Authors: Cassandra Chandler
If he can't defeat the ghosts of her past, she could become one of his.
The Summer Park Psychics
, Book 2
No one would guess Rachel Montgomery is plagued by a clairsentient talent she can never turn off. She can see and hear ghosts, and ever since she had to kill serial murderer Michael Angelo to save herself, it's only gotten worse.
The ghosts of all Michael's victims are making Rachel's life hell. Worse, every ghost in Summer Park wants her to help them find peace. Desperate to get away, she grasps for a lifelineâeven though the other end is held by a man she can never have.
Dr. Garrett Wolfstrom has always suspected something is different about Rachel, but when she starts hanging poppets in all his windows, he makes one last-ditch effort to get the woman he's always loved to open up to him.
Their mutual attraction reaches a flash point just as Rachel's ghosts catch up with her. If they can't find a way to trust each other with their hearts, the most dangerous ghost of all could find a way to settle the scoreâpermanently.
Warning: This book contains a sizzlingly sexy doctor, a psychic just coming into her power, and a passion hot enough to beat the summer heat.
For those who listen with their hearts.
Rachel hung from the chains that held her to the wall, her arms splayed like a dismal butterfly. Her wrists were searing points of agony, her knees throbbing from the cold cement beneath her. Holding still helped keep the pain at bay.
Nothing could help with the voices.
“The exhibit is opening tonight.”
The peculiar echo that accompanied the voices of the dead sent a chill down Rachel's spine that had little to do with her circumstance. This one she recognized as Veronica. Her voice was higher than the others'. Gentler.
“They won't know. All those people looking at our portraits, and they won't even know what they're seeing.”
“He'll kill her afterwards.”
Pragmatic, forceful. That would be Anna. Rachel wondered if any others were present. From the conversations she had overheard, half a dozen spirits haunted Michael's garage.
“I can't watch him kill another one.”
Veronica's voice rose in volume, the echo growing with her distress. She let out a long, high wail.
Keening was the worst sound Rachel had ever heard. She couldn't stop the shuddering sob that wracked her body. She only hoped the ghosts didn't figure out it was more from their conversation than anything else. They couldn't figure out that Rachel heard them. She hadn't given up hope yet. If she made it out of this alive, she didn't want the dead to know that she was clairsentient.
Nicole joined the conversation, her deep voice distinct from the other two.
“At least she won't suffer as long as we did.”
“We should be here to help her in case she doesn't cross over,”
“There's nothing we can do to help her.”
No one had a rejoinder for Nicole's statement. Finally, a moment of blessed silence.
Except for the thoughts churning through Rachel's mind. Garrett was always at the forefrontâwith his easy smile and gorgeous blue eyes. Garrett who always showed up whenever and wherever she needed him. This time, she was afraid he'd be too late.
She might never see him again. The idea tore at her heart, but at the same time, she wondered if he would be better off. No more need to rescue Rachel from her poor decisions or step in as her emergency date. No more mixed messages.
She did wish that she had kissed him. But she knew it wouldn't have ended there. If she had ever opened that door, he would've walked right through to meet her and been doomed to a lifetime of thisâliving with the dead. Knowing they were everywhere. Wondering every time her attention strayed if they were truly alone.
Keeping Garrett at arm's length had been a good choice. She only wished her judgment had been as sound with Michael.
There had been so many things she had explained away. The way he kept scaring Elsa by showing up at her house uninvited. The way he had talked about her friend, Dante.
Rachel had finally ended their relationship. Michael had seemed to take it well. When he'd asked her to sit for a portrait, she'd been too flattered to resist. That vanity might cost her everything.
She had ignored the voices, tuned out the whispers when she walked into Michael's houseâeven though she could tell there were so many of them. How could she have been so stupid?
Oh, right. Years of practice.
“I'm going to the gallery.”
Rachel jerked her arms, startled by Nicole's voice close by. Her wrists sent lightning strikes of pain along her arms, punishing her for her loss of control. She feared the consequences of her lapse would be greater than that momentary increase in suffering.
Several moments of tense silence followed.
“Did you see that?”
Veronica's voice. Right next to Rachel's ear.
“You don't think she can hear us, do you?”
Rachel closed her eyes and focused on the pain. It was an easy distraction, with her nerves clamoring for attention. If the ghosts decided to test her, to shout at her or try to startle her, she could ignore them. When their attempts failed to get a response, they would decide she couldn't hear them.
Please let them decide she couldn't hear.
Light struck her retinas, burning through her eyelids. That was new. Rachel flinched away. She couldn't help herself. It was so bright.
“Rachel? Rachel, it's Elsa.”
The voice was solidâno unearthly echo. And it was accompanied by touch. Soft, but firm.
Rachel opened her eyes. The bright lights made them burn, and she blinked several times, trying to bring the room into focus. The shelves and workbenches crowded into the garage filled her view. She turned her head and saw a small blonde woman next to her.
Elsa was kneeling on the floor at Rachel's side. How was that possible? Only one theory presented itself.
“Oh no. Did he get you too?” Michael had talked about Elsa after chaining Rachel to the wall. He had told her Elsa was his next “model”.
“No, sweetie. We're here to rescue you.”
“Oh thank God.” Rachel trembled as another sob escaped. She leaned against Elsa and looked around the room, her eyes finally adjusting. No one else was in view. “How are you going to get me loose?”
Dante's face appeared above the workbenches. The fluorescent lights washed out the red scars covering his right cheek and arcing across his forehead. “Do not be afraid. I will have you free presently.”
