Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sneak Peek - Enchanted Dreams - book 3


Sneak Peek - Chapter 1



Book 3 of The Enchanted Castle Series


Chrissy Peebles

Copyright © 2014 by Chrissy Peebles

Edited by: Autumn J. Conley

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

My brilliant editor, Autumn J. Conley

Chapter 1

Hudson’s Fifth Charity Ball event had finally arrived and I was dancing with the man of my dreams. I loved the band. Bag pipes, flutes, and drums played the most beautiful Celtic melodies. It was a really cool costume party and everyone dressed up in amazing medieval outfits. I wore a long, white dress swirled with silver. The scooped neckline, flowing layers of lace, and ethereal, billowing sleeves were gorgeous. I also had the coolest up-do with endless rows of spiral curls cascading down into tiny ringlets. A small tiara sparkled on my head. I looked elegant and feminine, yet bold and daring. I had smoky eyes, simple eyeliner, eyelashes coated in mascara, and fire-red lips.
Hunter was dressed in a royal-blue tunic with an emblem of a crowned lion in the center and black satin knickers with knee-high boots. He was the most handsome knight in the ballroom.
Pam wore a messy bun with a red velvet gown, with an over layer of flowing silk chiffon decorated with delicate ivory braids and laces. She was dancing the night away with her own prince, Eric.  
“I’m enchanted by your beauty,” Hunter said.
I smiled. “You say the most beautiful things, thank you.”
He shot me that movie star grin, showing off his gleaming white teeth.
I pressed my lips softly against his as he cupped my face.
While I danced with Hunter, I truly felt like a princess, caught in the throes of my own perfect fairytale. We swayed to the music, and he held me close, so close that there was nothing but our warm breath between us. I could think of nothing more perfect than being in his arms. When Pam nudged me, I ignored her; I didn’t want to be disturbed. I just wanted to relish the moment, to stare into Hunter’s blue eyes forever.
“Zoey…” Pam complained.
Suddenly, I snapped back to reality. We all had a job to do. I couldn’t do much for the spirits, but I would at least feel better if I could somehow free them. In order to do that, I needed that medallion, that precious gold artifact.
“C’mon!” Pam said. “Have you forgotten we’re supposed to be following Mr. Geo?”
“I know. But Hunter looked so hot, well, I just couldn’t help myself.” I shot him a look and he smiled once again at my complement.
She pulled me along and I tried not to trip in my Christian Louboutin Cinderella heels, designed to look like a modern-day Cinderella slipper. They were gorgeous but very hard to run in.
“I’m gonna lose a glass slipper,” I said.
“How very Cinderella of you,” she laughed.
“Well, I can honestly see how the chick lost her slipper now.”
“You need to switch fairytales…especially since we’re looking for treasure. Think more along the lines of Jack and the Bean Stalk.”
I chuckled.
Hunter and I followed her through the crowd and looked when she pointed to a woman in a shimmering, gold gown, her hair spiraling down in layers of curls. I hadn’t seen hair that long in a while; it was even longer than mine and absolutely gorgeous.
Shantal and Eric broke through the crowd, calling my name.
“Hey, guys.”
“Hey,” Shantal said, straightening out her velvet dress.
“Where’s your date?” I asked.
“Talking with his friends. He’s not going to miss me.”
“You look gorgeous,” I said. “There’s no way he wouldn’t miss you.”
She grinned. I loved her braided up-do, gorgeous ruby pendant, and fancy medieval gown.
“So what’s the scoop?” I asked.    
She grabbed my arm. “We followed that lady, the one Pam pointed out. She was talking to Mr. Geo, and I swear I heard her say something about dropping off a medallion. Mr. Rowens was standing right next to them, so I think that’s why they didn’t make the handoff.”
“I don’t think she would with the principal right there.”
“Don’t worry,” Eric assured me.  “We’ve been watching her closely.”
“It’s a woman,” I said. “I thought for sure it’d be a guy.”
“So…which one of us is gonna play purse-snatcher?” Pam asked.
“Are you crazy? Do you know how much attention that will draw?” Hunter said. “We need to think of another way.”
“Well, whatever we’re gonna do, we’d better make it fast,” I said. “Mr. Geo is heading this way.”
“I’ll distract him,” Pam said.
Eric glanced over. “What if he gets it before we do?”
“Then we follow him,” I said.
“And do what? Break into his room?”
Shantal looked at Hunter. “Distract the woman, and I’ll nab the artifact. I’m guessing it’s in that cloth bag of hers. I can easily slip my fingers in and get the loot.”
Hunter nodded, then walked over to engage the long-haired stranger in conversation. I had no idea if the plan was going to work. Shantal had told us she used to be a pickpocket when she hung out with a bit of a wild gang. I only hoped she was good enough of a criminal to pull it off again.
