The wait is almost over! The release of Kindred Spirits is just a few weeks away, but here’s a sneak peek at the long-awaited sequel to Restless Spirits!
“I hate this guy,” Veronica Wilson announced as she stared at the television in disbelief. “I think I’ll go haunt him.”
Christine Wilson punched the “off” button on the TV remote and tossed it on the sofa with a disgusted sigh. A queasy feeling started to come over her, but she tried to hide her discomfort from her sister. “What would that accomplish?”
“It’ll scare the smug skepticism right out of the jerk, that’s what.”
“I’m not sure how that would help.”
“How wouldn’t it? The guy just pantsed you on live TV!” Ron moved to stand in front of Chris, doing a better job than her younger sister of not noticing that she hovered in the middle of the coffee table. “Nobody does that to my little sister. Besides, once I get through with him, there’s no way he’ll be able to deny the existence of ghosts. He’ll have to recant.” She looked over at her partner, who sat on the other end of the sofa, pointedly focusing all his attention on the semi-transparent Jack Russell Terrier curled up in his lap. “Joe, tell her I’m right.”
Joe looked for a second like he’d been caught in a trap before smoothing his face into the picture of diplomacy. “The man does seem like he could use a comeuppance,” he said to Chris before turning his attention to Ron. “But your sister can fight her own battles.”
“That’s right. I can.” Chris folded her arms to underscore her statement. As much as part of her loved the idea of Ronnie going over there and putting the fear of all things paranormal into Derek Brandt, she had a feeling that would only make things worse. “No haunting.”
“Oh, come on!” Ron flung her hands up in frustration. “This guy just shredded your reputation. You can’t do nothing.”
“I didn’t say I’d do nothing. I said I don’t want you to do anything. See the difference? Besides, it’s not like this is the first go-round I’ve had with him.”
“No, but it’s one thing for him to pick on your paranormal club in the college paper. But you’re both professionals now, and you’ve got a lot more to lose. And he called you a fraud on live television. He can’t get away with this.”
“He didn’t actually call me a fraud.” Chris knew she sounded pathetic even as she spoke.
To her credit, Ron didn’t roll her eyes. “No, but he implied it.”
“He did at that,” Joe agreed.
“So if I just find out where he lives, I can personally show him just how wrong he is.”
“Ronnie, I said no!”
“Fine.” Ron plopped down in the middle of the couch, right on top of the remote. Chris still wasn’t sure how she did that without going right through the cushions. “So what are you going to do?”
Good question. Chris wasn’t sure what she could do. Ron was right about one thing. Derek Brandt was a respected local crime reporter now, not some journalism student writing filler for a little college paper hardly anyone actually read. He’d won awards for consumer advocacy. Her Aunt Judy had e-mailed her dozens of clips from the Channel 24 website citing Brandt’s warnings about products to avoid and mechanics who would rip you off and how to keep from getting mugged in the parking lot. People took him seriously.
She, on the other hand, was someone who talked to dead people and investigated haunted houses for a living. Her most recent claim to fame was her role in exorcising the city’s most haunted house—a house she now called home. That, and publishing a novel that was ghost-written—literally—by her dead sister. The pool of people who took her seriously was already pretty shallow. This would likely shrink it down to the size of an inflatable kiddie pool.
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “I think I should sleep on it.” If I can sleep after all this. “Look, guys, I need to think. Would you mind giving me some space?”
Ron opened her mouth, probably to argue, but Joe spoke up before she could get started again. “Not at all.” He got up and tucked the dog under his arm. “I’m beat, anyway. Ron, how ‘bout we turn in?”
Ron glared at him a moment but then softened as she imitated someone who could sigh heavily. “Fine,” she said, getting to her feet. “But my offer’s still on the table. Just say the word.”
Chris couldn’t help smiling as she shook her head. “You don’t even know where he lives.”
She shrugged. “I have my ways,” she said before fading out of sight along with Joe and Buster.
Chris stared at the spot where they’d all been standing, taking a moment to relish the silence. She didn’t get a lot of it since moving into the house her sister haunted. As much as she loved still having Ronnie around, she sometimes regretted giving up her own apartment. But although the selling price of the—formerly—most haunted house in town had been a steal, the renovations had been another story.
Keeping an apartment when she owned a perfectly good house with so many vacant bedrooms had seemed like an extravagance she couldn’t justify, even with the book royalties Ron had bequeathed to her.
