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Authors: Rene Gutteridge

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BOOK: Boo
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“And for you?”

“Um. Meat.”

“Meat?”

“Oaf. Loaf, I mean.” Wolfe clinched his teeth in frustration. He was an oaf if there ever was one.

Ainsley shook her head. “You want what?”

He swallowed and tried to control himself. “I’m sorry. The meatloaf.”

“The
Mad Cow
Meatloaf?” She said it with emphasis, as if trying to make a point, but he didn’t know what that point might be. So he just nodded. “You want Swamp Mud or Screamy Potatoes?”

“Yes.” He felt a bead of sweat roll down the side of his face.

“Both?”


No
.”

“None? Substitutes cost a dollar.”

“No, I mean. No … the uh, yes, I want the uh … Swamp Mud.”

“Fine. And Gory Green Beans or Creepy Corn on the Cob?”

“Green beans.”

“The
Gory
Green Beans?”

Wolfe glanced worriedly at the reverend, who hadn’t seemed to notice anything unusual. “Yes.”

Ainsley’s pencil tapped against the edge of the table. “Yes. So you want the ones smothered in the black, slimy sauce that looks like something might reach up out of it and strangle the daylights out of you? Those are the ones? Because we don’t have just plain green beans here anymore, cooked in a little bacon grease, served with real butter.”

Her delicate face, twisted into a little scowl, revealed a temper that amused him. Her vampire teeth lost their hold for a moment and fell crooked in her mouth. She dropped her eyes and pushed the teeth back into place. A small smile crept onto his lips. “And a water.”

“Water.” She scribbled it down. “That’s about the only thing that’s still served normal around here.” She looked at the reverend and smiled sweetly. “And strawberry soda for you, I know. With a twist of lime. And no ice.”

“That’s my girl,” the reverend said. He took her hand and patted it. “You’ve always taken good care of me.”

“I’ll be back with your order,” she said to him, then glanced at Wolfe with a less enthusiastic expression. She turned on her heel and left.

“You okay, son?”

Wolfe looked up and realized the reverend was staring at him. He wiped at his forehead and found it covered with sweat. He quickly grabbed his napkin and blotted. “I’m fine.” He smiled. “Just thinking I should get my teeth done up like that,” he said, referring to her vampire teeth.

The reverend leaned forward and then glanced toward the kitchen of the restaurant. “Yessiree, that Ainsley. She’s a sweetheart.” He grinned at Wolfe. “And pretty, too.”

“She certainly is opinionated.”

“That’s the way her daddy raised her. To think on her own. To know who she is.” The reverend smiled at the thought. “Yep. Sheriff Parker’s the only one who’s had that little lady’s heart for thirty years. Guess the right man hasn’t come along yet.” The reverend held Wolfe’s gaze a moment longer than necessary, then folded his napkin in his lap. “Or maybe he has and she just hasn’t realized it.”

Wolfe laughed out of sheer embarrassment. He wasn’t exactly sure
what the reverend was alluding to. Surely becoming a Christian hadn’t rendered him hopelessly transparent.

“So Wolfe,” the reverend said after a brief silence, “tell me about yourself.”

Relief caused him to smile. It wasn’t his favorite topic of discussion, but anything beat the current one.

Wolfe climbed the gravel hill that led to his two-story house. His two German shepherds, Goose, the dark-eyed male, and Bunny, the blue-eyed female, leapt off the porch and greeted him with their usual enthusiasm. He’d forgotten that they’d been outside when he left. He squatted down and let them lick his face, then stood and briskly walked the rest of the way to his house, amused by the sudden “bounce” in his step. For the first time in as long as he could remember, he felt good inside. He felt a peace, unexplainable but present. And a hope, for nothing in particular but well-defined nevertheless. The new creation concept that the reverend had explained made perfect sense to him, and for a man who never believed in too much of anything, this was something he could hold on to.

