Paranormal Romance

Social media can play hell with a girl’s love life.

When ultra-shy pushover Faye Albert decides to live a little, she inadvertently binds her sould to Satan by following him on Twitter. Overnight her dreams of being confident, beautiful, and adored by men are coming true. No longer is she pushed out or pushed over.

But it comes at a price. If she doesn’t figure out how to break the contract, she’ll lose her soul to the Dark Prince forever.
With time running out, and no idea how to unfollow Satan, she enlists the help of Christopher White, a gorgeous photographer from work. All the while, Satan’s little helper dogs her every step and offers her things she’s only dreamed of, tempting Faye with a lifetime of earthly pleasures. and unconditional love.

But is the love she’s only imagined worth the price of her soul?

Faye Albert jangled her wad of adorable bling, trying unsuccessfully to coax her door key out from hiding. The mass coalesced into a tighter ball.

“Damn it.”

A drab green canvas grocery bag tottered precariously on top of the stack of files, but she was determined to win this battle. She shook her keys again and was rewarded with a whack on the knuckles from the heavy plastic peace sign.

“Ouch!”

A beaded angel wing wrapped itself tightly around her house key and held it prisoner. Not to be outmaneuvered, she lifted the metal blob to her mouth and bit the wing, giving it an extra yank.

POP!

The string snapped, sending a spray of tiny pearls into her mouth and eyes. Faye gasped, inhaling several airborne beads. They coated her newly applied lip gloss like lint balls on a static-filled sweater. Though she raspberried her mouth, she was only successful in spewing saliva against the door. She spit again, rolling her lips, but the beads refused to be unseated.

“Well, crap.” The plink of pearls bouncing down the wooden spiral stairwell ricocheted behind her. “Double crap.”

She turned her attention back to the door and rattled the metal glob again. Before she could free the key, the door jerked open. Whitney, the super-model roommate from hell, filled the doorway.

“Oh, it’s only you,” said the blonde. With a flip of her ponytail, she turned and flounced into their apartment.

“Who else would it be?” Faye mumbled, following her inside.

They had been roommates since college. After Whitney rocketed to model stardom, Faye had expected her to get her own place. They’d never been that close, simply convenient roommates. But as time went on, and Whitney didn’t budge, Faye realized that she was being used. Born with beauty—and enough brains to know she didn’t have any—Whitney had kept Faye close. Why not? Where Whitney was scattered and vain, Faye was organized, dependable, and a plain Jane. All in all, the perfect companion for an attention whore.

She slid her load onto the kitchen island and tore off a paper towel, swiped it across her mouth, and tossed it in the wastebasket.

A high-pitched yelp greeted her.

“Flash!” Faye squatted and retrieved the dog from under the counter. “What are you doing here?”

“The old hag dropped him off.” Whitney didn’t look up from her fashion magazine. “Said you’d agreed to watch him.”

“Huh.” Faye scratched his head. “I don’t remember that.”

Flash had the coloring and markings of a Rottweiler, but his body was all Welsh Corgi. He reminded her of a footstool on toothpicks. She watched him for Mrs. P, their nosy neighbor, when she went out of town. Sometimes his visits were planned, but most, like tonight, were drop-ins. Sadly, she never had a date to interfere with dog watching, and Mrs. Perkins clearly capitalized on that weakness.

Whitney gave a disapproving grunt. Great, she was in another bad mood. What was it this time—a fight with a photographer, or bad lighting? Whitney’s perfect body stretched across the pages of the magazine she was reading. If Faye ignored the spread, she might be saved from a night of scrutinizing every detail of her roommate’s photo shoot.

Faye set Flash on the floor and grabbed her quart of milk, turning toward the refrigerator. The slap of a second magazine hitting the island made her jump. This was not good—so not good. She focused on shoving her milk into the nearly empty refrigerator and willed herself not to turn around. Like a flock of crazed chickadees, the pages flipped frantically behind her. She knew this routine. Whitney was deep in the throes of what Faye referred to as The Five Stages of Validation. By the sound of it, Whitney still hovered on step one: Denial. Faye silently groaned and stared at a moldy block of white cheese. Her evening was toast.

Dear Lord, please let her jump directly to step five, the “I’ll show you” phase. Amen.

“I can’t believe they used this photo of me. I look huge.”

Faye wondered how long she could stare into the refrigerator before looking like a moron. She yanked open the freezer door and stepped closer. Maybe she could feign hypothermia. Surely if she passed out on the floor, Whitney would stop her ranting long enough to call 911.

“I mean, look at this,” Whitney whined.

Faye made a note to fill out one of those Do Not Resuscitate forms.

“They may as well have stuck me in a pig costume.”

Maybe scooting the condiments around would buy her a few minutes. She shuffled the ketchup to a lower shelf.

“Faye,” Whitney barked. “Look at this. Tell me if I’m wrong.”

Faye sighed and shut the door. Just because her life wasn’t as exciting as Whitney’s didn’t mean she wanted to live vicariously through her. She pasted on a smile and turned.

“I’m sure this is a breach of contract,” Whitney said.

Good. Step two: Blame.

A magazine whizzed across the counter and rebounded off Faye’s stomach. She slapped a hand onto the glossy pages and pinned the magazine against the granite before it slid off. Perfect teeth, flawless skin, and sculpted muscles Faye was sure didn’t exist in nature stared back at her.

“I think you look beautiful.”

Whitney rolled her eyes and reached across the island to snatch the magazine back. “Beautiful? Are you blind?”

“No.” But being deaf would have distinct benefits right now. Time for ego damage control. “As a matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve seen you look more beautiful.”

Whitney harrumphed. “Not my most beautiful, but even with this amateurish lighting, I still look better than Candy Jenkins.” She crammed her finger between two pages and flipped open the magazine. “The girl has got some thighs on her.”

Excellent. Step three: Comparison. At this rate, Whitney would complete her trauma ritual within the next five minutes and move onto the treadmill and begin the Top Model marathon that always followed her episodes. Faye attempted the diversionary tactic of changing the subject.

“So…” In one smooth motion, she scooped up her purse and the files and headed to her bedroom. “What do you have planned for tonight?”

The click of doggy nails and the squeak of the chair being pushed away from the counter heralded Flash and Whitney’s pursuit.

“There’s a new restaurant in midtown we’re trying, some kind of Brazilian steakhouse. My friend said the waiters come to the table with big hunks of meat on skewers and serve you. I guess they have like a hundred different types of meat. It’s perfect for this low-carb diet I’m on.”

“Meat on a stick. Now that’s sure to be a hit.”

“I know, right?” Whitney pointed at her. “You should come with us.”

Faye set the pile of folders on her desk and plopped down in her chair. With a Wingardium Leviosa wave of her hand, she pushed the computer’s on button and sank into the big, leather desk chair. The machine hummed to life. “Sorry, I have tons of work to do.”

“Come on,” Whitney cajoled. “What’s more fun, having an adult evening out or babysitting a dog?”

Flash jumped onto Faye’s bed, did two circles, and settled next to the pillow. Definitely dog-sitting. She’d rather pluck herself bare with dull tweezers than experience another Friday night with Whitney and her friends. The last time she’d gone, she’d spent the entire evening as Whitney’s official holder, holding her purse, her coat, their places in line, and the table while Whitney danced with everybody in the club.

“I really can’t.” Her Twitter page glowed like a beacon, calling to her. She hit the refresh button. “I promised Mrs. P I’d watch Flash.”

“That old lady plays you like an X-box. She never asked you to watch her mutt.”

Flash growled and Whitney growled back.

“It might have slipped my mind.” Faye clicked the connect tab. A message from @HopelessRomantic popped onto the screen, making her smile.

“You’re the most efficient person I know. You don’t remember because the old battle-axe didn’t ask.”

“I don’t mind.” Faye leaned into her screen to read.

@CrispyCream What are you doing tonight?

Though she’d chosen @CrispyCream as her username in honor of her favorite doughnut franchise, in hindsight, spelling it differently might have made her sound like a stripper.

“You know, there’s more to life than dog-sitting and Twitter.”

Faye glanced away from Hopeless’s message and looked at Whitney. “What?”

“Twitter.” She pointed to the computer. “You’re obsessed.”

