Just when JT Carpenter and Buddy McCain finally begin to show a profit from the old hotel on Blood Mountain, they run into trouble. Sales Director, Rachel Ryan has over-booked the hotel with two groups that mix like gasoline and matches. Richard Markman arrives to film part of his new movie on Blood Mountain, but his secret plan is to kill his movie star wife, Dixie. Then the Church of Inner Light checks in along with their leader and self-styled prophet, Lars Ekberg, whose spirit guide warns Dixie of her possible, but eminent, demise, igniting the already explosive relationship between Richard and Dixie.
When she befriends the frightened Dixie, who is accused of murder, Rachel gets drawn into the twisted world of Hollywood scandals. But as she investigates to help her friend, Rachel puts her own life in jeopardy by uncovering a series of poisonous secrets and unveiling the true motives of the hotel’s guests.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Blood Mountain Prophecy, the sequel to Blood Mountain, Rachel Ryan is at it again. This time she is convinced that her new friend, movie star Dixie Markman, is going to be murdered by her husband. Of course, Rachel has good reason to be concerned. Not only does she witness a series of near accidents in which Dixie escapes death by the skin of her teeth, but there are rumors that Dixie’s husband is having an affair and wants to be rid of her. To top it off, a medium who heads the Church of Inner Light warns that Dixie will die. He even seems to predict the near accidents that she seems suddenly prone to.
Like its predecessor, Blood Mountain Prophecy’s characters are well developed and three dimensional, and its plot will keep you turning pages from beginning to end.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Blood Mountain Prophecy is another feather in Joanne Taylor Moore’s cap. As well written and entertaining as Moore’s first book, the sequel reunites us with our old friends from Blood Mountain and introduces us to some delightful new characters like the movie stars, Richard and Dixie Markman, and the head of the Church of Inner Light, prophet and medium, Lars Ekberg. As before, Moore’s characters are very believable—human, flawed, and motivated by mundane, everyday things like greed, love, sex, and the need for constant attention. Just like real people.
I especially liked the way the relationships between Moore’s characters in her first book, like Rachael and her brother-in-law JT, grow and change in the first book. And Buddy is still trying to convince Rachael to marry him, not that it does him any good. The plot was strong, and even though it brings in a touch of the paranormal, it was totally believable. Like the first book, Blood Mountain Prophecy is one you will want to keep on your shelf and read again and again.
It was a stinking-hot day in August when Richard Markman figured out how he could kill his wife and get away with it.
He stood near the top of Blood Mountain, drenched with sweat, and stared at the rocky ledge. He envisioned his wife tumbling over it, wide-eyed and shrieking, her arms and legs flailing, her skirt flying up as she plunged through the air.
A shudder of excitement flowed through him as the vision replayed itself like a scene from one of his movies. His eyes glowed in anticipation. He saw his life, his perfectly wonderful future, without his wife.
Montana de la Sangre–or Blood Mountain, as the gringos called it–was located in the middle of a mountain range that bordered the north end of Mesquite, Arizona. It was named for the shade of red it became when the setting sun painted the rocks on its surface, although some said it was named for the blood that had been spilled on it over the centuries.
Regardless of the name’s origin, the massive peak had long been an object of curiosity, even worship. It was a focal point that helped identify the non-descript farming town of Mesquite, which lay next to the Mexican border. Good thing, too. Other than the huge monolith and a river snaking through the valley, Mesquite had little else to distinguish it from the long stretch of desert it inhabited.
Richard Markman had toyed with the idea of killing his wife for quite a while. He had fantasized about Dixie’s death and the extravagant funeral he would arrange for her. He envisioned all the important people in Hollywood attending and extending their sympathy to him, the poor, grieving widower.
To their fans, the Markman’s marriage looked ideal, but the reality was quite different.
In their last few years together, Dixie had become a tiresome burden in so many ways, like a bag of rocks Richard constantly carried around on his back. He was always propping her up, acquiescing to her stupid, incessant demands, and he was continually being pushed into the background.
Regrettably, divorce was not an option. It came down to a matter of simple finance: most of the wealth he now enjoyed belonged to his wife. Pity. Richard so desperately craved the power, the prestige, and the physical pleasures money bought. He couldn’t bear to lose any of it. Not one blasted cent.
He also had a problem with the tabloids. The paparazzi would swarm like roaches at the first sniff of a divorce between a Hollywood producer-director and his movie star wife. They’d park in front of his home, take unflattering pictures, and twist him into a caricature uglier than the devil himself. Even worse, people would stop going to his movies.
