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About the author:
After many years of working for the military as enlisted, officer and civil service successively, she left her industrial engineering position to pursue her first love—a career in publishing. She can be found in beautiful Colorado Springs with her rescue dogs or on the Internet.
What inspired you to write your book?
One of the first scenes of this book came about when I roomed with author, Trana Mae Simmons at a writers conference in New York. One morning, I felt someone kneel on the bed and cuddle up to me spoon-fashion. It startled me into leaping out of bed, but when I did, there was no one there. That’s when Trana informed me she was a ghost hunter, and that one of her transparent friends had taken a shine to me. Well, naturally I had to use that experience in a book and it shows up in the second scene of this book, when ghostly Drake cuddles up to Gina in the middle of the night.
Here is a short sample from the book:
Gina Charles gaped at the couple in the back seat of the limo. Bette was flat on her back with her dress hiked above her waist and Jerry was pumping away above her, the tails of his sport coat flapping as if he were going for a world record.
Gina knew she should excuse herself and back away from the open door, but this was her limo, with her fiancé and her maid of honor. She could do nothing but stare in silence as she tried to take it in.
Scruffy, Gina’s feisty black cairn terrier, squirmed in her arms and yipped. Bette gasped and Jerry looked up with a start, uttering an expletive. A number of emotions flashed through Gina—embarrassment, shame, and a hot, roiling anger. How could they do this to her?
Someone behind her giggled. The entire wedding party had arrived to be ferried to the rehearsal dinner and now they were all poised behind her, peering into the limo.
Gina couldn’t handle it. Slamming the door, she burst into angry tears and pushed through the crowd to run to her own car, parked nearby at the curb.
“Don’t worry,” Gina heard her mother, Madeline, say, “I’ll handle this.” As Gina fumbled through her purse, Madeline grabbed her arm. “Don’t make a scene,” her mother hissed.
“I didn’t make it.” Gina shook off her mother’s restraining arm and wiped away an angry tear. “They did.” Where the hell were her keys? She had to get out of here.
“Wait—I’m sure there’s some explanation.”
“Yeah, right. Like what?” Even through her anger, Gina found room for disbelief. Her mother was skilled at manipulating facts to fit her own version of the truth, but Gina didn’t want to hear how she’d spin this one.
Finally, she found her keys and unlocked the door. Tossing Scruffy and her purse in the passenger seat, she dropped behind the wheel and automatically fastened the seat belt. She somehow managed to start the car, but when she tried to close the door, her mother seized it in a death grip.
Madeline scowled. “Stop that this instant, young lady. You can’t go anywhere. Your wedding is tomorrow.”
Jerry hurried over, stuffing his shirt back into his pants with a harried expression. His blond, tanned good looks were a bit mussed now and she couldn’t stand to look at him.
Unfortunately, she could still hear him. “Wait, Gina—sweetheart—this doesn’t have to change anything.”
Gina stopped tugging on the door to give him an incredulous glare, wondering what she’d ever seen in him. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
“No, really. It was nothing—just one last fling.”
“ Yeah? Well, you flung it in front of our families and friends—and you did it with my best friend.” Make that former best friend.
He had the grace to look sheepish. “I swear, it didn’t mean anything. She doesn’t mean anything. I love only you, honey.”
Gina wasn’t buying it. She’d just changed her whole life to be with him, and he couldn’t even keep his brain in his pants on the eve of their wedding. She should have known better than to trust a car salesman, especially a successful one. Gina glared at her mother. “Let go of the door.”
Madeline only tightened her grip. “No. Listen to him—you can’t throw away your life like this.”
“Ha. You mean I can’t throw away your dreams of a big wedding and a wealthy son-in-law.”
“Don’t be silly—you know I only want what’s best for you,” Madeline protested.
Jerry stuck his head in the opened door. “Gina, baby, let’s talk this over, okay?”
Scruffy growled at him, echoing Gina’s sentiments. “No way. Talk to Bette. Hell, marry Bette. Our wedding’s off—permanently. “ With that, Gina drove both hands and her shoulder into her jerk of a fiancé.
