Authors: Lori Brighton
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Romance, #Contemporary, #Paranormal, #Vampires, #Angels, #Ghosts
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This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademark status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.
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Other Books by Lori Brighton
The Hunter Series:
The Ghost Hunter (Book 1)
The Demon Hunter (Coming December 2011!)
The Wild Series:
Wild Heart (Book 1)
Wild Desire (Book 2)
Wild Passion (Short Story, Book 3)
The Night Series:
A Night of Secrets (Book 1)
A Night of Redemption (Coming Soon!)
The Seduction Series:
To Seduce an Earl (Book 1)
Young Adult Books:
The Mind Readers (Book 1)
The Ghost Hunter
Considering the place was at least three hundred years old, she supposed it could have been worse. Then again, it could have been better… much, much better.
Hell, who was she kidding; not even Frankenstein would feel at home in this pub of horrors. Ashley slipped her sunglasses atop her head, thinking perhaps the lenses were smudged and affecting her vision. But no, fingerprints weren’t at fault.
“Needs a bit of work, but it’s got lots of hidden potential.”
Ashley slid the estate agent a disbelieving glance. Amongst a pile of stone and vegetation that had once proclaimed to be a front garden, the woman posed in her navy pencil skirt and jacket, a red smile pasted across her porcelain face, her perfection mocking Ashley. Not a hair out of place, not a piece of lint on her outfit and she could, under the direst of circumstances, spin a positive. Ashley had the sudden urge to start clapping.
Meanwhile she looked like she’d slept in her jeans and sweat shirt, which was fitting, since she had. Not exactly glamorous, but hell, she’d been traveling all night and it was unusually chilly, or so she’d been told. Here she’d been hoping to at least have a warm shower before bed. She doubted the place had running water, perhaps not even an indoor bathroom. She’d be lucky if there was an outhouse in the back.
The agent sighed and weaved her way around patches of weeds growing thick between the slate patio. “Ashley, you seem like a nice woman, so I’m going to be honest. With the rules and regulations concerning historical buildings here in
and the fact that…well…this place is bloody immense, maybe you should consider selling it as is. There’s already been interest.”
The woman’s words made Ashley bristle, but at the same time caught her flagging attention. “Really? Someone’s interested?” She wasn’t sure which was more shocking, that someone wanted to buy the dump, or that a real estate agent was being honest.
“I have his number,” she tempted. “And he seems interested enough to pay top dollar. Just think what you could do with the money… a beach holiday, pay off bills, purchase a contemporary condo.”
Hesitantly Ashley returned her attention to the large, stone beast that had somehow claimed this idyllic spot of
. What had once been an impressive home on a beautiful green hill that overlooked the historic town below, now was a big, ugly baby. But then again, it was her big, ugly baby. As tempting as the offer was, she’d traveled here for a reason and that reason didn’t involve taking the first offer she could get and hightailing it to the
“Thanks Sandra, but I think I’ll stay… for now.”
Sandra looked downright disappointed, dollar signs, no doubt, disappearing before her eyes. “Right. Well, you just think on it for a bit and let me know if you want to sell. There’s a nice B&B in town with a tea room where you can get a bit of food because I doubt the stove works. You call me if you want the number for some help— roof,” She turned and looked back at the house, “walls, chimney…”
The list was endless and Ashley had to stop herself from interrupting with,
I get it already!
“Well then,” Sandra turned toward her with an overly bright smile that would make a Beauty Queen envious. “You certainly have your work cut out for you.”
Sheesh, it was just a house. Sandra acted like Ashley was thirteen, pregnant, and had just told her she was keeping the baby.
The agent fished in her purse and pulled out a card. “Call me if you need anything.”
Ashley shoved the card into the back pocket of her jeans and watched the agent pick her way toward her Saab. She slipped into her tiny, gray car and drove away, honking before she disappeared through the elms that lined the long drive.
Finally alone, the enormity of the situation weighed down on her. Silence settled heavy and watchful. Remnants of stone walls and fountains hinted at a former glory. But now, not even birds came to this deserted place hovering over the town.
The White Horse Pub and Inn
read the faded, wooden sign creaking above the arched door. Her Aunt wasn’t very original as she’d seen at least three other pubs called the same on the drive.
What the hell was she doing here? Chasing a ridiculous riddle. She’d given up everything because she couldn’t have a life until she had answers. But she wasn’t one for dwelling. She’d made her decision, time to live with the consequences.
She took in a deep breath, determined to study the beast with a fresh outlook but even rose-colored glasses didn’t help. From the corner of her eye, Ashley spotted something flash across the window in the south tower. She froze and searched the panes, refusing to believe she’d inherited
. Perhaps it’d been a glare on the glass? Yes, she’d go with that. She inhaled a shaky breath. No Heathcliff, no Cathy. Just a big, old and creaky pub.
Thunder rumbled across the sky like a great demon mocking her naïveté. She needed no further warning and scurried up the path, leaping over clumps of weeds until she reached the front steps. A large marble planter had fallen over, blocking the thick wooden door. The plants, brown skeletal remains, looked like they’d been attempting to escape across the stone stairs when they’d succumbed to death. She leaned across the planter and pushed the door wide. It groaned in protest.
a horror movie in the making,” she whispered.
With a little jump, she made it over the planter and through the doorway. Dust burst around her feet as she landed on the wooden floor. She coughed and waved aside the particles floating in the air.
In the dim light she could make out a staircase that curved up to a second story. The thick, medieval-like walls were covered with dark wainscoting. To the former owners benefit, someone had tried to combine that medieval austerity with a Victorian elegance. It was an odd mixture of time periods, like a decorator’s Frankenstein.