That was the real problem. Everyone loved Dixie Markman. She was America’s sweetheart. She was charming and cute with her red pixie hair and big chocolate eyes–and she was never rude to fans or the press.
Richard was another story, though. He hated the press, and the press hated him. Even worse, Markman’s latest flick was a dud. He couldn’t risk the public turning against him and his next film by divorcing one of America’s most-loved stars.
He picked up a rock, tossed it over the edge, and watched it plunge down to a wide ledge below. He pondered his decision. Blood Mountain seemed like the perfect solution. Dixie’s death would appear accidental, and it would take place in front of credible witnesses. Most importantly, her “accident” would take place away from the eyes of LA County detectives who were far too experienced in alimony murders for his comfort.
“Mr. Markman? Mr. Markman?” Stanley Belinski called, rousing Richard out of his trance-like state.
“What did you say?” Richard asked, not bothering to turn around. He continued to gaze over the edge of the precipice, oblivious to the sun boring down on his head. He estimated the drop to the ledge below. It was at least sixty feet. No one could survive a plunge like that.
“I said we really should get going,” the real estate agent prodded and wiped the sweat off his face with a soggy handkerchief. The extra seventy pounds he carried added to the problem of his over-active sweat glands. So did the pressure of trying to make the deal. “It was a hundred and two when we left and I’m sure it’s hotter now.” Belinski gazed up at the vultures circling above them. He mopped the sweat pooling around his neck and took a couple steps toward Markman. But that was as close to the edge as he dared to go.
“Yes, I suppose we should leave.” Richard was unmindful of the fat man’s pain. “I think I’ve seen enough, but I have one more question.” He still faced the north overlook and his mind raced through the details of his plan. “What about the security situation? Do they have municipal police here?”
Belinski had to stop and think. He managed to reply with some truth, yet put the best spin on it. “Well, actually, Mr. Markman, we have so little crime here, so few problems, all we’ve ever needed is the local Deputy Sheriff.” He pictured old Deputy Tucker with his bow-legged walk, watermelon belly, and walrus mustache. “But if you have any concerns at all, we can arrange to hire extra security.”
“Oh, no, that won’t be necessary,” Richard said, brushing a damp curl away from his forehead. His hair was dyed black, naturally wavy, and he was so engrossed in his own thoughts he didn’t notice the moist ringlets that were forming all over his head. He suppressed a smile, happy to hear only one officer would be around to investigate any accidents, and suspected any deputy assigned to the boondocks would be old and dull. “We have our own security guards. I was just wondering, that’s all.”
He turned away from the ledge, finally looking at the realtor, giving the portly man his attention. Belinski’s face was flushed with heat and his shirt stuck to his chest with sweat.
“I think we’re done here,” Richard said. “I’m happy with what I see. This is the perfect location for my next film.” He stepped through the rocks, giving a wide berth to a cholla cactus with medusa-like arms. When he reached Belinski, he was smiling. “If you’re sure the old hotel will be renovated by March, we’re in business. That will give you seven months.”
Belinski tried to contain his elation. “I don’t see any problems with that. The property is listed on the county’s tax sale for next week. My buyer is ready to purchase, and my brother is slated to be the contractor on the remodeling of the hotel. As you saw, the basic structure is sound, so it won’t take much to whip it into shape.”
“Good. Then we have a deal,” Richard said, turning his head for one last gaze at the overlook. “I’ll contact the hotel later with a list of my requirements. We should be ready to film here by the first of March.”
He followed the heat-flushed, sweat-soaked agent back down the mountain, savoring the pleasure of his find. But at that time, there was no way Richard could foresee that the realtor’s plans were doomed. There was no way he could know that just three days before the tax sale, ownership of Blood Mountain would pass into entirely different hands.
As it was, while he trekked down Blood Mountain in the white-hot heat, plotting the death of his wife, certain strange, irreversible events had already been put into motion. Richard Markman had no idea that a prophecy from the dead would forever alter the path of his destiny.
Seven-and-a-half months later:
Rachel Ryan sat in her office and stared at the March calendar with pale green eyes, her blonde hair streaming over her shoulders like corn silk. It had just dawned on her it had been six months to the day, since she started working at the Mesquite Mountain Inn. Her probation period was over.
She glanced at the lobby through the open french doors. Hotel guests were checking in, and hotel staff were busily crisscrossing the lobby, heading to their assignments. Her boss, JT Carpenter, was nowhere to be seen. Good news. Since JT hadn’t shown up to fire her, she figured she was still employed as the hotel’s Director of Sales.
Rachel was also the hotel’s concierge, tour guide, catering manager, and “whatever-else- comes-up” person, something she pondered as she mentally checked off a list of her past contributions. Perhaps it was time to ask for a raise. Heaven knows, she needed one. She hadn’t bought a new outfit the entire six months of her employ.
