Allegra’s Shadow by Dana Sanders Hill
When Mariah St. Cloud becomes a full-fledged member of the walking wounded, she shuts down. She’s learned that men are born heartbreakers, so work becomes her lover. It’s dependable and won’t leave the toilet seat up. But the untimely death of her beautiful, estranged sister Allegra kicks her predictable life to the curb and brings ex-cop Anthony Caine into her everyday existence-intense, protective, and far too handsome for her self-imposed celibacy.
Conflict is inevitable. Anthony wants to tumble Mariah’s reserve like the walls of Jericho and keep her safe. Mariah just wants him out of her hair–even as she stands in the deadly shadow of Allegra’s secrets.
About the Author
Dana Sanders Hill has spent most of her life reading and writing romance that focus on family dynamics. Her current romantic suspense, Allegra’s Shadow, is no different. After years of dealing with New York winters that made her bones rattle like dice, Dana moved south. She lives and works out of her home in North Carolina with her family and hopes to get a female Shiba Inu soon, because it’s hard being the only female in the house.
Her first romantic suspense novel ALLEGRA’S SHADOW was nominated for an African-American Literary Award.
You can visit Dana’s webpage, https://danasandershill.wixsite.com/dana, for updates. You can also connect with Dana on Twitter @danasandershill or on Facebook at facebook.com/DanaSandersHillFanSite.
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Seducing the Pen: Behind the Scenes in creating Allegra’s Shadow
Allegra’s Shadow is a romantic suspense set in Raleigh, North Carolina and Hackensack, New Jersey and targets African American women ages 18 to 50. It follows Mariah St. Cloud, who’s estranged, older sister Allegra dies in her North Carolina home. Allegra’s Shadow shows how family dynamics affect other relationships, especially romantic ones.
One central issue is the relationship between fathers and daughters and how they impact a girl’s self-esteem into adulthood. Mariah felt unpretty and unworthy because her father didn’t love her, and because Allegra was his favorite. The page before Chapter One is a dedication which reads, “To all the women and girls who feel unpretty, this is for you.”
The title of the book refers to Mariah growing up in the shadow of Allegra’s beauty, confidence and charisma while Allegra was alive and being surrounded by Allegra’s shadow after death, because of Allegra’s secrets and lies. Although Allegra’s death is ruled an accident, Mariah feels that something is wrong in Denmark.
As Mariah delves beneath the surface of Allegra’s life, she finds herself battling facing multiple issues: her painful past with Allegra; present danger; and unexpected love.
What’s Next in the Series
I’m finishing up a prequel to Allegra’s Shadow, which delves into Mariah and Allegra’s childhood and shows why they never had a close sisterly bond. It’s entitled Prelude to a Shadow.
Allegra’s Shadow is the first in a related series of romantic suspense. I’m almost finished with the second book in the series entitled What Lies Beneath, which is set in the fictional town of Bowman Point, North Carolina. It’s somewhat different and darker than Allegra’s Shadow. The hero and heroine know each other. Back in high school, easy-going lawyer Max Bowman and Trina Carter, a feisty forensic pathologist, used to be secret first loves, until he dumped her without warning and left town for fourteen years. The only reason he returned is because his domineering father had a stroke.
In What Lies Beneath, Trina learns that her entire life is a lie. She always believed Cyrus, who just died, was her father. But after his funeral, she discovers that her parents’ blood types cannot produce a child with Type AB blood. All her life, Trina faced ridicule because she has a high IQ and her mother Sara, who suffered from postpartum depression and tended to wander, abandoned her.
Then, Max finds Sara’s remains in plastic and buried on abandoned land that he just purchased. Soon, Trina starts to suspect that her mother’s murder and her biological father’s identity are linked, and she searches for the truth. She doesn’t want Max’s help, but he wants to get justice for Sara and to make amends for reluctantly breaking Trina’s heart.
What Lies Beneath deals with feelings of abandonment and feeling alone because one is different. It also touches on the issue of mental illness, how people who suffer from it are perceived, and how it affects family members, too. I was compelled to include mental illness in this story, because I had the Baby Blues after my son was born, and even though it only lasted a few days, it was a powerful feeling.
