Authors: Lily Harper Hart
“I am going to kill her.” James’ face was a myriad of anger and frustration as he stared down at his phone.
“What’s wrong now?” Grady asked, moving in beside him. They were both double-checking the locked room while Finn ran the main floor. The room wouldn’t be in use for a few more days, but the Hardys were nothing if not diligent.
“They’re leaving the tour early,” James said. “They’re going to ride street cars instead.”
“Is that so bad?” Grady asked.
“Probably not. I just wish they’d pick one thing and settle on it. I liked the idea of them being with a big group. Now they’re going off on their own.”
“I don’t want to tell you your business,” Grady said. “You do know they can take care of themselves, though, right?”
“I do,” James said. “I just … if something ever happens to her … I won’t be able to take it.”
“Things have already happened to her,” Grady reminded him. “She came through them. She’s safe.”
“Are you telling me you’re not worried about Sophie?”
“Sophie is an adult,” Grady said. “If anyone can take care of herself, it’s Sophie. I think Sophie and Mandy could pretty much take on the whole world if they have to.”
“What about Emma?”
Grady shrugged. “Let’s not tell Finn about the change in plans until we’re done for the day,” he said. “Emma is a different story.”
“You’re probably right,” James said, sighing. “I really am going to tie her to my bed and lock her up one day. Just you wait.”
“Your sex games are none of my concern.”
long do you think we’ll have to wait?” Sophie asked, fanning herself – and Emma by extension – with the laminated map as they rested on benches in the shade.
“It says every half hour on the wall,” Mandy said, pointing. “I’m not sure if that’s accurate, though.”
“I hope it’s soon,” Sophie said. “This weather is just unbelievable.”
“I don’t mind it,” Emma said. “Once you’ve had your heat shut off in the middle of winter because you can’t pay the bill, you learn to love being warm.”
Sophie made a face. “You make me feel like a total ass sometimes.”
“I didn’t mean … .”
“It’s fine,” Sophie said. “You’ve just been through so much.”
“You have,” Mandy agreed. “The dark days are behind you, though. Your mother and father are behind bars, and your brother is getting out in a few months. You’re going to have a baby. You’re getting married. You’re going to move into a new apartment. Your life is great. That’s what you should focus on.”
“What are you going to do when your brother gets out?” Sophie asked.
“I don’t know,” Emma admitted. “I’ve been thinking about it. He’s going to need some help.”
Emma’s brother, Jeff, had been locked up in prison for armed robbery for five years. Since he’d been trying to provide for himself and Emma after being abandoned by their mother, the judge took pity on him and gave him a light sentence. Jeff’s reentry into society was still going to be tough.
“I’m sure we can help,” Mandy said. “I’ll talk to Judge MacIntosh. He knows some groups that will help Jeff find a job. We can also find a place for him to live.”
“How is he going to be able to afford that? I think he’s supposed to go to one of those halfway houses.”
“Those places are pits,” Sophie said. “We won’t let him go to one of those. I’m sure Peter can help find him a place to live. He’s got a bunch of safe houses if it comes to it. I’ll talk to him.”
Peter Marconi was Sophie’s foster father and a high-ranking face in the Detroit mob scene. Given his professional ties, the Hardy brothers had been reticent to get involved with him. After a few months, though, they realized Peter was a criminal with an interesting code of ethics. They didn’t want to be associated with his business, but they had utilized his help a time or two.
“Do you really think he would help?” Emma was hopeful.
“I’m sure he will,” Sophie said. “He says that he would have killed your father himself if he knew what he was doing.”
“That might have made things easier,” Emma said, averting her gaze. “For everyone.”
Mandy decided to change the subject. “I say we ride the streetcar for an hour and then go back to the hotel and shower. When the guys get back, we can all split up tonight – and I mean really split up.”
“I love you guys, but that sounds like a good idea,” Sophie said. “I think Grady and I are just going to order room service.”
“I could deal with that, too,” Emma said.
“That makes three of us,” Mandy said. “I’m actually hoping James’ surprise doesn’t involve leaving the hotel. Let’s just hope this streetcar shows up soon. I’m not big on sweating if I don’t have fun while I’m doing it.”
