After making a fatal mistake on the job, Lina Zuendel seeks shelter in a Seattle assisted-living facility as their live-in nurse. But peace is not what she finds. She soon hears tales of ghosts haunting the house, and of two tragic deaths that took place in the 1930s. Unexplained events send her to ask questions of the handsome resident houseboy.
Ren Schultz, a seemingly young live-in houseboy, tries to avoid his growing attraction to the new nurse. His secrets are too dangerous to share, no matter how lonely he has become. But Lina is persistent, and soon uncovers dark truths that no one else has dared to face.
As their attraction grows, so does the intensity of the paranormal activity. Can their love survive the mysteries that lurk in the old sorority house?
|Publisher:||The Wild Rose Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(d)|
Read an Excerpt
Lina Zuendel blamed the loss of her job on Stephen King. If she hadn't been reading Salem's Lot that night in the nurses' lounge, she wouldn't have been so spooked and jumpy, and she wouldn't have screamed when she turned a hallway corner at two o'clock in the morning and collided with Sara, another nurse. Sara carried a half-full dinner tray and wheeled an empty IV device, and when Lina smashed into her the result was spectacular. Sara fell, knocking over both the IV and Lina. As Lina sprawled on the hall tiles she saw the dinner tray go airborne.
A crescent of burger bounced off her forehead while an apple core hit Sara in the eye. Jabbering apologies, Lina rose to help Sara, planted her foot on a pudding cup, and slipped again, whacking her forehead on Sara's chin. At that point Sara started to hit Lina to keep her away. Lina crawled aside, wiping ketchup off her ear and still apologizing, while two grinning orderlies helped Sara up and led her to the lounge.
Lina admitted in her heart that the moment had been a perfectly executed piece of slapstick. She understood why people laughed. None of them knew at the time Lina would kill a patient because of it.
"I went to get sodium chloride for Mr. Ambaum, to flush his catheter," she explained to the doctors and the hospital administrator who called her in after Mr. Ambaum's death. It was five in the morning; Lina still had a chocolate pudding stain on her white sneaker. "I was rattled after, um, running into Sara. I took what I thought was the sodium chloride, and went to his room and injected it, but ..." Her hands still trembled. "It turned out to be potassium chloride. I somehow grabbed that instead; I don't know how."
"You injected potassium chloride into his central venous line?" The administrator took notes as he spoke. He hid his emotions well, but his voice was gruff. He couldn't have been pleased to learn that a nurse had accidentally given a patient a lethal injection.
Mr. Ambaum had been receiving chemotherapy for liver cancer. He had a wife and two grown sons.
"Yes." Professionalism had to be upheld; Lina would not cry in front of everyone. She blinked against the tears and controlled her voice. "I thought I checked. I saw the word 'chloride.' I should have ..." She stopped. She should have checked better; end of weak defense.
The hospital already explained to Mr. Ambaum's family that he had died of cardiac arrest after a medication error. Though the family members were merely in shock right now, the administrator told Lina to expect anger and press coverage, though probably not legal action, as the hospital would do everything it could to settle with the Ambaums out of court. In the meantime, the administrator sent Lina home and told her to take tomorrow off. Lina nodded, gathered her shreds of pudding-splashed dignity, and left the hospital.
A fresh September dawn bathed the eastern sky. Lina stumbled along the sidewalk, blinking at buildings and citizens and seagulls. Salmon-colored sunlight gleamed on the cars; roasting coffee filled the salty air with its scent; a beeping bread truck backed into an alley.
Seattle's First Hill bore the nickname "Pill Hill" for the numerous hospitals dotting it, and Lina's apartment sat in the middle of them. When she had moved into it as a fresh young nurse with a bright white lab coat, she had counted herself lucky to live among so many potential workplaces. Now, five years and three lab coats later, she doubted she would stay at Everglade Hospital even if they did forgive her. They had been too kind; she had killed a man. In her own mind she had committed manslaughter. She did not want to give up nursing, nor go to jail, but she felt she deserved both those fates, and suspected she would never touch a syringe again without shuddering. But this is only the first morning, she thought in desperation. It would improve with time and sleep. Wouldn't it?
Lina unlocked the iron security gate of her building, trudged up the stone steps, and shuffled inside. She needed someone to talk to, someone close, but she had no one. The other nurses were friendly, but not the sort of people whose blouses she would cry upon. Her brother was probably stoned. Her mom never paid attention to nursing concerns unless they concerned herself. Her dad might actually be dismayed with her for her mistake. Really, Lina had no one.
Except maybe Brent.