She imagined that Ron was up in the attic, giving Joe an earful. She felt slightly sorry for him but also grateful. She wanted to watch the news report again without her sister’s running commentary and angry outbursts. With another sigh, she picked up the remote and rewound the DVR.
Derek Brandt was handsome, that much was undeniable. As she’d seen for herself that morning, he was even better looking than she remembered from their college days. He was even cockier than she remembered, too. As irritated as she’d been when he’d interrupted her investigation, what made it even worse was that he’d shown no sign of remembering her.
More irritating still was how he’d handled himself. His manner had been polite, even charming. His questions, on the other hand, were smug and condescending when they weren’t downright hostile.
So it wasn’t as if she’d expected to come out smelling like a rose.
Chris took a deep breath, then pressed Play.
“Tonight, we look at Christine Wilson,” Brandt’s voice said over a shot of Christine trying to duck the camera, “self-described paranormal investigator and founder of W.I.G.G.I.N.S.”—he pronounced each letter rather than just saying the acronym, and Chris couldn’t help but smile at the thought of him trying to say it with a straight face—”which stands for Wilson Investigations: Ghosts, Goblins, Imps and Nasty Spirits.”
The name had been her sister’s contribution to the agency, and even now, it made Chris giggle. She had actually shortened it since Ron’s passing, dropping everything after the colon. It figured Brandt had dug up and used the longer and less professional-sounding version—it tied better into the narrative that she was a ridiculous, attention-seeking crazy lady. “Some would call her a psychic medium, as she claims to be able to communicate with the spirits of those no longer living.”
Chris sighed and paused the DVR, then got up and went to the kitchen. She took a bottle of wine down from the cupboard and stared at it a moment. Then she put it back and rummaged through the cabinet until she found what she really wanted: a bottle of Jameson’s left over from Ron’s wake. She poured two fingers into a jelly glass, added a splash of tap water from the kitchen faucet, then took it back into the living room.
Seated again, she took a sip and managed to suppress the urge to cough as fire ran down her throat and spread through her chest. Feeling sufficiently fortified, she grabbed the remote and resumed the story.
The camera focused on Mrs. Wood standing in her garage next to her late husband’s classic MG convertible. Mr. Wood had restored that car himself, pouring most of his free time for the past fifteen years into restoring it and keeping it in cherry condition. He’d apparently spent more time in the latter years of their marriage working on that car than he’d spent with his wife.
Mrs. Wood had called Chris earlier that week, claiming that she was sure her husband was haunting the car, and Chris had gone out there this morning to check it out, along with her equipment guy, Gus.
Chris had known right away that the car wasn’t haunted. Though it was possible that the ghost had simply been dormant while she was there, she could usually at least sense a presence. More often than not, they came right out and introduced themselves once they realized she could see them. She had gotten no sense of anything inhabiting that car and had been in the middle of explaining that to Mrs. Wood when Derek Brandt’s news crew crashed their little party.
“Evelyn Wood called the Channel 24 consumer hotline about her various attempts to find the cause behind several electrical malfunctions on her late husband’s convertible,” said Derek Brandt’s voice-over. “Mechanics from four different garages have been unable to identify what is causing the headlights to blink on and off, the horn to blare at random intervals, and the radio to unexpectedly turn itself on and cycle through stations. Fed up and desperate for answers, Mrs. Wood turned to Christine Wilson for an alternative explanation.”
“Well, I thought it had to be my husband,” Mrs. Wood said to someone, presumably Brandt, standing just off camera. “Vic poured his heart and soul into that car when he was alive. It made sense to me that he stayed there after he passed away.”
A jump cut focused on Gus, in the middle of a standard EVP session. Sitting in the driver’s seat with a high-powered microphone and digital recording equipment, he called out a series of questions. In a real haunting, the recorder would usually pick up answers, or at least a word or two of a message the spirit wanted to convey. Chris didn’t need it done for her own benefit, but she found that things usually went more smoothly if she could provide her clients with physical evidence instead of simply taking her at her word.
Of course, this time, the recorder didn’t pick up anything, as she’d known it wouldn’t. But that part didn’t make it into the story.