The force of her shove knocked Jerry into Madeline, and her mother lost her hold on the door. Thus freed, Gina floored the accelerator and peeled away from the curb.
The door slammed shut and Gina glanced into the rearview mirror. Jerry was trying to run after her, the idiot, but Madeline was heading with grim purpose to her own car.
Gina had to lose them and get out of Richmond—now. She made a series of wild, random turns and found herself heading west on I-64 toward the mountains. She glanced back, but didn’t see any pursuers. Good, she’d lost them. Now what?
A sign appeared, pointing the way to Hope Springs. Hmm, the Allegheny Mountains, hot springs, and hope. Just what she needed.
She glanced down at Scruffy, who appeared a little bewildered by all that had happened. “It’s okay,” Gina whispered, scratching Scruffy’s ears with one hand as hot tears spilled down her cheeks. “We’ll just stay in Hope Springs for a little while.”
Just long enough to find some way to put the pieces of her life back together again and figure out what to do next.
The afterlife is tedious, Drake Manton thought as he drifted through the thin walls of the motel. If he’d known he’d be doomed to spend the rest of eternity confined to Hope Springs, Virginia, he would have been a lot more careful about how he died. If only he could remember the incident. . . .
Drake passed through another room where a couple snuggled together to watch television and paused for a moment to watch the science fiction movie unfold with a sense of wonder. One compensation for being a ghost was that he had been witness to many marvels over the years, but it didn’t make up for the lack of human contact
He spent much of his time as a voyeur, caught up in the day-to-day lives of the people in the town. But the familiar soon lost appeal, so he searched for diversion by watching those who passed through Hope Springs, staying only temporarily.
He glanced at the couple in the bed. They were doing more than cuddling now, and that type of voyeurism didn’t appeal to him. As usual, the living couldn’t see him, so Drake moved on, searching for Gina Charles, the woman who had checked in earlier that day, shedding copious tears.
He found her in the next room, fast asleep, with her small shaggy dog snoring softly beside her. Gina’s tear-ravaged face and the half-empty containers of chips, ice cream, and wine scattered about the room bore mute testimony to her despair.
He surveyed her thoughtfully. What could such a beautiful woman have to be so sad about? Her glossy dark brown locks tumbled in profusion about her head and shoulders, and she slept with one hand curled against her ample bosom, as if protecting her heart.
It was just such misery he’d tried to ease when he was alive. But now that he was dead, there was nothing he could do. Still, the urge to comfort her permeated his incorporeal being. He sat on the bed, staring down at her. Her lovely face and the sight of her full, ripe body in its scanty covering would have stirred him to lust when he was alive, but all physical sensation had fled along with his body.
Now, it stirred him to compassion. He wished he could take her in his arms, wipe away her tears, and provide solace in the time-honored fashion, but that was impossible. Knowing she wouldn’t be able to feel him, yet needing to do this for his own sake, Drake curled up behind her and reached out to soothe her. He was fully prepared to find his hand pass through her winsome form, but instead, his hand closed over a mound of womanly softness.
Gina leaped up with a screech and scrambled out of the bed, startling the dog who burst into a fit of high-pitched yips.
Good Lord, had she felt that?
She grabbed the neck of the bedside lamp, and throttled it furiously. It didn’t budge.
Bemused, Drake wondered why she was wrestling with a lighting fixture. “The switch is at the base,” he said helpfully.
His comment just sent the dog into further paroxysms of barking. With a small shriek, Gina ceased her attack on the hapless lamp and scrabbled about on the bedside table. Grabbing something, she pointed it at him threateningly. “Don’t move.”
“Or what?” he asked, amused as he glanced at her weapon of choice. “You’ll brush my hair?” Actually, he was more than amused—he was overjoyed that someone could finally see him, hear him, feel him.
