me out of the blue a couple of weeks ago and asked me if I’d investigate it.” Bo shook his head. “A little girl who was touring the house with her parents was bitten by something and died. Mr. Gentry paid all her medical bills and the burial expenses. There was a police investigation, of course, but no negligence on Mr. Gentry’s part could be found. The story slipped right by the news, but the whole thing shook him up pretty badly. He closed the house again and called me. And here we are.”
The group sat in shocked silence. “So what bit the kid?” Andre asked after a moment.
“No one’s sure,” Bo said. “The bite looked sort of like a cat bite, according to the tour guide I interviewed, but something about it was not quite right. He said it looked ‘skewed’. His word, not mine. I asked him what he meant, but he couldn’t explain. The wound got badly infected within just a few hours, in spite of multiple antibiotics, and the little girl died the next day. Her bloodstream was full of an unknown chemical, and the cultures grew out an organism that no one could identify.”
David let out a low whistle. “Damn.”
Bo leaned against the big round table and gave the group a solemn look. “I don’t think I need to tell you that this could get dangerous. I won’t make anyone stay against their will, but I also won’t have anyone giving less than one hundred percent. If anyone feels like you’re not ready for that, tell me now.”
No one spoke. Bo nodded, clearly pleased. “I came over here last week, did some preliminary readings, and talked to a few local people. I didn’t experience anything out of the ordinary myself, but we all know that’s meaningless. We should all keep our wits about us. No one investigates alone, ever, for any reason. If you see anything, hear anything, feel anything that says ‘danger’ to you, gather what information you safely can, vacate that area and report to Amy or me immediately. Understood?”
Nods and assenting noises all around. Bo smiled. “Great. I did want to mention one thing. The electromagnetic readings in this house are high at baseline, generally between two and three. I tried several different machines, to make sure it wasn’t just the equipment, and it did the same thing with every one. Keep that in mind when you’re investigating.”
“Excuse me.” Cecile crossed her arms, her voice icy. “But why are you downplaying that finding? It proves that this house is inhabited by spirits.”
“Not quite,” Bo said, ignoring Amy’s impatient grumbling. “The links between a strong electromagnetic field and paranormal activity are tenuous at best. Admittedly, I’ve never seen a place whose field is quite as high as this one at baseline, but the EMF readings don’t mean much by themselves.”
Cecile frowned and fell silent. Amy drew a deep breath. “Okay, folks, let’s get started.”
* * * * *
Amy pulled Sam aside and quickly showed him how to operate the few pieces of equipment he wasn’t already familiar with. Afterward, the group split into two teams to begin their preliminary investigation. Bo took David and Cecile with him to cover the first floor, while the rest of the group headed upstairs.
Sam wished he could’ve been in Bo’s group, but the excitement of beginning the investigation far outweighed that slight disappointment. His heart thudded as he switched on the video camera he’d been assigned and followed Amy and Andre up the wide staircase.
“We’ll start with Bo’s room,” Amy said, pointing toward the room on the left as they reached the top of the stairs. “We’ll work our way clockwise. Equipment check first. Honey, you ready with the EMF detector?”
Andre held up the electromagnetic field detector. “Yep. Got the thermometer too.”
“Great. Sam, you ready on video?”
“Rolling,” Sam answered, pointing the video camera at her. “Got the Polaroid too.”
“Okay, good. I’ll take notes. And I’ve got the thirty-five mm camera all loaded up and ready.” Amy fixed Sam with a bright blue gaze. “Sam, if we need to get simultaneous shots, I’ll let you know.”
“All right, you boys got your two-way radios and flashlights?” Amy grinned as Sam and Andre dutifully nodded. “Okay, equipment check’s done. Let’s go find us a ghost.”
