The afterlife is tedious, Drake Manton thought as he drifted
through the thin walls of the motel. If hed known hed be doomed to spend the
rest of eternity confined to Hope Springs, Virginia, he would have been a lot more careful
about how he died. If only he could remember the incident....
Drake passed through another room where a couple snuggled
together to watch television and paused for a moment to watch the science fiction movie
unfold with a sense of wonder. One compensation for being a ghost was that he had been
witness to many marvels over the years, but it didnt make up for the lack of human
He spent much of his time as a voyeur, caught up in the
day-to-day lives of the people in the town. But the familiar soon lost appeal, so he
searched for diversion by watching those who passed through Hope Springs, staying only
He glanced at the couple in the bed. They were doing more than
cuddling now, and that type of voyeurism didnt appeal to him. As usual, the living
couldnt see him, so Drake moved on, searching for Gina Charles, the woman who had
checked in earlier that day, shedding copious tears.
He found her in the next room, fast asleep, with her small shaggy
dog snoring softly beside her. Ginas tear-ravaged face and the half-empty containers
of chips, ice cream, and wine scattered about the room bore mute testimony to her despair.
He surveyed her thoughtfully. What could such a beautiful woman
have to be so sad about? Her glossy dark brown locks tumbled in profusion about her head
and shoulders, and she slept with one hand curled against her ample bosom, as if
protecting her heart.
It was just such misery hed tried to ease when he was
alive. But now that he was dead, there was nothing he could do. Still, the urge to comfort
her permeated his incorporeal being. He sat on the bed, staring down at her. Her lovely
face and the sight of her full, ripe body in its scanty covering would have stirred him to
lust when he was alive, but all physical sensation had fled along with his body.
Now, it stirred him to compassion. He wished he could take her in
his arms, wipe away her tears, and provide solace in the time-honored fashion, but that
was impossible. Knowing she wouldnt be able to feel him, yet needing to do this for
his own sake, Drake curled up behind her and reached out to soothe her. He was fully
prepared to find his hand pass through her winsome form, but instead, his hand closed over
a mound of womanly softness.
Gina leaped up with a screech and scrambled out of the bed,
startling the dog who burst into a fit of high-pitched yips.
Good Lord, had she felt that?
She grabbed the neck of the bedside lamp, and throttled it
furiously. It didnt budge.
Bemused, Drake wondered why she was wrestling with a lighting
fixture. "The switch is at the base," he said helpfully.
His comment just sent the dog into further paroxysms of barking.
With a small shriek, Gina ceased her attack on the hapless lamp and scrabbled about on the
bedside table. Grabbing something, she pointed it at him threateningly. "Dont
"Or what?" he asked, amused as he glanced at her weapon
of choice. "Youll brush my hair?" Actually, he was more than
amusedhe was overjoyed that someone could finally see him, hear him, feel him.
She threw the hairbrush at him, but missed by a foot. The dog was
making little rushes at him now, advancing and retreating, as it continued yapping. Gina
kept one hand out to ward Drake off as she inched her way toward the door in her scanty
nightshirt. "What do you want?" she asked, her voice quavering.
He smiled reassuringly and pitched his voice to be heard above
the dog. "Nothing. Dont worry, Im not going to hurt you."
She reached the wall and flattened herself against it. "Then
why were you in my bed?"
"I didnt think you could see me."
"I assure you, its the truth. Most people
cantIm a ghost."
"And Im Mrs. Muir," she snapped back.
Drake almost chuckled with the delight of her spirited reaction
and the novelty of conversing with a living being, but he had to calm her. Unfortunately,
Gina continued to edge toward the door as the infernal mutt persisted its hysterical
Someone pounded on the door, yelling, "Shut that damn dog
In a flash, Gina was at the door. She fumbled with the security
latches, then wrenched open the door and tumbled out into the night. She accosted the man
outside, a burly truck driver who had checked in just before her, and grabbed him by the
arm. "Help metheres a strange man in my room!"
