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Double Dating with the Dead
By KAREN KELLEY
BRAVA BOOKSCopyright © 2007 Karen Kelley
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTrent Sanders drove up the circular driveway and stopped in front of the old weatherworn hotel. Oh, God, it was worse than he could've ever imagined. He sat in his dark green sedan for a few seconds, just staring at the place, willing it to go away.
This was where he'd be living for the next two weeks. The two-story monstrosity sat on a quarter of the block. The paint had peeled long ago. A sign in front hung from one hook; some of the letters were faded. Trees and overgrown shrubs gave the place plenty of privacy ... along with a spooky feeling.
It was definitely an eyesore. But haunted? Not likely. Just old and tired. He could certainly see where it got the reputation. Hell, even he'd heard of the legend of Garvey County.
A legend was all it was, though, and in the next two weeks, he'd prove it. Selena James would not make a fool out of him.
Every county had some kind of nonsense perpetuated by teenagers and handed down through the ages to scare the kids who were climbing up the hallowed ranks from preadolescence to the sacred teens. The story would grow over the years until it was so blown out of proportion it verged on the ridiculous.
Now kids, he could understand. Olderkids always loved taunting younger ones. It was a given fact. Hell, he'd pulled his share of pranks on his brother Tye. But when adults jumped in and tried to make a dollar off people's fears, well, he had a real problem with that.
Especially when it cut into his schedule.
And cut it did. Staying here for two damn weeks with a so-called psychic nutcase just to prove there were no such things as ghosts really irritated him.
He climbed out of his vehicle and grabbed his suitcases from the back.
Miss James was going to regret ever challenging him to stay in this dump. His agent had come up with the perfect publicity stunt-debunk Selena for the fraud that she was by writing a book that would expose her to the world. Not only would he prove there were no ghosts, but he'd have enough information on Selena James to fill a book. It was the perfect revenge.
He strode up the creaky wooden steps. The Realtor had given him a key to the hotel. It was beyond him why anyone would want to lock this place. It might be a blessing if someone broke in and accidentally burned it to the ground.
After setting down his suitcases, he unlocked the door and pushed it open. Muted light came through the grimy panes and landed on the equally grimy sheet-covered furniture.
The hotel was even worse on the inside.
Leaving his suitcases where they were, he walked farther inside the spacious foyer, his footsteps leaving tracks in the dust.
How the hell were they going to be able to stay here for two weeks? It would take that long just to make the downstairs liveable.
He looked around the room, noting the registration desk with cobwebbed cubbyholes where there had once been room keys. His gaze moved past the desk, landing on the staircase. Even though it was covered with a film of dust, he could tell the workmanship was magnificent.
He stepped closer, running his hands over the smooth surface, then dusting them off. In its heyday the hotel had probably been pretty grand. Now she was just a tired old woman in a faded, tattered gown that was sorely outdated.
"Boo," a woman said in a very dry, sultry voice from behind him.
He whirled around. For a split second he thought the place might actually be haunted. But if he was seeing a ghost, he hoped she didn't vanish anytime soon. She looked pretty damned sweet as she stood in the open doorway.
No, not sweet. Nothing about her looked sweet. She was earth, wind and fire all rolled up into one magnificent woman. The combination was sexy as hell.
Slowly his gaze traveled over her, past long black hair that draped over one shoulder to kiss a breast. She was like nothing he'd ever seen with her loose white shirt, bangles at her wrists and a multicolored full skirt.
Selena James looked even better in color than she had in the grainy black-and-white photo above her weekly psychic column in the newspaper.
He wondered if she knew that with the sunlight streaming in behind her, the skirt she wore was practically transparent. He didn't think he wanted to tell her. He rather enjoyed the view. Payback for the very public challenge she'd issued in the paper just because he'd said she was delusional-on television.
A twinge of guilt flickered over him. He quickly dismissed it. The woman was delusional. There were no such things as ghosts or people who talked to ghosts.
"Did I scare you?" she asked in a mocking voice, one eyebrow lifting sardonically. She swept into the room, and shadows blocked the view of her legs.
A shame because he could've looked at Selena James's legs a lot longer.
"I don't scare so easily." He casually leaned against the balustrade and crossed his arms in front of him.
"But then you've never stayed in a haunted hotel," she said.
"I can't stay in a place that's haunted since there are no such things as ghosts."
As she stepped closer, he could see her eyes were a deep, haunting violet, her features pure, patrician. And she was tall. Maybe five-eight. For some reason he'd pictured her much shorter.
When she breezed past him, he caught the scent of her perfume. It wrapped around him, begging him to follow wherever she might lead. She was definitely a temptation, but one he'd resist. After all, she was the enemy.
