Another Bound Spirits Sneak Peek – Read Chapter Two!

Did you miss the first chapter? Read it here!

Bound Spirits

Chapter Two

Chris admired the spread laid out on the kitchen table. She didn’t know how Marsha felt about Italian food, but she didn’t really care. It looked delicious and smelled even better, and she couldn’t wait to dig in. She picked up a fork and reached for the baked ziti, the recipe courtesy of Derek’s aunt’s Sicilian mother-in-law, intending to shave a tiny sliver off one corner that nobody could possibly miss. Derek caught her and smacked her hand.

“No!”

“Oh, come on! A taste.”

“You already had a taste when it came out of the oven.”

“One more, then. It’s so good.”

He grinned. “I’m glad you like my cooking, but you can wait until the guests get here. Why don’t you open the wine? It needs time to breathe.”

“Fine.” Chris tossed the unused fork in the sink and retrieved a bottle of pinot grigio from the fridge. “Have I mentioned that you’re a lifesaver?” She nudged the refrigerator door closed with her hip and opened the drawer next to it to fish out the cork screw. “Where did you learn to cook, anyway?”

“My mom, mostly. But I also did a couple of stints subbing for the morning show anchors and helped out on some cooking segments. You tend to pick up a few things.”

“I’ll say. You saved me from having to serve takeout. My cooking skills are pretty much limited to picking up a phone.”

“Oh, come on, that’s not true. I’ve seen you pour a mean bowl of cereal.” He winked and then jerked his chin toward the table. “Besides, you did a great job with the salad.”

“Yeah, I guess chopping vegetables isn’t too far outside my skill set.” She grimaced as she pushed down on the levers of the cork screw. The cork was being stubborn.

“Want me to get that for you?”

“No, thanks. I’ve got it.” She pushed harder. The cork started to give. At that moment, the doorbell rang. With an exasperated sigh, she handed the bottle and the cork screw over. “Here. Remember, I loosened it for you.” With a wink, she headed out of the kitchen.

“Yeah, yeah,” she heard behind her, followed by a distinct “pop!” as the cork came loose.

Chris hurried toward the front door but slowed her steps at the entryway. This wasn’t merely the first time her dad had been to her new place. It was also the first time she and Derek had entertained together as a couple. Between that and the mysterious announcement she was about to hear, she couldn’t help the nervous flutter in her gut. She paused to take a deep, calming breath before opening the door.

It opened barely a crack when an admittedly impressive diamond was jammed in her face. “We’re getting married!” Marsha shrieked, shoving the door open the rest of the way and pulling Chris into a vice-like hug, all the while hopping up and down on her designer heels.

Chris’s gaze found her dad as she patted Marsha’s back awkwardly and tried to muster up sounds of enthusiasm. Even through her shock, she couldn’t help but notice how happy he looked underneath his obvious embarrassment. “Gee, Marsha, don’t keep her in suspense.”

Marsha released Chris and stood back, grinning as she fanned her face and blinked back tears before they could ruin her mascara. “I know we said we’d tell her together over dinner, but I couldn’t help it. I’m so excited!”

The sound of footsteps approaching from behind helped bring Chris back to her senses. “Excited about what?”  Derek asked. Chris opened her mouth to answer, but Marsha beat her to the punch with an encore performance. “Hey, that’s great!” Somehow, he sounded sincere as she threw her arms around his neck and squealed right in his ear. Patting her back with one hand, he reached the other toward Chris’s dad. “Congratulations, you two.”

“Thanks.” Smiling, he shook Derek’s hand, then turned to Chris. “Do I get a hug?”

Chris blew out a breath. “Of course.” She leaned into one of his patented bear hugs and squeezed him hard. “Congratulations, Daddy.” They released each other, and she stepped back. “Come on in.”

The four of them moved into the foyer, where both Marsha and Drew studied the ornate staircase. “Oh, how beautiful,” Marsha gushed. “Sweetheart, wouldn’t this be a wonderful place for a wedding? Couldn’t you picture the bride coming down these stairs with her dress trailing behind?”

“I don’t think—” Drew began, but she cut him off.

“Oh, I don’t mean our wedding. We’ve got our venue all picked out. But for somebody, someday…” She looked meaningfully from Derek to Chris and gave Chris a big, showy wink.

“I’m pretty sure that whenever Christine does get married, she won’t want to do it in the spot where her sister died,” Drew said, his voice tight.

Everyone fell silent. Marsha’s hand flew to her chest. The horrified look on her face made Chris feel a little sorry for her. “Oh, Drew, honey, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know—”

Ignoring her, he turned to Chris. “This is it, isn’t it? Where it happened?”

Chris nodded. She looked around, hoping Ron had decided to sneak down for a peek at Marsha and was there to witness their dad’s obvious grief. But she and Joe had apparently decided to remain tucked away in the attic for the evening. Chris sighed. “Yeah. This is it.”

“Where did you find her?” The tremor in his voice was barely perceptible and would probably be missed by anyone who didn’t know him as well as Chris.

“Over here.” She led him to where she’d discovered Ron’s twisted body.

Drew stood there, contemplating the spot. Out of the corner of her eye, Chris saw Derek move close to Marsha and slip an arm around her shoulders. She gave him a grateful look and patted his hand before pulling away from him and coming to stand next to her newly minted fiancé. She took his hand and simply held it in silence, and Chris thought maybe, if she tilted her head and squinted, she could see a little of what her dad must see in the woman.

After a protracted moment of silence, Drew tore his gaze away from the floor and smiled at Marsha. “I’m sorry.” He patted her hand. “I don’t mean to rain on your parade.”

“It’s our parade, and I’ll march through rain all day long as long as you’re by my side.”

Chris didn’t know whether to feel touched or slightly nauseated by Marsha’s pronouncement, but her dad seemed to be moved by it. He bent his head to kiss her forehead, then seemed to remember they weren’t alone. “We, uh, we brought some champagne.” He patted his pockets as if he might find it there. “I must have left it in the car.”

“I’ll get it,” said Derek. “Is the car locked?”

“The keys are in my purse,” said Marsha.

“I’ll get them.” Chris went to retrieve Marsha’s purse and dig out the keys. As she handed them to Derek, she leaned in and said in a low voice, “Please tell me you got that wine open.”

“There’s already a glass poured and waiting for you.” He pecked her on the lips before heading out the door.

Chris watched him go until the door swung shut behind him. Then she took a deep breath and turned to her guests. “I hope you guys are hungry!”

***

“Are you sure you don’t want to go down there?” Joe twisted one of Ron’s blonde curls around his finger.

“I’m sure.” She wiggled down into the couch cushions and wrapped her arms more tightly around him as if to declare that she was firmly anchored to that spot. “Believe me, there’s nothing going on down there that interests me.”

“I gotta admit, I’m interested. Aren’t you even the least bit curious about this Marsha character?”

