The Ghost and the Graveyard

Chapter 5


I should move. I navigated to a real estate website and searched on Carlton City properties. A few apartments had potential. I couldn't remotely afford any of them. With the ghost gone, I took a deep breath and forced myself to think clearly. Although terrifying, were ghosts a reason to give up free rent? He'd said I was safe here, as long as I stayed away from the attic and Rick. I'd already jiggled the handle on the third floor and been alone with Rick. Nothing terrible happened. Could it be that I was worried needlessly?
"This day brought to you by the letter "C" for caffeine," I said, filling my cup with ghost-made coffee. I sipped, then stared at the dark brown heaven in my cup. To my surprise, it was perfect. My ghost had done what no man in my life had ever accomplished. This wasn't the weak swill of a man who was trying to please me because he assumed that I, a simple female, enjoyed dark water. It wasn't the bitter sludge of a man who'd never made himself coffee before and added extra scoops because he wanted to keep me up all night. This was the brew of someone who knew how to make coffee: smooth, rich, and satisfying.
Mmmmmmm. I closed my eyes and swallowed. There was nothing better than a good cup of Joe in the morning. Maybe, if I asked nicely, my ghost would make it again tomorrow.
My ghost. Why was I calling him my ghost? Like he belonged to me just because he was in my house. I decided a long hot shower was in order to analyze that slip of the tongue.
Once I was under the spray, my mood lifted. For some reason, my meeting with the ghost had given me peace of mind. Prudence was terrifying and the thought of ghosts rattling around my attic, unsettling, but deep within me, I felt safe. Was this how psychics felt after their first encounter with the supernatural? Maybe I had a sixth sense about these souls. I was sure we could coexist and, oddly, their presence made me less apprehensive about the cemetery. Who knew a brush with the supernatural could actually calm my nerves?
Warm water flowed over my body, rinsing away the tension and worry of the morning. I caught myself thinking again about the ghost: those sad green eyes, sandy brown hair, the stubble that gave him an Indiana Jones sort of sexiness. I guess he didn't actually have a body, but his image was thin and muscular. As I stepped from the shower, I thought, if my house had to be haunted, I was glad my ghost looked like he belonged on the cover of GQ.
The jeans I pulled on were the kind you wear when you want to be comfortable, broken in with little holes in the knees and the seat. I planned to spend the day unpacking and removing the layer of dust that coated everything in my new home. I thought of cleaning as a necessary evil and vowed to treat myself to a bowl of ice cream if I could finish sprucing the main floor. As I started working my hair into a ponytail, the doorbell rang. I jogged down the stairs, stretching the elastic into place before checking the side window.
It was Rick-hoodoo Rick-in a black cotton button-down shirt, blue jeans, and black boots. Sexy. And dangerous. Skulls and candles aside, my ghost had clearly stated I should stay away from him. Clearly. Hell, after Rick's first night here, I had serious misgivings about being close to him again, anyway. I couldn't trust myself. And did I mention the human skulls? So then why was I turning the deadbolt? I wished I owned a Taser...and had already done my makeup. I opened the door.
"Good morning. I came by to check on you. How are you feeling today?" Rick asked.
I stepped out onto the porch, closing the door behind me. "Better."
"What exactly happened last night? You came to my door screaming and then passed out. I carried you home."
"Bad dream," I said. I wasn't sure how much I should share with Rick after what I saw the night before. He was into some weird stuff. I'm not the judgmental type, but the human skulls were a definite red flag. I mean, where did he get them? They weren't exactly handing them out at Red Grove Grocery and Pub.
"Are you sure it wasn't something more? Has anything unusual happened since you've been here?" He tilted his head toward the house.
I narrowed my eyes. What was going on here? My intuition waved a red flag and pulled out a magnifying glass courtesy of the Nancy Drew mysteries. Fact one: my ghost wanted me to stay away from Rick. Fact two: Rick sounded like he was digging for information about my ghost and had brought up the possibility of a haunting his first time here. Fact three: Rick had produced a bouquet of herbs capable of repelling ghosts. Which led me to theory one: as a cemetery caretaker Rick was dangerous to ghosts. Maybe he could banish them with a sprinkle of holy water or something.
"Not at all. Nothing unusual has happened," I lied. He looked at me skeptically, so I threw him a curveball. "Well, maybe seeing the weird stuff in your house last night."
"What weird stuff?"
"You know, the candles, the skulls..."
"Had you been drinking?"
He stood up and offered me his hand, his long, graceful fingers beckoning me. "Come, come with me." His gray eyes twinkled beneath thick lashes, the bright sky glowing behind his head like a halo. Inexplicably, an avalanche of attraction rumbled down my spinal cord. I allowed him to lead me down the porch steps, stomach fluttering, and didn't immediately withdraw my hand when we reached the bottom of the steps. My fingers were at home in his as if we'd been holding hands for decades instead of days. The suspicion I'd felt only moments before melted away, replaced with comfort, familiarity. My ghost's warning became something distant, a fading memory. What was this effect he had on me? We walked hand in hand all the way to his little stone cottage across the bridge.
