Oliana Mercer Series
by Marguerite Ashton
Genre: YA Mystery
Hello! Today Sweet Southern Savings is hosting the blog tour stop for Marguerite Ashton’s Oliana Mercer Series Book Tour. Read on for more about this Mystery, Marguerite, and a tour-wide giveaway!
Oliana Mercer Series Book 1
Oliana knows that every family has a secret, but she never expected hers to come from the grave.
Stone cold sober. Those were the words that filtered through my brain as I poked my head out of the opening of my bedroom door, straining to hear the voices of my adopted mom, Traci Mercer and her ex-boyfriend, Marc Drake. They spoke in sharp, loud tones while arguing over their only son, Daniel.
Marc’s words, “I want my son to come live with me,” beat through my body as if I’d been the one standing in Mom’s shoes.
Mom’s comfort zone was being tested. Hold it together, Mom. Don’t fall off the wagon.
“Daniel is our son, and he needs his mother,” Mom yelled.
“OMG.” I texted Devin, my best friend. “Marc’s here. He’s trying to take my little brother.”
“What? That’s just not cool.”
“Yup. To top it, Mom’s worried about Daniel’s seizures. Now here comes Marc. What a dick.”
A dry lump formed in my throat as I thought about the struggles Mom had been through during her pregnancy with Daniel, along with the daily worries regarding my brother’s health. This new wave of bad news might push the only woman who cared enough to love me as her own back into craving the beer that once pulsed through Mom’s bloodstream daily like a disease.
Now, it was as if she were on stage and Marc was in the audience, taunting her to miss her lines. Only this was a test of her sobriety, lingering in the rafters and lights waiting to bring down the curtain.
Having a parent in recovery was tough. It was like walking a trail littered with shards of glass. With every little step you held your breath, hoping not to step on any jagged pieces.
What can I do to help, Mom? I’m only seventeen, but there must be something I can do, even if it’s to get Marc to leave until Dad gets home.
I slid my bare feet into a pair of tennis shoes, pulled the door open and stepped onto the hardwood floors leading into the front room. As I made my way down the hall and rounded the corner, the low tones became distinct.
Marc turned and faced me. “Hey kid, how’s it going?”
I’m not a kid. Kids are goats you wannabe Lothario. “Mom, I need to talk to you.”
Mom tucked a strand of her salt and pepper hair behind her ear and smiled. “Can it wait?”
“Not really. It’s important.” I walked over to Mom and hugged her, hoping to comfort her.
Mom squeezed me back, holding me tight. “Take the car and go pick up your brother from band practice. We’ll talk when you get back.”
Marc loosened his beige tie, plopped down on the quilted sofa and locked his eyes on Mom. “I’ll wait. Besides we need to finish our conversation.”
Mom’s head snapped in Marc’s direction. “There’s nothing to finish. My husband will be here any moment.”
“Tractor Boy can’t stop me from seeing Daniel.”
“Your presence in Daniel’s life has nothing to do with my husband. It was your decision to put the law firm and your women ahead of our son. All of a sudden you have this itch to have him come and live with you? Not gonna happen.”
Marc shot up off the sofa and lunged across the room. The stench of black pepper and fresh-cut wood followed, reminding me of the days I spent at summer camp. “You’re an alcoholic. It’s your fault that Daniel has seizures.”
My heart raced as I felt Mom’s body tremble underneath my embrace. Marc was such a mean person. I will never understand what Mom saw in this guy, let alone sleep with him.
There were enough boys at my school that were beyond hot, but once they opened their mouth, my desire to date—gone.
Mom pushed me at arm’s length and closed the gap between them. “I’m a recovering alcoholic and always will be until the day I die. I will not let you, or anyone else beat me up for mistakes I made years ago. Daniel has grown into a healthy young boy, and my doctor assured me of that. Now get the hell out of my house!”
Mom stalked over to the front door, opened and slammed it behind Marc after he left.
