Kiss in the Dark
Corsair’s Cove Chocolate Shop Series
A Corsair's Cove novella
The last thing he wants is to rest in peace.
Captain Daniel Blackthorne, the swashbuckling pirate they called the Wolf of the West, was cursed to death by a jealous witch. Since that day long ago, he’s haunted the attic rooms of Red Gem’s Chocolates in sleepy Corsair’s Cove. The rules of the curse are clear: He has until Hallowe’en night to help the women of Blackthorne blood find true love, or his soul is doomed forever.
When Eloise Wilson moves in above the chocolate shop, she’s unprepared for a spectral roommate. Sadly for Blackthorne, she’s terrified of ghosts—and with good reason. Gifted with the Sight since childhood, she’s seen hauntings end in gruesome tragedy. Worse, family and friends think she’s just a pretty young college grad with an overactive imagination. When she finds out her new home is haunted, the last thing she expects is a ghostly captain who rewrote the book on seduction.
But Eloise can’t save his soul until he heals her heart, and Hallowe’en is only days away. Blackthorne is the darkness she fears, even if his touch is as sweet as anything from the shop below. He’s delicious, but he’s dangerous, and Eloise knows better than to taste what she can’t have.
And yet lovers are like chocolate—for some, only the dark will do.
This novella is available for pre-order and will be published September 30/17. This book is part of the Corsair's Cove collection. Visit Corsair's Cove for more novellas set in this world.
Eloise Wilson crouched behind the sofa, panting hard. Terror didn’t permit anything but sawing gulps of air. She squeezed her eyes shut, a hot lick of tears dampening her cheeks. Then she shivered beneath the caress of a frigid wind as her breath came out in a puff of fog.
This place she’d just made her home was haunted. Eloise mentally recited every curse word she knew as her heart tried to pound through her ribs. Fear was stupid. It didn’t help anything. And yet she knew firsthand just how dangerous ghosts could be—not that anyone, especially the cousins who had allowed her to use this apartment rent-free, would believe her story if she told them. No, Eloise was the flake of the family, with her hippie clothes and herbal teas. This would be one more reason to roll their eyes and pat her on the head.READ MORE
Eloise peered over the couch cushion at the door opposite her hiding place. Her rooms occupied the top floor of the old Victorian commercial building, divided from the unfinished half of the upstairs where generations had stowed their trunks and boxes. All that antique charm sometimes meant limited electricity, so her collection of candles flickered in the ghostly breeze, making the shadows twist and jump. The door looked like it belonged on a barn, with rough upright planks and a black iron knob and hinges. Someone had painted it to match the room without bothering to smooth, much less sand, the boards. She kind of liked the rustic look. What bothered her was the white light seeping through the cracks and crawling across the floor like spilled oil.
Glowing was never a good sign.
She swallowed hard and forced herself to rise another inch. The nubbly fabric of the cushion pressed into her cheek as she examined every detail of the haunting. That cold wind smelled salty, as if it had come straight from the ocean. Unsurprising, given the resident spook was supposedly a sea captain.
The black iron handle of the door rattled, the oblong knob turning ever so slightly. This ghost was strong, as powerful as the one who’d terrorized her childhood home. As deadly as the one at college? Eloise shoved the memory away, hating this apparition for reminding her of that terrible, horrible night.
She watched the knob rotate a quarter turn, imagining dreadful possibilities. With ghosts you never knew what you were getting. All the same, she had to deal with her visitor or spend the evening hiding behind the couch.
All at once she found her courage and grabbed a candle from the top of the bookshelf behind her. Scalding wax spilled over her fingers as she moved, but she ignored the pain as she held the candlestick aloft, feeling utterly ridiculous for an instant. She was no gray-bearded wizard, or fairy princess, or elf from a role-playing game. She was a business college grad with no money and fewer prospects, but she’d been able to see ghosts since she was ten.
Furthermore, she’d learned how to keep them in check. Eloise hurried past the end of the couch and set the candle on the floor, facing the attic door. The wind rushed around the circumference of the room, blowing out every flame except the one at her feet. Then the door burst open in a frigid gust of cobwebs and mold, revealing a yawning darkness beyond. The light that had been seeping around it vanished, leaving only the glow of her single candle. Eloise’s scalp prickled, as much a physical reaction to the surge of power as it was one of fear.