“Not really,” Ron fibbed. The truth was that she was dying—figuratively speaking, of course, seeing as how that ship had sailed—to get a look at her father’s lady friend. But the thought of seeing her dad carry on as though he’d never even had an older daughter, let alone felt any grief over her tragic passing, simply hurt too much. “But by all means.” She extricated herself from Joe’s arms and sat up. “If you want to go down, don’t let me stop you.”

“Now don’t be like that.”

“Like what?”

“All huffy and put out. I said I’m curious, is all. That don’t mean I’m about to leave you up here to stew.”

“I’m not stewing.”

A crease in Joe’s brow conveyed his skepticism as his gaze drifted down to her arms. Ron looked down to see that they were folded protectively in front of her. She hadn’t even realized she’d folded them. She forced them to her sides and adopted a relaxed posture. “I’m not stewing. I really don’t care that my dad’s down there.”

“Now that’s a lie if I ever heard one.”

Ron sighed. Joe knew her too well. “Fine. I care. But I don’t want to think about it. I’m too tired. Aren’t you tired? Today was a long day.”

“You got that right.” He made a show of stretching, then reached an arm over to pull her back against him. “How many people did we help out today?”

“Five. Two coaching jobs, and a whole lot of Googling for the other three. But you’re the one who did all the legwork.”

“If you can call the way we get around legwork.”

“Well, it’s still exhausting. Who knew Tulsa had so many dead people wandering around with unfinished business and having no idea what to do with themselves?”

“Your sister knew.”

Ron nodded, conceding the point. “Well, she can’t help all of them single-handedly.”

“She’s hardly helped any of them since you took over. Does she know how much you’ve been doing for her?”

She shrugged. “She knows enough. The whole point is for her to not have to think about it. She’s got enough on her plate with her new boyfriend and his YouTube channel. Not to mention all the physical therapy she needed for her leg.”

“Well, at least that’s done.” Joe shook his head. “I don’t understand this YouTube business, though. It ain’t like we show up on camera. What’s the point?”

“Some apparitions do. And don’t forget about voice recordings. Anyway, it’s spooky and people like it. I was trying to convince Chris that we should start a YouTube channel before I joined the corporeally challenged.”

“I guess I’ve seen enough horror in my time that I don’t understand why people go lookin’ for scares. All those kids who used to break into the house whenever nobody lived here… Thank Heaven Lilly and I managed to scare ‘em all off before Sarah got to ‘em.” He looked at her sideways. “Our scare tactics didn’t work so well with you, though.”

“Yeah, well, when I get scared I tend to be more fight than flight.”

“Don’t I know it.” He brushed her hair behind her ear. “Can’t exactly complain about the way things turned out, though.”

Ron leaned back in and snuggled up against him. “Neither can I.” It wasn’t that she was happy about being dead. But if she hadn’t died, she wouldn’t have known Joe, and they had managed to cobble together a pretty good existence here in their limbo between life and whatever comes next. Between this and watching over Chris, she managed to stay busy enough that she hardly had time to miss out on life.

She tilted her head to smile up at Joe. He returned her smile, his eyes crinkling in that way that made her feel warm all over. They held each other’s gaze for a long while before he brushed her forehead with his lips. “You’re right, though. I am a might tuckered out. I could use some shut-eye.”

“You and me both.” She laid her head on his broad chest and closed her eyes.

But sleep didn’t come.

Despite all her bravado about not caring, she couldn’t shake the sense of awareness that her father was right downstairs, or an intense curiosity about his girlfriend. It was only sheer stubbornness that held her in place long after Joe had faded out of consciousness. When she couldn’t stand it anymore, she slipped out of his arms and went downstairs.

She could have simply popped herself down there with a thought, but she wasn’t sure exactly where they were and she didn’t want Chris to see her and know she’d caved. So she transported herself to the second floor and took the stairs the rest of the way down, creeping slowly and listening for voices as she went.

Sounds of laughter drifted out of the living room. Ron approached cautiously, peeking around the corner to see where Chris was seated before materializing behind her, safely out of sight. While it seemed that other spirits could somehow remain invisible to her sister if they so chose, that was one trick for which Ron had never developed the knack.

From her vantage point behind Chris’s chair, she stood facing her father, who was all smiles as he leaned forward to pick up a wine bottle and refill his glass. He also topped off the glass of the woman seated next to him on the love seat, who could be none other than the infamous Marsha. Ron couldn’t help noticing the big diamond prominently displayed on the hand that was propping up her chin as she gazed adoringly at their dad. She also couldn’t help immediately comparing the woman to her mother, which she knew wasn’t fair, but still. The differences were striking.

Ron’s mother had been a natural beauty. Ron had inherited her curly blonde locks, which she had worn long, usually braided to keep them out of a face rarely touched by makeup. She simply hadn’t needed it. By contrast, Marsha was exactly as Chris had described—a brunette Barbie, dressed to the nines with perfectly winged eyeliner and a face expertly buffed and powdered to perfection. Actually, there was a name for the brunette Barbie, wasn’t there? Bridget or Midge or something like that. Ron should know. She had really been into Barbie dolls as a kid. That was how she’d inadvertently killed her mom, after all.

“—your sister could be here for this,” the living Marsha doll said. Ron blinked. She had been so caught up in her own thoughts that she barely heard a word anyone was saying, but that got her attention. “I would have loved to have known her.”

“I’m sure she would have loved you.” Drew reached over to squeeze her hand. Ron made an involuntary sound of disgust, which went unheard by all but Chris, who suddenly cocked her head and glanced behind her.

“Will you guys excuse me?” she said, leaning forward to set her drink on the coffee table and standing up.

“Everything okay?” asked Derek.

“Yeah. I need to check on something.” She headed into the hallway before glancing back and making eye contact with Ron. A jerk of her head commanded Ron to follow.

They were in the office with the door safely closed, but Chris still kept her voice low. “I thought you didn’t want anything to do with this.”

Ron shrugged and folded her arms. “So I got curious. Sue me.”

“How long have you been there?”

“I don’t know. Not long. A couple of minutes.”

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. So, Dad’s getting married, huh? Good for him.”

“Yeah,” said Chris. She didn’t sound overjoyed.

“Are you okay?”

Chris shrugged. “That woman’s going to be my step-mother.” She flinched and corrected herself. “Our stepmother. Sorry.”

“That’s okay. Pretty sure it doesn’t count when you’re dead.”

“So what do you think of her?”

“I don’t know. She’s really different from Mom, but other than the whole homecoming queen, sorority girl vibe she gives off, I haven’t really seen enough to form an opinion.”

Chris nodded. She was silent a moment as she watched Ron, seeming to consider something. Finally, she asked, “Do you want to come back in there with me? I could tell them you’re here. You could meet her, sort of, and maybe talk to Dad.”

“Oh, I’m sure Dad would love that. No thanks.”

“Are you sure?”