What if it’s true that we create our demons? Is Mom being punished for drinking during pregnancy? Were Daniel’s seizures tied to Mom’s alcohol use?
Even though we didn’t share the same DNA, my brother and I had forged a bond over the years—a bond I prayed was strong enough to withstand any battle that either of us might face.
If Marc sued for custody and won, I’d be the only child left of our family of four.
Later that night, Mom came into my room, smiling as she handed me an ivory colored envelope. Seeing her smile was a relief. It was as if the confrontation with Marc had never happened.
I looked down at the return address and read the bold lettering on the envelope. It was from Reyersen Drama Academy. My heart raced. I had waited eighteen months for Reyersen to reply, knowing that they had a two-year waiting list. I tore open the envelope and read:
Congratulations on your admission to the Reyersen Drama Academy! As you know, we’re very selective and take pride in our students. It was your portfolio and audition that landed you a spot at Reyersen.
For forty years, RDA has watched aspiring talent walk through our doors with hope and leave with confidence as they set out to fulfill their dreams. As you settle into your classes, you’ll meet and learn from the best talent who’ve honed their craft and worked hard to get where they are. Welcome to our family. We look forward to your success.
Director of Admissions
“Are you headed to Reyersen?” Dad walked into the room, beaming a smile. His Texas accent had softened with age. But his need for a new pair of cowboy boots once a year, was a must.
I ran into his arms and held up the letter. “I got in. I can’t believe it.”
“I believe it,” Dad said, hugging me.
Dad’s name is Norman. It suits him, along with his blond hair sprinkled with bits of silver and his blue eyes. He looked sharp in his white dress shirt and tie. If you didn’t know, you would think he worked for the corporate world instead of in the hospital as a neurosurgeon.
“I better tell Devin.”
“Your mother and I are going to make dinner. Love you.” Dad backed out of the room with Mom leading the way.
I snatched up my phone and texted Devin the good news.
“I had no doubts.”
“Talk to you at school tomorrow,” I said.
“Did you find your old wig so I can use it for the play?”
Shoot. “I’m getting it right now.” I darted out of my room and up the stairs leading to the attic where I tore through boxes labeled Stage. After a few minutes of searching, I stared at the opened boxes scattered around the floor. In a few weeks, I’d have to sort through everything and decide what costumes and accessories would stay with me and what one I would donate to the high school.
Off to the left, I zeroed in on a small box covered with torn curtains. “Please be in there.” I scrambled to the box, shoved the curtains to the floor, and plucked it open. The wig lay there with loose strands draping a pile of shoes like spider legs.
At least it still has some shine.
I shook the wig out, stood, and took another look around the attic. In the far corner, covered in dust was a brown tote. As I neared it, I noticed Burned Bridges written in black ink on the top. I kneeled next to the tote, removed the lid, and dug through the balled newspaper inside. I found trinkets, bottle caps, and pamphlets on being in recovery.
This must be Mom’s tote. Paper crinkled around me as I continued to dig deeper. As I neared the bottom, I discovered a stack of papers. I lifted it out, turning the notepad over in my hands. It had a dream catcher painted on the front cover with the letter “O” in the circle attached to the netting.
Is this for me? Maybe something Mom wanted to share with me later. Like after graduation day? I opened and began reading. Further down the page, I realized the writings were songs.
In all the tragedy, you gave me a miracle.
There was nothing I wouldn’t do to keep her safe
And time’s cruel hands have swept away –
My innocence is more than you’ve ever dreamed.
My innocence takes on life and other means.
No, it’s not for you to decide how much to make me cry
I know it’s a game to you, but it caused me so much pain.
And so today I pay
For my head and heart,
The time has come. I can wait no longer
Or my miracle will endure more hate
And I wonder if I’ll ever be loved
Oh, I wonder if I’ve ever been…
Whoever wrote this was hurting. I flipped through the pages, skipping songs and rambling notes until I came across a letter addressed to Mom.