He left his shoes on the porch and walked inside his home. He’d called it his sanctuary before, but today the description held less meaning, for the reverend had told him the Lord now lived inside him. Yet it radiated a certain warmth, as if a welcomed and favorite houseguest was nearby in another room, perhaps preparing tea or reading a good book. He fell into his favorite overstuffed leather chair and kicked his feet up onto the ottoman. Across the room, sitting neatly on the bookshelf, was a Bible. He’d used it many times, but never for personal study or growth. He knew the words well, but now they held new meaning.

Picking up the phone next to him, an antique passed down from his grandmother, he dialed Alfred’s personal line.

“Good afternoon, Wolfe,” Alfred said as he answered the phone. Alfred always answered Wolfe’s calls, and thanks to caller ID, always
knew when he was calling. The phone scarcely rang at Wolfe’s house; he had no need to screen calls.

“Hi, Al.”

“It’s sitting on my desk, my friend. It’s here! All warm and cuddly underneath a nice, hardbound cover. Boy, there’s a lot of buzz about this one. More than I can remember on any of your other books. Being shipped around the world even as we speak. I know you never care about your covers, but this one is a dandy. It’s blood red with this shadow in the background, and you can barely see a—”

“I need to know something.”

Alfred paused. “Oh?”

“Chapter three, two paragraphs down. What color are her eyes?”

A longer pause was followed by a nervous cough and then Wolfe could hear the sound of pages being flipped through quickly. “Eye color? You’re wanting to know your character’s eye color?”

“Blue or green?”

“Is it important to the story line or something?”

“It’s important to me.”

More pages were flipped and then Alfred said, “A dazzling, iridescent green, the kind that glows like the dewy grass at dawn.” Alfred cleared his throat. “Nice line. Is, um, everything okay?”

“Thank you, Alfred,” Wolfe said, smiling. “That’s what I needed to know.”

Wolfe hung up the phone and rested his head against the back of the chair. He smiled at the thought of her green eyes, that she had come close enough to him so he could see their color. He’d guessed right. As he closed his own, that was the only picture that filled his mind.

CHAPTER 3

A
INSLEY HUMMED AS
she pulled carrots out of the refrigerator. She always hummed when preparing a meal. It seemed like something Martha Stewart would do. Humming added to the allure of it all, though tonight’s meal was nothing special, just homemade chicken noodle soup and a salad. And her hum was strained because she didn’t really feel like doing anything other than stewing about the day’s events.

She paused for a moment to wonder if Martha would cut the carrots julienne style and decided she would. As she sliced, her thoughts turned to him.
Him
. A tinge of guilt stung her heart as she thought of how she treated him. It wasn’t like her to be rude. The harder she thought, the faster she chopped, until suddenly her index finger was stinging. She looked down to find blood trickling down her skin.

“You okay, honey bunny?”

Her father was in the doorway, smiling as he removed his coat and hat. “Hi, Daddy,” Ainsley said with a faint smile. “I just cut myself.”

Her father went to a drawer in the kitchen and then brought her a Band-Aid. “Let me see.”

Ainsley removed the dishtowel from her finger, and for a moment she could see the cut before the blood streamed again. “It’s not too bad.”

She washed her hands, wincing at the sting, then allowed her father to wrap the Band-Aid around the finger. Seeing that the cutting board and knife were clean, she went back to chopping carrots.

“What’s for dinner?” She heard him sit down at the kitchen table and then heard the predictable rattling of the newspaper as he turned to his favorite page … the comics.

“Just some soup and a salad. I’m cutting the carrots julienne style for the soup.”

She could hear her father chuckle. “Is that how Martha would do it?”

“There’s a proper way to do things, Daddy. People make fun of her, but she’s the best at what she does.” She heard the chuckle again and chose to ignore it. He could not fully appreciate why the linen closet items were stacked neatly and secured together with a satin ribbon. Or why the bed sheets in every single room smelled of baby powder. Or why the pumpkin pie was always firm and slightly spiced. She sighed at the burden of being underappreciated, as was Martha, but she had too much on her mind to dwell on it. She could truly think of only one thing: Wolfe Boone.

