Friday, July 26, 2013

Deadly Deception—I think I finally finished a series…

Okay, so this book has been available for…well, a while. I know. Again, I've sucked at the whole blogging thing. I have great intentions, but alas, they go in the crapper once I sit down to my laptop. Actually, my motivation has pretty much disappeared, other than to watch endless old movies and TV shows. But I digress…

So, for those of you who don't know me that well, I have a few series going. Actually, I have quite a few. Didn't start out that way, and I honestly didn't really plan on having any. I tend to get quite tied to my characters, so the thought of writing a book that involves a brother, friend, whatever, was hard for me to fathom. But somewhere along the line, I ended up with more than a couple. There's just one tiny thing…I'VE NEVER FINISHED ONE!

Now, for my own defence, not all of it is because I'm lazy or don't want to. I've discovered that while series are great, you can't just pop out one book after another. It tends to stagnate you as a writer, and pinholes you to that single genre. So, I've tried to write one or two, then take a break and write something else. Of course, if that 'something else' is another series, well you end up having an endless amount of almost finished series on the go.

Well, sound the horns, folks. Grab that confetti and get those angels singing because after a couple of years, I've finally finished the 'Til Death series. Now, this series is different to my others, as in it's really only tied together by theme. Other than some reoccurring secondary characters, the main heroes and heroines aren't related. This is probably because it was also the first series I ever tried, lol. The others I have, like Between the Veils (my ghost series) or Dark Horizon (my sci-fi one) have characters that play roles in more than one book and/or are related. 'Til Death breaks these rules.

Nevertheless, I'm thrilled at having actually completed a series. And each book in this one is a super novel. So they aren't short, quick reads. You'd best grab a coffee and settle in because these babies will take a while to read. But they are in one of my favourite genres—thriller/suspense.

The other two books in the series are Deadly Vision ~ book 1, and Deadly Obsession ~ book 2. They all involve couples whose romance is either on the brink of disaster or long since dead and buried. But like the series name suggests, some things go beyond the words spoken in the heat of the moment, and refuse to go quietly into that dark night. So without further ado, here's both the series blurb and the book blurb as well as a quick excerpt.

Series Theme:

‘Til Death do us part…

Who knew one small vow could hold so much power—or be so hard to keep. Bound by duty, it’ll take more than just fancy words to bring our couples back together, let alone keep them alive. And when the hunters become the hunted, will love be enough to guarantee they live happily ever after? Or will death break more than a promise… 

Book Blurb:

Special Agent Mallory Reeves knows there must be a logical explanation for the body uncovered in a back alley of Seattle’s urban district. The markings, the pose, the evidence—it all points to one man—John Davies. But seeing as Davies was just executed for his crimes, the new case appears to be the work of a ghost. Unfortunately, Davies isn’t the only invisible man in Mallory’s life. Just her luck, the Bureau wants another agent added to the team, one who worked the original case. And it’s no coincidence it’s Sawyer Kent—her estranged husband.

Special Agent Sawyer Kent has a lot of questions and few answers, including if he’s even got a shot at regaining the affections of the woman he loves. It seems a feat more impossible than the case they’re working, especially since it doesn’t look as if Mallory’s in the mood to welcome him back home. But when the killer starts evolving, adding nuances to his crimes that are aimed directly at Mallory, Sawyer’s left with only one course of action. Find the bastard before she becomes his next victim.


Chapter One

“You know, Mallory, if you don’t stop fussing with your shirt, I won’t be the only person in this room who knows that just being here is making your skin crawl.”
Special Agent Mallory Reeves gritted her teeth as she released the fabric, glaring at her partner over her shoulder. Agent Cole Stevens smiled back at her, giving her a wink. Damn the man. Sometimes he was simply too cocky for his own good.
She turned to face him, allowing her shoulders to rest against the wall behind her. “Are you honestly going to stand there and tell me you enjoy being here?” She waved her hand at the small crowd gathered in the stuffy room. “It’s like a fucking morgue.”
“It’s an execution. It’s supposed to feel like a morgue. It’s also one of the quickest turnarounds in history. I still can’t believe Davies refused to appeal, if for nothing more than to drag this out longer. He could have easily spent the next decade in prison.”
“Davies is sick. Nothing about him surprises me.” She huffed, glancing at the people sitting in the front row. “And justified or not, his death won’t bring them the peace they’re hoping for.”

“Maybe not. But sometimes closure is enough.”
She swung her gaze back to Cole. “Would it be enough for you?”
“If it’d been my daughter that bastard had raped and killed?” He shook his head,