She braced her feet, summoning her will. “No dark energy, no unwanted soul, no evil nor haunting shall pass this line of light!”
The room fell utterly, hugely silent. Not even the usual creaks of the old building disturbed the profound quiet. Eloise searched the shadows, nervous sweat trickling between her shoulder blades. Normally she could see ghosts—sometimes just blobs of light, other times entire human forms—but nothing was visible. Eloise held up her free hand, testing for the presence. Her palm tingled as if she’d grabbed a handful of bees.
“Okay, so you’re a different kind of ghost, but you’re definitely there. No one bothered to mention you until my bags were unpacked. Then it’s like, Oh, yeah, Corsair’s Cove is full of hauntings. It’s great for tourism.” She tried to swallow, but her throat ached with tension. “Well, bud, I’m not okay with things that go bump in the night. Especially not where I live.”
The flame danced, but that was all. There was an invisible line formed by the threshold between the attic and her apartment. Eloise sensed the ghost pushing to get across like a steady weight against her will. An involuntary shudder worked its way up her spine. Once she’d moved in, she’d started hearing legends about Corsair’s Cove and its bloody past. Sure, Great Aunt Ruby—the last occupant of these rooms—had told Eloise and her cousins plenty of tales, but they’d been little girls back then and Ruby had stuck to the kid-friendly stuff.
“Are you Daniel Blackthorne, the pirate called the Wolf of the West?” Eloise asked, picking up the candle again and taking a step forward.
A burst of cold touched her cheek, so icy it hurt. Eloise’s heart jumped with fright and she shrank back. She’d guessed correctly. “You’re staying on your side of the door, Blackthorne. A girl has her right to privacy.”
Just for an instant, she saw him. Or perhaps saw was too weak a word. This was like waking up with her pulse pounding and every nerve on alert. Blackthorne stood tall and broad-shouldered, his strong form dressed in old-fashioned clothes. He was handsome, with black hair that curled to his collar, but it was his blue eyes that captivated her and marked him as inhuman. Blackthorne’s gaze was too bright for any mortal man. His focus was absolute, and it was entirely on her, as if he could steal the intimate secrets of her heart—and show her his.
Eloise shook, wanting to respond but too terrified to summon words. The image hovered for barely a second and blinked to nothing.
A moment later, an aching, crushing grief filled her, so profound she fell to one knee. Tears burned her eyes again, blurring the candlelight. Her thoughts crumbled to pieces, the overwhelming emotion making it hard to sort her feelings from his. What had this man suffered? How had he lingered, clinging to an afterlife with this kind of pain? But this was how ghosts caught the living—by dragging innocent mortals into their misery. She could not afford to pity him. “I’m sorry, but you need to move on.”
Like quicksilver, the sadness became rage. In her mind’s eye, Eloise caught flashes of thrashing waves, a blood-smeared blade, a bullet rending flesh. Mocking laughter. In these moments, when ghosts lost themselves in past wrongs, they became deadly. During her time at college, she’d seen what an avenging spirit had left of his victim. The nightmares had never stopped.
The memory jolted her back to the present. Eloise sprang to her feet and slammed the door. “Begone,” she muttered, shaking too hard to raise her voice. “Begone, begone!”
She poured every ounce of will into the words, pushing Daniel Blackthorne away.
Eloise ran her finger lightly along the row of crystals hanging across the attic door. They danced and bobbled, throwing rainbows across the patterned carpet. The last of her collection had filled in the final gap in the row, the chains suspended from a row of cup hooks she’d fastened into the ancient wooden frame. She had prepared each crystal carefully, enhancing the protective powers of the stones with herbal oils and infusions. The crystals needed an extra boost to hold back the very strong energies living in the attic.
To hold back Daniel Blackthorne, if what she’d learned last night was true.
That brief apparition seemed dreamlike now, a nightmare shrunk by the logical light of day. Yet she knew better. Ghosts happened. She’d learned that the hard way. She checked her protections again, her long peasant skirt swirling against her bare legs as she moved. Apprehension bubbled up, but she resolutely shoved it down again. The obvious thing would be to move out of the old Victorian, but she couldn’t afford another place.