She threw the hairbrush at him, but missed by a foot. The dog was making little rushes at him now, advancing and retreating, as it continued yapping. Gina kept one hand out to ward Drake off as she inched her way toward the door in her scanty nightshirt. “What do you want?” she asked, her voice quavering.
He smiled reassuringly and pitched his voice to be heard above the dog. “Nothing. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.”
She reached the wall and flattened herself against it. “Then why were you in my bed?”
“I didn’t think you could see me.”
“I assure you, it’s the truth. Most people can’t—I’m a ghost.”
“Yeah, right. And I’m Demi Moore,” she snapped back.
Drake almost chuckled with the delight of her spirited reaction and the novelty of conversing with a living being, but he had to calm her. Unfortunately, Gina continued to edge toward the door as the infernal mutt persisted its hysterical barking.
Someone pounded on the door, yelling, “Shut that damn dog up!”
In a flash, Gina was at the door. She fumbled with the security latches, then wrenched open the door and tumbled out into the night. She accosted the man outside, a burly truck driver who had checked in just before her, and grabbed him by the arm. “Help me—there’s a strange man in my room!”
She seemed more irate than frightened, and the man’s expression changed from annoyance to resolute determination. He peeled her off his arm, then set her behind him. Flipping on the light switch, he peered around the room, fists clenched. “Where is he?”
“There.” Gina pointed at Drake, now standing at the foot of the bed.
The man advanced farther into the room. “Where?” Drake had hoped the man could see him as well, but his gaze passed right through him. It appeared only Gina could see him—and of course, the dog, who continued to bark.
Gina scooped the dog up in her arms. “Hush, Scruffy.” Scruffy quieted, but continued to emit a low growl. “He’s right there!” she said. “At the foot of the bed.”
The man relaxed his fists and glared at her. “There ain’t no one there.”
Apparently emboldened by the truck driver’s presence and Drake’s lack of reaction, she came back into the room and glanced doubtfully at Drake. “There is, too. Can’t you see him?”
Tiring of this farce, Drake said, “No, he can’t No one has been able to see me since I died, except for animals. And you.”
Gina shot him a disbelieving glare, then addressed the truck driver. “Are you telling me you can’t hear him either?”
“Hear what?” The man peered suspiciously around the room and stooped to check under the bed.
When the driver’s head passed unimpeded through Drake’s torso, Gina collapsed into a nearby chair with a whimper and her eyes grew wide.
Her would-be rescuer rose, then stopped suddenly, his gaze arrested by the half-empty wine bottle on the floor. “Lady, you’re seeing things. Maybe you shouldn’t drink so much.” Giving her a disgusted look, he stomped toward the door. “Sleep it off—and keep that damn mutt quiet.”
As the door closed firmly behind him, Gina muttered, “Scruffy is not a mutt. He’s a purebred cairn terrier, just like Toto in the Wizard of Oz.”
That little hairy nit had a pedigree? “I’m sorry,” Drake said. “I didn’t mean to frighten you—I didn’t know you could see me.” Or feel me.
She stared blankly at him. “But he didn’t see you. And he passed right through you.”
“Yes, I know,” Drake said as gently as he could. “I told you, I’m a ghost.”
She froze, her eyes wide, and he could see the pieces of the puzzle visibly click into place. She opened her mouth to scream again, but he swiftly moved to smother it with his hand, feeling a frisson of excitement at the realization he could touch someone.
Her eyes grew even wider and she struggled for release, but he held her gently imprisoned in the chair between his arms with his newfound power of touch. “Shh,” he said soothingly. “I won’t hurt you.”
The dog scrambled frantically between them, to no avail. Since Gina seemed to be attempting to speak beneath his hand, he removed it cautiously, prepared to replace it at the mere hint of a screech.
“Wha—what do you . . . want?” she asked, her voice trembling.
“Nothing.” At her disbelieving expression, he added, “I just want to talk to you. If I wished to ravish you, I could have done so by now.”
Some of the fear left her eyes at this manifest truth. “Why me?”
“Because you’re the first person who’s been able to see or hear me since I died.” He concentrated on projecting soothing thoughts in hope of diminishing her fear.