She faced him, and his heart skipped a beat. Knowing she was the enemy didn't make her any less alluring and sexy. Probably the reason she had so many followers who faithfully read her column. She was like a spider, weaving her web for the unsuspecting fly. But he knew her game and wouldn't be drawn in. No, Miss James had finally met her match.
Definitely tempting, though.
Man, he'd been spending way too many hours closeted away in front of his computer while he met his last deadline, then been consumed with promotion for his current release, Ghosts and Other Guff. Dating hadn't been a top priority.
Two weeks alone with Selena might not be so bad. She was hot, definitely hot. He wondered how hard it would be to entice her into his bed. At least then his stay here wouldn't be such a waste. It was an option worth considering.
Selena watched Trent. The changing emotions on his face that finally settled into speculation.
Would she or wouldn't she?
She'd seen that interested look before in men's eyes. Trent wasn't bad himself-even better in person than he had been on television, which was what started this whole mess. Sure, it was only a local station, but he'd said she was obviously delusional. Announced it on television without a care in the world.
So if he thought she'd be climbing in his bed, he'd better think again.
She didn't care that his shoulders were wide and his eyes a bright green, the color of finely cut emeralds. The kind of eyes, and the kind of smile, that could talk her right out of her clothes and have her naked on a bed before she realized how she'd gotten there.
Oh, yes, he was a clean-shaven devil in an expensive suit and, if she wasn't mistaken, wearing designer cologne.
But she wasn't stupid and she wouldn't fall for his charm. He'd figure that out soon enough.
Trent was a skeptic. Her enemy. He'd made jokes about her column. She could very well lose her job if she didn't change his opinion about the supernatural by the end of their stay.
Lust could not enter the equation.
She faced him once again, tilting her chin and looking up at him. He was very tall, too. "You said some pretty ugly things about me on television. Do you always take potshots at people you've never met?"
Was he serious? The bangles on her wrists jangled when she planted her hands on her hips. "Nothing personal? You're joking, right?"
She gritted her teeth. She would not stoop to losing her temper. But she'd love to wipe that sardonic smirk right off his face!
His smile turned downward, and it was like a thundercloud hovered over him. Well, she was the lightning bolt that would strike him down.
"I go after all cheats, not just you," he said.
"Now I'm a cheat?" I won't lose my temper, she told herself.
"You're bilking the public when you feed them a line of crap about ghosts being everywhere and that you can talk to them."
"And how do you know they aren't?"
He swung his arm wide. "Do you see any?" He looked toward the second floor. "If there are any ghosts here, show yourselves," he yelled.
He looked at her. "See, no ghosts."
If there were any in the old hotel, he'd probably pissed them off. One thing she hated more than a skeptic was a pissed-off ghost. They could get really nasty when they were riled.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," she warned.
"Should I be worried that a ghost will suddenly appear?" He went to the front door and scooped up his suitcases. "There are no such things as ghosts. If there are, please point them out to me."
Stay calm, she told herself. Take a deep breath.
Exhale! Don't forget to exhale.
She let her breath out and smiled. At least, she hoped it looked like a smile and not a snarl.
"No, I don't see any ghosts, but that doesn't mean they're not here. They don't always show themselves."
He walked past her, then out of the blue, flinched. He spun around, one eyebrow raised. "That was rather childish, don't you think?"
"That I believe in ghosts? I think you've made it plain what you think about my psychic abilities."
"You know exactly what I'm talking about, and it isn't ghosts." He frowned.
Two weeks with a loony. Selena's mother was going to regret challenging Trent in her daughter's name. And if Mom forgot for one minute, Selena planned to remind her.
Darn it, she'd warned her mother to just let it drop, but noooo, she couldn't do that. Her mom had taken out a humongous ad in the paper challenging Trent to stay in the old hotel with Selena. Nothing like having a mother who would throw her only child to the wolves or in this case-wolf.
"Maybe you should explain what you're talking about," she told him. "My vivid imagination isn't working that well today."
"You pinched me."
"I pinched you?"
"At least you're owning up to it."
"Owning up to what?"
"The fact that you pinched my ..." He frowned again.
"You pinched me."
Heat rushed up her face as his meaning sank in. She brushed her hair over her shoulder and glared at him. "Believe me, I didn't get anywhere near your ... anatomy, and certainly not to pinch it."
There was a subtle change in him, a change in the air. Almost as if a current passed between them. His gaze lazily skimmed over her. Her body tingled to awareness. His gaze returned to her face, and for a moment she couldn't breathe.
"I have no problem sharing a room for the next two weeks if that's what you'd like," he drawled.