“Am not.” Faye hated when Whitney started on her about being a recluse. “There’s nothing wrong with enjoying social media.”

“Uh-huh.” Whitney crossed her arms over her ample bosom and leaned against the doorframe. “Why not do something daring for once? Blow off work and live a little?”

“Because.” She exaggerated every vowel. “I work for Pierre Shogun, the biggest, most neurotic interior designer in the city. If I don’t do my work, I don’t get paid. If I don’t get paid, all this opulence disappears.”

Whitney waved her hand absently. “I’ve got money.”

“Speaking of which…” Faye raised her eyebrows. “You’re two months behind in rent.”

Fine,” Whitney continued, ignoring the reference to money. “But when you’re old and alone, still living in this apartment, I’m going to say I told you so.”

Images of Faye’s cardigan-clad skeleton clutching a taxidermied Flash flittered through her mind. Nobody would find her until the smell of her rotting corpse drove one of her neighbors to complain. She shuddered. Sadly, the prospect wasn’t all that unbelievable.

“Hey,” Faye said. “When’s your reservation?”

“Nine o’clock.”

“Wow.” She tapped the face of her watch. “You only have three hours. Better get ready.”

Horrification spread across Whitney’s face. “I haven’t even picked out what I’m going to wear yet.” She pivoted at lightning speed and disappeared out the door.

Faye turned her attention back to the computer and flexed her fingers.

@HopelessRomantic, Tweeting, eating, & meeting new friends. You?

She cringed at her pitiful rhyming attempt. “Was that corny?”

Flash gave a sleepy grunt of approval.

A reply popped onto the screen.

@CrispyCream, Waiting for you.

Her heart beat a little faster. Several times a day she’d catch herself fantasizing about Hopeless, imagining what he would act and look like. She wasn’t even certain he was a man. When the only communication you had was tweeting, it was tough to tell.

If she were pretty, maybe she’d chance socializing in person. At least with looks she’d be able to get a date and enjoy a free meal before the guy dumped her. Plain wasn’t a suitable description for her. Invisible, unremarkable, and forgettable, were more like it. Oftentimes, people at work actually forgot she was in the room. Most couldn’t remember her name. Faye—was that so hard? But no. They’d called her Faith, Feona, Kaye, even Fanny. Really? Fanny? No, she was safer sticking to her cyber world.

@HopelessRomantic Well I’m here.

She prayed her tweet sounded cool, maybe even a little sexy. The desk chair creaked as she rocked, waiting for his reply. It didn’t take long.

@CrispyCream And here I am. What do you say we spend the night together?

Faye pulled at the neck of her sweatshirt. Whew, the guy knew how to tweet.

@HopelessRomantic I’m all yours.

She clicked the Tweet button and sat back. Dang, when had she turned into such a tart? The conversations between her and HR had heated up over the last month, shifting from “Hey there.” To “Wish I was there.” At times, it was all she could do to get home and see if he’d left her a message.

She’d briefly contemplated a real life meeting, but nausea and the cold sweats would set in, reminding her she was a social ignoramus. With her luck, he’d be married, gay, or a serial killing rodeo clown.

The manufacturer’s generic ringtone erupted inside her purse, shocking her from her what-if musings. Private Caller flashed on the phone screen. Nobody but Pierre Shogun or clients called her, and that was only on the cell phone Pierre had given her so he could reach her anytime. This was her private cell ringing.

“Hello?”

“Faye?” a velvety masculine voice said on the other end.

“Yes.” Her mind raced, trying to put a face to the familiar voice. “This is Faye.”

“Hi, this is Christopher White.”

“Uhhh—” Her thoughts raced around her head, searching for a Christopher White other than the gorgeous photographer at work. “Christopher…”

“From work.”

“Right—right.” Her head bobbed up and down. “Christopher from work—riiight.” She continued to nod like a bobblehead dog that had no intention of stopping. “How did you get my number?”

Damn! The question had come out much more curt than she’d wanted. Christopher White was the one flesh and blood man she daydreamed about. He was a photographer at Shogun Designs. Though they rarely worked together directly, what interaction she’d had with him had always been pleasant. The fact that he was hot to the nth degree didn’t hurt.

“I hope you don’t mind,” he continued. “I sweet-talked Tiffany in human resources into giving me your number.”

Faye’s stomach did a little flip. “Wow, you really must have wanted to talk to me. Getting information out of Tiffany is harder than wrestling a greased pig.”

A deep chuckle resonated through the phone. “Yeah, it wasn’t easy, but I’ll have to take your word about wrestling pigs.”

She pinched the bridge of her nose. God, she sounded like such an idiot. This was why she didn’t date. “Is there something I can help you with?”

“Well, Pierre mentioned that you were headed out to the chapel site on the Bandicott Estate tomorrow.”

“Yes, tomorrow morning.” Her heart sunk a bit. Of course this was business. Why would somebody like Christopher White be calling to ask her out? That kind of thing never happened. “I need to make sure the construction crew knows what to take.”

“I’m heading out there as well. Pierre wants me to shoot the chapel before it’s deconstructed. I’ve reserved a car for nine a.m. and thought we could ride together.”

A thrill raced through her. “Together?”

“Yeah, no sense in you taking the train and a cab when you can ride in comfort.”

“Thank you.” She swallowed hard, trying to calm the wave of excitement threatening to turn her back into the embarrassing nerd she’d been in high school. “That’s sweet of you to offer.”

“Well, I’m just a sweet guy. That and Shogun Designs is picking up the bill.”

Faye gave an unladylike snort. “Then I definitely accept.”

“Great. How about we meet at Continental Joe’s House of Java on Grand?”

“Sure. I go there all the time.”

“Come early so you have enough time to grab a coffee.”

“Okay.” Unable to think of anything clever or intelligent to say, she opted to end the call. Rule #14 of The Shy Girl’s Guide to Living: Better to seem cool and collected instead of a rambling idiot. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“It’s a date. Night, Faye.”

“Night, Christopher.”

She ended the call but continued to stare at her phone. Was it really a date or just a figure of speech? Who cared? Tomorrow she’d be spending the morning with Christopher White, the number one and only on her lust list.

“I think we should celebrate my good luck.” She looked at Flash. “Time for dinner.”

He didn’t budge.

“Please, don’t get up.”

He opened his eyes, blinked once, and closed them again.

“Spoiled.”

She shuffled to the kitchen. A balanced diet was important, so she made sure to include the three basic food groups: soft, crunchy, and bubbly. She set two doughnuts, chips and dip, and an icy glass of diet soda on a tray.

“Perfect.”

Careful not to spill, she hefted the tray and slung Flash’s overnight bag onto her shoulder before returning to her room. She dropped the bag at the foot of her bed and set her snacks on the left side of the desk for easy access. Finally, time to relax.

Whitney appeared at her door, wearing a lacey hot pink bra and matching thong. What was she, like nine feet tall? Faye eased into her chair and refocused on her screen.

“Have you seen that pink mini I bought last week?”

“Hall closet.” Being a bit nosy, Faye scrolled through HopelessRomantic’s followers. “Still in the bag.”

“Oh, right. Sure you don’t want to live on the edge and come eat some meat? I could loan you something to wear.”

She glanced at Whitney. “Positive, but thanks.”

“Come on.” Her voice raised an octave, dripping with sweetness. She puckered in a classic Whitney pout, usually directed at men, and always executed to get her way. “I like having you there.”

Faye shook her head. “I’d love to, but I’ve just got too darn much work.”

“Well, since I can’t lure you out of your cave with meat on a stick, how about tomorrow night? There’s a new dinner-dance club opening, Kapow. It’s got a superhero theme.” Her voice rose to a sing-song note. “I have V.I.P. tickets.”

Damn, I should have opted for meat night. At least she could have cut out early.

“Unless you’re embarrassed to be seen with me?” Whitney exaggerated her pout and widened her eyes to a big basset hound stare. “Then I’d understand.”

Guilt poked at Faye even though she knew she was being manipulated. As shallow as Whitney was, Faye honestly believed things like flat hair or last year’s styles upset her. After all, hardships were relative. If you’ve gotten everything you ever wanted in life, wouldn’t a zit on the day of a photo shoot be fairly traumatic, even if you were blond, beautiful, and got everything you wanted?