Apparently, it helped. She relaxed and a perplexed expression replaced the fear. “If you’re a ghost, then why can I feel you?”
Relieved that she seemed to regain some of her former spirit, he said, “I don’t know—this is new to me, too. Perhaps . . . Are you a spiritualist?”
She snorted. “No, I’m a dog trainer, not a ghost trainer.”
He backed away cautiously, prepared to move swiftly if the need arose. “So you believe I’m a ghost now?”
She shrugged. “I can’t believe you’re anything else when the evidence is so plainly in front of my face.” Though her words were brave, her voice quavered and he suspected she wasn’t as blasé as she pretended.
Her voice rose as she ticked off the reasons on her fingers. “Let’s see, you got into my room through a bolted door, a man walked right through you, you’re transparent, and you’re dressed in old-fashioned clothes no modern man would be caught dead in.”
He glanced down at his clothing. “Actually, I was caught dead in them.”
“Very funny.” She slumped farther into the chair, cuddling the little terrier to her chest. “I may not be the smartest person in the world, but I figure either you’re a ghost, or I’m delusional.” Her mouth twisted in a grimace. “Naturally, I prefer to think I’m not crazy.”
“You’re not. At least, I don’t think so.” Though there was the one episode. . . . “I assume you have a good explanation for strangling the lamp earlier?”
She blushed. “I intended to use it to brain you, but it’s bolted to the furniture.”
“Ah, I see.” Drake was encouraged by her calm reaction and the fact that she no longer seemed to feel the need to “brain” him. An unfamiliar elation rose within him. Finally, the monotony of his death had been alleviated by the simple fact that at least one person on this Earth could hear him, see him. More than that, this had to be a sign that she was the key to ending his boring existence.
“So why am I the lucky one?” Gina asked.
“I don’t know why you can see me—this is a first for me, too.”
“No, I mean why were you groping me?”
Mortification swept through him, though he couldn’t feel sorry for savoring the softness of a woman’s body once again. “Please accept my apologies. I saw you crying earlier, and I was merely offering solace.”
“By copping a feel?”
Exposure to modern movies had given him understanding of that peculiarly crude expression. “Again, I apologize. I didn’t think I could actually feel you—or you me. I wanted only to comfort you.”
“Oh. Well, you can’t. Nobody can.”
Her face crumpled. “This was supposed to be my wedding day.”
Though Drake found it difficult to suppress his elation at conversing with a living being, he contained it. She couldn’t help him until he helped her first. To do that, he needed to determine the cause of her distress. “Did your fiancé jilt you?”
“No.” Gina sniffed as a tear tracked down her cheek. “I left him—the creep.”
“Then why are you so upset?”
“Because of the reason I dumped him.”
Drake sat on the edge of the bed and gave her his most encouraging look. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”
Gina sniffed again, but appeared relieved to have someone to confide in. “We were supposed to rehearse the wedding ceremony, but my fiancé decided to rehearse the wedding night instead—with my maid of honor.” She glowered. “Ha! Maid of dishonor is more like it.”
“The man is obviously a low-bred cur.”
Scruffy growled again and Gina shushed him.
“Worse. At least a dog is faithful. But Jerry couldn’t even be discreet about it—the whole wedding party found them making like minks in the limo. And it was going to be the perfect wedding, too,” she wailed.
Sniffing and wiping her eyes, Gina continued, describing her wedding plans in intricate detail, all the way down to using Scruffy as the well-trained ring bearer.
Almost a hundred and thirty years of living in limbo had taught Drake patience, if nothing else, and his work as a mesmerist had shown him the value of a sympathetic ear. So, he listened.
It seemed to help. Gina settled down after relating her tale of woe, ending with, “The worst part is, I sold my dog training business, sublet my apartment, and cut all ties to my former life just so I could devote the rest of my life to Jerry. Now what will I do? My life is gone.”
“Perhaps your parents will help you.”