In the stairwell, she paused at the landing between the second and third floor, where a window faced Elliott Bay. Deep blue water and evergreen-bristled shores cozied up to the metropolis; a white ferry trundled toward Bainbridge Island. Desperate love for the city swelled beneath her ribs. Seattle had seemed the promised land when she had been growing up in her ugly Tacoma neighborhood, and since she had moved here not a day had gone by when she didn't love it still. Brent had invited her to come with him to Atlanta. Because of her ties to Seattle she refused, and they broke up and said all those cruel things to each other. But would he be kind to her now if she called him and spilled the whole awful story? He knew her better than anyone else did. He was her strongest hope for sanity this morning.
In her apartment she thumped Salem's Lot onto her desk, pushed newspapers off her chair, and plopped down to check her email. Like magic, one from Brent appeared. But it wasn't addressed just to Lina. In fact, it appeared to be addressed to everyone Brent knew; the "cc" list went on for about fifty names.
Hi friends and folks! Atlanta is treating me great. In fact, you're never going to believe this, but I'm getting married! Her name's Joanne and we met at a biomed research conference, and well, it had to be fate. I'm too slammed right now to give the whole story, but I'm really happy and wanted to let everyone know, and I'm sure some of you will be calling me anyway for details when you get this. Have a wonderful day!
That was all. Lina checked again, but he sent no separate email for her alone, no kind words for the woman he left behind in Seattle just five months ago. She checked the voice mail on her cell phone. Nothing there either.
She rose on shaking legs and looked at the answering machine on her land line. The blinking light signaled a message. She dove forward, knocking a dictionary off the desk, and pressed the button.
"Hey Lina, it's your mom," drawled the recording. Lina sank back into the chair and put her head in her hands. "I've got these cramps again; they're making me miserable, honey, and I wanted to ask you what that tea was you told me about. 'Cause I swear, sugar, the Midol ain't cutting it anymore. When the hell is menopause going to get here already? Well, at least I got a nurse for a daughter who I can call and complain to. Call me back. Also, Lina, your brother has a thing on his face again. Talk to him about it, okay? Bye, honey."
With dried ketchup in her hair, pudding on her shoe, and shackles of love and cowardice chaining her to an unforgiving Seattle, Lina sat at her desk and wept.
Lina quit a week later. The doctors, nurses, and administrators all pleaded with her to stay, but she declined. Every patient visit tormented her, and not just the ones involving IV medications. Every hospital room reminded her of the thousand things she could do to endanger or destroy the trusting folk who had come here to be healed. The newspapers and local TV stations had run the story of Mr. Ambaum's demise. Though Lina had been shielded from having to talk to reporters, and her name hadn't even been printed, she felt her coworkers watching her wherever she went. Even if it was pity and not reproach, she wanted none of it.
There would be no court trial. For Lina's mistake the Ambaums were willing to take a $500,000 settlement from Everglade Hospital, which, a hospital lawyer confided to Lina, was nothing. Families had been awarded millions for similar incidents. Mr. Ambaum, though only fifty-seven, had been an alcoholic his entire adult life, leading to the liver cancer, and Lina got the impression his wife and sons were weary of dealing with him. They wanted to close the case, pay the medical bills, and move on.
That thought depressed her. A person's spouse and children should be the ones who cared the most and fought the hardest. How many mistakes did you have to make before the world washed its hands of you? How far down that path was Lina herself, with such a colossal mistake on her record already at merely thirty-two years old?
She didn't tell her family what happened. She didn't even plan to tell them she quit until she got a new job, and then she would only tell them she wanted a change of scene. That at least was true. Paradoxically, she felt herself unqualified for anything but nursing, while unable to go on being a nurse at Everglade. Her plan, her final hope, was to try being a nurse somewhere else, somewhere with fewer opportunities for lethal error.
On a windy morning in late September, Lina put on mascara and her lab coat, gave up the valuable street parking space she'd held down with her Impala for a week, and drove to the University District for an interview. The ad in the Seattle Times sought a live-in nurse for "Drake House, elegant retirement home." Lina's current apartment now oppressed her — in addition to its hospital-central location, it bore too many memories of Brent — so she emailed her resume to the address given. Marla Drake, the landlady, called her the same day and set up an interview. All Lina had to do was not screw it up, assuming she could stand the place.
No problem there. She fell in love with the house upon sight: a red-brick, three-story mansion with a spiky iron fence and a steep black roof. Marla, a short middle-aged woman with a seemingly permanent grin, let her in, pumped her hand, and beckoned her to follow. Lina crossed the thick white carpets, gaping at the furnishings: a grand piano, wavy old windowpanes, hardwood floors in the dining room. The ground floor smelled of lemon cake and freshly vacuumed rugs. Her spirits wobbled upward. In such a place, she might stand a chance at practicing qualm-free nursing again.