The woman laughed as Hunter laid on the charm and told her a joke. I watched anxiously as Shantal slipped her fingers into the little cloth bag. The woman was so taken by Hunter that she didn’t even notice what Shantal was up to, but when Shantal hurried over to us, the grim look on her face was very telling. 
I cocked a brow. “Well?”
“Nothing. There was nothing but makeup, no trace of any jewelry.”
“Hmm. Well, we obviously got the wrong person,” Eric said. “Let’s just follow Mr. Geo and see who he talks to. Maybe someone will slip him something, though getting it from him is gonna prove difficult.”
I could feel the tension knotting up my shoulders. “We’ve gotta get our hands on that medallion, no matter what. We have to have it and the stone to free the spirits, and they’re counting on us. We can’t screw this up.”
Mr. Geo walked over to the beautiful woman and smiled. She kissed him on the lips, making it quite clear that she was a date, if not his girlfriend. I wondered if she was in on it, but I really had no idea.
A few seconds later, a man with short-cropped hair approached Mr. Geo. When he pulled out a black, rectangular box, I knew that had to be it. I also realized there was no way we could just take it without being noticed.
“Oh, but you can,” a voice coaxed in my ear. “Just stop time.”
When I turned to see who had said it, I realized that no one was standing that close to me. Shivers ran up my arms, but the invisible voice had made a good point. The only problem was that I would have to go back and get the stone, and that would be a huge risk; there was always the chance of the stone being discovered. Still, I really didn’t have a choice.
I touched my tear-shaped pendant and felt a weird energy coursing through me. I began to concentrate like I did back in the forest, and when I opened my eyes, I about flipped. “I did it!” I cried to myself. “I actually did it again! And it wasn’t the blue stone like I previously thought.”
My necklace had the power to stop time around me, but I could still move around normally. It seemed impossible, but it was happening. I couldn’t stop the future or rewind the past, but it was still a remarkable power. I just hoped I was doing it for the right reasons, going about things the right way. I certainly wasn’t a thief, and I planned to return the medallion as soon as the spirits were freed from their eternal prison.
I walked over and looked down at the black case. When I opened it, I was surprised to see a gold pen, with “Hudson’s Fifth Charity Ball” engraved on it. Crap! It wasn’t at all what we were looking for. I glanced around at all the still, smiling faces, their laughs frozen in time. I wasn’t even really sure who to look for.
I glanced at the woman who’d been talking to Mr. Geo. She had a huge grin on her face. When I looked closer, I noticed that she was wearing a medallion around her neck, one that almost perfectly blended in with her gold dress. The necklace! That has to be it!
I hurried over and unfastened the necklace. My fingers traced over the ten-centimeter gold piece. I stared down at the crown and inscription. It was a wonderful piece of history to have, and I quickly and anxiously shoved it deep into my purse. 
Suddenly, a growl echoed from across the room. My hands shook as I glanced around. Why isn’t everything frozen in time? I wondered in a panic. My horror grew greater when wings fluttered in the air. I couldn’t see anything, but I could feel the rush of wind hitting my face. My heart started to race, and I knew I had to get out of there in a hurry. I took a deep, calming breath. I tried to concentrate, but my nerves were so frazzled because I knew I wasn’t alone. The hair on my neck stood on end.
“Concentrate!” I whispered to myself.
A bloodcurdling shriek pierced my ears.
What the heck was that? A shudder rocked my body as my gaze frantically darted in every direction. I couldn’t see anything, and goosebumps peppered every square inch of my skin. Something was in the room with me, and I was sure it wasn’t human.
About twenty meters away, a seven-foot black shadow emerged. Its hooded cloak made me think I was about to stand face to face with the Grim Reaper himself. It had a muscular physique, but I could see right through it. Its ears were pointy, and its skeletal fingers seemed unnaturally long. Its eyes were as red as burning coal, exuding evil, and its black wings flapped as it hovered there, staring at me. My senses were on overdrive, and my heart thundered in my chest. I wanted to scream, but I was frozen in complete fear.
For a moment, I wondered if my eyes were playing tricks on me. I closed my eyes, then  hesitantly opened them again. To my absolute terror, the menace was still there. It grinned at me, the most evil grin I’d seen in all my life.
