The Ghost and the Graveyard

Chapter 6


I Take The Tour
I finished unpacking my moving box and rummaged through my closet for something to wear. I decided to go with jeans, but I changed out of my comfy ones and into some that fell lower on the hip and were more form-fitting. Then I tossed on a black lace camisole. It showcased just enough cleavage to prove I put some effort into my appearance but with enough support and coverage to be appropriate for a first date.
As I finished my makeup, the phone rang, Michelle calling me back.
"I called as soon as I got your message. What's going on? You sounded frantic."
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Grateful, I'm between classes. Spill the beans!"
"My house is haunted."
Silence. I could hear Michelle breathing but nothing more. Then she broke into laughter. "Very funny. But really, if you want to joke with me, do it when I don't have school. Okay?"
"I'm serious. But, it's all right. Turns out he's a friendly ghost."
"Yeah, okay, hon. Joke's over. Gotta go." The call ended, and Michelle was gone.
Well, what did I expect? It wasn't exactly a believable story. I tossed the phone down on the dresser in frustration. The gadget left a trail as it slid across the dusty wood. Jeez, I desperately needed to clean in here.
With my finger, I wrote myself a note in the filth. Clean me. Good enough. I'd get to it later. Probably. Cleaning wasn't one of my strengths. Along with cooking, it hung out in the domestic skills section in the back of my brain, a heavily cobwebbed compartment I rarely used. As I scooped the phone back up, I checked the time. Almost noon, I skipped down the stairs and snatched the borrowed mug off the counter before dashing out the door and locking it behind me.
I met Rick at his cottage, holding out the mug like the ceramic could shield me from his sexiness. He gave me the killer half smile as he accepted it, then slipped his arm through a picnic basket waiting on the small table near the kitchen and opened the door for me.
"You made lunch?" I asked.
"Of course."
"Can you cook?"
"When you live alone as long as I have, you need skills." He smiled and held out his hand. I didn't hesitate this time. I slid my fingers into his and savored the resulting ache his touch elicited.
Rick led me across the street, the basket swinging from his elbow.
"You look like Red Riding Hood with that basket," I quipped.
He paused, turning toward me. His intense stare made my heartbeat quicken. In a deep whisper, he said, "When you look at me like that, I feel like the big, bad wolf."
Damn! I swallowed hard.
He continued to an iron gate that looked exactly like the one in my backyard. This was an entrance to the same cemetery. From the street, you couldn't see the headstones because of tall hedges and a series of maple trees framing the wide, gravel path within.
It dawned on me that this was where I'd first laid eyes on him, driving into town. A heap of fresh earth told me why he'd been digging; a new signpost to the left of the gate read Monk's Hill Cemetery: trespassers will be prosecuted.
"Do you get a lot of trespassers?"
"You would be surprised."
"What about the people who come to visit loved ones? How do they get in?"
"There are none. The youngest grave is over one hundred years old. No surviving relatives."
"So you maintain this place for no one?"
"It has historical significance, but to be honest, you're correct. It's been years since anyone else was here."
Weird. As we crossed the threshold of the gate, I felt both privileged and a little freaked out by the remoteness of it.
"Did you know there's a gate behind my house?" I asked.
"Yes. The only other one besides this one."
Releasing my hand, he retrieved a heavy key from his pocket and locked the gate behind us. "I wouldn't want you to get away, mi cielo," he said playfully, ignoring my question.
Mi cielo. There it was again. My sky. A warm feeling blossomed behind my breastbone at the pet name. Swoon-worthy. The smell of the outdoors rolled off him again, this time with a hint of fresh rain. My mind went blank.
"Are you wearing cologne?" I asked.
He lifted the corner of his mouth. "You like how I smell? This is a good start."
Captivated by his smile and the way his lips moved when he spoke, my head swam, maybe because all of my blood had rushed south. I stepped off the trail and almost walked into a headstone. When I realized what I'd done, I pulled up short of the faded stone marker.