She mulled over the possible ways that she could present her request. Granted, JT already had enough ammunition from her history with him to fire her, so she needed to use utmost caution. She didn’t want her approach to color his decision, especially since she didn’t have another job lined up.
She tapped her foot nervously and considered the way JT’s personality irritated her–like tiny cactus prickers that stuck to her skin–and wondered if a more indirect route to a raise would be smarter.
Rachel was sure that JT wouldn’t have hired her to begin with, except for the fact that her sister, Heather, was JT’s wife. Of course! Heather–the obvious solution. Rachel blew out a breath of air and her brain began spinning out a plan. It might be sneaky, and definitely manipulative, but her sister was the perfect conduit to her objective.
That decided, she turned away from the calendar. Assuming she was still gainfully employed, Rachel went back to work and considered the logistical problem she was currently facing: two big groups were due to check in at the same time and they didn’t have enough rooms to put them in.
That’s when the phone rang.
“Rachel Ryan speaking,” she announced with a smile in her voice, something she learned early on in hotel school. “How may I help you?”
The voice on the other end of the line was Heather, warning her that JT was heading her way. Uh-oh. A private visit with His Highness rarely meant good news for her. Maybe I’m going to get fired after all.
She turned her eyes to the files that lay on her desk, flipped through her papers in a quick attempt at organizing the mess, and JT walked in. Big boned and six-feet-six, he dominated the room. He lowered his bulk down in the chair in front of Rachel’s desk, folded his arms across his chest, and squirmed. The chair he was sitting in was one of those stiff-backed, elegant, skinny-legged, upholstered-in-silk antiques that Heather had recently purchased.
“Rachel, I want to talk to you about your little problem.”
That was typical JT. Never a preamble. Always straight to the bottom line.
“What problem?” Rachel looked up at him with her most innocent expression.
“Don’t bother giving me that dumb-blonde act.” His deep brown eyes never left her face and they seemed to bore right through her. “You know perfectly well I mean the overbooking problem you created.” JT never bought the innocent-look ploy, but it didn’t stop Rachel from an occasional try.
“Oh, that problem,” she acknowledged with a nod of her head. “You see what happened is that last October I booked the Circle of Inner Light Church group, for the two weeks starting with the March Equinox, on the twenty-first. Then, if you’ll remember, just before Thanksgiving, I signed Richard Markman–”
“Yeah, yeah, skip it,” JT said, waving his hand. “Just tell me why you overbooked.”
Rachel shot him an annoying look, disappointed she couldn’t divulge the full drama of the event, especially the part about how she was not really responsible.
“Richard Markman had to reschedule because one of his major stars had to go to rehab for a couple weeks. I figured you didn’t want me to tell Markman and all his money to take a hike, so I rescheduled him, which caused the current overbooking. So, since we’re out of rooms, and you don’t like to hear about a problem without a solution, I suggest management give up their suites and sleep in trailers on the old tennis courts.”
She pulled out a paper from her file, held it up between her thumb and forefinger, and let it dangle in the air. “Here’s the info on the trailers, if you want it. I’ve arranged to have delivery of two units, after a call from you, and they’ll have us set up within three hours.”
JT shifted in his chair, still trying to get comfortable, and focused his eyes on the paper. “Okay,” he finally said, rubbing his hand nervously over his hairline. “Since there’s not another decent hotel for sixty miles, I don’t think we have much choice.” He squirmed again in the chair. “And having a couple trailers available on stand-by is a good idea, maybe even on a permanent basis. We’ve been full several times already this winter.” He snatched the paper from her hand. “I’ll get it handled.”
Rachel watched JT walk away with a stunned look on her face. What just happened? A miracle. She didn’t get fired. She didn’t even get scolded. Something had to be up. JT popped back into the office, and Rachel jumped.
“Do me a favor, will you?” he asked. “Get rid of that stupid chair.” He walked out, disappeared behind the front desk, and turned the corner to his office.
Rachel was dazed and rested her chin on her hand. It was only a quirk of fate that she had booked the Hollywood group to begin with. When Richard Markman first came to look at the hotel, JT had never heard of the Mesquite Mountain Inn, and Buddy McCain, his partner, had only childhood memories of visits there. It was only after a series of interesting–and some deadly–events that they all had come to be where they were.
Rachel preferred to think of it as destiny.
She was still working at her desk an hour later when Becky Beeman poked her mousey brown head through the doorway. Becky was the new housekeeping manager Heather gratefully acquired from a Los Angeles hotel. Although Becky was intelligent and experienced, her most endearing trait was that she had been willing to pack up and move to Mesquite.
