But this wasn’t a time to sneak around. I breathed in deeply and grabbed the door handle. It swung open with ease I wasted no time running down the hal and stairs and to the front door. The lights were on, which made things less creepy, but I didn’t want to spend an extra second in that house anymore.
I leaped out the door and quickly locked it behind me before speed walking toward Maximus, who was holding open the passenger door.
“Nice truck,” I said with a smile.
He returned the smile with extra wattage. “Nice dress.”
I was too cold and uneasy to blush. I jumped in the seat and he shut the door just as the wind picked up again.
He got in his side and gave me the once over. “Where to, little lady?”
“Somewhere far away from here,” I said, eyeing my house. It looked menacing, ominous, and not at all like the house I grew up in. “And somewhere with booze. A lot of it.
This little lady needs a fucking drink.”
Maximus ended up taking me to a quaint little wine bar that overlooked the river at the end of Waterfront Park. In the summer, the patio area would be packed with tourists and locals snapping up the breezes off the water, but in the winter it was small and cozy. If I were in the right frame of mind, I might have even cal ed it romantic, especial y with the lights as they twinkled off the black, waving currents outside and contrasted against the soft glow inside.
I wasn’t in my right frame of mind, though, and Maximus knew it. As he drove us here, he kept the conversation safe as a disoriented Tom Waits crooned from his stereo, mimicking how I felt. I tried to keep my mind somewhere else. But once we settled down in our tiny, windowside table, his large frame looking almost comical in the narrow spot, and ordered our first drinks, he started giving me the expectant eye.
The waiter placed a shot of tequila down in front of me and I raised it in the air at Maximus.
“To…,” I trailed off, unable to think of a single thing worth toasting to.
“To us,” he finished, raising his Corona. I raised my brow. His green eyes twinkled in the candlelight.
“Wel , it’s better than nothing,” I said with a smirk and we clinked glasses. I tried to hold his eyes as I did the shot but it burned hard in my throat and I coughed.
“Easy there, it’s not a race,” he chided, picking up my lime and passing it to me.
I shoved it in my mouth until the bitterness took the wincing away. I smiled at him, all lime mouth, and sat back in my chair feeling more relaxed than I had in weeks.
“That’s a nice look for you,” he said with a wink. I took the lime out and placed it in the empty shot glass.
“You’re looking very pretty tonight,” he continued after clearing his throat. “I don’t know why I never pictured you wearing a dress before.”
“Because I don’t wear dresses, unless it’s a special occasion.”
It was his turn to raise his brow. “Is this a special occasion?”
I shrugged as the waiter came by again and poured me a glass of riesling.
“No. Maybe. Some part of me thought it was a great idea to wear it.”
“Wel I’m glad that part of you did.”
“I just wish I knew what part.” I gave him a steady look.
I took a large sip of my wine and immediately felt the smooth, golden liquid go straight to my head where the tequila was already sitting. I don’t even think I ate anything for dinner. Things like food were slipping my mind lately.
“So what happened tonight that made you cal me? I’d like to pretend you just wanted my company, but it sounded as if anybody would have done the job.”
My lips twitched slightly as I observed him. He looked a bit put upon, like there was a chance I could hurt him if I told him that actual y anyone would have done the job and I just wanted to get out of the house, to be with people. But I wasn’t sure how true that was.
“I think I’m being hunted,” I said, leaning in closer to him, keeping my voice low. “Or haunted. Or I’m going crazy. One of those three. Or all of them.”
He leaned forward too, and his forehead nearly bumped against mine. He grabbed my hands with his large, weatherbeaten ones and squeezed them. It was a comforting gesture.
“Tel me everything,” he whispered. His drawl was incredibly sexy when he whispered like that. I didn’t like how I was noticing him in that way. Not tonight.
I dropped my eyes to the table and begun the long, crazy tale of the last few weeks. I left out the miscarriage part because it was none of his business. I just told him I had severe “woman problems” and I’m not sure if he deduced anything out of that. I concluded the story with the last straw, the baby slippers in my room.
While I was talking Maximus kept quiet; his eyes were squinty emeralds in the low light. I met them occasional y, afraid to see signs of doubt in them. To his credit, he only seemed engrossed by my story and then extremely concerned. He finished the rest of his beer and placed it on the table so that the bottle spun around like a top.
“I wish I wasn’t the designated driver tonight, darling,” he said final y, “because after hearing that story, I reckon I want another drink. And I know you do too.”
The idea of throwing caution to the wind and convincing Maximus to get loaded with me was suddenly very tempting. But I had a mystery to solve.
“Wel , what do you think?” I asked cautiously.
He gave my hands a quick squeeze again and leaned back in his chair.
