Read an Excerpt
Ghost of You
A Phantoms novel
By Kelly Moran, Allison Collins
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Kelly Moran
All rights reserved.
It was no secret that Sammy Hanesworth hated him from the first moment he set foot in the Phantoms conference room six months ago. No. Hate seemed too meager a word. She loathed him with the fire of a thousand suns. Yes, that was it.
To Cain McClutchen, the real secret was why, but he wasn't so sure he'd ever get close enough to find out. It would require three-million SPF sunscreen.
They'd just ended another case two days ago and were sitting in said conference room awaiting orders for their next site. Except Cain and Sammy were the only ones in the room. Their producer, Elise, wanted them alone first before the rest of the team joined them for a briefing.
Cain swiped a hand down his face and tried not to notice Sammy, which was damn near impossible. Short black hair, navy blue eyes, and a heart-shaped face that reminded him of a pixie. A badass pixie. She knew how to level a guy.
Phantoms producers handpicked people who were attractive, poised, and educated. Part of this was to portray legitimacy. The rest was to hook viewers for a long time. It worked. The show was in its sixth hit season. So, yeah. They were all attractive.
But Sammy? Damn, she had this way of making breathing difficult.
He cleared his throat and tried for civility. "Sammy ..."
"Yes, bane of my existence?"
Ah, his favorite of her nicknames. She had so many. Freud, Satan. The list was endless. She, however, had yet to actually call him by his real name. The psychologist in him had all kinds of theories as to why. The man in him wanted to hear her say it. Just once.
As he was about to open his mouth and spill something that would no doubt piss her off more, their producer walked in holding a stack of files, which she unceremoniously dropped on the table.
"Hello, my pretties. Let's get started."
Sammy's brows lifted. "Um, we're the only ones here, Elise."
Elise darted a glance between the two of them. "I'm aware. I need to speak to you privately. You two are not playing nice in the sandbox."
Crap. He'd had a gut feeling this was why they were called in here. Though Sammy's animosity toward him was apparent, she did a pretty bang up job of not showing it on camera, though stuff slipped through. She'd even managed to taper the seething in front of the crew. And Cain reacted by stepping up and challenging her when it was warranted. When she wasn't confusing the hell out of him.
For the hundredth time, he questioned his decision to join the show. Unlike other paranormal investigation TV programs, Phantoms used the best elements of every competitor and took it a step further. The Phantoms crew didn't merely stay in a location for a few hours or a night. They were on location for two to four weeks.
Cain liked that they seemed to do everything in their power to get answers. He'd wanted his own doubts assuaged. Add in the fact that the crew only took off the months of July and December, with the occasional weekend here or there, and he was sold. It had gotten to the point where he couldn't stand his own company. He needed action, a change from his grandmother's California home and the hypothetical ghosts.
But the team had been a solid unit for years before he joined, and Sammy didn't want him around. Being unwanted wasn't new to him, but he was trying to change that. Find a place where he did belong. Phantoms was looking less and less like the solution.
Elise crossed her arms. "The editors are having a bitch of a time cutting your fighting segments. The guys upstairs have caught wind. We need to keep the uniformity of the group, or we're going to lose viewers. They need to connect with Cain as the new investigator." She picked up her pen and grinned.
The wicked gleam in Elise's eyes made his gut turn to ice. He'd seen that look a few times now, and it usually implied something very, very bad was coming. As in they were going to be directed to follow some unpleasant orders. The subtle widening of Sammy's eyes told him he was right.
Elise clicked her pen. "Ever since Kerry and Paul's hookup, the ratings are through the roof."
He pinched the bridge of his nose. Yeah, this was exactly where he didn't want this conversation to go. Kerry and Paul, two of their investigators, had turned from friends to lovers a few cases back, breaching their contracts and getting fired in the process. Except the viewers went bonkers and they were rehired, minus the no romance clause in their new contracts.
Sammy ran her hands through her hair and fisted the strands, mumbling incoherently. He shouldn't find it hot as hell that she argued even with herself.
"So here's what's been decided." Elise kept clicking the pen. "On the next few sites, you two are going to work closely whenever possible. Handcuff yourselves if need be. You can bicker to your heart's content but don't cross the line into full-blown fighting. One of two things will happen, according to the bigwigs upstairs. You'll either start getting along and the problem's solved, or you'll light the camera on fire with the sexual tension. Win-win."
"What?" Sammy's voice droned with absolutely no inflection. "Are you trying to tell me that ...?" She waved her hand in his direction with disgust. "We're ..."
Interesting she'd deny the implied sexual tension with flushed cheeks. The pulse at her neck beat double time. Cain wondered if it was from anger or ... something else.
Elise filled in when Sammy obviously couldn't finish. "Something needs fixing here. Just spend more time together. Work out the issue."