Until recently, mental illness is a subject that was taboo in the Black community. I included the condition in What Lies Beneath as a way of doing my part to start discussions about it.
The third book in the series will also be in another fictional town in North Carolina. This book centers around the heroine and the murder of her baby sister. The heroine has lived with guilt, because she was supposed to pick her sister up from school and ended up in detention. The tentative title is Closer Than You Know.
Romance and romantic suspense are my first loves, but I’m also interested in learning how to write screenplays for TV and movies. I also want to start my own production company, because I want to see work by other marginalized authors on screen.
Excerpt One: Allegra’s Shadow
Southeast Raleigh, North Carolina
Overwhelmed by weariness, disbelief and sorrow, Mariah St. Cloud barely registered the striations of mauve and yellow that painted the cloudless sky just as the sun started to set, or the other cars already parked in the grassy driveway on her grandmother’s property. Mariah only had eyes for her grandmother Della “Gran D” Hennessey, a well-rounded woman wearing a cobalt blue sundress, black sandals and tortoise gold glasses. Her grandmother usually let her wavy silver hair hang to her shoulders, but today she wore it in a bun.
“Gran D,” Mariah whispered, her voice trembling as she flew into the woman’s waiting arms, the comforting scent of lavender filling her nostrils. “I can’t believe she’s gone.”
After Gran D informed Mariah and her mother of Allegra’s death this morning, the two frantically packed and made the seven-hour trip from Hackensack, New Jersey to Raleigh. Mariah felt the thickness of tears in her throat, but the ability to cry still eluded her.
Gran D pulled back, and one lightly veined hand lovingly cupped Mariah’s cheek. “I know, baby. I know.” Her voice always had a strong, feminine timbre, but today it was fragile and shaking, her dark brown gaze clouded. Despite the tragedies in her life, Gran D looked two decades younger than her seventy-four years. There was delicacy and strength in her features, a wide forehead and high cheekbones that tapered down into a narrow chin. If not for skin the color of a Dove milk chocolate bar, it was hard to believe slave masters’ blood flowed through her veins. She stood at eye level with her Anna and Mariah, but she seemed to have shrunk, and the line of her generous mouth twisted.
With a shaky breath, Gran D released Mariah , and then hugged Mariah’s mother. Sniffling, Gran D released Anna, her eldest daughter. She dug her right hand into the chest pocket of her dress and withdrew a tissue, using it to dab at her nose. Her eyes squinted as a hand came up, lightly caressing her left temple, and Mariah’s brows flickered a little. One of Gran D’s rare headaches.
The front screen door to Gran D’s yellow ranch-style house opened, cutting into her thoughts and Kevin, Mariah’s first cousin, appeared – a husky man slightly under six feet wearing jeans, and a gray, short-sleeved crew neck Tee-shirt and black sneakers ‒ with a package of Goody’s headache powder in hand, as if he sensed his grandmother’s need.
He murmured a greeting and warmly enfolded Mariah and Anna in his arms before stepping back and giving the Goody’s to Gran D.
“Thank ya, baby.” She took it. “Go back in the house and keep the peace.”
Bewildered, Mariah started to ask Gran D what she meant, but Kevin interrupted her with a taut jerk of his head.
As the quartet stepped inside, the faint scent of cherry vanilla wafted through the house with the help of the ceiling fan. Energy-efficient bulbs illuminated the cool mint living room with its deep-sea blue trim and teal blue accent wall added to its calming atmosphere.
There were three people Mariah didn’t recognize in the living room. She thought about Gran D’s earlier comment to Kevin. They seemed peaceful enough.
“Excuse me,” Anna murmured to the visitors, her head bowed. They nodded respectfully toward her as she headed towards one of the bedrooms. With suitcases in hand, Kevin followed.
After Anna disappeared, Mariah studied Gran D’s guests. There was a tall woman perched on the light brown sofa, her fingers clasped tightly around a large black purse. Currents of anxiety emanated from her, which made Mariah a bit nervous, too.
Meanwhile, a man stood next to her, preoccupied with something. Mariah noted how much he and the woman resembled each other. In the far-left corner of Mariah’s peripheral vision stood another man.