"Watch your step," he said, steadying me with a hand that seemed to fill the space between my elbow and shoulder. "You're treading on Martha Whitacker."
"Oh!" I scurried back onto the path.
He laughed. "Just teasing. She's a long way from caring. This is one of the oldest graves in the cemetery. She was an early financier of Reverend Monk's."
"Reverend Monk?"
"The man Monk's Hill Cemetery is named for." He pointed up a steep hill toward a quaint chapel. "I want to take you there, to Monk's church. I'll show you where he and his wife are buried."
"All the way up there?" I rubbed my toe in the loose gravel. "I see why you warned me to wear my walking shoes."
He laughed. "I wouldn't take you for a diva. Would you rather I carried you?"
I gave him an exaggerated gasp of outrage. "Not on your life." I jogged ahead a few steps, the loose stones kicking up behind me.
Catching up, he rejoined our fingers. With my hand in his, our shoulders bumped as we walked. Whether from the sunlight, the climb, or the heat coming off him, I broke a faint sweat.
Rick knew all about the people buried around Monk's Hill. Most of them were associated in one-way or another with Reverend Monk's ministry. I tried to pay attention, but it was difficult. Who could hear anything over my pounding heart? I engaged my active listening skills. I nodded at regular intervals as I watched his jaw work. Strong, sharp jaw. The mound of his shoulder muscle rolled and brushed mine when he pointed something out. Large, hard shoulder. His thumb caressed mine within the snuggle of our coupled hands. Could I wrap my fingers around his bicep? Was his stomach as hard as the muscles in his forearm?
"-and this is Monk's Hill Church," he said.
What? We'd made it to the top already? I crumpled my brow and released his hand, turning back toward the long, steep pebble trail we'd traversed. I wasn't even winded. Had I floated up here on pheromones? I smiled, back straight, fists finding my hips. I guess I was in better shape than I thought.
"What do you think of the view?" he asked from behind me.
I pivoted, taking in the panorama view from the highest point in the cemetery. "Oh! The fence is a star." Impossible to see from ground level, the wrought iron boundary of the cemetery was a five-pointed star surrounded by a circle of trees-a pentagram. The headstones filled each of the wide pointed sections. Monk's Hill, where I stood, was at the center of the star. Double gates blunted two of the points, the one we'd entered to the south and the one that ended at my house, to the west. The part of the cemetery I'd passed driving into town was the southeastern point.
"Unbelievable," I said. "And odd. Why did they go through the trouble of making it a star? Seems over-achieving for a graveyard that's hundreds of years old."
"Would you like to see inside?" Rick asked in response.
I guess he didn't know about the shape. Why were the pyramids pyramid shaped? Who knew?
"Absolutely." For a place where people were buried, Monk's Hill was surprisingly homey. As we walked toward the chapel, full-sized maple and elm trees shaded us from the late summer sun. The wide spacing resembled a park or forest preserve.
When we reached the chapel, Rick opened the painted black door for me. Two rows of wooden pews stretched toward an altar. Rick explained that the iron bins at the foot of the pews were where churchgoers would place their coals in the winter. The sconces on the walls and at the ends of the pews were for candles. Women used to sit on the left and men on the right.
"So, no one uses the church anymore?"
"No. Not regularly. There was a wedding here a few years back, but not many people want to drive all the way out here for a ceremony. Not to mention the road from the gate wasn't designed for modern automobiles."
"It's a shame, really. This place is exquisite." For a moment, I pictured the aisle lined with sprays of white flowers, candles lit and flickering in the sconces, a handsome groom waiting with a priest at the altar. This church was grossly underutilized.
The oil paintings hanging on the walls caught my interest. "Do you mind if I look at the art?"
"Go ahead. They're paintings of the parishioners."
I wandered up a row toward the closest one while Rick hung back by the altar. The portrait was labeled 1692. Stoic-faced men and women with gaunt cheeks and dark clothes were lined up in the churchyard.
