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My feet halted as my eyes caught a flash of movement on the stairs. Just a shadow, there and gone in a blink, disappearing beyond the banister before my mind could register what it had seen.
Quickly, I pushed my senses out, eyes and ears scanning for anything out of place. There was no creak of the stairs, no sound of movement beyond the occasional swish of bathwater. To the untrained ears and eyes, one would assume we were alone.
But I knew better. My sixth sense was telling me I wasn’t mistaken. I’d seen something. Before I could start calling myself crazy again, I decided enough was enough. It was time to investigate.
“There are no ghosts, Claire,” I reminded myself as I dug my phone out of my back pocket and located the flashlight mode, sending a blinding beam of light shooting across the floor.
Marching across the first floor to the foot of the stairs, I peered up the tall staircase, listening. Again, I was met with the same basic sounds. My heart was thudding harder than usual, my breath coming a little faster than I’d like, exposing my climbing nerves.
“Freaking Gary,” I said aloud, a reminder as much as a reassurance that ghosts didn’t exist and I was being ridiculous. It was obvious the only thing going on around here was the invasion of a mischievous feline. Nothing more.
“Come out, come out, wherever you are…” I hummed as I began climbing the stairs. They creaked under every foot, no matter how careful I tried to be. Yeah, there was no way a human could have traversed them without announcing to all and sundry their presence. “Mew, mew, mew, mew, mew.”
Yep, it was final. I was an idiot. Not exactly an animal person, I had no clue what I was doing. Did that even work on cats? I’d seen it while watching one of my favorite Ben Stiller movies and it made sense. Cats weren’t exactly complicated creatures. Offer a little treat and they came running.
Which reminded me I needed to put out some tuna.
So why the hell was I pursuing this thing when I could put forth far less effort and let it come to me?
Right, boredom. Almost forgot about that.
Continuing my assent, my foot crested the top stair when I heard the distinctive moaning creak of a door closing. My eyes and ears working together immediately honed in on the target: the largest of three bedrooms to my immediate right.
I wasn’t prepared for what I saw.
The tall shadow standing in the thin gap of the partially opened doorway stared back at me, no discernable features or detail that I could make out, yet I knew, beyond a doubt, that it was watching me…and it didn’t feel friendly.
In fact, the sheer terror that exploded through my veins forced out a shocked gasp followed by a screech that I’d never heard come out of my own mouth.
Time seemed to stand still as I watched the door begin to eek open, that terrifying sound of the dry hinges scraping against every nerve ending like nails down a chalkboard, working on my psyche to the point of hysteria.
“Claire? What’s wrong?” I heard Jed’s voice from a distance, almost as if I stood in a vacuum, engaged in a silent showdown with what I could no longer deny was an otherworldly figure that I was certain was out to harm me.
But why? What made me the target? Why not Jed? He was a man. Us women had to stick together. Besides, I was only here for a short time. Just long enough to get the house back in top form and then I’d be outta here.
Maybe Mrs. Moore wants everything to stay exactly how she left it…
My head whipped around, panicked gaze landing on Jed’s tall, lithe form, still glistening with moisture from his bath. The towel wrapped around his waist—a white, fluffy one I’d bought at the general store—barely hiding his naughty bits, the split gaping open around his thigh teasing at the hidden treasures beneath as it flapped open and closed with every hurried step he took.
“I—I—” Clearly, my voice had abandoned me, making me stutter like a fool. So I resorted to signaling instead, pointing out the problem.
Jed’s worried frown followed my finger to the doorway, and in an instant, the color in his face washed away. “Holy—”
The sudden slam of the bedroom door shook the plaster walls, ripping another scream from my lips. Nerves jarred, it happened all at once in a domino effect: I reached for the banister cap as my legs turned to rubber noodles and I lost my footing. Jed leaped into action, lunging forward with his arms outstretched to catch me. His towel broke free from his hips, floating to the floor, leaving his dangly bits free to dance at will. The stairs, thankfully, broke my fall.
All twenty-two of them.
As I bounced and tumbled my way back to the first floor, I couldn’t help but wonder…would Jed kiss my boo-boos and make it all better, or was this the final nail in the coffin, so to speak?
Guess we’d find out…after I regained consciousness.
Wanju BOOK INFO:
by J.C. Valentine
A Haunted Real Estate Novel
Publication Date: October 29, 2021
Genres: Adult, Mystery Romance, Small Town, Ghost Story
When a distant relative dies, Claire Montgomery inherits an ages-old house with a storied past. Intending to flip it for profit, she travels to a quaint burrow in the middle of nowhere and becomes the talk of the town. Or maybe it has more to do with the house that everyone claims is haunted by a history that’s even more mysterious than Claire could ever imagine. Can she finish the renovations and get out of Dodge before the quest for a profit kills her?
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ABOUT J.C. VALENTINE
J.C. Valentine is the USA Today and International bestselling author of the Night Calls and Wayward Fighters Series and the Forbidden Trilogy. Her vivid imagination and love of words and romance had her penning her own romance stories from an early age, which, despite being poorly edited and written longhand, she forced friends and family members to read. No, she isn’t sorry.
Living in the Northwest, she has four amazing children and far too many pets. Among the many hats she wears, J.C. is an entrepreneur. Having graduated with honors, she holds a Bachelor’s in English and when she isn’t writing, you can find her editing for fellow authors.
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