stuffing his hands in his pockets. “I would have found a way to pull the trigger myself. But it wasn’t, and I didn’t let it get personal with this creep.” He tilted his head slightly, letting his focus drop towards her ribcage. “I think the real question is...will it be enough for you?”
Mallory shrugged, trying to ignore the way the scar below her right ribs ached suddenly. “He stabbed me, Cole. He didn’t rape me, or kill anyone I loved.”
Cole gave her another smug smile. “Right. You didn’t lose anything over this case but a litre or two of blood.”
She cursed under her breath as he turned towards the covered window centred on the far wall. He obviously knew better than to mention Sawyer’s name, but there was no mistaking the insinuation, and no denying the sudden flutter in her heart at the thought of her estranged husband.
Husband. How bloody ironic.
A secret wedding followed by an equally secret separation. And she didn’t even remember the first part. But to make matters worse, while they’d been lovers for months, they’d never truly consummated their marriage, not to mention the fact she hadn’t said more than a few heated words to him since he’d jumped ship two years ago, taking his life and her heart with him. And all because of that one night... That one miscalculation that had not only ended the case but had nearly cost Mallory her life.
She released a slow breath but couldn’t stop from searching the crowd again— reassuring herself he wasn’t there. Though she felt certain he’d received the same notice, she’d known from the start he wouldn’t make an appearance. Not here. Not for this.
Cole tapped her shoulder, motioning towards the window again. A low hiss of static sounded over the PA system, followed by the tell-tale scrape of metal on metal as the curtains pulled apart, casting a bright glare into the room. Just her luck that Washington State had finally caved to judicial pressure and allowed full disclosure of the event instead of the usual précised version. She could have handled having the bastard already strapped to the gurney with the IVs hooked up.
A hushed whisper rippled through the crowd as a set of large silver doors opened and a lone prisoner was escorted into the cubicle, his white scrubs nearly florescent in the harsh light. He looked exactly as she remembered him—long black hair slicked back from his face, deep lines around his mouth and across his forehead and the coldest grey eyes she’d ever seen. Every time she’d caught his gaze it’d been like looking at death.
John Davies shuffled to a halt, a cruel smile twisting his lips as he surveyed the gathering of people seated behind the glass. His gaze found hers and his smile flourished, flashing a set of crooked teeth. He didn’t hide his contempt, just stared at her, eyes narrowed, his hands clenched into fists in front of him. She held his stare, vowing he’d be the first to look away. The unspoken challenge lasted several seconds until one of the guards pushed him forward, making him stumble slightly. He glared at the man over his shoulder, pulling his lips into a snarl, but the guard merely shrugged, angling Davies towards the gurney.
A cold fist settled in her stomach as she watched him climb onto the crisp, white sheets, his sadistic smile still firmly in place. Emotions she couldn’t quite understand roiled through her, and she fought the sudden urge to run. She’d promised Cole, and her boss, she’d make an appearance—show Davies he hadn’t beaten her—but as the guards reached for the straps at his wrists, tightening the leather bands around the thin expanse of flesh, she wasn’t sure she could stay.
Mallory held her ground, trying to keep her focus on the event unfolding inside the sterile room, but she could feel a dark weight pressing down on her. She forced in a few quick breaths, not meeting Cole’s gaze when he glanced at her, worry creasing his face. He mumbled something she didn’t hear, turning to face her just as her cell rang. The hard beat of the music echoed through the silent room, drawing several disapproving glares. She winced, muttering an apology to Cole as she pulled the phone free and headed for the double doors just off to her left.

“Mallory. Fisher. Sorry to call. I know the timing sucks.”
Mallory inhaled a much-needed breath as the door shut behind her, blocking out the

last of her thoughts about Davies. Some of the tension eased from her shoulders as she leaned against the wall beside the closed door, thankful for the unexpected reprieve. “Actually, your timing is perfect. What’s up?”
A heavy sigh sounded on the other end, followed by an eerie silence.
She pushed off the wall, trying to ignore the rash of goose bumps that prickled down her arm. “Fisher?”
“We’ve got a body—Harbor Street— really need to see this.”
Mallory frowned just as the door whooshed open, nearly knocking her over. She looked across her shoulder as Cole stopped and stared at her, his face clearly displaying his concern. He moved to her other side.
“You do realise we’re four hours away, right? Can’t someone else field it?”
“I’m more than aware of where you are, but, the body, it’s... Shit. You gotta see this to believe it. You, not another agent. And bring Cole. You’re gonna need him. I’ll wait for you two.” Fisher breathed heavily into the phone again. “And Mal...this can’t wait. Hell, it might already be too late.”
“Too late? Fisher?” The line went dead. Her frown intensified as she pulled the cell away and shoved it in her pocket. It wasn’t Fisher’s style to be so cryptic, which meant she wasn’t going to like whatever was waiting for her.
Cole motioned to her. “Care to share, or were you unhappy with the company in there?”
Mallory huffed, ignoring his dig. “Fisher wants us down at Harbor Street...something about a body we need to see. He says it’s urgent.”
Cole resisted her nudge, glancing back at the closed door. “We came for a reason, Mallory. Fisher can wait until we’re done here. These things usually don’t take more than half an hour, unless something goes wrong. And despite what he thinks, the body isn’t going anywhere.” He gave her a slow sweep. “Unless there’s another reason you don’t want to go back in?”
She scoffed, taking a few steps away. “As far as I’m concerned, the bastard’s already dead. I don’t need to watch him squirm.”
“No. But those families in there might. Hell, we didn’t come all this way just to back out at the last moment.” His footsteps sounded behind her a moment before his fingers closed around her wrist. “You promised.”
She glanced at his hand then drew her gaze up to his. “And you promised you’d respect my decision.” She sighed, looking over at the door. “You know how I feel about...” She waved at it. “This. About him.”
Cole pulled his lips into a thin line, apparently not missing the way she trembled slightly beneath his touch. “You could just admit you can’t stand to look at him. To remember what happened that night. No one expects you to forget.”
“No. But they expect me to continue to do my job, which becomes strangely difficult where he’s concerned. That... Watching that isn’t my job. Catching his ass was. A new case, however...”
“So you’re not going to admit it?”
She flashed him what she hoped was a stunning smile. “And ruin your badass image of me? Not a chance.”
She pulled her arm free and took two more steps before his voice sounded behind her again, stopping her in her tracks.
“I couldn’t help but notice Sawyer didn’t rearrange his life to be here, either. Are you sure this doesn’t have anything to do with that?”

She cringed inwardly at the tone of Cole’s voice. He wasn’t holding back this time.
She glanced at him. “We both knew he wasn’t coming.”
“Maybe. But I think you hoped he was...for support. Surely he knew how hard this was

going to be for you.”
She laughed, shaking her head as she turned to face Cole. “Not as hard as facing me would have been for him. And even I know this isn’t the place for that kind of reunion. But I figure since he can pull the invisible man routine, so can I.” She motioned at the stairwell off to her right. “Now are you coming, or are you going back in there to watch a dead man die?”
Cole scoffed, nodding at her as they headed for the exit. “Fine. But if anyone asks, I’m blaming Fisher.”

