Authors: Dara Joy
He had the grace to look away guiltily at the reminder. Yes, he had presented it to her in the hope that she would hang around long enough for him to snag her. It was a typical pirate ploy and had worked reasonably well.
Until it backfired.
Actually, he hadn't done any in-depth research on the case. One of his colleagues, who had just come back from the Vineyard, had mentioned it to him in passing. As he recalled, Stan Mazurski had been snickering in the superior way scientists often have when they know they have the inside handle on the workings of the universe, and all lesser beings who think they see things that go bump in the night are to be treated like naughty children.
Despite his own scientific background, the attitude annoyed Tyber.
Tyberius Augustus Evans was his own man, plain and simple. In short, Tyber would never join any club that would have him as a member. He was a rebel, an individualist, a no-holds-barred rogue, and the only person he answered to was himself.
And… a petite, five-foot-something woman who had managed to abscond with his heart.
He glanced again at Zanita, the expression on his enigmatic face a cross between wary resignation and disgruntled interest. He knew he was love's tramp.
Zanita was once more struck by the sheer handsomeness and strength of his masculine features. There were times when the light fell on him in a certain way… it always caused her heart to skip a beat. Oh, how she loved Tyberius Augustus Evans! She knew without a doubt that there was no one else in the universe like him.
"What?" she whispered softly to him.
His lids lowered and the icy hot eyes gazed up at her. It was an unconsciously sexy male stare that always made Zanita's toes zing. It had something to do with those eyes… those pale blue eyes that had so much fire and intelligence.
Underneath her curiosity, he had felt her passion rising. Like a true brigand, he decided to let it smolder awhile. "Are you telling me that this supposed ghost haunts this inn by gobbling up the haute cuisine?" He burst out laughing. A deep, rich laugh of sheer disbelief.
"Tyber, this is very serious! The ghost is purported to continually mess up the innkeeper's best efforts. He nibbles on the salad nicoise, he polishes off the galantine, and he uncurls the spiral pears!"
"Not only that, he switches the place settings! Forcing boring people to sit next to each other. It's a dining disaster!"
Tyber clutched his stomach and roared.
"Stop that! It's not funny. I've read about similar cases, only not with… food. In
"Please, you're killing me here."
Zanita stuck her chin in the air. "It's an ancient legend."
"Uh-huh. Is it related to the dreaded Scooby Doobeedoo?"
"Tyber, if you can't be serious—"
He tried to give her an affronted look. It wasn't even close. "What do you mean? The Scooby Doobeedoo is a terrible nemesis."
"Oh, really? What does it do?"
"It hums Sinatra off key till it haunts you." A dimple curved his cheek. He pretended to shiver. "Horrible."
Zanita tried not to smile. "For your information, the Poopoobeedoo comes at night and has sex with you."
That made him grin. Broadly. "Well, baby, if I ever have to haunt someone—that's the job I want!"
Zanita threw a sofa pillow at his head. It bounced off the solid Evans IQ and careened into the wall.
"But all our ghost seems to be concerned with is food—"
"Our ghost?" He rested his chin in his palm as he leaned on the edge of the couch.
"Ahuh. When people are eating, the haunt changes the aroma of the foods to something awful, he curdles the clotted cream, and then makes rapping noises in the hanging copper pots—especially when the chef is trying to bake a souffle. They all fall flat!"
Tyber tried to be appropriately serious. "Maybe the chef didn't use enough eggs?"
Zanita snorted. "I don't think so—Todd Sparkling is classically trained. Before this place on the Vineyard, he worked at some of the finest restaurants in
. He is a renowned chef. Or he used to be… with all of the culinary problems, I'm afraid his reputation is suffering."
"Tsk-tsk." Blooey walked into the room and plopped down in the oversized club chair. "I couldn't help overhearin' Captain. This dastardly devil has got to be stopped! Ain't no worse crime than destroying the artistic creations of a Man of the Ladle."
"Man of the Ladle." Tyber shook his head in an attempt to clear the fiber optics.
"Aye, Captain. 'Tis a serious thing. Next to the oath of the Brethren, I hold it in the highest esteem."
Hambone looked up from licking his fat paw and gave one huge, bored yawn.
"Me and Hambone will have to go wit ye on this one."
Tyber inwardly groaned. This was just what he needed to complete the Tyber flow chart of rational living: a wife who wasn't sure romance and marriage could combine, a whacked-out mathematician who was convinced he was on a pirate ship, and a CAT.
All going to
to hunt down a gluttonous ghost.
This time he truly groaned. Fortunately, the sepulchral howl of "synthetic flesh!" from the TV drowned out the cry for help.
"When are we leaving, Your Ladyship?" Blooey asked Zanita.
"Tomorrow afternoon. I want to get an early start so we don't miss anything."
Tyber glanced back and forth between the two of them and narrowed his eyes. "Who said all of us are going?"
Five eyes gave him startled looks. That, was if you counted Hambone's one-eyed, mildly interested look as startled. "Slightly intrigued" was a better description. Hambone had a certain threshold of dignity that was never lowered—except for the occasional giblet.
"Don't be silly, Tyber, we already agreed. Remember?" Zanita gave him a meaningful look. "Of course, if you don't think you are up to the challenge…"
He gritted his teeth. Oh, he was up to the challenge all right. His wife had no idea what he was up to. A slow piratical grin spread across his gorgeous face, "We go tomorrow. Blooey, call the Florencia Inn and confirm our arrival."
"Aye, aye, Captain!" Blooey hustled off to do his champion's bidding, his step chipper. By contrast, Hambone sagged onto the rug and let out a huge snore.