“As you can see, Ms. Wilson and her team”—“Team?!” Ron had snorted at this point. “Can’t he see it’s just Gus?” In the here and now, Chris quietly sipped her whiskey—“investigated the car for signs that would support Mrs. Wood’s suspicions. We asked if we could review the evidence from the investigation, but Ms. Wilson declined. She also declined to be interviewed for this story.” This last part was spoken over a shot of Chris’s back as she helped Gus lug his equipment back to his van.
Maybe it had been a mistake not to speak on the record. Chris could tell from Brandt’s attitude that he had no intention of painting her in a positive light, so she’d though it prudent not to play along. She had simply done her job and told Mrs. Wood that she thought the car’s behavior probably had more to do with wiring than anything paranormal, and then she and Gus had called it a day and tried to get out of everyone’s way.
It didn’t occur to her that their leaving would be painted as running away because they had something to hide.
And, of course, Brandt left out the part about Chris suggesting a non-supernatural cause. Instead, this happened: “To satisfy my own curiosity—and to get to the bottom of this car’s strange behavior once and for all—we brought along Mike Henson, whom regular Channel 24 viewers will recognize as The Honest Mechanic, to check out the car.”
The camera cut to a muscular man with a shaved head. He wore blue coveralls with the name “Mike” embroidered over his left breast. “A lot of today’s mechanics aren’t really trained to deal with these classic cars. If there’s not a computer system that can be hooked up to a diagnostic machine, they don’t know how to diagnose something like this, so it’s not really surprising none of them could provide an answer.”
It cut to a shot of him bent under the hood, which revealed a logo on the back of his coveralls that said “The Honest Mechanic” in bright yellow. A halo sat at a jaunty angle over the H, and angel wings protruded from either side.
“Mike, on the other hand, has an extensive background in classic car repair,” said the voice-over. “And his findings?”
Back to a shot of Mike speaking to the off-camera reporter: “I found some crossed wires and a loose spark plug that would be the most likely explanation. I tightened the plug and fixed the wiring and now, the car’s electrical appliances should stop going off like they had been.”
“I’m so glad,” Mrs. Wood said after she received the mechanic’s verdict. “I’d hate to think my Vic had to spend his afterlife with that car, although it would’ve been nice to speak to him again. But I’m glad to know he’s at rest. And I’m glad that now, I’ll finally be able to get some rest without that car blaring its horn at two in the morning!”
A shot of Brandt, with his jacket off and shirt sleeves rolled up, looking like Joe Everyman Hero as he walked up the sidewalk in front of Mrs. Wood’s house. “So there you have it. The Mystery of the Crying Car turned out to be nothing more than a loose spark plug. When asked what psychic Christine Wilson had to say to that, she unfortunately declined to comment.”
Actually, she had commented. When Brandt had chased her down at the van to tell her what the mechanic had found, she’d shrugged and said, “Great. Mystery solved,” before shutting herself inside. Guess that wasn’t quite the sound byte he’d been looking for.
“The moral of this story?” Brandt smugged at the camera. “The next time you run into unexplained phenomena, don’t be taken in by so-called psychics pushing their paranormal agenda. It’s likely that the truth is a little more down to earth.”
Chris turned off the TV aggressively and downed the rest of her drink. This time, she did cough, and leaned forward to set the glass on the coffee table and breathe. She was slightly grateful to the whiskey for choking off all of the names flitting through her head that she wanted to call Brandt out loud.
By the time she composed herself, she was no less certain of what to do than she’d been before, but at least she had a pleasant buzz that made her care a little less.
How much damage could his story really do, anyway? His was only one of four local news channels in this city—how big could his viewership be? Besides, most of the people who called her for help were already inclined to believe in the paranormal. It’s not like one snide commentary on the subject would change their minds.
It was her other clientele that she worried about—the dead who often counted on her to deliver messages to loved ones or fulfill unfinished business so they could find peace. How likely would a skeptical loved one be to listen to her after this?
She hoped she was overestimating the story’s impact, or at least Derek Brandt’s reach. Although, in the back of her mind, she had a feeling he’d done more damage than either of them could possibly know.
Chris re-started the story from the beginning. She got about as far as she’d gotten the last time before pausing it and taking her glass to the kitchen. She found the whiskey on the counter where she’d left it and poured herself another shot, not bothering with water this time. She turned to go, but after a moment’s hesitation, grabbed the bottle and took it with her. Once she was settled back on the couch, she backed up to the beginning and played it again.