“Positive. But you should get back. My curiosity’s satisfied. I’m going to head back upstairs.”

“Ron…” Chris looked like she wanted to press but wasn’t sure what to say. Before she could complete her thought, a thump out in the hall grabbed their attention. She turned to peer through the French doors “What was that?”

“I don’t know. Maybe the cat?”

Chris opened the door and leaned out into the hall. “Here kitty,” she called, but there was no sign of Miss Persnikitty, nor of anything else that could have made the noise. She eyed Ron sharply. “You and Joe didn’t bring home any strays, did you?”

“No,” she said, indignant. Then she considered and softened. “At least, I don’t think. You haven’t bought any antiques lately, have you?”

Chris glanced at her once-haunted desk. “No.”

“It’s probably nothing, but I’ll check it out. You should get back to your dinner.” When Chris hesitated, Ron shooed her away. “Go! I’ve got this!”

Her reluctance evident, Chris gave in and went to rejoin the living. Ron watched her go. Then, hands on her hips, she looked around the room. “Hello? Who’s there?” When nobody responded, she added, “It’s okay. You don’t need to be afraid. Come on out and let’s talk.” She moved to the back of the office, peering into each darkened corner, even looking under the desk. The creak of a door made her turn in time to see one of the French doors swing open.

Suddenly, Ron had a vivid flashback to her first day in this house. A sense of dread filled her. She crept toward the double doors, hoping she wouldn’t find that a spirit had followed her home. Leaning out into the hall, she heard a low growl.  She sighed and slumped with relief.

Buster.

“What are you doing down here, little guy?” she asked as she approached the pooch, the adorable ghost of a Jack Russell that had been left behind when his owner’s spirit was freed to move on. He stood peering into the living room, shoulders hunched, head low. As Ron got closer he grew emboldened enough to start barking. It looked like Marsha was the target of his ire, although he might have simply been put out by having strangers in the house.

From her spot back on the couch, Chris looked over at them and raised an eyebrow at Ron. She waved a hand dismissively before bending to scoop the pup into her arms. “They say dogs are a good judge of people,” she muttered as she carried him back upstairs, growling and barking the entire way.

***

Want more? Join my Launch Team and get your very own electronic ARC of Bound Spirits to read before everyone else!

Bound Spirits comes out July 31st from Vinspire Publishing. Need to catch up before it gets here? Head here to learn more about this series and find out where to buy.

Enjoy this post? Consider buying me a coffee.

Bound Spirits Cover Reveal and First Chapter!

The release of Bound Spirits is still three months away, but for those of you who are hungry for the next Restless Spirits installment, here’s a look at the cover to wet your whistle. And for an appetizer (…I’m carrying this metaphor too far, aren’t I?) scroll down to read the first chapter!

Bound Spirits

 

Chapter One

“What are we doing here?” Chris Wilson looked at her boyfriend and waited for an explanation, unable to make his face out in the darkness. Even if the street light behind him didn’t make him impossible to see clearly from this angle, his face would have been partially hidden by the video camera he had trained on her.

“What do you think?” Derek Brandt fiddled with the camera settings as he spoke. “This is a notoriously haunted location. Allegedly.”

“Yeah, a little too notorious,” Gus, the team’s tech guru, called from the edge of the parking lot as he walked the perimeter, taking readings of the temperature and electromagnetic field activity. “The Hex House is one of the first stops for every teenager wanting to scare his girlfriend and every amateur ghost hunter in the tri-state area. This isn’t exactly new to us.”

“Well, it is to me, and to my channel.” Derek stepped toward Chris. The whine of the zoom lens warned her it was time for her closeup. “Now say hello to the YouTubers, beautiful.”

She gave him a wary look. He lowered the camera, but it didn’t make his face easier to see. Still, she could hear the exasperation in his voice. “Chris, come on.”

“Gus is right, you know. This place might have been haunted once, but I think the spirits have moved on. I’ve never run into anything here. It’s just an empty parking lot.”

“Yeah, an empty parking lot on top of a basement where women were enslaved with some kind of voodoo magic. You’re telling me there’s nothing?

“Sorry, babe. I don’t know what else to tell you.”

“What about you, Gus? Are you getting anything?”

“Nada,” he called from across the lot.

Derek sighed. But rather than calling it quits, he raised the camera. “Well, we’re here. We might as well make the most of it.”

Chris suppressed the urge to suggest they pack it in and go get pancakes. She knew this was important to him and wanted to be supportive. After all, the man had tanked a promising career in TV journalism for her. She owed it to him to help him salvage his career through his YouTube channel. Besides, that dogged determination of his was one of the things she loved about him. “Fine. What do you want me to do?”

“Talk about this place. Tell the viewers what happened here.”

“All right.” She chewed her bottom lip, thinking of what to say before putting on her best announcer voice. “This parking lot was once the site of an old mansion-turned-duplex known affectionately as the ‘Hex House.’ In the 1940s, it was the center of a local scandal when Carolann Smith, the middle-aged woman who lived here with two younger women, was discovered to be keeping the two of them prisoner in her basement.

“Bizarrely, the women would leave and go to their jobs every day, but always return to their basement prison as though the mistress of the house had some kind of Svengali-like hold over them. They even signed all their paychecks over to her. They lived on rations and slept on orange crates while she lived in luxury. When the police finally raided her home, they found furs, expensive clothing, and cosmetics—even a new car.

“After her scheme was discovered and the women were rescued, they claimed that Smith had also beaten them regularly for ‘religious purification.’ Along with a house full of luxury items, authorities also found books on mesmerism, magic, and the occult.

“The house stood vacant until it was demolished in the seventies. The basement still exists underneath this parking lot. It doesn’t get a lot of use now, but back when it was used regularly, people reported car lights turning on and off on their own, horns going off at random, and just a general spooky vibe.”

“What about now?” asked Derek.

“Now?” Chris looked around. “If anyone—or anything—was ever trapped here, I’m pretty sure they’ve moved on.” She shrugged. “It’s just a parking lot.”

“I’d say it’s more than that.”

“Really? What would you say, then?”

“I’d say it’s a local legend.”

Chris smiled. “Guess I can’t argue with that.”

“All right.” Derek lowered the camera. “Let’s call that a wrap.” He let the camera hang from the strap around his shoulder and moved in closer. Chris turned, making him turn with her until the street light illuminated that handsome face she loved so much. “Have I told you that you’re a natural at this?”

“Pfft. I’m a total dork. I don’t know why you insist on pointing that thing at me.”

“Stop it. The camera loves you.” He grinned. “And so do I.”

She couldn’t help grinning back at him as he leaned in to steal a kiss. Although it couldn’t exactly be called stolen when she gave so freely.

“Um, guys?”

Chris and Derek both groaned as they reluctantly broke apart. Chris looked over at Gus. “What?”

