Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Medium Rare: (Intermix) (Ramos Family) by Meg Benjamin

Chapter 1

A couple of years ago . . .

Rose Ramos studied the large limestone behemoth that had just entered her life and wondered if she was as far up shit creek as she feared. When the lawyer had informed her about Granny Riordan’s bequest, she’d been too thunderstruck to really consider what she might be getting into. She didn’t even know Granny Riordan—so far as Rose knew, they’d never met, although it was always possible that Granny had seen her when she was an infant and thus unable to defend herself.

Granny was rumored to have a somewhat acid point of view.

Actually, the house should have gone to Rose’s mother, and Rose had been surprised when it hadn’t. But as it turned out, Ma hadn’t been surprised at all.

“We only saw each other a few times after I married your father,” Ma explained. “I didn’t expect her to leave me anything. I just wish she’d let me know she was feeling sick. I wish someone had told me.”

Her mother’s expression, that combination of exasperation and grief, had done a lot to reduce Rose’s enthusiasm over moving into her inheritance. Not that it had eliminated it entirely, just dampened it a bit.

Now she stood in the driveway, shifting a box full of kitchenware in her arms as she studied her mansion. Standard white limestone, three stories, bright blue wooden gingerbread trim dripping from the porch roof and the eaves. Typical King William Victoriana, with a front porch that curved around half of the first floor, and a gallery that extended across the front of the second.

Two large live oaks shaded the house in the rather small front yard. A white gravel drive curved around one side, leading to a much larger backyard that stretched down to the gated iron fence that surrounded the property. Beyond the gate was a hike and bike path beside the San Antonio River. If she squinted, Rose could see people moving along it at a leisurely pace, enjoying the early summer evening.

She sighed again. The house was ridiculously large for a single woman. The property taxes would undoubtedly ruin her, given her salary as a reference librarian at the downtown San Antonio library. She probably should have followed her brother Danny’s advice and sold it. Maybe she’d still do that one of these days.

Or maybe not. Another little spurt of excitement pushed her forward toward the front door.

Her mother pulled one last box out of the back of her CRV. “Is this everything, sweetheart? Do we need to make another trip?”

Rose shook her head. “That’s all I need for now. I’ll clear the rest of the stuff out of the apartment next week sometime.”

Ma nodded absently, then headed up the drive toward the front steps, pausing to study the shadows creeping across the porch. “Are you sure you want to stay here tonight? You’ve got nothing set up yet. Why don’t you wait until tomorrow so your father or Danny can get your bedroom cleared out at least? We can order a pizza for dinner.”

“That’s okay. Dad got the bed set up this afternoon, and I don’t need the dresser yet. Most of my clothes are still in boxes.” Rose balanced the box more solidly in her arms and climbed the steps, holding the door open so that her mother could slip in.

Her mother paused for a moment in the doorway, her smile becoming a bit narrower. “You really could stay with us tonight. It’s no trouble. Absolutely no trouble at all.”

Ma’s smile stayed in place, but her eyes were sharp. Rose wasn’t sure what was up, but she knew it was something.

“I’m fine, Ma. Really. I just want to sleep here tonight. I mean, it’s my place now.” She gave her mother a bright smile that suddenly seemed wildly inappropriate, given her mother’s increasingly bleak expression.

After a moment, she nodded. “Yes my darling, it’s yours now. But if you ever decide you don’t want to live in this miserable pile of limestone, don’t hesitate to come back home until you can get it sold.”

Rose blinked. “I don’t think I’ll feel that way, Ma.”

“No, of course you don’t.” Her mother sighed, placing her box on the floor of the living room. “I’m sorry, sweetie, I don’t mean to bring you down. It’s just . . . I wasn’t very happy when I lived here myself. Maybe it’s making me worry about you more than usual.”

Given that her mother was a world-class worrier, anything more than usual would be way over-the-top. “I’m sorry, Ma, I keep forgetting you grew up here. It just doesn’t seem like your kind of place.”

