Just one month from today, Keep Me Ghosted will be available to Kindle, Nook, and Kobo readers! I’m very excited to be debuting this Sophie Rhodes Ghostly Romance Series. To tickle your reading taste buds, I’ve decided to give a preview. I really hope you enjoy it!
And stay tuned – I’ll be posting and running contests during the next month, prior to the release.
And now, without further ado, I give you Chapter One of Keep Me Ghosted:
Marmaduke Dodsworth was good at many things, but probably his greatest talent was for talking my ear off. If I didn’t clamp him down, he’d make me late for another interview.
After slipping my battered Honda into a space barely big enough for a Matchbox car, and punching the gear shift into park, I turned in my seat and put it to Marmaduke succinctly: “Stay here. Shut up.” I pointed a stern finger in his direction for emphasis.
Marmi was offended. “Madame Sophie,” he said, the words rolling elegantly from his British tongue and oozing slowly like sap from a maple. “I am not some mongrel to which you must command a ‘stay.’ Shall I roll over as well? Or would you like me to beg? More importantly, your second directive is rendered entirely moot, should I choose to obey the first, for if I were to ‘stay here,’ then surely, my ‘shutting-up’ would hardly matter. Why, I could continue to bang on about any number of subjects and you would be none the wiser.”
Based on the context, I assumed “bang on about” meant pretty much the same thing as having diarrhea of the mouth, but I wasn’t about to encourage further banging by asking for clarification. I’d have Marmaduke translate that British-ism another time. I did feel guilty for the harsh command, though. He was right – he wasn’t a dog in need of training. He was a couth, well-manicured, attractive, and upstanding man who, if circumstances were different, would have had relationship potential. Even though he wasn’t exactly my type, romantically speaking, his dark hair, brown bedroom eyes, and firm jaw line had probably caused more than a few girls to swoon. What I loved about Marmi was his dry wit and, of course, that fun English accent. We had met during a particularly troubling time in my life and he’d proven to be a stalwart friend. Unfortunately, he had also proven to be so intrusive during my job quest that boundaries had to be set, or I was destined for certain destitution.
I checked my makeup in the rearview mirror, made a mental note that my new short hairstyle was in need of a trim already, then reached into the backseat for the résumé folder. “You’re right. Talk all you want, but please, please, please stay here.”
He huffed like a chastised child while straightening the lapels of his very dated suit jacket. “As you wish.”
I studied his smooth, clear face for signs of defiance. “I’m serious. If I could lock you in, I would. You cost me that last interview.”
“The man was a letch, a cad with no morals. No integrity. Pond scum, I believe is a term you have used to describe such filth. You can do better.”
“I need a job, not a babysitter.”
Marmaduke was obviously more hurt than offended by my last remark and that made me feel worse. I tried to make nice. “Dude, I’m sorry. Just stay here. Promise?”
He turned his gaze out the window, giving me the cold shoulder. “‘Dude.’ She calls me ‘Dude.’ What am I? A rootin’ tootin’ cowboy on the range?”
I rolled my eyes and closed the door behind me, worried that he neglected to promise anything.
As I crossed the parking lot, my heels clicking on the black macadam, I double-checked the address scribbled on the résumé folder. 2424 Granite Hills Drive, Suite A. Scanning the front of the two-story brick building in front of me, I saw Suites B, C, and D, but no A. My head bobbed back and forth from the folder to the building. Perplexed, my next plan of action was to pop into Suite B and ask for directions to the mysterious Suite A.
A voice in my ear caused me to flinch. “You look lost.” It seemed that while I had been wishing for a GPS, a man had stepped up beside me from behind.
Still rattled by the suite confusion and worried about the interview, I gave him the briefest of glances. “Sort of.” I pointed to the address on my folder. “I’m looking for Suite A. I don’t see it.”
“Sure. Know it well.” He motioned with an elbow. “Follow me.”
Doing as instructed, I shadowed the tall, lanky man who I now noticed was carrying a McDonald’s bag in one hand and a cup of soda in the other. His tan dress pants and long-sleeved, white dress shirt told me that he probably worked in the business park himself. He ambled to the left side of the building and then around the corner, which was nicely shaded by a cluster of Dogwood trees. The shade was a welcome relief since my car’s air conditioning had gone belly up two weeks before the heat of summer arrived. I winced against the pain in my feet that were squished into the pair of heels that, in retrospect, were probably too high for an interview. But they went well with the business-like blouse and skirt ensemble. Should have gone with the half-inch heels or the flats, I thought.
Shifting the bag to his soda hand, he retrieved a set of keys from his pants pocket and proceeded to a glass-paned door. Above the door in black letters were the words Dr. H.U. Callahan, Optometrist. I sighed happily, thankful that the name, Dr. Callahan, matched the name on my folder. The tall McDonald’s-eating guy had helped me find the right place. Now hopefully I wasn’t late. I corrected my posture, checked the buttons on my blue interview-appropriate blouse, straightened the wrinkles in my black just-above-the-knee skirt, and did a quick finger-brush through my hair.