I concentrated, trying to will my necklace to work before I was consumed by the sinister one before me. “Work!” I muttered under my breath. “Please work!”
Another dastardly shriek came from the darkness.
I shuddered, certain that the thing was going to rip me apart piece by piece.
Then, after a loud, wailing howl, it lurched toward me.
When I opened my eyes, the music played, people danced, and laughter had replaced the dreary silence and shrieks.
I’m back!
Everything was back to normal, the way it was before I stopped time, and the dreaded creature was nowhere in sight. My shoulders shrugged in absolute relief, and I let out a long sigh.  
“Zoey, what’s wrong?” Hunter said.
I tried to speak, but the words wouldn’t come out. It felt like the room was closing in on me. I bolted out of the ballroom, with Hunter hot on my heels.  Leaning up against the wall, I took a deep breath, clutching my chest.
“What is it?” he asked, terrified.  
“Air! I need air!” I knew I was safe, but it was hard to shake off the uneasiness I felt in the presence of that horrific thing.
“Let’s go outside,” he said.
“Wanna go get your coat?”
“No. I just need some air…and to get away from all these people.”
“Okay. Let’s go out the back way then,” he said, putting an arm around me.
We walked down the corridor, toward the back exit. When we turned the corner, we spotted several men dressed in black, hauling what appeared to be portraits covered in white linens. A man bumped into me and muttered something under his breath. The ties came loose, and the silk coverings fell, exposing the portrait. I recognized it instantly. I wasn’t into famous artists or anything but there was no way I’d miss recognizing this one; it would have been impossible for me not to, for it was one of the most famous pictures in the world, Da Vinci’s much-loved Mona Lisa. I knew it had to be a replica, because the real one was in Italy. They struggled with the heavy, framed portrait and quickly covered it and retied everything securely.
Another of the movers glared at me. “Get out of here! Can’t you see you’re getting in our way?”
“I thought it was supposed to be clear back here,” another said. “Where did these teenagers come from?”
We hurried past them and outside. The cold wind sent shivers down my spine, and I wished I had taken Hunter’s suggestion to go back and get my coat.
As we rushed by, one of the clumsy moving men dropped a huge box, and Miss Shila about flipped.
“She needs to take a chill pill,” Hunter whispered.
“Yeah,” I said.
Miss Shila always gave me the creeps, ever since I had that vision of her with the red eyes when she was teaching class. She tried to act like a nice teacher, but underneath it all, something was off. I couldn’t put my finger on what, but something was wrong.   
She gave the men directions on how to carefully place them and threatened to withhold their pay if they broke anything. She was tapping her foot angrily for a moment, and then her heels click-clacked as she marched over to the bed of the blue truck, shivering in her black coat.
Just as I went back to sneak inside, she glanced over her shoulder and caught sight of me. “Zoey and Hunter, what are you doing out here?” she asked. “It’s freezing, and you aren’t even wearing coats.”
“We just came out to get some fresh air,” I said. “It’s so hot in there.”
Hunter cocked a brow and stepped toward her. “What are you doing? Can I help?”
She clicked her tongue. “I’ve got this under control. We are donating some historical things and artwork to a local museum. This was the only time the delivery men could pick up our donations.”
“Sorry,” Hunter said. “We didn’t mean to get in the way.”
“Just go back inside. I’ll be rejoining you soon. We’re almost done here.”
I nodded.
We walked inside and found the others, then went off to a place where nobody could hear us. I explained everything, from stopping time and getting the medallion to Miss Shila’s odd moving escapade.
“You got the medallion?” Hunter said, then pulled me into a warm hug.
“I sure did. Well, I hope it’s what we’re looking for. But it’s very old, very ancient. And it didn’t look like typical jewelry your average socialite wears. It has to be the medallion we need.”
“What was that shadow thing?” Pam asked. “Sorry, but I can’t get over that story. I still got goosebumps.”
I swallowed hard. “My necklace can’t freeze spirits, I guess, but I don’t think that was a spirit. It was more like…a demon, and I’ll never forget the way it looked at me.”
“That’s completely freaky, Zoey,” she said. “You should’ve taken us, like last time.”
“I don’t have this thing completely figured out. I didn’t want anything to happen to any of you.”
“But you might not have come back,” Shantal asked. “Don’t go messing with that thing until you know more.”