She never called him Boo, as the townspeople lovingly did. No, he wasn’t likable enough to have a pet name, though she had a few choice names of her own for him, kept quiet only because she knew God wouldn’t approve.

She mulled over her first encounter with him, then became sullen over the fact that it was nothing like she had imagined. Through the years, over and over in her head, she had imagined what she would say to him if she ever got the opportunity. She practically had the speech memorized, as well as a rebuttal for nearly every excuse he was bound to make. She even had a few clever insults to choose from, any of which she could use as she turned on her heel, her nose in the air, and walked away, hoping all the carefully crafted words and phrases she used would make some impact on how he lived his life.

But instead she ended up serving him meatloaf … with a smile, no less!

She had to give herself a little credit; she certainly hadn’t imagined their first encounter including Reverend Peck. That threw her.

She also didn’t take into account how good looking he happened to be. Not that it made much of a difference. Evil comes in all forms. But she guessed she’d never really gotten an up-close look at him, or maybe she just liked her own vision of a man with dark, glassy eyes and sunken features. But his eyes were a soft brown with specks of yellow, and they captivated her more than she cared to admit. “He could certainly use a haircut, though,” she muttered. Her father looked up. Had she said that out loud? He went back to his paper, and she continued to cut carrots.

Besides, no matter what he looked like, she still refused to believe the man that virtually wrecked Skary, Indiana, could now be a servant of her Lord.

“Ouch!”

Ainsley felt blood running down her thumb.

“Ainsley?” Her father was now by her side, holding her hand up in front of his face. “You cut yourself again?” His eyebrows raised with worry.

Ainsley took her hand away and ran her thumb under some water in the sink. “It’s just a small cut. It won’t even need a Band-Aid.” She scolded herself. Martha could talk, look at the camera, and chop, all at the same time, and
she’d
never cut herself.

“Are you okay?” Her father walked around to her other side, trying to make eye contact.

“I’m fine.” She smiled to try to reassure her father. But she knew her father could read her well, and a smile wasn’t going to deter him if he felt something wasn’t right. She quickly went back to the cutting board and scooped the carrots into the pot of soup. “It’ll be ready in a little while.”

Her father’s large hands turned her around, and she could tell by the straight line of his lips underneath his bushy mustache that she wasn’t going to get away with anything. “Ainsley Marie. This is your father you’re talking to. I know when my little girl is troubled. Now, before you end up cutting off your entire hand, let’s sit down and talk.”

Ainsley scratched her head and sighed. She really needed to be tearing the lettuce—never chop, always tear—for the salad. And she hadn’t even washed the other two heads of lettuce, because every proper salad should have a minimum of two but preferably three kinds of lettuce. However, before she knew it, she had plopped down at the kitchen table and was staring into the face of concern.

“Now,” her father said with sternness, “I want to know. Did someone hurt you today?”

“No, Daddy. It was—”

“Did someone say something mean to you? Did someone hurt your feelings? Or take something of yours? Was a customer rude to you?”

Ainsley waited for her father’s questions to end, silently praying that someday his overprotectiveness would stop. It didn’t help that he was the town sheriff. It was like having the perpetual big brother with you on every single date. Not that she could really complain about that, since she hadn’t been on a date in—well, longer than she wanted to admit. Then again, her best prospect was Garth Twyne, and he held out little hope for ever being anything more than a good after-hours joke.

“Honey, you look so sad,” her father said. “Tell me what happened. Whoever it is, whatever they did—”

Ainsley held up her hands. “Daddy. It’s nothing like that.” She swallowed and propped her head up on her hands. “It’s just something I heard today.”

“Oh? What’d you hear?”

“It’s about the, uh, you know, the crazy guy. The spook.” Her father frowned in confusion. “Wolfe Boone.” She rolled her eyes at even having to say his name.

BOOK: Boo
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