Authors: J. D. Winters
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the writer’s imagination or have been used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, actual events, locales, or organizations is entirely coincidental. All rights are reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author.
Copyright © 2015 Helen Conrad
Cover Copyright © 2015 DoorKnock Publishing
Cover images from Shutterstock.com
First Edition December, 2015 published by DoorKnock Publishing
A Ghost In Time
A Destiny Bay Cozy Mystery
By J.D. Winters
Table of Contents
Okay. Fun and games were all well and good, but this was getting ridiculous. Someone was following me and I was pretty sure it wasn’t a friend just playing a joke.
How did I know? Easy. I heard footsteps behind me and every time I turned, there was no one there. Besides, I was getting that creepy feeling you get when something eerie is happening behind you and your hair starts to rise on the back of your head and shivers go down your spine and your heart lurches in your chest and you want to run for the nearest open door. I was ready to jump out of my skin.
To make matters worse, it was a cold February evening and getting dark. A heavy wet fog was rolling in off the ocean and I still had a good three or four blocks to go before I would get back to my car in Mad for Mocha’s parking lot.
At least there I would see other people. For some reason, Bay Watch Drive was empty tonight and all the stores seemed to have closed early. There was no one around. It was like everyone knew life was going to turn into a spooky movie but me. And here I was, being stalked.
I tried to fight off this paranoid feeling. After all, why would anyone be following me? It was true I’d found myself tangled up in murder investigations twice since I’d moved here, about two month ago. But those were all over now. Why me?
A mugger? Someone lusting after my pitifully empty wallet? It didn’t seem likely. North Destiny Bay was practically a crime-free zone if you didn’t count murders.
There! I heard it again. This was too much. Outrage swept through me like wildfire and I swung around, my hands on my hips, and called out, “Okay you jerk, what do you want? Why are you following me?”
I waited, heart pounding in my chest. I stared into the fog, probing the shadows between Bert’s Exotic Meat Market, featuring Prime Ostrich filets, and Daisy’s ‘Dorable Dollhouse Depot, advertising new miniature furniture from Portugal. There was a gap there, a sizeable slot between the buildings. That was where the stalker was. I was sure of it.
Heart beating wildly, I took two quick steps and looked down the little alley, ready to scream if needed. But no--nothing. No one. Only wisps of fog and traces of graffiti. Not even a dog or a cat that I could blame the nuisance on.
Was I going nuts? Delusional? A feeling close to despair surged in me. Why did I seem to be making so many wrong moves lately? If I could just have one success, one moment of triumph…
Oh well. Might as well wish for the moon on a string.
I started walking again, past the barbershop. The lights were on but I didn’t see anyone inside. I glanced back over my shoulder. Nothing. But then I heard it again and I whirled. Still nothing.
Okay, enough with this. Maybe what I was hearing was the echo of my own steps. I wasn’t going to turn again.
Steady as she goes
Still four more blocks away. What a genius idea that had been, to walk from my friend Jill’s coffee bar to the library—only to find it closed. Now I was walking back and this felt like an old-fashioned Twilight Zone episode. There weren’t even any cars passing on the street.
The people were gone!
Well, not completely. I could see that Karl MacKenzie’s dance studio on the second floor over the candy shop was lit up. Shadows moved against the windows and strains of Strauss wafted down. Some fan of Dancing with the Stars was learning how to do a Viennese Waltz.
Civilization—or remnants thereof! Real people. What would they think if I ran up the steps to the dance studio and asked if I could cling to them for comfort? Or maybe for an escort back to Jill’s coffee bar where my car sat waiting? They’d think I was nuts. And maybe I was.
Funny though—as I got closer I could hear that all was not well in ballroom dancing land. A male voice was shouting and a female voice was answering in a nasty, mocking tone. Maybe it’d be better not go up to visit them after all.
But wait! Headlights. A car was finally coming down the street toward me. I stopped and waited, trying to see the driver through the fog. It was a police cruiser. And yes! From what I could make out, I was pretty sure that was Lieutenant Roy McKnight at the wheel.
I waved, thinking he would pull over. But he just kept going.
“Hey!” I called out. Then, “What?”, with my hands back on my hips. He didn’t stop. He made no sign that he’d seen me at all. In a moment, he was gone, his red taillights swallowed up by the mist.
I stood there looking after him, hardly believing my eyes. Was I invisible?
And then it came to me. What if I was? What if that was all part of this weird, scary evening? Hey, it happened on Twilight Zone. What if…?
No, now I was getting really silly. I shrugged off the questions and reached for my cell phone. If Roy wouldn’t respond to a wave from a frightened civilian in need, maybe he would answer a phone call.
Nope. No response.
As I went back to walking, I looked around the empty street and felt very much alone. The fog seemed to muffle everything, colors, lights, even sound. It was definitely an eerie atmosphere. Anything could come at me under the blanket of the fog and I wouldn’t know it until it was too late. At least I’d worn my dark blue velveteen jeans and my fuzzy white Ralph Lauren sweater, so I wasn’t really cold. Just three more blocks.