Lightning flickered in the sky as Mallory pulled into the narrow alleyway, parking her black Jeep beside one of the cruisers. Red and blue lights reflected off the rain, bathing the street with a strobe-like glow. Yellow tape blocked the way, enclosing the area in a familiar box she’d seen far too many times. They’d driven straight, the long trip unusually quiet. Cole had muttered a few token words, but it was obvious he wasn’t pleased with her decision to ditch the execution.
She sighed. Just thinking about the creep made her shiver, though she’d never admit that to Cole, or anyone else for that matter. Davies was a weakness she needed to put behind her, and the sooner, the better.
Cole grumbled something under his breath about the weather ruining his leather jacket and the slew of cop cars blocking the road as he opened the door and stepped out, turning his collar up against the chill. Mallory followed, glancing up at the dark sky. April was usually one of her favourite months, but tonight, it had a desolate quality to it that made her feel lonely.
She sighed and followed after Cole, ducking beneath the tape as she made her way over to Fisher. He stood amidst a group of cops, a black sheet at his feet. She gave the covered body a quick glance, knowing just by the size and shape it had to be a woman, or worse, a teenage kid. The police officers turned as she stopped behind them, their faces clearly questioning her presence. She raised her badge and pushed through to Fisher, ignoring the looks the other men gave her.
“What’s so important? While I don’t mind your timing, I’m definitely going to catch shit over leaving the execution early.”
Fisher nodded, murmuring a quick, “Hey,” to Cole when the man rounded the sheet and stopped on Fisher’s other side.
He pointed at the body. “In this particular case, I think the body will speak for itself.” He knelt down and pulled back the cover, revealing bare, pale limbs and patches of pooled blood. “I also think this is going to make ‘catching shit’ seem a little less important.”
Mallory drew a deep breath as she stared at the body—a young woman, no more than twenty-two, with blonde hair and even features. She looked more athletic than most, with firm limbs and a lean torso. But it was the pose that held Mallory’s attention. Legs bent to one side with her arms raised over her head, the victim looked like a cheerleader jumping in the air.
The image hit Mallory hard, and she couldn’t stop from taking a step back. Her gaze skirted over the body, unerringly going to every detail without hesitation—the ligature marks around her neck, the imprint of rope on her wrists and ankles, the trail of blood down her inner thighs. The only new element was a four-inch wound on the woman’s right side, just below her ribcage.
Mallory shook her head. “Dear God.” She circled around to her left, looking for more evidence, certain the one answer screaming in her head couldn’t be correct. “From the look of the body, she’s only been dead eight or nine hours... This... It can’t...”
She looked away, staving off the sudden rush of emotions. She was obviously missing something—something that pointed this murder in a completely logical direction. It simply couldn’t be what it appeared.
A hand settled on her shoulder, drawing her back from her thoughts. She glanced up, looking into Cole’s dark brown eyes. They held the same disbelief she suspected hers did.
She took a deep breath, knowing he was waiting for her to speak but aware there wasn’t anything to say. “It can’t... I mean... Shit!”
Fisher moved over to her. “I had a feeling you might feel that way.” He turned towards the dead girl. “Confusing as hell, really.”
Mallory gave herself a mental shake. “There’s bound to be a rational explanation for this. Obviously, we’re dealing with a copycat here.”
Cole huffed behind her as he knelt beside the body. “This ain’t a fucking copycat and you know it, Mal. Look at the way the sash is tied around her waist. It’s identical to the other twelve victims...same knot, same way he tucked the ends back underneath the fabric. We never released that information to the press.”
“Shit gets out, Cole. You know that as well as I do. Someone could have shared that bit of information without us being any the wiser. Besides, the other victims didn’t have a knife wound below their ribs.”
Cole’s gaze clashed with hers, his expression sending icy chills down her spine.
He motioned towards her. “You mean the same kind of wound you have? In exactly the same place? No, they didn’t. But that just confirms our hunch. The bastard added that to mess with you...end of story.”
Malloy sighed, palming her hands on her hips. “Okay. Let’s say for one minute this isn’t a copycat. Care to tell me how in the hell John Davies murdered this woman when he was fucking killed just hours ago by lethal injection?” She threw up her hands as she stalked around the body, shaking her head. “What the hell, man? How did he pull it off? He’s been on death row for the last eighteen months. Let me guess...wormhole?”
Cole pushed to his feet as she stopped in front of him. “Damn it, Mal. I’m as angry and shocked as you, but you can’t look at this woman and tell me her death isn’t the work of that fucking psychopath.” He held up a hand when she scoffed at him. “I don’t have a goddamn clue how he pulled it off, but I’m certain of one thing. Nothing good is going to come from this investigation.”
Mallory stared at the dead woman, Cole’s words echoing in her head. She could deny it as much as she wanted, but he was right. Somehow John Davies had claimed another victim. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Shit my kids say part 5...

Okay, so if you know me at all, you'll know I don't tend to take life too seriously. Actually, I'm one of those people that jokes—all the time, and yes, even at times when I probably shouldn't. It's like that line from the Bare Naked Ladies song... I'm the kind of guy who laughs at a funeral...

So I'm certain it's no surprise that sarcasm is huge with me. I know, I should probably have tried harder to shun my kids from one of my few virtues (see, there it is again) but alas, I guess I won't be winning mother of the year again this year. Needless to say, my kids have picked it up nicely. Here is a brief example with my youngest son, Jared...

