Romancing a Curse
Size: 5.25 x 8.00 in
Zach is running out of time to save the man fated to be his.
After losing a friend and inheriting her million-dollar home riddled with repair issues, Zach has his hands full. As a construction contractor he plans to make it the home she always wanted it to be. Except every time he fixes one thing, something else happens: fire, damage to the garden, and even mysterious lights making the staff whisper about ghosts. All linked to a historic Chinese shrine on the property.
When Zach catches a glimpse of a mystery man near the shrine, then dreams of monsters, he wonders if grief has driven him mad. But when a kiss awakens him to his past lives with an exiled lover, he begins to realize the only way out is to break the curse.
- 1 To Be Read list
Publisher: Independently Published
The weary ache of grief stretching through the cab of my truck as I drove up the long curving road toward the house made my stomach churn. Through the trees I caught a glimpse of the spires atop the mansion, remembering how the first time I had seen them I’d been struck with awe. Now, after hundreds of trips up the drive, it didn’t make my breath catch anymore, at least not until the left side of the house came into view, and with it a smoke and fire damaged husk of where I knew the kitchen used to be. Even that couldn’t over‐ ride the underlying sadness over knowing she wouldn’t be there.
“Fuck, boss,” I heard crackle to life from my earpiece.READ MORE
“It’s worse than I thought,” I told Jerry, knowing Mike could hear as they were both in the truck behind me. Happy for the distraction from my own self-pity, we were here for a job. Today was assessment day, among other things, but I focused on the mess at hand. Assess the damage, estimate repairs, and begin planning for construction.
“Really does look like a castle,” Mike added. “Damaged by a dragon or something.”
“You’ve been reading too many fantasy novels,” I teased him as I pulled my truck up along the circular drive just past the door. A man in a suit waited on the doorstep. He was an older Asian man, hair peppered white, rail thin, and shoulders squared. He held a stack of papers, a tablet, and I knew, despite the mask covering the lower part of his face, it would be kind rather than stern.
“Masks on,” I told my crew. I turned off the truck and reached for my mask, looping it over my ears and adjusting the nose guard for a perfect fit. My best friend Addy had gotten a group of fellow moms together to sew dozens of the things, specific to size, for my guys, with a fun choice of print. Mine was Legend of Zelda. I think Mike had Mario Bros., and Jerry, the Smurfs, today. Once the actual work began, we had construction masks for dust and paint fumes. These were for walk-throughs, assessments and social safety etiquette in the middle of a pandemic.
I got out of the truck, grabbing up my own tablet to make notes and heading toward the door. The slam of Jerry and Mike’s truck doors let me know they weren’t far behind.
“Mr. Yamamoto,” I greeted. “Happy to see that you look well.”
The edges of his eyes turned up, letting me know he was smiling beneath the mask. His was more of the surgical type of thing than the fun medical grade ones with filter pockets we had. “And you, Mr. Frank.”
“Zach,” I corrected. “Always Zach.”
“Of course,” he said, though I knew he’d never use my first name. It wasn’t his way.
“These are two of my best guys, Mike Hartford, he’s my plumbing guy, and Jerry Mitchell, he’s my electrical guy. I thought I’d expedite things by bringing them along to assess the repairs.” I pointed out each of my men. Mike, a big black man who knew more about pipes than anyone I’d ever met, and Jerry, a tiny Latino man who had a gift for finding problems and fixing them even when no one else could.
“I have copies of the fire chief’s report,” Mr. Yamamoto said. “Let me show everyone in, and then you and I can go over paperwork while your men are looking over the damage?”
“Sounds good,” I said.
He opened the door and motioned us inside. We followed and I heard Mike and Jerry’s awe as we entered the foyer. The inside front hall of the house had one of those double staircases, wide and extending through both sides of the room. It was the sort of thing meant for balls and elaborate cocktail parties where a princess caught a glimpse of her prince for the first time. The whole house looked like something out of a movie rather than real life. However, I knew it had never been the fairytale mansion the family had hoped for.