“Fine.” Faye silently cursed herself, hating her inability to say no. “I’ll go… if I get my work done.”

“Oh, goodie.” Whitney bounced like a beautiful jack-in-the-box. “It’ll be fun. I promise.”

“I’m sure it will be,” she lied.

“You shouldn’t let that fleabag on your bed. Who knows what kind of vermin he’s carrying?”

Flashed lifted his head and bared his teeth.

Whitney returned the growl. “Back at ya, quadruped.”

The dog barked.

“Children, no fighting.” Faye mimicked a clap. “And Whitney, nice use of a big word.”

Her roommate giggled. “Thanks, I bought one of those Word of the Day calendars. Quadruped: an animal, especially a mammal, having four feet.”

Whitney gave her ponytail a flip and turned to leave, flashing way too much backside in Faye’s opinion. She closed her eyes and tried to block out the barrage of insecurities that assaulted her whenever Whitney paraded around the house scantily clad. The chair creaked as she slowly pivoted to face her screen and snacks.

“Noooo.” Faye formed the word, muttering it quietly. It wasn’t difficult to pronounce. Two letters. One syllable. She looked at Flash.

“Why can’t I just say no?”

He barked with doggie understanding.

She smiled and stretched out on the bed beside him. He waddled over to her, performed two full circles, and settled against her chest. What was the big deal? Lots of people preferred dogs and online relationships over real people. She stroked his soft fur. It was less messy that way.

Again, she silently formed the word no. Her lips seemed to work, but it was her nerve that always failed her. If she could just take a stand, her life would be exponentially better. A sigh eased from her. It wasn’t going to happen tonight.

At least she’d dodged Whitney’s meat invitation. People didn’t seem to realize she still had her own opinions even though she was shy. Everybody thinking they knew what was best for her got very tiring. She had dreams, and being Pierre’s slave the rest of her life wasn’t one of them.

The bathroom door slammed, followed by the squeak of the shower handle. She’d lied about her mountain of work. Besides examining some photos of an old church being demolished tomorrow, all she had to do was map out its location. Now with Christopher offering her a ride, she was free to spend the evening locked in the Internet’s embrace, chatting with @HopelessRomantic.

For a painfully shy and socially awkward girl, the Internet was a gift from the gods. Who needed a social life when she had Twitter? One of the perks of chatting online was that it could be done in her favorite sweatshirt, wongie-waistbands, and fuzzy slippers.

After changing clothes, she plunked into her chair and continued to scroll through Hopeless’s followers. Her arrow stopped. “What the heck?”

She scooted forward in her chair and squinted at the screen, trying to understand what she was reading.

@TheDevil was following @HopelessRomantic. She clicked on @TheDevil’s profile.

“By following you willingly enter a binding contract to give Satan dominion over your soul, and agree to do his bidding until you are released from his service.”

She sat back and smirked. Boy, some people had too much time on their hands. A low growl issued from Flash. He perched at the edge of the bed, his front paws dangling over the side, staring at her.

“What’s the matter, boy?”

He gave a high-pitched yelp.

She scrounged in his bag and pulled out a much-loved hedgehog. “Do you want Hoggers?”

He yelped again, tilting his head to the side. She tossed the animal onto her bed, and he leapt on it, enthusiastically squeaking the toy. She laughed as he held it between his paws and began gnawing on its upturned nose. Hopefully, that would keep him busy for a while. She turned back to the monitor and scrolled through Satan’s tweets.

@gothmother Your welcome package is on the way.

@snowangel Nice try. Better luck next time.

Be daring. Join the fold.

Faye reread the last tweet. Though not sent to anybody in particular, the sentiment felt directed at her. She shook off the notion and scrolled through more messages.

Nothing says eternal Hell like a fruitcake.

She laughed.

Reruns of Who’s the Boss? I’m in Hell.

“I liked that show,” she mumbled, continuing to read.

More tweets about welcome packages. Several references to better luck next time. She scanned his stats. @TheDevil followed over a million people, but only forty-nine followed back. Three new messages appeared on his feed.

Don’t think, just follow.

Don’t be boring, be daring.

Become unforgettable.

Faye slowly exhaled, mesmerized by the messages popping onto the screen. She pushed the arrow toward the top and hovered over the Follow button. Messages about being the person she wanted to be flashed one after the other onto her screen. She stared as ‘Come on, do something daring’ appeared. They were the same words Whitney had used. She suddenly felt outside herself. Her finger stroked the mouse.

“Why not?”

Flash now stood at the edge of the bed, growling.

“It’s not like it’s really the Devil.”

He barked.

“But I’d have something to retaliate with when Whitney tells me to live a little,” she argued.

Be bold appeared on the screen.

Flash’s growl turned into a whine.

Yeah, be bold. She could always Unfollow. “Why not have a laugh?”

He barked, snarling as her finger stroked the button.

“It’s not real, Flash.” She looked at him and back to the computer. “It’s no—” She held her breath. “Big—” Her finger lightly pressed against the gray plastic. “Deal.”

She clicked. The plus sign changed to a check, turning the white Follow to a green Following tab. @TheDevil’s followers ratcheted up one to 50. A mournful howl erupted from Flash, sending dread through her.

“It’s okay, boy.” Her words sounded unconvincing. “It’s just a joke.”

@CrispyCream Your welcome package is on the way.

She leaned back in her chair and exhaled. “I can’t wait.”

Being the son of Aphrodite isn’t a walk in the clouds. Rebelling against his demi-god status, billionaire make-up mogul Toraos Stephanos fights to separate his personal life and the immortal world by swearing off demi-god girlfriends forever. Too bad his newest employee can’t take the hint.

Though Nikki secretly pines for her smoking hot boss, no way will she jeopardize her job and independence professing her love to a guy so clearly out of her league. Too bad that leaves her with only imagining him naked and thinking evil thoughts about the new girl.

After a single bottle of Ambrosia and one night of passion… Nikki finally thinks she has a chance with the man of her dreams. But the next morning, Tor pretends like nothing happened, leaving Nikki with an emerging drive for combat—after all, turns out she is the daughter of Ares and she’s about to make her mama proud.

All is fair in love and war… and Nikki’s not about to let anyone forget it.

Holy Mary, mother of God, the man was half-naked.

Flawless, tan skin stretched across a perfect muscular back. Her boss, Tor, oozed more sex appeal than any man had the right to possess—especially around her. After six years of working at Kythera Cosmetics, she still lusted for him as much as she had the day she started. Were her thighs actually sweating?

Nikki snapped her gaping mouth closed and squeezed her lids shut. The dirty little desires she normally kept tucked away tumbled through her mind. Once again, she screwed her contrived disinterest in place and opened her eyes.

“Wednesday is great.” Tor turned and flashed his impressive eight pack as he waved her inside with the shirt he held in his hand. “I can’t foresee any problems.”

For the love of God, man, cover up.

He smiled and pointed to the phone, adding a thumbs-up. She lifted her brows and grinned, returning the gesture. Only one thing could make him this happy so early in the morning this week: landing Creed Killion as the new creative director for the Goddess line of cosmetics.

Tor propped one hand on his hip and stared at the floor, listening to the man on the other end of the phone, and Nikki let her eyes wander over his naked chest, his tapering waist, and the dark patch of hair that dipped into uncharted territory. She really needed to get a life instead of pining away for her boss. He’d never given her any indication that he thought of her in that way, but still, she couldn’t seem to shake this intense attraction. At twenty-seven, she should be able to compartmentalize her feelings for him, but no matter how hard she tried, her pesky crush kept rearing its ugly head.

“Fantastic! I’ll have my assistant call you with the details. Thanks, Creed.”

He hung up the phone with a shout of success, pulling Nikki from her depressing thoughts, and she forced excitement into her question. “Creed Killion?”

His kissable mouth spread into a pearly smile as he snapped a steel gray T-shirt against his desk. “We got him.”

“I knew he wouldn’t say no to your offer.” She set her stack of files on his desk and, when he slid the shirt over his head, she tried not to stare as the fabric slowly hid his assets.

In reality, she wasn’t sure why she struggled so hard to hide her interest. The man never thought about anything other than work. She could probably dry hump his leg and he’d tell her to file something while she was down there.

A hand jabbed the hem of the shirt into the waist of his form-fitting charcoal pants, giving the material a bit of extra attention in the front.

