Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Secrets of Whitestone Manor: CHAPTER ONE!

Hi friends, 

As you know, Secrets of Whitestone Manor: The Winters Family Series, Book One will be released on February 3, 2015 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo. This book was so much fun and I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  So, without further ado... here's the first chapter! Feel free to let me know what you think about it, and if you have any questions about this novel or my plans for the series, don't hesitate to ask! 

Brittany Jo James

Chapter One

The flurry of white snowflakes from an unexpected winter storm covered the marble courtyard outside. My breath fogged the window I was staring through as I awaited impending news from town.
“Where are they?” I mumbled worriedly to myself.
“They’ll be fine.”
I stiffened immediately at my uncle’s gruff voice behind me. “Grayson isn’t answering his cellphone.”
Uncle Sebastian snorted, which is as close as he ever came to actually expressing a sense of humor. “And, you’re surprised about that?”
“Ellison and Pierson aren’t either.”
He shrugged and pensively tilted his head to the side, “Ah, you’re worrying for nothing. I’m sure they all left their phones in the Range Rover. They can’t allow it to endanger the job, Orson. You know that. Besides, they probably knew you would call incessantly.”
I glanced at him over my shoulder as he pulled a leather-bound book off of a shelf across the room. His hair was beginning to gray on the sides but it was still dark brown on the top.
Uncle Sebastian wasn’t an abnormally large man, but his presence loomed around the property like the un-jolly green giant. He peered at me questioningly with cold brown eyes, urging me to say what I needed to say so he could leave the room and forget about me.
“The storm is becoming worse and I don’t like them driving on these dangerous roads,” I shrugged coolly, feigning my composure. The truth is that the drive up the steep, icy, winding mountain road that would bring my siblings back to our hidden haven wasn’t the worst concern I had for them.
My uncle grunted and walked out of the room without any other words of comfort or assurance. That was his way. He had never known what to say or how to be sensitive. It wasn’t in his nature at all.
I glanced at the small desk sitting across the room, by the door. My laptop sat open, revealing an unfinished homework assignment for my online Finance course. I should have been working on it, but learning about fixed assets was the last thing on my mind at the moment.
I turned my attention back to the snow whirling around the front yard, fixing my stare on the automatic gate I hoped would open soon. I thought about a sunny day, ten years earlier.
My ninth birthday had just passed and our family had spent the morning in church together. On our way back to our home in the suburbs outside of Dallas, Texas, Dad announced that he and Mom planned to take us on a picnic that afternoon.
“Can we stop at home first to pick up our baseball gear and some toys?” I questioned excitedly. 
“Of course. You know that anything worth doing is worth doing right,” Dad chuckled in response. “Besides, your mother has to pack our lunch.”
My three younger siblings and I were obviously thrilled with the anticipation of spending our day at the park. Unfortunately, things didn’t work the way we planned. I spotted the black BMW sitting in our driveway when we were half a block away.
“Who’s that?” I questioned, nodding toward the car.
My parents stared at it for a moment before casting each other contemplative looks from across the minivan. “Orson,” Dad commanded in an unusually stern voice. “Take your brothers and sister to the backyard and find your baseball gear. This will only take a moment and then we’ll be on our way. Understand?”
“Yes, sir.” I agreed apprehensively, unbuckling my seatbelt.
As young as I was, I knew something was going on that didn’t seem quite right. Still, I followed my father’s instructions and took my siblings to the backyard while my parents walked toward the dark haired man sitting on our front porch.
As Grayson and Ellison raced to the shed to be the first to claim the best equipment for our picnic, tiny Pierson trailing behind them, I snuck back toward the edge of our chain-link fence inquisitively.
“Can we discuss this inside?” Uncle Sebastian demanded from the front porch. “Or, are you too good to let me in?”
My father sighed in exasperation. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I’m sure my dad knew his brother wouldn’t leave easily. The bolt on the door clicked loudly, then the next, and the third.
It had never dawned on me that three bolt locks on each exterior door and two on every interior door wasn’t normal, but I smiled now at my own naivety back then. How did I not know we were different? How did I not suspect anything?
The front door closed behind them and I sprinted to a window to peep inside. My mother paced the living room floor, her hands flailing from side to side as she ranted at the stranger sitting on the couch.
Any show of anger was uncommon for my kind, calm, loving mother. My father stood still, staring at the floor with his back against the wall and arms crossing his chest as the man argued with Mom.
“I claim this one!” Grayson yelled, running across the yard as he waved our newest bat tauntingly.
Ellison chased him as fast as her little legs could carry her. “Orson,” she squealed. “Tell him to share!”
I smiled jovially and dashed after my younger brother, momentarily disregarding the scene inside our home in order to fully focus on caring for my siblings as my father had requested. Ellison’s face lit up in carefree laughter and Grayson’s eyes grew wide as he picked up speed to get away from me. My body crashed against his seconds later and we both rolled across the yard. The two of us giggled lightheartedly as we tugged the bat back and forth.
“I found a ball,” Pierson squealed as he ran to join us from the shed.
His dark brown hair hung shaggily around his face and his bright blue eyes stared into mine. I let go of the bat, sending Grayson flying backward into the dirt with his prize. I stood, dusting myself off and then patted Pierson on the back, “Good job, little buddy.”
