The ghost hunter a paran.., p.10
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       The Ghost Hunter, a Paranormal Romance (The Hunter Series), p.10

           Lori Brighton

  He didn’t step back, didn’t lower his sword. “Practicing.”

  “For what? World War Three?”

  If only she knew the truth.

  She settled the tip of her finger on the flat end of the blade. Slowly, calmly, she pushed the sword away from her pale neck, a delicate neck.

  “Practicing for anything.” He finally lowered the blade completely, letting the tip rest above the ground, but his attention remained on her. “Ye should always be prepared.”

  She was silent for one long moment, studying his face, looking for only God knew what. “What do they mean?”

  “What mean?”

  She glanced down at the sword. “The Latin on the blade. What does it mean?”

  He didn’t look at the sword, didn’t look away from her as he replied. “All hope abandon ye who enter here.”

  She frowned. “That’s a rather depressing saying.”

  She felt sorry for him. He could see that in the softening of her eyes. His irritation flared. He didn’t want her to feel sorry for him. He was a fucking warrior. He wanted her to help him with his mission so he could get the hell off this earth. But mostly…he wanted her to want him…desperately, wickedly. As intensely as he wanted her.

  “Depressing,” he replied. “Yet true, in some instances.”

  And then she did the worst possible thing she could, she reached out, resting her warm fingers on his bare forearm, his skin burning with her touch, tingling all the way to his chest. How long had it been since someone had showed him compassion? She understood. She knew what it was like to be alone. Always alone.

  The words on the sword were meant as a reminder for him and his kind. A reminder of what could happen if you strayed from the path of good. But at the moment he didn’t give a damn. At the moment her compassion did him in. He was tired…so tired of living. So tired of people coming and going, the merest whispered memory of a dream. Humans gone so fast that it was easier not to befriend them, not to care.

  He was tired of not feeling.

  His grip relaxed and the sword fell to the ground with a clang, an unforgivable sin for a warrior of his rank. Cristian didn’t pause as he cupped the sides of Ashley’s face and pressed his mouth to hers. He merely wanted to touch her, to feel her, to breathe in the life and soul of her.

  Ashley relaxed into his body, her form warm and completely forgiving. Those soft breasts crushed to his hard chest; her heart beat strongly, a heart full of human possibilities. She didn’t push him away, thank god, but instead her hands slid seductively up to his shoulders as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pressed her lush body against his.

  She sighed against his lips, a sweet sound of approval. A sound that stirred his already overheated blood. With a growl low in his throat, Cristian pressed her up against the wall, his knee slipping between her thighs. The white nightgown she wore bunched to her hips with the movement, showing smooth, forbidden skin. How he wanted to touch her, every inch, to kiss every part of her body and taste her skin.

  She was trembling, he realized, but unsure if it was because of his touch or her previous nightmare. He should have been charming, seductive, but he couldn’t hold back. He needed her. His tongue slipped between her lips while his hands found her smooth thighs, his thumbs brushing up the inner skin. He couldn’t stop himself, couldn’t stop himself from tasting her, consuming her with a fierce desire. But they were supposed to work with each other, not screw each other.

  He moved fast, not wanting his rational mind to catch up with his body’s need. He knew in the back of his brain this was so wrong, yet he was determined to ignore his conscience. Her hands slid down his chest to his hips, further around to cup his arse. His cock turned to stone, pressed against his shorts, begging for release. As if sensing the extreme need of his body her nipples beaded. The thin material of her gown provided little barrier and hardened buds rubbed erotically against his bare chest.

  “Ashley,” his voice was husky with unspent desire. “I must have ye.”

  His fingers trailed further up her thighs until he found those soft curls. Her head rolled back. It was unfair of him to push his advantage now while she was in the throes of passion, yet he couldn’t seem to care. His finger slipped between her wet folds, so hot, so ready. She sucked in a sharp breath, her eyes opening, piercing his soul.

  “Kiss me,” she demanded, arching her body into him.