“I got your memo about the two groups coming in,” Becky said. Her bronzed face was lined with the effect of a lifetime of California sun, but she still maintained classic features and good bones.
“Yes, isn’t it exciting?” Rachel said, waving her in. “Tara Linley and Dixie Markman will be here, staying at our very own hotel. Imagine that.”
“I know, our first Hollywood celebrities.” Becky’s face wrinkled with a look of concern. She took small, tentative steps into the office. “Do you think the paparazzi will come?”
“Good luck if they do. They’ll have to sleep in their cars.”
Becky winced. “Yeah, I noticed we’re going to be a little overbooked.”
“Not to worry, Miss Beeman. Things will work out. Management may have to move out of the suites and into trailers, but, somehow, we’ll make room.”
Vertical creases formed above Becky’s nose and her glasses slipped down. “Those trailers aren’t so bad, you know. I’m very comfortable in mine and it’s real quiet back there.” She pushed her old tortoise-shell frames up with a finger. “I’m more worried about the demands of the divas.”
Rachel nodded in agreement. “I can understand that. You used to work in Hollywood, didn’t you?”
“Yes, but thankfully, that was in another lifetime.” Becky finally smiled, turned, and was out the door.
Lars Ekberg stood next to the window and gazed down at the city of London. Early morning light was beginning to filter in through the tall buildings–a dim light that radiated from a sun hidden behind a ceiling of low-hanging clouds. City lights were beginning to blink off one at a time, but the thick wall of glass protected Ekberg from the sounds of life that began to filter into the city.
Anthony Pander appeared at his side and looked at him warily. “You’ve been up a while. You didn’t sleep well.”
Ekberg turned toward his partner, studied his tousled hair and morning beard. “No. Too many things on my mind. I couldn’t turn it off.”
“What is it this time?” Pander held his breath. “It can’t be the money. We took in over four thousand for the seminar. Nearly five hundred people from our British congregations showed up.”
“No. No, it’s not that.” Ekberg turned his face back to the window.
“The readings? I know it’s exhausting…” Pander made an effort to sound sympathetic.
“No. I don’t mind them, really. We helped a lot of people. We also made a lot of money off them.”
“Then what?” Pander’s voice sharpened.
“It’s Arizona. I just have a lot of anxiety about going there.”
“Arizona?” Pander appeared puzzled and he scratched at the stubble on his chin. “But it was your idea.”
“No.” Ekberg shook his head. “No it wasn’t. It was White Eagle’s idea. He’s the one that said we needed to go. I’m the one with the bad feeling about it.”
“A bad feeling,” Pander repeated. “Is it because of that stupid dream?”
“Hey. The dream was not stupid.” Ekberg kept his voice low and his eyes turned to the window. “It was prophetic. It just happened to be nebulous.”
“A nebulous, prophetic dream about some woman in Arizona is giving you anxiety?” Pander tried to keep his voice level, tried to keep the skepticism out of it. “Lars, I think you’re just nervous about the trip. Once we get there, you’ll be okay. You’ll see.”
Ekberg turned and glared at his partner. “Don’t treat me like a child, Anthony. I know what I dreamed. Someone wants to kill this woman.”
Pander took a step back. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound condescending. It’s just that I don’t understand why something like that would put you into such a tailspin. A dream shouldn’t affect you or our trip. Look at this way: White Eagle wouldn’t have come up with the plan to go to Arizona if there was going to be problem. He would protect us. Nothing bad is going to happen.”
Ekberg turned back to the window with a look of disbelief. “That’s the trouble with you Americans. Cockeyed optimists even in the face of disaster.”
Pander started to make a sharp retort, but bit his lip when he noticed his watch. “We’ll have a real disaster if I don’t get in the shower now. We leave for Heathrow in a half-hour. We can talk about this later.”
“Fine with me. I’m ready to go whenever you are.” Ekberg’s eyes never drifted from the view through the window. The fog still hung in the air like a gauze curtain and the sun never broke through.
When Rachel arrived at her desk the next morning, she considered praying for a miracle. Okay, maybe not a real miracle, she mused, sending her thoughts upward, but how about a big dose of good luck? She had spent the prior week waiting and hoping for a cancellation that would keep her from having to move. The thought of packing up those fourteen boxes sitting in her suite was not at all appealing. Even with help, it would be a major job. Even worse, it would be a job that would have to be done that very night–down to her last tube of lipstick–so that housekeeping could move her out and clean her room first thing in the morning, at the ungodly hour of six o’clock.
