Authors: Lily Harper Hart
A Harper Harlow Mystery
Lily Harper Hart
“Have you ever considered that you might be the world’s biggest pain in the ass?”
Harper Harlow narrowed her blue eyes and glared at her best friend Zander Pritchett, practically daring him to make things worse. “Have you ever considered that I can beat you up even though I’m a woman?”
Zander shrugged, unruffled. ‘’Whether that is or is not true – and it’s not because I work out so much I can bench press a car … that’s right, a car – it doesn’t change the fact that you’re a pain in the ass.”
Zander ducked as a crystal vase hurtled toward the wall he pressed himself against, seemingly coming from nowhere, and brushed his hand through his dark hair to clear off the shattered glass. “Case in point … instead of just setting out the dreamcatcher on the main floor and enticing the ghost to us, you insisted that going on a hunt was the best way to do things.
“Look at us now, Harper! We’re stuck on the third floor with a really hacked off ghost throwing vases at us,” he continued. “Do you still think you had the better idea?”
Harper made a face that would’ve been comical under different circumstances. “Are we dead?”
“If that’s one of the options for how this day is going to go, then I don’t want to play this game one second longer,” Zander announced, crossing his arms over his chest. “I’m really mad at you!”
“If we tried to catch the ghost downstairs we would’ve risked someone walking into the middle of what we were doing,” Harper said, sounding pragmatic for all intents and purposes, but Zander knew better. “This way was safer for the general public.”
“Why would someone walk into the building off the street? It’s empty. That’s why we’re here.”
Harper wrinkled her nose. “You don’t know that. You can’t underestimate people or predict why they do anything. You know that. Stop being purposely dramatic.”
Zander grabbed Harper’s shoulders and for a second she thought he was going to shake her. Instead he pushed her to the other side of the hallway and covered her head when a chunk of something – it was hard to tell what it was in the rundown hotel they currently found themselves working – thudded against the wall she’d been leaning against.
“Thanks,” Harper said, exhaling heavily.
Zander rolled his eyes. “I love you, Harper. You’re my best friend in the world. That doesn’t mean I won’t kill you.”
“You just saved me!”
“That’s because I’m manly and strong and like to tell people I’m a hero,” Zander countered. “I have murderous tendencies, too. You know that. If this was a comic book, we both know I could go easily go either way to superhero or super villain. It all depends on which character has the better wardrobe.”
What Harper knew was that Zander was really a big ball of fluff – especially where she was concerned – and he really only complained to hear himself talk when he was nervous. An enraged ghost – one who most certainly did not want to be displaced from his earthly dwelling – was enough to make anyone nervous. Zander was a super man, but he wasn’t a super hero (no matter what he told the men he dated).
The best friends and fellow ghost hunters – co-owners of Ghost Hunters, Inc. (GHI to those in the inner loop) were working a job at The Regency, a former Detroit hotel that was up for sale. The owners couldn’t unload it thanks to a pesky soul who refused to leave – or let them fix anything up – so for lack of anything better to do, they hired the dynamic duo to cleanse the property. It wasn’t going well.
“Hey, guys, I have some background on who we think this ghost is.” Molly Parker’s voice crackled over Harper and Zander’s ear buds. As a twenty-one-year-old intern, she was all enthusiasm and bravado, even though Harper insisted on keeping her at a safe distance these days. She’d almost died two weeks before thanks to a murderous college classmate, and Harper wasn’t convinced she was over the ordeal. Molly kept insisting she was fine, but the girl was hyper-vigilant and jumpy, and Harper refused to rush Molly on her road to recovery. With that in mind, Harper insisted Molly do research in The Regency’s main office while their tech guy, Eric Tyler, monitored everything he could from afar and kept an eye on her at the same time.
“What do you have, Molly?”
“One Dennis Dombrowski was murdered by another guest on the third floor in 1982,” Molly said. “Apparently he caught the guest trying to strangle a hooker and intervened. The cops showed up in time to save the hooker, but Dombrowski died thanks to a knife wound to the throat.”
“Nice,” Harper muttered.
“So this guy was a hero and now he’s haunting the place where he was murdered?” Zander asked. “That’s kind of sad. Maybe we should tell him he’s a hero and that will calm him down. He’d probably be happy to move to the other side if he knew he was a hero. He probably thinks he died without recognition.”
An oil painting flew off a nearby wall and slammed into Zander’s arm, causing him to howl in surprise rather than pain. “Hey! I’m on your side, Dennis. I’m a hero, too. There’s no need to get all huffy. It was just a suggestion.”
Harper pursed her lips to keep from laughing. “It was a good suggestion,” she said, patting Zander’s arm.
“Don’t placate me.” Zander moved so he could peer down the corridor. They were in the main hallway while Dennis zoomed around another, the two hallways meeting in a “T.” Dennis was running out of things to throw, and it was unclear if that was a good or bad thing. “I wish I could see ghosts.”
Harper could see ghosts since she was a child, her own grandfather coming to say goodbye to her before he passed over to the other side. As her best friend, Zander readily believed her stories when they were little. Harper had no idea if it was merely a show of solidarity or true faith, but when he agreed to start a ghost hunting business with her after college, she realized just how lucky she was in the friend department. Even though he bravely stood by her in case after case, he had a tendency to display frayed nerves when things hit the fan. Harper sensed that now – even though Dennis the less-than-friendly ghost hadn’t managed to stumble across a fan to throw in their direction yet.
“Do you want to go downstairs and help Eric and Molly?”
Zander scowled. “Are you insinuating I’m a fraidy cat?”
That was one of their childhood taunts. “No. I … you seem nervous?”