He grinned from ear to ear and tossed the ball to me gleefully. “Alright, spread out and we’ll play catch until Mom and Dad are ready to go,” I instructed to the three of them.
The fun of the game was lost when the yelling began. My father’s voice rang clear and loud from the house. “Get out! Just go, Sebastian.”
“You can’t keep hiding. Those kids need protection and we need you.” My uncle yelled in response.
“We’re fine here and this is the only way we know how to protect them. Do you honestly think they’re safe in Montana? Why would I want to put them through the type of childhood we had? I want better for them.” Dad defended firmly, not backing down.
“You’re keeping them away from their purpose, Jackson. They’re bound to find out and it ought to be from family instead of—”
Dad interrupted him, louder this time. “I told you to leave, Sebastian. Get out of my home and don’t come back.”
The front door slammed loudly, followed by the sound of several picture frames falling from the wall and crashing to the floor. I stood in the middle of the backyard, hugging my brothers and sister protectively, listening to the chaos inside.
The smooth reverberation from the BMW rumbled as the engine started. Seconds later, the little black car sped from our driveway and down the road in a furious flash.
Everything was quiet from the house for a few long seconds until my mother swung the backdoor open and called for us to come inside. She glanced around the backyard suspiciously, beckoning us with a waving motion from her right hand.
“Can we have our picnic now?” Pierson begged, tugging on her skirt.
She shook her head negatively and pursed her lips together. “Not right now, sweetheart. Run to your room and play, alright?”
“Mom,” I called as I raced toward her. “Who was that man? I heard him say something about family and—”
“It’s not your concern, Orson.” My dad interrupted firmly as he walked back into the house from the front porch. “We don’t have any family. He was just an old friend. Care for your brothers and sister while I speak to your mother alone. Understand?”
The wind howled violently through the trees beyond the rock wall we called a fence, snapping me out of my reverie.
The gate remained motionless and I picked up my iPhone for the millionth time in the few hours my siblings had been gone. I pounded the screen aggressively and held the phone to my ear waiting for the voicemail message I knew I would hear after a few rings.
“Congratulations, you’ve reached my cellphone. Leave a message explaining what you want and how I can reach you. If you have a more pressing concern, you should know better than to call me anyway. My big brother can be reached at 957—”
“I don’t want to hear my phone number, Gray! I want you to answer,” I growled, as I pressed the end call button and tossed it onto the leather couch a few feet away.
I paced the room for a minute or two but gave up quickly, returning to my post by the window. My thoughts drifted to another day, not quite as sunny or jovial as the one from my previous daydream. The two occasions were only a few days apart but they couldn’t be more opposite from each other.
The dark evening had been rainy and I stared out the window watching the raindrops fall to the ground. Grayson sat on the couch, silent and lost. Ellison and Pierson cried into each other’s arms openly.
A policeman from the Dallas Police Department stood next to me with his hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry about your parents, son. We were at the site of the car collision almost instantly but there was nothing we could do. They were dead on the scene. No pain. No fear. Understand?”
I nodded.
“I called your next of kin and he arranged a taxi to pick the four of you up,” he explained tenderly.
“Our next of kin? We have no family. Our parents are—were—all we had.” I insisted strongly, trying to keep my face from showing the devastation I felt.
The red-haired policeman tilted his head to the side and stared at me with slanted eyes. “You have an uncle who lives in Montana. His name is Sebastian Winters. Do you recognize the name at all? Surely you’ve met him at least once, Orson. He’s your father’s younger brother.”
I didn’t answer. There was nothing left to be said. I nodded in agreement and cleared my throat, turning back toward the window. “Grayson,” I demanded with authority. “Pack your bag, and help Elle and P pack theirs. Do it now. We’re leaving.”
“Where are we going?” He asked me as a deep anger and resentment built with every passing moment.
Grayson had always been carefree and happy until that day, but he refused to let it go. He took the death of our parents far worse than any of the rest of us and never did fully get over the pain from that dreary, rainy evening.
“Montana. We’re going to Montana.” I answered as strongly as I could. “Our new home.”
A jolt of the automatic gate reclaimed my attention and I took a deep breath, desperately hoping that the black Range Rover would pull through, delivering my three siblings home safely.
The gate slowly swung open allowing entrance into the courtyard of Whitestone Manor, our home and refuge from the dangerous life we lived. It opened all the way and came to a sudden stop on the other side of the driveway.
My heart pounded in my chest, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. An eternity later, or what felt like one, my black Range Rover came flying through the open portal with my little sister behind the wheel.
Ellison rolled down the darkly tinted window, despite the snow, and blew a kiss toward the house, knowing I would be watching, waiting and worrying. With a sigh of exhausted relief and the plan to yell at them until their ears bled, I marched from the library to meet them in the four car garage attached to the manor.
“Be calm, Orson.” My uncle commanded as he spotted my frown. “As long as they did their job and lived to tell about it, the day was a success. Understand?”
“They’re an hour late, Uncle Sebastian. Unless Satan himself attacked them on the job, they have no excuse that can pacify me.”
“Well, that’s always a possibility with our career. It wouldn’t be the first time and I doubt it’ll be the last,” he chuckled.
I didn’t find him funny because the sad truth was that he wasn’t joking. Unfortunately for us, the family secret and the King of Hell went together like two peas in a pod.