An ethereal kiss brushed the skin beneath her ponytail, and the sensitive hair at her nape tingled in response.
Clarissa shivered and then laughed. It was during encounters like these, she got the distinct impression the ghost haunting her latest renovation project was decidedly male. “I had a feeling you’d like the end result.”
Arms crossed, she turned a full circle in the empty room. Golden rays from the setting sun streamed through the narrow windows, highlighting the rich cranberry walls against the white crown moldings, warming the burnished tin ceiling to a subtle glow. The plastic wineglass she’d brought with her slid an inch or two along the refurbished hardwood floor, and a second later, the unopened bottle of Merlot wobbled at its side.
Perhaps her ghost was right. It was time for their celebratory toast. “Yep. We’re all done, aren’t we?”
The glass tipped over with a hollow clack and rolled in a wide arc until it bumped the end of her steel-toed boot. Shaking her head, she chuckled. “For a being who doesn’t have to deal with time or space, you sure are impatient.”
The end of her bangs ruffled, and she rolled her eyes. “Fine, fine.”
A quick ransack of her toolbox for the corkscrew, and Clarissa poured a glass of wine before ascending the stairs for her final inspection.
The furniture would arrive tomorrow, authentic pieces specifically selected by the New Orleans Historical Society. A few days later, the manor doors would be unlocked and the public tours would begin.
Normally, the excitement leading up to one of her grand openings brought with it a complete sense of accomplishment. At the end of each project, her hard work was rewarded, her reputation enhanced.
She smoothed her palm along the sleek, wooden banister, her heart heavy as she perused the second-floor gallery. But this time everything was different. The money, the accolades, the recognition…they offered a weak consolation to everything she would be giving up in return.
Flicking off the lights, she checked each room. A tear settled in the corner of her eye as a cool hand skimmed her arm and a set of ghostly fingers wound tight through hers. Four months, she and her ghost had spent together, and while, at first, his presence had scared the crap out of her, over time she’d come to appreciate his tender assurances.
A smile snuck in, and she lowered her chin at the little trinkets she’d often found waiting for her each morning she entered. A rose, a tarnished coin. A small pile of shiny beads. He’d been with her every step, and now…
The time had come for them to say goodbye.
A gentle caress swept her cheek, and she tipped her head back as an airy hand brushed the edge of her jaw. The whisper of a delicate kiss touched her lips.
“Find me…” washed past her ear.
The mellow chime of the doorbell echoed off the bare walls and Clarissa flinched. Pressing her shaking hand to her forehead, she descended the grand staircase. Good God, she wanted the circumstances to be different so badly, she’d started to imagine things that weren’t there. Her ghost had never talked to her before. And how in the world was she supposed find someone who was dead?
A peek through the leaded glass window in the front door, and her shoulders fell. Uh oh. A visit from the estate arbitrator this late in the game was never good.
Twisting the handle, she swung the door wide. A gust of cool air rushed past and out onto the portico, twirling her ponytail and lifting the hair on her arms.
Ramone pushed his sunglasses unto his bald forehead and his toffee skin paled to a sickly shade of green. “What in the world was that?”
Clarissa darted a glance around the foyer, but it seemed her ghostly friend had disappeared. “I’m not entirely sure.”
“Wretched old plantations and their inquiétant fantômes. ” He wrestled with the leather portfolio in his arms, shoved a piece of paper in her direction and she stooped to catch it, bouncing the sheet in her palm before it could drift to the floor. “We’ve hit a snag, chérie.”
She frowned down at what appeared to be an accident report. “Uh-huh, what’s this?”
“The owner of this house isn’t dead.” Ramone darted a glance around the stoop as if he expected some undead zombie to leap out from behind one of the pillars.
Absolutely not. She scowled, crumpling the piece of paper in her fingers. She’d been here before. And if some lazy bum planned on showing up to take advantage of all her hard work, they could just go ahead and think again. Let the little restorer handle the back-breaking labor. Once she’s done her job, then we move in to live happily ever after in our newly rehabbed estate. “What are you talking about? This house was in foreclosure before the historical society bought it and contracted me to handle the renovations.”
Ramone nodded, shuffling some additional documents around. Two errant sheets slipped from the stack and wafted to a stop against his leg. “That piece of paper you’re currently destroying is a police report. Five years ago, the rightful owner of this house was in a car accident. Trés tragique, no? He’s been in a coma ever since.”
Clarissa withdrew a step.
No. It couldn’t be. “He?”
“Oui. A fellow by the name of—” A chirp vibrated in his breast pocket and he shifted the load in his arms before fumbling his phone to his ear. “Bonjour.” His gaze drifted to the scrolled header above the door. A moment passed before he locked his brown eyes onto hers. “Oui. I’m with her now. Yes, yes, right away.”
“Miraculous.” A shudder wracked his shoulders as he slowly lowered the phone from his ear. “The owner is awake. And he’s asking for you, chérie.”
Clarissa smiled. And then grinned, tossing her head back with a full-throated laugh. “Thank you, Ramone. Tell the hospital to let him know I’ll be right there.”
To learn more about AJ visit www.ajnuest.com. For Giveaways and FREE reads, join her VIP Reader Club by clicking HERE