Well, at least she was over her compulsion to buy shoes and wouldn’t be adding to the stacks in her closet. But even if she wasn’t over it, with her pittance of a salary, it would take her a year to save up for a single pair of designer footwear. In that regard, her job at the Mesquite Mountain Inn had certain built-in benefits.
She stood up behind her desk and stretched her head from side to side, trying to get rid of the pain at the base of her skull. She had more immediate problems to deal with now.
At that moment, the intercom buzzed. Rachel grabbed for it, caught the message, and snapped her eyes open. She punched the air. It finally happened. It was the cancellation she’d been waiting for.
She quickly called JT and told him they would need only one of the rental trailers. The french doors to her office were open, so she stifled the urge to do a little dance. She sat down, scrunched her eyes closed, pumped her fists in victory, and felt an ocean of relief wash over her.
Rachel yelped, nearly jumping out of her chair. She immediately recognized the pencil-thin man who stepped into her office: Lars Ekberg.
Rachel felt the skin on her face turn hot, and she wanted to melt right through the floor. “Oh, Mr. Ekberg, I’m so sorry. I was decompressing.”
“I can understand that, believe me,” Ekberg said, holding up a pale hand, his voice tender and sympathetic. “I go through the very same thing every time I have to speak before a large group.”
“Well, that’s a relief.” Rachel came around the side of her desk. “I’d hate to have you think I was an idiot right off the bat.” She flashed him her most winning smile. “I was hoping for a least a day or two of grace.”
Ekberg returned her smile. “You’re forgetting I’m already well acquainted with your skills in salesmanship,” he said, coming toward her, “and so far, you’ve scored a ten out of ten with the accommodations. We checked in late last night and Anthony and I were very pleased with our suites.
“Oh, I’m so glad.” Rachel wanted to collapse in her chair with relief.
Ekberg’s white-blonde hair was tied back in a ponytail and, when he came closer, his head caught the overhead lighting which streaked his hair with silver. “I especially appreciate the stocked refrigerator and fruit bowl you sent to the room. The restaurants were closed, but being a vegetarian, I found the fruit and crackers to be just perfect.”
“Thank you,” Rachel said, grateful she had done her homework. She wanted to punch the air again, but instead, picked up a hardcover book with a black and white photograph of Ekberg on the back cover and held it up. It was a flattering composition, but Ekberg was taller in person than he appeared in the photo and his complexion was even paler than Rachel’s.
“Oh, you bought my book.” He laughed, recognizing the tome. “I wondered who purchased the other copy.”
“Don’t be so modest, Lars. The sign in the bookstore said Life of Inner Light was number twenty-two on the best-seller list. I’m really thrilled for you.” Rachel shyly handed the book to him. “Would you sign it for me, please?”
“I’d be delighted.” He took the book and pulled a gold pen from his jacket pocket and wrote “To Rachel Ryan,” with a long, thin hand. He cocked his head and looked at her. “You know, your name fooled me. You have Scandinavian heritage, probably Swedish. I pictured you as a pale blonde every time we spoke on the phone, but I couldn’t square it with the Irish name.”
“Well, you guessed right. It’s my Swedish half that shows. My sister, Heather, got the Irish part.”
“So–” Ekberg nodded. “–just like my sister, Cee-Cee, and me. She got the dark hair, I got the light.” He went back to the book and scribbled a message.
“I’m quite impressed with your book,” Rachel said, feeling a little awkward. “It’s opened my mind to a whole set of new ideas. I’ve never read anything like it. Ever.”
Ekberg handed back the book. “Thank you. I hope you find something meaningful in it.”
“Oh, I already have. Your story is amazing.” Rachel stopped short of gushing, opened the cover, and read aloud the note he’d inscribed: “Best regards to a special lady, at a special time and a special place, Lars Ekberg.”
She looked up. “A special time and a special place?”
“Very special,” he replied, gray eyes glittering. “If you’d like to learn why, you’re welcome to attend my lectures, which you so graciously set up for me. Bring your sister if you’d like.”
“Why, I’d love that.” She gave him a grateful smile and picked up the folder with the title “Church of Inner Light” on the tab. “I have everything already set up for the seminar. Would you like me to walk you through the rooms now, and afterward, we could have lunch and make any changes or additions?”
“Yes, that would be perfect.” Ekberg stood erect and turned, clicked his heels, and theatrically extended his arm toward the door. “Shall we?”
When Rachel walked past him her skin prickled, like static electricity. Something felt weird about him. Something strange, almost mystical emanated from him. But of course, Rachel thought. That’s exactly what Lars presents himself to be–a mystic and a medium.
© 2013 by Joanne Taylor Moore