Along with three of her cousins, Eloise had inherited a share in Great Aunt Ruby’s chocolate shop, although no one—least of all Eloise—understood why she’d been included in the will. Although the cousins had been close as children, they’d drifted apart soon after Eloise’s parents had moved away. She wasn’t even part of the family tree—her mom and uncle had been born from her grandfather’s first marriage, although Granny Agnes had raised them as her own. The only Blackthorne blood she carried were the few drops the cousins had exchanged as part of a sisterhood pact they’d done when Eloise was nine and the others around thirteen. It was a miracle none of them had seriously hurt themselves with Uncle Bill’s pocket knife. Eloise had pricked her thumb with more enthusiasm than the rest and ended up needing stitches.
All the same, the bequest had come just as she’d graduated from business school and was flat broke. With no job, no place to live, and nowhere to go, Eloise had gladly come to Corsair’s Cove and moved in above Red Gem’s Chocolates and Confections free of charge.
Until she had income, she’d have to put up with the haunting in the next room. At least he didn’t have a loud TV—and now she had a spectacular anti-ghost perimeter alarm. She circled the rooms, inspecting the protective charms at each window and door. Great Aunt Ruby’s antiques blended with Eloise’s fairy lights and the colorful throws decorated with mandala designs. Dream catchers and potted herbs filled the windows, and more crystals and feathers decorated every doorframe. Eloise didn’t follow any system, but simply went with gut instinct and experience. If something worked, she used it.
She pressed a hand against the middle of the door. Energy roiled against her palm, agitated by her attempts to confine it. The thread of darkness and anger lingered. She knew from her brief contact with the ghost that a wrong had been done. Strong magic had been misused, maybe even a curse. It was hard to know for sure. Eloise caught impressions, but they were simply the ghost’s memories, and those could be as flawed as the recollections of the living. Death didn’t make a person any smarter although it did tend to make them mad.
“No dark energy, no unwanted soul, no evil nor haunting shall pass this line of light.” Eloise recited the command once more and released her breath, tension draining away to leave her slightly giddy. She’d done everything possible to keep Blackthorne out. At the very least, she didn’t want ghosts showing up at the breakfast table and moaning on about how they were innocent and would someone please reattach their head. She wasn’t a morning person at the best of times.
She didn’t quite manage to laugh at her joke. Still eyeing the attic door, Eloise collapsed onto Ruby’s ragged but supremely comfy couch. She closed her eyes, experiencing the pull of exhaustion that always came after invoking a charm.
Sadly, there was no nap in her future. A sharp rap on the outside door startled her wide awake. Eloise groaned. Her cousin Brynn always knocked as if the world needed to smarten up and pay attention. A little reluctantly, Eloise rose and let her in.
If Corporate Weekly had centerfold models, Brynn Kato would have been a natural. A beautiful Asian-American, she had been chief financial officer for a high-powered tech company until Corsair’s Cove and Jamie Finlayson had come back into her life. Now she worked her financial magic in jeans and comfortable shoes. Still, Eloise was wary of her cousin. Brynn knew the most about her past, and Eloise didn’t like to share those details with anyone.
Right then, Brynn’s dark eyes examined Eloise from her bare feet to the long mass of her wavy red hair. Eloise’s cheeks warmed. Her cousin hadn’t looked at her that way since seven-year-old Eloise had stolen Brynn’s Sunday dress and played Mud Princess in the backyard.
With concentration, Eloise managed not to cringe. “What’s up?” she said meekly.
“We have a family meeting, or did you forget?”
“Oh, right.” Feeling sheepish, Eloise turned back to glance at the attic door. She’d had other things on her mind.
“We’re waiting for you downstairs,” Brynn said as she turned and descended the stairs at a trot, her red flats clattering on the bare wood.
Obediently, Eloise followed. The storefront occupied the front of the main floor and the kitchens were at the back. The creaking inside stairs led up to Eloise’s rooms from the back door of the building. With its cracked plaster and handrail polished by long use, the narrow passageway fascinated Eloise. More than any other part of the place, the scuffed treads and plain, scrubbed walls spoke of decades of constant work to keep the business running. This dedication formed the real inheritance, and the four cousins took it seriously.