Lucky hand. Her mouth went dry.

He ran his fingers through his thick black hair, which obligingly fell into perfect order.

“Uh…” She fumbled to keep her train of thought. “Entrepreneurial 100 wants to do a photo spread of you for this year’s ‘most eligible bachelor’ edition.”

Tor raised an eyebrow and shot her a you-must-be-kidding-me look. “No.”

“You know, it might do Kythera Cosmetics good if they see the face behind the product.”

Personally, she rather agreed with Tor’s view of staying out of the limelight. He was exceedingly private. Even she didn’t know much more about him than the rest of the world did. Being the daughter of a public figure herself, she knew firsthand what vultures the paparazzi could be, circling for the tiniest shred of dirt. Thankfully her mother was too wrapped up in her own life to meddle in Nikki’s, and she’d never met her father—or even knew who he was for that matter.

“Tell them no.” As he smoothed his hands down the front of his shirt, the material pulled across his chest, defining each sculpted muscle.

Those things belonged in a museum.

“All right.” She bent over the files and flipped open the portfolio a little more vigorously than she’d intended, and the leather cover slapped the desk. She slid the papers across to him. “The papers for your charitable foundation are ready.” Tor’s generosity was legendary and one of the many reasons she’d fallen so hard for him.

“The day keeps getting better and better.”

His smile was genuine. Though he appeared all-business to most, she’d seen that persona fade while talking to the inner-city kids his foundation was meant to benefit.

“It’s a great cause.” She reached across the desk and pointed to the line at the bottom of the page. “I need your signa—”

A loud rap sounded at the door and a recognizable voice followed the opening of the door. “Morning.”

Nikki bit back her curse, grinding her teeth together before turning to face her least favorite person in the world. All six feet of Demetria Mirrors glided into the office. Five feet seven inches were woman; the other five inches were deadly stilettos. Clad in a form-hugging bright-red suit, she looked more like a supermodel than an attorney.

“Morning, Demi.” Tor nodded, picked up the file, and began reading the document she’d asked him to sign.

“I heard your excitement from the outer office,” Demetria said.

“Skulking outside the door, eavesdropping again?” Nikki muttered.

Demetria had only been working at the office for about three months, but it felt more like three years. The woman had an uncanny habit of always looking beautiful, her sultry poise constantly amped up to its highest setting. She made no pretense about her interest in Tor, which always raised Nikki’s hackles.

“What has you in such a good mood this morning?” Demetria sauntered across the room, her gaze sweeping over Nikki like a chilly morning breeze.

The feeling was mutual.

“Just got word that Creed Killion accepted the job as creative director for Goddess,” he replied.

“Oh Tor, that’s fantastic.” Demetria made a beeline for him, her coppery locks springing about her shoulders with each catwalk step she took. She circumvented the desk and moved in close to squeeze his arm. Not surprisingly, that required her to shove her ample bosom against his arm. “I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist working for Kythera Cosmetics.”

He smiled and pointed his pen at Nikki. “It was Nikki’s idea to hire him.”

“But you’re the reason he accepted. He’d be a fool not to want to work here.”

When Tor stepped away from Demetria to sit on the chocolate suede couch, Nikki had to bite the inside of her cheek to prevent herself from smiling. This was an evasive maneuver she’d seen him employ hundreds of times over the last six years. He worked in a world of beautiful women and looked like a god. His ability to elude advances without offending was truly masterful.

But Demetria was not so easily put off. As Kythera’s new senior corporate counselor, she had a personality to match: a shark in heels. It galled Nikki how quickly she’d wormed her way into Tor’s affairs, making her legally indispensable. Demetria tried to squeeze Nikki out of her and Tor’s working equation. But that was not going to happen. Nikki had busted her butt to be the best at her job as executive assistant to the CEO and everything Tor needed. Yeah, she had no life outside of the office, but that wouldn’t last forever. Nikki had plans of her own, to travel the world anonymously, unlike when her mother had dragged her around the globe with her entourage. No amount of meddling from this floozy with a degree was going to change that.

Demetria’s gaze tracked to Nikki. “Did you do something different with your hair?”

Nikki absently patted her dishwater-blond strands. Like every day, she’d pulled it back into a tight bun. Complicated hairdos took too much time, and that was something she had little of. “No. This is how I wear it every day.”

“Yeah.” Demetria crossed her arms over her chest. “That’s the problem. I’ll give you the number to my hairdresser.”

“She looks fine.” Tor glanced up from the file. “Did you need something, Demi?”

With a graceful turn, the attorney eased one toned butt cheek onto the edge of his desk. How the woman could move in her skintight pencil skirt was a mystery. “I wanted to remind you about our meeting at ten o’clock. It should only take about twenty minutes.”

He returned his attention to the papers. “Right, ten.”

Her voice lowered an octave, taking on a sexy hum. “My office.”

Nikki rolled her eyes. Was this woman ever not in heat?

“Yep, your office, ten o’clock.” He waved the papers toward Nikki again. “Don’t worry, Nikki won’t let me forget.”

“Absolutely.” Nikki gave the bitch a bright smile. “I keep him on track.”

Demetria eased off the desk. If both women were barefoot, Nikki would stand several inches taller, but the heels the attorney constantly wore had her peering down her nose at others—all the better to intimidate the weaker employees, she assumed.

Not one to be so easily dismissed, Demetria continued, “Perhaps you should have Nikki set up a dinner meeting for Creed. Something intimate where you can discuss expectations and such.”

“That’s not a bad idea.” He glanced up. “Wednesday?”

“No problem.” Nikki typed a reminder into the office management app in her phone. “Seven o’clock?”

“Works for me,” Demetria said.

Nikki glanced up. “Oh, you’re coming?”

A delicately sculpted brow arched with perfect execution. “Of course I’ll be there. I’m Kythera’s lead attorney.”

“Right, but it’s not like they’ll be signing anything at a friendly meet and greet.”

“I will be there.” Demetria leaned across the desk. “But you feel free to stay home and scrapbook, or whatever it is you do when not working.”

Oh, she did not just disrespect the scrapbooking.

“Scrapbooking is hugely underrated.” Nikki couldn’t actually claim to be a scrapbooker. It was more like a paper addiction, namely buying copious amounts of decorative paper and pretty embellishments. Never in the five years of collecting scrapbooking accoutrements had she created a single tribute to a vacation, dead grandmother, or favorite pet. All the supplies were neatly stored in a convenient wheelie carrier in case the urge to generate a paper masterpiece ever overcame her though. “You should try it sometime. It’s very relaxing and might help get that stick out of your—”

A rap on the door interrupted Nikki’s expletive.

“Knock, knock.” Bella Stephanos, Tor’s mother, glided into the office. “Am I intruding?”

Tor didn’t bother to glance up from the file he was reading intently—far too intently for a document he’d gone over a hundred times already. Of course, Nikki would study boring legal documents any day over spending another minute with Demetria. “Morning, Mother.”

“Ms. Stephanos, you look absolutely stunning,” Demetria gushed.

Nikki rolled her eyes, but she did have to admit, the woman was truly a freak of nature. With Tor being thirty-two, she had to be pushing fifty but looked nearly the same age as her son. Today she wore a low-cut patterned dress in varying shades of violet and knee-high black boots. The color of the dress seemed to darken her pale blue eyes to lavender. Jet-black hair, so like Tor’s, framed her face in a riot of curls that had been cut into a stylish bob. If her flawless skin was a tribute to Kythera Cosmetics, it was easy to see why she was the beauty behind the business.

“Thank you, Demetria.” Bella’s gaze scanned the other woman as one would contemplate whether a piece of furniture fit the space. “All red today. Very daring.” The statement was neither a compliment nor an insult. She sidled past Demetria and leaned in to give Nikki a kiss on her cheek. “Good morning, sweetie. I hope my son didn’t have you working all night.”

Nikki smiled, loving the slight to Demetria. “Morning, Ms. Stephanos. No, he gave me time off for good behavior.”

Over the years, she and Tor’s mother had developed a mutual respect. Both wanted the best for him, and even if she didn’t say it outright, Nikki suspected Ms. Stephanos understood how much Nikki sacrificed for her boss.

His mother fingered the small bird on Nikki’s necklace. “What a beautiful pendant. A sparrow?”