“Forget it. My father would have, but he died three years ago. And Mom . . .” She snorted. “Even after we found Jerry and Bette doing the wild thing, Mom still wanted me to go through with the wedding. Typical.”
Drake’s eyebrows rose. Not exactly a model loving mother. “No wonder you ran away.”
“Yeah, but what am I going to do now? I have nothing to go back to.”
He considered for a moment. Though he wanted to assist her, he wanted even more to keep her nearby so she could help him. “What do you want to do?”
She paused, thinking, and a spark of determination entered her eyes. “I want to start over, somewhere new. Somewhere far away from Jerry, my mother, and my so-called friends.”
“Then that’s what you should do. Why not stay here in Hope Springs?”
Because he couldn’t leave the confines of the area, but he was loathe to tell her that. In fact, it would be better to let her think he could follow her anywhere. “Why not?”
He needed time to think, to plan how to elicit her help. Seeing the dark smudges beneath her big brown eyes, he said, “You don’t need to make that decision right this moment For now, you should sleep.”
She yawned. “Good idea. I’m beat.” She shut off the light and crawled back into bed, giving him a stern look. “But no more groping, okay?”
“All right.” He wouldn’t touch her again, but he also wouldn’t let her out of his sight. Gina Charles was the key that would allow him to escape this limbo-like existence, and he wasn’t going to leave her side until he found it.
Gina woke with stuffy sinuses, swollen eyes, and a sick headache—the inevitable result of a prolonged crying jag. She moved and her stomach churned. Then again, maybe the wine had something to do with this awful feeling.
Scruffy whined and nudged her with his cold, wet nose, wanting out. Reluctantly, she swung her feet to the floor. The memory of yesterday’s events penetrated her grogginess, and her eyes flew open, searching the room.
Sure enough, the ghost was still there, sitting in the room’s lone chair and watching her with his penetrating dark gaze. Gina closed her eyes and groaned. Great. Bad things always came in threes. First the wedding disaster, then the ghost. She wondered when the other shoe would drop, and what form number three would take. It would have to be a doozy to top numbers one and two.
“Good morning,” the ghost said in a deep, vibrant voice.
He made a striking appearance for a dead man, with a dramatic streak of white slashing through long, dark, hair. With his good looks and those sexy eyes and voice, Gina bet he had been quite a lady’s man in his day.
But she was through with men—even dead men. It was beyond stupid to be attracted to a ghost, even on the rebound. She glared at him as Scruffy’s urgings became more frantic. “Have you been watching me all night?”
“Yes,” he admitted. “I wanted to be here when you wakened.”
Great, an attentive ghost. That was all she needed.
Ignoring him, Gina crossed to the door and opened it. No one else disturbed the serenity of the early morning sunshine, and there was a small patch of grass nearby, so she let Scruffy run out and do his thing. Somehow, just seeing her faithful companion with his ears perked up and his tail wagging made her feel better. Once he finished, Scruffy hurried back in and growled at the ghost. Suppressing the urge to growl herself, Gina said, “Now that you know I’m still here, you can go away.”
“I’d rather stay. “ His voice was polite, but unmistakably firm. He wasn’t going to budge an inch.
Gina sighed. She didn’t know how to get rid of him short of hiring an exorcist, and doubted she could find one in the phone book. She was just going to have to put up with him for now. “Look, I have to take a shower, and I don’t want to worry about you peeking in on me.” He might be a hell of a hunk, but she didn’t want to deal with him when she was naked. “Will you promise to stay right where you are?”
He inclined his head in an old-fashioned courtly gesture. “Of course. You have my word on it.”
Shaking her head, Gina grabbed the few things she’d picked up at the discount store the night before and stomped into the bathroom. She took Scruffy with her, partly to keep him from getting too noisy in the other room, and partly to act as a lookout while she showered. She put him on guard, knowing he’d alert her if the ghost tried to show his see-through face in here.
Luckily, he was as good as his word and she was able to shower unobserved and dress in the jeans, navy T-shirt, and tennies she’d bought last night. Knowing it was useless to delay the inevitable, she opened the door and walked back into the other room, toweling her hair.