Through the door to the left, in the side of the stairway wall, was the kitchen. The back of the house, on the first floor, I knew to be a sprawling dining room and living area large enough to entertain a royal family or emptied to become a ballroom.
Mr. Yamamoto opened the side door to the kitchen. The damage was worse than I thought. Fire had eaten away a lot of the sidewall, all the cabinets and appliances, and a good portion of underlayment of the floor, leaving it all unstable and dangerous to walk on. We all huddled just inside the doorway.
“Wow. I thought they said it only burned twenty minutes or so,” Jerry said.
“Yes,” Mr. Yamamoto agreed. “However, the fire chief said it burned really hot.”
“No idea what started it?” I asked, though I’d already reviewed a lot of the information provided after the fire.
“Unknown, possible accelerant, though none was found, possible wiring error, though again, none was found. The origin of the fire could not be determined,” Mr. Yamamoto said. He handed me the fire inspector’s report. I took it and handed it over to Mike. The two of them would go over it with a fine-tooth comb.
“Can you two start a workup while I go over paperwork?” I asked them, though unnecessarily. “Get me some measurements so I can order cabinets.”
“On it, boss,” Jerry said.
I motioned to Mr. Yamamoto to leave the kitchen and we stepped back into the foyer. He shuffled through a handful of papers. “Every‐ thing is signed and transferred,” he began.
“I heard from a cousin of hers,” I said. “He’s not happy.”
“Not his choice.” Mr. Yamamoto handed over the stack and a set of keys, each with a colored fob on the end. “Ms. Yang wanted the house and grounds to go to you. I believe her words were that her family had been ‘cursed with it for too long.’”
“She did mention a curse,” I said. Actually when I’d first met Sofia Yang almost twenty years prior, she had said that she was cursed. I’d been in my early twenties, and newly out of trade school, looking for a chance to make my way. She’d offered me work. And we’d created a lifelong friendship based on long conversations during those construction periods over the years. “She thought I might be able to break it.”
Mr. Yamamoto laughed a little. “She was an optimistic woman.”
“Right?” I agreed. “I think the curse was something about true love breaking through the shadows of the past or something. Sounds storybook-ish, and I’m a little old for true love.” At almost forty-five and still single, I doubted there would be some magical kiss to save us all. It hit me then, not for the first time, but just as painfully, that she was gone. Taken not by the virus raging across the country, but by cancer. I sucked in a breath and briefly had to fight back tears. “Sorry,” I said automatically, a little embarrassed about getting choked up.
“Nothing to be sorry for, Mr. Frank,” Mr. Yamamoto said. “I know the two of you were close. That is one of the reasons I never disputed her changes to her will. She wanted you to have the house. She thought you would finally bring it to the glory it was meant to be.”
“I can repair it, but we both know the history,” I said.
Mr. Yamamoto nodded. “Something always goes wrong. Fire. Water damage, storm damage. It’s why they whisper of ghosts and curses.”
“Or really bad luck. What about the house staff? Are they still staying here? What are they doing about no kitchen? Should I call out for food?” I wasn’t even sure I could. The house wasn’t exactly near the city. Buried in the woods of upstate New York, with only a single, long, winding road, it was meant to be a retreat, first for the family, and later a bed and breakfast for nature lovers and hikers. Neither had happened. Too much unrest. No sooner would construction finish than something else would go wrong, from more property damage, to deaths in the family.
“The apartment over the garage has a working kitchen. It’s a small space, but has been useful. I’ve instructed everyone to keep away from the construction area as much as possible. But two maids, the cook, and their families all still live on the property.”
“I have no plans to change that,” I promised. “I still feel bad. Like she should have given the property to someone in her family. Her cousin wants it. He’s called me a half dozen times. Offered to buy it from me. Though I know the Will stated that was a no.”
“Correct. If you try to sell the property it will revert to a holding. Which means it will just fall into more disrepair. I will speak to her cousin. Remind him of Ms. Yang’s wishes.” He sorted through another batch of paperwork and handed me another few pages with a credit card attached. “This is the property management account and information. The money for repairs will come from this. The card is for ease of purchasing supplies. If you wish to find your own solicitor, I can provide them with account access and information.”
