Authors: Sally Berneathy
Copyright ©2016 Sally Berneathy.
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This is a work of pure fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Original cover art by Alicia Hope,
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This book is dedicated to the friends who saved it from the recycle bin more than once—my critique partners, Madonna Bock, Julie Mulhern, and Saranna DeWylde; my editor, Alfie Thompson; and my friend and beta reader, Kristi Behne.
Charley hovered next to Amanda at the table in the small Mexican restaurant in the Uptown area of Dallas, folded his arms, and scowled. “Four chairs? Just because I’m dead doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to a place at the table. Since
showed up, you don’t treat me with any respect.”
Amanda wanted to tell him he hadn’t deserved any respect even before Jake came into her life, but she didn’t. The mere fact that her deceased ex-husband was tagging along on their double date with Teresa and Ross meant the evening had only a slim chance of success. If she began talking to a ghost, that slim chance would drop immediately to zero.
Jake pulled out her chair and smiled, his dark eyes flashing with promises that could only happen if she got rid of Charley.
She returned the smile and sat. “Thank you.”
He touched her shoulder and sat in his own chair beside her.
“Teresa, I can’t believe you’re a part of this,” Charley said.
Across the table Ross Minatelli settled Teresa Landow into her seat. She gave Charley a brief glance then returned to gazing deeply into Ross’ eyes. It seemed to be their favorite activity.
Charley heaved a monumental ghostly sigh. “Traitors,” he mumbled then went to sit at the bar.
A moment of relief, but it wouldn’t last. When they were married and Charley was alive, he didn’t spend a lot of time with her. Now that he was dead, she couldn’t get rid of him. To be fair, it wasn’t entirely his fault. An invisible tether kept him within a few hundred feet of her. Only Teresa with her psychic powers had been able to detach him for a few blissful hours. Teresa had promised to keep a rein on Charley if Amanda agreed to this double date, but so far she’d been less than helpful.
Their waiter, clad in an improbable matador costume, appeared to take drink orders.
“I’ll have your Margarita Grande,” Amanda said. “With salt.”
And extra tequila. Lots of extra tequila.
Though there wasn’t enough tequila in the world to banish Charley. She should probably focus on remaining sober so she could deal with Hurricane Charley.
“I’ll have the same,” Teresa said.
“Sounds good,” Jake said, “since Ross is our designated driver.”
“Iced tea for me. I don’t need alcohol to get high. I just need this woman beside me.” Ross grinned at Teresa.
She tilted her head to one side, looked at him and fluttered her long lashes. Her sleek, dark hair slid along her shoulders, and her lips slanted into a happy smile. Teresa was a different person from the stressed woman charged with her husband’s murder that Amanda had met a month ago.
The waiter brought their drinks as well as a basket of chips and individual bowls of hot sauce.
Amanda sipped her drink, nibbled on chips, and studied the menu. Charley remained at the bar with his back turned to them. Maybe he’d stay there the rest of the evening.
Yeah, and maybe she’d win the lottery without buying a ticket. Same odds.
She reached for another chip at the same time as Jake. His hand touched hers and a tingle of electricity shot through her.
His expression told her the touch hadn’t been an accident. Briefly he wrapped his fingers around hers then returned his gaze to the menu. “What looks good?” he asked.
As if he could read her thoughts, Charley returned to their table. “It all looks good to a man who hasn’t been able to eat or drink in...” His lips twisted into a strange expression. He was trying to lie. “In almost...” He grimaced and sighed. “In six months. That may not sound like a long time, but you people don’t go more than a few hours without eating and drinking, and you don’t even offer me anything anymore.”
The last time Amanda and Teresa had come to this restaurant, they’d sat at a table outside, basking in the warm September evening. Teresa had made sure Charley had his own chair and had provided him with a margarita and a fajita which he’d claimed he could
. She had talked to him and made him feel included...
. Tonight they sat inside to avoid the chill of mid-October. The table’s four chairs were all occupied so there was no room for Charley, and Teresa’s attention was focused on Ross. Amanda could
feel sorry for Charley. Almost, but not quite.