  And he did. He lowered his mouth to hers as his fingers played with her femininity… in, out, sliding into her tight sheath while his thumb rubbed that spot that would make her come. He felt her tremble, felt it all the way to his soul. She moaned as his tongue slipped into her mouth, mirroring the actions of his fingers. With his free hand he jerked down the strap of her nightgown, exposing her lush breast for his greedy gaze.

  “Cristian,” she whispered, almost a plea.

  He took the hard peak into his mouth, his tongue working her nipple as his fingers moved through her wet folds. Ashley cried out, arching her back and he knew she was close. Her reaction fed his soul. Lord, he needed her, like he needed air. Her body tightened around his fingers.

  “Yes,” he whispered. “How long I’ve wanted you. Dreamt about going to your room at night.”

  The words seemed to take her over the edge. With a cry, her body trembled around him. He savored the moment, needing all of her, wanting her trust. For one long moment she merely rested in his arms, her body soft and pliant, his body hard and eager. He didn’t want to stop, he wanted to take her completely…her body and soul. He placed his hands on her hips and pulled her closer, his erection nestled to her lower belly.

  She pressed her hands into his chest and turned her face away from him, as if embarrassed. “No, don’t. This is insane. I don’t even like you.”

  He smiled, nuzzling his face into her hair, breathing in the scent of warmth and vanilla. “Yes you do.” At the moment he’d sell his very soul just to be able to have her completely.

  She slipped under his arm and dashed toward the door. He felt her absence like a punch to the gut. She was walking backwards, shaking her head, looking at him as if he was the Antichrist.

  “No, Cristian. I don’t like you because I don’t trust you and I can’t possibly like someone I can’t trust.” She paused and smoothed down the skirt of her gown, attempting to regain control. “You will stay the month you asked for and then you will leave and you will never return. Do you understand?”

  The lust pounding through his veins was slowly replaced with heated ire. His fingers curled as he resisted the urge to go to her and show her exactly who was in charge. “Completely.”

  She tilted her chin high, feigning no fear, but it was there, in her eyes. She was scared. Scared of the emotion. “Good, I’m glad we have an understanding. Until then it would be best if we avoided each other.”

  She bolted through the door.

  Silence settled mockingly around him. With a growl, Cristian snatched up his sword and sliced it through the air.

  Avoiding each other was going to be awfully hard to do when they were fated to be together forever.

  Chapter 12

  Night was a bitch. A miserable time of endless darkness.

  Sleep, her tormentor who refused to cooperate.

  Ashley flopped onto her back, on her stomach, on her side, like a fish on dry land, until finally exhausted she’d ended up sprawled across the bed, staring blankly at the windows until the black night gave way to gray dawn, and finally brilliant orange rays from the sun began to pierce the lace curtains, splashing her bed and floor with color.

  Beyond the windows birds chirped a merry song that spoke of morning and a new day. But in the back of her numb mind, firmly implanted, was the memory of Cristian. Had she imagined him last night? So fierce…so frightening. Perhaps she had. Perhaps he’d been part of her nightmare. She could not deal with the reality of Cristian touching her. She pushed aside thoughts of the man and dredged up memories of the basement, clinging to the fear
and hoping to erase the desire that stirred in her gut.

  She’d been running, running from something down a long, dark tunnel. In that dream, Cristian had called to her, begging her to find him. Then the red fire had come. She squeezed her eyes shut, her body trembling with the mere memory.

  In the witching hours, she’d awoken with a scream clogging her throat and Cristian on her mind. And then he’d been there, so glorious, so amazing the way he’d moved like a sleek, muscled cat. And those tattoos, those odd wings on his back had been stunning and oddly beautiful. She’d never cared much for tattoos before, so why did those wings on his shoulder blades do odd things to her heart?

  Then, he’d pulled her close, he’d pushed aside her nightgown and slipped his fingers inside of her. She groaned, pressing her face into the pillow as heat seeped low in her belly, that awful ache springing to life once more. She’d been so close to giving herself completely to him and that had scared the hell out of her. Not with Cristian; she couldn’t do that with him. She had a feeling if they were fully intimate, she’d lose her heart, possibly her soul.