Background info… I'm laying on my bed, on my stomach reading on my iPad, 'cause yeah, that's comfy, when a weird noise sounds outside. I wonder if the garbage truck is coming or maybe they're sweeping the roads. Jared is sitting in a chair mumbling about me needing to let him have the super nice work chair—right, like I don't know the boys will trash it. And here's the quick conversation…

Me: What's the hell is that noise outside?

Jared: (Looks out the window) It's a truck.

Me: What's it doing?

Jared: (gives me that teenage boy exasperated look) It's moving.

Me: You're an ass.

Jared: Love you, too.

Me: You have learned well, young padawon… my work here is nearly complete.

This is my life. And yes, I was proud:)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shit my kids say part 4…

Okay. If I've learned anything over the past year or so, it's that teenage boys are the funniest creatures alive. The stuff they say…while often not politically correct is generally pee your pants worthy. And seeing as I tend to have numerous teenage boys at my house, I'm never at a loss for something to laugh at.

Scenario. We driving home from the movies. A friend of the boys came along and his dad was picking him up. Now the kid's old enough I didn't need to babysit him while he was waiting for his lift, being summer it's still light out with lots of families milling around the theatre and his dad was going to be there in five so...we headed off. Yeah, I felt a bit guilty but this kid was all... please go. I'm old enough to sit on a bench for five minutes in daylight. He had a point.

Anyway, we're driving home and stop at a by-pass road for a red light. The traffic light that's currently green turns yellow, but I see this beige truck gun it to make it through the light. I'm thinking... wow, that guy's pushing his luck. And sure enough it's red by the time he enters the intersection. Well I damn near die when I see the kid's dad, Mike, turning left in the same intersection as this truck speeds through. I swear to god they missed hitting each other by mere inches.

I totally gasp and say... oh my god. And here's the conversation from there.

Jared: What's wrong? 

Me: Did you see that? Mike totally just missed getting hit by that truck.

Kyle: Yeah, I saw that. He was pretty lucky. That was really close.

Me: I was just thinking, man that guy is lucky we're stopped or he might get hit and damn, he just about got Mike. He really would have gotten T-boned.

It's quiet for a few seconds before Kyle sighs and turns to me, shaking his head...

Kyle: Now, if we've learned anything from those Final Destination movies it's that in two weeks, that same truck is going to get Mike when the guy misses another turn and drives straight through Mike's living room wall. Poor Mike…

I damn near peed my pants. Yes, that's my boy. But he continues...

Kyle: I think they have too many of those movies. Final Destination 87 really disappointed me. The acting just wasn't there. And it's like they know it's coming for some reason.

I'm still laughing at this point...

Jared: Yeah, it's like the Saw movies. Saw 15…It's going to be like a five minute movie. The scary guy traps all these old people and says "Want to play a game?" They all scream then he breaks out the Chinese Checkers...and it fades to black.

Yes, these are my children. It didn't get any better for the rest of the ride home...

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Dusk 'Til Dawn...

Soooo…I had the third book in my Between the Veils books release, oh, about a month ago, and yup, nothing here. I was scanning back through some old blogs and I actually saw a post where I said, hey, I'm going to blog again. I'm in blogger rehab.

Well, folks. blogger rehab was obviously an epic fail, but then what did I expect. I'm pretty damn lazy when it comes to blogging so...

Anyway. I thought I'd mention my new book (hey, it's not THAT old so let me be delusional for now). Last year, I got hooked on the idea of writing a ghost series. Now part of it stems from the fact one of my fave books ever in the erotic genre is IMMORTAL CURSE by my awesome friend Bronwyn Green. And no, she isn't paying me to say that…I really did absolutely love it. And, it has a ghost in it.

But the other huge reason is because…now don't judge folks…I quite love Ghost Adventures. Now this is not to be confused with Ghost Hunters…nope, I'm talking Zak, Aaron and Nick. The three guys who go through lockdowns and stuff to try and bring paranormal evidence to light. Now I'm not going to say anything about the show other than that I enjoy it and find it both educational and entertaining. I have to say my favourite is Aaron, mostly because he feels the most genuine of the bunch, but all the guys have a certain role they play and I think they do a great job. Trying to convince people regarding the paranormal isn't an easy job. For every type of proof they have, there is other proof to disprove it, lol. But if it gets folks to just ask the question, what if, then I'm sure they're doing their job.

So, after watching episodes of this show (and yes, I added the Travel Channel to my cable just to watch THEM) I got thinking about a ghost series. Then I was asked to write about New Orleans for AAD last year, and well, before I knew it, I'd written chapter one of AFTER DARK, book 1 in Between the Veils. And the rest, they say, is history, lol.

Now I'm not sure how much those boys from GA would like my books, erotic bits aside. Whether they'd be happy I'd learned so much from watching their show or if they'd be offended with the 'literary' freedoms I'd taken. I mean, I needed my ghosts/demons to be a bit more 'present' than what they see, but hopefully, they'd appreciate the more technical aspects I tried to put in. Believe it or not, trying to do research on ghosts and demons is harder than you'd think.

But I digress. Now where was I…Dusk 'Til Dawn. Right. Now I'm not sure if it's because it's my latest book, or what, but I think it's my favourite so far from this series, though High Noon is a close second. Why? Dylan. Yup, the hero is one of those broken souls you just can't help but want to 'fix'. And I assure you, Annie feels the same. I also loved writing this one because the two main characters are skeptics. Non-believers. Doubters. You get the picture. And watching them try to come to terms with the fact ghosts exist then having to deal with one on a personal level, was just fun.

So, without further ado, I give you, Dusk 'Til Dawn…

Sometimes, the most dangerous souls are the ones already dead…

Annie Dunnigan wants to believe in ghosts, but her analytical mind just can’t make that final leap of faith. In the hope of witnessing some actual proof, she agrees to see what ‘ghost hunting’ is all about and tags along with her big sister Temperance and her new husband Avery Smith. Annie never expected to get caught in the middle of a childish prank with Avery’s older brother Dylan, or that she’d unwillingly resurrect an evil spirit, who doesn’t want to return to the land of the dead.