He looked longingly out the window at the towering skyline of New York City and thought about jumping. It would hurt less than following orders.
Sammy all but growled. "This goes beyond my contract terms."
Elise's grin widened. "Your contract states you do whatever the show says, within reason."
"Exactly," Sammy wailed. "Within reason. Like missing the birth of my niece because we were in a Virginia cemetery chasing a poet's spirit. Or not making it home for Easter due to an extended stay at the Reeves mansion when I got pushed down the stairs. By a ghost. This is asking too much."
"No one's asking you to get married and spawn. Investigating is part of your job. Just pair up more often with Cain. Like I said, you'll either get to know one another better and become friends, or you'll mate like monkeys."
Or kill each other. Elise forgot that scenario.
Christ in Heaven.
He leaned forward. "Assuming this theory of yours is true, it breeches our contract to get romantically involved."
"I would never do anything resembling romantic with you."
Elise stood slowly. "Let me be clear. I no longer care what you do off camera. We got around the clause with Kerry and Paul. They were worth fighting for to keep on the show."
Direct hit. He was expendable. Memo received. And that still wasn't an answer.
Elise shifted her files. "The audience needs to see the illusion of uniformity or they need to see sparks. This isn't unreasonable to ask you to work together."
Cain sighed and leaned back, unable to argue that point. They did need to work together. The outcome of doing so was just filler for the executives upstairs. Ratings enhancements.
Sammy stood and paced, biting her thumbnail.
"I'm resigning, Sammy." Elise sighed when Sammy whipped around to face her. "I have ulcers on top of my ulcers, and I want to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa before I get too old to make the trip. I'm done. This is my last season."
He watched Sammy closely, but he didn't find concern or sadness on her face. Instead, a hopeful surprise lit her eyes.
"I'll be recommending you to replace me."
"If," Elise amended, "you show me you can handle it. This job is not for the timid, and you have the balls, but it also requires diplomacy."
He had no idea Sammy was interested in producing, or anything beyond investigating in front of a national audience. He could easily see her in the role, though. She'd kick ass and not bother with names. In fact, every member of the crew had graduated college. Sammy's degree in communications made sense for her wanting to produce one day. He'd gone into psychology wanting to help others like himself who'd lost loved ones, but he'd only wound up feeling empty. At least Sammy might get to use her degree for what she wanted.
Sammy grinned. "I'll behave from now on. Thank you."
"You don't have the job yet." Elise grabbed the phone on the conference table. "Send the others in." She set the receiver in the cradle. "After the meeting, you two are scheduled downstairs for a photo shoot. New promo pics for the site."
He shifted in his seat. They'd called Kerry and Paul in to do the same thing before the last investigation. The photos were sexy and intended to play up the romance between them now that they were public. If they wanted him and Sammy, that could only mean ...
Sammy's wide blue gaze pinned him from across the table as the rest of the team strode into the room. She swallowed and glanced away, but not before he caught the apprehension and understanding in her eyes.
This was going to suck. On so many, many levels. Because at the heart of it all, Sammy may abhor him, but he liked her an awful lot. She had drive and passion. And she was beautiful. Besides all that, the dark part of him, the part that had been alone and on the outside his whole life, connected to that part of her he'd sensed from day one.
And maybe he was delusional, but he swore she didn't actually hate him nearly as vehemently as she let on. Sometimes, when she wasn't paying attention, he caught her heart in her eyes and knew the anger was a shield.
Their techies, Amir and Terrance, walked in and picked up on the tension immediately, their gazes darting between them. Both in their late twenties, they'd been a couple since before the show began. He liked them a lot, too. They'd been very welcoming when he'd first started. Except the way they were looking at him said they saw right through him.
Tom and Earl, the cameramen, sat in a far corner, used to being invisible, while Kerry and Paul took a seat next to Cain. Paul pushed his wire-framed glasses higher on his nose. He was the team historian and the closest Cain had to a friend in the group. Lee, their psychic, was the only one absent.
Paul leaned over. "What's going on?"
He kept his tone as soft as Paul's. "Tell you later."
"Let's make this fast. I have fifty things to do before we fly out tomorrow." Elise handed Sammy a file. "We're heading to Nebraska. I'll let Sammy tell you the rest. She's intimately involved in this case."
Sammy stood. "Just outside Lumbark's city limits where my family's farm is, there's an abandoned church. Also on the grounds are a cemetery and a shell of an old elementary school. In the 1950s, there was a fire in the school. Forty of the two hundred kids inside died. The property was left to the wayside when a new school and church were built on the other side of town. Since then, there has been cult activity and a high number of vagrants in the church. The cemetery is old and predates the church. Most of the graves are from the early 1900s."
