Ghosts wanted to destroy Drew Keane. He didn’t have any proof, but he knew they did. It didn’t matter what investigation he worked or how many people filled the room; the ghosts zeroed in on him.
One time, a lamp sailed through the air and crashed into his leg. The small scar still decorated his left calf. Another time, the ghost of a little boy screeched in his ear. His eardrum rang for days after. On the last job, a mean, dead woman pelted him with pottery. They cracked as each one hit the wall. The cuts from the sharp shards continued to heal, pink and tender.
During the investigation before that, the ghost of a dog somehow latched its teeth onto his leg. They didn’t break the skin, thank goodness, but they ripped the back of his favorite pair of jeans and not in a cool way. The White Lady of Hidden Forest Apartments from two months before was the worst of all. He remembered the brutal confrontation. Not only had she killed one of his best friends and sucked energy out of his other best friend, but her rage and unnatural strength put Drew in the hospital.
No more! Drew had had enough. Carrying around a clunky bag of salt and tossing the white substance into the air to ward off wayward spirits wasn’t cutting it anymore. He plotted a plan and gathered materials, tools, and some free time. It was time to create the ghost disruptor he had been thinking about for a while.
Why hadn’t anyone made one yet? He hadn’t come across one in his research. All sorts of machines that claimed to detect ghosts flooded the market, but none of them repelled them. He wanted to change that.
Pounding drums and screaming guitars assaulted his ears, but Drew didn’t mind one bit. In fact, Slipknot was his go-to band for concentration. Most people needed quiet while they worked, but quiet distracted him. Metal kept him right on task. And that’s where his head needed to be at that moment.
He gripped the handle of a small Phillips head screwdriver and twisted a tiny screw into place. Bit by bit, his new machine took shape—a machine meant to break a ghost apart before he or she ever reached him. It required plenty of time to research electromagnetic pulse generators and adapt the parts he had, but the plans he drew came to fruition.
His boss Aaron Lawson groaned when he mentioned the idea. He worried that this new tech would mess with the rest of the computers and gadgets they used. To be fair, his fears were not unfounded, but Drew continued to work and tweak. He reached for another screw, careful not to drop it and lose it under the bulkier mechanical equipment that filled his supply closet-sized office.
The metal increased in intensity and so did Drew’s work. His jaw ached from clenching it for so long. Just a couple more screws. That’s all he needed.
Slipknot cut off the moment his cell phone spit out his Black Sabbath ringtone. He glanced over, ready to ignore it when he saw “Mom” displayed on the screen. She’d never forgive him if he didn’t answer.
“Drew! I hope I’m not bothering you.” His mother’s light voice came through cheerful and clear.
Drew lifted his head and rubbed his weary eyes. “You never bother me, Mom. What’s going on?”
“Well, I wanted to find out your plans for Thanksgiving before Greg whisks me away on our cruise.” He pictured his mother tossing her head back in a laugh, her frosted, short hair bouncing in a breeze. Her blue eyes shined like she had a secret to tell.
“I’m coming to your house like I always do. Wouldn’t miss your turkey for the world.” Drew stretched and popped his back. How long had he been sitting in his chair? One look at the clock on his desktop told him it was late afternoon, and he had missed lunch. Again. Why hadn’t anyone come to check on him?
His mother cleared her throat. “Well, I thought, maybe, you’d might like to reconnect with your dad.” Drew’s good mood plummeted. “Why would I want to do that?”
“Don’t shut down on me. He came by the other night, and we had a good talk. He’s been sober for almost three months now. He wants to see you.”
Drew tightened his grip on the screw driver. “He’s had plenty of opportunities.”
“Mom.” He barked out the word before he caught himself. He fought to control his breathing. Taking his anger out on his mother didn’t solve anything. It only made her sad. “You tried to call him when I was in the hospital. He didn’t want to be found.”
“But I think he wants to try now.”
He growled low in his throat. How could she still believe in his dad after everything he’d done?
“You didn’t give him my number, did you?”
“No. I won’t give it to him unless you say it’s okay.”
Drew jumped to his feet, dropping the screwdriver. It clattered to the old hardwood floor. He needed to move, to breathe. All of sudden, the tiny room shrunk, and the walls closed in on him. “It’s not okay.” His voice was sharper than it needed to be.
“All right. All right. I won’t push. But I hope someday you can forgive him.” The lightness disappeared from her voice.
Guilt gnawed at Drew. He hated disappointing his mother, but he refused to give an inch when it came to his father. He formed a fist, ready to punch something, anything. “I’m surprised you can.”