Now she’s faced with a new problem. She’s the only one who can send the ghost back to the other side of the veil, but she can’t do it without Dylan’s help…not when he had a hand in raising it. The fact they share a sizzling attraction to each other makes the situation even more dangerous, especially when neither of them are seasoned hunters. One seemingly simple task turns out to be a race against time when they discover the truth behind the ghost’s presence and the reality of the risks involved in ensuring it stays between the veils.


Chapter One

“I’m not so sure this was a good idea.”
Annie Dunnigan stood at the edge of the property, staring at the abandoned house nestled behind a collection of maple trees that nearly obscured it from the street. Flickering glimpses of faded wooden siding and wrought-iron accents peeked out amidst rustling leaves and thick branches as the wind kicked up small eddies of dirt and carried them across the yard. A jagged flash of light blazed between the rolling storm clouds, casting the scene in harsh relief as the last rays of light faded into dusk.
A hint of lavender carried on the breeze, the heady fragrance a stark contrast to the dark energy surrounding the deserted property. A clap of thunder resonated through the air, making it feel charged as the rumbling gradually faded into an eerie silence. Annie wrapped her arms around herself, once again questioning why she’d agreed to tag along with Temperance and Avery on their next ghost hunt.
“Maybe because you wanted to get a better appreciation for what we do.”
Annie jumped as Avery’s hand settled on her shoulder the same moment his voice sounded behind her. She grabbed her chest, whirling on him.
“Jesus Christ, Avery. Don’t scare me like that.” She ran a shaky hand through her hair, thankful she hadn’t tied it back yet. “And stop reading my thoughts. Unlike Tempie, I don’t find it all that amusing.”
Temperance stepped up beside Avery, swatting him across the shoulder. “I don’t find it amusing either, but the man’s inherently stubborn.”
He turned to his wife, gracing her with a stunning smile even Annie found boyishly charming. “I have few defenses against the female race. You wouldn’t deny me my one gift, would you?”
Temperance shook her head, smiling when Avery leaned in and slanted his mouth over hers. They didn’t seem to remember Annie was simply standing there, trying not to watch as the kiss intensified.
Annie sighed and turned away, once again staring at the boarded up windows and tattered roofline. Though she’d never admit it, Avery was right. She’d agreed to come in the hopes of understanding their life’s work, now that her sister had become partners with Avery, and not just as his wife. Together with Avery’s younger brother Blake, they headed Smith Investigations, a paranormal research company that seemed to have no shortage of creepy ghosts to hunt.
She took a calming breath. Even though Temperance insisted the damn things existed, and had spent the past several years investigating all forms of paranormal activity, Annie had yet to witness any kind of unexplained behavior. Not that she doubted her sister—she had complete faith in Temperance. But being a behavioral psychologist, Annie’s natural instincts were to go on hard, empirical proof. And she secretly worried that nothing short of having a spirit materialize in front of her would be enough to dispel those irritating inklings of doubt that always surfaced when she was faced with the prospect of ghosts.
“Which is really why you agreed to come.”
Annie huffed, glancing at Avery over her shoulder. Though she’d originally scoffed at the idea of him ‘reading minds’, it hadn’t taken long before she’d been forced to accept the truth—a truth that undoubtedly put other beliefs into question. “Not funny.”
His lips curled into a wicked grin. “Oh, but it is.” He nodded at her. “Don’t worry. I’m sure by the time we’re done, you’ll have all the evidence you need to come to the only rational conclusion.”
“Somehow the words ghost and rational don’t seem to belong in the same sentence. But I hope you’re right. Not that I don’t trust you guys, it’s just…”
“Seeing is believing.” He grabbed a bag. “Shall we?”
Annie forced herself to swallow past the huge lump forming in the throat. “Sure. Hey. Where’s Blake?” She laughed. “I don’t think I’ve ever met a ghost hunter who seems to hate ghosts as much as he does.”
Avery grinned. “And yet, he spends half his time in Virginia City. Speaking of which, Payton had an appointment she couldn’t miss. Methinks they’re going to be making an announcement soon.”
Temperance swatted him again as she walked past him, taking Annie by the arm. “Damn it, Avery. Stop spoiling everything. Blake and Payton should be able to surprise us at least once.”
“I can’t help it if the woman screams her thoughts at me. And there’s always the chance I’m wrong.”
Temperance just shook her head, tugging Annie toward the house. Annie held back another round of laughter, wondering if she’d ever find someone who connected with her the way Avery did with her sister. Though they seemed to enjoy sparring with each other, their love was palatable, and Annie couldn’t help but feel slightly jealous. Avery chuckled behind her and she didn’t even look back at him as she held up her other hand and flipped him off.
Her sister giggled, angling them over to the main entrance. A thick wooden door with a grease-smudged window sat half off its hinges, the handle nothing more than a piece of broken brass that had tarnished to a dull brown.
Annie scoffed. “Are you sure this place isn’t going to fall down on us if we go in? It doesn’t look very sturdy.” She inhaled, covering her mouth and nose with the back of her hand. “And I don’t even want to guess what that smell is.”
Avery grabbed the door, lifting the edge as he bodily moved it out of the way. “Don’t let appearances fool you. This place was built nearly a hundred years ago. I doubt anything short of an act of god would bring it down.” He lowered the edge of the door onto the stained hardwood floor, kicking up a billow of dust. He waved away the particles, turning his head slightly. “Of course, staph infection on the other hand…”
Temperance groaned. “That’s honestly his idea of a joke, sis. Believe me, if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that the Smith boys all have a distorted sense of humor. Hell, they still play childish pranks on each other. Just last week, Blake uploaded a bunch of zombie sounds on the EVP recorder. Scared the shit out of me when I played it back during an investigation.”