"Some investigator you're going to be," Tyber muttered to the chubby feline. "All the ghost has to do is offer to share his booty with you and you'll be signing his articles."
The bandit cat opened his one eye to give Tyber a smug look that said, "In the scheme of things, who cares?"
Tyber crossed his arms over his broad chest, raised one eyebrow, and pierced the cat with a knowing stare.
Zanita recognized when the subject was getting away from them. "Tyber, I really think we need to—"
A loud pounding noise sounded at the front door.
"Who could that be at this hour?" Zanita stood up and started toward the door.
Tyber effortlessly rose from the floor, quickly overtaking her. "I'll open the door. We don't know who it might be at this hour."
"But Blooey must have let whoever it is in through the gate, so it stands to reason it must be a friend or a relative."
"That's exactly what I'm concerned about."
Zanita stuck her tongue out at his back as he went to open the door.
Tyber stopped and wagged his finger at her. "Shame on you, baby. You know I'm going to catch that tongue later." He gave her a slow smile. "No telling what I'll do with it."
Zanita could feel the flush rise on her face. Tyber had already opened the door, and her best friend Mills was standing there with her mouth gaping. She had obviously heard him.
Mills was packing. Caught by the scruff of his collar was a squirming, black-haired, green-eyed wolf-child. There was only one little boy that Zanita knew who was that beautiful and that defiant.
The boy looked and behaved exactly like his wild father.
And neither of them apologized for the imposition.
Zanita found her voice first while Mills was recovering from Tyber's outrageousness. "Mills, what are you doing here at this hour? And why do you have Cody with you?"
The name of the wolf-child was enough to snap Mills back to herself.
"Here!" She thrust Cody through the door. "Take him before that god-awful excuse for a father shows up."
Tyber caught Cody, who grinned up at him smugly.
"I swear the two of them have something cooked up between them! The kid keeps showing up at my shop, then claims he has to wait for Gregor to pick him up. Well, not this time!"
Tyber glanced down at Cody, who wagged his eyebrows up and down a la Groucho. At least the kid tried to contain his snicker.
Mills ran a shaky hand through her hair. "I've got to go—he's liable to show up at any minute, and I'm not in the mood to spar with—"
The sound of a motorcycle zooming down the drive came closer and closer.
"Ah, too late, Mills." Zanita commiserated with her friend as Gregor Mazurski, black-sheep brother of staid physicist Stan Mazurski, turned his cycle around in the drive with a spray of gravel. He was off the bike before it had stopped rumbling.
"Hey, Tyber." He strolled up to the porch and rested against the portico.
"Gregor." The men had become good friends since their initial meeting back when Tyber was helping Zanita go after Xavier LaLeche. Both were outlaws in their own way, and they loved Harleys. For men, this was a basis for a blood-brother friendship.
Gregor glanced over at Mills, his startling green eyes flashing with ill-concealed humor. "Why, if it isn't Miss Priss."
It was obvious that Mills was fuming. Zanita had to admit that when Mills fumed, she did look kind of… prissy.
"Why, if it isn't the modern-day answer to the village idiot," Mills shot back.
Tyber gave the thumbs up on that one to Mills.
"Mills, Mills, Mills. Can't believe you absconded with my kid again. What are we going to do with you?" Gregor shook his head and made low clucking sounds with his tongue.
Mills threw him a venomous look.
"You know very well that you left him at my shop. Don't even try and deny it. One of my girls saw your motorcycle turn the corner." Mills didn't think it necessary to add the girl's description of Gregor. Something about him being a real babe… She exhaled noisily. "Why you two persist in tormenting me, I'll never know."
Cody's lower lip jutted out as if on cue. "You don't like me, Mills?"
Mills was instantly contrite. She adored Cody, but that was beside the point. "Of course I like you, Cody! This has nothing to do with whether or not I like you."
"What exactly does it have to do with?" Gregor leaned against the door frame and purposely baited Zanita's friend.
Zanita snickered. Mills's family roots went back to pre-revolutionary days. She was not going to be flustered by one tall, gorgeous, green-eyed man.
Zanita was not disappointed. Mills put her hands on her hips and stared the miscreant down. "I am not talking to you. The only thing you've ever done in your life worth anything as far as I can see was producing this boy!"
"Really." Gregor bent closer over the porch railing, resting his chin on his arm. He smiled wickedly up at her. "That's good, because I can make a bunch more just like him." He gave her a "wanna see?" expression.
Mills shared a disgusted look with Zanita and stormed past him, heading to her car.
Gregor and Cody watched her every move until she was out of sight, far down the drive; then as one they turned and gave each other the high five.
"Why do you torment her like this, Gregor?" Zanita was smiling.
"Because she's tormentable." He grinned back at her, gave Tyber a half wave, took his son, and left.
Tyber closed the front door. "You know, it would make things a lot easier on us if those two just got together."
"Not going to happen."
"Why not? They seem to be always sniffing around each other."
Zanita grinned. "Did you say sniffing or snipping?
"Gregor is sniffing, Mills is snipping."
Tyber shrugged as they went back into the parlor. "Yep. They are complete opposites."
Zanita gave him an incredulous look. "Well, so are we."
"What are you talking about? We are exactly alike."
Zanita's mouth dropped open. "How can you say that? We are nothing alike!"
Tyber sprawled across the couch and pretended to focus on the B movie in front of him. A mad scientist—probably a physicist—was attempting to befriend an alien that had the improbable appearance of a set of false teeth with little fluttering wings attached to it. Zanita was already entranced, glued to the set, agog.
"What kind of movies do you like?" he purred.