As Mariah moved into the middle of the living room, Gran D slowly ambled to the couch, circling the wooden and glass coffee table, her footfalls making hefty, temporary impressions in the plush butterscotch carpet. She didn’t have a soft tread, but her steps were never as heavy as they were tonight.
Using the arm of the couch for support, Gran D sank down next to the young woman she introduced as Thomasina .
Before she could utter another word, the man standing next to Thomasina, stepped towards Mariah and held out his hand. “Thomas Payton,” he said in a smooth, Southern flavor, a sharp contrast to his handshake, which was cool, forceful and formal. The message was clear: Okay, I’m here. Deal with me.
Disquiet rolled through Mariah and she removed her hand — which he engulfed in his, making her feel like a caged bird — promptly. She noticed how Gran D’s lips curled slightly in distaste and was relieved that she wasn’t wrong in her original assessment of the man.
Even though Mariah instantly disliked Thomas, he was impressive. Mariah wasn’t obsessed with fashion, but years of living with Allegra taught her to recognize expensive clothes. A cobalt blue dress shirt and black dress pants fit the lines of his tall, attractively-proportioned body, and black Oxfords completed the dressy ensemble. Being handsome didn’t hurt, either. Olive-brown skin highlighted keen dark brown eyes framing features so perfect that any more delicacy would have made him too beautiful for a man. He gestured to the woman beside him.
Thomasina rose to her feet, standing at least six-feet and solid. She wore khakis, a simple white Polo shirt, and beige sandals. Tawny, oval glasses outlined mild dark brown eyes, and her dark hair was pulled back into a bun. While the strength in Thomas’s features – the square jaw and broad cheekbones – complemented his male beauty, the effect was lost on Thomasina, muting any possible attractiveness into the ordinary. Even her handshake was limp.
Kevin returned to the living room just as Thomas blurted, “I can’t believe Allegra’s…gone. I …was going to ask her to marry me.”
Everyone gave a little start at the news, especially Thomasina.
“I’m sorry,” Mariah sympathized, even though she couldn’t envision Allegra marrying anyone, especially this man.
“And this is Anthony Caine,” Gran D said. Great affection laced her voice. She extended a hand, palm up, in the direction outside of Mariah’s peripheral vision, a spot where Thomas focused his attention earlier.
Anthony Caine. A spark of familiarity coursed through Mariah. She’d never met him, but she’d heard about him off and on throughout the years.
Anthony turned his head slightly to give Thomas a brief, enigmatic glance, the lines of his profile were somber, sharp and confident. Mariah found herself captivated by his eyes. Yellow and gold with russet and copper tint, they were full of contradictions, impassive, yet razor-sharp.
But that detachment evaporated seconds later when they traveled to Mariah’s mouth, focusing on her lips with laser-like precision before lifting to meet her wide gaze.
Mariah’s breasts tingled against the fabric of her shirt and she swallowed hard. The man was standing in her personal space, preventing her from ignoring the strength and heat of his physique. Warm, strong, blunt-tipped fingers surrounded hers, and Mariah hesitated. A bizarre tremor, a combination of caution and unwanted awareness; of needing to move closer and run away; of feeling safe and being exposed to a maelstrom, slid up her spine when his unusual eyes moved over her face, as if he could see into her soul with one look.
“I’m sorry for your loss, and I’ll help in any way I can.” His voice, gravelly, like Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, was strictly Northern and carried with it a curious mix of compassion, danger and underlying sensuality.
“Thank you, Mr. Caine,” she replied in a voice that seemed to come from a long way off as she hastily tried to disengage her hand.
His hold tightened slightly, not enough to hurt, but just enough to keep her attention as his amber eyes locked with hers. “Anthony,” he replied with quiet emphasis before releasing her hand.
“Anthony was a cop in New York City for a while, and just moved back here a few months ago,” Gran D spoke up, startling Mariah and dispelling the haze she’d fallen into. Mariah’s breath quickened and heat crept into her cheeks as she scrambled to gather her composure. “His grandma was my best friend,” Gran D went on, “and I’m glad he’s back home.”