Avery smiled. “He’d meant for me to hear them, darling. Not you.”
“Don’t think I buy that excuse for a moment, darling.” Temperance motioned to the open door. “It’s fine. And safe. Just be careful walking around and try not to break anything.”
Annie nodded, then glanced back at her sister as Avery and her unpacked a seemingly endless supply of gadgets. “EVPs are spirit voices you hear within the white noise of the recorder, right?”
“Sometimes we get lucky and we can hear words without anything, but usually, it requires some form of help.” Avery handed her a small device. “And this unit has proven quite useful in gathering that kind of evidence.”
She turned the recorder over in her hand, ignoring her inner voice as it screamed at her that this was nothing more than a parlor show. “And Blake makes all of your equipment?”
“My little brother’s a man of many talents, and while he hates ghosts, as you so pointedly remembered, he loves tinkering with anything electronic. The guy whips up stuff even I never imagined.”
She cocked her head slightly. “Now Avery. That sounded like a genuine compliment.”
“Must have been a moment of weakness. Blake’s also an ass.”
Annie lifted one corner of her mouth. “He has a nice ass, I’ll grant him that much. But then Tempie says that runs in your family…like some weird version of the Baldwin boys.”
Avery twisted to stare at Temperance. “Nice asses run in the family?”
She shrugged. “I could have said something far worse. And I’m only guessing about Dylan. I still haven’t met him.” Something flashed in her eyes before she glanced away. “I’d hoped we’d get a chance on this trip since he lives in the Bay area, but…”
“I’m sure we’ll be able to arrange coffee or something equally as awkward.”
The lines around Temperance’s mouth tightened. “He disapproves of me.”
Avery muttered something under his breath, taking hold of one of her sister’s hands. “It’s not you, darling. You’re beautiful and smart, and the only thing he’d be is jealous. Trust me it’s…” He waved his hand at the house. “This. Me, really.” He straightened, obviously trying to lighten the mood as he winked at her. “But I’ll try to make sure you get a chance the next time he visits. Speaking of which…perhaps we could get this one on the go. Sun’s already down and I’m sure your sister doesn’t want to spend the entire night in here, as good-natured and inquisitive as she is.”
Annie held up her hand. “Hey, you guys came all the way from Phoenix for a visit. I’m not going to complain, even if we are spending part of it…” She motioned inside the shadowed room. “Here.” She raised an eyebrow. “Though I’m still confused exactly how we ended up in an abandoned house on the outskirts of town. I thought you two were investigating some ruins or something near San Francisco Bay?”
“We were until Avery got a call from another investigator. The guy said he’d been getting a bunch of anonymous tips about this place, but he was on a three-week hunt on the east coast. He wondered if we’d be interested in checking it out.” Temperance chuckled. “Avery has a hard time saying no when it involves a place no one has investigated before.”
Annie glanced inside the open door again. “But how do you know the guy isn’t tricking you? That he didn’t send you here for nothing?”
Avery shrugged. “It’s possible, but I can tell you one thing for certain. There’s definitely more to this house than dust and pungent aromas. There’s an unusual energy here that’s feels like something other than simply a few restless ghosts. I get the sense something’s…”
Temperance stood up beside him. “Hiding.”
He glanced over at her, his face beaming with pride. “Exactly.”
Annie looked from her sister to Avery and back again, a disturbing thought settling in her mind. “Oh. My. God. You see them, too.”
Temperance’s face sobered as her mouth pinched tight. “Annie, I—”
“Why didn’t you ever tell me? Jesus, Tempie. That’s not the sort of thing you keep secret all these years. I mean…shit. Now I understand how you always seemed to get so lucky with your choice of outings.”
Temperance sighed. “I don’t see spirits in the sense you’re implying and I didn’t keep it secret. As a matter of fact, until I met Avery, I didn’t even realize I could sense paranormal energy.”
Annie cocked a hip to the side, crossing her arms on her chest. “You must have had a hunch about your ability. You’re too perceptive not to.”
“Even if I had, I wouldn’t have told you.”
Hurt churned through her gut as she stared at her sister. “Why the hell not?”
Temperance stepped forward and firmly took hold of Annie’s hands, giving them a squeeze. “Because, no matter how much you wanted to believe…how many times you listened to the evidence or looked at footage of my hunts, you just couldn’t commit. It’s that brain of yours. It needs to experience everything in full color to believe it. And I didn’t want to drive a wedge between us because you couldn’t lie to me without losing part of yourself in the process.”
“I don’t doubt you…either of you, it’s just…”
Temperance nodded. “It’s just hard to get your head around.” She offered a lopsided smile. “It’s okay. I don’t pretend to understand even a fraction of what you do. I’d much rather piece together a ghost’s motivations than stare at people and puzzle out whether they had a good childhood or if their irrational fears are curable. Besides, I know your lingering doubts have no bearing on how you feel about me or Avery, which is why we thought it was a great idea to have you tag along with us. Maybe a few hours in a haunted house will settle your mind enough you won’t feel like you’re betraying me every time we talk about work.”
Annie clenched her jaw, hating that Temperance saw through her so easily. She’d gone to great lengths to hide her uncertainties, never wanting her sister to think she didn’t support or value Temperance’s line of work. But no matter how hard Annie tried, she just couldn’t make that final leap of faith, not when she had a grocery list of scientific phenomenon that rationally explained the findings ghost hunters relied on.
Guilt and pain roiled through her and she wasn’t sure which one to latch onto. Instead, she gave her sister’s hands a squeeze then pulled free, turning toward the open door. She needed space, room to think, or maybe not think. She promised herself she’d keep an open mind. And hiding behind science wasn’t going to allow her to experience the investigation from their point of view.
Temperance sighed behind her, but Annie didn’t turn around, more than aware the woman would see her conflicting thoughts written across her face. Avery tapped her on the shoulder, handing her a flashlight before flicking on the one in his hand and heading inside, followed closely by Temperance.