She seemed more irate than frightened, and the mans
expression changed from annoyance to resolute determination. He peeled her off his arm,
then set her behind him. Flipping on the light switch, he peered around the room, fists
clenched. "Where is he?"
"There." Gina pointed at Drake, now standing at the
foot of the bed.
The man advanced farther into the room. "Where?"
Drake had hoped the man could see him as well, but his gaze
passed right through him. It appeared only Gina could see himand of course, the dog,
who continued to bark.
Gina scooped the dog up in her arms. "Hush,
Scruffy." Scruffy quieted, but continued to emit a low growl. "Hes right there,"
she said. "At the foot of the bed."
The man relaxed his fists and glared at her. "There
aint no one there."
Apparently emboldened by the truck drivers presence and
Drakes lack of reaction, she came back into the room and glanced doubtfully at
Drake. "There is, too. Cant you see him?"
Tiring of this farce, Drake said, "No, he cant.
No one has been able to see me since I died, except for animals. And you."
Gina shot him a disbelieving glare, then addressed the
truck driver. "Are you telling me you cant hear him either?"
"Hear what?" The man peered suspiciously around
the room and stooped to check under the bed.
When the drivers head passed unimpeded through Drakes
torso, Gina collapsed into a nearby chair with a whimper and her eyes grew wide.
Her would-be rescuer rose, then stopped suddenly, his gaze
arrested by the half-empty wine bottle on the floor. "Lady, youre seeing
things. Maybe you shouldnt drink so much." Giving her a disgusted look, he
stomped toward the door. "Sleep it offand keep that damn mutt quiet."
As the door closed firmly behind him, Gina muttered,
"Scruffy is not a mutt. Hes a purebred cairn terrier, just like Toto in the Wizard
That little hairy nit had a pedigree? "Im sorry,"
Drake said. "I didnt mean to frighten youI didnt know you could see
me." Or feel me.
She stared blankly at him. "But he didnt see
you. And he passed right through you."
"Yes, I know," Drake said as gently as he could.
"I told you, Im a ghost."
She froze, her eyes wide, and he could see the pieces of the
puzzle visibly click into place. She opened her mouth to scream again, but he swiftly
moved to smother it with his hand, feeling a frisson of excitement at the realization he could
Her eyes grew even wider and she struggled for release, but he
held her gently imprisoned in the chair between his arms with his new-found power of
touch. "Shh," he said soothingly. "I wont hurt you."
The dog scrambled frantically between them, to no avail. Since
Gina seemed to be attempting to speak beneath his hand, he removed it cautiously, prepared
to replace it at the mere hint of a screech.
"Whawhat do you...want?" she asked, her voice
"Nothing." At her disbelieving expression, he added,
"I just want to talk to you. If I wished to ravish you, I could have done so by
Some of the fear left her eyes at this manifest truth. "Why
"Because youre the first person whos been able
to see or hear me since I died." He concentrated on projecting soothing thoughts in
hopes of diminishing her fear.
Apparently, it helped. She relaxed and a perplexed expression
replaced the fear. "If youre a ghost, then why can I feel you?"
Relieved that she seemed to regain some of her former spirit, he
said, "I dont knowthis is new to me, too. Perhaps...are you a
She snorted. "No, Im a dog trainer, not a ghost
He backed away cautiously, prepared to move swiftly if the need
arose. "So you believe Im a ghost now?"
She shrugged. "I cant believe youre anything
else when the evidence is so plainly in front of my face." Though her words were
brave, her voice quavered and he suspected she wasnt as blasÚ as she pretended.
Her voice rose as she ticked off the reasons on her fingers.
"Lets see, you got into my room through a bolted door, a man walked right
through you, youre transparent, and youre dressed in old-fashioned clothes no
modern man would be caught dead in."
He glanced down at his clothing. "Actually, I was
caught dead in them."
"Very funny." She slumped farther into the chair,
cuddling the little terrier to her chest. "I may not be the smartest person in the
world, but I figure either youre a ghost, or Im delusional." Her mouth
twisted in a grimace. "Naturally, I prefer to think Im not crazy."|
"Youre not. At least, I dont think so."
