The ghost hunter a paran.., p.5
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       The Ghost Hunter, a Paranormal Romance (The Hunter Series), p.5

           Lori Brighton
 

  “Looks like it’s just me and you,” Ashley whispered.

  One last rumble of thunder broke outside but she could tell the storm was already fading, leaving as quickly as it had arrived.

  “Ashley,” someone called out.

  “Maggie?” Ashley tiptoed into the kitchen, following the sound of the ghost’s voice. The basement door was cracked. Was the kid playing a prank on her? Only one way to find out. Taking in a deep breath, she pulled the door wider. A narrow stone staircase weaved its way into the dark pit below.

  Ashley grasped onto the railing and wondered if she’d just opened the gateway to hell. It felt like she was walking into the stomach of a famished demon and she was about to become its dinner. Reaching above, she grappled for a light. When she felt the thin string, she tugged. A lone light bulb struggled for life. The weak glow did little to dispel the shadows.

  Then she heard the whimper. A pitiful sound that wrapped around her heart and squeezed. Maggie.

  “Hello?” Ashley called out.

  No answer.

  “Hello?” she said a little louder this time.

  The whimper sounded again.

  Ashley moved down another step and knelt low, peeking between the wooden railings. A soft glow pulsed in the far corner of the room. A glow that somehow seemed familiar. Ashley continued down the steps, her eyes trained on that glow. The closer she got, the more the shape began to transform until Margaret emerged. She was huddled there, her knees drawn to her chest, her head bent and her shoulders shaking. She looked so pathetic and pitiful that Ashley couldn’t help but be moved.

  “Maggie?”

  The child didn’t look up.

  Ashley knelt on the cold, damp floor a few feet from the ghost. She didn’t question her sudden need to comfort the child, merely reached out to pat Maggie’s shoulder, but her hand went through the ghostly body. Still, the child must have felt something, for she shifted.

  “Maggie,” she whispered. “What’s wrong?”

  As if just realizing Ashley was there, Maggie’s full lower lip began to quiver. Before Ashley could brace herself, the child hurled forward. Instinctively Ashley reached out, but her grip was useless. Maggie’s cold body burst through hers before landing on the floor behind her. Ashley spun around. Maggie curled into a tight ball and sobbed, the sound an eerie howl that raised the fine hairs on Ashley’s body.

  Helplessness washed over her. She could merely sit there, unable to comfort the child who so desperately needed to be comforted. She knew that feeling well. How many times had she cried herself to sleep at the hospital? But no one had come to comfort the crazy girl, no one.

  “Where’s Rachel?” Ashley asked. Maybe another ghost could help, offer comfort in a way Ashley couldn’t even began to understand.

  But Maggie didn’t respond, just lay there in a puddle of glowing pink and cried. Unable to help herself, Ashley reached out. Her hand hovered over the child’s golden locks, then finally she moved her fingers over her head. Although she felt only cold air, she tried to comfort her as best as she could. But she knew it wasn’t working. Damn it, where were the other ghosts?

  Helpless and frustrated, Ashley surged to her feet, scanning the dungeon. Ghosts couldn’t just disappear, could they? They must be here somewhere. Lightning flashed through the tiny windows at the top of the wall, briefly illuminating the area.

  A door appeared in the far corner of the room, highlighted by nature’s light. For one long moment Ashley merely stood there, too stunned to move. A door. An old door with metal hinges. But it wasn’t the door that held her captive, it was the lettering she’d seen engraved in the stone above the panel. A cold shiver of awareness spread through her body. A sixth sense that told her something was behind that door…something important.

  Maggie momentarily forgotten, Ashley moved closer, trying to make out the words carved into the stone. Latin, it seemed, although what it said, she hadn’t the slightest. She rested her hands on the door, the wood smooth with age. The panel was narrow with a large iron handle and some sort of metal emblem in the center. She took hold of that cold, clammy handle and pulled. The door didn’t even budge, as if cemented closed.