At that moment, a middle-aged couple approached the three women uncertainly. “Um, excuse me.” The man was the one who spoke. He had a fisherman’s hat on, and a worried expression on his face. “I don’t suppose you know where St. Andrew Street is, do you?”
“Not off the top of my head,” Sophie said. “I do have a map, though.” She unfolded the map and studied it. “Let’s see … um … here it is.”
The man leaned over Sophie’s shoulder and looked to where she was pointing. “That looks like it’s about two blocks away. Am I reading that right?”
Sophie nodded and pointed to the east. “It should be right down there.”
“Thank you so much,” the man said. “I would have kept going in the wrong direction if we hadn’t run into you.”
“We’re going to a haunted house,” his wife piped in. “It’s supposed to have real ghosts.”
“Oh, that sounds fun,” Sophie said.
“No, it doesn’t,” Emma muttered under her breath.
“Where did you hear about this house?” Mandy asked, intrigued.
“Someone at our hotel mentioned it,” the man said. “It’s supposed to be really scary. My wife loves horror movies, so I promised we could go.”
Mandy was also enamored with horror movies, and her blue eyes were sparkling when they shifted to Sophie.
“You want to see the haunted house, don’t you?”
“Just for a few minutes,” Mandy said.
“Fine,” Sophie said. “If it’s too much for Emma, though, you’re going in alone and we’ll wait outside for you.”
“Sold.” Mandy jumped to her feet and smiled at the couple. “We’ll walk with you. What are your names?”
no way I’m going in there,” Emma said, eyeing the three-story monstrosity of a house with trepidation. “There’s no way. I could get lost and never find my way out again.”
“It’s a tour,” Mandy said, pointing to the front door where the couple – Stanley and Iris – were paying for tickets. “If they can do it, you should be able to do it.”
Emma crossed her arms over her chest obstinately. “No way.”
“I’ll stay out here with her,” Sophie said. “You go on the tour. We’ll be fine. We have our bottles of water.”
On a normal day, Mandy would have been fine with the suggestion. The thought of James’ reaction to the idea was giving her pause. “Oh, never mind. Let’s just go back and wait for the streetcar.”
“I thought you wanted to see the ghosts,” Emma said.
“James will not like it if we split up,” Mandy said. “I’ve weighed how much I want to see the ghosts and compared it to how much I don’t want to get in a fight with my husband. The ghosts lose.”
Sophie sighed and cast a sidelong look in Emma’s direction. “Can’t you just go in for a few minutes? I’ll hold your hand so there’s no way you’ll get lost. Mandy really wants to see the house – and we’re here. I’m sure it won’t take more than a few minutes.”
Emma hated being the wet blanket, like she so often was. She definitely didn’t want to see any ghosts. She also didn’t want to ruin Mandy’s day. “Fine. If I get separated, though, I’m never trusting you two again.”
“We’ve got it,” Sophie said, clasping Emma’s hand in her own. “It’s just going to be a quick tour. We’ll let Mandy scare the bejeezus out of herself, and then we’ll be on our way.”
“Twenty minutes,” Emma warned.
“Twenty minutes,” Mandy agreed. She clapped her hands together excitedly. “This is going to be so much fun.”
you see where Mandy went?” Sophie asked.
After a brief scan of the first two floors, Emma was done. They’d lost Mandy within five minutes – despite her admonishment to stick close – and now they were loitering around the foyer waiting for her. “I saw her for exactly five seconds and then she was gone,” Emma said. “I’ve never seen anyone that excited to see ghosts.”
“If it’s any consolation, I don’t think there are really ghosts here,” Sophie said. “I think Mandy just wishes there were ghosts here.”
Emma studied the cobwebs in the corner doubtfully. “Besides a ghost, who would want to live here?”
Sophie snickered. Emma was a neat freak. She figured it had something to do with growing up in a world where she couldn’t control anything. “I’m betting no one actually lives here. The house is purely for business purposes.”
“We should find Mandy,” Emma said. “What if something has happened to her?”