If you’re reading this letter, then I have taken that final step I have failed at for years, and the one thing that brought us together will tear us apart. Please don’t blame yourself. You were right, but there was no way I could be held up in a hospital again.
As for Oliana, please make sure that she’s safe. Bruce has done all he can. If she winds up in the hands of the state, she’ll be tossed back and forth in foster care. If you make the decision that I’m hoping you will, Philip has all of the information you will need.
I’m wishing you the best and pray that you find the love that you deserve with Norman. He loves you and wants you to be in his life. Please know that you’ve all been wonderful friends and I’m sorry it had to end this way.
If you could do me one last favor, make sure that Oliana never knows who her father was. I want her to have a fresh start and not feel like she was some horrible person. I’d rather have her blame me instead of questioning herself. I’m begging you to keep this one last secret. “I’m begging you: please let me be the final bridge between the horror of what my brother did to me and the hope the future holds for my daughter. Now that I’m gone let that bridge be burned, setting her free, as I am free.
All my love,
Numbness held me in place as I closed the notebook and tucked it inside the wig. What did this mean? Is the Oliana mentioned in the notebook me? It had to be. But what was this about being set free? My bio parents died in a car accident.
For a second, I felt like I was standing next to a furnace, smoldering in its waves of heat. I hurried out of the attic and stood outside, trying to catch my breath.
Rain pelted my face as I glanced up at my parents’ window on the second floor, then at the driveway where Mom’s minivan and Dad’s pickup were parked. Inside the house, the lights were on in the kitchen. Probably doing what they always do together, cooking dinner.
Grief hollowed my insides. Now was not the time to confront them about what I found. Besides what was I going to do? Tell Mom, I was snooping and found something that freaked me out? The problem was I wanted to go in there and disturb their happiness, so I could get answers about what I’d read. Answers about the handwritten note to Mom by the woman I believed was my birth mother.
I walked several yards away from the house, taking in the plush wet lawn and hostas decorating the rows of brick flower beds. Branches from the giant oak tree reached towards the sky, holding my sanctuary. The tree house.
The ladder leading up to my hiding place dangled, swaying from side to side in the breeze as if calling my name. I dashed for the ladder, puddles splashing underneath my shoes as I retreated to the special place where Devin and I shared our secrets and dreams.
I plopped down on the old bean bag and stared out the window at the small pond my Grandpa Mercer had built when he purchased the house in the late sixties. An angel statue loomed above as water spouted from her open hands, trickling back into the pond.
When I was a little girl, I’d splash the water and watch it ripple as if it took my problems with it. I wished I still believed such a thing was possible.
Oliana Mercer Series Book 2
It’s been two weeks since Oliana Mercer learned a horrible family secret and witnessed the death of her best friend. Two weeks of heartache, secrets, and lies.
Thursday 7:59 p.m.
My life sucks. That’s what seeped into mind as I stared at the woman in front of me as my cast mates exited the stage. The play was done, now it was time for me to step back into the real world and face Linda Durning. The woman who haunted my past.
Linda adjusted the shoulder strap holding her oxygen tank and tucked the clear tubes behind her ears. Her brown blouse and jeans were several sizes too large. Her eyes seemed bigger than normal as they peered out from her frail face.
Even with all the anger boiling inside me, my heart ached for her. “You’re Linda.”
“Hi, Oliana. I’m your grandmother. Your real grandmother.”
“What do you want?”
“Is there somewhere we can talk?”
I glanced up at the auditorium doors, wondering where my parents went. They must be waiting in the hall. Did they know this woman was here? There’s no way. They didn’t want me to know anything about my past. And for a good reason.
I’d wished for the days when I didn’t know anything about my bio family. Except that wasn’t my reality. I knew more than what I wanted.
“We can talk here,” I said, my voice dripping with anger.
Linda’s head reared back. “It’s obvious your adopted mother didn’t raise you to have respect for your elders.”
“My mother and father raised me to have respect for those who deserved it. I know what you did.”
“There’s two sides to a story.”
“There’s three sides. Mine counts.” I hurried towards the exit.
