Monday, January 16, 2023

Ghost of the Past Tour and Giveaway

 


Ghost of the Past

Baker City Hearts & Haunts Book 4

by Josie Malone

Genre: Paranormal Ghost Military Romance 

What happens when love isn’t enough?

Former Marine, Durango Hawke never thought he’d spend years trekking through the jungles of South America looking for his missing brother, or that duty to his family would cost him the love of his life.

Heather McElroy grew up dreaming of a country music career but followed her childhood sweetheart into the military instead. Now, back in civilian life, it’s finally time to put herself first.

When Durango leaves on his latest rescue mission, he assumes she’ll be waiting when he returns.

Will chasing her dreams cost Heather the love of her life?


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CHAPTER ONE

Baker City, Washington ~ August 2014

I’m done coming second in your life, Durango Hawke.”

“Say again, babe. I didn’t get that.”

“You heard me.” Heather McElroy shifted on the corral rail where she’d perched so he could snap her photo with his new camera, the one she’d given him for his birthday back in March. She eyed the tawny-haired man twenty feet away. Six foot, six in his socks, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped, he carried himself like the Marine he’d been for six years before he became a soldier of fortune. She’d followed him far too long. 

“Let me spell it out for you, Hawke. I love you, but it’s my turn now. I’ve been offered a great job and a recording contract. I’m going to Nashville in time for the Labor Day show.”

“We’ve talked about this. It’ll have to wait. I need you here to run Hawke Construction when I’m on a mission for Nighthawke.”

“Not my circus, not my monkeys. Not anymore. My life has been on hold long enough. I told you I didn’t agree with rescuing the company when your father ran it into the ground while we were in Afghanistan, but you had to save the day one more time instead of letting it go into bankruptcy.”

“The people who’ve worked there all these years didn’t deserve to lose their retirement when it went down in flames and I was the only one that could borrow money from the extended family in Texas.”

“You did what you had to do because you always have to be the hero, but that’s not my deal. I’ve always dreamed of being a country singer and now I have a shot. I’m going to Nashville in two weeks.”

She took a deep breath and watched the storm build in his navy eyes. Irritation made his rugged, handsome features harder for her to resist. Blue jeans, boots, and a faded, sleeveless chambray shirt increased his resemblance to a Madison Avenue cowboy. But there was nothing plastic about her man!

At 28, almost 29, I have three combat tours behind me. I’ve been working part-time as a horse trainer while I rebuild my career as a country singer in the local bars. We were supposed to move to Nashville as soon as he found a manager for Hawke Construction, but the damned jarhead didn’t even look for one. He’s too freaking busy hunting for his brother, the family fave. It’s not like Durango doesn’t know how much I love music. It’s my turn, damn it!

She tossed her head, long copper hair flying in the warm breeze. “I’m through nursing you after your stupid adventures, and I’m definitely done picking up the slack at Hawke Construction when you’re off in South America. You wouldn’t hire a manager, so I did.”

“Thanks for the support.” Sarcasm laced his bass rumble.

Deliberately, she concentrated on the bandaged left shoulder. Any lower and the bullet would have hit his heart. As cantankerous as he was, though, she hadn’t asked but knew he’d taken out the attacker. She wouldn’t let Durango see how he affected her when he lowered the Nikon and strode toward her. 

“I mean it.” She raised her chin. “No more system support, Hawke, when you return to Colombia on one more suicide mission. I’m going to Nashville. Someone else will have to patch you up. Just remember doctors must report gunshot wounds and all cops aren’t stupid. One might not believe you were hit in a drive-by shooting at a construction site.”

“Don’t threaten me.” He stalked closer, menace in each step. “I’ve never taken your crap. It’s why we’ve stayed together this long.”

“I won’t be here when you return this time.” Her ultimatum didn’t appear to faze him. His face was expressionless, a mask that hid any and all emotion. She reached for the emerald engagement ring on her left hand, began to remove it. “I mean it. I’m done waiting on the sidelines.”