“I’m sure she’s fine,” Sophie said. “She’s probably begging ghosts to talk to her.” Sophie furrowed her brow. “Stay right here – and I mean right here. I’m going to take a quick look around the first floor. I won’t go upstairs. If that doesn’t work, we’ll wait for her on the front sidewalk. Okay?”
Emma nodded. “James is going to be really mad.”
“Something tells me Mandy can handle James,” Sophie said. “And if she can’t, they’ll have a screaming match and then some wild make up sex. They’ll be fine. I’ll be right back.”
Once Sophie was gone, Emma scanned the foyer again. It was deliberately filthy, and that was something she just couldn’t understand. She’d grown up in filth. It wasn’t something she wanted to return to.
For lack of anything better to do, Emma ambled over to the display case on the front wall. The owners had assembled a multitude of newspaper clippings and old photographs – most of which were supposed to depict some sort of paranormal experience. In her head, Emma knew the photos were probably staged. In her heart, she was worried something bad had happened in this house. As someone who had grown up in her own version of horror, she had no idea why people would purposely seek it out. It was the one thing she didn’t understand about Mandy. She loved the woman more than life itself, but her morbid curiosity when it came to all things scary was enough to tip Emma over the edge.
“Did you get bored looking at the house?”
Emma shifted, smiling at Stanley when he joined her in the foyer. “It’s not really my thing,” she said. “How about you?”
“Iris loves it,” Stanley said. “I don’t really care for it. It’s only an hour out of my day, though. I can survive.”
“How long have you been married?” Emma asked, happy for some normal conversation.
“Twenty-five wonderful years,” Stanley said. “And two awful ones.”
Emma raised her eyebrows.
“It’s a long-running joke in our family,” Stanley said. “Sorry.”
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Emma said. “Everyone has special jokes.”
“I’m sure they do,” Stanley said. “Where did your friends go?”
“Mandy is lost upstairs, and Sophie is looking for her,” Emma said. “I hope they hurry up. I’m ready to go back to the hotel.”
“Where are you from?”
“Where in Michigan?”
Stanley’s questions shouldn’t have been cause enough to worry Emma, but something about the tone of his voice did just that. She studied the man’s face for a moment, his dark eyes boring into her soul like he was searching for something. “Grand Rapids.” She had no idea why she was lying. It just seemed like the right thing to do.
“I see,” Stanley said. “Have you been doing a lot of shopping? I’ll bet you have. You probably bought so much stuff you had to ship it home.”
“I’m not a big shopper,” Emma said. “I’ve only been to one store.”
“Oh, now, don’t be shy,” Stanley said. “You must have bought a few things. Did you ship some things home?” He grabbed her arm tightly. “You can tell me.”
Emma jerked her arm away. “I haven’t sent anything home. I … I should probably find my friends.”
Stanley stepped in front of her, blocking her path back into the house. “I need the chip,” he said.
Emma was confused. “What chip?”
Stanley gripped her arm tightly again. “Stop playing games with me right now,” he said. “I need that chip, and you’re going to give it to me. Don’t you even think about making a move. I’ll end you before you have a chance to take one step.”
He grabbed Emma’s shoulders and started to shake her. “You give me that chip!”
“Get your hands off of her.” Mandy picked up a dusty book from the side table and slapped Stanley across the back of his head with it. Hard.
“Oomph.” Stanley jerked forward, his grip on Emma’s arms loosening enough so she could take a step back.
Sophie moved up to Mandy’s side and shoved Stanley as far to the left as she could manage. Once she’d made some room, she gestured for Emma to move forward. The model was shaky but resilient as she joined her friends.
“What happened?” Sophie asked, giving Emma a quick hug.
“I don’t know,” Emma said, tears pooling in her eyes. “He was fine. We were talking about the house. Then, all of a sudden, he freaked out and asked me where the chip was?”
“I don’t know,” Emma said. “It didn’t make any sense.”
Mandy was still brandishing the book over Stanley, who was leaning against the wall with a hateful expression on his face. “What chip are you looking for?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Stanley said. “She’s making things up.”
“She doesn’t make things up,” Mandy said. “Try again. Did you find us by accident, or were you watching us?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Iris walked into the room, her eyes wide as they bounced from person to person. “What happened?”