“Yes, thank you. I saw it in an antique store in Connecticut and couldn’t resist.”

“Did you know”—Ms. Stephanos released the necklace—“that the sparrow is one of Aphrodite’s symbols?”

Nikki did know that, but also knew Tor’s mother enjoyed sharing tidbits of information she thought no one else knew. “Really?” She caressed the bird. “That must have been why I was drawn to it.”

“The dolphin, rose, scalloped shell, swan, and dove are also symbols of Aphrodite,” Demetria added, as if answering a question in a trivia contest.

All three looked at her, saying nothing. She shifted uncomfortably under their stare, and Nikki had to suppress the urge to cough, “Kiss-ass.”

Ms. Stephanos turned to her son. “Would it be possible to get a few moments alone with my son?”

“He has nothing until ten,” Nikki said.

Tor scowled at her. Though he’d never fully explained the tension between him and his mother, Nikki surmised that it stemmed from control issues over the business. Both wanted to be in charge and neither gave an inch when it came to making decisions. Tor worked harder than any person she knew, but oftentimes his mother didn’t appreciate it. In Nikki’s opinion, Bella Stephanos had made Tor what he was today—a gorgeous workaholic, with no room in his life for anything but Kythera Cosmetics.

Nikki held up her hands in silent defense and mouthed, “Sorry.”

Tor’s eyes twinkled with pay back. “I’d like you to attend the dinner meeting with Creed as well, Nikki. I’m sure I’ll have need of my assistant at some point during the evening.”

“If I must.” Nikki narrowed her eyes on Tor, promising her own pay back for having to endure Demetria further then turned to Ms. Stephanos. “Now that I think of it, Ms. Stephanos, Tor is free for at least the next two hours. Please feel free to take your time as you two catch up.”

Tor coughed, barely hiding a choking laugh. Touche.

“Oh, I won’t make him suffer for more than a few minutes.” With grace that was born, not learned, Tor’s mother lowered herself onto the tan leather bucket chair. “I just want to have a quick chat about the business.”

“I’ll be at my desk if you need me.” Nikki turned to Demetria and made a shooing motion.

A sneer curled Demetria’s pouty red lips. Clearly, she was as excited as Nikki to sit at the same dinner table together. “Are there any legal matters you need me to assist with, Ms. Stephanos?”

“Why, yes, dear, there is,” Tor’s mom said.

Demetria’s sneer turned into a smug smile. “Of course, that’s why I’m here.”

Bella dug in her purse and pulled out a rectangular slip of paper. “Can you take care of this, my dear? I got a speeding ticket last night.”

Nikki bit her lip in an effort not to burst out laughing.

“Of course.” Demetria plucked the ticket from Bella’s hand, pivoted, and strode toward the door. She lifted her nose in the air and brushed past Nikki. “Let me know if you want my hairdresser’s number.”

“Right, and you let me know if you need that stick yanked out,” she muttered under her breath, trailing behind Demetria and willing the woman’s hair to catch on fire. Unfortunately, nothing happened. One day, that witch was going to fall off her five-inch spikes and break something.

Please let me be around when that happens.

And the dinner meeting would likely be the time since Nikki couldn’t fathom spending an evening across the table from Demetria fawning all over Tor and not stab her with her own shoes.

The door clicked shut, and Tor gave an exaggerated sigh. “What do you want, Mother?”

“Good gods, Toraos, I just stopped by to check on you. Is it impossible to believe I’m a concerned mother?”

“We both know the answer to that.” His mother was nothing if not concerned, but only about herself. Rarely did she just stop by. There was always an ulterior motive. “I have a new cosmetic line to get off the ground.” He set the file aside and stood. “That takes time and sacrifice.”

“It doesn’t have to, you know.”

He pinned her with a stare. “And I’ve told you I have no desire to”—he waved a hand—“magic my way to the top.”

She stood, making a clicking sound with her tongue. “That’s too bad, dear.”

The room transformed and Tor found himself standing next to his mother inside a huge nomadic tent. Arid heat enveloped him, burning his skin. The flaps of canvas snapped in the desert breeze as unlit brass braziers swung from the tent supports above an array of colorful carpets that lay strewn across the shifting sands of the floor. The bellow from a camel wafted through the opening of the tent, as did the smell of heat and animal only found in the blazing desert and a light shower of sand.

Tor took a deep breath, searching for patience. “Very funny, Mother. Return me to my office.”

Her lower lip rolled down in a sulk. “You used to be so fun when you were a boy. Ready for any adventure.”

“I’m not a boy anymore.”

In an instant, they were back in his office.

“Obviously.” She took a few steps toward him. “But life isn’t all work. Promise me you won’t forget to have fun.”

Concern from his mother always made him uncomfortable. In the past, she’d wielded the parental card like a weapon, manipulating him to do her will. When he was younger, more naive, he’d wanted to please her. It didn’t take long to realize his mother’s needs always came first. He no longer trusted her in the most simple of matters, which made being in business together very tenuous.

He maneuvered away from her, placing the desk between them. He’d found that the best way to avoid any woman’s trap, including his mother’s, was to stay out of range, both physically and emotionally. The only woman he wasn’t suspicious of was Nikki—safe, plain, dependable Nikki. Always there when he needed her. The only thing she wanted from him was a paycheck. It was the perfect relationship.

His mother propped her hands on her hips and glared. “You’re not sleeping with Demetria, are you?”

He settled into his office chair, leaning back to stare at his mother with boredom. “Not that it’s any of your business, but no.”

“Good.” Her stance relaxed. “I’ve never cared for her. Too much like her uncle, Narcissus—always staring at herself in the mirror.”

“Right.” He refrained from pointing out his mother’s streak of conceitedness. “And our family is such a monument of virtue.” Tor had only met his father once. He was some middle-aged surfer who wandered the earth in search of the perfect wave. Not exactly the role model he’d needed as a boy. Not to mention his mother was Aphrodite, freakin’ goddess of beauty. “Talked to Dad lately?”

“No.” She cocked her head. “What about Nikki?”

“What about Nikki?”

“Are you sleeping with her?”

“No, I’m not sleeping with her.” His eyes widened at the ridiculous suggestion. “Though she’s very attractive, she’s my assistant.”

“So?” She leaned a hip against his desk. “I sleep with my assistants all the time.”

“Too much information, Mother.” He covered his ears with his hands. “Plus you know I’ve sworn off demi-gods. Do I have to remind you of the week I spent as a stone statue after I broke up with Medusa’s niece? To this day I can’t stand pigeons. Or what about that nutcase nymph who went bat shit after our fling and cursed me with a nearly incurable case of jock itch?” He released his head and held up one hand, ticking off each finger. “Never again will I date demigoddesses, goddesses, nymphs, satyrs, wood sprites.” He switched to his other hand. “Trolls, witches, banshees, sirens, or any other magical creature. They’re psycho. And even if Nikki doesn’t know she’s a demi-goddess, she’s still one and capable of far worse than jock itch should things end badly. Not to mention I’d be out my favorite assistant.”

“Yes, yes, you’ve regaled me with your extensive list too many times to count.” She shook her head. “But you can’t base your future love life on a few unfortunate experiences.”

“‘Unfortunate experiences’? Try humiliating, emasculating—and painful. Never again.”

“Fine. I get it.”

He folded his hands in front of him and rested them on the desk. “Really, because no matter how many times I tell you this the information doesn’t seem to sink in.”

She harrumphed and stood. “Well, it’s not natural. You’re the son of Aphrodite. Sex is in your blood.”

“I’m not interested in one-night stands anymore. As a matter of fact, I’m not interested in a relationship at all. They’re too messy and I have a business to run.”

“I won’t always be around to look after you, Toraos.”

“If only that were true.” He pierced her with a stare. “It might have escaped your attention, but you’re immortal. You will always be around.”

She shrugged. “Maybe I’d like to hear the patter of tiny feet. I might be a goddess, but I’d still like grandchildren.”

“Then go bug one of your other kids. Surely one of them wouldn’t mind being a baby machine for you.”

She harrumphed. “None of them are talking to me.”

“Shocker.”

“Is wanting to be part of your life so bad?”

“You are never just a part of my life. You insist on controlling my every move.” He narrowed his gaze. “Butt out.”

