New Release Blitz: These Haunted Hills by Jana Denardo (Excerpt & Giveaway)

Title:  These Haunted Hills

Author: Jana Denardo

Publisher:  NineStar Press

Release Date: 02/20/2024

Heat Level: 3 – Some Sex

Pairing: Male/Male

Length: 88800

Genre: Contemporary paranormal, contemporary, paranormal, ghosts/ghost hunters, academics, mystery, steampunk, cosplay, nerds and general geekiness, haunted houses, violence/ malevolent spirit, grieving, suicidal ideation

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Young wildlife conservation professor, Joshua Zimmerman, adores foxes, steampunk, and paranormal investigation. As a geek of the first order, Josh is a collector of nerdy memorabilia and tattoos, and he’s an avid steampunk cosplayer. When his favorite author hires him for some ghost hunting for his new project, Josh can hardly believe his luck.

As an author of the wildly successful urban fantasy series, The Green Tablet, Brendan Halloran should have it all. And he did until his young son, Connor, died of cancer. Heartbroken and drowning in grief, Brendan stops writing, stops living his life. His marriage has disintegrated, leaving Brendan trapped in the moment Connor died.

When Brendan rents a cabin in Ohio’s Hocking Hills, it’s ostensibly to research his next book, an adult paranormal tale. Brendan hires a local professor who is an expert on the paranormal, thinking if he does pull out of his tail spin and makes good on his plan to write a new book, he might as well do it right. And the perfect place to investigate could be the remains of an old hotel constructed to suit the serial killer who built it.

Brendan finds himself swept away, completely unprepared for the joy and enthusiasm Josh brings to everything he does. Step by step, Brendan reenters life. His head might not be convinced he’s ready to love again, but his heart disagrees. Unfortunately for him, the ghost is every bit as vicious as the killer was in life, and he and Joshua have a target on their backs.


These Haunted Hills
Jana Denardo © 2024
All Rights Reserved

Chapter One
Brendan second-guessed his decision the moment he parked his car. He reminded himself it was exactly what he said he wanted: a cabin in the woods. The cold spring deluge lashing him from car to porch soured things further. To Brendan, the shower perfectly embodied the condition of his mind and soul.

Leaving his bag inside the door, Brendan drank in what would be his home for the next month. It could almost be called cute, in a rustic sort of way. The outside was a quintessential log cabin with a small porch bearing well-padded chairs. Only the green metal roof ruined the sixteenth-century settler homestead feel. Inside, the loft bedroom perched above the open-concept living area and kitchen. A tiny bathroom, tucked around the far corner of the kitchen, looked functional. As promised, there was a table, which would be useful as a writing desk for the times curling up on the couch with his laptop proved to be an ergonomic nightmare. He’d have to snap a photo of the stone fireplace with its fan-shaped iron guard and send it to Heather. She’d love it. A pang zinged his heart thinking about her.

He peered out one rain-streaked window. The only thing in view were trees, mostly pines mixed with something covered in blooms, dogwood maybe. Zimmermann had chosen Brendan the perfect cabin. The green isolation he’d chased after surrounded him. The forest suffocated him, the sheer aloneness of it. Those second thoughts skyrocketed. Heather hadn’t wanted him to come. She didn’t trust him alone. Brendan knew his ex had reason to worry. Both of them were mired in grief, and three years hadn’t moved them past it.

Brendan imagined giving in to the grief in a quiet place such as this cabin. No one would know until his month’s worth of rent was up. He shuddered and forced himself away from the window. His hypothesis wasn’t exactly true. Zimmermann would wonder where he was if Brendan missed their meeting. Brendan braved the chilling rain to grab his computer bag and three canvas bags of groceries out of the car. He busied himself with unpacking. His mood lifted to an inch above the floor once he filled the cabin with the scent of coffee.

With the groceries stowed, Brendan started a fire in a fireplace made for romance, but he wasn’t here for affairs of the heart. The small fire would be efficient in heating the cabin and driving the spring chill from the room.

Brendan planted himself with his coffee on the couch in front of the smallest TV he’d seen in ages. He shifted around on the futon, which seemed more comfortable than most of their ilk. Maybe someone had added a memory foam pad to it; whatever it was, Brendan was grateful since he would be spending a fair amount of time on it. Flipping on the TV, he reassured himself there was a functioning satellite and ditto the Wi-Fi for the computer, so there wouldn’t be some Overlook/The Shining isolation-driven craziness going on.

After turning the TV off, Brendan powered up his computer. He checked his emails and let Heather know he’d made it safely. He saw no emails from his agent, nor from the man he’d hired to show him around the haunted sites in the Hocking Hills area and the surrounding towns. Brendan brought up the These Haunted Hills website to determine what sites he should visit first. There were no pictures of Joshua Zimmermann on the website, just ones of the haunted locales.