He rose to his feet, and since it didn’t look like he was leaving any time soon, she sighed and introduced herself, then said, “If you’re going to stick around, at least tell me your name.”
He smiled and gave her a sweeping, elegant bow. “Drake Manton, Mesmerist, at your service.”
“Mesmerist? You mean like a hypnotist?”
“Something like that. But in my day, mesmerism started out as the study of magnetism in the body, thought to cause problems with the mind. You might say we were the precursors to your modern-day psychiatrists.”
An old-fashioned shrink. Just what she didn’t need. But if concentrating on him made her forget the shambles of her life, she was willing to ignore it for a while. She sat on the bed. “What’s your story? How did you become a ghost?”
He seated himself and steepled his fingers, his mouth curving into a smile. “I died.”
She rolled her eyes. “No kidding. I mean, why are you a ghost? Are you haunting the scene of your death until you find your murderer or something?”
His mouth twisted wryly. “I don’t know. I can’t remember how I died. I have always assumed that if I could learn the manner of my death, I would leave this ghostly existence and pass on to somewhere more rewarding.” He paused, giving her a penetrating stare. “Perhaps . . . you could help me?”
“No way,” Gina said. “I’m not going to go around visiting cemeteries and digging up bones just so you can find out what killed you.” Besides, she’d sworn off men forever—dead or alive. On the spur of the moment, she said, “I’m going to become a nun.” That ought to do it. Of course, she wasn’t Catholic and didn’t know if they would allow Scruffy in the convent, but those were minor problems, easily overcome.
Drake raised a sardonic eyebrow. “It won’t be necessary to dig up my bones. All I’m asking is for you to visit a morgue of a different sort—old newspaper records. That’s one thing I can’t do for myself.” One corner of his mouth quirked up, giving him a rakish appearance. “Perhaps you could postpone taking your vows until then?”
Nuns had to take vows? Come to think of it, they had to wear ugly clothing, too, and give up a lot more than men. Gina waved a hand airily. “Okay, so I might not become a nun after all.” But she didn’t want to get bound up in some ghost’s problems, either. She had enough of her own. “I’m sorry for bothering you with my troubles.” She left unsaid the fact that she really didn’t have the energy right now to cope with his, but hoped he got the hint.
He didn’t. “It wasn’t a bother, and I do need your help.”
“I doubt I can help you. I can’t even help myself.”
But it’s such a small service, and one only you can do for me.”
dropped the polite facade. “I’m sorry, but the answer is no.”
“Won’t you reconsider?” Behind his polite question lurked a thread of steely determination. When Gina shook her head, Drake sighed. “Then I fear I shall have to haunt you for the rest of your life.” Gina bristled and Scruffy, reacting to her unease, growled.
Drake raised his eyebrow again. “I don’t think Scruffy approves.”
Okay, he had her there—she didn’t think she could put up with him for the rest of her life. Maybe this little task wouldn’t take long. “What do you want?”
“All I want you to do is look through the old newspaper files, to see if you can find a record of my demise.”
She supposed she could do that. “Then you’ll leave me alone forever?”
He hesitated, then said, “If all goes as I hope, I should leave this existence as soon as I learn how I died.”
“And if you don’t?”
“Let’s deal with that if the situation arises, shall we?”
Gina sighed. It wasn’t a promise, but it was better than nothing. And, to tell the truth, she was rather glad of something to distract her from the mess Jerry had made of her life.
Leaving Scruffy in the motel room, Gina grabbed a quick bite to eat and drove to The Hope Springs Times offices with Drake’s ghostly presence beside her, giving directions. The helpful newspaper staff showed her how to run the machines to read the old microfiche editions of the paper, then left her alone in the room. Thank goodness—she didn’t want to have to explain why she was talking to apparently empty air.
“What am I looking for?” she asked Drake.
“I remember I arrived in Hope Springs in June of 1885. My tombstone says I died that same year, but doesn’t say what month or day.”