“Fine, but I think you should seriously consider Nikki. She’s from good stock.”

“Ah.” Tor nodded and pointed at his mother. “You’re trying to get back in Ares’s good graces, and you think me hooking up with Nikki will achieve that.”

Her eyes rounded with false innocence. “That is a horrible thing to say. I genuinely like Nikki and couldn’t give a satyr’s ass about ever speaking to Ares again.”

“Good, then we’re done with this conversation.” He leaned forward and stared at his e-mail in-box on the monitor, praying she would leave. “Have a nice day.”

“You are an ungrateful child.”

“Man, Mother. I’m an ungrateful man.”

“You know, Toraos, things change. You may think you’re in control, but I still own Kythera Cosmetics.”

“Is that a threat?” He’d lost track of how many times she’d threatened to take the company away from him, but she’d yet to act on her warning.

“All I’m saying is that your perception is skewed. One day you could lose the most precious thing in your life.” She strolled to the door and glanced over her shoulder at him, resting her manicured hand on the sleek silver handle. “And I guarantee, you will not have even realized how priceless it was until it’s gone.”

He slowly shook his head. “What is it with you gods and your riddles? Can’t you ever just come out and say what you mean? Lose what? This company? You? No matter what, I will be just fine.”

“If you say so.” With a sly smile, she turned the handle and opened the door.

He stood and followed her into the outer office. “Healthy, adult conversations, Mother—you should try it sometime.”

She ignored him. “Good-bye, Nikki. Don’t let him work too hard.”

Nikki stood and walked to the edge of her desk. “I’ll try, but he’s pretty stubborn.”

Aphrodite performed a half pivot and looked at him, waving a perfectly painted finger at Nikki. “See how well she knows you. You’d better keep her around.”

“I’m not going anywhere, Ms. Stephanos.”

She patted Nikki’s cheek. “We’ll see, sweetie.”

Tor ground his teeth. Why did he let his mother push his buttons? Probably because she represented everything he worked so hard against—privilege, superiority over the lesser beings, crazy inbreeding. He wanted no part of the fantasy world she lived in.

The elevator bell rang and Aphrodite, goddess of beauty, stepped inside as if entering a royal carriage. Nikki moved to stand beside him, and they silently watched the elevator doors close, finally ending his mother’s visit.

Nikki faced him and opened her mouth to speak, but stopped, her eyes narrowing. She brushed his shoulder instead. “Is that sand?”

Tor spun and stormed back into his office. “It’s nothing.”

Despite his mother’s best efforts, he would keep his life normal and god-free. But she was up to something, he just hoped he saw it coming when it finally did and could duck out of the way.

The Von Tassel sisters are in deep. With a new inn opening up to non-magic guests, these three witches have enough to worry about, but after a deal with the Headless Horseman, all three Von Tassel sisters must find their true loves by All Hallow’s Eve or forever be trapped as ghosts in Sleepy Hollow like their ill-fated aunties.

Will Stephanie be able to forgive her playboy ex? Will Bri be able to win back her childhood crush-turned-ghost hunter? Will Lexi be able to sway her supernatural employee? And will they all be able to fall in love by the week’s end?

Lexi

 

I stood next to the antique desk in my office. This was the one place that usually comforted me. Overstuffed chairs, antiques that had been handed down for generations, the faint perfumed smell of the last flowers of the season from our garden. But today none of it soothed me. Instead I stared out at the Inn of the Headless Horseman sign. The bracket had broken in last night’s windstorm and it swung lopsidedly, creaking with a forlorn moan, echoing my mood. What a mess my baby sister, Stephanie, had made for us. Sometimes her lack of foresight made my head want to explode, but this time was a doozy.

Thanks to my little sister’s impetuous decision to barter with the Headless Horseman, we, meaning my sisters and aunties and I, needed to fall in love before midnight on All Hallow’s Eve. No problem for Stephanie and Bri, my younger sisters, and two of the aunties. They already found their guys. But what the hell was I supposed to do with my Auntie Cassandra? She refused to speak to the only man she’d ever loved, and had actually cursed him to make matters worse. Then there was me. Dates had been scarce and, to be honest, Sleepy Hollow was not a hot spot for quality men. Getting the inn up and running had taken all my time and energy. I let out a long-suffering sigh. Something besides love always, always weaseled its way in.

As that depressing thought crossed my mind, Tristan, our handyman, passed in front of the window, carrying a ladder. I inched forward, trying to see what he was doing— and to catch a glimpse of his firm backside. My heart picked up the pace, beating double time at the sight of him. He was a local and had been my boyfriend in high school for six glorious months. I’d fallen in love—he hadn’t. Although his tousled brown hair and smile still made my sadly neglected erogenous zone perk up, I was now his boss.

Awkward.

At least for me. Tristan seemed oblivious to the fact that I was still crushing hard. I’d kept that tidbit a secret, not only from him but from my sisters and the Aunties. I couldn’t handle being rejected again and would never hear the end of it if my family found out.

But with the curse looming, I caught myself skeptically optimistic about rekindling our romance. A lot of obstacles stood in our way—mainly that since he started working for me he’d never shown anything beyond polite respect. It was the equivalent of being called ma’am by the box boy at Sheldon’s market.

I inched closer to the window. When Tristan braced the ladder against the thick posts and started to climb, his jeans pulled tight against his thighs. I think I might have started to drool, but I can’t be sure. Biceps, sweet muscles, how I dreamed of running my hands up his naked arms. The tight long-sleeved T-shirt snugged   across his sculpted planes, taunting me with what I was missing. Too often I found myself ogling his award-winning buns. Was there an award for that? There should be. He’d definitely win. The way his muscles affected me was the same way a snake charmer mesmerizes a cobra. I crept forward trying to stay out of sight, but angled for a better view. Whiling away the day partaking in such a pleasant pastime almost made me forget about the curse, or Tristan’s and my not-so-stellar past.

When Tristan had answered the ad I’d put in the local paper, I was more than a little surprised. We hadn’t been inundated with   qualified applicants. Probably because rumors that the inn was haunted ran rampant. It seemed to keep locals away, but we hoped it might be good for business with duds, the non-magical crowd, one day.

Either Tristan didn’t believe the tales or he was made of sterner stuff. Despite our past, I was desperate, so I hired him. The decision had been impulsive, which was so unlike me. I’m the sensible one. The sister who keeps thing running and the electricity turned on. Usually I avoided any situation that turned into an emotional quagmire. With my family that came naturally.

The good news, or bad news, depending on how I spun the story, was that he accepted the position. So every day I got to see the man who had broken my heart. Not just snapped it, but tossed it on the ground and stomped on it when I was the tender age of eighteen. Okay, maybe I wasn’t quite over it yet.

Tristan had left Sleepy Hollow at the end of our senior year, saying he had family issues that needed to be taken care of and that I should not wait for him. I did.

All through college I kept hoping he’d come back for me. Eventually, I got the message. He wasn’t coming back. Over the years, I’d accepted that we were very young and it probably wouldn’t have worked out anyway. I think they call that sour grapes.

Then he showed up on my doorstep, applying for a position I desperately needed to fill. Outside I wore a mask of the cool businesswoman, but inside lust, anger, and excitement were erupting like Mount Vesuvius.

Damn that gorgeous hunk of man.

To be honest, I didn’t know much about him anymore except that he did his jeans proud. Oh, and that he was a dud, having no magical powers whatsoever. Being with a dud was the kiss of death for relationships with the von Tassels. But that didn’t seem to matter. I still couldn’t shake this stupid schoolgirl crush.

I leaned my hip against the windowsill and watched him reattach the bolt that had come loose from the inn’s sign. Heat flushed my skin and tiny butterflies danced   in my stomach. There was only one word for this guy: fot—effing hot.

“Now that’s one fine piece of human flesh,” said a voice from behind me.

I started, banging my head against the glass. Tristan looked over his shoulder and, like the graceful creature I am, I jumped back and tripped over the wastebasket, spilling the contents across the floor.

“Damn it, Auntie Cassandra.” I got down on my hands and knees and shoved the wads of paper back into the bin. “You scared the crap out of me.”