Right then, someone coughed and cleared their throat. Mariah’s eyes moved in the direction of the sound. It came from Thomasina. Mariah felt a little ashamed of herself, because she had forgotten the woman was there. Mariah would have looked away, but something in Thomasina’s expression stopped her.
It was the way her eyes darted to Thomas’s face, then his hand. Mariah’s gaze followed and her gut tightened. His hand curled into a fist by his side as he stared across the room at Anthony. It was evident that Gran D’s comment about Anthony had rubbed Thomas raw.
Gran D spoke low. “This morning , Allegra’s maid called, and she was frantic. She said she’d left something at the house and tried to catch Allegra before she left for work, since she didn’t have the alarm code. She said she found Allegra on the floor…and the front door was unlocked.”
Mariah frowned. Why would Allegra’s front door be unlocked? “What about her alarm? ”
“It wasn’t on.”
Disturbed, Mariah shook her head. That didn’t sound right. Allegra was keen on security.
Gran D turned to Thomas. “I know y’all came over to help with the funeral, but it’s not necessary. We can handle this.” Her message was polite enough, but something in her tone captured Mariah’s attention.
She didn’t want their help.
Both siblings gave a nod. Thomasina’s was gentle and accepting, but Thomas’s had a slight edge. “Alright, Ms. Della. I’m here if you change your mind,” he offered.
“Mmmm hmm,” Gran D replied. With a weary sigh, she got up and headed to the door. Taking the not-so-subtle hint, the twins did the same. Before she reached the door, Gran D switched her attention to Anthony, who also readied to leave. “I need ya to stay a little while.”
Thomas’s gaze shifted in Anthony’s direction. The look in his dark eyes was colder than a loan shark’s glare when a borrower comes up short on cash.
And the hairs on the back of Mariah’s neck stood up.
Excerpt Two: Allegra’s Shadow
“Need anything else before I go?” Anthony asked the next afternoon.
True to his word, he stayed overnight, sleeping in the room next to Mariah. He only came to her room to bring her something to eat, or to wake her up every few hours to make sure she knew her name and current date. The rest of the time he spent either running errands or checking on things at his house.
He was very efficient that way.
“No, thank you,” Mariah replied distantly as she looked at him. Though twenty-four hours had passed since their last conversation, the strain between them was still there, like gently strummed guitar strings. “Actually, I think I’ll be fine enough to handle things by myself from now on.”
Mariah expected resistance when a groove appeared at the corner of Anthony’s mouth, but he didn’t argue.
Her mouth dropped open when he turned away, and his broad shoulders disappeared from view.
She put her tray aside and gingerly limped to the hallway. When she heard the front door close, a slight smile of victory lit her face.
The following morning, Mariah received an unpleasant surprise as she sat in the living room and read the main section of the paper.
The man let himself in, just as bold as you please.
Mariah gasped and set the paper aside, using the arm of the couch to rise quickly. “What are you doing here?” she demanded, her heart nearly jumping out of her chest. She laid her injured hand across her torso and held her bandaged ankle a few inches off the floor, settling her weight on her good leg as she braced her other hand on the couch for balance. “You didn’t say anything about stopping by.” Anthony inspected Mariah covertly. She wore a dark yellow tank top, black shorts that reached the middle of her thighs and matching flip-flops. He caught himself staring at the French pedicure on her feet. They weren’t too big or too small, and pretty enough to be in magazines.
Anthony called Ms. D when he got home last night to give her an update on Mariah’s condition. When she told him that she had made an appointment for an alarm rep to stop by Allegra’s the next morning, he decided he wasn’t going to leave Mariah alone with a stranger. He didn’t care what company the person represented.
“Sorry,” he answered with a straight face, “just wanted to make sure you were okay.” Anthony knew what he was doing. He deliberately let her think she won yesterday, but there was no way he would leave her without support, even if she didn’t want it.
“You could’ve called or rang the bell.”
Yeah, right. And give her the chance to put the chain on the door or ignore the phone when she looked through the peephole or checked the Caller ID? Then he would’ve had to kick down the door (in case she had fallen and knocked herself unconscious) “You might’ve fallen again and couldn’t reach a phone,” he countered logically.
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