This book is almost ready to make its debut, but before I send it out into the cold, wide world, I would love some feedback! So here is the first chapter. You can comment on this post, comment on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or anywhere else you follow me! Thanks in advance!
Ghosts couldn’t fall in love…could they?
I didn’t have an answer, but if love did exist for those of us in the plane between life and death, I certainly couldn’t be blamed since the man who’d moved into the house I currently haunted could make a blind woman beg for mercy. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t love as much as it was lust. No could blame me for those feelings, either, considering how long I’d been dead.
I studied the new tenant with more interest than I’d ever shown a man when I was alive. He wasn’t supposed to be here, but I might have known old lady Marley would eventually find a renter I couldn’t scare the pants off. In the seven years since I’d died, I’d managed to make three couples and a burly guy who thought he was hallucinating break their leases. This guy didn’t look like he was scared of much…even ghosts.
It wasn’t my fault that I was one of those. I certainly didn’t ask to be killed, and if I had my options, I would have already moved into the light, if such a thing existed. Okay, maybe I would have gone in that direction before I met this new tenant.
Mac Reynolds. Even the name sounded masculine and made me tingly in places that shouldn’t be tingling considering I had no corporeal form. Well, actually, I could take form. Just not for very long. I’d been practicing—there wasn’t a lot to do when you’re dead—and I’d actually managed to stay virtually alive for close to two hours a few weeks ago. But if I had any chance of catching Mac’s eye, I’d have to manage a lot longer than that, although I wasn’t quite sure what my plan was after that.
The front door slammed, and I adjusted my position on the sofa to catch a full-on glimpse of him in his workout gear. He’d just come home from the gym, and the combination of sweat and just pure male made my mouth water. Well, maybe not technically, but I did still remember what that feeling was like.
Mac headed to the fridge and snagged a beer, twisting off the top with one flick of his wrist. He downed almost half the bottle in one gulp and released a relieved sigh. I watched a trickle of condensation run down the side of the ale, and I decided I needed to figure out how to be a human again for a lot longer. As I dreamily considered that option, I leaned back against the sofa with my legs crossed and my eyes closed. They popped right back open when Mac almost shouted.
“Who are you, and what are you doing in my house?”
And I realized he was looking right at me. In my positively euphoric state, I’d gone corporeal.
As Mac continued to stare at me, his dark blue eyes doused with anger, I got to my feet and smoothed one hand down the front of my jeans. Were they still in style? I didn’t even know what women these days were wearing. I wish I could change clothes, but that was yet another option not afforded to the dead.
“You haven’t answered my question, lady, and I’m about ten seconds away from calling the cops.” He pulled his cell phone out of his pocket and waved it at me to add to the threat.
I liked his deep voice, but now wasn’t the time to appreciate any of his attributes. I summoned a smile. “I’m Nicole, but most of my friends call me Nikki.”
My perky response didn’t erase the displeasure from Mac’s face.
I tried another tactic. “I used to live here.”
“And what? You missed the place so much you figured you’d just swing back by for a visit?” The disbelief in his tone annoyed me.
“That’s it. Your ten seconds are up.” Mac punched in the security code for his phone then looked up at me. “Well? Are you going to leave, or do I have to make this call?”
I wasn’t too worried about the threat of police involvement. They couldn’t take me out of the house, and once I disappeared in front of them, the entire town of Bellknap, North Carolina would be abuzz.
“Calling the police won’t help.” I might as well lay all my cards on the table.
Mac arched an eyebrow over those delicious eyes. “Really? And why is that? Is your brother on the force?”
I closed my eyes, relinquished my energy, and faded into the nothingness where I normally existed.
A strangled sound came from Mac. “What the…? What are you?”
“I’m a ghost.” No need hiding from the truth, especially since I would fade in front of him eventually anyway.
“Yeah. Right. Okay, lady. Whatever parlor tricks you’re playing, I’m not interested. Now get out of my house.”
I solidified once more and aimed a glare his way. “If I could leave, don’t you think I would have by now? Do you know how many people I’ve had to live with over the past seven years? The last guy was the worst. The man had the manners of a pig.” I shuddered at the memory.
Mac continued to stare at me, his expression a mutation of curiosity and disbelief. “You actually expect me to believe you’re a ghost?”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake, Google me. My name’s Nicole Madison, and my death was all over the news after it happened. This is where my body was found which, I imagine, is why I can’t leave. Believe me, it’s not been a picnic for me.” Not until you moved in at least. I kept that tidbit to myself. I doubted the man would want to know a dead woman was lusting after him.
Mac took a stumbling step toward the sofa and collapsed. “You’re a ghost?”
“I can see I’m going to have to drill that in your head so the answer is yes. I float, I walk through walls, and I can fade out at will. As for the things I can’t do, well, those are really some bites in the shorts. No food. No water. No running outside, nothing. And I used to jog every morning before work. And before you ask, I don’t say ‘boo,’ and I don’t float around wearing a sheet. I look like this most of the time. Well, at least when I’m corporeal.”