“Sorry. You know how much I hate to interrupt when you’re having smoochies. But I’m actually getting something over here.”

“Really?” Chris hurried over. Derek followed, turning the camera back on. “What have you got?”

“Electromagnetic field’s off the charts in this spot.” He held the meter out so she could watch the needle dance. “And does it feel colder to you?”

“Yeah, now that you mention it.” She hugged herself and rubbed her arms.

Gus pocketed the EMF reader and pulled out a thermometer. He walked back a few paces, waving the wand in the air. “A balmy sixty-eight degrees.” He returned to where Chris stood and held out the wand next to her. “Only forty-two.”

“Do you see anything?” Derek asked her.

She squinted around at the darkened lot. “Nope. But I’m starting to get a sense of…” She trailed off, too busy concentrating on the sensation to find a word for it.

“A general spooky vibe?” Derek supplied.

“Yeah.”

“Gus, get the audio recorder. Let’s get some EVP.”

Gus hurried back to the van. Chris continued to scan her surroundings. “Hello? Is anyone here?”

“Wait for Gus.”

She shook her head. “I don’t have a great feeling about this.”

Derek lowered the camera. “Do you want to quit?”

“No. I want to know what’s here. Nobody actually died here, as far as we know. So if it’s haunted, who’s haunting it?” She refrained from vocalizing the rest of her question. Or what?

“Wasn’t this lady also suspected of killing some people for the life insurance money?”

“Yeah, but nothing was proven. And they didn’t die here, even if she did murder them.”

“Hmm.”

“What?”

Derek looked reluctant to share whatever he was thinking.

“Come on, what is it?”

“Maybe we’re dealing with whatever helped that woman control her prisoners.”

A chill ran up Chris’s spine as she let that sink in. “That’s not a very pleasant thought.”

“No, it’s not. Maybe we should get out of here.”

“And have your channel subscribers miss all the action?”

“Right now, I don’t care about my subscribers. I care about seeing you safe.”

“I can handle myself, Brandt. Here comes Gus. Start the camera.”

“Chris—”

“Come on!” She gave him a look that brooked no argument as Gus returned with a digital voice recorder and a parabolic microphone. At Derek’s nod, she tried again. “Is anyone here?” She waited a moment. Nothing happened. “If you’re here, all you have to do is speak up. I can hear you. I can see you, too, if you’d like to show yourself to me. I might be able to help you move on from this place.”

Still nothing. Chris sighed and shook her head. She took out her phone and turned on the flashlight. “There are a lot of power lines running through here.” She shined her light on them. “Those could be throwing Gus’s readings off.”

“What about your spooky feeling?” asked Derek.

“That too, actually. High electromagnetic activity can cause feelings of wariness and paranoia. Not to mention headaches and nausea.” She shrugged. “Mystery solved.”

“But what about the temperature change?”

Before she could think of an answer, the lights on their van suddenly turned on. The three of them turned toward it as one. The lights began to blink.

Derek aimed the camera at the van. “Are the power lines doing that, too?”

Chris ignored him. “Why don’t you come here and talk to me?” she called to the entity. As if in response, the horn blared. Shouting to be heard over the racket, she asked, “Do you want us to leave?”

The horn fell silent. The blinking stopped.

“Okay. We can take a hint. Let’s get out of here, guys.”

“Wait. That’s it? We’re just leaving?”

“Do you want to stick around and see what happens if that thing gets angry?”

“No,” he said. Then, “Well, kinda.” At her look, he lowered the camera and turned it off. “No, you’re right. Let’s go.”

***

The three of them filed into the Village Inn. They didn’t have to wait to be seated. At a quarter past one in the morning, the place was well past the dinner rush and not yet inundated with the post-bar and club crowd. They barely had time to slide into a booth next to the front window before a waitress handed them each a menu.

Chris handed hers right back. “I know what I want.”

“All righty.” The waitress, whose name tag identified her as Vanessa, tucked the menu under her arm and whipped out her pad and pen. “What’ll it be?”

“I’ll have the Ultimate Breakfast.”

Derek also handed back his menu. “I think I’m more in the mood for a cheeseburger.”

“Fries or coleslaw?”

“Fries, please.”

Everyone looked at Gus, who sat bent over his open menu. He glanced up at the waitress. “I’m gonna need a few minutes.”

“Gus!” Chris didn’t even try to hide her exasperation. “You always do this, and you always end up getting the patty melt.”

“Something else might look good to me this time.”

She reached over and grabbed his menu, eliciting a “Hey!” from him as she handed it to the waitress. “He’ll have the patty melt.”

Vanessa quirked an eyebrow at him. “You sure, sugar?”

“Yeah.” Defeat weighted his voice and made it come out sulky. “It’s fine.”

“All righty, then. One patty melt, one cheeseburger with fries, and one ultimate breakfast, coming right up.”

“What’s got you so cranky?” he asked Chris after she left.

“I’m not cranky. I’m just not in the mood for your usual nonsense.”

He pointed at her. “See, that’s cranky.”

“You do seem a little on edge,” said Derek.

Chris rolled her eyes. “I’m not cranky. I’m hungry and I don’t want to wait an extra five minutes so Gus can read the entire menu before he decides to get another frickin’ patty melt!”

“Okay, you’re right,” said Gus. “That’s not cranky. That’s actually called ‘hangry.’”

Chris took the paper tube off of her straw, crumpled it up, and threw it at him. It smacked him right between the eyes.

“Guys.” Derek’s tone was that of a parent calling down a pair of unruly kids. He turned to Chris. “Are you sure that’s all that’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong.” She met his stern gaze and sighed. “Fine. I just hate to lose, is all.”

“What are you talking about? Tonight went great! The footage we got—”

“It’s not about getting great footage.” As his brow furrowed, she hurried to add, “Look, I know the footage is important. Your channel’s important. I’m not saying it’s not. But you know that’s not why I do this. I do it to help people.”

“I know that. But not everybody wants to be helped.”

Chris thought about it a moment, then sighed. “Whatever we were dealing with back there, I doubt it was even human.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because human spirits are usually glad to show themselves. They’re grateful for someone to talk to, and they do want my help.”

“Maybe. Scottie Tucker sure didn’t.”

Chris drummed her fingers on the table while she considered this. “Scottie Tucker was terrified for his mom. As soon as he knew she’d be safe, though, he was happy to have us pass on a message to her.”

“There’s another explanation,” said Gus. “One that you guys never seem to think of.”

“Yeah? What’s that?”

Gus turned his gaze from Derek to Chris. “Your sister’s messing with us.”

“What?” Christine grabbed Derek’s empty straw wrapper and launched it at Gus. “Shut up. Ron wouldn’t do that.”

“Sure she would. She used to play practical jokes on me all the time back before she kicked the bucket.”

“Come on, man,” said Derek. “That’s not—”

Ron wouldn’t do that,” Chris repeated, enunciating carefully. “Besides, she can do a lot of things, but she can’t hide from me.”