Warmth traveled over her, settling deep inside her belly. For a second she couldn't talk. She couldn't do anything except lose herself in the mesmerizing emerald green of his eyes.
Sanity returned the instant one corner of his mouth turned up in a gloating smile. She took a step back, and the spell was broken.
"It won't happen, so don't even go there. We're enemies. You'd like nothing more than to see me publicly ridiculed even more than you already have. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but before our two weeks are up, I'd wager you'll believe in ghosts."
"How much?" he asked.
She frowned. "How much what?"
"Would you wager?"
What was he getting at now? "It was a figure of speech."
"Oh, I see." He turned and picked his cases up once again.
"What do you see?" She watched as he made his way up the wide staircase.
Without stopping, he threw over his shoulder, "That you know you'd lose. There are no such things as ghosts, and by the end of our two weeks, you'll have to admit it. You'd lose."
She raised her foot, but then lowered it very gently. She would not stomp her foot. She could control her temper. It didn't stop her hands from curling into fists, though.
How much money did she have in savings? She wasn't sure there were any ghosts here or how cooperative they would be if she needed them to prove their existence to Trent. Oh, hell, it would be worth the gamble to see him lose. She had a feeling he didn't do it very often.
"Name your price," she said, picking up the gauntlet.
At the landing, he turned and looked down at her. "One night in my bed."
Heat rushed over her like a tidal wave of fire. Damn, she should've seen that one coming. But why would she? The man was cold and ... stiff.
Ohh, not a good word to use around Trent. Not that she wouldn't want him stiff.
Visions of him naked, casually walking toward her, traipsed across her mind. Butterflies fluttered in her stomach. It was a delicious vision.
Snap out of it!
Okay, she had to focus.
"Unless you're scared of losing," he taunted.
That was so not fair. She raised her chin. "You're on, but when I win you have to go on television and tell the world that ghosts are real. No hedging the truth to save face, and a portion of all sales of Ghosts and Other Guff has to be donated to a psychic charity."
She had him there. He'd back down now.
"You have a retirement home for psychics?"
Now he was making fun of her. It would give her great pleasure to wipe that smirking smile off his face.
She stuck out her chin. "We have scholarship programs."
"Okay." He started down the open hall.
Okay? Just okay? What the hell did that mean?
He stopped and set his luggage on the floor again, then walked to the railing and stared down at her. "You wanted something else?"
She felt very tiny looking up at him, but she wouldn't let him get to her. "What do you mean by 'okay'?"
"It means I accept your challenge."
"Oh." She bit her bottom lip.
Damn, she was adorable. And this was going to be the easiest bet he'd ever won. He had a feeling it would be the most enjoyable, too.
He turned and went back to his suitcases.
"It wasn't my challenge! It was yours! I'm the one who didn't back down!"
He began to whistle a tune under his breath as he continued down the hall. Something thumped, almost as if she'd stomped her foot. He chuckled.
He went to the first room and opened the door. It was just as deplorable as the rest of the hotel.
After he set his cases down, he reached inside his pocket for his cell phone, then glanced at his watch. Tye, his brother, should be home. He'd said he was going to the gym this morning, but it was nearly noon. Trent punched in the number and waited.
"Your nickel," Tye answered.
"I need some things."
"The place is in shambles. I'll need to at least make a portion of it liveable."
"I can be there in half an hour."
"Good." He started to hang up, but Tye began talking again.
"What's she like? She's there, isn't she?"
"She's here. If I wake up some night with my throat cut, it'll be on your conscience for convincing me I should accept her challenge."
"You've never backed down from anything. You wanted to accept."
Maybe he had and just not realized it. When had his life gotten so predictable? He'd needed something-a change-but he wasn't sure Selena was the remedy.
"What's she like?" Tye repeated.
He sighed, knowing Tye wouldn't get off the phone until he told him something. "Selena James is cute, but demented."
There was a thumping noise in the hallway. He turned. Selena glared at him, her suitcases on the floor beside her, hands on her hips. He'd have to remember to watch what he said, or the next thing he knew, she'd be putting a hex on him or something.
"Talk to you later." He closed his phone and tossed it onto the bare mattress. A little cloud of dust rose up.
"Change your mind about sharing a room?" he asked.
"Now I'm demented?" she countered, ignoring his question.
"At least you see your shortcomings and admit to them."
Her mouth puckered as if she'd just bitten into a lemon. He couldn't resist goading her a little more.
He sauntered to the doorway. "If we share a room, we'll only have to clean one to make it liveable."
"The last place you'll get me is in your bed." She grabbed her suitcases up and tromped down the hall.
Excerpted from Double Dating with the Dead by KAREN KELLEY Copyright © 2007 by Karen Kelley . Excerpted by permission.
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