Title: Must Love Ghosts
Author: Ani Gonzalez
Series: Banshee Creek #1
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Release Date: September 7, 2015Summary:
Seducing the Rational Skeptic...
Abby Reed believes in folk songs, faery tales, and ghosts, but she doesn't believe in love. Things change, however, when her pen-pal-slash-best-friend, Mike Stone arrives in Banshee Creek after his last tour of duty in Afghanistan. When their Halloween Party encounter turns out-of-this-world steamy Abby starts having doubts about friendship, ghosts...and love.
“Well, I want you in my zombie apocalypse survival team.”
Mike Stone turned towards the throaty female voice. A tall girl with long magenta hair glanced at his military fatigues appreciatively. Her eyes were yellow, with slit pupils, like a cat’s.
He was standing on a cobblestone street surrounded by colonial buildings with brick façades and old-fashioned moldings. Baskets with chrysanthemum blooms hung from wrought iron lampposts and vintage signs adorned the quaint, if slightly run-down, shops. Banshee Creek, Virginia was the kind of town where the shop signs announced “Ye Olde Bake-Shoppe,” and “Merrie Colonial Pubbe.”
The magenta-haired girl in the black catsuit and sky-high heels looked decidedly incongruous. She blinked as the afternoon sun hit her on the face, and realization dawned. Contacts. She must be wearing contacts.
“That’s a very realistic costume,” she purred, her smile displaying plastic fangs. “Warm, too. I didn’t realize it got so cold here in October. Next year, I’ll put on a nice thick fur and come as a Siberian were-cat.”
“Um, thanks,” he replied. He didn’t know how to tell her that it wasn’t a costume. That he wasn’t an aspiring zombie survivalist, just an ordinary soldier on leave.
“Here.” She handed him an orange flyer. “You’re officially invited to the Banshee Creek Costume Party.”
He grabbed the flyer. It screeched “Party Tonight!” in an exaggerated Gothic font.
“The Guinness Book of World Records people will be there,” the cat girl explained, her feline eyes sparkling with excitement. “We’re trying to make it the biggest Halloween costume party in history so make sure you register.”
She winked at him, and turned to a spindly young man on stilts. He was wearing large grey wings and red-tinged goggles.
“Hey, Mothman,” she shouted. “Great costume. We’re really excited about the latest sighting.” She waved an orange flyer. “Do you know where to register for the party?”
They walked off, leaving Mike behind. He looked at the throngs of people lining Main Street. He counted three Elves, eleven princesses, and a platoon of naughty nurses.
He’d forgotten it was Halloween.
More to the point, he’d forgotten it was Halloween in Banshee Creek, Virginia. The Fall Equinox was no laughing matter in the Most Haunted Town in the U.S.A.
Well, that accolade wasn’t official yet. But his Army buddy, Cole Hunt, had been certain that his hometown would win the coveted title. Cole and his friends had been diligently documenting the local hauntings so as to convince the powers-that-be that their town could be the premier paranormal destination in the United States.
And Mike had heard all about their plans. Cole had stayed in touch with his Banshee Creek buddies all through their two-year deployment to Afghanistan. He’d supervised the investigations from afar and edited the documentaries in his free time. As a result, Mike had sat through endless hours of night-vision footage and had spent many days listening to static trying to discern what Cole described as “electronic voice phenomena.”
Oh, yes. His friend had a plan. Cole intended to come back to Banshee Creek, marry his fiancée and turn the town into the ghost capital of the United States.
But Cole didn’t get to come back.
He died in Afghanistan, and Mike, who had no plans, no family, and no home, survived.
The irony was inescapable. The guy with no future made it out alive, but the one with the plan, the one with the loving family, the one with the devoted girlfriend.
That guy didn’t make it back home.
Mike hoisted his duffle bag, avoided a laughing foursome dressed in Star Trek uniforms, and walked up the cobblestone street. He didn’t have a life plan like Cole, but right now he was a man on a mission, a mission to find 12 Hooded Owl Road, Banshee Creek, Virginia.