Eloise and Brynn entered the enormous high-ceilinged commercial kitchen. Their other two cousins, Livy Tarbert and Pru Parker, leaned against a steel countertop, drinking coffee and sampling Livy’s latest creation. Both were tall and dark haired, as was typical of the Blackthorne family. Livy was a long-distance runner—probably a good thing, since she was also the main product developer for the chocolate shop.
“Yes to this batch,” said Pru, pointing to the pan on the left with one pink-polished nail. “No to that one. There’s a different ingredient in there that doesn’t work for me.”
“I’m with Pru,” said Brynn. “Are you going to tell us what the mystery element is?”
Livy gave her sly smile. “Not until Eloise has done the taste test.”
Eloise wasn’t in the mood for their good-natured games, but forced herself to get on board. She put on a smile and approached the offerings.
Normally anything from Livy’s kitchen was too good to pass up, but once in a while her experiments led to dodgy results. Eloise eyed the truffles with suspicion. They were dark, on the small side, and topped with a curl of shaved white chocolate. “Do they have a name?”
Bonney, Great Aunt Ruby’s African Grey parrot, was not allowed in the kitchen, but replied from the front of the store. “Delight! Delight! Grog! Bonney’s a good girl!”
Livy smiled. “I’m thinking of calling them Captain’s Delight.”
Since the name offered no clue as to the contents, Eloise cautiously sampled the first tray. She’d never been much of a gourmet, but her taste buds had improved since she’d begun working at the shop. She savored the truffle, letting it melt and blend on her tongue. Livy had melded bitter and sweet notes perfectly with a hint of tart fruit. The combination sent every sensor in Eloise’s mouth into a happy dance. “Dark chocolate, raspberry liqueur, fresh hazelnut at the center, and vanilla cream.”
“Right,” said Livy, looking impressed. “Now try the other one.”
Eloise glanced up, aware the others were gauging her reaction. It made her nervous because the only thing she’d done for Red Gem’s so far, besides occupy an apartment for free, was sell chocolates out front. She’d done a marketing plan but hadn’t put any of it into action. Sure, she’d been busy finishing her degree and moving to town, but the delay weighed on her self-confidence.
Still, they treated her as an equal and she was very, very grateful to have them in her life. Of course, she’d never told them about the whole seeing-ghosts drama. It was one thing to come across as a broke student who liked crystals and unicorns, and another to claim she talked to the dead.
Eloise bit into the second chocolate. Only the liqueur was different, but that was enough. The tangy punch had been replaced with a softer, perfumy flavor that left her wanting to shudder. It tasted like an old powder puff smelled. She swallowed and then drank from the cup of black coffee Pru handed her, keeping her face as blank as possible. The last thing she wanted to do was hurt Livy’s feelings. “Definitely the raspberry.”
“What was in the other one?” Brynn demanded in her no-nonsense way.
Livy’s face fell. “Orange flower water. I was trying for something old-fashioned.”
The silence was eloquent.
“Maybe with white chocolate?” Eloise suggested. “It’s delicate, like that matcha filling you tried.”
Livy began writing notes in a wire-bound scribbler smudged with food residue. “I won’t be defeated.”
“Those raspberry ones are hardly a defeat,” said Pru. “I think we should feature them on Saturday.”
“Good idea,” said Brynn. “That leads me to the main thing I wanted to talk about, which is raising the store’s profile.”
Eloise, who had snitched another of the good truffles, stopped in mid-chew as all eyes turned to her.
Brynn picked up her coffee and peered at Eloise over the rim. “We need you to do some publicity for Red Gem’s Chocolates.”
Eloise gulped down the sticky sweetness. “Marketing and publicity was my college major. I did two co-op terms working for a theater company.”
“Perfect,” Brynn said. “Better than perfect. I dropped in on the mayor and worked a deal.”
Pru raised a brow. “Mayor Hottie?”
Brynn gave her a withering look.
Pru shrugged. “Just sayin’. He is nice to look at.”