“Your husband attacked Emma,” Mandy said. “I was just asking him why. He wanted to know about some chip. Do you know what he’s talking about?”
“I’m so sorry,” Iris said, wringing her hands. “He doesn’t mean to be this way. He just can’t help himself.”
“What way?” Sophie asked.
“It’s … he has early onset Alzheimer’s,” Iris said. “He forgets things. He forgets where he is. He worked in military intelligence for years. Sometimes he just loses himself. This was supposed to be our last vacation before … well … before we couldn’t travel again.”
“Oh, that’s awful,” Emma said.
Mandy and Sophie exchanged a look. It was a convenient story. It explained everything. Neither one of them believed it, though.
“Maybe you shouldn’t leave him alone then,” Sophie suggested, tugging on Emma’s arm. “Come on. We’re leaving.”
Mandy followed them toward the door, only dropping the book on the table when she was a safe distance away. “If you know what’s good for you, we won’t see you again. I’ll hit him with more than a book if we do.”
we’re back at the hotel,” Sophie said, rubbing Emma’s shoulders. “Everything is okay.”
After leaving the haunted house, Mandy and Sophie tried to cheer Emma up with a streetcar ride. After an hour, though, they’d given up and returned to the hotel.
“Maybe he really was sick,” Emma said. “Maybe I overreacted.”
“Maybe,” Mandy said. “I don’t think so, though. I think … I think he was after something else.”
“I have no idea,” Mandy said. “Whatever it is, they’ve searched your room for it and they’ve tried to steal your purse for it.”
“Are you sure it’s not just a coincidence?”
“Once might be a coincidence,” Mandy conceded. “Three times, though? No, honey. That’s a pattern.”
“Mandy is right,” Sophie said. “We need to talk to the guys. They’ll know what to do. Right, Mandy?”
“Of course,” Mandy said. “Once James is done screaming at me, he’ll know exactly what to do. It should be fun.”
Sophie made a face. “It was an accident. We had no way of knowing.”
“Something tells me James isn’t going to see it that way,” Mandy said. “I’m kind of glad we’re all eating separately tonight. You guys shouldn’t have your night ruined by our big fight.”
“Just … don’t get worked up about it until we know it’s going to happen,” Sophie said.
A bellhop met the three women in the front lobby seconds after their entry. “Your husbands are waiting for you in the dining room.”
Mandy pursed her lips. “Oh, well good. We’re going to have an audience after all.”
Grady, and Finn were reclining at a table, beers in front of them, when their respective loves arrived.
“Hello, ladies,” Grady said, his tone pleasant and charming. “How was your day?”
Sophie forced a tight smile onto her face, but it didn’t last long. Emma immediately burst into tears and threw herself at Finn.
“What’s wrong?” Finn asked, rubbing her back. “Did her hormones take a swing?” He was a making a joke. Emma’s emotions had been a roller-coaster ride since she found out she was pregnant. Commercials made her cry, and just about everything made her jumpy. Finn was getting used to the routine. “You just need something to eat, sweetheart,” he said. “Your blood sugar is probably low.”
“I don’t think that’s it,” Sophie said, casting an apologetic look in Mandy’s direction. “We had a little … incident … this afternoon.”
Finn stiffened. “Define incident.”
“Well … .” Sophie sucked her cheeks in as she considered how to proceed. “Do you want to tell them, or should I?”
“Oh, I think you should,” Mandy said, sliding into the open chair next to James. “I’m not going to be able to finish the story with James’ hands wrapped around my neck.”
James narrowed his eyes. “What did you do?”
“Let Sophie tell it,” Mandy said, sighing. “I’m going to order a drink. I just ask, if you’re going to yell and scream, can we please take it up to the room and not do it in public?”
“No promises,” James said. He turned to Sophie. “Tell me.”
Sophie did as asked, recounting their day from the beginning. When she got to the part about the haunted house, James was disgusted.
“You said you were going to ride streetcars. Isn’t that what you said?”
“She’s not done yet,” Mandy said.