And then suddenly, I realized Dante was walking beside me and relief flooded my entire body. It was as though my blood had started flowing again after a very scary interlude.
“Where’ve you been?” I said. “You usually show up a lot earlier at times like these.”
He didn’t answer. He hardly ever does. But he gave me a sly, sideways smile that made me grin back at him. He was so handsome in his hapa-haole-looking way. I was happy now, happy he was here, happy he existed at all. He was just a ghost, but he was obviously more reliable than the flesh and blood men in my life.
My cell buzzed. I pulled it out. Roy was returning my call.
I felt a sharp pang of regret. I’d told myself I was not going to get involved with this man, and yet here I was, asking for his help. I was a hypocrite—and the one who couldn’t seem to let go, wasn’t I?
We’d had a lot of casual fun around Christmas, gone out a few times. Then he’d gone to Palm Springs for some sort of law enforcement conference. It lasted a week and when he got back, he didn’t call me. I didn’t call him either, and I decided that was a pretty good indication of where we were—nowhere. And that was okay.
He appealed to me. I obviously appealed to him, too. But we didn’t really know much of anything about each other. There wasn’t much there but animal magnetism. I think we’d both been down that road before and knew the pitfalls. That kind of attraction can rage through your system like a fever and leave you wrung out and sad and wishing you had a brain that could overrule your impulses once in awhile.
It was just too chancy to risk what a relationship with him could drag along with it. I’d been there, and very recently—and had the scars to prove it. I didn’t need those complications in my life. I was looking for peace and a place I could belong to, feel a part of--not for the danger of exciting entanglements.
But I was the one who’d opened this up again, wasn’t I? I clicked on the phone.
“You rang?” he said when I answered.
“That was then,” I said, still stung from his previous lack of noticing me. “That was when I thought I actually needed you.”
“You mean, five minutes ago?”
“Time does fly, doesn’t it?”
“So you don’t think you need me anymore?”
I glanced at Dante and I couldn’t help myself. I had to say it. “No. Actually someone else showed up. I think I’m going to be okay.”
“Good.” He coughed discretely. “Is that you I see walking alone down Bay Watch Street right now?”
I whirled. Sure enough, a car was coming from behind me, and as it got closer, I could see that it was Roy in his cruiser again. He pulled up next to me and got out, coming around the car to face me. He looked around.
“Where is this other person?”
I smiled and said, “You can’t see him,” because that was actually the truth.
His eyes narrowed and he stared at me. “Okay, what’s the deal?”
“Nothing. Never mind. You wouldn’t get it anyway.” I knew I was being childish, still punishing the poor guy because he’d driven right past me when I was scared of the mist. I made a face and vowed to stop being a brat, right now.
He was looking down at me as though he thought I was vaguely attractive, but certainly strange. “Listen, I’ve got a break for the next fifteen or so. Want to share a cup of hot chocolate at Mad for Mocha?”
I brightened, even knowing it was folly all the way. “Sure.”
When he gave me that crooked smile of his, the one that made you think he was aware of you in secret, sexy ways, I was suddenly reminded of how much I’d missed seeing it. A lightheaded feeling swept through me.
That almost made me back out. If I’d been smart, I would have. But it seemed like it was too late for that. The flutters in my belly should have been warning enough. Too bad I was beyond caring—for the moment.
“Get in,” he said, holding open the door to his car.
I looked around. Dante was gone. And there was still no sign of anyone actually following me.
“Thank you,” I told Roy as I settled in.
And we were off.
The coffee bar was warm and toasty and full of happy, talking coffee lovers with a great selection of oldies playing in the background. What a contrast to the street I’d been trudging down. We got a booth and sat across from each other. Jill came flitting over to give me a hug and to smile at Roy, but she didn’t linger—more because she was so busy than because of any reticence on her part to get in the way of our little rendezvous. Oh no. If she’d had the time, she would have been right there with us the whole visit.
But thinking that just made me laugh a little. Jill and I had been roomies in college and we would forever be best friends. I loved her like a sister—the fact that I’d never met the only sister I actually had notwithstanding.
“So tell me just exactly what was going on that made you feel unsafe,” Roy said with a penetrating look deep into my eyes, once we’d picked up our warm mocha drinks.
I wrapped my cold hands around my cup and leaned toward him, enjoying the lean look of his body inside that right-off-the-rack suit. “Didn’t you notice? Bay Watch Drive is the main street of downtown and it was empty. No people at all.”
“So?” His gaze swept over me.
I blinked, a little unsettled by that look of his. There was something enigmatic about it—like he knew things about me I didn’t realize yet. Funny—there was always a sense of possibilities between us, a sort of electricity that tantalized our relationship, and yet, we’d never really acted on it. Would we ever? The thought made my pulse beat a little faster, but I was hoping I could fight that back.