“I still say I should haunt him.”
Up in the attic, Joe sat on the antique couch and watched Ron pace back and forth. “Your sister asked you not to.”
Ron scoffed. “That’s because she’s the good sister. She has to tell me not to. It gives her plausible deniability.”
“She’s also the one who has to live with any consequences your little haunting adventure stirs up,” he pointed out. “Christine’s a big girl. She has been for a while. You gotta let her fight her own battles.”
Ron frowned down at him, her bottom lip protruding ever so slightly in the tiniest of pouts. “I hate it when you’re all reasonable.”
“You hate it when I’m right.”
“I didn’t say you were right.”
“No, but you wouldn’t be so irritated if I wasn’t.” He got up from the couch and went over to her, taking her hands in his. “Somehow, I also don’t think you’d still be here.”
Her pout grew more pronounced, inviting him to nibble on that lip. He took her up on the invitation, and her lips parted in welcome. He could never get enough of the way touching her made him feel—the way every tiny molecule of whatever it was his spirit was made of seemed to dance for joy throughout his whole being. It had been more than a century since he’d been alive, and longer still since he’d kissed a living woman, so it was hard to remember exactly how that had felt. But he doubted it had been better than this.
“Now you’re just trying to distract me,” Ron mumbled against his mouth.
“Oh, believe me, you’re the one that’s doin’ the distractin’ here.” He pulled her into his arms. She came along willingly, sliding her own arms up to wrap around his neck and sighing against his mouth. They stayed like that for a while, just holding and kissing each other, and gratitude welled up in Joe, powering his kisses and driving his caresses. He still couldn’t believe she’d chosen to stay with him, and he felt like the luckiest man ever to haunt this limbo between life and death.
And also the least deserving.
He couldn’t bring himself to speak these things aloud. Instead, he tried to show her with every touch, with the way he gazed into her eyes between kisses. He didn’t have a heartbeat to show her how much it excited him just to be with her. He didn’t have the normal function of a living man. Their lovemaking was literally a spiritual act, a joining of their essences that was the most exhilarating thing he’d ever known.
Later, lying together on the sofa, wrapped in each other’s arms, they barely had enough energy left to enjoy the afterglow. It became harder to think, but even so, as oblivion overtook them, Joe knew how selfish of him it was to let her stay here with him instead of sending her into the light.
And as his being continued to vibrate from her nearness, he also knew he didn’t care.
She awoke sooner than she’d expected. After the way she and Joe had ended their evening, she’d expected to sleep like . . . well, like exactly what she was. Joe certainly seemed to be. Ron lay still for a few minutes, just watching him in his repose. Her heart—or whatever stood in for it these days—swelled with joy, and she once again marveled at the fact that she’d had to die to find the kind of love she’d previously only written about.
When she couldn’t take it anymore, she carefully extracted herself from the couch, managing not to disturb either Joe or Buster, who had apparently snuggled up with them at some point. With no more than a thought, she was standing in her sister’s room. The bed was empty. Ron glanced at the clock on Chris’s nightstand. It was a few minutes past three. Where was she?
Ron popped downstairs to the living room, the last place she’d seen her sister. There she was, sacked out on the couch, with her big gray tabby curled up next to her head. Ron couldn’t understand how she could sleep so peacefully after what had happened, but then she saw the bottle on the coffee table, next to the empty jelly glass.
“Oh, sweetie,” she whispered. Poor kid. Things had been going so well for her, and for the business. Ron wasn’t about to let a tool like Derek Brandt undo that and get away with it. “That does it,” she muttered, more to herself than to her sleeping sister. With a glance at Chris she added, “Sorry, but sometimes, big sis knows best.”
She stole into the office, where Chris kept a laptop booted up at all times for Ron’s late night writing sessions. Ron lowered herself into the chair behind the antique oaken desk. Instead of pulling up her work in progress, she opened a web browser and practiced a little Google-fu. She couldn’t track down Brandt’s home address, but she did find directions to the TV station where he worked.
Thankfully, she could take a much shorter route than the one suggested by Google Maps. Looking at the building on Street View, she simply closed her eyes and formed a picture of it in her mind. When she opened them again, she stood in the parking lot.
Ron grinned, a little amazed with herself. “That never gets old.”