He remembered how loud his father yelled, how hard he threw things. Darren Keane had a mean temper when he drank too much. He never hit Drew or his older sister Lori, but he almost smacked Drew in the head with a plate once. The yelling and throwing never lasted for long because his father passed out soon after. But when he wasn’t drunk, he ignored his only son.
No, Drew possessed no forgiveness nor love for the man.
His mother sighed. “Your father wasn’t always like that.”
“I never saw him any other way.” Drew took a deep breath. He didn’t want this entire conversation to be about a man he intended never to have a relationship with. “Are you excited about your trip?” Distracting his mother was his best bet. It also gave him a chance to calm down.
“Oh, yes. I have a new bathing suit and a large supply of mystery books to take with me.” His mother chatted about her upcoming trip for the next few minutes while Drew let her go on. He was happier when his mother was happy. One thing he knew for sure, Greg, his stepfather, made her jubilant.
After a few more minutes, Drew ended the call and promised his mother he’d be home for Thanksgiving. He took a moment to relax. One by one, his fingers uncurled from the fists they’d made. The intense urge to punch dissipated. Drew hated that his father angered him so quickly, even after all those years.
When he felt more like himself, he stepped out of his office and into the bright open floor of the Restless Spirits main office. He blinked several times, his eyes adjusting to the brightness of the sun streaming in through the large front window. Another item on the to-do list: buy a brighter lamp for his tiny office.
McKenna Ellison, resident researcher, client wrangler, and empath, waved to him from her desk. She held the business phone at her ear as she chatted. She was probably scheduling a prospective client for a ghost-hunting consultation.
That’s what they did at Restless Spirits, literally bust ghosts. Or at least, send them on their merry way to the other side after proving they existed.
He waved back to McKenna and stepped out into the crisp November afternoon. At least it was sunny and bright, no clouds in the sky. He planned to enjoy the last few good days before winter set in and started dumping snow everywhere. It always happened sometime before Thanksgiving.
Popping his earbuds into his ears, Drew bounced up the sidewalk in search of a late lunch. Now that he was aware of it, his stomach rumbled. He adjusted his favorite Duke cap on his head and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his coat. He let his feet do the walking.
He didn’t get far when he turned his head and saw a familiar smile in the window of Mountain Peak Antiques. He paused the music as his heart stuttered.
Jaime Liu tossed her long, black hair over her shoulder as she laughed at something the woman next to her said. Her whole face brightened, including her light brown eyes. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life.
He imagined the sound of her laugh, hearty and musical. Every part of him warmed, knocking out the cold.
With a grin on his face, he slipped into the large antique shop and ducked behind a rack of clothing. Peeking out, he made sure Jaime couldn’t see him. He then bounced over to her and covered her eyes with his hands. “Guess who?”
Jaime yelped and yanked the big hands away. She whirled, ready to punch the offender in the stomach. No one sneaked up on her without her knowing about it. Her fright melted away when she saw who stood behind her. Instead of punching, she threw her arms around him. “Drew!”
“The one and only.” He lifted her off the ground.
She tossed her head back and laughed again. After dating him for two months, Jaime’s stomach still did a somersault when she saw him. She adored his shrewd hazel eyes, his freckled light skin, and his mop of blondish-brown hair. She even liked the ridiculous Duke Blue Devils baseball cap he insisted on wearing.
Her friend Layne Williams cleared her throat as Jaime’s feet touched the ground. “Did I walk into a fragrance commercial or something?” Her dark brown eyes looked from Jaime to Drew.
Jaime took a minute to catch her breath. “No. This is Drew. The guy I told you about.”
“Wait. This is the guy who drove around aimlessly on your first date?” The stern expression disappeared from Layne’s dark brown face.
Drew dropped his hands into his coat pockets. “It wasn’t aimless. I knew what I was doing.” He lied. He picked her up with no plan for that first date, but Jaime had seemed charmed anyway.
“Sure you did.” Layne lifted a perfectly sculpted brow.
Jaime rolled her eyes. “So, you’re antiquing, too?” she asked Drew.
“Oh, um, is that where we are?” He glanced around in wonder as if he hadn’t noticed he stood in a large antique shop.
“Yeah, we’ve been here for a while.”
He flashed that amazing grin, a teasing gleam in his eyes. “Actually, I was on my way to lunch and saw you in here. Thought I’d surprise you.”
“I didn’t know we’d reached the surprise level yet.”
“I think several dates count as the surprise level.” Drew took a step back. “But you’re here with your friend, and I don’t want to butt in. I’ll call you, though.” He took another step toward the door.