"These people look like pilgrims."
"Technically, Puritans, but the terms are used interchangeably these days."
I squinted at the details in the portrait. They each had a large book in their hands, probably a Bible. I scanned the hollow faces, looking for some hint of emotion. "Why didn't people smile in old pictures?" I turned toward Rick, who was watching me, motionless, and with an unreadable expression.
"Life was harder then," he said. "People here were desperate. Starving."
"In sixteen eighty-nine there was a war north of here, King William's War. Refugees from Canada and upstate New York settled here in Red Grove. The people who were here first, Monk's parishioners, welcomed the refugees in because that's what Puritans did. Hospitality was part of their religion. But they were farmers, and that year there was a drought. Food was scarce and the refugees made the situation worse."
"How awful. What did they do?"
"Some of them died. The old ones. The weak ones. Some others were able to feed themselves by hunting in the woods. All of them asked Reverend Monk for help."
"You mean, like, to pray? To ask for rain?"
"Yes. But more. Word from Salem was there had been a confession of witchcraft. Salem was starving too, but they were doing something about it. They were finding the witches who caused the problem and burning them."
"Wait, are you talking about the Salem witch trials?"
"But obviously, there are no such things as witches. I think I read somewhere that the whole thing in Salem was caused by mass hysteria. Did Monk really believe the drought was caused by a witch?"
"Oh, yes. The hysteria had made it all the way to Red Grove, and his parishioners insisted he weed out the witch. They got more than they bargained for from Monk though, as legend has it." Rick smiled and shook his head. "I'm boring you with my stories. Let's enjoy our lunch and this beautiful afternoon."
"I'm not bored," I said. "The Salem witch trials are super creepy. I had no idea they extended all the way to New Hampshire. But I'm hungry and more than curious about what's in the picnic basket. Save the story for later?"
"Of course."
The spot we chose for lunch was under the shade of an elm tree. Rick spread out a gigantic burgundy blanket made of plush velvet. We removed our shoes and sat cross-legged in the middle. From the picnic basket, he pulled two wine glasses and a bottle of Shiraz.
"Your favorite, if I remember correctly."
I nodded. "But I don't think I should have any."
"Why not?"
"It's just...I'm coming out of a complicated relationship." I cleared my throat and twisted my fingers in front of me. So embarrassing. I had to give it to him straight though. "Ah, I'm out, actually. Completely, out of the relationship. But I've found I have a pattern of rushing into things and then suffering the consequences of losing control. And, well, I think, last time we were together, I moved too fast."
I'm not sure how it happened, but in the blink of an eye, Rick had placed the glasses down and was by my side, my hands wrapped within both of his. Logically, I knew the process was a series of movements, but he was so fast it all happened at once. I never even saw him get up. My brain tried to make sense of it, but his touch was more than distracting, and soon the thought floated away from me. How could I care how fast he'd moved when his face, his delicious smell, was so close to mine?
Remember Gary! Love at first sight is never right. Remember the blonde paradox.
He raised my fingers to his lips and kissed them gently. "You could never be too forward. Your heart is safe with me. More than you know. What happened that night was because we are kindred souls, kindred souls that found each other."
"Kindred souls?" I laughed, temporarily breaking his spell over me. "Come on, you've known me for three days."
"But already I know you are an old soul, much older than your twenty-two years. When you say you have a pattern, I suspect it means you've experienced this more than once, probably with both men and women. As your kindred soul, I must suggest you are a wanderer, not of places but of people. And if you don't mind entertaining my opinion, relationships have been hard for you, not because you rush in, but because no one understands who you really are."
"And you're saying you do?" He was right about the relationship thing. Besides Michelle, I didn't have many close friends, and I had suffered a series of devastating romantic relationships. I wondered how Rick knew, if he could smell the failure on me like some sort of bad cologne.
"Yes. I do."
I tilted my head to the side. "Hey, how did you know how old I was?"
He laughed and looked away. "You told me. You don't remember?"