The look on Mac’s face had segued to curiosity. I was impressed he hadn’t fled the house screaming when he realized I was telling the truth. “Huh.” More studying followed before he asked the inevitable question. “So what happened to you?”
“Shot by my stepfather.” I held up one hand to silence his questions before they could begin. “Long story. Like I said, you can read all about it on the internet. He’s in prison, but I’m still dead. He only got convicted for involuntary manslaughter.” I shook my head so hard, some of my red curls escaped the tie at the nape of my neck. “Honestly, it still burns my biscuits to this day. He and his fast-talking lawyers just reeled that judge in like he was a prime catfish. He should have gone down for murder, but since I wasn’t around to defend myself, Stan said I’d attacked him, and he’d defended himself. As if. The guy is the size of a grizzly.”
Mac crossed one leg over his knee. “I thought ghosts were supposed to move on once their killers were found.”
“Watch a lot of television, do you?” I expected more from him than the usual stereotypical stuff. I couldn’t imagine why, though. I didn’t know him anymore than I knew any of the other seven people who’d been residents of this house. But he just looked like one of those guys who helped old ladies across the street and opened car doors for women—chivalrous. That would be the best way to describe him.
Of course, before I’d passed from the mortal coil, I’d though the same thing. So I shouldn’t blame him for thinking I should have left once Stan had been in handcuffs.
“I do a lot of reading,” Mac countered, forgetting all about the beer he’d plopped down on the coffee table. “So why haven’t you moved on?”
“How should I know? It’s not like we get a ghost manual, you know. I just haven’t gone anywhere.”
Mac seemed to ponder the situation, looking from me then back to the door. I wondered if he was thinking about leaving now that he knew he had a roommate. “Are there others here inside the house?”
“No. Since it was just me and dear old Stan here when he shot me, I get to be all by myself in the house.”
“Other ghosts can’t come to visit?”
Was he mocking me? I glared back at him. “You think this is funny, don’t you?”
He stood and surveyed me with a strange look on his face. “It has to be because, otherwise, I’m losing my mind.”
“So you really don’t believe me?” I moved forward so fast he didn’t see me and kicked his shin.
“Ow!” He danced back on one leg. “What’s the matter with you?”
“With me? Oh, nothing that a pulse couldn’t cure!” My phantom blood boiled. “I’m telling you I’m dead, and you think it’s some kind of a joke? Or that you’ve gone off the deep end? How about a little less focus on you and more on me?”
“Hey.” Mac reached for his beer and downed another couple of swigs. I wondered if it was to steady his nerves. “I’m sorry if it’s taking me longer than you’d like to come to terms with this, but no one, and I mean no one, I know has ever seen a ghost except for maybe those paranormal investigators on tv. This just sounds a lot like Beetlejuice.”
“Well, whatever you saw obviously isn’t the truth.”
“Not necessarily. That couple couldn’t leave their house, either.”
I thought about kicking him again, but a loud rap on the door made Mac jump and me fade.
“Where did you go?” He turned around in a circle, one hand sweeping the air as though I was invisible instead of ethereal.
The pounding on the door continued.
“I’m right here.” I tried to solidify again without luck. I did manage to make my voice heard. “I can’t come back just yet.”
Mac headed to the door. “Why not?” His whisper wasn’t really a whisper.
“I don’t know. I guess I got scared.”
He gave a bark of laughter I didn’t appreciate. “A scared ghost. There’s a new one.” Before I could answer, he yanked open the door, making me more than a little relieved I had disappeared.
On the other side stood my old landlord. Mrs. Marley. Sweet as she could be but nosier than a handful of busybodies at a church social.
“Hello, dear. I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d drop by to see how things were going.” Her face wreathed in wrinkles, she beamed up at him before shifting to the right in an attempt to see around him to the interior of the house. “It doesn’t look like you’re fully moved in yet. Do you need some help? I’d be happy to lend a hand unpacking. My husband, may he rest in peace, used to call me a master mover.”
Mac tossed a look over his shoulder before responding. “I appreciate that, but I like to take my time unpacking so I can put everything where it needs to go. Thanks for stopping by, though.”
“No bother at all. I was hoping you might like to stop over for some dinner this evening. I’m making lasagna, and that is one of my best dishes, according to the members of my church. But I don’t like to brag.”
“Well, thank you, but I had a really late lunch so I can’t imagine I’ll be hungry anytime soon. I hate to cut this short, but I’m right in the middle of something right now so if you’ll excuse me…” He tried to shut the door, but Mrs. Marley wedged her pudgy foot in the opening.
“Well, I do have to admit I have an ulterior motive for just popping by besides just asking you over for dinner.” Carrying a purse the size of Rhode Island, she steamrolled into the house, bumping Mac out of the way with her hip.