“You sure about that?”

“Yes. Anyway, she had plans tonight or she would have tagged along.”

“What kind of plans does a ghost have on a Friday night? Other than interfering with our investigation for kicks and giggles?”

“I don’t know. I don’t pry into her afterlife. Whatever it was, I’m sure it included Joe.”

“All right, look,” said Derek. “Let’s just listen to sound recordings to see if we picked up any EVP. You brought it in, right?”

Gus nodded and patted the duffel back on the bench next to him.

“Okay, then. Maybe we got something that can help shed some light on whatever it was we encountered tonight.”

While they pulled out devices and headphones and searched for an outlet for Gus’s laptop, Chris let her gaze drift to the window. A homeless man caught her attention as he shuffled along in the parking lot. Tall and skinny with a long salt-and-pepper beard, he reminded her of an even more grizzled and tattered version of Phil Robertson. She watched him, wondering if she should leave him some of her leftovers in a take home box or whether it would be better to pay for a meal and have a waiter take it out to him.

Suddenly, she realized he was looking back at her, the intensity of his gaze startling her. She turned back to her companions, who were arguing over the settings on Gus’s audio program. Looking back at the window, she screamed as she came face to face with the man pressed up against the glass.

Derek ripped off his headphones. “What is it? Are you okay?”

“It’s nothing. This guy just startled me.”

Derek glanced at the window, then back at her. “What guy?”

“Ah. Of course.” As she spoke, the man in question started to melt through the window. “Oh, come on. Please don’t do that.”

“Do what?” asked Derek.

“He—” Before she could finish, the ghost straightened up abruptly, turned, and shuffled away from the window in the opposite direction. “Never mind. He’s leaving. I should probably go talk to him.”

“This is a ghost thing, right?”

“Right. I…” She trailed off as she spotted what had gotten Dead Phil’s attention. He had stopped to talk to a petite young woman with short, blonde curls. Very familiar curls. “What the…”

“What is it?”

“I’ll be right back.” Chris got up from the table and headed out to the parking lot. Making her way across the lot, she kept her eyes on the ghostly pair. The blonde spoke animatedly to the transient.

Chris had almost reached them when the homeless ghost shuffled away, fading from sight as he went. The blonde watched him go with a grin on her face. Her smile grew brighter as she finally noticed Chris approaching. “Hey, sis! What are you doing here?”

“You just stole my line. Ron, did you follow us here?”

“What? No. It’s a total coincidence.”

“You know I don’t believe in coincidences. Why are you here?”

Her sister’s spirit let out an exasperated huff of non-breath. “I had some news for Burt. He asked me to check up on his estranged daughter.”

“Burt?”

Ron jerked her chin in the direction Dead Phil had disappeared. “I saw him approaching you the other night when I tagged along on that taco run and I headed him off at the pass.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why would I? It was nothing I couldn’t handle. Anyway, he agreed to meet me here tonight to find out what I learned.”

Chris felt a little ashamed of her suspicion. Ron could sometimes be a meddler, but her heart was always in the right place. And ever since Chris’s abduction last spring, Ron and her partner Joe were more protective than ever. They’d been running interference with the spirits who came to Chris for help so she could recover and focus on her new relationship with Derek. Chris appreciated the help.

“Is there anything I can help with?” she asked.

“Nope, it’s handled. You should go back to Derek. He’s probably wondering why you’re out here talking to yourself.”

“Derek can wait a minute. I just need to ask…” She bit her lip. Ron was out here doing something nice for her. Still, Gus made her wonder… “You weren’t out at the Hex House lot tonight, were you?”

“No. Why would I be?”

“No reason.” She waved away the notion. “It’s just… something was out there—”

“Really? I thought that place was all tapped out.”

“I did too, but something showed up. It wouldn’t show itself, but Derek got some good footage for his next video, so that’s something. Anyway, Gus is convinced that you were there messing with us.”

“Yeah, well, Gus can go ahead and—”

Chris’s back pocket rang before Ron could finish her instructions for Gus, which Chris doubted she’d want to deliver anyway. She held up a finger and pulled out her phone, expecting Derek to be calling to see what was taking her so long. Her surprise at the caller ID filled her voice as she said, “It’s Dad.”

Ron’s eyes widened. “This late? I hope everything’s okay.”

Chris answered. “Hey, Dad. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” Drew Wilson’s voice crackled with static. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, I thought you’d be in bed. I was going to leave a voice mail.”

“Well, I’m up, so I guess you can just tell me why you called.”

“Marsha and I were wondering if you had any plans tomorrow night. We’re heading up there in the morning and were hoping we could all have dinner. Derek too, if he’s available.”

Chris winced. She’d love to see her dad, but dinner with his girlfriend was always a torturous affair. Still, she couldn’t think of a good excuse. “Sure. I mean, I’ll have to check with him, but I can do dinner. Just tell me when and where.”

“What about your place?”

Chris paused and looked at Ron, who looked back at her questioningly. “My place? Really?”

“Sure. You’ve been bugging me to come see that house of yours.”

“Yeah, I know. It’s just…you’ve never…”

“I think it’s time. Besides, Marsha and I have some news, and it’s not really something I want to announce in a crowded restaurant.”

“News? What kind of news?”

“Nothing bad. You’ll find out tomorrow night. Listen, I’ve got to get off and wrap some things up so I can turn in. We’ve got to get an early start tomorrow. We should be to your place by seven, if that works for you.”

“Um, okay. Yeah. I’ll see you then.”

“Great. Now get to bed, kiddo. Love you.” He hung up without waiting for a reply. Chris stared at her phone, feeling slightly ambushed.

“What’s going on?”

Chris looked from the phone to her sister. “Dad’s coming over for dinner tomorrow night.”

“He’s coming to the house? Really?”

“Yeah. He said it’s time.”

Ron’s eyebrows crawled up into her bangs. “What does that mean? Time for what?”

“Time to face where you died, maybe?”

“I doubt that.” As usual, Ron was dismissive of the idea that their father grieved her passing in any way. “He probably just means it’s time to get over himself and come see where his only daughter lives. And he’s right about that.”

“Anyway, he’s bringing Marsha, so you’ll finally get to see what she’s like.”

“Not unless she comes up to the attic, I won’t. I think Joe and I will just keep out of the way.”

“That’s not necessary.” Chris glanced at the phone. “He said they have news.”

“Good news or bad news?”

“He said it’s not bad, but that could be subjective.”

“You don’t think… I mean, they’ve been together a while now. Do you think—”

Chris held up a hand to cut her off. “Don’t say it.”

“But you’re thinking it.”

“I’m trying not to think about it.”

“What else could it be?”

“I don’t know. Lots of things. Maybe Dad won the lottery, or got a new job. Or maybe they got a new puppy.”

Ron smiled. “You’re cute when you’re in denial.”