“Watch it, Heather Marie. You don’t want to piss me off.”

“I’m not scared of you.” She shrugged, but stopped toying with the ring. She’d wait. “Save the macho act for the bunch of mercenaries you run with or one of your cousins. Don’t try to placate me or act like you think I’m cute when I’m angry. I’m serious.”

She didn’t want to know how many soldiers of fortune died in the South American jungles. It was bad enough knowing he might. He was pretty annoyed with her. She could tell by the edge in his deep voice and the tight line of his strong jaw. He paced closer, boots soft on the summer grass. Did he think he could intimidate her into silence?

No way! Too bad, too sad! After all those tours as a combat nurse in Iraq and Afghanistan, does he honestly think his tantrums frighten me?

He stopped in front of her. The shirt left unbuttoned and open because of the injured shoulder revealed his neck and tanned, muscular chest. Her gaze narrowed on the bright red scar that slashed from his right shoulder in a diagonal six-inch line toward his left nipple. The injury two years ago had been her introduction to his illegal, dangerous hunt for his younger brother. Granted, Durango was morally right when he tried to save the day and his bro, but damn it, she wanted him home, safe with her in Tennessee—not getting himself killed, pursuing a dream and a man who was undoubtedly dead. 

She pointed to the healed knife wound. “Remember when I stitched that with an upholstery needle and dental floss? I cleaned it with alcohol first. You yelled like a stuck pig. Without anesthesia, I know everything I did must have hurt like hell. You fainted from the pain.”

“Yeah, I passed out. Your nursing hurt worse than being stabbed. Your point?”

“You didn’t learn anything, not from the cause or the cure. You still think you can change clothes in a phone booth. I’m not Lois Lane to your Superman.” She trembled when he gripped the fence, resting large hands on either side of her. “I’m right, damn it.”

“You always tell me so.” He leaned nearer, brushed a kiss over her lips. “It’s why we fight so much. You’re all spit and vinegar. It makes me horny as hell when you start issuing edicts, Empress. You’re my pretty little tyrant.” 

She tried to turn her head, but he caught her chin in calloused fingers. “Don’t. I’m not in the mood, especially when you make fun of me.” 

Of course, it’s all too easy for him to get me in the mood.

“I won’t force you.” He chuckled. “I don’t have to, and we both know it. This is your pride talking. It’s why you’ve slept on the couch for the past three weeks. It’s cold comfort at night, isn’t it? I’ve missed you hogging the covers.”

“As if you really cared. If I believed that, you’ve got oceanfront property in Arizona like the song says.” She trembled when he feathered his thumb over her lips. Of course, he didn’t have a clue that she wasn’t actually sleeping in the  living-room. She sat up nights, drinking vodka while she watched insipid late night movies. Enough booze and she wouldn’t dream about dying kids who should be anywhere but in the military trying to survive in a war zone.

“You’ve ignored everything I said,” Heather went on. “You won’t admit how wrong you are. And you didn’t say a word when I moved out of the bedroom until I took away the television. Then, you bitched because you missed laughing at Walker, Texas Ranger, and your war movies.”

“I’m not stupid. If I said I needed you every minute of every day, you’d figure you won. And did you think I wouldn’t find the small flat-screen on the kitchen table? You weren’t even watching it. You just stole it for spite.”

The mockery in his deep voice grated on sensitive nerves. She’d fallen in love with him before she knew what the word meant. She trailed behind him as a child, adored him as a teen, and followed him to war as a woman. She didn’t make a secret of her feelings, unlike him. He’d never said he loved her, not once in all these years.

“Come on, baby. Don’t be this way. You know how bad I want you.” The warmth in the dark blue eyes left no doubt of the way he wanted her. “I like having you in that big, brass bed or anywhere else I can take you.”

She glared up at him, hurt, humiliated, and angry. “Want in one hand, Marine and crap in the other. See which fills up first.”

“Wow, can you talk dirty, Empress. Is this when I make you beg for me or later?”