Marla brought Lina to a small parlor where a thin man in his fifties with bushy gray hair hopped up from the sofa and smiled. "My husband, Alan."
"Welcome, Lina." He shook her hand.
"These are our quarters." Marla settled herself into a polished wooden chair with green cushions. "Couple hundred square feet to hide away in. Have a seat."
Lina sat in the indicated chair, which matched Marla's, and Alan relaxed onto the sofa again, twiddling a pencil between thumb and finger.
"I'm an RN myself," Marla said, "but God knows I need helpers. Best case would be someone who can move in. Makes the shifts more flexible. Room and board come with salary, and the rent is real cheap. Especially for this town."
Lina smiled. "Sounds fine to me. I'm happy to move."
Alan scratched his nose with the pencil. "Don't mind leaving that commute behind, huh?" "Not a bit."
The interview flowed as smooth as small talk. Then came that inevitable question. "Why did you leave your last job?"
Lina had undergone two other interviews in the last ten days, in facilities like this one — though nowhere near as beautiful — and at this question she launched into an account of her collision with Sara and the subsequent medication mix-up. No matter how she tried to downplay it, the story could only end with, "The man died." After that, both interviews had turned chillier, and Lina went home knowing she wouldn't be called back.
Everglade Hospital had agreed not to mention the incident if anyone called for references. Disclosing the truth — or not — was Lina's choice.
The lemon cake smelled so good. The carpets were so clean.
Lina cleared her throat. "Hospitals can get very depressing. Very hectic, impersonal."
Marla and Alan Drake nodded in commiseration.
"I love nursing," Lina said, "but I really wanted a more home-like environment, with patients I could get to know and stay with longer."
The very next day, Marla called to tell her she got the job.
On the first of October, during a rainstorm, she moved into Drake House as the new resident nurse. After unpacking her boxes in her third-floor room, Lina took a notebook and went to see each of the eleven senior citizens. She wore her white lab coat to look professional and her hair loose to look friendly. She hoped the result wasn't mere contradiction.
The residents' quarters comforted her, with their potted plants and wallpaper and large-print book collections. In such an environment she felt relaxed, or at least more relaxed than she had been since her involuntary manslaughter.
Encouraged by her mood improvement, she talked half an hour with each resident, learning and writing down their habits and ailments, and what they liked and disliked about Drake House.
"The meals are wonderful," at least half of them said.
Cook very good, Lina jotted down in her notebook.
"Marla and Alan set up such lovely activities for us," some added.
Fun times, Lina wrote.
"We're all such good friends; we're like a big family," nearly all said.
Happy place, Lina recorded.
The dislikes were minor. The radiators needed replacing; they clanked and took a while to heat up. "But Alan or Ren lights a fire for us in the living room, and we sit down there and have a grand time," said Dolly Tidd, her third patient. "Have you met Ren? Our houseboy? Oh, you will! He's just darling. Do you have a boyfriend? No? Then you will love Ren."
Cute coworkers, Lina wrote, then crossed it out. She was too much of a wreck for romance right now. Besides, with a title like "houseboy," this Ren was probably still in high school.
The residents' other dislikes included the lack of an elevator, though there was a wheelchair lift on the front staircase; the difficulty visitors had in finding parking; and, oh yes, the ghost.
Lina's pencil paused the first time someone mentioned it. "The ghost?" "Yes," said Betty Carter, cutting an article out of a newspaper at a pace of about five snips per minute. "But it doesn't really hurt anyone, and we're all used to it."
"Then I hope to hear some good stories around that fireplace."
And Lina wrote Haunted house believer on Mrs. Carter's page.
Then George Lambert, who was hard of hearing but didn't let that stop him from flirting with every woman he met, shouted at her, "Did they tell you about the ghost?" "Not much. What does this ghost do?" "Don't worry!" He winked. "I'll protect you." She dropped the topic and moved on to his medical history. But her last patient brought up the ghost yet again.
Augusta Beltrayne, who everyone called Mrs. B, had the room next door to Lina's. Mrs. B, a tiny, brown-skinned lady, eighty-nine years old, had advanced macular degeneration, arthritis, and a stunning number of magazine subscriptions. They overflowed her shelves, filled four crates, and lurked in piles under the lavender armchairs.
"Not much point, the way my eyesight's going," Mrs. B said. "But I love the smell of them. Especially these." She lifted an issue of Vogue, and flashed a smile full of teeth so straight they had to be dentures.
"I'd be happy to read to you once in a while, or find you some audio material."
"That would be marvelous. Then I could just turn up the volume if that poltergeist starts knocking on walls." Mrs. B laughed.
Lina lowered her notebook. "Okay, you're the third person to mention a ghost. Is there anything I should know?"
"Don't you worry. All it does is rearrange things and walk up and down the stairs."