She took a quick survey of the living room, the first room off the entry hall. Thick velvet curtains blocked off most of the sunlight. Heavy lace sheers cut off a significant portion of what was left. The large, blocky furniture loomed in the dimness, sort of like primordial beasts rising from a swamp.

Rose shivered. That was a really unnecessary metaphor. And not at all fair to the house or her grandmother.

Her mother gave her another thin smile. “It wasn’t my kind of place. That’s why I left to be with your father. But maybe you can change it into your kind of place. Now that . . . Mama is gone.” Her gaze traveled slowly around the living room, almost as if she expected Rose’s grandmother to step out from behind one of the velvet curtains.

Rose shivered again. This was turning into a remarkably morbid conversation. “Come on out to the kitchen, Ma. I’ve got some champagne. We can toast my new house.” Rose tried her best reassuring smile.

Her mother shrugged. “All right, sweetie. If I can’t convince you to leave with me, I can at least have a glass of champagne with you.”

Rose led the way through the dining room and down the hallway to the kitchen that ran along the back of the house. “Sort of inconvenient having to carry your food up the hall. Did you and Grandma Caroline eat in the kitchen?”

Her mother shrugged. “Sometimes. When your great-grandmother built the house, there were servants who did the cooking and brought the food to the dining room. Having the kitchen in back helped keep the house cool.”

“Oh.” Rose pushed open a swinging door, flipping on the light switch. “Did Grandma have servants, too?”

“Not exactly.” Her mother stood in the doorway, staring out the wide back windows. The sky had begun to darken over the river. “We did our own cooking.”

Rose ducked into the deep pantry at the side of the room, retrieving her bottle of champagne from the refrigerator. Her mother had the right to be moody, returning to a house she’d left over thirty years ago. The place probably held lots of uncomfortable memories. Still, Rose wished, a little guiltily, that Ma could be just a little more cheerful about her daughter’s new adventure.

When she came back, her mother was lifting a pair of crystal champagne flutes from an upper shelf. “These look old. They may go all the way back to Great-grandma Siobhan.” She carried the flutes to the sink to rinse them.

“Look, Ma”—Rose fumbled with the cork for a moment—“if there’s anything around here you remember, anything you want to take home with you . . .”

Her mother shook her head quickly, setting the glasses back on the table. “There’s nothing here for me, sweetheart. Nothing I want to remember. Now where’s that champagne?”

Rose lifted the bottle over the two flutes, pouring each one half-full. She picked up a glass, handing the other to her mother. “To my new house.”

She lifted the glass to her lips. After a moment, her mother did the same.

She raised her gaze to Rose again. “I hope you’re happy here, sweetheart. I’ve got a toast of my own.” She closed her eyes for a moment, then lifted her head to stare at the darkness of the hall door. “The mantle of Brighid about us, the memory of Brighid within us, the protection of Brighid keeping us. From harm, from ignorance, from heartlessness. This day and night, from dawn till dark, from dark till dawn.”

Rose stared at her for a long moment, then took a quick swallow. “Geez, Ma. That was fairly creepy.”

Her mother shook her head, sipping her champagne again. “Sorry, sweetheart. Like I said, this place stirs old memories, and not all good ones.”

“Is it? . . .” Rose licked her lips. “I know you and Grandma didn’t get along. Is it a problem for you to be here?”

Her mother shrugged. “It was never a happy place, but maybe it will be now. I hope so, anyway. Just . . . call me if you need me. Promise me you’ll do that.”

“Sure, Ma. You know I will.”

Her mother touched her cheek gently. “I love you, Rosie. Take care of yourself.”

“Love you, too, Ma.” But all of a sudden she found herself wishing her mother would head on home. The longer she stayed, the less certain Rose was that she’d made the right decision.


Medium Rare

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Genre – Paranormal

Rating – R

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Website http://www.megbenjamin.com/


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