“I’m going to speak my mind here, Perry,” he said. My heart thudded around a little. He thought I was crazy. He thought I was nutso. He thought I was losing my mind.
“I do think you are being haunted,” was his matter-of-fact answer. “And I’d love to come over, spend some time in your house, and do a reading. Get to the bottom of this.”
“Are you serious? You believe me?”
“Of course I do. Not every haunting is a clear-cut case.
There’s no guide for ghosts to fol ow. If you’re being haunted by something, it could mess up a lot of things in your life.”
“But it doesn’t explain everything…”
He stroked his chin for a few moments and observed new people entering the bar, the cold blast from outside fol owing them in. “No, it doesn’t. I reckon your problem is you’re combining all these events that have happened to you and expect them to all be connected. But I don’t think that’s the case here.”
I waved my hand for the waiter and caught his eye.
Screw it, Nancy Drew must have let her hair down once in a while.
“So what says ‘ghost’ to you?” I asked, my attention back on the burly redhead.
“Obviously the slippers. The doorbel . The knocks. The yel ing, the TV, those are all things that poltergeists do.”
“Last time you thought there was a poltergeist, it turned out to be skinwalkers,” I pointed out.
He smiled, a tad embarrassed. “I’m not saying it can’t be anything else…”
“What about my nail polish?” I say, wiggling my right hand at him.
“It’s very pretty.”
“I mean, how did this get on my nails? And for that matter, who hid the syrup on me?”
He gave me a sharp look as the waiter approached the table. I composed myself and smiled up at him.
“What wil you be having?” the waiter asked. “Another of the Quails Gate?”
I nodded and Maximus caved and ordered another beer.
His eyes fol owed the waiter until he was gone, then he leaned forward, putting his elbows on the table. I noticed his steel grey shirt was made out of fine silk, like fancy cowboy wear.
“What happened to you in Seattle?”
I flinched, surprised at the question. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t mean with Dex, I don’t care to hear about that.”
I could have sworn a dark shadow passed over his freckled face as he mentioned his name. The same look probably appeared on my face as well , and often.
He continued, “What ghosts did you encounter?”
“Oh. well I don’t care to particularly think about that. You saw the footage that aired, right?”
He nodded. “And that was it? Was there anything else in that asylum?”
I thought about Creepy Clown Lady’s message on the EVP. Then I thought about Creepy Clown Lady in the hospital.
“You know how I was tel ing you about that woman I saw?”
I bit my lip to keep from smiling. “Yeah. She left a message for Dex. well , us, real y. On the EVP. And only I had heard it. Dex might have now, but I heard it first and told him not to listen and then everything, well , you know… she real y does seem to want to warn me about something.”
He leaned closer stil . I caught a whiff of his spicy cinnamon smel . I breathed it in and automatical y found myself closing my eyes for a second.
“What did the message say?”
“I can’t real y remember,” I said, somewhat truthful y.
“She told me to ask my parents who Declan O’Shea was… do you know?”
“Not unless Dex had a different last name. He hasn’t for as long as I’ve known him.”
I nodded, not real y expecting to have gotten an answer. I took in a deep breath before I blurted out the more painful stuff.
“She knew I had done some things to Dex.”
He eyed me suspiciously. “What things?”
“Don’t judge me, but…I switched his medication. I mean, I found out what he was taking and then I replaced half his pil s with placebos.”
“Jesus,” Maximus swore, his eyes going wide as saucers. He let out a low whistle. “Perry, I’m not sure what to say.”
“You don’t have to say anything,” I said quickly, feeling cold sweat nip at the center of my palms. “I know what I did was wrong. I just had to know. I had to know what was wrong with him.”
“Did you find out?”
“I think he’s as sane as I am. I don’t think there’s anything that medication can fix.”
“I don’t know about that,” he began.
“I do,” I said firmly. “And I don’t mean to talk about him. I don’t want to talk about him. There was something else.
Pippa, circus freak, said that she’s being watched. By the soul ess ones who keep her there…the…demons.”
“Demons?” Maximus repeated. He sounded rather disbelieving and I didn’t want to have to convince him by bringing up some of the freaky shit I dealt with in the past.
Freaky shit like Jacob.
“Yes, that’s what she said,” I reiterated. “Then she said, I’m in real danger, especial y if he thinks I’m fine. When I’m safe, the damage wil be done. That she’d come after me…”
“She? Who? Pippa?”
I looked down, my head twitching no. I placed my hand on the crook of his elbow, needing something solid to hold onto.
“No. Not Pippa. Pippa was warning Dex. About Abby.”
Because my hand was on him, I could feel all the muscles in his arm tense up at the mention of her name. I looked up at him slyly, and grinned. I felt a wave of hate dripping off of myself, as if it clung wetly to my teeth.