Zimmermann had sent Brendan a photo at his request so Brendan would know who to look for when he met up with his guide for the month. One clue Brendan wasn’t completely dead inside was how cute he found Joshua. Zimmermann looked more like an undergrad in his picture and almost too boyish to be believable as an accomplished PhD, teaching wildlife conservation at a local university. It could be an old photo, or that his bright smile belied the number of years behind it.

Of all the potential haunted locations, Brendan wanted to visit Crooked Pines the most. A former hotel, Crooked Pines was now abandoned and theoretically too haunted and too ruined to be reclaimed; it contained a story, and Brendan needed to dig it out. His agent still doubted the idea of him writing a more adult ghost story, but it had been five years since the end of his young adult series. He’d written nothing new, though the adventures of Kiyomi Fujita, John Archer, and Vince Bianchi had generated more than enough money to live his life out twice over.

All his money hadn’t bought Brendan any happy endings. What had begun as a lucky break—and Brendan was well aware of how many fantastic authors never hit it big—became a noose. So many nights Brendan had lain awake wondering if the success of his series had drained the rest of the luck from his family’s life. The evidence suggested yes.

He stroked the cool glass pendant around his neck. All he wanted now was to write again. It had been so long. Most of what had come from his mind in the last three years had been pain-filled poems he had shown to no one, not even Heather. He thought, perhaps, taking a break from the young adult genre and all the memories associated with it would help him burst through his writer’s block.

Brendan could still taste the anger, bitter on his tongue. Being here in the wilderness made up the crux of his latest plan to move himself forward. The anger and grief had been woven into his soul, inseparable now. Either he had to live with it, or this was the end. Brendan wasn’t sure he cared which. He forced himself back to work, hoping to get lost in it.

Brendan tapped his lips in time to Piazzolla’s “Oblivion” as he rolled the outline for his new novel around in his mind. Maybe “Oblivion” was a little too on point for his state of mind. Perhaps he should hunt down some of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Transferring his fingers to the keyboard, he tried to type out something, but mostly, the outline was a loose collection of things he wanted to happen in the novel more than anything concrete. Granted, his outlines rarely were more.

Maybe I should return to working on the character studies. What he wouldn’t give to be able to draw his own characters. Some of his fans drew exquisite works, a few of which he saved. For the most part, he never looked at them, and legally, looking at fanfiction was a bad idea. Regardless, people tweeted them at him or shoved them at him at conventions. Some of it was downright smutty, and he did his best not to notice. It didn’t take away the frisson of jealousy over some of the artistic talent they had that had gone missing in him.

A knocking noise startled him off the futon. Brendan caught his balance and whipped around, trying to locate the source. Another knock echoed from the loft. Brendan backed up so he could peer up there without going up the steps. Nothing moved. At the third knock, he hauled himself up the stairs, but the loft stood empty. He looked out the window at the waving tree branches. What did he expect to see? A raccoon? A squirrel?

“Did you rent me a haunted cabin, Dr. Zimmermann?” Brendan’s laugh died when a fourth knock came from right next to the window.

He pinched up his features and stared out the window again. Still no critters. “Lots of wind though,” he muttered to himself. “You’re hearing the rain on the tin roof or tree branches. Totally normal. Not like you’d know.”

Comforted by the normal sounds of rain and wind—he’d never had a tin roof before—Brendan went downstairs and sat on the futon. Ghosts weren’t real.

Then why have you been uncomfortable in your own home?

He picked up the laptop, contemplating the thought. Because you’re haunted by Connor’s memory, nothing more.

He was lying to himself. He half believed it was possible Connor’s spirit was trapped in their family home. It was enough to have prompted Zimmermann to mention he didn’t necessarily go to houses to “clean” them, but his team did home investigations. Brendan had gotten the distinct impression Zimmermann did not want to do this, and he got it. Zimmermann had probably guessed his pen name and was wary of celebrity.

Did you want someone to go to your home and do an investigation?

Brendan wished he had an answer to the question. He’d promised Zimmermann that, no, he didn’t; he had no interest in it. But was it a lie? Another question without a clear answer. Instead of dwelling on it, he sent off an email to Dr. Zimmermann to let the man know he’d arrived and was ready to meet. He’d come up with a few plans of attack when it came to investigating the local haunts and wanted to see which fit Zimmermann’s schedule best.

Brendan turned his attention to the character information sheets for his new project. They might change by the end, but he needed a starting place, a way to keep his mind off things. At this point, distracting himself was the best Brendan could hope for.


NineStar Press | Books2Read

Meet the Author

Jana is Queen of the Geeks (her students voted her in), and her home and office are shrines to any number of comic book and manga heroes along with SF shows and movies too numerous to count. It’s no coincidence that the love of all things geeky has made its way into many of her stories. To this day, she’s disappointed she hasn’t found a wardrobe to another realm, a superhero to take her flying among the clouds, or a roguish starship captain to run off to the stars with her.

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