The nickname offended her. She wasn’t as capricious or arbitrary as he made her sound. She pushed him away, jumped off the fence. “You son-of-a—!” She stopped, aware of how he felt about name-calling. She wouldn’t go that far. “You’re damned well right about one thing. I’m too good for you. I’ll find a real man, one not afraid to stick and stay with me when I get to Nashville.”

“Don’t go there.” His fingers gripped her shoulders. “You belong to me. You have since the day you were born.”

“Kiss my butt.” She wrenched free, stalked across the yard. She’d collect her purse and jacket, then hitch a ride into Baker City. From there, she could find a friend to take her back to their place in Lake Maynard.

The scent of flowers drifted from the overgrown rose garden in front of the old Victorian house where her grandparents had lived. The four-hundred-plus acre farm waited for her uncle to return. Fenian McElroy had disappeared on a covert Army mission back in 2011 with Durango’s brother, Waco. 

There was little hope her uncle would come home to claim his inheritance. After all, the U.S. didn’t even admit they had troops in South America fighting the drug lords. The American government knew how to fight secret wars. The blood of its soldiers was currency to politicians and too much attention was taken up with the war in the Middle East. Durango might not have learned the lesson, but she had long before her uncle and his younger brother died.

“Nothing frightens you.” He caught up with her. He didn’t sound quite so amused when he trailed one finger down her neck to the gold chain she always wore along with the special four-leaf clover he’d given her as a gift on her sixteenth birthday. “I won’t let you leave me.”

She glared at him. “In the past, you were everything to me. I have dreams and I’m going to follow them.”

“You want me.” He nipped her ear, kissed the spot below it. “You’re too damned proud to admit it when you’re in one of your snot-slinging, foot-stomping hissy fits. You figure if you don’t let me make love to you, I’ll kowtow to your demands.”

“I’m not that manipulative or spiteful. Even if I were, you’d deserve it. You walked into the house leaking blood like a saturated surgical sponge and terrified me.”

“You didn’t show it. You fixed me up.” He pressed another kiss to her neck. “You’re one in a million and way too good for me.”

“At least we agree on something, jarhead.” She stepped away from him, headed toward the blanket she’d spread on the grass. “Let’s go home. Your idea of a picnic on the old McElroy homestead was only another try to get me in the sack.” 

“We haven’t eaten yet and I still want to take some pictures of you with my birthday camera.” He followed her.

“I’m not in the mood,” she repeated, her back to him. “I’d have more luck talking to a rock. No wonder your mother claims, ‘bigger is dumber’ and acts like you’re a monster because you’re not a scawny, little runt. For once, she’s right.”

“Funny. You never say that in bed. You always beg for more.”

A blush scorched her cheeks. “Bragger!”

She whirled to confront him. He was right behind her. Surprised, she fell back a step, the blanket beneath her shoe. “I won’t sleep with you until you’re home for good.”

He grinned down at her. “Want to bet?” He hooked a hand around her neck. “I haven’t given you a birthday present yet.”

“My birthday isn’t until next week. You’d better be here and packing to go with me to Nashville.” When he didn’t answer, she stiffened. “I said, no.”

“I heard you.” He brushed her lips with his. “I fully intend to get started on your present today.”

“Oh, really? What do you plan to give me?”

“What do you think?” He lowered his head. “The same thing I’ve given you for the past eight years, multiple orgasms. I’m going for a new record, twenty-nine of them, one for each year.”

She shuddered, trying to ignore the heat in her face. “You can’t. It’s physically impossible. I’ll die of exhaustion.”

“You haven’t yet.” He laughed. “Let’s check it out.”

She hesitated. She wanted him as badly as he wanted her. She’d ached for his touch, longed to go to him, and forced herself to maintain a safe distance. Would surrender work any better? Could she entice him to stay home with her?

It was worth a try. At five foot eight, it wasn’t much of a stretch to tiptoe up and tease his mouth with hers. “Want me?”

“You know it.” He pulled her tight against him. “I’ve missed you.”