"We haven't done a church or school in a long time." Kerry's gaze shifted to Paul's and back to Sammy. "Is that why Lee's not here?"
Sammy nodded. "There was talk of bad juju on the grounds even before the fire. Add in teenagers using the abandoned church for pagan worship and you have possible dark spirits."
He rubbed the back of his neck. Lee could hear past conversations that once transpired, even from decades before. Ghosts were one thing. This was another. The only cases Lee didn't participate in were those tied to evil. No one else seemed to be saying the obvious, the one thing frightening enough to scare Lee away.
Cain leaned forward. "We're talking demons."
Sammy narrowed her gaze on him. "It's possible, yes."
No possible about it.
"Oh boy." Kerry rubbed her arms, causing her long, blonde hair to shift. She was an empath, of sorts, able to sense other people's emotions, though not on a psychic level. More intuition. If she was nervous, this couldn't be good.
Terrance took Amir's hand in his. "I thought we were staying away from these cases."
Sammy drew a deep breath. "Normally, I'd agree. But this is my hometown, and ..." She ran a shaking hand through her hair. "Someone called me in a favor. The man who bought the property is an old friend. He's a pastor now and looking to renovate the property and rebuild a new congregation."
An old boyfriend was more like it. Sammy didn't get nervous. He could attest to that a thousand times over. This case, whatever the tie, was more personal than she liked.
Kerry nodded. "Of course we'll help. But we're going to need some kind of protection."
Paul wrapped his arm around her shoulders. "Holy water, the buddy system. If things get too dark, we pull out and wait before going back inside. Evil spirits aren't like ghosts. They can follow you and aren't bound to one location."
Sammy dug in a bag by her feet. "I agree, which is why I bought these for everyone." She passed out crosses on a thin chain and a small vial of what Cain assumed was holy water. "Keep these on you at all times. Regardless of your religion, they can help. You'll note that those aren't just crosses. They're crucifixes with Jesus' body. They've been known to hold more protection."
He took the items from her, their fingers brushing in the process.
Sammy looked at each member of the crew, but her gaze skimmed right past his. "I'll also be bringing pure salt for protection circles, and a Bible. Just play it safe, guys."
Elise rose and tossed their plane tickets across the table. "Flight leaves at eight sharp tomorrow morning. Any questions? No? Good. Bye." She strode from the room.
Sammy looked at Paul. "I'll email you what I have on the background, but it's not much, I'm afraid."
Paul nodded. "I'll dig around."
"Thanks, you guys. I know we don't like these dark cases, but this place has been a terrible burden on the town. It would be nice if we could do something to help."
Kerry leaned over the table and touched Sammy's hand. "You know we've got your back. We'll do what we can."
Sammy swallowed hard and slid her hand out from under Kerry's. She darted a glance toward Cain and quickly away. "I have to get downstairs for a shoot. Catch you guys tomorrow."
The team started talking among themselves.
Cain watched her walk out and closed his eyes for a beat, steeling his spine for the upcoming case and spending more time with the little firecracker of a pixie. This was so not going to end well.
"Everything okay, sweetie?"
Sammy glanced up at the makeup artist and forced a smile. "Sorry. Lost in thought."
Amie looked like she didn't believe her, but she nodded. "Well, you're all set. Ready to strut your stuff?"
She laughed. She never was one to strut. And man, did she hate these photo shoots. It was one thing to have a camera follow her around at the sites. Most of the time she didn't even notice. But the "pose here," "turn your head there" commands were obnoxious.
She loved investigating, loved what they were doing, yet she longed to be behind the camera someday instead of in front of it. The news of Elise retiring sent a giddy bubble rising in her chest. It's what she'd always wanted. And when it came time for Phantoms to end, she'd have her foot in the door to do her own show.
Elise's warning popped her happy bubble, though. Being forced to spend more time with Cain was not on her list of desires. In fact, she'd kinda rather have a tooth pulled without Novocaine. Plus, the insinuation of chemistry between them just made her jaw grind.
Mostly because it was true.
She hated herself for it. Cain represented everything she detested and promised herself she'd never do again. No one was going to mess with her head. Leave her vulnerable. She'd barely survived the first time.
Jackson Granger's resignation at the start of this season had been hard for her, leaving a small hole in her chest. After he fell in love with Ava and chased after his own happiness, Sammy was left missing her best friend and had Cain forced on her in his place. A double whammy. Cain radiated the mannerisms of every psychologist she'd ever met. It made her skin crawl. Because long ago, one of those psychologists tried helping her through the grief of losing her mother in a completely illegal and entirely unethical way.
Excerpted from Ghost of You by Kelly Moran, Allison Collins. Copyright © 2015 Kelly Moran. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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