RT 2013 – Day 2
I’m at the Romantic Time Booklovers Convention in Kansas City this week. To Celebrate, I thought I’d post a bit from one of my books each day that I’m away. Looking for one of my books? You can find them all on my page at All Romance eBooks!
After twenty-five years of cooling his jets in a wall sconce, Frank DeLuca figured the afterlife owed him a break. Hadn’t he been a model ghost? He didn’t possess little kids, screw up the television reception, or throw random objects across the room just to get attention. Hell, he never even made creepy noises in the dead of night.
All he asked was a peaceful existence where someone would turn him on every once in a while. The light, that is. He needed just a little bit of light in his afterlife.
Instead, he got a sullen, silent little boy who cried for his mommy every night. The kid came with a set of hyper-tense grandparents whose marriage was crumbling under the weight of old insecurities and words left unspoken. As if that weren’t enough to drive a guy to hide out in his light fixture, providence tossed in a little a spitfire of a girl who flipped his switch in every way. Gina Ferro turned out to be the kid’s mother. She also happened to be a ghost.
Thrown together by Fate and bound by history, Frank and Gina must learn to trust each other with the keys to their pasts in order to unlock their eternity.
And here’s an excerpt!
Frank DeLuca closed his eyes and prayed harder than he had ever prayed before. Considering the fact that he’d been trapped in some bizarre kind of purgatory on earth for the last twenty-five years, you can bet he’d done some pretty hard praying. But there was always room for improvement, and since he still hadn’t been sprung from this stupid fake-brass Brady Bunch wannabe light fixture, he gritted his teeth and tried again.
“Come on. Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease.” His fingers curled into his palms. He tightened his fists, trying to cling to his last shred of patience. “Just turn on the light.”
He opened his eyes. Not that it made any damn difference. Everything in his world was black. The way it had been since he last saw Cam. The way it had been since he pried the screwdriver from her hand and asked her to turn out the light. It seemed like the right answer at the time. Of course, with Cam popping in and out of his room, he’d never had to deal with such a dark stretch of eternity before. Lesson learned.
“Turn it on, turn it on, turn it on,” he chanted into the darkness. “Turn. On. The. Fucking. Light.”
His order went unheeded. He could hear someone moving around the room. Her. The woman who moved a bunch of crap into his place and chattered away endlessly to some kid too young to talk, but still wouldn’t turn on the goddamn light.
“Sorry, not goddamned,” he whispered to whoever might be listening. After a quarter century in never-never-land, and god-only-knows how long in the dark, he was willing to concede the belief in anything if it meant a little light. “I can’t take it. I can’t take it.”
The mumbling was nothing new. He’d been mumbling to himself for days, weeks, months, and possibly years. Time lost all meaning when cricket chirps of one evening bled into a thousand others. His half-life hadn’t been worth a damn since Cam walked out of his world and into the land of the living. Okay, so she’d never really belonged in his half-here, half-somewhere else world—seeing as how she was alive and all—but still, Cam knew him. She knew about him once upon a time. And with nothing but time on his hands, Frank couldn’t help but wonder if she remembered, or if she was too busy living her perfect little life with her perfect college boy. Stupid, living, breathing jerk-off….
“Is he okay?”
The question jolted him from his reverie. Frank clamped his mouth shut and perked up. A man. The woman who’d been tearing his room apart came with a man. That made sense if there’s a kid, he reasoned. Then again, a woman doesn’t need a guy around to raise a child. He was proof of that. It had been just him and his mother after Big Frank bought it in a convenience store robbery, and no one missed his flying fists one tiny bit.
“He’s fine. Aren’t you, Jay?”
There was no answer from the kid, but that didn’t stop the lady from running like a freight train. At least he assumed it was a kid. For all he knew, the chatty broad could have redecorated his old bedroom for her dog.
“I think he likes his room. Don’t you, Jaden? Do you like your new room?”
No response from this Jay person. He shook his head. Please, God, let it be a kid and not a dog. A dog would just be too damn annoying. Frank clenched his fists, trying to conjure up a little of the patience he’d honed over a couple of decades stuck between heaven and hell. At least, he hoped his stint in this god-forsaken wall sconce wasn’t the final destination, otherwise organized religion had sure as hell picked the wrong travel agent for booking accommodations in the afterlife.
“Do you like all your new toys and games?”
Frank sighed. Desperation wormed its way into her voice. He should know; he’d been listening to this broad’s rhetorical questions since the truck squealed to a stop out front. He sure hoped she was talking to a kid and not a dog. Either way, he couldn’t blame the pooch/tyke for keeping his trap shut. What was the point in trying to edge a word in sideways when she was happy to plow on regardless, or worse, answer for him.