Gina shivered at the casual way he spoke of his grave. As a flesh and blood man, she would have found his dramatic good looks fascinating, but as a ghost, his touch was as cold as ice and he was kind of creepy. The sooner she could help him and be rid of him, the better.
Hours later, they finally found what they were looking for. In the December 22, 1885 edition of The Hope Springs Times, she spotted a drawing that was unmistakably Drake. The sketch exaggerated his white streak and compelling eyes, portraying him with his hands raised dramatically and lines of magnetic force radiating from his fingers. It was accompanied by a story with the headline, Mesmerist Dies in Hotel Fire, and a drawing of the hotel.
“That’s it,” Drake declared, peering over her shoulder as they read the article together.
The article stated that Drake Manton, Mesmerist, had perished in a blaze that destroyed the recently-built tower of The Chesterfield, a luxurious Victorian hotel and resort situated two miles above the town. The fire had also claimed the life of a Mrs. Rutledge, and the moral tone of the article implied that Manton had received his just desserts for daring to carry on a scandalous assignation with a married woman.
It figured—in life, Drake had been just like Jerry, her jerk of a fiancé. Gina stood, carefully avoiding Drake’s insubstantial form, and stretched. Though she was disappointed in what they’d found, satisfaction filled her with the simple act of helping someone. It felt good.
She glanced at Drake who was avidly scanning the text on the screen. “You’re still here,” Gina said accusingly. “Why?”
Drake turned slowly, fixing his compelling gaze on her. “I don’t know. Perhaps it’s because this article doesn’t ring true. I’m no philanderer. It’s a lie—that must be why I’m still here.”
Wishful thinking was more like it. “Or maybe you’re doomed to spend eternity as a ghost because you’re a philanderer.”
Drake glared at her. “I can’t believe I’m doomed forever. If so, why can you suddenly see and hear me when no one else has been able to?”
“I don’t know.” Then again, maybe he was right. He seemed so cocksure of it, and reporters of that time weren’t exactly known for their accuracy and objectivity.
“You must be the key,” he muttered with a frown. “But how?” His face cleared and he turned to her. “I know—we’ll visit the site of the fire.”
She glanced at the sketch of The Chesterfield, a magnificent brick edifice trimmed in the white gingerbread so prevalent in those times. “I don’t think it’s still standing, or I would’ve heard of it.”
“The hotel is no longer in operation, but its ruins are still there.” He paused, brooding. “That’s it. You must come with me to The Chesterfield. We’ll find the answer there.”
“How can we possibly find any answers? That was over a hundred years ago.”
“I don’t know. I only know the answer has to be there. Please, come with me.”
“I’m not sure this is such a good idea,” she hedged. “It’s getting kind of late.” And she’d been working on his problems all day when she needed to solve her own.
“There’s plenty of daylight left. Today is the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Please, come.”
Gina didn’t protest further. Even dead, Drake had a persuasive charm she found hard to resist. Besides, she rather liked being needed, and it wouldn’t hurt to see this through to the end. “Okay. But first, I need to check on Scruffy.”
She pulled out some change and put it in the machine. After she printed a copy of the article, she stuck it and the remaining change in her back pocket, then went to retrieve the terrier.
She drove as close as she could to the site of the former resort, then parked and got out, peering at the ruins. The Chesterfield was a mere shadow of its former glory, with its mortar crumbling, its brick walls half caved in, and its formerly showy gingerbread hanging slack and rotted.
Scruffy ran off to explore and Drake called out, “I found a way up over here.”
Since Drake was a bit more difficult to see in the bright afternoon sunshine, she followed the sound of his voice through the thick foliage surrounding the ruins. Scruffy was already there, bounding up the small path former explorers had made. “Scruffy, come here.” She didn’t want him wandering around the ruins. They might not be safe.
He obeyed—she wasn’t a dog trainer for nothing—and she scooped him up and looked around, squinting with the brightness of the sun. “Drake, where are you?” Had he already disappeared?