  She frowned and stepped back, looking for a clue. Something was there, behind that door…she could feel it. Sense it, almost like the soft shimmering coldness she felt when coming into contact with a ghost. She dropped her gaze and focused on that shiny emblem embedded into the wood. A cross, with a sword angled behind. She’d never seen anything like it.

  “How weird,” she whispered.

  Pulled by some desperate need, Ashley reached out and rested her fingertips on the cross. A shot of electricity burst up her arm, branching through her body. Suddenly, she felt air swooshing around her. Before she had time to prepare, her ass hit the ground with a thud that vibrated her vertebrate and brought her back into reality.

  “Are you all right?” Maggie’s soft voice reached out to her.

  Trembling, Ashley settled her palms on the gritty floor and pushed herself to her knees. Common sense told her to run, run far away from this place, but her body was still too stunned to move. “What the hell just happened?”

  Maggie shook her head, her eyes wide with fear. “You can’t go in there.”

  “Okay.” Ashley stood slowly, testing her legs. “Why?”

  Maggie didn’t answer, just lowered her head to her knees. How badly she wanted to shake her, to force the child to tell her something. Instead, Ashley took in a deep breath, trying to remain calm. “Maggie, what the hell is behind that door?”

  She began to whimper, her body starting to fade.

  Panicked, Ashley held up her hands, palms out in surrender. “Okay! We don’t need to talk about that. Just…” Frantically she tried to think of some way to trick the child out of information.

  “Maggie, why don’t you want to go to heaven? Why are you still here?”

  “I’m bad. Mama says I’m bad.” She squeezed up against the wall as if she feared retribution. A shiver of warning whispered through Ashley. She wanted to know, she had to know, yet she had the sinking feeling that she was getting in way over her head.

  “Maggie,” she said softly, kneeling. “Maggie, come on, honey. You need to tell me what’s wrong. I can’t help you if you don’t.”

  She sniffled. “You can’t help. No one can.”

  Frustrated, Ashley stood. “Does this have to do with the rumble? I keep feeling this rumble.” But Maggie wasn’t listening to her. Instead, she scooted back into her dark corner, that vacant look returning to her eyes.

  “Maggie.” She started to reach out, but realizing she could do nothing, dropped her hand. It was a horrible feeling. A feeling she knew well. That damn feeling of helplessness.

  “She felt the energy,” a deep, male voice said, the accent English and refined.

  Ashley stiffened, her heart jumping into her throat. For one brief moment she thought about pretending she hadn’t heard him. She thought about making her way up those stairs to her room and pretending she hadn’t heard the ghostly voice. Curiosity got the better of her. Slowly, she turned.

  He looked like a portrait of some long ago forgotten painting. An elegant Victorian Lord. Long and lean, he reeked of confidence. A lock of golden hair fell over brilliant blue eyes, eyes that studied her with a casual disinterest. Lord, he was gorgeous. It was only when she stepped closer that she realized the portrait was actually a ghostly man. Dear God, how many resided in this house?

  He sat on a wooden crate against the far wall. One long leg was drawn to his chest, the other resting at ease on the floor. He wore a simple but old-fashioned white shirt, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and trousers of a fine, black material.

  He quirked a blond brow and looked down that aquiline nose at her. With those brilliant blue eyes and that smug presence, he reminded her of some Nordic Viking Warlord. Damn, but he was too gorgeous to be dead.

  “Who are you?” she asked, her voice breathless.
<
br />   “Devon, but that doesn’t really matter.”

  “Okay, Devon.” She was tired. She had enough sense to know in the morning she might feel better, but at the moment she merely wanted to escape, no matter how attractive this new ghost was. Determined, she started toward the stairs, eager to go back to her room, boiler, ghosts and door be damned.

  “Aren’t you the least bit curious?” he asked.

  She paused at the steps, admitting to herself that she was curious, but hell, she didn’t need this arrogant ghost telling her how she felt. “Fine. What’s that rumble?” She turned to face him, not in the least surprised when she saw his smirk.

  “The trembles of the afterlife.”

  Of course she hadn’t a clue what he meant, she wasn’t even sure if she was supposed to be scared or curious. “Why would Maggie be afraid of the afterlife?”