Sophie continued the story. When she got to the part about getting separated from Mandy inside the house, James’ face was flushed with anger. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“I know you’re mad,” Mandy said. “I … .”
“Order your dinner,” James said. His tone was cold and stiff. “We’re all eating here tonight. So get comfortable, and order your dinner. Don’t say another word that isn’t about food. I just … order your dinner.”
Mandy’s blue eyes were glued to her plate, and when the waiter showed up, she ordered a generic entrée and then continued to avoid James’ pointed gaze.
“What do you think?” Grady asked once the waiter stepped away.
“It’s not good,” Finn said. “Someone clearly thinks Emma has something they want.”
“Do you have any idea what that is, Emma?” James asked. His anger wasn’t directed at her, and his voice was soft when he asked the question. He knew she’d been through the wringer, and he didn’t want to make things worse.
He was still debating what he was going to do with his wife when they were alone.
“I don’t know,” Emma said. “He kept asking if I had bought anything. He wanted to know if I shipped anything home. It was weird.”
“Have you bought anything?”
“Just the stuff we bought from that voodoo store,” Emma said. “You know the … sex stuff.” She lowered her voice at the end.
James fought the mad urge to laugh when she did it. “I’m familiar with the sex stuff,” James said. “We have three bags of it up in our room.” He glared at Mandy. “Not that we’ll be using it any time soon.”
Mandy remained morose and refused to make eye contact.
“You said he mentioned a chip,” Grady said. “Maybe he really is suffering from Alzheimer’s? Who walks around with computer chips? Maybe he was confused by something that happened a long time ago.”
“I think that’s too many coincidences,” Sophie said. “Think about it. It was Finn and Emma’s room that was invaded. It was Emma’s purse that was stolen. It was Emma that Stanley isolated in the house. One of those things could be a coincidence. Maybe two of those things. Three of those things? No way.”
“She’s right,” Finn said. “Maybe … maybe I should get Emma out of town.”
“No,” James said immediately.
“I know we have a job to do,” Finn said. “Emma is more important than the job.”
“I’m not disagreeing with you,” James said. “The problem is, if I send you home, then I’m going to have to send for Jake to come here. What if someone follows you up there? You’ll be all alone without backup.”
“Oh,” Finn said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I hadn’t thought about that.”
“She’s safer here,” James said. “We’ll keep them in the hotel while we’re at work. No one will be able to get near them.”
Mandy opened her mouth to argue and then snapped it shut. James didn’t miss her reaction, but he wasn’t ready to comment on it either.
“We can’t keep them in the hotel for the rest of the week,” Grady said. “It’s not fair to them.”
“I understand that,” James said. “Until I can figure something else out, though, I don’t see another choice.”
“I’m fine with staying at the hotel,” Emma said, shuddering. “I don’t want to go out there again. People are crazy.”
“It’s my fault,” Mandy said. “We should have stayed on the tour.”
“Yes, you should have,” James snapped.
“That was my fault,” Emma protested. “I didn’t want to go to a second cemetery. Mandy and Sophie agreed to break off from the group because of me. You shouldn’t be mad at her.”
James ran his tongue over his teeth. “Did you also insist on going to a haunted house?”
Emma balked. “I … yes.”
“Don’t lie for her,” James said. “You have no interest in a haunted house. She’s the one who wanted to see the haunted house. Just … don’t.”
“That was my fault,” Mandy said. “It was all my fault. Don’t be mad at anyone else.”
“Oh, don’t worry,” James said. “I’m mad enough at you to fill the rest of the week.”
“James,” Grady said, his voice low. “I think she’s miserable. You don’t have to keep piling it on her.”
“Don’t tell me how to handle my marriage,” James said.
“Fine,” Grady said. “Just … look at her.”
James risked a glance at Mandy. She did look tortured. For some reason, that was little consolation. “Once we eat dinner, I suggest everyone go upstairs and lock themselves down for the night. I think we all need some time to decompress. Agreed?”
Finn nodded. “I have no inclination to leave this place.”
“Me either,” Grady said.
James didn’t bother asking Mandy how she felt. “Great. Let’s eat and … get some sleep.”