“Here, just inside the ruins.”
Now she could see him—a faint shimmer against the remains of the hotel. “I don’t know about this. . . . It could be dangerous.”
Ignoring her complaint, Drake said, “You needn’t go any farther. I think I found it.”
“Found what?” The steps and porch looked somewhat safe, so she picked her way carefully toward him.
“This.” Drake gazed intently at an old wooden chest, half hidden in the shadows.
“Weird. I can’t believe this is still here after all these years.”
He nodded. “I don’t remember seeing it before, either, and I’ve passed through these ruins many times.”
A stir of excitement made her drop to her knees. She blew some dust off the front of the chest to reveal beautifully carved flowers, blackened brass handles, and the initials EMS. “It looks like an old hope chest. I wonder if there’s anything inside.”
The lid opened with a creak and Scruffy sneezed as Gina batted at the dust rising from the chest. She peered in eagerly as Drake hovered behind her. “Well?” he asked impatiently.
“Nothing,” Gina said in disappointment as the faint scent of cedar rose to tantalize her. “Just a bunch of junk.” She stirred the contents—a broken neck chain, a pair of severed handcuffs, a sheriff’s badge, and a dented brass nameplate.
Finally, below all the rubbish lay something of interest. Shifting Scruffy to her left arm, Gina reached in and pulled out an old dueling pistol. It, too, was ruined—blackened by fire, with the grip half melted—but there was something about it that intrigued her.
“That’s it,” Drake said in triumph.
“How do you know—” Gina broke off, feeling suddenly lightheaded. “Drake?” she said uncertainly.
He leaned toward her with a concerned expression and she dropped the pistol to raise shaking fingers to her spinning head. She wobbled, feeling faint, and realized he had suddenly become more substantial. Either that or she was becoming insubstantial.
Vertigo overwhelmed her, sucking her down into a whirling maelstrom of dizzying speed. What’s happening to me? But there was no answer as she crumpled to the ground and lost consciousness.
Gina came to, slowly, to find herself lying on a very hard surface while Scruffy frantically licked her face. She pushed him away and opened her eyes to see the concerned face of a woman she’d never seen before.
“How do you feel, dear?” the woman asked in a brisk tone. She sounded British.
“I’m not sure. . . . Where’s Drake?”
“He hasn’t arrived yet, but he’ll be along shortly.”
Puzzled, Gina held a hand to her spinning head and stared at the woman. Her dark hair was worn in an old-fashioned mode that made it look like a ballooning pincushion with a knot on top, and her severe dark dress with its crisp white collar and cuffs went all the way down to her ankles. How odd. Had Gina made it to the nunnery after all?
The woman offered her a hand and helped her up in a no-nonsense fashion as Scruffy frisked around them. “How do you do, Miss Charles? I’m Miss Sparrow.”
Puzzled, Gina shook the proffered hand. “Hi.” She glanced around and found herself on an airy verandah. She and Miss Sparrow were at one end, and a small party had gathered at the other end in wicker chairs, chatting amiably. There was something odd about them, but Gina’s confused mind couldn’t quite figure out what it was. She swayed woozily, muttering, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”
“That’s the girl,” Miss Sparrow said in a bracing tone as she steadied her elbow. “Now that you’re here, everything is all right and tight.”
“Here? Where’s here?”
Why, the past of course,” the woman said as if it were obvious. “You’ve traveled back in time.”
Gina grew totally still. Back in time? Was the woman loony? Gina blinked, then focused on a nearby sign. The Chesterfield. Slowly, the facts penetrated her fogged brain. This hotel remarkably resembled the ruins she had entered, only now they appeared to be restored to their former glory. And the people at the end were dressed in a fashion peculiar to Victorian times. Gina blanched. No, it couldn’t be. Either this woman was perpetrating an elaborate hoax, or Gina was stark, staring mad. Either way, one thing was for certain—the other shoe had finally dropped.
Bad Thing Number Three had arrived with a vengeance.