Although the foyer was empty, a large brass light hung from the ceiling, intact with frosty white globes. At the end of the stairway railing, a carved woman gave her a saucy smile while baring her wooden knockers for all to see. Wonderful, she couldn’t wait to wake up to that every morning.
Steeling herself, she peered into the closest door. The windows were covered with thick maroon drapes, giving the room a creepy red glow. Across the room, her reflection stared back through a dusty mirror that hung above a massive mahogany bar. She took a step closer, studying her reflection. Her dark hair contrasted with the paleness of her face. Nerves and a lack of sleep made her look even more washed out than normal.
“I know you meant well, Aunt Clare, but sheesh.”
Even though it hadn’t been a working pub in a long while, she knew Aunt Clare had been living here, so she thought at least it’d be decent. She was wrong. On the other hand, the antique tables and chairs stacked against the far wall were to die for and probably worth a small fortune if cleaned and repaired.
She moved through the large room, the sound of her footsteps echoing against the peeling papered walls. Besides the sound of floorboards creaking under her tennies, the house was silent, watchful.
Realization struck and she paused in midstride.
watchful. A familiar cold unease tickled the back of her neck like unseen fingers trailing over her skin. She hadn’t had the feeling in a long while but she remembered it all too well. How could she ever forget? Her gaze darted around the room, from shadowed corner to shadowed corner. Damn it…she should have known this would happen; after all, the place was ancient.
“Hullo,” a soft, childish voice called out.
Releasing a harsh, manic laugh, Ashley spun around. If only she could ignore that voice, but she knew that would be impossible. Why hadn’t she listened to her instincts?
From the hall, between the railings on the stairway, two large blue eyes peered back at her. It was a sweet-looking golden-haired moppet, but Ashley knew she was no angel.
“You shouldn’t be in here,” Ashley snapped.
The child giggled, an annoying giggle.
Taking in a deep, calming breath, she started toward the girl, determined to reason with the brat.
“Listen, you don’t belong here.”
The child stuck out her tongue, then raced down the stairs and behind a wall. A cold sweat broke out on Ashley’s forehead. She froze, waiting, listening for footsteps…anything to indicate where the child had gone. She heard nothing but her own frantic heartbeat.
She started to breathe again when something poked her in the back.
Ashley stumbled forward and spun around.
There was no one there.
Anger flared through her body. She’d worked too hard, gone through too much shit to let one little ghost frighten her away. She dug into her purse until she felt the cold glass of a small bottle.
Footsteps thudded up the stairs. Ashley turned, but not surprisingly the child was gone, the steps empty.
“I will find you,” Ashley called out, her voice echoing through the home.
Without hesitation, she bolted up the stairs. At the second floor, she paused and listened. Nothing. To the left and to the right, doors lined the dark hall. It’d take her forever to search the place, but she was determined.
Instinct thrummed under her skin, quiet but always there, telling her to turn left. Although it had been years since she’d listened to it, her sixth sense was never wrong. Ashley clenched her jaw and started down the long corridor. “Got you now, you little brat.”
The second floor was as bad as the first. Puke-yellow threadbare carpet reminded her of the seventies and barely softened the eerie creak of floorboards, but nothing could soften the erratic beat of her heart. Hell, she should have taken the offer and been on her way to the
Reaching the door, Ashley pulled the tiny cork from the bottle she held. She took in a deep breath and threw the door wide. “Ha! Caught you.”
Save for a bed and dresser, the room was empty.
The sound of giggling came from down the hall. She spun around. The child stood at the top of the steps where Ashley had been only moments before. Her chubby fist was pressed to her mouth as if trying to contain her laughter. She wasn’t trying very hard.
“Very funny,” Ashley muttered.
She started toward the child, her determination mounting with each step closer. The girl merely stood her ground, as if she didn’t fear her in the least. Hell, she probably didn’t.
Ashley clenched her fingers. “I don’t want you here.”
The child stuck out her tongue.
Heated ire washed through her. How she wanted to take those damn golden curls and wrap them around her scrawny neck. Only feet from the child, Ashley lifted her arm and pointed toward the door downstairs. “Go and I won’t hurt you.” Her voice came out as more of a plea than a demand.
The child crossed her arms over her chest, tilted her chin high and gave her a defiant look that other children would have envied.
“I’m serious,” Ashley insisted. “You’re not welcome. You’ll regret it if you don’t leave now.”
“I’m not afraid of you.”
With a vicious jerk, Ashley tossed the contents of the bottle toward the child. The liquid sprinkled harmlessly to the floor. The girl laughed again and sashayed down the steps, her long pink dress flaring out like a bell.
“Damn.” Ashley tossed the empty bottle to the hall runner. It clattered across the carpet before rolling to a stop against the wall. Stupid, useless bottle. She should have known holy water wouldn’t work. “Didn’t your mother ever teach you to listen to adults?”
The child stopped at the bottom of the steps, her golden brows drawn together in obvious confusion. “I don’t know.”
Ashley sighed. Just like that her anger evaporated. Of course she didn’t know. They never remembered. God, she needed something to drink, preferably alcohol.
“Fine,” Ashley said, tripping down the steps. “
leave.” She swept through the door and into the fading daylight, taking small comfort in the warm rays of the setting sun.
“I’m not leaving,” the girl warned from inside the house.
“Whatever. Stay. But I refuse to acknowledge you. I won’t look at you, I won’t talk to you. Nothing.” Eager to escape, she pressed her hands to the cold marble planter and climbed over. She knew this would happen, but had hoped for the best. Stupid woman that she was. Still, she had answers to find and she wasn’t leaving until she uncovered the truth.
“Why?” the child asked, standing on the threshold. In the light, her brilliance faded, making her a pale reflection of what she’d been. “Why won’t you look at me or talk to me?”
Ashley paused on the front stoop and looked directly into the child’s opaque eyes. “Because, you’re not alive.”