  Devon shook his head, disappointed in her. “You don’t know much about the afterlife, do you?”

  She parted her lips to defend herself, but realized she had no defense. Even though she’d been seeing ghosts for as long as she could remember, she didn’t really know anything about them. But then good ole Mom had sort of forbid small talk with her opaque friends. When he continued to merely look at her with those smoldering eyes, she grew annoyed.

  “Well, are you going to tell me or just sit there brooding like some romance novel hero?”

  He sighed, as if she was bothering him, when he’d been the one to bring up the subject in the first place. “No ghost wants to go to the after life, my dear. Sort of defeats the purpose of…well, being a ghost.”

  A rumble shook the house once more. Caught off guard, she stumbled back, her ass hitting a step. Frantic, she reached out, grasping onto the railing.

  “Be careful.” He grinned, showing perfectly white teeth. Slowly he started to disappear like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland. “You never know what you’ll find hidden in the depths of this house.”

  Chapter 7

  “Mother of God,” Rose whispered, pausing in the driveway and crossing herself. “I haven’t been here in ten years and tis only gotten worse.”

  Cristian released a harsh chuckle. He’d thought the same thing when he’d arrived at the pub over a week ago. It was amazing what damage a couple decades could do. Buildings crumbled and fell, people died, yet he was still here. Forever here. His amusement faded. If everything went as planned here, perhaps he’d finally be able to leave this God forsaken life. No longer would he watch others suffer, fade, die, only to be left here alone.

  Even now, as the sun rose and splashed the white plastered building with light, he didn’t notice the ambience, only the broken window panes, the rock along the base of the home was crumbling, ivy was doing its best to crawl up the north side of the pub. This building was falling faster than most. “What did ye expect, with what the place is harboring?”

  Rose frowned harder, her double chin crushing together into one thick roll of fat. “What are ye getting me intae?” She shook her head, her gray curls bouncing and glared up at him, tsking.

  Cristian gave the old woman a wink. “Come now, Rose, it wouldn’t be a real brawl if ye weren’t involved.”

  She waddled her way toward the front door, her pink housecoat brushing her thick ankles. “Don’t try to charm me. I’m too bloody old fer yer tricks.”

  On the front stoop, they paused, their light mood darkening. “Ye know what to do?” Cristian asked. He couldn’t deny the shimmer of awareness that whispered through his body at the thought of seeing Ashley again. He cursed his body’s attraction and knew it would be best if he forced her to leave. He couldn’t concentrate under these conditions. And she didn’t deserve this life, not after what she’d already been through.

  “Of course, scare her away, although why yet want me tae, I’m not bloody sure. Her aunt and father wanted her here, ye ken that.”

  “Yeah, well, her aunt and father failed to explain that she’s as small as a wee mouse.” He raised his fist, letting his knuckles fall against the hard door. And they failed to describe her beauty, failed to warn that he might possibly fall for those large, sad eyes. Failed to mention that he would want to protect her with his very soul.

  “So, she’s wee and young, ye ken as well as I that what matters is what she can do.”

  Cristian frowned. That was just the problem. He wasn’t sure Ashley could do anything. She couldn’t even admit she saw spirits. He’d seen it in her eyes, that confused look he knew so well. He’d witnessed that look thousands of times in those who would easily fall. Humans he’d been unable to save. He couldn’t see her destroyed. He wouldn’t. She was too damn young. If she left and returned to the U.S., she might have a chance at a normal life. He could do this mission on his own. After hundreds of years, he’d learned to live on his own.

  “And if she doesn’t leave?” Rose asked, as if reading his mind.

  Cristian stared at the door, praying it wouldn’t open, praying that she’d given up and was already on her way back home. But he knew better, he could feel her energy even now and he craved her essence like a druggie. “Then I’ll have no choice but to use her. I only hope she can survive the abuse.”

  Soft footsteps sounded from behind the door. Cristian briefly closed his eye and cursed her presence, even as his body seemed to pulse with life at the thought of seeing her again. The door opened and Ashley appeared looking refreshingly innocent, refreshingly human. She’d tied a blue handkerchief around her head and was wearing a white t-shirt and shorts.

