Authors: Erin McCarthy
Abby’s Christmas Spirit
ABIGAIL MURPHY SAT
on the dusty hardwood floor of her grandmother’s former house and reassured her sister Charlotte on the phone. “I appreciate the offer, I totally do, but you have the kids and Will and a small house, so I’m going to stay with a friend.”
“It’s Christmas,” Charlotte insisted. “You should be with family. At least stay with Mom and Dad then.”
She’d rather jab a red-hot poker in her eye. Not that she didn’t love her parents, but Charlotte knew as well as anyone that being around her parents for a few hours was one thing, but to stay in their house was another. They were aging Wiccan hippies allergic to wearing clothes. Abby had no desire to see her father strolling around in his underwear. “You’re insane. They have sex every night. There is no way I’m staying there.”
“Okay, you have a point.” Charlotte moved her mouth away from the phone. “Spit that out. Right now.”
“There’s nothing in my mouth,” Abby said, in amusement, wondering which of her nieces was on the receiving end of Charlotte’s admonitions.
“Cute. It’s Georgia. She just put a fake holly berry in her mouth. But seriously, what about staying with Bree? The baby’s only a few months old. Her house is calmer than mine.”
Abby crossed her legs in the dark, cold room and tried to ignore her icy fingertips and her aching heart. She couldn’t tell her sister that she didn’t want to stay in any of her family’s houses because they were all in happy marriages, and that it would make her loneliness even more pronounced. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be over Christmas Eve for dinner. It’s all good.”
“Are you staying with a guy?” Now Charlotte sounded both curious and pleased. “Are you bringing him to dinner?”
“No. There is no guy.” Really. No guy anywhere. There hadn’t been a guy in her life in a good three years. “I’m staying with Chelsea, my friend from high school.” Total lie. Abby hadn’t even talked to Chelsea in a good nine months. “I’m here to relax, you know, on my break, so stop stressing me out.”
“Sorry, sorry, but I just worry about you. But we’re proud of you for going to grad school, you know.”
“I know, thank you.” Her sisters were proud of her, and being ten years older than her, they had influenced her in a lot of ways. Charlotte had nurtured her, in some ways more than their mother had, and Bree had encouraged her to be herself, to embrace their witch heritage. “I’m really glad to be back in Cuttersville. I can’t wait to see you all. Kiss the girls for me. Don’t kiss Will for me because that’s creepy as hell.” Abby hugged her knees to her chest. “And I’ll stop by tomorrow, okay?”
“Okay. Love you. Yay, Christmas! I’m so happy!”
Abby laughed at Charlotte’s giddy dorkiness. Her oldest sister had always been into Christmas big time. “Love you, too.”
When she hung up the phone, Abby sat on the floor, her breath visible in front of her. There was no heat on in the house. There was nothing in the house at all from what she could see. No furniture. Nothing but dust and the faint smell of mildew. She’d spent half of her childhood and teen years in this old Victorian house, first when her grandmother had owned it, then when Bree had inherited it after her grandmother’s passing.
Then that jerk off Darius Damiano had unearthed a back tax bill of eighty grand, then offered to buy the house from Bree to free her from the bill she couldn’t pay. Her sister hadn’t really had a choice, Abby knew that, but it had broken her heart to see her grandmother’s house sold. But it would have been okay if it had gone to a family, to someone who would love the house the way her own family had.
But no. Darius had bought it, and he was an eccentric ghosthunting millionaire from Chicago who as far as she could tell, had never spent one night in the house in five whole years. It was so selfish and so arrogant, Bree hated the unknown Darius with a passion normally reserved for mushrooms. Both were fungus, both left a rancid taste in her mouth.
So yes, technically her being in the house was breaking and entering, but Abby knew what she was doing. She’d been psychic since her early teens and she knew her destiny lie in this house with the man she’d repeatedly had visions of. She’d seen herself living in the house with the unknown man so many times she’d actually stopped dating, knowing that he was meant to be her husband, that it was both pointless and a waste of time to see other guys in the meantime.
Now that she was almost done with school, she was back in town to take the money she’d inherited from her grandmother and buy back the house.
Plus finally meet
In the silent house, Abby felt comfortable, if a little cold, as she waited.
She didn’t have to wait long.
Within twenty minutes the front door creaked open.
He was here. Just like she’d known he would be.
The man of her dreams, quite literally.
Damiano stared up at the hulk of a house he’d bought five years ago and tried not to feel bitter.
“What an old lady house,” Trent, his producer, said. “I seriously cannot picture you living here. What the hell possessed you to buy this?”
Yeah, he was still bitter. “I can’t picture it either. It was an impulse buy.” The van with their cameras and lighting equipment was idling in front of the house. “The crew can unload. I don’t think the house is locked.”
There was nothing in it at all to steal, and Darius had learned early on that the locals in this cow town had a healthy dose of respect for the Murphy woman he had bought it from. A witch, they all said. She cast spells and read tarot. Her older sister moved objects. Her younger sister was psychic.
Darius didn’t believe in any of that crap. Though he had to wonder if Bree were in fact capable of casting spells, because his own lawyer Ian had bought a house with her a week after they started dating, and married her a month after that. It defied logic. No woman was that good in bed, which the only reason Darius could see to fall that head over ass.
“Ohio’s Most Haunted Town, huh?” Rob, his lighting tech, said, looking ruefully up and down the quiet bucolic street. “More like Ohio’s Most Boring Town.”