  “Bill’s gone,” Rachel’s panicked voice broke through her thoughts, the sudden sound startling in the early morning.

  Ashley bolted upright. The movement sent her overly sensitized senses spinning. The morning was a bit too early and she’d had too little sleep for confusing problems. She pressed her palms to her throbbing temples. “What are you talking about?”

  Devon appeared next to Rachel. “He’s disappeared.” She hadn’t imagined the ghost’s good looks. She flushed, realizing she wore only Pajamas.

  Bill…Bill…which one was he? A large ghost with a pipe flashed to mind. With a groan, Ashley stood and grabbed the blue hoodie thrown over the end of her footboard. Obviously they were worried, but why the hell were they coming to her when she’d made it perfectly clear she didn’t care about spirit squatters?

  “Gone,” Rachel added, wringing her ghostly hands together. “He’s gone. We looked everywhere.”

  “Outside?” Ashley shoved her arms through the fleece-lined sleeves and zipped the zipper, covering her silly little white nightgown. Why she’d put the thing on last night, she couldn’t quite explain. She was more of a t-shirt and sweats kind of girl.

  Rachel shook her head. “’Ee wouldn’t go outside.”

  Ashley sighed and stood, brushing the tangled mess of hair back from her face. “I’ll check outside.”

  “Ye don’t understand. ‘Ee wouldn’t go outside. We’re too afraid of the outside, of being away from our ‘ome,” Rachel insisted.

  Devon was looking dour, his handsome face pulled into a frown. Would he ever look bad, or would he be permanently frozen in youthful handsomeness? She tore her attention from the ghostly man and focused on Rachel. “But Maggie was outside.”

  Rachel rolled her eyes, obviously exasperated with Ashley’s lack of knowledge. “Because she doesn’t know any better. She’s merely a child.”

  A child, ha, as if. Ashley slipped her feet into her tennis shoes and started toward the door. “Couldn’t Bill just have … disappeared?”

  Rachel shook her head. “No. You can’t just disappear, you always go somewhere. Besides, as ghosts, we should be able to sense ‘im.”

  “You don’t sense him?” She took her lower lip between her teeth, hesitating.

  Rachel shook her head. Ashley glanced at Devon. His face was grim. He, too, shook his head, confirming what Rachel insisted.

  Ashley placed her hands on her hips, her mind spinning with possible solutions. “Okay. So we need an explanation. I mean he can’t just disappear…unless…unless…” She glanced at the two of them to see if they understood where she was going with this line of conversation.

  “’Ee’s not gone onto the other side,” Rachel said, her tone hard and insistent.

  So they did understand.

  Devon shook his head, his jaw stubbornly set. “He wouldn’t.”

  “What if he changed his mind?” she asked. Surely it could happen.

  Devon sighed. “The man owned a brothel. He forced young woman into prostitution. He feared the afterlife and his punishment more than any of us.”

  “Oh.” She found the revelation discerning, to say the least. Bill, poor Bill, had been a pimp? Her stomach churned in disgust. Ugh! She’d shared a house with the man or ghost…whatever the hell he was. “I thought you couldn’t remember your past.”

  Rachel laughed, a harsh ironic chuckle. “That’s the best part, love. We can remember what we did wrong.”

  But if every ghost feared the afterlife because of past sins…what had Devon and Rachel done? Rachel must have felt her interest because the ghostly woman looked away, but not before Ashley saw the flash of guilt in her opaque eyes. Wow, so ghosts felt shame?

  Ashley’s attention slid to Devon. His face was just as grim. At least he had the nerve to look her in the eyes, but he didn’t offer any indication of his crime. Maybe that was for the best. She liked Devon. She didn’t want to think of him as evil.

  Confused and unsure, she backed up toward the door. She didn’t care if Bill was gone. She didn’t care if he couldn’t go outside. She needed air. “I should…I’ll go outside and check the grounds.”

  Rachel shrugged, obviously thinking her search would be fruitless. Perhaps it would, but Ashley needed to get away, to catch her breath and untangle her confused emotions. She needed to escape the house, the ghosts and all the freaking negativity. With one last glance at Devon, she left the room. The house was silent. Cristian had either left or was still sleeping, thank God. How would she explain her search if he found her tiptoeing through the backyard and calling for a man who no longer existed in human form?