“Do you want to hug the teddy bear? I can hold Bugs for you if you want,” she offered. “Or maybe Grandpa could hold Bugs. That would be cool, wouldn’t it? If Grandpa held your bunny?”
Frank snorted and rolled his eyes. The coaxing routine was a repeat as well. “No, lady. He doesn’t want to hug the bear, or the duckie, or the mother-fuh…stupid platypus. He doesn’t want you to hold his bunny for him. You know what? I think he wants you to turn on the light and read him a book. A book would be great, huh? You don’t want the kid to grow up illiterate, do you?”
“I’ll, uh, I’m going to…”
Frank frowned when the man’s explanation trailed off down the hallway. Whatever the guy planned to do sounded sketchy and more than a little vague, even to a dead guy living in the light fixture.
“Awkward.” He tried to imitate the wry, singsong tone Cam used to use, but it sounded flat. Lifeless. Like him. Before he could sink into a fresh bout of self-pity, a sharp clap of hands ricocheted through him like the report of a pistol.
“Okay! Grandpa’s busy unpacking, but maybe later.”
The woman’s brittle cheerfulness made him cringe. He squeezed his eyes shut again, trying in vain to stem the trickle of sympathy that made his fingers twitch. Biting his lip, he hoped for the metallic tang of blood even though he knew it wouldn’t come. Purposefully, he flexed his hands, stretching his fingers and spreading them wide. He didn’t need the light to know exactly how much oil and grease there was ground into his nail beds and the creases of his knuckles. The pattern had been exactly the same for too damn many years.
“A book.” His voice came out ragged, the order more of a half-plea. “Just read to the kid. Please.”
Silence hung heavy in the air, muffling the scrape of drawers opening and closing and the rhythmic zffft-zffft-zffft of a box cutter slicing through tape. The silence rang in his ears like an alarm, the blare so loud he almost missed the sigh of a swallowed sob. Almost, but not quite.
“Oh shit,” he whispered into the darkness. “Okay. Never mind about the book. Forget the light. Okay?” She hiccupped softly, and he groaned. “Come on, lady. Don’t do that…”
He flinched, bracing himself when she sniffled loudly and clapped her hands again. There was no need to see her. He could almost feel the impact of her forced smile through the darkness. If asked to give testimony, Frank would swear to the god who never listened to him that he heard this woman swallow her pride. His throat ached, tightening around the lump that rose there.
“Want to read a book?” she asked in that damn Mary Poppins voice. There were rustling sounds as she flitted about the room. “I got a new Thomas book. Want to read Thomas?”
“Aw, shit-shit-shit.” Frank pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes, bracing for the inevitable.
“And look, Jay, look at this cool old lamp above your bed.”
The switch snicked and that soul-deep pull grabbed him by the throat. Light—warm, golden, gorgeous light—beckoned him. He knew she wouldn’t be there. Cam had probably long-since forgotten him and married pansy-assed college-boy Brad. She was in the land of the living where she belonged, and he was…here. Always here. Trapped in nothingness.
A fingernail tapped the faux-brass sconce. “Maybe Oma can find you a new one, huh? Something more up to date?”
He let go, allowing the soul-crushing pain to swamp him, plummeting to earth once more. He couldn’t crash and burn any worse than he had before. Twice before. Once when he was living, and once long after he’d been dead. Frank blinked the glare from his eyes and focused on the blank wall in front of him. The rosebud wallpaper was gone. The sheetrock had been stripped, sanded, and painted blue. A blue that was just a half-shade lighter than the blue that coated the walls in nineteen-eighty-seven.
He shook his head to clear it. Finally, his gaze tracked to the right where he spotted a bookshelf loaded with books, games, and stuffed animals. At the very top, a collection of trophies like the one he once kept in this very room was proudly displayed. Tiny gold men holding bats glistened in the soft amber glow of evening. He gaped at them perched atop their faux marble and fake brass pedestals.
He could see it so perfectly in his mind’s eye. A spotless trophy, gleaming bright gold in the light cast from the cheesy 70s directional sconce mounted on the wall. His mother running her fingertip over the engraved plate bearing his name.
The name rolled off his lips even though he hadn’t spoken it aloud in nearly two decades. Not since the night he introduced himself to the little girl who moved into his room. Not since he fell in love with Cam.
His eyes locked on the gilt batter glued to the top of the tallest trophy. He couldn’t look away. Obviously they didn’t belong to the little guy snuggled into the race-car shaped bed. But something told him they belonged here, just like him.
He stared hard at that trophy, seeing his mother’s wind-up, flinching just as he flinched when she hurled it across the room, smashing the bulb in the brass-colored wall sconce to bits, stealing the last wisps of breath from his lungs, and sentencing him to an eternity as the middleman.
On August nineteenth, nineteen-eighty-seven, he died. That was the day he broke his mother’s heart. That was the day his fate was sealed.