Inside the building, she found a directory. She didn’t find a listing for his office, so she took a chance and went to the news room. About twenty desks filled the large room, surrounded by low cubicle walls. Ron floated up and down the aisles between them until she found one with Derek’s nameplate.
Her sense of accomplishment quickly faded once she discovered his desk was locked up tight. Locks weren’t generally a problem for her these days, but if he had an address book in there, she’d need to take it out to read it. She could easily reach in and feel around, but pulling out a solid object was another matter.
“He probably keeps all that stuff in Outlook, anyway,” she muttered. She looked at the monitor on his desk. It was attached to a docking station rather than a desktop unit, and the laptop was gone. Not that she’d had much hope of cracking his password if it had been there.
Undaunted, she scanned the objects on his desk. Her gaze landed on a framed photo of two teenage boys standing at the end of a driveway in front of a brick, ranch-style house. Both boys bore a resemblance to Brandt, especially the younger one. At first, Ron thought they must be his younger brothers, but upon closer inspection, she realized the clothing and hairstyles were way too late ‘Nineties for the picture to be current. The younger kid must be Brandt himself.
Another framed photo showed the adult version next to a much older man—his dad, most likely—in front of the same house. So it was likely that his parents still lived there. It wasn’t quite what she’d hoped to find, but at least it was a lead. She’d probably have better luck tracking down his address there.
Ron focused on the house in the photo until it materialized before her—or, rather, she before it. She was surprised to see a classic dark green Mustang sitting in the driveway in place of the type of sedan typically driven by retirees. It was probably maintained by “The Honest Mechanic.” Ron rolled her eyes as she remembered the big show that was made of that guy inspecting Chris’s client’s car. One thing she’d noticed in her short life was that if someone went around advertising how honest they were, they were usually pretty shady.
She moved up the front walk and passed through the front door. Inside, she found another surprise: the decor was all leather, glass and chrome, very masculine. It was tastefully done—Ron especially appreciated the vintage Eames chair set off to the side of the burgundy leather sofa. She could tell it was the real deal and not a knock-off, but it screamed “young single guy” and not “retired parents.” Could she actually be so lucky?
An entry table sat beside the front door, on top of which sat a black lacquer tray that held keys and a wallet. Ron flipped open the wallet and revealed Derek Brandt’s driver’s license inside. “Jackpot!” A giddy giggle bubbled up out of her.
And morphed into a scream when a voice behind her said, “Who are you?”
Ron spun around. A teenage boy stood in the living room, staring right at her and looking somehow familiar. Ron glanced around to make sure there was nobody else in the room with them, then pointed at herself. “Me?”
“I saw you come in through the door,” he said. “You’re like me, aren’t you?”
Confused and taken off guard, Ron squinted at the kid, trying to remember where she knew him from. He stared at her earnestly, waiting for an answer, and it dawned on her: she’d seen him in the picture that stood on Derek’s desk. He looked the same. The shirt was different, but he hadn’t aged a day. “Who are you?” she asked him.
“I asked you first. What are you doing in my house?”
“Your . . . you mean Derek Brandt’s house, right?”
The kid blew out a sigh of frustration and flicked his eyes toward the ceiling. “Derek’s my kid brother. Although I guess he’s not exactly a kid anymore, and yeah, I guess technically, he owns this house now.”
“Wait a minute. You . . . haunt this place?”
He gave her a petulant shrug. “I guess you could call it that. But shouldn’t I be the one asking the questions here, lady? Who are you and what are you doing here?”
Ron folded her arms across her stomach and lifted her chin. “I’m a ghost, like you. I came to haunt your brother.”
The kid screwed up his brow. “Why?”
“Because he was a jerk to my sister and now he must pay. Sorry. I have to ask, though, why does he act like people who believe in the paranormal are either idiotic or insane when he’s got a ghost living right here in his own home?”
The expression on the kid’s face became crestfallen. “Because he has no idea I’m here. I don’t know how to get his attention.” He came over to Ron and looked past her at the entry table. “You did that?” he asked, pointing at the wallet.
“I did what?”
“You opened his wallet. How’d you do that?”
“It . . . um, well, I just—”
“Can you teach me?”
Ron pressed her lips shut and eyed the kid. “What’s your name?”
Ron smiled and held out her hand. “Hi, Jimmy. I’m Ron, and I think I’m your new fairy godmother.”
Kindred Spirits comes out June 30th from Vinspire Publishing!