“Yeah, well.” Chris pocketed her phone. “I’m going back in to tell Derek. If you won’t be there for moral support, at least he will.”

“And you can tell me all about our new step-mommy-to-be in the morning,” Ron called after her as she went back inside.

***

Continue to Chapter Two!

Want more? Join my Launch Team and get your very own electronic ARC of Bound Spirits to read before everyone else!

Bound Spirits comes out July 31st from Vinspire Publishing. Need to catch up before it gets here? Head here to learn more about this series and find out where to buy.

Enjoy this post? Consider buying me a coffee.

Read the First Chapter of Kindred Spirits!

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!

Kindred Spirits by Jean Marie Bauhaus

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.”

No.”

But—”

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 housea house she now called home. That, and publishing a novel that was ghost-writtenliterallyby 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 theformerlymost 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 versionit 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 curiosityand to get to the bottom of this car’s strange behavior once and for allwe 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 cityhow 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 aboutthe 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 feelthe 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 heartor whatever stood in for it these daysswelled 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 manhis dad, most likelyin 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 heror, 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 doneRon 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?”

Jimmy.”

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!

Restless Spirits – All the Excerpts!

For your convenience, here’s a complete list of all of the excerpts and sneak peeks of Restless Spirits that have been made available on this here blog, in the proper order:

RestlessSpirits 1400x2100Excerpt: Restless Spirits

Restless Spirits Excerpt: Chapters 3 & 4

Restless Spirits Sneak Peek

Another Sneak Peek at Restless Spirits!

5 days till Restless Spirits! Here’s one more excerpt!

Click here to grab your copy of Restless Spirits at your favorite online retailer!

Another Sneak Peek at Restless Spirits!

adobe-spark-18“Are you sure about this?” asked Chris.

“As sure as I’ve been about anything since I died.”

“Which would be, not very.”

I tore my eyes away from Clarice’s grave to look over at her. “I’m pretty sure.”

We stood side by side at the grave’s edge, watching Gus dig. It was a clear night, with stars visible through the trees overhead. We had a lot of company in the form of other ghosts wandering about, most likely doing their best to fend off boredom. Chris held a flashlight for Gus, but the moon was bright enough that he didn’t really need it. I was oblivious to things like hot or cold, but judging by Chris’s leather jacket and the way she hunched her shoulders, I guess it must have been a bit nippy. Save for the grunts and labored breathing coming from Gus, it was a quiet night in the cemetery.

“It feels wrong,” Chris said. “Digging up a little girl’s grave…you know, grave desecration can bring about some pretty hefty consequences.”

Clarice appeared on the other side of her grave, just for an instant. She looked at me and smiled, then vanished. “Don’t worry,” I told Chris. “We’re doing the right thing here.”

“I hope you’re right. ‘Cause if I get haunted by anybody else, I’m going to sick the exorcist I hire on you.”

“Why are you so cranky?”

She turned to stare at me. “You’re kidding, right? It’s an ungodly hour of the morning, it’s cold, we are now officially grave robbers, and I’ve barely gotten any sleep since you died.”

“Here.” I nudged the thermos that sat on the ground between us in her direction. “Have some more coffee.”

She glared at me, but she helped herself to a cup all the same.

Gus looked to be about three feet down by now. He stopped digging and leaned on his shovel. “You know,” he managed between all his panting, “I didn’t sign on for this. How come I have to do all the digging?”

“Cause Ron’s a ghost and I’m the boss, and I’m paying you double-time for this,” said Chris. She blew on her coffee. “Besides, you need a lookout.”

“Can’t Ron be the lookout while you help dig?”

“Tell him to shut up and dig or I’ll tell you what he did to my body at the wake.”

Sipping her coffee, Chris almost did a spit take. “What the heck did you do to my sister at the wake?”

Gus’s eyes widened. His face was already red from exertion, so it was hard to tell if he blushed. “Nothing,” he said, and got back to work.

Chris looked at me, and I shrugged. “Gus loves me.”

“Since when?”

“Beats me. It was news to me, too.”

She just shook her head and went back to sipping her coffee. We settled into a comfortable silence for a while. Then, out of nowhere, she said, “So if this works, what will happen to you?”

“I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about it.”

“You probably should. Your novel’s done except for the clean-up, and I can hire an editor for that. I read it, by the way. It’s really good.”

“Really? Thanks.”

“Your agent thinks so, too. She’s sure this will get you on the best-seller list.”

“Well, that figures,” I grumped.

“Anyway, that’s done, and your relationship with Dad is as resolved as it’s ever likely to get. You don’t have any more unfinished business. The only thing keeping you here is Sarah.”

“Oh. Y’know, that didn’t even occur to me.” Now that I thought about it, she was probably right. Once Sarah was out of the way, it would most likely be time to move on. I’m sure Max couldn’t wait. And Joe…well, Joe had been tortured long enough. The prospect scared me, though. I didn’t know what we’d be moving on to.

“If that happens,” said Chris, “I’ll miss you.”

“I know. But you’ll be okay.”

“Eventually, maybe.” She sighed, then looked over at me. “Say hi to Mom for me.”

“I will if I see her.”

We both got quiet again. I realized that this could be our last opportunity to say anything to each other. It was too much pressure. I wanted to leave her with some piece of profound wisdom, or at least a useful bit of advice. I supposed I could apologize for all the times I was mean to her growing up, but that stuff didn’t really matter now. There were probably a million things I could or should say. But I couldn’t think of a single one.

I figured she was probably thinking the same thing.

So neither of us said anything. But it was a peaceful silence, not awkward or uncomfortable. The kind of silence that can only exist between two people who love each other so much they don’t need to say so.

Eventually, Gus went from a torso and a head sticking up out of the hole in the ground to just a head. “I think I hit something,” he said. I leaned over to peer into the grave while he scraped dirt off of the casket. “Aw, man,” he said once he’d uncovered it. “I don’t want to be here anymore.” He climbed up out of the grave. I couldn’t really blame him. The casket had been made of pine, and it had rotted and cracked under the weight of all the dirt. Clarice’s tiny corpse, or what was left of it, could be seen, her skull grinning up at us through the slats.

Chris sighed, handed Gus her coffee, and jumped down into the grave. “Look for a red ball,” I said, “about the size of a croquet ball.”

“I know.” Her face twisted into a grimace, she bent to grab hold of the rotted wood. It came away pretty easily. She had most of the lid torn up when she called, “I see it!” She retrieved it and held it up for us to see. “It’s not very red anymore, though.”

“That doesn’t matter. I just need you to get it to the house for me.”

She handed the ball to Gus and let him pull her out of the grave. “You guys go on,” he said. “I’ll stay here and fill this in.”

Chris looked him up and down. “How come you’re so eager to do backbreaking labor all of a sudden?”