The clouds darkened outside. Lina told herself the chill up her spine was really still Stephen King's fault. "People see it?"
"With my eyes I'm hardly the one to ask! But no, I gather nobody sees it. They just hear it — footsteps and so forth."
"Have you heard it?"
"My door swung open one day and tapped against the wall, three times, like someone was standing there playing with it. Only there wasn't anyone."
Stupid to get goose bumps from a dubious anecdote, Lina scolded herself. "Was that the only time?"
"Not exactly. I could swear things end up in different places than where I laid them down. But then, I'm not exactly young anymore!"
A burst of static and a loud voice from the open door made Lina jump almost out of her chair. "Good evening, everyone," said the voice, Alan Drake's. "Dinner is served! Please come on down." The intercom clicked off.
Lina let out her breath.
"Oh, good!" Mrs. B flung aside the Vogue and reached for Lina's hand. "Let's go down."
Mrs. B squeezed her arm as they walked down the corridor. "I'm so glad you're my new neighbor. That last nurse hardly stayed a month. She was such a jumpy thing."
Excerpted from "The Ghost Downstairs"
Copyright © 2008 Molly Winter.
Excerpted by permission of The Wild Rose Press, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Im lucky that molly ringle is my distance cusin!! The book was interesting edventreus and fun! It was exciting from the start
Lucky me. I was able to read a pre-release version of The Ghost Downstairs and it's one of the most captivating books I've read in years. The characters are magnificent, the story hooks you from the first page, and Molly Ringle's writing style is spellbinding. As far as I'm concerned, this novel is a must-read. Can't wait to rediscover the mysterious tale this talented author weaves all over again!
I loved this book. It made me cry and laugh. I read it when I was in the hospital for a total knee replacement and let's just say that it was exactly what I needed to help me though it. Thank you Molly!!!!!!!
This is the first book I’ve read by Molly Ringle and it won’t be my last. What an amazing first experience to have with an author! The premise of this book intrigued me; a haunted nursing home and a splash of romance, an excellent combination. I went in with no expectations other than the hope for an enjoyable story. It was that and so much more. I would categorise this story as primarily a romance with a suspenseful twist. The story definitely has a spooky theme through it, and there are certainly moments that make you want to check over your shoulder; but the book is not a horror. The ghostly encounters serve a purpose in illustrating the frustrations, jealousy, and growing anger of the trapped spirit. The main theme is a love story that must defy the odds if it is to overcome what seems to be its inevitable fate. The author has a lovely writing style. It flows well and has an addictively dreamy, relaxing quality to it while simultaneously being completely compelling, capturing the creepiness you would expect of a ghost story. Character development is very well done. Lina and Ren are genuinely likeable characters; they each have their flaws, and are scarred by their past bad experiences but these only add depth to their personalities and make them more relatable. The secondary and minor characters are fleshed out enough according to their roles in the story so that they each have a unique personality, but you are not drowning in too much descriptive detail. The primary secondary characters of Marla and Mrs B have their own individual roles in developing and progressing the story and the minor characters, primarily the other nursing home residents, add colour and flavour giving the impression of a generally happy and relaxed environment; that is until the ghost’s behaviour is no longer limited to harmless mischievousness but becomes increasingly erratic and violent, directed towards Lena and anyone in her periphery. The Ghost Downstairs was a lovely story with enough creepiness to give it that bit of an edge. It had me compulsively turning the pages to discover just how Lina and Ren were going to beat the odds and I was more than happy with the ending. I would thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a sweet romance with a dash of ghostly creepiness. *Advanced Reading Copy provided by the publisher in lieu of an honest review.
Ghost (BOO!) Love story with some twists. Ringle kept me reading till the end; I had to know what was going to happen to Ren and Lina! Maybe a bit too much background on Lana and not enough on Ren but still the characters were unique and had crowd appeal. Just enough secondary characters to make the plot move along. Lina is a nurse who is riddled with guilt over a patient's death. Ren is DEAD or is he? As always there is the conflict between good and evil or in this case jealousy. Secret of a couple deaths in a University Sorority House seventy years ago affects the elderly House inhabitants of today. Emotional see saw of the effects of accidental dealth and the ones left behind. "A copy of this book was provided by The Wild Rose Press, Inc via NetGalley with no requirements for a review. I voluntarily read and comments are my honest opinion."
I've read this story twice now, and I'll probably read it several more times. The characters are memorable. The plot is engaging. The writing style is a combination of beauty and humor. It's a wonderful escape but especially on rainy day. Get a big cup of cocoa, some marshmallows, put on some fuzzy slippers, and curl up in front of the fireplace with this one. It's a delightful read. One of my all-time favorite romantic ghost stories.