He looked down Main Street, assessing the town he’d heard so much about. Banshee Creek was laid out like a typical small Virginia village, with one main road lined with shops and Colonial row houses. An auto repair shop with a neon 1950’s sign that read “Virginia Vintage Motors” sat on a corner. The shop’s small parking lot was full of restored cars and a couple of kids in ghost costumes were taking pictures around a black 1967 Impala. The car was nice, but Mike’s eyes kept drifting towards a late-model Jeep Wrangler with an elegant black paint job. Sure, it didn’t qualify as “antique” or even “vintage,” but it looked cool and the price was very affordable.
Which was probably due to the stagnant local economy. Most of the stores had “for sale” or “for rent” signs. Sheets of plywood covered the windows of the local bookstore. A small movie theater held pride of place in the center of town, but its marquee was broken and the last movie featured seemed to be Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Yet there were a few signs of life. A real estate sign in front of a dilapidated mansion with the sloping roof of a stereotypical haunted house had a sold sticker. The row houses had small gardens in front, many of them covered with weeds, but an enterprising soul had put out planters with purple and orange flowers in an attempt to spruce up the sidewalk.
And the town still attracted visitors, in spite of its ramshackle state. The streets were full of costumed partygoers and a couple of businesses, including a pizzeria and a bakery, were busy with customers. The crisp fall air carried the scent of apples and cinnamon and he experienced a sudden craving for cider. The hardware store had a table in front filled with Halloween paraphernalia and the glowing red goggles worn by the—what was the name, again?—Mothman, that’s it. The Mothman goggles seemed to be quite popular. A bunch of kids in black capes were trying them on and taking pictures.
Back in Afghanistan, Cole’s plan to paranormalize his hometown sounded silly and far-fetched. But here in Banshee Creek it was starting to make sense.
“Looking for a house?”
He turned and a teenage boy in jeans and a yellow t-shirt with a large letter X handed him a piece of paper. Curiosity piqued, Mike took it, carefully avoiding the kid’s metal claws.
It was a homemade map, made by someone with a talent for drawing and an excessive fondness for horror movie fonts. The title was “Banshee Creek’s Haunted Houses” and there was something very familiar about the style of the illustrations.
He identified Main Street and the Second Empire house, but what was that strange dark line that crisscrossed the town? A river? Railroad tracks? He squinted at the complicated script, making out the words “geomagnetic fault.” Upon closer inspection he realized that several of the buildings were marked with cartoon ghost symbols. He turned the paper to read the map legend, which described the various ghosts and other critters that supposedly infested the town. One of them identified as a brownie, but wasn’t that a dessert? Or a uniformed child that sold cookies? At the bottom of the page there was a hand drawn copyright symbol and the author’s name.
He quickly looked away from the name, and focused on the map, tracing the streets with a finger. There it was, right off Main Street, Hooded Owl Road. According to the map, number 12 was two blocks down, turn left, and keep going.
He hiked up his duffle and walked down the street. The sooner he got this done, the sooner he could get back to his life.
Except he didn’t have much of a life right now. He had no family, his closest contacts were now scattered across the country, and his best friend was dead. But he had a fancy new title and, thanks to his commanding officers, a new assignment at the Pentagon. He was going to find an apartment in Arlington, get settled, and…
Things got hazy after that. Maybe he’d get a motorcycle…and a girlfriend, definitely a girlfriend, a smart girl, with a nice smile, maybe a blonde or a redhead.
An image popped into his head and he shoved it away. Not a brunette. And absolutely not a brunette with warm brown eyes, freckles on her nose, and the voice of an angel.
So, the plan was simple——job, apartment, motorcycle, girlfriend. It wasn’t as interesting as Cole’s plan, that’s for sure, but it gave Mike direction, a sense of purpose. He liked that.
Job, apartment, motorcycle, girlfriend, but first, there was 12 Hooded Owl Road.