Though there was the one episode.... "I assume you have a good explanation for
strangling the lamp earlier?"
She blushed. "I intended to use it to brain you, but
its bolted to the furniture."
"Ah, I see." Drake was encouraged by her calm reaction
and the fact that she no longer seemed to feel the need to "brain" him. An
unfamiliar elation rose within him. Finally, the monotony of his death had been alleviated
by the simple fact that at least one person on this Earth could hear him, see him. More
than that, this had to be a sign that she was the key to ending his boring existence.
"So why am I the lucky one?" Gina asked.
"I dont know why you can see methis is a first
for me, too."
"No, I mean why were you groping me?"
Mortification swept through him, though he couldnt feel
sorry for savoring the softness of a womans body once again. "Please accept my
apologies. I saw you crying earlier, and I was merely offering solace."
"By copping a feel?"
Exposure to modern movies had given him understanding of that
peculiarly crude expression. "Again, I apologize. I didnt think I could
actually feel youor you me. I wanted only to comfort you."
"Oh. Well, you cant. Nobody can."
Her face crumpled. "This was supposed to be my wedding
Though Drake found it difficult to suppress his elation at
conversing with a living being, he contained it. She couldnt help him until he
helped her first. To do that, he needed to determine the cause of her distress. "Did
your fiancÚ jilt you?"
"No." Gina sniffed as a tear tracked down her cheek.
"I left himthe creep."
"Then why are you so upset?"
"Because of the reason I dumped him."
Drake sat on the edge of the bed and gave her his most
encouraging look. "Why dont you tell me about it?"
Gina sniffed again, but appeared relieved to have someone to
confide in. "We were supposed to rehearse the wedding ceremony, but my fiancÚ
decided to rehearse the wedding night insteadwith my maid of honor." She
glowered. "Ha! Maid of dishonor is more like it."
"The man is obviously a low-bred cur."
Scruffy growled again and Gina shushed him. "Worse. At least
a dog is faithful. But Jerry couldnt even be discreet about itthe whole
wedding party found them making like minks in the limo. And it was going to be the perfect
wedding, too," she wailed.
Sniffing and wiping her eyes, Gina continued, describing her
wedding plans in intricate detail, all the way down to using Scruffy as the well-trained
One hundred and eighteen years of living in limbo had taught
Drake patience, if nothing else, and his work as a mesmerist had shown him the value of a
sympathetic ear. So, he listened.
It seemed to help. Gina settled down after relating her tale of
woe, ending with, "The worst part is, I sold my dog training business, sublet my
apartment, and cut all ties to my former life just so I could devote the rest of my life
to Jerry. Now what will I do? My life is gone."
"Perhaps your parents will help you."
"Forget it. My father would have, but he died three years
ago. And Mom..." She snorted. "Even after we found Jerry and Bette doing the
wild thing, Mom still wanted me to go through with the wedding. Typical."
Drakes eyebrows rose. Not exactly a model loving mother.
"No wonder you ran away."
"Yeah, but what am I going to do now? I have nothing to go
He considered for a moment. Though he wanted to assist her, he
wanted even more to keep her nearby so she could help him. "What do you want
She paused, thinking, and a spark of determination entered her
eyes. "I want to start over, somewhere new. Somewhere far away from Jerry, my mother,
and my so-called friends."
"Then thats what you should do. Why not stay
here in Hope Springs?"
Because he couldnt leave the confines of the area, but he
was loathe to tell her that. In fact, it would be better to let her think he could follow
her anywhere. "Why not?"
He needed time to think, to plan how to elicit her help. Seeing
the dark smudges beneath her big brown eyes, he said, "You dont need to make
that decision right this moment. For now, you should sleep."
She yawned. "Good idea. Im beat." She shut off
the light and crawled back into bed, giving him a stern look. "But no more groping,
"All right." He wouldnt touch her again, but he also
wouldnt let her out of his sight. Gina Charles was the key that would allow him to
escape this limbo-like existence, and he wasnt going to leave her side until he