“Look, I may be so sore I can’t move for a week,” he said, tossing a shovel full of dirt back into the grave, “but at least I know I won’t be stuck haunting that house with Ron by morning. Don’t worry. I can take the bus home.”

She cocked an eyebrow at him. “You’re going to get on the bus outside a cemetery, covered in dirt and carrying a shovel?”

“Have you seen most of the people who ride the bus? I’ll fit right in.”

“Fraidy cat,” I muttered.

Chris rolled her eyes. “Let’s go,” she said, heading off in the direction of her car.

“Hang on,” I said. “I’ll meet you there. I better get back and give the guys the lowdown.”

“Oh. Okay.” She looked a little disappointed.

I sighed. “Look, I don’t want you coming inside that house again. When you get there, just open the door and toss the ball in, then get away.”

She rolled the ball back and forth between her hands. “Sure,” she said. “Fine. So I guess this is it.”

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

She blinked her eyes rapidly and tried surreptitiously to wipe a tear from the corner of her eye. “You were kind of a jerk sometimes.” Her voice wavered a little.

“Yeah, I know. Sorry about that. But you were kind of a twerp sometimes.”

She smiled, and sniffed. “Yeah. I’m not really sorry about that.” Then she got serious. “You were a good sister, Ronnie. You were my best friend.”

“Hey, what’s with all the past tense? I’m not gone yet.”

Sniffling, she looked down at the ball and nodded. “Yeah, well… have a good afterlife, okay?”

“I’m not really sure how much say I get in that.”

“Are you scared?” she asked.

“Kind of. A lot.”

She nodded again.

“My kid sister’s safe, though,” I said. “And she turned out pretty awesome. So I think I can deal with whatever’s next.”

She smiled again. She just looked at me for a minute. Then she said, simply, “Bye, sis.”

“Bye,” I said, and returned to the house.

***

Coming October 31st from Vinspire Publishing! Click here to pre-order!

rs-2-weeks

Restless Spirits Sneak Peek

Here’s another quick peek at Restless Spirits, now available for pre-order!

***

kissing-youI still wasn’t sure what use any of this information would be, but it was a start. I decided to search the rest of the floor for more clues. The other rooms had been empty of people, but they were furnished. Maybe they would hold something I could use. I stepped into the hall…

…and found myself back in the attic. I blinked and swayed, a little disoriented. Then I noticed Joe camped out on the settee. “You okay?” he asked. “You look like you seen a ghost.” He smiled.

I did,” I said.

Well, yeah. ‘Course you did. That’s why what I said was funny.”

I shook my head and went to sit down beside him. “What do you know about a little blonde girl?”

I thought I saw his jaw tighten for a second. But if it did, he recovered it pretty quickly. “Nothin’,” he said.

I narrowed my eyes. “Are you sure?”

He shrugged. “Except for Sarah and the Feldman boy, there haven’t been any children in this house as long as I’ve been in it.” I still eyed him suspiciously when he looked at me and said, “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but that’s the God’s honest truth.”

I sighed and leaned back in my seat. “I don’t know how much more I can take of this.”

Which part?”

All of it.”

Shaking his head, he leaned forward and propped his elbows on his knees. He studied his clasped hands a moment before saying, “Would it help if I told you that you’re the strongest person I’ve ever met, in this or any other life?”

I just stared at him a moment in wonder as his words sunk in. But then I waved it off in my typical, self-deprecating fashion. “It would if that were even the least bit true.”

He looked back at me. “It is. I mean it. You’re definitely the strongest out of all of us.”

I leaned forward. “Okay, by strong, you’re talking about the things I can do, right? Because I’d have to give that title to Lilly.”

I’m talking about your character. You’re stubborn as a mule and about as frustrating sometimes, but I’d be lying if I said that don’t make me respect you even more.”

I just smiled awkwardly. I never did learn how to accept a compliment.

Joe pointed at the box on the table. “You looked in there yet?”

Yeah. It’s just Ed’s family photos.”

Hm. Might be worth looking at.” He reached forward to pop open the latch and lift the lid. I watched him in amazement. He glanced back at me and smiled. “Been practicing ever since I managed to tackle you. I figured there must be something to your idea about strong feelings.”

Yeah. They can be hard to manufacture on demand, though.”

So far, I’ve managed okay.”

Thinking about my dad usually gets it done for me. What about you? What do you think about?”

He looked at me for a long moment before he said, “You.”

I didn’t expect that answer. “Me? Really? Do I frustrate you that much?”

Kissing you,” he clarified. “I think about kissing you.”

Oh. “Oh. Really?” I stood up and bumped into the table. It moved.

Joe looked at it and smiled. “You thinking about kissing me?”

Well I am now.”

He got up and came toward me. “Good.” He reached for my face. His fingers brushed my cheek and sent tingles all through me. I shuddered.

So did he. “You feel that?” he asked.

I nodded. Words weren’t really my friend just then. He stepped closer, closing the gap between us, and traced a finger down my arm. I started to tingle all over, and I closed my eyes.

I didn’t expect you,” he said. “Didn’t expect…you make me feel things I haven’t felt since…things I thought I’d never feel again. I thought that part of me was well and truly dead.”

I hummed all over. It’s hard to describe the things he made me feel. I didn’t have skin anymore, really. I was all spirit matter. But everywhere his fingertips grazed against me, I felt delicious sparks of energy. “It sure feels like it’s alive and kicking to me,” I said.

***

Restless Spirits comes out October 31st from Vinspire Publishing. Click here to pre-order your copy!

rs-ad

DOMINION is free! Also, good things happen when you follow good advice.

Dominion of the Damned by Jean Marie Bauhaus Dominion of the Damned is currently a free Kindle download on Amazon, both domestically  and internationally. It will remain free through this Sunday, and then it will go back to its regular price of US$3.99. So get your free copy while you can!

I have to say, I’m pretty pleased with its performance so far. Today is the first day it dropped to free, and until now I haven’t publicized that fact anywhere outside of my mailing list (which is still quite tiny). But as I write this it’s on the verge of crossing 500 downloads, and it’s already cracked the Top 10 Free lists in both the Dark Fantasy and Dystopian categories.

This time around I followed advice from David Gaughran’s Let’s Get Visible on selecting the right categories to increase visibility, and it seems to be paying off. Before, I had it listed in the more general Horror and Contemporary Fantasy categories, where there was a lot more competition. The current categories are not only more appropriate, but also less populated, which means I didn’t have to register nearly as many downloads to crack the popularity lists as I would have in the previous genres.

Of course, only time will tell if this gives my sales a boost once the price goes back to normal. Hopefully, it will at least earn me some new fans and a few more reviews.

***

910 words added to Radium Town today, bringing the total word count to 8,792. That’s the most fiction I’ve written in a single day in quite some time. I’d hoped to crack 1K, but I told myself I would stop at 9:30 so I could get this post written and still have time to watch last night’s Supernatural and get in some reading on Wizard and Glass and still get my butt to bed on time.