Teresa winked at Charley. “I recommend the fajitas. Amanda and I came here with a dear friend, and we all had the fajitas. It was a great evening.”
Charley looked somewhat mollified at her reference to him as a friend and their great evening.
Ross laid down his menu and took Teresa’s hand. “I’ll have the fajitas and anything else you think I should have.”
Charley made a face. “What a stupid thing to say. Don’t you think he sounds stupid, Teresa?”
Teresa’s only response was a barely perceptible warning shake of her head.
Jake grinned. He was used to his buddy’s instant and fleeting romances. “I’m good with fajitas. How about you, Amanda?”
Charley left Teresa’s side and moved to the corner of the table between Jake and Amanda. “
How about you, Amanda
?” he mocked, leaning over to get in Jake’s face. “Yeah, Daggett, she likes fajitas. Want to know how I know? I was married to her, that’s how I know! I mean, I
married to her! And you have no right to be out here in public with
Amanda took another drink and gritted her teeth to keep from shouting at him. Charley had refused to sign the divorce papers in life. In his after life, he had a problem with the
till death do us part
element of the wedding vows.
She forced a smile. “Yes, Jake, fajitas sound great.”
Yes, Jake, fajitas sound great.
” Charley punched Jake in the nose. His fist went through and came out the back of Jake’s rumpled brown hair.
Jake blinked and shivered. “Did you just feel a cold wind come through here?”
“I did.” Teresa arched an eyebrow in Charley’s direction. “It felt like an evil spirit. We may need to do an exorcism.”
Charley glared at Teresa. “Oh, that’s right! Take his side. I thought you were my friend.”
Teresa gave him an easy smile. Amanda felt certain the expression was every bit as forced as hers had been, but Teresa was much better at fake smiles than she was. Teresa got a lot of practice at parties when she was married to a wealthy entrepreneur/con artist. “This is such a wonderful evening, being with
.” She lifted her margarita and looked around the table, her gaze lingering on Charley for a long moment, assuring him he was included. “Here’s to friends.”
Amanda lifted her glass then took a large gulp of her margarita. Charley was not her friend. In life he had not been her friend. In death he certainly wasn’t.
“Are you folks ready to order?” The waiter stood at Jake’s elbow.
“Everybody agreed on steak fajitas for four?” Ross asked.
Everyone except Charley nodded. “Nobody cares what I’d like.” He muttered a swear word then floated across the room and took an empty seat at a table with an older couple. “Hi, folks! Mind if I join you? Thank you, yes, I’d love a beer.”
They continued eating, blissfully unaware of his presence.
If he went away to sulk at regular intervals, perhaps they could get through the evening without a total disaster.
Jake handed both menus to the waiter then returned his attention to her. “How has your week been? Get any new motorcycles in for repair?”
“Well, a grungy looking guy who probably deals drugs in his spare time brought in a new BMW that has a tiny scratch, and an investment banker in a suit wants to have Vanson & Hines pipes added to his vintage Harley. How was your week? Find any new dead bodies?”
“Not even any old dead bodies,” Jake said. “It’s been a slow week for murders. We did nothing but eat doughnuts all week.”
“Hey, don’t forget that jay walker we hauled in and tortured for two days until he confessed.” Ross laid his hand over Teresa’s on the table top. “What about your week?”
She looked into his eyes as if torturing a jay walker was the sexiest thing she’d ever heard—or at least the man who claimed to have done it was the sexiest man she’d ever seen. “I talked to the spirit of a client’s great grandfather who told him where he’d buried the family jewels worth ten million dollars.”
Silence surrounded the table. Since Teresa actually did talk to spirits, her story could be true.
“Did you really?” Amanda asked.
An impish grin spread over Teresa’s face. “No! But I did contact a woman’s son who died of an overdose. He told his mother he’s happy and he’s not an addict anymore so that’s sort of worth ten million dollars. Right?” She looked at Ross defiantly, daring him to contradict her. There could be no doubt Ross was attracted to Teresa, but he didn’t seem entirely comfortable with her ability to talk to dead people.