Though she had arranged her Friday afternoon to visit antique shops with Layne, she liked that Drew popped in unannounced. She loved spending extra time with him. “No, stay. Maybe you can help me pick something to hang over my couch?”
Layne patted Jaime on the back, but her eyebrow continued to stay its upright position. “I’ll be over by the furniture if you need me.” She glared at Drew, pointed at her eyes with two fingers, and pointed them at him before moving away.
Jaime waved in her friend’s direction. “Don’t mind Layne. She’s a little overprotective.”
“She’s a little intimidating,” Drew admitted. He watched her until she was out of sight.
“You’re not playing hooky from work, are you?” She put on her best teacher voice, the one that made the college freshman she taught quake in their boots.
Drew shrugged, the grin never leaving his face. “I have a reasonable boss, and I missed lunch.” He wasn’t cowed. She made a mental note to work on her intimidation skills.
“Excellent.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder, trying to look nonchalant.
“You’re happy I haven’t eaten anything yet?” Drew rested his hand on his stomach. “You want me to starve?”
Jaime ducked around Drew. “No, but I am glad you’re here. I guess we can count this as our next date?” She walked around a broken-down jukebox. It missed a few buttons, and she didn’t recognize several of the song titles.
He fell into step beside her and draped an arm around her shoulders. “A spontaneous date. I like it.”
Jaime hadn’t intended to date at all. Before Drew, she hadn’t been on a date in more than a year. Not since that lawyer decided he didn’t want a kid hanging around. But when she met Drew at the grave for The White Lady, she felt a spark. Her daughter Ella’s withering stare didn’t chase him away. He spent part of the time trying to get the world-weary ten-year old to talk to him. It was enough to make her agree to go out with him that first time. Two months later and she lingered, enjoying his company. He didn’t even complain when Ella joined them on their third date because Layne made other plans and Jaime couldn’t find a babysitter. Instead of letting her cancel, Drew brought over pizza, and they all watched a movie.
But it was just a fling, nothing serious. She didn’t want to get in too deep and drag her daughter along with her. Being four years younger, Drew wasn’t prepared for a ready-made family. She never asked him, but most twenty-five-year-old men she knew wanted to live their own lives, not raise another man’s child.
Jaime pushed away those thoughts as she and Drew wandered around the store. They flipped through racks of old clothes and attempted to figure out what a few random knickknacks were. Jaime struggled to convince Drew to take off his hat and try on a bowler, but he wasn’t having it.
“Are you really into this old stuff?” Drew asked as they reached a collection of antique instruments.
“I am.” Jaime’s heart soared when she thought about all of the old pieces that decorated her house. Even her furniture was vintage, bought from yard sales and thrift stores. She owned a few unique antique pieces as well. “All of these things once belonged to someone. Someone who lived and worked and dreamed in another time period.” She plucked a guitar with no strings from its stand. “It’s a way of time traveling, of being able to connect to history.”
“You’re Tristan in a dress.” Drew chuckled, comparing her to his best friend and her office mate.
Jaime tipped her chin up as she smoothed her yellow, 1940’s-inspired pencil skirt. “I’ll take that as a compliment.” She touched a tambourine with a hole in the center. “Anyway, take this, for instance. Who put the hole there? Did someone really play it that hard? Or did someone use it as a weapon?”
It jingled as Drew picked it up. “Maybe the player was pissed at her band mate?”
“Now you’re getting the idea.” She nudged him. “What do you think about an instrument as a decoration?”
“An instrument? Do you play?”
“No.” She paused as the memory came back to her. “Well, that’s not totally true. My mother tried. Piano lessons twice a week when I was a kid. I hated every minute of it.” She remembered the dread she felt when Mrs. Zhou from next door showed up for each and every torturous lesson. “All I can still play to this day is chopsticks.”
“Then why an instrument?”
Jaime shrugged as she looked at the choices. “It’s something different. I saw instruments hanging on the wall in a friend’s house a few years ago and thought it looked amazing. Not the same boring paintings that everybody else has.” She spent some time thinking about the idea. She measured and judged the walls in her living room, hunting for the right spot. Layne tried to talk her into a picture of an instrument, but it didn’t have the same feel. A guitar or a violin would look amazing in the space on the wall.
Drew studied the selection, turning in a slow circle. He stopped when he faced the corner. “What about that one?” he breathed.
Jaime followed his line of sight. A small, orange violin leaned against the wall. It had dents and dings and a couple of the strings were missing. But something about it spoke to her. “I think we have a winner.”