Having been to plenty of towns that were actually more deserted and desperate than Cuttersville, Damian didn’t think it was an entirely fair description. Here there was still a vibrancy, still the sense that its residents gave a damn about their houses, their community. There were restaurants and shops and a playground in the town square that still had kids climbing on it instead of serving as a open air hostel for vagrants.
It sure in the hell didn’t mean he wanted to live there though, certainly not because he’d had dreams about this house for years.
Annoyed with himself all over again, the way he was every time he thought about this damn house, Darius was about to turn away when he thought the curtain in the front window of the parlor shifted. What the hell? He blinked and it was just a still, empty house like it always had been. Nothing there.
God, he needed a beer and a decent night’s sleep. They’d been filming for his show,
, for thirty days straight and he was ready to be done. This stop was their last, and he was hoping that when the episode aired it would generate interest in his house. Because he planned to sell this Victorian bitch by spring and be done with it.
“Rob, I think you can come of with a better slur than that, don’t you?” Darius started mentally counting rooms in his head. He had actually only been to the house once before so his memory of the floor plan should have been sketchy. Except he saw it so much in his damn dreams that he knew exactly where everything was, right down to the milk chute. “There’s eight rooms, excluding the bathrooms, so go ahead and set up a camera in each room. I’m going to do this one solo since the house isn’t that big.”
When he filmed in notorious haunted locations that were huge, like museums or old hospitals, he took a cameraman with him. But it made for great TV if he could say he was locked up in a haunted house overnight completely alone.
“Good. I saw a bar in the center of town called The Bar. How’s that for original? I’m going to sit on my ass on a stool there and watch football.”
“You know how to party.”
Darius started up the front walkway, picking carefully through the crunchy snow to his three hundred thousand dollar mistake. But it wasn’t so much the money that bothered him. Money he had a lot of. More than he knew what to do with. It was the fact that he didn’t believe in any kooky shit, and this house represented the moment of weakness when he’d allowed himself to believe in signs. Signs, for chrissake. All because he’d wanted to fall in love.
It was so stupid and corny he winced and wanted a shot of testosterone every time he thought about it.
Stomping his boots on the front step, he turned the doorknob and stepped into his gingerbread-trimmed albatross.
It was time to firmly put aside the image of the dark haired beauty who clearly didn’t exist and do his job.
Merry goddamn Christmas to him.
grabbed her backpack and moved to the pocket doors that led to the foyer. She hid slightly behind them and paused, anticipation high, throat tight.
When he stepped inside, the light from the moon casting a glow behind him, she wasn’t sure whether to be shocked or satisfied. It really was him. The same man she’d been seeing in her head for five years. The man she was supposed to live in this house with.
Finally, he was in front of her, and looking as sexy and gorgeous as he did in her dreams. He had a military jacket on, the kind that looked both hot as hell and was weather resistant, and she knew beneath that he would have a rock solid chest with six-pack abs. She’d felt those abs, virtually. She didn’t know his name, but she knew his body. Had touched every inch of it.
There was snow on his boots and he stomped them a little, before lifting his head up and taking in the entryway of the house. Abby had the advantage in that her eyes had adjusted to the dark an hour earlier. Even if he looked to the left, he probably wouldn’t see her in the gloom. Though she had no intention of staying hidden. She was going to set down her backpack and saunter forward. In the moonlight their eyes would meet. They were going to make love on this floor and then she was going to marry him sooner than later, just like her sister had with Ian. It was in the tarot cards.
What wasn’t in the cards was him saying, “Fucking pile of wood.” He glared at the walls, like he was talking to the house.
That didn’t sound right.
Nor was it right that another guy was coming in the door behind her guy. Who the hell was he?
“Hey Darius, is the electricity on at all?” the second guy asked the first.
Darius? The guy in her dreams was Darius? That wasn’t right. Not right at all.
“It’s on. We can start the boiler up too. I’m guessing it has a switch. I want to start filming by midnight.”
Hell no was her dream guy Darius Damiano, the ass who had strong-armed her sister out of this house.
Horrified, her jaw somewhere around her knees, Abby stood frozen for a second. This couldn’t be happening. She had refused to watch his stupid TV show on principle, but she’d seen the commercials. She’d always thought that Darius was the loud guy they showed egging the spirits on, the one with shoulders like Bluto from Popeye. The other guy blended into the background in a series of white flashes and glowing night vision eyes, a greenish blob in various dark hallways. She’d never gotten a good look at him.
This must be him, the background blender. He was Darius. What. The. Hell.
“Give me a flashlight. I’ll go turn the lights on.”
Abby started to retreat. This was not what she had envisioned at all. This was not a seduction of her future husband. Her future husband could not be the same jerk who’d bought this house and abandoned it.
Which of course meant she was here illegally and the owner had just walked in. Taking slow steps backwards she planned her escape route. If she went through the dining room, then the kitchen, she could exit by the back door. Only she heard someone open the back door even as her thoughts were forming.
“Hey, yo, Darius, we gonna get some lights?”
Really? Could she catch a break here? There was a butler’s pantry to the right and Abby opened it, cursing silently as she heard it creaking.
“Did you hear something?” Darius asked the other guy.
“I thought I heard a door open.”
“Trent just came in the back door.”
“No, that wasn’t it.”
Footsteps came towards her as Abby eased the pantry door shut. Right before it clicked shut she saw that sexy bastard again, up close. Inches from her. His eyes probed the darkness. Serious, intelligent, insightful eyes. She could smell his aftershave and irritatingly, her nipples hardened.
It was so like her to fall in love with a jackass.