“Yes,” Amanda agreed. “It is.” She leaned back and looked at Jake to see how he was taking the conversation. If he could deal with Teresa’s ability, perhaps he could understand about Charley. If he couldn’t, that didn’t bode well for the future of their relationship.
His expression was unreadable. She could no more tell what he thought about talking to dead people than she could tell what secrets he and Ross were keeping about dead bodies or the lack thereof.
She reached for another tortilla chip and again his hand touched hers, evoking a warm, tingling sensation.
“Hey! Don’t touch my wife!” Charley was back.
Amanda cringed and yanked her hand away.
“More chips and salsa.” Their waiter leaned over the table between Jake and Ross and placed a fresh basket of chips in the center then lifted a bowl of salsa from his tray.
Charley darted through the waiter. The man’s eyes widened and his hands shook at the burst of cold. Charley spun and repeated the process, targeting the arm that held the hot sauce.
The waiter gasped and jerked backward…and the bowl of salsa fell into Jake’s lap.
Amanda shot up from her chair. “I can’t believe you did that!”
The waiter’s face flamed bright red. “I’m so sorry.”
“I didn’t mean you!” Amanda felt her own face glowing.
Jake sponged his crotch with his napkin. “It’s okay. No problem.”
He was wrong. There was a problem all right, a problem about six feet tall and slightly translucent.
Charley stood behind Jake, his arms folded, a smug expression on his face.
“I’m so sorry,” the waiter repeated. “I will bring more napkins.”
Amanda flopped onto her chair and clenched her fists. As soon as she got home, she was going to do an Internet search for ways to kill a ghost. She looked at Teresa, hoping the only other person who could see Charley would have some plan for banishing him. Teresa widened her eyes and shrugged helplessly. Amanda widened her eyes back. Surely Teresa could at least come up with something to gag him for the evening. Teresa gave a slight shake of her head.
Somehow they made it through the meal. Amanda felt certain the fajitas were wonderful, but with Charley capering around and through them periodically, she had to force down her food. He passed his chilly hands through Jake’s beef. Jake looked surprised when the steaming steak strips stopped steaming but ate the cold meat without comment.
Amanda made a mental note of one more reason to punish Charley if she ever figured out how to do it.
Finally the meal was over. Much as she enjoyed spending time with Jake, Amanda was relieved. Now she only had to get through a movie which didn’t require conversation. Charley would do his best to ruin that part of the evening too, but surely it wouldn’t be as bad as dinner. Surely the horror had peaked and the evening couldn’t get any worse.
“Anybody up for sopapillas?” Jake asked.
“I can’t eat another bite,” Amanda said. That was certainly true. Her stomach was full of knots, knots that would do any sailor proud.
Ross turned to Teresa. For once she wasn’t looking at him. Her gaze was focused over his head. “He can’t hear you, but I can,” she said softly.
Amanda froze. Was Teresa talking to spirits in the middle of the restaurant, in the middle of the already disastrous evening?
“Who are you?” Teresa asked.
Apparently she was.
“I’ll tell him,” she said.
Ross and Jake both looked at her.
“I see him!” Charley said. “He’s looking at me. Hi! I’m Charley.”
Amanda peered at Charley dubiously. Even though he was a spirit, he was on such a low level of that realm, he hadn’t been able to see or interact with other spirits.
He couldn’t lie, but he could be mistaken. If he wasn’t lying, what did it mean? Was he moving up in the spirit world, getting ready to go into the light?
She took a second to check her feelings, to be sure she was ready for him to move on, that she wouldn’t miss him even a little bit.
Nope. She was totally ready for him to go.
Teresa looked at Charley for a long moment, then her gaze shifted back to the live people at the table. “Ross, your brother’s here with a message for you. He loves you and so do your parents, and then he said something about trust.” She spread her hands. “Trusting you?”