“You don’t want to hang around?” I asked him.
Again the slight uptilt to his eyes, a smile. “If you wish to retain my services, I would be honored.”
“Thank you, Mr. Frank.”
“Thank you, Mr. Yamamoto. I know you did a lot for Sofia.” I suspected in their elder years there had actually been a few sparks between them. If cancer hadn’t taken her, would they have found the sort of love that she had thought would break her curse? It made me sad to wonder. “She cared a lot about you,” I reminded him.
He nodded, eyes looking a little watery for a second as he gathered himself. “Her urn has arrived.” He pointed to a box on a far table. “I’ll need to take it out to the shrine.”
“Have the weeds been cut back enough to get out there?” It had been years since I’d seen the shrine. While the house looked like an old English mansion, a short path into the woods led to a huge Asian- style shrine set on the edge of a small island in a medium-sized lake. All the land, even the lake belonged to Sofia, or I guess me now, but the shrine had been something of a wonder for years. I’d been there once as a twenty-something to repair a footbridge. As far as I knew the woods around it grew ferociously, and very few ever ventured out that way, despite it being only a short walk from the back of the house.
“No,” Mr. Yamamoto admitted. “I asked the gardener to trim the path so I could get through. He tried. However, he said he heard some disturbing noises and was spooked.”
“Lots of woods out there. Could be anything. Birds, squirrels, bears.”
He nodded. “Yes.”
“I’ll grab some tools out of my truck to clear a path. I’m pretty sure I remember the layout, though it’s been a few years. Which reminds me. Since we are so far out, I’m going to rent a camper for the guys. As long as you’re okay with me having it parked in the driveway. That way they can come and go as needed while they are working and not bother any of the staff in the house. And I have a dumpster arriving tomorrow for clean-up.”
“Indeed, that sounds fine,” Mr. Yamamoto said. “Will you be staying in the house?”
“Probably? Maybe? I don’t want to be a burden. I know there’s the little cabin out by the shrine too.”
“It’s in disrepair.”
“Funny thing...” I said, smiling and feeling a little lighter knowing there were things I could do, “I’m a contractor.”
Mr. Yamamoto laughed. “Very funny thing,” he agreed. He patted my shoulder. “I am happy you’re here. Ms. Yang was always so happy when you were around. She always said things like ‘That fine young man,’ and ‘he’s such a good boy.’ I know she spoke of officially adopting you for a while.”
“Yeah I talked her out of that. Seemed silly at the time.” Though having grown up in foster care, the idea of having a mom had really touched me. What I didn’t want was her family coming in and claiming I was some sort of gold digger, and spending my life in court. Her naming me heir, and designating the house, grounds, and maintenance accounts already put me on their radar, despite the millions she had going to the rest of the family. However, everything here was done legally years ago, so they couldn’t even claim she wasn’t in her right mind due to cancer when she gifted me the property. “And I’m not much of a ‘boy’ anymore.”
“She still thought of you as her son. Never had one of her own. But always spoke so proudly of you and how hard you worked. She’d say, ‘Did you see that house he did? It was better than the stuff you see on TV.’” Mr. Yamamoto said.
I felt heat flush my cheeks along with the sadness for her passing. “Wow, this is still so raw,” I admitted.
He nodded. “I suspect it will take some time for all of us. She’s only been gone a few weeks.”
“Let me go out to the truck and grab a few tools so I can clean up the path. Let’s at least get her settled in the shrine with the rest of her family.” I clutched the papers to my chest. “Shouldn’t take too long.”
“Of course. I’ll be in the den working through some of the other paperwork. It’s likely I’ll be here all day. Just let me know when everything is clear.” He waved his hand toward the small door in front of the right stairway. It led to a small library-like den area filled with books and artifacts, and a desk for regular work. “You also have my phone number. Feel free to call any time.”
“Thank you,” I said and headed back to the kitchen to check on my guys. They had donned some gloves and were pulling things apart. “How’s it going in here?”