Brynn pushed on. “Mayor Briggs and I talked about the Corsair’s Cove Hallowe’en Charity Ball. The proceeds are split three ways—the city gets some for a special project, charity gets some, and the organizing business gets a smaller cut and all the promotion they can squeeze in. The fitness club was going to be in charge this year, but they hit a speed bump.”
“A big bump,” Livy put in. “They went bankrupt.”
“Exactly. Briggs is letting us take their place.”
“Why?” Livy asked.
Brynn shrugged. “I smiled sweetly and played up our importance to the town. Red Gem’s Chocolates is seventy years old, and the building has been here even longer. Tourists love the ghost stories and the history, not to mention the chocolate.”
They fell silent a moment. Without quite knowing why, Eloise envisioned the attic door. She could almost feel the energy behind it, like heat permeating the entire building. Pirates, gangsters, smugglers, and villains. Corsair’s Cove had plenty of colorful history she could use to sell an event. Never mind that she’d spent the morning building a magical barrier to keep it out of her life.
Livy looked up from her notes, eyes wary. “We’re just getting the business on its feet. Even with the opportunity—”
“We need the exposure,” Brynn said, cutting her off. “It could put us over the threshold into real success. Otherwise, we’re going to struggle once tourist season ends. Don’t forget the back taxes.”
“What’s that about?” Eloise asked.
It was Pru who answered. “Aunt Ruby never paid her municipal taxes. Like, never.”
“Never?” Apparently all the pirates in Corsair’s Cove hadn’t sailed ships. “How did she get away with that?”
Pru waved a hand. “She had a relationship with her own Mayor Hottie back in the day.”
“Go, Ruby,” Eloise murmured.
“No one knows the details,” Brynn said. “The point is that Ruby never paid and by the time the Town figured it out, she was this lovely old lady no one had the heart to drag into court. Settling the bill took a lot of our liquid assets, but we didn’t have a choice. There were a few businessmen around town waiting to pounce if we decided to sell out.”
Eloise caught her breath, a solid ball of tension forming in her gut. “Okay. Back to the ball. What’s the charity?”
“The NorthWest Heart Foundation is partnering with Corsair’s Cove and the Angels West Hospital in the city to fund a permanent paramedic service in Corsair’s Cove.”
It had never occurred to Eloise that there wasn’t one already. “Great cause. What does running the ball involve?”
“Organizing the event, from finding a venue to sending out the press releases. It turns out the fitness club dropped the ball on pretty much everything.”
Eloise winced. “What’s our budget?”
“What budget?” said Brynn.
Eloise clutched her coffee cup in both hands. “The theater company said pretty much the same thing. I made it work.” They were bold words, but her stomach felt as if she were toppling off a cliff. Hallowe’en was just weeks away.
This was her opportunity to prove she was part of the Red Gem’s partnership. Eloise could immediately see opportunities to raise the shop’s profile—newspapers and local television stations loved charity events—but media coverage wasn’t the same thing as cash in the bank. It took time for exposure to work on sales figures.
“Can you do this, Eloise?” asked Brynn. “We’ll all help, but with everything else on our plates, the lion’s share of the work will fall on your shoulders. If it’s too much, you have to let us know now.”
Brynn’s manner was kind, but Eloise heard the doubt beneath her words. It burrowed into her aching stomach and pulled the knots there tighter. Among the cousins, only Brynn was aware of Eloise’s stay in a mental hospital. Only Brynn knew that Eloise’s father refused to speak to her. She was definitely the problem child of the family. Despite all that, Brynn was giving her a chance to prove she could pull her weight. That was far more than most people ever did.
Eloise suddenly felt like throwing up from sheer nerves. Am I able to do this? They alternative was to say, No, I’m sorry. I’m too fragile. And then she would lose a shot at a new life and the respect of the three incredible women who were inviting her to be a success.
She wasn’t going to blow this. She could and would pull her weight. Not just that, she would make the Hallowe’en Ball a raging success for the sake of the shop. Her efforts would rake in money. She would save the day. Rescue puppies.
Eloise desperately wanted to be part of this family. “Sure,” she said. “I can absolutely do it.”
KISS IN THE DARK is imaginatively original all the way through.