I think this book is shaping up to be a good candidate for serialization, what with its long chapters and plenty of opportunities for cliff-hangers. That’s definitely territory I’ve been wanting to explore, but then again, I’ve kind of always planned to shop this book to agents, so I need to give that a lot more thought.

At any rate, here’s a rough, non-spoilery snapshot of today’s output:

Outside, the air was brisk and clear. Betty pulled her cape a little tighter and followed Will down the steps to the front walk. When they reached the street, he held the gate open for her and asked, “So what’s so urgent you’ve got to leave a dinner party to send a telegram at this time of night?”

Betty sighed. “I was hoping you wouldn’t ask.”

“Why not?”

“Because it’s classified.”

“Classified? Heck, Betty, if you don’t want to tell me, all you got to do is say so.” He shoved his hands in his pockets and lapsed into silence as they headed toward Main Street. Betty made no attempt to fill it. She knew it wouldn’t last long. After a moment, he proved her right. “So what have you been doing all this time in Washington? Or is that classified, too?”

Betty smiled. “Depends on which parts you want to know about.”

Killing My Darlings

All of my efforts to avoid catching my husband’s bug last week failed in their original intent, which became apparent Wednesday night when I realized I’d caught his sore throat. Thankfully, though, all that extra garlic and vitamin C I consumed did seem to lessen the severity of my illness, as it never moved up into my sinuses like it did with poor Matt. My sore throat lasted several days, and I felt pretty achy and run-down, but at least I could breathe. Even so, I’d anticipated being much sicker than what I ended up being and wrapped up my essential work early and gave myself a few days off to rest. That meant a pretty uneventful Easter Sunday, but at least it was relaxing. Now I’m feeling much better, albeit not quite 100 percent.

I didn’t write while I was feeling blechy. The last bit I did was Wednesday night, when I added 509 words to Radium Town. I added another 300 or so this morning, and then tonight I scrubbed more than 1300, including all of the excerpts I posted last week, because that scene just was not working. But then I started over on it and added 522 new words, and the scene is flowing much better now. That brings the total word count so far to 6,433. Here’s a rough, non-spoilery snapshot of today’s output:

Betty had been surprised to see the two cowboys, although if she’d thought about what Will had told her that morning about his father, she might have thought to expect him there. By the look on Will’s face when she’d first been shown into the parlor, he hadn’t expected her, either. Had there been approval mixed with the surprise on his face?

At first Betty had dismissed the notion. She wore a simple dress of pea-green silk and white cotton lace that she had sewn herself. It fit fine, and it was suitable enough for a formal dinner, but it hardly matched the finery of the mayors’ wives, or even the delicate cobalt embroidery on Mrs. Bayless’s black dress. She’d done her short brown hair up in such a way that it looked feminine and didn’t call attention to how little of it there was. She was presentable, but hardly dressed to draw attention.

Nevertheless, as they’d entered the dining room, Will had taken her arm and whispered, “You look right pretty tonight, Betty.”

She’d felt herself flush at the compliment, and warmth again started to spread across her chest and up her neck at the memory. A burst of laughter brought her back to the present, and she returned her attention to Tom Mix, who was regaling the other guests with an account of how Betty had bested Will that morning at the train station.

“Did you really shock him?” asked one of the wives. Betty wasn’t sure which was which, but was fairly certain it was Mrs. Rohde.

“Not enough to do permanent damage,” Betty assured her.

“I don’t know about that,” said Will. “Some of my hair got singed.”

“I said permanent,” Betty pointed out. “Hair will grow back.”

In other news, I finally started researching agents and agencies today. I also de-listed Dominion of the Damned from all the places that had it for sale. You might surmise that these two things are related, and you would be correct.  I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that in the coming days and weeks.

Of Green Dresses and Green Skies

Only 291 words added to Radium Town today. However, I brushed up on a lot of research, as my Pinterest board can attest. No, shut up, it was not just an excuse to be on Pinterest. I learned some useful things, mostly about ladies’ evening fashions in 1907, and that resulted in today’s rough, non-spoilery snapshot of today’s output:

Betty relinquished her wool cape and adjusted her dress. Despite her surprise that the professor had accepted the dinner invitation, such an invitation itself had been anticipated, and Betty had come prepared. Her dress was a simple number of pea green silk and white lace, lacking any elaborate detail. She had made it herself, and while years of working as a seamstress before the government got a hold of her had made her quite good at designing her own dresses, her work left her little time for embroidery or bead work. Still, it would do for a dinner dress, and more importantly, it had plenty of hidden pockets in the silk folds for hiding her weapons. Not that she expected to need them tonight; but she’d be negligent if she didn’t come prepared for the unexpected.

I also had a breakthrough in writing what might be the opening of a short story, but I’m not sure yet. Or rather, I don’t actually know what it’s about yet. I might just keep writing on it and see if it decides to tell me. On a whim, I submitted the first line for the opening line contest Chuck Wendig is hosting on his blog this week. Here’s my entry:

When the sky goes green, you take cover — if you’re smart; if not, you stand on the porch, crack open a beer, fire up the video camera, and wait.

I don’t know what that is, or even what genre it wants to be. I guess one thing’s for sure — springtime in Oklahoma means I’ve got tornadoes on the brain.

Otherwise, today was full of distraction and I was highly distractible. I did manage to finish finishing the laundry (i.e. folding and putting away the last load), so there’s that. My husband is sick, so a lot of my thoughts were occupied with concern for him, and also trying to make sure I don’t catch whatever he has. I’m not sure it’s working, because I’m coming down with a cough, but I’m highly suggestible when it comes to this sort of thing, so that might be psychosomatic. Here’s hoping that’s all it is.

We did our taxes on Saturday, so I didn’t have to worry about that. It didn’t turn out so well for us, but at least that’s one less thing I have to think about until next year.

And now I think I’m going to let my tired brain chill out and watch Supernatural, then try to get to bed at a reasonable hour. I’ve got some client work lined up for tomorrow, so it’s best if I get a good night’s sleep.

Back in the Saddle Again

With not a lot of paying work on my plate so far this week, I decided to set aside today to finally break through my weeks-long writer’s block (well, and to finish doing the laundry. Writing is glamorous, yo). Today was the first time since I said I was going to get back to work on Radium Town that I actually added words to it. 494 of them, to be exact, and let me tell you, getting that first hundred down was like pulling teeth, but I’m glad I did it. As Stephen King said in On Writing, a reread of which I just finished yesterday, the scariest thing is the moment just before you start. So I’m glad that’s out of the way.

It took hours to get done, most of which were spent reading what I already had and trying to get my head back into the story, and then figuring out how to end the scene where I’d left off in the middle. I also had to do some research and fact-checking, although I really should have saved that for the second draft. At any rate, here’s a rough, non-spoilery snapshot of today’s output: Continue reading “Back in the Saddle Again”