“Sorry, sweetie.” My auntie’s spirit settled onto a pink brocade settee situated in front of a bookcase. Though over two hundred years old, she didn’t look a day over thirty. A psychic once told me that in the afterlife everybody looked young. “Were you gawking at him again?”

“No—” I stood and propped my fists on my hips. “I wasn’t gawking at him again. I don’t gawk at him.” I yanked on the hem of my shirt. “I was making sure he was fixing the sign like I’d asked him to.”

She gave an undignified   snort. “Well, you should be looking your fill. He’s so gorgeous even I would go for a little barneymugging with him.”

I assumed that was some vulgar archaic   slang, but didn’t ask. A short breath of exasperation huffed from me. I plopped back down in my desk chair. Pretending to refocus on the accounts, I picked up my pen. “Well, I’ll see if I can set that up for you.”

“Me?” Auntie Cassandra drifted toward the window. “Hell, I’m not the one who’s in dire need of having her skirts tossed over her head.”

“Oh my Goddess, you’ve got a mouth like a sailor.” I glanced up, and my brow furrowed. “What are you wearing?”

Cassandra, the oldest of the Aunties, possessed a wild streak. I never knew what she would show up wearing. Today’s choice looked like something out of a 1960s movie. Bumped up hair, white go-go boots, and a bold geometric print dress that could induce seizures. The hunk of leg showing between the top of the boots and the bottom of the miniskirt bordered on obscene. Sweet pickles, I hoped she was wearing underwear. One could never be sure with Auntie Cassandra.

“Do you like it?” She stood and pivoted, adding an extra helping of sashay. “I watched that Austin Powers movie last night. Boy, they really knew how to dress back then.” She rested her hands on her hips. “You know, you could do with a wardrobe overhaul.”

“My clothes are fine.” The last time I bought anything new was to go to my parents’ funeral. Scrubbing toilets and making beds didn’t allow for a lot of gussying up. “Aren’t you supposed to be haunting something? Wait. I know. Why don’t you go kiss and make up with Jacob so we can all live happily ever after?”

“You don’t really think I’m going to make peace with that ignoramus, do you?”

“Uh, yeah, I actually did think that—you know—since we’re all doomed to haunting this land if you don’t.”

“Need I remind you that Jacob married Abigail Ulrich days after he’d asked me to marry him? Village bitch.” She paced in front of the desk. “And—” She pointed her finger to the ceiling. “What did I get for my troubles? Stoned. And I don’t mean the good kind.” She braced her palms against the desk and leaned toward me, her eyes narrowing. “My only solace is that I cursed and bound the two of them to that big oak tree after they died. Ha, see how he likes being shackled to that screaming fishwife for all eternity.” She floated back to the couch, sat, and crossed her legs. “I’d rather burn in hell than forgive that bastard.”

“Well then, it looks like we’ll all be enjoying an eternity in Satan’s Spa, so thanks for that.”

“I’m not the only one in this pickle, missy.” She pointed a translucent finger at me. “I don’t see you taking any great strides to break this curse.”

Leaning back in the chair, I ran my hands over my face. “I’m working on it.” Not wanting her to ask any questions, I lowered my arms and scowled at her. “Don’t you think two hundred years is a long time to hold a grudge?”

“A thousand years is not long enough.”

“Fine.” I scooted forward again and refocused on the accounts. “Then go haunt somebody else, would you? I’m busy.”

“Didn’t you and that young man used to date?” My auntie floated to the window, but I ignored her question. “You should ask him out.”

“I said I’ve got it handled. Besides, you need to worry about your own love life instead of trying to meddle in mine.”

Auntie Cassandra snorted again. “Honey, somebody needs to meddle.”

I hated when she took that all-knowing tone with me. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, you might be great at business, but you’re about as clueless as a tick when it comes to relationships.”

“You know nothing about me and relationships.”

She crossed her arms over her chest and lifted her eyebrows. “I know you haven’t had a single date since you took over the inn. That’s not healthy.”

“That’s not true. I went out with Harold Strongman last February.”

“You didn’t go out with him. You had a meeting about tourism.” She made a pretense of sitting on my desk, but hovered an inch above. “When was the last time you did anything spontaneous?”

“I cut my hair.” I ran my fingers through my pixie cut. “That was spur of the moment.”

“You mean when you got oil-based paint in your hair and couldn’t get it out?” She shook her head. “Not spontaneous.”

“There was that time I entered the pie-eating contest.” I jabbed a finger at her. “And I won.”

“You were ten years old.” Auntie Cassandra shook her head. “Honey, you’ve always been a stickler for routine, taking care of everything and everybody, but sometimes you gotta get out there and mix it up a little.”

Out of all the Aunties, Cassandra was by far the most free-spirited. No pun intended. Rules   were made to be broken, and as much as I didn’t want to admit she was right, my love life was pathetic. I stood and joined her at the window.

“I can’t ask him out. There’s too much…history. Besides, he’s a dud, no magic at all. I don’t think he even has an inkling that this place is crawling with ghosts.” I stared at Auntie Cassandra. “Yesterday, Great-Uncle Herbert passed right by Tristan in that scary clown costume he likes to wear and Tristan didn’t so much as flinch.”

My auntie rubbed my shoulder, sending an icy shiver across my back and up my neck. “Listen, I’m not saying it’s ideal or will be easy, but we’re running out of time.” She smiled. “Lots of duds and magicals have happy lives together.”

“Not von Tassels. And even if I could get something started with Tristan, you’re still not going to make up with Jacob.” I eyed her. “You know my efforts won’t mean shit if you don’t change your mind about reconciling with him.

Unless there’s somebody else you haven’t told us about.”

“No, there’s nobody else.”

I understood the resignation in her voice. Jacob had been the only man she loved and probably still was. Somebody didn’t hate as deeply as Auntie Cassandra did unless fueled by some seriously strong emotions.

“Then I guess it doesn’t matter what I do.” I let my gaze track back to Tristan. Something about the man made me want to toss caution—and my panties—to the wind. I sighed. “All you have to do is talk to Jacob.”

“Oh my, I didn’t realize it was so late.” She glanced at her bare wrist. “It’s almost time for my show.” Auntie Cassandra wiggled her fingers at me and popped out of sight.

“Coward,” I shouted to the ceiling.

I continued to watch Tristan. He climbed down the ladder and again I was gifted with a bunalicious view. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to talk to him—see if there might be a spark between us still. At this point I was getting desperate. A relationship with him was a long shot, but if it happened, all we’d have left to do was convince Auntie Cassandra to forgive Jacob—and profess her love. Easy, right?

I scanned my office for something Tristan could fix or oil. My desk drawer constantly stuck, so that request probably wouldn’t seem contrived. I’d invite him in and chat while he greased the bearings or shimmed something up. Yeah, that would work.

When he passed by the window, I tapped, instantly drawing his attention. Boy, those blue eyes of his could melt the polar ice caps. He smiled and waved. My heart beat against my chest, but I managed to wave him inside. He nodded and held up a finger, indicating it would be just a minute. Then he pointed to the ladder and toward the toolshed. Thankfully I caught myself before I could give him a lame thumbs-up. I smiled and nodded. It was so conscientious of him to put stuff away. Organization is the key to efficiency. Though I could never get my sisters to understand that.

Ten minutes later, Tristan knocked on my office door. I’d been sitting at my desk, pretending to be going over the accounts, but really I’d been attempting to wrangle in my jitters.

“Did you need something, Lexi?”

The way he said my name sent a thrill through me and dredged up old memories of when he used to kiss me and whisper my name. Like now, he’d made my insides go all gooey. I stood and skirted my desk, stopping about two feet from him. Damn, he smelled good, like grass and wind—and sexy, if sexy had a smell. “Sorry for the interruption, but I wondered if you could fix my drawer?”

“Sure.” He walked around the desk and knelt. “Which one?”

“The middle one.” I inched forward, opposite him. “It doesn’t want to open, and once I get it open, it doesn’t want to close.”

“Being a real bugger, eh?” He yanked on the drawer. Thankfully, it stuck. “This is a beautiful piece. You inherit it?”

“It’s been in my family for generations.” I eased one of my butt cheeks onto the desk, trying to strike a somewhat enticing pose. “I have no idea who originally owned it.”

“It was your Uncle Clement.” Auntie Cassandra’s voice sounded to my left. “Used it to hide his moonshine more than to do any actual work.”