He crossed Main Street, walking towards a battered white bungalow with a large Argentinean flag and a dilapidated neon sign that read, strangely, “F anco Pizza.” He squinted at the sign. No, the letter r was defective, and, when it flickered on, the sign actually said “Franco Pizza.” The pizza smelled pretty good though. Maybe he’d have a slice after completing his mission.
The house at 12 Hooded Owl Road was an attractive Victorian house, with a small porch, white gingerbread trim and green fish scale shingles. It was old, but well kept, looking a bit like a dignified elderly mermaid. A small pot of yellow flowers sat on the steps.
Mike smiled. The house was bright and colorful.
Just like its owner.
He shook the thought out of his head. He didn’t want to think about the owner of the house. He was going to knock on the door, make his delivery and leave Banshee Creek.
He walked toward the house, but, as he reached the porch, he noticed a group of people walking down the street. The leader of the group was a tall, redheaded man dressed in jeans and a biker’s vest. His companions were all similarly attired in stereotypical biker gear.
Mike tensed. Two guys from his last unit belonged to motorcycles clubs, and he was very familiar with the subculture. These guys weren’t wearing costumes, although the biker wear featured a couple of unusual decorative touches, like tentacles, UFOs, and several “trust no one” tattoos in typewriter font.
The bikers were teasing a young man with an arm in a cast who was dressed in plain jeans and a t-shirt and did not seem to be part of the gang. At least, Mike had yet to meet a biker who’d wear a Berklee School of Music t-shirt.
One of the bikers slapped the musician in the back, and the young man stumbled.
Mike’s eyes narrowed, his body tensed and he felt a sudden adrenaline rush. He automatically noted the number of bikers, assessed their strategic positions and evaluated the situation’s potential for violence.
But the young man just laughed and made a rude hand gesture. The bikers returned the gesture with a couple of catcalls, and then kept walking towards Main Street chatting and laughing.
Mike relaxed, relieved to find he’d misjudged the situation, and gave himself a good scolding. This was ridiculous. He had to leave his war-zone reflexes behind, this was small town Virginia not Afghanistan. But he turned back to the house and immediately tensed.
A willowy girl was locking the door. She was tall and slender with medium-length brown hair, styled to curl at the ends in an old-fashioned way.
Mike wasn’t looking at her hair though. He was looking at her costume, a skin-tight black leather cat suit that outlined every single curve. His fists clenched and he swallowed hard. He tried to walk towards the house, but his feet wouldn’t move.
He couldn’t bring himself to approach her.
He’d faced enemy fire, ambushes, and IEDs. He’d trained himself to overcome his fears. He’d walked through nightmares and survived.
But he couldn’t bring himself to face this girl.
Time to retreat and regroup. He’d continue on his way to Arlington and figure out a different way to make his delivery. Maybe he could hire a courier, or a parcel delivery service.
A group of costumed partygoers blocked his way as he turned to walk away. He tried to push his way through what appeared to be a werewolf punk rock band, but had to swerve to avoid the fur-bedecked subwoofers.
“Mike?” The throaty, sexy voice was unmistakable. “Is that you?”
There was no fighting the siren appeal of that voice. He sighed in resignation and turned.
The girl ran down the steps of her house and her smile was as enthralling as her voice. Mike forced himself to smile back as he greeted the girl he’d loved for the past five years.
Abby Reed. Singer, songwriter, enchantress.
And his dead friend’s fiancée.
I write sexy paranormal small town romance (whew, that's a mouthful!) set in Banshee Creek, Virginia, The Most Haunted Town in the USA. My books feature feisty, irrepressible heroines conquering strong, controlling alpha males. My heroes fall and they fall hard. It's a lot of fun.
I was born and raised in a small mountain town in Puerto Rico, home to the chupacabras and a host of lesser-known legends and hoaxes. Hence my love for quirky towns with spooky stories. I currently live in Minnesota with my husband and three children, and I'm still trying to adjust to the cold.