Sam found the next couple of hours almost unbearably exciting. The fact that nothing out of the ordinary happened didn’t matter. He was taking part in his first professional investigation of a possible haunting, and nothing could diminish the thrill that gave him. Even the sight of the bed where Bo would soon be sleeping didn’t distract him for long. For a few seconds, he let himself imagine Bo lying there naked, black hair strewn across the pillow, before turning his mind back to his work.
After taking video, some stills. and EMF and temperature readings in Bo’s room, they went through the same process with each of the other upstairs rooms in turn. Cecile’s room, then Amy and Andre’s room, David’s room, the small parlor opposite the stairwell, the empty bedroom, and Sam’s room last. Other than the unusually high EMF readings, which they already knew about, nothing showed up.
They’d just finished the small bathroom tucked into the corner of what used to be a nursery, across the hall from Sam’s room, and were about to start taking readings in the nursery itself, when the radios crackled to life. The burst of static made Sam jump.
Bo’s voice came over the radio. “Amy, come in.”
Amy pulled her radio off the waistband of her shorts and held it to her mouth. “This is Amy.”
“We’re done and heading to the library. How’re y’all doing?”
“We’re starting the last room now. We should be down soon enough, if this one goes like the rest of this floor did.”
“You could say that. Not a damn thing happening, other than Sam taking video of my ass.” She winked at Sam. He blushed. Andre burst out laughing.
Bo’s throaty chuckle killed the protest Sam was about to make. “You tell him he better behave, or else.”
Sam’s mouth went dry at the implications in that silky, sexy voice. He knew he was probably imagining it, but he couldn’t help himself. The very idea of Bo punishing him went straight to his crotch. His pulse sped up, pounding in his ears so that he didn’t even hear what Amy said, or if Bo said anything else.
“Oh. Oh, man, is it me or did it just get cold in here?” Andre rubbed his arms, dark gaze darting around the room.
Amy snatched her notebook and pen out of her pocket. “Temp?”
Andre swallowed and glanced at the specially made digital thermometer. “Just dropped ten degrees, from seventy-five to sixty-five Fahrenheit.”
Amy nodded, scribbling furiously. “EMF?”
“We’ve got a jump. Four, up from two point seven.”
Sam swung the video camera in a slow arc, capturing looks of mingled fear and excitement that mirrored his own feelings. His heart raced and the hairs on his arms stood up as a sense of something utterly alien tingled over his skin.
Amy stuck the notebook back in her pocket and held up the camera. “Sam, let’s get a couple of simultaneous shots with Polaroid and thirty-five mm, okay?”
Andre held out a hand. Sam passed the video camera to him and switched on the Polaroid. “Ready.”
“Right there beside the rocker, that seems to be the center of the cold spot. On my mark. Three. Two. One. Now.”
Lights flashed. Sam blinked, trying to clear the black spots from his vision. He didn’t like the way they swarmed around, as if they had a life of their own. The back of his neck twitched. He had to force himself to stay calm.
“Andre?” Amy’s voice was sharp and worried. “Baby, you okay?”
Sam turned to stare at Andre. His deep brown skin had taken on an ashen hue and his hands shook. An electric charge ran up Sam’s spine as Andre’s eyes met his. The expression on Andre’s face said he’d felt the same sense of alien presence that Sam had. Then as suddenly as it had appeared, the feeling of a sinister something nearby evaporated. Sam let out a shaky breath.
“Um. Yeah, I’m fine.” Andre wiped a dew of sweat from his upper lip. “Just got a little creeped out, I guess. Sorry.”
Amy gave him a skeptical look. Andre smiled at her, kissed her forehead and started methodically circling the room. “No change in EMF readings. Temp’s come back up.”
Sam took the camera back from Andre and resumed filming, but his mind wasn’t on the video anymore. All he could think of was that strange sense of something undefinable waiting to make itself known. For one white-hot second, it had been almost close enough to touch. The thought twisted his gut with equal parts dread and curiosity. He couldn’t help thinking that this week might turn out to be much more interesting than any of them had ever imagined.