I didn't remember telling him my age, but then I'd had a lot of wine. "Well, I never thought of myself as an old soul, but the rest of what you say is true. I'm not sure that makes us kindred souls, though."
"Oh, we are, mi cielo. Ask me anything. I bet I know more about you than you think."
"Okay. I'll play. What's my favorite color?"
He grinned and rubbed his chin. Then he raked his eyes over me from head to toe, his gaze a palpable thing that made my skin tingle. "You tell people red because you think it's what they want to hear, but your favorite color is actually silver. You love it as you love the winter-cold, calm, and magical."
"What the hell? How did you guess that?"
"Kindred souls." His fingers motioned back and forth between us.
"What's my favorite food?"
I shivered. This was getting creepy. Lamb was my favorite. How could he possibly know that? "My favorite music?"
"Finally you get one wrong."
"You don't like metal?"
"Its not that I don't like it, but it's just not my favorite. I mean, as older music goes, definitely, but lately I really like-"
"Rap," he interrupted.
Oh. My. God. "How did you know?"
"You like your music to energize you. It has to be bold, loud, and hard. I can tell."
Heat crawled up my cheeks as I thought about how I'd attacked him on the couch. I knew how he could tell.
Rick was closer now, leaning over me so that I could feel his breath on my cheek. "I know one more thing about you, mi cielo."
"You are compassionate to a fault. Someone who cares deeply about others."
I turned toward him and touched my forehead to his. "I do care about people. It's why I became a nurse. Even though I struggle with relationships, I care."
My heart picked up its pace, and the scent of the outdoors washed over me again, even more complex, with a hint of honeysuckle. I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply until my insides twisted, begging me to kiss him. My head felt light again. His face, his body was so close. He wanted to kiss me and maybe more, I could feel it. But it was like he was waiting for something-maybe a sign of consent on my part? I knew I shouldn't rush into things, but all the blood had rushed from my brain again to someplace lower on my body.
I leaned forward and feathered my lips up his cheek to his ear. "What do you know about kindred souls, Rick?"
"They usually think alike. And right now, I'm thinking about kissing you."
I nodded, a dimwitted gesture necessary because my mouth had grown useless with desire. Whatever promises I'd made to myself about going slow melted in the heat of the arm that wrapped around my shoulders and lowered me to the velvet. Balanced above me on his elbows and cradling my head in his hands, he brought his lips down on mine. I opened my mouth, accepting his probing tongue. I could sense his need for me in the kiss, and it was more than sexual. It was like he was drinking me in, trying to climb inside my skin.
I grabbed the back of his head and pulled his full weight on top of me on the blanket. I could feel his erection through our jeans, and I thrust my hips up to rub against him. Electric ribbons ran the length of my body from the sweet spot of pressure between my legs.
He moaned into my mouth. I'd rested my palm on his spine, beneath his shirt, and a ripple cascaded under my touch.
"Mi cielo, you make it difficult to preserve your honor when you tempt me so."
I giggled. The way he said it was so old-fashioned. After the story he'd just told me about Monk's parishioners and the stoic faces in the painting, I wondered if his historical knowledge had bled into his present life. Maybe being in the cemetery made him feel like what we were doing was inappropriate. But my body ached for him, absolutely pouted for his touch. I couldn't get close enough.
"It's a good thing it's not sixteen ninety-two then because, last I checked, preserving a woman's honor isn't a requirement." I reached for his lips with mine, picking up where we left off.
He explored every corner of my mouth, then kissed his way down my neck, running his tongue in wet trails over my pulse. My nipples strained against my cami. Rick pulled the lace down, exposing my breasts to the soft afternoon breeze. Bolstered by the fabric, they perked to attention. He flicked his thumb across one before lowering his mouth to tease the other with his able tongue. I reached for the buttons of his shirt like they were the bow to a birthday present I desperately wanted.