“If you just hear me out.”
“Did you hear my mother out when she came to you for help?”
“I’m dying, and I wanted to make peace with you.”
I halted in my tracks and looked back at Linda. “You’re not going to use me to clear your conscience.”
I pushed open the door, stepped into the hall and waited for it to close.
A sound that I hope meant my past was behind me. No more secrets. No more lies. No more Linda.
For the rest of the evening, my fear of Linda showing up again, pounded in my head. I wasn’t interested in hearing anything else negative about my parents. The pounding continued as I helped clean up backstage. And my headache remained during the cast party, as I said my goodbyes to the friends and teachers I was going to miss. As the party came to an end, my boyfriend, Austin, rescued me from the sadness when he showed up and took me to dinner. I wish he’d told me that James was going to be there.
I would’ve said no.
Tony’s Greasy Spoon was more of a truck stop than a restaurant. It was owned by Tony, one of Dad’s patients who’d suffered a brain aneurysm a year ago. Whenever Tony was there, he’d stop by the table and offer advice.
“You kids don’t be in a rush to get married.” Tony took off his dirty apron and tucked it under his arm. “Me and my old lady, we’ve been together seventeen years. Never married and we’re still going strong.”
“We’re taking it slow.” I took a bite of my grilled cheese, letting the salty tomato blanket my tongue.
“That’s good. Cause when I saw your order, I figured I’d better see you before you left for that fancy acting school.”
“I still have three months.”
“Well, safe travels,” said Tony, backing away from the table. “Oh, and say hi to your Dad for me.”
“Thanks. And I will.”
James used to date Devin, my best friend. Until she died.
He leaned toward me and adjusted his white sunglasses that failed to hide the dark circles under his eyes. Worn scratches covered the faded gold along the rims. He was dressed in all black and wearing biker boots. His presence as a superstar on the varsity basketball team had diminished after Devin’s death. “Let me use your eye drops.”
“It’s like that? You always carry a bottle.”
“For allergies. Not to hide that I’m high as a kite.” I shoved the final bite of my sandwich in my mouth and grabbed my backpack. “I have to leave. Austin?”
“Text me later, man.” Austin gathered his things.
I’m on it.” James retrieved his earbuds from his pocket, removed himself from reality and slouched down in his seat.
“Guess, I’m paying the bill, again. Except, this time, I’m only paying for two.” I counted out twenty-seven dollars, plus tip and paid up front.
After I left the restaurant, Austin grabbed my arm as I reached my car. “Why are you salty towards James? He’s like, dealing with a lot of stuff. He lost his girlfriend and their baby. His ex’s in jail. Can’t you give him a break?”
“James didn’t even want the baby. And never once did he step up to defend Devin against his ex’s neurotic obsession over the relationship. So, no, I won’t give him a break.”
A car honked in the distance.
I snatched my arm out of Austin’s grasp. This was crazy. Austin and I have been dating for a year, but he and James had been like brothers before I came into the picture. Since Devin’s death, everything was about James. I often felt as if there were three of us in the relationship. Maybe I was selfish. Or maybe it was time to accept that we were coming to an end. “You’re so wrapped up in James’s problems. We didn’t talk about our plans for school.” I tossed my backpack on the passenger seat.
“James knows he messed up.”
I slammed the door. “What about spring break? We can get together then.”
Austin played with his ring. “Something came up. My parents want me to stay behind and help with the restaurant. While I’m here, I’ll take up media and creative arts. That way I can still practice my music.”
“What happened to the university?”
“I’ve decided that I could save my money and attend a tech school. It’d cost less, and I’d only be wasting two years of my life instead of four. After two years, I’ll transfer my credits to the university and finish that way. The back way in sucks, but at least I can still go to school. I was hoping you’d be willing to wait for me.”
“When were you going to tell me this?” Anxiety burned in my chest. “Everything’s all set for me to attend Reyersen.”
“So you want a long distance relationship?”
“I can’t believe you won’t wait.”