Mike looked up. “Not bad, boss. Making a list of the small stuff we need to get from town. Got all your measurements. You’ll have to decide if you want the same layout or a change. Outer wall is bad. We’ll have to replace a lot of the exterior wall sheetrock and supports. The report is legit. We don’t see any sign of accelerant or wiring errors.”
Which was a relief. “I actually did the wiring in here a good fifteen years ago. Painted the cabinets too. It was a little old school back then and Sofia didn’t want to do a full tear out.”
“You know your stuff, boss,” Jerry added. “There doesn’t seem to be a starting point. It’s like it all randomly burst into flames at once.”
“That’s not possible,” I said.
“No,” Jerry said. “But we have no other explanation yet. We’re just pulling some of the bigger pieces together to get at the walls.”
“I need to clear the path out the shrine, so I’ll be outside for a bit. You two okay in here?”
“Yep,” Mike said. “We will keep going on this. Make a pile. Will make it easier for demo tomorrow. Need help?”
“I’m good,” I said.
“Shrine?” Jerry asked.
“Old Asian style. A mix of their Chinese, Korean, and Japanese heritages. They bought the house over a hundred years ago. Briefly lost it during the internment, but were able to get it back, mostly by being the whole ‘Crazy Rich Asian’ thing. Their family had a lot of power, both here and abroad. The shrine has the ashes of a bunch of old relatives in it. If I recall, there’s a family tree etched on the wall in there, showing how they go back through several continents and dynasties for a few hundred years.”
Jerry’s eyes went huge. “There’s a tomb in the backyard?”
“Technically, yes. Though they don’t view it the same way.”
“No wonder they say this place is cursed,” he muttered.
“They sort of view their ancestors as protectors rather than the scary things of American culture,” I pointed out. “Think of it as Day of the Dead, every day. Respect equals respect.” Since I’d gone with Jerry last year for a huge Day of the Dead celebration in New Mexico, I knew how they took care of their elders.
“Yeah? Well, maybe the ancestors need a refresher? Since they aren’t protecting so well?” Jerry quipped as he waved to the mess of the kitchen.
“Or maybe too well,” Mike added staring at the damage.
“Oh, creepy,” Jerry answered. “Like maybe keeping people away? Creepy.”
“Stop, both of you. Work already. I gotta go trim weeds.”
Their laughter followed me out the door, making me feel a little bit lighter about this whole situation. I was a simple contractor, master of general trade and carpentry, and a small business owner, not some millionaire property guru. I had no idea what I would do with the place once it was fixed. But that would be a road I’d cross down the line.
Maybe Sofia had been right and finally having it out of the hands of her family would remove the curse. If it weren’t for the long history of mishaps, I’d think it was all bad luck. However, years of events over and over were not normal for any residence. Not even one this large. I had actually suspected a time or two, out loud to Sofia, that someone was causing the damage, at least the house stuff. Like a disgruntled employee or family member. She always insisted not. Plus almost seventy years of trouble did equate to a lot of mishaps and a really long-lived bad guy.
Kia-Blue on Amazon wrote:
OMG this was by far the deepest, most intriguing book of the year. I loved that the pandemic was part of it, because even though part of me doesn't want to read about what we're living through it was an integral part of the story. It was absolutely fantastic and I am in love with these men.
J. Key on Amazon wrote:
I'm a sucker for most things Asian. And my sister spoke highly of this book so I gave it a shot. I loved the world building, culture, and going back to glimpse at past lives. In some ways it was nice that it was set during the pandemic, because it helped make you feel like it was real, but like others, I read to get taken away from my everyday life. I really do hope there is more!
This book is so good!! The feelings of the characters going through the pandemic is so real! The love all of these people have for each other is something that I know most people are feeling.
The love and mystery between the MC is so thoughtful and makes me root for them so much. The history part of this love story pulled you back in time. It made you see the struggle for them. The culture and history made it seem like a fun lesson in history. Past lives have fascinated me, so this was a great book to read!
This will be a book I read again and again.