“Not enough to come out to the living room and charm me.”

“It wouldn’t have worked until you stopped ranting and raving.”

“I don’t have tantrums anymore.”

“When I got home, you tipped a table full of food on me. Laredo hit the door a-running.”

“That was the plan,” she said in her sweetest voice. “I couldn’t let your youngest brother see you were a bloody mess. If I had, we wouldn’t be arguing. You’d be in a hospital, then jail. You got off easy.”

“Says the woman into payback. Vengeance is always yours, baby. You do enjoy trying to make me suffer.”

“I’m not that petty.”

“You’ll go to hell for lying.” Durango kissed her brows. “You threw your engagement ring at me for a week straight. I kept putting it back on your finger.”

She tipped back her head and met his gaze. “I didn’t ask for it. I offered to bring you a jar of petroleum jelly so you could shove it where the sun doesn’t shine.”

Another laugh before he dropped a kiss on her nose. “You make me glad to be alive, except when all you give me to eat is potato soup.”

“It was good for you.”

“I hate the stuff. Then you made peanut butter cookies for dessert.” He stroked her hair. “How many times have I told you that peanut butter makes me gag? And you refused to make me chocolate chip ones, no matter how many times I asked.”

“Making you miserable was the least I could do after you scared the hell out of me.”

“You went for two and a half weeks without speaking to me, even when you were changing my bandages. Must have been a new record.” He rested his chin on top of her head. “You’re an ornery woman, Heather Marie McElroy, my ornery woman.”

“As if you’d want any other kind.” She closed her eyes and leaned against him, relishing the hard, solid feel of his body. Did he realize how close he’d come to dying? Tears burned her eyes. She blinked them away, determined not to reveal the weakness. He couldn’t handle it when she cried. She’d learned that eons ago.“You’re mine.”

“I always have been.” His mouth claimed hers. “Ever since we were kids.”

When the kiss ended, he lifted his lips a few inches from hers. Before he spoke, she slowly slid his shirt down the muscled arms, letting it fall onto the grass. “I’ve given you all of me.” Deliberately, she reminded him of the 4-H pledge they’d exchanged as teen sweethearts. “Head, heart, health, and hands. I want all of you.”

“You have me. We’ll get married as soon as I bring Waco home.”

“He’s gone by now. We have to let him and Fenn go.”

“I don’t believe that. I’ll keep looking for the two of them.”

“All right, lover. You think what you need to think.” She stopped him with a kiss, then said, “I wish there were another O’Leary who talks to the dead in Baker City, someone who could find Waco and Fenn for you, but there isn’t, and your brother means more to you than—” She paused. “No, I won’t say that. I won’t spoil this moment, but I’ll agree we’ll both do what we have to do.”

* * * *

As soon as he parked the rental car in the driveway, he knew she was gone. October leaves covered the unmown lawn and weeds shared space with the bright marigolds in the flowerbeds. Rolled-up newspapers littered the front porch. Envelopes overflowed from the small mailbox beside the screen door. Proof of her departure from his life as if he hadn’t gotten a clue when she didn’t come to the airport to meet him.

“I don’t need this crap, Heather Marie.”

He left the bouquet of golden roses, the box of her favorite chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, and the small sack from the jewelry store on the passenger seat. He’d expected her to be angry. She always got mad when he left on a trip to South America, but this tantrum was ridiculous for a twenty-nine-year-old woman, especially storming off to Nashville, Tennessee in a huff. Then again, maybe she really hadn’t gone.

He reached into his back pocket, pulled out his wallet, and flipped to the last picture he’d taken of her. Vibrant red hair cascaded to her narrow waist. High cheekbones, a pointed chin, and huge green eyes. The regal glare made him think of an absolute ruler, but there was nothing tame about his Heather. She was wild, feral, and downright vicious at times. My kind of woman, long on guts, short on self-preservation, my pretty tyrant. She’d charge hell with a bucket of water.