“I can’t believe you’re asking me to stay.”
“Well? Will you? Stay?”
“You’re a part of my heart. But you’re not the only thing in my heart.”
Within minutes, I was in my car headed towards the highway. I turned up the radio and let the dubstep music blare from my speakers. Just what I needed to keep me from thinking about the ache forming in my throat.
Yep, September fifth couldn’t come soon enough.
Now if I can just make it through my best friend’s funeral.
Oliana Mercer Series Book 3
Settling into campus life at the posh Reyersen Academy acting school, Oliana Mercer prepares for an audition for a lead part in a play called Cold.
Prequel to the Oliana Mercer Series
Newly sober and dating the man of her dreams, Traci Collins is ready to enjoy the good life, until her new best friend, Olivia Durning, confides a dreadful secret far worse than Traci could imagine.
For the last forty-two days, Duran’s coffeehouse had served as my refuge from the temptation of the dark piss colored brew that had slowly eaten away at the lining of my gullet year after year. Alcohol had stopped being my best friend, and it was now my worst enemy. Popping a little white pill to settle the rogue waves of acid reflux was a daily reminder of what I had done to my already marred body.
Therefore, paying $4.50 for a 16 oz. cup of gourmet coffee meant that even my wallet had to do penance for my troubled addiction. On the upside, however, Duran’s served good food, had a glorious view of the distant Rocky Mountains and was just ten minutes outside of Denver, in Cherry Creek. I enjoyed the ambiance and welcomed the conversations affording access to others’ semi-private lives.
For a Sunday afternoon, it was unusually quiet. No line of impatient customers jockeyed for position at the counter; the only people there were we four and a couple sitting across the room talking in hushed voices. Dark clouds spread across the skyline as a heavy thunderstorm brewed outside. My grandmother used to say thunderstorms washed away bad memories and made room for new ones. With every storm, I wished I could prove Grandma right. I wanted my turn to come so I could erase the memory of my car accident. It was only one of the many putrid recollections I had of my mother.
A month and a half ago, after fifteen years of polluting my liver, I had hit bottom. Sipping on the long neck bottles that housed my favorite beer seven days a week had finally lost its allure. I woke up one Saturday evening from a drunken slumber on the floor, my computer desk chair at my side, with a bruise on my shoulder, thinking it was Sunday.
It was nice to see the world more clearly instead of the usual old blur after a night of drinking. It was a difficult choice, but I could already feel a difference.
Even my co-workers at the law firm noticed and had begun complimenting me on how much happier I looked. In a way, I was envious of the other paralegals in my section. Before I stopped drinking, the ladies and I would go to the bar once or twice a week to unwind. Now, I had to politely decline every time they asked. An upside to my new sobriety was that I made three new friends: Olivia Durning, Norman Mercer, and Kevin Walsh. I thought it was odd that I could feel closer to a group of strangers than I could to my own mother. It reminded me of my college days where finding a connection was so easy, so fast, so necessary.
The first time I had a good look at Norman was when he stepped out of his black Lexus GS at the coffee shop. He struck me as the kind of guy who was a knight in shining armor to any female in distress. Blond, with a manicured scruff of stubble, he wore a v-neck shirt with long sleeves and dark wide leg jeans. It was like seeing my favorite Hollywood actor, Roy Majors, back in his heyday, only Norman was more reserved, and nothing overwhelmed him. His Texas accent was as strong as his political opinions while his southern manners showed he was a true gentleman.
“Okay. What’s your count?” Norman asked, interrupting my thoughts, pointing his finger
“Twenty days,” Olivia said.
“I’m closer to sixty and still going strong,” said Kevin.
“You never give me the exact day, my friend.”
“I believe in setting a mental goal and striving to make it happen.”
“All right,” Norman said. “I’m at ninety-seven days.”
“Hey, Traci,” Kevin said, pulling out a deck of cards, “did you forget you owe me a game of Crazy Eights?”
“No, but if you insist on losing another round, I’m ready.”