Grimacing, he kicked the door shut, his gaze drifting upwards. I guess he thought ghosts hovered near the ceiling. I thought about trying to poke him just to assure him I was still in the general area.
Mac cleared his throat and led the way into the living room. “So what can I do for you, Mrs. Marley?”
She sat down on the couch and folded her hands in her lap, the very picture of primness. “Actually, it’s what I can do for you.” Her eyes twinkled, and I didn’t need to guess what was coming. I recognized that look, had seen it more times than I could count in my grandmother’s eyes.
Mrs. Marley had a relative who needed a date, and Mac was about to be up for auction.
“So, my niece will be in town this week, and she doesn’t really know much of the area. I was hoping you would consider showing her around. She really is a lovely girl. I’m surprised she hasn’t already found a husband by now, but you know how that goes. At any rate, she’ll be arriving on Tuesday. Now, I know you work, and I’ve already told her that, but I suggested maybe a drive after work on Tuesday and then the two of you could take it from here.” She beamed, and the overhead light glinted off her snowy-white dentures.
“I appreciate you thinking of me, Mrs. Marley. I really do, but my schedule is so full for the next two weeks that I can’t squeeze one more thing in. That’s to my regret, of course, because I’m sure if your niece looks anything like you, she’s a real stunner.” He winked, and my former landlady coughed and clutched the locket dangling from a thick, gold chain.
“Well, that is about the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard.”
I had to give Mac credit. He ushered her out of the house faster than I ever could. And the woman wasn’t irritated about leaving. Of course, the liberal amount of charm he’d poured on, coupled with the toe-curling winks had a lot to do with keeping her in a good mood. By the time she lugged her purse to the door, her cheeks were flushed bright red, and she was fanning herself with one hand while promising to contact him when her niece returned to town.
When the door closed behind her departing figure, I rematerialized and gave Mac a round of applause. “Well done. But you might regret not meeting her niece. She could be the love of your life.”
“Please. I knew the second she mentioned what she could do for me that she had an eye on matchmaking, and that’s not a career too many people have the aptitude for. And blind dates aren’t my thing.”
“Still, maybe you should have given it a chance.” I shrugged while wondering why I was trying to shove him in the direction of this woman I didn’t know.
“I’ll pass. I’ve never been big on the whole “soulmate” thing.” He ran a hand through his hair and slid a glance at me. “So why do you think you hang around here?”
Now we were back to him asking me questions I couldn’t answer. “Maybe I like it here.”
He frowned. “Really?”
“No, not really.” Irritation stabbed each syllable. “I have no idea why I’m still here. It obviously has nothing to do with my killer being caught.”
I plopped down on Mac’s sofa, smoothing my hands over the thick, blue cushions. I liked how it felt against my skin, but the iridescence of my fingers let me know I wouldn’t be feeling it much longer which was disappointing. I wanted to continue talking to Mac. About anything. And everything.
He took a seat on the arm of the sofa. “What are we going to do about you?”
“Do about me? I’m not an abandoned pet.” I straightened. “For now, just think of me as part of the furniture.” I patted a cushion. “Like this couch.”
Now I had his full attention. He even leaned in closer, his eyes focused solely on mine. “Yeah, that’s not going to work for me.”
“Why not?” The sensation of floating distracted me. I was seconds away from vanishing.
“Because if I actually had a sofa that looked like you, I’d never leave it.”
His words brought a smile to my face, but he couldn’t see it for I’d already disappeared.
And I was back in the abyss where I could see everything going on around me, but no one could see me. At least no one alive.
“Are you still here?” Mac reached out as though he could touch me.
Now that I had exhausted my energy reserves, I couldn’t even talk to him. So I didn’t have a way to tell him I hadn’t gone away…at least not my spirit anyway. I’d have to remember to tell him next time he could see me. When that would be, I didn’t know. This was the first time I’d stayed corporeal for longer than ten minutes since I’d managed the two-hour bit. That one had really drained me. I couldn’t return to the mortal world for close to two weeks afterwards.
My spirits sank. If it took me that long this time, Mac could think he’d dreamed this entire encounter.
“Do you know when you’ll be back?” He tugged at the bottom of his shirt and began lifting it over his head then stopped. “Are you watching me right now? How am I supposed to know this stuff?”
Then, with a shrug, he yanked the shirt over his head and carried it to the hamper in his tastefully decorated bedroom. “If you’re still here and watching, you’re about to get a show unless you leave.”
I bit my lower lip and considered my options. There were only two, and one sounded infinitely better than the other. I didn’t have to say anything. And he’d never have to know. But my good girl upbringing rose up inside of me, and I turned my back as he continued stripping and headed to the master bathroom.
I would not follow him. I would not. With a grit of my phantom teeth, I concentrated on another part of my house. Anywhere but Mac’s bedroom and the mouth-watering thought of what was happening in that shower.
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