It was the low, rich taunting voice he always missed most. She might tear strips off him with her words, but that voice was saturated with sex. He wanted to fall into the photo, grab her and hold her forever. He’d just hold those tall curves against him. She was the perfect size for him, heart-high. In the picture, she leaned against the corral rail, the summer wind ruffling her hair.

He'd told her to say, ‘cheese’. She hadn’t, of course. She’d never followed his directions in her entire life. She’d looked him straight in the face, smiled dangerously, and purred, “But, babe. I don’t want cheese. I want you.”

His hands shook when he snapped the photo. It was pure luck, not skill it’d come out this good. He’d assumed their wild lovemaking meant everything was great between them. She’d stopped complaining and calling the hunt for his brother the definition of insanity. She’d even driven him to the airport, kissed him goodbye like they were going to jump back into the sack, not like they’d just left it.

How was he supposed to know she really intended to leave him?

He flung open the car door, paced to the trunk, and removed his duffel bag, a leftover from his stint in the Marines. He slung the carrying strap over his shoulder, slammed the trunk, and went around the house to the back door. The kitchen was dark. Daylight filtered through the door behind him. Some came through the window above the farmhouse sink.

What happened to the curtains? He flipped the light switch by the door. Nothing. Had the bulb in the overhead fixture burned out? He turned, saw the note taped neatly to the outside of the breaker box.

Durango, call to have the utilities turned on when you want them. That includes the landline. You never phone me, so I won’t worry.

“Damn it!” He tore down the note, wadded it into a ball, and looked for the wastebasket.

Gone. He walked further into the room. The table and chairs were missing too. So were all the appliances, the electric range, fridge, washer, dryer, and dishwasher. No microwave. He grimaced, grateful they’d totally furnished the rental. At least, he wouldn’t have to listen to the landlord pitching a major fit. 

The cupboards were bare. Another note lay where the dishes used to be. I gave away the groceries. You had more important things to do than be here for me or the meals I cooked for you.

“You little witch.” He shook his head. He was cracking up. Imagine arguing with a piece of paper.

He stormed through the house, searching the rest of the rooms. She’d stripped the place. The furniture was gone, everything they’d bought together. A manila envelope was taped to the bedroom door, obviously where she’d left her engagement ring. Another note fluttered beside it.

I got rid of the bed. I didn’t want you to share it with someone else. Your clothes are at the cleaners down the street. You can pay them to do laundry for you. I’m outta here. I’m going to Tennessee. So long, lover! 

He dropped the duffel on the floor. He ripped the paper off the door, took down the envelope, tore open one end, and shook out the emerald engagement ring, shoving it into his shirt pocket. He’d save the note inside for later, make her read it to him.

“I’ll find you, Heather Marie McElroy. When I do, I’m taking you to bed. Then we’re getting married. Enough is damn well enough! I’m done putting up with your tantrums.”

He collected the other snotty notes on his way to the back door. He slammed it behind him, pausing to lock the vacant house. A quick stop at the detached garage revealed it was empty. “Where the hell is my truck?”

She’d better not have sold the classic ’57 Chevy four-by-four. If she had, there’d be another nastygram, but he didn’t see one. Okay, so he’d track her down. After all this time, I know where she likes to party, even if she calls it ‘singing for her supper,’ and it won’t be the first time I’ve dragged her out of a bar.

Three taverns later, he’d heard the same story from all the bartenders. She hadn’t been around since September. Did her folks know her address in Nashville? If they did, would they tell him when he called or would they chew him out for standing in the way of her dreams again? He eyed the CD the last bar manager gave him, then slid it into the player. 

The twang of guitars, beat of drums, and finally, organ music slid into a melody. It was an old Dottie West song. Lesson in Leavin’ was one of Heather’s favorites. Why hadn’t he realized she was giving him a warning when she sang it before he left two months ago on a vain hunt for his brother? 

Okay, so he hadn’t found him this time, Durango thought, but he’d keep looking. Heather’s husky, sexy voice sent chills down his spine. The words echoed through him as a wronged woman sought vengeance for heartache. 