When I met Kevin, he threw me off balance with his tough guy exterior, raunchy humor, and bright intellect. Some of the things that dribbled from his mouth should’ve stayed put, locked behind the chinstrap beard outlining his narrow jaw. Approaching his forties, Kevin’s feet were grounded firmly as a single father. Two minutes with him was enough for anyone to realize that his twin daughters were his focus in life. To show his love, he sported different style vests to display his pledge tattoo that bore the names of his little girls spelled out in blue ink flanking a pair of angel wings across his shoulder blades. He dared for anyone to challenge that love. Kevin dealt the cards while Norman tapped away on his notepad.
“Olivia, do you want to play?” I asked.
“I guess so.”
Kevin stopped dealing out cards. Norman looked up.
I turned in my chair to face her. “Is something the matter?”
“My birthday is coming up, and it’s not something that I’m looking forward to.”
Kevin laughed. “Who doesn’t like celebrating their birthday?”
Norman shook his head, pressing his index finger to his lips. Olivia noticed and her eyes widened. “Jesus. You told Norman?” she asked, hurling her cards at me.
I picked them up and laid them neatly on the table.
Olivia was a sweet girl with a thin rail frame who took pride in the long chestnut brown hair she kept in a ponytail held with multiple decorative hair ties. She had small eyes like black dots printed on fabric that resisted being a set of the three primary colors. They were lonely and dim. The only time they flickered with life was when she sang. Her voice was as smooth as a saxophone. When she spoke, her words fell from her lips with grace, and when she belted out a song she’d written, her listeners held their breath, enchanted. I believed her songs were telling her story, spilling out her soul of great heartache and dreams.
“I only told Norman because I thought you trusted him. You’ve told me as much yourself.”
“When did this happen?”
“A couple days ago.”
“She’d left her reading glasses here last Sunday, and I ran them over to her,” Norman said.
“I was bothered by what you told me,” I said, knowing how lame I sounded. “Believe me, I regretted it immediately after I said it.”
“It’s a good thing I didn’t tell you my entire story.”
“What story?” Kevin said.
“Olivia–” Norman began.
“It’s okay,” I told him. “I deserved that. I promise not to betray your trust again.”
Olivia snatched the cards off the table and fanned them in her hand. “Can we just play?”
Kevin dealt the rest of the cards. “I hope you know you can talk to me, too.” He placed the remaining stack of cards in the middle of the table.
Olivia pursed her thin lips and pulled from the deck. “I’m not mad. I’m embarrassed.” She laid out her first spread of three fives.
“What happened to you was not your fault,” Norman said.
I played from my hand and waited for Kevin to make his move as he concentrated on what to play next. Olivia retreated into her own world, tracing the sinew strands of her dream catcher.
“Is that a new one?” I asked.
“Yes. I love the feathers on it.”
“Does it really stop bad dreams?” Kevin wondered.
“Most of the time, but I think some of my dreams are too horrid even for a dream catcher.”
“You’re not alone,” Norman said.
“Drinking used to help me sleep. Forget the past for a night.” Olivia placed the dream catcher in her lap. “It didn’t take long for it to stop working.”
“That’s how it was for me,” Kevin said. “Then I began using anything I could as an excuse to drink.”
“Same here,” I said. “One thing I’m certain of – it feels good not to wake up with a pounding headache.”
We all laughed and finished our game, which I lost. Kevin ordered another round of javas to go, and we packed our things.”
“Are we still doing our Thursday dinner?” Olivia asked.
“At six,” I confirmed.
“I have to stop by the hospital first, to pick up my reinstatement papers,” said Norman.
“Congratulations! We’ll make it a celebratory dinner.”
“I’d like that.”
“I’ll pick up the food after my counseling appointment,” Olivia offered.
Everyone else got up and waited for me to stand.
I grabbed my onyx cane and struggled to get out of my chair. My knee ached more than usual, which meant a change in the weather was coming. A storm — a big one — was brewing.
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