The smile froze on my face as I struggled to pretend a two-hundred-year-old ghost hadn’t just materialized in the room. Tristan’s hand hesitated on the drawer knob and his gaze slipped to me for a second before cutting back to his task. “I think maybe the owner was my Uncle Clement, but I don’t know much about him.”

“I bet you have a rich family history. Rumors around town are that the inn is haunted.” He stuck his screwdriver somewhere beyond my sight and scrunched up his face in concentration. “You, uh, you ever see any ghosts?”

You mean like the ancient go-go dancer beside me? “Nope, never have.” I crossed my arms over my chest, hoping I wouldn’t be struck down for my blatant lies. “But I like to encourage the rumors. It brings more business to the inn.”

“I bet you’d like him to bring some business to your inn,” Auntie Cassandra whispered loudly. Thankfully, nobody else could hear her.

“That   seems like a good idea.” Tristan smirked, not looking at me, but continuing to wiggle the drawer. “A very good idea.”

“It does?” I swallowed, replaying what we’d been talking about before Auntie Cassandra’s vulgar interruption. I was fairly certain he wasn’t referring to giving me the business.

“Sure. Tourists love folklore, and the inn is rife with it.” He stood and pointed to the desk. “All fixed. Want to try it out?”

“Wow, that was fast.” I moved to stand beside him. Warmth radiated off Tristan and his arm brushed mine. A flash of excitement circled through me. What he could do with an accidental touch. I prayed I wasn’t blushing. The drawer slid smoothly back and forth. “What was wrong with it?”

He held out a fat paper clip. “Stuck in the groove. It got hung up on the wood when you tried to open the drawer.”

“Thanks. I probably could have figured that out on my own if I would have investigated more.”

He lifted my hand and placed the twisted piece of metal in my palm. “That’s what I’m here for.” He folded my fingers over the clip. “And anything else you need.”

I couldn’t look away from him—or breathe—or speak, for that matter. His blue gaze locked with mine and he gave me a half smile. I was completely lost in the moment. The thought that I should lean in and kiss him bounced through my mind. But, of course, there was no such thing as privacy at the inn.

“Whoooo, girl, he’s got the hots for you.” Auntie Cassandra let out a long whistle, followed by several guttural sounds she more than likely learned from some pimp on the cop show. I think there might have been a pelvic thrust, but I refused to look at her. “Go on, let him know you’re ready and willing to take this scene to the next level.”

“It’s good to know we finally have someone who can put the tools to good use.”

“Yeah, well, I was always good with my tools.”

Yeah he was. My skin flushed under that memory of all the things I’d done with his tool when we dated. I swallowed hard and held up the paper clip. “Again, I really appreciate this.”

“My pleasure.” Tristan winked and slid past me. “I’m off to fix the toilet in the tower room. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“I will. Thanks.”

Stephanie stood outside the door, waiting for Tristan to leave. Her gaze followed his departure. “Sweet Goddess, that man is handsome.”

“You’re engaged, remember?” I tried to keep my voice devoid of incriminating interest.

“Doesn’t mean I can’t look.” She hooked her thumb toward the door. “You should go for that again. Seriously.”

“I told her the same thing.” Auntie Cassandra settled back on the settee. “And from the way he ogles Lexi, he’s definitely interested.”

“Can we not talk about Tristan like he’s a prize bull?” I plopped down in the chair. “Now, unless either of you have something non-Tristan to talk to me about, I need to close the accounts for last month.”

“That counts me out.” Auntie Cassandra faded into the ether.

“Listen—” Stephanie skidded onto the chair opposite my desk. “A non-magical couple from Arkansas just checked in and during the wife’s yammering—I mean seriously, Lexi, the woman wouldn’t shut up—”

I arched a brow at my sister.

“Anyway, she mentioned that she’s a distant relative of one of our supposed-resident ghosts.” Stephanie waited, drawing out the silence for a dramatic effect. She nodded her head, still not saying anything, her eyes round with what I could only fathom was worry. “You know who the ghost is?”

I continued to stare at my sister, not joining in on the guessing game.

When she realized I wasn’t going to reply, she blurted, “Abigail Ulrich.”

My heart sank. “Crap.” I drummed my fingers on the desk. So not what we needed. “Whatever you do, don’t tell Auntie Cassandra.”

“I won’t have to tell her anything. This woman, Bernice Foyle I think her name is, would talk to a doorknob. I guarantee Auntie will know by morning. I’m worried. If she thinks there’s a way to reap a little revenge on Abigail’s kin, she will.”

“I know.” I rubbed the spot between my eyebrows. “Two hundred years and her grudge is as fresh as the day she made it.”

“What should we do?”

She peered at me as if expecting   the answer to the crossword. I liked that my sisters came to me for advice, but sometimes I think they depended on me a bit too much. “Try to keep the Foyles busy. Send them on some local tours. How about Madam Gina’s Ghost Gala? Give them a tour of the inn, but steer clear of”—I air-quoted with my fingers—“the spot. And give Bri the heads-up. Maybe she and the other Aunties can help keep Auntie Cassandra busy over the next couple of days.”

“Roger that.” Stephanie stood. “Oh, and the wedding photographer called. She said they need the deposit by tomorrow.”

“Fine.” I pulled out the checkbook. “I’ll run this into town later. Do you know how late they’re open?”

“Until   seven, I think.” She walked to the door, but stopped and turned to me. “You know, maybe Tristan can drive you to town.”

Not looking up I said, “Butt out.”

“I’m just saying.” With that, she left.

Having Tristan drive me into town wasn’t a bad idea. By then it would be dark and my night vision majorly sucked, and I hadn’t taken my glasses in to get fixed after I stepped on them a couple of months ago. The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Maybe I could invite him to the Boar’s Head Tavern for a beer. Did he even drink?

I didn’t know much about him anymore other than he was a good worker. I finished writing the check to the photographer and slipped it in an envelope. I took a deep breath and then headed to the tower room to find Tristan. The door to the room at the top of the stairs stood ajar, but I knocked anyway. No answer.

“Tristan?” I pushed the door open. This was Jason’s room. He’d decided to stay until after the wedding. I didn’t know what he and Brianna had planned beyond that. Guess it depended on whether we broke the curse or not. “Are you in here?”

Tristan popped his head out of the bathroom. “Here. I’ll be out in a sec.”

“Take your time.” I perched on one of the chairs at a small round table by the window. “I was wondering if you would do me a favor?”

“What is it?” His voice filtered through the partially closed door.

“I have to go into town later to deliver a deposit to Stephanie’s wedding photographer, but I have   horrible night vision. Both the girls will be busy with the meal. Do you think you could drive me?”

“Yeah, I can do that.” The door to the bathroom creaked open. Tristan stopped, swinging it back and forth a couple of times, examining the hinges. Then he pulled a blue bandanna from his back pocket and smiled at me while wiping his hands. “Maybe   we could catch some dinner while we’re in town.” A dimple appeared in his left cheek, making my heart beat faster. “Since we’re going to miss the meal here.”

“Yeah, that—yes, yes.” My head continued to nod like a bobblehead dog in the back window of a car. “I’d like that a lot.” I tried to recover some of my cool, but from the way his smile spread, I think I failed. “How about we leave around six? The photographer closes at seven, and I want to make sure they have the deposit.”

“I’ll be ready.” He shoved the rag back in his pocket.

I stood and walked toward the door, stopping at the entrance. “Do you drink?”

He held his arms out to his side. “Is that a requirement?”

“No, but the Boar’s Head Tavern has an extensive selection   of beers, including   some from three   local microbreweries. Plus they make one hell of a burger.” A giggle slipped from me. So embarrassing. I hadn’t giggled in years. The last time was when I was sixteen.

“Sounds great.” He pulled a can of WD-40 from his toolbox. “And yes, I drink. As a matter of fact, I rather fancy myself a beer connoisseur.”

“Really? Then maybe you can share your expertise with me.” I attempted a coy smile. “I’ll see you at six.”

“It’s a date.” He held my gaze for a second longer than was comfortable and then disappeared into the bathroom and closed the door.

I refrained from fanning myself and managed to exit the room without giggling again. Though he might not have meant it in the literal sense, this outing was the closest thing to a date I’d had in a very long time.

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