  She jogged down the steps and pushed the front door wide, welcoming the freedom. The morning air was refreshing and crisp against her skin. Already she felt better. Softly, she shut the door behind her and took in the front lawn. She’d yet to mow and the place remained an overgrown stereotypical haunted house. Even with all the problems it represented, she was growing to think of this eerie place as home. Then she saw the motorcycle, gleaming silver in her driveway, and her mood took a quick dive south.

  “Where are you Bill?” she called out softly.

  Bill didn’t respond.

  Ashley moved down the steps, the huge planter having been moved, apparently by Cristian. So a man was good for something after all…moving heavy objects. She hadn’t exactly searched the acreage that came with her pub and wasn’t sure where a ghost might hide. There was the shed toward the back of the house where she’d found the gardening tools.

  “Bill, where are you?” she called out softly, following a flagstone path around the side of the house.

  A sudden rustle of brush made her freeze. A ghost? A madman with a sword?

  A rabbit darted across the path. Ashley screeched like a five year old who’d seen her first spider. The bunny paused and glanced at her, twitching its impertinent nose.

  She wasn’t sure if she wanted to laugh or cry. “Yeah, yeah, you’re real freaking cute.”

  Taking in a deep breath, she continued to follow the path until it ended at the small, green metal shed in the backyard. She’d traveled halfway across the world alone, given up everything she knew and Peter Rabbit had just scared her into a near faint.

  Ironic how a furry Easter Bunny frightened her, yet she was able to deal with vanishing ghosts, nightmares of red fire in her basement, and a man who scared her as much as he fascinated her. She’d tried to keep thoughts of Cristian from her already muddled mind, but she couldn’t seem to keep the man’s image from invading. The way those tattered cargo shorts had hung low on his slim hips, the way his muscled chest had shone like carved marble in the moonlight…

  She pulled open the shed, the metal door releasing a high-pitched squeak that taunted her already frayed nerves. Cristian was a mystery. The feelings he produced within her were a mystery. And poor Bill’s whereabouts were certainly a mystery. Save for
a wooden table and those few gardening tools, the small building was empty. With a sigh, she closed the door and focused on the trees that lined the overgrown, shaded garden.

  “Oh Bill?” she called out. Ashley moved off the path and into the grass, dew soaking her tennies and chilling her feet.

  Hot and cold, much like the weather in England, Ashley wasn’t sure what to think of Cristian. What was he hiding? A gust of warm air shook the branches of the birches that lined the garden. The leaves moved, rattling a warning. From the corner of her eye, she caught sight of something jutting from the trees, something that didn’t quite belong. She stepped closer to the thicket that surrounded her back garden. Just barely visible, tucked away in the trees was what looked like a stone cottage. It had to be on her property, it was too close to be otherwise, but the agent hadn’t mentioned another building.

  Hesitating only a moment, she waded through the weeds. Burs clung to her nightgown and scratched her legs, but her curiosity was too strong to turn back. She found a dirt trail and breathless, quickly arrived on the stoop. A wooden door and two small windows represented the façade of the white stone cottage. Wrapping her fingers around the metal handle, she pulled. The wooden door opened effortlessly, as if the hinges had been well oiled. Inside was one large room. A bed with a brilliant white duvet dominated the center. Shocked, she stepped further inside. It didn’t smell musky or old, but she swore she could detect the fresh scent of lemon, as if someone had recently cleaned.

  “I don’t get it,” she whispered. “What the hell?”

  A shiver of unease raised the fine hairs on her body. She felt as if she was prying. Disturbed by the realization that someone had been sleeping or living in this cottage, she stepped back and shut the door. Why did it seem the more she uncovered, the more confused and concerned she became?

  She moved back through the woods, twigs snapping underfoot. “Where are you Bill?” she demanded more harshly this time. She was calling Sandra as soon as she found Bill. Someone was going to tell her why there was a cottage next to her pub.


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