* * * *


Liberty Valley, Washington ~ May 5th, 2015


He’d spent the day on the construction site, too busy working on a new strip mall to check messages. Finally, back in his office, he crossed to the desk, picked up the landline, and called the automatic answering service.

Her mocking voice filled his ears. “Durango, sorry I missed you. Happy birthday, lover.”

He froze, pressed the button to repeat the message. It’s not my birthday. She knows better than anyone that’s in March. What the hell is going on? What game is she playing now?


Family Skeletons

Baker City Hearts & Haunts Book 3

Sergeant First Class Sullivan Barlow has plans for her future and none of them include the guy she slept with in a night of weakness. Intending to forget the devastation of losing her best friend in Afghanistan, Sully woke the next morning still alone. Her only solace—she hadn’t told the man her real name.

A career soldier, Tate Murphy has three more years in the Army until he’s eligible for retirement. Seven weeks ago, he met a woman in a hotel bar and spent the night with her. He hasn’t been able to get her out of his mind and can’t believe his luck when he finds her again.

Then they discover their first night together resulted in something they never expected. She’s pregnant, and Tate immediately proposes. Pregnant, struggling with survivor guilt, the last thing Sully needs is to learn her best friend may have died, but hasn’t left yet.

Tate says, ‘sometimes courage is an act of survival’. Sully fears trust is a casualty of war. Will she and Tate ever find it again either by themselves or with the help of those who have passed on before?


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More Than a Spirit

Baker City Hearts & Haunts Book 2

Home from her Army Reserve tour in Afghanistan, Sergeant First Class Ann Barrett is divorced, unemployed and dealing with her unruly, spoiled six-year-old. The last thing she needs is a ghost playing matchmaker. Not ready to trade in her fatigues for a civilian job as a high school teacher, Ann applies for a position at the Army Reserve base.

Issues arise when she meets her new boss, former Army Ranger, Master Sergeant Harry Colter. He came to Fort Bronson in Seattle to escape his grief when his best friend died in an ambush, but he hasn’t realized he didn’t come alone, or that his buddy is playing ‘Cupid’.

It’s difficult for Ann leave the war behind when so many things enrage her, like her ex-husband and her family that puts the fun back in “dysfunctional.” However, in order to handle what comes now, she must deal with her past, her child and the 20-year-old secret she learns about Harry.

Will a woman with enough baggage to fill a footlocker and a man who knows life comes with no guarantees save each other and find a future?


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My Sweet Haunt

Baker City Hearts & Haunts Book 1


Cobwebs, eerie sounds and creaky floorboards greet Cat O’Leary McTavish and her twin daughters when they move to their new home, a dilapidated dude ranch near Baker City in the Cascade foothills of Washington State. Her plan to restore the destination resort to its former glory hits a snag when she learns she has the ‘O’Leary Gift’ and can talk to the dead man who still resides in her house.


Former Army Ranger, Rob Williams always planned to run the family guest ranch after completing his military service. Instead, he “bought the farm with his life” when he died in Vietnam, but being dead doesn’t mean he’s going anywhere. Encountering someone who “sees” and “hears” him is a welcome change.

Cat’s determination leads her into danger, when they discover an adversary wants to turn the one-time dude ranch into a gravel pit.

Will a woman with a dream and a man who’s had his dreams cut short, manage to save a ranch and each other when the biggest surprise of all is love?


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Josie Malone lives and works at her family business, a riding stable in Washington State. Teaching kids to ride and know about horses, she finds in many cases, she's taught three generations of families. Her life experiences span adventures from dealing cards in a casino, attending graduate school to get her Masters in Teaching degree, being a substitute teacher, and serving in the Army Reserve - all leading to her second career as a published author. Visit her at her website, www.josiemalone.com to learn about her books.


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2 comments:

  1. I love the covers, synopses and excerpts, this is a must read book and series for me. Thank you for sharing the author's info and books' details

    ReplyDelete
  2. I love that this is a military romance with paranormal activity.

    ReplyDelete

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