Annie released a sigh of relief. After watching a number of shows on television, she’d been sure she’d be donning night vision goggles or walking around with only the light of a video camera to guide her, and she was thankful they’d opted for a more reasonable option. She inhaled a deep breath then turned on her flashlight and crossed the threshold.
Long shadows danced around the ring of light, fading into various shapes as Annie took a few steps inside, waving the small beam around the room. It looked as if it’d once been a parlor, with large pieces of furniture hidden beneath moth eaten blankets. Wooden legs protruded below the fabric, giving hints of a time far grander than those of the current century. She ventured over to the mound closest to her, running her fingers along the top. Dust scattered through the air, and she coughed into the back of her hand as she moved decidedly away from what she guessed was a chair.
She took two quick steps when her hip bumped into a small table, rattling a number of trinkets still resting on the top. She grabbed at one of them, catching it before it fell, her heart racing in her chest. Great, she’d only been in the damn house a minute and already she’d nearly broken a vase, the one thing Tempie said not to do. She took a calming breath and gently placed it back on the table, glancing at a silver frame lying beside it. Though the metal had tarnished, there was no mistaking the intricate swirls and beads around the edge, giving it a timeless look. She ran her finger along it, wincing when something sliced a line across the tip.
Annie pulled her hand back, sighing at the drops of blood already welling on her skin. Though Avery might have been joking about possible infections, it certainly wasn’t wise to invite trouble. She sighed, sucking on the wound, as she flashed her light around the table. A few drops had splattered onto the glass of the frame she’d been admiring, but she was able to dab most of it off with her shirt. Avery whistled, and she looked over at him, nodding when he pointed at an adjoining room. She glanced around one last time then picked her way through the remaining furniture until she was standing behind the couple.
Avery reached forward and pushed a button on the recorder still cupped in her other hand. “It’s always good to roll these from the start, so we don’t miss anything. And yeah. I’m more than aware you have several theories that can disprove anything we record.” He winked at her. “But it doesn’t hurt to try.” He paused, holding the finger she’d cut. “You okay?”
Annie huffed, pulling her hand free as she stuck the small recorder into her pants pocket so just the mic was peeking above the fabric. “It’s nothing. And for the record, I never said I wanted to disprove your findings. Quite the opposite, actually.”
Avery gave her a smug smile she was tempted to smack off his face as she pushed past him into the next room, swinging her light around the large space. Like the previous area, there were a few scattered remnants of furniture covered in heavy cloths, a thick layer of dust coating the surfaces. She ambled over to the remains of a fireplace, most of the brick now crumpled on the floor. She bent down, thumbing a piece of rubble when a loud crash sounded on the other side of the room.
She tensed, her hand clutching her chest as she snapped her head toward the noise, her breathing a traitorous wheeze in the sudden stillness. “What the hell was that?”
As if on cue, something scraped across the floor, then fell in a clatter of dust and sound. The hairs on Annie’s arms prickled to life as a rash of goose bumps flared along her skin.
Avery’s hand settled on her shoulder, grounding her slightly. “Just the residents getting a bit restless. But all of our temperature readings are low, so it’s nothing to worry about.”
Annie coughed as she tried to swallow. “Temperature readings low? What would happen if they were high? And why the hell are you taking temperature readings?”
He patted her shoulder this time. “It’s just standard investigating. And let’s not worry since they’re low and keep going.”
Annie scowled as he walked away, running some kind of unit over a toppled chair. She pushed to her feet when it hit her. The chair had fallen over—by itself. That was the noise she’d heard and the source of the cloud of billowing dust. A surge of panic pulsed through her veins as she watched Temperance and Avery scour the area around the chair. They seemed completely unfazed by the incident, ducking when a piece of wood soared through the air, splintering as it impacted the far wall.
Her mind whirled as she mentally scrolled through every known scientific explanation only to come up empty. There simply wasn’t a logical reason for what was happening inside the house. She swung the circle of light around, trying to illuminate as much of the room as possible when something growled beside her.
Annie gasped and turned, backing away from the angry hiss that followed. She searched the fireplace, but only crumbling bricks glared back at her through the light. Fear churned in her gut, propelling her across the floor. Avery shouted her name, drawing her attention just as she bumped against a tall lamp. The glass covering swung sideways, the hinges emitting a shrill creaking noise. She grabbed at the tall pole, only to have it shudder beneath her grip. Her eyes widened as a swirling white mist appeared, taking the shape of a head, then dissipated, a disembodied voice pleading with her to leave.
Annie released the lamp, her hand going to her mouth just as the lantern lifted up then toppled on her, dousing her shirt in a foul-smelling liquid.
She reeled backwards, tripping onto a covered chair. Her breath came in gasping pants as she fought to calm the pounding in her head. Shit. Had she really just witnessed a ghost materialize out of thin air?
“Annie. God, honey, are you okay?”
Temperance’s voice tickled the edges of her consciousness, but she didn’t do more than grunt a reply as she reran the events in her head—the angry growl, the swirling mist, the ghostly warning…
“Damn it, Annie, talk to me!”
Firm hands clamped around her shoulders, giving her a hard shake. Annie cursed and looked up, pinned by the fear flashing in Temperance’s eyes. She’d never seen her sister remotely scared before.
Annie took a quick breath, a cold shiver snaking down her spine. “You saw that, right? That…god, what was it? It can’t…I mean, it’s not possible…”