The delicate tinkling of wind chimes welcomed us. Dozens of them dangled from the ceiling of the little cedar porch. Their sound reached me about the same time as the smell of wild herbs growing around his home. Strange, I hadn't noticed either last night. I must have been hysterical.
Rick opened the door to his place, and I followed him inside. The cottage was sparsely decorated. But what did I expect? The job of cemetery caretaker probably wasn't lucrative. A crocheted blanket on the couch looked like the kind grandmas everywhere made for their grandkids, and the dusty, cathode ray tube television belonged in a museum. A wood stump held up a lamp in the shape of a lantern with a fake candle inside supporting a decorative bulb. On the wall, across from the door was a crucifix-one small gold crucifix. No skulls, no candles, no devilish pictures. Had I created it all in my mind?
My head hurt again. I rubbed circles over my temples. In a heartbeat, Rick's hands were on my shoulders.
"Can I get you some water?" he whispered into my ear.
"Yes, please. No. Coffee. Do you have coffee?"
"Just made a pot." He walked toward the tiny kitchen that was separated from the main room by a counter. It seemed only big enough for one, so I stayed where I was.
"I'm sorry, Rick. I don't know what happened last night."
"You were frightened. Maybe you were still half asleep. "
"I was completely terrified."
"That explains it. You passed out at my door. Your nightmare must've continued when you lost consciousness."
That made sense, but something inside of me wouldn't let it go. The ghost was real, and this was too. I walked toward the only door to the rear of the house and pushed it open, sure there would be skulls and candles piled beyond the threshold. What I found was a king-sized bed, black silk sheets, and gauzy white window coverings that filtered the light into a soft glow. Was there anything about this guy that didn't scream sexy?
As if he could hear my thoughts, a mug of coffee appeared in front of me. Boy, was he smooth; I never even heard him leave the kitchen. He was close, so close his chest brushed my back. Wrapped around me holding the coffee, his inner arm created a warm tingle where it touched my shoulder.
He inhaled deeply and whispered into my ear, "Is there something you want to see in my bedroom?"
The caress of his breath on my neck made me shiver. I closed my eyes, and everything went quiet but the rhythm of my breath and the lub-dub of my heart. Everything in me wanted to turn, to move those last two inches and press my lips against this stranger's. With a shake of my head, I swallowed hard and took a step away.
"No." Yes, you liar! I turned my back to the bed and faced him.
The corners of his mouth sagged, and his head jerked backward.
I lifted the mug from his hand, brushing his fingers with mine in the process. My mouth went dry. "I mean, I hardly know you," I blurted.
"It didn't bother you the night before last, mi cielo."
I couldn't argue with the facts. I'd practically jumped him on my couch less than forty-eight hours ago, and now I was playing coy. "I don't usually..." I sighed. "I just think we shouldn't rush into anything. It wouldn't be right."
"So, get to know me. Have lunch with me today. I'll give you that tour of the cemetery I promised you, and then we can have a picnic lunch on Monk's Hill."
"Where's Monk's Hill?"
"Come with me this afternoon and I'll show you."
Our eyes locked. His were gray, not black. What had happened last night? What had I seen? "Deal," I said, my insides quivering at the thought.
"Meet back here at noon?"
"Looking forward to it," I said.
The corner of his mouth lifted into a lopsided grin, and something inside of me melted. I wanted to run my fingers over the cotton of his shirt and feel the contrast between the soft material and the hard muscles underneath. "It's a date."
I nodded, hyperaware that it was the second time I'd heard those words today.
"You haven't tried your coffee," he said, stepping closer.
I took a deep swig. The coffee itself was slightly bitter, but he'd added my favorite accouterments. "How did you know?" I asked.
"Know what?"
"This is exactly how I take my coffee-cream and sugar with a dash of cinnamon."
"Lucky, I guess. That's how I take mine too."
He was so close to me now, the only thing that kept us from touching was the coffee mug. It radiated a circle of heat that warmed my chest but had nothing to do with the burn working its way down my body under his intense stare. I swallowed another gulp and forced myself to blink to break the connection.
"Can I borrow this mug?" I asked. "I should probably get home. I haven't even unpacked yet."
"Of course. I'll get it back from you later."
"Great. I'll see you then." I backed toward the door.
"Oh, and Grateful," he said with a smile that made my heart skip a beat. "Wear your walking shoes."
Now, I am not the type of girl who usually dates two men at once, but since the ghost was dead, I didn't think he counted as a real date. I mean, he didn't have a body. I was sure this situation wasn't covered in Cosmo's dating guide. So, I felt no guilt whatsoever as I walked out of Rick's door.
I decided I'd keep an open mind about both dates-one with the ghost and one with the graveyard.