The man pulled open the door in front of us, and smiled. “After you.”
I realized in my haste and distraction, that I’d never really acknowledged him. I returned the smile and took in his face. It was a nice face. Pleasant. Friendly. He looked young – possibly an intern. Accepting his offer to go first, I stepped into the deliciously cool office. “Thank you,” I said. “Do you work here?”
He laughed and cocked his head in a self-conscious manner. “That’s the idea anyway.”
The waiting room was small and not very tidy. Actually, it was a mess. The reception desk directly in front of me lacked a vital component – a receptionist. But, of course, that made sense, since I was there to apply for that very position. Stacks of papers were piled here and there on the desk and on the cabinets behind it, as if awaiting some form of organization. The possible intern moved around behind the desk, set his McDonald’s stash down, then gave me another unsure sort of smile. He opened his mouth as if he was going to speak, but then, possibly reconsidering, shut it again and said nothing. Oh boy, I thought, now I’m going to have to deal with Dr. Callahan’s awkward assistant. I put my hand out to introduce myself. “Sophie Rhodes. I have an interview for the receptionist position. I was told to ask for Dr. Callahan.”
He shook my hand so hard my elbow nearly dislocated. “Yes. Yes.”
“Is he here?” My hand was beginning to ache.
“Yes.” He turned his head to the side. “Not now,” he mumbled.
The man kept pumping while my bewilderment grew. “Not now? I’m pretty sure I’d arranged—”
“Not you,” he interrupted.
I extracted my nearly purple hand from his and scanned the room for signs of other life that he might be addressing. We were, it seemed, alone. Although I knew, better than anyone, that things were not always what they seemed. The teeny tiniest hint of a familiar sensation made me wonder, is it possible? I shrugged off the thought and returned my attention to the oddball intern. Although, really, he was kind of a cute oddball. Inviting face, olive complexion, crooked smile, sparkly blue eyes. And, upon closer inspection, maybe a little older than I originally thought. “Uh,” I continued. “Do you think you could tell him that I’m here?”
A look of understanding crossed his face. “I get it now.” His head bobbed. “You’re confused.” More head bobbing. “My fault, my fault.” He pointed to his chest. “I’m Dr. Callahan. I know you’re here.”
Ah geez. There, I’d gone and done it again – blown another interview. I must have looked like a complete idiot. I know I felt like one. Intern. Ugh. True, the baby-faced doctor seemed a little flaky, and I’d had my travails working for flaky people before, but man, I needed the money. Needed it bad. The situation called for immediate repair. I wouldn’t bring up his young appearance – he was probably sensitive. “I’m so sorry…” I dove in. “I…guess I expected a doctor would be…” Seemingly possessed by some rash moment of utter stupidity, I began babbling about lab coats. “Wearing a lab coat. You know, doctors and lab coats.” Crap. I should have gone with the your-baby-face-threw-me-off excuse. Who was looking flaky now? “I mean, don’t doctors…you know…wear lab coats?” Crash and burn, Sophie. You just crashed and burned.
He sipped from his soda straw and eyed me with a cocked brow. “No.” Another sip. “When can you start?”
Stunned that my lab coat obsession and inability to string a coherent sentence together hadn’t hurt my chances for employment, I jumped on it. “I’m available immediately.”
His shoulders relaxed and he released a healthy sigh. “Great.” He pointed to some items on the desk. “Here are the phones. There’s the appointment book. You’re a life saver.” He picked up his meal and started down the hall that led to the back of the suite.
“Wait!” I called after him. “What are you paying? What are the hours? Don’t you want to know if I’m a crook who will rob you blind?”
He stopped and turned around. “Are you?”
I shrugged. “No.”
He took two steps back in my direction. “You didn’t look like a crook. How much do you want?”
Whoa. How much did I want? I’d never heard that one before. “You don’t do this a lot, do you?”
“I’m not following you.”
“You don’t seem very experienced in hiring people. You never ask them what kind of salary they want. You tell them what you’re paying.”
“I’ve hired lots of people. I just can’t seem to keep them from quitting.” He pulled a limp fried potato from the bag. “French fry?”
The intoxicating scent of McDonald’s fries did make my empty tummy rumble. But I shook my head to decline while wondering about the contents of that cup he was sipping from. Perhaps it was something more potent than soda. Like… rum maybe? “What happened to your last receptionist?” I asked him.
“Sheila. She left for a cigarette break. Never came back.” He swallowed, then frowned. “Shoot. Fries are cold already.”
“Are you hard to work for?” I asked, not that I expected him to say yes.
His light brown brows furrowed. “I don’t think so. I try to be very accommodating.” His shoulders slumped. “Sheila even set her own hours. I only saw patients when she could come in.” His head turned slightly and he lowered his voice. “Not now.”