I bit my lip hard. “I know. I won’t.”
“And please don’t go again without me,” Hunter said.
“It just kind of…happened.”
“We’re here for you,” Eric said, “but make sure you always consult with us first. We can’t look out for you if you’re always taking off.”
“I’ll be sure to tell you next time. I promise. I don’t wanna face eerie eyes and evil grins all by myself.” I sighed. “Let’s not talk about it anymore though. At least I snatched that medallion.”
“Borrowed,” Eric corrected.
“Right. You know I’ll give it back,” I said.
“Let’s see it,” Hunter said, excitement flooding his voice.
I pulled the jewelry out, and we all stared at the glittering piece in complete amazement. We talked about it for a few minutes and ultimately decided to stash it in the fake wall in Eric’s room, right next to the sapphire.
“It’s gorgeous,” Pam whispered.
“It’s antique,” Hunter said, studying it. “Yeah, this thing is old, maybe thousands of years.”
“I’ve never held an ancient piece of history like this,” Pam said. “I wonder what kind of mysterious and magical power it holds.”
“Power?” I asked.
She cocked a brow. “It has to have some kind of power to release the spirits, right?”
I nodded. “I guess so.”
“That makes it mystical,” Shantal said.
“I bet Miss Shila would sell this in a heartbeat,” Hunter said. “I bet it’s worth a lot on the black market.”
Shantal nodded. “Yeah, we have to keep it well hidden at all times.”  
I stopped and looked at the others. “Why would Miss Shila be moving stuff during a charity event?” I asked. “I know she said the moving guys could only come now, but why so late at night? And how did she get her hands on a copy of Mona Lisa?”
“That’s just it. It’s a copy. It can’t be real,” Hunter said. “There are a ton of them out there. Heck, I could buy one off eBay anytime.”
“But what if it is real?” I asked.
Shantal pondered. “She could be fencing it.”
“Stealing?” I asked. “With all those witnesses?”
“Think about it,” Hunter said, changing his tune. “It’s the perfect cover-up. Mr. Rowens is completely distracted, entertaining hundreds of rich guests from all over Scotland.”
“Our principle is clueless,” Shantal said. “Maybe we should inform him about what she’s up to.”
Eric shook my head. “No, on second thought, she’s probably not up to anything bad. We can’t just jump to conclusions and get her in trouble.”
Shantal sighed. “Well, if she is running an art theft ring, she’s could be making thousands, maybe millions off some of those old heirlooms and treasures.”
I blew out a breath. “It doesn’t make sense. If she wanted to steal things, she could have done it any other time, when this place is not buzzing with people.”
“Don’t you get it?” Hunter said. “Nobody would notice her sneaking off to load a truck during a big party. Everyone is drinking, laughing, eating, and dancing—far too occupied to realize there’s an art heist going on out back.”
“I wonder what she needs the money for,” Shantal said.
“Something is odd,” I said.
“What do you mean?” Hunter asked.
“I’m not sure, but this one time, when she was teaching, her eyes turned red. Remember, I told you all about it?” He nodded and I continued. “It was like the spirits were trying to warn me about her. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I guess it’s all starting to make sense.”
“Of course it is! They want us to know she’s up to no good,” Shantal said. “If she is stealing, she could lose her job or even go to jail.”
“She’s stealing history,” I said. “And that’s not cool.”
Hunter nodded. “She could be tied into a looming criminal enterprise. The pilfered art could worth millions on the black market.”
“Right there along with rare, exotic pets and organ snatchers,” Shantal said. “We have enough to deal with, let alone chase an art thief. We need to figure out why we’re here and what’s going on, and we have to free those spirits. And in the midst of all this, there’s this little thing called school. Call Columbo or something. We don’t have time to play detective.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” I said, yawning. “I guess our best course of action is to tell the principle and let him look into it.”
It’d been a long night, and we were beat. After spending another hour at the ball, Hunter walked me back to my room.
The next morning, we told the principle everything we knew, and he already knew about it, and he told us he had, in fact, given the go-ahead for a few items to be shipped off to some museum none of us had ever heard of. We had to seriously consider that he might be in on it too. For all we knew, our teacher and our principle were on the take, and the entire school was a smokescreen for a huge art theft scandal. As horrible as that thought was, it paled in comparison to my memories of the red-eyed thing that had stared me down, and I hoped I could find a way to deal with all we were facing.