"No, mi cielo. I want this time to be for you, just you." Straddling me, he pressed my wrists to the velvet above my head. His fingertips brushed feather-light down my wrist, along the inside of my arm, the side of my breast, and lower, to my navel. Working his fingers under the bottom of my cami, he pushed it up under my exposed breasts. He buried his mouth in my stomach, nuzzling, kissing, licking his way to the top of my jeans. My button released between his teeth.
Waves of desire washed over me, every cell of my body ready, yearning for his touch, aching for more, leaving me wet. I could feel myself opening, blossoming under his heat, a flower in the sun. He worked my jeans down past my ankles, leaving me exposed to the blue sky, stretched long across the blanket with my arms above my head. Returning to hover above me, his upper thigh rubbed my core as his elbows came down on either side of my chest. His contained erection throbbed at my hip.
I reached for his face.
He stopped, grabbed my wrists. "No moving these," he said insistently, planting both wrists above my head in the velvet again. He kissed me, long and deep, before reaching down to slide his hand from my knee to my inner thigh and then teasingly to my bikini briefs.
I thanked my lucky stars I'd worn the cute black ones with the pink piping instead of the comfortable beige ones.
He worked his fingers under the waistband and rubbed me with tantalizing pressure. "You are so wet."
Responding to his breathy words, I arched my back, pressing myself into his hand. When his fingers entered me, it was like he had a map. No man, no boyfriend had ever known just where to touch me without being told.
I moaned, working my hips into his hand. The pleasure built, rising like the tide, lapping my body with a million tiny tongues. Slowly at first, he stroked inside me, increasing the rhythm at just the right time as if he could feel what I was feeling. He was going to bring me with his fingers. I gasped at the intensity and moved my hands to his hair. But just as I neared that golden edge, he slowed his pace.
"Oh no, not yet," he said into my lips. He pressed my wrists into the velvet above my head once more. "Don't move these or I'll stop."
I squeezed my eyes shut, swearing silently that I might never move my hands again. His head moved down my body. Teeth grazed my nipple. Hot, wet, tongue trailed down my stomach. The stubble of his cheek brushed my inner thigh.
I heard a ripping sound and realized my panties weren't on any more. Then his lips moved down my thigh to the place where his fingers kept working in and out slowly, coaxing the ache between my legs. His tongue flicked across me, soft as butterfly wings and right up the center, igniting a trail of fire that burned up my spine and out to my fingertips. The next lick was harder, pressure and languid heat. He picked up the pace. He sucked and lapped while his fingers rubbed. I couldn't see him from my position with my hands above my head, but I could hear him, the sound as erotic as the way his tongue felt between my legs. His black hair was just visible over the mound of my breasts.
Everything was wet-hot. In a rhythm of intense bliss, his mouth did sinful things: tongue licking, teeth nibbling and sucking me again and again, coaxing, teasing, until every neuron in my body fired at once. The orgasm poured out of me in a ray of energy that made me call out his name.
"Rick! Oh...God...Rick," I forgot about the rule and moved my hands. I grabbed his head, running my fingers through his dark waves and pulling him up on top of me as the last echoes of the orgasm rang through my body. When I stopped writhing, he stretched out next to me, drawing me into the curl of his chest. Wrapped in his muscular arms, he held me until my breath evened out and my heart rate was almost normal.
"That's what kindred souls do," he said into my ear. "And then they eat."
"I think I might like being kindred souls," I whimpered.
He sat up and poured some wine, handing me the glass. I sipped it appreciatively. From the basket, he retrieved a baguette and spread some cheese on a corner. Then, he shifted me into the harbor of his arms and fed me. Leaning against him in the late summer sunshine, I watched as he bit into the bread right over the section I'd eaten. I can't explain why, but it was intimate, almost sacred.
When I was done eating, I moved to get dressed. I found my panties in the grass and held what was left of them between my fingers. Wadding them into a ball, I ended up going commando. I carried them home, bewildered as to how he'd managed to do the damage that he did.
They weren't just torn. They were shredded.