His behavior was becoming suspicious, to say the least.
I narrowed an eye at him. “You said it again.”
“What did I say?”
“‘Not now.’ You said, ‘Not now,’ out of context, like you’re talking to someone else. Do you have Tourette’s?”
His attention had wandered to the contents of his bag. “I wish it were that simple. They gave me two apple pies, you want one?”
Ah geez. I took a deep breath. “When is your next patient?”
“That’s a good question.” Setting down the bag and soda again, he brushed his hands together and grabbed the appointment book he’d pointed to earlier. He flipped through the pages, then pointed. “Four o’clock.”
I looked at my watch. It was 12:20. “You’re not very busy, are you?”
He nodded. “It’s a problem.”
I blew out a sigh, not believing myself what I was about to do. I reached up, took Dr. Callahan by the shoulders (noticing he would have been just the right height for a slow dance partner), and guided him down into the rolling chair next to the desk. I had his attention. Planting a firm fist on my hip, I made my pitch. “I need sixteen dollars an hour. I’m worth it. And don’t worry, I don’t smoke. I’d like an hour for lunch. What hours do you want to be open?”
“Ten until six?”
“Good. I’ll be here at nine-thirty and close up the office at six-fifteen. Monday through Friday?”
He nodded while his face relaxed with relief. I smiled inwardly when I noticed he was even cuter sitting down. Quite handsome, actually. Boyish good looks. Generally, I was attracted to darker, more rugged men with an edge to them, but this Dr. Callahan…there was something about him.
That’s when she materialized. Aha, I thought. That’s who he was talking to. He has a ghost. She must have read my mind. Her long, dark hair was bone-straight, falling far past her waist; her nose thin and elegant. Her clothing – a long, casual dress – was a current-day style, but her skin color and features told me she was Asian. Indian, I guessed. Her eyes were black as pitch and she narrowed them at me like a cat on the hunt. She wasn’t happy that I was on the scene. Not one bit. She leaned into Dr. Callahan and whispered in his ear.
“What’s she saying?” I asked.
He brushed his hand in the air near his ear as if driving away a gnat and gave me a surprised stare. “Excuse me?”
“Your friend there. What’s she saying?”
Rolling his chair forward slowly, he whispered. “You mean, you see her?”
I cleared my throat and mimicked his hushed speech. “I have one too.”
As if on cue, Marmaduke’s voice sounded in my ear. “Sophie, dearest,” he said. “We have a bit of a problem.”
“Not now, Marmi.” Poor ghosts. They get that a lot: “Not now.”
My new boss didn’t catch on very fast. “Who are you talking to?”
“Show yourself, Marmaduke.” My spirit friend materialized as ordered – bowler hat and all. Dr. Callahan’s jaw dropped. Having a spirit of his own, the good doctor didn’t appear frightened the way most people probably would. But by his reaction, I guessed that the apparition draping herself over his body like hot fudge on a sundae was his first experience with the otherworldly.
Time for introductions. “Marmaduke,” I said, “meet Dr. Callahan. Dr. Callahan, Marmaduke Dodsworth.”
Unfortunately, Marmarduke was very protective of me and didn’t offer an acknowledgement, pleasant or otherwise, to poor Dr. Callahan who kept swatting at the dark, disgruntled lady who floated around his head.
“Who’s the queen of dramatics?” Marmaduke asked, with more than a hint of annoyance.
I crossed my arms, sizing her up. “Not sure yet.”
“I’d love to hang around, as you Americans say, and acquaint myself more,” Marmaduke sniffed sarcastically, eyeing Dr. Callahan and his attachment as if they smelled like rotten eggs, “but there has been an occurrence for which something must be done.”
“You brought a ghost back from England?”, asked Dr. Callahan. He looked Marmi up and down. “When were you alive, anyway?”
At first, Marmaduke scowled. I didn’t expect him to answer, but he surprised me. “I was born on November seventh, eighteen hundred and eighty-four and I passed from the physical plane on the sad date of June first, nineteen hundred and fifteen, here, in your fair township of Stephens City. Struck down in the prime of my life by an automobile.”
Dr. Callahan’s eyes widened. He seemed impressed.
“We met at a bar,” I added. “Long story.”
“Sophie,” Marmaduke pressed. “The occurrence…”
“Marmi, I just accepted this job, and now, as you can see, I have to contend with a ghost that doesn’t seem to like me very much. Can’t it wait?”
Marmaduke spoke out of the corner of his mouth, as if that would really keep the others in the room from hearing him. “Yes, well, waiting would be a problem. See, the bloke prefers the razzers be notified sooner rather than later.”
There was no context for that word. I had to ask. “What’s a razzer?”
“The police, my dear.”
Something about his tone made me nervous about asking the next question. “And who’s the bloke you’re referring to?” I winced, waiting for the answer.
“The dead man in Suite C.”