  The surprise in her eyes quickly gave way to annoyance. “I thought I said you weren’t welcome here.”

  “I’m here to help.” He stepped aside and nodded toward Rose. The old woman’s fierce eyes pinned Ashley to the spot. Warily, Ashley stared back.

  “What can I do for you?” Ashley plastered a smile to her face, but her eyes still flashed with annoyance, much to Cristian’s delight. Hell, there was something about getting the woman worked up that he thoroughly enjoyed. And there was so little he enjoyed lately.

  “Move aside.” Pushing past Ashley, Rose waddled into the house, taking with her the scent of dried lavender.

  “Are all Scottish people so rude?” Ashley hissed under her breath.

  Cristian merely smiled down at her, he couldn’t hide his amusement. He had the sudden, ridiculous urge to kiss her. His gaze dropped to those perfect lips…but it was obvious she wanted to do nothing more than hit him. Still, she might not admit it, but she was attracted to him. He could feel it, smell it in the warmth of her very being.

  But they weren’t alone and he couldn’t act upon his desires, as much as he wanted to. In the foyer, Rose strolled around the area, stirring dust into the air, her dark eyes taking in every detail. No doubt she could feel the energy coming from the basement. Even Ashley had to feel it, although she probably didn’t understand what it was.

  Ashley crossed her arms over her chest. “What do you want? What does Grandma Moses want?”

  “Merely to help.” She was close to him, so close he could see those blue flecks in her hazel eyes. So close her vanilla scent swirled tauntingly around him. His palms tingled as he resisted the urge to reach out to her.

  “Ha.” She glared up at him. “Like I’m going to believe that. Who is she?”

  “A witch.”

  That stunned her into silence…at least for a few moments. “You can’t be serious.” She studied his face, but she would read nothing in his expression, he’d had centuries to practice indifference.

  With a sigh of disgust, she glanced back at Rose. The old woman was walking through the house like she meant to stay. “Why’s she here?”

  Cristian leaned against the door jamb and crossed his arms over his broad chest, his dark blue t-shirt stretching over his back. “I heard a rumor in town that yer place is haunted. I don’t want ghosts when I move in.”

  She snapped her head toward him, a lock of dark hair falling softly against her face. Her fingers c
urled and he knew she had to force herself to keep from hitting him square in the jaw. “I don’t want your help. I don’t want you here. I thought I made myself perfectly clear.”

  But her eyes…hell, her eyes said something different. She wanted him, perhaps as much as he wanted her. That was the problem. The real reason she needed to leave. She might be fated to help him, but fates be damned. He couldn’t concentrate with the sexual tension sizzling in the air. If he couldn’t concentrate, he couldn’t protect her.

  “Loot’s ‘appening ‘ere,” Rose crooned in her thick, Scottish accent.

  Confusion swept over Ashley’s face. She slid him a glance and he realized she hadn’t a clue what Rose was saying. Christ, he’d wanted Rose to be authentic, but this was taking things a bit far.

  “’igh activity.”

  Ashley gave him another reluctant glance. He was going to have to interpret. He smiled, finding her confusion highly amusing and thoroughly enjoying the fact that she was dependant on him. “She said there’s a lot of supernatural activity.”

  “Aye.” The old woman nodded. “That’s whoot I said.” Rose moved toward the kitchen where they both knew the basement door was located. They’d been there many times before. They probably knew the place better than Ashley.

  “Shall we?” Cristian asked.

  “Do I have a choice?” She was acting angry, and perhaps she was, but Cristian could see the curiosity in her hazel gaze. Grinning, he moved into the foyer and started toward the kitchen, knowing Ashley followed. He could sense her, hell, he could even smell her.

  “And she is…”

  “Rose MacNought,” he supplied.

  Ashley elbowed her way by him. “Ms. MacNought…”

  Rose paused in the middle of the kitchen and turned her beady eyes toward Ashley. “You see them?”

  Apparently the old woman was going for direct. Ashley froze in midstep, the shock on her face was almost amusing. No way in hell the woman could deny her powers now.

 

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