“Of course I’m nervous, Harp! There’s a pissed off ghost throwing vases … and paintings … and really ugly decorations at us. Who wouldn’t be nervous in that situation?” Zander’s hands landed on his narrow hips. “That doesn’t mean I’m going anywhere. We’re in this together.”
Harper’s smile was rueful. “I wasn’t saying that you’re not brave. I … .”
“Of course I’m brave!” Zander’s voice was shrill. “I’m your knight in shining linen!”
Harper couldn’t remember what they were arguing about. That was a regular occurrence, so she decided to change tactics. “Okay, I think we need to handle this like adults instead of children.”
“So you don’t want me to scream and tell you that ‘I’m rubber and you’re glue’?” Zander deadpanned. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
“Sarcasm is the refuge of the weak,” Harper countered.
Zander exaggerated his handsome face into a grotesque “well duh” expression. “That must be why you’re the most sarcastic person I know!”
“Hey, kids? Do you want to hold off on the playground spat until after you’ve helped the ghost move on to the other side?” Eric’s voice was smooth as it passed into Harper and Zander’s ear buds. “I know this is a life or death argument – like all of them are – but I think the ghost should be our priority. In case you forgot, the building owner is waiting in the lobby and he doesn’t look thrilled with all the noise you two are making up there.”
“Oh, screw him,” Zander muttered. “There’s a reason why I make them sign a contract before we even start these jobs. That guy has ‘tool’ written all over him.”
Harper snorted. “You just don’t like his suit.”
“It’s polyester,” Zander shot back. “The only person who likes a polyester suit is a tool … and a prostitute. You know it and I know it, too. Don’t bother arguing with me. You know I’m right.”
Harper knew better than to argue with Zander about the complexity of unbreathable fabrics. “Fine. We need to come up with a plan here. Eric, do you have anything on the thermal camera we set up by the elevator when we came up?”
“Um … hold on,” Eric muttered and Harper could hear his fingers flying across a keyboard. “I see you and Zander. You look like you’re pressed against a wall. You’re the only hot spots on the floor.”
“I’ll bet I look hotter,” Zander muttered.
Eric ignored him. “There’s a cold spot down the adjacent hallway,” he said. “It’s … doing something … next to the wall. If I didn’t know better I would think it’s trying to pull a painting off or something.”
“Oh, well good,” Zander snapped. “That will be the second painting it’s thrown at us. It’s a good thing they’re ugly because otherwise it would be a crime against the artistic world. Those paintings are already a crime against the artistic world, so we’re doing two good deeds today.”
“I kind of liked the one of the forest,” Harper hedged. “It had personality.”
Zander patted the top of Harper’s blond head. “Yes, it had the personality of a drunken sailor on shore leave.”
“You’re so funny,” Harper said, jerking her head away from Zander’s persistent hand. “Come on. We need to work together and do this.”
“What do you suggest?”
“I’m going to run out into the other hallway but move away from the ghost,” Harper replied, not missing a beat. “You’re going to wait until Eric tells you the ghost is moving and throw the dreamcatcher out at the exact right time. Then, when the ghost moves in to attack me – or throw something new – he’s going to move right over the trap.”
“Yes, that sounds lovely,” Zander said calmly. “And because all ghosts float exactly where we want them to, what happens when the ghost tries to kill you and there’s nowhere to hide?”
“Then … .” Harper broke off, conflicted. She was already in a foul mood. If a ghost wanted to attack her, well, at least she would have something to take her pent up anger out on. “This is going to work. We don’t need a backup plan.”
“Hold it right there,” Zander said, snagging the back of Harper’s shirt before she could move away from him. “I know what you’re doing. You want to burn off all that excess energy that’s been building since Jared left town. I don’t think killing yourself is the way to go.”
Well, that was hitting below the belt, Harper internally seethed. Jared Monroe was Whisper Cove’s newest police officer. He was sexy, handsome, and brash – all things Harper liked in a man. After a week of flirting, one hot kiss, and the promise of a first date, Jared followed it all up by fleeing town to help his mother with a broken leg.
Harper didn’t begrudge Jared a family emergency. In fact, there was something appealing about a man who doted on his mother. What wasn’t appealing was the fact that Jared hadn’t bothered to call … or text … or even poke her on Facebook for the entire ten days he’d been gone.
“I have no intention of killing myself,” Harper seethed. “I know what I’m doing. How many times have I done this?”
Zander rolled his eyes dramatically. “More than I can count.”
“Do you have so little faith in me that you think I would purposely put myself in danger because I got dumped?”
“You didn’t get dumped, Harp,” Zander argued. “He’s taking care of his mother. That’s a good thing. That means when you get old and dumpy he’ll take care of you, too.”
Harper narrowed her eyes to dangerous slits. “What did you just say?”
“I love you more than life itself,” Zander said, pressing a kiss to her forehead. “Go and do your thing. I’ll be right here. If things get out of control, though … .”
Harper knew he had absolutely nowhere to go with that statement so he pretended he didn’t leave it hanging in the ether. “I love you, too. Let’s do this.” She clapped her hands together and moved out toward the second hallway, casting one more look in Zander’s direction. “You’ll take care of me when I’m old, right?”
Zander was nonplussed. “Oh, honey, we’re going to rule the retirement community,” he said. “Now … be careful. I’ll have absolutely no one to love if you die on me.”
Harper’s expression softened. “I’ll never die on you. In fact … we can die together.”
Zander made a face. “Yeah, I’m never dying,” he said. “At some point you’re going to have to go first. By then you’ll be too addled to care, though. That’s how I always picture it anyway.”
“Well, that’s something to look forward to, isn’t it?”