Temperance tightened her hold, stopping Annie mid-sentence. “Easy, sis. Everything’s going to be okay.”
“Okay? Something growled at me, told me to leave then dumped…” She paused to sniff the cuff of her shirt. “Shit! It dumped kerosene on me. How is that remotely okay?”
Temperance gave her a reassuring smile. “It’s okay because you’re still here, yelling at me.” Her mouth twitched slightly at the edges. “And yeah. We saw everything. Pretty extraordinary, really. I’ve never seen someone attract that much attention on their first hunt.” She tilted her head. “Maybe I’m not the only one with ties to the paranormal.”
Annie shook her head. “Oh no. I deal in science. Hard cold facts. This…” She waved her hand around the room. “This is way out of my league. I’m still trying to grasp just a shred of logical reasoning for what just happened.”
Avery’s mouth quirked into a slight grin. “You mean something other than ghosts.”
Annie sighed, accepting Avery’s hand as he yanked her onto her feet, nearly sending her sprawling to the ground again as her balance shifted. He grabbed hold of her arms, muttering under his breath until she regained her equilibrium and took a step back.
She glanced away. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult you guys, it’s just…shit.”
He gave her a genuine smile. “None taken, but Temperance is right. This is…”
He laughed. “Impressive. Though we could have done without the kerosene.” He pulled at the soaked fabric. “You need to get out of this before it reacts with your skin.”
She stared at him, looking over to her sister and back. “I just witnessed something toss a piece of wood across the room. A swirling white mist dropped a lamp on me and you’re worried if my skin might react?” She gave an exasperated sigh. “This is surreal. Ghosts…” She released a weary breath. “Besides, I didn’t bring another shirt. Call me crazy but I didn’t think ghost hunting would require a change of clothes.”
Avery chuckled. “You’d be surprised. And I have a shirt in the car you can borrow.”
Temperance tapped his shoulder. “I’ll go grab it while you stand watch.”
He nodded though Annie didn’t miss the amused look in his eyes. “Of course, darling. Though you do realize these are ghosts. Standing watch isn’t really going to help.”
Temperance cocked her head. “Just humor me.”
“Anything you say. Do me a favor and grab that UV emitter while you’re at it.” He glanced around the room. “Just in case.”
Annie shook her head. She didn’t want to know what Avery might need another device for. She inhaled, ignoring the pungent stench of kerosene surrounding her. “I’ll be fine, Tempie. Why don’t you let me go and grab the shirt and the UV thingy you need? Then no one will have to stand watch.”
“Are you sure?” She edged closer. “It’s dark out there.”
Annie grinned. “Believe me, at this moment, a dark, normal driveway sounds like paradise compared to in here. I’ll be fine.”
Temperance nodded. “Okay. The UV emitter’s in the trunk. It’s in a red bag by itself. And Avery’s shirt is on the back seat.” She tugged at Annie’s sleeve. “But take this off. Now. Every second you wear it more of that oil gets on your skin.”
“Will do. Good thing I wore my cute bra.”
She smiled at Avery’s chuckle, pulling her shirt over her head as she walked toward the first room. She draped it over one of the blankets, making a mental note to get it at the end of the investigation. They were right about one thing. Her top was ruined. And she could already feel the sticky residue leached onto her skin. She could only hope it wouldn’t leave a nasty rash behind. She needed a shower and soon.
Eerie shadows seemed to follow her as she crossed into the adjoining room, careful not to touch anything else as she wove her way through the furniture. Her skin beaded against a flutter of cool air, and she crossed her arms on her chest, trying to ignore the uneasy feeling building between her shoulder blades. As crazy as it seemed, she felt as if she was being watched.
A hushed scuffle sounded behind her and she turned just as a set of strong hands locked around her arms, spinning her away. She screamed then reacted, stomping on the creep’s foot before driving her elbow backwards. It connected with hard muscle and she grinned at the male grunt that followed. His hold eased and she took advantage of the lapse to grab one of the blankets covering a small sofa. She pivoted, tossing the cover at the guy shrouded in darkness as her flashlight bobbed in her hand, making the beam look like a streak of light.
The guy deflected the attempt, not even giving the blanket a second glance as it puddled in a gray heap on the floor. Instead he moved, pinning her the wall before she could do more than palm his chest. The flashlight knocked against his shoulder as it got trapped between them, the glare illuminating his face. Bright blue eyes stared back at her, half-hidden by strands of dark brown hair tousled across his head. He had several days’ worth of growth on his jaw, the scrubby hair adding to his rugged appearance. High cheekbones and a full mouth completed the picture until those eyes widened as his lips parted in shock.
“Shit, you’re not—”
Annie shifted her weight, cutting him off as her knee collided with his groin. His grip loosened as he bent forward slightly, giving her just enough space to dart beneath his arm.
“Wait. I’m not trying—”
His voice rumbled through the air as his hand snagged her wrist, once again spinning her around. Her momentum sent a small piece of furniture skidding across the floor and into the wall, the sound of breaking glass splintering the air. She yanked against his hold, wondering how Avery and Temperance hadn’t heard the scuffle, when her boot caught on the edge of the blanket. The fabric slid sideways, toppling her backwards. There was a frenzied moment of free-fall before he was on top of her, his arms bracing her fall as they landed together on the blanket, a shower of dust shooting into the air. One of his hands cupped the back of her head while the other snugged her waist, protecting her through his embrace. She gripped his shoulders, ignoring the jolt of energy that seemed to fuse her skin, and tried shoving him off, when twin beams of light pooled around them. Annie turned, gazing up at Avery and Temperance as the couple stood there, watching, amusement tilting both their lips.
Avery glanced at his wife before his focus settled on the guy. “Well, darling, it appears you’ll get to finish your ass research sooner than planned. Temperance, Annie, I’d like you both to meet my big brother—Dylan.”