“Did you not recognize me with my new look?” His tone was playful, but Rachel could see the strain around his eyes, the tightness to his smile. He was wearing one of the new outfits that Rachel had bought for him. Dante's exhibit was opening tonight as well.
Rachel's heart seemed to freeze in her chest. Dante and Elsa were supposed to be starting a new life togetherâa life Rachel had helped him create. She had walked blithely into this nightmare, and now her friends were being dragged into it as well.
Metal clanked and rattled as Dante worked the winch that controlled her chains. Elsa helped support Rachel's arms as enough slack was let out for them to drop to her sides.
The winch was lined up so that Rachel could see Dante work. He was using the crowbar arm of a tire iron to try to pry loose the moorings that attached her chains to the floor. Michael always had a sick smile on his face when he let out slack or pulled them tighter, delighting in watching her suffer.
There was no way Dante could get her loose with that tool. Michael wore the key on his necklace. Rachel had asked about it when they'd just started dating. He'd said it was the key to his success. She shivered at the memory.
A pins-and-needles sensation in her arms let her know her circulation was returning. The burning would be nothing next to her wrists when more feeling returned there.
Rachel didn't care.
How many times was she going to let other people save her? How much longer could she play the fool before someone she loved was hurt trying to help?
She didn't know how they had found her, but Rachel couldn't let Elsa and Dante continue to endanger themselves. They needed to leave and call the police.
Rachel moaned. “That will take forever. Dante, you have to get Elsa out of here.”
Elsa pulled Rachel closer, stroking her hair. “It's okay, Rachel. I'm not leaving without you.”
“You don't understand. He wants you too.”
“Well, he can't have me. And he can't have you, either.”
Rachel had said such awful things to Elsa the last time they spoke. Yet here Elsa was, risking her life for Rachel. She gripped Elsa's arms, more sobs shaking her, listening to the rattle of the chains as Dante worked to get her free.
Elsa hugged Rachel tighter. “Danteâ¦”
“I know. I am hurrying.”
The voices began to whisper something, the echoes distorting their words, but not their urgency.
There was a brief pause, then Dante shouted, “Elsa, run!”
A sharp pop and the sound of breaking glass joined the sudden keening of the ghosts. Blood sprayed the shelves as Dante jerked back, then fell to his knees behind the workbenches, out of Rachel's sight. Elsa scrambled toward Dante as Michael stepped into view.
Rachel saw his gun first, then that horrible smile. Michael had them caught. He knew it. And he was enjoying every moment of their pain.
A hand appeared on top of one of the workbenches. Dante pulled himself up to stand, leaning on the heavy table. Rachel couldn't see his face. She knew that was a mercy. She could see the trail of blood still running down his neck, staining his shirt red.
Michael leveled the gun at Dante, stepping further into the garage. “This is more than I hoped for. I get Elsa hand-delivered, and the freak thrown in for free.”
When he laughed, Rachel heard a faint echo from the ghostsâa grieving moan.
“I think I've made an improvement on your face,” Michael said. “I can't believe that Jazz wanted me to share the opening with you. I'm a true artist. Not like you, with your boring little landscapes. How much are you willing to sacrifice for your art?”
Dante's voice was strained. “Art is about creation, not sacrifice.”
“There is no creation without sacrifice. I'm willing to give up what I love most. Over and over again. I imbue the canvas with their essence. It's how I immortalize them.”
“No, no, noâ¦”
A loud screech pierced Rachel's ears. She shook her head, but couldn't block out the sounds, no matter how hard she tried. Echoes, moans, sobs, prayers.
“And how many women have you immortalized?” Dante asked.
“How many paintings have I done?”
“Don't kill him!”
the voices shrieked.
Rachel heard a thud, then something skittered toward her beneath the workbenches. The light glinted off of Michael's gun. Another thud brought her attention back to where Michael had been.
Without thinking, Rachel picked up the gun as she stood. She walked between the benches, ignoring the pain searing through her wrists as the chains rattled along behind her.
Dante was on the ground again, pulling himself toward Elsa. Michael was on top of her, his hands around her throat.
“No, please no. Don't kill him!”
The voices were so distorted that Rachel couldn't tell who was speaking.
“She's going to free him!”
Michael was strangling Elsa, screaming at her as he did. “You think you can make a fool out of me? You're mine! You belong on my canvas. All of you!”
Elsa was fighting, but Michael was too strong.
“Don't kill him!”
“She'll set him free!”
Michael straightened his arms to avoid Elsa's fingernails as she clawed at his face, giving Rachel the opening she needed. She lifted the gun and pulled the trigger.
Red bloomed on his chest, spreading in a circle from the bullet hole. He looked down at the spot, then up to Rachel. His eyes were wide, full of surprise. Then he fell to the floor.
Rachel kept the gun trained on Michael's body. She wasn't sure if he was dead. Even with his eyes staring blankly at the room, it didn't feel as if he was dead.
“Run! Run! Run!”
The voices blurred together, growing fainter. Michael's presence remained strong.
Elsa was coughing, but that meant she could breathe. She rolled away from Michael's body as Rachel approached.
He needed to die. Why wouldn't he die? Rachel pulled the trigger again. And again and again. She kept pulling it even when all the rounds were spent.
She still felt him in the room.
Elsa stood and staggered toward Rachel. That wasn't right. Dante should be Elsa's main concern. But Elsa hugged Rachel instead, one hand sliding down her arm to the gun.
She let Elsa take it. Rachel didn't care. There was nothing more it could do to help them.
She wondered if it had really helped them at all.